The Decemberists Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars)
Even for a band whose trademark is its penchant for musical re-enactments of historical events and Victorian literary references, Picaresque is an amazing feat of unapologetic chamber pop so full of hooks the average indie drama queen could easily find him- or herself mortally jigged. Colin Meloy, The Decemberists' Arch Duke, has outdone even his usual borderline overdone lyrical self here, and the rest of his five-piece indie orchestra provide the perfect accompaniment to his archetypal exercises. This is as close as you'll get to musical theater sans shitty acting and with elaborate sets that create themselves in your mind.
3 Doors Down Seventeen Days (Republic/Universal)
3 Doors Down's latest bold venture into the glitzy, mundane world of ready-for-corporate-radio rock schmaltz is sure to help secure them a slot on the EdgeFest Main Stage later this year in a white-bread, chicken-shit hometown near you. In the meantime, just jam Seventeen Days in between Creed and Matchbox 20 in your disc changer and prepare to lose yourself in the bliss of pure mediocrity. Without a microgram of sincerity, 3 Doors Down flit though various power ballads and swaying rockers that make the Nelson brothers seem like passionate geniuses. Best served with Aspen Edge at a frat mixer.
Ben Lee Awake is the New Sleep (New West)
Lee's fifth record is pleasant enough—lazy, dopey folk-pop with plenty of charmingly Beck-ish moments. But it's not the masterpiece Lee-ites have been waiting for since Thurston Moore introduced him to the hipster masses in 1993 and dressed him as the new indie messiah. Despite never having quite blossomed so fully, Lee has made a string of respectable, if predictable, records during his career. And at just 26, there's still plenty of territory ahead for him to venture into. Thus far, he's played it safe, choosing the quaint over the quizzical and the tried and true over the truly courageous.