Broken Bells—the new project of Shins’ frontman James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley producer Danger Mouse—is one of those unexpected, sort-of-bewildering collaborations, two seemingly exclusive entities attempt to mesh aesthetics, that turn out to be precisely what the other needed. Danger Mouse’s neo-soul/psychedelic production is a much more natural fit to Mercer’s currently weary pop than anticipated, and while the duo’s self-titled debut may have been reduced to the second tier of anticipated releases in the middle of a strong year for music, it’s still a tight, well-executed collection that subtly impresses. Broken Bells lets its intricate, deeply layered production wrap around Mercer’s swooning vocals, changing up its arrangements depending on how playful, menacing, or woeful the song wants to become. To the group’s credit, the effort never comes across as merely “The Shins: remixed.” Opening is San Francisco’s The Morning Benders, an up-and-coming group that makes sometimes hazy, sometimes piano-thumping sixties sunshine-pop—well worth showing up early. (Andy Seifert)
May 31 at Vic Theatre, 3145 North Sheffield, (773)472-0449, at 7:30pm. $31.
In the last decade, Emily Haines has lent her pop-friendly voice to Broken Social Scene and to her solo 2006 record, “Knives Don’t Have Your Back,” pumping up her profile to the point that it was easy to forget Metric, her initial project with fellow Broken Social Scenster James Shaw. The Canadian quartet’s last release, 2009′s “Fantasies,” reminded just how potent and reliable the group’s power pop was earlier in the decade, when it produced rough-around-the-edges new wave on 2003′s “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?” The band has since embraced slick, studio-powered pop, where the fuzzy distortion and euphonic synthesizers better complement Haines’ appealing, breathy vocals. It’s not at all surprising that “Fantasies” lead single “Help I’m Alive” has made the jump to commercials and background music for sitcoms—Metric’s clean, sharp tone is precisely the kind of indie rock that deserves a chance to delight mainstream audiences. (Andy Seifert)
May 20 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)472-0449, at 7:30pm. $23.
Singer-songwriters are a dime-a-dozen. Hundreds of them scourge the earth with weak, featureless folk/pop that suck the life out of every melody they touch. Musicians like Idaho’s Josh Ritter are harder to find, a singer with a warm, rural-tinted voice that fits into his nuanced, gentle pop—a worthy singer/songwriter in every respect. Ritter’s newest, “So Runs The World Away,” expands on 2007’s “The Historical Conquest Of Josh Ritter,” throwing trumpets, organs, French horns onto his solemn, sweet songs. Ballads like the clever “Folk Bloodbath” (which combines the murder stories of several old tunes) and the Paul Simon-esque “Lark” have a soothing mood that charms with sincerity instead of twee cuteness. His obvious indebtedness to Bob Dylan and other old folk pioneers would be a hindrance to some, unable to improve upon a genre that they find sacred, but Ritter explores and expands upon his influences, creating a rare folksy triumph that remains true to his country upbringing, even well after he’s plugged in his electric and added a litany of other instruments. (Andy Seifert)
May 15 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773) 472-0449, at 7:30pm. $24.
Sultry songstress Corinne Bailey Rae brings her soulful sounds to the Vic Theatre to promote her sophomore album “The Sea.” The English sensation sprang onto the scene in 2006, winning multiple Grammy Awards for her self-titled debut. Now, after dealing with the unexpected death of her husband in 2008, the 31-year-old singer/songwriter hopes her second release builds on that early success, which drew comparisons to R&B icons like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and generated hits like “Put Your Records On” and “Like A Star.” Bailey takes fans on an emotionally charged ride with “The Sea”; venturing everywhere from the love she shared with her late husband on easygoing “Closer,” to the depression that came with her loss on the melancholy “Love’s On Its Way,” to reflections on the beauty of life on upbeat and catchy single “Paris Nights/New York Mornings.” Experiencing tremendous pain, but courageously fighting through and emerging stronger, the album’s immense emotional contrast displays incredible range and talent. (Darrel Sangster)
Corinne Bailey Rae plays the Vic Theatre,3145 N. Sheffield, (773)472-0449, victheatre.com, April 22 at8pm. $25.
The Drag City star’s third album, the two-hour-long triple-record “Have One on Me,” is an expansion of Newsom’s gaze, as the songstress weaves more baroque passages into epic storytelling. The harp remains Newsom’s instrument of choice, though the piano makes notable appearances as well; lyrically, she’s playing in the same field of elevated sorrow, though some of the arrangements have been punched up. Newsom couldn’t have written a song like “Good Intentions Paving Company,” chamber pop all jazzed up, before now—it’s that sort of stretching of the muscles, and increase in confidence, that makes this record keep pace with the other two. Newsom’s aching numbers ultimately serve as the backbone of this massive collection—”Go Long,” terrific, is a serious mourner, “In California breaks you in half and closer “Does Not Suffice,” driven by Newsom’s simple piano playing, could be the record’s top achievement. “Have One on Me” is an exhausting affair—simply too much much to be taken in during one sitting—and that harms the effectiveness. (The album could’ve been cut by four or five songs, at least.) Newsom may not be able to match the ingenuity and freshness of her debut, “Milk-Eyed Mender,” but as far as monumental records of colossal scope, you could do much worse. (Tom Lynch)
April 3 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)472-0449, at 7:30pm.
