Cat Power, Matt Costa, Natasha Bedingfield And More Storm The Stores, In New Releases

Also due Tuesday: Backyardigans, Drive-By Truckers, North Mississippi Allstars, Buzzcocks, MGMT.

The Northeast and many other parts of the country are locked in the dreary winter blues at the moment, with the denizens nipping at their frostbitten fingertips and gnawing on their chapped lips in anticipation of sunnier days and warmer nights. But lucky for the music fans among them, a magical spring awaits inside your local CD store! Grab a light jacket and a pair of binoculars, and take a stroll with us as we check out this week's New Releases ...

It's 9 a.m., and what better way to start the day than with a Pocketful of Sunshine courtesy Natasha Bedingfield. We trot out the back door, and through the yard as the British songstress — who you know from "The Hills"; the theme song, "Unwritten," was all her doing — coaxes Sean Kingston out of the woods for a rendition of her sophomore effort's first single, "Love Like This." Super-producers J.R. Rotem, Rodney Jerkins and Danjahandz materialize, hammering away on the ones and twos as she continues to perform. "I've been dating, searching for a partner, looking for Mr. Right," she says (um, in a statement). "This album reflects those feelings and that journey."

Our journey continues as we head out the door and see some Unfamiliar Faces in the neighborhood. Matt Costa — who, like Bedingfield, is giddy about his own second album — coaxes us away from the strangers and lulls us with the pop, country, folk and rock sounds of his latest effort for Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records. The 25-year-old troubadour tells us tales of working again with mentor Tom Dumont of No Doubt — "One of the first things he told me to do was to stop practicing and just let it come out — it was like the light went on in my head," he imparts.

Speaking of light, now that it's almost noon, it's pretty bright outside — and with the sun beating mercilessly, it's hard to Watch the Sky, as much as Patty Larkin might want us to. The folk-pop vet plays us her new opus — which she wrote, produced, engineered and edited all on her own — fusing modern technology with acoustic instruments like the "slapsteel," a detuned lap-steel guitar that is played with a drumstick and hand.

The sweet sounds coax a household pet out of a nearby home — a feline who refers to herself as "Cat Power." The critter reveals that she was named Chan Marshall before she was reincarnated, and shares with us a new creation of her own, Jukebox, which sparks memories of her 2000 release, The Covers Record. She regales us with homages to Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and even Billie Holiday, before letting us know that the limited edition of her release has a bonus disc with five bonus covers, and that the iTunes version also has a bunch of extra tunes.

With that, we head through the backyard again — and encounter, naturally, the Backyardigans! As the Nickelodeon sensations burst into song — arena rock, hip-hop, zydeco, what have you — a few of their neighbors join in on the fun. Alicia Keys chimes in on "Almost Everything Is Boinga," while Cyndi Lauper jazzes up "Lady in Pink." Before we go, the Backyardigans remind us that their CD comes in eco-friendly recycled packaging but that, if we want to be even more Earth-friendly, we should ditch the physical release and go for the iTunes one instead — after all, it also has four extra songs.

Soon we find ourselves in a meadow, which just so happens to be inhabited by ... Japanese post-rock experimentalists Mono! "The Sky Remains the Same as Ever," they murmur into our ears, letting us know that their first-ever DVD is a packed two-hour set with 12 concert performances, documentary material and various in-the-"field" clips.

Good thing we remembered to bring our binoculars, because there are a ton of feathered creatures flying around in this meadow. Biirdie — who have a nest in Glendale, California — flutter their wings to the country-infused orchestral sounds of their Catherine Avenue album. Giving us a Hitchcockian scare, the Birds of Prey swoop down. The flock — which includes members of Baroness, Municipal Waste and Alabama Thunderpussy — peck away at us with their metal-icious second album, Sulfur & Semen. Philadelphia's Birds of Maya start biting into us too, with their loud new Holy Mountain release, Vol. 1. "Those Birds Are Bats," our friends Mahjongg tell us, before busting out some dance moves and enigmatically adding, "Kontpab."

Where there are birds, there are bees, and both are as one on Birds by Collections of Colonies of Bees. The flock and the swarm commingle, shooing away their previous bluegrass and folk sounds in favor of all-out, boisterous pop. Is that an analog synthesizer we hear in the distance? Indeed, it is.

Chasing the sound, we enter into the woods and come across some Super Furry Animals. We saw these critters recently — they introduced us to their new album, Hey Venus!, in the summer, although you could only get it if you had a computer. This time around, they present us with the physical version of their eighth album, which has a CD of extra material, as well as some colorful, 'toony new artwork by Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami.

