Music Picks: Ida & Michael Hurley, Rasputina, Hercules & the Love Affair 

Also, Natalie Merchant, Earthless, Seu Jorge & Almaz and others




Leeds band Wild Beasts offers something quite rare: a psychologically intricate party rave that seems to question the point of its own elation — but keeps smiling on in the face of disaster. The wild ones' recent Two Dancers (Domino) is by turns shimmeringly elegant, euphoric, curious, mildly experimental, thrillingly ambiguous in intent and sound, and a study in classic form, but not quite. It constantly keeps you guessing as to what it's all about, even as you do the Muppet stomp to its gently pumping rhythms. The strangely asexual (or pansexual, or whatever) effect of singer Hayden Thorpe's falsetto juxtaposed against videos of the band as monks wandering 'round the woods, or framed inside of frames inside of zooming frames, sets a certain tone, one that feels right for the times. And they're clever, they know how to play with words: "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" is the name of one of their tunes, as is "We Still Got the Taste Dancin' on Our Tongues." Right! (John Payne)

click to flip through (2) Carnival of cellos: Rasputina
  • Carnival of cellos: Rasputina

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Natalie Merchant manages to make what would seem to be a stuffy premise — putting melodies to the classic words of dead poets — into the most sonically adventurous project of her career. Known more as a singer and lyricist, she proves to be uncanny at conjuring the perfect and surprisingly eclectic musical settings for these old poems, on her new double CD, Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch). Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Land of Nod" is transformed into an appropriately dreamy orchestral idyll, while Arthur Macy's "The Peppery Man" becomes a foreboding blues dirge, and William Brighty Rands' "Topsyturvey-World" works wonderfully with a loping reggae rhythm. Joined by Medeski Martin & Wood, "It Makes a Change" is as close as the former 10,000 Maniacs singer has ever come to pure '60s girl-group bubblegum, while Robert Graves' "Vain and Careless" is contrastingly spare and somber, with a low welling of lute and viola. Inspired by a series of conversations between Merchant and her young daughter, Leave Your Sleep is ostensibly a children's CD, and there are certainly some overtly playful and silly moments, such as the groovy, fast-talking jive of Jack Prelutsky's "Bleezer's Ice-Cream." Overall, though, the album is anything but cute or condescending, with ethereal, mournfully moving soundscapes like Lydia Huntley Sigourney's "Indian Names." When Merchant and an acoustic trio debuted these songs in April at the Aratani Theatre, she was a charming host and eagle-eyed teacher, firmly reining in her unruliest fans while giving witty, informative slide-show introductions about these mostly British and American poets. Tonight she'll be backed by an eight-piece band. (Falling James)

Also playing Friday: GREAT WHITE at the Canyon; JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKY at Catalina; THE RISING, HOLLYWOOD U2 at Club Nokia; DADA at Coach House; WAVVES, THE GROWLERS, CRYSTAL ANTLERS, ABE VIGODA, COMADRE, THE GLASSES at the Glass House; HARRY CONNICK JR. & HIS BIG BAND with THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC at the Hollywood Bowl; DAVE ALVIN, CINDY CASHDOLLAR at McCabe's; EMPIRE OF THE SUN at the Music Box; "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC at Pacific Amphitheatre; BILLY IDOL with STEVE STEVENS at Pechanga Showroom Theatre; PIZZA!, AUNT DRACULA, ATOLE, LACO$TE at the Smell; THESE UNITED STATES, OR THE WHALE, ELECTRIC OWLS at Spaceland; ATERCIOPELADOS at the Troubadour; RUSH at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.




Even as Rasputina's lineups change over the years, leader Melora Creager never stops cobbling together magically surreal songs, which mix together history and politics with fantastic, fairy-tale-like imagery. The Brooklyn cello-drums trio twist everything further on their latest CD, Sister Kinderhook, with febrile, carnivalesque art-rock melodies and dense, psychedelic arrangements. The lurching, classical-style cellos of "Holocaust of Giants" are crowned with busy, manic glitter-rock harmonies, as Creager desperately tries to evoke a lost tribe of giants. What might seem whimsical and fanciful at first, however, often turns out to be awesome and scarifying once the cellos knit together their worried riffs. For this tour, Creager — who first came to wide attention in the '90s, when she toured with Nirvana — is backed by cellist Daniel DeJesus and drummer Catie D'Amica. Rasputina's intense psychic architecture should make for an interesting contrast with the bent art-folk of Larkin Grimm, whose 2008 CD, Parplar (Young God Records), creaks and coos with eerie acoustic plucking under fragile vocals. (Falling James)


A visit from the deep-voiced samba subverter Seu Jorge is always welcome, especially considering he's got a bang-up band to back him this time around. Jorge and his Brasileño psych-rock three-piece, Almaz, just released a self-titled debut on international funk archivist imprint Now-Again Records, the label run by Stones Throw DJ and label manager Egon. It's a good fit, considering the album is hardly your standard man-with-guitar fare. It's actually a collection of covers mostly classic samba pieces by legends like Tim Maia, Jorge Ben and Nelson Cavaquinho, which Almaz turns into almost apocalyptic meditations on the death and rebirth of historic musical movements. Odder are the other songs cribbed from the likes of Kraftwerk ("The Model") and Michael Jackson ("Rock With You"). On record, these versions fall flat, but they should be infinitely more enticing performed live, where a band as adept as this one clearly is can overcome the confines of the studio. (Chris Martins)

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