Baltimore duo Beach House serves up an instantly appealing seventh long-player. 7 truly shines and surpasses their previous accomplishments via massive drum machines, synths, and layered guitars. The band worked with a new producer, Peter Kember, a.k.a. Sonic Boom (Panda Bear, MGMT, Spacemen 3); his ingenuity and syrupy weight is palpable. Phil Spector-ish tambourines are reverbed to the heavens and Victoria Legrand’s vocals have a calculated and hypnotic quality. A contender for shoegaze/’80s sci-fi movie soundtrack of the year is the hazy number “Girl Of The Year.” A backdrop of low blood pressure-paced drum machine is the framework for a dream that abruptly ends, leading you to the door of the album closer, “Last Ride.” Initially, it’s a Grouperesque piano composition that gives the listener a dose of music with earthly origins. However, the climax is a Brian May-sized guitar party. Simply put, 7 is space music for the introverted. —Emily Elhaj


A band can’t make a concept album about fighting robots without calling to mind Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips’ 2002 gold record. But that polished, proto chillwave artifact has more in common with Cardi B’s latest than the DIY slapstick in Bronze Comet’s debut. Drunk on their own guile, the band constructs the entire album around a sci-fi narrative. It feels like an action movie with a garage punk soundtrack, focusing as much on sound effects as music. The opening track “Transmission” features the head of the anti-robot army giving orders over a walkie talkie. Tamer tracks like “Bottom Feeders” let the group’s primal influences shine through. There is as much Romantics in there as Zappa or Devo. What I like about Bronze Comet is their self-contained mania. The frantic music and gravel-voiced anecdotes are all designed to entertain Bronze Comet. The crowd is just collateral. —Michael Kunz


The last time I saw Carla Bozulich live was at the Hemlock in San Francisco. It was an Evangelista show, rumored to be the last before Carla relocated to some other cooler country, and I really tried to stay for the whole set, but it was too painful or I was too weak. So I retreated to the adjacent bar and listened to her cover Low’s “Pissing,” cruelly stretching it beyond its limits, with no regard for the restraint the original maintains even in its crescendo. Even a muffled room away, I was shaken. Confrontations with Carla are this challenging even via recording, so insidious is her ability to get into your head. She’s scary. Maybe you don’t listen to Jarboe if you’re already suicidal, maybe you don’t listen to Diamanda Galas if you’re trying to not cry. Maybe you don’t listen to Carla Bozulich if you’re trying to establish or maintain the psychic boundaries necessary for self-control. Quieter fulfills its eponymous promise. She doesn’t yell at you, though the occasional pitch-shifted vocal drops are equally terrifying. That effect may be the album’s only excess: her voice, or her voice with just a double or a delay, is impactful enough. Quieter is sparser too, with room to let the diverse instrumentation (guitar, bass, viola, synths, percussion) torment and soothe. “Let it Roll,” the album’s opener, serves us Bozulich’s Do Not Resuscitate order: “Don’t bring me back this time / Let it roll.” But she then shows us grace with “Sha Sha,” gentler with strings, brushes, and an octave-up vocal harmony. The album’s closer, “End of the World,” is Bozulich holding space for another’s distress and departure: “If you ever go back / To the end of the world / Darling / Take me.” Bozulich is holding both sides of the rope in a tug-of-war between life and death. —Beck Levy


Coping Skills sum up their new album in the first line, “My body is a temple, but I treat it like my neighbor’s house,” suggesting the Philly duo are their own worst enemies. They spend all day in the shower, despise their day jobs, and keep falling for Morrissey-loving softboys. The cheeky humor runs thin after a while, and the album is at its best when they’re not trying to be funny. The intro to “User Error” actually calls to mind a computer glitching. It’s impressionistic, and there’s no punch line. More user friendly jams like “$5” explore post-college malaise with self-aware humor and catchy hooks. The words stay disaffected while the music bounces between fun and somber. The songs can feel like audio versions of memes, but the production is too raw to be shallow. Punk rock’s opening act was bored suburbanites sniffing glue and making surf bops out of genuine despair. In this way, Coping Skills are revivalists. —Michael Kunz


