• Fucked Up Become Their Own Black Hole on the Impossibly Dense 'Glass Boys'

    Fucked Up Become Their Own Black Hole on the Impossibly Dense 'Glass Boys'

    Fucked Up's first compilation was called Epics in Minutes, and even when their epics got longer -- from 2008's The Chemistry of Common Life forward – their great quality remained their density. Their ambition swelled, but their palette stayed small; they crammed intricate melodrama into their songs without conscripting orchestras or narrators.

  • Jim Adkins (foreground), World (background, partial view) / Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty

    Jimmy Eat World, 'Damage' (RCA)

    What you used Jimmy Eat World for around their peak (Bleed American, 2001) was to psych yourself up, if you were the kind of person who got psyched up with words. Songs like "A Praise Chorus" and "The Middle" were buffets of encouraging platitudes, set on a bed of crunchy, twisting guitars and seasoned with punk outbursts; and they sounded best in the car, before you'd actually reached the girl's house. Damage, the band's eighth album — and its shortest and simplest since that halcyon time — wants to do the same for you now: to wrap optimistic truths about adult romance around twinkling, fastidious melodies, and make you feel a little better about all the girls' houses you've reached since.It has good songs, too: the chiming title track; the restless, circling "Lean"; "No, Never," which has the best melody (and the best chugging rhythm guitar).

  • Paramore / Photo by Pamela Littky

    Paramore, 'Paramore' (Fueled by Ramen)

    "Misery Business," Paramore's highest-charting hit, was an odd thing — a song that spent half its time gloating and the other half apologizing. The crowning hook, after the narrator has won a boy from her rival, goes, "Oh, I never meant to brag / But God, it just feels so good." The "but" there is the most important thing about Paramore, aside from the way singer Hayley Williams inflates herself with joy on the words "so good." Few bands get such a rush from self-doubt — not the social or sexual insecurity that's been rock's fertilizer from the beginning, but real original-sin-style doubt, doubt about whether you are even an okay person. Williams sings about boyfriend-stealing and the "skeleton in me" and has one-sided conversations with people we can't hear who think her band's personal problems are her fault.

  • Deftones

    Deftones, 'Koi No Yokan' (Reprise)

    The respect denied so many '90s rock perennials persists for Deftones for two reasons. First, despite being an alleged nü-metal band, they could be really sexy. (We'll come back to that.) Second, they've typically decorated their slightly grungy and very slightly punky aesthetic with tasteful bells and whistles: a synth here, some programmed drums there, a song called "Digital Bath" with a lot of empty space in it. Koi No Yokan, their seventh album, doesn't contain much of that kind of thing at all, nor does it contain the band's best work.

  • No diggity, No Doubt

    No Doubt, 'Push and Shove' (Interscope)

    No Doubt were, and are, a party band. In the 1990s, there was some confused suspicion that they might be somewhat political, since Gwen Stefani did push-ups onstage and had a song where she sarcastically said she was just a girl and not to let her drive late at night.

  • Passion Pit, 'Gossamer' (Columbia)

    "Take a Walk," the first track and first single from Passion Pit's second album, Gossamer, is a grower — a thudding, crawling pop song that seems flatfooted at first, but with a little patience and attention, gradually yields a twisty, poignant wit. Given a lot of attention, though, something ungraspable and flimsy emerges about the narrative, whose most concrete feature is that it appears to keep referring to the economic recession (which is promising, since there's rarely been a subject so universally important given so little artistic attention), but stops nervously short of actually making sense. Sure, you can learn from helpful journalists that each verse narrates the American experience of a member of frontman Michael Angelakos' family, and once you know that, you can squint at the song and see how it works, or at least how it works for its author.

  • The Offspring, 'Days Go By' (Columbia)

    Because the Offspring, like all of us, daily draw nearer to death, their new album is clouded with nervous fear: the sound of four forty-ish Cali guys who took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up as the Offspring. This is a poignant, mortal sound, but unfortunately, it's also the sound of 12 more songs where the choruses are Brian "Dexter" Holland chanting laxly over muffled whoa-ohs. (This band has been whoa-oh-ing without cease for about 20 years now, long enough so that you can be sure they've had at least one conversation about it and decided it's a necessary feature.) Songs like "The Future Is Now" and "Secrets from the Underground" roaringly insist that their real story lies ahead, and that they have much yet to say. Raging against the dying of the light is a fine tradition, and you could probably find an expert who'd tell you that it's all art is.

  • G-Side, 'iSLAND' (Slow Motion Soundz)

    On the intro to G-Side's second album of 2011, an authoritative voice explains the long-term benefits of being what John Donne said no man was: "If you're strong, and you stand firm, and you keep doing what you do, the rest of the world will eventually come to see you -- and your island will become a nation."Which is a promise that you hear a lot these days, not just from rappers, but from all over America, home of 300 million little nations, some with much higher GDPs than others. Hip-hop hasn't (yet) been as generous to Alabama natives Stephen "ST 2 Lettaz"Harris and David "Yung Clova"Williams as it was to, say, Biggie, but iSLAND shares with "Mo Money Mo Problems" (and recent efforts by Kanye West) an ambivalence toward the money and success that has been, for at least two decades, mainstream rap's animating force.

  • Caithlin de Marrais, 'Red Coats' (End Up)

    On her solo debut, Caithlin de Marrais' distinguishing characteristic isn't that she was the frontwoman for emo vets Rainer Maria, but that she was the bassist. These are slight, spacious tracks, and the chattering drum loops and weightless strings could just wander away without the muted low-end muscle, like electrons lacking a nucleus. This isn't the most effective way to write songs, but sounds that'd be crushed in a busier mix -- a crawl of brittle guitar on "Birds," a shivering synth on "City Girl," de Marrais' shyly pretty voice -- are given a chance to gleam, as they cluster shyly around her more forceful, composed bass lines.

  • Miranda Lambert, 'Four the Record' (RCA Nashville)

    Miranda Lambert, 'Four the Record' (RCA Nashville)

    Miranda Lambert cowrote every song on Hell on Heels, the August debut of her country-gal trio Pistol Annies, so it's hard to fault her fourth solo record for featuring only a handful of self-penned tunes. Besides, her writers are often worthy. When, on one song, Mom calls to complain that the singer is handling a breakup badly, the truth lies in a punning cliché: "This ain't my mama's broken heart." Initially, we think the phrase means that breakups were different in Mom's day, but it really just means that the pain isn't hers, it's the daughter's alone. Elsewhere, the arrangements are bright and spacious, from the layered, percolating guitar on "Safe" and "Oklahoma Sky" to the fuzzy, love-stoned lope of "Fine Tune." But most of the words on Four the Record are flat, even when they're Lambert's.

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