Bound Stems, Appreciation Night (Flameshovel). Appreciation Night, the giddy, hopelessly awkward and delightfully messy full-length debut from unhinged indie-pop quintet Bound Stems, features snippets of samples, boy/girl vocals, twee keyboards and guitars that go from jangly to jarring without warning. There's an all-over-the-map aesthetic at work here; even so, the album manages to hang together like the soundtrack to a lost Wes Anderson flick. -- Eyl
Ferry Corsten, L.E.F. (Ultra). The title acronym stands for "Loud Electronic Ferocious," and tracks such as "Are You Ready" certainly qualify; when Ferry Corsten sets his sights on trance, he's among dance music's best. But his softer moments are less compelling -- and, in the case of "Into the Dark," sung by (eeesh) Howard Jones, a lot less compelling. F that. -- Roberts
Iron Maiden, A Matter of Life and Death (Sanctuary). Iron Maiden -- long impervious to the changing tides of musical trends -- hasn't put out a truly amazing album since 1986's Somewhere in Time. Maiden's new release, A Matter of Life and Death, remedies that with a wartime epic so stunning that even the bandmembers are having trouble explaining how they created it. -- Brandon Daviet
The Pogues, Rum Sodomy & the Lash (Rhino). The archivists at Rhino are reissuing and augmenting five CDs by Ireland's finest (and drunkest) folk punks, and there are strong moments on all of them. But beginners should start with Rum, an Elvis Costello-produced opus from 1985 in which Shane MacGowan and the lads make music that's intoxicating in every sense of the word. -- Roberts
Rhymefest, Blue Collar (J Records). For an artist who won a Grammy for his excellent work on Kanye West's "Jesus Walks," you would expect a ready-made classic. Unfortunately, Rhyme's work is uneven on Blue Collar, where decent tracks such as "Brand New" are followed by mediocre ones like "Fever." Here's hoping Kanye's protegé works harder to put his best foot forward on the next outing. -- Quibian Salazar-Moreno
Stoll Vaughan, Love Like a Mule (Shadowdog). Stoll Vaughan's sophomore effort, Love Like a Mule, is a collection of country- and blues-tinged love songs rife with heartland-rock underpinnings and Dylan-esque vocals. While Mule is hit and miss at times, Vaughan proves a promising storyteller in the Americana tradition of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle. -- Tracy M. Rogers
Young Widows, Settle Down City (Jade Tree). Three-fourths of Louisville, Kentucky's Breather Resist soldier on, showing a slightly more sensitive side without sulfur-throated vocalist Steve Sindoni. Influences from Fugazi to Jesus Lizard show through on the band's mathematical, melodic hardcore debut, which is more accessible than Resist but not quite as primal. -- Eyl
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