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Okkervil River

I Am Very Far

Jagjaguwar

Buy if you like: Talking Heads, Decemberists

Hanging out with famously once-disturbed legend Roky Erickson may have given Will Sheff's brain a few new contours. After producing Erickson's last album, True Love Cast Out All Evil, Sheff began working on Okkervil River's first release in three years — and it's convoluted yet brilliant. Its 11 cuts unfold like a fever-dream rock opera, or a Homerian epic poem, full of inventive instrumentation and dramatic swells that threaten to burst like a dam. Interpreting songs like the catchy, insistent rocker "The Valley," or the David Byrne-meets-Robert Smith tune "Piratess," or the Springsteen-urgent "We Need a Myth," might take some doing, but listening to them has many rewards. If making them didn't cast out whatever evils may lurk behind some of these lyrics, perhaps performing them will. At least, one hopes, Sheff's expressions of his fears will help absolve them. — Lynne Margolis

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Fleet Foxes

Helplessness Blues

Sub Pop

Buy if you like: Crosby, Stills & Nash, Simon & Garfunkel

Imagine CS&N in a madrigal with cascading harmonies, beautifully played acoustic guitars and sensitive songwriting. That's the impression from this second album by Portland, Ore.'s Fleet Foxes. Sweet-voiced Robin Pecknold wrote many of these songs for a solo stint, moving away from the first album's rambling fables and into the realm of love songs. Often as not, he multi-tracks vocals here to create his own harmonies, giving the record a more personal feel. Musically, this is indie-folk in the tradition of the band's self-titled 2008 debut, augmented by electric guitar, zither, brass, jazz saxophone and crashing cymbals. The band fills the record with beautiful Americana, occasionally hints at old England, and explores musical realms both earthy and pastoral. This is even better than Fleet Foxes. And that's saying something. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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The Beastie Boys

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

Capitol

Buy if you like: Snoop Dogg, Sugarhill Gang

The Beastie Boys go full-on old-school with Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the trio's first album in seven years. Always the cleverest of rappers, Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA manage to avoid misguided attempts at aping current trends and head back to the '80s, where they started 25 years ago. In the process, they come across as juvenile, but in a good way, as they boast, brag, and drop references to the lambada, Lee Majors and Kenny Rogers Roasters. Somehow, they manage to make this effort feel fully contemporary, folding some snaky jazz, reggae and rock into the bubbling bass, hard beats and vintage synth riffs. This album's all about the Beasties having fun again as they become that rarest of musical rarities, hip-hop artists with longevity. As Ad-Rock raps: "Oh my God, look at me / Grandpa been rappin' since '83." — L. Kent Wolgamott

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