Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer (Merge) As the Fiery Furnaces, siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger have released nine albums of paranoid, scattershot rock. On the heels of their most recent LP, Take Me Round Again—in which they each separately covered songs they’d originally recorded together—Friedberger steps further into her own spotlight with an astounding solo debut.
Her pinpoint enunciation is immediately recognizable, yet dutifully enhanced with layered sonic arrangements. On the album’s lead single, “My Mistakes,” which features the sultriest sax solo since Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory,” Friedberger chants, “I’ve gotta live with my mistakes.” Going solo is not one of them. —Nadeska Alexis
Little Dragon, Ritual Union (Peacefrog/EMI) There are exactly two types of songs that play over every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The first: a soggy dirge that usually indicates death or a Seattle rainstorm. The second: a happier tune, willfully ignorant of the inevitable bus crash; Meredith is almost always simultaneously eating a bagel. Little Dragon, an electronic four-piece led by Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano, used to rely on the former (“Twice,” which appeared on their self-titled debut album, was actually featured in an episode), but they now trade in the latter—and that’s a good thing. Although there’s no shortage of distortion on Ritual Union, the band’s third studio album, cacophony has been eschewed in favor of unabashed, R&B-tinged pop. Drop your hipster posturing, and you might actually hear a bit of Des’ree—yes, that Des’ree—in “Please Turn” and “Little Man.” (That’s also a good thing.) —Nick Haramis
John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (Ribbon) If electronica’s godmother Wendy Carlos and the Cure’s Robert Smith gave birth to their own music prodigy (we can dream, can’t we?), it would sound like John Maus. The Minnesota-based singer-songwriter has mastered the art of bizarro astropop, a style he revisits on his third album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. Maus, an eccentric of the highest order, has built the perfect dichotomy between light-speed sound beams and gothic vocals, which he soaks in his preferred method of distortion: reverb. “Streetlight” is an airy ditty made for sun-baked afternoons, while “Cop Killer” might be something you’d find Travis Bickle listening to while dreaming up his next hit. —Hillary Weston
Liam Finn, FOMO (Yep Roc) After spending nearly three years on the road opening for acts like the Black Keys, Liam Finn returned to his native New Zealand in 2010, where he holed up in a secluded cottage and began crafting the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2008 debut, I’ll Be Lightning. Isolated, Finn took to social networking sites so that he could keep tabs on his friends—thus the album’s title, an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. The result is a breezy, bare-bones indie-rock compendium on which the singer-songwriter handles most of the instruments. Finn’s laid-back melodies are fairly uniform throughout the album, but there are exceptions: “The Struggle” quickens the pulse with metal basslines, while the brash “Don’t Even Know Your Name” crosses over into post-punk territory. —NA Yacht, Shangri-La (DFA) For Yacht’s second album with DFA Records, Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans fled to the Texan desert to record, for the first time, in a studio. While that meant ditching a sound engineer, the Portland-based disco-punk outfit managed to experiment with live instrumentation and hazy theories about Utopia, mysticism, and Yeasayer-style apoca-environmentalism. The result is Shangri-La, a pop record thrumming with clubby energy and underscored by some seriously keyed-up lyrics: “I’m here to tell you that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely datable event.”Signs might be pointing to the end of days, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t haul our butts onto the dancefloor. —Megan Conway
Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar) Far from the fortress of solitude where Justin Vernon recorded his debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver’s follow-up does what follow-ups should: it evolves. Bon Iver was recorded in an animal clinic Vernon turned into a studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, three miles from where he was raised. Vernon, who made a name for himself with his voice and a guitar (and, thanks to Kanye West, a vocoder), expands his repertoire to include a steel guitar, a saxophone, horns, and drums. The lyrics are lucid, and the imagery swells. In “Beth/Rest,” Vernon’s voice echoes with promise: “Said your love is known/ I’m standing up on it/ I ain’t living in the dark no more.” On Bon Iver, one thing is clear: this ain’t just for Emma anymore. —Eiseley Tauginas
Black Lips, Arabia Mountain (Vice) The Lips’ sixth studio album sounds like a bank heist. Produced by wunderkind Mark Ronson, Arabia Mountain’s genius is its simplicity; like getting robbed, the listener is slow to understand the gravity of what’s really going on. 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil was equally smash-and-grab, but their undiluted fuzzy doo-wop has been given the Ronson sheen this time out. “Modern Art” could be the soundtrack to an apocalyptic beach party, while “Go Out and Get it” is a raucous ode to summer, framed by the carefree lyrics: “Ice cream at the corner store/ You get two for just a dollar more.” We’re sold. —Ned Hepburn