• sBach, 'sBACH' (Suicide Squeeze)

    Here's some déjà vu for fans of Hella guitarist Spencer Seim's Nintendo-spazz side project the Advantage and his solo half of Hella's 2005 double album Church Gone Wild/Chirpin' Hard (he was responsible for the latter disc). Basically, Seim attempts the same video-music-gone-rock theme via lo-fi electronics, though it's more mannered and less playful here -- imagine Sonic the Hedgehog simply jogging.But since his guitar runs so resemble the lovably cheesy synth pop of vintage games, his numbered-not-named songs retain a familiar charm, from the dreamy sweetness of "06" to the screaming speed metal of "03" to the industrial pop of "05." BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Centro-matic/South San Gabriel, 'Dual Hawks' (Misra)

    Singer/songwriter Will Johnson masterminded this split double CD as a way to unite both of his decade-old bands. Centro-matic rounds out scraggly Southern rock with power pop, balancing neurotic pain and desperate joy on loose-limbed rockers such as "Twenty-Four" and "Quality Strange," framed by Johnson's gorgeously aching voice. South San Gabriel (basically Centro-matic plus guests) goes for calmer, prettier alt country, decorated with elegant strings. The haunted a cappella of "My Goodbyes" and the melancholy images of "Alabama Crusade" recall prime Elliott Smith. Opening for Drive-By Truckers is Johnson's reward, but you wish that DBT were as ambitious nowadays. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Excepter, 'Debt Dept.' (Paw Tracks)

    If Britney Spears channeled her bipolar instability into bizarre dance music, she still wouldn't sound as disoriented as this creepy Brooklyn ensemble. On their sixth album, distant, disembodied voices collide with hilariously lo-fi drum-machine crashes and rubbery synths. On the insanely gleeful "Kill People," the title is moaned and screamed like an audition for a slasher flick, the slamming flourish of "Any and Every" sounds like cruising music for necrophiliacs, and the majestic "Walk Through the Night" could be an industrial blues. As P-Funk babbled, "Psychoalphadiscobeta!" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, '13 Blues for Thirteen Moons' (Constellation)

    Possibly spooked by the specter of global warming, this freakfolk spin-off from Godspeed You! Black Emperor shakes the new-age romanticism of their earlier albums and makes like a doomsday cult. The Montreal group has never sounded so desperate or epic as on their fifth album's four earth-scorching, quarter-hour compositions. The broken rhythms and angry call-and-response of the title track, and the bitter, sustained drone of "Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues" are relieved only by the soothing strings and weary, defiant vocals of "BlindBlindBlind." Perhaps it's no surprise Godspeed recently went on hiatus, expressing frustration with the band's message in the shadow of the Iraq War. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Caribou, 'Andorra' (Merge)

    The fourth Caribou album by multi-instrumentalist Dan Snaith (who has also recorded electronic music under the moniker Manitoba) sounds like it was hatched in a '60s West Coast haze where melodies billow up like bong smoke. Snaith now claims he's taking time to compose sons, rather than winging it in the studio, and these sticky-pop confections are the result, full of lithe vocals (including a Junior Boys cameo on the indelible "She's the One"), swooning keyboards, distant drums, and assorted benign flashbacks. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Wheat, 'Everyday I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One Inch Square' (Empyrean)

    After their minor 2003 hit "I Met a Girl" and a prolonged hiatus, this hooky Massachusetts band returns with its fourth and most rousing collection of heart-on-sleeve anthems. Boasting church organs, yearning vocals, and strings, they're no less self-possessed than Arcade Fire, and you probably won't hear three such beautifully sweeping songs start another album this year: the majestic, devotional rock of "Closeness," the hopeful (almost folk-funk!) bounce of "Little White Dove," and the existential, Pavement-gone-power-pop groove of "Move=Move." Now Hear This: Wheat - "Little White Dove" DOWNLOAD MP3 Now Watch This: Wheat - "Little White Dove" VIEW BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, 'Baby 81' (RCA)

    Fourth albums usually aren't peaks for bands, but these former next-big-thing drone rockers have never sounded more self-assured. The soulful edge they developed on 2005's roots detour Howl is evident on the folky "It's Not What You Wanted," while a recent attraction to Britpop yields expertly crafted songs like the angry, political "Weapon of Choice" and the brooding crooner "Window." Though singer Peter Hayes always had a heady, shades-on swagger, now he actually seems to believe what he's singing. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Book of Knots, 'Traineater' (Anti-)

    Don't just take note of this doomy Brooklyn art-rock combo (featuring members of Skeleton Key, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Pere Ubu) because of the cameos by their famous friends: Tom Waits growling ("Pray"), Jon Langford sneering ("Boomtown"), Mike Watt reciting in deadpan ("Pedro to Cleveland"). Also heed their smarts (imagine an earthier Mars Volta), Carla Kihlstedt's sweet vocals, and the desperate-times-in-the-Midwest theme that trumps John Mellencamp's retread Chevy-truck scenarios. Now Hear This: Book of Knots - "Pray" DOWNLOAD MP3 >> Listen to Book of Knots on Napster BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The One AM Radio, 'This Too Will Pass' (Dangerbird)

    Devendra Banhart a little too freaky for you? Then singer/guitarist/drummer/ cellist Hrishikesh Hirway may be the answer. Backed by mini string and horn sections, the Los Angeleno's third album has a relaxed, even-keeled feel, even though it was written while he shuttled between India and America dealing with personal upheavals. Think the Postal Service gone yoga or an un-self-conscious James Taylor gone minimal techno-though neither could come up with something as sweeping as "In the Time We've Got" or as dreamy as "Lest I Forget." Now Hear This: The One AM Radio - "Lest I Forget" DOWNLOAD MP3 >> Listen The One AM Radio on Napster BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Marissa Nadler, 'Bird on the Water' (Peacefrog)

    This Providence painter ditched her brush and transformed herself into a charming neo-folkie, summoning up effortless late-night reveries. Her third album features sweet, gentle vocals matched with lightly plucked guitar and the occasional cello or keyboard. Like any good artiste, Nadler digs strange things like raincoats and graves, but she's most memorable when paying tribute to gal pals: "Silvia" (a muse she finds underwater) and the tragically doomed "Rachel." Now Hear This: Marissa Nadler - "Silvia" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

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