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our weekly collection of shorter reviews

Templeton, Jeff Kaiser, Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Chris Forsyth, New Waver
Hell on Wheels, The Frogs, Steev Hise, Magnolia (soundtrack)
Steven R. Smith, Standbye, Harmony of the Spheres, The Splarch Brothers
At the Drive In, The Wicked Farleys, Jackie-O. Motherfucker, The Charlatans UK v. The Chemical Brothers
Micky Saunders and Dan Susnara, The Echo Orbiter

Templeton / Trash to Treasure / Derailleur (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Behind the Shed"
Templeton plays your basic alternarock, with some harder elements thrown in for good measure. There even seem to be a couple of licks from The Who in there somewhere... A few of the tunes ("Behind the Shed," "Math Rock 101") are catchy enough, but nothing that I find myself singing along with. On the other hand, "Football Song" actively annoys me every time I listen to it -- I guess that's what the "skip track" button is for. Part of the problem is lyrical -- many of the songs have pretty dopey lyrics, and the band should really axe the tooth fairy for a new rhyming dictionary the next time someone loses a tooth on a stale donut. The music itself isn't bad; it's well played and full of good old rock and roll energy. That's not enough, though, and this CD really suffers from less-than-stellar songwriting. -- ib

Jeff Kaiser / Ganz Andere / pfMENTUM (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Man With Spider in Mouth"
I was delighted to discover that Jeff Kaiser's Cement Buddhas, which I reviewed recently, represented Kaiser at his most accessible. Ganz Andere is more random, an improvisational beast that for the most part eschews traditional melodies or musical structures in favor of heavily-treated interaction between trumpet, wind instruments and assorted sampled sounds and voices. Multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia makes an able foil for Kaiser, and together they delight in the headlong collision of sonic textures while retaining an ear for listenability. Ambiances Magnetiques fans will dig this. -- gz

Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Chris Forsyth / Left and Right / Zzaj (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Track 7"
Left and Right is a project which started when acoustic guitarist, pianist and composer Ernesto Diaz-Infante, while at the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival in California, passed two tapes on to electric guitarist and Brooklynite Chris Forsyth. Their three month bi-coastal collaboration is an experimental time-lapsed duet which proves to be a non-conventional and challenging listening encounter. Each track on Left and Right is like hearing what Chinese fighting fish would sound like if placed in the same confined space: lots of uni-directional gnashing, bewilderment and an unsettling aftermath. Though some would say that Left and Right is inaccessible to the typical CD buyer, I suspect that Diaz-Infante and Forsyth's need to push established parameters has much in common with what Locke said about new and different things, "New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but they are not already common." -- dd

New Waver / The Defeated / Endearing/Spill (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Defeated"
Take a jaunty, electronic soundtrack and mix in a variety of voice material taken from self-help tapes, medical tapes and talk radio and, presto, you've got The Defeated! On this CD, New Waver paints pictures ranging in emotional color from resignation to intense despair by exploring the fears and psychoses of mentally disturbed people. The juxtaposition of sometimes severely disheartening monologues with a perky electronic soundtrack serves to create enough irony to make the CD interesting, although it initially comes across as derivative of other acts (e.g. Negativland). Contrasting moods can be seen in tracks like the aggressive "We're Gonna Get You After School", where a driving beat accompanies phrases like "Hey, let's beat up the wimpy guy!" and "You're dead mate!", and the more somber "The Client", in which a psychiatrist describes the decline and eventual suicide of a client. I found this CD quite depressing, though eye-opening in a sense. Think of The Defeated the way you do of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest... for example, compelling but not pleasant. -- nw

Editor's Note: Splendid received two copies of this CD, from two different labels, over the course of two months. Quite by chance both reviews were written for the same week. We've decided to run only one, which will cover both (ostensibly identical) editions of the CD.

Hell on Wheels / Alpha Phozz / Urinine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "One Sperm Across Your Heart"
Urinine Records lets the Swedes loose, issuing six songs of enlightening Pixies-inspired aural wreckage. Lumbering bass lines conduct each song as trembling, dissonant guitar notes persevere with unnerving confidence. While everything is sung in English, a slight Swedish accent lingers, adding a sprinkling of exoticness to the bandís sound. Hell on Wheels' lyrics are not only confusing at times, but can be downright incomprehensible, but hey, when the songs are so full of vigor and vivacity, are you really that concerned about the words? Besides, were you expecting some sort of loquacious diatribe from a group whose primary language ISN'T English? Worth your trouble to track down, Alpha Phozz will have you swooning to indie rock loveliness once again. -- am

