Album-art-for-You-Will-Eventually-Be-Forgotten-by-Empire!-Empire!-(-I-Was-A-Lonely-Estate-) Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

★★★★☆

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate,) the husband/wife duo’s latest album You Will Eventually Be Forgotten is packed with songs standard to the emo revival genre. The unique approach taken to create You Will Eventually Be Forgotten results in a hauntingly compelling album. However, despite the album’s ability to capture its audience’s attention, the way the verses are broken up becomes distracting and diminishes the quality of otherwise good songs.

There are a lot of odd aspects in You Will Eventually Be Forgotten. Throughout the 11-track album, not one song contains a chorus, but is instead heavily verse based, which isn’t a typical approach taken by artists and producers. It works for Empire! Empire! (I Was  a Lonely Estate,) because not only are its tracks scaled back lyrically, but musically as well. Keith Latinen is very nearly a one-man-band who sings, plays the guitar, bass, drums, and cello heard on the album, save for the occasional guitar playing his wife Cathy contributes. The focus of the album is more on vocals, Latinen heard crooning word after word, with only slight emphasis on instrumentals.

Whether intentional or due to the limited individuals contributing to the production of You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, the album contains very basic playing.

No impressive guitar riffs or thundering drums can be heard, but extra noise isn’t really needed for the impact intended. The lyrics, literally, do all the talking while the music complements what’s being sung. Despite each track seeming more like journal entries sung aloud, what’s being said appeals to its listeners, drawing them in and creating an emotional experience.

An untraditional story of love and Latinen’s wedding day, track opener “Ribbon” weaves a chilling tale that captures listeners’ attention immediately when Latinen sings, “I nearly lost you/on our wedding day/It was early afternoon/and you were leaving lunch with your best friend/When your vehicle careened/into an SUV/As it turned out in front of you/Violently flinging you/into the waiting air bag.” It continues with his wife walking down the aisle glowing, despite the bruising from the crash.

While a song or two are dedicated to their relationship, You Will Eventually Be Forgotten has more songs dealing with Latinen’s childhood and people involved in his past.

“Foxfire,” addresses atheism, blaming the bible thumpers shoving scripture down peoples’ throats for the final push to the belief. Four songs later, “It’s So Much Darker When A Light Goes Out,” starts off reminiscing about his grandparents 50th anniversary, but ends chillingly when he sings, “Do you know how/Two trees can grow/as one/When my grandmother died/My grandfather/died too/It took/two whole years/to convince his body/to let him go.”

Traditional clearly isn’t Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)’s approach.

Each song is more of an auditory story, captivating its listeners more intensely than artists have been conditioned to in the past. However, despite the quality of the lyrics and the simplicity of the music, the way the verses are broken up distracts and draws out songs to an overdone extent.

While perhaps an aesthetic decision, Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) needs to recognize when a song should be broken up and when it shouldn’t. Knowing that line would improve the quality of the duo’s work, because the lyrics, while approached differently, possess the captivating quality needed to transfix listeners time after time.

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten tracklist:

  1. “Ribbon”
  2. “I Was Somewhere Cold, Dark … and Lonely”
  3. “We Are People Here. We Are Not Numbers.”
  4. “A Keepsake”
  5. “You Have to Be So Much Better than You Ever Thought”
  6. “Stay Divided”
  7. “Foxfire”
  8. “Things Not Worth Fixing”
  9. “If It’s Bad News, It Can Wait”
  10. “It’s So Much Darker When a Light Goes Out than It Would Have Been If It Had Never Shone”
  11. “The Promise That Life Can Go on No Matter How Bad Our Losses”
Album-art-for-Benjamin-Booker-by-Benjamin-Booker Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker

★★★½☆

Not unlike the skeleton featured on his album artwork, 24 year-old New Orleans blues rocker Benjamin Booker holds up a raw, unpolished depiction of himself on his self-titled debut, promising (and delivering) an honest, unapologetically coarse LP.

Booker’s booked himself a full schedule this year. He’s already toured with Courtney Barnett and Drive By Truckers, played Letterman before even announcing his first album, and plans to release the album the same week he begins opening for Jack White.

Haste isn’t just part of Booker’s business plan, it’s in his very nature. Largely influenced by the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll sound, the majority of the album is propelled by lightning-fast bend riffs and racing drums. Booker’s manic ruckus rages furiously throughout the LP, most notably on the relentless “Have You Seen My Son.” Toward the end of the song, Booker’s sprinting rock hits top speed but stubbornly refuses to let up, resulting in a gnarly crash-and-burn. Fortunately, this wreck is the only time Booker loses control.

An attentive student, Booker’s voice warbles with the defeated, impassioned cry of the ’30s bluesmen who inspired the ’50s rockers who inspired Booker.

Booker understands the basic 12-bar blues structure and uses it to his advantage, bridging the generation gap by placing the modern world’s troubles in the music of the past. His thick, rich tones sound most like the tortured moans of his heroes on “Slow Coming,” so strikingly you might think Robert Johnson had accidentally wandered into the 21st century. Lamenting a slow coming future where “the state decides true love,” Booker admits, “To tell you the truth, I ain’t been sleepin’ too well.”

His rough, scratchy voice whispers spookily on Benjamin Booker’s quieter numbers and screeches menacingly on louder ones. His quivering vocals make perfect sense in his unstoppable rockers (“Violent Shiver,” “Wicked Waters”), but begin to fall flat more and more frequently during the second half of the album (“Happy Homes,” “Old Hearts”). Booker’s rambled vocals are often difficult to distinguish, but his pained howl gets the point across.

His confident rasp is both organic and exciting, and creates a primal atmosphere on an album where anything goes.

Despite that opportunity, Booker sticks to a basic rock instrumentation. This textural traditionalism works as both a gift and a curse; it solidifies Booker’s rocker credibility, but its repetitive nature prevents his emotional palette from expanding beyond blistering bursts of energy. These uncontrollable bursts don’t even allow room for an acoustic guitar until the folky closer “By The Evening.”

