• Destroyer, 'Kaputt' (Merge)

    Destroyer, 'Kaputt' (Merge)

    Snarl and murmur would seem to be mutually exclusive, but Destroyer's Dan Bejar manages to do both simultaneously. Long on cryptic references (you mean you haven't read Curzio Malaparte's 1944 novel Kaputt?) and Euro-weary mood, the vintage electronic-pop ambience of Destroyer's ninth album recalls the days when MTV emphasized music. Bejar writes dreamy tone poems, obsessively repeating phrases until they become unlikely mantras ("I heard your record, it's all right"). But JP Carter's muted trumpet steals the show, a distant Greek chorus whispering in your ear.

  • Apex Manor, 'The Year of Magical Drinking' (Merge)

    Apex Manor, 'The Year of Magical Drinking' (Merge)

    Battling writer's block after his band the Broken West split, singer-guitarist Ross Flournoy knocked out a tune over a weekend for an NPR songwriting contest. Next thing he knew, songs were coming in waves. Ten eventually washed up on The Year of Magical Drinking -- which feels less composed by Flournoy than thrust upon him. "Year" whipsaws between pure-pop jingle-jangle, lo-fi droning, and pensive acoustics, all of it as catchy as it is manic. What thealbum lacks in focus, it makes up for in sheer listenability.

  • The Get Up Kids, 'There Are Rules' (Quality Hill)

    The Get Up Kids, 'There Are Rules' (Quality Hill)

    These emo pioneers take the classic get-back route on this reunion effort (their first album since 2004), invoking the band's definitive period by enlisting Shellac's Bob Weston, who recorded 1997 debut Four Minute Mile, and longtime producer Ed Rose. Early-days, loud-fast angst prevails, although with more keyboard atmosphere than you might recall -- especially the slinky '80s synth-pop pulse of "Shatter Your Lungs." Matthew Pryor's bellowing sneer still cuts, but nothing can cover up the hookless, by-the-numbers weakness of the material. There Are Rules doesn't contain a single tune that lingers afterward.

  • 110118-archers-of-loaf-1.jpg

    Archers of Loaf Make Surprise Live Comeback

    It was the poorest-kept secret in town: The unidentified "Special Guests" on the bill at Saturday night's Love Language show at Carrboro, N.C.'s Cat's Cradle were Archers of Loaf, the much-beloved indie icons from adjacent Chapel Hill, making their first public appearance since 1998 (at the site of their last show, no less). So it wasn't surprising that the place was packed to capacity, but it was surprising that their reunion performance lived up to and beyond the expectations of even the sunniest optimist. You wouldn't call the Archers influential, exactly, because it's difficult to pinpoint anyone who has followed in their idiosyncratic musical wake. They were the perfect next-step band for those who found Pavement too straightforward, with an angular guitar roar that was always just a little too weird for mainstream tastes.

  • Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, 'III/IV' (Pax Am)

    Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, 'III/IV' (Pax Am)

    Ryan Adams has experienced his most consistent artistic success as an acoustic troubadour -- but dude always wants to rock. Cheekily billed as a "double-album concept rock opera" about '80s-vintage junk culture and junkier food, the 21-track III/IV is a self-released outtake appendage to 2007's Easy Tiger and 2008's Cardinology. It lands in the same general ballpark as 2003's new-wave homage Rock N Roll, loose-limbed and manic, with Adams indulging his riff-rock-and-holler side (including one song, "Numbers," sporting the immortal sing-along chorus, "We're fucked!"). There's also room for chiming hooks, goofball scruffiness, and, of course, melancholia. All he wants, Adams sings, is "someone that loves me the way I love Star Wars." Is that so wrong?

  • A Classic Education, 'Hey There Stranger' (Lefse)

    A Classic Education, 'Hey There Stranger' (Lefse)

    "Classic" is right. The second EP by this unlikely and far-flung alliance between Canadian singer-songwriter Jonathan Clancy and five Italian backup players is the sharpest slice of powerfully amped-up pop rock this side of New Pornographers, with six tracks that pass by in a brisk and highly agreeable 17 minutes. Brief though it is, Hey There Stranger has a lot going on -- twangy ambience, spaced-out string arrangements, jingle-jangle guitars (and mandolin), plus songs so sturdy you'd swear you've heard 'em before. You haven't, but you will.

  • The Fresh & Onlys, 'Play It Strange' (In The Red)

    The Fresh & Onlys, 'Play It Strange' (In The Red)

    Nobody gets credited for "echo" on this San Francisco quartet's remarkably mature second album, but that's an oversight. Play It Strange is suffused with a deep, widescreen ambience that assumes an almost physical presence. Between its psychedelic flip-outs, winsome hooks, shaky tempos, and Ennio Morricone atmospherics, the album sounds like Nuggets emanating from a vividly hip space station. Vintage reference points include the "19th Nervous Breakdown" squiggle on "Until the End of Time," and Timothy Cohen's wryly droll first-song declaration that "it's the summer of love." Then liftoff commences.

  • The Secret Sisters, 'The Secret Sisters' (Beladroit/Universal Republic)

    If there's a flaw on this Alabama duo's debut, it's predictability. T-Bone Burnett and Jack White serve as executive producer and mentor, respectively, with Laura and Lydia Rogers putting a sister-act spin on dusty Americana--bet you can hear it already. But even if Secret Sisters draws from a familiar post-O Brother, Where Art Thou? playbook, it's still an alluring, atmospheric soundtrack for imagining late-night, backroads misdeeds. The Rogers' vocal harmonies are a delight, especially on the two George Jones covers as well as the shock-value ringer "Somethin' Stupid."

  • Doug Paisley, 'Constant Companion' (No Quarter)

    Doug Paisley, 'Constant Companion' (No Quarter)

    Constant Companion sounds like the latter, an interior monologue of frustrated epigrams. "Who would be so cruel to someone like you / No one but you," Paisley sighs over a slow-rolling backbeat. Throughout, he's stoically resigned to bearing burdens rather than letting them go, while the music is spectral and float-away dreamy--Feist contributes solemnly reserved vocals on the duet "Don't Make Me Wait" and even Garth Hudson's keyboards sound lightly brushed. But Companion sustains a quiet, hypnotic dignity, especially since the catharsis of release never arrives.

  • Old 97's, 'The Grand Theatre Volume One' (New West)

    Old 97's, 'The Grand Theatre Volume One' (New West)

    Despite frontman Rhett Miller's nice-guy tendencies, Old 97's are way more fun when he gives in to his bitchy side--which is large and in charge on The Grand Theatre, runaway-train backbeats and all. The title track sports Miller's best Joe Strummer sneer, and the Champaign, Illinois Chamber of Commerce should have something to say about the song of the same name, which builds on Dylan's "Desolation Row" and likens their fair city to hell. Best of all is "Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)," a cold-blooded kiss-off that makes breakups feel exhilarating.

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