Devendra Banhart's interdimensional war uterus.

Concept: Freak folk favorite Banhart releases his seventh studio LP, continuing with the stylistic left turn of the previous Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.

Sound: Banhart has changed a lot in the time since Cripple Crow, and this album seems to acknowledge or even document the transformative period. It used to be that his happiest songs were his most disturbing, and his libidinous eccentricity could be contained within sparse acoustic folk arrangements. The album starts with a complacent, utopian four track lull, continuing to neglect his haggard but effeminate upper range in favor of a lazy Jim Morrison croon. Rather than hold the album to this tone or burst back into his recent affair with rock, Banhart begins to gather the storm clouds with two songs ‘for B’ until the mood of the album seems to have erased itself, and then rattles off a series of disconnected jams. He knows his music history, and he fiddles with an uncommon amount of diversity in genre and tone. Banhart fills in the blanks that the modern burst of folk rock has left. Where most acts will water down their influences and rub them together, Banhart tries to replicate sounds and stack them against each other; whether this is appealing or important is up to the listener.

Lyrics: This is where Banhart seems to be changing the most. His old penchant for simple, grotesque, vaguely mythological blurbs has given way to spiritualization of decrepit rock slang. “Since time began/ you been a long time, and/ Mama ain’t it grand/ that I get to be the fool again…Cause every kiss that I don’t get’s/ another life that I don’t live…Who do you love:/ the lover you can’t forget/ or the lover you haven’t met?” Wiping away his absurdities has only strengthened the other interstitial ballads in which he’s so practiced: “Now I take everything as a good sign/ because I’m in love/ I take everything as a sign from God…Please destroy me/ please destroy me/ please destroy me…A child born singing.

Quick And Dirty: The title says it all. This could be a footnote in Banhart’s career, or a ditch, but Banhart’s path to rejuvenate Americana seems to have such personal ends and means that the flux and hesitation of this album presents voices all equally worthy of being held to. (♦♦♦♦)

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Axe To Fall

Concept: Thrash metal group comes back from some brainstorming with several guests from similar acts.

Sound: Although the majority of the tracks are up-tempo and under three minutes, the album feels slow. The mixing puts the elaborate lead riffs in the back, and the rhythm guitar filler is pretty conventional. The comfortable fit for cameo vocals and guitar from Hatebreed, Neurosis, Genghis Tron, Pygmy Lush, The Red Chord, Blacklisted, and others only emphasizes the monotony of the genre, and the distinctions each group could present only push Converge further and further into the background of the album.

Lyrics: Doom and gloom cliches that somehow fail to cooperate. Even though the album quickly wears itself out, no central point is exposed.

Quick And Dirty: Despite every conventional indicator of a ‘big break’ for a successful and enduring act, this album lacks any enduring sound or image. (♦♦♦)

I think I see a few phallic symbols.

Concept: Virginia sludge rock group continues their ‘primary’ saga, following their Eps 1, 2, 3, and their Red Album.

Sound: Rock music isn’t really in need of any more throwbacks — there’s still a bad taste in its mouth after Wolfmother, Chickenfoot, and countless others. On the other hand Baroness is better at achieving the old-school appeal, keeping close to southern touches and frequent interludes that recall all the good elements of Alice In Chains and Led Zeppelin. There are two major gripes with the sound: first and foremost the vocalist’s goofy macho bellow, and the drummer’s affinity for ‘dance’ beats. Disco-style hi-hat hits on the offbeat have a hard time meshing with metal riffs, enough said. If the guitar work is your uncompromising focus in listening, though, this is an appreciable revival of metal’s brighter side.

Lyrics: Secondary, to be plain. Often vocals will not be introduced to a track until about three minutes in, are difficult to decipher between the vocalist’s tone and accent, and hold unusual themes. The album’s central image is the bullhead (a fish), and descriptions of its environment are typically nonsensical: “Steel that sleeps the eye/swollen and halo“. Okay, you guys are trying to keep things abstract, but there’s more to a reasonable, bearable sentence than grammar. Maybe they should team up with Chomsky for their next LP — Green Ideas Sleep Furiously.

Quick And Dirty: Overlooking poor vocals, this album does a decent job of putting the golden back in the oldies. An easygoing, less pretentious Mastodon? (♦♦♦½)

Wheeeee!!!!

Concept: Dylan redoes the Holiday standbys for charity.

Sound: Please, God, no. People say they appreciate Dylan’s voice; what they mean is they appreciate its attachment to his material. This is not Blonde On Blonde; this is a panicked sprint through the ‘classics’, and Dylan’s voice paints a blood-soaked nightmare with the up-tempo polka rendition of Must Be Santa among other “delights”.

Lyrics: Chestnut Jack Frost Reindeer Presents Goodwill Jesus  Sleighbells Snowfall

Concept: Not all Christmas songs suck; let me make this clear. There are many good holiday tunes which are unfortunately overlooked for their religious emphasis, most of which can be found in the hands-down best Christmas album EVER — The Bells Of Dublin by The Chieftains. All we get here is the greatest songwriter of our time succumbing to some of the very worst. The sound of his voice on these songs is only a fraction as bad as the fact that he’s singing it. You might as well buy a video of your mother kissing Saint Nick — privilege or atrocity? Maybe both. Sounds like Christmas to me. (♦½)