Born Free Forever
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Bobby Birdman has forever been Portland's Perry Como, with his soft, gentlemanly tenor and affinity for pop standard-sounding melodies. (Except Bobby Birdman is neither dead nor boring, and he's actually a lot cuter than Perry was in his 20s--a blessing to us all.) On Born Free Forever, Bobby's associations with the "Invisible Family Shield"--aka Yume Bitsu, Little Wings, Microphones, et al--burst through in soft-focus splendor, with a psychedelic, wispy recording aesthetic straight out of Phil Elvrum's fantasy world. Above a woozy, dreamy sheath of electronics, piano, banjo, and harmonies, Bobby Birdman's devotionals to the freeway, love, and the natural world produce a serenity that isn't overwhelming or prosthetic. Neither is it coma-inducing, as some similar, ambient-psych tends to be. Born Free Forever is full of kinetic motion, where voices oscillate, a rocket lifts away, people exhale, swallow, and gulp, and Bobby's voice sparkles. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

Swarm and Dither
(Planet Mu)
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Making intellectually stimulating music combined with the momentum of the heart is a challenging feat. At first listen, one could label Hrv as a digital-break reincarnation of Richard James, but with another spin, it becomes clear his work borders on a schizophrenically static statement of purpose. Almost every track is different from the previous, culminating cryptic cut 'n' paste rhythmic psychosis with moments of Gameboy arresting delirium. Hrv beats can carry the wankery of a full-on Page solo, trudging through unnecessary filters, but moments like "Anaesthetise Oneself" include a sound-paste collage of factory sampled rhythms and brooding guitar lines. Perhaps the best track, "carrot," melds the ever-expanding instrumental hiphop vein of acts like Four Tet and Caural with the misguided intensity of a drug-addled rave kid. KEVIN O'CONNOR

100th Window
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Like a ballplayer heading into a new season after breaking the home-run record during the previous campaign, Massive Attack returns with the unenviable task of trying to eclipse--or at least match--the undeniable greatness of their last achievement, 1998's hallowed Mezzanine. Faced with such a daunting prospect, the moody Brit-tronica act could have fully repudiated the past and risked alienating fans (i.e. the Radiohead Technique). Or, they could have appeased some and disappointed many with Mezzanine Two: Trip-Hop Boogaloo. Fortunately, they seized the vibe that made Mezzanine so special--strangely comforting melodies cloaked in unsettling, phobic atmospherics--and advanced it to even more chilling spaces. Especially gripping are "Future Proof," "Butterfly Caught," "Antistar," and "A Prayer for England" (one of three tracks featuring vocals by Sinead O'Connor). MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERG

* * * * Buddha
* * * Allah
* * Jesus
* L. Ron Hubbard