Rock

Family (CD)

“My father is one of the greats to ever step on a stage. My mother has the most beautiful voice in the world. And I am betwixt and between. Sean Lennon, you know what I mean. Born to the manor, never quite clamoring free. It's Family.” The self-titled opener sung by Teddy Thompson lays the foundation for this supergroup. The album itself contains each member of the Thompson family sharing their own musical styles and lyrical preferences. And like any family, each member finds a unique way to fit into the machine yet still maintain individuality. Teddy (the son) came up with the concept and laid down the simple folky opener “Family” as well as the witty countrified “Right.” Kami Thompson (the daughter) of the folk duo The Rails, bursts brightly from the album with the up tempo folk rocker “Careful.” It isn’t until the proud mother and father take the lead, that the albums concept truly shines. Linda’s beautiful song to her son “Bonny Boys,” is teaming with motherly advice and unconditional love. Then “That’s Enough,” a populist protest song led by Richard accented by his family assisting him in the chorus “We still keep falling for the same old lies. Time’s Are Tough, That’s Enough. Both songs give glimpses of an intimacy which can only be shared by the family who truly loves one another. Though the Thompson’s have had their share of trial and tribulations throughout the years, those bonds still find their way to form a solid folk record.

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Hypnotized (CD)

Founding members of Brooklyn’s Indie Punk outfit The Men, Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi have found yet another outlet for their creative genre reinventing style. Dream Police is a kraut influenced, drum machine led, drone combo. The sound is repetitive, the noise is restrained, and it still f*cking rocks! At first glance Hypnotized seems like it should be a standard side project record. Members of a group that have gotten an itch to try a new sound that doesn’t fit under the moniker of their already successful band. However, Dream Police is not a side project. Therefore, any sonic discoveries that Mark and Nick (along with Kyle Keays-Hagerman) make in Hypnotized have nothing to do with pushing The Men out of their comfort zone. A serious plus because it allows for the drone of their new sound to maintain a familiar tone in the guitar work that just sounds like bitchin’ classic rock. With that touchstone in place, the record meanders through several genres. “Hypnotized” appropriately opens with a sparse Spacemen 3 guitar inspired drone with sweet guitar licks over the noise. When the drum machine kicks in about a minute into the record the noise seems to revitalize and take on a new shape. Track 3, “Iris,” lacks the pounding repetition of electronic drums. While it sort of feels like you have skipped on to a new record, the folk thrum of the lonely guitar strings keeps pace in an equally hypnotizing manner. Some highlight tracks: “Pouring Rain” and “All We Are” wrangle you in through shoe gazey post-punk that leave you ruminating. Whereas “Let It Be” moves at a smoother pace and illuminates the whole Kraut element with a heavy nod to Neu. And then there is “John” which is just a low down dirty blues jaunt. The record ends with “Sandy,” a beautifully mystifying duet with Holly Overton. Throughout Hypnotized the gears switch suddenly, the creativity is abundant and the sounds seem richer and more resonant than anything Perro and Chiericozzi have done before. Perhaps, due to the empty space left on the recordings? Whatever the reason, I want more.

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Sargent Place (CD)

If you have ever endeavored a late night meander in Echo Park, chances are likely you came upon a serpentine path uphill and down, inevitably leading to some unforeseen, undirected, and unexpected location. That location may very well be Sargent Place. Named after one of the aforementioned streets in the Los Angeles artist enclave, it is also where Josh Haden recorded his last album. After 2012's Soul Of Spain, it felt very much like the artist had returned to what moved him in the first place. Sargent Place is a similar meditation on love, sex, the spirit, and death. The opener, “Love At First Sight,” strikes with a moody bass line that flows throughout until met with intense stumbling guitar work and block building vocals that outline the path in store. “The Fighter,” a tad more melancholic wander, features vocals and violin work of sister Petra. Another notable familial guest spot on Sargent Place is father Charlie Haden on the hopeful “You and I.” The poppier “It Could Be Heaven” leads the darkened path softly with its surf like guitar and warm organ sounds. Its rock ego driven counterpart, “Sunday Morning,” starts to indicate paranoid daylight. Quickly the road turns to a more soulful somber direction with “Let Your Angel.” This tone leads all the way to three beautiful tracks at the end of the record: “To Be A Man,” “In My Soul,” and “You and I.” These hope filled songs seem to indicate the rediscovery of the spirit and the following of a new path. This discovery culminates with “Waking Song,” a light-hearted closer from the moody journey reminding us of the comforts of Sargent Place.

