Album-art-for-Here-and-Nowhere-Else-by-Cloud-Nothings Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

★★★★☆

It seems like the boys of Cloud Nothings are all grown up with their newest release, Here and Nowhere Else.

Produced and mixed by John Congleton (Modest Mouse, the Walkmen) and released by Carpark Records, Cloud Nothings’ third studio album hasn’t lost any steam. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Dylan Baldi, bassist TJ Duke, and drummer Jayson Gerycz are back with a hard-hitting, but sentimental record.

With its indie-rock, lo-fi, punk sound intact, the trio from Cleveland has successfully held onto its unpolished edge while still being vulnerable.

They bust the gate wide open with opening track “Now Hear In,” with a solid hook and their classically sloppy rhythms. Baldi repeats, “I can feel your pain, and I feel alright about it.” The vocals could be mistaken for The Strokes’, but their rough and fuzzy drum and guitar sound is pure Cloud Nothings.

The lyrics throughout the record aren’t exactly poetry, but they do the job.

Here and Nowhere Else is largely about the past and being pissed off, which is communicated better through Cloud Nothings’ fast and furious rock than with words. Rips “Just See Fear” and “No Thoughts” must be propelled by jet fuel, or maybe just a whole lot of angst.

“Pattern Walks” is a thrashing marathon of sound. The track starts out with disjointed rhythms and dissonant chords that eventually, steadily become cohesive, like a distance runner finding their pace. Baldi bellows, “I thought/I thought/I thought” amidst ripping drum riffs, a charging rhythm, and an airy guitar melody that goes on forever, but unfortunately ends too soon.

Cloud Nothings saved the best for last with “I’m Not Part of Me.” It’s a straightforward, no-holds-barred rock track with smatterings of sentimentality. It opens with a reflective Baldi singing, “It starts right now, there’s a way I was before/But I can’t recall how I was those days anymore/I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else/How to focus on what I can do myself.”

Much of the record is about reflection and growth. While the band has retained its powerful, punk, low-fi sound, it’s also gained maturity. In the final bouncing verse, Baldi sings, “Leave it all to memory of/what we did when were young and/now you could just leave me on my own/Oh, moving toward a new idea/You’re not what I really needed/You could just leave me on my own.” Cloud Nothings stand as a band packed with youthful irreverence while still being sentimental and honest.

With added propulsion, a dash of ethos, and unwavering aggression, Cloud Nothings’ Here and Nowhere Else once again proves that being pissed off can hurt so good.

Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else tracklist:

  1. “Now Hear In”
  2. “Quiet Today”
  3. “Psychic Trauma”
  4. “Just See Fear”
  5. “Giving Into Seeing”
  6. “No Thoughts”
  7. “Pattern Walks”
  8. “I’m Not Part of Me”
Album-art-for-Shriek-by-Wye-Oak Wye Oak – Shriek

★★★★☆

It seems all too soon that Wye Oak is on the cusp of releasing its next album, Shriek, as its previous record was such a refreshing and honestly timeless piece of indie pop. Still, time passes, people move, and ideas form.

Approaching Shriek, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner had survived two years of touring for Civilian and had moved across the country from one another. As they explain, those years caused them to look at the grandiose swaths of sound from their last album and translate them into more intimate, animalistic vantages of sound and feeling.

They do so with precision and dedication on Shriek, where loss and love and everything feels just as heavy as it did on Civilian, but is brought forth in a sheen of soft keys and a strut of drums and bass that serves Wye Oak’s new direction well.

Along with this conceptual approach came the decision to completely abandon guitar on this album. And while the group’s calling card is undoubtedly the flow between Wasner’s guitar and her voice, the change in direction works to wondrous effects.

Wye Oak 2.0 comes out with an assured poise, and delivers an album that is solid all the way through.

“Shriek,” the title track, is essentially a Beach House B-side, with the same soaring vocal lines and undercurrent flow of keys and drums that made everyone fall in love with Victoria Legrand a couple of years ago. Still, it’s a quietly amazing track, where Wasner’s newfound funk stands out in her bass lines and melodic and rhythmic mapping of the track’s chorus.

The two singles released, “Glory” and “The Tower,” show two sides of the same coin that is Wye Oak.

On the one hand, “The Tower” brings a cathartic experience to the listener as Wasner mulls over her own expectations: “They think the answer lies with me, but I am powerless to stop.” All the while, the almost vacuous fervor with which the synth and drum lines dance about and play with the cagey string section feels as emotionally close to the track’s ethos as can be.

On the other hand is the more upbeat funk of “Glory,” juxtaposing the album’s emotional catharsis with salient groove. More lively and with a strong hook, Wye Oak comes out of its shell with a shrill bass line and echo synth melodies akin to School of Seven Bells’ electronic palette, creating a more radio-friendly single than “The Tower” that’s still tied to the new emotional and sonic approach that the group is looking toward.

You would be hard pressed to find an indie or alternative album out today with the same consistency in breadth and sound and gravity that Shriek has. Wye Oak established its place with Civilian in 2011, but finds itself at the edge of an even higher precipice with Shriek, where powerful songwriting and musical assuredness both play a hand in what makes the album noteworthy. Shriek may very well be an unexpected standout in this year’s  music catalog.

