This Month's Picks

Abyss (CD)

Chelsea Wolfe
On  Abyss , Chelsea Wolfe embraces the industrial music and doom metal that have always lurked as influences and adds them as blackened flourishes to her gothy experimental electro-folk. “Carrion Flowers” writhes slowly on a corroded beat that hits like a door slamming beneath her curling and cooing voice. Groaning guitar noise introduces “Iron Moon” as Wolfe’s entrée into the metal world (save for her celebrated cover of black metal band Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction”). The eerie, wiry strings and sludgy power chords of “Dragged Out” become a pummeling wash at the chorus, which is reminiscent of Sunn O))), for whom she’s opened in the past. The album’s opening is bold, but echoes of her past work radiate through  Abyss , on its strings, which can be achingly beautiful on tracks like “Maw” but wail like banshees on “Crazy Love,” or on the wavering synths of “After the Fall” (seemingly the only thing left over from some of the synth-driven exercises of her last album,  Pain is Beauty ). The biggest holdover here, besides an overall grim aesthetic, is Wolfe’s voice, which can sometimes get buried but breaks through the din to emote beautifully on “After the Fall” and “Crazy Love.” Some fans might bristle at the changes she’s made, but most will likely find the heavier sound suits Wolfe’s compositions and voice quite well. Besides being great on its own as an album,  Abyss  hopefully will add another chink in the armor of the seemingly closed-off and overwhelmingly male world of critically respected, heavy guitar-based music. More
Genre: Rock

Another One (CD)

Mac DeMarco
Mac DeMarco’s warbling guitar licks, laid-back vocals and goofy/sweet sensibilities return for a wonderful set of surprisingly classy tunes. His latest is a charmingly low-key release that demands little of its listeners and rewards them with instantly hummable little ditties that show DeMarco’s continued growth into a mature singer/songwriter (however immature his delightful persona continues to be). The overall mood here is a little more bummed-out and lovelorn than his previous releases, especially on the electric-piano-led, Beck-ish title track and “A Heart Like Hers,” in which DeMarco howls for lost love in a way we haven’t heard before. Yet these are gently crafted tunes that aren’t too much of a downer, a groovy little bassline in “No Other Heart” and jaunty march in “I’ve Been Waiting for Her” keeping things spry.  Another One  finds DeMarco doing the opposite of so many other artists: Rather than respond to his growing success with a bloated follow-up that aims high and misses, here, DeMarco scales back and tones down, settling peaceably into his sound —and into his new digs in Far Rockaway, to which he invites listeners at the end of the album, giving out his real address. Fans who do choose to stop on by for a cup of coffee, as he suggests, should let DeMarco know that he’s one of the best young songwriters alive. More
Genre: Rock

Sing Into My Mouth (CD)

Ben Bridwell, Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell embark on a rustic set of covers with  Sing Into My Mouth . Named after a line in “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, the album sees Beam and Bridwell trading off singing lead on well-chosen covers that easily fit to both artists’ new-Americana styles. Beam adds warmth and sincerity to “This Must Be the Place,” resetting it from its minimalist Afropop-inspired roots to a more straightforward acoustic love song. Bridwell reveals new layers to his voice stripped of the noise and copious reverb of Band of Horses on a gentle cover of the Spiritualized song “Straight and Narrow.” Sighing steel guitars, organ, piano and other light instrumentation provide a subtle backdrop for these excess-free covers, and longtime friends and Beam and Bridwell prove ideal vocal counterparts, with Bridwell’s earnestness tempered perfectly by Beam’s breathy wisdom and vice versa. It’s a beautiful album in its own right, wonderful as a Saturday morning easy listen, and one that suggests Beam and Bridwell should collaborate on originals in the future. More
Genre: Rock

Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful (CD)

Flo Morrissey
Flo Morrissey’s debut introduces us to a uniquely beautiful new voice influenced by the so-called freak folk of artists such as Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Like Vashti Bunyan or Linda Perhacs before her, Morrissey’s voice raises into a high, strange swooping coo, but her voice also has enough range and power to be swooned over by vocal coaches, thick and warm and capable of lowering into unexpected depths or getting raspy for effect. Morissey’s gentle fingerpicking and bucolic arrangements are boosted a bit by Noah Georgeson’s production, which can add sunlit sheen to a song like “Pages of Gold,” making it more palatable in the process. At only 20 years old, Morrissey’s songs can feel naturally wide-eyed, but you also get the feeling she’s an old soul. “I am no longer afraid of my past,” she sings on “Show Me,” a song about looking forward without reservation. With a debut as gorgeous as  Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful , it’s clear that Morrissey’s apparent optimism about her own future is less wishful thinking and more a premonition. More
Genre: Rock

Adrian Younge Presents Twelve Reasons To Die II (CD)

Ghostface Killah
Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah and producer Adrian Younge deliver the second installment of their cinematic  Twelve Reasons to Die  series, and it's got more drama than your average summer blockbuster. A combination of voiceovers and lyrical content tell the story of black New York gangster Lester Kane, with Shakespearian levels of vengeance, star-crossed lovers, evocations of violence and resurrection. Raekwon provides the voice of Kane as Ghostface and others, including Vince Staples, Bilal, RZA, Lyrics Born and Scarub, provide the narration. None of this would matter if the music itself wasn't as strong as it is. There's a full dedication to telling these stories, which can be a bit familiar, that comes through in the venomous spit on tracks like the Staples-starring "Get the Money" and creative cadences on "Death's Invitation." Composer Adrian Younge's score, full of horror movie organs, Blaxploitation basslines and Spaghetti Western orchestral touches, is as fun to get lost in as the script. Taken together, the  Twelve Reasons to Die  albums succeed as concept albums because of their easy-to-follow, singular subject matter and that the music doesn't suffer as a result of a weighty plot. Now someone call up Quentin Tarantino and let's get this thing made into a movie. More
Genre: Hip Hop

