CAT POWER, The Covers Record (Matador) If they ever make a movie about that Tuesday last November when you spent the whole day somewhere between

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Cat Power, Starlet, Lifter Puller.

CAT POWER, The Covers Record (Matador) If they ever make a movie about that Tuesday last November when you spent the whole day somewhere between the couch and the cold, hard floor watching the rain relentlessly pound the crap outta your cracked and dirty window, Cat Power's latest release would make a perfect soundtrack. An emotionally exhausting set of songs borrowed from folks like Nina Simone, Moby Grape, and the Rolling Stones, this record will ruin you, wreck you, and make you believe. Chan Marshall, who goes it alone here, cuts and pastes the heck out of Velvet Underground's "I Found a Reason" until what remains is just the idea of the song. But now the idea is Chan's, and it seems more dark, brilliant, and lonely than ever before. Like trying on a second-hand suit and finding it fits just fine, Chan takes on these songs and makes you forget that they weren't hers to begin with. As with everything that Cat Power does, this record is hauntingly maniacal and naively sweet all at once. Ms. Marshall accompanies herself with either sparse guitar strumming and picking or tiny little piano plunkings that do more than illustrate the lyrics; the bare music gives her room to transform the songs. Her voice sounds like it belongs in a dream, or maybe a movie about a dream. She makes a moan and a whisper and a scream out of a song, and that tells the story far better than the words ever could. And although the meaning of that story might not catch up with you until, say, some rainy Tuesday in November, it's with you all along.—Laura Learmonth

STARLET, Stay on My Side (Parasol) The bad thing about Starlet is that it's four blushing boys from Sweden in button-up cotton shirts. Worse still, it's four boys who play unabashedly kind pop that sounds a whole lot like Belle & Sebastian. The singer's name is Jonas—just like that Weezer song—and he has an ever-so-slight lisp that earns him more B&S comparisons. But before you go throwing them in the same used bin as other blondies like the Cardigans, it must be said that Stay on My Side is capable of quite an impact. Hailing from Sweden's self-proclaimed "wimp pop mecca," Ũus (tell me, is there really a place for burly popsters in Sweden?), Starlet's earnest songcraft is indeed worth its weight in kronas. You see, no one's happy here, even though they sound it: "Homewater" is stacked with icy flows and berry-sweet couplets; the shy club rat of "In the Disco" frets when he sees the cute girl leaving, but the keyboard bounces on. The bracing "Silver Sportscar" holds more misfires than a '78 Saab, as a flushed Jonas explains that all he really, really wants is to drive a hottie-catching convertible in LA. Stay on My Side is a seamless album that has lots of loneliness, no lies, and the warmest melody you could hope for from the land of Roxette, Abba, and aquavit.—Kristy Ojala

LIFTER PULLER, Fiestas + Fiascos (Frenchkiss/Self-Starter Foundation) It's sort of redundant to praise an indie-rock band for sounding nervous and compulsively ironic, isn't it? After all, angular guitars, crisp, dry snare sounds, oblique displays of emotion, rampant pop-culture references, and strangled vocals are as inherent to the genre as deep beats-n-bass are to house music. But Minneapolis's Lifter Puller deserves extra credit for both studying the rules so assiduously and for never appearing studied. This quartet is so conversant in their idiom that they're completely at home in it—no small feat when you're talking about the most self-conscious musical form of the past 10 years. On the new Fiestas + Fiascos, they expend considerable energy poking holes in whatever subculture they come across, their own included, though Craig Finn's word-tumult, helped along by occasional tinny new wave synth bursts, takes special delight in making fun of rave culture. Still, Lifter Puller are never holier-than-thou. Finn sounds like he's been to as many warehouse parties as he has basement keggers and all-ages matinees, and to him they're all different species of the same creature: the kind of enervating suburban boredom that doesn't quite go away even after you grow up and move to the city. —Michaelangelo Matos

 
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