I am banking on the notion that the Almighty gets off on a more subtle invocation. Or, to put it more bluntly: God, this album bites.

-- Steven Almond

New Kingdom
Paradise Don't Come Cheap
(Gee Street)

New Kingdom are hip-hop hippies, but the yelling and blurry noise on Paradise Don't Come Cheap, their second album, mark them as children of Cypress Hill more than the spawn of Native Tongues. Jason Furlow spews blunted visions of Utopia and a suburban generation escaping "plastic furniture surroundings" by way of rap, reefer, comic books, and a bunch of fantasy-addled stuff that's hard to parse.

Better, then, to simply laugh along with Furlow and musical partner Sebastian Laws as they kick out the post-Sabbath jams and sing of an alternate universe in which "Unicorns Were Horses" and the cops won't bust you for bugging the neighbors with all-night practice sessions. It's a pretty sure bet that Furlow isn't sporting an entirely straight face when, on the subject of influences, he announces that the Muppets' "Animal was my favorite drummer." One cut later, on "Co Pilot," the team is dropping enough non sequitur references -- Bigfoot, Fantagraphics, Abraxas, Rodney Allen Rippy -- to convince me that they might apply for jobs as pop-culture professors down at the local community college. "From Cleveland to Brooklyn to Bleecker" aren't all the miles they travel; for one thing, there's the Vegas obsession manifested in the cover art. But wherever they go, New Kingdom are definitely frequent flyers.

-- Rickey Wright

Finn Brothers
Finn Brothers

With the long history of fraternal feuding in rock -- from the Everly Brothers to the Kinks' Davies duo to the Gallagher boys of Oasis -- it's nice to see a pair of musical siblings who can't seem to get enough of each other. Ever since 1977, when Tim Finn invited his little brother Neil to join his modestly successful new-wave outfit, New Zealand's Split Enz, the two have set separate courses in pop music that keep bumping into one another: Tim went solo in '84 and Neil took over Split Enz; two years later Neil broke up the band and formed Crowded House; Tim joined Neil's band in '91. This year, with interest in Crowded House long since waned, the Finn Brothers have decided to go duo.

Their debut release is a modest, understated album that combines the conventional beauty we've come to expect from Neil's melodic work with Crowded House and the eccentric charm typical of Tim's edgy, arty rock. So where the warbly synth of "Eyes of the World" is all new wave Tim, the piano balladry of "Where Is My Soul" reeks of popster Neil. "Only Talking Sense," meanwhile, combines Tim's angular minimalism with Neil's plaintive croon. And just when you think you've heard it all before, the Finns offer the bossa nova bounce of "Mood Swinging Man" and the tango sway of "Paradise" -- evidence, perhaps, that the lounge revival has reached Kiwi country.

Ultimately, though, it's Neil -- the better singer and songwriter of the family -- who makes the album memorable. Maybe that's why, more than any other rock siblings, the Finn brothers remind me of the unrelated Simon and Garfunkel. Which, come to think of it, explains a lot about Tim's less-than-inspiring solo career.

-- Roni Sarig

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