POP/ROCK: VCMG, "Ssss" (Mute)
VCMG stands for Vince Clarke and Martin Gore, the two synth-pop vets who co-founded Depeche Mode. Clarke left after writing most of the band's debut album, including perky New Wave classics such as "Dreaming of Me." While Gore led Depeche Mode into gothic seriousness and arena-size popularity, Clarke found success with Yaz and Erasure. "Ssss" is the first Clarke/Gore collaboration since 1981.
It's not a return to the percolating pleasures of early synth-pop; instead, it's an instrumental techno album, less concerned with melodies or hooks than with the steady beat to thump in clubs. That's fine, but it's disappointing coming from two guys once so good at writing catchy, memorable pop songs. Tracks hover around the six-minute mark, but they seem longer: The relentless rhythms, even with hints of the men's youthful obsession with Kraftwerk, prove you just can get enough. -STEVE KLINGE, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
POP/ROCK: The Magnetic Fields, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea" (Merge)
The New York indie-pop outfit's 15-track set reclaims the willfully dinky synth-pop sound that the Magnetic Fields renounced in recent years in favor of fuzzed-out guitar rock and strummy chamber folk. Fans of buzz-building mid-'90s albums such as "Get Lost" and "The Charm of the Highway Strip" will instantly recognize "God Wants Us to Wait," the shimmering pro-abstinence ditty that opens the CD with a bracing spritz of big-city sarcasm. Frontman Stephin Merritt has so refined his wry lyrical approach that his words -- not the music behind them -- almost exclusively define his songs. He writes most often about romance gone wrong. Merritt isn't depending on anyone's associations with his old work to put his new material across -- especially not his own. -MIKAEL WOOD, LOS ANGELES TIMES
POP/ROCK: WZRD, "WZRD" (Universal Republic)
WZRD is an alliance of Kid Cudi and one of his earliest producers, Dot da Genius ("Day N' Nite"). Cudi drums, plays guitar, and sings. WZRD comes across as something like "The Wall"-- if only 1960s Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd had recorded Roger Waters' ode to dark introspection.
Throughout this wiry epic, there are lyrical hints of a life well-squandered. The sour "Live & Learn" is particularly testy, filled with starry eyes and scars. Although the melodies are strong and the hooks deep ("Brake" might be one of the catchiest space-rock tunes of the last 30 years), the airy, synthetic arrangements and rude grooves here have a duskily psychedelic and grungy edge. "Teleport 2 Me, Jamie" embraces Pink's messed-up mesh of layered keyboards and skuzzy guitars. The fuzz-toned, raw-knuckled "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" is an acidic come- down, the soundtrack to a bad trip's finale. How comfortably numb can you get? -A.D. AMOROSI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER