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Alternative & Indie - Released November 12, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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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 August 21, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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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 June 22, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 5, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 1, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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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 May 11, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 8, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

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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 January 23, 2015 | Polyvinyl Records

The Dodos' sixth album and follow-up to 2013’s Carrier was recorded in their base of San Francisco at Tiny Telephone on the heels of the Carrier sessions. Individ, however, is neither more of the same from its predecessor nor a break from the past. With grooving, more assertive vibes than Carrier, it has a Visiter-esque exuberance but retains the reflective quality of Carrier. The vitality is evident from the opening track, "Precipitation," with its tight rhythmic interplay between Meric Long's guitar and Logan Kroeber's drums, where the guitar seemingly gets drum parts as the song develops, all seamless in Dodos’ fashion. Without resting this instrumental dance, they visit ‘60s reverb-sweetened pop thickened with odd and mixed meters on "The Bubble," and the punky "Competition" is tasty indie rock single fare with a rousing herky-jerky quality. Moments of relative serenity are still impressively active. The more somber "Darkness" ("Erase all that I write in perfected endings") is packed with relentless, ultra-syncopated percussion and guitar. Whatever the tone of a song, the persistent, intricate instrument work is completely digestible and even catchy; if the Dodos have a trick, this is it, and they have mastered it. “Retriever” attacks with still more accented syncopation without getting monotonous -- it’s fuzzier, and the hyperactive guitar-drums crossfire is pretty electrifying, almost feeling like a live show. Elongated, pleading vocals (“And oh is that the way, the way that you want it still?”) top off the song's raw character. When things get a little proggier on the closer, the seven-minute "Pattern/Shadow" (with backing vocals by Brigid Dawson of Thee Oh Sees), Long's easygoing vocals and grungy guitar effects keep things warm. Altogether, the material is mature, technically proficient as ever, lively, and sounds rough and real; it’s hard to imagine Individ won’t be a hit with fans, intermittent or long-standing. © Marcy Donelson /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 November 5, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 31, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Deerhoof celebrated their 20th anniversary with the release of La Isla Bonita, another fine example of how the band changes course on almost every album. Like Deerhoof vs. Evil and Breakup Song before it, Bonita is another concentrated burst of whimsy. It's a format that suits Deerhoof, as well as this album's inspiration, the Ramones. The cover of "Pinhead" they played during rehearsals shaped the album's approach, and in many ways, this is Deerhoof's version of garage rock (or technically, basement rock -- the band bashed out La Isla Bonita in Ed Rodriguez's basement in a week). The Ramones influence is clearest on "Exit Only"'s blitzkrieg riffs and bratty beats, though lyrics like "welcome to speech of freedom" are Deerhoof through and through. Elsewhere, they reconfigure punk's guitar-bass-drums approach into fascinating interplay. Rodriguez and John Dieterich's guitars are more active than they've been in some time: "Tiny Bubbles" alone ranges from surf-lounge to intricate, knotty passages and tight, disco-inspired rhythms, while the pair's work on "Big House Waltz" is dense and spacious at the same time. It's a big shift from Breakup Song's fractured electropop -- indeed, there's a surprisingly funky groove behind the winning "Paradise Girls," an homage to "smart girls" who "play bass guitar" with a riff reminiscent of the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster," and "Oh Bummer," which boasts a taut rhythm section that evokes Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Elsewhere, Deerhoof play off their own history as much as any of their other influences: "Doom," a fuzzy rocker that's more charming than storming, could've appeared on one of their early-2000s albums along with the appealingly herky-jerky "Last Fad," while "Mirror Monster" puts their often-neglected serene side in the spotlight. Even on these songs, it feels more like Deerhoof are coming full circle than looking back; that they've been able to put different but cohesive spins on their sound so well, and for so long, is truly remarkable. © Heather Phares /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 August 20, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released July 31, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released July 22, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Canadian quintet Alvvays (pronounced "Always") burst out of the gates with their self-titled 2014 debut, a brief but bright collection of nine songs of nearly perfect, sugar-coated indie pop. The band call on inspiration from the jangly C-86 movement and bands like the Wedding Present or Talulah Gosh, but also lean on the fuzzy, homespun spirit of early American independent bedroom pop and twee while steeping their tunes in a languid dreaminess borrowed from Teenage Fanclub at their most wistful. The album opens with the one-two punch of "Adult Diversion" and "Archie, Marry Me," two single-worthy songs of noisy guitars, gloriously deadpan vocal harmonies, and sticky melodies cemented in the listener's skull by the interplay between guitar and singer Molly Rankin's cascading vocals. The album is full of highlights, from the synthy melancholia of "Party Police" to the Orange Juice-esque interweaving guitar lines of "Atop a Cake." While Alvvays relies on the same reverb-heavy production that an entire generation of beach-obsessed indie pop bands has tended toward, they surpass many of their peers by delivering more inspired songs, often with unexpected shifts or breakthrough moments. This debut surpasses simply being "promising" by delivering pop as beautifully composed as that of contemporaries like Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Veronica Falls, while also tying in sentiments of punk gusto, twee wonderment, and dream pop thoughtfulness without relying strictly on the musical blueprints of any of those genres. Instead, Alvvays find a way to articulate their heart-struck, dream-like songs with deft intention and control. © Fred Thomas /TiVo