Rock

This Is Acting (CD)

Sia’s perhaps best known for writing songs for other people. From Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” to Kelly Clarkson’s “Invincible,” her songwriting and production skills are in the highest demand in the pop world. But artists at this echelon are also combing through dozens of songs to include on an album, so some of these inevitably fall by the wayside — witness how a song once intended for Rihanna ended up as Sia’s own biggest hit, “Chandelier.” So she’s taken all those songs that didn’t end up making it on pop stars’ albums and reclaimed them on her own seventh studio album, the aptly titled This Is Acting. You can almost hear Adele’s belt powering through “Alive,” but Sia’s wiry, cracking voice suits the song even better. Power-ballad “Bird Set Free,” also written (along with Tobias Jesso Jr.) for Adele, gains more poignancy in Sia’s own voice, given her public struggles with performance anxiety (“I don't care if I sing off key/I found myself in my melodies”). Though none would deny Sia’s talents as a songwriter capable of writing hits, those looking for more intrigue to her songs are rewarded with tracks like “One Million Bullets,” which possesses both some of her most interesting vocal tics and a powerful chorus, making for one of her best songs yet. In the end, who cares about for whom these songs were intended? Ironically, This Is Acting finds Sia coming into her own as an artist more than ever.

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Eyes On The Lines (CD)

True freak-folkie Steve Gunn was always a background figure until the big success of Way Out Weather. Having a sensibility to folk music that felt lost since the '70s, he combined elements of Indian instrumentation, world percussion, psychedelic guitars, and even the droning of La Monte Young for sensitively constructed songs that are as breezy as they are complex. Having cut his teeth as a member of Kurt Vile's Violators, he's come fully into his own uniquely worn voice that gets caught up in catchy guitar hooks that swoosh by in a heartbeat before songs dissolve into psychedelic strangeness. Taking inspiration from Rebecca Solnit's collection of essays, "A Field Guide to Getting Lost," each track feels like a spiritual journey into self-discovery that is as warm and joyful as they are mysterious. Opener "Ancient Jules" finds him at his most Mike Cooper with a careful ear for instrumentation. Starting with a riff right out of The Grateful Dead, the song feels like an anthem for leisure and pleasure with beautiful pastoral imagery which eventually dissolves into a guitar solo that goes full into Neil Young noisy, improvisational psych. "Park Bench Smile" is a jazzy, urbanite poem that feels outside of the structure and paradigm of rock, beginning as a gentle rocker with honky-tonk piano flourishes that feel completely organic and free against the loopy guitar solo and the tragic lyrics. The far janglier "Conditions Wild" is the closest the album gets to the contemporary sounds of indie rock, but James Elkington's guitar gives it an almost ambient depth that no other rocker would risk trying. In a summer prepping to be filled with big albums, Eyes On The Lines might be the creative peak that others will try to top. Nothing sounds quite as beautiful and sincere as this.

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A Weird Exits (CD)

John Dwyer's 17th studio album as Thee Oh Sees, with its constantly revolving lineup, shows he may never lose an iota of steam. His dizzyingly manic, loud psych rock has grabbed ahold of everyone sick of precious, over-produced music that feels like a joke to be labeled "rock." Never ceasing to tour, he turns each venue into a sweat lodge as he hikes up the volume to ear-ripping degrees, funneling his guitar through a dozen peddles and sending it straight into Syd Barrett laced space. He fully abandoned the pleasant, high energy fueled inertia of San Francisco's garage scene and uses his new band made of members of Los Angeles to create sun-drenched tunes that warp minds and get your body moving. Opener "Dead Man's Gun" starts off as joyous, minimal power pop that explodes with the nosiest, fuzziest guitar solo that jolts you. It actually makes the music psychedelic and harsh, not just "psych" as a lazy adjective. An odd jam track like "Jammed Entrance" captures the hallucinogenic side of their music with atonal modular synth noodling bouncing off some of the funkiest breakbeats of the 21st century. This is the happy medium where atonal musique concrete gets warped through dance music of yesteryear. "Plastic Plant" channels the vibe off ancient Can and Neu! records with an unwavering riff that repeats ad infinitum. Its hypnotic melody easily sucks you in and makes you listen again. For a band that does an album a year, Thee Oh Sees kill it every time with demented ideas and schizophrenic energy. Not an album for the weak.

