• Arctic Monkeys at Glastonbury 2013 / Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

    Arctic Monkeys' 'AM' Switches From Fidgety Rock to Aaliyah Fandom and Funky Grooves

    Early exposure to the fifth Arctic Monkeys record might betray a few symptoms of Pretentious Artiste Syndrome — frontman Alex Turner has name-checked Dr. Dre and Aaliyah in the run-up to AM, boasting that the U.K.-spawned, now California-based quartet has injected elements of hip-hop and R&B into its malleable guitar rock. But thankfully, the result is far from crude carpetbagging. Truth is, Turner has always been eclectic, spilling torrents of syllable-crammed lyrics over sharp melody lines like an MC with a buzzing head full of ideas; hell, his side project, Last Shadow Puppets, even delivered a credible cover of Rihanna's "SOS" back in 2008.Still, play the group's breakout 2006 single, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," back-to-back with AM's "Do I Wanna Know?" or "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" and the contrast is jarring.

  • Surfer Blood / Photo via Getty

    Surfer Blood, 'Pythons' (Kanine/Warner Bros.)

    Pythons, the second album from Florida's Surfer Blood makes no secret of the band's desire to reach a bigger audience. Produced by Gil Norton (of Pixies and Foo Fighters renown), it's a far more polished, conventionally professional, and aggressively polite effort than Astro Coast, the fuzz-rock quartet's shambolic 2010 debut. Any rough edges have been sanded off, leaving the kind of inoffensive guitar pop heard in automobile or fast-food ads. While "Demon Dance," "Prom Song," and almost all the other tracks on this brisk album sport catchy melodies, guitarist Thomas Fekete and standout drummer Tyler Schwartz are stifled by the glossy mix. No matter how loud you play this, it never disrupts.That may be a strategy to showcase frontman John Paul Pitts, whose sweet, pretty voice recalls an easy-listening crooner.

  • Iggy Pop / Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty

    Iggy and the Stooges, 'Ready to Die' (Fat Possum)

    Ready to die? Hopefully not, although time is tight for James Osterberg — our hero's now eligible for Social Security. The previous Stooges outing, 2007's The Weirdness, was a missed opportunity, adding to the sense of urgency surrounding their next recorded move. With the death of Ron Asheton following that set, James Williamson assumed the guitarist's chair for a full reboot of Iggy and the Stooges, echoing the change that sparked their landmark, punk-defining 1973 album Raw Power. (Should history continue to repeat, Iggy subsequently will proceed to collaborate with David Bowie again, but don't count on that.)Anyway, great news: Ready to Die is better than anyone could rationally expect.

  • Photo via the Men

    The Men, 'New Moon' (Sacred Bones)

    "The Men" initially strikes as a pretty arrogant band name. But given the dizzying speed of their evolution, the Brooklyn quintet that shines so brightly on New Moon were probably wise to keep their options open by assuming such a generic tag. From the brutal noise of 2011's Leave Home to the rootsier strains of last year's Open Your Heart to the greater confidence of this new set, the gents have pulled off the difficult trick of diversifying their attack without losing any of their bracing intensity.Leaving New York City’s urban confines behind to record in the Catskills, singer-guitarists Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro proclaim their more down-home bent right at the onset with "Open the Door," an inviting toe-tapper driven by genial piano.

  • Tegan and Sara / Photo by Brian Sorg for SPIN

    Tegan and Sara, 'Heartthrob' (Reprise)

    Coming out can be scary, especially when the faithful have graced your band with years of emotional and financial support, and may have trouble handling surprises that require a complete reorientation. But here goes: Tegan and Sara are pop stars.The prospect of alienating their devoted fans with Heartthrob's synth-driven dance-floor gems must have been especially daunting for the pair, though they've never shied away from confrontation — the Canadian twin-sister act has long been comfortably open regarding their sexual orientation, for example. But their seventh album reveals the always-appealing Quins to be something other than your typical indie-rock mainstays, a stifling role they've arguably grown too comfortable with lately. Instead, they've largely ditched the guitars and cast their lot with slick mainstream hooks.

  • Ra Ra Riot

    Ra Ra Riot, 'Beta Love' (Barsuk)

    Was it necessary to hit the panic button so soon? On their captivating 2008 debut The Rhumb Line and 2010's milder The Orchard, the Syracuse, New York-spawned Ra Ra Riot crafted nimble chamber pop with the soaring energy of a rousing stadium anthem, minus the thudding insistence. But apparently, finesse doesn't matter now. Whether they're impatient for the mass audience of a bigger, louder band like fun. or just suffering a crisis of confidence, the slimmed-down quartet (having shed one of two string players) no longer trust their own material on Beta Love. By recruiting producer Dennis Herring (Wavves, Elvis Costello) for this jarring, grating third outing, the band resorts to an in-your-face attack that bears a strong whiff of desperation.More frustrating still are the hints that these guys can still deliver a stellar album — this just isn't it.

  • Ode of Billie Joe  / Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for Clear Channel

    Green Day, '¡Dos!' (Reprise)

    Midway through their ongoing, three-album 2012 stunt, Green Day soothe any concerns about the band’s continuing viability with reassuring, unsoothing vigor. On ¡Dos!, like September's ¡Uno!, Billie Joe Armstrong and crew sound like their classic, world-conquering pop-punk selves, before 2004's socially conscious American Idiot and the ensuing Broadway spectacle brought them heightened respectability but reduced rock'n'roll cred. No wonder they took a detour back to basics in 2008 via their Foxboro Hot Tubs side project, only to succumb to dead-end grandiosity on 2009's 21st Century Breakdown, the last Green Day album until this manic reboot. (¡Tre! is out next month.)So kudos to the lads for getting off the soapbox and returning to the garage, reminding us they carry on in the tradition of the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and other primal role models.

  • Byrne and Clark / Andreas Laszlo Konrath

    David Byrne and St. Vincent, 'Love This Giant' (Todo Mundo/4AD)

    Even if you're not a fan, don't you at least admire David Byrne? His career is a textbook example of how to grow older in the pitiless land of pop — the man recently turned 60 — and still do interesting, if not always great, work. Most notably, there's his openness to younger artists, which has helped him avoid old-fogeydom. Though the former Talking Heads frontman's solo albums have been hit-or-miss, 2010's Here Lies Love, the two-disc Imelda Marcos dance-pop opera he created with Fatboy Slim (featuring a host of distinctive singers, from Nellie McKay to Santigold) was dazzling. Here Lies Love also featured Annie Clark, a.k.a., knotty indie-rock siren St. Vincent, but even without that prior connection, her newly minted, album-length partnership with Byrne on Love This Giant still makes sense.

  • Micachu & the Shapes, 'Never' (Rough Trade)

    There's nothing new under the sun, which goes double for pop music, where even geniuses recycle fervently. But Britain's Mica Levi could fool you into believing otherwise. Now in her mid-twenties, the former childhood violinist and current leader of Micachu & the Shapes — co-starring keyboardist Raisa Kahn and drummer Dave Pell — exhibits a cheerful disregard for stylistic boundaries. On their previous work, the trio spanned electro-fueled minimalism and symphonic reveries, evoking everything from Björk and avant-garde composer Harry Partch to punk and grime. Such an eclectic methodology could lead to chaos, of course, but just as often it yields something surprisingly close to mainstream entertainment, albeit a vertigo-inducing Bizarro World version.

  • Young Moon, 'Navigated Like the Swan' (Western Vinyl)

    Limp ballads and woeful singing do not turn this San Fran songwriter into Nick Cave.

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