By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Cheap Trick, Budokan! 30th Anniversary Edition (Epic). Cheap Trick has a few better-than-average songs. Without this legendary live album, though, the act would mostly be thought of in the context of those "Where are they now?" programs. With never-released video footage and new band interviews, this anniversary set finally provides visual documentation of a mediocre band achieving immortality.
The Dead Science, Villainaire (Constellation). On this release, the Dead Science steps away from the avant-jazz songwriting of previous efforts, making it seem relatively conventional by comparison. The album's only moments of experimentation lie in the odd sounds mixed in the rhythms and the layering of Sam Micken's rapidly quavering vocals. As a result, Villainaire is the band's most accessible and consistently satisfying album.
Monareta, Picotero (Nacional Records). Colombians Andrés Martínez and Camilo Sanabria use electro-gadgetry in ways that enhance the personality of their music rather than rendering it indistinguishable from everyone else's. The multi-culti likes of "Me Voy Pal Mar," which includes dub-friendly beats and a vocal snippet that could've come from a Chinese diva, are invitations for the entire world to dance.
Scotland Barr & the Slow Drags, All the Great Aviators Agree (Monkey Barr Records). Somewhere between Harry Nilsson, CSN and Tom Petty, this band blends country and blues rock with a little soul. Scotland Barr's slightly roughened voice suggests that he's seen more than his fair share of life's slings and arrows, yet he manages to summon good spirits and thoughtfulness with each song.
Star Fucking Hipsters, Until We're Dead (Fat Wreck Chords). Politically incorrect songs full of vim and vinegar: Check. Instant street cred because bandmembers also perform in groups like Leftover Crack and Friendship Society: Check. Currently-in-vogue female bass player: Check. By these standards, this amalgam of musicians could become the modern-day Pigface.
The Sea and Cake, Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey). Although The Sea and Cake has the artsiest pedigree imaginable (drummer John McEntire plays in Tortoise, for God's sake), the band's smoothly sophisticated music is simultaneously accessible and uplifting. For most listeners, the sunny strumminess of tunes such as "A Fuller Moon" will lighten moods and banish gloom by the second verse. That's an art in and of itself.