Darkest Hour Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation (Victory)
It's too bad that most of the lyrics on Darkest Hour's latest platter are indecipherable from guttural growling and low frequency shrieking, because the band have a whole lot of social commentary to get off their collective chest. The lyrics are printed on the J-card, but you'll need LASIK to read them. On Hidden Hands ... the band have reached a new pinnacle of intelligent, melodic brutality—a perfect balance of thrash, hardcore and death metal. You'll be hard-pressed to find a tighter, more complex set of songs than the nine here.
Salim Nourallah Polaroid (Western Vinyl)
Polaroid is a record that grows on you, but in a more literal sense than usual. It doesn't take repeated listens to come to like the record—Nourallah's first solo album—rather, repeated listens reveal more nuance, detail and subtle complexity. Running a strange gamut between sadcore and blissful pop, Polaroid manages to be all over the place while appearing cohesive. Stark and graceful, and marked by a restlessness that's only bred once in a great while by the kind of genius whose expression is fueled rather than hampered by honesty, Polaroid is a masterpiece.
Randall Bramblett Thin Places (New West)
Randall Bramblett is something of an enigma when it comes to musical style. There's a definite Americana undercurrent within all 11 songs on his latest release, but Thin Places is also variously tinged with Southern rock, country, pop, straight-ahead rock and even jazz. It takes one hell of a literate songwriter to effortlessly detour from genre to genre while maintaining a signature, and Bramblett is nothing if not that kind of songwriter. Here, he sticks mostly to his Hammond B-3, but he manages to travel miles down a host of dusty musical roads.