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Cursive, Robert Barry/Fred Anderson, My Morning Jacket, Work of Saws, The Orange, Pinehurst Kids, Braer Rabbit, The Rough Guide to the Music of Scandinavia, Sonic Joyride, The Magic Carpathians Project, The Railway Raver, The Scooters, Samba Soul 70, Right Brigade, Farm Crew, Major, John Brodeur, Die Form, To Rococo Rot and I-Sound, Sometimes Seven, Space Rocket, A.C. Cotton, The Red, Mishima USA, Highdivers, Patchouli, Waterdown, Below the Sea, Park/A Boy Named Thor, Mary Fahl

Cursive / Burst and Bloom / Saddle Creek (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sink to the Beat"
Burst and Bloom's first track, "Sink to the Beat," is one of those songs that tries to go where others don't -- that is, it's a song about songs. But as soon as you think you've got it pegged as such, the screaming guitars come in, reaching a place that lyrics never could. Then, with equal abruptness, the song goes all emotional, and as it digs into your heart you don't want to categorize it. Tim Kasher screams the last few lines, delivering the complete indie/post-punk song package at its artistic best. Unfortunately, the EP's other songs are mediocre, often suffering from overly prosaic lyrics. The disc rides on the power of "Sink to the Beat," unsuccessfully trying to visit new planes. Cursive knows when to scream, and they know when to cut loose with an outburst of musical chaos, but most of these songs lack focus and direction; I can't see them winning the band many new fans. -- jk

Robert Barry/Fred Anderson / Duets 2001 / Thrill Jockey (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Taps"
Even in a city known for its free music scene, veteran jazz musicians Fred Anderson and Robert Barry stand out. Tenor saxophonist Anderson co-founded the progressive Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1965; he currently owns his own jazz club, and continues to hone his art. Barry has drummed with hundreds of jazz titans over fifty years, and was a founding member of Sun Ra's Arkestra. Past accolades aside, Duets 2001 showcases two musicians still in peak creative form, performing together for only the second time, in a show recorded at Chicago's Empty Bottle. For me, much free jazz seems to have too much going on at once -- too many notes, as it were. Simplified to just sax and drums, the music swings instead of sputters, even when heading into the abstract. "Bouncing", the album's first and longest track, starts things off with a relaxed grace that defines the record's musical precision. "Taps" is more upbeat than one might think, given the title; "Dark Days" feels like a cloudy, humid summer afternoon. More duets should be this lively. -- rt

My Morning Jacket / At Dawn / Darla (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "If It Smashes Down"
With his second release, Jim James has cobbled together an hour's worth of lonely country tunes reminiscent of Neil Young's gentler work. While the more rock-oriented tunes are palatable, I prefer the "acoustic guitar and a campfire" feel of the quieter numbers. At Dawn's crown jewel is "If It Smashes Down", on which James plucks his banjo and sings into a coffee can. The solitude of this track is spectacular and lasting. The first 2500 copies of At Dawn come with a bonus disc of demo tracks, so buy early and buy often. -- rd

Work of Saws / Motivation and Watertower Grammar / Thick Furniture (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Buttercup, You're a Canyon"
With its intriguingly vague cover imagery and impressive forty-four song track listing, Motivation and Watertower Grammar immediately stuck out as one of the more promising discs we've received in the last few weeks. I wish I could say that it's as good as it looks. There's a definite Elephant 6 vibe at work here, filtered through a rough, Guided By Voices-style aesthetic; the tracks are, naturally, short -- hey, when you're squeezing forty-four tracks into sixty-one minutes, a two-minute tune is an epic -- and catchy melodies are clearly the priority. The band tries a little of everything here, from straightforward power-pop and jangly lo-fi country to psychedelic folk explorations and feedback-drenched garage rave-ups. Unfortunately, some of the catchiest songs clock in at under a minute, while other tunes are dragging well before they hit the ninety second mark. Also, I hate to point this out, but vocalist Brock Davis seems to have a rather pronounced lisp, which drags some of the songs ("Buttercup, You're a Canyon", for instance), I suspect unintentionally, into the realm of twee, Of Montreal-style self-parody. There are some pop gems on Motivation and Watertower Grammar, and I'd encourage you to check it out, but it's a clear case of the hazards of kitchen-sink artistry. -- gz

