UP THE BRACKET

The Libertines

The buzz on England's Libertines is that they're the next big Strokes, and judging from the first two songs on the band's debut disc, "Up the Bracket," you can believe the hype. "Vertigo" and "Death on the Stairs" glide on the same shuffling guitar and loose-limbed backbeat that propel the Strokes' best tunes. Meanwhile, the band's two singer-guitarists, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, seem plugged into the same microphone that makes Julian Casablancas sound like he's coming to you live from the crustiest dive in Lower Manhattan. But the further into the album you go, the more the band's Englishness kicks in. The Libertines can be snotty like the Buzzcocks, anthemic like the Clash and wistful like the Kinks -- sometimes all in the same song. And as produced by Clash great Mick Jones, "Up the Bracket" totally bypasses studio sheen in favor of jangling cacophony. The album is a glorious mess.

Take the title track, which opens with a screech that borders on a belch and then moves headlong into a bashing pop tune. While scratchy guitars duke it out behind him, Doherty croaks a blissful melody and spins a fractured yarn that's half mash note, half caper film. "I Get Along" is a body-slamming punk rocker laced with spit and vinegar but sweetened by a tossed-off Tin Pan Alley-style bridge. And throughout the disc, the lyrics conjure a cast of beautiful losers -- English ruffians, mainly, dressed to the nines and spoiling for a fight.

So call "Up the Bracket" an early contender for year's-best honors. The Libertines may be 2003's hottest hype, but they're obviously more than this year's models.

-- Shannon Zimmerman

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8183.)

CHINATOWN

Be Good Tanyas

Quick, name the band of three young women who play guitars, mandolins and banjos and have been heralded to the rafters by the alternative-country music crowd.

The Dixie Chicks? Not even close. It's the Be Good Tanyas, but the band has more in common with fellow melancholy Canadians the Cowboy Junkies than the sprightly Chicks.

The Tanyas' sophomore collection of tunes, "Chinatown," is a pristinely produced, competently performed album of dreary dirges that make Townes Van Zandt sound like the Sex Pistols.

In fact, their version of Van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die" is even more deliberately bleak than the late Texas songwriter's original.

Apparently there's a market for "emo folk," at least among music critics, as the Tanyas' debut disc, 2001's "Blue Horse," was met with such acclaim that unsuspecting listeners may have had the impression that the trio -- Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein -- was going to be the Next Big Thing in alternative country circles.

As if. Maybe it's the longing for a miserable winter to recede into history, but it's hard to think anyone this spring would want to listen to "The Junkie Song," "Lonesome Blues," "In Spite of All the Damage," "In My Time of Dying" and "I Wish My Baby Was Born" (a ditty about a miscarriage).

Even the warmly titled "Rowdy Song" is brittle cold. There is a modicum of heat in the quaveringly sung "House of the Rising Sun," but the Tanyas do what was only joked about before: They make the banjo sound depressing.

-- Buzz McClain

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8184.)