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J-Majesty, Ann Arbor Canasta Fix, Moneypenny, The Flipsides, Laura Huemer, Jimi Tenor, The Dismemberment Plan/Juno, The Ivory Coast, Huffamoose, Supercool Water/Cape Canaveral, The Hurricane Lamps, King Diamond Tribute, Rancid, Ramona and Beezus, Social Deviantz, Billy Bacon & The Forbidden Pigs, The Maybellines, jrcorduroy, My Dear Ella, Run Devil Run

J-Majesty / s/t / Some (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "No Cop No Stop"
I feel like I'm caught somewhere in the middle of Nothing's Shocking -- you know, that weird, hazy stuff that quietly drifts past your ears leaving you spaced out? While J-Majesty manages to get some off-kilter rhythms going, like the Jawbox-inspired "R Is For Rocket", I keep hearing Perry Farrell in my head. You emo kids are probably muttering foul phrases about me right about now, but before you get a lynch mob together, I will say that J-Majesty not only noticeabley has its shit together, but sends forth some feisty bits of reckless guitar that can get your blood pumping without subjugating you to the same old hyperspeed styled guitar riffs. Spanky Van Dyke's vocals are melodic and moving, but you certainly won't find yourself standing in the shower, ahem, singing with him. -- am

Ann Arbor Canasta Fix / s/t / Post-Parlo (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Disaster Leads to Destruction"
This is brilliant. AACF's debut falls into the grey area between indie rock and electronic music, where tasty guitar riffs combine with lo-fi samples and beats. Imagine a Flying Lizards/Beat Happening team-up, with additional support from the Kiss Offs -- in short, a raw and tawdry punk rock attack powered by faintly off-key female vocals and juiced up with some low-rent technical wizardry. Hell, the song titles alone, which include "Texas Law Prohibits White Girls from Sampling" and "Those Places with Basements", are more entertaining than a lot of the albums I've heard recently. The gal behind AACF may want to keep her identity a secret, but there's too much talent here for her light to stay hidden for long. -- gz

Moneypenny / She’s All the Rage / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hollywood Movies"
Here’s a nice record of airy bubble-gum pop with light and sing-songy female vocals. Moneypenny’s She’s All the Rage is floating at you, head bent and gazing at shoes. The band can play: the guitars are tight and melodic, reminiscent of the early 90s Velocity Girl School. There’s a strong tendency with bands like this to come off weak and unmemorable, but Moneypenny get props for the power stuffed into these tracks. The distortions come right on time with strong choruses and bridges linking together a pop sensibility -- and knowing when to say when with the high notes. Special points are added for good production on a self-released record. A few points are subtracted for the wah-wah breakdown into solo in the last track. A boy sings on one song. -- av

The Flipsides / S/T / Self-released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Tough Love"
This Bay Area trio rips through five songs worth of great power-pop. The opening "The Best of Times" is a roaring song reminiscent of the Muffs, but with a little more sunshine to the melodies. Other rockers on the disc ("Punk Underwood" and "I Like You") serve up plenty of butt-shaking grooves, while the acid-tinged "Lie" has the sweetest chorus I've ever heard that contains the line "Fuck you all." The best track here is "Tough Love", which strips the choruses down to drums and a snazzy bass line, superbly displaying the charming voice of guitarist/singer Sabrina Stewart -- who, along with bassist Mark Bradin, used to be a member of 5th Limb. When her guitar returns for the choruses, accompanied by overdubbed backing vocals, the result is pop heaven. This EP is the band's bait to land a home for a full-length album -- which, based on this preview, ought to be a real treat. -- rd

