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Miike Snow

Happy to You


Buy if you like: Peter Bjorn and John, Animal Collective

Swedish indie pop trio Miike Snow scored dance hits with "Black & Blue" and "Sylvia" on their 2009 release, along with bizarre lyrics and strange musical flourishes while dabbling in enough genres to keep listeners off balance and avoid being labeled a dance trio. In this release, they keep you paying attention by continuing to embrace their musical inner weirdos. Tracks like "Enter the Joker's Lair" and "God Help This Divorce" employ enough off-kilter synths, beats and sound warping to make you feel like you're in a Tim Burton nightmare, and the upbeat piano pop of "Archipelago" juxtaposes oddly with lyrics about "the murderer in me." On more conventional dance-heavy tracks like "The Wave" and the first single "Paddling Out," all it takes are some well-placed bird calls, saxophones or maniacal chants to stay unpredictable. — Brian Palmer


Esperanza Spalding

Radio Music Society

Concord Music Group

Buy if you like: Wayne Shorter, Flora Purim

Those already familiar with Esperanza Spalding's music weren't surprised she won the 2011 Best New Artist Grammy. Those not yet initiated didn't take long to catch on. With a voice as sensuous and supple as Sade's, Spalding also has composing, bass-playing and arranging skills beyond players three times her age. Here she honors — and also hires — some of her jazz forebears while seeking new territory. She also gets political; "Land of the Free" addresses wrongful imprisonment, and "Black Gold" makes a strong statement about empowerment. Her expert use of syncopation on a cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It," featuring jazzman Joe Lovano, adds to the beguiling mix. Though Spalding sometimes forces lyrics to fit the music on tracks like "City of Roses," she has Flora Purim's effortless range and lilt, and a joy de vivre that's infectious. — Lynne Margolis



MDNA (Deluxe)


Buy if you like: Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj

After her divorce from Guy Ritchie, Madonna's 12th album delivers perhaps her most personal, revealing set of songs ever. Pop ballad "I Fucked Up" is self-explanatory, as is the semi-rap "I Don't Give A," featuring Nicki Minaj. Producer William Orbit is back for three tracks, including the ultra-catchy "I'm a Sinner." "B-Day Song" is a reminder of Madonna's garage rock/girl group vocal roots, while her club roots show on the vintage Madge-sounding pop banger "Girl Gone Wild" and the Daft Punk-like swirl of "I'm Addicted." Strangely, the weakest track is the cheerleader pop of "Give Me All Your Luvin'" featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA, that the trio performed at the Super Bowl. But it's made up for by "Falling Free," its string-filled declaration of independence a fitting addition to this surprisingly strong album from a true survivor. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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