CURRENT REVIEWS
Appendix Out
Bonga
Nick Cave
D:Fuse
For Stars
The Green & Yellow TV
Kings of Convenience
Mass Producers
Plavu
Red House Painters
Shoestring
Sorry About Dresden
REVIEWS | FEATURES | DEPARTMENTS | BOOMBOX | PODCAST | MISC
SEARCH:
our smart new AT A GLANCE logo was designed by Michael Byzewski of Readyset...aesthetic.  Isn't it groovy?
OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION OF SHORTER REVIEWS
Telto, Paul Dutton, Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel, Proletarian Art Threat, Robert Scott, Imaginary Bill, The Sound of Rails, Bis, Hotbox, Shearwater, Arlo, Jori Hulkkonen, Kipper Tin, Saso, Calendar Girl, Keoki, dZihan and Kamien, Inches to Flood, Knievel, The Cautions, Luna, David Fesette, December's Children, Dereck


Telto / Bugged / D2 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Someone Hollow Swallowed Me"
Telto seems to take a perverse pleasure in collecting and listing the disparate musical comparisons that arise when publications review Bugged. The comparisons vary broadly because Telto has found that all-important midpoint between label sampler variety and every-song-sounds-alike homogeneity; while Bugged can clearly be identified as Telto's work, there's no simple formula that can be applied to each song. Songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Leslie Dean is a creative dynamo, favoring unpredictable minor-key melodies and post-goth psychedelic sprawl over standard pop song progression. I'll add a few reference points for the band's trophy wall: their more rocking moments recall Fetchin' Bones, while Dean's passionately quirky vocal delivery hints not only at the mid-eighties 4AD stable, but also at the flat-out weirdness of Caterwaul (a band from the late '80s that I think I may have hallucinated). Every moment on Bugged builds toward the spectacular "Touch", which closes the disc with a gorgeous flood of sustained minor key angst. Dean works herself into a furious lather as the guitars peak in a cathartic explosion of sound. Even if the rest of the record fails to engage you -- which I find doubtful -- you'll listen to "Touch" again and again. -- gz


Paul Dutton / Mouth Pieces / OHM Editions (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Reverberations"
Never heard of "sound poetry"? How about "non-idiomatic free improvisation"? In essence sound poetry -- which also draws on language poetry's decontextualizing experiments in form -- uses the mostly-wordless explosions of sound from the vocal chords, mouth, tongue and breath to construct tone poems filled with pure intonation. Canadian writer and veteran sound poet Dutton, who has extensive publishing and performing credits, here offers his own exploration of "acoustic oral soundwork." Despite the recent popularity of spoken word slams and performance poetry, this disc carries little emotional resonance. Many of the pieces evoke the death throes of various animals. "Lips Is" sounds like air escaping from a tire as you're cruising down the highway; "Jazzstory" starts with a repeated string of actual words, followed by more noise -- like a child imitating a car crash -- and then more words which slip into grossly realistic spitting. "Other Than" resembles a mosquito buzzing by your ear; is there a more annoying sound? There's enough diversity here that you'll find yourself flummoxed in many different ways, and most of the pieces are mercifully short. Call this what you will -- experimental, avant garde -- but it still sounds uncomfortably close to the kind of gibberish people change seats on a bus to avoid. -- rt


