It's an up-and-down week, with pairs of albums that show how to do certain kinds of music dead-on, and alternately, how to miss the target…

Super Furry Animals' lead singer Gruff Rhys delivers a fantastic second solo album with Candylion (Team Love), a collection of pastoral songs that combine trip-hop beats, hummy vocals, happy melodies, and inventive orchestration. Rhys grapples with violence and lonesomeness over tracks that are moody but bright, and he saves his grand statement for the finale, "Skylon!", a 14-minute recitation over a funky beat and bouncy strumming. It's a rambling, catchy song, even though it sounds like the unexpectedly lucid ravings of a street loony… A-

A less successful version of DIY worldbeat mixed with luxe-pop comes courtesy of Apostle Of Hustle's second album, National Anthem Of Nowhere (Arts & Crafts). Led by Broken Social Scene guitarist Andrew Whiteman, Apostle Of Hustle takes a kitchen-sink approach to rock, blending the robotic with the organic and the pretty with the ugly, while sketching apocalyptic visions of a broken future on songs like "My Sword Hand's Anger" and "Cheap Like Sebastian." National Anthem Of Nowhere is intermittently compelling, but it's more often disjointed and unduly harsh, and unlike Gruff Rhys' effortless journeys into exotica, Apostle Of Hustle's efforts sound forced and theoretical… C+


Greg Ashley, frontman for the Bay Area psychedelic lo-fi band The Gris-Gris, makes his second solo foray with Painted Garden (Birdman), a strange, wonderful record that runs the gamut from thick murk to arresting retro-pop, drawing on the scattered '60s traditions of The Rolling Stones, Moby Grape, and—believe it or not—Dave Brubeck. The album's real gems require a little digging, but 2007 is unlikely to tender too many songs as perfect as "Pretty Belladonna," which fuses a garage-rock dirge with operatic background vocals, sounding like two radio stations simultaneously playing weirdly beautiful music… B+

But the much-hailed, similarly alt-folk-minded Winterpills clatter too much on their sophomore effort, The Light Divides (Signature Sounds). They create textured, moody songs that owe a lot to the twin traditions of Elliott Smith and Red House Painters, but too often, they undercut their own beauty with routine rock cacophony and wandering melodies. Nevertheless, Winterpills remains a good band with a lot to offer, still capable of producing songs as gorgeous as "Eclipse," which billows like the best of the Cocteau Twins, albeit with more structure… B-


On its ninth album, We Walked In Song (Badman), The Innocence Mission makes like an American version of The Clientele, capturing twilit moments in temperate climes. Though the band has always been into ethereal moods and lower keys, We Walked In Song standouts like "Into Brooklyn, Early In The Morning" have a kind of retro classicism, reminiscent of The Velvet Underground and Joni Mitchell, but marked with the concerns of The Innocence Mission's co-leaders, Don and Karen Peris. These are songs of grief and deep love, rendered with the gentility of a raindrop… A-

Maria Taylor's second solo album, Lynn Teeter Flower (Saddle Creek), works in some of the same delicate folk-pop colors as The Innocence Mission, but proves how tough it is to set the mood exactly right. Taylor has a fine voice, and she's smart enough to let simple declarations of earnest heartbreak carry these songs, but in spite of the tasteful shadings of electric piano and electronic percussion here and there, Taylor sounds too much like thousands of other winsome distaff troubadours. Songs like "Clean Getaway" are pleasantly pretty, but they're as light and insubstantial as a mousse flavored with sorrow syrup. B-