Sound advice 

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The New Pornographers



Buy if you like: Elvis Costello, the Posies

Together is the best effort from the New Pornographers since 2005's Twin Cinema or maybe the Canadian power-pop ensemble's 2000 Mass Romantic debut. Why? The songs, the songs, the songs. Head Pornographer A.C. Newman has crafted some fine tunes from the Led Zeppelin-influenced "Your Hands (Together)" to the harmony-filled pop-rock of "Up in the Dark" and "Silver Jenny Dollar." Also impressive is the folkish "My Shepherd," featuring St. Vincent on guitar, one of many guests. "Crash Years," the best track, showcases the band's not-so-secret weapon: the powerhouse vocals of Neko Case, who shines on "My Shepherd." Together has a few wobbly, not-completely-together moments. But it's what New Pornographers fans want to hear: a fine band delivering pop rock with just enough quirks and twists to keep listeners captivated. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Hoodoo Gurus

Purity of Essence


Buy if you like: The Scientists, Smithereens

Hard to believe it's been more than two decades since the Hoodoo Gurus briefly became MTV darlings with "What's My Scene," "Bittersweet" and "Come Anytime." The Aussie band never totally went away, apart from a brief late '90s hiatus. This new album finds the Gurus' guitar-rocking pop very much intact. In fact, it could fit alongside '80s favorites like Mars Needs Guitars!, Blow Your Cool! and Magnum Cum Louder. Frontman Dave Faulkner and his mates keep cranking out smartly crafted, hook-laden guitar pop. Highlights here include "Crackin' Up," "Burnt Orange" and "What's In It for Me?" — three driving rockers in the tradition of "What's My Scene" — plus sturdy melodic ballads "Are You Sleeping?" and "Somebody Take Me Home." The Hoodoo Gurus may never regain their original stateside success, but they still sound as inspired as ever. — Alan Sculley

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Sara Hickman

Absence of Blame


Buy if you like: Eliza Gilkyson, Nanci Griffith

Sara Hickman is known as a cheerful person who sings happy songs. But here she lets out all the anger, hurt and sorrow. The album's emotional centerpiece is the dramatically moving "Blown Away," conveying the anger and pain of losing friends to suicide. On "Size 6 Dress," she delivers a scathing commentary on our obsession with looks. And while Hickman didn't write "Juliet and Juliet," she makes this dirge-like song of forbidden love very much her own by dueting with her high-school sweetheart, Ginger Doss. Music styles range from folk to pop with touches of rock and R&B, with seductive moments along the way, especially on the understated groove of "I'm So Glad You Came Along" and the sexy "99%." Hickman ends on a positive note with the spiritual "Love Is There," uplifting after so many songs that are fairly gut-wrenching but also refreshingly honest. — Lynne Margolis


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