It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas (shut up, Andy Williams). I’m talking about Halloween.
This month is full of spooky stuff, especially if you live in California and wildfires are sprouting up all around you. No crisp fall evenings for us. Stay safe, everyone.
There’s a single bright spot in the darkness, as always: our favorite music finds from the past month. Read ’em below.
Wilco, Ode to Joy
Ode to Joy is Wilco’s eleventh studio album, and it seems informed by maturity, which is less a newfound dimension than a deepening of the band’s growth over the past decade. Jeff Tweedy’s relative calm in the face of turmoil is the defining force underlying the record, and it’s clear from the outset: his vocals on opener “Bright Leaves” sound like they were recorded as the rest of the room was napping. The song appears to address his marriage; that topic would have been mined for something caustic and even sinister on, say, Summerteeth, but here it is marveled at for its consistency and durability, warts and all. This isn’t head-in-the-sand naiveté, but rather a calculated effort to shun the grim perspectives Wilco may once have embraced. — Josh Hurst
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Colorado
At a time when most legacy rockers are hitting the road rather than bothering to write new music, Neil Young refuses to stop inventing. Not many artists have the guts or gumption to use their platform for the sake of poignancy and on-the-nose politicizing, but that’s Young’s charm, and with Crazy Horse by his side, Colorado is the most lucid sign of sage rage that he’s put forth since The Monsanto Years. — A.D. Amorosi
Mikal Cronin, Seeker
On his fourth full-length, Mikal Cronin continues to experiment outside of the Bay Area garage rock scene he was reared in. The songs on Seeker are imbued with darkness: lovelorn, tense, unsure. They’re rocking ballads filled with ornate production and doubts. — Alex Wexelman
Read our feature on Mikal Cronin here.
Refused, War Music
That Refused titled their new album War Music tells you almost everything you need to know about it—and if this were any other band caught up in the worldwide dystopia of 2019, it might be conclusive. For Refused, though, things are slightly different. The second record the political agit-punks from Sweden have released since they returned in 2012 after a fourteen-year break is a musically and ideologically ferocious call-to-arms for revolution and change—one that’s a definite response to the state of the world right now, especially in the U.S. — Mischa Pearlman
Read our feature on Refused here.
In early 2017, DIIV bandleader Zachary Cole Smith checked into “long-haul inpatient treatment” to deal with an addiction. This might have bought the band to a screeching halt, but along with guitarist Andrew Bailey, bassist Colin Caulfield, and drummer Ben Newman, DIIV has returned with Deceiver, a statement as powerful as its predecessors. It’s a heavy record, both musically and lyrically, bringing a seriousness to a project that’s always felt relatively low-stakes. — Will Schube
Read our feature on DIIV here.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
As Cave goes through the first album of Ghosteen, you sense that he’s giving God, nature, and the potential beauty of the world the benefit of the doubt and the lightness of his being. The longer songs on disc two are heavier, duskier, and more knowing—less questioning. The peace he seemed at one with on Ghosteen’s first half has disappeared by the time he gets to the eerily elegiac closer “Hollywood” and its deeply breathed, repetitive lyrics like “I’m waiting for peace to come.” In the spare, sun-spoken “Fireflies,” though, Cave finds his most perfect lyrical movement by intoning God and the universe with the opening stanza. Everything might be as distant as the stars. But Nick Cave makes empathy and elegy seem so near and touchable. — A.D. Amorosi
Kim Gordon, No Home Record
No Home Record is an eclectic surge of noise: Gordon dabbles in hip-hop production, rumbling rock ‘n’ roll, noise, and art-punk. It isn’t even the most bloody, distorted parts of her music that make for the most jarring. Take the captivating opener “Sketch Artist,” where there’s a sublime shift in instrumentation; her voice carries like a cool breeze as gentle guitar plucks reveal themselves like the sun breaking through a lightning storm. These nine tracks are a collage, sonically and pictorially, of where America stands today—a flurry of genres, of sales pitches, of desperate human cries waiting to be heard. — Margaret Farrell
Freddie Mercury, Never Boring box set
While the original albums sounded surprisingly grey, Never Boring‘s curation of Mercury’s solo output is hotly in-the-red, remixed and boldly remastered. It’s never perfect, and not every track sticks to your melodic memory bank. But its intention is clear and its aesthetics are wild. Freddie Mercury was as inventive a solo artist as he was a member of Queen—just a little more operatic and a lot more playful. — A.D. Amorosi
Chris Farren, Born Hot
Chris Farren’s second solo album, Born Hot, can best be described as aphrodisiac synth-punk, or Illinois-inspired power pop, or, most specifically, pop-punk written by someone who has been hot for so long that self-confidence has never really been an issue and therefore never feels the helpless longing that typically invigorates the genre. — Mike LeSuer
“Courtesy Call” exemplifies the highs Omni achieves when Networker, a minimal post-punk album with guitars that trot rather than chug, tackles modern malaise with equal amounts dread and semi-subtle levity. Like “Courtesy Call,” succeeding tracks “Present Tense” and “Skeleton Key” comment on digital-age communication; the songs’ shared concern with social media and messaging apps unites the former’s keyboard-assisted guitar double-kicks with the latter’s suit-and-tie CBGB gallop. — Max Freedman
Read our feature on Omni here.
You may know Nels Cline from his work in such groups as Nels Cline Trio, The Nels Cline 4, or Nels Cline & Thurston Moore (or Wilco). His latest project sees the guitarist teaming up with keys player and romantic partner Yuka C. Honda of Cibo Matto as CUP, an experimental pop duo which serves as the most playful project either member has been engaged with since Big Walnuts Yonder. “Berries,” the third single from their debut album Spinning Creature, is a blippy electronic soundscape aided by constant guitar intervention and Cline’s repetition of “a tisket, a tasket” under his own breathy falsetto. — Dean Brandt
Guerilla Toss, “Future Doesn’t Know”
What Would the Odd Do? was born from bandleader Kassie Carlson’s opiate-related near death experience. This is the band’s second release since Carlson’s recovery, but the first to address the situation head-on. The EP’s second single “Future Doesn’t Know” is a triumphant look forward with a more rock-oriented edge than its predecessor. Recalling the chiptune power pop of their peers Crying as much as the godfatherly wonk of Deerhoof, “Future” could only be found in the middle of a Guerilla Toss album. — Mike LeSuer
Harmony Woods, “Best Laid Plans II”
“Months ago, I promised you / I would never dare to let us go to bed angry / Can you feel the resentment building?” sings Sofia Verbilla of Harmony Woods, someone who definitely listens to both boygenius and Paramore, before the chorus blossoms into Hotellier-esque pleas for deep rest. While her homebodied record title is less Yoda-brained than her Massachusetts peers’, the regional influence on the Philly-based songwriter is pretty apparent. — Mike LeSuer