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Z² (CD)

Z2! The Return of Ziltoid. Townsend’s latest record is actually, in fact, two separate albums. The first, Sky Blue, is a Devin Townsend Project release. It follows the logical progression where Epicloud left off and steps it up with complicated melodies and a melancholic tone. The album is filled with hooks and a heaviness that make it a very accessible record. Accessibility not withstanding, Sky Blue has an experimental quality. Even the song “Sky Blue” is a heavily EDM influenced tune that contains lots of glitches and digitizing that is almost a foreshadowing to the companion disc, the heavily experimental Dark Matters. The return of Ziltoid The Omniscient. For those of you unaware, this is a science fiction story involving all sorts of aliens, plots to destroy, coffee. It’s a thing. Check out the previous work Ziltoid The Omnisicient. This is a continuation or sequel that is mainly for kids. The story trumps all of the music. That isn’t to say the tunes aren’t there. It is a story first and foremost, soundtracked by heavy riffage, orchestras, choirs! Wow. Ambitious work, but what else would you expect from Townsend?

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At War With Reality (CD)

Melodic death metal pioneers At The Gates have returned with a fury. Nearly twenty years after releasing the bench mark melodeath masterpiece, Slaughter of the Soul, the Swedish group drop this record on unsuspecting fans like they never left. Having reformed twice in the last 10 years the threat of new material was never in the cards. Vocalist Tomas Lindberg assured that the legacy of their final 1995 release would remain intact. And why not? If you are in many ways the founder of an entire subgenre (Gothenburg Sound), and that legacy is defined by your last album, why tarnish that? Because fucking metal, that’s why. But really At War With Reality by no means tarnishes the name of At The Gates. That is really why. Tracks like “Death And The Labyrinth” and “Heroes And Tombs,” are pure Gothenburg Metal that would have fit nicely on any of their earlier recordings. Throughout listening to the record the glaringly obvious realization is many groups have attempted to recreate this sound, but sometimes you just need the original.

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Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave (CD)

The Twilight Sad are masters of misery, plying heartbreak directly into their guitars on their stunning fourth album. “There’s a Girl in the Corner” is an epic breakup song, with James Graham’s repeating “she’s not coming back,” his Scottish brogue piercing through sheets of minor key noise. “Last January” is propulsive with a perfect layering of synths, displaying at how well The Twilight Sad have folded their recent new-wave leanings into their core noise-pop sound. The band also continue to show an uncanny ability to repurpose familiar influences like R.E.M., Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine and still come out with something fresh and enjoyable on tracks like “It Was Never the Same,” touching on these influences without being beholden to them, or letting Graham’s voice soar over a Suicide-style drum machine on the title track. The band has often been noted more for its atmospherics than hooks, but “Drown So I Can Watch” is one of their catchiest songs yet, with a relatively light, lilting melody that eases some of the downer mood. And they allow for more space on Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave than on previous albums, ending on a pair of spare, beautiful tracks. It’s the best thing they’ve done since their electrifying debut.

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Fumes (CD)

Teenage folk duo Lily & Madeleine have done a remarkable thing with their second full-length, Fumes. The harmonious team comprised of two sisters hailing from Indiana successfully injected meaning and emotion into folk music. All of this is without the artifice and dependence of tugging on the listener's heartstrings. No small feat when you consider the overtly anthemic and overly passionate landscape of mainstream folk. And when you are 16 (Lily) and 18(Madeleine)! Signed by Sufjan Stevens' label in 2013 Lily & Madeleine’s previous releases had a warm reception yet the focus was on their youth and innocence. With Fumes, which is the first in a trilogy the duo plans on releasing annually, the focus is clearly on the present. The sisters lyrically paint tracks like the opener “Fumes” and presumable single “The Wolf Is Free” with an easy hope and wonder. The feelings are not forced into their composition. Feelings and thoughts are simply expressed by one sister and answered by the other… while singing. The self proclaimed “Blood Harmony” is riveting through the entire record. The lush production, completely informed by the Alto and Soprano intertwining, is never out of place. Intrigued to see what these Midwest gals have in store for the next two installments.

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Phantom Radio (CD)

On his ninth studio album, Mark Lanegan delivers the gravelly voiced goods, with a few surprises. “Harvest Home” starts the album on a strong note, as Lanegan’s whiskey-soaked voice and tremoloed guitars are joined by some Gary Numanesque synthesizers and a propulsive beat. Lanegan goes mellow with some worldly psych-soul on “Seventh Day,” and he sings gorgeously on the lushly atmospheric “Torn Red Heart,” breaking our hearts with his vulnerable croon and lyrics like “you don't love me, what's to love anyway?” Some of the digital effects on tracks like “The Killing Season” sound a bit dated, like leftover trip-hop backing tracks from the ’90s, but even then, that song is saved by Lanegan’s cool lyrics, full of creepy details that strike the senses, like “the perfume of your blood” and “I feel your hands around my throat.” And while it’s nice to hear Lanegan stretch a bit, when he’s in his familiar wheelhouse of slow-burners, the results are still wonderful — “I Am the Wolf” possesses beautifully bleak acoustic guitar strums and reverbed electric guitars that fall like rain to set the stage for Lanegan's dusky drawl. And “Judgment Time” is a spare, organ-driven spiritual ode “a strung-out angel” so elegant and evocative, it could serve as an elegy to a war film. With terrific variation and strong melodies, Lanegan seems to nail every nuance on Phantom Radio.

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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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