Sonic Youth: Murray Street (DGC)
Murray Street in lower Manhattan is where Sonic Youth's Echo Canyon studio is located, just blocks from the World Trade Center disaster. This album was well under way when that tragedy occurred, and the members insist that the music was not really colored by that event. At any rate, what's here is mostly quite beguiling, a mixture of pleasingly melodic tunes (all credited to the entire band) and plenty of Sonic Youth's trademark noize, though they've definitely sounded noizier. Some songs are as accessible as the best ones on Daydream Nation, but you never have to wait too long to hear some squealing feedback or to lose yourself in a long, spiraling jam. I'm not sure what this group does to retain that unmistakable sound-of-a-band-that's-still-learning-how-to-play, but it's part of what defines Sonic Youth, and I, for one, hope they never change. Best tracks: “Rain on Tin,” which contains a cool jam that sounds like early psychedelia — “raga rock” lives!; “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style” (don't ask!); and the punky Kim Gordon-sung “Plastic Sun,” which is one of the great bitter songs of all time: “I hate you and it never ends!” Ouch!
Producers: Sonic Youth. Engineer: Jim O'Rourke. Studio: Echo Canyon (NYC). Mastering: John Golden.
— Blair Jackson
Ladytron: Light & Magic (Emperor Norton)
There is no '80s music revival! As any seasoned L.A. club kid will tell you, moody, melodic, '80s-influenced synth pop never went away. Ladytron's newest release, Light & Magic, has this “fashionista” foursome lurking somewhere between Depeche Mode and Bananarama, providing the perfect soundtrack for all-night cocaine binges and runway model shows. Musically, Light & Magic is a bit more dreamy and subdued than the group's previous album, 604. They still rely on a basic formula of cut-up break beats, unbroken synth phrases and whisper-quiet vocals, but the emphasis seems to have shifted from glitzy disco tunes to whimsical pop songs. Standout tracks include the monotonous but addictive “Seventeen” and the aptly titled “Evil,” as it is sure to become the guilty pleasure of anyone who hears it. Will people care about Ladytron two years from now? Who knows. But it's a fun idea for the moment, and that's the point.
Producers: Daniel Hunt, Mickey Petralia. Mixer: Mickey Petralia. Additional programming and engineering: Michael Fitzpatrick. Assistants: Matt Fausak, Aleks Tamulis. Recorded in Liverpool and Los Angeles. Mixed at Hollywood Sound (Los Angeles).
— Robert Hanson
Steve Tibbetts: A Man About a Horse (ECM)
The Minnesota-based guitarist's first CD in eight years is one of his best, a typically eclectic and inventive pastiche of styles and sounds. Passages of glistening acoustic guitars and tabla accompaniment merge with dense electric guitar textures and all manner of sonic washes — from industrial-sounding treatments worthy of Ministry, to dreamy ambient soundscapes that fade in and out like hallucinations. As with everything Tibbetts does, there's a strong Asian influence to much of the music — India and Indonesia mostly — but you'll hear echoes of Jimi Hendrix and Western folk music sources, as well. Tibbetts is endlessly creative in his approach to layering sounds on this CD, and on the music front, he is ably assisted by percussionists Marc Anderson (a longtime associate) and Marcus Wise, and bassist Jim Anton. It's quite a novel journey all the way around.
Producer: Manfred Eicher. Engineer: Steve Tibbetts. Studio: Tibbetts' home studio in Minnesota.
— Blair Jackson
Original Sinners: Original Sinners (Nitro)
If you loved X in their early Billy Zoom days, Exene Cervenka's latest project will give you some joyous déjà vu. With tracks like “Whiskey for Supper” and “Mourning After,” this is a punkabilly treat: very twangy, very thrash and very rythmic. And, of course, what lifts this album up is Cervenka's expressive singing. She's always had this wonderfully off, tongue-in-cheek, provocative voice. This is a perfect dose of L.A. punk, which is typically a bit, well, sunnier than other scenes. This group mixes surf guitar and psychobilly with its angst, and top-flight engineer Dave Bianco mixed the tracks into a nasty, fantastic uproar.
Producers: Original Sinners. Recording engineer: Andrew Alekel. Mixing engineer: Dave Bianco. Recording studio: Grandmaster Recorders (Hollywood). Mixing studio: Larrabee West (Hollywood). Mastering: Dave Collins/Marcussen Mastering.
— Barbara Schultz