This Month's Picks

Blade Of The Ronin (CD)

Cannibal Ox

Blade of the Ronin, the long-awaited follow-up to the Harlem duo's debut, The Cold Vein, solidifies the return of Cannibal Ox to the underground hip-hop scene. Having been nearly 15 years since a Can Ox release (barring a live record and 3 song sampler) rappers Vast Aire and Vordul Mega haven’t missed a beat. The duo approach the reunion of sorts with their trademark lyrical innovation and insight fully intact. In fact on paper the only missing part of the equation that made for their critically acclaimed debut would be the production of EL-P. But instead of lamenting that loss Blade of the Ronin moves forward in a similarly lush fashion without retracing steps. Largely produced by Bill Cosmiq the sound is fresh, futuristic, and hardcore. All elements that made the duo spark in the early 2000s. Cosmiq has accomplished no small feat creating the foundation for the duo's triumphant return. Featuring guest appearances from MF Doom, U-God, Artifacts and more, Blade of the Ronin is as exalted a return of the underground hip hop duo that one could ask for.

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Genre: Hip Hop

This Is All Yours (CD)

Alt-J

With a sophomore record, there tends to be quite a bit at stake. All too often an act tries in vain to access the same immediacy and power that they were able to flaunt in their first release. Not to mention how much time and energy a band has had to craft their first etchings into popular consciousness. A second record is somewhat of a second chance these days to prove that you can still do that thing people liked, or at least fake it. English Indie rockers Alt-J are clearly an exception. Their second effort, This Is All Yours, is an example of a band using their second chance as a “give ‘em an inch, take a mile” credo. Coming off the commercial success of An Awesome Wave the now trio is taking some chances with their already defined sound. This Is All Yours blends similar electronics and harmonies from the first record with sound collage ("Every Other Freckle"), folk ballads ("Choice Kingdom"), so-cal funk ("Left Hand Free"), and even a Miley Cyrus Sample ("Hunger of the Pine"). An Innovative leap from a band that otherwise could have left well alone.

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Genre: Rock

Brill Bruisers (CD)

The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers are back in a big way with Brill Bruisers. While the band’s past couple of outings have struggled to match the energy of their roof-burning early work, Brill Bruisers comes roaring out of the gate right away with AC Newman’s School House Rock-style title track. Neko Case takes the lead on a few sublime tracks, like the scenic “Champions of Red Wine,” while Destroyer’s Dan Bejar’s songs carry just that right amount of oddity to make the whole album a bit more magical, as on the swirling new wave of “War on the East Coast.” Songs like “Family Fools” are some of their best Fleetwood Mac-style aural dreamscapes of layered vocals and lush synths, and gorgeous harmonies abound, as on the pretty “Backstairs.” Occasionally New Pornographers fall into the trap of their songs being more clever than emotional, but even still, those songs keep you interested by finding new ways to approach the same old power-pop, using vocal aerobics on “Hi-Rise” and giving a lovely sentiment some quizzical melodicism for added depth on “You Tell Me Where.” It’s perhaps their strongest work since high-water mark Twin Cinema, a return-to-form that longtime fans will no doubt find to be a perfect end-of-summer gift from the gods.

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Genre: Rock

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

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 [OST] (CD)

Various Artists

A good, old-fashioned mix tape from your best friend…Marvel! Rock out with The Runaways, groove with The Five Stairsteps, get nostalgic with David Bowie, and bask in fond memories of one of the most entertaining film of 2014.

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Genre: Soundtracks

Tuxedo (CD)

Tuxedo

The prolific and diverse hip-hop producer Jake One has teamed up with blue-eyed soul singer Mayer Hawthorne for a new collaboration entitled Tuxedo. Their alter egos - Aquarius (Mayer Hawthorne) and Taurus (Jake One) - are dressed up in tuxedos and presented by Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf (a man known to dress up himself) as descendants of the one-word moniker family of funk, where you will find groups such as Chic, Shalamar, Plush, and Zapp. It's a retro disco funk record that will have you busting out your own tuxedo and dusting off those dancing shoes.

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Genre: Soul

Aquilones (CD)

Trio Mediaeval

Great music for three female singers. Ducking and weaving in ancient style, harmonies vibrating against our hearts. Absolutely sumptuous timbre in these three together, luxurious material in this collection of cardinal cool. ECM supreme sound! 

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Genre: Classical

Mount The Air (CD)

The Unthanks

The Unthanks’ first album in four years shows them more musically ambitious than ever, taking on traditions from Spain, India, Blue Note and Trip-Hop. Mount The Air is the work of an act who still believes in the value of the album as an art form.

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Genre: Folk

Deeper (CD)

The Soft Moon

Deeper finds Oakland’s Luis Vasquez doing what he does best, creating thrillingly nihilistic darkwave tracks like “Black” but also expanding his sound a bit with more melody (“Wasting”), IDM-fueled electro-pop (“Wrong”) and even balladry (“Without” calls to mind vintage Depeche Mode songs like “A Question of Lust”). While Vasquez has always been adept at creating bleak soundscapes, his songs feel more fully formed than ever on Deeper. The best Soft Moon album yet.

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Genre: Rock