Viking's Choice Outre music recommendations from NPR Music's Lars Gotrich
Viking's Choice's #NowPlaying Picks

Viking's Choice

Outre music recommendations from NPR Music's Lars Gotrich
Tiny Engines YouTube

I, for one, welcome the Gin Blossom-ing of emo (e.g. Camp Trash, Broken Record). It's not only a specific sound (jangly twang by way of '90s power-pop) but songwriting built around melodies that circle in on each other. The San Jose, Calif., band awakebutstillinbed has had poppy inclinations before, but nothing quite like this.

As one of two singles that announce chaos takes the wheel and i am but a passenger, out Oct. 20, "airport" is the happy-go-lucky-but-actually-crying pop-rocker to the screaming, bleeding heart of "redlight." Shannon Taylor, the band's primary songwriter, clearly understands the assignment of the former: Give us a sweet-and-sour sensation of movement that sticks around a few chords and tricky slights of hand, but punctuate every damning self-reflection with a hook to remember. There are even requisite doot doot doo's, followed by a descending chord progression into the climactic bridge that earns her signature scream. It's in the coda where Taylor reminds us that this is very much an emo band: lonely, strumming a guitar and wondering about her disconnection from the world.

Memorrhage is the nu-metal project of musician Garry Brents. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

Memorrhage is the nu-metal project of musician Garry Brents.

Courtesy of the artist

The first coming of nu metal, as much a subgenre as a suburban raison d'être, both overpromised and overdelivered on its hostile id. The riffs? Sloppy and sloshy. The bass? No less than five strings of wobble. The drums? Thoroughly thwacked. The vocals? When rapped: pitchy; when screamed: puffed. The angst? Petty at best; violently misogynistic at worst. These were the features, not bugs, of nu metal as it overtook what remained of commercial rock radio. As a quiet teenager seeking a scene in those years, I found the positive reinforcement I craved through punk and hardcore. Nu metal appeared to be isolationist in its anger — the salve for pain was pain — and that didn't feel particularly productive. Even Korn was too whiny for me ... and I was an emo kid raised on guitar twinkle and nasal pining. (Of course, emo and punk weren't that much better; just read Jessica Hopper's necessary "Where the Girls Aren't" essay.)

In the last few years, younger metal musicians have been cribbing the nu style. Code Orange, Tallah, Vein.fm, Cheem and Tetrarch are not only scene leaders, but have stretched the sound by expanding perceptions of who makes this music; even pop singers like Rina Sawayama have gone all-in on songs like "STFU!" (I'm not made of stone: These bands inspired me to reconsider the likes of Papa Roach, Coal Chamber, Filter, Snot and Slipknot, not to mention rekindle my love for P.O.D. and Deftones.) That recombined nostalgia can sometimes have a disingenuous halo effect on how we remember, but it's also a crucial lesson in what we take away from music.

By his own admission, nu metal was Garry Brents' first love. Last summer, Brents — who makes an absurd amount of extreme metal music under several names including Cara Neir, Gonemage, Homeskin and Sallow Moth — found himself in a black hole of nostalgia, fueled by Korn's live performance in a Woodstock '99 documentary and the endlessly entertaining "Crazy Ass Moments in Nu Metal History" Twitter account, and decided to forge some freaky ground. His project Memorrhage, unabashedly a subgenre exercise, manages to both reclaim and reshape nu metal with a portmanteau'd moniker that also acts as a thesis on how a memory can flow uncontrollably once unblocked.

Everything on Memorrhage's self-titled debut is executed with mech-warrior ferocity and precision. In the opening seconds, harmonics are pinched in a swirl of creepy sustain before the bass slaps away a torrent of crunchy riffs and mathy breakdowns, as if the polyrhythmic chaos of Slipknot got caught in a Converge chokehold. "Memory Leak," performed entirely by Brents (as is the majority of the album), is a good introduction to his science fiction-inspired world building: A cybernetic organism awakens to a world not only drenched in but defined by violence and injustice, and like the replicants in Blade Runner, finds itself at odds with human existence. Brents delights in nu-metal's sonic tropes, but experiments with the lyrical lens through which he unleashes his fury.

