The Alpha Conspiracy
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Train Don't Leave Me
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The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, Cerberus Shoal, Of Montreal, Phthalo 17, Ken Nordine, The Dark Fantastic, Earth Trumpet, Total Shutdown/Boxleitner, Insert Piz Here, Fireking, Budapest One, Ann Beretta, U.S. Maple, ADNY, Fantastic Plastic Machine, The Trouble With Sweeney, Go, Robot, Go!, Little Champions, Modest Mouse, Big Fuckin Skull, JLIAT, Had, The Left Coast Improv Group, Juniper Lane, Ariel Publicity: For Immediate Release!, Denison Witmer, Zero Zero, The Great Glass Elevator

The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs / Waiting For the Death Of My Generation / Triple X (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Future Lost"
Just about any destructive adjective can describe this quartet's riff-heavy approach. With distortion cranked up and adequate application of the pedal-to-the-metal approach to speed, the Cheetahs blow past every retro-rock band, leaving The Hellacopters in a stupor and Fu Manchu groping for their skateboards. This foursome even rivals such classics as the MC5 and the band from whose lyrics they took their name, The Stooges. It's difficult to catch your breath, as several of these raucous numbers will take you to the edge, barely restraining you from plunging over the side. The Cheetahs refuse to be pigeonholed as a guitar-centric band; they include sitar ("No More") and a bit of early '80s flavored keyboards ("Automatic") to mix things up. Nonetheless, the guitar reigns supreme, conquering all in its immediate aural vicinity. Waiting... is an almost perfect document, proving that rock 'n' roll can slap you upside the head, kick your ass and spill you onto the concrete sidewalk...and somehow you'll still respect it the next morning. -- am

Cerberus Shoal / Garden Fly, Drip Eye / North East Indie (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Garden Fly"
I suspect that there are two things which annoy the members of Cerberus Shoal. The first is that many people persist in calling them Cerebus Shoal, as if there's no difference between a three-headed dog and a talking aardvark. The second is being compared to a certain nine-member Montreal-based collective. Happily, Garden Fly, Drip Eye should dispel talk of similarities between the two groups. The first track, "Garden Fly", is an undeniable Festival of Oddness, reminiscent in roughly equal portions of Tom Waits, The Music Tapes, The Centimeters and The Residents. It's a rambling work with a seemingly nonsensical group-vocal front and center -- a sort of Brechtian carnival narrative punctuated by stabs of bass and clattering percussion. After Crash My Moon Yacht, this sort of vocal-intensive performance is the last thing I was expecting from the Shoal -- it's an excellent surprise. "Drip Eye" is more disjointed and instrumental; there are clamoring voices in the background, and peaks of guitar and percussion punctuated by clownish slide-whistles, but the song's final two minutes feature another harrowing vocal narrative backed by skewed spurts of jazz. In short, recent lineup changes have only made these folks weirder, God love 'em. -- gz

Of Montreal / Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse / Kindercore (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mimi Merlot"
In what seems to have become something of an Elephant 6 tradition, Coquelicot... could very well have been released in the summer of 1967. Then again, that has always been one of the group's most endearing traits: they exist in their own little time warp -- a faraway place of sun-drenched memories and Technicolored dreams. The Athens-based quintetís fourth full-length release finds the group delving even deeper into their acid-soaked cookie jar of skewed, '60s-influenced pop. Embedded within Coquelicotís mushroom-fried storyline is some of Kevin Barnesí most inspired songwriting to date. "Penelope" is a tinkling piano romp through Ray Daviesí cupboard, while "An Introduction for Isabell" and "Mimi Merlot" are songs so gorgeous that Brian Wilson would gladly hand over his LSD stash to have written them. However, all this loveliness cannot hide the fact that Coquelicot is a little too self-indulgent. Writing great pop tunes is one thing; asking your listeners to wade through a twisted, slow-moving story and an arduous 18-minute piano finale ("The Hopeless Opus or the Great Battle of the Unfriendly Ridiculous") to get to them is a bit much, even for seasoned listeners. Adventurous folks will find that Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse contains some real gold, but it will take a little time and some patience to unearth it. -- jj

