Aural Pleasure

You & Me
The Walkmen

Guess that track-for-track remake of Lennon/Nilsson collab Pussy Cats paid off after all. Studying that Lost Weekend classic apparently helped the Walkmen perfect their own stripped-down post-bender-rock. The bare-bones drone that defined previous albums’ least accessible tracks still forms the basis for many of the songs on their latest release, but the edges have been smoothed with a warm and fuzzy vintage sound, minimalistic only because there’s no need for a single extra note. Though a few tracks remain too loose to immediately engage, the album’s highlights succeed with the same basic materials — prominent percussion, wheezing organ, and Hamilton Leithauser’s slurred croon, made brilliant through the most minor embellishments. Check out the triumphant whisted coda in “On the Water,” for example, or the restrained horn work augmenting “Red Moon” and “Canadian Girl.” Garage-y track “Postcards From Tiny Islands,” which rides a surf-rock drum swell to a sandy-island guitar breakdown, might be the most elaborate thing here.

Jeremy Martin

Oceans Will Rise
The Stills
(Arts & Crafts)

Many cried foul over The Stills’ 2006 sophomore release,Without Feathers, which soft-pedaled the gloomy post-punk theatricality — which earned comparisons to Interpol — in favor of a jangling pop lilt. Their third album takes a step back toward the deeper, darker atmospheres of their debut, while also uncaging the guitars, pushing out the boundaries of their sound. Singer Tim Fletcher’s swooning vocals are still key, offering drama to match the undulating pulse, but the guitars move out front in the mix, subordinating the keyboards while flashing needed muscle. The best tracks are relatively short and sweet, such as the anthem to resilience, “Being Here,” which swells like Muse, or the jagged three-minute blast “Eastern Europe,” recalling the wiry squirm of Spoon. The exception is the nearly six-minute “Rooibos/Palm Wine Drinkard,” which goes native over an undulating guitar, affecting a shambolic freak-out as fun and unbuttoned as anything they’ve done.

Chris Parker

No Deliverance

If a mid-90s act like Candlebox can make a quasi-comeback – as it did when its latest album, Into the Sun, recently debuted at number 32 on the Billboard album charts — why not the Toadies? Once the poster children for grunge-pop suburban angst, thanks predominantly to 1994’s platinum-selling Rubberneck, the Toadies have returned with No Deliverance, a 10-track throwback of sorts to a time when radio-friendly pop-rock was still tolerable.

The album — stocked with melodically catchy tracks like “So Long Lovey Eyes,” “I Am a Man of Stone,” and the title track — delivers more of the same fast-paced, sing-along sound for which the Toadies became renowned in the first place. Harmless pop-rock in every sense, No Deliverance won’t make any critics’ 2008 best-of lists, nor will it catapult the Toadies back to the forefront of rock’s radio airwaves. It might, however, deliver the band from its “one album wonder” status.

Clint Hale

Chemical Chords

Stereolab’s ninth studio album features punchy, bright, rapid-fire pop songs combining co-founder Tim Gane’s expanding and contracting drum loops and adventurous vibraphone, drum machine, French horn, et al. concoctions with Laetitia Sadier’s lovely, sonorous vocals. Chemical Chords also infuses Motown’s gracefully accented backbeats and pointed drum work with ornate, glistening brass and string techniques. Opener “Neon Beanbag” creates a classic pop song by stacking its shiny beat with innovative electronic arrangements, while the title track exudes lounge-pop sensibilities, exploring the darkest corners of its expansive sonic landscapes till Sadier’s luscious voice brings you back to center. Though it begins with a tiny sample, “Pop Molecule (Molecular Pop 1)” is thunderous and circular, conjuring images of animated critters, mid-chase. Reminiscent of Lieutenant Pigeon, “Daisy Click Clack” is structurally unorthodox, but peppy and fun, and its dreamy quality is grounded by ragtime piano and sweet female vocals.

Francesca Camillo

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