Album-art-for-Rooms-of-the-House-by-La-Dispute La Dispute – Rooms of the House

★★★★½

La Dispute has embarked on a new artistic venture, this time stepping back from the broad subject matter of 2011’s Wildlife and focusing on aspects of everyday life.

The Grand Rapids, Mich. five-piece is known for the stories it tells, the raw emotion it employs, and the groundbreaking musicality that always accompanies its poetic singer Jordan Dreyer. Rooms of the House, which sheds light on crumbling relationships and the sentimental connection attached to objects from the past, is no exception to this trend.

In order to get into the mindset that accompanies this experience, the band holed up in a secluded cabin in Michigan for a month to focus on writing, also cutting ties with long-time label No Sleep Records to start its own label, Better Living.

So with the freedom of independence and a unique idea, La Dispute set out to convey its vision.

Starting off with the tragic tale of a wife and family separated from their husband and father during the infamous 1956 tornadoes in Hudsonville, Mich., Rooms of the House crashes down with the band’s characteristic vigor.

The song, titled “HUDSONVILLE MI 1956,” paints vivid pictures through lyrical and musical imagery, shifting between robust and toned-down instrumentals as the scene changes from mid-storm action to fits of worry.

The album opener introduces one of many personal stories and gives the overarching theme of the release with the lyric, “There is history in the rooms of the house.”

Much of the album continues the same way, reaching back to the power of La Dispute’s debut LP Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair while incorporating the real-world storytelling elements of Wildlife.

Heavy-hitting first single “Stay Happy There” finds Dreyer longing for reconciliation with a love that is failing, conveying that hopeless feeling through hectic instrumentals and yearning lyrics. He screams, “But doesn’t it seem a bit wasteful to you/To throw away all of the time we spent/Perfecting our love in close quarters and confines?” The narrator imagines the turmoil around them in images that are revisited throughout the album, like the reoccurring gesture of placing coffee on the stove or the storm touching down in Hudsonville.

“First Reactions After Falling Through the Ice” has the same brawny feel musically and has an equally heart-breaking story, where the character desperately falls through the ice over a frozen lake in an attempt to awaken the feelings of his lover, making her contemplate how she would react if he died.

La Dispute does an amazing job of creating these contagious worlds that place the listener in the middle of it all, forcing them to live in the emotions of the characters.

This is thanks to the genius of the instrumentalists as well as Dreyer, including guitarists Chad Morgan-Sterenberg and Kevin Whittemore, bassist Adam Vass, and drummer Brad Vander Lugt. The band’s intense, quick pace contributes to the unrefined passion of the songs, and its ability to abruptly shift gears to match the lyrics reinforces the setting of the stories.

Even though most of the album goes along the same post-hardcore style, the best songs on Rooms of the House are the novel mellow ones, namely “Woman (in mirror)” and “Woman (reading).” These liken more to the La Dispute’s early experimental, poetry-driven EPs Here, Hear. I, II & III.

“Woman (in mirror)” is the one of the most beautiful songs the band has released to date, stripping down to soft guitars and subtle drums to accompany Dreyer’s clean, melodic vocals, while “Woman (reading)” has the best of both worlds as it starts much the same and ends on an epic crescendo into the hardcore style the band is known for.

In the last song, “Objects in Space,” the mood regresses to a lost, melancholy hum.  The calming song depicts dozens of objects and their sentimental value as the narrator, pondering his past, uses them to create a monument of his life that moves throughout the rooms of his house, eventually being stored away in boxes. Dreyer epitomizes the restlessness of the scene by stating, in an apathetic tone, “And I sat there for hours, in the living room first/Then in the dining room, moving things around/Picking things up and seeing where they took me.”

La Dispute has created yet another masterpiece with Rooms of the House. Through the emotional stories it tells and the wide range of feelings it perfectly represents, the pictures it paints and the ingenious relationship between poetry and music, La Dispute’s members prove once again that they are proper artists in every sense of the word.

La Dispute – Rooms of the House tracklist:

  1. “HUDSONVILLE MI 1956″
  2. “First Reactions After Falling Through the Ice”
  3. “Woman (in mirror)”
  4. “SCENES FROM HIGHWAYS 1981-2009″
  5. “For Mayer in Splitsville”
  6. “35″
  7. “Stay Happy There”
  8. “THE CHILD WE LOST 1963″
  9. “Woman (reading)”
  10. “Extraordinary Dinner Party”
  11. “Objects in Space”
Album-Art-For-The-Private-World-Of-Paradise-By-Wake-Owl Wake Owl – The Private World of Paradise

★★½☆☆

Warning: Wake Owl’s debut album, The Private World of Paradise, is a straight-up snooze fest. Singer and songwriter Colyn Cameron, along with producer Richard Swift, concocts an incredibly insipid record that sounds lame and nauseating, with unmemorable tunes, an overall lethargic feel, and mushy, unimaginative themes like dysfunctional relationships.

In fact, most of the songs on The Private World of Paradise—barring the outstanding final three tracks—sound like they came straight from a plodding, mopey hell.

The album meshes synth-pop with indie rock that ostensibly is supposed to sound upbeat, atmospheric, and retro. Instead, it sounds like a gooey, sticky kitsch of uninspiring ballads that will make you sick to your stomach.

