Sound Advice 

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The 2nd Law

Warner Bros.

File next to: The Killers, Radiohead

Give Muse credit for one thing: each of the band's new releases seems bigger than the last. The 2nd Law is no exception, as they kick up the operatic feel of their stadium rock 'n roll sound a few notches, to largely good effect. Singer Matthew Bellamy assaults your eardrums (and his vocal cords) on the opening "Supremacy"; the swelling, thunderous movements on the album's standout track — the Queenesque "Survival" — envelop you in its rock 'n roll glory; and "Animals" is a biting, sinister portrayal of some of mankind's baser tendencies (check out the riotous outro). The band also changes things up by allowing bassist/rhythm guitarist Christopher Wolstenholme to write and sing two songs — the dreamy mid-tempo rocker "Save Me" and the catchy, Foo Fightersesque "Liquid State" — and the results are pretty good. It's not Origin of Symmetry or Black Holes & Revelations, but The 2nd Law still rocks. — Brian Palmer

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The Wallflowers

Glad All Over


File next to: Tom Petty, John Mellencamp

The Wallflowers, thankfully, have rediscovered their mojo. Their turbocharged reunion album emphatically rocks, with loads of great riffs, tons of hooks, bulls-eye lyrics that carry a bite, and just enough mystery to evoke questions about their meaning. Original members Jakob Dylan, keyboardist Rami Jaffee and bassist Greg Richling, plus longtime guitarist Stuart Mathis and new drummer Jack Irons, tear into songs that one minute recall T. Rex or Alejandro Escovedo ("Hospital for Sinners"), and Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen the next ("It's a Dream," "Love Is a Country"), all without sounding like lightweight knockoffs. "Reboot the Mission" — which nods to the Clash with a Joe Strummer namecheck and a Mick Jones cameo — is just as vital as their best work. "I lost my sight but not the vision," Dylan sings, as it becomes clear the song is about rediscovering musical passion. Better late than never. — Lynne Margolis

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Tift Merritt

Traveling Alone

Yep Roc Records

File next to: Beth Orton, Mindy Smith

Americana/folk singer Tift Merritt spent the last decade wowing people with engaging musical arrangements and uniquely arresting vocals, but on Traveling Alone she throws everyone a couple of curveballs. The title track progresses from simple acoustic fare to reverb-drenched Americana, while the country blues of "Sweet Spot" conveys the album's primary theme of seeking out comfort, stability and home. "Drifted Apart" is a country ballad that features a Roy Orbison-like duet appearance from Andrew Bird. And then there's the easygoing folk of "Feeling of Beauty," in which Merritt sings "Every once in a while / The feeling of beauty / Catches my breath / Runs right through me" in a way you'll understand completely. Traveling Alone is a subdued album that owes as much to ambience and mood as it does to Merritt's vocals and insights. It's not exactly what you expect from her, which is why it makes such an impression. — Brian Palmer


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