Chemical Chords (4AD)
Expecting Stereolab to change things 15-plus years after it first plugged in its electronic gizmos is like waiting for Ice Cube to make a funny movie. Ain't gonna happen. On their 11th album, studio wiz Tim Gane and singer Laetitia Sadier assemble the usual set of yeah-baby bachelor-pad grooves and coolly delivered French coos for a CD that sounds an awful lot like 2004's Margerine Eclipse, or any other Stereolab record for that matter. That doesn't mean there aren't little bits of inspiration here and there - like the surprisingly soulful title tune and the peppy "Silver Sands"; it just means you've heard it all before. After nearly two decades in the game, Stereolab still hasn't figured out how to breathe without its machines. - Michael Gallucci
Matthew Sweet Sunshine Lies
Let's face it: If you're a Matthew Sweet fan, there has been plenty of cause for concern. First, his solo output can only be described as sporadic since his '90s Buzz Bin days. Then there's the "supergroup" move with the Thorns, suggesting he needed to join forces with (the inferior talents) of other songwriters for some inspirado. Finally, even though that romp with former Bangle Susanna Hoffs on Under the Covers was a treat, it still stood as further evidence that Sweet wasn't able to come up with any good new tunes. Sunshine Lies is Sweet's first solo record since 2004's sleepy Living Things, and it's good news and bad news all wrapped into one package.
The good news is that Lies comes with some of Sweet's finest songs in over a decade; opener "Time Machine" storms out of the gates, thanks to the wall-of-guitar presence provided by his old cohort Richard Lloyd. "Feel Fear" may well be Sweet's finest ballad ever, and closing track "Back of My Mind" is an almost psychedelic workout, with a superb melody and a great vocal. In between, there is a disheartening hit-or-miss thing happening, and the misses (the embarrassing "Room to Rock," as well as "Burn Through Love," with its strange production choices) are some of Sweet's worst moments. Cutting gristle from the meat of this record would have provided more punch. Although it is wildly inconsistent, the good ultimately outweighs the bad and marks Sunshine Lies as a welcome return, even if it isn't a complete return to form. - Chris Drabick
The Dandy Warhols
Earth to the Dandy Warhols (Beat the World)
The Dandy Warhols are aptly named after pop art's greatest icon. For more than 10 years, the Portland four-piece has made a career out of silk-screening the same irresistibly overstylized rock music again and again - like so many Campbell's Soup cans. College kids to Euro hipsters flocked to the Dandy's sun-drenched chord shifts, spacey psychedelic sounds and all those same pop-art motifs (drugs, bohemia, celebrity and chicks). But while the Dandys have retained their cool alt-pop persona over five different records, they've always been on the brink of becoming the watered-down radio rock they've been supposedly parodying.
With the Dandy's sixth installment, Earth to the Dandy Warhols, the band's 15 minutes of fame is passing, and the album's 13 songs feel as indistinguishable as a Marilyn Monroe diptych. Tunes like "The World the People Together (Come On)" and "Talk Radio" sound like they must have been on some previous Dandy's album and were just retooled with new lyrics and studio effects. Again the band over-emulates its idols. "Welcome to the Third World" is just a courtroom away from being called the Rolling Stones' "Miss You." And while frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor has always had a knack for crafting at least one great pop gem per album (from "Get Off" to "All the Money or the Simple Life Honey"), Earth to the Dandy Warhols is devoid of any outstanding singles. His vocals are as muted and unintelligible as the music. - Keith Gribbins
Heavy Heavy Low Low
Turtle Nipple and the Toxic Shock (New Weathermen/Ferret)
Heavy Heavy Low Low's sound is a mix of brazen creativity and typical scene antics. Just think of a mad scientist who wears designer jeans and works at Victory Records. Besides having a ridiculous title, every song on Turtle Nipple and the Toxic Shock is a bizarre mash-up of all things heavy. Luckily, the boys behind these sonic cluster-fucks are talented musicians, so while many of their abrupt shifts or off-road detours sound forced, others make for delightfully ear-twisting surprises.
