CULTS — Static
THE GOOD: New York City duo Cults (Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion) dodges the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Making Static must have been pure hell. Follin and Oblivion used to be a couple, but split sometime during the recording process. Yet turmoil sometimes breeds great music. Didn’t Fleetwood Mac make Rumors under similar circumstances? Let’s just hope Static isn’t the duo’s swan song.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Static is definitely more aggressive than 2011’s self-titled debut. Whereas the first album had sunny grooves and electronic undertones, the new disc is all guitar riffs and surfer drums. Think less Sleigh Bells and more Raveonettes. But the songs are still ooey-gooey and oh-so infectious, even if their outlook isn’t as bright. One can’t resist the pull of soaring concoctions like “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” and “Always Forever.” “Keep Your Head Up” grabs hold with a slick stomp, and even the pessimistic “No Hope” ends up being hypnotic.
BUY IT?: Yes.

THE GOOD: New Zealand alt-pop outfit the Naked and Famous give us their second.
THE BAD: It can be argued that Waves needs a trim. Thankfully, the good moments outnumber the dull ones.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith remain the creative backbone of the band, and the two now trade off vocal duties more than ever before. The split between traditional rock instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums) and electronic beats and ornamentation seems more equal this time as well; the band looking to make a record that could be easily replicated live.
Waves is not short on focused danceable rockers — tunes such as seamless lead single “Hearts like Ours” and the rousing “What We Want.” Even the delicate title cut is not easily forgotten.
Okay, the record sputters in spots. The down-tempo “Grow Old” does exactly that rather quickly and the carefree “Golden Girl” feels unfinished. But these uninspired moments don’t detract too heavily from the album’s overall power.
BUY IT?: Sure.

SLEIGH BELLS — Bitter Rivals
THE GOOD: Brooklyn noise pop duo Sleigh Bells (multi-instrumentalist Derek E. Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss) return with their third.
THE BAD: The two still haven’t topped the aggressive perfection of 2010’s Treats. Bitter Rivals falls short of that task, but not by much.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The two continue to broaden their musical horizons, more varied instrumentation and styles this time. Closing cut “Love Sick” is even almost a ballad (almost). At its core though, Rivals still packs that level of excitement we’ve come to expect from these two. Plenty of distorted guitars (and everything else), jack-hammer beats both electronic and organic, Krauss’ tough-as-nails wail, strong melodies that somehow manage to penetrate the din — they’re all here and at full volume.
Better moments include the title cut with its hip-hop infused Western showdowns and the immediately infectious “Young Legends”; the latter distinct enough to work in an acoustic setting. But there really aren’t any duds present.