• Boston Spaceships, 'The Planets Are Blasted' (Guided by Voices Inc.)

    The point of forming a band is to capture an alchemy that's greater than the individual elements, but ex–Guided by Voices singer Robert Pollard's latest "group" -- featuring guitarist-bassist Chris Slusarenko and Elliott Smith drummer John Moen -- stirs up no such magic. Instead, their second album is a limp, loose affiliation of trebly guitar riffs, independently minded drums, and Pollard's echoing stream-of-conscious- ness vocals. "Catherine From Mid October" hits on a sweet melody, but Pollard desperately needs a producer who can flesh out and orchestrate his (very) rough sketches. Listen: Boston Spaceships, "Big O Gets An Earful" (DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Mark Olson & Gary Louris, 'Ready for the Flood' (New West)

    Though this duo have recorded and toured together since Olson quit the Jayhawks in 1995, Ready for the Flood is their official reunion album, and it's pure rootsy, rustic alt country. Harmonies are raw and unpredictable in the Bob Dylan tradition, with the pair often sounding as if they're singing at each other. And while the rock workouts never transcend their bar-band tropes, on the ballads ("Turn Your Pretty Name Around," "Black Eyes"), Olson & Louris evince real sorrow and regret with little more than a carefully picked acousticguitar and ghostly organ tracing the tracks of their tears. Listen: Gary Louris & Mark Olson, "Turn Your Pretty Name Around" BUY: Amazon

  • Robert Pollard, 'The Crawling Distance' (Guided by Voices Inc.)

    This solo album by the ridiculously prolific former Guided by Voices leader, with help from instrumental accomplice Todd Tobias, features another ten songs of standard Pollard-isms -- vaguely British, Robyn Hitchcock–esque vocals warped by reverb and Echoplex mazes; surrealistic, first-thought-next-thought lyrics; sudden loud crunches of lo-fi guitar; and melodies that soar but never quite achieve the permanence of his best work. One notable change: He's actually easing up and expanding some songs past the three-and even four-minute mark. Dare we call him a balladeer? Listen: "Red Cross Vegas Night" (DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, 'Dirt Don't Hurt' (Transdreamer)

    Recorded in five days in an analog studio on the coast of Spain with vintage equipment, Holly Golightly's 13th studio album is less primitive garage rock than lo-fi campfire jamboree. Adorned with gospel shouts, errant banjo licks, and a smattering of unusual percussion, these tunes (fleshed out by her "band": Lawyer Dave on "things with strings") could easily slot onto a Harry Smith Folkways anthology of field recordings or an obscure collection of ancient rock'n'roll. The ballads tend to turn murky, but the rockers are terrifically drunken reveries. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Alanis Morissette, 'Flavors of Entanglement' (Maverick/Reprise)

    Even on her sixth studio album, Alanis Morissette's lyrics still cause you to pause. Did she just sing, "How you land in the soft as you fortify"? Or "Core, born into form, starts in our living room"? Psychology textbooks are less linguistically challenged and just as littered with cases of emotional break-downs. Producer and cowriter Guy Sigsworth (Björk) kicks up the beats per minute with tabla ("Citizen of the Planet"), squeezes out a syrupy greeting-card moment ("Torch"), points up a likable melody ("Giggling Again for No Reason"), and layers Morissette's vocals for widescreen effect. But nothing can hide her tortured grammar or soul. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Kira Lynn Cain, 'The Ideal Hunter' (Evangeline)

    On her debut album, Kira Lynn Cain's vocals are more felt than heard among slumbering rhythms, decadent strings, piano, organ, and delicate acoustic guitar. The dreamscapes alternate between early-'70s French pop (see Françoise Hardy's La Question) and incidental music for a film to be named later. Lap steel sets a Western mood ("The Strange Light"), while repetitive guitar patterns and obscuring reverb ("The Lone") marry Mazzy Star to the ice-capped solemnity of Sigur Rós. Haunting, but maybe next time Cain should include a dose of NoDoz. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The Black Angels, 'Directions to See a Ghost' (Light in the Attic)

    Named after the most abrasive track on the first Velvet Underground album, this druggy sextet from Austin, Texas, reach for spine-prickling, horror-inducing sonic deliverance. Like their 2006 debut, Passover, Ghost drowns in Spacemen 3–like drone, feedback, and reverb until the tunes congeal into a deliberately muddy, impenetrable trance. Whether going tribal ("Vikings") or settling on two chords ("Never/Ever"), the fuzzed-out guitars and pulsing organs create a retro-psychedelic sound that morphs slowly, like a lava lamp remolding forms, while the vocals eerily call in from a distant room. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Old 97’s, 'Blame It on Gravity' (New West)

    With growing families, solo albums, label changes, and geographical barriers (two main members living on opposite coasts), should Old 97's even exist in 2008, never mind be this focused? Their seventh studio album bucks and chugs, balancing the quartet's original alt-country impetus with Rhett Miller's love of power pop. "The Easy Way" trims hooks and harmonies from "Last Train to Clarksville"; "She Loves the Sunset" pays tribute to Jonathan Richman's romantic innocence; and bassist Murry Hammond's two contributions, especially the somber "Color of a Lonely Heart," celebrate the band's road-tested all-for-one chemistry. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • American Music Club, 'The Golden Age' (Merge)

    American Music Club produced perhaps the most emotionally intense indie rock of the late '80s and early '90s. Singer Mark Eitzel can silence a room with his beautiful-loser conviction, but his brain is too abuzz with ambivalence to ever settle for simple angst or lovelorn gloom. After their ten-year reunion in 2004, AMC now features Eitzel and guitarist Vudi with a new rhythm section, and The Golden Age is their most placid disc since 1989's United Kingdom. Not even Eitzel's political anger jolts him out of his even-tempered groove, with acoustic fingerpicking fading into discordant electric guitar ("The Stars") and then back into beats that sashay like ballroom waltzes. Now Hear This: American Music Club, "All The Lost Souls Welcome You To San Francisco" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Richard Hawley, 'Lady's Bridge' (Mute)

    Hawley names most of his albums for local Sheffield, England landmarks, but he doesn't keep provincial musical borders. The fifth solo album by this in-demand session man, who includes Jarvis Cocker and Scott Walker among his employers, sports graceful, cosmopolitan piano and strings, while Hawley croons like a debonair chansonnier who's overdosed on Jim Reeves and Serge Gainsbourg. He occasionally ups the pulse for jovial kicks, but the record maintains its hypnotic spell with slow-as-IV-drip rhythms that set the scene for Hawley's moonlit walks down lonely streets. Now Hear This: Richard Hawley - "Serious" WINDOWS MEDIA HIGH | LOW BUY: iTunesAmazon

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