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Art Brut

Art Brut vs. Satan

Downtown

Sounds like: British art students taking over an open mic night

Short take: Better rock than Bloc

It's been six years since this band wrote "Moving to L.A." and set the art-geek rock world on its ear. Yet Art Brut's "Alcoholics Unanimous" — with its call-and-response "I've been up all night (He's been up all night) / I've been making mistakes (Lots of mistakes) / I've been hiding it well (Not very well)" — is as brilliant as Black Flag's "TV Party." Producer Frank Black ratchets up the indie-rock riffs behind "singer" Eddie Argos' odes to "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes" and "Replacements," the latter declaring Paul Westerberg and company "nearly as old as my parents." On "Demons Out!," Argos laments how they can't "sleep at night, when nobody likes the music we like." With rock that blows away Bloc Party and rhymes smarmier than the Streets', Art Brut should rest easy. — Jason Notte


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John Doe and the Sadies

Country Club

Yep Roc Records

Sounds like: Beautiful desperation from the original X-man

Short take: Haggard and Cash with panache

What a difference three decades make. John Doe's X turned the sensory overload of late-'70s Los Angeles into blood-curdling songs of desperation and delight; now, his renderings of sensuous country classics will turn hearts inside out. Hits by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and others find new life, with Doe sounding like he was born to sing them. His version of the Elvis' "Fool Such as I" is a timeless take on romantic duress, while "It Just Dawned on Me," co-written by Exene Cervenka, sounds fresh off a Nashville hit parade from the '50s. Extra points for a revved-up version of Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," one of country's best ballads taken here on a high-speed chase to the state line with the highway patrol in hot pursuit. — Bill Bentley


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Death Cab for Cutie

The Open Door EP

Atlantic Records

Sounds like: Leftovers from Narrow Stairs

Short take: Death Cab tones down magic

Relationships are a bitch, and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard has found plenty to bitch about. On 2008's Narrow Stairs, he tackled such cheerful topics as unrequited obsession ("I Will Possess Your Heart") and marrying for the wrong reason ("Cath ..."). The outlook is no less bright on the Washington-based band's new EP, featuring the falsetto-heavy "I Was Once a Loyal Lover" ("All my friends are forward thinking / Getting hitched and quitting drinking / I can feel them pulling away / And I'm resigned to stay the same") and the guitar-dominated "A Diamond and a Tether" ("Take pity on me because I'm not half the man that I should be"). This five-track endeavor feels more like leftovers from Narrow Stairs than a look ahead to further Death Cab releases. But even so, Gibbard's devotees will be delighted. — John Benson

  • Art Brut, John Doe and the Sadies, Death Cab for Cutie

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