Some Folks
(Gearhead Records)

The best cover bands blow the dust off vintage vinyl and spin new life into old material. The Dukes of Hamburg are a garage/covers outfit worshipped for busting out the oldies, and their new Gearhead release is a super-spazzed collection that runs the gamut from songs by Cole Porter to "Old McDonald." The Dukes--a Bay Area group who pretend they're German-- are led by Russell Quan, who became a pseudo-legend in the trash-rock act the Mummies and plays with pretty much every garage outfit in San Francisco (the Flakes, the Bobbyteens, the Phantom Surfers). Quan drawls his words like Mick Jagger, turning "you" into "yeeeeeew" and "true" into "truuuuu" with a touch of honky-tonk, yelping out a hyperactive squeal at the end of almost every song. The rest of the band bangs out noisy, buzzing, harmonica-and-tambourine-laced rock 'n' roll, turning more staid classics like "Greensleeves" into sweaty '60s jams. The Dukes' swaggering, sped-up cover of "Hey Joe" gives the Hendrix hit the Nuggets treatment, and I swear it is reason enough to buy this record. JENNIFER MAERZ

The '92 VS '02

If forced to make a list of the most aesthetically pleasing hiphop around, DJ Cam's Substances takes second place, while third prize goes to DJ Krush's Kakusei. The number-one slot is held by Prefuse 73's CD Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives (2001), and 73's latest offering, an EP called The '92 VS '02, is basically a continuation of that brilliant collection. Prefuse 73, the street name for Atlanta-based producer Scott Herren, is close to Wu-Tang Clan's RZA's aesthetic sensibility, as he has a taste for rare, strange noises. But he doesn't break his beats the way RZA or Jay Dee (Slum Village) does. There are no vertiginous gaps, or sudden shutdowns of energy and flows. He prefers instead to let things slip, slide, and suck in and out. Noises are layered with strings, phantom harmonies, and forgotten radio tunes. Herren essentially works on the memory but he does not neglect body. His beats have a bounce that will make your head nod to what is certainly the most beautiful hiphop in the world. CHARLES MUDEDE

The Reputation
(Initial Records)

Elizabeth Elmore is the kind of brash, forthright woman who pisses off other women and scares the hell out of men. With her previous pop-punk quartet, Sarge, Elmore sang about her life in a girlish voice as the music crackled and roared like a bonfire behind her. Her new quartet, the Reputation, sounds very similar to Sarge on the surface: power-pop change-ups and rhythm-guitar-lead crunch. But it's not just the sprinklings of horns and piano that distinguishes the Reputation from Sarge. Elmore's roar may be tempered on some songs but the bad wisdom of growing up in a claustrophobic public scene has taken hold of her, giving the tracks a speedy tension. Maybe it's all those caffeinated law-school all-nighters, but Elmore sounds agitated in a new, deeper way. It's not just sleeping with the wrong people and lousy romances that have her ire, it's making bad character judgments and the dissolution of faulty friendships. Elmore's passion adds punch to her delivery and the songs are as catchy as ever, it's just that now the infectiousness runs a high fever of discontent. NATE LIPPENS

The Blackened Air

(Touch and Go)

Sadness works in degrees. There's the painful sting when your childhood home is sold or a relative you never met passes away, and then there's the kind of emptiness that feels so permanent it eats away at you like a terminal disease. Singer/songwriter Nina Nastasia operates in the darkest level of sadness, writing songs that use a few well-placed elements (strings, very light percussion, guitar, mandolin) to form black clouds before adding soft silver linings to the misery. Her second album, The Blackened Air, gives the most power to her soothing voice, a country-tinged salve that glides over stories of not being ready to visit a lover's grave, and caring for someone you no longer know how to talk to. Nastasia's singing reveals a strong resolve, so this album is no bring-on-the-razors trial in pain endurance. Instead, Air is the kind of record that exposes your raw wounds to a little salt before bandaging them up in beautiful urban folk. JENNIFER MAERZ


The Rest of Us

(Estrus Records)

Gas Huffer may have been around since forever, but with the release of its sixth album, the band shows that it's still got a few tricks up its collective sleeve. Though The Rest of Us marks Huffer's shift to yet another label--Bellingham indie Estrus Records--the group returned to Jack Endino for production duties. The sound is accordingly crisp and clean; and everything's there, just the way it should be. The material, as one might expect, is the alterna-punk-abilly blend that Gas Huffer's gotten so much mileage from over its decade-plus career, but it still sounds fresh, upbeat, and often curiously cheerful. The band keeps things simple with an aggressively stripped-down approach, but there's the usual liberal sprinkling of humor and musical jokes, just to keep things light. One still can't accuse Gas Huffer of taking itself too seriously, and that's a good thing. GENEVIEVE WILLIAMS