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Palace of Oranges, Lenola, Alice, Texas, Blacklight Braille, Strunken White/Sorry About Dresden, Paul & Lara, Jahmings Maccow, Slybersonic Tromosome, Whitford, Brokeback, Howling Wolf Orchestra, Suicide Commando, Gwenmars, Craig Bennett, V. Sirin, Fire in the Radio, The Get Up Kids/Rocket From the Crypt, Evidence, Emperor Penguin/Knodel, The Gabriel Mann Situation

Palace of Oranges / Prepare to Greet a Guest / Rubric (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rind"
Imagine an album full of bridges and you're close to Palace of Oranges' debut. No, not the kind of bridges which join masses of land, but the kind that link the vocal parts of songs. Both types of bridges exude the same exhilarating sensation of being in no man's land, where one wrong step leads to disaster. Tinged with moments of psychedelia, these mainly instrumental rock compositions bypass the typical noisy passages of which indie-rock bands are so fond. Instead, the tunes feel more akin to the interludes between voice and chorus which pepper more traditional music. While this may sound aimless, the songs are actually quite focused, reaching their emotional cores in a relaxed rather than frenzied fashion. A strong statement by this Shambie Singer (The Lonely Moans) fronted trio, Prepare to Greet a Guest clearly shows that you don't need unpleasant noise to achieve lo-fi nirvana. -- rd

Lenola / Treat Me to Some Life / File 13 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Come Down"
Imagine Mercury Rev as an Elephant 6 band, with all the psychedelic harmonics intact, but everything generally a little more indie. That's what you get in Lenola. The band exists, it seems, to promote the male-harmony style so overratedly perfected by The Beach Boys. The voices here are a bit more in the high range than such musically like-minded bands as The Flaming Lips and Rollerskate Skinny. The effect is such that it sounds like Emmet Otter and pals handling vocals on tracks like "Do You Want to See a Volcano?" "Lazy Eye" is one of the better songs, rocking out more than most of the other tracks and achieving an inspired mix of Middle Eastern and bluegrass elements. "Come Down" is the finest moment here, sounding very much like, but not equalling, Mercury Rev circa "Deserter's Songs." Lenola isn't doing anything new, but they seem like accomplished musicians. Perhaps with better melodies and less reliance on sound effects (you can only fumble around so long when searching for interesting sounds), they would have a stronger identity, adding needed substance to their style-heavy persona. Production is superb, but this kind of music needs to be a bit catchier to demand repeated plays. You wonder if Olivia Tremor Control is their primary influence, instead of the infinitely better bands which influenced Olivia Tremor Control... -- tnd

Alice, Texas / Gold / Alice, Texas (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Poison"
These New Yorkers, led by the vocals and songwriting of Alice Schneider, betray their geography only through their band's name. Their solo release, Gold, is a dreamy rock record that you can imagine being performed on the Brooklyn streets, with more doo wop than alt-country influencing the music. Their music occasionally recalls Ida's harder moments ("My Love"), but "Big Black Motorcycle" is a female Chuck Berry number for the new milennium, and songs like "One More Time" and "Forsake" are poppier equivalents of the Cowboy Junkies. Random, tossed-about comparisons are meant to show the band's songs have a strong ring of familiarity, but only on an individual basis. When you set "Lullaby" (another fifties-flavored rocker) next to "Guardian Angel" (alternative woman-sung pop), they're a band with the rare goal of trying to tackle every type of song they were weaned on. Rarer yet, they tend to succeed with all the strokes they use to paint such a wide, melodic landscape. Aside from "Guardian Angel", "Lullaby" (too dull) and "Poison" (too abrasive for its own good), they don't fall much short of their aims. You can tell the band enjoys the songs they're making, and the joy will go straight through to to any ear that hears 'em. -- td

Blacklight Braille / In a Dark Garden/ Razzled (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Knights in Black Steel"
Blacklight Braille is nothing if not brave. Even one of the more daunting rules of rock-n-roll fails to scare this Cincinnati outfit: if you're recording a ten-minute song that pairs fiddle and distorted electric guitar, don't end it a capella. It's Spinal Tap waiting to happen. Some cuts, such as "Bottle Green Waters", adhere more strictly to the rules of taste and end up sounding more like Don McLean than Nigel Tufnel. Effects-free vocals over clean, twangy guitars on this track create a stark contrast to the CD's other silly offerings. With Blacklight's overwhelmingly large lineup (thirty plus musicians), everyone gets a shot at the helm. Sometimes the results please; other times, they just pester. -- rg

