This Month's Picks

Living Proof (CD)

State Champs
State Champs have what might be the most pop-punk band name of all time, fitting with the genre’s winking obsession with high school athletics and sports. Fortunately, they live up to it, as they display full command of the cathartic, sugar-rush ecstasy that makes pop-punk so uniquely addictive. Living Proof is full of shout-along choruses and arena rockin’ guitar heroics; a giant high five of a record. Listening to this record should entice you to grab some Vans slip-ons, flip up your hat brim, and do a backflip off of the stage. State Champs have earned it. More
Genre: Rock

Scout (CD)

Calpurnia
Calpurnia’s Scout LP is jam-packed with classic California garage rock tunes, six tightly-crafted songs bathed in nostalgia and coastal sunshine. The band also happens to feature Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard as frontman. Wolfhard may be young, but he certainly knows his stuff, creating smart, catchy indie tracks that would fit in well amongst the Diiv, Real Estate, and Mac DeMarco on your record shelf. Produced by Cadien Lake James of indie fellow travelers Twin Peaks, standout tracks include the melancholy “Greyhound,” instant ear worm “City Boy,” and dreamy “Louie.” More
Genre: Rock

Please Don't Be Dead (CD)

Fantastic Negrito
Lots of music — generic, radio-sanitized, dull — gets too generously called “soul.” On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Fantastic Negrito’s Please Don’t Be Dead . Now this is soul: urgent, passionate, feverish, intoxicatingly good ol’ fashioned message-driven, possessed-by-a-higher-power soul. The Grammy-winning artist takes on despair-inducing themes like addiction, gun violence, and censorship and spits out a vibrant plea to take on our cultural challenges together, to join hands and work towards change. It’s a forceful, astonishing rallying cry. More
Genre: Blues

Lost & Found (CD)

Jorja Smith
Lost & Found is the debut album by silky-voiced UK singer Jorja Smith, previously heard on the Black Panther soundtrack and on Stormzy and Drake collaborations. The album features well-produced R&B/soul tracks with distinctive lyrics and traces of trip-hop in their skittering beats. “February 3rd” has a pretty melody with a slinky groove, while “Blue Lights” addresses racial profiling by the police with a lilting vocal and an affecting chorus. “Where Did I Go” is another highlight, laidback but danceable with a sleepy melody. More
Genre: Soul

Age Of (CD)

Oneohtrix Point Never
It was only a matter of time before Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never decided to make his byzantine compositions into tightly honed electro-soul nuggets. Though he has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of how music can be experienced — and still does so on Age Of — this is the first time Lopatin has created some of his music with widespread listenability in mind. The autotuned vocals on smooth tracks like “Babylon” and “Black Snow” make them palpable for fans of Frank Ocean and James Blake, even while trouble burbles beneath the surface, in the form of disintegrating harpsichords, sudden flutes, and digital noise. “The Station” fuses a mechanical guitar riff to digitized vocals in a thoughtful way that makes the track feel like a robot gaining sentience, akin to one of Daft Punk’s more cerebral tracks. Other tracks are less friendly, like “We’ll Take It,” piecing together sped-up samples, foreboding synths, and clanging beats that fire with the intensity and precision of assembly-line machinery. While by no means an easy listen, Age Of ’s vague sense of New Age utopia keeps things in line and unified. It’s like a soundtrack to the future, both beautiful and terrifying. More

Soul Side Of Town (CD)

Tower Of Power
Perennial Oakland horn section/funk collective Tower of Power celebrates their 50th anniversary the only way they know how: with an epic, all night long rhythm & soul blowout. In production since 2012, the songs that comprise Soul Side of Town were pulled from four separate sessions in order to “make the best record of (their) career.” Whether or not it hits that lofty goal is up for debate, but rest assured that Soul Side is a worthy entry in ToP’s storied career and epitomizes the energetic, upbeat funk that they do best. More
Genre: Soul

Mt. Joy (CD)

