JEB LOY NICHOLS 6/19, SCHUBAS; 6/20, GUINNESS FLEADH This Texas boy has an aesthetic that can politely be called cosmopolitan–he once shared a house with Neneh Cherry, producer Adrian Sherwood, and Ari Up from the Slits. That worldly fusion is evident on his promising 1997 debut, Lovers Knot (Capitol), where he blends down-home balladry, light R & B, and sultry jazz into a suggestive rural soul. Nichols’s slice-of-life lyrics are not particularly remarkable–certainly they’re no match for the intense stare he wears on the album’s back cover–but they’re made more substantial by unusual arranging touches, say, a blast from John Medeski’s Hammond organ here, a barrage of Cyro Baptista’s percussion there. The end result comes off easy, but never insultingly so.

HATE FUCK TRIO 6/20, METRO Sam Destefano, leader of the Hate Fuck Trio, is a literature grad student who seems to have put together this band as an outlet for his repressed fascination with very short words. On the Denver quartet’s–yes, quartet’s–You Know, For Kids (Shaky), the jokes are predictable and the targets are easy: the rich (“A Lizard Named Muffy”), the wasted (“Fucked Up Monkeys” and a cover of the Frantics’ “My Dad’s a Fuck’n Alcoholic”), and the pop (“Double OO’s Seven”). Perhaps because it’s summer and they need the money, the Hate Fuckers have even invented a rival band for themselves: Bob’s Lawn Service, whose roster happens to be identical to their own. It’s a pity that parental-warning stickers and liquor laws are bound to keep these guys away from the audience most likely to appreciate them–I can’t imagine anybody over 14 staying excited about this record for long.

BILLY MANN 6/21, ROSEMONT THEATRE Billy Mann’s sound isn’t as strictly dated as you’d expect of a twentysomething artist stuck opening for Chicago and Hall & Oates–but it is that sort of insipid Olestra for the ears, vaguely tasty if you like “Brown Eyed Girl” but a lot slicker going down. Fueled by personal tragedy–Mann’s wife died of cancer less than a year after their marriage–his second album, Earthbound (DV8), is depressing in the worst possible way: what do you do when your deepest doubts about love, mortality, and God end up marketed to people who want nothing from music that Celine Dion can’t give them?

PRESSURE DROP 6/21, SMART BAR Justin Langlands and Dave Henley have worked together as producers and DJs since 1986. In all those years they’ve seen a lot of London dance trends come and go and come back again–and they’ve learned from the mistakes of dozens of last year’s flavors. Their own third album as Pressure Drop, Elusive (Hard Hands/Sony), applies the electronic approach to soul, blues, jazz, reggae, funk, punk, and spoken word to create a haunting gothic-dub atmosphere; my copy, at least, is going to be safe from the Great Cutout Bin in the Sky for quite a while. The companion EP, Silently Bad Minded, includes remixes by Roni Size and the Stereo MC’s.

ROADSIDE MONUMENT 6/23, LOUNGE AX; 6/27, FIRESIDE BOWL With song titles like “Iowa Backroads” and “Crop Circles”; the note-perfect lull ‘n’ pound of its second album, Eight Hours Away From Being a Man (Tooth & Nail); and Bob Weston’s name on the back cover, I coulda sworn on a stack of war-torn Bibles that this rock trio was local, but in fact it’s from Seattle. There are traces of influence from other places–guitar filigree that wanders stoned across the tarmac like the Meat Puppets, a noise break that taxis into takeoff position like the Geraldine Fibbers–but overall when these guys come visit Chicago, it’s like they never left.

ONE FELL SWOOP 6/24, SCHUBAS The second and latest LP from the Saint Louis quintet One Fell Swoop, Look Out (Magoo), pleasantly surprised this Americana cynic with a rewarding mix of country camp and dead-on, dead-serious songs about love gone wrong and work just plain gone. Cheryl Stryker’s liquid heartbreak of a voice goes from bayou grit to Irish mist with nary a stretch in tone or credibility, but the Swoop’s secret weapon is multi-instrumentalist Andy Ploof, whose dobro, fiddle, and mandolin fill out the arrangements with energy and taste. –Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Pressure Drop photo uncredited.