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New releases from Frank Ocean, Starling Electric, and Cool Ghouls 

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click to enlarge Starling Electric
  • Starling Electric

Starling Electric

Electric Company

604655 Records

File next to: Bob Pollard, Brian Wilson

In 2008, Michigan's Starling Electric released Clouded Staircase, one of the best albums of that decade, and one that almost nobody heard. It combined the best qualities of Guided by Voices' Anglophile rock with vocal and arrangement prowess that encouraged positive comparisons with Brian Wilson's baroque-rock masterpiece Pet Sounds. The record earned critical praise, but otherwise went unnoticed, stiffed, and the band disappeared ... for years. But out of the spotlight, songwriter/leader Caleb Dillon kept right on writing and recording. Electric Company brings us the cream of nearly a decade's worth of home studio woodshedding. Finally released (digital-only) in 2016, it's a worthy successor to the first disc. Noisy rock coexists nicely with creamy harmonies and deeply melodic songwriting. Like Clouded Staircase, it's both a song cycle and a collection of pop tunes. — BK

click to enlarge Cool Ghouls
  • Cool Ghouls

Cool Ghouls

Animal Races

Empty Cellar

File next to: Moby Grape, Mystery Lights

The name should be your first clue: San Francisco's Cool Ghouls are unabashed acolytes of rock's bygone garage-psychedelia era. What sets them apart from similarly retro acts is their well-honed ability to craft earworms: those tunes that stick in the listener's head like bubblegum on a shoe. Hypnotic and (by pop standards) lengthy guitar solos fit snugly into catchy, chiming rock compositions. Engaging instrumentalists, they also excel at vocal harmonies. They're not new to the approach, either: Animal Races is their fifth release, following an EP, a cassette, and two full-length albums. Rather than trying to sound like somebody else, Cool Ghouls create original music that expertly conjures the past. In fact — since the past really isn't what it used to be — with the benefit of a half-century's perspective on the style, they sometimes improve upon the approach of 1960s jangle-rockers. — BK

click to enlarge Frank Ocean
  • Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean

Blond

Boys Don't Cry

File next to: Blood Orange, Odd Future

Any Blond review must mention the battle of its genesis. Frank Ocean wanted out of his Def Jam contract for his second proper album, so instead released the "visual album" Endless on Def Jam, immediately followed by this long-anticipated conventional album on his own label. The transient nature of both works reflects the near-death status of traditional albums, whether in CD, vinyl or streaming formats. Meanwhile, Ocean is moving further into R&B crooning, while retaining the strange sound manipulations and psychedelia of his former ensemble, Odd Future. When Jamie Xx and Tyler the Creator join in on Blond's "Ivy" and "Pink + White," the results are as broad and literate as Kendrick Lamar at his best, though less personal and more playful. While Ocean intended Endless to exist more as a feeling than an album, these two releases succeed at both. — LW

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