A classic Nicktoon, insane stand-up, and 3 more cant-miss entertainments

A classic Nicktoon, insane stand-up, and 3 more cant-miss entertainments

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at five essential releases, some recent, some not.

Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse (in stores now)
In case my semi-fawning review didn’t make it clear, Frightened Rabbit’s fourth album is very much worth your money. The Scottish group’s major-label debut nicely expands on the sound of its predecessors, balancing Frightened Rabbit’s signature elements (tuneful, guitar-centric indie rock with a melancholic streak) with some newer textures and sounds. “Holy” recalls early New Order, and “Dead Now” has some production flourishes that are unprecedented for Frightened Rabbit, but not garish. A bigger budget suits the band, and Pedestrian Verse is a comfortable step forward that’s a shoo-in for lots of “best music” lists this December. [Kyle Ryan]

Catholic Spray, Amazon Hunt (in stores now)
My husband and I were in France last month on our honeymoon and we decided, after consulting The Pitchfork Guide To Paris, to make a trip to the Montmartre record store Balades Sonores. It’s a little place, and a lot of the records weren’t all that different from stuff we could get in the States, but we started chatting up one of the clerks, asking about French bands that we should check out based on our mutual love of acts like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. Catholic Spray came up, and we bought the group’s debut, Amazon Hunt, without having heard it. We’re pretty stoked with our purchase. Songs like “Homosexual Shrimps” and “Teenage Policy” have pretty unintelligible lyrics, but absolutely epic guitar solos building into fuzzy walls of sound. Plus, the album art’s incredible. The band’s new record, Earth Slime, will be out in March, but anyone interested in checking out Amazon Hunt now can download it via Bandcamp for just €5. [Marah Eakin]

Andrew Daly, Nine Sweaters (in stores now)
Fans of Comedy Bang! Bang! know Andrew Daly less as a conventional stand-up than as a genius improviser who specializes in playing cornball entertainers whose smarmy exteriors mask deep dysfunction or flat-out madness. Nine Sweaters, which has its roots in a 10-week Comedy Death Ray residency Daly served at UCB Theater in 2008, captures the demented psyches of nine characters in nine uniformly hilarious comic monologues. The stories Daly’s scheming dreamers share often begin on a wholesome, cheerful note before quickly taking a turn into dark, twisted territory. A cheery über-entertainer named Skip McCabe, for example, brightly announces himself as the lovable kook who’s bringing sing-alongs to the American airwaves before ushering listeners gently into the story of what happened to the rest of the “Sing-Along Gang”—a Deliverance-like descent into the depths of cruelty and degradation. On “Ben Alterman’s Lifelong Dream,” an adorable old man realizes his dream of performing stand-up and favors his fellow seniors with a filthy set that depicts life in a retirement home as one giant fuckfest. Daly gets a lot of comic mileage from juxtaposing the hokey smarm of old-school show-business and aggressive lunacy, but there’s much more to his act than mere shock: On Nine Sweaters he combines the material and timing of a first-rate stand-up with the versatility and scary commitment of a great improviser.  [Nathan Rabin]

Retribution Gospel Choir, 3 (in stores now)
Retribution Gospel Choir’s last release was its poppiest yet—the four-song Revolution EP looked to ’60s structure for inspiration. The band’s third full-length, cleverly titled 3, comprises just two songs and not much structure at all. The band—which features two-thirds of Low—unleashes its jammy side here, giving in to fuzzed-out rock bliss for 20-plus minutes per side. (It’s probably best experienced on vinyl.) Wilco’s Nels Cline joins in for half the fun, dipping in and out of “Seven” with his impressively psychedelic noodles. Dim the lights and look for a spark. [Josh Modell]

Rocko’s Modern Life: The Complete Series (on DVD February 26)
Sensing there might be some money to be made from the swiftly awakening nostalgia receptors of Generation Y, Shout! Factory has devoted several recent releases to preserving Nickelodeon’s mid-’90s animated output on DVD, releasing the post-Ren And Stimpy likes of Aaah!!! Real Monsters and Hey Arnold! in single-season sets. Those also include individual collections of the best Nicktoon of the era, the life-in-suburbia satire Rocko’s Modern Life—though residents of O-Town are better served by this forthcoming compendium, which brings together each absurd adventure of harried wallaby Rocko (voiced by Reno 911’s Carlos Alazraqui) and wraps them in new artwork by creator Joe Murray. The bonus features include a live reading of series highlight “Wacky Deli,” a cartoon take on The Producers that stands as both a tribute to the work of boundary-pushing animators like Murray and a hilarious skewering of the media firestorms and rabid fandoms they sometimes inspired. [Erik Adams]

More NOT OPTIONAL