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Seventh Sign, ALL, Dudley, Kings of Convenience, Versailles, Maquiladora, Exxxile on Main Street, Puffball, Wesley Willis, Gooloo, Brown 25, Black Kali Ma, Collapsis, Shannon Wright, Superheroes, Recoil, White Trash Debutantes, The Capitol City Dusters/Aina, The Mercury Program, The Up On In

Various Artists / Seventh Sign / Tapehis$ (CASS)

Sample 30 seconds of "Television Skies"
Home-burnt CDs have mostly supplanted the cassette as the preferred medium for the weirdo synths and trash cans, half-working-4-track-in-the-bedroom community, but there is still some very strange, wonderful music being cranked out on cassette. Witness Seventh Sign, a limited edition (100) collection of six muted, dark electronic songs from Dark Matter, hebephrenic and the Greyslade Project. Dark Matter's "Genesis" is a lovely smear of synth pads, cheap drum machines, guitar and earnest boy vocals. "Seventh Sign" by Terra Firma is a more aggressive, almost dancey tune with a heavily flanged vocal track. Hebephrenic's "Television Skies" is in fine 1980's underground synth-pop style: repetitive synth chord progression, mellow sampled drums and a vaguely detached singer. This is a creative, interesting tape, and I hope these folks keep making this sort of very personal, deeply non-commercial, experimental music. -- ib

ALL / Problematic / Epitaph (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "ROIR"
Like snagging a free whack at the school's bitch-ass bully and getting away with it, there's always an ALL tune that'll make you feel good about a particular inadequacy you think you have. The delivery medium of the band’s customary self-esteem boosters has been and probably always will be the pop-punk song, and Problematic is no different. Combining the band's familiar use of speedster rhythms and stinging lyrics with the ability to reinvent punk chug-a-longs, ALL steers through 18 captivating tracks. Of course, this quartet has been at it a hell of a lot longer than most and it shows with tracks like " Nothin' To Live For" and "ROIR". Both lack any pretense, applying appropriately acerbic bluntness that leaves no doubts as to what the band really thinks. Are you a pissed off teen or a disgruntled twenty-something? ALL may as well be your personal punk rock guidance counselor, so go ahead and make an appointment with Problematic and get the treatment you deserve. -- am

Dudley / Public Nudism / Household Ink (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Romeo"
Ellen Turner, the primary force behind Dudley, has put together a collection of pop with a relaxing folk undercurrent. Turner's velvety, enveloping voice is reminiscent of Frente!'s Angie Hart in its sweeping sighs. In fact, many moments here recall Frente!, but without their determined quirkiness. While this more mainstream approach is more consistent, the conservative songwriting does not hit as many peaks. Despite this, every song on the album is quite solid, providing plenty of fine moments. Centering on the well-worn trials of finding/keeping/losing love, the often melancholy but never mawkish tunes highlight Turner's enchanting vocals. Despite her claims that she's "so poetic, but pathetic," Turner has produced a good, if not especially adventurous album. -- rd

Kings of Convenience / s/t / Kindercore (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Toxic Girl"
Understated and mellow, The Kings of Convenience is probably the most "adult" album Kindercore has ever released. No bubblegum pop or psychedelia here; these two Norwegians are packing a minimal arsenal: a couple of acoustic guitars and half a dozen drum loops. At their most upbeat, the Kings sound like the Aluminum Group ("Toxic Girl"), but as the album progresses they grow increasingly Simon-and-Garfunkel-esque. With lyrics heavy on loneliness and cautious love, The Kings of Convenience is introspective rainy-day music at its most primal -- basically, it's the album you'll listen to when you lose your Kincaid and Dressy Bessy CDs in a bad breakup. -- gz

Versailles / The Great Axis / Boxcar (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Monolith"
Tampa trio Versailles, after a handful of singles, releases their full-length debut. Full of angular guitar noodling, male sing/speak vocals that take some getting used to and an underlying melody that's surprisingly sweet in contrast with the vocals, it's an album that fans of Cerbeus Shoal or former labelmates Mercury Program would love. "The System", an instrumental guitar/noise slugfest, is a hit, and every song has its moments...but there are better bands out there doing the same thing. -- ha-n