Various Artists / Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel / Off (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Guided by Voicesí "Titus and Strident Wet Nurse (Creating Jeffrey)"
As far as I know, Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel is the worldís first concept compilation. The brainchild of Chris Slusarenko (of Sprinkler and Svelt fame), the record follows the good Colonel through a series of allergy-induced hallucinations, each represented in song form. Slusarenkoís new outfit Goldcard provides all of the incidental music for the album, including the oddly baroque "Prologue" and "Epilogue", which bookend the albumís stellar list of contributions. Guided by Voices head-honcho Robert Pollard has penned a pair of new songs for the compilation. "Titus and Strident Wet Nurse (Creating Jeffrey)" begins the story in fine fashion, while "Reprise (Destroying Jeffrey)" brings it to a bitter end. The rest of the story is filled in bit by peculiar bit by the likes of Quasi (the whimsical "Which Side are You on Colonel"), The Minus 5 (the buoyant psychedelic gem "The Great Divider (My Ruffled Sleeve)") and Grandaddy (a creeping and haunting paean to the good Colonel, "L.F.O."). Poster Children, The Minders, Sebadoh offshoot Sentridoh, Mary Timony and Stephen Malkmus fill in additional gaps in the Colonelís journey. The album also features some rather obtuse liner notes by Richard Meltzer (author of A Whore Like All the Rest) and full-color artwork by Joe Sacco, Peter Bagge and Kim Deitsch. Most listeners will be drawn to the album's amazing list of contributors, but the strange and captivating story will keep them coming back. -- jj


Proletarian Art Threat / Self-Titled / Label Lean (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Not Bad Looking for a Normal"
Proletarian Art Threat packs a mean punch into 15 minutes of punk fury. "Not Bad Looking for a Normal" is a veritable hit and run, its machine gun beat nicely coupled with thrashing guitars and shredded vocals. The song leaves you feeling like you've been run over by a tank. "Black Helicopters / Z (He Is Alive)" is slightly more deliberate in tempo and tenor, but no less aggressive. Its key lyric is "You can't have democracy and still have the pigs!" The title makes a clear allusion to the 1969 Yves Montand film, although the exact nature of the link is unclear, due mainly to totally incomprehensible singing. The only part I could make out was something about a microchip in the brain that causes apathy while Freemasons conduct ritual murder, rape and the burning of women and children en masse. This is great stuff as far as over-the-top conspiracy theories or Weekly World News headlines go. The rest of the album is more of the same. Anarchist conspiricy theories and bombastic musical attacks generally make for an entertaining ride, if you can manage to avoid taking it all too seriously. -- nw


Robert Scott / The Creeping Unknown / Thirsty Ear (CD)

Sample 60 seconds of "Fog and Wind"
You may be familiar with Scott's work as frontman of New Zealand band The Clean, or perhaps you've heard his work with The Bats or The Magic Heads. Don't expect the same succinct jangle-pop harmony from The Creeping Unknown. While some songs, including "Fog and Wind" and the mellifluously sublime "2nd Hand Air", tap into lush harmony, bolstered by Scott's reclining whispers, the brunt of the album avoids any semblance of order. It's almost as Scott went to producer Nigel Bunn and said, in a thick New Zealand-drawl, "Nige! I've got a great idea for a song! It's 34 seconds of me punching at random notes on the synthesizer!" Then, a week later, he'd follow that idea up with "Hey, you won't believe what I thought of last night! You remember my synth idea, right? Well, how about we add ten more songs of me punching away at various instruments? I just bought a new mandolin and a mellotron at some old lady's garage sale!" Advice for the 2020 reissue of The Creeping Unknown: cut the album's nineteen songs to a sound five and release it -- to resounding critical acclaim -- as an EP. -- jw


Imaginary Bill / Self-Titled / Sportin' Company (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Polio"
Finally, here's some great melodic pop from three New York state gents, who've combined a bit of the Beatles, Costello and Radiohead into a modern day mix. Rouach and Slattery definitely have a knack for singing some heavenly harmonies, as tunes like "Polio" and "Doped Up" satiate your need for something fresh-yet-familiar in the melody department. This trio sounds as comfortable plodding forward at an even pace as it does letting the distortion hurl an occasional riff at ya. There's no doubting that this may be one of the better self-released CDs you've heard in quite some time, as everything from the songwriting to the packaging is top notch. Now if we could just get these guys to change their band name to something a bit wittier, we'll have an outfit that's solid on all fronts. -- am