Acoustic instruments may not surface until the end, but softer moments do occur along the way. ”Spoon Out My Eyeballs” begins with a light guitar strum, over which Booker whispers a melodically folky verse. Allowing the first glimpse of a human Booker, the verse once again bemoans the modern world with sighed lines like “Now when I listen to the radio/I find love songs written by 40-year olds.” Unlike other Booker tunes, drums don’t rush the song when they enter. Instead, the drums augment the song’s melancholy second verse with a more pleasant, accessible tempo. Inevitably, the song’s third verse returns Booker to his overly rushed style.

Booker structured “Spoon Out My Eyeballs” not according to its lyrics, but according to its various tempos. Instead of relying on catchy choruses or ear-worm hooks, Booker crafts tunes around rudimentary elements like tempo and dynamics. These cunning constructions prove his mania is fueled by a deep understanding of musical mechanics.

In another refreshing, unhurried moment, a pleasant, clean guitar figure drives “I Thought I Heard You Screaming,” which is ironically the only Booker tune without a hasty, violent eruption. Exposing his wounded blues soul again, Booker moans, “It’s a lonely walk/…/You ain’t seen no love since that man walked out your door.” Emotive and defeated, “I Thought I Heard You Screaming” shows Booker’s skills as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, making it the most rewarding song on the album.

A few loose bolts are apparent on Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut, but the good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll record accomplishes all its goals. Presenting an undoubtedly original, unPhotoshopped picture of Booker’s potent blues influence and rare songwriting talent, Benjamin Booker arrives just in time for his Jack White dates.

Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker tracklist:

  1. “Violent Shiver”
  2. “Always Waiting”
  3. “Chippewa”
  4. “Slow Coming”
  5. “Wicked Waters”
  6. “Have You Seen My Son”
  7. “Spoon Out My Eyeballs”
  8. “Happy Homes”
  9. “I Thought I Heard You Screaming”
  10. “Old Hearts”
  11. “Kids Never Growing Older”
  12. “By The Evening”
Album-art-for-Sand+Silence-by-The-Rosebuds The Rosebuds – Sand + Silence

★★★½☆

Two divorcees, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, make up indie-rock duo The Rosebuds. Surprisingly, Howard and Crisp’s musical partnership has grown even stronger post-divorce and has added to both the structural and melodic success of the band’s sixth upcoming album Sand + Silence.

With a helpful collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon during the creation and production process, the team has shaped the music into something almost spiritual. The shockingly organized, natural flow of the album stems from the longtime intimate partnership Howard and Crisp have cultivated throughout their musical and personal involvement. Their years of constant collaboration are showcased so each song contrasts its predecessor, which keeps the listening interesting. 

A well-balanced combination of charmingly cute and grayish melancholy, Sand + Silence leaves every track with its own distinctive attribute to set it apart from the rest.

There’s a melody-centric element found on this album that is apparent after just one listen. Every song has its own particular ring that makes it feel like Howard and Crisp are dying for you to reassuringly let them know that yes, you do remember this song. The duo’s indie folk-rock sound weaves together energetic sounds of graceful intensity and a natural fluidity that’s found when making music with friends.

The charm on this album simulates something off an Avett Brothers or Guster album. Howard and Crisp are totally in-sync, which allures listeners to notice this duo has something other duos simply can’t capture (and remember, they’re divorced). A steady percussion serves as a backdrop to the bumping piano, guitar, and occasional tambourine timbres. These songs are the kinds of songs worth learning on the guitar to showcase at an open mic night. It’s as if the pure melodies are mathematically calculated to hold a certain catchiness that’s enough to make listeners skip backwards.

Considering Howard and Crisp’s split, the romance emanating during some tracks is notably odd.

“Blue Eyes” is a blissful, lovey-dovey serenade that might be found in the happy montages of a romantic flick. Even more adorable is the subsequent track “Mine Mine,” which captures the ambience of a first date through tinkling xylophone and tambourine. Both these tracks seem to hold an untamable excitement, but the progression of their individual melodies stays under control. The Rosebuds aren’t experimental or wild in the music on this album, but that isn’t a bad thing considering how structurally perfect the songs are—the duo takes care to keep its melodies inside the lines. 

When the sounds become less bubbly, tracks like “Esse Quam Videri” emerge in bittersweet glory. Howard’s angst-ridden vocals proclaim “It’s tattooed on my forearm so it’s not forgotten/And I remember where I’m from or where I’m going.”

The album’s title track, too, keeps a dark, minor sound, and is an anthem of confused fear by the time it approaches the refrain.

The final track “Tiny Bones” is Howard and Crisp’s way of leaving their own unique mark—it sounds like it’s being performed in the middle of a moonlit forest. In fact, the song was actually recorded in the woods outside of Justin Vernon’s April Base Studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. This song’s relaxing campfire-like vibe seemingly has the potential to teleport listeners to the forest, and it gets even more realistic when sounds of the beginning of a rainstorm are captured at the end of the woodland song.

This isn’t The Rosebuds’ first time delivering an album, but Sand + Silence shows the duo’s meticulous talents ironically through carefree sounds. The two put aside their differences for this sixth album, and have truly expressed their combined artistry through sweet music. They keep their incredible crafting skills humble and under the rug of their lovely, harmonious songs, but stay strongly memorable to adoring listeners.

The Rosebuds – Sand + Silence tracklist:

  1. “In My Teeth”
  2. “Sand + Silence”
  3. “Give Me A Reason”
  4. “Blue Eyes”
  5. “Mine Mine Mine”
  6. “Wait A Minute”
  7. “Esse Quam Videri”
  8. “Death Of An Old Bike”
  9. “Looking For”
  10. “Walking”
  11. “Tiny Bones”
Album-art-for-Chrome-Cactus-by-The-Young The Young – Chrome Cactus

★★☆☆☆

The Young had every opportunity to push past the psychedelic vibe of debut album Dub Egg by trying for a darker, rockier feel for its second album. Any attempts would have worked had the songs been comprehendible, but the failing blame can be set on singer Hans Zimmerman, who mumbles through 10-tracks with heavy musical backing.

Chrome Cactus is alive, musically. Every song ripples with powerful guitar, drum, and bass combinations. Album opener “Metal Flake” refuses to hold back the heavier tone, which is obvious from the sounds of reverberating guitars and pounding drums. The feel instantly separates The Young from Dub Egg, and the good stuff continues throughout a majority of the album with the presence of all three major instruments. Drummer Ryan Maloney, bassist Lucas Wedow, and guitarists Zimmerman and Kyle Edwards, scale back enough to produce two tracks (“Apaches Throat,” and “Mercy”) comparable to slow jams with electric guitar and bass.

