Listen up! From sticky electro-pop to Southern Gothic psychedelia: three just-released albums you need to know about

Sons of Hippies visionaries Katherine Kelly (lead vocals, guitar) and Jonas Canales (drums, percs, synths, support vocals) introduced locals to their compelling, propulsive alt-rock last year and even took home a 2009 Best of the Bay award for their debut album, Warriors of the Light.

This week, the duo-turned-trio (which now includes bassist Ryan O'Neill) celebrates the self-release of A-Morph, a dark sophomore LP that comments on the struggle to be taken seriously as an artist via poetic abstractions open for interpretation.

Sons of Hippies have continued to dose their fusion of punk, psyche and prog rock with low-key electro flourishes, opening A-Morph with a fleeting instrumental that sets an ominous tone with haunting vocal cries and minimal guitar before it launches into the fast-paced aggression of "Jab Away." Kelly's sweetly girlish yet demanding snarl takes center stage here, and her own backhanded remarks are layered softly but insistently beneath it, both sets of vocals making vague reference to the government's wicked ways, and brought to a close with surging swells of sci-fi synthesizers. "No. 16" follows with grunge-flavored guitar and a menacing slowed-down rhythmic break where Canales takes over lead, hollering snidely, "If you have something to say, why don't you talk to your mama? / If you carried away, go suck a brick if you wanna!"

Things get a little lighter as the album progresses. "Man or Moon," "Dunes" and "Maybe Today" all carry retro '60s textures (tambourine, anyone?), the first delivering cheeky psychedelia, the second an earnest and introspective waltz, and the last marked by hand-claps and a bit of refreshing optimism ("The colors are changing, I can feel the love running through my veins").

"Ladyhawk" starts out straightforward, its chorus eventually diverging into a heavy roiling rock jam, Kelly's murmured vocals sliding over crunchy distorted riffage. "Stars" is the album's only real downfall, and while it's a nice enough rack, gentle but insistent, it's not the best selection for closing such a strong, well-produced effort. —Leilani Polk

Sons of Hippies play a CD release show this Thurs., Sept. 2, at New World Brewery; tickets are $8.

Starfucker B-Sides

Starfucker is such a tease. The Portland ensemble's eponymous debut was one of the stickiest electro pop albums to come out in 2008. But while its 2009 follow-up, Jupiter, possessed the same adorable charm, it was far too short, clocking in at a mere 26 minutes that included a cover, a remix and only six "new" songs, which really weren't new but favorites from the band's live performances that never made it to the studio. This year, Starfucker bats their eyelashes yet again with B-Sides (Badman Recording).

The digi-EP includes tracks that were previously released via two short-run vinyl LPs and a limited edition 7" single, and were originally recorded from 2008 to 2009. B-Sides is even more meager than Jupiter, essentially an album of tasty scraps that opens with a dreamy, sample-noisy cover of Madonna's "Burnin' Up" and closes with back-to-back remixes of two Jupiter tracks ("Medicine" and "Boy Toy"), the two "new" numbers sandwiched in between. Granted, said numbers are first-rate Starfucker fare — both marked by whispery-sweet vocals, "Pistol Pete" armed with wordless coos, a slow static-clinging outro and the band's trademark samples of a lecturing Alan Watts, and "Ahhz" like aural cotton candy with its shimmer and fizz synthesizers. But no matter how good these B-sides may be, they feel like a tease, the sort that leaves you unfulfilled and wanting more and feeling blue about it. —Leilani Polk

Dead Confederate: Sugar

For its second album, Athens, Ga. quintet Dead Confederate wields its hipster- and alt-country-scene-approved Southern psychedelia like a sawed-off shotgun — it's got an instantly familiar profile, it's sort of classic in a very dark way, and what comes out of it is both powerful as hell and bound to scatter off in unexpected directions. Seems that working with college-rock producer John Agnello and touring with cult heroes like the Meat Puppets have inspired the band to look both forward and back while expanding its sound, and the resulting album manages to incorporate a wide swath of fringe-rock touchstones without sounding dated.

Sugar (TAO Recordings/Old Flame) is full of conspicuously sideswiped influences, from the heavy, depthy reverbed-out shoegaze of The Jesus & Mary Chain to the deceptively dissonant fuzz-pop of Dinosaur Jr., generations' worth of gnarly, gristly garage rock and maybe even a bit of My Morning Jacket's plaintive corn-silo twang (surefire indie hit "Giving It All Away"). Through it all, however, songwriters Hardy Morris and Brantly Senn keep that evocative widescreen Southern Gothic ambience that first defined Dead Confederate intact; bleak yet catchy first single "Run From The Gun," "Father Figure," the genuinely unsettling title track and other tunes are more firmly rooted in an individual identity, but nothing here dissolves into mere homage or boilerplate hero worship. In the end, Sugar's dangerously wide dispersal pattern hits its target, providing an immediately satisfying listen for older fans who recognize the reference points while offering something fresh and staying true to Dead Confederate's sonic evolution. —Scott Harrell

sons of hippies, starfucker, b-sides, dead confederate, sugar, scott harrell, leilani polk, a-morph, Warriors of the Light, cd reviews, music

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