The Fray, Sisyphus, and Drive-By Truckers 

Sound Advice

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The Fray


Epic Records

File next to: Coldplay, The Hold Steady, OneRepublic

After the release of 2012's Scars and Stories, it must have been clear to Isaac Slade and company that the Fray needed to drop their suicide-prevention mindset and add some power riffs. Even though Brendan O'Brien had been brought in as producer with the intention of adding a more Springsteen-like sound, the album ended up falling considerably short of that goal. Yet somehow, new producer Stuart Price and the band have managed to capture that E Street and Hold Steady swagger on Helios. From the opening riff of "Hold My Hand" on through even the slowest numbers, the Fray have found the sparkle that's been missing from the band's music since their 2005 "Over My Head" single. Sure, this is mainstream pop, but for once the Fray have kicked off their collective shoes for a fun day in the sun, with scarcely a weak track to be found. — Loring Wirbel

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Joyful Noise Recordings

File next to: clouddead, Rick Rubin, Scorn

When Sufjan Stevens steps away from his perennial "50 albums for 50 states" project, the results can range from 2010's majestic The Age of Adz to the previous year's mediocre BQE. Stevens has previously collaborated with hip-hop musician Son Lux and emcee Serengeti as S/S/S, who have finally released their full-length album under the Sisyphus moniker. Stevens' electronic manipulations, particularly notable on the track "I Won't Be Afraid," give the music a tenor somewhere between trip-hop and his solo Illinoize album. The sounds are intriguing throughout, even though the hip-hop storytelling is a bit earthbound at times. Still, this collaboration offers a lot more substance than the Broken Bells project from James Mercer and Danger Mouse. In fact, it would be interesting to hear what would happen if the latter provided input next time around. — Loring Wirbel

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Drive-By Truckers

English Oceans

ATO Records

File next to: The Bottle Rockets, Slobberbone

After a four-year break from the studio, a stripped-down Drive-By Truckers have crafted a taut, lean effort on English Oceans. The country-tinged, Southern rock 'n rollers are minus steel guitar on this 10th studio album and down to two songwriters, but they still deliver. Patterson Hood remains the Athens, Ga., band's dominant voice, but Mike Cooley has more of a presence this time out, his country baritone perfectly fitting songs like the piano-laced ballad "Natural Light." Cooley also offers spare but witty lyrics on songs like "Made Up English Oceans," serving as a counterbalance to Hood's more extended narratives, as on the nearly seven-minute "Pauline Hawkins." The twangy murder ballad "When Walter Went Crazy," meanwhile, is among the best Hood's produced — and that's saying something. "Till He's Dead or Rises" and "Primer Coat" are keepers, too. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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