Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The first Great Lakes album came out in 2000, just after the heyday of the Elephant 6 movement (with which the band was associated), so the record didn't get its due as a sublime piece of orchestrated pop-psychedelia. A middling follow-up didn't do much to boost Great Lakes' profile, but maybe the band's fine third album, Diamond Times (Empyrean), will. Packed with loping, dreamy country-rock that recalls Neil Young and Camper Van Beethoven, Diamond Times simplifies the Great Lakes sound, without losing the swirling, propulsive excitement… B+

Post-punk-minded singer-songwriter Jordan Jeffares formed Snowden to work through his obsessions with danceable drone, and had the good fortune to come along when that sound was becoming popular again. Snowden's debut album Anti-Anti (Jade Tree) is too much of an homage to the past, with all of its buzzy minor-key new wave and songs like "Like Bullets," which sounds like Public Image Ltd. crossed with Peter Murphy. But Jeffares scores more than once, most notably with "Between The Rent And Me," a discursive track that's refreshingly personal, especially after so much copying… B

The Secret Ink's self-titled, self-released debut is heavy on the strings; it uses violin, cello, and e-bow to deepen a set of insinuating indie-rock songs. The effect is most striking on "Boomerang," which sounds like a sassy pop hit converted to chamber music, and "Neverafter," a pretty ballad that turns a little sinister, just to let listeners know that the band can go there if it needs to… B


Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist David McDonnell—a.k.a. The Diminisher—likes strings a lot too, and on Imaginary Volcano (Unsound), he works them into songs built around harpsichord and carnival organ, creating a trippy mood reminiscent of The Beatles' "The Fool On The Hill." Like The Secret Ink, he also ends his album with a string instrumental, framing his rock impulses with a baroque touch… B

Those who miss the strident Euro-oddness of '80s German punk act Trio should seek out De Kift, a Dutch band that's spent more than a decade mixing rigid rhythms and layered minimalism. The songs on the compilation De Kift (North East Indie) feature a lot of percussive strumming and funky tuba, topped by vocals that are half-croon, half-rap. The band excels at saloon-ready sing-alongs, but De Kift can record beautiful songs too, like "Copper," which features mournful piano and a sorrowful wail that's like a Dutch version of Caetano Veloso… B

Radio Birdman was among the legion of Australian bands that, inspired by the late-'70s punk revolution, created a regional variation on scuzz-rock, tempered by ocean breezes and criminal legacies. The band broke up in 1978, then re-formed a few years ago. Now, it's recorded one of those likeable-but-slight comeback albums that sound like an only marginally amped-up old record. Zeno Beach (Yep Roc) is full of sloppy pop-goth with walloping beats, searing guitars, and bratty vocals, but the only track really worthy of inclusion on some future Radio Birdman comp is the title track, which sounds wonderfully Ramones-y. B

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