Tegan and Sara
Buy if you like: Cat Power, Feist
On Sainthood, their sixth album, twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin crank up '80s new wavy dance pop hooks and grooves, providing a fresh setting for another batch of their lyrically downbeat songs about relationships gone bad. That combination is a significant change from the duo's earlier folk-pop songs. And, on the whole, it works fairly well, giving the record an accessibility that could connect the Quins with a broader audience beyond the indie rock cult following that's embraced them already. The album particularly rocks on tracks like the shaking "Hell," which takes the synths into the garage and blasts away. Now 29, the sisters wrote the record together and show an advancing maturity in a collection of songs that tend to address various romantic entanglements and dalliances. Sainthood is about feelings, mostly sad, offset by peppy music that's mostly happy. — L. Kent Wolgamott
Buy if you like: Michael Bublé, Harry Connick Jr.
Fans of the Great American Songbook singers will want to tune in to Spencer Day. The twist here is that unlike many other Neo-Sinatra singers, Day doesn't mine the classic songs of the '40s and '50s. He writes his own material, which fits the crooner style nicely. Day doesn't lack for vocal chops either, but it's the songs and their rich melodies that steal the show here. The title track oozes romance, "Till You Come To Me" uses strings to help create its sultry late-night feel, and "Someday" is an elegant piece of pop balladry in which Day and producer Ben Yonas smartly avoid the temptation to overproduce, instead using mainly piano and light percussion to accompany Day's nicely restrained vocal. And Vagabond suggests that, had he grown up in the Songbook era, Day might well have contributed a few lasting songs to the catalog. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Soundgarden, the Stooges
When Nirvana took the rock world by storm with its second album, Nevermind, it seemed as if the band had appeared like a bolt from the blue. Of course, the group's arrival wasn't so sudden, and soon after hearing Nevermind, a legion of new fans quickly sought out Bleach, the 1989 debut album recorded before drummer Dave Grohl brought a new explosive dimension to Nirvana's sound. This deluxe re-issue reprises the original album, a more raw effort that lacked the melodic songcraft of later albums but certainly hinted at the special talents of frontman Kurt Cobain. The 11 accompanying live tracks, which frequently surpass the studio versions, are what really capture early Nirvana in combustible form. Together, they document Nirvana just before Cobain would come into his own as a songwriter and the band would go on to redefined rock 'n roll for the '90s and beyond. — Alan Sculley