Sebadoh III, released the same month as Nevermind and perhaps the classic Sebadoh album, remains "a tunnel to infinity, dazzling all the way." Today it seems as fresh as ever in its expanded (18 bonus tracks!), remastered (Barlow's boom-box hiss has never sounded so good), and repackaged (with a big, beautiful booklet that contains a statement about the record from each of the band members) version released by Domino Records. III provides a near-perfect amalgam of Lou Barlow's painfully sincere basement recordings and Eric Gaffney's furious, jagged, and mesmerizing compositions that stay just this side of the asylum (at least until the heart-stopping album finale "As the World Dies, the Eyes of God Grow Bigger").
There are a number of stone-cold classics on this album, including "The Freed Pig" and its liberation ecstasy; the hushed hopefulness of "Perverted World"; and "Violet Execution," a masterpiece of the frayed edge of the indie rock that Sebadoh (along with Pavement on the country's other coast) pretty much invented. What's most impressive, however, 15 years later, is how well it all coheres; song flows into song forming a crazy, jumbled, perfect mess.
But you probably know all this already, so here's what's important: 18 extra tracks, including the entirety of the seminal Gimme Indie Rock EP, alternate versions of some of the best Gaffney-penned tunes, and a quiet acoustic gem called "Never Jealous." And these are all worthwhile, but I keep going back to the original album to listen to the plaintive Barlow pleading: "Tell me this is it—the truly great thing." I think it is, Lou. I really think it is. CHRIS MCCANN
Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language
Just three months after the latest Fiery Furnaces disc dropped, Matthew Friedberger (the Furnaces' XY) is back with a maddening, bracing, and baroque double solo album. Friedberger described Winter Women, the first disc, as a "summer record, full of memorable, catchy, and unironic pop songs," and it's probably as close as he'll ever get to unleashing his pop sensibilities. In songs like the coy "Her Chinese Typewriter" and the impossibly sunny "Up the River," Friedberger uses his trademark keyboards to bolster melody instead of disrupting it, and the results are quirky and satisfying.
The second disc, Holy Ghost Language School, an eerie song cycle ostensibly about teaching English in Japan, treads more obscure territory. Cryptic spoken vocals set just beneath a swirl of syncopated drums, looped guitars, and interrogating keyboards lead the listener away from those sunny summer afternoons and into something altogether more disconcerting (and equally satisfying). The two albums can be seen as counterpoint to each other, one espousing traditional melody while the other eschews it in favor of challenging listeners to embrace discord.
In a famous letter to his brothers, John Keats defined negative capability as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." As shown by these two all-encompassing albums, Friedberger has got negative capability in spades. When I listen to Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School back to back, I do feel that uncertainty rising up within me; then I remind myself to just let go and allow the mystery to wash over me in wave after sonic wave. CHRIS MCCANN
The Death of Frequent Flyer
Psalm One (born Christalle Bowen) can break your mind just as easily as she can crush your ego. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in chemistry, Psalm landed a cush job with Silliker, a food-safety lab that tests nutritional claims on food labels, but she departed two years later to pursue a rap career.
The Death of Frequent Flyer, her Rhymesayers debut, shines as the label's first album by a female MC, but also stands out as a solid hiphop album by a rapper of any gender. Not only does she break down the boys' club door with an attitude and icy glare that would make the hardest thug rappers flinch, she deconstructs FeMC paradigms faster than bell hooks could say "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy."
On "The Nine," Psalm waxes poetic on growing up as an awkward "chubby girl," infatuated with hiphop, proving that she can connect her experiences as a woman to her career as a rapper without letting her guard down. But on "Rapper Girls," essentially a parody of Talib Kweli's empathetic "Black Girl Pain," Psalm chastises girlie MCs who fail to step out of the shadow of being "good for a girl." She bares her pernicious fangs with lines like "I won't front, either, that's a nice outfit/but my guy said he could find another use for your mouth, bitch."
With a biting hubris reminiscent of Da Brat and a Biggie-like insouciance bear-hugging her rhyme flow, Pslam is the Windy City's hottest new rap phenom. STEVEN SAWADA