Sound Check

Various Artists / Radio Algeria / Sublime Frequencies 029
For those not familiar with the Sublime Frequencies’ explosion of exotica over the last few years, Radio Algeria is a stellar example of curator Alan Bishop’s region/world/mind-spanning collage work using the radio as his only source. Presented with minimal liner notes, Radio Algeria does not hide behind a veil of academia, but rather forces a cathartic aural journey. Bishop’s selection from Algeria’s sun-scorched airwaves is glorious, lush, exotic and at times ludicrous – precisely what one would expect from a cofounder of the Sun City Girls, one of the most confounding rock outfits to come out of the ’90s. Here we find lo-fi snippets of deeply resonant drones, studio banter, ancient Algerian folk, jingles and pop-rai fusion juxtaposed within a dream-like flow, eliciting the deepest feelings of fascination. Will Fewell

The Album Leaf / Into the Blue Again / Sub Pop
The Album Leaf is San Diegan Jimmy LaVelle’s project which has garnished a new platform for mature, progressive music in the infamous California post-punk hotbed. Far from his involvement with dark instrumentalists Tristeza, funk-punk veterans GoGoGo Airheart, and the most loved/hated sci-fi grind entrepreneurs the Locust, Into the Blue Again finds LaVelle at his most intimate with ten mood inducing Boards of Canada–meets­–Black Heart Procession tracks that radiate solitude and contemplative living. Consumed with subtle layers of strings and electronics, this otherwise piano-driven gem contains all of the elements that compose timeless, heartfelt records. Fred Miketa

Broadcast / The Future Crayon / Warp
Not quite a year after the release of the excellent Tender Buttons, Birmingham’s Broadcast has returned with a retrospective filled with B-sides, rarities and EP tracks. An eclectic sampling from the English band’s storied oeuvre, The Future Crayon focuses on the more experimental and instrumental leanings that comprise a good portion of their signature psychedelic future rock. Tracks like the tribal “Test Area” might be comfortably enjoyed in a lounge circa 2056, while the epic and smoldering “Unchanging Window/Chord Simple,” from the Extended Play Two EP, burns with the creative vision that powers this always original and subtly daring band. Jonah Flicker

Hot Chip / The Warning / Astralwerks
In the battle for supremacy among electronic music duos, Daft Punk and the Postal Service now have company with London’s Hot Chip. The Warning is more diverse than releases by their rivals of the keys (synthesizer and computer), with shifting tempos, memorable lyrics, and beats that run the gambit of electronic music. “And I Was a Boy from School” is of the club-pop variety with a danceable thump and an ostinato synth line that supports Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor’s vocal harmonies. The title track is lighter with hints of daydreams and the warmth of summer, but, true to Hot Chip style, juxtaposed with satirical and seemingly misplaced lyrics, “Hot Chip will break your legs / snap off your head.” Joe DeFranceschi

The Black Keys / Magic Potion / Nonesuch
There is always a period in time when tried and tested sounds are rehashed, re-envisioned, reworked and rewound. While blues with a psychedelic folk rock sound is the current “replay,” what separates rehash from true musicianship is genuinely emotive songs. All this makes sense when you hear “You’re The One” on the Black Keys’ stellar fourth album Magic Potion. Dan Auerbach plays a romantically pensive guitar riff that wails just as sadly as he does about love’s effects on the heart and soul, while Patrick Carney drums a steady beat that mimics a lonely heart. The duo composes a sound of simple, yet timeless rhythms, filled with intense emotions pouring out of every note. “Strange Desire” shows off Auerbach and Carney’s musicianship with its complex melodic breakdown, taking listeners on a musical journey into the strange desires found in the heart of Auerbach. Omar Jude Laurent

The Grates / Gravity Won’t Get You High / Dew Process
Breathlessly rushing in from Australia, the Grates gleefully yelp out their brand of garage punk-pop with all the subtlety of a 10-year-old with ADHD. Singer Patience Hodgson’s gloriously juvenile lyrics keep the tone light – on “Lies are Much More Fun,” she announces, “I’m gonna go like this to you / la la la la la!” and on the lead-off single “19 20 20,” she flaps her lips after singing, “Oh yeah bobobobo.” But lest the album whirl itself into a post–sugar high comedown, the Grates deliberately slow the tempo and up the thoughtfulness on “I am Siam,” a gently melodic piece that culminates with a buzzing swirl of guitar distortion to punctuate Hodgson’s plaintive assertions that “no one’s gonna color me.” Bottom line? They’re Grate! Lee Wang

The Mountain Goats / Get Lonely / 4AD
When it comes to playing and penning his moving, idiosyncratic songs, despondency provides the perfect motivation for John Darnielle, head billy of the Mountain Goats. With the fourth Mountain Goats release on label 4AD in as many years, Darnielle shares a heart-wrenching, lonesome collection of narrative-driven numbers, sad as ever and more polished with strings and horns and keys accompanying that familiar acoustic strum. Sonically, Get Lonely is a far cry from the bedroom boombox recordings, but thematically his inner anguish of love lost is as raw as pure human emotion. Hauntingly hopeless, this record intimates that making music to cry by is the only thing Darnielle hasn’t given up on. Bryan Derballa

French Kicks / Two Thousand / Startime International/Vagrant Records
On Two Thousand, French Kicks has demonstrated mastery over the ingredients of quality music. A tasteful blend of ethereal melody, harmony and rhythm presents itself in a refreshingly timeless fashion. The now-staple dance tempo of indie rock drumming is up front, yet far from overbearing. Tinny guitar twangs gloss most album tracks, but never come close to being corny or overdone as notes pinpoint the solid canvas of drum and bass. Angelic instrumentations climb and descend over suspended backing vocals as the rhythm pilots into crashing, layered and pastel-colored choruses. All tracks are seemingly constructed from similar blueprints but each with a specific distinction. Two Thousand is a well contained thought which transcends both beauty and euphoria. William Goodman

Sean Smith / Sacred Crag Dancer, Corpse Whisperer / Isota Records
Acoustic chords and folk tunes radiate from singer and songwriter Sean Smith’s new album Sacred Crag Dancer, Corpse Whisperer. Haunting and reflective, the stripped down music from this Berkeley-resident reverberates through speakers with a raw southern sound being brought out of the country and into the urban spotlight. One can become transfixed by the way Smith plays the guitar and presents emotions in a effortless manner. All in all, this is a perfect album for long car rides through the country or city traffic, with a few good friends at sitting shotgun. Mollie McWilliams


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