What it sounds like: Along with fellow Texans Midlake, Shearwater is developing a beautifully melancholy indie-pop sound, albeit one that rocks harder. Frontman Jonathan Meiburg’s music and lyrics are literate and poetic, and the overall moodiness here doesn’t stand in the way of catchy melodies and arrangements that are lush yet uncluttered.
Why it matters: Until 2009, Meiburg was also in the much-vaunted Okkervil River. And while that band still has a higher profile, this album could — and really should — change all that.
OTIS TAYLOR, Otis Taylor’s Contraband (Telarc)
What it sounds like: Much of Taylor’s work these days is as much R&B as blues, and Otis Taylor’s Contraband is no exception. Still, when he breaks out his banjo on “Yellow Car, Yellow Dog,” those rustic roots are undeniable. Another standout is “Yell Your Name,” a sparsely arranged acoustic track whose combination of African rhythm and an understated trumpet would make Hugh Masakela and Manu Dibango smile.
Why it matters: The Boulder-based bluesman is an extraordinarily soulful guitarist and arguably one of the most interesting, and least clichéd, artists working in his chosen genres.
BAND OF SKULLS, Sweet Sour (Vagrant)
What it sounds like: Crunchy British alt-rock that fuses enough catchy hooks and splintery riffs to justify its album title. The sound falls somewhere between the bluesy rock of Dead Weather and the more psyche-pop approach of Silversun Pickups.
Why it matters: Sophomore albums are often deal-breakers in a band’s career, and Band of Horses’ early critical acclaim has yet to bring them up from the underground. But that could just be a matter of time now.