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The Mercury Program, Son of Sam, Rocket from the Crypt, hollAnd, Boring Jason, Novasonic Down Hyperspace, Paul Newman, Saint Etienne, Autour de Lucie, Novillero, Volta Do Mar, Square Root of Margaret, Glasstown, Defiled, Lefty's Deceiver, The Sisterhood of Convoluted Thinkers, Jumprope, Mistletoe, Bhreus Kormo, El Guapo, Sunless Day, Jackhammer, Ikon, The Lillingtons

The Mecury Program / All The Suits Began To Fall Off / Tiger Style (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "There Are Thousands Sleeping In Peace"
I should come clean right away and admit that I have a natural aversion to instrumental rock records. It was probably all of those Rush albums I was forced to listen to as a boy. So although All The Suits Began To Fall Off is an enjoyable record, I find it hard to get very excited about it. The playing is first rate and keeps to the rockier side of fusion, with vibes, electric piano and various percussion instruments keeping things from straying too far into dreaded guitar death-noodle territory. The five tunes here are all pleasantly groovy, with occasional bursts of manic energy creeping in around their edges. However, that energy isn't really enough to hold on to my ears for more than a couple of minutes at a time, causing the disc to slip into the background each time I put it on. That's not necessarily a bad thing; as background music, All The Suits Began To Fall Off is excellent. -- ib

Son of Sam / Songs From the Earth / Nitro (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "In the Hills"
Before you even get through the first track on Songs From the Earth, you'll be thinking about The Misfits, Danzig, Samhain and all evil things associated with those aforementioned artists. After you hear the organ blare on the opening tune, you probably won't be surprised to learn that Son of Sam boasts two former Samhain members, along with Danzig guitarist Todd Youth and AFI vocalist Davey Havok. As these eerie numbers race by, charring everything in the area, guest appearances by other Danzig members -- and by his most excellent evilness himself, Glenn D. -- finish everything off in a blaze of campy brilliance. Imagine if Danzig said "fuck it" to his menacing gloom-and-doom numbers and stuck with the uptempo punk, and you'd have Son of Sam. If songs like "In the Hills" and "Purevil" don't freak you out enough, this all-star cast of badness will certainly raise the hair on the back of your neck. -- am

Rocket from the Crypt / Group Sounds / Vagrant (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Straight American Slave"
Some bands are a blast live. Some are meant to be heard via speakers or headphones. Can you guess which one RFTC is? Yes, it's balls-to-the-wall rock-o-rama from start to finish. Yes, it's turned up to eleven from note one and it never deigns to drop back down to ten. Yes, it has a certain something that makes you bob your head and/or shake your ass to songs that you'd probably be ticked off by if someone drove past your pad blasting them out his windows. But no, it's not the stuff that great CDs are made of. "White Belt", riddled with three crunchy chords for your listening convenience, takes a minor turn from the typical RFTC routine by pumping horns into the mix. "Venom Venom" sticks to the Ramones/Donnas basics as it proffers a wannabe-catchy chorus that never quite sticks. It has the same sing-songy quality as a commercial, albeit a punk rock one. The best thing about Group Sounds is that it will prepare you for tourmeisters RFTC's next stop in your town. After the show, listen to it again at home -- not so much for the great songs as to rekindle the great memories you'll have of the live show. -- rg

hollAnd / Drums / pulCec (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Oh Death"
Damn! Seven songs in twelve minutes! Trevor hollAnd (nee Kampmann) minces neither words nor riffs, ripping through a series of tunes too brief and too vibrant to wear out their welcome. Though it's held together by the irresistably chewy drone of analog keyboards, Drums maintains an admirably punk rock aesthetic, flaunting its rough edges and reveling in the economy of its compositions. Of particular merit are the Gary Numanesque "Oh Death" and the solid-state "American Eyes", both of which beg for an extra minute or two of playing time. Fans of Barcelona's technofied pop and the analog athletics of early Depeche Mode should flock to Drums; not only can you get all the way through it five times in a single hour, but you'll actually want to. -- gz

