"Leon vs. The Revolution"
It's another year, another set of releases from the incomparable Melvins, whose five-song EP The Bulls & The Bees (with its Big Business lineup) preceded Freak Puke, a new full-length album as Melvins Lite with Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn.
The album is “lite” due to the streamlined three-piece lineup, and the rock riffs aren’t quite as abrasive — more in the psych, garage, and classic veins than the band’s sludgier fare. Dunn creates a much moodier, smoky environment with his bowed and walking bass, adding a jazzy and improvised element to contrast with the pure rock.
And at times, guitarist Buzz Osborne presents a sort of half-strength vocal delivery, paring down the intensity in favor of texture. It’s yet another new side of a band whose influential career has spanned three decades.
- Scott Morrow
"Go Right Ahead"
In 2000, The Hives hijacked the garage-rock takeover with a two-tone wardrobe, the huge single/video "Hate to Say I Told You So," and the very sharp studio album Veni Vidi Vicious. Exemplifying the Swedish indie scene’s knack for reinterpretation of retro genre details, the band seemed poised to dominate the genre for the rest of the decade. But the hard-touring group only mustered one new full-length between 2004 and 2012, the glossy 2008 release The Black and White Album. Sue us if we feel a bit deprived.
The new Lex Hives is the kind of next chapter that few bands remember to write. It still slashes with the double-snare crack beats, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s Ramones-meets-Iggy snarl, and Nicholaus Arson’s whiplash guitar licks. But on Lex, the band also shows a real taste for the bubblegum glam (“1000 Answers”) in its most hooky rock ’n’ roll. Single “Go Right Ahead” amps up a classic garage riff with big band horns and a potentially subconscious ode to ELO.
The wonder of Lex Hives is in its careful balancing act between the pogo-worthy punk and the band’s various alter egos. It makes room for a kind of smoldering lament on “Without the Money,” the psych-rock storytelling of “My Time is Coming” and the speed-freak Cali punk of “These Spectacles Reveal The Nostalgics.” The band almost boogies with all the piano and brass on “Midnight Shifter.”
Few, read none, of the garage-rock contenders from the class of 2000 are still blasting out the goodies at this level. Rather than succumb to a world-weary serious rock effort, The Hives has sharpened its attack and sweetened its candy jar. It's much more fun than a trip to the dentist, anyway.
- John Dugan
"Young and Lovely" f. Zac Pennington & Soko
Jherek Bischoff has more than a few tricks up his very well-tailored sleeves. A member of the experimental pop group Parenthetical Girls, Bischoff is maybe a renaissance man, maybe one of many. He’s not the only musician whose pedigree includes both experimental ensembles like Xiu Xiu and more classically oriented groups like Wordless Music.
Bischoff’s latest, Composed, is a piece of immaculately arranged orchestral pop, one whose level of baroque whimsy varies by track and by guest after noteworthy guest. The second song — following a brief instrumental introduction — has an elegant and romantic lilt to its lush strings, carrying David Byrne’s vocals like a wave. The very next song feels more contemporary, with a daring vocal part by Caetano Veloso sung over the string section’s muted and dissonant strikes and the invasion of distracted electronics in the midst of its finale.
“Insomnia, Death and the Sea” is a kinetic, cinematic closer, its final three minutes a long crescendo that erupts in a moment that is undeniably the climax of the entire record. But is it triumphant? Or is it tragic? Only as “Introduction (Defeat)” fades in again does the answer become clear.
And yet we’re unsure again, because on the intro’s heels comes that light baroque sound of the David Byrne track, the sound not of defeat at all but of a promenade through Shangri-La. Then again, it may be the celestial strings of the afterlife. Either way, the ambiguity is the best part, and it’s a magical few minutes, hearing the album interact with itself. It probably wasn’t even intentional, yet it feels like the work of a master illusionist.
- Text by Timothy A. Schuler. Read the full review here.
Fear Factory’s eighth full-length studio album, The Industrialist, is the next chapter in the band's sci-fi narrative that has spanned the past two decades. The futuristic storyline, however, is a mere backdrop for the blistering noise of its soundtrack.
Crafted by Mechanized writers and band-mates Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares, on vocals and guitar respectively, the newest album is a space-shattering embodiment of Fear Factory’s longstanding legacy.
The tracks “God Eater” and “Disassemble” exemplify the band’s signature style, layering an array of metal and Bell’s recognizable vocal patterns upon an authentic industrial base. And moments when narrative fuses with composition in musical alchemy — as in “Depraved Mind Murder” — showcase both the band’s tightness and dedication to theme.
