• Various Artists, 'Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics' (Crammed Discs)

    Belgian label Crammed Discs has spent years marketing the trancey, electrified street music of Kinshasa as raw native truth with their Congotronics series, so it's unclear why they've asked this mostly Anglo crowd of musicians to reinterpret it. Are they exoticizing us or domesticating them? Half of the indie bands and dance producers featured here already play at tribalism (Deerhoof, Animal Collective, Juana Molina, the Boredoms' Eye), and while their contributions are respectable, the irony is that none of them manage to get as far out as they typically do on their own.

  • Various Artists, 'Blow Your Head Volume 1: Diplo Presents Dubstep' (Mad Decent)

    Various Artists, 'Blow Your Head Volume 1: Diplo Presents Dubstep' (Mad Decent)

    Despite crossover moves by Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, M.I.A., and Britney Spears, British dubstep feels destined for U.S. obscurity; it's too jerky, too heavy, too slow. This comp -- producer/DJ Diplo's most recent anthropological package -- is a good introduction to the genre's acidity and mostly stays clear of any attempts to make it more fun and friendly. Though Blow Your Head leans hard on the Diplo cohort (Major Lazer, Rusko, Borgore), its colossus is James Blake, whose shower of warped arcade-game synths and butchered old gospel vocals is stunning -- heaven for believers and headaches for everyone else.

  • No Age, 'Everything in Between' (Sub Pop)

    No Age, 'Everything in Between' (Sub Pop)

    Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt make hazy, fragmented punk rock that fits as comfortably in art galleries as it does in all-ages venues. (The duo included a thick booklet of color photography with their last album and recently scored a short film.) The cultural crossover works because they turn the slash-and-thud punk template into a space of possibility -- not just for music, exactly, but music for dreaming. Sonic Youth made similar moves 25 years ago, but they're prog rock by comparison. With No Age, you're always just a few minutes away from something you can pogo to. Still, Everything in Between is nearly 40 minutes long, which is epic for a band whose last two full-lengths were triumphs of brevity. And while 2008's Nouns alternated between rave-ups and bliss-outs, here the band spends more time, well, in between. On a few songs, they edge into scuzzy '80s indie pop.

  • Salem, 'King Night' (IAMSOUND)

    Salem are three melancholy Michigan youths who set leaden hip-hop beats adrift in vast goth atmospherics. The vocals are often pitched down into funny-demon registers, the synths are perpetually crumbling, and the strongest hook is taken from "O Holy Night." Seedy, feel-bad music. Half-dead, sometimes gorgeous, and willfully dumb beyond repair. Call it alienation porn. Sound awful? Well, it is kind of awful -- and rivetingly so. One band member claims they "aren't going for anything, ever," and nowhere they go. Trash, art, or stunt? In the few effective moments, it's all three. BUY: Amazon

  • Les Savy Fav, 'Root for Ruin' (Frenchkiss)

    Thirteen years in, Les Savy Fav's brutish, anthemic post-punk is as consistent as a cardinal direction. Tim Harrington still barks his best puns, Seth Jabour builds guitar lines from pure shrapnel, and neither get too caught up in clever rhythmic turns (as evidenced by the rousing chorus of "Let's Get Out of Here"). Root for Ruin's dreamy ferocity is familiar, but the feeling of camaraderie keeps growing: "I need no greater proof," Harrington sings, "The proof of me is you" -- a line as likely intended for his bandmates as Les Savy's fans. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The Books, 'The Way Out' (Temporary Residence)

    Five years since their last full-length and the Books' sparkling, folksy collages haven't changed much: Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong still mince their acoustic instruments with laptops, still borrow vocals from thrift-store finds (here, self-help tapes), and still burst with nonthreatening wonder ("Beautiful People" is a light disco hymn about irrational numbers). After three consistent, unique albums, the duo only flag when they abandon their sense of humor and mischief -- which is what made them so smart in the first place. ?BUY:? Amazon?

  • Here We Go Magic, 'Pigeons' (Secretly Canadian)

    Three years ago, Luke Temple was a banjo-playing bedroom folkie. Then he morphed into an Afropop-influenced bedroom folkie who dabbled in sound collage. Now, on his second album as Here We Go Magic and first with a full band, he plays like he's been dreaming with Brian Eno's art-rock records under his pillow. While Temple's hermaphroditic alto endures the costume changes, the songs often don't, and the couple of undeniably great tracks -- like the rigid, kinetic "Collector" -- get lost in the parade of influences. BUY: iTunesAmazon

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