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Joan of Arc, Squarepusher, Many Miles Away, Spundae Presents: Interpretations II by Jerry Bonham, Kaito, Low/Dirty Three, Dublab Presents: Freeways, Fringe, Project Z, Woe, Papa Nez: A Loose Salute to the Works of Michael Nesmith, Ministry, The Rough Guide to the Music of Senegal and Gambia, Summer Hymns, The Wingnuts, The Shermans, Plaid, Libythth, Buellton, Project Pitchfork, Super Model, Last Days of April, Jonathan Incorporated, Lindsay Smith, Miles Tilmann, Milk for the Morning Cake, Care Factor Zero, The Seventh Triangle, Sistol, Raft of Dead Monkeys, Restraining Order, Die Moulinettes

Joan of Arc / How Can Any Thing So Little Be Any More / Jade Tree (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ne Mosquitoes Pass"
How Can Any Thing So Little Be Any More is both a continuation of, and a total departure from, last year's The Gap. If that makes no sense to you, you've never listened to Joan of Arc. Basically, How Can... ranks right up there with The Gap as a mix of tracks that are equal parts artwork and head-scratching source of bewilderment. This is most obvious on the tracks in which a child -- who sounds frighteningly similar to the precocious French toddler Jordy -- sings (or screams) about Jesus ("I'll Show You, I'll Show You All") and, on "We Neither Hide Nor Seek", follows "I never wanted to touch ya" with the cryptic "Do, do, do, do, do". The Gap is left behind on the more simplistic tracks, which abandon the production-heavy affectations of the group's previous efforts. We're left with eight songs that are bare and beautiful (with the exception of the nursery school bit) -- a testament of what Joan of Arc could accomplish when they felt like it. All negative points aside, tracks like "Most at Home in Motels" and "My Cause Is Noble and Just" are some of the most beautiful moments Joan of Arc created, and they help to turn How Can... into a semi-cohesive whole. -- al

Squarepusher / My Red Hot Car / Warp (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hardcore Obelisk"
After disappearing almost completely for the last two years (other than occasional DJ gigs), Tom Jenkins and his trademark sideburns have returned to inject some life into the rather torpid world of electronic music. My Red Hot Car is a precursor to the eagerly awaited new Squarepusher full-length, Go Plastic; its deviant hardcore leanings have much more in common with Jenkins side-project Chaos A.D. than with the majority of his Squarepusher work. The title track appears here in two radically different versions" "My Red Hot Car (Girl)" is five minutes of creepy organ, neurotic breaks and a distorted sampled voice that declares that itís going to "fuck you with (its) red-hot car", while a more straightforward mix finds Jenkins trying his hand at glitchtronica, adding double time scratching, drill ní bass breaks and overall bad vibes to the songís formerly chaste veneer. Album standout "Hardcore Obelisk" sounds like someone melting a swarm of bees with a flame-thrower, while its counterpart "I Wish You Obelisk" sees Jenkins at his most banginí, with squelchy IDM blips and rusty breaks propelling the song through perpetual darkness. Twenty minutes of dead air leads to an untitled hidden track, filled with droning atmospherics and siren-like effects that wouldnít be out of place in a David Lynch film. Squarepusher is indeed back, and if this single is at all indicative of Go Plasticís quality, it's going to be a busy summer for IDM fans. -- jj

Various Artists / Many Miles Away / Solarmanite (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Andrew Wagner's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
If you've ever cared about the Police, then a tribute album sounds like either a delight or a disaster. This particular disc is both. On the plus side is December's January, who provide an ominous and edgy take on "Message in a Bottle" that adds a welcome dose of urgency to the original. Andrew Wagner's acoustic reading of "Every Little Thing She Does in Magic" is also a bright spot -- a complex tour of the written chord progression. However, not all of the tracks work. The Ed Kemper Trio's "Next to You" needlessly punches up the original, while the pAper chAse's deconstructionist approach to "Wrapped Around Your Finger" is more annoying that innovative. Thus, while there are moments worth hearing, unless you are really into the Police, this will probably not hold your attention for long. -- rd

Various Artists / Spundae Presents: Interpretations II by Jerry Bonham / Mute/Spundae (2xCD)

