Mark Kozelek, What's Next to the Moon (Badman): The premise that AC/DC wrote folk songs is admittedly farfetched, only it works! Stripped of the hard-rock arrangements and unintelligible vocal delivery that marked AC/DC's original recordings of this material, the songs are transformed into melancholy ballads. Accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar playing — sometimes multiple-tracked — Kozelek has delivered a wondrous collection. Singing AC/DC's words (different versions of three of these appeared on his 2000 E.P. Rock 'N' Roll Singer), he is an outlaw troubadour: "On the day I was born the rain came down/ And there was trouble brewing in my home town," goes the lyric to "Bad Boy Boogie." First John Denver (Kozelek masterminded Take Me Home: A Tribute To John Denver), then AC/DC. Whose songs will be next? — MG

The New Year, Newness Ends (Touch & Go): Over the lifespan of three longplayers, Bedhead's Kadane brothers rang their guitars-that-chime-like-bells to wholly holy effect. The combo's demise led the brethren to Boston, where they're joined in their new band, the New Year, by Come's Chris Brokaw and Saturnine's Mike Donofrio, stirring up a more pleasant palette of country colors. That said, the Kadanes' style still befits a couple of cats who called their first band Bedhead: hedging in cautious steps, smiling with weary-eyed glee and ringing their pillowy guitars out long into the night. For whatever reason, perhaps that favorite rock-journalistic conceit "artistic maturation," Matt Kadane is now comfortable with having his vocals mixed at an audible level; understanding the words lets the New Year's soft moods define themselves as "songs," in the most sing-along-in-your-car sense. — AC

Electric Frankenstein, Annie's Grave (Victory Records): Some proclaim "rock is dead." Others counter that the rock, especially of the hard kind, is smoldering underground, where it's under constant reinvention — you just gotta know where to dig. My suggestion? Exhume Annie's Grave, 'cause it's a keeper. Preserving hard rock's pledge to everything "evil," the NY/NJ five-piece shout about drugs, hate and death with punk's energy and metal's malice. Jaded guitar solos scream alongside snarling vocals throughout, while powerful hooks and catchy-yet-gritty melodies take you back to live shows so compelling they make "I'm so into this" head-banging inevitable. And with their homage to early punk — a version of the Dead Boys' "Third Generation Nation" — Electric Frankenstein prove that not only is great rock not forgotten, it's also not dead. — JT

Dolly Parton, Little Sparrow (Sugar Hill): Who knows why geniuses sometimes take a decade or two off from their genius, the way you and I take a week off work? But as long as Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt and John Prine return to form, who really cares why? Now I'd add Dolly Parton to that list. Little Sparrow proves that 1999's The Grass Is Green was no fleeting burst of inspiration; Parton hasn't been so consistently exciting since the '70s. If anything, the new one suggests an evening kicking back with one of the world's greatest entertainers as she goes through her song collection like old love letters. She steals "Shine" from Collective Soul, jazzes up "I Get A Kick Out of You" Willie Nelson-style. Even her own "Down From Dover" gets a remarkable overhaul from the actress within; the heartbreaking catch in her throat as she describes the stillbirth actually eclipses her original performance. The album is peppered throughout with angry tales of women who were wronged, are wronged or are about to be wronged, with the title tune counseling against ever getting involved with men. The brilliant "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" stands apart, starting out like one of those tales only to surprise us with a twist, and for once a happy ending. — KJ

The Magic Magicians, Girls (Suicide Squeeze): John Atkins, whose day job is singing in 764-Hero, has one of those pure pop voices dug by power-pop fans since the beginning of time (or since the Beatles recorded Beatles VI, anyway). Here Atkins collaborates with Joe Plummer (who normally handles drums for Black Heart Procession), and the result is a delightful pop-rock album, self-consciously in the tradition of Big Star (Third/Sister Lovers), but with more noise and Nirvana-esque edge. Guests include Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, Murder City Devils' Coady Willis, 764-Hero's Polly Johnson, and Mike Johnson. Highlights include the hooky "RSVP," which might remind you of the Beatles (as will the chorus of "Bored Ticket Taker"); the haunting, conversational "Time Zones Be Damned"; and the stunning album opener, "I'm On Your Side," with its huge sound and quirky "Through the Looking Glass" take on Spector's Wall of Sound. — MG

