In the Fall of Unearthly Angels
(Magic Marker)

Pop songs are most perfect when they're imperfect; how better to create a feeling of exhilaration than with messy instrumentation, joyous sloppiness, a ramshackle attitude? It's pretty good when you sound so psyched to play music that you can barely play it. Of course, this sloppiness only works when the music is actually good to begin with. Plastic Mastery is one of the lucky bands that can employ this sound based on both their unfettered enthusiasm and ability to write a big, hooky melody. With half-lagging acoustic guitars, a horn section, violins, drums, and layers and layers of euphoric, sometimes-screaming vocals, the Tallahassee six-piece makes a mini-orchestra of maniacally sassy yet intelligently written pop. They can play well, of course--crappy musicians could never hope to make tunes like these. It's chaotic, in the best way possible. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

A Christmas Album

What the fuck is this? A Very Emo Christmas? Emotional versions of holiday classics? Not quite, but the idea of a Bright Eyes X-mas record is still pretty appalling. Surprisingly, A Christmas Album is a remarkably solid collection of unique takes on holiday classics, such as "Little Drummer Boy" and "White Christmas," performed by a whole slew of Omaha musicians. It says a lot that this record is actually listenable and doesn't have all the depth of a Gap X-mas jingle--but then again, who better to portray the most depressing of holidays then a whole bunch of emo kids. "Blue Christmas" is like a country-tinged cup of spiked eggnog, and the utterly depressing rendition of "Silent Night" will make you want to burn down the Christmas tree, your house, and your sleeping loved ones, all with the same match. This is the soundtrack to the most depressing Christmas since the time I burned the Birthday cake I was baking for Baby Jesus. CARMELO MARTINEZ

(54'40 or Fight!)

The big angle with Eyes of Autumn is that, not only are they blessed with instrumental virtuosity, but they're all like, eight years old. The trio creates a moody chasm of heartsick guitars and drums that pay homage to that Louisville style of guitar-nerdy, feelgood time changes, but also create emotional hooks that won't alienate the time-changily-challenged. Vocally, they're somewhat non-linear, treading similar lines as [KINSELLA ALERT!] Tim Kinsella ca. 1999, which ultimately lands them somewhere between Owls, Pinback, and Sense Field. With a raw and cooing honesty, guitarist Michael Duggan sings sweet, sometimes disillusioned lyrics, often reflecting on his childhood. While they're not blazing new paths, this record is a nice little outing for fans of the aforementioned bands--and, when considering their ages, they're sophisticated songwriters. JS