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Earl Sweatshirt, Nellie McKay, and The Alabama Shakes 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt

I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside

Columbia

File next to: Odd Future, Domo Genesis

Tyler the Creator might be feeling a bit nervous about his protégé, since the Odd Future collective's leader accelerated his own album release to arrive not soon after Earl Sweatshirt's. The third album by Sweatshirt certainly ranks as darker and more troubled than his 2010 eponymous release or 2013's Doris. Traditional hip-hop backing music has been eschewed for a minimalist drone that flies in the face of the many overproduced psychedelic hip-hop albums of recent years. Tracks with the most poetic storytelling, such as "Faucet" and "Grief," work best, though all are more fear-filled than Sweatshirt's earlier street poetry. The album works up an ambience similar to Neil Young's Tonight's the Night or other concept albums of bleak despair — brilliant, but to be approached with caution. Sweatshirt can lay claim to offering the oddest release yet from the Odd Future collective. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Nellie McKay

Nellie McKay

My Weekly Reader

429 Records

File next to: Erin McKeown, Inara George

Nellie McKay arrived a decade ago with two sprawling double-disc sets that cemented her reputation as an unusual jazz and pop chanteuse. Since then, her stage work has included A Girl Named Bill — The Life and Times of Billy Tipton and a lighthearted look at murderer Barbara Graham. Unfortunately, recent studio efforts have been spotty, including an album of Doris Day covers and another of uninspired originals. On My Weekly Reader, however, she's joined by Bela Fleck and Dweezil Zappa for 13 cover tunes, mostly from the '60s, that burst with joy. At 33, her curating intuition is strong, dredging up ancient wonders like Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park," The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon," The Cyrkle's "Red Rubber Ball," and even Frank Zappa's "Hungry Freaks, Daddy." It may be hard to find McKay's center of gravity, but when it comes to summertime covers albums, this is among the best. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes

Sound & Color

ATO

File next to: Heartless Bastards, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Brittany Howard, lead vocalist and guitarist for Alabama Shakes, displayed enough diversity on Boys & Girls — a debut album with influences ranging from roots to progressive rock — that the band could have repeated the basic formula and still sounded fresh. Instead, Sound & Color showcases Howard's moans and growls with stripped-down, bass-heavy arrangements. While a track or two on Sound & Color might be tagged as traditional Southern rock, most are as unique as the group's minimalist performance of "Don't Wanna Fight" on Saturday Night Live. There's the eerie "Dunes," the Ramones-like "The Greatest" and the strident "Gimme All Your Love," recalling Zep's "Since I've Been Loving You." The risk is that the band will become a mere foil to its frontwoman, but Howard would have no problem commanding the spotlight. — Loring Wirbel

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