Heavy rotation.

  1. The Blue Herons

    This album is as saccharine sweet as they get. In the words of a coworker, sometimes you just need a sugar rush. Jangly and full of affection for late 80s early nineties alternative rock, The Blue Herons score serious points for nostalgia here. The strongest track, "Electric," bears an undeniable resemblance to "Summertime" by the Sundays in all its glistening, shimmering beauty. Similarly, it's perfect for starting the hottest season.

  2. The Amazing

    Part Red House Painters, part Nick Drake, with little bits of The Cure ("Last Stand" has a distinctive "Pictures Of You" pacing and vibe), The Amazing hit a sweet spot in the Venn diagram of introspective and powerful musicians. I've been listening to this one on repeat for months. It's short for a full length but contains just enough variety and distinctiveness in each of the songs to get listeners hooked.

    Via Jason Opus

  3. Khruangbin

    In Paul Simpson’s review of the new Khruangbin album (sorry, no link), A La Sala, he acknowledges the fact that they’ve moved past their influences into a sound all their own.

    While it was easier to point out the key influences in the band's sound on their earlier records, from Thai funk to Afro-pop to flamenco, by now it's just easier to identify the group's atmospheric guitars and steadily paced snare slaps as sounding like Khruangbin.

    At this point, Khruangbin sounds entirely unique, and as this piece explains from Ryan Bradley, they are hard to imitate.

    Music now exists primarily within the stream, which is to say passively: We turn it on, like a faucet, and out pour songs representing some mood, or emotion, or any of the other words we used before we had “vibes.” Perhaps it’s an aura, like “chill.” Or a vague, evocative mind-set, like “always Sunday.” The tap turns and out pour songs we already liked, along with burbles of what is a little new and different yet fits in beautifully. This is the arrangement in which “Khruangbin vibes” excel. Such music is extremely slippery, genrewise. (Is it psychedelic lounge dub? Desert surf rock? The sound you hear inside a lava lamp?) As such, it pairs well with a huge span of music, across genres and eras; it has a kind of algorithmic inevitability to it. But this slipperiness also means that quite a lot of the bands now producing Khruangbin-vibesy music are entirely forgettable.

    The consensus on this album among critics seems to be that this is sort of a return to their roots for Khruangbin, embracing the power of a more deliberate groove. The single, “May Ninth,” which was released before the proper album dropped, is a sweetly soporific minutes to midnight slow jam with an intimate feel.

    The whole album is cohesive, so it’s easy to take a song like this as a statement of intent. Listen to the whole thing and you’ll probably find yourself in agreement. You’ll also most likely feel a lot more mellow.

  4. Castle Rat

    I don’t want to, as the kids say, yuck anyone’s yum, but I’ve got to admit to finding most metal somewhat silly. There are so many overused tropes associated with the genre. The chunking power chords, double bass drums, and cookie monster vocals all make for a limiting set of constraints. Concepts are so on the nose that it hurts. Bands will have names like “Bloody Skeleton” and their album cover will literally be a bloody skeleton.

    Metal was an important part of my formative years, but it was a mixed bag. I’ve always felt a little bit like it could be left along with other staples of the angsty teenage period.

    Then into my ears comes Castle Rat, with all their earnest devotion to high fantasy doom metal cliches and well-worn Sabbath riffage, and somehow, I find myself honestly enjoying it. There are dark and magical stories to go along with the songs. The band members play as a vampire, a plague doctor with mystical potions, and a druid. Then, of course, there is their charismatic leader, the Rat Queen (AKA Riley Pinkerton, playing a character inspired by Frazzetta paintings — be still my beating heart).

    In the hands of a less competent band, all the theatrics would be nothing short of embarrassing. Castle Rat handles it all with relish and somehow manages to pull it off. In fact, they do it perhaps a little too well. The band is clearly committed to the act. I have to confess to having some sense of discomfort at the celebratory paganism mixed with a kind of D&D LARPing. Maybe it’s because I grew up during the Dungeons & Dragons satanic panic in the 80s (I very much remember parents who refused to let their kids play the game). Nevertheless, as an Orthodox Christian, I find myself unable to embrace the concepts with the degree of devotion that they seem to inspire in many of their fans.

    I’ve long held to a policy of letting myself listen to music that may not conform to my beliefs, as long as it isn’t antithetical to them. This instance borders. Perhaps this is a true example of what is meant by the phrase “guilty pleasure?”

  5. soccer mommy

    When I went to the Hopscotch music festival a few weeks ago, two of the bands that I went to see were Soccer Mommy and Pavement. Pavement played the first day, Soccer Mommy the third. When Sophia Regina Allison, the woman behind the stage name Soccer Mommy, took the stage, she mentioned getting really into the festival and staying the whole weekend (something not all the artists did). She must have enjoyed the Pavement set because she just dropped a tasteful and well-executed batch of covers for an EP and the first song is "Here" from Pavement's seminal LP Slanted And Enchanted.

