Blueline Medic
Casper Fandango and His Tiny Sick Tears
Death By Chocolate
The Ecstasy of the Agony
Kind of Like Spitting
The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia
The Wisdom of Harry
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$100 room
Kind of Like Spitting
One Hundred Dollar Room

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If you follow an indie act over a handful of records, you can often ascertain that they have a full- or part-time side job to pay the bills, because their primary passion -- music, obviously -- remains at the same stage they displayed on their debut. Without time or a good work ethic, it's hard to improve one's musical talents, and it's a shame that few artists have enough of either to fully realize their abilities. Despite an early death, jazz artist Rahsaan Roland Kirk is one artist who did reach his potential, and here's my theory how Kirk did it: he took music with him everywhere. If you were ever on a bus with this blind giant of jazz, you would have known it, as he played his sax there, and in the bathroom, and anywhere else his feet came to rest.

Kind of Like Spitting's Ben Barnett gets the highest compliment from me because you can tell he's the same kind of artist: one with great natural gifts (a wonderful, fragile voice that perfectly suits his songs of love) and the dedication to improve and ascend them. Since his debut, he has been making giant leaps with his singing, songwriting and guitar skills; this proves that his music consumes him and inspires his fans to follow. One Hundred Dollar Room gives us another thirty minutes of pure emotion that might not literally come from the gut, but appears as if it does. The lyrical concerns are similar to his recent effort on HUSH, with the focus on love/hate relationships that go beyond the bond between a man and a woman, and include that between man and his myth, and between an artist and his pen.

Love in every form interests Ben, and it's striking how KOLS can break hearts during songs like "Scene", which would sound whiny in other hands. In this majestic, three-part track, the song's content can largely be summed up in one line: "All my friends are brilliant/ It's really them you're listening to". The lesson is easy -- we are, or try to be, a composite of all we love -- but the presentation amounts to an indie equivalent of the Beatles' Abbey Road suite. Corrina Repp begins the piece gently against a nice acoustic guitar, and then gets torn asunder by a guitar solo worthy of Built to Spill, which slowly allows for Ben Barnett's entrance into the song. His vocals begin at a quiver, then erupt into a shout, doing battle with another great guitar part toward the end of the song. "Hoax" -- a variation of the first song, "Hook" -- seems like yet another part of "Scene". Then comes "This Life, So Unlike the Last", which is the closest to a real single, and as enjoyable and moving as Pavement's "Here". Great songs abound on this record, but "Free Advice" is the last one that must be singled out. Here, in one of Ben's more typical ruminations on man/woman relationships ("even if it hasn't been that long, she's none of your business anymore"), the juxtaposition of his voice (Neil Young) and Elizabeth Elmore's (unexpectedly twee) wonderfully conveys the growing separation between the two characters in the song.

As long as you don't mind a male singer having the eye of some timid animal (and not the eye of the tiger), the last three KOLS records are sure to amaze and impress you. While I don't consider him part of the much-maligned emo movement, Barnett's emotional, impassioned and ever-evolving work is the embodiment of everything it exalts, and his records are far more essential than any new "Harvest" Neil Young might have up his sleeve.

-- Theodore Defosse
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