Sound Bites

311, Don't Tread on Me (Volcano). In the early '90s, 311 was the harbinger of hybrid. Back then, the act was wide-eyed and innovative. Since that time, however, this Los-Angeles-by-way-of-Omaha quintet has steadily coasted into obsolescence. At this point, 311 sounds as laconic and dated as its treatment of the Cure's "Love Song" a few years back. Clearly, this Tread's grooves are worn out. -- Dave Herrera

Willie Nelson, Countryman (Lost Highway). This high-concept proposition -- a reggae disc by country's biggest weed fiend -- turns out to be a downer. The styles don't mesh, and the material is either too weak or too obvious; there's not enough dope in the world to make Willie's cover of "The Harder They Come" sound good. Consider your buzz officially harshed. -- Roberts

Barbez, Insignificance(Important Records). The third album from Brooklyn's Slavic-tinged chamber ensemble fuses the organic Old World sounds of woody marimba with scribbled melodies from a modified palm pilot. Further tickling the intelligentsia, Barbez offers sidewalk-cafe laments, klezmer deconstruction and a spry Argentine tango. Best of all, virtuoso Pamela Kurstin plays the theremin like the Devil played Paganini. -- John La Briola

Bear Vs Shark, Terrorhawk (Equal Vision). With its sophomore disc, Bear Vs Shark remains the black sheep of Equal Vision. Instead of eyeliner-smeared screamo, the quintet wields scruffy, viciously brilliant rock anthems riddled with spirals of melody and dense riffage. Oh, and piano. And shout-alongs that make no damn sense whatsoever. Flee all you want -- there's no escaping Terrorhawk. -- Heller

Mediæval Bæbes, Mirabilis (Nettwerk). An octet of comely songstresses in Elizabethan drag warble "Tam Lin" and other time-worn ditties. The results recall costume porn flicks on Skinemax -- soft-core period pieces in which half the screen time is devoted to removing hoop skirts. Recommended for dudes who get hot at the thought of a Renaissance fair. -- Roberts

Various Artists, Dimension Mix(Eenie Meenie Records). Over two decades, electronic pioneer Bruce Haack and children's dance instructor Ester Nelson have issued ten records for kids on their own Dimension 5 imprint. Suitable for all ages, this playful tribute (which benefits Cure Autism Now) covers choice cuts from the pair's catalogue with help from Beck, Stereolab, Anubian Lights and From Bubblegum to Sky. Get multi-dimensional. -- La Briola

The Peasall Sisters, Home to You (Dualtone). Remember those three little girls from O Brother, Where Art Thou? Someone's made them up like cowpoke JonBenéts and stuck them in a studio. This countrified Hanson is less horrifying than you might expect, although hearing the Carter Family's "I Will Never Marry" piped through a twelve-year-old Chipmunk voice is creepy as fuck. -- Heller

 
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