This Month's Picks

Narco Cultura (DVD)

If you want to know more about what is going on down south, check out this unflinching doc on the music and violence in Mexico.

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House of Cards Season 2 [Score] (CD)

Jeff Beal

Everyone’s favorite twisted political power couple gets soundtracked with an appropriately tense blend of classy orchestration and cosmopolitan electronic touches.

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Genre: Soundtracks

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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Into The Wide (CD)

Delta Spirit

Festival favorites Delta Spirit present their fourth studio album, which teams them up with producer Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Cut Copy). The sound is darker and more dramatic on their most compelling album yet.

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Genre: Rock

This Machine Kills Artists (CD)

King Buzzo

It seems fitting that the debut solo acoustic full length from Melvins fronthuman Buzzo Osbourne has a title as unrepentantly snarky as it does, a cruel pun on the post-Guthrie/Strummer pretensions of the rocker picking up an acoustic instrument and going it alone for the sake of truth, earnestness, and simplicity, the tender ethics of "unplugging." Seems like the kind of thing Buzzo would snort at and yet he made the record anyway--and it's not particularly snarky past its title. TMKA is a sprawling collection of simply overdubbed raga-like meditations for steel string acoustic guitar, recalling mostly very serious music following the same pattern: Roy Harper, acoustic Led Zeppelin and, particularly, acoustic Hawkwind whose reverbed and echoed vocals are mimicked here with a far-away, ominous, psychedelic effect. The riffage has a lot in common with Buzzo's work with the Melvins: sounds from the same dark, occasionally bluesy wellspring where both grunge and stoner metal at one time met to hydrate. These days grunge is an anachronism, a performance of something barely remembered, but on this record, the listener gets a bizarre reminder that its roots were usually in mean classic rock; Buzzo's decidedly normal-guy-singing-metal vocals speak to grunge's regular "lazy guy" take on that mean classic rock in a way that normally gets buried in the soundwall of the perpetually timeless, electrified Melvins. At the end of the day, TMKA feels very traditional in terms of its dark 70s rock lineage, a new release in a large and growing family of angry midnight stoner ragas, the product of the aforementioned bards (Harper, Hawkwind, & Page, but also people like Peter Hammill) and time spent alone with a guitar. Exceeded expectations.

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Genre: Rock

Ultraviolence (CD)

Lana Del Rey

Grandiose, campy, over-the-top. Lots of descriptors have been lobbed at Lizzy Grant’s Lana del Rey character and her music. With the release of her second full-length, Ultraviolence, we’ll add a few more to the list: strong, consistent and gorgeous. Though it’s far from a perfect record, Ultraviolence gives some fire to the Lana del Rey camp and dampens her detractors who would deride her as a thimble-deep product of the record industry. The album begins with a pair of expansive, powerful slow-burners that sound like Julee Cruise’s reverbed-out, revisionist ’50s ballads blown out to arena-filling proportions. “Shades of Cool,” in particular, is one spine-tingling moment after another. The music, full of Bond riffs, intentionally schmaltzy strings and walls of reverb, threatens to swallow del Rey’s breathy coo, and that seems like the point. You feel overwhelmed along with her. But that shouldn’t imply that she’s a non-presence. Far from it; who else could sell a pair of cheese-whizzed lines like those in “Brooklyn Baby”? (“Well my boyfriend’s in the band, he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed. I’ve got feathers in my hair, and I get down to beat poetry.”) It’s easy to throw stones at del Rey when you’re not the intended audience, but to kids listening, these seemingly hamfisted references could be crucial. And a song like “Pretty When You Cry” is a self-pity ballad for young sad girls and boys, queer kids and outcasts to sing into the mirror. We need music like that, and to that end, we’ll take Lana over Pink, Britney or any number of divas that came before her. There are some stinkers, particularly on the album’s second half—songs like “Money, Power, Glory” and “Fucked My Way Up to the Top” fall into the same exploitative traps that some of the aforementioned divas fell into, though there’s an undeniable panache to their crassness. But late album songs like “The Other Women,” with its sultry sax and casual confidence, hold your attention even as the album runs long. Ultraviolence ultimately feels like the kind of album Lana del Rey should make, intentionally big, totally entertaining and cool because it tries to be.

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Genre: Rock

Seek Warmer Climes (CD)

Lower

Lower may have the post-hardcore album of the year on their hands on Seek Warmer Climes. The band has been compared with fellow Danes Iceage, and like that band, Lower take hardcore punk to epic proportions not seen since the heyday of bands like Fugazi or ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. This isn't to say they can't be pithy; on rumbling opener "Another Life," their atonality is fist-pumpingly catchy and Adrian Toubro's wolf-like barks and cries keep you rapt, and "Lost Weight, Perfect Skin" shows us they know their way around a hooky riff. But Lower aren't looking to make friends. On centerpiece "Expanding Horizons (Dar es Salaam)," their dirtied guitars trudge through the wilderness for more than seven minutes as Toubro sings "we travel far, expand our horizon, but in the process I see that no horizon will ever benefit me." However bleak the worldview may seem on Seek Warmer Climes, the album is never a drag. It's a thrilling, lightning bolt of a record that loudly announces the arrival of yet another great band from Copenhagen's underground.

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Genre: Rock

Ishi (CD)

M. Geddes Gengras

Future new age/ambient classic from the LA modular explorer; known for his expansive collaborations with Akron/Family, Sun Araw, and The Congos. Ishi receives its name from the last "wild native American"... Ged succeeds in bringing natural instincts to technology; remember to forget.

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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

Remedy (CD)

Old Crow Medicine Show

Nu-bluegrass superstars return with album 5 of their updated and energetic take on old timey music. The seven piece ensemble was recently inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and their membership there should be an indicator of how far this band has come from its days busking on streetcorners. Old Crow is, these days, a full fledged institution of Americana, a crossover smash with fans of both rock and country. The new album was produced by Ted Hutt, whose work producing Flogging Molly and as a sort of in-house producer for SideOneDummy has steeped him in capturing both high energy performances and genuine folk-rootsy sounds.  The lyrics are as clever as ever and feature wry takes on country classics like conjugal visits and romantic alcoholism among classic ballads and love songs.  As usual, the bluegrass musicianship is top notch and the band's harmonies sound effortless and tight as ever, gliding high and lonesome over the intricate interplay of the band's nuanced picking and strumming.

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Genre: Country