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Gaslight Anthem, FKA twigs, and The Muffs 

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click to enlarge The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem

Get Hurt

Island Records

File next to: Frank Turner, The Hold Steady, Bruce Springsteen

It's ironic that Gaslight Anthem's earlier albums sought to distill the perfect Springsteen-Mellencamp hybrid sound — yet now that 2014 has been deemed the revisitation year for sounds of the 1970s, Gaslight Anthem has expanded to a more complex sound, mixing hard-rock lyrics with nuanced use of singer Brian Fallon's husky voice. The result finds Fallon adding suggestions of The National's Matt Berninger and Crooked Fingers' Eric Bachmann to his work, even as guitars range from Blue Oyster Cult to 10cc sounds. Some critics are ruthless in dismissing Gaslight Anthem's wider derivative palette, but at least the band hasn't made a full-tilt blast toward formless arena-rock, as Manchester Orchestra did in this year's disappointing Cope. Yes, there are songs on Get Hurt that may be sincere in discussing Fallon's divorce, but also decline into the downright hackneyed. But the diversity of sounds still keeps the work interesting. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge FKA twigs

FKA twigs

LP1

Young Turks Recordings

File next to: MIA, Banks, Lykke Li

Imogen Heap may regret postponing her newest album release until late August, as British-Jamaican singer Tahliah Barnett — recording here as FKA twigs — seems to have taken the lead among electronically modulated ethereal female singers. It is an oddity that FKA twigs is being marketed through dance and R&B channels, since her music is a chilling spectacle in ice, far more alien than Janelle Monae's space operas, approaching the strange delivery of a Julia Holter. LP1's lyrical subject matter is minimalist and sensual, but songs like "Lights On" and "Give Up" are passionate enough to suggest Kate Bush. At the same time, the layered rhythms can be as entrancing as Portishead. If anything, FKA twigs could use more of a beat to ground this astronomy lesson, but it is comforting to know that a new artist takes pride in being slightly weird, and is heavily marketed on that basis, without compromise. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge The Muffs

The Muffs

Whoop Dee Doo

Cherry Red

File next to: The Donnas, Dressy Bessy

It's been a really long time — a full decade, in fact —since Los Angeles trio The Muffs put out Really Really Happy, which looked to be their fifth and final album. Yet Whoop Dee Doo finds frontwoman Kim Shattuck and her two bandmates managing to sound as though they've been gone for just one year instead of 10. The album is filled with catchy, spiky tunes that continue to explore the confluence of garage rock, punk and pop. Shattuck's raspy nasal vocals are still as effective as ever. The songs, all of which she wrote and produced, have the same bite and humor, from opener "Weird Boy Next Door" through the "I'll fight the other woman" sentiments of "Take a Take a Me." You'll also find fuzzy, sweet-pop remorse in "Where Did I Go Wrong" and true love on "Forever." The result is a reunion album that connects more strongly with each listen. So welcome back, The Muffs. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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