Chicago Underground Quartet
Detroit Improv Duo
The Emily Rock Group
Edith Frost
New Town Animals
VA: Arcbeats
VA: Space Jazz
Weekend Guitar Trio

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Joane Hétu, Joe Davis, DJ Feelgood, Kid 606, Gorillaz, Secadora, Aidan Baker, Cadillac Blindside, Brazilified, Spaceheads and Max Eastley, The Evergreen Trio, The Berlin Project, Fluke, Squirrels from Hell, Built To Spill, Charlottesville, Anny, Neotropic, Mystic Groove, The Impossibles, Club 8, Kevin Henry, Lost Kids, Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Chris Forsyth, Souvenir, Juno Reactor, Can Can Heads, Zen Guerrilla, Rick Rose Rude, Kathy McGinty, Rival Schools/Onelinedrawing, Spokane, Little Darla Has A Treat For You V. 17, Homecoming, West of Wakefield, Par Avion

Joane Hétu / Musique d'hiver / Ambiances magnétiques (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "La chute"
Musique d'hiver (winter music) is an evocative four-movement work intended to portray various aspects of the coldest season of the year. It is imaginative stuff, more delicate than Ms. Hétu's usual spastic fare. The music is made by a small group of musicians playing a bevy of instruments (among them accordion, saxophone, Jew's harp, prepared piano, foot tapping and "soundscapes"), with Hétu covering sax and vocals. Her vocal style is as affected and mannered as ever, consisting of growls, whistles, shivering, screeching etc -- bel canto it is not! In the context of this piece, she controls herself pretty well, though, which allows the music to take on a magical, ethereal quality more fitting its theme than would be, say, monkeys squabbling over scraps of food. I haven't been overly fond of some of Joane Hétu's past work, but Musique d'hiver is just restrained enough and moody enough to win me over. -- nw

Joe Davis / Hope Chest / In Music We Trust (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Small"
There doesn’t seem to be much actual hope in Joe Davis’ Hope Chest -- this is definitely a sensitive, achy album. Davis, a member of Portland emo-pop outfit the Pinehurst Kids, has essentially put his life story to music. And apparently a lot of it has been melancholy (you’d be melancholy too, if you grew up in a town known for its high levels of lead toxicity). There are some very poignant and beautiful melodies threaded throughout, but the strength of the album is in lyrics like "I’ve got needles in my arms/pinball in my room/and they still can’t tell me why/I’m so small." -- az

DJ Feelgood / / Moonshine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "All Scratched Up"
Baltimorean buzzchild DJ Feelgood has created a dance music deluxe issue for Moonshine's dj.mixed series. is a talented blend of funk and disco with a gritty, East coast feel. Unlike French disco-electronica, DJ Feelgood's mixes are never polished or sexy in an obnoxious, silk-shirt-split-to-the-furry-navel sort of way. Overtly sweaty and definitely bumping, the mix starts fast and ends that way, with little or no change of speed in the middle. Some DJs have names that are more like boasts than monikers; Feelgood's handle is the paradigm of truth-in-advertising. -- js

Kid 606 / PS You Love Me / Mille Plateaux (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Act yr Age"
Over the course of the last year, Michael Trost Depedro, aka Kid 606, has become the poster boy of the glitch nation. Music fans worldwide have, rather implausibly, embraced his seemingly inaccessible blend of hardcore intensity and electro-induced fury. His skills as a remixer have been much in demand of late; he’s worked with such artists as Depeche Mode, Gentle Giant and The Locust. A companion piece to last year’s click-and-paste masterpiece PS I Love You, PS You Love Me is essentially and odds-and-sods remix compilation culled from various 12” singles and compilation appearances. Guests include the omnipresent Matmos on the tweaking "Twirl: Photoshoot Remix", Kranky records fave and one-half of Labradford, Mark Nelson (under his Pan American guise), who contributes the aquatic "Unleft", and relative newcomers Posterboys of the Apocalypse, who whip up some disco fury on the strangely titled "PS I Dub Ya". Depedro himself gets in on the action with the slow-burning "Act yr Age". Longtime fans of the Kid will undoubtedly appreciate this most eclectic of compilations, but those new to his work would be well advised to check out Down With the Scene to see exactly what you’ll be getting yourself into. -- jj

