• Azure Ray, 'Drawing Down the Moon' (Saddle Creek)

    Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor dissolved Azure Ray in 2004 to pursue projects that closely recalled their band's sad, soothing sound, and this reconvening offers few surprises. Mannered, wistful melancholy abounds: When pulses quicken (as on "Don't Leave My Mind" and "In the Fog"), Azure Ray can prick ears. When relying mostly on their beautiful voices, as with "On and On Again," they become Indigo Girls for the indie-rock set. "We do the best that we can" is a telling lyric -- Drawing is occasionally eager and unstoppably pleasant, but just as often drifts as dazzles. BUY:iTunesAmazon

  • Interpol, 'Interpol' (Matador)

    Interpol, 'Interpol' (Matador)

    At the core of every great Interpol song hangs a hook so barbed it could draw blood, no matter how heavy the surrounding goth atmospherics. But somewhere between 2004's Antics and the mostly tepid 2007 major-label debut Our Love to Admire, the noirish New Yorkers lost the monster sing-alongs and danceable rhythms that made early tracks "PDA" and "NYC" so captivating. That trajectory continues on their fourth album, as the group continues to drift where they once focused intently. Which isn't to say that all is lost: "Barricade" reminds you of how much Carlos D.'s hip-swiveling bass lines will be missed now that he's left the band; and how the album's dynamic range could've been widened.

  • 100812-superchunk.jpg

    Words of Wisdom: Superchunk

    "Hold on," says Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, eyeing a black stretch limo in front of a bougie downtown Chicago hotel. "I need to make sure it's long enough." The Taste of Randolph festival, which Superchunk are headlining tonight, has sent the luxury ride as a courtesy, but for an act entering its third decade as a standard-bearer for indie stringency and modesty, the gesture is as embarrassing as it is flattering. Singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan winces. "Can we grab a couple of cabs, maybe?" In a perfect world, this band that's long since mastered the art of blending punk ferocity with pop songcraft would take stretch limos to the corner for milk.

  • !!!, 'Strange Weather, Isn't It?' (Warp)

    Bits of darkness invade !!!'s first album in three years, and it's a dangerous supplement for a band whose foundation is winking, boisterous funk. When the slink doesn't get too murky, as on "AM/FM" and the cheery "Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks," the nighttime vibe pays off. When the fun gets left behind ("Hollow," "Jump Back"), little remains except a pleasant-but-purposeless bass groove. The sonic expansion is admirable, but perhaps a trip to Miami -- instead of Berlin, where some of Weather was recorded -- might've been a better atmospheric adjustment. BUY: Amazon

  • Cotton Jones, 'Tall Hours in the Glowstream' (Suicide Squeeze)

    The best parts of this boy-girl duo's second album sound like some obscure '50s act, the kind that ought to list "reverb" as a band member. "Song in Numbers" and "Man Climbs out of the Winter" stare gorgeously through Roy Orbison's Ray-Bans, deliberately dating themselves with vintage ghostly keyboards and distant drums. There's a hint of Animal Collective's retro-future haze during Glowstream's fleshier moments, like the lovely "Soft Mountain Shake," but mostly it's content to channel gauzy pop days gone by. BUY: Amazon

  • Maps & Atlases, 'Perch Patchwork' (Barsuk)

    This Chicago band's skittish energy recalls Talking Heads and TV on the Radio, lightening any dark subject matter with twitchy bursts of color. Early EPs were lumped in with math and prog bands, but those impulses recede on this debut full-length: Clearly there's some showing off on "Carrying the Wet Wood," with intricately intertwined fretwork and drumming, but it's all in service of sing-alongs, tied together by Dave Davison's pinched, inimitable voice. When friendly flutes invade skewed pop ("Perch Patchwork") and a drum line becomes the primary instrument ("The Charm"), genre tags seem pretty inadequate. ?BUY:?iTunes??Amazon?

  • Kele, 'The Boxer' (Glassnote)

    Kele Okereke follows Thom Yorke's path on this first solo set, stepping away from a hugely successful band to spend more time addressing the aesthetics of the dance floor. Bloc Party fans won't be shocked or dismayed, though: Boxer just ratchets up the electronic vibe of 2008's Intimacy, stretching even further sonically while maintaining Okereke's earthy, hyperpersonal songwriting. Assisted by Spank Rock's DJ/producer XXXChange, Okereke style-jumps skillfully, from spare and heartfelt (the gently Björk-like "New Rules") to Big Beat-indebted (the Chemical Brothers tribute "Rise").

  • The National, 'High Violet' (4AD)

    The vaguely optimistic slow dance "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" closes the National's fifth album, and you can almost see crepe paper falling lazily off the gym wall as it fades, like a welcome exhale, after 45 minutes of gorgeously crafted tension. Simmering more than itstrikes, High Violet coaxes you into baroque indie darkness rather than shines bright pop lights. It's a familiar journey, with subtle differences: Matt Berninger's expressive, wounded baritone once defaulted to a murmur or a shout, but on the swooning "England" and the massive, shuddering "Terrible Love," he finds a comfort zone in between. Maybe "comfort" is the wrong word, because Berninger's noirish lyrics feel more harrowing than ever. But the National inevitably make that bleakness sound incredibly seductive and impossibly cool.

  • Jónsi, 'Go' (XL)

    On his solo debut, Jónsi Birgisson -- Sigur Rós' spectral voice and six-string skyscraper -- embraces a lithe, lush pop his main band is too monolithic to accommodate, and it's revelatory. Though still recalling Sigur, Go moves more quickly, from the flute-happy "Go Do" to the giddy "Animal Arithmetic." (And, yes, many songs are inEnglish, which doesn't dampen the sense of mystery a bit.) It's not unlike Thom Yorke's sideline trip The Eraser: Each retains an inimitable singer's sound but adds oxygen-rich breathing room. BUY:Amazon

  • Midlake, 'The Courage of Others' (Bella Union)

    Boy, midlake's Tim Smith wasn't joking when he said that his band's third album -- and first since breaking bigger with 2006's breathtaking, Fleetwood Mac–inspired Trials of Van Occupanther -- was inspired by the affected antiquities oflate-'60s/early-'70s British folk rock. At first blush, The Courage of Others sounds like a too somber, self-serious simulacrum of a borderline-silly genre -- music made by the sad sacks on the sidelines of the Renaissance Faire who only watch as everyone else jousts and quaffs mead. But these new old-sounding songs gradually burrow into your consciousness, despite lacking the occasional cheery hooks that made Occupanther so alluring. Courage gambles on an extended mood that's maintained by intricate acoustic guitar plucks, downcast vocals, and copious amounts of flute.

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