POP: ALBUM REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
Sage Francis `Healthy Distrust' (Epitaph)

Following up 2002's breakthrough debut, this underground rap phenomenon is even more in-your-face here, with apocalyptic beats in the tradition of Ghostface Killah mixed with highly complex, metaphorical and political lyrics delivered in a punky, Public Enemy style. With heaps of wit thrown in the mix, it's an essential hip-hop work. HHHH

Lou Barlow `Emoh' (Domino)

With the misleadingly entitled The New Folk Implosion in 2003, it looked like former Sebadoh leader Lou Barlow had lost his way and, indeed, imploded in a lo-fi manner. But this solo effort sees him rejuvenated and replenished with a warmer production. The endearing voice and emotions are still here, and there's many a great tune. HHH

Eastern Lane `The Article' (Rough Trade)

The second album from this quartet at first listen owes a lot to the Pixies and The Strokes, but there's an impressive freneticism to their work that distinguishes them. There are some past singles as well as potential ones here, but it's when the Lane wig out, scream and rant that the album really takes on a complete, full-bodied feeling. HHH

Hanson `Underneath' (Cooking Vinyl)

Having lowered their vocal range since 1997's incredibly catchy hit "Mmm Bop", the three brothers have achieved a successful comeback with this self-released powerpop effort, which has achieved huge commercial success in the US. With contributions from icons of the genre such as Matthew Sweet and Gregg Alexander, it's certainly catchy - but a few tracks dip into bland MOR. HHH

Bitmap `Micro/Macro' (Gentle Electric)

Hull's Luke Barwell follows up his debut Alpha, Beta, Gamma album with another collection of woozy 1960s pop filtered through electronic bleeps, beats and bubbles. It's a canny combination, driven by sweet tunes and a fondness for the past while resolutely looking forward. HHH

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