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Follow The Leader
The leaders of the neo-metal movement that has fueled the success of bands like Limp Bizkit and the Deftones are back with their third release, Follow the Leader. True to KORN form, the album thunders with heavy-hitting guitar and growling lyrics - and true to KORN form, a little hip-hop is tossed in the mix. Ice Cube drops a little West Coast flavor on "Children of the KORN" and Tre' Hardson of Pharcyde demonstrates his freestyle skills on "Cameltosis." The real treat, though, is when frontman Jonathan Davis gets into a microphone shit-talking session with Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst on "All in the Family." Gangster rappers take note of Davis' ill vocal stylings: "You're a pimp - whatever. Limp Dick, Fred Durst needs to rehearse." If you need an adrenaline boost, this is better than a six-pack of Jolt cola and all five "Rocky" movies combined. Required listening.

Juliana Hatfield
Rounder Records/Zoe
Not every seasoned rock veteran has turned to the Chemical or Dust Brothers to put a fresh twist on a new album. In fact, Juliana Hatfield has done just the opposite with her fourth solo release. Written and recorded in just a few weeks, Bed is a refreshing return to the basics. This is rock ‘n' roll stripped to its essence - no fancy effects, no digital manipulation - just Hatfield and her guitar, sweet and simple. What starts out as a full-throttle guitar onslaught in the opening track, "Down on Me," tones down to a wistful strum by the final cut of the album as Hatfield explores the trials and tribulations of love found and love lost. This is the kind of music that translates to a killer live show.

Better Than Ezra
How Does Your Garden Grow
Better than Ezra's third release sprouts in all kinds of directions. Opening with a tripped-out kaleidoscope of gurgly singing, voice-overs and Pet Shop-esque vocals, the record grooves into "One More Murder," another Euro-flavored ditty. "At the Stars" and "Live Again" are more of what you'd expect from the band that brought you "Good" - songs that could illustrate any "Party of Five" crisis. Though for all its credible attempts to explore new avenues, some songs just don't deliver. "Like it Like That," sounds like Davy Jones on a bad acid trip, and the guitar-crunching "Pull" and bratty ranting of "New Kind of Low" won't put Ezra in the "file under bad-asses" section of your campus record store. But the slower tunes prove the band still has the goods to keep Charlie getting laid.

Jack Drag
Dope Box
A&M/Devil's Weed
Psychedelic hippie-rock with an occasional breakbeat and space-age effects make Jack Drag's "Dope Box" the most universally appealing album since Beck's "Odelay." Not universally appealing in the Wal-Mart sense of the word - but this is the kind of CD you can toss in at any party and and nobody will bitch about it. Light up your herb of choice and get lost in the melodic bliss of "Tall Buildings" or the sonic depths of the instrumental "Kung Fu Dub." Frontman John Dragonetti's vocals delicately float over the cello-enhanced "Where are We" and creep in and out from the distortion in "Debutante" and "Psycho Clogs." The Dope Box is where Paul Simon meets Moby - kick back and enjoy on your next road trip or slap on headphones and take a musical jaunt of your own.

Various Artists
For the Masses
People are people, so come on, admit it - you loved Depeche Mode back in the the day. On this inspired tribute album to the gurus of synth-pop, the Smashing Pumpkins deliver an acoustic version of "Never Let Me Down Again," The Cure look at "World in My Eyes," and Veruca Salt find "Somebody." Other violators: Failure, Monster Magnet, Rabbit In The Moon, Gus Gus, Dishwalla and more. Enjoy the silence.

The Flys
Holiday Man
Trauma Records
Don't expect this L.A.-area band to buzz off anytime soon. We predict their debut album may actually escape the one-hit wonder curse. The edgy lyrics of brothers Adam and Joshua Paskowitz combine with hypnotic guitar for a soulful rock sound. The album also includes the melancholy hit single, "Got You (Where I Want You)," from the summer thriller, Disturbing Behavior.

My Early Burglary Years
Reprise Records
This compilation of rarities, B-sides and unreleased tracks from the former Smith's frontman spans the artist's entire 10-year solo career. Highlights include a live cover of T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer." Required listening for both die-hard fans and those unfamilar with the British crooner's heartfelt arrangements. Just make sure to keep the tissues handy for this one.

MC Lyte
Seven and Seven
Elektra Entertainment
With her sixth solo album, hip-hop pioneer MC Lyte proves she's not only still in the game, but she's also ahead of the competition. Lyte is joined by former Audio Two frontman Milk in a remake of his classic "Top Billin," and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott appears on three of the album's tracks, including the head-bobbin' "In my Business." New jacks take heed.

Emm Gryner
Mercury Records
Don't be surprised when you see this pint-sized vocalist. She's barely five feet tall, but man, can she wail. In her debut album, Gryner serves up a dozen gut-wrenching ballads that'll pull at your heartstrings. Just sit back, wallow in self-pity.


If you'd stuck a guitar in Will Johnson's face a few years back, he probably would've looked at you like you were on crack. That's because he didn't bother to learn how to play the guitar until he recorded his first album, Redo the Stacks. In fact, he swears he still doesn't really know his way around a six-string.

"It just happens that Redo the Stacks is sort of a documentation of me learning how to play instruments," says Johnson, a drummer by trade. "It sounds like a joke, but it's kind of true." You wouldn't know it from listening to the masterpiece (which is being rereleased this month on Doolittle Records), a collection of raw, pop-influenced tracks captured in a manner Johnson attributes to "punk-rock ethics." Much of the album was recorded on 4-tracks and, for the ultimate in low-fi artistry, on a regular old tape recorder.

But to appreciate the creative details that make Centro-matic's music stand out in a sea of alt-rock adequacy, you've got to hear them for yourself. Johnson, who played just about every instruments on Stacks, spent August with a group of friends (now bandmates) recording Centro-matic's second album.

"It may be a bit more [high tech than the last record], but I'm certainly not planning on it," says Johnson, who graduated from the U. of North Texas last year. "We aren't that fancy or high falutin' just yet. We're still learning how to play together, so you're going to get us warts and all." Look for Centro-matic's growth-filled second album next spring on Doolittle. -Marisa Laudadio, Associate Editor

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