    Though undoubtedly still firmly in the vein of indie rock, the cover of "Here" fleshes out the spartan original with an arrangement worthy of an artist who resides in Nashville. There's a very contemporary hint at a radio-friendly country aesthetic. Keyboard flourishes accentuate the track nicely. Though not without some respectable nods to the noisier aspects of 90s indie, its earnest execution almost makes the song seem like the opposite of what it was (the opposite of what just about any Pavement song was) — sincere. Any artist who can take a line about "crotch mavens" and make it sound like a cause for legitimate introspection and perhaps even restrained sorrow is deserving of some amount of admiration. Chuck Klosterman writes about Pavement's reputation for being cool and aloof in his book about The Nineties.

    Emotional uninvestment made so many contradictions fun and enriching. It was simultaneously possible to view Pavement as the finest band of the decade while also seeing them as five guys who weren’t even trying (and who ridiculed any rival who did).

    Allison's take amplifies the emotional aspects of the song that were buried under layers of irony to laudable effect.

    The semi-obscure Pavement cover is followed by an unlikely sequencing pick — a Sheryl Crow bonafide hit single. The original version of the Crow song "Soak Up The Sun" is everything the Pavement track is not. Its complete lack of self-consciousness and unabashed accessibility mark it as slacker college rock inverted. The surprising part is that it works on its own and as a follow-up to "Here" in equal measure.

    The EP ends with a straight cover of the REM song "Losing My Religion." It's another choice that stands in stark contrast to the start of the release. It's hard to think of someone who might take their art more seriously than Michael Stipe. Ironically, though, Pavement are big REM fans, so maybe there are more threads connected than are evident without closer inspection. It's clear that Allison sees some of those threads, which makes her vision for this EP a compelling one.

  6. One thing that is good about having sold a number of well-loved CDs decades ago is that I can buy them again in deluxe versions without any guilt. Superfuzz Bigmuff is such a seminal album that is the defining work for the grunge genre. When I sold it, I gave away a dictionary definition of what the term originally meant. Its lesson wasn't forgotten, though.

    "If I Think" has what I think has to be my favorite dynamic shift on any song. When Mark Arm sings, "I open my eyes..." it sets in motion an intense chorus that drives home a message of no regrets. "In 'n' Out of Grace," for all of its pseudo-blasphemy, marks that transition that probably most of us feel at some times between being nice and being naughty. "Touch Me I'm Sick" needs no introduction or comment, but still always reminds me of the band Citizen Dick from the movie Singles and their song "Touch Me I'm Dick."

    Sometimes I feel like these deluxe reissues with the bonus discs of live material are nothing but a cash grab, but in the case of this artifact, the live songs are well worth the price of admission. The live version of "If I Think," for example, loses nothing of the ferocity of the studio take.

    This is an album (technically a compilation) that, while it set the template for grunge, also transcends the style. If you need one fuzzed out, dirty garage rock album in your collection...

  7. Thanks primarily to Turntable Kitchen and their Sounds Delicious series, I own my fair share of cover albums. Brothertiger playing the Tears for Fears classic Songs From The Big Chair has to be my favorite. It's no suprise that Roland Orzabal from Tears For Fears admits that the cover of "Mother's Talk" found on this album is better than the original. Brothertiger original compositions have so much in common with the songs from the record being covered. When the remakes sound so straight, it's not shocking. If you didn't grow up in the eighties, you would be forgiven for thinking this is just another Brothertiger album.

    "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" is a standout track here, but you probably didn't need me to tell you that to guess. After all, it was already a hit.

  8. Slow Salvation

    For those of us who celebrate today as Slowdive day, Here We Lie by Slow Salvation, which came out ahead of the veteran shoegaze outfit's latest, should also hold great appeal. Slow Salvation shares the same dreamy textures, the same languid pace as Slowdive, and they wear their influences well. There's a consistency on this record that, while it affords few surprises, nonetheless brings the delight of bringing the listener into an calming, ethereal world for the length of the album.

  9. Bailey Crone, the main force behind Bathe Alone, seems to be fairly obsessed with her grandmothers. She’s now dedicated an EP to each of them, complete with shots of the aging matriarchs for covers. In a video for a song off the first EP, “Decades and Dreams,” she dressed as her grandmother and reenacted a boating trip her subject had taken long ago.

    Fall With The Lights Down isn’t so much an album as a compilation of the two granny-inspired EPs. It’s also a gorgeous collection of dreampop. Although the “singles” from the EPs shine the brightest, it is the tracks later on in the comp that I’m less familiar with which are constantly in rotation. The comp ends on a subdued note with the stellar tracks “Blue Days” and “4u,” the latter in which Crone repeats the line “fall with the lights down” as a mesmerizing mantra.

  10. Wild Nothing

    The new Wild Nothing track "Headlights On" is another progression for the band — this time from the early-to-mid 80s to the sounds from later in the decade. The video for the song even features a dancing Jack Tatum that doesn't look too different from Rick Astley in style or in substance. The sound is massive, which is no accident, as Tatum professes his love for Kate Bush and Genesis. Hatchie provides backing vocals and there are vocal samples that wouldn't sound out of place on a Pet Shop Boys record.

