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Cinnamon, Cheap Shots IV, Pillbox, Decembers January, Versus, H.I.M., Calibos, English Earl, Fireballs of Freedom, Preston Girard, Tear Ceremony, Rozz Williams, Honeyrider, Paris, Texas, Jackson's Jukebox, Clark Yost, North Sea Story, Akumu, Left Setter, John January Band

Cinnamon / Vertigo / March (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Used to be Your Loneliness"
Slick and frothy and luscious, Cinnamon's Vertigo is ready to shimmy its way into your Swedish-disco-pop-loving heart. Enhanced by production from French mastermind Bertrand Burgalat and string and brass arrangements by the immortal Louis Phillippe, Vertigo is a top-shelf confection. Breathy-voiced Frida weaves entrancing vocal wonders over post-Bacharach keyboard melodies and glittery, understated guitars. It's enough to make you want to redecorate your entire home in pure white and go everywhere via Concorde! Like most exotic sugary treats, you should enjoy Vertigo in moderation; Cinnamon's effervescent pop is delicious, but too much of it will give you a headache. -- gz

Various Artists / Cheap Shots IV / Burning Heart (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "New Noise by Refused"
The majority of the bands on this 23 track collection stick to the Minor Threat formula of catchy guitar hooks and scream-along choruses, but a few break out of the standard formulas. No Fun at All revives the poppier sound of Hüsker Dü on "Celestial Q&A", while Samiam offers the powerfully melodic "Stepson". On the Madness-styled "Youth of the World", the Products seem like they mistakenly wandered into a rough neighborhood, but it's a pleasant song nonetheless. My personal favorite track is the aptly titled "New Noise" by Refused. By adding dashes of industrial and freak-metal rockers System of a Down to the hardcore recipe, Refused update the style without stooping to commercial cliches. As long as bands strive to keep their style fresh, hardcore will be around forever, and this collection is enough to give me hope. -- rd

Pillbox / Gimme What I Want / NYC (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Me & My Rhythmbox"
A cold cop of Billy Squire's "Everybody Wants You" guitar riff is given a thorough musical makeover on "Me & My Rhythmbox" as it introduces you to this fantastic female-led, British based band. Vocalist/Guitarist Susan Hyatt had a stint with The Pandoras back in the early 90's and that same obdurate, heartbreaking attitude seethes from Pillbox's collective sound. Hyatt ellicits unmistakable sex appeal and several of these fuzzed-out pop gems will knock you out if you're a sucker for sugary-sweet lovesick tunes that are expressed with the six string and a raspy, sultry voice. Better than Ms. Love's Hole and much more attuned to pop brilliance than Veruca Salt, Pillbox delivers what you want to hear with vibrant buoyancy. Mmm...dee-lish-us. -- am

Decembers January / s/t / Aisle 2 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Headlights Over Michigan"
The unexpected chord and melody changes, loud instrument bashing and contrasting soft strumming strewn through tracks like "Solace", "Start Again" and "Geisha Girls" got my personalities confused. "Here comes the thrashy, speedy Green Day bit of the song. Trash room" was balanced by "Quick! Fluff the pillows and put tofu on the shopping list before the Edie Brickell and New Bohemians-like part ends." The last two songs, "Headlights over Michigan" and "October", really strike a coherent balance between Decembers January's propensity for the solemnity of quiet moments and the exuberent sonic outbursts. "Headlights Over Michigan" provides a comfortable shift from fourth gear to third gear with its slow, piano-laden build and grandiose guitar. The concluding track, "October", reinforces the fact that Decembers January can get the balance right. -- dd

Versus / Shangri-La / Merge (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Out In The Streets"
It hasn't been too long since I personally discovered Versus, but Richard Baluyut and company have apparently been making great records since 1991. Their first offering for 2000 is this short concept EP on which every song is either named "Shangri-La" or else was sung by the Shangri-La's (i.e. "Out in the Streets"). For such a perfect 4-song sampler, one hates to add that the worst of the bunch is their original -- especially since it ain't shabby either. Still, the strength of this short dose of brilliance lies in Versus' ability to first sound exactly like the Kinks, then like a female-led ELO (with surprisingly great vocals by bassist Fontaine Toups) and then to even surpass an original by the Shangri-La's, one of the best girl groups ever. Since I've seen them live, and know they can rock as hard and as well as almost any group out there, it was a wonderful surprise to catch songs with their voices out front. They sing with the confidence and assurance that suggests they are a band whose whole back catalog, with or without covers, should be hunted down and bought up. -- td

