Demon Days
(Virgin Records)

Most of the cartoon bands in history have been pandering novelties for which the idea of a sophomore album seems ridiculous. (The Archies, anyone?) Not so for Gorillaz, who have proven to be compelling both aurally and visually. As in the band's 2001 debut, the animation is a wonderful-but not necessary-component of enjoying the music. That's largely because Gorillaz frontman 2D (AKA Blur frontman Damon Albarn) has magnetism in many dimensions.

For Demon Days, producer Dan "the Automator" Nakamura departed the scene and a mouse joined the gang-producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), that is. For the two people unfamiliar with the Mouse, he is the humorous mind behind the highly downloaded underground release The Grey Album, which blends Jay-Z's Black Album a capellas with sounds mined from the Beatles' White Album. Here he proves ingenious beyond those constrictions with backing music that ranges from light and buoyant dance ("Feel Good Inc" with De La Soul and "DARE," featuring a surprisingly fresh sounding Shaun Ryder from Black Grape and the Happy Mondays) to more grimy, sinister beats ("All Alone" with UK rapping savior Roots Manuva).

The Gorillaz have once again delivered an effort that stands alone musically, but we also can't wait to see what's in store visually. TAMARA PALMER

Burn the Priest

Way before Lamb of God slammed their hairy Virginian tits up against the Ozzfest stage (and Epic's checkbook), they were flash-frying the underground under the apparently "controversial" moniker of Burn the Priest-so "controversial" in fact, that the über-Christian waterheads who run the L.A. Forum recently forbid the band to play their scheduled show with fellow metal maniacs Shadows Fall and Slipknot. But controversy will always breed economic viability somewhere, and far be it from Epic to pass up the opportunity to make a quick buck by reissuing the band's 1998 debut. Produced by LOG drummer Chris Adler and Today Is the Day microphone-swallower Steve "Don't Call Me the Million Dollar Man Or I'll Get Really, Really Pissed" Austin (who recorded Converge's ball-stomping metalcore classic When Forever Comes Crashing that same year), Burn the Priest captures LOG when they were more (and perhaps a little too much) like an upside down cross between New Orleans power dopers Eyehategod and The Great Southern Trendkill-era Pantera (possibly the harshest, heaviest album ever released on a major). With new liner notes by Austin and new artwork (the original-a drawing of a priest being burned at the stake-is reproduced as a cartoon inside), the album is a scathing, discordant firestorm from a band that had no Headbanger's Ball to aspire to, and no Forum to be banned from. It's not nearly as polished and commercial as LOG's Ashes of the Wake (duh), but it's every bit as precise. J. BENNETT

A River Ain't Too Much Love
(Drag City)

Bill Callahan has been cranking out albums under his indie moniker Smog since 1990, and over the course of a dozen albums he has expanded and contracted around the core of his forlorn voice, morose and cutting lyrics, and guitar. In other words, he's a troubadour with the emphasis on dour. But at his best he has explored the uglier corners of the human-make that male-mind, like a singing version of performance art provocateur Eric Bogosian. Of course, because his transgressions all happen in his own voice, some have mistaken him for the misanthropic and often particularly misogynist narrators in his songs. If that makes him sound like a no-fun, downwardly mobile Randy Newman, he has his moments. On his last few albums, especially Knock Knock and Rain on Lens, Callahan has appealingly broadened his musical accompaniment and palette (even adding a creepy children's choir to some songs-okay, creepy and children's choir go hand in hand). But A River Ain't Too Much Love returns his sound to its stripped-down essentials: voice and guitar. It's really not enough. The more fleshed-out songs work the best, hinting at the direction that allows the music to do some of the heavy lifting of his topics, and playing off his darkness with instrumental counterpoints that make the words sting more. Here, they mostly take on a monotony that numbs. NATE LIPPENS

Wrath of Circuits
(Sonic Unyon)

The Nein's Wrath of Circuits is the sound of a system perpetually on the verge of breakdown. Hypothetical influences might include: Beefheart's Doc at the Radar Station, Soul Coughing, and William Gibson. It's propulsive dance punk and angularized surf rock with dingy samples stumbling around above slurred guitar and bass lines and crisp drumbeats. The album begins with a repeated guitar chord strummed with growing insistence, and the tension and melodrama don't let down until the final track. Closer "Bleeding Elvis" restrains some of the more chaotic elements, throws in a horn section, and unveils a rock anthem. There's no resting on Wrath, though, as the space between tracks fills with clanging beats and Game Boy gamelan while song transitions include samplers and keyboards, squealing saxophones, and pinwheeling tape loops-courtesy of sound manipulator Dale Flattum (ex-Steel Pole Bath Tub).

The album is dedicated to Randy Ward, a deceased friend and fellow North Carolina musician who made a contraption that played a drum kit mechanically. The image of industrialized musicianship seems fitting for an album with the fear of technology written into its themes. Frontman Finn Cohen's vocals fluctuate between Elvis Costello and a hoarse contempt for humanity-although it's hard to take his anger too seriously when he's deadpanning about inboxes and Friendster. There's something grotesque and cartoonish about the Nein, but their rhythm and sonic layers make for an interesting ride. BEN BUSH

The Nein perform Thurs June 2 at the Funhouse, 9:30 pm, $7.

★★★★ Pickles
★★★ Lettuce
★★ Tomato
★ Onions