The Tough Alliance – New Waves (Summer Lovers Unlimited)

The Tough Alliance is a tough alliance. This Swedish electro-pop duo have been busy stomping all over Europe’s burgeoning indie-dance scene since 2004, but have only recently been making waves on this side of the Atlantic. On New Waves, Henning Furst and Eric Berglund showcase a four-song snapshot of what the Alliance is truly capable of. Think of it as a taste of what’s to come. As the disjointed cover shot of a cresting wave suggests, there is a slightly tropical feel to this EP, which makes it picture-perfect beach music or, alternately, great music for imagining you’re at the beach (when you’re really getting ready to endure another cold, cruel, Canadian winter). Their equatorial touch is most evident on the EP’s insta-hit “Silly Crimes”—which starts off with a mind-blowingly cool synth riff—and on the equally intricate “25 Years And Runnin.’” While comparable with Swedish comrades Lo-Fi Fnk, TTA’s music is more lyrically complex (with a slight, non-douchy political slant), yet proves just as pleasing to pop-addicted dance-floor crashers everywhere.—JB

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Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals – Lifeline (EMI)

With today’s pop scene coughing up nothing but multiple overdoses, sweaty girls in bikinis, and catchy songs about umbrellas, it is reassuring to hear an album that stays true to its musical roots. Ben Harper and his naturally-gifted band, the Innocent Criminals (Oliver Charles, Leon Mobley, Juan Nelson, Michael Ward, and Jason Yates) recorded the soul-infused acoustic album, Lifeline, in seven days after months of touring across the globe. Its sweet simplicity can be attributed to Harper’s choice of an old-school 16-track analog tape machine as opposed to the computer and pro-tools setup commonly used by artists today. Recorded in Paris, Lifeline poses as the perfect rainy day companion with bluesy tracks like “Needed You Tonight” and “Heart of Matters,” to the more poignant “Having Wings” and “Younger than Today.” With these, Harper and his band keep the album’s overall tone refl ective and thoughtful, but by no means boring. Kicking up the rhythm with tracks like “Say You Will” and “Put it On Me,” Harper pulls inspiration from the R&B greats. The “shoo-wop” of the ladies’ background vocals in “Say You Will” lends a gospel-inflected nod to the girl group days of Phil Spector and the Supremes, while Harper’s startlingly high range in “Put it On Me” is reminiscent of a time when Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder ruled the airwaves. Harper and the Criminals finish off the album with two introspective tracks, leaving the listener more than satisfied. “Paris Sunrise #7” leads as an instrumental track with a raga-inspired guitar solo, followed by the sheer sincerity of “Lifeline,” in a finale nothing short of perfection.—CK

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Usra Leedham – The Architect’s Wound (Bad Reputation)

Nowhere near an expert on indie music, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Canadian artist Usra Leedham’s album, The Architect’s Wound. In all honesty, the moment the soft and café-like mood of the piano introduction began, I was relieved and enchanted. Through the ten tracks that followed, a whole new world was opened up to me: one that mixes the distinct talent of a classical vocalist and pianist with the personality and past of a remarkable human being. Dubbed “urban soul” by some, Leedham’s jazzy style is rough yet elegant, and overflowing in beautiful instrumental passages. Even the fact that her lyrics are often not understandable becomes overshadowed by her passion for creating music and her will to distance herself from the world of success-by-numbers. Regardless of style or appeal, an artist who believes that “music as an art will always win out” is sure to bring quality to content, a characteristic decidedly greater than mass approval. —BK

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Tegan and Sara – The Con (Sire)

Tegan and Sara, two spiky-haired lesbianic twins from Vancouver, BC (if you can believe it), have an incredible knack for making the lovelorn sound catchy as hell. The Con, the sisters’ fourth full-length, hot off their noteworthy appearance on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, follows their A-HA meets Wilson Phillips aesthetic, coupling strumming electrics and just enough Casio to sound punchy and jarring, with perfectly coordinated harmonies. Title track “The Con” features bursts of synth with the twin’s quavery pleas, while “Nineteen” places infatuated lyrics like “I felt you in my legs before I even met you” on the shelf with half-hearted, sludgy drums. However it’s “Back In Your Head” that will cripple you— like every Tegan and Sara single, you’ll spend your time wishing you could forget its hooky deception and hoping it appears each time you turn on the radio. Nothing especially new here, but let’s hope the Grey’s exposure gives the girls a chance to foray onto larger screens.—CL

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Pride Tiger – The Lucky Ones (EMI)

On their major label debut, Vancouver rockers Pride Tiger seem determined to bring back a wide variety of 70s rock clichés, including the singing drummer, which is one that we the listening public really could live without. Ripping solos all over the place just aren’t enough to make up for the countless worn out phrases (“Sweet Dreams,” “Let ’Em Go,” etc.) that populate every track. While the album’s highlight, “Fill Me In,” has got all the right hooks and guitar frills in the right places, the other songs sound like simple deviations from this formula. Overall, Pride Tiger display a complete lack of originality, failing to come up with any interesting elements that could breathe life back into the sound of a bygone era. At least Wolfmother have cool hair.—RD

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Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (Sony)

The fourth album from Idaho singer-songwriter Josh Ritter has been described as “his most freewheeling work to date.” This may or may not be a direct Dylan reference, but such a comparison wouldn’t be out of place, as Ritter places himself firmly in the folk rock tradition by crafting an album of tunes that tips its cap to those who have come before him. The Dylan influence is inescapable, as opener “To the Dogs or Whoever” is so reminiscent of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” that you can almost see the white cards dropping before your eyes. If you’re looking for something groundbreaking that you haven’t heard before, look elsewhere, but be mindful that there’s a fine line between derivative and traditional. Ritter’s work is not a cheap imitation of his influences, as he furthers the folk rock genre in an artful and interesting way. “The Temptation of Adam” is a fine example, as it proves that there will always be a place in the world for a gorgeous country ballad, no matter what decade it is. —RD

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