The National

If you're looking for album-of-the-year contenders, keep tabs on the National. The Brooklyn rock quintet just released its sixth album,

High Violet,

to ecstatic reviews and a top-three landing on the Billboard 200. It sold more than 50,000 copies its first week out and received a rating of 84 (out of 100) on, a site that tracks reviews to find an average score. Such success comes after years of solid recordings and a reputation for a moving live show, where all the worries of what might get lost - the intimacy; the gloomy textures; Matt Berninger's heavy, sometimes mumbled vocals - never pan out but instead translate well to the stage. The band plays a pair of shows this weekend at the Electric Factory and will make an appearance Saturday night at WXPN's Non-Comm Convention at World Cafe Live.

- Michael Pollock


The faithful can rejoice: Marah is back. And considering the turmoil that ensued when the folkish garage-rock band imploded on the eve of its 2008 U.S. tour, this is no small feat. This month, Marah - which has had no fewer than 14 members in the same number of years - will release the aptly titled, self-released

Life Is a Problem,

written and produced as the duo of Dave Bielanko and longtime band keyboardist Christine Smith. The new CD marks, quite significantly, the first time that singer-guitarist Bielanko made a record without his brother and lifelong musical cohort, Serge, who left the group to devote more time to his family. Recorded and mixed in an old farmhouse in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, the disc is said to have a decidedly rootsy feel, with influences of traditional American music and Celtic punk. Onstage, Marah will (as always) tear it up, this time out with the help of backing musicians Bruce Derr (guitar), Mark Francis Sosnoskie (bass), and drummer Martin Lynds.

- Nicole Pensiero

Broken Bells/ The Morning Benders

James Mercer never had it so good. Look, the Shins - the band that Mercer is best known for - have been around the block and have always made likably spindly indie-pop. Yet, as a member of Broken Bells with production whiz/professional weirdo collaborator Danger Mouse, Mercer's vocals have greater range (from muddy-water lows to falsetto highs) and his lyric writing seems brusquely more emotive. That's not because the Mouse, who made

The Gray Album

and stood next to Damon Albarn as a Gorillaz and Cee Lo as a member of Gnarls Barkley, simply let the samplers and the machines do the talking on Broken Bells' eponymous debut. Mouse and Mercer played their instruments for a dazzlingly organic effort. There may be dub, rhythm, and Danger afoot on cuts like "The High Road," and "Kids With Guns," but for the most part Broken Bells offer cutting pop with a deeply groovy, psychedelic edge. Speaking of psychedelia, the Morning Benders open the show with tunes from their recent CD

Big Echo

. That's an apt name, what with that California ensemble's newfound emphasis on Phil Spector-like walls of sound.

- A.D. Amorosi