• Mogwai, 'The Hawk Is Howling' (Matador)

    Have these once-deafening, instrumental Scots finally returned to the Imax guitar-rock dynamics that made them one of the most egregiously ripped-off underground bands of the past ten years? Almost. On their seventh album -- following the more subdued Mr. Beast and Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait -- doofus song titles ("I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead") take the piss out of moody movements that scream, "Soundtrack license here, mate!" But when they work up a good buzz and growl ("Batcat") or hit a scrumptious riff ("The Sun Smells Too Loud"), Mogwai still take your breath away. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Randy Newman, 'Harps and Angels' (Nonesuch)

    He's still way too fond of show-tune orchestration, and then there's the tossed-off corny stuff, but the orneriness of Newman's now-64-year-old wit makes George Carlin seem like Dane Cook. The narrator of the New Orleans–style title track learns nothing from a near-death experience, cheekily promotes "Korean Parents," welcomes gaps in his memory ("Potholes"), and turns Jackson Browne into a snide punch line ("A Piece of the Pie"). The brilliantly nasty "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" flattens any other anti-Bush rant -- the Clarence Thomas joke is so mean The New York Times wouldn't print it. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Made Out of Babies, 'The Ruiner' (The End)

    With her classic death-rock seethe, singer Julie Christmas is the perfect siren for folks who have lots of playlists labeled "heavy," but Made Out of Babies owe more to '90s noise punk (the Jesus Lizard, Rapeman) than primal metal urges such as Slayer or even Sabbath. As Christmas' voice moves from baby-talk squeal to serial-killer-victim howl with shocking ease, Brendan Tobin's guitar squall matches her, feint for bloody, melodramatic feint. By the time closer "How to Get Bigger" subsides, the fear and exhaustion is tangible -- as is the sexual tension. Awkward, that. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Lykke Li, 'Youth Novels' (LL)

    The endlessly quotable single "Little Bit" -- "For you I keep my legs apart / And forget about my tainted heart," the singer coos over spare electro clatter -- is already a viral smash, but much of Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson's debut is nearly as riveting. Again and again, the approach proves bulletproof: Her voice is mousy, the low end juicy, the melodies sketchy, the choruses huge. And the joyous high of "Breaking It Up" points to a musically fleshier future. She should lose the spoken-word bits, though; they don't even work for her goddess Madonna. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Torche, 'Meanderthal (Hydra Head)

    Maybe it's the bunker-thick wall of sludge, maybe it's the doomy undertow, or maybe it's the hair-farming guitar whiz and gay frontman (peace to Judas Priest), but Torche aren't really a metal band, certainly not the pleasureless Ozzfest kind, not with riffs this gloriously anthemic. "Meanderthal" is guitar pop for those who wish Foo Fighters had a pre-sellout period. The superchunky "Grenades," "Healer," and "Across the Shields" thrash out hefty hooks so flawless that Josh Homme just woke up in a cold sweat. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Rose Hill Drive, 'Moon Is the New Earth' (Megaforce)

    A power trio as an experiment in Skinner-box songcraft: Tell two brothers and a pal that culture ended in 1973 and then record the results. So you've got meaty hard rock that can jam with Bonnaroo and thrash with Warped. They love their "Trans Am" sans irony (because who doesn't?), which means swing and torque are everything. "Do You Wanna Get High?" is an acoustic laugh ("Really is fantastic / You don't even know, man") that turns into a Zeppelin bomb. Hipness be damned, a tour with the Raconteurs would benefit both. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Thalia Zedek, 'Liars and Prayers' (Thrill Jockey)

    Outside of a silence = death T-shirt, widescreen politics have never been a strong suit of this gravel-voiced vet of such indie-circuit scene-definers as Live Skull and Come. Which might explain her ham-fisted, Bush-is-a-Christian-who- lies album title. Melodrama is Zedek's natural state, and augmenting her touring crew of drums and viola with bass and piano fills out the lyrical paranoia -- guitar rushes and soaring riffs speak louder than words. "I was moving against the crowd," she sings on "Do You Remember?" Uh, when has she not? BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • No Age / Photo by Ed Templeton

    No Age, 'Nouns' (Sub Pop)

    Duos simplify the concept of "band" as far as it can go before becoming "solo artist." Synth pop made duos an emotionally unique form, testifying, "Us and our funny haircuts against the world, baby. All I need is a keyboard, an arpeggiator, and thou." Hip-hop's "He's the DJ, I'm the rapper" steez brought bold ambition -- here's a turntable, a mic; let's change the world. The liberating, two-man art punk of Los Angeles' No Age feels as if it could hurtle in any direction. Even their name distances them from any traditional sound or scene. Though Randy Randall's guitar and Dean Spunt's drums start out at noise rock's shit-wall (the two-minute opener, "Miner," is Lightning Bolt–style panic rock), Nouns evolves gradually, with "Teen Creeps," "Sleeper Hold," and "Cappo" adding Superchunky pop riffs to the their relentless punk vigor.

  • Evangelista, 'Hello, Voyager' (Constellation)

    On 2006's Evangelista, ex– Geraldine Fibbers frontwoman Carla Bozulich teamed up with Montreal musicians from avantchamber- rock collectives (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion). Worked so well, now it's the name of her band. These impressionistic songs shudder to life under the weight of passive-aggressive feedback, anchored by Bozulich's melodramatic howl and Tara Barnes' menacing bass. "Smooth Jazz" is the opposite, and the title track owes much to the expansive trip-logic Patti Smith changed lives with. Check out the surreal liner notes for a direct look at Bozulich's id. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • These New Puritans, 'Beat Pyramid' (Domino)

    Drums that can't decide between the dance floor and art school, guitars that flicker and nod versus a bassist futzing between smooth rhythm and chunky riffs, a stock-still gal punching buttons, and a singer whose ranting may or may not mean something. These New Puritans prove the model perfected by New Order ain't dying anytime soon. But bully for these Southend, England kids when they scream, "We were right! / We were right!" because history indeed backs them up -- motorik punk is the wave of the future now and forever. BUY: iTunesAmazon

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