• Patrick Stump, 'Soul Punk' (Island)

    Patrick Stump, 'Soul Punk' (Island)

    Fall Out Boy singer-guitarist Patrick Stump isn't punking soul on his solo debut, but he is apparently inspired by a desire to be Prince (who isn't?), and he holds little back in exorcising his inner royal badness. Soul Punk is a more-than-competent side trip, with Stump writing, playing, and singing everything himself on nine homages to the funkier side of the '80s. It's fun, especially the Michael Jackson cops on "Dance Miserable." But with the Time's catalog readily available, this doesn't exactly fill a void.

  • Merle Haggard, 'Working in Tennessee' (Vanguard)

    Merle Haggard, 'Working in Tennessee' (Vanguard)

    "If you find yourself in lockup, write a song about a jail," Merle Haggard croons on "Laugh It Off," sounding like he just sneaked out of the drunk tank. His greatest skill remains how convincingly he stands in, and stands up, for regular guys, even when he's coasting. Working in Tennessee glides along on its Bakersfield groove with the greatest of ease, despite the album's title. The Jimmy Buffett–styled "Down on the Houseboat" nearly ruins the mood, but when Hag's wife, Theresa, stops by to help him fire up Johnny and June's "Jackson," all is forgiven.

  • Kasabian, 'Velociraptor!' (Columbia/Sony)

    Kasabian's fourth full-length commences on a cinematic note: A gong sounds, followed by a minute or so of moody trumpet fanfare, at which point "Let's Roll Just Like We Used To" morphs into a bouncy little pop tune straight out of mid-'60s swinging London. That sets up an album that feels like 11 mini-movies, with producer Dan the Automator as auteur. The driving title track does nicely for the chase scene, followed by the chill-down exotica of "Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From the Storm)," with "Goodbye Kiss" as the end-credits theme, of course. Roll 'em!

  • Rey Pila, 'Rey Pila' (Promotodo)

    Rey Pila, 'Rey Pila' (Promotodo)

    Spend any time watching Univision, and you're struck by how frequently Latino sitcom dialogue switches seamlessly between English and Spanish. Coproduced by Paul Majahan, who's worked with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio, Rey Pila ("King Battery") has a similarly casual bilingual feel. This debut takes the more accessible threads of frontman Diego Solorzano's former band, Los Dynamite, and weaves them into alternative pop en español that's more New Order than Strokes. Solorzano's croons and falsetto flourishes work in either language, but it hardly matters -- the hooks are just as polyglot, too.

  • Grouplove, 'Never Trust a Happy Song' (Canvasback/Atlantic)

    Grouplove, 'Never Trust a Happy Song' (Canvasback/Atlantic)

    Transpose the communal exuberance of Los Campesinos! to the U.S. and you've got this quintet, who prove that sunny, adolescent, pop-rock catchiness will never go out of style. For all its youthful pathos, though, Never Trust a Happy Song evokes pop colors bright enough to glow at tempos just short of manic -- even "Slow" doesn't stay that way for long. "Naked Kids" describes a skinny-dipping outing in a flirtatious call-and-response between Christian Zucconi's enthusiastic yelp and Hannah Hooper's indie-girl aloofness: "Here's to livin' out our dreams," toasts Zucconi. Youth must be served, after all.

  • Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, 'Marble Son' (Station Grey)

    Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, 'Marble Son' (Station Grey)

    Alternative country, hell. Singer Jesse Sykes' fourth album with guitarist Phil Wandscher is more like alternative universe, a sprawling psych-rock vision that evokes the unsettling moment when you wake up from a half-remembered fever dream. Wandscher (an original member of Whiskeytown) drives the ship with riffage ranging from gently atmospheric to snarling quasi-metallic. Still, it's Sykes' voice that impresses. "It's hard to love, harder not to love," she murmurs on "Servant of Your Vision," sounding like a less-ravagedMarianne Faithfull -- but she's getting there.

  • Dex Romweber Duo, 'Is That You in the Blue?' (Bloodshot)

    Dex Romweber Duo, 'Is That You in the Blue?' (Bloodshot)

    The title track of Dexter Romweber's second album with sister drummer Sara begins as the same farewell lament that you've heard countless times, until the yowling chorus morphs into a kiss-off for the ages: "I hope you find loneliness with him / Whatever dark night you're in." Romweber is still ruler of his own bossa nova rockabilly kingdom, skipping from surf-guitar rave-ups to spacey instrumentals to sepulchral balladry, with the occasional Xavier Cugat cover tossed in. Only a sibling couldkeep up, and Sara'saccompaniment is perfectly dialed into Dexter'sotherworldly wavelength.

  • Robert Ellis, 'Photographs' (New West)

    Robert Ellis, 'Photographs' (New West)

    "Don't you think just ?'cause I'm nice I can't be mean," Robert Ellis sings ?on Photographs' penultimate track, "No Fun." His plainspoken, deadpan drawl does make the Houston singer-songwriter sound terribly nice, even when giving voice to the occasional roguish character. His second album splits the difference between steady-rolling honky-tonk twang and sensitive balladry, perfectly adorned with Will Van Horn's pedal-steel flourish. Meanwhile, the amiable singer projects a Zen sense of calm, part Gram Parsons and part John Darnielle, whether he's singing about growing old or getting even. He's only 22, but sounds well acquainted with both.?

  • Smoke Fairies, 'Through Low Light 
and Trees' (year 7)

    Smoke Fairies, 'Through Low Light 
and Trees' (year 7)

    Tori Amos often dedicates her albums to "the fairies," but this English folk duo could be the actual embodiment of that flight of fancy. Sussex lasses Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies work a similar contrast between pretty sounds and doomy sentiments ("London churns like it wants me for dead," they moan in dusky harmony on "Devil in the Mind," over a backdrop of stoic jingle-jangle). As produced by longtime PJ Harvey cohort Head, Through Low Light is beautifully, elegantly spare -- an echo of the forest primeval.

  • The Music Tapes, 'Purim's Shadows (The Dark Tours the World)' (Merge)

    The Music Tapes, 'Purim's Shadows (The Dark Tours the World)' (Merge)

    If there's a way to bang together pieces of recording tape to produce music, Julian Koster will figure it out someday. Until then, he can wield plenty of other objects (a seven-foot metronome and bowed banjo, among them), to create some of the most beguilingly strange outsider art you've ever heard. A six-track teaser for two upcoming albums, Purim's Shadows opens with Koster's unadorned voice and closes with a lonesome train whistle. In between, he puts the pop standard "Night and Day" through its paces -- with a saw solo, just like Cole Porter must have imagined it.

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