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Wilco

The Whole Love

dBpm/Anti-

Buy if you like: Arcade Fire, Radiohead

One of rock's most intriguing bands, Wilco has a lot to live up to with each new release. And so far, they've never failed to deliver. The Whole Love merges the adventurous stylistic and sonic forays of the watershed album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with the more accessible rootsy pop that flavored its two most recent albums, Wilco (The Album) and Sky Blue Sky. This album opens with "Art of Almost," an electro-inflected track that swells to grand proportions with strings and a rocking solo from Nels Cline that's sure to enhance his well-earned reputation as one of the most exciting guitarists around. Then there are tracks like "Standing O," "Dawned on Me" and "I Might," pop songs with uncommon imagination and depth. Add in the elegant balladry on "Sunloathe" and "Open Mind," and The Whole Love easily succeeds in strengthening Wilco devotees' argument that this is the best band out there. — Alan Sculley

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Matthew Sweet

Modern Art

Missing Piece

Buy if you like: Big Star, the Bangles

A richly textured album of vintage-sounding pop, Modern Art deconstructs the power-pop aesthetic that has defined Matthew Sweet's work for two decades now. The result is a series of stylistic twists and turns, rather than the more straightforward soaring hooks and infectious melodies of his masterpieces Girlfriend and 1OO% Fun. Which is not to suggest that Sweet has lost his ability to craft pure pop moments. It's just that they're now surrounded by more experimental passages that take the Byrdsian guitars and Big Star power pop in more of a Van Dyke Parks direction. Lyrically, Modern Art is an exploration of not-to-be-trusted nostalgia, combined with Sweet's standard themes of love and loss. Standout tracks include the sad but catchy "Baltimore," the jazzy "Ivory Tower," and the gorgeous, hook-filled "She Walks the Night." Modern Art may not be 100 percent fun, but it's well worth exploring. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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The Dirt Drifters

This Is My Blood

Warner Bros.

Buy if you like: Eric Church, Jason Aldean

Plenty of today's country artists draw upon pop and rock to reach a wider crossover audience, but the Dirt Drifters' debut album makes it sound even more genuine and organic than most. On This Is My Blood, the Nashville quintet doesn't soften the twang of its country or the edge of its rock. As a result, sturdy and melodic songs like "Always a Reason," "Something Better" and "Married Men and Motel Rooms" pack a bare-knuckled wallop. But other rockers like "It Takes a Man" and "Just Got Tonight" are less successful, and ballads like "There She Goes," while avoiding the pop sheen of most crossover acts, feel like standard-issue country. Then there's "I'll Shut Up Now" — a frisky tune that awkwardly inserts Willie Nelson crooning "On The Road Again" midway through — which really doesn't work at all. Dirt Drifters may one day make a great album, but This Is My Blood isn't it. — Alan Sculley

  • Wilco, Matthew Sweet, The Dirt Drifters

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