The Frogs / Bananimals / Four Alarm (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Love Me or Die Bitch"
If you can listen to an entire Frogs album without being mildly offended at least once, you're probably in a G. G. Allin tribute band. On their latest opus, the gay supremacist shock-folkies do the same thing they always do: dish up crude and sloppy, obscenity-slathered songs that are virtually assured to make you ask yourself why, precisely, you spent your hard-earned money on another goddamn Frogs album. A lot of people will tell you that the Frogs are pretty damn funny, and that's true -- in small doses. The first ten seconds of any song on Bananimals should be sufficient. After that, the joke might well be on you. -- gz

Steev Hise / Original / Illegal Art (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ferrante, Zeppelin, -n- Teicher"
Steev Hise is a technologically savvy artist who, so far, has worked at building "new" songs from the works of others. For his Original CD, which he recorded between 1995 and 1998, Hise used Apple Power Macs to shape and form pieces. It seems as if the act of creation is more important than what's being created -- an interesting but scarcely enjoyable noisefest. Those who listen from beginning to end will get to hear some neat samples, which range from John Oswald to Count Basie to a frog identification tape: however, you'll mostly just hear Steev taking one idea and repeating it until the future brought forth by computers seems absolutely terrifying. Were I to recommend Steev Hise's Original, I guess it would be for any person who has lost sleep waiting for the next Negativland album. -- td

Aimee Mann (mostly) / Magnolia (soundtrack) / Reprise (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Momentum"
Mann seems like the perfect collaborator for P.T. Anderson, and the perfect musician for Magnolia. Like some of the film's characters, her life up to this point has had artistic triumphs, but has also been punctuated by missed connections and thwarted opportunities. She's never had the success that the best of her work deserves. Magnolia offers some of Mann's finest low-key guitar pop moments -- "Momentum," "Wise Up" and "Save Me" should already be lingering in the mind of anyone who's seen the film, while "Deathly" spawned the piece of dialogue that drives it. But why does the soundtrack need two Supertramp songs and Gabrielle's "Dreams"? Padding? I'd rather have instrumental versions of Mann's stuff. -- gz

Stevhen R. Smith / From Ashes Come / Three Acre Floor (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Tow-Line Intro Surface"
Steven R. Smith is an intergalactic vampire with a slight Elephant 6 fixation. Or at least that's how he comes across on record; in person Iím not so sure, as Iíve never met him. On the instrumental From Ashes Come, Smith pulls the listener headlong into a world of doomy piano, backwards guitar loops and ghastly drones. Mood wise, the album hovers around the bewitching hour, where strange noises are enough to make you turn the lights on, and the gloomy guitar strum and ghastly violin of "Dusking" is liable to have the same effect. From Ashes Come has the rare ability to make your tune in, turn on and freak out. -- jj

Standbye / Days Spent Waiting / Guilt Ridden Pop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rehash"
Formed in 1997, this quartet of early 20-somethings relives the days of crashing drums, buried melodies and sweet female vocals. You can make out during the slow parts, but you're equally glad that lyrics are included when things start to rock. There's nothing ground breaking -- the band sounds like a weaker Discount at times, but their tunes are catchy, and from the sound of it, Standbye are sure to put on a highly dynamic live show. -- ha-n

Various Artists / Harmony of the Spheres / Drunken Fish Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Jessamine"
Drone Fest! Guitar Noise Nirvana! Shoe-Gazer's Delight! Let's see, we've got a 2 disc set of lovely, noisy, drone-y music from the likes of Bardo Pond, Flying Saucer Attack, Jessamine, Roy Montgomery, Loren Mazzacane Connors and Charalambides. Some of the tunes are almost song-like -- Bardo Pond's "Sangh Seriatim" even has some (totally unintelligible but effective) vocals. Others, like Loren Mazzacane Connors' four tracks, are almost purely abstract feedback mayhem, while Jessamine's track is 22 minutes of buzzy, droning, mellow fuzz that suddenly devolves into a song for a couple minutes in the middle. I had to drive through a pretty nasty snow storm for four hours the other day. I was lucky enough to have this CD with me, and it did a great job of keeping my mind off of the giant tractor-trailers threatening to gobble up my little under-powered 1-wheel-drive pickup truck. Indeed, I cranked up the volume and managed to keep my head lost in the Harmony of the Spheres for a good portion of the trip. (Harmony of the Spheres was originally released by Drunken Fish in November of 1996 as a specially designed, triple-LP boxset produced in an edition of 3,000. This is a CD reissue of those LPs.) -- ib

