Murder City Devils

The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again (self-released)

The Murder City Devils’ new one isn’t trying to be In Name and Blood, and it’s better for it. That 2000 album remains the band’s landmark release, chock full of ominous organ, bloody butcher knives, and soliloquies about boozing—but it belongs to a bygone era when greasy, evil rock ‘n’ roll dressed up in black suits and skinny ties and went “boom swagger swagger boom boom swagger.” MCD split in 2001 following the release of their Thelema EP, and the rash of reunion shows that began in 2006 initially seemed like a cash grab (no disrespect to the always combustible performances by front man Spencer Moody and crew). So the announcement of The White Ghost Has Blood on its Hands Again came as a surprise to me. Never mind the long-winded name, though—it’s surprisingly good. Moody still pushes his gravelly vocals till he sounds like a raving lunatic swallowing the mike whole, while the raw, sometimes untethered music flails like an out-of-control semi truck whose cab and trailer are slewing in opposite directions (the opener, “I Don’t Wanna Work for Scum Anymore,” is basically a two-minute raging freak-out). Organ doesn’t play as central a role as it did on In Name and Blood, when Leslie Hardy held it down, but as I see it, that’s to the band’s credit—because organ defined the MCD sound in their heyday, maybe this is their way of acknowledging that their heyday has passed. Kevin Warwick

The Group

The Feed-Back (Schema/RCA)

Originally released in 1970, The Feed-Back documents a one-off exercise by Italy’s influential Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. This bold free-improvising ensemble, whose lineup included some of Italy’s most adventurous composers (among them film-score genius Ennio Morricone and electronic-­music explorer Walter Branchi), went by “the Group” on this album, where it marries its extended techniques and philosophy of spontaneous composition to the wild rock energy of the youthful “beat scene.” Renzo Restuccia’s drumming, which seems to anticipate the motorik groove of Neu!’s Klaus Dinger, gives the unhinged improvisations something to hang on, but otherwise the music makes no concessions to the kids. It progresses collectively with an inexorable logic, making something coherent from a welter of disparate elements: Morricone’s sour trumpet squalls, John Heineman’s garrulous upper-register trombone lines, Bruno Battisti D’Amario’s splintery, abstract electric-guitar tangles, and Mario Bertoncini’s glassy piano clusters. The Feed-Back may have been a gimmick at the time, but it still sounds electrifying almost 45 years later. Peter Margasak


Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)

Little Rock doom-metal quartet Pallbearer made big waves with their full-length debut, Sorrow and Extinction, which landed on all sorts of year-end lists in 2012. So the follow-up, recorded in Portland with Billy Anderson (who’s worked with the likes of Agalloch, Sleep, Neurosis, and the Melvins) has to contend with some big expectations. Thankfully, the confident patience and welcoming spaciousness that made the band stand out the first time around is back in full force—Pallbearer’s sludgy trudge doesn’t have to be crushing your spine and skull at every moment to sound heavy as fuck. In fact, Brett Campbell’s clean, mournful singing and the band’s angular riffs (which sometimes seem to bend sideways like crabs’ legs) are downright uplifting at times. Exalted vocal harmonies and dashes of textural keyboard give extra depth to the songs’ segues and climaxes, and these guys are generous with crisp, celestial tones (“Foundations of Burden,” “Ashes”) while still laying on the creepy, unclean eldritch goo (“Watcher in the Dark”). The U.S. tour dates they’ve announced for this fall don’t yet include a Chicago stop, which is most vexing. Monica Kendrick

Cold Specks

Neuroplasticity (Mute)

Canadian songwriter Al Spx clearly picked up a few tricks while lending her voice to Swans‘ newest record, To Be Kind. On her second album as Cold Specks, Swans mastermind Michael Gira returns the favor, singing backup on her eeriest songs yet. Cold Specks’ 2012 debut, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, swayed at gospel heights, but Neuroplasticity digs deeper into the gloom fringing Spx’s arcane brand of soul. The record fleshes out Expulsion‘s mostly acoustic skeleton with a wealth of instruments that moan in the night: cello, slide guitar, organ, even synthesizers. Like Swans, Cold Specks draws power from mood more than melody, and on Neuroplasticity those moods are complex and unsettling. On “Bodies at Bay” and “Absisto,” percussion drives the drama; on “A Quiet Chill,” whistles shift in and out of earshot; and on album closer “A Season of Doubt,” Gira’s voice stalks Spx’s through curtains of piano and horns. Cold Specks plays in a world whose secrets only she knows—lovely, haunting, always coded. Sasha Geffen

Daniel Bachman

Orange County Serenade (Bathetic)

Acoustic guitarist Daniel Bachman grew up in Virginia and lives in North Carolina, but he’s spent much of the past few years on tour. Thus homesickness for the rural southeast figures heavily into his new collection of instrumentals, Orange County Serenade, as does the experience of being on the road. The swooping slide licks on the jaunty title track feel like happy memories of a place you’d rather be, and the brisk clip and celebratory melody of “Up and Down the C&O” would make it a good soundtrack for one of those open-prairie road trips where you end up racing a train just for the hell of it. The creeping cadence of “Coming Home,” on the other hand, is full of foreboding—what bad news awaits the returning traveler? Bachman is a strong player, but his greatest gift is his knack for using rustic melodies and open-string drones to evoke such vivid and specific scenarios. Bill Meyer

