This Month's Picks

Ol' Wheeler (CD)

Wheeler Walker Jr.
Are the usual heroes of outlaw country too tame for you? Want a rollickin’ dose of honky-tonk tunes that'll make you sit up and say “WTF” then spin in your seat to make sure none of your coworkers heard anything? If so, then you might be ready for Wheeler Walker Jr.’s Ol’ Wheeler . Walker Jr., (who is actually the alter ego of comedian Ben Hoffman), is a hard-livin’, skirt-chasin’, ultra vulgar and often hilarious raconteur whose songs tell tales of wild nights and wilder women. And the thing is, the music is really good. It’s a funny record, but there’s more to recommend Ol’ Wheeler than just comedy. (“Summers in Kentucky” actually borders on romantic and sort of touching…before the R-rated lyrics start interjecting themselves.) The album is definitely NSFW, but if you’re a fan of traditional country with a high threshold for crude content, you’ll find yourself reaching to turn up the volume — as long as no one easily offended is around. More
Genre: Country

Voyager (CD)

You'd figure with a name like Moonchild, you'd be ready to brace for a King Crimson prog band or some spacey, out there weirdness. Instead, Moonchild is an ethereal, neo-soul trio that gets so smooth, your body might melt into a puddle. Combing jazz harmonics, quiet vocals, and funky riffs that haven't been heard like this since 1989, Moonchild's third album, Voyager , follows in the path of beat heavy jazz that's been paved by the likes of Madlib, Kendrick Lamar, and Flying Lotus. It's a hard album to pin down and it makes sense that they've toured with acts as diverse as The Internet, Stevie Wonder, and Jill Scott, while securing the blessings of Robert Glasper and Tyler, the Creator. The rhythms are straight ahead R&B, relying on grooves that feel primed to be chopped and mixed, and the drumming is clean, heavy, and bass-filled. The real highlight is the mix of instruments that are missing from music today, including that one-of-a-kind vibe of a Fender Rhodes; a sound drastically longed for since 1980. This is a perfect as late night music gets. The first single, "Cure", opens with one extended synth note over quiet jazz guitar and snaps, and then lead-singer Amber Navran's voice coos in somewhere between cafe indie folkie and diva bravado. It's a delicate balance that never teeters into over-the-top showiness and highlights her restrain with the material as her voice blends beautifully with the melodies. "Show The Way" feels like an early-'90s sleeper hit. It combines bossa nova-like rhythms with just a bit of hip-hip inflection to sculpt a track that's pure concentrated cool to the nth degree. The mood is relaxing and one listen feels like a cleanse for your ears and mind. So smooth. So funky. More
Genre: Jazz

You're Welcome (CD)

A brash title for the sixth full-length from Wavves and deservedly so, as Nathan Williams gives us the gift that keeps on giving in the form of sleek, poppy choruses over raucous garage rock. Continuing in the same vein of 2015’s V , Wavves adds a bit more sonic exploration this time around, emulating fractured versions of your favorite artists, whether it’s the mechanical glam stomp of “Million Enemies” coming on like a demented DEVO and Gary Glitter hybrid, or the title track that sounds like Weezer convened with mid-aughts Animal Collective. The most unique iteration of Wavves thus far, You’re Welcome might be the smartest punk album of 2017. More
Genre: Rock

Stubborn Persistent Illusions (CD)

Do Make Say Think
Longtime Toronto-based collective Do Make Say Think continues to crescendo their place into the post-rock pantheon. In a genre that is most frequently described as “cinematic,” Stubborn Persistent Illusions definitely has its share of widescreen moments. “Bound” opens with twinkling arpeggiated guitars and bubbling synths over shuffling drums, continuously working up to a big, wordless refrain that radiates pure joy. It’s Explosions In The Sky by way of Neil Young’s ranch, a pastoral sound that sounds like it was captured in an open field with a billion stars blinking all around. However, it’s the diversions into farther, more abstract spaces that set DMST aside from the purely major-key histrionics of their contemporaries, as the very next track, “And Boundless,” changes course into jarring rhythms and sharp blasts of guitar and organ before settling into a sustained melancholia. It’s not quite pure dissonance, but an angular arrangement that’s closer to Swans than Sigur Rós. Elsewhere, “Her Eyes on the Horizon” is a folk jam heard from the other room, just before walking into the glorious sound of the band achieving critical mass and blasting off into the heavens. For those who might think there’s nothing left to be done in the world of instrumental rock, Stubborn Persistent Illusions widens the palette and raises the bar. A constantly engaging and evolving work of art. More
Genre: Rock

Undercurrent (CD)

On his sixth album in 13 years, Matisyahu says, "This is the first album I've made that is produced by myself and the band without any outside forces involved. It's my baby. No compromises, full artistic integrity." Undercurrent underplays the stylistic flourishes of his previous albums and is a fairly subdued examination of Jewish faith through mellow reggae beats and old school styles. Written and produced by Matisyahu and his longtime band, there's a tightness in the sound and experimentation that comes from real camaraderie and friendship. Matisyahu gives the band enough room to stretch and go in directions that aren't really expected of reggae. Maybe it's connected to the holy aspects he's trying to examine in his album, but there's this spiritual sense that the band taps into that no one else can quite do. "Step Out Into the Light" starts off with a type of reggae vibe before it goes into a spaghetti Western-ish riff that's dramatic and spacious. The lyrics themselves are almost free verse as he scopes a type of imagery that veers into the surreal and subconscious. He's channeling some real emotion through his work without ever sounding contrived. "Back to the Old" is a direct retelling of Abraham's story after God's trial. But Matisyahu makes the story more of a spiritual journey than the Judeo-Christian roots of the original by combining his careful lyricism with music that's more emotional and less reggae than anything he's done before. Undercurrent seems to be Matisyahu dealing with grander spiritual issues than he ever has before, but it's done so sophisticatedly and sensitively that it never fumbles. More
Genre: Reggae

