I can't think of a record released by a local group that was this highly anticipated. In the four years since the Blue Scholars released their self-titled debut, they've been heralded as the duo that would set the tempo for a resurgence of conscious rap and would spearhead the eventual explosion of Seattle hip-hop (how much longer are we going to say that?). They must have been well aware of this, however, because they've kept the soulful, boom-bap template pretty much the same for their follow-up, Bayani. It's just a whole lot tighter. DJ Sabzi has honed in on the delicate touch of his production, pushing it to another level with influences as far-flung as Marvin Gaye and Aphex Twin (a pairing of these two influences is about the most apt comparisons for the Blue Scholars, considering there is something both futuristic and socially aware in their music). Geologic's rhymes have matured significantly, as well. He is less about writing bumper-sticker slogans and more about telling a good story. His lyrics on "The Distance" narrate the struggle of a working-class immigrant (a nod to both his and Sabzi's status as sons of immigrants). He even gets to flex his Marxist muscle on "Joe Metro," a day-in-the-life story full of proletariats and set on our sad little mass-transit system. Elsewhere, on "50 Thousand Deep" and "Fire for the People," it's obvious the two have been impacted greatly by the Iraq war and the rest of the shit that has gone down since their auspicious debut. Who knows yet what this disc will do for our local heroes on a national scale. Regardless, it's some of the finest poetic lyricism you can find. BRIAN J. BARR
Blue Scholars play the Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 628-3151, www.showboxonline.com. $15. All ages. 8 p.m. Fri., May 11–Sat., May 12.
The Sea and Cake
For 14 years, the Sea and Cake have maintained a solid consistency of subtle indie-pop stylings that always sound new and fresh, while never veering too far away from their original formula. On Everybody, the Chicago foursome's first album in four years and eighth overall, singer-guitarist Sam Prekop, guitarist-keyboardist Archer Prewitt, programmer/drummer John McEntire, and bassist Eric Claridge transcend their past recordings with a solid collection of wispy pop songs that are equally suitable for listening to while waking up on a sunny, dewy-grass morning or coming down after a late night of partying. Prekop's poignantly dreamy and delicate narrative reflects and propels the band's methodical instrumentation, which flexes its tender muscle to reveal both strength and vulnerability. Unlike every past Sea and Cake record, all produced by McEntire, Everybody was made under the direction of producer Brian Paulson, which is perhaps the reason why, stylistically, there are parts that sound unlike anything else they've done—wandering off beaten paths ("Left On" and "Exact to Me") and into a sparkling night of airy electronic subtleties ("Lightning"). But it's still the same Sea and Cake we know and love. Whatever the song's mood, the dual guitars, synth washes, and fluid rhythm sound magnificently clean, crisp, effortless, light, beautiful, and spontaneous. Just the way you'd want to feel at the start or end of the day. TRAVIS RITTER
The Sea and Cake play Neumo's, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9467, www.neumos.com. $16. 8 p.m. Tues., May 15.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
When BRMC first burst out of the Bay Area in 2001, demanding the universe tell them whatever happened to their rock 'n' roll, it was a deliciously familiar roar, brazenly reminiscent of the Creation Records catalog and delivered with a libidinous swagger that tenuously toed the line between overreaching homage and fresh mission statement. The trio made no secret of their Anglophilic side or their bacchanalian mind-set, honest handicaps that made them sound like a fabulous one-night stand: more raunchy than revelatory. 2005's markedly more restrained and almost entirely acoustic affair, Howl, won richly deserved praise for its minimalist, gospel-influenced slices of Americana and blues. The tone of Baby 81 is no big surprise—it's simply a return to their harder-rocking form, sporadically informed by the quieter moments that tastefully colored Howl. While the dark dirge of "Took Out a Loan" and the more buoyant pop of "Weapon of Choice" are perfectly serviceable offerings, they're also not particularly memorable. The slightly more adventurous efforts displayed on drowsily atmospheric numbers like "All You Do Is Talk" or introspective album closer "Am I Only" are more impressive, but we should expect more growth from a band that has previously subverted expectations so gracefully. HANNAH LEVIN
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club play the Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 628-3151, www.showboxonline.com. $18 adv./$20 DOS. 8 p.m. Sun., May 13.