"Exit" and "Reek" make compelling cases for Godflesh's tangential influence on the scene, pitting industrial clang and hip-hop beats against caustic riffs and an unmistakable bark indebted to Justin Broadrick. Lest you worry about the project's bona fides, nary a turntable is left unscratched: Two DJs split the duties, acting as lead instruments and syncopated ornamentation. Mr. Rager gives the demented "Knurl" — and the album, quite frankly — a much-needed moment of melodic respite, spinning Incubus-cool webs behind frenzied breakbeats.

Several guest vocalists appear, including Fire-Toolz and Aki McCullough (A Constant Knowledge of Death), but the most satisfying collaboration comes from Ilya Mirosh, a Minsk-based musician who posts vocal covers on YouTube. "Lunge" would have been voted most likely to succeed as a hit back in the '90s: Guitars squeal octaves, riffs do what the song title suggests with channel-panning glee, vinyl scribbles maniacally and the call-and-response chorus between Brents' harsh growl and Mirosh's melodic howl is instantly memorable. "Utility" breaks character and nods at a Memorrhage multiverse, one where nu-metal is played with a pretty-boy post-hardcore sheen and sung with post-grunge grit, featuring EDM breakdowns. It's the kind of genre perversity at which Brents has long excelled, especially in Cara Neir, taken to a secret new level.

Memorrhage is not only an exercise in genre but a meditation on perspective. In these songs, a downtuned dumbness scratches a '90s itch, for sure, but also imagines another path. For Brents and so many others, nu metal's angst-ridden viscera was the draw — primal screams, chugging riffs, maybe a funky rhythm section masquerading as metal. The lyrical style, too, offered a vehicle to vent frustration — an unfiltered expression with nothing left to lose. Brents still channels the genre's requisite misanthropy, just through a "dystopian escapism" that points its robotic fingers at our inhumanity: "I found a god and it's not you."

Disciples
On Wolf Eyes' Dreams in Splattered Lines, the tracks are shorter and marked by mangled melodies, disjointed beats and bloated blues.
Disciples

Wolf Eyes is charged with a perverse curiosity. If you have experienced even a fraction of the band's hundreds of albums, EPs, collaborations and splits across every format imaginable over the last 25 years, you know the Toxic Avenger that emerges from the gurgling detritus: hideous, heroic and beloved by weirdos. You can divide the group's career into several eras with different lineups, from the crypt-keeping dub of Dread (2001) and blackened metallic clang of Burned Mind (2004) to the warped jazz skronk of No Answer: Lower Floors (2013) and so, so much between, below and beyond. Across all of it is the pursuit of noise, not just for its own sake, but hypnagogic blocks of sound that mirror the absurdity of existence and possibly — hopefully? — mutate reality further.

A quarter of a century in, Wolf Eyes has trimmed down to the core duo of Nate Young and Johnny Olson. In doing so, they've expanded and contracted the idea of Wolf Eyes: first, as a series of diverse collaborations made over the pandemic, collected as Difficult Messages earlier this year; now on Dreams in Splattered Lines, out May 26. The omnivorous spirit of the former informs the latter, a duo record that still challenges, but also titillates with shrieking delight.

On Dreams in Splattered Lines, the tracks are shorter and marked by mangled melodies, disjointed beats and bloated blues; where previous Wolf Eyes might have sprawled or burst from the chest, these mostly simmer on a surreal, grease-streaked mood. "Plus Warning," with synths dredged from the Silver Apples basement, sounds like ceremonial space music, complete with apocalyptic proselytization. Steam hisses and throbbing bass backs Olson's descending sax on "Engaged Withdrawal," as if to dub Scott Walker's "Fat Mama Kick" into an industrial locked groove. "In Society" conjures a county fair where John Carpenter loops the Joker's laugh into a terrifying tilt-a-whirl. Young's spoken word takes on a dead-eyed, Kim Gordon cadence when "My Whole Life" intones a shadowy obsession: "The other day I thought was through / But now I can't stop loving you."

Wolf Eyes has played with conventional forms before, offering stabs of memorable — if squelching and squealing — hooks made for pounding tables and tallboys. What Dreams in Splattered Lines does, however, is refine Wolf Eyes' approach to cinematic horror: still gross and grueling, but painted in thicker strokes of neon gloom.

