Over the past decade, instrumental Norwegian duo Aiming for Enrike have built a reputation for insane pedalboard workouts, building their songs around layers upon layers of peculiar guitar loops. Their 2020 album Music For Working Out was packed tight with dance floor-oriented displays of this quick footwork. In contrast, Aiming for Enrike have set out on a major departure with their latest album Empty Airports, which is a concerted descent into ambiance. The effect-driven chaos that ruled past releases has been reborn as journeys through tranquil, meditative soundscapes. The result feels like a modern (albeit noisier) nod to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports. This is the type of minimalistic music that tries to awaken something deeper within the human body than the surface level reaction that most songs attempt to elicit. The three-part title track conjures mixed feelings of unease and curiosity, like a stroll through an empty airport. Most of these tracks are lengthy, with closer “Pulse Fragments” lasting a whopping 17 minutes. Thankfully, these longer track times work in favor of the music, allowing listeners and performers alike to get lost in the repetition of the respective pieces. Set some time aside and stroll through empty airports with Aiming for Enrike. After all, your flight probably isn’t coming anytime soon. —William Archambeault


As is evident on their latest release, Late Developers, Glaswegian indie pop darlings Belle and Sebastian have not lost their magic, balancing a youthful energy and spirit with mature wisdom. It is this balance which is perhaps the secret to their continued success, allowing them to remain relevant without becoming indie-rock try-hards. For fans of Belle and Sebastian’s past, broodier fare, “When We Were Very Young” reflects on the naivety of the past and the reality of the now (“When we were very young, we loved our selfish fun… / Now we’ve got kids and dystopia”). The extremely catchy synth-pop of “I Don’t Know What You See In Me” avoids any mid-life embarrassment and is instead a fun dance-floor ode to human fallibility. “When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall,” featuring guest vocals from Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, is an unreleased track written in 1994; with the passage of time, the lyrics have a new depth (“Honey, even when you feel flat and broken / You got to trust to a happy mind”). There is an unapologetic and refreshing sincerity to Late Developers, as there has always been with Belle and Sebastian, a focus on connection over appearance that remains as important in 2023 as it did when the band first made waves in 1996. —Mary Beth Campbell


Eddy Benz rocks the kind of DIY sad clown aesthetic it’s easy to relate to these days. Spinning mellow demo v1 is a great way to get hyped up to stay home. Benz’s vocals are cradled in a lo-fi, down-tempo hammock of instrumentals. “on my off day” is a dreamy, layered opening track. “chemicals” flips the radio dial and microwave-beeps us into the surprisingly punchy single “self-destruct,” with its melting guitar riffs and plaintive, repeated plea of “Won’t you let me fix myself? Just give me time before I self-destruct.” “9:30” is another dancey single with potential. Benz is firmly planted in the world of emo rap. His sound will send you hunting out SoundCloud for the page that kicked it all off (his career, as well as the entire genre). This 2020s trend of heavily Autotuned, laid back hip-hop coupled with vulnerable, stream of consciousness lyrics may not long outlive its decade—though critics might be wrong. It could be a sound for the ages. Either way, it’s made for some very listenable spins, and mellow demo v1 is one of them. —Sabrina Stone


“I have to… put some lightness in my days,” Charlotte Dos Santos said of her album Morfo in an interview with NPR shortly after its October 2022 release. She wrote most of it during lockdown and said she found herself trying to brighten a dark time by writing and composing a little more freely than usual. And there’s certainly a lightness that comes through on the Norwegian-Brazilian singer’s sophomore album, conveyed through a fusion of pop, jazz, and bossa nova. It’s a lightness of exploration, of looking into your thoughts and emotions with gentleness and patience, not judgment or despair. With a kind of dancing detachment, she sings of the confusions and frustrations of relationships, identity, and that all-too-common experience of feeling a bit like you’re losing your grip. “You-coo, cuckoo / I’m going cuckoo, I’m losing my screws,” she sings playfully on the song “Crooked House.” Beyond her lyrics, what enables the Berklee alumna to explore with such effect are her compositional chops. On the surface, the songs are approachable, easy listens, but observe closely and you’ll find the depth of their composition. Inventive melodies, unusual chord progressions, and rhythmic influences from Dos Santos’ Brazilian heritage would be certain to delight even the stuffiest echelons of musical academia. From SZA to Hancock, RZA to Wagner; it hits all the right notes. —Zane Piontek


