AJJ – “The Bible 2”

(Photo Credit: AJJ)Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cody’s Theme,” “Terrifyer”

Sometimes, punk bands grow up. There’s nothing that can stop a natural aging process. The Clash embraced reggae, the Offspring started writing about suicide, Green Day wrote a Broadway musical. What often gets mistaken as “selling out” is usually just a band’s members realizing their image is going to fade, and jumping the gun to adopt a new one. AJJ had hinted at this transition on their last album, the excellent “Christmas Island.” It opens with “Temple Grandin” and “Children of God,” two songs that are prime AJJ – fast, acoustic guitar mixed with lyrics that more-than-border on violence and gross imagery. But the album also included songs like “Linda Ronstadt,” which touches on the same loneliness that the band usually touches on, but with less violence, less disguises, and more palpable humanity. Sean Bonnette is better than anyone else in music at masking his own insecurities, faults and dark desires through characters, satire and overblown odes. But that started to chip on “Christmas Island,” and it gets stripped away on “The Bible 2.”

The band, sporting a new drummer, have awarded themselves a re-baptism: they abbreviated their name. AJJ, of course, used to stand for Andrew Jackson Jihad. But now it’s just “AJJ.” Partially because of maturity – I mean, their name was kinda racist for a bunch of Arizona white guys – partially because of an increase in actual Jihadist violence, and partially just because it’s what everyone called them anyways.  Eleven years after their first album, they’ve been re-christened, and it’s allowed them to expand, or decompress their sound and explore what they’ve previously ignored – their stance as an actual, successful band.

AJJ’s most progressive songs on “The Bible 2” aren’t necessarily the most interesting, because they’re slower and more adult than we’re used to. But this isn’t a bad thing; a lack of humanity, although AJJ’s strongest weapon, is also their biggest downfall. “American Garbage” is downright an indie song – a different cry than “American Tune” from only a few years ago. Slap a different band’s name on the song and it might pick up some airplay on college radio. Same goes for “Small Red Boy,” and “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” which seems like a sequel to 2007’s “No More Tears,” but really isn’t. In fact, those two songs work together for a more honest, painfully aware song than any of the early guitar blasts.

All of this isn’t to say that old AJJ doesn’t pop in, too. Songs like “White Worms” and “Junkie Church” have lyrics that could’ve easily passed on any earlier album. “The waiting room was pissing in my ear / So we went and bought ourselves a can of beer / Steel Reserve,” Bonnette sings on the latter. The former: “My teeth are brown / My lips are blue / The grass is green / My tongue is too.” The horrors on this album don’t come as frequently. After years of songs like “Bad Bad Things,” “Back Pack” and “Dad Song,” there’s little that AJJ can sing in a song that’s still shocking. So, they reserve those moments. Opener “Cody’s Theme” has such lyrics, with the chorus: “I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / We had a real long talk / I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / They made the visions stop.” While this is nothing compared to the lyrics of, say, “Darling, I Love You,” they do announce that even if AJJ is growing, changing – they’re still the same at heart.

The secret weapon of “The Bible 2” is actually the songs that manage to place themselves in between ‘old’ and ‘new’ AJJ. “Cody’s Theme,” “Golden Eagle” and lead single “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” all sound strangely reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, with wickedly distorted guitar playing alongside acoustic. These songs almost act as the torchbearers, saying that yes, AJJ is transitioning, and no, they’re not changing completely. They could pass as indie songs, in a way, but it might not be a comfortable passing. “Terrifyer” might be one of the most interesting songs because its use of melody sounds pretty satisfying, while still giving in to the sound of “Sense & Sensibility,” in the best way possible.

Although I personally think the band hit a highest high with 2011’s “Knife Man,” this might be their most cohesive album. Musically, it hits more different territories than ever before. The album’s first half starts with guitar, dips gradually down into piano before revving back up for “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.” And although the lyrics do once again embrace religion, mental illness, and deathly imagery, there’s broader topics at play. By shedding away the masks the band has previously used to hide their desires and delusions within the confinements of people worse then them, they’ve humanized themselves, fully, and even the first-person songs feel more real because of it. This isn’t a criticism of their older music – far from it, what they’ve done lyrically with the use of satire, violence, and irony is amazing – but simply an awareness that it was starting to get old. AJJ ran that line as long as they could, and, now that it’s over, they’re switching gears. While this is a transition album of sorts, there’s a lot to like, and it proves that AJJ might be able to bridge a gap that a lot of punk bands have previously failed – stay yourselves, stay interesting, yet change.