Phthalo 17 / Kid Clayton Live on the Shortwave Radio / KALX (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Cut #3"
Recorded live in 1999 on Berkeley's KALX, this three-cut CD excels at difficult listening. Track one begins with lonely plinks looking for comfort. They find it in a bed of static and sparking bolts screwed into Frankenstein's neck. The second track is melodic by comparison. Resembling a live recording of a human heart, the plodding piece releases random blurps and spurts over a simple drum that sounds like its saggy skin was an old man's rooster wattle. The final track sends a low voltage shock through the wattle drum to evoke the image of swallowing a legless hamster and challenging it to roll its way back up your esophagus. While it's not so hot when you're sober, I suspect this CD might just do the trick if there's a little smoke in your life. -- rg

Ken Nordine / A Transparent Mask / Asphodel (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "As of Now"
If you don't know about Ken Nordine's "word jazz", you really should head on over to Insound right now and pick something up. I'd suggest "Colors", just because it's the one I first heard and it's still my favorite. I mean, it's hard to beat thirty-four short odes to different colors of house paint! The fact that I'm encouraging you to buy a recording from 1966 while reviewing a CD that just came out is probably pretty telling. While Nordine's familiar formula is just as goofy and entertaining as ever, it hasn't exactly grown more profound in the last few decades. In case the familiar formula isn't so familiar to you, here it is: Nordine improvises somewhat hokey, but still strangely enchanting "word jazz" poems, while various kinds of music (free jazz jams, natural soundscapes, little dance numbers) play in the background. Nordine's voice often reminds me of the narrator from the original The Grinch Who Stole Christmas cartoon; it's pleasantly resonant and sounds good even when he's reciting dopey rhymes. I can't honestly recommend A Transparent Mask as a great example of Nordine's art, but I will say that one way or another, you should have something by this unique voice in your music collection. -- ib

The Dark Fantastic / Goodbye Crooked Scar / Up (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hour of Need"
We are in a bizarro universe, and the Beach Boys are maudlin and wear black blazers. Just kidding, but thatís kind of what Mark Pickerelís (former Screaming Trees and Truly) Dark Fantastic reminds me of. Moody, eerie and vaguely David Lynchian, Goodbye Crooked Scar is perfectly suited to those more introspective moments in your life. There is an interesting East Indian flavor to several of the songs, and the band pulls off the impressive feat of sounding heavy without being oppressive. Not bad for a song-writing drummer! -- az

Earth Trumpet / Self-Titled / Cenotaph Audio (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Earth Trumpet II"
For those who don't know, Laurence Coleman is a strange guy who's part of the very experimental British outfit Volcano the Bear. Earth Trumpet is the first of two interconnected solo projects he did in 1999. The other is Dynamic Woman 2 and, Lord help us, it's probably even odder. The tracks on Earth Trumpet tend to make ample use of bells, giving Pink Floyd fans a mainstream sound to cling to, while creaking chairs, cracked drums, warped whistles and electronically created chants swirl around them. On this disc, smartly limited to 45 minutes, a slowly opening door evolves into an elephant's roar, which takes us into the organ at church, where UFOs and small percussion-playing birds abound. Occasionally, noises will directly parallel some of the instrumental pieces on the Waters/Geesin project, Music from the Body, but there is generally no comparison for this music. Unlike much of John Cage's work, nothing deeper appears beneath the surface of these bizarre tracks, which means presentation is one area in which Laurence Coleman may need to improve. Confronted with tracks named "Earth Trumpet I", "Earth Trumpet II" and so on down the line, listeners are not given a clue how to approach the music. Coleman seems to want the listeners to apply their own stories to the music, but there's simply too much already going on to leave room for creative listening. Earth Trumpet, though weird enough to be worthwhile for diehard avant garde fans, is an instrumental record in need of liner notes detailing a plot, or some sort of proof that the songs were not created in one wild take on a single "shroomin" night. -- td

Total Shutdown/Boxleitner / Split / Zum/Thin the Herd (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Total Shutdown's "Top Gun"
This one's recommended for lovers of art/noise punk bands like The Locust and Arab on Radar. If you're looking for things like harmonies, pop-song structure and lyrics you can sing along with, you should probably go hide in a closet until this is over. Of the two groups, Total Shutdown probably does more damage with their single track, "Top Gun". The band attacks in a blur of pummelling guitars, unintelligible vocal hollering and out-of-tune piano bludgeoning, then withdraws just as quickly to muster their next assault. Finally, in a sustained burst of noise, they bring the piece to a truly punishing end. Boxleitner, meanwhile, present three shorter tracks. "Oero" is tighter-knit noise, and "Hot" adds the slightest bit of wry wit, while "Swine Flu", which sits between them, pursues the same abrupt "take no prisoners" approach as "Top Gun". This is the debut release for both bands, and both acquit themselves as well as their challenging genre will allow. Oh, and it's on white vinyl, which should seal the deal for most of you. -- gz

