You just knew that if the woman who made the sax scream, howl and sing in Nightshark ever put her lungs to use as a vocalist, she'd probably be pretty great. With the edgy, ferocious presence of early Patti Smith and the fearless spirit of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks-era Lydia Lunch on her side, Becca Mhalek is a daunting presence on stage. Her words come forth like steady but unpredictable bursts of volcanic lava while her tortured voice strains at its boundaries and seethes with a rage born of unresolved emotions. Although her thick, dark hair hides her eyes, you can imagine them wild or squeezed tightly shut with the force of the dark, electric energy flowing through her every pore. Mhalek embodies the uncompromising sound of MVP with an enviable conviction and raw power.
The artistic ambition behind Drop the Fear, Ryan Policky and Gabriel Ratliff's previous band, was undeniable, but the act's music felt unfinished. When Avoiding the Consequences swept into stores last fall, all of the hyperbolic critical accolades seemed a bit premature. However, the dreamy, moody atmosphere of this album firmly establishes the band as heirs apparent of acts Sigur Rs, Slowdive and M83. Songs like "Love Is a Ghost in America," which recalls Kevin Shields's sleepy yet gently moving work for Lost in Translation, drift in like warm, spectral winds in places untainted by recent human presence. Elsewhere, "Zoning" whispers softly before hypnotically soaring into the neglected regions of the imagination. Throughout the album, inspiring vistas of melody and electronically generated sound are flawlessly melded with expertly nuanced rhythms. Easily on the same level of musical sophistication as their influences, the members of A Shoreline Dream prove that their vision is one worth sharing.
The Autokinoton has been around for, like, ever. But constant lineup changes -- including the very recent departure of guitarist Shaun Herrera -- have recessed the band again and again over the years. In spite of this, the act has taken on each subsequent incarnation with a musical fervor and energy that course through each recording. The Furnace Room Demos, although technically a preview disc by name, is a marked exodus from the outfit's screamo-laden hardcore beginnings. Fully instrumental and totally epic in scope, it's like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album reworked by scenester metal kids -- but without the frilly nuances that plague groups such as Ocean or Bossk. Demos spans only four songs, but the abrasive fretwork makes it feel as if it's reaching toward a breathless eternity. If it ever does come to an end, the Auto-K will see it through.
The old cliche about too many chefs spoiling the soup became an old cliche for the usual reason: In the vast majority of cases, it's true. But the men and women of Rabbit Is a Sphere are the exception that proves the rule. Robert Rutherford, Natalie Winslow and Christopher Nelsen all sing lead, and along with Georgina Guidotti, they contribute to the compositions that make up Laps in the Sleep Saloon. As a result, the disc is busy instrumentally, with various guitars and keyboards taking roads less traveled, and the lyrics, which aim for poetry rather than settling for mere rhymes, echo with multiple voices. That's typically a recipe for chaos, yet the musicians' disparate sensibilities combine to make "Cough and Convince," "Newscasters on Cocaine" and the rest of the Sphere's songs stronger than if they'd been delivered by a single individual. The group demonstrates that some mighty tasty fare can emerge from a crowded kitchen.
It's not always pretty to look Fear in the face. Late last year, for instance, David Marion, the group's frontman, got whacked upside the mug with a bass headstock, resulting in a hole in his cheek "that you could fit a small rodent through," according to a post on the band's website. But Marion's ew-inducing injury was the only thing that's slowed the Marchers, whose rapid creative development was codified by their latest CD. Tunes such as "Drowning the Old Hag" and "Taking Cassandra to the End of the World Party" are far more ambitious and intricate than the outfit's early material -- and while they showcase instrumental acumen and a sound that's progressive in every sense of the word, they still crackle with the passion and power for which the players have always been known. By now, no doubt, Marion's wound is a thing of the past. But with luck, The Always Open Mouth will never close.
