Rock

Hang (CD)

On Foxygen's Hang, the Westlake Village duo dive into soul and sunshiney '70s rock to create complex yet catchy indie pop gems. Opener "Follow the Leader" will instantly transport you to a funkier time, with swelling strings, ebullient horns, and ultra-confident vocals. Four tracks into the album, the band swerves into lilting '60s crooner territory with "America." This is a polished, sophisticated, eclectic excursion you'll never want to take off your turntable.

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Apocalipstick (CD)

When this trio of fresh faced weirdos popped into the scene four years ago with their first album, Haxel Princess, it felt like a fresh change from the garage sound of Burger Records. Their blend of psychedelic humor, punk attitude, and anime kawaii cuteness all wrapped in the feel of the '90s indie rock scene was unlike anything else. While band leader Clementine Creevy still writes the songs and leads the direction of her dreamy rock group, old bandmates Hannah Uribe and Sean Redman have split to pursue other projects. With the new addition of drummer Tabor Allen and synth guru Sasami Ashworth, Cherry Glazerr have lost the low-fi atmosphere and hit hard with a sophisticated, beautifully produced sophomore endeavor. Dropping the joyous, California rock expected from a group that emerged from its garage scene, Apocalipstick feels like the real Los Angeles: smoggy, bad trends, annoying strangers, and oppressive sunshine. It's a sponge soaked in tears, bad memories, and bad vibes that's represented perfectly with distorted guitars and drums right out of a skate punk track. From the opening dirge of "Told You I Would Be with the Guys," there's a sense of existential dread that was never apparent on their first album. It's a strange feminist manifesto about finding strength and solidarity with other women, but this comes with the uncomfortable realization that she has a dependency on men. "Nuclear Bomb" gives Ashworth, the synth player, a chance to show off some great harmonies as Creevy tears through the song. It fits perfectly with the self-loathing, destructive perspective of the song's fierceness. But Cherry Glazerr's new direction is embodied no better than on "Nurse Ratched." The track, named after the terrible nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is bitter and almost violent, without a single ray of sunshine in this bleak landscape. If anything, Apocalipstick feels optimistic in the sense that the world of Los Angeles rock might be going into weirder directions. A perfect soundtrack for strange times.

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The Wave [Deluxe Edition] (CD)

Since Keane announced their hiatus in 2013, their brand of tragic pop has been missed. Try listening to their seminal hit "Somewhere Only We Know" without getting emotional with all its baroque beauty. Lead singer Tom Chaplin's first album,The Wave, comes from an emotional place itself. Famously, he battled a cocaine addiction in the mid-2000s, and relapsed in the anticipation leading up to his first solo album. But The Wave feels like a victory in the wake of that type of terror and horror. If you miss the forward-thinking and simultaneously nostalgic Brit-pop sound of 1995, this album sounds like a spiritual successor. The Wave has a lovely production with luscious string parts and drums that are as elegant as Hal Blaine's famous drumming on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. The lead single, "Quicksand," opens with a small orchestra playing thick harmonies against a twinkling piano. Chaplin sings about being beaten, worn and exhausted by the world, but sees optimism at the end of the tunnel. He smoothly croons that there's victory and happiness to be had in small failures, and that you can eventually find success, even in your darkest moments. "Hardened Heart" comes from a similarly optimistic viewpoint, unfortunately born out of sadness. In a quiet intro, he questions how he made it to this point and how he maintains his existence in this world, and then the song hits a crescendo that feels like happiness made into soundwaves. There's a type of fragility in his vocal bravado that is almost on par with similarly introspective albums like Frank Sinatra's famous September Of My Years. With his upcoming Los Angeles performance at the El Rey Theater in February, The Wave is a perfect way to feel the spiritual connection and power of his music.

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Reflection (CD)

At 68, Brian Eno constantly takes incredible leaps and new experimental risks with every album. It only makes sense that one of the godfathers of electronic music has been making some of his most forward-looking music since signing to the similarly forward-looking Warp Records. The Ship's structure was somewhere between dream pop and ambient poem and his collaborations with Underworld's Karl Hyde recalled the Afro-future sound of his experiments with David Byrne. Reflection continues his fascination with sculpting ambient music in surprising ways that feel like a completely different experience with each album. His previous ambient albums were created through various methods including tape loops, manipulation, and computers or through his famous "Oblique Strategies" cards. Reflection is the recorded version of his new ambient music and visual app for iOS and AppleTV that creates a constant stream of sound and sonic serenity. This version made for CD and vinyl represents one of the possibilities the app can create through various algorithms. This is all very heady and out-there stuff for one of the most peaceful and meditative albums in recent years. Unlike some of his prior ambient works that required you to almost not listen and to let it create an acoustic soundscape for you to inhabit, Reflection has a thicker, heavier sound that is like a thunderous wall of organ ambiance. It shifts somewhere between computerized drone and church organ as the heavy bass creates a zone of clear thoughts and angelic sound. It's anti-chaos that can make you stop and really calm down in our increasingly insane world. After the dire nightmare that was 2016, it's wonderful to have the first major album of the year be as contemplative and relaxing a listen as this.

