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Gypsophile, Shannon Wright, Moke, The White Stripes, Area Man, Konceptual Dominance, Belle and Sebastian, Mariel, Damien Youth, Steve Angel, Disgorge, Arling & Cameron, Alek Vika, Utah!, The Flashing Astonishers, Carlos, Deltron 3030, Shades Apart, Arthur Yoria, Faith and the Muse, Kittymonkey, Sundays Vol.01, Arco, The Confessionals, Mitchell Akiyama, Future Groove Collection, Absinthe Blind, Caleb Fraid, Lady Bianca, Sean Croghan, Vox Americana!, Judah Johnson, Sylvi Alli, The Rough Guide to Samba, Joshua, Kudu

Gypsophile / Le Doin, les Choses / Radio Khartoum (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Poeme a Lou"
Guillaume Belhomme's second album as Gypsophile is a bittersweet affair -- acoustic guitars, subtle bossa-nova percussion loops and Belhomme's own soft-spoken French vocals, accompanied by reeds, piano and an occasional, breathy fille behind the mic. Inspired, at least in part, by Belhomme's travels through Europe and Africa, Le Doin, les choses ably invokes the mixture of excitement and loneliness that solo travel creates; the thrill of new experiences gains a measure of sadness when one's adventures cannot be shared with another. While Gypsophile's richly textured world is filled with minor-key exotica and the undeniable thrill of unfettered movement, like any solo traveller, you'll eventually find yourself craving a less insular experience. -- gz

Shannon Wright / Perishable Goods EP / Quarterstick (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Foul"
After two well-received albums of Southern Gothic virtuosity, multi-instrumentalist and singer Shannon Wright has returned with a seven track EP of bruised pop songs. Something of a closet-clearing, the songs here were recorded over the last two years with various musicians, including members of Calexico, Archers of Loaf and Low. But this is Wright's show, despite her guests' precise contributions. A vaguely ominous mood creeps through most of these lyrical narratives and the music that accompanies them, as with the keyboards underpinning the opening track, "Hinterlands", and its fierce first words: "Come let's probe these blackened eyes". Perhaps most compelling and completely formed in its craft is Wright's voice, a versatile instrument that communicates a wide range of emotions without misstep. A haunted cover of the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke" (don't laugh) provides a contrast to Wright's usual complexity, its prosaic lament less steeped in metaphor and ambiguity. Wright's next full length is due later this year, at which point the sell-by date on Perishable Goods will probably expire for all but dedicated fans; until then, this EP adds to the shelf of an increasingly impressive body of work. -- rt

Moke / Carnival / Ultimatum Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "My Degeneration"
Carnival is full of hard-rocking guitar riffs, ripped from the Who and the Faces by way of Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene. Moke's sound has been scathingly referred to as "Brit dad-rock", but I'm guessing that the band are actually the forerunners of the Brit grand-dad rock scene; Moke's members are the age for it. Songwriter/vocalist John Hogg, in particular, updates the dad-rock style by overlaying the sound with American trad rock, stealing some of Lenny Kravitz's moves and influences. You'll hear Hendrix, Mayfield and Sly in the mix; the same roared, incomprehensible yet soulful lyrics, combined with the heavy bass lines and funky guitar of these classic acts, are Moke's true loves. Silly moke, try Carnival -- these grooves worked for your mum, and they'll work for you. -- js

The White Stripes / White Blood Cells / Sympathy for the Record Industry (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dead Leaves and the Dirt Ground"
Detroitís brother/sister duo The White Stripes have taken a bold step forward in justifying the claim that they are indeed the great white hope of American rock music. While their debut full-length, DeStijl, wasnít exactly the sonic tour de force many proclaimed it to be, it pointed towards greater things to come from Jack and Meg -- and if White Blood Cells is anything to go on, itís safe to say that the future is now. As the jagged, Stonesy riffs of "Dead Leaves and the Dirt Ground" howl from your speakers it becomes abundantly clear that this time around, The Stripes arenít pulling any punches. The blows come fast and furious, and in just over 40 minutes the duo hits every possible point on the musical map. They whip up a sonic maelstrom worthy of the mighty Sabbath on the sludgy "Aluminum", flex their Delta blues muscles with the twangy "Offend in Every Way", do their best MC5 impersonation on the white-hot chordfest "Fell in Love with a Girl" and bask in the psychedelic sun on the swirling "Weíre Going to be Friends", their trademark brawn eclipsed only by Jack Whiteís stellar songcraft and ear for primordial melody. Make no mistake about it, The White Stripes are the real deal, and if they can continue to kick out the jams as they do on White Blood Cells, everyone else would be well advised to get the fuck out of their way. -- jj

