Ex Hex

Mary Timony's art-rock band Helium was one of those cornerstone '90s outfits with sharply defiant lyrics and angular, fuzzed-out songs. She came across as the smart, slightly messed-up collegiate roommate/friend/ex with whom everyone had at least one falling out. Then she walked away from Helium to embark on the often-dreaded solo career. Unfortunately, her debut, Mountains, was whimsical and diffuse. Worse still were the lyrics. Where Timony had been confrontational and gritty, solo she sang about wizards, witches, and Tolkien-esque bullshit. Her subsequent album, Golden Dove, continued in a similar vein. Timony has made something of a return to form with Ex Hex, stripping the music back to basics--no zither, pan flute, or harpsichord--and returning (mostly) to earth from Middle-Earth. Producer Brendan Canty (Fugazi's drummer) keeps the sound lean and tough, and Timony sounds vital and perturbed again. NATE LIPPENS

The Ponys
Celebration Castle
(In The Red)

The Ponys are a mystery. Are they noise-riddled garage rockers in the spirit of their In The Red labelmates? Are they indie poppers, penning jangle-pop that's as catchy as it is casual in execution? Or are they post-punkers, aping Richard Hell's yelp to a snotty perfection? I don't know. However, Celebration Castle, the Steve Albini produced follow up to their stellar 2004 debut, Laced with Romance, is the kind of record that makes you stop whatever it is your doing and take note of the fact that you've just heard a classic. I mean, really--that's not supposed to happen in 2005. Though it may seem easy to say who these Chicago natives sound like, Celebration Castle makes it clear that nobody sounds quite like The Ponys. I wish I had more stars. KIP BERMAN

The Ponys play Friday, May 13 at Berbati's Pan, 10 SW 3rd, 9:30 pm, $8

Make Believe

Rivers Cuomo, a huge Pixies fan, should understand more than anyone why Make Believe needs to be the sort of comeback record that recalibrates his band's career. Unfortunately, he's only about halfway there. The metal-ready missteps of Weezer's last studio album, 2002's Maladroit, have been softened at the corners by prom-rock guitar solos and open-window melodies, but Cuomo's newly optimistic poses are almost too ubiquitous. The pop moments included often feel like afterthoughts and, ultimately, Make Believe feels a lot more like a "transitional record," as some music industry type will inevitably put it. But what does that really mean when you're at the arch of a 15-year career? TREVOR KELLEY

**** Peter Criss
*** Eric Carr
** Eric Singer
* Anton Fig