This Month's Picks

The Best Of The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (CD)

Bob Dylan
The long-running Bootleg Series of Bob Dylan demos and previously unreleased material returns to Dylan’s most acclaimed period for Vol. 12. From 1965-1966, Dylan released his most vaunted recordings in one of the most flawless album runs in history, including  Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited  and  Blonde On Blonde . His every move from this era could be mined for gold, and thankfully,  The Cutting Edge  is more than a historically curious work. These early takes on the songs that would become classics can be drastically different, such as a waltzing rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone” or a rollicking rip through “Visions of Johanna” that greatly contrasts to the placid original and are as fascinating as they are revelatory to listen to. The two-CD and three-LP sets are strong enough on their own accord that no Dylan fan should be without them, while a six-CD deluxe edition with a hardcover book gives Dylan completists more of what they love—fodder to argue over which version of “Desolation Row” or “She’s Your Lover Now” is the essential version. As with the other Bootleg Series releases, Dylan is one of a handful of artists for which this treatment isn’t overkill. Rather, it’s a fascinating glimpse into one of our greatest artist’s most fertile periods, a deep look into the masterpieces that would come to be. More
Genre: Rock

Amy [OST] (CD)

Amy Winehouse
The critically acclaimed documentary  Amy  showed in heartbreaking detail the rise and tragic downfall of Amy Winehouse, who was easily one of the most talented vocalists of her generation. To satiate fans who sadly will never see a third Amy Winehouse album, the Amy soundtrack corrals various live and rare tracks by Winehouse along with Antonio Pinto’s moving score. With another artist, this could feel gratuitous or like grasping at straws, but not so here. Winehouse’s variations on her songs often reveal new shades. A downtempo version of  Back to Black ’s “Unholy War” supersedes the original, its morose intensity better fitting the lyrics’ torch-song devotion. Triumphant live versions of “Rehab” and “Love Is a Losing Game” show an artist at the height of her powers. “Like Smoke” is the single that could have been, and its demo version is a nice window into the song’s development before adding Nas’ rap. Though nothing could fill the place in fans’ hearts where Amy once was, the  Amy  soundtrack is a worthy keepsake and companion to the superb documentary. More
Genre: Rock, Soundtracks

Garden Of Delete (CD)

Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin’s second release on Warp as Oneohtrix Point Never is hell-bent on defying expectations. A song like “Ezra” begins with cut-up, recognizable motifs but becomes destroyed by diversions into heart-pounding 16-bit synth chases and vocal snippets emerging from its distorted folds. “I Bite Through It” engages in pop-rock structure yet mocks it at the same time, its sharp notes arranged neatly in sets of eight, which are broken up by a hard-hitting beat and more scenic portions, its tones varying without rhyme or reason across the song’s taut three minutes and 17 seconds. Similarly, the guttural vocals and laser-beam synths exploding out of “Sticky Drama” achieve EDM-style release even as its brutal middle portion feels insanity-inducing. But the need to step away now and then only proves the album’s power. Part of  Garden of Delete ’s strength is its ability to temper its dislocating sense of confusion with clear reference points that help the listener find their balance. The smoky, hollowed-out beginning of “Freaky Eyes” gives way to pipe organs, sudden swells and noises that skitter around like beetles, making it feel like a horror movie soundtrack collage. “Lift’s” disembodied vocal bits and layered piano runs feel alien but are lovely nonetheless. The more pronounced vocals on “Animals” make it easily noticeable, but it would be a standout regardless, its tones disintegrating beautifully while a pitch-shifted vocal comes in and out of static in a way not entirely different from Radiohead. Oneohtrix Point Never is an acquired taste that occasionally feels like it needs Cliff’s Notes to fully grasp. But it’s undoubtedly some of the most intelligent, forward-thinking music being made today. Those willing to take the plunge will be duly rewarded. More

Its Great To Be Alive! (CD)

Drive-By Truckers
Recorded over the course of three nights at the historic Fillmore in San Francisco, Drive-By Truckers’  It’s Great to Be Alive!  functions both as a 35-song document of the Southern rock band’s rollicking live shows and a greatest hits of sorts. From the Neil Young-ish riffs of “Lookout Mountain” to Replacements-inspired, punky numbers like “S**t Shots Count,” the Truckers’ vast catalog is well represented. The performances are raw, but the sound isn’t. It’s perhaps the best way to hear one of the best rock bands alive. More
Genre: Rock

