King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard--Flying Microtonal Banana

For their 2017 album Flying Microtonal Banana, King Gizzard decided to investigate microtonal tuning, a non-Western way of tuning that involves intervals smaller than a semitone. They had a custom-made guitar gifted to them, then realized they needed to create other microtonal instruments to match. With a $200 budget each, the band members bought new gear and altered the instruments so they could be tuned in a way that made them compatible. The new tunings don't radically change the band's way of doing things; the songs are still crunchy, twisting jams that have huge hooks and exciting sections of instrumental prowess where they join together in a furious wave of sound that almost feels unstoppable. This time though, the melodies are are more exotic (to ears attuned to Western music anyway) and complex, as the leads are played by the differently tuned guitars, howling Turkish horns, and murky keyboards, giving them a psychedelic twist. The opening "Rattlesnake" sets the scene over seven long minutes of hypnotic guitars and chants, then the following tunes take things to mellower, trance-like places ("Melting"), dole out intense bursts of heavy rock that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Nonagon ("Open Water"), delve into some East-meets-West balladry ("Billabong Valley"), and make the kind of expansive, perfectly layered psych they've specialized in for years ("Nuclear Fusion," "Anoxia"). As the album concludes, it's clear that the experiment was a success and that the microtuned instruments fit in perfectly with their oddball aesthetic. It's also evident that King Gizzard can do no wrong, and as the first of five planned albums for 2017, Flying Microtonal Banana will be hard for them to top. It also sends a message to other bands plying a similar trade that they better step up their games if they want to stay close to King Gizzard's level. ~Tim Sendra,


Grandaddy-- Last Place

A balanced amount of ballads and midtempo songs, lots of synths in the mix, Jason Lytle's offbeat lyrical angle and plaintive vocals, the occasionally epic space opera featuring the recurring humanoid character Jed...all the hallmarks of a Lytle project are in full effect on Last Place. The only question that remains to be answered is whether or not Last Place is a good or less good Lytle project. Put a big bold mark in the "good" column because thanks to a strong batch of songs and some interesting production, the record is a strong comeback. It kicks off with a trio of sleek, steady-rolling rockers that show off Lytle's pleasingly blasé singing style, his knack for an understated hook, and some fiery guitar playing. The rest of the album spools out in more expansive fashion, with more complicated arrangements on tracks like "The Boat Is in the Barn," a bouncing psych-pop tune with a weightless chorus that floats like a late-afternoon cloud formation, and a song or two that actually crank up the tempo to fast, like "Chek Injin." Plus a couple of half-baked melancholy tunes that sound like they were written sometime past 3 a.m. (especially "That's What You Get for Gettin' Outta Bed") and at least one that feels like the most blasé tune Tom Petty never wrote ("I Don't Wanna Live Here Anymore"). It makes for a diverse album within the tight framework that Lytle operates in, and even if it could have been a solo album just as easily, it works as a Grandaddy album too. If not quite as compelling overall as their best work like Sophtware Slump, it's a worthy successor to the very good Just Like the Fambly Cat and a welcome return for the "band." ~TimSendra,

Chicano Batman--Freedom is Free

Hitting the good groove may seem like a simple thing, but it's not. (If it were, anyone could have been James Brown, and a quick spin through his catalog confirms that's impossible.) And the ability to move the crowd can be used to say any number of things. Musical shape-shifters Chicano Batman have drawn from a rich variety of sources for their third album, 2017's Freedom Is Free -- Brazilian Tropicalia, Latin funk, vintage American soul, and R&B, shades of Afrobeat, and psychedelia of all sorts. But the way the band gracefully navigate the nexus between the passionate and the laid-back sides of their musical personality is what makes Freedom Is Free stand out. Just as Funkadelic's classic early albums indelibly merged rock guitars with funk grooves, Chicano Batman make music that makes your hips sway, but with a purposefully easy tempo. They give their music a vibe that's powerful and sensual all at once, merging their influences in a way that doesn't cancel out any of the elements. And like Funkadelic, Chicano Batman's lysergic investigations of inner space are rooted in a reality that doesn't negate optimism, but speaks of an awareness too strong to give upChicano Batman aren't trying to unite One World Under a Groove, but in its best moments, Freedom Is Free suggests this is one band that could be up to the task, and music that engages the mind and the body this well is more than welcome in a time of chaos. ~Mark Deming,

