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Tame Impala, Wilco, Veruca Salt 

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Tame Impala

Currents

Modular/Interscope

File next to: MGMT, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Australian psychedelic artist Kevin Parker has implemented some big changes, many of them positive, on this third album from Tame Impala. It's a decidedly mixed offering: While the quality of songwriting on Currents has arguably improved, the arrangements are often too layered to let the music breathe. Parker's increasing use of falsetto can steer his sound closer to blue-eyed soul, and yet it can also veer dangerously close to Passion Pit terrain. Meanwhile, the wavy modulation on the opening track "Let It Happen" comes off as more contrived than adventurous, suggesting that Parker's biggest step forward at this point would be to dial down his ego. But as long as too many art-rock fans think that Tame Impala is the best band of the century, that's unlikely to happen. — Loring Wirbel

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Wilco

Star Wars

dBpm Records (Aug. 21 release date)

File next to: Sonic Youth, Spoon, Son Volt

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album AM, Wilco offered Star Wars, the band's 11th studio release, as a free download on their website. Now comes the CD version, a 33-minute collection of 11 odd tunes that are not the outtakes and rough cuts you might expect. It is Wilco at its weirdest and most inventive. The barely controlled noise that launches the opening track, "EKG," careens into varied experiments that end with the stuttering strangeness of the last track, "Magnetized." Maybe there are no riff-heavy singles like "Passenger Seat" or "Impossible Germany," but these are far from throwaway songs. Perhaps Wilco felt constrained by the demands for profundity in formal label releases, in which case this free experiment provides plenty of evidence why the band remains one of the world's most innovative. — Loring Wirbel

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Veruca Salt

Ghost Notes

El Camino

File next to: L7, Juliana Hatfield, Babes in Toyland

Veruca Salt's "Seether" may have defined the 1990s like no other single, but the Chicago band never quite lived up to its promise. This 20th anniversary celebration comes on the heels of virtually every other riot grrl band releasing reunion albums. What an utter surprise, then, to find that Ghost Notes is the strongest and most consistent of the lot. Its 14 tracks offer all the raunchy power of L7, with a pop sensibility suggesting The Go-Go's or B-52s. When you name an opening track "The Gospel According to St. Me," the irony is self-evident, and Nina Gordon and Louise Post never falter, delivering songs like "Laughing in the Sugar Bowl" that burst with spirit and guitar virtuosos. Maybe it's the perspective of middle age, but Veruca Salt has grown into a powerful and impressive foursome. — Loring Wirbel

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