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Storytelling
Belle & Sebastian
Matador Records

It's hard to decide what's more upsetting: the departure of elfin vocalist and cellist Isobel Campbell from the Scottish mope-troubadours Belle & Sebastian, or the fact that the movie Storytelling, the latest film from depressionist Todd Solondz (Happiness and Welcome to the Doll House) to which B & S did the soundtrack, still hasn't been screened in Colorado Springs.

Guess we'll all just have to take heart in the fact that we can shoe-gaze along to the more readily available soundtrack that features Campbell's last appearance with the band while imagining all the weird feelings we'd be enjoying while watching the film.

It's more of the usual from B & S: charming ditties (lots of straight instrumental this time) dotted with harp, trumpet, angelic voices and giddily disaffected lyrics. The best tracks are "I Don't Want to Play Football" (with the lush geek lyrics "I don't understand the thrill of running, catching, throwing, taking orders from a moron."), and Isobel's breathy anthem for the title track.

Unfortunately, the movie soundbytes between tracks are really annoying, and neither witty nor telling. (Does this mean the movie sucks?)

Oh, well. B & S started slipping from pop purity with 2000's Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant when their strained collectivism betrayed what most fans know, but won't admit: Singer Stuart Murdoch is driving the magic.

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B & S haven't broken up, but that hole they filled in your soul -- you know, the one The Smith's filled in the '80s-- just might be forever trapped in the '90s.

-- Noel Black

Rating: 3

Geogaddi
Boards of Canada
Warp Records

To get straight to the point: track 19 on the Boards of Canada's latest effort Geogaddi (follow-up to Music Has the Right to Children) is gorgeous, but the first 18 are such a downer that you might not get there at all. Though I believe there is still a place for the "personal life-style soundtrack," I just can't get behind this one. If a record is all about atmosphere, then it should make you want to visit that atmosphere, right? But not the smog belt of 1970s' Los Angeles, again.

Nevertheless, I still like the Boards of Canada. They're brooding, but they have a flow, a consistency that can keep an album together, and some pretty innovative arrangements. Plus there're some moments where it's almost, like, happy.

-- Marina Eckler

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Rating: 2 and 1/2

Souljacker
Eels
Dreamworks

For several months I thought Beck had some secret new album that was only being distributed via ESP and had somehow made it into frequent play on KEPC 89.7.

Turns out Beck has a secret persona masquerading as E, lead singer of the Eels, who recently released Souljacker. It's appropriately titled because E obviously jacked Beck's deadpan voice, hoo-doo production (somewhere between Stereopathetic Soul Manure and Mellow Gold) and ... soul.

Though I've read lots of interviews and seen lots of pictures of the severely bearded E, who looks nothing like Beck, I still can't say with any certainty that he isn't Beck.

The good news is, this album is great. And, for those who like his music, Beck can always stand to have more than one of himself.

From "Fresh Feeling" to "Souljacker" and "Friendly Ghost," the Eels have happened upon that thing most bands only dream of: sounding great.

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Plus, E's sensitive and has Koool G Murder on his album.

-- Noel Black

Rating: 3

Personal Journals
Sage Francis
Anticon

Sage Francis is a very talented, very pissed-off rapper from the East Coast. So what's new?

Well, plenty, actually. He's a straight-edge, a vegan, a long-haired bearded honky, and a product of Providence, Rhode Island. Home of Brown University, RISD, and the most corrupt city politics that side of Chicago, Sage Francis' hometown has molded him into what he is: an intelligent, darkly introspective and explosive poet.

Multiple producers such as Sixtoo, mayonnaise, jel and others bring dope beats that keep Sage's lyrics afloat, but this isn't always easy. Most of the lyrical content is relatively heavy (at one point he describes himself as a "low self-esteem engine"). Still, I recommend it out for the raw tracks and many underground collaborations.

-- Marc Huebert

Rating: 3 and 1/2

*All ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5

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