Chicago's linchpins of so-called post-rock, Tortoise unleashes their fourth full-length, misleading title and all. Don't expect "My Foolish Heart," or anything of the sort, on Standards (although Tortoise taking on a set of chestnuts is an intriguing idea). The new disc is in the same vein as its predecessors, less cut-and-paste than '98's TNT, more organic (relatively speaking). Still chilly, though. Almost uncomfortably robotic in spots. With its meticulous melange of terse beats and shifting melodies — rendered by the quintet's mix-and-match use of guitars, analog synths, mallet instruments, bass and drums — Standards ultimately comes off as unnecessarily static. Tortoise music seems to purposefully tease. Bursts of melodic beauty are left unresolved. All tension, no release. It's a clever aesthetic — certainly one with plenty of admirers — but, in the end, it's one thing to leave 'em wanting more, another thing to leave 'em frustrated. (Thrill Jockey, www.thrilljockey.com)

—Eric Snider


Things We Lost in the Fire

This new set of beautiful despair-anthems may be the Minnesota band's most accessible yet, taking its lowness to new heights. On Things We Lost in the Fire, singers Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk haunt us with shimmering harmonies and melodies that evoke endless sadness. They make effective use of starkly minimal instrumentation, augmented by a sometimes lush, other times subliminally subtle, production. "Dinosaur Act" rumbles with ominous low-end percussion that sounds like a brontosaurus keeping time. The song actually has a hook and some creepy organ and horns to boot, which contrast nicely the bare-bones "Laser Beam," with barely there guitar and bass. The closer, "In Metal," recalls the wall-of-sound stylings of Phil Spector. In all, Low's newest installment of 21st Century blues is a must-have for longtime fans and a good place to start for the uninitiated. (Kranky, www.kranky.net)

—Christopher Lunceford

Jimmy Scott

The Source

The balladeer's critically lauded '90s renaissance is apparently over, so the issue of this 1969 unreleased album is a welcome addition to the Scott canon. Afflicted with a glandular disorder that rendered his voice particularly high and feminine, the singer is basically a love-him-or-hate-him proposition. The Source lacks some of the subtlety that Scott developed in the '90s, thus a few of the performances are over the top. He pours too much melodrama on "Exodus" and "Unchained Melody," for instance. In turn, though, he deftly turns "On Broadway" into a brooding blues, with pregnant pauses, stretched and bent notes, and coy vibrato. Producer Joel Dorn, following the conventional wisdom of the day, lacquered on the strings too heavily, when the backing jazz quintet would've done nicely. But at his best, as on "Motherless Child" and "This Love of Mine," Scott transcends it all, proving himself a nonpareil interpreter, sounding as if he's lived out the heartaches in every one of these standards. (Label M, www.LabelM.com)

—Eric Snider