Lloyd Cole:  “Standards”

The master of “Poetry & Prose” returns with another smart collection of witty, well-crafted songs. The perfect Sunday morning CD “Standards” is full of original brilliance and an amazing cover of John Hartford’s “California Earthquake.” Who else can mention computer programs “Quark” and “Photoshop” in a song and make them sound romantic? No one but Lloyd Cole.

 
 

 
The Three O’Clock:  “The Hidden World Revealed”

Fresh off their recent reunion tour, Paisley Underground leaders The Three O’Clock release this 20 song CD of undiscovered gems, demos and key tracks from the band’s Frontier Records period. The collection features 10 unreleased tracks and extensive liner notes from singer Michael Quercio. Fans will lose it over demo versions of “The Girl With the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah)” and “Jennifer Only.” Twenty-five years since their last tour/release, the music and the band still sounds years ahead of everyone in the room.

 
 

 
Mark Mulcahy: “Dear Mark J. Mulcahy I Love You”

If critical acclaim were a currency than Mark Mulcahy (of Miracle Legion/Polaris fame) would be a billionaire. Sadly, he’s not, but he remains an underrated musical genius whose deeply personal songs are loved by fans and artists alike. His latest solo offering has a wonderfully unfinished quality to it, favoring raw emotion over slick studio production. Songs like “She Makes My World Turn Backwards” and “I Taketh Away” are so intimate they feel as if Mark is singing them directly to you – because he is. On a side note: Would someone please reissue his Miracle Legion catalog? Please?!

 
 

 
Depeche Mode: “Delta Machine”

Reminiscent of their “Black Celebration” CD, the latest from Depeche Mode is a dark trip through the long running band’s psyche, full of sex, self-loathing and praise. If you’re hoping for something to dance for here you are out of luck. The mostly down-tempo affair, the band’s 13th studio disc, has a distinctive blues feel that suits Gahan and Gore’s voices to a T.

 
 

 
The Shoes:  “Ignition”

Zion, Illinois’ favorite power pop sons make a long overdue, much welcomed return. “Ignition” is full of the jangly guitars and intelligent lyrics that made Shoes almost famous the first time out. “Diminishing Returns” may be the cleverest pop song ever created and “The Joke’s On You” is power pop bliss. If these two songs alone don’t fire up your passion for music, then you my friend are dead inside.

 
 

 

LL Cool J: “Authentic”

On paper the new CD from hip-hop’s longest running good guy act looks amazing. Joining the-kid-who-made-the-Kangol-hat-famous for his new disc are a diverse array of top notch talents including Snoop Dogg, Fitz & The Tantrums, Travis Barker, and Eddie Van Halen. Should be amazing right?
Nope. The beats are recycled, the hooks are weak and the guest artists are underused. Better to skip this CD and pick up a used copy of Cool J’s debut “Radio.”

 
 

 

Fitz & The Tantrums: “More Than Just A Dream”

L.A.’s favorite neo soul revue is back with a giant step forward in their drive for R&B flavored pop domination. The band blends Motown-era soul with modern rock, adding a dash of 80’s pop fun with stunning results. This, their second CD, should serve as a “How To” guide for all bands setting out to make their sophomore album. Fitz, with the help of producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Phoenix, M83, Depeche Mode) has captured the power and glory of their live shows on wax. Meet your favorite new band!
 
 

 
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds:  “Push The Sky Away”

The “Goth”-father, and his merry band of rogues (sans Mick Harvey), return for another slice of gloomy brilliance. Complete with dusty funeral suits and horror-inspired imagery, this self-released CD is the band’s most hauntingly beautiful album ever. No one knows how to transform tales of murder, death, debauchery and redemption into love ballads like Nick Cave. Highlights include the hypnotic “Mermaids,” and the arena rock anthem disguised as a spiritual hymnal, “Push The Sky Away.”

 
 

 

OMD: “English Electric”

There have always been two distinctive sides to these 80’s synth pop gods. The weird experimental poppy dance tracks from their early career, and the crooner inspired soundtrack songs that made them famous. “English Electric” is a perfect blend of the group’s split personality with a slight favor toward the ballads. Standouts here include “Helen Of Troy”, “Dresden” (these guy love to write about history) and “Stay With Me.” The bonus is that both of the bands singers voices remain as pure and clear as they did in their eighties heyday.
 
 

 
Josh Rouse:  “The Happiness Waltz”

For the past few years, master singer/songwriter Josh Rouse strayed from the path that made us all love him in the first place. He traded in his James Taylor (younger kids think John Mayer, but less douchebaggy) inspired albums of acoustic based brilliance for experimental trips into country and world beat music. We all gotta experiment, but they weren’t good. “The Happiness Waltz” is a welcome return to what the lovelorn troubadour does best – well crafted mini-movies about love both lost and found, set in cities across the globe. To sum it up in 3 words: Mellow Coffeehouse Masterpiece.

 
 

 

Phoenix:  “Bankrupt”

Pardon my French, but the new CD from this Parisian unit is F*cking Amazing! See? French? “Bankrupt” is full of original 8-bit inspired sounds and samples blended with perfect rhythms, beats and hooks pumping under sing along choruses. And while there is no obvious hit this time (the closest you get to “1901” is the infectious “Entertainment”) the CD is pop perfection with a side of sly innuendo and irony. Tres magnifique.

 
 

 

Shuggie Otis: “Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love”

Lost soul legend alert! It seems that every year we are reminded of the brilliance of a lost soul-legend deserving of a hit filled career that never was. Last year it was Sugarman, before him it Charles Bradley and Mavis Staples. 2013 my just be the year for R&B genius Shuggie Otis. This 2 CD set pairs Otis’s long forgotten 1960s classic soul album “Inspiration Information” (man it was good) with “Wings Of Love” a bonus disc that feature previously unheard tracks recorded between the 1960s and early 1980s. For everyone who missed Otis the first time (which is everyone) the first disc is mind blowing and the second shows a world of promise that we all should have known. Think Marvin Gaye without the support of Motown. Give the man his due. Get Shuggie!

Give the man his due.  Get Shuggie!

 
 

 
Rammstein DVD:  “Videos 1995-2012”

Looking for the perfect visual companion to the German bands 2012 best of CD “Made In Germany?” Of course you are. This extensive 2 DVD set collects up all of Rammstein’s impressive video output from the past decade and a half. Each a groundbreaking, mini movie is a full-fledged visual assault on your senses.

 
 

 
Art Brut:  “Top Of The Pops”

“Yes this is my singing voice and No, it’s not ironic,” that one line from song “Formed A Band” sums up the music and attitude of England’s Art Brut. This 2 CD best of/rarities set is a perfect introduction to this amazingly underrated band. If you like singers that sound like Mark E. Smith from The Fall and Gerard from The Blue Aeroplanes then you need to know Art Brut.

 
 

 

DFalt: “Helsinki Beta Tape (Part One)”

Dirty, fully-realized instrumental hip hop tracks sure to make your booty shake comprise the first in a series of dope new CDs from Jason Drake aka Cassettes Won’t Listen aka Dfalt. The music mastermind has created a stunning landscape of instrumental grooves and beats.