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The shows go March-ing in

| February 29, 2012

The March issue takes centerstage today, but we’d be remiss to skip over some worthy shows kicking off the month: Islands, Punch Brothers, Lynch Mob, and Water Liars.

Since they junked The Unicorns, Islands have peddled fairly lighthearted psychedelic pop — maybe to a disadvantage. With A Sleep & A Forgetting (Anti), however, emotional weight seizes the band like a bear trap. Stripped and focused on Nick Thornburn‘s recent divorce, they quest for what went wrong, even metaphorically taking their past to task on “This Is Not A Song.” Echoing Beulah’s The Coast Is Never Clear, Islands delicately transpose Thornburn’s emptiness with unobtrusive, but never ineffective scores. Trying to move on doesn’t have to mean business as usual. (Thursday@Lincoln Hall with Idiot Glee.)

In the beginning, Chris Thile‘s Nickel Creek splinter group, Punch Brothers, seemed like an outlet to stir his fringe musical tastes, and do so while provocatively acting like it was all just bluegrass. As time wore on, the quintet began gravitating back somewhat to the middle, though this winter’s Who’s Feeling Young Now? (Nonesuch) swerves into rock — well, acoustic roots rock strafed by virtuosic mandolin solos. They’re not being shy about this: Feeling‘s producer, Jacquire Young, has worked with Modest Mouse and Kings Of Leon; frequently revved singer/songwriter Josh Ritter cops to a pair of credits; and then there’s the telltale cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A,” which is not the most rawkin’ tune in the British band’s catalog, but the titular album track that heralded their own crossing of a forbidden, musical divide. (Thursday@Park West with Aoife O’Donovan.)

We know what he means, but George Lynch didn’t do his reputation much service by calling Lynch Mob‘s 2009 outing, Smoke & Mirrors (Frontiers) “the album that should have followed [1990’s] Wicked Sensation.” He’s paying lip service to returning Wicked vocalist Oni Logan, of course, but since Dokken’s acrimonious demise the ’80s guitar hero has made a career out of pairing with the vast network of pop-metal musicians who float in and out of each other’s bands. True to form, Lynch’s latest release — the solo Kill All Control — auditions a cast including Marc Torien and Keith St. John to generally equitable results. If anything, Control feels looser than Smoke & Mirrors, though that’s partly because he and Logan drag most of the latter’s songs well past the four-minute mark. (Friday@Viper Alley in Lincolnshire and Saturday@Mojoes in Joliet, both with Enuff Z’nuff and Bang Tango.)

It’s an old Sebadoh trick: downtuned guitar or distorted bass to open an otherwise midrange lo-fi track. Water Liars — who’ve recently changed their name from Phantom Limb — do so assuredly on their Misra debut, the album Phantom Limb. Just as that was a ploy Lou Barlow employed only occasionally, Justin Kinkel-Schuster and Andrew Bryant spend most of their time in lonely shadows, capturing an in-the-rehearsal-studio spontaneity and a raggedness that recalls naked Felice Brothers or even The Baptist Generals. (Friday@Township with The Gunshy and Al Scorch.)

— Steve Forstneger

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