The Orange / Big Space Mission / Wednesday (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Filibuster"
This year has already offered a handful of wonderful debuts (Kid Dynamite and Sound Team come immediately to my mind). The Orange are easily of the same caliber -- maybe even better. "The Nomad Way" is like an electric version of Kingston Trio's goofier material, but keeps breaking down into a punk rock stomping ground, while "Young Amphibians" has more hooks than a fisherman, and seems to be a factual discussion of fish -- edible shellfish. I don't know what "Filibuster" is really about, but no band has ever gone wrong matching "Uncle Sam" with "damn"; they also sing the word "rigamarole" like young kids getting off on their first dirty word. It's gotta be heard to be believed, and immediately made me rush to see what this band looked like. Well, they look mighty normal, but they are all a bunch of Fonzies in my book: cool as can be, and with a very clever sense of humor ("like a rumor or an influenza, something's goin' round") that makes it easy to appreciate them as much, or more, than some of the great bands other folks have compared them to (Superchunk, Weezer). They seem far less indie than "old-school charming" -- the type of band whose loudest moments are still giddy enough to make Ma and Pa smile. -- td

Pinehurst Kids / Bleed it Dry / Barbaric (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rollover"
The Pinehurst Kids have always teetered on the edge of indie rock stardom. Hailing from the fertile Northwest breeding ground that produced Modest Mouse, Unwound and Built to Spill certainly hasnít hurt their profile, nor have tours with the likes of Ultimate Fakebook and The Alkaline Trio. Bleed it Dry is this young bandís third album, and while it more than likely will not catapult them into the national consciousness, it shows that the last few years of constant touring and recording have helped them to hone their craft. Fusing the manic energy of Superchunk with the devastating hooks of Guided by Voices, the group burns songs like "Rollover" and "All I Know" into your temporal lobes. Joe Davisí brassy croon and gift for penning sickly-sweet melodies fuels guitar-led firecrackers like "Planet of the Apes" and "Big Fight", while "No Show" displays the more subtle aspects of his writing. But for as good as the majority of Bleed it Dry is, there is no getting around the fact that it sounds an awful lot like the bandís first two records. Some major retooling of their sound is needed if they expect to ever receive the mass adoration that a majority of their Northwestern brethren currently enjoy. -- jj

Braer Rabbit / Circuit Trainer / Foolproof Projects (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Direct Communication With Otis"
Somewhere in-between the Kraut-rock genius of Can and the paralyzing psychosis of Caroliner, you'll find Braer Rabbit. "Circuit Trainer" offers avant-garde instrumental madness that borders on an industrial calamity; machine-like clangs create a rough backbeat while a flurry of indiscernible equipment badgers your eardrums. Imagine being trapped in a toy store and having everything come to life, drowning you in a flood of shrieks, creaking motors and out-of-control children's musical instruments. "Direct Communication With Otis" shifts to a more methodical approach, featuring hypnotizing percussion akin to a Balinese Gamelan, but without any high-pitched bells. Grumbling samples and hazy, washed-out keyboards float in the air, fashioning an eerie shroud. This nonsensical, outlandish offering dishes out more than you can handle, forcing preemptive action: you'll either embrace Braer Rabbit's noted musical eccentricites or be forced to throw this 7" into the briar patch. -- am

Various Artists / The Rough Guide to the Music of Scandinavia / World Music Network (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of JPP's "Antin Mikko"
Most of the Rough Guides are excellent, and The Rough Guide to the Music of Scandinavia is no exception. The Scandinavian sounds featured range from traditional folk (a cross between French accordion and Celtic fiddle music) to Saami chant (a dead ringer for Lakota chanting) to experiments with African percussion and traditional guitar. Although I'm not sure how this is intended to teach me about "typical" Scandinavian music, I was frequently impressed by artists who made innovative use of familiar sounds while keeping interest in national culture alive. Like all recent Rough Guides, this CD is enhanced by a data track on Scandinavian musical history and geography. It won't make you an expert, but it might inspire further study. -- js

Sonic Joyride / Behemoth / Anomaly (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Is Anybody Out There?"
Guitarist/vocalist Chris Hoblen and bassist/synthist Rick Reese have joined with drummer Matt Scurfield to create a substantially more than credible mainstream rock record. The fellows of Sonic Joyride earn points for their unrelenting work ethic -- the same ethic that motivated them, in 1997, to trick out a Bluebird school bus as a mobile concert venue and stage a blitzkrieg DIY tour of the US. Their hardworking nature is audible here as polish and sheen on mature, VH1-style rock. "Is Anybody Out There?" is Behemoth's mildly existential first single, its chunky, pop-rock attitude and suitably vague lyrics exemplifying the pleasant, if not groundbreaking, music to be found here. "Don't Ask Why" soars while begging the question, "Why don't people wave cigarette lighters at concerts anymore?" It's poppy enough to be radio-friendly, and though it's a bit too quick-tempoed for proper cigarette lighter waving, it definitely has that earnest rock ballad thing going on. Sonic Joyride clearly wants it badly enough, so I wouldn't be surprised to hear them break out into the mainstream soon. -- nw

The Magic Carpathians Project / Ethnocore 2: Nytķ / Drunken Fish (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Uluru"
Next time you're stuck in your living room with a group of friends who just won't leave, slip Ethnocore 2: Nytķ in your CD player, turn up the volume and watch your campers suddenly come up with odd excuses for abrupt departure. Unless your guests enjoy loud, slightly off-key chanting accompanied by something that sounds like the Xena catcall, "Nytķ" will work best for breaking up the party. Though this particular Magic Carpathians release will never be a crowd pleaser, it has some surprisingly enjoyable moments. The incorporation of some extremely random sounds, such as an excerpt from an Indian wedding ceremony and a sample of a chanting group of Buddhist nuns, adds a bit of originality to the typical world folk music theme. The majority of the album is overkill, most notably in its use of the didgeridoo (recently beaten to death by the Survivor II theme song), but on occasion the music drifts into a Dead Can Dance-type rhythm that works by melding spookiness and serenity, as on the eerie "Atropa Belladonna Cries" and "The Marpha Beat". It's in these incidences that the group's musical originality shines brightest. -- al

The Railway Raver / Youíll Never Get Anywhere by Spending all Day Playing with that Bloody Drum Machine EP / Rephlex (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dinosaur Acid"
Jordan Muscott, aka The Railway Raver, seems to be something of an anomaly in todayís all-too-serious IDM scene. From its humorous title onward, Youíll Never Get Anywhere by Spending all Day Playing with that Bloody Drum Machine takes every opportunity to poke fun at its creatorsí genre of choice. Whether utilizing frantic breaks to extol the virtue of dropping "Dinosaur Acid", using odd sampled vocals and meaty beats to explain what itís like to "Live the Life of a Nothing" or streamlining his sound to let you see things through "The Eyes of Garfield (part 4)", Muscott not only keeps his tongue firmly in cheek but also leaves his hands free to flip the bird at any "serious" electronic musicians who might happen to cross his path. Think of him, if you will, as a less volatile but no less talented version of glitchtronica terrorist Kid 606. If you like your dance music smartly crafted and your artists smart-assed, Youíll Never Get Anywhere by Spending all Day Playing with that Bloody Drum Machine may well be the album youíve been looking for all your life. -- jj

The Scooters / Peepshow / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bones 2 Ashes"
Pop! Music! 4/4 and three-part harmonies. Infectious hooks. Comparisons to the Beatles and the Byrds. The Scooters (Welsh Band) cover all the requisite pop-rock bases with this debut release. The music is impeccably tight and flawlessly performed, and the songcraft is generally superior to most other bands in this genre. Itís hard not to like this Peepshow, but it's a little too glossy to really win me over. I see that one song was recorded in Hollywood, and the evidence shines like LAís hazy sun. This is less Super Furry Animals than it is the closing credits for the latest WB teen show -- music for some serious slow-motion hi-fiving and big white smiles from girls whose only sense of guilt or sadness comes from pop songs. This is hitting the bars after long days on the speedboat. But hey, isnít that what most of us want? Maybe theyíll bring Baywatch to Wales next season. -- ea

