This Month's Picks

In A Dream (CD)

The Juan MacLean

Post hardcore guitarist turned electronic musician John Maclean teams up with post LCD Soundsystem vocalist Nancy Whang to release In A Dream. The record has an immediate dancability indicative of any DFA release. However, the pedigree between these two lends a familiarity that gives the record a certain timelessness. During the last days of LCD System Nancy Whang was asserting herself as a creative force in that group. With the dissolving of LCD Soundsystem, Nancy has turned it way up as the prominent vocal feature on Maclean’s record. Maclean churns out some killer pop-disco synth bangers, while Whang keeps the hooks coming. The single “A Simple Design” highlights the partnership that Whang and Maclean have, and leaves hope for a new definitive duo for the DFA label.

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Encyclopedia (CD)

The Drums

Conceived by its members as the fusion between a synth take on The Sound of Music and amelodic No Wave, The Drums craft compellingly tumultuous music on Encyclopedia. Thrilling opener “Magic Mountain” is about as far from The Drums’ first album and its sunny Cure-at-the-beach vibe as you could get, its highwire vocal doing battle against fraught guitars and theramin. You can hear that Sound of Music thing on songs like “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him,” a girl-group-style ode to drifting apart with shooting-star synthesizers and misery-laden guitars. “Kiss Me Again” feels a bit like The Drums’ earlier work, particularly the more frantic Portamento, but the newness comes in how adventurous founding members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham allow themselves to be melodically while remembering how great they are at writing hooks like “kiss me again” sung out into infinity. Encyclopedia is definitely more of a bummer record, but there are some really nice classical melodies buried under the mopeyness and experimentation—“Break My Heart” is a great Brian Wilson-style lament, even as it slowly struts off the pier. And when they go full force on the “Face of God,” it’s like a surf song about a tidal wave, as its vocals suggest tragedy and its bassline and synths creep too far upward to tingle at the back of your neck. It’s like the aural equivalent of losing your innocence and becoming bitter, reminiscent of Weezer’s evolution from The Blue Album to Pinkerton, full of catchy tunes that are chewed and spit out. So Encylopedia stings a little, but in a good way.   

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Genre: Rock

Mean Love (CD)

Sinkane

Brooklyn based Ahmed Gallab’s third full-length album, Mean Love, is soul-funk genre bending pop record. With the tracks are loosely based on the meditation of love gone wrong, Sinkane uses all manner of instruments and genres to weave this piece together. The result being his most experimental and pointed release yet. The multi-instrumentalist’s vocals wash over thick bass lines in the '80s soul inspired single “Hold Tight.” “Galley Boys,” is done with an almost country island pedal steel vibe. One highlight is with the track “Omdurman.” The album's brightly hymn-like closer has the communal reminiscence of the work that Gallab did as the musical director of William Onyeabor tribute The Atomic Bomb! Band.

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Innerworld (CD)

Electric Youth

Electric Youth broke out in a big way with “A Real Hero,” a song that came to define the sound of the film Drive and its corresponding soundtrack. The duo double down on that impossibly romantic synth sound on Innerworld, their long-awaited debut album. That slow-burning pulse is back in songs like “Innocence,” perfectly capturing the romantic ideal of first love with synthesizers that at first sparkle like eyes being rubbed awake and then dazzle with gentle orchestration. Subtly enough referencing the soundtrackers of ’80s proms like Yaz and Alphaville, Bronwynn Griffin’s breathy voice sometimes floats by as a dream and other times catches onto a lighter-waving sentiment, like “we are the youth, we like to sing” (on “WeAreTheYouth”). Though Electric Youth may lack a bit for originality, Innerworld pretty skillfully avoids sameyness by appealing to current Europop-indebted dance music on tracks like “Runaway,” though they’re at their comfortable best on songs like “Without You,” building from their favored digital throb into a lovable freestyle couple. Griffin and her partner, Austin Garrick, have been a couple since the 8th grade, and thus their ability to make every synth stab feel like a dizzying first crush rings authentic. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard some of the sounds here before, or that they even include the three-year-old “Real Hero”; Innerworld’s swoony romanticism makes you feel like it’s the first time.

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Ebb & Flow (CD)

Judith Owen

Owen writes songs that are emotional and timeless, recalling the golden age of avant-storytellers like Joni Mitchell & Elton John in their heyday, effortlessly combining jazz, folk, and rootsy rock into an exquisite blend of classic songwriting and musicality. The Welsh singer's technically gifted piano playing and strong, smooth, smokey voice ensure a musical experience of exceptional quality and depth as she directs a truly all star band of session players (Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel) through her repertoire. Fans of Carole King and Joni Mitchell will find not an imitator but a new and growing voice making good on that legacy.

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Genre: Rock

Lonerism (LP)

Tame Impala

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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Genre: Rock