A drug deal at the OTB, late-night rendezvous at the reservoir and the eternal struggle of boys and girls in America: It's not an episode of The Wire but Heaven Is Whenever , the new album by Brooklyn-via-Minnesota rockers the Hold Steady. On their fourth LP and first since the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the Hold Steady continue to combine pub rock riffs with singer Craig Finn's college rock romanticism on killer cuts like "Hurricane J," the acoustic rocker "We Can Get Together" and metal-flavored "Rock Problems."
"On Heaven Is Whenever, the Hold Steady don't just show us how much they love classic rock — they make some of their own. It's their most polished record, nearly majestic at points, without scrimping on bloodshot angst or exuberance," Jon Dolan writes in his four-star review. "Only Bruce himself can compete with singer-guitarist Craig Finn's stories of normal, messed-up boys and girls jonesing for cheap release out in that great American noplace where Thunder Road runs into darkness on the edge of town." For more on the Hold Steady and how they're bringing Heaven Is Whenever from the studio to the stage, check out Rob Sheffield's live review of the band's recent concerts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks are debuting their side project Court Yard Hounds on a disc stocked with ringing love songs, harmonies and gorgeous guitar-and-violin folk tunes. On the three-star disc Court Yard Hounds , sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire miss the feistiness of Natalie Maines, but still turn out one of the year's better country records. Watch the Hounds in action at Rolling Stone's SXSW showcase in exclusive live and interview footage, and find out more about the project in our new issue. (All Access members can read the story now here.)
This week also sees the release of Together , the fifth album from Canadian-American power-pop collective the New Pornographers. In Rolling Stone's three-and-a-half star review, Christian Hoard writes that the New Pornographers' new album is the band's best since 2000's Mass Romantic, adding that A.C. Newman and Neko Case provide "a mix of Anglophile harmonies, string parts and Hollies-ish melodies." Newman is currently blogging about the making of Together on the RS Staff Blog, discussing how Black Sabbath, the Smiths and Siouxsie and the Banshees all inspired the disc.
Los Angeles beatmaker Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma also arrives this week, earning a three-star review. Flying Lotus, or hip-hop surrealist Steven Ellison, first made waves as the music maker for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim before eventually catching the ear of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who guests on Cosmogramma's "…And the World Laughs With You" and recently recruited FlyLo to serve as the opening act on the Atoms for Peace tour. "The shape-shifting tracks on his third disc incorporate braying dub-step beats, nature-film-soundtrack atmospherics, fern-bar R&B and free jazz, often on top of each other," Dolan writes. "There's some info overload, but Ellison is an ace with pacing, and a distracted soulfulness guides the frantic laptop science." For more on Flying Lotus, check out our Breaking interview, where Ellison reveals he had a psychic dream about the Atoms for Peace gig.