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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new or recent pop-rock CDs

Issue: "Agony and ecstasy," April 7, 2012

Bat Chain Puller

Bat Chain Puller is the twisted amalgam of blues, beat poetry, free jazz, and skronk that Captain Beefheart would've released in 1976 if legal conundrums hadn't forced him to release Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) in 1978 instead. Thank Frank Zappa's widow for finally releasing it from litigation limbo. It would've gone down huge as a countercultural bicentennial soundtrack. Then thank Beefheart for seizing the opportunity to improve it by composing "Tropical Hot Dog Night" and "When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy" in its wake.

The Lion's Roar

"Emmylou," this Swedish folk duo's latest single, is such an obvious masterpiece that the quality of the rest of the album almost doesn't matter-even someone unfamiliar with the Harris-Parsons, Carter-Cash romances about which Klara and Johanna Söderberg indirectly sing will relish the sisters' voices. Elsewhere, they dismantle "Emmylou" for parts and reassemble them in various combinations to impressive if not always stunning effect. Prerequisites for relishing the title cut: unfamiliarity with Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" and indifference to God's name used as an intensifier.

Wrecking Ball

Forget that Springsteen is a limousine liberal who rocks the vote toward politicians who raise taxes on the very "common man" he claims to represent, and you might think this album's first single, "We Take Care of Our Own," is a call to compassionate conservatism. Remember, and you realize it's a big-government anthem. Sure he mentions Jesus in "Jack of All Trades" and "Rocky Ground" and alludes to Him in "We Are Alive." He still doesn't know the difference between rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God.

With Love

Six years after her last album unless her Christmas album counts, Thomas still drops just enough Christian breadcrumbs ("Like Wildflowers," "Really Long Year") to let those seeking for a home in the woods know that they too can find their way. Mainly, though, she has refined her gifts as a singer-songwriter to where even those happy with where they are can simply bask in the beauty of her craft. And if you enjoy "Over the Moon," wait till you hear what she does with "Over the Rainbow."

Spotlight

Max Bemis has described himself as an "overly analytical and neurotic Jewish guy with almost no set political beliefs" and an "ADD-infected, clumsy, and right-brain-centric dolt of a man." And on Anarchy, My Dear, the latest album by his band, Say Anything, he proves it. Or, rather, careening within post-punk parameters of his own devising, he proves it again, having already given evidence on previous albums that he contains self-contradictory multitudes.

On 2009's Say Anything he was "down with J.C." This time he has "Randy Newman in [his] head" ("Night's Song"), an influence that sharpens his humor ("Don't want to hear about how the latest Rihanna single / Is a post-modern masterpiece"), his pop sense ("So Good" and "Overbiter" could qualify for Now That's What I Call Music), and his misanthropy ("The Stephen Hawking"). If anyone ever makes Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary into a musical, Bemis clearly deserves a shot at scoring it.

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