More furry creatures hop into our lap — a herd of animals who call themselves "Foxy Shazam" and purr to us with voices inflected by soul and rock. Hailing from Cincinnati, the feel-good Foxies tell us they picked up a musical tip or two from Chiodos producer Casey Bates, who put the shine on their Introducing LP. Some "Cuddling Raccoons" try to get some love to — they say they're from a city called "Sex Death Cassette" that was made by Rafter, a psychedelic-disco junkie.

The Foxies and raccoons climb off our lap, and it's time to get some exercise. Luckily we remembered to bring our kites ... Kites for Charity, that is. We borrowed them from moody Swedish pop-sters Jettie, and as we fly them, we fittingly hear songs like "#3 Nest and the Wind," "The Sky Over Santa Rosa" and "Letter Carrier."

As we're looking up in the sky, we see planes crisscrossing overhead. As they go back and forth, Steve Aoki's Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles begins ringing in our ears — the founder of the Dim Mak label blended together everything from Peaches to Bloc Party on his mix CD. If we look hard enough at the airplane, we can even see a few familiar faces singing and rapping along: Spank Rock, Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat, Santogold, Mickey Avalon, the Faint's Todd Fink and Har Mar Superstar.

Our necks are starting to hurt, so we turn our heads downward and say, "Hello, Blue Roses," to lovely flowers that were grown by Dan Bejar of Destroyer and his girlfriend, Sydney Vermont. Tattooed on the roses is a poetic phrase, The Portrait Is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty ..., and if we listen closely enough, we can hear what sounds like a cross between '60s femme folk and '80s AOR.

We're getting antsy again, so we go deep into the woods, where we trample over small piles of Sticks and Stones. Moe. remind us that if some of the twigs and rocks get lodged in our sneakers, "it's all good" — after all, the jam band can always mellow us out with its endless noodling. The guys tell us that they actually brought the Sticks and Stones from somewhere else: an old church they rented in mountains in New England.

Mountains ... they are indeed within our view. First we trudge up Black Mountain, which looks as scary as it sounds ("Tyrants," "Evil Ways," "Stormy High"). The Mountains are expansive In the Future, filled with folk-pop, and it takes us a whole 17 minutes to traverse one ridge, nicknamed "Bright Lights."

Once we descend that peak, we're faced with another range: Mtn. High. As we scale the cliffs, we're assaulted by a punk-rock onslaught of triple-drumming, quad-guitars and multiple basses — but we, the collective Wicked Wanderer, come out alive. It feels like we've gone Into Abaddon, that sludgy "place of destruction" where you can only be rescued by Saviours.

We're dirty from all the hiking, so we head down to C Unseen Sea — a place our good friend Dillon suggested — for a quick swim. As we splash around, we try to pull off some of our old-school hip-hop dance moves underwater, but soon remember we're just as much into ghetto tech these days.

We swim out a bit into the sea and discover Monster Island. It's inhabited by the Dream Tiger, which uses instruments as varied as the sitar, harmonium and water harp to relay its eclectic ethnic-folk blend. Behind the beast are members of His Name Is Alive, Outrageous Cherry and Destroy All Monsters the latter of which deserve a little attention of their own in light of a reissue of their Live in Tokyo album.

We finish our swim and lay out on the beach, where we draw a Line in the Sand with Zox, a gang of reggae-rockers from Providence, Rhode Island. They whisper sweet nothings into our ears, like "I Miss You," "Goodnight" and "Don't Believe in Love."

As we head home, we spot more Bodies of Water, and our head begins to twitter. Then we remember that a Los Angeles band warned us this would happen — "Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink," the guys told us, and we should have trusted their word, seeing as how they've toured in the past with the Go! Team and Phosphorescent.

While we're distracted, a terrifying Two Ton Sloth suddenly approaches. We've never encountered this beast before, although we do have an instruction manual of the same name that tells us we shouldn't be too afraid — the mash-up behemoth is nothing more than a spoken-word artist (Brad Hamers) and producer (PZ).

But there is more cause for alarm as a storm approaches. Our good pal Liam Finn comes to mind — "I'll Be Lightning," he once told us, adding that the best way to make sure you don't get hit by a bolt is by looping your guitar. Unfortunately, while we have binoculars and swim trunks, we left our axes behind.

