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Florence + The Machine, Rhett Miller, The Weepies

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Florence + The Machine

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful


File next to: Kate Nash, Lykke Li, Sia

Florence Welch knew all too well that she had to dial down the diva histrionics for her third album. A broken relationship and broken foot, suffered in rapid succession, only reinforced the musical decisions she'd already made during the recording of Florence + The Machines' How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. It's an intense and inward-focused album that opens with the familiar bombast of "Ship to Wreck," but leaves out harp and violin in favor of simple guitar. An extended edition of the album also gives us "Which Witch," with its repeated chant "Who's the heretic now?" Orchestration sneaks back in mid-album, only to be replaced by the sad minimalism of "St. Jude." Yet in spite of this ode to the patron saint of lost causes, Welch is still the queen of pop riffs delivered with a strong punch. — Loring Wirbel


Rhett Miller

The Traveler


File Next to: Old 97s, Pete Yorn

In his role as lead vocalist and guitarist of Old 97s, Rhett Miller has been in the modern-day vanguard of successful rock/country cross-fertilization. After putting his own efforts on hold for most of his band's first decade, the Dallas singer-songwriter resumed his solo career in 2002. The Traveler, Miller's seventh album, doesn't represent a major shift in musical emphasis. The track "Jules" boasts a string section that will remind listeners of early '90s R.E.M. (specifically the Athens band's "Losing My Religion"), and nobody combines c&w's musical virtues with glam-rock quite like Miller does on "Most in the Summertime." His straightforward songwriting always keeps the melodic quotient high, while his breezy, laconic vocal delivery has a genuine, but not overly earnest quality that makes listeners stop and pay attention to what he's singing about. — Bill Kopp


The Weepies



File next to: Ingrid Michaelson, Brandi Carlile

There's not much evidence of the waifish innocence Deb Talan is famous for in The Weepies' new album, likely because she is in remission from Stage 3 breast cancer. While Talan and husband/collaborator Steve Tannen could have responded with an album too maudlin or depressing to enjoy, Sirens finds the duo displaying grim, teeth-gritting determination, which is an unusual demeanor for The Weepies. Songs like "No Trouble" show they've used Talan's tribulations to good ends. The duo even experiments with electronic manipulation and genre styles never attempted on previous Weepies albums, most notably in "Fancy Things." The Weepies' jangling resurfaces near the end of the album in "Does Not Bear Repeating," albeit in a more fearful manner. And despite the song's title, most listeners will want to listen again and again. — Loring Wirbel

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