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OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION OF SHORTER REVIEWS

Bettie Serveert, Debbie Andrews, Permissionslip, Pinback, Marc Tremblay, Hollydrift, The Selfish Jeans/Ska Girl and the Hands of Ra, The Riptones, Clit Stop, Paxton, Lola Hum, Brandtson, Carrie Akre, Dagmar 41, The Hamicks, Moonbabies, Elliott, Dee Snider, Livehuman, The Marshmallow Coast


Bettie Serveert / Private Suit / Parasol (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Private Suit"
I remember Bettie Serveert. At least I think I do...although honestly, I can't remember what I remember about them. No matter -- they've got a new CD out, and it's well worth remembering on its own, regardless of what they may have done back in the day. At times it's hard to believe that this is a Dutch band, especially given Carol van Dyk's fine English lyrics and even finer voice, which has just the barest hint of a non-native-speaker's accent. There's something about the darker parts of this disc that reminds me of the Sundays, or maybe Portishead, although there are no electronics to speak of. But then suddenly the darkness clears and some pure, happy, soaring pop music shines through and I'm reminded of...well, of great pop music! I've come to like Private Suit a lot, although it took a few listens to really get into my ears. Van Dyk's voice has the depth to pull you into the tunes, and once you're there the strong songwriting and sharp playing give you plenty to listen to. I guess you could say I've rediscovered the joys of Bettie Serveert -- and I don't think I'll forget them this time. -- ib


Debbie Andrews / Suburbs of Eden / Frankly Mills (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Testament"
When not moonlighting with Gladshot, Debbie Andrews sits down at the piano and does a bit of genre exploring on her own. Suburbs of Eden has a dependable, steady pace that avoids any solitary classification, instead opting to include bits of folk, jazz and gentle rock. Reminding me of a passionate but less vocal-centric Sheryl Crow, Andrews surrounds herself with talented musicians and places herself squarely in the middle of the music. Each instrument revolves around her wispy, dreamy voice, which has an exquisite ability to calm without becoming overly sappy or sounding like mushy contemporary adult alternative. Andrews has obviously spent a considerable amount of time crafting each of these songs and the result is an album light on filler and heavy on mature, melody driven tunes. -- am


Permissionslip / Jealousy Rules / PS (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Super Attack Monkey"
Here are three reasons to like David Watlington, the twisted mind behind Permissionslip: (1) His music sounds like Frank Zappa covering your favorite new/no wave dance tunes; (2) He has a song called "Super Attack Monkey"; (3) The CD insert's photo caption: "Portrait of the artists a couple hours before he scams a bunch of free color copies of this CD insert from the copy shop he works at." Get the picture yet? Jealousy Rules is pleasantly unpredictable, its lyrics alternately fiendishly clever and unabashedly mad. Only a few of the songs follow the traditional verse/chorus/verse approach, while the rest, like "Blockbuster", seem to lack short-term memory, allowing Watlington's They Might Be Really Stoned Giants vocals to drag them by the hair through a gorse bush into new and contorted musical territory. If you crave polish or order, this isn't for you; Jealousy Rules seethes with mad, inept and sloppy brilliance. If you buy just one obscure CD-R treasure this year, make it this one. -- gz


Pinback / Some Voices / Tree (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Some Voices"
I've always felt comparisons are the best way to give people an impression of new, unfamiliar bands. Pinback, however, seems to be one of those rare bands that defies grouping. Their music contains a lot of piano, but it's primarily guitar pop of a highly orchestrated variety. Since I am committed to attempting comparisons, I'll suggest that Pinback sound a little like ELO on the title track, with some nice Beatles-esque moments as well. In "Trainer", though, there's a touch of Aden, and in "Manchuria", their plane crash song, a live drummer helps to create muted shades of modern radio rock. This brings us to "June", which continues Pinback's trend for being themselves. It's mostly a continuation of "Manchuria", with a haunting (if overly familiar) piano arrangement -- think Phantom of the Opera, or any weird guy who's playing piano and out to spook -- and a nice, slowed-down section that re-establishes the band's appeal to the indie pop community. Rob (Thingy, Heavy Vegetable) Crow and Armisted Burwell Smith IV share the bulk of the work on Some Voices, and you can credit them for staking largely unchartered territory in the present world of indie music. -- td


