Buy if you like: Rod Stewart, solo Keith Richards
Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter sounds better than ever on Man Overboard, a set of 11 smartly written, R&B-rooted songs that, with Hunter's gravelly voice, recall early Rod Stewart. Essentially recorded live in the studio with few overdubs, the album has the feel of a good band at work. Hunter's songs are terrific, leading off with the loose rocker "The Great Escape," the true story of a young Hunter abandoning his guitar in a pub to run away from a big guy looking to pound him. There are more stories to follow: The title cut is a moving, acoustic-guitar anchored ode to a man losing his bearings, and "Girl from the Office" offers a view of workplace attraction. Nothing goes over the top here, but as Hunter gets bluesy, stomps around and moves into romance, he's really connecting, making for a fine album. — L. Kent Wolgamott
Buy if you like: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Sundays, R.E.M.
Three years removed from their acclaimed self-titled debut, the Howling Bells further refine their beguiling sound on Radio Wars. With the warmth of the Sundays ("It Ain't You Nightingale") and the polished synth aesthetic of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ("Cities Burning Down"), this Australian quartet, which now calls London home, mingles an indie rock aesthetic with pop sensibilities. On "It Ain't You," singer Juanita Stein's vocals stand out, but the understated guitar work of her brother Joel sells the tune. Then there's the cornerstone track "Golden Web," an insidiously catchy mid-tempo treasure in which Stein opens up emotionally over mesmeric backing vocals and simple melodies. Overall, Radio Wars feels like a special album, one that won't be soon forgotten by those lucky enough to discover it. — John Benson
Julian Plenti is Skyscraper
Matador / Release date: Aug. 4
Buy if you like: Interpol, Editors
Under the nom de plume Julian Plenti, Interpol singer Paul Banks has emerged with his debut solo album, an impressive indie rock statement of independence, creativity and eccentricity. Despite this being a solo affair, Banks does his best not to be self-indulgent, and to create something decidedly different. Julian Plenti is Skyscraper's title track is majestically orchestrated with strings and tender guitar chords that create a swell of momentum, while the pop-infused "Fun that We Have" features enticing chugging rhythms. Then there's "Fly as You Might," which pairs an off-kilter Brooklyn songwriting vibe with an alluring fuzzy guitar sound. The track's tentative vocals and subtle stop-and-go delivery give it a feeling of imminent collapse. Banks deserves credit for keeping our interest in what are often tricky solo waters. — John Benson