Sample 30 seconds of Jerry Bonham's "Erendira"
For my money, this is as good as DJ mix discs get. The first fruit of a partnership between Mute and San Francisco-based Spundae, Interpretations II features an excellent mixture of hard-to-find tracks, lovingly spun by DJ/Spundae Records co-owner Bonham. There are some excellent cuts here; Minders' "Freakout" (no, not the E6 Minders), Mad Dogs' "Sudden Journey" and Bonham's own "Erendira" are particularly strong, and I enjoyed the old-school Detroit techno homage of Souldriver's "Darknoize". Bonham's skills are well-represented here, with constant variation of tempos and rhythmic patterns, and his lengthy, well-meshed transitions between tracks are of textbook quality. Indeed, the only odd note in the whole thing is the cover art, which I think is meant to show Bonham partially trapped in a slowly-melting block of ice, but instead looks like he's had a mishap with a huge vat of liquid hand soap. Or something. Artwork aside, Interpretations II is highly recommended.-- gz

Kaito / Youíve Seen Us...You Must Have Seen Us / Devil In The Woods (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bow Wow"
Iím not too sure what I think about this band. Sometimes I get the impression that Kaito's apparent hipness and attitude overrides the musicality of Youíve Seen us, you Must Have Seen Us, which is snotty, noisy post-punk indie pop. One second Iím loving it, the next Iím giving it my infamous sneer of disgust (which Iím sure the band doesnít mind, as they're young and irreverent). I think the thing that really bothers me is the fact that Kaito has some very well-written and exciting songs, and vocalist Nikka Colkís voice shows glimpses of greatness, her sharp sneer exuding more youthful sexiness than, say, Kim Gordon. At least, thatís what I can gather from the couple of excellent songs in which her vocals arenít distorted to the point of oblivion. I should mention that much of the "Youth-y" noise experimentation works in Kaito's favor. Unfortunately, certain worn techniques -- like vocal distortion and a habit of running the guitar slide randomly around the fretboard -- are overused here. I guess this isnít music that stands up to scrutiny...but that shouldn't stop you from cranking You've Seen Us...You Must Have Seen Us up at your next hipster party, putting on your sunglasses and standing around looking cool. -- ea

Low/The Dirty Three / In the Fishtank / Konkurrent (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Down By the River"
Duluth, Minnesota teams up with Melbourne, Victoria to record this six song CD in Amsterdam. Low's trademark minimalism sets the stage for each of these tunes, while the dramatic violin of The Dirty Three's Warren Ellis provides an additional musical thought process that retains the chilling purity of each song. The peacefully depressing cover of Neil Young's "Down by the River" tracks along at a snail's pace, intentionally accenting every note with a powerful undercurrent of tension and focus. Low's Mimi Parker's vocals have a warmer, more musical tone, possibly echoing a desperate urgency to placate inner demons. Parker's tenderly-created melodies hang heavily over several tunes, casting the classic minimalist spell; fewer notes can have just as powerful of an impact on the listener as a horde of frenetic power chords. While co-authored in theory, In the Fishtank sounds like another superb Low release with the addition of Ellis' exceptional musicianship. An even more entertaining proposition would be what this same interaction would sound like if The Dirty Three's feverish and sinuous playing was the foundation, instead of Low's plodding melodrama. -- am

Various Artists / Dublab Presents: Freeways / Emperor Norton (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Mia Doi Todd's "Digital: Version 2.1"
Internet radio station -- a nearly two year old venture -- has put together this sampler of the "electronic/underground hip-hop scene in the city of Los Angeles." The press material goes on to compare the disc, the first in a projected series of collaborations between Dublab and LA-based label Emperor Norton, to OM's already classic Deeper Concentration albums. That's a stretch; Concentration's discs were varied, inventive, and fun, while most of the tracks featured on Freeways demonstrate a mindless precision. Even the album's highlight, Mia Doi Todd's vocals on "Digital: Version 2.1", suffers from a lengthy, nearly unchanging instrumental section; positive but slightly cheesy lyrics like "Homo sapiens unbound by race and religions, desegregate" are delivered in a beautifully off-kilter voice that would have sounded great for five minutes but become annoying over seven. The real veteran here, Divine Styler, puts brevity to good use: "Shen", only three minutes long, succeeds despite being less than half as long as other tracks. An overlay of static cloaks many songs, sounding remarkably like a needle on vinyl. On top of such expertly produced, clean sounding electronics, it's hard not to view this as an ultimately unsuccessful grasp at analog authenticity. -- rt