-By Andrew McNally

No Man’s Valley – “Time Travel”

(Photo Credit: Jasper Hesselink)Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Kill the Bees,” “The Wolves Are Coming”

After a successful five track EP in 2014, Dutch rock band No Man’s Valley are back with their first full-length. The album blends psych-rock with a throwback garage sound, into a murky and thundering work that shows its teeth, but values restraint all the same. The band, which consists of Jasper Hesselink on vocals, Christian Keijsers on guitar, Rob Perree on bass, Ruud Van Den Munckhof on organ and Dinand Claessens on drums (with all on backing vocals), provide a brief, tight album that extends the work on their earlier EP’s into broader, more stretched-out territory.

“Time Travel” is a fitting name for this album, for a few different reasons. One reason is that the band’s different sounds throughout the album feel reminiscent of the transitional period between garage rock and metal. Specifically, the album’s first three songs, “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Kill the Bees” and “Sinking the Lifeboat,” sound somewhat like long lost odes to Deep Purple. Deep Purple often mixed heavy guitar and organ to create a dense, tough sound. While they may have been doing it as a reaction to overly melodic rock n’ roll, the guys in No Man’s Valley are focused more on the brooding aspect. Songs with titles like “Sinking the Lifeboat” and “Love or Axe Murder” aren’t exactly subtle about their brooding qualities. The band retains a garage-rock sound throughout “Time Travel,” but one that sounds dragged through the Bauhaus songbook too.

There is a focus on cohesion throughout “Time Travel.” Often, as compared to garage rock, No Man’s Valley is working in unison. Sometimes it’s very harmonious and sometimes it’s not, but rarely is one element of the band intended to be more prominent or important than any others (while most garage rock is focused on volume, rather than full band unison – to each genre their own). The band roars through the title track, and sludges through the big finale, “Goon,” all in unison.

The album is centered around “The Wolves Are Coming,” the most energetic and vocal track, as well as a single the band released in 2014 that has climbed the charts in their native Netherlands. It’s another reason why “Time Travel” might be a fitting name, because the band is both showcasing where they’ve been, and how far they’ve come in those short years. The band give glimpses into their steady past with “Wolves,” and into their potential future with more balanced, psychedelic and heavy tracks. While it might only be a brief outing, “Time Travel” is a very cohesive and diverse record, that shows a band that still knows how to have fun in the studio. “Time Travel” proves that a throwback sound can still sound refreshing in 2016.

-By Andrew McNally

Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Grade: A

Key tracks: “Burn the Witch,” “Glass Eyes”

This review was originally posted at the filtered lens

By this point, we don’t really need to be reviewing Radiohead’s albums. Their last, 2011’s “The King of Limbs,” shocked audiences by getting a reception that was only pretty good, not great. Nothing noteworthy for other bands, but a huge misfire for them (and, personally, it’s one of my favorite RH albums). They’re a cultural institution, changing themselves and popular music with each release. They’ve done it again here, on their ninth album “A Moon Shaped Pool,” an album that balances emotions just as it balances its instrumentation.

The most immediate sound on the album is the alarming strings of opener and lead single “Burn the Witch.” It’s a very compact song, clocking in at 3:41, relatively short by the band’s standards. It has that catchy, staccato string rhythm that’s somewhat infectious, unexpected for a band that doesn’t exactly have the most whistle-able tunes. The second song and second single “Daydreaming,” hits the much more familiar other-end-of-the-spectrum, a 6+ minute haunting electro-ballad. It’s a gorgeous song, equally enthralling and terrifying. The two songs, released close together and playing back-to-back, are uniquely different in a way that doesn’t exactly work, and to have them kick off the album seems like it’s setting a path for an album of great songs but with a lacking cohesiveness.

