Halloween Party Playlist

October 11, 2012

Planning a Halloween Party and need some tunes? Here you go…enjoy!

Scarecrow/ Beck

 Ever since his thrilling 1994 debut with Mellow Gold, each new Beck album was a genuine pop cultural event, since it was never clear which direction he would follow. Kicking off his career as equal parts noise-prankster, indie folkster, alt-rocker, and ironic rapper, he’s gone to extremes, veering between garishly ironic party music to brooding heartbroken Baroque pop, and this unpredictability is a large part of his charm, since each album was distinct from the one before. That remains true with Guero, his eighth album (sixth if you don’t count 1994’s Stereopathetic Soul Manure and One Foot in the Grave, (which some don’t), but the surprising thing here is that it sounds for all the world like a good, straight-ahead, garden-variety Beck album, which is something he’d never delivered prior to this 2005 release. In many ways, Guero is deliberately designed as a classicist Beck album, a return to the sound and aesthetic of his 1996 masterwork, Odelay.-allmusic.com

Convinced of the Hex/ Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips wilder side is unleashed on Embryonic’s 18 tracks, and the band sounds more off-the-cuff than it has in years — some tracks are barely longer than snippets, others are rangy epics, and it all holds together so organically that listeners might wonder just how much these songs were edited. Musically, Embryonic is the least polite The Flaming Lipshave been in nearly two decades, mixing in-the-red drums, blobby, dubby bass, squelchy wah-wah guitars, and sparkling keyboards into a swirl of sounds that are strangely liquid and abrasive at the same time. Occasionally, the band uses noise in an almost ugly way, as on “Convinced of the Hex,” which scrapes eardrums with static and distortion before falling into a loose but driving Krautrock groove that adds to the song’s tribal pull (complete with growling and wailing in the background).-allmusic.com

The Ghost of You Lingers/ Spoon

Spoon works with their widest array of sounds yet. Everything from kotos to chamberlains to horns straight out of Motown are fair game on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but they’re used so deftly and judiciously that they never feel like window dressing. As on Gimme Fiction, the band maps out Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s territory within the first three tracks. “Don’t Make Me a Target” is a sleek yet gritty prologue designed to draw listeners in like Fiction’s “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” and its seductive pull only heightens the impact of “The Ghost of You Lingers.” All pounding pianos and fleeting, fragmented verses, the song initially feels like it’s all buildup and no release, but this insistent yet incomplete feeling is what makes it haunting and brilliant: its circling thoughts and echoes upon echoes feel like you’re chasing the song — or its subject — to no avail. Even if “The Ghost of You Lingers” almost perversely avoids hooks, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”‘s homage to blue-eyed soul delivers them in abundance.-allmusic.com

They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!/ Sufjan Stevens

Stevens has done his research, with references to everyone from Abe Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ghost of Carl Sandburg to John Wayne Gacy — the latter provides one the song cycle’s most affecting moments. The lush (yet still distinctly lo-fi) indie pop melodies draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk. “Jacksonville,” with its four-chord banjo lurch, mines “Old Man”-era Neil Young, disco strings dance around “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!,” while the rousing pre-finale “The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders” is pure Peanuts-infused Vince Guaraldi as filtered through the ambiguous kaleidoscope of Danielson Famile spiritualism. -allmusic.com

Bodysnatchers/ Radiohead

In Rainbows, as a title, implies a sense of comfort and delightfulness. Symbolically, rainbows are more likely to be associated with kittens and warm blankets than the grim and glum circumstances Radiohead is known for soundtracking. There’s a slight, if expected, twist at play. The band is more than familiar with the unpleasant moods associated with colors like red, green, and blue — all of which, of course, are colors within a rainbow — all of which are present, and even mentioned, during the album. On a couple levels, then, In Rainbows is not any less fitting as a Radiohead album title than “Myxomatosis” is as a Radiohead song title. Despite references to “going off the rails,” hitting “the bottom,” getting “picked over by the worms,” being “dead from the neck up,” and feeling “trapped” (twice), along with Radiohead Wordplay Deluxe Home Edition pieces like “comatose” and “nightmare” — in the same song! double score! — the one aspect of the album that becomes increasingly perceptible with each listen is how romantic it feels, albeit in the way that one might find the bioport scenes in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ to be extremely hot and somewhat unsettling.-allmusic.com

