Rock

Sky City (CD)

Amason, the side project formed in 2012 by various members of the Swedish musical elite, has proven yet again that the Swedes know pop music inside and out. A musical powerhouse of genre splitting talent Gustav Ejstes (from Dungen), Amanda Bergman (Idiot Wind), Petter Winnberg and Nils Törnqvist (Little Majorette), and Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow) all bring their unique styles to an extremely well written and dynamically performed debut album. "Algen," the opening track to Sky City, presents itself as a blueprint for what all of these artists jumbled together might sound like. Electro-ish beats polished with psychedelic drone over a standard call and response pop tune. The rest of the album opts to showcase each of the individual artists’ talents without veering too far from the original blueprint. The only notable difference on the record is Ejstes and Bergman vocals. The mix however is perfect. “Elefanten” rings like a b-side from the Ta det lugnt sessions, whereas “Went To War” and “Velodrome” carry Amanda Bergman’s unmistakable voice to new heights. The highlight of Sky City is the nuance of the whole piece remaining listenable and cohesive. Each track maintains just slightly different production. Techniques which may seem too retro or forced had they not been exacted with the expert skill of a proper Swede's knowledge of pop. ABBA would be proud.

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No Cities To Love (CD)

It’s tough to come back after a nearly decade-long hiatus, especially after your band’s best album (the combustible The Woods). But Sleater-Kinney succeed with aplomb on No Cities to Love, which scales back on Woods’ volume without dialing down the ferocity. Cities roars right out of the gate on “Price Tag,” as Corin Tucker gives a scathing indictment of American greed over Carrie Brownstein’s tuff gnarled riffs. Janet Weiss also gives a typically dynamic performance, switching between off-kilter punk-funk and straightforward rawk on “Fangless” and giving “No Anthems” and “Gimme Love” their pounding swagger. There’s a sense that Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss are growing comfortable with one another again, and appropriately, No Cities to Love is curt at 10 songs (thankfully trimmed of any fat whatsoever, really). When the trio fits together perfectly, as on “Surface Envy,” it’s a marvel to behold, its acidic riffs swaying and bursting at the seams while Tucker gives her band a worthy rallying call (“We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules”). Decidedly, No Cities to Love is yet another win for the returning rock titans known as Sleater-Kinney. 

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Viet Cong (CD)

From the ashes of the band Women comes Viet Cong, including that band’s bassist and drummer. Like Women, Viet Cong trade in gleaming, clashing guitars and droning vocal harmonies that seem to hang in mid-air, on tracks like “Bunker Buster.” “Pointless Experience” whizzes around with rocketing guitar riffs that beg to be heard on headphones, while “Continental Shelf” surfs on a New Order-ish bassline and brown waves of grimy guitar noise and leaping vocals. Though Viet Cong can be plenty crowd-pleasing when they want to be, on the new wavey “Silhouettes,” for instance, they’re also unapologetically experimental, though usually with a purpose—if you make it through the punishing industrial pulse of the first half of “March of Progress,” you’re rewarded with a haunting multivocal séance and surprisingly upbeat ending. And on final track, “Death,” the band seems to pay tribute to fallen Women guitarist Chris Reimer, with the kind of expansive guitar exercise worthy of Reimer’s sorely missed talent. Like Women, Viet Cong prefer to say what they need to say and then get out, but it’s always better to leave listeners wanting more. And any post-punk fan will be left wanting a lot more Viet Cong after hearing their dynamic debut.

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Dark Side Of The Mule (CD)

Back in 2008, Gov’t Mule played an epic three-hour gig at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on Halloween night. That night the jam band performed a setlist comprised entirely of Pink Floyd covers. Not that it is surprising that Warren Haynes and his cronies would do a tip of the hat to Floyd per se, but to set up archival releases showcasing those efforts? A whole new thing. As the first entry in a newly launched archival campaign, Gov’t Mule is releasing Dark Side of the Mule, the full show from 2008 in Boston, wonderfully mixed and mastered to capture the band's essence. It will be released on CD, as well as a deluxe three-CD/DVD combo and as a double-vinyl edition. These archival releases aim to highlight the band's evolution as well as a catalog of their influences. And with nearly 300 songs in their live repertoire alone, you can be sure there is a lot more where that came from.

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Negative Qualities (CD)

How punk rock can someone be when their songs are about trash talking typewriters and first editions? Surprisingly punk. Sweaty and angry, Drew Thomson belts out some of the nastiest and most sophisticated lyrics to come out of not just punk, but any band of the last year. And this isn't whiny, tantrum trash talk. It's pure cathartic rage of adulthood being spewed all over the mic. This isn't someone spilling their guts. This a full-on studio disembowelment.

