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click to enlarge Days Are Gone

Haim

Days Are Gone

Columbia

File next to: Kimbra, Suzi Quatro

Advance buzz suggested that the Haim sisters bore some resemblance to Lindsay Buckingham/Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac. The '80s references are correct in general, but promoters got the bands wrong. On last month's impressive Saturday Night Live appearance, Haim sounded much like an electrified, funkier Roches. And on its Days Are Gone album, the Southern California trio includes hints of artists ranging from the Bangles to New Order. The three sisters are at their most impressive pulling off counter-melodies and counter-lyrics without missing a beat, a talent that makes the band uniquely fun to watch. Their songwriting may not be as clever as the Roches', and in fact can actually get a little maudlin at times. Nevertheless, the football references in "The Wire" make the song leap from the speakers, while "Forever" is the most hypnotic dance track since "Bizarre Love Triangle." Not bad for a debut album. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Minus One

The KVB

Minus One

A Recordings Ltd.

File next to: Jesus & Mary Chain, Genesis P-Orridge

Fearless London duo the KVB has supplied a dark treat for fans of goth and post-punk music with its new Minus One album. Fans of these genres will happily recognize many hallmark sounds, such as the watery undertow bass that recalls early Joy Division, the pulsating synthesizers à la early Cure or Suicide, and the vocals awash in a haze of 4AD-esque reverb. However, it's not some paint-by-numbers reproduction that suggests post-punk and gothic rock's heyday, but rather a fresh, clever spirit of experimentalism. The overall gloomy atmospheres give way to fierce hooks ("Live or Die"); sheets of jagged guitar exist comfortably next to the more delicate keyboard textures ("Something Inside"); and the percussion hammers away with expressive ferocity. None of this feels like a crass aping of the band's influences, nor does the KVB's creativity ever overwhelm its listenability. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Christmas Songs

Bad Religion

Christmas Songs

Epitaph Records

File next to: The Clash, Bing Crosby

The season's most unexpected Christmas album has to be this release from punk veterans Bad Religion, which finds the band bringing its hard-charging tempos, slashing guitars and vocal harmonies (an underrated strength of the group) to eight holiday standards. It's an interesting choice of material, with most of the songs emanating from the religious and spiritual realm rather than the playful Frosty and Rudolph side of the spectrum. There are some moments of inspiration here, including the exceptional guitar riff on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and Greg Graffin's vocal chops on the a cappella opening to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." And who would have thought anyone could make "White Christmas" sound like it fell off of a Sex Pistols album (minus the sneering Johnny Rotten vocal, of course)? Bad Religion does that and more, cramming it all into 19 minutes of music that's sure to ward off holiday fatigue. — Alan Sculley

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