Rock

Hold It In (CD)

Massively influential sludge gods the Melvins get help from a couple of Butthole Surfers on their latest album, Hold It In. Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus back the band up on bass and guitar, respectively, together with longtime members Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, but Hold It In’s sound is classic Melvins, full of heavy, drilling guitars and foreboding vocals on great tracks like “Bride of Crankenstein.” While the Melvins’ sonic repertoire hasn’t expanded too much over the years, songs like “Brass Cupcake” lean closer to new-wave, with palm-muted, Cars-esque guitars that explode into manic cries of “they’ve got a lot of mouths to feed!” and a more metallic second half. With Hold It In, the Melvins have given their fans plenty more chunky riffs and piledriving rhythms to feast on. Hold it in and don’t let go!

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Bestial Burden (CD)

To listen to Pharmakon is to stare the beast straight in the mouth. Margaret Chardiet’s latest album starts with heavy breathing, panting and a buzzing synth that sounds more like an electroshock therapy machine. “Intent or Instinct” builds deliberately with an atonal loop gathering strength until she unleashes a nasty banshee wail. Free of too much digitized effect, it sounds truly bloodcurdling. It’s also immensely cathartic. And “Body Betrays Itself” feels like it takes over your very being, her most powerful musical statement to date. Not everything in such harsh surroundings works—“Primitive Struggle” is about as inviting as it sounds, full of coughing, spitting and heaving along to a digital heartbeat. But Chardiet can really surprise you, too. “Autoimmune” actually nudges closer to something resembling pop, like the dirtiest Trent Reznor would ever let himself get. And in the incantation of the title track, Chardiet’s actual, human voice can be heard, albeit echoed out into infinity, and the result is quite affecting, given how she shreds her voice across the rest of the record. So Bestial Burden isn’t for the faint of heart. Dismiss it and you might even get a laugh out of its relentless brutality. But give it your full attention, and it just might change you. So don’t be afraid. Dive in and let Bestial Burden swallow you whole.

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...And Star Power (CD)

Foxygen’s new album is a sprawling double-length opus that packs as many great psych-rock melodies and eccentric ideas as will fit onto one album. Foxygen’s songwriters, Sam France and Jonathan Rado, turn their talent and rivalry into something truly strange and special. The album still relishes in turning classic rock on its head, with Bowie-esque loungey pop songs like “How Can You Really” that sound instantly memorable while still remaining idiosyncratic, coy even. There’s a real sweetness to tracks like “Coulda Been My Love” and its Stonesy whispered nothings, while “Cosmic Vibrations” reimagines The Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long” as a languid sungazing weed jam that explodes into a hippie romp. The band’s lyrics cut through the lazy cool with real emotions, asking “if you don’t love me anymore, how come you never say it to my face?” on “You & I” and finishing desperately with “Why doesn’t anybody help me? Why doesn’t anybody care?” From there, the album gets wilder, delving into piano-laden suites with beatnik delivery and Flaming Lips-ish psychedelic breakdowns (“Star Power I-III”). The album becomes like a hall of mirrors in both scope and sound, as songs fade in and out, turning from organ-fueled kraut pop to lo-fi synth ballads and everything in between, mixing Link Wray and Suicide and The Clean and whatever else until it sounds kind of like three mixtapes glued together with weird little melted intros and outros barely holding it together. It goes without saying that this is not an album that was made with the iPhone generation in mind. You miss a bit of their last album’s brevity and ease. But what would a Guided By Voices album be without its odds and ends, for instance? What …And Star Power is, is never boring. Lots of things pass for psychedelia these days, but this is the real deal, an album guided by unbridled thought and passion and dream logic rather than aged constraints.

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Everything Will Be Alright In The End (CD)

Weezer have had it up to here with Weezer. They make as much plain on “Back to the Shack,” the first single from Everything Will Be Alright in the End, singing a mea culpa: “Sorry guys I didn’t realize that I needed you so much/I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks.” So Everything is their bid to make things right, packing all of the catchy melodies they’d been neglecting as of late into one album. Songs like “Ain’t Got Nobody” bring back the pizza party power-pop and rocketship riffs of their early work, with “Happy Days” melodies aplenty in songs like “Eulogy for a Rock Band.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino shows up to co-write and trade off vocals on the catchy “Go Away,” which could’ve easily fit on a Best Coast album as well and shows just how much Weezer remain influential. Their reverence to the same ol’ influences and lyrical territory is summed up by the intro to “Lonely Girl,” which just repeats a few chords and the words “My lonely girl” four times, before following with “so baby come on.” But it comes off as charming here for the first time in a while, sounding legitimately like a band of high school friends still in love with classic rock ‘n’ roll. Things get a little corny now and then, as they often do on Weezer albums—there’s a silly little pop song called “The British Are Coming”—but they pair those kind of sentiments with strong melodies. By the time we get to the album’s metal-inspired trilogy ending, it’s like, who cares, it’s Weezer and they’re doing their thing. With the solid Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer restore that kind of faith from their audience and probably will strike a chord with a few new young fans along the way, too.

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Sleeping Operator (CD)

Making a second album can be daunting for a group. Having to live up to expectations of their previous release without repeating themselves, the pressure can be severe. For the Barr Brothers, Sleeping Operator takes risks that wouldn't have been expected from the neo-classical folk music quartet whose previous album of gentle harmonies, harps and bouncing guitars was more 1961 than 2011. But now they sound 2014 with a vibrant production stepping them out of merely folk and throwing them into a blend of folk-pop ballads with luminous horns, avant-rock percussion, thick string parts and mellow guitar jam-outs. The first track, "Static Orphans," is the ambient cold-opening to a surprisingly indie-rock jam, "Love Ain't Enough," followed by "Wolves" which sounds right out of a '70s country-rock album your parents might have listened to. But they haven't let go of their folk roots. Culminating in "Please Let Me Let It Go," you're left with a sublime sadness that few artists can achieve. This is interesting folk music at heights that few artists can touch.

