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Shilpa Ray, Ivan & Alyosha, and Hop Along 

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click to enlarge Shilpa Ray
  • Shilpa Ray

Shilpa Ray

Last Year's Savage

Northern Spy Records

File next to: P.J. Harvey, Lana Del Rey, Nick Cave

Since Shilpa Ray is so uncompromisingly Dadaist, it's no surprise she's burned through two bands, Beat the Devil and Happy Hookers, in rapid succession. The manic ad campaign accompanying her first proper solo album is no surprise, either. What IS unexpected is the polished, relatively normal pop tunes that comprise Last Year's Savage. Sure, her lyrics still center on a South Asian feminist trying to decide what's next after breaking every social taboo. But her stylings on this album suggest Debbie Harry mixed with Dusty Springfield, with maybe some Jim Morrison inflection on top. The songs can be self-indulgent, with crazy titles such as "Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp," but tracks like "Pipe Dreams Ponzi Schemes" could be Top 40 material. Is that embarrassing for a chaos monger, or is this what Shilpa Ray intended all along? — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Ivan & Alyosha
  • Ivan & Alyosha

Ivan & Alyosha

It's All Just Pretend

Dualtone

File next to: John Vanderslice, The Lone Bellow

On It's All Just Pretend, Ivan & Alyosha have transformed their quiet folk-rooted music into gorgeous, harmony-drenched, hook-filled pop that catches the ear with its lush power. Seattle musicians Tim Wilson and Ryan Carbary adopted the name in 2007, and it would take them another six years to release their full-length debut album. Now, as a five-piece, they've delivered this sophomore set of tightly written songs, which include the soaring piano ballad "Tears in Your Eyes" to an acoustic shuffle, punched up with horns, called "Oh This Love." There's also the atmospheric, guitar-driven rock of "Modern Man" and the country-tinged Beatles-esque sounds of "Drifting Away." At the center of everything are Wilson's smartly crafted lyrics about love and death, as well as vocals that are convincing whether they're quietly vulnerable or nearly operatic. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge Hop Along
  • Hop Along

Hop Along

Painted Shut

Saddle Creek

File next to: Pity Sex, The Hotelier, Speedy Ortiz

2015 is shaping up as the riot grrl revisited year, and not simply because of Sleater-Kinney and L7 reunions. The sounds of male-dominated bands from that original era are being renewed today, with women in the lead. If Speedy Ortiz is Pavement for a women's 21st century, then Hop Along is its Archers of Loaf. The guitars on Painted Shut carry the same raucous spirituality, while singer and lyricist Frances Quinlan adopts a sincerity recalling Archers' Eric Bachmann, promising possible pain, but always truth. Such sentiments are on display from the opening track, "The Knock," when Quinlan wails, "The witness just wants to talk to you." It continues unabated through 10 surreal and erudite tracks. What began as a folk-music effort 10 years ago now stands as the most interesting punk-influenced band to come out of Philadelphia in ages. — Loring Wirbel

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