SYLVAN ESSO No Rules Sandy (Loma Vista) — On their prior albums, it was sometimes difficult to discern whether Sylvan Esso wanted to master or deconstruct pop. They decisively elide that question on their fourth studio full-length, No Rules Sandy, by doing both at the same. Like bedazzled marauders swinging sledge hammers with keytar handles, the North Carolina duo romp through a set of songs designed to set the faithful into a state of mesmerized glee, whether they’re shedding sweat onto the dance floor or swaddling their noggin with headphones that effectively block all competing audible intrusions. The music here isn’t alarming in its reinvention, or even all that distant from what other iconoclasts are up to in this sonic space. “Moving” feels like it’s in dialogue with Masseduction-era St. Vincent and “Alarm” has a locked-in disco groove that invites seamless segues with countless other modern mirror ball spinners. And yet the album is consistently startling in its originality, playing like an extended treatise from Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn on just how consistently they can upend expectations when a rejection of rules in the first principle. In addition to the cuts already mentioned, play it right with the following: “Look at Me,” “Didn’t Care,” “Cloud Walker,” and “Sunburn.”
RAT TALLY In My Car (6131 Records) — For her first full-length as potent creative center of Rat Tally, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Addy Harris gives an indie rock master class. The songs are sweet with a tough center, like cotton candy swirling around a stick fashioned from a calcified bicycle chain. Across the songs, she’s forthright in her vulnerability, offering a musical memoir of the exhausting ennui of a twentysomething existing, in all its crummy rentals, doomed romance, and drifty friend ingloriousness. That places her in clear kinship with what might be best termed the boygenius aesthetic, which is pretty good company to be in these days. Sometimes, Harris even seems to lean into it, as on “Prettier,” which is close enough to Punisher peaks in its sound and sensibility (“I scared you in my old apartment/ Scared me too but now it’s not important”) that it’s only natural to imagine the sound of a skeleton costume sleeve flopping against the fretboard. Addy gets some help from likeminded artist Madeline Kenney and Jay Som, on “In My Car” and “White Girls,” respectively, and yet the combo of plaintive balladeering and guitar-wash chewy rock feels like its all her, in the best possible way. Easy as it to place In My Car within a broader movement of the moment, Rat Tally still stands as her own distinct music maker. And it’s riveting music to boot. In addition to the tracks mentions above, take a spin with “Longshot,” “Zombies,” “Phone,” and “Mount Auburn Cemetery,” the last of which is officially approved by the somber setting named in its lyrics.