There is something inspiring about watching a band like The Black Keys hit its critical and commercial peak, especially when there is bound to be more to come. Arriving on heels of the well-received “Brothers” disc, “El Camino” crashes ashore on the soul-surfer vibe of the album’s opener, “Lonely Boy.” It’s a Black Keys song you can sing along with, particularly on the infectious chorus. Things stay soulful, thanks in part to the back-up vocals provided by Ashley Wilcoxson, Leisa Hans and Heather Rigdon, on “Dead and Gone,” “Sister,” and “Stop Stop.” There’s even a touch of glam on “Gold on the Ceiling.”
Sophomore slump be damned! Chairlift, now a duo, returns with “Something” – and it’s something special. Chairlift is powered by new wave/dance influences from the 1980s. But instead of recycling them, the duo reformats and refreshes the sound for the 21st century. Beginning with the rhythms of “Sidewalk Safari,” Chairlift lifts listeners to their feet. The dance dynamic continues on “Wrong Opinion,” “I Belong in Your Arms” and “Amanaemonesia.” For pure ’80s energy, dig “Take It Out On Me” and “Ghost Tonight.”
Like Chairlift, School of Seven Bells is now a duo. Consisting of Benjamin Curtis (of Secret Machines renown) and Alejandra Deheza, the pair updates dream pop for the iTunes generation on their spooky third album “Ghostory.” Moody and misty, songs such as “Lafaye,” “Love Play” and “Show Me Love” are like the soundtrack to your strangest dreams. “Low Times,” “Scavenger” and the pulsing “White Wind” are songs you’d dance to in a dream.
“Aloha Moon,” the title cut from the full-length debut by electro Nashville couple Magic Wands (Chris & Dexy Valentine) is a trippy tropical delight. The tune washes over the listener like warm waves kissing the coastline. The funky “Teenage Love” exposes Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” for the nightmare that it is. “Kaleidoscope Hearts” is modern disco to dance to and love, while “Warrior” turns the dance floor into a booty-shaking battlefield and “Kiss Me Dead” plants a big, wet one on listeners.
UK mixed-gender duo Prinzhorn Dance School skirts the cursed sophomore slump with “Clay Class.” This is one dance school and disc that should come with knee pads and a neck brace. Minimalist but rhythmic songs such as “Happy in Bits,” “Usurper,” “Your Fire Has Gone Out” and “Sing Orderly” not only promote dancing, but they also encourage dancers to contort themselves in ways they might not be used to.
The shimmering “Always the Light” by Elika is a chill electronic experience. On the album’s most memorable tracks, including “Stay Beside Me,” “Count Your Steps,” “No One Gets Lost” and “Trials,” vocalist Evagelia Maravelias is reminiscent of a less pinched and processed Madonna. Consider that a recommendation.
Clear across the musical spectrum, Alabama duo Dead Fingers (husband and wife Taylor and Kate Taylor Hollingsworth) make a lively debut with their “Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum” full-length disc. This is twangy Southern folk-pop at its most endearing. Songs such as “4 Stone Coaches,” “Hold On To,” “Against the River,” “Lost in Mississippi” and “Closet Full of Bones” sound as familiar and comfy as a pair of well-worn overalls.
The eponymous debut by the California-transplant duo Soft Swells rides in on a wave of warm, modern pop sunshine. You can practically feel the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the strangely optimistic “Every Little Thing” and “Shake It Off.” There’s also something engaging about “Overrated,” “Don’t Cut it Off,” “Make it Go Away,” “Lifeboats” and “Decisions.” This is the kind of debut that makes you look forward to what will come next.
Other dazzling duos include The Milk Carton Kids and their extremely beautiful album “Prologue”; Little Hurricane, who blows in on a bluesy breeze on the aptly titled “Homewrecker” (littlehurricanmusic.com); Orcas’ nine experimental tunes on their self-titled Morr Music release; and hot lesbian duo Driftwood Fire, who burn through 11 tracks on “How to Untangle a Heartache” (driftwoodfire.com).
The Black Keys perform on May 16 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.