The Ghosts Of Highway 20 [Indie Exclusive] (CD)

Between this album and 2014’s double-album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, Lucinda Williams is experiencing her second mid-career renaissance (the first, of course, was the release of her fifth album and masterpiece Car Wheels on a Gravel Road). On her latest, she inhabits various characters inspired by the Interstate 20 from Texas eastward, painting Southern Gothic shades on rollicking country-rockers and dingey acoustic odes. “Call me a prostitute and a whore too, I do these tricks your wife refuses to,” she sings in a curdled slur on “House of Earth,” which is adopted from a Woody Guthrie novel. Guitarists Bill Frisell lines theses songs with spindly, jazz-inspired lines while Greg Leisz pours Crazy Horse-ish riffs all over “Dust” — the result is a gorgeous blend of grit and grace. Though Ghosts runs long, it never drags, thanks to excellent pacing — “Doors of Heaven’s” gospel-rock comes around at just the right time, while second-half knockout “If My Love Could Kill” shows up with its spine-tingling melody and swampy shuffle when you’re nice and buzzed on Williams’ whiskey-soaked drawl. It’s no exaggeration to call The Ghosts of Highway 20 her best album since 2003’s World Without Tears. Her 12th album is a highlight in a career full of ’em.

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Is The Is Are (CD)

Brooklyn’s Diiv are back after four years with an album that delivers on the promise of their debut, Oshin. Musically, Zachary Cole Smith and co. still dole out shimmering guitar-pop nuggets that surf on waves of reverb and atmospheric distortion. Songs like “Under the Sun” offer a pure rush of new wave beats and summery melodies, even as Smith’s lyrics delve into his struggle with addiction. It follows one of The Cure’s best tricks: sounding lively even at their bleakest. Songs like “Dopamine” are far from numbed out — Smith’s jaunty vocal is as close as he’d let himself get to Tom Petty, while still encased in a fog of reverb. Is The Is Are is a bit sprawling at 17 tracks, and after a dynamite opening, some of its shorter tracks in the middle don’t sink in, compared with the relatively taut Oshin. But that also gives Is The Is Are room to roam and the feeling of some alt-rock record of yore, like a Guided By Voices or Sonic Youth album (speaking of the latter, Smith’s girlfriend, Sky Ferreira, shows up to play Kim Gordon on the breathy “Blue Boredom”). Smith also should get credit for expanding his guitar palette while keeping things trim and stylistically consistent, adding My Bloody Valentine-style bends and distortion to his crisp, Felt-ish tones only when necessary. As layers of heavily distorted riffs close out “Waste of Breath” like interlocking corroded piping (epic by Diiv standards at nearly six minutes), Smith’s talents are firmly re-established. We’re perfectly willing to follow Smith’s meanderings when he lands in such fertile territory on the ultimately victorious Is The Is Are.

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A Coliseum Complex Museum (CD)

Jace Lasek, the singer and lead guitarist of The Besnard Lakes, doesn't go for straight-to-tape grittiness that seems to make up the bulk of modern psychedelia. Working together with his partner, Olga Goreas, The Besnard Lakes are the closest we have to a modern Flying Saucer Attack, albeit it more up-tempo and upbeat. Breaking away from their traditional method of recording, Goreas and Lasek created demos in the wilderness of Saskatchewan before moving into the studio. What initially started off as intimate, acoustic tracks influenced by nature suddenly explode into reverb, spacey glee without losing the closeness or intimacy of their demos. Lasek approaches his own Breakglass Studio with an ear as careful as legends Phil Spector and Brian Wilson to sculpt a sound you couldn't make playing live. Things gets stretched, gooey, and melted as he warps each track into layers so dense they could cause Tame Impala's Kevin Parker to break a sweat. Just when you think you're over space rock, The Besnard Lakes pull you right back.