Area Man / Automatic / Self-released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Warm"
Following the tried-and-true combination of driving rock and melodic vocals, this Chicago quartet plays anthemic rock at roughneck speeds. There is a comforting familiarity to their sound, which recalls Soul Asylum before they went wuss. Monster riffs slam against the smooth vocals with enough passion and sheen to capture college radio. Furthermore, tracks like "Warm" contain honest-to-goodness guitar solos, sadly a rare thing these days. Although particular passages seem a bit overwrought, things move quickly enough that they soon pass. In the end, this EP will remind you of some very good bands, and contains enough of Area Man's own flavor that, after a few spins, you will be able to identify them by their own merits. -- rd

Konceptual Dominance / Savage Intelligence / Dominant (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Flawless Execution"
With a creepy front-cover creature that looks like a reject from Brutal Truth's Sounds of the Animal Kingdom CD, Konceptual Dominance is anything but death-metal on a killing spree. Rather, this duo is one hell of a solid hip-hop outfit, discharging tricky West Coast rhymes and bumpy bass beats like a raging madman on one hell of a shooting spree. While King Koncepts and Kirby Dominant can fling fierce words with unremitting prowess, they're not afraid to slow things down on "New Growth (Koncepts of Dominance)", revealing uncanny smoothness for an indie hip hop outfit. This troublesome twosome spits out a slew of braggadocio on "Self Titled" and sprinkles in a bit of classy humor on "Flawless Execution" with a catchy chorus of "Awwwwwww, you're wack!" Think of a Ritalin-dosed Kool Keith joining forces with old school De La Soul or The Pharcyde; there's enough oddity to bend your brow in bewilderment, yet plenty of smartly executed beats and samples to satisfy your hip hop cravings. -- am

Belle & Sebastian / Sing...Jonathan David EP / Matador (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner"
If you're one of those people who thinks that Belle and Sebastian are an over-rated band, and you're sick of hearing about them, then please, by all means, skip to the next review, because I'm about to shower them with praise once again. Sing...Jonathan David is the first of two scheduled singles to be released from the often mysterious and consistently enjoyable UK popsters. If viewed rather broadly, Jonathan David could be deemed a concept album of sorts, with its backbone the friendship of the Bible's King David and his loyal comrade, Jonathan. The three previously unreleased songs here tell stories of friendships, loss and determination. Executed in the familiar style of last year's Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, Jonathan David is full of strings, soft vocals and lilting melody. It's a beautiful effort -- and if you're a skeptic who discarded my opening warning, Jonathan David may be just the thing to win you over. -- al

Mariel / Fragments of a Dream / Aerial Sounds (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Cruel Scorpio"
This album of heartbreak songs is a solid expression of disappointment toward loved ones who are more content to leave than work things out. As a whole, the record works by delivering the message repeatedly, to the point of nagging. The songs hang together like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, and are strengthened by feeling autobiographical, as if intended for a specific fella in Mariel's life. Her songs are not nearly as good as Fleetwood Mac's, mind you, and neither Mariel's band nor her voice can do anything with the fast, Buckingham-like material ("Cruel Scorpio", "What I Want", "A Little Soul"). The ballad "Love Fades Away" is quite pretty, though, and "All My Heart" is nicely sung, with great hooks and surprisingly effective guitar. -- td