Halloween/ Matt Pond PA

 Several Arrows Later, Matt Pond PA’s fifth album in five years, is another strong, emotionally charged, and melodically pleasing outing that just could be their best yet. It is packed with hooks, fine performances by the group, and tender and expressive vocals from Mr.Pond himself. The only thing it is lacking is the one or two songs that cause you to bolt upright in stunned appreciation; instead, the record flows past like a gentle river of melancholy and world-weary beauty. The songs have a subtle blend of styles (the classic chamber pop of ’60s bands like the Kinks and the Zombies, the poppy side of emo, the insistent and epic feel of early post-punk/alt-rock groups like the Cure and New Order, and the gentle indie rock of groups like Yo La Tengo and Red House Painters) with plenty of strings, pedal steel, vibes, and piano to cushion the ache of Matt Pond’s vocals and lyrics. Songs like the loping “Brooklyn Stars,” “Halloween,” “Several Arrows Later,” and “Devil in the Water” are Matt Pond PA at their finest, intimate yet somehow epic with a heart-on-sleeve approach that is tempered by the restraint of the music.-allmusic.com

Perhaps vampires is a bit strong but…/Arctic Monkeys

Breathless, hyperbolic praise was piled upon the Arctic Monkeys and their debut album, Whatever people say I am, that’s what I am not, an instant phenomenon without peer. Within the course of a year, the band rose from the ranks of an Internet phenomenon to the biggest band in the U.K., all on the strength of early demos circulated on the web as MP3s. Those demos built the band a rabid fan base before the Monkeys had released a record, even before they played more than a handful of gigs. In effect, the group performed a complete run around the industry, avoiding conventional routes toward stardom, which paid off in spades. When Whatever people say I am hit the streets in January 2006, it sold a gob-smacking 118,501 copies within its first week of release, which not only made it the fastest-selling U.K. debut ever, but sold more than the rest of the Top 20 combined — a remarkable achievement by any measure.-allmusic.com

Halloween/Dead Kennedys

The very concept of a “greatest hits” collection from San Francisco punk legends the Dead Kennedys’ fits right in with the group’s penchant for establishment parody, but the irony is that Manifesto’s 12-track Milking the Sacred Cow is the perfect primer for young punks in training and a satisfying shot of politically charged jet fuel for longtime fans. This CD provides a satisfying crack in the jaw, even if it’s missing fan favorites like “Terminal Preppie,” “Trust Your Mechanic,” and “Chemical Warfare.” Honor students should pick up Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Frankenchrist and Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, but those looking for a quick fix or a cheat will find no better teat to affix their snarl to than this.-allmusic.com

This is Halloween/ Marilyn Manson

Danny Elfman, who has scored many of Tim Burton’s imaginative films (Edward Scissorhands, his two Batman films, etc.), is a perfect musical partner for the somewhat macabre director, and never more so than here, where, in fact, Elfman gets not only to write the music but to play the part of the main character. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an animated movie musical about the abduction of Christmas by the denizens of Halloween land, and Elfman sings the part of Jack, the Pumpkin King. The score is in his usual lush but threatening style (Kurt Weill is his biggest influence), but the highlight is Elfman’s singing. Even in his rock band Oingo Boingo (now merely Boingo), Elfman doesn’t get to sing like this. Granted, the soundtrack album inevitably lacks the film’s outlandish visuals, but it tells the story on its own, and one is better able to appreciate Elfman’s outstanding performance.-allmusic.com

Lullaby/ The Cure

The Cure could be found in a mix of holding pattern and seemingly constant activity in 2011, with an irregular series of world-wide performances of the band’s first three albums and a slew of guest appearances and one-offs by Robert Smith on his own and with other performers standing in for either new or reissued albums. But there was also a one-off headlining performance at the Bestival in the U.K. that summer, resulting in the band’s first official live album since the Show and Paris releases of 1993. Feeling more like a souvenir than anything else, it’s above all a portrait of a band that has the knack of handling a career-spanning catalog down cold, something with both positive and negative sides to it. On the one hand, besides a thankfully clear mix that feels like a brisk soundboard recording, there’s the treat of hearing a then-unique quartet lineup of Smith, Simon Gallup and Jason Cooper matched with the then-recently returned Roger O’Donnell adding keyboards for the first time in some years.-allmusic.com

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DJ Kelsey’s British Playlist in Honor of the Olympics

July 27, 2012

WBER’s DJ Kelsey has put together a playlist of songs by British artists to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics that begin today!

