New This Week: The Joy Formidable, Foxygen & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 01.22.13 in Spotlights

Foxygen, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic - You are probably going “Whoo boy” at the band name and album title of this one — or you probably are if you are anything like us here in the editorial dept., where “Whither art thou Foxygen!? has become a common theme — but trust us, this one is excellent. Warped, mischievous, note-perfect 60s-rock pastiche, the soundtrack to a Wes Anderson remake of Lord Of the Flies. Here’s Ryan Reed with more:

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is equal parts “so obnoxious, it’s excellent” and “so excellent, it’s obnoxious,” functioning as a warped retro-rock mixtape, blurring the line between parody and tribute. Like their fellow musical provocateurs MGMT, Foxygen clearly don’t take their grab-bag revisionist approach too seriously: With their bratty vocal stylings, goofy genre juxtapositions, and fondness for surreal wordplay, their songs carry an off-hand, tongue-in-cheek charm, even if the eclectic complexity of the arrangements suggests they’ve studied the vinyl of their ’70s forefathers with religious zeal.

The Joy Formidable, Wolf’s Law – New record from Welsh rock group conjures an even bigger roar. Kevin O’Donnell writes:

“I had a reason but the reason went away,” Ritzy Bryan, frontwoman of Welsh rock group Joy Formidable, sings on “Bats,” amid dense cluster-bombs of distorted riffs and clanging drums. “We keep hanging on, we keep hanging on, we keep hanging on…” It’s a deeply poignant moment for Bryan, and one of the most striking on her band’s terrific, noisy follow-up to their breakout debut The Big Roar.

Nightlands, Oak Island – Lovely pastoral psychedelia, shades of Beach Boys and Grizzly Bear. Laura Studarus says:

Dave Hartley’s second album under the Nightlands moniker opens with a reverb-drenched invitation for the listener to join him in “a place I used to go when I was only 17.” Like a Where the Wild Things Are-styled manifest destiny, the thesis weaves itself through Oak Island‘s 10 tracks. Hartley, also of Philadelphia’s War On Drugs, constructs his escapist fantasy out of multi-layered vocals, Afro-rhythm beats, analog synths and a ghostly brass section.

Ra Ra Riot, Beta Love – Strings are out, synths are in for this durable band of buttoned-down indie rockers. Kevin O’Donnell writes:

When Ra Ra Riot broke out with their debut album The Rhumb Line in 2008, they fashioned themselves as a brainy, bright-eyed chamber-pop group, freshly armed with university B.A.s and carefully curated record collections featuring heroes like Talking Heads and Kate Bush. My, have things changed. After releasing 2010′s somewhat underwhelming Chris Walla-produced The Orchard, the group is down to a quintet (cellist Alexandra Lawn has left) and they’ve overhauled their sound from sweet, string-soaked rock into electronic-pop explorations on Beta Love.

Toro Y Moi, Anything In Return – The crown prince of chillwave leaves the sandbox behind. Bill Murphy has more:

To this point, Chaz Bundick, aka Toro Y Moi, has worn most of his influences on his sleeve — tapping deeply, for instance, into the Beach Boys’ labyrinthine Pet Sounds and the J Dilla school of hip-hop deconstruction. His 2010 debut Causers of This was a promising suite of quasi-psychedelic dream-pop sketches, while the follow-up Underneath the Pine continued the thread with left turns into quirky Casiotone electropop and French hip-house.Anything in Return radically expands the scope, oscillating between minimalist techno (“Rose Quartz”) and trippy guitar-fueled soul (“Studies”) in smooth and effortless leaps, with lyrics that take a hard look at relationships, break-ups and breaking away.

