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Vanessa Carlton, Shopping, and Sunn O))) 

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click to enlarge Sunn O)))
  • Sunn O)))

Sunn O)))

Kannon

Southern Lord

File next to: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Earth, Glenn Branca

It's easy to dismiss the pummeling, sludgy, drone-rock of Sunn O))) as noise. Even fans of the Seattle group might happily admit it's a fair word to describe largely tempo-less music that offers little or no beat for a listener to hang onto. Yet behind the band's dense sonic curtain lie clear hints of nuance and sophistication. The avant-garde work of Glenn Branca, with its intentional creation of overtones (i.e., sonic suggestions of instruments and textures that aren't really there), serves as a precedent for the three epic-length works that make up Kannon, the group's seventh studio album. This is malevolent music, to be sure, but sitting at home and absorbing Kannon is probably a safer and more rewarding endeavor than subjecting oneself to near-certain ear and nerve damage at a live show. — Bill Kopp

click to enlarge Vanessa Carlton
  • Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton

Liberman

Dine Alone Records

File next to: Kate Nash, Regina Spektor

Vanessa Carlton seemed relegated to a piano-princess purgatory in recent years, remaining largely invisible since her 2004 mega-hit "White Houses." In reality, motherhood and mid-30s had kept her out of sight, save for 2011's Rabbit on the Run. Now, Carlton is following up with Liberman, an impressive album on which less-promoted tracks like "Unlock the Lock" and"House of Seven Swords" turn out to be the real showstoppers. Her lyrics are better than average — hitting 35 hasn't led her to muse on world peace or existentialism — and the arrangements are hugely impressive. A double-disc version of Liberman also includes early stripped-down demos, which is a common and occasionally unrewarding practice these days. But in Carlton's case, it's fascinating to listen to the evolution of these 10 tracks from minimalist piano numbers to full-fledged pop songs. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Shopping
  • Shopping

Shopping

Why Choose?

FatCat Records

File next to: Pink Section, The Slits, Essential Logic

While every punk sub-genre seems to be experiencing a revival these days, it's still refreshing to hear the Scottish trio Shopping hark back to The Slits, Bush Tetras, and other women-centric art-punk groups who ushered in the '80s. Why Choose? shows that lead singer Rachel Aggs and her bandmates have done their homework, echoing the era's tight, minimalist riffs and near-Dadaist critiques of consumer culture. True, there are none of the detuned guitars, skronking saxes or other atonal tricks that characterized the genre's originators. And, yes, the dance potential on tracks like "Take It Outside" or "Sinking Feeling" is sometimes more suggestive of The B-52s. But even the perpetually strident Pop Group added some commercial touches to their reunion album earlier this year. So just shut up and dance. — Loring Wirbel

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