Imagine Dragons, Kate Pierson, and Black Sheep Wall 

Sound Advice

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Imagine Dragons

Smoke + Mirrors


File next to: OneRepublic, Arcade Fire

Imagine Dragons are immensely popular, yet the Vegas-based group is dismissed by many. Maybe it's because these good Mormon boys want to re-imagine Coldplay as a more rhythm-centered band. But what's wrong with vocalist Dan Reynolds trying to top Chris Martin's style, just with more cowbell? Within the confines of mainstream pop, Imagine Dragons continue to get most things right, unlike their haughty cohorts in Bastille. And while sophomore album Smoke + Mirrors has the predictable riff or hackneyed lyric here or there, the same can be said of U2. Likewise, brash singalong styles might provoke eye-rolling, but no more so than The Lumineers or Mumford & Sons. In tracks like "Friction," the band's sound even suggests Justin Timberlake. Among the 13 tracks (17 in the deluxe edition), there are only one or two clunkers, which is a better ratio than most pop artists can boast. — Loring Wirbel

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Kate Pierson

Guitars and Microphones

Lazy Meadow/Kobalt

File next to: Dee-Lite, The Bangles, Tom Tom Club

Since B-52s co-founder Kate Pierson grew up in the hippie era rather than the band's new wave heyday, she's now fast approaching retirement age even as her first proper solo album hits the bins. But like The Smiths' Johnny Marr, she's saved her best work until now. And unlike the B52s' 2008 reunion album, which was at best lackluster, Guitars and Microphones offers wry, clever songs detailing her camp career, complete with crisp engineering and arrangements. Not only is Pierson's voice as strong as ever, it's also employed in unexpected vocal stylings and trills. The strongest material here, such as the title track and "Throw Down the Roses," is as distinctive as anything in 21st-century pop. Pierson's past work may have led fans to expect bubble-gum; instead she offers exquisite substance. — Loring Wirbel

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Black Sheep Wall

I'm Going to Kill Myself

Season of Mist

File next to: Harvey Milk, Lord Mantis

Black Sheep Wall is a cadre of sludge/doom metal weirdos from L.A. They've been weird since 2008's excellent I Am God Songs, but this new disc — their third full-length — pushes different boundaries. For instance, this album takes around an hour to cover four tracks. The first, "The Wailing and the Gnashing and the Teeth," layers new singer (former bassist) Brandon Gillichbauer's screamed vocals over sparse guitar melodies and martial drums. There's no release, but that's not the point. "Tetsuo the Dead Man" and "White Pig" have ominous chanted vocals — the only clean singing here. Both run slow and heavy, though a little long. The 33-minute closing track "Metallica" keeps its movements short enough to stay fresh. Each is around six minutes at most, concluding with Gillichbauer screaming the album's title over a crunching riff that suddenly detunes to great effect. — Griffin Swartzell

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