Strunken White/Sorry About Dresden / Rock School! / Moment Before Impact (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Strunken White's "Constant Coloration"
This is a better-than-average split 7" with an at-best nominal school theme. On the A-side, Strunken White (whose name is a play on Strunk and White, the authors of the classic writing text The Elements of Style, which you can find on the record sleeve photo if you look for it) deliver "Constant Coloration", a long-ass, driving hardcore tune with roots in the classic da-da-da-DUM rhythms of thrash rock, tinted with prog-guitar detail. It's likeable, but goes on a bit too long. Sorry About Dresden split their side between two tracks. "The State You Hate" is a scruffy mid-tempo pop tune reminiscent of the Replacements (more in attitude than delivery). "Lachrymose/Obsequious/Vehement/Elated" is a Park Ave. tune, played slow and moody but building to a big, loud, cathartic climax. Nothing here will change the way you live, but for only $3.50, Rock School will stay with you far longer than an overpriced bottle of beer. -- gz

Paul & Lara / Action b/w Roundagon 7" / Kittridge (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Action"
Come on now, don't tell me you wouldn't get a little bit happy about a 7" wrapped in a beautiful blue and silver slipcover, especially when the band is described in its press release as a "brother/sister new wave futuristic pop duo". Heck, I bet you're getting a little happy right now, just reading about it! And well you should. While I don't know that I would call "Action" futuristic, exactly, it is definitely strange and poppy, which can only be good. It's an odd combination of 1950s sweater-pop, robot drums and dorky keyboards. Nice. Strangely, the B-side is even less futuristic; it's a lot closer to a 1960s guitar-pop tune than it is a Devo tribute. I'm not complaining, though, as "Roundagon" is still pretty weird and entertaining, especially during the girl-group chorus. Apparently Paul & Lara play out a lot in the LA area; I bet their shows are a lot of fun, and maybe they wear silver suits or something! That would be cool. -- ib

Jahmings Maccow / New Way / Rebels Production (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Scamper Dread"
Born on the island of Anguilla, Jahmings Maccow has spent a considerable portion of his life wading in music. This CD is a rerelease of a cassette-only album, padded with four new tunes. Maccow synthesizes reggae, R&B, new wave and a bit of jazz into a modern day interpretation of distinctively rasta-friendly rhythms that can effectively speak to a wider audience. While the traditional reggae sounds will please any roots fan with their familiarity, Maccow also takes a few daring genre bending plunges that will be received differently by each listener, depending on specific acquired tastes. Jahmings introduces everything from guitar solos to bluesy harmonica to soulful crooning with agreeable results. New Way initially looks like something that you'd find in the bargain bin of your local used CD store, but a careful inspection of its contents shows that Maccow's progressiveness produces some true gems that are well worth unearthing. -- am

Slybersonic Tromosome / S/T / Penumbra (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Trance for the Bopanon Set"
I've heard some of sythesizerist Tom Hamilton's stuff before. He's done some work with jazz guitarist/general improviser Bruce Arnold, with whom I conducted a rather in depth interview a few years back. Trombonist/irrigation hosist/superfunnelist Peter Zummo is a musician I hadn't heard perform before I gave this disc a spin. The two of them make up Slybersonic Tromosome, a downtown-NY-type of electro-acoustic duo. Their music is fairly experimental, focusing on phrase, gesture and electronic/acoustic interaction. The nine tracks on this album are stark and introspective -- a bit difficult to dive into at first, but once in the proverbial pool you'll find layer upon layer of nuance and complexity. This is clearly the work of seasoned artists who have played together often and who can bend their own personal style towards a common musical goal. My favorite track is "Trance for the Bopanon Set" (mainly because the word "Bopanon" sounds really cool!). Some of the very analog sounding synth stuff recalls work by Morton Subotnick. With the reverb-drenched trombone drones, it becomes almost spacy enough to interest an illbient hack like DJ Spooky. -- nw

