Incubus, “A Crow Left of the Murder” (Epic) [3.5 stars]

Along with the Deftones and 311, the San Fernando Valley, Calif. quintet Incubus stands as one of the few shining examples of what nu-metal/rap-rock could (and should) be, in stark contrast to the likes of Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and their ilk. The group has grown by leaps and bounds with every new release, incorporating more of its classic-rock roots (a la Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd) and branching out into much more experimental sounds (this time, via a daring production by Pearl Jam mainstay Brendan O’Brien that makes liberal use of some extremely psychedelic-sounding analog synthesizers), throwing those ingredients into a vibrant mix that already includes funk, rap, modern-rock and worldbeat flavors.

The band’s fifth album tops even the inventive melodies of 2002’s “Morningview.” Charismatic vocalist Brandon Boyd and wildly distinctive guitarist Michael Einziger remain the focus of attention, though the rhythm section benefits from the addition of a new bassist, Ben Kenney, a veteran of the Roots, and hand-percussionist Boyd and drummer Jose Pasillas continue to incorporate layered polyrhythms on several tracks. The band is also flexing a new lyrical muscle, moving away from the pot-and-patchouli-scented hippie musings of the last disc for some pointed political criticism on tracks such as “Megalomaniac,” the album opener and first single, and “Agoraphobia,” which contemplates the sad hermit-like existence we all face if we don’t get out and agitate for change.

—Jim DeRogatis


The Walkmen, “Bows and Arrows” (Record Collection) [3 stars]

This week’s much-hyped darlings of the indie underground, the New York City quintet the Walkmen (the new band formed by three veterans of a much-hyped underground darling of a few years back, Jonathan Fire Eater) have been likened by many critics to a rawer, garage-rock version of U2, but I don’t hear it. The obvious comparison is the Strokes: At points on the group’s second album, the Walkmen sound like virtual clones of Julian Casablancas and Company.

Mind you, I have no problem with that—at least not when the Stokes (who filter vintage Velvet Underground drones through ’80s New Wave and ’90s grunge) are hardly the most original band in the universe. What makes both groups worthy of rock fans’ attention is what they do with these familiar influences, revving them up with a massive dose of adrenalin, and infusing them with a serious pop sensibility (albeit buried under layers of guitar growl and rampaging rhythms). In fact, this disc’s standout cut, “The Rat,” may be a hair better than anything on the Strokes’ recent “Room on Fire,” but only a hair. What a double bill these two groups would make.

—Jim DeRogatis


Rocket from the Tombs, “Rocket Redux” (Smog Veil) [3.5 stars]

Cleveland’s legendary Rocket from the Tombs has just released its first studio album a mere 30 years after it helped to pave the way for American punk. “The World’s Only Dumb-Metal Mind-Death Rock & Roll Band” broke up in late 1975 as singer David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner went off to form Pere Ubu, and guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz started the Dead Boys. That divide symbolized what made the band great: Both reformed rock critics, Thomas and Laughner brought a super-smart art-rock sensibility to their original band, while Chrome and Blitz epitomized the sheer stoopidity and unbridled energy of the rawest, most aggressive punk.

Laughner died of drug and alcohol abuse in 1977, and Blitz is nowhere to be found for this reunion. But the ringers—former Television guitarist Richard Lloyd and current Ubu drummer Steve Mehlman—are top-notch, and Thomas (one of rock’s most unique front men), power-chord maven Chrome, and original bassist Craig Bell brought the fire and fury of their recent reunion tour into the studio, finally laying down definitive, barn-burning versions of proto-punk classics such as “Frustration,” “Life Stinks,” “Ain’t It Fun” and the (substantially different) early incarnations of Ubu’s “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer.”

Jim DeRogatis


May Lou Lord, Baby Blue (Rubric) [3 stars]

Written off to perennial cult-favorite status in the indie-rock/alternative-country underground, former folkie street busker Mary Lou Lord has deserved better in recent years, thanks to her fruitful partnership with collaborator and producer Nick Soloman, better known as psychedelic guitar wizard the Bevis Frond.

“Baby Blue” is Lord’s first album with a full band since her brief alt-era stint on a major label, and it’s a keeper, with a beautiful, gently swaying Gram Parson/Emmylou Harris druggie-country lilt, and a strong pop sensibility that offsets the occasional flash of precious singer-songwriter pretensions. There’s a new batch of original, typically mellow acoustic-guitar seductions (think of an early Jewel, but with a sexier voice and a cooler record collection), but the strongest moments are the well-chosen covers of some classic-rock nuggets (the title track is an irresistible Badfinger song, and Lord gives her all to “Fearless” from Pink Floyd’s Meddle).

Mary Lou Lord performs at Schubas on Friday [2/27].

Jim DeRogatis


Monster Magnet, Monolithic Baby (Steamhammer) [2.5 stars]

After predicting the stoner-rock revival with their brilliant and thoroughly brain-frying early offerings, “Spine of God” and “Dopes to Infinity,” Dave Wyndorf and his gang of New Jersey heavy-metal metal mooks have been trying to broach the mainstream, giving us two equally rewarding though much more polished efforts, “Powertrip” and “God Says No.” Though Monster Magnet alienated a number of the faithful in the process, and it’s been booted from the majors back to the ranks of the indies, “Monolithic Baby” continues to find the group desperately trying to move units, rather than going back to the gonzo psychedelic stomp of its roots. Sad to say, the results aren’t as good on its sixth album as they were the last two times out.

The strongest tracks here are both covers, and Wyndorf dug deep to make some inspired choices: “The Right Stuff” hails from 1974’s forgotten classic, “Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters,” a concept album that Hawkwind lyricist Robert Calvert made with Brian Eno, and “There’s No Way Out of Here” is a lost gem from the first solo album by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Unfortunately, there’s too much AC/DC and not enough Floyd or Black Sabbath in the mix on new originals such as “Master of Light,” the groupie-love anthem, “Unbroken (Hotel Baby),” and “On the Verge.”

Jim DeRogatis