Snap Sounds

Snap sounds



Hypnotic Eye


Of all the rock singers who could truly be considered “legends,” Tom Petty is perhaps the least oligarchic. His records under his name alone are producer-driven affairs that put his voice at the center, but with the Heartbreakers, he’s merely a frontman, a central cog in a machine that’s been churning out unpretentious rock for almost forty years. On this latest Heartbreakers record, he’s even more understated than usual. For much of the album, he sings through a tinny, almost Strokes-like filter that serves to both give his voice an appealing grit and bring out the sounds of the band around him.

But aside from that, Hypnotic Eye is almost devoid of producerly interference. It sounds above all else like a garage jam, cycling through rock, blues, psychedelia, and even some peaceful ballads. The album’s worst moment, the overwrought “Shadow People,” is the only one that sounds like a conscious effort to make something “good.” But it’s the only bad song here, and the fact that Petty can still make good music with so little effort gives me an odd kind of hope for this rock institution whose best albums should, by all logic, be long behind them.




(People’s Potential Unlimited)

Moon B makes largely the same sort of proudly analog neo-boogie as Dam-Funk, but while Dam-Funk’s music is starry-eyed and optimistic, Moon B’s is dark and unsettling. His music has never been gnarlier than on II. Though the universe B conjures on his second album is contained within only 31 minutes of music, it seems huge and labyrinthine, filled with darkened streets and dimly lit windows. The drums beat cautiously like nervous footsteps, and the ghostly synth chords that form the melodic core of the music seem to watch you from the shadows. A good aesthetic reference point is the Simpsons episode “Bart Sells His Soul,” in which Bart wanders panicked through a deserted, beautifully rendered labyrinth of quiet skyscrapers.

Though this might make II sound too scary for everyday listening, it’s surprisingly great chillout music. The music is never frightening, just spooky, and it’s got a Boards of Canada-like ability to fade into the background while still keeping you on your toes. Its length also prevents the album from devolving into monotony — all the songs follow the same sonic template, but not to their detriment. This is some of the best mood music I’ve heard this year so far.



Part 6 EP


Matthew Herbert’s ability to write great songs is almost a liability. Under the mononym Herbert, the British producer released the holy trinity of Around The House, Bodily Functions, and Scale between 1998 and 2006, each containing a phenomenal, almost absurdly good second track. These songs — “So Now…,” “It’s Only,” and “The Movers And The Shakers,” respectively — cast long shadows not only over the rest of their parent albums but the increasingly conceptual work Herbert’s been producing under his full name lately. In dropping his first name from his new Part 6 EP, he’s made things a lot harder for himself given how much he has to live up to. Part 6 doesn’t quite live up to those albums, but it’s still exemplary house music. Its vocally-oriented track “One Two Three” would be maybe the fifth-best song on any of his great Herbert albums, and perhaps the second-best on most decent-quality house albums. The others are pummeling club bangers that would sound great in the club but aren’t quite as hospitable for casual listening as most of Herbert’s work. But each track is layered with peculiar, welcome details that remind you one of house’s all-time greats is back in action. (Daniel Bromfield)

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I Never Learn (LL/Atlantic)

Lykke Li is a pop star who surrounds herself in clouds of reverb, so the obvious reference point for her music is Phil Spector’s ’60s girl-group productions. But strip away the layers of sound and her third album I Never Learn is essentially a set of adult-contemporary ballads that would slot nicely into any KOIT lineup. These songs are personal rather than universal, introverted rather than extroverted, subtle and slight rather than big and dumb — though there are some pretty shameless hooks on this album, readymade for festival sing-a-longs.

Li and her production team took a gamble on taking the brutally-short approach to this album; it’s only nine songs over 33 minutes, and music this fluid usually needs more room to splash around. But these songs are rich enough in content that each one feels like an event. “Just Like A Dream” and “Silver Line” have great choruses, while “Gunshot” and “Heart of Steel” feature neat production touches (slinky organ and twangy Morricone guitar, respectively). The album’s highlight is undoubtedly “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone,” a great acoustic ballad that could make it onto the charts with a bit more exposure.


Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Polyvinyl)

Xiu Xiu has always been a bit silly. Though Jamie Stewart’s long-running project is often brutal in its emotional honesty, there’s no denying how over-the-top Stewart’s gasping vocals are, how absurd their lyrics can be are. Angel Guts: Red Classroom continues this trend, and it’s more theatrical than ever. And while this is the first Xiu Xiu album in about ten years that still might have the power to shock people, it also has more ill-advised moments than usual.

