If you wanna rock the fuck out while contemplating the meaning of life, the persistence of memory, the sadness of nostalgia and the triumph of the will as the future constantly manifests itself—consider The Mountain Goats' latest Beat the Champ. The band’s 16th studio album demonstrates an unfaltering attention to melody and instrumental prowess. Rooted in John Darnielle's piquant storytelling and lyricism, the result teems with chops and keen introspection. Professional wrestling and death provide the narrative framework; within it, the Goats explore life and how to live it. Tragedies, excesses and heroic returns laced with existential heaviness are interpreted with aplomb on “The Ballad of Bull Ramos,” “Fire Editorial” and “Stabbed To Death Outside San Juan.” You could even soundtrack your reading of Darnielle’s debut novel Wolf in White Van. This is essential listening.
This is a confession. When Blur was at its prime, the band frightened me. I was a young rocker taking London by storm, surviving on the ubiquitous fish and chips and cheap ale, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about a band that had the rock thing down and chose instead to distance itself with electronica, pop and nascent hip-hop references. The advent of the 21st century, the fall of Oasis and Radiohead’s ascent has afforded me perspective on the progenitors of Brit-pop. Here’s what I landed on: Blur is wildly important. And The Magic Whip, their eighth release (and first in 12 years), finds Blur dropping galaxy-expanding tracks like “Thought I Was a Spaceman” and “Ghost Ship” and standing at attention at the heart of the rocanrol universe.
I got into the SoCal post-post-grunge/pop-punk sound as much as anyone, downloading tunes by FIDLAR and Wavves. But I somehow missed Best Coast, the Bethany Cosentino and Bob Bruno duo. Sun-soaked beach anthems aside, I fets sure Best Coast rides at low tide while their peers are busy paddling out as the sea rolls in. California Nights set me straight though, with an evocative darkness and attention to harmony that sets the band apart from their punked-out colleagues. On songs like the title track, doo-wop epic “Sleep Won’t Ever Come” and closer “Wasted Time,” Bethany, Bob and producer Wally Gagel push the limits of the genre to new depths, with great effect. Best Coast is stepping up to the plate. You’ve been warned, lackadaisical Orange County neighbors.