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My Morning Jacket: At Dawn (Darla). Apparently these guys are pretty big in Europe, but then again so is house music, and we can all do without that particular brand of syncopation. But My Morning Jacket is so extraordinary that it seems the Brits actually may be onto something. Like most indie bands these days, the group can be lumped in the Mojave 3, Tindersticks, and Slowdive category, only MMJ does it in a way that still seems fresh and original. Imagine melancholy and haunting indie rock from Kentucky sung with a sweetie-pie of a voice, what John-Boy might sing lying on his bed on the evening everyone forgot to say goodnight. Part of this album's charm is its great production, which is mildly echoey. And we can even forgive them for the song that sounds like Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town."

Operator/Generator: Polar Fleet (Man's Ruin). At first glance, Polar Fleet looks like a piece of shit. With song titles like "Quaintence of Natherack" and lyrics like "an orgy in Lucifer's barn," it's like all of the worst things in metal rolled up into one. Plus the cover looks like a Journey reject, with some weird space octopus taking over a pastel, airbrushed terrain. (The band does, however, have a wooly mammoth as a mascot, which is pretty darn cute.) But then you play the album, and it's awesome -- pummeling and well executed (death metal pun intended), with great songwriting. It's lethargic and truncated metal from the Black Sabbath school of rock (they are on Man's Ruin, after all), but without the predictable guest appearance of Satan on the mike that so many bands have adopted. The vocals are "normal," but set back in the mix so they still sound -- well, fiendish. Add a nod to regular ol' '70s rock, and it makes for a nice (albeit fugly) package.

Peaches: Teaches of Peaches (Kitty-Yo). She's a gay Canadian slut. Madonna loves her. She shaves herself onstage. She uses more sexual metaphors than an AC/DC song. And her record is definitely off tha hizzy, even if it seems only hipsters like it (when asked what he thought of it, one hip-hop DJ summed it up thus: "Wack"). At first listen you think, eh, just another oversexed bullshit dance record, but noooooo. Peaches is deep, dude. Sure, in "Fuck the Pain Away," she nonchalantly mentions sucking on her titties ("sucking on my titties like you wanting me/ calling me all the time like Blondie/ check out my Chrissy behind/ it's fine all of the time"), but then she also instructs the kiddies to "Stay in school, 'cause it's the best." No doubt she will soon be on a law enforcement D.A.R.E. tour of our nation's high schools. Then there's the Chrissy behind line, which has inspired the debate of many discussion groups (is it a reference to Three's Company? The Pretenders?). Needless to say, there is a lot here, and thankfully it's all wrapped up in some fresh beats. Word.

Phantom Limbs: Applied Ignorance (Alternative Tentacles). Say what you want about Jello Biafra, but he's got a great ear, signing the Causey Way and now the Phantom Limbs. Their music is completely original, with funereal keyboards, a screamy singer, and some kind of new wave punk-rock thing holding it all together. It's been dubbed "circus punk" for its carnival/funhouse energy, but don't worry -- this ain't no Ren Faire backup group. If you caught them at one of their first shows at the Stork Club, no doubt you stood agape at the skinny singer's writhing around with the stoic band behind him, wailing about someone's lost arms (you gotta love a band that makes reference to its name in a song). Seeing how this band progresses will be one of the great things about living in the East Bay.

Sigur Ros: Agaetis byrjun (Fat Cat). Pretentious and wanky yet weirdly beautiful, this record comes off like an unearthed Icelandic Neanderthal slowly thawing with an adorable-widdle deer licking his face. It's reminiscent of old 4AD bands like the Cocteau Twins (especially since you can't tell what the guy is saying) with Epic strings and subtle keyboards. Needless to say, in Iceland it's the biggest thing since Björk, right up there with spearfishing. This is the band's second record, and it's apparently not as good as the first, which an infinitesimal number of people in the States have heard. Or it could be that that small throng just wants to say, "I knew them from their first album, peasant." Having not heard the first one, let's just say that this record is silky and pure, and one of the best accomplishments this year.

Tina & the Total Babes: She's So Tuff (Sympathy for the Record Industry). When Sympathy for the Record Industry's Long Gone John isn't beaming with pride as he dusts his red-and-white swirly framed White Stripes 8x10s, he's hawking his other favorite band, Tina & the Total Babes. He's even landed some of their songs on a new Fox sitcom. Comprised of members of Minneapolis' Short Fuses and Tina Lucchesi from the Trashwomen and the Bobbyteens, this band has put out one of the best party records in a long time. Tina's stuff is usually way far in the back of the garage, but this album is more Kim Wilde than "Wild Thing," with tight arrangements, a power pop sensibility, layered background vocals, and even keyboards. 'Tis great.

The Velvet Underground: Bootleg Series Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes (Polydor). This stuff might not exactly be "new," but it is definitely noteworthy. Robert Quine is the guy who stuck a microphone in front of a speaker at some Velvet Underground shows in 'Frisco and St. Lewie in 1969, then culled the best of his recordings into four hours of awesome reel-to-reel clarity and greatness. (He also formed Richard Hell & the Voidoids, his second greatest achievement.) Here we have the proverbial old songs that are new again, but this band was so far ahead of its time that these selections are head and shoulders above any contemporary Radiohead knockoffs (except, of course, Radiohead). The shows took place right after John Cale left and right before VU's final record, Loaded, came out. By all accounts, Quine seems like the total annoying fan, not only taping their stuff but showing up backstage and playing it back for them after the show. (Geek alert! Geek alert!) He later played with Lou Reed, so maybe the story is really more All About Eve than I'm with the Band. Don't be afraid of the sound quality; at many of the shows there was hardly anyone in attendance, and since Quine recorded right out of the speaker -- and the band is kinda fuzzy sounding anyway -- this set is a gem, sure to make any '60s hipster squeeze her Mojo in delight.
--By Katy St.Clair

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