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The Strokes

Angles

RCA

Buy if you like: Franz Ferdinand, Interpol

So what did the Strokes do on its five-year hiatus pursuing various projects? They turned into the Cars. Not literally, but there's something retro about this new album's mix of guitar rock with synth embellishments. Programmed rhythms drive "Two Kinds of Happiness" and "You're So Right," which has a distinct Radiohead feel. But what's always set the Strokes apart is that most human of musical qualities, the ability to come up with killer hooks. Apart from a couple of misfires ("Games" and "Call Me Back"), the band delivers one attention-getting hook after another, especially on standouts like "Under Cover of Darkness," "Metabolism" and "Machu Picchu." It's that combination of memorable melodies with slacker cool — remember all those Velvet Underground comparisons? —that continues to keep the remodeled Strokes in good running condition. — Alan Sculley

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The Raveonettes

Raven in the Grave

Vice

Buy if you like: Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground

For their newest, the Raveonettes have apparently taken a page from Edgar Allan Poe, blurring the lines between sweet and sinister in songs full of ethereal, synth-fueled dreaminess. Elements of their Everlys/girl-group/Brill Building/surf-rock influences still emerge, barely, in "Let Me On Out" and "My Time's Up," but they're so deconstructed, you have to listen closely. "Ignite" is the first with a real guitar/drums-hook/chorus dynamic, and even that's subdued. It's also incredibly pretty, as is "War In Heaven," with xylophone-like chimes and Sharin Foo's breathy vocals offset by stinging electric guitar. "Forget That You're Young" is a billowy gauze curtain of a lullaby, complete with toy-piano effects and the repeated line, "Can I fall awake now?" The whole thing — even the lurking, minor-chord darkness — is gorgeous. — Lynne Margolis

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J Mascis

Several Shades of Why

Sub Pop

Buy if you like: Pavement, Sebadoh

Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis turns down the fuzz, distortion and decibels on this largely acoustic solo outing, and the quality of his songwriting makes it work. A few songs would even qualify as pretty — a word rarely associated with Dinosaur Jr.'s thick sound. The title song is built upon a delicately finger-picked guitar line intertwined with a lovely string melody, while "Very Nervous and Love" also has a light touch that proves surprisingly effective. "Not Enough" and "Is It Done" are a bit more assertive, but still suggest the alt-rock icon working with classic song structures. In fact, Mascis could almost fit into the John Mayer/Jason Mraz realm of acoustic pop were it not for his more stripped-back arrangements and a voice that's more Neil Young than American Idol. There's always been a tunefulness hiding beneath Dinosaur Jr.'s legendry din; you can just hear it better now. — Alan Sculley

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