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Album Reviews | August 2016 Releases

By: Alex Wood

Dinosaur Jr.- Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not [8/5]

Since reuniting in 2007, Dinosaur Jr. has released a steady stream of quality records that embrace J. Mascis’s guitar-heavy sound. Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not doesn’t only follow the formula, but may be the most fully realized of these albums yet. The record plays like a celebration of guitar-driven rock ‘n roll, each song built on upbeat, chugging riffs and soaring solos. It’s as though it took the band 30 years to finally master their sound and settle comfortably into it, and it’s everything alternative rock should be.

Upcoming Tour Dates: 10/8 @ The Metro

Russian Circles- Guidance [8/5]

Chicago post-rock staple Russian Circles are back with their first album in three years, and the time away was clearly not wasted. Guidance may be the group’s most fully realized album yet, featuring a set of dark instrumentals that range from ghostly, slower melodies to the heaviest, sludgy metal that you’ve ever heard. The music can be as beautiful as it is frightening, as abrasive as it is gentle. At its hardest hitting, the trio’s sound is absolutely massive, doom metal at its heaviest. Yet other parts feature scattered, melodic picking, droning, atmospheric textures and mellow, sleepy chord progressions. Few bands can conquer as many sounds in a single instrumental album, thus placing Russian Circles once again amongst the greatest post-rock bands of our time.

Upcoming Tour Dates: 9/9 @ The Metro

Nels Cline- Lovers [8/5]

Nels Cline continues to surprise fans with his diversity on Lovers, the Wilco guitarist’s debut for Blue Note Records. The album certainly fits the jazz label’s classic sound, delivering a set of songs steeped in the romantic jazz tradition. Primarily featuring gorgeous horn arrangements and chamber strings behind a clean guitar tone, Lovers is a delicate yet ambitious release. Cline’s guitar work is as fantastic as ever, whether soloing or performing set melodies, and matches the tone of the band with perfection. By the end of the lengthy release, things begin to get a little stranger, with odd drumbeats and slightly more experimentation from the backing band. Though far from Wilco’s sound, fans of the guitarist and jazz in general will find lots to enjoy on Lovers.

Of Montreal- Innocence Reaches [8/12]

With the passing of David Bowie and Prince within the last year, it only felt fitting that Of Montreal would return with another album. Kevin Barnes and his band have been mining the two artists’ sounds for decades now, and have shown an especially large influence on recent releases. Yet Innocence Reaches surprisingly moves a new direction, a refreshing change for those following the prolific band. The albums biggest downfall may be its inconsistency in styles, featuring a dizzying change of pace with each song. Some feature a robotic electronic sound akin to Kraftwerk, while others are straightforward guitar-centric glam rock tunes, and others are trippy, psychedelic electronic-indie numbers. Yet this kaleidoscopic feel is also what makes the album so enticing, keeping things interesting without a weak track on the record. As fans would expect, Of Montreal is certainly continuing to keep it weird. 

Upcoming Tour Dates: 9/19 @ The Metro

Thee Oh Sees- A Weird Exits [8/12]

Though Thee Oh Sees first established themselves as a sloppy, 60s-style garage-rock band, they’ve drifted into stranger styles in recent years, exploring the further realms of psychedelic music. A Weird Exits may be amongst their strangest yet, with songs going off in all possible directions, but always landing on a climactic guitar freakout. Featuring a driving, distortion-heavy sound and riffs for days, the band continues to focus on their instrumentals over the vocals, prioritizing rocking as hard as physically possible, which is done to great success. Yet A Weird Exits finds the band exploring new territories, like on the glitchy, electronic-influenced “Jammed Entrance” or the spacious, droning “Crawl Out From The Fall Out,” the band is truly exploring the further depths of psychedelic rock. Yet, in the end, it’s dirty, skuzzy garage-rock, and it’s everything fans could want from the band.

Upcoming Tour Dates: 11/19 @ Thalia Hall

JEFF The Brotherhood- Zone [8/12]

JEFF The Brotherhood’s music has changed dramatically over the course of their career, and Zone may be their most mature release to date. Though still a set of hazy, stoned garage tracks, the lyrics and arrangements show dramatic improvement as well as diversity. The band jumps between quiet, clean indie sections and pounding, distorted garage-rock, creating a dizzying array of dynamics. Simple and organic, the songs are consistently infectious and fun, embracing everything that gained the band such a dedicated fanbase to begin with.

Ryley Walker- Golden Sings That Have Been Sung [8/19]

Ryley Walker may have just released one of this year’s best albums. On a musical level, Golden Sings consists of ambitious compositions that combine a traditional folk sound similar to Pentangle with the dense, melodic sense of early Grateful Dead tunes, all somehow mixed in with a jazz influenced rhythm section. The guitar work is mesmerizing, the difficult acoustic picking fitting perfectly with the scattered notes of the electric. Songs build on an enormous number of riffs and melodies, growing endlessly onward in unexpected ways, each member following one another with precision to Walker’s end vision. The lyrics are perhaps Walker’s best and most personal, his simple delivery and descriptive wording fitting the dense musical backing beneath it. You’ve read it here before and you’ll read it again: listen to Ryley Walker!!!

