For this ROCKtober edition of Pandora Picks, we’re getting into the Halloween spirit with music that rocks us! Read about the rock, alternative and indie releases we’re loving, then dive into our playlist for a guided listening experience. For those about to trick or treat, we salute you!
Fresh off the presses comes the powerful new single from North Carolina alt-country outfit Delta Rae. Echoing the spooky Southern Gothic and Americana tones that made the band’s 2012 breakout hit “Bottom of the River” so haunting, “Hands Dirty” is a seriously catchy anthem for badass women (and their allies) everywhere that throws down solid harmonies and rock grooves. Firmly in the tradition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” with nods to Beyoncé, Janis Joplin, Mary J. Blige and Elle King, the track jumps right into the fray of current events, holding back no anger or frustration about the challenging place in which American women find themselves. Yet it also creates a soulful and hard-driving soundtrack for getting pumped up and making yourself feel invincible. Having a hard day? One (or five) listens to “Hands Dirty” will have you feeling like you can rule the world. | Cindy Emch
Punishing yet consistently catchy, the music of Cloud Nothings bores into your cranium and hangs around for weeks at a time. On Last Building Burning, the Cleveland outfit’s sixth and loudest album, singer/guitarist Dylan Baldi trades a sliver of his pop smarts for maximum unhinged catharsis. While the extended “Dissolution” pulls galloping Krautrock out of a guitar squall, it’s gems like “Leave Him Now” that show what Baldi can do with a grudge in a few short minutes. “He doesn’t want you / He just wants to have you around,” Baldi sneers, exasperated at a friend’s emotionally abusive relationship. The song builds to a fever pitch, and even on an album full of them, the Nothings throw their full weight behind every crash. | Julian Ring
Mudhoney’s 10th studio long-player is more of a reaction than a rallying cry, though they do encourage everyone to vote this November. Still, the more inspired moments on Digital Garbage are fueled by a raw disgust and pointed cynicism as singer Mark Arm sneers at the sorry state of the world around him. He spits on right-wing fear mongering, conspiracy theories, weaponized information and racism in the driving “Paranoid Core” before guitarist Steve Turner unleashes a fuzzy flurry of scribbled lead shredding. The slightly sludgy “Please Mr. Gunman” rocks heavy with Dan Peters’s drumming as Arm takes a shot at the normalization of mass shootings. In the organ-grinding “Kill Yourself Live,” he lampoons social media narcissists: “When I killed myself live / I got so many likes / Go on, give it a try / Kill yourself live.” It plays like the juvenile delinquent offspring of Devo’s “Gut Feeling” before Arm kicks down the door on selfie culture. “We learned something in the ’70s about rebellion being obsolete,” Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh once said. “If you really want to change things in a democracy, you do it through subversion.” On Digital Garbage, Mudhoney takes Mothersbaugh’s suggestion to heart. | Eric Shea
Crumbling distortion, heaving grooves and swirling psychedelia are still in full effect on Windhand’s latest, but the group has been shifting away from the suffocating stoner doom of their earlier releases and toward something much more polished and melodic. That evolution reaches its apex on Eternal Return, recasting selfsame elements within a much more refined framework. As always, vocalist Dorthea Cottrell’s voice is a beautiful, multi-hued monster allowed to soar unfettered, and even without the effects that previously enshrouded her vocals, hers remains one of the most powerful voices in modern music. While heavy, Eternal Return hews closer to the smoldering moodiness of True Widow and the hook-heavy, metallic grunge of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains — something akin to a female fronted, slowed-down Queens of the Stone Age. Windhand’s take on doom is a distinctly dreamy one, without sacrificing any of the genre’s inherent heft. That, along with the group’s refined songwriting and Jack Endino’s crystal clear production, make Eternal Return one of the best doom records of the year, and one that’s surprisingly accessible for the uninitiated. | Andee Connors
Take This to Heart
Repeat after me: female-fronted is not a genre. Just because someone who identifies as a woman is onstage doesn’t mean they inhabit their own token category. Women have more than earned their place on our playlists, at our gigs and in the forefront of our consciousness. Ohio rockers the Sonder Bombs tackle this, and more, on Modern Female Rockstar, their first full-length. The aptly-named album comes in hot, touching on bitter breakups and misogyny in the music scene (get you a band who can do both), but it gradually reveals a softer side that sees the band trying to reconcile with the harsh world around them.
