• Soundgarden, from left: Matt Cameron, Kim Thayil, Chris Cornell, and Ben Shepherd.

    Get Yourself Control: The Oral History of Soundgarden's 'Superunknown'

    Somewhere between a man beating himself bloody with spoons and a producer ripping a door off its hinges, Soundgarden made the record they'd been waiting nine years to unleash. Already beloved in the Seattle rock scene, and reaping the benefits of their town's early '90s grunge celebrity alongside their friends Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the band's previous album, 1991's Badmotorfinger, had gone platinum and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. They'd helped spur Sub Pop records on to greatness, hit the road with Guns N' Roses, and commanded the mainstage of Lollapalooza.But the band that so identified with muscular, pistoning hard-rock believed they were also capable of a deeper pop melodicism, of more nuanced anthems.

  • Ryan Adams, 'Ashes & Fire' (Pax-Am/Capitol)

    Ryan Adams, 'Ashes & Fire' (Pax-Am/Capitol)

    After going certifiably loopy on last year's III/IV, a "double-album concept rock opera," the alt-country bard goes for the diametric opposite on this gentle crop of pared-down roots-rock ballads full of fitfully earnest emotions. Lead single "Lucky Now" literally revels in Adams' newfound reformation -- "Love can mend your heart, but only ?if you're lucky now," he sings with wizened nonchalance atop flickers of piano.And he puts that mature foot forward consistently on this record, from gorgeously spare harmonies with Norah Jones on "Kindness" to the barely audible twangs of guitar on "Come Home." He's purely elegant throughout.

  • St. Vincent, 'Strange Mercy' (4AD)

    St. Vincent, 'Strange Mercy' (4AD)

    Annie Clark strikes a downright divine balance between scornful rock squall and serenely sweet vocalizing. Her third album is her most mercurial yet, a dense clash of post-punk fuzz and baroque-pop rumination, with esoteric ?new elements, from atonal electro-jazz to synth scratches to cheeky talkbox. While she was charmingly fey on 2007 debut Marry Me and caustic on 2009 follow-up Actor, she's introspective and fanciful here, crafting a single mother's lullaby on the title track, and repenting for her insecure past on "Cheerleader." Yet she's no passive pom-pom girl: Clark's complex femininity, both self-possessed and keenly evolving, is what makes her music so powerful and fascinating.

  • Milagres, 'Glowing Mouth' (Kill Rock Stars)

    Milagres, 'Glowing Mouth' (Kill Rock Stars)

    Milagres singer Kyle Wilson does not move idly. Stricken with writer's block a few years back, the Brooklyn native fled to Canada, where he promptly injured his back rock climbing. He wrote his psych-pop quintet's second album while bedridden, fulfilling the wanderlust his accident cut short by indulging in languid chamber-pop piano ("Doubted") and falsetto funk-lite grooves (the title track). Yet Glowing Mouth's general disillusionment anchors its sprawl: Wayfarer anthem "Here to Stay" depicts a Walden-esque oasis of bucolic hills and lilting birds outside, but when Wilson throws open the shutters, no light shines through.

  • 110826-st-vincent-1.png

    St. Vincent Debuts New Album at NYC's Metropolitan

    "I think we're having a little help from antiquity," cracked St. Vincent, the priestess of the hour, gazing reverently at the Egyptian ruins that comprised her stage. It was a contradiction of size that the deity-fearing Egyptians would have appreciated: The towering Temple of Dendur, an Egyptian sandstone edifice built during the reign of Julius Caesar, set opposite the frail yet ferocious New York-based singer-songwriter born Annie Clark. In fact, the temple, one of the most celebrated permanent exhibits of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was utilized Thursday night as an eleventh-hour substitute for the equally picturesque rooftop of the museum, which was plagued all afternoon by the foreboding rain of pre-hurricane Manhattan. The regal evening marked the first New York performance of St. Vincent's third record, Strange Mercy, out September 13 on 4AD.

  • Fountains of Wayne, 'Sky Full of Holes' (Yep Roc)

    Fountains of Wayne, 'Sky Full of Holes' (Yep Roc)

    The "Stacy's Mom" jangle-pop purveyors offer plenty of excellent cues for summertime activities on their perky fifth album, from passing out on tables ("Radio Bar") to lounging in seaside cabanas ("A Dip in the Ocean") to "staring at the sun with no pants on" ("Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart"). Sky eschews the occasional decade-hopscotching of 2007's Traffic and Weather, reaching a new, raw sincerity and cohesiveness: "Hate to See You Like This" is an anxious entreaty to a depressed girlfriend exquisitely framed by a dramatic backdrop of electric and acoustic guitars.

  • The Horrors, 'Skying' (XL)

    The Horrors, 'Skying' (XL)

    Coachella denizens may remember the Horrors' petulant set a couple of years ago, during which the Brits griped that they'd rather be watching My Bloody Valentine across the field. Inspiring stuff. But the young quintet's third album is more promising, adding expansive synthscapes and subtle brass arrangements to the art-rock gravitas of 2009's Primary Colours, teasing out a poppier take on Primal Scream. Skying lacks the urgency of their raucous goth-punk debut Strange House, but the broadly hooky single "Still Life" could fill an arena nicely, and the band actually sound interested enough to entertain the possibility.

  • Cliffie Swan, 'Memories Come True' (Drag City)

    Cliffie Swan, 'Memories Come True' (Drag City)

    This Brooklyn-based country-folk pair changed their name from Lights to avoid confusion with the Canadian electro singer and wearer of headbands. And although the Brooklyn Lights did dabble in disco pop a bit disconcertingly on 2009's Rites, that turns out to have been a minor digression. Their third album is fully realized and multifaceted, a nuanced balance of angelic balladry featuring lightly tickled guitar (the title track) and harder-edged, assertively distorted rock ("California Baby"), recalling the best of Stevie Nicks and Veruca Salt.

  • Black Lips, 'Arabia Mountain' (Vice)

    Black Lips, 'Arabia Mountain' (Vice)

    Sure, they're howling about molested superheroes and E. coli-ridden steak, not the rain in Spain, but Atlanta's Black Lips under-go something of a My Fair Lady sprucing-up on their sixth album. In the hands of dapper producer Mark Ronson, the glibly sloppy, lo-fi brats are almost sculpted into garage-punk sophistication, adding extended psychedelic guitar lines, fleshed-out percussion, even retro-soul sax. Frayed-nerve vocalists Jared Swilley and Cole Alexander show new composure, and without the extra layers of dirt, the band's songwriting skills are plain as day.

  • Battles, 'Gloss Drop' (Warp)

    Battles, 'Gloss Drop' (Warp)

    The second album by these New York math-rockers embraces a dubious formula: subtract exceptional avant-garde guitarist Tyondai Braxton, add...Gary Numan? Yet Numan's harried, yelping cameo on "My Machines" is a triumphant moment, an experimental outburst both ingenious and accessible. The quintet's 2007 debut, Mirrored, was proggy, primal fare; Gloss Drop is an immersion in abstract tonalities, with Tropicalia-touched dark minimalism ("Rolls Bayce"), tetchy arrhythmic strings "(Africastle"), and propulsive funk ("Futura"). Braxton's clever, found-sound loops are missed, but the remaining members' rampant ideas and inexorable groove keep Battles engrossing.

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