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White Stripes frontman Jack White carefully balances on a tightrope connecting the innocence of the past with the trailblazing spirit of the present. On his band's third (and most excellent) release, Elephant, he playfully teases a sense of shy restraint in his lyrics, speaking of courtships with lines like, "I want to hold your little hand if I could be so bold." These are false modesties, coming from a man who so brazenly plays guitar with the sex appeal of Jimmy Page in a pair of crotch stranglers, and can wrangle his vocals--and guitar--into a dozen different characters within the course of one album. "It's True That We Love One Another" is a ménage à trois between Jack and drummer Meg White, with Holly Golightly as the third wheel in a game of flirtatious words. Elephant stretches out into new musical arenas and proves that even under the pressure of their most popular peak so far, the band is still able to reach new creative heights. JENNIFER MAERZ

The Fine Art of Self Destruction
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Here is the concept: take the singer of faux-punks D Generation, clean him up, and make him sing country music. Okay, you can stop laughing now. Really, cut it out. Jesse Malin stumbled into this record deal because he and Ryan Adams share a hairdresser, so it only makes sense for Adams to produce his debut solo effort. However, it doesn't seem like Adams did much here. Songs like "Queen of the Underworld" and "Riding on the Subway" aren't half bad, but more often than not, listening to this record will make you want to smack Malin on the back of his coifed head and tell him to stop sounding so much like John Cougar Mellencamp. Buried beneath the desperate attempt for VH1-crossover and mountain of hair gel lies a great songwriter; whether or not his voice is ever truly heard remains to be seen. CARMELO MARTINEZ

Guero Variations
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Guero Variations arose out of pure chance. Asked by a friend to look for an album by German avant-garde composer Helmut Lachenmann, Warmdesk (Chicago producer William Selman) scored it and fell hard for a track called "Guero," on which the pianist plays the instrument's innards, in lieu of its keys. Selman's used "Guero" as the basis for an album of distinctive tech-house and digital dub--but such background knowledge isn't necessary to appreciate Guero Variations. Warmdesk's deft production techniques and mesmerizing rhythms will hook you from the first cut. Most of the disc cruises at 110-120 bpm, with a joyous bounce that coaxes even rock critics to dance, but Guero Variations' deepest pleasures exist below the dancey machinations: Selman's quirky palette of vivid percussive timbres makes musique concrete detritus shimmy and shake with glee. DAVE SEGAL

* * * * Ali G.
* * * Ally Sheedy
* * Chemical Ali
* Ally McBeal