Kip Boardman, Hello, I Must Be(Mesmer Records). Short attention spans will miss the sledgehammer slyly hidden in Skip Boardman's deceivingly delicate pop songs. But make it to the steel-guitar-accented cover of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work," and you'll almost certainly dig deeper into this sophisticated, too-cool little record that contains a smart surprise in every track. -- William Michael Smith
Brandtson, Hello, Control (The Militia Group). Hello, Control finds Cleveland's Brandtson in transition, clumsily fusing Depeche Mode, Dashboard Confessional, Howard Jones and Franz Ferdinand. Nonetheless, standout tracks such as "Nobody Dances Anymore," "Stop Machine" and "Tapping the Vain" are tasty croutons on this uneven but agreeable indie-rock salad. -- Eryc Eyl
Ben Harper, Both Sides of the Gun (Virgin). The idea of separating aggressive songs from serene ones and then putting them on separate discs to demonstrate versatility has pretty much run its course, and even the hyper-talented Ben Harper can't revive it. His tougher tunes hang together extremely well, but quieter stuff that might have worked as a change of pace fades away. One side wins again. -- Roberts
Jesu, Silver (Hydra Head). My Bloody Valentine? More like My Impaled, Mutilated and Fed Through a Meat Grinder Valentine. With his latest release under the name Jesu, erstwhile Napalm Death/Godflesh member Justin Broadrick has perfected his melodic, noise-as-majesty formula. Angelically heavy. -- Heller
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Love of Everything, Superior Mold and Die (Record Label). If you haven't gotten enough four-track schizophrenia from people like Daniel Johnston and East River Pipe, then Love of Everything is for you. While Love's principal, Bobby Burg, occasionally recalls Greg Dulli with his poignant lyrical insights, it's hard to get past the initially endearing fact that he can't play his instruments or sing, which wears thin pretty quickly. -- Eyl
Pink, I'm Not Dead (La Face). "Stupid Girls" is the rare MTV hit that subverts much of what MTV stands for; betcha programmers are under strict orders not to run it right after Lindsay Lohan clips. The other numbers can't top it, but overall, I'm Not Dead is brassier and better than most observers had a right to expect. Take that, stupid girls. -- Roberts
Stabbed by Words, Stabbed by Words (Hawthorne Street). Dave Claiborn is no stranger to verbal laceration. As the leader of Unbroken, he helped create the template for metallic post-hardcore, shredding quite a few eardrums and egos in the process. This debut from the singer's new band, formed with the Hope Conspiracy's Neeraj Kane, doesn't pack quite the venom of Claiborn's predecessors, but it's a seething, scalding tirade of nerdy rage just the same. -- Heller