Recommended New Releases – Decemberists, Viet Cong, Belle & Sebastian, Sleater-Kinney

Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime want to Dance
Now after almost twenty years of recording, Belle & Sebastian have made the biggest stylistic leap of their career. Forget all the descriptors you previously associated with the Glaswegian six-piece. Their ninth album, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, doesn’t so much re-invent them, it practically serves as a reboot.

Opening with ‘Nobody’s Empire’, easily the most personal song bandleader Stuart Murdoch has ever written, it brings the Belle & Sebastian story to its origin, detailing Murdoch’s struggle with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome). For almost seven years he was unable to work and has stated that this isolating experience was the key factor in encouraging him to pursue a career as a songwriter. Melodies came to Murdoch, characterised here as “a girl who sang like the chime of a bell / she touched me when I was in hell.” Music became his focus and ultimately, along with faith, saved him from a fate that – lyrically at least – he compares to death. Read the full review on the 405

Dememberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Things begin with “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, an acoustic ballad/metacommentary on the expectations and experiences of the Decemberists. Similar to how Panic! at the Disco begins Pretty. Odd. with “We’re So Sorry”, this piece finds Meloy literally speaking of the changes the band has gone through over the years. With his typical tinge of melancholy, he reflects, “We know, we know, we belong to ya / We know you grew your arms around us / In the hopes we wouldn’t change / But we had to change some / You know, to belong to you.” Strings and vocal accompaniment soon complement his self-aware lament, and by the end percussion and various dissonant sounds combine with a luscious chant, creating an anthemic encasing as only the Decemberists can provide. In short, it’s a phenomenal way to begin. Read the full review on Pop Matters

Viet Cong – Viet Cong
Viet Cong count two members of Calgary-based ex-band Women among their number. Band in “emerging from other band’s ashes” shocker, etc. Of course, this is not a piece of information that should direct any anticipation towards receipt of Viet Cong’s debut album, and nor would they likely appreciate a fairly detailed examination of why it’s a Very Exciting Thing that this album exists, but here we are. Women were a very fine band that didn’t work for two main reasons: one was a notorious, slappy mid-show bust-up between brothers Matt and Pat Flegel which signaled the personal demise of the band; the other was the death of guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012, which signaled the ultimate demise. Both of the albums that Women succeeded in making before those circumstances overtook them, especially 2010’s Public Strain, were perfectly diseased gems of invention, works of surf-pop breeze tuned down and flawlessly emaciated, leaving only the barest shards of loveable pop for a listener to dangle from. Read the full review on the Quietus

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
No Cities to Love represents a union of Sleater-Kinney’s past, a fiery rebirth from riot grrrl ashes. Every S-K album is represented here — the early roar, the eventual popcraft, and ultimately, the technical virtuosity. Tucker and Brownstein’s lyrics make this connection explicit, with No Cities being, foremost, a reflexive celebration of their return to music making (see, for example, the one-two punch of “A New Wave” and “No Anthems”). The personal (“Hey Darling”) and the political (“Price Tag”) find their way in, but No Cities is more interested in the professional (which, in this hall of mirrors, also consists of the personal and political). Winking references come in rapid-fire succession, keeping the album’s thematic scope from being much more than a self-conscious comeback. Still, what a breathless — and breathtaking — comeback it is. Read the full review on Pretty Much Amazing

Recommended New Box Sets

Bob Dylan – Basement Tapes Complete
Sometimes he sounds like a man who thought the guy who shouted “Judas!” might have had a point after all, returning to the kind of songs he would have sung in folk clubs six years previously as if hoping to tunnel his way out of the mid-60s and back to a less chaotic, complicated time: Nine Hundred Miles, Young But Daily Growing, Johnny Todd (the latter, distractingly for the British listener of a certain age, set to the same tune as the theme from Z Cars).. Sometimes he sounds shattered and rueful, like a man reeling from the experience of being Bob Dylan. The most beautiful songs here are shot through with an affecting world-weariness: Too Much of Nothing, Edge of the Ocean (a gorgeous ballad that previously escaped the bootleggers), the astonishing I’m Not There (1956), a song as good as anything Dylan ever wrote. Read the full review on The Guardian

Joni Mitchell – Love has Many Faces
Mitchell went so far as to rearrange the 53 songs into “thematic acts” like that of a ballet. Likening the process of reorganizing and repurposing her catalog to that of a film editor, she noted, “I had 40 years of footage to review. Then, suddenly, scenes began to hook up. Then series began to form.” She added, “Instead of it being an emotional roller coaster ride as it was before — crammed into one disc — themes began to develop. Moods sustained. I was getting there…When this long editorial process (two years) finally came to rest, I had four ballets or a four-act ballet — a quartet. I also had a box set.” Read the full review on Consequence of Sound

Miles Davis – Live at the Fillmore Box
Miles at the Fillmore, the latest entry in Columbia’s revelatory bootleg series collecting unreleased Miles Davis live material, finds the trumpeter departing one musical world and entering a new one. In the previous five years, he’d taken the music of the Second Great Quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams) as far as it could go; hearing new music in his head, music that had never been made before, Miles fully embraced electric instruments on the dual landmarks In a Silent Way and, a year later, in April 1970, Bitches Brew; most of this set was recorded in June of that year. Read the full review on Pitchfork

Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrox
You can follow various threads through Alpha Mike Foxtrot and find a different story. You can see the evolution of a rock band and a live act, the growth of a songwriter, the journey to find the next set of right players, the cohesion and expansion of a band’s sound. And yet, the box set never gives you a sense of completion. There’s not a sense, as the cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label” ends the collection, that this is a story that has reached its end. Alpha Mike Foxtrot is a fascinating, and remarkably consistent, look at how Wilco has refused to define itself. Read the full review on Pop Matters

Recommended New Releases – Bob Dylan, Deerhoof, Grouper

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Bob Dylan – The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
With six CDs of music, here’s the basement’s kitchen sink, sans a few “unlistenables”. Sweetening added to 1975’s partial LP release has been stripped away and, after years of sleuthing, the cleanest sources were located. (A 2-CD set is available for the financially impaired.) In ’67, while recuperating from the “Judas!” tour, Bob and The Band kept sharp by rehearsing in Big Pink’s basement. Some of the bard’s then-new tunes were sent as publishing demos to The Byrds and others, and The Band released a few on 1968’s Music From Big Pink. Otherwise they simply revelled in making music for fun. In addition to future Dylan classics (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, I Shall Be Released), they jammed on many shades of blues, honky-tonk, rockabilly, calypso, 19th century drinking songs, et al. Although keyboardist Garth Hudson ran tape, they had no idea that anyone might hear the results, save for the dozen-plus demos. Read the full review on MOJO
Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
Unlucky for some, but not for Deerhoof. The quartet’s 13th LP is a product of the band’s 20 year history together, but if you didn’t know it, you would never guess that this wasn’t a sparkling debut written by a bunch of 20-somethings with an abundance of live-wire energy. Interesting that an album which was kickstarted by the band’s impromptu decision to record a song that sounded like their own take on the Ramone’s “Pinhead” ended up being named after Madonna’s kitschy classic “La Isla Bonita” – but that’s Deerhoof (nothing will be stranger than Milk Man, their 2004 concept album based around a pied piper figure enchanting children into his “dreamland”…) “Exit Only”, the album’s high-octane “Pinhead” sound-alike, is just one taste of the bolshy, punk streak that bleeds through the whole LP. Read the full review on Line of Best Fit
Grouper – Ruins
The emotional core of the album is the four melancholy songs for piano and voice, which are complemented by two instrumentals of a similar mood. Rarely have Harris’ lyrics been so clearly audible, and rarely, if ever, has love been so plainly the focus of her songwriting. “I hear you calling and I wanna go/ Run straight into the valleys of your arms,” she sings on “Holding”, her multitracked close harmonies reminiscent of Low circa The Curtain Hits the Cast. On the devastating “Clearing”, she sings, “Every time I see you/ I have to pretend I don’t”; on “Call Across Rooms”, she has a change of heart: “I have a present to give you/ When we finally figure it out.” (“The song is on one level very plain and literal, about a letter I wrote for someone I loved and could not get along with,” she told Vogue.) Read the full review on Pitchfork.

Recommended New Releases: Thurston Moore, Ben Howard, Sunn 0 & Scott Walker

Thurston Moore – The Best Day
Following more in the footsteps of late-career Sonic Youth than his recent foray with Chelsea Light Moving, Moore’s new eight-song album is a record filled with complementary guitar lines (“Speak to the Wild”), dissonant post-punk thrashers (11-minute epic “Forevermore” and the upbeat “Detonation”) and poetic, punk rock ponderings (the Darby Crash-alluding “Germs Burn”). Read the full review on Exclaim

Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Balls. 27-year-old singer-songwriter Ben Howard certainly has a pair of balls. After the unexpected success of 2011’s acoustic heavy debut Every Kingdom that saw him land a couple of Brit Awards and a Mercury Prize nomination, he’d be stupid not to build on that success and chuck out more of the same, right? Wrong. He’s fed up of the first album after having flogged it to death touring it extensively, so has chosen a different direction entirely – one down electric avenue, in fact. Read the full review on Music OHM

