Olivia Rodrigo, Guts
Just two years after breakthrough single "Driver's License" made the former Disney Channel actor the era's preeminent teenage pop star, Rodrigo has re-teamed with Sour producer/co-writer Dan Nigro for this sophomore effort. Though still very much a pop album--Rodrigo remains just as in thrall to the influences of Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne as she was on her debut--Guts contains plenty that might appeal to those outside her core Gen Z demographic, as the 20-year-old expands her horizons with nods to early-oughts pop-punk and doses of Alanis Morissette-style angst. (Which, to Rodrigo, absolutely counts as classic rock.)
The Chemical Brothers, For That Beautiful Feeling
The mid-'90s "electronica" boom might have been short-lived as a marketing hook, but the Chemical Brothers have done as well as anyone from that era of block-rocking beats to stay at the top of their game. A decade after scooping up awards for their first film score (for Joe Wright's Hanna), and four years after the Grammy-winning No Geography, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons still have plenty of new cards left to play on their tenth full-length, and tracks like "No Reason" and the Beck feature "Skipping Like a Stone" sound just as infectious trickling out of laptop speakers as they inevitably will during the duo's next run on festival stages.
Romy, Mid Air
When London trio the xx first took the indie world by storm in 2009, it was largely the voice of singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft--delicate, whispery, yet somehow fully-fleshed--that immediately cut through the clutter. So it's somewhat surprising that it's taken her so much longer than her bandmates to finally release a solo album. Fortunately, Mid Air benefits hugely from the time it spent in incubation, as Romy undercuts her signature melancholy with big, bright pop and house influences, and her nocturnal musings find an unexpectedly welcome home on the dancefloor.
Sparklehorse, Bird Machine
Mark Linkous was never exactly a household name. But for those who knew, few figures from the last several decades of indie rock shone as brightly, or were mourned as intensely, as the Sparklehorse frontman who died from suicide in 2010. While that year's Danger Mouse collaboration Dark Night of the Soul would have been a perfectly fitting swan-song, Linkous' brother Matt spent subsequent years carefully finishing off this collection of 14 nearly-completed Sparklehorse tracks initially recorded by Steve Albini back in 2009. In addition to Linkous' compositions, the album also features a cover of Robyn Hitchcock's much-loved b-side "Listening to the Higsons," which gained the seal of approval from the man himself.