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Dirty Walt and the Columbus Sanitations, The Januaries, Ashtray Babyhead, Blonde Redhead, Walkie Talkie, Fatboy Slim, Cathode Bob, Scientific, Roddy Frame, Slash's Snakepit, Hinageshi Bondage, Gunshop, Lindsey Thompson, Tonjip, Daniel Simonis, The Big Wu, Wobbleshop, Solesides' Greatest Bumps, L'Age D'Or, Euphone

Dirty Walt and the Columbus Sanitations / To Put It Bluntly / Triple X (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Need a Swig"
As a founding member of Fishbone, Dirty Walt has taken part in some of the most exciting funk of the past fifteen years. Every Fishbone album has at least a couple of sweet tracks, and this is no different. "I Need a Swig" is a James Brown-styled, sweaty workout and "Don't Call That Man a Pussy" contains a groove big enough to knock you off your feet. Given the size of the buds on the cover, the record's somewhat sluggish tempos and bong-hit peripheral sounds come as no surprise. At times, this lends the music a dense feel, but elsewhere the result is unintentionally ominous in the way that too much consumption can be. Despite this, the record remains funky and fly with at least a couple of tracks that belong in your next party mix. -- rd

The Januaries / s/t / Foodchain (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Black Transmission"
I love it! I hate it! It's driving me mad! Honestly, I wish I could get my feelings straight with regard to this album. The Januaries play a nicely modernized version of bouncy, jazzy sixties pop -- think of them as a very upmarket March Records band, with fancy new clothes and a supermodel vibe. Lead vocalist Debbie Diamond pulls off a modest French-ish accent that gives every song a sexual tang, but it never seems entirely real. Yes, it's easy to enjoy songs like the quirky "All Systems A GoGo", the creepy "Love Met the Devil" and the downright absurd "Black Transmission", and I'll freely admit to getting into them. I particularly love the strident horns and groovy organ accompaniment, which lends a distinct "Austin Powers" air to the proceedings. Why, then, does it all feel so fake? Like the Austin Powers films, there's a sense that authenticity has been betrayed in some vague and troubling way. Is it the too-clean production? Is it Diamond's overly coquettish approach? Is it the subtle suggestion that there's major label money lurking behind the scenes, pulling strings as needed? I still can't tell. But I like the songs. -- gz

Ashtray Babyhead / Radio / Glue Factory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mir"
Oh. My. God. Why? Why does this record keep getting made? Do these bands go into the studio, turn on their local modern rock radio station, stick a microphone in the speaker, grab three minutes of the stuff, overdub their own dopey vocals and pass it off as their own? No. No they don't. Because that would sound really crappy. So instead they find a hot-shot producer and proceed to make yet another really well recorded, good sounding, crunchy, boy-harmony-laden batch of the same boring, predictable, tired old songs. Come on fellars! You can obviously play your instruments. You know how to sing. You even write a witty lyric now and then. So why waste all that talent on this boy guitar rock crud? Jeez. Note to any aspiring rock stars: NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO START A BOY-GUITAR-ROCK BAND! Go buy a computer or a ukulele or something. Be a spoken word spazz. Hum all of your songs into a broken microcassette recorder. Make songs that only small dogs with no fur can hear. Be creative! -- ib

Blonde Redhead / Melodie Citronique / Touch & Go (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Slogan"
Melodie Citronique is a novelty piece geared toward fans who live and breathe Blonde Redhead. It's a neat thing, but I can't bring myself to recommend rushing right out to get it. Three fifths of Melodie Citronique revisits Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons; the first two tracks are French and Italian translations of "In Particular" and "Hated Because of Great Qualities", respectively, and the final track is Third Eye Foundation's remix of "For the Damaged", remarkable only for the addition of new lyrics. The translations are interesting, but don't seem to hold up as well as their English originals. The two gems here, and the sole reasons I could ever find to recommend it, are a cover and an original. "Slogan", a Serge Gainsbourg song, was the A-side of a non-album single released a couple of years ago. Featuring a lovely French vocal by Kazu Makino, something that sounds like an out-of-tune child's piano and a concluding drum solo/keyboard weird-out, this song has been a cherished prize in my 7" collection, so it is nice that others who never had the single can hear it here. There's also a new original, "Chi E E Non E", that sounds more related to Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons than either of the translations. Sort of a slow motion surf tune with an endearing Italian vocal by Amedeo Pace, it mines the same vein of longing and gentleness that runs through Melody .... I can see where Blonde Redhead most likely wanted to go with this -- a release that celebrates being both European and American -- but it fails for me. The band leans too much on Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons to make Melodie Citronique unique as a stand alone release, but at the same time it's too different to be a fitting companion. -- jb

