SHANNON AND THE CLAMS — ‘Onion’
THE GOOD: California retro garage rock group Shannon and the Clams defies all expectations on its latest.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by Hunx & His Punx bassist Shannon Shaw, the Clams has always cranked out a juvenile mix of pre-Beatles pop, garage rock, surf and just a dash of punk sleaze. Its music would make the perfect soundtrack to a dozen non-existent John Waters/Divine collaborations that we’ll sadly never see.
Past albums always contained a generous amount of catchy ditties about forbidden love and teenage heartbreak along with a fair amount of kitsch value. Now under the guidance of producer and Black Key Dan Auerbach, S&TC has stepped up its game, writing BETTER songs and toning down the whole “novelty” aspect of its work.
The end results are nothing short of STUNNING. “Onion” finds the band still banging away in the garage but tightening up and making the first GREAT album of its career. It’s cool, Daddy-O.
BUY IT?: You must.

SUNFLOWER BEAN — ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ 
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie trio Sunflower Bean smashes the sophomore slump with the sparkling “Blue.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by the determined yet charismatic Julia Cumming, the band plows through 11 focused, guitar-based indie gems big on memorable choruses and (at times) glam rock swagger. Whether it’s the breezy but cautious “Twentytwo” or the fiercely stomping and churning “Crisis Fest,” it’s tough to resist these tracks’ sheer melodic muscle.
“Blue” breaks little new ground, but doesn’t need to. On the surface, the songs grab you almost immediately, and repeat listens bring out charming, subtle nuances you may have previously missed. Cumming likes to occasionally get political and confrontational, but messages never overtake the music. Even when it doesn’t mean to, “Blue” gives off that sense of infectious euphoria found within any great pop record. And since the momentum never truly dissipates, you’ll eagerly anticipate the band’s third album right after closer “Oh No, Bye Bye” clicks off.
BUY IT?: Yep.

DREAM WIFE — ‘Dream Wife’
THE GOOD: British punk girls Dream Wife offer a screaming debut.
THE BAD: Not every track is a gem, but there are enough rock-solid moments to make us want more.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The trio (it still has no permanent drummer) started Dream Wife as a school project. After discovering a certain creative spark, the band just kept going.
Fronted by Icelandic vocalist Rakel Mjoll (she’s why the band doesn’t exactly SOUND British), Dream Wife offers a slick combination of ’90s riot girl abandon, early 2000s indie rock and today’s abrasive noise pop. Think Babes in Toyland, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sounds and Sleigh Bells all rolled into one — noisy and catchy with a killer backbeat.
Favorite bits include “Kids” with its chugging electric riffs, the fits of frustration that build “Act My Age” and the tough-as-nails attitude setting “F.U.U.” ablaze. The ladies are still developing musically, but as long as they retain the fun and fury found here, the future looks bright.
BUY IT?: Yes.