What Makes the Arcs' New Album 'Freaky,' 'Tender' and 'Soulful'

Plus, get the latest from Lou Barlow, Bebe Rexha and more artists.

— -- intro: This week was kind of a slow release week perhaps due to the Labor Day holiday weekend. Nevertheless, we have a few albums to discuss. Firstly, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys forms a new band, The Arcs, whose debut record just hit shelves. Secondly Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh-fame has dropped his first solo outing since 2009. In addition we will discuss Bebe Rexha’s debut EP (which got a physical release this week after dropping digitally in May) as well as new albums by jokey punk-band FIDLAR and neo-metal-revivalists Uncle Acid & the deadbeats. It’s definitely an odd mix this week, but there are some gems in the pile.

quicklist: 1 title: The Arcs’ “Yours, Dreamily,” **** text: With The Arcs, Dan Auerbach takes a side-step away from the Black Keys with a little help from Richard Swift, Leon Michels, Homer Steinweiss and others. The sound of the band combines the psychedelic blues and garage influences that flow through Auerbach’s work with the Black Keys and a pseudo-retro sixties and seventies soul sound that makes the record sounds strikingly vintage. It should be noted that Steinweiss is most famous as the drummer to the Dap-Kings so this shouldn’t be a shock. Swift’s solo work, too is caked in falsetto-tinted dust of a forgotten era, so essentially this album sounds like the work of a Motown band taking an “acid-rock” detour.

If you listen to this on a good stereo, you’ll notice that the bass on this recording is extremely strong and often takes command over the tracks. Even on CD, this collection has a vinyl-ready quality with a built-in scratchiness.

“Stay In My Corner” showcases an earthy gumption that too often modern R&B has lost. In some ways, this album plays to a similar back-to-basics approach that earlier this year Leon Bridges used on his excellent album, “Coming Home.”

There’s also a sensuality running through this album, which is cemented by both the picture of two nude, buxom (covered up) women that graces the liner notes and the moans that play throughout the background of the song “Come & Go,” which verges on sounding like a backing track for vintage porn.

Auerbach, both as a member of the Black Keys and as a producer for other artists like Ray LaMontagne, Jessica Lea Mayfield and Lana Del Rey has always been a standard-bearer for a vintage sound and this album does not change his placement in that realm. “Yours, Dreamily,” does not openly aim for the modern pop charts. It’s an album that succeeds as an often freaky, sometimes tender, soulful experience.

Focus Tracks:

“Stay In My Corner” Few other songs this year have this kind of timelessness. This song could pass for a forgotten, recently unearthed soul-ballad and it stands as the album’s true high-point.

“The Arc” With a riff that sounds like a fuzzed-out, desert-bound answer to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” mixed with a little Credence Clearwater Revival country-blues, this song delivers an effective concoction.

“Put Your Flowers In My Packet” With its trippy, synth-string line that seems controlled by a pause button on a cassette player, this is the first song on the set where the bass really throbs.

quicklist: 2 title: Lou Barlow’s “Brace the Wave” **** text: If you are a fan of the harder-edged work of Lou Barlow, this may not be your record. On “Brace The Wave” the indie-rock legend known most famously for his work as a member of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, offers up a quick half-hour-long collection that plays like a sequel to his 2005 album, “EMOH.” This is a gently crafted record. At a mere nine tracks, it is a little too brief, but still somewhat affecting.

When Barlow records songs of this type it is always striking that he possesses such a clear, crisp voice. For someone who built his career behind guitar walls as a lo-fi pioneer, it is a bit of a shock to be reminded that he is actually a born balladeer.

While nothing here quite reaches the heights of the song, “Legendary,” the track from “EMOH” that still stands as the compositional high-point of Barlow’s solo career (and even got an unlikely-but-fitting spot scoring a key scene on the show “The O.C.”) this album still captures that same sort of lovelorn, intense earnestness found on that track.

Barlow is essentially on the smartest and best side of emo here from start to finish. Even a song like “Nerve,” which at first sounds like it could be a full-fledged rocker, blossoms into something with more delicate, sweeping edges than expected. While “Moving” combines a Spanish-guitar brand of intricacy with some elements of lo-fi dissonance. On this track Barlow even possesses a slightly mannered growl that brings to mind Eddie Vedder’s acoustic work.

