**** The Chalk Garden
*** The Parent Trap
** The Trouble With Angels
* Saved by the Bell


So I've only seriously listened to song two--about 5000 times because it is so fucking good. It's called "The Face of the Earth," and it's about this one moment, right after the narrator kissed this girl, and she flew upwards and disappeared forever--was killed, maybe. It's a simple, pop-rock song--a pretty sample of a guitar riff, a coy bass line, and this killer cymbal crash right at the end of each measure. The vocals, by Travis Morrison, are both honest and urgent. It is, of course, a shame that Morrison's voice sounds a lot like Dave Matthews', but at least it's just a genetic coincidence, and not because he's actually trying to sound like that. In conclusion, the four-star rating is my endorsement for track two, only. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

A School of Secret Dangers
(Hush records)

Having recently heard several artists who've signed with Hush Records, I can now see that Hush is simply the only name appropriate for this label. One gets the impression that most of these artists are so tortured, it's all they can do to sing a few quiet notes, or maybe pick the guitar a couple times in a fit of suicidal despair. The Places' chanteuse Amy Annelle is no exception. Her voice hardly registers above a sultry whisper, and she gently strums along with the guitar nonchalantly. It's a little like old cowboys sitting around bemoaning their lost loves. But that's not to say her music lacks passion. The whole very CD is confident; the guitar is calculatedly simple and sympathetic to Amy's voice, which is sweet and honest and slow. The CD is a little fuzzy and lo-fi, which adds to the feeling that there's something profound in her music, just waiting to be extracted. KATIA DUNN

Labor Days
(Def Jux)

Aesop Rock is the best MC in America. His first release, Float, showed how years of battles on the streets of New York have sharpened his style to the finest point--every word he enunciated was like a hurling dagger, backed by understated beats. However, Labor Days truly... ahem... takes it to another level. Recorded in his bedroom, Aes Rock smartly keeps his production unique yet low-key, knowing that any beats with the grandiosity of, say, Timbaland, would make his too-good rhymes too rich a treat. Most importantly, his message is even more brilliant than before, and as a lyricist, he surpasses all the MCs and belongs more in a category of the world's great novelists. His rhymes speak truth from the perspective of a wise-beyond-his-years city kid, and he talks about dream fulfillment, normal people getting screwed by the system, and plain old insecurity, all with his signature cutting style. This record should be listened to and studied because, like all the best literature, it will resonate inside you for years. JS