Iodine Recordings
The Gray In Between is the second album since late '90s screamo innovators Jeromes Dream reunited in 2018.
Iodine Recordings

For Those Who Like: screaming as catharsis, ugly pretty music, feedback


In the late '90s, Jeromes Dream came up with the likes of pg. 99, Orchid and Usurp Synapse, chaotic hardcore bands that could quickly turn unsettlingly quiet. For better or worse, the kids called it screamo — bassist Jeff Smith would literally scream atop short bursts of sonic destruction during live shows without a microphone, so perhaps the coinage wasn't without merit. Several split 7-inches, a debut album and a stylistic 180 toward shouty math-rock later, the band broke up in 2001.

Upon its reunion in 2018, Jeromes Dream picked up where it left off with 2019's LP, swaggering more toward rock than complex music equations — a welcome return, if a bit sleek in its presentation. The Gray In Between, however, recaptures and reinforces a shredded tension. Across 10 tracks in 25 minutes, you can feel the crushing effects of the world upon humanity, yet the album captures glimpses of beauty through Smith's vivid imagery.

"I once knew a guy who lit himself on fire / He took his pain and the pain of the world / and lit a match," Smith screams over grinding blast beats and blackgazey guitar via "On Holiday with Infinity." Loma Prieta's Sean Leary, at first an addition who soon became the band's sole guitarist, keenly understands how Smith and drummer Erik Ratensperger write; he riffs furiously, but wisely decorates their percussion-forward dynamic with scraped harmonics and Johnny Marr-like sweeps.

Feedback turns out to be an apt metaphor for pain: That squealing noise erupts when an amplified signal feeds back into the instrument that produced it, continuously looping until the signal is cut. So ... we suffer endlessly until we die! But hardcore frequently knits feedback into its tangled seams as a form of catharsis; The Gray In Between, while not exactly hopeful or despairing, empathetically injects split-second shrieks as punctuation marks between ruptured riffs and the ache of existence.

Mexican Summer YouTube

Ten years have passed since a teenaged Hayden Pedigo released a cassette of John Fahey-indebted fingerstyle guitar. As much as Pedigo's skill and songcraft have changed, his tender smirk behind each pluck and strum remains. "Elsewhere," from the forthcoming album The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored, is subtle in its movement. The inquisitive melody slows and picks up speed like an old truck bucking along a gravel road — music that shares the same cinematic awe of Popol Vuh crafting a Werner Herzog soundtrack. And, in fact, "Elsewhere" functions in three distinct acts: first, the uplifting quest; second, a struggle felt tugged on by Luke Schneider's pedal steel; the last, the return and resolution of the melody, brighter yet colored by shades of past doubt.

YouTube

Limbo District has always felt like a myth hidden in plain sight. In the early '80s, the band delighted and terrified Athens, Ga., with its provocative avant-garde post-punk performance art. Limbo District's roster fluctuated with Southern bohemians — plus a French exchange student — but its most visible member was drummer Jerry Ayers, who co-wrote The B-52s' "52 Girls" and R.E.M.'s "Old Man Kensey" and was part of Andy Warhol's Factory. Ask anyone from that Athens era and they speak of Limbo District as a Vaudevillian unicorn.

But the group's only known recordings were featured in Carnival, a short film by Jim Herbert — snippets were featured in the Athens, GA: Inside/Out documentary. And, as time has gone by, memories and information about the band have faded — members have died or their whereabouts are unknown — leaving those still curious to follow trails of poor YouTube rips and brief mentions in Grace Elizabeth Hale's book Cool Town.

But thanks to art director, producer and archivist Henry Owings, Limbo District lives again. "Encased" is the first of a few known studio sessions that will surface over the year. "It's like finding Joy Division 40 years later in tape boxes," Owings tells me. There is a back-to-basics vibe very much line with what was happening in Athens at the time, but where The B-52s played up the party and Oh-OK brought New Wave to the doo-wop, Limbo District reverse-engineered punk's primitive roots to piece together a circus-like surrealism. On "Encased," the parts are easy to identify — howled vocals, thwacked drums, droning organ, spindly guitar, menacingly grooved bass — but the song seems to be in a state of constant spontaneous combustion.

This #NowPlaying pick appears on today's episode of All Songs Considered.

Perennial Death YouTube

The year is 1997. Chokers and knee socks are in, but so are capri pants. There are not one, but two volcano disaster movies (Dante's Peak and, uh, Volcano) in theaters. Daria and Buffy are on TV. You turn to the lower end of the dial to find The Sundays and Saint Etienne on college radio, then click up a few notches to find Natalie Imbruglia, The Cardigans and Everything But the Girl. We were living in 1997.