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Atomic [OST] (CD)

Mogwai – the Scottish purveyors of contemplative, swirling, cinematic instrumentals – have certainly found an extracurricular niche scoring diverse projects such as the documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Darren Aronofsky's film The Fountain, and French TV series Les Revenants. Their latest album, Atomic, is a re-recording of their soundtrack to the Mark Cousins' Hiroshima documentary for the BBC, Storyville - Atomic: Living In Dread & Promise. More of an art-piece than a documentary, Storyville deals with the horror, fear, innovation, and hope surrounding the events of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb with images and moods as opposed to a structured narrative. Mogwai’s Atomic matches the film’s contrasts at every turn with their trademark shifts from shimmering minimalism to grand noise-oriented rock, sometimes in a sinister vein. The dualities of the modern world – innovation and obliteration – are heard in these revelatory shifts. 

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Dim Mak 20th Anniversary (CD)

Steve Aoki’s homegrown LA record label reaches the two decade mark this year, and to celebrate they’ve put out a comprehensive retrospective featuring 20 of their most seminal releases. Dim Mak first made its mark in the 2000s, releasing essential material from indie bands who would go on to immense success, such as Bloc Party and The Kills. They later positioned themselves at a forefront of the burgeoning EDM scene, as reflected in the album’s opening cut, the now-ubiquitous “Warp” by the Bloody Beetroots. Dim Mak’s eclectic approach is displayed in Aoki’s selections; this compilation pulls from a diverse pallet of sounds and attitudes, but congeals around its shared mission of releasing music that is energetic and impossible to ignore.

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I Could Be Happy (CD)

Nouvelle Vague could almost be mistaken for a novelty act if they weren't actually so good. The duo of Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux (plus several delicate, soft-spoken female vocalists) has made a name for themselves by transforming tracks by The Sex Pistols, XTC, Joy Division, and The Buzzcocks into loungey, space age era bossa nova songs that belong more at a tiki themed party than in the loud timbre of a punk venue. But I Could Be Happy introduces something new: original songs. And the best part is that they don't fumble for one bit. Maybe by cutting their teeth on covers of perfect and complex rock songs, their original material doesn't land flat. "Loneliness" could be taken as a nostalgic crooner track that seems influenced by the exotica vibes of Yellow Magic Orchestra as organic sounds are gently stirred with an electronic flavor than can only be described as "chill." But the unique covers are still there! New wave band Altered Images' seminal single "I Could Be Happy" not only provides the title of the album, but is also a real highlight. The joyous, bouncy track feels like it took a handful of painkillers as it slips into a mellow variation that's more like a walk on the beach than a jolt of punk electricity. The Cure's "All Cats Are Grey" was already a haunting track that was seeped in a mysterious atmosphere and offered a taste of what more serious-minded '80s bands would do. But Nouvelle Vague's cover has a childlike whimsy that overshadows the brooding nature of the original. Instead of droning synths and echoing drums, the air of tragedy is added by touches of Celeste and an accordion that fuels the angst. As 2016 proves to be a grim year, I Could Be Happy is a musical ray of sunshine. It's pure candy for the ears and a quiet treat to end the year. Pairs excellently with a sweet cocktail.

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Better Ash Than Dust [EP] (CD)

Orange Country hardcore/metalcore group Stick to Your Guns have released a powerful, brutal statement with the Better Ash Than Dust EP. The songs are relentless and aggressive, so it might come as a surprise to discover they’re also…ridiculously catchy. Combined, the hard-hitting guitar riffs, primal drums, and urgent, melodic vocals take metalcore to a whole ‘nother level. And that’s what makes Stick to Your Guns so great; even with your ears ringing and your teeth clenched from head banging, once the EP is over you’ll be jumping out of your seat to put it on again.

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Love And Other Crimes (CD)

Madison, WI four-piece Masked Intruder have created the perfect party record on their short but sweet Love and Other Crimes EP. The riffs are hard, the lyrics alternately heartfelt and hilarious (case in point “Everything is awesome when you’re running from the cops” from, yes, “Running from the Cops”). The songs are simple but dynamic: a real testament to the power of the mysterious masked band’s songwriting skills. If you’re a fan of snotty good-time pop punk, you’ll want to turn this one up loud.

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Citizen Of Glass (CD)

Berlin-based singer Agnes Obel’s Citizen of Glass is a quietly intense, devastatingly lovely album inspired by the German legal term gläserner berger, or glass citizen, a nod to our lack of privacy in the internet age. Obel, a classically-trained pianist, creates dark, crystalline chamber pop by incorporating the sounds of centuries past — the celeste, the spinet, a 1920s synth called a Trautonium — with lush string arrangements, voice modulation, and electronic effects. The LP is dark and enchanting, well-suited for the winter months ahead. It’s a forward-thinking album rooted in the sounds of the past; you’re unlikely to hear anything else like Obel’s singular vision this year.

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