• Dead Meadow, 'Old Growth' (Matador)

    Psychedelic blues rockers Dead Meadow relocated from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles last year, and their sixth album sounds reenergized by the scenery change. The trio still combine '60s garage jangle with thick jams that channel Iron Butterfly heaviness, but their new songs are sunnier and jumpier than 2005's dirgeful Feathers. There's also a more melodic tinge, as spacey explorations "Till Kingdom Come" and "Seven Seers" get a boost from hummable hooks and mostly fuzz-free production. Frontman Jason Simon exploits the extra breathing room, using his ghostly croon to spin trippy tales about hard-living dreamers and their near-religious hallucinations. Now Hear These:"What Needs Must Be" MP3, "I'm Gone" MP3 Now Watch This: "What Needs Must Be" BUY: iTunesAmazon

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    Who's Next '08: Margot & the Nuclear So and So's

    In a nutshell: Eight dreamy, world-weary Indianapolis musicians brought together by a shared love of woodsy Americana and chamber pop. Their cello-laden debut, 2006's The Dust of Retreat, caught the attention of Epic Records; the band signed on without reservation. "I grew up playing music in basements, thinking it wasn't cool to [sign with a major]," says frontman Richard Edwards, 24, who cofounded the group with Andy Fry, 32, whom he met in a pet store in 2004. "But you figure out that it isn't about being cool or uncool. Plus, I just got a new amplifier for the first time since I was 15. It rules." What's the big deal: An alterna-troubadour in the vein of Conor Oberst, Edwards has the kind of wounded-fella vibe that makes you want to take him home and pour him a mug of chamomile tea.

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    Who's Next '08: Black Tide

    "It's the fucking weather," says 15-year-old Black Tide lead singer/guitarist Gabe Garcia, explaining why Florida produces so many extreme-metal bands, such as Deicide and Obituary. "The heat makes everybody go crazy, and the humidity makes you angry." Plenty of teenagers are pissed off, but few get the chance to vent their rage by reinterpreting Reagan-era thrash in front of thousands. Despite the fact that not a single member of the quartet -- which includes guitarist Lex Nunez, bassist Zakk Sandler, and drummer Steven Spence -- has celebrated his 20th birthday yet, Black Tide have played at Ozzfest, opened for Avenged Sevenfold, and scored a major-label deal. Yes, they're shred prodigies, and they know it.

  • Lupe Fiasco, 'Lupe Fiasco's The Cool' (Atlantic/1st & 15th)

    German filmmaker Werner Herzog makes documentaries, but he's not a documentarian per se, since he blurs what's real and fake, sometimes staging events that he passes off as reality, or even outright lying. The hip-hop world has Lupe Fiasco, a Chicago gentleman possessing exquisite technical ability who does not care about the structures and rules of his chosen genre. There is certainly an enormous amount of rapping on The Cool, but that's about where the record's relationship to current hip-hop ends. The beats pulsate rather than bang, Lupe's voice dances in and out of shadows, hooks rarely appear. Instead, Fiasco approaches his second album as if it's his last chance to get all his conflicted ideas out into the open.

  • Puscifer, 'V Is for Vagina' (Puscifer Entertainment)

    Through four albums of dark, existential art metal, Tool have cast a spooky shadow, but the underlying truth about the band (and frontman Maynard James Keenan) is that they're pretty cheeky. Ænima featured a big single about fisting, a nod to acerbic comic Bill Hicks, and "Die Eier Von Satan," whose lyrics sound like a Nazi salvo but are really a recipe for cookies. Keenan's latest round of yuks is his solo project Puscifer, which first surfaced as a fictional band on the sketch-comedy TV series Mr. Show. Though V Is for Vagina has metal elements, it's totally gothed-up groin music, and at the center of it all is Keenan's voice, which is mostly embedded in the mix on Tool albums.

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    Jukebox Jury

    In addition to their awesome 'fros, our esteemed jurors had something else in common this year: Both took cautious steps away from the outfits that made them famous. Andy Samberg -- fresh off his unlikely Emmy win for "Dick in a Box" -- tried to ride Hot Rod toward leading-man status, even as his ubiquitous Saturday Night Live digital shorts remained Monday-morning in-box staples. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. strayed from the currently dormant Strokes with his tuneful solo debut, Yours to Keep (and has another he hopes to release in '08). The verdicts are in -- what say you, dudes? The White Stripes"Icky Thump"Jack White grinds out four minutes of filthy garage blues whose title became a dirty euphemism after a fake Meg White sex tape surfaced. HAMMOND: I haven't heard this. It's hard to judge.SAMBERG: It's playing right now. Just say you like it.

  • Chamillionaire, 'Ultimate Victory' (Chamillitary/ Universal)

    In hip-hop, the only thing worse than not having a hit is actually having one. Case in point: Amid the blowup of the Houston syrup scene that delivered bangers from Paul Wall and Slim Thug, Chamillionaire clubbed everybody with "Ridin'," a bombastic tune that became 2006's unofficial summer jam. So ubiquitous was the singsongy hook that it became the biggest-selling ringtone of all time and somehow made everybody think verse-dropping guest Krayzie Bone was worth a damn. But Ultimate Victory shows Cham now struggling. A wildly talented rhymer, he's capable of a slow-rolling cadence or double-time tongue-twisting, and is at his best cutting people down. (This time around, targets include Bill O'Reilly, George W. Bush, Michael Richards, and Don Imus.) But Cham gets distracted by money an awful lot.

  • Jamie T, 'Panic Prevention' (Caroline)

    More than a decade later, a lot of people still have a hard time getting over Beck's Mellow Gold. The latest mix of marble-mouthed rapping, bedroom Casio beats, and postmodern rail-riding folk comes care of Englishman Jamie T. The Mercury Prize-nominated Panic Prevention focuses squarely on Jamie's voice, which has a gently snarling cadence that recalls a less-stoned Mike Skinner. When he sticks to cheeky storytelling (as on "Sheila" and "Calm Down Dearest"), the album gains grimy traction, but empty dirges like "Pacemaker" send it drifting into novelty territory. Now Hear This: Jamie T - "Salvador" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Atreyu, 'Lead Sails Paper Anchor' (Hollywood)

    On their fourth album and major-label debut, this metallic California quintet prune some thorns from their prickly sound, overtly moving in a more pop-savvy direction. And considering the rote barking and generic riffage of 2006's A Death-Grip on Yesterday, it's a wise decision. Alex Varkatzas powerfully flexes his arena croon, and some surprisingly bold melodies sneak through the obligatory blare of "Doomsday" and first single "Becoming the Bull." Still, Lead Sails too often descends into a monochromatic roar broken up by relentlessly overblown guitar solos. Now Hear This: Atreyu - "Becoming the Bull" WINDOWS MEDIA HIGH | LOW | REAL HIGH | LOW BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Still Remains, 'The Serpent' (Roadrunner)

    Ostensibly, this Michigan six-piece carries the metalcore torch lit by Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. But the band's synth-heavy sound doesn't reflexively fall back on jack-hammer riffs and Cookie Monster bellows. The Serpent moves from epic balladry ("Maria") to squiggly, Europe-esque sports metal ("Sleepless Nights Alone"), and even neo-disco (the stunning "Dancing With the Enemy"). Not everything sticks ("The Wax Walls of an Empty Room" is as clunky as the title), but T.J. Miller possesses a moan-shout that adroitly adapts to the band's shifting styles. Now Hear This: Still Remains - "The Wax Walls of an Empty Room" WINDOWS MEDIA BUY: iTunesAmazon

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