Maquiladora / White Sands / Lotus House(CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mr. Grey"
The word odd is applicable to this jaded, country influenced disc. Scenes of a Sante Sangre-like carnival are evoked by its heat-haze-heavy soundscapes. Within the first two tracks, vocal styles range from Tiny Tim to Tom Waits, finding a happy medium by the third track. There are even some quite nice female vocals on "Mr. Grey". By the time White Sands comes to a close, it doesn't sound odd at all; in fact, you realize you actually like it. -- jp

Various Artists / Exxxile on Main Street / Triple X (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Jeff Dahl's "Lisa's World"
Triple X Records has been busy providing the world with SoCal punk/alt rock/rap/metal for thirteen years now. To celebrate this rather random-seeming anniversary, they’ve released this compilation. When considering its song-to-dollar ratio, Exxxile on Main Street is certainly a bargain, handing over nineteen songs for less than four bucks. It features staples like Jane’s Addiction, Jeff Dahl, The Dickies and Urban Dance Squad. No doubt, many of these artists are important to a lot of people (though I might quibble with the label’s characterization of Jane’s first album as having “practically defined alternative rock”) but much of the other material is weak, to say the least. Personally, I really didn’t need to hear what Korn sounded like before they brought their current vocalist on board, nor did I need to receive the frightening news that The Exploited are still making records. But if those tidbits tickle your fancy, has Triple X got a bargain for you! -- bl

Puffball / Leadfoot Ninja / Glazed (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "From the Word Go"
I neither know from where Glazed Records popped, nor was I aware of the rampant guitar ferociousness of Sweden's Puffball -- but hey, that's what checking out new records is all about, right? This mysterious band is rumored to be mighty decadent and troublesome, so if you like your music to barrel down the road with reckless abandon as energy literally sparks off of your record needle, Puffball is ready to be your chauffeur straight to Hell. Two originals and a downright raw, callous 'n' nasty Motorhead cover of "Mean Machine" sound like old school, gritty Hellacopters numbers. Pop ‘er on and take Puffball for a spin -- just make sure you’ve got some bail money handy or a really good friend on the other end of the phone, 'cause this here’s a damned joyride through foreign streets. -- am

Wesley Willis / Greatest Hits Vol. 2 / Alternative Tentacles (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Suck a Caribou's Ass"
If you want to call yourself punk rock -- and hey, who doesn't, right? -- you really ought to have at least one Wesley Willis album in your collection. This second hand-picked collection of highlights is one of the best options available, offering a few of Wesley's rock-star paeans, but also a lot of his semi-autobiographical material and a couple of his most hostile, creative-obscenity-laced works (i.e. "Suck a Caribou's Ass"). Wesley's full of contradiction: the same guy who sings "Stop the Violence" whacks a minister with a board on "They Kicked Me Out Of Church". The Wesley Willis Song Format (four lines spoken, song title sung four or five times, repeat) deserves to be an art form in its own right -- a fitting honor for Wesley, a man who embodies the "anyone can be a rock star" DIY ethos at punk's heart better than anyone else I can think of. And if you're a newbie Wesley-phile, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 is an excellent starting point. -- gz

Gooloo / Monkey by Default / Super 8 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Jack Frost"
Fittingly, the cover art for Gooloo's latest release features a guy hyperventilating into a paper bag (as well as an inexplicable picture of Old Bob from "The Black Hole"). Since most of the vocals are delivered in a frantic yelp while the music twists through a hardcore whirlwind, I'm sure it will leave more than one listener gasping for air. Although Gooloo's stop-start freakouts bring Helmet to mind, their freer approach to their instruments bleeds through and avoids Page Hamilton's sterile precision. The songs contain such an abundance of changes, it's amazing that anyone could imagine them let alone learn to play them. This same complexity, combined with the naked yowl of the vocals, will unfortunately put off some listeners. However, for those willing to tough it out, the song structures are something to behold. -- rd

