(Circle Five Records)

After listening to approximately 1500 "straightforward indie rock" records in the past month, I think I have discovered what makes 99.9% of them horrible. It includes, but is not limited to: lack of dynamics, hooks, originality, or personality, intense narcissism, and way too fucking much Sunny Day Real Estate. So when a band comes along that has even the remotest amounts of charm and humility, it's like a buoy in the middle of a sea of crap. HELLO SO SADLY FUCKED! Their vocals weave through each other in a way that's endearingly sloppy, and their hooks are sweet and adhesive, like real maple syrup. Their lack of pretension and their cuddly guitars display nothing but the utmost enthusiasm for the music they're making. You'll want to reach out and hug them, not only because they're honest, but also because they're not boring! JULIANNE SHEPHERD

(Audio Dregs Recordings)

Some current underground music trends are so predictable you can set your watch to them. From the ex-members of some hardcore band that form a "really toned down" instrumental group, to those going the "band with gadgets (now)" route, most of these trends end up sounding more like a reference point on an indie rock timeline than any kind of artistic endeavor. The Sensualists' latest release falls into the "remix CD" of "band with gadgets" category. To discuss the leaps and bounds that The Sensualists have made since their last album would be a waste of time considering that the modification of the original song usually has little, if anything, to do with the actual band members on a remix album. Although the people behind the remixes definitely know what they're doing, it feels like forced abstraction. This results in the sucking of soul from an already superficial sound. JOE FAUSTIN KELLY

(Brown Records)

"S" is the pseudonym of Jenn Ghetto, who is also the sublime vocal and guitar presence in Carissa's Wierd. Sadstyle is a collection of bedroom-y four-track recordings created over the past two years. It's full of songs that you could hold in your hand: little fragile vignettes that dance melodically out of the speakers, then suddenly dissipate like morning fog. Jenn builds her songs from layered, thin threads of guitar melodies and frosts them with vocals that channel an honest melancholy. The joy, yearning, soft anger, and self-reflection on Sadstyle give it an emotional depth that is also the hallmark of the best Carissa's Wierd songs. This is the perfect winter record; it has the warmth of a good conversation, but the chilly sadness of realizing that there's a lot more winter to go through before the spring. MARK PINKOS