Album-art-for-Hollow-by-Chris-Stowe Chris Stowe – Hollow


There’s a soft spot in music for artists who explore raw, visceral emotions in their material. This bare-all perspective strengthens the bond between musician and listener, and can act as a coping mechanism for both, making the experience more intimate and valuable.

Chris Stowe delivers this organic brand of music on his follow-up to 2012’s Bleed, singing soothing songs about heartache, dealing with depression, and fears of inadequacy. His lyrical content evokes a strong emotional response, digging up penitent recollections of years past in a comforting way.

Rather than brooding in melancholy despair, Hollow focuses on the struggles of loss and overcoming the associated pain, shining light on the difficult task of coming to terms with the past.

Stripped acoustic guitars and husky vocals drive Stowe’s powerful folk songs, contributing to the natural, sensitive feel of his music as he calms the soul.

Hollow is a beautiful escape for Stowe, who in “Sometimes They Give Us Beer For Free” states, “I learned to play this thing to help me feel better.” It’s a short lament about tour life and his insecurities as a musician, like fearing he’ll screw up. This emotional song explores his transcontinental road tour in a diary-like sequence of dates, exemplifying his day-to-day hardships as he tries to cope with sorrow and self-doubt.

Stowe’s lyrics paint pictures while his unadorned guitar frames the scenes, acting more as simplistic background noise to his ardent vocals than a driving force. This brings his words to the foreground, amplifying their importance and making them the centerpiece of his writing.

“Oh, Lonesome” epitomizes Stowe’s tranquil style, with placid guitar supporting poignant lyrics. Using a forlorn, regretful look at a failed relationship, Stowe scrutinizes the past and realizes he’s still conflicted. Repeatedly questioning what he would do if he could turn back time, he finally recognizes his unsureness when he says, “If I’ve learned anything it’s that I haven’t learned anything at all.” Lacking the occasional harmonies and layers of guitars that sneak on to the album, “Oh, Lonesome” is one of the more solemn tracks.

However, Hollow does branch out past the vulnerable tracks to welcome a small arsenal of other instruments and backup singing. “Longer Than It Should Have” leans toward the mellow acoustic side, but features a pinch of drums and electric guitar embellishment, adding newfangled components. However, “Angeline” does the opposite, speeding up the tempo and adding harmonica, strengthening the guitar.

Stretching even farther is “Hey Willow,” which is the only song to put more focus on music than lyrics. The focal point is actually a combination of piano and harmonica, leaving the guitar to fall by the wayside, creating an entirely different, happy vibe, despite the mournful lyrics.

The album ends on the most personal track “I Just Miss Her When I’m Drinking.” Summarizing all of the emotions expressed across the entirety of the album, the song is passionate and rueful. Expressing deep regret and longing for a past lover, Stowe comes to terms with the fact that it’s over, stating, “And if I told the truth, I’m better off alone/Between me and you I’ll be alright/I’ll just miss her when I’m drinking.” A faster pace is set as the guitar dumbs down to a few straightforward chords, paving the way for Stowe to yell it out, crafting the most heartrending song on the prepossessing album.

Hollow is a crude self-portrait, relying on almost nothing but Stowe’s words and minimalistic guitar to depict his struggles in life. Genuine and honest, the album dwells on familiar feelings and offers comfort, though it realistically proves heartache never fully fades.

Chris Stowe – Hollow tracklist:

  1. “Blood Drinkers”
  2. “Rain”
  3. “Angeline”
  4. “Sometimes They Give Us Beer For Free”
  5. “Oh, Lonesome”
  6. “Longer Than It Should Have”
  7. “Hey Willow”
  8. “Untitled”
  9. “I Just Miss Her When I’m Drinking”
Album-art-for-For-Those-Who-Stay-by-PS-I-Love-You PS I Love You – For Those Who Stay


In only 9 tracks, Ontario-based indie punk duo PS I Love You, consisting of singer/guitarist Paul Saulnier and drummer Benjamin Nelson, rifles through a plethora of moods and atmospheres without employing lengthy lyrics or relying on flashy instrumentation.

On its third LP For Those Who Stay, PSILY takes a stance for minimalism in experimental, jam-based rock with drawn-out drone notes in high-pitched keyboard sections (“Bad Brain Day”), unyielding basslines (“Advice”), and tortured choral voices (“Afraid of the Light”). Minimalism also appears in the duo’s lyrics; some songs contain only a few stanzas (“Bad Brain Day,” “Friends Forever”).

PSILY’s characteristic, ambitious musicianship sets For Those Who Stay above its peers.

Bypassing the traditional verse-chorus setup, Saulnier and Nelson opt for their own inventive, texture-governed song structures. In the gentle “Bad Brain Day,” a serene acoustic guitar happily fingerpicks its way into For Those Who Stay’s sonic universe. After Saulnier’s fragile vocal line tells the short, sweet story of a depressed narrator cured by the comforting presence of a loved one, a shrill keyboard note pierces the song, leading an instrumental parade of lofty synth chords and crooning falsetto voices to a step-clap rhythm across the entire second half of the song.

Though the cleverly constructed tunes are plagued by consistent, monotonous distortion (“Limestone Radio,” “Friends Forever”), Nelson’s attentive ear for dynamics and rhythm prevents For Those Who Stay from losing its flare and exemplifies how heavy, distorted rock — a five-decade old style — can still captivate listeners for extended periods of time (“Advice,” “For Those Who Stay”). Nelson’s attention to musical detail is a key element in PSILY’s ability to make impressive emotional jumps (like from the noisy “Advice,” to the subdued “Bad Brain Day”) without feeling jolty or disjointed.

