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New This Week: Sonny & the Sunset, Au.Ra, Tropics, Jane’s Addiction, Bruce Springsteen, and Broadcast

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Sonny & the Sunsets - Talent Night at the Ashram: Talent Night at the Ashram was originally conceived as a short film, with scripts morphing into tracks that incorporate the stories of several different characters. It’s a bit deranged, a bit raw, Ariel Pink-y, a bit Kinky, a bit folky, a bit synthy. There’s a melding of several genres, but ultimately it’s a cinematic piece. The albums opening track, “The Application” has Sonny applying to be a human being over some bouncy beach-pop harmonies. It forces the melodic-inclined listener (like myself) to really listen to the lyrics and follow the absurd odyssey of the grocery store employees in “Happy Carrot Health Food Store.” That one is trippy as hell because he spends a chunk of time talking to his dog. Sonny’s made a weird and surreal ~chiller~ album with some immensely creative songwriting. ARI

RIYL: Fergus & Geronimo, Ariel Pink, Os Mutantes

Recommended tracks: “The Application”,”Talent Night at the Ashram”,”Secret Plot

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Au.Ra - Jane's Lament: When I imagine what a person's aura looks like, it's this glowing cloud-like substance radiating from and around their body that they're just sort of perpetually wallowing in. It's amorphous, yet purposeful and communicative. I like to think that mine would be gold because of my natural star-power and affinity for the finer things in life, but that's beside the point...the point being that Au.Ra is an aptly-named shoegaze-inspired pair from Sydney whose latest album offers up 9 tracks of distorted dreamy goodness. From "Sun" (track 2), which sounds like you're melting into the sand of whatever beach you're laying on (preferably an Australian one), to "You're On My Mind" (track 4), which I will be adding to my personal soundtrack of songs to listen to while reminiscing about former lovers, each track on Jane's Lament captures a specific feeling and spends somewhere between 3 and 6 minutes reveling its essence. See, very aura-y. Simple, repetitive lyrics and droning guitars create a sense of indulgence and dwelling, while shifting drum beats and synths keep the album from becoming monotonous. I'm bout it. CAROLINE

RIYL: DIIV, Deerhunter, My Bloody Valentine

Recommended Tracks: "Morning" (1), "Pyramid" (3), "Spare The Thought" (6), "Ease" (8)

Tropics - Rapture: Tropics’ album Rapture brings to mind fifty shades of gray. No, I’m not talking about the book or movie. I’m talking about all the vivid grays I see and hear when I turn Rapture on. A world of black and white, suspended in the purest reverb, like dust floating through the gray beam of a projector. The songs on Rapture all use the same ingredients: warm synth pads, the dusty tines of electric piano, chopped drums, spacious piano saturated in deep reverb, gasping vocal samples, and sine wave synths tittering in the far reaches of an arctic tundra. The beats are intricate and somehow minimalist at the same time, sounding straight out of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight”. The smooth, shuttering R&B songwriting calls to mind James Blake, Rhye, and even a whisper of deep house. Now and then I find myself desperately craving a nice ‘boots n cats’, but Tropics merely teases me, keeping the tempo down and the vibes chill. In the nicest way possible, this album would be amazing to fall asleep to. The fastest song, “Home and Consonance”, chugs along with locomotive motion. A battering snare drum propels the groove a la Flying Lotus’ “Arkestry”. The saxophone on “Not Enough” is a nice added texture, I could have used it sooner than on the closing track though. In total honesty, the outlier here is the title track “Rapture”, with the most consistent beat and using the least reverb. I recommend this album to anyone looking to sink into some kind of trance. Rapture is definitely a mood changer. Some might call it music therapy. Either way, I’m relaxed and drowsy after its 11 sleepy tracks. AROG

RIYL: James Blake, Rhye, Nick Monaco

Recommended Tracks: 2, 5, 8, 10 

Jane’s Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual: Jane’s Addiction, in many ways, laid the groundwork for alternative music to blow up in the 1990s, bringing together punk, funk, and metal with folk and jazz elements along with the energy and unique vocals of front man Perry Farrell for an entirely new sound. “Ritual De Lo Habitual” made Jane’s Addiction a leading force in the music world – especially in Los Angeles. But because the group split in 1991, the band did not last long enough to solidify their legendary status. Is the last sentence accurate? Maybe. I mean, Dave Navarro is probably better known now for his tattoo reality television show than for being a (killer) guitarist, and Perry Farrell has gained an incredible amount of personal fame for creating Lollapalooza (thanks, btw, Perry). Additionally, although most people (freaking hopefully) know Jane’s Addiction, they do not seem to have the same amount of public respect and/or recognition as other ‘90s alternative bands – Nirvana, Soundgarden, even fucking Stone Temple Pilots (I just really dislike Scott Weiland)  – which is a travesty. Ritual de lo Habitual is groundbreaking in its ability to seamlessly blend numerous genres and sound simultaneously heavy and playful.  Oh, and there are barking dogs featured in what is probably the most popular song on the album, so the band probably deserves some kind of cosmic bonus points. ALH

