Rock

Ebb & Flow (CD)

Owen writes songs that are emotional and timeless, recalling the golden age of avant-storytellers like Joni Mitchell & Elton John in their heyday, effortlessly combining jazz, folk, and rootsy rock into an exquisite blend of classic songwriting and musicality. The Welsh singer's technically gifted piano playing and strong, smooth, smokey voice ensure a musical experience of exceptional quality and depth as she directs a truly all star band of session players (Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel) through her repertoire. Fans of Carole King and Joni Mitchell will find not an imitator but a new and growing voice making good on that legacy.

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Black Moon Spell (CD)

When King Tuff released his breakthrough self-titled album in 2012, he came off as a successor to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, alone and stoned in his room and writing perfect power-pop gems. But like Bolan before him, who started with a few English folk albums before going glam, King Tuff aka Kyle Thomas seems to have set his sights higher this time around, filling out the sound with full-bodied heavy rock riffs and pushing his nasal wail into a wolf’s howl. Like King Tuff’s “Anthem,” “Black Moon Spell’s” big fat riff sounds pulled out from the ether, like it was always there, judging by the way it nestles into your skull. “Rainbow’s Run” calls to mind another garage-rock luminary, Ty Segall, in the way it takes a simple glam structure and pours acid all over it, impossible distortion and flailing solos flying off the edges. Though there’s a winking hair-metal touch to Black Moon Spell, songs like “Headbanger” (complete with demonic opening) don’t stray so far from the glam-garage foundation that it’s jarring—and Thomas’ voice is too cartoonish and the songs are too damn catchy to really scare off any garage kids, anyway. Even a song called “Demon From Hell” is more fey and punk than hellish, despite pushing the sound into the red. If there’s one thing Black Moon Spell is, it’s a great guitar album, as songs like “Eyes of the Muse” prove, starting with a ’70s AM radio gold jangle and moving into psychedelic, searching riffs, while Bobby Harlow’s production practically places the drums in your living room. There hasn’t been a better album released this year to play air guitar and drums to than Black Moon Spell.

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Chinese Fountain (CD)

The Growlers had previously announced their fourth album would be “more grown up, well polished.” Would our rabble-rousing O.C. kids who were Hung at Heart on their last album ditch the garage for something mature? The answer is a half-yes. On Chinese Fountain, the band successfully adds new elements to their sound while retaining their core garage-rock appeal. After throwing their fans a few bones with the saloon jangle of “Big Toe” and heartbreak rock of “Black Memories,” the title track introduces swirling synths and funk guitars to the mix, a bid at stadium rock ‘n’ roll although still with a nice grit to it and non sequiturs about our retro-obsessed yet technologically saturated society (“even disco seems pop”; “every little kid wants a computer in his pocket”; “the Internet gets bigger than Jesus and John Lennon”). These prove welcome additions to their sound, as the band gives a light reggae touch to “Dull Boy” and makes nods to ’80s bands like Blondie, The Cure and the Pixies (on the surging “Good Advice”). Brooks Nielsen’s vocals and lyrics, in particular, feel improved, as Nielsen proves he has more to say than the average SoCal garage dude—“that ain’t a home; it’s a furnace in need of some matches” he sings weerily on “Magnificent Sadness,” while “Good Advice” suggests, “there’s nothing as depressing as good advice, nobody wants to hear how to live their life.” It may not be quite as cohesive as some of their other work, but Chinese Fountain finds the band in top form, nonetheless. Maybe maturity ain’t such a bad thing after all. 

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Commune (CD)

The second studio record by this Swedish based Avant-Collective whose cult-like presence and mysticism indicate that the band has been operating in a far off land for the last 30 to 40 years. Their first album, World Music, filled with fiery jams and afro dance grooves, seemed to journey through space and time, sending the listener traveling the vistas of the world in the acid wash past of the '60s. Commune, by comparison, transcends space and time. The opening tribal gongs of "Talk To God" create a sense of some sacred initiation. As the gong fades the eastern guitars and hypnotic percussion tumble you forward. It isn’t until the jarring gnarl of the other worldly chant hits your bones that you notice you are part of the ceremony. Meditative pace lulls you into a thirty minute hazy trance. All at once, swept up in the dance, you conjure memories of icy Swedish witch burning ceremonies. Your primal communing of all other beings talking to god. Your God. You chant “INTO THE FIRE! INTO THE FIRE!” A gong rings. The memory fades. You have been converted.

