(Yep Roc)

The problem with institutions is that they seldom surprise you. Over the past quarter century, Robyn Hitchcock has unquestionably become an institution. But unlike many a musical institution before him, Hitchcock remains plenty capable of pulling a surprise from his hat; witness Spooked, an LP yielding an intimacy that makes it seem almost inappropriate to hear through speakers. Even headphones feel intrusive. You almost want to just press the disc to your ear, or ingest it somehow. The music is spare and beautiful, with eerie, distant harmonies that manage to be both tasteful and rich. Hitchcock's singing has never been so direct and lovely. The surprise is that 25 years into an amazing career, Robyn Hitchcock may have only just made his best record. SEAN NELSON


(Matador Records)

For their fourth studio album, feel-good DC doomsters Dead Meadow continue to break down genre schisms, uniting stoners and hipsters under the same hazy sky. "Let's Jump In" starts the record with a tranquil shoegazing mood, only to succumb to heavy riffage that would make Zeppelin proud. The album ends with a four-piece remake of fan fave "Sleepy Silver Door," blown out to epic jam proportions. Between these two remarkable songs are a number of other great cuts, as well as the introduction of some more pedestrian sensibilities that smack uncomfortably of alt-country here and there. Perhaps the addition of second guitarist Cory Shane weakened the barriers between Dead Meadow's dimension and our own slipping Beck and Buffalo Springfield discs to the Elves. Even if Feathers is a second sophomore slump of sorts, this band has a legitimate mass appeal that poises them for continued greatness. NATHAN CARSON

The Cloud Making Machine

French techno/house DJ/producer Laurent Garnier's latest release, The Cloud Making Machine, has only one dance track, "Controlling the House Pt. 2." The other songs are minimal and cinematic considerations of a de-industrialized urbanscape. The factories sonically described here still dominate the skyline but they now produce nothing; the capitalists have fired all of the workers and relocated operations to cheaper parts of the world. To express this post-Fordist mood musically, Garnier reprocesses early '80s electro sound effects and beats, and sets live performances in the foreground and sampled (or seemingly sampled) classical strings in the far background. The Cloud Making Machine is the soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist. CHARLES MUDEDE

**** Evan Marriott
*** Richard Hatch
** Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth
* Aaron Buerge