Rock

Light Upon The Lake (CD)

Smith Westerns might not exist anymore, but Whitney is continuing what they started. Max Kakacek and James Ehrlich, both formerly of Smith Westerns, channel The Band at their drunkest and most stoned for a fun album that sounds like the '70s never ended. Coming from the break-up of their previous band, they used what could've been a moment of tragedy to renew their creative energy. The days of beautiful/sad albums by the likes of Jackson Browne, Harry Nilsson, and James Taylor have been long gone, but Whitney brings back that joyful feeling with songs that feel so earnest and simple that it's like hearing them in person. "No Woman" is a meticulously crafted song about emptiness that's perfectly accompanied by a gentle Gordon Lightfoot-ish guitar part and punctuated by horns that have the right amount of impact before disappearing. "Golden Days" is the opposite. Though the lyrics are about nostalgic aches for the past, the track is surprising and energetic, filled with optimism. As lonely as you get, there's the warmth of knowing that these memories still exist in some form. "No Matter Where We Go" is probably the happiest track on the album and duplicates the anything-goes attitude of mid-'60s Dylan where things are a little messy, but all the ardor of making rock is there. You listen to it and you know that band is having fun making a song as relaxed and natural as this. 2016 has been filled with plenty of great debut albums, but Whitney's Light Upon The Lake has more finesse with a delicate, airy feeling that is fully formed and mature. Rich arrangements, unique voices, and brilliant lyrics make this the chill jam album of the year. Perfect for late-night drinking or quiet summer moments.

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Basses Loaded (CD)

Nobody keeps it weird the way the Melvins do. The usually ultra-prolific group took it a little slower in the last year and have finally come back with a new studio album designed to melt faces and rip off your head. Born out of a failed reunion with Nirvana's surviving members, the experimental weirdos jump somewhere between the uneasy schizophrenic territory of grunge, metal, and novelty. Their first studio album in two years features six bassists shredding like maniacs at glass-shattering volume. Tracks alternate between Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Redd Kross' Steve McDonald, Butthole Surfers' Jeff Pinkus, Mr. Bungle's Trevor Dunn, Big Business' Jared Warren, and former Melvin Dale Clover. "Hideous Woman" crunches loud as it's a beautifully gooey song with lyrics that assault you and guitars that teeter so close to insanity they could go off the rails any second. The surprisingly faithful cover of The Beatles' ode-to-acid "I Want To Tell You" is like a nostalgic bar and grill cover band getting messed up on cheap beer and opioids and forgetting there's an audience in the room as they tear in. The bouncy synth line and a fuzzed version of George Harrison's guitar sound makes the spaciness of the original track feel quaint in comparison. The last track brings the punny title of the album full-circle with a "wtf?" cover of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" that starts out like an NES game before it explodes into a ramshackle cover that only copious amounts of booze could fuel. If you ever feel rock is dead when you stream weak stuff online, remember The Melvins can still freak 'em out like no one can.

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Smoke + Mirrors Live  [CD/DVD] (CD)

To call Imagine Dragons "epic" is an understatement. Their songs are explosive and incredibly anthemic, digging right into the inner canal of your ear never to leave. Between the dramatic vocals, large productions, and songs that instantly grab you and demand you sing along, it's easy to understand the mega success of the group. To support their second studio album, they did an unprecedented 108 show world tour in a little under a year. To commemorate a feat of this magnitude, Imagine Dragons are bringing Smoke + Mirrors Live as an album and concert film to forever document this event. Performing a number of hits from their first two albums, the concerts can easily get you emotional, making you cry one second and dance the next. It's rare when theatrics of this magnitude are captured correctly, but it's expertly created to make you feel like you are there while at home or in your car. The power and passion of the band's performance, as well as the huge displays of lights and imagery, are captured so perfectly it's as good as going to the actual show. Lead vocalist Dan Reynolds is in top form as he makes each track a power ballad with his mighty voice. The live version of "I Bet My Life" has more energy and fire than the album version as it sounds like he's on the verge of emotional collapse. After the tour, Imagine Dragons decided to take a short break following their nonstop cycle of touring and recording, so treasure this while they're away.

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Totally Stripped [CD/DVD] (CD)

Totally Stripped will transport you to November of 1995 when The Rolling Stones’ album Stripped was released. This new box set contains a revised version of the 1995 documentary originally made to coincide with the release of Stripped and includes previously unseen footage and revealing behind-the-scenes moments with the Stones that can’t be missed. The CD features highlights from the live shows and stripped back versions of old favorites.

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Fury (CD)

As bands like Tool and Rage Against the Machine take what feels like a permanent vacation, Sick Puppies perfectly fill the void. Originally conquering the airways in Australia, they traveled out west to do the type of alt-metal that has been missing since the early 2000s. Now featuring a line-up change with new lead-singer and guitarist Bryan Scott, Sick Puppies is ready to blast your ears into oblivion with the appropriately titled Fury. Entering a new phase of their career, they listened to the fans and gave them what they wanted: power. It's an album that can barely contain all the rage and emotion they've kept bottled up since their previous, and much softer, album, Connect. Single, "Stick To Your Guns" blends metal with the '90s industrial sound of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, and grabs you by the throat, spins you around, and slams you straight into concrete. "Earth To You" feels like a take on Led Zeppelin with its bluesy slap-bass over tribal drums before Bryan Scott practically yells in your face. Fury is relentless as it tears down everything in sight, barely giving you a second to breath. As heavy as heavy gets.