This couldn’t be less of the case. Other reviewers have used the word “symphonic” to describe the album, and it settles into that kind of groove. The next four tracks – “Decks Dark,” “Desert Island Disk,” “Ful Stop,” and “Glass Eyes,” act as a massive (and excellent) suite. “Decks” transitions into “Desert,” and although the other songs aren’t connected, there is a real vulnerable and murky tone to the songs that draw the listener for quite a while (about 17 minutes, through the four songs). And just when that set starts to feel a little worn-in, they turn on a dime to the more rhythmic “Identikit,” one of a few songs they’ve recorded for the album after playing them live for years. It’s not an energetic track, but it feels like after the previous five.

Radiohead’s best albums have a real cohesiveness to them, and “A Moon Shaped Pool” is about as cohesive as they come. The biggest outlier is “Burn the Witch,” with a bursting energy not found anywhere else. A majority of the tracks are slow-burning ballads, to varying success, although most are sheer Radiohead brilliance. “Glass Eyes,” the shortest track, is also the most effective. Closing song “True Love Waits” is the same (and another song that Radiohead has been kicking around for years). The album shares a cohesiveness with “Kid A,” but without doing a retread of that album’s murky synths. There is a lot of synth here, but it’s a more spellbinding and complex use of them, and occasional strings and acoustic guitar work to fully complement the otherwise electro-heavy music.

As with some of Radiohead’s other albums, the lyrics don’t take a full priority. Between the importance placed on music, and Thom Yorke’s typically high-flying and jumbled vocals, the lyrics aren’t always the most discernible. Still, “Decks Dark” has a great line, “There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky,” which complements the song’s spacey feel (that would feel in place on “OK Computer”).

This certainly isn’t one of Radiohead’s most accessible or immediately enjoyable albums. In fact, some of the tracks might not even sound great individually. This is an album meant to be consumed whole. Their last two albums, “In Rainbows” and “The King of Limbs,” had pop standouts that you could listen to and love immediately – this album is more of a grower. In time, it’ll go down as one the band’s best albums yet, but we have to give it time to get there. Trust me, give it the time.

-By Andrew McNally

Head Wound City – “A New Wave of Violence”

Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Head Wound City, USA,” “Scraper”

Let it be known: this is not a noisegrind album. When Head Wound City formed in 2005, they formed as a nosiegrind supergroup, consisting of Cody Votolato and Jordan Blilie of the Blood Brothers, Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of the Locust and, uh, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they formed as a fun side project who wrote and recorded an entire EP in a week. The resulting project, a self-titled work, wasn’t extraordinary, but was a breath of fresh air nonetheless. The EP, at seven songs, clocks in at only 9:38. That was released 11 years ago. Their unexpected reformation has given us a full-length, one born out of maturity. “A New Wave of Violence” is about as mature as anything in this genre can get.

Zinner’s songwriting credit on “Lemonade” be damned, he requested a Head Wound City reunion. And that reunion led to the idea of a full-length. But with members like Blilie and Pearson among the ranks, the desire to expand upon noisegrind must have been obvious. Some of the people responsible for the sub-genre’s growth in America didn’t want to be consumed by it. And with the overall silliness of noisegrind becoming overwhelming – Pearson and Serbian once played in Holy Molar, a band that sang almost exclusively about teeth – the member felt a need to play themselves out of it. So while this album is intense, by all means, it doesn’t really fit under any qualifications. And, in that way, it is purely gratifying.

The first sign that this wasn’t going to be a proper noisegrind album was the lead single, “Scraper.” For one thing, it’s 2:40. While still short, it’s about two minutes longer than a proper noisegrind song. And the song builds for about half its length, building into a big climax. The band hit all kinds of marks across the album, be it immediate intense pleasure (“I Wanna Be Your Original Sin”) or restrained hardcore punk (“Closed Casket”). They strive to make every song unique, and succeed unequivocally. “Palace of Love and Hate” might be a proper noisegrind song, but “Avalanche in Heaven” shows massive restraint. Hell, “Love Is Best,” is as grown-up as anything that might otherwise be radio-approachable.

