Rock

Untethered Moon (CD)

If you thought Built to Spill’s first album in six years would be some somber collection reflecting the band’s elder statesman status, think again. Untethered Moon roars right out of the gate, on “All Our Songs.” Doug Martsch lives up to his indie guitar hero mythos with fluttering space cowboy licks and cosmic solos, singing lines in a creeping whisper that could be self-deprecating or sarcastic, but it’s tough not to feel a thrill when he sings, “rock and roll will be here forever.” “New Zoo” builds on that momentum, as new guns Steve Gere (drums) and Jason Albertini (bass) prove their meddle with a steadily building groove over which Martsch drapes intricate guitar lacework, opening up into an R.E.M.-inspired melody. There’s a sense of futility to Martsch’s lyrics that can be funny at times or a drag at others—one song is called “Some Other Song”—but the irony is that Untethered Moon brims with energy and melodic ideas (for the record, “Some Other Song” is one of the album’s catchiest tunes). However exhausting the journey may be playing with the same band for more than 20 years, it’s clearly refined Martsch’s craft to the point that Untethered Moon feels effortless and powerful.

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Sound & Color (CD)

Alabama Shakes’ meteoric rise thankfully hasn’t tarnished what made them special to begin with. Sound & Color is an assured follow-up to Boys & Girls, further defining the band’s garage-blues sound without just relying on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s explosive voice to carry the show. The title track features some gorgeous harmonies and orchestral touches that start the album off in a classy way. But Sound & Color quickly proves gritty, as Howard’s banshee wail rips open first single “Don’t Wanna Fight.” “Dunes” is a deep, weird Beatlesesque track that finds Howard struggling to maintain her identity among rising fame (this one has “fan favorite” written all over it). Although it’s pretty obvious how powerful Howard’s voice can be, it reveals new shadings across the album, vacillating between a sweet coo and penetrating cry on the celestial funk of “Future People” and curling into a wild croon and big belt on “Gimme All Your Love.” About that voice—it’s impressive for sure, and Howard and co. have figured out when and where to unleash it, marking the biggest improvement the band has made. When the band does let loose on tracks like garage burner “The Greatest,” the results are all the more sublime. It’s rare when a band can capitalize on hype without succumbing to it as Alabama Shakes have; rarer still that they can avoid the sophomore slump with such aplomb. Alabama Shakes succeed with flying colors on their second outing.  

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How Do You Feel Now? (CD)

Aptly named Joywave are leading the charge of a genre-less, pretentious-less, alternative pop era. The sound lies somewhere between the unapologetic body shaking of Hot Chip and the cinematic appeal of Bleachers, the latter being current tour-mates. The appeal of Joywave however is the outright denial of the placeholder conformism of such comparisons. Case in point they have wryly claimed their music is a mash up of Pitbull and Coldplay. After receiving critical acclaim from underground mixtapes, culminating in a feature spot on Big Data’s hit single "Dangerous," Joywave found an audience. They dropped the How Do You Feel EP a year later to an outpour of media attention. Several months and a couple of viral music videos later, the boys from Rochester are back to ask How Do You Feel Now? The album continues in the same vein of the EP. In fact, all four tracks remain on the album including the danceable savage single “Tongues.” Curveballs include the Generation Y dirge “Traveling at the Speed of Light” and the robotic hip-hoperatic closer “Bad Dreams.” Exploration aside, the pop spirit of How Do You Feel Now? is what drives the record and the group itself. That spirit, akin to the joyful ecstatic hum of a young festivalgoer’s experience awaiting climax. That is what Joywave has to offer. And there is no doubt that, with the release of this record, they will soon provide said festivalgoer with one hell of a payoff.

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Edge Of The Sun (CD)

Calexico releases have always been eclectic collections stringing together various strings of Americana and indie rock into what’s been referred to as “desert noir.” Edge of the Sun feels like their most refined release while staying as diverse as ever, augmented by the duo’s sojourn in Mexico City while writing the record. Though it’s dotted with upbeat, jangling country-rock numbers, Edge of the Sun pit stops in Tejano territory (“Coyoacan”), hits up dusky biker bars along the road (“Bullets & Rocks”) and stops to come up with a killer electro-cumbia tune (“Cumbia De Donde”). Guests show up to keep the party going—Neko Case makes “Tapping on the Line” a gorgeous electro-country duet, while Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses helps take the soaring “Falling From the Sky” achieve lift-off. It’s a fine line Calexico walk, but nine studio albums in and the band is able to confidently wrangle a wide swath of sounds for an unpredictable album that is altogether gripping.  

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The Powers That B (CD)

Remember when rap-rock was a bad thing, before Death Grips came along and radically re-created the genre? That’s not really fair to Death Grips—they basically created their own genre of aggressive electro noise, Zach Hill’s wildman drumming and MC Ride’s berserk raps. The Powers That B might be the last Death Grips album, since the band announced it was disbanding last year, and accordingly, the trio plays through The Powers That B as if their lives depend on it—or, perhaps more appropriately, like they’re on a suicide mission. From the get-go, Disc Two doesn’t let up, starting with out-of-breath spring “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States.” From there, we rev up through “Inanimate Session,” which starts literally sounding and feeling like the uphill chug of a roller coaster before the inevitable set of winding loops that unsettle your sense of balance. By comparison to its opening tracks, the robot-metal of a track like “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” may feel like a reprieve; at the very least, it’s a worthy entry point, as is the nearly danceable caveman-stomper “Beyond Alive” and epic “On GP.” Although Death Grips aren’t really about accessibility, Jenny Death is the most engaging thing they’ve done in some time, since their breakthrough release, The Money Store. Meanwhile, the previously online-only first disc, Niggas on the Moon, features Bjork samples warped into hyper-real chirps and percussive elements; it’s a more difficult listen, but one that fans of Death Grips’ extremism should appreciate. Taken together, it’s an utterly intense listen; you may not remember your own name after taking in two discs of Death Grips’ unrelenting force, which means it’s the consummate way to experience Death Grips.

