"War Stories" (Surrender All)
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WHEN he formed UNKLE with DJ Shadow back in the mid-1990s, James Lavelle (founder of the influential English record label Mo' Wax) envisioned the group as a sort of revolving-door showcase for the stylishly moody trip-hop sounds Lavelle considered to be the music of the future. "Psyence Fiction," UNKLE's 1998 debut, featured Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Mike D of the Beastie Boys, while 2003's "Never, Never, Land" included cameos by Brian Eno and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack.
The third UNKLE album (in stores Tuesday) certainly contains its share of claustrophobic dance beats. But these days Lavelle seems more interested in rock than trip-hop; he recorded much of "War Stories" in Joshua Tree with the loose group of stoner-metal savants centered around Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who sings "Restless" and plays guitar on a number of other cuts. (L.A.'s Autolux and Ian Astbury of the Cult also guest.)
The result is a stormy set of dark, synth-streaked psych-rock jams that carries a whiff of tomorrow while looking back to the stomping proto-metal of Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. Evidently, nodding one's head is a precursor to banging it.
-- Mikael Wood
Sailing over that 3rd-album hurdle
"Our Love to Admire" (Capitol)
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There's a song at the center of "Our Love to Admire" called "Pace Is the Trick." On it, Paul Banks sings of anxiety and tension over the fragile accompaniment of guitarist Daniel Kessler until the whole band opens up into a chilled breath you can almost see, like a winter exhale. Shifting to words of love and starlight in one of the album's more graceful choruses, Banks then tosses off the line, "Yeah, pace is the trick."
It is and it's Interpol's time-tested formula over the course of three albums now. This -- the band's first for Capitol after two beloved recordings for indie Matador -- will be no surprise for existing fans. But that's too often used nowadays as a criticism.
Sometimes the 11 songs on "Our Love to Admire" march along at a too-similar clip. The performance of Kessler, along with bassist Carlos D. and drummer Samuel Fogarino can sound downright mathematical at times. But tracks such as "Pioneer to the Falls" and "Wrecking Ball" reveal the confidence of a career band that might just be gearing up to make 10 albums. If so, "Our Love to Admire" will be looked back on as that tricky third record, the one it's cool to like best.
-- Gregg LaGambina
"The Walk" (3CG Records)
There are two kinds of people -- those who loved the Oklahoma brothers' bubbly 1997 hit "MMMBop" and those who won't admit it. The now-adult trio's fourth studio album (in stores Tuesday) has nothing so immediate, but it offers strong, soul-influenced pop that at times evokes Bruce Horsnby and at others an earthier Maroon 5. Enjoy openly.
-- Steve Hochman
Manic Street Preachers
"Send Away the Tigers" (Red Ink)
They're longtime cult faves here, but these Welsh rockers are big stars in their native U.K., which helps explain why nearly every cut on their eighth album (in stores Tuesday) soars like a post-Springsteen arena anthem. One highlight: "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough," featuring Nina Persson of the Cardigans.
"Up Front and Down Low" (Verve Forecast)
The golden-voiced U.K. native sounds at home with American country music. Classic material (from such stalwarts as Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and Ernest Tubb) plus one strong original), fertile chamber-country settings (strings by Nick Drake orchestrator Robert Kirby) and contributions from family (dad Richard) and friends (one Rufus Wainwright orchestration) bring out new depths. -- S.H.
The Chemical Brothers
"We Are The Night" (Astralwerks)
Beneath the Chemical Brothers' live-for-tonight hedonism there has always been the looming threat of the morning after's desolation. On their sixth album, they go even darker, transfixed by generational oblivion. Strangely, they are better at getting the theme across when guest vocalists including the Klaxons and Willy Mason shut their yappers and the Chems darkly pulsating instrumentals speak for themselves.
-- Eric Ducker
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