Though it's been more than a decade since their last (live) album, Portishead remain as invitingly somber as ever. While the band's third studio album doesn't stray too far from the cloudy atmospherics that have earned this trio from Bristol a diverse and devoted following, its lack of novelty -- mainly due to the fact that in 2008 Third doesn't seem quite as surprising as their debut album, Dummy, did in 1994 -- shouldn't confound expectations either. Portishead specializes in unthreatening melancholy. (Notice how the alarms on the opening track, "Silence," sound more festive rather than ominous.) This lends their music an insular quality that's evocative without being dreary. Much of this can be ascribed to vocalist Beth Gibbons's frosty delivery. Gibbons can make lines as bluntly vulnerable as those that appear on "Nylon Smile" -- "Looking out I wanna know someone might care / Looking out I want a reason to be there / 'cause I don't know what I've done to deserve you / I don't know what I'll do without you" -- appear eerily serene. Of course, kudos must also be given to Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, who are both multi-instrumentalists and producers on the album, for their remarkable ability to create musical textures that are as delicate and substantial as a tiramisu. Note that the lead single for Third, "Machine Gun," is one of the more disappointing tracks on this album, which deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Still, listeners on the fence would do well to check out the songs "Hunter" and "Plastic" to hear the band at its best.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."