• Rahim, 'Ideal Lives' (Frenchkiss)

    Jungles, the first EP from the New York trio Rahim, was a pretty straightforward little beast of a record. The band wore their Dischord influences like a neon faux-vintage T-shirt, and it was easy to compare them to Q and Not U or Gang of Four, depending on your personal musical lodestone. For four songs, their angular post-punk was genuinely impressive, but even in that short space, the songs could go on too long and the flat, effect-free vocals could become tiresome. With their debut full-length, Ideal Lives, the band accomplishes one of the most difficult things in the world of music: They move their sound forward and incorporate more of their influences without abandoning their earlier sonic identity. Ideal Lives still has that old D.C. sound.

  • The Ladies, 'They Mean Us' (Temporary Residence Limited)

    Zach Hill is the crazy, Animal-from-The-Muppets-on-crack drummin' chocolate in Rob Crow's tuneful alterna-pop peanut butter, and They Mean Us is their sonic Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. That's the theory, anyhow: Put the songsmith from Pinback and Goblin Cock (Crow) together with the drummer from Hella and Team Sleep (Hill) and enjoy that crazy fusion. In practice, though, this short debut record is less "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" and more "You got your beef jerky in my vodka Gibson!" You can appreciate the two individual flavors, and even sort of see why someone would put them together, but it's not something that you're going to be buying by the fistful. There are moments of brilliance on this album, but even they suffer from two main flaws: There aren't enough of them, and they're too short.

  • Audio Bullys, 'Generation' (Astralwerks)

    There are worse crimes in music than mediocre lyrics. A decent melody or a catchy chorus or just one spot-on turn of phrase, and an entire Joshua Tree's worth of clichés can be readily overlooked. So that's not what brings down the Audio Bullys' sophomore effort. There are also worse crimes in music than a lack of emotion. This is especially true of the various electronic genres, where frequency and speed and sonic collage and judicious sampling can make up for -- and even overcome -- the often-soulless nature of computers. So this also isn't what makes Generation so underwhelming. It's possible, though, that there is nothing worse than simply being boring, appearing more like slate-gray aural primer than aural wallpaper.

  • Hilken Mancini and Chris Colbourn, 'Hilken Mancini and Chris Colbourn' (Kimchee)

    There's a tendency in rock to lionize the early flameout and demonize any hint of maturity. "Hope I die before I get old," they say, over and over again, even -- and especially -- the ones with the age of sixty already in the rearview mirror. It seems truer in some scenes than others, of course, and the bands from the alternative music explosion of the early '90s seemed like poster children for trite early flameouts. It's all too easy to imagine Kurt Cobain as a latter-day Mick Jagger, embarrassing the globe with his leathery gyrations at halftime of Super Bowl LXX, too weak to smash his equipment after the performance. Which just goes to make it all the more exciting to see veterans of that scene not only survive, not only grow as artists, but actually flourish, which is what Chris Colbourn (of Buffalo Tom) and Hilken Mancini (of Fuzzy) do on their new collaboration.

  • Curt Kirkwood, 'Snow' (Little Dog)

    Snow is a very good album. It's comprised of ten lovely songs, country- and folk-inflected pop tunes that make you want to drink very cheap, very cold beer in a dive bar at eight in the morning, preferably while snow turns gray in the traffic outside. "Beautiful Weapon" has probably the most memorable, sing-along chorus, while "Light Bulb" has a lively, spiraling verse structure. It's an album by an artist who knew what he wanted to do, and has gone ahead and done it. "Does what it says on the tin," the British would likely say. But expectations are a bastard. Curt Kirkwood is probably best known as guitarist and founding member of the Meat Puppets. The Meat Puppets are, realistically, best known for their 1994 radio hit "Backwater." And after that, they're probably best known as the longhaired guys who performed a few songs with Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance.

  • Gravenhurst, 'Fires in Distant Buildings' (Warp)

    Some music works best as a background. It doesn't work so well when you're driving on the open road, windows down, and so on, but it's perfect for a contemplative night of chain-smoking in a dim room and getting lost in the wallpaper. On his previous releases, Gravenhurst (nee Nick Talbot) has primarily occupied that folksy, foreboding, background music space. With the new Gravenhurst full-length, Fires in Distant Buildings, that changes. Talbot and drummer Dave Collingwood elect to explore the sonic boundary between background music and full-on noise. Album opener "Down River" suggests quiet contemplation, snaps suddenly to propulsive distortion, and cuts back again quick enough to induce the bends.

  • The Exit, 'Home for an Island' (Wind-Up)

    The Exit have lofty goals. Apparently, they're determined to use their second album to depict the scarred psyche of post-911 lefty America. Given that their first album sounded a lot like MXPX doing an assortment of Police covers, you really have to respect their ambition, even if it does exceed their abilities a bit. The main problem with Home for an Island is that it seems to be assembled from bits and pieces of older music, from bands proud and humble, dating back to the earliest days of the "alternative" scene. The arena-ready sound comes from one place. The vocal harmonies from somewhere else. The occasional horns could be lifted straight from a Dave Matthews album. The earnest-yet-vague lyrics could've been picked up straight from a coffee shop table in Portland, Oregon, circa 1994. And the vocals sometimes take an operatic faux-British lilt that warbles through from 1997.

  • Mr. Oizo, 'Moustache (Half a Scissor)' (Mute U.S.)

    Mr. Oizo does not make comfortable music. If you want simple beats tracked under a basic melody line, best to look elsewhere. That's not what Mr. Oizo -- known to his creditors as Quentin Dupieux -- is trying to do. Everything here is scattered, traumatized, and displaced beyond expectation. This isn't just breakbeat; it's broken music. Dupieux claims that, with this album, "album format & track structure are totally demolished & crushed," and that's an understatement. At times, Moustache (Half a Scissor) sounds less like a cohesive album, and more like a sonics experiment performed by the autistic owner of a Commodore 64, a Speak n' Spell, and a basic audio editing suite. Sounds drop in halfway through and cut out just as abruptly. Melodies are a fond memory from another genre, if not another world entirely.

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