Rock

We Can Do Anything [Indie Exclusive] (CD)

The Violent Femmes are in rollicking, raucous form on their country-inspired recent LP, We Can Do Anything. Album opener "Memory" sets the tone with an upbeat, infectious, sing-along chorus before Gordon Gano and crew inject some fairytale silliness into the epic "I Could Be Anything." (Seriously -- references to battling dragons and winning the hearts of princesses abound.) The tracks here include many taken from old Violent Femmes demos, some co-penned by Gano with various songwriters, and one track ("What You Really Mean") is a cover of a song written by Gano's sister. Quirky, good-natured fun.

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Calico Review (CD)

The Allah-Las’ Calico Review is like the soundtrack to a 1950s California beach movie: easygoing and breezily cool, with just the slightest hint of rock ’n’ roll danger. The guitars flirt with surf rock tendencies, the vocals drift into psych territory, and the songs have that relaxed, shambolic garage rock influence. The album was recorded on the same soundboard used by the Beach Boys for Pet Sounds, which makes sense as Calico Review shares many of those sunny harmonies, but with a contemporary edge and a darker undercurrent. On this latest LP, the beach meets the Los Angeles streets and the Allah-Las prove once again that they’re one of the finest purveyors of modern psych/garage.

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Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 (CD)

Jack White's collection of acoustic recordings shows off the rocker's gentler side and gives you a clear idea of his unique and singular blend of styles. Influenced by a myriad of bluesmen - from the delta blues sound of Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie Johnson to the English wave of blues rock like Led Zeppelin - the strange, undefinable rock figure needed a collection like this to reevaluate and rethink his career. Though he's forever synonymous with the brightly colored, endlessly catchy rhythms of The White Stripes, the garage rocker seems to be prouder of his roots influences and his way of coloring with a simple acoustic guitar. The album's 26 tracks were picked and pulled from singles, albums, B-sides, and alternate mixes to create one cohesive narrative. The newly released and previously unheard White Stripes track "City Lights" is a beautiful folk solo song that contrasts perfectly against Meg White's mechanical drum part, stampeding along until ending with a long solo that owes more to the American Primitivism sound of John Fahey. "Apple Blossom," recently featured in the film The Hateful Eight, is a very simple ballad that could almost be confused for a rejected track by The Zombies. The alternate mix, recorded on tape with a raw, loose feeling, is even more beautifully sloppy, especially with the bouncy, honky tonk piano. Although it's a career retrospective, the album seems to capture something special. Even with all the extra unheard tracks and alternate mixes, this isn't just some interesting compilation of a brilliant career, but is an entirely new album on its own.

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Hardwired...To Self-Destruct (CD)

Though Metallica might have influenced generations of punk, grunge, thrash, and metal bands, they're surprisingly unprolific. And so each new Metallica release isn't just hotly anticipated, but comes like a cataclysmic event of shrieking guitars, banging bass drums, furious rhythms, and guttural yelps. Their first album in eight years, Hardwired...To Self- Destruct is a return to form. And not a return of form to Load or St. Anger. It's a return to the form of Kill 'Em All and Master of Puppets. The slow, brooding, and portentous style of their late-career is mixed in with classic, clean, clear, and furious thrash that's so intense and technical, it will get your adrenaline pumping. Metallica themselves are treating it like a behemoth of an album, with special concerts, promos, and a music video for EACH song on the album.

 

"Hardwired" opens with a precision sharp riff that explodes with sweat and fury. The bitter, ironic track feels apt for these chaotic times as James Hetfield unleashes into the microphone in a cathartic rant. The fury of the track feels closer in spirit to "Whiplash" than to anything they've done on their last few albums. "Moth Into Flames" is far closer to the post-'80s Metallica of long, steady ballads that build and build on short, technical riffs until the song kicks it into 100mph. When the guitar solo comes in a minute and a half into the song, it almost dissolves into a modern skate punk track before going back to classic Metallica intensity. It also shows off Lars Ulrich's endless energy and showcases some of his most powerful drumming on the album. Being a Metallica fan can be a real trial sometimes when they take unexpected directions while simultaneously trying to please fans, but Hardwired is probably the closest they've gotten to something that should appease the die-hards, the casual listeners, and even those new to metal. The most brutally intense album of 2016.

