Elastica, The Menace (Atlantic): Five years after their last long-player, with Justine Frischmann no longer a fixture in British gossip magazines, this long-awaited effort from Elastica came and went without a hit single and with little in the way of acclaim — the reason being, all the right people didn't hear it. Instead of another shiny alterna-rock record, Elastica delivered an astonishingly authentic-sounding new-wave record, mixing spiky, spastic rock songs with hushed, keyboard-heavy pop songs. On The Menace, Elastica throw out crackling melodies with little regard for the listener. It's a swift, charismatic, completely unpretentious set, one which will probably alienate a lot of the group's original fans, if they hear it. Which is fine, as long as those who'd love this record actually get a chance to listen. — AC

Amy Rigby, The Sugar Tree (Koch): The Sugar Tree, Amy Rigby's third album, may be sweet, but it's not saccharine. At times it can be downright sour, or at least melancholy. On "Happy for You," she sadly sings, "Seems we don't have a lot in common since you went and found someone/ Everything is hearts and flowers when you're around/ And it makes me feel like I'm someone who has been left behind/ But I'm happy for you." On other songs like "Let Me in a Little Bit" and "Better Stay Gone" she gets cut up on her own lyrical barbs about life and love, which seem so real they could be taken from a page about my life (that is, if I were a single mom eking out a living in Nashville). Even with the occasional addition of strings, Rigby's arrangements are simple; the melodies convey a sense of beauty and optimism that conflict with (but ultimately complement) some of the darker lyrics, creating a dynamic tension in the process. Her sense of humor is evident throughout her songs, particularly on "Cynically Yours." "The thought of you doesn't fill me with dread/ I can picture being with you 'til one (or both) of us is dead/ At the end of the day I've got nothing good to say/ But you don't suck so I'm cynically yours." The protagonist in Marshall Crenshaw's "Cynical Girl" has found a soul mate. — KM

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, Brain Freeze (7 Inch): "Turntablist movement this, turntablist movement that," I hear you saying. "Why can't they just play the records?" If you doubt the power of a good turntablist, Brain Freeze will show you what's what, though it probably helps to be a fan of '60s and '70s James Brown-influenced funky soul. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist take you on a stunning sonic journey that clocks in at just under an hour and feels like a blissfully-paced trip back in time, to the era when soul was first shaking its tail feather over to funk. Even if you're not interested in the history lesson, there's scratching aplenty to leave your mind spinning while you try to figure out exactly how they're making the sounds coming from their turntables. Consider that Brain Freeze's two tracks were recorded live, using only 45s. Lord knows how many different songs are mixed together here, but it's likely a record-breaker. Brain Freeze has been quietly released on the pirate 7 Inch label, and both tracks are widely available on Napster (long-ass download, but well worth the wait). — RR

Shellac, 1000 Hurts (Touch & Go): True, Steve Albini has left me feeling ambivalent re his talents as a producer on a few occasions, though in retrospect, Nirvana's In Utero sounds agreeably unpolished. Still, there can be no doubt that as a musician, the singer/guitarist is, and always has been, a punk of the first magnitude (see the Big Black back catalogue for proof). His latest outfit, Shellac, could almost be termed a punk-power trio, mixing a virtuoso approach to musicianship (I double dog dare you to find a better rhythm section than bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer anywhere in rock today) with a brutal, unblinking sensibility. On this, the band's third studio album, there's more than enough attitude to scare the backwards baseball cap off of any Eminem fan: "Kill him, fucking kill him / Kill him already, kill him," Albini howls on the album opener, "Prayer to God," a cathartic number describing one man's reaction to his wife's infidelity. That's just for starters: 1000 Hurts delivers death, violence and adultery galore, tearing away the veil of bourgeois normality to reveal the actual horrors of the human animal. What makes this one of the best rock albums of 2000, though, is the pulverizing music — angular and oddly syncopated power-rock that finally coalesces into aural dynamite. Hats off to Mr. Albini. — JW(B)

The Sultans, Ghost Ship (Sympathy for the Record Industry): This is an album of gritty punk rock. Thirteen manic tracks. Dig it. Raspy-voiced Rocket From the Crypt frontman John Reis shows prowess in the captain's seat, steering Ghost Ship at high speed through pirate (punk) waters. The Sultans combine Ramones-style thunderous three-chord rock and the swinging melodies of The Queers with some dirty hardcore guitar riffage and a more-than-healthy dose of sarcasm. First check out "Heartbreaker" and the excellently titled "(this ain't no) Solid State." — JT

The Places, The Autopilot Knows You Best (Absolutely Kosher): The debut long-player for songwriter Amy Annelle comes with a "Teenage Advisory Warning": "Some teenagers may be offended by the absence of sexually explicit content and/or profanity." The album sets about presenting a set of songs concerned with subtlety, what could even be called a "mature" collection. From a rather Liz-Phair-like beginning in clanging-pop territories, The Autopilot Knows You Best takes a turn towards melancholia at its midpoint, as the gorgeous "Will Try" and "No Mystery" usher in a hushed air, with Annelle's sweet singing and cautious guitar playing backed by violin, lap steel and dusty percussion. — AC

