By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
Fantomas, The Director's Cut (Ipecac). You'll find yourself imitating Mike Patton's demented la-la-la-la-la-laaaaa from the Rosemary's Baby theme at the most inopportune moments (while shaving, in bank queues, during your field sobriety test), but don't worry, you're not crazy. Not until you start shouting, "It's the year 1!" will they cart you off -- just make sure The Director's Cut goes with you on your little holiday.
The Conformists, Date Rape (Everywhen Records). Only on vinyl could you isolate the implosion of self and the resulting explosion of anger that roils and churns through the Conformists' latest effort to communicate just what they think of all us outsiders. One for the analog loyalists, the unwashed and the autistic lovers of the world.
The Fall, Live in Reykjavik (Resurgence). Recorded in 1983, this disc captures the Fall at their shambling best. Amped-up, aggressive and barely in tune, lead yelper Mark E. Smith and the band fight their way through their set with a passion that justifies the religious devotion of their fans.
Four Corners, Say You're a Scream (Kindercore). Kicking out Kinksy, mod, sing-along garage rock, the Four Corners are a fuzz-fueled exception to the usual Kindercore crowd. "Brilliantly executed inside joke" points for including both stereo and mono mixes for each of the CD's tracks.
Fugazi, The Argument (Dischord). Darker and denser than than previous work, The Argument is no Waiting Room 2001; fans who expect such a rehash are doing the band a disservice. Although continuing to evolve, Fugazi still seethes with the personal and political indignation that's made it the last essential band in the underground.
Grandpa's Ghost, Stardust and Smog/Early Autumn Waltz at the Two Fourteen (Upland). Zigging when expected to zag, Grandpa's Ghost skips the usual noise almost completely on the first disc of this twofer, concentrating on heartbreakingly beautiful acoustic folk. Disc 2 gets back to more traditional Ghost territory, with enough guitar freakishness to bend even the most open of minds.
Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills(TVT). In a just world, "Chasing Heather Crazy" and "Glad Girls" would be monster radio hits, and Guided by Voices would be selling out stadiums. As usual, though, fans must make do with Bob Pollard's stadium-size ambitions and one of the best albums of the band's career.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Tyranny of Distance (Lookout). Featuring late-'70s U.K.-style power pop topped with Leo's keening terror and inventive songwriting, The Tyranny of Distance is a mod gem of an album, certain to be unjustly overlooked in a genre-obsessed indie punk scene.
Love as Laughter, Sea to Shining Sea (Sub Pop). Love as Laughter serves up a swaggering mix of '70s NYC punk, '80s DC guitar rock and '90s indie sensibility. Catchy and rockin' as hell, this album is worth it for the opening track's ba-da-ba-da-da chorus alone.
Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus (Matador). Simply on the basis of Malmus' track record, it was a given that this would be a decent album, but who knew the former Pavement frontman had so many great hooks and choruses left in him? Though the album is hardly perfect, it at least sounds as if Malkmus is actually enjoying being in a band.
Shins, Oh Inverted World (Sub Pop). Walking a fine line between inspiration and imitation, the Shins manage to evoke every great guitar pop band from the Beatles to Built to Spill without sacrificing their original ideas one bit.
Star Death, The Dark House (No Loyalty). After a slightly disappointing first album, the Star Death, possibly the best live rock band in St. Louis, finally have the recorded muscle to back it up. Minutemen-ish instrumental interplay meets grippingly poetic lyrics and ends in a 20-minute free-jazz freakout.
Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony). In RCA Studio B, decrepit and broken down from disuse, cluttered with ghosts, two musicians and a friend set up mics and rolled tape. The magnetic particles defeat summary. Fate, sin, dreams, myths and beatific bad trips.
Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia). In the black wake of September's zero hour, these ruinous tales seem prophetic. And Dylan, his voice brackish, snarling, dying the rounder's disease, is laughing. Not because misfortune is mirthful. No. We're all down in the flood, and if you don't laugh, you'll die with the taste of dies irae forever on your lips.
Ian Hunter, Rant (Fuel 2000). Since Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter has tried too hard or not enough. Now the glam is gone, replaced by a personal and political history writ in rock & roll lightning. Piano and guitars draw blood and thunder while Hunter lays down his working-class demands -- formed in the gut, delivered from the same place.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Live in New York City (Columbia). On "Land of Hope and Dreams," the 52-year-old rocker commandeers the gospel train, derails it, then re-steels the glory. In the smithy of the E Street Band's soul he forges -- like no other rocker still standing -- the conscience and faith and desire of anyone still willing to believe.
Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul (Epic). Patty Loveless has spent the last decade caretaking for country's soul. With her first bluegrass album, the roles are reversed: Her heart and voice are reconfirmed by the harder, deeper music of her coal-mined Kentucky spirit.