This Month's Picks

Head Carrier (CD)

On Head Carrier , the Pixies prove they're just as raw, smart, combative, and thoughtful as when they burst onto the scene with their 1988 full-length, Surfer Rosa . This is the band's first LP with new bassist/backing vocalist Paz Lenchantin, whose dulcet voice serves as an interesting contrast to some of Black Francis' more aggressive moments. At times the songs on the LP are bristling and confrontational, in other moments the music is lovely and nearly sweet, but with a barely hidden edge to it. Head Carrier covers a lot of ground, both emotionally and musically, and it's impressive to see a band who has been so consistently awesome throughout the course of their career knock another one out of the park. More
Genre: Rock

We Can Do Anything [Indie Exclusive] (CD)

Violent Femmes
The Violent Femmes are in rollicking, raucous form on their country-inspired recent LP, We Can Do Anything . Album opener "Memory" sets the tone with an upbeat, infectious, sing-along chorus before Gordon Gano and crew inject some fairytale silliness into the epic "I Could Be Anything." (Seriously -- references to battling dragons and winning the hearts of princesses abound.) The tracks here include many taken from old Violent Femmes demos, some co-penned by Gano with various songwriters, and one track ("What You Really Mean") is a cover of a song written by Gano's sister. Quirky, good-natured fun. More
Genre: Rock

Calico Review (CD)

The Allah-Las’ Calico Review is like the soundtrack to a 1950s California beach movie: easygoing and breezily cool, with just the slightest hint of rock ’n’ roll danger. The guitars flirt with surf rock tendencies, the vocals drift into psych territory, and the songs have that relaxed, shambolic garage rock influence. The album was recorded on the same soundboard used by the Beach Boys for Pet Sounds , which makes sense as Calico Review shares many of those sunny harmonies, but with a contemporary edge and a darker undercurrent. On this latest LP, the beach meets the Los Angeles streets and the Allah-Las prove once again that they’re one of the finest purveyors of modern psych/garage. More
Genre: Rock

Wonderland (CD)

Sarah McLachlan
Is Christmas Sarah McLachlan’s new Lilith Fair? With the release of her second studio Christmas album (actually, third if you count 2015’s The Classic Christmas Album , which is actually a repackaging of her first holiday outing, 2006’s Wintersong , plus five additional songs), Wonderland cements the holly, jolly holiday as McLachlan’s new cause. Unlike the daring assortment found on Wintersong that mixes and matches songs like "Silent Night" with Lennon & Ono’s "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and Joni Mitchell’s “River,” Wonderland is a collection of ten well-known classics and standards, plus one Canadian hymn ("Huron Carol," likely unfamiliar to most Americans but certainly in the spirit). The production is slick and full, and McLachlan fills these old chestnuts with her trademark register breaks as her emotive voice slides from low to high, which will thrill fans of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing . More
Genre: Holiday

Wede Harer Guzo (CD)

Dahlak Band, Hailu Mergia
You often hear about DJs and labels "digging in the crates," but what about digging in the crowded, hot streets and storefronts of Ethiopia? Awesome Tapes from Africa has not only rescued beautiful tapes and LPs from relative obscurity, but it's discovered lost gems that are so ingrained and connected to their own regional music scene and culture that they become an exciting new perspective on music that's so far from the world of Western ears. Hailu Mergia is, without a doubt, their greatest success story. Their first Mergia release was a mysterious and unique mix of endless accordion harmonies and simplified digital drums with almost new agey synthesizers for a low-fi, psychedelic dream. Sourced from Mergia's only cassette copy of the album, Wede Harer Guzo is more indicative of what Mergia could do with a higher budget and a large band. Doing a series of traditional Ethiopian standards with a large brass band, the music is less ethereal than Ethiopia's most famous jazz musician, Mulatu Astatke, and instead goes for heavy beats and funky brass that feels strangely reminiscent of Nigeria's Fela Kuti. "Sintayehu" opens with a catchy, funky riff that instantly amplifies when the brass kicks in and the drums start to pound viciously. It's no longer just some nice jazz track, but goes into a full funk freak-out that feels right at home with long-lost breaks and beats. "Migibima Moltual" is a more sensitive, smoother affair that is perfect for dancing after one too many drinks. The delirious keyboard haze over a slow, modal progression is typical of Ethiopian folk tunes, until the keyboard comes to overtake the song in an unexpectedly aggressive swing. For those who are desiring something on the outer horizons of music, nothing gets more interesting and beautiful than Hailu Mergia. More
Genre: World

