Alex Cuba is playing with purpose on his latest single “El Swing Que Yo Tengo”

Queens of the Stone Age – In Times New Roman (Palm Desert, California)

While the writing was still there on their last record, something in the production of Villains just never hit the same depths as Queens of Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork as an overall album. While Joshua Homme’s life seems to have coloured both the album and discussion around the band as of late, all this tension has seemingly strengthened the band as a unit when putting together one of their better albums. “Obscenery” starts things off with guttural grooves, and then ramps into a tense and cinematic sweep of strings, before dropping into the actual chorus with a wonderfully twisted and muddy set of hooks all dancing together. The constant rotating dynamics and arrangements for all the verses here also keep each section feeling like a totally new beast, showing a fearlessness in how they actually tackle songs as a whole now. Effectively a sister-song to “Little Sister”   between the guitars and vocal affectations (plus some Eagles of Death Metal breakdowns), “Paper Machete” is a more fun throwback track for the band that shows the scope of sound they’d attack classic track with if they wrote it now. The back and forth between the sleaze and polka roots on “Carnavoyeur” makes for an intoxicating combo, letting the track’s more deranged and murky production take you down the unnerving spiral, and their use of strings continues to add a surreal layer to it all. After a few listens, the many phases of “Straight Jacket Fitting” serve as its greatest strength as it creates a rare narrative feeling that lets that call out “In Times New Roman” feel like a triumphant moment. And all those moments, whether they be grimy blues, soaring rock with exotic riffs, the floating string break and that …Like Clockwork-like refrain all work on their own with punchiness to spare.

Alex Cuba – El Swing Que Yo Tengo (Single) (Artemisa, Cuba/Smithers, British Columbia)

Filled with charged guitar riffs and funky bass lines, Alex Cuba is playing with purpose on his latest single.  “El Swing Que Yo Tengo” rushes with a bouncing-yet-cutting energy, constantly floating from drum to drum, but also moving along its many angular guitar licks. Cuba vocally matches to perhaps match “The swing” he has, as the many parts he sings here all seem to play off each other and add a new hue to the palette, with even the whistles bringing a rough touch to the tapestry. More of a directional rhythm piece than a standard pop structure, Cuba lets the technicality and craft in the composition take front stage, with the overall spirit behind his music filling that out. Fast and fun, Cuba’s single is a great trip to a space of zig-zagging guitars and a passion for the power of music.

ProtomartyrFormal Growth in the Desert  (Detroit, MI)

One of the few bands to perfectly balance a specific niche without hitting a stale note in the process, Protomartyr continue to journey into heavy punk worlds. By adding new flavours to individual songs than trying to reinvent their wheel as a whole, the band once again asserts their unique voice with some vicious tracks. There’s a western air to “Make Way,” as they throw their stomping and kicking force through a lens of cowboy legend, and gain a whole new wave of power to their sound. “Elimination Dances” slinks with a smoky dance groove, while still maintaining a deeper weight in its drum rolls, letting Joe Casey’s evasive vocals guide the track. The all out war approach of “3800 Tigers” keeps it tense and dangerous, adding sharp edges to even the most neon guitar and letting the layers of drums extend to give every other instrument a little extra percussive quality. Fitting the classic “Protomartyr” swerving drive, “Polacrilex Kid” is relentless in its mounting rush of aggression, finally brimming with a fiery high after a minute of build up, only to keep adding more and more layers to its rhythmic assault.

Rachael Kilgour – Dad Worked Hard (Single) (Duluth, MN)

Canadian-American musician has crafted one of the most heartwarming and yet heartbreaking tributes to family one can imagine, a tribute album for her father, written as his health slowly deteriorated. “Dad Worked Hard” set this whole album off, and is her first piece from the record, honouring the hardship and steady devotion that he carried his whole life. Kilgour matches a kind of respect and sadness in her lyrics, with some of her father’s strength seeming to come from a need to please his parents more than anything else. Clearly coming from a raw emotional place, you can hear the hurt in the vocal delivery and detail in the lyrics. However, Kilgour’s bitterness at the situation is wise enough to note that her frustrations aren’t at other better-off parents, but just at the mere chance that her father’s luck didn’t match his persistence. And the ending’s mix of more personified takes on time, and her father’s last struggles are hard to bear, and will likely leave some listeners in tears. Balanced out by a tender guitar run through the track, Kilgour compliments her story perfectly for a heavy but ultimately human track that bares her soul.

Jenny Lewis Joy’All (Las Vegas/San Fernando Valley, CA)

Straddling inspiration with original ideas and a voice all your own is a true balancing act, but it can create something that sinks into your permanent rotation in a few listens. Jenny Lewis makes the tightrope walk delicately here, with just enough fun and finesse to make an album that fits the canon without being pastiche. There’s an instantly relaxing and weightless feeling to “Psychos” as the album sets off, leaving you on a magical desert trip full of brilliant echoing harmonies and rich slide guitars to compliment Lewis’s voice. “Joy’All” has a more snaking approach to its arrangements, as the collision of bumping bass, claps, sparse production and bluesy vocal hooks creates an atypical pop flow. The familiarity of “Apples and Oranges” ends up serving it well as it feels like a track you’ve been singing forever, with Lewis’s cool approach, and the charm in her calls of “Apples” with the ringing synths and twinkling notes creating an unforgettable song.  “Balcony” rounds out the record with a vintage romance in its bones, feeling born of Fleetwood Mac songs at one time, and like a melange of Western tones and indie synths at others.