I’ve heard plenty of disappointment about Alvvays’ 2015 Gasa Gasa appearance, yet I only became aware of the band for how many copies of their first record I sold volunteering at Sisters in Christ the day following. I heard complaints about the band’s stage presence—which was the crux to my finally grasping their appeal and latest album, Antisocialites. It’s beach party teenybopper rock for a weekend spent with close friends cloistered in a beach cottage, somewhere deep in Canada. Bigger shoegazing guitar sounds fill lulls in stoned conversation, and the band’s lyrics document the kind of affections that come out in such a setting. Alvvays offered these songs with a similarly contrasting disposition at One Eyed Jacks last September (it was the most full I’ve seen the venue). Having grown up in the cold North, I think this music is most authentic with a stoicism that cushions such heartfelt experiences with all the protection one needs to sustain anything fun when it’s winter half of the year. —Ben Miotke


Angel Olsen is the preeminent young voice in indie folk-pop, fresh off her critically-worshipped third full-length, My Woman. It’s odd timing for a loosies tape, the type of fodder usually dumped by older artists. After a year of intense touring, though, it makes sense for Olsen to put out a taster for her admirers to nibble on while waiting for the next course. But Phases is more than that. It’s a buffet of B-sides, bonuses, and covers, garnished with two new tracks. Olsen turns the heat up on the forceful opener, “Fly On Your Wall,” then simmers the slow-burning saga “Special,” a leftover from My Woman. The rest of Phases sounds like Olsen’s earlier stuff. “Sans” is a lo-fi bedroom ballad that would have mixed well with her Strange Cati EP (2011), and the warbling modulations of “California” recall her 2012 debut album, Half Way Home. Phases also features an eerie take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest,” a bare-bones rendition of Roky Erickson’s “For You,” and a closing cover of “Endless Road,” a wanderer’s anthem Olsen overheard in a Bonanza rerun. Phases is a greatest hits sampler composed of unknown ephemera, a revelation for new listeners and superfans alike. —Raphael Helfand


Imprints is the glowing eight-track debut EP from the experimental London quintet Bahla. As stated on their Kickstarter, which funded the album’s production, Imprints is an exciting attempt at forming a pastiche from different cultural music influences. The band undertook the daunting task of integrating the distinctive sounds from Jewish prayer music, North African rhythmic patterns, new-age Jazz, and Russian melodies into one complex and unpredictable record. At times, Imprints hits the nail right on the head with this intention, like on the track “The Paths of Sirkeci / Pasha” where feminine vocals belt over an intricate and unique system of unfolding sound. At other times, the album is less successful, and often erratic. Cluttered tempos craft a tangled, instrumental fog that prevents easy listening. Despite this, Bahla is bringing something new to the table, and the unpackaged record seems to be fully aware of its rough edges. On many tracks, like “Aman,” the band’s thick, bombastic efforts dissolve into a tapering solo piece which proceed to boomerang. But at its best moments, Imprints plays with intricacy in a way that is manifold and mystical. —Maeve Holler


Listening to the first volume of Belle and Sebastian’s tenth studio album, How To Solve Our Human Problems, is like stepping into a time machine. From the first track, “Sweet Dew Lee” to others like “The Girl Doesn’t Get It,” this record returns us to the simplistic and intimately playful daze on full display with fan favorites like 1996’s EP Tigermilk and 1998’s The Boy with the Arab Strap. After their last release in 2015, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, where the group forayed into an interesting fusion between dance music and folk sounds, this record is definitely unexpected. While long-time followers will be thrilled to hear that Belle and Sebastian are clearly reviving some of their original blueprints for optimistic, synth-powered arrangements, Human Problems is more than just a mere recreation of sound. This record is unconventional in terms of both content and format. As the first part of an EP-trilogy, Belle and Sebastian are already reinventing the wheel by teasing their fans and breaking the traditional cycle of releasing an album and touring thereafter. Further, as the title dictates, the group is attempting to make a more sternly political statement than ever before. Stay tuned for the last two releases from this compelling new project. —Maeve Holler


Morgan Heller’s raspy voice caresses a fuzzed-out bass guitar under a thumping floor tom and delayed reverberated guitar. “Field ‘99” is wildly uncharacteristic for the band, especially as an opener. However, it breathes a new level of maturity that Hard Girls rarely admits to. But just as this level of seriousness is touched, the punch-line comes in on “Puddle of Blood” which fans will instantly find comforting. Introspective post-punk has been the band’s calling card but Floating Now channels a quirky side of the ‘90s that makes the band seem less of a trend and more of a group of time traveling slackers who can write good songs. On “Echolocation,” Mike Huguenor delivers his ballad with reflective and painfully emotional lyrics alongside more controlled and definitive guitar chords, his signature sporadic shredding taking a backseat. In typical fashion, any sense of solace is pulled away as “Halfway To The Hearse” brings back the energy. The second half of Floating Now is full of more subtle and refined Hard Girls classic devices that make the album easy to keep on repeat. “Dizzy Wizard” and “Running” close the record with fist-clenching, feet-stomping affirmation that we can all be stupid and sad and still have fun. —Robert Landry