The Sound of Rails / Prelude of Hypnotics / Caulfield (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Nervous System"
Far from hypnotic, the first three minutes of "The Nervous System" is a true adrenaline rush: drummer Eric Ernst pounds away and away, unable to come down from the thrill of playing to tape, while bassist Chris Palmquist makes each chord put a noogie on your brain. It always makes me crave alcohol, regardless of the time of day. Assuming you keep the first song playing past its first few minutes, you'll also get to hear guitarist John Kestner's vocals. As group leader, I'm sure he's integral to his band's successes; his voice, though, is also its major drawback. Aside from the lyrics -- bland emo ramblings that seem to exist only to prevent your own beat-driven daydreams from blossoming -- the only feeling the sound of his voice generates is irritation. If Kestner sang "I ate a good apple", his voice would say "Many apples are better, and I'm left with just a good one". Depending on your generosity, you either sympathize or wish he'd just shut up. Regardless, Kestner's vocals make "The Nervous System", and all the tracks on which he sings, something of a drag; rather than prettified Smiths-like melancholy, this is very real "I'm-annoyed-at-life" angst. You might think that's the kind of "punk" you want, but there aren't many people who'd choose a Sonic Death track over "Teenage Riot". I certainly wouldn't, which leaves me going back to instrumental track "The Coal Porter" and those first few sublime moments of "The Nervous System". -- td


Bis / Music for a Stranger World / Lookout! (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dead Wrestlers"
Can there be any stranger world than one in which bouncy techno-poppers Bis are signed to a stalwartly punk rock label like Lookout? Probably not. When they're not busy dropping new wave references and video game blips left and right, Bis seem determined to prove that they've matured, albeit subtly, since 1999's Social Dancing. The music is actually pretty interesting, from the straightforward bubble-and-stomp of "Dead Wrestlers" to the heavily textured acoustic guitar technopop of "How Can We Be Strange?". "Beats at the Office" does an excellent job of building a compelling tune around an intriguing vocal sample, resulting in a maddeningly catchy song that Barcelona really ought to cover. And best of all, vocalist Manda Rin seems comparatively restrained here; she's still as perky as a three-year-old on crank, but someone finally seems to have taken her aside and told her that she can be incredibly irritating and shrill, which adds nothing to the music. There are a few places where she gets out of hand, but mostly she's quieter. Thank God. -- gz


Hotbox / Lickity Split / The Telegraph Company (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "You Adore Me"
You can't get less subtle than San Fransico's Hotbox. With a blindingly fast take on pop-punk, this quintet lays their libidos on the line for thirteen tracks. The band's defining feature is lead singer Mel Chappell, whose howl is powerful enough to knock Joan Jett on her ass. By including just enough melody in her caterwaul, Chappell infuses the songs with infinitely more sex than the lusty cover suggests. The band's primary difficulty is that its songs tend to drag out a bit too long. "You Adore Me" is fun enough to begin with, but the final repetitions of the chorus sap much of the heat Hotbox has worked so hard to build up. Because of this, despite some very good moments, the album is a bit much to swallow all at once. -- rd


Shearwater / The Dissolving Room / Grey Flat (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Not Tonight"
Comparing yourself to Nick Drake, Will Oldham, and Jeff Buckley is an invitation to a beheading: I'm a harsh critic, those guys are über-menschen, and I have a low "sad bastard wannabe" threshold. So it is with great reluctance that I say that The Dissolving Room is a good album. Moody and quiet, the acoustic playing -- accented by little bits of strings and percussion every now and again -- conjures the image of a melancholy evening on a back porch somewhere. The vocals share some of the angst and tone of Buckley's (which I like), although the singer occassionaly slips egregiously out of tune (which I don't like). If you ever find yourself making a driving-on-a-dark-highway-at-night mix tape, "Ella is the First Rider", The Dissolving Room's second track, would make an excellent addition. -- az


Arlo / Up High in the Night / Sub Pop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Botched"
Twelve finely honed pop ditties crackle on this gem of a disc. Like so many other bands, a love of weed brought Arlo together (or so says their confessional bio). Thank your lucky stars that pot zapped not an iota of their spark or lust, for these tunes are nothing if not skillfully arranged and ever so addictive. Each snaps like a theme song from a delirious TV show sent back to us from the future. Props to producer Ben Vaugh for helping glue these LA boys together so well. The band says it takes inspiration from Mr. T's Bowl -- the best, worst and only punk rock venue/bowling alley this reviewer ever deigned to visit. Had Arlo been providing the soundtrack for my trip there, who knows...I may have nailed that perfect 300 after all. -- rg


