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Modest Mouse
Good News For People Who Love Bad News

On the cover of the new Modest Mouse record, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, there is a typically architectural cover design, the title, and the legend "by Modest Mouse." You know, like a book.

In a nutshell, if you care about hearing top-notch pop songcraft, buy the record. And if you're one of the people that have picked up the record -- Good News For People Who Love Bad News, incidentally, by Modest Mouse -- then you already know what I'm talking about and are just waiting to see if I love it or loathe it. You, sir or madam, may now quit reading.

Now, about that "by Modest Mouse." A nice touch, I thought. Denoting that this isn't just Modest Mouse's new album (Modest Mouse -- Good News For People Who Love Bad News) but rather a work fully-birthed enough to stand on its own without wobbling. (Think about it. With the exception of re-released "classics," which writers have their name above -- and invariably, bigger -- than the titles of their books? Dean Koontz? Danielle Steele? Clive Cussler? Do you see a pattern developing?)

Oh yes. The record. Hardcore fans might whimper a bit, but out-again, in-again guitarist Dann Gallucci (Murder City Devils), and new drummer Ben Weikel (The Helio Sequence) have only added to the band's sound, providing a psychedelic shower of sparks to rival pals The Flaming Lips (who, incidentally, appear on "The Good Times Are Killing Me"). Yet there's no mistaking the fact that this is still lead Mouse Isaac Brock's show. Fans of Brock's apparently autodidactic stutter-style singing (Brock loves him some vocal repetition) will no doubt see Good News as just that, and although the record doesn't lyrically plumb the depths of desolation as much as 2000's wordy The Moon and Antarctica, it certainly comes across as deep enough, thanks to the crisp subject matter and attention to detail.

Track to burn: "Float On"
Grade: A--Timothy C. Davis

Lloyd Cole
Music In a Foreign Language
One Little Indian Records

If every generation has its own Leonard Cohen, then Lloyd Cole has the bona fides to be our poet of literate dissolution.

Cole, a British-born New Yorker, has drawn comparisons to The Morbid Canadian for almost all of his 20 years on the musical stage, even providing a typically arch update of "Chelsea Hotel" on the "91 Cohen tribute disc, I'm Your Fan. Even as a pup with The Commotions, Cole's erudite cynicism sounded remarkably middle-aged.

But the lineage is more in spirit than sound -- for one, Cole sounds 23, not 43 (his age) or 69 (Cohen's age). And while Cole's first US release in five years may be a melancholic document of mid-life ennui, it practically glimmers (vs. Cohen, who never glimmers) via the presence of old Commotions' pal Neil Clark (guitar), Lullaby Baxter (vocals) and especially Dave Derby (steel guitar).

Nick Cave's "People Ain't No Good" proves an apropos cover, but, as always, it's Cole's elegant yet self-deprecating word-play and warm voice that seduce: "`Rather than you,' she said/`I prefer solitude/Rather than company/I prefer cigarettes'," Cole sings on "No More Love Songs." New Cohen or not, Cole is clearly keeping the literate loser torch ablaze.

Track to burn: "Today I'm Not So Sure"
Grade: B--John Schacht

Shannon Wright
Over the Sun
Touch & Go

Crashing, demented, angular guitars. A banshee cry of anguish. Haunted piano comping. Cymbal-thrashing mayhem and pummeling bass lines. Lyrics spat out like accusations.

This is the bruising beauty of Shannon Wright's new one, Over the Sun, nine songs of unrepentant honesty that should shame most confessional singer/songwriters into abject silence.

Sounding like a lower-registered Kristen Hersh off her meds, Wright unleashes a barrage of accusatory lyrics -- "Your love is a forgery!" (from "Plea") -- over her one-of-a-kind pulsing guitar riffs and the effective drumming of Christina Files (Swirlies, Mary Timony). Wright alters the pace with "Black Little Stray," a Muddy Waters' blues filtered through the Pixies, and "Avalanche," a melancholy rive gauche piano ballad of nearly unimaginable beauty.

Over the Sun is an unforgettable descent into madness and light years away from the gentle anxiety of Wright's first solo record, Flightsafety. The presence (again) of Steve Albini -- who's made a career of being behind the glass for many an artist's cathartic release -- suggests that Wright needed a sympathetic producer to capture what has to be her most pained and beautiful recording yet. Brilliant stuff.

Track to burn: "Portray"
Grade: A--John Schacht

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