The Evens
The Odds

For Ian MacKaye, it must seem impossible to ever truly escape the looming legacy of his past accomplishments. Minor Threat and Fugazi are arguably two of the most significant bands to emerge in the decades following the punk era, and as guitarist and frontman for those two bands, it’s with good reason that MacKaye has earned his place in punk’s lineage.

But then what? When Fugazi ceased operations in 2003, MacKaye was 41—not exactly retirement age. Fortunately, he had already put another band in motion, The Evens, with drummer and singer Amy Farina (formerly of The Warmers). But now up to their third album (remember Minor Threat only released one full-length during their time together), the band seems low key by comparison to MacKaye’s previous work. Ian and Farina recently had a child together, so obviously they’re not ready to hit the road like Fugazi once did. But as witnessed on the duo’s latest, The Odds, MacKaye has mellowed musically as well.

Leading off with “King of Kings,” The Odds is wiry and sparse, recalling The Breeders most recent work or something like, say, Come. But with just Ian’s baritone guitar being the song’s main component, Farina propels the track with the attitude of her smoky vocals. The guitar lashing of “Wanted Criminals” recalls the vitriol of Fugazi, but the vocals seem more obvious than even that band’s most pointed diatribes. Such lack of lyrical dexterity is a deterrent for much of the album, with the pair consistently favoring directness over subtelty. And though cuts like “Warble Factor” have their moments, as a result of the minimal instrumentation, there’s not a lot of excitement musically. It’s no doubt difficult for someone of MacKaye’s stature to rethink the old model, but he’s going to have to do a better job of it if he’s ever going to escape his own shadow.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Vinyl Williams
Salonislam/No Pain in Pop

Given that the title of Lionel “Vinyl” William’s phantasmagoric debut refers to the scientific equation for infinity, one might expect just another artist dealing in loops and beats to create a psychedelia that progressively eats itself. Not so with Lemniscate. Williams understands where the infinite past and the infinite future meet in the middle. He uses nostalgia as his basic platform: there are shades of British pop, shoegaze, maximalist electronica, trip-hop and Krautrock vying to become the matrix from which Williams songs expound. But Williams is the grandson of the great composer John Williams, so it makes sense his songs are more experiential and less reliant on spotting the influence that informs his work. “Higher Worlds” and “Object of the Source” do present the listener with a reference as to which contemporaries the Los Angeles–based savant is reflecting. Radiohead comes to mind as a band that at once ascertained a dynamic hold of grunge and arena-rock and took it to both inhuman and human planes of texture and mood. Or most recently, Tame Impala sucked the scent of ’60s and ’70s psych and prog and filtered it through colors and experiences only existent in the new millennium. Even with the faint crackle and hiss of actual vinyl playing a role here (layered in the underbelly of the record), even with echoes of Loveless reverberating in the peripheries, and even with Williams’ extra-treated dream-pop vocals doing some serious hypnagogic synapses, Lemniscate doesn’t allow the listener to linger too long in one view, as it’s constantly shifting and looking towards the next curve.

Exhilarating as Williams’ prismatic execution of the past may be, it is also a curse depending on who’s listening. Up close, “Grassy” is so dense it’s a murky abstraction of refracted layers. From afar—perhaps doing dishes in the other room—one of those layers might peel off and give the sense you’re missing out on the album’s grandest, most exemplary track. Again, half the experience of Lemniscate is the experience. Should you choose to get lost in the amorphousness, you’ll certainly enjoy a certain sensuality that doesn’t fit modern music. Should you take Williams at face value, you could say he’s definitely exploring the souls of guys like Thom Yorke and Kevin Shields. Then again, he’s got his own unique exploratory soul similar to that of guys like Flying Lotus and Panda Bear. Lemniscate is not going to change your life in the way that OK Computer might have, but Williams does show in all of his paisley bombast and sonic mischievousness that he’s one of those guys trying diligently to make that kind of record.
Kevin J. Elliott

From the Vaults, Vol. 1
Season of Mist

If this album had been released as a proper studio album, it is safe to say none of Kylesa’s exponentially budding fanbase would have been the wiser. A title like From the Vaults, Vol. 1 usually works as a disclaimer, in the sense of providing a framework as to who should be alerted to the release (hardcore fans) and what they should expect: an endearing historical document, contextualizing the band and uncovering prescient snapshots of their current, past or future glory.

A patchwork quality in recording and unfinished zygotes of song are excusably revealed, while the inclusion of covers is standard issue. From the Vaults, Vol. 1 includes two such covers and features a song called “Drum Jam,” so while these assumptions are not completely irrelevant, Kylesa’s sixth full-length LP bears a thoughtfulness worthy of its place alongside 2010’s Spiral Shadow in the discography. The comprehensibility was intended. It is properly sequenced and uniformly booming in sound. Old songs, previously released or not, are never just upended from the floor. It is more like the past revisited, with out-of-print fan favorites like “A 111 Degree Heat Index,” “Between Silence and Sound” and “Bottom Line II” completely re-recorded for Vaults, the last of which has changed to reflect its live, speedier rendition. Kylesa’s ever-expanding genre base is fully represented, making this a valuable compendium. The band’s sludge upbringing is cited verbatim with a Buzzov*en cover. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” speaks to their future of allowing more psychedelic and improvisational moments on their next album, slated for spring.