This record feels homemade, but in the best sense. Did you ever have a friend who passed you a tape or CD of their home recordings and said, “I made this and you should listen to it?” This feels like an intimate offering from Barlow, as if he’s just letting the tape roll and piecing together these songs.

While to some reading, Lou Barlow may not be a household name, you have no doubt heard his work over the years and for those who are in the know, he is an indie-rock titan. His voice is probably still most recognizable for his surprise Folk Implosion hit, “Natural One” which served as the theme to the movie “Kids” two decades ago. If “Brace the Wave” had been released twenty years ago, it would have been much bigger in the different, more rock-friendly pop climate. This album won’t likely get the audience it deserves, but it is still nice to know that over the years, Lou Barlow has not lost his gifts as a writer and a performer.

Focus Tracks:

“Redeemed” Barlow’s knack for compositional detail is impressive right from the beginning of this opening track which over its three-minutes and change covers quite a large chunk of sonic terrain.

“Wave” This acoustic number has a country tinge in its lovelorn approach. It also is where the album gets its title. Also, Barlow is able to give the song extra heft with the megaphone effect that goes on and off his voice throughout the track.

“Lazy” This is just a really satisfying bit of folk music. I really appreciate Barlow’s use of tempo here and how occasionally he lets it drag for effect.

quicklist: 3 title: Bebe Rexha’s “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” ***1/2 text: Another week has gone by and yet another promising, young electro-pop singer has arisen to join the growing crowd. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We are in a booming period for this sub-genre of pop, with a growing crop of mostly young women following the lead set by the likes of Ellie Goulding and Lorde.

Bebe Rexha’s debut EP, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” is a painfully short eighteen minutes, but with these five tracks she proves that she probably has multiple albums worth of material ahead of her. (It was originally released digitally in May but gets a physical release this week.) Rexha is probably most famous for co-writing Eminem’s hit with Rihanna, “Monster” and for her work on David Guetta’s last album.

On record, she possesses a clear, slightly raspy drawl that kind of makes her sound like an American counterpoint to Cher Lloyd, but she prefers more lush sonic environments than the ones found on Lloyd’s work. “Sweet Beginnings,” for instance sounds like it is equally influenced by the work of Lloyd, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift.

I will say this. I’m tired of these taster EPs. At five songs, this collection is just beginning to gain some momentum with the dub-step and EDM-flavored “I Just Can’t Stop Drinking About You,” when it ends. Of course, the irony is, that they probably will get such a context in a matter of months when Rexha will undoubtedly repackage some of these tracks on a full-length.

In any case, with “I Don’t Want To Grow Up,” Bebe Rexha somewhat successfully tests the waters. I just wish there was more, which I suppose is ultimately the desired intention.

Focus Tracks:

“I Just Can’t Stop Drinking About You” This is a song about drinking in order to forget a lost love. It’s an ace bit of pop, especially with the electronic rise. It’s no doubt a response to Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” which chronicles a similar mood-state. It’s a club track about being extremely down.

“I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” The title-track is a lush love song that declares, “If love is a lie, / Then please don’t ever tell me the truth.” Again this is another song about trying to figure out a way to escape reality, only this one is about not wanting to lose youthful innocence.

“Sweet Beginnings” This plays like a sequel to the title-track with its lyrics, “I want to go back to the sweet beginnings of you.” Again, like Tove Lo’s album “Queen Of The Clouds,” Rexha seems to want to study the effects of love gone wrong.

quicklist: 4 title: FIDLAR’s “Too” *** text: FIDLAR are a bunch of goofy, California skate-punks who sing songs about drinking too much and doing too many drugs with cartoonish fervor and unrepentant glee. They sound bratty and snotty, but there’s a winking, almost Dead Milkmen-like energy here.

On their second album, the humorously-titled “Too,” the band further refines their melodic chops, ending up sounding like a combination between the Black Lips, “Thank You Happy Birthday”-era Cage The Elephant and the Vaccines, all while maintaining an obnoxious punk quality.

