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Alternative & Indie - Released September 4, 2020 | 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 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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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 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 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 September 4, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

After living out the dream of everyone crafting retro-styled synth pop in their bedrooms or on their laptops, Painted Palms have taken a step forward on their second full-length album, 2015's Horizons. Previously, Reese Donohue and Christopher Prudhomme worked in their homes and exchanged their work by e-mail even when they were living in the same city, slowly but surely crafting their pop-leaning electronic music on their own. For Horizons, however, they opted not only to work in an actual recording studio, but even to hire an engineer, Eric Broucek, who is part of the DFA Records studio crew and recorded several LCD Soundsystem releases. To the surprise of nobody, Horizons sounds noticeably more polished than Painted Palms' previous releases, which is no drawback for synth-based music, though the occasional bursts of guitar and the more lo-fi aspects of the group's sound have fallen by the wayside this time out. The melodic structures on Horizons have a less organic sound and feel than they did on 2014's Forever; these songs owe their greatest allegiance to pop, but the dominant influence appears to be vintage synth pop from the '70s and '80s as filtered through contemporary EDM (though without the aggressive percussive elements that command the listener to hit the dancefloor). Horizons is brilliantly executed, with Donohue and Prudhomme giving this music the right balance of outer sheen and inner passion to make it work, as well as filling the tracks with lyrics and loops that cleverly point to past and present. But even though Painted Palms have made Horizons into a brilliant-sounding record, the expert realization of this music sounds a bit cooler and less personal than the music Donohue and Prudhomme created for Forever and their first EPs. The machines Painted Palms have brought into the studio can sound soulful and alive, but they don't always pass that test on this album. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 17, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

The guys in White Reaper don't fool around. They blast through the 11 songs on their debut album White Reaper Does It Again like they're late for the next gig, bashing and crashing happily with big dumb smiles on their faces. The same big old smiles those lucky enough to add the album to their libraries will have plastered on their mugs too. And really, if you love punky bubblegum or bubblegummy punk, you should own the record, no excuses. Or if you like Jay Reatard or Ty Segall or any of their ilk. Basically, if you want your rock & roll served up hot and loose with giant hooks, lighthearted swagger, and just the right amount of noisy clatter, this is the album for you. Since their excellent self-titled EP in 2014, White Reaper added a keyboardist, Ryan Hater, and his organ adds some new dimension to their sound, but really the thrill here is the rip-roaring guitar-bass-drums full-on attack and Tony Esposito's throat-shreddingly expressive vocals. He shouts, hollers, and croons like a hopped-up version of a '50s rockabilly cat with just the right amount of punk snarl. He and the band not only sound right on the up-uptempo rockers that make up the bulk of the record, they nail the slower songs too. Tracks like the tightly wound, slowly creeping "Pills" and chunkily melodic "Sheila" show some nice balance and provide some quick breathers between the paint-peeling rockers. Even the jacked-up tracks bring some nice diversity and some clear highlights, like the jaunty "Candy" that bops along like a lost Exploding Hearts song, the careening "Last 4th of July" that blasts like a stray firework and, well, everything else. It's all a highlight with White Reaper and their album is all thriller, zero filler. It's guaranteed to hit you right in the right spot, getting your feet moving and your head gleefully bobbing along like mad. More than almost any other rock & roll band in 2015, these guys truly get what it's all about and they aren't shy about sharing it as loudly and ecstatically as possible. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 29, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

