Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett’s new album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” feels like it’s about relationships—understanding them, maintaining them. Talking and listening (or, on “Nameless, Faceless,” learning how to ignore that which is unimportant). Telling stories, hearing stories. Trying to place oneself in relation to others in a way that’s sustainable, that works. Like with “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” Barnett’s songwriting creates a sense of one-on-one intimacy, like she’s relating these worries and preoccupations to you over a couple beers at the bar, though she doesn’t really indulge in the kind of plainspoken, super-quotidian reporting that, say, Kozalek has done with recent Sun Kil Moon records—the lyrics on “Tell Me How You Really Feel” are universal enough that there’s still room for the listener. She’s got such a range, too, as a songwriter—she’s got songs like “Hopefulessness” and “Nameless, Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” that exude a degree of menace and aggression, songs like “Need a Little Time” and “Sunday Roast” that are tender, solicitous, forgiving, supportive, and kind of stretched-out country jams like “Walkin on Eggshells.” She pulls it all off in such an effortless way, it’s astounding. "Tell Me How You Really Feel" is an easy album to listen to and love.

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FAN – Barton’s Den

Poets write novels. Painters often sculpt. Actors direct. Engineers get into crafting. Sidestepping, moving from one world into an adjacent world, can spark something new. Meric Long, guitarist and vocalist of the (awesome) band the Dodos, took a break from his main project after the death of his father and the birth of his first kid. He inherited two synthesizers from his father, instruments that he had no experience with, and found himself playing around on those, writing songs and fragments here and there, which later coalesced into this project, FAN’s debut album, “Barton’s Den.”

Reviewing the first FAN singles, “Fire” and “Disappear,” last year, I mentioned that those songs displayed the same rough characteristics and shape of some Dodos songs, and that’s true for a lot of “Barton’s Den.” If you dig the Dodos, you will love this record—Meric Long has a great voice, and he’s a really good songwriter (good melodies, awesome sense of dynamics in his songs—they’re almost never boring, they’re always shifting and moving). Even if you’ve never heard the Dodos, this record is worth your time: it’s like Long’s sensibilities transposed into the sounds you’d expect to hear on a Handsome Furs or Of Montreal album.

“Barton’s Den” has hopeful and elegiac songs, and songs like “Velour,” more combative, kinetic, questioning (also features some neon-bright, arcing guitar lines from Long). The album feels a lot like a snapshot from a time in someone’s life: full of different moods and impulses, rendered in vivid music.

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Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms

The heat wave came and never abated. The streets became sludge; you could drive your car maybe two or three feet, but that was it, the tires melted, then it was the bare bones of the rims, exposed. Trees wilted or burst into flame. A flock of odd crows dove straight into a river—you could hear the noise as they entered, witnesses said—and did not come up again. There was no more grass to speak of. Broods of insects never before seen by humans emerged and thrived, everywhere, walking leeches, the mega mosquito, many other types that bore no resemblance to known species. Everything was waiting for cessation, but it all just kept going.

(Black Moth Super Rainbow’s new album, Panic Blooms, is beautiful and bizarre, a mutation and adaptation of soft-focus electronic psychedelia, so warped and altered that it’s a new thing, a voice coming from every direction, couched in alien waves of sound).

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Vexxed – Thank You Sooo Much

Looking at Shibe Park from the rooftops

Not all music comes from feelings of desire, happiness, anger, jealousy, fear, or sadness: some of it emerges from the sweet hazy sweetness of torpor. Vexxed specialize in that vibe. The songs on their EP, Thank You Sooo Much, all sit in that sweet spot of up-all-night punchiness, where exhaustion still feels pleasant and your perception and attention is stretched in unexpected ways. “Mood Ring,” the lead track, is so, so good, a languorous little jam that ends with a sparkling guitar riff. “Heavens Away Team” is likewise catchy and fun, a pretty slow-motion tune that references the (terrifyingly creepy and sad) Heaven’s Gate cult deaths. “Gimme the Money,” the last track on the album, is part Junior Boys, part Low, and part late-night karaoke dare, a weirdly lurching and beautiful track, a good example of the band’s aesthetic. The whole EP is immediately catchy and impressive, and it’ll be interesting to see what Vexxed do next.

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Chris Reimer – Hello People

Chris Reimer played guitar in Women, one of the best bands of the last fifteen years, and was a touring guitarist for the Dodos. His guitar playing in Women was remarkable and he helped make that band's sound what it was: sharp, imperious, and weird. Reimer passed away in his sleep in February 2012.