Wye Oak - Shriek tracklist:

  1. “Before”
  2. “Shriek”
  3. “The Tower”
  4. “Glory”
  5. “Sick Talk”
  6. “School of Eyes”
  7. “Despicable Animal”
  8. “Paradise”
  9. “I Know the Law”
  10. “Logic of Color”
Cover-art-for-Get-Back-by-Pink-Mountaintops Pink Mountaintops – Get Back

★★★★½

Want to get to know rock ’n’ roll in the Biblical sense? Look no further than Pink Mountaintops’ latest record with Jagjaguwar, Get Back.

Stephen McBean probably didn’t intend to make “The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Primer” in creating this album, but he unwittingly assembled a smattering of songs that takes on rock in its various folk, fuzz, and classic forms with a guitar at the heart of it all.

For the album’s inspiration, McBean cited “alleys, curbs, walls, and cigarette-stained gig flyers. An island on the Pacific coast. Fake British towns. Slayer posters. The beauty of youth. It’s about listening to Driver’s Seat and ‘Guns of Brixton’ and hotboxing The Duster.”

Get Back features McBean and a swirling cloud of rotating musicians such as J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr. and Witch), Rob Barbato (Darker My Love, The Fall, and Cass McCombs), Steve Kille (Dead Meadow), Annie Hardy (Giant Drag), Jon Wahl (Clawhammer), and Gregg Foreman (Cat Power and Delta 72).

Despite his years on the job, McBean and his swirling cloud have conjured a youthful rock album.

Starting off with a bang, album opener “Ambulance City” is like a Copland symphony—it sounds simple on the surface, but complicated arrangements and rhythms make it so. The track features aggressive, screaming lyrics and echoes, and a chugging guitar riff on top of a steady, full bass and guitar beat, all of which break and fragment. “Ambulance City,” though rougher around the edges, transitions seamlessly into “The Second Summer of Love,” a track with a fuzzy, ’80s feel that plugs along underneath a chorus of, “The second summer of love/The second summer of love.”

“Wheels” opens with a high-pitched guitar tremolo like a train crossing closing. Its string-bending, dissonant melodic line makes the track feel like the title song to a strange spaghetti Western. The lyrics ask, “Don’t you feel there’s a current in our blood?/Don’t you feel but there’s still no answers?/But there’s still no answers/But there still are answers.” It’s the most misanthropic track on the record.

Meanwhile, “Sixteen” is purposeful, energetic, and full of youthful indiscretion with lines like, “Sixteen was the sound of smashing glass just for kicks,” and “All we want to do tonight is to fall in love and meet the midnight sky.” It’s a pure, fast rock song with a saxophone solo tossed in for good measure.

“North Hollywood Microwaves” is either the most compelling or most unnecessary track on Get Back.

It’s a crass, stream of consciousness free-for-all between McBean’s playful saxophone line and Annie Hardy spitting a reprehensible rap about switchblades, crack, Rod Stewart, screwing, and an insatiable need for bear semen. As obscene as it is, and while “North Hollywood Microwaves” is not a pleasant song, it’s something that parents would wholly disapprove of, which is one of the most rock ’n’ roll things there is. The track’s biggest fault is that its shock value may just draw attention away from the rest of the record.

A trip through fuzz, post-rock, rock ’n’ roll, and psychedelic rock, “The Last Dance” is nothing short of incredible. Luckily, it pushes the eight-minute mark, so there’s plenty there to savor. From the utterance of, “Darlin’, save the last dance for me” onward, the song hooks the heart and ears with a building and simultaneously collapsing arrangement of drum fills, bass riffs, guitar solos, and pounding piano chords. It’s like every aspect of rock music was shoved together and then imploded.

Thematically and musically, Pink Mountaintops taps into the essence of rock ’n’ roll with Get Back. The record once again proves that rock is hard to define and often is whatever one wants it to be, at least as long as there’s a guitar, youthful spirit, and maybe a stage dive involved.

Pink Mountaintops – Get Back tracklist:

  1. “Ambulance City”
  2. “The Second Summer of Love”
  3. ”Through All the Worry”
  4. “Wheels”
  5. “Sell Your Soul”
  6. “North Hollywood Microwaves”
  7. “Sixteen”
  8. “New Teenage Mutilation”
  9. “Shakedown”
  10. “The Last Dance”
Album-art-for-Weird-Headspace-by-Tiny-Empires Tiny Empires – Weird Headspace

★★★½☆

Anyone who thinks old people can’t rock is about to be silenced.

Tiny Empires is made up of ex-members of a number of underground punk bands, making a supergroup of experienced musicians who’ve paid their dues. These self-proclaimed “older men” got together a few years ago and are finally releasing their killer debut full-length, Weird Headspace.