But that’s not to say that they hold back. Blilie’s vocals are as intense as ever, and there a few times where he seems to be dubbed over himself – screaming and regular vocals. It’s disorienting. The band, collectively, makes a statement, that they don’t need to be as aggressive as humanly possible to get their point across. Members of the band, especially Pearson and Serbian, expressed a desire to move away from the comedic side of noisegrind. Their primary band, the Locust, is responsible for such song titles as “Skin Graft at Seventy-Five Miles Per Hour,” “Get Off the Cross, the Wood is Needed,” and, my favorite Locust song, “Nice Tranquil Thumb in Mouth.” There’s little humor here, instead replaced by a less intense but more hard-hitting intensity, a demand to cut the shit and get to work. And that they do. “A New Wave of Violence” is a collaborative effort, and it feels like one. It is maturity through forced innocence, volume through forced filtration. It doesn’t classify as any sub-sub-genre of rock or punk, instead choosing to exist as its own brutal being. And pardon my French, but holy shit, is it going to rip your skull apart.

-By Andrew McNally

White Lung – “Paradise”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Below,” “Kiss Me When I Bleed”

There’s two meanings to the word “raw.” On White Lung’s previous album, “Deep Fantasy,” they explored a hardcore sound that roared ferociously, even for hardcore punk, ripping through 10 songs in 22 minutes. Their new album smoothes things out a bit (although not much, it’s 10 songs through 28 minutes). There is a lot more emotional rawness on the album – the band is focused less on speed and volume and more on wearing themselves thin on tape.

White Lung are following in a trend set by previous releases by Perfect Pussy and Savages, in which very loud and angry bands are not shying away from their sudden success and are instead using their new standpoints in their music. Tellingly, Meredith Graves and Jhenny Beth opened their arms to love. Mish Barber-Way? Serial killers. And trailers. But also love. In between albums, she wed, and a post-wedding blissfulness permeates the album. At times, unfortunately, the band sounds like they’re pushing the volume only because they’re White Lung and that’s what is expected. Most of the time, however, this theme of emotional and physical rawness comes across effectively.

“Deep Fantasy” is one of my favorite albums – in the past two years I’ve spun it more than almost any other album. But if there’s any criticism I could level at it, it’s that it feels a little too polished at times. Surprising, given Kenneth William’s utterly shrieking guitar. The band operates at 11 and sound like they’re about to go off the rails at all moments. But still, they could use for a little more emotion in their music. It comes through here. On “Demented,” William trades in his wailing guitar for a straight-forward, pounding and unexpected one-chord riff. Anne-Marie Vassiliou sounds immediately more forceful on the drums, on opener “Dead Weight,” and one multiple songs throughout. And Mish Barber-Way strains herself on nearly every song. I found their first single, “Hungry,” underwhelming, but man her voice propels the song. She brings carnage to “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and adds tension to ballad “Below.” She dominates the album in the way that she dominated “In Your Home,” the closer to “Deep Fantasy.”

Lyrically, too, this album has a certain rawness to it that doesn’t jibe with the rawness of “Deep Fantasy.” One of that album’s best songs, “I Believe You,” was an extremely direct message to rape culture. That directness exists here, too, but instead of a punishing rawness, it’s an emotional one. Barber-Way investigates her fears and wonders about marrying a Southern man: “I will give birth in a trailer / Huffing the gas in the air / Baby is born in molasses / Like I would even care” she sings on “Kiss Me When I Bleed.” On “I Beg You,” “This is the death of me / I need a fantasy.” Between the rapid drumming, relentless guitar exploration and strained vocals, White Lung push themselves to a maximum that they’ve never explored. It doesn’t always pay off, some tracks like “Narcoleptic” and “Hungry” suffer from a tempo that’s too fast to be slow and too slow to be White Lung. Exploring their space might not always be their thing. Then again, they strip everything away and let sheer tension run “Below.” This is a personal and bleeding album, one that addresses the successes and failures of being a touring band, sudden notoriety, and life in general. It isn’t necessarily hardcore punk, but then again, White Lung never truly adapted the title. They never adapted any title. And it’s not like this album isn’t gonna rip your face off most of the time anyways. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s emotional, it’s loud, it’s destructive and most importantly, it’s White Lung.

