Sound advice 

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Master of My Make-Believe

Downtown Records/Atlantic

File next to: MIA, Nicki Minaj

On album No. 2, Santi White, aka Santigold, continues to crank out a sublime combination of world-music and dance-pop fun, connecting even more strongly than on 2008's much-acclaimed eponymous debut. Once again, she whirls reggae, African, rock and pop elements into the electronic mixture, which comes out bubbly and energetic. Master of My Make-Believe kicks begin with "Go!" (featuring an appearance from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), on which Santigold proclaims her power, but not in bragging form. On "Disparate Youth" and "The Keepers," Santigold takes on the voice of youth in revolt. But her biting, oft-political lyrics never offset the fun of songs like the rhythmic "Big Mouth" or the hip-hop based "Freak Like Me." That makes Master of My Make-Believe a rarity: a very smart record that truly deserves to be the soundtrack of the summer. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Paul Thorn

What the Hell Is Goin On?

Perpetual Obscurity Records

File next to: JJ Grey & Mofro; Delbert McClinton

If Paul Thorn's still laboring in perpetual obscurity, it's not because he lacks the talent to run with the big dogs. It's just that his music's not about hits. Thorn's songs tell truths even if they're wild yarns (if you can't tell 'em apart, so much the better). On What the Hell Is Goin On? he performs 12 well-chosen covers in his soulfully rugged, Pentecostal-preacher's-son voice, fully conveying knowledge of both the sacred and profane. Buddy and Julie Miller, Lindsey Buckingham, Allen Toussaint, Rick Danko, Al Anderson, Elvin Bishop and Paul Rodgers and other writers populate this album, punctuated by a slithery version of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Snake Farm" that out-rattles the original. With backing by Nashville's gospel-groovin' McCrary Sisters and other guests, Tupelo-native Thorn sends this one far closer to heaven than any location near hell. — Lynne Margolis

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Silversun Pickups

Neck of the Woods

Dangerbird Records

File next to: Smashing Pumpkins, The Breeders

After the success of 2009's Swoon, the latest release from the Silversun Pickups, Neck of the Woods, is a head-scratcher. While retaining some of the band's dreamy rock sensibilities, many of the 11 tracks wander aimlessly ("Here We Are [Chancer]"), employ odd synths and rhythms ("The Pit") and have a dark edge that will not be for everyone (as evidenced by the disturbing "Bloody Mary [Nerve Endings]"). Singer Brian Aubert's breathy vocals are distinctive and effective, especially on the blood-boiling rocker "Mean Spirits," while the mile-wide wall of distortion on "Skin Graph" and epic melodic rock of "Simmer" are classic Silversun Pickups. But tired songs like "Dots and Dashes" drag the album down. Sounding more like a directionless concept album than anything else, Neck of the Woods is a major misfire. — Brian Palmer


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