Six months ago it was almost a secret. Three months ago it was a classic. This week it's another thing entirely. After three years of mental breakdowns, stalled studio escapades, and obsessive hipster whispering, Echoes, the debut record from indie-disco saviors the Rapture, is yours for the taking. It's a wonderful romp that's equal parts post-punk bounce, sultry sax-tinged balladry, and metrosexual house wrapped in the familiar confines of singer Luke Jenner's oh-so-lonesome howl. It may indeed be one of the best records you'll soon hear, and for a moment surely we can drink to that. But a night at the bar and some early-morning pillow talk always makes for a rough morning after, especially when you roll over beside a band of selfish lovers who haven't a thing to say. Hmmm... did anyone catch the number of those producer fellows they walked in with? TREVOR KELLEY

Her Majesty the Decemberists
(Kill Rock Stars)

The Decemberists' second full-length, the appropriately titled Her Majesty the Decemberists, finds our word-worn troubadours charting their now familiar terrain of language's rocky cliffs, deftly navigating a flood of cartoonish verbosity with an increasingly arrogant tongue. It seems that frontman Colin Meloy has begun to take his place as the Charles Dickens of indie rock seriously, in the process substituting confident craftsmanship for tentative sentiment. And though this is, technically, a mark of improvement, it's at the unfortunate cost of most of the surprisingly felt moments of their debut, last year's somber sleeper Castaways and Cutouts. Where that record blended equal parts earnestness and literary absurdity, Her Majesty... relies decidedly on the songwriter's imagined textbook historicals--upsetting the already uncertain relationship I harbored for the band's quirk-ridden vision. But it's difficult to fault verbiage so endlessly addictive as Meloy's, and despite immediate reservations, the Decemberists have hooked me again. ZAC PENNINGTON


When former Massive Attack member Tricky's triphop debut Maxinquaye came out in 1995, it was hailed as a classic. Tricky's production and songwriting were astounding given his status as a novice, but above all, the album was deeply disturbing, aggressive, and scarily sexy, owing heavily to his collaborator girlfriend--then known only as Martina--whose roughed-up coo turned out deceptively violent lyrics, especially since she was 17 at the time. She's now 26, and her solo effort Quixotic is as enthralling as Maxinquaye, but she's a woman and songwriter unto herself. Declaring the album "Dedicated to mom, mothers, and all future mothers," Martina Topley-Bird has life lessons and warnings on the mind, and they are delivered in 13 earnest, literate songs that become more seductive with each listen. Live string sections and other orchestral instruments are contorted; backing singers, including Mark Lanegan, lend unerring alternate perspectives to Topley-Bird's intense lyrics ("I walked out of the house in your girlfriend's clothes/They fit me better than I would have supposed" ["Lying"]). No stone of Martina's past is left unturned, creating in its wake an album that's gorgeously brutal. KATHLEEN WILSON

Shake Hands with Danger
(File 13)

Chicago's TRS-80 open their latest release, Shake Hands with Danger, with a skittering, stuttering breakbeat that sounds like a tidbit jacked from DJ Shadow's breakthrough debut, Endtroducing... (an aesthetic they circle back to from time to time throughout the record). From there, though, the trio draw their own multidimensional roadmap through the back alleys of electronica: jamming the buzzing echoes of a command to "Do it right now" into ambient samples that would be right at home with Boards of Canada; or pausing between cuts from a chopped-up hiphop beat to allow a two-second croon from what sounds like an old jazz tune. Their clever cut 'n' paste techniques leave rich sonic elements all over Danger, from the haunting old horror-movie organ and stormy winds of "Phantom Power" to the more rock-oriented, Chemical Brothers-like opening bombast of "Motoki." Overall, it's a dense, dark expression of mechanics lightened with a silly sample about the different grades of beef and one of the funniest endings put to record this year: a glittering, frantic beat that screeches to a halt with, "Well, that's it till next time, bitch." JENNIFER MAERZ

**** fever *** cold ** cough * sneeze