Various Artists / Samba Soul 70 / Six Degrees (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Erlon Chaves' "Cosa Nostra"
Samba soul, also referred to as Brazilian Black Music, was born in the late 1960s, when South American artists paid tribute to African American culture by incorporating soul and R&B elements into their spicy samba/jazz compositions. Powerful horn sections, Gospel-inspired harmonies and loose-limbed, funky rhythms were fused with loungy bossa-nova tunes, creating -- against all odds -- some truly excellent music. Samba Soul 70 cherry-picks the genre's best tunes, offering an hour of feverish brass, slippery bass lines and booty-shaking samba goodness. Play it at your next big summer party and, miracle of miracles, your friends (except for that one asshole who keeps trying to play Dave Matthews Band) might leave the damn stereo alone. Against all odds, this self-described "party album" is actually great party music, and might actually turn your next boring barbecue into a beer-commercial style bacchanalia. Lighthearted and loads of fun, Samba Soul 70 is virtually guaranteed to lift your spirits. -- gz

Right Brigade / Self-Titled / Revelation (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Broken"
Boston's Right Brigade lurk near the back of an ever growing line of pastiche-punkers trying to add their spin to the anthemic hardcore sound established more than fifteen years ago by bands like SSD and Youth of Today. This self-titled release is a collection of youth-crew-style vocals overlaying crunching guitars and abrasive drums; it's as ferocious and urgent as it is a paragon of hardcore cliches. Right down to the straight-edge lyrics, Right Brigade is crying out for an ounce of eccentricity. Songs like "Back From This" and "Of My Life" match a Gorilla Biscuits melody with over-abundant usage of the word "fuck" in a meager attempt to sound edgy and underground. Given the seemingly endless line of rap-metal acts currently clogging MTV, things obviously can get much worse, so Right Brigade score some points on the Ian Mackaye "At Least We're Fucking Trying!" scale, but the album remains a mediocre effort, unable to rise above the band's all too apparent influences. -- jw

Farm Crew / Revenge of M.C. Banana / Hermit Entertainment (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Jerome & Chester"
Open a copy of Revenge of M.C. Banana and you'll see pictures of the artists; their names are Space Cadet, Papa Doc and Eye Spy. These guys are here to show you the flipside of hiphop -- the hypocrisy of it all -- and to keep you grooving the whole way through. Unfortunately, the band walks a fine line between seriousness and self-mockery. Most of their songs, as with other songs in the genre, are composed of a few repeated measures of music and some rhyming, parental-advisory-laden lyrics. The most interesting thing they do is slip snippets of dialogue between the lyrics. Revenge... won't make or break any fans and won't cross any borders, but if you enjoy exploring beyond the bounds of mainstream hip-hop, it's a nice diversion. -- jk

Major / It'z Me / Indalab (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "It'z Me"
Droppin' names like Wes Craven and Stephen King in the first five seconds of "It'z Me," Chicago-based rapper Major sets his rhyming skills to one particular midtempo beat. While the bending guitar note wrapped in drum machine beats isn't too catchy, Major's wordplay is impressive; unfortunately, he relies too heavily on this solitary riff, making repeat listening a painful experience. "Revenue" brings to mind a lite Big L, but it falls prey to the same predicament, its urban beat becoming as familiar as a three-chord rock tune. Major has the lyrical skills; he just needs more variety to back his boasts, which can be easily rectified with a few more knob twists and sampling supplements. -- am

John Brodeur / Tiger Pop / Mr. Duck (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Infected"
Brodeur plays a traditional blend of pop, seasoned by years of toil on the Albany club circuit. His solo debut, Tiger Pop, is an inviting jaunt through Jason Falkner-style melodies and personalized lyrics that add stark contrast to the album's sometimes saccharine undertones. What the album lacks in straight-up hooks, it more than makes up for in its pristine production, as well as Brodeur's unmistakable sense of enjoyment. At times the CD plays out in epic individuality, almost as if the instruments had animated the rotting carcass of Joan Crawford and resumed her unremitting quest for the spotlight...but in this case it's put to good use. Ephemeral glimpses of synthetic beats and electronic warblings give the disc an osmotic sense of urgency and a freshness you won't find in run of the mill rock records. -- jw

