Andrew Bird Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum Records)
The greatest lyricists in my computer's music listings seem to move closer to one another like old friends as albums are added. Bird here is one brief scroll from Ani DiFranco, but further from David Byrne and too many away from Paul Simon to prove this theory. In an ordered universe, this release would put him but a hair's width away from the best wordsmiths. It's Bird's breathtaking prose, charming tenor, his willingness to use breakbeats beneath his violin plucking and subtle arrangements. Fans of beauty should find themselves in close proximity to this disc.
Modest Mouse We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Sony)
It doesn't matter that you used to like Modest Mouse back in the day before anyone ever heard "Float On" on 104.7 The Edge. Rest easy knowing your largely immodest pet rodent (really more a brash baboon these days), is here again with all of its teeth intact. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank seeps, growing a little better with each listen. Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joined the Mouse and appears to be doing his part in a nice, if inconsequential, way. Isaac Brock's barely controlled grunts and growls are what really propel the album. Lovely guest backup vox from The Shins' James Mercer on "Florida" doesn't hurt either.
El-P I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Definitive Jux)
As a man who built a wall or two of underground hip-hop's temple, a follow-up solo release has to be a daunting thing. By all estimates, El-Producto—cofounder, owner and CEO of Definitive Jux—used that crazy pressure to his own creative end. The result has all the sparkle and cutting power of a certain jewel, with the voices of Cat Power, Trent Reznor and The Mars Volta refracted inside the sparkler. Forget the name dropping. Those flashy collab credits distract from the real worth of this rock—focused flows and crazy brilliant production.