Boring Jason / Brazen Face / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Brazen Face"
Their name begs for a pot-shot, but I'll behave. The three songs on this EP are much like the other Britpop I've heard, but with breathier vocals and a more idiosyncratic sound. Actually, they kind of remind me of EMF -- isn't that embarrassing? The title track is deceptively urgent, the vocals so breathy and pained that you begin to believe they're singing about something really deep. Unfortunately, when you look at the lyrics on the insert, they read like bad adolescent poetry. So don't read the lyric sheet. One thing I will say in Boring Jason's favor is that they take more risks than most bands, varying tempo and dynamics frequently -- often several times within a single song. Now if only they could make it sound like they did it for a reason... -- az

Novasonic Down Hyperspace / Mathing Moonlight / Spectra Mobile (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mid-states of Mind"
This collection of soothing tracks is best summed-up by the word "space". The songs have the wide-open, rolling sensation of a river as it flows through the plains beneath a sapphire sky. Touches of keyboard and guitar give the music solidity, but for the most part this trio prefers to push off from the earth and meander around the cosmos. On occasion vocals or a bit of distortion give you something concrete to hold on to, but during long tracks like "Hallway (9 Reasons for Sanity)", things get a bit out there. While this approach can be stunning, the music here is too open. Because of this, I find myself waiting around in the time between notes rather than longing for the next one. Thus, while the band definitely evokes a mood, it is not one that I find particularly engaging. -- rd

Paul Newman / Re-Issue! Re-Package! Re-Package! Re-Evaluate the Songs / My Pal God (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Popcorn"
As you might guess from its title, Re-Issue! Re-Package! Re-Package! Re-Evaluate the Songs is a compilation of hard-to-find Paul Newman songs that have appeared on multiple formats on a slew of labels, including Temporary Residence Limited, Zum, Twistworthy and My Pal God. Spanning the band’s entire history, from their first release through songs that missed the cut for their last full-length, Re-Issue!... shows the band's gradual evolution from timid rockers into a fully formed, fire-breathing art-punk monolith. The earliest tracks, "Way to Breathe" and "All Black, All Anal", are repetitive, slow-burning pieces of contemplative post-rock. Conversely, "Beeline to Mamou" finds the band trading valence for violence as they thrash their way through a series of sinister chord progressions and thunderous cymbal blasts. The monstrous "I Know My Luck Too Well" stretches its mighty wings over nine-and-a-half minutes of serpentine guitars, chiming melodies and propulsive rhythmic figures. The remaining six songs are also worthy additions to any collection. -- jj

Saint Etienne / Interlude / Sub Pop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Shoot Out the Lights"
In the fickle field of breezy indie dance-pop, Saint Etienne have retained their appeal far longer than most. The 13-year-old band's latest release, collects B-sides and a few never-before-heard tracks recorded at the same time as last year's Sound of Water. The LP comes on an undeniably cool slab of orange vinyl, but the CD adds two bonus tracks (a radio edit and a techno-y remix of "Lose That Girl") plus two versions of the video for "How We Used to Live", catering to those computer-equipped obsessives who can't get enough of the cool allure of lead singer Sarah Cracknell. Not all of these lush, keyboard-driven tracks will appeal to listeners who aren't already enamored of the band, but enough charms are on display to woo the uninitiated. The soaring "Red Setter" tops the B-sides -- which more than hold their own against the newly-released songs -- while sexy, cooing French adds some smolder to the exclusive "Le Ballade de Saint Etienne". This isn't a major release (if anything it's a "don't forget about us" product), but you'll still be left feeling positively continental. -- rt

