Album Reviews: August 18, 2017

Downtown Boys – Cost of Living (Rhode Island)

Riding the wave of modern punk that's still pushing boundaries, Downtown Boys' latest offering is rough in the best possible way, offering their own take on the throttling punk that made bands like their label-mates Priests, so addictive in the first place. Starting the album on a mad tear, "A Wall" pushes the political statements with the right amount of anger and discussion. Switching to more discordant harmonies on "I'm Enough (I Want More)" they throw piano, noise, saxophone and weird technique on their vicious rock. Bringing even more brass on "Tonta" they push their rebellious notes with some Spanish lyrics, taking even more excitement as they aggressively roll r's. Adding in synths and even more sonic depth on "Lips That Bite" they let the keys add a second layer to the track as they use it to elevate the abrasive guitars.

Ephex – Big Boy (Ottawa)

While the online pool of vaporwave occasionally feels like an endless pit, you find some gems every so often. One of the most interesting releases of this trend, Ephex draws inspiration from the classic Duane meme, crafting something surprisingly potent in the process.  Opening with the incredibly dreamy "Biq Boi" the track throws smooth 70s grooves over a hilarious dance-remix of the Duane interview clips, as the beat really starts to kick up. On a much more sprawling rush of a track, "Fly Away," takes a frantic disco rhythm into the stratosphere, throwing in the glowing synths and ripping guitars at lightning speeds. On "DUANE" the beats provide the backing for a retro-infused riff that flutters up and down while the vocal samples come back in with even more melodic vigor. Making a true party mix out of disco classics, "Make Me Feel" glides along with the soul o the its source tracks but breathes in new life thanks to subtle but effective chopping.

The Districts – Popular Manipulations (Pennsylvania)

Hitting more often than they miss, The Districts really hit their stride a lot on this record. Emotionally gripping and offering a lot in terms of sonic depth, the only failings of their third record is some occasional writing issues. "If Before I Wake" starts the record on a righteous growl, mixing cries and soaring riffs together into a snowball of emotion as it builds. Putting all their instruments behind the hook on "Violet," there's a heft that's hard to ignore, while the band pushes the energy more and more to create an unstoppable momentum. "Why Would I Wanna Be" moves to less heavy territory, pushing creepy vocals and weird melodies at breakneck speeds to craft a monster of a track. Grabbing a few tropes without being cliché, "Will You Please Be Quiet," ends the record with a much stronger mix of synths and writing, closing on a final scream that will stick with you. 

Shadow High – Sunshine Occult (Ottawa)

Capturing the essence of 90s rock without sounding derivative isn't a simple task. In one of the most promising EPs to come out of Ottawa's rock scene in a while, Shadow High make gold out of inspiration from bands like Sonic Youth and the Pixies. "Lovely Ground" starts things off on a dissonant rush, as bass flows up and down in a delicate dance with the guitars. As the vocals push things forward the song shifts into more eccentric moments as the band explodes into waves of distortion and cymbals. On a more overtly dark tumble, "Flames" lets the lo-fi vocals drive the song a lot more as the instruments follow the energy. Going hectic in a final bridge, they elevate the track in a full-blown release of energy so frantic its gripping. On one last torrent of a song, "Patience" finds the vocals turning to a witchy harmony in their mysterious harmonies. The emotionally-charged choruses burn brightly, showing a lot of promise from this new Ottawa act.

The Preatures – Girlhood (Australia)

Coming a few years after their strong debut, the criminally unknown skills of The Preatures has grown. Blending inspirations from Southern rock and glam pop they craft an album that uses sounds with purpose and makes a great pop-rock record in the process. Straddling the perfect blend of pop and electric rock, "Girlhood"  is a fast and fun harmony-laden party pop song, using solos as tools of energy and letting the whole song work itself as a building of hype. "The First Night" twinkles along with the hazy vocals and utterly pained twangs off into the echo, with the devastation and immediately familiar writing to pull you in.  Infusing the most synth they've used in a track before, "Yanada" throws Southern swagger behind a synth pop jam that has as many catchy vocal hooks as any 90s Shania hit or any HAIM record. Getting moody and a little R&B on "Nite Machine" they move even more into the growing popularity of the 70s sound on a track that makes some fun if lightly derivative pop out of the sound.