(Good-ink Records)

Those who've followed Carrie Akre's career as vocalist in Hammerbox and Goodness, wondering when she'd strike out on her own: your happy day is here. In the past, Akre's vocals seemed to mold themselves to the style of the instruments around her. OnHome, however, Akre's voice is pulling the train, and we can finally experience the nuances we've been missing.

Backed by a low-key combo of fuzz and electronica, Akre uses her full, bluesy inflections to construct a palette of introspective mood music designed for late evenings spent staring at the ceiling. Though the lack of up-tempo numbers may tempt one to buy her a lifetime membership in the "Cheer-Up Club," Akre's seasoned voice rules; you'll be hard-pressed to find a better friend to share those nights of ennui. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

Man of the Year
(Tiny Beat/Loveless)

"Touched by the hand of Tony Lash." This is what records like Man of the Year's debut should say; Tony brings more to the soundboard than most producers. You can tell from the start: the crisp fuzz of guitars tuned to that secret new-wave key that the Knack created and passed to the chosen. It's the crackle he gave the Dandys, the shine he polished onto Sunset Valley. Here we have the lovely sound of an analog keyboard--often just pressed and held, a blanket of stars providing a backdrop for a sleek rocket ship. Man of the Year used to be Lolly; the pedigree of its members reads like a history of late '90s Portland indie. But this ain't retro; this is New Fun, Big Pop, solid quirk rawk. It's not perfect, but its imperfection is its charm. The way the vocals--fake British accent and all--are slightly shy of being dead-on, the way the guitars jangle, the way the songs fade and don't really end. Man of the Year as Band of the Year? Not hardly, but Band Right Now is just as good. JAMIE S. RICH

Man on Stilts

I was positive this album would warrant six Ibuprofen and a rant about superfluous aggressiveness in modern music; Shark Quest is an aggressive name. I learned my lesson: the instrumental cloth of Man on Stilts is embroidered with complex, pretty guitars and mandolins. Violins and drums flirt menacingly with delay, building friction, symmetry, and an ingenious blend of art-bluegrass and lolling post-modernism (in the definitive sense, not the post-post-modern, Era of Irony sense). This is brain music, the kind that stimulates neurotransmitters. If Shark Quest is an aggressive band, it's aggressively polished. JULIANNE SHEPHERD