The Black Keys



Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney aren't brothers, but they might as well be. The Akron duo has been together since they were in their teens, and they work together like tuned-in siblings: The Black Keys finished their sixth album in a mere nine days at Muscle Shoals' famous studio. A visceral rawness radiates throughout Brothers, giving the album an attitude that reaches back to their basics — distorted guitars, pounding beats, blurry vocals. "Howlin' for You" blasts off with Jock Jams drums and amps cranked to 11. Danger Mouse, who produced 2008's Attack and Release, returns for "Tighten Up," where the playful whistling adds just the right amount of whimsy to a driving riff. The slow-mo guitar solo at the end is straight out of a dream sequence. The Keys also cover Jerry Butler's "Never Gonna Give You Up" with old-soul flavor and stay true to their blues revivalism in "Next Girl." With grooves this good, you wish the guys were part of your family. — Danielle Sills

LCD Soundsystem

This Is Happening


If getting through an entire LCD Soundsystem record never gave you trouble before, you're not going to object now. This Is Happening typifies what people love — and what some hate — about James Murphy in even broader strokes, though they're more like slabs by now. Use opener "Dance Yrself Clean" as a litmus test: Do you bear down on the circular singsong melody or the nine-minute length and the burping synth generator, seemingly programmed to play random notes in the tune's key for most of the back end? While 2007's Sound of Silver held for five-in-a-row turns of about-face before falling back on four eye-rolling reliables, Happening puts these contradictions gleefully, almost obnoxiously upfront. It mirrors Silver's silly-to-serious "North American Scum" and "All My Friends" with the uproarious "Drunk Girls" and the gorgeous Gary Numan template "I Can Change" ("...if it helps you fall in love," sings Murphy — when did he become Rod Stewart, and why didn't he make the transformation sooner?). "Drunk Girls" is lavishly brainless, more in its "White Light/White Heat" structure than its lyrics, which boil over with wisdom: "Drunk girls give them too many tries" — perhaps. "Drunk girls wait an hour to pee" — eternally. — Dan Weiss

Band of Horses

Infinite Arms

(Brown/Fat Possum/Columbia)

Last time around, Bed Bridwell was seeing ghosts. On Band of Horses' third album, he's back in the real world, kicking around in factories, kitchens, and boyhood homes. The people and places Bridwell visits on Infinite Arms represent a part of America that cuts closer to Band of Horses' rootsier side, which has always struggled for dominance with their indie-rock cred. Free of these shackles, Infinite Arms turns out to be the group's most consistent record, an often-stirring (and occasionally overreaching) document of wasted time, regret, and reconciliation. It's also Band of Horses' fullest-sounding album (they recently beefed up to a quintet), with strings, ambient noise, and marching guitar riffs routing many of the songs. The best of them — "Factory," "Compliments," "Blue Beard" — mix moods, hooks, and a sense of tranquility that were only periodically touched on before. — Michael Gallucci

The National

High Violet


Just when you thought the National had peaked with 2007's Boxer, a shadowy but obliquely intense record, the Cincinnati natives shatter all conventions on their fifth album. They strive to define a generation on High Violet, and in many cases they succeed. The album rumbles from its own belly, with songs exploding within themselves, lyrics detailing the impossibilities of life in a way that's simultaneously puzzling and universal. Like the band's other records, High Violet grows on you. After a few listens, you begin to like the way Matt Berninger's deep baritone rises and falls over Aaron and Bryce Dessner's melding, shimmering guitar lines. Thanks to drummer Bryan Devendorf's alternating time signatures and his brother Scott's booming bass, these songs kick to life. "Sorrow found me when I was young," mumbles Berninger in "Sorrow." "Sorrow waited, sorrow won." It hints at the album's emotional journey. The National don't reach perfection here, but they get so close it's scary. — Sills

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