FORTY PIECE CHOIR 3/5, METRO Tennessee (Cooked County), the third full-length from these locals, is a mighty leap from 2002's well-received but rough Face Your Fear. Skimming lightly over country and folk on its way to gentle psychedelic rock, the new album is generous with its licks and ideas in a way that mellowish hippie music ought to be more often. Their exploration of inner space continues to favor the celebratory (for apparently spiritual reasons), but the stabs at celestialism are now less cloying than they once were and more complex, seasoned with prog-blues grandeur and timing, keening harmonies, and exhilaratingly wanky guitar solos. DANU 3/6, OLD TOWN SCHOOL This acclaimed Irish unit has been known till now mostly for its fiery high-speed jigging and reeling. But on The Road Less Traveled (Shanachie) new singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh--a native Irish speaker who brings along a repertoire of haunting traditional ballads--adds richness, clarity, and sheer wrenching heartbreak to the mix nearly every time she opens her mouth. KARSH KALE 3/6, HOTHOUSE Indian-American producer and percussionist Karsh Kale says he envisions his South Asian-styled electronica tracks as performances, not backgrounds for dancing, and in fact it would take a high level of bodily intelligence to follow the quick mind at work behind the intermittent beats and dreamy post-4AD atmospherics on his new Liberation (Six Degrees). If some of the stuff is a little easy to mentally wander away from, the rousing shifts in tempo and tone, with guitars and violin and sinuous vocals winding around Kale's synth and tabla playing, bring you back sharply enough. NEW BLACK 3/6, FIRESIDE BOWL I put on the eponymous full-length (on Thick) from coed four-piece the New Black late one afternoon, and damned if it wasn't a caffeine shot straight up the vein. Compounding the mordant desperation of X, the giddiness of the B-52's, and nearly everything else that was great about early-80s postpunk, this agitating, aggravating record might be the most promising debut I've heard from a local act in the last year. The Coachwhips open. GET UP KIDS 3/7, METRO After a swerve toward power pop on their last album, the Get Up Kids apparently didn't have any surprises left up their sleeve. The harmonies, clean and sunny with a nice bittersweet edge, help out the new Guilt Show (Vagrant) a bit, but as the Kids repeatedly rewrite their straining-toward-urgency riffs and smiling-through-my-tears choruses and retitle them things like "Martyr Me" or "The Dark Night of the Soul," I just keep thinking how slight it was even when it was louder. LAIR OF THE MINOTAUR 3/7, BOTTOM LOUNGE Guitarist Steven Rathbone and bassist Donald James Barraca (both of longtime Chicago extreme-metal project 7000 Dying Rats, which declared itself a studio-only entity last year) have teamed with Pelican drummer Larry Herweg to form this powerful, stylish trio. Their new self-released EP (available from www.geocities.com/lairoftheminotaur) is dark and densely layered. Rathbone turns out to be an antiquities buff who recasts tales from Greek mythology in bloody metal terms, while Herweg's frenetic playing churns everything around into a luscious whirlpool--he makes the six songs here sound a lot faster than they are. ANNIE QUICK 3/7, EMPTY BOTTLE Bigger (Paste), the second album from New Yorker Annie Quick, is a bitter, angst-ridden chronicle of codependent dysfunctionality, a high-drama, quasi-articulate cry into the dark ("If you could FedEx my rejection to me I could sign for my own failure") carried along on a mass of loud, chunky lo-fi guitar. While Quick seems to want to transcend her own wallowing at times, she never quite musters enough defiance to fly free of the mire, making this record suitable for the early stages of a breakup but not so good for the moving-on part. BIG CREAK 3/11, DOUBLE DOOR Listening to this Ohio band's third album, Just Left Town (Opulent), is like driving through miles and miles of cornfields: after a while you start to find beauty in it because you'll go nuts if you don't. No one's going to really love or hate collegiate indie rock like this, but its tales of wholesome heartbreak are comfortably familiar enough that everyone in the car can agree to leave the radio where it is. THE HOLD STEADY 3/11, SCHUBAS The Hold Steady's professed stance as a response to electroclash seems a little silly--I mean, why bother?--until you find out they're from Brooklyn. Slouching and sprawling, flying the classic-rock flag with pride, they're also self-consciously literary in a barroom way, with front man Craig Finn (a Minneapolis transplant, late of Lifter Puller) rattling off chains of emphatic poetics like they were another kind of guitar solo. At times their debut, Almost Killed Me (Frenchkiss), sounds like King Missile with chest hair. The Israeli psychedelic-pop band Rockfour opens.