• Crooked Fingers, 'Breaks in the Armor' (Merge)

    Crooked Fingers, 'Breaks in the Armor' (Merge)

    There have been moments in Crooked Fingers' consistent, decade-plus oeuvre when Eric Bachmann's songwriting elevates to a startling new level of sophistication. On Breaks in the Armor, that aha feeling arrives during "The Counterfeiter," a subtly rousing track constructed on plucky rhythms, sneaky vocal arrangements, and rueful lyrics ("All of the doctors know you're faking"). Armor is Bachmann's most vigorous post-Archers of Loaf full-length since 2003's Red Devil Dawn. Only the drab, ramshackle "Back Candles" briefly weighs down an ?otherwise gorgeous, toothy record from indie rock's most refreshingly unpretentious auteur.

  • 110613-brother.png

    Breaking Out: Viva Brother

    If you want to be heard, you've got to make a big noise. That's been Viva Brother singer-guitarist Lee Newell's m.o. since the self-styled "gritpop" band formed in dreary Slough, England (the setting for the British version of The Office), in 2009. Whether promising the polarized U.K. press that his stomping quartet are the kind that "take over the world"; telling a crowded Brooklyn club that they'll soon be playing "Madison Square Gardens [sic]"; or slagging off American A-listers (Kings of Leon have "pandered"), he's not shy about stirring things up. "We just do what we feel," says Newell. "Maybe that's self-destructive, but that's who we are. We're not ashamed." Newell, 23, bassist Josh Ward, drummer Frank Colucci, both 22, and lead guitarist Sam Jackson, 24, met and started playing together as teenagers.

  • Atmosphere, 'The Family Sign' (Rhymesayers)

    Atmosphere, 'The Family Sign' (Rhymesayers)

    On the follow-up to surprise 2008 commercial hit When Life Gives You Lemons..., cagey MC Slug and producer Ant are joined full-time by guitarist Nate Collis and keyboardist Erick Anderson, but Family Sign is a spare, solemn affair. No longer the self-obsessed antihero, Slug continues his shift to serious storyteller, but the narratives here lack coherence and detail, while the music - ominous piano, lonely guitar - feels sketchy, like partial demos. And unlike on Lemons, there are no jaunty pop hooks to lighten or balance the mood.

  • Rise Against, 'Endgame' (DGC/Interscope)

    Rise Against, 'Endgame' (DGC/Interscope)

    Rise Against's strident anti-ignorance messages have coursed through several albums of tightly wound, good-intentions punk. But as soon as frontman Tim McIlrath bridges the half-time breakdown of "Architects" by earnestly imploring, "Don't you remember when you were young / How you wanted to set the world on fire" (echoing Against Me!'s "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" almost word for word), the singer-guitarist just sounds like he's trying to win back an ex-girlfriend. Which could be forgiven if Endgame's other songs -- sans the blistering "Survivor Guilt" and "Disparity by Design" -- weren't turgidly overlong and underfed.

  • Bayside, 'Killing Time' (Wind-Up)

    Bayside, 'Killing Time' (Wind-Up)

    With charged-up opener "Already Gone," Bayside immediately obliterate the rigid scolding of 2008's disappointing Shudder. Thank producer Gil Norton, who helped shape the sound of '80s alternative (Pixies, Throwing Muses) and '90s post-hardcore (Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters). Here, he surrounds Anthony Raneri's throaty but elastic vocals with harmonies and handclaps ("It's Not a Bad Little War"), while the airtight mix enhances Jack Shea's speed-metal guitar tricks. Killing Time is no breakthrough, but it does pack actual hard-rock crunch, not just sure-shot emo punch.

  • Bear Hands, 'Burning Bush Supper Club' (Cantora)

    Bear Hands, 'Burning Bush Supper Club' (Cantora)

    At its best, especially on standout track "Julien," the full-length debut from these playful Brooklyn rockers (and Wesleyan alumni) is exactly the sort of record that New York needs: urgent, fun, big, and bright. Yet while the group's four years of constant gigging and sporadic recording has developed their studio instincts (the album's full, floral sound is inescapable), Supper Club tries to cover too much ground -- Built to Spill's epic lo-fi charm, early 2000s dance punk, the charged-up melodic clamor of L.A.'s recent Smell scene. Bear Hands have a real spark; they just need to flaunt their own sound.

  • The Sword, 'Warp Riders' (Kemado)

    These metal loyalists' third monolith is steeped in hokey, dystopian sci-fi, but Warp Riders' interplanetary narrative possesses a charming conviction. It's also somewhat at odds with the band's emerging fixation on boogie rock, a genre typified by adolescent wish fulfillment (i.e., songs about fucking). But alongside the Sword's bulldozing first two albums, go-for-broke riffers "Lawlands" and the title track boast more intriguing dynamics. And apart from cheesy glam misstep "Night City," they creatively fuse ZZ Top and Nazareth rhythms with Hawkwind prog, sounding both badass and oddly innovative. BUY: Amazon

  • Eli "Paperboy" Reed, Come and Get It (Capitol)

    The third album (and first for a major) from this Boston-born, Mississippi- and Chicago-bred singer-guitarist is bound to inspire Sam Cooke comparisons, but Get It just as frequently stirs up Jackson 5 dance fever ("Come and Get It") and cribs CCR grit ("Tell Me What I Want to Hear"). Reed's blue-eyed soul ballads can lack passion, and the album's subject matter is fairly generic, but on "Just Like Me," his boyishly furious rasp transforms familiar blues tropes into something simultaneously self-effacing and brash. ?BUY: Amazon?

  • Francis and the Lights, 'It'll Be Better' (Cantora)

    As hip-hop's latest nerdy, white-boy muse, Francis Starlite is a Drake- and Kanye-approved, Eraserheaded ball of overearnestness who can moonwalk like Fred Astaire. Tightly wound to the point of unease, the Brooklyn singer-pianist's third album has its occasional irresistible moments. "For Days" glides from slap-bass boogie to nimble, 1999-inspired funk guitar, while "Knees to the Floor" and "Darling, It's Alright" show Francis' study of both George Benson's jazz licks and David Bowie's self-assurance. Though smothering in its ambition, It'll Be Better remains impressively deft. ?BUY:? Amazon

  • B.o.B, 'The Adventures of Bobby Ray' (Atlantic)

    Multi-instrumentalist mixtape vet B.o.B is a one-man second coming of Atlanta's Organized Noize era. But where OutKast's best spun elastic funk through cinematic psychedelia, The Adventures of Bobby Ray is a hip-hop Scary Movie, tossing off references (Vampire Weekend sample, Rivers Cuomo cameo) while struggling to establish a distinctive identity. Ironically, the high point is straightforwardly buoyant R&B hit "Nothin' on You." Elsewhere, dazzling rhymes are saddled with generic riffage ("Don't Let Me Fall"), a Sublime-lite groove ("Lovelier Than You"), and emo melodrama ("Airplanes," featuring Paramore's Hayley Williams). BUY:Amazon

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