Illuminated By The Light
(Drag City)

It can be an agonizing crossroads when a musician that has provided you with years of reliable joy begins to challenge your comfortable preconceptions--the sort of trial brought on by sonic dabblings, a slight slipping of standards, or just plain ol' jumping the shark. It's a crossroads, like any relationship, that can result in either a severing of ties or a strengthening of the bond. For most fans of Ian Svenonius, that crossroads came with the dissolution of the Make-Up, and the subsequent formation of Weird War (briefly called Scene Creamers, and then Weird War again. I know, it's confusing). The Make-Up (and before them, Svenonius' Nation of Ulysses) were a brilliantly conceived, completely self-contained rock idea as much as they were a band--their music as specific and singular as their brilliant self-mythology. Weird War (featuring Make-Up mate Michelle Mae and Six Finger Satellite's Alex Minoff), in contrast, seem more like musical dilettantes, approaching each release with a muddy sort of stylistic dabbling--from the shredding MC5-isms of 2003's I Suck On That Emotion to the psychedelic white funk of 2004's If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em. With Illuminated, the War dip toe into the fading vogue of T.Rex-ian glam--albeit with considerably more success than most contemporaries. Not the best Weird War record (and certainly not the worst), Illuminated probably won't realign anyone who has fallen off of the Svenonius bandwagon--but it is solid enough to keep hope alive for the rest of us. Through it all, Svenonius remains one of punk's most inspired frontmen, but Weird War's shiftless experiments have never completely lived up to his promise. ZP

Kidnapped By Neptune
(Too Pure)

Sometimes treading water isn't such a bad thing. This isn't one of those times. On her third full length, newfound British ex-pat Emma "Scout" Niblett--AKA ovarian angst's great white hope--retraces the already familiar steps of her stark, open-wound vulnerability in much the same way as she did on 2003's tour de force I Am. And, um, like on Sweet Heart Fever before that. Thing is, Niblett's vision has hardly changed a lick in the last five years--she's still playing the same kind of grungy, startlingly minimal rock with much the same power as early Polly Jean Harvey, still churning out songs of knotted emotional drama--and while great songs will always be great songs, Scout's uncompromising consistency is becoming a little too comfortable. That said, consistency doesn't stop Nibbles from delivering the greatest song she's ever written--the jaw-droppingly effortless "Wolfie"--but if you're looking for Captured to deliver on all of the promises suggested by I Am, don't hold your breath. ZP

**** The Sound of My Parents Having Sex
*** Ear Tumor
** Cockroach Crawling in My Ear and Dying
* Listening to "The Playhouse" on 95.5