Spins

Brandi Carlile, Rush, the Dollyrots, Arctic Monkeys

The Story

Brandi Carlile

(Columbia)

It's one of those stormy ballads that demand to be repeated. You just can't move on after one listen. All those beautiful and savage emotions set to music and bottled into a four-minute song — it's an intense experience.

"The Story" begins with hushed guitars. Brandi Carlile's voice eases into the mix like a woman walking in from the other room. Her voice is crystalline and sensitive, mature yet vulnerable. The tale she tells is a familiar one: The singer laments the loss of a lover, one that she still needs. The verses build with anthemic drums and sweeping flashes of guitar. Carlile's voice soars like a giant wave of catharsis, crashes and then rises gently. "It's true," she whispers. "I was made for you."

"The Story" is the title-track to Brandi Carlile's new album. It's also the most gorgeous, intense single to flirt with Top 40 success in recent memory. So far, the tune hasn't been able to climb higher than No. 41 on Billboard Hot 100. If it does, my faith in the commercial radio and mainstream tastes might just be renewed.

The rest of Carlile's new album isn't quite as engaging as its lead single, the disc's second track, but it's commendable nonetheless. Recorded live to tape and produced by T-Bone- Burnett (O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack), it's a cross between classic '60s soul and the country noir popularized by the likes of Neko Case. The songwriting is mostly impressive, with Carlile singing her own compositions, as well as ones penned by bandmates (and brothers) Phil and Tim Hanseroth.

The 26-year-old Carlile released a few self-produced discs before signing with Columbia in 2005 and issuing her self-titled debut. Whereas that album found the singer sounding subdued, sometimes even sterile, The Story finds her alternating between lilting loveliness and raw power. Recorded music doesn't get much more powerful than when, at exactly 2:53 of the title song, Carlile throws out such a violent wail that her voice actually cracks, sending chills up the listener's spine. 4 stars —Wade Tatangelo

Snakes and Arrows

Rush

(Atlantic)

After a conversation last year with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, Rush axe man Alex Lifeson decided to write most of the new Rush songs on acoustic, eschewing the heavy power chords he usually favored. The resulting guitar parts lend a quiet confidence to Rush's first collection of new material in five years. Lifeson nicely plays off Geddy Lee's skilled bass work and Neal Peart's usual jaw-dropping drum licks. Snakes and Arrows is, musically speaking, one of Rush's most mature efforts. But the acoustic touches and mid-tempo pace drag the effort down in places. "Faithless" and "Good News First" are just there, drab and listless. The best of three instrumentals showcases Lee at his best, blowing a wiry run up and down a fretless bass. At 2:19, the song ends too soon, but maybe Rush saved it before it got bogged down. Your ears can only take so much sick playing in one sitting. 3.5 stars —Scott M. Deitche

Because I'm Awesome

The Dollyrots

(Blackheart)

OK, so The Dollyrots have a clever album name. But clever names do not good albums make. Fortunately, Because I'm Awesome delivers more than a good title. Conjuring up images of '90s pop-rockers Tanya Donnelly and Veruca Salt, and adding a unique brand of snotty mall punk, Because I'm Awesome gets it right when the band isn't trying too hard. The title track blasts you with three minutes of insipid pomposity, informing listeners that lead singer/bassist Kelly Ogden's brain is "supersized" and that she's a "leader and a winner." Can you guess why? Because she's awesome. Most of the other songs are equally skin-deep; it's when they're trying to be serious that The 'Rots sound severely out of place. "A Desperate S.O.S." is this decade's "We Didn't Start the Fire," complete with smugly moronic, rapid-fire lyrics. Redemption comes with a rock-your-socks-off cover of Melanie's "Brand New Key." Missteps aside, Because I'm Awesome reminds us that music should be fun, and sometimes the serious stuff is best left to the professionals. 3.5 stars —Brian Johnson

Favourite Worst Nightmare

Arctic Monkeys

(Domino)

Last spring, when the Arctic Monkeys shot across the pond from Sheffield, England to the States, the buzz was deafening. Critics drooled (for the most part justifiably); hipsters veritably wept. Then the U.S. public basically turned a deaf ear to the hottest band in the U.K. The Arctic Monkeys aren't nearly as hyped for their sophomore effort, Favourite Worst Nightmare, but they prove to still be an estimable outfit that sets itself apart from the rest of the Brit pack. The band's well-executed brand of post-punk is a taut affair, all brittle guitar riffs and chords, hotwired beats and razory hooks, accented by frontman Alex Turner's acerbic, heavily accented vocals. The witty, wordy lyrics brim with English argot and working-class sneer. If there's a problem with Favourite Worst Nightmare, it's that it's it too closely mirrors its predecessor in style and attitude. It takes a while for the songs to distinguish themselves from last year's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (one song in particular, "Flourescent Adolescent" sounds like a carbon copy). The band's tender side shows through a little more strongly on new tunes like "505" and "Only Ones Who Know," but next time out, Arctic Monkeys need to make more of a stylistic reach. 3 stars —Eric Snider

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