by Carey Murphy and Darcy Caputo & r & & r & Destroyer & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & Destroyer's Rubies & lt;/a & 4 STARS & r & Forget about the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, and even Modest Mouse. There is a Northwest powerhouse sleeping in our midst that most people aren't even aware of.

Dan Bejar, a Vancouver, B.C., native and part-time member of the New Pornographers, has been crafting solid pop records under the name Destroyer since as early as 1996. Rubies (Merge) marks Destroyer's sixth full-length. Hailed as a return to form, Rubies starts off where 2002's This Night left off. Sprawling, epic and demanding, the 10 tracks' sweeping choruses will have you carrying on drunken sing-alongs with no apologies.

Bowie comparisons abound, but there is more at work here than an affection for the godfather of glam. Bejar has a knack for writing perfect pop hooks with obtuse lyrics that keep the listener dissecting meaning for months. On the title track, Bejar -- a self-admitted recluse -- criticizes "your precious American underground ... with not a writer in the lot." It's obvious he's pulling no punches with his contemporaries. -- Dary Caputo

Two Gallants & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & What The Toll Tells & lt;/a & 4 STARS & r & A two-piece with fire, Two Gallants fiercely unleashes blues-based rock that rocks. Chelsea Jackson and Auggie Washington create a genuine sense of time and place in their lyrical narratives. Though times change, say, from the outlaw struggles in "Las Cruces Jail" to the civil-rights struggles in "Long Summer Day," not much else changes. The characters who populate these desolate, haunting tunes endure. And that's to be applauded.

Jackson's gruff voice creates an earnestness that makes Two Gallants far superior to other musicians bluffing their way through the musical landscape of Americana. (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's "Howl" is the most egregious example in recent memory.) Couple Jackson's wicked guitar work with Washington's heavy hands on drums and the result is the prettiest kind of messiness. Howling feedback opens "16th St. Dozens" before giving way to restrained finger-picking and then returning to the thundering, disjointedness of the refrain. Which is far more difficult than it sounds.

Give this one your time and attention -- it's the most exciting album so far this year. -- Carey Murphy

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 16
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