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Sam Llanas

4 A.M.

Inner Knot Records

Buy if you like: The BoDeans, Jules Shear

Until recently, Sam Llanas was half of the nucleus of long-running Milwaukee band the BoDeans. But as he prepared to release his second solo effort in 13 years, word came that after 28 years, Llanas was leaving (though the group, now fronted by Kurt Neumann, will carry on). As great as Llanas sounds on this album of mostly acoustic originals (plus a nice cover of the Jules Shear-penned Cyndi Lauper hit, "All Through the Night"), it eventually reaches a point where Neumann's harmonies are missed. Llanas has a rich, mellow tenor, but the desire for counterpoint creeps in on Brill Building-style songs like "Cherry O" and "Oh How I Loved You," whose melodies could have been written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and sung by sweet-sounding girl groups. It'd be great to hear Llanas do a disc of early pop nuggets sometime, as long as he included more harmonies. — Lynne Margolis

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I Fight Dragons

Kaboom!

Photofinish/Atlantic

Buy if you like: Weezer, Ben Folds Five

If I Fight Dragons was some sort of food, it would be featured in one of those "Eat This, Not That" segments — probably as something like a quadruple chocolate instant heart attack cake. Fortunately, I Fight Dragons is a band (a five-piece from Chicago, to be specific), so the sugar buzz that is Kaboom! comes without guilt. Mixing high-octane synthesizers, big guitars, and, well, booming beats, this debut delivers one pop thrill after another with high energy power pop tunes like "The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth," "Save World Get Girl" and, as you might expect, the title song. The band is also smart enough to mix in a few less frenetic tunes ("Disaster Hearts" is a particularly elegant ballad). In fact, you'd probably have to go back to Weezer's first album to find a debut with so many pure pop gems. Kaboom! sounds like the start of something special. — Alan Sculley

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U2

Achtung Baby: 20th Anniversary edition

Universal/Island Records

Buy if you like: Oasis, My Bloody Valentine

We've listened to the songs on Achtung Baby — "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "One," "Until the End of the World," "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" — for two decades. But playing them in sequence again, and hearing their collective power, is almost like experiencing them for the first time. Achtung Baby reinforced U2's reputation as rockers, departing from the more earnest image cultivated, intentionally or not, by previous releases. Unfortunately, the second disc of the two-CD edition (there are five anniversary packages available ) doesn't offer much additional insight; it's mainly B-sides and remixes. But while a cover of the Stones' "Paint It Black" is hardly essential, U2's version of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love," released as the B side of "One," is incredibly cool. Bono's falsetto, Edge's gentle, lo-fi strumming, and a finger-popping, hand-clapping coda add up to another brilliant entry in the U2 canon. — Lynne Margolis

  • Sam Llanas, I Fight Dragons, U2

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