Rock

True Sadness (CD)

The Avett Brothers took inspiration from such disparate influences as Queen, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Petty, and Gillian Welch on their Rick Rubin-produced ninth studio LP, True Sadness. Indeed, the record is eclectic, with polished Mumford & Sons style folk-pop melodies embellished by bluegrass strings and punk rock ebullience. In spite of its title, and the lyrical contents of songs like “Divorce Separation Blues” and “Satan Pulls the Strings,” the melodies are almost rebelliously upbeat. Because of this patchwork of styles, the album works as a crossover between alt. rock, indie pop, and country/folk, giving it a wide appeal. These are the sort of summer songs that seems destined to be blasted out of rolled down car windows, and shout-sung along to by enthusiastic fans on tour.

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Hot Hot Heat (CD)

Hot Hot Heat's self-proclaimed final album finds the band back in the territory that made them a hot, hot hit in 2002. Having gone more into an electronic realm on their previous album, Hot Hot Heat delivers the indie-dance-punk goods with their new self-titled record. If you miss the early 2000's garage band invasion this album will scratch that itch with songs like "Kid Who Stays In The Picture," "Mayor Of The City," and "Comeback Of The Century."

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Conscious (CD)

On Broods' startling debut album that came Lorde approved, the brother-sister managed to combine elements of symphonic pop with the polyphonic madness of modern electronica. Stripping it down to pure, addictive electronic minimalist pop, Conscious drops the more melodic, new wavy elements of their previous album and gives you what they call "a punch in the face." The pair from New Zealand uses neo-futuristic production and elements that cross a path between cyberpunk, pop, modern experimental electronics, and house. Songs have drum-machine disco beats and kicks with choral-like synths and power vocals that drip with emotion. The first single, "Free," gives you a feeling what they're about when Georgia Nott cries out, "I'd lose everything so I can sing/Hallelujah, I'm free." It's a gut-wrenching performance that leads to some of the most addictive dance-pop this year. Her mantra-like delivery resembles another synth line of heavy bass that rattles you to your bones. "Heartlines," their collaboration with Lorde, builds up with the dramatic flair she has mastered. The song takes unexpected silences, breaks, and moments of tranquility to explode with powerhouse vocals and layers of heavenly electronic sounds. "Couldn't Believe" shows off Georgia's distinctly Kiwi accent as she chants over and over against synths that almost replicate an audience singing along. Conscious might be a more commercial friendly step for their sophomore album, but it shows off their ability to create songs that get you moving.

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Flux (CD)

The blues rock attitude of the sixties stays perfectly alive with Black Crowes' Rich Robinson. Head-throttling guitars slam your head with emotional solos that are powered up and amplified to shock. With his back catalog recently reissued, Robinson approached Flux differently than his prior efforts. Whereas he previously wrote tracks at home and then beefed them up in the studio with his large backing band, Flux was a bit more improvisational. Fragments of songs were taken into the studio and worked out with his band until they popped just right. You can hear the excitement in the way the loose, almost ramshackle way all the elements come together, just like Bob Dylan's mid-'60s period. There are more risks and strange choices done than in any of his other solo albums or with The Black Crowes that it creates the atmosphere of pure musical joy. "Sleepwalker," his Eagles-ish ballad, is about independent thought and dealing with human emotions. While society stigmatizes open thought and emotion, Robinson's blunt lyrics and spiritual guitar embody pure feeling so beautifully that it is painfully real and raw. "Which Way Your Wind Blows" channels the aggressive English-blues sound of Bad Company with a bass line that weighs a ton and a guitar solo distorted so it sounds almost like a synth. Robinson's scathing lyrics taunt and mock in such a weirdly, sloppy way that it reminds you of the missing attitude from modern rock. Crack open a beer and blast this one. Its hypnotic blues-rock blend will take you back to 1975.

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Johannesburg EP (CD)

Earlier this year Mumford & Sons toured South Africa with legendary Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal, South African pop group Beatenberg, and London-based afro-pop combo the Very Best. The shows were passionate and explosive, so they thought they would try to bottle some of that lightning with an off-the-cuff recording session at the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The resulting five song set is a big, glorious, emotional rush that takes Mumford's rollicking guitar-banjo stomp and adrenalizes it with African chants, percussion, and harmonies, recalling the magic of Paul Simon's Graceland.

