Rock

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life (CD)

After five years without any releases, Vancouver based Japandroids are back, certifying their place in the hall of late night, barroom anthem makers. Title track, "Near To The Wild Heart Of Life," is a bonafide chorus chanter and melancholy uplifter, doused in sentiment. With its unapologetically romantic vignettes it evokes Springsteen at his most arena-rock, like a "Born To Run" for the alt/indie age. With songs like "No Known Drink Or Drug," "True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will," and "North East South West," Japandroids prove there is no type of song they can't approach with tenacity or sincerity.

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Savage Times (CD)

Having proven his garage-y, neo-soul cool over his last few albums, Hanni El Khatib seems to have found a strengthened core on his new album, Savage Times, which is a collection of his five EPs released over 2016, the result of which is less downtown cool and more humorous, funky, and angry. These tracks are some of his best, both because of their playful irreverence and because of their sense of very personal rawness. Stand outs include album opener "Baby's Ok," which is a sort of Shannon and the Clams tune by way of Hasil Adkins, "Gun Clap Hero" (imagine The Clash doing Curtis Mayfield), and "Mondo and His Makeup" which belongs in a garage more than your dad's old, rusted out Camaro. But the most spine-tingling track is the two-minute "Born Brown," which is perhaps Khatib's most soul shaking, unfiltered scorcher to date.

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Dungeon Bastards (CD)

Ghoul’s latest LP, Dungeon Bastards, sets the tone with album openers “Ghetto Blasters,” in which a male narrator relays the story of a tyrannical leader who attained power through dark occult means. It’s not long before raging thrash guitars, hardcore drums, and death metal vocals kick in; in case you couldn’t tell from the lyrics, this is a full-throttle sonic attack based around the concept of war. Album standouts include “Ghoulunatics,” a frenzied thrash track with an almost catchy, melodic chorus, and the malevolent, relentless “Bringer of War.” Fans of Impaled, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Carcass will want to turn this one up loud.

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I See You (CD)

The xx expand on their characteristic minimal cool on I See You. Their intimate, vulnerable lyrics and shimmering sound are still there, but these traits have been given an infusion of warmth and color with the introduction of some dancier elements, smart samples, and lush soundscapes. It's a welcome evolution. The album is a gem -- multi-faceted and vivid, revealing more of itself with every spin.

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Shape Shift With Me (CD)

Against Me! is a rejection of punk as an aesthetic. It's a real political ethos enacted out through ear-splitting guitar riffs, powerhouse drums, and forceful vocals that can make any pop punk group start second guessing what they've been doing. Lead-singer Laura Jane Grace is in your face with complex sexual politics and feelings in an era where trans women and men are still treated like second class citizens or worse, like freaks. She splits identity apart, seam by seam, and reminds you of the greater political implications and the more personal, romantic feelings of being queer. When she sings about her awkward feelings and openly struggles with her discovery of what it means to be a woman it's so raw and intimate. From the unsettling radio sample to the rip-roaring guitar intro of "ProVision L-3," matters of over-burdened public security and gender politics mix like never before. When Grace sings "What can you see inside me?" it feels like a middle finger at defining her with simple tags and the illusion of safety and the body. "Boyfriend" sounds like a direct examination of her new form. Is she being ironic or serious when the wounded lover in the song sings "Treating me like a boyfriend / Just some fucking boyfriend?" It's complex and changes what could otherwise be a personal track into something that fits into the greater scheme of things. But the centerpiece of the album, "333," pulsates in a way that feels like it could almost lose control over lyrics that flow like free verse poetry. It's simultaneously a political mantra and love-letter compressed into a three-minute song. Shape Shift With Me is the punk album of 2016. It makes punk less of a t-shirt you can buy, and more of a gritty, rough beast that doesn't make it easy on you. Doesn't get much better than this.

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Spirit (CD)

Over the course of their nearly four decades’ long career, Depeche Mode have crafted a sound that’s instantly recognizable and incredibly influential. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the band sounds so au courant on their latest, the fresh, timely Spirit, yet it is. Where many bands in their position could’ve phoned it in, retreading old sonic and lyric territory, Gore and Gahan and co. instead have managed to evolve their artistry further. Written about a year ago, the band doesn’t shy away from taking on political and social topics — as evidenced by lead single “Where’s the Revolution.” This is bleak, melancholic, and moving effort that builds on DM’s classic synth pop sound, making it even more poignant in our tumultuous contemporary world.

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Sorcerer (CD)

It's a special kind of feeling when you hear a band perfectly gel together to create something equal parts new, exciting, and undefinable. The close connectedness of Tonstartssbandht's (pronounced tahn-starts-bandit) bandmates and brothers, Andy and Edwin White, help create something than takes jam band psych into new and pure spiritual levels. Maybe through Andy White's time touring with Mac DeMarco, their songs often assume the form of jangly, low-fi pop that's easy, calm listening until it suddenly goes off the rails through unexpected experimental instrumental sections replete with distantly miked instruments and sudden tempo and key changes. Sorcerer is a little disorienting at first, but once you start to ride on its wavelength it's a great trip.

