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Brendan Benson, Morcheeba, Jucifer 

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click to enlarge Brendan Benson

Brendan Benson

You Were Right

Readymade Records

File next to: Dwight Twilley, Badfinger

Raconteurs co-founder Brendan Benson has delivered a treat for power-pop fans with this cohesive compilation of solo singles and unreleased material. Benson is more of a classicist than bandmate Jack White, and while tracks such as "It's Your Choice" and "As of Tonight" recall Badfinger more than they do garage-punk, none of You Were Right sounds like the majority of watered-down '70s radio hits, thanks to Benson's tight arrangements and gift for melody and countermelody. "Long Term Goal" struts like the Rolling Stones' prettier cousins; "I Don't Wanna See You Anymore" is understated melodrama heightened by horns and organs; "Purely Automatic" is a bouncy pop number enveloped in shadowy vocal harmonies; and "Swallow You Whole" all but resurrects Nicky Hopkins with its jaunty dancehall piano. You Were Right is an impressive collection steeped in the best elements of classic rock. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Morcheeba

Morcheeba

Head Up High

PIAS Recordings

File next to: Black Eyed Peas, Massive Attack, Thievery Corp.

Morcheeba is constantly plagued by its late-'90s success, which relied on lead singer Skye Edwards. She gave the band a unique dance sound, melding trip-hop with vocals reminiscent of Black Eyed Peas. Since then, the band has broken up and reunited at least twice. After trying in 2008 to relaunch with snoozy material, founding brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey worked on vibrant and joyful songs before persuading Edwards to rejoin the band. The resulting Head Up High sounds a bit like Portishead or Lamb being led by Fergie in a very good mood. The effort clicks on songs like "Face of Danger," though in a few, like "Make Believer," Morcheeba sounds like it could be a lounge act. And that's the curse of moving into middle age — Morcheeba is striving to sound mature and dazzling without lapsing into some mood-music form of electronica. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Jucifer

Jucifer

There Is No Land Beyond the Volga

Alternative Tentacles

File next to: Dark Castle, Julie Christmas, L7

Sludge-metal fans familiar with Jucifer's 12-foot stack of amps might not appreciate that lead singer Gazelle Amber Valentine is an impressive amateur historian. The duo's double-album L'Autrichienne gave an exhaustive history of Marie Antoinette's final months, while 2010's Throned in Blood covered post-Rome barbarian kingdoms. Last year, Valentine and husband Edgar Livengood went to Volgograd to get local help writing about the two-year siege of Stalingrad in WWII. There Is No Land Beyond the Volga is an expansive work, with Russian spoken word and a capella singing. The original summer album release was delayed, but a beautiful gatefold art edition came out in December. Valentine sticks to a metal growl for her own singing parts, which is a shame given her PJ Harvey-esque acoustic vocals on L'Autrichienne. But Jucifer's history of Stalingrad in the war is nevertheless a metal masterpiece. — Loring Wirbel

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