This Month's Picks

Rivington Não Rio (CD)

Prefuse 73
After leaving the Prefuse 73 moniker lying dormant for several years producer Guillermo Scott Herren has returned. "I've come back to hyper focusing, immersing myself in the sounds, rhythms, and formations that created Prefuse 73 in the first place," he says. "… Right now I'm at my most confident and comfortable since 05/06."  Rivington Não Rio  is the only full-length release in his trio of recently announced Temporary Residence recordings. Sandwiched between  Forsyth Garden  and  Every Color of Darkness ,  Rio  is the key to unlocking this “epic triptych.” The album does not attempt to push too far outside of the spacey and low key, keeping it fairly even keeled and balanced. The entire album moves with a casual head nod pace, layered just enough to lose focus on the present. Tracks like “Applauded Assumptions” and “Inside” instrumentally meander and warp through beats and glitch experimentation. When Herren adds vocal talents, such as Pinback’s Rob Crow on “Quiet One” or Sam Dew on “Infrared,” his beats and glitches seem to merge and weave in between the words. Whereas in "140 Jabs Interlude” Herren has alt rappers’ Milo and Busdriver take the front seat and drive the beat. Heren may be returning to the sound that made up Prefuse 73 in the first place, but  Rivington Não Rio  has much more to offer than just a return to greatness. More

Wilder Mind (CD)

Mumford & Sons
Recreating yourself isn’t easy when you’re one of the biggest bands on the planet. But  Wilder Mind  sees Mumford & Sons successfully shift from “Civil War”-style folk rock to a more wide-reaching rock sound boosted by synthesizers and light orchestration. It’s a similar feat that Kings of Leon pulled when it added ’80s guitars to its Southern Rock or how Killers looked to Springsteen for inspiration. Songs like “Tomkins Square Park” and the title track offer spacious grooves for Marcus Mumford’s never-better vocals to emote over, while “The Wolf” goes full throttle with huge, crunching guitars. Touches of synthesizer wriggle their way into songs like “Snake Eyes,” which moves from a spare, heartfelt opening into a swift gallop. Mumford’s voice sounds wearier (and better) than it did on 2012’s  Babel , which suits his lovelorn lyrics well, and he’s learned how to rein it in for maximum impact on tracks like the anthemic “Believe,” giving Bon Iver a run for his money. Not all Mumford & Sons fans will like the changes the band have made, but in doing so, Mumford & Sons have proved themselves to be a better, more interesting band than their detractors have given them credit for, risking it all for a more layered, produced sound when they really didn’t have to. For those who miss the old style, the album’s second half offers folksier tunes like the lovely “Cold Arms.” With  Wilder Mind , Mumford & Sons have gotten wilder indeed, and they’re all the better for it. More
Genre: Rock

Who Is The Sender? (CD)

Bill Fay
The melody that is at the heart of Bill Fay is one of resounding hope shrouded in melancholy. His records from the '70s blend elements of baroque pop, polished canyon folk and spirituality so delicately that the melodrama is all but completely washed out. In 1971’s Time of the Last Persecution particularly he excavated yearning, loss, and overall faith with a such blunt edged instrument that at first listen it is merely a throwaway folk rock record. A deeper listen, however, proves it to be masterful. It is that simplicity and nuance that has earned him a following of modern songwriters such as Jim O’Rourke, Jeff Tweedy, and Nick Cave. After his critically acclaimed return,  Life Is People , in 2012, Fay releases his follow up Who Is The Sender? . Now in his mid seventies his oft used soft-spoken execution and world weariness comes off as almost prophetic, certainly larger than life. Who is the Sender? is above all a meditation on expression. Who is the sender in which he (Fay) is the vessel for the message? A thought which continues to reveal layers of itself throughout the record. Tracks like “War Machine” and “Order of The Day” represent the fire and drama that Fay still has burning inside of him, but instead of expressing that anger he has transformed it into an acceptance of the inevitable. Which is by no means apathetic, he is sublime in his forcefulness. With that anger and fury comes overwhelming sadness. The sadness remains so repentantly tortuous that you can hear religion in his voice. In fact you only need to hear the title of “Bring It on Lord” to know that he has come to some sort of crossroads with his spirituality. Once you hear the spiritual message that was sent through him, you will know that Bill Fay is every bit as hopeful and human as he ever has been. More
Genre: Rock

Untethered Moon (CD)

Built To Spill
If you thought Built to Spill’s first album in six years would be some somber collection reflecting the band’s elder statesman status, think again.  Untethered Moon  roars right out of the gate, on “All Our Songs.” Doug Martsch lives up to his indie guitar hero mythos with fluttering space cowboy licks and cosmic solos, singing lines in a creeping whisper that could be self-deprecating or sarcastic, but it’s tough not to feel a thrill when he sings, “rock and roll will be here forever.” “New Zoo” builds on that momentum, as new guns Steve Gere (drums) and Jason Albertini (bass) prove their meddle with a steadily building groove over which Martsch drapes intricate guitar lacework, opening up into an R.E.M.-inspired melody. There’s a sense of futility to Martsch’s lyrics that can be funny at times or a drag at others—one song is called “Some Other Song”—but the irony is that  Untethered Moon  brims with energy and melodic ideas (for the record, “Some Other Song” is one of the album’s catchiest tunes). However exhausting the journey may be playing with the same band for more than 20 years, it’s clearly refined Martsch’s craft to the point that  Untethered Moon  feels effortless and powerful. 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