One Day, the latest release from Canadian hardcore stalwarts Fucked Up, was borne from the question “What do you think you would do, or be able to accomplish, if you were just given one day?” The band set forth a 24-hour rule for this album: Each portion (vocals, lyrics, guitars, drums) had to be created and recorded within a 24-hour period. Despite these time restrictions, One Day is a rich and multi-layered collection of songs. “Cicada” is a stirring tribute to the friends we’ve lost, and how we carry their torches when they are gone (“Cicada don’t you know, that everyone sings the song you wrote? / You left too soon but you left us so much”). The fuzzy “Lords of Kensington” is an ode to a Toronto neighborhood beset by structural violence in its many forms (“The arrests won’t stop and the prices don’t drop / As they watch all the profits roll in”). One Day is—sonically and emotionally—a big album, one that does not shy away from its hardcore roots as it takes its listeners on a journey to face, as drummer Jonah Falco states in the album’s press release, “how we see time passing through our lives” (from “One Day”: “One day I lay awake / My whole life plain on the clock face / I saw everything I ever was before”). —Mary Beth Campbell

DEMO 2022

Does Rob Lovell even sleep? It feels like every time I blink, he has a new project. An attempt to name all of the multi-instrumentalist’s bands would be impossible, but some of his current local groups include Torture Garden, UT/EX, Paprika, Dracula, and Wizard Dick. In the midst of playing and recording with a seemingly endless array of bands, Lovell managed to drop one last unexpected gem during the final days of 2022. Gorilla Gut, Lovell’s latest endeavor at the time of writing, is a gnarly one man d-beat recording project. This demo feels raw in a fashion akin to Lovell’s other one man recording project Stay The Fuck At Home, but trades S.T.F.A.H.’s hyper powerviolence hysterics for a meaner, all low-end assault. Gorilla Gut’s instrumentation is painfully primitive with just bass, drums, and vocals. Lovell’s gusto transforms the limited palette into something with serious weight to it. He shouts with force over pounding drums and thick distorted bass on tracks like “Never Listen.” The approach can be ugly at times, but that’s a big part of what makes it appealing. —William Archambeault


Guts Club has undergone quite the metamorphosis since the local project dropped its last album in 2018. Lindsey Baker once rambled off twisted tales in a fashion that was met with unfavorable comparisons to Bob Dylan, but now she has welcomed new collaborators into the Club and her longstanding project has been reborn as a droning metal band. On CLIFFS/WALLS, the trio embarks on lengthy, all-consuming journeys defined by oblique emotions. The only objective in mind is to create a tangible, cathartic manifestation of their collective grief. Four of the five tracks hover around 10 minutes in length each, offering ample opportunities for the band to meditate on these feelings and drag listeners down with them. Guts Club chose to record this album live in the studio instead of opting for standard recording trickery. The result is 47 minutes that feel remarkably intuitive as members conjure grandiose walls of feedback and beat their drums alongside each other. This is not the type of metal that is built around sick riffage. Songs like the title track and “The Gun Collector” instead harness droning guitar notes drenched in distortion and the slow, steady thump of the bass drum. The resulting sound is simultaneously sparse and massive, much akin to CLIFFS/WALLS’ namesakes. —William Archambeault


