Strange Talk, Cast Away (Wind-Up Records)
It seems you can’t throw a synthesizer these days without hitting an electronic pop band, and—wham!—sure enough, here’s the debut album from Strange Talk, which blends 1980s synth-pop (replete with a mid-tempo ballad, “Come Back Home,” that features a sporadic guitar solo) with modern dance music (“Falling in Love” is a club-ready anthem). The title track is a standout, but maybe only because it sounds so much like M83, and debut single “Young Hearts” is sure to be a radio hit with its singalong refrain and lyrics celebrating the power of youth (We’re young hearts/look at us go/all we really need is the stereo), but otherwise, Cast Away doesn’t leave much of an impression. ★★★✩✩
The Hague, Samsara (Self-released)
Samsara’s lead track, “Never Well,” seems to have traveled to the present via a time machine from a 1993 college radio station. But The Hague’s latest self-released album is far from a ’90s alt-rock retread—not that we’d mind, because this Portland band is so good at it. Instead, The Hague deftly moves from noise-pop (“Picture of a dead scene”) to math rock (“Cabining”) to outright sludge metal (“This is Divine”)—all without sacrificing melody or harmony. Many bands don’t have the chops to pull off so much exploration. On Samsara, The Hague proves it does. ★★★★✩
The Afghan Whigs, Do the Beast (Sub Pop)
Following a series of reformations after a 2001 breakup, Greg Dulli and crew have returned with their first studio album in 16 years. Right from the muscular guitars and propulsive, bluesy beat on opening song “Parked Outside,” they make it clear that they’re back with a vengeance. Much more rock-oriented and aggressive than the Afghans’ last few outings, Do the Beast finds the band sounding mature yet still vital, especially on the grooving “Matamoros” and the urgent, pulsing “The Lottery.” And Dulli—from his Prince-like falsetto on the soaring “It Kills” to his yearning wails on “These Sticks”—sounds as haunted and tortured as ever, proving some things time can’t heal. ★★★★✩
Upcoming on Pj’s radar …
JUNE 2: Goth legend Peter Murphy is back with Lion, an album of songs he calls “operas for the dispossessed.”
JUNE 3: Another moody ’80s act, Echo and the Bunnymen, release its first new album in five years, Meteorites.
JUNE 10: The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde releases her first solo disc, Stockholm, while former White Stripes frontman Jack White drops his second, entitled Lazaretto.