Still, Nelson’s ear for compositional embellishment would be useless without Saulnier’s well-written songs to intensify. The frontman holds up his half of the duo masterfully, with poetically pained lyrics like “I think it’s real, I know it’s real/’cause my dead friends tell me truth in my dreams” (“Afraid of the Light”), bright, emotive guitar solos (“For Those Who Stay,” “More of the Same”), and a fiery vocal delivery that translates as both passionately desperate and peacefully knowing.

Leaning more toward desperate than knowing, the energetic opener “In My Mind At Least” bears a striking resemblance to the Cure with its combination of distressed lyrics, deceptively cheery guitars, and poppy drums. Saulnier’s flustered vocals enter with a frustrated cry of “I’m sorry I forgot!” that seems to surprise the singer as much as his audience. Continuing the upset-yet-upbeat attitude, “Advice” adds feedback and distortion to the mix.

With persisting distortion, the earsplitting, Weezer-esque guitar solo that opens “More of the Same” wails expressively for a full 90 seconds.

To its narrator, “More of the Same” may be about a glorious, eye-opening new love, but the opening lines (“More of the same/Watch out for it/Sneaks up on you/This time it’s new/I just can’t believe/I’m amazed at all this”) are also an accurate description of an artist satisfied with an unorthodox creation.

By the time PSILY reaches its album closer “Hoarders,” For Those Who Stay finds its way back to upset-yet-upbeat. Saulnier cries desperately “How do you live like this?” over a driving punk progression that seems unstoppable until the song’s tumultuous coda, in which ominous keyboards set a dark harmonic background for the guttural bassline that accelerates the album to a hurried, apocalyptic end, leaving listeners eager to restart the record.

PS I Love You’s third LP is a dark-but-fun, indie punk spectacle with an experimental orientation. Fueled by Saulnier’s minimalistic lyrics and passionate performances, and equipped with Nelson’s sharp ear for dynamic songwriting, For Those Who Stay’s 9-song tracklist makes the case for this exceptional duo and for rock minimalists everywhere.

PS I Love You – For Those Who Stay tracklist:

  1. “In My Mind At Least”
  2. “Advice”
  3. “Bad Brain Day”
  4. “Limestone Radio”
  5. “For Those Who Stay”
  6. “Afraid of the Light”
  7. “Friends Forever”
  8. “More of the Same”
  9. “Hoarders”
Album-art-for-Remedy-by-Old-Crow-Medicine-Show Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy


While its members are clearly talented musicians, Virginia country group Old Crow Medicine Show delivers an astoundingly accurate caricature of unintelligent, hillbilly country music with its fifth album, Remedy.

The record is sure to please country fans, as it contains all of the genre’s usual elements: banjo, fiddle, hit-or-miss harmonica, resonator guitar, and stand-up bass, with a bonus accordion occasionally adding an unnecessary harmonic background to the already thick sound. Each member of OCMS plays his instruments well, and their vocal harmonies are always spot on, but those skills only emphasize the band’s overly simplistic style.

Luckily, most Remedy songs are written with concise construction, ending promptly after displaying their musical and lyrical ideas and avoiding unnecessary repeats (save for the relentless double chorus of “Tennessee Bound,” which is sure to make you stomp your cowboy boots on the floor of your wooden-plank front porch).

Frontman Critter Fuqua’s hyperbolic Southern accent drizzles a thick layer of country slime over the already twangy album.

His one-dimensional narratives contain many stereotypical country themes, including strenuous relationships (“Sweet Amarillo,” “Shit Creek”) and drowning one’s problems in alcohol (“Dearly Departed Friend,” “Firewater”).

Album opener “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” recounts the puke-worthy tale of a prisoner who gets a conjugal visit from a vaguely described woman and decides to take their sexual relations to a trailer. The next morning, another vaguely described character, Old Mr. Hangman, offers the narrator freedom from incarceration in exchange for some time with his “pretty lady.”

In OCMS’ story, this woman’s body is used as a simple bargaining chip. She doesn’t get a name, personality, or even hair color. Her existence is a mere novelty to the song’s narrator and to OCMS. And that’s fine with them; each chorus approves of its preceding verse with a cringe-inducing wail of, “C’mon/We’re unshackled tonight/…/So let’s kick it in the brushy mountain conjugal trailer.” The trashy tale is not only disgusting, but also poorly told, signaling listeners looking for clever, emotional music to move along.

If listeners do stay, they’ll hear barking dogs give way to the racing fiddles that introduce “8 Dogs 8 Banjos,” which is sadly not a Weird Al Yankovic parody of the country genre. Reaching the pinnacle of “redneck music,” this obnoxious ho-down asserts that the titular items, along with hot coffee and sweet tea, are all one needs to be happy.

OCMS may have intended “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” to be a heartfelt promotion of companionship and music, but since the band doesn’t specify why these values are important, the song comes across a shallow list of objects one might find on a Western-themed scavenger hunt.

The narrowness of Fuqua’s worldview is best represented in the love song “Sweet Amarillo,” where he proclaims that “the world’s greatest wonder, from what I can tell, is how a cowgirl like you could ever look my way.” Tragically, the object of his affection runs off to join the rodeo, leaving listeners with the whine of an unpoetic, dejected cowboy.

While its lyrical universe is largely vapid, Old Crow Medicine Show does offer a few well-written songs.