A good vocalist in combination with the bulky background instrumentation would give the outcome intended.

However, the album translates as chaotic and incomprehensible due to Zimmerman’s slurred mumbles. Problems understanding lyrics make it difficult to tell whether The Young is anything more than a band of talented composers.  Zimmerman’s voice is so challenging to decipher that the guitar, drum, and bass are put in the spotlight more so than the lyrics. Listeners shouldn’t have to have a song on repeat in order to kinda, sorta get what’s being said. Doing so frustrates even loyal listeners, who had to deal with similar and quieter mumbling in Dub Egg, and prevents any new fans from latching onto the band.

During the rare moments of understandable lyrics, it’s obvious there are messages the band is trying to get across to its listeners, whether it be standard political agenda messages (“Metal Flake”), or messages concerning the struggle of one’s inner demon (“Mercy.”) Despite these meanings, while admirable, the songs are vague and seem to lack the spark needed to propel Chrome Cactus past other rock bands. This blandness is showcased when Zimmerman sings, “Moments never last/they keep changing as I grasp/… I feel pretty good/in the moment/even though I talk it out/I smash my head against the wall,” continuing through the rest of the song in the same lukewarm style.

The song about some messed-up love story, “Apache Throat,” becomes one of the few tracks on the album that stays on topic as it progresses. It begins with Zimmerman wailing, “Every situation plays a thousand times/repeat the ending for me when I say goodbye/I’m noticing that you aren’t the one that I might thought you were/and it’s my fault/I’m to blame for changing you.” Clearly about a relationship that held some significance in the past, this kind of clarity is the factor that propels songs on Chrome Cactus beyond other tracks.

Most other songs aren’t as straightforward as “Apache Throat,” instead becoming muddled and confusing to comprehend. What starts off as bashing on the pretentiousness of the rich and powerful in “Moondog First Quarter,” turns into an exploration of why one feels sinister. Zimmerman is incoherent most of the song, making it difficult to really pinpoint what is being said.  Bits and pieces can be heard like, “Split the rich from the high life/…. understanding nothing/except what I’m told,” and the repeating three line chorus, “feel/so sinister.”

Other than small sections of lyrics, the whole of the song is lost, which isn’t the experience The Young intends for listeners.

Zimmerman is a difficult vocalist to hear and understand, that’s evident in Chrome Cactus and it’s pertinent The Young tackle the problem in order to maintain and secure new fans.  If its listeners can’t understand what’s being sung, they’re going to get bored and annoyed and find another rock band to obsess over and support. Praise should be spewing out about The Young because Maloney, Wedow, and Edwards know how to use their instruments. They know when the drums should be reverberating over the clashing of guitars and bass, and when to combine the three together to create a sound that says more about the message of the song than the lyrics.

The Young has the potential to be a great rock band. Addressing the issue of clarity, while continuing to allow Maloney, Wedow, and Edwards to play as they do on Chrome Cactus could change the game for The Young.

The Young - Chrome Cactus tracklist:

  1. “Metal Flake”
  2. “Cry of Tin”
  3. “Chrome Jamb”
  4. “Moondog First Quarter”
  5. “Apaches Throat”
  6. “Mercy”
  7. “Ramona Cruz”
  8. “Dressed in Black”
  9. “Slow Death”
  10. “Blow the Scum Away”
Album-art-for-Self-titled-by-It-Looks-Sad. It Looks Sad. – It Looks Sad.

★★★☆☆

Whether it’s a weathered band releasing a stopgap release between proper LPs, or a new band trying to get its name out, EPs serve as a thankless option. More so than a full-length LP, an EP needs to be a mission statement—an encapsulation of the sound, ethos, and even the personalities of individual band members.

Promising North Carolina four-piece, It Looks Sad.’s new self-titled EP showcases a band that can’t decide whether it wants to worship at the altar of its influences or sculpt a new direction for shimmering indie rock. There’s a band here that isn’t afraid to cross genre boundaries and change how jangly, reverb-heavy indie rock is viewed, but It Looks Sad. is trapped by a fealty to tradition, resembling the countless bands over the past few years with “beach” in the name.

Released on blossoming North Carolina imprint, Tiny Engines, It Looks Sad. doesn’t cleanly align with anthemic emo bands like The Hotelier and Somos that define the label. Though Tiny Engines has become one of the satellite labels of the so-called emo revival, It Looks Sad. prefers the glassy, bleached sounds of bands like Real Estate and The Drums to the jaggedly pretty harmonies of Braid or American Football.

A dozen bands pop up weekly with spindly guitars and cavernous bass, but It Looks Sad. is too ambitious to intentionally settle as another reverb-drenched beach band. The self-titled EP has a slapdash quality and is undeniably the work of a band finding its voice, but It Looks Sad. has already found its way to sharply luminous guitar lines and more significantly, lyrics that anchor a heaviness to familiar material.

Speaking to North Carolina-based entertainment site Creative Loafing, singer Will Turner admitted opening track “Radical” was hurriedly written to fill an opening set for Cursive’s Tim Kasher.

The news is surprising, as “Radical” is the most structurally thoughtful track on this set.

Beginning with pleasantly placid strumming and a gliding harmony, “Radical” defines itself during a unexpected bridge. Drums and guitars double into a joyful battle cry and singer Jimmy Turner not only ignores the songs lilting vocal melody up until that point, but also upends it to lead into a galloping ending, foreshadowing a far more adventurous band. Throughout the EP are glimpses of a band that doesn’t stoop to cliches of the genre. Whether it’s abruptly changing tempos, adding post-hardcore harmonies, or detouring into chaotic bridges, these moments are the most thrilling of the album.

“Fingers” is more contemplative, a slyly anxious story of romantic butterflies and accompanying goosebumps.

Submerged in murky reverb, “Fingers” jerks from hesitant fingerpicking to cascading riffing, echoing the lyric’s ambiguity between reality and a dream state. Turner sings, “I tell you all the time/I felt your fingers touch my skin.” The song overstays its welcome by a good minute, but it also successfully creates an edgy tone in ways that surpass the band’s peers.