After loving Courtney Barnett’s first album—Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit—so much, I was expecting to be let down by her second major solo release. Turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed this one too, from the sound of her guitar’s dropped tuning in the first track “Hopefulessness,” to the lines in her last song “Sunday Roast”: “I spend a lot of my time / Doing a whole lot of nothing.” If that’s true, Barnett must cram greatness into small windows in her schedule, because she is one of the more lyrically brilliant rockers of our time. Though I think her first album had stronger, more clever narratives, this album feels deeper emotionally, such as the anger in “I’m Not Your Mother I’m Not Your Bitch,” and the fear in “Nameless, Faceless.” Whatever angst, melancholy, and anxiety Barnett writes and sings about, she manages to combat it to produce music that is energizing, upbeat, and strangely comforting. Just listen to “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence” to know what I mean. —Paris Achenbach


Don’t let the sick notebook sketch on the cover fool you, or the Biblical allusion. Esqueleto isn’t a doom band. Their curiously sunny new release sits somewhere between children’s programming and a drug nightmare. Twee vocals and desert guitar licks carry over from 2012’s Be My Baby Kitty. So does their obsession with cats. “Kitty Treats” pushes the sarcastic little kid stuff to its limit. It’s what would happen if The Pogues submitted “Fairytale of New York” to Purina’s marketing team. “What a Wonderful Moon” strikes a more comfortable balance of playful lyrics and eerie Spaghetti Western sounds. Both of those songs are outliers from the album’s dark religious theme, and on “Demons,” it’s hard not to notice the Daniel Johnston influence. It changes how you look at the cover art, more in line with the outsider artist’s disturbed caricatures than a metal facade. One more expectation left to subvert, Esqueleto closes with a tepid reconciliation to the God who terrifies them so. —Michael Kunz


FOXTROTT is a maker of mystification. The woman behind the whole project is newbie Canadian electronica musician Marie-Hélène Delorme, who released her first studio album, A Taller Us, in 2015 to major critical praise. Delorme has since been hailed as an innovator in experimental music, with her work sporting all kinds of unique, layered instrumentation similar to Will Wiesenfeld’s project Baths. And even with three years of build up, Delorme’s newest release, Meditations I, still reflects her distinct capacity for creative complexity. As the first installment of a three-part EP project, this record already has a lot at stake, but the three-song compilation does a lot of work within a short span of time. Each track is haunting, cyclical, and absolutely magical in its own right—the first being “Intuition,” a stirring and emotional power anthem, which then unfolds into the second song, “Wait,” where Delorme’s soft voice echoes sentiments of self-worth like, “You’re not made for narrow spaces.” From here, the third track, “Where Love Abounds,” dives headfirst into more cinematic elements, and tightly packages everything up. If anything, this album is too short, but this issue of brevity will later be remedied by the unreleased installments of the Meditations series. —Maeve Holler


Singer/songwriter Janine is trying too hard—or maybe not hard enough. While the New Zealand pop star has dropped a few semi-successful mixtapes since hitting the scene in 2014, 99 is her first full-length album. The record features a few select deep cuts (“Never The Right Time” and “Numb”) that mimic the delicate sensuality of SZA’s earlier work. But overall, 99 feels like an unoriginal rip-off which fuses together mismatched elements from all the successful pop artists of the last 20 years. You can hear Janine attempting to channel an array of femme-power R&B and pop icons like Aaliyah, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and more; but in the end, the sound doesn’t fully translate. Tracks on 99 unexpectedly jump from decade to decade, leaving listeners lost in a sea of tacky hooks and beats. In the face of all of this, though, Janine’s gorgeous voice perfectly hits falsetto after falsetto throughout the album. If she left the dramatic, timeworn elements of pop’s past where they belong, she could have avoided striking out with 99. Maeve Holler


Jenny Hval’s last full-length, Blood Bitch, was the quintessential concept album. Part vampire flick, part menstruation ballad, it comprised a highly curated ten song tracklist to underscore its eery motifs. On first listen, The Long Sleep feels like a gorgeous but thematically hazy afterthought, as scattershot as Blood Bitch was structured. Give it some time, though, and you’ll find its ideas are just as complex, if not as thoroughly explored, as its predecessor. Hval begins opener “Spells” with a characteristically bizarre metaphor: “You are your own disco ball.” It becomes a mantra, most clearly explicated on “The Dreamer is Everyone in Her Dream,” where it’s prefaced with, “You might be in pieces, but let’s call it something else…” Like most Hvalisms, it takes more than one logical step to comprehend. The rest of the 22-minute project—more power nap than full night’s rest—follows suit, abundant with questions and sparse in answers, but somehow satisfying nonetheless. The Long Sleep’s dreamy, disconnected ethos works perfectly in EP form, long enough to refresh without leaving you groggy. —Raphael Helfand


