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
The Rough Guide to Planet Rock
World Music Network
Fearing Sepultura, Junoon, and Gaia knows what other arena-rock gooney birds, I got something more ethnic instead16 pieces of folk rock, let's call it, from 15 different nations, with who else but the U.S. of A. hogging two tracks (two and a half, actually). Gutturals are the sonic determinant and electric guitars the weapon of choice on a collection that amps up all manner of indigenous pleasures, slipping only when it strays to Romance-language Réunion Island and Portugal midway through. Niger? Palestine? Hungary? All Islamic-tinged. As for the Tuvans throat-singing "In a Gadda da Vida," who better? A MINUS
At her bestwhich must not come easy, or they'd release more and more consistent albumsRennie Sparks is a great American realist. Who can resist a recollection that begins, "I can see you standing there in your grass-stained underwear," or deny her twin visions of existential displacement in airports? But when you have to struggle to realize that "Our Blue Sky" is a global-warming warning that belongs on television, is the problem really the writing, or eternally impassive Brett Sparks feeling more depressed than usual? My theory is that when his wife hits one good, his voice gets lifted. A MINUS
Be Your Own Pet
Although their buzz came too early, this is one young band that did get better, not something being 16 guaranteesas paths go, both pretension and technique are pretty fucking forking. But at 18 or so, all four still identify as teens, and write for them. Mouthy, destructive, confused, sexed-up but no sex object, Jemima Pearl is the pearl. Guitar man Jonas Stein, who'll turn 19 this fall, takes the hyperactive rhythm section wilding. Yeah yeah yeahs all around. A MINUS
Remember That I Love You
Some random verbiageI could have picked almost anything. Say fast: "Adios, I'm a ghost/I am leaving for the coast/And I'll never work for anyone again/I'm not your savior or your heavenly host/I'm just a piece of zwieback toast/Getting soggy in a baby's aching mouth/I'm going south like the geese I just goosed you/And so maybe I seem loose to you/But I don't even want to screw." Then her family home gets sold. Then her brother wins a custody fight. Accept the strummed guitar plus friendly input (I like it when Jake Kelly's sour violin counteracts the ick factor) and the permanently childish voice, and give half a chance to the words spilling out: compassionate, confessional, witty, playful, maudlin, naked. The music is so minimal that you won't return that often. But when you do, you'll remember that she loves you. A MINUS
Introducing Etran Finatawa
World Music Network
These Wodaabe and Tuareg obviously put aside their cultural differences, because seeing the world like those Tinariwen dudes beats breeding cattle or camels, as the case may be. But so what? Their Wodaabe polyphony is a difference worth selling the world. Sahara trance-rock, Niger stylee. B PLUS
Golden Afrique Vol. 2
As a stickler for compilation etiquette, I object to the sequencing of the Congo-based follow-up to this German label's excellent but pricey two-disc West African collection. It begins with two warhorses potential buyers probably own: Franco & Sam Mangwana's 1982 "Coopération" and Nyboma's 1981 "Doublé Doublé." But rather than touring the sleek, over-the-top Parisian soukous of the style's late international vogue, it moves back in time, hopping around among older examples of Lingala rumba. These are almost invariably charming and inventive, if sometimes a little poky, as in a personal favorite, Joseph Kabasele's 1960 "Indépendence Cha Cha Cha." Many have been rare in these parts, so it's a privilege as well as a pleasure to hear them. But often the musical logic is obscure. If there's anything an Afropop comp ought to do, it's flow. A MINUS
Just Like the Fambly Cat
Like said cat, Jason Lytle went out in search of adventure and lost the way home. Too young to obsess so much on the past and smart enough to know it, he just has to stop. So this will be his last album of songs labored over by an Ikea lamp, or so he believes. In a time when so many bands don't know why they exist but keep on vanning anyway, his honest tale is touching and instructive. "Where I'm Anymore," a disoriented local-color song about a central California of garage-sale exercise equipment and ice cream trucks that play "Don't Believe the Hype," is enough to make me glad he'll someday change his mind. A MINUS
Kris Parker has never been more didactic, and he's still working the same WTC-equals-WTO jive he was on in 2001. Motored by an exceptional collection of simple, clever hooks, however, his moralism packs considerably more wallop than the whining of white strivers and black artistes who think they're, you know, real hip-hop. Highlights include the cash-conscious "Mr. Percy," the sin-naming "F-cked Up," the enlightened "Woke Up," and, most intense, "Gimme Da Gun," in which Parker spits reasons not to do that crime as fast as he can, and his boy Raphi explains his side of the story. It ends with a shot. A MINUS
Back in Time
The 1983 classic that gave this Blood Ulmer trio its name has diminished slightly with the years, in part because the glorious jazz-rock future it portended never came to pass. Two decades on, Ulmer is the artiest of all Delta blues imitators, Charles Burnham a fiddler for hire, and Warren Benbow a pensive drummer even on the fast ones. So the beauties of their middle-aged reunion are atmospheric rather than fiery. A MINUS
Dud of the Month
A City by the Light Divided
Working on the humane assumption that all screamo records can't be equally horrible, the reviewerati have singled out this big-ticket effort, produced by Sleater-Kinneycertified Dave Fridmann. Unburdened by theory, however, I find that its distinction boils down to slightly subtler tunecraft and dynamic range. At any volume, Geoff Rickley still sounds like the kind of young man who, when they change his prescription so it doesn't upset his stomach, suddenly becomes more optimistic. This happened, he says, and while it's understandable, it suggests the limits of his political analysis. Romantic, too: Toward the end he's emoting at the top of his lungs about love like a carousel and 50 decaying roses. Takes things hard, does Geoff. That's why he became an artist. C PLUS
Vernon Reid & Masque
Hard to sustain an eclectic array of guitar-band instrumentals over a full album unless your listeners' eclecticism contours just the way yours does ("Game Is Rigged," "Flatbush and Church Revisited").
Two Europe-based Argentinean expats yank Astor Piazzolla toward jazz and electronica ("La Yumba," "DJ Peron").
Costello sings better than Toussaint, Toussaint exposes Steve Nieve as a klutz ("On Your Way Down," "International Echo").
Crazy like a gurufunny like one too ("From Her Fingers," "All Weirded Out").
Mission of Burma
Disappointed by Roxy Music, disquieted by Nancy Reagan's head ("Man in Decline," "1001 Pleasant Dreams").
Be Your Own Pet
Shambolic early versions of two album songs plus three U.K.-onlys, two excellent ("Hillmont Avenue," "Fire Department").
Try if you like oud jazz/Balkan clarinet/Sardinian throat-singing ("Morton's Foot," "Ma Muse M'Abuse").
Pink Sticky Lies
Kill Rock Stars
Which rock star exactly did they kill to get their lungs on that adaptable swaggerMichael Hutchence? ("Something Wrong," "Dive With You").
Narrative with jazz, jazz as narrative ("By the Page," "It's Alright").
Stars of CCTV
Stronger on quotidian horror than on living for the weekendin fact, they're so hard up for laughs they call a song that ("Cash Machine," "Feltham Is Singing Out").
My Head Is Bald
When James Y. Jones took up West Side blues, the commercially fading Wolf himself was 20 years younger than Jones is now ("My Head Is Bald," "Tend to Your Business").
Art Brut "These Animal Menswe@r" (Bang Bang Rock & Roll, Downtown)
Adam Green "Choke on a Cock" (Gemstones, Rough Trade)
Ta Det Lugnt
The Secret Migration
Carl Hancock Rux
Good Bread Alley
She Wants Revenge
James Blood Ulmer