-By Andrew McNally

Weezer – “Weezer”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “California Girls,” “Thank God For Girls”

No one really knows what goes on within Weezer. The bandmates who aren’t Rivers Cuomo might not even know what’s going on. But what went on, for many torturous years, was that Cuomo broke Weezer’s very easy-to-replicate formula. Their first four albums – “Weezer,” (Blue), “Pinkerton,” “Weezer,” (Green), and “Maladroit,” were all pretty similar works, even if the former two eclipse the latter two in terms of quality. And then, for whatever reason, the band released four mediocre-to-downright-unlistenable albums, in relatively quick succession. “Make Believe,” “Weezer” (Red), “Raditude” and “Hurley” all have individual songs that are worthwhile, but none were worth the wait. “Raditude” in particular showed the band giving in to their worst desires. 2014’s “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” was a shaky, tentative return to form that left listeners with their fingers crosses, hopeful for the future. And while their new, fourth self-titled album (White) isn’t a masterpiece or even one that really demands a second play, it is reminiscent of the Weezer past. So, it’s exactly what we’ve been asking for.

This has been billed as a concept album, with all ten tracks set during the summertime. I wouldn’t make the “concept album” distinction, however. Hits from their mediocre albums like “Memories” and “Beverly Hills” have been just as summer-y. Once Rivers Cuomo grew up, got that Harvard education and married that Japanese woman he questionably craved in “El Scorcho,” he couldn’t play the role of the nerdy underdog anymore. Whether something in Cuomo changed, or he was/is playing a character, Weezer’s lyrics switched from the very nerdy (“In the Garage”) to the very social (“We Are All on Drugs”). That change may have had an impact on the music, with the band only now relenting and reverting to their older, better style. Again, we can only speculate as to what goes on inside Weezer. But these are summer-y songs, because that’s what Weezer does now.

The average length of a radio single used to be 3:30, and I’m not sure if that still holds, but that seems to be something in the brains of the members. Seven of the album’s ten songs fall within the sex-second range of 3:24-3:30. These are songs built for the convention of pop radio, even if not the band’s focus. They’re fun, breezy, over as soon as they start. There’s not one but three songs with “Girl” in the title, as well as one with “Kids” and one “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori.”

As we’ve learned both the easy and hard ways, Weezer operate best when they’re repurposing older material and ideas. The riff and feel of “Beverly Hills” is essentially repurposed for the great opener “California Kids.” The summer-y lyrics throughout repurpose the best parts of their worse albums, as well as any mid-range Beach Boys. Their influence is felt on this album, even amidst the guitar fuzz. And the crunchy guitar is back to stay, apparently. It’s here throughout, pleasantly buoying Cuomo’s lyrics. There’s no songs that stand out from the crowd, Weezer aimed more for a complete package.

Cuomo’s lyrics might seem bland at first listen (and especially at first glance, with the aforementioned trio of “Girl” songs), but they’re packing some punches. Early single “Thank God For Girls” comes off as a little sexist until you investigate the playfulness of the verses. There’s the not-so-subtle line about a “big, fat cannoli,” and the ode to “strong” and “sweaty” women. I don’t think Cuomo is trying to rewrite “Lola” here, instead remarking on the state of gender roles and attraction. Whether it works or not is up to you (jury’s still out on my end). Elsewhere, there’s predictably weird references to Burt Bacharach, the Galapagos and Sisyphus, among others. All very heady and unexpected for a summer album.

It’s easy to criticize the frustrating lack of originality on this album, because you do come off wishing it had some more zings to it. But when they tried to add those zings, we criticized them more harshly. So, take the album for what it is. It isn’t a great Weezer album, but it is a very good one, and it’s the one we deserve. From the hip “California Kids” to the surprisingly forlorn ballad “Endless Bummer,” Weezer have provided a solid set of songs that could end up going down as one of their better collections. Soak it in, dudes.

-By Andrew McNally

Tancred – “Out of the Garden”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Bed Case” “Sell My Head”

Tancred’s last album, a self-titled album, was an excellent work of little numbers that was weirdly out-of-place. It was released through Topshelf Records, the label home to various emo and pop-punk bands like Into It. Over It., Defeater and A Great Big Pile of Leaves. But Tancred, nee Jess Abbott, really didn’t fit in that club. Even if her songs had a simplistic beauty to them, they were tough to categorize. And in the three years since that album, the scene has become overblown and overstayed. On her third album, Abbott finds herself moving even further away from any emo/pop-punk association, with a collection of fuzzed-up guitar tracks ripped out of the Breeders’ songbook.

