BELLS≥ ///
Solutions, Silence or Affirmations

Driven by thoughtful interplay and the dexterous drumming of Zach Barocas, BELLS≥’ instrumental rock is built to last. No flash, no fashion, no studio trickery distracts from the consummate craftsmanship; when J. Robbins and Gordon Withers add keyboards and cello respectively, their contributions pass for ground-floor construction, not extraneous embellishment.


Raum /// Event of Your Leaving

Grouper devotees, rejoice and regret. Liz Harris’s collaboration with drone architect Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is an essential addition to her diaphanous discography, buttressing A I A’s ghostly presence with textural details (especially on the full-bodied “Blood Moon”). The bad news? The vinyl is just as elusive as the music it contains.

"Event of Your Leaving"

Girls Against Boys ///
The Ghost List

A decade-long studio sabbatical didn’t decrease the virility of Girls Against Boys’ trademark low-end throb. The five songs on The Ghost List swagger like the Touch and Go glory days never ended, with added doses of vocal melodies to support the dominant rhythm section. Gentlemen, do call it a comeback.

"60 > 15"

The National ///
Trouble Will Find Me

The National’s painstaking instrumental precision stems from a compulsion for control, yet as their latest album title attests, even stately repose can’t keep doubts and potential strife outside the gate. No drunken Matt Berninger outbursts rouse the proceedings, but it’s enthralling to watch him teeter between contentment and panic attacks.

"Don't Swallow the Cap"

Wire /// Change Becomes Us

Travelling to 1980 to rewrite their own history, Wire salvages post-154 ideas before their younger counterparts could break up the band. Tampering with the time continuum is a perilous gambit, but Wire constructs its finest album in a decade by revitalizing past efforts with the hard-won knowledge of future events.

"As We Go"

Roomrunner /// Ideal Cities

After leagues of post-grunge charlatans soiled Nirvana’s aesthetic lineage with dim-witted duplication, Roomrunner’s keen coupling of feral Cobain choruses and yes-tech tinkering of abrasive riffs brings new blood to the Aberdeen family register. Ideal Cities’ stickered distaste for the overused comparison is understandable, but this citation is anything but dismissive.


Bill Callahan /// Dream River

Dream River is a source of supreme serenity, a long exhale at the end of the day, or perhaps a lifetime. Its narrator remains distant from the people around him (save one), but love has worn away any misanthropic tendencies. The ease prevails, floating on electric leads and jazz flute.

"Small Plane"

Ovlov /// Am

Dig through enough layers of fuzzed-out, grunge-gorged guitar and you’ll reach Am’s bittersweet core, an indestructible jawbreaker concocted from your nagging regrets. Accompanying you at this endless feast are occasional bursts of punk energy, dispatches from Daydream Nation, and four darling duets between Steve Hartlett and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis.


Noveller /// No Dreams

The title is a command, not an observation. Sarah Lipstate’s pedalboard-piloted excursions into deep kosmiche space book too many captivating destinations to ever let sleep take the controls. Even with synthesizers, piano, and beats on board, her guitar remains the primary translator for any alien languages encountered along the way.

"No Dreams"

Jon Hopkins /// Immunity

With no slight intended to the weapons in Jon Hopkins’ electronic arsenal—deep bass, glitch-plagued synths, untouched piano, inviting analog ambiance—the persisting value of Immunity lies in its album-length ebb and flow. From moment to moment, song to song, open to close, Hopkins tweaks tempo and texture with aplomb.

"We Disappear"

Marnie Stern ///
The Chronicles of Marnia

By peeling away layers of frenzied finger-tapped leads, Marnie Stern exposes the clear pop hooks and self-motivational songwriting that previously lurked beneath technical bravado. Her Chronicles are equal parts infectious and endearing, powering through lingering doubts over her chances of future success. Hopefully she finds time to savor this victory.

"Year of the Glad"

Two Inch Astronaut /// Bad Brother

Bad Brother pulls from two distinct wells: the tangled chords of Washington, D.C., and the brain-latching hooks from my high-school stash of 120 Minutes VHS dubs. Parceling out complexity and melody in equal measures, Two Inch Astronaut occasionally wields the electric shock of post-hardcore to keep you own your toes.

"Blood from a Loyal Hound"

My Bloody Valentine /// M B V

Kevin Shields escapes from a two-decade-long stint in perfectionist prison with his tremolo bar intact. M B V’s existence is marvel enough, a reassertion of identity after scores of imitators spliced their DNA. No laboratory could replicate Bilinda Butcher’s rapturous voice or Shields’ inscrutable combination of the tangible and intangible.