Laura Huemer / The Shoes I Wear / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Wendy & Ellen"
There are many great things to be said about Laura Huemer and her debut. She and each of her background singers have great voices (think Carrie Newcomer with a little twang), and the disc's acoustic sound is mighty nice on the ears, with production comparable to the Nanci Griffith cover albums. The deja vu that circles around her best songs is a little scary, though. In "Things to Be Afraid Of", she talks like Dylan (if from an excessively liberal angle, which finds her equating the TV --what horror! -- with gun violence), and in "Please Take Me to Paris", you get an opening that comes straight from "Raspberries Strawberries". In fact, the whole song is like Laura doing the Kingston Trio. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is "Mostly I Need You" exactly bad for being a Christine Lavin copycat; these songs sound wonderful, and make you realize that yes, today's a good day to hear some "Tom Dooley" or "Amoeba Hop". It's disheartening, though, that her more distinct material ("Fountain of Youth", "Spare You", "River Waters Roll", "Old Problems") suggests that none of her original melodies are all that good. Hopefully Huemer will make like Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, or Marti Jones next time around and simply focus on covers. There's nothing shameful in that. -- td

Jimi Tenor / Out of Nowhere / Matador (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hypnotic Drugstore"
Nobody ever admits to liking Jimi Tenor. He’s the proverbial black sheep of the Warp Records roster, chided for not being as accessible as Broadcast or as fucked up as Boards of Canada. It seems as though the genuinely odd Finnish savant just can’t catch a break. His last album, Organism, was a cheesy trip through a world of porn styled-electro-funk, replete with gratuitous horn stabs and Tenor’s slimy falsetto croon. It was cruelly dismissed as a Barry White-aping ode to a bygone era that nobody ever wanted to revisit. Two years on, a little older and a little wiser, Tenor has unleashed his latest opus: the sprawling, ambitious orchestral-funk masterpiece Out of Nowhere. To make his madcap vision a reality, Tenor has enlisted the services of The Orchestra of the Great Theatre of Lodz, Poland. Imagine Prince on a three-day bender with Rachmaninoff and you've an insight into the sound. Out of Nowhere finds the orchestra splashing Technicolored flourishes of woodwinds, strings and brass over Tenor’s stingy funk on songs like “Blood on Borscht” and “Paint the Stars”. They're also on hand to create a mood-altering swell that enhances the more serene tracks, like “Hotter than Ever” or “Pylon”. This is coupled with Tenor’s sultry croon and whirring bouts of electronic wizardry, resulting in a stirring and surreal collaboration unlike anything else you've heard lately. Out of Nowhere is the Jimi Tenor album it’s okay to like. We won’t even tell your friends. -- jj

The Dismemberment Plan/Juno / Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich/Non-Equivalents / Bcore (7”)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich"
Two great bands, two amazing songs, one import-only split 7” single, one big mystery. Who stole the soul? The culprits: Washington DC’s mighty sons the Dismemberment Plan, and the Pac-Northwest’s purveyors of the finest in intricately noisy math rock, Juno. Crimes Committed: The D-Plan are guilty of “The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich”, which includes such offenses as flagrant abuse of sirens, warped keyboard melodies, frenetic drumming and Travis Morrison’s grooving rant-rap. Juno, on the other hand, are guilty of using propulsive rhythmic figures, swirling guitar interplay and laid back vocals to drill “Non-Equivalents” into the skulls of hundreds of unsuspecting listeners. So whodunnit? In the end, both groups were released after repeated listens failed to produce any conclusive evidence -- other than proving how good both of these songs really are. Luckily, there's nothing to stop you from conducting your own investigation by replaying these songs over and over again to decide for yourself exactly who stole the soul. -- jj

The Ivory Coast / The Rush of Oncoming Traffic / Big Wheel Recreation (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Boys Being Boys"
The Ivory Coast has played with artists as "diverse" as The Dismemberment Plan, Rainer Maria, Ted Leo and the Promise Ring. If you believe you can make some assumptions about the Ivory Coast's sound based upon that list, you're not wrong. However, while the band meets the prerequisites of the crashing guitars/strained vocals stereo-archetype, there's a lot more going on than bog-standard e-word -- a subtle jazziness here, a more robustly melodic sound there, guitar acrobatics all around. Musically, this is rich, gorgeous stuff, with a lot of unexpected references to classic rock songwriting; it's a shame that the vocals kill it for me. If only the Ivory Coast could have extended their envelope pushing to offer something besides the Strained, Weedy-Voiced Guy Who Can't Sing But Whose Tone Carries The Overwhelming Sincerity Of His Words, this could be magical. Indeed, if your stereo has a karaoke feature, you can suppress the vocals and enjoy The Rush of Oncoming Traffic without irritation. -- gz

