This Month's Picks

Skin (CD)

The mega success of Flume's first album set the expectations high. But Harley Streten avoided the sophomore slump by upping the ante on all his contemporaries. Picking up on all sorts of cues from electronic glitchiness, dub, trap music, house, and even psych, Skin  is the perfect combination of all sorts of flavors and the result is an epic album bursting with style. And that doesn't even scratch the list of guest artists: Beck, Vince Staples, Tove Lo, Little Dragon, AlunaGeorge, Vic Mensa, and even Raekwon. Things get glitchy and the music distorts on-and-off while layers of synths swirl and discombobulate. After hearing and Shazam-ing a track by Tove Lo at a Los Angeles bar, he created "Say It" with her voice unique voice in mind. The track has all the makings for a classic anthem, but the bizarre, popping programmed loops and drums fizzle, giving it the type of depth most radio/streaming pop hits lack. "Wall Fuck" takes a few tips from the experimental, with in-your-face bizzaro synth sounding like a deconstructed dubstep track. The rhythm is there, but the song continuously hiccups and the drops are off so much that it could almost disorient you before it cascades into a dramatic and screechy finish. The ending track, "Tiny Cities," which creates a chorus using only loops of Beck's voice, is beautifully dramatic with soft sonic layers and features some of Beck's best singing in years. The four year wait for his next album was worth it. This is the album electronic artists will be trying to copy for years. More

Mayday (CD)

Boys Noize
Alexander Ridha's Boys Noize project isn't easy listening. Initially attempting to premiere his album at a Berlin May Day protest, police squads showed up and broke up the concert amidst political rioting. But a month since then, Boys Noize's own Mayday  is here. In a world of milquetoast electronica and gentle rhythms, Mayday  is the musical equivalent of getting smashed in the face. The drippy bass spills out and distorts manically as Boys Noize's fierce sound rips your head off and puts it in a paint mixer. Pulling producer "Benga" out to give it the strange dubstep rhythms of his own productions, "Dynamite" is the nightmare version of house. The disco beat and dramatic R&B singing of house is there, but everything is grungier and grimier with sludgy, gooey synths pouring all over you. "Birthday," his collaboration with mega producer Hudson Mohawke and rapper Spank Rock, takes what sounds like a rhythm ready for a number one single and inflates it to the point it could almost explode. Distorted vocals, voice samples, and blasting synths spin around Spank Rock's catchy mantra. "Midnight" is post-industrial with its fuzzy mechanical drums that sound like they are playing out of a tape deck. The short loops and endless vocal samples are enough to disorient you completely as your mind turns into mush and you lose yourself in the rhythm. This is dance music that grabs you and never gives you a second to rest. You'll be beat at the end, but you'll also never want it to stop. More

Fury (CD)

Sick Puppies
As bands like Tool and Rage Against the Machine take what feels like a permanent vacation, Sick Puppies perfectly fill the void. Originally conquering the airways in Australia, they traveled out west to do the type of alt-metal that has been missing since the early 2000s. Now featuring a line-up change with new lead-singer and guitarist Bryan Scott, Sick Puppies is ready to blast your ears into oblivion with the appropriately titled Fury . Entering a new phase of their career, they listened to the fans and gave them what they wanted: power. It's an album that can barely contain all the rage and emotion they've kept bottled up since their previous, and much softer, album, Connect . Single, "Stick To Your Guns" blends metal with the '90s industrial sound of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, and grabs you by the throat, spins you around, and slams you straight into concrete. "Earth To You" feels like a take on Led Zeppelin with its bluesy slap-bass over tribal drums before Bryan Scott practically yells in your face. Fury  is relentless as it tears down everything in sight, barely giving you a second to breath. As heavy as heavy gets. More
Genre: Rock

Strangers (CD)

Marissa Nadler
With her seventh album, Marissa Nadler refines her poetry and dense sound in a way that is the envy of every other singer-songwriter. Her emotions are on clear display as she steps further away from the world of folk and goes for more tragic and haunting moods crafted by her sparse guitar and lush layers of synths and strings. All the while her delicate voice echoes with endless reverb until it just dissolves. Every track is a lamentation of love gone toxic and when her voice pierces right into you it almost feels like her pain is aimed directly at you. Two tracks into the album and "Katie I Know" can easily break you. She is so blunt and clear about her conflicts that it's almost too much to take. Her voice sounds like it could break into tears any second over the strings serenading her. "All Of The Colors Of The Dark" is so bare and personal that it's as if you are peeking into her subconscious with her beautiful imagery. "Janie In Love" has crackling guitar that feels right out of a Roy Orbison track until it blows you down with sonic drone that turns into a chaos that her previous albums never did. It's no surprise that she collaborated with Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn as her instrumentation gets heavier and louder and starts to feel fiercer than other folk artists. Strangers  continues Sacred Bones' perfectly curated and genre defying sound that seems to create trends instead of follow them. It's Nadler's most mature album  yet and something people will try to emulate for the next few years. More
Genre: Rock, Folk

The Bastards (CD)