Willis Earl Beal

Experiments in Time (self-released)

When antipop artist Willis Earl Beal headlined the Hideout during CIMMfest in May, he didn’t play live—he turned off all the lights and had the audience listen to some of his unreleased recordings in darkness. Those recordings are out in the world now as Beal’s third album, Experiments in Time, his first release since cutting ties with XL imprint Hot Charity a couple months ago; compared to last year’s rich, genre-bounding Nobody Knows, it’s boldly bare and raw. As Beal’s music has shed layers of instrumentation and studio polish, its mysticism has blossomed: on the spooky, minimalist “In Your Hands,” he sings about a vulnerability so extreme it’s almost an out-of-body experience, pushing his beautiful voice into an angelic upper register that brings tears to my eyes. Leor Galil


Lost in Alphaville (Polyvinyl)

In 1995, Weezer bassist Matt Sharp threw together a band of synth-pop misfits and introduced them to the world with Return of the Rentals. Fifteen years after the release of their second LP, 1999’s Seven More Minutes, the Rentals have actually returned. Their Moog-heavy, new-wavey debut was majestically fuzzy pop, but by the time Seven More Minutes came out, Sharp had left Weezer to give his full attention to a deeper, headier, more mournful take on indie rock. The Rentals’ third record, Lost in Alphaville, returns to the original formula, and it feels like the band never left. In the past Sharp has loaded the Rentals’ roster with notable names (the Haden sisters, Maya Rudolph, Damon Albarn), and this time his all-star lineup is anchored by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney. They sound exactly like the Rentals should: groovy, beyond catchy, and brimming with whimsical vocal harmonies and jumpy keyboard leads. Luca Cimarusti

Jenny Hval & Susanna

Meshes of Voice (SusannaSonata)

Norwegian chanteuse Susanna Wallumrød loves cover songs (she’s demonstrated as much on her albums List of Lights and Buoys, Melody Mountain, and Flower of Evil), but the new Meshes of Voice—a collaboration with another celebrated Nordic singer, her friend Jenny Hval—is all original material, animated by soaring concepts. The two women weave their ethereal voices into arrangements that swing from solo acoustic guitar strumming to postindustrial noise, shrouding their narrative journey in dark themes—like the ghostly figure floating through Maya Deren’s 1943 surrealist film Meshes of the Afternoon, which directly inspired this project, Wallumrød and Hval drift among invented worlds where Medusa’s snake eyes shine and black lakes engulf the living. But they don’t just drown you in murky stygian hymns—on “Honey Dew,” for instance, they poke pinholes through the dark with sunny meditations on the humble melon of the title. It also helps that the melancholy delivery Wallumrød has mastered (she and Bonnie “Prince” Billy do a heartbreaking cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” on Flower of Evil) is absent from her singing here. Impressively, the two women performed this material together only once (at Oslo’s Ladyfest in 2009) before recording it live for the album. Its high-concept trappings aren’t for everyone, but its imaginative, layered, beautifully sung music captures two vehemently independent artists united by an enchanting, bone-chilling vision. Erin Osmon

DJ Mustard

10 Summers (Roc Nation/Republic)

The libidinous pulse of ratchet has been everywhere lately, thanks to Iggy Azalea’s crossover smash “Fancy,” but the bold, magnificently simple party-rap sound will always scream Los Angeles. Ratchet would’ve broken big with or without Azalea, in no small part because its main architect, LA producer DJ Mustard, is one of the hottest beat makers in the country; he worked on the bulk of YG’s 2014 debut, My Krazy Life, and had a hand in six singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this summer. Mustard’s first album under his own name has a star-studded guest list that includes 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, and Wiz Khalifa; for better or worse, he’s big enough now to have Big Sean nearly ruin a perfectly good track (“Face Down,” which also features Lil Wayne, YG, and Boosie Bad Azz). Lean, mean, and deceptively funky, 10 Summers begs to be played loud enough to burn down your speakers. Leor Galil

Agata Zubel

Not I (Kairos)

Poland’s Agata Zubel is a composer and a ­vocalist—a rare breed indeed in the new-music world—and on Not I, a collection of four of her recent pieces performed by protean Austrian chamber orchestra Klangforum Wien, she sings on three. On “Labyrinth,” which uses an English translation of a Wislawa Szymborska poem, her vocal delivery shifts along with the instrumental backing, moving from throaty interjections to furtive whispers as it changes from choked tenor saxophone to knotty, throttled double bass to choppy flute. The moody, dissonant “Aphorisms on Milosz” explores shadowy harmonies and strident textures, unfolding slowly as Zubel sings phrases from Czeslaw Milosz in a clear, bracing soprano. The harsh, spiky title composition sets Samuel Beckett’s work of the same name, and “Shades of Ice” replaces her voice with harsh electronics, so that blasts of thunderous noise trip up brittle clarinet and cello. Zubel’s work is so detailed and demanding that it tires me out to listen to it, but that’s the best kind of exhausted. Peter Margasak


