Album Reviews | August 2017 Releases

Randy Newman – Dark Matter [8/4]

It only makes sense for Randy Newman to return in 2017 with his first new material in nine years. The songwriter’s knack for cynical and sarcastic songwriting fits perfectly with the political climate, a fact not lost on Newman, who delivers songs like “Putin” with a firm tongue-in-cheek cleverness. The record still displays the same genius songwriting the artist has been notorious for throughout the years, making Dark Matter another essential part of his large discography.

Hard Working Americans - We’re All In This Together [8/4]

Hard Working Americans were due for a solid live album, and thus comes We’re All In This Together, a record that collects 13 gritty live tracks from the Americana supergroup. Featuring Todd Snider’s distinctive vocals, Duane Trucks on drums, Widespread’s bassist Dave Schools and Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s guitarist Neal Casal, the music hits as hard as one would imagine. The songs are pulled from three different shows, ensuring that each cut finds the band in top form.

Spafford – Abaculus: An Improvisational Experience [8/9]

Spafford surprised fans with a new album earlier this week. Abaculus is an hour long improvisation, cut last summer as an exercise for the band. According to the band, the recording came after especially uninspired rehearsals, and, led by guitarist Brian Moss, the band simply listened closely to one another, with no visual or verbal communication whatsoever. The result is a wormhole of psychedelic jamming, spacey and trippy, building and breathing as it goes. And the result is, quite frankly, stunning.

Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics II [8/11]

Thompson’s vocal abilities are second only to his guitar playing. Thus, this collection of solo recordings of songs from his massive back catalog is beyond powerful. Though the songwriting is inevitably fantastic, it’s the sheer emotion of the performances that truly makes it work. Thompson’s delivery recalls classic blues, but all with his own original spin. For past fans and newcomers alike, Acoustic Classics II is absolute worth a listen.

Frankie Rose- Cage Tropical [8/11]

With a smooth combination of indie-pop and early-80s new wave, New York songwriter Frankie Rose has created a gorgeous, atmospheric set of songs on Cage Tropical. These are the kind of songs where empty space is as important as some of the instrumentation, and production is practically an instrument in its own right. There’s a driving energy throughout, with layers being added and subtracted constantly, her vocals layers in ghostly, reverbed harmony throughout. It’s a sound that’s hard to perfect, but Frankie Rose is well on the way to becoming a master.

Guided By Voices – How Do You Spell Heaven? [8/11]

The 24th record from the endlessly prolific Guided By Voices, How Do You Spell Heaven is everything fans could want or expect from the lo-fi pioneers. Over the course of 15 songs that mostly fall under the three-minute mark, the band sticks primarily to electric rockers with simple but effective riffs. Pollard’s lyrics are inventive as ever, unique but natural, and the songs have enough variety to keep listeners engaged. 35 years in, these guys have still got it.

The Districts - Popular Manipulations [8/11]

The Districts specialize in a radio-ready combination of alternative and indie rock, combining hard-hitting, guitar-driven instrumentals with infectious vocals. Accessible but original, playful but sincere, Popular Manipulations finds the band truly reaching maturity.

Downtown Boys – Cost Of Living [8/11]

Given the current political climate, it only makes sense that politically-charged punk rock would make a resurgence. It’s possible that nobody is tackling this as well as Downtown Boys, who combine shouted, call-and-response vocals with blistering electric instrumentation and horns. Though the band manages to incorporate shifting tempos, synthesizers and pianos, and the occasional production trick, the energy never fades on Cost Of Living, making this a refreshing punk record and not simply nostalgic or repetitive.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Sketches of Brunswick East [8/17]

Insanely prolific Australian psychedelic rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released their third new record of 2017 this week, with two more set for release by the year’s end. The band collaborated with Mild High Club for a smoother, trippy lounge sound that underlies the band’s natural psychedelic tendencies, making this a truly unique sound for the band. The group melds guitar-rock, noise-rock, jazz, funk and progressive rock to make what is undoubtedly one of the band’s most interesting and consistent records to date.

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins [8/18]

Chamber-pop indie pioneers Grizzly Bear return after five dormant years with yet another record of intricately composed songs. Every moment of Painted Ruins feels extremely conscious, ranging from upbeat to ambient, shifting constantly without losing the band’s distinct sound. It’s a gorgeous album, with excellent performances and stunning production, and arguably amongst the band’s best work to date.

Kacy & Clayton – The Siren’s Song [8/18]

Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton create a timeless, classic style of folk music that encapsulates the many directions one can travel in the genre. The Siren’s Song was recorded at Jeff Tweedy’s Chicago studio and produced by the Wilco frontman, giving it a clean, twangy sound, infectious and simplified. The two harmonize gorgeously, and the songwriting is as traditional as the sound itself, a more difficult task to accomplish than most would think. It’s a beautiful record, straightforward but tantalizing, and shouldn’t be ignored.

