Rock

Short Movie (CD)

At only 25, Laura Marling is releasing her fifth album, following 2013’s excellent, Mercury Prize-nominated Once I Was an Eagle. Like that album, Marling expertly details relationships and breakups on Short Movie, only there’s more variety here—sometimes she’s playing wistful acoustic dreamscapes a la Joni Mitchell, other times she lets loose with snarling attitude like a young Chrissie Hynde. She delivers medieval kiss-offs to a caustic relationship over majestic guitar playing and ambient guitar noise on “Warrior” (“I can’t be your horse anymore/You’re not the warrior I’ve been looking for”); immediately following, the rockier “False Hope” describes urban loneliness in detail. Tracks like “Walk Alone” explore the nuance in Marling’s exquisite voice, while “I Feel Your Love” and “Strange” approach bluegrass and spoken-word delivery from a unique standpoint. “Do I look like I’m fucking around?” she asks on the alluring yet slightly menacing “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down.” The answer’s no—whatever Marling tackles on her remarkable fifth album, she does so capably, transforming her demons into songs that cut to the heart.

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Moonlight (CD)

Hanni El Khatib’s throwback rock ‘n’ roll grows longer fangs on third album Moonlight. The sinister title track sees El Khatib engaging in some swampy blues with chords that hover too closely together, like kissing cousins. “Melt Me” adds some much-appreciated full-and-dirty fuzz to the mix. El Khatib largely supplants ambiance and swagger for melody, but you won’t mind when the results are as pulsating with life as songs like stomping blues-rocker “The Teeth.” While his last album, Head in the Dirt was strong, Moonlight sees El Khatib finding his voice more and dedicating himself to it, coming up with a deliciously whiskey-soaked album that suggests grimy, dimly lit dive bars and the things that happen after closing time.

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Evermotion (CD)

Guster’s most vibrant album yet bulldozes inhibitions, propelling the band to a harder-charging, more freewheeling. Packed with tight hooks, muscular guitar riffs, clanging percussion, and surprisingly dark lyrics.

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Harvest Of Gold (CD)

Australia's Gossling (aka Helen Croome) presents a debut LP with lush textures and vocal hooks that deftly weaves complex emotional themes throughout. The gorgeous pop songcraft has already garnered much notice.

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I Love You, Honeybear (CD)

Father John Misty’s fearless second record builds on his folk-rock sound with orchestral touches, genre diversions and direct, conversational lyrics that cut through singer/songwriter clichés. The title track introduces Beatlesesque melodies and weeping steel guitar to prepare you for the scope of the record. J. Tillman starts going into crooner mode with the spectacular “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” his crushed-velvet vocals singing over a sweeping, country-symphonic arrangement, but his lyrics nicely keep the romanticism from getting too gooey (“I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in”). “True Affection” takes a sharp turn into MIDI-electro-dream-pop, with some Fleet Foxes-style harmonies keeping things grounded in Tillman’s wheelhouse. “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” takes another turn, this time into Velvets-third-album twinkling indie pop, while Tillman calls out an airheaded groupie (“She says like, literally, music is the air she breathes,” he sings hilariously). Tillman’s lyrics work so well because of their specificity—you feel like you’re watching him break hearts at a local bar when he sings “Why the long face? Blondie, I’m already taken,” over a sultry Southern sway on “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow.” Such subject matter could read as self-serving, if not for the album’s more self-effacing tracks, like “The Ideal Husband,” in which Tillman admits various wrongdoings, petty or otherwise, over nervy rock ‘n’ roll; or “Bored in the USA,” a piano ballad that seems to mock Tillman’s own first-world problems of alienation and dullness (“Save me, white Jesus!” is an awesomely cutting exclamation). Tillman’s refusal to do anything in a typical way while still keeping the music highly polished helps I Love You, Honeybear to never feel indulgent. Rather, it’s an extraordinarily giving album, as Tillman’s honesty and strength as a songwriter and performer has grown immeasurably. It’s easily one of the best albums of the year thus far.

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Gliss Riffer (CD)

Deacon returns to a simpler way of writing and recording, similar to 2007’s Spiderman of the Rings, with this self-produced album. Gliss Riffer delivers aesthetic directness and ecstatic energy.

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Sleeping Operator (CD)

Making a second album can be daunting for a group. Having to live up to expectations of their previous release without repeating themselves, the pressure can be severe. For the Barr Brothers, Sleeping Operator takes risks that wouldn't have been expected from the neo-classical folk music quartet whose previous album of gentle harmonies, harps and bouncing guitars was more 1961 than 2011. But now they sound 2014 with a vibrant production stepping them out of merely folk and throwing them into a blend of folk-pop ballads with luminous horns, avant-rock percussion, thick string parts and mellow guitar jam-outs. The first track, "Static Orphans," is the ambient cold-opening to a surprisingly indie-rock jam, "Love Ain't Enough," followed by "Wolves" which sounds right out of a '70s country-rock album your parents might have listened to. But they haven't let go of their folk roots. Culminating in "Please Let Me Let It Go," you're left with a sublime sadness that few artists can achieve. This is interesting folk music at heights that few artists can touch.

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Girlpool (CD)

L.A. duo Girlpool pack more smarts and attitude into 15 minutes than most bands do in a lifetime on their debut, seven-song EP. They touch on great female-fronted rock bands of yore like The Slits, Young Marble Giants, The Breeders and Bikini Kill without being beholden to any of them. What comes out is a sort of minimalist, playfully feminist record about girls who don’t put up with shit—they’ll punch a dude for talking out of both sides of his mouth, as they sing on the seething “Jane,” or call out a guy for being a superficial baby, on “Blah Blah Blah.” Some of their work is really beautiful, too, like the sparkling “Plants and Worms,” relying on Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s bass and guitar interplay and unison vocals. Though some of the lyrics fall into clunky territory (“Slutmouth’s” “I don’t wanna get fucked by a fucked society”), their lyrics mostly work well by being direct yet uniquely stated, undercutting typical archetypes on the same song (“I don’t really care to brush my hair … I go to school every day, just to be made a housewife one day”). Girlpool mostly seem like they don’t care what you think of them—they’re clearly unstoppable, anyway. This EP promises great things to come from Girlpool.

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Benjamin Booker (LP)

22 year-old New Orleans based guitarist and singer Benjamin Booker’s S/T debut is a bourbon spiked sonic cocktail that mixes swampy New Orleans blues with fuzzy garage rock hooks. The result sounds like a more polished version of the Gories paying homage to Hasil Adkins. Heavily influenced by the Gun Club, T-Rex, and Blind Willie Johnson, Booker sings with a vocal range and intensity beyond his years; enhanced only by his fevered guitar playing and the thunderously caveman drum styling of Max Norton. Together these two have created an electrifying take on blues-haunted punk that blows more seasoned acts out of the miry waters. 

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Be Impressive (CD)

After extensive touring and the success of 2012’s four-track Heart of A Lion EP, Sydney’s indie-pop darlings The Griswolds have finally released their first full-length release, Be Impressive. Fans of overproduced sonic candy will find this effort quite impressive. Formulaic in nature and bright as the sun, The Griswolds stick to the tropical, percussive, and happy pop hooks that have gained them popularity. Despite the upbeat nature of the record, there are some slightly more melancholy moments in tracks like “Beware The Dog”, “Thread The Needle” and Live This Nightmare.” If you enjoy sugary pop with a little darkness within, this debut is the sonic equivalent to getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

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