Listening Ahead: Upcoming Music Releases for April 2015

Matthew Fiander and Arnold Pan
Photo: Composition of headphones. Image via Shutterstock.

The latest "Listening Ahead" provides an early look at new albums from Built to Spill, Speedy Ortiz, and Waxahatchee.

April's record release schedule is headlined by new material from beloved '90s bands that have been dormant long enough that you wondered if you'd ever hear from them again, Blur and Built to Spill. It's also a month that features eagerly awaited next acts by groups that made their mark on their last turn on the album cycle, including would-be crossover stars Passion Pit and the Alabama Shakes as well as indie breakthroughs Speedy Ortiz and Waxahatchee. And Record Store Day isn't the only date on the calendar in April to find special editions and rarities, what with comprehensive boxsets for all musical tastes, ranging from an eight-disc career-spanning Replacements collection to a four-CD Sinatra set with 100 tracks marking the Chairman of the Board's centennial.


April 7

Artist: The Mountain Goats

Album: Beat the Champ

Label: Merge


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The Mountain Goats
Beat the Champ

You'd think that the larger-than-life biographies and over-the-top storylines of professional wrestling are tales that can tell themselves, but they're even better and more vivid the way John Darnielle relates them on the Mountain Goats' concept album Beat the Champ. More than a musical interpretation of epic struggles between the babyfaces and heels, Beat the Champ is about the human drama inside the ring and inside the heads of his protagonists and their antagonists: Expressed through tones that are more poignant than aggressive or flamboyant, Beat the Champ is actually one of the Mountain Goats' most musically rich and nuanced offerings, certainly their most complex. That surprise attack is sprung right at the opening bell with the leadoff track "Southwestern Territory", a tender internal monologue of a journeyman wrestler on a visit home that's set to an accompaniment of bittersweet woodwinds and deliberate piano. Sure, Beat the Champ can get its audience on its feet when it wants to, like with "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero", a briskly played hagiography of Darnielle's very own childhood hero, or the blow-by-blow punch-ups of "Choked Out" and "Werewolf Gimmick", but you're more likely to find something more complicated on the album. While the eerieness of "Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan" is heightened by surreal art-rock elements, "Heel Turn 2" is a reflection on mortality and morality which feels all the more pensive with its extended piano coda. Another winner, Beat the Champ proves that when it comes to rendering conflicted feelings, carefully wrought personas, and richly detailed scenes, John Darnielle holds the belt. Arnold Pan


Artist: Waxahatchee

Album: Ivy Tripp

Label: Merge


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Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield is, more than anything else, a resourceful artist. True, she's gifted with uniquely emotive voice, with its rough-hewn, yearning pitch, but Crutchfield has always made the most of what's at hand for her, as with the lo-fi vignettes of her first two albums American Weekend and Cerulean Salt. On her latest Ivy Tripp, Crutchfield has more options at her disposal and she takes full advantage of them: Ivy Tripp's clearer, roomier production draws out more tones from Crutchfield's singing and features more nuanced orchestration, with drum machines and synth effects adding richness. That greater sense of scale is apparent right from the initial notes of the album on "Breathless", as resonant organ lines create depth that makes Crutchfield's voice feel more searching than ever as it fills up the space. Likewise, Crutchfield's feelings come off bigger on "Air", fleshed out by interesting instrumental touches and a layered production. And if Waxahatchee's previous work had an overcast quality to them, Ivy Tripp changes the inflection just so to a partly sunny mood at times, which you especially notice on the indie dance-pop of "La Loose", with its warm keyboards and brisk, synthesized beats. Even the scrappy guitar ditties that are Crutchfield's specialty are brighter and more open here, brimming with an unexpected vitality on the electrified thrash of "Under a Rock" and bouncing almost giddily on "The Dirt". This time out, Crutchfield proves that an already strong musical personality can continue to add more facets to itself. Arnold Pan


April 14

Artist: Calexico

Album: Edge of the Sun

Label: Anti-


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Edge of the Sun

It should go without saying that Calexico traverses all kinds of borders on its latest album, Edge of the Sun. It's just that the long-running duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino seem to cover a wider swath of musical territory on Edge of the Sun, which was recorded in the group's home base of Tucson as well as Mexico City. In turn, Calexico's soundscapes have a broader horizon here, one that's cosmopolitan and worldly in all the traditions it encompasses. Making the electro-world mash-up "Cumbia de Donde" the album's first teaser single gets that point across well, as mariachi horns and Latin percussion ride a squiggly synth line on it. Elsewhere on Edge of the Sun, Burns and Convertino seem to be searching for the continuities between Spaghetti western motifs and dubby ska, between dusty Americana and glitchy techno. Still, despite the far-flung musical explorations and a diverse list of guest contributors -- from usual suspects like Neko Case and Iron and Wine's Sam Beam to Greek instrumentalists Takim -- Edge of the Sun still feels like a cohesive piece, in part because hybridity has always been Calexico's default mode. That essential quality comes through on the bold, broad vistas on "Falling from the Sky", which blends Calexico's country-and-southwestern inputs so seamlessly you wouldn't guess they don't naturally come together this way. So when Burns sings on "Cumbia de Donde", "I'm not from here / I'm not from there," he might as well be explaining that Calexico's sound is most at home coming from anywhere and everywhere. Arnold Pan


April 21

Artist: Built to Spill

Album: Untethered Moon

Label: Warner Bros.


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Built to Spill
Untethered Moon

Built to Spill is the kind of indie-rock institution that should incite hysteria at the announcement of a new record. And yet it's the band's sturdiness, its consistency over time, that seems to keep us at bay, happy to wait five years or so between records. This happened in 2009 with the way underrated There Is No Enemy, but with its Record Store Day vinyl release, Untethered Moon has a bit more buzz going on. The first two singles suggest that enthusiasm is well founded. After the dreamy expanses of There Is No Enemy, "Living Zoo" packs a more compact punch. Despite those Mascis-stamped guitar solos and the propulsive drumming, the song strips down to a lean power-pop energy. "Never Be the Same" is a bit more jangling, but it doesn't drift so much as it stomps forward, clear-eyed and direct, with those low-end hooks tying the song down to the earth, even as that moon drifts around. These moments, and the other eight songs here, reveal another twist in the Built to Spill sound, something more focused than You in Reverse, something brighter than There Is No Enemy, but just as expansive as both. If you were worried the band would lose steam after five-plus years off, don't worry. Untethered Moon assures us they're just off in the Northwest wilderness, getting stronger all the time. Matthew Fiander


Artist: Red House Painters

Album: Red House Painters (4-LP boxset)

Label: 4AD


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Red House Painters
Red House Painters (4-LP boxset)

While Mark Kozelek's expanded profile after a much-chronicled 2014 has certainly made the Red House Painters vinyl boxset a timely reissue, the collection of the band's first four albums stands on its own even if you aren't up on current events or catching up on historical context. Twenty-plus years on, the group's 4AD full-lengths (which will also be available individually on vinyl later this year) feel anything but dated, though they do call to mind the era from when they come. That's because the records continue to resonate with the San Francisco band's uncommonly harmonious use of vernaculars, blending folk, dream-pop, and drone, while retaining the integrity of each element in its own discernable way. This almost alchemical combination of styles peaks on the first eponymous 1993 album -- aka Rollercoaster -- as Red House Painters move from spare folk to stormy shoegaze to the meditative sprawl of the record's centerpieces, "Katy Song" and "Rollercoaster". But above all, it's the distinctive tone Rollercoaster sets somewhere in between lushness and serenity that carries forward into the slowcore-ish second self-titled album and even Kozelek's work when it's broken down to its acoustic core, a process that takes shape on the fourth disc, 1995's Ocean Beach. And while that's something you might want to trace up to what Kozelek is doing these days, there's something enduringly current about Red House Painters' early material that makes it more than a history lesson or archival background. Arnold Pan


Artist: Speedy Ortiz

Album: Foil Deer

Label: Carpark


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Speedy Ortiz
Foil Deer

Where Speedy Ortiz's excellent last album, Major Arcana, was recorded quickly, the Massachusetts band took a month in the studio to craft the follow-up, Foil Deer. The differences seem both obvious and subtle. The album continues to refine and meld the poles of the band's sound, tying angular and off-kilter riffs to pure melodies and Sadie Dupuis's killer voice. On opener "Good Neck", where ragged hooks and rumbling drums fall away for a few sweetly violent lyrics, we're presented with those two poles -- the distorted and the crystal clear -- and the rest of the album slams them into each other. So we get the tumble-down hooks and rollercoaster vocal deliveries of "Raising the Skate", the stripped down verses erupting into crashing choruses on "The Graduates", the shadowy rumble and faint squeals of "Puffer", the rippling restraint and sublime crescendos of "My Dead Girl", and so on. On Foil Deer, Speedy Ortiz polishes up and expands on all the charms that garnered the band attention in the first place. This is not just one of the finest, most sweetly tangled and sinewy rock records of 2015, it's also one of the finest pop records of the year too. It's the sound of a band growing up without sloughing off its youthful fire. Matthew Fiander


April 28

Artist: Robert Pollard

Album: Faulty Superheroes

Label: Guided by Voices Inc./Fire


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Robert Pollard
Faulty Superheroes

With just 12 songs, you might think Pollard's new album, Faulty Superheroes, was just some quickfire EP, considering his usually stuffed-to-the-gills tracklists. Instead, this is a fiery, focused companion to I Sell the Circus, his other excellent album this year with new band Ricked Wicky. Though the album clocks in at only 30 minutes, the songs sound fully fleshed out, and the production is some of the crispest you'll hear in all of Pollard's solo discography. That clarity makes the slicing chords of "What a Man" beam with deeper intensity. It adds propulsion to the sludgy distortion of "Faster the Great". "Photo Enforcement Human Highway" blooms from lean rocker into an epic, textured, arena dream. The album never really lets up, pitting some of Pollard's purest hooks with some of his strangest lyrical tangents yet (see titles like "Take Me to Yolita" and the references to Jell-O and sugar-free cola in "Faster the Great"). Faulty Superheroes reminds us of the difference between tossed off and effortless. This one is surely the latter. It's got all the signs of a Robert Pollard record, but its fresh spin on the formula and its singular energy -- not to mention it's glut of great songs -- make it one of the best ones in recent memory. Matthew Fiander


Selected Releases for April 2015

(Release dates subject to change)

April 7

Aceyalone - Action (Bionik)

AG Ghent Band - Live at Terminal West (Blue Corn)

Agnostic Front - The American Dream Died (Nuclear Blast)

ALSO (Appleblim and Second Storey) - ALSO (R&S)

American Wrestlers - American Wrestlers (Fat Possum)

Bad Company - Bad Company, Straight Shooter reissues (Rhino)

Jessie Baylin - Dark Place (Blonde Rat)

Blues Traveler - Blow Up the Moon (Loud & Proud)

Kristian Bush - Southern Gravity (Streamsound)

Doug Burr - Pale White Dove (Velvet Blue)

Colleen - Captain of None (Thrill Jockey)

Taraf de Haidouks - Of Lovers, Gambles, and Parachute Skirts

Delta Rae - After It All (Warner Bros.)

Dion - Live at the Bitter End, August 1971 (Omnivore)

Dirty Bourbon River Show - Important Things Humans Should Know

Doldrums - The Air Conditioned Nightmare (Sub Pop)

Drenge - Undertow (Infectious Music)

Drug Cabin - Wiggle Room (401K)

East Cameron Folkcore - Kingdom of Fear (Nine Mile)

East India Youth - Culture of Volume (XL)

Enforcer - From Beyond (Nuclear Blast)

Ensō Collective - Loop (Score)

Shana Falana - Set Your Lightning Fire Free (Team Love)

Folk Family Revival - Water Walker (Rock Ridge)

Emil Friis - Sand in Your Eyes (Southern Imperial)

GABI - Sympathy (Software)

Steve Gadd - 70 Strong (BFM Jazz)

Seth Glier - If I Could Change One Thing (Mpress)

Gorguts - Obscura, From Wisdom to Hate reissues (Century Media)

Gov't Mule - Dub Side of the Mule (Evil Teen)

Harvard of the South - Miracle EP (Slo Lab)

Ray Wylie Hubbard - The Ruffian's Misfortune (Bordello)

Kuroma - Kuromarama (Votiv)

Pokey LaFarge - Something in the Water (Rounder)

Lapalux - Lustmore (Brainfeeder)

Long Knives - This Is Your Life EP (Count Your Lucky Stars)

Lord Huron - Strange Trails (Iamsound)

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas - Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (Blue Note)

Malky - Diamonds EP

Marriages - Salome (Sargent House)

Matt and Kim - New Glow (Harvest)

Minsk - The Crash and the Draw (Relapse)

Morton Valence - Another Country

Nudity - Astronomicon (Iron Lung)

Portico - Living Fields (Ninja Tune)

Priory - Need to Know (Warner Bros.)

Christina Quesada - You Are the One (Elefant)

Josh Rouse - Embers of Time

Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors (Relapse)

Todd Rundgren - Global (Esoteric Antenna)

Sachal - Slow Motion Miracles (OKeh)

David Sanborn - Time & the River (Sony Masterworks)

Nadine Shah - Fast Food (Apollo/R&S)

Shampoo Boy - Crack (Blackest Ever Black)

Adrian Sherwood - Sherwood at the Controls (On-U Sound)

Shlohmo - Dark Red (True Panther/WeDidIt)

Dylan Stark - Heartland (Civil Music)

Becca Stevens - Perfect Animal (Universal Music Classics)

Fred Thomas - All Are Saved (Polyvinyl)

Timbre - Sun & Moon (Aurora)

Toro Y Moi - What For? (Carpark)

Umphrey's McGee - The London Sessions: A Day at Abbey Road Studios (Nothing Too Fancy)

George Usher and Lisa Burns - The Last Day of Winter

Steve Vai - Stillness in Motion: Via Live in L.A. CD/DVD (Legacy)

April Verch - The Newpart (Casey Driessen)

The Very Best - Makes a King (Moshi Moshi)

The Waterboys - Modern Blues (Kobalt)

Waters - What's Real (Vagrant )

White Hills - Walks for Motorists (Thrill Jockey)

Brian Wilson - No Pier Pressure (Capitol)

Cassandra Wilson - Coming Forth by Day (Legacy)

Young Fathers - White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada)

April 14

Robert Aiki, Aubrey Lowe, & Ariel Kalma - FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow (RVNG Intl.)

Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes, Under the Pink 2-CD deluxe editions (Rhino)

Ancient River - Keeper of the Dawn (Summer Moon)

John Andrews and the Yawns - Bit by the Fang (Woodsist)

Avid Dancer - 1st Bath (Grand Jury)

Bop English - Constant Bop (Downtown)

Kathryn Calder - Kathryn Calder (File Under: Music)

Citizens! - European Soul (Kitsuné)

The Damnwells - The Damnwells (Rock Ridge)

Darkness Falls - Dance and Cry (HFN Music)

Marie Davidson - Un Autre Voyage (Holodeck)

Dinner - Three EPs, 2012-2014 (Captured Tracks)

Double Naught Spy Car & Stew - Panorama City (11 Foot Pole)

Lila Downs - Balas Y Chocolate (Sony Latin)

Eels - Royal Albert Hall (E-Works/PIAS)

Jack Garratt - Synesthesiac EP (Interscope)

The Griswolds - Acoustic EP (Wind-Up)

Gavin Harrison - Cheating the Polygraph (K-Scope)

Beth Hart - Better Than Home

JeConte - Down by the Bayou (Red Parlor)

Kenny Lattimore - Anatomy of a Love Song (EntertainmentOne)

Charles Lloyd - Wild Man Dance (Blue Note)

Looper - These Things 5-CD boxset (Mute)

Lowland Hum - Lowland Hum

Reba McEntire - Love Somebody (Nash Icon)

MIT Wind & Festival Jazz Ensemble - Infinite Winds (Sunnyside)

Monophonics - Sound of Sinning (Transistor Sound)

Moon King - Secret Life (Last Gang)

Pale Blue - The Past We Can't Leave Behind (2MR/Captured Tracks)

Pocket Panda - The Arrangement of Molecules

The Replacements - The Studio Albums 1981-1990 8-CD boxset (Rhino)

Reubens Accomplice - The Bull, the Balloon, and the Family reissue (Good Land)

Sacred Blood - Argonautica (Pitch Black)

The Slow Readers Club - Cavalcade (Extenso)

SLUG - Ripe (Memphis Industries)

Spirit Family Reunion - Hands Together

Stealing Sheep - Not Real (Heavenly)

Stranger Cat - In the Wilderness (Joyful Noise)

Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart - Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart (Secretly Canadian)

Tae Shi - Verde EP (Mermaid Avenue)

Frank Turner - The Third Three Years (Xtra Mile)

Van Halen - Deluxe 4-CD boxset (Rhino)

Villagers - Darling Arithmetic (Domino)

The von Trapps - Dancing in Gold EP (Heinz)

Michael Vincent Waller - The South Shore (XI)

Hank Williams III - Take as Needed for Pain (Curb)

The Wombats - Glitterbug (Warner Bros./14th Floor)

Dwight Yoakam - Second Hand Heart (Warner Bros.)

Zero 7 - EP 3 (Make/Kobalt)

April 18 - Record Store Day

Visit the Record Store Day site for a full listing of RSD-related releases.