Various Artists, Lyricist Lounge (Rawkus): Because hip-hop is a singles-driven medium, the only thing worse than a bad, overlong hip-hop album by an artist is a bad, overlong various-artist collection. Though it got me in trouble for saying it at the time, the first Lyricist Lounge collection was just too static and long-winded to be as great as all the purist hip-hop heads said it was — and I still think I'm right. Fortunately, in the tradition of "Evil Dead" movies, the sequel is far superior to the original. Lyricist Lounge 2boils it down to one disc with a who's who of the artistically thriving underground, including artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Dilated Peoples and Last Emperor, as well as an awesome vintage a capella rhyme by Biggie Smalls. This time around, the album is tight, and it sounds more like an up-to-date best-of mix than a throwaway hodgepodge of leftovers. — KM

Cave In, Jupiter (Hydrahead): This Boston foursome inspired one of the finest and funniest bits of rock writing I've ever read — Carly Carioli's ecstatic piece from a July '99 Boston Phoenix. Among the forces driving Carioli and the band's burgeoning cult to flights of rapture is Cave In's supposed practice of changing styles with each album, from calculus-core to foppish acoustica to this new one, which sounds like the emo flavor-of-the-month high on Rush. Personally, I don't think that's such a long distance, and won't until they ditch the guitars they'll die worshipping. Still, it's refreshing to hear a band this young, indie and boyish relinquish its musical principles so readily — clearly they're less about pledging allegiance and more about simply making themselves heard. It works — the album looks grotesque on paper (presto-change-o prog structures, "Tom Sawyer" keybs, meticulous, oversaturated production) but immediately sounds fetching (before the second half bogs down into dirge, that is). The huge, cavernous guitar effects reinforce the melodic lines, alternately pompous and generous, and Stephen Brodsky's off-putting shifts into falsetto grow more subtle with each listen. One way or another, they're gonna grab your ear. — KJ

Magnétophone, I Guess Sometimes I Need to Be Reminded of How Much You Love Me (4AD): The layered drones, treated tones, and heavily-distorted beats of English electro duo Magnétophone make for a sound floating in a middle ground between The Third Eye Foundation, Autechre and Boards of Canada, the combo to whom Magnétophone owe their biggest debt. Their debut album flits between uneasy ambient pieces, pop songs buried in layers and loops, and crunchy takes on the IDM sound. But, even when they dabble with dance-floor sounds, Magnétophone make music that openly solicits the home-listener/chin-scratcher set. Even during I Guess Sometimes...'s occasional forays into cute musical terrain, it retains an air of melancholy, which, depending on your musical persuasion, is either a blessing or a curse. — AC

Juliana Hatfield, Beautiful Creature (Zoe/Island): The Juliana Hatfield Three's Become What You Are, with the amazing "Supermodel" and 11 other cool songs I've listened to again and again, is still my favorite of Hatfield's albums. Beautiful Creature is a close second, though. In "Cool Rock Boy," a dark, grungy number that would have fit on Become What You Are, Hatfield sings: "Hey cool rock boy/ What will you take from me, cool rock boy?/ What will you leave me, cool rock boy?/ What will you take from me? Nothing and everything." If you weren't paying attention when "Choose Drugs" begins, you could think it was an upbeat folk-rocker. Listen to the lyrics, and you find that Hatfield is singing about an addict boyfriend who slipped away. "I say it's me or drugs/ You choose drugs," goes the mournful chorus, sadness blowing through the music like a cold wind. Is my infatuation with this album nostalgia for the grunge years, or just the natural response to something good — real good? — Michael Goldberg

The Twilight Singers, Twilight as played by The Twilight Singers (Columbia): One might theorize that Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli scared himself when he came up with his masterpiece, the searing Gentlemen, way back in 1993. Since that exhilarating and brutally honest examination of gender relations and the perversity of the male psyche, Dulli and the Whigs have produced consistently excellent work, though nothing to top that high-water mark (perhaps, to be fair, nothing could). Meanwhile the singer-songwriter himself has gone from one trauma to the next: depression, stomach ailments and drug problems a la Kurt Cobain, injuries sustained from barroom altercations, and so on. On this side project, however, Dulli, expertly aided by Whigs alumnus and Howlin' Maggie frontman Harold Chichester, finally stops raging against the darkness and makes his peace with it instead. Eschewing the more raucous, cathartic moments typical of the Whigs, Twilight as played by The Twilight Singers is all about atmosphere, laden with nocturnally jazzy, trip-hop flavored musical settings verging at times on the ambient. Lyrically, we find an uncharacteristically subdued Dulli musing, "I fell far enough to touch the hand of Lucifer / stripped of all his glory" ("King Only"), yet still able to end the proceedings with the simple, upbeat proclamation, "Everything's gonna be alright" ("Twilight"). An album that expands with repeated listenings, Twilight as played by The Twilight Singers is an inspired journey off the beaten musical path. It sounds like the second masterpiece of Greg Dulli's brilliant career. — JW(B)

The Mooney Suzuki, People Get Ready (Estrus): People get ready for The Kinks gone louder and harder. This New York City four-piece combines a heavy '60s British-garage influence with a black-clad, mod-rock demeanor. The Rolling Stones-ish "Make My Way" is high-energy rock 'n' soul; "My Dear Persephone" rocks like the Kinks but adds Beatlesque vocals. Shifting gears into the rockabilly "Make You Mine," they shift 'em again for the closing track, "Everytime." It's an Otis Redding-style soul ballad that you'll wish would never end. — JT

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