Marc Tremblay / Bruit-graffiti / Empreintes digitales (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Résidus (Clip dadaïste)"
Marc Tremblay writes strange, disjointed and ultimately uninspired music. "Vroum", the opening track of Bruit-graffiti ("noise-graffiti" for you non-French speakers), starts with disembodied snippets of Beatles songs, such as "Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep, Yeah!" from "Baby You Can Drive My Car". From here he moves into a sort of synthesized interpretation of automobile sounds, in which imitated horns honking and engines running make up an initially active texture that slowly comes to rest. This piece is too one-dimensional. It lacks the transformation or recontextulization that would make it more fulfilling. Bruit-graffiti's most scatological track is "Résidus (Clip dadaïste)", an aural take on Duchamp's famous urinal sculpture. Here, Tremblay takes recordings of people barfing, belching, farting and doing other bathroom-related things and makes a collage out of them. It's practically unbearable to listen to unless you're a huge South Park fan. In general, I find Tremblay's work to be only marginally entertaining and somewhat cliché-ridden. He claims that he's "[discovering] the poetry in the noise that surrounds us" -- but 50 years after Schaeffer and Henry, I think we're ready to move on. -- nw


Hollydrift / Hail the Frozen North / Hollydrift (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Smile for Me"
Three tracks -- not songs, necessarily. These soundscape compositions (or something?) blow and grind like wind or trains. There is the occasional gothic chorus member in the background mumbling, moaning, chanting or reciting something unintelligible. Static radio voices speak in foreign tongues. There’s a point where strings sing old-time romantic movie soundtrack themes. There’s the Radiohead “Fitter Happier” voice doing the weather for the Midwest. A collage of found sounds. Nothing too impressive. Nothing overly offensive. -- av


The Selfish Jeans/Ska Girl and the Hands of Ra / s/t / Yam Yam (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Ska Girl and the Hands of Ra's "On My Mind"
About the best thing this split single has to offer is the amusing cover. I won't say anything else about the trio that graces the front ‘cause I don't want to get my ass whooped, so just take a look for yourself. The Selfish Jeans do one of the most impressive jobs of playing forgettable rock that I've heard in quite some time. Think of generic sounding Brit-rock from the early 90s...and you're done. Next... Ska Girl & the Hands of Ra at least have a cool name. Unfortunately, the band epitomizes everything that I dislike about whitebread Third Wave ska -- there's absolutely no soul to this tune whatsoever. All thirteen members sound like they're going through the motions on "On My Mind", which goes absolutely nowhere, drilling an already overdone genre deeper into its grave. -- am


The Riptones / Buckshot / Bloodshot (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Gone to Seed"
First, let's make one thing clear: I love country music. From Conway Twitty to Jeff Tweedy, Roy Clark to Guy Clark, Gram Parsons to Dolly Parton, it's the kind of music that makes me want to lie on the floor or sets me singing along at window-rattling levels. In other words, it makes me feel alive, which brings us to The Riptones. They're a good band, a fine band, a perfectly passable one. But, I have to tell you, there's just not a lot of there there. Call me biased or idiotic, but a lot of the Chicago country scene leaves me feeling empty. It's technically proficient, no doubt about it. John Langford, The Waco Brothers, The Handsome Family -- they've all studied hard and learned their licks. Take the Riptones' "Gone to Seed" for example. It's got your twangy Telecaster, your Cash-inspired low and lonesome voice, your melancholy tale. All the elements are there, but the sum is no greater than its parts. Put the same tools in the hands of, say, another Bloodshot artist, Old 97s, and you'll likely get something that not only covers all its bases but somehow manages to conjure up a little alchemy in the process. Think of a store-bought pie versus one made by your sweetie just for you. The ingredients may be the same, the appearance, too. But there's just something about the heart that goes into your darling's pie that makes your eyes roll back in your head with every bite. -- rg


