February 07, 2011 12:00 PM

>The beginning of the year is typically not the best time for new music. This January, though, proves to be an exception, with first-rate releases by two rock bands: The Decemberists’ The King Is Dead and White Lies’ Ritual. After 2009’s The Hazards of Love, their flawed fairy-tale concept album, the Decemberists deliver a straight-up folk-rock gem that recalls classic R.E.M. on cuts like “Calamity Song”—not coincidentally, one of three tracks with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. Britain’s White Lies also hark back to some ’80s alt-rock heroes—Depeche Mode and Echo & the Bunnymen come to mind—on an epic second set that, with songs like “Strangers,” is a goth and synth-pop celebration.

The King Is Dead:[]

Ritual: []

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