The Warlocks

The Warlocks' earlier works—two heavy, narcotic-fueled drone rock albums that explored the dark side of the '60s—could rightly be filed under "sickedelia." With two drummers, three guitars, and multiple songs with the word "dope" in their title, these Los Angeleans—who adopted the discarded monikers of both the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead—were capable of channeling a flower-child nightmare like no other. However, on Surgery, their latest and most accomplished album to date, Bobby Hecksher and company have fixed their hazy vision on Phil Spector, yielding a final product rooted in the golden age of American pop, while piling on layer upon layer of fuzzed-out guitar and organ to produce songs that simultaneously conjure innocence and decadence. This juxtaposition is most expertly realized on "Angels in Heaven, Angels in Hell," "It's Just Like Surgery," "Evil Eyes Again," and "The Tangent." On the latter, Hecksher confesses with bittersweet pride, "I got so sick/The nurses they've all quit!" Self-destruction, in itself, is no joking matter, but when an artist can harness his descent into oblivion, write the best album of his career, and live to tell the tale, one is reminded of the redemptive and transformational powers of music. KIP BERMAN

Hanne Hukkelberg
Little Things
(The Leaf Label)

This is a golden age for ladies with unusual, forest-nymph voices, pop smarts, and musical touches as light as fairy wings. The Joanna Newsoms, CocoRosies, and Jolie Hollands of the world create comfort for quieter moments, rising above the coffee-shop clamor to give folkish pop a quirky edge. Norway's Hanne Hukkelberg is a genre-gliding electronic-ish artist with a pixie-dusted voice that conjures divine beings in its honeyed harmonies.

There's a call for calm throughout her Little Things debut—and yet even in repose, Hukkelberg is innocently fidgety, breaking from songs to whistle a tune, clinking kitchen utensils against one another, picking up a banjo or acoustic guitar for a melody or two, inviting in strings or saxophones, and then suddenly flicking the switch on a drum machine. The result is an album featuring a colorful cabaret of playful arrangements and instrumentation, with Hukkelberg as the magic-inspiring Mary Poppins among this animated bunch. JENNIFER MAERZ

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Worn Copy
(Paw Tracks)

It has been argued that the only thing new under the sun with modern music is pastiche: the lumping together of as many divergent ideas as possible. If so, LA oddball Ariel Pink is about as "of the moment" as you can get. Ariel's new album Worn Copy drops in nods and winks to synth-pop, Motown, '60s psych, and all other manner of reconstituted sounds, all coated with a defiantly lo-fi hum. The songs are great, but what really sets the man's records apart is the mysterious warped production, like a child hearing a medley of pop hits over crackling department store speakers. Tracks like "One on One" freely channel Can's Damo Suzuki, where "Jules Lost His jewels" mutates a song about Ariel's cat being neutered into a cowbell-heavy classic rock anthem. Differentiating himself from more self-conscious visionaries, Ariel's slacker observations about bad credit or cable access television are always off the cuff and infectious. A lot of listeners might find this album to be a muddy train wreck, but a few spins reveal Worn Copy to be some of the best pop art our generation has to offer. JOSH BLANCHARD

The Jazzman Cometh EP
(Wäntage USA)

Squeezed between giant slabs of distorted bass and imploding-brick-building drumbeats lays the desperate wails of this Texas twosome. The human cries embedded in Pope's sonorous bedlam are agonized, traumatized, and nearly pulverized by the panic surrounding them, as snake pits of feedback, Comets on Fire-esque quicksand, and sideways-guided missiles of obese bass lines turn The Jazzman Cometh into a war zone. Drummer Franz Funkenheimer and bassist Paul Kneejie howl like they're being trampled to death by an agile Frankenstein's monster of their own creation, hoarsely growling at this beast like so many (Lightning Bolt, Friends Forever, 25 Suaves) before them. Each untitled song on Jazzman is a new struggle to survive, until the sixth and final round, when nearly all evidence of humanity disappears, with strands of electronic torture machines left malfunctioning until a final call for revolution rears its ugly head. The Pope's carnage is your treasure. JM

Conan the Barbarian
Red Sonja
The Barbarians