The Notwist - Close to the Glass: Unfamiliar with the band, I did some light research before giving Close to the Glass a listen, discovering that the Notwist formed in 1989 and began as somewhat of a hardcore band, eventually progressing into the world of electronic music with their more recent releases. Ah, an Alternative Rock Commandment: Thou shall grow weary of your guitar and play a synthesizer in its stead. Hence, after the first two tracks of focused, spacey electronic music, "Kong" seems to sneak up from behind and hug me, like a friend I haven't seen for a while, but I'm wondering how he found me here. With its simple guitar riffing and pop charm, it felt out of place initially. But lo, the electronic elements work their way back as the track plays on, ending with a twelve second synth-y swirl that leads the way to "Into Another Tune," another guitar-less track. That was the point where this record began to make sense to me. The band showcases its duality with poise; they can write pop music as easily as they create hypnotizing, experimental electronic tracks. "From One Wrong Place To The Next" opens with a barely-there acoustic guitar, in which the scratch of a hand sliding on the fretboard is more audible than the actual strumming. It sounds decidedly human in its imperfection, but gives way to the precision and ambiance of the band's digital impulse. "Lineri," one of the albums highlights, is a nearly nine-minute instrumental track, a challenge to say the least, but it uses its length effectively. I should note that even though "7-Hour-Drive" borrows the chords from My Bloody Valentine's "When You Sleep," I love the noise fifty-five seconds in too much for me to care. This album has gotten better with each listen, and even if I was at first apprehensive to reciprocate the embrace that was thrown at me by my old friend, I'm glad he's here. If you're into David Bowie's Berlin-era electronica, take a good look at Close to the Glass. NEW NICK
Recommended Tracks: "Kong", "Into Another Tune", "Run Run Run"
Mark McGuire - Along the Way: Mark McGuire distances himself from both Emeralds and his previous records with new album Along the Way. Still resonating the classic synth and new age harmonies McGuire is known for, the album delves into an interestingly optimistic dynamic. It's a curious change from his usual nostalgia, bringing instead more of a sweet sentimentality. Not particularly challenging, the album still holds an appeal that is quite captivating and successfully relays the humility of the composer and performer whilst allowing a somewhat careful exploration of McGuire's unearthliness. OLIVIA
Recommended Tracks: "In Search of the Miraculous", "Astray", "The Lonelier Way"
Natural Child - Dancin' with Wolves: When I first heard Natty Child I figured they were some small-time rock n’ roll revivalists who had recorded a few killer tracks and then faded back into the backwoods obscurity from which they were sprung. The stuff of legends, no doubt victims to the vices oft-mentioned in their songs: cussin, fightin, and gettin high. I attributed to Natty Child the kind of mystery and nostalgia reserved for the likes of Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, and it took a conversation with fellow Tennessean rockers Those Darlins to realize how ridiculously misguided my sentiment was. Their last album only came out in 2012, and apparently they’ve spent the past year and a half touring extensively. They even have a facebook… So maybe they aren’t as mysterious as I thought, but it’s good to know that I haven’t missed out on another great rock band. On Dancin’ With Wolves we see the Nashville boys really settling into their role in the city’s music scene. They’re leaving the shit-kickin rock to Diarrhea Planet, while The Weeks handle the angsty teenagers and Those Darlins cater to the jaded rockstars. Natural Child really takes the most sensible approach to it all, fully embracing that tried and true southern sound, country. That real swooning honky tonk that so many alternative southern rock bands flirt with, but never take to bed (the Black Lips for example). The addition of a pedal steel guitar this round definitely proves their commitment. Sure, you could say it’s nothing new, but consider that the Rolling Stones didn’t make a whole album of originals until 66’ with Aftermath and even then it was just a whole bunch of rippin’ off the blues. It’s the mantra of rock & roll: reduce, reuse, and recycle. And besides, this album does do something new and original; it seamlessly incorporates psychedelic elements into country music. Imagine if Gram Parsons had cheered up and lasted through the 70s or if Nick Waterhouse got over himself and started drinking Natty light and smoking weed. Dancin’ With Wolves is what you’d get, but it don’t matter cause now it’s got. SHILL
Recommended Tracks: "Out in the Country", "Saturday Night Blues", "Nashville's a Groovy Little Town"
