• Otis Taylor, 'Otis Taylor's Contraband' (Telarc)

    Gruff trance-blues master inspires cold chills in hot tales of desire and racial angst.

  • Sophia Knapp, 'Into the Waves' (Drag City)

    Singer for Brooklyn’s Cliffie Swan takes a dreamy solo flight; basso brooder Bill Callahan adds gravitas.

  • Pontiak, 'Echo Ono' (Thrill Jockey)

    Three Virginia brothers spew orthodox psych-stoner noise (scuzzy guitars, slovenly voices), flirt with tedium.

  • Jonquil

    Jonquil, 'Point of Go' (Dovecote)

    Overripe English cheese strives for Aztec Camera’s state of grace, but smells more like Wham!

  • Kathleen Edwards, 'Voyageur' (Zoe/Rounder)

    Kathleen Edwards, 'Voyageur' (Zoe/Rounder)

    Ain't love grand? Not according to Voyageur, the gently devastating fourth album from Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards. Smoldering resentment, dangerous lust, flaming anger, and, occasionally, intoxicating joy, ebb and flow with dizzying quickness in these unsparing vignettes of relationships gone mostly wrong. Injecting startling urgency into utterly familiar scenarios, this is easily Edwards best work to date, a stunning combination of beautiful melodies and hair-raising sentiments. Voyageur is the child of divorce, following the end of Edwards' marriage to musical partner Colin Cripps and subsequent collaboration with new boyfriend Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver, who co-produces with her here, while also playing a slew of instruments and contributing backing vocals.

  • Snow Patrol, 'Fallen Empires' (Island/Fiction)

    Snow Patrol, 'Fallen Empires' (Island/Fiction)

    ? Cooler than Coldplay but less provocative than R.E.M., the Irish-Scottish modern-rock quintet Snow Patrol embrace the "bigger is better" philosophy on their sixth studio album, and disprove it. Although frontman Gary Lightbody has acknowledged battling writer's block during the creation of Fallen Empires, labored material isn't the problem with this overblown opus. Whether they're trying to obscure the songs' perceived flaws or make some sort of dazzling artistic statement, the band opts for grandiose production (courtesy of Jacknife Lee) and sprawling arrangements — cue the orchestra and the choir — that blunt the effect of Lightbody's deceptively strong songwriting.

  • Mwahaha, 'Mwahaha' (Mwahaha music)

    A cleverly plotted head trip disguised as a ramshackle mess, the debut full-length from this psychedelic Oakland quartet turns brain-scrambling confusion into a fine art. Oozing, belching synths swarm beats that encompass throbbing funk and clattering chaos, as singer Ross Peacock, at once anxious and listless, taps into Nine Inch Nails' simmering rage on "Poinsettia" and harmonizes with tUnE-yArDs' irrepressible Merrill Garbus on the delirious "Love." The trance-friendly, 11-minute "Bathynomus Gigantes!" initially feels like filler, but turns into an inspired exercise in dynamics that could induce bright ecstasy or full panic, or both.

  • Steve Hauschildt, 'Tragedy & Geometry' (Kranky)

    Steve Hauschildt, 'Tragedy & Geometry' (Kranky)

    Steve Hauschildt, of Cleveland electronica trio Emeralds, says the title of this intriguing album refers to the muses of tragedy (Melpomene) and geometry (Polyhymnia). Egghead inclinations aside, it's a visceral display of synth prowess that makes exhilarating use of contrasting textures and subtle dynamics. The gently flowing "Peroxide" has an eerie sci-fi sheen, like a beautiful hallucination about to turn ugly; the bubbly, 11-minute "Music for a Moire Pattern" distorts time, seeming to pass in an instant. Let's hope Hauschildt always uses his mind-bending powers for good, not evil.

  • Yael Meyer, 'Everything Will Be Alright' (Kli)

    The music of Chile's Yael Meyer has been heard on trash-TV shows like Private Practice and Drop Dead Diva, but don't hold that against her. Sweet but not sappy, the cozy English-language pop on her second album embodies artful simplicity, offering refuge from modern anxiety in late-night tracks like "Shed Their Fear" and "Home to Me." While there's potential for corny melodrama, her gentle cooing, shaded with tasteful electronica, keeps Everything nicely understated: The toe-tapping "Tea for Two" (not the Broadway chestnut), with its vision of old-age contentment, could melt the coldest cynic.

  • Angels & Airwaves, 'Love: Part Two' (To the Stars)

    Angels & Airwaves, 'Love: Part Two' (To the Stars)

    Handsomely produced, energetically performed, and crushingly familiar, the latest epic from blink-182 vet Tom DeLonge's other band follows last year's free download Love with another blast of confident arena rock defined entirely by the broadest of gestures. Any distinction between "Dry Your Eyes" (which sneers, "Don't pretend to cry") and "The Revelator" (which offers moral support in hard times) is erased by the band's numbing grandiosity. Heard in small doses, though, DeLonge still knows how to sell a thrillingly catchy chorus, as "Surrender" and "One Last Thing" prove.

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