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Lamb Of God, Living Things, And Others Get Graded 

Lamb of God

Wrath

(Epic)

Lamb of God's third album, 2003's As the Palaces Burn, was both a powerful antiwar statement and one of the 21st century's most crushing metal releases. The follow-up, 2004's Ashes of the Wake, was kind of a holding action, offering more of the same lyrical themes, crushing riffs and intricate rhythms. It wasn't bad, but it was a sequel. On 2006's Sacrament, they got all introspective 'n' shit, and the music suffered further. Even the first single, "Redneck," didn't have the power of earlier songs like "Ruin" and "Laid to Rest." Wrath, though, is a ferocious return to form. Songs like "Contractor" and "Fake Messiah" offer some of the band's fastest riffs, most punishing drumming and angriest lyrics (and vocal delivery) since Ashes of the Wake. American metal is on a hot streak, and Lamb of God is poised to be the new Pantera. - Phil Freeman

... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

The Century of Self

(Richter Scale/Justice)

It's been more than a year since Interscope and ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead parted ways. The relationship started off well enough - with 2002's Source Tags & Codes being hailed as one of the greatest indie records of this generation. A successful EP followed, before lineup chaos led to a brief touring hiatus. Then came 2005's Worlds Apart and 2006's So Divided - albums that split the group's fan base. Now that the band has left the major-label fold, the conventional wisdom seems to be that it'll return to its old sound.

Yes, the band's sixth album, The Century of Self, finds the group without some of the major-label production that longtime fans hated. The songwriting itself, though, hasn't devolved. It feels like a logical extension of the band's last two albums. There's certainly enough grandiosity to go around. "Halcyon Days" and "Isis Unveiled" are both movie-sized epics that would fit on any soundtrack. Those who paid attention to 2008's Festival Thyme EP already know what 25 percent of this album will sound like. That EP featured "The Betrayal of Roger Casement & the Irish Brigade," which has been renamed "Giants Causeway" for this album, as well as alternate mixes of two cuts - the proggy "Bells of Creation" and the brooding "Inland Sea." - Jeremy Willets

Robyn Hitchcock

Goodnight Oslo

(Yep Roc)

The Man Who Would Be (Syd) Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock, has returned with another platter of inspired whimsical wordplay and insidiously catchy 1967-style folk/psychedelic-rock tunes. Goodnight Oslo isn't a substantial departure from his early (post-Soft Boys) material, except the production is fuller and more ornate (horns, the retro-soulful background chorus on the Tony Joe White-like "What You Is"). Hitchcock's very British, languid and pointed phrasing is intact, though he sounds a bit less full of himself. His melodies are subtly engaging, darkly dreamy, yearning and jangling, evoking Beechwood Sparks and Elf Power and their spiritual forebears the Byrds, the Beatles (think Revolver), and yes, Syd Barrett (patron saint of rock eccentrics). In a better world, the lush "I'm Falling" would be in medium rotation on radio, and 30 years hence, young people will be singing the Western-flavored Marty Robbins-meets-Dylan "Hurry for the Sky" 'round campfires and in coffeehouses. - Mark Keresman

Vetiver

Tight Knit

(Sub Pop)

The scent of patchouli is all over Vetiver's fourth album. So is the smell of fresh country air, weed and Cheetos. The San Francisco group, anchored by Andy Cabic, is so laid back, it makes Fleet Foxes sound like Mastodon. Tight Knit doesn't stray far from the post-hippie folkie template: soft voices, delicate arrangements, gentle acoustic songs about rolling seas and the edge of the forest. Cabic is a pleasant enough singer, gliding over his songs like they are a wisp of smoke. Occasionally, he even sounds like George Harrison at his drippiest. "More of This" picks up the pace a little, and horns punctuate "Another Reason to Go." But most of Tight Knit coasts along a stream of acoustic guitars, hand percussion and slender melodies that don't express much more than "Take it easy, man." - Michael Gallucci

Asobi Seksu

Hush

(Polyvinyl)

What's in a name? For New York City quartet Asobi Seksu, a lot. First, the name translates as "playful sex," revealing its simultaneous sensuality and cuteness. It's fronted by the impossibly sweet-voiced Yuki Chikudate, and it's as hyper-stylized as such a moniker might suggest. Tagged as neo-shoegazers after its 2004 debut, Asobi Seksu has done little to alter that perception since, and the honeyed Hush finds them on even less aggressive ground than on earlier records. Replacing the rhythm section after that eponymous debut, Asobi Seksu have since tended toward texture and nuance as they've expanded their palette. Hush is wispy but never threadbare, as standouts like "Sing Tomorrow's Praise" and the sunny "Transparence" find a satisfying middle ground between the gentle and forceful. Equal parts playful and sexy, just as the name suggests. - Chris Drabick

