Julia Nunes
Settle Down
3 stars

Fairport, N.Y., singer/songwriter/ukelele player Julia Nunes has used just about every type of social media tool at her disposal to get her music heard.

The bubbly 23-year-old originally came to the public's attention with YouTube performance videos of originals and covers - such as her delightful version of "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations - which now have views in the millions.

She raised funds to record "Settle Down," her fourth album through the Kickstarter website, and she has huge followings on Twitter and Facebook.

But none of that would matter if she didn't have the talent to go with her grassroots marketing savvy, and "Settle Down" makes that case strongly.

Using mostly acoustic instruments (mostly ukelele), vocal harmonies and simple percussive effects such as handclaps and finger-snaps, Nunes creates a captivating collection of sparkling pop tunes.

With its infectious hooks and Nunes' bright vocals, "Stay Awake" has all the earmarks of a hit single. "Lookout for Yourself" employs crisply recorded percussive elements in support of Nunes' acerbic lyrics, and love songs don't come any lovelier or more affecting than the delicate, understated "I Will Go Anywhere With You."

Social media may have jump-started her career, but "Settle Down" provides eye-opening, ear-pleasing evidence that Nunes has earned her growing popularity.

No Gods
4 stars

The first proper album from England's Sharks lives up to the promise showed on "The Joys of Living," last year's compilation of earlier recordings.

The quartet toured most of 2011, first opening for Social Distortion, then as one of the highlights of the annual Warped Tour.

"No Gods" has the precision playing of a well-rehearsed band, but it also has something else: fire.

From the opening crashing chords of "'Til the Wonders Rise," Sharks serve up one roaring anthem after another, summoning up memories of the Clash at its most soaring and powerful.

What separates "No Gods" from its punk-rock forebears, though, is this band's ability to harness crunching guitars to serve its carefully constructed melodies.

Vocalist/guitarist James Mattock sings superbly throughout, yet never needs to resort to shouting, screaming or other histrionics to put these songs across.

Despite the obscure title, the "Hey rudy rudy" refrain on "Arcane Effigies" will have you singing along after one listen.

"Matthew's Baby" has an even more explosive chorus, slammed home by the band's thunderous delivery.

Tracks such as the trumpet-aided "Patient Spider" (the best song about a spider since the Who's "Boris the Spider") and the dialed-down pop-rocker "On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself" provide needed variation from the relentless guitar attack.

With its bracing blend of ringing riffs and well-crafted songs, "No Gods" sets Sharks blissfully apart from its mostly anemic indie-rock peers.