Mt. Joy
As roots-based groups seem to fetishize analog recording in search of what "authentic" sounds like, Mt. Joy feels completely natural with their combination of Appalachian field recordings, '70s rock, and top 40 jams. Back in 2016, Mt. Joy smashed the Spotify play charts with "Astrovan," an instantly catchy single with bizarre lyrical imagery that's equal parts surreal, sad, and comical and seems to have been born from a few puffs of God's green herb. It's spacey with this Allman Bros. guitar twang channeled right out of their hits, along with Matt Quinn's doped-out vocals. Yet the production has all of today's modern flair without a hint of misguided nostalgia. Mt Joy's self-titled debut continues the style that's just as perfectly constructed as their first single. It shows off some good ol' fashioned songwriting prowess that's sorely missing from rock today. "I'm Your Wreck" opens the album with a heavy ballad and a vocal delivery reminiscent of early Bruce Springsteen. But the production is 100% today with a jangly, minimal style featuring muted drums, simple finger plucking, and acid alliteration. When the song starts to get into its funkier finale loaded with synths and more frenetic drumming, it almost takes a whole other route, becoming weird and beautiful at the same time. "Sheep" is one of the most beautiful tracks on the album and shows the influence of neo-soul with the Fender Rhodes providing gentle harmonies behind Quinn's powerful vocals. The song oozes with insecurity disguised by lyrics that start to delve into Bob Dylan level imagery and free association about being in disguise, bloody streets, and awkward encounters. Mt. Joy almost feels like a contemporary take on the post-folk artists of the '60s. Just like they used recognizable, comfortable sounds to reinvent the musical landscape, Mt. Joy spins roots and Americana into something special and relevant. In the age of over-produced, over-electronic music, Mt. Joy's homespun weirdness feels cozy and right. More
Genre: Rock

Love Is Dead (CD)

Chvrches
Chvrches' Love Is Dead is sweet as candy, a goth-tinged Tootsie Roll pop with a crystalline surface and a dark, satisfying core. “Miracle” is an instant sing-along classic, while “My Enemy” and “Never Say Die” stand out as infectiously melancholy toe-tappers. These songs are anthemic, bold, and buoyant but it’s not bubblegum pop — no, there’s too much intelligence here, too much fusion of darkness and light. But damn if it doesn’t hit the spot! More
Genre: Rock

Wildness (CD)

Snow Patrol
One of the biggest UK rock bands of the post-Britpop era has been MIA for some time now. After competing with Coldplay for modern rock radio's adoration for the better part of a decade, it has been seven years since their last release, 2011’s Fallen Empires . With such an extended hiatus, it’s fair to wonder if the band could recapture that same brand of widescreen, yearning rock. And could the Snow Patrol of 2018 still sound relevant within this formula? As it turns out, you can have it both ways. Songs like “Empress” and “Life On Earth” are both dead ringers for the driving, meticulously-crafted yet effortless-sounding anthems that drove Eyes Open to the top of the pop stratosphere. Then there are songs like “Don’t Give In,” which don’t sound like quite like anything the band has previously written. While fitting the same lyrical motifs and general melancholic atmosphere that grace much of the band’s previous work, it utilizes an extremely modern arrangement with big, marching toms mixed with programmed drums, as well as canyon-sized reverb on the chorus; two now-ubiquitous alt rock production tricks virtually non-existent in the era of “Chasing Cars.” Wildness pulls off a delicate balancing act between the past and present. Impressive, certainly, but more importantly it’s catchy as all get-out. More
Genre: Rock

Worth It All (CD)

Jeffrey Osborne
Classic R&B vocalist and L.T.D. frontman, Jeffrey Osborne follows up his 2013 album of standards with a rich, new record, Worth It All . His first self-produced album in 13 years, Worth It All celebrates the ups and downs of a long-term relationship, with funky tracks like “Let A Brotha Know” and “Just Can't Stand It,” as well as lavish, sincere ballads such as “Saving My Love” and the title track; the latter is a lovely spare number with electric piano and vocals, the lyrics summing up the message behind the album. The sultry “Work It” was co-written with his son Jeffrey Osborne, Jr. who also raps on the track. More
Genre: Soul