• The New Pornographers, 'Twin Cinema' (Matador)

    Brian Eno once surmised that most pop songs don't have backing vocals, but most hit songs do. People don't want to hear soliloquies -- they want to hear a conversation, or imagine themselves as part of one. (When you're playing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the car, do you sing along with Freddie Mercury? No, everybody chants "Scaramouche! Scaramouche!") The New Pornographers' third album, Twin Cinema, is a giddy all-night conversation: The Vancouver power-pop band's seven members (and guests) jump in on each other's lines, trade off phrases, unite for chorales.

  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, 'Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus' (Mute)

    It has to be tough being Nick Cave -- taking off your coal-black trench coat, lecturing your lady about the darkness in your soul, calling down a curse from the Lord on the upstairs neighbors, and shooting out the lights. But the black-hole gravity Cave cultivates gives the Australian crooner asolemn authority that recalls his idol Johnny Cash (memorialized here on "Let the Bells Ring"). The pile-drivingAbattoir Blues disc of this double album opens with one of the greatest songs of Cave's 26-year career, "Get Ready For Love," a torrential rocker about divine love as encroaching terror. "Praise Him!" yells the London Community Gospel Choir, and Cave, his powerhouse baritone trembling, goes them one better: "Praise Him until you've forgotten what you're praising Him for!"Last year's logorrheic explosion "Babe, I'm on Fire" seems to have launched Cave to new heights of verbal invention.

  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus

    Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus Mute It has to be tough being Nick Cave-coming home at night, taking off your coal-black trench coat, lecturing your lady about the darkness in your soul, calling down a curse from the Lord on the upstairs neighbors, and shooting out the lights. But the black-hole gravity Cave cultivates gives the Australian crooner a solemn authority that recalls his idol Johnny Cash (memorialized here on "Let the Bells Ring"). The pile-driving Abattoir Bluesdisc of this double album opens with one of the greatest songs of Cave's 26-year career, "Get Ready for Love," a torrential rocker about divine love as encroaching terror.

  • The Cure, 'The Cure' (I Am/Geffen)

    Robert Smith is bucking for a promotion from alterna-gloom standard-bearer to timeless rock god. His comfortingly tortured croak has been everywhere lately: on this summer's Ozzfest-style Curiosa tour (with younger bands Interpol and the Rapture, who owe the Cure big time), crooning with blink-182 and Junkie XL, hitting the club charts as guest vocalist for house producer Junior Jack, headlining the Coachella festival, and remaking the old Cure single "A Forest"--twice. All of which was a buildup to the best-sounding album the Cure have made since their younger fans were born. Slipknot/Limp Bizkit producer Ross Robinson was smart enough to record them playing live in the studio, and they rock like the hair-raising live band they've become since the current lineup stabilized nine years ago.

  • The Rapture, 'Echoes' (Strummer/DFA/Universal) ; Various Artists, 'DFA Records Compilation #1' (DFA)

    The Rapture, 'Echoes' (Strummer/DFA/Universal) ; Various Artists, 'DFA Records Compilation #1' (DFA)

    The not-so-secret heroes of dance music and hip-hop aren't singers or rappers, but producers. Bold-faced beatmakers like Timbaland and the Neptunes have become stars in their own right, relegating their collaborators to the passenger seat of the Escalade. Producers James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, who call themselves the DFA (Death From Above), create underground rock the same way--building records from the groove up, making their own recognizable sound, even launching a label to feature their work. It's an unnerving idea to a scene obsessed with liveness and realness, but they've gotten a year long string of fabulous singles and remixes out of it. The DFA's most notorious produce-ees are the Rapture, whose jolting disco-punk anthem "House of Jealous Lovers" was an enormous underground hit last year, despite being a vinyl-only single that got zero radio play.

  • Various Artists, 'Red Hot + Riot' (MCA)

    It's a bitter irony that Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Africa's most famous and politically potent pop musician, became a symbol of the African AIDS crisis when he died of the disease in 1997, after claiming for years that it didn't exist. It's a much sweeter irony that the Red Hot Organization, which pioneered the concept of all-star tribute-albums that don't suck, assembled this lively, independent-minded Fela tribute to fight AIDS in Africa. Fela's favorite trick was generating funk tension very slowly--on his records, a single groove could build and evolve for 45 minutes.Red Hot + Riot wisely adapts his approach for shorter attention spans: The tricky rhythms and clipped guitar lines remain intact, but a new instrument or guest star pops up every few seconds.

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