Widowspeak, Almanac – Brooklyn indie-pop duo get darker, smokier, and more ambitious on their latest. Alex Naidus writes:

Almanac, the second album from Brooklyn’s Widowspeak, features full, traditional rock-band instrumentation, but at the core, the band remains a duo: Vocalist Molly Hamilton’s commanding coo and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas’s sinewy, layered playing comprise the weathered beacon around which the twangy sweep of their sound eddies. The style from their self-titled debut — lush, sultry, laced with a strangely dark touch of ’50s nostalgia — remains largely intact on Almanac. The first time around, though, the pair took a more stripped down approach, whereas Almanac steps forward confidently with a fuller sound and more ambitious arrangements.

Mountains, Centralia – Enormous slabs of mind-melting drone. Andy Beta tells us what to expect:

Despite nearly a decade spent in the industrial confines of their North Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint, the sound that Mountains — a duo comprised of Koen Holtkamp and Brendan Anderegg — evoke is positively bucolic. And while the name itself suggests something dominant and looming, across five albums, Mountains favor the smaller sensations of nature walks: gurgling brooks, cricket crescendos. At times, it approaches the aural equivalent of magic hour light on wheat. Centralia balances the finger-picking and field-recording roots of their debut with the analog components that throbbed on their last album, Air Museum, adding a few new timbres to their palette.

Torres, Torres - Rangy, powerful, loosely arranged folk-rock reminiscent of early Cat Power and Songs:Ohia at sparer moments, and EMA and PJ Harvey at other, more full-throated ones. A new artist, a woman from Nashville named Mackenzie Scott, with a heart-quickening voice and a take-no-prisoners emotional intensity. Highly recommended.

Buck Owens, Honky Tonk Man – A long-lost covers album by a country legend sees the light of day! Stephen Deusner tells the story:

Originally recorded for the notoriously corny hillbilly sketch comedy series Hee Haw, the covers on the new Buck Owens comp Honky Tonk Man represent nearly 50 years of country music, from Jimmie Rodgers’s 1928 hit “In the Jailhouse Now” through “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Hit,” a hit for Johnny Russell in 1973. Owens pioneered the Bakersfield Sound, which amplified the primarily acoustic genre of country music, andHonky Tonk Man shows just how wide ranging that sound was, how easily it could adapt to various other strains of country music.

Henry Wagons, Expecting Company – Former cow-punker skews more spaghetti western on this EP. Peter Blacktock says:

If your introduction to Australian artist Henry Wagons came via his eponymously named alt-country ensemble Wagons, his solo debut may come as a bit of a surprise. A seven-song EP consisting mostly of duets,“Expecting Company?” represents a distinct departure from his former band’s aesthetic. Eschewing cowpunk, Henry steers more toward spaghetti-western territory, recalling the moods and textures of Ennio Morricone soundtrack fare or perhaps Canadian band the Sadies. These darker, jazzier turns help to spotlight Henry’s voice, a rich baritone that drips with personality.

Camper Van Beethoven, La Costa Perdida – The reunited, beloved college-rock oddballs keep finding new ways weird. Thankfully, there are no David Lowery-penned odes to Emily White on this one. Annie Zaleski had this to say:

During the ’80s, Camper Van Beethoven were violin-toting college-rock oddballs who dabbled in everything from ska and world music to fractured country and psych-pop. The David Lowery-led group took most of the ’90s off after a bitter breakup, but when the band reunited in 1999, its music was as gloriously askew as ever. Thematically, La Costa PerdidaCamper Van Beethoven’s first album since New Roman Times — is steeped in the cultural history, weirdo aesthetic and laid-back vibe of Northern California.

Bad Religion, True North – Punk lifers’ sixteenth album. You know what to expect. Andrew Parks lays it down:

If you’ve ever heard any Bad Religion songs, you’ve heard ‘em all. And that’s really saying something, considering they’ve been around for 16 records and three decades. Here’s the thing, though: Bad Religion’s basic formula — the breakneck tempos of hardcore, cut with call-and-response choruses, hummable melodies, and lots of “hey”s, “whoah”s and “oh”s — has stuck around since the Reagan administration because it works. Like most punk worth its weight in back patches, keeping it simple (stupid) has proven its worth with the L.A. vets time and time again. That said, the group’s latest has its standout selections, from the juvenile but jubilant “Fuck You” to the crowd-riling “My Head is Full of Ghosts.”

