This Month's Picks

Salad Days (CD)

Mac DeMarco

Mac DeMarco wrongly gets called “slacker rock.” At only 23 he’s releasing his third album, and it’s one of the best things we’ve heard all year. The title track is a swaying, gleefully glum blues track, its charming, singalong quality masking some quarterlife crisis (“Always feeling tired, smiling when required/write another year off and kindly resign,” suggesting some darkness behind DeMarco’s goofy grin). “Brother” features DeMarco sumptuously singing while milky guitars dance beneath the surface. It’s one of the loveliest tunes he’s ever produced. Songs like “Goodbye Weekend,” with its woozy, intoxicating guitar line and lovely jazz tones, speak to what a strong songwriter DeMarco has always been beneath it all. And while he’s all the better for ditching some of the affectations he sported on the still-great Rock and Roll Night Club in favor of a streamlined sound he’s dubbed “jizz jazz,” DeMarco can still pull some conceptually striking songs, like “Passing Out the Pieces,” which uses heavily effected harpsichord and booming synth-bass to create miraculous millennial psychedelia, pulling in some of the good ol’ Beatles/Kinks/Beach Boys influence he’s seemed to (probably smartly) avoid showing thus far in his career. Salad Days shows DeMarco to be a classical songwriter with the ability to turn an amiable, if not immediately memorable, voice and intricate yet mangled guitarwork into tunes that pull at you in unexpected, emotional ways. So he can’t be bothered to shower or cut his hair—we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Genre: Rock

The Future's Void (CD)

EMA

EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints was the terrifically auspicious art-pop debut by Erika M. Anderson aka EMA. Any question as to whether she could replicate its success or even top it is quickly silenced as we listen through her follow-up. The Future’s Void is bigger, bolder and more affecting all around. It’s also a lot more fun, as it seems Anderson has taken a young lifetime of growing up listening to KROQ and made those formative influences into something truly fascinating. She swings big on songs like opener “Satellites,” coming off like a millennial successor to PJ Harvey, with all of the fury and inventiveness that would suggest. She also dabbles in sunny SoCal power-pop (“So Blonde”), touches on Depeche Mode-style emotional synth-pop (“Cthulu”) and writes ballads that don’t suck (“3Jane,” which draws its power from a simple “Be My Baby” beat, droning pianos and Anderson’s world-weary vocals). The biggest improvement here is Anderson’s vocal ability and overall presence, as she tears her voice to shreds in the choruses of “So Blonde.” She comes off like a female Trent Reznor on the aptly titled “Smoulder” and really makes us feel on “3Jane,” even as she throws in a cynical line like “it’s all just a big advertising campaign.” It’s sometimes tough to know exactly what she’s getting at, given The Future’s Void’s wild turns, but taken as a whole, it’s an incredibly strong piece of work. Its fragmentation seems to be part of the message. If the future’s void, we can be whatever we want.

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Genre: Rock

Iceman [2014] (DVD)

Donnie Yen is a Ming Dynasty palace guard, wrongly accused of murder and hunted by three vengeful brothers. All four are accidentally buried, frozen at the height of battle. 400 years later, they are defrosted and resume their mortal struggle while also adjusting to modern-day life.

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Down To Earth (CD)

Flight Facilities

With the help of some ace vocalists, Aussie producer duo Flight Facilities have a seductively cool debut album on their hands. Singer/songwriter Emma Louise sells the soft and sensual “Two Bodies.” “Comedy Bang Bang’s” Reggie Watts proves a soulful crooner on the groovy “Sunshine.” The whistling, beat-driven “Stand Still” leaves you doing anything but, while singer/producer Stee Downes helps the duo remake adult contemporary synth-funk on “Hold Me Down.” The non-vocal tracks are just as sweet, with found recordings serving to add a dose of drama to the duo’s silky synth sounds. Flight Facilities could go further to distinguish themselves, but what they do, they do very well. And songs like “Crave You” have a lot of personality—pop singer Giselle pines away, “Why can’t you want me like the other boys do? They stare at me, while I stare at you,” over the duo’s jazz-inspired production. Consistently engaging and immaculately made, it’s a project that ultimately soars.

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In Bardo (CD)

White Arrows

White Arrows do an admirable job of balancing their pop ambitions with their innate record-store-geek weirdness on their sophomore album, In Bardo. We get tracks like “We Can’t Ever Die,” a blast of arena-ready anthemic rock, and “Can’t Stop Now,” which features U2-style shivery guitars and big fat chorus. But their first single “Nobody Cares” is also proudly strange, with Nintendo noises, pitch-shifted vocals and all sorts of other crazy noise, moving from being pleasant and enjoyable to unique and hard to shake. And “Get By” balances its hip-shaking rhythms with sonic saturation and wailing guitars. They lose a bit of the globe-trotting vibe from first album Dry Land is Not a Myth, but the focus here is on quality songs, as In Bardo has them in spades.

