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Here are the week's best releases from the pop-culture universe 

VIDEOGAME -- Lost Planet: Extreme Condition: The premise of this Xbox 360 game is simple -- you're stranded on a world that's covered in snow and populated by giant bug-like monsters. You gotta blast your way free. But with big-ass weapons (like the Vital Suits that keep you warm and pack a punch) and one of the best multiplayer maps available, it's the coolest game of the new year.

DVD -- The Decemberists: A Practical Handbook: There's a lot to digest on this disc by Oregon's conceptual renaissance rockers: a live show recorded in 2005, videos from the Her Majesty and Picaresque albums, and a documentary about the making of their latest album, The Crane Wife. It also includes short films, recording sessions, and other musical goodies -- but you gotta look for them, since (in typical cryptic fashion) they're hidden throughout the DVD.

CD -- Headstrong: The debut album by High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale features the same super-glossy pop once favored by Britney and Christina (before they broke down and grew up, respectively). No surprise the sound is so familiar, since the artists share producers and songwriters. Best are the handful of tracks headed by the Matrix, who've done big things with limited singers (Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff) in the past.

BOOK -- Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus: Pomus wrote some of rock's seminal hits, including "This Magic Moment," "A Teenager in Love," and, um, "Viva Las Vegas." This comprehensive bio (by Alex Halberstadt) probes Pomus' personal life -- which wasn't exactly an open songbook. The mystery man's tale is filled with rags, riches, and depression -- all of which inspired some of his greatest songs.

CD -- Nonsequitur of Silence: North Carolina's Sneakers weren't all that remarkable. They were '70s power-poppers who loved the Beatles and knew their way around a ringing guitar jangle. The band is notable because Chris Stamey, Mitch Easter, and Will Rigby -- all architects of the '80s Amerindie scene, when they fronted such groups as the dB's and Let's Active -- were members. This disc compiles their two EPs plus some rarely heard '90s reunion recordings.

DVD -- South Park: The Complete Ninth Season: This three-disc set features 14 episodes; 2 of them are classics. In the Emmy-winning "Best Friends Forever," a comatose Kenny becomes entangled in a heated right-to-die argument (hours after it first aired, Terri Schiavo -- whose similar predicament inspired the ep -- died). And in the feather-ruffling "Trapped in a Closet," Tom Cruise can't find his way out.

COURTESY FLUSH, PLEASE -- Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music: Books like this take all the fun out of rock and roll. Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor aim for sociopolitical territory here, but their attempt at bridging Mississippi bluesmen, the Archies, and electronica comes off labored and stifling. The fact that Kurt Cobain's tragic suicide is lauded as the most real act an artist can accomplish oughta give you a pretty good idea where Faking It is headed.

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