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Strangers (CD)

With her seventh album, Marissa Nadler refines her poetry and dense sound in a way that is the envy of every other singer-songwriter. Her emotions are on clear display as she steps further away from the world of folk and goes for more tragic and haunting moods crafted by her sparse guitar and lush layers of synths and strings. All the while her delicate voice echoes with endless reverb until it just dissolves. Every track is a lamentation of love gone toxic and when her voice pierces right into you it almost feels like her pain is aimed directly at you. Two tracks into the album and "Katie I Know" can easily break you. She is so blunt and clear about her conflicts that it's almost too much to take. Her voice sounds like it could break into tears any second over the strings serenading her. "All Of The Colors Of The Dark" is so bare and personal that it's as if you are peeking into her subconscious with her beautiful imagery. "Janie In Love" has crackling guitar that feels right out of a Roy Orbison track until it blows you down with sonic drone that turns into a chaos that her previous albums never did. It's no surprise that she collaborated with Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn as her instrumentation gets heavier and louder and starts to feel fiercer than other folk artists. Strangers continues Sacred Bones' perfectly curated and genre defying sound that seems to create trends instead of follow them. It's Nadler's most mature album  yet and something people will try to emulate for the next few years.

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The Bastards (CD)

Radical Face isn't just a clever name. He radicalizes the singer/songwriter, indie solo mold of the solitary sound of a person and his guitar, melding it with textured atmospherics and haunting lyrics. Working on his project The Family Tree for the past five years, he found himself with extra tracks that were incredible but didn’t find a home on his LPs. So the aptly titled album The Bastards brings together his three bonus EPs of musical stragglers that he included with his last few albums along with couple of extra tracks. These are no toss-offs, but rather are tracks that were too good to end up on the cutting room floor. The Bastards tells the continuing story of the fictitious Northcotes family that feels part Southern gothic, part ghost story. "Nightclothes" wears its emotions so clearly on it's sleeve that it might make Nick Drake blush, but it also has a spooky quality, with psychedelic waves of oscillating strings and field recording crunch. Meanwhile, something like "Servants and Kings" is more joyous, with a funk-drum rhythm, ambient sounds zapped right from '80s meditation tapes and spaced lyrics. Despite being a small collection of extra tracks, you will be hard-pressed to find more personal or more revealing songs on other albums released this year.

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Will (CD)

Julianna Barwick doesn't just create music, but she creates sonic chambers that feel like warm, cozy places you can live in. Falling into a sort of weird lineage that started with the electronic minimalists like David Borden and Pauline Oliveros, continued on with Harold Budd's collaboration with the Cocteau Twins and now the nouveau new age musicians who have rediscovered how to make discount synths sound groundbreaking and modern, Will’s atmospherics continuously dissolve into a pleasant, pink haze that hypnotizes the listener. Recalling the '80s dream team of Julee Cruise, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, with warm, peaceful sine waves and mysterious vocals you can barely make out, the music has the spectral grace of ambient music, but the strange instrumentation and voices still give it one foot in the world of song-based pop music. "Nebula" literally raises a cacophony of spacey synths, droning cello and hallowed crying that climaxes in pure aural bliss before just disappearing into the ether like a memory. Along with Tim Hecker and William Basinski, there aren't many like Juliana Barwick who can transform and reinvent what the word "ambient" means to music, but she does it with unbelievable grace and poetry.

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Hopelessness (CD)

Just as the artist formerly known as Antony has chosen to go by the name ANOHNI in her personal and professional life, Hopelessness, her debut sans the Johnsons, dramatically refashions the artist’s sound world. With production by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, ANOHNI takes her socially conscious lyrics to the world of experimental synth-pop. “Let me be the one, the one that you choose from above,” she sings darkly in “Drone Bomb Me,” one of many politically pointed songs on the album. Similarly, she takes on the role of the victim on the sparkling, Kate Bush-inspired “Execution,” which refers to its titular act as “an American dream.” Over the pounding drums and synth-orchestral pomp of “4 Degrees,” ANOHNI decries the environmental atrocities we’ve enacted with the blackest of black humor (“I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze/I wanna see the animals die in the trees”). “I know you love me, ‘cause you’re always watching me,” she sings on the stunning “Watch Me,” an indictment of PRISM and America’s obsession with surveillance. As its title suggests, the album can run dour, as on bleak pieces like “Obama,” which is daring but feels a little on the nose, lyrically. Luckily, Hopelessness balances its dire subject matter with spectacular, pop-minded production that retains touches of the chamber-pop style on which ANOHNI built her musical stature. And on experimental pieces like the electro-jazz of “Violent Man,” her music also has never been more vibrant. Though not exactly full of sunshine and rainbows, by turning a bright light on the things we’d rather ignore, Hopelessness finds triumph.

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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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