Maybe I’m just a perfect portrait of “hipster metal,” but I’ve never been impressed by Mastodon. It follows, then, that Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor’s role in Arcadea was somewhat off-putting to me. Promises of psychedelic, sci-fi synth shredding kept my attention, though. Arcadea’s rock’n’roll space odyssey draws from the galactic taproot that commercial appropriations of heavy psych/prog depend on, bringing to mind spacey synth pioneers like Giorgio Moroder, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rodion G.A., and Vangelis’ work with Aphrodite’s Child. Combining this with the metal pedigree one should expect from Relapse, there’s a lot for fans of Torche, Genghis Tron, and S U R V I V E (and by extension the Stranger Things score) to enjoy. Arcadea’s metal roots pack the guitarless album densely with effects-warped vocals, berserk Moog riffs, and expansive martial atmospheres, superheating the self-titled album far beyond any ambient or new age placidity. Arcadea synthesizes the cosmic grandeur of the Milky Way into flowingly out-there interpretations of humanity’s conflicts and—by adhering to a classic sci-fi lyrical and instrumental vocabulary—wisely never breaks from its hyperactive, futuristic character. Arcadea thankfully avoids being another “weird” vanity project by dedicating itself to an immersive, bombastic take on space rock rather than leaning on Dailor’s presence. This is aided by varied vocals, such as those on “Neptune Moons” and “Motion of Planets.” Arcadea is very faithful to its theme and may recall some of Mastodon’s butt rock-isms, but it’s ultimately a fun, heavy-space-metal adventure offering both hooks and far-out pastiche. —Ben Miotke


Last October, B L A C K I E (“All Caps, With Spaces,” says his bandcamp page) pummeled New Orleanians with an early taste of Remains material at a sweaty Siberia show. Performing on the floor with a massive sound system, he bashed the crowd with a bass-heavy assault, furious sax parts, and aggressive vocals. Remains continues in this vein, opening with him shouting “Tell me what remains / Numbers not a name” over a hypnotic piano loop and a thick distorted bassline. While B L A C K I E is often compared to Death Grips, whose work he predates by half a decade, Remains is a strong body of work that is distinctly B L A C K I E’s own. Following his 2014 release, Imagine Your Self in a Free and Natural World (which includes two 16-minute long songs) B L A C K I E has opted for a shorter, more direct approach. “Return to Control” combines a relentless thumping piano and drum machine beat. The intensity of his voice as he chants “I know / I know / You’ve lost control” channels the fierceness of early Bad Brains. —William Archambeault

Blue Iverson (Dean Blunt)BLUE IVERSON (DEAN BLUNT)

One may not be familiar with the name Blue Iverson. The East London-based producer-musician also goes by Dean Blunt, but was also one part of Hype Williams with Inga Copeland and yet also a third of the group Babyfather. In any case, the Hyperdub roster member has taken this nod to Bey and Jay’s baby girl for his nom de plume on Hotep. Largely instrumental, Hotep is a brilliant display of grimy soul. The inspirational smoke from the room that Massive Attack or Tricky used to occupy lingers on tracks like “Brown Girl.” Finger pops, layers of synthesized strings, and clean guitar all play together to create a meditative—albeit a bit over-decorated—track. While gazing at the black and white image of Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, chosen for the album art of this mixtape, “Fake Loathe” and “Soulseek” seem cut from the same cloth of soul music in a broader sense. A highlight of the record is “Jenna’s Interlude,” which is painfully short clocking in at a scant 1:15. The smooth keys lay the foundation for (we presume) Jenna to deliver the timeless and sultry lyrics “Old fashioned love, coming around my door / good old fashion love, where have you been?” The Isley Brothers may be curious which demo from Harvest For The World was used to make this cut. Blunt’s non-linear career is often mysterious, lo-fi, and varied. However, he and his collaborators are making incredibly innovative music using synths, samples, and organic instruments. Perhaps the best thing about Hotep is that it’s free for stream or download. The future is now and Dean Blunt is providing the soundtrack. —Emily Elhaj


Following last year’s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece, Big Thief’s follow-up is an album that cruise-controls like Tom Petty and paints narratives that vividly burn through your brain like Springsteen . Recorded on a farm in upstate New York with engineer-producer Andrew Sarlo , the band sounds tighter and more inspired than ever. Capacity sounds like a band at their best and Adrianne Lenker is in her prime, masterfully crafting earnest songs. The title track rattles on a waltzing train car, howling through the terrain of this record. This album really moves, with lyrics as picturesque as a goddamned Dorothy Allison novel. There are dark but honest topics on this beautiful record: death, abuse, and longing are presented in a very human and bare form. “Watering,” with its dissonant guitar line (not unlike How It Feels to Be Something On-era Sunny Day Real Estate) contains one of the most striking stories. In fact, each track feels like a short film with complete portraits of the characters. Those who enjoy Jessica Pratt, Radiohead, Neil Young, or Jana Hunter will enjoy this album’s many notes that make a complex, instantly enjoyable, beautiful chord. One of the best records of the year. —Emily Elhaj


