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A song, an album, and a book about music

Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations

Timothy Monger's Amber Lantern album cover detail
Timothy Monger's Amber Lantern album cover detail

Channels, “Backpfeifengesicht”/“Airstrip One” single

Channels debuted during some of the bleakest days of the Bush administration, not long after frontman J. Robbins closed the door on his old band, Burning Airlines. When the Maryland trio—featuring bassist Janet Morgan (Robbins’ wife) and drummer Darren Zentek of Kerosene 454—released the Open EP in 2004, it reflected the darkness of the times in songs like “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend” and “Chivaree,” in which Robbins sang “A curse 2003 / They put bombs in my dreams.” The 2006 full-length Waiting For The Next End Of The World was even more pointed, its blazing opener “To The New Mandarins” setting the tone from the first second: “It’s tricky to relax / While bracing for impact / Call it your patriot act / The panic room’s in back / With victory on tap / Show ’em your patriot act.” Channels more or less went quiet after that album. Maybe it’s no coincidence they didn’t release anything during the Obama administration, just as it’s probably no coincidence they have re-emerged during a time that makes the upheaval around the Iraq War seem like the good ol’ days. The cover art of 2016’s “Backpfeifengesicht” single shows dinosaurs stalking the front of the White House, and the first track takes its name from a German word meaning “a face that’s badly in need of a fist.” The song is, unsurprisingly, the most ferocious of Channels’ small discography, with a growling bassline from Morgan that would’ve fit in on a harDCore album from 1983. These are dark times. Channels, please help us get through them with more music. [Kyle Ryan]

Timothy Monger, Amber Lantern

One of my favorite songs (and one I’ve previously celebrated in these pages) is “Heydays,” a folk-rock time capsule by Michigan-based Great Lakes Myth Society. That group is no longer a going concern, but its members are still making music on their own—Timothy Monger, who wrote and sang “Heydays,” recently self-released his third solo album, Amber Lantern. I keep on misremembering the title of the LP as Autumn Lantern, probably because its lush chamber-pop arrangements and general air of yearning feel readymade for a sunset drive sometime in late August/early September. Monger sings in a voice that’s always been difficult for me to describe: There’s a sweetness to it, laced with a throaty rasp, of the sort that makes a perfectly hummable refrain out of “I’m tired of feeling shitty all the time” on Amber Lantern’s second track, “Power Trio.” The album is emotionally direct like that, with a number of lyrical turns of phrase—summer doesn’t end in “Requiem For A Ramp”; it “slides into its sleeve”—that’ll stick with me for a while. And I’d be remiss not to comment on the album’s artwork, a handsome blue harlequin pattern that’s broken by two triangles of orange, invoking the beacon of the album’s title. As we forge through the end of another Chicago winter, I’ll be glad to have Amber Lantern cutting through the gray. [Erik Adams]

Choosing Death: The Improbable History Of Death Metal & Grindcore by Albert Mudrian

Although I’ve never been much of a death metal fan (grindcore is a different story), I’ve always been fascinated by the genre. While no death metal band has ever been a truly mainstream concern, the scene’s leaders were all lent a certain amount of visibility in the early ’90s that has felt downright confounding—Cannibal Corpse turning up in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective being a prime example. Originally published by Decibel magazine editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian in 2004, the newly expanded edition of Choosing Death does a great job of explaining how a band that sings almost exclusively about murdering people got into a major motion picture. Mudrian interviews many of the scene’s most important figures, piecing together how bands that built names through the underground tape-trading scene were able to amass a following with nothing more than poorly recorded demos. It’s an exhaustive work, one that is clearly inspired by a deep love for the subject, and it shows in the final product. Choosing Death is a book that takes music that’s meant to bludgeon and explains its nuance in ways that even non-headbangers can appreciate. [David Anthony]