Gorillaz / Self-Titled / Virgin (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Clint Eastwood"
I so want to hate this album. Maybe it's because so much of the record sounds like someone killing time with a Warez copy of Pro Tools. Or maybe it's because I find the whole "cartoon band" thing condescending; I mean, if Damon Albarn, Miho Hatori and the Deltron 3030 crew want to tinker around with Pro Tools, can't they do it under their own names rather than subjecting us to a bunch of high-concept marketing twaddle? If only the album flat-out sucked, I'd be on much firmer ground. Too bad it doesn't. Lead single "Clint Eastwood" is, as you know, maddeningly catchy and deceptively complex. When you hear that first lazy-ass midi-dub keyboard line, you'll ask yourself "what the hell?" You'll ask again a week later when you can't stop singing the song. The rest of the album is basically more of the same -- a mixture of hip-hop and dub, spiced with momentary injections of the participants' styles -- though "Latin Simone", which features a vocal by Buena Vista Social Club's Ibrahim Ferrer, is an amusing curiosity. Still, I can't honestly recommend that you actually buy Gorillaz...unless, of course, you can convince your local record store to accept your own hand-drawn currency in place of actual money. -- gz

Secadora / One Minute Automobile b/w Out of the Valley / Little Echoes (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "One Minute Automobile"
This is a tricky, multi-leveled slab of vinyl. On the listening surface, these San Franciscans sound like a quiet threesome that enjoys sandwiching shoegazing anthems between college rock crescendos. However, a more careful analysis reveals that Secadora (roughly translated as "dryer" for you non-Spanish types) embeds a haunting, almost dirge-like personality in each of these numbers. "Out of the Valley" allows Adrienne Robillard's harrowing voice to quietly suspend itself in the air while Dan Lowrie charily noodles through a catchy guitar riff. "One Minute Automobile" is a bit more upbeat, similar to something you'd hear on K Records. Dreamy, without wandering into the void of sleepy-core rock, yet still a band predicated on the almighty guitar riff, Secadora riles you up on the A side, then lets you peacefully cool down into a blissful state, leaving nothing but a good taste in your mouth. -- am

Aidan Baker / Element / self-released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Elemental"
Improvised guitar music/noise projects generally make me want to tear up floor boards with my eyelids. I just don't like 'em. But on Element, Aidan Baker has managed to avoid the majority of the most dread-inducing guitar noodler cliches, and has created something that I have to admit is quite lovely. "Elemental" is full of pretty, wobbling harmonics that overlap, harmonize and interfere with one another, while in "Element #2" Baker takes a violin bow to his ax, with spooky, looping results. There are moments in each of these five tracks that I find myself hoping will soon be over, but there are also strikingly pretty parts that I don't want to end. Baker's subtle use of electronics and extended guitar techniques is impressive; for the most part, you won't even know that this is guitar music. -- ib

Cadillac Blindside / The Allegory of Death and Fame / Fueled by Ramen (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Always a Comedian"
Since their debut, Cadillac Blindside have progressed speedily toward greatness, proving themselves to be a band who will persevere long after the official death of emo. The Allegory of Death and Fame is a fine showcase for their improving melodies, insanely catchy choruses and surprising juxtapositions. Once bordering upon generic (if well done) Midwestern angst, they now carry the mantle held by the defunct Mollycuddle, coming across as both "twee" and "angry" (and obsessed with TV culture) on songs like "Premeditated Redrum". Their songs walk the line between sing-along pop and throb rock, suggesting their influences, if proudly displayed on a covers album, would feature Braid, the Judys, Tullycraft and even Alice Cooper. A nice bit of piano on "Consumed By Television Sets" will make you look anxiously toward the future, as Cadillac Blindside appear to have their ears open to any influences and their instruments always primed to transcend them. -- td

Various Artists / Brazilified / Quango (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Butti49's "Brasilikum"
Quango's mission is "to further push the notion of a global music culture," and Brazilified is "where Brazilian rhythms collide with club culture." Well, let no one claim that Quango isn't fulfilling its mission! This disc has eleven fine tracks of dance floor-friendly electronica, each of which has some clear connection to Brazilian musical tradition. Some of them even feature real live Brazilians, although there are plenty of Eurofolk as well. The best tracks here are the ones that go light on the techno and heavy on the Brazil, like Friends From Rio's "Escravos Do Jo" and Butti49's "Brasilikum". But all of the tracks are enjoyable, and taken as a whole they make for a tasty collection of upbeat, non-generic dance music. -- ib

