Picks and Pans Main: Music

updated 04/19/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/19/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

MGMT

Congratulations |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

ALT-POP

There's nothing on the second MGMT album as instantly catchy as "Kids," the synth-pop gem that helped the duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser score a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. But Congratulations deserves even more kudos than 2007's Oracular Spectacular. An adventurous journey into dreamy, '60s-spiked psychedelia, it shows just how much these kids have grown up. Most ambitious is "Siberian Breaks," a 12-minute flashback to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Doors. It's the centerpiece of an album without any obvious singles for your piecemeal-downloading pleasure. Woven like a sonic tapestry, it's meant to be played from start to finish. Imagine that.

Laura Bell Bundy

Achin' and Shakin' |

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COUNTRY

Laura Bell Bundy goes from Broadway (she starred in Legally Blonde) to Nashville on her country debut, split evenly between Achin' ballads and Shakin' stompers. She fares much better at the slow stuff (like "Homecoming Queen"), as the uptempo cuts veer perilously close to show-tune territory.

Jakob Dylan

Women and Country |

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ALT-COUNTRY

On his 2008 solo debut, Seeing Things, Jakob Dylan explored folky new frontiers with Rick Rubin behind the boards. On Women and Country, the singer-songwriter again mines rootsy terrain with another producing giant, T Bone Burnett (who also helmed the Wallflowers' Bringing Down the Horse). The result is an evocative mood piece, with the pace never rising above a leisurely trot as Dylan takes on matters of the heart and of the nation. Best is "Everybody's Hurting," which, with Neko Case making one of her cameos, gives sweet comfort.

Jason Castro

Jason Castro |

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FOLK-POP

With his campfire-ready folk-pop and laid-back dudeness, Jason Castro came off like Jack Johnson lite-if ever there could be such a thing-on season 7 of American Idol, where he finished fourth. He brings the same charms to his full-length debut. But sorry, bro: Kris Allen has become the new and improved version of the strumming Idol.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Let's Just Fall in Love Again," the whistling, irresistibly breezy first single

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