Insert Piz Here / Return to Stupidland / Slowly The Ghost (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Orange Boat Apple Circus"
If there's such a thing as silly pop, then I suppose there must also be sillier pop. Then there's Insert Piz Here. I can't accurately explain the sheer nonsense you'll find on Return to Stupidland. It's like Nerf Herder performing on crack with monkeys in their trousers: 51 tracks of utterly inane drivel, backed by chaotic bedroom rock, making for an album that's difficult to classify. If you're a ten year old boy, I think you'll really get this record. If not, you're left scratching your head. Song titles like "The Orange Boat Apple Circus" and "Enormous Amounts of Knitting" do little to clear things up. As a DIY exercise the album is brilliant; pulling together all these crazy sounds into something unified isn't easy. I'm just left wondering what the result would be if the minds behind Insert Piz Here were applied to something less...well, silly. If you're in the right mood (or high), Return to Stupidland could be the life of the party. Otherwise it's simply puzzling. -- nw

Fireking / Live a Little, Love a Little / Blueberry (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Big Priest of Love"
This Boston band knows how to write a catchy rock song: give it a good beat, a peppy chorus and stuff that puppy with hooks. On these nine tracks, they demonstrate the success of this formula again and again, while managing to steer clear of repetitive ruts. Anthony Kaczynski and Michael JF Smith, the masterminds behind the music, have been playing together for years (both were members of Figures on a Beach [And if this means anything to you, you're probably as old as I am - Ed.]). This familiarity is apparent in the tight grooves found here and makes Fireking a strong contender for the throne of alt-rock. -- rd

Budapest One / The Crooner Rides Again / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Wolves Are Well Fed"
This is a surprisingly juicy bit from Denton, Texas, mingling the smarts of Elvis Costello with dramatic Fall-inspired lyrics and the showbiz savvy of a crooning Buddy Holly. Yes, somehow vocalist Keith Kiloren and company magically connect these diverse sources, as the band underscores topical anecdotes on religion and relationships with metaphorical maladies. Along with complex arrangements that include murky keys and swooning beats, the majority of these tunes have fertile melodies that go hand in hand with Kiloren's marked vocal confidence, enabling each song to lull you into a pleasant trance. Be careful, as Kiloren's lyrical preaching will probably hit a familiar theme, forcing some unexpected emotional contention. It's all somewhere in between campy lounge music and retro-indie rock -- a strange combination indeed, but one that's marvelously well assembled, with an intelligence that will convert you to a Budapest One follower in the end! -- am

Ann Beretta / (new union ... old glory) / Lookout! (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Straight Shooter"
The Richmond band's punk celebration of good, hard-rockin' American punk rock is mostly built on old glory. I'd rather listen to the Clash, and can't understand why Ann Beretta would model themselves on Green Day, who haven't done anything decent since Dookie. C'mon...punks should be having the time of their lives and emulating the Sex Pistols, the Stooges, the Ramones and/or the Buzzcocks instead. Or at least listening to these bands more. Still, while their pedigree may not be the best, Ann Beretta's not bad; they're definitely catchy, and their knowledge of chords at least equals the Ramones' level of training. "Straight Shooter" has a beat that's pure surf, overlayed with heavy ripping bass and guitar. "Russ' Song" reminds me of Dead Kennedys (I don't know why), which merits a few repeats. (new union ... old glory) is worthy of some serious head-banging, but I'm not pulling out my special silver-plated safety-pin nose ring and my plaid micromini for these dudes. They're good, but like nuts left in an unsealed canister, they somewhat soft and without much crunch. -- js

U.S. Maple / Acre Thrills / Drag City (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Open a Rose"
U.S. Maple are now, and forever will be one of those bands that nobody understands, but everybody claims to like. Theyíre too arty to be punk, too punk to be alternative and too alternative to be art -- a vicious cycle to say the least. Acre Thrills, the bandís fourth long-player, finds them eschewing the more punkified leanings of Sang Phat Editor and Long Hair in Three Stages in favor of a more minimal, yet no less devastating sound. Dischordant blasts of sloppy guitar permeate songs like "Obey Your Concert" and "Make Your Bedroom Great", causing them to saunter around like a mime in heat. "Open a Rose" is full of dissonant beauty, courtesy of Al Johnson's haunting vocals and a howling bass line. Elsewhere, as on the urgent "Rice Ainít Afraid of Nothing" and the sleepy eyed "Chang, Now Your Attractive", U.S. Maple extracts humor from terror and loveliness from slow, dark passages of sinister guitar and meandering rhythms. After repeated listens to Acre Thrills, I still donít understand U.S. Maple -- and Iím sure thatís exactly as theyíd like to keep it. While they may still be too arty for punk, they are also, more than ever, too talented to ignore. -- jj

