KING'S X (Atlantic 82372)
Heavy metal tends to emphasize aural aggression, while guitar pop puts its emphasis on melodic effervescence. King's X, though, stresses both elements, which is why this Houston-based trio is probably the best unknown band in rock today. It may not stay that way much longer, though, if "King's X" reaches the audience it deserves. Catchy enough to verge on the addictive, the songs here seem almost irresistible, from the tuneful crunch of "Black Flag" to the Beatlesque psychedelia of "Not Just for the Dead." Yet, as irresistible as these songs are, the band never settles for the obvious approach, making its music as memorable as it is distinctive.
Melissa Etheridge (Island 314 512 120)
Contrary to what you might have heard on her last two albums, Melissa Etheridge isn't just another emotionally intense female folk singer -- she's actually the new Rod Stewart. Just listen to the way she leans into "Ain't It Heavy," the "Maggie May"-ish rocker who opens "Never Enough." Etheridge hasn't completely abandoned the balladry that built her reputation as emotionally overwrought, instrumentally understated numbers like "Place Your Hand" or "The Boy Feels Strange" make plain. But with the bulk of the album given over to transparently trendy material like "Must Be Crazy for Me" or the beat-driven "2001," "Never Enough" is often a little too much.
Quadrophonia (RCA 61019)
In an odd way, techno -- the intensely robotic dance music that's all the rage in Europe these days -- has much more in common with new age music than old-fashioned disco. That's not to say techno bands share new age music's fondness for soft textures and quiet melodies, but both styles do tend to work better as a sort of functional background music. Take, as an example, Quadrophonia's "Cozmic Jam." No matter how powerful the beats might be, they're more often felt than heard, washing over the listener with an insistent monotony while an ever-changing stream of synths, samples and half-chanted vocals hold the foreground. Tuneful it isn't, but it does get the job done, and for techno fans, that's the only requirement.
David Murray (DIW/Columbia 48963)
If the funky organ approach to small-combo jazz seems thoroughly worn-out, it's probably because you heard what tenor saxophonist David Murray does with the format on "Shakill's Warrior." Instrumentally, the album seems a throwback to the down-home funk of Houston Person; stylistically, however, the music Murray and company make is in a league of its own. On "In the Spirit," for instance, organist Don Pullen transforms the gospel vernacular into something entirely new, while "High Priest" offers an angular take on the blues that makes the most of Murray's tenor growl.