THE BLACK KEYS: Attack And Release [Nonesuch]

Ah, the Black Keys. The poor man’s White Stripes, if you will. A cruel, lazy, hackneyed comparison that’s well past its sell-by date? Perhaps, but it’s a conclusion that’s difficult to escape. Almost six years after their debut, the Keys are resolutely sticking to the template laid down by their Detroit cousins: a raw, back-to-basics approach to gutbucket blues and big, bludgeoning, howling riffage that owes an obvious and extremely heavy debt to early Led Zeppelin. Which is all well and good to an extent, and there’s no question that singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney are proficient purveyors of heavy-duty, greased-up garage blues with a ridiculous amount of swagger. Plus, they recorded 2004’s “10 A.M. Automatic,” which remains one of the most insanely wondrous slices of sub-Hendrix skullfuckery ever recorded. Oh, and Auerbach sounds increasingly like a young Paul Rodgers in his Bad Company prime. (No, that isn’t meant as an ironic insult.) The trouble is, it all seems just a little too, well, two-dimensional. Despite the eyebrow-raising choice of Danger Mouse as producer, there’s precious little invention at work on Attack And Release, and the stench of authenticity hangs heavy. Whereas Led Zeppelin and, yes, the White Stripes moved on to experiment and fuck around a little, the Keys seem all too happy to plough the same comfortable furrow. The law of diminishing returns looms larger than ever. [www.nonesuch.com]

—Neil Ferguson

The Billionaires: Summer Nights

When you think about Martha’s Vineyard, you probably picture scalloped frills trimming the wraparound porch, endless summers and gentle salt breezes from the Atlantic. The Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism has seen to that. But for the members of the Billionaires (all year-round Vineyard residents at some point in their lives), the associations are a bit different.

“We mowed those lawns and reshingled those roofs all through high school,” says singer/guitarist Tim Laursen.

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TELL THE TRUTH UNTIL THEY BLEED: Josh Alan Friedman [Backbeat]

This excellent book by the author of 1986’s bestselling Tales Of Times Square collects 15 profiles on various music-biz figures with a concentration on the ’60s and ’70s. Doc Pomus, Jerry Leiber, Joel Dorn, Tommy Shannon, Mose Allison and Dr. John all get Josh Alan Friedman’s unique examination. His treatment of Rahsaan Roland Kirk exposes the saxophonist’s difficult demeanor. “‘Black classical music’ is how [Kirk] termed his jazz, espousing a jazz-victim philosophy, while hating rock and the white man’s music,” writes Friedman. These tales of survivors, casualties, assholes, losers and genuine badasses offer a peek at a time when music was saturated with real personalities. [www.backbeatbooks.com]

—Andrew Earles

SUN KIL MOON: April [Caldo Verde]

One of the key elements that made Sun Kil Moon’s 2003 album Ghosts Of The Great Highway so remarkable was Mark Kozelek’s fallen-angel tenor juxtaposed with a sometimes ugly, sometimes triumphant wall of big, Southern-seasoned guitar. For the LP’s proper follow-up (let’s just pretend the Modest Mouse covers record from 2005 never happened, shall we?), the trick is mostly set aside, meaning April has more in common with the introverted side of Kozelek’s Red House Painters than, say, Crazy Horse. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At nearly 10 minutes, the gorgeous “Lost Verses” sets the album in motion with Kozelek’s typically stunning eye for lyrical detail backed by a jangling, road-ready acoustic guitar. As lovely as that sounds, April loses momentum under such a reserved approach. While Will Oldham’s ghostly backing vocals add another shade of darkness to “Unlit Hallway,” and the starkly hypnotic “Heron Blue” recalls an Appalachian murder ballad, many otherwise engaging moments get lost in the album’s somewhat monochromatic 74 minutes. It’s difficult not to wish Kozelek’s big blue guitar were given more time to shine. [www.caldoverderecords.com]

—Chris Barton

THE APPLES IN STEREO: Electronic Projects For Musicians [Yep Roc]

Given the Apples In Stereo’s recent return to their shiny happy pop roots, Electronic Projects For Musicians sounds unfocused. But as a fan-pitched compilation of b-sides and one-offs, it’s a winner, stringing antsy, Superchunk-flavored rockers beside fuzzy, romantic declarations, of which 2001’s “On Your Own” and 2002’s powerhouse “Other” are the finest. You can hear the band nod briefly toward psychedelia and power punk, with the more oddball tunes weighted toward the album’s first half. Inconsistency is an unavoidable problem for collections like this, of course, but if the Apples get more slickly produced and groomed as the tracks progress, they also get funnier and more confident. Witness 2000’s howling Gallagher brothers dis “The Oasis”; granted, it’s a little dated, but for some of us, poking fun at Liam and Noel never goes out of style. Bonus Material: Three unreleased tracks: a short, silly “theme song” (from the band’s website), “Stephen Stephen” (written for Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report) and the lovely “Dreams” (an outtake from 1997’s Tone Soul Evolution). [www.yeproc.com]

—Eric Waggoner

PLANTS AND ANIMALS: Parc Avenue [Secret City]

“It takes a good friend to say you’ve got your head up your ass,” sings guitarist/vocalist Warren Spicer. Looking at the freaky friends they’ve assembled for Parc Avenue’s cover shoot, Spicer and his colleagues (drummer Matthew Woodley and multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Basque) were likely egged on to push the boundaries of their folk rock. That means grabbing any instrument they can wrap their fingers around, inviting brass and strings sections and navigating carefully between African grooves, Harvest-era Neil Young backbeats and jam-band territory. It’s not surprising at all when they stop a song cold with a piano coda featuring a seven-year-old boy singing in French or with a choral round accompanied by medieval flutes. For a trio that didn’t play outside of Montreal for the first six years of its existence, Plants And Animals sound like they’re ready to stop noodling around and take on the world. Parc Avenue begins on a bombastic note, with a huge choir leaping out of the speakers a mere 10 bars into the opening track; soon enough, Spicer starts straining and distorting his high notes much in the same way Win Butler does on Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” (That band’s Sarah Neufeld provides string arrangements here.) Though Parc Avenue is undeniably epic, Plants And Animals take a casual approach to their sound, stuffing the songs with structural shifts rather than browbeating us with grandiose statements. Lyrically, however, Spicer could stand to make a statement or two; much of his lightweight, rambling narratives don’t survive the spontaneity of the moment he scribbled them down. It’s the only real indicator that Plants And Animals are still emerging from their incubatory period, evolving slowly from their trippy, instrumental origins. [www.secretcityrecords.com]

—Michael Barclay

THE LEMONHEADS: It’s A Shame About Ray (Collector’s Edition) [Rhino]

Garnering gold-record status in the U.S. and even greater sales overseas, It’s A Shame About Ray has nevertheless failed to achieve hallmark status within the ’90s alt-rock canon. Though time has not proven kind to Evan Dando’s musical legacy, this re-examination of Ray might be the first step toward changing that. Released in 1992, a year dominated by grunge behemoths such as Alice In Chains’ Dirt and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core, a Lemon-heads album was an unlikely addition to the modern-rock playlist. Success came via a goofy cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” a bonus track tacked onto later pressings of Ray after it became a fluke hit single. Ray is more notable for its title track (co-written by Tom Morgan of Australian band Smudge) and “Allison’s Starting To Happen” (a charming ode to pubescent girls). If all this hoopla from a former Winona boy toy now seems antiquated, Ray still sounds remarkably fresh, retaining its bouncy, subdued edge with a sense of humor the Lemonheads’ peers painfully lacked. Bonus Material: B-side “Shaky Ground” and nine Ray demos. A DVD, its contents originally found on 1993 VHS collection Two Weeks In Australia, harkens back to a time when 13-song albums could spawn eight music videos, including one featuring a Johnny Depp cameo. [www.rhino.com]

—Matt Siblo

MISSION OF BURMA: Signals, Calls And Marches / Vs. / The Horrible Truth About Burma

