• Wale, 'Ambition' (Maybach Music/Warner Bros.)

    "We black niggas with ambition," Wale raps on album opener "Hold Your Applause," outlining his new record's central but barely interrogated theme. Compared to 2009's troubled Attention Deficit, there's more sonic consistency (save for Diplo dud "Slight Work"), and despite burly benefactor Rick Ross, the former backpack hero exposes his inner nice guy on the working-women ode "Illest Bitch" and Lex Luger slow jam (yes, really) "That Way." Finally, on "Miami Nights," riding a lush Mark Henry beat, Wale again celebrates his ambition, realized at last, if only for a moment.

  • Surfer Blood, 'Tarot Classics' (Kanine)

    Surfer Blood, 'Tarot Classics' (Kanine)

    Despite a reliance on familiar, guitar-driven tunes, Surfer Blood's latest has no interest in embracing traditional rock'n'roll swagger. Blame (or thank) John Paul Pitts, whose pitch-vaulting voice always sounds a touch more melancholic than he perhaps intends. Compared to the band's almost shoegazing 2009 debut, this follow-up EP lacks the level-busting reverb that once triggered Dinosaur Jr. comparisons. Instead, the Florida band is now content to catch Pixies-ish waves of gentler mutilation and ride them ?to college-rock bliss. "Drinking Problem" ?provides the lone exception; its sturdy, submerged bass line pushes the guitars back into ear-bleed ?territory.

  • Neon Indian, 'Era Extrana' (Mom + Pop)

    Neon Indian, 'Era Extrana' (Mom + Pop)

    Laid-back, atmospheric 2009 tracks like "Deadbeat Summer" and "Terminally Chill" established Neon Indian's Alan Palomo as a chillwave founding father. But Palomo's un-self-conscious messiness also made him an easy target. Era Extraña picks up as if that criticism (and 2010) never happened. Some tracks sound 25 years old and they're one Martin Rushent assist away from being genuine synth-pop hits; others resemble M83 in even softer focus, with ethereal vocals lodged ?behind a glitchy wall of sound that turns the line ?"I could be a shadow" from frilly metaphor to incontrovertible fact.

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