Infinite Love Songs
(Kitty-Yo Records)

With his impressive falsetto illuminating the dozen songs on this debut album, 24-year old German singer/songwriter Maximilian Hecker creates a pop-perfect bubble of swoon. Infinite Love Songs was mostly home-recorded on an eight-track mini-disc, and the intimacy shows in the production. He plays all the instruments, giving the guitar, drums, bass, and piano equal space in the mix and pushing his voice to the front. Hecker's breathy vocal delivery and Beatlesque melodies hold the melancholic lyrics aloft with gentle craftsmanship. His wispy phrasing and lovely piano on "The Days Are Long and Filled With Pain" exemplify the way Hecker expertly avoids pitfalls, navigating between emotionalism that could spill over into unbearable preciousness and pop smarts that could seem well crafted but faceless. "Cold Wind Blowing" throws a flailing rock interlude into the album's mid-point, spiking the lullaby rhythm with a sharp shot of angst. Then the song settles back into its quiet cocoon, with Hecker singing, "There's no place to hide." It's a haunting moment because of the tantrum that preceded it: teeth bared beneath the security blanket. NATE LIPPENS

The Amos House Collection, Vol. II
(Wishing Tree Records)

Warren, Rhode Island's Wishing Tree Records, founded in the summer of 2000, chose to introduce itself with a trio of compilation releases to benefit Amos House, a local nonprofit charity organization aiding in homeless efforts. A complementary roster of artists appears on the first two volumes, great albums that elevate what is commonly a mundane concept--poorly recorded live performances and artist throwaways. The initial effort combined various pop shadings--orchestral, hushed, and almost loud--and the follow-up is more assured, more confessional. Despite the inclusion of artists like Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, and one-eighth of Belle & Sebastian, the feeling of smallness abounds. Guitars are audibly angled to rest at a song's close. A plunking toy piano swells into an adult instrument. Indie pop makes like the Weaver Family. The Skating Club invokes nostalgia for the oft-neglected currency of songcraft. And the whole is rendered intimately and selflessly. Yes, bliss. JENNIFER PRZYBYLSKI

Nu Bop
(Thirsty Ear)

Pianist Matthew Shipp's thick, systematic chops have filled in the David S. Ware Quartet with tiny, beautiful sonatas, and thrust the 20 albums he's cut as a leader into orbit. Shipp calls free jazz "a theater of Kinetic Gesture," which has a dizzying pattern like boxing, and which tells a story. Nu Bop does not tell a story of bitten knees or eaten babies, but does dance nimbly on its toes, around your expectations. Hiphop production is added to an acoustic free jazz ensemble. On "D's Choice," Shipp lays down an expanding pastoral melody, as FLAMM (who's worked with DJ Spooky) lays down Kruder & Dorfmeister-esque dub echoes that careen from the right to the left channel, keeping the groove deep in the pocket, boxing at your ears. As far as the group itself, Shipp has brought in one of the meanest rhythm sections in the country (William "The Mayor" Parker on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums), as well as Daniel Carter, who coaxes beauty and melancholy out of his flute on "X-Ray." Nu Bop is as kinetically ambitious as it is successful. This is the story of jazz now. KREG HASEGAWA

(Beggars Banquet/4AD Records)

Opening with Tanya Donelly's double-tracked vocals over a heartbeat, "Life Is But a Dream" lends the Belly singer's second solo album the weird promise displayed on the B-sides of her recent singles, which showed an adventurousness and spaciousness that befitted Donelly's voice. The best songs on Beautysleep place her in those same soundscapes, dislocating her little-girl croon and letting her find her own way back. "The Night You Saved My Life" is more typical of the album's approach, though: mid-tempo pop that sounds too safe for the longing and fears of new motherhood, which give the 11 songs their narrative backbone. "My body's been through everything," she sings on "Keeping You," but nothing seems at stake in the delivery or the cluttered production, with its pointless alt-rock guitar break. "Moonbeam Monkey" briefly taps into the creepy menace Donelly displayed on her contributions to Throwing Muses and on Belly's first album, Star, but the mood never lasts long before she retreats to safety. There's a counter-story coursing beneath the sheen of Beautysleep's surface, but it never breaks through. NATE LIPPENS

The Preflyte Sessions
2CD/2LP (Sundazed)

The Byrds' catalog is one of the most durable and endurable... EVER! They invented FOLK rock (no matter what the Dovers OR them Beatles say) and kinda did the same with country rock! However... The Preflyte Sessions ain't exploring their revolution, but their evolution... sorta. PS is a relatively comprehensive collection of Byrds' "demos," which ain't exactly "demos"... they're the best tracks nicked from endlessly recorded rehearsals. Cool... like we hear 'em when they think ain't nobody listening, so they're lean on the "self-conscious." Notable also is, even tho' sometimes they nod toward beat influences, they--unlike most beat bands--never bother with 12-bar form. This is remarkable, as it represents them breaking the typical white-teen-band habits of rewriting "black" forms and regurgitating teen pop. Of course, they weren't average teens. Wow... so alla that, AND PS contains versions of many Byrds songs in a "next-to-last step," before they took final "heavenly chorus" form? Schweet! MIKE NIPPER