Orgy, Vapor Transmission (Reprise / Elementree): One of the problems with rock music today isn't so much a lack of quality as the overall glut of available material, so that not even the most dedicated rock critic, let alone casual fan, has a hope of sorting through it. Yours truly, for instance, didn't pick up on this release from late 2000 until 2001; if I had, it might have made my "best-of" list. Orgy's second album has drawn comparisons to Marilyn Manson in his Mechanical Animals period. While no bad thing in itself (that would be Holy Wood), this is not a totally accurate representation, either. This is gloriously trashy glam-rock with an updated cybernetic edge. It certainly evokes Bowie's Spiders From Mars, but even more strongly resembles Bowie's late-1970s mutant electronic offspring — e.g. Gary Numan (everybody's fave cult hero these days) and even John Foxx-era Ultravox, with a touch of decidedly non-electronican New York Dolls swagger and sass thrown in for good measure. Cool song titles like "Suckerface" and "Opticon" tell you what kind of decadent fun you're in for here; the band also proves capable of writing strong hooks that really sink in on repeated listenings — just try to get the chorus of "Fiction (Dreams In Digital)" out of your head! While I'm no great fan of Korn, for whose boutique label Elementree the Orgy boys labor, I must at least send them kudos for signing this talented bunch. — JW(B)

General Magic, Rechenkönig (Mego): Glitch assimilation continues, with cats like Vladislav Delay sculpting digital defects into recognizable dance-forms (i.e. glitch-house), but General Magic continue to be nothing short of arrhythmic assholes. While peers like Fennesz and Farmer's Manual have, at times, strayed into whole records filled with "tunes," and others embrace the repetition of drones, General Magic have never fallen prey to such easy listening. Since cutting up recordings of a fridge on Mego's seminal Fridge Tracks, Ramon Bauer and Andreas Pieper have shattered the patchwork of everyday sound into non-sequential fragments, taking their treated tones into new realms of disheartening abstraction. On Rechenkönig they continue to be frustrating and funny at once, provocatively empowered by their lack of rhythm. And, as is the way with guilty feet, don't try to dance to it. — Anthony Carew

Various, Smells Like Bleach: A Punk Tribute To Nirvana (Cleopatra): Picture this: You pop in the garage of your friend's house and plop down on an old couch. Just when you've slouched down comfortably, your friend says, "Check it out, I learned how to play a Nirvana song on my guitar today!" Your friend starts playing. Your face squinches up awkwardly into your "What the #@$% is that?" expression. That's what it's like to listen to Smells Like Bleach. If you're a hardcore Nirvana fan, it's even worse. Blanks 77's sped-up, repeat-beat version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" transforms a song so powerful it has come to represent a generation into a poppy, snotty, snarling do-over that sounds a mockery at best. UK Subs stamp that "The Queen Is Dead" punk sound on "Stay Away." Think: "Stay awaaiiy, Oi!" Oi? DOA have no remorse on "All Apologies." Only Flipper come through with a winner, successfully maneuvering "Scentless Apprentice" into hardcore territory with haunting vocals and dark bass lines. Mostly this is a collection that teases its listeners with intros that trigger a longing for the real thing, only to disappoint — again and again. — JT

Nicole Willis, Soul Makeover (Sähkö): Going heavy on the eyeliner, Nicole Willis hooks up with her husband, Finnish funk/jazz space-cowboy Jimi Tenor, and his favorite remix-hand, syncopated-house producer Maurice Fulton. This ménage à trois delivers an album of chilled, breezy, occasionally uneasy re-styled soul for Tenor's first record label Sähkö, the haven of abstract electronics run by Pan sonic's Mika Vainio. The album comes from way out in left field at the super-slick electro cut-ups of the likes of Aaliyah and Destiny's Child, while still working as a straight-up soul record. For a soul "makeover" it has an authentically old sound, with warm electrics, compressed tape loops and sweeping strings dancing over the beats, even as it stylistically flits through mixes of acid, down-tempo house, '70s fusion, Philly soul, girl-group grooves, Sähkö-styled minimalism, and even echoes of Finnish avant-jazz. — AC