The first track, “Days in the Sea,” sets the tone for the next seven tracks on The Private World of Paradise. It has rich melodies, strong harmonies, and colorful guitar notes, but they sound slow, monotonous, and depressing. Cameron knows how to play music, but his singing will test your patience.

Remember Radiohead’s sixth album, Hail To The Thief? Every song was good, except it got irritating when Thom Yorke wouldn’t shake up his vocals. His famous tenor voice got pretty stale by the end of the album. It’s the same with Cameron—his neat vocals stay neat long enough to put anybody to sleep.

Fortunately, he changes his tone a bit on “Oh Baby” when he abruptly calls out his ex-girlfriend: “I fucked with your mind, silly girl.” In a rare moment of non-serenity, Cameron’s angry tone captures your attention, if only for a split second. “Oh Baby” contains a catchy, guitar-driven melody with a ’70s vibe, but Cameron moping about his previous relationship really kills the song, and the quick flash of actual emotion isn’t enough to save it.

There is some musical redemption in The Private World of Paradise, though. The last three tracks are outstanding, experimental masterpieces.

“Untitled” is a psychedelic-infused ballad, where Cameron’s vocals sound more mechanical and loopy. “Desert Flowers” is a bass-driven, ambient anthem, a softer version of the marching band performing at the pep rally. Both songs’ unique melodies and sophisticated electronics show Cameron’s ability to think outside the box.

The last song, “Candy 2,” drives home that point. It contains a diverse array of rhythms rumbling along with simple, melodious synth notes. Meanwhile, a loop of someone chanting plays in the background. “Candy 2″ offers more depth, as a melancholic violin tune that you might hear in an old movie adds another solid layer and a more vibrant atmosphere to the song.

Why Cameron couldn’t incorporate these unique sounds into the first seven tracks of the album is a mystery. The Private World of Paradise meanders in this unforgivable maze of superficial, indie-pop kitsch for far too long.

It doesn’t help that Cameron focuses on clichéd themes like love, life, and loss in relationships. For once, can’t there be an album about brain-eating aliens and giant monsters roaming the countryside? Despite what its title would suggest, The Private World of Paradise is no walk in the Garden of Eden.

Wake Owl – The Private World of Paradise tracklist:

  1. “Days In The Sea”
  2. “Candy”
  3. “Letters”
  4. “Vacation”
  5. “Kid”
  6. “Buffalo”
  7. “Oh Baby”
  8. “Madness Of Others”
  9. “Untitled”
  10. “Desert Flowers”
  11. “Candy 2″
Album-art-for-Even-the-Sun-Will-Burn-by-Iska-Dhaaf Iska Dhaaf – Even the Sun Will Burn

★★★☆☆

On Even the Sun Will Burn, Seattle-based two-piece Iska Dhaaf has crafted a hyper-palatable stream of alternative pop. Their sound engages by playing on melodies that are a bit pre-digested, but classic nonetheless.

The pair has the key to a tool box full of properly honed implements used to craft a stylistic menagerie of tunes: they excel at listenability, have keen ears for atmosphere, and structure movements in a way that keep the ear engaged. These assets contribute to a well-rounded sound, but still find Iska Dhaaf playing it on the safe side.

Tracks such as “General Malaise” and “Everybody Knows” feature straightforward rock beats that gallop with precision. Performed by drummer Benjamin Verdoes, they act as backbone to carry the melodies through punk and electro territories that reverberate like a more solidified shoegaze.

The subdued moments leave room for us to breathe and take in melody while the gritty bits use synthesizers and tempo swings to escort us through intelligently textured songs. Those qualities wouldn’t make Sun out of place on your FM tuner.

Vocalist Nathan Quiroga has penned his share of clever and wit-dipped lyrics: “Nothing’s changed/not even my laundry/Won’t come clean/Wash your hands of me,” he sings on “Same Indifference,” bolstered by wavering strings that slide into a layered crescendo that creeps forth as if from underwater.

Throughout Sun, the players toe the experimental line, but never really seem to butt up against it.

The record isn’t soft; Iska Dhaaf fashions a sharp edge with its capacity to meld open, ambient passages with flashes of overdriven rock, but still never steps out of bounds.

On “Everybody Knows,” the industrial-leaning, post-punky verses are reminiscent of Interpol’s stylings, and the angular guitar and bass interplay on the opening track, “All the Kids,” rolls along a bit like Bloc Party; while Iska Dhaaf keeps it spruced up and moving along, certain moments–like the instrumental, guitar-laden breaks in “Rumi”–can come off as passively unabrasive.

However, the pair does craft a sound that evades easy categorization. From the upbeat, twinkly melody of “Two Ones”–which in an unexpected way contains some Fleet Foxes undertones–to the album’s debut single, “Sullen Eyes,” which boasts fuzzy organ and bass that texture the track with a 1960s spinning-ink-on-projector vibe, Iska Dhaaf manages to compartmentalize its sound into a handful of shifting characterizations.

“Happiness,” the rightful centerpiece of the record, anchors itself unbudgingly in our minds with verses that escalate the listener to a state of expectancy and deliver memorable choruses that employ a Beatles-esque walk-down resolution. There’s more than a hint of Death Cab for Cutie’s emotional method acting shining through, too.