Blockheads, This World Is Dead – Brutally succinct, cinder-block-meets-face grindcore. Jon Wiederhorn writes:

It’s amazing how much expression and emotion certain grindcore bands can pack in the timespan of a couple television commercials. Take Blockheads, a French quartet whose fifth full-length, The World is Dead, compresses 25 songs into a mere 40 minutes. Though they’re not as well known as many of their younger peers, Blockheads have been together since 1989 and have pursued a single-minded path to demolition that rivals the careers of peers such as Napalm Death, Nasum and Blood Duster.

FaltyDL, Hardcourage – Dubstep scene leader veers a little left, into minimal techno territory. Here’s Nate Patrin with more:

Anyone going into FaltyDL’s new album Hardcourage expecting a continuation of the old-school dubstep and UK-garage inflections of You Stand Uncertain could be in for a shock. In less than two years since he released that previous album, Drew Lustman has pared down the elaborate drum programming and aimed an already airy sound even further into the territory of minimal and tech house.

Nosaj Thing, Home – L.A. beat-scene producer Jason Chung returns with sensual, tactile, pared-down productions:

Jason Chung is among the lower-profile producers to emerge from Los Angeles’s late-’00s abstract beat scene, but that doesn’t make him invisible. His production work as Nosaj Thing — including his 2009 breakout debut Drift — suggests a lot by doing a little, making ambient minimalism that warmly swoons its way into propulsive rhythmic shape. Home takes that austerity one step further: Beats are built off shuffling clicks, chords float like jellyfish, and bass is more nudged than dropped.

The Traditional Fools, S/T – One of two Ty Segall reissues hitting today. This one is from one of Ty’s many, many projects, and it skews skuzzier and more Black Lips. Austin L. Ray writes:

“Oooooohhhhhhhhhaaaaaahhhh!” go the very first lyrics here, and you’d be forgiven for assuming an early Black Lips record snuck its way into the rotation. Spiritual brethren for sure, The Traditional Fools enjoy piling on shouted vocals (“T.L. Defender”), surf riffage (“Shredstick”) and inspired covers (Red Kross’ “Kill Someone You Hate,” Thee Headcoatees’ “Davy Crockett”). They also keep it brief, rarely bothering to top the two-minute mark on any song. As far as dive-bar party rock goes, you can hardly do much better.

Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, Reverse Shark Attack – And here’s the other! This one finds Mikal Cronin playing the “with him always is Garth” to Ty’s Wayne. Austin L. Ray got this one for us, too, and here’s what he thinks:

Reverse Shark Attack, a 2009 vinyl-only release getting resuscitated by In the Red this year, is the product of Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, who have been partners in rabble-rousin’ for about as long as either have been making music. In their respective (prolific) discographies, they have captured, perfected and riffed on what it means to be a garage rocker in the aughts, and this sorta-early gem catches them in fine, pre-notoriety form.

Pillowfight, S/T – Trip-hop from Dan The Automator and Emily Wells. Barry Walters tells us:

Dan the Automator and his new collaborator Emily Wells, an Amarillo-born singer-songwriter, are both trained violinists who’ve been combining street beats, classical chops and conventional song structures either on their own or, in Dan’s case, with Handsome Boy Modeling School, Gorillaz and other genre-bending studio projects. With turntable wizardry from kindred soul Kid Koala and background vocals from Oakland MC Lateef the Truthspeaker, the pair align forces on an album that recalls trip-hop’s melodramatic ’90s heyday via Portishead and DJ Shadow.

