Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus – Bristol duo’s latest, and their first self-produced effort, is their most expansive. Andrew Parks writes:
Slow Focus is the first time Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung attacked their maximalist bangers sans help at their own aptly-named Space Mountain studio…They expand their sonic vocabulary considerably with no one around to rein it in. If you felt like their trance-inducing tracks could go on forever in the past, wait until you hear songs like “The Red Wing,” a mid-tempo mix of buzz-sawed synths, liquified drum loops and nutty disco nods. It’s groove-locked to the point where it could be performed live for an extra 10 minutes without anyone noticing. Or complaining, for that matter.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, S/T – Third full-length from communal psych-folk outfit. Ryan Reed writes:
Their third album is their messiest and most sprawling effort, blending their trademark psych-rock goofiness with warped gospel balladry and vivid Age-of-Aquarius soul. An army-sized ten-piece, The Magnetic Zeros still give off the whiff of a cult. It’s often transportive, as if the pit band from Jesus Christ Superstar started up a psych-rock outfit. “Come celebrate, life is hard!” the voices cry on “Life Is Hard,” swirling higher in the mix, battling violins and tambourines and what sound like bouncing basketballs. Sharpe and his Zeros have a gift with this sort of gentle absurdity, as over-the-top and obvious as it is impossible to resist.
Grant Hart, The Argument – Latest solo record from the former Husker Du member, and a 20-song concept record based on Paradise Lost. I’ve been hearing some pretty great things about this, to be honest; some places are calling it his best-ever solo work and the first ever to touch his Husker Du work.
Van Dyke Parks, Songs Cycled – The waggish, reclusive singer/songwriter and arranger returns with his first solo record since 1989, and the way he saunters onstage, a flourish of tangled Disney strings sprouting up around him, it’s like he never left. When you barely acknowledge the last half-century’s worth of pop music’s existence, it’s easy to come and go as you please. Winston Cook-Wilson has more:
In many ways, Van Dyke Parks’s first solo studio album in 25 years feels directly connected to his 1968 debut Song Cycle; the near-identical titles, of course, encourage this comparison. There are collage-style song forms and fast-picked balalaikas. Parks even includes a revamp of “The All Golden.” It’s easy to see Songs Cycled as a “comeback” outing: Parks embracing the daredevil spirit of his early output at a time when critics and fans appreciate it more than ever. After a few listens, however, it becomes clear that the precedents for these songs actually come from throughout his career. “Black Gold,” a comment on the Prestige oil spill, is a South Pacific-esque exercise in exoticism that recalls Tokyo Rose. “Sassafrass” (more Oklahoma!) would sound at home on Jump! The album’s instrumental compositions vacillate between Americana-infused neo-modernism and high kitsch, evoking his idiosyncratic soundtrack and arranging work.
True Widow, Circumambulation – Bleakly alluring stoner metal, tinged with shoegaze drone. Jon Wiederhorn writes:
The members of Dallas trio True Widow have called their music “stonergaze,” for the way they mix elements of stoner metal with shoegazer rock. It’s a somewhat misleading tag for the band’s third album Circumambulation. These are songs rooted to the earth, not created for the cosmos. The music is heavy and repetitive, yes, but it’s too bleak to be mind-altering. The whole album seems to have been composed out of weariness and danger, not bliss; the droning guitars, phlegmatic vocals and down-tempo beats echo with bad vibes.
Mean Lady, S/T – A lovely, old-fashioned guitar pop record. Annie Zaleski says:
Mean Lady is a versatile duo made up of vocalist Katie Dill — who also contributes guitar, ukulele and omnichord — and bassist/keyboardist/sampler-wrangler/producer Sean Nobles. On Love Now, their breezy debut full-length, they mix up murky electronics with hardy, time-tested folk elements. Hard rhythmic tracks — clipped grooves, strident beats, rollicking piano, the occasional funky freakout — serve as a backbone for gauzier tones (misty production, found sound effects, hazy keyboards, Smiths-echoing guitar tones). Dill’s dusty alto and carnival-esque omnichord burbles lend a longing but playful vibe to the record.
Bombadil, Metrics of Affection – A pastoral indie-folk record with a hint of Hobbit. Annie Zaleski, again, has the review:
Rich, warm production enhances the record’s amalgam of stately folk, ’60s pop, alt-country, orchestral indie and even classical (the lovely piano instrumental “Patience Is Expensive”). While there’s a decidedly Southern bent throughout — mainly due to the easygoing vocal style of Michalak, guitarist Bryan Rahija and pianist/ukulele player Stuart Robinson, who take turns singing lead — British artists are Metrics of Affection‘s biggest underlying influence, from XTC (“When We Are Both Cats”) and Elvis Costello (“Have Me,” the piano-driven “What Does It Mean”) to the Beatles (the White Album-like “Whaling Vessel”).
Gogol Bordello, Pure Vida Conspiracy – Another entry into a catalog that, as Andrew Mueller notes, is fast becoming a genre unto itself:
From the first notes of the surging opening fanfare “We Rise Again,” Pure Vida Conspiracy fulfills every expectation that one might harbor of a Gogol Bordello album, which is to say that it would not be altogether surprising for any given track to be abruptly interrupted by a visit from the riot police. “We Rise Again” is a delirious, joyful cacophony even by the group’s standards, and the pace it sets rarely drops. The distinguishing aspect of this album is Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz’s determination to bring the influences of his adopted homeland of Brazil to bear upon the Ukrainian folk that animated the group in the first place.
Shelby Earl, Swift Arrows – This is an absolutely lovely record, a singer/songwriter album by a woman with a dusky, slightly Dusty Springfield voice and a tart, wry way with kiss offs. One of my favorite new surprises in a minute. Laura Studarus reviewed it for us, saying:
Earl is a singer/songwriter unafraid of dirty riffs and dark lyrics—all delivered with a wicked grin. With Damien Jurado in the producer’s chair, Earl strays from the winsomeness of her debut, Burn the Boats. Swift Arrows is the work of an artist who has discovered her tart, wry voice, which infuses her songs no matter what shape they take: “I love you/You love you too,” goes the mocking singsong of the Phil Spector-leaning “The Artist.” “I’ll make the bed while you are off to shoot the moon,” she sings, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Yeah right. Earl may be adroit shapeshifter, but she’s no one’s woman but her own.
Guy Clark, My Favorite Picture of You – Latest record from Texas singer/songwriter legend is a heartbreaker as usual, in his devastatingly plainspoken way. Here’s Britt Robson with more:
On My Favorite Picture of You, Guy Clark’s first studio album in four years, the reigning sage of Texas singer/songwriters remains allergic to pretense and vigilant against pathos, lest it siphon away the dignity and essential truth of his music. The worn leather of Clark’s 71-year old voice powerfully parses the understated lyrics, and one can’t help but marvel at the alliteration, assonance and seemingly effortless rhythm balled up in lines like, “Standing in the rain in Durango/Right side of wrong/Wrong side of gone.”
Weekend, Jinx – New one from the Slumberland indie-pop band that has absolutely nothing to do with The Weeknd. Marc Hogan writes:
Weekend moved to Brooklyn in time for their sophomore album, and Jinxoffers their make-it-anywhere take on the ’03 New York of Interpol or A Place to Bury Strangers. Guitar squall and percussive thunder once again help Weekend hit harder than most other bleakly romantic noise rockers, while Durkan’s voice, circles around sparse, repetitive lyrics lodge ambivalent feelings in your head.