On any given Saturday night, stateside techno music slips deeper into a holding pattern of sophistication and mediocrity. But way over the pond, a gaggle of New Europeans are taking machine-funk to another level. Ellen Allien, a diminutive genius from Berlin, may be the best: Unlike just about any current operator, male or femme, she fuses the paper-cut noise of glitch with fierce, brainpan-scouring beats. Her Stadtkind, from 2001, was a masterpiece, equal parts electro-descended thump and funky static-splutter. Her new one, Berlinette, is a bit more forgiving and allows for melody between the sequencer snicks. The album skitters and pounds along underneath a modicum of pretty touches: The shivers of acoustic picking in "Wish" are like hearing a flamenco guitarist through Venetian snares of soundproofing material. Allien's name puns on the German for "alone," as if to say, "We're probably the only ones in this universe, fellas." And she uses what's sensuous about glitchsplintered rhythms suggesting a machine on the verge of shaking itself apartand leaves behind exactly what isn't interesting: namely, a boys' club fascination with software showboating. She also talk-sings over the beats, as if she's making pop music. Berlinette (especially the wintry "Sehnsucht") has a breezy, bittersweet quality, and the lyricsabout friends, dreams, identityare abstract and psychically restless. Her most direct line"Need a planet without cars and wars/I wish it could be true"is almost certainly about the here and now, which is striking only because so much techno avoids saying anything. Like the pun in her name, Allien's music suggests that, if this is the only planet we've got, we need to get right with the present, people. PAT BLASHILL
Astronomical phenomenon! Cave In now have five distinctive moons of varying radii, atmospheres, and gravitational pull: Rush, Zeppelin, Radiohead, the Beatles, and Failure. As recently as four years ago, they had just one: Converge. So in the interest of expanding from treacherous, oxygen-deprived, metal meteorite into full-fledged alt-rock super(nova)stars, the Bostonians abandoned gonzo experimentalism for the tunefulness and brevity of Hard Day's Night-era Lennon. Major label 12-pack Antenna is by far their least fascinating record, but hey, Cave In are writing some pretty indelible heavy pop singles; the trade-off is more tangential than evolutionary. There are no massive, adventuresome, unpredictable bridges like those in "Big Riff" and "Requiem" on their last indie LP, Jupiter, but Jupiter didn't have the crushingly sexy, midtempo thunderstorm "Joy Opposites." Stephen Brodsky's voice is still full, clean, and '50s-balladeer beautifulhis coda cry of "true romance after all" in "Opposites" is paralyzingbut this latest collection falls short of the bar the band set at such a young age. Despite the fact that Cave In now have corporate bank and an atrocious video for "Anchor," in which the title is interpreted quite literally via (sigh . . . ) a man wearing concrete boots, the pop shift should've been obvious. Anyone who listens to Brodsky's lo-fi solo LPs (which he sold playing Boston subways as a teen) knows the guy was itching to captain a hardcore "Yellow Submarine." Evolution can wait . . . for one album, I suppose. ANDREW BONAZELLI
Dance With My Father
After a stroke prefaced by decades of losing and gaining weight in grim cycles, it's unclear whether Luther Vandross is ever going to be able to talk again, much less sing. As such, Dance With My Father might be his last album. It's a slightly awkward one, capturing this institution of the smooth making overtures to the Hip-Hop Sound of Now, even though people don't listen to Luther's stuff for stilted cameos from Busta Rhymes and Foxy Brown or neutered little "uh-huhs" and DJ scratches popping up alongside tinkly chimes and synthesized hand claps. They listen to him for a touch of the comfortable, a mix of lissome dancey things and kindhearted slow ones. The slow ones win out here, with Vandross mining nuggets of tenderness from the most generic-universal lyrical themes: A workaholic learns to love, a couple falls apart, he's infatuated even when he's buying pillows, and on the title and best track, he really misses his dad. The Roberta Flack cover is an odder proposition, not least of which because duet partner Beyoncé sounds so infatuated with herself she could either be singing to a mirror or staring lovingly into Luther's eyes, ready to rip his head off and fuck him like a praying mantis. If he'd included one of his flawless Burt Bacharach covers, perhaps more alt-music folk would pay attention, but sensibly, he didn't seem to care. Say a little prayer for him. MICHAEL DADDINO
