This Month's Picks

Cosmic Logic (CD)

Peaking Lights

Psych pop duo Peaking Lights get somehow both more personal and further out there on their latest release. “Telephone Call” sees singer Indra Dunis leading an alien dance party, singing “telephone call from space, calling all the human race” over a fat, dubby groove, while “Hypnotic Hustle” seems to create a new, interdimensional dance. But, like Lucifer’s stunning “Beautiful Son,” about Dunis and bandmate/husband Aaron Coynes’ newborn, some of Cosmic Logic’s best tracks aim for the terrestrial. “Everyone and Us” hides quiet reflection in its funky synth bassline, and the irresistible “New Grrrls” tells of the struggles of being a working mom, from the perspective of an indie rock star (“Can’t stop to be just a mom/The choice to stay at home is gone/Worker, lover, mother, wife/Gotta do it all in this life”). Dunis’ untrained voice will be a barrier for some, but her plainspoken lack of affectation also helps ground these songs and keep them from drifting off into the ether. Listen to Cosmic Logic and enter an interstellar dance party with Peaking Lights.

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Genre: Rock

Girlpool (CD)

Girlpool

L.A. duo Girlpool pack more smarts and attitude into 15 minutes than most bands do in a lifetime on their debut, seven-song EP. They touch on great female-fronted rock bands of yore like The Slits, Young Marble Giants, The Breeders and Bikini Kill without being beholden to any of them. What comes out is a sort of minimalist, playfully feminist record about girls who don’t put up with shit—they’ll punch a dude for talking out of both sides of his mouth, as they sing on the seething “Jane,” or call out a guy for being a superficial baby, on “Blah Blah Blah.” Some of their work is really beautiful, too, like the sparkling “Plants and Worms,” relying on Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s bass and guitar interplay and unison vocals. Though some of the lyrics fall into clunky territory (“Slutmouth’s” “I don’t wanna get fucked by a fucked society”), their lyrics mostly work well by being direct yet uniquely stated, undercutting typical archetypes on the same song (“I don’t really care to brush my hair … I go to school every day, just to be made a housewife one day”). Girlpool mostly seem like they don’t care what you think of them—they’re clearly unstoppable, anyway. This EP promises great things to come from Girlpool.

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Genre: Rock

LOSE (CD)

Cymbals Eat Guitars

Cymbals Eat Guitars’ haven’t lost any of their radioactive intensity on their third album and first in three years. If anything, it’s just been amplified over the years. Joseph D’Agostino’s vocals cut like barbed wire, thin but jagged, on expansive opener “Jackson.” “Warning” is a quick flood of watery guitars and spit vocals. The band pulls out the harmonica and psychobilly guitars for the rushing “XR.” But touring over the years has clearly made the New York band more comfortable in their skins, and as such, they allow the songs to billow out but never get too comfortable, on extended pieces like the dynamic, melodic “Place Names” and eerily beautiful “Laramie.” Their songwriting remains tight, though, as the band can pull out a folksy character study like “Child Bride” and log it in nicely between the more massive tracks like swirling shoegazing closer “2 Hip Soul.” They’re not reinventing indie rock here, but along with N.Y.C. compatriots Parquet Courts, Cymbals Eat Guitars pull off the feat of making the genre feel alive and relevant again on LOSE.

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Genre: Rock

Singles (CD)

Future Islands

It’s a gutsy move to call your album Singles, but in the case of Future Islands, their fourth album and first for 4AD, it’s appropriate. The album is packed with songs that are both immaculately written and catchy as hell, as Future Islands mine new wave and pop-rock for all they’re worth. Just as lead singer Samuel Herring’s dynamite performance style and swingin’ dance moves have won people over (David Letterman, famously), the band gives it their all on songs like “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, is given the perfect backdrop of stargazing new-wave rock that should bring together fans of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cure to The Killers with lighter-waving glee. The synths of “Spirit” bring up memories of B-Movies “Nowhere Girl,” but Herring’s unique voice keep Future Islands from ever veering into purely nostalgic territory. “A Song For Our Grandfathers” is dreamy yet packs an emotional punch. Herring seems to get more and more insistent over the sprightly “Light House,” almost completely out of step with the band, yet it works so much better than it would have if he played it straight, getting in your face and making it impossible to merely have the song on in the background. On “Like the Moon,” a sexy, pulsating groove gives Herring the chance to kill it vocally, crooning romantically. But his best vocal performance comes next, on “Fall From Grace”—over a simple waltz, Herring goes deep into the bowels of his voice to deliver a performance somewhere between Tom Waits, The National’s Matt Berniger and a black metal singer. Charisma like his doesn’t come around all the time, and as a band, Future Islands are smart enough to stay out of the way while crafting terrific songs that stand on their own. Before you know it, you’ve listened to Singles like five times and still can’t wait to hear it again.

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Genre: Rock

LP1 (CD)

FKA twigs

Beautiful and talented U.K. singer/dancer FKA Twigs’ first full-length album is here to explode some minds. Her voice transports you to a world where reality and imagination is blurred to the point of pure ecstasy. Her style of unique ethereal R&B with a little bit of trip-hop is like a breath of fresh air with a cherry on top. - Nick@Nite, San Francisco my friend chris sent me a link last year and i was intrigued. minimal and eccentric, this record is so textured and effortless. it doesn't feel manufactured or forced, and the eerie wash of abstract sound comes alive with the whispery vocals. it is sensual and compelling and… rich.

