The Melvins : Freak Puke

Leave it to the Melvins to fuck with the formula for apparently nothing more than weirdness’ sake. A year shy of their 30th anniversary, the legendary group – a major influence on both the grunge scene of the early ’90s (drummer Dale Crover played on Nirvana’s Bleach demos and guitar/ vocalist Buzz Osborne later introduced Kurt and Krist to Dave Grohl) and more contemporary stoner/ drone-metallers like Boris and Isis – have chosen to avoid that tricky 19th album slump by randomly rearranging their line-up. A few years back Osborne and Crover merged with bass/drums duo Big Business to form a double-drummer sludge supergroup, but for the recoding of Freak Puke (credited to “Melvins-Lite” and released through Mike Patton’s Ipecac label on June 5) Coady Willis and Jared Warren were relegated – albeit temporarily – to the bench in favour of Mr. Bungle’s Trevor Dunn, who switches throughout the course of the album between bowed upright and standard rock bass. So far, so typically odd, and the music doesn’t disappoint in terms of strangeness either: scraping horror movie strings run into noodling, jazzy guitar riffs, bluesy bluster and hair-metal squall meet punk-rock hollering and pounding rhythms are turned on their head by off-kilter time signatures. There’s even a grinding, growling cover of Wings’ “Let Me Roll It” that would no doubt get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Macca himself if he weren’t so busy being a saint in a country mansion somewhere. Always entertaining, and – even in “Lite” form – heavy as hell, Melvins are in a class of their own; listen to “Leon VS The Revolution” below.

Freak Puke is out June 5 on Ipecac Recordings

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The Walkmen : Heaven

When they first emerged from the ashes of cult indie-rockers Jonathan Fire*Eater just over a decade ago, few would have put money on The Walkmen coming through the Noughties in better shape than the rest of New York’s Class Of 2001. Scrolling through the tracklist of Yes New York, a Walkmen-featuring cash-in compilation from the time celebrating the global interest in the city’s then-resurgent and much celebrated underground rock scene, half the bands featured are gone or forgotten (Longwave, the Witnesses, LCD Soundsystem) whilst many of the others (the Strokes, the Rapture, Interpol) have, at one point or another, found themselves stuck in a rut at the business end of a critical backlash, but since relocating to the Big Apple these ex-D.C. and Philly kids haven’t put a foot wrong. With a distinct, trademark sound – overdriven guitars and organs piled on top of pounding drums to create an epic, windswept U2/ Cure hybrid – established early on, the five-piece have gradually and subtly reinvented themselves over the course of six original albums, the latest of which, Heaven (out June 4) is currently available to preview over at NPR. It’s a glorious record, one that retains some traces of ragged early efforts like “Little House Of Savages” (“Witch”, “Love You Love”) and polishes the classic rock swagger they’ve been perfecting since 2006’s A Hundred Miles Off to a sparkling finish with the title track and “Heartbreaker” (below) but it’s the folky warmth and gentle country swing of tracks like “We Can’t Be Beat” (featuring beautiful harmonies from Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold) and the glowing, sugar-sweet “Song For Leigh” that really set the tone. Nothing here rages like “The Rat” – the frantic Bows & Arrows highlight that remains the group’s best-known track – but the mellower vibe is one that fits them as well as the Mad Men suits they sport in the press photos; now in their 30s, husbands and fathers, their priorities have rightfully shifted and whilst there are plenty of reminders of the boozy lounge band that once covered Harry Nilsson’s Pussycats album song-for-song, Heaven‘s overriding themes (family, contentment) suggest that with this more mature direction the Walkmen are entering yet another – even more rewarding – stage of their so-far spectacular career.

