Despite all the saxophones and harps crowding Deerhunter's new album, Halcyon Digest, indie-rock fans still insist they're some kind of Sonic Youth-My Bloody Valentine guitar-god hybrid. And compared to Grizzly Bear's chamber pop, Animal Collective's art soup, and Dirty Projectors' Afropop chorales, Deerhunter indeed come off like a new-school version of the Stooges. After ditching the noisy blurts found on his band's 2005 debut, Turn It Up Faggot, frontman Bradford Cox broke through on 2007's Cryptograms and the following year's tuneful Microcastle (although he still pledged allegiance to ambient-noise junk collectors with an entire bonus disc). Cox's solo work as Atlas Sound splits the difference between dynamic arrangements (check out the sunny "Walkabout") and utter crap. On Halcyon Digest, these two sides come to a head. "Helicopter" flirts with loveliness, and "He Would Have Laughed" actually finds it — in a seven-minute tribute to Jay Reatard, no less. Cox's legion of fans apparently thinks much of his often-depressed meditations on asexuality and being buried alive. To them, the mad blogger, dress-wearing subversive, and all-around fanatic is their version of a modern-day rock star. And he's rocking it all the way. — Dan Weiss
Deerhunter, with Real Estate and Casino vs. Japan. 9 p.m. Thursday, October 21. Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $17, $15 in advance; call 216-383-1124 or go to beachlandballroom.com.ENTER SHIKARI
If nothing else, Enter Shikari are one of the more interesting blips on the post-hardcore radar. They come from the artfully minded town of St. Albans in England, a far cry from the rough-and-tumble backgrounds normally associated with their fast-and-loud contemporaries. And they aren't afraid to cross boundaries other bands wouldn't even think of approaching, eagerly incorporating synths (with sequencers set to overdrive) and samplers into their songs. That sense of adventure, along with relentless touring and a string of self-released records, earned Enter Shikari the attention of the big leagues, though they chose to stay indie. By the time they released their 2007 debut album, Take to the Skies, they were performing at high-profile fests like Download and Glastonbury. Enter Shikari developed a strong fan base in the U.S. thanks to slots on the Warped Tour. On their latest album, 2009's Common Dreads, singer Rou Reynolds effortlessly shifts from angered to anthemic, most notably in the standout "Juggernauts." Their unhinged live shows bring it all home.
— Norm Narvaja
Enter Shikari, with Haste the Day, Sleeping With Sirens, MSWHITE, and Lights Go Blue. 5:30 p.m. Thursday, October 21. Grog Shop. Tickets: $14, $12 in advance; call 216-321-5588 or go to grogshop.com.
Country singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson looks like the hardest, baddest dude around. But this is the same guy who co-wrote Trace Adkins' hit "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" and took part in the short-lived reality TV series Nashville. His new two-CD set The Guitar Song kicks off with "Lonely at the Top," a radio-ready track that reminds us that country-music fans usually have it a lot tougher than country-music singers. "It might be lonely at the top," sings Johnson, "but it's a bitch at the bottom." The Guitar Song jumps around a lot, striking all sorts of tones in its 105 minutes. The first disc is the "Black Album" and features darker lyrics than those found on the second disc, the "White Album," which is more upbeat. Both records include extended stretches of instrumental jamming that rock and even jazz fans can admire. Indeed, there's a surprising degree of experimenting on The Guitar Song. Johnson put everything he's got into it.
— Phil Freeman
Jamey Johnson, with Chris Hennessey. 8 p.m. Thursday, October 21. House of Blues. Tickets: $29.50-$45; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
Social Distortion's new album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, is becoming the Chinese Democracy of punk rock: It was first announced for a 2006 release date, then shifted around until it looked like it was finally coming out next month. It's now been rescheduled to early 2011. Even though they never really split, the Social Distortion reunion looks to be one of next year's biggest (they've got a new drummer and label, for starters). Longtime fans of the punkabilly warriors are used to waiting. The band didn't break through until a dozen years after they formed. They charged on through two deaths, one solo album, and countless lineup changes. Saying the band that sang "Born to Lose" has been through a lot is an understatement. But that world-weary tragedy is exactly what people gravitate toward in their honky-tonk punk. "You don't get no second chance," frontman Mike Ness once growled, but he knows that's not true. A triumphant tour last year with the Gaslight Anthem was all he needed to show the kids who's boss. — Weiss
Social Distortion, with Lucero and Frank Turner. 8 p.m. Sunday, October 24. House of Blues. Tickets: $30 and $38; call 216-523-2583 or go to houseofblues.com.
THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS
Heavy on special effects and Hollywood heroes, but light on actual substance and imagination, Thirty Seconds to Mars' This Is War sounds like the soundtrack to a summer action-movie dud. The leading man is Jared Leto (better known for his TV and movie roles in My So-Called Life and Fight Club), who pilots this sonic space cruiser. The band's third album is their modern rock opera, retrofitted with ultra-sleek electro production by alt-rock wizards Flood and Steve Lillywhite. Using laser-fitted guitars, symphonic violins, Auto-Tuned vocals, and lots of children's choirs, Thirty Seconds to Mars make a futuristic concept album about battling the hardships of fame. "To the right, to the left, we will fight to the death, to the edge of the earth/It's a brave new world, from the last to the first," Leto howls on the title track. The result is 12 big-budget snoozers with names like "100 Suns," "Search and Destroy," "Stranger in a Strange Land," and "L490." It sounds like U2 and My Chemical Romance — if those bands scored shitty Syfy channel movies about hipsters whose vacuous music turned kids into CD-buying zombies. Maybe their live show will tie it all together (a big stage production with jetpacks, guitar sabers, and Scientology booths, perhaps?). But more likely the band's clichéd radio rock will fizzle into the atmosphere, crashing back to earth without the safety net of studio trickery. — Keith Gribbins
Thirty Seconds to Mars, with Neon Trees and New Politics. 8 p.m. Friday, October 22. House of Blues. Tickets: $29, $26.50 in advance; call 216-523-2583 or go to houseofblues.com.