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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
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+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
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Fireballs Of Freedom
Welcome To The Octagon

With music hot, fast and ferocious, the Fireballs of Freedom — Portland, Ore.'s high-energy, screeching rock 'n' roll four-piece — couldn't have adopted a band name more suitable to their sound. And with their latest release, Welcome to the Octagon, it's a sound they've both improved and diversified. . It's new! It's improved! But it ain't gonna make you feel any cleaner! In fact, the sound is as dirty as ever and, this time, more likeable.

Following up Total Fucking Blowout, their well-received 1999 debut on Estrus, the band's third full-length boasts a musical evolution of sorts. There's less distortion and sonic fuzz on this album. With beats more danceable, tracks more diverse, and effects and instrumental arrangements more clever, the album demonstrates band members' willingness to take risks while remaining committed to the powerfully raw, hard rock at their core. Furthering this improvement is the refined production that allows for a more crisp and clear sonic experience. Originally from Missoula, Mont., the punk-tinged, '70s rock-influenced group, whose members met as art school students, has taken a small step away from straight-ahead heavy rock, mixing cautious amounts of soul and funk into the new album's consistently booming and thunderous tracks.

The grungy "Western Wield" kicks off with solo, hip-hop-style drumbeats before breaking into a jarring, pleading vocal atop droning, sometimes dissonant rhythm lines and gritty guitar. The power ballad "Got My Soul Back" whisks the listener back to the '80s, when glam-rock ruled and no hair-metal band could survive without an always cheesy and frequently heart-wrenching ballad. Touching on a deal rock 'n' roll has lived by since the days of its birth, when Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, this moving ballad finds lead vocalist/guitarist Sammy James, desperate to reverse the deal, crooning: "I gave you my body/ I gave you mind and soul/But I can't live without it / ... I get my soul back/ And now you got your song."

In contrast, "Panties Off," with some funky organ and the party-time flavor of handclaps and hoots and hollers in the background, is the most fun, upbeat and danceable track here. "We Do It Everyday," which leads off the album, and "Out of My Head" retain the Fireballs' classic sound, rocking in the vein of The Stooges and MC5 with howling vocals, fast-fingered guitar and slamming drums. The jamming, Sabbath-style closing track "Vs. the Universe" offers layers of semi-psychedelic playing, fuzzed-out guitar and jazzy beats.

The Fireballs of Freedom have made another mind-blowing rock 'n' roll record. The dirt just got better.

by Jenny Tatone

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