The Cure, Eagles Of Death Metal, And More Get Graded 

Cradle of Filth

Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder

(Roadrunner) Listeners unfamiliar with the band might say every song by norte–o kings Los Tigres del Norte sounds the same; and to a first-timer, they probably do. But a devotee understands the value of subtle changes on a theme. For the same reason, an album as utterly lacking in dynamic fluctuations, rhythmic shifts, hooks and catchy choruses as Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder is probably exactly what a Cradle of Filth fan is seeking. And if everyone else on Earth is repelled, that's fine - indeed, for some, it could be part of the appeal.

Godspeed suffers from all the usual Cradle weaknesses, starting with Dani Filth's voice, which is so harsh and caustic it makes the listener's throat hurt in sympathy. It kicks off with a faux-orchestral overture that sounds like a Chiller Theatre reworking of the theme from Requiem for a Dream. It seems interminable - more than a dozen songs, nearly 78 minutes of music. And it's pretentious beyond belief: A concept album about the life of medieval aristocrat/serial killer Gilles de Rais, it features between-song poetry bits read by Doug "Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies" Bradley. But if you're already a fan, you'll probably love it. - Phil Freeman

The Cure

4:13 Dream

(I AM/Geffen)

When a band has been around for roughly 30 years, a new album is usually just an excuse to mount another year-long multi-million-dollar tour. Diehard fans astutely question which old album the new one sounds like, while casual fans don't really care. When it comes time for the show, everyone goes to the bathroom when the band plays a new tune. Not so fast. The Cure's 13th studio album has already spawned four singles - "The Only One," "Freakshow," "Sleep When I'm Dead" and "The Perfect Boy" - in addition to an EP of remixes, so its arrival has been a long time in coming. Simply because it isn't the kind of album you'd expect from a band that's been around for three decades, it was worth the wait. Reduced to a quartet following its last line-up shuffle, the band's sound is now guitar-driven, and against all odds, it somehow still sounds urgent and passionate. The aforementioned singles are all solid efforts, and even non-singles like the country-inflected "Sirensong" or the sly "The Real Snow White" stand up to the Cure's towering legacy. - Jeremy Willets

An Albatross

The An Albatross Family Album

(Eyeball)

Who knew that mixing Frank Zappa with Dream Theater and Dillinger Escape Plan wouldn't work? Well, me, for one. But An Albatross must not have been privy to this information and so we get The An Albatross Family Album. The album opens with a circus-metal catastrophe called "Neon Guru," and from there things only get more disjointed. We're treated to screaming, bleating, art-damaged ska ("...And Now Emerges the Silver Pilgrim"), a lengthy monologue that's equal parts Dune and A Wrinkle in Time ("The Hymn of the Angel People") and even theatrical, screechy rockabilly ("Floodgates Released"). At its best, An Albatross sound like a Murder City Devils jam session gone horribly wrong, while some schizophrenic airs his dirty laundry into a microphone. Perhaps what's most frustrating about this album is that it took more than 300 hours of studio time to record. Let me apologize to whoever footed the bill for those hours because all that resulted is eight tracks of chaotic psych-grind that sounds more like an improv session than an actual album. Oh, and did I mention it's supposed to be a concept album? Yeah, I didn't think you cared. - Matt Whelihan

East Coast Avengers

Prison Planet

(Brick Records)

East Coast Avengers, the new project from underground rapper Esoteric, has launched a full-on assault against right-wing politics with Prison Planet. The lead single, "Kill Bill O'Reilly," literally calls for the head of the Fox News Channel blowhard. Sure, it's bound to get some attention, but it's a tad over the top - even O'Reilly's arch nemesis, Keith Olbermann, found the song tacky, slamming it's silly violent threats on his MSNBC program, Countdown. The problem is that Esoteric's political quips come off sounding immature and cliché, which kind of derails any intelligent point they may be trying to make. In essence, stooping to O'Reilly's level isn't the best way to beat him.