Spaceheads and Max Eastley / The Time of the Ancient Astronaut / Bip-Hop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ghosts"
Improvised during one afternoon by the long-running English duo Spaceheads and musician/artist Max Eastley (who began releasing records on Brian Eno's ambient label in the '70s), The Time of the Ancient Astronaut sketches a 60 minute instrumental soundtrack for a frightening trip through the far reaches of the galaxy. Spaceheads combine trumpet and percussion with loops, pitch-shifting effects and other electronics -- plus "sheets of metal" -- while Eastley plays The Arc, an electro-acoustic monochord (one string, stretched between the ends of a nine foot piece of wood, played with a bow or glass rods). Spooky sounds and sudden jumps fill tracks like "Hubble Bath" and "Ancient Astronauts", while elements of free jazz are especially notable in "Hail Bop". The tracks tend to blend together a bit, as there are few sustained melodic lines for the listener to follow, but many individual moments capture the attention. The quietly martial drums and mournful trumpet of "The Old Moon in the Young Moon's Arms" and the gaping maw of sound in "Interstellar Escalator" will jolt you from your reverie, and the album's overall sound is engrossing. Ancient Astronaut is a rocket ship worth hitching a ride on. -- rt

The Evergreen Trio / Lift Up Your Voice / Devotional (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Juniper"
Recorded on a back porch during the winter of 2001, these seven spare songs pair simple acoustic guitar to vocals in a manner that captures the bleak solidity of winter. Much like snow hides the details of the landscape, the basic approach smoothes over the specifics of sound, instead capturing a uniform solitude. These tunes sound resigned and carry the same touch of sorrow found in a grey, frigid day. Nevertheless, Joseph Reina's delivery is brave and forthright as he cuts to the quick in songs that rarely break the two minute mark. Because of this, the recording's lack of professional sheen is compensated for by its intimacy, creating a satisfying listen. -- rd

The Berlin Project / The Transition Radio EP / Orange Peal (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Runaway"
Listening to "Crashing Down", the lead track from the Berlin Project's latest foray into ska-punk-pop, I can't help but think that I've heard this song before (but with different words, and vocals by someone who sounds like he's been smoking three packs a day for the last twenty years). Then it hit me -- the chorus sounds just like that Mighty, Mighty Bosstones song, "The Impression That I Get", from back in 1997. The moral of the story is...we've heard this before. Don't get me wrong; what the Project do, they do well, and there are probably tons of Blink 182 fans who will eat this up, but as far as originality is concerned, you won't find anything mind-blowing here. -- al

Fluke / Progressive History X: Ten Years of Fluke / Astralwerks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Groovy Feeling"
If you weren't aware that Fluke have been around for ten years, don't feel bad. While their music's use in video games, techno-driven action movies and flashy high-tech animation has provided the trio with a solid measure of ubiquity, they always manage to dodge actual fame; most people don't know they've heard Fluke's music. Hell, they're still best known as "That band who did that one song from that one Volkswagen commercial." Progressive History X makes it clear that Fluke's obscurity is something of a crime; their older material has aged surprisingly well (with the possible exception of their downtempo stuff), and only their occasional efforts to steal Underworld's act (see "Groovy Feeling") seem worthy of reproach. After a four year hiatus, some new material would've been nice, but Progressive History X is nothing to sneer at. This concentrated dose of Fluke's best work might finally earn them the respect they deserve. -- gz

Squirrels From Hell / The Sound And The Fury / Rodent (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "My Town"
While the Squirrels From Hell aren't actually from Hell, their New York origins aren't far off. Emerging after twenty-years of sweat-drenched toil on the club circuit, The Band That New York City Couldn't Kill has released eight songs packed with the subversive angst of Crass dancing along to Mustard Plug. The band pontificates a conscious "cool", juxtaposed with a lighthearted sense of irony that keeps the album in check and brings an airy comedic element to the mix. While The Sound and The Fury lacks the upbeat hooks of contemporary ska pop, and clearly lacks the nihilistic prescience such a release might have carried in the late '70s, the group's unrelenting energy and cacophonous indulgence make the album interesting. --jw

