Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.
Bad Religion – True North
“Past is Dead”
“Hello Cruel World”
“Dept. of False Hope”
Album Highlight: Bad Religion’s sound has been crafted over three and a half decades, and it hasn’t deviated much from a strong drive, mixed in with educated, anti-establishment lyrics and endless touring. Some faster tracks from the “80-85” era are a pleasant surprise.
Album Lowlight: A few odd songs like “Dharma and the Bomb” could have been omitted, as they are a little goofy and misplaced. If you aren’t a fan of 90’s punk drumming, this album may not be for you.
Takeaway: A must for any fan of Bad Religion or punk-tinged rock and roll fan. There are lots of thoughtful lyrics sung masterfully. True North continues a great punk rock tradition, what you’d expect from vets like Greg Graffin and Co.
Toro y Moi – Anything in Return
“So Many Details”
Album Highlight: Chazwick Bundick’s new LP Anything in Return is heavily dance-influenced compared to his prior works, and he’s brought a new beat to the table by lacing his first three tracks with UK deep house and R&B sensibilities. The opening section of the record has the freshest sound on the record.
Album Lowlight: It’s Toro y Moi’s longest record, and it does feel a bit long. “Touch” and “Day One” aren’t spectacular, but they aren’t bad either.
Takeaway: Anything in Return blends tracks influenced by dance (“Harm in Change” and “Say That”), R&B (“So Many Details”), micro-house (“Rose Quartz”), disco/chillwave (“Studies”), electronic pop (“Cake”) and funk (“High Living”). It’s a sexy, cohesive album, and Bundick takes a mature look at youthful living with his smooth lyrics. This is a winning record.
Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love
“Dance with Me”
“Is It Too Much”
Album Highlight: Ra Ra Riot’s new album Beta Love is upbeat and infectious, combining many elements from their previous work with a more developed electronic sound. If Ra Ra Riot was in the alpha phase before, they have certainly progressed into the Beta phase with ‘Beta Love.’
Album Lowlight: Nitpicking here, but the second half of the album doesn’t quite retain the all-out dance party of the first half. After “Angel, Please”, the LP settles down a little and takes the listener into a nocturnal state with “When I Dream”.
Takeaway: Ra Ra Riot has created a tremendous indie electropop album. The band’s sound has evolved, moving away from the heavier, classical sounding music to a more electronic, synth vibe. Ra Ra Riot purists might be skeptical towards the change, but I love it. One of the best albums in a very young 2013, IMO.
The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
“This Ladder Is Ours”
“The Turnaround/Wolf’s Law”
“The Leaopard And the Lung”
Album Highlight: The second half of Wolf’s Law contains enjoyable tracks that don’t sound like the typical, upbeat alt rock this group usually puts out. Check out “The Leaopard And the Lung” and a slow but lovely “Silent Treatment.”
Album Lowlight: Why throw a 70-second gap in the middle of the last track “The Turnaround/Wolf’s Law”? Both the parts within this track are excellent and could have been bridged. I’m sure there’s a reason they weren’t completely merged, but it just breaks up a beautiful final song in an unspectacular way. And “Maw Maw Song” is a little meh.
Takeaway: The Joy Formidable produce a noisy wall of sound that abruptly comes and goes, and Ritzy Bryan’s guitar-work dominates this album. If you’re a fan of The Joy Formidable, give it a spin, but you may be stumped by the odd, yet entertaining second half of the record. Overall, there isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking to be found in this LP.
Nosaj Thing – Home
“Try” feat. Toro y Moi
Album Highlight: Subtle, yet contemporary beauty at its finest. Tracks such as “Distance” from LA electronic musician Jason Chung feature a fresher take on old legends like Boards of Canada. “Tell” leans closer to the dub-scape sound of London-based beat maker Burial.
Album Lowlight: Though it’s not Chung’s style, one bigger, fuller or faster track could have helped full-album listening experience. I had higher expectations, as this album was nearly four years in the making. I guess when you’re producing for hip-hop stars, it gets time-consuming.
Take-away: It was well worth the wait for Jason Chung’s new album under his Nosaj Thing monicker, as this fresh batch of progressive down-beat tracks is full of his unique sound.
FIDLAR – FIDLAR
“Wake Bake Skate”
Album Highlight: “Cheap Beer” is the lead single and party anthem of the album, leading into the record apologetically with screeching distortion, pelting lyrics and surf rock guitar riffs. The song sets course for a 14-track homage to the grittier side of punk rock, highlighting the angst of wasted youth set in the streets of LA.
Album Lowlight: “LDA”, reminiscent of a Ramones ballad, is a song that sidetracks from the anxious energy that keeps this album interesting. Appearing in rotation after the most lively track on the album “5-9”, the song stunts the manic motion of Fidlar’s material in what seems like a forced attempt to squeeze a cheesy love song into the mix.
Takeaway: “Paycheck,” a track which starts off unconventionally slow, is sung in unison, and is placed on the coattails of the least impressive song on the album. One might pass this up the first listen or two. The latter half of this song shreds, slapping the listener in the face with the albums’ strongest guitar solo.
The Growlers – Hung at Heart
“One Million Lovers”
Album Highlight: The opening one-two punch of “Someday” and “Naked Kids” gets the album started in a big way. “Someday” finds Brooks Nielson singing about the future and “when tall boys turn into champagne, and Bologna turns to steak”. “Naked Kids” is a slower-paced psychedelic ode to a lost lover, and he swears he’s changed and has had an epiphany. Great opening tracks here.
Album Lowlight: Every song seems to blend together — it’s hard to distinguish between different tracks. Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys was supposed to produce this album, but The Growlers weren’t happy with Auerbach’s touch, so they went back in the studio and did it their way. It does make me wonder what Auerbach could have done with these songs.
Takeaway: All in all, this album is enjoyable, especially the lyrics and the 60’s SoCal psych-rock vibe, but I feel it could have had stronger material. All the songs are good, but only a couple stand out from the others.
Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
“We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”
Album Highlight: “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” is the album’s title track and undoubtedly the strongest song. A psychedelic freak-out coated with soulful shrieks, impressive percussion, steady guitar riffs and someone ripping on the organ, Sam France and Jonathan Rado showcase their incredible musical talent and chops for songwriting.
Album Lowlight: The least complicated effort on the album, “No Destruction”, lacks in production value and lyrical content. It’s great in the context of a stripped-down country song, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the tracks on this album.
Takeaway: With its borderline obnoxious lyrical interludes, “On Blue Mountain” seems silly at first. I was at first deterred from what ends up being one of the most enigmatic tracks on the album. Approach this album with acceptance of the ironic song structure, and you’ll sure to be smitten by the end.