This Month's Picks

Negative Qualities (CD)

Single Mothers

How punk rock can someone be when their songs are about trash talking typewriters and first editions? Surprisingly punk. Sweaty and angry, Drew Thomson belts out some of the nastiest and most sophisticated lyrics to come out of not just punk, but any band of the last year. And this isn't whiny, tantrum trash talk. It's pure cathartic rage of adulthood being spewed all over the mic. This isn't someone spilling their guts. This a full-on studio disembowelment.

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Genre: Rock

Warpaint (CD)

Warpaint

Warpaint’s The Fool was a great slow burner of a record, one that grew on you with each successive listen such that it continues to sound great years on. Now, four years later, the ladies of Warpaint return with their long-awaited second record. As is their way, Warpaint unfolds at an unhurried pace, relishing in subtleties with songs whose meanings or melodies you might be able to place right away, but whose impressions lasts much longer than instant gratification-style pop songs. They’re sort of the spiritual successor to the band Slowdive, the shoegaze greats who encountered as much acclaim as derision during their time, due to their milky, washy music, but who have since been ensconced as one of the most beloved bands of the ’90s. The effect of Warpaint’s music is similar, washing over you in spurts and leaving streaks. With a band like this, it’s generally tough to name singles or easy entry points, but Warpaint has some moments that stick out, namely “Biggy,” a great, trip hoppy pop song along the lines of Radiohead’s Kid A/Amnesiac period, while “Disco // Very” sees Emily Kokal’s vocals getting distorted and nasty over, yes, a disco beat, recalling some of the disco-rock of the ’00’s, only with a dirtier, dubbier tone. In these songs, Warpaint sees the band stretching their wings a bit, while fans of the first album will find much to love in the album’s dark, atmospheric corners. It’s altogether a fantastic, well-considered second album that proves the rewards of patience.

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Genre: Rock

Atlas (CD)

Real Estate

It should be no surprise that Real Estate’s third album is another impeccably crafted piece of beautiful guitar music. The New Jersey band has only made the necessary updates to their sound over the past few years, like polishing a statue into perfection. The album’s first few tracks offer everything we’ve come to love about this band, with sunny jangle-pop songs (opener “Had to Hear” and single “Talking Backwards”) butting next to nostalgic, minor-key songs about suburban splendor and decay—like being depressed about seeing a high school friend that never moved on, Matt Mondanile sings “I walk past these houses where we once stood/I see past lives, but somehow you’re still here,” with perfect precision on “Past Lives.” Real Estate’s lyrics have often taken a back seat to their shimmering guitarwork, but here they’re a bit more prominent, shining a light on Mondanile’s minimalist approach—despite how lovely the music is, songs like “Crime” are pretty depressing when you get down to it, with lyrics like “I wanna die/lonely and uptight.” Musically things have expanded a bit, as the band throws in more overt nudges toward easy listening and ’70s singer-songwriters in “The Bend” and country tinges in the gauzy, pretty “How I Might Live.” Instrumentally, these guys are just top notch, as they make instrumental “April’s Song” an album highlight, even without Mondanile’s soothing vocals, allowing his tremoloed, romantic guitar lines to do the singing for him. Atlas is simply a stunningly beautiful piece of guitar pop.

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Genre: Rock

Lion (CD)

Peter Murphy

Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy’s latest solo album is richly emotional, dark, and romantic – but would you expect anything less from the undisputed King of Goth? Also prepare for some rabble-rousing pirate sea shanties.

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Genre: Rock

HEAL (CD)

Strand of Oaks

Folk artist Strands of Oak (aka Timothy Showalter) makes a huge leap on his latest record, HEAL. Facing marital woes after extensive touring, Showalter spins his emotional turmoil into rock gold, eschewing the more folk-based sound of his earlier material for a huge, all-embracing rock sound. You’d be forgiven for thinking those riffs on opener “Goshen ’97” sound like Dinosaur Jr.—that is Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis shredding away while Showalter unleashing his wavering croon in an ode to teenhood (“I was lonely, but I was having fun!” he cries). Showalter has made a pop record in the same way Bruce Sprinsteen does, pairing a huge drum sound and synthesizers with emotionally naked lyrics on songs like the title track (“I spent 10 long years feeling so fuckin bad/I know you cheated on me, but I cheated on myself” he sings through gritted teeth) or the hooky, Stevie Nicks-inspired “Same Emotions.” But even with Showalter’s newfound pop fixation, these are at their heart folk songs, confessional tunes that could be played on acoustic guitar and would still sound great. He pours his heart out in songs like “Shut In”—“I lose my faith in people, why even take the time?” he sings in relatable self-pity, despite the song’s huge sonic impact—and on “JM,” he crafts a sweeping tribute to the late Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and The Magnolia Electric Co. that manages to feel both intimate and epic. While HEAL is not a small-sounding record by any stretch of the imagination—in fact, Showalter is wholly dedicated to creating a massive sound here—these are still songs that cut to the core, reserving the noise until just the right moment. His fans should be able to see that, while he’ll be snapping up plenty of new ones with HEAL who will wonder what they’ve been missing all this time.

