Scissor Sisters — Magic Hour (Universal)
The most fabulous band in the land arrives just in time for our summer soundtrack. The NYC queertet drops its fourth disc, and it’s a charming, ebullient and sassy affair. It’s also somewhat of a more grown-up and understated collection. For the dancefloor, the neon flashing inside the Calvin Harris-produced “Only The Horses” is immediate and blinding, and the one-two punch of “Let’s Have A Kiki” (sung by Ana Matronic) and “Shady Love” (featuring buzz-girl Azealia Banks) is everything ribald and hedonistic about nocturnal, gay dance music. The more mature moments are intertwined within singer Jake Shears’ lyrics, such as “Self Control” and the super opening cut “Baby Come Home,” which speaks of a lover who’s out playing around but needs to get back in his arms for a cuddle. It’s a reminder that Scissor Sisters are always at their best when they’re feeling un-self-consciously giddy. But that’s not to say that the poignant melodies and emotion of cuts like “Somewhere” or “Inevitable” are any less valid. However, longtime fans might be yearning for a little more filthy and a little less gorgeous, as the ballads challenge the beats here. Still, there’s no denying that Shears and Babydaddy remain masterful songwriters in their own right. —Paul V.
Blackroom — Lighthouse (Drums Dramatic Records)
Blackroom has a storied history. The band changed its name from Lorraine to its current moniker after a fire destroyed their studios and many of the tapes for their major label debut, Pop Noir. The Norwegian trio have made a name for themselves within the synth-pop circuit with their smooth, inescapable Pet Shop Boys-esque choruses and soundscapes. Much like its predecessor, Lighthouse is chock-full of hooks. While the synths have taken a step away from the glossy bombastic sound of yore, this new album finds the band renewed with trancy edge that serves them well. “Control” is an epic eight-minute-plus disco number with a keyboard riff so sharp it could cut glass. “Falling Down” has a unique groove that explodes into a standout chorus. “Micropaal” sounds gorgeous and melodically unfolds like a time-lapse video of a flower blooming. “Witness” could fill a dance floor at just about any bar, but the real gem is album closer “Gonna Last a Long Time.” With its unique time signature, the song stutters toward an epic climax. ‘80s revivalists and electronic music fans have buzzed about this band for half a decade. It’s time the rest of the world joins us. —Dominik Rothbard
Ed Sheeran — + (Elektra)
A quick complaint before we get to the business at hand: in the digital age, is there any reason for long lag times between import releases and domestic ones? I think not. +, the debut release by ginger-tousled U.K. troubadour Ed Sheeran, makes it to our shores a mere nine months from its original release, and though it was well worth the wait, you’d think the U.S. label could at least slap on a few bonus tracks. Regardless, Sheeran’s one of those singer-songwriters—like Damien Rice or Jason Mraz—that soothes the ear and, quite often, the soul. (He can be deadly sincere on ballads, where he recalls James Blunt.) Yet unlike Rice, Sheeran’s got a sense of humor (“Drunk”), perspective (“The A Team”) and can be quietly devastating (the abortion ballad “Small Bump” is both empathetic and harrowing). Good sign—he breaks out of his mellow a few times with rolling hip-hop-ish beats (“The City”) and throws down a very angry gauntlet on “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” He’s still young—21 to Mraz’s 34 and grand old man Rice at 48—but he has the talent to produce better work than either of them. With +, he already has. —Dan Loughry
The Hives — Lex Hives (Disques Hives)
Something sorely missing on both the radio and the charts is rock ‘n’ roll music—pure, unadulterated, sweaty, no-frills rock music. And very few bands even attempting to do that lately sound like they’re having any fun at it. This is not the case with Sweden’s The Hives, who always sound like they’re having an incorrigible blast doing it! And I mean, seriously, top hats and tails, boys? Yes, please! Perhaps it’s because they remain in a Rolling Stones-meets-Ramones timewarp, where every song is short, immediate and punchy. With frenetic songs that barely clock over the two-minute mark, Lex Hives is full of spit and vinegar, call and response lyrics and colossal powerchord guitar riffs that never relent. Alongside that are some songs vying for earworm status, such as “Go Right Ahead” (which blatantly nods to ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”), “I Want More” (which nods to AC/DC’s “Back In Black”), the blues-laced “Without The Money” and the Jagger-soaked swagger and throb of “Take Back The Toys.” If you prefer your rock ‘n’ roll skidding out of a garage with The Cramps, The Stooges and The Damned all riding shotgun, just hit accelerate and go. —Paul V.
Metric — Synthetica (Metric Music International)
Metric, the little band that could. It’s impossible not to root for this Canadian outfit. They’ve gone from obscure basement synth-poppers to Twilight theme recording icons in less than a decade. Last year, Metric independently released its fourth and most successful LP, Fantasies, to near-universal acclaim. 2012’s Synthetica is looking to top that. What’s immediately noticeable this time around is how much the band has matured with each album. This is the sound of a band on top of its game. While many of the trademark elements of Metric remain—staggering vocal melodies, state-of-the-art production, nuanced lyrics—the spirit of this album is of a band with nothing to prove. If you’ve heard a Metric album before, you know what to expect—no punches are pulled. “Artificial Nocturne” is a classic Metric album opener, with its false start and huge build. “Youth Without Youth” is an odd choice for lead single—it’s bombastic and shouty fun, but it belies the introspection of the rest of the album. “Speed the Collapse” is as fun as this band gets (which is very fun) and can stand endless replays. “Lost Kitten” stands out if only because it’s so damn weird. “The Wanderlust” features a guest vocal turn by Lou Reed. Synthetica exceeds expectations on all accounts—buy it. —Dominik Rothbard
Zulu Winter — Language (Arts & Crafts)
Consumer warning: if the very voice of Coldplay’s Chris Martin has you reaching for the ‘stop’ button of whatever portable player supplies your music, then you should steer very far from London five-piece Zulu Winter’s debut, Language. Vocalist Will Daunt’s big anthem style of singing isn’t all he shares with Gwenyth Paltrow’s husband, but also his phrasing, his timbre and most likely his stadium-conquering ambitions. That said, the music of Daunt and cohorts Iain Lock (bass), Guy Henderson (drums), Henry Walton (guitar) and Dom Millard (keyboards) is more akin to the depressive angst of White Lies and the melodic outreach of countless New Wave bands (say what you will about, I don’t know, Haircut 100 or Thompson Twins and their ilk, but they knew how to hook a song). Standouts abound, from the choral overlay of premiere single “Never Leave” to the way breakup lament “You Deserve Better” banks its chorus on the slurred, bitter refrain of the single word ‘sweetheart.’ Often the band overreaches—they perch their ambitions heavenward on the opener “Keys to My Heart” yet remain resolutely earthbound, and “Words That I Wield” is a bad Wild Beasts impression. Yet it’s a solid debut that could land them in Coldplay’s rarefied company. —Dan Loughry