So this is Love As Laughter's fifth, is it? Well, it's a doozy -- from my corner of the world, one of the strongest, most likeable rock albums released this year. The warm, shambolic vibe achieved on Laughter's Fifth (Sub Pop) is no trick, as it really was recorded over a period of months in a basement studio where the major players -- led by songwriter/singer/guitarist Sam Jayne -- had plenty of lazy days to build and tweak their gruff but lovable arrangements. Jayne's clever songwriting and approachable, tossed-off delivery recalls the Kink's Ray Davies at his most casual (eerily so on the upbeat, sing-along "Dirty Lives") while the lively drums and thick, dirty guitars alternately lope, plunge and gallop through ragged compositions that never veer too far from relatable. The loose opener, "In Amber," shyly grapples with identity while "Every Midnight Song" kicks regret and self-doubt to the curb as it slowly builds from a hushed intro to a transcendent cascade of anticipation and hope. Rock chills? You bet. -- Mike Corrigan
The Sunlandic Twins THREE STARS
Nailing Of Montreal down to even the broadest genre is a feat. The Athens, Ga.-based group, part of the second wave from the Elephant 6 collective (Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo), pulls the Kinks out of the '60s, Harry Nilsson and Supertramp out the '70s, and Oingo Boingo buzz-saw synths out of the '80s to inject you with a circus-like case of dance fever.
Not content to let any one song sound the same from start to finish, they throw in jarring breaks and tempo shifts to shake the listener off their trail. That tends to make the whole disc sound so different that it all sounds the same; there are few grooves that you can hang onto long enough to really dig into.
When they do find a groove, though, it's ass-shaking good. "The Party's Crashing Us," a synthed-out, Shins-do-disco number, and the low-key Afro-pop jive in "Wraith Pinned to the Mist" (chorus: "Let's pretend we don't exist / Let's pretend we're in Antarctica") should keep you dancing all through the summer. -- Joel Smith