The Lost Sounds
Black Wave

Seized by a futuristic nightmare of Philip K. Dickian proportion, Memphis, Tenn.'s Lost Sounds are running down Beale Street crazy with paranoia. It seems the cradle of rock and roll has been taken over by an invading force from beyond. Devo has been been duct-taped to death, and the twisted post-New Wave band is howling a compelling question: "Are we not android?"

This, at least, is the bleak picture the Lost Sounds paint on Black Wave, the band's sophomore release. It is a sprawling record, nearly an hour long, and one that calls to mind a cinematic sci-fi vision more Outland than Matrix. Double-barrel shotguns and interstellar mining are punk. Cyber-twaddle and goofy action adventure are not. Sean Connery has always been cool. Keanu Reeves never was. Robert A. Heinlein kicks Gene Roddenberry's ass. Blade Runner was better as a book. Post-modernism is dead. And kids in X-ray specs and polka dots are merely retro '80s posers with no place to go.

The Lost Sounds, on the other hand, are truly out there, dreaming up plastica-analog horror tunes of fantastically cruel intensity. The song titles say it all: "Reasons to Kill," "I'm a Machine," "Don't Turn Around," "Walk in Line." Grinding guitars and swirling keyboards create a horrific setting where a quaint neon-lit past has been transported light years away into a searing rock-and-roll event horizon. A robotic New Wave vibe becomes an enemy presence in the band's music. It is all-consuming. It is attacking. Do you read through android eyes? Do you listen through android ears? The Lost Sounds are suspicious. Sam Dodge Soule

snap judgments

Mary Lou Lord
City Sounds
(Rubric Records)

Ms. Lord, with that cute, raspy and oh-so-fragile voice, descended into the Boston subway with her guitar and a DAT machine to record her third full-length release, which consists mostly of covers. Busking gave Lord her start, see, long before fame came, briefly, then departed. The cover song can be an inspired art form of its own, but the risks always run high. Mary Lou's pared-down, heartfelt version of The Boss's "Thunder Road" is great, but the rest of the record is standard coffeehouse open-mic fare. Sure, it'd be refreshing to hear Richard Thompson or Dylan echoing off the walls during Boston's rush hour. At home, though, skip Lord and go right to the source. --Eric Larson

Teenage Fanclub
(Thirsty Ear)

Do you tap your foot to Coke ads? Do you love the sing-songy pep of high school-caliber lyrics? Teenage Fanclub knows what's good for you, and they're dishing it out in spades with their latest. Howdy! communicates on a level most have surpassed. "Happiness is all I need / The truth is never guaranteed..." That is so totally true. The melodies don't suck, at least, but does this band have anything left to say? Or perhaps new words are unnecessary. If fans of this '90s alternative warhorse are eager for more of the same old same-old, a heaping helping is coming their way. --Russ Meyer

Scott Kelly
Spirit Bound Flesh
(Neurot Recordings)

Following the lead of fellow Neurosis singer Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly strips away the bluster of his monstrous post-hardcore band in favor of bone-stark acoustic ruminations. In many ways, each of Von Till's and Kelly's albums showcases remarkably similar modi operandi: minimalist, minor-key chord progressions; throaty, whispered vox; brooding lyrics torn straight from nocturnal journal entries. But where Von Till occasionally fleshed out his bleak musings with weeping violins and pianos, Kelly stays mostly solo, which exposes the occasional weakness of his voice. Still, a fine listen for those days when sickly winter clouds threaten to choke out the sun for good. --John Graham

Hector Zazou & Sandy Dillon
12 (Las Vegas Is Cursed)
(Crammed Discs/ First World)

Deep-breathing electronic soundscapes, scratchy beats, some gutter-jazz bleats and cigarette-scarred cabaret vocals, all mashed together with cinematic bravado. Synthist-composer Zazou is known for his ambient recent work--slow, almost sacral lamentations à la Harold Budd or Arvo Pärt that drew in collaborators like Lisa Gerrard, Marc Ribot and Björk--but here he shows a more aggressive and demented side. Add Dillon's decidedly unfeminine voice, a ragged growl that combines the best parts of Tom Waits and Diamanda Galás, and you've got one of the year's most evocative, provocative and intriguing releases. Investigate with all due haste, if you dare. --John Graham