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our weekly collection of shorter reviews

The Wicked Farleys/The Vehicle Birth, Mallik Family, Shivaree, 100 Watt Smile
Vulgaria, The Church, Supreme Beings of Leisure, Reggie and the Full Effect
Takako Minekawa, Situation at 1200, Music for Listening To, Easy Tempo
Rick Rizzo and Tara Key, Slow-Wave Sleep, King Fly, The Renovators
Gessy, John Linnell

The Wicked Farleys / The Vehicle Birth / s/t / Doom Nibbler (7")

Sample 30 seconds of The Wicked Farleys' "How's My Driving"
If you've been grazing in the indie-rock fields lately, you've probably heard of The Wicked Farleys and The Vehicle Birth. Lexington, Kentucky-based Doom Nibbler has herded these two bands onto a split 7" with satisfying results. The Wicked Farleys steer through post-rock deconstruction on "How's My Driving," showcasing what happens when clean guitar chords clash with a tumultuous rhythm section. The 1996 Vehicle Birth tune seesaws between peaceful vocals and moody instruments -- a poignant display of funneled emotional angst. Right, that all makes sense, but what, pray tell, is a Doom Nibbler? -- am

Mallik Family / Secret Colours / Shalimar Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rag Shahana"
According to the press materials, the musical tradition of the Mallik family dates back to late 18th Century India. They specialize in a very fast and rhythmic vocal style called "Dhrupad" singing. This is the most vocal-centric Indian music I know of. The tabla (hand drum) and tanpura (large string drone instrument) players are pretty much in the background as the vocalists sing complicated and repetitive texts. It's a captivating effect, almost like scat singing in that it's clear that the words of the text are less important than the way they are sung, repeated, slurred, etc. I'd love to see these folks play live. Until then, this CD will do nicely! -- ib

Shivaree / I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump / Capitol (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Daring Lousy Guy"
We've seen this before: a cute, breathy, quirky female vocalist, supported by a batch of capable musicians, cranks out a slew of songs rooted in the Current Popular Sound. In this case, the "Sound" is Becked-up, countrified folk-pop, while the cute vocalist is Ambrosia Parsley. I've yet to read a press release or article in which Ms. Parsley's name isn't followed up by a parenthetical disclaimer along the lines of "Yes, that's really her name" -- as if to say "Boy, if we'd made up that name and forced her to use it for marketing purposes we'd be a bunch of assholes, but because it really is her name we can all go ahead and point to it and say "how cute!" Parsley plays guitar on only one track, but is credited with writing most of these harmless, fairly enjoyable songs. One notable exception is "Oh, No" by Tracy Thielen (as in Tracy and the Hindenburg Ground Crew), who will probably set me straight if I've got the wrong idea about Shivaree. -- gz

100 Watt Smile / And Reason Flew / Thirsty Ear (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Reason Flew"
Let me put things this way: Since I like the Breeders, I was bound to enjoy 100 Watt Smile. It's about as simple as that! Frontwoman Carrie Bradley and Co. have accomplished a nice little alternapop record à la Kim Deal and Co. Songs like "Furry," with its refrain of "And then came a polliwog, And then came a furry egg, And then came an egghead, And then came a headache, But I love you baby" can't help but make you smile. Tracks like "If You Won't Too" that start out "Run over me slowly…" are so tender you might shed a tear. Musically, the songs on And Reason Flew are all about hummable melodies and emotion-rending chord changes executed with fuzzy guitars and the occasional amplified violin, punctuated with punchy rhythms. My favorite track is "Reason Flew". -- nw

Vulgaria / Vulgaria / Reelin (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Built for Speed"
All-male "post-punk aggression with hook-ladden rock melodies" (or so their press release says) is what Vulgaria is all about. Think a less catchy Creed -- not that Creed was ever catchy to begin with. Buried vocals leave listeners wondering what the vocalist is spending his time singing about, while the guitar licks lack flavour, seeming to blend with the vocals. Perhaps with some more time and effort Vulgaria will grow into the "hook-laden" band that they're trying to be. -- ha-n

The Church / A Box of Birds / Beggars Banquet (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "All the Young Dudes"
I guess the Church felt the need for a busman's holiday, as none of the ten tunes on this album-of-other-people's-music stray particularly far from the Church's expansive guitar rock milieu. Both Hawkwind's "Silver Machine" and the Monkees' "The Porpoise Song" offer opportunities for departure from the Church's signature style, but are instead shoehorned into the band's unhurried musical sprawl. And that's okay, really, because after twenty-odd years, Messrs. Kilbey, Koppes and Willson-Piper are damn good at what they do, and entitled to a few indulgences, including the right to crank out Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" when the whim strikes. Still, it would've been cool to hear a more radical departure from form than the works of Iggy Pop, Television, Neil Young and George Harrison allow. A Tricky cover, perhaps? -- gz