Ending track “Ocean” mirrors the nocturnal energy of “Fingers” with a loud/soft/loud dynamic. Beginning with a calmly swirling riff before a crashing post-punk chorus and screamed vocals, “Ocean” is a window into a more unpredictable and visceral version of the band.

It Looks Sad. too often resembles its influences.

Turner and the band bring a sense of immediacy to the album when it threatens to dissipate into rudderless strumming, but ultimately it all lacks shape, or is specifically too shapely. Unlike the geometric noodling of Real Estate or the pointillist bass lines of Beach Fossils, It Looks Sad. is at its best when they’re subverting the usual tidiness and order of the genre.

The most exciting parts of It Looks Sad.’s EP have nothing to do with the band’s faithful emulation of the assumed sound of indie rock. These rare thrilling moments occur when the band disregards expectations and melds the coiled tightness of its influences with its own untethered acidity.

It Looks Sad. – Self-titled tracklist:

  1. “Radical”
  2. “Fingers”
  3. “Raccoon”
  4. “Ocean”
Album-art-for-Blind-and-Brave-by-The-Wild-Reeds The Wild Reeds – Blind and Brave

★★★½☆

California band The Wild Reeds smoothly integrates into the world of folk rock with its first full-length album Blind and Brave. Though displaying a plethora of talent, the former-trio-turned-five-person band produces an album just fine to listen to—but when the band’s peers are willing to experiment and shock listeners with innovative ideas, just fine won’t cut it and success isn’t soon to follow.

Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with Blind and Brave. The use of banjo, guitar, and drums throughout the album coexist with the lyrics, one never overshadowing the other. The instruments crescendo when songs are coming to their last, and seemingly most important verse, drawing attention to vocalists Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva, and Mackenzie Howe’s crooning, and diminish when needed.  Though clearly comfortable with the sounds standard to folk rock, The Wild Reeds only expand beyond the genre’s sound once in 10 tracks. During this insubstantial nudge at the confines of the genre the band makes use of its three frontwomen’s vocal range; an ethereal sound calls out in “Judgment,” which integrates throughout the entirety of the song, cementing it in listeners’ minds.

The Wild Reeds have the potential to be more than another folk rock band.

The band’s sound is soothing and inviting for listeners seeking a soundtrack to cruise around to on a sunny afternoon or experience nostalgic flashbacks of the simplicity of home. Lyrically, some variety has to occur to avoid the cliché feel most albums within folk rock unsatisfactorily fall into. Songs about love (“Let No Greif,” “Foreigner,” “Of All the Dreams,” “Love Letter”) and going against the grain of a small town (“Blind and Brave,” “Lock and Key) are crowd pleasers. The subjects are what listeners continue to relate to regardless of how many times they’ve heard different variations of the same topic. However, continuing to produce similar songs will not only hinder The Wild Reeds’ progression as artists, but effectively keep its fan base limited to locals, bored college students, and supportive family members.

The only time the raw talent The Wild Reeds possess is materialized is during “Recongize,” a song that starts off like every other unrequited love song.

It begins with the woe is me, why won’t he notice me, what can I do so he can see what he’s missing type of crap we often hear in T-Swizzle songs. Unknowing listeners be warned something surprising happens during the last 30 seconds of the song. Having sat through six love songs prior, listeners might just skip the track before the “magic” happens. Lee, Silva, and Howe begin with some yearning and puke-worthy lyrics as they harmonize, “He doesn’t see me in a crowd/so I will change his view/And if he only sees with his eyes/Then I will make him recognize the truth/…As I walk around with my heart racing/I will look for him like he’s all I need.” The trio continues on a harmonizing rant, questioning what it is they need to do to gain the acknowledgement of someone special, but showcases bona fide, enchanting vocal talent.

Any hope the band had of singling themselves out as a serious, innovative folk rock band is nearly decimated until the girls wail, “Ain’t it a girl’s way of messin’ up her pride/Ain’t it a woman’s way of making it on the outside/well it ain’t right/it ain’t right/I will not agree to follow him/She cannot agree to follow him while she’s blinded/I will not agree to follow him from behind.” The sudden twist provides a refreshing break from the endless songs churned out on the album with little difference in sound or theme.

Though the band does generally stick to stereotypical folk rock songs, it’s not to say The Wild Reeds hasn’t seemingly mastered the feel-good love song.

“Love Letter” emanates first love from the strumming of the banjo, to the sticky-sweet tone Lee, Silva, and Howe adopt as they sing, “Too see if I’ll have courage/to send you all my soul/I wrote my first love letter/now I can’t seem to let it go.”

The Wild Reeds has found what works for its target-audience and are unwilling to produce anything experimental for fear of shocking listeners. Getting past that comfort level The Wild Reeds has developed for itself will be the determining factor in the band’s future success.

The Wild Reeds - Blind and Brave tracklist:

  1. “Where I’m Going”
  2. “Let No Greif”
  3. “Blind and Brave”
  4. “Foreigner”
  5. “Of All The Dreams”
  6. “Love Letter”
  7. “Judgment”
  8. “When I Go”
  9. “Recognize”
  10. “Lock and Key”
Album-art-for-The-Voyager-by-Jenny-Lewis Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

★★★½☆

The Voyager, Jenny Lewis’ first solo record in six years, is haunted by history. Among mentions of Daisy Age partying, bohemian flings, and space age relic Voyager 1, Lewis uses both her own memories and the collective past to move forward. She ruminates on hard-won wisdom, arrested adulthood, and the confusion of being exactly where she wants to be even if it’s not exactly where she should be.

Lewis has had a smooth transition from ringleader of indie rock group Rilo Kiley to solo artist, but she has never dealt more explicitly with feelings of loss than on The Voyager. Reportedly written during debilitating bouts of insomnia, and influenced by her father’s death, Lewis’ usual wittiness is laced with a newfound melancholy. The Voyager is a window into Lewis’ headspace, a place that brims with idealism, but has just as easily been wounded by that same enthusiasm and ensuing recklessness.

Sad-sack troubadour Ryan Adams takes over production duties for the first time and serves as an ideal match for Lewis.

