IN PRAISE OF FOLLY
Means/Ends
(Lujo)
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When a band names itself after a book by a Renaissance scholar (Desiderius Erasmus) who used literature to eviscerate haute society, you assume they won't be plunking down three- to four-chord ditties. Seattle's In Praise of Folly leave simple song structures to a separate class of musicians, wandering into some elaborate sonic landscapes. Their newest disc, Means/Ends, basks in unusual arrangements, which are elegantly laced throughout the CD's 13 songs. Intense math- and indie-rock buildups clear the way for melancholy—but no less dramatic—interludes with lap steel, mandolin, banjo, strings, cello, and acoustic guitar. Organic and electronic instruments—and rock, country, and classical elements—court one another in song.

These sorts of emotional rock indicators are a far cry from your typical pansy-kid whine. IPOF construct deep reecting pools with their music, rarely taking the predictable next step in their songs. Tracks like "Prelude in E# Minor" sound more like climactic musical theater than a cut from a rock record. Lyrically, the band are just as lofty, although their attempts here fall somewhat atter. Lines like "simple answers could only solve small questions/realize you are responsible for knowing the truth is everything" get lost in oversimplified generalities. But, overall, the band's songwriting arc is admirable, and the twists and turns taken on Means/Ends lead to roads rarely traveled by local rock acts. JENNIFER MAERZ

In Praise of Folly perform Sat Aug 13 at the Vera Project, $8 ($7 w/club card), 7:30 pm.

NEVERMORE
This Godless Endeavor
(Century Media)
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Although it's not technically a rock opera, Nevermore's This Godless Endeavor appropriates the dramatic elements of that form, especially expository lyrics. Almost every verse on the Seattle-based band's sixth album contains breathless first-person narration. Warrel Dane's theatrical delivery differentiates the ominous growls of the pain inictors, the tortured wails of the victims, and the resilient bellows of the heroes. Occasionally overwrought language ("your face is painted on my soul/swallow the blood of poisoned truth") doesn't obfuscate the plots, the best of which pits an android (Dane at full snarl) against the mentally inferior human creators it decides to exterminate.

This Godless Endeavor revels in futuristic settings, but it's no fey fantasy, as its fast-thrashing opening sequence immediately establishes. Prog-metal can be groove deficient and instrumentally excessive, but Nevermore create rhythm-driven hardcore-style breakdowns and keep most tracks in the five-minute range. Guitar wizard Jeff Loomis efficiently shreds spiraling melodies behind Dane's voice or in tandem with new axman Steve Smyth instead of waiting for a designated solo segment. All the tightly tangled playing makes Loomis' isolated outbursts (a ringing three-second squeal, an eerie whistle that resembles Chronic-era Dre, a classical guitar interlude) even more riveting. ANDREW MILLER

KOUFAX
Hard Times Are in Fashion
(Doghouse)
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"You really do look terrible," snaps Koufax frontman/guitarist Robert Suchan early into his band's first post-Vagrant recording exercise—lending a wry, Costello-like tact to "Back and Forth." But appearances aside, the Lawrence, Kansas, quintet's quirky pop style—of which the latter is a prime example—fuses snippets of '70s AM radio fare, new wave, and modern-day indie stalwarts like Spoon to yield damn becoming sounds.

Boasting a revised lineup—which also counts guitarist Ben Force, former Get Up Kids Rob (bass) and Ryan (drums) Pope, plus ivory twinkling mainstay Jared Rosenberg—Koufax improves on the pattern of 2002's revered Social Life by pitching ambitious keepers. On the pulsing, dramatic "Isabelle," Suchan taps his inner Nilsson with strong results, while "Trouble Will Find You" reveals the troupe's penchant for Caucasian funk.

Despite all the piano-plunked exhilarations (of which the infectious opener "Why Bother at All" is easily the most direct), Hard Times does house an inferior anomaly known as "Colour Us Canadian." If Suchan's stab at Morrissey-like theatrics pales alongside the aforementioned, as well as the pensive and evocative "Blind Faith," Koufax has crafted an indie pop winner just the same. JOHN D. LUERSSEN

AMMONCONTACT
New Birth
(Ninja Tune)
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Ever since PM Dawn's 1991 debut album (which I still love, haters be damned), new-age-ish spirituality has gotten a bad rap in hiphop. But there's been a resurgence in uncorny peacemongering in underground circles, with S.E.V.A., Dwight Trible, Induce, Ammoncontact, and others waxing metaphysical lyrically and getting expansively funky and soulful instrumentally. Los Angeles' Ammoncontact (Carlos Niño and Fabian Ammon) have been bringing beatwise enlightenment to the underground-hiphop scene for much of this decade. After two acclaimed albums for L.A.'s Plug Research (2003's Sounds Like Everything and 2004's One in an Infinity of Ways), the duo leap to Ninja Tune for New Birth. Ain't nothing changed 'cept the label logo for these heady producers.

