Strangers To Ourselves (CD)

It’s been eight years since the last Modest Mouse album, so forgive Modest Mouse if they have a lot to say. The sprawling, 15-song Strangers to Ourselves has a lot to offer both fans who’ve been with Modest Mouse’s since the ’90s and those newer to the fold. The soft opening of the title track actually feels quite revolutionary in the band’s catalog, wearily beautiful in its dreaminess. Single “Lampshades on Fire” feels closer to classic Modest Mouse, a stomping singalong that sounds downright gleeful in its cutting social commentary on how we’re screwing up our planet—“Well we’re the human race/We’re goin’ to party out of this place.” The more somber, mature-sounding tracks still pack snarls and growls and song titles like “Shit in Your Cut.” The band stretches into new territory on songs like “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),” whose digital beat, suggestive lyrics and vocal manipulation makes it sound like the band is collaborating with The Knife, or, more simply, on the ragtime-style “Sugar Boats” and new-wave ballad “Wicked Campaign.” Even when they’re being more predictable, Strangers to Ourselves is still a lot of fun to listen to, laying interesting percussive elements and spiderlike guitarwork into single-worthy post-punk jam “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box,” while the more subdued songs, like “Pups to Dust,” are worthwhile for Isaac Brock’s ever-remarkable voice and lyrics, which move from folksy to obtuse and obscene at the drop of a hat. After such a long hiatus, it’s wonderful to hear them still in fine form and doing what they do best.

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No Cities To Love (CD)

It’s tough to come back after a nearly decade-long hiatus, especially after your band’s best album (the combustible The Woods). But Sleater-Kinney succeed with aplomb on No Cities to Love, which scales back on Woods’ volume without dialing down the ferocity. Cities roars right out of the gate on “Price Tag,” as Corin Tucker gives a scathing indictment of American greed over Carrie Brownstein’s tuff gnarled riffs. Janet Weiss also gives a typically dynamic performance, switching between off-kilter punk-funk and straightforward rawk on “Fangless” and giving “No Anthems” and “Gimme Love” their pounding swagger. There’s a sense that Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss are growing comfortable with one another again, and appropriately, No Cities to Love is curt at 10 songs (thankfully trimmed of any fat whatsoever, really). When the trio fits together perfectly, as on “Surface Envy,” it’s a marvel to behold, its acidic riffs swaying and bursting at the seams while Tucker gives her band a worthy rallying call (“We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules”). Decidedly, No Cities to Love is yet another win for the returning rock titans known as Sleater-Kinney. 

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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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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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