Besides his work in Women and the Dodos, Reimer had also worked on his own compositions, instrumental jams, drone pieces, and soft, hazy loops. "Hello People" is a collection of his solo work and it's a wonderful listen. You can hear the creativity and imagination he brought to Women in these songs, and his customarily expressive playing. "Waving Goodbye From a Tree" is a fantastic example--it starts with a blizzard of notes on the guitar (very much in the tone of what he used to play in Women) that dissolves into calmer acoustic plucking and the kind of prickly strumming that you hear on early Microphones songs. Drums enter. It all builds to a culmination about two minutes in, a plaintive and searching song. The album has a handful of songs, like "Waving Goodbye.." and "About," "Hongdi" and "Mustard Gas" that have more traditional song structures (even some gentle singing on "About"), and others that are more free-form or experimental, like "Malchhovish" or "Arpeg" (which sounds like a kind of pastoral Aphex Twin), along with some intensely pretty drones (like "Beneluxx"). It's clear from the album that Reimer was an endlessly curious artist and he had the talent to pursue all of these different modes. "Hello People" is a beautiful collection of his work. You can find out more about Reimer and his work at the Chris Reimer Legacy Fund.

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Malena Zavala – Aliso

Anderson Island beach

Like a short, perfect novella, "Aliso" is like a little world with a defined vibe, one that Malena Zavala creates and explicates over the course of 10 songs. When I wrote about "Should I Try" before, I mentioned that there's something old-fashioned about Zavala's songwriting, not so much that the songs sound old or passé, but more in the way they're constructed. It seems to me like the songs have a quality of classic craft--even though I can't quite pinpoint what that is technically--they're sturdy and reliably beautiful and hummable; they unfold in a way that highlights her fantastic voice and her melodies. "A Vision That's Changed," like "Should I Try," starts quiet and small, unsteady, and expands and brightens in the last third; almost all the songs on this album move, change, evolve. It's a great listen.

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Preoccupations – New Material

Mount Hood from Mount Tabor

Preoccupations' new album, "New Material," operates at a high level, just like all their music. This album is more approachable, to some degree, than previous albums, but all the songs still have that sharp edge that the band has carried with them since their formation. "New Material" is not as dark as the self-titled album, which felt like it had a flat and dim tone (not a bad thing; I love that album). Songs like "Disarray" and "Solace" feel poppier than anything on the other albums, there's a weird kind of flashiness to the guitars in those songs that puts some of the other music into sharper relief. It's exciting to hear them play around with their sound and experiment a little bit with the shape of their albums--"New Material" ends with an instrumental track, "Compliance," which to me seems like it should be playing over the end credits of an elliptical and terrifying sci-fi movie, and the album lacks a mega-song statement like "Memory" or "Death" (the closest is probably "Antidote"), and it feels like a quicker and easier listen because of those changes.

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The forever helen

If you ever dug Unclassics or the Italo DeRuggiero mixes, you will love the sound of this fantastic track by Peggy Gou. The synths have that same tone, and I don't know what it is about that sound, what quality it possesses, that seems at once deeply uncool and supremely enjoyable. Gou raps in a matter-of-fact, casual way, as if she's explaining stuff that should be totally obvious, and in the chorus, she gets right to the point: "You gotta do it right/enjoy your night/you gotta do it right." Fun song on a great EP.

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Huwelijk 2

Anderson Island beach

Oneida are always alluring; they go where they want to go. “Romance,” their new album, continues in a vibe that’s similar in some ways to the sound of the latter two albums of the “Thank Your Parents” trilogy (“The Story of O” and “Absolute II”), but with a slightly higher proportion of all-out jams. “Romance” comes close, in an Oneidan way, to being an actual rock album—some of the tracks, like “All in Due Time,” “Lay of the Land,” and “Reputation” revolve around tight grooves and rival songs like “Up with People” or “Story of O” for dynamism. And there’s “Cockfight,” towards the end of the album, a wild (tongue-in-cheek?), let-loose, super-entertaining, riff-heavy tune (that also ends with a beautiful, fluctuating coda). The other songs on the album are Oneida explorations, where they’re burrowing down in a certain trajectory, into sometimes gnarly territory (“Shepherd’s Axe,” the final track, is one of those--18 minutes of investigation, with maybe seven or eight distinct parts).

“Good Lie,” which comes in the middle of the album, is another sort of exploration, although this one feels more delicate than the others. It starts with a simple arrangement of elements, a pulse, some piano, some background synth and vocals, and then band lets it evolve over the course of seven minutes: the song picks up small variations and minor faults along the way, and those spread and become magnified until, by the last minute, it’s become something else entirely.

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Physical personhood

It is staggering, watching the time-lapse evolution of the planet. First: accretion. Then it was a ball of hot iron and nickel. Volcanism reigned. Lava was everywhere, moving, spurting, flying all over and inside. Meteors hit, brought water (maybe?), and the moon was ejected, too weird and wicked to be a part of the planet. Atmosphere began to pile up, slow and steady, from the volcanic exhalations. Oceans pooled. Then everything was on fire again for a while. Then the planet cooled again and everything started to get its act together. It was a great time. Some chemicals and proteins and acids mixed together and flowed towards and away other chemicals. Then everything was on fire again.

"Unfolding" is the first single from Rival Consoles's forthcoming new album, "Persona." The song builds and annihilates itself. It collapses and rises up again. Subduction, erosion, eruption. It is beautiful and massive, pulsing, vivid, wild.

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