Huffamoose / I Wanna Be Your Pants / Shanachie (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "New Hit Song"
It's easy to sense that I Wanna Be Your Pants is a winner. In Craig Elkins and Kevin Hanson, the band has two of the best vocalists an indie label could hope for, and there are moments scattered throughout the album that prove the band can flat-out play. In "My Dad's New Hit Song", they also seem to be asking the kind of questions ("Is it one of those swing tunes...like the ones that stick in your head and bounce around till you pick up a shotgun and sing tunes?") that every pop band should want to answer in the affirmative. However, I get the impression that Huffamoose don't want to make something like Smashmouth, filling you with the urge to start humming. On the fifteen songs during which they wanna be your pants, Huffamoose gives you no reason to oblige them; their choruses imply that such pants would only be a good place to stash initially promising melodies. I don't know of any other record with choruses that work so skillfully ("Isn't it remarkable/Her majesty remains/That's the way she'll always be") at destroying a song's momentum. I think this is why the band is often called jazzy or complex -- but it's an insult to jazz to have its name always used to describe bands who act as if Cole Porter songs would be better if none of the lyrics rhymed or were set to a beat. Huffamoose fails in making anything memorable here, and I think it's less from lack of talent than from lack of respect for the medium in which they work. -- td

Supercool Water/Cape Canaveral / Split 7" / Yam Yam (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Shark"
Long live the split 7-inch! While not an all-you-can-eat buffet, it gives you an opportunity, if you can dodge the mystery meat and vile veggies, to sample some succulent morsels. This single has done just that by piquing my interest in at least one of these two bands. Supercool Water toys with a Slint-style balance between sinister, stripped-down minimalism and a more hard-driving rock punch. The swing between the two styles delights listeners by winding you up tight with anticipation only to release you with a catchy, pop chorus. Splitting the vinyl is Cape Canaveral, whose straight-ahead rock is a solid compliment to Supercool's playful departure. -- rg

The Hurricane Lamps / YouDeserveWhatYouWant / Sonic Boomerang (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Places We've Been"
With so many bands aiming for obscurity by aping long-forgotten sixties groups whose records never sold, it's nice when a young group like the Hurricane Lamps swipes from actual successes like early Who and Small Faces. It gives one the impression that they want to be more than just hip, and that's cool. Granted, sometimes their theft could have been more subtle -- it's hard to hear the title track without getting "I Can See For Miles" stuck in your head -- but the Hurricane Lamps are such fine thieves that their record is truly comparable to A Quick One or The Who Sell Out. It's not on the same level, but it's close enough! On the rare occasions that they veer from this norm and pursue a more traditionally indie sound, like the Superchunky "Places We've Been", the Lamps falter a bit, but the group's sloppy, energetic playing always takes them a step above most of the indie pack. Their second full-length release, fused with stellar moments of wailing upon the guitar and drums, earns the Hurricane Lamps the right to wonder if a Who's Next is within their grasp. -- td

Various Artists / King Diamond Tribute / Necropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Exhumed's "No Presents For Christmas"
Quite frankly, it's a little bit strange not hearing the high pitched howl of metal master King Diamond when listening to songs like "Abigail" and "Welcome Home." Instead, this compilation gives you a gruesome tour of lower level hell with In Aeternum as your guide on the former, while some Venom-inspired, bizarre thrash-grindcore vocals from France's Aggressor are on top for the latter. As a matter of fact, everything from the retro-sounding dual guitar solos of 80's metal to the extremities of modern-day death metal are showcased here, rousing your evil side to spread its wings. While it's always more entertaining when you know what the original songs sound like, this compilation has enough integrity and variety to stand on its own, quenching the hapless metal fan hankering for something new to blast out of the speakers. -- am

