Keeping twang dark is Bastards and the Buzzards’ specialty.

Muse – Will of the People (Teignmouth, U.K.)

In recent years, Muse has drifted between over-the-top jock rock and playing up their dystopian themes for the pure protest energy, but feeling more akin to pastiche than their earnest past. With the production a little thin and the mood a little shallow, this is isn’t the complexity in technique or composition of old Muse, but one that’s accessible more than distinct. Admittedly, “Will of the People” does get in a lot of catchy and chant-inducing hooks, perfect for a massive show, though for Muse, the transparent homage to “The Beautiful People” feels a tad lazy. Their older Queen-inspired work shines for a while on “Liberation” for a very theatrical and piano-driven ballad, that feels powerful, albeit almost as if it was missing a whole song worth of build-up you’d usually get for this kind of concept-album-like piece on another of their records. Their most single-ready track is in the spooky synths and grimy dance tones of “You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween,” which for all its on-the-nose choices does go pretty hard on every single performance, especially Bellamy’s shrieks. Absolution-era Muse is alive and well on “Kill or Be Killed” with their guitar tones a little more fuzzy these days, but the baroque progressions and voicings really making this one of their most epic tracks in some time, recalling “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure (Sydney, Australia)

A hard artist to predict at times, Julia Jacklin’s sharp lyricism and hushed vocals are always a joy. Here she really pushes herself melodically, compositionally and with her overall sonics to create her most full album in acoustics and emotion as a whole. Jacklin’s knack for the blue yet charmingly swinging jam is truly alive on “Love, Try Not to Let Go,” with the piano ringing like a ghost and the rhythm section providing the sense of forward momentum to really give the song a sonic match to its lyrical themes. And then that explosive chorus just shakes the whole thing into a whole other stratosphere of song writing, particularly in Jacklin’s typically quiet discography. The lament of passionless moments on “Ignore Tenderness” is a deeply personal exploration of the kind of abuse we all accept from others and ourselves in life, and Jacklin’s bizarre use of arrangements on this track is truly one-of-a-kind. Between the kind of vocal storyboarding, the sultry magic of the hums and little rustic tremolo, “Moviegoer” is a very intimate experience, bringing you into Jacklin’s world with a subdued delight in its blooming choruses.  The more brash charge of “Be Careful With Yourself” feel fresh for Jacklin’s craft, providing a more stadium-ready sound, with the scale of her riffing and vocal power catching up to this sound in the choruses.

Bastards and the Buzzards – Heels Up (Ottawa)

With an immediate edge to their brand of folk-country crossover, Bastards and the Buzzards know how to keep twang dark. The album starts off in a frantic trance on “Dirty Baggage” with the discordant fiddle playing and the intense growl from the band creating a tense dance energy for you to try and shake your cares away to. Things get even more guttural on “Burn It Down” as the stomping feels more menacing than euphoric, and often psychedelic even, inducing an uneasy barn-burner into power. The frenzy is cemented on “Stray” as they really turn every single beat into a constant scratch and wail in their sound, letting the dance turn into a snowballing freakout of wild spirit. Like an intro that gets caught in a demonic loop, “Tipping Point” spends its first minute playing with the tension of its off-key playing, and expands its ballad into a freaky and self-destructive celebration.

David Strickland –  Spirit of Hip Hop: Elements  (Toronto)

As a showcase of his varied talents as a producer, David Strickland certainly shows up with the goods on his latest album. “Firekeepers” opens things up on a meditation on honing your work, and respecting your roots, with the rising vocals in the chorus turning that from a thought into a singable mantra. There’s a more sombre production to “2 the Stars,” making that meteoric rise in the refrain feel all the more powerful, as the whole track glows from a dark air to fire and light. The piano and warped guitar runs on “Beastmode” makes for a forceful anthem, with every beat and vocal popping in and out of each other with a palpable texture and weight. “Certainmans” wastes no time bringing you through the chunky drum and bass combo, while letting the frightening tones of its synths both terrify and mesmerize your mind in its tale of struggle.

MØ –  Dødsdrom EP (Ubberud, Denmark)

Letting her more off-kilter productions take over for an EP, MØ makes a short but fun album of addictive bangers just for her die-hard fans. While some packaging almost makes this release look like a remix-companion, this is a wonderfully tender EP of songs that we’d usually never get from MØ outside of singles, and with a lot of cool returns to the tones of her first record that Karen Andersen simply hasn’t touched on in a long time. “Spaceman” while compositionally simple is layered with so many bizarre effects, and driven by this synthetic energy, letting all of MØ’s raspy and natural vocals really ground the effort, especially in those crisp breakdowns. MØ’s debut record sound seems to be back on the clap and guitar production of “True Romance” but that bass hook she releases in the chorus is so dark and intoxicating that it feels like the best marriage of her various sounds to date. The debut-record howls come out on “Bad Mood” as well, letting the kicking and slow-burning sway of this moody track get a fun, and detailed sense of character that many would never think to add. The stripped-down approach to “Real Love” keeps it feeling personal and touching, with the growing calls of “Yeah, yeah, yeah” creating this soft and light call and response in the closing moments of the record.