Fans of O Pioneers!!! and New Bruises—the two bands that make up the bulk of what is now Tiny Empires—will be surprised at what they hear. This hybrid brings the intensity of the past bands and adds more cohesive, melodic elements to the music. The end result is a thrilling mess of post-punk at its best, marrying the raw elements of punk with more complex riffs and singable refrains.

Even the dynamic song the band released as a split with Tiger’s Jaw in 2012 couldn’t mentally prepare listeners for the mayhem that comes on Weird Headspace.

The Houston/Tampa-based quintet has hit the sweet spot, crafting a perfect mixture of classic, heavy-hitting punk with more complex riffs and songwriting. Singers Eric Solomon and Byron Lippincott work off of each other impeccably, and to put the icing on this delicious cake, the band has three guitarists, making each track loud as hell.

The short debut starts with a low growl that soon explodes into the album-spanning frenzied uproar Tiny Empires will be known for. “Wide Open Spaces” shows off the sheer power of the group, both musically and vocally. The instrumentals are cranked up to full blast, filling the track with fierce distortion and thrashing drums. Solomon goes all out, repeating the recurring opening lines with his vigorous, hoarse yells that take the song—and overall album—to an otherwise unreachable high.

This emotional surge only intensifies as the album continues, never stopping or slowing for a moment.

Every song starts off with a comparably relaxed mood, but that never lasts long. Eventually the sedated intros erupt into a fiery mess of emotion. A lot of this ferocity is thanks to the two singers, who multiply the energy of each song by offsetting Lippincott’s melodic croon with Solomon’s relentless howls.

“Air Conditioning, Full Blast” epitomizes this contrast with melodic singing in the verses countered by the explosive screams in the chorus and bridge. Then there’s “What’s The Plan Phil,” which does the opposite. The entire song is loud and bold, this time allowing the verses to run rampant while some backup singing is thrown into the chorus to tone the screaming down a bit.

Though Solomon and Lippincott drive the music to a higher state, the instrumentals play an equally important role.

Take “Tired Hearts and Livers,” which starts out with catchy drums and adds other instruments in succession. When the first guitar comes in with a simple riff, it’s not too enthralling, but by the time the third guitarist and bassist have joined, it’s an intricate soundscape that draws you in for the characteristic explosion. From here, Solomon and Lippincott add to the madness with another dynamic performance, ultimately making “Tired Hearts and Livers” the best song on the album.

Weird Headspace ends triumphantly on a nine-plus-minute medley of dissonant badassery.

“Blurry Photos, Dead Leaves, Decomposed” starts with two crunchy guitars and quiet singing, though this is only one of many musical motifs in the song. This ends with groovy bass and screaming vocals in the verse, eventually collapsing into the album’s most epic chorus.

The overwhelming distortion and clashing riffs make for an unmatched tension, and by breaking down into that recurring cacophonous clatter, it generates a disorienting atmosphere that swallows listeners whole. Following this spell, the third discernible movement to the song continues on that uncomfortable path with shrieking guitars and off-putting harmonies. Rather than pegging this as a regrettable mistake, it’s obvious the band meant to rouse these feelings. The stylistic choices it makes create a thunderous, mind-shattering ending to this monster of a debut.

The entirety of Weird Headspace shows the flawless chemistry this band already has, despite its short life thus far. These seasoned musicians aren’t here to fuck around—Tiny Empires wanted to unleash hell on its debut LP and did just that.

Tiny Empires – Weird Headspace tracklist:

  1. “Wide Open Spaces”
  2. “What’s The Plan, Phil”
  3. “Just Imagine”
  4. “Tired Hearts and Livers”
  5. “Air Conditioning, Full Blast”
  6. “Blurry Photos, Dead Leaves, Decomposed”
Album-art-for-The-Way-and-Color-by-TEEN TEEN – The Way and Color

★★★★☆

Brooklyn’s TEEN has followed up its 2012 debut, In Limbo, with a more fleshed-out, rhythmically diverse and in some ways less obvious record. The pretty, spacey pop appeal of its debut is still present on this second release, but the approach is more streamlined and impactful.

The Way and Color opens with a bouncing bassline that sounds pretty seriously informed by the recent St. Vincent/David Byrne collaboration Love This Giant. ”Rose 4 U” builds from an electronic loop that whirs to life like a vestigial bone, a tonal leftover from a decommisioned arcade game.

That insistent gadgetry gives way to crystalline keys that distantly echo behind cresting and spiraling harmonies that showcase the angelic ability of the band’s harmonic machine. The four women who comprise TEEN are a vocal powerhouse.

Songs like “More Than I Ask For” exemplify the quartet’s pop precision. Lead vocalist Teeny Lieberson’s performance fluctuates around her swaying phrasing.

A chorus of “My my my my my my my my” walks down the notes with her, hand in hand. These qualities showcase TEEN evolving a more vocally-driven sound, not only structurally, but in the mix of their latest record.

On much of The Way and Color, the rhythm section secures the footing for the shifting, atmospheric keyboards. Sampled tones that overlay the percussion actually reinforce the clean and tailored feel of the album. TEEN’s sophomore effort sounds like it’s preserved under glass.