The main edge Angel Guts has musically over past Xiu Xiu albums is the change in Stewart’s voice. The vulnerability and hurt remains, but it’s overshadowed by a commanding deepness. The porn ode “Black Dick” wouldn’t be effective if he didn’t sing it with such power. But then we have him screeching “IT TASTES LIKE A COOKIE” for no reason, opening and closing the album with shameless noise, delivering monologues that scan as melodramatic even by Xiu Xiu standards. Though Angel Guts is flawed, it’s their most engaging listen in a decade, and it also features two of their best songs to date: the Michael Jackson-like “Stupid In The Dark” and “Adult Friends,” the most terrifying aging ballad I’ve ever heard.


Three Love Songs (Orchid Tapes)

There are 12 songs on this album, none of them are really about love, and if you put this on during an acid trip you’d probably be in ultimate entrapment by track four. Sam Ray’s ironic streak has always been pretty obvious — he’s got a folk project called Julia Brown (he’s not really a girl, haha) and previously performed under the name Teen Suicide. But as annoying as indie-rock irony can be, Ray can get away with it simply on the virtue of how sincere his music is. As on his wonderful Julia Brown debut To Be Close To You, Three Love Songs evokes the mundane but beautiful — empty rooms, road crews working late at night, light filtering through curtains.

As such, it’s a great all-purpose ambient album. Just about any situation could easily be soundtracked by a track on this album; while the first half of the record is a bit melancholy and might ruin your day in the wrong context, the second half is playful and almost goofy. There are better ambient albums for specific situations, but if I can’t think of the proper music pairing for a certain environment, I’d feel safe turning to Three Love Songs.

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Why Do The Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)

How can you love music that hates you? Drew Daniel grapples with this question throughout his third album as The Soft Pink Truth, which seeks to reconcile his homosexuality with his love of black metal — a genre with a history of hatred and violence. His thesis: Black metal is already pretty gay. Why Do The Heathen Rage? consists of 10 disco covers of black metal songs, and in this context, the “blasphemers” and “fornicators” who inhabit these songs could easily be gay men as seen through a prejudiced lens. It’s a powerful thought, but it’s also kind of funny.

Why Do The Heathen Rage? is an admirable project, not least because Daniel is making himself a walking target for those who add to black metal’s hateful reputation. But it’s also a great listen. Humor is key to the album’s appeal, especially when Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner puts on her best diva voice to sing about penetration and desecration. But there are also some gorgeous moments — the slow house chord that surfaces at the end of “Sadomatic Rites” is nothing short of breathtaking. This is one of the most audacious experimental albums I’ve ever heard, and easily one of the year’s best albums.


It’s Kiwi Time EP (Granted Access)

There are a million indie pop bands in the world, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that most of them are just in it for the money. It’s increasingly rare to hear an indie pop band that sounds like it actually wants to play indie pop, and Kiwi Time is one of these. The San Francisco-via-Belarus quartet’s debut EP, It’s Kiwi Time, showcases a style that’s anything but original but nonetheless possesses a certain passion and respect for pop music history that’s all too rare in this field.

Opener “Butterfly” starts out sounding like a Spotify commercial, but the disco-esque vocals quickly lift the song to another plane. “Be My Love” uses the Beatles-pioneered trick of ending much faster than it should, and it’s a relief to hear a band use this tactic in a post-club era where songs often stretch far too long for anywhere but the dancefloor. Both of the album’s guitar solos are seamlessly integrated and lack any irony or tastelessness. Though It’s Kiwi Time is unlikely to elevate its creators above their countless ilk, it’s refreshing in that it fits as comfortably into the universal pop tradition as the indie-pop trend.


Sea When Absent (Lefse)

Shoegaze is one of those genres that seems spent if only because it’s easy to just slap the term on anything. Just as any garage band without a singer can be “post-rock,” any band with a shy vocalist and a lot of pedals can be “shoegaze.” Now more than a quarter of a decade after My Bloody Valentine dropped its debut, A Sunny Day In Glasgow is still pushing the style’s boundaries on their new Sea When Absent. The secret to the band’s success is viewing shoegaze as an approach rather than a genre, and as such, members are not picky about what they slather in reverb.

Rock, dance, hip-hop, and metal sounds swirl around in the maelstrom of this album, never settling but tearing by at thrilling speeds. Sea When Absent‘s kitchen-sink approach most likely owes to the fact that the band members mostly assembled this album via e-mail chain. (The slowed-down coughing at the end of “Double Dutch” suggests kind green buds may also have been involved, especially in tandem with the track’s name.) Though Sea When Absent is uneven and messy, it’s never dull — a rare quality in a genre that anyone with enough cash to blow on pedals can play.

