The Clientele, Strange Geometry (Merge Records). Alasdair MacLean makes beautifully baroque folk music misted in string arrangements by Louis Philippe. Strange Geometry is not for those afraid of the faint and fey; its tempos wouldn't disturb a light nap. MacLean's Nick Drake drag of a voice adds an extra layer of poetic but depressive implosion. -- Terry Sawyer
The Grabs, Sex, Fashion, and Money (Self-released). An album by an unsigned band featuring ex-Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison would seem destined to suck. Yet Money, available at TheGrabs.com, beats the odds due to Eleni Mandell, an L.A.-based singer-songwriter whose quirky/edgy work is strong enough to overcome middling production and plenty of negative preconceptions. Grabbier than you'd guess. -- Roberts
Mean Reds, Together at Last, and This Is Our Wedding (Record Collection). If Les Savy Fav were trapped in Tron, the Mean Reds' debut CD would be the soundtrack to the cyber-bike chase scene. Together at Last throws distorted techno beats, avant-disco, rock opera and old-school hardcore snot against a pixilated, neon-splashed wall. And it all sticks. -- Heller
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Morricone Youth, Silenzio Violento (54-40 or Fight). A onetime film-score cover band attempts to turn its cinematic passions into Ennio Morricone-inflected originals. Calexico has already mastered this translation without the stain of bad sax solos and weak vocals. Morricone Youth's spaghetti-Western lounge rock sounds more like Mr. Bungle with a cap gun and a foam cowboy hat. -- Sawyer
River City Tanlines, All 7 Inches Plus 2 More (Dirtnap). This is driveway rock. Alicja Trout's vocals are muffled behind the CD's garage punk like the door was closed on her, a technique that Norway's Mensen also used nicely. A cover of Love's "Damn Dog Now" is the best one yet, but the head-turning, full-figured bass lines that T-Money churns out are the true showcase on this disc. -- Skidmore
Schaffer the Darklord, Meet My Maker (DB Productions). STD, as he's called, is the coolest dork yet. Since the horror-core of Grave Diggaz and Flatlinerz never took off, he's taken up the torch with startlingly spry raps and brilliant rhymes. His delivery stands up to Eminem's, and the comedy sends up rap and metal's lack of humor with intelligence Weird Al can't touch. -- Skidmore
t.A.T.u. , Dangerous and Moving (Interscope). Bad news, horndogs: Lena Katina and Julia Volkova aren't the lesbian schoolgirls they initially pretended to be. Despite this revelation, they continue to play gender games throughout "Loves Me Not." But the thrill is gone, leaving behind only mediocre dance pop and severe resentment over fantasy fraud. Is nothing sacred? -- Roberts