Die Form / AKT: Sideprojects & Experimental Collection / Metropolis (2xCD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Incubus"
This two-disc collection pulls together several lesser known works by Philippe Fichot, who along with Eliane P. has been disturbing dance floors for nearly twenty years under the name Die Form. While the music here is well-crafted and appropriately creepy, as the title suggests, its increased freedom is gained through sacrificed continuity. This makes two discs worth of ominous goth a bit much to swallow at once. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of haunting music to be found here, most of which would be difficult to fit into a "real" release. This is particularly true for the longer works, such as the twenty minute "Disabled Landscape 2". In this sense, the collection is a successful outlet for some interesting moments, even if it will do little to earn the duo new fans. -- rd

To Rococo Rot and I-Sound / Music is a Hungry Ghost / Mute (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "How We Never Went to Bed"
This collaboration between German techno wizards To Rococo Rot and New York-based DJ/producer I-Sound has gone a long way toward reaffirming my belief that electronic artists can work effectively together, yielding results that are even more impressive than their archetypal work. In sharp contrast to the lackluster efforts of Mike (µ-ziq) & Rich (Aphex Twin), these thirteen tracks are wildly eclectic and full of pleasant surprises. Not content to rely on the same old drum machine patterns and tired beats, TRR and I-Sound have concocted a vast sonic brew that blends elements of hip-hop, jazz and techno into a seriously stinging cocktail. Opener "A Number of Things" is a slow-burning ambient soundscape that glides on sonic wings, while "How we Never Went to Bed" is a nasty slab of grizzled electro-funk that Jimi Tenor would be pleased to call his own. Throughout Music is..., I-Sound does a nice job of toning down To Rococo Rotís penchant for perversity, through his deft skills canít stop "Mazda in the Mist" from sounding like someone trying to melt his own hand. Equal parts beauty and fury, Music is a Hungry Ghost proves that even the best electronic artists can sometimes use a little help from their friends. -- jj

Sometimes Seven / Somehow You Just Don't Get It / Round Circle (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Pretty Up"
If this album gets a bad review, the proper reply is Somehow,You Just Don't Get It. Yes, there's a strange falsetto part in "Pretty Up", and a memorable lyrical lapse ("I hate myself confiscated and liquored up") that makes one wonder if they'd try to fit the word "confiscated" into any sentence -- for instance, "Good confiscated night". For me, though, these "flaws" just made the group more endearing. Besides, who can complain when half the tracks on a debut album compel you to hit the "replay" button? Like Soul Asylum (in the eighties) and the current Jealous Sound, Sometimes Seven makes wonderful, unpretentious, guitar-heavy rock, sure to inspire grunts of contentment from all the kids who still go to clubs to hear the live music. Jokey material, like the closer, "Hey Mr. Head", is not their strong suit, but what the fuck? Who needs suits when you can play this well? -- td

Space Rocket / Hot Gadulka Suicide / Boing Being (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Appreciado Cliente"
Hot damn, this is some good stuff: eight tracks of sinuous free jazz weirdness, backed up by some serious musical chops. Though the credits list such non-traditional sound sources as drill, hand farts and, ahem, dildo, Hot Gadulka Suicide is neither art-wanky nor conspicuously inaccessible. Not only will you love the spacy vibe of "Kosmos ABC" and the swanky seventies sitcom attitude of "Appreciado Cliente"; you'll also take great pleasure in the band's loving attention to detail, ably demonstrated on the punk rock flare-up that concludes "'SGYYD". If you love rubber-band basslines and off-kilter guitar scales, Space Rocket belong at the top of your "must buy" list. -- gz