The acoustic guitar-centric, pedal steel-laden “Dearly Departed Friend” paints the heartbreaking picture of a man at a close friend’s funeral service. The tune is clearly sincere and might have been touching, if only the sentiment weren’t cheapened by a heaping helping of country clichés like American flags, barbecues, and kids riding four-wheelers.

Another glimpse of potential emerges in the folk-inspired “O Cumberland River,” but OCMS’ ever-present two-step country rhythm poisons every tune it touches. In fact, the arduous, countrified trot permeates most of Remedy, making myriad songs much more annoying than they have to be (“Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” “Doc’s Day,” “Sweet Home”).

Only one Remedy track is beyond the reach of the word “annoying”: beautiful album closer “The Warden,” a subdued folk tune with warm vocal harmonies. As a plaintive harmonica solo cries over arpeggiated banjo chords, “The Warden” tells the story of a guilt-ridden prison guard. Each of its verses reiterates the same concept (because of his guilt, the warden is a prisoner, too) with varying degrees of poeticism. The insightful tale makes a strong case for OCMS’ songwriting, but cannot hope to alleviate the headache left by Remedy’s 12 preceding tracks.

Old Crow Medicine Show’s fifth album may be called Remedy, but is more likely to cause ailments than cure them. While a handful of earnest moments shine through, the vast majority of the album will have listeners projectile vomiting into their spit cans.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy tracklist:

  1. “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer”
  2. “8 Dogs 8 Banjos”
  3. “Sweet Amarillo”
  4. “Mean Enough World”
  5. “Dearly Departed Friend”
  6. “Firewater”
  7. “Brave Boys”
  8. “Doc’s Day”
  9. “O Cumberland River”
  10. “Tennessee Bound”
  11. “Shit Creek”
  12. “Sweet Home”
  13. “The Warden”
Album-art-for-Blood::Muscles::Bones-by-Street-Eaters Street Eaters – Blood::Muscles::Bones


Street Eaters aren’t playing nice with their confrontational second full-length Blood::Muscles::Bones. The sophomore album with Nervous Intent Records never lets off the gas, propelled by drummer and vocalist Megan March, and bassist and vocalist John No. The East Bay Area duo captures the essence of angry, aggressive, anti-establishment punk with this thrashing record, and while it’s traditional, it’s also refreshing.

Alienation and ruination are common themes throughout Blood::Muscles::Bones, which is made apparent from the beginning by the glitchy opening seconds of “Reverse.” Intro instrumentals play backward and lock in a non-linear sensation in this track about a life in retrograde. March reflects, “At the end of time I climb into the womb/The only place where I can get away from truth/From youth/From doom.” It’s a literal interpretation of living in reverse and knowing where everything went wrong.

The 50-50 collaboration between March and No translates like a battle — who can play faster, louder, and more honestly — which makes for songs with unparalleled intensity.

Their gritty drum-and-bass standoff makes every track race for the finish like street kids barreling down an alley to flee from cops. Youthful spirit is what makes Blood::Muscles::Bones both angry and sentimental.

The duo is a blend of the ’90s Pacific Northwest underground activism scene and Bay Area punk revivalists with a dash of Riot grrrl spirit. Street Eaters’ sound sits in the void between Portland-based indie rockers, the Thermals, and Dutch post-punk alchemists, the Ex.

March and No’s activist spirit takes a rest in “Null.” March croons, “I feel a comfort in knowing that if I don’t sow then I won’t reap/I’ll make it null.” The track makes these rabble-rousers seem deflated, but it’s really just a different breed of anthem. In “Blood::Muscles::Bones,” March sings, “Yes, I think it really matters/If you are dying in your own skin/It can’t wait/It’s all just a combination of blood, muscles, and our bones/They will never break.” The track has a quieter sense of determination than its following songs.

That aside, the ten-track full-length doesn’t arc or waver in intensity. Street Eaters focus their attention on greed and excess — the record charges on ceaselessly like a train running full tilt. The real standouts are “Dead Parts” with its mean hook, and the remarkably catchy “Running Dog.” However, Blood::Muscles::Bones — while exciting — also flatlines. Without much escalation or variety, the record makes it seem like Street Eaters have one note.

March and No’s mix of incredible energy and mutual political sensibilities begets thoughtful, heavy records, and this one is no exception. Street Eaters’ Blood::Muscles::Bones is precisely the type of fuel needed to get mad.

Street Eaters – Blood::Muscles::Bones tracklist:

  1. “Reverse”
  2. “Null”
  3. “Blood::Muscles::Bones”
  4. “Dead Parts”
  5. “Tailings”
  6. “Empty Rooms”
  7. “West”
  8. “Running Dog”
  9. “Waxwing”
  10. “Comets”
Album-art-for-The-Dead-Age-by-Unicycle-Loves-You Unicycle Loves You – The Dead Age


Punk isn’t dead, but it’s bored out of its mind. Brooklyn trio Unicycle Loves You promises a peculiar record in its fourth LP The Dead Age with quirky song titles like “Suicide Pizza” and “Endless Bummer,” but delivers little more than predictable, mediocre punk rock.

The album artwork depicts a seagull-littered beach, neon pink and green cursive font, and a severed statue bust, but The Dead Age isn’t nearly as intriguing. The record quickly blends into any background, with a constant tempo and a blanket of fuzzy distortion enveloping the entire album.

