Gossamer
PASSION PIT
(Columbia)

As one of indie rock's most ambitiously creative synth groups, it's no wonder that Cambridge, Mass's Passion Pit's sophomore album Gossamer continues to bring the goods, offering up some of their most tuneful tracks yet (see the opener “Take A Walk”), all with the jubilant sense of ecstasy they've been known for. This said, it's often the album's more laidback tracks that see the quintet evolving the most, particularly the somber closing track “Where We Belong,” with its slow build-up and moody electronics. RB

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Blak and Blu
GARY CLARK, JR.
(Warner Bros.)

Gary Clark, Jr. spared no expense in pulling off one of the most ambitious and eclectic albums of the 21st century. Strangely enough this is the blues guy's debut album. Complicated on paper, Clark combs through period pieces ranging from Hendrix rock (“Glitter Ain't Gold”), OutKast-John Legend hybrids (“Blak and Blu”) and throws down using Gov't Mule excessiveness on the seven-minute rouser “When My Train Pulls In.” He's probably more effective when channeling Stevie Ray Vaughan gusto (“Numb”), Chuck Berry jams ("Travis County") or Billy Squire jams (“Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me”) - yea, the stuff that illuminates a live show during a Bonnaroo set. JMC

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Loving You More: In the
Spirit of Etta James

LEELA JAMES
(Shanachie)

The Aretha-possessed Leela James hardly gets the credit she deserves, but she got enough attention with her unselfish old-school-meets-new school tribute to the late Etta James. She doesn't totally rewrite the classics, but she does reinterpret those using updated arrangements and her own delectable Southern-cooked pipes (see “Something's Got a Hold of Me”). James also finds sneaky ways to toss in Prince grooves (“Damn Your Eyes”), Memphis soul (“Nobody Loves You Like Me”) and a few damn good originals (“I'm Loving You More Each Day,” “It Hurts Me So Much'). JMC

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Electra Heart
MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS
(679/Atlantic)

Though Welsh-Greek singer Marina Diamandis' second LP Electra Heart would at first appear to be nothing more than a Ke$ha or Katy Perry rip-off, it's actually a giant, quasi-sarcastic ode to superficial pop music, with virtually all lyrics poking fun at the genre (song titles alone spell it out: “Bubblegum Bitch,” “Teen Idle” and “Valley Of The Dolls”). On top of this concept-album-level lyrical content, the music itself is top-notch, highlights being the relatively down-tempo ballad “The State Of Dreaming” and the house-y, Euro track “Radioactive.” » RB

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Psychedelic Pill
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
(Reprise)

Psychedelic Pill is a double-disc time warp back to ‘60's hippiedom, decked out with lots of hazy guitar riffing. Inside, Young enjoys his healing salve of recounting his first memories of hearing Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead (see “Twisted Road”), but it's his never-ending epics – many of them ticking way past the eight-minute mark – that showcases just how ballsy (or stoned) Young was in designing this Woodstock relic. It stands out as one of the better feature presentations to ever come from Young's association with Crazy Horse. » JMC

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Beacon
TWO DAY CINEMA CLUB
(Kitsuné)

Though living up to the level of inspiration found on their first album was unquestionably a difficult task for Northern Irish indie rockers Two Door Cinema Club, their sophomore effort still packs a lot of punch, tweaking the band's lightfooted-yet-energetic sound (see the first single “Sleep Alone”) just enough to have its own personality. Two surprising additions are the rousing brass section halfway through the track “Sun” and female backing vocals on “The World Is Watching,” but the real attraction here is the creatively distinct guitar work of lead guitarist Sam Halliday seen throughout the album. » RB

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Away From the World
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
(RCA)

The return of producer Steve Lillywhite (U2) to the Dave Matthews regime may have been the most important thing guiding their 2012 disc. 1998's Before These Crowded Streets is where Lillywhite parted ways. Letting bygones be bygones, the reestablished union creates a record that stands out as one of DMB's finer works with its versatile display of Sting-esque vocals on Steely Dan chords (“Broken Things”), Earth, Wind & Fire funky horns (“Belly Belly Nice”), sweet balladry (“Sweet”) and therapeutic smooth jazz (“Mercy”). At times, it sounds like a return to the band's ‘90's form. What was once old somehow feels new again. » JMC

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Contact
NOISETTES
(Mono-ra-rama)

For their third album Contact, London's indie-soul two-piece Noisettes bring an even more infectious blend of the stylings of Cee Lo Green, Janelle Monáe, and indie rock at large, offering up a wide variety of sounds, all glued together by the vocal power and intrigue of lead singer Shingai Shoniwa. Though hooky, synth-pop numbers like “I Want U Back” are the album's mainstay, other genres, like country/folk (“Ragtop Car”), disco (“Free”), and even a dubstep-tinged ballad (“Travelling Light”) make strong appearances, offering just the right amount of balance to make for a truly solid listening experience from start to finish. » RB

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Babel
MUMFORD & SONS
(Island/Glassnote)

Marcus Mumford and company understand the value of a signature sound. The second studio offering by Mumford & Sons is no great departure from their debut album, so those that fell in love with the British band's indie-folk sound in 2010 should find themselves in familiar territory. Critics have faulted the band for a lack of artistic progression since Sigh No More, but they've found what works for them. There's an ebb and flow to the emotional intensity of their songs that may be predictable, but it is fitting. The truth is that they handle their instruments well. They harmonize well. They know what they do best and do exactly that. » TL

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Slipstream
BONNIE RAITT
(Redwing)

Some easily dismissed Bonnie Raitt's sixteenth album as another edition to the 21st century Americana series, but the perfectly titled Slipstream offered a collection of Southern funk (‘Used to Rule the World”), dazzling Bob Marley-tinged reggae (“Right Down the Line”) and Bob Dylan bluesy reinventions (“Million Miles,” “Standing in the Doorway”). On “Take My Love With You,” Raitt dances in the moonlight using Adele glamour and an acoustic readiness that turns the California singer-songwriter into a sexy vixen. For those eager to write this off as a nice comeback album are intentionally not giving the album enough credit. This event proved to be so much more. » JMC

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