This Month's Picks

Untethered Moon (CD)

Built To Spill
<p> If you thought Built to Spill&rsquo;s first album in six years would be some somber collection reflecting the band&rsquo;s elder statesman status, think again.&nbsp;<em>Untethered Moon&nbsp;</em>roars right out of the gate, on &ldquo;All Our Songs.&rdquo; 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&rsquo;s tough not to feel a thrill when he sings, &ldquo;rock and roll will be here forever.&rdquo; &ldquo;New Zoo&rdquo; 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&rsquo;s a sense of futility to Martsch&rsquo;s lyrics that can be funny at times or a drag at others&mdash;one song is called &ldquo;Some Other Song&rdquo;&mdash;but the irony is that&nbsp;<em>Untethered Moon&nbsp;</em>brims with energy and melodic ideas (for the record, &ldquo;Some Other Song&rdquo; is one of the album&rsquo;s catchiest tunes). However exhausting the journey may be playing with the same band for more than 20 years, it&rsquo;s clearly refined Martsch&rsquo;s craft to the point that&nbsp;<em>Untethered Moon&nbsp;</em>feels effortless and powerful.</p> More
Genre: Rock

Sound & Color (CD)

Alabama Shakes
<p> Alabama Shakes&rsquo; meteoric rise thankfully hasn&rsquo;t tarnished what made them special to begin with.&nbsp;<em>Sound &amp; Color&nbsp;</em>is an assured follow-up to&nbsp;<em>Boys &amp; Girls</em>, further defining the band&rsquo;s garage-blues sound without just relying on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard&rsquo;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&nbsp;<em>Sound &amp; Color&nbsp;</em>quickly proves gritty, as Howard&rsquo;s banshee wail rips open first single &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t Wanna Fight.&rdquo; &ldquo;Dunes&rdquo; is a deep, weird Beatlesesque track that finds Howard struggling to maintain her identity among rising fame (this one has &ldquo;fan favorite&rdquo; written all over it). Although it&rsquo;s pretty obvious how powerful Howard&rsquo;s voice can be, it reveals new shadings across the album, vacillating between a sweet coo and penetrating cry on the celestial funk of &ldquo;Future People&rdquo; and curling into a wild croon and big belt on &ldquo;Gimme All Your Love.&rdquo; About that voice&mdash;it&rsquo;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 &ldquo;The Greatest,&rdquo; the results are all the more sublime. It&rsquo;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. &nbsp;</p> More
Genre: Rock

Black Messiah (CD)

<p> The long-awaited <em>Black Messiah </em>caps off 2014 as the year&rsquo;s best soul album. But to call it soul or R&amp;B would be reductive. Even more so than D&rsquo;Angelo&rsquo;s previous two albums, the excellent <em>Brown Sugar </em>and neo-soul masterpiece <em>Voodoo</em>, <em>Black Messiah </em>eschews any preconceived notions of what R&amp;B, pop, music in general should be. <em>Black Messiah </em>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. &ldquo;Ain&rsquo;t That Easy&rdquo; rides hard on The Vanguard&rsquo;s hip-hop beat and raunchy funk chords, while D&rsquo;Angelo delivers an impassioned vocal and conciliatory lyrics like a sleek modern-day update of Al Green&rsquo;s &ldquo;Let&rsquo;s Stay Together.&rdquo; &ldquo;1,000 Deaths&rdquo; lays out <em>Black Messiah</em>&rsquo;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&rsquo;s stuttering, skronking beat, D&rsquo;Angelo&rsquo;s multitracked vocal paints a harrowing picture but makes its most memorable couplet a rallying cry for the oppressed (&ldquo;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&rsquo;s <em>New Amerykah </em>albums, or (aesthetically) like Kanye West&rsquo;s <em>Yeezus</em>, <em>Black Messiah </em>is remarkably adventurous throughout. &ldquo;The Charade&rdquo; shuffles along a beat reminiscent of Radiohead&rsquo;s &ldquo;There, There,&rdquo; dazzles with springs of sitar and builds to a thick climax. Similarly, &ldquo;Back to the Future (Part I)&rdquo; and &ldquo;II&rdquo; breaks up a future-funk suite about breaking up, keeping you engaged with its heady groove. <em>Black Messiah</em>&rsquo;s more accessible moments make for some of the loveliest songwriting D&rsquo;Angelo&rsquo;s put to tape, with lush devotionals like &ldquo;Till It&rsquo;s Done (Tutu)&rdquo; and &ldquo;Really Love&rdquo; and the jaunty alien jazz of &ldquo;Sugah Daddy&rdquo; making for perfect mixtape material. D&rsquo;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, <em>Black Messiah</em> is a densely layered soul masterpiece.</p> More
Genre: Soul