While it doesn’t necessarily pack a vetted, soul-baring punch, Quiroga’s well-rounded performance boasts an aptitude for range and sure-footedness.

He doesn’t shy away from the throaty heights that less confident singers might cheat their way through.

Iska Dhaaf certainly doesn’t hesitate to leave a song untamed. Sashaying from one style to the next does broaden the appeal of the songwriting, but inadvertently serves to leave Even the Sun Will Burn yearning for a step out of line, at least once in a while.

True to what might be its conceptual message–”Iska Dhaaf” is Somali for “letting go”–the duo has produced a cathartic record by re-imagining a good deal of established hooks that, while often cautious and unchallenging, provide an accessible pop sensibility. Though not wholly daring, Iska Dhaaf does cultivate some angst on Sun. This tension finds its relief in upbeat strides that will doubtless earn the duo fans in the myriad corners of the alternative rock multiverse.

Iska Dhaaf – Even the Sun Will Burn tracklist:

  1. “All the Kids”
  2. “Everybody Knows”
  3. “Two Ones”
  4. “Dependency”
  5. “Same Indifference”
  6. “Sullen Eyes”
  7. “Happiness”
  8. “Sleepwalkers”
  9. “General Malaise”
  10. “Moonless Night”
  11. “Rumi”
  12. “Even the Sun”
Cover-art-for-Hey-by-Le1f Le1f – Hey

★★★★★

The freshly signed and unparalleled Le1f raps, ”Basic bitches must think I’m a head case/They ain’t fucking with this next level headspace,” on his debut EP Hey.

The openly gay New York native has released three stellar mixtapes within the last two years and is behind the production of Das Racist’s internet hit, “Combination Pizza Hit and Taco Bell.” Hey features Le1f’s sensational “Wut,” the breakout track from his Dark York mixtape, and four new tracks.

Le1f’s enigmatic EP flips common notions of hip hop on their heads. Not only does he challenge gender normative aspects of the genre, but he pushes the envelope sonically. The beats are particularly tactile; the depth and differences in ticks, drums, and bulbous accents give them delicious texture. When Le1f mixes his beats with his impeccable lyricism, they produce darkly quirky tracks.

He tends to use dancehall, house, and hip hop influences that are manipulated into an entirely new, nearly paradoxical beats. Everything Le1f has touched is instant gold—like Midas, if Midas had a tumblr. The roots of other genres are heard in every track, whether they were produced by Le1f himself or his preferred collaborators, 5kinandbone5 and Boody.

The beats pop, sizzle, and ooze in ways that barely seem possible.

The second track, “Sup,” sounds like a typical hip hop beat took Molly and wanted to amplify its sonic viscosity for a trip. Each of the beats throb, but are nuanced in ways that don’t let them fall into the background. The lyrics mixed with the beats are like Mentos in soda; its an unexpected explosion.

The barplay and well-crafted lyricism is jaw-dropping for its intricacies and wicked cleverness. Le1f’s sexual orientation is often the subject matter, and on the EP’s single “Boom” he spits with ferocity, “Welcome to Banjee Burger. I cannot take your order/New World Order/LGBT cuties all over the world are diamonds and pearls/Black sheep, black sheep, sexy ass fur.”

The snarky wordplay doesn’t come out of thin air, but listeners are left constantly guessing what Le1f is going to do next.

Hey closes with “Buzz.” It has trap-like synths and a kicking drum, making it the most entrancing moment on the EP. The production of the beat literally buzzes and squeaks, but the bass underneath grounds it.

Le1f’s label debut is wicked strong and has a bite to it, even though its curtness makes it feel fleeting. Hey is just the tip of the iceberg. Now that Le1f has XL/Terrible Records backing him up, he’s about to explode.

Le1f – Hey tracklist:

  1. “Hey”
  2. “Sup”
  3. “Boom”
  4. “Wut”
  5. “Buzz”
Album-art-for-Post-Everything-by-Weeknight Weeknight – Post-Everything

★★★☆☆

Andy Simmons and Holly MacGibbon, known simply as Andy and Holly, comprise the New York-based dark pop-rock duo, Weeknight. Their polished debut album with Artificial Records, Post-Everything, touts the pair’s “languid, obfuscous pop.”

A more sonic version of the xx featuring cool, enveloping male and female vocals, Weeknight is where the melancholy of the Cure meets Beach House’s electronics. With a tongue-in-cheek title, Post-Everything is the equivalent of holding one’s own head underwater while thoroughly enjoying the experience.

While not being particularly novel or exceptionally interesting, Post-Everything is strangely beautiful. Andy and Holly’s voices melt together in their duets, providing consistency in the layers of beats and instrumentals. The whole album is dominated by the interplay between guitars and electronic keys, a dance that becomes entrancing.

Album opener “Hallowed Ground” dives right into the dark and unrelenting nature of Weeknight’s sound with sustained synth-organ and a chorus of, “Hallowed ground, I’ll be there soon.”

The blend of bleakness and shoegaze works in Weeknight’s favor, cementing the tone of the album and creating a comforting darkness.

