Outside Closer

A perfect song is enough to spoil a whole record. In the case of Hood's Outside Closer, that perfect song drops after exactly 40 seconds in the form of the stutter-sampled string masterpiece "The Negatives"--the proper opening track of the band's first full-length in four years. As far as intros go, "the Negatives" sets the entire mess of Outside Closer for imminent disappointment--a train wreck that is somehow deftly avoided with the passing of each track until the record quietly ends. It's a miracle that until recently I've somehow dismissed them as just another single-syllabled disciple of British etherealism. In Outside Closer, Hood are undeniable--dense, beautiful, and, well… almost too perfect. ZAC PENNINGTON

Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Matt Sweeney
(Drag City)

In another of Will Oldham's unconventional collaborations, Superwolf finds Mr. "Prince" Billy matching up with Matt Sweeney, passing lyrics along to the former Chavez/Zwan-man to put them to music--and reconvening to record the album together. Unlike All Most Heaven--a similar experiment Oldham did a few years ago with Rian Murphy--Superwolf feels like a complete construction, not two separate parts slapped unnaturally together. The lyrics and singing are definitely trademark Oldham, but Sweeney provides a rock foundation for Oldham to sing over, giving crunch and depth to the guitars on the album, bulking up even the minimal, quiet songs. The album is lighter in tone than the previous Bonnie "Prince" Billy albums--closest in spirit to Ease Down The Road--but in typical Oldham fashion, Superwolf is unlike anything he's done before. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH

Before the Poison

There was the time, if you'll remember, before neither Nick Cave nor PJ Harvey had released any real nosedives; a time when either of these dark, diminutive rain clouds could be counted on for guttural, evocative brilliance. A time, way back in 1996, when the two began something of a tragic love affair--a love affair that produced a single brilliant collaboration (Cave's "Henry Lee" single) before PJ started humping that mega-creep Vincent Gallo, and everybody's music started to suck. Before the Poison would like to invite you back to that time, in the closest thing we'll probably ever get to another Cave/Harvey collaboration (the record largely alternates between songs written and played by the former twosome)--all channeled, appropriately, through the harrowing voice of Marianne Faithfull. In an impossible feat, Cave and Harvey's presence somehow manages to overpower the great Ms. Faithfull on her own record--and while it certainly isn't 1996, it's probably better than anything either of them have authored this decade. ZAC PENNINGTON

**** Brian Krakow
*** Rickie Vasquez
** Angela Chase
* Jordan Catalano