• Mondo Generator, 'A Drug Problem That Never Existed' (Rekords Rekords/Ipecac) ; Fu Manchu, 'Go For It...Live!' (SPV)

    Mondo Generator, 'A Drug Problem That Never Existed' (Rekords Rekords/Ipecac) ; Fu Manchu, 'Go For It...Live!' (SPV)

    Back in 1995, when Kyuss finally disintegrated, nobody outside of a certain sunburned cult could've predicted that the Palm Desert goliaths would turn into an influence--that their wide-open spaces, deep-focus guitar, and lizard-killing low end would spawn an entire genre, known as "stoner rock." But here we are. And as it turns out, the best stoner-rock bands--and the ones most likely to push the form's boundaries--are the ones that feature Kyuss alums, like Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri's Queens of the Stone Age. Mondo Generator is Oliveri's side project; and the band's second album,A Drug Problem That Never Existed, traffics full-time in thek ind of raw, godless punk rock that's relegated to a handful of cuts on Queens' albums.

  • High on Fire, 'Surrounded By Thieves' (Relapse) ; Dredg, 'El Cielo' (Interscope)

    High on Fire, 'Surrounded By Thieves' (Relapse) ; Dredg, 'El Cielo' (Interscope)

    These two bands probably wouldn't recognize each other in line at the DMV. Dredg's post-Tool opus rock courts suburban kids who have had enough of rap metal. Oakland's High on Fire are underground thrash-sludge messiahs, the apocalypse's doomy, amp-destroying fifth horseman. But both bands are obsessed with rewiring metal clichés while staying true to the music's fundamentals. Dredg's El Cielo turns driving around L.A. without aThomas Guide into a quest for enlightenment. They evoke distant vistas--emotional, physical, spiritual, whatever--with elegant piano breaks and roomy hard(ish) rock. "Sympathy unfolds /The shell that holds / All the beauty within," croons singer Gavin Hayes on the rambling "Same Ol' Road." Dredg are shooting for a Major Statement here, but the album's weird majesty mostly calls attention to itself rather than the outside world.

  • Drive-By Truckers, 'Decoration Day' (New West) ; Kings of Leon, 'Youth and Young Manhood' (RCA)

    Drive-By Truckers, 'Decoration Day' (New West) ; Kings of Leon, 'Youth and Young Manhood' (RCA)

    Fashion trends notwithstanding, it's hard to picture Michael Stipe in a John Deere cap. R.E.M., those old con artists, were Southerners who stressed poetry and kudzu over regional pride, so they resonated with the indie-rock in-crowd as a rock band from the South, not a "Southern rock" band. Now that hipsters seeking new sources of grimy authenticity have "discovered" '70s artists like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, that distinction has blurred. But back then, Southern rock wasn't to be trusted--it was too backwoods for sophisticates, too jammy for punks, too redneck for the enlightened. A little too guilty of being white, or at least of whistling Dixie. Patterson Hood of the Alabama band Drive-By Truckers has clearly thought a lot about these issues.

  • Blood Brothers, 'Burn, Piano Island, Burn' (IM Recordings/Artist Direct)

    Some punk bands scream at walls. The Blood Brothers just reach for their sledgehammers. Sometime in the mid-'90s, hardcore stopped being obsessed with staying on message and started spazzing out. At basement shows and VFW halls, grimy guys with chain wallets and watch caps traded the genre's solemn idealism for musically hellacious, lyrically obtuse chaos. Seattle's Blood Brothers are part of this frenetic tradition, and on their third album, Burn, Piano Island, Burn--produced by nü-metal maestro Ross Robinson--they sound like they're too busy tearing their limbs off and hitting one another over the head with them to think about what the songs actually mean. To his credit, Robinson doesn't try to give the band's panicked punk a radio-friendly makeover; he just points a microphone at the explosion and runs for cover.

  • Cat Power, 'You Are Free' (Matador)

    When Chan Marshall sings, it sounds like a bloodletting--emotional, literal, whichever. On albums like 1996's What Would the Community Think, Marshall seemed to open a new vein with every note. Her follow-up, Moon Pix, threw a country-rock gauze over her brooding, while 2000's medium-brilliant The Covers Record found Marshall twisting a few favorite tunes to fit her patented monochrome delivery. But no matter how she dresses her flat-line folk songs, her head's never been a fun place to visit. On her fifth LP, Marshall's still paying rent on her own private hell. But the striking You Are Free finds her surrounded by famous friends. Newly rediscovered utility outfielder Dave Grohl plays his gentlest drums ever, Eddie Vedder contributes atmospheric mumbling, and David "Beck's dad" Campbell arranges some strings.

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