The candy-coated craftsmanship and joy on display throughout Spreading Rumours makes the record ludicrously easy to love — a welcome dose of summertime from the L.A. pop-rock band, just in time for fall.
The band's first album since 1999 once again mixes unlikely sensibilities: miserablism made vital by gritty forcefulness, scabrousness harnessed in the pursuit of beauty. Even as singer Lou Barlow offers up clear-eyed postmortems of a wrecked marriage, Defend Yourself exudes the live-wire energy of musicians brought back from the brink.
There's an element of Porter's singing that feels like a welcome throwback, though he doesn't spell it out precisely. On his third album, he only seeks the soulful spirit of griots gone by. And all he asks you to do is clap your hands now.
A rich and approachable encapsulation of the singer-songwriter's unpredictable sound, Nobody knows. opens with two full minutes of Beal's unaccompanied voice before fanning out into a deft mix of spare blues confessionals and classic soul.
One of the year's best rock albums features four women who play impassioned punk. Phoebe Harris' guitar riffs on Hell Bent are some of the catchiest of 2013, and while Abby Weems' monotone voice isn't polished, but it's a perfect fit for Potty Mouth's rough-hewn melodies.
Abel Tesfaye delivers his jaded lyrics with such tension, and surrounds them with such heartless machinery, that the listener can't help but feel a little trapped in his matrix. It's an uneasy feeling, but also genuinely provocative.
For Okkervil River's Will Sheff, it's been impossible to let go of Meriden, N.H., circa 1986. He pays tribute to that place and time in a nostalgia-fueled album that floats warmly in the soft spots separating childhood from adolescence.
The Julie Ruin returns Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) to her rightful place leading a noisy bunch of smart pleasure-seekers. Singing about sickness and recovery, dumb nightlife and life-changing community, Hanna helps listeners better understand punk's past and future.
Tremor creates a mash-up of South American traditions and electronic music. Its new album, Proa, offers a fascinating exploration into a "digital folklorico" style that bleeps, echoes, thumps and dances.