Clit Stop / Self-titled / Swezlex (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "99 Hooker/Tom Scandura"
Take an hour or so of blistering, ear-abrading noise, feeling free to mix analog and electronic flavors. Mix. Season with a sleazy rock-n-roll attitude culled from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion songbook, as stolen from Jimi Hendrix. Add a dash of pop music sensibility and simmer for sixty-seven minutes. Now you've got Clit Stop. Though a lot of it is just noise, it's possible to pick bits and pieces of discrete songs out of the mix, which leaves you listening with the same sort of uneasy interest that you get from identifying familiar food items in a puddle of vomit. There's a lot more deliberate planning behind this cacophony than Clit Stop would have you believe. It also sounds like a bunch of mad zoo animals going through your kitchen cupboards, which is as close to guaranteed listening nirvana as anyone could want. -- gz


Paxton / Ginger's Dish / Underdog (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What's It Like to be You?"
Paxton was once a country music singer. He says he left because the subject matter in country songs is restrictive -- a statement with which Terry Allen fans undoubtedly disagree -- but I hope it mostly has to do with him realizing that he sounds like a prototype indie-popster. He's got a great, mildly throaty voice, with a snarl that brings to mind Graham Parker, and which conveys lyrical moments both amusing ("Today's a little better/I'm a little less insane") and relatable ("The first time I kissed you I wanted it never to end...but the last time I kissed you it's strange, I had to pretend"). Melodically, these songs should be reckless or edgy, but they're not -- when you read about Paxton's love for Queen and the Eagles in interviews, you're not too surprised -- and his songs rely on his personality and performance style to differentiate him from a run-of-the-mill major label act. While I think he has the potential to become big, it's mostly because he seems like a big-budget, watered-down version of what I expected Paxton to be. Rather than sounding like a new, lightly twisted Lou Reed, the songs on Ginger's Dish go against you like a butter knife. Occasionally, they raise an eyebrow ("You're groovy in that retro way") or bemused wince, but mostly they raise only polite indifference. Ginger's Dish is too tame to care too much about, and doesn't continue to suggest the grand future which his first record loudly proclaimed. -- td


Lola Hum / Lola Hum / Pants on Fire (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Not the One"
Lola Hum's singer, Erin Salgado, is their greatest asset. She has a plaintive, expressive, gently compelling voice that serves her well as she sings songs of melancholy and remorse. Lola Hum is a delicately mournful affair centered around lost or dying love. "Not the One" pines, "And I know I'm not the one that you want, And I know I'm just the one you've got." The music is attractive, yet somehow lonely. "Montana" cautions, "Cause I wonder, If you'll do the right thing, When desire rears her pretty head again". Yes, these are thoughtful, communicative songs and Salgado seems the perfect vehicle for them. She's backed by a standard rock quartet that seems quite competent and gets points for not upstaging her poignant vocals. Sure, there are a lot of rock bands out there and when it comes down to it, Lola Hum isn't particularly unique. But they deserve credit for thoughtfulness and earnestness, and for managing to convey real emotion. -- nw


Brandtson / Trying to Figure Each Other Out / Deep Elm (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Leaving Ohio"
I get the feeling that Brandtson is trying really hard not to be an emo band. That's admirable, although putting a picture of a guy with thick black emo glasses on the back of the CD probably wasn't the sharpest move... Cover issues aside, they've pretty much succeeded in un-emoing themselves, and the "post-hardcore" tag that their press seems to have settled on is reasonably accurate. This is fairly fast, chugga-chugga guitar/bass/drums music, with half-sung lyrics a la any number of Southern California bands, complete with dual vocals and some nice harmonies. The lyrics are largely personal, moody, relationship-based affairs, and I'm not positive but I have a hunch there's a Jesus thing going on in there somewhere too. There's not that much here in the way of new sounds or musical ideas, although the songs are well played and the sound is tight and clean. And then there's the "hidden" track, which has the fellows dabbling in electronics and funky beats. It's interesting and a nice change, but it's not quite enough to set Brandtson apart from the many other bands currently living out similar post-hardcore dreams. -- ib


