Rock

Glass Boys (CD)

Fucked Up do two things on their new album that work in their favor—keep things at a zippy 10 songs and 40-ish minutes and flesh out the production. Though 2011’s David Comes to Life was epic in every sense, the nearly 80-minute album was exhaustive in a way that another such album would’ve felt like a weight. Instead, Glass Boys feels furious and exacting. “Echo Boomer” builds upon a melodic base, waiting until halfway through for Damian Abraham to unleash his growl and exploding in its final moments from a mid-tempo rocker to an all-out rush. “Sun Glass” similarly starts with acoustic guitars and alt-rock touches before its true form takes shape as a densely layered yet breakneck paced hardcore shoegazer. “Warm Change” makes apparent one of the most interesting aspects of the album—drummer Jonah Falco layers multiple drum takes and adds an exponential layer of chaos and psychedelic energy to the album, leaving your head spinning. Even with these dizzying layers and dynamics, the band wisely pulls back the noise for breather moments, like the opening of “Paper the House,” which gears you up for one of the band’s catchiest songs, fusing hardcore ferocity to power-pop melodicism. If Glass Boys lacks some of the immediate power of its predecessor, it’s also ultimately a more accessible and equally powerful album in many ways. It’s as though they’ve compacted their ambitions like a sheet of foil rolled into a cannonball, as Glass Boys lands like a swift punch to the gut.

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Singles (CD)

It’s a gutsy move to call your album Singles, but in the case of Future Islands, their fourth album and first for 4AD, it’s appropriate. The album is packed with songs that are both immaculately written and catchy as hell, as Future Islands mine new wave and pop-rock for all they’re worth. Just as lead singer Samuel Herring’s dynamite performance style and swingin’ dance moves have won people over (David Letterman, famously), the band gives it their all on songs like “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, is given the perfect backdrop of stargazing new-wave rock that should bring together fans of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cure to The Killers with lighter-waving glee. The synths of “Spirit” bring up memories of B-Movies “Nowhere Girl,” but Herring’s unique voice keep Future Islands from ever veering into purely nostalgic territory. “A Song For Our Grandfathers” is dreamy yet packs an emotional punch. Herring seems to get more and more insistent over the sprightly “Light House,” almost completely out of step with the band, yet it works so much better than it would have if he played it straight, getting in your face and making it impossible to merely have the song on in the background. On “Like the Moon,” a sexy, pulsating groove gives Herring the chance to kill it vocally, crooning romantically. But his best vocal performance comes next, on “Fall From Grace”—over a simple waltz, Herring goes deep into the bowels of his voice to deliver a performance somewhere between Tom Waits, The National’s Matt Berniger and a black metal singer. Charisma like his doesn’t come around all the time, and as a band, Future Islands are smart enough to stay out of the way while crafting terrific songs that stand on their own. Before you know it, you’ve listened to Singles like five times and still can’t wait to hear it again.

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All Her Fault (CD)

The always-trustworthy Brokeoffs return with another awesome record. This one reminds me more of X than the others, which is good. You should buy this! 

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What Is This Heart (CD)

How to Dress Well’s What Is This Heart? is still plenty idiosyncratic, even as it sits among the likes of The Weeknd, Miguel and the last Beyonce album in terms of future-thinking R&B that gives equal footing to adventurousness and hookiness. Free of the lo-fi aesthetic of his early work,What Is This Heart? is a bold-faced record about love, placing Krell’s gorgeous voice front and center on songs like “Face Again,” in which he sings “kiss me on my face again and tell me what love’s supposed to be.” Krell’s voice gets cut up and digitally pitch shifted amid nighttime synthesizers, minimalist funk beats and light touches of acoustic guitar, strings and piano, and the resulting songs sound like whispered promises, quiet declarations of love given musical form. Impossibly sexy and staunchly idealistic, What Is This Heart? looks like the love album of the year.

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Jungle (CD)

On their self-titled debut, U.K. duo Jungle craft low-key, immediately likeable and unexpectedly soulful electro-pop in the mold of The Beta Band, Miike Snow and Hot Chip. On songs like “The Heat,” scattered city sounds like children playing or police sirens, taken together with bright synthesizers and classic R&B songwriting, feel like a stroll through a city park, colors and sounds bleeding into one another. “Busy Earnin,’” which presents updated Philly soul through the eyes of British knob twiddlers, has the feel of a socially uplifting AM radio classic, while “Time” is hazy slice of synth-funk that feels inspired, taking familiar influences but building out their own sound. It’s the rare act that can pull off this sort of thing without seeming superficial or disingenuous—Jungle make it work by including quieter passages like “Smoking Pixels,” an contemplative instrumental recalling prog-pop of the past like 10cc or Godley & Cream. And songs like “Julia” can’t help but feel cinematic with their implied street drama and spacey synths, soundtracking some imagined sci-fi cop movie. With their solid debut LP, Jungle capture an updated cosmopolitan sound that should land them on every cool movie, TV show and festival show bill from here to across the pond.