Jori Hulkkonen (DJ) / Helsinki Mix Sessions / Turbo(CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Know a Place"
Turbo Records produces some wonderful stuff; in particular, I love their International Series, which has produced some real winners. However, Helsinki Mix Sessions has been over-finessed, with any colour or variation in tone, tempo or mood completely stripped away to create a single, colourless sequence of tracks. To paraphrase Jessie Stevens in To Catch a Thief, I think it "finnished" him (Jori Hulkkonen). The tracks, which are nearly all instrumental, never really vary. Although the track changes are smooth, part of the reason that they segue so well is that the songs never change. Great for continuity, I guess, but lousy for dancing, and this purports to be club music. If ass-shaking is a measure of success in club/house, consider this the perfect soundtrack for a highly chic, urbane hair salon. Definitely not the place for ass-shaking...at least not if you eschew the weed-whacker look. Two tracks feature notable vocals: "Your Love Won't Let Me Wait" loops one extremely brief, unidentifiable human vocal sound ad nauseum, and "I Know a Place" employs a Stevie Wonder sound-alike who sounds like he has the world's worst wedgie. Helsinki Mix Sessions isn't flat-out bad, but it's bland. That's pretty hard to take in a music form that's supposed to get your heart pounding rather than flat-lining. -- js


Kipper Tin / Self-Titled / Boston Rock Project (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Sneaky Song"
Kipper Tin are good, but not spectacular, with wonderful moments (such as the Pixies-like opening on "Surprise of the Year") tucked into undistinguished, unimportant songs. Lead singer Sarah Borges has a strong voice, and her band members play solidly; all have good looks, and very nice hair, too. That said, they come off (with two exceptions) like candy corn to me -- a good November substitute for sugar in your tea when you don't have the real thing. Their one great song ("Do It With Your Eyes Closed"), however, is more than good enough to justify giving them a listen or seeing them live. It is a near-perfect pop song, starting slowly and quietly, each instrument entering with a bang at just the right moment. The lyrics, while not much different from the rest on the EP, are sung more passionately here, with Sarah bringing undeniable power and conviction to the song's firm, final thought ("I am the girl of your dreams/Not the one that holds you down"). As for the other winning track, you can't hear the live "Song in F" without thinking that Borges was weaned on some fun eighties metal. It made me want to hear the band play Hanoi Rocks' "Dead by Christmas", and there aren't many girl-led bands that could inspire that wish. And they're good-looking enough for MTV kids to fall in love with them, so who knows? Perhaps the future of Kipper Tin is far more full than this EP suggests. -- td


Saso / Warmed Up / Melted Snow (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "All My Life"
Saso would seem quite at home amongst the downtrodden bands of Deep Elm Records. Their particularly wistful brand of emo-rock is pleasant enough, if not entirely ground-breaking, and perhaps less aligned with punk aesthetics than the Deep Elm stable. The best song on this four song EP is the closer, "All My Life." The penetrating falsetto of the vocals is particularly effective here, conveying a desperation that I find fascinating. The sparse yet lyrical instrumentation also adds much to the song. A gentle piano melody here and a lonely violin line there, combined with warm acoustic guitar and an easy tempo, make for a peaceful listen. It's not earth-shattering, but it's also not bad. If you've got 20 minutes, give these guys a chance. -- nw


Calendar Girl / Everyone But You / Intelligent (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sparkle Girl"
Not even the cute, slightly despondent girl on the cover could save this release. While similarities to Sebadoh are obvious, everything that made Sebadoh great was abandoned by Calendar Girl in the recording process. The album voids itself of any lo-fi aesthetic, and with it any trace of structural volatility or lyrical wit. However, it's hard to whole-heartedly detest this type of music for too long; it avoids the whiny, emotional breakdowns favored by the most intolerable records of the emo/pop genre, maintaining an upbeat mood and pace in the process. We're left with a consistent but unremarkable pop-punk record. -- jw


