Rock

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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Wild World (CD)

When Bastille's Bad Blood dropped in the scene 3 1/2 years ago, it was such a burst of musical joy that not only elaborated on the indie sound, but changed the landscapes and style since. With Wild World, Bastille has its eyes set on running high up the charts and creating a new legion of fans with their infectious radio pop. And it's hard to not get caught up. The moment Dan Smith's unabashedly English voice croons so powerfully without ever being showy or obnoxious, you get sucked in. The productions are filled with infectious catchy rhythms and unexpected instrumentation that every second of the album is a surprise. From the opening bass riff of "Good Grief," you can feel the music change your mood. Though the song is very romantic with a wistful, sad quality, its upbeat progression and production is so jubilant that it flips the track entirely on its head. Even as he cries out "Every minute and every hour / I'll miss you more," the tune has almost lost control of emotions and is happy about how sad it is. "Fake It" feels like the other side of "Good Grief'"s coin. While that track is endlessly excited and bouncy, "Fake It" feels like a melodrama with heightened emotion and icy cold, sparse production. With a few '80s synth licks, drum-machine mechanisms, and a whole ton of bass, it's the perfect track for when you can't forget about past relationships. Wild World is poised to turn Bastille into a stadium filling band. Pop this in and you'll want to be part of the club too.

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22, A Million (CD)

There are certain things one expects from Bon Iver: sparse, wintry melodies, bare emotionality, and his lyrical, near-Appalachian croon. On 22, A Million, those facets remain the same, albeit embellished by an unexpected experimentation. The new songs feature samples, synths, and processed vocals; one gets the sense that all the time Bon Iver spent collaborating with the likes of Kanye and James Blake managed to influence his own work, as well. It’s an interesting evolution for the soft-voiced lo-fi folksinger — an album full of surprises whose low-key loveliness will get under your skin.

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Hoka (CD)

Impossible to classify. Take a spiritual journey with the album Hoka. Nahko has emerged a new hero for both the planet and our souls, and if you’re not howling like a wolf by the end of this set you might want to re-check the latter. Soon haunting melodies and the sound of the wolves rustling through the desert will be running through your dreams.

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Human Performance (CD)

 “Dust is everywhere — SWEEP!” So goes the refrain of the first single off N.Y. indie-rock heroes Parquet Courts’ new album. Human Performance seems less concerned with proving anything to anyone than ever, yet finds the band settling into itself nicely and coming up with some of its most weirdly catchy songs. Since releasing the excellent Light up Gold in 2013, the band has drawn from a certain brand of brainy New York indie rock of yore, from Talking Heads and Television through Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys. Then came Sunbathing Animal, the thorny but ultimately winning follow-up, along with assorted albums and EPs that saw them trying on various guises, with the results hit-or-miss. Now, on songs like the Velvet Underground-ish title track; short, rhythmically clever tunes like “Outside” and “I Was Just Here”; and shoutalong slacker anthems like “Paraprhased,” Parquet Courts sound comfortable yet energized, mature but real in their embrace of the surreal and off-kilter. As it’s been somewhat both exhilarating and maddening to watch them over the past couple of years, Human Performance is that redemptive album that shows keeping an eye on Parquet Courts is well worth your time. Their best yet.

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A Moon Shaped Pool (CD)

When first putting on "Burn The Witch," the beginning of the Radiohead's new album, you might feel you've mistakenly put on a new Belle and Sebastian single. The slightly twee and plucky string arrangements seem to harken back to a Kinks-y Village Green Preservation Society-era jaunt. But give it a minute and Thom Yorke's trademark silky-gloom fills the village with a hypnotizing sense of doom. "Daydreaming" starts with a minimalist piano line and vocals but slowly builds with mysterious layers to a vast soundscape. With A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead have proven they've fully transcended the trappings of a '90s guitar rock band and turned into something more akin to a collection of texture, emotions, and sounds; a sort of soundtrack to the 21st century.

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