By Andrew McNally, Columnist
Neon Trees - "Picture Show"
For a sophomore album from a pop-punk band, "Picture Show" could be a lot worse than it is. It fulfills all stereotypes of the pop-punk album it wants to be - group choruses that are all too easy to sing along to, songs that are fast and guitar-heavy but never loud, and flagrant overuses of the word "kiss." Still, something is left to be desired. "Picture Show" starts strong, with some crafty songwriting separating the first six tracks from each other. But the latter half, overall, feels misguided and pointless. It's nothing genius, but it was never expected to be.
If You Like: Cobra Starship, Two Door Cinema Club
Maps & Atlases - "Beware & Be Grateful"
"Beware and Be Grateful" is painful. It's not bad, but it should be so, so much better. Maps & Atlases are one of the most innovative of the undiscovered indie bands today. And there are ideas here, but they're never fully explored. They've ditched their format of fast guitar songs interspersed with acoustic interludes for a more traditional, Decembrists-type style, resulting in 10 songs that aren't bad, but ultimately forgettable. There are only hints of their former brilliance, and the band seems to accept this. As for its existence, I can't say Beware or Be Grateful, but Be Cautious.
If You Like: Bon Iver, The Decemberists
Amadou & Mariam - "Folila"
The blind, African married couple keep pushing themselves slightly closer to some unexpected American fame. Unexpected, but not undeserved. They're incredibly talented songwriters and musicians, effortlessly mixing jazz, rock, pop and traditional African styles. They're falling away from experimental music, but there's still plenty going on. The album's only fault is that, sometimes, there's actually too much to listen to. Nearly every song seems to end just moments before it would overstay its welcome, and each track is unique from the last. Guest spots from Santigold and TV On The Radio members, among many, don't hurt either. Get yourself acquainted.
If You Like: Fela Kuti, Buena Vista Social Club