Damien Youth / Sunfield / Zygote (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Traveling"
Years after his self-imposed withdrawal from society, rumors surfaced around the J.D. Salinger camp that the much-loved author of Catcher in the Rye was in fact releasing literature under the name Thomas Pynchon. While these claims proved false (the real Pynchon eventually emerged from his seclusion to deny them), I'd like to offer my own claim of past greatness born anew: Damien Youth is Syd Barrett, and Syd Barrett is Damien Youth. OK, so maybe acid got the better of Barrett's musical ambitions, but Damien Youth captures Barrett's lyrical complexities while drenching the album in crisp psychedelic overtones reminiscent of the former Pink Floyd leader's glory days. Imagine Julian Cope covering Leonard Cohen, while the Olivia Tremor Control piece together eccentric sound-clips for their new album in the apartment next door. From upbeat and confident numbers like "Traveling" to the Revolver-era Beatles-inspired "Satellites at Seven", Sunfield proves itself the most enjoyable psych album I've reviewed this year. -- jw

Steve Angel / Hollywood / Self Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hollywood Venus"
If you had to go out with a rock and roll guy, Steve Angel is the one your mom would vote for. He's the good natured singer-songwriter type: sensitive, non-threatening, probably patient and polite and nice to grandma. He writes pretty love songs ("Never Let You Down", "Leave Me Standin'"), mildly inspirational rockers ("Second Wind") and happy, jaunty little pop numbers ("Wonderland"). Yeah, that seems pretty generic and predictable, and mostly it is, but Angel has a swell voice, and his manner is just so friendly and accessible that despite some pretty marginal songs and not-so-great lyrics, I still find myself enjoying this disc. The cheese factor is surprisingly low, the production is fine and Angel's nice guy spirit and sincerity are strangely palatable. Nothing new or exciting here, but if you're looking for mild pop-rock you could do a lot worse! -- ib

Disgorge / Forensick / Deathvomit (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Jaundice of the Hookworm"
Fast, sick and out of control. Disgorge, the Mexican death metal band, has recently rereleased the fifteen tracks of bile-raising hell-noise known as Forensick in the US -- and sick is the only way to describe it, lemme tell ya. The cover art is so graphic that even I had to wince when I saw it (I canít wait to see how they finesse this one with Best Buy). As with most death metal, I canít tell what the hell theyíre singing about, but I donít much care. They play so fast it makes me dizzy -- but dizzy like a whirling dervish, possessed by a spirit of total musical power. For someone who likes three-chord rock as much as I do, Disgorge -- with their relentlessness and complete lack of melody -- make for a surprisingly fantastic listen. -- az

Arling & Cameron / Sound Shopping / Basta (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Cowboy Ska"
I don't know why Emperor Norton, Arling and Cameron's US label, opted not to release Sound Shopping in the US, but their decision has given Holland's wonderful Basta label another opportunity to gain a Stateside foothold. Admittedly, Sound Shopping isn't as immediately catchy as All In or Music for Imaginary Films, the duo's extant US output, but there are plenty of the quirky, goofy moments that make the duo so much fun. I particularly enjoyed "Cowboy Ska", a hysterical tune about -- you guessed it -- a ska-loving cowboy, which mixes elements of ska with a Morricone-cum-Rawhide western theme. The lyrics aren't particularly clever, but the whole image is so ludicrous that you'll be hard-pressed not to laugh; the whinnying horse samples get me every time. Also intriguing is "Tokyo Taxi Robot", a kitschy narrative inspired by a Shibuya public transportation experience, which pits car-horn samples against a throbbing techno beat. As it contains less than 30 minutes of "new" material (remixes account for a third of its length), Sound Shopping isn't a particularly wise purchase for A&C newbies. Fans, on the other hand, will find that the CD booklet -- which includes ten song-inspired pieces by artist Joost Swarte (you may not know his name, but you'll probably recognize his style) -- almost justifies the purchase price on its own. -- gz

Alek Vika / Loveincolor / Racing Heart (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Belief"
The multitalented Vika wrote and recorded this debut, which is filled with well-crafted emotional pop songs. Unfortunately, most of the lyrics are predictably sensitive/romantic/broken-hearted, the singing is a bit overdone and songs like "Horizon" and "Impact" sound frighteningly similar to the "Demo" songs on drum machines. Cheesy synthesizer sounds. as well as a CD booklet filled with photos of Vika running around at the beach, automatically condemn this to the musical purgatory I prefer to call "Adult Contempt". Though Vika deserves respect for following his musical dream, I try to stay as far as possible from records that include hairdresser credits. I can confidently say that if you like indie rock, rock and roll, or other such satanic musics, you should stay away from Loveincolor; youíll get your share of this in your dentistís office. -- ea

