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our weekly collection of shorter reviews

Staynless, J. Majesty, Amy X. Neuberg and Men, The Undecided
Bill Foreman, Nautical Themes, Amanda Green, Alex Ayers
Goodness, Immersion, Sunset Valley, Richie Hawtin
Hot Water Music, Sometime Never, The Seymores, The Tonewelders
The Gap Scatter Recovery, Was it Him or His Music?

Staynless / Theor y and Circuits Made Simple / Undecided (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Haunting the Haunted House"
By now I should know better than to judge a book (or a CD for that matter) by its cover. I thought this album was going to be a dose of catty, Bikini Kill-styled riot grrl rock. Boy, was I wrong. Transistor Theor y (sic) and Circuits Made Simple is actually an unholy blast of gritty, angular, Fugazi-inspired post-hardcore. Staynless recorded this album with Steve Albini, and even though I normally don't care for his indier-than-thou ethos, he has outdone himself here. He's managed to capture both the fragile and the brutal aspects of Staynless' attack, and pump them through your speakers simultaneously -- not exactly something you can say about Razorblade Suitcase. Take, for instance, the incessantly melodic chime that starts "Haunting the Haunted House," which slowly morphs into a rough-as-sandpaper mass of distorted power chords and pounding drums. Scoff if you'd like, but just remember that Staynless might just break down your door and jam a guitar neck down your throat for doing so. -- jj

J. Majesty / 3 song preview EP / Some (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "One...Three...Five"
Some Records is flogging this three-song preview (the full album's out in April, I believe) for $3.00 -- not necessarily a bargain in a world full of free label samplers, but at least the quality's more consistent. What can the J. Majesty newbie learn from this tuneful troika? Basically, you'll see that J. Majesty can make listenable rock-n-roll songs rather than simply flailing away at their instruments in a bid to be an emo flavor of the month. "One...Three...Five" shows them to also be a band that can dish out the hard stuff, threshing out raw riffs and metal-friendly vocals. I'm definitely looking forward to April a bit more now. -- gz

Amy X. Neuburg and Men / Sports! Chips! Booty! / Racer (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Naked Puppets"
I feel cheated. As usual, I was at the wrong place at the right time during my tenure in San Francisco and was never able to witness the irreverent antics of Amy X Neuburg and Men's "electronic avant-caberet" stage shows. Luckily, I have the quintet's latest release, Sports! Chips! Booty! which demonstrates quite clearly that these folks are committed to their unclassifiable musical art. Is it spunky electronica peppered with lager-soaked sing-a-longs, allied with inventive and challenging time signatures? I don't know, but Ms. Neuburg does Kate-Bush-as-schizophrenic-on-acid soprano, supported by her manly baritone Men on new-fangled instruments (an infra-red motion-sensor instrument called Lightening?!? Cool!). They shine on such ditties as "Naked Puppets" and "Baby." It's interesting stuff which defies commercial conventions. -- dd

The Undecided / The Undecided / Tooth & Nail (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Choices"
If I hadn't paid close attention to their song lyrics, I'd have said The Undecided cut their t-shirts from the same cloth as bands like Blink 182 and The Ataris. Their music is the same suburban-skate-rat-who-hangs-out-at-the-mall fare that has contributed to Blink's recent success. However, close inspection of the CD liner reveals Biblical references printed in small type at the bottom of each song listing. And with lyrics like "You're saved by grace, never let anything take His place", it's clear that while The Undecided have musical commonalities with other pop-punk bands, their rhetoric is quite different from that of their more hedonistic contemporaries. I've heard of Christian punk bands before, but this is the first time I've heard an entire album. Though I'm still not sure that punk rock and religion are compatible bedfellows, when I turned this CD up loud enough, the lyrics were no longer an issue. -- nw

Bill Foreman / The Bathroom Mirror / General Ludd (CD-R)

Sample 30 seconds of "You!"
Packaged in a frugal ziploc-type bag and recorded on a handheld cassette recorder, The Bathroom Mirror is about as creepy and fucked up as any well-aged Daniel Johnston release. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Bill Foreman swamps the area with vocal deliberations that sometimes wander a bit off key, but are always dead on with their sincerity. As the recording fuzz lingers quietly in the background, Foreman analyzes cracked romances and ruined friendships that drip with genuine despair. You quickly and unwittingly become glued to the speakers, anxiously waiting for Foreman’s next song in hope that maybe on this one, he’ll break out of his gloomy depression. His heavy stuff disguised by a folk-singer costume, Foreman needs your attention as much as you desperately need his wisdom about life’s downfalls. -- am

