• The Vaccines, 'What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?' (Columbia)

    The Vaccines, 'What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?' (Columbia)

    Eagerly filling the recent vacuum of great U.K. guitar bands, this London foursome draws on the Jesus & Mary Chain tradition of sweet early '60s pop'n'roll married to sour punk noise: "Wreckin' Ball (Ra Ra Ra)" is an 82-second volley of adrenaline guaranteed to make Billy Idol dance with himself; "If You Wanna" delivers on its Ramones-worthy title with a tsunami of tension, while "Post Break-Up Sex" seems destined to adorn a million rueful mixtapes.

  • Kate Bush, 'Director's Cut' (Fish People/EMI)

    Kate Bush, 'Director's Cut' (Fish People/EMI)

    By 1993, Kate Bush was in mourning for her mother, her love life, her guitarist, and her inspirations. England's first truly daring female pop musician to earn total control over every aspect of her sound, while accumulating international success, Bush had counterintuitively made The Red Shoes, a brash, noisy record cluttered with mainstream-rock royalty and dated '80s beats. Then she vanished for 22 years. Finally following up Aerial, her fearlessly experimental 2005 comeback, she creates an even bolder work, revisiting seven Shoes tracks and four from 1989's The Sensual World. Director's Cut is no mere remix album. Bush re-sings everything, sometimes in a lower, sultrier register, and replaces the stiff rhythms with supple ripples from jazz drummer Steve Gadd and double bassist Danny Thompson.

  • Foster the People, 'Torches' (StarTime International/Columbia)

    Foster the People, 'Torches' (StarTime International/Columbia)

    The latest psych-pop upstarts to make a grab for MGMT's discarded headbands, this Los Angeles trio announce themselves as major players with "Pumped Up Kicks," a deceptively mellow ode to a latchkey loner primed to go Columbine. Their debut full-length proves that viral hit wasn't a fluke, as locomotive live beats and star-crossed guitars spar with perpetually pulsating synths. Leader Mark Foster's falsetto sounds too micro-MNGD, at times, but his tenacious hooks make up for what his band lacks in originality.

  • Here We Go Magic, 'The January EP' (Secretly Canadian)

    Here We Go Magic, 'The January EP' (Secretly Canadian)

    This scruffy EP -- six songs, 21 minutes, recorded live -- by one-man-band-turned-mixed-gender-quintet Here We Go Magic weaves together more stylistic threads than would ordinarily be flattering. But leader Luke Temple's constantly shifting sound maintains the momentum of last year's agile Pigeons. The sonic intimacy suits the mysterious material: Temple's ethereal tenor complements the band's krautrock propulsion and interlocking post-punk guitar, at times suggesting Radiohead covering Yes. These roundabout jams groove like five people in one room, sweating in sync.

  • Beastie Boys, 'Hot Sauce Committee Part Two' (Capitol)

    Beastie Boys, 'Hot Sauce Committee Part Two' (Capitol)

    When the Beastie Boys reissued most of their back catalog in 2009, the sonic upgrade added several layers of heft to their already weighty bottom end. And unless you played those remastered mothers loud on a serious system, that boomin' double-happiness booty all but squashed the threesome's major asset -- their relentlessly pithy, fearlessly philosophical rhymes. Originally scheduled for release that same year, Hot Sauce Committee Part One has been reconfigured slightly and issued as Part Two following Adam "MCA" Yauch's recovery from cancer. It ventures similarly deep into floorboard-rattling territory, blurring vocals via reverb and distortion like a vintage Lee Perry dub mix, but without the clarifying top end. Since '92's Check Your Head, the Beasties have juxtaposed the aggro of their early hardcore incarnation with increasingly metaphysical lyrics.

  • Darwin Deez, 'Darwin Deez' (Lucky Number)

    Darwin Deez, 'Darwin Deez' (Lucky Number)

    Working the geek chic as hard as his GarageBand presets, this Myrtle Beach-born, U.K.-hyped quirkster is the rare bedroom rocker with sophisticated songwriting skills. Pairing singalong pop to anxious Strokes/Phoenix grooves, he deadpans downbeat love lyrics with wry punch lines. In "The Bomb Song," he endures nuclear war to endear himself to an estranged girlfriend: "The hair on my head came out...Say you love me now." Every sweetly conflicted track sounds almost exactly the same, but his perverse playfulness makes that limitation almost feel like liberation.

  • 110427-mumford-sharpe-1.png

    On the Train with Mumford & Edward Sharpe Tour

    Little more than an hour before last week's start of the Railroad Revival tour at Oakland, California's Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, the members of Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show boarded the train that would take them from Oakland to New Orleans.

  • Poly Styrene, 'Generation Indigo' (Future Noise)

    Poly Styrene, 'Generation Indigo' (Future Noise)

    As Day-Glo frontwoman of London's X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene penned punk's ultimate consumer-culture critique, Germ Free Adolescents. Thirty-three years later, teaming with producer Youth (the Verve, the Orb) while also battling breast cancer, she presides over an atom-sharp array of digital dance rock, reggae, and ye olde buzz-saw guitar and sax. Whether deleting Internet suitors ("Virtual Boyfriend") or celebrating cruelty-free footwear ("I Luv Ur Sneakers"), her street-smart squeak and plastic-fantastic perspective are undimmed, now buoyed by a heartfelt bene-ficence.

  • Plan B, 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' (Atlantic)

    Plan B, 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' (Atlantic)

    British film actor Ben Drew became one of last year's major U.K. breakouts when his hardscrabble rapping persona Plan B morphed into Amy Winehouse's bespoke male counterpart on this pop-soul opera. As he tells this first-person tale of a singer who lands in jail after a fan falsely accuses him of rape, Drew's falsetto strains to equal his Motown heroes. But the melodramatic tunes masterfully push up against the antihero's downward narrative spiral, making Defamation the rare contemporary album that insists on being heard in full, in sequence, until the story ends.

  • Lanu, 'Her 12 Faces' (TruThoughts)

    Lanu, 'Her 12 Faces' (TruThoughts)

    Essentially the Dap-Kings of Melbourne, the Bamboos are a soul-funk band led by guitarist Lance "Lanu" Ferguson. And while Ferguson's 2007 solo debut adhered to the jazzy stylings of his day job, Her 12 Faces is winningly all over the place, rooted in comfy vocal cuts featuring rising Aussie indie-pop star Megan Washington. Flitting from Brazilian samba ?("Hold Me Down") to Hawaiian hip-hop ("The Coral Route"), Ferguson's subtle, dexterous arrangements recall those halcyon days of mega-funded Internet start-ups when chill-out CDs flowed like fine wine.

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