Rancid / Rancid / Hellcat (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Radio Havana"
In their latest press release, Rancid accurately describes this eponymous record as "the fastest, most hardcore record" they've ever made. The songs come so quickly and furiously that before you know it you're already halfway through the album. Having burned out any remnants of ska, the quartet is left with pure punk, writhing like an angry snake. The songs are tight, with edges sharp enough to draw blood from even the most jaded listener. Although tracks like "Loki" are far too harsh to capture any radio play, cuts such as "It's Quite Alright" and "Radio Havana" have enough sing-along melodies to find the band a place in the hearts of kids whose idea of punk is Blink-182. Lyrically, Tim Armstrong remains a cut above his contemporaries by maintaining punk's political and social roots. The standard targets are here ("Disgruntled" is the obligatory anti-cop diatribe and "Corruption" attacks the hypocrisy in organized religion), but by also ranting about the atrocities in Rwanda, Armstrong keeps the bile fresh and relevant. Albums like this are what will keep punk alive well into the twenty-first century. -- rd

Ramona and Beezus / Parting / Idols of the Marketplace (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Destroyer1"
Contrary to the implications of the Beverly Cleary-inspired band name, Ramona and Beezus seems to be a solo outfit. At least, I hope so. The vocalist here is painfully off-key most of the time, even by indie rock standards; sometimes it's charming (and sometimes it sounds frighteningly like a Violent Femmes song before the drums and bass kick in), but with very little variation in sound over the course of the album, it quickly wears you down. The vocalist strums the acoustic guitar (Parting's only instrument) with such cathartic abandon that you can hear it affecting his breathing patterns. Making matters worse, the album is bookended by two spoken-word pieces, delivered in a hushed and mealy-mouthed fashion. The first one, which runs for more than seven minutes, may keep you from exploring the rest of the disc. Parting may appeal to lovers of raw, deeply personal music -- indeed, there's enough decent material here to fill a modest EP -- but the rest of you should content yourselves with admiring the packaging. -- gz

Social Deviantz / Minimal / Sugarshack (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Lucky 5"
West Coast styled hip hop that grooves like The Pharcyde, bites like The Goats and has a sparkling similarity to the fantastic Peanut Butter Wolf. I like my bass thick and heavy, and the guttural thumping on "Lucky 5" rumbles as choice samples and some smoothly architected scratching back up some prime hip-hop lyrics. This Vancouver trio grabs the best parts of contemporary American hip hop and leaves out the bullshit talk about bitches and bullets, instead opting for a high ground that you could label intellectual hip hop. Look for a full-length this fall, but until then these four tunes (one's a remix) will have to tide you over. Ration wisely. -- am

Billy Bacon and The Forbidden Pigs / Pig Latin / Triple X (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Una mas cerveza"
Billy Bacon & The Forbidden Pigs? I'll admit that I wasn't sure what to think of these guys when the disc came across my desk. The album cover alone was intriguing, though, with its authentic yet skewed 1950s look. The sticker on the jewel box promised a "collection of all-Latin-flavored tracks", yet the inside photo showed a couple of gringos in Texan habiliments a la Stevie Ray Vaughn. I had to listen! It turns out that Mr. Bacon and Co. are perpetrators of the Tex-Mex sound. And as you would suspect, Pig Latin draws heavily from both Country and Latin elements, and there's a distinct surf element as well. In fact, throughout the disc I kept thinking of three things: the roaming mariachi bands at the Mexican restaurant I used to frequent, that "Tequila" song by The Champs, and alt-country band BR-459. Pig Latin is full of great songs like "Una mas cerveza", which tells the story of an American south of the border who finds himself beset by a band of Mexican robbers. Unfortunately, the extent of his Spanish skills consists of asking for another beer. It's both hilarious and charming, and the tune is quite catchy. Other nice tracks include "Tina mas fina" and the mini-medley "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights/Volver Volver." BB & the FB even do a respectable cover of "Woolly Bully", if you're interested. -- nw