Unlike the easygoing, home-recorded Fly by Wire from two years prior, The High Country was recorded by engineer Beau Sorenson (Superchunk, Bob Mould) in Chris Walla's Hall of Justice studio, where Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin turned up the guitars and kicked up the tempos for their lively fifth full-length effort. With band co-founder Tom Hembree back on bass, the band's original lineup of Philip Dickey, Will Knauer, and Hembree made an evidently conscious effort to pick up the energy on their twee-leaning tunes, and it pays off with an album that, with only one of its 11 songs over three minutes long (and just barely), blows by like a frozen custard cone on a hot day. There is just as much emphasis on melody and band-defining sweetness here (as evident on the Partridge Family-reminiscent "Full Possession of All Her Powers" and its chorus of na-na-nas), but a burlier, feedback-peppered attack and busier drums than ever make for a notable development that's more Breeders than Shins this time around ("Trevor Forever," "Song Will," "Total Meltdown"). Even the reverbed ballad "Madeline" begins and ends with an insistent low drum, as if to emphasize the drums' presence. The album opens with driving, fuzzy guitars and feedback on the infectious "Line on You," with singer Dickey's airy and youthful voice still singing mostly about romance ("I got a line on you, my love"). Really catchy guitar hooks mark this song and others, though there are moments of hazy, droning dream pop ("What I Won") and pulsing punkiness ("Trevor Forever") in the mix, too. As a whole, The High Country is satisfying fare that anyone who found SSLYBY's previous works a little too light in texture will certainly want to give a spin. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 16, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

Restless Bay Area songwriter Sonny Smith formed his ramshackle collective Sonny & the Sunsets around his endless stream of songs, producing so much inventive, homespun music he went so far as to write and record 200 original songs for a conceptual art show in 2010. While a far cry from some of those high concept one-off tunes, the more refined fare of Sonny & the Sunsets' full-length albums can sound just as ambitious, creative, and strange, with Smith's mind always turning out a blurry whir of various characters, scenes, and sonic pictures. With fifth album Talent Night at the Ashram, Smith again collects some friends to fill out his home-recorded musings, this time spinning ten songs with more cinematic aspirations, each exploring different scenarios that feel like plots to tiny screenplays and bending styles on almost every song. The album begins with a Beach Boys-esque swell of a cappella harmonies that gives way to toy synth leads and breezy chord progressions on "The Application." Smith's production is deceptively laid-back and airy from the very start of the album. Lazy melodies and pick-up band playing give the album a loose feel that willfully obscures its musical density. Each song employs an almost completely different approach or instrumentation, the phased-out FM radio pop of "Alice Leaves for the Mountains" blending seamlessly into the Kinks-y exotica of "Happy Carrot Health Food Store." Sounds are hidden in the corners of Talent Night at the Ashram, with Mellotron tones, 12-string folk-rock guitar leads, and reverb-coated percussion all buried beneath Smith's hook-heavy ruminations. The dabbling with synthesizers that began on 2013's Antenna to the Afterworld continues here, notably on '80s-synth pop-tinged numbers like "Cheap Extensions." Even though listening closely enough on some songs reveals Smith shouting out the changes to his band, the collision of off-the-cuff recording techniques and intricate songwriting produces another colorful chapter of Sonny & the Sunsets' tireless and always beautiful work. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 28, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Mike Kinsella's softer side has come out as gentle, sadly poetic offerings from his Owen project, an acoustic foil for his more electrified work over the years in Cap'n Jazz, American Football, Owls, and other far less subdued bands. The stark honesty of Kinsella's lyrics and presentation in Owen is a huge part of what has made it one of his most popular projects. It often feels as though he's confessing the darker, more hidden parts of his life directly to the listener, and it's an incredibly personal feeling. It's odd, then, that Kinsella delivers the same sense of warmth and intimacy throughout Other People's Songs, a collection of eight cover tunes. The playlist reads like a young skater's mixtape from the late '90s, with acoustic renditions of songs by discordant sermon-sayers Lungfish, bummed-out college rockers the Blake Babies, and mellowed-out takes on pop-punkers such as All and the Smoking Popes. Translating youthful ebullience into somber beauty is no small task, but it turns out to be Owen's specialty throughout Other People's Songs. Kinsella's reedy vocals are joined at times by those of angelic singer Sarah Mitchell, resulting in a fairly straightforward reading of the Blake Babies' noisy "Girl in a Box" and a stunning duet on a complete reworking of Against Me!'s "Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart." Originally a tightly wound emo pop blast with vocals shared by Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace and Tegan Rain Quin from Tegan and Sara, Kinsella and Mitchell recast the tune as a gorgeous, relaxed picture of fingerpicked guitars and cozy string arrangements filling in for distorted guitars. Like the best of any collections of covers, Other People's Songs offers a completely unexpected perspective and at the same time makes us want to revisit the original versions and investigate the differences. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 3, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Following the release of their 2013 debut, Curiosity, Portland-based duo Wampire had to adapt to a rigorous touring schedule, as well as expand their membership from the long-running creative team of songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps to a full band that could bring its studio creations to life on-stage. Curiosity was a busy and hyper-saturated pastiche of retro reference points and furry psych pop. It was a fantastically groomed album but also one that was years in the making, pained over by Tinder and Phipps as their band played locally around Portland, chipping away at ever-incubating ideas with no record deadline hovering over them. The intensive touring that followed the album's release can be heard in the overall sound of Bazaar. The album is dark and haunted, with the same sense of paranoia that touched Curiosity, but even with production handled again by Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Jacob Portrait, the songs sound more live, visceral in a way that comes when a band graduates from low-key house parties close to home to nightly international touring. While Tinder and Phipps wrote and performed Curiosity entirely as a duo, they let touring drummer Thomas Hoganson into the fold this time around, offering his various talents as a player and songwriter to the moody tones of Bazaar. Hoganson's saxophone playing becomes the unexpected star of almost every song he unleashes it on. He trades zippy sax lines with wobbly, '70s-sounding synth leads on standout track "Wizard Staff," the bandmembers sounding like less hyperactive, more meticulous cousins of their retro-minded peers in Foxygen. With the burning fuzz-fest opening track "The Amazing Heart Attack," they also tap into the heavier side of classic rock borrowing of bands like Tame Impala and (going further back) Dungen in their early days, and switch gears into soft vocal harmonies and nostalgic psych on "Millennials" or vaguely country-tinged soft rock tenderness with "Life of Luxury." All captured directly to warm analog tape, Bazaar sounds less constructed than its predecessor, even as the band zigzags through various styles and experiments with arrangements. The combination makes for a more direct delivery of some of their strongest songs and improves on the debut by stripping away some of its clutter. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 12, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Generationals' fourth studio album, 2014's Alix, features more of the '80s-influenced electronic pop and indie rock the New Orleans duo has perfected since 2009's Con Law. Once again showcasing the combined talents of Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, Alix is a catchy, brightly colored affair with songs built largely around the duo's yearning, nasally vocals, buoyant synth lines, and dance-oriented, if not exactly club-ready, beats. In some ways, the album picks up on the languid, late-summer vibe of 2013's Heza, taking it even further with dreamy, melancholy cuts like "Now Look at Me," and the fuzzy, bubbly "Black Lemon." Also similar to the group's past albums, Alix sounds a lot like a lost synth pop album from the early '80s, full of melodic, lightly arty cuts that bring to mind such vintage influences as Tom Tom Club, Nu Shooz, and Thomas Dolby. That said, Alix is anything but a retro album and cuts like the '50s-infused "Gold Silver Diamond," and the clipped, new wave-inflected "Charlemagne" also fit nicely alongside such similarly leaning contemporary acts as MGMT, Phoenix, Fun. and Passion Pit. Ultimately, with Alix, Generationals deliver quirky, catchy pop songs that stick in your head like DayGlo bubblegum on a hot summer parking lot. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 9, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 6, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Stagnant Pools' debut from 2012, Temporary Room, was a gloomy, noisy shoegaze-meets-Strokes album that managed to overcome the enveloping darkness with the help of very catchy songs and totally committed performances by the Enas brothers, drummer Bryan and guitarist/vocalist Douglass. Their second album, 2014's Geist, is basically the same deal, only this time the songs are even more morose and the sound is even sparser and noisier. The guitar has more bite, there's less layering of sounds, and the duo have dropped almost all the Strokes influences, which mainly means subtracting any songs that have any poppy bounce and taking away most of the new wave atmosphere that crept in from time to time. Basically, the record strips away most of the production work found on the first album -- not that there was much -- and boils it down to the basics of guitar and drums making a racket, with Bryan's clearer and less bathed-in-reverb vocals out in front, shorn of any protection as he spills his very melancholy guts out. It's a daring move since most bands view the second album as a chance to progress or add more cool tricks and fancy stuff to their sound. The brothers move in the opposite direction and it works out well for them, since their core strengths remain intact. Geist's uncompromising sonic attack fits extremely well with the one step beyond brooding vocals and the still surprisingly hooky melodies, the brothers' energy never flags, and they make sure that even though everything is exceedingly grey throughout, there are many shades of it. The brothers make sure to vary the tempo, adjust the levels of guitar noise, and toss in a few uptempo songs like "Dots and Lines" and the almost rollicking title track to help break up the dark clouds a little. Mostly the record hangs around in a melancholy midtempo haze, though, and none the worse for it when the songs are as good, and as emotionally wracked, as "Decoder" and the very Swervedriver-esque "Filed Down." With Geist, Stagnant Pools haven't made any leaps forward, more like a small step backward into something even more interesting and powerful than before. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 16, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