The Splarch Brothers / Snake Oil Lounging / Zzaj (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Leopard's Tail"
With no accompanying information (that's probably my fault -- Ed.), there are a lot of questions to be asked about this release. Are they really brothers? Are they really named Splarch? Are they really playing these synthesizer tunes, or are they the songs that come preprogrammed in every Casio? If they really did write these songs, then these guys (brothers?) should get in contact with Casio and see about getting these boppity numbers put into every keyboard. Simple and quirky, all of these songs sound like the basis for any new wave, synthetic pop song. Kooky. -- ha-n

At the Drive In / Vaya / Fearless (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Proxima Centauri"
Some of you probably have pre-conceived notions about At the Drive In based on articles you've read or friends who canít stop talking about them. I was skeptical of their current "darlings of the underground status", but all that changed after hearing the first 2 songs from Vaya. At this point my skepticism turned into amazement and I kicked myself for not giving this band a chance sooner. Yes, the first two tunes ("Rascuache" & "Promixa Centauri") alone left me reeling, feeling as though my speakers had just punched me in the face. That's how immediate ATDIís attack -- pulsing rhythm, the howling vocals and frantic yet melodic guitars -- was. The ferocious El Paso five-piece had ambushed me, and I couldnít have been happier about it. The other five songs blaze the same path of immediacy, triumph and intensity that ATDI have become known for. So ignore the media blather currently surrounding the band -- perhaps even this review included -- and run out and buy Vaya. Listen, then kick your own ass in the same way I did a few weeks ago. -- jj

The Wicked Farleys / Make It It / Big Top (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Trying Shoes On"
Luckily this CD clocks in at only 41 minutes. A mish-mosh of guitar crashes, cymbals that are too clanky and the sort of vocals where at times you can't tell if it's a guy or a girl singing, makes this Wicked Farleys release almost as unbearable as the band's name itself. The touches of synthesizers and keyboards that are added in random spots seem like a last-minute touch, attempting add something to the sound that's been notably lacking. There's a lot going on -- it's just not put in the right order, or perhaps there's so much that it just doesn't work right. Whatever the case, this release is just not "It". -- ha-n

Jackie-O. Motherfucker / Fig. 5 / RoadCone (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Analogue Skillet"
Led by multi-instrumentalists Jef Brown and Tom Greenwood, Jackie-O. Motherfucker seems to share aspirations with the Elephant 6 Collective. Both E6 and Jackie-O. seek to replicate the sounds of an earlier era; while Elephant 6 groups are fascinated with the 60s, Jackie-O. seems eager to sound like old 78" blues records. However, in all the songs which make up Fig. 5, the exercises are purely academic, joylessly created reproductions that are stretched to interminable lengths. Given the evident skills of all the musicians, it's a shame their goal is to allow neither themselves nor the listeners any fun. -- td

The Charlatans UK / v. The Chemical Brothers / Beggars Banquet (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Toothache"
When it was first released 5 years ago, this EP was intended to jump-start the listening public's indifference towards the Charlatans (UK) via the machinations of the then-up-and-coming Chems. Five years on, the Chemical Brothers are huge (their artistic downturn only just beginning), the listening public are still largely indifferent to the Charlatans, and the EP has been subtly repositioned to appeal to Chemical Brothers fans -- hence the "bonus" inclusion of Patrol, which originally appeared on the Charlatans' "Jesus Hairdo" single back when the Chems were still the Dust Brothers. And the music? It's a pretty palatable combination of Charlatans hooks and Chemical beats, but nothing worth wetting yourself over. -- gz

Micky Saunders and Dan Susnara / self titled / self released (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "Pat Feriod"
The mysterious, underground world of homemade tape recordings introduces you to two folks from an unknown land. Micky and Dan reproduce friendly bursts of keyboard-based music, quizzically reminiscent of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. "Pat Feriod" has Micky and Dan's duelling male/female vocals harmonizing to stream of consciousness lyrics that are dizzyingly fun, like The Pharaohs' classic "Wooly Bully." "Pretending to be Fast" takes a time trip back to the 80s as keyboards shoot out laser-inflected chords over Micky's bewitching choruses. Homemade and innocently enjoyable, it's music made for music's sake. -- am

The Echo Orbiter / A Moment in Life That's Right / Looking Glass Workshop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Friday's Exuberant Smile"
The Echo Orbiter's opening track, "Long Strange Day (An Evening Lament)," comes across as a thick and soupy space-rock tune. Fortunately, this is only one small facet of the band's sapid style; they're predisposed more towards quirky, jerky pop numbers that fuse dinging keys with melodic vocals than grossly over-effected guitar washes of sound. Both Olivia Tremor Control and Of Montreal come to mind as The Orbiter wends its way through a consistent incorporation of pleasingly-textured pop tunes. A Moment in Life Thatís Right was released in 1998, leading this writer to wonder whatís in store for The Echo Orbiter in 2000. -- am

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

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