Arbouretum, Coming Out of the Fog – Long-running Thrill Jockey act tip further into full-on stoner-rock beast mode for their latest. Laura Studarus had this say:

Arboretum’s fifth full-length sees the Baltimore-based quartet painting their desert doom tunes black. Drawing from a wellspring of nature-based imagery, and sludgy walls of rock guitar, the band has created another wide-sweeping meditation on damnation and redemption.

Barbara Hannigan, DUTILLEUX: Correspondances – Spectral, gorgeous, and haunting pieces from the French composer Henri Dutillieux, shaped by the alert hand of Esa-Pekka Salonen under the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, with rapt solos from soprano Barbara Hannigan and cellist Anssi Karturen.

Alexander Tharaud, Amour – The concert pianist who stars in the latest Michael Haneke film Amour also provides the wonderful, elegiac soundtrack. Seth Colter-Walls reviewed the record for us, and also spoke with the charming Tharaud about his unlikely turn as a leading man. Colter-Walls writes:

In the film, Tharaud offers a more-than-serviceable turn as a famed international piano recitalist, a surprising move that only confirms the musician’s range as an artist. You can hear the same range in this soundtrack — from his stark reading of two iconic Schubert Impromptus to the controlled surges of energy present on the three bagatelles by Beethoven (his first official recordings of that composer’s writing for piano). And while Tharaud recorded all of Schubert’s “Moments Musicaux” for another label in 2000, the third of the series has greater clarity in this new version.

Adam Ant, Adam Ant is The BlueBlack Hussar Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter: I’m going to be honest and say I’m kind of interested to hear this. Adam Ant has the reputation of a one-hit wonder in the US, but that feels unjust to me. The odd bits of press I’ve read about him in the years since his ’80s New Wave breakout have revealed him to be consistently fascinating. This guitar-driven record, produced by Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer, seems to bear that out. eMusic’s Andrew Perry says:

Mostly recorded with Morrissey’s long-serving sidekick Boz Boorer, its 17 tracks largely spurn the tribal pummel of Adam’s early-’80s hits. Now, as then, this inveterate fan of David Bowie and Roxy Music loves a good makeover, and clearly relishes making his grand re-entrance with “Cool Zombie,” a swampy Tennessee blues which nobody might remotely have expected of him…Elsewhere, Adam rekindles the energy of his punk roots, venting his anger over his treatment by the medical profession on unreconstructed blasts like “Shrink,” while “Stay In The Game” evokes the sleazy post-punk rock of his pre-fame Dirk Wears White Sox era. In the (partial) title track, there’s even a strong whiff of electro — overall, it’s a fabulously varied bill of fare.

The Night Marchers, Allez Allez: Your first indication that this is going to be awesome is the fact that it’s on Swami records, home of Hot Snakes. The second indication is that this band actually is Hot Snakes. More or less. John Reis, and Jason Sinclair are joined by Thomas Kitsos on bass for a batch of songs that (somewhat) power-down the in-the-read freakout the Snakes were known for, sticking mostly with a bunch of bruising rockers that display a clear fondness for melody while still retaining plenty of ragged edges. Recommended

Guided By Voices, Down By the Racetrack EP: Oh, come on, guys. I intellectually acknowledge that I should be psyched about how much music the newly reconstituted GBV are putting out, but this is getting a bit crazy. Anyway. I digress. This is a new EP, which actually sounds a bit nastier and more experimental than the group has been in a while. Lots of hiss and static and deliberately obtuse songwriting (“Standing in a Puddle of Flesh,” a sandblasted bit of drunk stumbling with a piano, is pretty excellent).

Hilly Eye, Reasons to Live: Hilly Eye is the great Amy Klein, aka Amy Andronicus, aka Amy the former guitar player in Titus Andronicus. Amy is a terrific writer and was a magnetic presence onstage with Titus, to the point where I almost have no interest in seeing them now that she’s out of the band. This is her first outing as Hilly Eye, and it’s pretty dreamy. Amy’s voice is pushed far in the backrgound and buried in echo, and the guitars are spindly as skeleton’s fingers, clawing and splaying. The songs are mostly wintry and slow-moving, brittle indie for brittle moods.