Sunn O & Scott Walker – Soused
Soused begins with “Brando”, a searing piece that immediately sets the limit for which the patience of the listener will be (consensually) tested over the course of the record. Various off-beat sounds open the track – a Slash-y guitar stinger here, a whip crack there, before the first gargantuan drone burns like molten tarmac through the speakers. Scott’s wet croon is as gorgeous and ectopic as ever as he moans amidst growling guitar feedback, and you can sense he’s instantly at ease coated in corrosive electric dew by Messrs Anderson and SOMA. And those whip cracks can really eat you up, too, if you ain’t careful, especially considering the fact that they are the beat… Read the full review on The Line Of Best Fit

Recommended New Releases: Melvins, Stars, Olivia Jean

Melvins – Hold It In
Hold It In finds the band in fairly playful mood and with a line-up that is positively mouthwatering. Alongside stalwarts Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover are Butthole Surfers members Jeff Pinkus (bass) and Paul Leary (guitar). The result is one of the band’s most rewarding and varied albums to date. They lend the Melvins a slightly poppier sound in places and, although Leary’s swirls of psyche-guitar lunacy make an occasional appearance, this is most definitely a Melvins album and not some kind of bizarre hybrid. Read the full review on Music OHM

Stars – No One Is Lost
Among the most dependable Canadian indie-rock institutions of the post-millennial era, Stars are just as easily to be taken for granted at this point as they are to be appreciated. What was most astonishing about the band when they landed their critical and popular smash with their third album, Set Yourself on Fire, a decade ago, is how fresh their sound was. Inverting the experimental-noise-to-pop-melody ratio of early collaborators Broken Social Scene, Stars made a record that bounded seamlessly from the blissed-out electronica of its title track and the gorgeous shoegaze-pop of “Ageless Beauty” all the way to the gnarled post-punk fury of “He Lied About Death.” Read the full review on Exclaim

Olivia Jean – Bathtub Love Killings
Jean wrote all the songs on Bathtub Love Killings and plays most of the instruments, too, showing off the talent that made her stand out to Jack White when she handed out demos of her solo surf guitar music after a Dead Weather gig in her hometown of Detroit. Since then Jean has been a regular on a variety of Third Man projects and played on both of White’s solo albums. Preview the album at No Country for New Nashville

Recommended New Releases: Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Weezer

Jackson Browne – Standing in the Breach
It is a testament to Browne’s raw talent and longevity — he turns 66 on Thursday — that he releases his 14th studio album, Standing in the Breach, Tuesday. It’s a record that bears witness to a songwriter’s confusion about the world we’re living in, and yet, he remains resolute and hopeful.
He laments the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United and takes a shot at the absence of gun control — “They’ll sell a Glock 19 to just about anyone” — and most of all, he mourns the fact that America and the larger world are defined increasingly by have-nots getting crushed by haves.
“So many live in poverty,” he writes, “while others live as kings.”
And yet, Standing in the Breach is not without humor and an optimism that we can all do better. Despite everything that surrounds us, “If I could be anywhere right now,” Browne writes, “ I would be here.” Read the full review on Dallas News

Stevie Nicks – 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault
Serving as the follow-up to 2011’s In Your Dreams, the album was co-produced by Dave Stewart and Waddy Wachtel and features new recordings of previously unreleased material from Nicks’ storied career. “Most of these songs were written between 1969 and 1987,” Nicks described in a press release. “One was written in 1994 and one in 1995. I included them because they seemed to belong to this special group.” Stream the new album on Consequence of Sound

Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright
Could their ninth studio album accurately be called Bluerton, some flawless hybrid of the band’s first two works? Not exactly. Cuomo isn’t the brooding, isolated man he was when he wrote “Say It Ain’t So” and “Across the Sea”. Yet in revisiting those times, in trying to get back in touch with that man, he and the rest of Weezer have created something that’s completely unique to their catalog, a record that tries its damnedest to feel alienated by the conflicts of the past, but discovers that it’s actually at peace with them. Read the full review on Consequence of Sound

Recommended New Releases – Alt-J, Tweedy, Leonard Cohen

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Alt-J – This Is all Yours
The otherworldly layers of vocal chants on “Intro” don’t so much set a tone for the album as they make a statement of off-kilter intent, flowing into the more intimate but nonetheless interesting “Arrival in Nara.” “Every Other Freckle” sees the band at their most lyrically provocative, as Joe Newman croons, “Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet” with disturbing honesty. Single “Left Hand Free” is a high point, with its rapid-fire vocals and drums, while the Miley Cyrus sampling “Hunger of the Pine” intrigues and beguiles in its slow build. Read the full review on Under The Radar

Tweedy – Sukierae
On these 20 songs, the younger Tweedy emerges as the kind of musician who actively challenges his old man. His playing is rooted in jazz, rock, and avant-garde, which means he doesn’t simply keep time and add a lot of fills—but he still defines the grain and texture of these songs. Spencer gives “Diamond Light, Pt. 1” its jittery gallop, “Low Key” its low-key hustle, “World Away” its classic rock rumble. Favoring what might be described as a strum—rolling across toms and kick drum in a rhythm that rocks toward and away from the beat—Spencer ensures his father’s pop melodies never sound settled or merely decorous. Instead, he conveys a jumpy paranoia, as though he and his dad expect to hear the worst news possible. Read the full review on Pitchfork

