M.O.T.O. 6/6, BEAT KITCHEN No disrespect to the Beat Kitchen, but after more than ten years as a Chicago institution, M.O.T.O. deserves to hold a release party for its 17th album, Kill M.O.T.O. (Criminal I.Q.), in a much bigger venue. Sometimes when I'm making coffee or cleaning up something the cats knocked over, I think of the guitar crumple on "Never Been to Me in a Riot" or the brilliant opening lines of "The Chicks Can Tell" ("Well I just had sex and I'm walking down the street / And the chicks can tell, the chicks can tell"), and for a sec I'm just innocently happy, grinning like a fool, thinking, Damn, I love rock 'n' roll. Imagine what the M.O.T.O. mojo could do for someone less jaded. STARLIGHT MINTS 6/6, NEW CITY YMCA Some of the softer-brained creators of orchestral pop seem to think that living in an analog-electronic utopia surrounded by sweet strings and harmonies would be pleasant. But all utopias become oppressive--and Phil Spector and Brian Wilson understood this fact well enough to acknowledge it. To actually make glossy orch pop seem the best of all possible musical worlds requires a peculiar kind of antigenius--one has to seem convincingly and monumentally fucked-up, like the Flaming Lips. On the Starlight Mints' second album, Built on Squares (Pias America), they sound pretty fucked-up all right--the "You Really Got Me" riff in "Jack in the Squares" comes off like a breath of sanity compared to the plastic robot funk surrounding it, and "Zillion Eyes" is paranoia on a Bacharach scale. But they're still not quite fucked-up enough. They perform as part of the Q101 Block Party along with Staind, the Flaming Lips (speak of the devil!), and others. STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE 3 6/6, SUBTERRANEAN On his last release, the double CD Here Come the Miracles, Steve Wynn sounded exhausted yet determined, as if he thought he wouldn't be around to make any more music and had to get it all out right away--even though he was clearly dragging in spots. Like its predecessor, Static Transmission (due out July 8 on Down There/DBK Works) was recorded in Tucson with Calexico producer Craig Schumacher, but it's leaner and meaner. Wynn sounds like a man reprieved; he never runs in place, and he knows how to use pale feedback to supernatural effect. His stories of the hopeful and the doomed are more like miniature novels than exploitation flicks ("Candy Machine" is "Welcome to the Jungle" with less testosterone and more compassion). For this tour, the Miracle 3 is really the Miracle 4: Green on Red and Giant Sand keyboardist Chris Cacavas joins in. THE CLEAN 6/7, THE VIC Clean coleader David Kilgour was recently appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, a symbolic but potent thanks from the queen. On advice from NZ ministers, I'm guessing--don't figure her majesty for the type to slap on "Tally Ho!" and jump around her chambers. Any fan of New Zealand's productive scene owes Kilgour and his brother Hamish a thanks or two as well--Flying Nun, that country's most influential indie label, was founded to release the Clean's music almost a quarter century ago. This year the group's reunited for a very rare U.S. tour to celebrate a generous two-CD collection on Merge, Anthology. It includes a handful of raw and righteous live tracks. Yo La Tengo headlines (see Critic's Choice). HALEY BONAR 6/8, EMPTY BOTTLE This Duluth singer-songwriter, who's just released her second album, ...The Size of Planets (on Chairkickers, the label run by Low's Alan Sparhawk), isn't old enough to legally drink (though the liquor flows freely through her songs). But her eerie tales of hauntings, redemption, and regret sound like the work of an old soul--maybe even one who shuffled off this mortal coil a while ago. Her sparse tunes all have something of the mystic about them, particularly "Car Wreck," in which the narrator greets death with chilling equanimity. MINK LUNGS 6/10, SCHUBAS I'll Take It (Arena Rock Recordings), the second full-length from Brooklyn's Mink Lungs, has no filler. None. Even the best albums I hear usually surround a few great tracks with a bunch of pretty good ones. But every song on this album--and there are 17 of 'em--needs to be here. The Lungs are as much a font of restless invention as, say, Talking Heads ever were, with a "fuck form, function is fun" willingness to jostle, swerve, jump, hump, or whisper, plus so much heart they're never merely irritating or "challenging" for the sake of being challenging. They get compared to the Pixies a lot. I wish I liked the Pixies this much. NONE MORE BLACK 6/10, FIRESIDE BOWL This New Jersey punk outfit has gone through so many personnel changes since its seven-inch debut in 2001 it seems more like a concept than a band. Led by Kid Dynamite veteran Jason Shevchuk, with brother Jeff on guitar, the group still aspires to tightness on File Under Black, its full-length debut on Fat Wreck Chords. It sacrifices a little hardcore punch in favor of color and tone to show off growing chops and sophistication--the backing vocals and guitar filigree on "The Affiliates" add up to actual hooks, and the chorus of "M.T.T.H." is militant merriment in the fine punk tradition of the unintelligible sing-along. STARFLYER 59 6/12, SCHUBAS One person's sellout is another person's experiment is another person's shark jump. Old (Tooth & Nail), the sixth full-length from this discreetly Christian California shoegazer outfit, could fit any of those slots, depending on your perspective. A homage to the 70s and 80s art pop the band adores, the album also contains moments of sub-Radiohead and more than a bit of John Hughes-soundtrack pop. The swirly soundscapes of past work linger as a color on the palette rather than provide a foundation. YARDBIRDS 6/12, ABBEY PUB Should they have done it? "It" refers, of course, to the new album, Birdland (Favored Nations), composed of half new songs and half standards. And "they" refers to guitarist-bassist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty, who've enlisted members of hardworking pub rockers Dr. Feelgood as well as special guests like actual former Yardbird Jeff Beck, Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Brian May, and Toto veteran Steve Lukather (half of whom don't embarrass themselves...you can probably guess which half). Yes, they should have. If I didn't know these guys were supposed to be the Yardbirds, I'd think they were a really good scrappy blues-rock bar band with more chops than usual and an atypical willingness to go out on limbs that sometimes snap beneath their weight. Which, come to think of it, is what the Yardbirds always were.