Splendid E-zine presents

our weekly collection of shorter reviews

Blinker the Star, Beth Singer, Hilly Kristal, March Records Summer Sampler
Split Lip Rayfield, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, Jean Derome, Animal Chin
Jo & Joe & Friends, Tilt, Kevin Richard, Grade

Blinker the Star / August Everywhere / DreamWorks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Pretty Pictures"
While Blinker the Star's album boasts its share of upbeat rock tunes, the prevailing mood is rather melancholy, wistful, ambivalent and perhaps even a bit hallucinatory. Like dying leaves in August, the delicately catchy music and poetic fragments of lyrics conjure up moody emotional states having to do with change and loss. In addition to guitar, bass and drums, the album features layered harmonies, piano, synthesizers and strings. The music has a nice spontaneous feel to it, as if the tracks were banged out on the spot. It's a bittersweet excursion into deep feelings that most people would never feel comfortable talking about. -- cc

Beth Singer / Live While I Can / EJS (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Live While I Can"
Splendid doesn't receive much country music for review, and what we do get tends to have its roots in the punk ethos -- Bloodshot's releases, for instance. Beth Singer, evidently an Oregonian country phenom and festival mainstay at age seventeen, is a radio-friendly, crossover-friendly "new country" artist. Her voice is great -- full, mature and confident beyond her years. Beth doesn't appear to have had anything to do with writing the songs on her album, and that's fine; other than showcasing her voice, they're largely unremarkable, though I'm pleased to see that Singer's father/manager has kept the tone of her material appropriate to what a seventeen year-old should be singing about. Singer's tastes are bound to broaden as her world expands, and I'll be intrigued to see what direction her future takes. -- gz

Hilly Kristal / Mad Mordechai / The Stereo Society (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mud"
Hilly Kristal's bizarre music can only be described as post-disco meets The Hee-Haw Christmas Album meets Elmopalooza. On Mad Mordechai Kristal, who's better known as the owner of the seminal rock club CBGB's, displays a taste for camp that cannot be sated. Kristal's deep (really deep) bass voice twangs through a set of novelty songs reminiscent of "Does Your Chewing Gum Loose Its Flavor?" or "The Monster Mash". Running anchor is "Mud", a little ditty about a dejected pig who gets cologne for his birthday rather than mud. I've never really liked novelty songs and I like novelty albums even less so I'm definitely biased when I say that Mad Mordechai doesn't do it for me. It might work great as a party favor for your kid's next birthday party though! -- nw

Various Artists / March Records Summer Sampler / March (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Girlfrendo's "Air"
This is a Summer Sampler in the truest sense of the word -- filled with lighthearted, innocent pop tunes designed for warm weather, swimming pools and falling madly, passionately in love. Quintessential summer tunes, in other words -- the perfect soundtrack for skiving off work and legging it beachward, or just for your 30 minutes of freedom from the cubicle police. It's designed to be played loud and remembered -- in spirit if not in detail -- for the rest of your life. Packed with such worthies as The Cherry Orchard, Godzuki, Girlfrendo, Cinnamon and Kleenex Girl Wonder, this budget-priced sampler is a better value for money than a movie, an amusement park or even a day at the beach. -- gz

Split Lip Rayfield / In the Mud / Bloodshot (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Drinkin' Around"
A punky mixture of bluegrass, country and backwoods mischief, this quartet sings about the good stuff, bad luck, tough drinkin' 'n' dogs, yet plays like they've drank a bunch of moonshine and need to hightail through their tunes at 100mph. While not the first band to play a thrashy form of bluegrass (check out The Bad Livers or Killbilly), the members of Split Lip Rayfield are just as exceptionally gifted, smart-aleckly good humored -- and most importantly, they give a pleasureable listening experience. Lock up yer daughters, head to hills, and keep yer eyes peeled for them Rayfield types, cuz the bad moon's on the rise again! -- am

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa / Susurrate / Clairecords (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sweetabyss"
Susurrate has been out of print for years. To shoegazer types, it's a bit of a classic -- blurred, thundering guitars, muffled jackhammer beats, waves of synthesized white noise and solemn male and female vocals, heavily laden with hollow, stony reverb. Assuming you don't mind your music sounding as if it came from the bottom of a deep Czechoslovakian cistern, you'll love it -- played at high volume, it must be the aural equivalent of standing in a wind tunnel. Others may have taken the genre farther, or in more inventive directions, but Susurrate is as dynamic now as it was at the beginning of the decade, and as perfect an example of its genre as anyone could hope to acquire. -- gz

