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Yeasayer

Odd Blood

Secretly Canadian

Buy if you like: The Polyphonic Spree, Animal Collective

American indie acts dabbling in quirky synth-driven pop are increasingly plentiful these days. But Yeasayer is among the best at bringing melodic pop elements — and even a bit of goofiness — into what is often a stiff and mechanical musical form. On this, its sophomore album, an air of playfulness and an impressive array of synthesized and processed tones add up to songs that prioritize first-class hooks. On "Amblin Alp," a woozy keyboard line tops off a flighty melody, while "Rome" is all percolating rhythms and bouncy melody. Even "I Remember," the song that most closely resembles the synth-pop blueprint of groups like New Order, gets a sweet touch from its falsetto vocal. Not all of the songs hit the mark; "O.N.E." and "Love Me Girl" both are weighed down by lackluster melodies. But on the whole, Yeasayer stretches the boundaries of electronic music with imagination and old-fashioned pop instincts. — Alan Sculley

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Brandon Rhyder

Head Above Water

Reserve

Buy if you like: Walt Wilkins, Pat Green

Brandon Rhyder is a soulful, melodic songwriter who also knows how to rock out, but for some reason, he seems subdued on this album. And the songs come across as less passionate, more ... well, not quite calculated, but somehow honed — in the way that cranking out tunes for a publishing company (the prestigious Harlan Howard Songs) might polish them, while stealing a little of their spirit. He's out of that deal, so maybe his next disc will recapture the brilliance Rhyder is capable of achieving. On the plus side, the title tune is a gorgeous ballad, and "Breathe" lets loose in a John Doe-like way. The hidden track is a cute, vaudevillian love song that deserves billing. (What's up with hidden tracks, anyway?) But "Ultimate Deceiver" plods, with clunky phrases like "egotistical manipulator" further tripping it up, while "Battery" is a rewrite of his earlier "Back Roads." Rhyder can do better. — Lynne Margolis

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Luther Allison

Songs from the Road

Ruf

Buy if you like: Otis Rush, Buddy Guy

Blues guitarist Luther Allison passed away in 1997, just as his career was peaking for the second time with two consecutive W.C. Handy Awards for Best Entertainer. Allison was in seriously great form when he played the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 4 of that year. Recorded for television, it now sees release as a CD/DVD package. The audio disc is a 10-song sampling of Allison's incendiary, stinging guitar playing and heartfelt vocals, backed by the James Solberg Band, his longtime collaborator. The DVD contains seven of the same songs, the show having been cut down to 56 minutes for Montreal television, and it captures the sweaty intensity and passion that Allison brought to the stage every night. Both discs are vivid reminders of what's been missed since Allison's passing, must-haves for his fans and anyone who loves the blues played with bite and bravado. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Yeasayer, Brandon Rhyder, Luther Allison

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