• Editors, 'In This Light and on This Evening' (Fader)

    On this third album, Editors expand their sonic vocabulary by supplementing -- at times, even replacing -- straightforward Brit-rock riffing with dark, '80s new-wave keyboards that alternately stab ("Big Exit") and surge ("You Don't Know Love"). The change in emphasis is jarring at first, but embrace your inner goth and you'll realize that the band's signifiers -- frontman Tom Smith's outsize baritone, a penchant for high drama -- remain intact, and on the rain-soaked, club-friendly "Papillon," the added black nail polish even seems to give them more depth. WATCH: Editors, "Papillon" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Yeasayer, 'Odd Blood' (Secretly Canadian)

    And from a cocoon of hazy psych-folk comes...a masterful mash-up of '80s synth pop and tribal-beat tickles? Brooklyn's Yeasayer are going to need more hyphens. The biggest, boldest, and best moments on their second album nod flamboyantly to influences never before evident -- Erasure ("Ambling Alp") and Haircut 100 (the tropical "O.N.E."), among others -- but somehow they're seamlessly integrated with trippier old jams such as "Rome" and the epic, falsetto-fueled love song "I Remember." So, two exciting questions: Where did this come from, and what's coming next? WATCH: Yeasayer, "Ambling Alp" (Contains explicit content) BUY: Amazon

  • Retribution Gospel Choir, '2' (Sub Pop)

    In recent years, slowcore pioneers Low have forcefully shaken their defining somberness and dabbled in what actually might be called rock. So it wasn't a total shock in 2008 when singer-guitarist Alan Sparhawk formed Retribution Gospel Choir -- essentially Low minus angel-voiced wife/drummer Mimi Parker -- to canoodle with more classic sounds. What's more surprising is how naturally he's made the shift. The band's second album gets a bit hackneyed at times (bar-rockin' trifle "White Wolf"), but Sparhawk generally seems re-energized, channeling Crazy Horse ("Poor Man's Daughter") and crafting the sort of genuinely rousing chorus ("Hide It Away") that Low never would've indulged. LISTEN: Retribution Gospel Choir, "Hide It Away" (DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: Amazon

  • Los Campesinos!, 'Romance Is Boring' (Arts & Crafts)

    It's fun, if slightly jarring, to hear this infectiously hyperactive indie crew stretch out a little. Romance, their third album in 24 months, is more slickly assured -- and far less twee -- than its predecessors. At one end, the cacophonous "Plan A" gets blatantly cranky, and at the other, "Who Fell Asleep In" might be loosely called a ballad. (Fear not, the British septet's cheery, breathless indie pop is still present in "There Are Listed Buildings" and a few stirring others.) A through-line remains in singer Gareth Campesinos' sharp wit and empathetic ear for language: He's one of the most touchingly sarcastic lyricists to emerge in years. BUY: Amazon

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    Andrew Bird Gets Religion in Chicago

    Hometown hero Andrew Bird has plucked his way through all sorts of Chicago venues through the years, from tiny clubs to Lollapalooza to the grand Civic Opera House to the 95th floor observation deck at the John Hancock Center. Because he's such an unusual performer, no place ever seems exactly right or wrong: He can entice throngs to swarm the stage at Millennium Park with his Gretsch strapped on, or he can silence a barroom with the clearest whistle you've ever heard. He couldn't have asked for a better room to exercise the quieter, more rapture-inducing side of his personality than the Fourth Presbyterian Church, a gorgeous old building that's smack dab in the middle of Chicago's Magnificent Mile, and spitting distance from the landmark Water Tower.

  • Lady Gaga, 'The Fame Monster' (Cherrytree/Interscope)

    It's comforting to learn that Lady Gaga's supposed dark side-The Fame Monster offers a flipside to The Fame's sexy fun-is just as fun-loving and club-rousing as the songs that made her famous, because, really, her playful façade is a huge part of her appeal. So the undeniable "Bad Romance," with its earworm nonsense lyric ("ba-ra-a-a-a, ra-ma, uh-uh-ah!"), throws in a couple of negative-sounding words, but plays like the best Madonna song in ages.

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    R. Kelly Wows His Hometown Chicago

    Here's a great problem to have: more hits than you could conceivably play in a 90-minute concert. It sure beats R. Kelly's other problems. Tuesday and Wednesday marked his first hometown concerts since being acquitted on child-pornography charges last year. He referred to that trouble only indirectly, preaching when he wasn't singing that some people tried to keep him down, but he wouldn't let them-and crediting the fans for giving him strength. Those assembled weren't about to throw cold water on the hottest party in town anyway: The crowd at Chicago's gorgeous Auditorium Theatre-mostly women-were dressed as gold and sparkly as the 19th-century opera house itself, and they were primed to hear and cheer and sing and play along.

  • The Rakes, 'Klang' (V2)

    There's not a ton of polish to these Brits' angled post-punk, which may explain why some of their 2005 peers -- Bloc Party, Maxïmo Park -- won the ratings war. But the group's final album (they broke up in October) still punches like a champ, with sharp bursts of intelligent energy. At times, singer Alan Donohoe sounds on the verge of old-school punk panic ("1989"), then he broods man-fully on "The Loneliness of the Outdoor Smoker." Skinny-tie pogo fiends, you could find worse ways to spend 30 minutes. BUY: Amazon

  • Morningwood, 'Diamonds & Studs' (Morningwood/VH1)

    This sexed-up duo seemed destined to go the way of bands like Kenickie -- female-fronted, major-label casual-ties hawking big, fun songs that disappear from memory immediately. But Morningwood's theme (the generic strut "Best of Me") for VH1's deplorable reality series Daisy of Love may provide another shot at fame for fiery singer Chantal Claret. And though these high-energy, guitar-heavy tracks sound like desperate jumps onto bandwagons that left the station long ago ("Killer Life" resembles a No Doubt/Kelly Clarkson collaboration), they're at least sporadically sticky. LISTEN: Morningwood, "Best of Me" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The Cribs, 'Ignore the Ignorant' (Warner Bros.)

    Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr recently joined the Cribs, as is evident in the chiming intro to "Last Year's Snow," from the feisty British band's fourth full-length. He also brings a sense of calm to Ignorant, which could be frustrating to those looking for a snarling good time, but the pairing is mostly brilliant. The Cribs' songs hold up even when slowed down, and they're able to paint outside old lines with the added shadings, nodding to Sonic Youth ("City of Bugs") and the Smiths again ("Save Your Secrets"), while still delivering plenty of their typical Britrock momentum. BUY: iTunesAmazon

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