Rock

How Do You Feel Now? (CD)

Aptly named Joywave are leading the charge of a genre-less, pretentious-less, alternative pop era. The sound lies somewhere between the unapologetic body shaking of Hot Chip and the cinematic appeal of Bleachers, the latter being current tour-mates. The appeal of Joywave however is the outright denial of the placeholder conformism of such comparisons. Case in point they have wryly claimed their music is a mash up of Pitbull and Coldplay. After receiving critical acclaim from underground mixtapes, culminating in a feature spot on Big Data’s hit single "Dangerous," Joywave found an audience. They dropped the How Do You Feel EP a year later to an outpour of media attention. Several months and a couple of viral music videos later, the boys from Rochester are back to ask How Do You Feel Now? The album continues in the same vein of the EP. In fact, all four tracks remain on the album including the danceable savage single “Tongues.” Curveballs include the Generation Y dirge “Traveling at the Speed of Light” and the robotic hip-hoperatic closer “Bad Dreams.” Exploration aside, the pop spirit of How Do You Feel Now? is what drives the record and the group itself. That spirit, akin to the joyful ecstatic hum of a young festivalgoer’s experience awaiting climax. That is what Joywave has to offer. And there is no doubt that, with the release of this record, they will soon provide said festivalgoer with one hell of a payoff.

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Edge Of The Sun (CD)

Calexico releases have always been eclectic collections stringing together various strings of Americana and indie rock into what’s been referred to as “desert noir.” Edge of the Sun feels like their most refined release while staying as diverse as ever, augmented by the duo’s sojourn in Mexico City while writing the record. Though it’s dotted with upbeat, jangling country-rock numbers, Edge of the Sun pit stops in Tejano territory (“Coyoacan”), hits up dusky biker bars along the road (“Bullets & Rocks”) and stops to come up with a killer electro-cumbia tune (“Cumbia De Donde”). Guests show up to keep the party going—Neko Case makes “Tapping on the Line” a gorgeous electro-country duet, while Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses helps take the soaring “Falling From the Sky” achieve lift-off. It’s a fine line Calexico walk, but nine studio albums in and the band is able to confidently wrangle a wide swath of sounds for an unpredictable album that is altogether gripping.  

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In Bardo (CD)

White Arrows do an admirable job of balancing their pop ambitions with their innate record-store-geek weirdness on their sophomore album, In Bardo. We get tracks like “We Can’t Ever Die,” a blast of arena-ready anthemic rock, and “Can’t Stop Now,” which features U2-style shivery guitars and big fat chorus. But their first single “Nobody Cares” is also proudly strange, with Nintendo noises, pitch-shifted vocals and all sorts of other crazy noise, moving from being pleasant and enjoyable to unique and hard to shake. And “Get By” balances its hip-shaking rhythms with sonic saturation and wailing guitars. They lose a bit of the globe-trotting vibe from first album Dry Land is Not a Myth, but the focus here is on quality songs, as In Bardo has them in spades.

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A Tribute To Michael Been (CD)

After 20 years, Santa Cruz rockers The Call reunited at The Troubador in Los Angeles to put on an incredible show while paying tribute to front-man, Michael Been, who died of a heart attack in 2010. Been’s son Robert Levon Been (bassist and singer of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) led this emotional performance by stepping into his father’s role and playing along with surviving members Tom Ferrier, Jim Goodwin and Scott Musick. With fourteen songs and an unforgettable performance by Robert and the band, highlights include “Let The Day Begin,” “The Walls Came Down” and “I Still Believe.”

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Primus & The Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble (CD)

Les Claypool and the original mid '90s lineup of Primus reunite to take on childhood! More precisely Primus pays homage to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Primus & the Chocolate Factory is a terrifying psychedelic nightmare wrapped in childhood wonderment and sugar coated with joy, much like the 1971 masterpiece. To ring in 2014 Primus played a hometown show with a rollicking classic set followed by a cover set of the soundtrack of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The show featured Claypool donning full Wonka attire, a magical set of lollipops and mushrooms, Oompa Loompas and a Glass Elevator. They even sold limited chocolate bars all named after Primus tunes! Life changing. Now they have taken that magic and distilled it into the release Primus & the Chocolate Factory. The track listing is almost directly identical to the order the songs play out in the film. It opens with “Hello Wonkites” which is an introduction more fitting than the “Pure Imagination” medley. Aided by Critters Buggin percussionist Mike Dillon, the zip-bang drum work of Tim “Herb” Alexander gives the whole recording a topsy-turvy progressive feel. The guttural “Candy Man” begins and we get a full sense of what type of Wonka Claypool really is (imagine Gene Wilder fronting The Residents.) The freaky conductor on this boat ride fades in and out vocally through the “Oompa Loompa” refrains and the less than hopeful “Pure Imagination.” The whole journey leaves the listener like the proverbial Veruca Salt wanting More! Now!

