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Little Dragon
Nabuma Rubberband - LOMA VISTA
FILTER Grade: 84%

By Kathy Iandoli on July 1, 2014

 

Little Dragon

Little Dragon are placed in a bit of a conundrum with their fourth studio album Nabuma Rubberband. When the band first emerged in 2007 with their self-titled debut, the electronic music movement wasn’t yet filtered, funneled and repackaged as EDM. Nabuma finds them looking to expand by experimenting with various styles—from the bossa nova undertones of opener “Mirror” to the zippy electro-guitar licks of “Klapp Klapp.” Things smooth out toward the middle but suffer from over-diversification, with “Pretty Girls’” ’80s synth vibe giving way to trance-y trip-hoppy cuts like “Underbart” and “Cat Rider” that ultimately transform into electro-pop in “Paris.” The title track marks a movement to...

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Peter Matthew Bauer
Liberation! - MEXICAN SUMMER
FILTER Grade: 82%

By Sarabeth Oppliger on July 1, 2014

 

Peter Matthew Bauer

Much like the rugged, yet refined quality he brought to The Walkmen, Peter Matthew Bauer’s debut solo album has that sort of grit you want to plunge your hands into. Brushed drums and colorful spreads of reverb paint Liberation!, modestly complimenting trills of Petty-esque vocals. The lyricism, according to Bauer, aims to confront that paradox of finding light within seemingly endless darkness. While the album spawned from Bauer’s Hinduism and his childhood growing up in various ashrams, the spiritual influence on Liberation! is still rather light. A dash of otherworldly sounds give the otherwise good album that extra oomph on tracks like “Istanbul Field” and “Philadelphia Raga,” but the...

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Sharon Van Etten
Are We There - JAGJAGUWAR
FILTER Grade: 86%

By Kyle Lemmon on July 1, 2014

 

Sharon Van Etten

 

The title of Sharon Van Etten’s fourth record is missing a critical punctuation mark on purpose. Are We There is the sound of an iterant career musician in the middle of an emotionally trying period. Thankfully, Van Etten’s introspective rock tunes are still sifted through the ’70s singer-songwriter roots of previous recordings. (Trivia note: Some of the instruments on this album were used by John Lennon and Patti Smith.) Are We There’s best track by a long shot is “Your Love Is Killing Me.” The raw-nerve lyrics are pretty clear-cut: “Break my leg so I can’t walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you/Burn my skin so I can’t feel you/Stab my eyes so I can’t see.” All the verbs...

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Swans
To Be Kind - MUTE/YOUNG GOD
FILTER Grade: 84%

By Adam Pollock on June 26, 2014

 

Swans

 

Swans are not a mainstream band; their music has only been heard by a minute percentage of the population. This is a travesty, for Swans are mind-blowing, and should surely be experienced at least by the number of people who are subjected to Nicki Minaj on a daily basis. To the uninitiated, the (currently) six-piece experimental New York–based noise-rock band can perhaps be broadly described as “a moody-voiced guy ominously droning/yelling over the sound of extremely loud, ambitious performance art. With explosions.” But Swans are also oh so much more. On their new opus, the over-two-hour-long To Be Kind, Michael Gira and his very serious men, with occasional support from a number of...

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Hundred Waters
The Moon Rang Like a Bell - OWSLA
FILTER Grade: 83%

By Christian Koons on June 26, 2014

 

Hundred Waters

 

It’s hard to listen to album opener “Show Me Love”—a haunting a cappella composition of morphed vocals and arching harmonies—without making a knee-jerk comparison to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” but listen a bit more and you’ll forget about that overplayed and over-parodied song altogether. It functions like a lullaby that draws you, eyes glazed, into a dream of a record. The front half of The Moon Rang Like a Bell is a tapestry of complex percussion that resists locking into a solid rhythm (à la James Blake), ethereal synths reminiscent of Hail to the Thief’s sonic landscape, and singer Nicole Miglis’s delicate and fluttering yet forceful voice. The back end gets more accessible,...