"New You"

Future of the Left /// How to
Stop Your Brain in an Accident

Amid potent portions of Andrew Falkous’s staple diet—slanderous parochial narratives, devilishly profane surrealism, caustic cultural criticism, each served over crushing and/or canny noise-rock—there’s the elegant “French Lessons,” a love song par excellence. If you’re navigating internally, this welcome, if temporary, intrusion of maturity appears before the kazoo choir.

"I Don't Know What You Ketamine (But I Think I Love You)"

Joel RL Phelps &
The Downer Trio /// Gala

Joel R. L. Phelps returns from the void with his crackling vocal intensity, razor-wire guitar tone, and Downer Trio intact. Gala won’t be mistaken for a joyous welcome-home party, but concluding a near-decade barren of his far-ranging songwriting—billowing rockers, skeletal send-offs, ambience-choked plateaus, chilling murder ballads—calls for celebration.

"Golden Town"

Fat History Month ///
Bad History Month

Fat History Month’s existential ruminations never fall into paralyzed despair; any time Bad History Month gazes into the abyss, a wry joke offers reprieve, the anxious beat skitters off to the next verse, or finger-picked leads trip into cathartic chords. The infinite unknowable peers down, chuckling at the blackhole humor.

"French Lessons"

Julianna Barwick /// Nepenthe

Julianna Barwick introduces foreign elements to her intensely personal vocal loop–based ambient by recording Nepenthe in Iceland with an outside producer and guest musicians, but increases in scope and craft hardly threaten her compositional sanctity. This newfound clarity befits the awe-inspiring echoes of “One Half,” “The Harbinger,” and “Pyrrhic.”

"One Half"

The Leap Year ///
The Narrowing

The Leap Year imported shipments of Midwestern melancholy to Perth, but The Narrowing wisely emphasizes local concerns in its storytelling. Sepia-toned memories radiate warmth with mid-tempo melody and meticulous arrangements, but excursions down darker, obsessive paths on “Summer Jaws,” “The Perfect Anchor,” and the slow-core tinderbox “Michael Douglas” prove gripping.

"Town Crying"

65daysofstatic /// Wild Light

Composing an alternate soundtrack to Silent Running proves to be an invaluable endeavor for 65daysofstatic, who now channel their maximalist battles between guitar-driven post-rock and glitched-out electronic into spacious thematic arcs. Wild Light deserves its own sci-fi film companion, with “Safe Passage” blasting its IMAX-sized synths over the end credits.

"Safe Passage"

Ventura /// Ultima Necat

Ultima Necat possesses the vulnerability of a wounded animal and the savage heaviness of the hulking predator who delivered the blow. Ventura matches the seriousness of the situation with unblinking execution, bestowing up-tempo rockers (“Nothing Else Mattered”), malicious creepers (“Intruder”), and a riptide epic (“Amputee”) with commensurate power and empathy.

"Little Wolf"

Tim Hecker /// Virgins

Eternal glory awaits those musicians sacrificed to Tim Hecker’s dying machine. Titling Virgins’ centerpiece “Live Room” is a fitting, if fleeting, indication of the aesthetic shift: pianos, organs, and woodwinds deliver broken fragments in oxygen-deficient environs. When the post-processing shroud drops and allows unadulterated beauty to peak through, it’s breathtaking.

"Stigmata II"

Speedy Ortiz /// Major Arcana

If Major Arcana had arrived sans lyric sheet, I’d have little difficulty transcribing Sadie Dupuis’s whip-smart quips, teeth-bearing threats, and heartfelt odes into a spiral-bound notebook. Being delivered via dagger-sharp anthems, pining ballads, and riff-salvos helps the task, provided that picking favorites from an album full of them isn’t required.

"Tiger Tank"

Bottomless Pit ///
Shade Perennial

Conversing via musical telepathy, Andy Cohen and Tim Midyett’s leads spar and spiral over Brian Orchard and Chris Manfrin’s intuitive rhythms. These cathartic communiqués could easily be private rituals, but Shade Perennial grants access to eight lasting compositions. The evocative, near-mythic imagery of “Fleece” and “Sacred Trench” merits dedicated study.


Fuck Buttons /// Slow Focus

Slow Focus writes a two-hundred-million-dollar check to John Carpenter, begging for faceless, formless mobs to descend upon a mammoth space station and wreak havoc. Spoiler alert: no one survives the percussive assault of “Brainfreeze” or the alien technology of “Sentients.” Silver lining? “Hidden XS” leaves an inspiring epitaph for humanity.


Polvo /// Siberia

A dispatch from a distant land where chords, song structures, and melodies are bent but never broken, Siberia mines a newly discovered trove of guitar-rock ingenuity. Even with a seemingly endless supply of exuberant parts to deploy, these lonely sovereigns sigh with poignant regret on “Light, Raking” and “Some Songs.”

"Light, Raking"