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The Verbrilli Sound, The Promise Ring, Sigur Ros, P.I.C., New Wet Kojak, Joane Hétu, Deluxx, Night for Us, A Night at the Playboy Mansion, Lilys/Aspera Ad Astra, Marah, Red Stars Theory, The Solar Saturday, 2000 Teenbeat Sampler, Sandnes/Stavanger, Zulu as Kono, The Dead C, New Coat of Paint: The Songs of Tom Waits, Dan Susnara, Ink

The Verbrilli Sound / Many Coloured Butterflies / Sweet Mother (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Drum and Bays"
Okay, this CD is electronic -- but it's not the annoying, redundant dance music you might be thinking of. Many Coloured Butterflies is much more sophisticated and interesting. Even a funk or jazz afficionado would be hard-pressed to recognize one of these samples. Stylistically, the album is very well put together, and mixed to a "T" -- an easy sonic reference point would be DJ Shadow. It's little too much to sit and study by, but you could twirl the hell out of a glow stick to it. -- jp

The Promise Ring / Electric Pink / Jade Tree (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Electric Pink"
Just when the Promise Ring were starting to win me over, I had to hear this. I picture them eating at a pancake house or something, and suddenly Davey gets an idea. "Let's release an EP that highlights all of our weak points," he suggests. "Great idea," Jason replies. "I know exactly which four songs to use!" "American Girl" and the title cut reach new heights of wuss-rock banality, with "Electric Pink" actually managing to sound less masculine than Debbie Gibson's "Electric Youth". Only "Make Me a Mix Tape" seems palatable, but that's partly because it comes fourth, after nine-odd minutes of utter dross. Tellingly, my car stereo made it through "Electric Pink" only once, after which it claimed to be unable to read the disc. That's what I call Smart Technology. Shame on you, Promise Ring guys. You should know better. (Note: Now that the news of Davey vonBohlen's brain tumor has become common knowledge, I'm torn between the urge to go a little lighter on this disc and the urge to make really bad jokes. I'm doing neither.) -- gz

Sigur Ros / Ny Batteri / Fat Cat (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bium Bium Bambalo"
Public Enemy were once quoted as saying "Don’t Believe the Hype". They obviously had never heard Sigur Ros. This hotly tipped Icelandic quartet has been touted as the "next big thing", both here and abroad. This should come as no real surprise if you hail from Iceland, where the band’s latest album, Agaetis Byrjun, held the number one spot for countless weeks and Sigur Ros are considered to be the reigning kings of the Icelandic music scene. It's for good reason, too, as each song on Ny Batteri sounds as though it has been hand-delivered to Earth by angels. The sprawling title track begins with muted horns, a soothing ambient buzz and gentle glockenspiel picking; it's a beautiful slow-burning noise. Then the power and grace of vocalist Jonsi Birgisson’s ethereal falsetto cry hits you. Though you can’t make out a word (he sings in a mix of Icelandic and his own language, known as Hopelandish), it leaves you utterly breathless and gasping for air. If Heaven had a house band, it would most certainly be Sigur Ros. This time is it imperative that you believe the hype. -- jj

P.I.C./ Hiphopunkfunkmamboska / Riding Mower (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Nastebo"
I generally dislike releases with titles like Hiphopunkfunkmamboska on principle, but this NYC-based sextet stormed my defenses and took me by surprise. First off, it’s impossible to dislike this band when you see the picture of them standing somewhat awkwardly in front of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, holding cones. More importantly, it’s hard to listen to their savvy hybrid of various styles (consult the album title for information on which styles those are) and keep your booty in check. The turntable work is sparse but effective, and the horn section kicks ass. Sure, Hiphopunkfunkmamboska has its weakness -- the rapping ranges from mediocre to near-great, depending on who’s on the mic -- but when the band is really jamming, all is forgiven (even the name). -- bl

New Wet Kojak / Do Things / Beggars Banquet (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Do Things"
The distinguishable spicy rasp of Scott McCloud will immediately remind you of Girls vs. Boys. Of course it should, as McCloud, along with fellow GVSB member Johnny Temple, are also part of this post-apocalyptic, calm and campy yet noisy quintet. McCloud applies his adroit skill at making simple phrases like "We gotta way we like to do things" (from "Do Things") sound utterly cool as he drags out his consonants over an array of gentle violins and a contrasting bombastic drumbeat. New Wet Kojak are most akin to that late-night bar experience that lulls you into your last drunken state of mind with droning, sleepy songs and sporadic, penetrating saxophone. Adjusting to this confusing, sleep-deprived mental state may be like navigating through a weightless, fluctuant dream, but if you've followed McCloud and Company's double bass expansion unit in the past, you'll recognize a familiar equation that scores with simplicity. -- am

