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Bill Fay, Speedy Ortiz, Built to Spill 

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Bill Fay

Who is the Sender?

Dead Oceans Records

File next to: Spiritualized, Nick Drake

British pianist/songwriter Bill Fay is obscure, although his work has been championed by Jeff Tweedy, Nick Cave and Current 93's David Tibet. Poor sales of Fay's radical 1971 album, Time of the Last Persecution, resulted in his label dropping him, and Fay's brief but brilliant music career was effectively over and forgotten. However, producer Joshua Henry coaxed Fay into the studio for an unexpected 2012 comeback, and Fay and Henry have now reconvened for another beautiful and cryptic album, Who Is the Sender? Fay, now in his early 70s, has a weathered, yet striking, tenor voice perfectly suited for plaintive ruminations on life, death, God, war, joy and sadness. His poetic use of nature imagery is perhaps second only to Nick Drake's, while his hypnotic piano playing is perfectly complemented by hushed, majestic psychedelic-folk arrangements. The second coming of this masterful songwriter should not be missed. — Collin Estes

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Speedy Ortiz

Foil Deer

Carpark Records

File next to: Bettie Serveert, Liz Phair

Sadie Dupuis, lead guitarist and vocalist of Massachusetts-based Speedy Ortiz, captured the best of 1990s sounds in two earlier albums. She combines an overall aura similar to the Dutch band Bettie Serveert, with arrangements that recall Pavement or Slint. For this third album, the band creates a broader and more intense work by expanding the palette. Dupuis' voice now melds a hint of Guyville-era Liz Phair with that of Bettie Serveert's Carol van Dijk. The guitars are more chaotic and less controlled, in the manner of legendary indie band Trumans Water. But Foil Deer is not a best-of-the-'90s mashup album. Dupuis has slow-cooked these sounds into a very 21st-century gumbo, yielding startling tracks like "Good Neck" and "My Dead Girl." If anything keeps Foil Deer short of masterpiece, it's the fragmented, self-contained nature of the songs. But what could be more '90s than that? — Loring Wirbel

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Built to Spill

Untethered Moon

Warner Brothers

File next to: Archers of Loaf, Ugly Casanova

It's unclear when and why Doug Martsch and his Boise, Idaho, pals got lumped into a jam-band category. Built to Spill was always about a crisp, syncopated guitar sound giving life to otherwise slacker Pacific Northwest tunes. The band has not released an album in six years, and it's been almost a decade since its powerful, anthemic You In Reverse album was released. Martsch hails back to that sound in the new Untethered Moon, even giving a little Amboy Dukes flavor to the opening track, "All Our Songs." The lyrics are self-referential about the music industry itself, reiterating the redemptive power of rock, as if Martsch himself needed a reminder. An overabundance of fuzz and feedback by album's end keeps it from being quite the equal of You In Reverse. Nevertheless, Martsch goes a long way toward proving that Built to Spill is hardly hippie jam music. — Loring Wirbel

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