Utah! / Zoo Sounds and Destructovision / Arborvitae (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What Good are Me?"
Though they hail from the Midwest (Kalamazoo, Michigan to be exact) Utah! are the living embodiment of defunct DC art-punks Smart Went Crazy. Produced by Bob Weston, Zoo Sounds and Destructovision drops this brazen quartet in the same musical territory that led SWC into total and utter obscurity. Utah!ís approach is, to say the least, an off-kilter one, as songs like "What Good are Me?" and "Derek" are punctuated by random blasts of discordant guitar, yearning vocals and sweeping, neo-classical cello. The band's penchant for odd time signatures and slow-burning climaxes rears it head on the raucous "Jogging Suit", while "No More Selections, No More Bugs Bunny"'s creeping intro eventually explodes in a dizzying array of angular dynamics and Fugazi-style focused intensity. If itís a break from the musical norm youíre after, Zoo Sounds and Destructovision could be just what the doctor ordered. With any luck, Utah!ís quest for glory will be more successful than that of their spiritual counterparts. -- jj

The Flashing Astonishers / Everything Is Gonna Stop / Good Guppy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Lipbomb"
Gutsy enough to ram a power chord or two down your throat with a chaser of out-of-control anger-management intensity, The Flashing Astonishers can still invoke dissonant guitar notes a la Pavement, not to mention an indie-rock sympathy that can woo the hearts of those less fond of the band's dominating vocal effrontery. Ibanez guitar-wielders Gregg and Dan take turns strumming clean chords and stamping on their overdrive pedals, creating an assortment of melodies and noisy thrashings that keep things turbulent and chaotically unpredictable. Unwilling to be swallowed up by the guitars, The Astonishers are just as adept at manufacturing striking vocal melodies that infuse equal parts hummable familiarity and adventurous accessibility. Whether the Astonishers are an angry quartet of post-punk hooligans or an introspective shoe-gazing-rock-band-in-the-making is certainly debatable, proving that this versatile band has the knack for a good song -- and, of course, the ability to lay down martial law with its half-stacks of distorted authoritarian rule. -- am

Carlos / Devil's Slide / Amazing Grease (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Heavy Metal Monday"
The recurring phenomenon known as American power-pop -- now championed by bands such as Weezer, Spoon, the Figgs and others -- might signal a return to comfortable and classic musical form. It might also be a case of a style that never went away, despite the fake gristle of radio-friendly grunge and today's nu-metal sounds. It's a conservative aesthetic whose downside is bands like Carlos. There's nothing really wrong with these guys, but nothing really new, either. While the aforementioned bands prove that adherence to tried-and-true songcraft can still produce fresh results, Carlos need to add a new twist to their particular brand of soft rock. Noted producer Jon Croslin worked on this one, but unlike other projects he's been involved with, Carlos brings little innovation or energy to Devil's Slide. -- es

Deltron 3030 / The Instrumentals / 75 Ark (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Battle Song"
As one of two major hip-hop releases found at or near the top of every criticís Best of 2000 list (the other being Outkastís Stankonia), Deltron 3030 was an unexpected shot in the arm for hip-hop. All the ingredients of a future classic were there: demonic scratching courtesy of Kid Koala, Del tha Funkee Homosapienís quick-witted flow, guest musicians that included Blurís Damon Albarn and Sean Lennon and of course the production talents of Dan "the Automator" Nakamura. Now, nearly a year after its initial release, an instrumental version of this much-heralded album will finally hit the shelves. A showcase for Nakamura's razor-sharp production, The Instrumentals strips tracks like "Battle Song" and "Upgrade" to their base elements, their deviant sci-fi rhythms and droning keyboard swells creating a sense of otherworldly menace not equaled since Dr. Octagonís The Instrumentalist (also Nakamura's work). While it's not exactly essential, The Instrumentals makes a fine companion piece to one of the most breathtakingly original hip-hop albums of the last decade. -- jj

