Luna Live
(Arena Rock)

Live documentation of beloved bands can be a shaky affair, tilting either to blind reverence for time-worn material or ill-advised experimental tinkering and jamming. New York's Luna dodges both of those prospects with Luna Live. The band simmers and meanders beautifully through its set with restraint and elegance, turning in understated versions of "Tiger Lily" and "23 Minutes in Brussels." Dean Wareham's ongoing love affair with the Velvet Underground's poppier moments are on full display throughout. It is interesting to hear the evolution of Wareham's vocals from his days in Galaxie 500, remarkable in contrast to that band's live album, Copenhagen. He revisits Galaxie 500's "4th of July," and it is the album's only real disappointment, sounding lackluster and flat. Most of the material on Luna Live is from 1995's Penthouse, a band high point. The pulse of a sophisticated New York nightlife and its wisps of romance and disappointment waft through the material, offering distraction and substance through implication and spare beauty. NATE LIPPENS

The Swords Project
(Absolutely Kosher)

The music of Portland's the Swords Project is complex, vibrant, and inspiring. There are two drum kits, insuring that not a beat gets missed, propelling songs that are flooded with guitars, bass, and a plethora of other instrumentation. They feel less like songs in a traditional sense than woven fabrics of sound, with each strand in place, used only as necessary. The rare appearance of vocals forces the Swords Project to rely upon the intricacy of its craft for content: When there is no getting lazy behind a catchy vocal chorus, the players are forced to fill each moment with reasons to continue listening. Strip each song to its skeleton and you would have a vulnerable composition of moderately complex pop. Add another layer of instruments and the complexity compounds as the Swords Project explodes. MARK DUSTON

The Blue Trees
(Mantra Recordings)

This quirky Welsh band's third American release is as enigmatic as its impossible name. The music shimmers, shivers, and creaks like a lonesome cowboy orbiting Earth in a tin can, or a robot crooning a lullaby to a pond full of frogs. I've played this CD compulsively, attempting to pin the simple snatches of violin, gentle, evocative vocals, and primitive, almost idiotic guitar sounds to a genre, but it continues to slip past definition toward the freedom of expression possessed by children and lunatics. These sounds make me feel like I'm driving at night, twisting the dial for a comforting voice as the AM station gives way to the crackle of static. I might not understand this noise but I simply can't stop listening. TAMARA PARIS

The Truth About Us
(New West Records)

With Wilco as his backing band, singer/songwriter Tim Easton circumnavigates an album's worth of melodically rich roots rock. The Truth about Us is Easton's second solo record. He peppers his understated harmonies and acoustic guitar with pedal steel, loops, and Mellotron that add pop textures to his folk song-stories as they parse the rough patches of romance. Easton's material is well observed and rooted in the everyday, giving it a tone reminiscent of John Prine in his sincere mode. On "Don't Walk Alone," Easton is joined by the husband and wife team of ex-Jayhawk Mark Olson and Victoria Williams on backing vocals. The earthiness of their voices blends well with Easton's, which is flexible enough to suggest Prine and Freedy Johnston. Easton can at times dip into a slickness that does not suit him as well as on "Soup Can Telephone Game Conversation" and the power-pop of "Downtown Lights." While those songs demonstrate his ability to work within different styles, they upend the kind of consistency and illusion of authenticity the rest of the album strives for with its more integrated pop and roots mix. NATE LIPPENS

Self-Titled Split 7"
(Crach Rawk Records)

This record arrives in the grand traditional style of late punk/early hardcore, when 7-inches were sought after by just about every kid, bought up with lunch money and played to death on cheap record players. On side one, both bands rip through their tracks with a fevered pace, occasionally taking time out from power chords to display some momentary proof that the members can actually play the instruments they are pounding on. All obvious influences and comparisons come to mind here: the VSS, Karp, Born Against, and Rorschach being some of the more recent ones. The second side of the split is a song improvised by both bands in the studio. It is long and chaotic, filled with crashing guitars and confusion. Within this song there is a distinctly Joy Division chord progression that comes as a surprise and lends the impression of a greater depth to the bands in question by revealing a wider range of influences than either band initially appeared to be referencing. Which is not to say the chord progression is groundbreaking: Joy Division's songs, although incredible to hear, were actually fairly simple. No, it's the fact that the bands have allowed themselves to deviate from an otherwise straightforward genre, to reveal an influence so far removed from most young people today. I'm well past the years when I could have really gotten into a record like this, but I can easily say that it deserves attention from the people who might still enjoy some new hardcore. MARK DUSTON

(Kill Rock Stars)