Radical Face
Radical Face isn't just a clever name. He radicalizes the singer/songwriter, indie solo mold of the solitary sound of a person and his guitar, melding it with textured atmospherics and haunting lyrics. Working on his project The Family Tree for the past five years, he found himself with extra tracks that were incredible but didn’t find a home on his LPs. So the aptly titled album The Bastards brings together his three bonus EPs of musical stragglers that he included with his last few albums along with couple of extra tracks. These are no toss-offs, but rather are tracks that were too good to end up on the cutting room floor. The Bastards tells the continuing story of the fictitious Northcotes family that feels part Southern gothic, part ghost story. "Nightclothes" wears its emotions so clearly on it's sleeve that it might make Nick Drake blush, but it also has a spooky quality, with psychedelic waves of oscillating strings and field recording crunch. Meanwhile, something like "Servants and Kings" is more joyous, with a funk-drum rhythm, ambient sounds zapped right from '80s meditation tapes and spaced lyrics. Despite being a small collection of extra tracks, you will be hard-pressed to find more personal or more revealing songs on other albums released this year. More
Genre: Rock

Will (CD)

Julianna Barwick
Julianna Barwick doesn't just create music, but she creates sonic chambers that feel like warm, cozy places you can live in. Falling into a sort of weird lineage that started with the electronic minimalists like David Borden and Pauline Oliveros, continued on with Harold Budd's collaboration with the Cocteau Twins and now the nouveau new age musicians who have rediscovered how to make discount synths sound groundbreaking and modern, Will ’s atmospherics continuously dissolve into a pleasant, pink haze that hypnotizes the listener. Recalling the '80s dream team of Julee Cruise, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, with warm, peaceful sine waves and mysterious vocals you can barely make out, the music has the spectral grace of ambient music, but the strange instrumentation and voices still give it one foot in the world of song-based pop music. "Nebula" literally raises a cacophony of spacey synths, droning cello and hallowed crying that climaxes in pure aural bliss before just disappearing into the ether like a memory. Along with Tim Hecker and William Basinski, there aren't many like Juliana Barwick who can transform and reinvent what the word "ambient" means to music, but she does it with unbelievable grace and poetry. More
Genre: Rock

Kindness For Weakness (CD)

Homeboy Sandman
With his third album on Stones Throw, Homeboy Sandman makes b-boy needle scratches, ancient funky rhythms, loops and drum breaks feel wackier and more fun than what a major label artist can do with a dozen producers and a million-dollar studio. Kindness for Weakness is a direct reference to his mantra "mistaking kindness for weakness is a weakness I need to have more kindness for" and just gives you an idea of the personal depth of his album. Directly addressing the stereotypes expected from MCs, societal insecurities, religion and injustices in the world, Homeboy Sandman is particularly scathing in a 2016 in which everything around you feels like it's crumbling. While tracks like "God" and "Eyes" are darker and more direct about his politics and emotions, the real album highlight might be the single "Talking (Bleep)" with it's '50s sci-fi beat and a classic flow that just cuts so cleanly, jumping from topic to topic so that it barely giving you enough time to breathe. Culling from the elite team of Stones Throw producers like Jonwayne, RJD2 and Edan, the album drips with library-sound weirdness and mysterious P-funk that sounds like it was delivered straight from outer space to be blasted directly into your ears. More
Genre: Hip Hop

Hopelessness (CD)

Just as the artist formerly known as Antony has chosen to go by the name ANOHNI in her personal and professional life, Hopelessness , her debut sans the Johnsons, dramatically refashions the artist’s sound world. With production by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, ANOHNI takes her socially conscious lyrics to the world of experimental synth-pop. “Let me be the one, the one that you choose from above,” she sings darkly in “Drone Bomb Me,” one of many politically pointed songs on the album. Similarly, she takes on the role of the victim on the sparkling, Kate Bush-inspired “Execution,” which refers to its titular act as “an American dream.” Over the pounding drums and synth-orchestral pomp of “4 Degrees,” ANOHNI decries the environmental atrocities we’ve enacted with the blackest of black humor (“I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze/I wanna see the animals die in the trees”). “I know you love me, ‘cause you’re always watching me,” she sings on the stunning “Watch Me,” an indictment of PRISM and America’s obsession with surveillance. As its title suggests, the album can run dour, as on bleak pieces like “Obama,” which is daring but feels a little on the nose, lyrically. Luckily, Hopelessness balances its dire subject matter with spectacular, pop-minded production that retains touches of the chamber-pop style on which ANOHNI built her musical stature. And on experimental pieces like the electro-jazz of “Violent Man,” her music also has never been more vibrant. Though not exactly full of sunshine and rainbows, by turning a bright light on the things we’d rather ignore, Hopelessness finds triumph. More

Allas Sak (CD)

Swedish psych-rockers Dungen indulge in some proggy theatrics on their latest, upending dad rock clichés to make classic sounding rock ‘n’ roll cool and mysterious again in the process. More
Genre: Rock

The Impossible Kid (CD)

Aesop Rock
Indie-rapper Aesop Rock opens up about his personal life, going deep on topics like depression, family, and the turbulent years that led him to leave San Francisco to live in a barn out in the woods, where he recorded the foundations of this album. More
Genre: Hip Hop