San Diego post-rock maven James LaValle resumes his solo endeavoring with Into The Blue Again (Sub Pop), his fourth album under the name The Album Leaf. It's more vocal-oriented than anything LaValle's done before, either on his own or with his main band Tristeza, and LaValle hasn't exactly been hiding a magnificent vocal instrument all these years, His voice is droning and nasal, and it works best as a dissonant element in his sparkling glitch-pop mini-symphonies. Much of Into The Blue Again pulses lightly and unremarkably, but LaValle occasionally stumbles into something stunning, like the moody "See In You," the wistful "Wishful Thinking," or the supple "Red-Eye," all of which would sound great while watching a car drive away in the dead of night… B

Ensemble's self-titled sophomore album does a superior job of mixing softly abstract electronic textures and indie-pop vocalizing (with the help of guest singers Lou Barlow and Chan Marshall, among others). The best songs on Ensemble (Fat Cat) set insistent acoustic guitars and live drums against synthesized sonic friction, so they pull against the melodies and make the moments where the songs break free all the more exultant. Olivier Alary's musical methodology gives added lift to guest voices that sound as cool as jet air… A-

Chicago neo-blues collective Califone crafts rocky soundscapes with largely acoustic instruments on Roots & Crowns (Thrill Jockey), creating a sound that's simultaneously archaic and post-apocalyptic. Tim Rutili's cracked, whispery voice seems like an afterthought on most of these songs, which rely mainly on sonic squalls in tight spaces, but Rutili does deliver a direct, earnest vocal performance on "Burned By The Christians," a piece of old-world folk that would be a perfect soundtrack for a pub in the dead of night, when most everyone's gone home and only the hardcore remain… B+

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Mere months after delivering the bewitching EP A Gilded Age, Portland's Norfolk & Western returns with The Unsung Colony (Hush), a full-length deconstruction of roots-rock that emphasizes plunking piano, heavily plucked acoustic guitar, and sudden waves of distortion. The result is less immediately engaging and more generally unfocused than A Gilded Age, but The Unsung Colony does contain its share of gripping rambles, like the windswept, surprisingly tense "The Longest Stare" and the richly yearning "The New Rise Of Labor." B