Noteworthy: Reviews of new music

Air – Pocket Symphony (Astralwerks): The fifth album by the French duo (r.) includes Asian textures courtesy of the koto, a 13-stringed Japanese instrument, as well as guest vocals from The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker (both sounding ungainly). But Air's signature blend of glacial synthesizer, coquettish cooing, and Gallic-accented murmurings is sparser than usual. "Pocket Symphony" has been touted as an exercise in minimalism, which would be all well and good if the melodies weren't so minimal, too. Alas, there's nothing here as memorable – or playful – as "Sexy Boy" from "Moon Safari" or "Surfing on a Rocket" from "Talkie Walkie." Your ears will prick up for the slinky "Mer du Japon" and the piano-led "Redhead Girl," but the album is best treated as a mood-enhancer for a Sunday afternoon with a good book. Grade: C+

– Stephen Humphries

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge): Arcade Fire don't tread lightly – they stomp. When Win Butler and company dropped their thumping "Funeral" on the indie-rock world in 2004, music fans were left breathless. "Neon Bible," their sophomore album, doesn't shy from grandeur, either. Whether it's the church organ lining "Intervention," the gradual buildup of "Keep the Car Running," or the apocalyptic imagery in the lyrics, the band is thinking big. "Neon Bible" is an album about a world at war: "Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Show me where them bombs will fall," Butler sings on "Black Mirror." Knowing Arcade Fire will continue to make grand-scale music may just be enough hope to keep dark clouds at bay. Grade: A

– Cristian Lupsa

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