This is an album about mistakes -- especially mistakes you can’t take back. Songs like “Stupid Decisions” and “Bad Habits” make that abundantly clear. Although this is approached in a jokey, absurdist way, it grasps onto something real. On “Sober,” the chorus “I figured out as I got sober that life just sucks as you get older” might grasp a nerve for some people. These are anthems of bored youth, realizing that the life they were promised isn’t the one that is heading their way. “Why Generation” could serve as an anthem for frustrated members of “Generation Y” while “Leave Me Alone” pairs some angst-driven lyrics with a pop-y rock core.

Stylistically, too this album goes in a lot of different directions. “Overdose” is some creepy retro-blues about struggling with addiction, while “Hey Johnny” sounds like this band’s version of Southern “arena rock.” “Punks” is a sludgy screamer while “West Coast” sounds like an angry, hard-edged answer to the anthemic pop the now populates the radio heavily.

This is a record that gets better with repeated listens and FIDLAR have still a lot more room to grow. Nevertheless, too often, this feels like shtick that could soon wear out its welcome. This pose works for them for now, but it’d be nice to hear a couple songs away from that mold thrown into the mix in order to keep things fresh. Nevertheless, this is a decent, flagrantly rebellious record with absurdist tendencies. It is sure to be a cathartic listen for those who want to let out some steam and it has enough snarling bile to get by on mostly style.

Focus Tracks:

“Why Generation” This is perhaps the most playful song here. It’s a song about being aimless and having youthful frustration when you are just trying to find your purpose in life. The song asks, “How the hell are we supposed to know how to live in the 21st Century / When every move we make everyone can see?” It’s a good question in the age of social media and easily traceable cell-phones.

“Leave Me Alone” This is a song about the “stupid” and the “hopeless” not knowing what to do, but it has an undeniable drive. Something really is captured in this exploration of apathy.

“Overdose” This song as stated above is kind of on the creepy side, but something really fascinating happens with the song’s solo, as it stutters and then changes speed almost at random. Such a move was a rewarding, oddball choice.

quicklist: 5 title: Uncle Acid & the deadbeats’ “The Night Creeper” **** text: If you are unfamiliar with Uncle Acid & the deadbeats, they are a band out of Cambridge, England aiming to play old-school metal and hard-rock in the vein of Black Sabbath. There is perhaps a little Blue Cheer and Blue Oyster Cult thrown in for good measure, but this is hard, sludgy rock of the past, with a psychedelic tinge and titles like “Waiting For Blood” and “Murder Nights.” Again, this is another band delivering everything with a knowing wink. But I think the intended bit of sarcasm is evident from the band’s name alone. When you consider the fact that the standout track on their 2011 album, “Blood Lust” was called “Ritual Knife,” and was a propulsive swirling sea of guitars, you get the idea.

If you are a fan of this band’s previous records or their epic live concerts, “The Night Creeper” will not disappoint. Four albums in, they haven’t run out of tricks as they have figured out new ways to mix elements of metal, blues and grungy prog-rock into an appealing stew. The Halloween-ready image on top of all those solid musical elements just cements their overall uniqueness. This would seem schlocky and hack-y if it weren’t anchored by such a strong, sonic backbone.

If you are a fan of this kind of rock, this is a band you should seek out. While yes, they are playing up the ridiculous elements of their image for fun effect, this band continues a long-standing tradition in hard-rock and metal.

Focus Tracks:

“Downtown” This is a chilling, downbeat, metallic waltz which lyrically serves as an exploration of “dive bars” in the red-light district with a playful sense of menace.

“Pusher Man” This is some ace sludge-rock, anchored by some excellently layered guitar textures.

“Slow Death” At roughly eight minutes, this is the last cut before a secret track and it shows a softer, more meditative blues side. Vocalist Kevin Starrs is really buried in the mix and there is noticeable analog fuzz, but this song is thick with almost meditative, lo-fi, old-school psychedelia. There are some nice details hidden in the organ and guitar parts.

Next Week: New music from Duran Duran, Gary Clark Jr. and more.

Missed last week's? Get the latest from Miley Cyrus, The Weeknd, Beach House and more.