What genre could you fit these serial-festival-participants into? Simply calling them an instrumental jam band wouldn’t do, as they do keep a tight structure to their music while allowing a lot of improvisation to happen during their packed live sets (which, by the way, fans are free to record, trade and post online as long as no money changes hands). Are they an electronic band? Maybe, unless you notice their strong jazz-funk tendencies. Regardless if you can place them in a niche or not, the fact is that they are highly eclectic artists—their music could easily be played in a dance club (an example of this is “Bellwether,” a tune played around a vocoder and plenty of guitar), a trendy lounge or even a more upscale jazz club. But the real thrill is to catch them live—especially if you are lucky enough to catch one of their “thematic gigs,” like the time they dressed up to resemble rock stars who died at 27 (Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain) for a show called “The 27 Conspiracy,” which featured reworked covers of Nirvana, The Doors and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. (Ernest Barteldes)
November 27 at The Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)472-0366. $21-$24
English singer-songwriter Imogen Heap rose to fame when “Let Go,” a song from her collaboration with Guy Sigsworth as Frou Frou, was included in Zach Braff’s 2004 drama, “Garden State.” The following year, the ethereal-voiced electro-popper found even greater success with her sophomore solo album, “Speak for Yourself.” After appearing on “The O.C.”—in that scene where Marissa shoots Ryan’s brother Trey and even though it’s to save Ryan’s life and Trey doesn’t die, it totally fucks up their relationship, then when they finally begin to reconnect, Marissa dies in a car accident and Ryan is so distraught he becomes a cage fighter—the track “Hide and Seek” made it to the top of the iTunes downloads chart. Heap released her third album, “Ellipse,” in August and is amid her first North American tour in three years. Sure, she’ll be back next year for another tour and likely be at the major festivals, but wouldn’t it be nice to catch her in a more intimate venue now? (Kelley Hecker)
November 24 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)472-0449. 7pm. $21.50.
Swedish new-wave poppers The Sounds were destined to be huge the moment their debut, 2003’s “Living in America,” dropped in the U.S. It’s fun, fluffy dance music fronted by a hot badass blonde, Maja Ivarsson. Despite that, numerous late-night TV appearances and having “Dance With Me” featured in a VH1 commercial that aired every five minutes, the band wasn’t able to gain a big following here. Their sophomore effort, 2006’s “Dying to Say This to You,” helped raise their profile a bit after the song “Hurt You” was featured in one of those Geico caveman commercials, but it was the spring and summer arena tours with Fall Out Boy and No Doubt in support of this year’s “Crossing the Rubicon” that helped them finally reach that wider audience they should’ve had six years ago. Ivarsson is an energetic, commanding frontwoman, always able to work the crowd into a frenzy, and this is the last stop on their North American tour. You like to dance? Then come on! Come on! (Kelley Hecker)
November 7 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)472-0449. 7:30pm. $18.
It may not actually be billed as “A Night with Lou Barlow,” but it might as well be: the musician double-dips as he takes the lead in opening-act Lou Barlow + The Missingmen and, of course, plays bass in influential three-piece Dinosaur Jr., tonight’s headliner. I’ve had a long, significant admiration of Barlow, through his days in Dinosaur to his Folk Implosion, his solo work to his records with my beloved Sebadoh. I still often listen to his solo record from a few years back, the mostly acoustic “EMOH,” which was largely ignored upon release. (His new record, under his own name, is called “Goodnight Unknown” and is out on Merge.) Barlow’s songwriting talent lies in his ability to balance sentimentality and outright anger—he can break your heart as he gut-shots you. Sebadoh’s “Bubble & Scrape” and “Bakesale” are indie-rock legend at this point—”Harmacy,” from 1996, started showing Barlow’s softer side. (Barlow’s also given interviews in the past, discussing his musical tastes, that have directed me to artists that I would’ve otherwise not have known and have since changed the course of my life.) Dinosaur Jr. on this bill is a bonus, albeit a substantial one. (Tom Lynch)
October 15 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)618-8439, at 7:30pm.
Though I’m an unapologetic Yo La Tengo nerd who has seen the band countless times and has encyclopedic knowledge of (almost) all of its songs, I’ve been a bit disappointed by the band’s output in the last few years, from 2003′s boring “Summer Sun” to 2006′s hit-and-miss “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.” Now the trio presents “Popular Songs,” its twelfth record, and like on “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One” the band explores all of its strengths, from the pure-pop nostalgic grooves to the mellow tunes to the long, distortion-heavy guitar epics. At this point, you pretty much know what you’re gonna get from Yo La Tengo, and “Popular Songs” is a strong record for the most part. Perhaps the most notable is the band’s decision to place the three sprawling rockers at the end of the record, creating one hell of a half-hour-long coda. (The dreamy “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven” is the best song that the band’s written in years.) Live, of course, Yo La Tengo remains incredible, so the strength of the record hardly matters. (Tom Lynch)
October 6 at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, (773)618-8439, at 7:30pm.