THE CURE

4:13 Dream (Geffen)
Ever-determined to extend indefinitely their legacy as deathless stalwarts of goth-inflected dream pop, The Cure have cranked out a new album that contains no surprises but holds up admirably next to most of their canon. The songwriting on 4:13 Dream tends to focus on the lighter side of their sensibilities, although a majority of the material is shot through with a dark streak missing from such classics as “Just like Heaven” and “Friday I’m In Love.” Case in point is the dirge-like opener and strongest song of the bunch, “Underneath the Stars,” a sort of darker cousin to “Pictures of You” despite its more upbeat lyrical content. Perhaps the most notable thing about the album is its assurance of the continued relevance of the band—a quality that almost none of their contemporaries still possess.

DIDO
Safe Trip Home (Arista)
Dido hasn’t lost her touch for well-crafted, low key, emotional pop songs with her long-awaited third release, which appears five years after her last album. Jon Brion’s subtle soundscapes compliment well Dido’s breathy vocals and deceptively simple songwriting, and Brian Eno acquits himself well for his turn behind the boards on the synth-washed “Grafton Street,” during which Dido gets to show off her mastery of the recorder. Mick Fleetwood, ?uestlove and Citizen Cope also make cameos, but it’s Dido’s knack for injecting a rare depth of feeling into her writing and delivery that carries her efforts once again.

HOT LAVA
Lavalogy (Bar None)
Virginia’s Hot Lava subscribes to the CSS school of female-fronted tongue-in-cheek indie dance rock; in fact, they even wrote a graphic lesbian ode to that group’s lead singer entitled “El Retorno da Lovefoxxx.” The Lava’s approach is very lo-fi but extremely poppy and altogether charming, thanks in large part to singer Allison Apperton’s breezy vocals and lyrics about blue dragons, mummy beaches and ghosties. It’s not exactly weighty material, but the songs’ very disposability works in the band’s favor; since their presentation is so cutesy anyway, they might never be able to get away with earnest love ballads or arch political diatribes or what have you. Just listen and have fun.

LADYFINGER (NE)
Dusk (Saddle Creek)
The alt-metal anomaly in the Saddle Creek stable is back with a second album of angsty aggression that carries on as though the 2000s never happened. Amongst the rather pedestrian (albeit skillful) riffing and semi-hackneyed lyrics about alienation and disenfranchisement lies some interesting, melodic songwriting, particularly on the slow-building standout “Little Things.” Perhaps this band’s most problematic trait is its almost absolute dedication to one unvarying sound, making for a very repetitious album that begins to wear on the ears about halfway through. “Plans” almost saves the day with its somewhat more subdued and melodic variation on the formula.

CHARLIE LOUVIN
Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs (Tompkins Square)
Charlie Louvin was the clean and sober half of the Louvin Brothers, who tore up the country charts with their old-style harmonies for a couple of decades until they broke up in 1963. Although his brother Ira battled with alcoholism throughout his life and died in a car crash in 1965, Charlie stayed on the straight and narrow and was able to forge out a fairly successful solo career in the wake of the duo’s breakup. He’s never really stopped recording, although a star-studded release last year brought his music somewhat back into the limelight. This year he’s put out a collection of his takes on classic, well, murder ballads and disaster songs that show he still has a way with a tune.

POINT JUNCTURE, WA
Heart to Elk (Mt. Fuji)
Though Portland, OR’s Point Juncture, WA may owe some small debt to Stereolab with their gossamer, spacy pop (complete with easy-listening trumpet sounds), they actually seem to put a good deal more thought into tight arrangements and well-crafted songs. Recorded in the band’s own basement studio, Heart to Elk belies its humble origins, sounding by turns as big, small, ethereal and loud as its creators’ whims directed. Entrancing, wistful male and female vocals, low key vibes, heavily distorted guitars, retro synths, drum loops and acoustic drums all playfully pop in and out of the mix, making for a truly dynamic and highly addictive set.

SNOW PATROL
A Hundred Million Suns (Geffen)
After a successful bid for superstardom with the ubiquitous ballad “Chasing Cars” from their last record, Snow Patrol serve up even more of their customary slick, straightforward balladry and borderline-generic rock than usual on A Hundred Million Suns. Perhaps the band’s most shameless attempt on this album to replicate past success is the characteristically over-saccharine “Crack the Shutters,” which actually plays out effectively despite obvious similarities to their huge hit. The first single “Take Back the City” works well as a latter-era U2-type arena rocker, and the band proves elsewhere that it can still be interesting with tracks like the slow-building “Lifeboats” and the driving “Please Just Take These Photos from My Hands.”

BRITNEY SPEARS
Circus (Jive)
In the aftermath of the most entertaining public meltdown of any superstar in the history of mankind—and after being drawn, quartered, sliced, diced and lightly sautéed by the press–Britney was apparently still able to drag her sorry ass back into the studio and crank out yet another assembly-line pop dance floor-filler in the same vein as last year’s Blackout. This time around, her team has managed to come up with a cliche-riddled number one hit (“Womanizer”) and they’ve thrown some cloying ballads into the mix to mildly temper the nonstop death-disco onslaught. They’ve even tossed off a Kate Perry clone of a lesbian anthem in the regrettably-titled “If U Seek Amy.” Not much to recommend here for anyone interested in something other than a creative black hole.

WELCOME WAGON
Welcome to the Welcome Wagon (Asthmatic Kitty)
Comprised of the husband-and-wife duo of the Reverend Vito and Monique Aiuto, Welcome Wagon sing beguiling, harmonic folksy gospel in an indie pop vein. Their debut album is apparently a pet project of Sufjan Stevens, who produced the project and saw fit to add all sorts of instrumentation to the couple’s simple tunes. Be prepared for some over-the-top choir vocals and horns, but overall the baroque-pop-ish flourishes work well and compliment the material. It is, however, refreshing to hear “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red,” the final track that’s completely unadorned and showcases the duo’s considerable talents brilliantly.

THE WHORE MOANS
Hello from the Radio Wasteland! (Mt. Fuji)
Of all the straightforward rock bands currently kicking around the Seattle scene, the Whore Moans can perhaps lay the most legitimate claim to carrying on the direct lineage of Northwest-brand garage punk that began with the Wailers and the Sonics and continued through Mudhoney and the Murder City Devils. Despite keeping up a fairly punishing (and quite tasty) aural assault throughout Hello from the Radio Wasteland!, the band by no means eschews melody, and singer/guitarist Nick Anderson generally displays a knack for aggressive-yet-affecting songwriting. Strangely, the acoustic closing number, “Before the Frost,” comes across as more effective than all the bombast preceding it.