There were guitar tunes on her previous albums, but this album’s riffy opener, “Bed Case,” is a stark contrast to “The Ring,” the beautiful, floating song that opened her last album. There is less restraint on “Out of the Garden,” and a lot more volume and energy. The energy isn’t maintained throughout, but more often than not there is enough oomph to keep listener riding down the nostalgia train. Abbott, alongside Terrence Vitali and Kevin Medina, create a world that falls somewhere in the 90’s boom between pop-punk and shoegaze, often swaying one way or the other. “Sell My Head” seems distinctly punk, while “Control Me” falls closer to shoegaze.

Abbott’s lyrics often center around relationships, as well as individualism, something she came into working in a bad section of Minneapolis. On “Sell My Head,” she sings, “I drank you up like wine / Until my teeth were black and white.” She muses on love in regards to self-expression all across the record. “This is how we learned to be happy / This is how we learned the hard way,” on “Control Me.” “Tie me up with ropes made of you,” she sings on “Poise,” and “You look like California / Take me there, take me there / You put me in a coma / But I don’t scare” on “Bed Case.”

90’s revivalists will have a lot to piece through on this album. All members come across well on the album, and while the fuzz-induced boom isn’t quite enough to sustain across the whole album, there’s enough great tracks here to certainly hold up. Tancred has always seemed fitful to place themselves in any genre, and this album is a delightful mix of everything in between.

Watch the video for their excellent single, “Bed Case” below (although not if you have epilepsy):

-By Andrew McNally

Future of the Left – “The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left” & “To Failed States and Forest Clearings”

The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left:

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “The Limits of Battleships” “No Son Will Ease Their Solitude”

With all of the line-up changes that Welsh post-punk band Future of the Left has gone through, it’s pretty remarkable that 2/3rds of their line-up is original members. That said, they are currently down to a three-piece. Andy “Falco” Falkous will run this band until it dies, and he’s currently joined by his wife, Julia Ruzicka, and third wheel drummer Jack Egglestone, who has been around since the beginning (and also played in Falco’s previous band, mclusky). Their fifth album takes a more math-rock based stance, which can be frustrating at times.

The album’s first few songs all have very complex riffs, designed not to be catchy. They’re all heavy, of course, it wouldn’t be Future of the Left without unnecessary volume. The chugging midtempo rhythm and shrieking guitar of opener “If AT&T Drank Tea What Would BP Do” shouldn’t come as a surprise, their last album opened with a similar song. But it isn’t until “Grass Parade,” the fifth track, that we get a song with a real graspable rhythm. The first four tracks all have clunky, demanding rhythms, and while they’re all good in their own right, it does not request another listen very easily.

Once the album ‘picks up,’ which I’m using loosely, it falls more into a Future of the Left groove. “The Limits of Battleships” and “Eating For None” both have great rhythms, snuck in amidst the volume and anger. “Back When I Was Brilliant” is an effective midtempo, midalbum bruiser, and “White Privilege Blues” has an excellent breakdown in it. “Reference Point Zero” has an intense climax that fits in amidst the band’s best energy songs. And closer “No Son Will Ease Their Solitude” is a tense and building finale that’s delectably unpredictable, without going too off the rails.

Falco’s lyrics are frustratingly buried in the music at times. As a singer, he has been praised and criticized for his on-the-nose subject matter, often tackling a specific target or industry. Or, sometimes, he’ll shield himself behind satire (my personal favorite Falco song is “I Am the Least Of Your Problems”). Sometimes, the lyrics come through here. One of the better tracks, “Miner’s Gruel,” is a subtlety-lacking look at teenage privilege. Album cover included, there’s a few tracks that reference the military. As always, there’s references that seem to make sense only to him, like to curry houses on “Back When I Was Brilliant,” to asking “How many farmer’s markets does it take to change a light bulb?” on “Proper Music” and bemusing, “My bank account is not a hole, it has no purpose and a hole has one” on “No Son.” Perhaps the best lyrical moment, though, is on “Eating For None,” when he proclaims, “I am most of the time perfectly happy.” With all due respect, I’ll believe it when I see it.

