REBECCA GATES & THE RG CONSORTIUM 12/7, HIDEOUT Rebecca Gates has more than what it takes as a guitarist, but lately she's been emphasizing her sultry voice and her interest in the art of assembly. Her latest, Ruby Series (Badman), is her first new release since dumping the Spinanes moniker, and interestingly her collaboration with the folks who make up the RG Consortium sounds more like a proper band than any backing outfit she's had in years. Maybe that's because they're all such team players at heart--Brian Deck, John McEntire, Mikael Jorgensen, and Noel Kupersmith aren't exactly hurting for dance partners, and they certainly know how to fall in when they pick up a new one. (Live the group is Kupersmith on upright bass and occasional drums and Jorgensen on keyboards both musical and computer.) But the project takes flight when Gates's strengths as a songwriter come through: "Lure and Cast," for example, is seductive and slinky in a wholesomely intellectual way. HORRORS 12/7, BEAT KITCHEN The Horrors, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are really special, in the short-school-bus sense. The sound of their self-titled debut on In the Red is staticky, tinny, and barely tuned, like Cramps songs butchered by three-fingered spastics or a mad bull cut loose in the china shop of millennial preciousness. Front man Bones, drummer Edgar Scatters, and guitarist Damn Easy (who uses the same Silvertone amp his dad played through in a 60s garage band called the Embalmers) have all recently gotten old enough to drink, but don't sound like they need to start. DANIEL JOHNSTON 12/7, SCHUBAS & DR. WAX IN EDGEWATER Daniel Johnston's last Chicago gig was as an exhibit in Intuit's "outsider music" fest last fall. That may seem appropriate on the face of it, since he suffers from mental illness and projects a certain naivete--but can someone on such good terms with the likes of Yo La Tengo, Kramer, and Sonic Youth really pass for an outsider? And let's not even get into who in rock 'n' roll and pop is "crazy" enough to fit that weird and vaguely patronizing categorization--if you ask me, Michael Jackson and Axl Rose both seem a lot farther off the rails than Johnston. The Austin singer, songwriter, and artist has just released Rejected Unknown (Gammon), his first full-length since 1994 and his seventh since he started recording for indies in 1989, leaving behind the string of self-released cassettes that first won him insider acclaim. As the title would indicate, the record spends a lot of time on the downside of the business of making art. The songs of loss, loneliness, the ones that got away, and the ones that never came close might be the real key to Johnston's classification--maybe it's hard for some folks to take something as sincere, naked, and downright subconscious as "Funeral Girl" from someone who's not labeled as sort of nuts. But when it comes to songcraft and even rocking out ("Billions/Rock") Johnston has never relied on the poster-child factor--his talent and charisma are as real as anyone's. YUM-YUM 12/7, THE NOTE After the commercial failure of Yum-Yum's major label debut, Dan Loves Patti--which, if you believe Tom Frank, who spun it into a Harper's essay a few years back, was a mere exercise in irony and not merely a promising, if slightly gooey, orchestral pop album--Chris Holmes claims he narrowly wiggled out of a two-band 15-record deal with Atlantic by turning in a lousy country demo. Since then, the supposed satirist has kept a rather low profile, nurturing a new batch of songs when he's not working on forgettable movie sound tracks. For this show, his first headlining gig under the Yum-Yum name in four years, he'll be previewing this new material--some of which is available for advance perusal at www.superyum.com--and playing old favorites. His band will feature Jonathan Radtke of Kill Hannah on piano, Erin Gipson on vocals, Veruca Salt's Steve Fitzpatrick (who also plays with Holmes in Ashtar Command) on guitar, and Ethan Phillips, who also plays with Icelandic chanteuse Emiliana Torrini, on bass. AEREOGRAMME 12/8, EMPTY BOTTLE A Story in White (Matador) is the stateside debut by this Glaswegian trio; the American version incorporates an EP, White Paw, that like the album was released by the Delgados' Chemikal Underground label in the UK. The disc is a real space oddity--burbly electronic atmospherics and wind-tunnel banging mix promiscuously with sweet indie pop in which singer Craig B channels Alex Chilton ("Hatred" is the finest moment in this vein and stands quite well on its own), and then the whole thing gets a smackdown minutes later from some glottal amateurish metallics. (The press release informs me that these guys play in a "Sunday afternoon metal disco" project called Deathlehem with Mogwai's Dominic Aitchison.) The nice bits are really nice but the weak ones are really weak, so the record seems less than the sum of its imperfectly integrated parts--something here for everyone to hate. MORBID ANGEL 12/8, the VIC Florida's Morbid Angel are one of the defining bands of the death metal subgenre, but they've never hewed all that tightly to its conventions. On their most recent release, last year's Gateways to Annihilation (Earache), guitarists Trey Azagthoth and Erik Rutan get soaringly lyrical at times, particularly in the beautiful, goosebump-inducing "Summoning Redemption." Sadly, lyricist, bassist, and vocalist Steve Tucker has departed since this album was recorded; he's been replaced by Hate Eternal's Jared Anderson. The band headlines the Extreme Music for Extreme People tour, which also features Deicide, Soilent Green, and the Emperor spin-off Zyklon. RIVAL SCHOOLS 12/11, FIRESIDE BOWL Were the late-80s New York band Gorilla Biscuits part of a movement to make punk more playful and accessible, or were they the first shot of anesthetic before the neutering that produced nadless wonders like Green Day? Your answer to this question will predict how you're likely to receive Rival Schools, featuring ex-Biscuits Walter Schreifels and Sammy Siegler, who carried on the evolution/degeneration through Quicksand and CIV in the 90s. The new outfit's debut, United by Fate (Island), is pretty much everything you'd expect--sensitive emocore anthems about relationships and stuff, performed with the urgent single-mindedness of a puppy that really, really needs to go outside right now. I had hoped that having a Republican chimp in the White House would help eliminate this whiny Clintonian self-help strain of punk.