• The Kooks, 'Junk of the Heart' (Astralwerks)

    The Kooks, 'Junk of the Heart' (Astralwerks)

    Having already positioned 2008's Konk as their "mainstream bid," these Britpop traditionalists return with a rather-quite-poppier follow-up that may be both their best and blandest yet. As previous attempts at laddish charm like "Jackie Big Tits" have proven, wit lies outside the Kooks' still-youthfully greasy grasp. The middle of the road was always their destiny, it seems, and they arrive with blatantly pleasant but character-free ditties to accompany you while shopping for a smart new Ben Sherman shirt, though those ditties likely will be forgotten the moment ?you exit the store.

  • Hercules and Love Affair, 'Blue Songs' (Moshi Moshi)

    Hercules and Love Affair, 'Blue Songs' (Moshi Moshi)

    No longer collaborating with Antony Hegarty or DFA's Tim Goldsworthy, DJ Andy Butler embarks on a largely new Love Affair, but remains faithful to dance music's gay halcyon days. The disco pulse is still there, elegant and elegiac, now joined by vintage Chicago flavors and other diversions (though a cameo by Bloc Party's Kele Okereke can't match the wow factor of 2008's self-titled debut). Blue Songs' prevailing mood is deep indigo, not ultraviolet, yet that darkness heightens and complicates. By shunning regulation house fierceness, Butler and crewoffer gentle nocturnalsacrament.

  • They Might Be Giants, 'Join Us' (Idlewild/Rounder)

    They Might Be Giants, 'Join Us' (Idlewild/Rounder)

    If you only heard it inthe shower and couldn't make out the puckishlyrical twists or compositional tics, this clever Brooklyn duo's 15thstudio disc might bemistaken for a Radio Disney pop pageant.Having made severalhit kids' albums, Johns Flansburgh and Linnell reapply their sprightly tempos, cheery tunes, and tightly wound structures to songs about cephalophores (a martyred saintcarrying his/her own head), humanoid lizards, and other antisocial types, with cheery/eerie results. Their wit keeps maturing, but TMBG's gentle weirdness is forever young.

  • Digitalism, 'I Love You, Dude' (V2/Cooperative/Downtown)

    Digitalism, 'I Love You, Dude' (V2/Cooperative/Downtown)

    This Hamburg duo's 2007 debut, Idealism, tried to fill the world's pressing need for a new Daft Punk album; unfortunately, club hits "Zdarlight" and "Pogo" kinda sucked. I Love You, Dude offers a similar blend of distorted synths, chunky beats, and faux-French flavors, but monotonous, lumbering riffs have been replaced by actual bouncy songs. The result is still ridiculously derivative; neo-nouvelle vague anthems "2 Hearts" and "Forrest Gump" stomp and slam exactly like Justice remixing Phoenix. But why object to that?

  • Diamond Rings, 'Special Affections' (Astralwerks)

    Diamond Rings, 'Special Affections' (Astralwerks)

    Late last decade, John O'Regan fronted brash Toronto rockers the D'Urbervilles, but after being hospitalized with Crohn's disease, the singer reinvented himself as synth-popper Diamond Rings. The result of this self-therapy is a classic post-traumatic-stress album that masks its who-am-I-now? introspection with garish hooks and blunt beats. Pitting his manly baritone against squishy feminine keys in the sexually ambiguous '80s tradition, O'Regan gives his transformation a thrilling edge, not least because there's real danger involved. He may never be the man he once was, and his fabulously imagined future remains uncertain.

  • OK Go, '180/365' (Paracadute)

    OK Go, '180/365' (Paracadute)

    For a band that specializes in one-shot videos, this live album culled from the YouTube kings' 2010 tour sure has a lot of edits. Featuring 15 songs -- ten from last year's Of the Blue Colour of the Sky -- performed in 14 cities, it starts jarringly, ?occasionally segues abruptly, and fails to contrive a complete, satisfying show over its 58 minutes. ?Although the songs' ?arrangements differ little from the studio originals, they do confirm that OK Go can catch a groove without a zillion overdubs. Downside: no dance routines.

  • Patrick Wolf, 'Lupercalia' (Hideout/Mercury)

    Like the Killers' Sam's Town -- on which frontman Brandon Flowers played a grandiose, Old West troubadour -- Patrick Wolf's fifth album is an insanely melodramatic and heartfelt record from a quintessential aesthete. Lupercalia's well-orchestrated bravado suggests a fussy approximation of abandon rather than something truly from the gut, but to his credit, the British multi-instrumentalist doesn't pretend to rock. Strings dominate, horns replace synths, and it's the unabashed disco of "Together" that delivers the money shot, as Wolf celebrates overwrought European desire thesame way Springsteen exalts cars and girls.

  • No Surrender, 'Medicine Babies' (ZerOKilled Music)

    No Surrender, 'Medicine Babies' (ZerOKilled Music)

    Synthesizer is No Surrender's primary instrument, though this group's three New Yorkers (one of them Eddie Steeples, who was "Crab Man" on My Name Is Earl) rarely play it. Steeples does some rapping, but mostly there's whining and groaning and moaning and droning, and the results reek so strongly of sex, dissatisfaction, and revolution that it all feels like punk rock, even the drum machines, even the wailing diva cameo. The overall vibe is so commanding that TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe slips right in, unannounced, like a sweat stain on the furniture.

  • Owl City, 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' (Universal Republic)

    Owl City, 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' (Universal Republic)

    Imagine you're five years old. You've never heard the Postal Service, never had your heart broken, and never swallowed anything stronger than gumdrops. You'd have no reason not to love this synth-pop equivalent of a totally awesome plush toy. Featuring 11 miniscule variations on "Fireflies," the giddy worldwide smash that put home-studio boffin Adam Young on the map, this unrelentingly wide-eyed follow-up offers more genteel Christian rock reconfigured as techno lite. The world should be this polite. But it's not.

  • The Wooden Birds, 'Two Matchsticks' (Barsuk)

    The Wooden Birds, 'Two Matchsticks' (Barsuk)

    Despite expanding his band to include Matt Pond and simpatico guest Ben Gibbard, former American Analog Set frontman Andrew Kenny sticks to the stripped-down strum plus surf-guitar embellishments of his 2009 debut as the Wooden Birds. Two Matchsticks evokes the Everly Brothers' sibling intimacy, but Kenny's lonely campfire songs cling to a limited number of minor keys, similar tempos, and virtually identical arrangements. "Folly Cub" is an unnerving charmer, but everything that follows sounds like a more modest remix of that first killer cut.

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