• Lyrics Born, 'Everywhere at Once' (Anti-)

    A son of the same East Bay scene that spawned DJ Shadow and Blackalicious, Lyrics Born always has balanced a faith in old-school funk with a flair for quippy homilies. Here, he adopts the same wry, level-headed tack whether grappling with shopaholic tendencies or relationship problems, but relegates his gruff, insouciant MC flow to merely another sonic element among the rubbery bass and synth burbles. The result is less an uncommonly danceable indie-rap disc than it is an uncommonly thoughtful groove album. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Rilo Kiley, 'Under the Blacklight' (Warner Bros.)

    Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis covered the Traveling Wilburys' wizened 1988 sing-along "Handle With Care" on her solo debut last year, and she wasn't kidding. Under the Blacklight lets us know just how not kidding she was. Clearly, "I love the '80s" means many things to many people, and these Los Angeles indie-rockers gone major are too wily to settle for cheeky synth-pop pastiche. Instead, with producers Jason Lader and Mike Elizondo (the Dr.

  • Gogol Bordello, 'Super Taranta!' (Sideonedummy)

    Eugene Hütz's revolution has hit a snag. On 2005's Gypsy Punks Underground World Strike, the Gogol Bordello frontman roused hordes of rabble from the urban immigrant stew he dubbed "the Gypsy part of town" toward two radical goals: a joyously chaotic hedonism and a borderless planet populated by interracial mongrels. Two years later, gentility threatens the first ("No can do this, no can do that," the firebrand grumbles on "Tribal Connections"); and Hütz acknowledges the second's downside on "Zina-Marina," in which Ukrainian girls are lured into Middle Eastern slavery by Top Model promises. And don't get him started on that lousy "American Wedding" -- over by 1 a.m., you call that a party? Undaunted, Hütz declares his new "Supertheory of Supereverything" and his indebtedness to the tarantella, an Italian folk song and dance.

  • Björk, 'Volta' (One Little Indian/ Atlantic)

    It takes a brave woman to second-guess Timbaland. Or a foolish one. Or Björk. Word that the Icelandic iconoclast had retwiddled the results of her in-studio tryst with Mr. Mosely dashed any hopes that she'd abandon herself to horny megapop escapism. And Volta's amazing opener, "Earth Intruders," dispels any doubts about the strength of her arty instincts. Over Tim's stomping beat (weirdly redolent of the introductory jackboots of Never Mind the Bollocks), Björk layers percussive clatter from the Congolese ensemble Konono No. 1 for a funky stomp that's equal parts pre- and postmodern. She channels that avant-trad feeling into the brassy arrangements, suitable for both a medieval Viking fortress or contemporary concert hall.

  • Brother Ali, 'The Undisputed Truth' (Rhymesayers)

    As befits an albino Muslim MC, this Minneapolis stalwart sets out to embody apparent contradictions. But the "thugged-out nerd" who peppers battle raps with Koranic wisdom is something way sexier and smarter than the "Howard Stern meets Howard Zinn" hybrid he suggests.He's a doting dad who bristles with electric decency at everyday injustice and crows that "for me, 'not broke' is rich." Producer Ant perfectly underscores Ali's gruff cadence, simultaneously self-assured and stressed, with a melodic lope that scrunches soul vocals underneath loops of bluesy guitar. Now Hear This:Brother Ali - "Uncle Sam Goddamn" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • RJD2, 'The Third Hand' (XL)

    Well, it's 2007 -- what self-respecting artist could spend his whole life as a trip-hop DJ? In 2004, the Philly transplant's more song-oriented Since We Last Spoke disturbed the visions of DJ Shadow dancing in the heads of fans who gravitated to his debut tour de groove, Deadringer. Now he's left his label Def Jux and definitively moved on from underground rap to one-man bedroom pop, longer on nuance than hook, as textured synths and harmonies shimmer with that "my roommate's asleep" feel. Sharp beats, though -- as an indie-pop musician, he's one damn fine trip-hop DJ. Now Hear This: RJD2 - "Beyond the Beyond" DOWNLOAD MP3 RJD2 - "Get It" DOWNLOAD MP3 >> Listen to RJD2 on Napster BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The Streets, 'The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living' (Vice)

    If you don't think pop stardom is a total drag, well then, you must not be very famous. Just ask Britney or Lindsay, Michael or Madonna. Now even Mike Skinner has lent his 'umble mumble to this all-star chorus of lamentation. With The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, the 26-year-old British MC/producer, better known as the Streets, flirts with the perilous self-indulgence of celebrity autobiography. But with his knack for extracting humor from the mundane, Skinner's the perfect poet for this snooze of a topic: Tedium is his medium. His perspective on the annoyances that beset the hapless and famous hardly differs from his insight into "a day in the life of a geezer," which he surveyed on his 2002 debut, Original Pirate Material. Geezer's famous now. In Britain, anyway. Rather than get Jenny-from-the-block on us, though, Skinner focuses on the specifics of his day-to-day routine.

  • Belle and Sebastian, 'The Life Pursuit' (Matador)

    Stuart Murdoch knows from adolescent identity crisis. As the leader of Scottish folk-pop bookworms Belle and Sebastian, he's lisped the prematurely jaded journal jottings of the precocious characters in his songs for close to a decade. If at times he's overindulged the brats, well, how better to reveal the insecurities behind their kinky, highfalutin boasts? But the 37-year-old Murdoch has somewhat less perspective on B'n'S's own identity crisis. After a cumbersome attempt to institute a songwriting democracy in 2000 with Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, band member Isobel Campbell departed, following Stuart David, who had already left. Three years later Murdoch brought on producer Trevor Horn, who dressed up Dear Catastrophe Waitress in a glitzy wardrobe of '60s pop frippery. After that hearty, rewarding belly flop, The Life Pursuit is a series of cautious toe-dips.

  • Morningwood, 'Morningwood' (Capitol)

    Chantal Claret has a message for all the "little kids who love the rock'n'roll" out there, with their tattoos and effed-up haircuts: "You sure got the style, but you ain't got the soul." Funny thing is, said dilettantes have probably already sung along with those lyrics at a Morningwood show, posted an MP3 of the group's album opener, "Nü Rock," on their blogs, or, hell, made out with a member of the band. Indeed, Morningwood emerge from the most hyper-hyped depths of New York scenedom; Claret met bassist and songwriting partner Pedro Yanowitz at Sean Lennon's birthday party, for cripe's sake. Takes one to know one. Okay, we'll play fair: Morningwood's not all style. Their gutsy spirit, while not "soul" exactly, does allow the band to dodge flippant dismissals of poseurhood. And catchy tuneage prevails.

  • The Fiery Furnaces, 'Rehearsing My Choir' (Rough Trade)

    Rock siblings aren't like the rest of us. Their harmonies can blend almost incestuously, as though locking away family mysteries in a mesh of notes. Though Matt Friedberger mostly leaves the singing to his sister, Eleanor, the duo codes its art pop in a private language only the genetically linked share. The Fiery Furnaces' debut, Gallowsbird's Bark, sutured a garage-rock backbone to pop ectoplasm reminiscent of Brian Eno's spacey '70s miniatures, creating a delight so familiar it seemed almost fathomable. Their 2004 follow-up, Blueberry Boat, demanded not just full attention but utter devotion. Critics compared its mangled narratives and mingled tunelets with a DJ master mix or Brian Wilson's Smile.

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