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BAD RELIGION The Empire Strikes First ****

If it’s not broke, why fix it? Bad Religion have been spewing out politically charged, against-all-odds punk rock, complete with shamefully catchy choruses, for longer than any pet you have has been alive. The Empire is overtly angled towards current issues (read: George W. Bush’s war), but they do flirt with tried-and-true topics like organized religion and God. As always, their language is scathing, burning into your brain like microsurgery: (“Let them eat war! That’s how to ration the poor.”) BR are more potent than ever amid current tides. (Epitaph)

THE CORAL Magic & Medicine ****

The Coral extract the essential juice of oldies-but-goodies tunes like Three Dog Night’s “One” and The Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday, Monday” and flatly refuse to modernize—they un-self-consciously use words like “chimneytop,” “cobbled streets” and “processed ham”). Jangly acoustic guitars, Doors-y keys and an intriguing accent that buffs The Coral’s dull lyrics to a high gloss are heated up by harmonica in the harder-rockin’ “Talkin’ Gypsy Market Blues.” (Columbia)

AMBULANCE LTD. Ambulance Ltd. ***

Ambulance Ltd., not to be confused with Son Ambulance of Saddle Creek Records, braids the lush psychedelia of the Warlocks with a dressed-up shoegazer vibe and plenty of old-fashioned U.K. snobbery. “Anecdote” possesses the simple grace of a Beatles ballad, and the heavy undertow of “Ophelia” pulls like quicksand. Ambulance Ltd. are not original, but their big, blue eyes, full cherry-red lips and stubbled-just-so jawlines will guarantee they’ll go far. (TVT)

THE KITE-EATING TREE Method: Fail, Repeat **

With such a tasty name as The Kite-Eating Tree (stolen from that ancient ’toon Peanuts, kiddies), you might get your hopes up about the band. Don’t. There is an element of shadow to these moody emo boys, as evidenced from awesome lyrics like “Smiling sinister break through your thin veneer/Wielding your bleached out prosthesis like so many bones,” but their music lacks oomph, energy, mojo—in short, good riffs. (Suburban Home)

TWILIGHT OPHERA The End of Halcyon Age **

If you’re going to be a Swedish black-metal band with dewy-bosomed S& chicks and cloaked skeletons on your CD cover, and 2-inch-thick chains hanging from the ceiling and wraparound Matrix sunglasses in your promo shot, and “Gothic Prelude for Capricious Equanimity” and “Cruciferous Lunacy” for your song titles, your music had better be damned good to curtail the clichés. Twilight Ophera’s isn’t. But the lyrics are dense and unique. Too late. (Crash)

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Rebecca Vernon

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