Jean Derome / Strand, Under the Dark Cloth / Ambiances magnétiques (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Nouveau-Mexique"
Strand, Under the Dark Cloth is the soundtrack to John Walker's 1988 film about photographer Paul Strand. Derome succeeds in imitating Strand's stark, black and white artwork by using a limited orchestral palette and simple, repetitive melodies. Also the soundtrack is mixed in mono, which adds to its less-than-three-dimensional-ness. Highlights of the CD include "Nouveau-Mexique" which combines a folk-like guitar with a sultry alto voice, flügelhorn and muted trumpets to create an intriguing sonic landscape. I also like the more rhythmic "Hébrides" which draws from different folk-influences to generate a subdued yet catchy dance piece. -- nw

Animal Chin / 20 Minutes from Right Now / Fueled By Ramen (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Have You Seen Him"
I was thoroughly prepared to dislike, if not despise, Animal Chin for the faux ska nonsense they displayed on "When All The Chips Are Down", the disc's starter. Despite the fact that they're a significant part of The Stereo's ancestry, despite the promisingly ballsy punk rock chops displayed on the rest of the disc (and on "Heir to the X Fortune", in particular), I was determined to draw a line in the sand and let no more diluted third-wave ska get past me unscathed. And then I heard "Have You Seen Him" -- a blazing ska/polka hybrid instrumental enlivened by a thick slathering of electric organ -- and my resistance sort of petered out. "Have You Seen Him" is one of those "gotta love it" tracks...or, in this case, one of those "gotta forgive a few profoundly crappy moments elsewhere on the disc because of it" tracks. -- gz

Jo & Joe & Friends / Mountain View Sessions Vol. 5: OUTjams / Jo & Joe Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Spare Change"
Bay Area improvisors Jo & Joe have teamed up with some friends and cranked out 15 tracks of fun, inventive and engaging music. They've got a whole mess of instruments to play with (guitars, percussion, bass, keyboards, sax, sequencers, vocals), and they use them to create jazz-tinged jams, most of which have a beat of one sort or another. At times they seem to head off into free-improv land, while at other times they seem to be setting up grooves over which the group improvises. My only complaint about the disc is that some of the spoken vocals are distracting and goofy (not in the best sense). Otherwise, this is a fine collection of improvised instrumental music. -- ib

Tilt / Viewers Like You / Fat Wreck Chords (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Animated Corpse"
Weathering the genre storms of the choppy 90's, Tilt's latest, Viewers Like You, is the band's strongest document of vocalist Cinder Block's scratchy vocals and incensed lyrical outlook on life. The band does a superb job backing Cinder with varying tempos, and guitar work that has more to it than three simple chords. Analyzing television programming, the cheating of death and suicidal actions in a world of pro-life, Tilt presents its messages through an unconventional application of the punk doctrine. -- am

Kevin Richard / Inventing Fire / Da Vinci's Notebook (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Home Game"
There's some nice guitar work on these high energy instrumental rock tunes, and they're all energetic and alive. Some of the music is a little heavy on the keyboards and electronic sounding drum samples (not in the techno sense), and a few of the tracks sound a bit too much like TV theme songs -- Magnum P.I. comes to mind. Still, with more live musicians, or maybe some better keyboard sounds, this disc could be a lot of fun. -- ib

Grade / Under the Radar / Victory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Victims of Mathematics"
Showcasing an explosive delivery that teeters from gasping rages to melodic melodies, vocalist Kyle Bishop leads this sometimes hardcore, sometimes pop-punk quintet through eleven testosterone-charged tracks. Invoking a type of "thinking man's punk", tunes like "The Worst Lies Are Told in Silence" and "The Inefficiency of Emotion" have a stark contrast between their stoic, rational sounding titles and the simmering anger that seethes from them. A disorienting emotional display of talent, Under the Radar flows smoothly from start to finish, easily making the grade on this musical report card. -- am

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | cc - craig conley

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