Snap Sounds: Lone



Matt “Lone” Cutler’s heart belongs to hip hop.  It’s easy to forget this given how the British producer only started to attract critical notice after switching from the post-J Dilla instrumentals of his early albums to a style that had more in common with house and rave music. The transition wasn’t terribly unnatural given that his sonic trademark was rich synth chords, a sound rare in hip hop but prevalent in dance.  He kept those intact; he just switched up the rhythm and instantly went from generic beatmaker to underground dance hero, producing one of 2012’s best electronic albums in Galaxy Garden.

Reality Testing is his follow-up, and remarkably, it makes no attempt to refine or outdo Galaxy Garden. It’s less ambitious and more playful, incorporating hip hop influences in equal measure to house influences. Cutler’s cited Madlib and Boards of Canada as influences; though Galaxy Garden carried traces of those artists’ respective hip hop and ambient styles, Reality Testing sounds pretty much exactly like the midpoint between those two.

The result isn’t anywhere near as entertaining or evocative as Galaxy Garden. With the exception of the relentless “Airglow Fires,” the dance-oriented tracks are nothing special compared to the ones on any of his previous albums. A lot of them seem to be based on the same formula he’s used for all his dance tracks, except with a rather dull constant 4/4 kick rather than the skittering rhythms that define his best work. (He’s even using the same chords.) They don’t sound like attempts to refine or replicate his past successes; they’re just not that well-made.

The hip-hop tracks don’t fare much better.  Though “Cutched Under” and “2 is 8” both rank among Lone’s best productions, the other tracks don’t retain much of the his personality and end up sounding more like the generic bedroom “beats” that dominate much of SoundCloud.  As much as Lone loves hip hop, he’s frankly a better dance producer, and it’s a shame he didn’t play more to his strengths here.  If the dance tracks were better, his beats might be more forgivable.

I believe Reality Testing chiefly serves as an establishment of Lone’s independence from musical trends or critical expectation.  If so, it’s an admirable gesture.  Critical acclaim can sometimes scare artists into simply refining their sound rather than expanding on it or exploring new directions, and it’s thus a relief to see Lone continuing to play by his own rules.  But after listening to Reality Testing, I find myself wishing he’d just played it safe.

Snap Sounds






Archy “King Krule” Marshall may look like a callow school-kid, dressed up in his father’s suit, but the South Londoner has the soul and voice of a wise, world-weary bluesman three times his senior. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon — his long-awaited debut LP — is an astonishing achievement, displaying Marshall’s nuanced storytelling, exceptional jazz-based guitar work, and versatility. Over the album’s 14 tracks, he weaves affecting tales of urban ennui, malaise, and disaffection, balanced by fleeting moments of ardent love and nostalgic surrender. Though he wears his influences on his ill-fitting sleeve (Drury, Strummer, Morrissey, Dilla), the finished article sounds like nothing else out now — with dark wave, blues, punk, indie, and electro all thrown into the mix. It is all filtered through Marshall’s singular lens and mature perspective, creating a fresh, cohesive sound while painting an engulfing portrait of his London. — Daniel Alvarez





Belle and Sebastian, ’90s twee sweethearts, are at it again — kind of. This time, the band is serving the general public a tray of audible assorted snacks featuring b-sides from the latter half of its career. Dubbed The Third Eye Centre, no song sounds the same — one track will boast a rockabilly twang (“Last Trip”) and another will be a previously unreleased remix of fan-favorite “Your Cover’s Blown (Miaoux Miaoux Remix).” It’s a solid album, but it’s easy to suss out the dated songs, such as “Suicide Girl,” an anxious love song about the object of singer-guitarist Stuart Murdoch’s affections, an alternative girl that wants him to take nudes of her for the famed early-2000s “punky” soft-core porn site of the same name. But in all, the fun of The Third Eye Centre is getting the chance to hear songs you may have not had the chance to listen to from the back end of Belle and Sebastian’s jam-packed catalog. — Erin Dage





For those who have oft pondered “What if a soul band and a Southern rock group got together and made sweet, beautiful music?” weirdo psychedelic soul band King Khan & the Shrines has the answer with its latest release, Idle No More. Featuring dancey soul numbers like “Luckiest Man,” Stooges-esque songs such as “Thorn in Her Pride,” ditties with ’60s girl group-esque guest spot vocals like “Pray for Lil” — Idle No More combines many genres and musical elements to form a cohesive, well produced album. The album can easily be separated into three acts: dance numbers, slow-ballad interlude, and soul revival resolution. Six years have passed since previous album, What Is!?, and Idle No More has definitely been worth the wait. — Dage