Tuxedo (CD)

<p> 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&#39;s a retro disco funk record that will have you busting out your own tuxedo and dusting off those dancing shoes.</p> More
Genre: Soul

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (CD)

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

Brill Bruisers (CD)

The New Pornographers
<p> The New Pornographers are back in a big way with <em>Brill Bruisers</em>. While the band&rsquo;s past couple of outings have struggled to match the energy of their roof-burning early work, <em>Brill Bruisers </em>comes roaring out of the gate right away with AC Newman&rsquo;s School House Rock-style title track. Neko Case takes the lead on a few sublime tracks, like the scenic &ldquo;Champions of Red Wine,&rdquo; while Destroyer&rsquo;s Dan Bejar&rsquo;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 &ldquo;War on the East Coast.&rdquo; Songs like &ldquo;Family Fools&rdquo; are some of their best Fleetwood Mac-style aural dreamscapes of layered vocals and lush synths, and gorgeous harmonies abound, as on the pretty &ldquo;Backstairs.&rdquo; 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 &ldquo;Hi-Rise&rdquo; and giving a lovely sentiment some quizzical melodicism for added depth on &ldquo;You Tell Me Where.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s perhaps their strongest work since high-water mark <em>Twin Cinema</em>, a return-to-form that longtime fans will no doubt find to be a perfect end-of-summer gift from the gods.</p> More
Genre: Rock

Strangers To Ourselves (CD)

Modest Mouse
<p> It&rsquo;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 <em>Strangers to Ourselves </em>has a lot to offer both fans who&rsquo;ve been with Modest Mouse&rsquo;s since the &rsquo;90s and those newer to the fold. The soft opening of the title track actually feels quite revolutionary in the band&rsquo;s catalog, wearily beautiful in its dreaminess. Single &ldquo;Lampshades on Fire&rdquo; feels closer to classic Modest Mouse, a stomping singalong that sounds downright gleeful in its cutting social commentary on how we&rsquo;re screwing up our planet&mdash;&ldquo;Well we&rsquo;re the human race/We&rsquo;re goin&rsquo; to party out of this place.&rdquo; The more somber, mature-sounding tracks still pack snarls and growls and song titles like &ldquo;Shit in Your Cut.&rdquo; The band stretches into new territory on songs like &ldquo;Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),&rdquo; 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 &ldquo;Sugar Boats&rdquo; and new-wave ballad &ldquo;Wicked Campaign.&rdquo; Even when they&rsquo;re being more predictable, <em>Strangers to Ourselves </em>is still a lot of fun to listen to, laying interesting percussive elements and spiderlike guitarwork into single-worthy post-punk jam &ldquo;The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box,&rdquo; while the more subdued songs, like &ldquo;Pups to Dust,&rdquo; are worthwhile for Isaac Brock&rsquo;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&rsquo;s wonderful to hear them still in fine form and doing what they do best.</p> More
Genre: Rock

No Cities To Love (CD)