Daisies' "Is It Any Wonder?" — the first single from its forthcoming record Great Big Open Sky, out May 12 — lives in the terrestrial bleedthrough between '90s twee and Top 40, and makes apologies for neither. The song is one of those pop music magic tricks that could only exist with that decade in the rearview: A coffee-shop bop subtly morphs into a countrified singalong before a '60s retro-chic takes us back to a Mellotron melody and a full-on hippie jam. It's a vintage '90s patchwork dress in pop song form, especially when Chris McDonnell's (CCFX, CC DUST, The County Liners) production so brilliantly mimics the era's proclivities, but Valerie Warren's lilting, hiccuping vocal delivery sells the song's bittersweet ennui with a sweet-and-sappy sophistication.

RVNG Intl. YouTube

Matthew Sage — who records as M. Sage — not only layers sound but reshapes the passage of time. In listening, you get the sense that stories, sounds, emotions and motions overlap not with a clash but a surprising ease.

Water, then, is a sympathetic metaphor for his music — it's ever-moving, yet ever-present. "Crick Dynamo," from Paradise Crick (out May 26), shimmers like sunlight off a small stream. Much like his contributions to the ambient jazz quartet Fuubutsushi, Sage centers this song's melody around cool, Bill Evans-inspired piano chords, but breaks everything apart with a tender touch: Synths gurgle, glide and pop playfully as dial-up noise swims through underwater guitar and lightly popped bass. Previously, he'd let those disparate sounds hang in the ether, but here, a flickering, glitching motion — not unlike Insen, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto's brilliant 2005 collaboration — nudges everything forward toward an overwhelming, euphoric resolve.

Few designs set the power-pop record collector's heart aflutter like the red-and-white checkerboard of The TOMS' self-titled debut. Original copies are scant and previous reissues go for silly amounts of money. But when you hear these songs, it's like the British Invasion hit New Jersey in 1979: chiming guitars, cheerful vocal harmonies and clean-cut drumming with a touch of punk spunk... all played by one person, Tommy Marolda, who has since written scores for movies like Staying Alive and Days of Thunder.

"Other Boys Do" is just one of many gems on an expanded reissue due March 10 via Feel It Records. What begins as a Beatles-inspired mop-top romp replete with handclaps quickly becomes a musical tête-à-tête. As Marolda sweetly (but cheekily) sings his I'm-not-like-other-boys sales pitch, the guitar seems to personify the object of his affection — and they're not having it. "I don't see no point in us being here together," he sings. "If all you wanna do is have me treat you like the other boys do." The guitar responds with a flirtatious five-note figure, as if to say, Well, come and show me. Strummed chords lag and linger, teasing him. Spurts of choppy riffs and licks ratchet up to a twin lead guitar climax, toying with a will-they-or-won't-they tension. It's a deliciously clever soap opera delivered in three minutes.

To paraphrase Heraclitus: No person strums the same guitar twice, for it's not the same guitar and they're not the same person. Bill Orcutt's journey as a musician has taken him from decades of noise to a restless-yet-beautiful guitar style all his own. But after years of electric-guitar excursions, not to mention a challenging run of electronic music, it's been a minute since Orcutt has picked up an acoustic for solo exploration.

"The Life of Jesus" begins with a gently fingerpicked melody that welcomes you closer to listen and take in its story. Orcutt has a reliable tendency to break apart his themes texturally, not just in dizzying variations but with a wild force robusto — you feel the strings scrape and bend, the wood creak. It's physical music that moves you. That certainly happens here, but you also get the sense that Orcutt is curious, perhaps even empathetic; he responds to the quietude and complexity of his subject with bursts of compassion and even confusion. It seems that Jump On It, out April 28, might offer yet another subtle self-reinvention for Orcutt.

Convulse Records YouTube

On Sunday night, I got socked in the jaw, groin and eyeball, in that order — plus, my elbow started bleeding at some point. No, I didn't get in a fight; I'd come out of pit retirement to push and shove my way through Gel's ferociously fun set and left absolutely exhilarated.

"Attainable" typifies the New Jersey band's refinement over a series of 7-inch singles and last year's split with Cold Brats: groove-heavy, reverb-laden hardcore that swaggers as much as it smiles. Sami Kaiser's bark is fierce, but oddly friendly. Even without arms swung within inches of your face, you can feel the heat coming off this rager as it heaves from a pacing chug to a quickened prowl — there's not so much a guitar solo as chiming ornamentation woven into the knuckle-dragged riffs. In the same way all punk shows should be short and rowdy, Gel's debut full-length is a brisk 17 minutes — Only Constant, out March 31, is sure to be one of the year's most satisfyingly bruising hardcore records.

