Suicide Invoice
(Swami Records)
There's no better feeling than putting on a CD and having it instantly blow away the rest of your goddamn music collection--until the next lit fuse comes along, at least. The newest disc to attain that highly explosive honor comes from the Hot Snakes, who unleash temperamental noise/punk/high-strung melodies on their tense sophomore release, Suicide Invoice. Although the Snakes have kept a pretty low national profile, they shouldn't be strangers to anyone who's kept an ear to the Drive Like Jehu aftershocks in the past few years. Take John "Speedo" Reis (Jehu/Rocket from the Crypt), Jason Kourkounis (Delta 72), Eric Froeberg (Jehu/Pitchfork), and Gar Wood (Dner of the excellently skewed skeletal rock act Beehive and the Barracudas) and Jesus, you've got a supergroup already. Add cynical songs about hating children, the L.A. airport, and Wood forgetting his insulin, along with the incredibly sexy buildup and vocal release of both Jehu and early Sonic Youth, and you've got a new band to unabashedly worship. Or at least I do. JENNIFER MAERZ

Like other still respectable founders of modern music, David Bowie's often accused of vampirism----censure that stems not only from his starring role in The Hunger, but also from sucking the blood of jungle and electronica on recent releases like Earthling and Hours. It's a relief, then, that Heathen, the Thin White Duke's first album of the new millennium, is as eloquent as it is stripped of artifice. Co-produced by Tony Viscoti (whose previous collaborations with Bowie include canonical albums Low and Heroes), Heathen is Bowie just doing Bowie, even if the three standout tracks are all covers ("Cactus" by the Pixies, "I've Been Waiting for You" by Neil Young, and "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy), and guest stars like Pete Townshend and Dave Grohl provide little more than really expensive sessions work. Some of the record's original material is deeply beautiful--"Slip Away" thunders with theatrics, and "5.15 the Angels Have Gone" is the finest film theme Wim Wenders has yet to hear, but the pedantry of "A Better Future" and "I Would Be Your Slave" demotes the record to lesser status. It's great that Bowie tries, it's just a shame that we have to hear it. JONATHAN DURBIN

(Gold Standard Laboratories)
If punk blues was the big trend last year, this year's underground sound seems to be offbeat punk disco, where a stripped-down, Wire-meets-the-Clash combo makes for jerky rhythms and a more interesting reconfiguration of the more straightforward indie-rock style. San Diego's GoGoGo Airheart have been around for at least five years now, and Exitheuxa is the best release they've issued yet. Frontman Michael Vermillion's trembling voice whines, warbles, and wavers all over the songs, creating an overall feeling of instability that his band drapes with shifty tempos and squirrelly melodies that crisscross each other dreamily behind his fey command. The disc introduces elements of punk, dub, funk, and schizoid lounge, shoved together in a low-fi production with a guttural beat that gets experimental without ever losing its cool. JENNIFER MAERZ

Soundbombing 3
(Rawkus Records)
Started by three rich kids (one of whom is the son of media giant Rupert Murdoch), Rawkus Records ushered in the hiphop underground in 1997 with Company Flow's CD Funcrusher Plus and Mos Def's single "Universal Magnetic." The 1998 release of Soundbombing, a compilation of the label's best singles of 1997, established Rawkus' reputation as the home of "hardcore hiphop." The 1999 release of Soundbombing 2, however, marked the end of Rawkus Records' most creative period. The excitement that radiated from Rawkus at the end of the '90s now radiates from Def Jux Records. Evidence of Rawkus Records' death can be found on Soundbombing 3. Though it has three decent tracks, all by hiphop veterans (the Roots, Q-Tip, and R.A. the Rugged Man), the CD lacks vital energy. The first two CDs in the Soundbombing series were an exhilarating mess of hiphop noises and breakdowns. Soundbombing 3, on the other hand, sounds cleaner, comfortable, predictable, and there's too much singing--concessions made to the greatest evil in all of hiphop: R&B. Even Mos Def's rock-loud "Freak Daddy" fails to awaken this CD from its twilight slumber. CHARLES MUDEDE