Rock

Hardwired...To Self-Destruct (CD)

Though Metallica might have influenced generations of punk, grunge, thrash, and metal bands, they're surprisingly unprolific. And so each new Metallica release isn't just hotly anticipated, but comes like a cataclysmic event of shrieking guitars, banging bass drums, furious rhythms, and guttural yelps. Their first album in eight years, Hardwired...To Self- Destruct is a return to form. And not a return of form to Load or St. Anger. It's a return to the form of Kill 'Em All and Master of Puppets. The slow, brooding, and portentous style of their late-career is mixed in with classic, clean, clear, and furious thrash that's so intense and technical, it will get your adrenaline pumping. Metallica themselves are treating it like a behemoth of an album, with special concerts, promos, and a music video for EACH song on the album.

 

"Hardwired" opens with a precision sharp riff that explodes with sweat and fury. The bitter, ironic track feels apt for these chaotic times as James Hetfield unleashes into the microphone in a cathartic rant. The fury of the track feels closer in spirit to "Whiplash" than to anything they've done on their last few albums. "Moth Into Flames" is far closer to the post-'80s Metallica of long, steady ballads that build and build on short, technical riffs until the song kicks it into 100mph. When the guitar solo comes in a minute and a half into the song, it almost dissolves into a modern skate punk track before going back to classic Metallica intensity. It also shows off Lars Ulrich's endless energy and showcases some of his most powerful drumming on the album. Being a Metallica fan can be a real trial sometimes when they take unexpected directions while simultaneously trying to please fans, but Hardwired is probably the closest they've gotten to something that should appease the die-hards, the casual listeners, and even those new to metal. The most brutally intense album of 2016.

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I'm Alone, No You're Not (CD)

Named after their grandfather, Joseph is a trio of Portland-based sisters whose work delves into country, folk, rock, and indie pop. Their sophomore LP, I’m Alone, No You’re Not impressively showcases their formidable musical skills — namely, their ability to compose tight, often heartbreaking harmonies. Album opener “Canyon” is a haunting, commanding Americana love song, “White Flag” is an ultra-catchy folk pop number, and final track “Sweet Dreams” is dark, lush, cinematic, and evocative. The album is rooted in raw, emotional power which is accentuated by the glimmering polish of producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes).

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Skeleton Tree (CD)

Skeleton Tree’s album opener “Jesus Alone” starts off Nick Cave’s latest LP with a heavy, oppressive, and haunted atmosphere. At times anguished, eerie and seeking, it’s some of Cave’s strongest work in years. For an artist with a carefully-curated public persona, whose lyrics often recount the tall tales of dark, dangerous, and larger-than-life figures, there’s a real openness and vulnerability to the new songs that makes them even more hard-hitting. (Longtime fans know the album was recorded in response to the tragic death of his son, Arthur.) It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a devastating quality to these songs, as well as a strange beauty springing from the love that makes the singer’s grief so palpable. These songs will follow you around long after the album has ended.

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22, A Million (CD)

There are certain things one expects from Bon Iver: sparse, wintry melodies, bare emotionality, and his lyrical, near-Appalachian croon. On 22, A Million, those facets remain the same, albeit embellished by an unexpected experimentation. The new songs feature samples, synths, and processed vocals; one gets the sense that all the time Bon Iver spent collaborating with the likes of Kanye and James Blake managed to influence his own work, as well. It’s an interesting evolution for the soft-voiced lo-fi folksinger — an album full of surprises whose low-key loveliness will get under your skin.

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Human Performance (CD)

 “Dust is everywhere — SWEEP!” So goes the refrain of the first single off N.Y. indie-rock heroes Parquet Courts’ new album. Human Performance seems less concerned with proving anything to anyone than ever, yet finds the band settling into itself nicely and coming up with some of its most weirdly catchy songs. Since releasing the excellent Light up Gold in 2013, the band has drawn from a certain brand of brainy New York indie rock of yore, from Talking Heads and Television through Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys. Then came Sunbathing Animal, the thorny but ultimately winning follow-up, along with assorted albums and EPs that saw them trying on various guises, with the results hit-or-miss. Now, on songs like the Velvet Underground-ish title track; short, rhythmically clever tunes like “Outside” and “I Was Just Here”; and shoutalong slacker anthems like “Paraprhased,” Parquet Courts sound comfortable yet energized, mature but real in their embrace of the surreal and off-kilter. As it’s been somewhat both exhilarating and maddening to watch them over the past couple of years, Human Performance is that redemptive album that shows keeping an eye on Parquet Courts is well worth your time. Their best yet.

