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Alternative & Indie - Released September 4, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 8, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

With Forget, Xiu Xiu delivered another fine example of their music at its most accessible; on Girl with Basket of Fruit, they return to their most challenging side, and prove once again that it's just as integral to their art as their dark synth pop. As on Angel Guts: Red Classroom, Jamie Stewart and company find new ways to describe and confront the horrors of the world. Even on Xiu Xiu's terms, the title track is a startling beginning to Girl with Basket of Fruit. Stewart's voice springs out of the abrasive din, shouting lyrics that shift from nightmarish to cartoonish and back again ("Her boob gets so floppy she uses it as a fan to wave away his sickening B.O.") in a way that only this band can pull off. As frenzied as Xiu Xiu gets on Girl with Basket of Fruit, the album isn't pure chaos. The band emphasizes rhythm in a way they haven't done in some time, whether it's the flexible backbone of longtime collaborator Devin Hoff's double bass on "Ice Cream Truck" or the visceral beats that Haitian and Yoruba drummers bring to "Scisssssssors," the album's most immediate track. Here and on the trance-inducing collage "Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy," Xiu Xiu borrow from dance, classical, industrial, and music from around the world in unexpected yet organic ways. Less surprising, but just as powerful, are the album's painfully vulnerable moments. Xiu Xiu's empathy rings out as strongly as ever on "The Wrong Thing" and "Normal Love," which provide aching respites to Girl with Basket of Fruit's outbursts. "Mary Turner, Mary Turner," a harrowing account of the 1918 lynching of a pregnant African American woman, serves as a reminder that Xiu Xiu's knowledge of atrocities isn't limited to current events. Affecting, cathartic, and unsettling, Girl with Basket of Fruit reflects that while the edge to Xiu Xiu's music has changed with time, it never dulls. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 23, 2018 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 9, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Psychic Twin's Erin Fein wrote the songs on her debut full-length, Strange Diary, over a four-year period, during which she went through a divorce, moved from her native Illinois to Brooklyn, and switched musical collaborators several times. Given all of her major life changes, the album is remarkably cohesive, with most of its tracks being catchy, uptempo synth pop tunes with lush synthesizers and fluttering vocals that equally channel Kate Bush and '80s-era Annie Lennox. The songs are dreamy, propulsive, and slightly chilling, particularly due to the ghostly, subliminal backup vocals. Lyrically, she's torn apart by her emotions, bluntly expressing her emotional conflict on the brief, slightly Andy Stott-sounding opener, "Heart Divided." Throughout the album, she's constantly running away, returning, chasing, and losing herself, and it's unsure what her final decision is (she ends the album repeating "I will stay" before twisting the words into "Will I stay?"). What is certain, however, is her knack for writing exceptional melodies. Songs like "Strangers" and "Stop in Time" immediately sound familiar but not derivative, and "Lose Myself" (which ends with an echo-shrouded repetition of the words "get over you") feels like an instant hit. The album ends with "The Deepest Part," which has a bit more of a live band sound than the preceding eight songs, as it contains post-punk bass guitar, shaker-heavy percussion, and disco handclaps along with its chugging synthesizers. Strange Diary is an instantly appealing debut album that distills several years' worth of ups and downs into a set of sharp, affectionate tunes. © Paul Simpson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 1, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 3, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 3, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

After breaking through with her 2012 album Anxiety, which melded electronic pop sheen with '90 alt-rock crunch and spawned the ubiquitous hit "Blue Eyes," Ladyhawke's next album presented her with a challenge. Pip Brown initially wrote and began recording a batch of darker, more personal songs, but soon decided they didn't really reflect her state of mind. She ditched the recordings and went back with producer Tommy English to try again. Arriving in 2016, Wild Things is the result and it is certainly very sunny and very poppy. It forgoes most of the guitar-driven electro crunch of Anxiety in favor of a modern pop sound built around slick synths and big choruses. Mixing fun uptempo tracks like "Money to Burn" and "The River," which harks back to "Blues Eyes," with more reflective ballads ("Hillside Avenue," the title track) that show the influence of Chvrches, the album sounds made for the radio. Brown and English remove all the rough edges and messy emotions found on previous albums, replacing them with easy-to-swallow arrangements and tightly packaged feelings. It's a sound that's easily recognizable to fans of Carly Rae Jepsen or Tegan and Sara. Most of the songs here could have fit on either of their most recent albums, or on albums by any number of artists pursuing a similarly '80s-influenced, pop-with-synths approach. This compatibility with the prevailing is useful from a marketing standpoint, and possibly from a sales one too, but it doesn't lend itself to differentiating Ladyhawke from the crowd. By sacrificing any grit or punch, Wild Things loses much of its voice, making it sound like just another pop record, easy to ignore or forget about. Unlike Tegan and Sara, who have an exceedingly original lyrical outlook and voices that bleed emotion, or Carly Rae, who tethers her winsome voice to songs that are so hooky that they sink deep into the brain, Ladyhawke's songs here just sort of flow from one to the next, sounding for the most part like commercials. A few songs stand out, like the almost rocking "Let It Roll" and the teen movie soundtrack-ready "A Love Song," but even these tracks are sunk by the pedestrian lyrics and paved-over sound. Whether it was leaving behind all the "dark" songs, hiring a producer too conversant in the sounds of the day, or simply trying too hard to have hits, something went wrong on Wild Things. That it comes after an album that seemed to cement her place as a thoughtful and exciting modern pop artist worth keeping tabs on makes it even more painful. Hopefully, she'll right the ship in the future, but for now, this album is a very bland, quite anonymous-sounding disappointment. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 27, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Always eclectic but dependable in quality, the primarily guitar-based Sonny & the Sunsets have taken on country music, aliens, early rock & roll, psychic contact, garage rock, and screenplay inspirations, among other varied styles and subjects, even flirting with synths on their two prior albums. For their sixth long-player, Sonny Smith and gang enlisted tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus to produce, and look to '80s new wave and funk for sonic inspiration. Under threat of bleeping keyboards and drum machines, fans needn't worry that the band has shed their characteristically loose and lo-fi sensibility. However, as is unusually the case on a Garbus project, things get weird (weirder) and more vibrant on Moods Baby Moods. Even those expecting the unexpected will likely be surprised by the exploding, distorted percussion in the opener "Death Cream II" and the funky disco of "Moods," though all of the above are details rather than redefinition. A song like "Modern Age" incorporates nettling synths alongside guitars, grooving bass, bongos, spoken word samples, shifting tempos, strings, and drum loops, retaining a handmade-with-love feel while incorporating more mechanical tools. Elsewhere, the garage-y, sci-fi-evoking "Reject of the Lowest Planet" ("Reject of the lowest kind/Reject, won't you please be mine?") keeps elements of the '60s in the mix. Less typical for the Sunsets, press materials mention Tom Tom Club among the album's influences, and that band's presence is unmistakable on "Well But Strangely Hung Man," a quirky, new wave funk-rap. Also sporting an '80s facade, "White Cops on Trial" takes on the day's headlines with catchy dance-rock and ultra-wry lyrics ("What will the jury say?/We have found him not guilty 'cause we are insane/Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, we are crazy"). Altogether infectious and loaded with robust basslines, the result of the collaboration is slightly restrained for Garbus and ornate for Smith, finding a savory middle ground that, though not without its more reflective moments and plenty of angst, consistently merits smiles and moving feet. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 6, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 6, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Midwestern experimentalists Aloha have earned a reputation over the years as musical shapeshifters, working the outside edges of post-rock, indie pop, and even jazz while generally adhering to their own code of restlessness. Following 2010's more guitar-based and indie rock-oriented Home Acres, they return after a six-year break with the mesmerizing Little Windows Cut Right Through, a lush synth pop set that recalls '80s art-pop acts like the Blue Nile and Talk Talk. It's also the most immediately accessible and mature album in their catalog, teeming with quality songwriting and clever studio craft. From the bright, Balearic shades of opener "Signal Drift" to the sensuous warmth of "One Hundred Million," this dreamy new sound suits them well. Frequently known for their focus on percussion, Aloha continue to play with rhythms, rarely taking the more straightforward path even in the context of what is essentially a pop album. Lyrically, singer Tony Cavallario's themes of self-doubt and existential reflection add a melancholy tone that offsets Little Windows' bright production. On "Moon Man," a mid-album standout, he sings "to be human is to be terrified, nothing scares you more than wasting time" before launching into the song's exultant chorus. The appealingly moody "Swinging for the Fences" is another highlight, pitting dark against light over a sound bed of new wave chill. As a whole, the album sits quite nicely as each song transitions smoothly to the next with a well-designed cohesion. Still, there are a number of strong tracks that could even serve as potential breakout singles for Aloha, which is a rather odd thing to say about what is generally considered a post-rock band nearly two decades into their career. Whether or not they remain in this mode on future outings, Little Windows is a wholly engaging set that boasts plenty of vision. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 1, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Ramping up the guitar presence and the attitude, Out of the Garden is the third solo album by Now, Now guitarist Jess Abbott, aka Tancred. A nod to the Garden of Eden, the title alludes to rebelling against societal expectations, particularly those placed upon females. Produced by Anna Waronker (that dog.) and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross/OFF!), the album sees Tancred joined by bassist Terrence Vitali and drummer Kevin Medina, who have also accompanied her on tour. The ensemble's hooky, fuzzy guitar pop wears the '90s alt-rock of the Breeders and Weezer like a well-worn zipper hoodie over a solid tee of Midwestern power pop. "Joey" saunters along on a crunchy, melodic guitar riff in quasi-unison with cymbal-heavy drums as Abbott matter of factly opines about not caring that she'll never fit in with the cool kids. Its theme is representative of an album that addresses alienation and resulting independence throughout. "Pens" has a chugging, minor-key verse with a contrasting bright, harmony-rich chorus in which the singer insists that, despite the lingering verses, she's for sure mentally stable. The spare, off-kilter "Hang Me" avoids any satisfying chord resolution, instead creeping with a meandering electric guitar line as she stands up to a lover who's turned against her. An album highlight, "Sell My Head" is the driving, punk-infused jam whose hyper melody addresses a co-dependent relationship in the past tense; she's moved on. Out of the Garden is efficient in presentation, its songs wielding blunt emotion, each under four minutes in length, with the majority clocking in at less than three. It doesn't suffer fools gladly. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 1, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 11, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 4, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Since she started making records on her own under the name La Sera, ex-Vivian Girls member Katy Goodman has refined and revamped her sound from record to record, starting with the deeply reverbed girl-group approach of the debut La Sera album, then adding some snappy garage punk to Sees the Light, and a little bit of power pop gloss to Hour of the Dawn. On the fourth La Sera album, Music for Listening to Music To, she's turned the basically solo project into a duo affair, officially adding her husband Todd Wisenbaker to the lineup. He had already served as guitarist and producer on Hour of the Dawn, but now he's a true partner, co-writing all the songs, playing all the guitars and basses, and providing vocals. Along with this difference comes a drastic musical change, from garagey pop to twangy country. The duo handed the production duties over to Ryan Adams, ditched almost all the guitar noise, and dug deep into some dusty Americana. Some of the album jangles like big-haired '80s college rock, some of it gambols about rambunctiously like a cornpone X, and all of it feels like the work of another band entirely. With Goodman singing fewer songs -- and those she does sing sometimes push her range a bit too far -- it seems like Wisenbaker barged in and started pushing her to the sidelines almost immediately. She didn't really need the help -- her previous albums had been solid and getting better and more interesting with each release. Wisenbaker isn't a particularly distinctive vocalist and his solo features are like commercial breaks between Goodman's features. The '80s pop/rock with synth track "Nineties" sounds like a pale imitation of a song their producer would have buried in the