Rock

Dancing At The Blue Lagoon (CD)

Cayucas make irrepressibly sunny guitar pop that suggests they’re the West Coast’s answer to Vampire Weekend. Their sophomore album may sound like it was engineered by the folks at the Ace Hotel for maximum margarita-sipping vibes, but there’s a cleverness to Cayucas’ arrangements. Single “Moony Eyed Walrus” is an irresistibly catchy tune with guitars that skip like a stone, its emotive strings serving as a nice counterpart to Zach Udin’s vocals, which flip from detached stoner to beach party emcee. They infuse songs like the title track with subtle marimbas and snaking basslines to match their island-hopping guitars, while lyrics about a certain dancing muse give the song the feel of a poolside update on “Hotel California.” Though it can be a bit on the nose when the band sings about Jacuzzi nights and Tahitian blues on “Backstroke,” the song still has a nice Afropop-leaning funk to it and vocal oddities that make the song a pleasure. And “Ditches,” a piano ballad about getting the hell out of suburbia, sees the band stretching its wings. So don’t feel bad about blasting Dancing at the Blue Lagoon all summer; you won’t be the only one doing so.

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Sticky Fingers [Deluxe Edition] (CD)

There’s little that can be said about Sticky Fingers that hasn’t been said a million times, but it bears repeating: It’s the most consistently great album in the Rolling Stones’ estimable catalog, making it easily one of the most solid albums ever. Sticky Fingers’ 10 songs saw the band entering the ’70s in style, with some of their hookiest and best songs, from iconic singles like “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” to the growling, bluesy expanse of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” paralleling “Sister Morphine’s” dead-eyed comedown, the elegant garage-rock of “Sway” and “Dead Flowers” and beatific closer “Moonlight Mile.” These new deluxe editions strip off the borders from such a venerated album and let us see it in a new light. There’s a scrappy take on “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton on guitar, an even sparer “Wild Horses,” and a slimmed-down take on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” while “Bitch” goes off the rails into a wicked jam. Sticky Fingers is the best place to start for Stones newbies, and this edition presents the best-ever version of the classic album.

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Apocalypse, Girl (CD)

Norwegian artist Jenny Hval’s peculiar sound world incorporates spoken-word performance, of disjointed observations and sexually exploration, and an unpredictable singing voice, at times softly melodic, other times creepily singing about “shaving in all the right places” over cerebral pieces built on musique concrete and classic goth-rock. Listening feels like stepping into a darkened room and following a pinhole’s light. You’re unsure of what you’ll find, yet you’re oddly compelled to move forward through songs that feel more like dream-logic scenarios in which borders are unrecognized. Some echoes of Broadcast, Laurie Anderson, Bjork and Kate Bush poke through, but Hval, schooled in gothic metal, writing and performance, has a solitary perspective that can’t truly be forced into traditional influences. More accessible tracks like the loose, organ-driven “The Battle Is Over” give way to avant-garde sound pieces like “White Underground,” built on layers of ascending vocals and wails and synth drones that emit horror movie vibes. Hval skillfully keeps things tied together and swinging back and forth between the esoteric and tangible, moving back toward the latter for the French Pop-inspired “Heaven” and soulful wonderland of “Why This.” Hval’s ability to transmute her dreams and internalized feelings into pop-distorting pieces is a rare thing, giving Apocalypse, girl the thrilling feel of discovering the obscured.

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Multi-Love (CD)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with Multi-Love. The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag, Multi-Love is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s truly one of the best things we’ve heard all year.

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Sound & Color (CD)

Alabama Shakes’ meteoric rise thankfully hasn’t tarnished what made them special to begin with. Sound & Color is an assured follow-up to Boys & Girls, further defining the band’s garage-blues sound without just relying on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s explosive voice to carry the show. The title track features some gorgeous harmonies and orchestral touches that start the album off in a classy way. But Sound & Color quickly proves gritty, as Howard’s banshee wail rips open first single “Don’t Wanna Fight.” “Dunes” is a deep, weird Beatlesesque track that finds Howard struggling to maintain her identity among rising fame (this one has “fan favorite” written all over it). Although it’s pretty obvious how powerful Howard’s voice can be, it reveals new shadings across the album, vacillating between a sweet coo and penetrating cry on the celestial funk of “Future People” and curling into a wild croon and big belt on “Gimme All Your Love.” About that voice—it’s impressive for sure, and Howard and co. have figured out when and where to unleash it, marking the biggest improvement the band has made. When the band does let loose on tracks like garage burner “The Greatest,” the results are all the more sublime. It’s rare when a band can capitalize on hype without succumbing to it as Alabama Shakes have; rarer still that they can avoid the sophomore slump with such aplomb. Alabama Shakes succeed with flying colors on their second outing.  

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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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Lonerism (LP)

If Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel) had been born 10 years later and became obsessed with tape loops, this is sort of what it would sound like. Stellar effort, even better than their first LP. Get on it, people.  

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