Post-Everything is atmospheric and weighed down with ’80s ennui. A repeated two-note guitar riff creates suspense in “Wreckage,” a creeping synth track featuring an energetic electronic keyboard breakdown. Simmons told Interview Mag that “Wreckage” is a “song about offering forgiveness to someone that isn’t quite ready to be forgiven.” With lines like, “I couldn’t dream tonight if I tried,” the melodrama is evident, but is bolstered by a wall of sound, a sea of droning chopped up by beats and guitar picks.

A quicker pace, high-pitched synth melodies, and a triangle ding characterize the sickeningly sweet track “Honey.” Andy and Holly croon, “My heart still knows which way to go/My heart still knows which way to go,” on top of a soaring guitar line.  A more expressly rock  track, “Dark Light,” goes, “Take one breath and do it again/Pray for death and don’t tell a soul,” words that are intercut with guitar string-bending, a slew of effects, and another keyboard line that pulls one down into the swaying loneliness prevalent on Post-Everything.

High-pitched guitar melodies and a profuse use of pedals are staples throughout the album. Pulling distortion, haze, and simple melodic lines from its toolbox, the duo’s genre is an entanglement of elements including pop, electronic, rock, and shoegaze, all with a tinge of blasé despondency.

Weeknight asks to be made fun of. It’s yet another pale, electronic-influenced rock group from Bushwick, Brooklyn with an everyday band name, a milk-toast sound, and an academic album title for a collection of depressing, overwrought tracks. They’re boring—been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

Yet Post-Everything is infectious, haunting, and pleasant in a sad way. Despite everything working against them, Andy and Holly of Weeknight are remarkably catchy, leaving a distinct impression between the ears.

Weeknight- Post-Everything tracklist:

  1. “Hallowed Ground”
  2. “Sound of My Voice”
  3. “Tonight”
  4. “Devil”
  5. “I’m the Beaches”
  6. “Dark Light”
  7. “Wreckage”
  8. “Honey”
  9. “Whale”
  10. “Heartaches”
Album-art-for-Panthenon-by-Will-Post Will Post – Panthenon

★★★★½

You have less than three minutes to buckle up and settle in—2:57 into the first track of Panthenon, Will Post launches you into space.

As enticing as it may be to skip ahead to the propulsion–don’t. It’s the slow build that gives the album’s most impressive moments their impact, and the build-ups make breaking through the atmosphere more bearable. The best way to enjoy the amazing Panthenon is to be patient and open-minded. Strap in for a ride and see it through until you’re safely returned to terra firma.

Heavily influenced by sci-fi sensibilities, the songs, epic and thematic, sound like they belong to the alien rock band that Muse listens to for inspiration. The content, too, falls under the sci-fi realm, namely man’s relationship with machine—a co-dependent relationship that Post embraces.

Panthenon exemplifies that as humans, we are in awe of machines and all they can help us accomplish. In fact, neither the album nor the artist would exist without the use of computers.

The album was created on a laptop in the basement studio of Bill Prokopow, Post’s alias. Yet he understands that while humans may be in awe of machines, we are even more impressed by what we can accomplish without them.

While Panthenon is listenable thanks to software, it will connect with audiences because of the human element—because of Post himself.

His singing throughout the album is minimalist in style, using simple, yet well-conceived melodies that complement the music instead of trying to sit above the mix. Post barely ever raises his volume, instead opting for emotion through personal lyrics and a genuine performance.

As is inevitable when sharing such personal feelings, some ideas may not resonate with audiences as well as Post would hope. Lines like, “Though I’d like to hold you through the years/and whisper little goodies in your ear,” (“Little Bird”) can come off a bit creepy, especially when sung in Post’s near-whisper.

Despite these occasional missteps, Post’s expression of honest feelings is crucial, especially considering that nearly every other component of Panthenon is synthetic. In order to pluck the heartstrings, he has to lay it on the line, and he does; sometimes for worse, but mostly for better.

Honesty is an important theme in Panthenon. Lyrics from album opener “Experiment 8” promise the person Post loves that if they stay, he won’t lie to them. In “She Cries,” the tables are turned, and now it’s “she” who is lying to “him.” In the latter half of Panthenon, the outstanding “Ruby” opens with the line, “Once I thought I knew the truth/Once I saw the truth in you.”

It’s possible that Post has seen his share of mistrust before, though he is still willing to open his vault of personal feelings to share with the strangers listening to his music.

With less than 20 seconds before Panthenon comes to a close, Post offers those still listening a summation of the album and all he has learned through his other-worldly travels. “The more you love/the more you’re home.” The music fades, and you’re back on earth, feeling every moment of the ride.

Will Post – Panthenon tracklist:

  1. “Experiment 8″
  2. “You’re Something”
  3. “World on Fire”
  4. “Disappeared”
  5. “She Cries”
  6. “She”
  7. “Little Bird”
  8. “Ruby”
  9. “Meditation”
  10. “State of Affairs”
Album-art-for-Tomorrow's-Hits-by-The-Men The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

★★★★☆

The Men have come a long way since their noise-rock debut in 2010. Dropping some of the disorderly shenanigans and intense distortion of its first two albums helped the five-piece gain some popularity with its third release, Open Your Heart, and since then the group has become increasingly inspired by folk, country, and surf rock.