Built to Spill / Ancient Melodies of the Future / Warner Brothers (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Fly Around my Pretty Little Miss"
Doug Martsch and Built to Spill have gained a healthy reputation as the Northwest’s purveyors of the finest in guitar-based rock. While Ancient Melodies of the Future, the group’s fifth album proper, is unlikely to tarnish that sterling reputation, it lacks the freewheeling, go-for-broke gusto of its predecessors. This time around, Martsch’s fiery guitar pyrotechnics have been replaced by a series of minor explosions that detonate shortly after takeoff. This isn’t necessarily meant to imply that Ancient... is a lackluster effort, for what it lacks in volatility it more than makes up for in precariousness. Rather than speaking through his six-string, Marsh lets his wry sense of humor and deft touch with a melody guide slow-motion lullabies like "Alarmed" and "Don’t Try", while the whimsical "Fly Around my Pretty Little Miss" could easily hold its own against anything in the BTS canon. While it isn't exactly the grandiose statement we have come to expect from Boise’s favorite sons, Ancient Melodies of the Future is a smart, well-crafted paean to days gone by -- and the memories, both good and bad, that we have taken from them. -- jj

Charlottesville / The Shark Who Pulled a Mussel / Self Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Not That Far"
My roommate has these cheap plastic cups from Ikea, and whenever I drink water out of them, all I can taste is the synthetic plastic. No matter what the quality of water -- from the tap or the Evian bottle, it all tastes the same. Such is the problem with The Shark Who Pulled a Mussel. The songwriting, although simplistic and repetitive, is very mellow, melodic, and ambient, with a good pop sense, and singer Miles Fender’s voice is frail but likeable. The trouble, for me, is that the production, much like the cover art, is so synthetic in its computer/digital sheen that even new, it seems dated. It’s not bad/good like '90s Stephin Merritt; it’s cheesy like early '90s Legendary Pink Dots. If this musical couple can find a live band to replace their old keyboards and drum machines, their songs can be heard for what they really are. And that could be quite beautiful. -- ea

Anny / Strange & Beautiful / Glass Slipper (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Is This What You Died For?"
If you didn't know better, you'd think you were listening to the next "big thing" on commercial radio. Anny marries appetizing female vocals with pristine production values to create a batch of tunes that certainly merit comparisons to Tori Amos, or even latter-day Madonna. With plenty of complex keyboard programming and flowing melodies, Strange & Beautiful practically screams "Play me on the radio!". "Angels Fly" has an almost fantasy-inspired backdrop, and "Slowly" incorporates Anny's impressive vocal range into a somber ballad. Anny's lyrics avoid lighthearted subjects, however, as she vocalizes her thoughts on everything from abortion to aging. Obviously, if the thought of radio-friendly pop music makes you gag, this CD (with a solid enhanced CD-ROM track included) could be your antichrist. Appreciating Strange and Beautiful for what it is -- a solid pop performance with excellent production -- is the best route for any slightly open-minded music aficionado. -- am

Neotropic / La Prochaine Fois / Ninja Tune (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sunflower Girl"
Editor's Note: This review was completed in late June, but I misplaced it. It's my fault. All mine.

Neotropic's electronic doodlings are described as organic, which in itself is a bold statement. In a genre where many of the thrills are synthetically produced, either via machines (a la Fatboy Slim) or the laboratory, anything genuinely earthy tends to sound far less vibrant. However, less vibrant doesn't necessarily equal mean lower quality, as La Prochaine Fois aptly demonstrates. From "Sunflower Girl" onwards, this is an album to play on a warm summer night when the crickets are chirping and you're staring into the starry sky pondering the meaning of life. For a change of pace, try "Train to Katoomba", which takes a turn in a more haunting direction, while "Closer to the Sun" would sound perfect in a smoky jazz club. All in all, it's an excellent album, even without any chemical enhancement. -- mp

