Andy Greenwald

Bon Iver

BRANCHING OUT Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon

On 2008’s critically adored For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (a misspelling of the French phrase for ”good winter”) was just Justin Vernon, a folky Midwesterner recording in an isolated cabin in the Wisconsin woods with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a broken heart. Then came Kanye West. The superstar unexpectedly invited Vernon to lend his bendy pipes to last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, featuring his original vocals on several tracks and bringing the scruffy, unassuming singer on stage for several high-profile live performances.

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Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes | INDIE LIKE A FOX Fleet Foxes

On Helplessness Blues, their second disc of intimate, obsessively crafted folk, the bearded Seattleites take a giant step forward in their quest to turn the clock backward. While their 2008 self-titled debut won acclaim for its hushed Americana, Blues bubbles with bloodless Brit-inflected whimsy and polite mysticism. ”Why is the earth moving ‘round the sun?” frontman Robin Pecknold wonders on ”Blue Spotted Tail,” revealing himself to be as sweetly retro with astronomy as he is with his muse. B?

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Nine Types of Light

TV On the Radio | A LITTLE LIGHT MUSIC TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio were Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn. A decade before the borough became known for louche hipsterism and artisanal pickles, it was merely a cheap(er) place for artists to live and create — artists like singer Tunde Adebimpe and producer Dave Sitek. Joined by later recruits Kyp Malone (guitar, falsetto) and ace rhythm section Gerard Smith and Jaleel Bunton, they managed to blend a fondness for early-’80s art-funk with a distinctly millennial electronic embrace.

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Goodbye Lullaby

Avril Lavigne | POST PUNK Avril Lavigne almost grows up on Goodbye Lullaby

Avril Lavigne — like her breakthrough single from 2002 — is, in a word, complicated. The diminutive Canadian with the gargantuan voice has made a career sk8ing the line between pop and punk, cannily switching her target from charts to hearts and back again. For a time, it seemed the former had prevailed: 2007’s The Best Damn Thing was a candy-coated collection of prefabricated, post-feminist party-starters written with proven hit-makers — and halfheartedly dismissed by Avril as ”just songs” (burn!).

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Thank You Happy Birthday

2010 was a year of ?90s overload as indie groups reunited and cashed in on nostalgia for that simpler, grungier time. Young Kentucky band Cage the Elephant offer a contemporary alternative to the Alternative Nation with their sophomore album, Thank You Happy Birthday. Charismatic lead shrieker Matt Shultz wears his slacker influences proudly: On quiet-quiet-LOUD pogofests ”Aberdeen” and ”Shake Me Down,” sounds cribbed from the Pixies and Nirvana seem as fresh as an unworn flannel. B

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Good Charlotte made hay in the early 2000s by pointing their mall-friendly mockery at the ”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” — until they adopted that lifestyle themselves. Cardiology, the pop-punk band?s fifth album, struggles to stay relevant. ”I?ve never felt so alive!” singer Joel Madden declares on the tepid ”Alive.” ”We?re alive now,” he adds a song later. Though his heart hasn?t failed him, unfortunately his ear for hooks has. C

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Tear The World Down

We Are The Fallen | DON'T LEAVE US BEHIND We Are The Fallen

This quintet unites Evanescence’s Ben Moody with brassy American Idol finalist Carly Smithson for Tear The World Down, and the results are heavy. Smithson’s voice shines over Moody’s familiar stew of metal riffs and gothy strings. Too bad the subject matter seems cribbed from a teen’s Tumblr. But as a church choir(!) swells on the title track, it’s awfully hard not to headbang along. B?

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Close Calls with Brick Walls

Greasy-haired hyperactive sleaze-rocker/life coach Andrew W.K. is best known these days for hosting game shows and owning bars — too bad, because his 2001 single ”Party Hard” was both awesome and funny. Unfortunately, neither of those descriptions applies to this follow-up, Close Calls with Brick Walls recorded in 2005 but delayed due to legal wrangling (it’s paired with a bonus disc of rare material). Belting and heaving overwrought headbangers like an undercooked Meat Loaf, Andrew at least sounds like he’s having fun. If only the same held true for the listener.

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Smoke & Mirrors

Lifehouse ?hit it big ?with 2001’s “Hanging by a Moment,” and they’ve been hanging around ever since. Credit lone original member Jason ?Wade, who’s proved adept at navigating the winds of taste and coolness by sticking to a steady diet of blandly earnest rock balladry. Thus the band’s fifth album Smoke & Mirrors is full of the ?sort of wistful, anonymously romantic tunes one wouldn’t mind ignoring in the ?background of a television melodrama. Smoke, yes. But no fire. C

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