Keoki / Jealousy / Moonshine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Smile"
What's the state of the rave nation when Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 16-year-old hit "Relax" inspires a lovingly faithful remake from the ground breaking, mega-tattoed Superstar DJ Keoki? As much as Keoki and his associated scene's aesthetic stance urgently wish to bring the sounds of the future to us lowly mortals, Jealousy can't quite dispense with the Ghost of Dance Music Past. There's a certain cheese factor at work here; the vocals in particular elicit a wave of nostalgia for the heady days of the 80's. The cheese rarely overwhelms the rest of the music, though; most of the tracks are happy, for lack of a better word, in a way that's hard to resist. Keoki's catholic tastes are apparent in the way he slams together disparate sounds from the increasingly micro-genred dance world, including the usual suspects of house, techno, and drum 'n' bass. Funky elastic bass lines, buzzing synthesizers, layered drum machines, sampled sounds and voices -- Keoki builds tracks with beginnings, middles, and ends, with as much attention to ebb and flow as to booming four-on-the-floor beats. At 70 minutes, it's not surprising that the disc fails to entirely hold the attention of those not sweating the night away on the dance floor, but the tracks themselves rarely feel overstuffed, and even the lengthier workouts leave you nodding along. Just sit back and "Relax," and let Keoki take you for a ride. -- rt


dZihan and Kamien / Refreaked / Six Degrees (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Before (Herbert's After Dub)"
This Vienna-based duo's most recent release, Freaks and Icons, was heavy on chillout vibe but light on prime-time dancefloor muscle. This collection of remixes offers a modest increase in the power behind the beats, but ultimately does little to alter the mood of the original material -- in other words, don't expect breakbeats or Chemical Brothers energy levels. That's not necessarily a complaint; as 4:00 a.m. body-moving material goes, Refreaked's light, jazzy grooves and exotic rhythms are choice cuts. More importantly, the remix process appears to have eliminated a lot of the wanky new-age burbling that marred Freaks and Icons, making Refreaked the rare remix album that actually works a little better than the original. -- gz


Inches To Flood / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Missing Person"
Inches To Flood is one of those bands that grows on you the more you listen to them. The three songs here certainly won't grab you on the first couple of listens; in fact, you may be so distracted by some of their negative characteristics that you fail to notice the self-characterized "orchestral vocals, melodic yet searing guitars and honest lyrics." The mix here is muddy, and at several points (especially during "Missing Person") it seems as if the band is making up both the chords and the lyrics as they go along, creating a bit of a chaotic and jarbled atmosphere. On "House Upon The Sand" the vocals come together a bit more, with a Jeff Buckleyesque flavor, but the passion so evident in Buckley's voice is missing. Pitfalls aside, Inches To Flood provides some interesting, off-kilter instrumentation and an energy that makes me think their live show may be something to see. Perhaps with a little more time to mesh as a band (they've only been around a short while) and some help in the studio, these boys could blow us all away with a great new sound. -- al


Knievel / The Name Rings a Bell that Drowns Out Your Voice / Quietly Suburban (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Chance Meeting"
This is the latest in a long line of fine releases from Australiaís Quietly Suburban (soon to be the Aussie home of Death Cab For Cutie). On their debut full-length, this talented three piece crafts a gorgeous record filled with swirling guitar melodies and an air of moody displeasure. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Wayne Connollyís vocals are immediately reminiscent of Michael Stipe, both in their intonation and effortless swagger. His smooth croon dominates songs like "We Can Identify" and "I Keep on Waiting", atop which the band shovel layers of tinkling keyboards, slinky bass and growling guitars. The albumís finest moment is most certainly the power-fuzz glow of "Chance Meeting", in which a wall of overdubbed guitars rides a kinetic backbeat to a buzzing valley, where melody and menace meet in a beautifully unholy union that even Hum would have been proud of. The Name Rings a Bell that Drowns Out Your Voice is as lusciously crafted a rock record as you'll hear this year; its sheer beauty suggests that this Knievel isnít likely to crash any time soon. -- jj


