V (CD)

Drawing from multiple genres ranging from saccharine soft rock to popular hip-hop, Swedish narco-pop duo JJ (all caps now) has always managed to appropriate conflicting sounds to create a unique whole that’s all their own. With their third release, V, they have taken this formula and added bigger production, more drama, romance, strings, and a grandiose sound that shows their growth as musicians and collaborators. While experimental in nature and often shape shifting from tropical house to shoegaze to folk to hip hop, V can feel a bit unfocused at times but when it settles down to relax, it contains some of JJ’s most intoxicatingly dark and ethereal dream pop to date.

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Lights Out (LP)

After a five-year hiatus, Brooklyn based indie rockers Bishop Allen return with their third full length, Lights Out. Not straying from the mid-noughties formula of previous releases, Lights Out is melodically rich and full of the same breezy rainbow rock fans have come to expect. The lyrical content may be a little bleaker, with lines like “Nothing and nowhere and no one is not a pretender,” the music continues to be sprightly and enhanced by nostalgic boy/girl harmonies that channel the likes of Camera Obscura or Belle & Sebastian. Despite the years it took to put this out, Bishop Allen are not experimenting with anything new, rather, they are becoming more masterful at polishing the sunny pop nuggets of yore.

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Benjamin Booker (LP)

22 year-old New Orleans based guitarist and singer Benjamin Booker’s S/T debut is a bourbon spiked sonic cocktail that mixes swampy New Orleans blues with fuzzy garage rock hooks. The result sounds like a more polished version of the Gories paying homage to Hasil Adkins. Heavily influenced by the Gun Club, T-Rex, and Blind Willie Johnson, Booker sings with a vocal range and intensity beyond his years; enhanced only by his fevered guitar playing and the thunderously caveman drum styling of Max Norton. Together these two have created an electrifying take on blues-haunted punk that blows more seasoned acts out of the miry waters. 

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Get Hurt (CD)
Before the release of the Gaslight Anthem’s fifth full-length, Get Hurt, singer/guitarist Brian Fallon warned fans not to expect the same Springsteen influenced blue-collar punk that made them one of New Jersey’s most popular rock acts. Instead, Get Hurt is a darker and more restrained effort. With a new record label and new producer, this has a more nuanced feel than previous albums. While the anthemic choruses and overwrought rock sensibilities can be found in tracks like “1,000 Years” and “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” this is very much a cathartic breakup record drenched in experimentation and emotional profundity. Read more
When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day (CD)

Finnish folk singer Mirel Wagner creates the kind of dark lullabies that would make Michael Gira of Swans feel right at ease. Using minimalistic guitar pickings and her haunting voice, Wagners’ music is stripped to the bone while lyrically embracing the macabre. Her sophomore release, When The Children See The Light Of Day, continues on the grim and haunting themes present in 2011’s self-titled album. Produced by Finnish electronic musician Vladislav Delay, there are a bit more layers here but Delay is also a master at knowing what to leave out. The result sounds completely timeless. The album’s opener “What’s Underneath The Floor” (spoiler alert: the devil’s tongue) sets the tone for a moody and sexy album that is the sonic equivalent of romantic horror stories being whispered in the moonlight.

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Angus & Julia Stone (CD)
It’s been over three years since folk darlings (and siblings) Angus and Julia Stone joined forces to put out a record. The two of them have been enjoying successful careers independent of one another and had no intention of working musically together again. That was until legendary producer Rick Rubin (Metallica, Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers) contacted Julia out of the blue about wanting to work with the duo. The result is their most compelling release to date. Working collaboratively on songwriting for the first time, this new self–titled album is a departure from the siblings' folksy MOR pop of the past. It’s more dynamic and blues influenced. Leading track “Heart Beats Slow” sets the tone for the entire album with sweet harmonies and rich instrumentation while “Death Defying Acts” showcases the powerful fragility of Julia’s voice channeling Billy Holiday. Read more
Time Is Over One Day Old (CD)
Delicately balancing melancholy dreaminess with upbeat tempos, Brooklyn based post-rockers Bear In Heaven follow 2012’s I Love You, It’s Cool with the more scaled down Time Is Over One Day Old. Like previous efforts, all the drama of their synth heavy, spaced out sound collages is present here but there is also a certain urgency and exciting dark energy brought on by the galvanizing percussion of new drummer, Jason Nazary. Much like the title suggests, Bear In Heaven are playing with ideas of time and space, each track interweaving with the next one, creating a sort of brooding, timeless celestial soundscape before fading away. Read more
Sand + Silence (CD)
It has been over two years since the release of The Rosebuds' very personal and autobiographical break-up album, Loud Planes Fly Low. Since then, duo Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp have spent two years apart on opposite coasts working on other creative endeavors. They came together again last spring to work on their sixth full-length album, Sand + Silence. Produced by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon (who also plays guitar and synth) and featuring Matt McCauglan on drums and Nick Sangborn on bass, most of the tracks were recorded live in Vernon's April Base Studio. This newer approach gives the record a feeling of elasticity that is evident in numbers like "Blue Eyes" (a breezy sonic lollipop) and the darker and more melancholic, "In My Teeth." While each song exudes the same catchy intensity The Rosebuds are noted for, it also showcases the growth of Howard and Crisp's songwriting skills while celebrating that celebratory feeling of new beginnings with old friends. Read more
Gemini, Her Majesty (CD)
O.C.’s Rx Bandits haven’t released an album in five years, which is maybe why Gemini, Her Majesty is such a treat. The band’s high-tension alt-prog sounds like something that’s been bottled up for too long and waiting to explode, offering smoke before the fire on the choral “Intro” and then launching into the steadily building riffs of “Ruby Cumulous.” They sound like successors to The Police on the confident “Wide Open,” reining in their expert riffery to focus on melodicism. When they can dispense both catchy melodies and pummeling musicianship, as on single “Stargazer,” the band is damn near unstoppable, doling out chugging riffs and dynamic rhythms while tying ribbons of harmonic guitarwork around them and exploding into a singalong chorus. There are times when you want Rx Bandits to let the songs breathe a bit more so their melodies will stick, but the chilled-out vibe the band is going for gets top billing on “Meow! Meow! Space Tiger,” a sparkling, beachy ode to staring at the sky and “finding your truth.” The band walk a fine line—how is it possible to sound so laid back and yet so detailed and precise at the same time? Rx Bandits somehow make it work on this terrific comeback record. Read more
Clear Lake Forest (CD)
For those that missed picking up a copy of The Black Angels’ Clear Lake Forest EP on Record Store Day, you are in luck. This seven-song psychedelic nugget has been re-released on 12” clear vinyl, CD and digital download. Floating in the bluesy, acid-laced waters of their 2013 release, Indigo Meadow, the Angels continue their mastery of sun-kissed sonic kaleidoscopes. Opening track “Sunday Evening” jangles and pops while lyrically posing the question, “What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even really true?” From there, “Third Eyes” and “Diamond Eyes” showcase the Angels perfection at layering fuzzy noise and sunshine pop while “The Flop” and “Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street” are organ driven, up-tempo numbers that channel a surf party on acid. Taking things down a notch, “The Executioner” is a blues inspired maelstrom of distortion and reverb with the rather hedonistic message, “If it feels good, do it again.” The final track, “Linda’s Gone,” manages to encapsulate everything great about the Velvet Underground while still sounding like the Black Angels. These Austin psyche revivalists may not be inventing the wheel but Clear Lake Forest proves they are always moving forward while taking the listener on a wild ride. Read more