Let me just get this out of the way: those of you here who are looking for that feel good summer-jam record full of 12 catchy nuggets, please raise your hand. Now leave, because your lofty expectations for the Tyvek record will soon take a wrong turn down a dark alley, only to be beaten and thrown into the dumpster.

Still with me? Good, because this record will take patience. It already has, this being Tyvek’s third year strong of being one of the best bands in the world, only to have Tyvek the LP be the Detroit outfit’s first official release longer than 10 minutes. It’s been a fun ride, and most of us have happily waited in line, scurrying to collect all the singles, to catch all the incredible shows, to dig on these creatures spreading good vibes out of bad-vibe Michigan. And so here we are, finally at that moment in the band’s life when we can celebrate all they’ve built up to, and these dudes go and take us down a strange and unfamiliar path.

Looks like they went and drank from polluted rivers and soaked up some of that negative energy. Tyvek very much reflects the downward spiral we’ve seen Detroit succumb to in recent years. The record is bursting with anti-hippie psychedelic power, wrong-turn guitar fuckery and confused attempts at pop assemblage. When leader Kevin Boyer states, “Bad times bad times, welcome to the fucked up side of my mind. Welcome to the nonplussed side of my mind,” it is time to abort mission and go down with the ship. Tyvek have dosed you with reality, and it ain’t pretty.

A telling sign of what’s on board: the lone cherry picked from the old singles is a re-worked version of the pent-up “Frustration Rock.” Plenty of frustration abounds, as the band channel the bitter tones of Dragnet-era Fall (especially that album’s longer, free-form dispatches) and those kings of contempt, the Urinals. The addition of Damon—on loan from Toledo’s Puffy Areolas—joining forces with Heath as guitar supplement number two, makes for a twin-pronged freak attack against Boyer’s crunchy central rhythm guitar. Damon’s presence is especially felt on tracks like “Building Burning (Re-Edit)” and “Summer Things,” wherein they collectively build songs until something catches and then take flight into a ferocious groove to the end.

There are, of course, plenty of tremendously catchy moments, even if they are spiked with a wallop of angry spirit. “Stand and Fight” is the kind of tune that would make anyone in the genre jealous, as simple and direct as a two-minute punk song could be. “Hey Una” is familiar in a dozen ways (it’s has to be some Messthetics riff, right?), but quickly becomes stamped in your brain as Tyvek after a few listens. And “Michael Caine” ends the album on an upbeat tip, almost as an afterthought, its toe-tapping beat smothered in drums and static.

But it is not enough to turn the mood. Tyvek have made a statement with this LP, making it clear that you will not be comfortable. They took the slab, and instead of making a nice polite sculpture, created a grotesque diorama. The scenes within are not always pretty, but the members of Tyvek are not here to hold our hands and throw flowers everywhere. They are here to get us through the everyday shit and maybe make us move our bodies in the process, and for that we must forever be grateful.
Doug Elliott

Pink Mountaintops
Outside Love

In the past, Stephen McBean has treated his Pink Mountaintops project as the reservoir for his home-recorded ruminations on love, lust and death that didn’t mesh with the monolithic prog bombast of his full-time endeavors in Black Mountain. It was never as if these sketches were lesser in comparison; they just struck deeper, giving way to an emotional pinprick, a mortal reflection and personal spirituality rather than the raw physicality and imagery to which his epic metal lends itself. With Outside Love, his third Pink Mountaintops record, McBean surprisingly decides to give these songs the same carnal importance and sonic grandeur, enlisting a laundry list of fellow Canadian collaborators to orchestrate his deserter romance novel, but with mixed results.

With McBean’s acerbic deadpan and awkward narratives about getting fucked by cupid, it’s much easier to see the songwriter as character-actor within these songs than being an honest outpouring from his soul, a trait which kind of dents the truth and gives the otherwise gorgeous “Vampire” and “And I Love You” the feeling you’ve been duped—and not dumped. Even if McBean’s lyrics are a bitter pill to swallow, his scope is undeniable on Outside Love, arranging symphonic strings and honky-tonk slide guitars with equal aplomb, bringing “Closer to Heaven” to a elegiac space-country swell at album’s end. And when he revs up the loner craft, set to the heart of the moon, the songs reach heights on par with Spiritualized concert-hall shoegaze, with an underbelly of his alter-ego. Both “The Gayest of Sunbeams” and the stinging “Execution” keep the momentum flowing like lava with the dark and (slightly) evil sneer that we expect from McBean. It’s enough of a buzzing smokescreen to tolerate the myriad of cringe-worthy love-torn soliloquies not even fit for the jacket flap.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “While We Were Dreaming”

Bob Dylan
Together Through Life

As the fourth album released during the latest renaissance period in Bob Dylan’s career, Together Through Life occupies a tough slot in the Dylan catalog. For some, the novelty of Dylan’s most recent incarnation has worn off, and any record that fails to duplicate the great Time Out of Mind or “Love and Theft” will be a disappointment. For others, Dylan’s failure to directly address recent political and economic developments will be troublesome, much in the same way those listeners were annoyed that he failed to follow the Neil Young model and rip on Bush on 2006’s Modern Times. Both cases represent fundamental misunderstandings of what Dylan has always done, namely, make the music he wants to hear on his own terms.