The Cautions / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Groove Baby Groove"
Elvis Costello is all over this record --in spirit. The bandís name is supposedly an old-fashioned expression for a wise-ass, and itís an apt description. The opening track is a ditty about loving a coffee-shop slave from afar, complete with "Megan/vegan" rhyme. Clever, but far too ironic for my tastes. "Groove Baby Groove" is the song that stays with you after the albumís over, despite the (serious) tactical error of singing the backing vocals in falsetto rather than getting some chicks in there to do them. -- az


Luna / Live / Arena Rock (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "4000 Days"
If, like me, you've always felt that Dean Wareham's post-Galaxie 500 material was best enjoyed from your favorite comfy sofa, your ship has come in. This fourteen-track live gig, assembled from performances in DC and New York, should do the trick, allowing you to check out Wareham's low-impact Lou Reedisms without having to keep coffee and No-Doz close at hand. It's not that Luna's live performance is dull, but they never really cut loose and rock, either; it's a reserved, mid-tempo ride from start to finish. Wine drinkers' music, you might say -- likeable, pleasant, but lacking in consuming, driving passion. -- gz


David Fesette / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Remember Me"
This polished three song demo from Jerseyite Fessette showcases his acoustic guitar slinging and gruff voice. The opening number, "Misplaced", injects a heavy rock influence, complete with wailing solo, leaving you guessing as to whether Fessette will drop into a metal-lite ballad or switch gears into a folky number. "Remember Me" shakes and shuffles with a more laid-back approach, allowing Fessette to wrap his warmly phrased lyrics around you as he quietly strums his acoustic guitar in the background. While everything is crisp and clean here, it's a little uncertain as to which direction Fessette ultimately wants to take; he doesn't seem to have decided which genre he likes best. -- am


December's Children / Here, There, and Everywhere / Commerce (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "A Boy Named Ben"
I am always wary when an album's liner notes say stuff like "Every once and awhile, pop music turns out something extraordinary." December's Children do not live up to this high praise, but they don't crash either. Despite their additional claims that "the music... sounds exactly like nothing you've ever heard," the music here is very familiar. Every college town has a band that plays earnest, heartfelt acoustic-rock, and that's exactly what this trio does. Moments are quite beautiful: "A Boy Named Ben" sounds like a trippy Stone Roses out-take and "Drifting in Snow" has the yearning feel of Radiohead's softer interludes. While I could do without the pretensions, December's Children have the knack for writing catchy pop songs. With continued growth they might even live up to their aspirations. -- rd


Dereck / Nice / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Greetings"
An album almost has to be Nice if it was sixteen years in the making (either that or it really sucks because the writer could never get it right and finally gave up). In the case of this album, original bedroom rocker Dereck Higgins really does get it right. Working at home between January 1984 and September 2000, he produced an album that ranges from a jazzy instrumental piece remniscent of Aja-era Steely Dan (but without the vocals) to an ambient track full of blurps and bleeps, to a rich vocal piece ("The Wind from Above") that sounds like late '60s folk-pop radio with the production stripped away. As its wan title implies, understatement seems to be Dereck's chief stylistic goal; playing bass, keyboards, drums, guitar and occasionally singing background vocals, he creates a soundtrack for walking in the rain...or reflecting in one's bedroom. If Nice had been released by a major label, it might seem too bland to justify major label prices. As a self-released work, it's a sweet find to round out the elective portion of your musical curriculum. -- js



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

It's back! Splendid's daily e-mail update will keep you up to date on our latest reviews and articles. Subscribe now!
Your e-mail address:    
REVIEWS | FEATURES | DEPARTMENTS | BOOMBOX | PODCAST | MISC
SEARCH:
All content ©1996 - 2011 Splendid WebMedia. Content may not be reproduced without the publisher's permission.