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OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION OF SHORTER REVIEWS

Never Louder Than Lovely, Junior Varsity, Dune.TX, Snapcase, Plastic Bird, House Carpenters, Capital City, Del Rey, Jolly!, The Huntingtons, HairyApesBMX, Reel Big Fish, Rough Guide: Salsa Dance, Dinosaur Jr., Errortype:Eleven, An Electronika Tribute to James Bond, Cats & Jammers, Sauce


Never Louder Than Lovely / For Heaven's Sake You / Olive Juice Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Duh"
Tom Nishioka, whose previous work experience included "jingle" composition, has a great ability to write and perform songs that you'll be unable to avoid humming. Listen to a mere thirty seconds of this Wisconsin-born New Yorker's "Duh" and you will assume he must have earned millions through jingles; weeks after your first listen, that melody will still be there, entrenched with all the jingles in your head that you either love or hate. It's too bad that the production consistently brings the songwriting to one's attention, as this is Tom's downfall. Whereas he can write music that could blare in the hallways of any John Hughes film, he sings lyrics that only people who enjoyed Alanis' Morrissette's "Ironic" could appreciate. I suspect, if accompanied by a good video, that you'll probably hear a lot from the insanely catchy folk strums that dominate For Heavens Sake You. The first interlude -- an out-of-place hoedown -- would make me welcome such a future, but his typical melody is a gift happily received only when you're the owner of a company, eager for a tune that'll sell your product. -- td


Junior Varsity / Bam Bam Bam! / Peek-A-Boo (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bam B-B-Bam Bam Bam"
At last, it's the long-awaited full-length -- if fourteen songs in twenty minutes qualifies as full length -- from Houston's premiere pepster-popsters. They've had a lineup change (they're now two girls and a boy rather than two boys and a girl), but Junior Varsity can still crank out the sugar-sweet, fifties inflected sock-hop pop tunes for the letter-sweater crowd. As always, there's an ever-so-slight hint of punk rock in JV's retro teen defiance, and the most modest surf-punk edge to the electric guitars, but there's nothing here that you couldn't play at the local soda fountain (as long as nobody listens too closely to "Mark Lochridge Twist"). New girl Rebecca proves her mettle on the self-glorifying "So Great," her slightly off-key vocals adding amusing punk rock irony. Admittedly, JV's sound could get old very quickly, but the band has no trouble keeping it fresh for twenty delightful minutes. -- gz


Dune.TX / Machowagon / Tasty Melon (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Flowers"
Dune.TX mine the same psychedelic hard-rock vein that spawned J. Mascis. Sadly, they fall prey to the same mistakes that mar his recent work. While the second half of Machowagon lays into some meaty grooves and notable guitar work, the first half sinks into a plodding, wall-of-feedback quagmire. I imagine that Dune.TX would come off powerfully in a live setting, but on tape, the shortcomings of the distorted waa-waa guitar and nasal vocals are much too clear. At best, Dune.TX has offered up an EP of fine songs preceded by bonus tracks. At worst, they seem destined to fall into Mascis' swiftly shrinking shadow. -- rd


Snapcase / Designs for Automotion / Victory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Typecast Modulator"
Snapcase are the musical equivalent of an H-bomb: loud, powerful and completely destructive. Designs for Automotion is their third full length, and it's a bombastic blast of brutally complex hardcore. From the onset it’s a vicious musical kick to the teeth, as opener “Target” drops in and explodes in a fury of rigidly metallic guitars and pounding drums. From there on in it’s a full-blown assault; listeners will find themselves dodging thick-as-rope basslines, grinding, angular guitars and ferociously barked vocals in an attempt to keep their appendages intact. Only when closer “Box Seat” fades out in a blaze of distortion and feeback can you once again look up without worrying about having your head taken off by a blinding piece of guitar shrapnel. Not for the faint of heart, Designs for Automotion shows that as far as Snapcase are concerned, thinking man’s hardcore is the only hardcore. -- jj