Supreme Beings of Leisure / s/t / Palm Pictures (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Last Girl on Earth"
The sultry trip-hop standard established by Portishead and Massive Attack has had many latter-era imitators and would-be standard bearers...and you'd be correct in assuming that the Supreme Beings of Leisure fall into that same sonic vortex. So what's different? Most overtly, this is a warmer, friendlier album. Though smoky and seductive, Portishead and Co. often come off as cold, distant and downright depressing, their eroticism purely voyeuristic; SBoL, on the other hand, espouse a welcoming, immediate, viable sexuality. The listener is given the option of being a willing participant in the activity rather than simply a viewer. Think Madonna-style liberation (forgive me for invoking Madonna here, but it's accurate) combined with a Bjorky sense of fun. There's also much play given to the band's global musical influences, but while many songs make use of looped strings, etc., there's nothing here you haven't heard before. What counts -- and what stands out -- is the approach. -- gz

Reggie and the Full Effect / Greatest Hits '84-'87 / Second Nature (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Your Girlfriends Hate Me"
Now this is only hearsay, but I've heard that Reggie and the Full Effect are actually the Get Up Kids, helped by various friends and felons (and, of course, under a different moniker). Now that's only hearsay, mind you; I'll leave it to your good judgement whether or not you believe the rumor to be true. But I feel obligated to report that upon listening to Greatest Hits '84-'87, you'll hear crunching-yet-soaring guitars, quirky keyboard melodies and heaps of harmony vocal -- not at all unlike a certain KC band you might well know and love. Songs like "Another Runaway Song" and "Your Girlfriends Hate Me" are three-minute Rentals-like power-pop-punk explosions, with hooks bursting from every proverbial seam. Add between-song sound bytes like "Fiona Apple Kiss My Black Ass" and "Get to the Choppa!" and Greatest Hits '84-'87 is a winner, no matter who Reggie and the Full Effect actually are. -- jj

Takako Minekawa / Fun9 / Emperor Norton (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Spin Spider Spin"
Unfortunately, this is probably the weakest of Minekawa's albums...or perhaps it's just a matter of expectations. While previous Minekawa efforts have been upbeat and bouncy, Fun9 seems languourous and hazy, drenched in techno-folkie headcold fluffiness; energy builds up here and there, but is never sustained quite long enough for it to become truly infectious. The four tracks Takako shares with Cornelius are the strongest -- particularly the bubbly "Spin Spider Spin", which is probably the disc's high point. The collaborations with DJ Me DJ You begin promisingly, but the Sukia bunch opts for studio trickery and anonymous ambient squelchiness rather than exploiting Takako's underlying quirky weirdness. With sufficient repeat listens, Fun9 begins to reveal its hooks, but by then your interest may have waned. -- gz

Situation at 1200 / De-Luxe / Your Best Guess (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Parachute Falls"
These New Jersey teenagers do the pop-rock-mixed-with-wall-of-sound thing. Influences of Lush, Swervedriver and even some Jawbreaker round out this mix of songs that don't sound like they should all be together on one EP. "Crash" and "Gemini" are the more chaotic rock numbers, whereas "Parachute Falls" takes a look into the group's more My Bloody Valentine influenced moments. Both are equally valid and actually quite pleasing, though I'm leaning more in favour of the ambient numbers. It'll be interesting to see how this band grows. -- ha-n

Various Artists / Music for Listening To / Bubble Core (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Help! Gerard Cosloy is chasing me with an axe!"
...and listening had better be all you've got planned, because much of the material on this label sampler/obscure track collection will not only demand all of your attention -- it'll flat-out hijack your train of thought and choose a new destination for it. Cuts by Mice Parade, (Doug Scharin's) Him and Dots Will Echo make for particularly strenuous listening; their music isn't unpleasant, but in some intangible way it's like teflon to the ear. Dots Will Echo score special points for having a track called "Help! Gerard Cosloy is Chasing Me with an Axe," though the joke ends at the name. -- gz

Various Artists / Easy Tempo / Eighteenth Street Lounge (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Stefano Torossi's "Running Fast"
This is a compilation of Italian film music from the late sixties and early seventies, lovingly compiled by Thievery Corporation (which you might expect, since it's on their label). Predictably, especially if you've actually seen any Italian films from the late sixties or early seventies, what you'll find here is a healthy assortment of swinging, loungey instrumentals -- all of a pretty high calibre. Pop this in the stereo and within seconds you'll be swaggering around, calling people "baby," tooling around on a Motoguzzi with two flight attendants-turned-fashion models, mixing coctails and swapping partners. Groovy, no? If nothing else, Easy Tempo proves that there's life left in the so-called loungecore scene. -- gz