Joane Hétu / Seule dans les chants / Ambiances magnétiques (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "7 chants de bouche"
On Seule dans les chants, Joane Hétu makes strange sounds with a saxophone and her voice. I've never been super-enthused by Hétu, and this disc doesn't change my mind. Perhaps I'm just not Québecois enough. Perhaps I haven't listened to enough of her indecipherable glottal stops and moanings to grasp the deep language extant therein. Perhaps there is more to her spastic sax playing than mere artistic epilepsy, but I haven't uncovered it yet. Admittedly, it's late and I'm crabby, but I simply don't like this CD. Give it a try if you'd like -- I dare you! -- nw

Deluxx / The Tidy Boy and the Crazy Bastard / Spirit of Orr (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Eat Your Mouth"
On his second full-length, Deluxx's Mark Parretta presents damaged songs reminiscent of Ween's The Pod. After processing everything with the nastiest reverb I've ever heard, Parretta runs it all through again out of spite. The result is muddy and ugly, with drums that sound like they're being played on cardboard boxes and vocals which bubble up to the surface through gravel. Although he doesn't punish listeners with the auditory torture with which Ween dabbled on their early albums, neither does Parretta deviate far from his murky formula. Thus, rather than finding diamonds in doo-doo, you can hope to find silver in mud. This makes the search easier, but somewhat less rewarding. -- rd

Night For Us / s/t / Night For Us (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Pretty Thoughts"
Here’s a two-song 7" that does a first-class job of showcasing two musical sides of Night For Us. The A-side surprises, ushering forth an instrumental that's lush and melodic while retaining a refined poise. The quartet smartly avoids turning "Scale Model" into a drawn out indie-rock drone-fest, as the tune quickly unfolds and steadfastly comes to a conclusion with a crisp sound. The B-side is more of a rocker, with a coarse guitar sound that rises above the other instruments. Harmonious vocals are also included, and while the lyrics have some predictable rhymes, the melody is eagerly channeled with an earnest appeal that's capable of maintaining your interest. Smart indie sounds with a rigid pop edge that'll scratch your college rock itch. -- am

Various Artists / A Night at the Playboy Mansion / Astralwerks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of La Pregunta's "Shangri-La"
Interestingly, A Night at the Playboy Mansion, released under the Respect is Burning aegis, is superior to both of the Respect is Burning compilations. This is largely due to the efforts of Dimitri from Paris, spinning tunes he actually selected, which helps tremendously. The mood is unrepentantly Classic Disco, with contemporary artists doing their best to crank out tracks that sound 20 years old. Dimitri heightens the retro feel by working authentic disco stalwarts like Cerrone (better known for "Supernature") and Ashford and Simpson into the mix. The mixing is seamless, the content lightweight but fun. I can even picture a bunch of big-haired, blank-eyed Playboy Playmates dancing to it, which is apparently meant to be part of the attraction. -- gz

Lilys/Aspera Ad Astra / Split EP / Tiger Style (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of The Lilys’ "Timber"
This second release from the Tiger Style stable pits longtime favorites The Lilys against fellow Philadelphians Aspera Ad Astra in a battle to prove, once and for all, who are the city’s preeminent shoegazers. The Lilys come blazing out of their corner with four old school (literally, these songs were recorded between 1993 and 1994) Ride-aping galactic guitar rave-ups. From the breathy vocals and power fuzz glow of “Elsa” to the serrated guitars and shuffling rhythm of “Hymn”, the Lilys manage to phase, flange and beat Aspera Ad Astra into a (my) bloody pulp. I mean, no offense, but Aspera Ad Astra might just as well have stayed home. Their limp, lifeless space rock drone pervades songs such as “Bring Back the Walls” and “Feed the Fantasy”. Even the best of the AAA bunch, the ironically titled “Good Beat Down”, can’t compete with The Lilys’ rocket-fuelled sonic majesty. A good fight in the parking lot after homeroom? More like the football team having a go at the debate team. -- jj

