After five albums, this grrrl-powered Pacific Northwest trio still gets a lot of mileage out of how it reinvented rock to suit its own feminist-indie ideals. But is it really reinvention if a good portion of your sixth album recalls "The Scream"-era Siouxsie & the Banshees? Well, kinda. Following the streamlined, angular punk of 2000's "All Hands on the Bad One," singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss broaden their sonic vocabulary with new wave and soul elements. After all, we expect protest tunes from S-K, but not with a distinctly Motown beat, as on the people-get-ready number "Step Aside." Tucker and Brownstein apply their trademark vocal and instrumental back-and-forth to such subjects as the lock-step state of the union ("Combat Rock"), 9/11 ("Far Away"), heartbreak ("Funeral Song") and the tale of a rock-liberated bookworm ("Prisstina," featuring their first male guest vocalist, Stephen Trask of "Hedwig" fame). Still, although the warped pop of the Go-Go's-esque "Oh!" is giddy fun, it's slightly disappointing that S-K has picked up the whole '80s synth-pop thang. Just like sob! so many other bands. The group's singular, piercing-wail urgency still vividly captures personal and political upheaval, but the chewed-up/spit-out message of "Hollywood Ending" is just tired. And the bluesy "Sympathy," an agonized prayer for a baby's life, favors the artlessly maudlin over the righteously direct.
Kill the Moonlight
Britt Daniel again shows that propulsive rock songs don't have to sound big. On the Austin, Tex., band's fourth album, frontman Daniel discharges tense gems that all ought to be stamped "urgent," if they'd stand still long enough. Those lean and inventive rhythms emerge from the sparest of guitar-bass-keyboard-drum environments. On one number, "Stay Don't Go," breathy grunts are looped to form a human beat box, while Daniel's stuttery vocals, which range from Doorsy on "Small Stakes" to Stonesy on "Don't Let It Get You Down," are just prominent enough to be your conscience. On "Moonlight," Daniel remembers "Jonathon Fisk," the bully who, while acknowledging his sin, whupped him on the way home from school. To him, Daniel writes, "religion don't mean a thing/It's just another way to be right wing."
Plankton Man vs. Terrestre
Plankton Man and Terrestre
This battle of the bands, Nortec-style, might not include the Tijuana collective's brightest star, Bostich, but both Terrestre and Plankton Man do a fine job of expanding the group's trademark fusion of liquid electronica and quirky norteno samples. The artificial samba beat and jazzy flute solos on "California 70" show that success has not spoiled Nortec's effervescent sense of humor.
After cranking out hits for Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Usher and a host of others over the last few years, the producing team the Neptunes put their beat-making prowess to the test by kicking off their own label with the debut album from the Virginia rap duo of Pusha T and Malice. The results are blissful, as the body-rocking, futuristic beats mesh magically with the clever, straightforward rapping of the two MCs, who inject sly humor and hard-core boasting into nearly every lyric.