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Mortal Mirror
(Kill Rock Stars)
Like the most fetching of Jackie O.'s dresses, D.C. trio Quix*o*tic creates elegance and beauty with long, simple lines. Sisters Christina and Mira Billotte and bassist Mick Barr borrow diverse sounds from Marble Index-era Nico, the Cramps, and 1950s cool jazz for their sophomore record, Mortal Mirror, but are careful never to make a mess. Instead, each reclaimed sound serves as an understated centerpiece: Mira's deadpan, somber vocals drag themselves hopelessly across the sparse wasteland of "The Breeze"; on "Anonymous Face," a seductive jazz bass line slinks, catlike, over brushed drums; and "Lord of This World" begins with a fuzzy lead guitar line that explodes into the record's only moment of chaos. Listening to Mortal Mirror is like walking into a domicile where the owner has tastefully placed one thrift store item amid the IKEA standards. Nothing too overstated, nothing too kitschy--it's all part of the grand Quix*o*tic design scheme. TIZZY ASHER

(K Records)
On his third album, Something/Everything, Jason Anderson definitely has the Robert Pollard aesthetic down. With his band, Wolf Colonel, he creates a balance of somber and ebullient power pop, but leaves the songs raw, exposed, and scratched up--like basement tapes from an overcaffeinated evening with a four-track, guitars, and some simple effects pedals. While the album is based in the Guided By Voices garage (especially super-catchy tracks like "Sophomore"), former Portland resident Anderson explores the more experimental side of pop in places, adding the sizzle and snap of synthesized sound effects and mechanized beats on "Citizen's Arrest," and layering "Break the News" and "One Thousand Ways" with tiny explosions of feedback and white noise until they sound like they're being played through shitty-ass, blown-out speakers. Just when it seems like all his songs will be buried under the weight of peripheral noise, however, he'll clean the surface with a purer acoustic cut like "Jet Ski Accidents." Overall, Something/Everything is pop music at its best: simple, lo-fi, expressive songs that allow emotion to triumph over slick production tricks. JENNIFER MAERZ

(Jetset Records)
When Sixteen Horsepower started losing momentum on 2000's Secret South, I hoped it was a temporary creative slump. Unfortunately, these 10 new songs show the masters of fire-and-brimstone country-rock further losing (or perhaps deliberately abandoning) their Southern Gothic grip on Old Testament-inspired storytelling. The darkly erotic tension and frightening religious fervor that made 1998's Low Estate so seductive have been forsaken in favor of the band's love of Hungarian folk music, bare-bones instrumentation, and quietly obtuse character sketches--a toned-down approach that makes for a dry and, well, spiritually unfulfilling listen. Still, meatier moments can be found toward the album's end, when a classically creepy dirge infects "Beyond the Pale," and the sparse instrumentation on "Horse Head Fiddle" unexpectedly amplifies frontman David Eugene Edwards' biblical baritone and gives nuance to his oblique observations. It's a hopeful interlude that may mark Folklore as a transitional album and tell fans they should keep the faith and see what's next to come. HANNAH LEVIN

Fat Beats Volume 2
(Fat Beats Records)
This excellent compilation of underground hiphop includes Quasimoto/Madlib of Lootpack ("Come on Feet"), Vancouver, BC's Swollen Members ("S&M on the Rocks"), and the legendary Just Ice passing the mic with the legendary Big Daddy Kane in a song produced by the legendary DJ Premier ("Just Rhymin' with Kane"). But the real treat on Fat Beats Volume 2 is the rare track "Tried by 12" by East Flatbush Project. Released in 1998, "Tried by 12" (which met with considerable success in Europe and moderate success in America) is composed of a spare beat, a warped Asian instrument (a biwa? a sitar?), and two youngish rappers rationalizing their dire circumstances with Elizabethan flair. They would rather be "tried by 12 than carried by six," and it's better for them to be the "bastards who blast than get blasted." Because East Flatbush Project have yet to release a full-length CD, "Tried by 12" is hard to locate. Fat Beats Volume 2 is one of the few places you can find and possess the bleakest song in hiphop history. CHARLES MUDEDE

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