• Memory Tapes, 'Player Piano' (Carpark)

    Memory Tapes, 'Player Piano' (Carpark)

    A guise of former Hail Social singer Dayve Hawk (also known as Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes), Memory Tapes specializes in low-budget electronica for underdogs trying to survive yet more disappointments. Player Piano's handcrafted tales of loneliness and bad romance draw quiet power from Hawk's charmingly reedy vocals, while the layered synths and other scruffy keyboards evoke subliminal longings and anxieties. The snappy guitar of "Sunhits" suggests Hawk could choose to churn out more accessible fare, but the dreamy ingenuity of ?"Worries" argues for his hazier path.

  • The Head, 'Hang On' (The Head Music)

    The Head, 'Hang On' (The Head Music)

    Charming and shiny, the Head's second album asks, but never quite answers, the question "Does the world need more power pop?" The bright-eyed Atlanta trio have mastered the beloved science of catchy, toe-tapping melodies plus rich vocal harmonies, but extreme orthodoxy lends the music an oddly mummified quality, even on appealing, could-be-mistaken-for-oldies like "Top of the World." More encouraging sounds result when the lads ignore the rules and get a little rougher ("Sneeze") or sloppier ("What's Wrong"), indicating they may be ready to unlearn their history lessons/.

  • Liam Finn, 'FOMO' (Yep Roc)

    Liam Finn, 'FOMO' (Yep Roc)

    The musical spitting ?image of his dad Neil Finn (Crowded House, Split Enz), Liam blends sophisticated melodies and wistful vocals with masterful authority. Though he plays and sings everything himself, his second solo album lacks the annoying sterility of some one-man efforts -- the lad scuffs up his pretty tunes with crashing drums and belching synths, even erupting in punkish bellowing on "The Struggle." Yet for all his attempts at shagginess, the breathtaking "Cold Feet" proves Finn remains a tidy pop kid at heart.

  • When Saints Go Machine, 'Konkylie' (!K7)

    With his unnerving falsetto, Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild, frontman for this mesmerizing Denmark quartet, suggests an exotic creature who's fallen to earth, while his bandmates fashion a deliciously minimal version of synth pop that evokes Low-era Bowie. "Parix" and the title track ("Conch shell" in Danish) trace the ghostly outlines of lush epics, with oblique lyrics about mortality and loss amplifying a sense of unease throughout. The creepily alluring "Whoever Made You Stand So Still" could trigger a full-on panic attack.

  • Givers, 'In Light' (Glassnote)

    Givers, 'In Light' (Glassnote)

    Giddy is the default mode on the breezy debut by this Lafayette, Louisiana quintet. Everything sparkles -- bubbly beats, luminous guitars and synths, and most of all, the exuberant voices of Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson (who apparently have unfettered access to happy meds). Accordingly, In Light is best absorbed in small portions, allowing you to savor the seriously catchy melodies and uplifting vibes. Consumed all at once, the songs tend to blur together, producing a bright rush that's just as likely to inspire jitters as ecstasy.

  • City and Colour, 'Little Hell' (Vagrant)

    City and Colour, 'Little Hell' (Vagrant)

    "I'm slowly sinking into the slough of despond," wails Dallas Green on the third studio album from City and Colour, his alter ego when not fronting the much noisier Alexisonfire. Don't mistake him for a whiner, however. Just as his piercing voice and languid tunes echo Neil Young's rustic side, a Neil-like tough-mindedness runs through Green's stark meditations, which confront despair head on. If "O' Sister" ?and "Sorrowing Man" ?are studies of damaged souls, they're also ?strangely uplifting expressions of compassion.

  • Frank Turner, 'England Keep My Bones' (Epitaph)

    Frank Turner, 'England Keep My Bones' (Epitaph)

    Frank Turner gives sincerity a good name on the rousing England Keep My Bones, an exclamation point in an increasingly brilliant career that ranges from early punk spew to more recent folkie testimony.

  • Flogging Molly, 'Speed of Darkness' (Borstal Beat)

    Flogging Molly, 'Speed of Darkness' (Borstal Beat)

    Relocating from Los Angeles to recession-plagued Detroit, Flogging Molly tap directly into the area's working-class anger, but stay in their sonic comfort zone. On this fifth studio album, the group use violin, accordion, and such to make stomping originals feel like traditional Celtic tunes, while on "The Power's Out" and "Rise Up," rabble-rousing frontman Dave King champions defiant hope amid crushing desperation. But the overly smooth production undercuts his righteous fury, suggesting the group harbors dreams of a Green Day-style commercial breakthrough.

  • Glasvegas, 'Euphoric///Heartbreak\\\' (Columbia)

    Glasvegas, 'Euphoric///Heartbreak\\\' (Columbia)

    Insanely overblown and proud of it, Glasvegas reconfigure U2's epic template on this stirring pageant of sound, adapting those familiar grand gestures to their own needs. Helped more than a little by his adorable Scottish brogue, James Allan wails and moans with spine-tingling zeal, spewing tales of longing ("Lots Sometimes"), pride ("Stronger Than Dirt [Homosexuality Pt. 2]"), and salvation ("Shine Like Stars"). Whether he's drunk on optimism or writhing in psychic pain, his relentless quest for enlightenment is gripping and inspiring.

  • 13 & God, 'Own Your Ghost' (Anticon)

    13 & God, 'Own Your Ghost' (Anticon)

    Rebooted after a six-year hiatus, this unlikely joint venture between low-key Oakland rap collective Themselves and genteel German pop group the Notwist seems more like a high-concept mash-up than a true collaboration. Sometimes, however, it works beautifully -- note the dreamy "Janu are" (sic), a meditation on passing time, or the sleepy "Death Minor," which observes, "There is no fashion to passing decay."While that obsession with the "big sleep" gives Own Your Ghost a gloomy power, these cross-cultural pals might consider a less depressing repertoire next time.

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