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La Sera, Conor Oberst, and Thee Oh Sees 

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click to enlarge La Sera: Hour of the Dawn

La Sera

Hour of the Dawn

Hardly Art

File next to: Spectrals, No Joy

Katy Goodman, cofounder of the Brooklyn indie-rock band Vivian Girls, has chosen to turn up the noise on Hour of the Dawn, the third album from her current project, La Sera. But amid the punk-rock excesses, Goodman — who sometimes goes by the name Kickball Katy — also conjures up echoes of the classic Phil Spector girl-groups as well as influences ranging from '60s garage rock to '80s New Wave. The lyrics fit the genres, as tracks like "Losing to the Dark" find her singing about running away and staying up all night doing drugs. Over the course of its 10 songs, Hour of the Dawn shifts gears rapidly, offering equal measures of sweetness and edge, as well as a whole lot of guitar from Tod Wisenbaker. Add it all together and you've got an unexpectedly satisfying soundtrack for the summer. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge Conor Oberst: Upside Down Mountain

Conor Oberst

Upside Down Mountain

Nonesuch

File next to: Elliott Smith, Cursive

In the two decades since Conor Oberst founded Bright Eyes, the Omaha troubadour has polished his production and arrangement talents to match the quality of his often-angsty lyrics. Oberst's only problem has been over-commitment — not only among bands such as Bright Eyes, Mystic Valley Band and Monsters of Folk, but even between versions of himself. The 2005 folk-country album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning had to compete with an electronica album released the same day. For Upside Down Mountain, Oberst has lined up a Mystic Valley/Bright Eyes supergroup that focuses his music to a razor's edge. The lyrics are world-weary and clever, while the music tastefully layers riffs over counter-rhythms. Sample "Hundreds of Ways" and "Time Forgot," and you just may find yourself agreeing with the New York Times that Oberst is America's most important songwriter. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Thee Oh Sees: Drop

Thee Oh Sees

Drop

Castle Face Records

File next to: Ty Segall Band, the Raveonettes

Thee Oh Sees are back with Drop, a nine-song blast of fuzzy garage rock that's all about grooves and guitar noise. While still primarily led by the prolific John Dwyer, Drop also finds the San Francisco band bringing in a handful of outside contributors — most notably Mikal Cronin on sax and Greer McGettrick of The Mallard on backing vocals. But it's mostly a Dwyer guitar-fest: sludgy and layered here, snaking and shaking there. Songs like "Penetrating Eye" and "Transparent World" are psychedelic with variety in the swirl, whether it's the strings of "King's Nose," the punchy sax in the midst of a semi-acoustic "Put Some Reverb on My Brother" or the title cut's guitar-rave goodness. There are even shades of The Beatles on "The Lens," which deftly brings this set of neo-Nuggets to its conclusion. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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