While Together Through Life sounds similar to Modern Times, if a comparison is to be made, it might be said that it is the Nashville Skyline of this era: a collection of well-written Dylan-styled love songs that take on a rather unassuming guise. As with Nashville Skyline, the songs on Together Through Life lack the epic quality found in their brethren on preceding albums. A lack of epic material, however, shouldn’t be seen as a lack of quality songs. Just as history has shown that Nashville Skyline occupies an important and delightful place in Dylan’s body of work, Together Through Life will likely assume a similar status one day.

While occasionally the album’s lyrics come off as predictable (possibly a result of Dylan’s extensive collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter), the cliched bits seem calculated, as if to add a sense of well-worn familiarity to songs whose sound is steeped in tradition. Musically, the band Dylan has assembled captures a solid countrified blues sound, augmented tastefully throughout with the accordion of David Hidalgo (notably of Los Lobos).

If there is one common thread running through the record’s mature romantic ballads and sharp blues jams, it is that this is the music Dylan wants to play right now. This perhaps comes through clearest during the blues rant “My Wife’s Home Town” and the darkly humorous “It’s All Good,” both of which feature a Dylan so pleased with what he’s doing that he lets out a few audible chuckles. It’s in those chuckles that Dylan might be delivering his most directly personal message: if you’re willing to relax and set aside your preconceptions and hang-ups for 45 minutes, you’ll see that Dylan can still put together enjoyable and rewarding records, some 48 years and 33 albums into his career.
Ron Wadlinger

Tara Jane O’Neil
A Ways Away

Tara Jane O’Neil has been refining her solo sound for a while, though she’s been carving out her niche in the indie rock world for at least 15 years since she starred in Half Cocked. She was the indie rock crush of many a 15-year-old then—and surely still is. While having cool hair and pretty eyes is nice and all, it’s the music that wins the fans. TJO has a capacity for weird guitar hooks of the sort that are easily whistleable and get stuck in your head and then transmute slightly until you can’t remember from where they originally came. When you go back to one of her records, you end up staring into the middle distance, memories flooding back of when you first heard the songs: your older sister’s car, or smoking pot with your indie rocker buddy, maybe sitting on the floor in front of TJO at a house show. She lets some influences creep into this record, some intentional, some probably not. The first few notes of “Dig In” do sound like the slow drunken timbre of Mick Turner’s guitar in the Dirty Three. A melody in “A New Binding” is fleetingly reminiscent of something Jim O’Rourke’s “Eureka,” and the very first line of “A Vertiginous One” mirrors the first line of REM’s “Losing My Religion.” You would probably only notice this if you’d heard both on the way home from work. But “Biwa” sounds like punk rock kids sneaking into the cathedral at 5 a.m. with tape recorders to capture god’s reverb and put it on their album. The rest of the record is like the whisper from a back alley in the middle of downtown after working hours, quiet and windy, where all the leaves from the sparse trees end up blowing in a cyclone with fast food wrappers and random business papers. This is going to be that “late night with the windows down” record this summer.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

MP3: “Drowning”

Depeche Mode
Sounds of the Universe

Depeche Mode’s 12th studio album, Sounds of the Universe, is aptly named for those who have followed the band’s star for the past 30 years—the record encompasses the sounds of their past three decades. During that time, the band’s dark pop—often weighty subjects backed by irresistible dance tracks—helped to define the ’80s and new wave without becoming caricatures of the decade. The band survived the fickle ’90s by incorporating rock and electronica without ever becoming painfully uncool (except, of course, to those who never liked the band to begin with). David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher close the first decade of the new millennium with this release that showcases the band’s unique sounds—from the slicker sides of their latter years to returning to analog synthesizers and drum machines.

Opening with discordant noise that serves as a reminder that this is a band who has used random samples like car engines, “In Chains” slips into soulful vocals from Gahan and nods to various stages of the band’s synth-dominated sound. The intro for “Peace” is reminiscent of 1982’s “See You,” but that’s where the similarities end, as harmonies more reminiscent of Songs of Faith & Devotion and keyboards imitating Black Celebration emerge. Appropriately, the lyrics deal with rebirth and the past, as Gahan sings, “I’m leaving anger in the past with all the shadows that it cast.” The first single, “Wrong” has some vintage vibes too, with angstful vocals from Gahan. It seems as if over the band’s career he’s alternated between this and a detached side (i.e. “Fly on the Windscreen”), and here he nearly growls “I’ve reached the wrong end by the wrong means.”

