This Month's Picks

Syro (CD)

Aphex Twin

In a rare double-blessing, the last two years have given us not only a new album by My Bloody Valentine but another artist iconic of the ’90s, Aphex Twin. Syro plays as a collection of just about everything Richard Davis James does best, fusing jungle beats to gorgeous ambient tapestries on stunning opener “Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix],” taking us through dense synth explorations on tracks like the 10-minute “Xmas_Evet10 [120][Thanaton3 Mix]” and vibing off hip-hop and synth funk on “Produk 29 [101].” Vocals appear now and then (from James and his family), offering skewed, incomprehensible chatter that adds to the liveliness of “Produk 29 [101]” and giving “Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix]” its grabbing human element, pulling you into the rest of the album. Though he used some 138 pieces of equipment and shifted his set up every few minutes while recording Syro, that seems to have had an energizing effect on James, and the result is a sharp, if varied piece of work that hangs together beautifully, flowing from scenic but heady pieces like “4 Bit 9d Api+E+6 [126.26]” to hard-hitting bass tracks such as “180db_ [130].” There aren’t many shocking moments on Syro like, say, “Come to Daddy’s” shrieking wail, nor does it push listeners to their extreme limit like the challenging Drukqs did, but accessibility doesn’t mar Syro. Rather, even despite their straight-off-the-hard-drive titles, tracks like “Papat4 [155][Pineal Mix]” are really breathtaking pieces of music, designed for immersion rather than to filter listeners out. Just like m b v, we had no right to expect Syro would be this good, much less that it would be released at all, which makes it all the better. Simply put, it’s one of the most instantly enjoyable collections of music James has ever released.

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Black Moon Spell (CD)

King Tuff

When King Tuff released his breakthrough self-titled album in 2012, he came off as a successor to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, alone and stoned in his room and writing perfect power-pop gems. But like Bolan before him, who started with a few English folk albums before going glam, King Tuff aka Kyle Thomas seems to have set his sights higher this time around, filling out the sound with full-bodied heavy rock riffs and pushing his nasal wail into a wolf’s howl. Like King Tuff’s “Anthem,” “Black Moon Spell’s” big fat riff sounds pulled out from the ether, like it was always there, judging by the way it nestles into your skull. “Rainbow’s Run” calls to mind another garage-rock luminary, Ty Segall, in the way it takes a simple glam structure and pours acid all over it, impossible distortion and flailing solos flying off the edges. Though there’s a winking hair-metal touch to Black Moon Spell, songs like “Headbanger” (complete with demonic opening) don’t stray so far from the glam-garage foundation that it’s jarring—and Thomas’ voice is too cartoonish and the songs are too damn catchy to really scare off any garage kids, anyway. Even a song called “Demon From Hell” is more fey and punk than hellish, despite pushing the sound into the red. If there’s one thing Black Moon Spell is, it’s a great guitar album, as songs like “Eyes of the Muse” prove, starting with a ’70s AM radio gold jangle and moving into psychedelic, searching riffs, while Bobby Harlow’s production practically places the drums in your living room. There hasn’t been a better album released this year to play air guitar and drums to than Black Moon Spell.

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Genre: Rock

Chinese Fountain (CD)

The Growlers

The Growlers had previously announced their fourth album would be “more grown up, well polished.” Would our rabble-rousing O.C. kids who were Hung at Heart on their last album ditch the garage for something mature? The answer is a half-yes. On Chinese Fountain, the band successfully adds new elements to their sound while retaining their core garage-rock appeal. After throwing their fans a few bones with the saloon jangle of “Big Toe” and heartbreak rock of “Black Memories,” the title track introduces swirling synths and funk guitars to the mix, a bid at stadium rock ‘n’ roll although still with a nice grit to it and non sequiturs about our retro-obsessed yet technologically saturated society (“even disco seems pop”; “every little kid wants a computer in his pocket”; “the Internet gets bigger than Jesus and John Lennon”). These prove welcome additions to their sound, as the band gives a light reggae touch to “Dull Boy” and makes nods to ’80s bands like Blondie, The Cure and the Pixies (on the surging “Good Advice”). Brooks Nielsen’s vocals and lyrics, in particular, feel improved, as Nielsen proves he has more to say than the average SoCal garage dude—“that ain’t a home; it’s a furnace in need of some matches” he sings weerily on “Magnificent Sadness,” while “Good Advice” suggests, “there’s nothing as depressing as good advice, nobody wants to hear how to live their life.” It may not be quite as cohesive as some of their other work, but Chinese Fountain finds the band in top form, nonetheless. Maybe maturity ain’t such a bad thing after all. 