Fringe / A Brief Eclipse / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Eyes of the World"
During my only visit to Iowa, I was taken to a dried-up pond famous as a home to some old pieces of dinosaur rock. If the edge of that pond was present day Clear Lake, Iowa, Fringe would be playing a few steps toward the center, close to Yes, Kansas and other rock dinosaurs of seventies radio. Let's say they're working the fringes of the current rock scene, as few other bands have even tried to resurrect such musical carcasses. The religious allusions in their spaceship song, also called "Fringe", marks another way the band name seems apt. Sadly, the vocals are but modest and the playing, while accomplished, is short on memorable hooks; the only song that I was eager to play more than once was "Live to See", which is very well crafted -- but not powerful enough to revive the light rock/prog scene of the mid-to-late seventies! -- td

Project Z / Self-Titled / Terminus (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Raging Torrent"
Need a funk-fusion jam band? How about Project Z? The Atlanta trio, here augmented in ranks by a few heavy-duty session players, has long carried on their funky improvisations in the privacy of local jam sessions. This eponymous release captures their work on aluminum-coated plastic for the first time. If you dig Medeski, Martin and Wood, The Charlie Hunter Trio or even Frank Zappa, you'll be inclined to dig these guys as well. Each track on Project Z results from recorded, unrehearsed improvisation; the raw material was edited, in the interest of brevity and focus, producing 18 tracks of polished, incisive, mature funk-jazz. The opener, "Raging Torrent", is fiery and fierce, with Corea-esque, angular, percussive melodies in the guitar and organ and relentless, pulsating, forward motion in the bass and drums. "Rainbow" makes more than a cursory nod to Keith Jarrett with its stark, expansive piano opening, while "Albright Special" is more traditional guitar jazz in the style of…say…Les Paul. It's sometimes humbling to think how many truly superb musicians there are out there who've never been heard outside of their own modest gigging circles. Project Z has been jamming in Atlanta for over 20 years; now, at last, the rest of us get a turn to partake. -- nw

Woe / Last Stop / Some (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Iím Coming Straight Down"
The word "jazz" leaves a bad taste in most peopleís mouths, as their knowledge of the genre goes no further than Kenny G or George Winston. Were these misguided souls ever to actually reach out and listen to Miles Davis, Booker Little or Ornette Coleman, they would surely find the music to be not only enjoyable, but also one of the most fascinating art forms the world has ever known. I mention this only because Last Stop, the new album from jazz-punkers Woe, is likely to have the same effect on the ranked masses of indie and punk rockers. A four-piece made up of trumpet, guitar, drums, bass and saxophone Woeís thrashed-up jams and dissonant fury suggest Sweep the Leg Johnny more than Tortoise or Isotope 217...but make no mistake, their sound is indeed rooted in the realm of jazz, as is quickly evidenced by the cacophonous splay of the albumís opening, untitled track. From there, the group dives into a twisted melange of punk-inspired madness ("Iím Coming Straight Down"), spacey, drone-inflected moments of placid reflection ("Ceiling Sniffing") and spirited free jazz ("Cut Up"). A wonderfully crafted and beautifully executed record, Last Stop is a testament to the greatness not only of jazz, but of the music it, in turn, inspires. -- jj

Various Artists / Papa Nez: A Loose Salute to the Works of Michael Nesmith / Dren (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Buddy Woodward's "You Told Me"
Prior to his illustrious solo career as a country and western singer/songwriter, Michael Nesmith held the reins of everyone's favorite actor/musician package, the Monkees. I apologize in advance for the requisite pun that will occur at the end of this paragraph. As a paragon of intellectual consistency -- the bubblegum-pop group's John Lennon, if you will -- Nesmith's eventual musical redirection wasn't as surprising as it might originally have seemed, but in some respects his subsequent success suffered. The songs on this tribute, performed by various roots-rock bands, suggest that Nesmith's artistic output would fit well alongside the work of Gram Parsons or Jim Messina; the songs are well-crafted, intelligent and in all respects extremely melodic. While I don't claim any expertise in the field of classic country, (hence my avoidance of the general reviewer practice of commenting on the songs a tribute album has ignored), even as a neophyte it's not difficult to recognize that Michael Nesmith didn't just -- ahem -- monkee around. -- jw