Moments like the verse-to-chorus exchange on “Breathe Low & Deep” keep the album from stagnating in its ambient scaffolding. The floor falls away and the words, “Breathe low and deep/Breathe low and deep”—sounding like helpful instructions and also a reminder directed at the self—permeate a brass-filled openness that’s colored with the same brush as some older Grizzly Bear tunes. A similar effect is heard on “Tied Up Tied Down,” when it picks up exhilaratingly following a brief, spacey repose partway through.

As TEEN composes its pieces, certain components, while interesting, do seem to be a tad scatterbrained. On “Sticky,” some of the cogs in the synthetic machine, tweaks and tics that form the fragile webbing of the song’s shelter, seem out of place, especially in light of the track’s powerful vocal performance, one that’s almost akin to an R&B flavoring.

TEEN excels in transforming certain off-putting shades of keyboard-driven electronic music into attractive and often more intellectual chunks while maintaining a casual listenability. There’s a richness to The Way and Color that is vivid enough to shine over any hiccups that might catch listeners off guard. TEEN has given listeners a genre-stitching treat that blooms as it’s pulled apart.

TEEN – The Way and Color tracklist:

  1. “Rose 4 U”
  2. “Not For Long”
  3. “Tied Up Tied Down”
  4. “Sticky”
  5. “Breathe Low & Deep”
  6. “Voices”
  7. “More Than I Ask For”
  8. “Toi Toi Toi”
  9. “Reconsider”
  10. “All the Same”
Album-art-for-Under-Color-of-Official-Right-by-Protomartyr Protomartyr – Under Color Of Official Right

★★★½☆

Protomartyr has proven that less can be more with its sophomore album, Under Color Of Official Right.

The Detroit-based experimental punk-rock quartet has put together a deafening, minimalistic record that likens itself to a mixture of The National and early Interpol, dwelling on melancholy subject matter with a subtle, upbeat flair.

The result is one catchy, noisy, hell of an album. Joe Casey’s vocals and lyrics give Protomartyr’s music a tenacious edge that is reinforced by guitarist Greg Ahee, bassist Scott Davidson, and drummer Alex Leonard, all doing a flawless job of playing on Casey’s dark themes and stylistically grim voice.

 Under Color Of Official Right seizes you from the very start and never loses hold, progressively dragging you further into the somber world Protomartyr constructs around the bleak aspects of its hometown.

The darkest of these is the record’s first single, “Scum, Rise!” The song covers the fictional explosion of a sports bar in town that kills everyone inside, as well as a father abandoning his son at 7 years old, among other things. Instrumentally, the song is eerie and vigorous, setting the scene for Casey’s nightmarish lyrics and intense vocals.

The emotion behind the song is potent, especially as Casey viciously barks the repeated line, “Scum, Rise!” between shocking narratives.

These aberrant stories show the scum of the world are everywhere, whether through a personal connection or a freak outbreak of brutality.

Either way, it’s hard not to feel as helpless as the kid when Casey frantically restates, “There’s nothing you can do.”

The upbeat tracks still have the same bleak themes, namely “Violent.” The juxtaposition of sordid mariner stories and the flowery tune makes the song subtly twisted, even with the cheery chorus stating, “If it’s violent, good/’Cause if it’s violent then it’s understood.” Protomartyr is reaching far past the story of the song here, exposing the mindset that violence is a natural and acceptable reaction to adversity. Though this can be true, the song comments on the absurdity of violence, as the story begins with one man prepared to shoot another because he’s snoring too loudly in his sleep. Still, the surprising musicality is the most attractive part of the song, contrasting with Casey’s lyrics and gloomy vocals.

Protomartyr’s instrumentals are actually one of the best aspects of the album, coming across as both minimal and elaborate at the same time.

Ahee never does too much or too little, settling for a perfect middle ground between simple riffs and bold, over-driven chords. He shines on tracks like “What The Wall Said,” where he shifts from droning, muddy chords to shimmering, triumphant guitar, and “Tarpeian Rock,” the band’s experimental masterpiece.

Still, the band works best as a whole, playing off of each other with pristine expertise.

The best tracks are those with a specific feel, like the empowering “Bad Advice” that at times sounds like a simplified Rage Against the Machine song, or “Come & See,” which has a dancey beginning that leads up to a clamorous, thundering ending.

“I’ll Take That Applause” closes the album on the best song, showing all of the members at their best.

The track is contagious and intense, kicking into the most energetic moment on Under Color Of Official Right with roaring guitar and epic drums. By the end, it’s hard not to agree with Casey, who starts the song by yelling, “And I’ll take that applause because I deserve it.”

Under Color Of Official Right is an intelligent, cohesive release from a band that’s gaining some rightful attention with its two singles.

Protomartyr has concocted a telling look at society through vast lyrical content and outlandish storytelling, all the while incorporating catchy tunes and strategic songwriting. There’s a lot of subtle depth to this album, making it even more valuable than it appears to be at first glance.