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Terminal Redux (CD)

In the world of modern metal, where it seems like damn near every band is a painfully generic, obvious rehashing of the greats, Vektor have masterfully taken their own path. If you are a sci-fi loving, metal thrashing maniac, Terminal Redux was made for you.

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Skiptracing (CD)

Mild High Club’s Skiptracing sounds like ‘70s light rock radio on acid, complete with smooth jazz solos, psych flourishes, jangly guitar, and sunny harmonies. Thanks to the band’s eclectic influences, however, the songs never sound derivative, but instead feel like a breath of fresh air winding its way through Laurel Canyon. It’s a woozy, euphoric record that calls to mind a more mellowed out Ariel Pink or a psyched out Mac DeMarco — which makes sense because Mild High Club has toured with them both. Throw this record on if you still wish it was the Summer of Love, or if you just don’t want summer to end.

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Home Of The Strange (CD)

On Home of the Strange, Irvine, CA’s Young the Giant tackle themes of American identity and the immigrant experience. The songs themselves are thoughtful, polished toe-tappers that should appeal to fans of big name alt/indie acts like Cage the Elephant, Fleet Foxes, and Grouplove. Standout tracks include the catchy, rousing “Something to Believe In,” the upbeat, funky “Silvertongue,” and the gentle, dreamy “Titus Was Born.” On this album, the band have taken influences ranging from Britpop to folk rock to create a cohesive whole filled with indie rock anthems.

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Flux (CD)

The blues rock attitude of the sixties stays perfectly alive with Black Crowes' Rich Robinson. Head-throttling guitars slam your head with emotional solos that are powered up and amplified to shock. With his back catalog recently reissued, Robinson approached Flux differently than his prior efforts. Whereas he previously wrote tracks at home and then beefed them up in the studio with his large backing band, Flux was a bit more improvisational. Fragments of songs were taken into the studio and worked out with his band until they popped just right. You can hear the excitement in the way the loose, almost ramshackle way all the elements come together, just like Bob Dylan's mid-'60s period. There are more risks and strange choices done than in any of his other solo albums or with The Black Crowes that it creates the atmosphere of pure musical joy. "Sleepwalker," his Eagles-ish ballad, is about independent thought and dealing with human emotions. While society stigmatizes open thought and emotion, Robinson's blunt lyrics and spiritual guitar embody pure feeling so beautifully that it is painfully real and raw. "Which Way Your Wind Blows" channels the aggressive English-blues sound of Bad Company with a bass line that weighs a ton and a guitar solo distorted so it sounds almost like a synth. Robinson's scathing lyrics taunt and mock in such a weirdly, sloppy way that it reminds you of the missing attitude from modern rock. Crack open a beer and blast this one. Its hypnotic blues-rock blend will take you back to 1975.

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Adore Life (CD)

Savages take all the nonsense that comes with being a much-hyped buzz band and pummel it into the ground on their intense sophomore album. Love and its various manifestations fuels these songs — “if you don’t love me, don’t love anybody,” androgynous frontwoman Jehnny Beth sings over a grinding riff on “The Answer.” The jagged post-punk groove of a song like “Husbands” returns on “Evil,” though it’s darker and more drawn out, as the band knows it can command attention without having to shake it out as it once did. Though many of these songs go for the jugular, restraint serves the band well on “Adore,” a slow-burner that clears the way for a Beth’s singular refrain, “I adore life,” a statement of purpose that drives the band into a fearless crescendo. It takes that kind of conviction to overcome the bullshit of being in an all-female band and both held to an unfair standard and knocked down by anyone tired of the hype — as if the breathless coverage of the band’s live shows and prior album, Silence Yourself, was at all their fault. It doesn’t matter, anyway —the band’s follow-up album is endlessly intriguing and, despite lacking obvious hooks, grips you the more you listen. Simply allow the band to exist on its own terms, and you won’t be disappointed by Adore Life

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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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