Tracks like "Too Much To Ask" and "Hey America" are attempts at engaging listeners in the political process. Again, they're ineffective - the songs are often as bitter as any of the garbage that the Fox propaganda machine spits out. Prison's beats don't make the situation any better. Supplied by DC The MIDI Alien, they're simply a rehashing of the gritty East Coast style that was big when 7L & Esoteric were at the top of their game in the '90s. Some may find it refreshing in an age of glossy rap, but from a creative standpoint that's yesterday's news. Deep down, East Coast Avengers may have the best intentions at heart, but the shock antics make it really hard to take seriously. - Eddie Fleisher

Eagles of Death Metal

Heart On

(Downtown) With his full-time group, Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme makes fuzzbox sleaze-rock that winks at classic-rock conventions. With his side project, Eagles of Death Metal, Homme makes fuzzbox sleaze-rock that hugs those very same classic-rock conventions. On their third album, Heart On, Homme (who plays drums) and Jesse Hughes (the frontman) dig deeper into the grimy, amps-to-11 guitar grind they've been mining since 2004's debut, Peace Love Death Metal. "I'll tell you anything, baby, except the truth," sings Hughes on the opening "Anything 'Cept the Truth," and that pretty much sums up Heart On's plan: Hughes and Homme pile on riffs, jokes and '70s nods to get you into their album. But once you're there and all the dust settles, you realize there isn't much going on. The guys make a sufficient racket on "Wannabe in LA" and "Secret Plans," and "(I Used to Couldn't Dance) Tight Pants" is a funny hip-shaker, but after 40 minutes of detached debauchery and recycled hooks, it becomes clear that they're all talk. - Michael Gallucci

I Set My Friends on Fire

You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter

(Epitaph)

After issuing only three songs on MySpace, this experimental two-man screamo act got signed to Epitaph and has now launched its inaugural tour. With unusual titles for its songs and an ability to offend just about everyone, the band sets out to shock people with the aptly titled You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter. With humorous lyrics that border on crudeness, these guys aren't afraid to speak their minds. I Set My Friends on Fire decided to include MySpace favorites such as "ASL" and their rock/screamo rendition of Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat," which they renamed "Crank Dat Cavalry Boy." There's too much going on here, but thankfully there's a break in the middle before the guys go back to the screaming on "Ravenous, Ravenous Rhinos." That's not to say every song sounds the same, either, on this diverse, welcomed debut. - Erika Schramm

Anni Rossi

Afton

(4AD)

Anni Rossi combines the vocal quirks of Regina Spektor with the lush arrangements of Andrew Bird to create a sound that's both progressive and traditional. A lot of this may have to do with the fact that Rossi's songs are all centered on the viola. Whether she's dissonantly sawing ("Venice") or jaggedly plucking ("Machine"), Rossi builds her experimental pop on a base of fractured classical motifs. This sounds a lot more listener-challenging than it actually is, because while Rossi may not be crafting songs that fit under neat little descriptors, she's fully aware of the value of melody. Rossi's songs are packed with the sort of weird little surprises that shock at first, but leave you smirking in the end. Her vocals frequently leap up a scale - turning voice cracks into an art form - while her compositions are like some Renaissance painting with magazine articles about Brooklyn and Los Angeles pasted on top; she seamlessly blends musical tradition with the experimentation of the contemporary avant-garde. It's a complicated formula that quite often yields a simply beautiful solution. Afton may only be a "mini-album," but it manages to generate some huge successes. -Whelihan

Charlie Pickett

Bar Band Americanus

(Bloodshot)

Charlie Pickett and his band of South Florida hotshots were the missing link between X and Tom Petty when they electrified the bar circuit in the '80s. Sparked by Pickett's thick voice and the barbed guitar of Johnny Salton, Pickett bands known as the Eggs and the MC3 played music about country discomforts, domestic bile (and occasional bliss) and an America that seemed permanently lost to them. Born in Meigs County, one of the poorest areas of southern Ohio, Pickett grew up in Florida, cutting his musical teeth on bands like the Stones and the New York Dolls. You can hear all of it in his music, along with the curdled power pop of the Flamin' Groovies, one of his key inspirations. Some critics have called Pickett's work punk, but it's closer to classic rock, and there's country to boot, as in the wacky "If This Is Love, Can I Get My Money Back?" There's something deeply primitive, too, in tracks like "Phantom Train" (a kind of update of Elvis' "Mystery Train") and the Kingsmen-inspired novelty "Marlboro Man." This collection brings together several EPs, parts of an LP recorded for punk-new wave label Twin Tone and several live tracks. It's quintessential bar-band stuff, indeed - and more. The kicker is, Pickett's now a lawyer. - Carlo Wolff

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