Various Artists / Mystic Groove / Quango (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of MC Sultan's "Der Bauch"
This compilation gathers together groups from Turkey, India, the Middle East and all across Asia. Parts of it are fantastic, or beyond fantastic -- see Thievery Corporation's drummed "Transcendence" or Christopher Goze's "Sirocca", a Trans-Asia Express of Kraftwerkian proportions -- and none of it deserves simple background status to a fine curry dish. DC's practitioners of go-go music should give MC Sultan's "Der Bauch" a listen, particularly if they want to score some national recognition. The piece shows in brilliant, dramatic form how a whirling flute and some other traditional Arabic sounds can enhance a percussion-mad hoedown. While Dzihan and Kamien are a little long-winded, and Radar's piece is inferior to Goze's solo work, the only real letdown here is Hefner's remix of Omar Faruk Tekbilek's "Shashkin". Their slightly Westernized version of the original is fine when standing alone, but the heavy bass strips away so much of the track's mysticism that the remix seems more at home on DeMysticated Groove. -- td

The Impossibles / Brick Bomb / Fueled By Ramen (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Disintegration (is the best album, ever)"
The four song EP's opening line sums it all up: "If you feel like drowning, I will drown with you." It's not quirky, lovey-dovey or emo, and it'll never be a major advertising jingle. Rather, it both realistically and poetically portrays a form of love. Similarly, The Impossibles sustain this balance both musically and lyrically, being neither overly emotional nor boring and meaningless. The rest of the songs here deal with personal attitudes, the doldrums of day-to-day living, and the insecurities of life in general. Vocals are often sung with one line overlapping the next, adding a poppy atmosphere to the band's punk-rock energy. Often ending in one or two different codas, these songs are well-written and pleasantly short -- another enjoyable, accessible chapter in the band's comeback. -- jk

Club 8 / Self-Titled / Hidden Agenda (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Love in December"
It's pretty well established at this point that I'm a sucker for the sweet girl voice + electronic noodling genre, so it's not surprising that I'm captivated by Club 8's latest. A quick look at the personnel list in the liner notes confirms the band's pedigree: Karolina Komstedt - Vocals; Johan Angergard - Guitars, Bass, Programming, Keyboards and Percussion. Now here's my question: when are we finally going to start seeing kickass women laying down the beats? Nothing against the boy knob twiddlers, but it gets kind of embarrassing after a while to own thirty-seven CDs on which girl=voice and boy=programmer. But that's another topic. This is a lovely if somewhat uninspired disc. Komstedt's voice is suitably heart melting, and her lyrics are sometimes exceptionally good (although she gets major demerits for "I'm staying home, no need to wait by the phone"). Angergard's music is an interesting mix of generically pretty electronica and lite-rock. I get the sense that the music is purposefully kept a bit flat in order to give Komstedt's voice the floor. I think that was a mistake; her voice could hold its own, and would be far more affecting, if it was mixed with more ambitious, risk-taking music. Nonetheless, there are some awfully pretty, mopey moments on this disc, which is really all it takes to win over a sucker like me. -- ib

Kevin Henry / East on Sunset / Coastal (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Space"
East on Sunset makes Kevin Henry sound like a male version of Sarah McLachlan. It's not that his voice is wispy; he simply sings about relationships as a Lilith artist would if she was suddenly transformed into a man. "Space", Henry's critique of John Gray's relationship book baloney, is fairly hilarious: "Clutching your precious Venus / In case another Mars gets lost". Lyrics aside, the music is fine; listening to it reminded me of Looking Glass' "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)", a loathsome song quite popular even today (Tom Green sings it in Charlie's Angels). Violins, guitars and Henry's voice conspire to make a jazzy, funky sound in a '70s retro style; he's supposedly inspired by Billy Joel and Gordon Lightfoot, if that helps capture the sound's vibe. Perfect for commitment-phobes who need catharsis, and for fans of bellbottoms. -- js

