BLACK DICE
Broken Ear Record
(DFA/Astralwerks)
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For their major label debut, confrontational low-brow noise artists Black Dice have ensured that no one will utter the cry "sellout." There is not a single commercial moment among its seven abstract instrumentals that lurch, shudder, and shimmer, but never rock or make you feel like dancing. The group's greatest strength is their tonal control; it's rare that a band can make use of such modern effects and electronics while maintaining a library of sounds that seem destined to age well. Digital bleeps and burps freely loop in and out over glitchy industrial beats, while incessant guitar strums provide sole rhythm at other times. Problems arise though, when so much attention to sonic detail reveals so little effort at creating structure, depth, or memorable hooks. Fans of Black Dice's critically acclaimed Beaches and Canyons may miss the synthesized environments and elemental forays as Broken Ear Record alludes to a more urban landscape. The barren textures shift and break in a way that sounds more haphazardly manmade than anything in nature. It's fine and good to draw an artistic line in the sand, especially at a juncture when the Dice's indie-elitist fans might easily decry any track that could be called a single (actually "Smiling Off" is being released separately as a single with multiple remixes), but it would be preferable to hear a bit more ingenuity put into making an avant-garde work that requires less glue-sniffing to enjoy it. NATHAN CARSON

BLOOD ON THE WALL
Awesomer
(The Social Registry)
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There's a lot here buried under distortion, fuzz, and post-Strokes who-gives-a-fug-'bout-pruh'duction steez. Like steam rising up from BOTW's native New York street grates, sometimes old faces come wisping to the surface—before being swept away by the breeze of buses and honking taxis and prick A&R scouts looking for the new Karen O. There's a little Frank Black throat cancer rasp... some Walkmen wall o' guitars... Johnny Thunders wrapped in gauzy, 99-cent store scarves and Nu Yaaawking out "Born to Lose" with a throbbing toothache and a syringe tucked in the hatband of his ugly fedora.

But none of it's too prominent. (Although a couple times you hear too much Pixies and it sticks out like a giant, swollen, cauliflower ear.) Guitars bolt forward playing blues progressions, then slow down and groove—and then the band's on stage, LOUD under red lights, at some shit-ass New York club (face it, CBGB's stinks like dogshit soon as you step in the door). It's a lot of sound, even though it's just one guitar, drums, and bass. Ergo, a huge—but casual—middle finger to bands who think they need, like, 10 people up on stage to sound "big." ADAM GNADE

NUMBERS
We're Animals
(Kill Rock Stars)
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San Francisco's Numbers have always had a pretty strict shtick, defined by terse Xerox machine rhythms and cold pronouncements about household items and consumerism. At its best it worked as a fun postmodern dance infomercial but lately the three-piece seemed to be treading water. I slipped on Numbers' new album, We're Animals, fully expecting the only animal it would resemble would be a one-trick pony. Well, count me wrong—Animals is the band's most lush and organic record to date. The title track starts out with a bang, its drum pummelings and sunny vocal chirpings following the scent of Bay Area compadres Deerhoof. Throughout the album, Numbers continues to flex its newfound muscles, mining sing-song vocals, viscous guitar washes, and (gasp!) even dynamics. As the cloud of stiff '80s revivalism finally seems to be passing us by, it's nice to see this group take the high road and try some new skin—or perhaps fur—on for size. JOSH BLANCHARD

CROSSTIDE
Life as a Spectator
(Slowdance)
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The idealist in me, the gooney romantic that believes quality should reign supreme over hype, looks, and nepotism bristles when hearing records like Crosstide's Life as a Spectator. As songs like "Searchlights" and "Either Way" build and roll with gorgeous post-emo guitar, sinewy bass lines, and marching drums, I jump up (in my mind, anyway) on some dark and nebulous psychic soapbox and shake my fist at the heavens, frothing, screaming, "If Coldplay can get Gwyneth and Scrooge McDuckian piles of money, why not these guys?!"

It makes no sense that even though Crosstide's "Clockwork" is just as radio perfect (and kinda like-minded) as Coldplay's "Clocks," we've got Chris Martin's pocky mug staring back at us from MTV, not Crosstide's equally Brit-looking (but claimed for Portland!) Bret Vogel. Unlike a lotta bands way bigger than them, Crosstide has the Catchy and they also have the Consistency. Life as isn't some ephemeral two hits/10 fillers chart-seeker. It runs strong and smart through its 12 tracks, shimmering (the production is clear and elegant) with hints of the Police, Cars, even Sunny Day. But Crosstide's young and their chance to show up on The O.C. and Spin covers is still very plausible. ANYWAY if every A&R prick in LA doesn't swoon after hearing the Postal Servicey "(You Should) Sleep," something's gone wrong. AG