The Ting Tings — Sounds from Nowheresville (Columbia)
Expectations for Sounds from Nowheresville are high due to the surprise success of this English duo’s 2008 debut We Started Nothing. And one’s initial reaction to this brief (at 33 minutes) sophomore release may well be somewhere between a sigh and a shrug. Three-plus years and this is all they could come up with? That debut rode the buzz of its two stellar singles—“That’s Not My Name” and “Great DJ”—and the rest, in the memory, is a wash. And though nothing here’s as exciting as Katie White’s chanting “the drums, the drums” in the speedy “Great DJ,” or as insouciant as the finger-wagging remonstration of “That’s Not My Name,” Sounds from Nowheresville is a more solid release. “Hang It Up” has the snotty punk-pop thrill of the debut (followed closely by the riff-happy “Give It Back”), and elsewhere the band stretches out into varying styles. “Soul Killing” has a lazy skank meshed to the special effect of a bed squeaking. (During sex, perhaps?) “One By One” is effective La Roux-ish electropop. And the slow tunes—never a strong suit for duos known for their uptempo good times—are spectacular (especially the Western guitar-and-strings on closer “In Your Life”). —Dan Loughry
Dev — The Night The Sun Came Up (Universal/Republic)
You may not have heard of Dev (aka Devin Star Tailes), but you’ve no doubt heard her voice as the vocal hook for Far East Movement’s “Like A G6” (which was taken from her “Booty Bounce” track). Dev’s multiple personality disorder is either her strength or weakness, as she portrays the chill girl next door that parties hard with tracks like “Bass Down Low,” but she also shows a delicate side with tracks like “Perfect Match” and the piano-tinkled “Getaway.” She concedes to the haters with “Me,” where she boasts, “At first they couldn’t figure me out, funny how they all want a piece of me now.” However, the true star of this album is production team The Cataracs, who make her rapping infectious and her swagger more meaty than being the sober version of Ke$ha. Fave tracks include her hit “Dancing in the Dark” (love that saxophone melody!), the streetwise “Kiss My Lips” (featuring Fabolous) and the aptly titled “Dancing Shoes.” However, as an actual singer, she only scores about a C+, and Auto-Tune be damned! Then again, if you’re looking for highly danceable, earworm electropop jams à la Robyn or Rihanna, Dev has some potential. —Paul V.
Django Django — Django Django (Because Music)
The British quartet Django Django may be the most exciting band to come out of the U.K. since Wild Beasts. Not that they sound anything alike, no. Wild Beasts are fey, art-damaged kids raised on Talk Talk and Sparks—equally melodic and unhinged (thanks, mostly, to Hayden Thorpe’s untrained falsetto). Django Django, who met at art school in Edinburgh, are like Vampire Weekend if they’d been influenced by the Beach Boys, Clinic and Krautrock instead of Peter Gabriel/Afro-pop. Most of their eponymous debut gets by on overall gestalt—a rhythmic thrust coupled with (often) elaborate vocal harmonies (led by Vincent Neff’s smooth tenor) and a shambolic vibe. And though it’s the precise completeness of their sound and vision—to quote another of their influences, the Berlin-era Bowie—that leaves the biggest impression, songs definitely stand out. “Wor” is a hand-clapping, psychedelic stomp across an otherworldly landscape. “Waveforms” is synth-pop fed through a trance-inducing defibrillator. And “Life’s a Beach” is for a dance party set on the far side of the moon—gravity not needed. Song content is elementary—moving on, growing apart, exploring the heart, the usual pop stuff, only cut up, fed through a technological prism and reharmonized in distinctive ways. —Dan Loughry
Said The Whale — Little Mountain (Hidden Pony Records)
Said The Whale is an adorable, innocuous Canadian band you’ve probably never heard of, and that’s a crime. Their third full-length album, Little Mountain, should change that if there’s any justice in the world. This is an exciting, intense, unique, overstuffed, heartfelt album that manages to sound like The Shins, Dr. Dog, Duran Duran and Coldplay all at the same time, while never failing to sound completely unique. It’s a cute trick. Little Mountain is a 15-song album (16 if you count the excellent Tokyo Police Club cover available only on iTunes), and yet there’s not a drop of filler on the disc. The album opens with “We Are 1980,” a song whose biggest hook doesn’t show up til the last quarter. It’s a risky choice but works so well, almost forcing the listener to pay attention. They’re doing subtle, unexpected things all over Little Mountain. Lead single “Heavy Ceiling” is a pumping dance track in their own little Said The Whale way. “Hurricane Adele” is an earworm, the tumultuous tale of the birth of vocalist/guitarist Ben Worcester’s niece. Much like the rest of this album, once it’s in your head, it’ll never let you go. Little Mountain is a masterpiece. Don’t let it go unnoticed. —Dominik Rothbard
Sinéad O’Connor — How About I Be Me (And You Be You) (One Little Indian)
It’s been a long time coming, but fans can finally celebrate the true return of Sinéad O’Connor. Yeah, she hasn’t been gone that long. In fact, O’Connor has released a fairly steady stream of weak albums comprised mostly of traditional Irish hymns, reggae and covers of showtunes. None of it was commercially successful, nor did any of it help her cult status. In fact, it hasn’t been until O’Connor’s recent (and frequent) Twitter meltdowns that her name garnered any interest at all. But what timing! How About I Be Me (And You Be You) is, at last, the follow-up everyone was anticipating. Album opener “4th & Vine” carries on with a hypnotic beat. “Reason With Me” is as haunting and intense as anything from her breakthrough LP The Lion And The Cobra. “I Had A Baby” is poignantly autobiographical, as is much of this album. Take, for example, “The Wolf is Getting Married,” a warm and inviting rendition of the saga recently played out on Twitter. It sounds like a cousin of Adam Ant’s mid-’90s comeback single “Wonderful,” and builds to a climactic chorus. Sinéad O’Connor’s voice is as strong as ever, and this album should be cherished, because who knows if and when she’ll be bothered to record another pop album. Go get it! —Dominik Rothbard
VCMG — Ssss (Mute)
FYI: ‘VC’ stands for Vince Clarke and ‘MG’ stands for Martin Gore, and when I heard these two synthpop pioneers would be collaborating again (for the first time since Vince Clarke left Depeche Mode in 1982), I nearly fainted! The resulting musical marriage is everything you’d expect, except for one major detail—there are no vocals whatsoever. However, what these two electro-masters offer is the sound of bristling, tectonic beats and more than a few nods to the classic Mute Records’ sound from the early ‘80s and Berlin techno from the mid-‘90s. Most tracks are skeletal and sparse, with slow-build layers of flesh and robotic blood added. Interestingly enough, all these tracks were created via file-swapped emails between VC and MG, with each distilling and tweaking each of their ideas. The end result is rigorous, chilly and blunt minimalist electro that could only be crafted by two men with this kind of pedigree. Standouts include the dubby “Spock,” the cinematic “Single Blip” and “Aftermaths,” which wiggles its way through a Rubik’s cube of dark percussion and sci-fi gurgles. From the propulsive, Kraftwerk-influenced opener “Lowly” through to the closing “Flux,” these titans prove they don’t clash, they impress. —Paul V.