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Warpaint (CD)

Warpaint’s The Fool was a great slow burner of a record, one that grew on you with each successive listen such that it continues to sound great years on. Now, four years later, the ladies of Warpaint return with their long-awaited second record. As is their way, Warpaint unfolds at an unhurried pace, relishing in subtleties with songs whose meanings or melodies you might be able to place right away, but whose impressions lasts much longer than instant gratification-style pop songs. They’re sort of the spiritual successor to the band Slowdive, the shoegaze greats who encountered as much acclaim as derision during their time, due to their milky, washy music, but who have since been ensconced as one of the most beloved bands of the ’90s. The effect of Warpaint’s music is similar, washing over you in spurts and leaving streaks. With a band like this, it’s generally tough to name singles or easy entry points, but Warpaint has some moments that stick out, namely “Biggy,” a great, trip hoppy pop song along the lines of Radiohead’s Kid A/Amnesiac period, while “Disco // Very” sees Emily Kokal’s vocals getting distorted and nasty over, yes, a disco beat, recalling some of the disco-rock of the ’00’s, only with a dirtier, dubbier tone. In these songs, Warpaint sees the band stretching their wings a bit, while fans of the first album will find much to love in the album’s dark, atmospheric corners. It’s altogether a fantastic, well-considered second album that proves the rewards of patience.

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Atlas (CD)

It should be no surprise that Real Estate’s third album is another impeccably crafted piece of beautiful guitar music. The New Jersey band has only made the necessary updates to their sound over the past few years, like polishing a statue into perfection. The album’s first few tracks offer everything we’ve come to love about this band, with sunny jangle-pop songs (opener “Had to Hear” and single “Talking Backwards”) butting next to nostalgic, minor-key songs about suburban splendor and decay—like being depressed about seeing a high school friend that never moved on, Matt Mondanile sings “I walk past these houses where we once stood/I see past lives, but somehow you’re still here,” with perfect precision on “Past Lives.” Real Estate’s lyrics have often taken a back seat to their shimmering guitarwork, but here they’re a bit more prominent, shining a light on Mondanile’s minimalist approach—despite how lovely the music is, songs like “Crime” are pretty depressing when you get down to it, with lyrics like “I wanna die/lonely and uptight.” Musically things have expanded a bit, as the band throws in more overt nudges toward easy listening and ’70s singer-songwriters in “The Bend” and country tinges in the gauzy, pretty “How I Might Live.” Instrumentally, these guys are just top notch, as they make instrumental “April’s Song” an album highlight, even without Mondanile’s soothing vocals, allowing his tremoloed, romantic guitar lines to do the singing for him. Atlas is simply a stunningly beautiful piece of guitar pop.

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Lion (CD)

Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy’s latest solo album is richly emotional, dark, and romantic – but would you expect anything less from the undisputed King of Goth? Also prepare for some rabble-rousing pirate sea shanties.

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HEAL (CD)

Folk artist Strands of Oak (aka Timothy Showalter) makes a huge leap on his latest record, HEAL. Facing marital woes after extensive touring, Showalter spins his emotional turmoil into rock gold, eschewing the more folk-based sound of his earlier material for a huge, all-embracing rock sound. You’d be forgiven for thinking those riffs on opener “Goshen ’97” sound like Dinosaur Jr.—that is Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis shredding away while Showalter unleashing his wavering croon in an ode to teenhood (“I was lonely, but I was having fun!” he cries). Showalter has made a pop record in the same way Bruce Sprinsteen does, pairing a huge drum sound and synthesizers with emotionally naked lyrics on songs like the title track (“I spent 10 long years feeling so fuckin bad/I know you cheated on me, but I cheated on myself” he sings through gritted teeth) or the hooky, Stevie Nicks-inspired “Same Emotions.” But even with Showalter’s newfound pop fixation, these are at their heart folk songs, confessional tunes that could be played on acoustic guitar and would still sound great. He pours his heart out in songs like “Shut In”—“I lose my faith in people, why even take the time?” he sings in relatable self-pity, despite the song’s huge sonic impact—and on “JM,” he crafts a sweeping tribute to the late Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and The Magnolia Electric Co. that manages to feel both intimate and epic. While HEAL is not a small-sounding record by any stretch of the imagination—in fact, Showalter is wholly dedicated to creating a massive sound here—these are still songs that cut to the core, reserving the noise until just the right moment. His fans should be able to see that, while he’ll be snapping up plenty of new ones with HEAL who will wonder what they’ve been missing all this time.

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Wig Out At Jagbags (CD)

Amid all the reunions of ’90s bands, Pavement’s was an anomaly—no new material, just some shows, a best-of release and then kaput, all within the year 2010. That’s perhaps a good thing, since it gives people a chance to focus on frontman Stephen Malkmus’ work both solo and with the Jicks, which has been largely excellent—and underrated. Wig Out at Jagbags finds Malkmus and co. loose and having fun, but still writing solid songs that stick. After a couple of jammy numbers, the album picks up with the poppy “Lariat,” which funnily seems to call out Malkmus’ own fan base (“we grew up listening to music from the best decade ever!” he sings at the conclusion). Alt-rock revivalism gives way to a piano-led rock ballad on “Houston Hades.” “Rumble at the Rainbo” finds the band poking fun at its own elder status within the underground community—“come and join us in this punk rock tune/come slam dancing with some ancient dudes,” Malkmus sings. The more improvy numbers might lose some people, even if relistening to Pavement finds as much emphasis on exploration as melody, but they always come back with a catchy tune—“Chartjunk” features horns and Malkmus playing a not-jokey guitar solo, and seeming to enjoying every minute of it; “Independence Street” is a Velvets-esque, dry ballad; and “Surreal Teenagers” closes the album on an energetic high. With an album as fun to listen to as Wig Out at Jagbags, we’ll let Malkmus close the book on Pavement and move into a new era.

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