Rock

Fury (CD)

As bands like Tool and Rage Against the Machine take what feels like a permanent vacation, Sick Puppies perfectly fill the void. Originally conquering the airways in Australia, they traveled out west to do the type of alt-metal that has been missing since the early 2000s. Now featuring a line-up change with new lead-singer and guitarist Bryan Scott, Sick Puppies is ready to blast your ears into oblivion with the appropriately titled Fury. Entering a new phase of their career, they listened to the fans and gave them what they wanted: power. It's an album that can barely contain all the rage and emotion they've kept bottled up since their previous, and much softer, album, Connect. Single, "Stick To Your Guns" blends metal with the '90s industrial sound of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, and grabs you by the throat, spins you around, and slams you straight into concrete. "Earth To You" feels like a take on Led Zeppelin with its bluesy slap-bass over tribal drums before Bryan Scott practically yells in your face. Fury is relentless as it tears down everything in sight, barely giving you a second to breath. As heavy as heavy gets.

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Strangers (CD)

With her seventh album, Marissa Nadler refines her poetry and dense sound in a way that is the envy of every other singer-songwriter. Her emotions are on clear display as she steps further away from the world of folk and goes for more tragic and haunting moods crafted by her sparse guitar and lush layers of synths and strings. All the while her delicate voice echoes with endless reverb until it just dissolves. Every track is a lamentation of love gone toxic and when her voice pierces right into you it almost feels like her pain is aimed directly at you. Two tracks into the album and "Katie I Know" can easily break you. She is so blunt and clear about her conflicts that it's almost too much to take. Her voice sounds like it could break into tears any second over the strings serenading her. "All Of The Colors Of The Dark" is so bare and personal that it's as if you are peeking into her subconscious with her beautiful imagery. "Janie In Love" has crackling guitar that feels right out of a Roy Orbison track until it blows you down with sonic drone that turns into a chaos that her previous albums never did. It's no surprise that she collaborated with Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn as her instrumentation gets heavier and louder and starts to feel fiercer than other folk artists. Strangers continues Sacred Bones' perfectly curated and genre defying sound that seems to create trends instead of follow them. It's Nadler's most mature album  yet and something people will try to emulate for the next few years.

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The Bastards (CD)

Radical Face isn't just a clever name. He radicalizes the singer/songwriter, indie solo mold of the solitary sound of a person and his guitar, melding it with textured atmospherics and haunting lyrics. Working on his project The Family Tree for the past five years, he found himself with extra tracks that were incredible but didn’t find a home on his LPs. So the aptly titled album The Bastards brings together his three bonus EPs of musical stragglers that he included with his last few albums along with couple of extra tracks. These are no toss-offs, but rather are tracks that were too good to end up on the cutting room floor. The Bastards tells the continuing story of the fictitious Northcotes family that feels part Southern gothic, part ghost story. "Nightclothes" wears its emotions so clearly on it's sleeve that it might make Nick Drake blush, but it also has a spooky quality, with psychedelic waves of oscillating strings and field recording crunch. Meanwhile, something like "Servants and Kings" is more joyous, with a funk-drum rhythm, ambient sounds zapped right from '80s meditation tapes and spaced lyrics. Despite being a small collection of extra tracks, you will be hard-pressed to find more personal or more revealing songs on other albums released this year.

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Will (CD)

Julianna Barwick doesn't just create music, but she creates sonic chambers that feel like warm, cozy places you can live in. Falling into a sort of weird lineage that started with the electronic minimalists like David Borden and Pauline Oliveros, continued on with Harold Budd's collaboration with the Cocteau Twins and now the nouveau new age musicians who have rediscovered how to make discount synths sound groundbreaking and modern, Will’s atmospherics continuously dissolve into a pleasant, pink haze that hypnotizes the listener. Recalling the '80s dream team of Julee Cruise, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, with warm, peaceful sine waves and mysterious vocals you can barely make out, the music has the spectral grace of ambient music, but the strange instrumentation and voices still give it one foot in the world of song-based pop music. "Nebula" literally raises a cacophony of spacey synths, droning cello and hallowed crying that climaxes in pure aural bliss before just disappearing into the ether like a memory. Along with Tim Hecker and William Basinski, there aren't many like Juliana Barwick who can transform and reinvent what the word "ambient" means to music, but she does it with unbelievable grace and poetry.