Autour de Lucie / Faux Mouvement / Nettwerk (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Late Bloom"
Somewhere between Ivy and Mono lies the atmospheric pop of French import Autour de Lucie. Combining the acoustic and electronic worlds of pop, Faux Mouvement plays like a moody soundtrack for film noir. Vocalist Valérie Leulliot characterizes some odd combination of Shirley Manson, Jennifer Charles and Beth Gibbons, slipping easily between dark and light moods. Recorded entirely in French (everything seems to sound better in one of the world's most romantic languages), Faux Mouvement is a rainy day delight. Accompanied by lilting harmonies and equal portions of space and solid instrumentation, Autour de Lucie's music rivals the effect that Portishead had on my ears when first I heard them. Rainy day or not, this is a band I wouldn't mind hearing a bit more. -- al

Novillero / The Bradford Follies / Endearing (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Cat Scan"
Composed of members of Duotang, Transonic and Bullet Proof Nothing, Novillero spreads the songwriting duties evenly. The pop sensibilities of the bandmates are widely varied, so The Brindleford Follies produces an eclectic sound that varies significantly from track to track. It's a bit spacy, a bit jazzy, with some '60s lounge sound and straight pop thrown in here and there, depending on whose work you're hearing. "The Day the Trumpet Player Fell in Love, and Learned to Hate Men" is by far the poppiest of all the tracks, with Matyas' trumpet playing enhancing David Berthiaume's bouncy, cheerful vocals. "Cat Scan" is spacier thanks to some burbly keyboards, but retains "Trumpet Player"'s jangly pop sound. The jazzy, Stereolab-ish lounge elements are most apparent in "Stumble On", with Rod Slaughter's cool vocals surrounding the listener in a retro atmosphere. The variety of styles -- although not completely disparate -- can draw the listener into the band's schizophrenic sound...though perhaps polytheistic would be a better word, as there's something to adore about all of these tracks. Hopefully, as the band gets tigher, their sound will grow more cohesive. Endearing has a tendency to pick quiet winners, and with Novillero's The Brindleford Follies, they prove to have done so once again. -- js

Volta Do Mar / Self-Titled EP / Arbor Vitae (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Munich Air Disaster"
Like most record labels, the folks at Arbor Vitae, Volta Do Mar's label, would like their releases to be Picks. They've told me as much -- though I'll reiterate, the difference between Picks and At a Glance reviews is far more complicated than Pick=Good, At A Glance=Not So Good. So for all you record label folks: if you want a Pick, send me a full-length album that's as consistently good as this EP. This Illinois quartet works the same post/math-rock turf mined by countless other bands, but they do it with a verve and energy the others lack. What's the secret? Frankly, I think these guys haven't forgotten that half of post-rock is ROCK. Rather than languidly slouching their way through their chosen repetitive sequences, these guys hurl themselves into the music, dishing up melodies with surgical precision and turn-on-a-dime riffs. They hit the usual jazz landmarks, too, but this jazz isn't plodding and dull -- it's seething hot stuff that makes your arm hair stand up. I've heard a lot of bands with the same basic sound as Volta Do Mar, but almost none of them managed to communicate their vitality and love of their music as well as these guys. When a band is into the music, the audience follows suit. Please, bring on a full-length. -- gz

Square Root of Margaret / Heard Music Playing... / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Locals Theme Song"
Weird Canadians with bad luck make up Square Root of Margaret. Their musical equipment, recently lost in a fire that burned down the club that kept them paid, is put to good use here. "Locals Theme Song" at once harkens back to sixties "drag race" instrumentals, and forward to Futurama episodes, with nice spacy UFO noises laid over cruising guitars. "Ghost of a Man" has them confessing to the listener that they don't have a great singer, while "Hoya Seehja" sounds like Big Country meeting Navajo Indian. Aside from the drums, I wouldn't be surprised if all the other instruments here were handmade or exotic. "Race Car Song", an instrumental, rocks the skies like "Locals Theme Song", and each song afterward keeps the listeners' feet somewhat off the ground. The slow songs work against the band's strengths, but manage modest success. Heard Music Playing ends with an "Epilogue" done in the spirit of early, bizarre Camper Van Beethoven. For a few minutes afterward, it'll have you shaking your head. While I'm doubtful this band will cause an obsession in the hearts of young girls and boys, it's interesting enough to make you hope there's more to come from the belly of this square root. -- td

