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St. Vincent, Beck, and Angel Olsen

Sound Advice

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St. Vincent

St. Vincent

Loma Vista/Republic

File next to: Julia Holter, Anna Calvi, Joanna Newsom

Annie Clark turned her St. Vincent persona up a notch in 2012, when her songwriting talents were the best element in her duo album with David Byrne, Love This Giant. She's amplified that image in her new work, giving us a glittery St. Vincent on a throne, visually resembling Janelle Monae or Lady Gaga (given the track called "Huey Newton," it may be a parody of his Panthers portrait). Can the music stand up to the wry subtlety of albums like Actor or Strange Mercy? Thankfully, St. Vincent rarely stumbles as she goes big. A few tracks, like "Rattlesnake," might be too dancefloor-friendly, but she melds beats and found sounds as though Laurie Anderson was jamming with Sleigh Bells. Ralph Carney of Tin Huey emulates some of the heavy horn sounds that dominated Love This Giant. Annie's days as a waif may be over, but St. Vincent is ready to kick your ass. — Loring Wirbel

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Beck

Morning Phase

Fonograf/Capitol Records

File next to: Wilco, Kenny Chesney

Every decade or so, the chameleon known as Beck Hansen eschews experimentalism and offers up a stripped-down album of simple ballads. 2002's Sea Change, one of Beck's most accessible, featured countrified rhythms and broken-heart lyrics. The new Morning Phase has a more ethereal, windswept feel, occasionally drifting into the genre known as yacht rock. Opinions seem evenly split between those who consider Morning Phase a work of incomparable beauty and those who can't find the solid center to this album. The smart listener will split the difference. Maybe none of the songs here match the emotional punch of those on Sea Change, but there are enough exquisitely crafted tracks like "Blackbird Chain" and "Turn Away" to make the album a keeper. It's nice to know that Beck is self-effacing enough to deliberately opt for Beck Lite, and his listeners benefit with an album of beautiful ballads. — Loring Wirbel

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Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Jagjaguwar

File next to: Neko Case, Old 97's

Angel Olsen, indie folk songstress and erstwhile Will Oldham collaborator, cranks up the volume on Burn Your Fire for No Witness, which lends her rootsy songwriting an added intensity. It's not quite an explosive attack like, say, Sleater-Kinney; the fuzzed-out guitars backing Olsen's affecting voice on "Forgiven/Forgotten" and "Hi-Five" more resemble a sublime intersection of Patsy Cline and the 13th Floor Elevators. This backwoods-garage aesthetic is executed so effectively that Burn Your Fire already feels like some great, forgotten relic. It speaks to Olsen's acumen as a singer that her vocals are still the undeniable focal point. The understated "White Fire," "Lights Out" and "Enemy" match her best work as Bonnie "Prince" Billy's sidekick, but here she is free to unleash her full, charismatic, frontwoman delivery, which drips with show-stopping emotion. A breakout album for an exciting talent. — Collin Estes

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