Columbia Records Leonard Cohen Popular Problems cover
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
Popular Problems, his 13th studio album, has everything of which a latter-day Cohen album is popularly known to be composed: the amelodic, magical croak of Cohen’s own finely aged voice; the hyper-melodic shine of his singers, who have become as integral to Cohen’s project as he himself; a loose, blurring approach to genre and tone. The album seems to be of the same make as 2012’s Old Ideas; both are relaxed in their dedication to definite genre, and both humbly display the wisdom one would expect from an icon like Cohen. Even their titles comprise the interlocking halves of some private mantra or joke, some defining force behind Cohen’s recent inspirations: “Old Ideas, Popular Problems.” The Old Ideas, still Popular Problems, seem to be the things Cohen has always written about: sex, god, art, mystery, society. Read the full review on Tiny Mix Tapes

Recommended New Releases – Allah Las, Shellac, Lia Ices

Allah Las – Worship the Sun
Allah-Las are a bunch of quintessential surfer dudes from Los Angeles that met whilst working at the world famous Ameoba Records, bonding over a passion for classic vinyl and bands such as Love and The Zombies. Their first record was a trip; a breezy soundtrack for the back end of the Summer of 2012, and a very good debut and introduction to an interesting and captivating rock’n’roll band. Allah-Las has been played many times in my residence; I love their Beach Boys harmonies, their chilled out grooves, their clangy, duelling guitars that complement each other so well. And so the news of their follow up excited me. Read the full review

Shellac – Dude Incredible
What to make of it all? Well, here’s the truth, writ plain and simple: Dude Incredible, the first Shellac outing in nearly a decade, is hitting stores and streets Sept. 16, and, on first and second and third blush, it is one of the trio’s finest outings to date, right up there with the brilliant moments on gems like At Action Park and 1,000 Hurts. Buy the fucking thing already and, trust me, you’ll want to hear this thing on vinyl, Skip. Read the full review on Pop Dose


Lia Ices – Ices
It’s the third “sound” in three albums for Ices, a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter who deserves to be more widely heard. A graduate of both NYU’s Tisch School for Experimental Theatre and Rada, her adventurous debut, Necima, recalled Regina Spektor, while the strange, sparse folk of Grown Unknown (2011) drew comparisons with St Vincent and Cat Power.
Holed up in her glass box on and off for two years with her “psychic twin brother Eliot” and their midi keyboards, guitars and computer, she has emerged with a style that carries faint echoes of La Roux and Tom Tom Club. Read the full review on The Telegraph

Recommended New Releases: Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle, Delta Spirit

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Opener and recent single “Gimme Something Good” is a pretty good indicator of the spirit of Ryan Adams’ Class of 2014. With the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench onboard to navigate “Organ and piano weirdness”, it simmers, shimmies and shakes with Adams smashing his guitar like flint, frantically firing sparks out of the dark. It has all the bad ass, “Come get it” bubblegum attitude ofDamn the Torpedoes-era Petty with a determined, fist punching, “This ain’t over” firework chorus. It’s Adams rolling away the stone, climbin’ out of the cave, jonesin’ for salvation, “All my life been shakin’ / Wanting something.” Read the full review on Pop Matters

Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers
Single Mothers is Earle’s first record for Vagrant Records, his first as a sober man and a married man. Single Mothers is not an overtly happy record, though, as indicated by the title. Rather, it illustrates a shift in perspective in how Earle reconciles with his past—from his famous father’s abandonment to his own parallel substance abuse. He addresses his own upbringing on the title track with such poignancy as, “Absent father, oh, never offers, even a dollar / He doesn’t seem to be bothered / By the fact that he’s forfeited his right to his own, now / Absent father, is long gone now.” But Earle also digs back to his youth of listening to Billie Holiday, telling her story in his own heartbroken way on lead single “White Gardenias.” Read the full review on Paste Magazine

Delta Spirit – Into the Wide
Into the Wide, the fourth LP from San Diego soulful folkers sounds nothing like Bon Iver. But like Justin Vernon’s opus, on this latest record, you hear a band that has struggled against the chains of genre and has managed to break utterly free. With their roots in classic Americana folk & soul, Delta Spirit have managed to craft a record that incorporates arena ready rock anthems, psychedelic textures, noise rock interludes, and the melancholic drama of classic country. They do all this without once becoming disjointed, and by the end, Into the Wide is handily one of the freshest and most exciting folk rock records of the 2010s. Read the full review on Baeble Music