He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word (Interscope)

Mamaleek is the kind of black-metal band that the genre’s most orthodox fans tend to get their bullet belts in a twist about. The San Francisco duo blends recognizable black-metal tropes—needling tremolo picking, gritty blastbeats—with trip-hop, world music, noise, jazz, and shoegaze. They don’t sound like most black metal, but the style is nonetheless ingrained in their songs. Mamaleek inched toward approachability on 2010’s Kurdaitcha, but the new He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word is so harsh and demented that it feels longer than it actually is. It’s a grueling but rewarding listen: its longest song, the ten-minute “Poor Mourner’s Got a Home,” segues from what sounds like a field recording of desert wind and jumps into blistering guitar feedback and blown-out howls. Leor Galil

Jack Ruby

Jack Ruby (Feeding Tube)

It’s rare that an archival release completely tears my head off, but I was no way prepared for Jack Ruby—this staggeringly savage New York no wave, collected here nearly four decades after it was recorded, sounds like Mars meets the Contortions, except it might be better than either. No-wave freaks have spoken about Jack Ruby in hushed tones for years, but it took the diligence of noise cognoscenti Lydia Lunch, Thurston Moore, Byron Coley, and Weasel Walter to hunt down the members and music of this lost band. Founded in 73, Jack Ruby prefigured punk, augmenting vocals reminiscent of sadomasochistic Bay Area miscreants Crime and a blitzkrieg of atonal guitar shred with weirdo synth and viola. On a 1974 demo the band is in Stooges mode, cranking out feral rock blasts and sickly electronic dirges that would rattle Suicide’s fillings. Live tracks from the same year with titles such as “Bored Stiff” and “Bad Teeth” confirm Jack Ruby as fellow travelers of dystopian, working-class Cleveland protopunks such as Rocket From the Tombs and the Electric Eels. The second side of this record contains a 1977 rehearsal by the third incarnation of the band (all versions feature Chris Gray on guitar), whose arty junkie rawk is slightly more conventional but still essential listening for anyone who’s read Please Kill Me more than three times. The Feeding Tube label has a second collection of Jack Ruby material in the works, and I’m waiting with bated breath. Steve Krakow

Tarbaby with Oliver Lake and Marc Ducret

Fanon (Rogue Art)

Tarbaby is the malleable trio of pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Nasheet Waits, which they augment by choosing from a small coterie of collaborators—in this case, alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and French electric guitarist Marc Ducret. Fanon is a salute to mid-20th-century Afro-French philosopher Frantz Fanon, who wrote on the effects of colonialism, and the album opens with a reading from one of his books: a child recalls witnessing his parents’ brutal slaughter by French soldiers. The group then moves onto its familiar turf—fiery, quicksilver postbop of the highest order—with Ducret’s splintery lines and Lake’s soulful, serrated keening weaving through the core trio’s telepathic rhythmic interactions. Aside from that initial testimony, the record’s theme is only explicitly present in song titles such as “Liberation Blues” and “FLN Stomp,” but this music proves that jazz can still be a charged and poignant response to oppression. Peter Margasak

Anna Webber

Simple (Skirl)

Reedist Anna Webber, a Brooklynite by way of British Columbia, is one of the most exciting new arrivals on the New York avant-garde jazz scene in the past couple years. Her second album, Simple, demonstrates the inextricable link between her improvising and her compositions; her detail-rich writing recalls the work of elders as disparate as Tim Berne and Henry Threadgill, and her busy motion evokes a fizzy sort of exhilaration. On last year’s Percussive Mechanics (Pirouet) she and six German musicians performed her wildly zigzagging pieces, their solos embedded snugly within pinpoint-precise arrangements. Webber made Simple with drummer John Hollenbeck of the Claudia Quintet and pianist Matt Mitchell, and the leaner lineup gives her new compositions (and her flinty improvisations on tenor saxophone and flute) more room to move. The new record comes out September 16. Peter Margasak


Soma (Invictus)

Swiss duo Bölzer are extreme metal’s biggest breakout success of the year, but they’ve been slow to build on the momentum they got from 2013’s Aura EP, a watershed release that clothed death metal’s rotting bones in strange but compelling new flesh. KzR and HzR, as the band’s members refer to themselves professionally, took more than a year to put out two more songs—the new EP Soma—and they don’t plan to drop a proper album till 2015. But it will nonetheless come as a relief to those who fell under Aura‘s spell that the much-anticipated Soma follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. The EP explores ancient themes of war and lunar worship, its huge-sounding, forward-thinking racket driven by KzR’s intricate, densely buzzing riffs and HzR’s full-force battery—who needs a bassist when you’ve got a rig like this? “Steppes” has the relentless groove and commanding tone of Aura, while “Labyrinthian Graves” is sprawling, ambitious, and occasionally disjointed, perhaps pointing toward weirder things to come. Consider my appetite whetted for that full-length. Kim Kelly