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A Moon Shaped Pool (CD)

When first putting on "Burn The Witch," the beginning of the Radiohead's new album, you might feel you've mistakenly put on a new Belle and Sebastian single. The slightly twee and plucky string arrangements seem to harken back to a Kinks-y Village Green Preservation Society-era jaunt. But give it a minute and Thom Yorke's trademark silky-gloom fills the village with a hypnotizing sense of doom. "Daydreaming" starts with a minimalist piano line and vocals but slowly builds with mysterious layers to a vast soundscape. With A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead have proven they've fully transcended the trappings of a '90s guitar rock band and turned into something more akin to a collection of texture, emotions, and sounds; a sort of soundtrack to the 21st century.

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MY WOMAN (CD)

On My Woman, Angel Olsen moves even further away from the haunted folk of her 2012 breakthrough LP Half Way Home. However, that’s not to say that yearning and heartache have no place on her latest album, as evidenced by the soaring heights and whispered lows of “Sister.” At the same time, Olsen’s “Intern” finds the singer filtering her sound through ‘80s synth washes and glittering indie pop structures, and “Shut Up Kiss Me” is garage-y, retro, and super catchy. This collection of songs sees Olsen expanding on her original sound in new, bold ways while still retaining the incredible songwriting that first caught our attention a few years back. An album that should win over new fans while still appealing to her longtime supporters.

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Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (CD)

The ever-reliable Dinosaur Jr. are back with their eleventh studio album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, and their sound is just as scorching, raw, and strangely vulnerable as it was when they first burst onto the scene in 1984. The band’s original line-up of J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph kick out the jams in full force on this one, with two songs by Barlow (“Love Is” and “Left/Right”) and the remaining nine by Mascis. Album opener “Goin Down” wouldn’t be out of place on one of the band’s first three LPs, with heavy drums, piercing guitars plus Mascis’ simple, plaintive vocals — yet it never sounds like a throwback, just a coming-home of sorts. The band tone it down a bit for the lovely, longing “Lost All Day”; it’s one of those unexpected tracks Dinosaur Jr. sometimes makes that sneaks up on you by appealing to your sense of nostalgia for missed opportunities and time gone by. That slight melancholy ramps up even more on “Love Is,” a highlight of the album that’s insistent, lovely, and world-weary. This album should net the band some new fans, while simultaneously appealing to their longtime supporters.

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The Wilderness (CD)

It’s been five years since post-rock greats Explosions in the Sky released an album. But their stature seems to be as high as ever, given that their music is continually used in film, TV and video game soundtracks — most famously in “Friday Night Lights.” Their music has only become more streamlined — and ultimately more potent — on their latest release. Listen as they cram a whole lot of epic into four minutes on “Disintegration Anxiety,” as guitar washes sigh over a pulsating, lively groove. Or, on the other hand, how “Logic of a Dream” moves from quiet splendor into rumbling waves of noise take over and send shivers down your spine. On The Wilderness, Explosions in the Sky remain utterly capable of creating sounds that leave you in awe, both beautiful and foreboding.

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Teens Of Denial (CD)

Taking a page from Pavement, Beck, Guided by Voices, and Dinosaur Jr., Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial is a raw, melodic, and at times, raucous summer rock album. Songwriter Will Toledo doesn’t shy away from topics like depression and drugs, speaking intimately to the listener one moment before crescendoing into a punk rock shouting style chorus the next. There’s a lo-fi, DIY aesthetic to the album, but the sound is full and heavy, punctuated with the sudden appearance of a small brass section, swirling psych guitars, and Toledo’s insistent scream. The cathartic nature of Teens of Denial sneaks up on you; the songs are an exercise in sustained tension, often detouring into unexpected genre territory. It’s a wonderful showcase for Toledo’s arresting, insistent songwriting.

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