Ministry / Greatest Fits / Warner Brothers (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What About Us?"
Sucky Things About Getting Old, Number 381: retrospective albums from the bands you loved when you were younger. Yup, Warner is using the old Singles Compilation With One New Song trick to leverage the inert backcatalog of Messrs. Jourgensen and Barker. The new track -- "What About Us?", from the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg's A.I. -- is decent enough, but it's the oldies that really deliver. "Stigmata" still sounds like nothing else out there, "Thieves" forever bristles with sampled-power-tool gusto and "Jesus Built My Hotrod" (not the extended mix, unfortunately) remains one of the best-ever fast songs about fast cars. The band's cover of Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" has actually aged pretty well, and their version of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut" -- basically the 1000 Homo DJs version sans the Trent Reznor vocal -- is good fun. But where the hell is "Burning Inside"? And more importantly, when will people acknowledge the link between 1986's white-noise-intensive Twitch (ignored here) and today's glitch-friendly IDM? Yes, Greatest Fits is a high-volume blast from the past, but like most Greatest Hits packages, it seems calculated and dispassionate. -- gz

Various Artists / The Rough Guide To the Music of Senegal and Gambia / World Music Network (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Youssou N'Dour's "Letter"
Most countries have amazing musical riches to offer, but Senegal and Gambia really seem to have hit three cherries. Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal and Cheikh LŰ are known even to many who don't listen much to world music, and tracks from all three artists are available here. N'Dour's "Letter" charms with its jazzy harmonies and lighter mbalax rhythms. Two of Senegambia's greatest traditional styles -- kora griots and mbalax rhythms -- are demonstrated by the masters (Cheikh LŰ is supposedly even better on mbalax than N'Dour) in both familiar ways and in improvisational styles that retain original flavour. Just listening to the whole album will buoy your spirits; every song is upbeat and bright. The excellent disc is, as always, accompanied by a data track that provides musical history and geography of the featured region, giving you the opportunity to pretend to be a low-level expert. -- js

Summer Hymns / A Celebratory Arm Gesture / Misra (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "After Hours"
Vaguely psychedelic and a little bit jangly in that arty Yo La Tengo kind of way, Summer Hymns is a folk-pop band from Athens, Georgia. Theyíve played with Will Oldham, apparently, and I imagine that itís a very good fit. My favorite elements of A Celebratory Arm Gesture, their sophomore release, are the eclectic instruments they use: organ, lap steel, trombone, autoharp and euphonium. In general, this isnít the kind of stuff that I love, but there are some really captivating moments here: the jangly dissolution into near noise at the end of "The Twilight", the synth in the up-tempo countryesque "After Hours" and the lushness of "Somethingís Going On." However, the singerís inability to stay in key really irked me. -- az

The Wingnuts / April Fool's Day, 2001 / Wingnuts (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "5-star ho"
The disc's back cover insert states that these songs were all recorded the first time that the band played together. It shows. The drums drearily follow the guitar on the majority of these tracks, keeping them from retaining any semblance of a consistent beat and ultimately becoming a detriment. Guitarist Adam is able to add a bit of charm with his picked chords and well-placed notes, but he can't carry all the rhythmic weight. As the overly distorted vocals (everything is recorded on a total of three mics) warble across the speakers, I can't help but notice a tinge of Morrison. There are some possibilities buried deep within "Snapped" and "5-star Ho", but the band needs to diversify and solidify its rhythm section (try a drummer wanted ad) and clean up the song structures so there's something tangible to grab onto. -- am

The Shermans / Falling out of Love / Shelflife/Sky Blue (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Little Millie"
This music is just too cute; there's no poetic or thematic catch. The twelve-minute EP tries to give us children's songs that adults can enjoy (imagine "Puff the Magic Dragon" with primitive synthisizers), but fails, with lyrics no more complex or poetic than "When Millie's mother asks how she thinks the day has been / she smiles and tells her mother it was fine..." Though Falling Out of Love tries to create an air of nostalgia, but you'd be pushing your luck to say that the disc holds as much emotion as a doll that's been sitting on your window sill for as long as you can remember. -- gz

