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Sufjan Stevens, Deathcab for Cutie, and JEFF the Brotherhood 

Sound Advice

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Sufjan Stevens

Carrie and Lowell

Asthmatic Kitty

File next to: Andrew Bird, Panda Bear

Diehard Sufjan Stevens fans gave up hope that his 50 states project would ever yield more than albums for Michigan and Illinois. Many fans even doubted they would hear another acoustic folk album to equal Seven Swans, given Stevens' forays into musical projects of all genres. Now comes Carrie and Lowell, his latest minimal folk album, which is an homage to his mother and stepfather, following the former's death in 2012. These quiet, intense songs are filled with the ingenious turns of phrase one expects from Stevens, building up to the sixth track, "Fourth of July," about preparing his mom's body for a funeral. Yet for all of the album's grace, its songs lack the diversity of his richest works, or even his earlier folk efforts. It's easy to appreciate the simple requiem for mom, but the listener may long for the complexity and majesty of Stevens' previous releases. — Loring Wirbel

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Death Cab for Cutie

Kintsugi

Atlantic/Barsuk

File next to: Bright Eyes, The Postal Service, The Decemberists

Chris Walla's decision to leave Death Cab for Cutie could have left a gap similar to that caused by Bill Berry's departure from R.E.M. But Ben Gibbard has risen to the occasion with some of his crispest and most lyrically inventive work in years. The good and bad news is that Walla's guitar and production talent remains prominent on Kintsugi, raising the question of how Death Cab can translate these works as a live trio. Songs like "No Room in Frame" and "Everything's a Ceiling" suggest that Gibbard can project a more strident and beat-filled aura than Michael Stipe could in R.E.M.'s Up era. By many counts, this is one of the better Death Cab albums. But the silly final song, "Binary Sea," suggests that Walla's absence may let Gibbard stretch his whinier tendencies, leaving Death Cab no better than emo imitators. — Loring Wirbel

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JEFF the Brotherhood

Wasted on the Dream

Infinity Cat

File next to: Spinal Tap, King Tuff, Ty Segall

In the years since brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall dissolved the delightful Tennessee punk band Be Your Own Pet in 2003, they have released eight albums under the JEFF the Brotherhood moniker, all of which explore the same early-'70s stoned-teenager-in-the-bedroom hard rock environs. Unlike the Australian band Pond, who take the Spinal Tap approach of devising arena-rock parodies, the Orrall brothers are sincere, with no trace of irony, in displaying pure love for loud 4/4 guitar beats. Wasted on the Dream expands this horizon slightly by adding frills like a Jethro Tull flute to "Black Cherry Pie," but the Orrall brothers don't care if you've heard all these riffs before. All in all, Wasted on the Dream would make a perfect gift for any classic rock lovers who insists that no good music was made after 1980. — Loring Wirbel

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