Marah / Kids in Philly / Artemis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Faraway You"
They blew away Steve Earle on their first release (last year's Let's Cut the Crap...) by sounding like a mildly reckless variation on Steve Earle's I Feel Alright CD. With their new release, it's more of the same from a band that has most of the makings of greatness. Besides the fantastic, "throat-cancered" voice of David Beilanko, you've got some of the best musicianship this side of E Street courtesy of the Beilanko brothers and the Hoppin' John Orchestra. If you've ever heard Mark Heard's work with Vigilantes of Love, it's a lot like that, but with more horns. Marah's only problem -- potentially a severe one -- is that they only put the surface of their souls into these songs. While the lyrics on their new record suggest they've done a lot of Springsteen-analysis, their music only captures the external pictures of what they see -- not the bums on the street in their hearts. Ultimately, then, here is a great bar band with 11 songs that may not revive or transcend the rock genre, but at least make a case that the genre seems to matter. -- td

Red Stars Theory / Naima/North to Next (Exit) / Suicide Squeeze (7”)

Sample 30 seconds of "Naima"
Until recently, Red Stars Theory were one of those bands that I had heard a lot about but had never actually heard -- so when the opportunity arose to review this 7", needless to say I jumped on it. And I must say that I am rather impressed by it. A-Side "Naima" is, as some of your may already know, a John Coltrane cover -- but where Coltrane’s trademark wailing sax once stood, RST has placed mournful violin, cello and moody atmospherics. The B-Side, “North to Next (Exit)”, is an altogether more upbeat affair. Remixed by Sientific American, the track splices together elements from the first two tracks on RST’s Life in a Bubble Can be Beautiful, with various beats and bleeps added by Sientific American. The result is a squelchy, beat driven slow-groove that even the Dust Brothers would be proud of. You get all this, plus gorgeous packaging in a limited pressing of 1500 copies. What else could you want? -- jj

The Solar Saturday / s/t / Near By Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "City on the Ocean"
Over four songs, this threesome proves to be an accomplished pop combo. They take in sixties-inflected girlie/indie rock on "City on the Ocean", work a slight psychedelic angle on "Two Minds", do the international lounge-pop thing on "AMRC" and return to their hook-laden late-sixties pop formula on "K*2". You'll quickly find yourself tapping your feet and singing along -- some of these choruses have real staying power! The vocals are appealing (if a little weak), and occasionally the production seems a bit tinny, but overall this EP is a nice way to spend thirteen minutes. -- gz

Various Artists / 2000 Teenbeat Sampler / Teenbeat (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Panax's "The Garden"
The winter of 2000 has not been a good millenium for compilations, as a number of today's most consistent labels (March, Vinyl Japan, KRS, and Beggars Banquet) all released samplers that made modern music seem rather boring and lifeless -- which it isn't. Happily, the Teenbeat sampler does not follow this trend; in fact, it's probably the best of their often erratic annual comp discs. For less than six dollars (US) you'll get at least 18 (of 22) tracks that merit many repeated listens. Among these, three of the best tracks come from their less popular or acclaimed acts: Butch Wllis' "The Girl's On My Mind" (where Butch sounds less "lunatic" than ever before), Jonny Cohen's "Extra Ticket" and True Love Always' "Silence of the Mind". In the DC press, the label always seems to play second fiddle to the more popular Dischord, but it's overflowing with great new acts (Robert Schipul, Currituck County, and Panax, the new project for Bridget Cross of Unrest fame), and makes me presume that either he's lucky, or the ears of label owner Mark Robinson are getting better with age. Judging from the "Taste" we get to hear from his new, upcoming solo album, I'd put my money on luck... but who knows? A much safer bet is just saying you'll love this compilation. -- td

Various Artists / Sandnes/Stavanger / Kjetl D. Brandsdal (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Nils Erga's "Elka Dub"
Both Stavanger and Sandnes, Norway are a far cry from my town of Austin, Texas, but this ten song 7" compilation does an excellent job sampling the variety of underground artists lurking in these two cities. Ranging from the nightmarish noise spawn of Hellfire to the pulsating beats of Nils Erga's twisted dub track, the sheer range of genres represented here is impressive enough, but the production value (especially for a 7") deserves a gracious nod of approval as well. Of course, some tracks aren't longer than 30 seconds, but each artist’s style is adequately represented as this eclectic compilation gushes forth a bit of drum machine madness, some electro-jazz and a taste of sleazy, lo-fi, garage-metal madness. It's a mystifying, rickety tour of two Norwegian musical scenes that balances edginess with a bit of exoticism, producing a brilliant bit of prickly chaos. -- am