Acoustic Christmas (CD)

Neil Diamond
Though Neil Diamond's established 1992 classic, The Christmas Album , explored seasonal standards with his smoky voice and very early-'90s production, his second Christmas album scales things back further for a raw, intimate holiday mood. Produced by Don Was and Jacknife Lee, Acoustic Christmas is the antithesis of Diamond's large, bombastic standards and instead goes for small ensembles and a mellower atmosphere. Singing along to Christmas classics like "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night," the sparse, simple production highlights Diamond's voice and all the shades of his deep timbre. If you ignore the Christmas elements, the album feels like Neil Diamond crooning along to a few acoustic guitars, allowing him to stretch and explore the depths of his sound, just like a classic folk album. A perfect example is "Do You Hear What I Hear?." The soft sizzle of a snare is barely present, the stand-up bass adds a little color, and the guitar has baroque overtones. But as soon as the gravel of Diamond's voice pops on, it's hard not to be drawn in and moved by its power. And the anti-war Christmas ballad feels more prescient in these increasingly dark times. "O Holy Night," a song instantly synonymous with the classic, gospel Christmas ballads of the past, feels bold and exciting as Diamond gives a powerhouse performance alongside a discreet guitar and piano, creating beautiful textures and sounds that paint a peaceful Christmas portrait in your head. The delicate arrangements just show the agelessness and showmanship of one of the all time greats. In contrast to all the over-produced Christmas songs that clog the airwaves, Acoustic Christmas is a warm cup of tea that gets the spirit right. More
Genre: Holiday

Moana [OST] (CD)

Lin-Manuel Miranda
If you've stepped out of your house sometime in the last three years, at some point you were bombarded with the inescapable soundtrack from Frozen . Those songs were everywhere and became part of American pop culture in an unexpected way. Disney is looking to strike twice with the soundtrack to their newest film, Moana , even recruiting the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) to mix things up and give it a new dimension and success. The film is set in the South Pacific, so the songs all have flavors of Polynesian melodies with island rhythms, Hawaiian percussion, and catchy chanting that feels perfect to sing along to. Australian band Te Vaka was enlisted to capture the feel and sound with the right level of authenticity. Bandleader Opetaia Foa'i uses the sounds of Somoa and New Zealand to capture a type of music which you've never heard before. "Logo te Pate," one of their classic tracks used in the film, is catchy beyond belief. With the heavy drums, clapping, and chanting, the song almost possesses you to dance and move. The song doesn't use any synths, just old fashioned musical styles that make it addictive and it will get stuck in your ear. This music is atypical of Disney's Broadway-style songs, but is no less moving than any of their previous soundtracks. When Hollywood scores start to sound the same, Moana 's soundtrack is a refreshing splash of cold water. More
Genre: Soundtracks

Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 (CD)

Jack White
Jack White's collection of acoustic recordings shows off the rocker's gentler side and gives you a clear idea of his unique and singular blend of styles. Influenced by a myriad of bluesmen - from the delta blues sound of Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie Johnson to the English wave of blues rock like Led Zeppelin - the strange, undefinable rock figure needed a collection like this to reevaluate and rethink his career. Though he's forever synonymous with the brightly colored, endlessly catchy rhythms of The White Stripes, the garage rocker seems to be prouder of his roots influences and his way of coloring with a simple acoustic guitar. The album's 26 tracks were picked and pulled from singles, albums, B-sides, and alternate mixes to create one cohesive narrative. The newly released and previously unheard White Stripes track "City Lights" is a beautiful folk solo song that contrasts perfectly against Meg White's mechanical drum part, stampeding along until ending with a long solo that owes more to the American Primitivism sound of John Fahey. "Apple Blossom," recently featured in the film The Hateful Eight , is a very simple ballad that could almost be confused for a rejected track by The Zombies. The alternate mix, recorded on tape with a raw, loose feeling, is even more beautifully sloppy, especially with the bouncy, honky tonk piano. Although it's a career retrospective, the album seems to capture something special. Even with all the extra unheard tracks and alternate mixes, this isn't just some interesting compilation of a brilliant career, but is an entirely new album on its own. More
Genre: Rock

