In stores and on sale… here’s what we think

Artist: Death by Stereo
Album: Into the Valley of Death
Genre: Punk
Label: Epitaph

No complaints here, this album is absolutely incredible. In an era of punk rock music clouded with lackluster energy and little to say, “Into the Valley of Death” starts out as strong as it ends. With aggressively complex rifts and lyrics that don’t stop driving at social criticism, Death by Stereo is a group that just can’t stop maturing into one of the best punk groups ever to grace one’s ears. What’s most amazing about this album is its track titled “Wasted Words.” Beyond the criticism of standard issues like non-conformity and political tyranny, it attacks the listeners themselves, proclaiming too many people to hear the music without listening to the lyrics. With such a stance, Death by Stereo has solidified itself as quite a reactionary group, paying attention to its surroundings even as it’s up on stage performing. “Into the Valley of Death” is in stores now.
-Chris Ingui

Artist: Zane
Album: The Big Zane Theory
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap
Label: Capitol

Like Bow Wow, District of Columbia native Lil’ Zane has dropped the “Lil”” with the release of his new album “The Big Zane Theory,” in which Zane emerges as a more mature songwriter. Unfortunately, there is not one ounce of novelty in any of the 15 tracks. How many artists can rap about “ballers,” chrome, bitches and pimps? On the other hand, “Zane Theory” is filled with catchy beats and hooks. The highlight of the album is “Shake It,” which could make anyone with even the slightest hint of rhythm want to hit the dance floor. “The Big Zane Theory” is in stores now.

Artist: The Weakerthans
Album: Reconstruction Site
Genre: Power Pop (self-proclaimed)
Label: Epitaph

If you are in the market for some music that will bore you to tears, look no further! The Weakerthans third full-length album will be sure to leave you with the sting of salty tears on your cheeks and red puffy eyes. While the music is not bad, per se, the album goes nowhere and seems to repeat the same track over and over again in a Groundhog Day-like demeanor. “Reconstruction Site” is in stores now.

Artist: ATB
Album: Addicted to Music
Genre: Trance
Label: Radikal Records

German Trance superstar DJ Andre Tanneberger (ATB) keeps up the intensity with his fourth album “Addicted to Music.” Unfortunately the addition of cheesy pop vocals in tracks like, “In Love with the DJ” clash inside drowning down tempo beats. On top of this, predictable chord progressions make you wonder whether the tracks are going anywhere. Diminished peaks and valleys yield listless tensions and release. Despite the lackluster progression, ATB spins stunning piano sequences, particularly in track 12 “Trilogy” and 13 “Gentle Melody.” But by that point, you may have already tuned out. The final track, “Cabana Moon” taps into ATB’s creative resources with edgy, broken drum -beats that add a signature to this compilation. The acoustic hidden track spotlights a talented Roberta Carter Harrison with clean lyrics and little synthesizer distortion. “Addicted to Music” is in stores now. Artist: The Used

Album: Maybe Memories
Genre: Emo
Label: Reprise

If you’ve never seen The Used in concert will be a bit tough to identify with the energy of live recordings on this premature pseudo-fan dedication CD “Maybe Memories.” Lead singer Bert McCracken definitely pounds it out with series of grueling vocal blasts for hardcore fans to recall the panic of a show. The Used’s straightforward outlook on music during their recent rags-to-riches rise to fame definitely influences their sound. Songs like “Alone on this Holiday” pair well-strung guitar riffs with catchy verses. The previously unreleased piano track “Sometimes I just go for it” adds a new dimension to this up-and-rising punk band. They’ve got your attention, now can they hold it?
-Sacha Evans

Artist: Bouncing Souls
Album: Anchors Aweigh
Genre: Punk
Label: Epitaph

Ah, the Bouncing Souls – an integral part of my high school soundtrack. Following in the tradition of the Descendants and Social Distortion, the Souls have, since the mid-nineties, spoken to pubescent minds about the issues that mattered to them: unrequited love, hopeless idealism and, well, being young.

So you can imagine my disappointment upon hearing a nasty rumor that the Souls had gone emo. Luckily, it was merely a rumor and this record confirms it. While “Anchors Aweigh” doesn’t break any new ground, it does deliver what the kids want: fast, fun, catchy anthems. Enjoy them while you’re still young.

Artist: Turbonegro
Album: Scandinavian Leather
Genre: Death-punk
Label: Burning Heart Records

Q: What do leather, rock ‘n roll and gay Swedish guys have in common?

A: Nothing, unless your talking about the cult “death-punk” band Turbonegro.

And no, I’m not joking. They are totally gay and they totally rock.

This Swedish band originally made a name for themselves with its motley mix of apocalyptic rock ‘n roll, perverse lyrics (see “Wipe It Till It Bleeds”) and hardcore mustache-and-leather sense of style. Now they’re back with their fifth album, “Scandinavian Leather.”

Although it doesn’t bite as deep as 1997’s “Ass Cobra,” the new record will surely satisfy the devoted as well as convince the uninitiated to “Ride With Us.” Unless, of course, you don’t swing that way.
-Jason Halal

Artist: Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Album: Unclassified
Genre: Gospel, Blues and Funk
Label: Warner Bros.

With the first three songs of “Unclassified” the first major studio effort by Robert Randolph and the Family band, you can tell these guys like to have fun. The story of how Robert Randolph rose out of the gritty streets of Orange, N.J. by playing steel guitar in a house of God church is something of Hollywood screenplay potential. The result is a religiously fervent album, tinged with uplifting gospel, blues, funk and rock. To lift you songs like: “Going in the Right Direction,” “I need more love” and “Good Times” are sure to fulfill the task. The power blues ballads are not given the justice they deserve sound-wise, as those who have seen Robert Randolph and the Family band perform live may see this installment as bland and devoid of the energy. To newcomers, however, Robert Randolph’s zealous funk and blues album will be sure to impress.

Artist: Damien Rice
Album: O
Genre: Neo-classical
Label: Vector Records

This haunting, beautiful, heartbreaking album of Irish artist Damien Rice speaks of the pain of love (or lack thereof in many cases). His songs are filled with a falsetto many will compare to that of Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke, but his unique take on folk music infuses it with classical and neo-operatic tones. Pulsing the boundaries of this genre, “Volcano” is the song that will turn you on to Rice, “The Blower’s Daughter” and “Amie” will test your appreciation. The 16-minute song “Eskimo” is dizzying and exhilarating. He is intimate on the graceful “Cannonball.” I listened to this album on my backyard deck by candlelight, to give you an idea of the perfect atmosphere to take in this eloquent songwriting and intimate confessions of this bittersweet record.
-Jen Tobia

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