Latest releases reviewed

THE MAGIC NUMBERS The Magic Numbers Heavenly/EMI ****

Only those with the hardest of hearts could fail to cheer the Magic Numbers on their way. Here's a quartet who, due to their looks and sounds, shouldn't be within an ass's roar of pop's tipping point, yet summer 2005 is set to be a season of mighty happenings for the Stodart and Gannon siblings. Peddling an inventive, wistful, downright breathtaking array of folky, soulful country-ish harmonies, The Magic Numbers may harken back to hairier, hazier, happier musical times, but such retro comparisons are largely to be found in the eye of the beholder. Look past the kooky, extra-terrestrial melodies and harmonies and you'll spy a resolute if subtle modernism at play here. It's this which turns everything from the tambourine-powered Love Me Like You to the ravaging, raffish Mornings Eleven into such charming, screaming winners. Sweet, simple pop music as pure as the day is long.

Jim Carroll

BILLY CORGAN TheFutureEmbrace Warner Brothers ****

If you believe those dictatorial rumours, this may be Billy Corgan's first solo album in name only. Even so, in the wake of The Smashing Pumpkins and the mystifyingly short-lived Zwan, Goth rock's answer to Kojak is staying true to himself. Holding onto the endlessly layered guitars of his signature sound, Corgan lets his influences ring out in sharp Joy Division synths and The Cure's smeary goth pop, drawing us deeper into the album's emotional core. Full of surprises, the misfit least likely to sing "We can change the world" or to pay tribute to the Bee Gees does precisely both - his natural sneer and Robert Smith's backing vocals transforming To Love Somebody into a bristling recrimination. From standouts DIA to Walking Shade, the tone pivots between devotion and menace, leaving you with something as thorny and coldly beautiful as a perfectly black rose.

Peter Crawley

TELEPOPMUSIK Angel Milk Catalogue ***

It's been so long since this French electro trio's debut album, Genetic World, we'd almost forgotten them. Fabrice Dumont, Christophe Hetier and Stephan Haeri have all been busy on solo projects, but for the past year they've been holed up in their Parisian studio, along with original guest singers Angela McCluskey and Mau from Earthling. They've added a new guest singer, Deborah Anderson, and her delicate, airlike tones contrast nicely with McCluskey's old-fashioned forces radio rasp. There's a bit of Björk on Stop Running Away and a measure of Massive Attack on Hollywood on My Toothpaste, and the sound leans more towards jazz and swing than electro. As McCluskey sang in her solo hit, it's been done, but Telepopmusic give a regal bearing to this well-worn genre, and there's something for the connoisseur in nearly every tune.

Kevin Courtney

THE TEARS Here Come The Tears Independiente ****

When Bernard Butler walked out of Suede just after the gothic masterpiece that was 1994's Dog Man Star (one of the top 10 ever British rock albums, it should be noted), he was walking out on a songwriting partnership with Brett Anderson that was spoken of in terms of Difford/Tilbrook and Morrissey/ Marr. With Butler's guitarist-for-hire solo career going nowhere and Suede having broken up, the two Britpop refugees have reunited. Ditching the Suede name for The Tears, this comeback album sees them back in low-rent doomed romanticism territory. Thankfully, Anderson has lost his helium-like vocal delivery and doesn't emote as much as he used to, and Butler still has his virtuoso chops. Still sounding like an indie Soft Cell, the opener Refugees sets the glam decadence mood, with the single Lovers and the ambitious Apollo 13 jollying things along nicely. If this had been the follow-up to Dog Man Star, things might have been very different, indeed. Great to have them back.

Brian Boyd

MALCOM MIDDLETON Into the WoodsChemikal Underground ***

In the past 10 years, Falkirk's Arab Strap haven't exactly set the charts alight with their lo-fi meanderings. But if casual charm can win hearts and cause smiles to crease straightlaced features, then surely the second solo album from AS's guitarist Malcolm Middleton can continue this run of thoroughly acceptable underachievement? Middleton has been recently described as the Scottish Conor Oberst by no less an authority than the overachieving, talent-free zone that is Kelly Osbourne. She's nowhere near the mark - Middleton and this fine album of conversational, expletive-laden urban folk music highlight a special kind of individuality that speaks directly to the listener. It won't be for everyone (it's too wantonly amateurish, rude and ungainly for starters - don't be fooled by the Stephen Sondheim facsimile title), but those who have no fear of metaphorical grit under the fingernails will find it difficult to resist.

Tony Clayton-Lea

SONS AND DAUGHTERSThe Repulsion Box Domino ****

Scottish bands have never been behind the door about flashing their influences for the world to see. From Teenage Fanclub with their debt to Big Star to Franz Ferdinand and their reworking of Gang of Four and Sparks, there has been an unabashed plundering of what's gone before. Four-piece Sons and Daughters, who announced their arrival last year with the fierce, scratchy Johnny Cash, buck the trend. Built around the dueling, sexually tense vocals of rouged-lipped Adele Bethel and slick-haired Scott Patterson, they soundtrack broken relationships crippled by shabby desire. Red Receiver and Choked are dark psycho-billy stand-outs in an album of many pounding moments. There might be a touch of PJ Harvey's punch and a little of old Scottish greats Orange Juice's chop and clang here, but for the most part Sons and Daughters draw their own maps. A great, filthy debut.

Paul McNamee

MODEY LEMON The Curious City Mute **

Armed with guitars, moogs, bass, drums and a Tri-Wave Peako Generator (I kid you not), this Pittsburgh trio make a dense, clattery, psychedelic punk rattle that goes from eight miles high to 20,000 leagues under the sea in a New York minute. Walking in the messed-up footprints of A.R.E. Weapons, and with 1950s sci-fi/horror movies running through their heads, Modey Lemon are striking out on their own weirdcore path via such acid-fried, electronic wig-outs as Bucket of Butterflies, Sleepwalkers, In Another Land, Mr Mercedes and In the Cemetery. You can hear everything from early Velvets to late Led Zep in this lysergic stew of sound, and you might also hear a buzzing in your ear long after Trapped Rabbits, an extended parting shot of musical myxamatosis, comes to its crashing end.

Kevin Courtney