The Gutter TwinsSaturnalia(Sub Pop)8.0
Goes well with: Afghan Whigs, Screaming Trees, cigarettes, drinking yourself into oblivion
Rarely has a band name been more appropriate. Saturnalia is a collaboration between two of modern rock's most notorious substance abusers—Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees)—that peers into the dark side of human behavior through the eyes of men who've done and seen their share of dirt.
This album could easily have been a retread of each twin's past glories, but its elegant composition reveals a maturity becoming of two elder grunge statesmen. Lanegan has already proven himself a master of this sort of thing, with Saturnalia's sound at times simulating a slicker version of his last solo album, Bubblegum. But it's the presence of Dulli that provides a welcome vocal diversity, as his yearning, mid-range croon is a perfect counterpoint to Lanegan's trademark smoky baritone.
Surprisingly, Saturnalia is not as indulgent or rocking as one might expect from a pair with this pedigree. In fact, the best material isn't up-tempo—“Bete Noire” lurches along with an intoxicated organ line, and “Seven Stories Underground” sounds like a spiritual dedicated to alcoholic drifters.
It's a record obsessed with religious imagery, exploring redemption and the afterlife from the perspectives of the sinners. Sure, there are the requisite lyrics about debauchery and addiction, but there's also a feeling of regret that hangs over the album, showing that Dulli and Lanegan are growing weary, and more insightful, as they get older.—Todd Kroviak
The Ruby SunsSea Lion(Sub-Pop)7.9
Goes well with: Animal Collective, Beach Boys, Os Mutantes, your local organic co-op
Masterminded by California native Ryan McPhun, this New Zealand trio creates a restless collage of sounds as diverse as its sources of inspiration. Built on a foundation of Brian Wilson worship that reaches to all corners of the globe, Sea Lion calls upon Kenyan traditional tunes and Afro-beat percussion as much as the seaside harmonies of The Beach Boys. Opening with “Blue Penguin,” McPhun layers ambient tape loops and soft instrumentation under a thumping, dreamy melody. Conversely, tracks like “Oh Mojave” and “Tane Majuta” up the pace considerably, with the latter sung entirely in Maori. Not only do the Suns rely on linguistic diversity, but on this album, the band also incorporates almost every noisemaker imaginable to add a distinct texture while allowing each song to speak with a unique and renewed tone. Djembes, ukuleles, banjos, guitars, horns, drum machines, handclaps and even pots and pans are heard throughout Sea Lion. What's fascinating about the record is its ability to deliver naturally amid such a chaotic choir of tracks and instruments. It's truly a creature of the outdoors, offering a compelling soundtrack to its wild and dynamic habitat. —Richie Lauridsen
Colour Revolt Plunder, Beg, and Curse(Fat Possum)8.6
Goes well with: Brand New, Two Gallants, BRMC
At the core of Colour Revolt's debut full-length is a subtle, unspoken tension, an unnamed struggle standing steady like the proverbial elephant in the room. This emotional balancing act lends the Mississippi quintet depth where other like-minded indie bands ring shallow. But their sense of tragedy isn't superficial. Born of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, the band's Colour Revolt EP was cultivated amid the wreck and ruin along the Gulf Coast. And like their past reflections on those events, CR's Fat Possum debut is still littered with the vague struggle between humble acceptance and existential anguish. But part of the beauty of Plunder, Beg, and Curse is the non-specific nature of that struggle. Behind beatific interludes and riotous, shuddering guitars lies a frustration characteristic of, but not limited to, indie rock. On the mid-album track “Swamp,” singer Jesse Copenbarger howls repeatedly in the refrain, “I have nothing to prove,” almost invoking a de-westernized Nick Cave vitriol that serves well as the album's thesis. And, as Plunder shows, Colour Revolt does not, in fact, have anything to prove. —Dave Tow