Third Man Records YouTube

Sometimes the beauty of simplicity is the ease in which something is presumably understood, only to be surprised. That's long been the case for North Americans, the nom de plume of guitarist Patrick McDermott, a project which, in recent years, has included pedal steel player Barry Walker. This is drift music, sustained by dusky drones and quiet fingerstyle.

"Classic Water," from Long Cool World out April 7, reassesses the duo's musical relationship. Gone are the guests that filled out the edges of previous albums and, with it, a wallpapering sense of ambient layering. Instead, McDermott's fingerpicking bucks along at a low hum as Walker's pedal steel ornaments dots of melody. Everything's as gentle as a sunkissed stream, but the synths gurgling ominously just below the surface tint the go-easy atmosphere. The pathways that once felt free and clear now sport an uneasy shade, yet the guitar picks on.

College radio lives in its own world. When I was a music director at WUOG in Athens, Ga., we paid attention to and sent in charts, kept up with blogs and read magazines, but for the most part we made our own proclamations about what music we'd play. Beauty Pill's The Unsustainable Lifestyle hit heavy rotation in 2004 and didn't really leave our airwaves. To our DJs, Beauty Pill was on to something fiercely, intricately unique: punkish indie-rock invested in unconventional hooks, slanted electronics and Brian Eno-level production.

So imagine my shock when, years later, I discovered not everyone felt the same way. The Unsustainable Lifestyle was panned by high-level publications; primary songwriter Chad Clark says people told him the album "was a mistake." He wouldn't release another until 2015's remarkable Describes Things As They Are.

Blue Period — which collects The Unsustainable Lifestyle, the You Are Right to Be Afraid EP and unreleased outtakes and demos — feels like justice for Beauty Pill. "Such Large Portions!" appeared on that debut album and was, by far, WUOG's most played song for months. It's not hard to hear why: Nothing's obvious, yet every sound sticks out. That whammy-bar riff — reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, minus the noise — presaged the pedal-board revival by a good decade. Bouncing off a wash of aqueous dub, the drumming stutters and breathes in the verses. In a bossa nova sotto voce, Rachel Burke smirks as she sings Clark's darkly funny turns of phrase ("The food is poison here, you can't eat it / But in such large portions!"). A light touch of Fender Rhodes adds some electric Miles cool. Nothing sounded like it then, or since.

Wheatie Mattiasich's dreamy, eerie music could fill a forest cathedral. Old Glow — her new album made with collaborator Stephen Santillan — drenches dulcimer, guitar, keyboard and harmonium in cotton clouds of cozy reverb. It's not quite shoegaze or dreamy pop, but weaves its ballads similarly, through cable-knit stitches of sound.

"This Way," in particular, is a wispy waltz that somehow balances hymn-like awe with a slow, spectral dance; there's an unusual beauty to everything — ambient guitar borealis, strummed dulcimer and what sounds like a tack piano in space — but especially Mattiasich's voice. Landing somewhere between Josephine Foster and Jean Ritchie, Mattiasich swoops syllables and stretches phrases in unexpected ways that make our understanding of the words moot — we're in her strange glow.

YouTube

Eliza Bagg has always been of two worlds: as Lisel, an electro-pop alien taken by the wonders of auto-tune, and as an opera singer who's performed the works of Meredith Monk, Caroline Shaw and John Zorn. On "One At A Time," Lisel bridges her own gap and makes four simple words an Escher-esque puzzle.

Here, built on loops and layers of her voice, single syllables delay in stately polyphony — an update on the Renaissance and Medieval styles familiar to Bagg. But each ripple of delicately auto-tuned sound grows louder, more fervent with repetition, as if to envelop her being with ecstatic reassurance.

Viking's Choice 2022: Outer Sounds Around the World

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From top left, clockwise: Linda Ayupuka, No Home, Romperayo, Cheba Wahida. Courtesy of the artists hide caption

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Courtesy of the artists

From top left, clockwise: Linda Ayupuka, No Home, Romperayo, Cheba Wahida.