Hardwired...To Self-Destruct (CD)

Though Metallica might have influenced generations of punk, grunge, thrash, and metal bands, they're surprisingly unprolific. And so each new Metallica release isn't just hotly anticipated, but comes like a cataclysmic event of shrieking guitars, banging bass drums, furious rhythms, and guttural yelps. Their first album in eight years,  Hardwired...To Self- Destruct  is a return to form. And not a return of form to Load or St. Anger . It's a return to the form of Kill 'Em All and Master of Puppets . The slow, brooding, and portentous style of their late-career is mixed in with classic, clean, clear, and furious thrash that's so intense and technical, it will get your adrenaline pumping. Metallica themselves are treating it like a behemoth of an album, with special concerts, promos, and a music video for EACH song on the album.   "Hardwired" opens with a precision sharp riff that explodes with sweat and fury. The bitter, ironic track feels apt for these chaotic times as James Hetfield unleashes into the microphone in a cathartic rant. The fury of the track feels closer in spirit to "Whiplash" than to anything they've done on their last few albums. "Moth Into Flames" is far closer to the post-'80s Metallica of long, steady ballads that build and build on short, technical riffs until the song kicks it into 100mph. When the guitar solo comes in a minute and a half into the song, it almost dissolves into a modern skate punk track before going back to classic Metallica intensity. It also shows off Lars Ulrich's endless energy and showcases some of his most powerful drumming on the album. Being a Metallica fan can be a real trial sometimes when they take unexpected directions while simultaneously trying to please fans, but Hardwired is probably the closest they've gotten to something that should appease the die-hards, the casual listeners, and even those new to metal. The most brutally intense album of 2016. More
Genre: Rock

The Book Of Souls (CD)

Iron Maiden
In their 40 year career, Iron Maiden still feels like Iron Maiden. Instead of taking diversions into other sub-genres and styles, their unique and very theatrical take on heavy metal is still embraced. The Book of Souls doesn't just feel like a new Iron Maiden album, but like a visit from an old friend. Their first album in five years is a triumph of sorts, especially in the wake of Bruce Dickinson's battle with cancer. Instead of going for technical and studio-level perfection, the songs were all written and recorded quickly to give the feeling of Iron Maiden's dramatic live performances. Nothing sounds perfectly manipulated, mixed to an edgeless sheen or mic'ed to an isolated sound. Things sound messy, intense, and raw, especially in Dickinson's operatic voice which is showing its age in the best way possible. The self-titled track is classic Iron Maiden. Opening with an acoustic riff that sounds almost like flamenco, it suddenly erupts into a classic metal powerhouse riff and metallic drums with vocals that lead the charge. Eventually, the song marches into a middle-section with a guitar solo and rhythm that is reminiscent of the early days of English metal with a wah-wah pedaled guitar solo that shreds into psych oblivion. The mercilessly epic "Empire of the Clouds" opens with a Hollywood-like coda of dramatic strings that makes it hard not to get emotional. But half-way through the eighteen minute track, the guitars and drums start to kick off into a melody that recalls the post-colonial vibe that Iron Maiden seems to riff on and criticize in a way that uniquely characterizes their sound. It eventually culminates in a cut-time melody with a beautiful and tragic vibe that is the perfect way to end this cinematic track. The Book of Sounds is classic Iron Maiden, through and through. They're truly one of a kind and will forever be unique. More
Genre: Rock