J MASCIS + THE FOG, More Light (Ultimatum) J Mascis loves to solo. Like Neil Young, Doug Martsch, Jimi Hendrix, and my brother's hippie friend Josh, Mascis goes off. Known to most as the stringy-haired, abject auteur of Dinosaur Jr., J's cult following (as well as his volatile relationship with ex-bandmate Lou Barlow) has also afforded him a decent solo career. On his second solo release, Mascis turns a darn good phrase, just as he always has. Hell, on "Waistin," he simply repeats "Hey c'mon" over and over until it absolutely aches with the heartache and urgency of words much more complex. He is, perhaps, the godfather of today's soul-baring, Paxil-popping indie rockers. But it's the musical hyperbole of his guitars, forever fuzzy and always functional, that makes repeat customers out of us. Augmenting that distorted drama this time around are some surprising yet perfectly placed keyboard parts. On "Can't I Take This On," the electric ivories add an almost lighthearted bounce that could conceivably scare off the diehards. In fact, the album feels, at several distinct intersections, like an experiment in mellow. That is until you reach the final song, "More Light." I would not advise playing this five-plus-minute swirling, cloudy, wordless headbanger through your earphones at maximum volume. Fog buddies Bob Pollard (Guided by Voices) and Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) pitch in all over the record; GBV fans will tune into Bob's comparatively soothing backing vocals on three tracks. In the end, though, that which has made Mascis Mascis is what makes Light so damn good: unrequited love and unabashed solos, the lineage and progression of which get better every time.—Laura Learmonth
J Mascis + the Fog play the Crocodile Friday, November 10.
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Kwaito: South African Hip Hop (Earthworks) This ear-opening compilation's subtitle is misleading: The music it evokes is less hip-hop than hip-house, that early-'90s strain that brought us such disposable classics as Snap!'s "The Power" and Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam," and the root of such latter-day pop-radio fodder as Real McCoy and Ace of Base. What the contemporary South African club anthems on this collection have over those influences is that they're earthier both musically and vocally. The chanted vocals, especially of Bongo Maffin and Aba Shante, are also closer to dance-hall reggae than to rap, as are the bouncing downbeats and rubbery bass lines. Gathered together, they're both enjoyable and enduring. Brenda Fassie's sinuous "Vuli Ndlela," remixed from last year's stellar South African Rhythm Riot compilation, has one of the most enticing melodies I've encountered anywhere in the past couple years, and her other two cuts are nearly as good. The style's other luminary, the deep-voiced Arthur, is more crass: "You Make Me Go Mmm" rides a hook as shameless as anything the Backstreet Boys have laid down. But his classic is the controversial "Kaffir," in which Arthur warns you not to call him that ("kaffir" roughly translates as "nigger") over airy synths and pulsing rhythms. You like the Frikyiwa Collections of European club land luminaries remixing contemporary Afropop? Well, this is how the originals do it.—Michaelangelo Matos
THE MINDERS, Down in Fall EP (SpinArt) The Minders are stuck in 1967, but please, no one send a search party! They are the most dedicated followers of '60s Britpop, and they don't try to pretend otherwise. They love the Kinks, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles and freely give credit where it's due. It's the Portland outfit's unabashed enthusiasm for these sounds that makes Down in Fall and their previous offerings work so well. Martyn Leaper and company sound as if they're having loads of fun, and it's not the smirking, cutesy kind of fun offered by so many indie popsters these days. On each of the five tracks (there are also two video tracks), the Minders' curatorial staff display representative slices of Carnaby Street song craft: There's the crisp power-pop of "Young and With It"; the eerie Syd Barrett-induced "On and On"; the swirling, baroque psychedelia of "Time Machines"; the rollicking pub march of "The Loneliest of Faces"; and the fragile flute-tinged "Helen." Because they survey the landscape instead of doting on one style and because Leaper's voice doesn't resemble one of his heroes' too closely, the Minders manage to retain a personality of their own—a jolly good one, I'd say.—Paul Fontana
The Minders play the Crocodile Thursday, November 9.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, Forbidden Love EP (Barsuk) I have this thing about EPs— I figure if the songs didn't make it onto the last album and they aren't going to make it onto the next album, how important can they really be? The holes in my overly simplified theory have already been poked through by my friends and loved ones, and, actually, I think I may finally see the light. In tried-and-true Death Cab style, each of the three new songs on this EP is hypnotic and oddly circular; lines of picked guitar notes provide cadence and dreamlike regularity while various noises afford welcome commotion. All the while, singer Ben Gibbard trods quietly along, fitting maladies, love stories, and melancholia into places where you wouldn't even think to go looking for them. While this little gem will undoubtedly garner the usual Built to Spill comparisons, the astute listener will tune into DCFC's signature ability to coax melodies and create room for meaning. "Photobooth" has the boys playing around with a looped beat and not-so-nostalgic memories. "Technicolor Girls" hints at Big Star's "September Gurls," appropriately pausing and layering as the mood strikes or as history dictates. Of the two reworked songs, the acoustic version of "405" stands out, giving us a sneak peak at what the Death Cab Unplugged show will be like once MTV wakes up and smells the indie pop. To ardent fans waiting for the next album and those yet to be turned on to the magic: Whatever it is they're charging for EPs these days, this one is well worth it.—Laura Learmonth
Death Cab for Cutie play the Crocodile Saturday, November 11.