This collection of singles from Maximum Joy are musical love letters, stylized sonnets rallying against inertia. Janine Rainforth’s vocal performance is so enthusiastic that she could only be singing to the loveliest people. Maximum Joy offered us these tremendously unfettering calls to action best obliged together with the people who might make you feel as happy and purposeful as whoever Rainforth hoped to reach. This collection soundtracks another relationship—that between the performers and the powers of funk, dub reggae, disco, and punk that seems more ecstatic worship than romance at times. This affection for style is evident in how they don’t attempt to “elevate” or otherwise corrupt these ideas by personalization. They’re ideas that have already proven to inspire true joy. This is the ideal that the Talking Heads, the Pop Group, Gang of Four, and so much of no wave aspired to with a group name that is, word for word, its own guarantee. This is an essential listen at high volume for fans of Dee-Lite and the Slits, or those looking to get moving, at any stratum of their lives, toward joy. —Ben Miotke


There is something for everyone in the elaborate nebulous haze that is Millennial Trash. As Particle Devotion’s debut release on Earthship Records, the album aims to bring the listener through an advanced course in varying song structures, instrumentation, and ardent lyrics that weave in and out of rock genres. “Catalogue for the Exhibit” commences with blazing synths over full-bodied guitars strumming a syncopated doo-wop swag. Vocals of what sounds like different versions of main songwriter/vocalist Brian Bell melt in from all angles and bleed a nonchalant critique of an early 20-something’s reflections. “I thought that I would feel better, feel settled by now.” Tracks like “Sarah Tried” and “Methadone” break away from the theatrical glamour of Millennial Trash and provide somewhat more reserved and controlled melodies. The experimentation with space and simplicity shows that the band isn’t all about thrills. Particle Devotion has a nostalgic effect that could remind some listeners of predecessors such as Sun Hotel and Native America, but they hold their own in terms of the variety of instrumentation and the receptive nature of their songs. —Robert Landry


Radio Silence is a poetic exploration into a chaotic web of political, interpersonal, and first-person experiences. Since Talib Kweli’s start almost two decades ago, the prolific Brooklyn rapper has been known to incorporate elements of social activism in his dazzling cinematic tracks. His newest record continues this influential legacy. Radio Silence makes thoughtful and provocative commentary necessary in our current era of disillusionment. On the track “All of Us,” Kweli can be heard spitting tight, staggering lyrical discourse like “We start acting if we cracking the whip better than the oppressor, yessir, every problem can’t be solved in the ballot box” over his classic array of soulful, jazz-like beats. In addition, in true Kweli fashion, this album sports an impressive line-up of featured artists such as Anderson .Paak, Jay Electronica, Rick Ross, and Robert Glasper, whose contributions bolster a collective political voice fostered throughout. And, while much of the album is remnant of Kweli’s previous work, Radio Silence still builds an innovative medley of sound that displays the rapper’s undying dedication towards change-making experimentation. —Maeve Holler


With their second collaborative album, The Body and Full of Hell continue to produce some of the most progressive work in heavy music. Together, the bands create sounds not bound by pre-conceived notions of genre and instrumentation. The Body and Full of Hell’s typical styles are best exemplified on “Farewell, Man.” From first minute, the musicians hit the ground running, playing their instruments as fast as possible only to collide into a thick wall of slow guitars. While Full of Hell’s signature rapid grind appears at moments like this, it’s mainly in spurts that accent the pieces. The album leans more heavily on The Body’s signature slow-rolling tidal wave. A pounding electronic beat and repetitive snare loop open head bop-inducing cut “Master’s Story.” This combination would feel out of place if this album was anyone but these two bands. Between the two groups, past conspirators range from Louisiana doom favorites Thou to Japanese noise legend Merzbow. Much like their first joint release last year, this album benefits greatly from the fact that The Body and Full of Hell are both seasoned collaborators who are unafraid to experiment. —William Archambeault


I appreciate instrumental rock music probably more than most, but it takes talent and dedication to play it well. The Unnaturals are a motley crew who have kept this sentiment going in the New Orleans area for a little more than a decade. The Unnaturals Face The Dreaded Kimono Dragon is their newest release, complete with shredding guitar whips and swells courtesy of Kevin Bowles. “The Apparition” opens the record with a classic sound bite, while Jenn Attaway brings the band in on a scaling bassline. The song emerges full of synths and goulish chords. “Don’t Get Burned” showcases some of Lana Caruso’s more intricate drum patterns that weave in and out of the back beat with Bowles’s guitar. The Unnaturals don’t stick to any one style. Whether it’s surf rock, horror, dancehall, or rockabilly, The Unnaturals find ways to transition into any kind of style. “Make a Move” and “Pasties and Tassels” are the letterheads of the record that unveil stronger song composition with less technics. The Unnaturals face many things, but a boring song is not one of them. —Robert Landry



Tragicomedy is Martin McDonagh’s wheelhouse. His third feature, Three Billboards, is a story of loss and revenge, but it’s tinged with the same sick humor that made In Bruges (his debut) thrilling and Seven Psychopaths unwatchable. The titular billboards are erected by Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) in response to her daughter’s unsolved murder. They read: “Raped While Dying”; “And Still No Arrest?”; “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” The assumption is that Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) will be the movie’s villain, but he turns out to be a good detective who simply couldn’t catch a break on the case. This twist is the first of many. There are red herrings, smoking guns, and one particularly unbelievable redemption arc, all of which would fall at in the hands of a less competent director. McDonagh pulls it off, mostly. The film’s issue, if you can call it that, is how perfectly its pieces fit together. The plot devices feel too cute for issues they parallel (femicide, racism, police brutality), and McDonagh often substitutes punch lines and foul language for genuine emotion. But powerful performances from McDormand, Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and a star-studded supporting cast add depth to the sometimes superficial dialogue. —Raphael Helfand 

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