The Men’s most recent effort, Tomorrow’s Hits, goes much the same, losing almost all aspects of the band’s initial sound and swapping them for more intimate, upbeat vibes.

The change might seem like a shallow sell-out for success, but it sounds just the opposite. The Men have found the perfect concoction of folk and rock to carve out an enormous, cozy niche teeming with exuberant originality.

The product is a ripe, edgy album chock-full of catchy melodies and songwriting mastery. Tomorrow’s Hits is The Men at their best, going places they’ve never dared to before.

“Dark Waltz” opens the record with one of the folkiest, surf rockin’-est songs, immediately showing off this modified style at full force. The charming, Beach Boys-esque “ooh”s and “ah”s give the simple song a warm feel, while Mark Perro’s rock vocals and the band’s distortion push it past the standard folk song.

“Dark Waltz” picks up even more when it progresses into an epic guitar solo and a lively harmonica bit that ends in a cacophonous mess, capping the song off with a rousing, inspiring climax that hits the emotional sweet spot, creating an intoxicating sensation that never loses its luster.

The band is continually breaking down walls with no regard for genre borders whatsoever, drawing from an absurd number of styles that set it apart by a million miles.

There are so many new components that The Men now reside on an entirely different plane of existence—out in the middle of a country field that’s home to an endless, booze-fueled, folk-rock jam.

Take “Another Night,” for example. The piano-friendly, soulful, saxophone-driven song is catchy as hell and has an undeniably dancey beat. The album’s single, “Pearly Gates,” shows gritty, lightning-fast influences from The Men’s old material, and that mayhem juxtaposes amicably with the ensuing slow song “Settle Me Down.”

Tomorrow’s Hits then ends on “Going Down,”one of the best guitar songs the album has to offer. The tenacious intro riff powers through the track and is joined by Perro’s bold, distorted vocals and proper backing instrumentals.

Despite the song’s irrefutable power and angst, a tinge of disappointment surfaces when the closing track fades out during the unrivaled guitar solo. Even with this poor choice of ending, “Going Down” seals Tomorrow’s Hits as the best album in The Men’s discography and one of the best 2014 has offered thus far.

The shocking metamorphosis from indistinguishable noise to an unparalleled folk and surf rock combo has taken time, but was worth the wait. The Men have done some amazing work with this newly adopted style, straying from their past material only to find a more fitting home.

The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits tracklist:

  1. “Dark Waltz”
  2. “Get What You Give”
  3. “Another Night”
  4. “Different Days”
  5. “Sleepless”
  6. “Pearly Gates”
  7. “Settle Me Down”
  8. “Going Down”
Album-cover-for-Oxymoron-by-ScHoolboy-Q ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron

★★★½☆

During an era in which so-called “conscious rappers” reign supreme and the “gangsta rapper” persona appears all but extinct, it seems ScHoolboy Q has no qualms over trying to raise the dead.

But Oxymoron, Q’s major label debut, isn’t just an exercise in sub-generic necromancy. His (mostly) unique presentation of West Coast-worshipping bravado marks an evolution in the gangsta stratum, providing complex progression in many aspects while falling short in others.

Opening track “Gangsta” isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but delivers (in a not-so-subtle fashion) the first of the album’s two key motifs:

Oxymoron is, in part, a contemporary gangsta rap record about the associated lifestyle.

In fact, the song’s hook is that exact word 24 times, just to make sure no one gets confused.

The second song and first impressive piece is “Los Awesome,” featuring Jay Rock, ScHoolboy’s Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) label mate and Black Hippy cohort. Certainly a banger in its own right, Q has said that it was written for a specific audience. “I needed something that the gang bangers could identify with,” he said at the album’s listening party. “Not so much my core fans, more so the gang members.”

But although the tone of the track succeeds in this goal, here’s the catch: In saying that “Los Awesome” is specifically written for the gangsta demographic, ScHoolboy Q implies that the rest of his record somehow isn’t.

Nevermind that Pharrell (arguably the clean-cut gangsta antithesis out of Virginia Beach) produced the song—which is important to note because it’s an early mark of potential inconsistencies within the record as whole.

Of course, some inconsistencies are intentional. As a matter of fact, the concept of oxymorons is the key motif at work.

Case in point: “Hoover Street.” Production-wise, it’s one of the stronger tracks on the album, and echoes the idiosyncratic style and flow of Q’s 2012 release, Habits & Contradictions. Clocking in at 6:36, the two-part song first regales the listener with the same South Central L.A. bombast and pomp that’s made up the entirety of the record so far.

However, about halfway through, a shift occurs in the beat and, correspondingly, the song’s tone. The darker reality of Q’s upbringing is revealed, and Oxymoron‘s second theme is introduced (and soon to be expounded upon in “Prescription/Oxymoron”): the causes, effects, and consequences of living life as a gang-banging drug pusher on a stretch of South Central called Hoover Street.

“Had roaches in my cereal/My uncle stole my stereo, my grandma can’t control him”— ScHoolboy Q’s most successful imagery emerges sporadically to breathe new life into otherwise tired subject matter.

The titular oxymoron central to the album’s main themes goes as follows: Q is caught up in a negative drug-fueled lifestyle (fueling both his source of income and his recreational habits) with the sole purpose of building a life for his daughter Joy—who appears in the album artwork and a handful of audio snippets.