Brand New – Science Fiction [8/18]

Emo-rock mainstays Brand New have the kind of fanbase that will argue their merits endlessly, diehards that cling onto every note in every song the band ever released. When the band drops their first new album in eight years with little to no warning, the result is a freak-out of sorts. In truth, the band earns its reputation, and its spot on this list, by creating moody, emotionally-jarring songs that straddle the line between emo, hard-rock and alternative, switching suddenly between solemn, spacious tracks and explosive heavy-hitters. Science Fiction is another success for the band, dynamic and creative, and contains a little something for music fans of any kind.

Dent May – Across The Multiverse [8/18]

Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Dent May evokes the baroque-pop sensibilities of early 70s Beach Boys with the exploratory nature of modern bedroom recordings. The songs on Across The Multiverse are extremely dense, with strings, synthesizers, auxiliary percussion and more mixing in with more typical instruments, May’s vocals delivered in harmonized croons. It’s an ambitious record, to say the least, and certainly worth a listen.

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding [8/25]

The newest record from psych-rock staples The War On Drugs is the most fully realized product from the band yet. Every song has a density, layers stacking endlessly to create a spacey whole. Timeless songwriting and impeccable production combine to make this a mesmerizing listen from beginning to end. It’s nearly impossible not to get lost in this album, its intensity building and releasing throughout. Like a blueprint for modern psychedelic music, A Deeper Understanding is an incredible work of art.

Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains [8/25]

Alternative rock masterminds Queens Of The Stone Age return with a much-anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Like Clockwork. Full of hard-hitting guitar-riffs and never lacking in energy, the album has a classic-rock feel with a modern twist, with Mark Ronson adding a slick production value that makes this a truly new venture for the band. An incredible record for rock fans of all sorts, Villains just might end up being one of the best albums of 2017.

Oh Sees – Orc [8/25]

Prolific California psychedelic rockers Thee Oh Sees may have dropped the “Thee” from their name, but their musical style hasn’t changed a bit. Orc is yet another album of bombastic, guitar-driven psychedelic songs with relentless rock ‘n roll energy. Though the band continues sneaking synthesizers into their instrumentals, there’s an underlying heaviness that truly makes this album shine, a sense of urgency coming through in every track. It’s classic (Thee) Oh Sees, and fans should have absolutely no reason to complain.

Iron & Wine – Beast Epic [8/25]

Though often pinned as a downbeat, indie-folk outfit, Iron & Wine has seen constant sonic transformations throughout songwriter Sam Beam’s career. The result from free experimentation, it seems, is Beast Epic, an album that returns to his folk roots while incorporating the vast instrumentation and dense production of the band at their most extreme. Beast Epic is a beautiful album, with warm acoustic guitars and Beam’s whispered vocals remaining the base as other layers come and go. The simplicity of Iron & Wine’s earliest records is gone, but the stellar songwriting and welcoming tone remains the same.

Filthy Friends – Invitation [8/25]

Filthy Friends consists of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, King Crimson’s Bill Rieflin and two members of the Minus 5, possibly making them one of the most unexpected supergroups of all time. Originally formed to simply cover David Bowie songs, the group released their debut album today, Invitation, which is a straightforward blast of alternative rock. Tucker’s vocals are matched by Buck’s equally recognizable guitar licks while the percussion section creates an endless, driving momentum, making this more than a brief creative break for the eclectic members, but an incredible band in its own right.

Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real – Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real

Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson has temporarily graduated from backing Neil Young, releasing an album of 12 original songs that stick to a simple folk-rock style that the artist does best. Joined by Lucius, Lady Gaga and Willie himself, the record’s collaborators tend to make the songs, though pleasant in their own right.

Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

Fans of long psychedelic jams would be wise to tune in to Chris Forsyth’s sonic explorations. Their newest album, though only four songs long, covers a whole lot of territory, the lengthy instrumentals moving endlessly onward, exploring new directions with every passing minute. It’s a very conscious sound, bordering the jam-band scene, progressive rock, classic psychedelic sounds and a splash of garage-rock energy, making it an enticing listen as a whole.

EMA – Exile In The Outer Ring [8/25]

South Dakota songwriter EMA has a knack for creating incredible, otherworldly textures in her music, and her newest is no exception. There’s a beautiful sadness to her songs, brought home by minimalist tendencies where a little goes a long way. Synthesizers and drum machines are matched by reverbed guitars and layered vocals, songs moving at a snail’s pace but extremely compelling. Exile In The Outer Ring doesn’t feel like it’s from any specific era, drawing attention to just how unique EMA truly is.

together PANGEA – Bulls And Roosters [8/25]

Garage and punk band together PANGEA continues doing what they do best with Bulls And Roosters. The grungy, energetic songs led by sloppy electric guitars and melodic vocals are impossibly catchy, capturing an authentic, youthful vigor that is hard to master. An album that is clearly meant to be played at full volume, Bulls And Roosters is organic garage-rock that solidifies the band’s vital role in today’s scene.

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