Riffing: Kanye's glitzy Good Music label aims for street cred with follow-up to acclaimed mixtape by Clipse's Terrence Thornton.
Reference points: Demented party music leaves Pusha adrift — the hefty beats don't live up to his intelligence. Turns a hell of a phrase, though: "Cocaine Ronald gave us, then Nancy tried to save us/ By that time we had Motorola pagers."
If you like: Big KRIT, DJ Quik, Raekwon, waxing nostalgic about the hard years.
Riffing: Angelic-voiced Royal Oak singer-songwriter delves into the deep end of pain on harrowing but pretty five-track EP.
Reference points: The tasteful arrangements walk a grown-up line between bliss and boredom like recent Feist and Wilco albums and run counter to the emotional lyrics much of the time, but the restraint serves to cushion the uncomfortable directness in tunes like "Waiting."
If you like: Everything But the Girl, Over the Rhine, fearless confessionals.
Riffing: The feel-bad noise rock record of the year. Brooklynites keep the perverse party succinct and ominous on the first half, go full-force into rapturous five-minute dirges on the second.
Reference points: "Dark Eyes" may as well be a popped-up Joy Division cover, but by the extraordinary "Frost Inside the Asylum" the band sounds uncannily like a beauty-absorbed Factory-era Velvet Underground.
If you like: Love & Rockets, Peter Murphy, Nick Cave, the Church, self-obsessed goth and drone shit in general.
Riffing: Renegade Chilean organic-techno producer Jaar follows up his confoundingly provocative LP Space Is Only Noise with a keenly atmospheric, tricky side project featuring guitarist Dave Harrington.
Reference points: The sound won't surprise you if you dig Jaar's other work, but the rockist texture of Harrington's contributions add a fascinating dimension to his already warm, sensuous sound; if anything it's an easier transition than the somewhat left-field Jaar solo EP Don't Break My Love.
If you like: Eno-Fripp, getting hypnotized.
Riffing: Indie darling elder statesman of sorts lightens up slightly on his second LP of 2011. The bright riffage and charm of "The Same Thing" leave one hoping for more levity than usual, but soon it's back to the mid-tempo dirges.
Reference points: Always lovably bleak, McCombs drains the traditional '70s singer-songwriter of all hope and romance. If that's up your alley, you'll adore this.
If you like: Nick Cave, but find him a little too upbeat and kinetic.
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