Much of Elvis Costello's oeuvre is built upon the look of love from across the threshold, like a stage actor squinting through a scrim and taking in a series of malleable forms as a reality substitute. His clenched teeth could barely contain the acid-tongued bon mots of Blood & Chocolate, Brutal Youth, and When I Was Cruel. Now, as the songwriter stumbles toward love's embrace (in the form of new wife Diana Krallyep, that one), his cheeks can barely contain his tongue's ceaseless wagging, rubbing like a dull pencil stub against an empty page. That's the effect up North, as Costello ruminates, "A change has come over me/I'm powerless to express/Everything I know but cannot speak/And if I know my voice will break" ("Someone Took the Words Away"). His sentiment could apply to a hush in the presence of his beloved or a complete lapse of judgement in the face of lovethe latter, I trust. While previous orchestral collaborations with both the Brodsky Quartet and Burt Bacharach found a versatile sense of pop song craft, North suggests that the songwriter should score the next Disney animated feature. The arrangementsprovided by key sideman Steve Nieve and the Brodskys, among othersebb and flow appropriately, circling the songwriter like cartoon animals perching by the riverbank. You can see the squirrels winking at moose as they dutifully gather winter rations and head underground to hibernate. Maybe Costello should follow them. KATE SILVER
Melt-Banana are a bit like that video game R-Type: You're cruising gently along inside the guts of an alien being, and suddenly all sorts of strange cellular groupings and ravenous white blood cells start leaping out at you willy-nilly, trying to bite, bite, bite. Melt-Banana "essentially" sound like British improv guitar giant Derek Bailey playing DRI's drunken hardcore. Or a fleet of out-of-control ambulances. Or "Surfin' Bird" performed on a Stihl chain saw. Or speed dialing across 1970s AM radio, topped by shrieking Japanese pixie vocals. As far as cartoon grindcore goes, they're probably the best ever, and the fact that they've managed to make a career out of it is cause for some kind of celebration. Still, up until now they've best been experienced live or in single-serve 7-inch slabs, so the idea of Melt-Banana "maturing" for their fifth album in nearly 10 years might be cause for alarm if the results weren't basically more of the samejust more so. Guitarist Ichiro Agata approaches the textural density of glitch electronica artists like Christian Fennesz using little more than the traditional (albeit digital) FX rack. On "Lost Parts Stinging Me So Cold," their poppiest moment yet (imagine Stereolab covering Napalm Death), the riff gets bit-mapped, magnified a thousand times, yet somehow still sounds like a riff AC/DC could recognize instead of formless noise. Vaguely incomprehensible yet totally visceral, Melt-Banana are the Magic Eye version of punk rock, revealing the as@#!aSQ12!@!#13erWDwdfsc$5tR&!! at the heart of it all. JESS HARVELL
More Modern Hits
Twin Cities hip-hop apostate Andrew Broder has done his level best to sever the turntable from its beat-making, body-rocking imperative. Broder's records as Fog are schizophrenia writ in fat Magic Marker: crackling ambience, half-assed songs, and lo-fi sketches for and of the bedroom/backpack set. For a turntablist, his first eponymous releases, 2002's Modern Hits EP and the new More Modern Hits, are ironically the most hip-hop Broder has ever been. Essentially they're "live bootlegs," Broder adding ramshackle instrumentation to various a cappella rap vocals. On the first EP, Outkast's "The Whole World" got scrubbed down with organ fuzz, sounding a bit like Palace on the wrong side of a few pints; MF Doom's "Ain't Nothin'" started lugubriously, surged at the chorus, and fizzled out into a mournful trumpet coda; and Kool G Rap's "On the Run" sounded like an out-and-out piss-take, a strident tale of mob betrayal lampooned via ricocheting guitar noodles. On More Modern Hits, Eric B & Rakim's "Follow the Leader" becomes hip-hop rewritten by early Cabaret Voltaire, all deadening thuds, steely drones, and dub echo. The Ultramagnetic MC's "Poppa Large" misfires with its disconnected, lo-fi free jazz, but at his best, as on "Gossip Folks," Broder locates the common ground between Missy Elliott's chest-beating ridiculousness and his own nebbish goofiness, babbling along about "agreeing to disagree about things and stuff." There's a trace of smarmy, self- congratulatory "betterment" here. But mostly I hear what's always made for great indie rock: b-dum-b-dum-boredom meeting precocious intellect. Music for people with cardigans and fat lacesand mixtape fodder for ages. J.H.
