A River Ain't Too Much to Love
(Drag City)

Bill Callahan has been cranking out albums under his indie moniker Smog since 1990, and over the course of a dozen albums he has expanded and contracted around the core of his forlorn voice, morose and cutting lyrics, and guitar. On his last few albums, especially Knock Knock and Rain On Lens, Callahan has appealingly broadened his musical accompaniment and palette. But A River Ain't Too Much to Love returns his sound to its stripped-down essentials: voice and guitar. It's really not enough. The more fleshed out songs work the best, hinting at the direction that allows the music to do some of the heavy lifting of his topics, and playing off his darkness with instrumental counterpoints that make the words sting more. Here, they mostly take on a monotony that numbs. NATE LIPPENS

Howl Howl Gaff Gaff

Swedish noise popsters Shout Out Louds don't so much embark on an opening track as they explode, sending sugarcoated shrapnel and glittery instrumental confetti through the speakers like a blasted birthday-party piñata. "The Comeback," lifts the listener into a stratosphere of fluffy guitar buzz, sky-high melodies, and Moog hooks that launch the band far above the mundane relationship blues frontman Adam Olenius describes back down on Earth. From there, the band keep their head in the clouds, with a fleet-footed pace that moves through everything from girl-group confections (matching peers like the Concretes) to the full heart-popping energy of the Arcade Fire and the innocent wonderment of the Flaming Lips. It's an impressive feat for a first album, a record that's hermetically sealed with hits, every song soaring as grandly as the last. JENNIFER MAERZ

Shout Out Louds play Saturday, May 28, at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd.

Green Cosmos
(Menlo Park)

Sometimes the 'Hoof is loud and dirty; sometimes it's birdlike and baby-voiced. The Green Cosmos EP, then, is a bit of both. Velvet Underground guitar rocks 'n' rolls itself a big ol' Angel Dusted joint next to spider web-intricate synth symphonies that could fit in your retainer case, and GigaPet lullabies just coo and whisper. My favorite track on this seven song Japanese-sung (!) mini-epic is "Hot Mint Air Balloon," which sounds like the various soundscapes your boat floats past while winding through the shadowy animatronic underworld of Splash Mountain. It's all happy fantasy and bright-eyed animals, big dramatic Disneyland changes and Main Street Electric Parade hoe-downs. Though picking a favorite on a record this good is tough--like Sophie's Choice, only no Nazis. ADAM GNADE

**** Episode VII--Ewoktopia
*** Episode VIII--Dude, Where's My Deathstar?
** Episode IX--Lando Calrissian's Pimp Your Starship
* Episode X--The Erotic Adventures of Jar Jar Binks