Shades Apart / Sonic Boom / Universal/Republic (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Beat by Beat"
If it wasn't for a seemingly relentless need to channel the cheese of '80s bands like Survivor, Sonic Boom might be a record worth a second listen. Instead, Sonic Boom finds the New Jersey rock trio, anchored by strong musicianship and the gravelly warble of frontman Mark V., bogged down in soft words and tired guitar riffs. While the band flashes serious signs of talent on pop punk break-outs "Got Shot Down" and "Rebel Teen from Mars", songs like "Beat by Beat" ("nothing can ever slow her down, breaking the speed of sound") and the power ballad, "Three Wishes" ("I wish I had one more, I'd wish it all back just like before") sag under the weight of weak lyrical content. Although you may hum along to any number of these tunes in a bar or club, you'd be hard pressed to remember any of what you heard the next day. -- jgj

Arthur Yoria / Self-Titled / K Oso (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Strange Grin"
Often I find myself really wanting to like a band or an artist, either because they seem like such good people or because they want to play music so badly. Sadly, as much as I want to like them, the music doesn't always hold up -- and what it comes down to, after all, is the music. Strangely enough, this disc had the exact opposite effect on me. After reading Arthur Yoria's press release, which speaks of his "pretty boy looks" and his ability to "seduce" audiences, and after viewing his album artwork, with his aren't-I-sexy gaze on the cover, I wasn't exactly expecting the best. In fact, I wanted to not like him. Then I played the disc, and was reminded once again that it's about the music. And the music is lovely. Pretty boy or not, Yoria has a knack for writing beautiful, melancholy songs a la Jeff Buckley, charged with a bit of Matthew Sweet-styled pop, creating a most satisfying listening experience. The only musical flaw I found (and believe me, I was looking) was Yoria's tendency to sound a bit too much like Buckley, most obviously on the fourth and final track, "Several Mistakes In A Row". -- al

Faith and the Muse / Evidence of Heaven / Metropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Chorus of the Furies"
Renaissance Faire season is upon us, and the well-appointed Goth-tinged, neo-New Age portion of the crowd will certainly want to make sure they have a copy of Evidence of Heaven for the long car ride. Comprised of Los Angeles-based duo William Faith and Monica Richards, Faith and the Muse manage to combine the medieval obsessions of Dead Can Dance with aspects of the Sisters of Mercy's synth-driven, slightly cheesy darkwave. "The Chorus of the Furies" builds to an impressively symphonic finish, while layered acoustic guitars give lilting life to "Importune Me No More" and metallic guitar bombast drives "Dead Leaf Echo". Richards' voice tends toward the melodramatic, especially in sections like the a cappella double-tracked whispering that begins "Reine La Belle". The singer's affectations are a match, though, for the mysticism of the lyrics, with titles like "Old Souls" and "Plague Dance" providing guideposts to stories of dead maidens, fallen heroes and descending shadows. "And if you find her three hundred years from now/Laughter on the hillside, Dawn's colors in her eyes/Though you have known her a hundred lives or more/Will you take her in your arms and kiss her perfect lips?" asks "Dead Leaf Echo"; Faith and the Muse might just convince you to answer yes. -- rt

Kittymonkey / Satellites for Animals / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Belikeu"
(Editor's Note: This CD arrived at the Splendid offices packed in a gallon-size paint can, earning us the enmity of our mail carrier. While this sort of stunt usually means that the CD will be pretty lousy, it certainly got our attention.) This CD is garbage. No, wait, scratch that. This CD is Garbage. Kittymonkey's debut features the same electronica-mixed-with-alt-rock sound that commercial radio has slowly come to embrace over the past decade. A few listens won't reveal any astounding depths, but you'll discover a band that clearly knows what it's doing. Lead singer Heidi-Louise Margocsy has an excellent voice, and the band does an effective job of creating a wall of sound to back her up. Most importantly, the production is expertly handled, so the music sounds polished but not overproduced. While presently nothing spectacular, this band may be one to watch for in the near future. -- mp

Various Artists / Sundays Vol.01 / Nude (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Daytime Draminine"
The sleeve says "The first in a compilation series of the finest downtempo," and that's exactly what this disc delivers. There are twelve smooth electronic tracks from four artists: E.D. Swankz, The Verbrilli Sound, Gavi Froome and Telefuzz. This is lazy day music -- friendly, mellow tunes with just enough of a beat to keep you from dozing off. Maybe your bottom will even move a little bit. Maybe you'll be inspired to start a little good-natured pawing at that cutie who's inexplicably sitting there next to you on the couch. E.D. Swankz's tracks stand out for their creative use of somewhat silly and suggestive samples. Otherwise, these cuts all sort of blend into one another (even though it's not a continuous mix), setting up a very nice, low key vibe, perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. -- ib

