MARILYN MANSON

The Golden Age of Grotesque

(Interscope)

***

Being a Marilyn Manson fan can be rough: Your punk rock friends think you're being idiotic and your indie rock friends think you're being ironic. Manson's fondness for questionable wordplay on his latest Berlin-inspired freak show, The Golden Age of Grotesque, isn't helping matters. It's hard to defend lyrics like, "I am the church/You are the steeple/When we fuck we're all God's people," or convince anyone (at least anyone who hasn't seen his cockle-warming reflections in Bowling for Columbine) that he's a fiercely intelligent dadaist when one of the album's tracks is entitled "This Is the New Shit." That said, Manson isn't really an act for critics to appreciate; he's a performance artist for fans to adore, and anyone who was already enamored will be pleased with this new release. "Mobscene" is exemplary Manson--a perfect shard of melodic metal; "Para-noir" is a vulgar, vengeful dialogue with a composite of old lovers, and "This Is the New Shit," well, it sounds a lot like the old shit, but I'm still a fan. HANNAH LEVIN

BLACK LIPSTICK

Converted Thieves

(Peek-A-Boo)

***1/2
"When the winners of the world have left you broken and bruised, honey, we are the group for you/When the winners of the world have kicked the shit out of you/We can kick that shit back in." A band with an anthem is a good thing, especially when the aforementioned claims--made in the Converted Thieves leadoff, "Voodoo Economics"--are delivered upon. Though updated enough sonically that they sound more like the finest of their acolytes (the Feelies and the Clean, most notably), Austin's Black Lipstick are swaggering underdogs in the classic Velvet Underground mold--they too have a lady handling the drumming duties, but more importantly, they feature a foul-mouthed, deadpan singer who sounds like he must surely wear sunglasses at inappropriate moments. More blunt pronouncements are sprinkled liberally throughout, though it's the hooks that are hardest to shake. "Yesterday's Horoscope Was Right" has a guitar line that rocks and swings; the sprawling "Texas Women" proves that the piano still has a rightful place in rock 'n' roll. Black Lipstick want to, and can, uplift you higher--"like a fucking elevator," that is. PAUL FONTANA

COMETS ON FIRE

Comets on Fire

(Alternative Tentacles)

****
Imagine taking the psychedelic pageantry of Zen Guerrilla, giving it another 10 hits of high-grade acid, and shoving it through rounds of effects processors until it's nearly unrecognizable save for its skeletal garage-R&B foundation and pumped-up pupils. Then add the wobbly noise of an "Echoplex"--a device that sounds like a sheet of metal hurtling through the atmosphere, a space-rock flourish courtesy of the Lowdown's Noel Harmonson, who uses his tool to delay, echo, and generally fuck with Ethan Miller's MC5-ish vocals and dirgy guitar riffs. What you have is a band that on its second release, 2002's awesome Field Recordings From the Sun, warranted comparisons to Captain Beefheart, Blue Cheer, and Hawkwind, and that continues the massively doped up-freakouts on its newest release, Comets on Fire (a collection of songs from the group's rare, vinyl-only first EP, with six new songs). Comets perfectly captures the wind tunnel of sonic psychosis that is the Santa Cruz band's live show (definitively not to be missed if/when they return to Seattle), made all that much better by the fact that it was recorded on a four-track by the Fucking Champs' Tim Green, who kept things as unkempt as possible, guitars going out of tune and other instruments trailing off into various mutations of their former capacities. This is the kind of band that'll make the straight-edge kids feel stoned and blow the stoners' brains straight out of their bongs. Turn up as loud as possible for maximum effect. JENNIFER MAERZ

ICARUS

Six Soviet Misfits

(Temporary Residence)

***
With glowing blurbs from Four Tet and Manitoba emblazoned on the retail sticker to this double-disc collection of Icarus' rare vinyl releases, Six Soviet Misfits has much to live up to before you even slice through the shrink-wrap. While the abovementioned producers' enthusiasm is a bit over the top, Sam Britton and Ollie Brown's scrappy, lo-fi production techniques and defiantly mutating structures do recall fellow Brit iconoclasts Squarepusher and Third Eye Foundation, as well as Can circa Soon Over Babaluma (you could do much worse than that). Icarus' microscopic sound design, full of pointillist tones, insectoid textures, and incredibly intricate percussion, is a subliminal mindfuck best heard on audiophile gear and headphones (the duo's ideal audience seems to be other margin-dwelling musicians). With music this abstract and precise, the artists' obsessive/compulsiveness isn't a disorder, but rather a creatively fruitful state. DAVE SEGAL