Protomartyr – Under Color Of Official Right tracklist:

  1. “Maidenhead”
  2. “Ain’t So Simple”
  3. “Want Remover”
  4. “Trust Me Billy
  5. “Pagans”
  6. “What The Wall Said”
  7. “Tarpeian Rock”
  8. “Bad Advice”
  9. “Son of Dis”
  10. “Scum, Rise!”
  11. “I Stare At Walls”
  12. “Come & See”
  13. “Violent”
  14. “I’ll Take That Applause”
Album-art-for-Turning-Rocks-by-Thus-Owls Thus Owls – Turning Rocks

★★★★☆

For the duration of pop music on the world stage, Scandinavia has blessed the world with quality in every corner of popular music.

From metal to pop to whatever Bjork is, our friends in the north know how to write and craft, and have been churning out music for every genre for years, so little treats like Thus Owls are no surprise to the trained ear. Originally from Sweden, married couple Erika and Simon Angell, now based in Montreal, have followed up their second album, 2012’s Harbours, with Turning Rocks.

The album is an exploration of sound in tone and atmosphere, as Simon’s proficiency in guitar particularly shines through in the music’s cloudy landscape. In addition, the couple has said that keys—in particular mid-20th century organs—were integral to the creation of the sound of Turning Rocks. True, you can hear various organ sounds throughout the album, but the wonderful thing about the way the Angells craft songs is their reluctance to allow the crux of their album’s musical inspiration to completely consume or overpower the sound they’ve created over the past couple of years.

The married duo’s mastery of tone and aura shines alongside a strong melancholia that encompasses intelligent songwriting and instrumentation.

Turning Rocks feels warm and cold, quiet and loud, and is patient enough to let its musical moments play out fully.

A wonderful example of this is the title track, which gallops along a soft organ pulse as guitars swell in and out of Erika’s crooning, becoming as wild as the landscapes that shape and inspire their music.

“Smoke Like Birds” and “How, In My Bones”—both highlights of Turning Rocks—show in their differences the variable sound that the Angells are creating. While the former brings an airy, driving, almost staccato song structure, the latter’s loose jangle and spacious use of sound demonstrate how the album itself works as a whole to ebb and flow through sound and feeling.

The album closes with “Thief,” in which Erika’s tone-altered voice, straight from the pages of Karin Dreijer Andersson, encapsulates the feeling of Turning Rocks. “Now Ill always be someone’s fortune, came out of tragedy,” she yearns, as her lamentations give way to Simon’s driving, hypnotic guitar and drum crescendo. “Thief” is quite the apt ending for the work, and an impressive, haunting piece of music.

Thus Owls, with Turning Rocks, have created chamber folk-pop with an attitude, as if Annie Clark decided her guitar was too crunchy. It’s not an album of singles and pop hits, but one whose whole is better than its parts.

Erika has said that the album was inspired by her childhood home, on a small island in Sweden, and by the stories of the house and her family members throughout the years. These sentiments seem aptly translated in Turning Rocks, which drives through emotion with clarity and purpose.

Thus Owls - Turning Rocks tracklist:

  1. “As Long As We Try A Little”
  2. “How, In My Bones”
  3. “Bloody War”
  4. “A Windful of Screams”
  5. “Ropes”
  6. “Turning Rocks”
  7. “Smoke Like Birds”
  8. “White Flags Down”
  9. “Could I But Dream That Dream Once More”
  10. “Thief”
Album-art-for-Mexican-Coke-by-Denney-and-the-Jets Denney and the Jets – Mexican Coke

★★★★☆

“You see, my problem is self-control,” isn’t so much a lyric from “Hooked” as it is a confession on Denney and the Jets’ debut LP, Mexican Coke.

Chris Denney, vocalist and guitarist, touts the persona of musicians of old, the class of stars burdened by the trifecta of drugs, recklessness, and talent.

Along with his Jets—Joey Scala on bass and vocals, Evan Scala on drums, and Sean Cotton on lead guitar and vocals—Denney’s crafted a record that hearkens back to the old standbys: sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Mexican Coke, however, has a modern twist: it addresses the tough consequences of a live-fast-die-young philosophy alongside its devotion to booze, pills, and women.

Via Limited Fanfare and Burger Records, Mexican Coke is essentially a collection of pages from Denney’s diary, allegedly. Born and raised in Nashville, the story reads that Denney started stealing pills from his grandmother’s medicine cabinet at 9, smoked two packs a day, and eventually discovered marijuana at 13.

Denney has a legend’s backstory, and while it at first can seem like a gimmick, the truth is found in the tracks.

Mexican Coke is a collection of rip-roaring, honkytonk jams and country crooners about “Smokin’, drinkin’, cocaine, youth… being broke, pain pills, hangovers, hookers, strength, getting high, addiction, living, dying…” and so on.

“Hooked,” as its name implies, documents the tight grip of drugs and the thoughts of an addict in the throes of substance abuse. Denney and the Jets sing, “I can ease your pain and make you feel better again/Take your blues away/But I’ll be your only friend.” The soulful, somber tune where the drugs do most of the talking forces feelings of sympathy for the hapless user.

