By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Confessions on a Dance Floor
She did make an album like this before: her debut, where she flitted so astutely between producers that fools took her for a casting-couch queen. But where Madonna had a distinct feel, disco that partook simultaneously of electro minimalism and pop sellout, it also had distinct parts. Here she subs out the flitting to producer Stuart Price, who digests the entirety of '80s dance music into a flow that subsumes all details and referents. If anything, it's more a dance record, leaving those of us with a sentimental weakness for distinct parts a little lost. So not only am I glad she rhymes "New York" and "dork," I'm glad she put her kabbalist on the guest list. B PLUS
Although Larry's boy has been arranging strong words into stolid strophes since 1989, it took four years of King George II to get a political song out of him. "We Can't Make It Here," now Bernie Sanders's 2006 campaign theme, is still a hell of a downloadable loss leader at jamesmcmurtry.com, where the slogan is: "We tour so we can make albums. We make albums so we can tour." No other track quite matches its simmering rage, but a few come close, including two that mix carnage on America's holiday highways and carnage in America's holy wars. In the past, McMurtry's square-set solemnity has buried him in the Americana section. This time it makes him sound like a prophet. A MINUS
Dud of the Month
ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS
I Am a Bird Now
Whose voice touches who is personal, but that doesn't mean Antony will ever reach as many humans as Aretha Franklin or Billie Holiday, and up against the archer Bryan Ferry, the artier Rufus Wainwright, and the grander Nina Simone, objective physical differences manifest themselves: he's thinner, drier, more strained. Not only is his willingness to express emotion commoner than indie denizens imagine, his failure to undercut that emotion with irony or humor is a spiritual weakness. Right, he suffers. But billions of humans have it worse, and while we who are luckier are morally obliged to remember that, we're not obliged to empathize with any of them. Those convinced of the metaphoric-political centrality of transgender issues and the AIDS epidemic will feel Antony's songs. Those who don't should find a record they enjoy. B MINUS
He says his piece and gets out, as rare a thing in a preacher as in a rapper ("I Used to Think I Was Run," "Home Sweet Home").
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
(Arts & Crafts)
Indie-rock as borderless utopian collective, kind of like Yo La Tengo with no heads instead of two-plus-one ("Swimmers," "Fire Eye'd Boy").
KATE AND ANNA MCGARRIGLE
The McGarrigle Christmas Hour
Great old songs they didn't write, dubious new ones they did ("Seven Joys of Mary," "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve").
OL' DIRTY BASTARD
Osirus: The Official Mixtape
Weaker than his legendary final album, but way more alive than his rumored one ("Pop Shots," "Dirty Dirty").
HOT HOT HEAT
Pop satire, its targets obvious but left wriggling in a discomfort they deserve ("Jingle Jangle," "Soldier in a Box").
ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE
(Uncivilized World/UWe North America)
Cross-cultural statements, many warming and three scintillating, two Clash covers among them (Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra, "Lost in the Supermarket"; Manu Chao & Tonino Carotone, "La Trampa"; Asian Dub Foundation & Zebda, "Police on My Back [Live]").
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
Weightwise, think Hollies, with the lyrics dumber and the production too full of itself ("Use It," "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras").
NINE INCH NAILS
All pretense of deeper meaning worn into shtick, he's left with the aggro mood music that was always his calling ("Getting Smaller," "With Teeth").
Working things out for herself within the severe constraints of pop form ("These Words," "Unwritten").
The Decemberists Present Picaresque
(Kill Rock Stars)
Know less about history (and literature) than they think they do, but more than their students ("16 Military Wives," "On the Bus Mall").
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
"I Will Follow You Into the Dark"
(From the Ground Up,
"Money Changes Everything"
(The Body Acoustic,Epic/Daylight)
Out of Exile
The Future Embrace
MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC COMPANY
Hard to Love a Man
Waiting for the Sirens' Call
ADDRESSES: Arts & Crafts, arts-crafts.ca; Chocolate Industries, 1573 North Milwaukee Avenue 442, Chicago IL 60622, chocolateindustries.com; Compadre, 708 Main Street, Suite 720, Houston TX 77002, compadrerecords.com; 4AD, 625 Broadway Suite 12 Floor, NYC 10012, 4ad.com; Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Avenue PMB 418, Olympia WA 98501, Matador, 625 Broadway 12 Floor, NYC 10012, matadorrecords.com; Sure Shot, sureshotrecordings.com; Uncivilized World/UWe North America, 414 Broadway 4th Floor, NYC 10013, uncivilizedworld.com