HIM / Typespider / Hipworks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Wigglin' Genes"
A work of structured improvisation, Typespider pairs the Beefheart-influenced guitarrorism of Bret Hart with some ex-post-facto percussion by Scotty Irving. Dick Metcalf, best known to Splendid readers as Rotcod Zzaj, completes the equation with some inspired keyboard mayhem (thus H.I.M.=Hart, Irving, Metcalf). Never entirely chaotic, most of these tunes possess a single cetral melody that's often downright poppy, adorned by odd bits, pieces and embellished overdubs. The results, though challenging, are highly listenable and generally plausible, as is the case with the best improvised music. -- gz

Calibos / s/t / Arlingtone (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bald Fountain"
Calibos is a three-piece indie rock band from Arlington, VA. They sound very much like any other three-piece indie rock band out there. I don't mean this derisively; I liked much of the disc. I simply make a statement of fact. "Bald Fountain" is a Sonic Youth knock-off in a world of too many such tunes (I know, Sonic Youth isn't a three-piece, humor me!). In general, a certain similarity to early REM is also evident, particularly in the propensity for inscrutable lyrics. If you like that straight-ahead indie rock sound and aren't looking for innovation, these guys are pleasant enough. -- nw

English Earl / Find Yourself / Flat 5 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Find Yourself"
Atlanta's English Earl would be the first to confess to being influenced by the Beatles' middle-era records, and their second effort unabashedly wears this fact ("A Day Like Today" chorus has the same comforting bass "Ob-la-di-ob-la-da"). The disc's songs and melodies are simple and deal mostly with matters related to l-o-v-e. Most tracks, such as the 38 Special-lite "Be Your Valentine" and the lament "Pam", rock at a trot and are well-supported by a stout mellifluence which isn't always well-balanced to the range of Earl Bland's voice. Bland's voice is better matched to the disc's slower moments, like the desirous "Find Yourself" and the acoustic guitar and string-tinged "Don't Listen to this Song". Successfully executing jazz elements to form a hybrid of Chicago and Stevie Wonder fused with Hollies-style pop, English Earl have charted a course that puts melodies first. -- dd

Fireballs of Freedom / Total Fucking Blowout / Estrus (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dirtbox"
Well, as you might have guessed from the title, this is wild and crazy ROCK AND ROLL music. Hot dog! Think really fast drums. Think squealing guitars. Think high-pitched screaming singer. Think AC/DC with a little bit of the glam-trashiness of Aerosmith thrown in. Then forget about that and think alterna-kids doing campy-but-rocking spoofs of AC/DC and Aerosmith. Then forget that and think ROCK AND FUCKING ROLL. Are you there yet? Okay. It's dirty, nasty, loud, fast and goofy. Perfect. Now where are my pleather pants? -- ib

Preston Girard / Preston Girard's Demo / MP3.COM (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Walk On Me"
As you may have already noticed, Mr. Girard's CD is brought to you by the fine folks at MP3.com. Both mp3 and "old school" audio tracks are available here and if you plop the CD into your computer's CD-ROM player, you get the added digital features of a bio, graphics and a handy self-contained MP3 player. Girard's songs are folk based, though an occasional subtle rock beat maintains a steady rock rhythm that's not annoyingly intrusive. While the digital side of this demo is nouveau computer, Girard's acoustic guitar and woeful voice certainly apply the dynamics of a well worn, familiar musical style. It's all solid, but I question whether this CD would spark your interest without its digital enhancements. To MP3 or not to MP3, that's the question. -- am