Minnesota State Representative Maria Isa Pérez-Vega (DFL—Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) released her latest album, Capitolio, just hours before she was sworn into office. The singer/songwriter/rapper/activist Pérez-Vega, who performs as Maria Isa, pays homage to her Puerto Rican heritage as well as her political life and community in Minnesota—a spatial duality she calls “SotaRico.” The hip-hop album is performed in a combination of Spanish, English, and Spanglish, and includes an opening sound byte from a conversation with Vermont senator “Tío Bernie” Sanders. The track “Nena” is a reflective ode to María Isa’s young daughter, as well as a journey through the musician’s own childhood growing up in the St. Paul district she now represents. She raps over laid-back instrumentals, “Lessons learned / Self-care / Medicine / I’m breaking cycles of the project tenements.” Her lyrics are smooth but her singing voice is soulful and raw, as demonstrated in the track’s chorus, which she belts out with vibrato. Meanwhile, the anthemic and playful reggaeton track “Coco” is completely in Spanish and blends a traditional trumpet melody with old skool percussion and ample cultural pride. On Capitolio, Maria Isa explores the experiences that brought her to serve in the Minnesota State Capitol and the many sounds and styles that influenced her journey. —Shirani Jayasuriya


The good folks at LLC deliver math rock with the type of precision and professionalism that consumers have come to demand from emerging bands. The term “math rock” can sound stiff and mechanical, which is an aesthetic that local trio LLC really leans into on this album. Their self-titled debut features song titles like “Consumer Confidence” and “Write Down, Write Off.” Six of the nine songs are under two minutes long, but don’t blame it on corporate downscaling. The trio claims to have “patented ShortSong™ technology” that makes for a compact yet dynamic listening experience. In all seriousness, behind LLC’s silly, faux-corporate facade is an excellent instrumental rock record. The band’s exciting instrumental feats on songs like “Blind Carbon Copy” recall the tightly executed works of groups like toe and LITE while also carving out their own niche. LLC’s brand of noodly yet concise guitar work also recalls members’ past collaborations in Community Records bands All People and New Lands, both criminally underrated local groups of the 2010s. While guitars make up the core of LLC’s sound, the band passes on them entirely for the wonderful left turn “Big Chief Finance,” a fun glockenspiel-centric piece. LLC might only be 17 minutes long but there is a lot to love about this short album. —William Archambeault


Shidded may have a shitty name but don’t flush the band just for that. The local band’s debut album, The Jerk, offers 11 slices of short, angst-riddled pop punk steeped in a deeply emotive sound. These are the types of songs you scream along to alone in your room on a bad day and find power in doing so. On “Virginia Beach Is Nothing But Strip Malls,” the band shouts You think I’m worse than you, you’re right!,” a sentiment we’ve all felt at least once or twice before. The band wears these feelings on their sleeves throughout riled up rockers like “Bong Thrower” and “Jefferson,” as well as on slower singalongs like “Rat Holes.” The Jerk fits nicely alongside releases by Shidded’s sister group I’m Fine, which a good chunk of the members have played in for over a decade. Go to a grimy dive bar show and jump around until you find yourself covered in someone else’s beer. —William Archambeault


Smino has a certain knack for the personal. It can be hard to describe, harder still to emulate. His particular flavor of sensitive and introspective poetry, spiked as always with a dose of country swagger, comes through on his newest album bright as ever. Breaking a four-year hiatus from long-form releases, Luv 4 Rent came in October 2022 as the third studio album from the St. Louis rapper, following 2017’s blkswn and 2018’s NOIR. And it revisits many of the topics seen in prior records that have come to comprise his unique thematic bag: community, family, authenticity, and, of course, luv, in all its forms. Sonically, it’s a mixed bag. Like his past two albums, it veers in turns from the soft and intimate to the loud and bombastic. “No L’s” takes you to a late-afternoon backyard kickback; “Pro Freak” drops you in the middle of a neon-drenched dance floor full of smoke and elbows. There are songs for date nights and songs for fistfights, and they all feel right. Though in its variety Luv 4 Rent does seem to lack some of the cohesion that gave such a striking, cinematic quality to 2017’s blkswn, the meandering course of the new album has virtues of its own. It has that loose versatility of a mixtape, even if it doesn’t necessarily compel a cover-to-cover listen. The lack of polish makes you feel a bit like Smino sent it to you because he felt like sharing, and this makes you love it all the more. —Zane Piontek


