• The Love Language, 'Libraries' (Merge)

    "I want you to beware of me 'cause I've got a big heart to feed," Stuart McLamb croons on the Love Language's stunning second album. And he's not kidding. Libraries seems huge, a cathedral of the grandiose emotional desperation that Phil Spector and Brian Wilson once framed so dramatically. McLamb and producer BJ Burton have an unerring feel for classic pop arrangements, evoking a landscape that's a cross between Swingin' London and the ambient galaxy where doo-wop went to die, with McLamb's epic wail as your guide to the cosmos of romantic trauma. BUY: iTunesAmazon?

  • Jay Bennett, 'Kicking at the Perfumed Air' (Rock Proper)

    Bennett was finishing up Kicking at the Perfumed Air when he died last year, and it comes with all the requisite intimations of mortality. The ex-Wilco member gets in touch with his inner Mark Eitzel, contrasting spare hooks and sonics with operatic barfly pathos. And the finale will break your heart: "Beer," in which Bennett looks back with regret while downing 14 cold ones. "Think I'll crash my car / Then I'll become a star / Overnight," he croons in an exhausted murmur, his voice catching on the last word. A perfect exit, stage left.

  • Teenage Fanclub, 'Shadows' (Merge)

    Teenage Fanclub's musical principles are decidedly middle-aged by now, but the Scottish band is still perfectly named. The objective of their fandom (Big Star, Neil Young) is youthful enthusiasm, addressing grown-up concerns with forever-young pop-rock stylings. Bless their Glaswegian hearts, they never sound bitter, 15-plus years after their brief alt-rock moment. Shadows opens with "Sometimes I Don't Need to Believe in Anything," and it's the most unjaded paean to world-weariness that you'll ever hear. Proof that youth is a state of mind you need never outgrow. BUY: iTunes Amazon

  • Tift Merritt, 'See You on the Moon' (Fantasy/Concord)

    Like Emmylou Harris, Tift Merritt has a gift for evoking grief and how to survive (if not rise above) it. Tucker Martine's production wraps her fourth album in catchy, mid-tempo warmth, but what lingers afterward is just how heavy these meditations on the hardness of the world are. Respite arrives with the penultimate track, a cover of Anne Murray's 1972 hit "Danny's Song," an expression of devotional joy and faith in the future. Then Merritt warns on the very next track, "Don't ask me what comes after today." ?BUY:?iTunes??Amazon?

  • Bright Eyes and Neva Dinova, 'One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels' (Saddle Creek)

    No matter which of these Omaha, Nebraska-bred bands is pouring on this oddly packaged collaboration-which augments a 2004 EP with four new tracks-the jug of wine served is unmistakably derived from the Cure. That's a rare reference point nowadays, but the new songs here could pass for a mini-tribute, from the propulsive clang of "Rollerskating" to the overall English boarding-school world-weariness of the lyrics ("You like the boys when they're scared of sex / What a shame they grow up to be men"). Oddly enough, the new songs' gloomy new-wave romanticism feels more convincing than the old songs' twangier tones.

  • The Soft Pack, 'The Soft Pack' (Kemado)

    "Don't have the look / Don't have the name / Don't have the walk / Don't want to talk / Don't act the same / Now your town could be the next big thing," frontman Matt Lamkin sighs to kick off the Soft Pack's debut album. And somehow, he even makes that sigh sound energetic. Whatever this young quartet lacks in nuance, they make up for in breakneck moxie, on a32-minute set that careens from driving rave-ups to roller-rink keyboard drones. The atmosphere is late-night, but too caffeinated for drowsiness to set in. If you're in need of some jittery get-up-and-go, try "Flammable"-a dead ringer for The Feelies circa Crazy Rhythms.

  • Strange Boys, 'Be Brave' (In the Red)

    When conversation turns to great rock singing voices, words like "howl," "shriek," or perhaps "croon" tend to come up. But Ryan Sambol, leader of Austin, Texas' Strange Boys, whines-there's no other word to describe his slackerly emoting, which lands somewhere between Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano and Daniel Johnston. Yet Sambol has an especially evocative whine, and it takes center-stage on this subdued, determinedly lo-fi follow-up to 2008's raucous debut The Strange Boys and Girls Club. Projecting the sense of exhaustion you feel just before a hangover kicks in, Sambol laconically endures the pain so you don't have to.

  • Seasick Steve, 'Man From Another Time' (Ryko)

    And here you thought Waylon Jennings had been dead for years. Jennings may be gone, but his voice lives on in Steve Wold, a bluesman who looks like Father Time and sounds like a live ringer for ol' Waylon. But don't hate Steve because he's a beautiful outlaw stand-in. Man From Another Time cuts a steady rolling groove that wears well, from the opening salvo of "Diddley Bo" (which turns the Bo Diddley backbeat sideways) to the closing cover of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Time may have forgotten him, but you won't. BUY:Amazon

  • Drive-By Truckers, 'The Big To-Do' (ATO)

    The old comedy adage goes that if it bends, it's funny, but if it breaks, it's not. Tell that to Drive-By Truckers, who break everything in sight yet still strike tragicomic gold every time. The Big To-Do, their eighth full-length, featuresanother cast of walking-dead survivors struggling with their vices in a Faulknerian landscape of rocked-up desperation. "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" is the money shot, detailing an epic bender that frontman Patterson Hood concludes "will be through with me before I'm through with it." BUY: Amazon

  • Sam Amidon, 'I See the Sign' (Bedroom Community)

    It's been more than a decade since Moby reinvented vintage field recordings as space-age nightclub blues. Sam Amidon works similarly quirky alchemy here,reinventing public-domain songs (plus one modern-day ringer) as rustic mood music for watching distant super-novas explode. But the results have noneof the musty aftertaste such a description implies, contrasting pretty sounds with violent lyrical undercurrents. The one contemporary song, R. Kelly's "Relief," fits perfectly alongside oldies from the Georgia Sea Island Singers, even sounding a prayerful note. LISTEN: Sam Amidon, "How Come That Blood" Amazon

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