Living Things

Habeas Corpus

(Jive)

The Living Things' Lillian Berlin is a guy who gets worked up easily. His band's 2005 major-label debut, Ahead of the Lions, was one long anti-Bush screed. The follow-up, Habeas Corpus, took almost a year to record in Berlin (the German city), where Berlin (the singer and guitarist) engaged in numerous fisticuffs with his bandmates, two of whom he's related to. And even though someone else is living in the White House these days, he's still mighty pissed, mostly at the American Dream and its hollow promises. "I want the good life/I want a piece of paradise/I want to live the lie," he sings on "Mercedes Marxist." And on the slinky "Snake Oil Man," he sounds like the world's funkiest economic alarmist: "Our wages will dwindle/While our taxes will double/God only knows what will happen tomorrow." But the St. Louis quartet kicks up quite a racket on Habeas Corpus, incorporating garage-band fuzz-rock, synth-squealing noise blasts and U2-sized rafter-shakers into its 21st-century punk. "Take to the streets and run with me," Berlin sings on album opener "Brass Knuckles." It's as much a call to arms as it is a celebration of all living things. - Gallucci

 

Clem Snide

Hungry Bird

(429)

Three years ago, frontman Eef Barzelay moved what was left of his band (originally from Boston, then New York) to Nashville. They recorded Hungry Bird and then broke up. In the interim, Barzelay released a pair of solo records while Clem Snide's sixth, and supposedly final, album sat on the shelf. With the release of Hungry Bird comes word that the group isn't finished yet. But it sure sounds like it is, if Barzelay's apocalyptic requiems are any indication. The 10 songs shuffle along at a languid pace that's as much about savoring the moment as it is about mourning the departed. Barzelay still weds words - which cover everything from transgendered beauty queens ("Born a Man") to Mad Max-like musings ("We have their bones to comb our hair") - to delicately played and layered indie-rock. Songs go on for five, six, sometimes seven minutes, as if Barzelay doesn't want this all to end. It's a fitting finale. - Gallucci

K'Naan

Troubadour

(A&M/Octone)

Straight outta Somalia doesn't have quite the ring of, say, Compton or even Detroit, but African rapper K'Naan boasts a much tougher backstory than most stateside M.C.s. He left his war-torn homeland on the country's last commercial flight when he was in his teens. Now 30 and living in Toronto, K'Naan looks back on a lifetime of sacrifices, hardships and violence on his second album. While there's plenty of regret and frustration here (spanning immigration problems to the Iraq War), K'Naan lines Troubadour with jumpy beats and an often-playful flow that make the best of these situations. Mos Def, Damian Marley and Maroon 5's Adam Levine help out, but this is K'Naan's show - from the sweetly reflective "Take a Minute" to the mostly autobiographical "People Like Me." True to its name, Troubadour scours the globe for songs and stories - a little like M.I.A. fused with Bob Marley, with a shout-out to Dre thrown in for street cred. - Gallucci

Southeast Engine

From the Forest to the Sea

(Misra)

Athens, Ohio, is a college town with a secret. When you remove the obvious parts of the scenery - brick-lined streets, North Face/Ugg-wearing college kids, an air of academia - you stumble upon a complex music scene hidden in the Appalachian hills. And the kings of the Athens music scene are Southeast Engine. They've packed hometown shows for years, but they're just now gaining national recognition. From the Forest to the Sea highlights everything that Athenians love about "the Engine." Lead singer Adam Remnant's gravely, world-weary voice, Leo DeLuca's rip-roaring drumming, Michael Lachman's innovative keyboards and Jesse Remnant's complementary bass all contribute to a sound that's half rock, half folk. Like much of Southeast Engine's earlier material, the album is written as a narrative. This time, Remnant details his struggle between personal desires and life's bigger purpose. Album highlight "Black Gold" is the musical equivalent of a Jelly Belly; take a bite and you're exposed to mouth-watering flavor - addicting guitar solos, tingling organ effects and the Remnants' back-and-forth harmonies about environmental destruction as seen right before their eyes. - Danielle Sills

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