Carrie Akre / Home / Good Ink (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Home"
You might know Akre from her time with Seattle's Hammerbox or the handful of other bands she's been in. Here, she's striking out on her own, doing the singer-songwriter thing. Voice-wise, Akre is far more powerful than she needs to be for this material; raw-throated and sultry, she's like a more sophisticated Joan Jett with a touch of Siouxsie Sioux's mystery. It's a shame that most of her songs keep her in "sensitive balladeer" mode, where overly slick production prevents her from making waves. I guess that Akre wants to emphasize her talents as a songwriter, and get away from the harder-edged stuff, but most of Home's material sells her talent short. The ferocious title track proves that she's holding back a lot of raw power, and I wish I'd been able to hear more of it. -- gz


Dagmar 41 / Unsailable / Molecule (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Here Comes Iocasta"
Dagmar 41 is wildly misguided piano music touted as arty and experimental. The voice of the woman here (apparently Dagmar herself?) is a strained shot at Tori Amos, but with a British accent. Dagmar 41 is far less creative, and somehow more irritating than Tori, but you still get the whole weird and mysterious girl action. Her voice wavers and trembles, and while I’ve not got an ear for how a classical vocal chord should wiggle, either Dagmar’s is shaking the wrong way or I hate classical vocal chords. The instrumentation accompanying the pearly keys is made up of cheap electronics, bland acoustic and electric guitars and (yikes) more layers of vocals. When Dagmar 41 isn’t doing the Amos, she’s whining, screaming and even rapping. Yes. Rapping. Be scared: check out the sound clip. -- av


Hamicks / S/T / Creepy Drifter (LP)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ajax"
(Editor's Note: Due to a shortage of turntables, it has taken us rather a long time to review this LP. Our thanks to the Hamicks for their patience.)

Hammocks are great to lie in, while the Hamicks are great to listen to -- or you could combine the two for maximum effect. After all, the songs on this self-titled release are enough to put you on your back. This hard charging Austin, TX group plays gritty 60s garage rock shot through with a melodic new wave sensibility. This self-titled LP is the band’s first proper album; it follows a string of EPs and seven-inches released on several different labels, including the much beloved Framed Records. Rockabilly-inspired romps like “Poop in the Pants” and “Sweet Little Attention Getter” snarl with dirge-like guitars and gruff vocals, while Side B opener “Ajax” has a disjointed, punky feel reminiscent of early Ramones. How can you go wrong with eight songs in less than 25 minutes? You can’t -- which is why the Hamicks’ self-titled debut will undoubtedly garner many repeat performances on your hi-fi. Whether you choose to stand up or lie down during them is completely up to you. -- jj


Moonbabies / Climbing Up These Miles / Best Kept Secret (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "June and Novas"
Compiling the best of the Moonbabies' cassette releases from 1996-1999, Climbing Up These Miles provides an interesting if not always thrilling look at a young, eclectic pop band discovering the type of music it does best. Besides including demos and tracks which wound up on the recent Duckweed release June and Novas, this tape includes a moody instrumental and a number of cuts where Ola Flick (the male member of the duo) takes over on lead vocals. Ola's voice is not as enjoyable as Carina Johannsen's, and seems more suited to harder rock, but it's nice if you've wondered what music Eddie Vedder would make if he'd been born in Sweden. On Ola's tracks, the Moonbabies mix in a little New Order with a little Buffalo Springfield, and the result is not peanut butter and chocolate, though it generally works better than you'd think. When Carina leads or shares vocals, the results are more mainstream, recalling groups like the Cardigans. This is the direction in which I think their future is headed. After hearing June and Novas, I thought the Moonbabies might be the next big thing; should this hunch be right, then consider the flawed but ocassionally exciting Climbing Up These Miles the next big collector's item. -- td


