Slobberbone, Slippage (New West): The best bar band in America--not just Denton or Dallas or Fort Worth--delivers a rock record ("Springfield, IL." and "Write Me Off") that knows it doesn't always have to ("Sister Beams" and "Back"). It's "classic rock" if you mean "timeless," "modern rock" if you mean "now."
Baboon, Something Good is Going to Happen to You (Last Beat): Over a dozen songs, Baboon fields every position like a skilled utilityman, whether they're killing you softly ("Son," a wobbly marionette on synthetic strings; the piano-bar pang of "Goodnight, Good-bye"), tightening a noose of noise ("Pig Latin"--and that's close enough to whatever's being said) or somewhere in between ("Carried," where quiet has a head-on collision with LOUD).
Sorta, Laugh Out Loud (Summer Break): Laugh Out Loud, Sorta's first full-length (following 2001's Plays for Lovers EP), hits the sweet spot between Pleasant Grove's amplified quiet and Wilco's Being There, though it stands up just fine on its own. The disc wraps rock in roll, country in heart and soul. Best example is the almost-seven-minute "Chinese Feet," which comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion.
Sparrows, Rock and Roll Days (Summer Break): The album title is absolutely appropriate. If you're wondering why people stopped making rock records the way they used to, stop wondering.
Red Animal War, Black Phantom Crusades (Deep Elm): The bomb-ticking intensity that pervaded 2001's Breaking in an Angel remains here, in the guitars that stop on a dime and make change, the rhythm section that punches you in the heart, the lyrics that swing for your head. But "Straight Lines for Construction Workers" is a song the band might not have been able to pull off a year or two ago, a straight-ahead story about suicide. In their ever-maturing hands, it's less a funeral than it is a wake, not an end but another beginning. In a way, the same could be said for Red Animal War.
Will Johnson, "The Re-Run Pills" (from Murder of Tides, Undertow): May be the best song Johnson, taking a brief break from Centro-matic, has ever written. And that's saying something.
The Deathray Davies, The Day of the Ray (Idol): From the start-stop rhythm that kicks off the album on "Is This On?" to the shoo-doop-shoop-shoo-doop sing-along gilding the edges of the unlisted "There's Too Much Ulterior in Your Motive," it's the kind of record singer-guitarist John Dufilho couldn't have pulled off alone--as he did on DRD's two earlier discs--as conscious of big sounds as it is big ideas.
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Robot Monster Weekend, Turn Down Your Sorrow...It's Robot Monster Weekend (self-released): Songs as short and fun as a perfect punch line, music that makes a point and quickly moves to another one. You can hear bits and lifts of all the bands singer-guitarists Mike Gargiulo and Aaron Thedford used to talk about while working at DNA animation studios (Replacements and Guided by Voices, mainly), but Turn Down Your Sorrow doesn't use any of them as a crutch, skipping along on its own two feet.
Deadman, Paramour (Lakeshore): The most striking part of Paramour is Steven and Sherilyn Collins' hand-holding harmonies, their sweet and low voices wrapping around each other like curls of smoke until you can't hear where one ends and the other begins, and pretty soon, it doesn't matter; it's all one beautiful, fragile sound. Their joint custody of the microphone makes Deadman, at times, sound something like a smoked-out version of X, and other times like the Velvet Underground and Nico making a run for the border.
MossEisley, EP 2 (self-released): The four DuPree siblings (guitarist Chauntelle, singer-guitarist Sherri, drummer Weston and singer-keys player Stacy) and bassist-next door neighbor Jonathan Wilson have one of the best stories around, and some of the best songs, too. And they're not even close to getting as good as they will be. Pay attention.
LCC live: Playing its first real gig since last November, opening for Interpol at Gypsy Tea Room on September 23, LCC (formerly Legendary Crystal Chandelier) proved that a name change was in order; after all, it certainly seemed like a different band. With new drummer Kevin Bybee on board, singer-guitarist Peter Schmidt, guitarist James Henderson and bassist Mark Hughes unveiled half a dozen new songs, and the handful of older songs LCC played (all off 1998's debut, Love of the Decimal Equivalent) sounded fresher than they had in years. In the gigs since, the group's only gotten better. When the album hits next year sometime, it will do so like a bomb.