Rock

Katharsis (CD)
Santa Cruz's new album is the first since the fallout of the original lineup, allowing frontman Archie Cruz to take the reins and new guitarist Pav Cruz to shine. “Changing The Seasons” is a dark and fiery track with metalcore elements, while “Tell Me Why” embraces '80s pop metal with a stadium-ready chorus. It's precisely this combination that has drawn both camps to this quickly rising Finnish band and one that they seem to be digging into even deeper with this new release. Read more
Screamer (CD)

For their sixth studio album, Third Eye Blind branched out by pulling in Billy Corgan as musical advisor and securing guest turns from electronic/synth artists like Sleigh Bells' Alison Krauss and Ryan Olson of Marijuana Deathsquads and Poliça. The title track is uplifting, polished-but-fuzzy pop-rock that really benefits from the Sleigh Bells stomp and angelic Krauss vocals. “Walk Like Kings” is a more subdued pop song with tongue-in-cheek slang delivered in Stephan Jenkins' familiar lispy vocals. The album follows up their 2018 EP, Thanks For Everything, with a suitable bang.

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Metal Galaxy (CD)

The formula behind Babymetal’s sound is a genre mashup that reads like an internet fever dream; which, in 2019, is more often than not a progenitor of sounds to come. A combination of J-pop singing and aesthetic with technically proficient death metal-esque accompaniment, Babymetal are credited with pioneering “kawaii metal,” captivating fans and confounding skeptics everywhere since their debut. Metal Galaxy is their third album overall, and while the bizarre nature of their sound might still play like an elaborate joke to some, the craftsmanship and commitment of Babymetal is undeniable. While earlier releases were a fairly straightforward (if you could call it that) combination of J-pop and metal, Metal Galaxy incorporates more disparate musical elements into the mix. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Shanti Shanti Shanti,” a single unabashedly built on a Bollywood melody and instrumentation. With lead singer Suzuka incorporating some uncanny vocal trills into her childlike delivery, as well as a sitar and distorted guitar doubling the main riff, “Shanti” is the unlikely yet catchy combination of symphonic metal and Indian pop. These eccentricities are not limited to one song by any means: “PA PA YA!!,” not to be outdone, features a huge, EDM-worthy synth line alternating with its screamed eponymous refrain, over an up-tempo dance beat and almost pop-punk guitar riffage. If it all sounds too wild to be true, you owe it to yourself to experience Metal Galaxy firsthand. Babymetal, man. What a time to be alive.

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Immunity (CD)

Singer/songwriter Clairo found viral fame in 2017 with her song "Pretty Girl" and its accompanying low-key bedroom video. On her debut full-length album, Immunity, which was co-produced by Rostam Batmanglij, she stretches into new, more mature territory with interesting arrangements. “Sofia,” for instance, has more dynamics than your standard lo-fi pop and offers a substantial melody contrasted with busy percussion and interludes of staticky guitar. “Bags” and “Alewife” have more indie rock flair, with the keys in the chorus of “Bags” sounding almost like a child's organ. Perhaps the real trick is that none of the songs are swallowed up by heavy production - even the autotune on “Closer To You” feels like a natural touch for the dreaminess of the track. These are heartfelt songs with lyrics that cut to the core.

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Easter Is Cancelled (CD)

As the spartan time of Lent unfolds, and society looks set to implode, it’s time to put away your chocolate eggs, say goodbye to the festive bunny, and prepare for the sonic apocalypse... for Darkness spreads across the land! In their inimitable style, as joyous warriors here to prick the pompous and kick the butts of those who seek to destroy us, the four maestros embark upon their most ambitious quest to date. They are men in tight costumes, ready to fight the power-drunk clowns who cast a shadow of despair across the land.

