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Fresh for Fall 

Five hot new albums and what we thought of them.

click to enlarge Mastadon flexin'!
  • Mastadon flexin'!

MASTODON
The Hunter

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Mastodon fans were getting itchy. The Georgia band put out their magnum opus, the progressive and heavy Crack the Skye — a monolith of experimental, progressive genius — in 2009. How could the band possibly follow that up? Could they do better?

The band’s newest, The Hunter, isn’t better. There are moments when it is great, moments when it is groundbreaking, but many, many moments when it feels like the band is stumbling, the weight of the last record too heavy for them to carry again.

If The Hunter proves one thing, it’s that the members of Mastodon are comfortable with their manhood. They aren’t too metal to write pop music, talk about love or construct lyrics around cheesy rhyme schemes. Songs like “Curl of the Burl” and “Blasteroid” even show the band harmonizing between the usual guitar noodlery.

But Mastodon gets judged on a harsh scale — perhaps too harsh. This is a band that has released flawless records. They’ve been called one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time for a reason. They’re visionaries who can make any song heavy, and make any heavy song emotional and beautiful. And they accomplish both of those things here. “Spectrelight” is as driving and complex as any of the band’s classics. “Creature Lives” and “The Sparrow” show the band slow and trepidacious, morose and passive.

After a few listens, you start to get the sense that The Hunter isn’t for fans or metalheads or music scholars. It’s a piece that shows the growth of a band that is much like a human — a being that is maturing, experimenting, creating and, occasionally, failing. How can you criticize that? (Leah Sottile)

On my iPod: Atma, YOB; The Swan King, Eyes Like Knives; Fontanelle, Great Falls

I’m stoked for: Biophilia, Bjork (Oct. 11); The Less You Know, The Better, DJ Shadow (Oct. 18); Empros, Russian Circles (Oct. 25); Set the Dial, Black Tusk (Oct. 25) .

GIRLS
Father, Son, Holy Ghost

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The warm, beach-y pop of yester- Girls is morphing into a rugged, broken, vintage-rock beast. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is unsettling, emotional and gut-wrenching. It’s also brilliant.

Though the group’s debut release, Album, was by no means immature, Holy Ghost sees Girls venture further into classic territory with a completely accomplished approach. Making music that sounds immediate, but is still rife with subtlety, is a difficult task — it’s what makes many of classic rock’s finest artists so fantastic. Girls lead songwriter Christopher

Owens tries to follow that path here. Holy Ghost jangles through Girls’ signature beach pop, spins tired folk rock, crackles with vintage fuzz and even toys with British heavy metal, but fans of the group will not be surprised by the repertoire on display. Though he presents relatively little that has absolutely never been brought to the table, his material never feels uninspired or emotionally hollow. These songs mean the world to Owens, and if you give this record some time, they can mean the same to you. (Jordan Satterfield)

On my iPod: Celestial Lineage, Wolves in the Throne Room; Conatus, Zola Jesus; Looping State of Mind, The Field

I’m stoked for: Biophilia, Bjork (Oct. 11); Stage Whisper, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nov. 1); Parallax, Atlas Sound (Nov. 8)

ST. VINCENT
Strange Mercy

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There’s a beauty in sounding broken. And, these days, nobody can touch St. Vincent when it comes to music that is simultaneously ethereal and mentally wrecked. Strange Mercy finds St. Vincent’s Annie Clark more sonically twisted than ever — still searching for clarity in a mad, mad world.

Themes of feeling unloved and neglected dominate the album. Like the lyrics on “Cruel”: “They could take you or leave you. So they took you. Then they left you. How could they be so casually cruel?” But that’s not to say St. Vincent simply plays the victim. When pushed, like on “Cheerleader,” Clark can be as vicious as she is insecure and vulnerable, declaring “I-I-I-I-I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more.”

The music supporting Clark’s vocals on Strange Mercy is a fullfledged wall of chaotic, electronic fuzz. Lush orchestrations still pop up now and then, but they’re usually momentary — like on “Cruel,” right before the song suddenly shifts into a thumping, club-worthy dance track. While the heavy electronic reverb gives the album a distinctive feel, there’s not much stylistic contrast between tracks.

Perhaps Strange Mercy is best summed up by Clark’s begging to be cut open on “Surgeon.” It may seem like the ravings of a chemically unbalanced individual, but in reality it’s pleading for someone to cut past her lovely exterior, open her up, and let the real person (and her gorgeous music) pour out. (Seth Sommerfeld)

On my iPod: Burst Apart, The Antlers; Out of Love, Mister Heavenly; 13 Chambers, Wugazi

I’m stoked for: Tenth anniversary vinyl reissue of Brand New’s Your Favorite Weapon (Nov. 22)

NEON INDIAN
Era Extraña

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Instantly striking and aesthetically unique, 2009’s Psychic Chasms established Neon Indian as a leader of the chillwave movement. It was partially the pop-infused, blissed-out vibe of songs like “Terminally Chill” and “Deadbeat Summer,” and partially the low-fi, AM-radio production values. Chasms just didn’t sound like anything else.

On Era Extraña, the band has foregone the murky sound quality and given us 12 polished, squeaky clean tracks. On the good side, the sweet pop sensibilities and swooping electronics are still here. “Polish Girl” is utterly infectious, thanks to its charming keyboard riff and bounding beat. “Hex Girlfriend” matches a noisy underbelly with a cascade of videogame sounds and a sweet loping rhythm. On the bad side, the album’s back end sputters under the weight of a few too many unexciting mid-tempo songs. Overall, Extraña is a satisfying sophomore record that simply lacks the quirky punch of Neon Indian’s debut. (Mark White)

On my iPod: Lenses Alien, Cymbals Eat Guitars; Bon Iver, Bon Iver; Mirror Traffic, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

I’m stoked for: Days, Real Estate (Oct. 18); Tarot Classics, Surfer Blood (Oct. 25); Parallax, Atlas Sound (Nov. 8)

THRICE
Major/Minor

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The guys in Thrice do things their own way. Singer Dustin Kensrue likes to dig into scripture for his lyrical inspiration. Some of the proceeds from the band’s albums are donated to charity.

Thrice may be the most sincere band in rock music. But they’re also one the most rockin’. Unlike the last album, which the band recorded in a garage, Major/Minor, was recorded in an actual studio, and it shows. The sound is a little more polished. Riffs are designed to evoke emotion while not bombarding you with dissonance. The album opener, “Yellow Belly,” is a prime example: a track full of tension, cries of “you don’t care,” a blitz of pounding guitars.

On “Treading Paper,” mid-way through the 11-track album, bassist Eddie Breckenridge and drummer Riley Breckenridge create tense rhythmic backing to Kensrue’s ruminations on life, love and existence.

The album’s not a huge departure from the band’s last, Beggars. But this is a band that has flirted with emo, hard rock, and layered synths throughout its career. With Major/Minor, they hit their stride simply by ignoring what everyone else is doing. (Chris Stein)

On my iPod: David Comes to Life, F---ed Up

I’m stoked for: Bad As Me, Tom Waits (Oct. 21)

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