Condition Hüman (CD)

Queensrÿche
Now on their second album with new vocalist Todd La Torre, Queensrÿche feels reinvigorated and pumped to be in the studio. Recalling their '80s masterpieces, they return to the relentless key signature changes, tempo switching, and shredding that made them legendary. Put your leather on and put your hair down...be prepared to rock! More
Genre: Rock

I Love Rock 'N' Roll [33 1/3 Anniversary Edition] (CD)

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
To say Joan Jett is influential is putting it lightly. The badass who made transformed rock returns with the 33 1/3 anniversary of her iconic album. Featuring unreleased live tracks and new stunning audio, fall in love with Joan all over again. More
Genre: Rock

Lost Themes (CD)

John Carpenter
John Carpenter, known mostly for directing movies such as  Halloween ,  Escape From New York  and  Big Trouble In Little China  is releasing his first ever solo album (not accompanying a film). That’s right, not only is the man a landmark director he is also a pioneer in the minimalist synth genre. In collaboration with his son Cody (of the band Ludrium) and his godson Daniel Davies (who composed the songs for  I, Frankenstein )  Lost Themes  is an excellent portrayal of Carpenter’s damn near trademark sound that we as moviegoers have unknowingly heard for decades. Without a celluloid backdrop with which to re-purpose these cinematic hypnotic synthesizers or erupting guitars, Carpenter’s compositions take on a narrative life of their own. The nine-track opus starts strong with the menacing “Vortex.” A track which immediately stands alongside any contemporary electronic musician out there today. It is not until you get to “Mystery” that the out and out epic horror feel of the work jumps out. “Night,” the final track on the album, is an atmospheric epilogue that fades out of view as somberly as the imaginary pictures that have danced in your head. More
Genre: Rock, Soundtracks

Ratchet (CD)

Shamir
We’ve been anxiously awaiting Shamir’s debut since hearing the Northtown EP last year, and Ratchet does not disappoint. The electronic/house artist channels a young Sylvester or Grace Jones with his androgynous vocals on spacious nu-disco tracks like “Vegas” while he slots nicely along underground stars like Azealia Banks, FKA Twigs and Big Freedia on bouncing future-pop tracks like "On the Regular." Like many of those artists, there’s more than meets the eye here—check out tracks like noir ballad "Darker" for the full breadth of Shamir’s vocals and scope. More

Allas Sak (CD)

Dungen
Swedish psych-rockers Dungen indulge in some proggy theatrics on their latest, upending dad rock clichés to make classic sounding rock ‘n’ roll cool and mysterious again in the process. More
Genre: Rock

Goon (CD)

Tobias Jesso Jr.
Tobias Jesso Jr.’s debut record is a knockout, leading the renaissance of young artists who are revitalizing the idea of the singer/songwriter in 2015. With little more than his piano and a liquid-smooth voice, Jesso’s songs cut straight to the heart, detailing a painful breakup and other trials as the 29-year-old tried to make it as a songwriter in L.A. Opener “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” alludes to Elton John’s “Your Song,” though on the wrong side of devotional feelings. “How Could You Babe” rubs raw as he reveals the pain felt after learning an ex-lover has moved on, tearing his voice upward in a powerhouse chorus.  Goon  is exceptionally well paced and produced (with some help from ex-Girls guy Chet “JR” and producer extraordinaire Ariel Rechtshaid), dialing down the drama a bit for songs like the Lennonesque “Without You” and acoustic morning reflection “The Wait” to allow the breathing room necessary to house songs like “Hollywood,” a showstopper about trying and failing in L.A. (lines like “I think I’m gonna die in Hollywood” ring into hollow space) that universally taps into the desire to achieve some farfetched dream.  Goon  is definitely sentimental, occasionally to a fault, as on the skilled but ultimately generic-feeling “Can We Still Be Friends,” but Jesso’s sense of humor and ability to open himself so purely prevents anything from feeling too goopy. He makes fun of himself in the purposefully sappy “Crocodile Tears,” imitating his own cries, while delivering lines that genuinely feel like a knee to the gut, like “Without You’s” flailing bits about what to do and feel after a breakup (“I just don’t know who I could be without you” hits home for anyone who’s been there). Luckily for Jesso (and for us), he was able to turn his seeming failures into affecting songs that express an undefeatable optimism underneath. It’s the rare first record that already feels like a classic the first time you hear it. More
Genre: Rock