Heaven is out June 4 through Fat Possum in the US and Bella Union in Europe

King Tuff

Kyle Thomas is one of those people that you often see described as a “local hero.” These characters usually fall into one of three categories: weirdos (the glue-sniffer that chases cars and lives in the dumpster behind the chemist), chancers (the guy that supposedly jammed onstage with Tom Petty at that gig that nobody you know actually attended) and dudes whose reputations are based on something real like talent or achievement. Thomas – AKA King Tuff – is something of an amalgamation of all three. A very visible fixture on the Vermont alt-rock scene for a number of years, firstly as part of avant-folk troupe Feathers, then as vocalist with J. Mascis’ stoner metal project Witch and, more recently, front-man of Sub Pop-signed psych-poppers Happy Birthday, his tall tales and larger-than-life persona, combined with a seasoned songwriter’s touch and impressive rock chops, have made him a well-liked and critically-acclaimed legend in his own lifetime. Following on from 2008’s Was Dead, Thomas’ second full-length under the King Tuff moniker is a mouthy little punk of a record with a bruised vagabond heart dressed up in glam rock’s spangly outfits; a sparkling collection of tambourine-shaking stomp-alongs and Southern boogie riff-o-rama, topped off with a sprinkling of flower-child faerie dust. Electrifying rockers like steroid-pumped Bolan boogie “Stranger”, proto-metaller “Bad Thing” and “Anthem”, with its handclaps and twisting lead hook, delicately balance Thin Lizzy bluster and bubblegum power pop, whilst “Unusual World” and “Evergreen” showcase a more pastoral side via wispy psych-folk melodies and jangling acoustic guitars; the group even excel at epic slow-burners, breaking out the wailing solos, splashing cymbals and harmony vocals on “Swamp Of Love” & “Stupid Superstar.” Though it leans heavily on the sounds of the pre-punk ’70s, King Tuff manages to pull off that rarest of feats: not only is it a lot of fun, but it sounds impressively fresh too. Looks like Vermont’s local hero might be about to go global.

King Tuff is out May 28 on Sub Pop

http://soundcloud.com/subpop/sets/king-tuff-king-tuff

Liars : WIXIW

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“I don’t think I’ve been this scared of a record we’ve made since Drum’s Not Dead, when there was definitely a point where Aaron and I said to each other, ‘Are we really gonna release this?’ …We dropped everything that we had learned on the last couple records and tried to really see what it’s like starting from the other end. That’s always pretty frightening.” So quoth Liars front-man Angus Andrew in a recent interview with Pitchfork, discussing the genesis of their soon-to-be-released sixth album WIXIW. Ironically, in terms of what has come before – bare-bones percussive workouts that sounded like the score for a human sacrifice, brutal chainsaw guitar massacres and dread-filled atmospherics seemingly designed to stop anyone that heard them ever going near the woods again – WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”) is actually the least scary thing the trio have ever recorded. The fear of which Andrew spoke was in fact the product of putting aside the traditional rock band tools and creating music, for the first time, using computers and the kind of processes usually associated with electronic music, no doubt compounded by having their label boss Daniel Miller – a pioneer in that particular field – breathing down their necks at all times in his role as the record’s producer. The nerves don’t show, however: as with all their previous experiments, Liars pull it off brilliantly. Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross have previously dipped toes into the muddy waters of punk, Krautrock, industrial noise and horror-core psychedelia, and WIXIW incorporates elements of all these and more alongside synths and programmed rhythms, and a newfound (and already much-discussed) appreciation for those often overlooked qualities melody and harmony. Don’t let the soothing sunrise tones of opener “The Exact Colour Of Doubt” fool you, though; advance reports that this is a Liars “pop” album have, it seems, been somewhat exaggerated. Admittedly, the textures are smoother, the lines sharper, and it would appear Andrew has been putting in the hours to bring out the richness in his vocals, but the overall vibe is as sinister as ever: “Tie me up in a red ribbon/ Teach me how to be a person” the singer intones over the lurching Can groove of “Flood To Flood.” Replace “be” with “kill” and it gives you some idea of the record’s general ambience. Considerably more justified is the hype around the new electronic sound. Pulling from a variety of sub-genres, WIXIW is bound to draw comparisons to Radiohead’s post-OK Computer output (“Octagon” in particular bears a close resemblance to Kid A’s jittery title track), but whereas the Oxford boys only ever really felt like they were raiding the Warp Records dressing-up box, here Liars sound truly committed. Gently pulsing minimal techno beats and Aphex-like pads drive mellower numbers like “Who Is The Hunter” forward whilst, stripped of its rippling guitars and sighing vocals, “His & Mine Sensations” could pass for a Dial or Kompakt track. Raising the tempo slightly, “No.1 Against The Rush” glides along on a swift motorik breeze and “A Ring On Every Finger” swings hypnotically like some electro death march; more raucous are the title track and “Brats”, which incorporate strobing synths, evil bass-lines, acid house squiggles and – in the case of the latter – a straight-up 4/4 house thump. Impressing their “been there, bought the t-shirt” producer can’t have been easy, but the trio make it seem effortless, even managing to incorporate a spooky, acoustic guitar-led interlude (“Ill Valley Prodigies”) without it sticking out like a sore thumb. One of the few groups to successfully explore new directions with each release, Liars are as hard to predict as the weather, but one thing you can rely on is the fact that they will continue to shock and delight. Sure as ever to divide opinion, WIXIW is their finest album to date, an amazingly assured step into the unknown that not only proves the band can achieve anything they set their mind to, but that they can excel at it too and set the bar a little higher in the process.

