Mogwai’s seventh studio album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, can stand alone as proof that this Scottish group has staying power. In the 16 years since the band formed, its sound has undergone a steady evolution. Their increased tendency toward producing mostly instrumental, electronic music is exemplified in this dense body of work. Heavily distorted and synthesized vocals are splattered across a few tracks, but are most notable in “Mexican Grand Prix.” Intermittent are even-tempered progressive rock tunes like “George Square Thatcher Death Party” and “San Pedro.” Mogwai made excellent use of layering techniques, which has resulted in songs that begin as soft as down feather and whose climax takes on the aggression of a rabid beast. Tracks like “How To Be a Werewolf,” “Death Rays” and “Letters to the Metro” will roll into your consciousness as would a thunderstorm across a calm, unsuspecting lake.
Trial Track: “Mexican Grand Prix”
8.5 / 10 – Katelyn Spidle
Deerhoof’s style of music is not for everyone. Sure, half of the lyrics are in Japanese, and the other half are so incoherent that they might as well be. Also, lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s high-pitched vocals could easily be mistaken for those of a child. But these eccentricities are what keep listeners coming back, as much as they may scare people off.
Something that Deerhoof has always excelled at is consistently pushing their sound forward, while always sounding unmistakably like themselves. From the space-y experimentation of Friend Opportunity to the career encompassing riffage of Offend Maggie, Deerhoof really hasn’t offered us anything that has failed to keep fans excited and naysayers clasping their ears.
Deerhoof vs. Evil comes at a time in the band’s career where it stands as less of a singular work than an interesting new piece of an already large and impressive art-rock catalogue.
Trial Track: “Behold a Marvel in the Darkness”
8.0 / 10 – Trevor Smith
Cowboy Junkies’ sound is a hybrid of blues, folk and alternative rock that is sprinkled here and there with grungy guitars. In other words, if Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain had a daughter who possessed a soothing voice, it would sound something like the Cowboy Junkies’ latest album: Demons. Vocalist Margo Timmins tops the complex musical arrangement off with perfectly mastered vocals. These offer an unexpected and almost pop-y feel to both the acoustic folk sounds and the distorted bluesy ones. The only drawback is that Timmins’ voice is almost too perfect, and when it is not spiked up by a bluesy or a distorted lead guitar riff, it can come off as being almost cheesy. Demons is an easy-listening record. The blend of genres and the layering of styles really show that Cowboy Junkies are the grown-ups in the Canadian indie family.
Trial track: “Ladle”
7.5 / 10 – Lea Choukroun
Since 1981, Daniel Johnston has produced countless recordings in the form of EPs, singles, compilations and full length albums. 1990 was his 12th LP, released, as the title would suggest, in 1990. His rise to fame was slow-coming and rocky as a result of his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. In the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the singer claimed that 1990 was originally meant to be entitled 1989. Unfortunately, his frequent in-and-out visits to the psych ward severely delayed the album’s completion. The resulting tracklisting features a compilation of studio sessions, home recordings and live performances. Many titles off of this record bare witness to his deluded thoughts patterns, including “Devil Town,” “Don’t Play Cards With Satan,” and “Spirit World Rising.” Johnston can even be heard choking back tears during a live, a cappella performance of “Careless Soul.” Although his singing and guitar skills are questionable to say the least, Johnston’s childlike honesty and untainted naivete has blessed him with the ability to write lyrics that are simple, yet universally accessible.
Trial Track: “How Soon Is Now?”
– Katelyn Spidle