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click to enlarge My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine

mbv

Self-released

File next to: Slowdive, Spiritualized

In a hiatus of Chinese Democracy proportions, Irish band My Bloody Valentine waited 22 years to follow up on its acclaimed 1991 album, Loveless. Announced with little warning, mbv may not be as breathtaking as Loveless, simply because many MBV-influenced bands have come and gone since 1991. But it's still truly psychedelic music, alternately blissful and head-crushing. The vocals of co-singers Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher are breathy and dreamy, a compelling dichotomy with the otherworldly, warped sounds they wrench out of their guitars. Meanwhile, the band's feedback-drenched palette is expanded by the shimmering keyboards on "Is This and Yes" and the propulsive drumming of Colm O'Ciosoig, giving mbv an intensity that was sometimes lacking on its loop-filled predecessor. Existing fans will be delighted by mbv, and hopefully new listeners will come to enjoy their still-peerless sound. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Jim James

Jim James

Regions of Light and Sound of God

Ato Records

File next to: Randy Newman, Ronnie Wood

My Morning Jacket has always been famous for a certain '70s arena-rock sound, but lead singer Jim James (who thankfully dropped the silly Yim Yames moniker) can get a bit pompous in side projects like Monsters of Folk. The title of this solo debut suggests an exercise in prog-rock excess. Instead, he goes for understatement with a partly funky, partly countrified excursion into well-crafted but straightforward tunes that are fun to listen to. While songs like "State of the Art" and "God's Love to Deliver" are layered, complex and beautifully produced, it's clear James didn't set out to make an album that explains God, the universe, and everything else beneath Yes-style orchestration. If My Morning Jacket is '70s country-rock, this solo album resembles the laid-back, whiskey-sipping solo albums favored by that era's rock stars. And that's perfectly OK. In fact, it's better than going for grandiose. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Bad Religion

Bad Religion

True North

Epitaph Records

File next to: Black Flag, Dead Kennedys

A few punk purists might claim that Greg Graffin keeps making the same Bad Religion album over and over again. If so, we could wish for something even half this vibrant and precise in reunions from the likes of Off! or Fear. Graffin teaches evolution at Cornell University, so his 33-year work with Bad Religion could be seen as a side hobby. But Bad Religion riffs are as crisp as anything in punk, the four-part harmonies and overdubs put the music in overdrive, and Graffin can give us political lyrics equaling anything Jello Biafra offered with the Dead Kennedys. Listen to "Robin Hood in Reverse" or "Dept. of False Hope," then wish like hell you might get Dr. Graffin for an undergrad anthropology course. Sure, hardcorepunk can be limited in style, but the output of Bad Religion over the past decade can put all others to shame, and True North is clearly no exception. — Loring Wirbel

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