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Foster the People

Torches

Columbia/StarTime

Buy if you like: Pet Shop Boys, Erasure

Plenty of emerging artists build their songs using computers because it's easier than learning "real" instruments and forming a band. But while Foster the People uses its share of electronics and programming (along with drums, bass and other old-school instruments), this full-length debut makes the instrumentation seem more like an artistic decision than an easy way out. The band's music draws on disco-influenced dance beats, synth-pop and a bit of R&B, and the mix of synthetic and organic sounds helps give the group a distinct musical identity. Layered vocal harmonies, perky electronic beats and a smooth bass line all stand out on "Pumped Up Kicks," while the humming synthesizer tone of "Helena Beat" conjures up a cool, detached texture. Of course, none of this would matter if the songwriting wasn't there in the first place, and Foster has a definite knack for addictive pop hooks. Resistance, if not futile, is very difficult. — Alan Sculley

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Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Columbia/Legacy

Buy if you like: Jackson Browne, Jack Johnson

When Paul Simon released his self-titled solo debut in 1972, it was clear even then that songs like "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Peace Like a River" would withstand the test of time. This remastered version (re-released along with his There Goes Rhymin' Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years and Live Rhymin' albums) is a crystal-clear reminder that one of our greatest singer-songwriters rarely turns out unlovable work. The revelation is how much some of these songs changed from their earlier versions. The radically different demo version of "Duncan," with its unfamiliar tempo and lyrics, attests to the song's stunning evolution. And "Paranoia Blues" sounds like a one-man band in parts; the added track has the vibe of a back-porch, clappin' and stompin' jam, with Simon letting loose in a way we don't hear on his usual studio-finessed, sonically perfect renditions. — Lynne Margolis

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Shawn Pittman

Edge of the World

Delta Groove

Buy if you like: Duke Robillard, Freddie King

With 10 albums in a career that spans 15 years, it would seem that Shawn Pittman would be a bigger name on the blues scene — especially based on this latest album. With a rocking sound rooted in the classic roadhouse/Texas blues of the 1950s and '60s, Pittman may not be an innovator, but his songwriting is totally rock-solid. "Sugar (Where'd You Get Your Sugar From)" is a prototypical grooving rocker sweetened by well-constructed guitar solos. "Almost Good" adds a bit of jump blues to its Texas boogie, while the earthy "Leanin' Load" rolls nicely behind a driving beat. Except for the occasional saxophone, Pittman plays all the instruments here. And despite the fact that required him to record all of his separate parts track-by-track, this is still a lively album with plenty of grit and minimal studio gloss. Edge of the World should even inspire first-time listeners to check out Pittman's back catalog and discover what they've been missing. — Alan Sculley

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