David Lowery and Johnny Hickman joined forces as Cracker more than a quarter-century ago. The hit-making Nineties heydays of “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl” are long gone, but they remain an adventurous live act. The duo’s 2014 double LP Berkeley to Bakersfield drew from all sorts of California twang, rocking equally hard with Hickman’s bluesy guitar histrionics. Local psychedelic country rocker Ramsay Midwood burns rubber first.– Jim Caligiuri
Drive-by Truckers co-founder Mike Cooley packs a biting social edge compositionally, rewiring Southern rock for the 21st century. On September’s American Band, the Georgians offered up one of 2016’s most relevant albums, casting through the contradictions and conflicts of a nation that now seems more prescient warning than political rant. Cooley sheds the band to convene an intimate two-night stand.– Doug Freeman
Jesse Keeler and Al-P of Mstrkrft eschew the bass drop perversions of their mainstream EDM contemporaries in lieu of raw, dynamic electro-punk, equally indebted to Daft Punk and Keeler’s punkier drum-and-bass duo, Death From Above 1979. Caustic digital screams recall the most angular moments of Kanye West’s Yeezus, while massive synth slabs slam against the manic wail of former VSS frontman Sonny Kay. Dance and doom tango.
An instrumental act combining thorny shred metal with jazz fusion poised to become a major headliner? D.C.’s Animals as Leaders have done just that over four increasingly ambitious LPs. Latest The Madness of Many adds more groove to the equation, transcending Guitar World nerdom. Sydney guitarist Plini and Toronto trio Intervals set the scene with their own wordless prog metal.– Michael Toland
Slim Cessna’s first studio album in five years isn’t as preachy as its title implies. The Commandments According to SCAC instead finds Denver’s gothic Americana hell-raisers, co-fronted by lanky vocalists Cessna and Munly Munly, pounding the pulpit of Southern defiance, confessing to murder, coveting, and working on the Sabbath. Stronger rock influences stitch into their banjo-spanking dark country, resulting in a mature and layered LP that rewards repeat listens.– Kevin Curtin