Since its mid-'90s inception, the Scottish rock duo Arab Strap has mined rainy-day ennui, post-coital melancholia, and the sad comfort taken from solitary drinking to quietly striking -- if occasionally uneasy -- effect. The outfit's sixth album pumps up the volume and the agitation more than ever, but misery still abounds in spoken-word set pieces like ''Chat in Amsterdam, Winter 2003" and the barely there ''Come Round and Love Me." Singer Aidan Moffat still likes to slur his hungover ruminations so that his lyrics sound as if they're going to slide right off the barstool and land somewhere in the vicinity of Mark Eitzel. But Strap's multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton creates quite a bit more noisy bustle this time around, framing the churlish, empty gratification of the opener, ''Stink," in prickly electric guitars and a rock backbeat, and casting the lovely ''Dream Sequence" as a piano-driven departure from Arab Strap's usual dysfunctional state of affairs. But even on the peppier numbers, the song, and the Strap, ultimately remains the same: ''If we're having so much fun, how come I'm crying every Monday?" Moffat queries with weary resignation. ''Is it just to cancel out the laughter from Thursday through til Sunday?" Well, it is Monday, after all.
New on disc
Once the first name in Brazilian music during his 1960s heyday, Sergio Mendes was the effortlessly mellifluous, rhythm-mining pianist responsible for classics such as ''The Look of Love." Looking to make a return to the American spotlight, Mendes has teamed with the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am for the star-studded ''Timeless." ''Timeless" is more backpack than Brazilian, preserving Mendes's lovely melodies but otherwise resembling a compilation of organic R&B's leading lights, including Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Q-Tip, the Roots' Black Thought, and Ozomatli's Charlie 2na. The latter offers up one of the few genuinely spicy performances on display here, promising clubgoers in album closer ''Yes Yes, Y'all" that ''he's rushin' them like I'm Mikhail Gorbachev." The rest of ''Timeless" is always pleasant but rather unmemorable -- the tracks bleed into one another without much distinction, creating a mellow chill-out atmosphere but little excitement. Only a scrooge would disdain the ''Copacabana" lilt of ''Mas Que Nada," but as with the rest of the songs here, this new version, starring the Black Eyed Peas, begs the question: Why mess with a classic?
After about 15 years as a trio, the grand and gorgeous ''The Steady Hand" finds Amherst-based New Radiant Storm King recording as a quartet. The nucleus of its founding members, vocalist-guitarists Peyton Pinkerton (the Pernice Brothers) and Matt Hunter (J. Mascis and the Fog), is augmented by the taut, fluid strokes of drummer George Berkery (Pernice Brothers, the Bigger Lovers) and bassist Caleb Wetmore. A career dogged by unfortunate label choices hasn't daunted gifted indie rockers Pinkerton and Hunter, and maybe it's given them a necessary edge on this, their seventh outing. The lilting vocal harmony of ''The Winding Staircase" is sharpened by chunky, plangent guitar riffs, and there's beauty and anger as the staccato chorus rises in the catchy ''Accountant of the Year." From the careening instrumental ''Overture" to the glistening vocal and a buoyant guitar line of final track ''Sunset Provisions," weak points are negligible. Sure, the band might be named for a heating apparatus. But New Radiant Storm King lives up to its grand moniker here.
When he isn't playing boy genius in the Allman Brothers Band, guitarist Derek Trucks puts out some of the most mature solo discs imaginable. This is his best yet -- an ambitious effort that collects original songs and funky, world-music-meets-delta-blues reworkings of tunes by reggae master Toots Hibbert (''Sailing On"), avant-jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk (the chant-like ''Volunteered Slavery"), and Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (the richly embroidered ''Sahib Teri Bandi/ Maki Madni"). Trucks connects the dots with his outstanding slide-guitar technique, and the album comes off sounding like a modern version of Little Feat crossed with Taj Mahal and Santana. There's also plenty of urgent R&B written by Trucks and a percussive-heavy band that features singer Mike Mattison (his first studio album with Trucks), rhythm guru Count M'Butu, and keyboardist/flutist Kofi Burbridge, whose brother Oteil plays with the Allmans. Singer Mattison is a real find, able to move seamlessly from sweet soul to gospel grit. And Trucks increasingly sounds like a new millennium Ry Cooder -- eager to break down musical barriers and find the heart of a song while playing solos that veer from gentle simplicity to astonishing complexity. This is hopeful, spiritual music, and hats off to Trucks for making it all so vital and refreshing.
British dance music duo the Audio Bullys sound as kinetic and eclectic as the London cultural mishmash from which they rose. Their 2003 debut, ''Ego War," was a clever blend of pop culture ephemera and slinky, cool house beats that earned comparisons to revered genre-benders Basement Jaxx. Meanwhile, Simon Franks's marble-mouthed rhymes and antihero delivery have been likened to underground UK rap sensation the Streets. And while it's true that he's not an urban poet of the same class, Franks and producer Tom Dinsdale reveal themselves to be potent stylists on their follow-up release, ''Generation." ''Shot You Down," opens with a bittersweet Nancy Sinatra vocal sample that creates noirish drama, not less because Quentin Tarantino nabbed the same song for ''Kill Bill." The taut grooves of ''Keep on Moving" bounce with an urbane Steely Dan sample, while the edgy strut of ''Made Like That," boasts samples from the ''Rocky" soundtrack and guest rhymes from grime innovator Roots Manuva. Thanks to sharp samples and an ear for crafty dance beats, Audio Bullys mine their masters while making mixes that are wholly modern and fresh.