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    Amy Winehouse: Rock Myth, Hard Reality

    It's inevitable, really, that we'd eventually choke a bit on the rock mythology that's been crammed down our collective throats for most of our lives. The tortured genius, the hellion libertine, the martyr dying for the noble cause of nihilism -- this is what we usually mean when we say "rock star," and we're always on the hunt for fresh blood. And truth be told, that sort of bloodlust accounted for much of the initial, explosive response to Amy Winehouse in early 2007. The natural ability was never up for debate; combine that with an equally natural self-destructive bent, and the ensuing reception was predictably breathless. Not proud of this, but it's how your myth-making sausage gets made. Let's acknowledge, firstly, the folly of a media outlet reducing an artist, on the day after her death, to a product of her media coverage.

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    How the 'Nevermind' Boy Was Almost a Girl

    In the summer of 1991, DGC Records hired Kirk Weddle, an advertising photographer specializing in underwater work, to shoot the cover of the much-anticipated album by recent signees, Nirvana. He borrowed Spencer Elden, the toddler son of some friends, and decamped to a local Los Angeles pool for the now-iconic shot. But somewhere out there, unbeknownst to her, there's a nearly 21-year-old girl who was this close to being the Nevermind baby. (If you're her, give us a call!) Kirk Weddle (photographer): At the time, I was mostly shooting cars -- brochures and stuff. I didn't even know Nirvana. Kurt originally wanted a shot of a kid being born underwater, but Geffen thought that was a little extreme.

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    Eddie Vedder: The Hobbyist

    For some, taking a break from your megaband to make an intimate album of ukulele tunes dreamt up in Hawaii is the definition of success. Others don't think about it that way. Buried in the liner notes to Ukulele Songs, Eddie Vedder's second solo project, is the credit "Album concept by Jerome Turner." As Pearl Jam obsessives -- and they are legion -- have long known, Turner is to Vedder as Bernard Shakey is to Neil Young or as Napoleon Dynamite is to Elvis Costello. Strategic deployment of pseudonyms is not where the similarities between Vedder and those artists end.

  • Centro-Matic, 'Candidate Waltz' (Undertow)

    Centro-Matic, 'Candidate Waltz' (Undertow)

    Having cranked out 20 full-length albums in 14 years with the bands Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel, as well as under his real name, Denton, Texas' Will Johnson sometimes seems dwarfed by his prolific output. By any math, though, Candidate Waltz is a solid entry point, showcasing the band's mid-tempo stomps (reliably 4/4, despite the title) and Johnson's Zevon-cribbing rasp and wit. "Only in My Double Mind," however, is the standout that recent records have lacked-slathered in reverb, its harmonies are stacked comfortingly like a chicken-fried Wall of Sound.

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    SPIN Remembers Clarence Clemons

    When Lady Gaga's straight-outta-1986 video for "The Edge of Glory" premiered last Friday, Little Monsters everywhere were briefly flummoxed that the clip's lone extravagance was a man sitting on a fake stoop, barely lit, miming a saxophone solo. One can only assume that Clarence Clemons would never have planned for this to be his final statement as a performing artist, but it's safe to say that more people under the age of 20 learned his name from his appearance on this single than from 40 years as Bruce Springsteen's foil. And that's fantastic.

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    Black Lips: The Road Warriors

    Or,How to Succeed in (the Music) Business Without (Looking Like You're) Really Trying (and While Occasionally Peeing in Your Best Friend's Mouth). The Black Lips clean up just fine. Infamous for their love of scatological mischief and global misadventures as much as for their scuzzy garage-punk -- like the Monkees, only with more ketamine binges and indecent exposure -- one could be forgiven for thinking that dinner at Keens, a tony, centuries-old Manhattan steak house, on a rainy April night might result in, at the least, the ornate ceiling covered in mint jelly. And that's fine by them.

  • Arctic Monkeys, 'Suck It and See' (Domino)

    Arctic Monkeys, 'Suck It and See' (Domino)

    Five years ago, the only people who seemed impervious ?to Monkeymania were Arctic Monkeys themselves, who ?took the record-breaking U.K. sales and breathless next-Beatles hosannas with a calm detachment that belied their teenhood. That poise has served the band quite well -- four albums in, and they've hit a remarkable mid-career groove that most bands their age will never see. Which isn't to say that they're coasting -- 2009's Humbug took ?the lads from industrial Sheffield to producer Josh Homme's baked Palm Desert domain, yielding a sludgier curveball, although the creases in the boys'Black Sabbath T-shirts always looked a little ?too crisp to be believed.

  • David Bazan, 'Strange Negotiations' (Barsuk)

    David Bazan, 'Strange Negotiations' (Barsuk)

    The fact that he's going by his Christian name (sorry!) may be part of it, but on his second solo album, David Bazan seems perfectly happy to trade Pedro the Lion's faith-based inscrutability for up-the-middle directness. When you combine the lyrics -- declarations like "I'm a goddamn fool and I love you" -- with Bazan's husky baritone, Strange Negotiations suggests an Americana vet like John Hiatt more than an indie lifer. But the change serves him well on "Eating Paper," which works simple wonders with a chunky guitar riff and a steady cowbell, just as the Lord intended.

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    Explosions in the Sky Leave Radio City Speechless

    The lone bit of set dressing adorning Explosions in the Sky's stage at Radio City Music Hall was a small Texas flag, maybe two feet long, draped over a bass cabinet. The rest of the theatrics came strictly from the amps themselves. The Austin-based quartet (guitarists Mark Smith, Michael James, and Munaf Rayani, drummer Chris Hrasky, no vocalist whatsoever, and augmented on most songs by a touring bassist/keyboardist) played what might have been the biggest show of their career at a posh, legendary theater perfectly suited to their cinematic soundscapes.

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    Strokes, LCD Soundsystem Throw Garden Parties

    The fact that the two most significant New York bands of the past decade crowned their careers with headlining shows at Madison Square Garden on consecutive nights is mostly a fluke of logistics, owing more to the Knicks' schedule than any intended referendum on the current state of millennial downtown cool. But it still seems fairly impossible to talk about them as two wholly separate, sovereign events. Fond as we are of our place in the center of the universe, it is easy for New Yorkers to forget that to the rest of the country, the Garden may just be another basketball arena.

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