The self-described “noise pop/psych punk” act limits itself by burying its vocals under blaring guitars, defiantly thick basslines, and primitively pounding drums, making most lyrics impossible to distinguish. Singer/guitarist Jim Carroll’s slurred, sloppy vocal performances further instruct listeners to focus on other elements. His vocal melodies are often doubled by his guitar (“JAWS,” “Grownups”), implying yet again that in ULY’s music, the vocals are no more important than guitar, bass, or drums.

Carroll’s only prominent vocal line on the album appears in the screeching punk anthem, “We Never Worry,” where he proudly calls, “If I knew now what I knew then/then I would learn what I don’t know!”

The intentionally vague lyrics indicate again that vocals are just another crude weapon in ULY’s punk rock arsenal.

An additional weapon is the nonstop barrage of descending, single-string guitar phrases that rubber stamp a majority of The Dead Age’s songs and inhibit them from having unique personalities (“Falling Off,” “Suicide Pizza,” “Face Tattoo,” “Bad News Club,” “Endless Bummer”).

One anomaly is the intoxicating, spacey waltz “Any Daydreaming Morning.” True to Unicycle form, vocals float faintly in the distance, but in this scenario they add ambience, helping rather than hurting. Carroll’s guitar solo consists of rapidly-repeated notes, performed with surprising precision and skill. At the end of “Any Daydreaming Morning,” noisy, off-putting feedback splashes icy water in listeners’ faces, waking them from the track’s hazy, relaxed atmosphere and back into the cold, harsh realities of a hum-drum punk record.

Another gem is the summery “Bad News Club,” which boasts a potent surf rock influence. The sunshine-soaked guitar solo that introduces the track is the most aware on the album, building up to the song’s main riff with keen pop sensibilities akin to the Clash.

Unfortunately, ULY forgoes the Clash’s compositional ambition; predictability is The Dead Age‘s greatest fault. Bassist Nicole Vitale’s lines thump along sufficiently, but not poignantly. Meanwhile, drummer Dennis Lehrer’s bombastic playing meets punk standards, but goes no further. Stagnant, unchanging guitar parts (“Falling Off,” “Endless Bummer”) and far-from-captivating solos (“Suicide Pizza,” “JAWS”) also help confirm The Dead Age‘s status as an unsurprising, typical punk record.

Standout “Face Tattoo” suggests a stylistic change, jumping in with a drum beat that could almost be considered “dancey,” but ULY’s thrashing guitars quickly make it clear that the trio’s punk rock core is immovable, even by their own experiments. At almost five minutes long, the track, like the whole of The Dead Age, doesn’t stay interesting enough to warrant its length.

Unicycle Loves You pairs atypical song titles (and band names) with typical music. Despite its varied influences, attempts at creative songwriting, and the couple of hidden treasures it harbors, The Dead Age is surprisingly forgettable.

Unicycle Loves You – The Dead Age tracklist:

  1. “Falling Off”
  2. “We Never Worry”
  3. “Suicide Pizza”
  4. “Silent Minus”
  5. “Face Tattoo”
  6. “JAWS”
  7. “Bad News Club”
  8. “Endless Bummer”
  9. “Any Daydreaming Morning”
  10. “Grownups”
  11. “X-ray Glaze”
  12. “The Dead Age”
Album-art-for-Jaded&Faded-by-Cerebral-Ballzy Cerebral Ballzy – Jaded & Faded


It’s been a few years since the offensively-named Cerebral Ballzy unleashed hell on its self-titled debut. Cerebral Ballzy embodied the spirit of the great punk bands of the ’70s and ’80s, fueling mosh pits and filling venues full of sweaty teenagers as well as any other hardcore band.

But despite the contagious energy of the music, the blistering riffs and stereotypical “we don’t give a fuck” punk mentality, Cerebral Ballzy lacked fundamental songwriting skills, much like the outfit’s new record, Jaded & Faded.

A slew of shoddy, muffled mixes, absurd vocal stylings, and unbearably similar songs make Cerebral Ballzy altogether off-putting. While trying hard to be a rebellious, let’s-piss-off-our-parents type of album, Jaded & Faded comes off as nothing more than an unlistenable mess.

Of course, punk is a uniquely disorderly genre, but Jaded & Faded surpasses the acceptable dose of lawlessness. It’s hard to tell what’s going in any of the brief songs, all of which sound nearly identical with their lifeless riffs.

The album starts on “Another Day” with a slow, overdriven guitar, but it’s not long before the song loses any tinge of organization as it speeds up and singer Honor Titus starts barking his unintelligible lyrics. Impulsive tempo changes clash as the band clumsily trips over itself in a hasty effort to play as fast as possible, only to end up sounding musically illiterate. The same horrendous trend carries over the rest of the album, but gets more unbearable as it’s repeated for the umpteenpth time.

Cerebral Ballzy consistently stumbles through every song, regardless of speed, begging the question of whether the band has played its instruments at all in the years since its debut.

And just when you think the album couldn’t get worse than the muddled chorus of “Downtown” or the garbled shouts in “Parade of Idiots,” it sinks even lower.

Other bands have pulled off joke songs in the past (see: Blink-182’s “Depends”), but Cerebral Ballzy turns it into a total shit show. “Speed Wobbles” is a horrific waste of time and a serious challenge to sit through. It’s unclear whether the song was intended to be funny or not, but given how utterly dreadfully it’s performed, it can only be a failed joke or an ironic mockery of punk music. Titus squeals child-like lyrics about the dangers of speed wobbles while skating, further ruining the already dull instrumentals. As if the tone of his voice wasn’t bad enough, the lyrics, “Going so fast that it’s bound to end/Going down hard no matter how I shred,” are as basic as they come.

