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Helplessness Blues is nearly perfect in its execution, and it’s endlessly beautiful. Fleet Foxes added depth to their sound without making it overly dark or sluggish, and Robin Pecknold’s songwriting is gaining confidence, taking on more intricate melodies and vocal harmonies without losing any immediate impact. The space between the echoing guitar and his lush vocals that opens “Montezuma” acts as a kind of blank canvas for the record, and it immediately gets colored with backing vocals, with more guitars, with Josh Tillman’s subtle but fundamental percussion.—Matthew Fiander
If there’s a blueprint for art-scarred eccentrics to follow that outlines how they can aspire to become top-of-the-charts divas that still maintain the quirks that made them distinctive, you could do worse than the one Florence Welch has drawn up. There’s a reason why Florence and the Machine seem as at ease rubbing shoulders with the haute couture jet set as getting remixed by au courant underground acts like the Weeknd and the xx, and that’s simply because Welch exudes such confidence in her singular aesthetic vision that she can be herself: Following the same muse on her sophomore effort Ceremonials, Welch is the kind of artist who takes the lead and lets others come along for the ride, rather than simply playing to the whims and trends of the marketplace or banking on gimmickry.—Arnold Pan
Allegedly a concept album about a teenager living in 2082, Channel Pressure is firmly rooted in the ‘80s of European and North American pop, soft-rock, and R&B, a time when synths still ruled and recorded voices came to us as if from some robotic ether. It’s an album that gets better with every play, especially with headphones, where each stutter, bend, warp, and pitchshift are discovered, and new subtleties become apparent. It’s a work of heroic heritage, reorganizing and reorganizing an era that is too often dismissed as sterile and empty.—Richard Elliott
Sky Full of Holes
Fountains of Wayne are like catnip to music nerds and rock critics. They produce albums full of catchy power-pop songs that put most of mainstream pop music to shame. Sky Full of Holes finds Fountains of Wayne back at the top of their game. From the rocking opener “The Summer Place” to the gentle closer “Cemetery Guns”, the album is full of great songs. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the bulk of their catalog and continues the band’s clinic on great songwriting.—Chris Conaton
Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Unlike past Girls’ outings, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is bracingly immediate. These are songs that are fully realized and lovable at first blush. When you listen to a Girls record, you get the sense that singer Christopher Owens is wide-eyed with wonder with the debris of popular music from decades past. That sense of yearning, loss and infatuation has led to a meticulousness and fascination that universally translates to its music. There are moments on this new album that point backwards to not only glam rock but the progressive sounds of monster ‘70s groups, including Pink Floyd.—Zachary Houle
Emmylou’s 21st solo studio album is a treat. Her writing is sharper and more focused than ever, favoring tight verses and distinct choruses, and she’s much improved as a lyricist. Producer Jay Joyce helps give it a warm, relatively unfussy sound, using just three musicians—Emmylou on acoustic guitar, Joyce and multi-instrumentalist Giles Reeves on everything else. The result: songs that still fill a lot of space—effects-laden guitars, a soft organ, the vocalist’s quintuple-tracked vocals, a broom—yet a relaxed record that never feels as though the producer is in the way.—Steve Leftridge
The Big Roar
This much-buzzed Welsh trio took their sweet time making their full-length debut, and delivered fully on their promise. The result is a unique melding of several familiar styles that stands out among their many retro-fixated contemporaries as one that is richer and more distinct for not deriving from a single common denominator. The Big Roar is both an astonishingly confident record and one driven by the tension between the imposing weight that comes with standing on the shoulders of giants and the need to capture a particular moment in time and make it one’s own.—Jer Fairall
Every rendition here stacks up against their studio doppelgangers—and in several cases the band improves upon the album versions. Throughout, but particularly on performances of “Get Innocuous”, “Pow Pow”, and “Yr City Is a Sucker”, LCD’s Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney demonstrate their indispensability, with the former delivering infectiously snarky backing vocals and the latter offering up hypnotically primal drumming. This is a magnificent swan song for one of the premiere acts—both in and outside of the studio—of the past ten years.—Eric Allen Been
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