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Bloodshot Six Pack To Go (7

What do you think of when you hear “drinking songs”? You think of Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard’s ramshackle instrumentation and surrealist wordplay? How about Merle Haggard’s hard-livin’ anthems? Both are here on Bloodshot’s Six Pack to Go: Working Songs for the Drinking Class, a clever box set of six 7”s, each with two songs, made to celebrate Bloodshot’s 21st birthday. Deer Tick tears through legendary pub rockers The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace”; Pollard goes orchestral on “Drinker’s Peace”; Nashville acts cover classic drinking tunes by Haggard, The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag; and local Chicago acts layer on whiskey-swillin’ country-blues and garage-soul. Getting this set is a no-brainer; just be careful with those 45s and your can of Schlitz.

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New Bermuda (CD)

Deafheaven’s fusion of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock continues to grow richer and bolder on their third album. Following the crossover success of their much-celebrated second album, Sunbather, it may have been tempting for the band to trim off their rough edges — namely, the black metal influence that accounts for a large part of their sound — to focus on the more accessible parts. The fact that they didn’t speaks highly of their integrity, sure, but it’s also ensured Deafheaven stays an original. With five extended tracks, New Bermuda feels like one massive, evolving piece, making it easier to point to moments rather than entire songs that speak to you — the way “Luna” folds melodic chords into its double-bass barrage and ends up in a scenic place as lovely as anything on Souvlaki or Agaetis Byrjun; or how “Come Back” clears the way for Kerry McCoy’s chugging power chords and harmonic descending scales and George Clark’s shriek from the depths; or “Baby Blue’s” heroic, Pumpkinsy wah-wahed solos. Any metal fan can extoll the genre’s ability to soothe not in spite of, but because of its brutality and decibel level. There’s something about the music’s capacity to overwhelm and obliterate outside noise, memories, anxiety and trauma that’s rather unparalleled. Deafheaven’s commitment to bringing that sound into an indie-rock setting and vice versa has helped make them the best and most important metal crossover act since Metallica. Whatever your preferred noise is in which to lose yourself, New Bermuda is a crucial meeting point.

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Wake Up (CD)

One listen to The Vamps' latest and you know why they've been one of Britain's most successful pop acts of the last decade. The cherry flavored, oh-so-sweet, instantly infectious tracks are perfect radio anthems that grab your ear and refuse to leave. Subverting the boy band norm of getting interchangeable pretty faces that sing, The Vamps are a real band disguised as a boy band, albeit still with pretty faces. Having the chops of any other rock band, they take their rock energy and fuse it with synth-pop to make tracks that sonically feel closer to the world of '80s new wave. Their eponymous lead single, "Wake Up," is delicately coached into being a mega-hit from the songwriters who've brought you the dance jams of the decade by Maroon 5 and One Direction. "Wake Up"'s sensitive and haunting lyrics provide the perfect aura to their upbeat powerhouse that makes it more than just a catchy melody. Produced to addictive perfection, the anthem-ready beats pulsate and get you starting to feel emotional as they explore their takes on modern rock, reggae, and punk. Don't be surprised if you fall in love with The Vamps for their music and not their good looks.

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A Night At The Odeon (CD)

After airing live on the BBC in 1975, this legendary concert had been lost to the annals of time. Queen now returns ready to destroy your speaker with operatic rock and wailing guitars. Watch Freddie Mercury in his prime not just perform, but perform rock history right in front of you. Incredible.

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Primus & The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble [5.1 Dolby Surround Sound] (CD)

The masters of cheese, Primus, have their latest album mastered in 5.1 surround sound. Taking their stoned, cartoon POV look at the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory soundtrack, they morph the essential children's classic into a strange, grotesque joke onto itself. Far out!

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Classic Quadrophenia (CD)

The Who's Quadrophenia is, without a doubt, one of the great rock albums. Now Pete Townshend converts the already surprisingly operatic album into a glorious full on symphony. With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and featuring special appearances by Billy Idol and Alfie Boe, Classic Quadrophenia reinvents and subverts rock into something even more spectacular.

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Timeline (CD)
The ever expanding Stones Throw Records deviates completely away from hip hop and electronic beats and treads into the world of spacey, funky, Johnathan Richman-esque vistas. In a sort of low-fi, bedroom take on indie by-way-of soul, Mile High Club's Alexander Britten shows off his skills after previously cutting his teeth with Ariel Pink, R. Stevie Moore and Mac DeMarco. The jams for windy, cold mornings. Read more