There’s always been this brutal, animalistic thread woven throughout Chelsea Wolfe’s output, and Pain is Beauty is no exception. The LA-via-Sacramento artist’s otherworldly vocals tend often to translate into a wild creature elegantly whipping through a foggy forest. (Indeed, Wolfe described her newest LP as a “love-letter to nature.”) Her powerful soprano hollers are matched to ethereal whispery echoes, maintaining a balance between lightness and darkness, which has become a common theme in her work, as it is in nature. And this vocal balance is a mainstay in Wolfe’s music, no matter what’s backing it instrumentally. Her previous release, 2012’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, was, obviously, acoustic, but the sparse record is still deeply unsettling. With Pain is Beauty, the singer-songwriter returns to a darker, grittier sound. And yet, there’s a more electronic twist on her early doomy experimental guitarwork (as with breakout 2011 record Apokalypsis), bursting with both synths and strings this time, without missing the black-hearted emotional core rooted in all living things. — Emily Savage





Jangly noisepop cacophony with pro-feminist and anti-homophobia lyrics — this Cardiff band’s debut full-length, Weird Sister, hits all the right hot spots and makes them tingle. Plus there’s the name, Joanna Gruesome, a cheeky play on a gentle fellow musician. But Weird Sister speaks for itself, with standout tracks like opener “Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” matching dissonant guitars and pounding drums with lovely melodious vocals that rise into screams at the hook, akin to the Vaselines in bed with L7. There’s also classic K Records-evoking twee ode “Wussy Void,” and jagged noiseball “Graveyard,” which starts off with what sounds like helium seeping out of a balloon. The record includes songs from a 2011 EP, “Sugarcrush,” “Madison,” and “Candy,” further deepening the getting-to-know-you state of the Welsh quintet, a group to which you do need to start paying attention. —Savage


Snap Sounds: Justin Timberlake



It’s 10 songs, seven minutes apiece. A quick look at the track-listing to Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience reveals a giant slice of pop ambition; a brazen comeback effort that practically dares the rest of the Grammy-elite to catch up.

Timberlake’s third solo LP, his first since 2006’s Futuresex/Lovesounds, finds the former *NSync’er and TRL-heartthrob confronting the pop landscape from within, railing against an industry bent on delivering quick sugar fixes, and little more.

The opening track, “Pusher Love Girl,” stands tall as the album’s boldest pop construction, ripping through an airtight, hook-filled R&B tune in its first half, then veering into a loose, funky, jammy section, as welcome as it is superfluous. Another highlight, “Spaceship Coupe,” makes a cosmic, seven-minute slow-jam work convincingly in a capital-P Pop context, thanks to Timberlake’s cool confidence, and veteran producer Timbaland’s deft balance of experimentation and approachability.

Occasionally, though, the songs buckle under their own weight: “Let the Groove Get In” and “Mirrors” begin spinning their wheels after a while, blurring the line between grand ambition and lazy editing. Thankfully, “Suit & Tie” and “That Girl” provide a nice pop-jolt to cut through the surrounding richness, when it threatens to overwhelm.

Sure, the album has its structural flaws, and its tracks occasionally fail to justify their extended runtimes; yet, it’s rather thrilling to hear Timberlake and Timbaland messing with extended song-structures, when a bunch of four-minute edits would’ve completely satisfied the bottom line.

Hopefully, The 20/20 Experience will come as a wake-up call to the record industry, pressuring the Rihannas of the world to quit catering to the lowest common denominator, and take their audience on a wild ride instead.

Snap Sounds: Scott Walker



When pop crooner Scott Walker plunged into the abyss on 1995’s Tilt, he initiated one of the most radical transformations in the history of recorded music, rejecting the tuneful chamber pop of his ’60s-’70s output for a pitch-black sludge of musique concrète, avant-classical, and industrial art-rock. Walker hasn’t looked back since, doubling down with 2005’s The Drift, and now Bish Bosch: an album as erratic, scary, unhinged, darkly hilarious, and wildly imaginative as any in recent memory.

Replacing The Drift’s murky, viscous slog with rapid-fire sequences of tension and release, Bish Bosch is defined by its jarring contrasts between musical extremes. Ominous electronic and orchestral drones barely establish themselves, before giving way to noisy, abrasive blocks of punishing drums and brawny guitar stabs.

Exotic instrumentation (harpsichords, Samba percussion, zithers, ukuleles), textural shifts, and lyrical themes (Julius Caesar, fart noises, Polynesia, Yo Mama jokes) pop up and recede impulsively, building an array of musical possibilities as dense, thorny, and encyclopedic as a Pynchon novel, with Walker’s quivering, operatic baritone as its sole, anchoring force.