WIXIW is out June 4 on Mute

El-P : Cancer 4 Cure

After a year or so of being bombarded with bandwagon-jumping, hazed-out “cloud rap”, it’s a real pleasure to behold the triumphant return to the game of Brooklyn’s Jaime Meline, AKA El Producto, AKA El-P. Out of the spotlight since the release of his sophomore solo long-player I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead in 2007, relatively low-key guest verses and production work on releases last year from Das Racist and Mr. Motherfucking eXquire served to acknowledge Meline’s influence (as a rapper, producer and – as boss of the Def Jux label – entrepreneur) on a new generation raised on Company Flow and Cannibal Ox, but did little to prepare for the spectacular impact he would have on hip hop circa 2012: between Killer Mike’s just-released R.A.P. Music – featuring all El-P beats – and his own latest offering Cancer 4 Cure, Meline can justly claim a hefty chunk of the credit for two of the last decade’s best rap albums. Where, as previously discussed, Mike’s record marries brilliantly articulated socio-political commentary to straight-up club-ready bangers, C4C is more abstract, more experimental and an altogether more savage beast. Opening with a rush of clanging, razor-edged breakbeats that recall Fat Of The Land-era Prodigy (the UK rave-punks as opposed to the Mobb Deep rapper), we’re soon thrown head-first into more familiar territory, with all the traits of a “typical” El-P production present and correct; icy synths, lazer-beam FX, stuttering snares and warped, cavernous bass-lines are fused together to create a post-apocalyptic sound-world that is just as terrifyingly futuristic as it was on Co. Flow’s Funcrusher Plus fifteen years ago. Lyrically, too, Meline sticks to the kind of dark-hued themes he’s most comfortable with – corruption, poverty, war, injustice, paranoia – and here his verbal skills are tighter than ever. Even in the company of some of the best MCs around at the minute (Mike, eXquire, Despot and Danny Brown), El holds his own with some impressive double-speed rapping and powerful storytelling; “For My Upstairs Neighbor” finds our man being probed by cops over a domestic dispute in his building that took an unexpected, gruesome twist whilst “Tougher Colder Killer” tells the story of a remorseful American soldier addressing the mother of the man he has just killed via a note left on the victim’s body. As we’ve come to expect from his work, though, Meline proves that familiar doesn’t necessarily have to equate to formulaic, and C4C dazzles at every turn. A triumphant return, and – taken in tandem with R.A.P. Music – one that pushes El-P even further up the ranks of the greatest producers in hip hop history.

Cancer 4 Cure is out May 22 on Fat Possum, and is currently streaming in full over at Rolling Stone. Listen to “The Full Retard” below:

