It must have been nerve-racking enough for this Long Island-based hard rock quintet to follow their 2002 breakout album, "Tell All Your Friends." Their sincere, raw debut helped them elbow into the center of the hype exploding around the heart-bearing sound of emo. And then two band members quit last summer, just as they were due to tackle the Vans Warped Tour. The band rebounded quickly, finding replacements, playing the summer's final gigs and recording its follow-up, "Where You Want to Be." The change has done the group good, as it has developed and refined its sound. We're not talking sonic revolution here -- Taking Back Sunday still plays straight-ahead hard rock ablaze with earnest emotion and desperation-fueled vocals -- but the band stirs things up with fresh tempo shifts and melodic flourishes. Singer Adam Lazzara and guitarist/vocalist Fred Mascherino (one of the band's new members) make better use of their alternated vocals to build tension. "This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know)" finds the vocals stretching and cracking before adopting a heartfelt croon, while "The Union" is an explosive rocker with frantically bleating guitar. They test their range with the gentle ballad "New American Classic" and the slow-building intensity of ". . . Slowdance on the Inside." But the band and its fans can breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to a deft, self-assured follow-up. Taking Back Sunday performs on the Vans Warped Tour in the Gillette Stadium parking lot on Aug. 19. SARAH TOMLINSONThe Figgs
The Figgs' eighth full-length release presumably takes its name from band member Pete Donnelly's "Palais Royale" recording studio, but the title serves as pretty good shorthand for what happens on the record, too, given the palatial sweep of its offerings. The record is tied together by three versions ("Start Credits," "Intermission," and "End Credits") of the same song, which invite the listener to "Step inside, we'll have a good time/Do what you like." The Figgs do what they like, jumping across 30-plus years of rock history in the process. "We'll Be Doing Time" and "Simon Simone" recall "My Generation"-vintage Who, while there are liberal strains of various new wave styles on the Joe Jackson-esque "Your Only Hope" and the synth-dominated "Attack VCA" and "Please Hold On." Muscular rock 'n' roll ("Termites," "I Brought Kicks") and hooky power pop ("No One Here But You," "Kill Me Now") bump up against the beautiful slow groove of "Something Happened," plus the first-year French of drummer Pete Hayes's whacked-out "Je T'Adore" and the rootsy vibe of "Embrace the Train." Clocking in at around 75 minutes, the 25 songs would have fit comfortably on a single CD. Instead, the band has chosen to split them over two discs and to divide the track listing into four "sides," thereby referencing the vinyl-era double album. The Figgs are at T.T. the Bear's today and Ralph's in Worcester tomorrow. STUART MUNRODevin The Dude
TO THA X-TREME
Rap-A-Lot 4 Life/
Chances are you've never heard of him. But though Devin the Dude's third album, "To Tha X-Treme," probably won't get much attention, it may go down in hip-hop history as the most underappreciated album of 2004. Though Devin's album doesn't have a song that sounds like a conventional hit, it's chock-full of mellow, mood-altering aromatherapy. The drawling, Houston-based rapper's one and only love, like so many MCs, is weed, which lost its novelty as a subject in rap music more than a decade ago. Yet Devin ruminates on it with such revelry and bleary-eyed idolatry that you quickly find yourself feeling, shall we say, warm and fuzzy-headed along with him. Devin's style isn't the typical Southern fare -- he has neither the rapid-fire delivery nor the plus-100-beats-per-minute fetish that most rappers from below the Mason-Dixon Line exhibit. Devin's attitude and aesthetic, by contrast, is more Bay Area than Miami booty shake. His reflections on his own ennui, inertia, and discombobulation are at times pithy and uncanny, not to mention hilarious. "Cooter Brown," "Briarpatch," and "Anythang" -- which, perhaps appropriately, contains a sample from Rick James's "Hollywood" -- are among the album's best tracks. Overall, Devin's album encapsulates a slow cool.
ALEX P. KELLOGGCrooked Still
Crooked Still plays traditional songs with a contemporary sensibility. Like Gillian Welch, the young band makes old music sound new. "Hop High" is seductive and exciting. Aoife O'Donovan's gauzy voice rips through Welch's "Orphan Girl" as the banjo races and the bass and cello groove. The unusual instrumentation gives the music a dark, mysterious sound. These guys can play: Cellist Rushad Eggleston was nominated for a Grammy with band Fiddlers 4, O'Donovan sings with the jazz/bluegrassy Wayfaring Strangers, and Bela Fleck asked to learn Greg Liszt's banjo technique. O'Donovan's voice is alternately silky and cat's-tongue rough. Eggleston's cello grunts rhythm like a bass, then saws through a solo like a fiddle. There are no shrinking violets in "Hop High" -- the rebellious "Lulu Gal" hangs with "rough and rowdy men" and "Flora" drives a man to destruction. "Hop High" ends with a rousing singalong. Thanks to appearances at two major folk festivals and this fine album, Crooked Still is poised to break out. The group plays the Newport Folk Festival on Sunday. DANIELLE DREILINGER