A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar
Thanks to MTV Unplugged, America has seen the future of Las Vegas, U.S.A., and its name is Chris Carrabba. True, if A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar, Carrabba's third release under the Dashboard Confessional aegis, is any indication, the singer/songwriter is bound for far more glory than a headlining slot at the Luxoror even the cover of Entertainment Weeklycan provide. Carrabba's good looks make the hunky Floridian a natural for daytime TV, as do his lyricsmini-soaps unto themselves. And his impressive command of acoustic guitar-saturated emo-lite makes the Bard of Boca Raton a natural for the next Friends theme song. Television is mostly illusion, though, while Carrabba, like Vegas, is reala fact he proves again and again on A Mark. Take the closing of album opener "Hands Down": "But you meant it/And I knew/That you meant it, that you meant it, that you meant it/And I knew/That you meant it, that you meant it." Clearly, Carrabba knows when somebody means it, because he means it, too, even more than the legions of teens that transform his live performances into mass sing-alongs mean it. And the kids mean it so much that their desert-bound parents are sure to catch on sooner or later, especially given the fact that Carrabba's very vocal delivery evokes a kind of suffering that most Vegas-goers can relate to easilythe kind that comes with constipation. Savvy grown-ups don't call Carrabba "the Celine Dion of emo" for nothin'. Then again, Celine Dion didn't make the comedy record of the year. Carrabba did. If he learns a few card tricks and masters a handful of impersonations, he's set for life. ROD SMITH
Dashboard Confessional play Seahawks Exhibition Center, 1000 Occidental Ave., 206-628-0888, at 6:30 p.m. Sun., Sept. 28. $20.
FAITH & DISEASE
Passport to Kunming
Seattle's own Faith & Disease still have firm roots in their overtly U.K. goth-styled start. It's the source of their striking cover of the Cure's "All Cats Are Grey" some years back, to pick one example. On the new Passport to Kunming, the band's inspirations are plain: The rich, rolling bass that Eric Cooley plays on the lead single, "She's Got a Halo," draws on that of not only the Cure's Simon Gallup but many of his post-punk peers as well. Vocalist Dara Rosenwasser doesn't belt, but her voice has a rich beauty that's neither fragile nor thin; its tone calls to mind fellow travelers-in-black This Ascension or Faith and the Muse. However, Faith & Disease have seldom simply looked 20 years back; they find their inspiration elsewhere, specifically in country and folk. Collaborations with members of the Walkabouts, reworkings of classic murder ballads, and, on Kunming, a fine version of Jesse Sykes' "Made of Wood" demonstrate their sound's unexpected variety. The drowned romanticism of early Mojave 3 surfaces on "Lost in Translation," whose calm guitar reverb is set against an almost subharmonic drum beat, and "Girl at the Window," with its quietly dramatic opening piano. Fully arranged and balancing majesty with subtletythe strong instrumental break on "Between the Folds" perfectly balances impact with quiet volumeit's the sound of a band coming into its own. NED RAGGETT
Faith & Disease play Fenix Underground with Legion Within and DJ Opium at 7 p.m. Sun., Sept 28. $8. All ages.
Truly She is None Other
Of the 13 tracks on the sweetheart of the garage's ninth "solo" release, Holly Golightly's cover of the Kinks' "Tell Me Now So I Know" is definitely the best. Though it glides gracefully into a nice originalthe primitively rhythmic, hand-clappin' "You Have Yet to Win"the Ray Davies song becomes a sad, surfing Shangri-Las-esque shimmer in thee former Headcoatee's hands, and it definitely stands out from the rest. Sure, the back-porch, over-yonder haunter "Sent" stands out because it's so much more country-fried than the others, and the strange "One Neck" is a spacey, druggy, sorta boring VU slider, but the Kinks cover is the clear winner. And although that's a bit of a bummer (you kind of want your own song to be your album's best, don't you?), when you consider that her original foray into rock was behind British big shot Billy Childish and that these days Golightly's secondary paychecks come from bands like the White Stripes in exchange for some oddly sexy deadpan backupsnot to mention her long history of choosing good coversI suppose I shouldn't discount her for shining so brightly with someone else's song. It's certainly no reason to skip the releaseor this show. While most girl-fronted garage groups are, along with their numskull all-male counterparts, hell bent on attempting to rock like the MC5, Holly goes lightly, because that's what she does best. If your garage is painted pale (as opposed to hot) pink and decorated with Keane paintings, this is your new favorite record. LAURA CASSIDY
Holly Golightly plays Crocodile Cafe with the Kills and KO and the Knockouts at 8 p.m. Fri., Sept 26. $12 adv. 18-plus.