Rock

Dark Before Dawn (CD)

The path that Benjamin Burnley has carved out for himself has not been the easiest. His steadfast career has been riddled with countless medical, legal and artistic complications. But nothing has shown his perseverance more than the post-hiatus return of Dark Before Dawn. The Breaking Benjamin namesake/frontman, having cut ties with his former backing band, proceeded forward with a full line-up change in 2014. Each member picked by Burnley himself is meant to be a complimentary and respectful addition to the new group. While the post-grunge sound of previous albums, the personnel change instead casts a new outlook on the band itself. “Every great relationship is built on respect. You get what you give. Everybody is just totally humbled. We just want to go out, be real and have a really good time with our fans.” This new positive outlook is very exciting for fans due to the amount of work that they might see out in the future (a possible acoustic album). That sound for now however is very reminiscent of his post sober work on 2009’s Dear Agony. No surprise there, considering former Dear Agony co-writer Jasen Rauch is now a full member of the new Breaking Benjamin. For fans of the group, the revitalization of Dark Before Dawn is an exciting landmark for great things to come.

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Dancing At The Blue Lagoon (CD)

Cayucas make irrepressibly sunny guitar pop that suggests they’re the West Coast’s answer to Vampire Weekend. Their sophomore album may sound like it was engineered by the folks at the Ace Hotel for maximum margarita-sipping vibes, but there’s a cleverness to Cayucas’ arrangements. Single “Moony Eyed Walrus” is an irresistibly catchy tune with guitars that skip like a stone, its emotive strings serving as a nice counterpart to Zach Udin’s vocals, which flip from detached stoner to beach party emcee. They infuse songs like the title track with subtle marimbas and snaking basslines to match their island-hopping guitars, while lyrics about a certain dancing muse give the song the feel of a poolside update on “Hotel California.” Though it can be a bit on the nose when the band sings about Jacuzzi nights and Tahitian blues on “Backstroke,” the song still has a nice Afropop-leaning funk to it and vocal oddities that make the song a pleasure. And “Ditches,” a piano ballad about getting the hell out of suburbia, sees the band stretching its wings. So don’t feel bad about blasting Dancing at the Blue Lagoon all summer; you won’t be the only one doing so.

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Sticky Fingers [Deluxe Edition] (CD)

There’s little that can be said about Sticky Fingers that hasn’t been said a million times, but it bears repeating: It’s the most consistently great album in the Rolling Stones’ estimable catalog, making it easily one of the most solid albums ever. Sticky Fingers’ 10 songs saw the band entering the ’70s in style, with some of their hookiest and best songs, from iconic singles like “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” to the growling, bluesy expanse of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” paralleling “Sister Morphine’s” dead-eyed comedown, the elegant garage-rock of “Sway” and “Dead Flowers” and beatific closer “Moonlight Mile.” These new deluxe editions strip off the borders from such a venerated album and let us see it in a new light. There’s a scrappy take on “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton on guitar, an even sparer “Wild Horses,” and a slimmed-down take on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” while “Bitch” goes off the rails into a wicked jam. Sticky Fingers is the best place to start for Stones newbies, and this edition presents the best-ever version of the classic album.

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Apocalypse, Girl (CD)

Norwegian artist Jenny Hval’s peculiar sound world incorporates spoken-word performance, of disjointed observations and sexually exploration, and an unpredictable singing voice, at times softly melodic, other times creepily singing about “shaving in all the right places” over cerebral pieces built on musique concrete and classic goth-rock. Listening feels like stepping into a darkened room and following a pinhole’s light. You’re unsure of what you’ll find, yet you’re oddly compelled to move forward through songs that feel more like dream-logic scenarios in which borders are unrecognized. Some echoes of Broadcast, Laurie Anderson, Bjork and Kate Bush poke through, but Hval, schooled in gothic metal, writing and performance, has a solitary perspective that can’t truly be forced into traditional influences. More accessible tracks like the loose, organ-driven “The Battle Is Over” give way to avant-garde sound pieces like “White Underground,” built on layers of ascending vocals and wails and synth drones that emit horror movie vibes. Hval skillfully keeps things tied together and swinging back and forth between the esoteric and tangible, moving back toward the latter for the French Pop-inspired “Heaven” and soulful wonderland of “Why This.” Hval’s ability to transmute her dreams and internalized feelings into pop-distorting pieces is a rare thing, giving Apocalypse, girl the thrilling feel of discovering the obscured.