Another long, two-part track, “Prescription/Oxymoron” catalogues the rapper’s shortcomings due to pharmaceutical drug addiction (ignoring calls from his mother, and so on) that first stemmed, in a tragically ironic fashion, from an attempt at improving his living situation.

“Oxymoron” acts as a play on words here: Oxycontin is one of the drugs he’s selling—legal in a sense, but nonetheless destructive.

ScHoolboy Q is a lot of things, but inauthentic seemingly isn’t one of them. Sure, plenty of hip hop artists claim an unparalleled style, but there’s only one with the audacity to consistently model a series of customized bucket hats and capitalize the “H” in every song title.

And sure, lots of rappers talk about sipping lean and getting properly turnt, but few can say they’ve nodded off while witnessing Kendrick Lamar freestyle live on the radio.

With that being said, it’s difficult to imagine how such a unique artist with two studio albums under his belt could end up creating a record with more than a few discordant elements.

The record’s three singles—”Collard Greens,” “Man of the Year,” and “Break the Bank”—are all undeniably Q’s work, but the rest of the collection seems to waver, specifically with regard to production.

“Studio” is an awkward slow jam—Q’s attempt at romance. The track falls short, despite a decent feature by BJ the Chicago Kid, and seems incoherent with regard to the album as a whole.

“The Purge” and “Blind Threats,” featuring rappers Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator (both fellow Californians) and hip hop household name Raekwon, respectively, are both solid tracks, but seem stylistically upstaged by the supporting cast. The former sounds like an Odd Future song, and the latter might seem more at home on a Wu-Tang Clan release.

So, at the end of the day, does ScHoolboy Q regret his choice to sell drugs and drink codeine? It’s hard to tell. On one hand, he claims on “Break The Bank” that he “just [wants] to smoke weed and sip lean by the quart,” but on the other, is very clearly aware and upset about the effect it’s had on those around him.

The oxymorons on Oxymoron exist on multiple levels—from embracing and flaunting a decaying lifestyle he knows is nothing but trouble, to taking up amateur drug trade for the good of his daughter—but not all serve to flatter him as a conceptual artist, and not all of them seem intentional.

The music on the record is, overall, well done, and will easily contribute to his prospective transformation from one of hip hop’s distinctive up-and-comers into a formidable mainstream competitor. What remains to be seen is whether ScHoolboy Q can better balance and articulate his conceptual goals.

ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron tracklist:

  1. “Gangsta”
  2. “Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock)”
  3. “Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
  4. “What They Want (feat. 2 Chainz)”
  5. “Hoover Street”
  6. “Studio (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)”
  7. “Prescription/Oxymoron”
  8. “The Purge (feat. Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator)”
  9. “Blind Threats (feat. Raekwon)”
  10. “Hell of a Night”
  11. “Break The Bank”
  12. “Man of The Year”
Album-art-for-Suck-My-Shirt-by-The-Coathangers The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt

★★☆☆☆

Much like a forgotten bowl of cereal or a patch of land when it rains, many music genres get over-saturated to the point of producing stereotypical, soggy muck in due time. Such is the case with most of the emerging garage rock these days, which not only comes across as boring, but just plain bad.

The Coathangers are no exception to this trend, essentially releasing 12 unoriginal copies of the same monotonous song on their fourth LP, Suck my Shirt.

The trio, reduced to three members after their keyboardist Candice Jones (aka Bebe Coathanger) left the group, holds to its roots as it continues on the path of mediocrity, trying and failing to revive the ’90s rather than creating its own sound.

The remaining ladies, guitarist/vocalist Julia Kugel (Crook Kid Coathanger), drummer/vocalist Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger), and bassist/vocalist Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger), carry on with the same definitive chick garage rock sound that they’re known for, but lose a lot of the experimental aspects that made them a somewhat interesting in the past.

The lack of originality is shown in almost every song. From the unbelievably repetitive “Shut Up” to the atrocious “Springfield Cannonball,” the tiring “Merry Go Round” to the predictable “Smother,” a majority of the songs lack any depth or ingenuity whatsoever.

The Coathangers have taken 10 steps back by dissolving intriguing riffs down to a heap of power chords and stock drum lines.

The band has never been one for lyrical depth, and still isn’t, so riding on colorful instrumentals was a necessity. Without that, there’s a huge hole that can’t be replaced by whiney vocals or fleeting creativity.

Suck My Shirt isn’t entirely shoddy, though. The short-lived flashes of appeal are infrequent and largely fueled by Luke’s gritty vocals, but often last too long until they become dull, as well. Most of the songs seem to drag on thanks to the group’s primitive instrumentals and shortage of variation.

Take the power-packed single “Follow Me,” which features Luke’s bold vocals and some of the catchiest instrumentals on the record. The song loses its luster before the bridge comes in to save it, then loses it even more once that’s over. This style of punk-rock is hard to handle in anything more than short bursts, so hearing a four-minute patch of it that barely changes proves taxing.

By far the best song on Suck My Shirt is “Love Em and Leave Em,” another Luke-driven hit. It’s obvious from the introductory guitar riff, fresh with grungy fuzz guitar and harmonics, that The Coathangers have found their niche.

