NINs pretty hate machine is still running smoothly.
NIN's pretty hate machine is still running smoothly. John Crawford

Nine Inch Nails, “LESS THAN” (Universal). One feels that Nine Inch Nails should have declined precipitously by now. But no. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have maintained fairly high quality control, even in the 21st century, their embracing cerebral IDM and ambient music reflecting a maturation without blandness. Plus, Reznor’s soundtrack work has been solid. As for this new single from the Add Violence EP, it harks back to the hooky, angsty electro rock of NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine, but with higher production values and more Teutonic stoicness. Sounds like it’s destined for one chart or another.

Zola Jesus, “Soak” (Sacred Bones). Once a resident of these here parts, Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) has moved out, but she’s still plying her patented goth-inflected, orchestral-electronic torch songs with a dramatic, white-gossamer-caped flourish. “Soak” taps into a bombastic, melancholy vein that Zola Jesus has owned with a domineering, Siouxsie-Sioux-like grace over the last seven years. The rhythm’s an unfashionably chunky triphop lope, the lyrics heroically romantic (“You should know I would never let you down”), and the melody a soaring shroud of overcast poignancy. (“Soak” appears on Okovi, which drops September 8.)

Stag, “Runner” (self-released). Midtown Sizzler, the new album by Seattle supergroup Stag, is loaded with instant hits, and I encourage you to revel in its power-pop ebullience throughout the summer and onward (it hits streets August 4). But for now, let’s focus on “Runner,” because, as a runner, I’m biased. The song busts out of the gate like a 400-meter Olympic champ, with vocalist Steve Mack (That Petrol Emotion) emoting with boisterous tenderness while guitarist Ben London (who wrote every song here), guitarist John Randolph, bassist Pete Everett, and drummer Rob Dent flood your pleasure centers with chugging riffs and tumbling grooves. The result sounds like Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones covering power-pop deities the Shoes. “I’m a runner/Get me HIIIIIGGGHHH” is the chorus to beat this year. (Side note: My two favorites on Midtown Sizzler—“Runner” and the glorious Glitter Group homage “Bedazzler”—were produced by Jack Endino. The others, which are also superb, were handled by John Agnello, who’s manned the boards for Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile, and others.)

Ka Baird, “Tok Tru” (Drag City). A multi-instrumentalist/vocalist for the psych ensemble Spires That in the Sunset Rise, NYC’s Ka Baird specializes in a rarefied strain of ritualistic songcraft that sounds at once ancient and timeless. No less a master musician than Jack Rose called them “the female Sun City Girls.” Baird has a new solo LP on the ever-great Drag City label titled Sapropelic Pycnic (out September 22), from which “Tok Tru” comes. This song is… fucking amazing. It sounds like No-Neck Blues Band trying to interpret Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch while on DMT... or maybe like “Ruckzuck” (from Kraftwerk’s first album—the one with the red and white pylon on the cover that the band would prefer you forget ever existed) inhabited by a female shaman channeling Diamanda Galás in the Amazon rainforest. Escape from 2017’s hellscape is guaranteed.

Patricia, “Deku Tree” (Spectral Sound). Yes, it’s annoying that a male techno producer (Max Ravitz) is using a woman’s name (Patricia). But if you can overlook the perceived patriarchal shenanigans, you will note that Ravitz does engineer compelling twists on techno, electro, and abstract electronic music. His new album, Several Shades of the Same Color, represents some of the most interesting sounds coming out of the fertile Ghostly International/Spectral Sounds camp. “Deku Tree” conjures the sort of intense, microbial-malfunctioning tones that flickered throughout Gil Mellé’s Andromeda Strain soundtrack, but upgraded for 21st-century underground clubs. Eerie and disturbing as hell—and utterly necessary.

Noteworthy July 14 album releases: Shabazz Palaces, Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star; Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines (Sub Pop); Neil Young, Hitchhiker (Reprise); Alan Vega, IT (FADER); Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm (Merge); Boris, Dear (Sargent House); Lo Tom, Lo Tom (Barsuk); Sheer Mag, Need To Feel Your Love (Static Shock); Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds from Another Planet (Dead Oceans); Laibach, Also Sprach Zarathustra (Mute); Schneider Kacirek, Radius Walk (Bureau B); Patricia, Several Shades of the Same Color (Spectral Sound); The Telescopes, As Light Return (Tapete).