ADNY / Selections '97-2000 / Turbo (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What If I Love"
Drumming up a variety of sounds from atmospheric trip-hop ("Shiver Me") to funk ("What If I Love") to jazz ("Street Player"), ADNY -- better known as DJ Alexi Delano -- infuses each track with the techo and house beats for which Turbo Records is famous. It's almost hard to distinguish where the other genres fade away and the beat-heavy DJing takes over. Although there seems to be a faint theme running through the tracks (like a carefully planned mix tape), there is enough randomness here to induce repeat listenening. -- al

Fantastic Plastic Machine / Beautiful / Emperor Norton (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Paragon"
I honestly don't know what goes on inside Tomoyuki Tanaka's head. After recording several albums of bouncy Shibuya-kei pop, the Fantastic Plastic Machine impresario was justified in deciding to tweak his formula...but Beautiful isn't the answer. For his latest outing, Tanaka has dropped the bubble gum in favor of what initially seems like a more sophisticated approach: shoehorning elements of '70s soul into disco/house tunes and adding occasional Brazilian pop vocals for flavor. Unfortunately, it doesn't go down well. Devoid of Tanaka's usual unpredictability, Beautiful is bland, linear and frequently downright dull, with entirely too many six, seven and eight-minute songs running out of ideas long before the halfway mark. Exceptions, such as the initially vibrant "Paragon", are few. As it is with people, so it is with albums: being Beautiful doesn't mean you don't have to be interesting. -- gz

The Trouble With Sweeney / Dear Life / Burnt Toast Vinyl (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Kitty"
Dear Life is both an alt-country stroll along suburban ponds and a soundtrack for rainy days spent indoors. It's nothing spectacular, but it's meaningful and poignant in the way that only laid back guitar-melody can be. Equal parts Neil Young, The Turtles and Uncle Tupelo, the album is anything but forward-looking, but to judge it on those standards would be missing the point. Like Wilco, it's country for the contemporary kid who would otherwise be put off by the more quirky elements of the established Nashville elite. The band is able to avoid Indie-Flavor-Of-The-Month posturing and create an likeable if low-key collection of unhindered pop/rock. -- jw

Go Robot, Go! / Wait 3 Days...Then Attack! / Bandaloop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Kelly Affair"
In attempting to describe Wait Three Days...Then Attack! I keep coming back to a sort of mod/power-pop hybrid. Like Spacehog meets Holiday, Go Robot, Go! combines sunny pop melodies with power chords and wraps it all up in a retro-tech-themed concept album. "The Kelly Affair" starts things off with fuzzy guitars, a brisk tempo, big, catchy melodies and vintage synth sounds. "Neptune Head" is a bit early Cars at first, but reminds me of Kara's Flowers in the middle. I'm not sure what the lyric "Call me Neptune Head" means, exactly, but it's sci-fi enough to push forward the album's general theme. "Scary Futon" is half GBV, half threatening furniture; its insidiously repetitive chorus ("Scary Futon, Scary Futon, Scary Futon etc.") pervades my mind and refuses to leave. I'll probably never sit on a futon again! This is bread and butter indie-pop that's bound to do well on the college radio circuit. -- nw

Little Champions / Transactions + Replications / Barsuk (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Beverly"
Around fifteen years ago, The Feelies released The Good Earth. At about the same time, the B52s were very big. Love Shacks were built on every block by Benetton-wearing gangs, and the Harbine family was in bliss. All the music they wanted to hear was being made. Transactions + Replications works as a good summation of that stage in indie pop history, with a prominent two-guitar assault shacked up against breezy keyboards and a strong layer of bass. The guitars are so loud that the California vocals of Scott and Becky Harbine struggle to be heard above the near-racket of ever-churning rock. When they're up to the challenge, their words are tossed out in joyful shouts; otherwise, they make pleasant fodder for the guitars. Whereas the Feelies sometimes made you feel as if you were sitting by a stream, Little Champions keep you dancing, skipping or doing something by its side. That said, I think rest and reverie are very good sometimes, and the majesty of title track "Beverly", as well as some other pop gems at the disc's beginning, do not prevent Transactions + Replications from growing steadily more exhausting. The group's masterpiece will not come until their work grows more varied, and less pushy with its raptures. -- td