Dope Body : Natural History

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In the same way that Seattle is synonymous with grunge and Detroit with soul, the music coming out of Baltimore, Maryland has, over the last few years, become known for its playful, experimental feel. With bands and artists like Double Dagger, Future Islands and Dan Deacon twisting rock, pop and the avant-garde into weird new shapes by abandoning the rule-books and simply throwing together whatever fits, the city has become something of a Mecca for those keen to take back “outsider” music from the pretentious posers and pissy purists. Latest to break out are Dope Body, who have been snapped up by Drag City on the back of last year’s debut album Nupping, an unwashed, sweat-stained hairy beast of a record that saw raw, aggressive hardcore punk (a la the Rollins Band/ Jesus Lizard) refracted through a post-grunge dude-rock filter; imagine Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era Chili Peppers as produced by Steve Albini, or a less cunty Limp Bizkit, except (obviously) better than that sounds. Follow-up Natural History – named after the museum where the quartet played their first ever gig – is a little less nasty than its predecessor, injecting a healthy dose of melodic pop sensibility into proceedings. It’s a welcome move, one that gives the group’s sound a clearer sense of purpose without sacrificing the sense of fun that made it so distinctive in the first place. After a misleadingly menacing opener (the growling, almost Nirvana-like “Shook”), we’re led on a non-stop thrill-ride of chunky, funky crowd-pleasers by vocalist Andrew Laumann – who, with his crazed ringleader chants (“Do whatcha wanna do/ Go where you wanna go”) and tongue-in-cheek threats (“You lookin’ at me?/ I didn’t think so”), often recalls Les Savy Fav’s audience-invading front-man Tim Harrington – and Zeke Utz, a guitarist who has clearly taken some tips from Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, feeding his instrument through a laptop and various FX pedals to produce riffs that buzz and crunch and squeal like some flatulent robot. Alongside David Jacober’s flailing, stop-start drumming and John Jones’ hip-thrusting bass grooves, Utz’s DIY guitar heroics are a constant reminder of Dope Body’s Baltimore roots: sure, this music can be brutal, at times even ugly, but it’s always – above all else – fun. They may be about to head-butt you to the ground, but they’re doing it with smiles on their faces.

Natural History is out May 22 in the US and June 4 elsewhere on Drag City. Listen to “Weird Mirror” below:

Laurel Halo : Quarantine

Following a string of EPs exploring the outer limits of synthesized ambience and bleeping techno, Michigan native Ina Cube AKA Laurel Halo is finally releasing her much-anticipated debut full-length next week on the Hyperdub label. Ranking alongside the most noteworthy experimental releases of the past few years (Oneohtrix Point Never, Julia Holter), Quarantine combines textural, abstract electronic pop and Bjork-ish vocal gymnastics to arresting effect. The album has been available to preview online for a couple of days now, and opinion seems split as to whether it’s genius or bullshit; personally, I’m going with the former but why not have a listen to the 41-minute single-track stream (courtesy of FACT) below and see which side you’re on.

http://soundcloud.com/factmag/laurel-halo-quarantine

Chromatics : Kill For Love – Drumless Version

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After making us wait five long years for their stunning new album Kill For Love, Chromatics are compensating in a big way: as if that 90-minute, 17-song opus wasn’t enough, producer Johnny Jewel has also made an alternative version available featuring 11 tracks stripped of their drum tracks. It’s a bold move – especially since the beats on the originals were so prominent – but it works, shifting the focus completely and turning these sparkling disco-pop gems into something even dreamier and more cinematic. Check out the drumless version of the title track below, and then remind yourself how awesome the original is.

Killer Mike : R.A.P. Music

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“Killer” Mike Render is one of those dudes that seems to have been around forever, and the “elder statesman of hip hop” persona that he wears on sixth album R.A.P. Music – out this week on Adult Swim‘s Williams Street imprint – is one that suits him well. Picking up the baton previously carried by Chuck D., Mike tackles the big issues – racism, crime, corruption, the war on drugs, the war on terror, war at home and abroad – with wit, wisdom and a natural warmth that most rappers would try too hard to conceal. Musically, too, there are nods to Public Enemy, and to a whole host of hip hop classics, from Straight Outta Compton to Illmatic to Stankonia and beyond; the whole album was produced by the resurgent El-P, whose jagged, Bomb Squad-inspired sonic chaos is here spiked with West Coast funk and a liberal dose of Dirty South bounce. It’s a strategy that works wonders; the stylistic cross-pollination adds variety and accessibility, and by bucking the common trend among modern rap full-lengths of using numerous producers, Mike and El-P have given the record the strong sense of identity that distinguishes a grab-bag of great singles from a solid, consistent masterpiece. Listen to the politically charged “Don’t Die” below for an idea of why the likes of Pitchfork and Spin are touting R.A.P. Music as a contemporary classic.