In early 1971, rock critic Sandy Pearlman suggested to the Long Island band Soft White Underbelly that they change their name to Blue Öyster Cult. Pearlman and fellow producer Murray Krugman turned BOC into “intellectual hard rockers” through cryptic lyrics and collaborations with Patti Smith. When Pearlman died in 2016, BOC still was playing the occasional après-ski party at Colorado resorts, but hadn’t released new studio music in 20 years (and few worthy songs since the mid-1980s).

Now comes the unexpected release of The Symbol Remains (Ward Records/Bivalve) that blows past jokes of “More cowbell!” from the famous Saturday Night Live sketch, but offers plenty of weird mysticism via lyrics from Richard Meltzer and science fiction author John Shirley. Do the lyrics still trip over their good intent? Sure, but not as often as in the band’s second decade. In 14 long tracks across two LPs, BOC stays ironic and fresh in tunes like “Box in My Head” and “Florida Man.” Guitarist Buck Dharma and friends may be wizened in 2021, but have aged much better than the metal stars that march for Trump.

Also New & Noteworthy

Matthew Sweet, Catspaw (Omnivore) – Casual fans of Sweet’s mid-1990s pop dominance may be surprised to learn he’s stayed prolific, offering two of his best albums in 2018, Tomorrow Forever and Tomorrow’s Daughter. For his new 15th studio release, Sweet follows Paul McCartney’s lead in going truly solo, playing all instruments except drums, though the production with chunky Neil Young-style guitar sounds like a full-tilt band on fire. Though the album was completed early last year, its grim message of surviving the 2020s sounds like it was forged in pandemic times.

Rhye, Home (Loma Vista) – Michael Milosh, a Canadian native recording as Rhye, created a minor sensation with Woman in 2013, when its falsetto voices and ethereal ambiance fit the popular fascination with transcendence. After years of touring, Milosh has made LA’s Topanga Canyon his home with partner Genevieve Medow-Jenkins, and this new album has the centered tranquility of the couple’s online live events series, Secular Sabbath. The angelic choirs at the LP’s beginning and end may be off-putting to the cynical, but will win over those who appreciate sincerity.