**** Alfred B. Nobel (Invented Dynamite)
*** Wilhelm Roentgen (Discovered X-Rays)
** Louis Pasteur (Invented Pasteurization)
* Guglielmo Marconi (Invented Wireless Telegraph)

Nuclear War EP

"Nuclear War," the song that Yo La Tengo transforms into four versions here, originally belonged to legendary avant-garde icon Sun Ra. It's a clever piece of didacticism, a protest against nuclear war that they turn into an increasingly complex jam with each version. The song itself is simple call-and-response with drums and percussion. The first version is the most stripped-down, with the core trio of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew singing and playing percussion. It's hardly strident, as the trio sound like they're having fun with the playing, but the words are haunting. Yo La Tengo are joined on the second and best version of the song by a shout-out chorus of 11 kids; hearing them chant "radiation/mutation" and "nuclear war/it's a motherfucker" is about the most eloquent and true response I can imagine to our current events. NATE LIPPENS

Empty Rooms
(Gern Blandsten)

Dip from the Springsteen Nebraska well enough times and the thing is bound to dry up, right? I used to think so, but Canyon's Empty Rooms is a masterful record of country music played by people who, technically, have no business playing country music. It's one of those sad truths--like how sometimes the best punk bands are made up of rich kids who have no right to play such music--but with Empty Rooms, it's hard to deny that what Canyon is offering is anything more than a masterful country record. Based out of Washington, DC, and with roots in the mid-'90s emo scene (members used to sport sweaters in both Boy's Life and Bluetip), Empty Rooms is a collaboration of an abundance of over-talented musicians playing a large selection of instruments, capped off with the bittersweet voice of Brandon Butler. The songs are a brooding mess of nocturnal sadness, brushed drums and the constant presence of slide guitar. CARMELO MARTINEZ

(Popchild Records)

Portland popsters Fantastic Idea Project offer internationally flavored indiepop music--jingle-jangle guitars, booming drums, some trumpet, synths, subdued harmonies, and loads of quiet melancholy. It's a fairly standard angle for that type of sound, but this duo is excellent at creating that windswept, sophisticated feeling that is essential to creating said international flavor. Their melodies are catchy yet not predictable; neither are their lyrics, which mostly veer away from the cutesy. Even a song called "Sold Out Teenage Screamfest" gets a little bittersweet, as Liz Moyer sings, "There is a future bright with pain/just need a quiet place to stay/I wanna be buried at sea." It helps that her voice can be poignant at times; a husky, breathy alto, her low timbre always sounds vaguely wistful. JULIANNE SHEPHERD