Got To Get You Into My Life/ The Beatles

All the rules fell by the wayside with Revolver, as the Beatles  began exploring new sonic territory, lyrical subjects, and styles of composition. It wasn’t just Lennon and McCartney, either — Harrison staked out his own dark territory with the tightly wound, cynical rocker “Taxman”; the jaunty yet dissonant “I Want to Tell You”; and “Love You To,” George’s first and best foray into Indian music. Such explorations were bold, yet they were eclipsed by Lennon’s trippy kaleidoscopes of sound. The biggest miracle of Revolver may be that the Beatles covered so much new stylistic ground and executed it perfectly on one record, or it may be that all of it holds together perfectly. Either way, its daring sonic adventures and consistently stunning songcraft set the standard for what pop/rock could achieve.- All Music Guide

Naive/ The Kooks

The Kooks arrived fully formed in 2006, for their debut sounds like the work of a band well into its career: the confidence with which the foursome from Brighton play and the abandon with which Luke Pritchard sings; the witty songcraft and deft arrangements; the drama and fervor they unleash from the very first notes and carry through to the end. They display maturity but also play with the fervor of kids and project a wide-eyed charm that is very endearing. On most of Inside In/Inside Out, the band sounds like a more energetic Thrills or a looser Sam Roberts Band, maybe even a less severe Arctic Monkeys at times.- All Music Guide

Bad Thing/ Arctic Monkeys

Breathless praise is a time-honored tradition in British pop music, but even so, the whole brouhaha surrounding the 2006 debut of the Arctic Monkeys bordered on the absurd. It wasn’t enough for the Arctic Monkeys to be the best new band of 2006; they had to be the saviors of rock & roll. Lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner had to be the best songwriter since Noel Gallagher or perhaps even Paul Weller, and their debut,  Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, at first was hailed as one of the most important albums of the decade, and then, just months after its release, NME called it one of the Top Five British albums ever. Some may call it striking when the iron is hot, cashing in while there’s still interest, but Favourite Worst Nightmare is the opposite of opportunism: it’s the vibrant, thrilling sound of a band coming into its own. – All Music Guide

LDN/ Lilly Allen

Like most British pop, Lily Allen’s debut album, Alright, Still,overflows with impeccably shiny, creative productions. However, Allen attempts to set herself apart from the likes of Rachel Stevens, Natasha Stevens, Natasha Bedingfield, and Girls Aloud with a cheeky, (mostly) amusing vindictive streak in her lyrics that belies the sugarcoated sounds around them. You know exactly what she means when she says her ex is “not big whatsoever” on “Not Big”; later, she revels in being the one that got away on “Shame for You.” And “LDN” is a glorious summer confection, even if “it’s all lies” underneath the Lord Kitchener sample and “sun is in the sky” chorus. – All Music Guide

Honky Tonk Women/ Rolling Stones

“Honky Tonk Women” was the last and one of the greatest of the Rolling Stones’ classic 1960s singles, reaching number one in 1969. Most Rolling Stones classics are based around a primal blues-rock riff, and in “Honky Tonk Women,” there could have been several: the clipped circular one at the beginning of the song, the responsive ones that echo Mick Jagger’s vocal through the verses, or the ones played by a combination of guitars and horns in the instrumental break. Also crucial to the musical greatness of the track was Charlie Watts’ funky, no-frills drumbeats, which lead off the song and ricochet throughout the song with great authority but absolutely no bombast. Although “Honky Tonk Women” is rock & roll, there’s a lot of country and blues influence, perhaps even more country than blues.-All Music Guide

Starry Eyed/ Ellie Goulding

It shouldn’t surprise any Ellie Golding fan to know that the British songstress wrote music for the likes of Gabriella Cilmi  and Diana Vickers before issuing this full-length debut. That’s because Golding’s sound doesn’t stretch far from other teen Brit-pop artists of 2010, who are more likely to pull back and dig deep on a record than indulge in the froth of Girls Aloud or Sugababes. Golding finds a balance between both camps on Lights. Ultimately, Golding’s debut album is something of relevance; it lacks the dramatic crash and bang of Florence + the Machine’s Lungs, but is certainly a more restrained, compelling listen than the debut records by Pixie Lott and Little Boots, two artists whose electronic dance-pop is echoed here. – All Music Guide

