Leila, Courtesy of Choice (XL): Like Weather, Leila Arab's Rephlex-issued debut LP, was a beguiling outsider-art gathering of defiled ambience and refried Motown soul. On follow-up Courtesy of Choice, Leila takes her adept production skills to a new level. She buries pop songs amid noise (desk-tone, amp-buzz, vinyl-crackle), distorts beats, flutters keyboards, layers vocals and keeps an astonishing sense of "space" in the sound. Courtesy of Choice conjuring up distant environs into which the listener must step. Once you're inside, it offers up all kinds of minor epiphanies. — AC

Various Artists, The Estrus 100% Apeshit Rock Sampler Vol. 2 (Estrus): Bellingham, Washington-based Estrus Records is one of my fave labels, and this 24-track compilation explains why. Kicking off with The Bobbyteens' homage to the Stones, "Rock and Roll Show" (imagine your younger sister's garage combo playing "Brown Sugar"), the album lines up one low-rent '60s-style punk-rocker after another. The sampler culminates with label head Dave Crider's band Watt, who will slay you with their crunching, MC5-style "Cool American." — MG

Pizzicato Five, The Fifth Album From Matador (Matador): Iconic kitschophile Konishi Yasuharu here helms another head-spinning cut-'n'-paste collection of authentically depicted, primary-colored pop culture. On their fifth American album, Pizzicato Five appropriate, cut up, and fearlessly re-create '60s and '70s Italian soundtracks. "Roma," a cartoon-chase of a song, flies with reckless abandon; flourishes of harpsichord punctuate "A Room With a View" as it bounces along on a brassy breeze; "Darlin' of Discothéque" dances up a Euro-disco storm over syrupy synth-strings; "Serial Story" takes a drive through the country in spring sunshine. — AC

Groop Dogdrill, Every Six Seconds (Beggar's Banquet Canada): In this age of TMI (Too Much Information) and corporate mega-hype, real artistic genius is in great danger of being swamped by mountains of uninspired dross shoveled 24/7 upon a numbed-out public. I fear that such a fate may befall this brilliant slice of post-Nirvana rock by the UK's Groop Dogdrill. After years of writing about this stuff, I'll gladly stake my critical rep on the brilliance of Every Six Seconds, the band's sophomore disc, its title a reference to the frequency with which males supposedly think about sex. From start to finish, Every Six Seconds teems with melody-infused raunch — think of bands like the Afghan Whigs, GVSB, and of course, Nirvana — and a careening, exhilarating, on-the-brink sensibility. Thematically, we're taken on a wild, testosterone-fueled — and, in contrast to Kurt Cobain and company, guilt-free — trawl though the basement of the male psyche. Presented in an unapologetic fashion ("Simian Kind," "Clown Smash Everything") as a natural, if tragic, imperative, male sexuality appears in all its terror and ecstasy, while the ladies are portrayed with equally few illusions: "Shut your mouth and take your pants down," a groupie instructs the startled singer on the provocatively titled "On Me Not in Me," while the female protagonist in the gothic-sex creep-out "Bob 'N' Laura" inquires: "Do you feel disgusted Bob / Now that I've come?" Matt Ellis' punchy production keeps things in this aural war-of-the-sexes sounding consistently engaging. Like Nirvana's Nevermind, like all the best rock, Every Six Seconds refuses to serve as some kind of yuppie background noise: it demands a response, either positive or negative, from the listener. While a U.S. release has been mysteriously pulled from the schedule, Every Six Seconds is available from Beggar's Banquet Canada at a reasonable price. Those who wonder where the real rock 'n' roll went in the year 2000 would do well to check it out . — JW(B)

The Avalanches, Since I Left You (XL): The debut LP from Australia's-most-likely is a joyous ode to sampling, weaving a dense web of gathered sounds into a collection of grooves both contemplative and danceable. Since I Left You is filled with so much of the sound that inspires DJs: forgotten disco, warm funk, French-pop, droll spoken-word, syrupy strings, and proto-hip-hop loops. And every one of the album's 18 strung-together songs is complex beyond belief. Luckily, the album has an easy-going air that lifts it out of the realm of smart-guy assemblage and into sexy, summery territories. — AC