Titus goes back to adulthood on the following track, “Fast Food,” though he’s covering an equally vapid subject. This classic punk song proves that breakneck riffs and rebellious lyrics do not always make a hit. The instruments are so tangled that it’s hard to tell one from another, and the simple, repeated chorus of, “Fast food, kill that dude” reinforces the impression that Cerebral Ballzy is simply clueless.

The group has every necessary element of a punk rock band—except, of course, what makes the genre good. Yes, they thrash and scream and cause mayhem. Yes, they sing about sex and skateboarding and junk food. But the complete absence of depth destroys any chance of it becoming quality music. Without intelligent, pressing subject matter, the music loses its power, ultimately retracting to nothing more than incoherent noise.

What this all comes down to is Cerebral Ballzy’s complete lack of songwriting skill, which doesn’t reach far past a screaming baby dropping a distorted guitar on a drum set. The band knows punk and how to mimic it, but not how to make it worthy of anyone’s attention.

Cerebral Ballzy – Jaded & Faded tracklist:

  1. “Another Day”
  2. “Fake I.D.”
  3. “Parade of Idiots”
  4. “Better In Leather”
  5. “City’s Girl”
  6. “Lonely As America”
  7. “Downtown”
  8. “Speed Wobbles”
  9. “Fast Food”
  10. “Off With Your Head”
  11. “Pretty In The City”
  12. “Be Your Toy”
  13. “All I Ever Wanted”
Album-Art-for-Familiars-by-The-Antlers The Antlers – Familiars


The Antlers, best known for their 2009 record Hospice—a concept album set in a cancer ward—are no strangers to profound emotional probing. Lead singer and guitarist Peter Silberman’s lyrics almost always come back to themes of grief, confusion, regret, and what we will all, eventually and ubiquitously, experience: death.

This time around, however, on their fifth album Familiars, the storytelling takes a sharp twist along its path. Silberman is no longer caught up in the process of grieving and repentance. Instead, Familiars reveals the endeavors of moving on, moving forward, and accepting mortality.

Self-produced and recorded, Familiars runs slowly, ushering through speakers like a lullaby. Languid horns are accompanied by fluttering keyboard strokes and subdued guitar plucks, creating a beautiful landscape for Silberman’s intense, passionate vocals to drift through. Drummer Darby Cicci’s jazzy undertones are a new tool in the Antlers’ mystical toolbox, adding to Familiars‘ bittersweet theme.

The ambiance is more comparable to a dream than a particular noise—soft and jarring, cohesively cluttered with organs, basses, and harmonicas, setting the mood to an uncomfortable contentment.

The first track, “Palace,” opens with flickering keyboards and steady symbols, followed by somnolent horns and Silberman’s sooty, whispery moans. “But I swear I’ll find your light in the middle/Where there’s so little late at night, down in the pit of the well,” he croons. The last hook is the first taste of the album’s apparent (and newfound) optimism and strength, setting the mood for the tracks to come.

“Doppelgänger” is one of the better examples of Silberman’s upward journey. “If you’re quiet, you can hear the monster breathing…/Do you hear that gentle tapping?/My ugly creature’s freezing,” the second track begins, expressing that confronting your demons and accepting who you are is essential to personal growth.

Familiars succeeds in articulating encouraging, heroic couplets of inspiration, buried within the individual stories each song presents. “You will hate who you are/’Til you overthrow who you’ve been,” Silberman coos on the fifth track, “Director.”

Only three verses long, the last song, “Refuge,” may be the most powerful one on the album. “You’re already home and you don’t even know it/You have a room you can return to, and you’ll never outgrow it/See, you’re already home when you don’t know where to find it,” Silberman’s soothing vocals urge, backed up by wavering horns that stack emotions high.

He closes the album by singing, “It’s not our house that we remember/It’s a feeling outside it when everyone’s gone but we leave all the lights on anyway,” summarizing into one, achingly beautiful and nostalgic feeling, the message of Familiars.

We only have what we remember. Emotions, memories. These are what we are left with—and we must try to accept our mortality and vanquish human-natured tenacity.

Familiars is more than just a dream that listeners can slip in and out of. It’s a world that demands utter devotion. Utter willingness to jump into the wistful, abstracted abyss without looking back—a cold plunge and a heavy burden. The Antlers may be asking too much of listeners. Sometimes, a simple dream is enough.

The Antlers – Familiars tracklist:

  1. “Palace”
  2. “Doppelgänger”
  3. “Hotel”
  4. “Intruders”
  5. “Director”
  6. “Revisited”
  7. “Parade”
  8. “Surrender”
  9. “Refuge”
Album-art-for-Pedals-by-SPEAK Speak – Pedals


With summer underway, countless playlists are being created in hopes of achieving all sorts of vibes that make you want to dance your way to the beach or unwind with friends at a backyard cookout. But with Speak’s upcoming album Pedals hitting the shelves, playlists won’t be necessary; this album takes you into every little summery sound nook you never knew you were looking to find.

Pedals sounds like a blend of Foster the People and Passion Pit: it’s synthesizers and positive vibrations galore, with lyrics that lend themselves easily to nostalgia.

The album flows just as nicely as a good summer playlist should, with a few explosive dance songs to pump up the crowd and a chill middle section followed by a few slow, emotional numbers, ending boldly with chants that leave a happy ringing in your ears.

