Tegan and Sara, ‘Sainthood’
“My misery’s so addictive,” Tegan Quin speed-sings on the hyper-rocker “Northshore.” No crap – whatever the direction this Canadian-twin duo takes with their angsty indie-pop, they never forget to plug in obsessive hooks that tyrannize, turn and twist heads. The queer sisters’ sixth studio exercises that knack, restoring the especially nesting wordplay that made them anti-folk darlings with their buzz-worthy breakthrough “So Jealous.” Heartbreak and hell – themes especially rendered on the grown-up greatness of 2007’s “The Con” – return, shaping a frantic pop-punk pity party. Unlike “The Con,” there’s no calming quietness; just charged guitar riffs, electronic doodles and wigged-out drums. Oftentimes the production – again, a co-teaming with Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie – beams some of their niftiest sound nuggets, like “The Ocean,” a vulnerable and insecure conversational love plea that rides beneath a floating vocal wave. And “Hell,” the snappy lead single, is a winning rocker with a heavenly chorus. While some songs are complete dead-ends, like “Paperback Head,” others – the wobbly wrap-up track “Someday” – come together like paint haphazardly thrown on a canvas, with the hope that it’ll create a masterpiece. “Sainthood” isn’t quite theirs, but it definitely has its moments.
Backstreet Boys, ‘This Is Us’
Boys will be Boys, and on the pop quartet’s latest comeback album – the follow-up to 2007’s “Unbreakable” – they’re still the marshmallow fluff of music. So they sing about what they know best – crushed hearts, with The Jonas Brothers’ maturity level. And it might’ve worked if BSB were still basking in their glory days, years away from becoming what they’ve become: A group with more Botox injections in their music than in their faces. More should’ve reaped, especially since “This Is Us” is equipped with the trendy mega-producer talents of Max Martin and RedOne (Lady Gaga’s hit-maker). But hardly anything does, because the producers do little to drag the boy band out of the ’90s and into the new millennium. Ballads are predictably dated, there’s pathetic lyricism (“soldier down” is a repeated metaphor for love’s bloodletting pain on the first single, “Straight Through the Heart”) and they get an urban facelift. They actually say “shorty.” Yeah. And then there’s a song called “PDA,” which is almost exactly what you’d think – a childish, campy flirter about grabbing booty in the grocery store. Come on, fellas – really? No one wants it that way.
Florence + the Machine, ‘Lungs’
Such a telling title, because this Englishwoman’s lungs are destined to wow. They already have in her home country with a bold, beguiling debut that sounds like the work of someone well into their career with its organic, soulful sound draped in dreamy harp and echoing drums. It’s at once quiet and loud (the clappy, poppy first single “Dog Days Are Over”), and then sweet and sinister (the eerie shuffle of “My Boy Builds Coffins”). But it’s almost always awesome.
The Hidden Cameras, ‘Origin: Orphan’
Living up to their “gay church folk” tagline, this queer-led group inflates the flamboyancy of 2006’s “Awoo” with orchestral behemoths like “Walk On,” a soul-lifting song swathed in organ. Medieval tones sweep through “Ratify the New” before veering to their vintage sound on “In the NA,” a joyous, no-nonsense animated pop song. It’s cute and catchy, and a good way to de-compound the ubiquitous heavy themes – ones that are ambitiously and beautifully seized with bolder execution. A must hear.
Barbra Streisand, ‘Love is the Answer’
What Babs’ first full-length in four years lacks in its snail-slow pacing, it remedies with the buttery smoothness of the diva’s stainless-steel voice. She gives tender, earnest-hearted readings to classic jazz and pop standards, all pretty reflective and sentimental – including “If You Go Away” and the hopeful “Some Other Time.” More lively moments like “Love Dance,” though, would’ve helped it wake up from such sleep-provoking comatose.