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Viet Cong, Belle and Sebastian, and Panda Bear 

Sound Advice

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Viet Cong

Viet Cong

Jagjaguwar

File next to: Adult Jazz, Iceage, Ought

For a band that seems to be generating buzz as 2015's best newcomer, Calgary's Viet Cong has an aesthetic that is odd, gauzy, and at times vague. While the quartet, which includes two members of the band Women, is often labeled with the tired old term "post-punk," the music can sound like anything from very early Moody Blues to Echo and the Bunnymen. Give Viet Cong credit for making longer songs palatable to a younger audience on this debut album of seven extended tracks. But don't expect shoegazer stretches — the 10-minute album closer "Death" is far too interesting to be dismissed as a jam session. Still, the band is as difficult to characterize as a blob of mercury, making it hard to imagine why multitudes would stampede a Viet Cong show at Austin's upcoming South by Southwest. No doubt they will, just the same. — Loring Wirbel

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Belle and Sebastian

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Matador

File next to: Camera Obscura, Of Montreal

Belle and Sebastian is the only twee band that's moved the overly precious genre beyond college undergrad levels. Their maturation over 18 years can be attributed to founder Stuart Murdoch, who's pushed adult themes by giving the Glasgow group the aura of a Broadway show. With Girls in Peacetime, the band has crafted an album as rhythmically diverse and musically complex as early works like Tigermilk, while serving up sobering themes of war and betrayal. Some might be put off by heavier synth dance beats, but David Bowie proved long ago in Station to Station that one can evolve through disco. Others may grimace at their planned date at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony, but one listen to a track like "Nobody's Empire" proves there is heady stuff going on, without a whiff of sellout. — Loring Wirbel

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Panda Bear

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Domino

File next to: Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Flaming Lips

Panda Bear's new album presents itself as a meditation on the Big Inevitable. This is a lie. Panda Bear's new album is a Haight-Ashbury farmers market in disguise. The beats are fresh and plentiful, and Noah Lennox has woven rich patterns and textures for the sensory pleasure of passers-by. Something strange and important — profound, perhaps — is being said, but it drowns in the noise and bustle. If Panda Bear stepped out from behind his echo pedals and sang unaltered, would it break our suspension of disbelief in this rainbow dream? At his strongest, Lennox's singing toes the line between synth and serenade, and slower tracks like "Lonely Wanderer" benefit from a more natural delivery. The low point is "Selfish Gene"; good poetry can't save it from a repetitive beat. — Griffin Swartzell

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