Handsome Furs, Face Control (Sub Pop)
If -- as newlyweds Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry would have us believe -- their band is based on traveling, then sophomore album Face Control is the stark, chilled and complex stuff of the eastern block nations. Produced by Boeckner's Wolf Parade bandmate Arlen Thompson, Perry's programming glitches and skitters under Boeckner's frail, fraught vocals, sounding like a stressed-out Ric Ocasek. And with good reason: the Handsome Furs are consumed by the strains of technology, and the demands of 21st century living. In the midst of all this aural alienation, the Montreal duo manage to forge a hybrid of Perry's beats and Boeckner's vocals, stressing the shared rather than singular.
Cursive Mama I'm Swollen (Saddle Creek)
Little known fact: For all the guy-lined wailing bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco traffic in, emo ' in its truest sense ' was perfected by Nebraskan OGs Cursive. Since their mid-'90s inception, lead singer Tim Kasher and his evolving line-up have brought a depth of emotion so visceral their music would be uncomfortable to listen to, were it not so damn catchy. The band's latest finds Kasher in new environs (Los Angeles), struggling with the difficult emotional terrain of his self-diagnosed Peter Pan Syndrome, managing to sound both swaggering and vulnerable at the same time. But the band's expansive sound and emotional cross-examinations aren't the only ways they're innovating. They also adopted a Radiohead-esque pricing policy, starting at $1 and upping the album's cost a dollar a day for the ten days prior to release.
Kelly Clarkson, All I Ever Wanted (RCA)
Former vacuum cleaner saleswoman Kelly Clarkson has had some worthy foes in her time: Simon Cowell, errant boyfriends, record labels. But for a pop star manufactured on reality television, Clarkson has enjoyed a truly impressive amount of staying power in the seven years since she won the first season of American Idol. If Clarkson's debut was too pop, and 2007's My December too dark, her latest promises a satisfying blend of adolescent flirting ('My Life Would Suck Without You,' 'I Do Not Hook Up') and slick production (uh'.everything). With the best hired guns in the industry, Clarkson has hit upon her perfect pop alchemy with an album that's equal parts sass, rock and radio-friendly. But she hasn't forgotten her roots ' she'll return to Idol this week to perform first single 'My Life Would Suck Without You.''