From the start of “Oh Lord,” an already infectious drum line hooks you right in.

A brief triangle/bass duet follows the first chorus, bringing a bit of funk into the song. The wailing chorus line, “Oh Lord, it’s another one,” brings a feeling of pure, unabashed joy to the summer anthem, and the melodic tune sticks long after the first listen, like a juicy watermelon slice in your hand. 

The hopeful track “Nightlight” makes it seem like summer will never have to end. Singer Troupe Gammage croons, “And if every day is an eye for an eye, well then I won’t lose sight/’Cause if I never get any closer to it, the longer I’ll try.” The sound is equally uplifting, and sways like waves with a moderate tempo that pushes the lyrics to the foreground.

When the album finally decides it’s time for a little cool down, “11 12 13” brings hazy vocals and an echoey ambiance that feels soft and slow on your ears.

Halfway through “11 12 13,” the melody cuts off and morphs into an even slower and hazier snippet of sound. Speak pulls this trick throughout the album, completely switching gears near the end of almost every track. These little twists are enjoyable at points, but more than once, a song goes on after it should have died out.  

Still, Pedals‘ crisp sound flows seamlessly between every summer mood with infectious charm. This shuffle-able album is a must to shed a fresh light on the tunes of any summertime occasion.

SPEAK – Pedals tracklist:

  1. “Gates”
  2. “Mystery Lights”
  3. “Nightlight”
  4. “Weiss”
  5. “This Much I Know”
  6. “Peaks”
  7. “Oh Lord”
  8. “Modern Art”
  9. “Be Reasonable, Diane”
  10. “Congo”
  11. “Heavy Metal War”
  12. “11 12 13″
  13. “The Meantime”
  14. “Trials”
Album-art-for-9-Songs-by-Dub-Thompson Dub Thompson – 9 Songs


Experimental noise rock is a hit-or-miss genre. If a band can manage to venture past the confines of traditional rock with unyielding originality and accessibility, it can work. On the other hand, if a band writes the equivalent of musical gibberish, lacking both direction and song quality, it’s bound to be a disaster.

Unfortunately, the young L.A. duo of singer/guitarist Matt Pulos and drummer Evan Laffer, writing under the name Dub Thompson, falls more under the second category (though not entirely) on the ironically named 9 Songs. A few great moments shine through, but you have to wade through too much shit to find them.

The 19-year-olds try out a lot of trippy, shoegaze sounds and structures, but for the most part, that leads to indistinguishable, jumbled tracks with no real form. Many of the riffs are too dissonant to be in any way enjoyable, and a majority of the lyrics are mumbled, which, when paired with the overwhelmingly distorted vocals, makes for a rough listen.

Opening track “Hayward!” sets the tone of the album with a stuffy, disjunct medley of a few short songs. Poor recording quality downgrades the already subpar tracks, but that’s not easy to help on a debut. Still, Pulos’ lyrics are completely undecipherable aside from a few stints here or there, making “Hayward!” a complete mess in every aspect.

Continuing through 9 Songs, which actually includes only eight songs, the tracks uphold the befuddled feel of the intro, but some fall flat in other ways as well. “Epicondyles” has a similarly off-putting melody and unclear lyrics, while “Mono,” though it has some cool shrieking guitar sections, is unbearably repetitive.

9 Songs is blatantly experimental, with both members trying to take their instruments as far as they can go.

It’s not that they have no clue what they’re doing or are plucking irrational chords and nonsensically beating on drums—rather, they’re clearly talented musicians. Dub Thompson went out on a limb with 9 Songs, but unfortunately, it crumbled under the weight of excessive distortion and irksome harmonies.

And yet, there are a few songs that hit the mark, sticking with the same strange flair that drives the others, but actually pulling off the experimental style. The title track is an instrumental interlude that feels much more on-point than much of the record. Pulos gets weird with effects and spastic guitar solos while Laffer backs him up with equally deranged drums. “9 Songs” is primal and intricate, counteracting anarchic convulsions with an organized refrain. The opposing sides put on a thrilling fight, making for an album-defining song that proves the duo is both original and talented.

The next song reinforces that realization, sounding more polished and thought-out than the rest of the LP. “Ash Wednesday” still masks Pulos’ voice with a combination of echo and distortion, but it works well with the ferocity of his delivery and the eerie groove of his bass and squealing guitar parts. With well-defined verses and a catchy chorus, “Ash Wednesday” is easily the most accessible track on 9 Songs.

Dub Thompson’s debut is an experimental plight that’s often difficult to listen to, but it does have its moments. 9 Songs is filled with thrilling, schizophrenic guitar, chaotic drums, and a shitload of effects, which bring brief snippets of brilliance to the heaping pile of unlistenable noise.

Dub Thompson – 9 Songs tracklist:

  1. “Hayward!”
  2. “No Time”
  3. “Epicondyles”
  4. “Dograces”
  5. “Mono”
  6. “9 Songs”
  7. “Ash Wednesday”
  8. “Pterodactyls”
Album-art-for-Honcho-Dreams-by-Be-Calm-Honcho Be Calm Honcho- Honcho Dreams


Be Calm Honcho is SoCal cool with its first full length, Honcho Dreams. The quartet hails from the Bay Area, the San Fernando Valley, and Lafayette, L.A.—a fact that vocalist Shannon Harney, drummer Mikey Carrera, and multi-instrumentalists Jacob Landry and Alex Weston seem to be very proud of. The Crossbill Records release is a hodge-podge of beach rock, indie-pop, and rock ’n’ roll that dabbles in psychedelia. Such a mix can hail positive results, but in this case makes for an incohesive record.

