I grabbed my eMusic downloads for the month a few days ago. An interesting blend this time around.

Marnie Stern‘s annoyingly titled This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That was first into the car stereo. It’s a real sick and spazzy mess of guitars and drums, and I mean that as a complement. It’s one of the spikiest, most angular albums I’ve heard since, hmmm, maybe since Robert Fripp and Barry Andrews’ League of Gentlemen discotronics experiment back in the late ’70s/early ’80s. At its best, this record is very, very good indeed. Unfortunately, it occassionally falls into flash for flash’s sake instrumental histrionics, and weird for weird’s sake time signature changes, and Stern’s voice can be really Chipmunk-irritating at the higher end of her register. I’m still listening to this one pretty regularly, undecided about whether it’s going to fall on the “keeper” or “nice try” side of the fence. That title doesn’t do it any favors, just for the record.

The Secret Machines self-titled new album really grabbed me through its first five songs, which infuse an arch ’80s new wave vibe into long-form, prog-style songwriting. Think Cars + Marillion. The beats are big and the synths are squishy, and the total impact is appealling and engaging. The album lags a little bit in the middle, before winding up with a big, sprawling meltdown closer track. With a little judicious editing, this one could have been titanic.

I downloaded two albums from Sweden’s Dungen: the new 4 (which is their fifth album, go figure), and 2007’s Tio Batar. Both records find a really great halfway point between the experimental and the accessible, with a wide range of stylistic approaches all generally, roughly fitting under the “psychedelia” umbrella. I actually listen to a lot of Scandinavian music, so the Swedish lyrics don’t trouble me any, since I’m used to hearing the sounds of words, if not understanding their meanings. Sometimes, that makes the music all that much more evocative, because you hear the voice as an instrument, not as a conduit for information. Good stuff, for sure.

I have a good friend who’s from way up in the northern praries on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, so I’ve developed an affinity and appreciation for the culture up there. Hometowns, by The Rural Alberta Advantage, provides some wonderful snapshots into lives built around farms, cold, oil, snow, cold, farms, family, friends, ice, cold, snow, farms and oil. And cold. The music is spry, ragged and engaging, reminding me of the Weakerthans from Manitoba, a couple of provinces to the east, but like Alberta, minus the oil. I always appreciate songwriters who write about the real places and people who shaped and inspired them. Hometowns has a real heart to it because of that. It keeps it real. Real cold. And I like that.

Finally, Abalone Skeletone from Utah’s Tolchock Trio offers an appealing blend of generally noisy, guitar-based post-rock. There’s nothing particularly unique or unusual about what they offer, if you’ve spent much time dabbling around in the indie rock pool inspired by the likes of Wire or Sonic Youth, but they do what they do very, very well, keeping my attention consistently engaged throughout their album’s run. And I appreciate that, I really do. Recommended.

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