The Blinding EP
This diverting five-song EP inaugurates ex-Libertine Pete Doherty's new contract with the only American label brave enough to sign a world-renowned junkie hell-bent on seeing how far the English judicial system can be pushed before it throws him in the clink. (Last week, Doherty was fined 770 pounds and ordered not to drive for four months as a result of getting caught with crack and heroin in his car.) Surprisingly, Doherty actually pulls off a pretty good impression of a fully functioning human here, something that couldn't quite be said of Babyshambles' 2005 debut, Down in Albion, on which Doherty pushed his sloppy neo-garage blare to strung-out extremes. "Love You but You're Green" is a lovely reggae-soul ballad that opens with the no-shit announcement that Mr. Kate Moss "was a troubled tee-eee-een." "I Wish" ups the tempo with tidy ska guitars. "Beg, Steal or Borrow" has a cute harmonica solo. Ultimately, The Blinding gets a little bleary during closer "Sedative" (whose title you can't say didn't warn you), but most of this will soon convince some powdered wig of Doherty's unique contribution to society. MIKAEL WOOD
Music for Witches and Alchemists
Fern Knight, an ensemble based around singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Margie Wienk, is to some degree another branch on the alt-/acid-folk tree of Espers. Both combos share members and an approach simultaneously timeless and archaic, drawing upon pre-20th-century traditional folk music from the British Isles. They differ on delivery: Espers, with their synthesis of trad and modern-day influences, can recall 1960s/'70s folk-rockers Fairport Convention; Fern Knight's somber austerity evokes Pentangle (acoustic contemporaries of Fairport) and U.K. folk icons Shirley & Dolly Collins. Wienk's poised, supple soprano voice is as keen and foreboding as the first cold breezes of November, and her subtly haunting, insistent melodies—some of Witches' originals sound as if they could've been written in the 1600s—aren't the kind that hook you on first listen, but they creep gradually into your psyche. The instrumental palette consists of acoustic guitar (with occasional stinging-though-decidedly-nonrocking electric solos), cello, accordion, harmonium, and percussion, much closer in tone to a medieval consort than a folk-rock band. Witches is an exceptional prize, its only flaw being that it's so downcast at times, you might find yourself playing some Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen platters afterward to lively up yourself. MARK KERESMAN
Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!
At the time of its initial release in 1994, Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! provided a welcome reminder that it hadn't always been gloom and doom in the Nirvana camp. As the performances on this set, long overdue on DVD, make clear, the band also knew how to have fun, whether that meant donning a gown for MTV's Headbangers Ball or sending up their biggest hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," by having Kurt Cobain sing the (incorrect) lyrics in a ridiculous bass vibrato while bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl made no attempt to mime accurately. Most of the performances are from the band's ascent during the fall of 1991, when they were a powerhouse to be reckoned with, and the footage is still thrilling to watch (the '91 Halloween show at Seattle's Paramount, in particular, cries out to be released in its entirety). On a DVD that eschews voice-over narration in favor of interview snippets and a few disjointed montage sequences, the band's passion is what impresses most, capped by a final shot of a scrawny Cobain, clad in a slip and dragging himself offstage, that's truly shattering. GILLIAN G. GAAR
Mold the Gold
Looks like it's time for the '90s indie-rock revival. Sebadoh are reuniting for Noise Pop; the Silversun Pumpkins, er, Pick-ups are selling out venues left and right. Before you know it, rockers will be sucking down E's and going all Madchester again. Leading the charge—not to Madchester, but to '90s college radio—is Pink Nasty, a 24-year-old Wichita native currently based in Austin. On her second disc, Mold the Gold, Ms. Nasty (aka Sara Beck) channels such '90s cult stars as Spoon ("Dirty Soap"), Wilco ("Pass the Test"), and Liz Phair and Pavement ("Take It Back"), even getting Bonnie "Prince" Billy to add vocals to a couple tracks. But instead of sounding devoid of original ideas, Nasty's tunes bubble with a giddy joie de vivre. She's equally adept at playing tough, take-no-shit rocker grrl and wounded, take-no-shit country siren. Also, for each addictive hook she concocts, she pens a sexy, smart stanza like "A thousand cigarettes from the death/With Miller High Life on your breath/ Said I was your experiment/But I know where that test tube's been" (from "Pass the Test"). One listen to Mold the Gold will make you want to "smash your head on the indie rock" all over again. DAN STRACHOTA