Plaid / Double Figure / Warp (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Porn Coconut Co."
Throughout their recorded history (as both Plaid and Black Dog), Ed Handley and Andy Turner have often been overshadowed by their Warp Records brethren. Yet while Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada have generated all the hype, Handley and Turner have quietly established themselves as the most consistent artists on Warp's roster. Sadly, both their stunning debut, Not For Threes, and its equally impressive follow-up Rest-Proof Clockwork were ignored in favor of flavor-of-the-day electronic acts. Now, some two years after their last release (not counting last yearís odds and sods compilation Trainer) Double Figure finds Handley and Turner in strong form, having crafted an album thatís as much fun to listen to as it is to try and dance to. Plaid differ from their IDM peers by believing that melody is an all-important facet of music -- especially electronic music. Rather than bog the listener down with mounds of blips and drips, songs like "Porn Coconut Co." and "Ooh Be Do" graft strands of restrained melody onto their mechanical axis. Elsewhere, they beg you to play follow the blip ("Zala",) construct brooding electronic soundscapes ("Sincitia") and whip up a sound so effortlessly enthralling, MTV should be begging them for a video ("Eyen"). Double Figure is as instantly memorable, not to mention listenable an IDM record as you are likely to hear this year. Don't make the mistake of ignoring it. -- jj

Libythth / Dizzolve a Diamond / Phthalo (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "spilledliquidanticancer"
Libythth (aka Seth Cooper) offers eight tracks of broken drum machine freakout experiments. I'm into superimposed machine polyrhythms as much as the next guy, and Cooper combines his complex herky-jerk with an assortment of post-IDM textures and non-keyboard tones. Some interesting moments pop up, especially when Cooper focuses in one particularly satisfying phrase or loop (portions of "spilledliquidanticancer", for instance). Overall, though, most ideas aren't really developed beyond their introductory phase, and the recording as a whole is marred by somewhat amateurish "homestudio" production and some flat drum sounds -- puzzling, given that the Libythth bio makes reference to Cooper's training at the California Recording Institute. Perhaps something went wrong during mastering? Still, there are some promising seeds here. I'll be interested to see how Libythth sounds a few years down the line, as Cooper works to further develop his ideas and execution. -- ec

Buellton / Avenue of the Flags / FilmGuerrero (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "People Die"
Buellton is the brainchild of John Nygren, and he should be very proud of his first-born. Self-recorded but by no means lo-fi, Buelltonís gorgeous debut, Avenue of the Flags, is a spacious, smooth, intelligent and emotional album with barely a weak spot to be found. Unique song structures and melting guitar melodies unfold so easily they almost pass by unappreciated -≠ almost. A tight, responsive rhythm section and a healthy dose of subtle electronic blips and waves help to round out this mostly guitar-driven album. Buellton cut their teeth touring the California coast with cohorts like Earlimart and Radar Bros., and that laid-back and slightly depressive California vibe is apparent here, especially in the repetitive, cool downbeat of the first single, "People Die". The album's harmonious flow allows psychedelic ballads to wash into upbeat songs and mid-tempo gems, like waves receding from the beach. Youíll like this, no matter which coast you're on. -- ea

Project Pitchfork / Daimonion / Metropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Timekiller"
Three years have passed since Eon: Eon, and Project Pitchfork have apparently spent the time fine-tuning their musical machine. They seem a little slicker and slightly more serious, and I suspect it'll pay off; the mainstream acceptance of electronica, nu-metal and Marilyn Manson accounts for most aspects of Project Pitchfork's industrial/goth/electronic sound...and everyone loves a crunchy buzzsaw guitar riff. Unfortunately, while Daimonion includes powerful anthems ("Timekiller") and quirky quasi-ballads ("Fear"), it also contains a fair amount of second-tier material -- songs that lack the hooks and melodic peaks necessary to provide the listener with the sort of payoff that inspires repeat listening. There's sixty-five minutes of material here, but most of us would be better served by a thirty-five minute EP of the highlights. -- gz

Super Model / It Ain't Pretty / Magic City (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Drinking Song"
This quartet nails the frat-rock genre right on its backward-cap-wearing head, filling their mild rock with enough hooks to pull in an entire bar full of patrons in the space of two tunes. It Ain't Pretty plays like a rock-solid set in your local college joint, filled with up-tempo, tongue-in-cheek numbers about booze drinking ("The Drinking Song") and sex ("She Rox"). To illustrate their sensitive side, the boys throw in a song about suicide ("Shoot") and even offer a gentler love song for the ladies ("Photograph"). Unfortunately, there is not a lot to differentiate them from other bands that prowl the same territory. As a result, Super Model is pretty to look at, but not likely to keep you from straying when the next hot thing strolls by. -- rd

