Alt-rock sound rules week’s releases

The Strokes
Is This It
in stores now

Guitar-driven poppy alt-rock isn’t dead just yet. In fact, it’s just coming to maturity.

The Strokes are hitting hard with their debut Is This It (RCA), an album which offers listeners a jolt of infectious rock. The album has an eerie familiarity but manages to stand out from other rock efforts. With a vague resemblance to The Velvet Underground, The Strokes play chill-rock songs with vocals out front complimented by biting guitar riffs.

Lead singer Julian Casablanca belts out sharp distorted vocals. While not the most talented singer in the world, Casablanca has a highly charged voice, and his songs seep with emotion.

The album as a whole is excellent and deserves praise through and through. Several of the album’s tracks stand out, moving the listener to full-body gyration. “Is This It” and “Barely Legal” offer smart social commentary and an unforgettable sound. “Someday” is characterized by a catchy upbeat tempo and smooth, lisped vocals that slowly seduce the listener.

The Strokes, who came up in the New York music scene, delayed the release of this record to remove track “New York City Cops” from the album. This delay seems to have had no effect on the quality of the band that rocks as hard as any band in the past decade.

Mullholland Drive
Movie Score
in stores now

Plenty of movies release scores of great value. In modern movie making it has become the convention to put great thought and energy into the backing music of a film. In the making and releasing of the movie score< (BMG Records) , it is clear that this convention is not universal.

The score of Mulholland Drive contains fragmented pieces of music that act effectively as movie background but are too uninteresting and scattered to warrant an independent listen. These musical pieces should have been left in context rather then ripped from their home on the big screen. The album as a whole is woefully boring.

Regardless of the merits of the film, be sure to steer clear of the Mulholland Drive score. That is, unless you need another coaster for your coffee table.

New Order
Get Ready
in stores now

Is New Order even still together? Of course they are. On hiatus since 1993, New Order has now reconvened to take another shot at music making. The band’s new release Get Ready (Reprise Records) represents a modernized sound for the band, which was known for embracing electronic textures and disco rhythms of the underground club culture.

The band has brought its sound up to speed for the new release,, separating slightly from the new-wave vibe and replacing it with a sound that mixes dance, pop and rock. Songs like “Crystal” and “Primitive Notion” stand out as well-produced moderate rock tunes.

New Order, a band born out of the ashes of the Joy Division in 1980, has overcome its share of hard knocks throughout the years. With Get Ready the band has shown it can still rock out even after an eight-year vacation.

Bubba Sparxxx
Dark Days, Bright Nights
in stores now

He’s not the real Slim Shady, but he can definitely hold his own.

Bubba Sparxxx isn’t just another white-boy rapper; the man’s got skill. OK, so he’s from the backwoods of Georgia, so what? That didn’t stop infamous rapper Timbaland from grabbing Sparxxx up and producing his new album Dark Days and Bright Nights (Interscope).

Sparxxx’s debut is packed with innovative beats incorporating and playing off his country roots. The term for this new sound, as dubbed by Sparxxx himself, is “New South.” On songs such as the album’s single, “Ugly,” Sparxxx mixes straight gangsta rap vocals with a country guitar riffs. In “Bubba Talk” Sparxxx sings with a slight country accent and drops in the occasional farm animal to add to the country mix.

But don’t be misled. Through 18 tracks Sparxxx manages to prove himself to be a credible rapper, moving away from his country roots and delivering hardcore gangsta beats with reckless abandon. Sparxxx doesn’t try to talk a big game, he just lets it flow, allowing his skills to speak for themselves.

Laura Down
in stores now

Laura Dawn is just another girl out of Pleasantville – Iowa, of course – raised on country tunes belted by the likes of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. On her debut release Believer (Warner Bros.), it becomes clear that this country girl’s roots have been beaten back by the cold streets of New York. What’s left in her sound is a hybrid of rock, country and punk – a dynamic that is as fascinating as it is enjoyable.

Believer showcases Dawn’s mastery of several musical genres. The album opens with the eloquent “Free and Lonely Life,” a slow acoustic tune with a slow-rock folksy feel. Immediately following is the hard-rock anthem “The Old You” giving the listener a kick in the ass after the introspective feel of track one.

Most striking about Believer are the lyrics. Dawn has a dark ironic style in her delivery, and her words have the power to evoke great emotion. Songs such as “Useless in L.A.” and “So Small” have a poppy feel with deep, meaningful themes.

Dawn’s Believer delivers 15 truly interesting songs. Cliche, maybe.

The fact is this album is a musical journey, one that excites on a higher level than current dribble by other contemporary female singer-songwriters. Finally, a girl with a little flair.

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