Rock

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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Light Upon The Lake (CD)

Smith Westerns might not exist anymore, but Whitney is continuing what they started. Max Kakacek and James Ehrlich, both formerly of Smith Westerns, channel The Band at their drunkest and most stoned for a fun album that sounds like the '70s never ended. Coming from the break-up of their previous band, they used what could've been a moment of tragedy to renew their creative energy. The days of beautiful/sad albums by the likes of Jackson Browne, Harry Nilsson, and James Taylor have been long gone, but Whitney brings back that joyful feeling with songs that feel so earnest and simple that it's like hearing them in person. "No Woman" is a meticulously crafted song about emptiness that's perfectly accompanied by a gentle Gordon Lightfoot-ish guitar part and punctuated by horns that have the right amount of impact before disappearing. "Golden Days" is the opposite. Though the lyrics are about nostalgic aches for the past, the track is surprising and energetic, filled with optimism. As lonely as you get, there's the warmth of knowing that these memories still exist in some form. "No Matter Where We Go" is probably the happiest track on the album and duplicates the anything-goes attitude of mid-'60s Dylan where things are a little messy, but all the ardor of making rock is there. You listen to it and you know that band is having fun making a song as relaxed and natural as this. 2016 has been filled with plenty of great debut albums, but Whitney's Light Upon The Lake has more finesse with a delicate, airy feeling that is fully formed and mature. Rich arrangements, unique voices, and brilliant lyrics make this the chill jam album of the year. Perfect for late-night drinking or quiet summer moments.

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Basses Loaded (CD)

Nobody keeps it weird the way the Melvins do. The usually ultra-prolific group took it a little slower in the last year and have finally come back with a new studio album designed to melt faces and rip off your head. Born out of a failed reunion with Nirvana's surviving members, the experimental weirdos jump somewhere between the uneasy schizophrenic territory of grunge, metal, and novelty. Their first studio album in two years features six bassists shredding like maniacs at glass-shattering volume. Tracks alternate between Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Redd Kross' Steve McDonald, Butthole Surfers' Jeff Pinkus, Mr. Bungle's Trevor Dunn, Big Business' Jared Warren, and former Melvin Dale Clover. "Hideous Woman" crunches loud as it's a beautifully gooey song with lyrics that assault you and guitars that teeter so close to insanity they could go off the rails any second. The surprisingly faithful cover of The Beatles' ode-to-acid "I Want To Tell You" is like a nostalgic bar and grill cover band getting messed up on cheap beer and opioids and forgetting there's an audience in the room as they tear in. The bouncy synth line and a fuzzed version of George Harrison's guitar sound makes the spaciness of the original track feel quaint in comparison. The last track brings the punny title of the album full-circle with a "wtf?" cover of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" that starts out like an NES game before it explodes into a ramshackle cover that only copious amounts of booze could fuel. If you ever feel rock is dead when you stream weak stuff online, remember The Melvins can still freak 'em out like no one can.

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Smoke + Mirrors Live  [CD/DVD] (CD)

To call Imagine Dragons "epic" is an understatement. Their songs are explosive and incredibly anthemic, digging right into the inner canal of your ear never to leave. Between the dramatic vocals, large productions, and songs that instantly grab you and demand you sing along, it's easy to understand the mega success of the group. To support their second studio album, they did an unprecedented 108 show world tour in a little under a year. To commemorate a feat of this magnitude, Imagine Dragons are bringing Smoke + Mirrors Live as an album and concert film to forever document this event. Performing a number of hits from their first two albums, the concerts can easily get you emotional, making you cry one second and dance the next. It's rare when theatrics of this magnitude are captured correctly, but it's expertly created to make you feel like you are there while at home or in your car. The power and passion of the band's performance, as well as the huge displays of lights and imagery, are captured so perfectly it's as good as going to the actual show. Lead vocalist Dan Reynolds is in top form as he makes each track a power ballad with his mighty voice. The live version of "I Bet My Life" has more energy and fire than the album version as it sounds like he's on the verge of emotional collapse. After the tour, Imagine Dragons decided to take a short break following their nonstop cycle of touring and recording, so treasure this while they're away.

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Totally Stripped [CD/DVD] (CD)

Totally Stripped will transport you to November of 1995 when The Rolling Stones’ album Stripped was released. This new box set contains a revised version of the 1995 documentary originally made to coincide with the release of Stripped and includes previously unseen footage and revealing behind-the-scenes moments with the Stones that can’t be missed. The CD features highlights from the live shows and stripped back versions of old favorites.

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Lonerism (LP)

If Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel) had been born 10 years later and became obsessed with tape loops, this is sort of what it would sound like. Stellar effort, even better than their first LP. Get on it, people.  

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