Shannon Zimmerman

  • Cheap Trick, 'The Latest' (Cheap Trick Unlimited)

    With a knack for unforgettable hitmaking ("Surrender") and a weakness for song-doctor capitulation ("The Flame"), these iconic smartasses have always seduced and subverted, remaking the mainstream while wallowing in it. Not for nothing did Kurt Cobain dub Nirvana the Cheap Trick of their day. And from its winking title on down, The Latest earns that praise, as the band gamely surfs Beatles-besotted power pop ("Miracle") and arena-rock Bic-flickers ("Alive"). Even the power ballad "Smile" is a welcome gloopy respite, allowing the album's gems to shine even brighter. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Starf--ker, 'Jupiter' (Badman)

    This spazzy quartet's second album belies their unfit-to-fully-print name: It's an amiable, compact collection of synth-pop fizz that lands between Gary Numan's "Cars" and the Cars on the neo-new-wave spectrum. "Medicine" and "Boy Toy" pop with breathy crooning over manic organ, and even though "Jupiter" skews darker, its mechanized percussion almost blissfully lofts the sad-robot melody into the ether. Cheeky? Yeah. A verbatim version of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" is a little too predictably dazzling. But while most retro aesthetes are funny-once bores, Starfucker's party trick is a thriller. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Jeremy Enigk, 'OK Bear' (Lewis Hollow)

    On his fourth solo album, Jeremy Enigk takes songs that, in demo form, would likely reveal him as a geek folkie, yet tries to press them into angular, orchestral shapes. "April Storm" and "Restart" draw the blueprint -- two ace tunes that tart (and art) up strummy jangle pop that's reminiscent of Freedy Johnston, whose voice Enigk's occasionally conjures. That penchant for swollen, cathedral­size arrangements -- particularly on Coldplay­like cuts "Late of Camera" and "In a Look" -- is a weakness, but hopefully, Enigk will learn to shake it off in favor of leaner renditions of his winning, winsome tunes. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Elvis Costello, 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane' (Hear)

    Elvis Costello has always been an idiom savant, pin- balling through arsenic-laced pub rock (My Aim Is True), amphetamine-addled soul (Get Happy!!), and highbrow chamber pop (The Juliet Letters). His latest showcases another readymade style: dirt-floor Americana. Pairing with producer T-Bone Burnett (who helmed 1986's rootsy antecedent King of America) and a distinguished pickup band of country heavyweights, he gives his typically fussed-over tunes a tent-revival authority. With alchemical highlights that include back-porch foot-stompers ("Hidden Shame"), torchy weepers ("I Felt the Chill"), and a tenderhearted, set-closing waltz ("Changing Partners"), Secret testifies to the merits of aging gracefully. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Neil Young, 'Fork in the Road' (Reprise)

    A cardinal rule of commerce: Never compete against yourself. A cardinal rule of Neil Young: Screw commerce. His fourth release in roughly two years, Fork scans on first listen as a curmudgeon's take on torn-from-the-headlines issues. Sounds that way on tenth listen, too, with manically twangy tracks like "Fuel Line" and "Cough Up the Bucks" connecting corporate environmentalism with economic collapse. Neil was a cranky young man also, and as he once put it, his catalog is all one song anyway. No surprise, then, that the new rushed-and-blasted "Johnny Magic" shares DNA with post-hippie strumfest "Sugar Mountain": It's an ode to innocence lost by an epic talent for whom wide-eyed naiveté was never really an option. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Black Moth Super Rainbow, 'Eating Us' (Graveface)

    Bookended by lumbering psychedelic bubblegum ("Born on a Day the Sun Didn't Rise") and a prog-ish miniature that combines Minutemen brevity with Jethro Tull pomp ("American Face Dust"), Eating Us won't alienate Black Moth's cult following: The band's deep disinterest in subtlety survives a traditional-studio trip. Flaming Lips and MGMT producer Dave Fridmann slathers the tracks with tweeter-melting synths ("Iron Lemonade") and overamped percussion that sounds miked through a clock radio ("Tooth Decay"). Woozy, smoked-out hooks are strewn like cigarette butts -- a Black Moth specialty that Fridmann dials up throughout this consistently twisted half-hour and change. Listen: Black Moth Super Rainbow, "Born on a Day the Sun Didn't Rise" (DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • A Camp, 'Colonia' (Nettwerk)

    Moonlighting Cardigan Nina Persson has a soulfully sugar-kissed voice that belies a dark knack for studding ethereal, Beatles-esque melodies with lyrical daggers. On the second album by Persson's side project -- joined by her husband, Shudder to Think's Nathan Larson, and Atomic Swing's Niclas Frisk -- the Swedish pop vet fingers love as a murder weapon, confessing seductively that it "can do you like a shotgun" ("Stronger Than Jesus"). Sardonic opening track "The Crowning" parties "like it's 1699," with revelers raising "glasses to murderous asses" amid plinking piano, majestic horns, and a lush arrangement at odds with the lyrics' pugnacious class warfare. Beguiling, gorgeous stuff -- and smartly funny, too. Listen: A Camp, "Love Has Left The Room" (DOWNLOAD MP3)

  • Cryptacize, 'Mythomania' (Asthmatic Kitty)

    Pocked by rickety reggae ("Tail & Mane") and tentative ditties that sound like work tapes threaded beneath finished vocals -- one snaky riff is tellingly dubbed "One Block Wonders" -- Cryptacize's latest squanders the band's natural resource: singer Nedelle Torrisi. Smudged with smoky hints of vintage Debbie Harry, Torrisi's bell-clear voice is as well suited to the scuffed-up girl-group pop of the title track as it is to the bittersweet indie rock of "What You Can't See Is." Trouble is, that terrific latter track finds Chris Cohen at the mic, and as a singer, the ex-Deerhoof guitarist makes a great sideman. His barely serviceable delivery spotlights Mythomania's mistakes of commission -- and omission. Listen: Cryptacize, "Blue Tears" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • John Frusciante, 'The Empyrean' (Record Collection)

    John Frusciante's career away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers has been wildly, even exhaustingly, ambitious -- The Empyrean is his tenth solo album (and sixth since 2004). Unshackled again from the need to craft radio-­ready riffs, the guitarist unfurls long­-winded but beguiling keepers such as "Before the Beginning," a bittersweet, serpentine instrumental. "God" nods to effervescent, Zombies-­style '60s pop, while he warbles in a charmingly fragile falsetto. But the highlight is set closer "After the Ending," a wobbly, synth­-drenched power ballad that showcases Frusciante's knack for warping even the most hackneyed forms into intriguing new shapes. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Eleni Mandell, 'Artificial Fire' (Zedtone)

    Eleni Mandell's musical coordinates obviously include sultry sirens Chrissie Hynde and PJ Harvey, but she also possesses an uncanny knack for sweetly sinister, heartsick vignettes. "God Is Love" is both brooding prayer and lament, fueled by guitarist Jeremy Drake's staccato, scale-running riffs. Dreamy, upper-register chord changes power "In the Doorway," imbuing a blushing line like "I was dizzy, I was guilty, I wanted to confess" with manic lust and morning-after regret. The album's rockers are a serviceable change of pace -- especially "Little Foot," which channels early, Farfisa-laced Elvis Costello -- but it's Mandell's torch songs that ignite. Listen: Eleni Mandell, "Artificial Fire" BUY: iTunesAmazon

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