California [Deluxe Edition] (CD)

Blink-182's first album after Tom DeLonge's departure was a massive hit and reached number 1 on multiple charts, including the Billboard 200. Maybe Matt Skiba (formerly of Alkaline Trio) brought a new dynamism and style of singing to the band to freshen things up just enough. But this new deluxe edition isn't some cheap way to cash in on an already popular album. It's an expansion featuring songs that couldn't fit on the initial release and newly recorded material that compliments the album's narrative, so it's more of a "Director's Cut" of an already excellent album. "Wildfire" might be one of the best tracks they've made. Its frenetic and constant energy is barely contained in the classic pop punk style and it has the youthful recklessness that made us fall in love with them in the first place. If the production was a little rawer, you'd be convinced it came from Enema of the State . On the other end of the spectrum, there's the acoustic version of "Bored to Death." Instead of the 100mph, breakneck speed and force of the original, the acoustic version has a breathless, freer sound that feels like a complete re-imagining of the track. It's as close to coffee house folk as Blink-182 will ever get. "6/8," their most aggressive track to date, feels like it could have been from another band. Its anger, bitterness, and strange 6/8 time signature sounds like it fits closer in the world of proggy metal than pop punk. The deluxe edition of California is a perfect expansion of an already great album. The extra tracks add enough meat to make the album and turns it into a whole other beast. It ranks among the best of their entire catalog. More
Genre: Rock

The God Box (CD)

David Banner
“Hip-hop hasn’t changed. I think the environment has and hip-hop is just a reflection of that,” says rapper David Banner. And he makes it clear that hip-hop has a place in America's current political climate. Following his excellent mixtape Before The Box , The God Box has been in the works for years. After being delayed multiple times, it's finally here. Tying it in with a lecture series he's been doing across the country, David Banner rejects the worst habits of mediocre hip-hop and makes an album that embraces deep thought, political ideology, and black identity. It rejects the stereotypes that have formed around the biggest hits of modern rap and embraces a socio-political message that seemed to be radiating from the genre in the mid-2000s. The album's first single, "Who Want It" featuring Black Thought of the Roots and the trio Watch the Duck, is an angry, loud manifesto and letter to 2017. The fact this album took so many years makes sense as it explodes with energy and rawness from the first bang of the first track. It's only a taste of The God Box ; an album ready to be a cry to arms for the socially conscious and the open minded. It's not just what hip-hop needs, but what music needs. More
Genre: Hip Hop

Avrakedabra (CD)

Morgan Heritage
In an era where Drake uses Jamaican producers and dancehall riddims in his hit singles, the nostalgia and desire for classic reggae is more apparent than ever. Although those sharp drum kicks, the dubby echo, and that bouncing rhythm are appropriated by artists all the time, the sunshiney, feel good vibe of Bob Marley has still been missing. But Morgan Heritage has that roots tradition right in their name. The songs are rooted in the foundation of classic reggae, but they mix it up just enough with synthesizers and modern production tricks to avoid this from sounding like a fossil. Taking styles of hip-hop and borrowing from the genre that borrowed from them, reggaeton, Avrakedabra is arguably the happiest, most upbeat album of the year. Following their Grammy Award winning 2015 album, Strictly Roots , the new record is an incredibly eclectic mix. "Selah" is less roots based and full blown dub. From the distant, mechanical sounds of the drum to the drops of disco whistle sounds, it's a modern take on the classic Jamaican sound. The vocals are pure modern R&B with rich layers and harmonies that contrast perfectly with the mellow rhythm. "Reggae Nights" is pure joy and a testament to the power of music. Its instantly addictive melody kicks in with lyrics that are instructions on how to listen to this album. Let your body and inhibitions go and dance to this. The music will take you over and you'll soon forget all your problems. Avrakedabra is bound to get your blood pumping, your heart going, and your body moving. More
Genre: Reggae

All The Beauty In This Whole Life (CD)

Brother Ali
It's been five years since Brother Ali released his last album, Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color , and his latest record, All the Beauty In this Whole Life , couldn't have come at a better time. With the country's cultural and political climate as it is, Brother Ali's soulful, insightful lyrics and delivery are a much needed salve. "Own Light (What Hearts Are For)" is full of the emotional desperation many of us must be feeling in 2017, but it is also hopeful and motivational in a way that doesn't patronize or sugar coat. Atmosphere's Anthony "Ant" Davis' production on "Never Learn" creates a dazed, crawling funk with subtle percussive touches and cool R&B rhythm guitar. Brother Ali starts with a vulnerable, introspective chorus, full of rumination and hurt, but quickly switches to the vocal dominance of his powerful, kinetic verses. The tone of Ali's music shows that while he may possess a confidence and faith that keeps him pushing forward, he too is not without pain and confusion. More
Genre: Hip Hop

Pollinator (CD)

Blondie are back and just as groovy and fun as ever! Filled with disco-punk attitude, catchy guitar hooks, and creamy keyboards, Pollinator finds the band in their fourth decade and giving all the downtown cool indie rockers that have come along since their debut a run for their money. Original members Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Clem Burke have perhaps matured in perspective, as heard in "My Monster," which points to some of the trivial insecurities of youth, but the sonic sensibilities of the band haven't changed much from their original material. With its muted, funky rhythm guitar, pulsating bass line, and infectious vocals "Fun" captures the magic of classic Blondie, while still feeling fresh and contemporary. While Pollinator is certainly a heavily layered, highly produced album, Debbie Harry's vocals still feel pure and unaltered, and never masked or buried by the lavish backing track. More
Genre: Rock