The Maybellines / The Maybellines / Shelflife (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sleep Over"
If you fell asleep to the Maybellines, it might be easy to dismiss them as an overly fluffy band -- one that's catchy, but far too light to matter more than a weekend nap. For the first few times I listened to them, that was definitely my opinion, and it annoyed me that their aspirations seemed limited to making listeners think about Dressy Bessy. However, the more I played the Maybellines, the more I enjoyed them. Songs like the boy-girl duet "Happiness Digest" ring with the same blend of sweet sadness that the Brittle Stars did so well, while the bass takes each of the band's other short, hip-swaying songs through similar territories of mixed emotion. "Sleep Over" might talk about catching a scary movie with a date, but the underlying music makes the song more about hearing a "Yes" or "No" to the proposal. It's about wondering whether to drink your soda straight or with a plentiful supplement of rum. That's a good thing too, because how many records does you need that sound like the aural equivalent of a perfect first date with an airhead? Dressy Bessy do that fabulously, but give me the Maybellines. These songs, more about the emotions behind the first year of a relationship you want to last forever, make these fifteen minutes of pop worthy of at least a quarter-hour of daily, tuneful bliss. -- td

jrcorduroy / Slow-Fi / Good to Burn (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What to Ignore"
Slow-Fi just might make you cry, especially if you’re a male of the species. You see, it's not that the music here is spectacularly beautiful (though it has its moments), but rather that lead singer/songwriter Mark Kraus’ straightforward lyrical manner so wonderfully verbalizes the usually silent facets of heartbreak and longing. Lines like “I’m not asking for much, just another girl that loves me as much as you claimed you used to” from “Interstate”, or “Queen of Photography"'s “kick me one more time while I’m feeling down” were not penned by a soul with a sunny outlook on life. You will no doubt find it scary the way his lines recall moments and feelings from your own past. Musically, Slow-Fi is quite a sparse affair, adorning Kraus’ gut-wrenching pleas with mournful strumming, snail-paced backbeats, subdued keyboards and weeping cellos. These elements finally come together on the album's final track, “What to Ignore”, to create a spectrally beautiful swell of sound and sadness. All told, Slow-Fi is bleak enough to make you cry and beg your ex for forgiveness, but forward-looking enough to let you realize that eventually everything’s going to be all right. -- jj

My Dear Ella / What a Beautiful Child / My Dear Ella (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sitting on the Train"
My Dear Ella is a band that’s into the emotional element of music -- sappy, dripping and whining. There is, without a doubt, a conscious effort by vocalist and primary songwriter Eric Wallen to sound like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The song arrangements chase after those on OK Computer, which is quite the emotional record. When I first gave the CD a listen, I was willing to forgive the noticeable influences of what might be the last great, huge rock band in the world. I’ve got no issues with people singing the praises of Radiohead. I’m counting days until October 3rd myself. However, after a few more listens, I got pissed. This is shameless robbery. Imagine a group of high school kids, brand new to their instruments and their shitty 4-track, in their garage covering Radiohead songs from guitar tabs they found on some GeoCities website, and singing the wrong wrong wrong lyrics with a bad bad bad whine. Sad. Very sad. -- av

Run Devil Run / Sinking Deeper / Victory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Gray Memories"
Straightedgers Run Devil Run dish up typical hardcore -- jackhammer beats, jagged guitars, screamed vocals -- slathered with the usual batch of positive values. They're a competent band, but they don't really stand out from the legion of other bands with similar musical and philosophical approaches. While it's always encouraging to see a band embracing something other than sex, drugs, hate and stupidity, the message comes across as sanctimonious. If I'm going to allow an album to talk down to me, I'd rather it be one that doesn't sound like everything else on the block. -- gz

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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