Rock Album Review: Alternative Music Round-Up

A pithy critical consideration of new releases from Flaming Lips, The Frights, Mind Spiders, Radioactivity, Ólöf Arnalds, Lee Bannon, Armand Hammer, and Haunted Horses.


Cover Art for Flaming Lip's Peace Sword EP

Cover Art for Flaming Lip’s Peace Sword EP

The Flaming Lips – Peace Sword EP

The Flaming Lips is easily one of the most prolific acts in modern music. The band has been busy touring in support of its thirteenth studio album, The Terror, a harrowing foray into the world of dark ambience released in April. But ever the sci-fi buffs, the Lips couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compose music for the film Ender’s Game. They recorded the movie’s theme, “Peace Sword (Open Your Heart),” but the band became so inspired by the story that it recorded five more songs that the producers ultimately had little interest in.

Thankfully, these songs have been packaged into an EP (more like a mini-album, at 35 minutes) titled Peace Sword. Stylistically, the tracks are reminiscent of the droning material on The Terror, although this is a decidedly more colorful affair, with intermittently cheery vocals and bright synth textures throughout. Most importantly, this EP doesn’t feel like a collection of The Terror outtakes – the music sounds fresh and inventive, which is impressive given that the Lips are also currently working on a collaborative covers EP with touring mates Tame Impala, and a collaborative LP with “fwend” of the band, Ke$ha.

The Frights – The Frights

San Diego surf-punk trio The Frights put out their self-titled debut LP this past Halloween. An appropriate release date, given that the group describes itself as the “house band for a 1950’s underwater Halloween party.”

The Frights is simply a rip-roaring good time through and through. The group’s delightfully messy, reverb-drenched recording and “dirty” take on doo wop would make its source of inspiration, garage rock veteran Ty Segall, very proud.

The Mind Spiders

The Mind Spiders — its album “Inhumanistic” lives up to its title.

Radioactivity – Radioactivity & Mind Spiders – Inhumanistic

October saw the release of superb records from Dirtnap signees Radioactivity and Mind Spiders. Both projects are filled with infectious hooks and riffs, though Radioactivity is the more immediate of the two. It’s a no-frills pop punk effort very much in the Ramones tradition, but played with both a Portland and Texas flare.

Mind Spiders’ album also has its fair share of earwormy moments, but, overall, the group is considerably less direct than its label mate. Relying on synths and drum-machines, “tight, claustrophobic” recording, and a “Devo-influenced” esthetic, Inhumanistic certainly lives up to its title. Still, Mind Spiders’ attention to melody and its often rollicking performances also inject quite a bit of humanity and fun into this project.

Ólöf Arnalds – The Matador EP


Icelandic folk songstress Ólöf Arnalds.

In lieu of her upcoming string of live shows, Icelandic folk songstress Ólöf Arnalds (formerly of múm) has dropped a free four-track-long EP of previously unreleased material. Notably, the EP features “Af stað,” which was originally written by Arnalds for Björk and Sigur Rós’ 2008 Náttúra concert in Reykjavík. Brief as it may be, The Matador is a testament to just how brilliant of a musician Arnalds is – even her marginal songs are infinitely lovely and worthwhile.

Earlier this year, Arnalds released her third studio album Sudden Elevation via One Little Indian. This LP was something of a milestone for her because it was her first to be sung entirely in English.

Lee Bannon – Place/Crusher EP

The incredibly versatile production dynamo Lee Bannon recently signed to London’s experimental electronic label Ninja Tune. Alternate/Endings, his debut on the label, is slated for a December 9 release, but in the meantime he has shared with his listeners a free EP called Place/Crusher.

The EP is comprised of one track that breaches the 22 minute mark and features vocals from Poliça, clpng, and Sunni Colòn. The piece goes in roughly the same jungle-meets-instrumental hip hop direction that Bannon’s been going in of late, but that’s not really a problem because no one else is tackling this intriguing fusion of genres. Moreover, he only manages to refine it with each new single.

Armand Hammer – Half Measures


Underground hip hop figureheads Billy Woods and Elucid have joined forces as Armand Hammer. Last month, the duo released its tremendous debut album Race Music, which featured gripping instrumentals, hardhitting flows, and plenty of socially conscious lyricism.

But a month before that, the twosome unleashed its debut mixtape Half Measures, which is arguably just as worthwhile. The tape has an all-star cast of producers and guest MCs, a handful of remixes of Woods and Elucid’s solo work, and all of the other aforementioned hallmarks that made Race Music such a rewarding listen. With cuts like “Shark Fin Soup” and “Native Sun,” Woods and Elucid are proving themselves to be among the most progressive minds in independent music — not just in hip hop, but across all genres.

Haunted Horses – Watcher

The bandcamp tags of the latest LP from Seattle punk duo Haunted Horses warn of an abrasive, foreboding listening experience. If the words “post-apocalyptic,” “exorcism,” and “satanic-space-jams” don’t have you immediately navigating away from the page, then Watcher might just be the album for you. Haunted Horses might not be the most versatile act in its field, but the sheer, unremitting ferociousness of their take on industrial punk is commendable: recommended for aficionados of extreme music.

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