A.C. Cotton / Half Way Down / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Great Divide"
Northwest songwriter-singer Alan Charing has returned, armed with a new band and an album of energized country rock numbers. Recorded in Portlandís hip Jackpot! Studios, Half Way Down offers the usual gamut of expected turns for a dirty rock band with a sensitive side, providing longing ballads and straight-up whisky rock, with an occasional shot of pop for the road. Charingís lyrical imagery paints a salty picture of lifeís puddles, seen through the eyes of the guilty good guy. Obviously a fan of early Wilco, Charing's words, which very often come across like advice, are usually as clever as his rock and roll voice is convincing. Even though the band veers dangerously close to a few country rock clichťs, itís obvious that these songs are brimming with genuine emotion. And I respect that. -- ea

The Red / Let's Not and Say We Did / ORC (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Be in L.A."
When playing live, folk-rock duo The Red use only an acoustic guitar and an acoustic bass. On Let's Not and Say We Did, their sound is augmented with drums, synths and strings -- all the trappings of a modern recording act. Their music, nonetheless, maintains a certain simplicity, a certain genuineness. I imagine their earnest, folkie sensibilities would be right at home in the cafe section of a Borders Books & Music somewhere. "Be in L.A." is, admittedly, a pretty catchy opening; its loping bassline is ever-so-slightly country, its vocals are emotive and a bit gritty, its tempo is quick and light. "Robot Man" is descriptively more mechanical sounding, reflected mainly in the straight 4/4 time and Devo-like repetitive bass lick. "I Am a Man" is a country song in folk-rock clothing. "I am a man, it's not my fault, what you expect from me…", it emotes. The theme is perhaps a bit dark for traditional country, touching descriptively on lust, betrayal and rape, but change the gait a bit and throw in some lap steel and Bloodshot Records, here it comes! Despite all their thoughtfulness and sensitivity, though, The Red don't really float my boat, though I'd imagine Sheryl Crow fans could really get into them. Maybe I just need to see them live. -- nw

Mishima USA / Hold My Breath / Catapult (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Twist My Arm"
This Boston-area indie-pop group sounds like a more upbeat Aden or True Love Always. While those bands incorporate the traditional rock line-up, Mishima USA's build their delectable pop confections using nothing but a drummer and a singer/guitarist. Despite the minimalist lineup, Hold My Breath is a debut album as harmonically lush as it is enjoyable -- a collection of personal odes that lean on the band's influences while taking a fresh look at an otherwise stagnant genre. Songs like "Twist My Arm" and "Frame Relay" leverage the duo's downsized approach against their knack for creating catchy hooks and melodies, resulting in a Donnybrook of pop repose. -- jw

Highdivers / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rocketheart"
Highdivers head honcho John O'Brien has the kind of voice I wish I had. He also has the plucky confidence to belt out the sort of appealing lyrics and unforgettable melodies that could inspire competing songwriters to hire a hitman to take him out. John, you've been warned. Nonetheless, O'Brien and the Highdivers make a powerful splash with this cannonball five song EP. The infectious and melodic "Rocketheart" sends forth waves of unending pop, warmly opening the disc. Bits of Americana folk, horn accentuations and fiery violin are found deeper within, revealing that the Highdivers are much more than a one trick pop pony. O'Brien's witty sarcasm on "White Guys" takes care of accountants, lawyers and any other paper-pushing type you can think of, all the while sounding like a friendly pop bit. It's great stuff; I just wish there were more tracks available for public consumption. Get back to work, John! -- am

Patchouli / The Day We Let Go / Earthsign (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "We'll Be OK"
There are times when you can judge a book by its cover -- or in this case, music by its packaging. Julie Patchouli and Bruce Hecksel seem like extremely nice people, based on more than twenty photos of them on the CD insert -- she with Bo Derek braids and tie-dyed shirt, he with the odd hats and tiny, hippie-like glasses. They're all smiley and happy as they play their music. Partially because they seem so likeable, I really wanted to get into this disc, but it was so predictable that I had to force myself to pay attention. Julie Patchouli has a beautiful voice, similar to Joni Mitchell at times, but the music itself lacks interest. Ultimately, while The Day We Let Go isn't by any means "bad" music, it is bland. You'd be better off picking up Mitchell's 1971 classic, Blue. -- al

