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Kaiser Chiefs, Doug Gillard, The War on Drugs 

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Kaiser Chiefs

Education, Education, Education & War

ATO Records

File next to: Art Brut, Franz Ferdinand,

Many music-lovers in the U.K. wanted Kaiser Chiefs to fail after Nick Hodgson left the band and lead singer Ricky Wilson joined The Voice UK. When Kaiser Chiefs released a concept album to mark WWI's centenary last year, the groans could be heard across the Atlantic. The biggest surprise of the new album is that the band pulls off some rocking and wise tunes, notably "The Factory Gates." There's an ambitiousness, not unlike The Who's Quadrophenia, with antiwar themes that span 10 decades. EEE&W has its ups and downs; still, a band that tries a mighty concept and fails in part, even gloriously, may be better than one that perfectly executes something that says nothing at all. — Loring Wirbel

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Doug Gillard

Parade On

Nine Mile Records

File next to: Nada Surf, Johnny Marr

Those familiar with Doug Gillard's guitar work for Guided by Voices, Death of Samantha, and Nada Surf, might be surprised to learn of the breadth of his solo output, capped most recently by 2009's Call From Restricted. This new outing is as riff-heavy as that, but also finds Gillard more comfortable with his voice, alone and in harmonic overdubbings that suggest the friendly nasallity of Ray Davies. Parade On offers a tempos and moods carefully blended, like Johnny Marr's 2013 solo album. Early cuts like "Ready for Death" and "Angel X" are the most memorable, the remaining nine don't flag. It's a treat to see one of indie-rock's great session guitarists step ably into the spotlight. — Loring Wirbel

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The War on Drugs

Lost in the Dream

Secretly Canadian

File next to: Beck, Foals

The War on Drugs delivers enveloping ambient Heartland rock on its third superb album, Lost in the Dream. Recording largely by himself, Adam Granduciel doesn't hide his influences, with a touch of Bruce Springsteen's synthesized '80s sound here, Bruce Hornsby there, some Dire Straits guitar, and lots of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Dylan, in fact, gets a near tribute on "Eyes to the Wind" via Granduciel's phrasing, literary storytelling, and cascading country ramble. Wrapped in fuzzy synths and guitars, the songs range from the rousingly anthemic "Red Eyes" to the quietly drifting "Suffering," with the spacey "Burning" stretching to nearly nine minutes. Like his former bandmate Kurt Vile, Granduciel negotiates the backbeat-anchored haze by delivering a set of emotional songs that are personal, problematic, yet optimistic. That makes Lost in the Dream one of this year's best records to date. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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