Tear Ceremony / Emulsion / Simulacra (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Laudanum"
After some thought, I've decided that listening to Tear Ceremony is like watching movies without my glasses on, in a dark room, while submerged in a warm bath. Emulsion is an immersive experience that blurs perceptions and defocuses the senses, forcing you to "feel" via surrogate neurons of darkly comforting music. You'll witness events and conversations that you can't quite process, held at a distance that prevents your own involvement, leaving you a mute observer of feverish dreams. Some listeners will find this distinctly creepy, but most -- particularly those with good headphones -- will embrace Emulsion for the gorgeous bit of sensory confusion it is. Another darkly beautiful triumph for Simulacra, Emulsion is well worth hunting down. -- gz

Rozz Williams / Live in Berlin / Hollows Hill (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sunken Rags"
Back when Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson) was barely old enough to experiment with make-up, Rozz Williams was blazing a death rock trail swathed in thick morbidity and spewing nihilism. This live album was recorded in Berlin in October of 1993, five years before Williams, the original founder of Christian Death and a member of Shadow Death, committed suicide on April Fool's day. William's vocal delivery is equal parts Marc Bolan, glam Bowie and Peter Murphy and is most evident on the Bolan's very own "Sunken Rags". While it features songs from Shadow Project ("Red Handed" and "Lord of the Flies") and Daucus Karota ("Love Lies" and "The Stranger"), there are also three previously unreleased gems. "2 Steps" and "Nothing" are pulsating ear drum rattlers, with bass and drums leading the charge of Williams' wails and the guitar squeals of gloom on "World Inside". Needless to say, Live in Berlin will be a welcomed addition for collectors of Williams' oeuvre, though it's a little too obscure to earn him many new fans. -- dd

Honeyrider / Splashdown / Damaged Goods (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Starcrossed Summer"
On their sophomore release, Honeyrider let the good times roll with sixty minutes of sugary beach-blanket pop filtered through 90s alternative rock. Although the vocals are descendants of the Beach Boys' golden era, the music itself is slightly distorted guitar a la Sloan. Occasional keyboards serve to vary the approach to sunny ditties like the first single, "Starcrossed Summer". Although not especially innovative, these songs deserve to be blared from a few jalopies this summer. -- rd

Paris, Texas / Silver/My Week Beats Your Year / Snapping Turtle (7”)

Sample 30 seconds of "My Week Beats Your Year"
This quaint little 7” from Snapping Turtle came hot on the heels of the band's Polyvinyl debut. So, you think it’s hot here? The A-side, “Silver”, actually appears on that record and is a nice poppy post-punk guitar workout with an emo-like vocal flair. But the real reason this slice of wax deserves to be on your tuntable is its excellent B-side contribution “My Week Beats Your Year”. From the get-go its swelling guitars, sprighty rhythm and vocal gymnastics grab you and set about slapping you around the room for a good three and a half minutes. It’s got nice packaging, a nice name and nice songs, so why haven’t you gone to go get one yet? -- jj

Various Artists / Jackson's Jukebox / Kill Rock Stars (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mass Teens On the Run"
Depending on where you're coming from, this KRS label compilation might be a bit of a failure. While "Princess and the Pony" would have lured me to buy the split CD by Mary Lou Lord and Sean Na Na (had I not already owned it), the rest of these tunes, picked by Jackson the dog, are essentially bands I'm comfortable with having only a passing knowledge of. Nonetheless, Jackson's Jukebox contains many bands (including Sleater-Kinney) worth hearing at least once, from Comet Gain and Deerhoof to the Frumpies and Unwound. With many Kill Rock Stars bands, like Long Hind Legs, there's also an interesting desire to mix in an Ennio Morricone sound, making for some rock songs that seem to come as much from movies as from jukeboxes. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the Lies' "Wrong Kind of Flirt". Though most of the tracks seem exiled well beyond Main Street, there are occasional moments of prettiness too -- Danielle Howie's lovely, folksy "From the Tops of Trees" springs to mind -- and I'd be hard pressed to tell anyone this collection won't be worth the four or five bucks it will cost them. -- td