<p> It&rsquo;s tough to come back after a nearly decade-long hiatus, especially after your band&rsquo;s best album (the combustible&nbsp;<em>The Woods</em>). But Sleater-Kinney succeed with aplomb on&nbsp;<em>No Cities to Love</em>, which scales back on&nbsp;<em>Woods</em>&rsquo; volume without dialing down the ferocity.&nbsp;<em>Cities&nbsp;</em>roars right out of the gate on &ldquo;Price Tag,&rdquo; as Corin Tucker gives a scathing indictment of American greed over Carrie Brownstein&rsquo;s tuff gnarled riffs. Janet Weiss also gives a typically dynamic performance, switching between off-kilter punk-funk and straightforward rawk on &ldquo;Fangless&rdquo; and giving &ldquo;No Anthems&rdquo; and &ldquo;Gimme Love&rdquo; their pounding swagger. There&rsquo;s a sense that Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss are growing comfortable with one another again, and appropriately,&nbsp;<em>No Cities to Love&nbsp;</em>is curt at 10 songs (thankfully trimmed of any fat whatsoever, really). When the trio fits together perfectly, as on &ldquo;Surface Envy,&rdquo; it&rsquo;s a marvel to behold, its acidic riffs swaying and bursting at the seams while Tucker gives her band a worthy rallying call (&ldquo;We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules&rdquo;). Decidedly,&nbsp;<em>No Cities to Love&nbsp;</em>is yet another win for the returning rock titans known as Sleater-Kinney.&nbsp;</p> More
Genre: Rock

I Love You, Honeybear (CD)

Father John Misty
<p> Father John Misty&rsquo;s fearless second record builds on his folk-rock sound with orchestral touches, genre diversions and direct, conversational lyrics that cut through singer/songwriter clichés. The title track introduces Beatlesesque melodies and weeping steel guitar to prepare you for the scope of the record. J. Tillman starts going into crooner mode with the spectacular &ldquo;Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),&rdquo; his crushed-velvet vocals singing over a sweeping, country-symphonic arrangement, but his lyrics nicely keep the romanticism from getting too gooey (&ldquo;I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in&rdquo;). &ldquo;True Affection&rdquo; takes a sharp turn into MIDI-electro-dream-pop, with some Fleet Foxes-style harmonies keeping things grounded in Tillman&rsquo;s wheelhouse. &ldquo;The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment&rdquo; takes another turn, this time into Velvets-third-album twinkling indie pop, while Tillman calls out an airheaded groupie (&ldquo;She says like, literally, music is the air she breathes,&rdquo; he sings hilariously). Tillman&rsquo;s lyrics work so well because of their specificity&mdash;you feel like you&rsquo;re watching him break hearts at a local bar when he sings &ldquo;Why the long face? Blondie, I&rsquo;m already taken,&rdquo; over a sultry Southern sway on &ldquo;Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow.&rdquo; Such subject matter could read as self-serving, if not for the album&rsquo;s more self-effacing tracks, like &ldquo;The Ideal Husband,&rdquo; in which Tillman admits various wrongdoings, petty or otherwise, over nervy rock &lsquo;n&rsquo; roll; or &ldquo;Bored in the USA,&rdquo; a piano ballad that seems to mock Tillman&rsquo;s own first-world problems of alienation and dullness (&ldquo;Save me, white Jesus!&rdquo; is an awesomely cutting exclamation). Tillman&rsquo;s refusal to do anything in a typical way while still keeping the music highly polished helps <em>I Love You, Honeybear </em>to never feel indulgent. Rather, it&rsquo;s an extraordinarily giving album, as Tillman&rsquo;s honesty and strength as a songwriter and performer has grown immeasurably. It&rsquo;s easily one of the best albums of the year thus far.</p> More
Genre: Rock

Lonerism (LP)

Tame Impala
<p> If Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel) had been born 10 years later and became obsessed with tape loops, this is sort of what it would sound like. Stellar effort, even better than their first LP. Get on it, people. &nbsp;</p> More
Genre: Rock