Adams simultaneously brings shagginess and scope to the record, adding classic rock touches and glossy new wave hallmarks to evoke the technicolor excess of ’70s touchstones like Rumours and Who’s Next.

“She’s Not Me” draws the most explicit line between Lewis and the past with its warbling vocals, svelte backbeat, and left-of-the-dial guitar solo. With an atomic intensity, Lewis recalls Tusk-era Stevie Nicks as she wrestles a love/hate relationship with an ex and her feelings about his new marriage.

Bubblegum new wave song “Love U Forever” likewise basks in the glow of the late ’70s and ’80s with sun-baked guitars and a dangerously catchy chorus ideal for the soundtrack to a lost John Hughes movie. Some of the music Lewis emulates here (The Cars, Huey Lewis, Modern English) can occasionally come across as narratively trite, but Lewis repeatedly shows that she can swoon without losing her head.

The balance of sweet and sour is especially seen in “Aloha & The Three Johns” as Lewis swings from relationship pet peeves to more serious doubts over a slinking surf guitar and stomping Tom Petty power chords. The song even includes the album’s best thesis statement as Lewis sings, “Is this the beginning of expectation? Or is this the end of our vacation?”

It’s to Lewis’ credit that she’s able to juggle and synthesize all of these disparate influences into a cohesive whole.

The album moves from propulsive new wave to groggy folk without ever losing momentum, but Lewis has difficulty balancing her lyrical concerns. The recurring tension in the songwriting saves most of the album’s moments that lean toward preciousness or smugness, but hero worship does occasionally overwhelm Lewis’ distinctive songwriting.

“Late Bloomer” starts strong with diaristic detail of a regretful menage a trois, but transitions clumsily into a chorus that strives for the grittiness of Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, but lacks the conviction or menace to lend the story its necessary gravity.

Lewis’ decision to pepper historical references throughout the album ranges from misguided to cringeworthy.

The references seem to be Lewis’ attempt to ground the album in some universal context, but it’s ultimately more gimmicky than anything else.

“The New You’s” rambling fingerpicking positively recalls The La’s “There She Goes” and a more pop-indebted Wilco, but a tone deaf conflation of 9/11 and a midlife crisis nearly bring the song to a stand-still. The gorgeously drowsy title track feels weighty as well using the real life Voyager as a vantage point until it lapses into murky philosophizing. Even the aforementioned highlight, “Love U Forever” makes an unnecessary digression into ’70s ephemera for no reason other than a slant rhyme.

Musical ghosts of the ’70s and ’80s loom over the album’s sound as tracks recall everything from Prince to Fleetwood Mac to Joni Mitchell, but Lewis isn’t only indulging in her influences’ sounds, she’s evoking something stronger—the weight of the past and reconfiguring those admirations with her own personal struggles and worries. In the process, she’s paradoxically created one of the most musically vibrant and emotionally tumultuous albums of the year.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager tracklist:

  1. “Head Underwater”
  2. “She’s Not Me”
  3. “Just One of the Guys”
  4. “Slippery Slopes”
  5. “Late Bloomer”
  6. “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em”
  7. “The New You”
  8. “Aloha & the Three Johns”
  9. “Love U Forever”
  10. “The Voyager”
Album-art-for-Mediumship-by-Dikembe Dikembe – Mediumship

★★★½☆

The album artwork may resemble an LSD-soaked version of Where The Wild Things Are, but Mediumship, the second LP from Florida rock quartet Dikembe, is neither hallucinogenic, nor wild.

Instead, it exists somewhere in between, where grunge feels invigorating again and overplayed groups like Nirvana and Mudhoney do more influencing than genre-defining. Dikembe breathes new life into ’90s grunge by successfully recreating its raw emotionality and playing its tricky rhythms tightly as a unit; the band dutifully lays the groundwork for grunge with primal, distorted guitar figures and passionately self-defeating lyrics, but takes the liberty of adding multilayered guitar textures, unusual rhythmic patterns, and crystal-clear audio quality.

The band makes a habit of quickly transitioning from vulnerably relaxed guitar-led grooves to downbeat-heavy sonic explosions (“Even Bother,” “Hood Rat Messiah”). Initially, this seems like an impressive compositional move, but loses steam with frequent use.

Though it sticks to a traditional vocals-guitar-bass-drums setup, Dikembe delivers a fully realized grunge record; these four are the only tools necessary to modernize the genre.

And of the four, the drums play the most vital role in Dikembe’s rhythm-centric, dynamics-governed style. Drummer David Bell’s fills release a bombastic energy into each song, simultaneously mimicking a given guitar riff. Bell’s ear for off-beat rhythms, like the syncopated chorus of “Donuts In A Six Speed,” and ability to create melodies on his drum kit, like the wandering, super-chilled groove that introduces “Snakes In My Path,” are constant perks to Mediumship.

Another perk is Dikembe’s close-knit chemistry. The band thunders through its syncopated songs as a compact unit, executing complex rhythmic patterns in unison with sharp precision.

Sadly, Dikembe’s vocals aren’t executed as precisely. Singer Steven Gray’s unintelligible moans prevent many Mediumship songs from successfully communicating their meaning. During a whined verse of the blaring “Las Vegas Weather,” Gray scratchily croons, “I came to God with a plea/’Let’s put our two heads together/and make a man out of me’/and he said…” But God’s reply remains a mystery, because the chorus launches Gray back into his indecipherable screech. Containing Mediumship‘s least distinguishable vocals and most clearly sung lines, “Las Vegas Weather” presents listeners with the full spectrum of Gray’s vocal abilities.

While Gray’s sloppy diction prevails, a handful of recognizable themes emerge, such as a general lack of safety (“Hood Rat Messiah”), struggle (“Donuts In A Six Speed”), and admissions of guilt (“Gets Harder”).

Its themes may vary, but the majority of Mediumship suffers from dull predictability. Many of Dikembe’s haphazard guitar licks center around the same heavy rhythm, preventing tracks from standing out.

Closer “Throw Lips” keeps on par with Mediumship‘s cookie-cutter gang of thrashing guitar riffs, but doesn’t add anything to Dikembe’s sound or offer much as a closer. By the end of Mediumship, listeners are already familiar with Dikembe’s writing tools, from slurred lyrics and clean electric guitars to overpowering anvils of distortion that flatten them. A single guitar lingers at the tail end of “Throw Lips,” lightly strumming the album to a serene close. This ending doesn’t match the preceding LP’s anguish, but offers a ray of hope for listeners who feel Gray’s pain, whatever that pain may be.

