Staff Picks: June

John Beringer
Artist: Reptar
Album: Body Faucet
Comments: Reptar is an afro-poppin’ indie rock band from the musical hotbed of Athens, GA, and their first record, Body Faucet, has been the soundtrack to my walk (excuse me, dance) home from the train for the past two months. They showed up on my radar in 2011 with their highly touted EP, Oblang Fizz Y’All, a record that included my favorite track of 2011, “Stuck In My Id.” This is a band that writes songs suitable for a dance party but equally perfect for enjoying a sunny day outside. Listen to “Houseboat Babies” or “Orifice Origami” and you’ll find the makings of a great indie pop song: syrupy hooks that are built upon a base of varied, complex instrumentation and vocals that are just spastic and weird enough to walk the fine line between endearing and unlistenable. Reptar embodies everything good about the synth-pop movement while rising above the collective by being original, unafraid to get a little weird and awe-inspiring at live shows. Also, Pitchfork shit all over it, so you know it’s something you might actually enjoy listening to.

Justin Wesley
Artist: Robert Francis
Album: Strangers in the First Place
Comments: It’s a hell of a mistake to try to pigeonhole Robert Francis. The man works a lifetime of influences into his beautiful Laurel Canyon-esque Americana, but the songs are never indistinguishable. The genre versatility always suits the song, and his sound is always equally fitting for after-midnight bonfires and cross-country treks. Strangers in the First Place is Francis’ third album and his first on Vanguard Records. If you’re a Robert Francis novice, picture a more rustic Jeff Buckley conjuring songs of love and loss that paint every shade of California, marrying Jackson Browne with Dylan and singing with a powerhouse voice that floors you like a late-70’s-Springsteen chorus. On every song between “Tunnels” and “Dangerous Neighborhood,” the first guitar student of John Frusciante and protégé of Ry Cooder maps a journey with a soul-searching GPS that you’ll want to take again and again.

Josh Gripton
Artist: Iron Maiden
Album: The Final Frontier
Comment: Faced with an eleven hour drive, there are two things you can do: go insane playing the alphabet game or get reacquainted with albums you have previously neglected. So after my failure to find the letter ‘x’ on a billboard, I popped on Iron Maiden’s 2010 release,The Final Frontier. Upon release, the album was hailed as something of a return to Maiden’s glory days with the injection of a modern twist, and, for the most part, it lives up to that promise. The sci-fi theme adds an excuse to experiment with electronic sounds and wailing vocals, but the band generally handle it in the same way they did with the Egyptian theme of 1984’s Powerslave: masterful heavy metal, pure and simple. They may go overboard with the length of some of the songs, six running over or close to eight minutes, but there is a nice degree of variety to be had. Try “El Dorado” for a standout track, and be reassured that Maiden are still the godfathers of their genre.

Matt Fox
Assistant Editor
Artist: Hot Chip
Album: In Our Heads
Comments: Hot Chip is one of those artists who always seem to be teetering on the edge of novelty and solemnity. If they’re not debuting music videos full of comedic nuggets, they’re laying down straight-faced electro-grooves with equally stoic lyrics. While previous albums such as Coming on Strong have delivered a serious punch, others such as Made in the Dark have enough quirk to serve as a Wes Anderson soundtrack. Then comes In Our Heads, the group’s most recent effort and, if I dare say, the best example of the outfit finding stylistic common ground. The heaviness of their soulful slow jams (see “Look at Where We Are” and “Let Me Be Him”) is counteracted by playfully spastic numbers (“Night & Day”). If you’re unfamiliar with the group, this record serves as a good starting point. It has humor, heart and, most importantly, is very Hot Chip.

Erin Donaldson
Artist: Bright Eyes
Album: Cassadaga
Comments: I haven’t heard this album in ages, but the track “If the Brakeman Turns My Way,” recently came on my shuffling iPod, and suddenly something clicked. This album is… beautiful! In fact, it might even be some of Conor Oberst’s finest work. His usual self-deprecating crooning and political tirades, though not completely absent, are largely replaced with spiritual and religious themes. Quirky and understated acoustics are traded for a grander, more atmospheric sound, rich in piano and string sections. For once, we see Oberst break new ground both lyrically and compositionally and, “Four Winds” aside, he does so with exceptional grace. Cassadaga is an endearing cornerstone in Oberst’s development as a musician and a must-have for any fan.

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