Sun Kil Moon -- Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Following a full-length collaboration with Jesu (and directly preceding a second by a few months), Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood is the first album credited solely to Sun Kil Moon since 2015's excellent Universal Themes. At over two hours long, it's easily one of Mark Kozelek's most ambitious undertakings yet -- or one of the most self-indulgent, depending on the listener's perspective. The album was edited from improvisations with former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, and other than a few bass or keyboard parts and saxophone on one song, Kozelek played all of the other instruments on the album. It's far less guitar-centric than usual for him, and considering that guitar has always been his main instrument, the album is quite a diversion for his sound. Some fans have even remarked that it's the closest thing he's come to writing a hip-hop album so far. The music on this album tends to be quite repetitive and the rhythms are often similar, and since none of the songs really have hooks, it can be hard to tell when songs end if you're listening to the album all the way through. As with the last two SKM albums, there are many spoken word breaks and detours, making the release seem more like an opera than a conventional album. Lyrically, only a few tracks (particularly opener "God Bless Ohio") come close to the fond reminiscences of Benji. He does still occasionally mourn the passing of friends and celebrities, but many of the songs comment on specific news items, and the album is easily his most explicitly political work yet. Among other things, he supports transgender rights, wishes an end to gun violence, and blames Trump's presidency on society's obsession with social media, as well as its lack of attention span or concern with important issues. He also continues to ruthlessly make fun of hipsters, particularly during the scathing "Philadelphia Cop," and he directly jabs at anyone who doesn't like the direction he's taking with his music. "Vague Rock Song" is his biggest piece of audio trollery yet, starting out as an attempt to write a simple, catchy tune, but interrupting it with an unexpected Zappa-inspired part and faux Afro-pop section, and eventually he can't help going back to commenting about his daily activities and the injustice of the world. More so than ever, Kozelek's writing style is literal yet roundabout, and it almost seems like he's more of a social critic or satirist than a musician at this point. However, there is (usually) a point to his rambling -- for all of his bluster, he is truly a humanist, and wishes the best for the world, even if it seems like it's falling apart. ~Paul Simpson,


Tall Tall Trees--Freedays

There’s a mystical quality to the opening track on Tall Tall Trees’ newest record Freedays, and it instantly enchants you and draws you in. Titled “Backroads”, it has that pastoral quality of 1970s folk pop, like a new age Cat Stevens with dreamy harmonies. Tall Tall Trees, the solo project of Mike Savino, recorded Freedays in rural Georgia, and the magic of that solitude seeps through every note of the record. It is introspective and scenic, with a hint of a twang.

                  Savino’s voice is glossy and serene, and his arrangements range from sparse folk to soaring, multi-layered synth orchestrations. “Lost in Time” shows this off best, with its pockets of quiet followed by moments of blissful enormity. Even when the sound grows on Freedays, though, there’s still softness to what Savino creates. His melodies seem to glide and float, majestic but contained. Freedays feels like a piece of art created in the wild. The magnificent “The Riverbend” grows unruly and tangled like a mess of vines, dark and prickly. “SeagullxEagle” is as flighty and grand as the winged creatures of its title, with Savino’s fiery banjo blending magically with quick, tight violin notes.

Freedays shimmers from start to finish. It is imaginative and totally original folk music for a modern world. ~Maeri Ferguson, No Depression

Run The Jewels -- RTJ3

Whereas RTJ2 was the sound of multiple slugs to the chest, RTJ3 is as streamlined and focused as a laser blast between the eyes. Furious and hungry -- with endlessly quotable lyrical zingers to spare -- RTJ3's potency isn't as immediate as RTJ2. However, once it digs its claws in, RTJ3 reveals itself as their best work to date. The interplay between Mike and El remains the main draw, their chemistry elevating them above most contemporaries as they bounce back and forth on agile verses packed with enough outrageous boasts to fill a how-to guide on making more prudish listeners blush. The familiar RTJ sound is once again provided by the production team of El-P, Little Shalimar, and Wilder Zoby, with BOOTS making his return on a pair of album highlights. Following Mike's time on the political campaign trail and the United States' tumultuous 2016, RTJ3 pulls no punches in addressing police brutality and social unrest. "Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)" features TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and strategic Martin Luther King, Jr. speech samples concerning rioting. Brought together by BOOTS' guitar stabs and digital clang, "2100" protracts the fear and uncertainty of "Thieves!" with more atmospheric dread. Zack de la Rocha follows his standout appearance on RTJ2's "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" with an explosive turn on the second part of album-closer "A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters." A call to arms, the track distills all their rage and frustration, as they declare themselves the "gladiators that oppose all Caesars." While "Shareholders/Masters" is the fiery political centerpiece of the album, standout moment "Thursday in the Danger Room" is the heart of RTJ3. An ode to a pair of fallen friends, "Danger Room" is a powerful moment of grieving and forgiveness. Kamasi Washington's saxophone adds warmth and gravitas, a bittersweet requiem that hits as effectively as Donny McCaslin's work on Bowie's Blackstar. In short, RTJ3 is near perfect in its execution. They're so good at this that it seems almost unfair in its effortlessness. ~Neil Yeung,





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