Capsule Reviews: Sun Kil Moon, Speedy Ortiz, Bombay Bicycle Club

Quick reviews of the latest from Sun Kil Moon, Speedy Ortiz, Bombay Bicycle Club, Alcest, Gem Club, Lee Bannon and Bill Callahan.

Sun Kil Moon, Benji (Stream)
Heartbreaking and raw, Benji is Sun Kil Moon’s best album to date, and indisputably cements Mark Kozelek’s reputation as one of the finest storytellers in contemporary indie music. Kozelek focuses each song around a central character or theme—usually friends or family from Ohio who have died or in some way encountered death—and combines tightly woven narratives with his own captivating and idiosyncratic free association to explore the way in which humans process other people’s tragedies through their own experiences. The sparse musical arrangements and haunting production only serve to heighten the album’s intimacy and ultimately render it a masterpiece of reflection and introspection, destined to be played on repeat in scores of late-night, tired, and lonely rooms.  [Jesse Nee-Vogelman] A

Speedy Ortiz, Real Hair EP
If you’ve ever lived in Western Massachusetts, you’re always kind of living in Western Massachusetts, and you’re sensing Western Massachusetts in everything – but can’t you feel it in Speedy Ortiz’s Real Hair? In Sadie Dupuis’s completely unabashed and unedited graduate-level (seriously, she’s a poetry grad student) airing of all her internal grievances, layered over her band’s heavy, melodic dirges and a slew of the best riffs we’ve heard so far in 2014, I’m hearing summer thunderstorms that threaten to wash the world away for two minutes then quit and get another beer. Dupuis’s bittersweet, teasing vocals feel like the gorgeous, blue, and brutally cold day after it snows three feet. “It’s hard to keep a dialect when you keep changing where you come from,” she sings on EP highlight “Everything’s Bigger,” but she can’t forsake her influences – who would want her to, when what she can do with them sounds like this? [Genevieve Oliver] B+

Bombay Bicycle Club, So Long, See Your Tomorrow
Bombay Bicycle Club formed as teenagers, and navigated some choppy waters in their formative years. So Long, See You Tomorrow finds the band in an exceptionally exploratory mood, but they don’t seem content to settle on the sounds that flatter their schizo style. Despite its outward bustle and injections of colour throughout, the album’s personality is also disappointingly tentative and placid. [Brendan Frank]  C+

Alcest, Shelter
God, Google can be annoying sometimes. Because knowing that French band Alcest used to be all into their thrashing dark metal and acrid caterwauling is a bit pointless when it comes to their latest record. Just a glance at the Shelter tracklist spells out the mood of this record: "Wings," "Into The Waves," "Away" - it’s a manifest of intense French sombreness set to transport you somewhere else. Shelter ekes out the melancholic tinge of their earlier works, squeezing out the blackness in favour of a contemplative gauzy shoegaze that’s less of a euphoric M83 vein and more a nod to ‘90s college rock with its acoustic strums and gentle drums. Frankly, it’s a bit of a corker. [Miranda Thompson] B+

Gem Club, InRoses
Although it was an album of haunting, skeletal beauty, Gem Club’s 2011 debut Breakers never quite asserted itself enough to leave much of an impression beyond its runtime. Follow-up In Roses is almost as delicate, but is a pleasant step up from its predecessor thanks to wormier melodies and heightened chemistry between co-vocalists Christopher Barnes and Ieva Berberian. The likes of “Braid” and “First Weeks” are more multi-faceted than anything the Bay Stater trio have written previously. [Brendan Frank] B

Lee Bannon, Alternate / Endings
Sacramento's experimental hip hop producer and Pro Era affiliate Lee Bannon, has seen his star rise in the last 12 months, and like Pro Era ringleader Joey Bada$$, Bannon has been relentless in his musical offerings, dropping EPs, lofty remixes and full albums like Alternate/Endings to keep his name plastered on the pages of FADER. Clocking in at 61 minutes, Alternate/Endings haphazardly splices together twelve breath-stealing drum & bass tracks recorded throughout 2012 and 2013; the result is more a tasting menu than an actual statement. It lacks the cohesion required to sit through hour-long albums, though it rarely feels like a chore, thanks to Bannon's deconstructive treatment of d&b. Having said that, Alternate/Endings succeeds on its own terms, even if I don't always want to agree with them. [Luis Tovar] B- 

Bill Callahan, Have Fun With God
A novelty meant only for Bill Callahan devotees, Have Fun With God remixes his masterful Dream River into an album-length Dub music experiment that is, if possible, even more sparse than the original. On its own, Have Fun With God has greatest potential as nap music on long bus rides, but is otherwise only listenable in the context of its source material. Ultimately, it’s rather like Callahan made a negative photo of his first album to send out to all his friends for a bit of fun—it’ll be looked at and appreciated for a couple of minutes, but will eventually be put somewhere dusty and forgotten about while we eagerly await Callahan’s next, more serious project. [Jesse Nee-Vogelman] C-