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Liars, Lydia Loveless, and The Hold Steady 

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Liars

Mess

Mute Song Ltd.

File next to: Gang Gang Dance, Clinic

Liars have been a consistently inconsistent and unpredictable band since bursting out of the downtown NYC dance scene in 2001. The group always opted for weirdness in the manner of Black Dice, but recent albums had been drifting into a Pink Floyd style of mysticism. Mess returns us to the heaviest beats since 2006's Drum's Not Dead. While vocalist Angus Andrew hints at profundity from time to time, Mess reverts back to a rhythm-driven playfulness that has been missing from their work. Tracks like "I'm No Gold" might suggest a dance remix of Magical Mystery Tour. It may also be no accident that the cover art resembles that of Pete Swanson's Man With Potential, as Liars aim for Swanson's silly experimentation with noise. There are no doubt hints of the supernatural within, but who cares in the presence of such relentless dance movement? — Loring Wirbel

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Lydia Loveless

Somewhere Else

Bloodshot Records

File next to: Lone Justice, Elizabeth Cook

On "Really Wanna See You," Lydia Loveless sings of going to a party, doing a line of cocaine and tracking down a married ex-boyfriend. On the slinky "Wine Lips," she's "still the only girl you dream about." So begins Somewhere Else, the third album from the young Columbus, Ohio, songstress who's put away her old-timey leanings in favor of country-tinged rock 'n roll. Anchored by the twang-meets-punk guitar of Todd May, the sound conjures up Maria McKee's Lone Justice, blending acoustic rhythms into muscular songs with an authenticity that Nashville's current artists can't touch. Loveless' close-to-the-bone songwriting brings to mind Lucinda Williams; her singing evokes Stevie Nicks. Lyrically, she moves between love and regret, even name-checking 19th-century poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud along the way. The results are plenty intense, and so is Loveless — L. Kent Wolgamott

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The Hold Steady

Teeth Dreams

Razor & Tie

File next to: Ted Leo, Titus Andronicus, Bruce Springsteen

Craig Finn always wanted to be the last Romantic poet left standing, convinced of the redemptive power of rock. When he was backed by the full Hold Steady band, that commitment was credible. But when The Hold Steady went on hiatus and Finn released a solo album in 2012, the passion seemed to thin out. So what could The Hold Steady do for its first album in four years? It could opt for a raucous, flailing and snarling delivery, with even more layers of blistering guitars. Instead of boasting of "boys and girls in America," Finn speaks in the track "On With the Business" of an "American sadness." The title of the opening track, "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You," confronts end-times grief even more explicitly. Teeth Dreams is The Hold Steady's first scary album. That is a good thing. — Loring Wirbel

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