From Australian oddballs to charismatic Canadians, there was no shortage of essential indie fare in August. Here’s the best of the bunch, listed in alphabetical order. Just click on the cover picture to read the original review (and listen to the album in full):
WHO ARE THEY? Your next favourite band: A high-octane Oakland sextet that serves up sweaty, swaggering R&B-fuelled punk (or punk-fuelled R&B, depending on your perspective) — with saxophone!
WHAT IS THIS? Their fourth full-length fusillade of full-throttle, full-speed, full-blooded firepower and fury. And if the other three are anything like this barnburning beast, we’ve all got some serious catching up to do.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A meeting of the minds between The Hives, Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes, The Cramps and half a dozen other likeminded bands that unrepentantly worship at the altar of the devil’s music.
WHO ARE THEY? The pride of Eau Claire, Wis. — musically speaking, anyway. More specifically, they are eccentric singer-songwriter/studio rat Justin Vernon and the latest incarnation of his experimental art-folk ensemble, augmented here by VIPs like James Blake, Bruce Hornsby, The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, BJ Burton, S. Carey, Phil Cook, Moses Sumney and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner.
WHAT IS THIS? Their fourth full-length studio album in 12 years — which also happens to be and their fourth album to feature a mid-title comma — is the followup to 2016’s 22, A Million. i,i (apparently pronounced “I, comma, I”) is also something of a surprise, since it was originally scheduled to be released Aug. 30, but arrived three weeks early, following a large number of public listening parties.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Art with a capital A. As always, Vernon and co. use the studio as an instrument in their creations, layering and filling songs with glitches and twitches and shape-shifting clouds of sound and texture. Which is not to say it’s all style and no substance — no matter how itchy and scratchy the electronics and sonics, no matter how far inward or outward the arrangement spirals, Vernon’s stream-of-consciousness songcraft, melancholy melodies and tenderly keening falsetto crooning remain the warm beating heart of these songs.
WHO IS HE? The androgynous indie-rock provocateur and cult hero from Chicago whose widespread critical acclaim has not yet generated the commercial success he so richly deserves.
WHAT IS THIS? His eighth studio release in a dozen years, his first to include his cheekily handled Band With No Name — and one of his most potent, powerful, pointed and political discs.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Nearly 28 minutes of righteous anger, expressed through sharply worded (and witted) lyrical bon mots and ignited by ferocious indie-punk firecrackers.
WHO ARE THEY? Three impressively talented musical left-fielders — Locust singer-guitarist Bobby Bray, Phantom Twins bassist Chad Deal and Sleeping People drummer Brandon Relf — who have joined forces in a sorta-semi-supergroup from San Diego underground. Fun Fact: Their name stands for The Institute for Navigating the Universal Self.
WHAT IS THIS? Their debut disc of what they call “pre-postapocalyptic, post-honky-tonk-prog-skronk, space-tropicalia, math-lounge powersilence.” Whatever the hell that is.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Nothing you can imagine. Unless you can imagine what it would sound like if little green men from the underside of Venus decided to come to Earth and form a band after decades of listening to garbled radio transmissions from stations that played nothing but prog, post-rock, free jazz, Frank Zappa, Primus and infomercials.
WHO IS SHE? The Detroit-born, Nashville-based singer-guitarist who has been part of Jack White’s Third Man Records label stable for nearly a decade — both fronting the all-female “garage-goth” outfit Black Belles and backing up artists such as White, Wanda Jackson and Karen Elson.
WHAT IS THIS? Her second solo album and the followup to 2014’s exquisitely titled Bathtub Love Killings, Night Owl is another Third Man release — but this time around, Jean not only wrote and played almost everything on the album, but also produced the sucker.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Garage-rock flecked with rockabilly, surf, indie-rock, country, girl-group pop and pretty much everything else you would expect from a Third Man offering — and rendered with enough skill, style and smarts to give her boss a run for his money.
WHO ARE THEY? L.A. garage-rock oddball John Dwyer and his ever-changing band of many similar names — including Thee Oh Sees, OCS, The Oh Sees, Oklahoma Crash Suite, Orange County Sound and probably some other ones he hasn’t told us about yet.
WHAT IS THIS? His/their 22nd manic episode of musical madness: A sprawling 80-minute double album constructed from prog-metal oddities that clock in anywhere from 94 seconds to 21 minutes.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? In his own words: “Fried prog burn out, squished old-school drool, double drums, lead weight bass, wizard keys (now with poison), old-ass guitar and horrible words with daft meanings.” Yeah, that tracks.
WHO ARE THEY? One of indie-rock’s most influential and critically beloved outfits. A group that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore once dubbed “the most important band in America,” and others have hailed as forefathers of grunge. A group that once shared a manager with Nirvana, but were blackballed from touring with them for prank-calling Courtney Love. Which is surely part of the reason why Los Angeles singer-guitarist siblings Jeff and Steve McDonald remain cult heroes more than 40 years after they formed Redd Kross to open for Black Flag at their middle school.
WHAT IS THIS? Just their seventh full-length since their 1982 debut Born Innocent, and their first album since 2012’s Researching the Blues.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Indie-rock and power-pop, garage and glam, punk and psychedelia — along with pretty much every other cool musical genre of the ’60s and ’70s — swirled together into the soundtrack for your next party.
WHO IS HE? The crazily prolific L.A. garage-rock singer-guitarist who has already released seven albums with his various bands over the past 18 months — which is probably about half as many as he’d like.
WHAT IS THIS? The Type A artist’s umpteenth release under his own name, and also something of a first — the disc features no guitars, relying instead on an arsenal of alternative instruments like bouzouki, koto, mandolin, recorder, sax and plenty of keyboards. Hey, a guy’s gotta do something to keep it interesting.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Amazingly, not that different from his other albums. Despite the anything-goes instrumentation and a few more introspective and psychedelic cuts, Segall’s pedal-to-the-metal pacing and maximalist intensity haven’t changed a bit. Basically, it’s another solidly satisfying disc — and one that suggests he could probably work his magic with two spoons, a brick and a broken accordion.
WHO IS HE? The Canadian pop-rocker, charismatic singer-songwriter and former Shotgun and Jaybird co-founder with one of the coolest handles in music — at the very least, it’s certainly more dangerous than his real name, Jim Kilpatrick.
WHAT IS THIS? His ninth solo release over the past 15 years, and a long-overdue followup to his deservedly beloved and acclaimed 2011 disc, which was naturally titled Transistor Sister.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A slate of scrappy guitar-rock and snappy indie-pop that picks up right where he left off eight years ago. That’s no accident — Jimmie says he’s “intentionally trying to create an experience that (he’ll) be nostalgic for.” If you loved the first instalment, chances are you’ll agree, thanks to this set’s deliberate musical callbacks and unstoppable lyrical positivity.
WHO ARE THEY? A gang of Australian weirdos featuring Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin of beloved Antipodean art-punk cult heroes The Drones. And a band whose seriously skewed, post-psychedelic brand of indie-rock is almost as audacious as their name.
WHAT IS THIS? Their sophomore album and the slump-dodging followup to last year’s freaky and fantastic debut A Laughing Death in Meatspace.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A cross between a wild fever dream, an unsettling drug trip, a groovier version of Captain Beefheart’s Doc at the Radar Station and an Australian arthouse movie soundtrack.