In its entirety, The Industrialist, though speaking to the complications of being an android, is a well-orchestrated montage of universal agitation and despair.
- Danielle Turney
"No. 1 Against the Rush"
Once you pair an image to a sound, it’s difficult to scrub away. Like having an actor’s face thrust onto a character from a beloved book, a music video can forever alter a song, and so anyone who saw the Todd Cole-directed video for Liars’ “No. 1 Against the Rush” will always associate its sparse beats and drugged-up synths with the midnight vistas of a derelict city, sprawlscapes illuminated only by the headlights of an unmarked van.
WIXIW, the band’s unpronounceable new release, is unsettling. It’s not really in your face, and not at all heavy, but in the dance noir that Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross explore here, there’s a darkness that feels confined — not the night sky above a desert highway, but one obscured by the light pollution of a strung-out city.
When a band trades in more traditional instruments for electronics, there always will be opposition from stubborn fans, but the differences between Sisterworld and WIXIW are mainly cosmetic. Andrew’s slurred vocals haven’t gone anywhere, and neither have the trio’s atypical song structures. The band’s general aesthetic is as moody and macabre as ever.
In some ways, WIXIW is to Liars what King of Limbs was to Radiohead: an album that opens the door to a new sound while making it clear that we’re still exploring the same house. If the record is deficient in any way, it’s in the wholly absent loud/soft dynamic — a failure too of King of Limbs. There aren’t any identifiable landmarks. If someone dropped you into the middle of the record, you’d have no idea where you were. But then, that may be the point. Like a predator in an unmarked van, Liars may have us right where it wants us.
- Timothy A. Schuler
"Blood Half Moons"
In 2009, Local H frontman Scott Lucas found himself with a batch of songs — intended to win back an ex — that didn’t seem to fit within the Chicago two-piece’s hard-rock repertoire. So, rather than let the material go unreleased, he did what many musicians with a secret soft side are wont to do: he went solo.
Lucas looked to local indie acts — notably, The Tossers, Caviar, and Joy Poppers — to form his sprawling, seven-piece ensemble The Married Men. Its debut was recorded with barely more than a handful of shows under its belt, and it’s apparent. With time, the band’s sound would quickly develop a darker, more powerful sound to match the intensity of its heartfelt lyrics.
For its second LP, Blood Half Moon, Lucas and co. seem to fully embrace the darkness inherent in its music. Whether it’s from the moments that the haunting organ, raspy voice, and booming guitars open the album on “Lover, the Lullaby,” or the desert-inspired “Blood Half Moons” with its “lyrics full of blood, crows, and whiskey,” it’s clear that the band has ditched its quiet, melancholic sound for a more commanding sonic presence. Scott Lucas & The Married Men has found its stride crafting, in its words, “country-ish alt-rock for people who like metal.” And though the description feels a bit off the mark, the band’s new MO is a recipe for success.
- Meaghann Korbel
With a pair of members in US Christmas and one in A Storm of Light, Tennessee trio Generation of Vipers has kept quiet for the past four or five years. But the sludgy post-hardcore three-piece finally self-released its third album, Howl and Filth, last year, and now it gets a proper push and release from Translation Loss.
Engineered by Kurt Ballou of Converge at GodCity, Howl and Filth is a whole new type of hugeness — a little less Neur-Isis and more pure assailment. There are fewer drawn-out, distortion-free buildups, but there's still the same level of dynamics, with spots of melancholy and restraint.
Whether due to structure or due to Ballou's touch, the album sounds much heavier and denser than a "power trio" usually does. Imagine the sonic density of Old Man Gloom with the sheer intensity (and dirge-like riffs) of Converge, and you're pretty close. Crucially, the syncopated beats of drummer BJ Graves hold it all together, often perfectly mid-tempo for head-banging but chock full of fills.
The band's songs, though still not short, have become more concise and well rounded. And after the opening pair of tracks nearly hit 15 minutes together, the eerie piano and string track "All of This is Mine" nicely augments the flow. "Eternal" follows it well, immediately launching back into down-tuned sludge for a four-minute burst. In all, Howl and Filth is a complete album, offering enough for heavy-music fans of all stripes.
- Scott Morrow
Bigg Jus: Machines that Make Civilization (Mush)
Black Sheep Wall: No Matter Where It Ends (Season of Mist)
Japandroids: Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Kool Keith: Love & Danger (Junkadelic)
Felix Martin: Live in Boston (Prosthetic)
Oh No: Ohnomite
Phobia: Remnants of Filth (Willowtip)
Post Teens: The Heat EP (No Idea)
Shmu: Discipline/Communication (Grand Theft Zamboni)