• Corin Tucker Band, 'Kill My Blues' (Kill Rock Stars)

    "Don't you want to play with the big boys?" Corin Tucker teases on the wonderfully titled "Summer Jams." Translation: Get on her level. With PJ Harvey and Youssou N'Dour somewhat in remission, Tucker possesses the only active larynx that can match Kurt Cobain's throat-dissolving coda to Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" for sheer transcendent intensity.

  • Indie rock Jenga champs Dirty Projectors

    Dirty Projectors, 'Swing Lo Magellan' (Domino)

    The achievement of Dirty Projectors' latest album, Swing Lo Magellan, is borne of mastermind Dave Longstreth's desire to make a mess and tidy it up at the same time: The further he reaches with his music, the more careful he is to reinforce its foundation. He's like the world's finest Jenga player. And all those misshapen, sticking-out blocks are the highlight of his take on indie prog — knotty and labyrinthine, the contours and impossibilities of a miraculous tower that's somehow still standing. On past records, including 2007's critical favorite Rise Above and 2009's breakout Bitte Orca, he pushed everything as far as it could go: his own untrained yelp, the shrill-to-angelic voices of various female singers, his time-signature mood swings, and the unduplicated guitar pirouettes whose only remote parallels in pop are non-Western.

  • Gossip, 'A Joyful Noise' (Columbia)

    Without question, Beth Ditto is an icon. How many women weighing more than 200 pounds can land and brand a clothing line? Especially as a reward for stripping down onstage and jiggling unrepentantly in an age of indie waifs? A one-woman It Gets Better campaign long before that was a thing, she avoided squirrel-eating life in small-town Arkansas to become an out lesbian in Portland (so out in fact that she shot some honest-to-blog XXX with her partner for a women's erotica magazine). Ultimately, her Kill Rock Stars-tailored garage-soul trio Gossip won an unexpected Euro audience with "Standing in the Way of Control," a dance-friendly tirade against gay marriage bans. If Ditto's celebrity was notoriety in disguise, then a lot of people were conspiring — in 2007, NME nominated her for Sexiest Woman of the Year.

  • Lee Ranaldo, 'Between the Times & the Tides' (Matador)

    Long before Craig Finn catalogued girls who left with "the eyepatch guy" or Dan Bejar chased cocaine through the backrooms of the world, Sonic Youth guitarist-singer Lee Ranaldo was a fly-on-the-wall for psionic freakouts as early as SY's "Eric's Trip" (1988) and as late as "Karen Revisited" (2002).

  • Chairlift, 'Something' (Columbia)

    Chairlift, 'Something' (Columbia)

    Caroline Polachek is getting better at Scrabble. On her synth-pop crew's skeletal 2008 debut, Does You Inspire You, the singer-keyboardist was so proud of the song's hazy, unusually worded chorus — "The most evident utensil / Is none other than a pencil" — that the band risked a video budget, winning a VMA nomination for their datamoshing 4D clip. Now, the first song on Chairlift's new album raises the syllabic stakes to downright goofy heights: "Is it amnesia / Amanaemonesia / Mistaken for magic," goes "Amanaemonesia," which may or may not be a real condition. There's a quirky video for that one, too. Accordingly, Polachek's takes on alienated Brooklyn disaffection are more playful than most.

  • Anarchist Republic of Bzzz, 'Anarchist Republic of Bzzz' (Important)

    This rap-rock project is no Limp Bizkit: On Anarchist Republic of Bzzz, DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay joins up with fellow axman Marc Ribot and returns to his primitivist no-wave roots after two decades of learning to play his instrument. The duo's effects-pedal collages back up Mike Ladd and Sensational, rappers more oblique than suggested by the record's slipcase -- a psychedelic rendering of Osama bin Laden. "Interlude" mimics either a puffing tailpipe or a pit bull, while "Fascist" cuts up a car's ignition rev into industrial noise; the lyrics feature Beefheartian chants ("Black Hawk take me out!"). You have to peek to ascertain which tracks are remixes.

  • Tom Waits, 'Bad as Me' (Anti-)

    Tom Waits, 'Bad as Me' (Anti-)

    It's rare to call anyone's 17th album urgent, but it feels like rocking fast and getting to the point never even ?occurred to Tom Waits before now. Bad as Me burns at fuse speed, beginning with "Chicago," which sounds like it starts in the middle, and the heart-pounding "Raised Right Men," which flashes horror-organ stabs that feel like cattle prods. This also might be the first Waits record you have to rewind to catch all the words, especially on the amazing foxhole journal "Hell Broke Luce"; excerpts include: "That big fucking bomb made me deaf, deaf," "Sergio's developing a real bad cough," "I left my arm in my coat." An unfortunate side effect is that the ballads are dippier than usual -- and the best one by far ("Tell Me") is a deluxe-only bonus track.

  • Class Actress, 'Rapprocher' (Carpark)

    Class Actress, 'Rapprocher' (Carpark)

    Chillwave never had much of a female presence, but Brooklyn's Class Actress aim to change that. Last year's self-released Journal of Ardency EP showcased a Knife-like swarm of keyboards and singer Elizabeth Harper's way with a smoke-curling hook, especially on the menacingly sexy title tune. Nothing on this full-length debut is so insidious, though several tracks come close (the lusty "Hangin' On," the upper-register calisthenics of "Keep You"). "Weekend" burns brightest, gushing, "You make me late for church," before the chorus is slimed over by an ocean of synths.

  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, 'Hysterical' (Self-Released)

    Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, 'Hysterical' (Self-Released)

    Say what you will about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but their much-hyped 2005 debut and surprisingly buoyant (and largely derided) '07 follow-up couldn't be accused of lacking nervous energy. Hysterical, by contrast, is anything but -- it's an overly gauzy, booming-echo epic that doesn't leave much trace after it's over. Frontman Alec Ounsworth still sounds best when hiccupping over fast-paced (and poppy!) nerve-wrackers like "Ketamine and Ecstasy" and "Idiot." But mostly he resembles Destroyer's Dan Bejar fronting a shoegaze/art-pop combo, with an emotional distance that only underlines CYHSY's weaknesses. Our current DIY age notwithstanding, here's an argument for A&R interference.

  • Retox, 'Ugly Animals' (Ipecac)

    Retox, 'Ugly Animals' (Ipecac)

    The charm of spazzcore eccentrics the Locust ?was that the song was ?over before you finished reading its title. But hardcore has evolved into a hairier beast since their 2003 breakout, Plague Soundscapes, to the ?point where frontman ?Justin Pearson and drummer Gabe Serbian's new band, Retox, sounds downright traditional. The entirety of their debut boasts fewer fresh ideas than one lousy Fucked Up seven-inch. Tracks like "The World Is Ending and It's About Time" and "Ten Pounds of Shit in a Five Pound Sack" retain their old band's unintelligible, shrieking brevity (minus the synths), but Ugly Animals is little more than song-per-minute hardcore.

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