Local Release Roundup 

JAY BENNETT

The Magnificent Defeat | Rykodisc

The belated final installment in a trilogy of solo discs by the former Wilco lieutenant follows a rough patch for Bennett, which has included a split with his longtime label and management. He's been obsessively cobbling together the songs on The Magnificent Defeat for years--pity poor mixer Jonathan Pines, who had to assemble an album that sounded coherent out of the mess of material, which was recorded in multiple formats. The music is largely Elvis Costello-influenced roots pop, and though there are flashes of inspiration, the songs are undermined by the artsy, schizophrenic production and Bennett's nasal burr. His ambition is admirable, but his reach exceeds his grasp--the disc does little to dispel the feeling that he's better suited to the role of second banana. | jay-bennett.com

BROTHER LOWDOWN

Which Side Are You On? | Sloboda Recordings

On its debut album, released last fall, this quartet flits from southern jangle pop to alt-country to emo without settling neatly into any particular niche. But despite all that wandering, the disc is a better-than-average set: front man Matt Stern has a rubbery vocal delivery that suggests a huskier Michael Stipe, and he's backed by a dynamic and sympathetic group of musicians, anchored by bassist-keyboardist-vocalist Shayla Thiel. "Trouble," a twangy barroom weeper, is colored by cleverly deployed slide guitar and French horn, while the loping "Seth" emphasizes Crazy Horse-style guitar crunch. The tunes occasionally meander too far past the five-minute mark, but the songcraft is consistently appealing. Brother Lowdown opens for Sunday Morning Chameleon on Friday, August 18, at Double Door. | brotherlowdown.com

KILL HANNAH

Until There's Nothing Left of Us | Atlantic

Why? It's a question the members of Kill Hannah have probably asked themselves a lot lately. The band has been playing danceable goth punk for well-nigh a decade now, so why have tarted-up poseurs like My Chemical Romance and the Killers done so much better commercially with watered-down versions of it? Kill Hannah's new album, the follow-up to their 2003 major-label debut, For Never and Ever, will probably only complicate matters. Recording with Disturbed producer Johnny K, the band does a bit of genre hopping, mixing shoegazer rock, electro-pop, and modern-rock bombast, even throwing in a stripped-down cover of the Church's college-rock classic "Under the Milky Way." Mini melodramas such as "Lips Like Morphine" are ridiculously over-the-top ("I want a kiss that leaves me gasping"), but vocalist Mat Devine has enough panache to pull them off. Setting aside the cloying radio mix, the disc is a surprisingly enjoyable effort. Kill Hannah plays a DJ set Saturday, August 19, at Durty Nellie's in Palatine. | killhannah.com

THE LESSER SCENE

The Lesser Scene | Self-released

This new local quintet boasts multiple singer-songwriters who specialize in pulsing chamber pop. Propelled by intricate boy-girl vocals and an occasionally aggressive rock sensibility, the group mines an aesthetic that isn't entirely dissimilar from that of another local coed combo, the 1900s, though less decidedly retro. Their five-song debut EP--highlighted by the grooving, vibes-accented "First Time Around" and the mesmeric, anthemic "Cultivation"--won't immediately knock you off your feet, but it will grow on you. | thelesserscene.com

BILL LUPKIN & FRIENDS

Where I Come From | Blue Bella

The photos splashed across the booklet of Lupkin's latest CD--shots of him jamming with Muddy, Buddy, and many more--make it clear that this white blues harpist has kept some pretty heavy company over the years. Arriving here from Fort Wayne in the late 60s, Lupkin was a mainstay on the local blues circuit in the early 70s, playing in bands led by Jimmy Rogers, Johnny Littlejohn, and Howlin' Wolf. He returned to Indiana in the late 80s, but he's still deeply connected to the Chicago scene, and this disc--his first since 2000 and first for the Elgin blues label Blue Bella Records--features a crack band of locals, including guitar prodigy Nick Moss. Lupkin's 14 originals capture the echoing din of hard-core 50s electric blues, and though his weathered vocals are sometimes grating, his harmonica playing has the same harsh but moving edge that impressed the masters more than three decades ago. | bluebellarecords.com

SHAWNNA

Block Music | Def Jam/Disturbing tha Peace

The second disc by south-side MC Shawnna, a former member of Infamous Syndicate and daughter of Buddy Guy, follows relatively hard on the heels of her 2004 solo debut, Worth tha Weight, which arrived four years after her breakthrough appearance on Ludacris's "What's Your Fantasy." She's on Luda's label and still embraces a southern hip-hop style, but on Block Music she comes into her own. In the past her lyrics have been heavy on thug poetry and sexed-up poses, but she offers more sober imagery on "Can't Break Me," an autobiographical tale of single motherhood, and "Ghetto Fairy Tales," a bleak urban snapshot. She gets assists from her dad (who burns on the bluesy "Chicago"), Syleena Johnson (daughter of R & B soul-blues great Syl Johnson), and hip-hop heavies Lil Wayne, Too Short, Pharrell, and Ludacris. | shawnnamusic.com

WALTER MEEGO

Romantic | Brilliante

JUSTIN SCONZA

Paint by Numbers | Brilliante

The unusually arranged outfit Walter Meego--vocalist Justin Sconza, DJ Jarrett Spiegel, and laptop manipulator Colin Yarck--has earned some well-deserved raves for its sprightly dance pop with an IDM twist. The group's latest single, "Romantic," is another clever mash-up of composed music, samples, and production trickery, building a surefire floor filler out of Bacharach-esque pop, 60s tropicalia, and 80s electro. The disc also includes remixes by hot-shit local duo Flosstradamus, Swedish techno-pop producer Andreas Tilliander, and San Francisco beat maker Paul Salva. On his solo debut Sconza takes refuge in more traditional sounds: the solid seven-song EP takes some cues from late-period Beatles and early Todd Rundgren and adds a touch of classical music as well. From the trippy Lennon-esque pastiches that open the disc ("You May Begin Now," "A Pretty Picture") to the piano-cello interlude "A Walk in the Park" to the spare, affecting closer, "Our Little Secret," the album has a lo-fi, late-night-demo quality that enhances Sconza's confessional lyrics. | waltermeego.com

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February 26
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