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The Watson Twins
Fire Songs Vanguard
Sounds like: Rilo Kiley if Blake Sennett was normal and Jenny Lewis was taking horse tranquilizers

Short take: It's soooo ... (yawn) pretty

Try to forget that the Watson Twins' biggest brush with success was as backup singers for Jenny Lewis. Try, because it's not fair to dismiss this album as a backdrop. Don't expect to succeed, though. Chandra and Leigh Watson sound like they're singing hooks with no meat attached. The whole thing slips from your mind without a single sharp edge or extended point. They are beautiful singers, but it's all round melody and safe instrumentals. The "Just Like Heaven" cover is the best part, but mostly because of the strength of the original they've managed to make even this Cure song into a lullaby. Hopefully the yawns greeting Fire Songs will piss off the Watson Twins enough to make the next album as incredible as their vocal talent. Kiernan Maletsky

Mtley Cre
Saints of Los Angeles
Eleven Seven Music
Sounds like: The Dirt soundtrack

Short take: Read the book instead

Years after releasing The Dirt, their sordid, best-selling collection of road tales, the boys of Mtley Cre are making it even clearer that they had a lot of help writing their memoir. "This city full of plastic angels will seduce you," nose-whistles Vince Neil in "L.A.M.F.," the opening track of an interminable album whose lyrics suggest it was written by junior high school boys two days away from summer break. That's actually the pinnacle of the band's songwriting; "Down at the Whiskey" and the title track feature the same squealing guitar Nikki Sixx has played since his mother wiped off his afterbirth. Expect ham-fisted retellings of drug- and booze-addled stories we've all heard at least twice. It's right around "Mutherfucker of the Year" when it becomes clear that, if this band is what passes for a Rat Pack these days, it's in the Cannonball Run cameo phase. Jason Notte

The Hold Steady
Stay Positive
Vagrant / Release date: July 14
Sounds like: Shot-and-a-beer rock

Short take: Another novel album

Easily the most underrated band in recent times, the Hold Steady returns with its third studio effort, Stay Positive, which finds Craig Finn and Co. resuming their tales of hard-working, hard-living folk. The American rock act combines the Bob Dylan-influenced storyteller style of Bruce Springsteen with the grittiness of, say, Social Distortion, while interpolating diverse musicality with grinding organs ("Sequestered in Memphis"), dabbling piano keys ("One for the Cutters") and heavy lead guitars ("Lord, I'm Discouraged"). Lyrically, Finn depicts struggles with the Bible ("Both Crosses") and the secular world ("Sequestered in Memphis"), the latter of which includes the memorable line, "In bar light, she looked alright / In daylight / She was desperate." With Stay Positive, the Hold Steady continues to chart its own course. John Benson

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