Women doing and being done wrong is a theme across the record. “Bye Bye Queenie” is a hit-worthy rocker reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman,” just with a little extra good-ol’-boy country twang, while “Alabama Man” is a classic country-blues number lamenting a cheating girlfriend. Despite these well-traveled themes, Mexican Coke avoids being a parody of its genre due to Denney’s genuine country drawl, the rough guitar sound, and bluesy grooves. Its only real weak spot is “Broke,” which is snoozy in comparison to its surrounding songs.

“Darlin’” is a simple, gospel-infused love song where Denney and the Jets show a soft spot, or maybe just a guilty conscience. Denney crows, “Oh, darlin’, I’m coming home to you/Ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do for you, baby/So stay here close to me/Next to my heart/You are the only one I see,” in a pleading tone. The song could be a profession of love or a drunken apology as he sings, “I’m here for you, baby/I’m here for you, baby.”

The record praises hedonism, but also presents the consequences of the lifestyle Denney and the Jets are celebrating.

The acoustic guitar-led “Runnin’ Through the Woods” is touching, sad, and clearly about the death of a friend. It’s the musical version of the old adage, “It’s always fun and games until…”

The record isn’t a debaucherous, thoughtless free-for-all. It avoids being a cliché of the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll camp by making music about the good, the bad, and the ugly in equal measure. Their candor makes Mexican Coke autobiographical rather than masturbatory.

On the whole, Mexican Coke is worth cracking open. Its earnest, familiar-sounding tunes about drunken misconduct, pain, and making a ruckus speak to the poor sinner in everyone. Denney and the Jets’ record may promote any number of things that could land someone on jail, but hell, it’s a great time.

Denney and the Jets – Mexican Coke tracklist:

  1. “Water to Wine”
  2. “Bye Bye Queenie”
  3. “Broke”
  4. “Darlin’”
  5. “Alabama Man”
  6. “Hooked”
  7. “Mama’s Got the Blues”
  8. “Pain Pills”
  9. “Runnin’ Through the Woods”
  10. “Charlie’s Blues”
Album-cover-for-Doom-Abuse-by-The-Faint The Faint – Doom Abuse

★★☆☆☆

’90s alternative rock group The Faint has released a new album that surely lives up to its name. Doom Abuse is a sad, noisy, electro-punk record that will musically abuse your ear drums. Ravers and dance-punk enthusiasts will definitely be doomed listening to this hyper, irritating, electronic shit-fest infected with horrendous, filtered vocals and insipid, ’80s-influenced rock anthems.

Doom Abuse contains 12 tracks that sound stale and repetitive, despite the ever-present, aggressive rave vibe. The Faint probably imagines listeners dancing to its album at a club or house party—most of the songs start off with a simple beat or a note thumping incessantly, followed by a mix of hardcore punk and electro-pop.

Sadly, this combination just comes off as cheesy. The Faint tries to evoke a badass persona, but ends up looking like a 12-year-old showing off his “swag.” It’s painful to watch.

The lyrics limit the band’s potential; they’re not witty or memorable, and a 10-year-old could probably write more imaginatively.

The first track, “Help in the Head,” starts off with distorted guitar feedback and then descends straight into chaos. The intriguing guitar chords, heavy beats, and singer Todd Fink’s colorful vocals don’t save this song, which could have been a decent track if not for the chorus.

Fink bellows repeatedly, “I just met you/You need help in the head/You don’t know what I think I said.” Instead of provoking or stimulating the brain, the lyrics evoke stupidity that’s more hilarious than righteous.

Fortunately, The Faint redeems  itself a bit with the fifth track, “Animal Needs.” The lyrics are intriguing: “We don’t need cars, we don’t need pools, we don’t need trophies, we don’t need jewels, we don’t need soap,” suggesting the band is comfortable living like cave men, rejecting modern luxuries. A sweet, deep melody rumbles in the foreground of the song, which sounds much darker and more haunting than any other track on Doom Abuse.

Ironically, The Faint uses electronics and machines to explore the idea of a life without those things.  The delicious irony and surrealistic nature of “Animal Needs” gives The Faint a much-needed saving grace.

Unfortunately, “Animal Needs” is the only rare gem that will stick in the brain. Every other track is a mindless warp of unpleasant, laser-like techno beats clashing with noisy guitars and drums. Doom Abuse is probably best to play when everyone is either tipsy or high at a rave, since it’s a mindless album that will charm only an ignorant crowd.

The Faint – Doom Abuse tracklist:

  1. “Help in the Head”
  2. “Mental Radio”
  3. “Evil Voices”
  4. “Salt My Doom”
  5. “Animal Needs”
  6. “Loss of Head”
  7. “Dress Code”
  8. “Scapegoat”
  9. “Your Stranger”
  10. “Lesson from the Darkness”
  11. “Unseen Hand”
  12. “Damage Control”
Album-art-for-Lithium-Burn-by-Deleted-Scenes Deleted Scenes – Lithium Burn

★★★★½

Deleted Scenes doesn’t seem to know how to make music without wearing its heart on its sleeve. On Lithium Burn, the group’s third full-length album, the band hits on a nagging nostalgia that feels like careening into adulthood while embracing the wonder you’re not supposed to hold on to.