RIYL: Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Porno for Pyros

Recommended Tracks: ALL 

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska: We were runnin down Highway 78 in a 1992 Ford Van with the tail lights busted out. I was at the wheel and Neal was in the passenger seat fiddling with the radio, but we weren’t gettin nothing. The rain was coming down in sheets. The sky was black. My palms were sweatin and my fingers was achin as I tried damn near everything I could to keep that van from slidin off the road. We knew there wasn’t gonna be no market in this weather, but we also knew we wouldn’t be getting paid if we turned back. “I don’t know about you, but I’m takin ninety,” says Neal “I just can’t justify it to my wife and kid any other way.” Neal gave up on the radio. We had a speaker in the back and Neal hooked it up to his ipod. We had been talkin bout music cause Neal had been around the industry in Athens for a while. He suggested we put on Springsteen. “Springsteen?” I said, a bit surprised. “Yea,” says Neal. “That’s what I thought too until I heard Nebraska.” 

~A shrill harmonica seeps through the speaker, filling the van with an uneasy silence. The high notes pierce the air like a needle prick to the vein. Then comes the guitar, soft and smooth as the harp fades. The tension subsides and the muscles in your shoulders start to relax. The vocals come on slow, effortless and comfortable. “From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed off .410 on my lap. Through to the badlands of Wyoming, I killed everything in my path.” The narrator is Charles Starkweather, a 19 yr old kid from Nebraska who along with his 14 yr. old girlfriend killed 11 people in a 2-month spree in 1958. “They wanted to know why I did what I did. Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.” 

That meanness is the concept behind what is arguably Springsteen’s greatest work and one of the finest pieces of songwriting of all time. All tracks were recorded by Bruce solo on a 4-track cassette recorder, originally intended as demos to be recorded with the full E Street Band. The cassette spent weeks knockin around in Bruce's pocket before everyone involved decided that the solo versions should just be released as the album. All of the tracks on the album are structured as first person narratives, telling the stories of murderers, criminals, the poor and the wretched, those with little hope for the future and those with no hope at all. There is no salvation for these people, just the stark reality and pathetic fate of those “caught on the wrong side of that line”. The album is bleak, yes, but so beautifully haunting that one can’t help but be drawn to its insistent darkness. Maybe the words of Starkweather are more human than we care to admit. SHILL

Broadcast - Tender Buttons: Whenever I listen to Broadcast, I picture myself in a dark room, with nothing but some sunlight flickering through broken blinds to help me see.  This English indie rock band offers a very dark, airy, and dissonant taste of electronic samples, synths, and guitar that brings the listener to the same emotional place as landmark rock/electronic album Kid A.  The synths are crunchy as if from a 6-bit video game, but the samples and effects bring in this airy atmosphere that compliments lead singer Trish Keenan (RIP), who uses a slow and distant delivery quite similar to Lætita Sadier of Stereolab. Tender Buttons sounds like a dance party for a black and white video game, with cigarettes and red wine.  If taken into account the time it was released, 2005, I could see how Broadcast could be incredibly influential to current indie rock bands who heavily use electronic instruments in their music, such as Chromatics or Glass Animals.  That was almost ten years ago (wow) and as a result I must appreciate how Broadcast brought an incredibly unique sound to the indie-rock scene that didn’t follow the folk-route that most of those bands were going down.   Broadcast in my opinion is a very underrated band that I think more people should check out, although I guess some of their music does sound vanilla, but I think that’s even more evidence that Broadcast laid the foundation of what many indie rock bands try to achieve now with sampling, effects, and synths.  And if anything, although their music is loaded with effects, it doesn’t ever feel overwhelming, it actually achieves the opposite effect of minimalism and simplicity. DYLAN

RIYL: Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Chromatics

Recommended Tracks: I Found F, Black Cat, America’s Boy, Michael A Grammar, Goodbye Girls