Black Messiah (CD)

D'Angelo
The long-awaited Black Messiah caps off 2014 as the year’s best soul album. But to call it soul or R&B would be reductive. Even more so than D’Angelo’s previous two albums, the excellent Brown Sugar and neo-soul masterpiece Voodoo , Black Messiah eschews any preconceived notions of what R&B, pop, music in general should be. Black Messiah draws upon a rich history of black music, notably blues, jazz and gospel and funk, and blows them out into billowing, smokey jams that seep under your skin, work their way into your veins. “Ain’t That Easy” rides hard on The Vanguard’s hip-hop beat and raunchy funk chords, while D’Angelo delivers an impassioned vocal and conciliatory lyrics like a sleek modern-day update of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” “1,000 Deaths” lays out Black Messiah ’s other theme, starting with a powerful passage by an African American preacher that rails against the presentation of Jesus as a white savior. Over The Vanguard’s stuttering, skronking beat, D’Angelo’s multitracked vocal paints a harrowing picture but makes its most memorable couplet a rallying cry for the oppressed (“A coward dies a thousand times/But a soldier only dies just once), ending in an ecstatic, Prince-worthy cry and Hendrixy guitar explosions. Like Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah albums, or (aesthetically) like Kanye West’s Yeezus , Black Messiah is remarkably adventurous throughout. “The Charade” shuffles along a beat reminiscent of Radiohead’s “There, There,” dazzles with springs of sitar and builds to a thick climax. Similarly, “Back to the Future (Part I)” and “II” breaks up a future-funk suite about breaking up, keeping you engaged with its heady groove. Black Messiah ’s more accessible moments make for some of the loveliest songwriting D’Angelo’s put to tape, with lush devotionals like “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” and “Really Love” and the jaunty alien jazz of “Sugah Daddy” making for perfect mixtape material. D’Angelo definitely kept us waiting a while for this one, but his remarkably consistent catalog to this point shows that the best things come to those who wait. Truly, Black Messiah is a densely layered soul masterpiece. More
Genre: Soul

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. More
Genre: Soul

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (CD)

Panda Bear
The new album by Panda Bear is perhaps his most accessible yet. This is not to say the music isn’t as strange and unique as anything he’s done. “Boys Latin’s” brilliant vocal pastiche gets stuck in your head but keeps your mind swimming. “Crossword” is heartfelt and gorgeous, along the lines of Animal Collective’s “My Girls.” “Come to Your Senses” swirls with slithering, shaking sounds, but percolating guitars and synths carry strong melodies to take you through it. “Principe Real” is like Wonderland funk, bouncing on handclaps and cartoonish organs. And “Tropic of Cancer” is a Beach Boys-inspired oceanic ode that crests on beautiful harp and digital whispers. While Panda Bear’s work has always been inspiring, Grim Reaper sheds any kind of shyness present in his previous releases. It’s a beautifully made, all-embracing piece of experimental pop music, and one of the best releases of early 2015. More
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. More
Genre: Rock

Strangers To Ourselves (CD)

Modest Mouse
It’s been eight years since the last Modest Mouse album, so forgive Modest Mouse if they have a lot to say. The sprawling, 15-song Strangers to Ourselves has a lot to offer both fans who’ve been with Modest Mouse’s since the ’90s and those newer to the fold. The soft opening of the title track actually feels quite revolutionary in the band’s catalog, wearily beautiful in its dreaminess. Single “Lampshades on Fire” feels closer to classic Modest Mouse, a stomping singalong that sounds downright gleeful in its cutting social commentary on how we’re screwing up our planet—“Well we’re the human race/We’re goin’ to party out of this place.” The more somber, mature-sounding tracks still pack snarls and growls and song titles like “Shit in Your Cut.” The band stretches into new territory on songs like “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),” whose digital beat, suggestive lyrics and vocal manipulation makes it sound like the band is collaborating with The Knife, or, more simply, on the ragtime-style “Sugar Boats” and new-wave ballad “Wicked Campaign.” Even when they’re being more predictable, Strangers to Ourselves is still a lot of fun to listen to, laying interesting percussive elements and spiderlike guitarwork into single-worthy post-punk jam “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box,” while the more subdued songs, like “Pups to Dust,” are worthwhile for Isaac Brock’s ever-remarkable voice and lyrics, which move from folksy to obtuse and obscene at the drop of a hat. After such a long hiatus, it’s wonderful to hear them still in fine form and doing what they do best. More
Genre: Rock