Under Cover of Darkness/ The Strokes

When the Strokesreturned from their lengthy post-First Impressions of Earth hiatus with Angles, they’d been apart almost as long as they’d been together. While they were gone, they cast a long shadow: upstarts like the Postelles and Neon Trees borrowed more than a few pages from their stylebook, and even established acts like Phoenix used the band’s strummy guitar pop for their own devices. During that time, the members of the Strokes pursued side projects that were more or less engaging, but it felt like the band still had unfinished business; though First Impressions was ambitious, it didn’t feel like a final statement. For that matter, neither does Angles, which arrived just a few months shy of their classic debut Is This It’s tenth anniversary. Clocking in at a svelte 34 minutes, it’s as short as the band’s early albums, but Angles is a different beast. Somehow, the Strokes sound more retro here than they did before, with slick production coating everything in a new wave sheen.-All Music Guide

Coffee and TV/ Blur

Blur’s penitence for Brit-pop continues with the aptly named 13, which deals with star-crossed situations like personal and professional breakups with Damon Albarn’s  longtime girlfriend, Justine Frischmann of Elasta, and the group’s longtime producer, Stephen Street. Building on Blur’s un-pop experiments, the group’s ambitions to expand their musical and emotional horizons result in a half-baked baker’s dozen of songs, featuring some of their most creative peaks and self-indulgent valleys. – All Music Guide

Flux/ Bloc Party

The album begins with two of Bloc Party’s angriest, most experimental songs, which revisit the beat-heavy territory of  A Weekend in the City’s “Prayer” with even more charged results. “Ares” is a modern-day war chant, with seething processed guitar lines fueled by huge pummeling drums, the likes of which haven’t been heard since the big beat heyday of the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. – All Music Guide

Ask/ The Smiths

For many Smiths fans, Rank is as close as they will get to a live performance from Morrissey, Johnny Marr, and company. Recorded live at The National Ballroom in London in October of 1986, roughly six months before they disbanded altogether, these 14 songs capture the Smiths performing in full-on rock-star mode. Though Grant Showbiz’s production and engineering work consistently places Morrissey’s voice too loud in respect to the rest of the band, the performance is suitably epic, hit-packed, and engrossing. Morrissey is in fine form, randomly trilling and squawking throughout, providing enough cocky banter and personality that the fact that he’s nearly out of breath for half the performance doesn’t put a damper on the festivities. – All Music Guide

Stylo/ Gorillaz

Gorillaz began as a lark but turned serious once it became Damon Albarn’s primary creative outlet following the slow dissolve of Blur. Delivered five years after the delicate whimsical melancholy of 2005’s Demon Days, Plastic Beach is an explicit sequel to its predecessor, its story line roughly picking up in the dystopian future where the last album left off, its music offering a grand, big-budget expansion of Demon Days, spinning off its cameo-crammed blueprint. Plastic Beach is the first  Gorillaz album to play like a soundtrack to a cartoon — which isn’t entirely a bad thing, because as Albarn grows as a composer, he’s a master of subtly shifting moods and intricately threaded allusions, often creating richly detailed collages that are miniature marvels.- All Music Guide

Pumkin Soup/ Kate Nash

On a first listen to Kate Nash’s debut Made of Bricks , it’s easy to hear the similarities to her contemporaries (Lily Allen, the Streets, Amy Winehouse)  and influences (Björk, Robbie Williams). Her most popular songs are both intimate and confrontational, using brief portraits and slang-conversational vocals to illustrate the larger issues going on — the dinner party that exposes a crumbling relationship on “Foundations” or the futility of using “Mouthwash” as a defense against feelings of low self-worth. Nash has plenty of maturation to do as a songwriter and performer, but she shows considerable promise on this debut. -All Music Guide

Tears Dry On Their Own/ Amy Winehouse

The story of  Back to Black is one in which celebrity and the potential of commercial success threaten to ruin Amy Winehouse, since the same insouciance and playfulness that made her sound so special when she debuted could easily have been whitewashed right out of existence for this breakout record. (That fact may help to explain why fans were so scared by press allegations that Winehouse had deliberately lost weight in order to present a slimmer appearance.) Although Back to Black does see her deserting jazz and wholly embracing contemporary R&B, all the best parts of her musical character emerge intact, and actually, are all the better for the transformation from jazz vocalist to soul siren. – All Music Guide