Rick Rizzo and Tara Key / Dark Edson Tiger / Thrill Jockey (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Farfisa Wail"
An album based on subtleties, Dark Edson Tiger matches Eleventh Dream Day guitarist Rick Rizzo with Antietam collaborator Tara Key. With the exception of the boisterous "Low Post Movement in D," each composition tends to explore space in a pleasantly upbeat, erratic manner. As sustained guitar notes linger in the air, noisy nuances and an occasional violin or piano note glide by, casually adding another dimension to the wash of sounds on this collection of instrumental numbers. Rizzo and Key have assembled an amalgamation of intricate complexities that wander down a carefully constructed mood-altering path that's pleasant, yet perplexing enough to engage your brain in an aural discussion of blurry experimentalism. -- am

Slow-Wave Sleep / Sketches / Autopilot Productions (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "trust"
Sketches presents five pleasantly mellow guitar compositions. The production isn't great (it's pretty muddy in some spots) and the playing won't blow you away, but there's definitely a nice feeling to these songs. They somehow make me think of driving through heart of Nebraska on no sleep with a tummy full of hashbrowns. You know the feeling. The first piece, "trust" is my favorite, mostly because of the strange and slightly spooky vocal samples that are just audible beneath the strummed guitars. Sketches does get a little noodly in places, but overall it's a nice listen. -- ib

King Fly / Aquamarine Scene / Ding Ply (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "For Mrs. White"
King Ply make melodic pop rock of the variety frequently overheard on Adult Album Alternative stations and as background music on WB shows. They have filled Aquamarine Scene with upbeat, inoffensive tunes, and therein lies the rub. While there are no songs on the disc that make me want to turn it off, there are also no tracks quite memorable enough to make me feel an urgent need to listen to Aquamarine Scene again. Many of them -- particularly "January Row" and "For Mrs. White" -- come close, but the essential spark of flair and originality is missing. Creating those "hooks" is the last and most difficult challenge for a growing band, and most of them manage to do it only once or twice, though alt-rock radio continues to prove that it's not a requirement for point being that King Fly is nearly there. -- gz

The Renovators / Rhythm & Blueprints / Berger Platters (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rip Up the House"
The Renovators are the type of band you'd expect to see at The House of Blues or something. It's that so-called "blues" that's way too perky and up-tempo to be real blues -- you know what I mean? It's about as far away from Robert Johnson at the crossroads as you can get! Alright, I'll get off my hobby horse now and admit that perhaps the broadest definition of blues might allow for the John Mayall, G.E. Smith, Renovators kind of stuff. I mean, they call their music blues so why should I argue with them? As far as Rhythm & Blueprints is concerned, if you like the aforementioned bands, you'll like it. It's polished, well-executed, sometimes humorous, always upbeat barroom "blues" with some rock, jazz and even a touch of reggae (see "Blue Reggae") thrown in for crossover appeal. -- nw

Gessy / Gessy / A Bouncing Space (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "Kiss and Tell"
Gessy is actually one man, Jamey Gray (99cent dream), a guitar, a mic and some Vicks Vapo-Rub. On his self-titled release, Gessy brings to life a world normally lived between the cracks in the pavement -- a world of wanting, of caring, of strength and of the eventual realization that life really is good. Using hushed vocals and softly strummed acoustic guitar, songs like "Fish" and "See the World" convey the bare emotions of a soul not sure whether it's more comfortable coming or going. Gessy is a perfect rainy day cassette: an endearing tale that will leave you reeling from its brutal honesty. -- jj

John Linnell / Montana b/w Louisiana / Rounder (US-SHAPED RECORD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Montana"
Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way: this is a record shaped like the United States of America. A functioning record, with songs on it, shaped like the good old US of A. When the furor over this dies down, as it inevitably will, someone's bound to ask if it's any good. Luckily, it is. Montana -- one of the perkier songs from Linnell's State Songs album -- is paired with the unreleased, but equally topical, "Louisiana". You'll like them if you like songs that sound like They Might Be Giants (of which Linnell is half), but aren't quite as overtly eccentric. They're both definitely better than a song on US-shaped vinyl needs to be. Now if I could just figure out what to tell people who wonder what happened to Alaska and Hawaii... -- gz

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead
jj - jason jackowiak | ha-n - heidi anne-noel | dd - deirdre devers

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