John Paul White- Beulah [8/19]

After the dissolution of folk-duo The Civil Wars, singer-songwriter John Paul White has ventured out on his own. The result is likely what fans expected, a set of moody folk songs with a strong romantic tendency. The writing is sharp and emotional, the lyrics impossibly personal and heartfelt. The arrangements are simple but effective, piano and percussion the primary accompaniment to White’s acoustic picking and vocals. Fans of The Civil Wars and folk music as a whole would be wise not to miss this release.

Prophets Of Rage- The Party’s Over [8/19]

Prophets Of Rage are a supergroup consisting of Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello and Brad Wilk alongside Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Dj Lord and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. The band’s first release, the five-song EP The Party’s Over, finds the band failing to find creativity or relevance. The songs feature a watered-down version of Rage’s musical backing, with the two rappers atop it filling in for Zack de la Rocha. The lyrics to the originals are little short of embarrassing, making it obvious the band has nothing to actually “rage” about, while versions of songs like “Killing In The Name” just sound like a cover-band (or a bad joke). Ending with a play on a Beastie Boys’ song, “No Sleep Til Cleveland,” is even worse. The last three songs are live recordings, and, though the band is talented, aren’t really worthy of release. From the looks of it, Prophets Of Rage aren’t really a band that needs to exist.

The Bad Plus- It’s Hard [8/26]

Amongst the best post-bop jazz groups out there, The Bad Plus continue to put out spellbinding instrumental albums both timeless and challenging. Their newest, It’s Hard, covers a variety of others’ material, from jazz standards to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Johnny Cash to Prince. For the most part, listeners wouldn’t be able to tell what the songs originated as, the band completely reworking the compositions to fit into ambitious jazz compositions, always introducing new ideas and melodies along the way. The band sticks to piano, upright bass and drums throughout, keeping the sound consistent as the style constantly shifts. It’s Hard is another great release from The Bad Plus that reinforces the band’s endless talent.

Upcoming Tour Dates: 9/3 @ Chicago Jazz Festival

Carl Broemel- 4th Of July [8/19]

My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel released his third solo album, 4th Of July, which strays from his primary band’s sound for a more simplistic, folky style. Inarguably amongst the better guitarists in today’s music scene, the album features plenty of interesting guitar melodies and riffs, but focuses on the songwriting itself. With big, polished production and densely layered instrumentation, one would never guess this came from a member of MMJ. It’s a difficult album not to enjoy, its bigger jams balanced with gentler tunes, never faltering throughout. 

Upcoming Tour Dates: 11/18 @ SPACE

Morgan Delt- Phase Zero [8/26]

LA-based Morgan Delt is a hard band to pin down. “Psychedelic” is too easy a description, not capturing the overall strangeness of their sound. The band layers trippy noises atop one another endlessly, yet the songs somehow don't feel cluttered. The guitar lines would fit in any late 60s psych band’s repertoire, yet the compositions themselves are undoubtedly modern, and weird even by today’s standards. The end result is a trippy mess, each song changing constantly, adding and subtracting layers over harmonized vocals and splashing guitars. It’s an insanely fun listen, and certainly unlike anything else that will be released in 2016.

Upcoming Tour Dates: 9/14 @ Empty Bottle

Cass McCombs- Mangy Love [8/26]

With Mangy Love, prolific songwriter Cass McCombs refines his sound to create one of his most cohesive and impressive records to date. Still steeped primarily in folk-rock, the album uses clean guitars, keyboards and rhythm section in a way that keeps the focus on the lyrics, while also occasionally incorporating auxiliary instruments like flute, horns or strings. Lyrically, the album is brilliant, with a heavy focus on mortality and living in the modern world. His simple delivery fits the equally simplistic musical style. Mangy Love is amongst the best songwriting of the year, and features everything that Cass McCombs has worked toward throughout his musical career.

Upcoming Tour Dates: 10/21 @ Empty Bottle

De La Soul- And The Anonymous Nobody [8/26]

De La Soul return for their first new album in four years with the Kickstarter-funded And The Anonymous Nobody. Though the record continues the band nostalgic hip-hop sound, it also features a slew of guests. In fact, it features so many guests that sometimes forget you’re listening to De La Soul at all. Collaborating with David Byrne, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Damon Albarn and many, many more, every song seems to feature guests entering and exiting constantly. It can be a bit much, yet the album still somehow works. It’s classic hip-hop, with excellent beats and production, and solid lyricism. Though it will never live up the band’s classics, And The Anonymous Nobody is a fun listen and a welcome addition to De La Soul’s discography.

Gringo Star- The Sides And In Between [8/26]

Gringo Star has a distinct sound that combines psychedelic, indie-rock and surf vibes to create infectious, breezy pop songs. The band rarely strays from their formulaic style, and is all the better for it. The Sides And In Between is the kind of album you expect to see a band playing in a California garage, the kind of record you’d listen to on the way to the beach. The always thumping bass lines and oscillated guitar lines get you dancing within minutes, each vocal melody catchier than the last. Gringo Star isn’t breaking down any barriers with this one, but don’t need to. It’s a fun record definitely worth hearing.

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