Last Days of April / Angel Youth / Deep Elm (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Days I Recall Being Wondeful"
When you're down to your last glimmer of hope, Angel Youth is the soundtrack to life's ultimate abandon...or to that far-reaching possibility that things will take a turn for the better. This collage of collage rock principles applies multiple layers of synth, chiming guitars and intertwining bass lines that have an uncanny ability to spark your thought processes. While borrowing from the likes of early U2 and latter-day Radiohead, these Swedes create a unique sound that rings true with meditative lyrics and tolling guitar notes. Whether you're stumbling through life because of job loss, significant other abandonment or mere personal confusion, the tracks on Angel Youth will invoke the human need for creating emotional closure. However, Last Days of April is like a fanatic cult icon; its charming charisma will draw you in, while its magnificent power can either lead you to a better way of life or leave you reaching for that last cup of Kool-Aid. -- am

Jonathan Incorporated / Waiting for Morning / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Weathered"
Rock and Roll might be dead, but pop is apparently alive and well. Jonathan Incorporated, a three-piece from British Columbia, is a surprisingly good pop band. They recorded Waiting for Morning in Jonathanís apartment on a four-track, but youíd never guess it from the clean, well-articulated recording. A little bit moody and introspective, the album induces a contemplative mood without being depressing or morose. Jonathan has a strong male pop voice -ó although I probably say that just because he can carry a tune -ó which harmonizes particularly well with the female vocalist in "The Fine Line." The maturity and quiet complexity of Waiting for Morning is particularly impressive considering Jon is still in his early twenties. If "Weathered", the album's sixth track, is any indication of what he can do, he has a full career ahead of him. -- az

Lindsay Smith / Tales from the Fruitbat Vat / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "My Mother is a Christian"
Damn that Sarah McLachlan. Until a few years ago, the words "female" and "rock" were rarely seen in the same sentence. Then came Lilith Fair, and with it hordes of women with guitars, singing about the world and its injustices. Lindsay Smith continues in this tradition, singing about her mother being a Christian, being battered and similar themes, which anyone who has listened to the radio for the past five years will no doubt be very familiar with by now. If the thought of waiting for McLachlan's next album is too painful to bear, check out Smith's Tales. Otherwise, you might want to keep your distance. -- mp

Miles Tilmann / Underland / Sub:marine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sunday"
Bedtime music for ravers, Miles Tilmann's beautifully packaged Underland EP comes across just as subtly as the gray, black, and white tones -- and the stylized snake, eating its own tail -- of the cover. Keyboards and drum machines whisper their way through the disc's first half to soothing effect, though underland's flowing beats don't allow the record to slip too far into ambient noise Purgatory. Occasional lapses into mimicry include the title track (Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do strode this kind of bouncing, electronic, minor key melody six years ago); the fifth song, "Sunday", with its upbeat strings and light-as-brushes drum pattern, provides welcome relief from the bleak synthesizers that are the bedrock of Underland's first half. The mood remains light through the rest of the EP, although the ten minute closer, "Derail", offers bleak and long-winded finish. Not just background music, Underland travels its own quiet path through the darkness. -- rt

Milk for the Morning Cake / Winter Formal / Pillbox Presswerks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "A Friend With Benefits"
Milk for the Morning Cake must enjoy wallowing. Formed a year ago because of the band members' mutual disdain for the state of modern music (A disdain that doesn't seem to have stopped them from copping song titles from Alanis Morissette lyrics - Ed.), MftMC offer an alternative that is decidedly morose and somber. Winter Formal's five tracks share this sort of muted melancholy, this "I can't get up the energy to break the mid-tempo barrier" attitude. There are no sharp lines here, only muffled, angst-ridden blubbering. The songs themselves are decent, if a bit depressing, but they need a bit more wit to give them spring. "A Friend With Benefits" is a good example -- mopey relationship stuff that would easily complement some future iteration of Deep Elm's Emo Diaries. Putting the songwriting aside, I'm unimpressed with the disc's sound reproduction -- everything is heard as if from behind a couple of thick curtains. Obviously, Milk for the Morning Cake is still a young band, and I think a little aging will do them well. -- nw

Care Factor Zero / Simmer Down / Chasing Rainbow Productions (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Save Face"
It would be easy to write off Care Factor Zero as an excuse for the aging officers of the Led Zeppelin fan club to get together, drink beer and shred, but hidden behind the gaudy antics, Simmer Down is a hodgepodge of all that was and apparently still is classic guitar-rock. With influences ranging from Cream and Black Sabbath to Hootie and the Blowfish, the band's only consistent trait is their unabashed desire to "rock out". While Simmer Down lacks notable high points, neither are any songs so dreadfully bad that you need to lunge for the skip button. Tracks like "Lift Me Up" overlay a Humble Pie vocal progression with some straightforward rockin' out, while "Who Needs Love" takes the patterned Beatles "la la las" and fuses them with...some more rockin' out. Over all, this is a disjointed but decent CD that works better as a classic rock tribute record than as an album of contemporary posturing. -- jw