Nautical Themes / All Things Must Fly / Collective (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Brittle Star"
An unexpected pleasure, this series of seven gorgeous instrumentals combines elements of jazz and rock, creating a delicate drone that incorporates aspects of Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor without ever taking on a particular resemblance to either band. Though ostensibly improvised, these songs fit together like hand-crafted artwork, each piece complementing the bleak-yet-beautiful whole. What's even more impressive is that All Things Must Fly is a CD-R. Though I've seen some impressive home-produced discs, this one really raises the bar for quality -- with decent recording, beautiful packaging and an excellent (if Flash-heavy) label website behind it, everything about All Things Must Fly is exceptional. -- gz

Amanda Green / The Nineteen Hundreds / Y&T (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Silver Dollar"
Amanda Green's got a voice that would have been perfect in the 80's. There's just something about her voice that makes me envision "Turn Around". Musically, however, 26 year-old Miami native Green has a catchy, guitar-driven alternarock vibe that's not particularly phenomenal, but her music is extremely well-written and gets stuck in your head. A hint of Juliana Hatfield (Blake Babies era) peeks out here and there, as well as some Kate Bush and Liz Phair (without all the blatant sex references). Green has opened for Sheryl Crow, Creed, Marcy Playground and others, and based on her sound she seems poised to join them on the charts some time soon. -- ha-n

Alex Ayers / A Hollow Tomorrow / Isolation Recordings (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Baia Rada Massah"
In some ways, A Hollow Tomorrow is a classic D.I.Y. demo CD: muddy recording, generally poor sound quality, some not-great instrumental performances and too many songs in too many styles. Having said that, this is a really nice CD! The sound quality issues are obviously the result of Ayers struggling to get the most out of his "zero budget" equipment, and the variety of his ideas and experiments more than make up for the muddiness. There's a clear Trent Reznor/super-emo influence at work on some of the tunes, but it's not overwhelming. More interesting are his tweaky sound experiments, in which he creates some lovely ambient grooves and collages. There are also a few more-or-less pop songs on the disc, although these suffer quite a bit from the aforementioned sound quality/performance problems. Ayers has poured buckets of creativity into A Hollow Tomorrow, and more often than not it has resulted in something interesting. At 22 tracks, there's probably a bit too much here, making it difficult to really get a feel for where Ayers is heading -- but given a little more focus and some help from his friends, Ayers is clearly capable of creating some very interesting music. -- ib

Goodness / These Days / Good Ink (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sex and Rebellion"
Careful liner note detective work empowers me to point out that the country-rock rumblings of Goodness also have roots in Good-Ink Records act Blue Spark. You can't help but think about Chrissie Hynde's glory days when Carrie Akre belts out a few of her dominating lyrics, tainted with a bold, brawny fierceness. These Days not only memorializes the band at its performance peak -- it’s also an exceptional example of how attitude can make or break a band. This tightly-knit release targets the reveling, beer-soaked bar-goer with two fistfuls of serious rock anthems that can elicit one hell of a positive response! -- am

Immersion / Low Impact / Swim (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Days Under the Sun"
Immersion is a sort of low-profile side project for Swim heads Colin Newman (Wire) and Malka Spigel. Though Immersion's roots lie in early nineties techno, it has evolved far beyond that point to work with large musical canvases -- sprawling, beatless soundscapes peppered with languid details. All of these six tracks break the six-minute mark, and two exceed the quarter-hour range, so focused listening is required to get the most from Low Impact -- in particular, a sound system with exceptional bass response will help pull you further into Newman and Spigel's world. The first 2000 copies of Low Impact include a bonus CD of older and unreleased material, which will give you a look at Immersion's roots. -- gz

Sunset Valley / Boyscout Superhero / Sugar Free (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Happily Frozen"
The only thing that I can really remember about Boy Scouts were those damn pinewood derbies I always lost. While we're on the topic of Boy Scouts, we might as well talk about Boyscout Superhero. On their sophomore effort, Sunset Valley have successfully melded searing pop hooks, a subtle new-wave melodicism and crunching power chords. The resulting 11 songs are a potent mix of buzzing guitars, soaring harmonies and playful keyboards. After a single listen, songs like "Happily Frozen" and "Solid Goldmine" become embedded in your brain, causing uncontrollable humming for days. If if it's a crappy plastic trophy you're after, stick with the Boy Scouts -- but if its shimmering pop-rock majesty you want, look no further than Boyscout Superhero. -- jj

Richie Hawtin / Decks, EFX and 909 / Minus/Novamute (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Grain 1 * B2"
Internationally known DJ Hawtin lays down his own unique variation on the DJ mix album concept. Because Hawtin employs his own 909 to keep the rhythm consistent and provide bridging material between tracks, there's a superficial similarity to his own Plastikman material -- a familiar sparseness, so to speak. Hawtin keeps himself busy, often using only a minute of each song, with a few fifteen-second cuts for good measure. Nitzer Ebb's "Let Your Body Learn" sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of the techno-fest, making for a welcome blast from the past. -- alan smithee