Glasstown / Living and Forgetting / Bitter Stag (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Co-Conspirator"
Glasstown sounds like an orchestral, roots-rock version of The Aluminum Group (with more guitars, and no female vocals) -- or maybe just an Americanized version of Coldplay minus the foo-foo hi-fi production. Living and Forgetting is clearly a mature debut offering, but therein lies the trouble. There is nothing strikingly "wrong" here -- the band is obviously a talented group of musicians who know how to construct a song -- but there is an obvious lack of urgency. Songs like "Library People" develop interesting orchestral crescendos, but you can't help hope for the lyrics to drop their quasi-literary posturing and for the band to develop some engaging hooks. It would also be interesting to hear a little variety and liveliness in the vocals; anything to break the album out of its somnambulistic slump. The closest the vocals ever come to leading a song is on "Fireflies", in which the lyrics dance along a Cole Porter-like piano melody. While the album incorporates eclectic instrumentation, notably the French horn, along with synths and straight up guitars, it fails to do anything interesting or unusual with them. Sometimes subtlety isn't the best approach. -- jw

Defiled / Ugliness Revealed / Necropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Crush the Enemy Rising"
This quartet of Japanese metal extremists blasts a calculated and intricate form of musical malice. Ugliness Revealed doesn't strike any answering chords in me -- I don't have the urge to track down every Defiled release -- but it provides enough of a musical document to judge Defiled as a powerful, well-orchestrated metal outfit that knows when to crank up the speed and when to apply guttural, bass-heavy riffing that can rip your woofer speaker right out of its casing. "Decimate with Hysteria" has a haunting Dark Angel sound to it, complete with grinding vocals, while "Crush the Enemy Rising" brings back glorious memories of '80s metal-masters Possessed and their ultra-speedy delivery. If you enjoy being kept on your toes as a band plays tricks with tempos and technical prowess, Defiled's East-meets-West death metal will suit you just fine. -- am

Lefty's Deceiver / Conversations on Favored Nations / Happy Couples Never Last (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Plans for Doubts"
I assume Philadelphians Lefty's Deceiver chose their name as some sort of commentary on Steve "Lefty" Carlton, the Phillies' strikeout maestro (More likely it's a flyfishing reference. -- Ed.). But what exactly are they trying to say? If it is they who are deceiving Steve Carlton, how are they doing it? Are they simply fooling Steve, a notoriously vain man, into thinking the band's about him? At any rate, Lefty's Deceiver are definitely not being deceptive with their music. By the end of the very first song, it's hard not feel certain about their musical leanings (emo, and the herky-jerky DC approach to guitar playing) and their almost inevitable failings (song subjects that are melodramatic -- "She says that she's all right/At least until morning" -- to the point of silliness). Still, derivative as they truly are, Lefty's Deceiver should not be overlooked. There are very good reasons they're developing a big following, among which is Andy Williams, their lead singer, who sounds like a young American Andy Patridge raised on Braid. Also, in songs like "September Til First Night", they show a deep respect for melody, something still uncommon among most emo bands. This "September" song, easily my favorite, starts off with a fantastic bass intro by Ed Hogarty, followed by a stuttering guitar sequence that gives the thumping beat a sort of raggedy edge. The vocals, though decent, are carried by the instrumentation, but this might change when Andy gains enough confidence to stop indicating the song's dramatic peaks with a melodic scream. They're not yet a must-hear band, but Lefty's Deceiver show they have the raw talent to eventually make a very fun, over-the-top record that will give Mr Carlton something new to brag about. -- td

