• Kylesa, 'Static Tensions' (Prosthetic)

    Veteran murky metal band Kylesa come from Savannah, Georgia, where the summer air hangs like a damp rag and the thunder cracks louder than God. Fitting, then, that Static, the band's fourth full-length, sounds like home. On standout ground-shakers "To Walk Alone" and "Running Red," guitarist-vocalists Phillip Cope (he growls about dreams) and Laura Pleasants (she keens indecipherably) summon amorphous detuned riffs covered in reverb that suddenly snap into distorted single-note flurries. Throughout, drummers Carl McGinley and Eric Hernandez play tight, tribal beats. The heat subsides at times, but it never breaks. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Ben Harper and Relentless7, 'White Lies for Dark Times' (Virgin)

    On his first album with a new backing band (featuring members of indie rockers Oliver Future), rootsy vet Ben Harper offers up an impressive array of American music, ranging from muddy blues to eerie folk toHendrixian wah-wah. On the inspirational "Shimmer and Shine," you even get a bit of all three. But the fact that the album's best moments are in the details -- a fiery lick, a wailing vocal ad-lib -- speaks to the singer- guitarist's recurring problems: secondhand song structures and little to say beyond self-helpy reiterations of lyrical beatitudes. BUY: iTunesAmazon

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    Five Artists That Should Play Las Vegas

    On May 27, Carlos Santana begins an exclusive engagement at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He'll perform about 36 concerts a year at the 4000-seat Joint, backed by a full band, including trumpet, trombone, congas, and timbales. The legendary guitar shaman isn't the first music star to snag such a residency: Elton John, Cher, and Celine Dion have all played extended Sin City runs.

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    Why Don't I Care About Keith Urban?

    Chalk one up for boring guys: Keith Urban's Defying Gravity beat out Prince's LotusFlow3r to land at No. 1 on this week's Billboard album chart. The New Zealand-born, Australian-raised singer-songwriter-guitarist (and husband of Nicole Kidman) has been building towards this: His last two studio albums, 2006's Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing and 2004's Be Here, both hit No. 3. And at this year's Grammy Awards, he was given a prime spot on the Bo Diddley tribute alongside John Mayer and B.B. King. Despite all that, I have an Urban-shaped hole in my record collection -- one that I won't rush to fill. I think Taylor Swift is a gifted ing�nue, and I find Brad Paisley endearingly quirky. So why do I feel like it's okay to overlook Keith Urban? When Love came out three years ago, I remember having similar thoughts about the guy -- he's popular, why don't I care?

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    Top 10 Prince Songs of All Time

    If you happen to stop into a Target this weekend and see a preponderance of people clad in purple, don't be alarmed -- they're just Prince fans. On Sunday, three albums from rock's reigning funk genius will go on sale exclusively at the retailer (though you can also get them by buying a membership to the artist's Lotusflow3r.com website). As a Prince fan, I'm keen to hear the eccentrically titled albums (the guitar-heavy LOtusFLOW3R, electronic-oriented MPLSoUND, and pop-centric Elixer -- featuring Bria Valente on vocals), but I'm keeping my expectations low. Historically, the Minneapolis funkateer's best work doesn't come in big packages. I've listened to all of 1998's four-disc Crystal Ball. It's highly unlikely I'll do it again.

  • Mastodon, 'Crack the Skye' (Reprise)

    Mastodon may be heavy, but they're sure as hell not dull. Leviathan, from 2004, was a bruising explication of Moby Dick. Two years later, the band allegorized signing with a major label as a quest to the top of Blood Mountain. And the Atlanta quartet matched its weighty themes with unpredictable, intelligent metal. It was a thrilling display. It was also all prelude. Inspired by family tragedy, interstellar wormholes, Rasputin, and guitarist Brent Hinds' recovery from a fractured skull, Crack the Skye is a seven-song, 50-minute phantasmagoria of psychedelic song structures, cosmic lyrics, and foreboding atmosphere. Opener "Oblivion" provides a fiery summary of what's to come, as mystical allusions ("I flew beyond the sun before it was time"), sinister vocal harmonies, and furious instrumental passages explode in Zeppelin-esque grandeur before receding into eerie darkness.

  • Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, 'Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band' (Dead Oceans)

    As befits a mixed-race, -gender, and -generation band, this Seattle quintet never settles for the status quo. Bluesy single-note guitar lines compete with jagged chording, the bass thumps out counter-melodies, strained yelping dissolves into pastoral harmony. Yet it all coheres thanks to frontman Benjamin Verdoes' pop instincts and the band's jittery energy. For now, the music is ahead of the ho-hum lovelorn lyrics, and some tracks are fussy rather than fiery, but check the scattershot seven-minute closer, "On the Collar," to hear how Mt. St. Helens explodes expectations. Listen: "Anchors Dropped" BUY: iTunesAmazon

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    Four Questions with No Doubt

    No Doubt kick off their first tour in more than five years on May 5, at New Jersey's Bamboozle Festival (see all tour dates). To get the inside details on what fans can expect from the longtime Orange County hitmakers, we sat down with them recently in Los Angeles: Don't Call it a ReunionDrummer Adrian Young wants to clarify something. "I feel like everywhere I look people are saying, Oh Blink-182 is getting back together and Jane's Addiction is getting together and No Doubt is getting back together. As far as I know, those other guys broke up. We never did. It's frustrating to keep hearing that." And the Survey Says?Because they haven't played live in five years, the band were curious to know what songs their audience wanted to hear. A survey on their website provided the answer.

  • Chris Cornell, 'Scream' (Interscope/Mosley)

    Produced with a heavy hand by Timbaland, the third solo album from ex-Soundgarden and Audioslave singer Chris Cornell is strangely appealing in its elaborately empty efficiency. Gleaming ballads like "Long Gone" and the title track wring mild drama from a combination of Cornell's husky crooning and stacks of portentous Phil Collins–derived synths. As Akon knockoffs go, some of this stuff isn't bad, but the fast numbers ("Time," "Get Up"), with Cornell's angsty rock-god vocals ricocheting off Timbo's skittering beats, are fresher and more enjoyable, at least in a monkey-riding-a-tricycle sort of way. BUY: iTunesAmazon

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    Gay Rap: Straight Outta the Closet

    From N.W.A. to Eminem, rap has never had much truck with taboos. But despite a history of pushing the edge to the center, there's one boundary the music is still struggling to cross. "I've stopped thinking about reaching straight people," says Captain Magik, 28, a self-described "young, gay, and proud" Cleveland MC with a raspy, Nas-like flow. "I had enough problems at my day job when I came out. How can I expect support from something as homophobic as hip-hop?" He's not the only one looking for answers. More than a decade after artists like Man Parrish, Deep Dickollective, and Rainbow Flava introduced gay voices to the hip-hop underground, a new generation of rappers are still struggling to escape from their subcultural ghetto. It's not for lack of effort.

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