Carré Kwong Callaway doesn’t care about you or your dad’s last name or where you got that piece of art. In the four years since her previous album, the Los Angeles songwriter has been through the wringer—a divorce, a cystic fibrosis diagnosis, and the news that she has ten years to live. It’s a testament to Callaway’s stoicism and songwriting aptitude that Couples Only, her third album as Queen Kwong, doesn’t consist of one 40-minute-long scream down the microphone.
Instead, taking the resolute approach of writing one song per day, Callaway has produced a variegated and emotive workhorse of art rock with all the swagger of PJ Harvey and the raw fervor of a sold-out club show. As if to mirror how a terminal diagnosis would force one to reevaluate everything, producer Joe Cardamone soaks every corner in harsh food lights—the knotted guitar lines bleed into deconstructed drum beats, her voice commanding every ebb and development. It sounds at once exhausting and energizing. — Hayden Merrick
It’s a movie-script origin story. New Year’s Day, 2018. A group of ambitious Chicagoans nurse their hangovers with a resolution to start a band. It will sound like they’re krautrock and post-punk heroes, as well as next-door mainstays such as Dehd. While the rest of us are letting nascent gym memberships gather dust, Dendrons will be burning rubber across the US, playing anywhere that will have them, and shaping their sound along the way. A multitude of parking stubs and a pandemic later, 5-3-8 is a scrapbook of looping vocal fragments—prescient lines repurposed from C-SPAN broadcasts (“distance, time, new outlook”)—with a trio of interlacing guitar lines acting as the glue that elevates the pile of clippings to a cohesive, unforgettable piece of art. — Hayden Merrick
(The Nothing Song)
There came a seminal moment in the early 1980s when punk musicians softened their edges, actually learned to play their instruments, and created some truly lasting music. Instead of screeching guitars, we got cool echo effects; in place of angry shouted vocals, these ‘post-punk’ bands produced haunting, lyrical ruminations on anguish and loss as catchy as they were inspired. The virulence was still there, but now it was couched in gorgeous melodies that permeated the subconscious like opium or a gentle mist.
Enter Astragal. This Houston trio of singer/guitarist Jimmy Bent, bassist David Sosa, drummer Sam Enkelmann, and assorted friends has picked up the ghostly 1980s mantle with aplomb. Named after an obscure 1965 novel, Astragal reincarnates much of what made those bands of yesteryear so compulsively listenable, helping them stand out in a once-fascinating genre with precious little competition these days. Here’s hoping their next record can match what is already one of 2022’s most engaging releases. — Marc Edelstein
No, not the early 1990s grunge/garage rock supergroup from Seattle (which does have its fans). This Hater is a young Swedish quartet from Malmo, specializing in moody, guitar-driven songs of straightforward pedigree. Hater provide yet more evidence that the icy reaches of northern Europe are home to some of the most satisfying and worthwhile music in today’s indie-rock world.
Sincere presents a major upgrade over 2018’s Siesta, with a much brawnier rhythm section plus two new members adding some vital guitar punch to animate the proceedings. One can hear the Cure loud and clear on the opener “Something”. The song’s haunted twang and driving back-beat recall Wish-era material like 1992’s “Open”, force-feeding greedy listeners with the same motoring insistence. My personal favorite, “I’m Yours Baby”, features a breathless, nostalgia-inducing chorus and concludes with a screeching climactic solo, a la the gorgeous “Sweet Dreams” by Creeper Lagoon alums On the Speakers (remember them?). — Marc Edelstein
(Big Scary Monsters)
Spielbergs‘ twilit punk-pop is robust and immediate, coming at you like a sonic snow plow. Hailing from Norway, and naming their sophomore album after a suburb of Oslo in which they grew up, the trio make music that approaches the beefy riffs and emotive vocal refrains à la Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American not from sun-scorched Arizona but frosted-over Scandinavia. Indeed, there’s a sense of geographical dysphoria permeating the songs on Vetsli—of which the anthemic “When They Come for Me” and plaintive intermission “Goodbye” are standouts. As frontman Mads Baklien puts it, “You can leave Vestli but Vestli never leaves you.” Provided it falls into the right hands, the record may achieve the same. — Hayden Merrick
The Great Regression
On their stellar debut, The Great Regression, Brighton’s five-piece DITZ come out hard and dark. They deliver an intense and sonically invigorating assault on the superficial politeness that masks systemic inequality while exploring the elements of personhood that cast some from the mainstream.
Singer Cal Francis wrote that the track “I Am Kate Moss” is about “the separation between your visual and personal identities, particularly within the context of masculinity and femininity”. This separation of mind and body comes across in the album’s ten tracks, which balance cerebral spoken word and somatic song structures via familiar rock riffs. With cues from Foals and Ireland’s Gilla Band, DITZ place themselves on post-punk’s heavier, metal side. Their riffs are dark and simple, in the vein of Korn or Slipknot, but with artistic sensibilities more in line with Deftones and At the Drive-In. — Jay Honeycomb
What’s ultimately stunning about Destroyer‘s LABYRINTHITIS, besides the fact that it’s the most upright that Bejar’s sounded for years, is how little he feels wrapped in this manufactured world or the status quo of the musical one. Instead, his focus, more often than ever, is on our own.
It’s apparent from the record’s opening moment, where mollifying swathes of synth and guitar swirl benevolently around the ears. Not only is “It’s In Your Heart Now” one of Bejar’s least verbose songs in that it contains only 17 unique words, but each one of them feels directed to us. It’s a solemn declaration of empathy from a man whose penchant for thespian-like dramatization oft threatens to reach parodic levels. There’s nothing that says he isn’t speaking to some off-screen character, but in the same way, its chord sequence doesn’t resolve until right at the end (its resolution cruelly teased in the middle); you can sense that the meaning of the song’s title, and who he means it for, is us. — Rob Moura
Guided By Voices
Crystal Nuns Cathedral
Guided By Voices‘ Crystal Nuns Cathedral is a startling late-career classic that brings back the welcome string arrangements from the last record and flaunts some of the most uplifting, imaginative rock songs of recent memory. Robert Pollard raises the stakes yet again with a hi-fi indie rock record for the ages and one of Pollard’s finest works. Here in-house producer Travis Harrison (known as the sixth member of Guided by Voices and now the equivalent of a George Martin for the band) delivers the most cultivated production possible, the latest iteration of the band sounding like an arena-tested live institution of the highest order.
On It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! slick production moves such as the fade-in to “Black and White Eyes in a Prism” and the underwater static of guitar riffs on “The Bell Gets out of the Way” perfectly wedded a hi-fi sound with a lo-fi ethos. This same mindset saturates the solid rock edifice of Crystal Nuns Cathedral. It’s an album indie fans won’t sleep through. Albeit brief, with Crystal Nuns Cathedral, Pollard and co. have struck gold once again, delivering a hi-fi record that proves itself to be just as virtuosic and inventive as any indie rock album of recent memory. — Paul Rowe