The Sisterhood of Convoluted Thinkers / Ume Sour / Darla (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ami-chan, Mai-chan"
This disc from Jeannine Durfee and Robert Christiansen is a souvenir of the time the pair spent in Japan. Recorded in their living room and named after a favorite drink, the music is a curious mix of East and West. Some tracks, such as Casio-inflected "Ami-chan, Mai-chan", clearly show their Japanese influences. Others, such as "Armstrong Archer", betray a gaijin folk upbringing. Either way, the duo's sound is dominated by keyboards, which are simultaneously cheesy and cute. Like most Asian pop, the music here will probably sound wispy and lightweight to Western ears. Nevertheless, Ume Sour has its moments and presents an interesting take on what can happen when cultures fuse. -- rd

Jumprope / Suitcase and Umbrella / Planting Seeds (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Disappear"
For a bunch of kids from Boston, Jumprope continue to do a good job of sounding Swedish. There's something delightfully relaxing about their mixture of lighter-than-air pop stylings, bossa nova undertones and breathy female vocals; you'll feel like you're relaxing on a beach somewhere exotic and sunny, or at the very least shopping at a very friendly Ikea. Of course, these are gentle songs, bursting with good-natured vocal harmonies, swelling keyboard fills and jangly guitars. Like the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, Club 8 or even the Cardigans, they won't register higher than a three on your handy rock-o-meter, but they're not overwhelmingly twee either. Ultimately, the bossa-nova lounge-pop scene is showing its age, and Jumprope doesn't say anything about the genre that hasn't been said before...but this is not a genre known for its philosophical heft. Like the best vacations, Suitcase and Umbrella manages to be light, enjoyable and pleasant -- in short, its modest expectations are well met. -- gz

Mistletoe / Sorry It's Been So Long / June (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hover"
Artists J. Romero and Alex Rose formed their own label, for which Sorry... is the first release, when they formed their band. While self-released music is frequently a travesty, at other times it reveals musical genius (Fugazi's Dischord label, etc.). June Records falls somewhere in between, amazingly enough. Mistletoe is said to be inspired by Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins, and you can definitely hear that in the soft sounds of "Patty Mayonnaise" and "Hover", both of which overtly echo song titles from Siamese Dream. Romero and Rose are lucky not only in their friendship, but also in their musical melding: they harmonize fantastically. Not many current indie pop bands are that great at harmony, and it's a talent upon which the pair ought to capitalize, big time. Nowhere does this talent shine more strongly than in "Hover", which stands out not only for the harmony, but also because most of the rest of the album is full of hardcore punk guitars. Mistletoe's web site says that their music is only getting harder in performance. That's fine, but bring back some of the softer ballads. It's the softer, prog-rock sound that made Siamese Dream such a success; if Mistletoe is going to model themselves on the Pumpkins (at least in part -- not by any means in toto), then Romero and Rose ought to try basing their homage on that prog-rock tendency. In any case, this EP promises a bright future. -- js

Various Artists / Bhreus Kormo / C.I.P. (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Brutum Fulmen's "Before the Invention of the Nose Hair Tweezer"
This is an eclectic compilation of experimental, electronic artists, all of whom share a sort of slow-moving, texture-based approach to making music. Each of these pieces conjures a unique sonic dimension that, when inhabited for a bit, can be quite mesmerizing -- from the disembodied-sound electro-acoustic approach of Brutum Fulmen's "Before the Invention of the Nose Hair Tweezer" to the slow-moving-but-still-somehow-lyrical whistling "To Bdelugma Tes Eremoseos (Part IV)" of Irr. App. (Ext.) to Coeurl's "Nothing, But a Certain Palpable Numbness", which I'm quite certain begins with a stolen snippet of Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" before moving into something alarm-clock-like and then into something on the threshold of human perception. All proceeds from the sale of this CD go to support a study about lesbians and breast cancer. If this is a pet cause of yours, you might want to pick up Bhreus Kormo, regardless of your musical tastes. -- nw

