The Drop: Don’t go to the music store without it

LiarsLiarsMute RecordsFour out of five stars

It’s always nice to hear a band push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll without exorcising the spirit that is rock ‘n’ roll.

Velvet Underground allusions sometime seem unavoidable when describing modern artists who craft droning avant-rock soundscapes beneath minimalist poetics. But Liars manage to couple an exacting penchant for this art with the bleaker aesthetics of late ’70s post-punk scene and stabbings of straight-up rock guitar glory. “Cycle Time” embodies this mash-up of distortion and drone in its balance of razor sharp riffing and psychedelic melodies while “Sailing to Byzantium” and “Protection” exhibit Liars’ obvious ability to forge cinema-worthy scores.

The allure of Liars’ self-titled effort resides in the haunting atmospherics conjured from its rich rock roots and late-night, smoky-club, flashing lights, urban America ambiance.

Black LipsGood Bad Not EvilVice RecordsThree out of five stars

If it weren’t for its contemporary production, Good Bad Not Evil could easily fall in line with the more obscure albums of the ’60s garage/psychedelic rock genesis.

“It Feels Alright” coasts nicely beside the Sonics’ classic “Have Love Will Travel.” The minimalist psych-surf of “Off The Block” could definitely take up place on 13th Floor Elevators’ 1968 classic Bull of the Woods. Even more traditional pop tracks “I Saw a Ghost Lean” and “Bad Kids” sound like echoes from the rafters of a newly erected, post-World War II subdivision.

To the youth of today, Black Lips will appeal to fans of throwback hipsters the Stripes or Strokes. But don’t write Good Bad Not Evil off as a trendy carbon copy, because if you haven’t heard of its influences, you haven’t heard the Lips.

Band of HorsesCease to BeginSub PopFour out of five stars

Chalk up another record to make memories to.

Cease to Begin‘s beauty lies in Band of Horses’s ability to synthesize American rock, country and indie-rock modesty into anthemic walls of modern sound. “Is There A Ghost?” showcases this knack masterfully as humble electric guitars give way to a refrain that finds cowboy-booted, mountain-man-bearded front man Ben Bridwell half-shouting, half-crooning, “I can sleep!” in a half-Neil Young, half-Death Cab for Cutie drawl.

Cease to Begin‘s haunting sing-alongs, layered atop powerful swells of atmosphere, promise not only to win over today’s indie crowd but also to create time-testing mixtape anthems.

Jonathan RiceFurther NorthReprise RecordTwo out of five stars

Further North is a collage of endearingly honest, acoustic rock tunes sired by psych-rock refugee Jonathan Rice.

Production is on point, but reserved. Most tracks feature only acoustic guitar, bass and drums brought to life by Rice’s Tom Petty-ish voice. In an era of epic, symphonic pop “masterpieces,” this simplicity is a welcome departure from the norm. The title-track, “Further North,” epitomizes the album’s down-played sound as Rice muses over the futility of the protest song moaning, “It’s all a waste of time.” However, this reveals Rice’s main hang-up: lack of sonic revolution.

Most of Further North has been done time and time again for the better part of a century. Ghosts of influences including the aforementioned Petty, Neil Young and Country Joe and the Fish take up a majority of the record’s runtime. “THC” takes a jaunt back into Rice’s more experimental past and “Giving It Up” flirts with punk-rock angst. But neither are strong enough to drag Jonathan Rice out of rehashed territory.

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