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Hyperview (CD)

Title Fight had made a name for themselves on a handful of releases based around heavy, melodic guitarwork and razorwire vocals. On Hyperview, Title Fight stray further from the emo/punk format by turning their guitars into dream-rock vehicles and toning down the vocals in favor of soaring shoegaze melodies. The change suits them, as Title Fight are able to shake things up with mangled noise rock chords on “Chlorine,” moody basslines on songs like “Hypernight” and power-pop arrangements on tracks like “Mhrac.” The band’s watery, textured guitar playing makes for pleasant listening on the plaintive “Your Pain Is Mine Now,” but the band can still deliver a dose of the good ol’ screamo-style singing on “Rose of Sharon,” placing them in the same boat as bands who’ve similarly paired picturesque guitarwork with corrosive singing and driving beats, like Fucked Up and Deafheaven. Fans may have to get used to the more impressionistic style they use here, employing Chapterhouse and Swervedriver as influences as much as Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring. But those who are willing to evolve with the band will be rewarded with a perfect marriage of pulse and shimmer, on songs like standout “Liar’s Love.” And those of us new to Title Fight have a much-needed dose of gorgeously loud music on our hands with Hyperview.

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The Best Day (CD)

Thurston Moore makes the Sonic Youth breakup a little easier to swallow with a warm salve of a solo album. Sonic Youth fans will delight add beautiful harmonics and familiar chords of a song like “Speak to the Wild,” as the permateenager sings infectiously, “the time has come to join a band.” “Forevermore’s” extended drone, slacker romance and heroic guitar runs feel like comfort food you feast on for eleven minutes. The Best Day is a relatively peaceful album, and the drone built into some of these tracks makes them bleed together somewhat. But Moore mixes things up to keep it interesting, offering glittering mandolin and psychosexual musings on “Tape,” a Television-style rave-up on the title track and good ol’ punk thrills on “Detonation.” It may not be much you haven’t heard from Thurston Moore, but it sure feels good to have him still making like this. Fans of both Sonic Youth and Moore’s solo work will find plenty to cherish on The Best Day.

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This Is All Yours (CD)

With a sophomore record, there tends to be quite a bit at stake. All too often an act tries in vain to access the same immediacy and power that they were able to flaunt in their first release. Not to mention how much time and energy a band has had to craft their first etchings into popular consciousness. A second record is somewhat of a second chance these days to prove that you can still do that thing people liked, or at least fake it. English Indie rockers Alt-J are clearly an exception. Their second effort, This Is All Yours, is an example of a band using their second chance as a “give ‘em an inch, take a mile” credo. Coming off the commercial success of An Awesome Wave the now trio is taking some chances with their already defined sound. This Is All Yours blends similar electronics and harmonies from the first record with sound collage ("Every Other Freckle"), folk ballads ("Choice Kingdom"), so-cal funk ("Left Hand Free"), and even a Miley Cyrus Sample ("Hunger of the Pine"). An Innovative leap from a band that otherwise could have left well alone.

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Brill Bruisers (CD)

The New Pornographers are back in a big way with Brill Bruisers. While the band’s past couple of outings have struggled to match the energy of their roof-burning early work, Brill Bruisers comes roaring out of the gate right away with AC Newman’s School House Rock-style title track. Neko Case takes the lead on a few sublime tracks, like the scenic “Champions of Red Wine,” while Destroyer’s Dan Bejar’s songs carry just that right amount of oddity to make the whole album a bit more magical, as on the swirling new wave of “War on the East Coast.” Songs like “Family Fools” are some of their best Fleetwood Mac-style aural dreamscapes of layered vocals and lush synths, and gorgeous harmonies abound, as on the pretty “Backstairs.” Occasionally New Pornographers fall into the trap of their songs being more clever than emotional, but even still, those songs keep you interested by finding new ways to approach the same old power-pop, using vocal aerobics on “Hi-Rise” and giving a lovely sentiment some quizzical melodicism for added depth on “You Tell Me Where.” It’s perhaps their strongest work since high-water mark Twin Cinema, a return-to-form that longtime fans will no doubt find to be a perfect end-of-summer gift from the gods.

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In Bardo (CD)

White Arrows do an admirable job of balancing their pop ambitions with their innate record-store-geek weirdness on their sophomore album, In Bardo. We get tracks like “We Can’t Ever Die,” a blast of arena-ready anthemic rock, and “Can’t Stop Now,” which features U2-style shivery guitars and big fat chorus. But their first single “Nobody Cares” is also proudly strange, with Nintendo noises, pitch-shifted vocals and all sorts of other crazy noise, moving from being pleasant and enjoyable to unique and hard to shake. And “Get By” balances its hip-shaking rhythms with sonic saturation and wailing guitars. They lose a bit of the globe-trotting vibe from first album Dry Land is Not a Myth, but the focus here is on quality songs, as In Bardo has them in spades.

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