• Parquet Courts / Photo by Heather Strange

    Parquet Courts, 'Light Up Gold' (Dull Tools/What's Your Rupture?)

    Parquet Courts seem to have hit on the magic mushroom that conjures the effects of both weed-induced reflection and acute hyperactivity. As chemical alchemy goes, it's Nobel Prize-worthy, cloaking deep ruminations and musical kineticism in clouds of ganja. You'll love it, starting with co-leader Andy Savage's liner notes invoking both "Nickelodeon-induced lethargy" and "America’s scandalous origin."As the first proper album by these Texas-to-New York City transplants (after the cassette-only American Specialties), Gold is a worldly collision of ideas designed to put brains (and mosh pits) in motion. Depending on your own state of mind, it might come across as crazy-smart or crazy-stupid (or both). Between the latter-day boho undertones, detuned guitar rave-ups, spaced-out wordiness, and low-fidelity sonics, it expertly mashes up Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Guided by Voices.

  • Ty Segall / Photo via Getty

    Ty Segall, 'Twins' (Drag City)

    Ty Segall works so fast, it's a wonder he didn't call this album Quintuplets, just for the challenge. As is, Twins stands on its own as a spectacular bit of grandstanding for the freakishly prolific San Francisco garage-rock mainstay. It's his fourth full-length release of 2012 (including a collaboration with White Fence's Tim Presley), and there's every chance he'll pop out a fifth sometime before Christmas. Pretty much a lead-pipe cinch that whatever else he drops this year will be really, really good, too.It's got rough edges aplenty, but Twins also sounds darn near polished enough to break Segall out of the "lo-fi" ghetto once and for all. It was only four years (and seemingly 127 albums) ago that he emerged from surf-punk trio the Traditional Fools with a solo act long on DIY primitivism, playing live shows using a percussion setup cobbled together with duct tape.

  • Woods, 'Bend Beyond' (Woodsist)

    Scan the new Woods album's track list, and the adjectives are what leap out: "honest," "easy," "empty," "impossible," "surreal," "beyond." Which about sums up the seventh dispatch from this very prolific Brooklyn crew. The realm invoked on Bend Beyond delves deep into the Big Empty, and yet these songs put it all within reach, a mirage that's "just a bend beyond the light," as frontman Jeremy Earl puts it on the title track.It seems odd to posit Woods as one of contemporary music's most effective keepers of the jam-band flame, given that the longest song here clocks in at just 4:25, though the quartet is coming off an album (last year's Sun and Shame) where two long instrumentals accounted for almost half the 44-minute run time. By contrast, the lone instrumental on Bend Beyond is the psychedelic vamp "Cascade," clocking in at a brisk two minutes.

  • Patti Smith, 'Banga' (Columbia)

    Halfway through "Amerigo," the first song on Patti Smith's first album of new material in eight years, the pile-driving bass line drops away and the punk matriarch adopts an uncharacteristically gentle tone. "Hey," she murmurs dreamily over a bed of hushed strings. "Wake up. Wake up." After 38 years, this is as vulnerable as she's ever sounded on record, as though she's trying to whisper the dead awake, knowing full well that she can't. It is Smith's lot to survive: to bear witness and sing songs for the departed. From Robert Mapplethorpe (eulogized in her rapturously received 2010 memoir Just Kids) to Jim Carroll (whose "People Who Died" she's covered onstage), the 65-year-old icon has outlasted and memorialized a staggering number of peers and friends.

  • Lambchop, 'Mr. M' (Merge)

    Album No. 11 from Nashville's self-proclaimed "most fucked-up country band" opens with a bed of tense string lusciousness straight out of a '50s Douglas Sirk Hollywood melodrama. Then the camera focuses in on a late-night joint, wherein Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner is painting a picture from his corner barstool: "Don't know what they fuck they talk about," he sighs wearily. "Maybe blowing kisses, maybe blowing lines / Really, what difference does it make… But the strings sound good, maybe add some flutes." Though summoned, those flutes never kick in. Things get pretty weird anyway. There's a parallel universe out there somewhere beyond the stars, an alternate reality in which Elvis went AWOL from the Army and never came home from Germany, where he's still alive and making screwball comedies with Jerry Lewis and Betty White BFF Marilyn Monroe.

