Rock

Complete Third (CD)

For Big Star fans, the release of Complete Third is like discovering a hidden treasure trove of demos, rough mixes, and alternate takes of beloved songs. This sixty-nine track box set features twenty-nine previously unreleased recordings that will have you hearing classic tracks in a whole new light. The newly available tracks are rawer, more emotional, and sometimes even more powerful than the original takes — definitely worth checking out, if only to reassess the meaning and the force behind songs you’ve loved for years. It’s a fitting tribute to the work and genius of the dearly departed Mr. Chilton.

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American Band (CD)

Drive-By Truckers, the American South’s biggest celebrant and critic, unleashes their most political and righteously indignant album of their long career with American Band. Amid the current haze of the baffling election, rampant poverty, police brutality, senseless shootings, the opioid abuse epidemic, widespread xenophobia, and racial tensions, singers/songwriters/guitarists and band founders Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood sharpened their skills for critique, creating this year’s most provocative protest album. Their form of socio-political criticism is straightforward; their words are aimed for the jugular because, let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of time to play with poetics as the country goes up in flames before our eyes. In “What It Means," they take on the tragic collective moral implications of the deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin: "We're living in an age where limitations are forgotten/The outer edges move and dazzle us/But the core is something rotten." While sonically honoring their roots in all-American Southern rock, Drive-By Truckers remind us that it is truly American to think, question, critique, and to protest.

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City Club (CD)

If you think the title track off The Growlers' new album sounds a bit Strokes-y, there's a good reason for that: not only is City Club co-produced by Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, but it's being released on Casablancas' label, Cult Records. With a disco-a-la-Blondie strutting beat and angular, staccato guitar, the song becomes a buzzing-streetlamp lit, urban playground for Brooks Nielsen's fuzzy vocals. The funky "I'll Be Around" sounds like it was recorded over an old Jamaican cassette tape, while steady rocker "Night Ride" is perfect for just that, a spin through the city as the final oranges and reds fade from the sky and are replaced by the speckling of artificial light.

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57th & 9th (CD)

Since The Police dissolved in the mid '80s, Sting has continued on with an eclectic solo career ranging in genres from classical to jazz to Celtic folk music, all the while gaining a reputation less associated with rock 'n roll and more associated with terms like "progressive," "experimental," and "adult contemporary." 57th & 9th finds the veteran in perhaps his most raw and rockin' mode since his pre-solo days. The tense, staccato and dirty guitar on "Petrol Head" is propelled forward by the driving beat and Sting's urgent, tattered vocals. "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" channels the shimmery guitars, thumping bass, and catchy choruses of The Police, while still maintaining a unique sense of self, and "50,000" is a poignant look at mortality as we lose more and more of our, seemingly-immortal, musical heroes.

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Hollow Bones (CD)

Put some muscle back into your rock with Rival Son's fifth record, Hollow Bones. It's hard not to make Led Zeppelin comparisons with the Long Beach group, especially with the riffage on opening track "Hollow Bones, Pt. 1," but the album also features the sun-drenched, desert psychedelia of bands like Kyuss, and a healthy dose of retro-R&B along the lines of Gary Clark Jr. and The Black Keys. "Tied Up" sounds like a Dan Auerbach side project at times, while "Fade Out" could be a collaboration between Chris Cornell and Jack White. Keep your ears open for "Black Coffee," a looser and longer cover of the funky Ike and Tina Turner track, and sit back and trip to the pulsing desert mirage of "Hollow Bones, Pt. 2."

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Masterpiece (CD)

Brooklyn indie-band Big Thief's first album is a steady rockin' gem. Take title track, "Masterpiece," for example: this somber anthem fills every corner of your wintertime apartment with a sentimental warmth and cool comfort. "Real Love" starts with guitars reminiscent of Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead and ends with a thick-as-mashed-potatoes freak out, while "Paul" should be a favorite last call number on the jukebox.

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Skeleton Tree (CD)

Skeleton Tree’s album opener “Jesus Alone” starts off Nick Cave’s latest LP with a heavy, oppressive, and haunted atmosphere. At times anguished, eerie and seeking, it’s some of Cave’s strongest work in years. For an artist with a carefully-curated public persona, whose lyrics often recount the tall tales of dark, dangerous, and larger-than-life figures, there’s a real openness and vulnerability to the new songs that makes them even more hard-hitting. (Longtime fans know the album was recorded in response to the tragic death of his son, Arthur.) It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a devastating quality to these songs, as well as a strange beauty springing from the love that makes the singer’s grief so palpable. These songs will follow you around long after the album has ended.

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Slugger (CD)

SAD13 is the solo, indie pop project of Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis. Slugger is only about half an hour long, but what a blissful thirty-five minutes it is, with bold, self-empowered lyrics and glistening pop production. The album is strong throughout, with glittering synth lines, funked up drum machines, and serious hooks underscoring Dupuis’ amazing ability to craft a killer track. SAD13’s vibrant melodies and feminist lyrical focus are a breath of fresh air.

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Jessica Rabbit (CD)

In the six years since their mammoth album, Treats, the 100 mph collision of shredding guitars, drum machines, distortion, and angelic pop vocal harmonies has created and sculpted one of the most unique and exciting sounds today. But after a string of quickly written, quickly recorded albums, Sleigh Bells slowed to a three year period to create their newest opus. Jessica Rabbit, recorded off-and-on by themselves and Eminem producer Mike Elizondo, revels in excess and maximalism as lead-vocalist Alexis Krauss and multi-instrumentalist Derek Miller cover every square inch of your ears with violent sounds. Their first album on their own label, Torn Clean, almost feels like a clean slate to reevaluate their sound and figure out new ways to make pop weird. Instead of creating layers of insanity with Krauss echoing somewhere among it, the sound is sharp and precise, showing off her chops as a pop star who, under other less-artistic circumstances, could sell out stadiums. "It's Just Us Now" starts off with a stuttering rhythm and oppressive drum clangs. The catchy melody then goes into avant-what! mode with a chorus that suddenly changes tempo drastically until the track disappears into a mellow synth memory. But "I Can Only Stare" might be the closest they've come to making a radio friendly track. The ear-bleeding guitars are traded up for keyboard parts out of '80s new wave and drum machines that are muffled to a dull bomp. The song is the perfect showcase for Krauss' unique voice, dynamic range, and her ability to conform to a more "normal" song. Though Sleigh Bells is becoming more professional and clean, their unique sound is still enough to garner strange looks from people not prepared for the mix of noise and electronic pop. Jessica Rabbit is their most fully formed and mature album to date.

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Are You Real? (CD)

Fuzzy and full of attitude, Beware of Darkness' follow-up to their debut album, Orthodox, will have you chanting along to their catchy choruses and struttin' to their cocky rhythm. "Muthafucka" features Jack White-esque guitar riffs, while "Dope" has a disco-punk feel akin to early Franz Ferdinand. The title track, "Are You Real?," mixes indie pop with a Nine Inch Nails-like '90s alt/industrial sound.

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