“Step Out” is a crisp, clever opener and a call to action. Harney sings, “Take your dress off/It’s your goddamn house/Make a mess of it all.” Her vocal quality is immediately striking—ranging from soft and coy to Alanis Morissette at her angriest.

“Each Day” has a blues-rock flavor with a steady, prominent bass guitar groove. The blues comes out in its somewhat dreary lyrics: “Get your fill while you can ’cause there’s no takeaway/And when you’re called to the stands what will you say?/You were fighting the good fight this time/This game.” This track is also a call, but it’s the other side of the coin.

Instead of minimalist and light like “Step Out,” “Each Day” is rough around the edges, a breath of fresh air in an album full of easy, breezy, borderline-pop songs.

Other tracks explore mediocrity through many different lenses. “Mean Pack” attempts to be poetry set to music, but Be Calm Honcho forgot that it’s not Bjork or Beck. “Brimming” floats along, carried by a wind made of long tones from horns and a web of instrumentation, but it’s a bit underwhelming. For all its layers and trappings, it could be infinitely more engrossing.

Meanwhile, “What We Have Made” cuts to the chase. Harney calls, “I like you more than everybody without a doubt,” and, “All I want to do is touch your body, baby, and sleep all afternoon in each other’s light.” Frankness is often commendable, but in this case, it’s distractingly on-the-nose.

One of the most successful songs, “Jacob’s Revenge” dishes out punchy surf rock juxtaposed with breakdowns borrowed from the Alabama Shakes. This and closing track “I Love CA” are high points in a record that falters in a few spots. Be Calm Honcho didn’t go the obvious route with “I Love CA,” staying as far away from the Beach Boys’ characteristic sound as possible. The track features a chorus and a spoken-word story section throughout. Harney, accompanied by the gang, croons, “I love California like you do/I fall for it harder in the full moon/Meet me by the creek/I’ll be there all day/Wading in waist deep/Beneath the meteor display.” For once, the foursome’s layers and experimentation come together in all the right places.

Honcho Dreams’ mash-up of genre, style, and attitude makes the record a pleasant, sometimes perplexing journey, much like a dream itself. This West Coast quartet can crank out some gems (“Each Day”), but could stand to avoid certain traps. Be Calm Honcho, we get it. You really like being from California.

Note: Be Calm Honcho has since re-released Honcho Dreams with a new approach on several tracks, a changed-up tracklist, and a few other tweaks, resulting in a more cohesive record. The re-vamped version will be released June 24.

Be Calm Honcho - Honcho Dreams tracklist:

  1. “Step Out”
  2. “Mean Pack”
  3. “Pretty On The West Coast”
  4. “Sea of Xs”
  5. “Go Outside”
  6. “Be Brave”
  7. “Always My Fault”
  8. “Each Day”
  9. “Brimming”
  10. “What We Have Made”
  11. “Jacob’s Revenge”
  12. “I Love CA”
Album-art-for-Lazaretto-by-Jack-White Jack White – Lazaretto


“I wanna cut out my tongue and let you hold onto it for me/’cause without my skill to amplify my sounds, it might get boring,” Jack White flatly warns on the thrillingly dark “That Black Bat Licorice.” Luckily, not a moment of his sophomore solo LP Lazaretto gets boring.

When White toured his 2012 solo debut Blunderbuss, he played career-covering sets including songs by the White Stripes, the Dead Weather, and the Raconteurs, making it unclear whether his solo career would even continue. Lazaretto destroys those doubts; it confirms White’s satisfaction with the sound of Blunderbuss, but insists on expanding it. With Lazaretto, White cements his solo career by bringing back Blunderbuss’ successful songwriting, but this time with confidently varied instrumentation and his darkest lyrics to date.

White’s musical feast highlights his talents as a narrator, balladeer, and, as Rolling Stone put it, “a rock ‘n’ roll Willy Wonka” by meticulously placing each skill in its rightful setting. The organ-led opener “Three Women” presents compelling storytelling, affirming each line of the tale (originally penned in 1928 by Georgia bluesman Blind Willie McTell) with a proud piano figure. Elsewhere, White signals the continuation of his signature straightforward, rowdy rockers with “High Ball Stepper,” a noisy, jarring instrumental.

Lazaretto’s title track spices up White’s familiar, ear-crunching garage rock with Spanish lyrics and lightning-fast wordplay. Its eruptive, manic guitar solo sputters in a way that’s inescapably similar to Blunderbuss opener “Missing Pieces,” but doesn’t leave it at that; a hard-hitting violin solo brings the track to an ominous close.

The strong stance taken by Lazaretto’s violins exemplifies White’s aim: to restate, confirm, and magnify the sonic ideas of Blunderbuss.

While they contributed only texture to White’s first solo LP, violins quickly become a staple on his second. They dominate much of Lazaretto, making powerful musical statements in White’s hard-rock breakdowns (“Lazaretto”), gentle intros (“Temporary Ground”), and country-tinged, harmonized fiddle flare-ups (“Just One Drink”).

Despite the aforementioned fiddle line, “Just One Drink” isn’t a country-inspired number. In fact, its driving riffs and sincerely sung lyrics return White to his true passion: modernizing American blues. His update features a pounding piano, deliberately-strummed acoustic guitars, and stunning audio clarity, proving that White is truly committed to keeping the blues alive in the 21st century.