Lost Kids / Belle Isle is on Fire / GSL (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Alive in the Snow"
To quote the popular adage, the Lost Kids just weren’t made for these times. And that's a shame, really. If there was any justice in this crazy, mixed-up world this audacious quartet would have ambled onto the scene in 1967, falling headlong into the open arms of a nation of teenagers who craved every morsel of dirty, snotty, cacophonous garage rock they could get their greedy hands upon. Instead, the Lost Kids have come along at the dawn of the 21st century, where rap-metal is king and contrived boy bands rule the charts. That the howling, Roky Erickson-like fury of "Where the Lost Kids Go" or the savage riff-driven lunacy of "Alive in the Snow" will more than likely fall upon deaf ears, saddens me to no end. No matter how you slice it, these Lost Kids deserve to have their faces plastered on every single magazine, television screen and milk carton within a million-mile radius. Won’t you please help us find them? -- jj

Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Chris Forsyth / Wires and Wooden Boxes / Pax/Evolving Ear (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Straight to it"
On this collection of duo improvisations, prolific west-coast improviser Diaz-Infante is joined by east-coast collaborator Forsyth for an intimate live-to-tape outing. Sonically, the disc dips into the palette of abstract, prepared and otherwise non-note-oriented guitar, as well as free (and occasionally meditative) piano. Both players have solid resumes, having released numerous recordings and played with big names on both coasts. That's why the chaotic piano clusters of "Straight to it" and fast guitar attacks of "Cut and dried... " are slightly underwhelming. Undoubtedly entertaining in the moment, these restatements of traditional free improv approaches seem insufficient coming from two players capable of more, and are neither challenging nor exploratory to artist or listener. It's when Wires and Wooden Boxes' musical language begins to coalesce around its own set of rules that the duo is most successful and most creative, as demonstrated in the lyrical and understated strumming on "Passing one another..." and the "non-musical" scrapes of "Sound is good all the time." It's not that Wires and Wooden Boxes doesn't deliver the goods -- just that there could have been more in the delivery bag. -- ec

Souvenir / Self-Titled / Shelflife (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dusty"
For centuries, Spanish artisans have moved to Paris to make a life with their craft. Souvenir, a Spanish band, may not have relocated to Paris, but their music sure lives there -- they play unabashed French twee-pop as if they owned it. This six track EP runs the gamut of styles, often relying on a purposefully blatant drum machine sound, but always focusing on Patricia de la Fuente’s lighter-than-air vocals. While the whole recording is successful, including the pseudo-French freak beat of "Au Bord Du Soleil", the disc's highlights are the Gainsbourg-inspired ballad "Dusty" and Brian Wilson’s "Girl Don’t Tell Me" translated into "Ne Dis Pas". Basically, this music makes me think of roller-skating, clove cigarettes, the '60s, and pretty French girls. Souvenir aren’t exactly the real deal, but sometimes it’s more fun to pretend. -- ea

Juno Reactor / Masters of the Universe / Metropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Masters of the Universe (Eternal Basement remix)"
Here's my theory: Juno Reactor frontman Ben Watkins knew a Tomb Raider movie was in the works, and wanted to get a song on the soundtrack -- but rather than waste time with phone calls and meetings, he decided to write a song so blatantly suited for Tomb Raider that there was no way the production company could avoid using it. Lo and behold, they used it for the trailer! I've got to hand it to Ben -- when I listen to "Masters of the Universe", it's hard to think of anything but high-octane, highly improbable archaeological adventures in faraway places. This EP, which provides four mildly energetic remixes and an aggressive radio edit, should put some ethnotechno oomph behind your own summertime adventures, though I'd suggest saving the less potent Neon Remix and the hypnotically trippy Eternal Basement mixes 'til the wee hours. Play them nice and loud to give your subwoofer a workout...and remember, nobody ever saved the world while listening to Yo La Tengo. -- gz

Can Can Heads / Cricket Okasada / Verdura (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "De-sung by the Namesake"
Hey, it's more kick-ass stuff from Finland! This time we head over to the town of Kauhajoki, nestled somewhere in the Western part of the country. Hiding out like crooks on the run, the Can Can Heads riddle the immediate area with an exceptionally angular form of spastic noise. Suggestive of an early-day TFUL 282, this erratic Finnish conglomerate is just as much at home trolling through hook-laden riffs as they are collapsing their song structures into free-form improvisation. Crashing drums and lively guitars jump from one tempo to the next, pushing the envelope when it comes to harnessing musical chaos. Saxophones, trumpets and muddy samples mingle on several of the ten tracks that are jammed onto this white 7". As speedy and crisp as The Minutemen, and as absurd and deconstructionist as Melt-Banana, the Can Can Heads can take you almost anywhere when this beauty is on the turntable. -- am