vaults. He's not great shakes as a duet partner, either, coming off like a nosey neighbor instead of a collaborator. The songs that work the best, like midtempo weeper "Begins to Rain" and the gently swaying "A Thousand Ways," are those Goodman sings all by herself and that stay in her fragile girl-group vocal range. The twangy country rockers are OK enough, but it's a sound that's been done to death and the duo don't bring anything interesting to it. One could argue that previous La Sera albums didn't exactly have an original sound, but at least they had a singular vision. On Music for Listening to Music To, there's a vision, but it's not Goodman's and it's not well conceived or well executed. Hopefully it's just a diversion and Goodman can get back to the kind of good-natured garage pop she does so well next time. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 12, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Before Radiation City began recording their third album, Synesthetica, they came very close to splitting up. After two albums and an EP, they were burnt out artistically and the driving couple behind the band (Cameron Spies and Lizzy Ellison) was close to breaking up. Instead of the band ending, the couple decided to start working on music again, this time taking control themselves. After a couple recording sessions, both with and without bandmembers, a new variation on their sound emerged. Slicker, more sophisticated, and with a bit more R&B mixed into their space age doo wop meets indie pop, the album turned out to be their best work yet. Filled with songs that crackle like the first bite into a lollipop and pop like the snap of a bubblegum bubble, it's modern pop at its finest. Giant hooks, sparkling melodies, and Ellison's larger-than-life vocals are matched with subtle arrangements to make the songs really jump out of the speakers in a bright but still very warm and easy-to-embrace kind of way. There is no brittle undercurrent or sense that the band is grasping beyond its reach; the bigness of the sound and songs comes off as totally organic. It's easy to trace where they were before with where they end up here. Just take the kind of sweet and tricky pop they were doing in the past, then blow it up like a giant, happy balloon because Synesthetica is the kind of record that will leave the listener smiling. Gently rocking tunes like "Juicy" show off both their vocal prowess and knack for a catchy chorus, the bubbling R&B meets '80s rock jam "Milky White" is a new twist on their sound that totally works, and a handful of songs are the kind that lodge deeply within the pleasure center of the brain. The scientifically catchy "Futures" is one of these; so is "Oil Show." The latter one-ups most of the bands at the time who were trying to blend radio pop, electronic R&B, and indie pop. If fans of Phantogram, for example, heard this song, they might have a new favorite band. The making of Synesthetica was a big deal for Radiation City; the result is a big deal to those who like their modern pop smart, fun, and with just the right amount of modernity. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 29, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

Given the size of Deerhoof's songbook and their frequent touring, it's a little surprising that they didn't release an official live album until 2015's Fever 121614, Live in Japan. Nevertheless, it lives up to the band's reputation as a consistently fun live act. Not surprisingly, Fever 121614 features more than a few songs from 2014's La Isla Bonita. The live setting lets that album's punk influence shine, whether on "Exit Only"'s hurtling riffs or "Paradise Girls"' winning combination of sprightly and crushing. Throughout the album, the muscle behind Deerhoof's musical gymnastics is apparent: "Dummy Discards a Heart" sounds even more like a bizarro version of stadium rock here than the studio version did, while "Come See the Duck" gets an extra shot of adrenaline. Meanwhile, the clever segue from "Twin Killers" to "I Did Crimes for You" allows the songs to flow like a six-minute rock opera that would make the Who proud. Deerhoof throw in a few surprises as well, transforming "Flower" into a jazzy, minor-key workout and giving "Let's Dance the Jet" a surf-metal makeover. The album's only drawback -- and it's a small one -- is that it doesn't quite capture the electric crowd energy of a typical Deerhoof show. Regardless, Fever 121614, Live in Japan delivers most of what makes the band so engaging in concert. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released December 3, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

Alternative & Indie - Released November 20, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 20, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 20, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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