Albums of the Week

September 20-September 26

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In this edition: Megafaun, Wild Flag, Anthrax and Tommy Stinson.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Megafaun: Megafaun (Hometapes)

The first utterance on Megafaun’s glorious self-titled album (released September 20) is a sound bit of advice – “Rise up early/ Seize the day/ Single line, walk inside/ get it ‘fore it goes away” – gentle wisdom delivered with a light but firm hand. This set coalesces every cool, exciting element this North Carolina trio has exhibited in their short time together. Listening to Megafaun it’s hard to believe this band is less than four years old. Vast lifetimes and portals to alternate realities lurk inside these tracks, a potent combination of sure-handed pop instincts, country comforts, devil-may-care kitchen sink experimentation and good ol’ rock chops. Self-titled albums tend to serve as a mission statement and a distillation of a group’s zeitgeist, and Megafaun presents an appealingly quizzical, giant hearted, adventurous approach to life, the universe and everything. The experience of it, absorbed without distraction end-to-end, is powerful, a simmer that bubbles over in all the right moments, dreams and tattered hopes pinging off one another as the guys – multi-instrumentalists Joe Westerlund, Phillip Cook and brother Bradley Cook – brew a “beautifully focused pile of ADD” (as phrased by Hometapes’ Adam Heathcott). A swirling, emotionally rich eddy current moves one along, but not in some abstract, half-formed manner – this is the music of soft treading geniuses, listeners to the spheres capable of harnessing those vibrations in song. Approached in a less highfalutin’ way, Megafaun taps into the outward reaching vibe of Revolver-era Beatles touched by the grounding insight of folks like Joseph Campbell and Cat Stevens. It is a wonderful, spirit swelling work and likely one of the best damn things you’re gonna hear in 2011. (Dennis Cook)

Megafaun from Hometapes on Vimeo.

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Wild Flag: Wild Flag (Merge)

Pacific Northwest represent! Fans of modern/punk rock will likely be familiar with Carrie Brownstein (vocals, guitar), Mary Timony (vocals, guitar), Rebecca Cole (keyboards, backing vocals) and Janet Weiss (drums, backing vocals) from their work in Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, The Minders, Helium and elsewhere – a tougher, more seasoned quartet one would be hard pressed to locate. Yet Wild Flag hurdles comfortably over any expectations their past accomplishments might stir up, finding sure footing in gutsy rock ‘n’ roll, equal measures early Patti Smith Group (both the 25th Floor vein and the Land of a Thousand Dances side) and middle period Led Zeppelin. While elements nod back to the players’ earlier efforts, Wild Flag (released September 13) really takes a good, solid squeeze of Fanny to offer up a guitar-tastic, rollicking bit of utterly unpretentious, un-indie rawk. Okay, they’re a bit more artful than the mullet set lyrically but head-charges like Racehorse and Boom strut ‘n’ rut with the best of their hirsute compatriots. Wild Flag’s debut is a freakin’ fun fest and a great door into the music of Timony, Brownstein, Cole and Weiss for anyone who’s previously held them at arm’s length as feminist indie rockers. What’s fab is how they’ve managed to meld the best parts of what’s come before with a broader, more guttural reach in Wild Flag. Simply cannot wait to hear more from this new group. (DC)

And just to show the Patti Smith reference isn’t idle chatter, here’s Wild Flag nailing one of the Group’s best:

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Anthrax: Worship Music (Megaforce)

As the first thrash band I ever got big into, Anthrax will forever hold a special place in the heavy metal section of my old heart. But after longtime singer Joey Belladonna was fired in 1992, I just sort of stopped caring. True, The Sound of White Noise, the Queens-based band’s 1993 effort with their then-new singer former Armored Saint frontman John Bush, was a decent listen, but it was nowhere near the pure metal majesty of such certified classics as Spreading the Disease, Among the Living and State of Euphoria. As for the three other records released in Joey’s absence – those being 1995’s Stomp 442, 1998’s Volume 8: The Threat Is Real and 2003’s We’ve Come For You All – well, I’m sure you will agree that they make mighty fine drink coasters. But Worship Music (released September 13) is a pure throwback to the group’s essential Island Records era, a move that has everything to do with the long-awaited and hotly debated return of Belladonna into the fold on his first original full-length with the group since 1990’s Persistence of Time. The album, Anthrax’s 10th studio endeavor, was actually originally conceived back in 2009 with former interim frontman Dan Nelson on lead vocals. But following Nelson’s departure shortly after the completion of the original version of Worship, the group decided to shelve the LP until they hired somebody new to sing. A tentative reunion with Bush was scheduled to go down, but Bush had serious reservations about going in and re-recording someone else’s vocal tracks on a record that he was never intended to be a part of. Ultimately, he wound up splitting the camp once again, leaving Anthrax with essentially no other choice but the wise one to make, i.e. the one they should have made when the classic lineup initially reconvened back in 2005 for a short tour commemorating the 20th anniversary of Disease.

Upon listening to the incredible force on full display throughout the course of Worship Music, masterfully produced by current guitarist Rob Caggiano (Cradle of Filth, The Damned Things) with longtime group associate Jay Ruston (Steel Panther, Jars of Clay), you can hear the last 20 years of stress and confusion wash away as four-fifths of the Living lineup (minus original lead guitarist Dan Spitz) unleash a vintage display of melodic intensity that belies their encroaching status as AARP registrants. Tracks like Earth on Hell, Fight Em Till You Can’t, The Giant and Judas Priest roar with the might of a band half Anthrax’s collective age. Bassist Frank Bello, who returned to the band for the ’05 reunion following a short-lived stint in Helmet, and drum god Charlie Benante, reinstate their status as the Entwistle/Moon of metal, roll the listener’s senses like a tsunami, while the tandem guitar attack of Caggiano and Scott Ian offer a veritable graduate level clinic in speed riffing. But it’s the return of Belladonna that really sets Worship Music apart from everything these guys have done in the past 20 years. His reinstatement is the reason they are part of the Big Four tour. His presence is the driving force behind why they are playing bigger, better and badder than they ever have before. And his unmistakable voice is the root of why I cannot seem to get this modern metal masterpiece out of my stereo. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Tommy Stinson: One Man Mutiny (Done To Death Music)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the untimely breakup of The Replacements, who all went their separate ways following one final epic bash on July 4th, 1991 in Chicago’s Grant Park. And while all four members went on to establish themselves as solo artists in their own rights (well, maybe perhaps in the case of Paul Westerberg more so than Slim Dunlap), the one ‘Mat who arguably has experienced the most varied and enriched career following the split is the Minneapolis icon’s resident boy genius, Tommy Stinson. And while he currently bides his time with full-time gigs as the bassist for Guns ‘n’ Roses and fellow Minnesotans Soul Asylum after two post-breakup bands and a cameo in a P. Diddy video, Stinson continues to slowly but surely carve out a career under his own accord with his second proper solo LP and quite possibly his first solo effort since Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me. The whole No Depression trip was always the bag of that other Twin Cities alt-radio act, The Jayhawks, but as the tawdry twang of tracks like All This Way For Nothing, Zero to Stupid and Destroy Me prove, Americana definitely wears quite well on Stinson as well, suggesting what a modern-day Replacements would sound like if they went more of the way of Achin’ To Be instead of Bastards of Young. (RH)