Difficult as it is to proclaim Bish Bosch 2012’s best album, (its hulking weight and unyielding grimness renders casual listening a near impossibility) no LP this year has matched its gutsiness and sonic adventurousness, or consolidated so many ideas into a single musical statement.

With everyone from from McCartney to Rod Stewart sacrificing their integrity to fill arenas and Christmas stockings, Walker remains an anomaly among 70-year-olds in the music biz. May he continue on his long, strange trip down the rabbit hole.

Snap Sounds: Brian Eno



The liner notes to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports (1978) act as a veritable Ambient Manifesto, outlining the philosophy of a genre he developed as an alternative to Muzak, and other background fluff. In the final sentence, he asserted, “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” By that count, Eno’s solo Warp debut, LUX, is his most successful foray into ambient territory in quite some time.

A fluid composition presented in four parts, LUX recalls the aesthetic consistency of other protracted works (namely 1985’s Thursday Afternoon and 1993’s Neroli) while employing the broader tonal palette, and diversified instrumentation (guitar, bass, piano and violin, united by lingering, electronic drones) that defined his Ambient 1-4 series.

The result is a remarkably versatile album, shapeless and unobtrusive enough to float in the background and shade the atmosphere, yet dynamic and mutative enough to reward the scrutiny of active listening. Surely, Eno has a number of stronger albums under his belt, but never has he explored the grey area between “ignorable” and “interesting” so delicately.

Snap Sounds: Bibi Tanga and the Selenites



From the bright electro-funk pulse of the opening track, “Poet of the Soul,” sunlight infuses Bibi Tanga and the Selenites’ latest album, 40 Degrees of Sunshine. An upbeat melange of esoteric samples, funky bass lines, polyrhythmic percussion, soulful, multi-lingual crooning, and Walt Whitman poetry, the twelve tracks distill the best of an array of influences into a potent brew.

Neither the vibrant Afrobeat-ish “Band a Gui Koua,” sung in Sango, the nouveau jazz inflections of “Attraction,” nor even the unsettling tone poem “Happy Dust Man,” would be out of place on dance floors from Bangui or Boston, despite their refusal to be neatly categorized. To this refusal, Bibi Tanga and crew offer a preemptive explanation, perhaps apology, on “Dark Funk”. “If you find a name for the music we’re doing…just call us.”

Snap Sounds: Laetitia Sadier



In her 20 years as the lead singer of Stereolab, Laetitia Sadier has dependably imparted a vital, earthy humanity to her band’s sterile, mechanized productions.

In turn, on Silencio, her newest full-length, Sadier forgoes Stereolab’s rigid aura, in favor of a warmer, airier sound, more relaxed in approach, and endearing in its lack of cohesion.

Jumping between sun-kissed bossa nova tributes (“Moi Sans Zach”), psych-lounge numbers a la Air (“There is a Price to Pay for Freedom”), and breezy, Yo La Tengo-ish pop tunes (“Auscultation to the Nation”), Silencio allows Sadier’s various musical influences to breathe and linger, without being upstaged by the motorik propulsion, and Jetsons kitsch, of the Stereolab formula. An ideal sunny-day-in-the-Mission-with-headphones record.

Snap Sounds: Midnite Snaxxx



Midnite Snaxxx are like the quintessential cool girls of high school, in an alternate garage-punk universe. Clad in tough leather jackets, singing with a Nikki and the Corvettes-cherry-topped snarl (they even played with Nikki Corvette this summer), creating rock’n’roll Ramone-esque pop hooks, and hitting the shit out of those drums — they positively explode on their debut self-titled LP in tracks like “Spend the Night,” and slow things down sweet on noisy rock ballads such as “In Your Eyes.”

And why shouldn’t they? The budget rock trio is made up of musicians who’ve played previously in Trashwomen, Bobbyteens, Cyclops, and Loudmouths (and, full disclosure: Guardian staffer Dulcinea Gonzalez). The album cover already deserves a slot next to iconic covers of yore: the Who’s The Who Sell Out, or, more to the style, Bowie’s vibrant Aladdin Sane. The pop art illustration of a hot dog with a dripping ice cream scoop plopped in the center looks satisfying, sugary, and messy, much like the act itself. Snacktastic.

