VOYAGER ONE

Monster Zero

(Loveless)

***Even in shoegazer rock's heyday (1988-92), it was never very popular. Detractors thought the genre--a shy aesthete's take on space rock--lacked balls (hey, rock can't live by testes alone) and often meandered fruitlessly. But when done right (My Bloody Valentine, early Ride, Slowdive), it mainlined bliss with unparalleled grace.

Seattle footwear-oglers Voyager One recall star-sailing icons like Echo & the Bunnymen and the Verve on their sweet-sounding second album. Considering most rock bands aim no higher than the pelvis or that Pabst you're tilting into your piehole, Monster Zero is a welcome deviation from the norm. Anyone who's ever swooned to Ocean Rain or A Storm In Heaven will appreciate Voyager One's mellifluous, mammoth opuses. Occasionally they take a too-familiar Ride with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (and radio will love them for it), but more often than not, they evoke the tension between the druggy and the erotic found in shoegazing's craftiest artists. DAVE SEGAL

Voyager One's CD release event is Fri Oct 25 at the Crocodile.

SIGUR R"S

( )

(MCA)

****If intense drug highs and great sex that lasts all night didn't already have a soundtrack, Sigur Rós have created one. The Icelandic band's third album is beautiful beyond words, a collection of otherworldly coos and echoes and cold soundscapes that warm and swell into a heavy fog of sweet electronic melodies and vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson's childlike falsetto. Recorded in the band's swimming-pool-turned-recording-studio, ( ) embodies lushness, draping a live string section over samplers, pianos, guitars, and other postclassical/electronic experiments. The album leaves language behind, collecting titleless songs under simple parentheses and drifting into an atmosphere of sonic splendor; in other words, this is exactly the kind of CD I'd want as a college kid gobbling up mushrooms and acid and watching the sun set over a field of deer. Sigur Rós melt your brain into lumps of gray-matter goo, making listening to your headphones an out-of-body experience only a good dealer or an expert boyfriend can attempt to match. JENNIFER MAERZ

MR. AIRPLANE MAN

Moanin'

(Sympathy for the Record Industry)

***Moanin' sounds like a howlin' girl gang raised in the garage by Thurston, Kim, and Granddaddy Spector after they ran off hitchin' with those trouble-makin' neighbor kids, the Honeymoon Killers, and were picked up by Big Mama Thornton. These Boston indie ladies manage to relay the gamut of emotion without whining or begging for your attention. Where you feel their labelmates might hold you down in the woodchips to hawk a loogie in your face, these girls could kick some White Striped ass--with the raw, sultry vocals of Margaret Garrett and the straightforward, pounding beat of Tara McManus' drums. They invite you in and even the score. This, the duo's second full-length album, has a schoolyard-scrappiness feel, in which Garrett and McManus run with bloody knees and dirty knickers. Wait! On closer inspection, that's not dirt. It's just a little bit of the blues. JEN McCABE

THE FLAMING LIPS

Finally, The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid

(Restless/Rykodisc)

****Over the last few years, the Flaming Lips have evolved from disturbing, fucked-up drug-rock orgiasts into mellow orch-pop luminaries, and watching them receive accolades for records like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots has been a gratifying but complicated process. They're the Flaming Lips and the world should bow down. On the other hand, beautiful, amazing constructions though they are, the new records are stylistically worlds away from the psychic derailment that made the band such a crucial factor in the first place. On the third hand, sometimes you just wanna hear a song called "One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning." And so, thank the maker for Finally, The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid, a three-CD compilation of the Lips' early work. The four releases represented--The Flaming Lips EP, Hear It Is, Oh My Gawd!!!... The Flaming Lips, and Telepathic Surgery--have been hard to find, and having them all in one place (with copious bonus material) makes for a very pleasing flashback. From the psychedelic slaughter of "Jesus Shootin' Heroin" to the anxious comedown strum of "Ode to C.C. (Part II)," the comp marks the band's progress from creators of semi-Replacements-y noise pop to out-of-hand weirdoes like notches on a bedpost made out of hallucinogenic drugs. SEAN NELSON

J MASCIS + THE FOG

Free So Free

(Ultimatum)

****Though he invariably sounds mopey and somewhat soggy, J Mascis remains a romantic whose heart is jaded only around the edges. Album after album, his songs are packed with slacker jubilance, and though some people can't stand the sound of his whine, I find it to be one of the happiest voices ever recorded. His post-Dinosaur Jr. project J Mascis + the Fog made an excellent debut in 2000 with More Light, an instantly lovable disc that spotlighted an adolescent spirit refusing to break (though it may concede that the body holding it has grown older). Free So Free is less instantaneous in its ability to inspire devotion, but its theme of freedom, both personal and political, hits an endearing hangdog stride by the second track, "If That's How It's Gotta Be"--and from then on it's sometimes barreling ("Everybody Lets Me Down") and often beautiful ("Someone Said"). Then again, Mascis could sing anything and I'd love it to bits, so long as he cranks the shredding guitar up to 11. KATHLEEN WILSON

J Mascis plays Thurs Oct 24 at the Tractor.