Brown 25 / Lunar Modular Unit / Bionic Milk Plant (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Intravenous Vinyl"
I find it rather ironic that this album’s title evokes images of freeze-dried pizza and the colonization of distant planets, because a single listen to Lunar Modular Unit proves it to be firmly entrenched in the polyester-drenched 70s rather than the teflon-coated 21st century. A warm analog feel dominates the album’s 12 tracks, which are a retro-minded mix of countrified grooves, Moog drone and scratchy vocals. To say that Brown 25 sounds like Beck would be a fair assessment, as songs like “Whiskey Salad” and “Larvae” could probably have been slipped onto Odelay without anybody really noticing -- his voice is so similar to Mr. Hansen’s that it's almost surreal. While the music is good (as is the packaging) and Brown 25 shows considerable talent, he is not mining any new musical territory. Lunar Modular Unit is an enjoyable album by an obviously talented individual -- he just happened down the pike a few years too late. -- jj

Black Kali Ma / You Ride the Pony (I'll Be the Bunny) / Alternative Tentacles (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Movin' On"
Singer Gary Floyd may be a punk rock geezer, but he still knows how make the kind of politically charged, hard driving, bleeding ears blues-rock that he was known for in bands like the Dicks and Sister Double Happiness. There's a distinct southern rock flavor to the tunes on You Ride the Pony (I'll Be the Bunny) -- they're ten thick, powerful, barroom brawl inspiring rockers. Floyd's terrific voice and the very strong playing on this CD make it likely that would appeal to even fairly conservative blues/classic rock fans. Which is a bit ironic, given that the disc is put out by Alternative Tentacles, who advocate the abolition of classic rock on the front page of their website... Of course, Floyd's political/punk rock history ensures that the lyrics to these songs are quite unlike those of, say, your typical Lynyrd Skynyrd tune. Oh, and the beautifully cheap drawing of a freak-bunny and a drooling horse/man on the cover is a pretty good tip-off that this isn't your typical hard rock CD. -- ib

Collapsis / Dirty Wake / Cherry/Universal (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dirty Wake"
I just don't know about this one. I'm trying not to fall into any "big label=bad" traps, but Dirty Wake was screaming "MODERN ROCK RADIO FRIENDLY" before I even unwrapped it. Sure enough, it's full of big, emotional rock songs with touching lyrics and rocking, sing-along choruses. I don't have anything against those things, but man, how many times do we have to hear them in the same tired ways? This is about the safest music I can imagine a rock band making right now, which is pretty disappointing. These guys are obviously good players, and I don't doubt that they could make some really interesting music if they wanted to. Sadly, it seems that they don't. -- ib

Shannon Wright / Maps of Tacit / Quarterstick (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Absentee"
For her previous album, Flight Safety, Shannon was compared by Lois Maffeo to Carson McCullers. Maybe it was because Shannon pursues her muse like a lonely hunter (she practically sold her feet to make her solo debut on her own terms), and maybe it was because some lines from Carson's poetry ("Those who find it a little harder to live /And therefore live a little harder") really seem to capture the impression which Shannon's songs bear upon us. At any rate, Lois' comparison seems apt. Shannon's songs won't make you smile (like Dar Williams' songs will) or tend to your heart (like Cheryl Wheeler's will), but they'll do all that Shannon Wright probably wanted them to, which is to keep her mind intact and her life afloat. This is obviously a CD made with a great deal of sweat, which makes Shannon's songs a good listen, but it is particularly enriched by the uncharacteristically gorgeous "Ribbons of You", and by Wright's ever-present mastery of language (she even uses the word "fray" a few times) and saddening insight ("Pay no mind to me/I cannot show love"). While Maps of Tacit is not the sort of CD I'll play over and over again, it's a perfect document from a true artist, and a worthy testament to the value of unflinchingly honest music. -- td

Superheroes / Igloo / Crunchy Frog (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "New Romantic Sounds"
Though the memory cheats, I don't recall the New Wave movement being quite as over-the-top is most new wave revival bands would like to believe. Denmark's Superheroes modernize the eighties' most notorious sound more convincingly, using vintage analog keyboards as instruments rather than bankable novelty items. The band's love for analog equipment is well-documented on their website; they use their large collection of keyboards to craft timeless pop songs, but aren't afraid to put guitars at front and center when the occasion warrants, as on the stroppy opener, "Karate". Only a few elements -- song titles like "New Romantic Sounds," for instance -- seem to force the mood. -- gz