Fit But You Know It/ The Streets

Mike Skinner has a problem, and from the sound of it, it’s life-threatening. Skinner’s urban British youth persona is even more fully drawn than before, and this time he delivers a complete narrative in LP form, with characters, conflicts, themes, and post-modern resolution on the closer. Skinner drives these tracks with a mere skeleton of productions and delivers some cruelly off-key harmonies on the choruses; only the single, a rockabilly buster named “Fit but You Know It,” makes any attempt to connect the dots from beats to melody to production. Confronting doubts about his seriousness and squashing whispers about his talent, Skinner has made a sophomore record that expands on what distinguishes the Streets from any other act in music. -All Music Guide


WBER’s DJ Kelsey Ladies of Rock Playlist

June 6, 2012

Kelsey went with the female-lead theme on this playlist. Some new, some old, but all the ladies run the show!

I found you/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jonesand the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock. And it’s not just that Heath Fogg tears great, gnarled riffs out of his guitar while the rhythm section of Zac Cockrell and Steve Johnson hit the downbeat with a brutal force — lead singer Brittany Howard phrases like a rock singer, playing up vocal affections with glee, ratcheting up the drama by laying hard into her elongated phrases.- All Music Guide

Be Easy/Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones, the big-voiced lead singer of the Dap-Kings — a band that recently began making its name known outside those enthusiasts of the Daptone label and the reaches of the soul community thanks to appearances with Amy Winehouse and work for Mark Ronson, including a version of Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” — is no music-world neophyte. 100 Days, 100 Nights is just her third full-length with the Dap-Kings, but Jones has been singing on and off since the 1970s, without much of a break until she began working with her current label. Meaning, she’s certainly paid her dues, and she has enough life experience behind her voice to make the words she sings sound that much truer. – All Music Guide

Eat the music/ Kate Bush

The album is a continuation of Bush’s multi-layered and multiple musical pursuits and interests. If not her strongest work — a number of songs sound okay without being particularly stellar, especially given Bush’s past heights — Red Shoes is still an enjoyable listen with a number of diversions. Opening song “Rubberband Girl” is actually one of her strongest singles in years, a big and punchy song served well with a horn section, though slightly let down by the stiff percussion. “Eat the Music,” another smart choice for a single, mixes calypso and other Caribbean musical touches with a great, classically Kate Bush lyric mixing up sexuality, romance, and various earthy food-based metaphors. – All Music Guide

Dirty Paws/ Of Monsters and Men

Of Monsters and Men’s 2012 full-length debut, My Head is an Animal, features more of the Icelandic band’s acoustic-driven alt-rock featured on their 2011 EP Into the Woods. Showcasing the dual singer/guitarist/songwriters Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttirand and Ragnar Pórhalsson, the album also displays the six-piece ensemble’s grand and anthemic style with a bent toward passionate folk-rock uplift and more layered, introspective moments. In that sense, the band brings to mind the work of such similarly inclined contemporaries as Arcade Fire, Angus & Julia Stone and Mumford & Sons. – All Music Guide

The Re-Arranger/ Mates of State

Giving a record a title like Re-Arrange Us might imply some kind of shift in sound or approach but on Mates of State album of that title, there is nothing of the sort taking place. In fact, the album continues along the path the band has plotted out over their last couple releases with more piano and less organ, a glossy, slick feel that’s radio ready and super-hooky tunes that are both sing-along friendly and emotionally powerful. “Help Help,” with its ’80s synths and fuzzed organ; “My Only Offer,” with a majestic piano part and beautiful vocals from Kori Gardner; and the positively exuberant “Jigsaw” are the kind of songs indie rock bands would kill for. Gardnerand Jason Hammelare becoming adept at creating big, shiny records with a real-life heart beating beneath. -All Music Guide