For all its groaned vocals and typical guitar licks, the band recognizes and compensates for its faults; at just over 30 minutes long, Mediumship doesn’t overstay its welcome. Dikembe’s crisply recorded grunge update spends only the time necessary to accomplish its sonic goals, and promptly leaves afterward.

Despite its imperfections, Mediumship is a pretty damn good jam.

Dikembe’s members aren’t just jamming on grunge for the hell of it, they’re avid fans. This dedication fuels Mediumship, most apparently on the raging “Pelican Fly,” which proudly displays a relentless, dissonant chord progression based on its jarring intro riff. The song’s excited haste makes no secret of the band’s personal connection to grunge, and that passion makes “Pelican Fly” the most enjoyable of Mediumship‘s 10 rockers.

By passionately performing its modernized grunge with clean guitars and powerfully syncopated rhythms, Dikembe deliberately resurrects an almost-forgotten style with a vengeance. The band’s sheer love for the raw music it plays carries Mediumship, and proves to be a contagious fever.

Dikembe – Mediumship tracklist:

  1. “Even Bother”
  2. “Hood Rat Messiah”
  3. “Pelican Fly”
  4. “Las Vegas Weather”
  5. “Snakes In My Path”
  6. “24 Karats”
  7. “Mad Frustrated”
  8. “Donuts In A Six Speed”
  9. “Gets Harder”
  10. “Throw Lips”
Album-art-for-Wild-Onion-by-Twin-Peaks Twin Peaks – Wild Onion

★★★★★

It should be noted, and usually is, that the Chicagoland foursome Twin Peaks’ sound has nothing to do with David Lynch’s eerie ’90s cult-classic. What’s more telling is the band chose the name because it “sounded cool.” Singer and guitarist Cadien Lake James, drummer Connor Brodner, guitarist Clay Frankel, and bassist Jack Dolan are childhood friends and have been on the rise since the debut of Sunken in ’13, playing South by Southwest and Pitchfork, and dropping out of college. Twin Peaks is all grown up with its latest release, Wild Onion; the messy, guitar-driven pop has the nostalgia and impact of a band that’s been writing timeless love songs and doing coke off breasts before the band members were even born. The Twin Peaks dudes’ casual goofball demeanor may seem like a mismatch with their impeccable songwriting, but it’s exactly that youthful essence that has them catching lightning in a bottle with this near-perfect record.

Wild Onion covers everything—sex, good times, bummers, growing up—which it has plenty of room to do in its whopping 16 tracks.

“I Found a Way” is Twin Peaks’ way of telling everyone it’s going to be all right. Frankel bellows from his lower register, “I found a new way/To open up my mind/I’d love to tell you ‘bout it honey/If you could find the time.” His voice ranges from that low pitch to a more ear-friendly version of crack rock vocals. “I can see from here to New York City/and I know that every place is the same/I found a way/I can see the dark sky coming/I know it’s on its way.” The backdrop is a simple, repetitive guitar riff and fast, subtle drumming.

The record offers a little bit of everything in the soft-punk, old school pop playbook, including change-ups in instrumentation. A flute opens “Mirror of Time,” making way for a break from the record’s playful diet-garage-punk-rock sound. It’s a slower pop number that sounds like a Beatles-Beach Boys mash-up when they were at their sweetest. After “Mirror of Time,” the hits really just keep coming. “Sloop Jay D’s” opening guitar riff is a mega hook and listeners’ ears are defenseless from the catchiness of this silly, expletive-laden song. “Stranger World” features a saxophone and some funky lo-fi blues, and while brief, and a little unexpected for a punk record, the track is purely instrumental and purely fantastic.

It’s evidence Twin Peaks has noise in its wheelhouse other than dirty, scuzzy garage punk.

And though the band can do more, “Flavor” is exactly of the aforementioned genre, and it’s so so tasty. “I searched and drifted and grieved, man/Just trying to decide who to be/Oh and I took a seat by the sea and/I laid beneath the evergreen trees/and I decided I’d just try to be me… Flavor your heart and your soul.” The lyrics are a bit nonsensical, but they’re paired with no-nonsense straight-forward guitar-and-drums rock ’n’ roll, not unlike the Rolling Stones. The track captures moments of thoughtful introspection of a young man trying to figure out who he is and wants to be. Twin Peaks finds a way to take classic tropes and universal struggles, and make them new and simultaneously relatable. It’s yet another moment where the band’s youth is in its favor—it can be earnest without being derided or scrutinized.

The world hasn’t hardened Cadien Lake James, Connor Brodner, Clay Frankel, and Jack Dolan just yet.

“Mind Frame” is a blissful closer to this record packed with variety. Its chugging, slow rhythm is sway-worthy as hazy vocals float atop it, also keeping time. The track features simple, melodic guitar solos and concludes with crashing drums that fade into nothing. It’s a bittersweet end to a very fun record. Wild Onion captures the spirit of being young; it reflects on the sensation of being able to buy smokes and porn while apartments are unaffordable. The record is like biking down an empty city street with a best friend, probably a little drunk, feeling the wind, looking at the lights and buildings, and knowing that even though it’s not perfect, life in that moment is exactly what it’s meant to be.

It’d be a safe bet to say that it might be impossible for Twin Peaks to write a bad song. The band feels like a group of fresh-faced old souls one may have hung out with, and the album sounds like something familiar but never heard before. Wild Onion is ear candy that a stoned friend found under the couch and ate anyway.

Twin Peaks – Wild Onion tracklist:

  1. “I Found a New Way”
  2. “Strawberry Smoothie”
  3. “Mirror of Time”
  4. “Sloop Jay D”
  5. “Making Breakfast”
  6. “Strange World”
  7. “Fade Away”
  8. “Sweet Thing”
  9. “Stranger World”
  10. “Telephone”
  11. “Flavor”
  12. “Ordinary People”
  13. “Good Lovin’”
  14. “Hold On”
  15. “No Way Out”
  16. “Mind Frame”
Album-Art-for-Never-Hungover-Again-by-Joyce-Manor Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again

★★★★½

Punk’s latest cult-classic band was conceived like an illegitimate child from a one-night-stand back in ’08—most likely in the backseat of a car with a cheap bottle of booze. What’s more punk than that? After Andrew Jackson Jihad asked friend, now vocalist and guitarist, Barry Johnson to open his show, Johnson floundered for a name. So, he named the now outrageously popular power-violence band after an apartment complex he passed by every day: Joyce Manor.

