Rock

Return To The Moon (CD)

Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Menomena team for an album of light, freewheeling indie pop-rock that allows both artists to show new shades to their talents. Berninger is the famously dour voice behind The National’s sardonic tales and Knopf formerly played keyboards and ran loops for Menomena’s spindly indie-rock and now plays in Ramona Falls. The two at first might seem strange bedfellows, but Berninger in particular sounds liberated—while The National are excellent, there’s an ease here not found in his work with that band (witness his rap-like delivery and lines like “I’ll be the one in the lobby in the colored ‘Fuck Me’ shirt—the green one,” on “I’m the Man to Be”). Knopf employs found sounds, quick keyboard loops, chintzy drum machine beats and skronky guitars beneath Berninger’s baritone on strange, spacious digital orchestrations like “Paul Is Alive.” It takes a moment to acclimate yourself to what exactly is going on in a track like “Need a Friend,” but once you do, the tunes reveal themselves to be slinky post-pop numbers that keep you guessing. Though we doubt either Berninger or Knopf will quit their day jobs just yet, EL VY is at least as interesting and entertaining as either artist’s other bands. And for anyone new to either artist’s work, Return to the Moon is the catchiest thing either has put to tape. 

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Fading Frontier (CD)

Deerhunter’s seventh album continues to refine the band’s once murky and psychedelic sound into taut guitar pop. There’s a warmth to the sound here that rounds out their more brittle tones and dark subject matter. Check out the jaunty opener “All the Same” or gently grooving “Breaker,” with co-vocals by Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt—Deerhunter have never sounded this comfortable in their own skin. Cox is more engaged than ever, seeking direct emotional connection with his lyrics (“What is it you’re after? Don’t just stand there,” he cajoles in “Take Care”). Like one of his influences, Johnny Marr, guitarist Pundtt comes up with a variety of guitar tones while delivering a consistent style of garage rock chords looping, clean guitar lines. Synthesizers and drum machines play a more active role, laying the floating foundation for a tune like the dreamy “Take Care,” while the scuzz-funk of a tune like “Snakeskin” shows Deerhunter willing to take chances without futzing with their sound too much. However much Deerhunter whittle their sound, eschewing the noise of previous album Monomania and the more ambient aspects of some of their work, save for maybe the gentle synth waves of “Ad Astra,” Deerhunter are still malcontents at heart—over an uplifting organ and acoustic guitar on “Carrion,” Cox sings “What’s wrong with me?” in a slightly off-kilter croon. They’ve just made their exorcisms more listenable than ever.

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The Best Of The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (CD)

The long-running Bootleg Series of Bob Dylan demos and previously unreleased material returns to Dylan’s most acclaimed period for Vol. 12. From 1965-1966, Dylan released his most vaunted recordings in one of the most flawless album runs in history, including Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. His every move from this era could be mined for gold, and thankfully, The Cutting Edge is more than a historically curious work. These early takes on the songs that would become classics can be drastically different, such as a waltzing rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone” or a rollicking rip through “Visions of Johanna” that greatly contrasts to the placid original and are as fascinating as they are revelatory to listen to. The two-CD and three-LP sets are strong enough on their own accord that no Dylan fan should be without them, while a six-CD deluxe edition with a hardcover book gives Dylan completists more of what they love—fodder to argue over which version of “Desolation Row” or “She’s Your Lover Now” is the essential version. As with the other Bootleg Series releases, Dylan is one of a handful of artists for which this treatment isn’t overkill. Rather, it’s a fascinating glimpse into one of our greatest artist’s most fertile periods, a deep look into the masterpieces that would come to be.

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Amy [OST] (CD)

The critically acclaimed documentary Amy showed in heartbreaking detail the rise and tragic downfall of Amy Winehouse, who was easily one of the most talented vocalists of her generation. To satiate fans who sadly will never see a third Amy Winehouse album, the Amy soundtrack corrals various live and rare tracks by Winehouse along with Antonio Pinto’s moving score. With another artist, this could feel gratuitous or like grasping at straws, but not so here. Winehouse’s variations on her songs often reveal new shades. A downtempo version of Back to Black’s “Unholy War” supersedes the original, its morose intensity better fitting the lyrics’ torch-song devotion. Triumphant live versions of “Rehab” and “Love Is a Losing Game” show an artist at the height of her powers. “Like Smoke” is the single that could have been, and its demo version is a nice window into the song’s development before adding Nas’ rap. Though nothing could fill the place in fans’ hearts where Amy once was, the Amy soundtrack is a worthy keepsake and companion to the superb documentary.