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Before The World Was Big (CD)

L.A. duo Girlpool find something new and intriguing among familiar elements on their debut LP, Before the World Was Big. Twin vocals wrap around lonely bass and guitar lines that wander the empy space left by a lack of accompanying instruments, placing the focus on the Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad's vocals, wide-eyed and untamed like two feral children searching for clarity in a supposedly civilized world. Their debut calls to mind indie-rock heroes of yore from The Breeders to Modest Mouse without really sounding like any band before them—a feat in and of itself—singing of the trappings of a typical life ("Ideal World"), endless tour boredom ("Dear Nora") and the sudden nostalgia that hits at the end of your teenage years, where Tucker and Tividad currently find themselves, evoking the image walking to and from school in matching dresses and feeling like you grew up too fast on the title track. Unlike that of most bands, the hype surrounding Girlpool is entirely understandable—it's rare to find music this special.

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Kicker (CD)

If you like your pop with a hint of the alt you’ve come to the right place. Zella Day, the Arizona born songstress who first got recognition after acoustically covering The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army," is back with another foray into the pop world. "Hypnotic," the breakout single from her 2014 self-titled EP, has the swagger of a top radio hit with a western (as in Morricone) tinge. Her follow-up single, "High," occasionally hits the level of a Del Rey melancholy blended with the ferocity of a Rihanna. Apart from the savage singles Kicker contains several mid-tempo tracks that are balanced out by some killer pop-rock inspired tunes.

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Multi-Love (CD)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with Multi-Love. The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag, Multi-Love is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s truly one of the best things we’ve heard all year.

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Little Neon Limelight (CD)

Houndmouth hail from New Albany, Indiana where just across the river lays Louisville, Kentucky and the bulk of the clubs where this Americana group cut their teeth. In 2012 the group played SXSW where they were immediately signed to Rough Trade. Since then they have played countless festivals and released the critically acclaimed full-length From the Hills Below the City. Now after that blast of success Houndmouth have returned to prove that a Little Neon Limelight certainly ain’t gonna change them. The opener “Sedona” begins with a desert wind whistling, intimating that as a group they may be a long way from home. As the music builds and Matt Myers demands the listener hear his words the group sounds clearly comfortable in their new home. Out of the gate “Otis” has Katie Toupin delivering a classic country style tune, lending itself to the campfire sing-along. This style of storytelling pops up later in “Black Gold” where you can hear the oft-compared “The Band” influence. “My Cousin Greg,” however, is the shining star of this record. Each member of the band delivers a verse in this rollicking bluesy tune leading to the triumphant chorus “If you want to live the good life you’d better stay away from the limelight.” Clearly, this sentiment is something the band has thought about and something they have executed expertly in Little Neon Limelight. Each of these tracks could play equally well on the festival circuit or in the neon beer light of a small Louisville dive bar.

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Alone With A Friend (CD)

It's hard to get excited about psychedelic rock when the style of fuzzed-out guitars and reverb heavy vocals has penetrated every crevice of indie rock radio. So it's a refreshingly cool glass of LSD-spiked Kool-Aid when Talk in Tongues ends up being the dance album of psych weirdness you've been craving. After the Los Angeles-based quartet released "Still Don't Seem to Care" from seemingly out-of-nowhere, it proved to be a left field hit of heavy-funk bass and crisp percussion contrasting against illuminating guitar solos while the vocals seem to float in from the cosmos. It was rattling and wild. After their song made the rounds on social media sites and blogs, Talk in Tongues has prepared their first album, Alone With a Friend, in a hurried session meant to just spawn a B-side. Frenetic and crazed without ever feeling sloppy or messily assembled, Alone With a Friend seems to channel that joy and exuberance of one too many pills that seem to kick in real late at night, right when the music gets beautiful. Transcendent stuff.

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Darling... It's Too Late (CD)

Besides having one of the best band names in garage rock, Guantanamo Baywatch have one of the best sounds in the genre. The band pulls from classic soul and early rock ‘n’ roll, infusing their raw vocals with a lot of sass and soul on monster-mashin’ tunes like “Jungle Bride” and fearing not to slow down the tempo for waltzing breakup ballads like “Too Late.” The band’s surf-inflected, honky-tonkin’ guitarwork is smartly done, going for melody over pure prowess on songs like the instrumentals “Raunch Stop” and “Cory Baum’s Theme.” Guantamo’s combination of stellar instrumentals and campy group sing-alongs proves a winning combination on this stellar new album from the Portland trio.

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