• Alasdair Roberts, 'Spoils' (Drag City)

    A Scottish singer-songwriter with a number of spare and lovely folk albums, Alasdair Roberts goes for the mad prophetic gusto on the strange and visionary Spoils. Backed by a loose combo, Roberts sweeps away the dust of neo-trad nostalgia with a dynamic but intimate rock vibe that's ragged in all the right ways. Yes, there are hurdy gurdies, acoustic guitars, and songs about medieval books and divining rods. But with his scurvy dreams, apocalyptic premonitions, and Luddite rants ("We've seen the death of wonder"), Roberts draws remarkable fire from our present "makeshift age." BUY: iTunes

  • Animal Collective, 'Strawberry Jam' (Domino)

    The eighth studio album from these folk-pop weirdos opens with 25 seconds of squelchy insectoid chatter that comes off as willfully annoying. Then the noise resolves into a chunky electro-throb that forms the basis of a fine summertime pop tune, featuring samples of monster movies, words like "broccoli," and a chorus woven from the cheery sounds of steel drums. The track, "Peacebone," foreshadows this whole delicious record, forging the band's often shambling experimentalism -- which rides the line between childlike and childish -- into something strangely pulsing and sublime. Earlier this year, AC member Panda Bear released a charming solo record called Person Pitch, on which the singer dove deeper into Beach Boys waters than ever before.

  • The Cinematic Orchestra, 'Ma Fleur' (Domino)

    Five years after their last full studio record, multi-instrumentalist Jason Swinscoe's Cinematic Orchestra return with a stylish soundtrack to an (as yet) unmade film. Unlike the late-night jazz that defined the band's earlier tracks, Ma Fleur's atmospheric, moody songs and down-tempo arrangements are devoted more to Radiohead-worthy mopinesss than to snazzy chops. Phil France's amazing double bass does anchor the groove, but even with such a deep current, the album doesn't surge through you so much as slowly seep into your consciousness. Now Hear This: The Cinematic Orchestra - "To Build a Home" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • J. Mascis / Photo by Jana Leon

    Picking Up the Slack

    To get a handle on the amorphous cultural blob that is the postpunk generation, one could do much worse than check out the band photo on the back of Dinosaur's 1985 self-titled debut. Singer-guitarist-songwriter J Mascis looks like a chipmunk-cheeked death rocker, bassist Lou Barlow a geeky punk with his buzz-cut growing out, and drummer Murph a zitty, Led Zep pothead. Appropriately, their music fused styles, and songs such as "Repulsion," "Forget the Swan," and "The Leper" were simultaneously savage, sweet, melancholic, jangly, rude, organic, and completely dysfunctional. Dinosaur combined the juice of hardcore singles with riffs and mellow melodies unearthed from some older sibling's rock collection. Mascis sounded like a wounded Neil Young, his guitar cut your gut, and when they screamed, it was like mastodons in a tar pit. But for all the ferocity, the attitude was all slack.

  • Dinosaur Jr. / Photo by Michael Lavine

    Just Like Heaven

    Hours late, Dinosaur Jr. mosey on into the Yale dining hall where they'll be playing later that night. J Mascis — singer, songwriter, guitarist — has considerably longer hair than anyone else present. Murph, the drummer, has a beard. Through a hidden door behind the ornate balcony that looms over the stage is a long red-carpeted room, lined with dusty tomes, where we go to talk. "Evil doings go on here," drawls Mascis as he drops into a red leather chair beneath gothic windows gouged out of pale stone. "I took a class on the human brain in here," I tell them. "The first day, the teacher plopped a brain right on the table, oozing with formaldehyde. To pick it up, you had to wear gloves to keep brain-worms from burrowing into you and making you psychotic. It was a lot smaller than I'd expected, kinda like a softball.

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