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Music in Brief

There may be a smidgen too much excitement surrounding The Kooks' fine debut Inside In/Inside Out (Astralwerks), if only because the eclectic UK pop-punk act is part of a long line of young Brits with loud guitars, an ear for hooks, and the staying power of a dry suction cup. Still, it's worth giving The Kooks the benefit of the doubt so long as they come up with songs like the mod-ish "Eddie's Gun," which has just the right balance of bounce and sting, and "If Only," which starts in a rush, then suddenly screeches into a head-spinning, slowed-down chorus. For now, at least, these kids are all right, and bubbling with ideas… B+

The Now People's debut LP, The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair (Bird Song), assembles an assortment of Los Angeles studio hands and retro archivists for a collection of songs that revive the lush pop of The Beach Boys, The Association, Burt Bacharach, and The Zombies. Ordinarily, bands inspired by those acts tend to be precious and overly simplistic, but The Now People's frontman Steve Stanley mixes his influences well, and even roughs them up a little by adding the odd barrelhouse piano fill or slashing electric guitar. The result is an album that's wide-ranging but cohesive, and never a mere Xerox of old 45s… B+

Seattle jangle-pop band The Purrs deliver a self-titled debut LP that sounds like the British version of Cosmic Americana, re-translated by Yanks. The Purrs (Sarathan) frequently overreaches, and the songs are too long given how basic so many of them are, but tracks like "Loose Talk" and "Taste Of Monday" are enjoyably free-form, converting Lee Hazlewood and Spiritualized into patterns of twangy vibration… B

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It's tough to pin down the songs on Bound Stems' debut full-length Appreciation Night (Flameshovel), because they jump around from shout-along emo in the Cursive/Bright Eyes/Modest Mouse mold to agreeable indie-rock à la Yo La Tengo and The Weakerthans. But that's what makes the Chicago quintet so intriguing—songs like "Excellent News, Colonel" and "Risking Life And Limb For The Coupon" rarely end where they started, but rarely go completely off the tracks either. It's also encouraging that the album ends so strongly, with "55 Cross St.," an ambling post-rocker that breaks into a scorching vamp in its final minutes… B+

Fans of The Smiths absolutely have to seek out The Isles' song "Major Arcana," which opens the New York band's debut, Perfumed Lands (Melodic). It's a stunning approximation of Manchester's finest, right down to the deceptively poppy arrangement and windswept, mystical air. Nothing else on Perfumed Lands can touch it—too many of The Isles' songs are underdeveloped and clanging in a way that The Smiths never were—but the album as a whole has a strong sense of mood, and it's hard not to smile at Morrissey-ready lines like "A park at night screams, 'Do what you want to,'" from the endearingly titled ditty "We Give A Receipt, We Take A Receipt." B-

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