Women are often forced to choose between an angry, unbreakable facade that can come off as hostile or emotional openness that risks projecting weakness. That rigid dichotomy doesn’t leave a lot of room to do both. That’s why Modern Female Rockstar is such a triumph: it mirrors the human experience by deftly navigating a vast range of experiences while still being cohesive. It’s a tight nine tracks of ukulele punk perfection that earns the Sonder Bombs the title of bonafide rockstars — no gender qualifier needed. | Stephanie Elkin
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Is anyone more synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll than Chuck Berry? The King of Rock laid the very foundation upon which much of today’s popular music is built, fusing his experiences as a black man with R&B and country to create a then-new sound that pushed culture forward and drove people’s wildest dreams. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Berry saw chart-topping success and gave us some of the best songs ever, including “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Maybellene.” This collection of Berry’s greatest hits reminds us how this pioneer helped solidify rock’s place in the musical pantheon. | Tiana Lewis
Best known for the decade she spent with Flyleaf, Lacey Sturm is planting her feet in more hopeful, redemptive soil these days. Her 2016 debut solo album opens with the mind-bending “Impossible,” which gives those unfamiliar with her previous work a taste of Sturm’s range. From “I’m Not Laughing” to the title track, Life Screams explores tough issues like sex-trafficking, loneliness, abuse and grief while standing hip-deep in empowerment fed by an undercurrent of faith.
But don’t let the goodness and light here — or the fact that she’s a mom of three littles — tempt you into dismissing Sturm as “soft” in the rock sense. She is not. Ask anyone who has seen her perform live, six months pregnant, headbanging with the best of them: Sturm’s ethereal intensity draws you in. The scream-tint of scarlet on her version of the Police’s “Roxanne” is the stuff of rock star envy. She’s honest introspection tatted up in a femme metal jacket. | Melissa Riddle Chalos
The reverberated, lo-fi dream pop of Lala Lala will fulfill your wildest indie rock fantasies. At a time when playlists and singles mean everything, her sophomore album seamlessly transitions from song to song like a true work of art. It’s almost as if frontwoman Lillie West is sharing the 12-song soundtrack to her life. The 24-year-old sensation started the band as a form of therapy and way of working through some of her issues. And boy, has this woman been through some shit, from addiction to the untimely deaths of some her closest friends and a violent home invasion. So don’t expect any happy themes here. The Lamb is melancholy, grim and downright depressing, but most importantly, it’s honest and emblematic of the resilience of the human spirit. | Crystal Lowe
Downtempo art rock band HTRK has been fogging up cold, dark windows since 2003. Their hypnotic formula toes the line between palette-driven post-rock and languid bedroom shoegaze. Equal parts angry and angsty, HTRK eventually recruited the Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard to record on their Marry Me Tonight LP. Recorded in Berlin, Work (Work, Work) was completed after the purported suicide of founding member Sean Stewart. Repetitive, reverb-laden synthetic drums join forces with driving bass lines, delayed monotone vocals and atmospheric guitars on standout tracks like “Slo Glo” and “Body Double.” | Lisa Light
The most significant practitioner of early-to-mid-aughts art rock was Chicago’s Coughs. While disco-influenced post-punk was having its heyday on the coasts, Coughs featured a clattering double percussion setup, occasional sax, needling guitar treble, tribal bass and the unhinged wail of vocalist Anya Davidson. 2006’s Secret Passage is tighter than the previous year’s shambolic debut, Fright Makes Right, and captures more of the band’s ritualistic live feel. The ragtag sextet went on to produce all sorts of fascinating projects post-breakup (Cacaw, Forced into Femininity, Ga’an, Stillsuit, Black Dog). A dozen years later, this unsung building block of a small corner of American noise rock still sounds vital and pissed. | George Chen
Pioneering all-female band the Ace of Cups emerged in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood in 1967. These five ladies broke the mold of female bands. Not only did every member sing and excel at their instruments, but during their five-year career, they shared stages with legends of that bygone era: the Band, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix (who famously named-dropped the band to Melody Maker). The Ace of Cups never recorded a proper album and disbanded by 1972 so its members could focus on motherhood. Now, Ace Records has gathered together a generous bounty of bootleg recordings, rehearsals, demos, and live tapes for It’s Bad for You but Buy It!, a lyric taken from the band’s song “Glue.” This fascinating anthology reveals the tough yet poetic rock ‘n’ roll sentiments these young women made their own, with many original songs that reflect their circumstances. Standout tracks include rousing interpretations of the Parliaments’ Detroit soul classic “I Wanna Testify” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” as well as the rocking, self-penned “Catch You Later” and “Boy, What’ll You Do Then.” The latter, recorded by an earlier project featuring lead singer Denise Kaufman, is probably one of the greatest garage singles ever. | Michelle Solomon