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Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (CD)

The new album by Panda Bear is perhaps his most accessible yet. This is not to say the music isn’t as strange and unique as anything he’s done. “Boys Latin’s” brilliant vocal pastiche gets stuck in your head but keeps your mind swimming. “Crossword” is heartfelt and gorgeous, along the lines of Animal Collective’s “My Girls.” “Come to Your Senses” swirls with slithering, shaking sounds, but percolating guitars and synths carry strong melodies to take you through it. “Principe Real” is like Wonderland funk, bouncing on handclaps and cartoonish organs. And “Tropic of Cancer” is a Beach Boys-inspired oceanic ode that crests on beautiful harp and digital whispers. While Panda Bear’s work has always been inspiring, Grim Reaper sheds any kind of shyness present in his previous releases. It’s a beautifully made, all-embracing piece of experimental pop music, and one of the best releases of early 2015.

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Brill Bruisers (CD)

The New Pornographers are back in a big way with Brill Bruisers. While the band’s past couple of outings have struggled to match the energy of their roof-burning early work, Brill Bruisers comes roaring out of the gate right away with AC Newman’s School House Rock-style title track. Neko Case takes the lead on a few sublime tracks, like the scenic “Champions of Red Wine,” while Destroyer’s Dan Bejar’s songs carry just that right amount of oddity to make the whole album a bit more magical, as on the swirling new wave of “War on the East Coast.” Songs like “Family Fools” are some of their best Fleetwood Mac-style aural dreamscapes of layered vocals and lush synths, and gorgeous harmonies abound, as on the pretty “Backstairs.” Occasionally New Pornographers fall into the trap of their songs being more clever than emotional, but even still, those songs keep you interested by finding new ways to approach the same old power-pop, using vocal aerobics on “Hi-Rise” and giving a lovely sentiment some quizzical melodicism for added depth on “You Tell Me Where.” It’s perhaps their strongest work since high-water mark Twin Cinema, a return-to-form that longtime fans will no doubt find to be a perfect end-of-summer gift from the gods.

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Strangers To Ourselves (CD)

It’s been eight years since the last Modest Mouse album, so forgive Modest Mouse if they have a lot to say. The sprawling, 15-song Strangers to Ourselves has a lot to offer both fans who’ve been with Modest Mouse’s since the ’90s and those newer to the fold. The soft opening of the title track actually feels quite revolutionary in the band’s catalog, wearily beautiful in its dreaminess. Single “Lampshades on Fire” feels closer to classic Modest Mouse, a stomping singalong that sounds downright gleeful in its cutting social commentary on how we’re screwing up our planet—“Well we’re the human race/We’re goin’ to party out of this place.” The more somber, mature-sounding tracks still pack snarls and growls and song titles like “Shit in Your Cut.” The band stretches into new territory on songs like “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),” whose digital beat, suggestive lyrics and vocal manipulation makes it sound like the band is collaborating with The Knife, or, more simply, on the ragtime-style “Sugar Boats” and new-wave ballad “Wicked Campaign.” Even when they’re being more predictable, Strangers to Ourselves is still a lot of fun to listen to, laying interesting percussive elements and spiderlike guitarwork into single-worthy post-punk jam “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box,” while the more subdued songs, like “Pups to Dust,” are worthwhile for Isaac Brock’s ever-remarkable voice and lyrics, which move from folksy to obtuse and obscene at the drop of a hat. After such a long hiatus, it’s wonderful to hear them still in fine form and doing what they do best.

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No Cities To Love (CD)

It’s tough to come back after a nearly decade-long hiatus, especially after your band’s best album (the combustible The Woods). But Sleater-Kinney succeed with aplomb on No Cities to Love, which scales back on Woods’ volume without dialing down the ferocity. Cities roars right out of the gate on “Price Tag,” as Corin Tucker gives a scathing indictment of American greed over Carrie Brownstein’s tuff gnarled riffs. Janet Weiss also gives a typically dynamic performance, switching between off-kilter punk-funk and straightforward rawk on “Fangless” and giving “No Anthems” and “Gimme Love” their pounding swagger. There’s a sense that Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss are growing comfortable with one another again, and appropriately, No Cities to Love is curt at 10 songs (thankfully trimmed of any fat whatsoever, really). When the trio fits together perfectly, as on “Surface Envy,” it’s a marvel to behold, its acidic riffs swaying and bursting at the seams while Tucker gives her band a worthy rallying call (“We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules”). Decidedly, No Cities to Love is yet another win for the returning rock titans known as Sleater-Kinney. 

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Uptown Special (CD)

Uptown Special picks up where the funk and soul of the (now seemingly long) past left off: fuzzy guitar, crunchy keyboards, punchy horns, and funky bass make an album that is jamming, and I mean jamming like roller skating in a tracksuit while rocking a gold chain on a neon lit city street.

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