Us/ Regina Spektor

Maybe it’s just the preponderance of piano in her music, but Regina Spektor sounds more like a traditional singer/songwriter (in the best sense of that phrase) than her anti-folk contemporaries. A few of Soviet Kitsch’s songs, like “Poor Little Rich Boy,” concentrate on the childlike, mischievous side of Spektor’s sound that puts her in the love-it-or-hate-it category for some listeners. Still, Spektor is an engaging performer throughout the album, and despite her arty quirks, she’s never pretentious. She originally self-released Soviet Kitsch nearly two years before Sire released it, so it’ll be interesting to hear what she does next. -All Music Guide

That Phone/ Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

This self-titled set is very polished — from cover photo to last note, it’s designed to scale the Billboard charts — yet it offers a representative showcase of the band’s strengths. And while it doesn’t come off as spontaneously as their live gigs, it’s not supposed to. The glammed-up Nocturnals are still a tough, few-frills rock band, and despite his pedigree, Batson  — who co-wrote six of 13 songs with Potter here — gets that. The mid-tempo numbers — the soul-drenched “That Phone” and the blazing “Only Love,” with its infectious bass line and distorted guitars — work to fine effect. In sum, this the most representative outing from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals to date, and displays, however slickly, a heady quotient of strut, crackle, and groove. – All Music Guide

Graveyard/ Feist

With Metals , Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across finger plucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. – All Music Guide

Oh!/ Sleater Kinney

Having consolidated their strengths with All Hands on the Bad One, Sleater Kinney revived the ambition of The Hot Rockon their sixth album, One Beat. John Goodmanson gives the group its cleanest-sounding production to date, which brings out all the new trappings in the ever more sophisticated arrangements. Carrie Brownstein’s vocals can be a bit precious at times, and the pointed 9/11 observations make the occasional feminist sloganeering sound like nothing the group hasn’t done better elsewhere. But if you’re already on board with their idiosyncrasies, One Beat is another triumph from a band that seems to produce them with startling regularity. -All Music Guide

King of the World/ First Aid Kit

Described as the Swedish answer to the Pieces, sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg,aka First Aid Kit,blend autumnal folk and wistful ’60s Americana, and have gathered a pretty illustrious following since their cover version of Fleet Foxes’  “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” became a YouTube hit back in 2008. The medieval-tinged opening title track and the infectious hand claps and mariachi horns on “King of the World,” the latter of which features guest appearances from Conor Oberstand the Felice Brothers, are convincing forays into rousing nu-folk, while it’s impossible not to be charmed by the low-key dreaminess of “In the Hearts of Men” and the campfire singalong of “This Old Routine,” both of which bear the hallmarks of the long Scandinavian dark winters.-All Music Guide

Soft Shock/ Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Never content to stay in one musical place for very long, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs take their restlessness to the limit on It’s Blitz!– and wind up making some of their most contented-sounding songs. As if to prove one more time that they’re not just the architects of New York’s early-2000s rock renaissance, Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase strip away the guitars and explosive dynamics of their early work even more thoroughly here than they did on Show Your Bones.  The serenity in It’s Blitz’s ballads feels worlds apart from Show Your Bones in a much less obvious way than the album’s outbursts. But between the violently happy songs and the softer ones, this is some of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ most balanced and cohesive music.-All Music Guide

Only if for a night/ Florence + the Machine

2011’s Ceremonials, which found Florence + the Machine expanding on their already expansive sound, helped to further propel the ghostly Brit into the spotlight, and on MTV Unplugged, she’s come full circle, allowing fans a peek into the bombast while providing the aging, acoustic show with a little defibrillation. Mid-tempo tracks like “Only If for a Night,” “No Light, No Light,” and “What the Water Gave Me,” the latter of which finds Florence Welch in full control of the room by the song’s second half, are soulful, spooky, and bold, allowing room for both Welch and her machine to strut their stuff without sounding like a murder of caged crows.-All Music Guide

Silver Lining/ Rilo Kiley

Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley’s 2007 major-label debut, is surely designed as the Los Angeles quartet’s entry into the big leagues, the album that makes them cross over to a mass audience — or perhaps it’s just meant to make their now de facto leader, Jenny Lewis, cross over, since it plays as a sequel to her 2006 solo stab, Rabbit Fur Coat, as much as it plays as the successor to 2004’s More Adventurous, putting the former child right out front, bathing in the spotlight. Lewis, sings lead, confirming that he’s now firmly in a subservient role to his former paramour, who dominates this record the way Natalie Merchant used to rule 10,000 Maniacs, leaving the impression that the band is now merely her support group. -All Music Guide