As The Evening Descends, we rush home but are stopped midway by a group of Evangelicals, who use glam, synth and pop sounds to try to get us to convert. They talk our ears off about revivalism, insanity, zombies, good and evil and love, and by the time they're done, we want to be in bed.

Finally, after a very long day, we curl up alongside our wife Baby Dee, a worldly singer/songwriter/pianist/harpist, and she tells us all about her day working with Andrew W.K., Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and members of Antony and the Johnsons and Chavez. It's "Safe Inside the Day," she tells us, and after the long, sometimes-perilous outing we've had, it sounds like something we can agree with.

We think about writing a story based on our day called "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters," but as it turns out, a psychedelic-pop duo out of New York, MGMT, have already done that on their new album, Oracular Spectacular. Oh well — guess we'll have to find some other outlet for this story instead.

Song Title of the Week:

"Kiss My Komodo" from Truckee Brothers' Double Happiness

Album Cover of the Week:

The Selmanaires' The Air Salesmen

New Releases:

· Ben Allison & Man Size Safe - Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)

· American Speedway - Ship of Fools (limited-edition; with vinyl; Prophase)

· Steve Aoki - Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles (Thrive)

· ASG - Win Us Over (Volcom)

· The Audition - Champion (Victory)

· Baby Dee - Safe Inside the Day (Drag City)

· The Backyardigans - Born to Play (Nick)

· Natasha Bedingfield - Pocketful of Sunshine (Epic) [Buy Now]

· Steven Bernstein - Diaspora Suite (Tzadik)

· Big Noyd - Illustrious (Koch)

· Biirdie - Catherine Avenue (Drive-Thru)

· Billy Talent - 666 Live (with DVD; Warner Music Canada)

· Birds of Maya - Vol. 1 (Holy Mountain)

· Birds of Prey - Sulfur & Semen (Relapse)

· Black Mountain - In the Future (Jagjaguwar)

· Blood on the Wall - Liferz (The Social Registry)

· Blues Company - Hot and Ready to Serve (Inakustic)

· Bodies of Water - Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink (Thousand Tongues/ Secretly Canadian)

· Ray Bonneville - Goin' Be Feel (Red House)

· The Breathing Process - In Walking: Divinity (Ferret)

· Buzzcocks - 30 (live; Cooking Vinyl) [Buy Now]

· Byzantine - Oblivion Beckons (Prosthetic)

· Barton Carroll - The Lost One (Skybucket)

· Cat Power - Jukebox (deluxe edition with bonus CD due same day; Matador) [Buy Now]

· Collections of Colonies of Bees - Birds (Table of Elements)

· Matt Costa - Unfamiliar Faces (Brushfire) [Buy Now]

· Daedelus - Live at Low End Theory (Alpha Pup)

· Dengue Fever - Venus on Earth (M80)

· Disfear - Live the Storm (Relapse)

· Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)

· Envy - Abyssal (EP) and All the Footprints You've Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead (Temporary Residence)

· Evangelicals - The Evening Descends (Dead Oceans)

· Ex-Reverie - The Door Into Summer (Drag City)

· Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning (Yep Roc)

· The Fleshtones - Take a Good Look! (Yep Roc)

· Foxy Shazam - Introducing (Ferret)

· Get Set Go - Get Set Go Presents: Sunshine, Joy, & Happiness (TSR)

· Hello, Blue Roses - The Portrait Is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty ... (Locust)

· Hexlove - Knew Abloom (Life's Hood) (Holy Mountain)

· Hey Willpower - PDA (Tomlab)

· Instruments of Science and Technology - Music From the Films of R. Swift (Secretly Canadian)

· Jettie - Kites for Charity (Eyeball)

· The Kennedys - Better Dreams (Appleseed)

· Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause - The Rustic Contemporary Sounds of Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause (International Hits)

· Patty Larkin - Watch the Sky (Vanguard)

· Love in October - Pontus, the Devil, and Me (The Musik Group)

· Love Is All - Love Is All Mixed Up (Phonica)

· Mahjongg - Kontpab (K)

· The Matinee Club - The Modern LP (Ninthwave)

· MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (Columbia) [Buy Now]

· Moe. - Sticks and Stones (Fat Boy)

· Monster Island - Dream Tiger (Book Beat)

· Mtn. High - Wicked Wanderer (Hot Dog City)

· North Mississippi Allstars - Hernando (Sounds of the South)

· Jack Peñate Matinee (XL Recordings)

· Steve Poltz - Traveling (Thirty Tigers)

· Rafter - Sex Death Cassette (Asthmatic Kitty)

· The Red Death - Godmakers (Ferret)

· The Matt Savage Trio - Hot Ticket: Live in Boston (Savage/Palmetto)

· Saviours - Into Abaddon (Kemado)

· The Selmanaires - The Air Salesmen (International Hits)

· Sam Shalabi - Eid (Alien8)

· Team Robespierre - Everything's Perfect (Impose)

· Times New Viking - Rip It Off (Matador)

· Truckee Brothers - Double Happiness (Populuxe)

· Two Ton Sloth - Two Ton Sloth (Token Recluse)

· The Whigs - Mission Control (ATO)

· The Whitsundays - The Whitsundays (Friendly Fire)

· Zox - Line in the Sand (Side One Dummy)

· Various artists - The Opera Gala: Live From Baden-Baden (Deutsche Grammophon)

Notable Reissues and Archival Material:

· Eric Anderson - Avalanche and Eric Anderson (DBK Works)

· Brigitte Bardot - Brigitte Bardot Sings (Lilith)

· Canned Heat - Vintage (Lilith)

· Destroy All Monsters - Live in Tokyo (Book Beat)

· Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Works, Volume 1 and 2 (Shout! Factory)

· Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette - Setting Standards (three-CD box set; ECM)

· Sneaky Pete Kleinow - The Shiloh Recordings (Sundazed)

· Lillian Axe - Lillian Axe and Love + War (Metal Mind)

· London After Midnight - Oddities, Psycho Magnet and Selected Scenes From the End of the World (Metropolis)

· Lisa Loeb - The Purple Tape (two CDs; Furious Rose) [Buy Now]

· Mindless Self Indulgence - You'll Rebel to Anything (enhanced; MSI/Metropolis)

· Buck Owens - "Live" in Scandinavia (Sundazed)

· Plastic Crimewave Sound - No Wonder Land (Prophase)

· Jason Ringenberg - Best Tracks and Side Tracks: 1979-2007 (Yep Roc)

· Steel Breeze - Steel Breeze (Renaissance)

· Sugarhill Gang - Sugarhill Gang (DBK Works) [Buy Now]

· Super Furry Animals - Hey Venus! (with bonus CD; Rough Trade)

· Various artists - Putumayo Kids Presents: Hawaiian Playground (Putumayo World Music)

· Various artists - Putumayo Presents: Latin Reggae (Putumayo World Music)

Music DVDs:

· Donovan - "The Donovan Concert: Live in L.A." (Raven)

· James Ian - "Through the Years: A Retrospective" (Rude Girl)

· Mono - "The Sky Remains the Same as Ever" (Temporary Residence)

· Patrick Moraz - "Live in Princeton" (Voiceprint)

· The Osmond Brothers - "Country Rockers" (Quantum Leap)

· Radiohead - "The DVD Box" (two DVDs; Music Video Distributors) [Buy Now]

· The Smiths - "Inside the Smiths" (Mams) [Buy Now]

· Soul Syndicate Band - "Word, Sound and Power" (Focused)

· Various artists - "Cruisin Love Songs, Volume 2" (Quantum Leap)

· Various artists - "Dancing in the Street" (JLT)

· Various artists - "Metal Blade Records: 25th Year in Video" (DVD; Metal Blade)

· Various artists - "Reggae Nashville: Deep Roots Music 2: Bunny Lee Story/ Black Ark" (Screen Edge)

Digital Releases:

· Dillon - C Unseen Sea (available starting Friday; Kitty-Yo)

· AJ Lambert - EP (self-released)

· Yellowcard - Live From Las Vegas at the Palms (iTunes exclusive; Capitol)

Coming Attractions:

January 29:

· Beck - Odelay - Deluxe Edition (two CDs; Geffen/UMe) [Preorder]

· The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath (Universal) [Preorder]

· Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (XL)

February 5:

· Christina Aguilera - "Back to Basics: Live and Down Under" (two DVDs; RCA) [Preorder]

· Jack Johnson - Sleep Through the Static (Brushfire) [Preorder]

· Lenny Kravitz - It Is Time For A Revolution (Virgin) [Preorder]

February 12:

· Michael Jackson - Thriller 25 (with DVD; Epic/Legacy) [Preorder]

Read: "Michael Jackson, Akon Are 'Startin' Somethin' ' On Thriller 25 Track -- Listen To It Here!"

· Metric - "Live at Metropolis" DVD (Last Gang)

· Simple Plan - Simple Plan (Lava/Atlantic) [Preorder]