Rancid's game plan on Indestructible is misdirection. Pick a track, any track, and everything sounds like you would expect from the world's greatest trad-punk band. The forcebeat drums snap and crackle along at high velocity, Lars Frederiksen's guitar rages and blathers as he pins the melody down or chases it around, Matt Freeman's bass makes funny little asides like Dub Jones, Tim Armstrong's garbled manifestos slip and squirm through the roar, and the Clash comparisons loom up at high speed like glowing Wal-Mart signs from the highway. Then the tough-guy lyrics take a sharp detour from pose into poetry -- "I keep on listenin' to the great Joe Strummer/Cuz through music, we can live forever," say, or "I was an atheist, you wore the crucifix/We put our differences to the side" -- and the bait-and-switch is complete. It's punk rock all right -- punk rock with a head and a heart! Building on the community aesthetic of Armstrong's Transplants with a friendlier but uncompromising focus, Rancid melds crazy guitars, real political concerns, and emotion recollected in tranquility better than anyone since the Minutemen.
But unlike the sometimes difficult, goofy Minutemen, Rancid has worked hard to refine pure So-Cal punk rock -- loud-fast-rules, guitars set to stun, 19 songs that barely stop for a second's rest. On Indestructible, the exception to the barrage is the gorgeous, catch-your-breath ballad "Arrested in Shanghai," which makes a government critique take flight with help from a punk choir that shows up elsewhere and turns joyous winners like "Start Now" and "Back Up Against the Wall" into genuine anthems. Like every Rancid record, Indestructible is a little too long, but the tough optimism and generosity compensate for the occasional moments when the band merely treads water.
They work wonders with their simple, straightforward game plan. They seldom step wrong and never step falsely. They make me want to believe in a warts-and-all subculture that they're unwilling to romanticize but happy to show off. They also make me want to jump around during at least a dozen tracks. And they prove for the umpteen-millionth time that punk rock can change our lives. --Addison Engelking
My Morning Jacket
The third album from Louisville's My Morning Jacket floats along on a sea of reverb and echo. Although they're usually labeled an alt-country band, the songs on It Still Moves rarely sound like they originated in Nashville --the band only shifts into full-fledged honky-tonk mode on "Easy Morning Rebel." Sometimes, as on "Golden," the band sounds like what might have happened if the Replacements had stayed together and traded in the booze for high-quality Kentucky weed. "Dancefloors," on the other hand, sounds like the Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup" as produced by Daniel Lanois. The almost-classical finger-picked guitar that punctuates the album comes to the forefront on "One Big Holiday," the intro to which mines the unlikely source of the Police's "Bring On the Night." The factor that unifies these disparate sounds and influences is the warm production; one can imagine the band messing around onstage in a big, boomy, half-empty dance hall, following the Crazy Horse riffs wherever they lead. The emotional center of the album is "Run Thru," where a stately, ascending Ragged Glory-style riff builds into a frenzied, fuzz-bass-driven climax.
But the easygoing, meandering atmosphere that is so engaging in the first half of the record bogs down into a muddy mess in the album's closing tracks. Part of the problem is excessive length; just about everything is in the five-minute range with longer excursions like "I Will Sing You Songs" stretching three minutes' worth of ideas into 10 minutes. The result is 12 songs that play like a double album. Still, singer-songwriter Jim James' talent is undeniable, and if you're in the mood for down-to-earth roots-rock played kind of spacey, you could do a lot worse than It Still Moves. -- Chris McCoy
Matmos injected the mid-'90s laptop-music quasimovement with enough individuality to alienate electronic purists and win over the "post-rock" underground at the same time. Using such unorthodox sound sources as the amplified brain activity of a crawfish (on their 1997 eponymous debut) and an entire album of liposuction-surgery sounds (2001's breakthrough A Chance To Cut Is a Chance To Cure) have catapulted Matmos into an unclassifiable realm of electronica, but the thing is, the music often eschews harshness or disorientation in favor of melodic elegance.
Admirable trailblazers in their (left) field, Matmos have outdone themselves with The Civil War. Even those who are generally averse to electronic music stand to get turned on their rockist ears with this one. Finding thematic and sonic influences from both the American Civil War and the English Civil War of the 17th century, the album samples fireworks and uses pre-electricity instrumentation (flutes, acoustic guitar, banjo) in conjunction with a laptop artist's usual arsenal of beats, swirls, and techie wizardry. There's myriad activity on each track -- no minimalism here -- with plenty of little intricacies to ferret out upon each listen. The opening track, "Regicide," is elating -- the perfect pop song hiding behind the perfect weird techno song hiding behind the perfect, er, battle hymn. It only gets better and weirder from there. David Grubbs/Gastr Del Sol fans, take note: Grubbs' trademark John Faheyesque guitar pluckings are the dominating presence on the epic "Reconstruction." --Andrew Earles
All Got Our Runnins, the new EP from Brit-hop artist the Streets (aka Mike Skinner) is an Internet-only release with one instrumental track, three new originals, and four remixes of tracks from his debut, Original Pirate Material. It's hard not to criticize this kind of offering: At worst, it's a shameless money-maker designed to milk every last dime out of a hit album; at best, it's a mere stopgap to please diehards until a follow-up drops.
The remixes fall squarely in the filler category. The Mr. Figit take on "Don't Mug Yourself" and Ashley Beedle's Love Bug vocal mix of "Weak Become Heroes" are particularly unimaginative as remixes go. Only the Streets remix of "Let's Push Things Forward," featuring Roll Deep and boy of da moment Dizzee Rascal, is worth the price, a glorious mishmash that barely resembles its source material and suggests that Britain might be the next hip-hop hotbed.
The original tracks, however, are what make the release worthwhile, reminding you how revolutionary Skinner's debut sounded last year. The title track especially showcases Skinner's gift for street realism: "You know things are bleak when you're telling the birds you asked out last week that things are busy/When really you got no dough in the piggy."
But the amazing disparity between the new material and the remixes only makes listeners all the more impatient for Skinner's follow-up, which is becoming more and more long-awaited.