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Mastodon
Once More 'Round The Sun - REPRISE
FILTER Grade: 78%

By Kurt Orzeck on June 26, 2014

 

Mastodon

Props to Mastodon for deviating from the well-trod metal path of making every new album heavier than the last. Continuing down the road they embarked upon with 2011’s The Hunter, America’s most mainstream metal act has doubled down on melody, harmony and verse-chorus-verse, and crafted something of a sister album, albeit with less adventure. Every song on Mastodon’s sixth album cops at least a little from the band’s past material—sometimes a lot. And while Sun has a sinister tone à la Blood Mountain or Crack the Skye, it doesn’t take the risks that those masterpieces did. “High Road,” “The Motherload,” “Asleep in the Deep” and “Halloween” are keepers, but they don’t quite put Sun in the...

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How To Dress Well
What Is This Heart? - DOMINO/WEIRD WORLD
FILTER Grade: 76%

By Laura Studarus on June 23, 2014

 

How To Dress Well

“What Is This Heart?,” the title of Tom Krell’s third album under the How to Dress Well moniker, isn’t so much a statement as a search, one that he chases across 12 tracks of emotive R & B/pop. Answers are always just out of reach; tracks play like internalized therapy sessions. (Read: homeboy has feelings and you’re going to hear about all of them.) It’s a lot to unpack, statements of self-doubt and passion made all the more penetrating by Krell’s indelible falsetto and liberal use of crescendos. He employs both like weapons over dense beds of swelling strings and spacey synths, the potent combination transforming expressions of uncertainty such as “I don’t even know what’s best for me”...

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Rodrigo y Gabriela
9 Dead Alive - ATO
FILTER Grade: 78%

By Daniel Kohn on June 20, 2014

 

Rodrigo y Gabriela

On their fifth studio effort, the Mexican duo return to their roots with the dueling salsa-meets-flamenco guitars that caught on with fans in the first place. Each song is dedicated to an artist they respect, and thus, the guitarists pay tribute in a way that’s flashy and adventurous, yet sees them intricate and technically proficient. Sometimes going back to what works can be a crutch and creatively stifling, but for Rodrigo y Gabriela, it’s a welcome return.

Lee Fields & The Expressions
Emma Jean - TRUTH & SOUL
FILTER Grade: 78%

By Daniel Kohn on June 20, 2014

 

Lee Fields & The Expressions

He may not be as well known as his contemporaries, but being underrated hasn’t affected Lee Fields’s legacy. In over 45 years of making music, the soul veteran has fluently melded funk, blues and R & B. His latest effort, Emma Jean, builds on the explorational acclaim of his past two well-received records. With a booming yet unshakeable voice that hasn’t aged a bit, Fields and his terrific backing band’s sharply-focused instrumentation—including the bold use of horns—are a throwback to a time when singers were laidback, showcasing their swagger and confidence by bearing their souls through deeply personal songs. It’s this aura of vulnerability that makes songs like the Dan Auerbach–penned...

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Tijuana Panthers
Wayne Interest - INNOVATIVE LEISURE
FILTER Grade: 82%

By Angela Ratzlaff on June 20, 2014

 

Tijuana Panthers

If anybody knows a thing or two about surf rock, it’s three American dudes who hail from Long Beach. Tijuana Panthers’ third full-length, Wayne Interest, is—like their first two albums—soaked with salt water and roughed up with grains of sand. However, there are notable changes; the evolution of Tijuana Panthers’ sound includes the album’s richer tone. Wayne Interest offers more flowing psychedelic melodies (“NOBO,” “7th Seal”), as well as hints of ‘80s post-punk influences (“Money Jar,” “Four Horsemen”). TP’s lyrical content also digs deeper into issues about money, jobs and new goals, a contrast to earlier songs about summer, haircuts and jeans. This new sound, established yet still...

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