THE LOCUST 7/25, FIRESIDE BOWL This San Diego quartet has just released a new album, Plague Soundscapes (their first on Anti-). Cramming 23 songs into just over 20 minutes, it's as stimulant-addled as you could want: close kin to hardcore but lighter, faster, and, in its own yappy, short-lived way, more abusive. It's also rather easy to adapt to and face on its own terms, which is probably not what the band wants to hear. It's worth a gander for the song titles alone ("Priest With the Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Get out of My Bed," "Anything Jesus Does, I Can Do Better," "Pulling the Christmas Pig by the Wrong Pair of Ears," and "Can We Please Get Another Nail in the Coffin of Culture Theft?" are highlights). Friday's bill includes the brilliant Rah Bras, as well as the Chinese Stars (featuring veterans of Arab on Radar and Six Finger Satellite; their debut, Turbo Mattress, is on Skin Graft); if you're picking this up on Thursday you can also catch the Locust with the Yellow Press and Ilya at the same venue. OPETH, PORCUPINE TREE 7/25, THE VIC As producer of the last three Opeth albums, Porcupine Tree main man Steven Wilson has helped cultivate an impressive prog vein in the dark metal these Swedish oddballs are known for. Their monumental Blackwater Park (2001) set the misty and lyrical alongside the staccato and savage, and then the two strains split: Deliverance (2002, Music for Nations/Koch) is pure punishing metal, while Damnation (recorded in the same sessions and released not half a year later) definitely isn't. With its watery tones and acoustic Arab-folk flourishes, it's often dreamy enough to make the overtly prog Porcupine Tree's last studio record, In Absentia, sound abrasive. SICK LIPSTICK, AN ALBATROSS 7/26, FIRESIDE BOWL Sick Lipstick, featuring two former members of Black Cat #13, has just released its debut, Sting Sting Sting (Tiger Style), and a fidgety, giddy, damaged-new-wave good time it is: keyboards burble all over it like someone slipped the B-52's some laced weed. Also on the bill is Philadelphia's An Albatross, whose Wharton Tiers-produced We Are the Lazer Viking (Ace Fu) bounces off the walls with an even more confrontational glee, celebrating sensory overload in a synth-driven sci-fi frenzy. BENUMB 7/27, FIRESIDE BOWL I'm generally pretty agnostic about whether this or that genre or trend is now dead; I'd say the only clear sign that we're coming to the end of something is when it sounds like we're getting close to the limits of physical possibility. And I really think grind/thrash/taste-of-death metal bands like California's nine-year-old Benumb are creeping up on that point with their crushing new By Means of Upheaval (Relapse); it seems it would be hard to take it much further while still playing actual instruments. Then again, people were saying that about Slayer a long time ago, so what do I know? For all their violent heaviness, the songs on this album are so short they have an oddly ephemeral quality, like a bolt of lightning that only just misses you. The only weak point is the liner notes: we don't need a convoluted justification for an antiglobalization song that's longer than the lyric itself, guys. Never apologize, never explain. THE HISS 7/29, EMPTY BOTTLE The Atlanta-based Hiss are a bit short on honor in their own country, but the Brits seem to like them a lot, especially Noel Gallagher, who handpicked them to open some Oasis shows in Germany, and NME, which has made them a flavor of the millisecond. And this is all before the release of their debut album--it's called Panic Movement, it's on Loog, and it's coming to the UK in August. No American label has bitten yet, but the advance sampler sounds plenty sellable to me: it's big ol' riff rock, fairly prefab but fairly wailing. Perfect for those who think the Hives and the White Stripes are too grubby, the Warlocks and BRMC are too weird, and Oasis would be just right if they could only throw in a little southern boogie. SWORDS PROJECT 7/29, SCHUBAS It's a little soon to give these Portlanders the royal treatment their lush, luxurious sound seems to request: Entertainment Is Over if You Want It (Arena Rock Recording Co.), out last month, is only their first full-length. Their quest to get themselves onto stages large enough to accommodate all seven of them comfortably may take some time, as ornately orchestrated slow-build rock like this often needs to age some. If the Swords develop another tempo or two besides the dreamy middling gait they now rely on, they could be dangerous someday. This is their second swing through Chicago on this tour; they played the Abbey earlier in the month. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE 7/31, EMPTY BOTTLE ; 8/1, SCHUBAS On their Juno-winning second album, You Forgot It in People (Arts and Crafts), Toronto's Broken Social Scene takes much of what was right about art rock past and gracefully integrates it into the indie-pop present. An extensive vocabulary of pealing guitar tones helps keep this project from seeming like a core duo surrounded by a dozen or so cronies, which it is. The sound comes out as a sort of Wish You Were Here-meets-the-quieter-moments-of-Daydream Nation soup that's always best served live. No telling how many of them will turn up onstage, though; their very configuration can be a surprise. MARY LOU LORD 7/31, GUNTHER MURPHY'S The most striking thing about the discography of uber-indie singer-guitarist Mary Lou Lord isn't the gaps in the release schedule (though they're impressive too: her first new studio album since 1998, recorded in England with regular collaborator Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond, will likely remain in the works till early next year); it's all those covers. A busker at heart, Lord's recorded tons of them, and her taste is generally impeccable. But since the Beatles and Dylan first divided the rock world into serious artists (who write their own songs) and lightweight entertainers (who parrot the words of others), the unfortunate prejudice against interpreters of existing material has held up surprisingly well. Lord's originals are not at all bad, but on Live City Sounds (2001, reissued by Rubric in 2002)--a covers album featuring numbers by Dylan, Springsteen, Daniel Johnston, Richard Thompson, Stephin Merritt, Billy Bragg, the Pogues, and many more--she's transcendent: she's singing the songs she feels free to love.