Underground Rundown: The Best Independent Music of October

    This month has a bunch of great releases from both new and established independent artists. Here's a look at five of the best.

    October will see the return of critical darlings Wolf Parade, an album from the somehow-still-recording Marilyn Manson, and roughly the 43rd album from Mark Kozelek this year, alongside other notable releases. But these five here are the best of the month from artists we may not hear enough about. These albums deliver a metal record that should crossover to a larger audience, an instrumental record from a guy whose star is rising, a bracing debut from a rock band to reckon with, an impressive double album from a Midwest group, and one of the flat-out best records of the year. In short, there’s plenty here to explore. Forget pumpkin-spice whatever, these are the things to loudly celebrate this October.

    Bell Witch: Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore – Oct. 20)

    Seattle duo Bell Witch, comprising members Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman, released one of the best metal records of 2015 with Four Phantoms. It was a grand, bracing, expansive statement, but as it turns out they were just getting started. The pair’s new record, Mirror Reaper, is a mammoth. This single, 83-minute piece finds Desmond and Shreibman pushing their sound to its extreme limits by coming at it from a new angle. Where Four Phantoms could blast you out of the room and then carve out echoing silence, Mirror Reaper explores more of the former than the latter. Bell Witch is heavy as ever here — bass notes achieve seismic rumbles, the drums crash and snap like felled redwoods — but its the negative space that carries most of the weight. There’s something solitary and contemplative about this record, the noise not so much aggressive and geographical, a way to make the room the quieter passages can live in. So when the towering riffs peel back and organ and haunting, distant vocals come in, the effect is both subtle and shocking, heartbreaking in its isolation but girded with a deep ache, a reaching out. Mirror Reaper, which whips up a rattle, then lets its own echo ripple out from there, only to boomerang back for one last, cathartic blast, is — top to bottom — nothing short of stunning.

    Gunn-Truscinski Duo: Bay Head (Three Lobed Recordings – Nov. 3)

    Steve Gunn has made a name for himself with his last few solo records, especially last year’s Eyes on the Lines, released through Matador Records. But he’s also long been a master collaborator and guitarist in other bands, and one of his most fruitful musical outlets comes when he makes music with percussionist John Truscinski. The duo’s third instrumental record, Bay Head (out in November but likely shipping earlier from the label), is another fascinating broadcast from their unique corner of the musical world. The two seem to weave and tangle with one another, the drumming shuffling through the holes in between every one of Gunn’s gauzy strums, bouncing off every echoing note. Gunn and Truscinski can whip up a storm, like on the slashing and brilliant “Seagull for Chuck Berry,” but they can also slip into quiet, experimental meditation on “EIP” or the dusty “Shell.” It’s the rare album where moments will catch you off guard — the squalling noise on “Gunter,” the gentle unraveling of “Some Lunar Day” — but as a whole will leave you totally immersed. It’s an album that never sits still, that fidgets and fusses and much as it can stomp and sway, and yet there’s something inevitable about it, something timeless in how it moves forward. It’s the kind of record that reminds you of sounds close to home before jarring you with a transmission from some lost exit off a road not found yet. Bay Head sounds like searching, in other words, and Gunn and Truscinski make for great guides into the unknown.

    Melkbelly: Nothing Valley (Wax Nine – Oct. 13)

    Melkbelly’s debut, Nothing Valley, marks the first release for Wax Nine Records, a sister label of Carpark Records run by Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie DuPuis. On this record, Melkbelly quickly carves out its own space in the crowded field of rock bands channeling some mid-90s indie-rock heyday. The band’s greatest strength is merging an imposing low-end with off-kilter hooks and a sly melodic streak. Check out how the drums ‘n howl fury of “Off the Lot” slides perfectly into the hazy crunch-pop of “Kid Kreative.” Or how the expansive, shift-on-a-dime overcast tones of “R.O.R.O.B.” runs head long into the edged snark of “Greedy Gull.” With the pent-up fury of Miranda Winters’s vocals, and the perfect meshing of hyperactive rhythms and sharp riffs, Melkbelly stretches the limits of the rock four-piece. They meet somewhere in between the earworms of power-pop and the complexity of math rock. The band balances songcraft and pure, angry energy without losing the edge on either. Nothing Valley may be a debut from 2017, but it’s got all the confidence of a band whose been around a while, and a sound that seems like this record has already made its mark.

    Speaking Suns: Range (Anyway – Sept. 29)

    Don’t be fooled by the sunburst brightness and breezy air around a lot of the songs on Speaking Suns’ second record, Range (which technically came out 9/29). And don’t be led on by the seemingly effortless delivery. Range is a big album, an ambitious one of intricate, cosmic layers, shifting textures, and plenty of exploration. The clean guitars and horns on opener “Spell,” with that big, catchy chorus, feels like a wave the rest of the album could hop onto and ride. But Speaking Suns push from there, from the faint buzz at the edges of the excellent “Honing In” to the psychedelic expanse of “Out of Range” to the lonesome, rolling dust of “Leave This Behind.” Speaking Suns can present as throwback folk-rockers, Midwest art-rockers channeling the past couple decades of indie rock in Chicago, or experimental jammers. And they take risks. Ten-minute epic “River” comes 13 songs into a double record that runs almost 90 minutes, and yet it still gets your attention. The songcraft, from tune to tune, and the band’s ability to shift the formula in meaningful ways while still staying in their own bleary-eyed pop-rock lane, makes Range a compelling listen all the way through. Some songs will be catchy enough to stand on their own — more than you think, actually — but as a monster statement of a sophomore debut, it actually feels much more contained and intimate than its running time might suggest. Range is long, but it never feels that way. Instead it feels immediate and lasting at the same time, which is no small feat.

    The Weather Station: The Weather Station (Paradise of Bachelors – Oct. 6)

    Tamara Lindeman’s second record for Paradise of Bachelors, following the great Loyalty, is — to speak plainly — one of the great records of the year. Lindeman’s work as the Weather Station has been great for a long time, but this is a huge leap forward for her singular form of songwriting. It’s been easy to couch much of what she’s done thus far into some form of folk music. But The Weather Station defies easy categorization, and twists some typical production flourishes into fresh layers of sound. Jangling, echoes guitars scrape out shadowy spaces on opener “Free,” suggesting some storm following her keening voice from afar. “Thirty” builds from pastoral roll to churning road-rocker. “Complicit” sort of tumbles over itself beautifully, stretching out and bunching up as the drums roll and the guitars ripple over them. Some of these songs expand with strings, but where other albums lay strings on top and muddy up the mix, the strings here play crisply on the fringes, adding to the edges of these songs rather than dulling them. And, of course, at the middle of all of this, is Lindeman herself, her voice rangy and unpredictable, not to mention stunningly beautiful. She can hit any note, that much is clear, but it’s the restraint in her voice that makes it strong striking. And her writing here is dense and complicated, eschewing typical verse structures or melodic turns, and yet you still follow along, you never lose the thread. Because these songs don’t drift or wander; they charge ahead, propulsive and clear-eyed. The Weather Station never whips up too much noise, but even in its relative quiet, it is something unique. This album is fractured but resilient, bittersweet but not fragile, tuneful yet subtly furious, a voice to stand up in the face of the unknown. Let’s put it this way: it’s exactly the record we need right now.