Recoil / Liquid / Mute (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Strange Hours"
Despite the awful opening line in the press kit, "Water, alcohol, blood, tears, adrenalin, sweat...Water may change into ice. Alcohol can change the situation. Your life depends on liquids", your life does not depend on this Liquid. Even guest stars like Diamanda Galas, Nicole Blackman, Samantha Coerbell, Rosa Torras and The Golden Gate Jubiless Quartet can't put life into this release. A mishmosh of noise, random voice tracks, narration, train whistles and things of the like, it's a snore of a release because of the lack of substance and song. Perhaps it's meant only for diehard fans of the man behind Recoil, Alan Wilder. -- ha-n

White Trash Debutantes / Breakin' All the Rules / Homepage (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Judy Tenuta"
Ginger Coyote and the White Trash Debutantes are pretty good at publicity stunts -- their band once boasted an 80-year old punker, then tried to make room for Tonya Harding, who turned down their offer -- but they're not as successful with the lighthearted sort of punk rock that the Vandals do so well. In this collection of compilation-only tracks, two songs ("Lil' Bit of Whore" and "Livin' Lavida Loca") are about Ricky Martin, and suffer from being more repetitive than funny. Sadly, the others continue this trend, but it's nonetheless nice for a band to sing about Judy Tenuta (and here's hoping they'll do the same for Emo Phillips one day). Had they been wilder and funnier, or simply straightforward and serious, I think their apparent gifts -- hummable melodies, above-average playing and a wonderful, slapdash vocal delivery (as if every line's casually sung with a beer in one hand) by Ginger -- would be easier to appreciate. -- td

The Capitol City Dusters/Aina / Split 7" / Superbad (7")

Sample 30 seconds of The Capitol City Dusters' "Reason"
Before you even get to the music, you’ve gotta admire the sleek packaging and the marble blue vinyl of this 7". D.C.'s Capitol City Dusters play games with volume control on "Reason", crisscrossing through some positive soul searching as vocalist Alec B. shifts from prowling quietude to snappy melodic runs that’ll have you nodding your head in aural agreement. The flip side has Spain's Aina doing a solid Jawbreaker-inspired number that flows consistently through a viscous stream of mixed instruments, pushing the English-sung lyrics along with a sense of immediacy. Honestly folks, isn't it time you dusted off that turntable of yours so you don't keep missing spectacles like these? -- am

The Mercury Program / From the Vapor of Gasoline / Tiger Style (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Nazca Lines of Peru"
Yes, the Mercury Program are post-rock -- but to their benefit they're a far more rocking bunch than, say, Tortoise. They hail from the Trans Am school of post-rock: a bit more Van Halen than vibraphone, if you will. It's not all M&M’s and DLR worshipping 'round Mercury Program’s way, but through the familiar off-kilter rhythms and winsome drone there seeps a deep desire to rock out. This becomes instantly apparent as “The Sea is in Here’s” winding arpeggios and wiry bass are scorched with nasty blasts of power chord bashing and percussive uprisings. Another facet that sets Mercury Program apart from the glut of post-rockers currently making the scene are Tom Reno’s subdued-yet-powerful vocals. His hushed tones navigate songs like “Leaving Capitol City For Good” and “Down on Your Old Lung” through seas of delicate instrumentation and subtle irony. When all is said and done, it is From the Vapor of Gasoline’s oddities that make it a far cry better than the majority of (what is labeled as) post-rock albums available today. -- jj

The Up On In / Steps for the Light / Big Top (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Got Himself a Ten"
What does this post-rock trio have that other moody instrumental bands can't claim? Ex-Jawbox drummer Zach Barocas, that's what. Because of his Jawbox credentials, Barocas hasn't been forced to stay in the background and make sure everyone sticks to the weird time signatures; his drumming is front and center in the mix, thanks in no small part to the presence of J. Robbins behind the board. Say what you like about Robbins, but he knows how to capture the intense "thwack" of a live drum. Sadly, the rest of Steps for the Light is a bog-standard mix of angular start/stop guitar texture and jazz fusion-inflected detail -- competent and entertaining, but not overwhelmingly new or different, though Charlie Bennett's upright bass is a step in the right direction. -- 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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