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click to enlarge Random Access Memories album cover

Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

Columbia

File next to: Deadmau5, New Order, Donna Summer

When fashion magazines gush that Daft Punk duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are "applying '70s and '80s sensibilities" to their music, it means they're taking the time to layer their robotic work with human elements. Guests like Julian Casablancas and Pharrell Williams can't help but take them halfway there, and narrative tales like "Giorgio by Moroder" make the album downright touching at times. But Random Access Memories still mixes in way too much Auto-Tune, along with occasionally insipid vocals ("Within"). As befits their constant use of robot masks, Daft Punk have yet to prove that humans always reside underneath. Every now and then we sense '70s disco or '80s choreography, but usually it's just a 21st-century video game played high up in the posh Hollywood hills where the duo hides. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Currents album cover

Eisley

Currents

Equal Vision Records

File next to: Mutemath, Sucré

Fans who were worried that 2011's The Valley might signal the beginning of a more bitter era for Eisley can breathe a sigh of relief with Currents. The DuPree sisters — Sherri, Stacy and Chauntelle — sound as siren-like as ever (Stacy is particularly heavenly on the ethereal love/rock song "Real World") and the music is lush and adventurous. Hypnotic beats, gorgeous acoustic guitars, a stirring string section and Sherri's chilling vocals make "The Night Comes" a head-turner, and the piano-led finale, "Shelter," features a striking chorus from the trio as well as Stacy's solo delivery of lines like "Nowhere feels like somewhere when I'm in your arms." The title track proves they still make some groovy dance rock numbers, "Blue Fish" combines soul-stirring lyrics and melodies, and the surprisingly jazzy rock of "Drink the Water" is a home run. Currents is, in a word, sublime. — Brian Palmer

click to enlarge Trouble Will Find Me album cover

The National

Trouble Will Find Me

4AD Records

File next to: Tindersticks, Arab Strap, Nick Cave

When lead singer Matt Berninger appeared on late-night TV with high-fashion glasses and a slightly jowly look, it was clear that the National has that moody orchestral thing down pat. (Hell, they even dedicate this sixth album to their kids, suggesting that youthful indiscretion is foreign by now.) Normally, the attempt to be more polished and more minimalist would imply a kiss of death, but the National pulls it off better than most indie bands with sullen baritone singers. Even though the last two albums were nearly perfect, Trouble Will Find Me still manages to sound fresh. Few lyrics here are as direct as High Violet's "Runaway," though the best, like "Graceless" and "Don't Swallow the Cap," come close. Maybe it's the support from Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent and Sharon Van Etten, but in any event, the National continues to impress. — Loring Wirbel

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