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M.I.A., Black Flag, and The KVB 

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M.I.A.

Matangi

Interscope

File next to: Grimes, Sky Ferreira

M.I.A. has relied on such a unique form of political hip-hop, she could have honed her particular niche for years and completely cornered the socially aware scene. But as she moved beyond Roland electronics to incorporate odd instruments, 2010's Maya sounded like a house party from another dimension. On Matangi, she adds Bollywood-style raga that gives the entire album a layered trip-hop feel. The politics, of course, stay fresh, with references to National Security Agency document-leaker Edward Snowden and a listing of nations suffering through imperial invasions (though one could wish she'd take on her native Sri Lanka a little more). M.I.A. can go beyond mere politics, however, as the album's first single offers a brash answer to the overused YOLO — "You Always Live Again." By dedicating a complex dance number to the wheel of reincarnation and the promise of living multiple lives, M.I.A. shows she's more than relevant, she's transcendent. — Loring Wirbel

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Black Flag

What The...

SST Records

File next to: Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies

The hardest thing to divine about What The... is exactly what it sets out to prove. Is it guitarist/dictator apparent Greg Ginn's answer to FLAG, another band made up of Black Flag alumni, whom he unsuccessfully tried to sue earlier this year? It's tempting to think so, but the otherwise absurdly titled songs like "Slow Your Ass Down," "Shut Up," and "Go Away" lack any sort of real anger or firepower. The whole album feels hastily, sloppily constructed, like it was recorded in three separate basements, where the guitar, bass and drums are all playing different songs. And while Ginn is one of punk's most talented guitarists, his atonal leads feel dialed-in and lifeless on What The .... Vocalist Ron Reyes was never one of Black Flag's most compelling singers, and while he does a decent job here, it's hard to be taken seriously when you're singing mall-punk lines such as, "This sucks; it's hell!" Do yourself a favor and just stick to the back catalog. — Collin Estes

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The KVB

Minus One

A Recordings Ltd.

File next to: Jesus & Mary Chain, Genesis P-Orridge Fearless London duo the KVB has supplied a dark treat for fans of goth and post-punk music with Minus One. Fans of these genres will happily recognize many hallmark sounds, such as the watery undertow bass that recalls early Joy Division, the pulsating synthesizers à la early Cure or Suicide, and the vocals awash in a haze of 4AD-esque reverb. However, it’s not some paint-by-numbers reproduction that suggests post-punk and gothic rock’s heyday, but rather a fresh, clever spirit of experimentalism. The overall gloomy atmospheres give way to fierce hooks (“Live or Die”), sheets of jagged guitar exist comfortably next to the more delicate keyboard textures (“Something Inside”), and the percussion hammers away with expressive ferocity. None of this feels like a crass aping of the band’s influences, nor does the KVB’s creativity ever overwhelm its listenability. — Collin Estes

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