Six years later, the punk quartet is releasing its third studio album Never Hungover Again, the band’s first record with major leaguers Epitaph Records. With a solid mix of punk, punchy quick-hits, and a few heartfelt, cringe-inducing songs, Never Hungover Again is a perfectly cliché punk record to blare with friends, or for dancing and fist-pumping away at one of Joyce Manor’s concerts.

“Schley,” the dead-center song of the album is definitive of Joyce Manor’s aesthetic, setting high standards for the recored. Johnson sings, “So watch out, you’re in danger/You’d never know it but you know that it’s possible,” while melodic guitar plucks and symbol smacks soothe out the song, bringing the lyrics to a slowed-down, more meaningful statement. After an absolutely beautiful guitar riff, Johnson picks back up, belting out, “Like old friends who’d never ask ‘How can you be happy when you wear all black?’/And they care because they wanna,” quickening the pace and spiraling into the beginnings of a breakdown. “It feels weird like a really weird movie/All night in my head/All night in my head,” he croons just before screaming “Schley.”

Only two minutes and nine seconds of a song and a flood of teenage memories have pushed down a mental dam. Damn.

The second track “Falling in Love Again” starts slow before abruptly cutting to a jarring, throbbing melody. “Thanks for showing me around last night/I hope you don’t think I don’t care,” Johnson begins, backed by candied power chords. “I think you’re funny/I like your friends/I like the way they treat you,” he continues through the chorus. Much like the instrumental storyline, the lyrics take a sharp twist in a morbidly, yet beautifully, honest direction. “I’ve got some money/that we could spend/I bet you’d like that,” he trails. “We’re falling in love again.” Joyce Manor tells an almost annoyingly relatable story about relationships—a difficult feat.

With only ten songs lasting just a few seconds longer than 19 minutes, Never Hungover Again is the band’s longest album yet. The best one yet, as well? Well, no. To be fair, it’s near impossible to top the band’s first, self-titled LP released in 2011. With a single like “Constant Headache” on the first full-length, there’s a stubborn reminder that one perfect album’s not enough.

A defining aspect of Joyce Manor’s persona is the fact the band knows it couldn’t be topped. And really, Joyce Manor didn’t want to top its previous releases.

The second album, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired Of, via Asian Man Records, was a clean cut away from the loud, punchy, resonating songs found on their self-titled. Rather, the sophomore album was a lo-fi, explorative, Britpop-influenced record. Never Hungover Again is the perfect combination of the first two albums.

Throughout the years, Joyce Manor has grown from playing DIY basement shows to opening for Conor Oberst’s Desaparecidos, and will be touring later this year with Brand New, headlining a few shows of their own along the way. Regardless of the absolute explosion of fans that have emerged since “Constant Headache,” the group has remained humble. Maybe it’s because they’re from California, or maybe it’s because they’re simply intelligent dudes. Straightforward. No time for vanity. It’s the simple “Fuck it” attitude of these guys that make Joyce Manor so addictive.

Oh, one more thing: Hi, Frances.

Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again tracklist:

  1. “Christmas Card”
  2. “Falling in Love Again”
  3. “End of the Summer”
  4. “Victoria”
  5. “Schley”
  6. “Heart Tattoo”
  7. “The Jerk”
  8. “In the Army Now”
  9. “Catalina Fight Song”
  10. “Heated Swimming Pool”
Album-art-for-Amnesia-by-Amanda-X Amanda X – Amnesia

★★½☆☆

Lyrics about romantic conflict mingle with genres everywhere from dreamy pop to post-punk to straight-forward rock in Amanda X’s Amnesia. The three friends from Philadelphia—guitarist Cat Park, drummer Tiff Yoon, and bassist Kat Bean—have shared the stage with the likes of Parquet Courts, Protomartyr, Dum Dum Girls, and Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. Amnesia, via Siltbreeze Records, is the band’s follow-up to the 2012 premiere EP, Ruin the Moment.

The repetitive, seemingly disingenuous record is not remotely musically offensive—it’s actually very easy on the ears. Unfortunately, Amanda X’s latest release suffers from more nuanced problems. Amnesia has all of the trappings of a cool, breathy, thoughtful record, without any of the associated punch or genuine feelings backing it.

Park’s vocals are sweet and playfully whining. In the fuzzy, beachy rock ditty “Trouble” she sings, “Oh I know baby you’re trouble/But for now I want you to stay/And in time we’ll get through this together/But for now we’ll look the other way/But for now I want you to stay/But for now I want you to stay/But for now I want you to stay/But for now I want you to stay…” Everyone enjoys hearing the story of someone making a bad call, because they’ve been there before themselves. However, in the case of “Trouble,” no one’s buying it.  The band’s rock sound and musical sensibilities suggests Amanda X is smarter than how the band is portraying itself.

The trio sounds like a cool girl band, so it’d be great if the songs passed the Bechdel test.

Amnesia is not bad in terms of a generic auditory ranking system. Its playful twists on genres, steady rhythms, and hazy sounds amount to fun ambiance, but lyrically the album can be so impertinent, unmoving, and superficial that it becomes loath-able. “Things fall apart and down I go/I’ll split myself in two/So you can see inside,” Park croons in the slowed down, “Things Fall Apart.” This track speaks to the entire effort of the album to be an exercise in ‘it’s not what is said, but how it’s said.’ Either due to the delivery or the overwhelming sense that Amanda X is fighting the battle of who can care less, the alleged struggle in “Things Fall Apart” doesn’t seem real, let alone anything akin what Chinua Achebe would write about. The album explores emotional situations without any feeling to fuel it.