American Football existed for a blink of an eye, coming together in the late '90s in a small Midwestern college town out of a small but enthusiastic pool of young musicians. The band, consisting of Cap'n Jazz/Joan of Arc alumni Mike Kinsella as well as guitarist Steve Holmes and drummer Steve Lamos, played only a few live dates before devolving into a recording project and then silently disappearing altogether around 2000. Apart from a three-song EP, their self-titled 1999 album was all the trio left behind, its nine songs exploring a hushed, thoughtful take on the often more aggressive tones of the hardcore-birthed emo scene. American Football's songs dig deep into uncommon time signatures and jazz-influenced chords, and even implement understated trumpet and electric piano into their web of interlocking guitar runs and muted, softly smiling vocals. Happening concordantly with a thriving post-rock movement hubbed close by in Chicago, the band has hints of the same musical crosscurrents of Tortoise or Gastr del Sol, setting their songs apart from the flock. The airy riff in 3/4 time and Kinsella's buried, eager vocals on opening song "Never Meant" set the tone for an album of soft-spoken yet high-spirited songs not quite like any of the band's emo contemporaries. The band seemed primarily focused on instrumental composition, with fully instrumental tracks like "You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon" and "The One with the Wurlitzer" standing out and vocals sounding like a floating, distanced element on many of the tunes that include them. The lilting, mysterious tone of the album is only occasionally broken up by an upbeat rocker like "I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional," where the band marries its jazz-influenced chops to the same kind of wide-eyed emo pop the Promise Ring was making at the time. Kinsella would go on to release solo material as Owen, drawing on the same soft-focus melodies he employed with American Football, but the collaborative magic he found with Holmes and Lamos would never quite be recaptured in any of the three's future projects. Every song here manages to sound meticulously constructed without diminishing the easy, often dreamlike feel of the album. The record is defined by a sense of possibility and youthful discovery, and stands out not just as an anomalistic emo-jazz hybrid but as a lasting, iconic statement in the often blurry history of independent music. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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TWO

Alternative & Indie - Released March 18, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

In 2001, a good seven years after the dissolution of teenage emo/artsy hardcore group Cap'n Jazz, most of its members regrouped as a far different beast called Owls. While Cap'n Jazz unknowingly pioneered the entire emo genre with their screamy, melodic urgency, Owls' self-titled debut was a darker, more angular affair, composed of bottle-rocket drumming, epic technical guitar runs, and increasingly cracked lyrical wordplay from singer/lyricist Tim Kinsella, who had been confounding listeners with his polarizing and experimental work in Joan of Arc around the time Owls took off. An incredible, well-received debut album and scant amounts of touring took place before the band imploded, breaking up just a year after it began. Now, 13 years after the group's debut album, the appropriately titled Two has materialized as if no time had passed at all. From the beginning drone of "Four Works of Art," Owls have the same strange lurch that popped up on their years-old debut, as well as the same mathy sense of melodicism on tracks like "I'm Surprised." Guitarist Victor Villarreal's airy, serpentine guitar lines wind around every track in strange time signatures, providing counterpoints to Sam Zurick's rock-steady basslines and Mike Kinsella's explosive yet precise drumming. Always dead center is Tim Kinsella, whose abstract lyrical approach is the equivalent to the band's complex musical push, painting surreal images of everything from observations on getting older to psychedelic portrayals of hornets and honeybees. "Ancient Stars Seed" is an enormous highlight, seeing all of the band's strengths elevated to a level of complete focus, the strange structures, the doomy rock undercurrents, the incredible tension of the group's dynamic playing, and Tim Kinsella's mad-genius lyrics peppering the song with insights as oddly brilliant as he's always had. Though they took over a decade to follow up their first album, Two still sounds like a band a decade ahead of its time. © Fred Thomas /TiVo