Their sound is concentrated into a more mature and intentional grouping of songs than fans have previously heard. As elegant as it is on edge, Lithium Burn opens with “Haircuts/Uniforms,” a theatrical and off-kilter track that showcases vocalist Dan Scheurman belting an all-out falsetto. He takes momentary pause in the fleeting choruses to reassure listeners, “Be not afraid/We know the way/Sheared like a lamb/Thrown in the fray/Be not afraid.”

Backed up by accompaniment that drifts smoothly from discordant guitar notes, which accent the right and wrong harmonies at the same time, to soaring synthesizers, the hysteria induced in a song like “Haircuts/Uniforms” is juxtaposed by the more mellowed cuts that follow.

Lithium Burn is punctuated with unstable ballads like “Landfall” and “House of Dust,” tunes that roil with malaise and rocket toward their own respective conclusions.

Lulling listeners into a kind of electro-psychosis, Deleted Scenes succeed in building these more subtle tracks up from their eerily memorable base progressions to interesting heights that capture the real magic mechanism behind the music—the band’s ability to show restraint even amidst a cascade of texturing and insistent songwriting.

Sometimes spastic enough to inspire an aural double take—like on “Stutter,” the album’s first single that swings manically from a jazzy shuffle on its bittersweet choruses to a faltering, percussive stammer on its verses—Lithium Burn still manages to display a sensitivity through fragile and intimate transmissions.

On the brooding and mechanical “You Get to Say Whatever You Want,” a fuzzy, feedbacking guitar whines over lyrics that strain, “I won’t bite my tongue/I won’t let you have this one/You shame yourself just fine, you don’t need my help/But don’t be shocked when all alone is not what you had thought,” in a tone that’s equal parts resigned and spiteful.

Expounding on the tone set in previous releases, Lithium Burn contains its fair share of keyboard-driven tunes rather than both guitars taking all opportunities available to jockey for notes. One of the band’s most consistently creative and insistently engaging elements is its rhythmic dynamic.

Classical hooks that leapfrog at the listener one after the other—notably on “Let’s Not Try to Fix Everything at Once”—feel fresh as they are reshuffled with subtle layering. The fashion through which the group decorates its sometimes dizzying key changes is characteristic throughout Lithium Burn, as is the way it employs subtle rhythmic or tonal changes to differentiate components of each song from one another. “Caught In the Brights” exemplifies this, as the players flirt with schizophrenia while the track fades out.

While Lithium Burn does implore listeners to sit for a time with its ebb and flow of electronic-informed, experimental post-rock, casual listeners and returning fans alike will find that Deleted Scenes’ latest effort documents new and more original musical depths for a band whose sound solidifies with each release, making it one of the most solid full-length compositions we’ve seen so far this year.

Deleted Scenes – Lithium Burn tracklist:

  1. “Haircuts/Uniforms”
  2. “Caught In the Brights”
  3. “Landfall”
  4. “Let’s Not Try to Fix Everything At Once”
  5. “House of Dust”
  6. “Debussy”
  7. “Seasons of the Wire”
  8. “Stutter”
  9. “Teenage Kids”
  10. “Tell Me a Secret”
  11. “You Get to Say Whatever You Want”
Album-art-for-Instant-Money-Magic-by-Japanther Japanther – Instant Money Magic

★½☆☆☆

Brooklyn noise rock duo Japanther stays true to its garbled roots on its new album Instant Money Magic.

The band has dug itself a well-defined hole by sticking to the same method of playing exceedingly fast with an excessive amount of feedback, obscuring any chance of understanding the messy, two-minute songs.

Japanther has a certain quirkiness about it that gives its music a little charm from time to time, but aside from that, it’s a jumbled, incoherent mess. In fact, it’s the same quirkiness found in another, more successful and talented Brooklyn electro-punk duo, Matt and Kim, who the band urged to start playing shows.

Despite Japanther’s three-year head start on Matt and Kim, the former feels like a botched ghost of the latter.

Instant Money Magic consists of 14 rushed tracks totaling 24 minutes, never finding any sort of direction or variation from the old Japanther albums aside from even more fuzz, which in this case is a disastrous thing.

The album starts on one of the better songs it has to offer. “Wiggmann,” though it is just as simple and indecipherable, is slower and catchier than some of the other tracks. A few lines are audible but have no meaning, and ironically, the word “miscommunication” sticks out from the mess, succinctly summing up the entire album.

The decent intro is destroyed by the second song, “Dreams Come True.” The ghastly track is a delirious mess that has no discernable musicianship or lyrics aside from the repeated line, “Dreams come true.” It’s unclear at this point whether the band is trying at all or just recording itself destroying instruments and distorting a slurred, drunken ramble.

It only gets worse from here. The entire album is out of tune and reuses the same elements that made each preceding song unbearable, leading to a complete and utter mess of unlistenable clatter.

“Guns Guns Guns” is one of those disasters, having nothing new to offer the already failing album. The group’s off-key vocals are painful to listen to and the amateur musicianship does it no justice. Each track sounds like a lesser version of one bad song on repeat.