Hot Water Music / No Division / Some (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Southeast First"
Among the brightest stars of modern hardcore, Hot Water Music deliver the goods on their Some debut. Pairing raw-throated punk-rock shout-vocals with a robust musicianship more typical of hard rock bands, HWM deliver a big, solid sound that's overflowing with energy and sincerity. You can't listen to No Division and not be moved -- these songs get inside you and touch off rebellious sparks, and before you know it you're pogoing uncontrollably, every hair on your body standing up, little currents of musically-generated electricty arcing off your arms and legs. HWM don't seem to have any "secrets" that give them an edge against other bands -- they just throw themselves into their music and pull you in behind them. Ultimately, style counts. -- gz

Sometime Never / There Is No Time For Idle Dreaming In My Life / Cadmium (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Customer Satisfaction Plan"
With hints of Low in its soft, graceful sound and casual references to The Smiths in Chris Reynolds’ lyrics and vocal delivery, Sometime Never comes across as both pleasing and passionate. Acoustic guitar washes and wispy, sometimes haunting ruminations are heard throughout these thirteen songs, producing a cohesive body of music that's ironically lively as it wallows in its bleak, slow-tempo approach. In need of an atmosphere that's conducive to personal reflection, or maybe just a little help to let out a good ol' fashioned cry from the heart? Here's your ticket to disconsolation. -- am

The Seymores / 1000 lb Grr'lla / Pitch-a-Tent (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sicker than You"
About 18 months ago, we reviewed the Seymores' second album, Treat Her Like a Show Cat. This EP actually predates that album -- it's not a re-release or anything. Often record labels who've just discovered Splendid send us a bunch of their expendable back catalog to see what we'll do with it prior to committing to us for the long haul. As we've got a policy of reviewing everything we receive, we write the stuff up -- and really, who's to say you didn't miss 1000 lb Grr'lla the first time around, anyway? It's capable, somewhat brash indie rock, with "Butternut" standing out as a particular gem, and it has an obligatory Joy Division cover ("No Love Lost") to boot. But don't get too excited, because The Seymores have vanished since releasing Treat Her Like a Show Cat -- they haven't even updated their own website since 1998. Oh well. -- gz

The Tonewelders / Five Sticks / Plan Z (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Plan Z"
This David Glennon fella can really craft a tune. With a little help from his friends the Tonewelders, Glennon does his own kind of countrified alterna-pop on Five Sticks. Gleenon's Jerry Jeff Walker-esque vocal delivery and heavyhearted guitar succeed in producing toe-tapping tunes that pull empathetic smirks from his listeners. On wry, rolling numbers like "When Good Things Happen to Bad People" and "What the I Ching Says," Glennon does head-scratching disaffection, clinging to the hope of satisfaction that only love can bring . The Tonewelders prove that Florida has more to offer than just family resorts and hiding places for serial killers. -- dd

The Gap Scatter Recovery / Mental Chronometry / Friction Machine Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "long distance call"
Some bands sound a lot like other bands. Some bands are heavily influenced by other bands. The Gap Scatter Recovery actually seems to be another band, and that band is Fugazi. If you told me that this was a Fugazi tribute band doing covers of Fugazi songs I've never heard, I'd believe you. Funky basslines; angular guitar attacks; sharp, snappy drums; quick-change song structures; two male vocalists who keep finishing each other's lines...it's all there. Now, that's not to say that this isn't good stuff -- it's a great sounding CD, full of well recorded, crispy, high energy songs. But geez, no matter how much I like the tunes, there's a little voice in my head that just won't stop saying "Are you sure this isn't Fugazi?" Really. It's eerie. So, I'm not sure what to make of Mental Chronometry, other than to think that if The Gap Scatter Recovery could find their own voice they could probably make some super groovy music. -- ib

Various Artists / Was it Him or His Music? / Le Grand Magistery (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Stars' "My Radio"
This eighteen-track sampler was given away free by Le Grand Magistery last year; it also resides in the collections of a number of Splendid's anniversary contest winners (thanks Matt). Naturally, much of the space here is taken by LGM acts who've actually released some material (Toog, Mr. Wright, Louis Philippe, Kahimi Karie and of course Momus), with the remaining slots filled in by future signings and oddments. Most free samplers justify their existence simply by being free, but Was it Him... offers at least four superlative moments: Momus' "The Homosexual", Kahimi Karie's "1000 20th Century Chairs", Louis Philppe's "She Means Everything To Me" and, best of all, Baxendale's wonderful "Music For Girls". Three of the four appear on our own Boombox. The rest of the disc might be hit and miss, but it's already far better than a free sampler ever needs to be. -- 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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