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click to enlarge Dave Grohl, Sound City: Real to Reel

Dave Grohl / Various Artists

Sound City: Real to Reel

RCA Records

File next to: Queens of the Stone Age, Soundgarden

Dave Grohl, already a man of many projects, recently added "director" to his résumé with Sound City, a documentary chronicling the storied history of the titular California studio. The film's soundtrack features new material from Grohl and his many friends on guest vocals — an embarrassment of riches including Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Trent Reznor. Grohl and his cohorts are clearly having a fantastic time, and it all works well on the towering psychedelia of Chris Goss' "Time Slowing Down," the gritty garage rock of McCartney's "Cut Me Some Slack," and the spiky, melodic "The Man That Never Was" with Rick Springfield (yes, the man responsible for the worst song ever written, "Jessie's Girl"). Still, several songs drag a few minutes beyond their welcome, resulting in an album that's not quite as fun to listen to as it undoubtedly was to make. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge The Strokes, Comedown Machine

The Strokes

Comedown Machine

RCA Records

File next to: Radiohead, !!!, Magnetic Fields, A-ha

The Strokes already went through the full bell curve, from Next Big Thing to brunt of everyone's jokes, so what's left to do besides wonder why Julian Casablancas keeps making the same album over and over? To be fair, the Strokes try to sound fresh in their own way, which involves stretching their chameleon skins to sound like as many other bands as possible. Casablancas also forsakes his mid-tenor from time to time, as on "Tap Out," where he goes for a Thom Yorke falsetto. But when the Strokes do Radiohead, it actually sounds more interesting than Yorke's current approach, since the band preserves some semblance of a beat. Sure, there are times when the Strokes ape silly synth-y dance tunes too directly ("One Way Trigger" could be a beat-for-beat copy of A-ha's "Take On Me"), but at least it's more interesting than trying to remake Is This It again. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Low, The Invisible Way

Low

The Invisible Way

Sub Pop

File next to: Dirty Three, Wilco

Although Duluth, Minn.-based trio Low established itself with sparse, slow and wintry arrangements, its sound expanded over the past decade to incorporate chamber-pop instruments, noisy guitar excursions and subtle electronics. More steadfast elements that remain include the gorgeous vocals of husband-and-wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, plus an intense spirituality that permeates the music. These key elements define The Invisible Way more than any superficial musical trappings. Jeff Tweedy's production is warm, colorful and accessible, especially compared to the group's early monochromatic minimalism, allowing the songs' beauty to aim straight for the heart. Some musical elements are striking, such as the gentle piano on "Amethyst" and the wall of vocal harmonies on "So Blue." Even so, the album as a whole conjures a transcendent beauty much greater than the sum of its parts. — Collin Estes

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