• Megadeth, 'Th1rt3en' (Roadrunner)

    Megadeth, 'Th1rt3en' (Roadrunner)

    Those insane speed-metal guitars! Those pummeling drums! Dave Mustaine's snarling, sandpaper-and-nails voice! Megadeth might brazenly ignore the perils of self-parody, but the quartet's stubborn refusal to evolve yields genuine thrills on their typically irascible 13th album. For all the carnage, "Public Enemy No. 1" and "Guns, Drugs & Money" are deceptively melodic hard rock not far from Alice Cooper's early classics, albeit lacking the same sense of humor. Still, Mustaine's fevered tirades bemoaning the state of the world feel utterly apt, given today's headlines: "We the People" clearly belongs on the apocalypse's official soundtrack.

  • My Brightest 
Diamond, '
All Things Will Unwind' (Asthmatic Kitty)

    As a member of Sufjan Stevens' extended musical family and a participant in the David Byrne-Fatboy Slim epic Here Lies Love, Shara Worden, a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond, makes art-pop at its most stirring. The luminous All Things Will Unwind uses strings, brass, marimba, and mellotron, brilliantly showcasing her operatic, slightly scary voice in tricky songs that remain fresh after repeated plays. And don't be fooled by Worden's cosmic streak: While she gently proclaims, "Love binds the world" ?on "We Added It Up," the ?bracing "There's a Rat" ?unleashes a blast of populist rage.

  • Veronica Falls, 'Veronica Falls' (Slumberland)

    Veronica Falls, 'Veronica Falls' (Slumberland)

    Despite vivid echoes of everyone from the overworked Velvet Underground to the underrated Lush, Veronica Falls wear the burden of history lightly on this fizzy debut, capturing the excitement of a new band getting it right. The London quartet's clanging guitars and surging rhythms never permit wistfully deadpan singer Roxanne Clifford to overstay her welcome. Meanwhile, dramatic ?vignettes like "Found Love in a Graveyard" and "Beachy Head" achieve a concise pop perfection that often eludes more polished or self-important artists. Morrissey would be wise ?to cover "Stephen."

  • Twin Sister, 'In Heaven' (Domino)

    Twin Sister, 'In Heaven' (Domino)

    Paced by sweetly modest singer Andrea Estrella, this Long Island quintet's dreamy, synth-inflected pop produces quietly mesmerizing drama, with occasional tedious detours. "Daniel" (a wistful confession of longing) and "Spain" (which evokes a sultry James Bond score) suggest intriguing worlds of shadowy motives and simmering appetites, though funkier attempts on "Bad Street" fall clumsily flat. Eric Cordona's twangy guitar keeps the band mostly on course, injecting needed tension without spoiling the hazy vibe. But for all its languid rookie charms, In Heaven might be best remembered as the harbinger of a more consistent sequel.

  • Blitzen Trapper, 'American Goldwing' (Sub Pop)

    Blitzen Trapper, 'American Goldwing' (Sub Pop)

    Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley performs the amazing feat of making alt-country seem fresh on the band's gripping sixth album. This Portland, Oregon quintet has long excelled at energizing rootsy sounds with trashy noise, but Earley's true trump card is smart, vivid songwriting that transcends genres. His hangdog croon aside, the melancholy "Love the Way You Walk Away" could be repurposed as either teen melodrama or a grown-up torch lament, while the touching "Astronaut," an intriguing fusion of down-home shuffle and cheesy grandeur, might make Elton John jealous.

  • Kathryn Calder, 'Bright and Vivid' (File Under: Music)

    Kathryn Calder, 'Bright and Vivid' (File Under: Music)

    Though she's now one of the key players -- after originally subbing for Neko Case -- in overstaffed power-pop collective the New Pornographers (headed by her uncle, Carl Newman), Kathryn Calder is best heard in solo mode. On the lovely Bright and Vivid, a more accomplished sequel to last year's Are You My Mother?, she masters the art of hiding in plain sight, concealing a sweetly sad voice in soft clouds of pretty noise. Less fidgety than the New Pornos, impressionistic sketches like "Walking in My Sleep" and "City of Sounds" (on which Calder sighs, "Home is where I cannot go") blend vagueness and anxiety in a way that's deeply unsettling.

  • Shlohmo, 'Bad Vibes' (Friends of Friends)

    Shlohmo, 'Bad Vibes' (Friends of Friends)

    So understated it's ?downright spooky, the fractured ambient pop of Los Angeles' Henry Laufer, a.k.a Shlohmo, feels like a tantalizing, long-suppressed memory floating just out of reach. Processed guitars and keyboards, wordless ?vocals, and muted beats blend into a pastel wash of sound, as shifting patterns hint at familiar styles without assuming a clear shape. "Places" might be mainstream R&B deconstructed to the brink of collapse, while "Sink" compiles vague shards of electronica. The sputtering "Your Stupid Face" sounds a rare note of genuine menace, but Laufer's fragile unease inspires unsettling moments throughout.

  • The Features, 'Wilderness' (Serpents and Snakes)

    The Features, 'Wilderness' (Serpents and Snakes)

    Features frontman Matthew Pelham deftly juggles chaos and control on Wilderness, playing restless philosopher and tormented lover with a fidgety confidence that suggests Iggy Pop's backwoods offspring. Though these small-town Tennessee boys have been active since the late '90s, they've never been so commanding, spewing volcanic rock with a dramatic flourish, then holding your attention by revealing a deceptively sophisticated wit. Catch "Big Mama," a grandiose climate-change lament, or languid ode "Fats Domino," or the thumping "Chapter III," which reflects on the idea of transcendence.

  • Imelda May, 'Mayhem' (Decca)

    Imelda May, 'Mayhem' (Decca)

    With her titanic voice and breezy self-assurance, Ireland's Imelda May is a charm-filled firecracker in human form. Fluent in all things retro, from jump blues to torch ballads to rockabilly (which has led to stage and studio dates alongside guitar deity Jeff Beck), May masterfully conjures the spirits of Peggy Lee ("Too Sad to Cry") and Gene Vincent ("Sneaky Freak"). Occasionally, she stumbles -- a peppy cover of "Tainted Love" misses the point entirely. Otherwise, it's great fun to hear May strut her stuff.

  • Alkaline Trio, 'Damnesia' (Heart & Skull/Epitaph)

    Alkaline Trio, 'Damnesia' (Heart & Skull/Epitaph)

    More than a decade on,Chicago's Alkaline Trio pause for retrospection with an album devoted primarily to new acoustic versions of familiar tunes. While Damnesia makes a surprisingly strong showcase for the Trio's songwriting chops, they should've taken a few more chances. "Every Thug Needs a Lady," for example, could've become a fine country song with some creative tweaking. Fittingly, there's a cover of Violent Femmes, who pioneered the strategy of playing unplugged with rock'n'roll intensity, though the take on "I Held Her in My Arms" lacks the original's twitchy sizzle.

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