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Into The Wide (CD)

Festival favorites Delta Spirit present their fourth studio album, which teams them up with producer Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Cut Copy). The sound is darker and more dramatic on their most compelling album yet.

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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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Ultraviolence (CD)

Grandiose, campy, over-the-top. Lots of descriptors have been lobbed at Lizzy Grant’s Lana del Rey character and her music. With the release of her second full-length, Ultraviolence, we’ll add a few more to the list: strong, consistent and gorgeous. Though it’s far from a perfect record, Ultraviolence gives some fire to the Lana del Rey camp and dampens her detractors who would deride her as a thimble-deep product of the record industry. The album begins with a pair of expansive, powerful slow-burners that sound like Julee Cruise’s reverbed-out, revisionist ’50s ballads blown out to arena-filling proportions. “Shades of Cool,” in particular, is one spine-tingling moment after another. The music, full of Bond riffs, intentionally schmaltzy strings and walls of reverb, threatens to swallow del Rey’s breathy coo, and that seems like the point. You feel overwhelmed along with her. But that shouldn’t imply that she’s a non-presence. Far from it; who else could sell a pair of cheese-whizzed lines like those in “Brooklyn Baby”? (“Well my boyfriend’s in the band, he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed. I’ve got feathers in my hair, and I get down to beat poetry.”) It’s easy to throw stones at del Rey when you’re not the intended audience, but to kids listening, these seemingly hamfisted references could be crucial. And a song like “Pretty When You Cry” is a self-pity ballad for young sad girls and boys, queer kids and outcasts to sing into the mirror. We need music like that, and to that end, we’ll take Lana over Pink, Britney or any number of divas that came before her. There are some stinkers, particularly on the album’s second half—songs like “Money, Power, Glory” and “Fucked My Way Up to the Top” fall into the same exploitative traps that some of the aforementioned divas fell into, though there’s an undeniable panache to their crassness. But late album songs like “The Other Women,” with its sultry sax and casual confidence, hold your attention even as the album runs long. Ultraviolence ultimately feels like the kind of album Lana del Rey should make, intentionally big, totally entertaining and cool because it tries to be.

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Seek Warmer Climes (CD)

Lower may have the post-hardcore album of the year on their hands on Seek Warmer Climes. The band has been compared with fellow Danes Iceage, and like that band, Lower take hardcore punk to epic proportions not seen since the heyday of bands like Fugazi or ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. This isn't to say they can't be pithy; on rumbling opener "Another Life," their atonality is fist-pumpingly catchy and Adrian Toubro's wolf-like barks and cries keep you rapt, and "Lost Weight, Perfect Skin" shows us they know their way around a hooky riff. But Lower aren't looking to make friends. On centerpiece "Expanding Horizons (Dar es Salaam)," their dirtied guitars trudge through the wilderness for more than seven minutes as Toubro sings "we travel far, expand our horizon, but in the process I see that no horizon will ever benefit me." However bleak the worldview may seem on Seek Warmer Climes, the album is never a drag. It's a thrilling, lightning bolt of a record that loudly announces the arrival of yet another great band from Copenhagen's underground.

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After The End (CD)

If you like post-punk music at all, your favorite new band will probably be Merchandise. With a bit of Pulp’s swagger, the Cure’s emotional yet economical guitarwork and the dramatic grandiosity of Morrissey’s solo work, Merchandise nail every nuance on their new album, After the End. Big, shimmering chords on “Enemy” announce their arrival with the kind of bravado that leaves you a little breathless, incredulous that this isn’t a song or band you’ve heard before. Singer Carson Cox’s throaty tenor fills the space that isn’t carved out by his bandmates nicely, on ballads like the stunning “Life Outside the Mirror.” It’s a solid listen, but After the End particularly shines on its singles, like “Little Killer,” the riff of which is catchy enough to leave you tracking back again and again to get that feeling all over again. While After the End is an immensely enjoyable album, the elephant in the room is that, however immaculately made, it’s not the most original thing you’ve ever heard—“Green Lady” is great, with its stuttering beat, big guitar riffs and sure, why not, some sitar, but it could easily be a Morrissey outtake. No matter. Originality will come in time. For now, Merchandise reach a very specific itch, that youthful feeling of discovering a new favorite band who just flat out gets it. No trickery, nothing too out of the ordinary, just some of the best pop music you’ve heard in ages.

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