In the Reins
(Overcoat Recordings)

Something seems inherently wrong with the notion of Sam Beam backed by a gleeful horn section. After all, he's this serious, sullen, pensive songwriter, not a glitzy showman... right? Within the context of the In the Reins split EP, the match-up actually works. Lush instrumentation from Arizona collective Calexico adds a sense of depth and presence to Beam's ghostly songwriting, but doesn't overpower it. "A History of Lovers," the chipper horn song, keeps their lounge leanings at a safe enough distance that the comforting warmth of his whispered vocals are preserved. Likewise, Beam's voice parallels Calex singer Joey Burns enough that it makes sense in songs (the opening "He Lays in Reins") that carry more of the latter artists' eclectic roots aesthetic. Some moments could stand more embellishment, especially since Beam moved in a more studio-centric direction on 2004's Our Endless Numbered Days. The pedal steel lullabies of "Prison on Route 41" and "Sixteen, Maybe Less," beautiful as they might be, safely sound too much like Iron + Wine for their own good. More engaging is Beam's concert staple, "Dead Man's Will," which here washes its placid folksy harmonies in feedback and marimba. The standout, "Burn that Broken Bed," puts both artists in foreign territory, coming off like a film noir soundtrack with its downtempo groove and skulking back-alley saxophone. Both acts are not only reaching, but reaching together, clicking with one another's styles and effectively capturing the spirit of the split. JOHN VETTESE

Iron + Wine, Calexico perform Sat Oct 22, the Moore, 8pm, $22/$24 plus fees, all ages.

Fall Heads Roll

I feel like Jann Wenner. Every decade, the Rolling Stones release a new album, and every decade the Rolling Stone publisher wets himself trying to explain that yes, this time, contrary to all expectation and sanity, this new album is a "return to form." Main difference though? The Fall's Mark E Smith has released over 75 albums in the last three decades, and Fall Heads Roll really is a "return to form." Honest. No kidding. Forget his '90s output: this is a return to the lacerating heights of the mid-'80s. The guitars are sharp, the tongue is laconic but not lazy, the songs are incisive, bittersweet, and nasty—never pompous, never pointless.

It's like someone has tapped Mark E on the shoulder and gone, "Hoy, people have been ripping off your style for years, why don't you show them how to really do it?" Squint your eyes and "Midnight Aspen" is like acerbic Scots Arab Strap, only good. I mean, Smith isn't even snarling. Opener "Ride Away" is a melodica-led dub delight, all lithe and relaxed; and the excellently titled "Early Days of Channel Führer" tackles acoustic folk, tired and forlorn, outdoing weird Americana on both the weird and Americana fronts. "Breaking the Rules," meanwhile, is sublime—the Fall's trademark distorted bass sounds nicer than three gurgling (Peter) Hooks rolling down the drain. Man, this album is sweet. LISTEN UP DUNDERHEADS! THIS IS A RETURN TO FORM! (Sighs) Man, never thought I'd have any sympathy for Wenner. EVERETT TRUE

Search for the Cure
(MadPassion Entertainment)

Like Run DMC, Cancer Rising are a trio (rappers Judas and Gatsby and DJ Tiles One); and like DMC, Cancer Rising's music combines hiphop and rock. In fact, MC Gatsby (My Philosophy columnist Larry Mizell Jr.) is distantly related to the late Jam Master J (Jason Mizell). However, Run DMC's last record, Crown Royal, was altogether weak, whereas Cancer Rising's latest, Search for the Cure, is solid. Not one of the CD's 12 tracks falls apart, and three tracks (including the title song) rise high above the rest. But what's really fascinating about Cancer Rising's brand of brassy, bold hiphop is that it sounds like nothing else in the Northwest. The gothic gloom of Oldominion or the sorrowful soul of Vitamin D have had no impact on Cancer Rising's production values and musical development. Their hiphop stands alone; a totally exotic plant with thick roots that are nourished by heavy metal and the heavy mental. CHARLES MUDEDE

Cancer Rising perform Thurs Oct 20, the War Room, 9 pm, $7/$12 with CD, 21+.

Set Free
(Arts & Crafts)

Fill up a five-disc changer with the American Analog Set's first five full-lengths, press "shuffle," then "play," and you'll likely have a hard time telling which tracks are coming from which album. Sure, each release has shown modest improvement, but for the most part AAS's sound has been content to sit back on its laurels and subtly lull its sedate, reverberant guitar, warm organ, brisk rhythms, and hushed vocals into your head. Each new installment is like the aural equivalent of a passed-on Valium from your coworker in the hectic restaurant industry: It's understated, largely innocuous, and, sometimes, exactly what you need. Such is also the case with Set Free. Aside from Free being the band's first foray into an actual studio, there's little in the way of innovation here. The songs that comprise Free blend together for a relaxed, if somewhat static, ride—the drone bliss of "Immaculate Heart 1" isn't too far a stretch from the unerring slow advance of "Play Hurt," and no song here is a bad listen. The vocal rounds of "She's Half" and the Spanish-accented strums initiating "(Theme From) Everything Ends" suggest variation, but they're really just swerves onto the shoulder of the straight-and-narrow road that's served AAS so well thus far. Even the closer, entitled "Fuck This... I'm Leaving," sounds warm and cozy. Set Free is content just to do its thing, but be thankful for it, because tomorrow is another day, full of more bullshit and bad music. GRANT BRISSEY

The American Analog Set perform Tues Oct 25, Chop Suey, 8pm, $8 adv, all ages.