STARLIGHT MINTS
Built on Squares
(Pias America)
* * *
It seems like most critics who write about Starlight Mints are so busy doing band math that they mistake the band's originality for mere ingenuity. It's hard to miss the Mint's influences--Kinks, early-middle Bowie, XTC, Beatles, et al--but simply comparing Starlight Mints to their forbears misses the mark. Many acts set out simply to ape the old masters, often going so far as to record with antique equipment to replicate the sounds of the past. Starlight Mints is having none of that. Despite their classical leanings this band never sounds retro. Their amazing new album is a perfectly modern construction, built from pieces left floating in the sea of music history. Drugged violins maneuver around synth blips. Vocal harmonies swirl across sensible nonsense lyrics full of surreal whimsy. You could say all this about a lot of contemporary bands--but when the chorus kicks in, it's clear that we're in the hands of masters. SEAN NELSON

TURBONEGRO
Scandinavian Leather
(Burning Heart/Epitaph)
* * 1/2
No Turbonegro fan will argue that the Norwegian glam metal band didn't release some classics in Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes back in the late '90s. The theatrically trashy Scandinavians had the badass hooks of an Alice Cooper song, the crass mind of a porn club janitor, and the bold sense of humor to celebrate both sides with equal bombast. After staying quiet in their cult underground for a couple years, the band has returned with their first new full length, Scandinavian Leather, and I'm still undecided as to whether it's almost as great as those earlier records even if it bottoms out a few times too many. Songs like "Wipe It Till It Bleeds," "Drenched in Blood (D.I.B)," and "Ride With Us" contain Turbonegro's cornerstone catchiness, and most of the album sounds like it would come off great live. But overall, Scandinavian Leather doesn't have the same thrust as Turbonegro's earlier stuff. JENNIFER MAERZ

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Well-Suited For General-Purpose Audio Work
(Schematic)
* * * *
Nothing from Miami's Schematic Records has ever sounded as generic as the title to its fourth essential label comp hints. On the contrary, Schematic's artists combine a lab-coated genius' zeal for the molecular peculiarities of sound, with a caffeine addict's spastic need to change rhythms and tones every three seconds. Splattering 0s and 1s across their screens like Jackson Pollock on crack, label standbys like Richard Devine, Otto Von Schirach, and Phoenecia mesh well with newcomers Dino Felipe, Kiyo, and Canibal A:fraux. Some may regard Schematic's scrunched, frantic abstractions as academic pranks, absurd in-jokes to fellow producers, or soundtracks to mushroom trips gone horribly awry. Fuck those sonic squares. The music on General-Purpose Audio Work will influence avant-gardists for years to come. DAVE SEGAL

* * * * Lord of the Rings
* * * Lord of the Flies
* * Lord of the Dance
* Lord of Hosts