To Failed States and Forest Clearings:

Grade: A

Key Track: “The Cock That Walked”

The band crowdfunded “Peace and Truce,” and gave the record to paying fans early, promising another EP soon to follow. To nonpaying customers, they came at the same time. If the full-length was designed as a progression into less punk and post-punk and more complex music, then this is the refresher. The six tracks on this EP could have fit on any previous Future of the Left album, and should have. There isn’t a weak track on this release.

Opening song “The Cock That Walked” is about, apparently, creeps who get an erection on public transit. It has a pounding, fast-but-not-too-fast rhythm ripped out of their own playbook. Four of the six songs maintain this, a more standard Future of the Left sound. Keyboards mixed in with booming bass and crunching guitar lines. “Problem Thinker” is the first of the outliers, a much more slowburning song that really takes it’s time to build to a big conclusion. Also, “There’s Always Paul” is a bit lighter, centered more around light percussion and handclaps than anything else.

Overall, this EP has a kind of goofy feeling to it. Look no further than “Animals Beginning with a B,” where Falco sings “I can’t see a baboon from where I’m currently sitting but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them at the city petting zoo.” Look, I’m not sure what angle he’s taking here. But this EP is different than the album because Falco’s lyrics are both clearer and weirder. On “Fireproof (Boy vs. Bison)” he sings, “Someone at the party said to get fucked and he had not heard of that.” The lyrics throughout this EP are the kind that would truly divide Falco’s fans and critics. It acts as a companion piece to the full-length, and it should absolutely be for any longtime fans such as myself.

Read my review of Future of the Left’s “How To Stop Your Brain in an Accident.

-By Andrew McNally

Savages – “Adore Life”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “The Answer,” “I Need Something New”

There’s something to be said about sophomore albums from traditionally angry bands. On debuts, bands trying to make an image can flaunt it all on record. But if their debut is successful, as Savages’ “Silence Yourself” was, then a follow-up of equally angry and aggressive songs is going to sound more hollow amidst the increased fame and exposure. While most bands might try to capitalize and create another album of the same, Savages have openly embraced their newfound exposure. “Adore Life” is filled with songs that are deceivingly optimistic, love songs even. But the band finds ways to embrace anger among optimism, and no it shouldn’t work, but it often does.

The first Savages album was marked by very sweaty songs where the guitars built up in crescendoing rhythms. Although there’s a few of those here, the band announces a change from the opening chords of “The Answer.” It’s loud as hell, but the guitar rhythm plays on, unchanging, for about a minute and a quarter. And when it does change, it goes right back to where it was. This album is more diverse than their debut was, with a wider range in emotion and influence.

There’s more brooding on this album. The title track is a toned-down ode to life that still sounds utterly abysmal even in its optimism. The finale, “Mechanics,” is also super lowkey, given the rest of the album. It has an aura of goth to it, although the influence of touring with Swans is obvious too. Throughout the album’s quieter or more down moments, the band sounds like they’re recording in a sewer, like it’s something we’re not supposed to know about it (which is extremely effective, by the way). The band allows themselves time to expand that they didn’t on their first album.

Of course, they don’t always take it. “The Answer,” “I Need Something New” and “T.I.W.Y.G.” all rip, hard. The second two could have easily been cuts from the first album, very sweat-inducing post-punk tracks that absolutely overflow with energy and ferocity. Even with some more drawn-out songs, Savages are at their strongest when their putting everything upfront to the listener, and the best songs here do just that.

Savages also sound more formed here. While “Silence Yourself” is a group project, each member gets their time to shine on this album. Singer Jehnny Beth gets moments throughout, although she sounds the strongest on “Slowing Down the World” and “I Need Something New.” Guitarist Gemma Thompson dominates “The Answer” even with just one rhythm repeated over and over again. Ayse Hassan gets a bass lead on “Adore,” and drummer Fay Milton adds the energy to “T.I.W.Y.G.” and “When In Love” to chug those songs along with wicked propulsion.