Le Tigre, Le Tigre: From the Desk of Mr. Lady (Mr. Lady): Apparently, Kathleen Hanna's relocation to NYC hasn't sapped all the unfashionable protest of her lyric bank. In fact, this stopgap EP is a self-conscious, possibly guilt-ridden return to the sledgehammer analysis of her old band, Bikini Kill. And like Bikini Kill, her arty punk-wave gets over on ideas which make the songs easy to describe: counting out the 41 bullets that killed Amadou Diallo at the end of the "Bang! Bang!" as well as interspersing various newscasts; giving some anti-feminist feminist lines to a "clueless male" in "Gone B4 Yr Home;" looping pre-phonemic grunts and giggles for "They want us to make a symphony out of the sound of women swallowing their own tongues"; chants galore. Now and then, I fret about analytical nuance, especially since "Yr Critique" critiques superficial, fake rebellion; just who exactly are the "they" who want that symphony and why did the artists go ahead and make it? But bullshit is a given with indie rock. It's what you do with it that counts. And Hanna makes her bullshit stick. And screech. And chill. And dance. — KJ

Dave Fischoff, The Ox and the Rainbow (Secretly Canadian): Play it once and it will likely confound you. Play it twice, and you will fall long and hard for a cracked pop album that sometimes recalls the equally cracked psychedelic rock of the late Syd Barrett. Fischoff seems to be responsible for all the music on his album, which includes multi-tracked and treated vocals and all kinds of odd sounds, from chimes and very old-fashioned organ to trippy (not trip-hop) rhythms and weird little guitar bits and pieces. Some of Fischoff's music reminds me of blown leaves, or rain hitting a window or splattering into a puddle; of staying up way too late or waking at 3 A.M. and wandering, still half asleep, through the dark house. At times the album is quiet and contemplative ("We Break Up and Watch the Angels Swim"); at other times the pace picks up, heading into English Music Hall territory ("Propaganda for a Comic Strip"). Mostly the music here is awesomely beautiful, like that abalone shell you picked up off the beach while walking with your lover. — MG

Masters of Illusion, Kut Master Kurt Presents Masters of Illusion (Threshold Recordings): The year 2000 couldn't have been so bad. After all, we got three albums from mad hip-hop genius Kool Keith: his keyboard-heavy Analog Brothers project, with a crew of folks including Ice-T; his own Matthew; and the Masters of Illusion project, a romp with producer/DJ Kut Master Kurt and occasional rhyming partner Motion Man that went from funky ("The Bay Bronx Bridge," "Let Me Talk to You") to haunted hardcore ("Masters of Illusion," "Step Up"). This album's repetitious choruses and off-the-wall rhymes about wack rappers and sex are familiar territory for Kool Keith fans, but it was definitely an inspired choice to make an entire album with Motion Man — perhaps the only other rapper (aside from Keith himself) who makes a basic dis rhyme like "My head is hollow point tip/ Straight penetrate deep in your skull/ My marksmen skills/ Be on some Bronson Eastwood/ Rambo Segal Norris tip/ What ya' heard — I'm a nerd?" sound like he's correct and there's no way anyone can claim to be a better rapper. Except Keith, whose increasingly bizarre lyrics ("Chicken salad/ Don't fuck with grandma laying on the pallet") stand out at every juncture. Together, inspiring each other to shine, they're an unbeatable combo. Also in fine form here is Kut Master Kurt, ripping up the 1s and 2s pretty hard when he's not letting DJ Revolution, DJ Rhettmatic or DJ Babu let loose with some ill scratching. While not a classic on the order of Sex Style or Dr. Octogynocologist, Kut Master Kurt Presents Masters of Illusion is a great addition to Keith's delightfully twisted catalog. — Randy Reiss

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