Essential New Music: Kylesa’s “Exhausting Fire”

Kylesa

Though Kylesa has released seven proper albums since forming in 2001, Exhausting Fire is the fourth—and best—installment of what will hopefully one day be recognized as the finest thing going in the forward-thinking heavy underground. (From metal to authentic heaviness without any metal to a gazillion points throughout.) Since the release of 2009’s Static Tensions, Kylesa has trafficked in a wholly original utilization of massive burliness via riffs and teeth-rattling heaviness; tastefully applied psych elements; the most infectious of hooks (guitar and vocal anchor Laura Pleasants is the primary source of this crucial attribute) that recall the greatest examples of ’90s downbeat indie-rock excellence; frequent forays into tribal and polyrhythmic drumming that somehow double as the perfect framework for the heaviest pop band on the planet; and an immediately identifiable—not to mention emotionally impactful—male/female approach (not always within the same song, however) to the venerable vocal dichotomy of ferocious and visceral played against hauntingly beautiful. If Exhausting Fire emerges from the looming “best of 2015” listicle-orgy as a dominating presence, then music journalism might survive another year.

—Andrew Earles

Essential New Music: Tom Carter’s “Long Time Underground”

TomCarter

Three years ago, guitarist Tom Carter (Charalambides, Sarin Smoke, etc.) checked into a German doctor’s office with what seemed like a bad flu. It turned out to be pneumonia so severe that he ended up in a coma. This double LP of solo electric guitar instrumentals resonates with that experience and its life-changing effects. Psychedelic musicians have long celebrated their psychoactive substances of choice; Carter includes a slow-paced, rue-tinged ode to a beta blocker. Clean-toned rhythm figures pulse like a deep subconscious state, and the leads rise up through them with the enforced patience of an ascending diving bell. When Carter finally busts out the fuzz-tones that emerge on side three’s “Prussian Book Of The Dead,” you hear the exultation of someone who isn’t just cutting loose for the sake of it, but has good reason to savor the fact that he’s still alive.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Peaches’ “Rub”

Peaches

Creepy-sexy pre-EDM goddess Peaches expands her bitchy brand and salty sound beyond naughty electropunk for Rub, her first album since 2009’s I Feel Cream. Being away from the studio gave her time to ruminate with the lyrical and vocal help of Kim Gordon and Feist—women who, like Peaches, changed how we channel sound and femme imagery, rather than just make dirty sex talk and skeevy dance rawk.

Noise producer Vice Cooler provides Peaches a maximal tone for hard synth-pop cuts such as “Light In Places,” as well as the dramatic, hook-filled “Close Up” (with Gordon chatting up the chorus) and the majestic “I Mean Something,” featuring Feist. Peaches opens up a bit and sing-speaks socio-conscious rhetoric like “Liberate en masse/Eliminate the class/All humans, free at last,” but, of course, finishes that line of thought with something as rude as “So much beauty coming out of my ass.” With that, it’s important to know that Rub stilly happily rubs listeners the wrong-right way with crass, curt tunes such as “Dick In The Air” and “Vaginoplasty.”

—A.D. Amorosi

Essential New Music: The Clientele’s “Alone And Unreal: The Best Of The Clientele”

Clientele

Although Felt-fans Alasdair MacLean and bassist James Hornsey started collaborating while in their teens and formed their first band in 1991, the debut Clientele album didn’t appear until 2000. Between then and 2010’s mini-album Minotaur, the Clientele released five albums, each a crepuscular treasure. Although several members came and went from the quartet, and the arrangements on some albums expanded to include strings or a horn or two, MacLean’s hazy, melancholy vocals and crystalline guitar picking made the LPs remarkably consistent. Alone And Unreal compiles 10 album tracks plus one recent single (“On A Summer Trail”); it’s neither better nor worse than any other Clientele album, but it’s an excellent primer. The real treat for fans, though, comes in the deluxe edition, which includes a 10-track “lost album” from 1994, The Sound Of Young Basingstoke. Although the production is a bit thin, the songs, some of which resurfaced later, are as shimmery and inviting as the ones chosen for Alone And Unreal.