What makes this album unique is the devotion to life and love. The band said they were writing love songs. But keep in mind that this is the same band that put out an ode to rough sex called “Hit Me.” Beth’s lyrics center on love throughout, and it is jarring at first. But it’s a kind of love that stems out of having nothing else left. The band’s slower moments sound pained. Although “Adore” isn’t one of their better songs on its own, it is a mission statement for the band – when you’re hurt physically and emotionally, all you have left is life. Embrace it (“T.I.W.Y.G.”) or simply put up with it (“Slowing Down the World”), either way, it’s the one thing you can’t lose. Again, Savages live up to their name.

If you like this, try: Bully’s “Feels Like,” a young band that subtly sticks some very noisy elements in their otherwise alternative debut album.

Ty Segall – “Emotional Mugger”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Californian Hills,” “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess”

With a non-stop flurry of activity, Ty Segall has done his best job at distancing himself from any one sound. But ironically, as “Emotional Mugger” proves, there is a distinct ‘Ty Segall sound’. It’s one part T. Rex, one part Count Five, one part Deep Purple, and like a half a part of Jack White. “Mugger” jumps around a bunch, but overall, it’s a trippy, fuzzy and loud trip down all of Segall’s interests.

“Mugger” is his eighth solo album in his seven year career, which is impressive in its own right. But this time period also includes, naturally, two albums with Fuzz, an album with the equally busy Mikal Cronin, an album with Ty Segall Band (one of my personal favorite albums), an album with White Fence, a T. Rex covers album, and long-gone singles with bands like Epsilons, Party Fowl, Sic Alps, the Perverts and the Traditional Fools. So the manic energy of his music makes sense – he has to be this manic to be this productive.

Segall’s last proper solo album (T. Rex cover album notwithstanding) was a surprisingly reflective, acoustic work that highlighted his more classic-rock influence. It was an inevitable album, there was only so many ways Segall could spin garage rock into something unique, and he was going to have to slow down at some point. But that point, much like the time in between his albums, wasn’t very long. “Mugger” doesn’t match the volume of the Fuzz albums, or the mania of the Ty Segall Band release, “Slaughterhouse,” but it blends fuzzy guitar, garage rock energy and smooth vocals as well as anything else he’s done.

Musically, there isn’t much to say about a Ty Segall album that’s unexpected – it’s loud and fuzzy, his guitar is center-stage, and every song is an adventure in some way. The great opening track, “Squealer,” is a very staccato song, and it transitions nicely into “Californian Hills,” a song that shows restraint but gives way to two-bar bits of mania every so often. He takes two guitar solos, on “Diversion,” and “Mandy Cream,” both effective. And his almost-signature guitar shrieking permeates the longest track, “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess.”

A word being used in other reviews of this album is “addictive,” but without context, it’s a word that can be applied to his whole discography. He makes music that’s very easy to get into, even if it’s immensely heavy. It’s always almost catchy. Check “Preacher,” from Fuzz. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but yet everyone could get into it. Also, his music always has high replay value. The addiction on this album is an incredibly innocent one. This album is, at least sometimes, about childhood. A child’s voice shows up at the end of “Candy Sam,” one of the two songs that references candy. The other one is, uh, “Baby Big Man (I Want a Mommy).” There’s a, uh, baby on the cover, too. The album seems to have an innocence to it that Segall sometimes shies away from on other records. He’s a man that likes to have fun in the studio, and comparisons to the equally boy-ish Thurston Moore are not unjustified. Here, he embraces it, with childlike innocence and childlike innocence. It’s just that kids probably wouldn’t enjoy his shrieking guitar and destroyed pedalboards.

“Emotional Mugger” isn’t one of the best Segall albums, but it’s got some great tracks. And even when Segall isn’t at his most effective, he’s usually still entertaining. This is a more than passable set of loud jams for people who like fun, fuzzy rock tracks. It is diverse and energetic, and hits basically every mark in the Segall book. Now, to just wait and see what he does next.

If you like this, try: Peach Kelli Pop! I never got a review of her third album out but she makes an incomprehensible mix of garage-rock, hardcore punk and the poppiest, girly-girl imagery. She comes from the same garage Segall did.