Battles Mirrored (Warp Records)
You've probably heard the intricate prog math-rock thing Battles is doing before. But these New Yorkers do it with such precision and cleverness, it's worth hearing again. Cartoonish vocals wiggle and squirm, the occasional subplot of the larger loop-laden mesh, but the vox contribution is so symphonic, it's fair to classify this disc as instrumental. Don't let that frighten you off. When the momentum of Mirrored builds to the right speed and temperature, the thing just shimmers—perfect for easing the tedium of any drudge work on your to-do list.
Björk Volta (Atlantic)
As usual, Björk does exactly what she wants, though on this disc she seems to ignore even the conventions of cohesion. Every track could come from a different chapter of her catalog, which makes for an odd overall experience. Some of the compositions are just stunning, like "Vertebrae by Vertebrae." But what is up with the wacky, meandering duet, "The Dull Flame of Desire," featuring the awkward Antony Hegarty? Though not known necessarily for her lyrics, these are especially awful. Maybe the pounding electronics and straightforward message of "Declare Independence" are more suited for a very American me.
Rufus Wainwright Release the Stars (Geffen Records)
Man, when you can make out what he's saying through his murmured melismatic (many notes for one syllable) cadence, Rufus is one hell of a songwriter. And that's what saves him, the decent wordplay and a twist of darkness or perversion. Lush backup vocals, choirs and arrangements straight from the cheesiest musical—if you can't find your fanciful side, I wouldn't pick this one up. Though the chamber music knob was turned down a notch or two on Release the Stars, he maintains that classic tenor vibrato. Something tells me swelling violins will always have a home anywhere Rufus hangs his hat.