Badlands is the moniker of Los Angeles musician Adrian Chi Tenney, and within its fierce and atmospheric indie rock depths is endless emotion, barbed creativity and the need to fight for change. She wrangles all manner of influence and creates a sound steeped in numerous musical histories while also crafting a coherent direction for her own rhythmic instincts. Equally measured and unpredictable, her songs are filled with tough truths and hard-fought experiences -- the ideas she explores are born from a feeling of necessity inside her heart and head, a yearning to find equality and justice without resorting to pallid sermonizing. Collecting bits and pieces from the lineages of classic indie rock, post-rock, dream-pop and indie pop, she fashions a persuasive perspective on the power of music to effect substantial change.
With her new album, "Slow Growth," she doubles down on this genre mining and builds a sizable force of inspirations to help her in her attempt to focus attention on events and ideologies that promote social equity and fairness among all people. She cushions these heavy themes within a multi-faceted musical sphere where sounds are never what we expect and spontaneous rhythmic detours are all too common. And she even includes a cover of Donna Summers' "I Feel Love," which presents itself as a powerful motivation for loving yourself and holding on to the confidence that can sometimes slip out of our grasp. Filled with dramatic resilience, love, heartache and change, "Slow Growth" is a monument to Tenney's ability to evoke a grand illumination without artifice and to house it within a turbulent and utterly compelling musical viewpoint.
Music is for breaking down, for rising up, for destroying. It can be difficult for someone to see how something like sound can evoke such powerful responses, but for those with an ear for it, music can change everything about your perception of the world around you. New York artist The Widest Smiling Faces (aka Aviv Cohn) understands all these things and creates music that speaks to its own emotional malleability. Blending elements of shoegaze, ambient and folk music into a swirling haze of thought and internal expression, he allows his work to set very specific moods in which we can lose ourselves. These sounds dip down into your bones, comforting and sensuous in a way that doesn't raise alarms -- they're unexpectedly gentle at times but can be brusque as well, exhibiting a disparate array of appearances in a short period of time.
On his latest collection of songs, "Milk Garden," Cohn doesn't stray from the path that led him here; there's no great departure, only a refinement of process and procedure. He's still wandering through gorgeously hushed guitar lines, flittering ambience and subtle folk inclinations. And across these 15 songs, he's able to construct a fitting environment for their mesmeric pastorality, a serene perspective that doesn't hide from deeper truths but approaches them through unconventional means. Reminiscent of Sparklehorse in the way he combines hushed vocals with breathtaking arrangements that feel so intricate that it seems impossible to unravel them fully. "Milk Garden" is a beautiful and captivating work of art, one that doesn't feed you bland platitudes but offers honest introspection and grace for those earnestly seeking it.
Lips and Ribs exist in a perpetual state of theatricality, of warring musical impulses designed to sear your senses and shake the bones lose from your skin. The alias of Portland musician Jay Winebrenner, Lips and Ribs thrives on constant movement, propelled by vivid synths, propulsive beats and clanging arrangements. There's never a moment to rest as the music crashes in around you from all sides. This input overload is as jarring as it is welcomed -- few artists can make such a cacophony sound so appealing. Sounds buzz by your ears and lodge themselves into the landscape behind you. All sharp edges and bombastic tonalities, Winebrenner's work is dense and overly caffeinated with adrenaline pouring out of every track like a fountain. There is no time for half-measures; he's not interested in keeping quiet.
On recent release, "Battle in Nagoya," he fashions a neon-streaked atmosphere where lasers, fireworks and the overt fluorescence from nearby cityscapes all vie for your attention. Horns, synths and chest-rattling beats clang together and spill out of your speakers. They creep up your arm before settling in around your head and digging in. These songs are almost overwhelmingly vibrant, full of sparkling melodies and rhythms that can't possibly be terrestrial. Passion and electronics merge into a glorious mass of feeling and aural expression; by unleashing the full weight of his creativity without restriction, he's able to conjure pure musical inspiration, a sense of infinite possibilities threaded through all these different rhythmic avenues and production techniques. "Battle in Nagoya" is an unrelenting noise, but it is a beautiful noise.
As the guitarist for Guerilla Toss, Arian Shafiee is no stranger to the darker, deeper recesses of pop music -- but on his own, he's digs a bit deeper into chaos through a fascination with psychedelic landscapes and fractured rhythms. Favoring the distorted depths of droning melodies, microtonal expulsions and the unpredictability of other experimental avenues, he finds a weird sort of beauty in things that most people would consider too caustic or distorted to admire. But there is something beautiful in Shafiee's work, a blindingly original perspective that touches on the intersection of harsh noise, pelting percussion and the thrum of guitar freakouts. He sees connections where others would only see dissonance and bridges these sounds through sheer force of will. It's a testament to his ability to see the underlying structure of these sounds that he's able to link them so completely.
With "Beauty Tuning," his latest collection of songs, Shafiee unleashes a storm of guitar feedback, clacking beats and frayed electronics, and it's all wrapped up in some cosmic psychedelic morass. The one thing you can be certain of as you fall through these tracks is that you can never really be certain of anything. Just when you think you might be getting a handle on his approach, he utterly upends your expectations and proceeds to drop this noisy nucleation onto your head. Some people might find this lack of unification to be something of a hindrance to their enjoyment of the album, but he;s not looking for any sort of unifying idea -- "Beauty Tuning" is about the disparity that exists within the basic elements of sound and how they can be molded without reserve if you know how to look at them. While difficult at times, these songs never distance themselves from their audience; they want you to fully explore all the cracked and craggy surfaces they offer and respond in whatever way you see fit.