Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81

Baby 81
(Abstract Dragon/RCA)
Once a band hits a creative breakthrough, as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club did with 2005’s Howl, it often uses the follow-up to consolidate its recently acquired strengths. B.R.M.C., however, moves forward by stepping back. The trio largely subsumes the folk and blues-soaked sounds of Howl for a return to the loud, driving rock of its first two albums, but tempers the old ways with the airy openness and sharp songwriting it discovered on the third. Tunes like “Not What You Wanted,” “American X” and “Weapon of Choice” (the perfect single to light up rock radio, if only programmers outside of Little Steven would discover it) smoothly unite the band’s melodic, droning and political impulses into exciting modern rock. B.R.M.C. could at this point in its career easily coast along, rewriting “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll” over and over. That the band has kept evolving and improving speaks volumes about its commitment to its own artistic impulses. Michael Toland

Josiah - No Time

No Time
No Time, album number three from England power trio Josiah finds the band kicking harder and dirtier than ever, even as it’s become more focused and precise. Leader Matthew Bettancourt really comes into his own here as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, keeping the riffs sharp and the melodies memorable, while the rhythm section proves itself the master of the ol’ stoner boogie. “I Can’t Seem to Find It,” “Time to Kill” and the title track rattle the Big Rawk cage to pieces, letting all the juices flow. Excellent. Michael Toland

Garfields Birthday - Deaf in Venice EP

Deaf in Venice EP
(Pink Hedgehog)
We all know you can count on death and taxes. You can also count on Garfields Birthday delivering sterling nuggets of guitar pop. The three songs found here, each of which highlight a member, are catchy, smart and heartfelt—simply excellent. If forced by radio tyranny to pick one, I’ll go with “Cocaine Joe,” but really, any of these would light up your stereo’s speakers. At three songs, it’s almost a cruel tease, but if this doesn’t whet your appetite for more Garfields Birthday cake, you just don’t like frosting. Michael Toland

Beardfish - Sleeping in Traffic: Part One

Sleeping in Traffic: Part One
Sweden’s rock community seems obsessed with the 70s sometimes. A few bands (the Hellacopters and The Soundtrack of Our Lives come to mind) drag 70s rock into the 21st century, but an awful lot of Swedish groups seem perfectly content to stay within the confines of the Me Decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with that on the face of it, as long as the artists are doing it well. On Sleeping in Traffic: Part one, Beardfish plays old-fashioned progressive rock, with symphonic flourishes, sophisticated arrangements and catchy melodies derived equally from pop, classical and folk as if Marillion and prog metal never happened. A sense of humor helps, as well—cf “The Ungodly Slob.” Fans of 70s Yes, Genesis and King Crimson who despair at ever hearing such sounds made fresh will be pleased with Beardfish. Michael Toland

Dinosaur Jr - Beyond

(Fat Possum)
Beyond is the first album under the Dinosaur Jr name since 1997’s Hand It Over and the first to feature the original J Mascis-Lou Barlow-Murph lineup since 1988. Unsurprisingly, it sounds the way Dino Jr has always sounded: folk rock tunes overloaded with massive distortion, Mascis’ laconic vocals and lots of guitar solos. Despite Mascis having plowed this same furrow for 25 years, he sounds revitalized here, turning in ringing melodies and lots of splendiferous guitar work. “We’re Not Alone,” “Been Here All the Time” and “Crumble” hit the volume overload pleasure buttons with thrusting urgency, while the lovely “I Got Lost” is an acoustic close harmony session with Mascis and Barlow crooning sweetly. Speaking of the latter, the erstwhile Sebadoh leader contributes a pair of strong songs himself; “Back to Your Heart” and “Lightning Bulb” successfully transplant the songwriting persona he so diligently developed the past 20 years into Dino Jr Land. Naysayers won’t be swayed by Beyond, but fans should love it and the curious might do well to start here. Michael Toland

Various Artists - Lovin' Fire

Lovin’ Fire
(Psychic Circle)
Compiled by the Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman, Lovin’ Fire compiles 20 cuts from the late 60s and early 70s, when such terms as “psychedelic,” “progressive,” “hard rock” and “heavy metal” hadn’t yet calcified into the rigidly stratified genre terms they would become. The 20 British and Continental bands here put their guitar firepower to use for more than just rocking ass, though they certainly do that too. Saloman’s annotation explains more, but basically these are bands that had no shot other than a 45 or two, maybe a single obscure album. Highlights include Mayroc’s grungy “Lovin’ Fire” (featuring guitarist Bari Watts, who would work with the Frond in the future), Andromeda’s folk rocking “Rainbow Chasing” (not the work of the other Andromeda, which featured Atomic Rooster guitarist John DuCann) and Whichwhat’s groovy “Parting.” Not everything here is a gem, but there’s enough rough diamonds on Lovin’ Fire to make it of strong interest to fans of past psych/rock obscurities. And it’s part of a series of compilations curated by the Frond, which is even better news. Michael Toland

Tia Carrera - Heaven/Hell

Recorded in 2005, Heaven/Hell is a relatively quick (three songs in thirty minutes) blast of sound from Austin’s premier improvisational psychedelic rock trio. This is Tia Carrera doing what it does best, feedback-heavy guitar histrionics that still keep close to the melody—like Black Sabbath on acid with Hendrix sitting in. Earthless doesn’t have the market cornered on this sound, after all. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, to be sure, but those with the jones will appreciate the hit. Michael Toland

Marillion - Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else
The follow-up to Marillion’s shockingly strong masterpiece Marbles, Somewhere Else steps away from overarching concepts to present a mere collection of songs. The group is still in firm command of its songwriting and arranging powers, crafting fine tracks like “A Voice From the Past” and “Thank You Whoever You Are.” If I have any complaints, it’s that the record is extremely ballad heavy, without excursions into the band’s pop or prog epic sides, and that it doesn’t represent any kind of step forward. But even the best bands don’t knock one out of the park every time, and it’s conceivable I’m judging Somewhere Else on its predecessor’s considerable merits. Make your own choice here. Michael Toland

David Torn - Prezens

Between illness and a busy session career, it’s been over a decade since guitarist/sampler David Torn issued a record under his own name. Prezens picks up where his 90s work left off, heavy on atmosphere, shifting rhythms and bizarre tones. Working with avant jazzers Tim Berne (sax), Tom Rainey (drums) and Craig Taborn (keys), Torn conjures up a variety of soundscapes that defy easy classification—”Sink,” “AK” and “Neck-Deep in the Harrow…” could be soundtrack music for a science fiction nightmare, except that they have too much body to be mere background sound. The presence (sorry) of Berne et al certainly makes these songs jazzier than Torn’s work has been in a long time, but I wouldn’t call it jazz—the influence of everything from Robert Fripp to Adrian Belew to Sonny Sharrock is too strong. Torn has always inhabited his own distinctive spot in the musical firmament, and Prezens is a welcome return to that shadowy corner. Michael Toland