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New albums from Beach House, Best Coast, Carrie Underwood

Pop Beach House


Beach House


(SubPop sssf )

Beach House's music can be so beautifully dreamy as to be soporific. There aren't a lot of tempo changes or stylistic shifts going on from song to song or album to album, as French-born singer Victoria Legrand's somewhat androgynous vocals take flight on patiently soaring melodies that rise over repetitive keyboard washes decorated with Alex Scally's always subtle slide guitar embellishments. Bloom, the Baltimore-based band's fourth album, stays the course last heard on 2010's captivating Teen Dream, as Legrand and Scully expertly evoke a swooning, melancholic "strange paradise" that luxuriates, as "Wishes" puts it, in "the moment that memory aches." When you first put it on, the album can seem like mere mood music, but as it builds, Bloom opens up with vibrant emotional impact.

Dan DeLuca

Saint Etienne

Words and Music by Saint Etienne

(Universal sssf)

Seven years since their last full-length CD, London electro-poppers Saint Etienne return with a love letter to the power of pop. From the glittering "I've Got Your Music," a paean to mixtape magic ("When I'm alone/ in my 'phones/ I feel love/ in digital stereo"), to the single "Tonight" (on the rush of catching the It band in concert), to "Haunted Jukebox," an ode to melody-evoked memories, at the heart of these 13 disco-dappled tracks is pop music's ability to enchant, to open a world beyond one's childhood bedroom, to inform and transform. "Over the Border," chanteuse Sarah Cracknell's spoken-word opener recounting a 10-year-old's musical awakening, inquires, "And when I was married, and when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be so important?" The answer: an emphatic yes.

Brian Howard

Death Grips

The Money Store

(Epic sss)

The noise and ire of Death Grips, Sacramento's very alternative hip-hop act, are delivered via the mind and sticks of Hella drummer/producer Zach Hill. Hella is way chaotic, and Hill, as one-third of Death Grips, makes sure the same sense of messed-up morass and fractured rhythm stays steadily behind angry vocalist MC Ride (Stefan Burnett) and fellow producer Andy Morin.

Unlike the delirious Hella, Hill's rap-noise trio seems insistently annoyed in a manner that makes them seem like a doom-metal act. Hill and Morin process percussion sounds, real and imagined, into dizzyingly busy ripsnorting sonic booms on tracks like the Bollywood-ed "Punk Weight" and the synth-heavy "I've Seen Footage." Producers Hill and Morin do open some space for danceable grooves and a dawn-chorus-worth of souped-up voices on "Hustle Bones" and "Hacker." But a hoarse MC Ride spends most of his time in The Money Store screaming and pushing his way through the electrifying muck like a child running from a poltergeist. You might not be able to understand every word out of Ride's mouth, but it's he's absolutely frantic about it.

A.D. Amorosi

Death Grips play Tuesday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m. at The Barbary. 951 Frankford Ave. www.

Best Coast

The Only Summer

(Mexican Summer sss)

"The Only Place," title and opening track of Best Coast's second album, threatens to obliterate everything that comes after it. It's a love letter to Bethany Cosentino's native California, and a bright sunburst of irresistible power pop, full of zippy acoustic strumming, reverberating surf-guitar and twangy fingerpicking. "Why would you live anywhere else but here?," Cosentino asks, in an open challenge.

Best Coast's debut, 2009's Crazy For You, found the duo lumped with other lo-fi, '60s girl-group-obsessed bands such as Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls. This time out Cosentino and partner Bobb Bruno up their game by enlisting mastermind producer Jon Brion, who gives the album a lively, immediate clarity without diminishing Cosentino's youthful charm. The ballads sometimes seem like placeholders, but the next blast of summery power pop always comes quickly.

Steve Klinge

Country / Roots

Carrie Underwood

Blown Away

(Arista ssdd)

She has an undeniably big voice, and at the start of her new album Carrie Underwood seems intent on blowing the listener away with it. The first four tracks, including the title song, eschew subtlety for bombast, and end up sounding like nothing more than bad '80s rock.

After that the music is allowed to breathe a little, and some actual country touches emerge, along with hints of a real personality. "Wine After Whiskey" shows Underwood can be a fine, understated country balladeer, and "Cupid's Got a Shotgun" is a twang-fueled blast minus the histrionics of the other rockers here (plus some hot guitar by Brad Paisley).

Aside from those highlights, Blown Away never gets more profound than "Thank God for Hometowns" or the shallow, Kenny Chesney-style crowd-pleasing of the anthemic "One Way Ticket," and ultimately feels as airbrushed as the photos of the Underwood on the cover.

Nick Cristiano


Jazz Punks


(Foam @ the Mouth sss)

The quintet known as the Jazz Punks drops some acid rock amid a take of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and sprays '60s-style rock chords over Paul Desmond's "Take Five." With respect, of course.

It isn't necessarily a bad thing. Whiplash used to be a common jazz practice. Jazz itself was born of such raucous couplings.

The L.A.-centric quintet — with saxophonist Robby Elfman, guitarist Sal Polcino and pianist Danny Kastner — lays the metallic clash on standards of all stripes. The jazz is as earnest and straight-ahead as the rock is brash. Bassist Michael Polcino and drummer Hugh Elliott put out solid energy in both realms.

Still, there isn't much of a merged vision yet. The genres are largely kept in their places — with the jazz predominating — except when the genres join in a boozy mix. The session is an intriguing experiment that both surprises and becomes the musical equivalent of graffiti.

Karl Stark


Eric Whitacre

Water Night

Eric Whitacre Singers, Julian Lloyd Webber, London Symphony Orchestra, Whitacre conducting

(Decca sss)

Unfiltered, unmoderated, unironic joy is the hallmark of Eric Whitacre, one of the few American composers so immediately appealing and charismatic that he has both recording and modeling contracts as well as his own chorus. But even though the 41-year-old composer has been discovered by a larger audience only in the past five years, the limits of his talent would seem to be apparent. Although the ecstatic climaxes of works such as Alleluia and Her Sacred Spirit Soars are as uplifting as ever, several other endeavors show a steep drop in distinction.

The choral pieces on the disc are broken up by instrumental works that are extremely derivative (Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, etc.) and not very interesting. Works such as Goodnight Moon go into deep waters of sentimentality — a quality that detracts from any given piece's durability. The quality of the choral singing is outstanding: The singers capture the fine points of harmonic dissonance so perfectly that some sonorities almost sound electronically generated. Still, if Whitacre is capable of astonishing his public with important new sides of his personality, it ought to happen soon, given the many substantial choral composers, young and not-so-young, that are being rescued from regional obscurity and offering healthy competition. Anyone hear of Bo Hansson? He has a major new disc on Hyperion that lacks Whitacre's dramatic peaks but is more of a keeper.

Daniel Patrick Stearns