  • 120117-imperial-teen.png

    Q&A: Imperial Teen on Indie Living and Pube Dyeing

    Sixteen years into their career, timeless sugar high Imperial Teen remains one of the most immediate and appealing bands in the alt-rock cosmos. The quartet has never sounded better than on their just-released fifth album, Feel the Sound (Merge Records). SPIN already dubbed it one of 2012's essential releases, adding they're "sounding like a veteran quartet with nothing to prove, but still hellbent on proving it anyway," and their delectable concoction of exuberant harmonies and grownup lyrical concerns finds the Teen wearing middle age proudly. We caught up with guitarist/keyboardist Will Schwartz and bassist Jone Stebbins shortly before they headed for Denver to start rehearsals for their American tour. Stream Feel the Sound in its entirety! So, your last album, 2007’s The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band listed everybody’s then-current pursuits.

  • Imperial Teen, 'Feel the Sound' (Merge)

    Imperial Teen, 'Feel the Sound' (Merge)

    "With a foot on the ground / I can turn it around / Warming up to the sound / And I'm not coming down," croons Imperial Teen masse over a percolating keyboard riff on their splendid new album, sounding like a veteran quartet with nothing to prove, but still hellbent on proving it anyway. Keeping the alternative-rock fires burning well into adulthood is an enduring conundrum, especially for bands cheeky enough to adopt an adolescent name. But Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub still pull it off, and so does this Bay Area crew on Feel the Sound, their first release since 2007. Emphatically so. One trick is to take your time. This is just the fizzy Bay Area indie-pop ensemble's fifth studio album in a career old enough to drive in most states, and the subject matter is as grown-up as you'd expect.

  • Phantogram, 'Nightlife' (Barsuk)

    Phantogram, 'Nightlife' (Barsuk)

    "This is the future, this is the future," singer-keyboardist Sarah Barthel repeats in a breathy, insistent murmur over a loping drumbeat and Josh Carter's chiming guitar on Nightlife's "Make a Fist." Lots of psych rock can be murky and meandering, just coasting along. But Phantogram drives straight through, with a clear purpose, no rest stops. This six-song mini-album follows up last year's breakthrough full-length Eyelid Movies, and seems almost as obsessive about staying in forward motion, with grooves and hooks that are equally insistent -- catchy, but content to blow right past. The last sound on the record is the honking of migratory birds.

  • She & Him, 'A Very She & Him Christmas' (Merge)

    She & Him, 'A Very She & Him Christmas' (Merge)

    Sufjan Stevens brought indie rock to the Yuletide table, and She & Him's wistful cuteness is an even safer bet -- though their inevitable album of holiday standards could stand a shade less reverence. The mood ranges from melancholic to lighthearted, with nods to various Crooners of Christmas Past (Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Brenda Lee) throughout. "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the money shot, with M. Ward standing in for Zooey Deschanel's Elf costar Will Ferrell, and their gender-role reversal is a nice twist: Now she's trying to talk him into staying, and what fool could resist?

  • John Cale, 'Extra Playful' (Double Six/Domino)

    John Cale, 'Extra Playful' (Double Six/Domino)

    John Cale, the near-septuagenarian Velvet Underground majordomo, certainly isn't known for his lighthearted romps. Nevertheless, there's nothing ironic about the title of this five-song teaser for his upcoming full-length. Extra Playful is as easygoing and steady rolling as he's ever sounded, serving up hooks, elegant Euro-beats, and a modicum of glee in poking fun at his own uptight image. "Hey Ray" wryly summarizes the Velvet Underground's 1960s heyday as a series of invasions -- some imagined (the Russians), some familiar ("The British, again!" he mock-sighs).

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