Of all the breakups in Mike Krol’s songs, the most harrowing story is about his breakup with music.

In 2015, coming off his best record yet and the ensuing world tour, Krol found himself in the midst of a full-blown existential crisis. He’d invested everything to create the rock-and-roll life he’d always wanted, but he wasn’t sure the life wanted him back.

Power Chords, Krol’s new Merge release, picks up where 2015’s Turkey left off. It traces Krol’s journey back to punk rock, harnessing both the guitar technique and the musical redemption referenced in its title. To rediscover the power in those chords, Krol recorded for two-plus years in three separate locations (Nashville, Los Angeles, and Krol’s native Wisconsin). The record opens in a howling maelstrom of feedback: welcome to Krol’s crucible. After a stage-setting spoken-word intro (“I used to never understand the blues, until the night I met you. And every day since, I’ve gotten better at guitar”), we find ourselves back in familiar Krol territory—aggressive and assertive, scratchy and raw, catchy as hell—but something has changed. The sounds have a new density—and so do the stories. Krol’s lyrics have always walked a fine line between self-acceptance and self-destruction, but throughout Power Chords, they reveal a new sense of self-awareness. “Without a little drama I grow bored and sick of all my days,” he sings on “Little Drama,” and it’s just one revelatory moment on a record full of them.

Of course, none of this is to say that Krol has mellowed. You might find a mea culpa or two, but Mike Krol will never be chastened. If anything, he’s out more for revenge than forgiveness, and if he’s grown, it’s because he’s grown bolder. He’s wielding the same influences—Misfits, The Strokes, early Weezer, Ramones—but turning up the gravity and the gain. Indeed, Krol has gone somewhere new; yes, he bludgeoned himself with over-analysis and self-loathing, but along the way he stumbled upon a trove of intricate guitar lines and artfully mutating melodies. It’s there in the chorus of “Blue and Pink,” the bridge in “I Wonder,” the entirety of the deliriously infectious first single, “An Ambulance.”

Music ruined Krol’s life. And then saved it. In chronicling that process, Krol has made his best record—painful, voyeuristic, and angry, but ultimately transcendent and timeless. It is the sound of Krol giving in to a force greater than himself, as though the chords are playing him rather than the other way around.

The Burning Peppermints

While their name evokes candy-colored images of rock revivalists like The White Stripes, The Burning Peppermints’ sound is hard to pin to any single influence. Rock champions like Jack White and Led Zeppelin clearly served as early influences, but the Peppermints have fused a visceral combination of dingy garage rock and West Coast surf, all delivered via an infamously aggressive live performance.

Jake Wittig’s workhorse guitars are laden with fuzz, and alternate between groove-heavy riffs and devastating chords in tandem with rhythm agent Ahmad Farzad. Wittig’s tonal dynamics recall the monstrous crunch of Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, while vocals suggest the manic charisma of Ty Segall.

Farzad administers bass and baritone via guitar, allowing him a sweeping range of unfathomable low registers and sharp, cutting notes. Daniel Powers’ keys provide a fluid layer of retro character and synth effects, from moody drones to siren calls. Ryan Colebeck holds the entire volatile ensemble together with airtight percussion.

The Burning Peppermints formed in 2012, after Wittig began jamming on garage rock tunes with an abandoned drum kit. Lineups changed and styles evolved over time, and the Peppermints gigged relentlessly throughout the erupting music scene in Birmingham, Alabama. The band quickly earned an enthusiastic following, playing in alleyways, breweries, and lately working their way into genre-defying music festivals.

The group has shared the stage with touring acts like The Dirty Lungs, Diarrhea Planet, and St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and have developed a reputation for their genuine intensity. The Burning Peppermints put on a viciously engaging show, and audiences can’t help but move to the driving sounds generated by the frenzied band.

“If a band is just going to play their music for an audience and not perform the hell out of it and try to connect with them, then you might as well just plug someone’s iPod into the venue’s PA and everyone can just sit and listen to it together,” says Wittig.

While composure is ripped away on stage, the musicianship never fails- It takes over. Many artists explain that their instruments are an extension of themselves, but The Burning Peppermints are clearly the mortal conduits of a wild and instinctive sonic force.

Their powerhouse sound was captured on their first album, the live-recorded Dirty Rainbow, and will be expounded upon in the upcoming Witch Mountain.

Cosmonaut on Vacation

Cosmonaut on Vacation is space-pop a.k.a echo-ey and melodic rock-and-roll played loud and proud. Full stop.

LET THE MOMENT LAND is born from the wildly inventive, collaborative world of the Birmingham, Alabama Indie rock scene. In May 2011, Greg Slamen, formerly of Through the Sparks and Stateside, decided to start his own band and his own brand of spaced-out, psychedelic rock and roll. Influenced by the whimsy of the Kinks, attitude of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the swagger of Stone Roses and the melodic arrangements of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Slamen twisted seemingly simple chords into songs that ring fresh and inspired. He's not trying to reinvent the wheel. He just wants to drive the goddamn thing until they fall off.

Like his Through The Sparks brethren, Slamen can be a studio rat. "I love recording, even if it's stressful at times. I recorded a few tracks at [Les] Nuby's (Vulture Whale) Ol' Elegante [studio] and a few more at Jody Nelson's (Through The Sparks / Dorado) Alamalibu, and a couple of the tracks -- those electronic numbers -- I did those on my laptop. [The recording process] was the fun part for sure. It's the mixing and mastering that was excruciatingly but necessarily tedious."

“Les Nuby was very supportive from the beginning when I told him about this idea that I wanted to make a solo record (of sorts!). He's been a sounding board and encouraging voice throughout the process of getting this record together-- everything from advice on the demos, to engineering some of the songs, to giving me feedback on the masters when I was done with the record. The same is true of Jody Nelson. And I should mention Shawn Avery. He's got the ears and some wild ideas about production. He definitely had some influence on the way this thing sounded.” Slamen found inspiration in the feedback, and, as he puts it, “ decided to take my record a bit more seriously after that. Like pizza boxes, empty beer bottles, and lots of standing around in my underwear mixing and doing retakes instead of sleeping and spending time with friends and family. “

This attention gave forth a bizarre, crunchy, spacey throwback of a record – an album from the time when albums mattered. The sounds of a strange journey, as one might imagine if a mission-weary 1980s Cosmonaut took a much needed vacation in a Adriatic beach town. Come along – it is going to be fun.

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