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Miley Cyrus, Dismemberment Plan, Kings of Leon 

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click to enlarge Bangerz by Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus

Bangerz

RCA

File next to: Britney Spears, Rihanna

Miley Cyrus's fourth studio album, her first since being freed from the Disney mouse house, largely delivers on the hype she's been generating for the last several weeks. Rooted in dirty South hip-hop rather than slick pop, Bangerz is sexually provocative on the slinky "#GETITRIGHT" and the dance-driven "SMS (Bangerz)" which finds Cyrus and her idol Britney Spears rapping about replacing men with battery packs. She brings country flavor to "4x4" with some help from Nelly, and hits the club with "Do My Thang." Plus, she shows she can really sing on the ubiquitous power ballad "Wrecking Ball," the soulful "FU," and on the gorgeous opener "Adore You." Bangerz mixes those styles to the point where it's not entirely coherent. But it's nonetheless a very strong record that forever puts away Hannah Montana in favor of the newer, naughtier Miley. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge Uncanney Valley by the Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan

Uncanney Valley

Partisan Records

File next to: Talking Heads, Arcade Fire

In its first incarnation 15 years ago, the Washington, D.C., quartet Dismemberment Plan bedazzled live audiences with funky, intellectual shows marked by jazz drumming and massive infusions of joy. Travis Morrison was a lyricist of rare talent, but in the studio, the band only occasionally hit home runs. After DP's 2003 dissolution, Morrison released self-indulgent solo work best left forgotten. Now, after two years of reunion shows, the band returns with Uncanney Valley. Joe Easley, now a NASA engineer, continues to unify dismemberment through exceptional drumming, but Morrison's word-crafting walks a thin line between profound and maudlin. "Lookin'," for example, confronts heartbreak intelligently, but "Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer" — not so much. The novice would be advised to pick up 2011's Live in Japan to understand the excitement, then work into the new songs slowly. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon

Mechanical Bull

RCA

File next to: Lynyrd Skynyrd, U2

Ever since he experienced a breakdown three years ago, Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Followill has been tightly protected by the brothers and cousin who make up his Nashville band. Part of KoL's problem was always trying to be all things to all people — riff-heavy pop impresarios, Southern-rock jammers, and anthemic arena-rock gods. In the new album, Kings of Leon elect to put musical talent ahead of songwriting or tight riffs, giving Mechanical Bull the feel of a jam session. To be sure, songs like "Supersoaker" are tight, but one rarely hears the montage of radio-friendly riffs that grace albums like Aha Shake Heartbreak or Only by the Night. Frat rockers may miss that bounce, but the Followills are no dummies. To bring a band back from meltdown, it's important to regain focus and perfect the craft, provided your mission is to be more than Duane Allman or Wet Willie. — Loring Wirbel

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