Plastic Bird / Citrus Flavored Sky / Gabby (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Server 22"
Is Robin Wilson (Gin Blossoms) moonlighting with another outfit called Plastic Bird on a CD titled Citrus Flavored Sky? Nope, Cirtus Flavored Sky is a Rob Roemer-written and produced project. Plastic Bird fits comfortably into the alternative/modern rock category, retaining early nineties grunge's core structure of dominant/subdued guitars and lyrics full of the usual dead end angst. The six songs sound like variations on each other -- not only in composition, but right down to the recurrent "I can't help..." lyrics featured on "Citronella Girl" and "Six Degrees of Separation". "Server 22", a mesh of Bush and the Gin Blossoms, distinguishes itself from the other identical tracks with its psychedelic rings and "shaka, shaka" tambourine. Citrus Flavored Sky has spirit, but it needs to manifest itself in some different and more varied guises. -- dd


House Carpenters / In the Choir Of Primates / General Ludd (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "As The Night Goes By"
Now a solo performer, Bill Foreman spent 1995 as a member of the House Carpenters. On this truly group effort, we find a voice very much like John Linnell's leading a band through tracks quite similar to "Red Roses"-era Pogues. Besides traditional songs flavored by Peter Giuliano's fine accordion and mandolin work, there are originals from Peter, Bill and bassist Will Stephens. Of these, Bill's songs sound the freshest and most original; it is refreshing in songs like "12 O/Clock Sharp" when Bill gets action figures like Conan to appear within the group's otherwise routine laments over girls and good bartenders. Overall, the House Carpenters could have been a bit wilder in the making of this album, but it still serves admirably as good background music in an Irish bar. -- td


Capital City / Start Your Own Country / Near By Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "How to Start Your Own Country"
This young band applies a rootsy, slightly folk-tinged approach to the classic pop theorem. With mixed-gender vocals adding plenty of variety, it's quite an enjoyable ride as you bounce through Start Your Own Country -- innocence and simplicity flow freely and a genuinely friendly aura emanates from each track. Balancing bop with beauty, Capital City have quickly found a distinct sound and are quite capable at dumping it onto a recorded medium. If you like Double Agent or Kindercore stuff, you should be happy to make room for Capital City's pop crusade. -- am


Del Rey / dlry / Dirigible (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "comeinpeace"
Four tracks of solid, sludgy-heavy post-rock. You won't find much in the way of jazz influences here, as Del Rey seem to work on Godspeed You Black Emperor's side of the street. The songs are dense and chewy, with a lot of throbbing bass and keyboard parts and a few low-end-intensive moments designed to destroy second-string subwoofers. "Maconda," though in places the most traditional-sounding track, is the best -- an eleven-minute odyssey packed with heart-stopping peaks and valleys. Ultimately, the robust keyboard/bass stuff help dlry to stand out from the crowd and make it a worthwhile investment. -- gz


Jolly! / Poof. / jolly tunes (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Some Compulsion"
I'm having a hard time knowing what to make of Jolly! I think I've tracked the problem down to the fact that they seem to change their sound on nearly every song. "Bug Powder" is like Elastica with a guy singer. "Favorite Knife" is some sort of strange Beatles/1990s Brit-pop hybrid. "Bouncing in the Road Ahead" is full of 1980s new wave goodness, coupled with raw guitar solos. "A Strange Kind of Friendship" could be in the Pearl Jam song book. "Some Compulsion" is distinctly Pixies-esque. You get the idea. While I would much rather listen to a band that changes its sound a lot than a band that always sounds exactly the same, so much variety does present some problems. For me the biggest problem is that I can't get my little brain around the CD as a whole. Most of the individual songs are pretty good, and a few, like "Some Compulsion" and "Favorite Knife," I really dig. But every time I try to think about Jolly! as a band, I draw a blank. It's kind of like listening to a compilation CD with no unifying theme. Still, Poof. is full of good tunes, and I'm not yet convinced that after a few more listens it won't suddenly gel and start sounding like it's the same band playing on every song! -- ib


