Rock

This Is My Hand (CD)

Onetime Sufjan Stevens collaborator and now a formidable art-pop songstress in her own right, My Brightest Diamond (aka Shara Worden) pushes her songs further into accessibility with This Is My Hand. The sound of the record finds Worden singing over playful orchestrations, wielding her operatically trained voice slowly like a great and powerful weapon. “Pressure” begins with a drumline cadence and marching band horns, drawing soul out of her sometimes austere vocals and layering them over the song’s sexy strut “Before the Words’” huge, propulsive drum beat and jazzy bassline pair nicely with her hauntingly cooed vocals. Though she mines gold at playing the witchy vamp, it’s great, too, when she climbs out of her shell. “I am a lover and a killer” she sings with growing ferocity over a muscular groove on “Lover Killer,” finding inspiration in Prince and kinship in St. Vincent. “This is what love feels like!” she sings before unleashing a desperate wolf cry in “I Am Not the Bad Guy,” with a throbbing menace reminiscent of Radiohead, or a more friskier version of Third-era Portishead. Tracks with more open space, like “Looking at the Sun,” offer a chance for her divaesque vocals to come through beautifully, even as her words are foreboding (“wrestling with a double mine like two horses pulling both sides,” she sings creepily over Disney-level orchestration). “You never know minute to minute where I’m going” she sings tantalizingly on “Shape.” True. But that’s what makes listening to This Is My Hand so thrilling.

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Ices (CD)

Singer/songwriter Lia Ices creates a virtual tapestry of sultry vocals, worldbeat touches and languid synthesizers on her third album. Tracks like “Tell Me” bounce on digitally smudged loops of eclectic noise and clashing percussion, while Ices’ voice chirps and coos above. Loose acoustic guitars jangle and imitate sitars on “Thousand Eyes” while Ices sings casually, vocals dripping with reverb. It’s a voice and style that recalls Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser, especially on the sublime dream-pop of “Love Ices Over.” Occasionally she drowns herself out in reverb (which usually sounds great, but also muffles a voice this soulful), and her singsongy vocals all but shake you into submission on songs like “Higher.” Ices is better the more it chills out—a song like the “Electric Arc” builds majestically and doesn’t ask much of you but delivers in spades and leaves its primal, exotic melodies swimming in your head. Fascinating in its construction without ever coming across as academic, Ices is addictively fun art-pop.

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Just Enough Hip To Be Woman (CD)

Whoa this is fun stuff! These guys have a sunny spontaneity and cheap pop rock fizz that reminds me of the Strokes or the Modern Lovers or the Clean. Oklahoma power pop dudes play bouncy, classic-sounding '80s trash that would sound pretty good on a John Hughes movie soundtrack. "Class Historian" has the deceptively simple hooks and harmonies of any Cars or Roxy Music bubbleglam, but it's just trashy enough to be made by millenials on the go. Broncho gives you the roller rink riffs, and stints not on the ooh oohs and the sha-la-las. Like Pavement, they are great pop craftsmen, but they keep it sounding delightfully cruddy.

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Heigh Ho (CD)

Surprisingly seasoned at just 26, avant-Americana guitar wiz Blake Mills is best known for his work with Fiona Apple (who also shows up here, along with Jon Brion), as well as with Neil Diamond, Band of Horses and Alabama Shakes. These are tough, reverberant anthems, with distinctive production that's at once stark and scintillating, not unlike later Tom Waits albums. His guitar work is bold and heavy, with the vintage twang of Daniel Lanois or Neil Young, and his voice breaks with stinging honesty. Fans of dusty desert alterno-blues will find that Mills rambles with the best in the pack, from Cass McCombs to Tinariwen, Chris Robinson to Will Oldham. Just when he seems to be ripping into a late night whiskey gospel ballad, a wave of billowy ELO-style orchestration washes up and drenches it all in an aquamarine shimmer. There's a great musicality here, and a sonic pallet rich enough to dive deep into.

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Amphetamine Ballads (CD)

The debut album from Glasgow's The Amazing Snakeheads is a monument to the redemptive powers of rock & roll. It’s full of rage, romance, and dark humor. An uncompromising, astonishingly visceral debut album.

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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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The Black Market (CD)

Chicago hardcore band’s latest is a full-force set of fist-pumping anthems for the eco-terrorist in all of us.

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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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Eyehategod (CD)

Fourteen years down the road from their last release, Confederacy of Ruined Lives (which was, at the time, also considered a "comeback" record), the New Orleans kings of pummeling misery have returned with another blood-slick leaden slab of a record. Since CoRL, the band's members have continued their involvement in various high profile side-projects (Down, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar), braved Hurricane Katrina, been in jail, kicked heroin, lost founding member and drummer Joey LaCaze to respiratory failure, and been name dropped exponentially more and more as the sludge and doom revival continues to sluggishly accrete mass, menace, and popularity. To my mind, Eyehategod are the quintessential American sludge band, so their ever-growing popularity and influence is no surprise, nor is their decision to make good on it in album form at this most current intersection of the time-space zeitgeist superhighway. The metal community, overflowing with uptight taxonomists, has been forced to accept the apparently genre-ignorant legends since their first release, sludge metal being only the most conveniently available denomination we can shrug into being. If you've never heard these guys, their sound can basically be divided into quadrants. First is traditional sludge. Guitars that are dissonant and distorted with an otherworldly violent trashiness, knuckle dragging molasses lurch rhythms: this is decidedly un-Sabbath stoner metal on its worst trip, it is hateful violent minimalism at its best. The second quadrant is the band's doom and southern rock tendencies, which takes them compositionally from the first quadrant into nigh-grooving syncopated riffage, balancing their Sabbath-negative with their Sabbath-positive concerns ala Electric Wizard. The tension between these first two quadrants, what connects one to the other in time and in the fabric of any given song, is what makes up the third quadrant: a played-dumb experimentalism executed most famously by fellow southern misery farmers, Harvey Milk. This is where the band's slop and willingness to wait come in. Screeching feedback latticework, arhythmic pauses, stops, starts, drifts, an experimental metal in increments and not for the sake of itself but for the sake of representing the darkness at hand. The final quadrant is a sort of crossover hardcore crust pummel that connects the band to CoC, Discharge, & occasionally High on Fire. This is the closest the band ever comes to a rave-up.

 

On the newest release, server of jail times and kicker of heroin habits Mike Williams sounds as glass-strangled as ever, as sneering, petulant and hateful as he did in 1993. Recording technology keeps getting better and as the band gets more successful, their use of the studio reflects this. All of the screeching slashing tearing sounds are still around, but with a new clarity that belies their intention and hints at what it's like to see such a focused band live, careening in and out of lockstep riffage and sloppy rock tumbler/falling down the stairs histrionics. The dual guitar attack of Brian Patton and Jimmy Bower is as symbiotically crushing as always, seemingly more comfortable with the multiple sides of the Eyehategod coin than ever, getting both more southern boogie and more disgusting at the same damn time. Newcomer Aaron Hill has played drums in New Orleans band Mountain of Wizard, whose psychedelic southern doom couldn't exist without the band he plays in now, so it works out well. This is a band that has never released a bad record. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 14 years before the next one.

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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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