Adeline Moon (Luminal)
Though Albert Menduno cut his teeth in noisy west-coast outfits like hardcore band Mohinder, in the late 90s he moved to Chicago and started making modest but accomplished pop on his own, adopting the name A-Set. His 1998 debut, an EP called The Science of Living Things, was full of surprisingly seductive melodies, and Menduno delivered his wry couplets like a lo-fi Lou Reed or a bedroom Bowie. His subsequent output hasn't maintained that standard, but on the forthcoming Adeline Moon he's back on track. "Tennessee Sunset" and "Escape" are as approachable and intimate as anything he's done, and the narrative detail in his lyrics for "Nine One One" and "Afandi's Song" is matched by the controlled nuance of his arrangements. Menduno is now supported by a tight circle of collaborators, including bassist and keyboardist Josh Richter and backup vocalist Typhanie Monique; A-Set plays a CD-release show on Monday, August 23, at the Empty Bottle.
Hang Together for All Time (Stars/No Stars)
Big Buildings' full-length debut, after last year's ragged-but-right This Is the Bricks EP, is a sprawling 18-song set that frequently sounds like the record Uncle Tupelo never made--or maybe the album Wilco might've cut between A.M. and Being There. The band also takes stabs at modern southern rock a la the Drive-By Truckers ("Block by Block"), the dystopian country of Crazy Horse ("Words Can Paint a Picture"), and the power trash of the Replacements ("Uh Oh"). There's even a lo-fi pop snippet that'd make Bob Pollard proud ("Smash the Alarm Clock").
Sensitive Skin/Please Be Real (Contraphonic)
Branches' debut covers a fair amount of territory--the farthest outposts seem to be the sunny, wistful post-rock of the instrumental "Do You Remember?" and the fuzzy bubblegum twang of "Dusty Grits." But the band's comfort zone is clearly in the sort of airy pop favored by the Shins and Rogue Wave, bubbling over with bright guitars, velvety synths, and plinking xylophone. Clyde Federal's new release, also on Contraphonic, is actually two EPs packaged together--Please Be Real from 2002 and the new five-song Sensitive Skin--and the music runs the gamut from the tightly melodic garage groover "Behold" to the 50s-style slow-dance weeper "Forever" (yes, that is an autoharp in the background). The two bands play a combined CD-release show at the Hideout on Saturday, August 28.
We Are All Natural Disasters (Thick)
Hanalei's gentle, mostly acoustic music is miles away from the sound of Brian Moss's band the Ghost, but even in this setting you can tell his roots are in emocore--the lyrics of "Action Drum," the first track on We Are All Natural Disasters, provide a punk's-eye view of a gentrified America through the window of a van. Like last year's self-recorded and self-released Hurricane We EP, the disc is largely a one-man affair, with Moss singing, playing guitar and bass, and adding programmed percussion, effervescent synths, and atmospheric samples; producer Lance Reynolds plays drums on five tracks. Moss's attempts at modern folk melancholy are sometimes embarrassingly overearnest ("Hopeful Hands," "Josh & Sarah's Belated Wedding Present"), but most of the material is sincere without being cloying--standouts include "Derailment at Six Flags" and "John Hughes Endings," both rerecorded tunes from the out-of-print EP.
What Box (Gravel)
Dan Weiss, aka Verbal Kent, an MC for the live hip-hop band Organic Mind Unit, follows up last year's Alien Rock 12-inch with his full-length solo debut. The beats are from Kaz1, the Opus, K-Kruz, and Overflo, and guests on the mike include Iomos Marad, Qwazaar, and One Man Army--but Kent's sharp observations and clever rhymes dominate. He comes out swinging too: on the first cut he declares, "It's rap's version of Frasier Crane, I'm rap's version of a crashing plane / Packed with passengers hijacked . . . anthrax in press packages / Verbal is the people's rapper--you're full of fecal matter." His flow is smooth, despite his habit of pronouncing every last letter of a word--even the ones other white people leave off--but his heady, slightly nasal voice handicaps him when he's trying to sell the tough talk of "Tomatoes & Glocks" and "Combat." On the whole, though, What Box is an engaging record that promises better things to come--the backing tracks to "The Zone" and "From the City" are imaginative collages, and "Big Buildings" has a ferocious symphonic thrust. Kent performs Saturday, August 21, at Chase Cafe.
Rock Paper Jesus (self-released)
Sheehy's second solo effort is workmanlike roots rock, good-natured but colored with melancholy. There are a few stompers where he affects a mild swagger, but Sheehy's at his best when his protagonists are most vulnerable: "Old Maid" is a drunken lament about a barroom pickup, complete with out-of-tune honky-tonk piano and woozy tuba; "All I Want" is a jangly pop ditty addressed to a would-be girlfriend who's on the fence ("You could be the last one I ever kiss"); and "Turn Out the Lights" is a bitter suicide note set to a jolly Tejano rhythm.
TELEVISION POWER ELECTRIC
2 (Kuro Neko Music)
Eight members strong on its self-titled 1999 debut, this group of electronic improvisers--an extension of local trio TV Pow--is down to five for the sequel. In November 2002 laptop jockeys Todd Carter and Michael Hartman of TV Pow joined local analog synth player Ernst Karel, sometime Chicagoan Boris Hauf, and Japan's Toshimaru Nakamura, whose instrument of choice is a mixing board plugged into itself, for a live session that provided the album's raw material; Hartman and TV Pow's Brent Gutzeit remixed the tracks into their final form. This is a record for people who know that "Onkyo" is more than just a brand of stereo equipment: it's not so much music as sonic experimentation, and its waves of digital hum, clouds of static, clusters of beeps and ticks, and blurts of noise are broken by stretches of near silence. Not easy listening by any definition, but well worth the effort if you've got the patience for it.