April 21

Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (Svart)

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color (ATO)

Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk - Kill the Fuzz (Fire Talk)

Beauty Pill - Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are (Butterscotch)

Birds of Night - Birds of Night

Bright Like the Sun - Bright Like the Sun (Sun Sea Sky)

The Cathode Ray - Infinite Variety (Stereogram)

The Charlatans UK - Modern Nature (BMG/Chrysalis)

Chick Quest - Vs. Galore

Steve Coleman & the Council of Balance - Synovial Joints (Pi)

Death - N.E.W. (Tryangle)

Delerium - Rarities & B-Sides (Nettwerk)

Tom DeLonge - To the Stars

Filligar - Keepsakes of the Interior (Decade)

Girl Band - The Early Years EP (Rough Trade)

Great Lake Swimmers - A Forest of Arms (Nettwerk)

The Honeycutters - Me Oh My (Organic)

Danko Jones - Fire Music (Bad Taste/MRI)

Sam Lewis - Waiting on You (Brash)

Low Cut Connie - Hi Honey (Contender)

Drew Lustman - The Crystal Cowboy (Planet Mu)

Mideau - Mideau

John Moreland - High on Tulsa Heat (Thirty Tigers)

Bob Moses - All in All (Domino)

Native Construct - Quiet World (Metal Blade)

OOFJ - Acute Feast (Ring the Alarm)

Passion Pit - Kindred (Columbia)

Peach Kelli Pop - III (Burger)

Pupppy - Sh*t in the Apple Pie (Father/Daughter)

Red Krayola - Corrected Slogans, Black Snakes, Malefactor, Ade, Amor and Language vinyl reissues (Drag City)

Rising Appalachia - Wider Circles

San Fermin - Jackrabbit (Roadrunner)

Frank Sinatra - Ultimate Sinatra 4-CD boxset (Capitol)

Skinny Lister - Down on Deptford Broadway (Xtra Mile)

Squarepusher - Damogen Furies (Warp)

Mavis Staples - Your Good Fortune EP (Anti-)

They Might Be Giants - Glean (Idlewild)

Turbo Fruits - No Control (Melvin/Thirty Tigers)

Rocky Votolato - Hospital Handshakes (No Sleep/Glitterhouse)

Ben Williams - Coming of Age (Concord)

Wire - Wire (swim)

Yelawolf - Love Story (Slumerican/Shady/Interscope)

April 28

Advaeta - Death and the Internet (Fire Talk)

Bell Witch - Four Phantoms (Profound Lore)

Tony Bennett/Bill Evans - The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings (Concord/Fantasy)

Blueprint - King No Crown (Weightless)

Blur - The Magic Whip (Warner Bros)

Braids - Deep in the Iris (Arbutus)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Musique de Film Imaginé (A)

Zac Brown Band - Jekyll + Hyde (Big Machine/Republic)

Brown Bird - Axis Mundi (Supply & Demand)

Olivia Chaney - The Longest River (Nonesuch)

Eric Clapton - Forever Man 3-CD set (Reprise)

Cloud - Zen Summer (Paper Trail)

Sam Cohen - Cool It (Easy Sound)

Dave DK - Val Maira (Kompakt)

Paul de Jong - IF (Temporary Residence)

Everclear - Black Is the New Black (The End)

Bill Fay - Who Is the Sender? (Dead Oceans)

George Fitzgerald - Fading Love (Domino)

Godsized - Heavy Lies the Crown (Metalville)

Martin Gore - MG (Mute)

Josh Groban - Stages (Reprise)

Kevin Hays - New Day (Sunnyside)

Jerry Lawson - Just a Mortal Man (Red Beet)

The Leisure Society - The Fine Art of Hanging On (Full Time Hobby)

Shawn David McMillen - On the Clock with JJ & Mitch (12XU)

Mew - +- (PIAS)

Michael Angelo - Michael Angelo reissue (Anthology)

Moonbabies - Wizards on the Beach

Nai Harvest - Hairball (Topshelf)

Arthur Nasson - The Emperor's New Sound (Philistine)

Ambrosia Parsley (Shivaree) - Weeping Cherry (Barbes)

Raekwon - Fly International Luxurious Art (Ice H20/EMI)

Red Red Meat - Bunny Gets Paid reissue (Jealous Butcher)

Roomful of Teeth - Render (New Amsterdam)

Samo Sound Boy - Begging Please (Body High)

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation)

Sugarcane Jane - Dirt Road's End (ArenA)

Turn to Crime - Action (Mugg & Bopp)

Various Artists - Faux Real II (Father/Daughter)

Kat Vinter - Islands EP (Culvert)

The Weepies - Sirens (Nettwerk)






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