In the tradition of great "city punk" acts like New York Dolls and The Dead Boys, NYC's The Little Killers hold to an aesthetically pure sound that leavens apocalyptic guitar menace with brightly percussive arrangements. The band's sophomore LP, A Real Good One (Gern Blandsten), emphasizes a blues side—or is that "blooze"?—nodding to The Gun Club on "She Don't Love Me" and "Some Of These Days." The latter could almost be a gospel song, if it weren't so wicked… B+

The 1900s' debut EP Plume Delivery (Parasol) is an impressive sample of what the band can do, full of evocative song-snippets like "Heart Props" and "Flight Of The Monowings," plus multi-part psychedelic folk-pop songs like "Bring The Good Boys Home" and "Whole Of The Law." The Chicago collective finds the connecting point between Stereolab, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, and high-lonesome bluegrass… A-

A lot of L.A. bands use their proximity to showbiz central to add more polish and punch than they need, but orchestral indie-pop act Bedroom Walls makes its L.A.-ness work for it differently, bringing cinematic sweep and starry-eyed dreaminess to the songs on its sophomore LP All Good Dreamers Pass This Way (Baria). In the spirit of The Clientele (only lusher), Bedroom Walls lay in strings, bells, and deep twang, creating a wistful feeling that unfurls like a miniature movie on songs like the eight-minute "Then The Narrator Smiles"… B+

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Nick Drake is the most obvious point of reference for spare Euro-folkie Alexi Murdoch, whose debut LP, Time Without Consequence (Zero Summer), adds electronic scuff to songs that structurally resemble the one-chord drones on Drake's Pink Moon. Murdoch's voice is more murmuring than Damien Rice's or James Blunt's, but his songs open up at the chorus like his contemporaries' do. And with their modernist background noise and sandpaper melodies, they're tailor-made for soundtracks, commercials, and other places where they can wow listeners with unexpected bursts of mood and emotion… B+

Since disbanding Television in the late '70s (the occasional reunion aside), Tom Verlaine has taken his former group's painting-with-guitars aesthetic further into the abstract, and for the last decade-plus, he's dedicated himself to spare, atmospheric tracks, frequently without words. Even Verlaine's first song-focused solo record in a quarter-century, Songs And Other Things (Thrill Jockey), sprinkles rubbery instrumentals between thin-sounding tribal-beat songs, with shambling arrangements and vocals that range from muttered spoken-word to fractured whine. If that's the best Verlaine can do in a conventional rock-song format, he should stick with all-instrumental albums like the simultaneously released Around (Thrill Jockey), where the formless spookiness at least gets broken up by exotic-sounding mood pieces like "Shadow Walks Away"… Songs And Other Things: C-; Around: B-

Ben Vaughn's ongoing interest in vintage sounds reaches the "beautiful music" era on the instrumental collection Designs In Music (Soundstage 15). Vaughn references Esquivel, Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone, and Elmer Bernstein, in a set of songs that range from swing to noir, with a few stops in the Old West. A lot of the record is mere pastiche, but it's entertaining throughout, and on tracks like the muted, moody "Apt. 604" and "While We're Here," Vaughn constructs elegant, touching new easy-listening classics… B+

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Detroit-based Afro-beat symphony NOMO continues to dazzle on its second album, New Tones (Ubiquity), which expands the group's theory of modernist ritual on songs like the breathtaking "Reasons," where the buzzing post-rock synthesizers, wah-wah funk guitar, and step-show stomp provide a framework for the individual members to work accomplished jazz improvisations. The taut patterns of drums and horns have a cumulative power, building an album that feels simultaneously celebratory and desperately urgent. A-