Dancing At The Blue Lagoon (CD)

Cayucas make irrepressibly sunny guitar pop that suggests they’re the West Coast’s answer to Vampire Weekend. Their sophomore album may sound like it was engineered by the folks at the Ace Hotel for maximum margarita-sipping vibes, but there’s a cleverness to Cayucas’ arrangements. Single “Moony Eyed Walrus” is an irresistibly catchy tune with guitars that skip like a stone, its emotive strings serving as a nice counterpart to Zach Udin’s vocals, which flip from detached stoner to beach party emcee. They infuse songs like the title track with subtle marimbas and snaking basslines to match their island-hopping guitars, while lyrics about a certain dancing muse give the song the feel of a poolside update on “Hotel California.” Though it can be a bit on the nose when the band sings about Jacuzzi nights and Tahitian blues on “Backstroke,” the song still has a nice Afropop-leaning funk to it and vocal oddities that make the song a pleasure. And “Ditches,” a piano ballad about getting the hell out of suburbia, sees the band stretching its wings. So don’t feel bad about blasting Dancing at the Blue Lagoon all summer; you won’t be the only one doing so. More
Genre: Rock

Sticky Fingers [Deluxe Edition] (CD)

The Rolling Stones
There’s little that can be said about  Sticky Fingers  that hasn’t been said a million times, but it bears repeating: It’s the most consistently great album in the Rolling Stones’ estimable catalog, making it easily one of the most solid albums ever.  Sticky Fingers ’ 10 songs saw the band entering the ’70s in style, with some of their hookiest and best songs, from iconic singles like “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” to the growling, bluesy expanse of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” paralleling “Sister Morphine’s” dead-eyed comedown, the elegant garage-rock of “Sway” and “Dead Flowers” and beatific closer “Moonlight Mile.” These new deluxe editions strip off the borders from such a venerated album and let us see it in a new light. There’s a scrappy take on “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton on guitar, an even sparer “Wild Horses,” and a slimmed-down take on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” while “Bitch” goes off the rails into a wicked jam.  Sticky Fingers  is the best place to start for Stones newbies, and this edition presents the best-ever version of the classic album. More
Genre: Rock

Apocalypse, Girl (CD)

Jenny Hval
Norwegian artist Jenny Hval’s peculiar sound world incorporates spoken-word performance, of disjointed observations and sexually exploration, and an unpredictable singing voice, at times softly melodic, other times creepily singing about “shaving in all the right places” over cerebral pieces built on musique concrete and classic goth-rock. Listening feels like stepping into a darkened room and following a pinhole’s light. You’re unsure of what you’ll find, yet you’re oddly compelled to move forward through songs that feel more like dream-logic scenarios in which borders are unrecognized. Some echoes of Broadcast, Laurie Anderson, Bjork and Kate Bush poke through, but Hval, schooled in gothic metal, writing and performance, has a solitary perspective that can’t truly be forced into traditional influences. More accessible tracks like the loose, organ-driven “The Battle Is Over” give way to avant-garde sound pieces like “White Underground,” built on layers of ascending vocals and wails and synth drones that emit horror movie vibes. Hval skillfully keeps things tied together and swinging back and forth between the esoteric and tangible, moving back toward the latter for the French Pop-inspired “Heaven” and soulful wonderland of “Why This.” Hval’s ability to transmute her dreams and internalized feelings into pop-distorting pieces is a rare thing, giving  Apocalypse, girl  the thrilling feel of discovering the obscured. More
Genre: Rock

Multi-Love (CD)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with  Multi-Love . The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag,  Multi-Love  is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s truly one of the best things we’ve heard all year. More
Genre: Rock

Sound & Color (CD)

Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes’ meteoric rise thankfully hasn’t tarnished what made them special to begin with.  Sound & Color  is an assured follow-up to  Boys & Girls , further defining the band’s garage-blues sound without just relying on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s explosive voice to carry the show. The title track features some gorgeous harmonies and orchestral touches that start the album off in a classy way. But  Sound & Color  quickly proves gritty, as Howard’s banshee wail rips open first single “Don’t Wanna Fight.” “Dunes” is a deep, weird Beatlesesque track that finds Howard struggling to maintain her identity among rising fame (this one has “fan favorite” written all over it). Although it’s pretty obvious how powerful Howard’s voice can be, it reveals new shadings across the album, vacillating between a sweet coo and penetrating cry on the celestial funk of “Future People” and curling into a wild croon and big belt on “Gimme All Your Love.” About that voice—it’s impressive for sure, and Howard and co. have figured out when and where to unleash it, marking the biggest improvement the band has made. When the band does let loose on tracks like garage burner “The Greatest,” the results are all the more sublime. It’s rare when a band can capitalize on hype without succumbing to it as Alabama Shakes have; rarer still that they can avoid the sophomore slump with such aplomb. Alabama Shakes succeed with flying colors on their second outing.   More
Genre: Rock