In contrast to the base instincts that rule most current hiphop, Ammoncontact cleanse your dirty soul with understatedly uplifting, jazz-funk-infused tracks. (Only "My People," on which Lil Sci raps about racial injustice, features an MC.) On New Birth, Carlos and Fabian shake a mean belltree, pluck a meaner kalimba, and construct many bass lines on which you could build religions. This is the rare hiphop disc that alludes to Terry Riley's spacey, cyclical Rhodes organ from A Rainbow in Curved Air, Stereolab's shiver-inducing coos, Alice Coltrane's violin-centric Lord of Lords, and Native American chanting. Though it won't be gracing many frat parties or inspiring much thong-snapping, New Birth will serve as a great soundtrack for orbiting the newly discovered tenth planet. DAVE SEGAL

MODEY LEMON
The Curious City
(Birdman)
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Formed amid that two-piece raw-blues plague that was spreading a couple of years back, Pittsburgh's Modey Lemon have since ingested a bass player and perhaps some other remedies, melting into a swaying psychedelic beast, which sets them in swoozy step with Birdman's impressive punk-psych roster.

Modey's kitchen-sink approach resembles a post-raid meth lab, with nasty chemical residue splotched around the joint. The formula mostly works, high spots being "Mr. Mercedes" and "Mountain Mist"—crashing drums, weirdly catchy vocal-vaulted choruses, rolling metal bridges, ringing guitar leads, and psychotic synth sounds that take precedence as the songs fray. And Paul Quattrone continues to be one of the most impressive rock drummers around, often saving tunes with his inventive slamming. Not so with Phil Boyd's vocals—his talk/squawk tradeoffs and surreal yarns often still feel like a novice bartender/aspiring model who just heard "some weird shit" on the gaffer's boom box during his Target commercial shoot. He could gruff it up a bit to match the physical menagerie of the music. And like that abandoned meth lab, for all the frazzled beeps, buzzes, and beats laying around Modey Lemon's mess, there's not much life—and heart—left beyond the commotion when all is said and done. ERIC DAVIDSON

MOUNT EERIE

No Flashlight: Songs of the Fulfilled Night
(P.W. Elverum & Sun Ltd.)
recommendedrecommended1/2

Nature is a hard sell for city folk, but on his first full-length since the Microphones' The Glow Pt. 2, Phil Elverum acts as a guide showing tourists into a nocturnal Shangri-la. With dark pools of distortion, shuddering guitars, and the occasional creaking woodwind, No Flashlight unromantically explores dualism and lunar portals past the illusion of daytime, positing that "there's another world and it's inside this one." Percussion breaks like twigs underfoot, and for every delicate, over-awed step, there are sprints of gratitude. A standout track, "The Universe Is Shown," is a big-bang-as-big-band number, generously bursting with chaotic horns, drums, and crash cymbals. The songs themselves are necessarily uncomplicated, and Elverum's tenor is appropriately humble; he sometimes apologizes for the inefficacy of his own words—which, true to life, often crumble under the immensity and fright of shadowy mountain vistas and nighttime howls.

The CD/vinyl combo comes packaged in a futon-sized piece of paper covered with art and detailed explanatory text. As ambitious as the move is, it's also a misstep—not for the manner of its execution, but for the fact of it. If we are to bid reverence of nature's inarticulable mysteries, it is incongruous to wrap the message with commentary printed on the giant skin of the trees that populate those mysteries. Still, Elverum takes up the burden of the seer ably and makes every effort to carry the unapproachable to us. NICK SCHOLL

Mount Eerie perform at the Helsing Junction Sleepover, Aug 12–13, Rochester, WA, www.krecs.com.

HANNE HUKKELBERG
Little Things
(The Leaf Label)
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This is a golden age for ladies with unusual, forest-nymph voices, pop smarts, and musical touches as light as fairy wings. The Joanna Newsoms, CocoRosies, and Jolie Hollands of the world create comfort for quieter moments, rising above the coffee-shop clamor to give folkish pop a quirky edge. Norway's Hanne Hukkelberg is a genre-gliding electronic-ish artist with a pixie-dusted voice that conjures divine beings. She even seems to charm the animal kingdom, with lyrics addressing chirping birds and fish that leap from the water to greet her (while the sounds of gentle waves lap around her words). Later she empathizes with a very conversational balloon's desire to disappear.

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The call for calm continues throughout her Little Things debut, and in "Cast Anchor," Hukkelberg coos of leaving behind the pressure to travel with the rat race, hanging instead with "the urge for standstill." And yet even in repose, Hukkelberg is innocently fidgety, breaking from songs to whistle a tune, clinking kitchen utensils against one another, picking up a banjo or acoustic guitar for a melody or two, or inviting in strings or saxophones one moment and icking the switch on a drum machine the next. The result is an album featuring a colorful cabaret of playful arrangements and instrumentation, with Hukkelberg as the magic-inspiring Mary Poppins among this animated bunch. JENNIFER MAERZ

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