After an eight-year hiatus, CKY has released The Phoenix, their first studio effort since 2009’s Carver City. Feuds, false reunions, and botched lineup changes have marred the last ten years of the band’s history, resulting in the expulsion of frontman Deron Miller, with lead guitarist Chad I Ginsburg taking his place. The result is, unsurprisingly, something different. While Miller brought the anger and cryptic lyrics that they became known for, the new iteration brings plenty of frustration of their own. The eight-track album plays like a half hour-long diss track, with only two songs of the bunch not being clear and direct attacks on Miller. Ironically, the riff play is less aggressive, and the songs as a whole have a groovier edge. The chunky riffs that made CKY stand out are still here, but they’re buried under a more mature and less aggressive musical tone. Ginsburg has called this album the successor to 2002’s Infiltrate.Destroy. Rebuild., but when compared to the rest of their discography, it feels more like the prologue to something else than a new studio record. Backstory and context aside, it’s a good album with a lot of merit—even for fans that were hoping for another I.D.R or Volume One. Tracks like “Wiping Off the Dead” and “Head for a Breakdown” prove that not only do they remember how to be CKY after all these years, but they’re strong songwriters even without Miller’s creative input. —Jared Landry



Hydra Head’s glory days as perhaps the purveyor of heavy experimental music may have passed, but albums like Through The Mirror seem to erase that gap. While the U.S. has bands like Full of Hell and The Body weaponizing extreme strains of rock with electronic noise, Japan’s Endon seems compellingly and dangerously post-American. Through The Mirror is viscerally “post-” and so deeply transformative of extreme music forms that “catastrophic” may be as perfect a descriptor as “music.” Endon’s annihilation of form first evokes Hanatarash’s perilous electronic noise, then Zeni Geva’s brutal noise rock. At this point, their sound explodes with bleak doom metal grandiosity, semi-organic post-rock beauty, shattering post-hardcore, and no wave-damaged rock reminiscent of some of the most impactful acts in underground Japan. Similarly cutting-edge Western sounds that come to mind are Wolf Eyes, Daughters, pg. 99, and Loma Prieta on IV. Through the Mirror is iconically cacophonous, heavy, angular, shred-y, and grooving. Like Hanatarash, Endon is a bane of event organizers and audiences for earnestly conjuring danger. Through The Mirror is probably the safest exposure to their truly daunting (and possibly cathartic) sound. —Ben Miotke


Local femme superheroes GLAND have a new 7” and it’s going to make your summer worth living. Their second release and follow up to Neurotica has even more fuzzed out surf punk riffs, syrupy melodies, and powerhouse drums. The first track by itself should be enough to help you forget about that crush who left town to go hiking in Alaska, or went on retreat in northern California, or hopped a freight to their mom’s air conditioned condo in New York while you had to sweat it out and keep it real here at home. Lyrically covering themes on self love, dropping out, taking revenge, and reptilian existentialism, IS A CONSPIRACY offers multiple punk rock strategies for better living and survival in this dreary political/social climate. For this release, Kallie, Jean, Switch, and Farra create a blend of musical flavors more satisfying than your favorite daq or snoball on a July afternoon. Never mind the herbal remedies this summer; if you really care about self care, go out and get this record as if your happiness depended on it. It actually might. —Beau Patrick Coulon


By their third LP, Los Angeles industrial dance duo High Functioning Flesh could feel redundant. Their brand of techno-inflected EBM immediately conjures Portion Control, Front 242, and Cabaret Voltaire, while just as perfectly capturing the more broadly recognizable cinematic atmosphere of cyberpunk clubs. To me though, their evocative consistency demonstrates that the cultural wounds that released this anti-authoritarian mixture of punk, industrial, synth pop, and techno in the ‘80s have not healed. And HFF simply offers the 21st century the same dancefloor catharsis originated by their aesthetic forebearers. Susan Subtract’s vocals snarl with the same oppositional critique of deeply alienating modernity, and are structured by bandmate Gregory Vand’s rupturing electronic rhythms, earworm synth melodies, and insistent, mutated samples. Every track arrives as a sleek, crafted invitation to dance in active spite for the pervasive hegemony. Even for the duo’s stringent consistency, Culture Cut’s eight tracks stand on their own. High Functioning Flesh completes this perfectionist immersion with their retro music videos and—judging by their set at Saturn Bar last year—a satisfying live show. The video for Culture’s emblematic opening track “Talk About,” provides total access to their aesthetic as it perfectly serves the single’s cold groove. If you’re into dark, danceable synth or just long for that bygone electropunk moment, Culture Cut reaffirms that High Functioning Flesh may be the most prolific and genuine purveyors of electronic body music operating today. —Ben Miotke