The Huntingtons / Get Lost / Tooth and Nail (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What Would Joey Do?"
So you've come down with a hankerin' for some Ramones? Sure you could go buy a Ramones record -- perhaps Ramones Mania for example -- but why bother when you can get your fix just as easily by partaking of Get Lost? The Huntingtons dress like The Ramones, they call themselves Mikey, Cliffy, Mikee and C.J. Huntington (does this gag sound familiar?) and their music sounds exactly like The Ramones! Well I exaggerate -- it's not exactly like The Ramones, but it's pretty darn close. With songs like "Annie's Anorexic" and "No Pool Party Tonight" The Huntingtons are perhaps the perfect band to play at a Rock 'n' Roll High School class reunion (assuming the real Ramones don't show up). They even have a song called "What Would Joey Do?" which poses the musical question "What would Joey (Ramone presumably) do about the state of Rock 'n' Roll?" Though I'm a fan of The Ramones, and I quite like The Huntingtons as far as that goes, I'm not sure about their future prospects other than as a tribute band. -- nw


HairyApesBMX / Expatriape / Artist Workshop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Missing My Tribe"
HairyApesBMX, an Austin band featuring members who played with Billy Goat and Cottonmouth, emphasizes polyrhythmic beats and deep organs while straddling funk with a splash of hip-hop and Cuban rhythm. "Relapse King", the CD opener, is a melodic re-working of the Jackson Five's "Dancing Machine". Percussionist and vocalist Mike Dillon plays spoken word enthusiast on the gem "Her Smile Unloads". From all accounts, HairyApesBMX put on quite a vibrant live show but Expatriape lacks 3-dimensionality. Hence, their sound can't reach through the speakers to maintain the listener's attention because there isn't enough of a groove. The closest Expatriape comes to achieving this is on the down-tempo, trance-like tracks "Missing my Tribe" and "Breakfast". Nonetheless, HairyApesBMX make original funked-up jams -- which is more than the current slew of carbon-copy-funk-producing chart-toppers can say. -- dd


Reel Big Fish / Everything Sucks / Mojo Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I'm Cool"
I dearly loved TwoTone records once, and still follow the present pop-oriented work of ex-Special Terry Hall with a fair amount of zeal. These days, though, it's been fairly hard to get too passionate about ska and its baffling resurgence as a frat rock alternative. Besides last year's mediocre return from veteran act Madness, we also have groups like Reel Big Fish, who come across on Everything Sucks like a cruder, Americanized version of early Madness -- especially on songs like "Fuck Yourself" "Skatanic" and "Snoop Dog, Baby". As for whether Reel Big Fish achieves their aims here, it all depends on whether you can appreciate their lyrics and personas, because the music is always swinging and their playing is much more accomplished than any of the Twin Tone bands, English Beat included. While I am one step beyond truthfully enjoying this CD -- perhaps because the Englishness of ska was partly its appeal for me -- this re-released debut of theirs will probably be loved by the fan base Reel Big Fish has already made on its last three records. -- td


Various Artists / Salsa Dance: The Rough Guide / Rough Guides (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Celia Cruz's "El Negro Bembon"
If you're looking to build an impressive library of world music while gaining the knowledge to speak intelligently about it, the Rough Guides are always a great bet. Salsa Dance gives a brief history of the salsa scene, including the enormous influence of seventies powerhouse Fania Records. With adequate historical perspective in place, you're set loose among fifteen solid salsa tunes, enlightened and ready to shake all your shakeable bits to those damnably hot Latin rhythms. Of course, you may wish to do this in the comfort and privacy of your home, as salsa dance lessons are not part of the Rough Guide package. -- gz


Dinosaur Jr. / In Session / Fuel2000 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Raisins"
These live tracks from the venerable BBC remind listeners exactly what is so great, and not so great, about Dinosaur Jr. Spanning the late 80s and early 90s, these recordings show the Dinosaur at the hight of their powers. At their best, this age of the Dinosaur found them a beautiful, sloppy mess. Making train wrecks out of songs, they found something ugly and exciting in the distortion pedal. At their worst...well, re-read the previous two sentences and leave out the words beautiful and exciting. Nevertheless, on blistering flange-fests like "Raisins", this is clearly a band on the verge of a sonic orgasm. Unfortunately, the climax didn't last, and Mascis has meandered into a predictable sonic haze. But, as the great Bard might have said, it is better to have rocked and lost than to not have rocked at all, and "In Session" makes a fine memento of what once was. -- rd


