Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2)
TVT Records

The original power-pop group in punk clothing, XTC have managed to charm and mystify listeners for more than twenty years as eccentric creators of uncommonly gorgeous music. The florid pop symphony of last year's Apple Venus Volume 1 came across like an unexpected, engrossing triumph, despite high expectations and modest reviews. Turning the production down a notch, XTC returns with a rocking effort that's fabulously fun to listen to.

Wasp Star is a playful, confident record with a sleek, electric guitar oriented pop-rock sound. With sterling melodies, golden harmonies, and stunning arrangements of delicate complexity, XTC deliver a wonderfully fresh and robust set of songs. And like most XTC albums, Wasp Star is a brilliantly sustained flight of aural fancy.

The ultra-poppy "Stupidly Happy" and "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love" are immediately memorable. "Playground" and "In Another Life" are also strong outings. The real strength of this record is the fact that it's effortlessly pleasurable. Not every song is great, but with impeccable melodies that are the audio equivalent of the ebola virus, you'll find yourself humming these songs all day long.

While this is a solid record, it still may not be up to par for hardcore XTC fans who've expressed a lovely dissatisfaction for the past few XTC releases. Even if they have become slightly more predictable and a tad less daring, XTC can still put a smile on your face. -Chris Webb

Brave New World
Portrait/Columbia Records

In 1982, Iron Maiden were a struggling British metal band, relatively unknown outside of Europe. After touring the continent in support of their second record, Killers, they replaced their original vocalist, Paul DiAnno, with ex-Samson lead singer Bruce Dickinson. The result was The Number Of The Beast, a record considered by many to be the greatest heavy metal album of all time.

Fast forward to 1999. Maiden, minus Dickinson and original guitarist Adrian Smith, were once again struggling. Response to their then-most-recent CD, Virtual XI, was apathetic at best. For Iron Maiden, it was time for another change. Thus the re-entry of Dickinson and Smith. A year later comes Brave New World, proof that lightning can indeed strike twice.

Maiden opens their latest disc with "The Wicker Man," which effectivly marries two of their earlier classics, "Die With Your Boots On" and "Women In Uniform." And that's just the beginning. This record smacks of vintage Maiden for the entire 67-minute running time. Another standout, "The Mercenary," revisits "The Trooper" via "Two Minutes To Midnight," only this time, there are three (count 'em) guitars blazing. Yes, Iron Maiden have retained the services of Smith's replacement, Janick Gers, who, along with Smith and Dave Murray, give them a razor-sharp axe assault unheard out of this band since the mid-1980's.

Admittedly, Brave New World is unlikely to win Iron Maiden any new fans. Their music is, and always has been, an acquired taste. With seven of the ten songs here clocking in at seven minutes plus, to borrow from David Lee Roth, "this ain't no Quiet Riot shit." Longtime Maiden enthusiasts, though, will salivate upon hearing Brave New World. In a nutshell, this is the strongest Iron Maiden record since The Number Of The Beast.
-Matt Dacey

This Is All We've Learned About Living
Champ Records

With contagious melodics, Murfreesboro natives Glossary play a delightful blend of indie pop and rock. Their latest release, This Is All We've Learned About Living, is a soothing collection of musical snapshots, a competent album of intelligent songs that's proof that they've really come into their own as a band.

Jumping from edgy rock to somber sonic meditations, Glossary give off an aura of self-assurance. The production is subtle and interesting, showing a mature restraint as they skillfully balance intricate instrumentation and boy/girl vocals.

Playing with a relaxed aggression that allows for graceful transitions, the band easily blends styles to make songs instantly more complex, like on the wonderful "Daydream Driving." "Frozen Satisfaction" is sweet and sweeping fun, a soft number with twining guitar lines and a real pop sensibility. Maggie Manley's voice is a dream, especially on the lovely "Serenade Us" and the infectious "Wandered Off Too Far." Other highlights include "Fast Walkin' Shit Talkin'," "Counterculturism," and "The Stars Are Alive."

Full of tasteful, catchy riffs, this is a thoroughly enjoyable record. You won't skip a song. With clever hooks and some Americana flavorings, Glossary spread their exciting brand of pop-rock all over the place. These songs are much tighter and far more well-crafted than on their previous effort, with an intimate feel and a familiar sound. -Chris Webb