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Franz Ferdinand Leads This Weeks New Releases 

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Franz Ferdinand

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

(Domino)

The fusion of maddening bass lines and infectious guitar riffs has put Franz Ferdinand in the same category as other modern indie-rock favorites like the Strokes and Interpol. On both 2004's Franz Ferdinand and 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better, the Scottish foursome churned out clean, disconcerting melodies punctuated by cymbal crashes and shotgun drums. Franz Ferdinand's sound has always been ominous, but the new Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is positively creepy. Album opener and single "Ulysses" begins with frontman Alex Kapranos whispering lines like "so sinister, so sinister but last night was wild" over an angry wave of synths. It's not the only track with a more electronic-inspired sound: "Lucid Dreams" takes you on an eight-minute trip that ends with instrumental electro-bleeping that sounds more like Justice than Franz Ferdinand. Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is definitely meant for the dance floor. Though the album isn't as consistent as the band's debut, it includes several edgy, uproarious moments that bring the band's darkness to life. - Danielle Sills

The Bad Plus

For All I Care

(Heads Up International)

On For All I Care, prog-jazz trio the Bad Plus (bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King) joins forces with singer Wendy Lewis and emerges with a masterpiece. The CD opens with a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium," taking the original's quiet desperation to a completely different place. They do the same with Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," which sounds like it's coming from inside the drug-induced haze related in the chorus. While Lewis sings, Iverson plays a manic piano riff that has little connection to Anderson and King's more straightforward approach. There are also several incursions into classical music that showcase the trio's dexterity and chemistry, but it's the pop efforts that are most surprising. They include a brilliant take on "Long Distance Runaround," which reinterprets Yes' electric classic acoustically without losing any of its energy. And their haunting rendition of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love" emphasizes the jaded point of view of someone who no longer believes in romance. - Ernest Barteldes

Two Tongues

Two Tongues

(Vagrant)

The debut disc from Two Tongues - a band that features Say Anything singer Max Bemis, Saves the Day singer Chris Conley, Say Anything drummer Coby Linder and Saves the Day guitarist David Soloway - combines attributes from each band. Although a bit unpolished at times, the album shows that Bemis and Conley have a lot to say. It's clear that Conley and Bemis represent the yin to the other's yang. Bemis' strong voice is a pleasing contrast to Conley's high-pitched voice. The opening "Crawl" sneaks up on you with a simple guitar riff and moves to crashing drumbeats. Besides the songwriting, what's most impressive about Two Tongues is Bemis and Conley's ability to coexist. "If I Could Make You Do Things" sounds like a confrontation between two friends, while "Come On" comes off like heated banter between two lovers. You never get the impression you're listening to two singers competing for the microphone, but rather two musicians who have found a way to balance each other. Two Tongues does have weak spots. At times, Conley's voice becomes whiny, overshadowing Bemis' fuller voice. Conley is at his best when he's singing pop-heavy, fast-paced songs, leaving the deeper vocals to Bemis. The main problem with Two Tongues is that while many of the songs are good, few of them are great. But it's still proof that two talented and innovative musicians are better than one. - Brittany Moseley

Loney Dear

Dear John

(Polyvinyl)

After making a name for himself with a few selfÐreleased CDRs, Jšnkšping, Sweden native Emil Svan...ngen (who is Loney Dear almost by himself) made his proper U.S. debut with 2007's breathtaking Loney, Noir. It proved to be his only Sub Pop release, as he has moved on to Polyvinyl. He's also dropped the comma from the original intentional misspelling of his band name and delivers a considerably more ambitious follow-up with the expansive Dear John. An interesting failure is generally more interesting than a play-it-safe record, and Dear John certainly doesn't play it safe. Svan...ngen's earlier work (Sologne, one of his initial CDRs, saw wider release after Loney, Noir made a splash) was standard, if strikingly well-written and tightly arranged, indie-pop, similar to what many of his countryfolk were doing. Dear John finds Svan...ngen trying out some bigger ideas: The songs are more abstruse, the arrangements less obvious and the whole affair simply not as strong. The record's most winning moments - the catchy "I Was Only Going Out," the slow-burning "Summers" - ape Loney, Noir's poppy ease. Too often, Svan...ngen takes himself too seriously: The dull "I Got Lost" is a tuneless drag and "Harm/Slow" takes too long to get nowhere. - Chris Drabick