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Genre: Rock

Cosmic Logic (CD)

Peaking Lights

Psych pop duo Peaking Lights get somehow both more personal and further out there on their latest release. “Telephone Call” sees singer Indra Dunis leading an alien dance party, singing “telephone call from space, calling all the human race” over a fat, dubby groove, while “Hypnotic Hustle” seems to create a new, interdimensional dance. But, like Lucifer’s stunning “Beautiful Son,” about Dunis and bandmate/husband Aaron Coynes’ newborn, some of Cosmic Logic’s best tracks aim for the terrestrial. “Everyone and Us” hides quiet reflection in its funky synth bassline, and the irresistible “New Grrrls” tells of the struggles of being a working mom, from the perspective of an indie rock star (“Can’t stop to be just a mom/The choice to stay at home is gone/Worker, lover, mother, wife/Gotta do it all in this life”). Dunis’ untrained voice will be a barrier for some, but her plainspoken lack of affectation also helps ground these songs and keep them from drifting off into the ether. Listen to Cosmic Logic and enter an interstellar dance party with Peaking Lights.

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Genre: Rock

Girlpool (CD)

Girlpool

L.A. duo Girlpool pack more smarts and attitude into 15 minutes than most bands do in a lifetime on their debut, seven-song EP. They touch on great female-fronted rock bands of yore like The Slits, Young Marble Giants, The Breeders and Bikini Kill without being beholden to any of them. What comes out is a sort of minimalist, playfully feminist record about girls who don’t put up with shit—they’ll punch a dude for talking out of both sides of his mouth, as they sing on the seething “Jane,” or call out a guy for being a superficial baby, on “Blah Blah Blah.” Some of their work is really beautiful, too, like the sparkling “Plants and Worms,” relying on Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s bass and guitar interplay and unison vocals. Though some of the lyrics fall into clunky territory (“Slutmouth’s” “I don’t wanna get fucked by a fucked society”), their lyrics mostly work well by being direct yet uniquely stated, undercutting typical archetypes on the same song (“I don’t really care to brush my hair … I go to school every day, just to be made a housewife one day”). Girlpool mostly seem like they don’t care what you think of them—they’re clearly unstoppable, anyway. This EP promises great things to come from Girlpool.

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Genre: Rock

LOSE (CD)

Cymbals Eat Guitars

Cymbals Eat Guitars’ haven’t lost any of their radioactive intensity on their third album and first in three years. If anything, it’s just been amplified over the years. Joseph D’Agostino’s vocals cut like barbed wire, thin but jagged, on expansive opener “Jackson.” “Warning” is a quick flood of watery guitars and spit vocals. The band pulls out the harmonica and psychobilly guitars for the rushing “XR.” But touring over the years has clearly made the New York band more comfortable in their skins, and as such, they allow the songs to billow out but never get too comfortable, on extended pieces like the dynamic, melodic “Place Names” and eerily beautiful “Laramie.” Their songwriting remains tight, though, as the band can pull out a folksy character study like “Child Bride” and log it in nicely between the more massive tracks like swirling shoegazing closer “2 Hip Soul.” They’re not reinventing indie rock here, but along with N.Y.C. compatriots Parquet Courts, Cymbals Eat Guitars pull off the feat of making the genre feel alive and relevant again on LOSE.

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Genre: Rock

Singles (CD)

Future Islands

It’s a gutsy move to call your album Singles, but in the case of Future Islands, their fourth album and first for 4AD, it’s appropriate. The album is packed with songs that are both immaculately written and catchy as hell, as Future Islands mine new wave and pop-rock for all they’re worth. Just as lead singer Samuel Herring’s dynamite performance style and swingin’ dance moves have won people over (David Letterman, famously), the band gives it their all on songs like “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, is given the perfect backdrop of stargazing new-wave rock that should bring together fans of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cure to The Killers with lighter-waving glee. The synths of “Spirit” bring up memories of B-Movies “Nowhere Girl,” but Herring’s unique voice keep Future Islands from ever veering into purely nostalgic territory. “A Song For Our Grandfathers” is dreamy yet packs an emotional punch. Herring seems to get more and more insistent over the sprightly “Light House,” almost completely out of step with the band, yet it works so much better than it would have if he played it straight, getting in your face and making it impossible to merely have the song on in the background. On “Like the Moon,” a sexy, pulsating groove gives Herring the chance to kill it vocally, crooning romantically. But his best vocal performance comes next, on “Fall From Grace”—over a simple waltz, Herring goes deep into the bowels of his voice to deliver a performance somewhere between Tom Waits, The National’s Matt Berniger and a black metal singer. Charisma like his doesn’t come around all the time, and as a band, Future Islands are smart enough to stay out of the way while crafting terrific songs that stand on their own. Before you know it, you’ve listened to Singles like five times and still can’t wait to hear it again.

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Genre: Rock

LP1 (CD)

FKA twigs

Beautiful and talented U.K. singer/dancer FKA Twigs’ first full-length album is here to explode some minds. Her voice transports you to a world where reality and imagination is blurred to the point of pure ecstasy. Her style of unique ethereal R&B with a little bit of trip-hop is like a breath of fresh air with a cherry on top. - Nick@Nite, San Francisco my friend chris sent me a link last year and i was intrigued. minimal and eccentric, this record is so textured and effortless. it doesn't feel manufactured or forced, and the eerie wash of abstract sound comes alive with the whispery vocals. it is sensual and compelling and… rich.

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