Arco / Alien / Dreamy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Alien"
How good are you at the noble art of Guessing What A CD Sounds Like On The Basis Of Its Cover Art? Have a go with Alien. Does the tinted black and white photo hint at post-rock leanings? No. Is the alien face hinting at glitchy electronic noise? Nope. The back cover offers additional clues; it includes the lyrics to "Alien", which address loneliness and (perhaps predictably) alienation. Getting a clearer picture? I thought so. Basically, Alien sounds like OK Computer-era Radiohead covering Pink Floyd, or vice versa -- three musically lush, lyrically gloomy pop songs that tug gently at the heartstrings and occasionally stray dangerously close to self-involved wankiness. Depending upon your initial assessment of the cover artwork, you may be delighted, disappointed or simply relieved. -- gz

The Confessionals / Self-Titled / Malaria (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Caving In"
This Dallas quartet combines some of the most effective aspects of the Swans and Joy Division to create a captivating sound. The Swans' influence is clearly felt in the martial drumming and devil-breathing-down-my-neck vocals of Bella Ted, while the simplified, heavily-chorused guitar is directly descended from Bernard Sumner's style. The result is terrifying, claustrophobic and absolutely thrilling. Brimming with an axiomatic sense of tension, the tracks build without providing release until the final gasp fades away. Because of this, the songs remind me of TSOL's remarkable Dance With Me, without the comic-book horror. This EP is a powerful debut and hopefully signals excellent things to come. -- rd

Mitchell Akiyama / Hope that Lines Donít Cross / Substractif (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Named After the Chorus"
Itís becoming harder and harder to distinguish one IDM practitioner from another. Sure, there are the big names -- Autechre, Richard Devine, Plaid, etc. -- but even distinguishing their work from the glut of blips and bleeps is becoming an increasingly challenging and tedious task. Hope that Lines Donít Cross is minimalist/IDM composer Akiyama's debut, and true to form, anybodyís name could have been slapped on the front and you wouldn't even know the difference. The one thing that might save Akiyama from drowning in a sea of faceless artists is his sense of humor, currently equaled only by The Railway Raver. Thereís no getting around the fact that Akiyama's drone-based compositions sound not unlike those of the stalwarts listed above, but while those artists have a tendency to take themselves way too seriously, Akiyama has the good sense not to. Any man who thinks enough of himself and his abilities to title an (electronic) composition "Named After the Chorus" gets an "A" for effort in my book. Mitchell Akiyama might not be the most original kid on the IDM block, but heís certainly the one having the most fun. -- jj

Various Artists / Future Groove Collection / Mute (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Polaris' "Addicted"
Future Groove Collection features songs released in England (but 'til now, never domestically) over the last two years by Mute's spinoff imprint, Future Groove. Force Mass Motion (aka Mike Wells) mixed most of these tracks. Underground British house isn't the latest trend to hit electronica, and some tracks -- particularly "the Trench" -- feature mindless repetition of the same bass line. Your neighbours will come to your door to whine about the bass, believe me. Later in the album Wells settles into his groove and there's much more variation, with melodic guitars and occasional voice samples added to remind you that this is a music CD. If you count only the second half of the album, it's even a great CD. -- js

Absinthe Blind / The Everyday Separation / Mud/Parasol (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Experience is the Name Everyone Gives to my Mistakes"
The Everyday Separation could be seen as an attempt to bridge the gap between indie rock and the radio-friendly "alternative" crowd. All of the songs seem quite original at first, but many of them melt into bland alt-rock blah at the halfway point. Among those that don't are the slow, spaced-out "Experience is the Name Everyone Gives to my Mistakes" and "Nation Loved Separation", which combines Radiohead's "The National Anthem" with U2's stadium-rock style. As much as I would like to say that the disc forges the essential link between indie rock and its more robust broadcast cousin, The Everyday Separation ultimately comes across as too glossy and too bland to really score points -- jk

