The Sunset Tree

There is an absurdity in attempting to critique a Mountain Goats record at this point in John Darnielle's exhaustingly prolific career--an exercise in futility only complicated by each new release. The scope of Darnielle's singular vision seems, for the most part, to have very little to do with the bracketed constraints of the album format--it's really difficult not to view the Mountain Goats from a vantage point that respectfully considers their vast discography with every new record. As the second autobiographical record (following last years' We Shall All Be Healed) of his impossibly long run, The Sunset Tree concerns itself primarily with the troubled relationship between Darnielle and his recently deceased stepfather--a tact that, as per usual, yields beautifully literate (if customarily mixed) results. All in all, this is the same sort of hair-raisingly flawed Mountain Goats collection you've wept and tittered along to for what seems like forever. And God bless them for it. ZAC PENNINGTON

A Few Steps More
(Too Pure/Duophonic)
The most interesting side projects deviate from the artists' main creative outlet. So it's puzzling why Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier has hewed so closely to her primary ensemble's sound. Whereas Monade's last album, 2003's Socialisme Ou Barbarie reveled in intimate boudoir-studio fidelity and odd song structures, A Few Steps More follows in the 'Lab tradition of sang-froid tunes shot through with mild regret and blissful yearning, though Monade tend toward the lollygagging rather than bustling end of the Stereolab style spectrum. With Stereolab's future uncertain, perhaps Monade will carry on that group's sound indefinitely. It's a living. DAVE SEGAL

Monade perform Sun May 8 at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside, 9 pm, $12

Separation Sunday
(French Kiss)
Following last year's fan-fucking-tastic debut Almost Killed Me, the endlessly self-referential spawn of Lifter/Puller have returned to the pulpit with Separation Sunday, pounding their elliptical mythology even deeper into the grounds of suburban Minneapolis. The hooks are still best described as "bar band" (think E Street-meets-Replacements), there's still no wink of irony, and Craig Finn is still repeating phrases with exactly the same cadences he did on the first record. Though it could be argued that Finn's obsessive repetition is simply a comfortable floatation device by which the band is allowed to tread endless water, it's an equally compelling argument that the Hold Steady is simply beginning to spin their web of self-mythos. It's not quite the kick in the teeth that was Almost Killed Me, but Separation Sunday successfully maintains the beer-soaked fervor. ZP

**** Col. Lynch
*** Smoking Man
** Boss Hogg
* Snidely Whiplash