The parsing of punk legacies past is a continuous pissing contest for determining who is the most authentic and in the know. It's a boys' game--an intellectual/cultural measuring stick of completists and elitists. As with punk itself, it never will die. What gets lost in all of the politicized jockeying is the fact that punk was, and is, fun. Serious intentions and social statements may have underpinned much of punk's best output, but the goofing, genre-stretching, youthful chaos and excess were also essential. Switzerland's Kleenex never seemed to care about any of those distinctions. The band began in 1978 with just four songs, shed its male guitarist, and picked up Marlene Marder, becoming an all-female lineup. After legal wrangling with the Kleenex corporation, it became LiLiPUT and took its primitivism to all logical and surreal conclusions. The multilingual shrieks and chants and guttural squalls mixed rage and exuberance with a brand of feminism that encompassed all impulses at once. LiLiPUT's co-singers Marder and bassist Klaudia Schiff hectored and heckled each other and the songs, pogoing and riding the cacophony. The words were Seussical nonsense slang that stuttered into rhythms and dripped venom and humor in equal parts. The meaning was in the music and the spirit of jagged overload. This Kill Rock Stars two-disc anthology displays LiLiPUT's charm and impact. The listener can see the parallels with and influence on bands such as Bratmobile and Chicks on Speed. Over the course of 46 songs that jump-cut with adrenaline rushes, it becomes apparent that LiLiPUT was serious fun whose mission statement was pushing its own envelope, one that was both a mail bomb and a mash note. NATE LIPPENS

Frequently Asked Questions

Sometimes beauty can be boring, and such is the case with London weepies Tram. The four-piece constructs meandering, strum-filled odes to sadness that quickly wear out their welcome by way of overwrought, irritatingly mundane lyrics. Tram's singer/ songwriter Paul Anderson obviously strives for profundity through simplicity; unfortunately, the economic structures of his lyrics still manage to overshadow his band's otherwise pretty songs. If one could jettison the words (and Anderson's fey voice) from Frequently Asked Questions, the band's second album for Jetset Records, one might find a ready soundtrack to stage one's own sadness to, a rolling landscape of tremoloed guitar and reverb-drenched instrumentation that lends itself to heady daydreams. Instead, Tram delivers a cloyingly complete package that leaves nothing to the imagination. KATHLEEN WILSON

Hey 19
(Teen Beat)

Aden is pleasant and not much more. The band treads the same ground as better bands like Belle & Sebastian, but Aden doesn't keep pace, with its soft, let's-hold-hands songs, filled with sweet lyrics that even your mom would like. Musically, all the pieces fit nicely--so nicely that, at times, it's downright boring. This is more for the avid fan of pretty, sweet boy-pop than for the occasional listener. If you've got enough Belle & Sebastian already, and still want more, try Aden. If you haven't tried much in the genre, this might not be the place to start. MARK DUSTON

El Baile Alemán
(Emperor Norton)

El Gran Baile
(Emperor Norton)

Señor Coconut's 1997 debut, El Gran Baile, points to a brilliant career. The Señor, a marimba-shaking techno aficionado hailing from Santiago, Chile, manages the unique feat of transmuting the base rhythms and elements of traditional Latin music--sprightly maracas, insistent woodblocks, tom-toms and bongos, and, of course, horns, accordions, and xylophones--into a dizzy conceit of breakbeats, loops, and pulses, as complex as the Dust Brothers, but better because it's silly. It is hard not to feel lighthearted at the prospect of a 120 beats-per-minute cha-cha such as "El Coco Baile," or a cavernous virtual samba like "Musica Moderna." Thus, it was with great anticipation that I unwrapped the Señor's second album, El Baile Alemán, and listened to the Señor's lucid introduction, in which he explains--in broken English and smooth Spanish--his debt to the great music of Kraftwerk. The album itself is a tribute to Kraftwerk comprising a series of rearrangements of the group's best-known work, in typical Latin instrumentation. "Y cuando yo le indique la marca cuatro, vamos todos a comunicarlo y a usar esta musica," Señor Coconut says, and we launch into a cha-cha rendition of "Showroom Dummies." El Baile Alemán is flawlessly executed. "Trans Europe Express" gets a classic cumbia treatment; "Homecomputer" is restyled for an energetic merengue beat. Only the pulsing breaks of the Señor's "Tour de France" give the lie to this brilliant Chilean techno expert's true life story as the Frankfurt-based Uwe Schmidt. JAMIE HOOK

The Chamber from Here to There
(Powerbunny 4x4)

Vending Machine marks the second solo album by Memphis-based singer/guitarist/ songwriter Robbie Grant of Big Ass Truck. The last time Grant took leave from Big Ass Truck he delivered Unleavened Bread, which can easily be mistaken for Ween. The Chamber from Here to There, then, should be seen as a departure. Grant's vocal style is bizarre, and his tinkly, low-fi Atari sounds mock the listener, at times to the point of annoyance. Yet through and through, The Chamber does redeem itself and prevail, thanks to the catchy pop choruses and unique homemade sounds that many of us seek out in the music we hear. "No Context" and "Chocolate Guitarz" are examples where the off-kilter sounds and sporadic choruses crash into a beautiful mess. I'd go out and get this album merely to expand a pervasive collection of eccentric music. CHRISTOPHER HERB