• The B-52's, 'Funplex' (Astralwerks)

    Sixteen years have passed since these Athens, Georgia natives last pondered love, sex, and outer space over untamed dance beats. Here, they refresh all their tricks, with stripped-down, energetic guitar plus lithe electronics. "Pump," "Hot Corner," and the title track use scampy rhythms that, in places, escalate into melodic headbanging as Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson harmonize with haute-Kmart verve. Other tunes are more refined, sometimes fusing melodies that could be from different songs, as on the freewheeling "Dancing Now." And as always, the B's manage to yell out nonsense like "Tell your skirt to take a hike!" and still remain cool.BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Mlle Caro and Franck Garcia, 'Pain Disappears' (Buzzin' Fly)

    For the past few years, minimal German dance music, with its fierce emptiness and slim rhythms, has been a scene with untapped crossover potential. And Mlle Caro, DJ at Paris' renowned house-music club Rex, and Franck Garcia, a producer/DJ based in the south of France, take advantage of the hypnotic genre's possibilities. On endlessly listenable tracks about modern love affairs ("Always You," "Dead Souls"), the pair know exactly how to mate insinuating pop-song moodiness with the beats' lambent emotional power. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • James Murphy & Pat Mahoney, 'Fabriclive 36' (Fabric)

    New York didn't invent self-consciously witty and theatrical dance music. But in the early '80s, producers in the city did spotlight intersections of comedy (Gichy Dan's "Cowboys and Gangsters") and drama (Love Committee's "Just as Long as I've Got You") that escaped other disco scenes. That's where connoisseurs James Murphy and Pat Mahoney (frontman and drummer, respectively, of LCD Soundsystem) focus their attention on this elegantly paced 24-track set. The Chic stares, Ze Records poses, sexy Peech Boys eschatology, plus some jazz-oriented passages from Donald Byrd and Love of Life Orchestra, are masterfully mixed with a handful of more current tracks to tell the story of how elite metropolitan club fizz gradually evolved into nationwide cool.

  • The Black Swans, 'Change!' (La Société Expéditionnaire)

    "All of my people think I look strange," confesses singer/songwriter/ guitarist/producer Jerry DeCicca with an inscrutable weariness, on "New Face," one of 12 unhurried folk ballads on this Ohio band's second album. It's seemingly a reference to something he did for love, but it's also about a general bewildered despair that's more clearly articulated by Noel Sayre's swooning violin. On songs like "Hope Island," "Coats," and the mesmerizing "Shake," the Swans blend the mysterious and the plainspoken to create a sort of uncheery Appalachian chamber music. "Electricity sits on the hill," DeCicca quietly exclaims in "Shake," as if he's observing an alien force of modern life. At its best, Change! evokes that melancholy story of a man adrift. Now Hear This:The Black Swans - "Shake" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Axe Riverboy, 'Tutu to Tango' (Minty Fresh)

    French pop rockers tend to have an effortless melodic gift, and that's the case with Xavier Boyer, leader of Parisian group Tahiti 80. Examining love that's not quite tragic but rarely right, on his solo debut he balances a graceful singer/songwriter personality and incisive lyrics with a dulcet tenor, as though he's mastered every soft-rock hit of the '70s and '80s and refortified them with in-the-moment passion. The chorus of "Carry On" and the piano funk of "Roundabout" predominate, but the whole album flows like Dashboard Confessional with an unexpected glow. Now Hear This: Axe Riverboy - "Carry On" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Booka Shade, 'DJ-Kicks' (!K7)

    The Berlin-based duo of Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger up the sonic intrigue on tracks by Heaven 17, Aphex Twin, Carl Craig, the Tubes (!), and others with their gospeldeep, elegantly wood-toned beats. Approaching rhythm narratively, unlike many of their peers, they crest with the Streets' Mike Skinner sputtering, "Love's an expensive game" on "It's Too Late," as if he's reciting a working-class operatic libretto. And the transitions in the opening five-track sequence leading to Yazoo's sweaty 1982 hit "Situation" unspool like hard-edged storytelling. BUY: Amazon

  • Gliss, 'Love the Virgins' (Cordless)

    These Los Angelenos approach their hometown's timeless decadence with a bummed-out but exhilarating rigor: Digitized romantic obsession ("I Want You"), swaggering degradation ("Innocent Eyes"), country-rock erotica ("Falling to Pieces"), and suburban Anglophilia ("Off to Bed", which drives the Cure's pop-craft down My Bloody Valentine's distortion freeway) are all adorned with a curtain of stylish guitar fuzz.Singer Martin Klingman, like the deeply textured music he creates with multi-instrumentalists David Reiss and Victoria Cecilia, voices everything with hot immediacy and sharp detail.Gliss sound wrecked - but awesomely so. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Joan as Police Woman, 'Real Life' (Cheap Lullaby)

    With her classical training and background performing with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra, violinist Joan Wasser has a tight grip on the harmonies, rhythms, and ecstatic repetitions that conservatory types love. On her group's debut album (featuring guests Joseph Arthur and Antony Hegarty), the singer/songwriter composes chamber-pop tunes that burrow, sweep, and swing. Also playing piano and guitar, she rocks out ("Christobel"), detours into eccentric gospel ("Eternal Flame"), and offers soulful ballads about love and identity with a mix of skill and passion. Now Hear This: Joan As Police Woman - "I Defy" ft. Antony Hegarty STREAMING MP3 Now Watch This: Joan As Police Woman - "Christobel" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The National, 'Boxer' (Beggars Banquet)

    Since 1999, this Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati quintet has been trying to fuse poetic lyrics, cinematic pull, and nervy, restless rock in a singular way. And on their fourth album, they finally fulfill those ambitions, adding brass, piano, and backup singers to unveil high drama of the blunt, unclichéd sort unheard since the Afghan Whigs' '90s heyday. Yet the National don't just reconvene Greg Dulli's sweaty seminars on sex and soul. Boxer opens with Matt Berninger's sweeping baritone, recounting life in a privacy-invading "Fake Empire," where the oblivious and decadent "tiptoe through our shiny city with our diamond slippers on, do our gay ballet on ice, bluebirds on our shoulders." The lyrics' immediacy recalls the band's 2004 track "Wasp Nest," a stunning class commentary chronicling an obsession with a U.S. aristocrat in a decades-old cocktail dress.

  • Yoko Ono, 'Yes, I'm a Witch' (Astralwerks)

    Contemporary tinkerers such as the Flaming Lips, Peaches, and Cat Power overhaul original Yoko Ono tracks on this hybrid tribute album; and while the results are mixed, they all retain the flowing quiver of Ono's inimitable vocals. Blow Up give "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him" a vaguely Western New Order gallop; Le Tigre giddily disco-fy "Sisters O Sisters"; Porcupine Tree make "Death of Samantha" gothlike. Mostly grainy rhythm-conscious pop rock, the collection manages to achieve formal freedom, hit-record verve, and one woman's personal super-natural. Now Hear This: Yoko Ono - "Nobody Sees Me Like You Do" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

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