Trans Am have always had a relatively esoteric identity, so it’s hard to know if the band are being sincere when they claim that Thing was originally commissioned as a “sci-fi horror adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.” Regardless of its inspiration, the album is evidence that this electro-inflected rock band haven’t lost any of their spark since their debut disc 14 years ago. Thing is teeming with droning, synth-driven romps like “Naked Singularity” and ambient vocoder-inflected tracks like “Apparent Horizon.” The album’s largest merit is the fact that once you peel back the layers of its 12 tracks, you’ll realize they’re far more complex than they initially appear—and that aural depth is ultimately what makes Thing such a satisfying listen.
Walter Schreifels is probably best known as a member of acts such as Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, and Rival Schools, but his first release under his own name shows that when the distortion is stripped away, Schreifels truly shines. An Open Letter to the Scene features everything from folk-inspired rockers (“She Is to Me”) and jangly tracks reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub (“Ballad of Lil’ Kim”) to intricately arranged pop songs like “Arthur Lee’s Lullaby.” The most impressive songs, however, are Schreifels’s take on CIV’s “Don’t Gotta Prove It” and Agnostic Front’s “Society Sucker”; both lend new emotional resonance to the hardcore classics.
Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson gained fame as the frontman for Icelandic post-rock act Sigur Rós, but his solo release sees him transposing his gift for orchestral explosions into a pop-friendly context (mostly because he’s singing in English). Jónsi’s voice is so distinctive that the songs sound similar to Sigur Rós’s in many ways, but sweetly syncopated tracks like “Boy Lilikoi” manage to evoke Peter Gabriel rather than Mogwai, and melancholy meditations like “Kolniður” display a vulnerability that’s sometimes obscured by the grandiosity of his full-time act. The final result? An album that shows a new side to Jónsi without abandoning the sonic subtleties that have endeared him to countless fans all over the world.
In an increasingly homogenized musical landscape, acts like Foxy Shazam are a rarity, which is what makes the band’s major-label debut, Foxy Shazam, all that more impressive. Combining elements of glam rock, classic rock, and soul, this 15-song collection effortlessly switches from huge pop anthems like “Count Me Out” to orchestrally driven show-tune-esque numbers like “Evil Thoughts” without a hint of irony. Climactic tracks like “Second Floor” may seem a little over the top at first (frontman Eric Nally is reportedly working with kindred spirit Meatloaf on his upcoming album), but Foxy Shazam is dripping with so much sincerity that it’s difficult not to get swept away.
Stateside audiences may not be intimately acquainted with Biffy Clyro yet, but over the course of 15 years and five albums the Scottish trio have...
Roky Erickson is an American treasure, and his first album in 14 years is a not-so-subtle reminder that his relevance hasn’t waned. Produced by Will Sheff and featuring his band, Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil is a heady mix of psychedelia, pop, and ambient experimentation. On tracks such as Crazy Horse–inflected “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” it sounds like Erickson is baring his soul, but there is melody amid the catharsis, most notably on swirling sing-alongs like “Ain’t Blues Too Sad.” Thankfully, instead of slick production, these moments are recorded in lo-fi, making it sound as if you’re standing next to Erickson as he conquers his demons.
With the Shins seemingly out of commission, it was only a matter of time before someone came to reclaim the band’s indie pop crown. And who better than Avi Buffalo? Featuring plenty of soaring harmonies and tasteful guitar flourishes, Avi Buffalo is an impressive debut full-length that Pitchfork aficionados will drool over. In addition to the album’s requisite pop hooks, there are also plenty of surprises, such as the Johnny Marr-aping guitar line on the seven-minute-long “Remember Last Time” and tasteful soloing on “What’s In It For?” This improvisation not only gives Avi Buffalo their own identity, but also keeps the band’s songs from falling back on indie rock’s sometimes formulaic constraints.
She’s been a TRL icon and a twangy country Wrecker. Now, sultry singer Michelle Branch returns to her roots and traces her journey through the tattoos she picked up along the way.