Snap Sounds: Guantanamo Baywatch



Thick, wet reverb lays the sexy underwater groundwork for most Guantanamo Baywatch songs. Those surfy chords echo forever then build to dissolving fizzy chaos on the sleazy Portland, Oreg. trio’s full-length Chest Crawl, which veers towards the Ventures on uppers during mostly instrumental songs like opener “Barbacoa” and the title track, or rises to unintelligible screams like Dick Dale on crank on tracks such as “Frizella” and energetic doo-wop standout “Baby Please.”

There’s also some Phantom Surfers and our own nasally King Lollipop/Shannon and the Clams underpinnings, but this is under such a haze it’s difficult to make those direct comparisons. Despite all the racket, the record has the right timing for aliens go-go dancing on mars. Or better yet, San Franciscans surfing an urban packed bus.

Snap Sounds: Sébastien Tellier


By Irwin Swirnoff


His last record was called Sexuality, and tapped into the most up front and direct body moving songs of his career, but Sébastien Tellier has always made music dripping with raw sensuality. His latest album sheds the immediate dance-pop sensibility of his last offering and finds him delving deep once again in a more nuanced, textured, and left of center romantic pop approach.

Much like one of his French forefather, Serge Gainsbourg, Tellier has the ability to play with genre while always keeping his signature vision and infectious charisma. My God Is Blue sounds like the sensation of soft touches across your body in bed with a window cracked and slight clouds of steam flowing up and down around you. Others try so hard to be suave, but with Tellier it flows naturally.

Snap Sounds: Carletta Sue Kay


Carletta Sue Kay
(Kitten Charmer)

Carletta Sue Kay is the female alter-ego of SF musician Randy Walker, and this identity shift pushes his art in some astonishing directions. (Walker’s previous band Mon Cousin Belge was notorious for its onstage performance art antics). Androgynous to its core, and loaded with overtones, his vocal delivery as Carletta Sue Kay can recall Annie Lennox, Gene Ween, and Joanna Newsom, all in the same breath. Normally, a voice this powerful is cultivated over years of recording, so it’s hard to believe that Incongruent is this former Amoeba employee’s debut full-length.

While the album certainly has its moments (namely the Pete Townshend homage “Joy Division”, and the floaty jazziness of “For the Birds”) Walker’s voice sets an impossibly high standard for the music to live up to. “Just Another Beautiful Boy” leans a bit heavily on rock-meets-showtunes schtick, and “Sloppy Kisses” flaunts its tweeness to the point of contrivance. But overall, Incongruent marks the emergence of an artist with serious potential. Equally commanding and vulnerable, Walker’s voice is sure to devastate anyone who gives it a chance.

Snap Sounds: Lone


Galaxy Garden

Matt Cutler’s back catalogue as Lone is the sonic equivalent of cotton candy: lush and ethereal to the point of cheapness, with little in the way of tension or dynamic range to keep it in check. While this aesthetic has yielded some (insanely) enjoyable results, one couldn’t help but long for something more substantial from the British beatmaker. Lone addresses that concern substantially on his fourth LP, Galaxy Garden, which finds him developing his brand of electronica like never before.

“As a Child” and “Cthulhu”, the two collaborations with NYC’s Machinedrum, indicate just how far Lone has come since 2010’s Emerald Fantasy Tracks. The sparse, offbeat, J Dilla-ish drum loops are swapped out for generously layered, and frantically syncopated percussion; the addition of vocals (namely on closing track “Spirals”) gives the songs an increased sense of propulsion; the bright, glossy synth melodies, while front-and-center as ever, are tinted with a sense of melancholy, lending them a satisfying weight.

While Lone’s previous work amounted to little more than pleasant fluff, Galaxy Garden gives the listener something to chew on.

Snap Sounds: Bullion


Love Me Oh Please Love Me EP

Releasing singles and EPs as Bullion since 2008, laptop-whiz Nathan Jenkins has managed to avoid the generic, cut-and-paste aesthetic that’s corralled so many of his colleagues into mediocrityville. He’s always edited his samples with an old-school rock musician’s touch, allowing the drums, synths, and guitars to breathe, instead of exposing them to heavy-handed whiplash.

With the release of Love Me Oh Please Love Me, the British beatmaker has taken a hard left-turn with his craft. He writes lyrics, sings, and plays guitar. There’s even a Robert Wyatt cover. This is the sound of a musician striving to escape a creative rut, reaching far beyond the confines of a genre riddled with self-imposed limitations.

Much like Bibio’s Ambivalence Avenue (2009), the EP finds Bullion weaving a newfound folk influence through the IDM and hip-hop themes we’ve come to expect of him, resulting in a jerry-rigged fusion that sounds somewhat off, but intriguingly so.

