ANATHALLOCanopy Glow(Anticon)

Anticon is a strange home for Anathallo: the Bay Area label is a haven for the darker, fringier elements of the underground hip-hop scene, and Anathallo is an eccentric seven-piece pop band. On the new Canopy Glow, which they’re currently supporting with a tour in Europe, these Michigan transplants take a popular indie-rock template—a high hook-to-groove ratio and a mood of slightly wistful romanticism—and replace the bulk of the usual guitars-and-stuff that usually fills it out with something a lot more interesting. Over the course of ten songs, that includes swooning strings, IDM-inspired drums, plenty of piano, staticky atmospherics, and enough auxiliary instruments they’d have to tour in two vans to bring them all. Despite all this the arrangements are surprisingly uncluttered, and that restraint carries over into the general mood of the album—it’s almost politely subdued. The best song, though, is the one where they almost let go—the multilayered vocals of “All the First Pages,” arrayed over piano and likembe, evoke the Arcade Fire’s communal enthusiasm.

THE ASSEMBLYThe Tide Has Turned(Center Neptune)

I tend to like the individual parts of the Assembly’s songs better than I like the songs themselves. Almost every track on the band’s recent full-length debut, The Tide Has Turned, has a stretch where it’s just vintage synths and simple beats—the kind of thing you could loop to make a decent backing track for a chilly retro-electro tune. But more often than not the band piles on arena-size guitars for a combination that brings back terrible memories of the mid-90s, when metal bands were just discovering electronica and doing neither genre any favors (protip: do not listen to the Spawn soundtrack). When the Assembly leans harder on either component of this unfortunate fusion, though, the situation improves. Relatively rocking tracks like “Criticality” and “Systematic Unknown” spike their new-wavey glam with a little SoCal pop-punk snot, and my favorite track, “Rejuvenate,” tops a dry, snappy electronic beat and throbbing bass synth with electronic chimes and squiggles and the album’s catchiest vocals—I bet it’d even get a smile out of the goths dancing at Neo.

TIMOTHY REMIS & AL BURIANTanglefoot Family Band/Ill-Ego split single(I Love Drugs)

I’m a pretty big technology geek, but I have a soft spot for neo-Luddites like Al Burian, who can deflate your irrational excitement about your new cell phone with a barely inflected “That’s cool.” This split seven-inch, his latest collaboration with Timothy Remis—they’ve previously played together in Milemarker and its offshoot Challenger—is more or less a fuck-you to the digital music revolution, recorded live to tape and available only on vinyl. “What’s the point?” asks Burian’s stand-in, a weird birdlike creature, on the single’s back cover. “No one cares... music has lost its meaning... people have their i-pods and shit... they don’t give a fuk.” Burian plays solo on one side as Ill-Ego, and Remis takes the other side as the Tanglefoot Family Band. Burian’s jam sounds like a bluesy 70s hard-rock riff fest re-created with nothing but acoustic guitar and a lot of yelling about anxiety and disappointment in the world, two of his best-beloved topics. Thumbing his nose at studio perfectionists, he stops to say “Here comes the hard part” before launching into an instrumental break that actually seems simpler than the rest of the song. Remis is less aggressive, opening with a bit of mournful, countrified a cappella folksinging before switching to gently strummed banjo and a beautiful, sadly resigned vocal melody—a surprisingly tender sound from the guy who fronts Sweet Cobra.

ROYAL PINESOld World(She He It)

There’s nothing on Old World that would’ve sounded fresh to a college-radio audience 15 years ago—by then R.E.M. and Uncle Tupelo had already introduced 60s-ish jangle and downer country into what would become indie rock. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you like R.E.M. and Uncle Tupelo, and the Royal Pines’ default sound is a crunchy, messy blend of both that’s satisfying enough that many bands would probably stick with it come hell or high water. But the Pines are smart enough to know when to mix it up a little bit, and those digressions provide many of the highlights on Old World—like the stomping, surprisingly funky “Prayer for Static” and the droning, psychedelic “These Bodies,” which starts out in the neighborhood of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and ends up somewhere much darker and weirder. The lowlights are the few songs even the band doesn’t seem too psyched about, which combine shaky vocals from front man Joe Patt (former drummer and singer for Them Wranch) and uninspired folk-rock progressions. Comfort zones are comfortable all right, but they’re not where great art tends to happen.

YUNG BERGRed Carpet Treatment(mix tape)

Now that platinum records are an endangered species and a new crop of faux-punk popsters have poached so much of gangsta rap’s largely suburban audience that even big-time MCs sometimes struggle to post indie-label numbers, the kind of dick-swinging braggadocio that used to make the hip-hop mix-tape scene feel like a cross between the WWE and a soap opera can seem kinda sad, like a bunch of dudes willing to start a fight over the last slice of cold pizza. Part-time Chicagoan Yung Berg might’ve been able to break big in the mainstream a few years ago, when unremarkable rappers could get by on personality and a catchy synth line, but he’s had some hard luck lately—he became a magnet for online snark when he got a chain snatched off him at a club this summer, and his major-label debut faded fast after modest opening sales. He seems to be trying to make up for it by pulling a Lil’ Wayne and releasing mix tapes in bulk. His latest, with New York beat maker the Kidd Domination, is full of drama, shit talking, and swagger—”Fuck being humble,” he says—but the largely hook-free songs and clumsy wordplay don’t do much to back up his boasts. Things improve remarkably when he brings in collaborators like dancehall MC Collie Buddz and R&B singer Lloyd, who seems to have a golden touch with cameos.v

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