After three decades, Mission Of Burma justly remains one of the college-rock era’s most influential groups. The Boston quartet honed an artier sound than its peers, fusing a British-informed snarl with Cleveland-inspired drive, bolstered by analog-tape manipulator Martin Swope’s sonic experiments. Mission Of Burma re-formed in 2002 with Shellac’s Bob Weston replacing Swope, and Matador is reissuing the group’s early work to sit beside the band’s pretty good recent albums. Two of these reissues, 1981 alt-rock blueprint Signals, Calls And Marches (which also contains benchmark single “Academy Fight Song”) and 1982’s harsher-sounding Vs. are still essential listening; but Signals oddly inverts the bonus-track order to run chronologically so the actual EP begins on track five. Third album The Horrible Truth About Burma was recorded during the band’s final tour in 1983 (before guitarist/vocalist Roger Miller’s tinnitus forced his initial departure from the group) and released two years later; it’s less important than its predecessors, though it contains bassist/vocalist Clint Conley’s excellent “Peking Spring” as well as Pere Ubu and Stooges covers. Billed as “definitive versions,” these releases are superior to Rykodisc’s remastering job from 1997 but don’t seem as “definitive” as that label’s Mission Of Burma, which bundled “Academy” with all of Signals and Vs. on one disc. Bonus Material: Signals contains two bonus tracks; Truth has one. Each album has liner notes with making-of interviews (without Swope) and DVDs featuring live footage. [www.matadorrecords.com]

—Kory Grow

The Dodos: World Beaters

On first inspection, there’s nothing that unusual about Meric Long when he sloshes in from a rainstorm to take shelter in his neighborhood taqueria in San Francisco’s Mission District. Look closely, however, and you’ll spy huge, pointy talons jutting out from his fingerless gloves.

“They’re my dragon nails—fake but really strong,” explains Long, who employs them in plucking a tinny old National guitar in his anachronistic folk/punk duo the Dodos. “I used my real nails for a while, then we left on tour; after two shows, they just broke. So now I even have a manicurist, but I poke through everything.” He claws the air for emphasis. “I can’t help it! I’m dangerous, I tell ya!”

Look even closer, beneath the ash-pale 27-year-old’s shaggy black bangs, and some subtly exotic features become evident. “My mom is from Tahiti, but she’s Chinese,” says Long. “And my dad’s from Oakland, but he’s white as snow.” For an entire summer, Long relocated to Tahiti, worked at his uncle’s bread shop and soaked up as much culture as he coud, which could account for the far-off, tribal feel of Visiter (Frenchkiss), the Dodos’ second album.

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Adam Green: Anyone Else But Him

Juno brought worldwide attention to his former band, the Moldy Peaches, but Adam Green isn’t in a cute, folk-pop mood anymore. By Kory Grow

“I was walking down 14th Street the other day and just realized that I was full of shit and that I’ve never done anything close to what I wanted to do in my life,” says New York City resident Adam Green. “Time to take some more acid, I guess.”

Green, who turned 27 in May, has had a lot to consider over the past few years. Since the age of 18, he’s been a professional musician constantly on the verge of mainstream success. Having cofounded quirky, anti-folk ensemble the Moldy Peaches with singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson in 2000, Green launched a concurrent solo career two years later. While the Moldy Peaches enjoyed critics’-darling status, Green’s solo albums, which have traversed folk, country and indie rock, have received mixed reviews at best. Whereas the Moldy Peaches played endearing, if sickeningly cute, tongue-in-cheek ditties like “Who’s Got The Crack,” Green’s solo songs were more mature, aiming for grandiosity. (Not to mention his Tourette-like river of expletive-laced lyrics: “There’s no wrong way to fuck a bitch with no face,” Green sang on his second album, 2003’s Friends Of Mine.) Though Green is accustomed to putting out an album a year, his label, Rough Trade, applied the brakes after 2006’s Jacket Full Of Danger, barring him from releasing an album last year. This is when things began to go awry.

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