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Angel's Pulse (CD)

Dev Hynes of Blood Orange has another hit on his hands with the short-but-oh-so-sweet Angel’s Pulse. Similar in vibe to a mixtape, Angel’s Pulse is a collection of odds and ends from previous recording sessions, often featuring star turns from some big name collaborators. The atmosphere changes and evolves seamlessly over the course of the album's runtime; Gangsta Boo and Project Pat go hard on “Gold Teeth” and Toro y Moi gets seductive and smooth on “Dark & Handsome.” There’s a Blood Orange song for every mood on this excellent, eclectic release.

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All Mirrors (CD)

Angel Olsen tries her hand at baroque pop on the stirring All Mirrors. Lush with cinematic strings and buoyed by overarching emotion, it’s a powerful evolution for Olsen, who sounds very comfortable experimenting here in the dark. Longtime fans will appreciate the album’s eclecticism; in addition to Olsen’s more gothic-tinged numbers, there are still plenty of stripped down, raw ballads. All Mirrors seems likely to slot high on many a year-end best-of list.

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A Pill For Loneliness (CD)

Alexisonfire vocalist and guitarist Dallas Green releases his sixth solo album under the City & Colour moniker with A Pill For Loneliness. It’s a fitting title for Green’s eternally melancholy brand of singer/songwriter rock, as these 11 songs often sound like the product of a solitary mind, yearning for meaningful human connection. The song names themselves hint as much; “Strangers,” “Me and the Moonlight,” and “Astronaut” all suggest the loneliness of the title, yet in markedly different ways. “Strangers” takes a post-punk beat and relentlessly minor-key melody in a desperate plea for reconciliation, while “Astronaut” is an expansive, post-Britpop ballad that gradually turns into an extended psych guitar workout, sounding like the intersection between such strange bedfellows as Coldplay, The Verve, and Mazzy Star. The lyrics may often be heavy, but that doesn’t mean the experience has to be, as A Pill For Loneliness features a wonderful cornucopia of sounds and textures in its tireless exploration of the state of being eternally bummed out.

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Ode To Joy (CD)

One of the most revered bands of the past 2+ decades, Wilco earned their lofty reputation particularly on Jeff Tweedy and Co.’s determination and ability to continually innovate; a sonic restlessness that led to band’s creative peak in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, including some of the best music of the era from anyone. Since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, however, the latter half of Wilco’s catalogue has settled into a much more familiar groove. The dogged experimentation that was the band’s driving creative engine was replaced with a far more comfortable sense of songwriting acumen, as Jeff Tweedy pulled from bits and pieces of Wilco’s past to craft a series of solid, mature albums that served almost as tidy summaries of what could be defined as the onetime shapeshifting group’s “sound.”

 

On Ode To Joy, that pattern is broken. Not since A Ghost Is Born (or, some could argue, the aforementioned Sky) has a Wilco album so eschewed expectation, and that sense of unpredictability is more than welcome. The tidiness of the past few albums is gone, replaced with a minimal, stripped-down sound that tends to heavily emphasize acoustic instruments along with Glenn Koetche’s drums, rendering everything else a wispy breeze. Though it’s not exactly “Spiders Kidsmoke” part 2, on songs like “Everyone Hides,” the effect is quite hypnotic. With a name that belies the content, likely intentionally so, Joy is not a particularly happy album. Personal and political turmoil intertwine in many of these songs, yet the prominent backbeat and an inventive production prevent the record from ever sounding like a dirge. A meditation, perhaps. Purposeful, definitely. For the first time in a while, Wilco have put out an album that feels like it has something greater at stake: the comfortable, well-respected band behind Star Wars and Schmilco feel uncomfortable again, and Ode To Joy thrives because of it.

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Sleeper Hold EP (12

Inspired by ‘90s trip-hop, footwork and downtempo R&B, Rituals of Mine is the emotionally dense electronic recording project of Los Angeles-based songwriter Terra Lopez and live percussionist Adam Pierce. The new EP finds Lopez writing more directly about her experiences as a queer woman of color. Lopez’s longtime collaborator and producer Wes Jones helped turn her heartfelt writing about trauma and personal growth into urgent and powerful electronic tracks.

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