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Our critics' picks in new releases

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Holy shit, someone finally got to Sam Coomes. With their last couple of efforts, the Olympia drum and keyboard duo has garnered well-deserved props from critics and fans alike for their intriguing pop melodies. Coomes custom builds his keyboards, implementing special effects and distortion, while Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss (Coomes' ex-wife) shows how spectacularly expressive a drum kit can be by using it as more than just a rhythm device. Previous releases Featuring: Birds and Field Studies were packed with expressive, catchy mini-jams: grandly interesting music, but consistently undermined by Coomes' one-note, sophomoric whining (some of it might be understandable, considering that their marriage broke up just prior to recording Birds). It's great if you can heal your pain with your passion, especially in concert with your ex-spouse, but Coomes' gloom didn't start or end with romance. And while the everybody's-so-full-of-it-especially-me schtick goes over well with teens, it gets old fast.

The Sword of God finds Coomes finally coming to grips with the realization that things may not suck so badly after all. He even "puts paid" to his earlier Barlow-esque persona in "It's Raining," an uplifting, Broadway-style melody that features the line, "You moan and you cry/But that won't affect the sky." Dang, if only someone had mentioned that to Coomes a few years back.

There's still bleak desperation aplenty here, but the songs on The Sword of God seem tempered by a choice not to equate contentment with defeat. Coomes' trademark black humor reaches a pinnacle on the disc's closer, "Rock and Roll Can Never Die," a hilarious, clichés-gone-amok instrumental featuring power chords augmented by cowbell, cavalry horns, bagpipes, and a sampled ping-pong match. Smart, funny stuff.

Now, if we can only get through to Eric Bachmann ...

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