- Beach House
File next to: Always, Grizzly Bear, Warpaint
Because Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are embedded in dream-pop tradition, they define a genre that has roots in Galaxie 500 better than any 21st-century cohorts. That also means it's harder for them to stretch outside the dreamy confines. Beach House never reaches the tension and near-terror of Phantogram, nor does their slow tempo carry the majesty of Low. The best songs on their fifth album, like "Sparks," are breathtaking, but others, like "Space Song," sound just the way Beach House dream-pop is supposed to sound. When Legrand and Scally choose to add dissonance and unexpected turns at critical moments, what they get is really not that far from drone-style experimental music like that from the duo Charalambides, a direction they might consider. Depression Cherry does move Beach House forward, but they can use a boost outside their roots. — Loring Wirbel
- Slowtown Now!
File next to: Chris Isaak, Lucinda Williams
A recording artist with an extensive back catalog, Holly Golightly and her backing musicians showcase their stylistic breadth on this oddly titled (and unflatteringly packaged) album. Electric guitars sit comfortably beside upright bass in these sparely arranged but fascinating tunes. Golightly sings all self-penned material save for a smoking, fuzz-guitar-ified cover of Rudy Clark's "Fool, Fool, Fool." Imagine a female Chris Isaak crossed with early '60s girl group (less the Wall of Sound) and you'll have a vague idea of Golightly's métier. Her arrangement and production choices highlight the strength of Golightly's songwriting, and the British artist proves again her mastery of styles: garage rock, rockabilly, cocktail jazz and more. Listeners would be hard-pressed to come up with a genre label that applies to all the tunes, so why bother? Just dig 'em. — Bill Kopp
File next to: Charles Aznavour, Lower Dens, Scott Walker
Dan Bejar fools no one with his spacey persona in The New Pornographers. With each outing in side project Destroyer, Bejar's music grows more urbane; his 12th album, Poison Season, is a virtual literary event. With well-placed sax and trumpet riffs, subdued strings and Bejar's brilliant lyricism, the album is more ambitious than 2011's beloved Kaputt. This is sardonic, doom-laden stuff, as evidenced by the shadowed photo of Bejar and embossed lyrics on the album cover. One can almost sense that bouncy tracks like "Dream Lover" and "Midnight Meet the Rain" were included to prevent the album from sounding like an MFA grad-school project. But what the hell — Bejar may as well give us three orchestral suites entitled Times Square, because he plays the role of snooty intellectual better than almost any pop star. — Loring Wirbel