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5 new releases we love: Bully roars, Brasstracks bounce, and Secret Machines’ grand return

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Alicia Bognanno of Bully; Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza of Secret Machines
Alicia Bognanno of Bully; Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza of Secret Machines
Photo: Angelina Castillo/Sub Pop, Lindsey Byrnes/TSM

There’s a lot of music out there. To help you cut through all the noise, every week The A.V. Club is rounding up A-Sides, five recent releases we think are worth your time. You can listen to these and more on our Spotify playlist, and if you like what you hear, we encourage you to purchase featured artists’ music directly at the links provided below.

Secret Machines, Awake In The Brain Chamber

[TSM Recordings, August 21]

After a decade of grand, soaring space rock that fused krautrock, psychedelia, and stately arena-ready anthems, Secret Machines seemingly went away for good, especially after the death of founding member Benjamin Curtis in 2013. But the music on Awake In The Brain Chamber, a powerful and moving return after a 10-year hiatus, began coming together before his passing, and Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza have made clear the album is both a tribute to their former bandmate and a creative rebirth for the band all at once. It sounds like it: From the opening statement-of-purpose swell of “Let’s Stay Alive” to the sweetly harmonized warmth of “Talos’ Corpse” to the pulsing, catchy richness of “A New Disaster,” the record positively seethes with a passion and generous energy the band used to sometimes hold at an icy distance. Not since Ten Silver Drops’ “1,000 Seconds” has Secret Machines sounded so open-hearted and accessible; let’s hope they don’t wait another ten years to drop the next one. [Alex McLevy]


Bully, Sugaregg

[Sub Pop, August 21]

It sounds silly to say that a Bully album sounds energized—when has the band ever sounded anything but?—and yet there’s a new spark of infectious adrenaline running through Sugaregg, the third record from Alicia Bognanno’s Bully, that was missing on 2017’s Losing. Some of it might be Bognanno relinquishing recording duties for the first time; the fuzzed-out guitars, pounding drums, and her whiskey-raw voice all have a warmer and looser feel, like the sound of a sugar rush hitting the body. Plus, the songs are almost uniformly great, with lively hooks and a more expansive scope. Tracks like the slow burning “Prism” (over five minutes long, a Bully long-player!) and the almost Juliana Hatfield-like strumming of “Like Five” give the album room to breathe, making its lyrical honesty and occasionally restrained arrangements create the sensation of a journey, a musical road trip that offers exhilarating songs at every stop along the way. By the time the shout-along ferocity of go-your-own-way anthem “Not Ashamed” reaches its fever pitch, you’ll want to shout the title at the top of your lungs, too. [Alex McLevy]


Brasstracks, Golden Ticket

[Capital Records + EQT Recordings, August 21]

When Chance The Rapper, Mark Ronson, and Anderson .Paak were looking to add a potent shot of brassy energy to some of their respective tracks, they called on instrumentalist duo Ivan Jackson and Conor Rayne, a.k.a. Brasstracks, to deliver. The pair’s joyous debut LP, Golden Ticket, brings the industry vets to the foreground with a charming collection of funky, rollicking displays of serious musicianship. When The A.V. Club recently asked Jackson and Rayne what they hoped emerging fans will ultimately deduce about their approach to music, they said that they “will always be true to [themselves] in the present moment.” With Golden Ticket, that could signal just about any mood, from the kinetic energy exuded during the album’s “Disco Breaks” (which are required dance intermissions) to the soulful pining that drives Col3trane’s slow-crooning missive, “Missed Your Call.” No matter the collaboration—and there are plenty, thanks to visits from Common, Masego, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, and others—Brasstracks continues to establish a one-of-a-kind golden flourish that totally excites. [Shannon Miller]

The Front Bottoms, In Sickness & In Flames

[Fueled by Ramen, August 21]

The Front Bottoms are as vibrant as ever on In Sickness & In Flames, a reliably great collection of folk-punk anthems that rattle the soul with crunchy riffs, electrifying hooks, and Brian Sella’s idiosyncratic lyricism, which remains as amiable as it is anxiety-ridden. Louder and less polished than 2017’s Going Grey, these 12 tracks find Sella doing all he can to just slow down and, per a press release, “celebrate life.” That’s easier said than done, obviously—especially at the pace of your average Front Bottoms song—but Sella seems to relax into measured, thoughtful cuts like “Fairbanks, Alaska” and “Make Way,” both of which are traced with tasteful strings. Of course, the album’s never so alive as it is on its most frantic songs: “Camouflage,” a track with a rocket strapped to its back, has a chorus that just won’t quit, while “Leaf Pile” ripples with the wry menace of the band’s darker detours. As anybody struggling with anxiety will tell you, one does not simply slow down. [Randall Colburn]


Old 97s, Twelfth

[ATO Records, August 21]

Old 97’s have been playing music together for 27 years at this point, and the alt-country stalwarts look back on three decades of the troubadour life on Twelfth, the band’s—you guessed it—12th studio album. Album opener “The Dropouts” chronicles early gigs playing for free booze and sleeping on strangers’ floors over a swinging backbeat; frontman Rhett Miller’s back must hurt thinking back on it, because hardwood floors come up again on lead single “Turn Off The TV,” an upbeat number about young lovers on the cusp of that thrilling first kiss. Electric energy also tears through the punk-country hybrid “Confessional Boxing,” as Miller is pulled between the poles of youthful hell-raising and adult responsibilities. (The incorrigible narrator of the frenetic “Bottle Rocket Baby” has no such concerns.) The majority of Twelfth finds Miller and company playing at a more moderate tempo, however, singing the virtues of a more resilient, longer lasting type of love on songs like the delicate ballad “Belmont Hotel” and the sunny folk-pop singalong “Absence (What We’ve Got).” [Katie Rife]