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Hopelessness (CD)

Just as the artist formerly known as Antony has chosen to go by the name ANOHNI in her personal and professional life, Hopelessness, her debut sans the Johnsons, dramatically refashions the artist’s sound world. With production by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, ANOHNI takes her socially conscious lyrics to the world of experimental synth-pop. “Let me be the one, the one that you choose from above,” she sings darkly in “Drone Bomb Me,” one of many politically pointed songs on the album. Similarly, she takes on the role of the victim on the sparkling, Kate Bush-inspired “Execution,” which refers to its titular act as “an American dream.” Over the pounding drums and synth-orchestral pomp of “4 Degrees,” ANOHNI decries the environmental atrocities we’ve enacted with the blackest of black humor (“I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze/I wanna see the animals die in the trees”). “I know you love me, ‘cause you’re always watching me,” she sings on the stunning “Watch Me,” an indictment of PRISM and America’s obsession with surveillance. As its title suggests, the album can run dour, as on bleak pieces like “Obama,” which is daring but feels a little on the nose, lyrically. Luckily, Hopelessness balances its dire subject matter with spectacular, pop-minded production that retains touches of the chamber-pop style on which ANOHNI built her musical stature. And on experimental pieces like the electro-jazz of “Violent Man,” her music also has never been more vibrant. Though not exactly full of sunshine and rainbows, by turning a bright light on the things we’d rather ignore, Hopelessness finds triumph.

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Allas Sak (CD)

Swedish psych-rockers Dungen indulge in some proggy theatrics on their latest, upending dad rock clichés to make classic sounding rock ‘n’ roll cool and mysterious again in the process.

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Ocean By Ocean (CD)

Fifteen years in, The Boxer Rebellion shows no signs of losing an ounce of creative energy. Their first album since adding guitarist Andrew Smith, Ocean By Ocean finds them at a crossroad somewhere between U2 at their most minimal and Coldplay's fusion of rock and electronic ambiance. With an in-yer-face '80s wink 'n' nod with their neon-colored style and new wave aesthetic, they're now at their most mellow, and their chilly synths lay a blanket of cold air over guitars that sound like surf by way of Robert Fripp. Each track combines the popularization of electronics in '80s music with a feeling of nature and the ocean to create a spiritual Philip K. Dick concept of an album that belongs as much in 1982 as it does in 2016. "Big Ideas" is moody and perfect radio pop that hits you like a breeze on a cold night with its tender lyrics and an atmospheric tapestry of glossy and shinny sounds. "Weapons" is punctuated by slamming electronics and spacious guitars — you could be convinced it was a deleted track off the Drive soundtrack. Ocean by Ocean finds The Boxer Rebellion at their most mature and perhaps at their best musically. With VR becoming increasingly real, this is the aural embodiment of a digital beach that you'll never want to leave.

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Ohana (CD)

Hawaii's native sons Pepper couldn't sound any more Hawaiian on Ohana if you threw spam, leis and poi on top of it. Recorded as a straight-to-tape studio album to give the feeling of a live-performance, Ohana is sunshine ska, with clicking rhythms and island attitude. Sculpted to be the soundtrack for summer, Ohana is like a warm hug, as lovely lyrics, reggae beats and sassy vocals embody the mood and atmosphere of what resting in the sun, swimming in the ocean and holding someone you love feels like. "Vacation" treads into pop-punk/ska mode as it goofily tells you to take it easy, enjoy yourself and get away for a while. "Start You Up" could've been a lost Sublime track, if they were less ironic and more emotional, as Pepper get spacier and more romantic with their song of conflicted love. But "Reckless" shows the band's edgier and more dangerous side, feeling intimidating and sexy. When rock music sometimes takes itself too seriously, Ohana is the just a load of fun that wants you to have a good time. Put on some shorts and flip flops and take it easy with Pepper.

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Nonagon Infinity (CD)

Melbourne’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard make records that leave all the other psych-rock pretenders in the dust, employing both chunky riffs and jazzy acoustic fair, like proto-metal and British folk had a tie-dyed baby. Their latest takes the idea of a record that loops in on itself and stretches that into nine acid-fueled jams that make for a non-stop psych party. Opener “Robot Stop” plays like a Japanese punk band covering Sabbath over a heavy motorik beat. It leads right into “Big Fat Wasp,” with nasty harmonic riffs reminiscent of Led Zeppelin on “Four Sticks.” “Gamma Knife’s” ascendant melodies and howls continue into the fast-paced “People-Vultures.” The black opens up a bit for the playful melody and vintage organs of “Mr. Beat,” but those give way to “Evil Death Roll,” which is true to its name. Meanwhile, the jazzy grooves of “Invisible Face” and “Wah Wah” bring to mind weirdos like Mothers of Invention and prog-rockers, but by “Road Train,” the evil beat is back, and the road ends right where it started. It’s a brilliant, psychedelic trip worth taking.

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The Ship (CD)

Brian Eno’s latest album combines the minimalist approach to his ambient work such as Music for Airports with the intrigue of his more pop-oriented work. On “The Ship,” individual tones, thick, thin, solid and wavering create a transfixing horizontal drone. Vocals enter after a few minutes, deeply intoning strange truisms behind some swan-diving notes and radio noise that sound like a TV left on in another room. “The time is still, the sky is young,” the voice says, and the music feels eternal while the found sound of advertisements feels ephemeral. The Ship is a little unsettling but ultimately gives a sense of peace, a contemplative reminder of our short time on a greater vessel that sets us free from our preoccupations.

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