It’s hard to tell the difference between “Vicious” and “All We Got Is Each Other”—both have hideously mediocre guitar riffs and no listening value whatsoever.

The only noticeable change is the former’s lack of irritating, single-note synth that mimics the vocal lines in “All We Got Is Each Other,” which is a surprise, seeing as it plagues most of the album.

Japanther decided to use that same insufferable child’s keyboard as a parodic backup singer for “Centralia, WA,” another track that features the unbearable chorus of vocals drowning in distortion and boring bass and drum lines.

“Green Jug Intro” is the only song that remotely hints at the fact that both of these musicians attended the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

The mellow instrumental is short and straightforward, but it has a soothing calmness about it. Here, Japanther sounds more like Black Moth Super Rainbow than a regrettable waste of money.

The intriguing song is stifled by the following return to mediocrity on the last two tracks. The keyboard once again returns to its role as a monotonous backup vocalist, never straying from miming the same tired choir. At this point, the album is far past redemption and became boring long ago, which is saying a lot when you take into account the length of the release.

Even making it this far in the album is a challenge, and by this time expectations are for another failure. Japanther doesn’t defy the precedent it’s set along the way, as Instant Money Magic ends on another unmemorable track, “Green Juice.”

At this time in its unbelievably long career, Japanther proves it still has nothing to offer. Its most recent unimaginative release is as mind-numbing as the rest of its material, though this might be the dullest one to date.

Japanther – Instant Money Magic tracklist:

  1. “Wiggmann”
  2. “Dreams Come True”
  3. “Common Borne”
  4. “Take Me In and Let Me Go”
  5. “Breb Your Revel”
  6. “Guns Guns Guns”
  7. “Vicious”
  8. “Do It (don’t try)”
  9. “Song Of The Sun”
  10. “Centralia, WA”
  11. “All We Got Is Each Other”
  12. “Green Jug Intro”
  13. “Onandoga”
  14. “Green Juice”
Album-art-for-Tweens-by-Tweens Tweens – Tweens

★★★★☆

“Your sweetness is killing me/Mean, mean/I want you to be mean/I want you to be mean to me,” shouts Bridget Battle, frontwoman of trash-pop trio Tweens. “Be Mean” is from the Cincinnati threesome’s precocious debut album with Frenchkiss Records. The self-titled full-length touts a collection of party jams oozing with teen melodrama and a whiney but tough sound.

Tweens, with Battle on vocals and guitar, Peyton Copes on bass, and Jerri Queen on drums, have toured with The Breeders and the Black Lips, and have honed in on their catchy, defiant tone. With punk-kissed pop songs about boys, wanting to stay out late, and crying in bathroom stalls, Tweens sounds like the girl band everyone wanted to start in high school.

Battle laments, “I’m too young to be this tired,” in album opener “Bored in this City.” It’s a gateway into a world of mean boyfriends and having a curfew. Bay Area punks The Donnas, The Trashwomen, and the Bobbyteens are obvious influences in Tweens’ fast, fuzzy, dirty beach rock. The record is earnest and punchy, track after track.

Tweens is propelled by Battle’s take-no-prisoners persona.

A real man-eater on the whole, she plays several parts: the classic crush-ee (“Hardcore Boy”); the apathetic, unsentimental hook up (“Girlfriend”); and the bored, frustrated partner (“Be Mean”) all with palpable honesty. It’s every archetypal “girl” role, only with twice the edge.

Lyrics like, “Hey, hardcore boy/Oh boy/I don’t want any other,” in the jam “Hardcore Boy,” and, “Hey momma, don’t you wait up for me/Hey Momma, tonight is calling me,” in “Don’t Wait Up” hold up the group’s irreverent but sincere perspective. Their teen-centered punk, despite not actually being tween-aged, isn’t a gimmick. Rough and tumble, childish but not naïve, Tweens’ debut record is like a fun walk through an old yearbook.

Taking a slower pace, “Stoner” is the album’s instrumental interlude. The bass-heavy slow rocker speaks volumes despite not having any vocals, then picks up into a headbanger. It’s essentially the background music for a teen-movie party montage. The noteworthy “Want U” stands out as the ballad of the album. It’s a somber, doo-wop-influenced crawl propelled by Battle’s sweet vocals, electronic fuzz, and guitar strums that reveals the softer side of Tweens.

Tweens’ sound feels fun and familiar, like a former playmate’s cooler, older sister. The record is energetic, messy, aggressive, and free—like how most hoped they’d remember their adolescence. Tweens provokes angsty teen nostalgia regardless of whether or not one has ever dated a boy with a motorcycle or gotten a tattoo without permission.

Tweens – Tweens tracklist:

  1. “Bored in this City”
  2. “McMicken”
  3. “Be Mean”
  4. “Rattle + Rollin’”
  5. “Stoner”
  6. “Don’t Wait Up”
  7. “Hardcore Boy”
  8. “Girlfriend”
  9. “Forever”
  10. “Want U”
  11. “Star Studder”