 

Tonstartssandht have spent the last eight years in the proverbial shadows releasing mostly cassette-only performances in limited, special edition quantities. But having perfected their craft of creating musical detours based around pop songs, their first proper album in years is magnificent sounding stuff that captures an intangible nostalgia and puts it into music with a cover right out of ECM's strange late-'60s/early-'70s stuff. "Breathe" starts up with a solo guitar riff and heavy hiss until the drums snap the semi-serious riff into low-fi funk. But two minutes in, the vocals are zapped into the stratosphere as things start to echo and the song speeds into a bongo-led delirium, spinning until the last two minutes of the song are transformed into ambient harmonics that feel like the perfect chaser to heavy duty rock. The album's title track is similarly structured in a way that recalls the best of Pink Floyd's early freak-outs. Behind these freeform moments, the song's original riff still manages to guide everything. Is this rock learning from the improvisations of jazz legends based around traditional songs? Either way, Sorcerer is a refreshing change needed in indie rock. It's weird and simultaneously catchy in a way that few bands ever attempt.

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Won't Let You Down (CD)

Bridget Kearney, longtime member of the multi-genre group Lake Street Dive, has released her first solo album, and it may catch her fans pleasantly off guard. While known for her impressive upright bass playing in the rootsy quartet, her first solo single, "Wash Up," shimmers with layered synths, ethereal vocals, and an '80s inspired laid back rhythm. Delving, unhesitatingly, into pop Kearney has expertly crafted an homage to Stevie Nicks style anthems, but does so without a trace of nostalgia, or irony.

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Some Offcell Voices (CD)

San Diego's Pinback felt like a perfect reaction to the city's musical history. The hardcore bands coming out of San Diego, including Drive Like Jehu, Swing Kids, and The Locust, took punk to noisy, ear shredding, boundary breaking directions. Though Pinback were cut from the same cloth, they were calmer, more methodical and technical than their San Diego counterparts. Band members Rob Crow and Zach Smith stepped away from their other projects, combining their efforts to go into stranger directions that rejected their punk and metal roots. Instead of going for fast punk and anger, Pinback slowed it down with carefully crafted songs with spacey lyrics, ethereal electronic vibes, and prog-like key and tempo changes. Their early EPs were not only bedroom recorded experiments of things to come, but were great albums on their own. Some Offcell Voices is a compilation of their two long out-of-print EPs, Some Voices and Offcell, and is also the latter's first release on vinyl. Both have been footnotes to their full-length albums, but with this proper reissue they are getting the respect they deserve. "Microtonic Wave" gives you a perfect sense of what they were all about. Combing a funky electronic riff with early digital sounds and a catchy beat, the music captures the feel of our too connected world. The lyrics verge somewhere between sci-fi dystopia and a romance song in a weird cataclysm. This collection is a fresh reminder of one of the most unique indie rock bands of the early-2000s in the brief crest before indie rock became another brand label. Perfect for fans of Broadcast or Beck's funkier side.

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Paradise [EP] (CD)

Last year's Hopelessness was one of those albums that felt prescient to events that culminated in the election of Donald Trump. Between increasing discrimination and disgust toward minorities and genders in an era that also seems to be breaking barriers in identity, ANOHNI's debut felt like both a protest album and a fantasy vision of neo-civilization. And her first EP, Paradise, is a perfect extension of what she already started. Between the synth weirdness and lyrics that directly attack sexism and the tenets of capitalism, Paradise feels like 2017 frustration press onto one disc. Produced by Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) and Ross Birchard (Hudson Mohawke), they mix their tendencies perfectly to create digital landscapes crafted right out of their mind's eyes. Lopatin's avant-garde tendencies and Birchard's hip-hop / electro fusion create unsettling music that could have come out of a dance club for robots. But this doesn't undermine ANOHNI's voice and performance, which is somewhere between R&B diva and Bowie's crooning on "Heroes." ANOHNI switches between pure pop showiness straight into subdued sing-talking that can be a little jarring at first. The album's title track was written last year, but it feels like nothing has changed in the last twelve months. ANOHNI cries out lyrics attacking the patriarchal structure that seems to be reaffirmed by the powers that be more than ever with disturbing lyrics like "My mother's love/Her gentle touch/My father's hand/Rests on my throat." The harsh riff that accompanies it almost treads into industrial music if it wasn't for the drum machines going into a beat-driven frenzy. Despite the brief length of the EP, this quickly emerges as one of the best albums of the year and a perfect listen in a world that feels like it's headed straight down the toilet.

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