THE GOOD: Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas releases his third album outside the core band and his second with the Voidz.
THE BAD: “Virtue” gets messy in spots and could use a good trim.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Strokes are an odd lot these days. Their best records are behind the band, and when it DOES release something new, it’s never quite as stimulating as the side stuff put out by Casablancas or Strokes partner Albert Hammond Jr.
“Virtue” is definitely FLAWED, even frustrating in spots, but it’s rarely BORING. At times, Casablancas shows off his pop chops, bringing together big melodies and tight, electric grooves. Tracks such as “Permanent High School” and “Aliennation” are catchy, goofy and at times funky.
Somewhere across its second half, though, “Virtue” morphs into this weird B-sides collection where some ideas don’t quite gel. Whether it’s the lazy noise of “Black Hole” or the droning downer “Pointlessness,” you begin to think the guys should have quit while they were ahead.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THE GOOD: Pittsburgh-based wacko indie synth project BMSR comes back with its sixth.
THE BAD: Prepare yourself for a freaky mind-meld that won’t make much sense through the first couple of spins. “Panic” isn’t for everybody.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by Tobacco (the guy), BMSR is all about dark, murky synth pop that’s most definitely better if you’re stoned. “Panic” is the perfect lo-fi “come down” record after a raucous night of unhinged debauchery. Choose your vices carefully, then put this one on and chill.
Swirly bits such as “New Breeze” and “Bottomless Face” ride rhythms, clicks and claps while Tobacco’s vocoder-heavy singing ducks in and out of synthetic squiggles and melodic bloops and bleeps. It’s trippy. It’s spooky. It’s other-worldly.
BMSR is the dark forest just before dawn; a beautiful yet sinister place that’s strangely calming and wildly unpredictable at the same time. Not every experiment works, but the ones that do are endlessly fascinating. Indulge. You know you want to.
BUY IT?: Sure.

CHVRCHES — ‘Love Is Dead’ 
THE GOOD: Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches keeps the forward momentum going on its third.
THE BAD: Nope. However…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Chvrches brought in an outside producer for the first time, heavy-hitter Greg Kurstin (Sia, Beck, Adele). Kurstin gets co-writing credits on half the songs as well. Some may see this as a bid for the American mainstream. But while “Love Is Dead” is the most straight-forward Chvrches album yet, the band hasn’t lost its deft atmospheric touches or layered cascading walls of sound. Lauren Mayberry also remains one of the most captivating female voices fronting synthetic backdrops today. This time, the woman sings less of introspection and more of the tumultuous world around her.
Chvrches also received some indie help from legendary Eurythmic Dave Stewart and the National’s Matt Berninger. So even though the music is more “high profile,” the melodies are just as dreamy and inviting as ever. Long-time fans will notice the progressions, but none should feel alienated by the outside meddling.
BUY IT?: Definitely.