Brittney Griner’s biographical story about being a Black, gay woman in professional basketball was published on January 18 as the first story about women in sports from TidalWave Comics. Writer Michael Frizell started writing this history about Griner’s growth as an athlete and person before her detainment in Russia was in the media headlines. Last year Griner returned home to Texas after being imprisoned in Russia for 10 months for going through the airport with a vape cartridge with less than a gram of cannabis. The book stays away from focusing on how her identity shaped her treatment in Russia and instead details the social obstacles Griner overcame to become who she is today. Griner’s personal identity, appearance, relationships, and motivations played a central role in what she struggled with during her transition from childhood to college basketball and adulthood. Her story is told through stark dialogue and glimpses into the darkness those marginalized in society often face from others, especially when put in the spotlight and publicly questioned for their choices. These tense and raw moments make readers want to know more information about pivotal chapters in her life, or at least more about what pushed her through tough spots. Female Force is about belonging, persecution, and how Griner may feel like there never was any hiding who she was. This story is accessible for readers of any age and contextualizes who Brittney Griner is and where she comes from, before her story became nationally political. The deal the United States made with Russia for a prisoner exchange casts a large shadow over the 6’9 WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Jamal Melancon


This 1990s period comic noir begins with a bassist from a marginal New York punk band (who has just rechristened himself Jack Shit) awakening to find that his instrument has disappeared, along with his heroin-using roommate-frontman. The ensuing saga begins like a cross between The Big Lebowski‘s quest for the stolen rug and King Missile‘s “Detachable Penis,” as Jack Shit (née Jonathan Liptak) scours early ’90s downtown locales like Eastern European diners, resale shops, egg cream outlets, and DIY venues for the missing man and bass. Stumbling on the corpse of a beloved scene veteran raises the stakes, but it’s Lipsyte‘s explorations of generational dynamics and Jack’s parallel quest for NYC authenticity that really make the novel. The bass proves an imperfect MacGuffin, since our hero has another one at his parents’ New Jersey home, but an ensuing suburban trip highlights another side of Jack’s journey. Like its protagonist, the novel isn’t quite as clever as it wishes. It relies heavily on stock characters— including a wholly unnecessary cameo by the future 45th president—and on New York countercultural nostalgia, but ultimately provides a surprisingly memorable and touching take on both the hardboiled whodunit and the ever-shifting city. —Steven Melendez


You feel you’re watching your own terror-repressed nightmare memory which has now somehow broken out of your psyche and manifested on the screen. Filmed entirely in the childhood home of writer and director Kyle Edward Ball on a razor-slim budget of $15,000, Skinamarink follows two young children caught in a waking nightmare. Through a series of grainy, slow-panning shots, you watch as Kevin and Kaylee wake in the night to find their parents missing and weird activity rampant in their home: Doors, windows, and appliances are disappearing, and their toys (many of them Ball’s own from his youth) and other household objects are being inexplicably sucked to the walls and ceiling. Their only comfort is a tube TV playing old-school cartoons, but to the viewer this only amps up the creeps. Meanwhile a disembodied, monstrous voice commands the bewildered kids to do this and that, and you watch in disquieted thrall as they obey its increasingly sadistic whims. The magic—and horror—of Ball’s debut feature film is in its simplicity. The slow, static shots make you sit with the subtle menace of shadowed doorways and TV static, and the sparse dialogue makes simple phrases like “we should be quiet” stick chillingly in your ear. But the terror lies too in a weird familiarity. As you watch, you feel you too have seen something like this in your worst of dreams: The parents are gone, the house is dark, and somewhere in the shadows, there is a monster. —Zane Piontek

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