Zen Guerrilla / Shadows On the Sun / Sub Pop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Barbed Wire"
Shadows On the Sun comes on with a fast and furious gusto that sustains itself through fourteen tracks. Taking stylistic nods from the no-holds-barred guitar attack of AC/DC along with the peculiar garage-punk of The Delta 72, the disc is a confident effort in noise and energy. Songs like "Barbed Wire" flash by at a moment's notice, retaining a keen melodic emphasis that keeps the album from veering off into inaccessibility, while "Starring Into Midnight" and "Smoke Rings" conjure the deep-seated blues-baritone of past masters, as gaudy guitar thrashing plays on in irreverent synchronicity. The real question here isn't whether you will like Zen Guerrilla, but rather if you can handle them. Well, can ya, chump? -- jw

Rick Rose Rude / The Best is Yet to Come: The Worst of Rick Rose Rude / Bleeding Rose (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sugar Rush"
Never has an album title been more correct than this one. Over the course of twenty-five tracks, Rude indulges his every rock whim. Unfortunately, most of them involve plodding, clumsy drumming, out-of-tune guitar and vocals that sound like King Kong has him by the balls. The majority of the songs would merely fail if constrained to two minutes, but by allowing them to run amok for far longer -- far too long -- Rude creates gargantuan testaments to the bludgeoning misery of low fidelity. The results lie somewhere between Ween's The Pod and Hell. -- rd

Kathy McGinty / Self-Titled / Hamburger (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I'm Jamming It In Deep, Baby"
This CD made me nauseous. Basically, it's recordings of men calling to speak to the fictional "Kathy McGinty" (met in an internet chat room), expecting a little dirty talk and phone sex. What these dumbasses don't know is that Ms. McGinty is actually random sound samples of women, spewing nonsensical phrases one minute, moaning the next. The fact that it takes the majority of these men several minutes of "conversation" to realize that they're not speaking to a human being is so, so sad. Why the changes in the voice, prominent static and off-the-wall comments (like "I want to have your retard babies") don't tip them off immediately is beyond me. If you hear the first few tracks, you've pretty much heard them all, and after a few minutes this grows terribly old, dumb and depressing. -- al

Rival Schools/Onelinedrawing / Rival Schools United by Onelinedrawing EP / Some (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Contraire"
In the first of what is rumored to be an ongoing series, Some Records has gathered Jonah’s Onelinedrawing and Schreifels-led rockers Rival Schools for an epic meeting of the minds -- seamlessly fusing Onelinedrawing’s weepy sentimentality with Rival Schools’ polished rock chops to create a hybrid sound that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of both groups. On the charming "Be Real", as well as the sweetly sung, acoustic-guitar-led ballad "Where I’m From", Jonah manages, albeit briefly, to quell Rival Schools’ affinity for slash and burn rock ‘n roll. But even singer/songwriters sometimes get the urge to rock, and "Contraire" does just that, Schreifels’ brassy croon knifing its way through a wall of overdriven riffs and a libidinous bottom end. While it's a must own for fans of either group, Rival Schools United by Onelinedrawing also offers uninitiated listeners a small taste of Onelinedrawing’s potent brand of acoustic pop, while simultaneously providing a preview of Rival Schools’ forthcoming full-length, United by Fate. -- jj

Spokane / Close Quarters / Acuarela (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Caution I've Avoided"
Whatever happened to Drunk's Rick Alverson? Well, after many bouts of shambling rock glory, he has staked out a great new sound through Spokane. Their music sounds like Buffalo Springfield and Paul Simon, heard through the ears of a Factory band; it is a melancholy mumble, with pauses and sighs. The joy listeners glean from the instrumental eclecticism of Close Quarters is nothing compared to that of Courtney Bowles' ethereal, ever-present background vocals. It is she who distinguishes the group most colorfully; her voice is a smear of lipstick in a world of glorified dreariness. However, the possible range of her vocal abilities (or Rick's) is not explored deeply enough, which keeps the full dinner plate of Spokane's musical ideas, and their sharply drawn Bauhaus cover, from ever feeling like a full meal. Where are the veggies, the lyrical corn that sticks between your teeth? In these Close Quarters, it's too apparent that Spokane has only given us an appetizer. -- td