Clark Yost / Too Much Fun in a No Fun Zone / Rock the World (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ice Cream"
Guitarist and songwriter Clark Yost's CD takes its inspiration from the decade spanning 1974-1984. It charts cock rock's mutation from stadium-led microphone swinging, fast-living, swaggering hyper-masculinity teased with Final Net (Humble Pie, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin) to the exploitation of the music video, which lent a visual narrative that reinforced an aggressive male sexuality teased with Final Net (Van Halen, ZZ Top, Ozzy Osbourne). Clark's searing guitar work on the title track and "Ice Cream" flooded my mind's eye with imagery from some of ZZ Top's more sexually suggestive MTV moments. The intricate guitar assault leads a pure rock jam during the Joe Satriani-esque "Blue". It's not until the lengthy (9:38) "Exorcisms Performed Daily" that Yost, while recognising the influence of his guitar heroes, constructs a song which clearly distinguishes his style from those of his heroes. For its chosen genre, Too Much Fun in a No Fun Zone ably satisfies the urge for testosterone-fueled nostalgia...assuming that's an urge you've got. -- dd

North Sea Story / Working for Wellness / NSS (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "80 Through Ohio"
North Sea Story's music is nice, blustery, melodic punk rock. If I wanted to, I could probably get away with applying a certain three-letter description that begins with "e" and ends with "o"...but I won't. The crashing guitars and indie rock furor you'll find here is rather unlikely to surprise you, though elements of post-rock progression in tunes like "80 Through Ohio" and "The Last Wound-UP" keep the proceedings from going too far up Boring Cookie-Cutter Rock Music Street. In addition to sounding great, this apparently self-released CD is beautifully packaged in a lovingly designed yet affordably minimal cardboard slipcase -- the sort that makes you super-eager to open it and get at the indie-rock treasure inside. Fans of Paul Newman (the band) will love it. -- gz

Akumu / Akumu / Spider (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "special order 937"
Akumu is Canada's Deane Hughes, aka Thrive and Alchemy. He makes mellow, ambient chillout music with occasional bursts of energy. Akumu struck me as a bit flat the first couple times I listened to it, but after a few more spins some of the details started to emerge. A number of tracks, like "Chrysalis," are totally generic, with very simple synth pads on top of straight-ahead drum 'n' bassy drums. Those don't do much for me. There are others though, like "drum 'n' drummer," that have some very nice rhythmic and harmonic layering happening. Things really open up when Akumu gets away from the generic synth sounds he seems to favor and starts playing around with richer sample-based and processed sounds and more complex beats. "Special Order 937" is a standout. Overall it's a lovely sounding, but sometimes less than absorbing disc. -- ib

Left Setter / s/t / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Luckiest Man Alive"
Chicago has certainly had its fair share of Soma-related musical entities. There is of course the epic Smashing Pumpkins song of the same name, and Tortoise leader John McIntye’s studio is also known as Soma. All of this led the band Soma to feel a bit underappreciated. With that in mind, the group, still containing all its original members, has decided to change its name to Left Setter, a name they need not share with anyone or anything. On their first release under the new moniker, the band prove themselves to be worthy heirs to Chicago’s all but vacant musical throne. The EP finds the band coupling the tight songwriting and hooks of great bands like Cheap Trick and Material Issue with their own fiercely dynamic musical style. Soaring choruses, spiraling guitars and muscular rhythms pervade songs like “Luckiest Man Alive” and “Numb”, making it impossible to remove their jarring hooks from your brain. Regardless, when you hear them say “We’re taking over, taking over from right here” during “Invasion”, you can’t help but believe them. -- jj

John January Band / Bright Flashes in the Midnight Sky / JJB (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bright Flashes in the Midnight Sky"
This is a well produced, sharp-sounding two song cassette that speaks clearly to those who enjoy the post-college alternative rock scene. With hints of eclectic pop and grooving jazz rhythms, the John January Band is more than just a one bit, brief flash on the musical horizon. Well weathered, time tested songwriting has manifested itself as the core of both of these tunes, showing maturity and a strong proclivity towards vocal heavy melodies. The female accentuations on "All Night Pushing" are a bit overused, but still succeed in embedding the song in your brain. -- am

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak
ha-n - heidi anne-noel | dd - deirdre devers | td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies

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