'Born to Die'
Lana Del Rey
Much has already been written of pop chanteuse Lana Del Rey, whose untested stardom is of the unique sort that inspires some and irks many - but with only two tracks to go on, it's been hard to make an informed decision (though her shaky "Saturday Night Live" performance did her critical reception no favors). With her languorous, smoky-eyed Nancy Sinatra persona and ballads of fatalistic feminism - especially the smoldering celluloid glamour of her hit "Video Games" - Del Rey can come off as a coldly manufactured niche-filler (the majority opinion of the Internet echo chamber), but historically that's been no barrier to great pop music (see: the Monkees) as long as the songwriting is tight. There isn't much to recommend in that department ("Million Dollar Man" is an exception), but her woozy, jazz-inflected voice, though it apes rather than challenges the husky attraction of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval or the glittering whine of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, nevertheless carries her through this decent debut.
'Out of Sight, Out of Town'
The unheralded launch of this sprightly Sheffield, U.K.-based indie pop trio, 2010's "Noyelle Beat," was a thing of rickety pleasure, all skipping rhythms and young abandon, so it's heartening to see a sophomore album that enhances their appeal, recalling recent successes like Yuck and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The boy-girl vocals (especially the messy croon of bassist Emma Kupa) and precious, straightaway melodies hit as squarely as before, but the polish of practice and admirably thicker production both work wonders.
The debut from the former guitarist for U.K. psych-pop band the Coral is an imaginary soundtrack for a film version of Italo Calvino's novel "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller," a tangled conceit that really doesn't matter to its enjoyment. Featuring the restrained might of the London Philharmonic, Mr. Ryder-Jones' opus is full of stately swells that conjure images of slow train travel through snow-laden forests and confer grandeur on a trip to the corner deli, but also avoids the deadly self-seriousness that can easily plague such an ambitious endeavor.