Peter Gerstenzang

  • Amy LaVere, 'Stranger Me' (Archer)

    Amy LaVere, 'Stranger Me' (Archer)

    Part winsome alt-country gal and part avenging angel, Amy LaVere has made the breakup album of the year. Starting with "Damn Love Song" (imagine a swampier "Hell's Bells"), LaVere shoots one poisoned pop arrow after another at her ex. "You Can't Keep Me" sports a hostage's plea and an ominous organ that recalls Steve Nieve's shadowing of Elvis Costello. "GreatDivide" traffics in tricky, Talking Heads time signatures while lamenting the spaces between lovers. LaVere sounds like a gifted kidnap victim -- scared, angry, resourceful. You just know she's going to set herself free.

  • The Airborne Toxic Event, 'All at Once' (Island Def Jam)

    The Airborne Toxic Event, 'All at Once' (Island Def Jam)

    Hyperliterate and terminally sad, the Airborne Toxic Event's 2008 self-titled debut was a downbeat gem. Although frontman Mikel Jollet still falls on life's thorns, the band's second album supports his weighty themes with more instrumental muscle. Whether imagining a gorgeously wailing new-wave soundtrack ("Numb") or slamming out punky reggae ("Changing") or giving Raymond Carver's working-class minimalism a rockabilly boost ("It Don't Mean a Thing"), this moody crew consistently elevate their leader's wounded drama.

  • Pete Yorn, 'Pete Yorn' (Vagrant)

    Pete Yorn, 'Pete Yorn' (Vagrant)

    Pete Yorn's 2001 debut was so melodically and lyrically sharp that his subsequent releases (including last year's pairing with Scarlett Johansson) have seemed unfocused and fussy by comparison. As if in a fairy tale, however, a Pixie has appeared to straighten him out. Meaning, producer Frank Black, who discards Yorn's tasteful trappings and replaces them with strangled guitars and snappy snares circa Surfer Rosa. From bracing opener "Precious Stone" to the chugging fan appreciation "Rock Crowd" to a heartfelt version of Gram Parsons' "Wheels," Yorn emerges with his most purposeful, affecting album yet.

  • Merle Haggard, 'I Am What I Am' (Vanguard)

    With Cash gone and Willie spent, hopes hang on Hag to deliver classic country, musically and poetically. And he doesn't disappoint, from the dobro-heavy "I've Seen It Go Away," a heartbreaker about American greatness lost, to the lovely Bob Wills swing of "The Road to My Heart." There's even an ode to an "Oil Tanker Train," which "rattled the boxcar" once housing the Haggard family. His lead guitar forever flinty, his baritone beautifully distressed, the man has made a masterpiece. Country radio? Don't count on it. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Freedy Johnston, 'Rain on the City' (Bar/None)

    As he has for two decades, singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston plays the unreliable narrator in this exquisitely unsettling folk-rock collection. Take "Lonely Penny," with its hymnlike harmonium and untrustworthy guy telling his conquest that "it was arranged in the stars we should meet," and cue shivers. In "Livin' Too Close to the Rio Grande," another scammer riffs about "the wife, the ex, and the government." The title track may drift by, gentle and painterly, but Johnston's characters always make a deep impression. You won't budge until their riveting, capricious raps are over. BUY: Amazon

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    Rapper Novel Turns a Page

    It's a strange day when a rapper frets over what piano-pop goofball Ben Folds thinks of his music. But that's exactly what happened after Novel (born Alonzo Mario Stevenson) recorded himself rapping over Folds' plaintive 2001 ballad "The Luckiest." "I was worried he'd say, 'You fucked my shit up!' " says Novel, 27. "But Ben loved it. He even suggested we do the track live, with him playing on it." The result, "I Am" -- an uplifting track featuring Talib Kweli and Atlanta MC Spree Wilson -- became thesingle off of Novel's recent EP, I Am... Future Black President, a preview of his debut album, Audiobiography(Rowdy/Capitol), due out in June.

  • Matthew Sweet, 'Sunshine Lies' (Shout! Factory)

    It's not the savviest 2008 career strategy to play immaculately executed '60s and '70s power pop, but few do it better than Matthew Sweet. Yoking fuzz-stoked guitars (credit Television vet Richard Lloyd) to gorgeous melodies derived from the Beatles and Big Star, Sweet serves up his best tunes since Altered Beast. If the chiming "Byrdgirl" doesn't have David Crosby wiping away happy tears, he's using again. "Flying" kicks like Crazy Horse without the mistakes. And "Feel Fear" is a ballad so timeless it could've been a radio hit during any decade in the past 40 years (except this one). BUY: iTunesAmazon

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    Upload and Personal

    Hannah4Monkees A.K.A. Hannah Rarick AGE: 20 HQ: Lancaster, Ohio DAY JOB: Bank teller SPECIALTY: TV appearances, movie clips, and old commercials featuring the Monkees CLIPS POSTED: 135 in five months UPLOAD TIME: Two hours a day, but she's done 12 hours straight WHY DO THEY DO IT: I love the Monkees so much felt others should be able to experience them, too. They are so much better than today's music." CHOICE CLIP: A scene from a 1971 Brady Bunch episode, where Marcia begs frontman Davy Jones to play at her prom TYPICAL VIEWER RESPONSE: "LOL that was so gay." Meowsicman A.K.A.

  • The Moonbabies, 'Moonbabies at the Ballroom' (Hidden Agenda/ Parasol)

    On their fourth album, this indie-pop duo -- multi-instrumentalists/ songwriters Carina Johansson and Ola Frick -- create what finally could be their Stateside breakthrough. Whether it's the gauzy, Fleetwood Mac-tinged harmonies of the hangover plaint "War on Sound" (heard last year on Grey's Anatomy) or "Shout It Out," which reconfigures a familiar guitar hook via Phil Spector, the Moonbabies deftly mix the accessible and the bizarre (two short, burbling synth instrumentals), assembling marvelously eclectic but still coherent pop. Now Hear This: The Moonbabies - "Take Me to the Ballroom" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

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