After dropping the highly acclaimed album Black Focus in 2016 as half of the Yussef Kamaal duo, Kamaal Williams went AWOL to work on a solo project. Just two years later, his latest release, The Return, is garnering the same high-profile attention. From Williams’ ethereal keyboard stylings on tracks like “Situations,” to the lush unpredictability of “Salaam,” this record is enchanting. It fluidly moves between genres—Williams’ influences are clearly widespread, as he draws from groovy synth-pop to ‘70s R&B and jazz funk. With such an array of instrumentation, it would be no surprise if hip-hop producers wanted to sample and repurpose portions of The Return. At only ten songs total, the album is yearning for a sequel. Despite the magically enticing nature of this brief record, Williams’ affinity for improvisation might be a drawback for many newcomers to jazz fusion. At times, The Return devolves into a chaotic rhythmic opacity, which can be anxiety-producing or, in other words, too much. —Maeve Holler


Cliff Hines is a musical bodybuilder with more muscles to flex than your average musician. Mostly known for jazz roots, Hines’ talent and charisma have allowed him to operate within many circles; and gigging and traveling the world has gifted him with perspective that bursts through in this latest project, KLYPH. The mostly electronic EP showcases less guitar technique and more of his ability to create moods and channel more melodic approaches. However, his jazz influences are clearly discernible alongside distorted samples and bit-crushed drum machines. “Eins (Valley)” is a suitable opener that leads well into “Zwei (away),” a groove with swaying drums and swirling guitar melodies. “Fear (Blood)” is a good contrast to the mostly chill, beat-focused songs that show KLYPH’s more industrial side, similar to Squarepusher’s aesthetic. A distorted, downtuned vocal bleeds among the sound bites and sprinkled synths. Closer “Funf (Believe)” is the only song that may satisfy Hines’ guitar admirers. It’s frustrating to see musicians pigeonholed by their listeners, so it’s very refreshing to see someone put themselves out there and successfully deliver something their audience may not expect. —Robert Landry


Take the bottled angst from your tumultuous teen years, stir in a heaping tablespoon of retrospective insight, serve over mournfully dissonant post-punk drum-bass-guitar trio, and you’ve got Momma, the dual effort of L.A.-to-LA transplants Allegra Weingarten and her friend, Etta Friedman. On their 2016 EP, thanks come again, they showcased their talent for slow-burning, Girlpool-adjacent bedroom pop. But Interloper, their newly-released debut LP, pushes their songwriting to another echelon. Conceived in late-night reflections during Friedman and Weingarten’s freshman year of college, the album comprises ten tracks of intense musing on their shared (and separate) experiences. Weingarten’s drumming—turned so low in the mix it sneaks to the back of your brain and messes with your biorhythms—forms the quiet canvas for the duo’s bass/guitar scene-painting. And their voices, which mold together, drift apart, and weave effortlessly in and out of harmony, make songs like “Sidewalk,” “Clear,” and “Capable Type” instantly cozy while raising the emotional stakes on standout “Belong on the Bed.” When the album rolls to a halt, it leaves behind a satisfying feeling of closure—like a long nap during your free period. —Raphael Helfand


Video Age has a real knack for releasing groovy ‘80s-esque music that would be at home in The Wedding Singer, and they’ve done it once again with their new record, Pop Therapy. From start to finish, the album is gauzy, synth-laced, and totally indulgent. The styling of tracks like “Hold On (I Was Wrong)” and “Paris to the Moon” hover between Cocteau Twins’ ethereal wave and the sound of more contemporary dream pop. This delicate oscillation between genres helps Video Age create a plethora of dance-worthy tunes, riddled with moody keyboard samples and warm, welcoming guitar. Pop Therapy is a stew of all the age-old, beloved elements bestowed upon us by the artists that haunted the VH1 music bin for decades—the group even experiments with a punchy, cartoon-like build up on the track “Echo Chamber” that’s reminiscent of A-ha’s iconic “Take On Me.” Regardless of whether or not you can take the playful nature of Video Age seriously, this record’s hustle is infectious. —Maeve Holler


