The M83
Before the Dawn Heals Us
(Mute)
***

If M83's last album was the sound of the impersonal made gorgeous, this is the sound of the impersonal made goopy. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts was a towering success--it had the same ending as Kid A, and much of the same power. Its secret was perhaps that it mined its wondrous beauty from such unlikely places that it was fundamentally incapable of being kitsch. Dead Cities... sounded like it was culled from the swan songs of a hundred dying synthesizers, which made it proof against criticism from even those circles where beauty requires an excuse. In Before the Dawn Heals Us, that's no longer the case. Here, M83's collection of robot ghosts is caught reaching a little too strenuously for the epic. Their austerity has slipped and kitsch has crept in. This is still a fascinating and highly enjoyable record, but it's a strangely guilty pleasure. CHRIS LESLIE-HYNAN

THE SHARP EASE
Going Modern
(olFactory Records)
***

Blank Generation revisited! The Sharp Ease's Paloma Parfrey sings like a riot grrl Richard Hell, strangling and yowling while her band plays '80s punk and barks (tongue-in-cheek, maybe?) "oi" backups. But where Richard was all Please Kill Me, who-says-it's-good-to-be-alive on stage, Paloma and her girls have fun. They sing odes to life preservers, crush songs about a local coffeehouse worker, and shriek like fruit bats with no warning whatsoever. But it's never dumb, never too punk for its own good. It may not be all that tight, but they're always playing well, getting adventurous with the breakdowns, and riding the bridges like The Bangs. AND they bend strings in their solos, like, long drawn out AC/DC string benders--which most everybody's too cool for nowadays. Sharp! Easy! Yes! ADAM GNADE

Cass McCombs
PREfection
(Monitor/4AD)

***1/2

If there's one thing I've learned from all the time I've spent drooling over Cass McCombs' first two Monitor releases (2002's Not the Way and 2003's A), it's that with the right pair of lungs and enough reverb, even the most asinine, antiquated phrases can sound heartfelt. That's not to slight McCombs' songwriting--it's precisely the way he marries near-nonsensical colloquialisms with his own subtle sense of storytelling that makes his one of the most effective, nostalgia-drenched voices in contemporary pop. Unfortunately for McCombs' latest, the sure-to-be breakthrough PREfection, he's done a good deal to bury that voice--in synths mostly, but also in the record's syrup-thick production sensibility. When the approach works, it does so masterfully--and PREfection surely contains some of McCombs' best songs to date--but as an effective whole, the record lacks the glimmering, wistful nostalgia that made his previous records so effective. Still, when it hits, PREfection is awe-inspiring. ZAC PENNINGTON

**** King Koopa
*** Gannon
** Mother Brain
* Wario