• The Good, the Bad and the Queen, 'The Good, the Bad and the Queen' (Virgin)

    After the high-concept pop art of Gorillaz, it's startling to see Damon Albarn in a rock group again. But the Good, the Bad and the Queen -- his shorthand description of London -- isn't Blur 2.0. What began as a solo project became something else entirely when he recorded some tracks in Nigeria with Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen; the two were later joined by Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Clash bassist Paul Simonon. But even with all the name players involved, Albarn focuses the spotlight on the songs, which are terrific. Where Blur was often brash, these days Albarn finds himself adrift in despondency, crooning tragic melodies and longing for better days.

  • Yusuf, 'An Other Cup' (Ya/Atlantic)

    Nearly three decades after quitting secular pop to seek fulfillment in the Islamic faith, the former Cat Stevens revisits his old turf, sounding weirdly unchanged. While '70s hits like "Wild World" studied youthful innocence and adult experience, Yusuf's supple folk tunes predictably take a more spiritual route, yet largely avoid cosmic corn. "Maybe There's a World" echoes John Lennon's utopian "Imagine," although an anxious cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" does acknowledge real-world tensions. Now Hear This:Yusuf - "Heaven Where Love Goes" DOWNLOAD MP3 >> Listen to Yusuf on Napster BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Earl Greyhound, 'Soft Targets' (Some)

    As heavy as Led Zeppelin, but way less obnoxious, Earl Greyhound update traditional hard rock by leaving out the crotch-happy swagger, with terrific results. Fronted by excitable guitarist Matt Whyte, the New York trio seem happiest when they're trying to simulate an earthquake on the pounding "S.O.S.," though even the Beatles-esque "Good" produces a wicked rumble. For that, credit rude drummer Ricc Sheridan, who cheerfully tries to demolish each song, regardless of style. Now Hear This: Earl Greyhound - "S.O.S." DOWNLOAD MP3 On SPIN.com:Artist of the Day: Earl Greyhound BUY: Amazon

  • The Low Frequency in Stereo, 'The Last Temptation Of...' (Gigantic Music)

    Creating good trash rock is tricky -- come on too silly or too smart and you kill the buzz. This Norwegian quartet get it just right on their breezy third album, flinging punk aggression, surf-guitar twang, new-wave angst, and psychedelic weirdness into the same tangy, overheated stew. Highlights include a hypnotic, ten-minute head trip and the giddy theme for an imaginary '70s action flick, as the caffeinated grooves make up for the relatively unformed songwriting. Now Hear This: The Low Frequency in Stereo - "Axes" DOWNLOAD MP3 On SPIN.com: The Low Frequency In Stereo Deliver 'Axes' BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Honeycut, 'The Day I Turned to Glass' (Quannum Projects)

    Old-fashioned soul music collides with the age of endless uncertainty on this San Francisco trio's debut. As RV Salters plays mood synthesizer riffs, promising romance and intrigue, Tony Sevener's drum programs produce brittle grooves that offer cold comfort. Meanwhile, Bart Davenport carefully approaches the abyss. Whether playing an icky lounge crooner or sliding into an eerie falsetto, he always seems to be looking over his shoulder, waiting for the next threat to surface. Now Hear This:Honeycut - "Shadows" DOWNLOAD MP3 Now Watch This:Honeycut live at the Apple Store, San Francisco BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Lemonheads, 'The Lemonheads' (Vagrant)

    Credibility long gone, Evan Dando searches for a new identity on the first Lemonheads record in ten years, soliciting Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, the Band's Garth Hudson, and the Descendents' rhythm section for backup. This time, will he be the cute Boston punk rocker of the '80s or the even cuter People magazine pinup of the '90s? Dando chooses maximum accessibility, offering agreeably chunky guitar pop, through the violent revenge ballad "Baby's Home" hints at boiling rage behind the charming façade. Now Hear This: Lemonheads - "No Backbone" DOWNLOAD MP3 >> Listen to the Lemonheads on Napster BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • MewithoutYou, 'Brother, Sister' (Tooth & Nail)

    MewithoutYou isn't a Christian group, at least not in the conventional (read: lame) sense of the term. The band plays snarling post-punk, sort of like early U2 but angrier, and you don't have to share singer Aaron Weiss' faith to empathize with his feeling of being trapped between what he is and what he hopes to be. He sees God in a spider, wonders whether being "technically a virgin" is a plus or a minus, hates on himself something crazy: "There I go again, so impressed by how well I put myself down," he sings on "Wolf Am I!

  • Yo La Tengo, 'I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass' (Island)

    Two decades on, Yo La Tengo remain true to their Velvet Underground roots, leading off I Am Not Afraid with "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," a magnificent ten-minute tsunami of guitar noise. Elsewhere, Ira Kaplan's crew opts for diversity, flitting gracefully from ornery psychobilly to falsetto soul to twinkling folk rock. But that opening salvo -- and its furious twin, "The Story of Yo La Tango" -- are the tracks you'll return to again and again. Now Hear This: Yo La Tengo - "Beanbag Chair" (Download MP3) On SPIN.com Yo La Tengo Craft Soundtrack COMMENT BUY: iTunesAmazon

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