AIDS WOLF VS ATHLETIC AUTOMATON
Clash of the Life-Force Warriors
(Skin Graft)

Track one lost me in noise. Track two completely freakin’ had me with its modern punk-flavored vocals. Nasally, check! Indecipherable, check! Perfect, check! But there’s still more to this band. That name is where it’s at-after debut albums, Aids Wolf and Athletic Automaton decided to do it up, battle-style. As recording dragged on, lines blurred, folks were side-jumping, and in the wake is Clash, another great release from Skin Graft (as if I wasn’t already sold on them with Holy Smokes!)

TONY BENNETT
Duets
(Columbia)

This disc is nearly six months old, but, with the Grammys, recently brought back to the public’s (and my) attention. Yesterday I found out that my grandpa is going to turn 80, and then I found out that Tony Bennett is 80, and I decided that it just wasn’t right for this disc to fly under the radar like it did upon release. Bennett’s career speaks for itself, and this disc-featuring duets with Bono, Sting, Barbra Streisand, Tim McGraw, Stevie Wonder(ful!)-is a searing collection showcasing his ability to age gracefully in the music industry. Bennett is charming, sharp and seemingly open to anything. He’s still characteristic Tony, but keeps up with the young kids just fine. Here’s to 80. Grace Slick was wrong; sometimes you’ve still just got it in ya’.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT
Some Enchanted Evening [Reissue]
(Columbia/Legacy)

I have been dying to write a review of this album for three decades, well maybe more like two and half. In fact, if my crappy sixth grade teacher would have lightened up on the pre-algebra lessons (which I still don’t use in my adult life) and spent some time on my writing chops, I could have handled the review in 1978 -but no, I’d have to wait. Well it’s 2007 and this is still one of the most complete albums you’ll ever hear. From the opening bellow “…Atlanta, Georgia ARE YOU READY TO ROCK AND ROLL!!!” to the hypnotic glide of “Astronomy”, this album doesn’t have a single note put to waste. Not convinced yet? It also comes with a DVD. A DVD! WITH LASERS! If someone would have dropped a Blue Öyster Cult DVD on my ten-year old person, I’d certainly be a more complete adult, but I think I’d still end up wishing a pox on algebra.

THE COLOUR
Between Earth and Sky
(Rethink)

I’m often in the habit of disregarding EPs. What good are they? You just get a sample of something that you think might be good, and then it’s over. And by the time the full-length comes out, you’ve forgotten all about those five great tracks you heard months ago. But something strange happened when I heard the Colour’s EP a few months ago. I thought to myself “I’m going to remember this.” And sure enough, I did. The Colour is easily, seemingly effortlessly, melding the sounds that have found such an amazing audience in recent years. Where a band like the Mooney Suzuki fails miserably at such a thing, the Colour mixes hard-edged garage rock ala the Strokes with hard-edged arena rock ala Wolfmother. It’s a fantastic combination, if only it would work. And this time around, it really, really does.

H IS FOR HELLGATE
H is for Hellgate
(Stereotype)

H is for Hellgate might be one of the most unlikely looking pop bands to ever exist. Most Seattleite bands are of the hum-drum tight pants variety, but not H is for Hellgate. This is a mixed bag of people from a mixed bag of backgrounds, coming together to make some truly beautiful music together (that came out without the least hint of cheese). Jamie Henkensiefken’s undeniably loveable and soulful vocals, much like Jamie herself, are the bread and butter of H. And when she nearly whispers, “I can’t tell you anything you haven’t already heard from Ben Gibbard,” you’re mostly inclined to believe the opposite.

HARLEM SHAKES
Burning Birthdays
(self-released)

Self-released debut EPs are always a gamble–but as a general rule of thumb, when they’re being worked by (pretty) high profile publicists from New York, you can tell something’s up. Brooklynites Harlem Shakes are a great example–label frenzy couldn’t wrangle them in, and they’ve decided to put this out on their own, and in doing so more than prove themselves with Birthdays something for which to watch out (as did the Colour previously this year, see above). The vibe is New York pop–that stuff that started post-Strokes and evolved through bands like Robbers on High Street. Harlem Shakes have refined it, and if it weren’t for their singer’s slightly annoying vocals, this would be a COMPLETE gem.

ICEAGE COBRA
Brilliant Ideas from Amazing People
(Heavy Soul)

Spokane, be proud. After all, it was you who birthed this rock monster (/snake). Iceage Cobra might have relocated to Seattle, but their Spokane charm is intact. They rock harder than most Seattle bands, their hair is longer than most Seattle bands, and dammit, they are just at the top of that gigantic stack of Seattle bands. They are in tireless touring mode, but when they make their Spokane return in March, you best get yourself down there. Odds are in the Cobra’s favor, and “knowing them when” gets cooler by the day. Iceage Cobra plays the Blvd. on March 31 with Seaweed Jack, the Pharmacy and Shim, as part of Out There-sponsored WIG BASH.

THE PHOTO ATLAS
No, Not Me, Never
(Stolen Transmission)

The Photo Atlas needs little explanation. And since I can’t get my stolen wireless connection to work and I’ve lost the band’s bio, I’m going to wing it in description. The Photo Atlas is probably from somewhere hip like New York, but they have California written all over them. This is that frenetic, excitable pop that bands like Division Day (LA) and Birdmonster (San Fran) are doing-stuff that miraculously sounds nearly as good on disc as it does during their absolutely phenomenal live shows. Tour, Photo Atlas, please.

SJ ESAU
Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse
(Anticon)

This release has Olympia written all over it. Not literally, but when you happen upon the first few tracks, you’d swear you were listening to a K or Kill Rock Stars/5RC release. It’s moody, sonically dense, and has that whole “recorded in my kitchen” lovability. The disc is most at home when it’s reminding its listener why they’ve always loved Olympia music (nevermind that SJ is based on Bristol), and only occasionally sidetracks to blow up in distancing distortion. Plus, Anticon has proved itself an ally in good music over and over again. Let this peak your interest and go from there.

GWEN STEFANI
The Sweet Escape
(Interscope)

I miss Tragic Kingdom-era No Doubt. Remember how freaking awesome “Spiderwebs” was? And before that even, The Beacon Street Collection? Before they started collaborating with rappers and hip hoppers that sent their sound into uber-annoying mode. Things started to fall apart when they released that god-awful “Hey Baby.” Was I talking about Gwen Stefani? Her solo image-slick, fashionable, blah blah blah-doesn’t interest me much. But despite all of No Doubt’s recent flaws, I must say Miss Stefani’s recent announcement that the band would be going back into the studio has my curiosity peaked.

EARL GREYHOUND
Soft Targets
(Some Records)

You know that friend of your who pops up ever so often (read: music critic) and says “…Dude, check this out. Sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin. No question they’re the new Zeppelin!” But, all the while you’re thinking it sounds more like: Budgie, Kings-X, Cheap Trick, Kingdom Come, Mountain, White Stripes, Uriah Heep, Thin Lizzy, Wolfmother, with a super-heavy dose of Montrose. Yep. That’s Earl Greyhound.