El Guapo / The Geography of Dissolution / Mud Memory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "John Hinckley Knew This One"
It has been my experience that bands like El Guapo tend to be much better in theory than in practice. That isn't to say that their music is bad, but that it's pretty difficult listening. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these guys, El Guapo are an avant-art-punk quartet hailing from the musical hotbed of Washington, DC. The Geography of Dissolution is a live release split into two sets -- one recorded in March of 1999 and the other in July of the same year. The first set consists of what can be considered actual songs: "South of No North" and "John Hinckley Knew This One" bounce around like superballs, their outlandish arrangements peppered with sporadic percussion, glassy keyboards, crazy vocals and corrosive guitars. The second set, however, consists of nine musical "Sectors", and these fall more along the lines of experimental/noise-based composition. Throughout this half-hour set the band makes extensive use of dissonance, bursts of tribal percussion, random vocal assaults and ragged bass figures. Neither set is particularly easy on the ears, so less-than-adventurous listeners will want to stand well back from The Geography of Dissolution’s warped take on modern composition. -- jj

Sunless Day / Electric Ahhh.... / Amazing Grease (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Harmony"
The bio says this is "music for the nether regions." If Electric Ahhh.... is supposed to make my groin tingle, I'm afraid it's failed miserably. However, the looping beats, backed by some thick 'n' meaty guitar work, definitely make my head swim in musical delight. As a matter of fact, Sunless Day takes aim at the psych-inspired punk of the late '60s, filtered through a strange combination of Guided by Voices, The Sonics and The Ramones. Everything from racy guitar solos to garrulous vocals can be heard on Eletric Ahhh...., as overdriven glory and raw production leave the disc sounding like a blast from the past. Wanna trip back to unconsciousness without being sucked under by hippies or wastoid stoners? Sunless Day successfully applies its own damaged goods with fuzzed fury and a wry punk rockitude. -- am

Jackhammer / Self-Titled / Kapital K (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Born Again"
Jackhammer share little with the nü metal outfits (Slipknot, etc.) who have risen from the midwest to take the charts by storm over the past couple of years. Old-school Metallica and Pantera is more their style, as pounding riffage and crushing vocals dominate this Peoria, IL trio's debut. True to their name, there are few flashy moments or quiet interludes, and nothing resembling the mooky rock-rap of Limp Bizkit -- just a steady stream of heavy, powerful metal. The surprisingly positive, triumph-of-the-will lyrics ("I will create a man immune to force/I will stay confident, strong, and coarse") are difficult to make out in the shouted assault, as intensity substitutes for clarity. Still, for a straight shot of furious musical Armageddon, with no watered-down chaser, Jackhammer fit the bill. -- rt

Ikon / On the Edge of Forever / Metropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "King of Terror"
Though their sound and mood are often reminiscent of First and Last and Always-era Sisters of Mercy, with a little bit of (Clan of) Xymox thrown in for good measure, these Aussies succeed on their own merits. The raw-edged aggro of the Nostradamus-inspired "King of Terror" and the retro-pop loneliness of "Stone Frailty" make it clear that there's some interesting stuff going on in the Ikon camp. Sticking firmly to middling tempos and never taking its electronic elements too far, On the Edge of Forever will probably please older listeners more than black-clad eighteen year olds. The lyrics mostly avoid the overwrought and clichéd depths of goth imagery, favoring a broader variety of lovelorn malaise. Though well-educated listeners may find it overly familiar, On the Edge of Forever offers a comfortably dark return to a bygone era. -- gz

The Lillingtons / The Backchannel Broadcast / Panic Button (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Final Transmission"
It's hard to take a band seriously when they sound this much like the Ramones. That's not a bad thing, though; it's hard to be serious while pogoing around the living room in your PJs. Fast boom-chucka-boom-chuck drums, three finger power chords and tightly rhymed sing-along lyrics are pretty much all there is to The Backchannel Broadcast, but that's more than enough to get your head bobbing and your hand reaching for the nearest tube of model glue. There seems to be some sort of paranoid retro-spy thing going on in some of the songs, but to tell the truth, these aren't exactly the kind of songs that encourage deep reading. Just shut up and dance! -- ib

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak | td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies
js - jenn sikes | rg - rodney gibbs | rt - ryan tranquilla | al - amy leach | jw - john wolfe | az - alex zorn

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