The gentle ebb and flow of “Come Back” is hypnotic, while “Little Soul” is meant to haunt, with lyrics such as, “My little soul will leave a footprint.” Eerie “Miles Away/The Truth Is” quickly digs itself into your head, much like Violator’s “Policy of Truth,” a certain rawness to Gahan vocals doing the dredging. Gore—perhaps the soul of the band—does much of the backing vocals, takes over singing duties for “Jezebel,” while the final track, “Corrupt” is purely electronic Depeche Mode. While there’s no “single” feel to any of these tracks, Depeche Mode probably is certain at this point that their music for the masses will reach the ears of the devoted.
Josie Rubio

FS Studios

Back in the go-go days of the turn of the century, people were pretty excited about electroclash. And the act tipped to be the “next big thing” was the duo known as Fischerspooner. They were a self-contained unit with not only music but also an elaborate stage show. The debut album #1 was released by three separate labels, the British club brand Ministry of Sound paid a rumored $1 million to sign the band and there was a general mania in the air. However, when electroclash proved to be a flash-in-the-pan, the world moved on with brutal swiftness. When the group returned with 2005’s Odyssey, it was met with general indifference, a shame as they managed to craft a pretty great follow-up.

But the third time is a charm for Fischerspooner’s latest album Entertainment. For those whose only reference for the band is the electroclash talking points, it may be a surprise to know that the band has shaped up to be more of an American version of the Pet Shop Boys. Warren Fischer shapes the instrumental aspects, while Casey Spooner holds down the lyrics and vocals. Add them together and you have Fischerspooner!

Entertainment continues the growth shown on Odyssey. It’s a cohesive and very well crafted electro-pop album, sonically with the feel of an ’80s record but without being super literal about it. On the vocal side, Spooner isn’t a distinguished singer, but within the context of the band he works great. Like the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, Spooner doesn’t have to belt to sell his wry character sketches and social observations. There’s a fair amount of dry humor shot through the record as seen in songs like “Danse En France,” a tune built around French conversation exercises. While overall the songs aren’t as hook-filled as you’d hope, Entertainment’s best songs have a slow burning quality that will stick with you long after the next next big thing has come and gone.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “Supply & Demand”

Mika Miko
We Be Xuxa

Upon first encounter with Mika Miko, wherein I subsequently trashed “Sex Jazz,” it was the blatant pilfering of post-punk that rattled my cage, that and the lack of harmony in the girls’ execution and group voice. Now, in the context of the L.A. quartet’s first widely heard record, We Be Xuxa, “Sex Jazz” makes sense in presenting post-punk as more a feeling, a texture and a deconstruction, than a tangible treasure chest (though I’m still an anti-sax proponent). Despite their inability to carry a tune, they manage to forgo that inadequacy with soul, and regardless if you find anything catchy about such chaotic abandon, each track is propulsive enough to stick as pointed pop.

Like their East Coast contemporaries in Ponytail, Mika Miko’s originality lies in the quirky squeaks, random grunts and echoes, blips, scratches and crash and burn that makes it’s way into the mix. Never have the riffs of Black Flag and the Germs been so toyed with. A song like “Totion” is sonically accurate were the band trying to channel both Kleenex and Public Image Ltd. With reverb caked in distant dissonant darkness, it still draws new blood by magnifying the extremely danceable rhythms and fuck-off synergy the band’s aura gives off. One shouldn’t concentrate so much on how knowledgeable Mika Miko are of their lineage, be it the hardcore blisters found on “Blues Not Speed” and “On the Rise,” the riot grrrlie traction of “Johnson R. Cool” or the chirpy Go-Gos/B-52s bop of “I Got a Lot (New New New),” as it’s surely a post-modernist stroke, but one of spontaneous genius and genuine fun.
Kevin J. Elliott

Magik Markers
Balf Quarry
Drag City

Since forming at the beginning of the decade, Magik Markers has been a constantly evolving and shifting entity. Through their countless releases—both on limited-run CDR labels and larger indies—the band has explored a variety of directions, from free noise to more traditional rock formats. At times the two-piece has been frustratingly perplexing, seemingly unable to get as comfortable in the studio as on the stage. However, Balf Quarry, their Drag City debut, shows the band finding that comfort zone, encapsulating its various sonic experiences into a fully engaging album.

Following in the path of 2007’s Boss, Magik Markers once again hooked up with a heavy hitter to handle recording duties, in this case, Scott Colburn, whose previous production credits include Animal Collective, Sun City Girls and Mudhoney. The result is a record that is both focused and diverse. “The Ricecar of Dr. Clara Haber,” a pure noise jam in the Magik Markers tradition, works perfectly juxtaposed with “State Numbers,” in which the band assumes a dystopian piano lounge act persona. Likewise, the more traditional rock songs—such as the disintegrating hot rod anthem “Risperdal” and the fantastic contemporary noise take on Jefferson Airplane that is “Ohio R./Live/Hooiser”—sound just right alongside the frantic bombast of “Jerks” and “The Lighter Side of ? Hippies.” And perhaps in a move calculated to show just how at ease with itself the band is at this point, the album ends with the 10-minute long “Shells,” a quiet and even gorgeous piano-driven ballad.
Ron Wadlinger

MP3: “Don’t Talk In Your Sleep”