The Ark, State of the Ark (The Rebel Group). The Scissor Sisters' take on the sultry '70s meant to charm but succumbed to smarm. So why does the Ark's venture into similar territory work so much better? Credit a surer feel for glam and bubblegum verities, a more charismatic frontman (the Bolanesque Ola Sola) and the act's Swedish ancestry. The members of ABBA must be proud. -- Roberts
Bitman & Roban, Msica Para Después de Almuerzo (Nacional). Tomas Cookman's Nacional label specializes in modern electro/dance sounds with an authentic Latin flavor, and the latest from Bitman & Roban continues the imprint's impressive winning streak. The Chilean crew's Msica is comprised of extremely cool chill-out mixes featuring multilingual lyrics and samples whose wit crosses all vernacular boundaries. It's a Nacional treasure. -- Roberts
Def Leppard, Yeah! (Island). Are you serious? A new Def Leppard album? Really? Why? Hold on...this isn't a new album. It's a covers album. And you know what? It isn't half-bad. Still, is an adrenalized twist of these originals worth your hard-earned loot? Nah! -- Dave Herrera
I See Hawks in L.A. , California Country (Western Seeds Records). Big twang, killer harmonies and lyrics that reek of burning leaf inform this trippy-hippie California country-rocker from L.A.'s favorite alt-country band. Even the bluegrass murder songs have an unrepentant, thinly disguised flower-power political slant, a pro-NORML, pro-environment feel. Guilty pleasure "Slash From Guns N' Roses" hilariously disembowels Hollywood chic. -- William Michael Smith
Dave Knudsen, The Weeping City (Boronda Records). Producer Charlie McGovern gets a big sound out of quiet Dave Knudsen, who modestly wears hurt and compassion on his sleeve. Knudsen's folkie songs are full of non-fatal cuts, healing yellow bruises, subtle insights into emotional damage and small pieces of unrealistic hope and tender mercy -- all of which will make you cry. -- Smith
Protest the Hero, Kezia (Vagrant). The Mars Volta, what hast thou wrought? Pointless, soulless and unlistenably lame prog-core, that's what. Protest the Hero's debut is a tour de farce of bloated, overproduced riffs and self-important whining that gets all high and mighty about Fall Out Boy and its ilk while offering something equally derivative and empty. -- Heller
Young People, All at Once (Too Pure). The similarity between Young People and Young Marble Giants goes far beyond names and a coed, two-piece lineup. All at Once, Young People's new disc, is sculpted from tribal yet pointillist percussion and modal melodies that invade, sear and haunt the psyche -- much like the work of the group's legendary post-punk predecessor. -- Heller
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