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Lost Loves (CD)

There are no real Lost Loves for Minus the Bear; songs which could've been B-sides or cutting floor scraps get their proper love on this EP of unreleased tracks from the last seven years of their career. From the opening track, "Electric Rainbow," you're confronted with ferocious crying guitars, 400-horsepower percussion and droning synths. This isn't just a curiosity for Minus the Bear fans, but a track that reverberates with a passion equal to their previous albums. Closer "The Lucky Ones" is one of their most bitterly ironic tracks of pure white-knuckle emotion. It's unflinching, angst-ridden post-prog pop that any lesser band would envy. For artists to reject tracks of this quality would been a Sophie's Choice, but they've found their home and are waiting for you to give them the respect they deserve.

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Queen Of The Clouds (CD)

Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Nilsson, better known as Tove Lo, has been gaining momentum and mainstream attention since 2012. In her debut EP Truth Serum the pop phenomenon unabashedly admits, “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs/Watching freaky people getting it on.” It wasn’t until that track “Habits (Stay High)” off Truth Serum was remixed by experimental hip-hop producers Hippie Sabotage that Tove Lo received international attention. Now that she has received the attention of the masses, her true confessional has begun. Much like her debut EP, Queen Of The Clouds remains brash and earnest, although it now takes on a narrative style that the full-length has afforded her. The album is split into three different segments: “The Sex,” “The Love,” and “The Pain.” “The Sex” culminates in an almost hyper-dance orgasm “Timebomb.” The climactic triumph of which is only made realistic by Tove recounting, “You’re not forever, you’re not the one.” Her playful lyricism becomes more of a self-effacing tool during her love song “Moments” where she lists all of her faults and explains, “…but on good days I’m charming as fuck.” The pain of this awareness is overshadowed by her hit single “Habits (Stay High)” which is a shockingly deep portrait of a personal relationship and the effects it had on her. The synergy between this open-book mentality and out and out club beats make this debut a lyrically dark dance charmer.

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Encyclopedia (CD)

Conceived by its members as the fusion between a synth take on The Sound of Music and amelodic No Wave, The Drums craft compellingly tumultuous music on Encyclopedia. Thrilling opener “Magic Mountain” is about as far from The Drums’ first album and its sunny Cure-at-the-beach vibe as you could get, its highwire vocal doing battle against fraught guitars and theramin. You can hear that Sound of Music thing on songs like “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him,” a girl-group-style ode to drifting apart with shooting-star synthesizers and misery-laden guitars. “Kiss Me Again” feels a bit like The Drums’ earlier work, particularly the more frantic Portamento, but the newness comes in how adventurous founding members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham allow themselves to be melodically while remembering how great they are at writing hooks like “kiss me again” sung out into infinity. Encyclopedia is definitely more of a bummer record, but there are some really nice classical melodies buried under the mopeyness and experimentation—“Break My Heart” is a great Brian Wilson-style lament, even as it slowly struts off the pier. And when they go full force on the “Face of God,” it’s like a surf song about a tidal wave, as its vocals suggest tragedy and its bassline and synths creep too far upward to tingle at the back of your neck. It’s like the aural equivalent of losing your innocence and becoming bitter, reminiscent of Weezer’s evolution from The Blue Album to Pinkerton, full of catchy tunes that are chewed and spit out. So Encylopedia stings a little, but in a good way.   

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Innerworld (CD)

Electric Youth broke out in a big way with “A Real Hero,” a song that came to define the sound of the film Drive and its corresponding soundtrack. The duo double down on that impossibly romantic synth sound on Innerworld, their long-awaited debut album. That slow-burning pulse is back in songs like “Innocence,” perfectly capturing the romantic ideal of first love with synthesizers that at first sparkle like eyes being rubbed awake and then dazzle with gentle orchestration. Subtly enough referencing the soundtrackers of ’80s proms like Yaz and Alphaville, Bronwynn Griffin’s breathy voice sometimes floats by as a dream and other times catches onto a lighter-waving sentiment, like “we are the youth, we like to sing” (on “WeAreTheYouth”). Though Electric Youth may lack a bit for originality, Innerworld pretty skillfully avoids sameyness by appealing to current Europop-indebted dance music on tracks like “Runaway,” though they’re at their comfortable best on songs like “Without You,” building from their favored digital throb into a lovable freestyle couple. Griffin and her partner, Austin Garrick, have been a couple since the 8th grade, and thus their ability to make every synth stab feel like a dizzying first crush rings authentic. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard some of the sounds here before, or that they even include the three-year-old “Real Hero”; Innerworld’s swoony romanticism makes you feel like it’s the first time.

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Ebb & Flow (CD)

Owen writes songs that are emotional and timeless, recalling the golden age of avant-storytellers like Joni Mitchell & Elton John in their heyday, effortlessly combining jazz, folk, and rootsy rock into an exquisite blend of classic songwriting and musicality. The Welsh singer's technically gifted piano playing and strong, smooth, smokey voice ensure a musical experience of exceptional quality and depth as she directs a truly all star band of session players (Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel) through her repertoire. Fans of Carole King and Joni Mitchell will find not an imitator but a new and growing voice making good on that legacy.

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