Modest Mouse / Sad Sappy Sucker / K (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dukes Up"
People talk about Modest Mouse the same way they talk about their grandparents -- with nothing but the utmost regard and admiration. While MM's later works, like Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon and Antarctica, are certainly deserving of praise, a vast majority of their work has been less than sublime. Take Sad Sappy Sucker, for instance. This great "lost" record from 1994-95 shows that while they were talented, Modest Mouse still had much to learn about making proper records. Many of their trademark elements were already in place -- the gnarled guitar sounds, the multi-tracked vocals teetering on the right side of annoying and Isaac Brockís cloying and paranoid worldview -- but hadn't clicked yet. Sad Sappy Sucker is decidedly lo-fi, as befits the nascent nature of the majority of these songs. Listen hard, though, and you can almost hear "Dukes Up" and "From Point A to Point B" cleaned up, nicely polished and blaring from every car radio between here and Albuquerque. "Call to Dial-a-Song" features a rather unspectacular cameo by Murder City Devils frontman Spencer Moody, years before he was anything but a friend of the band. Aside from being tracked incorrectly (on my copy anyway) and not always being of the choicest sound quality, Sad Sappy Sucker shows that Modest Mouseís rise to the pinnacle of indiedom started at the bottom, just like everybody else. -- jj

Big Fuckin Skull / Six Skulls Against the World / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Seen a Green Skull"
All right, so they've named their band Big Fuckin Skull, included the word "skull" in every song title and given themselves names like Captain BoredOutLeftEyeSocket and Fuck. Need I write more? If the above information isn't enough to tell you what this quintet sounds like, perhaps the churning punk of "I Seen a Green Skull" is. This song is representative of the entire album: 4/4 drums, dueling guitars and barked vocals. The band's gimmick makes the album fun, but once the joke wears off, there's little else to set BFS apart from the rest of the smaller-craniumed punk bands. -- rd

JLIAT / Still Life #7: The Grandi Series / Edition (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Grandi Series"
Sound scientist Jliat is back with another installment of his ambient-ish Still Life series, a run of discs that tend to be far more taxing to grey matter than stereo speakers. In this particular instance, Jliat has created a 59:59 work based, as the title suggests, upon the Grandi Series -- 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 ad infinitum -- which, depending upon how it is interpreted, can add up to zero or one. The implications of binary thinking aside, consideration of the Grandi Series can launch reasonably intelligent people into lengthy, free-ranging existential discussions. When the Grandi Series is written to a PCM file and the resultant data translated to sound, we get...silence. Just under an hour of silence, in this case. Perhaps a CD player lacks the philosophical heft needed to take the concept any further. As is often the case with such concepts, the resolve required to compose and release such projects is actually more interesting than the conundrum at hand. -- gz

Had / Here Is Something Fun For You To Do. Color This Picture. / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What If I Love"
On the first few plays, Here Is Something Fun... failed to catch my attention in any meaningful way. For lack of a better explanation, Had (formally Half Acre Day) simply sounded like a lot of other Seattle-brewed bands. It's only when Had's songs get a little extra play-time and a lot more attentive listening that the positive moments start to make themselves known. Though the mix is a bit murky, some truly solid playing is evident on these sometimes lyrically quirky and often melodious tracks. Had is at their best on "Acrophobe", a devastatingly beautiful yet eerie song full of distortion and atmospheric loveliness. The merits of "Acrophobe" alone make Here Is Something Fun... worth checking out. -- al

The Left Coast Improv Group / Self-Titled / Jimzeen (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Border Lines"
Flutes and the curious sounds of the koto are scattered into each composition, making it apparent that this group dwells in the Bay Area. The worldly influences certainly smell of the Bay Area's willingness to combine nontraditional instrumentation with spontaneity, keeping listeners guessing as to the next musical movement. Each member of The Left Coast Improv Group provides his or her own interpretation of free jazz and experimental vision, producing a cohesive venture. It's a bit difficult to grasp the group's overall direction in the opener, "Cliff Hanger", but as you explore further, each member's angular expressions simultaneously soothe and shake your soul. It's almost impossible to prepare for the group's next change in direction, so your only hope is to loosen your bones and let the members take turns probing your imagination with their woodwinds, computer blips and exotic strings. -- am