    I have to admit to having mixed feeling about the track. On the one hand, I've listened to it on repeat since it came out. On the other hand, despite Tatum talking about being changed by the birth of his first child, the song still contains some prominent f-bombs. It reminds me of when Stephen Malkmus was interviewed about his new record and he was talking about the beauty of having an infant daughter. The interviewer sarcastically pointed out that "Leather McWhip" was a song title that really screamed miracle of life. Ah, fatherhood.

  11. A new split live album featuring two of your favorite bands is a rarity and always a reason to celebrate. While I'm not always a huge fan of live recordings, this one hits the spot with some of my most loved Men I Trust tracks featuring extended guitar work. I guess if you are opening for Khruangbin, that sort of thing finds its way into your show. Emma Proulx from Men I Trust always sounds good and her breezy delivery with a hint of melancholy fuses perfectly with the pseudo-funk that the band brings.

    While the Khruangbin recordings don't nessarily focus on their hits, they are always capable of bringing the heat. The solid foundation of the rhythm section provides a good anchor for some virtuoso-level guitar noodling.

  12. 4AD Records has a pretty deep catalog, and I say this with that awareness: Air Miami is one of my favorites on the label. It has been decades since the band released anything, but this reissue is a reminder of their brief but beautiful run in the mid-90s. The truth is, I never stopped listening to this recording on the regs. "World Cup Fever" and "Special Angel" are some of my most loved tracks, the former providing slick jangly pop with a bubbling electro undercurrent and the latter an increasingly dense meditation on adoration.

    This remaster is bright and airy, adding an even better delivery to a record that already sounded good when it was first released.

  13. Sonic Youth

    Although tensions that included marital infidelity forced them apart, no-wave hipsters Sonic Youth lasted longer than most bands. By the end of their 30-year run, members were musing that they would be making more money touring if they had broken up and gotten back together again, like many of the alternative bands of their generation (see Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.).

    Alas, the rifts came late in the game for the band, but they came nonetheless. That is partly what makes their upcoming live album, Live in Brooklyn 2011, so special. The album preserves the band's last real show (though technically, they had a contractually obligated festival run in South America a few months later).

    Fittingly, the setlist is a mishmash of songs from their entire career, starting off with some of their oldest material. "Brave Men Run (In My Family)" is in the pole position, showcasing Sonic Youth's strengths, both from their early incarnation and those they built over time. There are the retuned droning guitars that start off the track, followed by harder hitting chords with some pounding drums keeping an unusual time signature (though the band said they were never into the math of it). That builds into a screeching, deafening wall of sound, only to die off as quickly as it starts to make way for Kim Gordon's to chant her verses. Gordon brought her unique, hoarse but powerful vocals, that come across almost more like an agro recitation of beat poetry than traditional rock vocals. The song eases out with some hushed harmonics, preparing listeners for an equally blistering rendition of another early Youth song, "Death Valley '69."

    Twelve years after the legendary band's dissolution, this release seems like an appropriate encapsulation of Sonic Youth's career.

  14. I'm giving this classic a few rotations to prep for finally seeing this band live in the fall, Deo volente. Still hard to completely describe the sound on Millions Now Living Will Never Die, which sits firmly in post-rock territory without carrying many of the genre's hallmarks.

  15. Jay Som

    This album maintains its cohesion despite bringing in a number of styles. One minute it's angular, noisy guitars, another those same guitars are jangly then the sound moves to a kind of minimal electro-pop. I love the variety and diversity of sounds here presented with a kind of rugged polish.

  16. This is another one of my favorite albums that is getting reissued. Limits of Desire effectively documents when chillwave became the new sophistipop. The expanded edition contains tracks from the Real People EP, including the pitch-perfect cover of Blue Nile's "Downtown Lights."

  17. LIONER

    This record from my friend Daniel's band just dropped. Much of it has a very 60's garage feel (think the Yardbirds, Chocolate Watchband, The Stooges, etc.). I especially dig "Puppy In Drag" (that bouncy bassline) and "Future Me."

  18. the churchhill garden

    This is a compilation of earlier songs remastered and remixed to fit together as a cohesive whole. I'm excited to say that the goal was accomplished, as this feels like more of an intentional release than some bona fide long players. I had to spring for the green vinyl edition of this one, which has a gorgeous lenticular cover and poster inside that looks like an entomologist's dream.

  19. The Mary Onettes

    It's usually a pleasure when The Mary Onettes release new music, and this single is no exception.

  20. If the first single, "Kisses," is any indication, this album could be as good as Slowdive's last one.

  21. my bloody valentine

    When my son came back from LA, he brought back his one purchase from Amoeba Records: this MBV album. It once again reminded me of how different albums can sound on vinyl.

  22. I have a copy of this LP from the original pressing, but the remaster sounds so good that I crave the new vinyl release.

Rotate! is an album list curated by Robert Rackley:

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, dream popper, and paper airplane mechanic located in North Carolina.

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