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Genre: Rock

Wig Out At Jagbags (CD)

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Amid all the reunions of ’90s bands, Pavement’s was an anomaly—no new material, just some shows, a best-of release and then kaput, all within the year 2010. That’s perhaps a good thing, since it gives people a chance to focus on frontman Stephen Malkmus’ work both solo and with the Jicks, which has been largely excellent—and underrated. Wig Out at Jagbags finds Malkmus and co. loose and having fun, but still writing solid songs that stick. After a couple of jammy numbers, the album picks up with the poppy “Lariat,” which funnily seems to call out Malkmus’ own fan base (“we grew up listening to music from the best decade ever!” he sings at the conclusion). Alt-rock revivalism gives way to a piano-led rock ballad on “Houston Hades.” “Rumble at the Rainbo” finds the band poking fun at its own elder status within the underground community—“come and join us in this punk rock tune/come slam dancing with some ancient dudes,” Malkmus sings. The more improvy numbers might lose some people, even if relistening to Pavement finds as much emphasis on exploration as melody, but they always come back with a catchy tune—“Chartjunk” features horns and Malkmus playing a not-jokey guitar solo, and seeming to enjoying every minute of it; “Independence Street” is a Velvets-esque, dry ballad; and “Surreal Teenagers” closes the album on an energetic high. With an album as fun to listen to as Wig Out at Jagbags, we’ll let Malkmus close the book on Pavement and move into a new era.

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Genre: Rock

A Million Ways to Die in the West (DVD)

This hilarious comedy from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and Ted, is filled with witty one-liners and an all-star cast. When Albert (MacFarlane) loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to his moustached nemesis (Neil Patrick Harris), a mysterious and beautiful woman (Charlize Theron) rides into town and turns his luck around. But when her notorious outlaw husband (Liam Neeson) arrives seeking revenge, Albert must put his newfound courage to the test. Also starring the outrageous Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman.

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Different Every Time: Ex Machina / Benign Dictatorships (CD)

Robert Wyatt

It’s tough to make a compilation album for an artist as idiosyncratic as Robert Wyatt and have it make any sense, much less make it enticing to new and established listeners. Different Every Time gets the job done by splitting things up—one disc houses highlights from across Wyatt’s career, including some of his time in Soft Machine and Mole Machine, whereas disc two has collaborations new and old. It might seem strange to begin with the 18-minute, serpentine Soft Machine track “Moon in June” (from their iconic Third album), but the prog-rock jam perfectly introduces Wyatt’s penchant for making adventurous music that still pleases the ear, setting the stage for countless artists to follow (see Radiohead, Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, too many others to name). Mole Machine’s “Signed Curtain” calls out its movements as they’re happening (“this is the chorus, or perhaps it’s the bridge?” Wyatt sings in his inimitable falsetto). Wyatt’s solo material veered further into jazz, jazz-rock and jazz-fusion territory, always with a sense of singularity that precludes it from being mistaken for any other performer. From “A Last Straw’s” spirited scatting to “Yesterday Man’s” heady psychedelia, “The Age of Self’s” grooving synth-pop and “Cuckoo Madame’s” cascading layered vocal (which whould set the stage for his collaboration with Bjork, “Submarine,” included on disc two), there is a simply stunning amount of variety here. That gets amplified on disc two, with collaborators as diverse as Hot Chip, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, jazz trumpeter Mike Mantler and avant-garde composer John Cage. Throughout, Wyatt’s earnest, naked vocals and style, ancient in inspiration and forward-looking in execution, remain the through-line. As Wyatt’s solitary vocal sings freely through his closing collaboration with John Cage, “Experiences No. 2,” we feel as though we’ve gone through a series of visions by a true seer of music.

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Genre: Rock

Wasted Years (CD)

OFF!

OFF! seemingly came together out of necessity for its musicians, who came up in legendary punk and hardcore bands (Redd Kross, Black Flag, Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes and Burning Brides) and perhaps needed a new outlet. Accordingly, OFF!’s sound is unrelentingly furious, packing legions of hardcore hooks into minute-long bouts.  Sooner or later, though, they’d have to go a bit further, and Wasted Years is the sound of OFF! expanding things without losing the immediacy that has made their work so compelling. After a couple of good ol’ quick bangers, the album digs into some Black Sabbath-style dark riffery (“Legion of Evil”), complex, metallic screeds (“No Easy Escape”) and a song that actually breaks the two-minute mark, the catchy “Hypnotized.” Rather than being banged out as quickly as possible, Wasted Years’ songs sound whittled away until only the core elements remain—“Death Trip on the Party Train” doesn’t need to be a second longer to tunnel its way into your brain. The album is also remarkably consistent, as each of its 16 songs stand out, with second-half standouts like “I Won’t Be a Casualty” and “Time’s Not On Your Side” (Key line: “There’s a 2x4 in my hand slicing my eyes!”) maintaining interest throughout. At this point, OFF! stands with any of its members’ previous bands as a hardcore punk band for the ages.

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Genre: Rock

Plowing Into The Field Of Love (CD)

Iceage

Danish band Iceage do away with the heavy post-hardcore distortion on their latest release, but if anything, Plowing Into the Field of Love finds the band fiercer than ever—just from that title alone, we know this isn’t going to be a gentle affair. The country jangle behind “The Lord’s Favorite” shows you what to expect from this new era of Iceage—acoustic guitars are strummed as if trying to knock dust from the strings, drums gallop and thrash like wild horses and pianos plink eerily out of step in the background. Singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt channels none other than Patti Smith in his wordy desperation in extended tracks like "On My Fingers," though his bark and bite on “How Many” has the feel of their earlier work, with a side helping of the (relative) restraint they’ve shown here. From rumbling Western hardcore (“Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled”) to acoustic death marches (“Cimmerian Shade”), Plowing is unendingly bleak, save for the nighttime croon of "Against the Moon," which lyrically manages to make pissing in public sound romantic. You occasionally wish for a melody to lighten the mood, but Iceage have never been compromising before, so why start now? The joke’s on anyone who looks for a “mature” Iceage; Plowing Into the Field of Love sounds like it was made by a band of undead outlaws, and that’s just how it should be.

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Genre: Rock