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The lousy CD cover to Knives in the Attic's 5 song EP, Death Pop, does it a great disservice. Sure, the blood-spattered, knifed teddy bear doodle fits the angst/death-obsessed lyrics, but it comes off amateurish. And this is a band that should be in the midst of a bidding war, not causing reviewers a crisis of conscience about whether to relegate this CD to the crap heap. Maybe this band knows what it's doing -- hell, it made us play the thing twice just to make sure it was as good as we thought it was. In fact, it's better. If Courtney Love had these songs in her back pocket right now, she could earn enough to salvage her sagging career (and breasts) and still have enough pocket money to send Frances Bean to a reputable psychoanalyst. But she wouldn't have the energy to pull these songs off -- this is the kind of music Hole only managed to make when Kurt Cobain was still drawing breath in the next room. Singer Christen Shaw's lyrics read like the student suicide notes that give guidance counselors cause to close the school ("Why do we always hate on Mondays/Tuesdays and Wednesdays aren't much better, Thursday, Friday we'll kill each other/Waiting for things as they don't get better") and give lovers of agitpop cause to rejoice. After a listen to Death Pop, you'll feel giddy for this band's chances for success, not unlike the gushing audience at Springtime for Hitler's intermission. To wit: "Did you ever think you could love a song called 'Saws in the Basement'?" (www.myspace.com/knivesintheattic)

"There's always love, there's always hate, there's always my choice . . ." On Optimism in E Minor, Broken Poets' latest CD, singer/songwriter/frontman Tim McDonald further demonstrates his black-and-white economy with words never mired in gray matters. He eliminates middle ground like mild irritation and extreme fondness that would've given Cole Porter writer's block. But it's all stirring stuff -- and McDonald's band backs it up with sturdy playing that never upstages his distinctive Richard Butler-hewn voice. McDonald's adult alt is not mired in the desert either -- on "The N and the R," he rides the New York subway system for what might be the first cheating song that involves commuting. The judges give this one a 10 on the infidelity index! (www.brokenpoets.com)

"There's no serious without us," Signs of Betrayal seem to say with every beat and breath of their second CD, Wide Eyed Coma. Synth lines that remind you that you once owned a Queensrÿche album; cover art with brooding chicks turned away as if death or herpes were paying a visit; and a lead singer who sounds like he's vying for the job of Gwen Stefani's husband -- hey, that's not so serious. But a Phoenician with Gavin Rossdale's elocution? T'would be a very serious offense if SoB didn't pull off this Live meets Sevendust bearer of bad-news music so well. One warning, though: Their bio contains the hackneyed "rising from the ashes like a Phoenix" metaphor us homegroaners shun like a gal with shingles. (www.signsofbetrayal.com)

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic