CHECK ENGINE Check Engine (Southern) Chicago’s music scene is rife with musicians doing double and triple duty; nearly every recording I’m reviewing in this week’s column is by some kind of alter ego or side project. That includes Check Engine, which features vocalist and saxophonist Steve Sostak and guitarist Chris Daly of Sweep the Leg Johnny, along with ex-Lynx bassist Paul Patrick Joyce, guitarist Joe Cannon, and drummer Brian Wnukowski. They seem to be trying to move away from Sweep’s abrasive math rock into more melodic pop–Big Star meets Drive Like Jehu, as their publicist puts it–but that’s not the feel I came away with. Sostak and Cannon–who sounds a little like Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto–bellow occasionally over complex, angular, intertwining rock riffs; once in a while the group cools down and plays with dynamics, but only on the peppy “Pain Don’t Hurt” does their pop sensibility outstrip their penchant for precision noodling.

DIVERSE Move (Chocolate Industries) In a promising development for the local hip-hop scene, Evanston MC Diverse (aka Kenny Jenkins) takes a hint from Philadelphia’s titanic Roots, backing his brainy but fluid rhymes with live (and live-sounding) tracks. This four-song EP features Rebel Souls drummer Ted Sirota, Isotope 217 bassist Matt Lux, one-time Roots bassist Josh Abrams, and sharp DJ Norman Rockwell; their liquid grooves seem to breathe along with Diverse, whose pitch-bending accents, melodic phrasing, and rounded consonants suggest a pre-rock Mos Def. A full album is due later this year.

KARMA SUTRA Prana (Underground Inc.) If nothing else, keyboardist and producer Preston Klik is persistent: he’s been hacking away at the music biz since the 80s, in a steady stream of irrelevant dance-pop bands that includes Big Hat, My Scarlet Life, Scarlet Life, and Pointy Teeth. Now, partnered with 22-year-old Indian vocalist Mona Jethmalani, he’s concocted a toothless East-West fusion that unimaginatively juggles Indian flavorings–a tamboura drone here, a tabla loop there–with New Age fluff, quasi-operatic flourishes, and Enya-ized melodies.

NAD NAVILLUS Show Your Face (Jagjaguwar) Nad Navillus is the current persona of singer and guitarist Dan Sullivan–a member of the Butcher Shop Quartet,the local group that performs a rock interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; he also tours as a member of Songs: Ohia. On this second Nad Navillus album, he performs a couple brief compositions by Benjamin Britten, and he often sounds like a weary troubadour. But the most prominent influence seems to be Gastr del Sol–it’s in the Fahey-esque fingerstyle guitar playing, the elastic (but not particularly memorable) song structures, and Sullivan’s thin, frequently tuneless singing.

OWEN Owen (Polyvinyl) Owen is Mike Kinsella–best known as Tim Kinsella’s brother and sometime bandmate in Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and the Owls. His solo debut features none of the throat-shredding emo or navel-gazing abstraction of those other combos; it’s pretty, plainspoken, and gentle to a fault. With the exception of a brief vocal cameo by Caithlin De Marrais of Rainer Maria, Kinsella does everything: the swirling acoustic guitar arpeggios, the misty synth patterns,the soft-touch drumming and coloristic vibes, and the hushed singing are all his. Unfortunately he does them all in pretty much the same proportion and rhythm on all nine songs, making it hard to tell when one ends and another begins, or to remember any of them when the record’s over.

THE TIMEOUT DRAWER A Difficult Future (Some Odd Pilot) Post-rock gone bad. This instrumental quartet builds many of its tunes up from terse, twitchy rock drumming, but the metronomic bass lines, cleanly articulated guitar patterns, and alternately cosmic and treacly synth washes make the Alan Parsons Project sound edgy. A friend who called while this was playing asked if I was listening to Steve Winwood.

VARIOUS ARTISTS Molemen Inc Presents: Chicago City Limits Vol. 1 (Molemen) A terrific survey of Chicago underground hip-hop that also holds together as an album, thanks to the unified production work of Molemen standbys Panik, PNS, and Memo. The tracks make the most of hip-hop fundamentals–beats to nod your head by braided with loops artfully sampled from old soul, funk, and sound track records; the MCs range from relatively well-known names like Juice, All Natural’s Capital D, and Molemen charter members Prime and Vakill to underexposed talents like Pugslee, Verbal, and Qwel. By its existence alone, this collection (and the future comps implied in its title) is helping combat Chicago hip-hop’s reputation for negativity and backbiting, denounced in Prime’s “The Sheppard”: “There’s no visible trace of team spirit or grace / And nobody in town supports anything it creates.”

VARIOUS ARTISTS Simmer: New Electronic Music From Chicago (Boxmedia) An inclusive sampling of the city’s fertile, underground computer-music scene–and you don’t have to stand around watching some guy finger his trackpad to hear it. Higher-profile contributions include the punctured, high-frequency tones of Seafoam, aka Philip von Zweck, host of the long-running WLUW experimental music show Something Else; the patient microscopic gestures of Wheaton Research, aka Brent Gutzeit, a member of TV Pow and proprietor of Boxmedia; and the quick-cut splatters of Fashion Will Guide Me, aka Kevin Drumm.