Juniper Lane / Tightrope / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Undress My Soul"
The last line in Juniper Lane's biography reads "Ted, Jim and Mitch were instrumental in shaping Juniper Lane's songs to fit mainstream and alternative rock radio." It's easy to make fun of such blatant ambition, though many bands dream of just that kind of success. But in this case, producer Ted Comerford (Long Stem Daisies, Lucky Town) plus engineers Jim Ebert (Meredith Brooks, Marvelous 3) and Mitch Easter (REM, Ben Folds Five) have the credentials -- and the skills -- to ensure that the "shaping" is strong enough to justify their efforts. There's nothing wrong with this Washington, DC quartet's second album: Tightrope stretches itself between piano-driven ballads and slightly harder rockers, walking the line between Tori Amos and the Cranberries. Singer and keyboardist Vivion Smith has star power and she uses it to her advantage; "Grace" and "Undress My Soul" could begin pouring themselves out of your car radio at any moment. Your little sister will love them. -- rt

Various Artists / Ariel Publicity: For Immediate Release! / Ariel Publicity (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Coby Brown's "The Distance"
This disc covers fifteen artists in the Ariel stable. I don't think that Joan Q. Public can purchase this album. Also like a stable, some of the artists are thoroughbreds and some are headed for Purina and the glue factory. Most of Ariel's artists are solid, however: Stir Fried, Crazy Mary and The Stone Coyotes have earned positive reviews in Splendid, and a few others have been not completely slammed by us, which is mostly a good sign. Ok, so Coby Brown sounds like a cross between Hootie and the Blowfish and Al Jarreau; the piano's quite good. The Stone Coyotes' offering, "Lucky Day", will definitely make it yours. Sally Taylor's folky "Split Decisions" copies Alanis Morrisette slavishly, but at least she's cheaper and she throws in a funky church organ for good measure. Most of this stuff is alt-country/rock, but some of it a little more pop-folky and other bits more rockabilly (like Leftover Salmon and Stir Fried). If you're an artist, and want to know if Ariel's spread includes music of your making, then this CD would help you; a reviewer might find this disc useful to file under "for comparison purposes". And if nothing else, the bright orange insert, bedecked with happy little asterisk stars, is quite cheerful -- good for summer beach house party decor. -- js

Denison Witmer / The '80s EP / Burnt Toast Vinyl (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The '80s"
The song "The '80s" contains lyrics that go pointedly against all the historical generalizations of the period (created via the US' involvement in Latin American countries, the rise of dictators, and other Chomsky-like stuff) I have heard. And since the perspective of the lyrics is first person plural, it can be very hard for thirty-somethings not to shake their heads over everything Witmer says. This goes against the whole idea of anthems -- they're not really meant to be argumentative -- but it certainly makes you pay attention the song. I guess this makes "The '80s", and the songs that follow, a success. None of the songs here pick up speed, but they're wonderfully intimate, proving that Denison can shine when he's merely speaking from his own perspective. I guess the most impressive thing about this EP is that Witmer successfully knocks out slow song after slow song without ever dulling any of the individual tracks' emotional power. That cannot be commended highly enough, because it shows this young artist already succeeding where heavyweights like Westerberg and Springsteen have failed. -- td

ZeroZero / AM Gold / Jade Tree (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Pep Sounds"
Former members of Lifetime, a defunct New Jersey hardcore favorite, have coalesced to make, of all things, a weird electronic new wave record. They've named their record AM Gold as a way of paying homage to the other radio band (You know, the one that's not FM -- Ed), and their tunes are full of weird synth, poppy vocals and samples of radio hits of yesteryear. There are moments of really interesting vocal harmonies and rhythms, but unless the idea of Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin-esque new millennium lounge music holds great appeal, AM Gold probably wonít do it for you. -- az

The Great Glass Elevator / Self-Titled / Orange Entropy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Tomorrow and a Day"
From Hightstown, New Jersey, crawls this lo-fi recording of keyboard and guitar pop songs. Written and performed almost entirely by Stephen Zimmerman, some songs are catchy, what with their hypnotic -- although very '80s -- keyboard lines and competent guitar riffs. The vocals, not to mention the effects laden guitar and trippy keyboard ambiences, remind one of '60s-era psychedelic pop. Mr. Zimmerman has put some heart into these bedroom recordings; get a punchy band behind him and he might just score one. -- rg

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak | td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies
js - jenn sikes | rg - rodney gibbs | rt - ryan tranquilla | al - amy leach | jw - john wolfe | az - alex zorn

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