Whitford / Orson Welles: Planetdevouringrobot / Rotary Dial(CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Until He Comes Home"
Whitford is named (according to the Internet, which is always true, yes?) for the dead black cat of one band member. That's the first clue to their darker sound, I suppose, although the banner on their website, "darkjazzmathpunks", kind of sums it up in a single portmanteau word. Whitford's disturbing debut is a live recording of their instrumental mix of eight string bass, electric guitar, saxophone and percussion. Initially, I was disposed to like them just for the picture of Whitford on the cover, who strongly resembles a cat friend, Ben. The music is almost, but not quite, beautiful. The edges of the guitar lines are not perfectly melodic; there's something just a bit out-of-kilter and dissonant about the music, as in "The YK22 Problem". This song's grating bass alone can easily make you imagine the disaster we were supposed to be experiencing this time last year. Some of the slower, jazzier tracks are so mellow as to be hypnotic, as in the untitled #11, or in the poppier "Strangers Have the Best Candy". Just when your ears start to relax, though, the tempo speeds up and the bass starts jarring again. The music is always interesting, and it'll keep you on the edge of your seat. -- js

Brokeback / Morse Code in the Modern Age: Across the Americas / Thrill Jockey (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Flat Handed and On the Wing"
It's been over a year since we've heard anything new from Brokeback, the six-string bass project from Tortoise's Doug McCombs. Morse Code... shows McCombs moving in a more speculative direction, favoring deep bass textures and jazzy sonic ruminations over even the most vestigial "rock song" structure. The two main pieces here, "Lives of the Rhythm Experts" and "Flat Handed and on the Wing", are enhanced by Quicktime films; in fact, they're the same films that accompany the music in Brokeback's larger-scale live performances, so if you've seen Brokeback live in the last year or so you'll probably recognized "Flat Handed" as "the one with the airplane wing footage". Of the two, "Flat Handed" is also the most accessible. Featuring six-string bass, double bass, electric guitar and coronet, it stumbles around, halting and bleary, like a liquored-up jazz tune -- or, perhaps, like a half-awake passenger on a red-eye flight. "Lives of the Rhythm Experts" initially creates a womblike ambiance, with opalescent organ tones and percolating beatbox rhythms provided by Yo La Tengo's James McNew. The dreamlike elements gradually sour, drifting toward a mood of subtle menace. The third track, a reworking of Roy Orbison's "Running Scared" with vocals from Stereolab's Mary Hansen, captures that fifties "anthemic" quality, while also demonstrating why Orbison's music fit so easily into Blue Velvet. A little bit of Brokeback goes a long way, but despite the longer tracks' lack of distinct structural waypoints, they are more pleasing to the senses than previous material. The films are cool, too. -- gz

Howling Wolf Orchestra / Speedtraps for the Bee Kingdom / Record Head/Rockathon (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Fruit Weapon"
Most of you are probably wondering who the fuck the Howling Wolf Orchestra is. If youíll just sit tight a moment I will tell you. The Howling Wolf Orchestra are, in fact, Robert Pollard, Jim Pollard and Nate Farley, known to the majority of the world as Guided by Voices (or a good portion of them, anyway). Yes, the HWO is yet another pseudonym for the inimitable Mr. Robert Pollard. Speedtraps for the Bee Kingdom is release number nine in the ongoing Fading Captain series, and its short-but-sweet demeanor has old school GBV written all over it. Dispensing eight songs in 14 minutes, this limited edition EP is a must have for any fan of the fading one. "Fruit Weapon" and "Is it Mostly? (It is Mostly)" are simply awesome; the former is a guitar-soaked lo-fi instrumental dirge while the latter is a tender acoustic ballad that bears a strange resemblance to Under the Bushes, Under the Starsí "Donít Stop Now". Any way you slice it, Speedtraps for the Bee Kingdom is bloody essential stuff. The fans donít chant "In Bob We Trust" for nothing. -- jj

Suicide Commando / Mindstrip / Metropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hellraiser"
Although more dance-floor oriented than Skinny Puppy, it is clear that Johan Van Roy, a.k.a. Suicide Commando, relies heavily on that seminal trio's legacy. Following the well-trod paths of tirades against God ("Slaves"), the miseries of heroin ("Comatose Delusion") and Clive Barker tributes ("Jesus Wept", "Hellraiser"), Van Roy creates a dark soundscape filled with distorted vocals, punishing rhythms and movie dialog samples. Unfortunately, Van Roy has neither the twisted charisma that made Nivek Ogre an industrial god nor the synthesizer inventiveness of cEvin Key. Thus, although Mindstrip is a very solid album, it is neither innovative nor engaging enough to interest the casual listener. -- rd

