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Yo La Tengo
Summer Sun
Matador

The new one from Hoboken indie rock sweethearts Yo La Tengo is not only a beautiful sonic progression of their eclectic pop sound, but will also be catchy and endearing to new listeners.

Husband/wife songwriting team Georgia Hubley (drums) and Ira Kaplan (guitars) along with third-wheel bassist James McNew have created a nontraditional record of the season. Though Summer Sun does possess a sunny ebullience, its reflective magic also conjures tall afternoon shadows, overcast mornings on the beach and rainy afternoons spent indoors.

Yo La Tengo has become adept at blending a broad cross-section of the rock & roll canon and mixing in bits of jazz, country and art rock.

Hubley sings lead on the pop centerpiece of the album, "Little Eyes," which rocks with quiet abandon. Ira does his best Lou Reed on "Year of the Shark," a boppy Casio keyboard romp. James antes up one song here on the understated yet drony "Tiny Birds," with nice cello and violin. YLT even bust out the funk on "Georgia Vs Yo La Tengo," a fun instrumental resembling a less-cheesy Beastie Boys joint.

Get a musical tan with Summer Sun. It's warm and soul-satisfying -- all without the harmful glare of artistic excess. --Chris Lunceford

Andrew Bird
Weather Systems
Righteous Babe

For his first disc on Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe imprint, Andrew Bird has delivered an engaging slice of art-folk that has an insidious way of worming itself into your gray matter. The songs and overall sound of Weather Systems are more spacious and relaxed than most of the singer/songwriter/violinist's work with his band Bowl of Fire. Bird cut the album in a converted barn in remote western Illinois with BOF mates Kevin O'Donnell (drums) and Nora O'Connor (vocals/guitar) and producer/engineer Mark Nevers (who also plays "space guitar"). The resulting sonics are remarkably warm and natural. Bird sings in a sweet moan, slurring slippery cascades of words that sparkle with gems of wit and insight. ("I'm all for moderation but sometimes it seems/ Moderation itself can be a kind of extreme.") He also plays violin in unique ways, often plucking out terse arpeggios that counter his fluid bowed lines. Bird's songs brim with stately, sophisticated melodies that take pleasingly odd twists. Weather Systems is bound to end up one of the best sleeper albums of the year.--Eric Snider

Believe in Toledo
Believe in Toledo
Can't Afford 'Em Records

Live, the band often throws off an energetic but fairly straightforward vibe mixing hooky pop sense with cool fuzzy tones and the occasional rhythmic quirk. Their latest full-length, however, showcases an engagingly idiosyncratic personality, the nuances of which may have been getting lost in the wash of your average punk-club P.A. The two guitarists rarely play the same lines, preferring instead to complement (and occasionally clash with) each other's warm tones and intricate riffs, while the dynamic rhythm section deftly switches up between low-key jazz and power-pop pummel. Though the disc sometimes forcibly recalls obvious influences, from Archers of Loaf ("Redrawing the Blueprints") to Elvis Costello ("Kabuki") or The Get Up Kids ("Last Song"), hey, they're all great bands, and BIT's unique guitar interplay and palpably melancholy vocal bent largely keeps them honest. Particularly in standouts like "Majestic No. 10," "The Best Thing in This Town," "Right Now I'm Dreaming" and the amazingly cathartic "Kimberly, Don't Hate Me," where the band's original elements and yen for traditionally solid songcraft really shine. God, how did they get those sweet-ass guitar tones? www.cantaffordem.com --Scott Harrell

Fishbone
The Essential Fishbone
Columbia/Legacy

The bunch of SoCal crazies known as Fishbone have always given it up better on stage than on recordings. And that's why The Essential Fishbone is the perfect keeper. The group's six full-lengths and one EP released by Columbia from 1985-1996 were often spotty affairs, with experimentation run amok and a shade too much tomfoolery. Essential boils it down to the best: 16 songs, 68 minutes. The band's trailblazing blend of ska, funk, rock, punk and jazz fusion was so potent and ambitious that it was rarely copied. Factor in irreverent social commentary and sense of the absurd that approached Zappa-esque proportions and you have a band that was truly one of a kind. While at Columbia, Fishbone bounced from manic ska ("Party at Ground Zero," "Skankin' to the Beat") to funk-rock (a blast-furnace take on Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead") to a bouncy Sly & the Family Stone spin-off ("Everyday Sunshine") to metal chunk ("Fight the Youth") with improbable deftness. Essential even includes a formidable ballad, "Change," that evokes late 80s Prince. Fishbone has never found its commercial niche, but Essential proves that their best is damn good. --Eric Snider

Warren Zevon
Sentimental Hygiene
Virgin

Perhaps some of you Gen X'ers and other young'uns have heard about this dude Warren Zevon who's dying of cancer. Perhaps you wonder what all the fuss is about. Here's a chance to check out a true rock iconoclast's best album (OK, tied with Excitable Boy). For this 1987 disc, Zevon scrubbed away the California sheen by recruiting the R.E.M. rhythm section. They created a visceral, hard-rocking sound, the perfect underpinning for Zevon's bearish vocals, rapier wit and bad attitude. "Detox Mansion" lampoons the cushy hospitals where stars go to clean up (Zevon had done a highly publicized stint in one). "Well, I'm goin' to detox mansion/ Way down on Last Breath Farm/ I've been raking leaves with Liza/ Me and Liz clean up the yard." Zevon always had a tender side, too, which is sublimely rendered in the mea culpa ballad "Reconsider Me." Now's a good time to consider one of rock's great smartasses. --Eric Snider

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