In most ways, Eminem's latest album is exactly what one would expect: There's the shit-talking, the leering, the mediocre D-12 track, the "aww" love song for his daughter, the alternatingly subtle and pounding presence of producer Dr. Dre. But what is surprising is that Eminem continues to evolve his speed and lyricism--the rhymes and vocal rhythms on Encore impress in their stylistic strength and athleticism. His topics, like those of The Eminem Show, largely consist of personal conflicts and public notoriety--subjects which are starting to show their age--and with all of Encore's déjà vu, it's easy to take Eminem's off-putting, snarky brand of eloquence for granted. When recognizing it becomes unavoidable, it's a reminder that while he might be most reviled as predictable pop figurehead, Eminem's most useful as one of hiphop's most gifted and continually improving artists. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Vehicles of Travel
(Frenetic Records)

Brash, indulgent, dissonant--it's exhausting to watch the status quo of the avant-garde just take its blips and bleeps so seriously--abandoning all of the playfulness that so often makes the experiment worthwhile in the first place. Curtains are what you might call the antidote. Where Flybys, the band's excellent previous full-length, was a half hour of careful, stuttering instrumentals that were just this side of dissonant, Vehicles of Travel for the most part alters course for the harmonious familiar. Taking more than a few hints from former tour mates Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Vehicles finds Curtains toeing the Pop waters, in 23 beautifully melodic vignettes. It's the sound of the impossible: three very talented experimental musicians who actually seem to enjoy the music they're making. And it's one of the best records I've heard all year. ZAC PENNINGTON

Destiny Fulfilled

For those wondering why Beyonce would return to Destiny's Child after successfully striking out on her own, it's pure economics. Unlike Justin Timberlake, who needs distance from N*Sync to continue to make a living, Miss B can double-dip from the well, and double the dough. On the other hand, for a Destiny's Child album entitled Destiny Fulfilled, there're a lot of questions left unanswered. For example, while the DC three are musically more confident than ever, lyrically they remain disturbingly schizophrenic. Girl power hollas like "Free," "Girl," and the drumline banger "Lose My Breath" ring with straightforward feminist strength. Unfortunately, they're sandwiched by mewling housewifery such as "T-Shirt" and the completely fucking ridiculous "Cater 2 U" which proudly offers to "feed [their man]É brush your hairÉ want a foot rubÉ slippers, dessert, and so much more." It's a real disappointment, especially since DC's harmonies are more angelic than ever, and a few of these ballads fly with soulful integrity. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

**** Stryper
*** Petra
** Rez Band
* Barnabas