WE RAGAZZI

The Ache

(The Self-Starter Foundation)

****Chicago's We Ragazzi churn out tortured art rock like a trio of heartbreak magnets. They take elements of no wave and electrocute them with sharper angles and somber synthesizer accents, with atmospheric punk bands like Milemarker and fey popsters Hot Hot Heat as current touchstones. Ragazzi burn with intense desire--check out the passionate longing of "I Want You to Love Me So Much I Can't Stand Up" and other song titles named for need and failure. The lust-driven tension and fiery pleadings for release boil over into black-lipsticked melodies and noisy guitar breakdowns. The only critique I have of this disc is that singer Anthony Rolando can come off like a dead ringer for Billy Corgan at times, emoting with a nasally delivery that gives me nightmares of the bald caged rat. Luckily, though, Rolando doesn't stay in Corgan's skin for too long. Instead, he pours the theatrics on thick, purring, whining, and crying like a man full of melodrama. And even if they are purposely overdramatic, how could you not fall in love with lyrics like, "I will never tire of your tongue in my ear," sung like they've sprung from Prince's lavender, crushed velvet libido. JENNIFER MAERZ

PRIMAL SCREAM

Evil Heat

(Sony)

**If you're a typical Primal Scream fan, you'll buy this record regardless of anyone else's critical opinion. I understand--I'm always ready for another erotic, electronic apocalypse from the gravediggers of British indie rock. Such anticipation is justified, given the implosive genius of previous collaborations between PS frontman Bobby Gillespie and guest contributors like My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields and sampling savant David Holmes. That said, this record is a bit of a disappointment. Shields and Holmes are still on board, but for some stupid reason, so are Kate Moss and Robert Plant (on the harmonica, no less), and a good 60 percent of the songs are beat-redundant, thematically unfocused, and severely handicapped by lyrical clichés. It's not all bad: The tape speed manipulation on "Detroit" is one of the best audio mindfucks I've heard in a while, and closing track "Space Blues #2" is surprisingly sentimental and pretty. So ignore my opinion and buy at will--just keep your expectations low. HANNAH LEVIN

THALIA ZEDEK

You're a Big Girl Now

(Kimchee Records)

***Former Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek continues the musical exploration she began with last year's Been There and Gone on her new six-song EP. You're a Big Girl Now has the harrowing intimacy of her solo debut, dissecting lost love and disappointment with her sandpapery voice that conveys stoic sadness rather than histrionics. It's the sound of a former tough girl as a grown woman taking a measure of her life. The savage self-examination and rawness that Zedek brought to Come has been tempered with poignancy that makes the material hit home. Her solo work features viola, percussion, drums, and piano augmenting her guitar in place of Chris Brokaw's dissonant guitar interplay from the Come days. The blurry chamber arrangements tap torch songs, blues, and folk with a decidedly rock edge. The instruments, especially the viola, give the songs a tidal pull that recalls Australia's Dirty Three. Her cover of "Candy Says" is aching and perfect, with Zedek giving Lou Reed's words a gruff conviction. Dylan's "You're a Big Girl Now" is also given a powerful reworking as an impressionistic, bluesy confession of longing. She sounds bruised and proud as she sings the title phrase, her voice dropping down like a setting sun. NATE LIPPENS

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Surprise Package: The Collectors' Edition

(Flying Bomb)

**** Ok, so yeah, it's getting a little late to review a Christmas record. But this is such a great comp, and Flying Bomb had to put up with shit from bigger labels (read the label's website for details, but basically the White Stripes and Electric Six songs that were supposed to be on here are now absent) to even get this out in the first place. There are still a ton of great tracks on this holiday collection, though--from the Dirtbombs' somber "Last Christmas" and the Real Pills' tearful "It's Almost December" to the more celebratory "Let's Get Lit" by the Paperbacks and "Cocaine Christmas" by the Dirtys. Local art punks the A-Frames offer an excellent, darkly robotic song, "X.M.A.S.," and the Von Bondies give up a sexy number about spending the holidays in the slammer with "Ain't No Chimney in the Big House." You don't need mistletoe hanging over your head or a brightly lit tree in your corner to fall in love with this comp--and besides, there'll be another Christmas coming 'round next year. JENNIFER MAERZ

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Clicks & Cuts 3

(Mille Plateaux)

**When the first Clicks & Cuts compilation dropped in 2000, it defined a global phenomenon: brainy gearheads with laptops atomizing sound into minute fragments and shaping them into off-kilter dance tracks and unsettling ambience. Questing for new sounds, these producers rummaged in the obscure corners of computer software programs, reveling in the glitches, grit, and static that drive most humans crazy. The collection sold very well for such uncompromising music and a quasi-genre was born.

Two years on, Mille Plateaux dispatches volume three in the series. This double CD stresses the pleasure principle more than the first two volumes did, and thus it's the most accessible entry into the Clicks & Cuts aesthetic. Novices may find these stripped-down revampings of '70s funk, Dirty South hiphop, tech-house, and dub either weird and alienating or oddly alluring. But, despite brilliant efforts from Frank Bretschneider, agf, bizz.circuits, Ekkehard Ehlers, and a few others, the Clicks & Cuts franchise seems to be running out of inspiration. DAVE SEGAL

**** Knick *** Knack ** Paddy * Whack

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