ALCEST/Shelter (Prophecy)  - The infectious grooves and gorgeous harmonies of Alcest’s Niege (guitars, bass, vocals) and Winterhalter (drums, percussion) are hard to resist. On their album, Shelter, they incorporate influences ranging from U2 and Death Cab For Cutie to Kitchens Of Distinction, and the results are very impressive. From the U2 stylings of “Opale” to the Kitchens-informed “La Nuit Marche Avec Moi”, this music sweeps you away with its dreamy, guitar-driven pop and flawless arrangements. I only wish that, with the exception of “Away” (which sounds like a musical postscript to Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”), more songs were divided between English and Niege’s native French. Franco-pop doesn’t sell very well on American radio, and Alcest bring a freshness to the genre that deserves to be heard. And enjoyed.  (Grade: B+)

LANA DEL REY/Ultraviolence (Interscope) - If the folks at Interscope were banking on finding the next Amy Winehouse with Lana Del Rey, they chose commerce over artistry. Her woozy Nancy Sinatra-meets-Laura Palmer persona is hardly anything original, her seemingly anti-feminist bravado calculated, and perhaps not completely sincere - but no matter, this is the music business. On her follow-up to the downbeat Born To Die,  Ms. Del Rey wants it both ways: vulnerable waif one moment, slutty provocateur the next. Teaming up with Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach is actually a logical choice - if anybody can make derivativeness a payday, it's that guy. From the faux swamp blues of the opener “Cruel World" to the blatant hedonism of “Money, Power, Glory" and the mid-tempo angst of "West Coast" (which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg) it's hard to tell whether this is supposed to be cultural indictment or sly parody - I suggest it's neither, then again, this is the music business. But as ear candy, Del Rey pushes all the right buttons. I guess if I'm craving genuine, unpologetic anti-feminist empowerment, I can always cue up something from Courtney Love, right?  
(Grade: B-)

(Reprise) - God bless Tom Petty: at age 63, the man’s still rocking in the free world. Some critics say he has been reinvigorated by his side project Mudcrutch, which allowed him to get down to some raw, unvarnished garage/pop. But Petty’s music has always been a hybrid of Southern rock and garage - let’s face it, next to the Ramones he’s the only artist who’s gotten the most mileage out of the least amount of chords. But there is an undeniable energy and willingness to think outside the box that makes this album notable: tracks like the lo-fi rockabilly of “Fault Lines” and the jazzy “Full Grown Boy“ almost sound like someone else when Petty’s not singing. When he does however, he dips into the occasionally lazy rhyme - I wish he’d hang with some beat poets for awhile, for if he did, some of these tunes would carry more emotional weight. But if The Black Keys want a lesson in bluesy rock that’s not so self-consciously stylish, they could learn a lot from Petty, which he illustrates brilliantly on “All You Can Carry”, a great tune about leaving behind the familiar for the unexpected. Kinda like here.
(Grade B+)



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