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The Book Of Souls (CD)

In their 40 year career, Iron Maiden still feels like Iron Maiden. Instead of taking diversions into other sub-genres and styles, their unique and very theatrical take on heavy metal is still embraced. The Book of Souls doesn't just feel like a new Iron Maiden album, but like a visit from an old friend. Their first album in five years is a triumph of sorts, especially in the wake of Bruce Dickinson's battle with cancer. Instead of going for technical and studio-level perfection, the songs were all written and recorded quickly to give the feeling of Iron Maiden's dramatic live performances. Nothing sounds perfectly manipulated, mixed to an edgeless sheen or mic'ed to an isolated sound. Things sound messy, intense, and raw, especially in Dickinson's operatic voice which is showing its age in the best way possible. The self-titled track is classic Iron Maiden. Opening with an acoustic riff that sounds almost like flamenco, it suddenly erupts into a classic metal powerhouse riff and metallic drums with vocals that lead the charge. Eventually, the song marches into a middle-section with a guitar solo and rhythm that is reminiscent of the early days of English metal with a wah-wah pedaled guitar solo that shreds into psych oblivion. The mercilessly epic "Empire of the Clouds" opens with a Hollywood-like coda of dramatic strings that makes it hard not to get emotional. But half-way through the eighteen minute track, the guitars and drums start to kick off into a melody that recalls the post-colonial vibe that Iron Maiden seems to riff on and criticize in a way that uniquely characterizes their sound. It eventually culminates in a cut-time melody with a beautiful and tragic vibe that is the perfect way to end this cinematic track. The Book of Sounds is classic Iron Maiden, through and through. They're truly one of a kind and will forever be unique.

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I'm Alone, No You're Not (CD)

Named after their grandfather, Joseph is a trio of Portland-based sisters whose work delves into country, folk, rock, and indie pop. Their sophomore LP, I’m Alone, No You’re Not impressively showcases their formidable musical skills — namely, their ability to compose tight, often heartbreaking harmonies. Album opener “Canyon” is a haunting, commanding Americana love song, “White Flag” is an ultra-catchy folk pop number, and final track “Sweet Dreams” is dark, lush, cinematic, and evocative. The album is rooted in raw, emotional power which is accentuated by the glimmering polish of producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes).

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Complete Third (CD)

For Big Star fans, the release of Complete Third is like discovering a hidden treasure trove of demos, rough mixes, and alternate takes of beloved songs. This sixty-nine track box set features twenty-nine previously unreleased recordings that will have you hearing classic tracks in a whole new light. The newly available tracks are rawer, more emotional, and sometimes even more powerful than the original takes — definitely worth checking out, if only to reassess the meaning and the force behind songs you’ve loved for years. It’s a fitting tribute to the work and genius of the dearly departed Mr. Chilton.

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American Band (CD)

Drive-By Truckers, the American South’s biggest celebrant and critic, unleashes their most political and righteously indignant album of their long career with American Band. Amid the current haze of the baffling election, rampant poverty, police brutality, senseless shootings, the opioid abuse epidemic, widespread xenophobia, and racial tensions, singers/songwriters/guitarists and band founders Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood sharpened their skills for critique, creating this year’s most provocative protest album. Their form of socio-political criticism is straightforward; their words are aimed for the jugular because, let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of time to play with poetics as the country goes up in flames before our eyes. In “What It Means," they take on the tragic collective moral implications of the deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin: "We're living in an age where limitations are forgotten/The outer edges move and dazzle us/But the core is something rotten." While sonically honoring their roots in all-American Southern rock, Drive-By Truckers remind us that it is truly American to think, question, critique, and to protest.

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City Club (CD)

If you think the title track off The Growlers' new album sounds a bit Strokes-y, there's a good reason for that: not only is City Club co-produced by Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, but it's being released on Casablancas' label, Cult Records. With a disco-a-la-Blondie strutting beat and angular, staccato guitar, the song becomes a buzzing-streetlamp lit, urban playground for Brooks Nielsen's fuzzy vocals. The funky "I'll Be Around" sounds like it was recorded over an old Jamaican cassette tape, while steady rocker "Night Ride" is perfect for just that, a spin through the city as the final oranges and reds fade from the sky and are replaced by the speckling of artificial light.

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57th & 9th (CD)

Since The Police dissolved in the mid '80s, Sting has continued on with an eclectic solo career ranging in genres from classical to jazz to Celtic folk music, all the while gaining a reputation less associated with rock 'n roll and more associated with terms like "progressive," "experimental," and "adult contemporary." 57th & 9th finds the veteran in perhaps his most raw and rockin' mode since his pre-solo days. The tense, staccato and dirty guitar on "Petrol Head" is propelled forward by the driving beat and Sting's urgent, tattered vocals. "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" channels the shimmery guitars, thumping bass, and catchy choruses of The Police, while still maintaining a unique sense of self, and "50,000" is a poignant look at mortality as we lose more and more of our, seemingly-immortal, musical heroes.

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