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Maktub
Khronos
(Ossia)
Soul music from Seattle seems like an odd proposition -- on par with, say, rockabilly from France or exotica from Bayonne, New Jersey. But somehow, Maktub's Reggie Watts, Davis Martin, Daniel Spils, Thaddeus Turner and Kevin Goldman have emerged from the Pacific Northwest's renowned indie scene with a multifaceted sound that makes room for grooves. The occasional nod to grungy rock can be found here: Witness the distorted chorus of "Give Me Some Time" and a moderately quizzical cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter." But even a track as outwardly aggressive as "Motherfucker" incorporates vocals by Watts that slip in and out of falsetto and organ fills that are rooted in R&B. Clearly, soul can be found in the unlikeliest places. -- Roberts

Negativland
Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak
(Seeland)
The culture jammers in San Francisco's Negativland describe their latest, confounding twelve-track effort (which is actually one extended piece of musique concrète) as the "destruction of its studio." Audio-wise, it's a free-flowing and cohesive 45 minutes of electro-acoustic sound collage that's completely devoid of bass lines, melody, singing or even a discernable beat. Cleverly packaged as an automotive owner's manual, with found text taken from the scenes of fatal car collisions (including grocery lists, love letters, homework assignments and the like), the conceptual art project becomes a fascinating, voyeuristic, dark and occasionally funny glimpse into the lives of totaled strangers. -- La Briola

Out Hud
Street Dad
(Kranky)
In order, Out Hud's Street Dad is a composite of: dubbed-out U2, tranquilized Liquid Liquid, abstract electro, disco, goth, disco-goth, kraut rock, lo-fi trance, Eno-style ambient, Space Invader funk, shoegazer pop and old-school breakbeat techno. This instrumental group from Brooklyn somehow makes these disparate sounds hang together with cohesion and style; cavernously delayed guitars and throbbing sub-bass morph from one protean blob to the next, while the damn-near-danceable rhythms lend structure to the shifting tones and textures. Try reading between the beats if you like, but there's not too much high concept here -- just fun sounds, pretty lights and an air of quirky playfulness. -- Heller

My Name's Not Rodriguez
Luis J.Rodriguez
(Dos Manos)
Luis Rodriguez's spoken-word recording will hit you like De La Hoya hit Vargas in their last championship bout. Well known for his graphic memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., Rodriguez reads verse that's both tender and fierce. Accompanied by a seven-piece jazz-funk ensemble, he delivers defiant epistles like "To the Police Officer Who Refused to Sit in the Same Room as My Son Because He's a 'Gang Banger'" and elegiac offerings to eccentric family members: "Tía Chucha" recalls an aunt who "once ran out naked to catch the postman with a letter that didn't belong to us." Rodriguez, who recently released a critically acclaimed collection of short stories called The Republic of East LA, runs a small publishing house and cultural center in San Fernando, California. Fittingly, it's named Tía Chucha, in honor of his favorite aunt. -- Mayo

Sigur Rós
( )
(MCA)
Those who first pounced on calling Sigur Rós's ( ) "precious" and "pretentious" had plenty of ammo. Singer Jon Thor Birgisson employs an invented language called "hopelandish" when wailing in his haunting, ethereal falsetto, and the band's album carries an unpronounceable punctuation-heavy title and eight lengthy, untitled songs. But the cynics were wrong: ( ) is liquid evolution. The Icelandic outfit's mournful, floating sense of timelessness and orchestral flourish resonates with a nearly symphonic completeness. Amid the brooding despair and bombastic crescendo lies music from another world -- and it isn't Iceland. -- Brighton

Twinemen
Twinemen
(HI-N-DRY)
With Twinemen, surviving Morphine members Billy Conway and Dana Colley find a comfortable middle ground between sounding dynamic and fresh and sounding, well, Morphine-like. Backed by imaginative drumming and densely layered grooves of dreamy baritone sax, vocalist Laurie Sargent (Face to Face) casts her ethereal spell throughout this exceptional self-titled debut, in which trance, blues, jazz and trip-hop unite with psychedelia and evil midgets. Somewhere, Mark Sandman is smiling.-- La Briola

POP

Badly Drawn Boy
Have You Fed the Fish?
About a Boy/Original Soundtrack Recording
(XL)
It's hard to know which of these albums should be considered Damon Gough's official followup to The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, the stunning debut that brought the thoroughly British songwriter his country's Mercury Prize. Taken together, this creative diptych testifies to Gough's prolificness and talent, which leaps out of almost every verse, chorus and crafty turn of phrase. Written to accompany the thoroughly forgettable feature film of the same name, About a Boy is the stronger of the two, a loose thematic cycle that can be enjoyed for its buoyant surface elements or burrowed into for its textures. Fish displays a sensibility that is undeniably Lennonesque, right down to the vocal delivery, But influences aside, with three albums now sprung from his consciousness into ours, we can clearly see Gough for what he is: a unique stylist, a wit, a visionary producer and one of the finest songwriters we've got. -- Bond

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