New from Porcupine Tree’s keyboard master, Stranger Inside is one of the most hypnotic, engaging, and thoroughly unmechanical electronica albums we’ve heard in years. The disc begins with the propulsive, jungle-ish “Cave,” which feels partway between Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” and retro Depeche Mode; more mellow tracks like “All Fall Down” build on ethereal acoustic piano and evolve organically, thanks to a patient compositional arc, well-placed samples of children singing, and exceptional bass playing by Danny Thompson. While many producers stuff their rhythm grids to the bursting point, every blip and ping Richard uses has a purpose. For an electronic album with a soul, look no further.
MUTEMATH Armistice A little bit Incubus, the Bravery, Depeche Mode, and Maroon Five, Mutemath’s alt-rock and new wave album Armistice is one of the most sophisticated, yet accessible, recordings we’ve heard all year. And while the band drives dance-worthy vehicles like the opening “The Nerve” with strength and conviction, it’s the quieter moments on Armistice that go above and beyond. “Clipping” pulsates beautifully, buoyed up by flowing piano arpeggios and artfully punctuated by a string section breakdown; supported by tasty EP voicings and synth strings, “No Response” elicits an entrancing, Foo Fighters-gone-sensitive vibe. And “Pins and Needles” is another hypnotic Rhodes piece, supported by sinuous, insistent percussion. This is a new flavor of keyboard rock — and one well worth tasting. (Warner Brothers, mutemath.com )