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This Is All Yours (CD)

With a sophomore record, there tends to be quite a bit at stake. All too often an act tries in vain to access the same immediacy and power that they were able to flaunt in their first release. Not to mention how much time and energy a band has had to craft their first etchings into popular consciousness. A second record is somewhat of a second chance these days to prove that you can still do that thing people liked, or at least fake it. English Indie rockers Alt-J are clearly an exception. Their second effort, This Is All Yours, is an example of a band using their second chance as a “give ‘em an inch, take a mile” credo. Coming off the commercial success of An Awesome Wave the now trio is taking some chances with their already defined sound. This Is All Yours blends similar electronics and harmonies from the first record with sound collage ("Every Other Freckle"), folk ballads ("Choice Kingdom"), so-cal funk ("Left Hand Free"), and even a Miley Cyrus Sample ("Hunger of the Pine"). An Innovative leap from a band that otherwise could have left well alone.

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Too Bright (CD)

Aptly named third album from Seattle based Mike Hadreas. With his previous output Hadreas had depended heavily on his lyrical prowess to shine through his sparse piano compositions. With tracks like “Queen” and “My Body” the lyrical dependence of dealing with his place in society as a gay man remains, but the self-effacing and fearful panic is barely contained. Instead, it is let out in focused evanescent bursts. Aided by the production of Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Too Bright is a perfect example of an artist catching up with his thoughts and being able to express his deeper feelings through his craft.

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I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss (CD)

Ireland’s most iconic female artists does not disappoint after 30 years in the business. Her latest album is passionate and direct, yet with an overarching fragility; her voice is a weapon, as powerful as it is tender.

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Lion (CD)

Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy’s latest solo album is richly emotional, dark, and romantic – but would you expect anything less from the undisputed King of Goth? Also prepare for some rabble-rousing pirate sea shanties.

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This Machine Kills Artists (CD)

It seems fitting that the debut solo acoustic full length from Melvins fronthuman Buzzo Osbourne has a title as unrepentantly snarky as it does, a cruel pun on the post-Guthrie/Strummer pretensions of the rocker picking up an acoustic instrument and going it alone for the sake of truth, earnestness, and simplicity, the tender ethics of "unplugging." Seems like the kind of thing Buzzo would snort at and yet he made the record anyway--and it's not particularly snarky past its title. TMKA is a sprawling collection of simply overdubbed raga-like meditations for steel string acoustic guitar, recalling mostly very serious music following the same pattern: Roy Harper, acoustic Led Zeppelin and, particularly, acoustic Hawkwind whose reverbed and echoed vocals are mimicked here with a far-away, ominous, psychedelic effect. The riffage has a lot in common with Buzzo's work with the Melvins: sounds from the same dark, occasionally bluesy wellspring where both grunge and stoner metal at one time met to hydrate. These days grunge is an anachronism, a performance of something barely remembered, but on this record, the listener gets a bizarre reminder that its roots were usually in mean classic rock; Buzzo's decidedly normal-guy-singing-metal vocals speak to grunge's regular "lazy guy" take on that mean classic rock in a way that normally gets buried in the soundwall of the perpetually timeless, electrified Melvins. At the end of the day, TMKA feels very traditional in terms of its dark 70s rock lineage, a new release in a large and growing family of angry midnight stoner ragas, the product of the aforementioned bards (Harper, Hawkwind, & Page, but also people like Peter Hammill) and time spent alone with a guitar. Exceeded expectations.

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Soft Friday (CD)

Coves, the highly buzzed about ‘60s-infused indie psych-rock duo, deliver a debut album that is sweeping, swirling, and full of passion. Featured as one of NME's Best Albums of 2014.

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