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"What Is This Heart?" (CD)

How to Dress Well

How to Dress Well’s What Is This Heart? is still plenty idiosyncratic, even as it sits among the likes of The Weeknd, Miguel and the last Beyonce album in terms of future-thinking R&B that gives equal footing to adventurousness and hookiness. Free of the lo-fi aesthetic of his early work,What Is This Heart? is a bold-faced record about love, placing Krell’s gorgeous voice front and center on songs like “Face Again,” in which he sings “kiss me on my face again and tell me what love’s supposed to be.” Krell’s voice gets cut up and digitally pitch shifted amid nighttime synthesizers, minimalist funk beats and light touches of acoustic guitar, strings and piano, and the resulting songs sound like whispered promises, quiet declarations of love given musical form. Impossibly sexy and staunchly idealistic, What Is This Heart? looks like the love album of the year.

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Genre: Rock

Jungle (CD)

Jungle

On their self-titled debut, U.K. duo Jungle craft low-key, immediately likeable and unexpectedly soulful electro-pop in the mold of The Beta Band, Miike Snow and Hot Chip. On songs like “The Heat,” scattered city sounds like children playing or police sirens, taken together with bright synthesizers and classic R&B songwriting, feel like a stroll through a city park, colors and sounds bleeding into one another. “Busy Earnin,’” which presents updated Philly soul through the eyes of British knob twiddlers, has the feel of a socially uplifting AM radio classic, while “Time” is hazy slice of synth-funk that feels inspired, taking familiar influences but building out their own sound. It’s the rare act that can pull off this sort of thing without seeming superficial or disingenuous—Jungle make it work by including quieter passages like “Smoking Pixels,” an contemplative instrumental recalling prog-pop of the past like 10cc or Godley & Cream. And songs like “Julia” can’t help but feel cinematic with their implied street drama and spacey synths, soundtracking some imagined sci-fi cop movie. With their solid debut LP, Jungle capture an updated cosmopolitan sound that should land them on every cool movie, TV show and festival show bill from here to across the pond.

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After The End (CD)

Merchandise

If you like post-punk music at all, your favorite new band will probably be Merchandise. With a bit of Pulp’s swagger, the Cure’s emotional yet economical guitarwork and the dramatic grandiosity of Morrissey’s solo work, Merchandise nail every nuance on their new album, After the End. Big, shimmering chords on “Enemy” announce their arrival with the kind of bravado that leaves you a little breathless, incredulous that this isn’t a song or band you’ve heard before. Singer Carson Cox’s throaty tenor fills the space that isn’t carved out by his bandmates nicely, on ballads like the stunning “Life Outside the Mirror.” It’s a solid listen, but After the End particularly shines on its singles, like “Little Killer,” the riff of which is catchy enough to leave you tracking back again and again to get that feeling all over again. While After the End is an immensely enjoyable album, the elephant in the room is that, however immaculately made, it’s not the most original thing you’ve ever heard—“Green Lady” is great, with its stuttering beat, big guitar riffs and sure, why not, some sitar, but it could easily be a Morrissey outtake. No matter. Originality will come in time. For now, Merchandise reach a very specific itch, that youthful feeling of discovering a new favorite band who just flat out gets it. No trickery, nothing too out of the ordinary, just some of the best pop music you’ve heard in ages.

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Genre: Rock

Queen Of The Clouds (CD)

Tove Lo

Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Nilsson, better known as Tove Lo, has been gaining momentum and mainstream attention since 2012. In her debut EP Truth Serum the pop phenomenon unabashedly admits, “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs/Watching freaky people getting it on.” It wasn’t until that track “Habits (Stay High)” off Truth Serum was remixed by experimental hip-hop producers Hippie Sabotage that Tove Lo received international attention. Now that she has received the attention of the masses, her true confessional has begun. Much like her debut EP, Queen Of The Clouds remains brash and earnest, although it now takes on a narrative style that the full-length has afforded her. The album is split into three different segments: “The Sex,” “The Love,” and “The Pain.” “The Sex” culminates in an almost hyper-dance orgasm “Timebomb.” The climactic triumph of which is only made realistic by Tove recounting, “You’re not forever, you’re not the one.” Her playful lyricism becomes more of a self-effacing tool during her love song “Moments” where she lists all of her faults and explains, “…but on good days I’m charming as fuck.” The pain of this awareness is overshadowed by her hit single “Habits (Stay High)” which is a shockingly deep portrait of a personal relationship and the effects it had on her. The synergy between this open-book mentality and out and out club beats make this debut a lyrically dark dance charmer.

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Genre: Rock

Encyclopedia (CD)

The Drums

Conceived by its members as the fusion between a synth take on The Sound of Music and amelodic No Wave, The Drums craft compellingly tumultuous music on Encyclopedia. Thrilling opener “Magic Mountain” is about as far from The Drums’ first album and its sunny Cure-at-the-beach vibe as you could get, its highwire vocal doing battle against fraught guitars and theramin. You can hear that Sound of Music thing on songs like “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him,” a girl-group-style ode to drifting apart with shooting-star synthesizers and misery-laden guitars. “Kiss Me Again” feels a bit like The Drums’ earlier work, particularly the more frantic Portamento, but the newness comes in how adventurous founding members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham allow themselves to be melodically while remembering how great they are at writing hooks like “kiss me again” sung out into infinity. Encyclopedia is definitely more of a bummer record, but there are some really nice classical melodies buried under the mopeyness and experimentation—“Break My Heart” is a great Brian Wilson-style lament, even as it slowly struts off the pier. And when they go full force on the “Face of God,” it’s like a surf song about a tidal wave, as its vocals suggest tragedy and its bassline and synths creep too far upward to tingle at the back of your neck. It’s like the aural equivalent of losing your innocence and becoming bitter, reminiscent of Weezer’s evolution from The Blue Album to Pinkerton, full of catchy tunes that are chewed and spit out. So Encylopedia stings a little, but in a good way.   

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Genre: Rock