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Genre: Rock

Tribal (CD)

Imelda May

The overall brassiness of rockabilly lends itself very well to Dublin’s Imelda May. It is always a dicey proposition to attempt to reclaim a genre of a bygone era. Luckily Imelda May seems to have good intentions. Well, maybe not good intentions…but this is no cheesy throwback or retro cash grab. On her fourth record, Tribal, May seems to have perfected her blend of contemporary rockabilly, new wave and straight-ahead bad-ass pop. The dozen tunes written by May and her husband (and guitarist) Darrel Higman swing from genre to genre with ease. From the high octane "Tribal" to the dreamy '50s malt shop inspired "Little Pixie" to the downright sleazy blues of "Wicked Way," this effortless cohesion is maintained solely by Imelda’s rockabilly sensibilities. All of which leads the listener to get a sense of the importance of the tribe to which she is referring.

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Genre: Rockabilly

Commune (CD)

Goat

The second studio record by this Swedish based Avant-Collective whose cult-like presence and mysticism indicate that the band has been operating in a far off land for the last 30 to 40 years. Their first album, World Music, filled with fiery jams and afro dance grooves, seemed to journey through space and time, sending the listener traveling the vistas of the world in the acid wash past of the '60s. Commune, by comparison, transcends space and time. The opening tribal gongs of "Talk To God" create a sense of some sacred initiation. As the gong fades the eastern guitars and hypnotic percussion tumble you forward. It isn’t until the jarring gnarl of the other worldly chant hits your bones that you notice you are part of the ceremony. Meditative pace lulls you into a thirty minute hazy trance. All at once, swept up in the dance, you conjure memories of icy Swedish witch burning ceremonies. Your primal communing of all other beings talking to god. Your God. You chant “INTO THE FIRE! INTO THE FIRE!” A gong rings. The memory fades. You have been converted.

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Genre: Rock

Human Voice (CD)

Dntel

Dntel, solo producer by the name of Jimmy Tamborello has long been creating soundscapes for others to put their human voice over. With Human Voice Tamborello has refused listeners the rights to their own language. Instead, he has created a world where connection is fleeting, melody is deconstructed, and all “voices” mechanized. An interesting proposition when the bulk of your listeners associate your music with Death Cab For Cutie’s emotive crooner Ben Gibbard. Nevertheless, the gambit pays off. Amidst the bits and grids of Human Voice, the mechanized voices morph through layered synths and staccato beats from the unintelligible to a distinct melodic pattern and back again. After 8 tracks It gives the listener the feeling of having communicated with a being not unlike a robot Ben Gibbard.

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This Is All Yours (CD)

Alt-J

With a sophomore record, there tends to be quite a bit at stake. All too often an act tries in vain to access the same immediacy and power that they were able to flaunt in their first release. Not to mention how much time and energy a band has had to craft their first etchings into popular consciousness. A second record is somewhat of a second chance these days to prove that you can still do that thing people liked, or at least fake it. English Indie rockers Alt-J are clearly an exception. Their second effort, This Is All Yours, is an example of a band using their second chance as a “give ‘em an inch, take a mile” credo. Coming off the commercial success of An Awesome Wave the now trio is taking some chances with their already defined sound. This Is All Yours blends similar electronics and harmonies from the first record with sound collage ("Every Other Freckle"), folk ballads ("Choice Kingdom"), so-cal funk ("Left Hand Free"), and even a Miley Cyrus Sample ("Hunger of the Pine"). An Innovative leap from a band that otherwise could have left well alone.

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Genre: Rock

Too Bright (CD)

Perfume Genius

Aptly named third album from Seattle based Mike Hadreas. With his previous output Hadreas had depended heavily on his lyrical prowess to shine through his sparse piano compositions. With tracks like “Queen” and “My Body” the lyrical dependence of dealing with his place in society as a gay man remains, but the self-effacing and fearful panic is barely contained. Instead, it is let out in focused evanescent bursts. Aided by the production of Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Too Bright is a perfect example of an artist catching up with his thoughts and being able to express his deeper feelings through his craft.

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Genre: Rock

The Master (CD)

Ustad Sultan Khan, Warren Cuccurullo

Ustad Sultan Khan, India's greatest sarangi player of modern times, collaborates with former Duran Duran and Frank Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo on this 1998 recording session. You've never heard either of these musicians in such a context.

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Genre: World

I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss (CD)

Sinéad O'Connor

Ireland’s most iconic female artists does not disappoint after 30 years in the business. Her latest album is passionate and direct, yet with an overarching fragility; her voice is a weapon, as powerful as it is tender.

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Genre: Rock