Caleb Fraid / New Methods of Coping With the Modern World / Unread (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "50/50"
This is another one of those enigmatic cassette releases that you'd probably never check out unless someone gave it to you. While it's difficult to discern which cassette side is which, the side aptly entitled "Caleb" offers off-key singing and lo-fi recorded acoustic guitar, which is extremely difficult, if not absolutely painful, to digest in doses larger than one tune at a time. Fortunately for Mr. Caleb, we listen to both sides of everything, and side "Unread" has a much more tastefully assembled grouping of tunes. Besides covering a GBV song ("As We Go Up We Go Down"), Caleb attempts everything from Brit-rock-inflected vocals to Daniel Johnston-flavored personality crises. Caleb also dabbles with altered country rhythms and folksy-nouveau beats, leaving the listener ultimately confused as to whether there really is any rhyme to this musical madness. However, it's most likely that New Methods... will eventually be lost forever in the annals of time, forgotten by all except the artist and his very close friends. -- am

Lady Bianca / Rollin' / Rooster Blues (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Blues Fonk"
When you're in a blues club, chillin' with smoke and the good beer on tap, you don't mind when four minute songs expand to three times their normal length. The band is always top-notch, and is there ever a blues singer with a bad voice? It sure doesn't seem like it. When chatting with the devil, blues singers never talk about their gums or vocal chords; it's always man, or woman, or whiskey against a bb-spitting guitar. Lady Bianca is perhaps too comfortable with this tradition, as is her band, for they're far more exciting and interesting when incorporating elements of go-go ("Daddy Blues Was a Witness") and Latin music ("Can You Slip Away Again Tonight?") into the mix. Rollin' with the past should not be their primary aim here, but it is, making the album an unworthy showcase for Lady Bianca's treasure of a voice, or her blindingly good piano skills, which are displayed throughout the otherwise valueless "Sexy Bones". -- td

Sean Croghan / From Burnt Orange to Midnight Blue / In Music We Trust (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Little Miss Whiplash"
Sean Croghan has been a sturdy figure on the Northwest scene for over ten years, playing in notable punk bands like Crackerbash and Jr. High. From Burnt Orange to Midnight Blue is his debut solo release, a straightforward rock album that leans toward operatic balladry and R&B soul crunching. Although the album was recorded in Portlandís hip Jackpot! Studios with The Minders playing backup, neither sound nor songs nor musicianship succeed in grabbing my full attention or emotion (though I am cold hearted by trade, right?). Possibly my biggest problem with From Burnt Orange to Midnight Blue is Croghanís vocals, which sound like a cross between that guy from Blues Traveler and that guy from Fine Young Cannibals singing falsetto, and which occasionally wander out of tune when pushed too hard. While this is by no means a bad album, thereís just not enough mystery or adventure to get my heart thumping or my mind ticking. Another prominent reviewer has claimed that this is one of the best albums of the year, but hell, are you really going to listen to anything a critic says? -- ea

Vox Americana! / Self-Titled / Wreckless Roots Entertainment (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Even Prettier Than I Remember"
Vox Americana! joins Mid-Atlantic songwriting veteran Jim Bowley with Tracy Calhound, the proud owner of Imagine That Entertainment -- a DJ/karaoke service. Their self-titled debut is a confident collection of modern country songs, with production that tips its stetson to Garth Brooks' most flamboyant output. The disc's opening track, "American Beauty", separates the album from more traditional efforts with its numerous vocal over-trackings and crisp guitar precision. The remainder of the album follows in much the same light, rooting itself in conventional Steve Earle/Merle Haggard song structure but allowing for intermittent Eric Clapton guitar solos. This makes for a solid and wholly contemporary disc of American songwriting. -- jw

