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Matt and Kim, Waxahatchee, and The Mountain Goats 

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click to enlarge Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim

New Glow

Harvest

File next to: Mates of State, Ra Ra Riot

Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino have been churning out DIY bubbly pop for as long as they've been a couple, nigh on 10 years since their first album and its hit "Yea Yeah." Their sheer energy and manic keyboard-drum interchanges have brought them to bigger live venues each year, though studio releases have not always delivered memorable songs. Lately they've veered to the sort of electronica or hip-hop fashion and ambience favored by Karmin or Phantogram, without bowing to those musical styles. The songs on New Glow work when they mix silly with a touch of outrageous, as in "Make a Mess," though at times they veer into just plain dumb songs like "Hoodie On." The lo-fi crowd may blame Matt and Kim for getting slick, though that keeps them from stagnating. The real challenge is to turn down the cuteness. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Waxahatchee

Waxahatchee

Ivy Tripp

Merge

File next to: Hop Along, Speedy Ortiz

After Katie Crutchfield made a quantum leap with her second album as Waxahatchee, a number of record labels and music festivals seemed to genuflect at her feet. But two years after Cerulean Salt, can she continue to stand out among the powerful women singer-songwriters who have arisen since? Ivy Tripp's 13 songs prove that she can. Each is drenched in intensity, if not stridency. The tracks with heavy beats and guitars can ride the knife's edge with ease, but it's the minimalist songs — "Breathless," "Air" — that really haunt the listener. When Crutchfield talks of leaving a lover out "like a carton of milk," the very air seems to crackle. All Waxahatchee had to do to preserve a legend was not screw up for its third album. Crutchfield has accomplished much more, shifting her band into warp drive yet again. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats

Beat the Champ

Merge

File next to: The Weakerthans, Paul Baribeau

For an expanding fan base that considers John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats to be America's leading bard, any topic could be made profound in his able hands. Indeed, Darnielle can make people cry over Golden Boy Peanuts, the Chicago Cubs or shrieking gibbons, so a concept album about professional wrestling was perhaps inevitable. Beat the Champ also stands out as only the second Mountain Goat album to add horns and woodwinds, often to great effect. The guttural saxophones in "Foreign Object," for example, recall the band Morphine. A skeptic might think Beat is too gimmicky to have staying power, but these songs are winning Spotify and radio play because they're downright fun. If Darnielle indulges his fascination with grunge metal next time out, however, he might lose a listener or two. — Loring Wirbel

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