M. Ward

Hold Time

(Merge)

The last time we heard from M. Ward, the guitar-strumming troubadour was on the road as half of She & Him with Elf cutie Zooey Deschanel. On his seventh album as a singer-songwriter with a soft spot for moody tunes, Ward once again summons tons of atmosphere out of modest situations. Hold Time opens with "For Beginners," which plays like a primer on Ward's post-folk, with acoustic-guitar picking, a lilting melody and Ward's warm voice - the usual stuff. But there are detours: The glammy "Never Had Nobody Like You" stomps like a tranquilized T. Rex, "To Save Me" is the fluffiest rockabilly you've ever heard and "Rave On" downtunes Buddy Holly's rocker to a breezy shuffle. Deschanel left behind some of She & Him's wistful '60s pop with Ward (she and Lucinda Williams also add backing vocals), making Hold Time his most buoyant record - a multi-layered meditation on all things dreamy. - Michael Gallucci

Zero Boys

Vicious Circle

(Secretly Canadian)

Whenever something as potently pugnacious as Vicious Circle gets a reissue and dissemination to a larger audience, you've gotta wonder: How many thousands of forgotten, anthemic three-chord gems languish in Reagan-era obscurity, awaiting a triumphant rebirth? Like every third punk group, Indianapolis' Zero Boys flickered, crashed and burned quickly, leaving a mere handful of recordings reminiscent of Stiff Little Fingers and the Misfits in its wake. Originally issued in 1982, Vicious Circle was the second of these, supercolliding mercurial punk-pop dynamics with hardcore's abrupt brevity and outsider stance. That means 16 songs hurtling by in less than a half hour with no quarter taken none given, and topical bases hit with the I'm-in-a-rush velocity of a speed-dating session. A refutation of the era they were stuck in, "Livin' in the '80s" dabbles in rockabilly and finds frontman Paul Mahern unleashing the sort of cavernous yawp that Perry Farrell would perfect with Jane's Addiction in later years. - Ray Cummings

Ben Lee

The Rebirth of Venus

(New West)

Singer-songwriter Ben Lee is known for tunes like "Catch My Disease," a hand-clapping, foot-stomping anthem where Lee lists all the things he likes, a sort of modern-day version of The Sound of Music's "My Favorite Things." With The Rebirth of Venus, he's crafted an entire album on the same theme and sound. Nearly every song is full of call-and-response, sing-with-me refrains and hedonism barely disguised by bouncy notes and cutesy lyrics. The Australian native tries to spread a positive political message about saving the world, but comes off as a bit naive. The best and possibly only setting appropriate for such a watered-down pop disaster is an eight-year-old's circus-themed birthday party. The album hits a low with "Wake Up to America," which begins with a 50-second spoken-word monologue about the American dream (making out with two girls at once at the Lincoln Memorial, according to Lee) and is punctuated by awful echoing guitars. - Sills

Phosphorescent

To Willie

(Dead Oceans)

At his mid-'70s peak, Willie Nelson paid homage to Lefty Frizzell with a tour de force covers album, To Lefty From Willie. Nelson reinvented Frizzell's tracks with reverence, a typically ballsy Nelson move. Equally ballsy is Matthew Houck's decision to re-gift to Nelson with To Willie. Houck (who is, for all intents and purposes, Phosphorescent) repeats many of Willie's Lefty moves. He chooses both obvious and slightly obscure songs, treating many of them respectfully and faithfully, but injecting his own sound and spirit into many of them. While Phosphorescent's music has occasionally included country-ish elements, it's a pleasure to hear Houck go full-on twangy on the (almost obligatory) "The Last Thing I Needed (First Thing in the Morning)." Ricky Ray Jackson's tasteful pedal steel is a perfect complement to Houck's frail voice on the track, and it also imbues the well-chosen "Walkin'" with some necessary authenticity. As great as the tributes are, the best moments are when Houck finds the confidence to let his own sensibility dominate. "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" is re-imagined in the style of Phosporescent's excellent 2007 Pride, and it is easily the highlight of To Willie. By the time the record finishes with the (maybe a little obvious) "The Party's Over," Houck has found the seemingly uninhabitable space between his folksy roots and Nelson's whimsy. - Drabick

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