Gary Allan, Set You Free: Gary Allan has been making records for 17 years now, all of them full of carefully-crafted commercial country that deftly undermine the assertion that the genre is too high-gloss to be interesting. Allan’s voice is warm and rich, and it provides a nice contrast to the sterling production. There’s a couple of missteps (the reggae-tinged “No Worries” is certainly one), but overall this is airtight, unabashedly tuneful country.

Daniel Romano, Come Cry With Me: Those looking for a more traditional take on country music should check out the latest from Daniel Romano. Romano is the co-owner of You’ve Changed Records, the label that put out that Weather Station record we loved so much. As the fantastic cover implies, what you’ll find here is old-style country done right. Think Townes Van Zandt or Hank Williams Sr and you’re on the right track. The instrumentation is pretty spare — acoustic guitar, drums and the occasional lap steel, leaving plenty of room for Romano’s great, twangy voice to cry out a heartbreaking melody. Recommended

The Growlers, Hung at Heart: The Growlers are a California band who have termed their music “Beach Goth,” which means that term is going to be showing up in every piece of writing about them for the nest 20 years. I appreciate their sense of humor — though the description is not that far off. The Growlers kind of sound like The Coral, if The Coral were a good band. Reverb-drenched sea shanties and surf songs make this one sound like it’s bubbling up from Davey Jones’ locker.

Speck Mountain, Badwater: Chicago psych band centered around the core of Marie-Claire Balabanian and Karl Briedrick deliver more shimmering songs that put Balabanian’s mellow alto in the center of a tangle of twangy, echoing guitars.

Alpine Decline, Night of the Long Knives: Pretty great outing from West Coast duo that casts a gauzy sheet across sturdy, guitar-based indie rock, giving the music here a strange, illusory feel. There are some nods toward shoegaze — the guitars on “Alligator” are particularly filmy — but this mostly sounds like prime Archers of Loaf rehearsing deep in a damp cave.

Föllakzoid, II: There are a few things here that are worth knowing. First, and most importantly, this is out on Sacred Bones, so already you know it’s great. Second, Föllakzoid are a psych band from Chile, which is mostly just interesting trivia. There’s nothing particularly Chilean about the sound of the songs here, they are instead just the latest in a long line of Chilean psych bands, though their take is dronier and doomier and krautier. There’s a sense of dread in these songs that is almost palpable. Like everything on Sacred Bones, it’s Highly Recommended.

Petra Haden, Petra Haden Goes to the Movies: Famed experimentalist Petra Haden recreates famous film scores using only her voice. The results are as weird as you might expect. It sounds kind of alien and ambient — her voice is heavily treated in spots to sound like instruments, in other spots it’s just her doot-dooing away.

Rotten Sound, Species at War EP: Alright! New EP from grind punishers Rotten Sound delivers everything you might expect and then some. Cranial-drill riffing, acid-in-the-face vocals and percussion that sounds like 58 amplified coronaries happening at once. God bless these guys. Or Satan. Or whoever. Recommended

Paroxsihzem, s/t: Canadian brutalists deliver sub-basement death metal. Deep, dark, barely-audible growls get smothered by riff after searing riff. It’s the sound of an avalanche — sudden and pulverizing.

Hellige, s/t: Creepy as hell. This is an Argentinian group that combines black metal riffing and howling with doom metal’s inhumanly slow crawl. The result feels like a long, meticulous, agonizing torture session — pincer-like guitars doing their foulest for 10 minutes at a time.

Head of the Demon, s/t: Here’s more slow-moving doominess, but unlike Hellige, the gunk is scraped out of the corners and the vocals are cool and crooning. They’re from Sweden, which accounts for some of the melodicism, I suppose.