• Handsome Furs, 'Sound Kapital' (Sub Pop)

    Handsome Furs, 'Sound Kapital' (Sub Pop)

    "When I get back home, I won't be the same," Dan Boeckner sings at the start of his third album with wife Alexei Perry. But for this pair, "home" is a foreign concept; they're urban anthropologists, studying and blending the music of third-world centers. And when the metallic, staticky buzz of "Repatriated" and "Memories of the Future" brings to mind factories and shortwave radios hanging off vendors' carts, Sound Kapital does become the sound of "kids making noise with the generators." But occasionally, Boeckner and Perry replicate the ?lo-fi bustle of city life too well, achieving only a dense, dirty muddle.

  • Planningtorock, 'W' (DFA)

    Planningtorock, 'W' (DFA)

    Planningtorock's Janine Rostron has worked with the Knife, so her unsettling videos and facial prosthetics will always exist in Fever Ray's oddly shaped shadow. Yet 2006's Have It All predated that partnership. Back then, Rostron was in love with Berlin (the city); on W's "Manifesto," she's a "believer of circular love" (object undefined), chanting and moaning and chirping in a pitched-down voice. Elsewhere, she's "your man," in love with "someone." Cheesy, horn-honking synths intertwine with strings and piano to obscure what's acoustic and synthetic. But sometimes confusion is sexy.

  • Xiu Xiu, 'Dear God, I Hate Myself' (Kill Rock Stars)

    "If you expect me to be outrageous / I will be extra outrageous," Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart promises at the start of his band's seventh studio album. True -- but after 2004's creepily tender Fabulous Muscles, you'd expect him to be pretty sometimes, too. And on tracks like "Chocolate Makes You Happy" and "Hyunhye's Theme," cello, harmonium, and delicate guitar coexist with Stewart's darker, squelchier impulses. But it's with his jarring mix of the banal and the brutal ("I will always be nicer to the cat / Than I will be to you") that Stewart shows his outrageous brilliance. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Field Music, 'Measure' (Memphis Industries)

    They were the polite kids in bow ties at the neighborhood birthday party, but Sunderland, England brothers David and Peter Brewis never outgrew their geekiness. Here, they pare down their arty indie rock to its smartest elements: nervous percussion and orchestral flourishes. Alternating meticulous power pop ("Measure") and anxious aloofness ("Let's Write a Book") with relaxed twang ("Clear Water") and pliant balladry ("Curves of the Needle"), the Brewises seek a certain balance on Measure. But over this geekily ambitious 20-song double album, that effort proves entertainingly futile. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Scout Niblett, 'The Calcination of Scout Niblett' (Drag City)

    Emma Louise "Scout" Niblett has spent her last four records teetering on the edge, but now she's speaking directly from the void. Her minimal songs -- just one guitar and sporadic drums -- unfoldlaboriously, as though forcing themselves from Niblett's clenched mouth and hands. (Longtime producer Steve Albini couldn't have found a more perfect counterpart to his band Shellac's nihilistic grit.) "The voices said just do it," Niblett sings on the opening track, but her cagey wit on "Duke of Anxiety" shows that she's in total control. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Thao With the Get Down Stay Down, 'Know Better Learn Faster' (Kill Rock Stars)

    As an angry, resentful breakup record, the fourth album from wry singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen is totally unsatisfying, at least on the surface. She doesn't pile on the hatred for her ex or threaten revenge, and opener "The Clap" is about, well, clapping. But Nguyen uses subtler weapons -- foot stomps stand in for her wrath, horns for her desperation, and strings for her heartache. "I can love you like this now / You can recognize it later," she predicts on "Cool Yourself." Her lazily smoky voice has its bitterly harsh moments, but her coolly analytical self-awareness stings the most. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Taken by Trees, 'East of Eden' (Rough Trade)

    Ex-Concretes frontwoman Victoria Bergsman sings as if she never leaves her windowsill, let alone her native land. But this shy Swede (whose voice was the female counterpoint on Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks") recorded her album with local Sufi musicians in Pakistan. They could've overwhelmed her slight coo, but instead the wooden drums and flutes warm the cool, wistful melodies on "Watch the Waves" and "Greyest Love of All." The cover of Animal Collective's "My Girls" (retitled "My Boys") doesn't click as perfectly, suggesting that Brooklyn could be even more inscrutable than south Asia. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • F--k Buttons, 'Tarot Sport' (ATP)

    They endorsed "Sweet Love for Planet Earth" on 2008's Street Horrrsing, but these Bristol, England hippies get leaner, cleaner, and more athletic on their follow-up. Sonically, they're still supreme noise crafters -- "The Lisbon Maru" (named for a World War II Japanese freighter sunk by an American sub) trades their debut's airy tribalism for military snares and horse clops. But with the scuzziness mostly gone, the duo's piebald melodies push up front ("Olympians" plucks a beautiful keyboard line from an organ haze). And album bookends "Surf Solar" and "Flight of the Feathered Serpent" even add sweaty dance beats, so the inevitable distorted fade-outs feel more like a cooldown than a meltdown. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The Bats, 'The Guilty Office' (Hidden Agenda/Parasol)

    Old Faithful probably covets the Bats' consistency. Over six albums, plus a ten-year hiatus, the New Zealand foursome, led by singer-guitarist Robert Scott, haven't let anything alter their ambling jangle pop. Thus, The Guilty Office recalls its predecessors, with better engineering focusing the details: layered violins on "Two Lines," the softly brushed drums behind "Broken Path," guitarist Kaye Woodward's cradling backing vocals. It's comfort music touched by human frailty, by a group that's outlasted the icons they've influenced, from Pavement to Belle and Sebastian. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Sian Alice Group, 'Troubled, Shaken, Etc.' (Social Registry)

    With other bands Tweeting and gut-pouring, there's something startling about this London trio's impenetrability. They create mood songs as discrete units, each as bulletproof -- or smudgeproof -- as the band itself. Credit Sian Ahern, a singer with Nico's presence and complexion, minus the contralto. Here, Ahern's glassy, emotionless voice acts as a guide, snaking through tribal percussion and grain-silo howls, until the high-hat shimmer of "Salt Water" comes to a violent, distorted close. It's an ambiguous ending that makes the journey all the more fascinating. BUY: iTunesAmazon

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