The Seventh Triangle / Diamond Bar / New Hat (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Crow's Feet"
Diamond Bar bears more than a passing resemblance to Steely Dan. Perhaps if Seventh Triangle had covered Steely's songs, rather than writing original works, they'd have been better off. Such deep similarities between the two groups cannot help but invite comparisons -- and unfortunately for The Seventh Triangle, they're not favourable. Peri and Tilton harmonise beautifully, but the lyrics reek like old blue crabs: "early this morning, I wanted to talk / I found you kneeling by a crow on the sidewalk" ("Crow's Feet"). The "King of Pomeru" sounds like the writers spent too much time playing D&D. Suavity is part of the appeal of Steely Dan's smooth jazz-pop, but Seventh Triangle come off like a pimply 13-year-old copping his older brother's moves. -- js

Sistol / Self-Titled / Phthalo (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Nuomo"
Minimalism through repetition is about walking that fine line between not enough and just enough, and on this self-titled US reissue, Sistol (Vladislav Delay's other pseudonym) falls on the wrong side of that line a little too often. Too many of the disc's eight techno-esque beatscapes are anchored by the omnipresent midtempo OOM-CHICK-OOM-CHICK of the dancefloor, but they're clearly aching to clatter sideways instead, entirely of their own bleeping, blooping, filtered volition. This probably makes the disc a more functional mixing record, but less of a listening experience. It's when the small variations start to shine through that this CD becomes most interesting: a high hat that suddenly appears in the middle of a track and excuses itself again almost immediately, shifted bass drum beats that shift everything to 4.3-on-the-floor for one stumbling moment and the occasional still-rhythmic sections that aren't afraid to leave the bass drum at home. Those are the moments that keep you listening. -- ec

Raft of Dead Monkeys / Thoroughlev / Burnout (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sammy the Butt"
The title, Thoroughlev, is shorthand for "thoroughly level", or for saying "We have come up with the worst-ever name for an album". If you can get beyond the title, though, this Raft is one you won't want to sink. "Running Hot" is a great mix of postmodern rock and punk, with interesting guitar work and tough vocals, and "2 Year Lease" places well-argued lyrics ("You're not the only whore around/Just the best fuck in town") alongside some wicked old-school bass. The only real problem with the album as a whole is that the band's best tracks tend to offer all the same pleasures -- fast, fun, complicated melodies and bawdy piss-off attitudes -- while their weaker tracks offer the same thing in smaller doses. -- td

Restraining Order / Last Time You Took Me Back / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "More Compex Than Sex"
Despite the band's best efforts to the contrary, Last Time You Took Me Back somehow manages to work. The Philadelphia-based band, with a look best described as accountant chic, loads the front end of the album with weak pop-rock, resorting to such annoyances as a phony announcer prior to "Two Minute Offense." Yet taken as a whole, the fourteen tracks on The Last Time You Took Me Back prove to be nothing short of decent rock, with a measure of pop-punk added to surprisingly good effect. On the basis of their appearance, Restraining Order are a group of somewhat smarmy middle-aged men; thankfully, appearances are deceiving. -- mp

Die Moulinettes / Alfa Bravo Charlie / S.H.A.D.O. (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Alfio Brambilla"
"Deep Down" is a very superficial song. Given its title, that's sort of funny, but I worry that Die Moulinettes didn't get the joke. In this supposed hit song, the words "deep, deep down" are compulsively repeated -- and in case that wasn't enough, the album also includes two remixes of the song. Pop doesn't get much more mediocre than this; the music will get your head bobbing, but the lyrics seem like filler, full of such lines as "Like rubik cube I turn my world around / what is the twist? / like a rubik cube I turn my world around / where, where can you be found?" Admittedly, only a few of the songs have English lyrics; the band might have more to say in other languages. In addition to the original songs, the album includes remixes of its first eight tracks, done by "friends" of the band. Oddly enough, despite the fact that I originally thought that the remixes would be overkill, they offer a good deal more style and more variety than the originals. -- jk

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 | ec - eric cook | mp - matthew pollesel

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