MECCA NORMAL

Empathy for the Evil

(M'Lady's Records)

It's been a while since we've seen a new full-length from Mecca Normal! This long-running Vancouver, BC, group has always been about less is more—they're a two-piece, guitar and vocals. However, no matter their bare-bones lineup, their songwriting has always trumped sparseness; they make little BIG! And with Empathy for the Evil, they've done it again.

The strength of Empathy for the Evil is strident. The guitar riffs and melody lines are strung in tandem with narratives taken from vocalist Jean Smith's two novels, but she doesn't exactly sing to tell a story. Well, maybe she does, but her voice is incorporated as an instrument rather than propelling linear narratives. That, along with a bit of extra instrumentation (famed producer Kramer plays on a handful of tracks), gives the album a distinct moody creep that binds the songs together. That said, the one standout track, for me, was the slightly-delic "Between Livermore & Tracy." It's tense and full of atmosphere and also includes a bit of Mellotron!! SO GOOD.

It's interesting to hear a group from THEN—the '80s—continuing to play into the NOW. Like, Mecca Normal have been together for 30 years, and in context with contemporary "indie" groups, they sound like fucking GIANTS! Their maturity and immediacy screams in the face of contemporary "indie," which, as it became pop music, has become parody. Mecca Normal never conceded to pop-radio aims, they just kept growing their own. MIKE NIPPER

EARTH

Primitive and Deadly

(Southern Lord Records)

Metal is good in the way of all fantasy: It is about something that doesn't really exist, and its pretensions lie in being more epic than anything really ought to be.

Primitive and Deadly, Earth's latest, has been talked about mostly because it is their first record since 1996 to have vocalists, which is significant, certainly, but what seems a little lost in the kerfuffle is that this is also an opportunity to get some idea of what Earth is raging on about (from a source other than their song titles). There are lyrics—something solid to grab hold of, something that these meandering, stoned dirges are about.

"It's all over now, the devil's got you," sings Rabia Shaheen Qazi—whose own band, Rose Windows, explores the nether realm of psych-folk like complete masters—on "From the Zodiacal Light," over and over. And it sounds happy, like maybe this is what you wanted all along, cooing, almost, in that what was torturing you is now past. "In the darkest witching hour, they're coming, brewing something foul. There is a darkness that gently carries me. The sunlight seems to have blinded me." Let them come, I say.

Mark Lanegan, the other vocalist and formerly of Screaming Trees, sounds like a deep-voiced Robert Plant—less mystical, but no less fitting than Shaheen Qazi. The whole record sounds like '70s classic rock stretched out and scruffed up until it's covered in a layer of fluff and fuzz. Earth's career has wandered to many corners of their blown-out world, and Primitive and Deadly is a kind of summation, speaking to all of them at once. There is no shortage of music crying out about how scary the darkness is, but Earth play in it like children in a kiddie pool full of Kool-Aid. They couldn't be more pleased to exist in the longest shadows, eyes glowing. It is their home. ERIC WILLIGER

KANE WEST

Western Beats

(PC Music)

The PC Music crew continues to divide and conquer geeky electronic-music enthusiasts, their kawaii-cute electro-pop confections enthralling and repulsing the technorati in equal measure. Theirs is a postmodern version of techno, an Adderall-addled, overstimulated and hyper-compressed mash-up of the past 30 years of dance culture.

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To his credit, the cannily named Kane West, a member of PC Music, plays it pretty straight on his party-starting mixtape Western Beats. Despite being a scant 15 minutes, the tape is packed with an album's worth of ambition and exotic sound design. MIDI horns, jacked-up 808 drum machines, and video-game samples all jockey for room on Beats' condensed timeline—a sugar rush of aural stimulus all the more bewildering for its brevity. Hilariously, West shoehorns classic house diva vocals into the midst of all the insanity, both nodding to and smirking at outdated rave tropes.

So why does the sound of West and his PC Music cohorts hold such sway these days? One theory is this: In modern techno, grim and gray minimalism is the flavor of the day, with acts like Demdike Stare and Actress laying out apocalyptic soundscapes for dour-faced clubbers to shrug along to. The smilingly anonymous PC Music crew offers a candy-coated, irony-fueled escape from that sad reality, into future worlds simultaneously comforting and disturbing. Western Beats is an ideal window to those strange places. Techno needs both—the moodies and the manics—to survive. KYLE FLECK recommended