—Steve Klinge

Essential New Music: Dungen’s “Allas Sak”

Dungen

When I was 10, I had a Swedish nanny who used to sing lullabies to me in her native tongue. One night, a friend slept over, but unbeknownst to her, he was the son of a Swedish diplomat. When she left, he said, “Her song is about hoping you die in your sleep.” I said, “It’s so beautiful, I hope I do, too.” None of that is true, but it illustrates a good point. Dungen’s Gustav Ejstes has never sung in English, but language is only a barrier if you perceive it to be. Allas Sak, Dungen’s first album in nearly five years, is a brilliant pastiche of styles—swelling piano/guitar prog, quirky jazz fusion, Traffic/Jethro Tull-tinged rock—with Ejstes’ quietly evocative voice becoming another musical texture in the absence of discernible lyrics. With repeated listenings, his unintelligible phrasings can take on some faux-significance as one’s imagination shapes it into a recognizable form. For the record, Allas Sak loosely translates to “everyone’s thing”; from Ejstes’ Swedish mouth to the world’s multilingual ear.

—Brian Baker

Essential New Music: Wavves’ “V”

Wavves

Wavves’ history is littered with low-grade dramatic stupidity and unexpected collaborations (MTV, Big Boi, Grand Theft Auto). It’s so much that you wouldn’t be kicked out of bed for thinking vocalist/guitarist/mastermind Nathan Williams was masterminding an extensive punking that, after the big reveal, saw Williams, Ashton Kutcher and Alan Funt emerge and break into a set of bastardized Dick Dale and Ween covers. Hell, a small corner of the internet (read: the Wavves Facebook page) is still losing its shit over the latest promo pictures of the band dressed like the Spin Doctors still sell records. Who’s to say chains, even if they be gold, shiny and hanging from around members’ necks, aren’t being yanked left, right and center?

However, even if we are being collectively yanked, you can’t deny that the yanking at the hands of V feels pretty good. (Minds out of the gutter, people!) Many complaints were launched after Afraid Of Heights sidled toward Green Day-ish punk. That idea will have holes poked in it with the razor-sharp guitar and its recall of twitching surf rock. Imagine Devo and the Ventures setting up face-to-face on Venice Beach à la Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. Williams emerges from a cotton candy-colored yurt, counts the mess in, and it soars with the flanged guitars and sock-hop rhythms of “Heavy Metal Detox,” the wiry power pop of “Way Too Much,” and the infectious vocal lines of “My Head Hurts” slicing thin strips of the Ramones and basting them to quirky surf rock executed with no-consequences brattiness. Sure, it’s steeped in familiarity, but it’s also fun in the sun, and who cares if they end up with weird tan lines because of the backward baseball caps?

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

Essential New Music: Supersuckers’ “Holdin’ The Bag”

Supersuckers

Eternal rabble-rouser Eddie Spaghetti and Co. return with another helping of shit-kicker power country in the vein of 1997’s Must’ve Been High. Guest spots from the incomparable Hayes Carll and sultry crooner Lydia Loveless only add to that allure. The release falls on the heels of the frontman’s battle with stage-three oropharanx cancer and a string of cancelled European dates; he promises to make a full recovery complete with touring in support. Godspeed, Eddie. From the hell-bent harp howling of the album-opening title track to the perhaps tongue-in-cheek backhand at the state of so-called pop country and its seemingly nonsensical, at times uncreative wordplay on “Let’s Bounce,” Holdin’ The Bag pleases the punks and suppresses the alt-country garage rockers alike. Choice covers of Bocephus and Shaver close out the record like a late-round one-two combination.

—Scott Zuppardo

Essential New Music: Lou Barlow’s “Brace The Wave”

LouBarlow

Lou Barlow is a legit legend—if, as he’d probably prefer it, of the little-“l” variety—and every bit as much an old-guard indie-rock lifer as Malkmus, Pollard or, say, his old nemesis Mascis. If he lacks much of those dudes’ cachet and practically any of their mystique, put it down to his unassuming, emphatically casual persona, as reflected by his preferred aesthetic modes, both aural and visual: low-key, low-strung, lowercase and lo-fi. Historically speaking, at least. Brace The Wave, like the two previous Barlow LPs, is a notably more polished and considered affair than his erstwhile Sentridoh offerings, though it captures a comparable sense of intimacy and immediacy. (Elliott Smith’s Either/Or is a decent reference point, sonically and otherwise.) Given the prolificacy (and, you know, lenient self-editing) of Barlow’s home-taping decades, it’s telling that, even trailing his last album by six years (which saw the continuation of successful reunions for both Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr), this outing contains a mere nine songs. Frill-free cover on down, this is a deliberately small record: trim, but hardly slight. Each song boasts a strong, memorable melody, buoyed as always by Barlow’s familiarly resonant, expressive, pliable voice, and there’s an appreciable dynamic range within its generally understated, drum-free palette—from poppy, burnished near-rocker “Boundaries” to the sweet, gentle acoustic picking of “Repeat.” Standout “Nerve” builds from a gruff, jagged off-kilter march into an unexpectedly lush, harmonized chorus: “What’s wrong with wanting more than I deserve?” As usual, he’s selling himself short. Go get it, Lou!

