• The Sounds, 'Crossing the Rubicon' (Original Signal)

    Front-loaded with buzzy riffs and cutting vocals, the third studio album from this Swedish band is bracingly ambitious, clearly designed to be heard in arenas and stadiums. Vocalist Maja Ivarsson's '80s-leaning swagger can't disguise the tracks' general sameness, though -- and there's an anemic, greeting-card feeling to the lyrics on "Home Is Where Your Heart Is" and "Midnight Sun." But "4 Songs & a Fight" is smart, perfectly calibrated indie electro, and "No One Sleeps When I'm Awake" offers a dose of what the Sounds do best: beguiling, unabashed hooks. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Ladyhawke, 'Ladyhawke' (Modular)

    Plundering the 1980s for inspiration (shock!), 27-year- old New Zealander Pip Brown emerges with a confection of synth-infused, mammoth-chorused tunes that sound surprisingly and thrillingly fresh. The trick lies in Brown's blissfully irony-free attitude: Through the digital wizardry and pumping beats, you can hear an unabashedly heartfelt and occasionally vulnerable artist. The exquisite "Love Don't Live Here" -- a wistful tale of rejection -- starts small before unexpectedly building into a disco-fueled, bluesy-guitar-tinged epic, while the juddering "Magic" recalls New Order but pulses with an addictive grandeur of its own. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, 'Searching for the Hows and Whys' (Atlantic)

    Sounding simultaneously overwrought and half-baked, the second album from Essex, England's Sam Duckworth is a depressingly patchy affair, almost entirely lacking in the underdog charms that made his 2006 debut so appealing. Multiculti electronica producer Nitin Sawhney tempers Duckworth's acoustic guitar and overearnest lyrics with glorious string and brass arrangements. But aside from a stirringly somber, memorable duet with Kate Nash, this is the uneasy sound of a once promising artist lingering in the dark, unsure of his next move.

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