This is where the three-piece should exist: between steady blues verses and controlled insanity. No fucking around with the same tired chord progressions or vocal restraint, but rather capitalizing on the talent they do have by following this example. The song has an edge lost in the rest of the album, though clearly The Coathangers are striving for it throughout. It’s direct and deliberate, flowing flawlessly between each clashing verse and chorus. Kugel also shows off her hidden talent in a classic punk guitar solo that is unmatched by any other on the album.

“Love Em and Leave Em” proves that the potential is there, but the focus is off on most of the release.

The Coathangers have restrained themselves on the majority of Suck My Shirt. By trying to be a weirdo recreation of the ’90s riot grrrl scene, the group has trapped itself in a box that it needs to break out of.

The Coathangers should embrace the catchy, empowering spirit of the good songs on this album and become their own band rather than a poor copy of the past.

The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt tracklist:

  1. “Follow Me”
  2. “Shut Up”
  3. “Springfield Cannonball”
  4. “Merry Go Round”
  5. “Love Em and Leave Em”
  6. “Zombie”
  7. “Smother”
  8. “Dead Battery”
  9. “Adderall”
  10. “Derek’s Song”
  11. “I Wait”
  12. “Drive”
Cover-art-for-Haunted-House-Pizza-Party-by-Absolutely-Not Absolutely Not – Haunted House Pizza Party

★★★★☆

Haunted House Pizza Party is a blitzkrieg of an EP, standing at five songs and just short of ten minutes.

But don’t just play it as a one off; Absolutely Not has crafted a short introduction to its potential, and in the allotted time, has proved its prowess. Absolutely Not’s penchant for groove-infused lo-fi is a force of grungy goodness, flowing through short, to-the-point songs that are as fierce as they are fun.

Haunted House Pizza Party revels in being snotty to the point of amusement (“You better check your money, ’cause you’re bleeding out”), as Absolutely Not’s frontman Donnie Moore follows up on last year’s Mister Something with an EP/casette whose mockingly short length leaves the listener yearning for more.

Weakest among the pack is opener “Bleeding Out,” whose Auerbachian bass drive, spaced groove, and repeated cooing is a misleading introduction to a much fuller and harder-sounding release. Once that’s out of the way, though, Haunted House Pizza Party blossoms in a haze of rhythmic, grimy grandeur, where bratty, strutting lyrics break through the static onto a plate of glam and punk garage rock.

The EP’s standout track, “A Hole in Yer Heart,” begins with the hilariously flippant threat, “You wanna taste blood, bitch?” and pushes through with a screeching lead guitar and frantic chorus.

The remaining three tracks follow suit, as high-tempo punk- and hardcore-infused garage rock fights its way through the speakers.

“Haunted House Pizza Party” and “West Coast Sluts” are more straightforward than “Medicine Man,” whose intro, which is almost kitschy in its execution, fully forms into one of the best instrumental breakdowns on the EP, complete with frenetic pace and a climactic crescendo of sound and emotion that would fit equally well on a Bloc Party or Fucked Up track.

Absolutely Not is able to bring its own elements of pop to a relatively solid grasp of garage and glam punk. This formula for punk has become, in the past year or so, one of the most effective and popular veins of the genre, with bands like Perfect Pussy, and perhaps even Speedy Ortiz, bringing it to a head.

That bunch includes Massachusetts’ own Potty Mouth, whose latest release Hell Bent, while sonically different from Haunted House Pizza Party, still seems to occupy the same emotive place. Perhaps a bit more theatrical than the rest of the bunch, Absolutely Not still fits into this fold of up-and-comers. With an EP like Haunted House Pizza Party in its arsenal, an outing at SXSW or a productive summer tour can do wonders for this Chicagoland standout.

Absolutely Not - Haunted House Pizza Party tracklist:

  1. “Bleeding Out”
  2. “A Hole in Yer Heart”
  3. “Haunted House Pizza Party”
  4. “Medicine Man”
  5. “West Coast Sluts”
Album-art-for-Sirens-by-DA-and-The-Jones DA & The Jones – Sirens

★★★½☆

“I stayed as true to the course as I could, but the sirens are hard to ignore/Once you open up to the song, you’ll go down, down, down before long,” begins Sirens, DA & The Jones’ debut album.

Singers and songwriters Daniel Ahearn and Mindy Jones follow-up their ELECTRIC LOVE EP with an endeavor produced by Mocky Recordings (Feist, Peaches). The album is stripped down and simplified in comparison, and airs more on the side of traditional folk than their previous electronic-pop-folk fusion.

The duo that met by chance in Los Angeles found that they shared a deep connection and have created Sirens, a beautiful collection of modern folk songs for falling in and out of love.

“Sirens,” the opening duet, croons, “I’ve got a bad heart/Got a mean streak/Good way of leaving you weak/Got time to kill/But time don’t equal love/It just reminds you of the water,” accompanied by Jones’ hums, a simple piano progression, and a sea of horns.

The “sirens” of the album are not confined to mythical creatures calling to sailors, seducing them into crashing into the rocks—rather, any of life’s temptations that offer pleasure but ultimately lead to a classic, disastrous end.