Judah Johnson / Self-Titled / Flameshovel (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Tongue Kiss on Ecuador"
When someone mentions the music of Detroit, the phrase generally conjures thoughts of The Stooges, the MC5 or at worst, Ted Nugent. That said, the music of Judah Johnson is more or less the polar opposite of what youíd expect to hear from The Motor City. There certainly isnít a Marshall stack in sight as this young quintet gently glides through the half-dozen smartly crafted pop songs on their eponymous debut EP. Itís obvious from the maudlin stylings of "Tongue Kiss in Ecuador" that lead singer/guitarist Daniel Johnson has had his fair share of heartbreak and misery. The jaunty "Tele Viv" presents the band at their Velvet Underground-aping best, coupling an insistent strum with refined backbeats and Johnsonís Reed-esque cry. "Feelings for the Sun" sounds like a band trying (albeit to no avail) to emulate the late Jeff Buckley, while the piano-led lilt of "The Silent Treatment" is more than a tad reminiscent of Roman Candle-era Elliott Smith. While it's unlikely to bowl you over, the EP is a delightful introduction to one of Detroitís most promising (musical) exports. -- jj

Sylvi Alli / Too Near The Ghosts / Vertical Pool Productions (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "It Struck Me"
There are a bunch of girls out there, dressed all in black and loaded with pancake makeup, who would be really into Too Near The Ghosts. Sylvi Alli, a visual/performance artist, has created a very painterly debut album. The disc's musical spareness provides a subtle background texture to the vibrant brush-strokes of Alliís hauntingly rich voice. The instrumentation and arrangement is almost classical, lending an even eerier vibe to Alliís already gothic compositions. Too Near The Ghosts hooks you with its elegant simplicity, its subdued string drones and its spare production. Occasionally Alli strays too far towards the funereal for my particular taste, but Iíll just have to save it for my more gloomy days. -- az

Various Artists / The Rough Guide to Samba / World Music Network (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Paulo Moura E Os Batutas' "Pelo Telefone"
Unless you're a brand new Splendid reader, we really shouldn't have to tell you what you'll find in a Rough Guide. Yes, you get pithy-but-informative liner notes that trace Samba from its roots in Bahia to its modern-day practitioners. Yes, you get a lovingly hand-picked sample of Samba styles, chosen more for breadth of selection than commercial appeal. Yes, according to the disc's packaging, you have a delightful, festive soundtrack to carnaval. Mind you, we're talking about a country whose chief contributions to global culture are Samba and really skimpy women's swimsuits; you might have the music, but the underlying current of pre-Lenten libidinous energy is missing. No matter how loudly you play The Rough Guide to Samba, you'll probably still be sitting in your humid house, apartment or whatever, with nary a gorgeous, scantily clad reveler in sight. In such situations, it's best to distract yourself with other things -- for instance, a consuming interest in Samba, spurred by this compilation -- rather than dwelling on the shortcomings of your life. -- gz

Joshua / The Teardrop Trio / Does Everyone Stare (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bruise Your Vanity"
The fact that emo is so highly personalized -- overly emotional, if you will -- makes the genre hard to judge. On the other hand, the earnest groveling that plagued bands like Live and especially Toad the Wet Sprocket (remember them?) never did make them musical champs. That pleading quality persists to this day, especially with bands like Joshua. While the sincerity might be there, the successful execution is sorely lacking. This three-track CD doesn't offer much to care about until the third track, an involuntary tip of the hat to Michael Penn and Matthew Sweet. Cure-ified guitars and broken-hearted crooning are replaced by a straightforward attitude. While not exactly upbeat, "Bruise Your Vanity" suggests that Joshua might better be served by melody than sheer sentiment. -- es

Kudu / Self-Titled / Velour (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sugar"
An interesting combination of classic jazz, hip-hop and soul spills from this self-titled debut. Sylvia Gordon acts as the sultry siren, beckoning the ears closer and closer until her voice crashes down upon the listener. Her style is reminiscent of Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill and she is the highlight of the disc, weaving her vocals into the cacophony of electronic sounds created by the keyboards. Paced by talented drumming from Deantoni Parks, this record hums along with a distinct club-music feel, which can grow monotonous after a while if youíre listening passively in your bedroom. Maybe Kudu is better appreciated live, where you can sweat and move along with the band as you enjoy its colorful take on jazz. -- jgj

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak | td - theodore defosse
rd - ron davies | js - jenn sikes | rt - ryan tranquilla | al - amy leach | jw - john wolfe
az - alex zorn | ea - ed anderson | jk - josh kazman | mp - matthew pollesel | jgj - jeff julian | es - ed sotelo

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