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Puberty 2 (CD)

The humorously titled Puberty 2 perfectly packages what makes Mitski so great. Like her music, the title feels like an awkward joke directed at herself that is both funny and immediately too intimate, gawky, and painful. While PR and record companies have latched onto "indie" as an empty aesthetic to package and sell, Mitski's personal little chamber-rock albums are the perfect antidote. With the instrument duties split between her and producer Patrick Hyland, each track is whittled to the raw with songs using only guitars, synths, and industrial sounding drum-machines until the point of almost quiet ambiance and shoegazey reverb. But this isn't to undermine her songwriting. She perfectly embodies the navel-gazing, youth generation that found solace online with lyrics that walk the tightrope between tragedy, madness, and chuckling irony. "Your Best American Girl," her first single off the album, is probably the only time in rock that Asian-American angst is directly confronted. This ballad about lost American identity and ending a relationship because of immense cultural differences starts off quiet until it ends with guitars reminiscent of Weezer at their mid-'90s peak. "Happy" starts with a drum-machine blast right out of Suicide while her voice is gargling on white noise. But even the sad, lonely sounding track wears its emotions as clear as day as she sings in a whisper about a night of pleasure with a boy who slips out unbeknownst to her the next morning. Even a song like "A Loving Feeling" is less about the actual feeling of love, and more about how to deal with the pained feeling of having these emotions when you are alone. Though the brisk, anthem mood of the track makes you think it's more joyful than what it's actually about. Puberty 2 is a complicated bag of mixed emotions that will grab anyone with an iota of feeling. Mitski's blunt, laid out feelings combined with low-fi, spacey tracks make it as cathartic a lesson for the listener as it probably was for her to make it.

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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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Strange Little Birds (CD)

Garbage’s Strange Little Birds, the veteran '90s rockers sixth studio album and first in four years, is a dark, moody, and romantic return to the sound of their 1995 self-titled debut. Released on the band’s own label STUNVOLUME, the songs seem unimpeded by label expectations and marketing considerations. Cinematic electro washes and minimal synth shifts mix with high-'90s guitar rock, providing a landscape for singer Shirley Manson’s unprocessed vocals. Garbage has managed to at once scale back their production but keep things slick, possibly one of the most admirable hallmarks of the post-grunge ‘90s sound.

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Terminal Cases (CD)

For the last few years, Matt Bennett has been one of those "Oh that guy!" actors from television and movies. Instantly recognizable with his distinct face and glasses, he's appeared in various movies and TV shows over the years, plus he hosts the famous This Show Is Your Show at Meltdown. But aside from being an actor, he's an ace singer and songwriter who gives his latest album the same sense of humor that his acting has. Terminal Cases, his first solo album, is incredibly ambitious for a debut . Directly inspired by Robin Williams, each track takes its mood and style from a variety of Williams' films. Seeing the ageless comedian on stage coming to grips with his adulthood and failing romances, on top of experiencing his own parents' divorce, Bennett wrote his album to give it a similar feel. There's a certain type of darkness in the brevity of such a light album that makes sure the songs never delve into twee or cute territory and are solid songs. "Jumanji," a rightfully surreal track that deals with the man-child themes of the movie's protagonist, is a real joy. The song captures the mood and goofiness of the film, but there's still a sensitive element with the beautifully simple arrangement. And of course it couldn't end in any other way than with Matt Bennett crying out "David Alan Grier!" over and over again. "Fisher King," with its noisy guitar and spoken-word style of singing, is disjointed enough that it feels like a perfect parallel to Terry Gilliam's schizophrenic masterpiece. In the internet age of nonstop irony and cynicism, Terminal Cases manages to straddle the line between great rock album and lunacy. This is the most fun you've had in a while.

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Pet Sounds [50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (CD)

When Pet Sounds was released May 16, 1966 its reception was mixed. The 11th album for the already popular group garnered little critical and commercial success in the States, while in England it was hailed by the music press and hit the number 2 spot on the Top 40 charts. One Mr. Paul McCartney was so impressed with it the album became the main influence on his band's next record, a little thing called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

While it may be a little hard to imagine today, the radical arrangements, un-rock-like orchestrations, and wildly inventive production coupled with subject matter that was less cheery and more introspective than your average pop album of the day, was a lot to take in for some who were just looking for the next fun surf track to dance to down at the beach shack. However Pet Sounds paved the way for the idea that a rock album could be more than a mere collection of singles, but a cohesive piece of art. Brian Wilson's production on the album would open up creative possibilities we take for granted now, would influence all kinds of musical genres, and would bring the concept of production into the mainstream consciousness as an essential part of an album.

 

By now the initial poor reception of the album has been more than made up for and Pet Sounds is considered by many to be one of the best and most influential albums ever. Tracks like "God Only Knows," "Caroline, No," and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" are now hallowed classics, while songs like "You Still Believe In Me", "I Know There's an Answer," and "Here Today" particularly exhibit its creative influence on the production process.

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