Zulu As Kono / s/t / Bent Over Cowboy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bombastic Bimbo"
If you like the rather intricate, stutter-stop music behind many emo acts, yet wish the songs weren't delivered so earnestly, check out Zulu as Kono. While they are always very loud -- even on "Waltzons", their partial attempt at a ballad -- the lyrics don't appear angry, mopey or joy-deprived. While I really had trouble comprehending much of the lyrics, they were often delivered, like jokes to the hearing-impaired, by three yelling voices at once... In a band like Braid, I thought the dueling vocal effect brought an added excitement and power to the songs, but with Zulu as Kono, it's just like hearing Atom Goren inside a real Judas Priest song. Really, it's been hard for me to get through one song by this Austin band without thinking, with some relief, that I finally have heard some emo smart-asses. They add a fresh and fun voice to this somewhat tired genre, and shine most brightly on "Fig. 98 (Terror)", "Bombastic Bimbo" and "Wiseblood". The occasional samples are a nice touch too! -- td

The Dead C / perform DR503c / Flying Nun (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Crazy I Know"
For stalwart fans of this sloppy, noisy and somehow magnificently brilliant New Zealand trio, this Flying Nun release is more like a reissue, compiling tunes from DR 503, DR 503b, The Sun Stabbed and a few other releases. For those curious types, the Dead C is a difficult being to dissect. The band commonly aligns itself with a loosely structured, zoned-out stoner amalgamation of guitar, bass and drums. Perhaps the best way to describe this potentially destructive unit is to explain what it's not. An apparent absence of choruses, memorable riffs or pristine production values is notable throughout tracks like "Speed Kills," "Max Harris" and the previously unreleased "Crazy I Know." What's so frightful about this aural mess is that it somehow bubbles into a noisy, uniquely distinctive sound that no other band comes close to duplicating -- and an awe-inspiring pinnacle of anti-conventional music that should have you first blessing Flying Nun Records, then hastily pulling out your pocketbook. -- am

Various Artists / New Coat of Paint: Songs of Tom Waits / Manifesto (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Heartattack and Vine" by Lydia Lunch featuring Nels Cline
A tribute to Tom Waits, one of the premier living American songwriters, should be a great thing. After all, listening to interpretations of such fantastic songs by artists as far-flung as Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Lydia Lunch should be a scream. Notice I've said "should be" twice. Unfortunately, these covers take the original and plod through them rather than probe them for fresh insight. While mellowness can be used to great effect, the results here just feel lazy. Waits' underworld characters lose their drama and passion, and the weight of an hour's worth of this feels like being trapped under a wet blanket. Even Carla Bozulich, who used her fury to great effect in the industrial Ethyl Meatplow and the country-punk Geraldine Fibbers, sounds tired here. Ah, what should have been... -- rd

Dan Susnara / Maypole (Tape One) / Self-Released (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "Trailer Park"
Maypole is the musical equivalent of a car wreck or a gory movie, in that you know you shouldn’t look (listen) but you just can’t stop yourself. The music on Maypole sucks you in and refuses to let go. You find yourself hurling headlong into Dan Susnara’s strange musical universe, which in many ways resembles the freaky psychedelic boat ride from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Melodies come swooping out of nowhere, guitars sneak up on you from behind, you slip and fall over layers of keyboards and tape hiss, while Susnara’s fierce howl guides/narrates your journey. Highlights include the freaky histrionics of “Fuck the 80’s” and Susnara’s oddball takes on the Beatles’ “This Boy”, as well as the Monkees’ “Don’t Call on Me”. After hearing Maypole, all I can think about is how dementedly wicked a collaboration between Susnara and Bobby Conn would be. -- jj

INK / s/t / Monitor (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Passport Agents"
Even at its most somnolent, you'll sense a distinct and uneasy energy in INK's music. They write post-rock punk tunes that are the musical equivalent of a meeting of fanatical anti-government plotters -- sometimes aggressive, sometimes calm, but always tinged with an unsettling, almost electrical zeal. Guitar and bass create a chiming, clanging interplay like passing trains, slaved to the rhythm of intricate drum patterns. Stream of consciousness lyrics disclose semi-audible details of elusive activity. Something's going to explode soon, and all you can do is wait. -- gz

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 | bl - beth lucht | jp - jennifer perkins

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