• Adam Cohen, 'Like a Man' (Decca)

    Rewriting "Suzanne" and other sad songs, Leonard's son now sounds more like dad than Tegan sounds like Sara.

  • Paul Weller, 'Sonik Kicks' (Yep Roc)

    Britpop Modfather swaps retromania for contemporary eclecticism, overwrought production, under-cooked tunes.

  • Paul Van Dyk, 'Evolution' (Vandit)

    When a Kenny G clone supplies the sole deviation from boilerplate trance, you know something's awry.

  • One Direction, 'Up All Night' (Syco/Columbia)

    British/Irish boy band revives Backstreet/*NSYNC vibes, throws glam anti-consumerist curveballs ("I Want").

  • Housse De Racket, 'Alesia' (Kitsune/Cooperative/Downtown)

    Bilingual Phoenix-esque French dance-rock duo team with Phoenix producer, get more like Phoenix.

  • Choir of Young Believers, 'Rhine Gold' (Ghostly)

    Killer Danish tenor wails over wistful orchestrations, miraculously links Fleet Foxes to Neu!

  • The Magnetic Fields, 'Love at the Bottom of the Sea' (Merge)

    Tragedy is universal, but not everyone can agree on what's funny, and even fewer people bestow comedy with lasting value. This applies to all the arts, but particularly to popular music, which yields one They Might Be Giants or Nellie McKay for every thousand whiny rockers. Blessed and cursed with a voice so low it registers as both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar, Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields applies that duality to everything he does. If he writes a happy song, he'll subvert it with sighing strings or weeping pedal steel. If he pens a sad sonnet, he'll twist the pathos like a balloon until it resembles a poodle. He's so masterfully dependable when folding punch lines into woeful tales that regular conceptual curve balls — a folk album! a Jesus and Mary Chain album! a triple CD of 69 freakin' love songs!

  • Of Monsters and Men, 'My Head is an Animal' (Universal Republic)

    When Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011, and the Decemberists (briefly) topped the Billboard charts soon thereafter, crazy shit was bound to start flyin'. After years of simple-minded, American Idol-ized fluff, the brainiacs finally felt validated — it was as if the TV accidentally switched from Dumb and Dumber to Tree of Life. But just like when George W. passed the baton to Barack O., and all the dreamers kidded themselves that things would change overnight, it was just new variations on the same old crap rose to the top. Unlike, say, Train or Nickleback, bands like Arcade Fire and the Decemberists couldn't be created by committee. They were born in the bedrooms and dorm rooms of outcasts driven to find each other, where liberalism and low rents still exist in the same zip code, and they couldn't be faked or bought or remotely replicated.

  • Kaiser Chiefs, 'Start the Revolution Without Me' (Cooperative Music)

    Neo-new-wavers flaunt their kinks while restoring the riotous melodies in their Britpop.

  • Bob Mould Noise Pop

    Bob Mould Plays Sugar's Full 'Copper Blue' LP for First Time

    Bob Mould Bottom of the Hill San Francisco, CA Friday, February 24, 2012 He helped define alternative rock with hardcore/power-pop trios Hüsker Dü and Sugar, but Bob Mould is still the kind of guy who schleps his own equipment before taking a proper entrance. Punk rocker, World Champion Wrestling script writer, autobiographer, and 51-year-old gay San Franciscan, Mould is what the Mickey Rourke character in The Wrestler never could be — an emotionally mature adult who can still play a young man's game. With his close-cropped hair, full beard, and gym-toned bulk, he's the rare middle-aged rocker who actually looks better than he did during his cultural heyday, and having long ago quit drinking, drugs, and cigs, he sings better too.

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