While it’s not his most consistent or successful work (that would be 2009’s Young Heartache), this EP shows more promise than any previous Bullion release, opening up his creative future in a big way.

Snap Sounds: Void




Void was hardcore in a blender. It was loud, frantic, messy, and fast as hell. A brief yet seminal (there’s that word again) punk act, formed in 1979 D.C., Void was known equally for its early mix of hardcore and thrash, as its frenzied live shows, which often turned violent. And for such a memorable act, we future listeners were left with little to actually, well, listen to. It was all buried in seven-inches, splits, and hard-to-find comps.

Nearing the end of 2011, Dischord announced it would release a comprehensive catalogue of the long-gone band’s songs, and it delivered. Sessions 81-83 essentially spans the life of Void in 34 songs, and includes 20 unreleased tracks, live performances, standouts like “Dehumanized,” and thrashy covers (Black Flag’s “Wasted”). Fittingly, the disc ends with a live “My Rules,” recorded in ’83, which simply cuts out, like someone unplugged the amps and walked away. 

“Dehumanized” audio track:

With moving pictures, Void is even better:

Snap Sounds: Islands




Nick Thorburn started constructing A Sleep & A Forgetting alone, on a piano, while processing a painful breakup. His soul-exposing lyrics carry questions and incredulity. Although there aren’t many uplifting spots in here — literally every song is sad — his voice oscillates between sunny and depressive, heartfelt and sardonic. Quite a conceptual turn from Islands’ last album, Vapours, which featured upbeat, carefree love songs.

In a daring act of honesty Thorburn, who says he’s “always hidden behind devices and humor” in his music, directly places himself in “This is Not a Song” through a third-person reference (“Nick, if you ever learn, it never shows”). The final, and perhaps most impactful, track — “Same Thing” — simulates a hanging sense of hopelessness and craze-inducing monotony via robot-like drum machine. A resigned melancholy permeates this album and leaves you meditating on love’s foreboding nature.


Please enjoy these dancing skeletons:

Snap Sounds: Young Magic




Hearing a band being described as “tribal electronic” gives me a headache, but Young Magic actually pulls it off on its debut full-length, Melt. This New York-via-Australia trio works irregular drum machine beats, swirling synths, and haunting vocals into dark, psychedelic pop songs. The sluggish, heavily reverbed “Night In The Ocean” is sensual and explosive. With its fluttering synths and repeated “I found love with you” vocals, “Jam Karet” is catchy and almost chant-like. “The Dancer” opens with a few creepy music box notes, and features what sounds like a shrieking tropical bird.

There are a lot of playful juxtapositions of ambient nature sounds and electronic elements on Melt, creating a feeling of these tracks being played on a MPC in some distant, secluded cave. Supposedly, the album was recorded all over the world, in Germany, Iceland, and Australia. These songs sound vaguely exotic and, as the band’s name suggests, snugly rooted in the occult. 


The video for “Night in the Ocean” is equally sexy:

Snap Sounds: In the Christmas Groove



Sick of the usual holiday favorites (though I’ll never tired of Saint Mariah), I was pleased as rare twist punch with In the Christmas Groove — a compilation of obscure stone cold soul, funk, and other vintage grooves from Christmas past, namely the 1960s and ’70s holiday spirits.

Kicking off with Jimmy Reed’s funkified “Christmas Presents Blues,” the album can instantly be split into two kinds of songs — those that would stand on their own, Christmastime or not, and those with an unavoidable level of merry X-mas kitsch. Most poignant of the bunch is Harlem Children’s Chorus’ soulful “Black Christmas” hoping for “that moment when/there’s peace on earth/good will to men/in the ghetto/Black Christmas.” The most James Brown-esque, get-on-your-feet and let’s dance, track come courtesy J.D. McDonald: “Boogaloo Santa Claus.” Hint: there are a few NYE tunes to help you ride out the holidays.

Get into it:



Snap Sounds: Mwahaha


(Mwahaha Music)

Poor choice in band name aside, Oakland psych-rock quartet Mwahaha’s debut has a lot to offer. On album opener “Swimmer,” Ross Peacock sings “I swim deeper through darkness and danger / from the surface and its beautiful light” in an alluring falsetto over warm synth tones. 

The colorful, swirling fractals of an acid trip appear, then the song dips into heavy reverb and clattering percussion as Mwahaha enters noise rock territory. And that’s only the first track. “Poinsettia” is a dark, lusty, drum machine-driven dance anthem. “Love” — featuring tUnE-YarDs’ Merrill Garbus — is all tribal rhythms, wailing guitar, and lush vocal harmonies. Garage rock shifts into the sound of actual rocks being tossed into a pond on “Rivers and Their Teeth,” and closing track “Bathynomus Gigantes” is an 11-minute exercise in weirdness.