Various Artists / Little Darla Has a Treat For You, v. 17 / Darla (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of David Shouse & the Bloodthirsty Lovers' "The Casio Fight Song"
The last few Little Darla compilations have been a bit too homogenous for my liking; despite the eclectic mixture of bands, the music fell into two categories: gentle, keyboard-driven pop songs and gentle, guitar-driven pop songs. Not much has changed for v. 17, but there's more variety within the categories thanks to some of Darla's newer signings and distribution agreements. The opening track, David Shouse and the Bloodthirsty Lovers' "Casio Fight Song", is a charming little instrumental that seems tailor-made for the climactic scene of a John Hughes movie. Barcelona previews their next album with the solid "Beautiful", Norway's Toyen demonstrate their mastery of blips and bleeps, and My Morning Jacket use a live version of "Tyrone" to remind everyone that they sound like Neil Young. There's even a modest bit of IDM -- in the form of Flowchart's low-key "There's Still Time" -- hidden at the end of the disc, where disapproving pop fans won't find it 'til they've filled their twee quota. Ultimately, it's impossible to knock the Little Darla series; any sampler that gives you nineteen halfway-decent songs for the price of a fast food lunch is worth owning, and v. 17 is a better-than-average reason to avoid the drive-through window. -- gz

Homecoming / Tormented By the Presence of Intangible Things / Little Echoes (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sleeping and Dreaming"
"Staring at the soft skin/That covers my weakling arms/They beg to open up/And let the life run down my palms/Dripping off my fingertips." Ouch. Bay Area band Homecoming brings a death metal attitude to a hard rock framework; guitar/bass/drums/vocals provide a solid foundation that's embellished with a few subtle samples, turntables and spoken word segments. Songs like "Sleeping and Dreaming" and "Prize" add a melodic chorus to music and lyrics that owe a clear debt to the Cure and Joy Division. The word "weak" occurs more than once here, but there's a strength to the music -- a sense of solidity in the drums and a dynamic sweep in the guitars -- that saves the album from confessional whining. "It's times like these/That I wish for death/But it doesn't come," won't exactly have the guests at your next party cutting a rug, but Tormented might just prove cathartic during your next break-up. -- rt

West of Wakefield / Connecting the Dots / Matchpale (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ever After"
Although they reside somewhere between the distinctive neighborhoods of Olivia Tremor Control and Death Cab for Cutie, West of Wakefield has nonetheless managed to find their own an original sound. Essentially, they're a three-piece band with a fourth member who moogs. In each of the disc's five tracks, melodies are woven between fuzzed-out harmonies, creating a mini-epic feel that's heightened by the modestly emo-leaning lyrics. The EP's highlight, "Ever After", comes at the end of the disc; as with many emotional albums, it's the I-guess-it's-not-so-bad-after-all conclusion. Highlighted by a beautiful female voice, this track brings the disc to an elegant, delicate ending, with the band singing about the world waking up and peeking out of the snow ("Angels rush out of the great depression"). It might even leave you invigorated. -- jk

Par Avion / A Song A Day / Best Kept Secret (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ackland Crescent"
A dance-pop album in the mold of bands like Ladytron, A Song A Day falls just shy of being absolutely essential. There is only one reason not to investigate this album, and that is because it's on cassette, so you'll have to suffer the inconvenience of constantly walking over to the stereo to change sides (Or buy a tape deck with autoreverse, a standard feature since the late eighties... - Ed.). Otherwise, this is an outstanding album. "Ackland Crescent" has a very catchy, bouncy feel, while "Dip the Paddle" stands out, sounding just a little out of the ordinary with its constant beat and ominous megaphone voice. Trust me, you won't have the discipline to consume A Song A Day at the rate the title recommends -- but fortunately, it's good enough that you won't mind that grueling ten foot walk to and from the cassette player. -- mp

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak | td - theodore defosse
rd - ron davies | js - jenn sikes | rt - ryan tranquilla | al - amy leach | jw - john wolfe
az - alex zorn | ea - ed anderson | jk - josh kazman | mp - matthew pollesel | ec - eric cook

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