Walkie Talkie / Twilite at Spanish Castle / MP3 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hard Times"
This record, a nice slice of Americana, is fueled by a tasteful production and the fine vocals from Jim Lacey and Dani Francis. Its standout is "Hard Times", a group original that sounds like an old-timey spiritual they found in a gutter. As inspired as the work of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, it's the best showcase for their great harmony vocals and extremely solid guitar, and wouldn't sound out of place on one of Harry Smith's classic folk collections. The other choice tracks are more conventional, slightly less engaging fare, but they still show the band to be a very good acoustic outfit. While these songs -- "Lost and Alone", "Nitemares", "the Pain is Past" and "Alien Boy" -- may not boast lyrics that bowl you over, the band shares enough moments (Life seems hard/But it doesn't really matter/'Cause I'm where you are) of quiet truth that your mind will by cosy for quite some time. As for the rest of the disc, it shows the band exploring a "Glenn Frey-goes-bluesy" vein. Of these, "Stop Dragging Me Down" gets saved by its catchy chorus, and the rest seem to meander about, with "Destruction" and "Good Luck Charm" causing a bit of anguish for the ears. Still, their best stuff makes them well worth checking out on MP3.COM and in concert. -- td

Fatboy Slim / Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars / Astralwerks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ya Mama"
About the best thing I can say here is that rather than produce another album that sticks religiously to his established formula, Mr. Cook has mostly eschewed all that stuttering digital slowdown stuff. But in place of it...what has he done? There's a lot of kooky sampling, a lot of borrowed vocals, a lot of funk riffs and a smattering of gospel flavoring. There are also a couple of songs -- "Lovelife" and "Demons" -- that feature the talents of scratchy-voiced Macy Gray. I don't mind Gray's voice, but the ostensibly hotter-than-shit "Lovelife" comes off as tepid mid-tempo funk, and it certainly isn't improved by Gray's cries of "I wanna 'f' ya." Perhaps it gets better after multiple listens, but since I'll be skipping over it, I may never know. The gospel-flavored "Demons" is at least more involving, though it will undoubtedly cause people to approach you and ask where you got the advance of the new Moby album. A few tracks offer decent techno workouts; "YaMama" and "Retox" have nothing new to say, but they raise the energy level to a satisfying boil, while "Song for Shelter" provides a satisfying blissout close. The real shame here is that Halfway... gets its weakest material out of the way first. After hearing "Talking Bout My Baby", "Star69" and the execrable "Sunset (Bird of Prey)" (complete with costly Jim Morrison samples), many listeners may give up on the album before they get anywhere near its good stuff. -- gz

Cathode Bob / Threadbare / One Mad Son (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Girl Nervous"
It sounds as if Cathode Bob has a split personality. Part of the band wants to drone through soft, yearning ballads that are part soul-wrenching and part self-reflective. The other side prefers the catchy, upbeat rockers -- yes, they may be simplistic three-chord ditties, but they sure pack a punch that steals the show. Justin Mikulka has some smart guitar lines that save Cathode Bob from sounding like another bar room band bomb. A few lyrics are pathetically childish and lackluster ("Star Tripping" and "Half Free"), making me wonder if this really was the best the band had to offer. However, if this trio can write more winners like the angular "Girl Nervous" and the feverish and racy "Zero Times Nothing", their next release will leave its mark. -- am