When Austin, TX group Hikes decided to follow up their self-titled 2014 album, they took a leap. Instead of recording in Austin again, the group flew all the way to Tokyo to work under the guidance of Takaaki Mino, of the famed Japanese math rock band Toe. While traveling such a long distance to record may initially seem absurd for a smaller band like Hikes, Lilt speaks for itself. Opener “Granddad” kicks off with a high-energy combination of sharp guitars and rattling percussion before morphing into a dreamy soundscape. Self-describing their music as “math folk,” Hikes combines the intricacy of math rock with the mellow nature of folk. On “Onset,” Nathan Wilkins sings that he’s “never been too fond of all this city noise that wells up in me.” Despite being recorded in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities, Lilt feels void of the aforementioned city noise. On “Habit,” Wilkins and Will Kauber spin together hypnotizing guitar melodies that gracefully float in the air. Ultimately, the four-piece cultivate an atmosphere of total calm. —William Archambeault


When Palm debuted on Exploding in Sound Records with Trading Basics in 2015, I was blown away. Years of “post-punk revival” had mostly led the indie crowd to Joy Division and Gang of Four, but Palm arrived with a genuine, engrossing indie rock conjuration of one of my favorite post-punk moments: This Heat on Deceit. By evoking Sun City Girls as well, Palm had some resemblance with Deerhoof and Sonic Youth but still maintained an umbilical connection to these ‘80s experimental post-punk icons. Shadow Expert retains the shattering, flowing, and mathematical guitar rock of Trading Basics, This Heat, and Sun City Girls, but simplifies away from occasionally overwhelming atmosphere. This Heat exemplified a dire, queasy Cold War paranoia, Sun City Girls indulged in a dis-easing prog/punk cosmopolitanism, and Trading Basics brought discordant instrumentation from these two worlds into Palm’s to form a dark, avant indie pop that sometimes felt a little too queasy and random. Shadow Expert tones this challenging discord down enough without diminishing the severely damaged, yet still beautiful guitar pop tradition that sets Palm and their influences so far apart. Another significant development is a new balance between vocalist/guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt. Trading seemed mostly sung by Alpert, but Shadow sees Kurt more prominent and the often-esoteric interplay of the two voices on Shadow is noticeably more suited to the similar relationship between their two guitars. Fans of out-there contemporaries Spirit of the Beehive, Guerilla Toss, and Caddywhompus, pay attention. Palm plays Gasa Gasa on 7/21. —Ben Miotke


Tyler Scurlock has been busy since Sun Hotel disbanded two years ago. Just in the past year, he’s released one of New Orleans’ best synthpop albums with Sharks’ Teeth; showcased his melancholic-yet-sunny voice and guitar craft on the minimalist shoegazing Keeping’s Ruin Value; and now rejoined with Shame to offer a sweet, sullen dose of self-described “fuzzfolk.” Second Hand Shame establishes this sound as a cavernous jangle pop, bringing to mind Cleaners from Venus, the Wedding Present, and—for a dedication to ambiance—Neu!. More contemporarily but with differing polish, it seems like Shame will appeal to fans of Alvvays and Pope. Triangulating Scurlock’s musical exploration of the sociology of religion most present in Sharks’ Teeth and the organic personability of Keeping, Shame avoids being just a Tyler Scurlock project due to his bond with bandmates Spencer Darr, Zachary Meredith, and Phil Stafford, which manifests both in their songs and in peeks of affable studio banter. This bond ushers them from the tight, halting opener “Twice” all the way to the more undulating, sprawling jam “Piano,” which closes the album, keeping all five tracks flowing, catchy, and emotive. Local DIY space/former coffeeshop Breezy’s manifests as a fifth member for bringing Shame together and providing a homey and artistic atmosphere that is essential to the charm of the EP. Though a short album, anyone looking for the most summer bummer atmosphere in indie pop and plenty of droning reverb, pop hooks, and introspection should feel at home with Second Hand Shame. —Ben Miotke


Raising Bertie creates a beautiful, six year-long portrait of three African American boys surviving their circumstances from adolescence to adulthood in rural Bertie County, North Carolina. This documentary captures the complexity of the plight of the African American experience with regards to employment, education, poverty, family, and individuality. It follows three boys—Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” Perry, and Davonte “Dada” Harrell—through disappointments, struggles, and victories. Bertie County’s population is 80% Black, with scarce opportunity and little excitement. There are also 27 prisons within 100 miles of the county. Margaret Byrne directed this award-winning documentary with help from executive producer Jermaine Cole, also known as rap artist J. Cole. An intimate, heartbreaking, and emotional journey, Raising Bertie serves to inform the audience of the harsh reality of poverty, lack of education, and the Black experience in America. At one point in the film, we’re shown how a video of one of former President Barack Obama’s speeches resonated with the boys and their struggle to face the odds of success in their slow-paced lives. Obama stated, “There is no excuse for not trying,” serving as reminder to the boys that they have the choice of rising above or succumbing to their circumstances. Raising Bertie is screening at the Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center and PBS will also premiere the documentary on August 28. —Morgan Lawrence

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