Gwenmars / Driving a Million / See Thru Broadcasting (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Race"
Gwenmars have made a pleasant throwback to the late '80s power-pop era, recalling The Jesus and Mary Chain (but with more synths) and Public Image Limited (but with more growl and less sneer). The band is quite capable of delivering an original, demanding and dynamic atmosphere on each track. Some songs, like "Neon Tom," have a glam-fuzz sound, not unlike late period Shudder to Think. "She Hung the Moon" has a definite Peter Murphy feel, without all the gothic harps, violins, and assorted world-goth accoutrements. The best track, hands-down, is "The Race," a touching, bombastic song worthy of comparison to PIL's "Rise"; it impresses immediately. Not every song reaches that level of beauty, but "The Race" is worth the price of admission alone. The aggressive stance taken on some of the songs brings an unwelcome "Is this Orgy?" feel to the affair (well, at least that's unwelcome in my book). If Gwenmars can produce more show-stoppers, and perhaps tone-down some of the aggresive stylings that creep in, they might become more than just a throwback. Again, "The Race" is incredible; it bodes well for the band's future. -- tnd

Craig Bennett / Happy Hollowdays / BlackCottage (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "My Little Inner City Ghoul"
This one has me a bit confused. There are many elements here that I like a lot: clever lyrics, glammy vocals, interesting arrangements, references to outer space and astronauts. But there's something missing too, and I'm not really sure what it is, or why I'm not more into this CD. Bennett's voice is quite nice, although the faux British accent is a bit much at times. There's obviously a Ziggy Stardust angle to a lot of these songs, both vocally and musically, which is fun, but it's also a bit distracting and Bennett doesn't ever really go whole hog for the outright freakiness that makes the Bowie stuff so great. Suede also comes to mind in a few of the songs, although sadly, Bennett doesn't seem as interested in the swishier aspects of glam as Suede and Bowie and friends were. On the more positive side, this CD sounds very good, which is especially impressive since it seems that Bennett wrote, produced and engineered the songs himself. It has a very full, nicely fuzzy sound, and the extended instrumentation (including guitar, piano, drums, bass, cello, violin, accordion and horns) really fills things out and keeps the songs harmonically interesting. So don't get me wrong, Happy Hollowdays is a very nice CD. I just can't help feeling that it would be even nicer if Bennett turned up his inner freak a notch. -- ib

V. Sirin / Sandy Truth / Moment Before Impact (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "The Story of the Hundred"
A squirrelly pop trio, V. Sirin seem to have something to prove -- specifically, that they can cram more (and more abrupt) melodic and tempo-related shifts into a single song than any other band out there. "Sandy Truth" and "The Story of the Hundred" prove this most readily, as both tunes are longer than average and stuffed with unexpected changes. For the most part, it's an enjoyable voyage into the unexpected, like a much mellower version of Upsilon Acrux or math rock with easier equations, though fidgety listeners might see the frequent switchbacks as an idea overflow in need of editing. The third track, "These Whales are Obviously Snakes", doesn't change the formula, but has such a winning title that I can't knock it. Emo fans will be pleased by the dubious vocals, which suggest that V. Sirin could benefit from finding someone with some good pipes and becoming a quartet. If the band continues beyond this point -- and I hope they do -- future listeners will probably describe this 7" as "formative". The ideas are good, but they're not quite there yet. -- gz

Fire in the Radio / Red Static Action / Wednesday (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "A Separate Piece"
Great guitars, good melodies and often substandard vocals make Fire in the Radio the perfect band for small clubs whose acoustics are so bad the singer goes unheard. Sadly, the sound on Red Static Action is pretty damn nice. This attribute ultimately showcases the band's fatal weakness each time their singer goes after the emotional knockout (as in the otherwise enjoyable "Tryst Affair" and "Separate Piece"). There are three exceptions, though, all of which are more traditional rockers ("Probably German", "The Bean and the Cod", and "Talk for the Tired"). They succeed because the singer and band sound relaxed, natural and in line for their fourth or fifth drink. Fire in the Radio seem better, then, when their songs swagger, and not burn with melodrama and Eastern teen angst. It's too bad their lives appear to have given these Pennsylvanians a heaping of the latter, and not nearly enough confidence to act like they own the joint. If they fully capture that attitude, be prepared to be blown away. -- td

The Get Up Kids/Rocket From the Crypt / Split 7" / Vagrant (7")