THE APPLESEED CAST
For the Appleseed Cast, from Lawrence, Kan., making an appeal (especially to the opposite sex) is like talking to a brick wallor maybe more to the point, an ex's photo adorning a dartboard on a brick walland hoping for an intelligent response. If only those walls could talkor respond to letters or phone callscould a functional relationship even exist? Vocalist Christopher Crisci's first words on Two Conversations are "Welcome home." He mutters the chilly greeting amidst a chorus of atmospheric guitar and keyboard, like he's stepped into an empty house. "Hanging Marionette" mourns loneliness; come to think of it, so do "Ice Heavy Branches" and "Sinking." Throughout much of the poppy Two Conversations, Crisci's bandmates warm him like consoling poker buddies, though they're most likely joining him on the Xbox while sucking down Jolt: Suddenly the pity party is a rousing affair! Despite its alone-in-my-room-with-crumpled-letters tendencies, the group's resonance is refreshingby the time "The Page" fumbles from Crisci's acoustic guitar, you can feel his marionette strings being snipped apart. Crisci addresses his newfound freedom with "How Life Can Turn," a security-blanket-soft ballad fit for one more weekend spent on the couch. Two Conversations is balladry for a thousand unanswered phone calls, returned letters, and mortar-slathered heart-to-hearts unless, of course, that ex picks up the phone after all. KATE SILVER
The Appleseed Cast play Graceland at 8:30 p.m. Wed., Aug. 20, with the Mercury Program and Chinup Chinup. $8 adv.
Truth Is Not Fiction
The howls of Robert Johnson and Charley Patton may have long ago dissolved into the good-time swill of beer, but a few bluesmen, like Otis Taylor, still push the music's intensity levels all the way into the red. Taylor's blues cut like a scalpel to the heart of truth and emotions: On "Kitchen Towel," for example, the tale of a Native American suicide and murder, his eye for detail ("Four dead bodies hanging from an oak tree/A suicide note hanging from their leg") paints an unsparing picture of misery. "Shakie's Gone" is a wail of primal anguish from the family of a dead slave. Backed by a core of guitar and bassno drumshis tales constantly push right to the edge and sometimes go over. On "House of the Crosses," the narrator becomes the prison guard of the man who raped his mother. It's a piece that would do Nick Cave proudbleak, relentless, without redemptionand his version of Big Joe Williams' blues chestnut, "Baby, Please Don't Go," injects it with an air of absolute desperation. Taylor's blues run deep, dark, and angry. They're the crossroads at midnight with the devil in the shadows, vibrantly alive and white hot in the forge. CHRIS NICKSON
Otis Taylor plays Tractor Tavern at 9 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 21. $12.
Under the Table and Above the Sun
It took 28 bullets and a hangman's noose to end the perilous life of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880. If the fourth album by this Lone Star possenamed after a film about the outlawis any indication, the rock-country quintet has a Texas-size head start on the music-industry law. Led by the Northwest-reared Braun brothersWilly on lead vocals and guitar, Cody on harmony, fiddle, and mandolinwho gigged for years in their family's swing band, Muzzie Braun and the Boys, Reckless Kelly played a year's worth of sets in Bend, Ore., before making Austin home more than six years ago, where they've been named "Best Roots Rock Band" three times by the Austin Chronicle. On Under the Table and Above the Sun, produced by Ray Kennedy (best known for his work with Lucinda Williams), Willy's bare-bones originals illustrate his cunning country voice and the intoxicating craft of his bandmates, whether painting a highway portrait ("Desolation Angels"), reopening a heartbreaking wound ("Everybody"), or providing a steering-wheel-slapping melody ("Set Me Free"). By the time they remind us ("Merseybeat") of the time just before the Beatles hit our shore ("Well they heard of a sound from a faraway land/That was ruled by a cricket and a king"), you realize there may be no stopping Reckless Kelly, save perhaps for 140 bullets and five pieces of rope. SCOTT HOLTER
Reckless Kelly play Sunset Tavern at 9 p.m. Sat., Aug. 23, with Eddie Spaghetti. $8 adv/$10.