Errortype:Eleven / Amplified to Rock / Some (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Better Than the Superbowl"
After glancing at their promo picture, you'd think this quartet of mop-haired, sweater wearing types would be a prototype modern day mod-rock reincarnation. Au contraire, monsieur, for Errortype:Eleven instead wanders down the same poppy hardcore path blazed by the likes of Jawbox and Quicksand. You read it correctly, "poppy hardcore" -- a mixture of melodic, harmonious vocals that are helped along by some thick drums and meaty guitar lines. Errortype:Eleven balance boisterous ballads with ballsy, sonic assaults via an arsenal of distortion pedals, melding two different-sounding styles into a coherent package that has clarity and breadth, while retaining a familiar, guitar-led style that's readily accessible to those that need some help easing the nerves... -- am


Various Artists / An Electronika Tribute to James Bond / Hypnotic (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Out of Phase's "James Bond theme"
A few years ago, Hypnotic released Bond, Beat and Bass: The Electronika Bond Themes. Though clearly a sequel, this disc makes no mention of its predecessor. Once again, Hypnotic -- a label known for gratuitous compilations -- surprises with a fun, quirky, mostly enjoyable take on Bond movie themes. Out of Phase wins the gold star for their twanky analog take on the Bond theme -- though the first seconds hint at horrifying things, it actually turns out to be one of the best techno-type renditions I've ever heard. They even get all the notes right, unlike Moby. There are a number of kitschy delights here, including K2's Europop stab at "The Living Daylights" and Zeux's cheesy "Nobody Does it Better". A few tracks bewilder -- Tesca All Stars' non-techno take on "Tomorrow Never Dies" is hard to tell from the original, and Martin O's "GoldeneEye" goes almost nowhere. -- gz


Cats & Jammers / After School Special / Beluga Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Theme Song (We're Cats and Jammers)"
Remember how that "Buddy Holly" song by Weezer was kind of fun the first 18 gazillion times you heard it, but then it got kind of old, then it annoyed the hell out of you, and then after you hadn't heard it for 17 years it was sort of okay again when you heard it on the radio? Well Cats & Jammers seems to have taken an overdose of the magic formula that the Weezer boys were drinking when they wrote "Buddy Holly." Cutesy name and packaging: check. Cutesy lyrics and song titles: check. Cutesy harmonies: check. Cutesy punky-pop guitar songs: check. These guys have cute coming out of their pie-holes. If you're in the market for cutesy, you can't get much cuter than "The Cuddle Song" or "Theme Song (We're Cats and Jammers)" or "Mannequin" (in which the singer falls in love with a mannequin. Cute!). They've really got the poppy thing down, too -- there's no denying the sing-along-ability of these tunes. All this cuteness can wear thin pretty quickly, and although some almost dark undercurrents (i.e. cute songs about leaving your lover) help keep things from getting too unidimensional, After School Special ends up being limited by its own cuteness. After School Special also includes a multimedia component offering songs, videos and images of the band. -- ib


Sauce / Where Are You Going? / Lizardman (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Intro: Sauce Where Are You Going ?"
If you've ever felt like the only pot smoker at a Trout Fishing In America concert, perhaps you should drop out of that scene and hang with Sauce. On Where Are You Going ?, you'll find a nice blend of catchy hillbilly pop with lots of infrequently successful jokes arising from the passions of the group, which mostly seem to be weed, Jerry Garcia and Deadheaded memories. In "Never Saw The Minutemen", you'll also find a fairly inspired homage from this San Pedro-based band to San Pedro's most celebrated group. While Where Are You Going ? is a hard album to dislike, Sauce's abundant musical gifts are sometimes overtaken by the hit-and-miss jokes, making me wish the band would lose "That Polka Polka Feeling" with their next effort. -- td



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


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