It is this future and the sense that Kylesa is good for the long haul that is the most exciting aspect of this release. It is the first volume after all, implying that a dearth of material from the future-past will become available. As another batch of songs, three unreleased efforts previously remiss of vocals, further makes clear, Kylesa is neither shy of the past, embarrassed from missed connections, nor unable to grow forward.
Elizabeth Murphy

Junkie XL

While the name Junkie XL might not ring any bells, if you were anywhere near a radio, TV or movie theater in 2002, you’ve heard his amped up remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.” It went to number one in 20 countries and seemingly hasn’t left the airwaves since. While Junkie XL (known to the government as Tom Holkenborg) has never reclaimed that pop moment, he has stayed busy as an artist, remixer and scorer of films and video games. Now after a four-year break, Holkenborg has returned with his sixth album, Synthesized.

Junkie XL has never been a trendy figure in the dance world. His is not a name tastemakers would drop in order to bolster their cred. However, one imagines that Holkenborg really doesn’t care. Therefore, it’s not a dis to say that he aims for the meaty part of the curve. He’s a man of the people and not necessarily the critics. In other words, if the people are dancing, he’s happy. After all, if he wanted cred, inviting Tears For Fears’ Curt Smith (“When Enough Is Not Enough”) and Datarock’s Fredrik (“Gloria”), as well as resurrecting Timothy Leary (“Leave Behind Your Ego”) might not be the best moves. He does invite underground hero Tommie Sunshine to the party on “Love Machine,” so it’s not as if he doesn’t throw the bloggeratti a bone.

Synthesized is a textbook showing by Junkie XL. One of his strengths lies in his ability to bring a pop song structure to a club song. Even when a cut doesn’t feature vocals, it has a strong and unmistakable beginning, middle and end. It doesn’t seem that difficult or impressive until you’ve heard some of his contemporaries run out of ideas 60 seconds into one of their songs. Indeed, Synthesized is never short on ideas. Holkenborg is able to go a few different places: house excursions, detours into from electro-rock, revisitations of the Big Beat style, and trips into a zone of expansive synth-pop. The influence of working in other mediums comes through loud and clear in the pacing and sequence of the album. As for the actual results, Synthesized delivers dancefloor bangers, Kool-Aid smiles, and a serious reconsideration of the Junkie XL brand.
Dorian S. Ham

Dinosaur Jr.
Chocomel Daze (Live 1987)

I used to hate Dinosaur Jr. I was firmly in the Sebadoh camp and comfortable with my decision to boycott all things Mascis. Then I took acid and realized their beef had nothing to do with me or how I enjoy music, and that the cassingle of “Just Like Heaven” I stole from my brother when I was 11 actually was better than The Cure version. I quickly became obsessed and remain a hoarder of everything Dinosaur Jr. It wasn’t until about 2001 that I got to see J Mascis play live with the Fog. I was satisfied that I’d never experience the folkloric sonic destruction I’d heard tales of from elder indie nerds still aurally damaged from the one-two punch of seeing the band share a bill with My Bloody Valentine. When the band reunited in 2005, I finally had the chance to see the original line-up, and it’s still the loudest show I’ve ever heard. But until now, I’ve been left to imagine what it was like back in the ’80s, when the band was young and full of new ideas.

Chocomel Daze is a phenomenal time capsule, giving us a clear picture of those ear-splitting shows. The album starts with some completely overdriven bass and blownout guitar, extremely live, as the soundguy audibly brings the levels down as the band kicks in. The static tornado clears into “Severed Lips,” slowed down to almost half the speed of the cut on the debut record and stretching it out from four minutes to nearly seven. It drags and plods as if to give the crowd a false impression of how the band actually sounds. Mascis almost intentionally flubs the solo, which on the album turns the song from a jangly ditty to a searing rock slab. After sparse applause and a typically long pause between songs, Murph blasts into the machine-gunned intro for “In A Jar” and the jig is up. The spectators who weren’t into the sludge blast of the first song were weeded out and now the real fans remaining are rewarded.

Chocomel Daze will reward from start to finish. Yes, there’s no new material. This was new material in 1987, so all the songs will be a reminder of how cutting edge Dino’s records were from the start. It’s like seeing old footage of Neil Young saying “this is a new song,” then playing “Old Man.” Luckily for us, this isn’t just a reissue or a repackage. Dinosaur sounds fresh and tough, while also cohesive, energetic and monstrously loud—not unlike they do today, at least now that they’ve shaken the cobwebs off. This isn’t bootleg quality, either. It’s fully audible and clear and will leave your ears bleeding just like seeing them live for real. Just turn it up loud.
Michael O’Shaughnessy