Waterdown / Never Kill the Boy on the First Date / Victory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Corporate Identity"
Germanyís Waterdown are part of a new breed of band (see also Boy Sets Fire) that mixes elements of hardcore, metal and emo; they're bombastic, but they aren't afraid to wear their bleeding hearts on their collective sleeves. Never Kill the Boy on the First Date is the groupís first Stateside release, and while itís not exactly groundbreaking material, it suggests that Waterdown may grow into a force to be reckoned with. "Corporate Identity" and "Round Two" exemplify the group's ferocious energy, twin guitars blazing over a rock-solid rhythm section as two vocalists take turns behind the mic. "Sometimes" will conjure head-spinning visions of the aforementioned Boy Sets Fire, while "Impress MeĒ's staccato grind and mix of screamed/sung vocals is more than a little reminiscent of Hot Water Music. In short, this is an adrenaline-fueled shot in the arm for a genre that sorely needs fresh energy. -- jj

Below the Sea / The Loss of Our Winter / Where Are My Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Inie"
If Krzysztof Kieslowski had been cheap, he could have used The Loss of Our Winter as the soundtrack to Blue. Fortunately, he wasn't, or that movie would be as boring as this disc. The instrumentation here is tolerable, although it's mostly mechanical (with the notable exception of the cello, which is the album's saving grace). "Inie" involves a sound like a heartbeat, interspersed with a noise that resembles tinkling porcelain shards. Initially, "Inie" sounds eerie -- then, when nothing happens, it just sounds like the world's most annoying dinner party. Although the rest of the album is mainly ambient trance, it's no improvement on "Inie". The composers begin with a modest musical idea -- usually a few short chords -- and repeat the series over and over without any alteration. Few tracks are melodic. Neither innovative nor entertaining, The Loss of Our Winter hits below the belt. -- js

Park/A Boy Named Thor / Six New Ways to Hold Your Girl While Dancing EP / Unread (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Park's "Scout"
Andy Dierks (Park) and Jason Corace (A Boy Named Thor) are home recording nuts with a penchant for gently twee pop songs. Though their music sounds similar, and pairs well on this charmingly-titled EP, their respective approaches to pop are quite different. Park's material is a bit goofier, making use of low-tech keyboards, insistent bass guitar leads and occasional pot-and-pan percussion. Both "Scout" and "Like She's Addicted to Pathos" will earn smiles from lovers of quirky pop, while "With Rusty Wires" squanders a portion of that goodwill -- and asserts Park's experimental side -- in a noisy, pitch-shifting mass of screeching cacophony that had me convinced my turntable was on the fritz again. A Boy Named Thor's songs are more traditional, favoring tinkly piano backing over heavier keyboard textures. Corace's vocals are a little breathier, lending an earnest enthusiasm to "The Bear and the Bee", while "Dance Party USA" offers a decorous opportunity to get down. "Midnight at the Sage", the closing instrumental, is a gentler, more atmospheric piece than Park's "With Rusty Wires", with some looped crowd ambience behind the guitar and drums. Wrap these seven songs up in some artwork by Geraldine Vo, who did the wonderful cover for The Good Life's Novena on a Nocturn, and you have an enjoyable, if distinctly unassuming, package. -- gz

Mary Fahl / Lenses of Contact / Rough Mix (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Raging Child"
With a voice immeasurably deeper and richer than the thin wailing of Morissette, Apple, et al, Mary Fahl offers the same level of drama as those scream queens, but without the whine. Formerly of modestly successful Epic artists The October Project, Fahl launches her solo career with this four song EP, for which she's gathered a fine band and a producer, Jeffrey Lesser, accustomed to working with distinctive voices (Joni Mitchell, Barbara Streisand). "I've been dancing with monsters, perilously", Fahl sings on "Paolo"; elsewhere she talks more than once about liquor and cigarettes. There's a downside: Lenses of Contact sounds like a Monty Python-in-the-Middle Ages name for an optometrist, while the music takes itself very seriously. The vocals are sometimes over-emotive, especially on lyrics like "She is a raging child!" But these are fairly minor quibbles; the EP as a whole turns out a satisfying spin on chamber pop. -- rt

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

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