—K. Ross Hoffman

Essential New Music: !!!’s “As If”

!!!

The saga of !!! (or Chk Chk Chk, or whatever clicking, clacking noise you can muster) is as long and cluttered—yet ultimately straightforward and simple—as its music. Nearly 20 years old, !!! was the dance-punk California creation of singer Nic Offer, guitarist Mario Andreoni and a handful of throwaways from Black Liquorice and the Yah Mos. With its first album in 2000, !!! beat other skittering, chanty rock-rhythm ensembles such as the Juan Maclean and LCD Soundsystem to the punch. Still, somehow Juan and James Murphy’s LCD got the headlines and hits, and had the stronger profiles. To an extent, !!!’s rock-’em-sock-’em brand of punk-funk may have been sharper and shard-ier due to the DFA label connection to NYC and Rhode Island. The funk is harder on the East Coast, the contrast between the airy chill of the band’s melodies against the heat of its catty grooves more clearly delineated. (Sorry for the weather report.) Which is why As If kicks a bit more ass than its five studio predecessors, as the !!! crew exists more as a New York City-based group now, with a greater focus on pumped-up pulses to go with the sinewy melodies. There’s less of a floating, jive-y jam-band sound, with the oblong disco of “Freedom! ’15,” the party-ball pop of “Bam City” and the salty R&B house-music mix of “Sick Ass Moon” offering contrapuntal melodies that are Moebius-stripped to tight-ass perfection alongside biggish beats. As If offers something close to perfection, as far as !!! goes.

—A.D. Amorosi

Essential New Music: David Bowie’s “Five Years 1969-1973”

DavidBowie

Thursday, July 6, 1972. Britain’s youth tune in to the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. They are confronted by a performance as stylish, subversive and iconic as the Beatles on Ed Sullivan or, later, the Sex Pistols creating drunken havoc on the Bill Grundy show. The hype had been building through the year, but nothing prepared the nation for the eye-popping vision of David Bowie flouncing shamelessly through “Starman” with the Spiders From Mars. Parents were appalled, but the kids suddenly had a new pop messiah, and a bright new future beckoned. By the end of the year, Bowie had reinvented himself as Ziggy Stardust and taken America.

It wasn’t an overnight success story. Far from it. Bowie had been floundering around the British pop hinterland for almost a decade, flitting from image to image with little commercial success. And it’s this trajectory—from stumbling beginnings to cultural lightning rod—that’s captured on Five Years 1969-1973, a magnificent behemoth of a boxed set.

Technically speaking, it might be better renamed Four Years (which doesn’t quite have the same ring or the play upon the song title), but you get the gist, as 1969-1972 was where Bowie found his voice as an artist, building and cementing his legend. 1973 was the year he consolidated his newfound status as the world’s preeminent postmodern pop star, witnessed here by the nervy, wired glam-rock thrills of Aladdin Sane and the odds ‘n’ sods of Pin Ups. Elsewhere, Bowie fans with money to burn get all four of his other (remastered) studio albums of the period (David BowieThe Man Who Sold The WorldHunky DoryThe Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars), two live albums (Live Santa Monica ’72, the Ziggy motion-picture soundtrack), plus a 2003 Ken Scott remix of Ziggy and—one for the completists—Re:Call 1, a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks, as is de rigueur with such collections.

The average Bowie obsessive will most likely own a great deal of this, and any fan of pop music in general with even a modicum of taste and style should own at least two of these albums (Hunky Dory and Ziggy, in case you were wondering). So, what’s the point, other than to enrich the already substantial Bowie coffers? It’s an historical artifact, one put carefully together by Dame David himself, an attempt to ensure his historical legacy, one that follows his path from uncertainty to legend—and in doing so, altering the course of pop music and defining a decade. And really, you can’t ask for much more than that.

—Neil Ferguson