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Throwing Muses, Shearwater, and Wooden Shjips 

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click to enlarge Purgatory/Paradise

Throwing Muses

Purgatory/Paradise

Throwing Music

File next to: The Pixies, Liz Phair

Throwing Muses guitarist/vocalist Kristin Hersh's latest aural exorcism is a rather sprawling, enjoyable roller-coaster ride of acoustic-heavy rock far more strident and varied than, say, the Violent Femmes. While the 32 tracks are mostly short, with 15 clocking in under two minutes, they are strung together to create a breathless, headlong rush of an album. The volcanic torrent of "Morning Birds 1," feral groove of "Sunray Venus," shuffling, lopsided pop of "Cherry Candy 1," and chugging, schizophrenic "Opiates" beg repeated listenings, both for their excellent songcraft and their ability to pass you by before you're quite prepared for them to end. Taken as a whole, Purgatory/Paradise is haunting, wild, and frighteningly sincere, even in its opaque moments. The CD edition also includes a book filled with illustrations and additional writings from Hersh. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Fellow Travelers

Shearwater

Fellow Travelers

Sub Pop

File next to: Okkervil River, Xiu Xiu

Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg usually puts his strident tenor to the service of seafaring songs of the South Pacific, so it was difficult to imagine what the band's covers album might sound like. Skeptics can be silenced. The 10 songs on the primary CD and LP cover bands as eclectic as Xiu Xiu, St. Vincent, and Folk Implosion, with help in the arrangements from Wye Oak and Clinic. But Shearwater doesn't stop there. They released a bonus 45 covering songs by Mountain Goats and Swans; collaborated with Sharon Van Etten on a cover of Stevie Nicks; and released a split single with Low on Black Friday, featuring covers of Frank Ocean and Rihanna. It's hard to find a lackluster track among these 15 songs. Those demanding a potlatch of secular cover songs for the holiday season will find that Shearwater has them covered. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Back to Land

Wooden Shjips

Back to Land

Thrill Jockey

File next to: Black Angels, Spacemen 3

If you see the cover art for Wooden Shjips' fourth LP, Back to Land, you won't be too surprised to learn that this set of space-rock is grounded firmly in the classic rock realm of psychedelia. The fuzzy guitars waft into the stratosphere, while the keyboards are hypnotic and slippery. The rhythm section, meanwhile, keeps everything groovy as the San Francisco band churns out its bluesy, Doors-inspired space boogies. Ripley Johnson's insouciant, muttered vocals are drenched in echo and reverb, which float between the guitar workouts like a strange, alternate-dimension version of U2. All in all, it's a musical formula that has been used in more feral contexts by bands such as The Black Angels and Spiritualized, but the Wooden Shjips seem satisfied to float behind the scrim. — Collin Estes

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