Let's use "Giant Mantis Vs. TURT Nip" as an example. After charging in with a straightforward heavy stomp, the song goes a bit Zappa with a goofy guitar line, only to descend into cliché chugging before being saved by a dance-punk outro, complete with a super-slinky bass line. The rest of the album follows suit, with moments of innovation suddenly overshadowed by generic pitfalls or cringe-worthy stabs at a joke. Heavy Heavy Low Low interjects elements of prog, jazz, dance and even pop into its sound, but it's also quick to resort to the pit-friendly stuff that has made screamo and metalcore so redundant. - Matt Whelihan
What Am I Waiting For (Curb)
What is it with country gals getting even with their exes by setting their belongings and/or the exesÊon fire?ÊCarrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and queen of the vengeful pyros Miranda Lambert have all had hit songs that pretty muchÊserve as warnings to potential boyfriends: You really don't want to fuck with me. Now formerÊTrick Pony singer Heidi NewfieldÊputs a match toÊa bunch of her old boyfriend'sÊstuff andÊdeclares "Nothin' Burns Like a Memory" on her debut solo CD. Newfield also explores a few other genre conventions over the course of What Am I Waiting For's 10 cuts (two songs make reference to crying in their titles), but she's at her best paying tribute to the music's roots on "Johnny and June" and getting all "Papa Don't Preach"-y on "Knocked Up," which is all about keeping her baby. - Gallucci
Sex & Gasoline (Yep Roc)
While Rodney Crowell will likely never again achieve the rarefied heights of 1988's Diamonds & Dirt, he's never completely lost the magic he'd conjured on that one. Always a songwriter first, Crowell continues his late-career roll here - Sex & Gasoline is the fourth-straight excellent offering from Crowell, an enviable run that includes 2001's The Houston Kid, 2003's Fate's Right Hand and 2005's The Outsider.
Firing out of the gate with the acidic title track, Crowell goes right for the cultural jugular in his Dylan-esque vocal style: "So much beauty/Abs and tush/Swoop down on you like a burning bush/Pop religion/Bullwhip thin/Says you ain't nuthin' but the shape you're in." It's vintage Crowell - only he's older, wiser and a little more pissed off about things: As if he's shaking his head in disbelief, he chuckles, "This mean old world runs on sex and gasoline." Crowell is aging gracefully, and his talents are, by now, honed to the sort of near perfection that can allow for complacency. But Crowell sounds like he's writing some of the most focused material of his career. "I don't mind the thought of growing old/But I don't want to lose my sense of humor," he sings softly on "The Night's Just Right." It's a line that likely sums up Crowell's career, at this point, better than anything else. - Kurt Hernon
De Donde Eres (Bloodshot Records)
Brooklyn quartet Cordero has been balancing indie- and Latin rock since 1999, but here it all but abandons the rockers for a vibrant, jazzy strut. Unlike the songs on its prior four releases, these tunes are sung entirely in Spanish, though that's hardly a hurdle, thanks to frontwoman Ani Cordero's bright lyrical voice and hubby drummer Chris Verene's (Rock*A*Teens) lithe, dexterous rhythms. Omar Akil Little provides plenty of complementary color on trumpet and keyboards, proving even more integral to the album's understated, broadly emotive sound.
This nicely sequenced disc flows effortlessly through a range of tracks. The finger-picked acoustic number "La Sombra" lingers in the air like perfume. "Fin Del Mundo" winds around a martial beat, chasing a sonorous organ fill into an outro gilded with surf guitar and backing harmonies. "Veneno" is a slinky, simmering samba, while its cousin "El Arco Iris" is lacking only castanets. The highlight is closer "La Vida Sencilla," whose smoky horn line and bubbling rock beat beg a reaction commensurate with the jerk of your knee from a doctor's mallet. Written during a period of familial crisis, the song's heartache and hope speak clearly, even if you don't know the words. - Chris Parker
Aram Danesh and the Super Human Crew
The Grind (Mammoth Entertainment)
On the follow-up to 2005's The Spot, Aram Danesh and the Super Human Crew deliver a sophomore effort that's just as esoteric and ambitious. And while it probably goes in a few too many directions for its own good, the disc's positive energy is downright addictive. The album commences with the wordy "Fade to Black," a jazzy number that pairs Dirty Dozen Brass Band-like horns with Santana-inspired guitars. Blackalicious' Gift of Gab makes a noteworthy cameo on the snappy "Money Matrix," which goes overboard with the sinewy guitar leads (courtesy of Danesh himself). The stuttering "Em.poor.i.am" sounds like a holdover from the Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon days, and "Someday" is a terrific jam about being optimistic that's more Spearhead than Arrested Development. - Jeff Niesel