The Duke Spirit
Buy if you like: The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Bruiser is a fitting title for this third album from the Duke Spirit. It's a hard-hitting collection — the Duke Spirit has never exactly been mellow — that also manages to be as catchy as anything the English band has done. On "Procession," an assertive bass line holds down the verse until a big guitar riff in the chorus kicks the song up a few notches. "Surrender" — not the Cheap Trick song — is an effectively brooding rocker taken at a brisk tempo, while "Everybody's Under Your Spell" sounds like a Sonic Youth rocker that isn't afraid to land a big hook. The group does bring it down to a slow burn on songs like "Villain" and "Bodies," but those have an intensity of their own. Apart from the relatively lackluster "De Lux" and "Sweet Bitter Sweet," Bruiser is an album that doesn't pull any punches. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Bon Iver, Iron & Wine
Kathleen Edwards has one of those voices that floats — a cloud-touching soprano that sometimes evokes a sense of hovering, like a spirit. "House Full of Empty Rooms," the standout track here, sounds as if it might have been recorded in a choir loft. That's not to say the album is particularly spiritual, just ethereal — a mood enhanced and clearly influenced by co-producer Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver). He's made some tracks sound brighter and chimier (if not happier). There are also ripples of electronica, subtle blips and bleeps we're not used to from Edwards. "A Soft Place to Land" sounds more like vintage Edwards: slow, beautiful, with a melancholy drift. The gentle Jersey-girl "sha-la-la-la's" of "Mint" is a nice change-up, but "For the Record," with Norah Jones, is a bit long. Overall, though, Voyageur is a relaxing excursion. — Lynne Margolis
Buy if you like: Manchester Orchestra, Dinosaur Jr.
It's a tribute to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack that, more than a decade later, one immediately assumes that this band must traffic in old-time roots music or at least Americana. Not a chance. The O'Brother veers much closer to noise-rock, and an effective brand of noise-rock at that. While the roar of guitars can get a little overbearing on songs like "Malum," O'Brother shoves just enough melody into heavy-duty tracks like "Sputnik" and "Machines Part I & II" to make this debut full-length genuinely appealing. The Atlanta band's album also manages to dial back the thunder every now and then. There's a ballad ("Poison!"), a garage-rock gem ("Lo"), and a couple of tracks ("Bear," "Lay Down") that are as much mood pieces as they are fully formed songs. Garden Window isn't necessary the easiest listen, but it's ultimately worth the wattage. — Alan Sculley