Elliott / False Cathedrals / Revelation (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Speed of Film"
Elliott’s Chris Higdon is blessed with one of the most amazing and emotive voices in all of music today. Anybody who’s ever heard “Miracle” from the band’s stellar U.S. Songs album knows that fact to be true. Higdon's high-pitched wails and cries force the Elliott's music to go places it otherwise would not dare -- and False Cathedrals finds the scope of his influence wider and more apparent. Opening with what sounds like an aria played through a short-wave radio, False Cathedrals soon reveals itself to be an explosive barrage of odd guitar shapes and bombastic rhythms, providing an ample foundation for Higdon’s sonorous vocal outpourings. “Blessed by Your Own Ghost” and “Cavalry Song” begin slowly with ethereal ambience and a few chilling chords before erupting into feedback-laced guitar maelstroms, combined with shifting rhythmic underpinnings and...that voice. “Shallow Like Your Breath” and “Speed of Film” find the band shedding some of their hardcore tendencies in favor of an eerily melodic, more refined sound. Any way you look at it, False Cathedrals is a grand gesture by the last band in the land who sound like they actually mean it. -- jj


Dee Snider / Never Let the Bastards Wear You Down / Koch (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Call My Name"
Do you ever wonder what happened to Twisted Sister? I'll have to admit that somewhere in my heart I always figured they'd still be stubbornly rocking at 40. It turns out I'm at least partly right. Dee Snider, the golden-locked, heavily made-up lead singer of TS, is still putting out hair-metal that makes you wanna to rock. His hair is mostly black now, and he's put aside the '80s-style circus act, but his music is still pretty much intact. It's the same mid-tempo, pulsing hard rock with fiery, melodic guitar outbursts and snarled lyrics. Even the song titles on Never Let the Bastards Wear You Down seem like they'd be right at home on some vintage vinyl (although to make it seem more authentic you'd need to spel sum of the wurds phunny): "Desperado", "Ride Through the Storm", "Our Voice Will Be Heard". Mr. Snider's music hasn't changed much since his heady days, and that's probably just what the two or three Dee Snider fans in our audience were hoping to hear. For the rest of us...hey, no one's making us listen! -- nw


Livehuman / Elefish Jellyphant / Matador (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Lesson #7"
Rather like K Records' IQU, Livehuman combines bass riffs, percussion and turntablism in order to push the envelope of stylistic hybridization. Due to the jazzy mood created by the bass and strings, you may be reminded of Medeski, Martin and Wood's hip-hoppier moments -- and the band gets some seriously cooking funk-jazz rhythms going here, as well as creating some downtempo DJ Spooky-style soundscapes. Unfortunately, since none of the instruments have a lead voice, you'll spend a lot of your listening time waiting for something "big" to happen...only to realize that you've heard what you're going to get. Don't get me wrong -- Elefish Jellyphant is thoroughly listenable. It's just not very exciting. -- gz


Marshmallow Coast / Time Square / Spare Me (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Spencer for Hire = Expensive"
In a world where too many artists take themselves, as well as their music, too seriously, we must thank the good lord above for bands like Marshmallow Coast. Any band that's named after a fluffy dessert treat and can boast of songs titled “Wedding in Catland” and “Between Love and Puke on the Bus” must have a good sense of humor -- at least as far as their own creative output is concerned. Time Square is a reissue of the first album from this Of Montreal side project -- and predictably, it's pretty raw. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it takes some getting used to. However, rough production and lo-fi tendencies are what gives Time Square its charm. The aptly-titled opener, “Intro”, oozes child-like innocence, while “Spencer for Hire = Expensive” is a laid back, countrified ditty accented by odd instrumentation and Andy Gonzales' low slung vocal delivery. More affecting still is the short, wobbling-but-brilliant instrumental “Bermuda Rectangle”. If it’s a more polished studio sheen you're after, look for subsequent Marshmallow Coast albums....But if a batch of funny, touching and incessantly melodic songs is what you crave, you'll feel at home in Time Square. -- jj



gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak
td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies | bl - beth lucht | av - adam voith | rg - rodney gibbs


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