Courtesy of the artists

Vietnamese ambient, Chilean speed metal, auto-tune'd Ghanaian gospel music — there's a whole world of music out there; it seems like such a shame to stick to what's happening inside your own backyard. On this Viking's Choice episode, I take host Bob Boilen around the globe for some of my favorite albums released in 2022.

Listen above, read below. For more, follow the Viking's Choice playlist and subscribe to the newsletter. —Lars Gotrich


BKO: "Sadiona" from Djine Bora

The Scene: Bamako, Mali
The Sound: Malian rock quintet featuring amplified guitars — a donso n'goni and a djeli n'goni — polyrhythmic percussion and the soulful shrieks of Fassara Sacko.


Cheba Wahida: "Jrouli Jrouli" from Jrouli

The Scene: Oran, Algiers
The Sound: In-the-red trance music blitzed on polyphonic trills of flute and auto-tune'd vocal fire. Björk would absolutely lose her mind to this music on the dance floor.


Sơn FM: "Go Into the Mountains" from Points of Light (ST​๐​๐​๗​)

The Scene: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The Sound: Ambient music in tune with the ripples, flickers and stillness of nature.


Switchblade: "夜に踊る" from Blue Matter

The Scene: Yokohama, Japan
The Sound: Edge-of-your-seat emo that recalls The Velvet Teen's melodic melodrama and the furious riffs of early ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.


Romperayo: "El Borracho" from Así No Se Puede Muchaches

The Scene: Bogotá, Colombia
The Sound: Tropical traditions tweaked on synths, samplers and imaginary worlds.


La Colonie de Vacances: "L'amour universel" from ECHT

The Scene: France
The Sound: Quadraphonic battle mode activated! A collaboration of four noise-, prog- and math-rock bands operating on a level of controlled chaos that's a little bit scary.


No Home: "Emerald Green Mirror" from Young Professional

The Scene: London, England
The Sound: Haunting, soulful bedroom industrial-punk that blisters the brain.


Vórtize: "Mundo Bipolar" from ¡Tienes Que Luchar!

The Scene: Limache, Chile
The Sound: Speedy heavy metal ... with whistling?! From dueling guitar solos and a gruff-but-grinning vocal performance, every inspired choice that Javier Ortiz makes on this album is guaranteed to make you headbang with a smile.


Linda Ayupuka: "Yine Faamam" from God Created Everything

The Scene: Bongo, Ghana
The Sound: Jumpy, synth-driven gospel music with auto-tune and drum machine beats. Linda Ayupuka's voice could pierce the heavens.

John Cobbett's riffs speed through the spaceways like a 1968 Fairlane Torino GT rocketship illustrated by Moebius. His catalog spans four decades of forward-thinking metal bands — Unholy Cadaver, Slough Feg, Ludicra and Vhol, to name a few — that have challenged and warped the scene, but with an idiosyncratic guitar style that seems to smile as fingers flash over frets.

For more than 20 years, Hammers of Misfortune has been Cobbett's most reliable outlet; it's maintained an inconsistent roster, but Overtaker, out today, is somewhat of a homecoming. Early member Jamie Myers returns to the mic as the band, an ever-shifting orb of metallic influence, picks up where the smashed-and-reconfigured thrash of the broken-up Vhol left off. "Overthrower," featuring a dueling guest vocal from Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi — yet another former Hammers of Misfortune member — takes King Crimson to the pit. There's hyperactive fury here, of course, but also a brainy blur of blink-and-you-missed-it harmonies and counterpoints that play off every instrument, including an operatic tête-à-tête between Myers and Scalzi, who alternate punk spit and anthemic wails. It's the most fun you'll ever have gunning for the sun in a sick ride.

Moin dissects underground '90s rock like mad scientists. Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead initially formed the group a decade ago as an outlet apart from their drone-y electronic group Raime, then rounded out the London trio with percussionist Valentina Magaletti (Tomaga, Vanishing Twin) in recent years. And very quickly, Moin has uncovered the upside-down of an overly mined era of rock skronk.

If 2021's Moot! was Moin's take on piercing, hi-def post-punk à la Shellac and Unwound, then Paste manipulates and muddies the waters with muted moods. There's an uncertainty about authorship throughout: Are the riffs recycled and reshuffled via software? Are the drums sampled live and then looped? Like The Books' carefully edited collages, it's a musical sleight of hand that thrills in its quiet motions, especially on "Hung Up." Based around Magaletti's hi-hat breakbeat and a harmonic riff that recalls early Mogwai, a woman monologues about a phone call gone wrong. But over minimalist-inspired repetition and variation, a second guitar begins to spiral and sputter, electronics glitch and the cymbal sound reverses in a way that tears apart the simple fabric of the song.

