- Russian Circles, “Enter”: Following in the proud and heavy tradition of math-rock guitar bands like Slint, Don Caballero, King Crimson, Mogwai, and yes, Rush, Russian Circles play heavy, fully instrumental, capital-R Rawk. It’s ludicrously energetic music, overstuffed with interlocking patterns and off-time beats, fun to listen to while driving or working out. At six tracks, it’s a little short, but I bet these guys would be completely awesome to see play live. BONUS: no Geddy Lee.
- Islands, “Return to the Sea”: “Return to the Sea” maddeningly alternates between sounding like a lost Ween album and sounding like a bunch of indie kids and an oompah band falling down the stairs. The unfortunately titled third track (“Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby”) is insanely catchy, and could have come off of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”; but one good track does not an album make, and ultimately I found myself finding reasons not to listen.
- Danger Doom, “The Occult Hymn”: “The Occult Swim” is a free EP available from adultswim.com, but it’s the musical equivalent of a commemorative plastic cup from Burger King filled with warm, flat soda. These charmless remixes manage to ditch everything that was moderately interesting about the original tracks from “The Mouse and the Mask” — they even ditch the insanely catchy loop from “Sofa King”, a personal favorite — and replace them with grating skits from the lamer cartoons from the Adult Swim fare. MF Doom is as skilled as ever, but Danger Mouse seems preoccupied with something else, probably the “Gnarls Barkley” album.
- Gnarls Barkley, “Gnarls Barkey”: Like the owners of “Butternuts” on Route 9, I wish these guys thought for about five more minutes before settling on a name. No matter — surely the single “Crazy” is a contender for 2006 song of the summer, as I’ve heard it pretty much everywhere I’ve gone for the past couple of weeks. Nothing else on the album comes close, but they deserve props for the Violent Femmes cover (“Gone Daddy Gone”) alone.
- Phoenix, “Never Been Like That”: French pop group Phoenix ditches a few of their synthesizers in favor of Stokes-style guitars in an attempt to rough up their image; this is roughly equivalent to Mike Seaver putting on a Operation Ivy hoodie and a clip-on earring. I enjoyed their old sound far more, as only a few tracks here come close to the highs reached by tracks on their excellent previous albums “Alphbetical” and “United”.
- Grandaddy, “Just Like The Fambly Cat”: While Jack Johnson rode his douchebag barefoot pro-surfer cred straight to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts, Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle rode his former amateur-skateboarder cred straight into a ditch — and after several decent yet commercially unsuccessful albums (and one outright masterpiece, 2003’s “Sumday”), Lytle is finally calling it quits on this album. Sadly, this means Grandaddy is ending on a low point; none of Lytle’s future-folk songs have the same pop as the older tunes, and it seems like everyone involved knew it. Here’s hoping Lytle goes on to better things.
- Ellen Allien & Apparat, “Orchestra of Bubbles”: For years, techno has been drifting into two seperate camps — there’s the floaty, hazy, gauzily electronic type pioneered by Brian Eno and innovated upon by surprisingly non-Canadian groups such as Boards of Canada. It’s the pleasant and dreamy kind of techno you hear in your more upscale coffeeshops. Then there’s the other kind of techno, phone cards which is typified by harsh 4/4 kick-drum beats, sawtooth synths, and repetitive samples; it’s the type of techno you hear in video games in which you shoot people. This album is of the second type, and unless you’re coked up and clubbing, I would avoid it. Even then I would avoid it.
- Mike Patton, “Peeping Tom”: If you have a neck tattoo, you’ll probably enjoy this album.
- Sonic Youth, “Rather Ripped”: Disparaging Sonic Youth in their (adopted) hometown of Northampton, MA feels kind of like badmouthing Tony Soprano down at the Bada Bing, but I didn’t love this album. It sounds great — I don’t think they’ve ever sounded more in control of their clean guitar textures, and early highlights like “Incinerate” and “Rats” are instant crowd-pleasers; but nothing on this album connected with me the way that 2002’s “Murray Street” did, start to finish. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been invited on a short car ride with Thurston and Sil.