Turner is no axman-come-lately. When the late Tommy Bolin decided to leave Zephyr circa the early '70s, Turner took his place -- and he subsequently played guitar for the Legendary 4-Nikators and bluesman supreme Otis Taylor, whose 1996-2003 platters gained much of their power from Turner's searing riffs. However, he didn't truly step into the spotlight until the release of Rise, a solo disc on the NorthernBlues imprint that earned this same honor in 2005, and The Turner Diaries is even better. On offerings like "Dangerous," "I'm a Man, I'm a Man" and "I'm Tore Down," Turner displays tremendous instrumental range, reeling out licks that stir emotions of every description, and producer Kenny Passarelli, who oversaw much of Taylor's seminal work, makes sure the tracks hang together as songs instead of deteriorating into pyrotechnical showcases. After more than three decades, Turner remains a master of fast-fingered frenzy. These Diaries are definitely worth keeping.
The list of people contributing to this veteran Nederland combo's bow for the famed Vanguard label may fill longtime supporters with anxiety -- but such worries are misplaced. On the album, banjoist Dave Johnston, guitarist Adam Aijala, bassist Ben Kaufmann and mandolinist Jeff Austin join forces with Tom Rothrock, a producer who's worked with the Foo Fighters, among other modern rockers, as well as Pete Thomas, the original drummer for Elvis Costello's Attractions. Thanks to such contributions, "Classic Situation" and "How 'Bout You?" have a different feel than any of the group's previous recordings. Nevertheless, the Yonder Mountain boys maintain their connection to the bluegrass and roots styles that brought them together in the first place, just as they did when they were first discovered by the nation's jam aficionados, and their loyalty keeps the material anchored to tradition no matter who's behind the boards. The album represents a change for this four-piece, but their essence remains unaltered.
There's a natural affinity between jazz and hip-hop; the genres each champion improvisation, be it instrumental or verbal, as well as the joy of grooves and the pleasures of cool. So, too, does Future Jazz Project, which brings these sounds together in a way that's all too rare these days. On their new recording, keyboardists Greg Harris and Greg Raymond, drummer/DJ Dameion Hines and bassist Casey Sidwell fashion a musical backdrop that deserves to be heard in the foreground. Meanwhile, MC Big House and vocalist Selina Albright contribute two very different yet wholly compatible flavors: forceful rhyming and soulful crooning. On "Stress" and other standouts, these ingredients cohere to form a new kind of jazz fusion -- one that's far more vivid and exciting than most music grouped under this heading. That's intelligent Design.
Local roots-music fans know all about KC Groves. A longtime Lyons resident, she's one-fourth of Uncle Earl, a combo that's played lots of gigs and festivals in these parts and contributed a song to the 2005 Colorado Bluegrass Music Society compilation. Now, however, the outfit is taking a giant step toward national prominence with Waterloo, Tennessee, a new disc on Rounder Records produced by none other than founding Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones. On the surface, and below it, this seems like an odd combination. But Jones has played music inspired by folk and acoustic traditions before (spun Led Zeppelin III lately?), and he's smart enough to let Groves and cohorts Kristin Andreassen, Rayna Gellert and Abigail Washburn be themselves. The CD's sound is pure, clear and uncluttered, whether the band is ripping through rave-ups like "Wish I Had My Time Again" or getting dark on the deeply felt dirge "My Epitaph." At moments like these, it's hard to imagination a more compatible couple than KC and Mr. Jones.
Over the years, a number of DIY spots have appeared -- Pancho's Villa, the Junkyard, Garageland, the Hipster Youth Halfway House -- and all have inevitably burned out after short but fiery existences. The latest to carry the torch is Blast-o-Mat, a garage turned totally sweet venue. Attracting city kids on road bikes and punkers in pegged jeans, Blast is an underground enclave, away from the overhyped and overdone bar scene, a community haven for misfits and rockers. But its location in the industrial refuse of a small working-class neighborhood can make it difficult for the uninitiated to find -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Blast-o-Mat experience hinges on the frenetic passion of its select patrons and can be succinctly summed up with the quaint axiom spray-painted in capital letters on the wall behind the tiny stage: "ROCK LIKE THE FUCK."

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