Like most of us, Brent Knopf watches a lot of YouTube videos, only he's not watching kittens playing piano. Rather, his tastes err on the more experimental side of things—like people who attempt perpetual motion machines using magnets. "I love that they're trying to harness an endless supply of energy," says the Ramona Falls frontman, "and that they go against conventional wisdom in the hopes of true discovery."

Which is exactly what Knopf did last year, when he decided to quit the acclaimed art rock trio Menomena and devote his time to one epic, personal vision. Prophet, the second Ramona Falls album, is sonically, lyrically and thematically brighter. It's also more organic and personal than anything he ever contributed to Menomena, or as the singer/multi-instrumentalist explains, "it's more of a rapid transit line between my sleeve and my heart."

"With Ramona Falls I am exploring what I stand for which makes it more personal to me," Knopf admits. "I'm less worried now about being made fun of, than I was before. I can now say things I believe in, and some people may think it's stupid or cheesy…but that's kind of fun. I would much rather speak from the heart than hide behind impenetrable obfuscation."

Recorded with bandmates Paul Alcott (drums, and also, ironically, Knopf's replacement in Menomena), Matt Sheehy (guitar), and Dave Lowensohn (bass) and featuring guest appearances by four other friends, the stunning album begins with "Bodies of Water," an emotive and rousing anthem about how intimacy bundles together both nourishment and peril. "Spore," a heartfelt highlight of Prophetbears a substantive core: "I like the idea of someone refusing to feel lonely, despite how utterly alone they might actually be," Knopf explains. "It's a form of rebellion." But the 11 tracks are not all exercises in introspective fragility; "Brevony" is Knopf's most unleashed moment with gnarling guitars ambushing the listener at the chorus on all sides.

Prophet, the album's title, is an homage to Knopf's religious upbringing, a titular reference to a worldview that reveres exalted seers who assert meaning despite the chaos. But as the newly empowered songwriter has discovered with Ramona Falls, it's a better strategy to embrace the chaos. And then refashion it into a beautiful noise.

Social Studies

Naming their sophomore album Developer is a bold move for the still-young band Social Studies. But it is as apt a descriptor as you're likely to find for how the sound of this San Francisco-based five-piece has flourished, matured, and, yes, developed over the past two years.

The band - led by Natalia Rogovin (vocals, keys) and Michael Jirkovsky (drums), who were joined in 2009 by bassist Jesse Hudson and guitarist Tom Smith and this year by second guitarist Ben McClintock - has already won a loyal fan base thanks to their arch take on modernist pop as heard on 2010 release Wind Up Wooden Heart. Social Studies has become a force to be reckoned with in concert as well, transfixing audiences at the CMJ Music Festival, SXSW, and Noise Pop, and bringing their unique energy and spirit to stages shared with TuneYards, Wye Oak, Lotus Plaza, Thee Oh Sees, Dodos, Ramona Falls and many more.

Now, on their new album, the goal was to strip things down to the basics, straighten out some of the more jagged lines of their previous work, and put the focus more on texture and mood. "Before, we were rebellious. We fucked with things just because we wanted to push limits and boundaries," says Rogovin. "Developer is a more adult record. We tried to explore sounds and draw out parts to write more moving and focused songs."

They enlisted the able ears and hands of engineer and co-producer Eli Crews (Tune-Yards, Deerhoof, Thao & Mirah) who helped hone this new barebones attack as well as reflecting the excitement of their stage show. On Developer, all the pieces have come together perfectly. The clear-eyed production helps bring out the dark, sexy heart of these ruminations on life, love, pain, and pleasure. The themes of the album are as complex as the songs are streamlined. "The album is about art, but it's also a cinematic exploration of those turning points in life that you didn't see coming and didn't realize were important until much later," says Rogovin.

Lead single "Terracur" calls the bluff of a headstrong friend threatening to leave, while "Away For the Weekend" turns the tables to justify a departure: "Ever discover another that makes you feel good, you always feel right/ the notion of fleeing the corporeal being/Just run to your other life."

In Developer, Social Studies has succeeded in evoking a set of feelings and emotions that will linger with listeners long after the last notes have faded away. Warm, cold, or downright chilling, there is a connection between the personal and universal that the band taps into through a set of fearless and gripping songs.

The Calm Blue Sea

The Calm Blue Sea's lushly textured sound is a study in contrast. The Austin, Texas band's music, like its oceanic name, is at once beautiful and violent, transcendent and triumphant. With songs structured by minutes rather than measures, the foursome marries post-rock fugues with classically-inspired arrangements, the aggression and heaviness of metal, the artiness of indie rock and the widescreen expanse of a film score. The end result is stunning.

Fresh off the heels of the 2011 reissue of their debut album, The Calm Blue Sea is back with Arrivals & Departures, their overdue sophomore offering and one of the most anticipated recent releases to come out of the fertile Austin music scene.

Originally formed in late 2007, The Calm Blue Sea emerged quickly with their self-released 2008 debut. The eponymous full-length broadened the band's reach to a worldwide audience and set the foundation for a flurry of activity over the next year. Months after the release, and days after returning home from their first American tour, The Calm Blue Sea wasted no time in immersing themselves in their next creative endeavor: writing and performing an original score to the 1924 Fritz Lang film entitled Siegfried (

While the undertaking was fraught with exhaustion and the stress of deadlines, creating the 96-minute score unearthed new methods of articulation within the band as the writing process evolved to satisfy the specificity of expression that the project required. Siegfried came to life in a one-time performance of the score in front of a sold out audience at Austin's historic Ritz Theater and a limited edition release in the fall of 2009.

Due to the emotional and financial stress of constant activity, managing every process internally, and sudden lineup changes, the remaining members decided at the end of the their second tour in 2009 to take time apart from the band and ultimately each other.

Eventually, however, the gravitational pull was too strong and guitarist/vocalist Chris Patin, drummer Stephen Bidwell, and bassist Kyle Robarge reunited in late 2010. After filling out the fragmented lineup with Taylor Wilkins on guitar, the band took one last look to the past with the reissue of their debut LP on Modern Outsider Records, garnering praise from the likes of Esquire and NPR Music, who noted, "The Calm Blue Sea's epic thunderings are far too beautiful to dismiss."

Following their return to the stage at SXSW 2011, the band started the unexpectedly arduous task of writing their next album. "As a writing team we were essentially starting over. It was very much a brand new band in that sense, and we had to go through all of the initial struggling and stumbling of learning to collaborate with a whole new team, while attempting to come up with a drastically different end product at the same time," Bidwell says.

"Finally we hit our stride though," says Patin. "Those first couple of songs were painful to create, but eventually we learned how to communicate again and we started to understand where each person was coming from and which direction they wanted to push this band."

By early 2012, the band was back at Cacophony Recorders with engineer Erik Wofford (The Black Angels, White Denim), four years removed from the 2008 weekend when they first stepped foot in that same studio to record their self-titled debut.

"While crafting this record we lived outside of our individual comfort zones and challenged each other to shake free of the expectations of what our music is supposed to be," Patin continues. "I think we've finally established our identity. Comparisons are inevitable but my hope is that if someone really listens to this record they'll hear something unique."

"We've all been waiting a long time for this record," Robarge says. "Now that it's finished it's obvious that this is the record we needed to make -- it really bridges the gap from the band we've been in the past to the band we've become now, and there's still a lot of growth happening in every new song we write. It's going to be very exciting to see how people react."

The Calm Blue Sea's Arrivals & Departures is set for an October 9, 2012 release on Modern Outsider Records.

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