Rufus Wainwright — Out of the Game (Decca Records)
Rufus Wainwright enlisted the production services of Mark Ronson for his seventh studio release, Out of the Game. This caused (unnecessary) speculation that Wainwright was working on a dance record—that, and the man himself saying Out of the Game would feature his “poppiest” songs to date. Yet except for the wan dance of “Bitter Tears” (the weakest song here) and the soul backbeat of “Perfect Man,” this is pop as the scion of folk music legends (Loudon Wainwright III, Kate McGarrigle) might imagine it. That is, Out of the Game’s a collection of songs that would’ve sounded as great in the ‘70s as they do today and will in 10 years. Wainwright’s talent is oversized and his ambitions unparalleled by anyone of his generation (I mean, who else has or could have written an opera? Sufjan Stevens? Maybe.) But the restrictions of the pop form have been good for his muse. The title track’s a loving piece of nostalgia and a passing of the torch to the next generation. “Montauk” is a beautiful meditation to his daughter from Wainwright and his partner. And for those that miss the orchestrations of Want One and Want Two, “Candles,” a moving tribute to his beloved mother, goes out on a somber bagpipe elegy. —Dan Loughry
Ferry Corsten — WKND (Ultra Records)
Truth be told, I stopped being a fan of straight-up techno and trance music about 10 years ago. It is a genre that can easily sound generic and interchangeable if something extra is not added to the mix. So I was pleasantly surprised at how much I love this new Ferry Corsten disc. The Dutch DJ (with more aliases than 50 bank robbers) knows his way around club stomping, anthemic and hands-in-the-air production, and his aptly titled effort sets the controls to the heart of the bass (and the beats). The fist-pumping disc splits its time between ecstatic instrumentals (“Brute,” the frenetic and relentless “Take Me” and the siren-filled raver “Don’t Be Afraid”), and more song-oriented tracks with breathy, female vocals, such as “Live Forever,” featuring newcomer Aruna. Her “Turn off the lights, turn up the bass” lyric becomes a hypnotic clarion call. But the track that truly commands the dance is “Feel It,” which samples the vocal from Marshall Jefferson’s early 90s house classic. If you can’t afford the plane ticket, Corsten can easily transport you to Ibiza for under $15. Just be sure to pack your dancing shoes for a very long WKND weekend. —Paul V.
The Futureheads — Rant! (Nul Recordings)
Oh, the Futureheads. The shoutiest, most angular of post-Britpop also-rans. The Sunderland foursome have spent the last 10 years releasing four solid albums with diminishing critical response and corresponding drooping sales. It seems odd the band would return with something tantamount to a stopgap release. Rant is an interesting beast. There’s the fact that it’s half re-recordings of their early tracks, half covers. If that gimmick turns you off, you’re not alone—thankfully, there’s a twist. It’s an a capella album. The Futureheads are at their best when they’re harmonizing with one another, creating shouty all-vocal melodies, usually clashing with razor-sharp guitars. That energy is emphasized here. It works, roughly half the time. “Thursday” (a highlight from the band’s sophomore LP News & Tribunes) benefits most from the metamorphosis. The new take on “Man Ray” is a reminder of how fun their debut LP was. The covers are more hit-and-miss. The Black Eyed Peas’ “Meet Me Halfway” is just a mistake. “Beeswing,” originally by Richard Thompson, also doesn’t quite work. Sparks’ “The No. 1 Song In Heaven,” however, is a real treat. This is a serious case of ‘for diehards only,’ in which case, make sure to get the iTunes version, which features two quality bonus tracks. —Dominik Rothbard
Loudon Wainwright III — Older Than My Old Man Now (2nd Story Sound Records)
The patriarch of a cult music dynasty, Loudon Wainwright III has mortality on his mind on his 22nd release, Older Than My Old Man Now. One of the original singers pegged as a “new Bob Dylan,” Wainwright III’s always been more in the Joni Mitchell vein of the confessional troubadour, yet with a more wicked wit. Since 1970 he’s written about damn near everything, but his métier, which he shares with his children (Rufus, Martha and Lucy Wainwright Roche) and his ex-wives, the late Kate McGarrigle and Suzzy Roche, has been the complications of family life. At nearly 66, he’s looking back, worrying about his legacy and—maybe—making amends. (He’s written about his kids, and they’ve written about him as well, nowhere more blatantly than on Martha’s “Bloody Mother F*cking Assh*le.”) The music ranges from acoustic balladry to music hall to the blues, but, as always, it’s the words and the melodies that matter. Standouts on a very strong record include the joking tunes “My Meds” and “I Remember Sex” (a duet with himself singing both male and female parts), and a heartbreaking duet with Rufus on “The Days That We Die,” about fathers and sons and the impossibility of reconciliation. —Dan Loughry
Revolver — Let Go (Astralwerks)
Revolver is a French band whose 2009 LP Music for a While was a gorgeous take on chamber pop. The album’s hit “Leave Me Alone” gave the LP legs and afforded the band three years to craft their follow-up, Let Go. It’s a worthy successor. Though nothing captures the immediate charm of “Leave Me Alone,” the album boasts many treasures that slowly reveal themselves over repeated listens. The album opens with the charming “Let’s Get Together,” but then segues right into “The Letter,” one of the album’s best tracks. On first listen, it’s timid, but then it unravels when you hear it again. It doesn’t leave your subconscious after that. Acoustic guitars twinkle gently, as though they’re played with soft paintbrushes. Revolver’s core strength is harmony, and, like the band’s debut, it is ever-present here. “Losing You” is poignant in an early Fleetwood Mac kind of way, with a wonderfully embedded chorus. “Parallel Lives” is a great Double-esque ballad. The biggest development with the band is how they seem to effortlessly emulate Americana folk from an outsider’s perspective, the sort of thing Mumford & Sons excel at. They may not be household names yet, but Let Go is an album worth seeking out. —Dominik Rothbard
Rusko — Songs (Mad Decent/Downtown)
For many people, the dubstep genre begins and ends with L.A.’s own Skrillex. But the truth is that UK producers have been banging out this much-maligned brand of electronic music for a few years now, with Rusko at the forefront. Most well-known in America for remixing the likes of Britney Spears, Kelis and Lady Gaga, Rusko gets down to business on 14 tracks with various vocalists, and he deftly marries many styles. There’s some house, grime, pop, jungle and quite a bit of reggae, and his second proper release easily shapeshifts the dubstep formula. For instance, lead single “Somebody To Love” is pure classic 90s house, featuring a wailing diva vocal and just the right amount of twitchy synthetics and bass-booming wobble that it doesn’t overshadow its pop sensibility. Similarly, “Dirty Sexy” (though more of a hip-hop groove) doesn’t drown its seductive vocals in too much crunch. His talents really shine on the ragga-inflected “Skanker” and the ominously pleasing “M357,” which sounds like an unearthed collaboration between Moby and Nine Inch Nails. Granted, dubstep is often a polarizing sound that some liken to a chainsaw having sex with a dial-up modem, but Rusko has just the right powertools to hopefully win you over. —Paul V.