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Neil Finn, Lydia Loveless and Marissa Nadler 

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Neil Finn

Dizzy Heights

Lester Records

File next to: Flaming Lips, Split Enz

Following his folksy excursion for the 2012 Hobbit soundtrack and a live collaboration with Paul Kelly, Split Enz and Crowded House alumnus Neil Finn has released his first proper solo album since 2001's One Nil. Dizzy Heights is helmed by producer Dave Fridmann, known for his luscious collaborations with the Flaming Lips, and the album floats with a sheen of airy psychedelia and blue-eyed soul, anchored by Finn's Lennon-esque voice and snaky guitar work. To call this vibrant album "eclectic" is an understatement — "Flying in the Face of Love" delivers a hard funk groove in a spacey atmosphere, "Divebomber" is a stark ballad backed by symphonic swells and a WWII dogfight, and "Dizzy Heights" is as soulful as modern pop can get. True to the title, the wildly imaginative Dizzy Heights sounds simultaneously familiar, cutting-edge, and completely devoid of boundaries. — Collin Estes

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Lydia Loveless

Somewhere Else

Bloodshot Records

File next to: Patsy Cline, Stevie Nicks, Rachel Brooke

With her high-lonesome wail and stupendous 2011 Indestructible Machine album, 23-year-old Lydia Loveless established herself as one of country music's most remarkable songwriters. She's also a woman who turned self-loathing into a science. What's immediately clear on Somewhere Else is her band's increased emulation of Crazy Horse, and the use of major chords (or at least minor-sevenths). Songs like "Really Wanna See You" suggest a wee bit of hope might coexist alongside all the crying in the beer. Cultural references are everywhere — her previous sarcastic ode to Steve Earle is followed up in this album with "Chris Isaak," another track is titled "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud," and the title track is intentionally reminiscent of "Rhiannon" and "867-5309." Suggestions of joy and redemption are critical on this album, because the world can't afford Loveless becoming a 21st-century Sylvia Plath. — Loring Wirbel

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Marissa Nadler

July

Sacred Bones Records

File next to: Sharon Van Etten, Emily Jane White, Josephine Foster

The first two albums by Boston-based Marissa Nadler appeared on Ed Hardy's Eclipse Records, thus earning her the respect of the underground freak-folk scene. In more recent works, such as The Sister and Little Hells, she traded in a wispy voice for a Gothic style carrying a very literate and smart songwriting method. Nadler has gone a step further with July, using harmonized overdubs of her own voice in a style similar to early Sharon Van Etten. A few listeners may find tracks like "Dead City Emily" and "1923" dark and haunting, but Nadler is no gloom merchant. This current album is intended to describe the ups and downs of a single year in her creative life. It folds together several contrapuntal moods in a work that nevertheless keeps its focus, making July the album that may finally win her wider fame. — Loring Wirbel

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