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Its Great To Be Alive! (CD)

Recorded over the course of three nights at the historic Fillmore in San Francisco, Drive-By Truckers’ It’s Great to Be Alive! functions both as a 35-song document of the Southern rock band’s rollicking live shows and a greatest hits of sorts. From the Neil Young-ish riffs of “Lookout Mountain” to Replacements-inspired, punky numbers like “S**t Shots Count,” the Truckers’ vast catalog is well represented. The performances are raw, but the sound isn’t. It’s perhaps the best way to hear one of the best rock bands alive.

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Condition Hüman (CD)

Now on their second album with new vocalist Todd La Torre, Queensrÿche feels reinvigorated and pumped to be in the studio. Recalling their '80s masterpieces, they return to the relentless key signature changes, tempo switching, and shredding that made them legendary. Put your leather on and put your hair down...be prepared to rock!

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I Love Rock 'N' Roll [33 1/3 Anniversary Edition] (CD)

To say Joan Jett is influential is putting it lightly. The badass who made transformed rock returns with the 33 1/3 anniversary of her iconic album. Featuring unreleased live tracks and new stunning audio, fall in love with Joan all over again.

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Lost Themes (CD)

John Carpenter, known mostly for directing movies such as HalloweenEscape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China is releasing his first ever solo album (not accompanying a film). That’s right, not only is the man a landmark director he is also a pioneer in the minimalist synth genre. In collaboration with his son Cody (of the band Ludrium) and his godson Daniel Davies (who composed the songs for I, FrankensteinLost Themes is an excellent portrayal of Carpenter’s damn near trademark sound that we as moviegoers have unknowingly heard for decades. Without a celluloid backdrop with which to re-purpose these cinematic hypnotic synthesizers or erupting guitars, Carpenter’s compositions take on a narrative life of their own. The nine-track opus starts strong with the menacing “Vortex.” A track which immediately stands alongside any contemporary electronic musician out there today. It is not until you get to “Mystery” that the out and out epic horror feel of the work jumps out. “Night,” the final track on the album, is an atmospheric epilogue that fades out of view as somberly as the imaginary pictures that have danced in your head.

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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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Goon (CD)

Tobias Jesso Jr.’s debut record is a knockout, leading the renaissance of young artists who are revitalizing the idea of the singer/songwriter in 2015. With little more than his piano and a liquid-smooth voice, Jesso’s songs cut straight to the heart, detailing a painful breakup and other trials as the 29-year-old tried to make it as a songwriter in L.A. Opener “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” alludes to Elton John’s “Your Song,” though on the wrong side of devotional feelings. “How Could You Babe” rubs raw as he reveals the pain felt after learning an ex-lover has moved on, tearing his voice upward in a powerhouse chorus. Goon is exceptionally well paced and produced (with some help from ex-Girls guy Chet “JR” and producer extraordinaire Ariel Rechtshaid), dialing down the drama a bit for songs like the Lennonesque “Without You” and acoustic morning reflection “The Wait” to allow the breathing room necessary to house songs like “Hollywood,” a showstopper about trying and failing in L.A. (lines like “I think I’m gonna die in Hollywood” ring into hollow space) that universally taps into the desire to achieve some farfetched dream. Goon is definitely sentimental, occasionally to a fault, as on the skilled but ultimately generic-feeling “Can We Still Be Friends,” but Jesso’s sense of humor and ability to open himself so purely prevents anything from feeling too goopy. He makes fun of himself in the purposefully sappy “Crocodile Tears,” imitating his own cries, while delivering lines that genuinely feel like a knee to the gut, like “Without You’s” flailing bits about what to do and feel after a breakup (“I just don’t know who I could be without you” hits home for anyone who’s been there). Luckily for Jesso (and for us), he was able to turn his seeming failures into affecting songs that express an undefeatable optimism underneath. It’s the rare first record that already feels like a classic the first time you hear it.

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