Scientific / From the Nest of Idea / Burnt Toast Vinyl (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "All For Wild Tiger"
If Stereolab replaced Laetitia Sadier with a lanky male art student cloaked in black from head to toe, they'd sound a lot like Scientific. On this seven-song EP, the Chicago-based quartet pump out their own brand of future leaning-space pop, relying heavily upon warm analog tones and flirty synth melodies to propel songs like “Fully Out of Time” and “Not Rarely Inclined” into orbit. But it is not until album closer “All For Wild Tiger” that the band manages to concoct something truly spectacular. Wrapping an otherworldly groove around heavily strummed guitars and a Fred Schneider-esque vocal delivery, "All For Wild Tiger" is a galactically-inclined paean to pop brilliance. If From the Nest of Idea is any indication of things to come, expect to see Scientific on the cover of every indie rag in the land in the not-too-distant future. -- jj

Roddy Frame / The North Star / Independiente (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Back to the One"
This first solo release shows ex-Aztec Camera frontman Roddy Frame in typically fine pop form. It's full of stupendous hooks, fabulous singing and masterful guitar work, and contains only one song, "Autumn Flower", that's inspired by his love of "quiet storm" soul. Since most people find his Anita Baker influence a turn-off, I guess that's a good thing, though there's no genre at which he outright fails. You may have to hunt to find an affordable copy of this import, but it's worth it for longtime fans; the arrangement of "Here Comes the Ocean" is probably the most successful he has ever done. Frame has always been a precocious talent, pleased to recycle what he loves, but he has seldom done it so well as on The North Star. Among past efforts, it's most similar to Aztec Camera's neglected, easy-to-find-cheap gem Frestonia, and everything but "Bigger Brighter Better" could make a splash on the radio. However, I'm almost positive it won't sell, as nothing by Frame, Terry Hall or Edwyn Collins ever seems to be given a chance anymore. Here's hoping Roddy's lack of US distribution comes more from his own unwillingness to return to indies than from independent labels' unwillingness to promote aging, once-hip stars who've remained damn, damn good. -- td

Slash's Snakepit / Ain't Life Grand / Koch (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Been There Lately"
On his latest outing, Slash does nothing that Guns & Roses didn't do a decade ago: bigger than life, balls-out cock rock is still the idea. From the heavy stomp of "Serial Killer" to the vicious "Been There Lately", the band rips through hard rock with a wicked gleam in their eyes. Why, then, do things seem lacking? Maybe it's that Rod Jackson's vocals simply aren't Axl Rose. While Jackson has the skills, I find myself continually waiting for Rose's nasal howl. It's impossible to think about Wings without imagining the Beatles, and when listening to this album, I keep itching to throw Appetite for Destruction into my disc player. Musically, the songs here are as good as anything Guns and Roses did, but nevertheless it feels like something is missing. -- rd

Hinageshi Bondage / Diesel Fruit My Darling EP / Verdura (7”)

Sample 30 seconds of "Let’s Dwarf"
I am absolutely terrified of Janne Martinkaupi, for it's his twisted mind that created the horrific murder-on-wax that is Hinageshi Bondage. Imagine the members of Kraftwerk being shoved through an industrial sausage press while playing a double speed version of “Metal on Metal”, and you're still not even close to the sheer abrasiveness of the sound. Diesel Fruit My Darling is five tracks of electronic torture killing, slowly slaying you with erratic blasts of high pitched frequencies, metallic drones and something that sounds like someone shoving a fork through their stomach. Looking for something on 200-gram wax that’s completely fucked up from beginning to end? Your search ends here. -- jj

