Winners Never Quit
(Jade Tree)

When I listen to an album like Winners Never Quit, I like to turn out the lights, get knee-whockin' drunk, and think about my ex-lovers. It's the CD equivalent of Seasonal Affective Disorder, bringing on a winter of melancholy and lukewarm lament. This sort of music, with its rueful guitars and vocal scrapings, gets me into that sort of lowdown funk, where my floozing, sousing past shrinks up close. Only there's a problem with its digestability, and it ain't the Evan Williams, neither. The problem is G-O-D. Almost every song is about God.There are a few great moments when David Bazan, aka Pedro the Lion, musters up very intense imagery about domestic abuse, murder, and (of course) heroin. But He looms over each track like a disapproving creative writing teacher.

The worst part about it is Bazan's music really does illustrate a tragic story. It's perfect for reflecting on every glorious, wanton sin. In that context though, his boner for Christ is pretty creepy. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

Sound of Water
(Sub Pop)

Longtime Saint Etienne fans know what a sweet elixir this British electro-trio can be. Their pristine pop music is suitable for any weather, so it's interesting to see them settle into mellow maturity. Sound of Water continues on the path of their last record--their sound is crafted so completely, they're free to move around in it and redecorate at will. While there are no sparkly moments as in their early singles, Sound of Water glistens in a whole new way. From the tragic to the idyllic, this is a smooth, polished stone of loveliness, the finest easy listening. The apex is the grand "How We Used To Live," an epic song that adds up to pure escapism. This is always what Saint Etienne has been about--getting away from our dreary lives. JAMIE S. RICH

Signals Crossed and Meaning Lost

A solid little original country-rock record most reminiscent of American Fool-era Mellencamp. If you consider that a bad thing, Kim Virant is not for you. The band is tight, the sound is full, and the production is immaculate: not too sweet, not too tart. When a self-released CD is this accomplished, one is tempted not to complain. But with such subtly perfect musicianship, one wants a more distinctive song, a little psychosis. On her own, Virant has tremendous grace and stage presence. An aggressive, visionary record producer and a lyricist with an agenda would get a memorable record out of this band. GRANT COGSWELL