CEO - Wonderland: Remember that board game Candyland you might have played when you were just a young’un? The one with the bright-ass colors on the board that is basically just Alice in Wonderland manifested in a board game? Well imagine you’re at a party in Amsterdam, and Prince approaches you asking if you want to play. Star-struck, you let out a stuttering ‘yes’ before following him wide eyed into a back room lit up in neon. You take the seat directly facing him, and to the left and right of you are two Brazilian super-models wearing Venetian Masquerade masks. “Please, before we play, we must drink,” he says, and pulls out a tray with four glasses. You raise your glass for a toast, finish Prince’s mystery potion, then commence game-play. But then at about four moves in, you suddenly don’t feel so well. You start sweating, your heart begins to race, the walls start to spin, and before you know it you’ve literally been transported into Candyland. Realizing it was the drink, you try but fail to keep up with Prince as he disappears with the models into the deep brush of Peppermint Forest. As their laughs echo in the distance, you start to panic. That is, until you hear some sort of strange noise that begins to mix with the fading sound of the laughs. It grows more and more until suddenly you’re bombarded with some strange form of electro-polka serotonin-inducing madness. You’ve heard it before, but you can’t exactly figure out where/when. As you joyously dance towards Candy Castle (i.e. the end of the game), the music becomes more ambient and vocals cease (queue the track ‘juju’). The Swedish producer behind CEO, Eric Berglund, opens the massive doors to the castle, in which he says with an earnest smile: “Welcome to Wonderland.” As the title track begins to play, you find yourself entering a futuristic, Ibiza-esque nightclub, where you run into Prince yet again, and finally find the Euro club banger, sugar-coated synth enlightenment that you’ve been looking for all this time. J CLIFFY
Recommended Tracks: "Harakiri", "In a Bubble on a Stream", "Ultrakaos"
Solids - Blame Confusion: It took me a few passes before I realized Solids was only a duo. Not the simple blues of the White Stripes, but not overly-ambitious as Japandroids, Solids are a realistic rock crew capable of generating impressive detail for an array of only four arms (total). Hailing from Montreal, these Canucks create the illusion of a band twice their size through the magic of detuned, droning guitars and gigantic stereo vocals and cymbals. Somehow, they have produced a record that is both hi-fidelity and muddy with fuzz (paradoxical, yes, but listen and you’ll understand better). Certainly they could be mistaken for any opening band at a dingy club like the Smell or the Echo, but there is a certain charm and appeal to their sound that I think sets them apart. For fans of: Dinosaur Jr, Cloud Nothings, Diarrhea Planet OLD NICK
Recommended Tracks: "Off White", "Blame Confusion", "Through the Walls"
Neil Young - Live at the Cellar Door: This is the latest release from Neil Young’s archival concert series. It chronicles a brief residency that Young had a small club in D.C. called the Cellar Door where the capacity was capped at 200 and tickets were only $3. The residency came just months after the release of After the Gold Rush, and many of the soon to be classics are present here. Young also plays a few old Buffalo Springfield jams like “Expecting to Fly” and a rendition of “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong”, which is dripping with the jaded sarcasm that really defines this release. “You’d laugh too if this is what you did for a living”, says Young, joking with the audience, but with a hint of melancholic self-reflection. Young sounds stoned and tired in these shows as he wistfully bounds through his set. His sound is loose and free, switching between grand piano and guitar, at times trudging through the motions but at other times exhibiting the real emotion with which his songs are crafted, including a touching rendition of “Down by the River”. He puts so much of himself into the song that he has a difficult time reviving himself for the next song, which leads to a somber monologue about the despondency that drug use leads to, a concept which I think might define the state Young was in at this point of his life with the hope and promise of the 60s dissipating into the next decade. The audience just laughs…
This is a must have for any Neil Young fan, a true classic from a pivotal time in the artist’s career. If you choose to read into it, you might even find that it exposes some of the insecurities that a generation faced at the end of age. SHILL
Recommended Tracks: "Cinnamon Girl", "Down by the River", "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong"
Wild Beasts - Present Tense: This is the fourth album from Wild Beasts in eight years, and if you've heard any of their past material you know what to expect from Present Tense: sensual yet muscular production, songwriting that is equal parts confident and unpredictable, a rhythm section perpetually shadowboxing with the dueling voices of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming. It's a sound that ricochets against any number of sonic references (RnB, 80s boogie funk, post-punk) but doesn't lean on any of them - you'd never mistake a Wild Beasts song for another group. Although much is made of artistic reinvention, I also think it's greatly rewarding to hear a band that continues digging deeper into its aesthetic, teasing out a greater nuance and even enhancing the group's previous work (The National also does this particularly well). I'm certainly not one to complain now that I've heard "Mecca", an unbelievably beautiful tribute to the eternal sort of love, a force that seemingly binds humanity: "I'm a pilgrim, you're a shrine to/All the lovers that loved before us/And breathed in this ether." Thorpe's abilities as a lyricist are criminally underrated, although he did come across a tad overwrought on 2012's Smother. Wild Beasts have continually grappled with the mess of modern male identity (a fav: "I'm not any kind of heartthrob, but at the same time I'm not any kind of slob."); they manage to discuss subjects like sex without resorting to anything terribly raunchy. Present Tense offers a wiser perspective, dwelling on class divides, regrets, and the idea of parenthood. The band's ethos this time around is elegantly distilled down to a lyric from "Past Perfect": "Man did fuck up/And then he learnt." ZN
Recommended Tracks: "Mecca", "A Simple Beautiful Truth", "Palace"