The exception to this floaty black hole of emotion is the record’s closing track, “Friendly Tones.” Stripped down to guitar strums and picks, Park sings, “You used to make this claim that/I used to get so mad/I almost walked away/But it turned out fine/Yeah, I’ll be fine.” The rest of the band joins her in a round of breathy vocals, singing, “Fine.”

While it’s obvious that everything probably isn’t “fine,” “Friendly Tones” is the only song where some sort of genuine feeling surfaces.

The record spends so much time in a state of aloofness that it can be easy to forget real women and not fictional characters wrote the record. Ostensibly, that could have been the intention. With a name like Amnesia, it’s possible that this compilation of tracks was intended to give the impression of fragments—both in memories and personalities.

Not liking what Amanda X and Amnesia are on paper is difficult. They seem like other great bands, but they fall short. Are they being graded on a patriarchal curve due to an engrained gender bias? Is it a matter of expecting better from an all-female band?  Is there a requirement for female musicians to give more than what would be expected from a male dream pop trio? Maybe they can just be blamed for not being what one would want them to be. In truth, there’s not a good answer to any of those questions. All that’s left to be said is the record is simply boring.

Amanda X – Amnesia tracklist:

  1. “Guatemala”
  2. “Dream House”
  3. “Things Fall Apart”
  4. “Tunnels”
  5. “Nothing Wild”
  6. “Parsnip”
  7. “Low & Mean”
  8. “Paranoia”
  9. ”Trouble”
  10. “Woke Up”
  11. “Friendly Tones”
Album-art-for-Conversations-by-Woman's-Hour Woman’s Hour – Conversations

★★★★☆

When singer Fiona Burgess began naming her London-based electro-pop quartet’s demos after various BBC Radio programs, she didn’t expect Woman’s Hour to become the official band name.

In fact, unexpectedness and relentless unorthodoxy define both Burgess’ writing and her group’s debut LP Conversations. With highly emotive lyrics, innovative songwriting, and monochrome performance art-inspired music videos, Woman’s Hour gives challenging art accessibility and mainstream potential.

Mirroring the band’s black-and-white aesthetic, Conversations flashes back and forth between bouncy, confident relationship analyses (“In Stillness We Remain”) and soft, downtrodden portraits of lonely depression (“Darkest Place”), the latter appearing more frequently. Burgess’ vocals hover lightly above Conversations, but the rhythm section behind Woman’s Hour keeps them from floating away completely, providing a solid sense of direction and purpose in unique song structures.

Texturally, the LP is drenched in synths, but keyboardist Josh Hunnisett cleverly assigns unique tonal personalities to each synth part, keeping the album fresh throughout.

Conversations is a powerful LP, largely due to Burgess’ accurate portrayals of the inner turmoil of breakups, and conflicted opener “Unbroken Sequence” makes a potent example. Spiraling keyboards and an echoey step-clap rhythm set the stage for emotionally confused lyrics, which promise “I won’t be a voice that tells you what to do and pushes you around,” but also state “I need you to learn how to walk away,” revealing the narrator’s cognitive dissonance. Afterward, Nicholas Graves’ punchy bass adds a much-needed flare to “Unbroken Sequence,” and to the entire weeping album.

Adding heart-wrenching lyrics to Graves’ prominent bass, “Darkest Place” really is Conversations‘ most depressing crevice. Despite the track’s upbeat nature, Burgess wallows in post-breakup isolation, whimpering “…for the first second of every day/I don’t understand why you’re not around/…/You hang around on the clothes I wear/and I can’t even tell you how much it means.” In a structural move rarely found in pop, “Darkest Place” includes a quiet, percussion-less “ooh” section that creates a spacey, choral ringing effect, and forgoes the expected final chorus, ending the song on its own gloomy accord.

“Darkest Place” inflicts emotional stress not only on the ears but also on the eyes. Inspired by performance artist Vito Acconci, the song’s music video features Burgess singing with eyes closed, as an undefined antagonist attempts to pry them open. It’s a wince-inducing affair at best, thanks to the tortured faces made by Burgess throughout. “Darkest Place” confronts listeners and viewers with the uncomfortable truth that communication and understanding are not prizes to be won, but struggles to be endured, upgrading the everyday breakup song from a painting of despair to a powerful, statement-making weapon.

While less daring artists may play it safe, promoting only the most accessible tunes as singles, Woman’s Hour purposefully avoids snubbing the unorthodox.

Its ambitious creation “Our Love Has No Rhythm” steals the lead single spotlight. A lone, heartfelt verse of communication and forgiveness between lovers opens and closes the song, bookending a large free-form section where Burgess repeats the song’s titular phrase with a restrained passion. Afterward, guitarist William Burgess meticulously arpeggiates quiet, inoffensive chords that underscore a comforting, newfound understanding between lovers.

Furthering the theme of understanding, standout “Her Ghost” brings more to light, unveiling a relationship plagued by the ghost of a lover’s ex. “I’ve got nothing to say to her ghost/Hoping she’ll fade away/…/Love is not lived this way,” Burgess croons, admitting to her lover and to herself that nothing can be done to assuage the tension. In yet another twist, Woman’s Hour paints this melancholy portrait on a bright canvas; with lofty synths, glittery guitars, and crafty percussion, the instrumental behind the song resembles the early ’90′s incarnation of Rush.

Unfortunately, much of Conversations finds Burgess telling her deeply personal tales with a lack of conviction. She also displays hit-or-miss pop sensibilities; while the hooks of “Unbroken Sequence” and “Her Ghost” succeed as ear-worms, other melodies (“Conversations,” “To The End,” “Devotion”) are lackluster.

Conversations is full of surprises, right up to closer “The Day That Needs Defending.” A lively but apt conclusion, the song displays all the character-defining aspects of Woman’s Hour. The band boldly brings unconventional art to the forefront with challenging lyrics, odd song structures, bitter reflections on love, a multitude of synths, and uncomfortable music videos. The day of Woman’s Hour is here, and it needs no defending.

Woman’s Hour – Conversations tracklist:

  1. “Unbroken Sequence”
  2. “Conversations”
  3. “To The End”
  4. “Darkest Place”
  5. “In Stillness We Remain”
  6. “Our Love Has No Rhythm”
  7. “Her Ghost”
  8. “Two Sides of You”
  9. “Devotion”
  10. “Reflections”
  11. “The Day That Needs Defending”