Gunshop / 59 Surplus Seconds / C.i.P. (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Track 1"
I was attracted to this disc by the packaging -- rather than a jewel case, it's housed in an antistatic bag, which is nice, since if I ever lose the CD I'll have a nice place to stash surplus RAM. The music is a combination of white noise and machine sounds, sort of the aural equivalent of getting numbly drunk and hanging out in a machine shop all afternoon. During a particularly quiet bit, I forgot it was playing...and wound up getting the living crap scared out of me a little bit later. The mixture of mechanical and electronic sounds here is intriguing, though; it's clear that the Gunshop folks set out to do more than hurt your ears. Most pieces seem designed for listening, avoiding ear-abrading volume in favor of various persistent, mind-tickling hums that work their way inside your head and make you feel them, in some less-than-entirely-tangible way, inside your skull. Headphones are highly recommended. -- gz

Lindsey Thompson / Room in a Basement /Keystone (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Got to Give"
If you love Tori Amos' voice, but prefer lighter Natalie Imbruglia material as done by a complete unknown, this set by Lindsey Thompson might be what you're after. Thompson, who hails from England's Black country, begins her debut with a track that might have been left off some Human League album. Four minutes later, her musical accompaniment loses the retro feel. This is all to her benefit, I think, because Lindsey's voice is too strong to waste fighting synthesizers for the listener's attention. "Who Can Be" is Tori for the mass audience, with lyrics not personal but universal: think Karyn White "superwoman" stuff. It's followed by "Charlie", which takes the music of Elton John and adds sentiments that sober AA folkies like to dish out. It doesn't approach the stature of Concrete Blonde's "Joey", but is bearable. "Got To Give" is as catchy as anything Ellis Paul has ever written, and is among the best pure pop songs I've heard this year. The chorus could make it a hit in idealist camps ("We're a long, long way from making these days the very best that we have got to give"), or it could make you gag. As for me, I sung along and simply let its melody smother me. The album fades in its final moments, with "A Little Melancholy" suffering from its vestigial Alanis Morrissette influences. Still, songs like "Time Won't Wait" and "Common Knowledge", which boasts a nice piano opening, are catchy little buggers, and should be covered by any Saturday teen sitcom band during its "serious-issue" episodes. -- td

Tonjip / Ton-jip / Toupee (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Electromatic"
Some of the music on this CD is startlingly good. Ringing guitars and fuzzed-out, warbling synths create sonic washes that are driven by a solid rhythm section and tight, clear harmonies. It's a vibrant, exciting sound. "Electromatic" in particular is one of the best rock songs I've heard in a long time. Unfortunately, not all of the songs are so good, and the "Jesus is lord"-style lyrics on some of them really put me off. I never do very well with lyrics that have lots of extra capital letters on the pronouns. Nonetheless, this is an exciting band, and they really seem to have mastered the fine art of combining tweaky electronic sounds with straight-ahead rock and roll energy. Apply a bit of a lighter touch with the Jesus stuff next time, and this Australian quintet could really be onto something great. -- ib

Daniel Simonis / s/t / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "So Much for Plans"
Simonis plays a palatable blend of Americana rock and gentle alt-country. He sounds less like Wilco than Chris Isaak, to whom I'm guessing he's often compared -- mostly due to songs like "Someone to Sleep With", which push his vocals into a higher range. Performance and playing remain tastefully understated; there's a pleasant lack of ostentatious slide guitar, which makes a nice change from all those bands that cram the slide guitar and pedal steel down your throat in order to assert their dominant "Western-ness". Lyrically, Simonis goes in for small-scale tales of personal relationships, memories and sidestepped dreams. It's the sort of stuff that seems trite at first, then grows more relevant as you listen. Some listeners won't get that far -- the disc's mannered mood and triple-A vibe will fail to engage them, and they'll move on. -- gz

The Big Wu / Folktales / Phoenix Rising (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Minnesota Moon"
Although I live in Eugene, Oregon (the hippy capital of the world), I have always hated the Grateful Dead. It is no big surprise, then, that I don't care for The Big Wu, a five-piece whose freewheeling, meandering jams remind me of exactly why I never cared for the Dead. It's not a question of their capabilities: the members are skilled on their instruments and can both improvise intelligently and write cohesive songs. It's just that the Mother Earth, patchouli-scented vibe gives me a headache. This ten-song offering has enough swing to get the paisley skirts twirling and the hemp-clad feet shuffling, and more power to them. I have to respect a band that is so dedicated to their live music (they play over 200 shows a year), but unfortunately, Folktales is not enough to make me like their records. -- rd