The sirens are distractions that drag souls downward, and that concept is the backdrop of the album.

Sirens isn’t about a single couple, and a number of characters come into play throughout. Tongue-in-cheek apologies flow throughout the fourth track, “I Owe You.” The breezy song about a girl who commandeers and sells all of her lover’s stuff because she “needed the money more than I needed you” primarily features Jones, her breathy, feminine vocals repeating, “I owe you.”

“Take Me Home” stands out as the most experimental track on Sirens. It’s darker than its surrounding tracks, opening with a low drone and staticy bass beat with DA & The Jones’ crisp, clear vocals floating over them.

The song dissolves into a slow-rolling breakdown featuring fuzzy jazz, gospel, and other singers performing a chorus of, “Take me home” that fades to nothing. It’s clearly the most interesting track on Sirens, but it feels out of place among the more traditional folk songs that dominate the album.

While most tracks place an emphasis on heartbreak, that’s not to say that some aren’t lighthearted. The closer, “Crazy Along the Way” is reminiscent of traditional folk songs with a melodic line borrowed from Billy Joel. It’s a chipper story: “Born and raised in the USA/Father left my mother the American way/A breaking heart makes a horrible sound/What goes around, comes around.” ”Crazy Along the Way” tracks the ups and downs of love and relationships, with a chorus of, “We all go a little crazy along the way.”

The album moves and feels like it’s a living creature, with an effervescence breathed into it by Ahearn and Jones and their effortless vocal harmonies. They stretch the boundaries of folk, infusing their pension for electronics, while still ringing true to classic Americana. Despite its emphasis on loss and heartbreak in its various forms, DA & The Jones is a musical match made in heaven.

DA & The Jones – Sirens tracklist:

  1. “Sirens”
  2. “Doubt My Love”
  3. “Could’ve Had It All”
  4. “I Owe You”
  5. “If Only It Could Be”
  6. “Love Lights the Way”
  7. “Make it Right”
  8. “Undone”
  9. “Take Me Home”
  10. “Crazy Along the Way”
Album-Art-for-Boneset-by-Diane-Cluck Diane Cluck – Boneset

★★★★☆

Boneset, Diane Cluck’s first album since 2006, is like a welcoming tune pouring out of a haunted house, projected from behind drawn shades.

Her songwriting recalls a pensive sensibility similar to Laura Marling, equally fragile but more esoteric. It offers a maturity on par with some of Joni Mitchell’s musings and content, but is delightfully rougher around the edges. Cluck’s texturing is stark, but the songs feel full nonetheless; what Boneset might lack in length or elaboration, it makes up for in intensity.

The majority of the eight tracks find Cluck emitting her soft, warbling voice alongside acoustic guitars that circle minor chords and pentatonic progressions with a folksy flair. Songs like “Why Feel Alone” are tinged with an air of Eastern influence in the droning instrumentation, with Cluck’s nearly fearless voice breaking pleasantly as she leaps from note to note, like taking the stairs two steps at a time.

She spins tales and speaks to us as though she knows, deeply and intimately, something crucial that we’re still struggling to see.

Cluck displays her familiarity with an “otherness” through vivid storytelling. She is fluent in the ethereal and seems able to view earthly, sensual conflicts and feelings through a wide scope.

“One must be brave to unwind/and I am not afraid to be kind/Do I know? Yes I do/how pain follows you when you won’t give in to gentler ways shown to you,” she sings on the nearly a cappella “Not Afraid To Be Kind.” Her manner is wise and her voice flutters over the notes like a bird as she gently compels another to look upon the bigger picture.

Cluck is confident, yet acknowledges the change she has undergone and might still be in the throes of. Cleverly and without hesitation, the listener is guided through a healing process that alternates between anger, resolution, and maybe self-destruction.

On the chorus of “Content To Reform,” she narrates, “I die and I die/discarding my skulls/crushed into powder and spun into bowls/Content to reform and then break again.”

Dark and flirting with the mystical, much of the ground Cluck covers on Boneset is foggy and shrouded in mystery.

In “Heartloose,” the most tender track, Cluck pulls back the veil on her surprise at the foreign feeling of affection forming in her heart. In her sweetly reluctant and macabre manner, she compares her weeping to that of a blister, framing her ribs as rungs to be climbed if one wishes to come inside.

Boneset may take a few listens to grab hold of the audience’s interest. String accompaniment gives the record a chamber-type ambience, and the album sounds as if it were performed in one seamless go. These qualities can relegate Cluck’s stylized performances into a more esoteric category; some of the depths she offers may seem too murky for the more winsome or detached ear.

Whether it references a collection of bones or the process by which an appendage or piece of the skeleton is set after a break, Cluck’s first album in eight years is concise and as poignant as you’ll allow it to be.

Humoring the songwriter and following her through the movements could reward the listener with advice on how to set the wounds you may not have known you suffered. One may not feel a connection to her content immediately, but sailing above those depths will still offer an intimate exchange.

Diane Cluck – Boneset tracklist:

  1. “Maybe A Bird”
  2. “Content To Reform”
  3. “Draw Me Out”
  4. “Not Afraid To Be Kind”
  5. “Why Feel Alone”
  6. “Trophies”
  7. “Heartloose”
  8. “Sara”