The story of Leo Fender is a rudimentary read about an extraordinary man. After being laid off from multiple accounting jobs, he chose to redirect his time and energy toward his first love—electronics. Because of his innate talent for creating guitars and amplifiers, Leo is responsible for literally shaping the musical landscape of rock’n’roll. For all the guitar buffs out there, the Fender Stratocaster was the first guitar to feature a spring tension vibrato system and three pickups. He had a cult following of clientele that would pique the interest (and envy) of anyone remotely interested in music, including Elvis, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince. Leo loathed the limelight. He loved pocket protectors and eating at cheap diners. He demanded that all of his employees purchase high-powered blenders and drive white cars. Due to a series of accidents, he spent most of his life half blind and in need of hearing aids. He never knew how to play any of the instruments he created. Yet he was a man with an uncompromising work ethic and purpose, and he believed his purpose was to give musicians guitars so they could make the world a happier place with music. —Jamilla Webb


In another author’s hands, The Sound of Building Coffins could have been terrible. It’s a historical novel wrestling with complex family dynamics and demonic possession, with a cameo by early jazz great Buddy Bolden and a monologue about God and abortion. Yet it’s written for the most part in an unpretentious, quietly elegant style. That’s fitting for what’s ultimately a celebration of forgiveness, flavored with New Orleans fatalism and humor in the face of largely indifferent forces both natural and supernatural. The book is not entirely without its awkward moments: Maistros’ characters sometimes speak too conspicuously in various vintage dialects; and some of the material new to this reissue (the book was first published in 2009) wanders rather stereotypically into H.P. Lovecraft’s territory of horror and madness. Maistros also ascribes fictional crimes to historical figures, and links historical atrocities to fictional characters, in ways that can feel questionable. But for the most part, Maistros handles a cast of characters large enough for a Russian or Latin American novel adroitly and with deep sympathy, exploring how water, faith, family, and music can be forces of both life and death in New Orleans —Steven Melendez



Hereditary is a tense horror film from A24, the same distribution company as 2015’s similarly hyped The Witch. Director Ari Aster claims Hereditary is not actually a horror film, but I constantly shrieked and grabbed my boyfriend, so let’s set that claim aside. Hereditary maintains a high level of anxiety throughout, a feat considering the slow-building plot and minimal action. Toni Collette and her versatile, expressive face expertly convey the maelstrom of emotion assigned to her character. Beloved character actor Ann Dowd is perfectly cast and as always, a welcome sight. The best part of the movie was Grace Yun’s production design, including the use of miniatures to maintain a suspended reality and uncanny vibe. Hereditary is a case study of how physical, intellectual, and behavioral disability are exploited in the horror genre (for more on this, check out Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women). From the jump, signifiers such as facial difference, stimming, and tics construct the otherness of daughter Charlie. Without explicitly designating her as a person with a disability, the otherness of that symptom cluster is used to generate unease. The state of puberty and the conditions of motherhood are also mined for their reliable revulsion. Psychiatric diagnoses in the family are early signs of darkness in the home. The question “what is passed down?” is fundamental to the film (see: the title). It’s not inherently problematic to utilize mental illness to keep the viewer internally debating what is real and what is delusion (though it is, debatably, lazy). I do wonder, though, what material effect it has on actual neurodiverse people when cultural works continually use diagnosis as a mark of the grotesque. None of this is a surprise, of course, considering that travelling freak shows were the earliest employers of people with disabilities (and thus the original basis for the formation of disabled community). Setting aside Hereditary’s pathology and turning to its mythology, as SNL’s Stefon might say, it’s got everything: runes, a Baba Yaga-esque treehouse, witches, cults, exorcism, poltergeists, and craft stores. More compelling and deeply terrifying is the film’s exploration of how isolating and surreal grief can be. I’m usually that guy in the theater laughing at some weird time when everyone else is silent, but for once I wasn’t alone. Hereditary garnered raucous laughter at unexpected moments, like when poor besieged brother Peter is freaking out. His unremarkable character was an effective foil for all the weird action. I loved him, his high school world, the winky topics of his courses, and his quotidian adolescence, all of which slowly, dreadfully, and permanently erodes. —Beck Levy

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