While the laughter heard at the end of “Just One Drink” and overall zest displayed throughout Lazaretto show him enjoying what he does best, the pessimistic lyrics throughout the album reveal the cynicism of an aging Jack White.

“Alone In My Home” ironically sounds like a walk in the park with its deliberately cheery, upbeat piano figure, but the disconcerting lyrics find White hurt by those he trusted. Instead of confronting the “lost feelings of love that hover above [him],” he chooses to simply stay indoors, avoiding people altogether.

“Entitlement” is Lazaretto‘s crankiest track, portraying White as an old man bitterly lamenting the selfish, impatient attitudes of the iPod generation.

Oddly enough, he actually envies the brats he scolds. Regretting his own good conscience, White admits, “I can’t bring myself to take without penance, atonement, or sweat from my brow/…/I feel like I’ve been cheated somehow.” White closes his acoustic bitch-out session of Generation Y with the realization that no one, of any generation, deserves to feel entitled, concluding that “not one single person on God’s golden shore is entitled to one single thing/We don’t deserve a single damn thing.”

Biting pessimism may run rampant on Lazaretto, but superior songwriting runs right alongside it. Album closer “Want and Able” is a brilliantly confusing take on the universal “ends vs. means” conflict. The folky tune personifies desire (Want) and the means to obtain it (Able). “Want and Able” forces listeners to determine which “character” governs their actions, asking in each chorus, “Who is the who telling who what to do?/Tell me who, tell me who, tell me who.” By the end of the song, listeners can no longer distinguish between the two.

White’s songwriting raises the status quo on every record he touches, and Lazaretto is no exception. With masterful songwriting, clearly defined instrumentation, and indelibly negative lyrics, Lazaretto solidifies Jack White’s solo career as an unstoppable force.

Jack White – Lazaretto tracklist:

  1. “Three Women”
  2. “Lazaretto”
  3. “Temporary Ground”
  4. “Would You Fight For My Love”
  5. “High Ball Stepper”
  6. “Just One Drink”
  7. “Alone In My Home”
  8. “Entitlement”
  9. “That Black Bat Licorice”
  10. “I Think I Found The Culprit”
  11. “Want and Able”
Album-Art-for-Sunbathing-Animal-by-Parquet-Courts Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal


Parquet Courts look too well kept to be garage-punk—too healthy, with too many flannel-cardigan combinations. Nonetheless, the impending poster boys of American “punk” will be heard, undoubtedly, blaring through brand new Crosley’s (courtesy of Urban Outfitters) in trendy studios on hot summer nights.

A Brooklyn basement band that went from playing DIY shows in garages and sweaty apartments to making a guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, these mid-to-late 20-year-old deadpan punk boys are taking advantage of the rise of emotionless Tumblr girls and post-punk college kids. Drenched in unwarranted angst, Parquet Courts’ timing is spot on: they are exactly what every hipster wants to add to their vinyl collection.

Fittingly, their third studio album, Sunbathing Animal, was released under the New York-based label What’s Your Rupture?, specializing in small-scale vinyl records, as well as Mom + Pop Music, best known for producing artists such as Cloud Nothings and Wavves.

Though Parquet Courts are blatantly and nauseatingly trendy, they’re trendy for a reason.

The monotonous Andrew Savage sounds plagued with ennui while droning about relatively complex issues. “Most freedom is deceiving/If such a thing exists,” he sings on the second verse of “Sunbathing Animal.” “When I was young, I knew but didn’t care/Faces change and shape to represent the same old beast.” He exposes the observations of a bonafide wallflower, but they’re buried in pretension. Yes, Savage is that psuedo-intellectual douche holding an original copy of Catcher in the Rye.

The third track, “Dear Ramona,” is the epitome of a dusty, blues-influenced, punk love song. “This lady is a hypnosis poet and when she speaks, her words weep like rain,” the slightly demeaning ballad begins. Savage almost affectionately sings—truly sings, for the first time on the record—“Whoever she might be going to bed with/You can read about that in her Moleskin,” before the chorus ends rather abruptly. The punky angst toward Ramona is brief, almost like an inside joke between the two. This falls flat, of course–it’s too personal. There’s no room for relation to Savage when everything is a private poem.

However, the rest of the band—singer-guitarist Austin Brown, bassist Sean Yeaton and baby brother Max Savage on the drums—virtually make up for the excessively astute, in-your-face, contrived intellect that are the lyrics of Sunbathing Animal. But not quite. Lou Reed-inspired punk plus 1990s indie grunge meets harmonicas, resulting in a loud, confusing (although quite rhythmic and precise) lack of consistency.

Sunbathing Animal is instantaneously anticlimactic as well as anxiety inducing, an interesting feat. Raw guitar plucks and pulls encourage listeners to hold their breath, but flat lyrics leave faces turning blue—the first time around, at least. Parquet Courts’ efforts at lyrical storytelling is cute (“Instant Disassembly” may be the best attempt on the album), but in vain. The stories are too deeply embedded in stoner, slack rock pretension to have any distinctive depth for the average listener. Perfect for Lollapalooza.

Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal tracklist:

  1. “Bodies Made Of”
  2. “Black and White”
  3. “Dear Ramona”
  4. “What Color is Blood”
  5. “Vienna II”
  6. “Always Back in Town”
  7. “She’s Rolling”
  8. “Sunbathing Animal”
  9. “Up All Night”
  10. “Instant Disassembly”
  11. “Ducking & Dodging”
  12. “Raw Milk”
  13. “Into the Garden”