YouTube

When The HIRS Collective calls, the punk community responds. Members of Soul Glo, My Chemical Romance, Melt-Banana, Converge, Screaming Females, Thursday and others contribute to the anonymously membered band's new album. And like a bloody action movie counterprogrammed against family-friendly Christmas Day schlock, We're Still Here releases digitally on Dec. 25.

The title track does what The HIRS Collective does best: slam together several metal styles like sour candy — riffs and blast beats blaze by at hyperspeed, but with a moshable groove. But more importantly, the track honors the band's foremost purpose: not only the survival, but the extremely loud joy and visibility of trans and queer outcasts. "This collective, a version of therapy," the vocalist screams, "for ourselves and anyone who feels the need to scream their lungs out for one more day of living." Joining them again after providing spoken word for 2018's Friends. Lovers. Favorites., Garbage's Shirley Manson sings, "We're still here / We are still here," over a slow and sludgy riff that becomes a metallic mantra of defiance.

YouTube

"If debut album was motherhood, second was queer awakening. What's third?" wondered a fan on Instagram. Fever Ray's Karin Dreijer, in a cursive font that could only be described as basic domestique, answered: Love. Love has always been central to Fever Ray in some shape or form, but it is often haunted or obliterated sweetly by neon-blasted synths. There's no one way to love; Dreijer has been essential to its inside-out-but-genuine meaning.

With that in mind, Fever Ray's first original song since 2017's Plunge, "What They Call Us," is surprisingly subdued, but perhaps even stranger in its restraint. Squiggly synths, jumpy techno beats and Caribbean-inspired percussion call back to earlier work (the song was co-produced with Olof Dreijer, their brother and former partner in The Knife). But as Karin Dreijer has gone on their own shapeshifting quest, it's now even harder to tell if they've manipulated their voice. That, too, tracks in lyrics that read oblique, but sound a feeling that burns and yearns: "Cinnamon bun in the oven / There's a fire in my hand." (The cinnamon bun becomes microwaved bullar — the perfect pastry, says this son of a Swedish immigrant — in the office-party-gone-awry video directed by Martin Falck.) In "What They Call Us," there's an urgent sense that Dreijer, since their queer awakening, must protect that love.

YouTube

It takes time to shake off stasis. If you spent the last couple years watching the world's unstable state with constant horror, everything and everyone can feel fraught and uncaring. So when "This Is Why" takes 15 seconds to adjust as a synth punctuates a snare hit and a guitar slashes, slides and surfs around a cymbal ride — there's an empathetic but exasperated sigh that accompanies the motorik post-punk funk that follows.

Paramore on a Can-type beat and jagged Gang of Four riffage is a helluva motion — don't call it a mood; a mood doesn't move. The band gave emo an arena-sized stage, but also flexed more musical muscles with 2017's After Laughter and Hayley Williams' pair of solo albums since. "This Is Why" is somehow aqueous and taut, as Williams coos the verses with a sneer ("If you have an opinion, maybe you should shove it") and convulses at the lean yet explosive chorus. Guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro have never sounded more in step with each other, careening off barbed riffs and snapped snares in rapturous force. And while Paramore doesn't meet the totally made up (but generally accepted) definition, it's working as a power trio here: a singer, drummer and guitarist barreling ahead at the most thrilling heights of their musicianship.

Initially inspired by the Cocteau Twins and A.R. Kane, twin brothers Danny and Daniel Chavis have made soul-shoegaze for over 30 years. There were major-label signings and shake-ups in the '90s, an early 2000s name change and then a long hiatus — but they never gave up on their aesthetic mission, which they describe as "if Luther Vandross put something out with guitars." After a few return EPs, Entropy Is the Mainline to God is The Veldt's first album in 24 years, featuring fuzzed-out versions of Curtis Mayfield and Mobb Deep classics.

"Sweeter" is one of many original gems that captures The Veldt's unique MO: guitar effects swirl around a psychedelic R&B groove that shimmies and shimmers with beautiful bluster. True to the title, Daniel Chavis whispers sweet nothings in your ear, but under distorted and wavy bliss, they could just as well be sinister.