DALEK 5/2, EMPTY BOTTLE These days it seems like hip-hop is pronounced dead almost as often as rock. And as with rock, such postmortems are usually delivered by folks who listen to little outside the mainstream--there's always gold to be mined from weird little veins in the underground. This trio's second album, From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots (Ipecac, 2002), tingled the nerves of those who remember fondly the spacey, spiritual wit of early De La Soul and the front-loaded sonic assault of classic Public Enemy. But this ain't no nostalgia trip: on a track like "Black Smoke Rises" (which doesn't even deign to groove--it just roars), Dalek's noisy edges put them closer to Japanese techno-sadists like Aube or Merzbow than PE, and the sexy space-pulse they work up elsewhere hints at German art rockers Faust, with whom they've collaborated. PARTY OF HELICOPTERS 5/2, METRO This Ohio group has mastered a difficult trick: how to sound like a jillion bands you've heard before but not quite enough like any particular band to make specific comparisons illuminating. Their new Please Believe It (Velocette) comes on like indie rock, skitters like art rock, and displays an old-fashioned dread of alienating any given segment of its theoretical audience (though those high vocals might be a deal breaker for some). But the problem with music no one really hates is that usually no one really loves it either. The Watchers (see Post No Bills) headline; also on the bill are the Eternals and the irresistible Apes. SUMMER DYING 5/3, FIRESIDE BOWL This Lansing quartet plays as part of Rusty Nails' delightful-looking metal-and-movies event, along with BloodHag (see Critic's Choice), Behold! The Living Corpse, Knuckel Drager, and Pelican--a diverse lineup I guarantee will not degenerate into a which-band-was-that-again blur. Summer Dying is probably the most traditional of the lot: on the band's self-released debut, Beyond the Darkness Within, swirling double leads take off from a solid base of midperiod-Metallica riffery, and rust-belt grit tempers a European sense of grandeur throughout the seven long and generous songs. But the production doesn't do singer Kerry Cripe any favors--his powerful voice is too often buried in the mud. VOIVOD 5/5, HOUSE OF BLUES Formed in the early 80s as a fairly straightforward metal band, Voivod hit their high-water mark in the early 90s with a handful of fearsome space-metal albums that brought a Hawkwind-ish sense of new-frontierism into a meaner, brattier age. After original vocalist Snake left in 1994, the band tottered further and further from their cassette-trading metal-underground roots. But for their new eponymous album on Chophouse/Surfdog, Snake is back, and the addition of Metallica veteran Jason Newsted on bass helps them settle back into the heavy-riffing sci-fi dystopian groove they never should have left. Sepultura headlines. EARLIMART 5/6, METRO Aaron Espinoza has lately earned most of his daily bread as a producer, working with the likes of Folk Implosion, the Breeders, and X while quietly moving forward with his own band, Earlimart (drawn from cohorts in California recording collective the Ship). On the group's fourth full-length, Everyone Down Here (Palm Pictures), he sounds like he could stand to spend a little more time outside the studio. His songs are submerged in a sweetly buzzing swamp of precious psychedelic melancholy--at times this comes off like a domesticated Jesus & Mary Chain backing a diffident Donovan. And though some of its droning moments are as lovely as Yo La Tengo's, I keep waiting fruitlessly for some kind of surprise. Ozma headlines. ARAB STRAP 5/8, METRO By the standards of mass entertainment, where ordinary-looking people are "ugly," the realistic tales these pop storytellers tell are "depressing." But the Glaswegian duo Arab Strap refuses to cover up its flaws: zits, lack of coordination, frustration, sordid horniness, and all. Aidan Moffatt and Malcolm Middleton took a break from one another for a year or so to dabble in solo projects; reunited for their fifth album, Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador), they sound utterly rejuvenated, though no less morose. With Stacey Sievwright and Jenny Reeve providing counterpoint on strings--they push "Fucking Little Bastards" several minutes past a Dirty Three-like climax into the plaintive antiwaltz "Peep Peep"--this sounds at times like Tindersticks with nads. One of the most engaging and humane pop albums I've heard all year. Bright Eyes headlines. BOTTLES & SKULLS 5/8, DOUBLE DOOR Though they've been the talk of San Francisco for the last four years, this quartet is originally from Florida--hardly surprising, since that state's already spawned plenty of other hungry gators, from Skynyrd to Morbid Angel. The playing on Bottles & Skulls's second full-length, Born in a Black Light (on the local Sickroom Records), is manically precise, though the band's skill and obsessiveness never dull its ferocity. The shrieking guitar leads on "Pimento Llama" and "My Rifle" rocket the blues through a postpunk sound barrier to produce a howl of high-tech despair. HORIZONTAL ACTION ROCK 'N' ROLL BLACKOUT 5/8, SUBTERRANEAN As their zine's extensive record review section attests, the Horizontal Action dudes have always been consistent in their choice of sound track for getting some (or getting trashed when you don't)--hairy, sweaty, crackling rock 'n' roll. On the first night of this annual three-night festival, Memphis's Lost Sounds and Atlanta's Black Lips lead a bill that also features the rollicking, vaguely Dolls-y A Feast of Snakes (from Dallas, on In the Red) and locals the Functional Blackouts, who are so fast and furious I strongly advise my readers not to wank to them. More about the festival in this space next week.