Ani DiFranco
So Much Shouting,
So Much Laughter

(Righteous Babe)

The album, recorded in "some club in Nantes, France, and that bar in Boise, Idaho, and a few places in between," is a career-spanning collection of 23 songs that captures the passion and ferocity of DiFranco in a live setting. Invigorated with jazzy rhythms and a vibrant horn section (check out "Letter to John"), bluesy soul ("Revelling") and classic Ani style--biting lyrics, angst and unguarded honesty--So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter is a must for loyal DiFranco fans and worth listening to for anyone who isn't. Revamped versions of "Not a Pretty Girl," "Gratitude" and "Rock Paper Scissors" are particularly good. (Cris Day)

Iron & Wine
The Creek Drank the Cradle (Sub Pop)

There are men and women who simply don't belong where and when Fate deposited them. They are the willful anachronisms, the internal expatriates, "eccentrics" loyal to old ways and versed in arcane knowledge. Sam Beam, the bearded Miami father with a four-track recording device who is Iron & Wine, sounds like one such man. While Miami is megapolitan confusion writ large--part Havana, part Port au Prince, part Upper West Side--Beam holes up with his guitars and banjos, blots out the pastel sprawl outside and records meticulous little songs about an older South. The Creek Drank the Cradle rarely rises above a twangy whisper, quietly delving into a myth-haunted rural country sound without overflowing into Gothic decadence. As rooted to place as they are, Beam's meditations drift in time--you can imagine these songs consoling boys in gray lucky to survive Antietam, or filling nights in a Depression hobo camp. Or even, apparently, originating from a Miami bedroom heavily fortified against the year 2002. (ZD)

The National Trust
Dekkagar (Thrill Jockey)

The National Trust, a Chicago ensemble blossoming around the abilities of principal songwriter Neil Rosario, is dense as a haze of Benson & Hedges smoke blown from mouths soaked with chilled rosé. Dekkagar opens with "Making Love in the Natural Light," sprawling across 11 minutes and 70 distinct tracks of both improvisation and structured suavity. Subsequent tracks lack such corpulence, but more than compensate in billowing pop glory. Piano and horns decorate "Neverstop" like a dance floor's spinning crystal ball--layered vocal tracks, congas and organ arrangements similarly illuminate the album's other cuts. While the National Trust lures listeners from the safety of Bobby Conn-style camp toward discomfiting schmaltz in the vein of Steely Dan or even Chicago, fans of the former can ultimately expect satisfaction. Fans of the latter: Continue suffering as you were. (J.D. Suntan)

Low Pressure (Merge)

This veteran English duo--one member with trumpet, loops and samples, the other with drums and percussion--exudes the elusive cool sought by so many late-night establishments serving spirits in snazzy stemware. An avantish blend of jazz, electronic, and noise, Low Pressure eases in with "Low Pressure" before the jarring "On a Clear Day" (remixed by Bleach Boys). A subtle sense of unease that lurks in the background of the early cuts steps to the fore in the noirish "Lugano Affair." Does the hero escape? No. Is this easy listening? Not quite. Sip your Sidecars and nuzzle her Fuzzy Navels. But keep one eye on the front door and the other on the back. Low Pressure warns of a cold front moving in--too cool for you. (J.D. Suntan)

Do You Know Squarepusher (Warp Records)

Feel sorry for anyone who held a position of authority over young Tom Jenkinson. If the unholy squalls of schizoid sound and manic beats he unleashes as Squarepusher are any indication, he must have been the most spastic kid ever. Do You Know Squarepusher finds Jenkinson continuing his drive back toward drill 'n' bass--and away from jazz fusion--he started on last year's Go Plastic. From the killer pop hook of the title track to the percolating glitch funk of "Kill Robok" to the 10-minute electronic noise jam of "Mutilation Colony," this is classic Squarepusher. The surprise is a strangely straightforward cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," complete with shy (!?), quavering vocals from Jenkinson. Portland fans might look at the package's second disc, recorded live in Japan, as a consolation prize after Jenkinson canceled his show here last summer. What we missed: a totally insane Jenkinson screaming at his audience to "make some noise," then pulverizing them with his own. (Ben Munat)