Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM (Because)
Acclaimed actress/pop chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg has a thing for fey, verbose musical collaborators. Daughter of French rockstar Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte found teen success on the French charts with scandalous synth-pop album, Lemon Incest. Gainsbourg dabbled in music, until 5:55, her 2006 collaboration with, most notably, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. This time, with IRM, Gainsbourg teamed with Beck, to create a fiddly, indirect—but deeply satisfying—album focused on the theme of mortality. (The title is MRI backward, a machine in which Gainsbourg used following a skiing injury.) The result is a wildly compelling, very rich landscape. The title track beeps and clanks like an X-ray camera in James Brown’s hospital. Studio gimmicks aside, the songs are solid. Listen to dreamy folk confection “Time of the Assassins,” and you’ll want another medical-related masterpiece from this duo. – Jarret Keene
Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL Recordings)
Prepsters from ’80s hell or indie-music pioneers? Vampire Weekend’s sophomore release, Contra, doesn’t counter either view, mainly because the band is content to build on the Paul Simon-scoring-a-Wes Anderson-flick sound of their 2008 self-titled debut. There’s less clean guitar picking now, and more eerie orchestration: synths, strings, Audio-Tune, drum machine, overdubs. Overall, the texture is richer, deeper and impossible to scorn. The pure adrenalin rush of “Cousins” alone is worth buying the album and the Galaga videogame-inspired dance rock of “Giving Up the Gun” should soon be energizing nightclubs. As before, there are plenty of African-tinged anthems. That said, the Ivy League lyrics make me want to smack singer Ezra Koenig’s face with a Trapper Keeper. His elegant voice, on the other hand, never grates. Accept its privilege, and you'll count Contra among the most sonically bracing indie-rock of the last 10 years. – J.K.
Cold War Kids, Behave Yourself EP (Downtown)
Cold War Kids’ latest EP, Behave Yourself, is a satisfying snack to tide over listeners before the Long Beach, Calif. quartet steps into the recording studio. Make what you want of the “soul-punk” tag, but it’s still a decent encapsulation of the Kids' ragged yet tuneful emotionalism. Behave Yourself serves as a great jumping-on point for anyone who hasn’t heard of this band, and it says a lot about the Kids that there’s no filler appearing on what’s essentially a stopgap release. Vocalist Nathan Willett never lets his lyrics slack into easy sentimentality, even if the five tracks comprising Behave Yourself are unabashed love songs. Ultimately, the Kids escape all labels—unless you file this EP under “great songwriting.” – J.K.