Richard Buckner
Dents and Shells

Richard Buckner, one of the most disconcertingly depressed performers of the past decade, no longer seems to be phoning in his lyrics to a suicide hotline. Oppressive angst has released its stranglehold on his singing voice, and surging melodies create a crack in his wall of darkness, like a lightning bolt silhouetted against a pitch-black sky. For every almost-upbeat acoustic hook, there's a quivering drone, a colorless canvas that Buckner splatters with vivid imagery. Buckner's brighter moments increase the emotional intensity of his sorrowful songs. Potent anguish numbs in large doses, and the unrelenting agony on his earlier albums made it difficult to appreciate his subtle songwriting genius. Dents and Shells lets listeners absorb his fractured-folk strumming and vulnerable vocals without punishing them with profound pain. ANDREW MILLER

Red Train Graphing the Sunset of All
(Deathbomb Arc)

Noise records are often easy to admire from afar, but difficult to actually sit and listen to. Many a music snob will boast a copy of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, but how many of them can spend an afternoon listening to the damn thing for pleasure? This is precisely what makes Yuma Nora so fabulous. They're noisy as all hell, but this CD has been living in my car stereo for the past few weeks, and I even find myself humming along with some of the more melodic tracks. Oh, it's loud, it's dissonant, and it's challenging, but it's also shatteringly beautiful at many points. Yuma Nora isn't just making noise for noise's sake; they're pushing boundaries and discovering new sounds. This record finds Amy and Aaron at the top of their craft, and right now they might just be the best band in Portland. CORTNEY HARDING

Love and Death (the Flatmates 86-89)

The Bristol faction of the mid-'80s C-86 explosion--a distinctly British phenomenon that counted bands like the Pastels, Primal Scream, and the Shop Assistants among its figureheads--was comprised solely of the Flatmates, an oft-overlooked band in the oft-overlooked anorak-pop movement. Though initially coming off like yet another entry in England's seemingly endless encyclo-twee-dia, the Flatmates' most enduring singles prove the band a rare exception to the all too snore-worthy twee army. Their brief discography--stretching over a handful of singles and EPs, plus a never properly issued full length--was selectively compiled back at the end of the '80s by guitarist Martin Whitehead's Subway Organization label in Love and Death, now gloriously reissued with several additional tracks. Like much of Britain's Jangle Pop masses, the Flatmates' greatness is marred only by their relentless consistency--as the comp's 20 tracks all tend to bleed together by the end of it--but at its highest, Love and Death proves the band worthy of its retrospective. ZAC PENNINGTON

**** Chococat
*** Badtz-Maru
** Minna No Tabo
* Hello Kitty