Listen to “Love:”

Mwahaha live at the Uptown:

Snap Sounds: Thee Oh Sees


By Irwin Swirnoff

(In The Red)

It’s very easy to take things for granted in San Francisco, and in many ways that’s been the demise of so many amazing things in this city; we forget to applaud, support, and revel in the magic when it’s here, only to lament it when it’s taken away. Thee Oh Sees are on fire, this is their second full length of the year. Their work ethic is as charged as the songs that fill this record. Something happens when you listen to Carrion Crawler/The Dream, you blast it loud and then you begin to move, and sweat, and get out of your head and into your body and feel so raw and alive. Don’t take them for granted; they are the best rock band on the planet right now. See videos after the jump.

Pretty amazing, the band’s whole set at New Parish:

Or if you prefer a quicker snippet of Thee Oh Sees live:

Or just want to hear a track off Carrion Crawler/The Dream, here’s “Heavy Doctor:”

Snap Sounds: Super 11



Led by hand drumming, three-stringed n’goni lute, and organic pitch shifting Malian chant, Super 11’s Super Onze is a compelling set of songs. The band, a collective formed in a remote region of Northern Mali, plays Takamba, a type of music typically created for weddings and other ceremonies. It comes from a rich musical history, linked to other artists in the area, and in style to acts such as Ali Farka Touré.

I first came to Super 11 through cantorial-blues act Sway Machinery. The Sway Machinery traveled to Mali a few years back to work on an album and Gao-based Super 11 ended up appearing on the New York act’s double record — a brilliant decision. It’s no wonder the collab worked. Merely explore the fiery opening vocal solo on Super Onze‘s “Khoumeissa,” or fall deep into any of the album’s thumping hand-made dance beats. It’s available at

Snap Sounds: Celsius 7’s “Life Well Spent”


“First date was lovely, and the second was stellar: by the third I was liking you hella,” Bay Area MC Celsius 7 states on my Indian Summer jam “Difficult” from his new album Life Well Spent. Leave it to  the former Psychokinetics crew member to vibrantly revive the hoary “hella” chestnut — it’s not the first time you hear it on a disc that’s full of sunny tracks from the hip-hop comfort zone, and also includes references to Wild Style, Krush Groove, Doug E. Fresh, Rubik’s Cube necklaces, “Where’s the beef?,” and Dungeons and Dragons. Hey, what’s that? An EPMD sample? Aw yeah.

“I don’t keep up much with current hip-hop,” the down-to-earth rapper told me over the phone. “A lot of it just doesn’t catch my ear. I’m drawn more to the classics like Outkast, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Nas, like that. Or else more underground stuff like El-P, Zion I, Aesop Rock, Yelawolf. Later Eminem is good, too. And my friends laugh at me because I listen to a lot of what they call “Castle Rock,” like Arcade Fire, Muse, Black Keys. Heartfelt lyrics with good music.

“But Life Well Spent is my ode to the Golden Age of hip-hop — specifically the Golden Age of Bay Area hip-hop, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was such a tight family of MCs and clubs like Tru Skool and Elefunk, when you could go out to the club every night and there would be a free exchange of creativity and ideas.” Catchy tracks off the new joint like “Pop Rox,” “Heavy Mental,” and “Small Science” bring to mind that time, while the entrancing opening run of “Minds Like Me,” “Givin’ Up,” and “Don’t Take Time” perfectly embody it.

Cel’s style may hark back to the glory days with an easy flow, catchy hooks, and subject matter that roams from fly girls to money problems to ladder-climbing ambition (and back around to fly girls) — but the production on Life Well Spent, his follow up to 2008 solo debut “Wanderlust,” is sparkling fresh and hints at the new. A large roster of guest — including Baby Jaymes, iLL Media, Foreign Legion, Loyalist, Denizen, and the notorious Dirt Nasty (a lifelong friend from Cel’s days growing up in Alameda) — helps bring everything up to date.

And for those who may get the impression that Celsius 7 is a wholly wholesome soul — the opposite of his raunchy, raunchy cousin Smooth Rick of raunchy, raunchy Bay rap collective Kalri$$ian — well, Celsius still comes through with the outright dirty talk on “KnockFace” (unsurprisingly joined by Dirt Nasty).

“I’m always looking to challenge myself,” Cel told me. “My first album was pretty much all on my own. This one’s more a collaboration and explores more sides of me. The idea of it re-energized me to move on to the next phase.”