• The Apples in Stereo, 'Travellers in Space and Time' (Simian)

    Apples frontman Robert Schneider established his love for ELO on 2007's New Magnetic Wonder, and this follow-up reveals a further exploration of that sound. Vocodered backup singers (the first of many) counter an emphatic piano line on "Dream About the Future," cascading harpsichord kicks off "No Vacation," and "Dignified Dignitary" feeds off the "Do Ya" riff. The album also features songs written and sung by other Apples, and while they're perfectly pleasant indie pop, they only accentuate Schneider's mastery. BUY:Amazon

  • Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 'I Learned the Hard Way' (Daptone)

    The biggest development on this Brooklyn soul group's fourth album is the inclusion of backup singers on several tracks -- not that Jones needs an echo to get her point across. The added vocalists flesh out the simple bed of guitar and handclaps on the crestfallen "Mama Don't Like My Man," and play her pragmatic foils on "Money," barking, "Whatcha gonna do?" while she pleads in a Tina Turner rasp for the green stuff to stick around. Supporting players the Dap-Kings -- tight and energetic as ever -- even tackle the laid-back instrumental groove of "The Reason" with horns blazing. BUY:Amazon

  • Goldfrapp, 'Headfirst' (Mute)

    Naural showperson that she is, Alison Goldfrapp has changed personas compulsively since her U.K. duo's 2000 debut, moving from arty cabaret balladeer to electro glamazon to the psychedelic wood nymph of 2008'sSeventh Tree. But that foray into flutes and folk was brief: The title of Goldfrapp's fifth album might refer to their diveback into nightlife. On Head First, the singer's bandmate-producer Will Gregory creates a pitch-perfect neon-lit '80s wonderland with Hi-NRG bass lines and plenty of that fat synth sound made famous by Van Halen's "Jump." The album's bright vision is established with the first three tracks, all awash in artificial ambience and an unearthly feel-good vibe. "Alive," in particular, wears its influences proudly, flaunting the shimmery squiggles that denoted muse-y magic in Xanadu.

  • Miles Kurosky, 'The Desert of Shallow Effects' (Majordomo)

    The former Beulah frontman's solo debut is hardly a one-man show. More than two dozen musicians (including old bandmates) join in, creating an ever-changing backdrop for tales from Kurosky's family history. Tentative marimba gives way to klezmer clarinets as a lost World War II pilot hides in a sewer. A collage of atonal oboes fills the bridge while a lonely housewife plans her escape. Unbound by a verse-chorus-verse format, the songs meander unpredictably, like a milder Of Montreal, with polymorphous sex replaced by God and health problems. BUY:Amazon

  • Eels, 'Hombre Lobo' (Vagrant)

    Mark Oliver Everett takes his latest album title quite literally, unleashing predatory howls over distortion-ridden stompers like "Fresh Blood," only to awake as an innocent mensch. The gentler E distances himself from his lycanthropic alter ego, searching for Ms. Right backed by a familiar arsenal of winsome melodies and elegant string arrangements. The album doesn't declare an outright winner in the "hopeless romantic versus beast" showdown, but its catchiest track is a bouncy marriage proposal ("Beginner's Luck") complete with church bells. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Camera Obscura, 'My Maudlin Career' (4AD)

    On their fourth album, this Scottish indie-pop band's fondness for woeful heartache and Phil Spector–esque production reaches a poignant peak. Even over the cheery layers of strings, guitar, and tambourine on "French Navy," Tracyanne Campbell sings about romance gone wrong. On the plaintive title track, she tries to declare the end of her sad-sack songwriting days, but the resolution doesn't last long. By the time the horn-driven "Honey in the Sun" closes the record, she's found a new love and wishes her heart would go cold so she wouldn't miss him when they're apart. Listen: Camera Obscura, "My Maudlin Career" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Brakesbrakesbrakes, 'Touchdown' (Fatcat)

    Since recording the seven-second "Cheney" (only lyric: "Stop being such a dick!") in 2005, these Englishmen have learned impulse control. Frontman Eamon Hamilton's playful yelp has given way to a sturdier sound, evident in the energetic riffs of interstellar love song "Don't Take Me to Space (Man)," the anthemic power-pop hooks of "Hey Hey," and the lush shoegaze drone of "Oh! Forever." But he remains as quirkily brash as ever: A Poconos swami tells of a thief and his child bride one the cover of indie-rock upstart Charles Douglas' "Ancient Mysteries," a track that gives Men Without Hats' "Pop Goes the World" an appealingly pessimistic twist. Listen: Brakes, "Two Shocks" (DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Metric, 'Fantasies' (Self-Released)

    Having spent the last few years on acoustic solo work, Emily Haines sounds eager to get back to the club with these nightlife tales chronicling obsessed groupies, lonely hearts, and dissatisfied hedonists. Ever the empathizer, Haines calmly untangles her characters'despair, whether it's over the quietly pulsing "Collect Call" or the driving electro rock of "Satellite Mind." Fantasies is a welcome return, but it's not without flaws: Some of the synths veer into jock-jam territory, which makes sense on the tongue-in-cheek "Stadium Love," but less so on the earnest "Gimme Sympathy." Watch: Metric performance and interview at SPIN HQ:WATCH METRIC BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Ida Maria, 'Fortress Round My Heart' (Upper 11/Fontana)

    Among this Norwegian pop rocker's many endearing attributes is her total lack of interest in consistently singing pretty. Her debut is full of rasps and howls, from the raw, frenetic power of the U.K. single "Oh My God" to the ballsy bubblegum blast "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked." The last few notes of "Stella," a torch song from God to a hooker, are so strained they barely make it out of her mouth. Ida Maria throws herself into every song as if it's all a big finale, which makes for an auspicious beginning. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • 1990s, 'Kicks' (Rough Trade)

    Like most bands that shape songs around wisecracks, this trio used up their best gags on their debut (2007's charming Bernard Butler–produced Cookies). Here, high-spirited frontman Jackie McKeown daydreams about kooky Hollywood life on the stop-and-start "Everybody Please Relax," abetted by sunny '60s pop interludes, and then responds to a proposition involving an obscure sex act ("I Don't Even Know What That Is") with punky swagger and stinging guitar. There's an inverse relationship between the guitars and jokes: The riffs have gotten sharper and more jagged as the punch lines have grown duller and less imaginative. Minus his smart-alecky cheek, it's increasingly difficult for McKeown to hold your interest. Listen: The 1990s, "The Box" BUY: iTunesAmazon

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