Sample 30 seconds of The Get Up Kidsí "Up on the Roof"
Pitting labelmates Rocket From the Crypt vs. The Get Up Kids, this beautiful split 7" comes on heavy white vinyl and is packaged in a rather impressive foil-stamped cover, sporting embossed images of a spider and a snake, which represent the respective bands. The Get Up Kidsí "Up On the Roof" goes that little bit further in confirming my theory that the band saves their best material for singles. A shimmering, piano-drenched romp, "Up On the Roof" is easily the Kids' best work since "Central Standard Time" from their split single with The Anniversary. On the flipside, San Diegoís favorite sons deliver the raucous, horn-and-guitar driven "Free Language Demons". Filled with powerful rhythms and dynamic vocals, this song serves as a teaser to their forthcoming full-length, Group Sounds. Pretty to look at and oh-so-good on the ears, this oneís a no brainer. -- jj

Evidence / Live à la casa (musique de Thelonious Monk) / Ambiances mangétiques (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Straight, No Chaser"
Evidence is the Montréal trio of Jean Derome (alto sax), Pierre Tanguay (drums) and Pierre Cartier (electric bass). Regular readers of Splendid are sure to associate these names with many of the Ambiances mangnétiques releases we've reviewed over the years. In most cases the music we've reviewed from guys like Derome or Tanguay has been of the highly experimental, free-form variety. With Live à la casa they move onto more well-known ground by performing the compositions of Thelonious Monk. Their effort is generally meritorious. Certainly the group plays tightly and with a certain liveliness, handling itself well enough on classics like "Straight, No Chaser", "Reflections" and "Ask Me Now". Derome's alto sound is just a tad anemic and the rhythm section does seem a bit square, but these guys are well-rounded musicians and you can't really fault them for not being specialists. I can't really escape the feeling, however, that they aren't real dyed-in-the-wool jazzmen, and "Straight, No Chaser" has been performed by every college and high school jazz combo in recorded history. I'm not saying that Evidence doesn't have a right to play these unarguably great compositions or even that they don't do it well. All I'm saying is that, barring brilliantly deep or novel performances, I'm not sure how many recorded interpretations of some of these tunes we really need. -- nw

Emperor Penguin/Knodel / Split EP / Box Factory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Emperor Penguin's "Ode to the Secret Shopper"
Uninitiated listeners should be forgiven for mistaking this split EP for the work of a single artist. While they don't sound much alike on their other recorded output, analog tricksters Emperor Penguin and time traveling, Phil Collins-loving "Frenchmen" Knodel are all but indistinguishable here. Mind you, the Knodel boys' decision to work almost entirely without vocals has a lot to do with the similarity. Resemblances aside, this is an excellent EP of analog electronic instrumentals, and either band should be proud to accept credit for the whole shebang. A delicious mixture of beat-driven blips, bleeps and squiggles, the disc is alternately funky, soulful and beautiful. Emperor Penguin's "The Beatbox Wore Tennis Shoes" is a marvel of low-tech invention, and Knodel's "Re-Entry" mixes a gorgeous sonic dreamscape with Speak-n-Spell vocals and airline terminal ambiance. Nothing here disappoints, save the all-too-brief run time. -- gz

The Gabriel Mann Situation / Morsels / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Know Everything"
For a demo EP, Morsels is remarkably good. The Gabriel Mann Situation profers pop/rock with piano, vocals, percussion and, in a big surprise for a good piano band, guitar. Since there aren't too many pop bands out there with piano, comparisons to other bands would be difficult -- the band doesn't sound anything like Ben Folds Five, really, or Joe Jackson, although I suppose small fragments of both of them could be found in the group. Mostly, GMS are themselves, and that's surely going to stand the band in good stead when they record a full length, which I surely hope they do. The lyrics aren't impressively creative: "I Know Everything" has to have the first mention of a fruit-roll up that I've ever heard in a song, but it's otherwise another song about unfulfilled love, and part of the chorus, "because I done what you wanna do already", is just annoying. "#1 in Slovakia" is funny in a post-modernist sort of way; "Dirt Road" is more interesting, musing "Sometimes a reincarnation / is what two people need". Invariably, the music far outshines the words. It's jangly, hard-rocking (as hard-rocking as a piano can get), upbeat and mainly uptempo, and I can easily imagine this group getting radio airplay if their stars fall right. -- js

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak
td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies | js - jenn sikes | rg - rodney gibbs | tnd - tim digravina | im - iain macleod

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