Murray Street
Although it's hard for Sonic Youth to tumble far from their place as post-punk deities, the last couple of albums have definitely tested their status among fans. The spoken word experimentation on 2000's NYC Ghosts & Flowers was one of many cracks in an already unstable-sounding album, and their recent releases on SYR were panned more often than they were applauded. That said, Murray Street--the band's second collaboration with Jim O'Rourke--is an excellent album, one in which Sonic Youth sounds comfortable playing experimental music that's not odd for the sake of sounding outsiderish. Even with all the shifts in dynamics, a good chunk of the record is fairly quiet, building up to noisier instrumental collaborations of eerie effects before simmering back to sparse tension-builders. Although not as dark as Goo, Murray Street captures a similar sensuality, especially with Thurston Moore's signature vocal style and the screeching guitars on "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style." JENNIFER MAER

Don't Breathe a Word

Chicago alt-pop singer/songwriter Kevin Tihista played in Triple Fast Action and, briefly, Veruca Salt before lighting out on his own. Parasol Records originally intended to release these two records as a double album, but Tihista was lured away to Division One, which cherry-picked the "best" tracks and released them as Don't Breathe a Word a week after September 11, and then promptly folded. The kind folks at Parasol have rereleased that ill-fated album, and released the remainder of the songs intended for the double album as Judo. Don't Breathe a Word is the poppier of the two, with Tihista singing breathy, near-falsetto love-lost tunes over low-key music that ranges from gentle, minimalist drum-machine beats to soaring orchestrations that keep the moping at bay. Judo is a bit more precious and arranged, with Pet Sounds/Sgt. Pepper's wall-to-wall production courtesy of Ellis Clark. It's lovely but overstuffed compared to the lighter touch of Don't Breathe a Word, providing a rounder picture of a gifted musician who almost didn't see the light of day. NATE LIPPENS

(Mr. Lady Records)
Kaia Wilson has the kind of voice that conveys yearning and poignancy at the turn of a phrase. As a baby dyke in queercore foremothers Team Dresch, she provided the sexy romance to Jody Bleyle's sociopolitical fury. With her own outfit, the Butchies, she's both romantic and raging, fronting the band with a mixture of social commentary and personal revelation. On Oregon, her third solo album, she displays her acoustic side with piquant wit and confessional boldness. Her solo musical palette has expanded to include some mournful slide guitar and spare percussion, but the basic beauty of the acoustic-guitar-slinging folksinger is the cornerstone of the songs. The dichotomy of her influences is displayed by the helping hands of Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, who repays the favor of the Butchies backing her on her punked-out solo turn Stag by singing growly backup to Kaia's girlish lilt on "Mira," and Chris Stamey of the dB's, who produces and plays bass. The album's high point is Kaia's understated cover of the Cure's "Catch." As she did with the Butchies' pop-punk, Kaia makes the girl 'n' guitar genre over in her own queer image, blowing the dust and freighted polemics off of womyn's music. NATE LIPPENS

Project Overground: The Scienz Experimental
(Sub Verse)
Scienz of Life's Project Overground contains some of the best hiphop I've heard this year. Based in New York and Atlanta, the band uses themes that are not original--they complain about rap/R&B sellouts, emphasize b-boy values, and are positively Afrocentric. The level of song arrangement is where Scienz of Life stands out, though. Tracks like "Yikes!!!" (which features the melancholy M. F. Doom) and "Play No More" are constructed with a luxurious sense of spacing that recalls late Miles Davis ("Footprints," "Bitches Brew"). Several songs are built around pensive piano loops, while others have bass lines that suddenly enter and then leave for several measures. Nothing on the CD is rushed; everything is slowly and patiently considered. Scienz of Life have made a scienz of hiphop. CHARLES MUDEDE