Sally Timms & Jon Langford, Songs of False Hope and High Values (Bloodshot): On holiday from the Mekons, singer/songwriters Sally Timms and Jon Langford have crafted a modernist collection of folk tales set to a hybrid country-folk-bluegrass sound — instrumentation includes banjo, mandolin and Hawaiian guitar. When they duet, as they do on "I Picked Up the Pieces," they echo that very British, very smart ethos of Richard and Linda Thompson, but their solo turns are equally sharp. Sally covers Floyd Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and Dolly Parton's "Down From Dover." I prefer the originals, including "Horses" and "I Picked Up the Pieces," which transcend time and space. This album is issued in a limited edition of 2000 copies (I bought #1255). Locate one now, or pay the price. — MG

Southern Culture on the Skids, Liquored Up and Lacquered Down (TVT Records/ EMusic): The North Carolina four-piece's latest is proof positive that rusty trailers, big hair and booze can translate into some darn fine hootin'-and-hollerin', farm-rockin' tunes. Southern Culture on the Skids make use of country, R&B, rockabilly, Tex-Mex and swampy blues to explore back-country (i.e. white trash/redneck) life. "Drunk and Lonesome (Again)" is classic Hank Williams-styled country with a classic morning-after lyric: "Did we meet in a bar?/ Did we talk about cars?/ I was drunk and alone/ That's how you took me home." — JT

Low, "Dinosaur Act" (Tugboat): Angelic Minnesota minimalists Low return with dynamic fervor on "Dinosaur Act," an English-issued single setting the stage for their forthcoming album Things We Lost in the Fire. Continuing the expansion of sound shown on Secret Name, their last longplayer, "Dinosaur Act" finds distorted guitar, keyboards, and trumpet framing the band's most notable qualities: Mimi Parker's sparse drumming, and her pure vocal harmonies with husband Alan Sparhawk. On the B-side, "Overhead" revisits the delay-heavy sound of the Songs for a Dead Pilot EP, and "Don't Carry It All" straddles regal ground somewhere between exultant hymn and hushed lullaby. — AC

PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island): With a bracing, droning rock-guitar jangle, Harvey sings: "Look out ahead/ I see danger come/ I wanna pistol/ I wanna gun/ I'm scared baby/ I wanna run/ This world's crazy/ Give me the gun." Like Bob Dylan circa Blonde on Blonde, Elvis Costello circa This Year's Model, and Patti Smith, who some people seem to think she sounds like on this album, Harvey sings with certainty about her internal life and the world around her. It's hard to keep from quoting lyrics when writing about this album, because they're so good. But flat on the screen, the words don't convey Harvey's vocal nuances in a line like "And he's the best thing/ He's the best thing/ He's the best thing/ A beautiful feeling." The way she almost whispers a word, and then lets minimal guitar notes fill the air — just a little longer than you might expect. Or sings "And when I watch you move," and then just holds that last word. This is one of the best albums of 2000. — MG

The Insomniacs, Get Something Going! (Estrus): Together for over a decade, with a sound dominated by guitar and Hammond organ, this garage-pop combo has delivered an album sure to be loved by fans of artists ranging from Big Star, the Bangles and the early Stooges to the Make-Up and The International Noise Conspiracy. "Tear It Up," with a jangly guitar intro and insistent, snotty vocal by singer/writer David Wojciechowski, is sublimely addictive. Put it on, turn it up, tear it up. I'm there. — MG

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, At the Doorway Again (Rough Trade): Four years after we last heard from Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval quietly arises in a new guise, joining forces with former My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosig for a four-song EP. The musical terrain At the Doorway Again charts is painfully quiet and breathtakingly beautiful, with guitars, piano and percussion providing a gentle bed for Sandoval's singing. Her peerless voice colors this record's character, whether she's wondering "if God is a lesbian inside?" on "Around My Smile" or wordlessly sighing on "Sparkly." — AC

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