MY MORNING JACKET: Evil Urges [ATO]

“I just want it to be weird,” Jim James told MAGNET last summer, when his still-gestating Evil Urges barely registered as a nefarious inclination. By that standard alone, My Morning Jacket’s fifth LP has one outright success: “Weird” is definitely the word to describe the industrial-funk “Highly Suspicious,” the album’s third song and even-money lightning rod. Any MMJ fans wondering when James would give in and embrace his inner Divine will thrill at the track’s over-the-top nitrous-oxide giggles and breathy, orgasmic squeals; for the Kentucky band’s legions of Bonnaroo-lording, Skynyrd-loving beardo diehards, it may be akin to FBI lifers finding out J. Edgar Hoover liked wearing dresses on the weekends. That said, the weirdest thing here is that nothing else is remotely weird; it’s actually a far milder affair than the musical-genre Cuisinart of 2005’s Z. The evilest urges James has are to spin some bald Eagles soft rock on “Thank You Too” and sex up a bookworm on the Donovan-esque “Librarian.” There’s Prince-ly panting here and a little Lenny Kravitz crooning there, but the straight-ahead rock and country numbers (“Remnants,” “Sec Walkin’”) fare better. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part 2” has James remixing the album’s bland second track into an eight-minute, beat-based electro dream. Forget Evil Urges entirely; call this one Zzz. [www.atorecords.com]

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN: To Survive [Cheap Lullaby]

As violinist for Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Antony And The Johnsons and others, Joan Wasser possesses impeccable artistic credentials. As a former member of the Dambuilders and Those Bastard Souls, she has roots in more raucous styles. But as the leader of Joan As Police Woman, Wasser favors dramatic torch songs and artful ballads, and piano rather than violin. To Survive is both sparser and more polished than last year’s Real Life, JAPW’s acclaimed debut. Many of the songs build slightly on Wasser’s minor-key piano melodies, and they’re often serious contemplations of loneliness and devotion. (Wasser’s mother was dying of cancer during To Survive’s gestation.) A few songs open into something larger: “Holiday” begins as a soulful shuffle, then adds layers of dissonance; “Magpies” verges on blue-eyed soul, with horns and smooth, soft-rock backing vocals; “To America” finds Wasser drifting from the depths to the heights of her vocal range, and Wainwright does the same when he joins to duet. But nothing on To Survive equals “Christobel,” “Save Me” or the other stirring highlights of Real Life. [www.cheaplullaby.com]

—Steve Klinge

FLEET FOXES: Fleet Foxes [Sub Pop]

Let’s get this right out in the open: Yes, Fleet Foxes sound like My Morning Jacket and, in turn, Band Of Horses. Buckets of vocal reverb and a taste for jangly roots music will do that. But looking beyond first impressions, this Seattle band’s rustic warmth and ’70s-shaded ambition deserve more than a brisk rundown of influences. Building on the promise shown on this spring’s Sun Giant EP, Fleet Foxes’ full-length debut showcases a gift for folk-adjacent mini-epics that evolve in unexpected directions yet never lose their organic center. “Ragged Wood” begins with a shuffling twang, but before settling too deeply into standard top-down Americana, the song downshifts into a loose, lovesick midsection whose eventual peak feels as natural as it does surprising. Yet for all the skillful touches shown throughout (the gorgeous piano closing “He Doesn’t Know Why,” the crescendo soaring over the flute-accented “Your Protector”), Fleet Foxes is practically stolen by “White Winter Hymnal,” a deceptively simple campfire nursery rhyme. At two-and-a-half hypnotic minutes, the song—like the rest of the album—may sound familiar, but it also is remarkably close to perfect. [www.subpop.com]

—Chris Barton

LADYTRON: Velocifero [Nettwerk]

Ladytron’s default mode is steadfast retroism. When the Liverpool band isn’t playing synth pop, it’s shoegazing. On fourth album Velocifero, the quartet’s love affair with walls of noise grows so much that most of the dance grooves are subliminal at this point. With Nine Inch Nails cohort Alessandro Cortini as producer, the band’s reference points have never sounded more specific. The vintage-synth stuff is more early Ministry than New Order, and the rock tracks are more Dog Man Star-era Suede than My Bloody Valentine. Despite the torrential sound quality, there’s no mistaking the songwriting craft that’s always set Ladytron apart from its plastic contemporaries, and the melodies here might be the band’s strongest yet. Velocifero is a mere knob’s turn toward the excellence the band still seems to be working toward. Does the sharpening (and, more often, fuzzing-out) of sound count as growth? Maybe. With no real frothy disco hit (a la 2002’s “Seventeen”) in sight, Ladytron has at least shed its association with the electroclash movement that launched it. Regarding progress, that’s something. [www.nettwerk.com]

—Rich Juzwiak

MUDHONEY: The Lucky Ones [Sub Pop]

Listening to Mudhoney’s eighth full-length is reminiscent of the tribunal scene in Animal House, where Otter addresses the matter of the Delta house’s relative guilt: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief: The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took a few liberties with our female party guests. We did.” Mudhoney knows its long suit, is done making anti-Bush statements and has returned to mining the raw sewage that forms the quartet’s aural heritage. By now, you largely know what you’re going to get with any given Mudhoney release: sludge-coated riffarama, Stooges-like feedback peals that shoot forth from the grooves like lightning bolts, brain-numbing rhythmic primacy and inimitable frontman Mark Arm holding forth with a four-note vocal arsenal that gives new meaning to the word “versatile.” (You’ve got your self-righteous anger, your sarcastic anger, your illogical beer-fueled resentment and garden-variety angry anger, all present and accounted for.) Some will call this regression, but longtime fans will likely call it focused and celebrate the return to form represented on The Lucky Ones. For starters, the guitars are all courtesy of sonic alchemist Steve Turner. Arm normally plays Super-fuzz to Turner’s Big-muff, but instead he spends the record hanging from the mic stand a la the group’s longtime encore “Hate The Police,” shouting down the hecklers and generally making a nuisance of himself. It gets no more poetic for Mudhoney than the sentiment Arm dredges up on the rocket-fueled “Inside Out Over You”: “In my fucked-up gestalt, I’m a slug in salt, losing its skin.” Mudhoney cranked out The Lucky Ones in a mere four days (including overdubs), and the let’s-just-do-this vibe is palpable. Weird homages to the Velvet Underground (“And The Shimmering Light”), self-affirming punk-rock anti-statements (“The open mind is an empty mind, so I keep mine closed,” Arm sneers on “The Open Mind”) and the band’s patented nihilism (the title track, on which Arm spits out “lucky” with obvious disdain) sit side-by-side like a half-rack of empty Olympia beer cans. As Otter might’ve finished, the members of Mudhoney aren’t going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. They’re going to do it themselves instead, louder and nastier than anything you could possibly dream up. [www.subpop.com]

—Corey duBrowa