Now Hear This 

Reviews of new CDs by Asobi Seksu, Danny Knicely and Will Lee, Coughs, plus "Drum Nation" compilation and a Bad Brains DVD.

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Asobi Seksu "Citrus" (Friendly Fire)

Goes well with those special earplugs that let you hear the full range of music.

In the 1980s, certain bands, most from the United Kingdom, began to pry noisy guitar music away from the macho blues-rock template that stretches back at least to Blue Cheer. Instead of thudding riffs and acid solos, bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush focused on the warm, oceanic feeling engendered by distortion, and sometimes used ethereal vocals in contrast to the noise. This approach came to be known as "shoegaze" or "dream pop." New York's Asobi Seksu is the latest in a long line of bands bent on rekindling the sound. In front is lead singer Yuki Chikudate, who sings in both Japanese and English in a thin, reverb-laden chirp. Her single-octave range isn't going to earn her a spot on "American Idol," but her voice is just right for this music, cutting through the multi-tracked guitar army stretched behind her. When the album is at its best, as on the nearly eight-minute "Red Sea," it's almost absurd how thick the guitar harmonics become, filling every available inch of tape with beautiful shards of pink and white noise. Stabs at more straightforward new-wave pop like "Goodbye" are less successful but fortunately not frequent. **** — Mark Richardson

Danny Knicely and Will Lee "Murders, Drownings and Lost Loves: The Roots of Country" (Mapleshade Records)

Goes well with Virginia bluegrass circles and mountain men.

Unless you're an avid fan of Virginia bluegrass music, it's likely that you've never heard of Danny Knicely or Will Lee. They're predominately known as side men, both founding members of Magraw Gap — the Virginia super-bluegrass group that also featured guitar hero Larry Keel. However, in the smaller musician and festival scene, they are both revered as virtuosic and knowledgeable players, set on maintaining the traditional while also pushing it forward.

The 15 tracks on this album are duets — guitar, banjo, mandolin and vocals. The song selections are primarily traditional, and, as the title suggests, deal with the more sordid themes found in American music. One highlight is "Jake Satterfield," concerning a mountain man outcast. This album provides newcomers with an excellent first glimpse at the roots of bluegrass and will also astound the seasoned ear with fresh takes on classic songs. ***** — Josh Bearman

Coughs "Secret Passage" (Load Records)

Goes well with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and cardio boxing.

What makes a good noise-rock band? Does it make you feel queasy, nervous or annoyed? Does it perform like a live exorcism? Coughs is a six-piece band from Chicago that does all these things, coming on like a sudden pubic hair fire — combining elements its MySpace page lists as "Big Beat/Experimental/ Black Metal."

Its sophomore album circles endlessly in tribal scum-punk hell; the punishing basement sounds of a crazed young woman screaming her head off are backed by two frenetic drummers, sputtering sax blasts, droning keyboard and stingray barb guitar.

Lead singer Anya Davidson sounds like an angry 14-year-old boy and her screams are enough to make you exhausted for her (reminding me of a video installation I saw once at the Van Gogh museum of a woman screaming for hours until she passed out). Goofy, surreal lyrics only add to the shock therapy dementia; songs about a pimple taking over a head ("Life of Acne"), bunny hunting and the driving opening number, "Quagmire," a brilliantly manic song about a genie, a magic lamp and the poor never understanding the wise. This is music meant to be felt in the gut — like a primitive voodoo ceremony where the chicken is you. *** — Brent Baldwin

Various Artists "Drum Nation, Volume 3" (Magna Carta Records)

Goes well with air drumming and skins practice.

If you've ever been in a band, especially a harder-rock band, you probably already know this: Every drummer has a deep-seated urge to be a frontman. All drummer jokes aside, there is some validity to this. A good guitarist is tasty icing, but a drummer is the cake; he/she makes or breaks a band, particularly in the genre of metal/math metal, where syncopation rules. This record allows some of the premiere drummers currently smacking skins, including Richmond's own Chris Adler (Lamb of God), to highlight their underlying urge, as well as to demonstrate overall ass-kicking drum skills. Twelve tracks of fast and hard instrumentals — music to be played loudly, to bob and bang your head to — full of odd time signatures and double bass pedals, plus DVD footage of the drummers. Ever wanted to show the lead singer who really rules the band? Here's your chance. *** — J.B.

Bad Brains "Live at CBGB: 1982" (MVD Visual)

Washington, D.C.'s Bad Brains was one of the greatest and most influential hardcore punk bands of all time. A big reason was its schizophrenic live shows, which mixed chaotic, breakneck-speed punk/metal with slowdown breathers of mellow dub reggae. Guttural throat maestro H.R. (who has lived in Richmond) was the centerpiece of the all-black group, an acrobatic performer both physically and vocally who could shift from tongue-twisting, Gatling-gun lyrical rants to vermin-coated screams with operatic flare. A volatile performer, he was thrilling and unpredictable onstage.

Those who missed the classic Bad Brains years should definitely check out this no-frills live DVD, recorded in 1982 at the legendary New York hole-in-the-wall CBGB (soon to be a Vegas attraction). The audio and video quality are relatively good, and the performances of early material such as "Attitude," "Banned in D.C." and "Pay to Cum" are characteristically explosive. Just watching the bewildered faces of young moshers gives an indication of the breathtakingly new, immensely powerful experience that Bad Brains once delivered. One can also see how skilled the jazz- and prog-rock-versed musicians were, how seamlessly they complemented one another to create such a joyful dissonance that was tightly controlled but unbridled, spiritual yet utterly destructive. **** — Brent Baldwin

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