• Disco Inferno, 'The 5 EPs' (One Little Indian)

    Disco Inferno, 'The 5 EPs' (One Little Indian)

    Form a bleak, driving post-punk band like Joy Division. Take it down a notch. Get a sampler. Replace drums with the sound of wind, water, traffic, and breaking glass. Undermine your guitar with a cloud of effects. Sing like you talk. Be cold and beautiful, but retain harsh noise and the word "fuckers" -- unchecked beauty is what killed Romanticism. Do it in the early '90s U.K., when everyone was reheating Beatles leftovers dressed up with processed drums. Start out weird, get weirder, and end up being the missing link between two things that never happened.

  • Archers of Loaf, 'Icky Mettle' (Merge)

    In retrospect, 1993's Icky Mettle -- an album of boyish fits and noisy guitar flurries -- plays like the end of an era. It's indie rock as hearty and art-free as oatmeal, before the line separating it from the mainstream dissolved, before it became so...eclectic. This remastered edition includes a few singles and ...Vs. the Greatest of All Time, a post-Mettle EP anchored by shout-alongs indicting a scene the band half-helped to create: "Strike up the band, turn off the random," sings Eric Bachmann. "Calling out to the A&R, A&R."

  • Popul Vuh, 'Revisited & Remixed, 1970-1999' (SPV)

    Popol Vuh sound best on house-sized speakers overlooking the cruel and infinite ocean, but CDs will do. They made electro-acoustic music for solemn occasions -- New Age without deodorant. Distilling 20-plus albums to a single disc this continuous is as questionable as coupling it with remixes, but such is our debased sphere. Unsurprisingly, the best of those remixes -- Mouse on Mars' in particular -- work by cramming and collaging instead of trying to maintain the expanse.

  • Carol Kleyn, 'Love Has Made Me Stronger' (Drag City)

    The folk singer Carol Kleyn almost made it. Gregg ?Allman took her on tour, ?Graham Nash gave her his card (though she was too scared to call), yet she eventually walked barefoot into the otherworld of ?private-press recordings, West Coast spirit-seekers, and Renaissance Faire gigs. Her 1976 debut (reissued plus one new song free for download) is brief and unpretentious, a soprano celebrating heaven on earth over harp and piano.

  • Zomby, 'Dedication' (4AD)

    Zomby, 'Dedication' (4AD)

    Compared to Zomby'searly 8-bit maniaand the rave-and-jungle send-ups of 2008'sWhere Were U in '92?,Dedication is somber, head-down music:The misfit has grownsad and left the scene.The album plays out in interconnected songlets whose logic is more daydream than dance floor, haunted by minor-key arpeggios that linger like acid trails. Its grace is in its consistency, never asking too much or staying too long. When an air horn finally goes off -- on the Panda Bear collaboration "Things Fall Apart" -- Zomby's achievement is clearest: It's not easy to make an air horn sound mournful.

  • Megadeth, 'Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? (25th Anniversary Edition)' (Capitol/EMI)

    Despite its metal signifiers, Megadeth's 1986 second album is basically glossy hardcore with magic-show guitar solos and poetry about Satan. Singer-guitarist Dave Mustaine's vision is as inspired and uninformed as an adolescent conspiracy theory, but his playing (and the band's suffocating breakdowns) capture a raw paranoia that words can't. The ?resulting paradox is music that feels ugly and frightened, executed with complete finesse -- rock as a grindhouse money shot on loop. Disc two's live cover of "These Boots Are Made for Walking" ends with Mustaine growling, "And you think I'm kidding, don't ya?" Yes.

  • Various Artists, 'La Habana Era Una Fiesta' (Vampisoul)

    This 36-track exploration spans 20 years, and feels like it -- exuberant and celebratory, full of flute toodles, razzy horns, percussive cha-cha-cha, and hysterically romantic vocals. It's tough to absorb as a full compilation (unless the infancy of Cuban pop is your specialty), but given that the U.S. narrative of Cuban music is "...then there was Buena Vista Social Club," Vampisoul's work here is worthy.

  • Father's Children, 'Who's Gonna Save the World' (Numero Group)

    Numero Group digs deeper into their alternate R&B ?history with this D.C. group, born doo-woppers but rechristened as funky, communal Islamists. Their strength is scope, from downbeat urban misery to ecstatic jams about the comet that will save them from it, similar to the street/space dichotomy explored by mid-'70s Funkadelic. There's no tedious music-biz outrage or claims of lost-classic status in this exhumation -- just the document, simple and dignified.

  • Bill Callahan, 'Apocalypse' (Drag City)

    Bill Callahan, 'Apocalypse' (Drag City)

    Bill Callahan sings deep and plays slow, and it's easy to mistake his patience for sadness. His 15th album - counting those as Smog - is a spare, rambling mix of country, blues, and '70s rock, but it detonates with lines so direct they barely sound written: "I kepthoping for someone to ask me, 'Who do you think you are?' / So I could tell them." The stoic bluntness also harbors a startling intimacy: When Callahan describes a pile of demos on a hotel bed as "my apocalypse," it's like the thought just dawned on him.

  • Keren Ann, '101' (EMI)

    Keren Ann, '101' (EMI)

    Keren Ann's languid orchestral pop is suffused with equal parts Parisian lounge, Golden Age of Hollywood, and polished folk song. The atmosphere is pillowy, which makes her wit -- whether whisper-singing about being a starlet on a killing spree or playing wife to a painter who can't keep beautiful girls out of their "luxury basement" -- a good contrast. Here, it's her detours (the disco-lite "My Name Is Trouble" and girl-groupish "Blood on My Hands") that sound sharpest, while some of her more familiar moves lack the glittering arrangements that previously made them shine.

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