Wobbleshop / Bittergreen / Creative Engine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Belong"
Wobbleshop's habit of rhyming lines by restating the same lines might get a bit irksome, because their best songs -- "Belong", "Past Perfect" and "Rural Dakota", all of which start off the CD -- are catchy enough that they get deep under your skin. So with lines like "Come in, Come in" spinning through my head, it seems right to call their brand of music very inviting -- yet not very intelligent. It's not so much pop that's too smart for radioas pop that just isn't popular yet. All their great songs have potential to be hits, and some of their rotten ones do too. "Red Hot", for example, written to be memorable after a single listen ("I'm so emotional about things that aren't so emotional/And that's a heartfelt fact/I wouldn't take it back/I'm so civilized"), but its sincerely sung nonsense just leaves me baffled. As for sound, this is another mainstream band that seems to have been inspired by Guadalcanal Diary and REM, and they benefit from great use of keyboards and the excellent voice of lead singer Brian Holmes. If they can write a bigger batch of melodic songs, and this time slip an ounce or two of lyrical truth into them, you can expect Wobbleshop to be a pure, bona fide delight. Right now, though, they're just a very guilty pleasure. -- td

Various Artists / Solesides' Greatest Bumps / Quannum Projects (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of track 2.
Before there was Quannum Projects, there was Solesides -- a label responsible for many of the early gems of independent West-Coast hip-hop. If names like DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel, Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker mean anything to you, you've probably got a good idea of what you're going to get -- namely, irresistably bouncy hip-hop from the early-to-mid '90s. This is good stuff -- a mixture of goofy sing-song SoCal-style delivery and breakneck freestyling, driven by some killer loops and breaks. There's hardly a gangsta in sight, thank God. Unfortunately, there's a downside to this disc. This disc is a preview of a forthcoming double-album retrospective, and while all of the tracks are here, the producers have opted to fade them out at the 2:30 mark in order to keep this stuff out of the hands of eager internet music traders. I can't even begin to tell you how annoying that is. -- gz

Various Artists / l'Age d'Or / Triage (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Fink's "Autobahn"
L’Age d’Or may be a French phrase, but it’s also a German recording label. Easily comparable to a big US indie like Matador, the label has been around since 1989. This sampler, released on US label Triage, provides curious Americans with a chance to sample some of l’Age d’Or’s copious bounty without having to sink large amounts of cash into imports. Bands range from the better-known, like Tocotronic (perhaps the Pavement of Germany?) to more obscure fare, such as Jonas, hailing from the wee burg of Bad Bentheim. My heart, however, belongs to Fink for their banjo-driven cover of “Autobahn” -- easily worth the price of the CD by itself. Featuring eleven artists and twenty three songs, this compilation satisfied not just my curiosity, but ultmately my ears as well. -- bl

Euphone / Hashin’ It Out / Jade Tree (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Where’s the B?"
Get ready to move your butts: Chicago’s rhythmic jitterbugs are back in town. On Hashin’ It Out, Euphone's second Jade Tree release, they bump and grind their way into the recesses of your brain as well as the soles of your feet. Post-rock in the most rocking sense of the term, drummer and bandleader Ryan Rapsys pounds out rhythms like an octopus on speed while bassist Nick Macri weighs down the boogie with jazzy and meaty bass fills. Band friend and hired hand Jeremy Jacobsen (the Lonesome Organist) helps round out the sound with frantic guitars and swirling Farfisa stabs. A trip through Hashin’ It Out will find you drenched in '70s porno-funk (“Where’s the B?”), shuffling through a demented conga (“Bad Ascending”) and sipping martinis while you mind succumbs to the slinky grooves of “My Ladies Can’t Remember the Eighties”. Orchestras of jitterbugs have never sounded so good. -- jj

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak
td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies | bl - beth lucht | js - jenn sikes | rg - rodney gibbs

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