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OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION OF SHORTER REVIEWS
The Strokes, Arc, The Robin Cox Ensemble, Variious, Signing Einstein, John Adams, Die Form, Heavenly, Alien Canopy, Lanterna, The Potomac Accord, The Timeout Drawer, Oddibe, Mad For the Racket, Joe Morris, Spokane, Tara Jane O'Neil, Automatic Head Detonator, Will Haven, Red Level Eleven, Ken Stringfellow, Coal, The Convocation Of..., Andy White, Robert Nanna/Elizabeth Elmore, Love Selector, Jeff Kelley, Mad Daddys, Therecordtime, Deedrah, Weights and Measures, Scott Sandvik, Make Way For No Karma, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Mark McKay, Halo Effect, The Embryo Compilation: 03 - Adventures In Homemade Music, The Wooldridge Brothers


The Strokes / Is This It / RCA (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Barely Legal"
By now, most of you have probably heard about, if not actually heard, The Strokes. In the proverbial blink of an eye, this young New York-based quintet was transformed from a bunch of well-dressed have-nots into, to quote the UK press, the "saviors of rock ‘n roll". Shortly after the release of their Modern Age EP (and a high-profile opening slot on the Guided by Voices tour) a full-blown bidding war over the band ensued, eventually ending when they inked the dotted line of a (purportedly lucrative) RCA Records contract. The tongue in cheek title of their major label bow seems to suggest that the only people not buying into the truckloads of hype are the band members themselves. Throughout the album, the group acts as if they're able to bang out tunes like this before lunch, then spend the rest of the day throwing ‘em back in some dingy Greenwich Village pub. You can almost see them yawning as they sprint through these eleven cracking tunes in just over half-an-hour’s time. Their rudimentary melodic intuition serves them well on Velvet-y songs like "Barely Legal" and "Trying Your Luck", while "Hard to Explain" and the whizzing title track emit a distinct Television vibe. Actually, the only thing keeping Is This It from being absolutely storming is the questionable production work of Gordon Raphael, whose primordial approach lacks the necessary punch to really bring these tunes to life. -- jj


Arc / Two / Mathbat (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "One"
It begins with a quiet hum. The tremulous sound grows until conflicting wave forms shake your innards loose. At the same time, nomadic percussion lines fill the space torn loose in your chest, creating a percolating headspace ready for meditation. This is the world of Arc, a trio of musical shamans who have captured live improvisations and cut them down to size for this presentation. The rolling feel of the rhythm reminds me of Martin Atkins' An Industrial Christmas Carol without the samples. As such, this is not something most people will thrive on. Furthermore, the band places the burden of interpretation on the listener, as they do not provide titles for its instrumental constructs. However, if you are willing to undertake the effort necessary to inhabit the space of groups like Crash Worship or Not Breathing, there is plenty here to engage you. At turns pensive and manic, Two is a very interesting hour of sound. -- rd


The Robin Cox Ensemble / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Square Feet"
The Robin Cox Ensemble leans toward a chamber music approach. The traditional violin and cello are present and accounted for, with the other two members responsible for "percussion", an all-encompassing word here taken to mean various drums, xylophones, electronics and ephemera. The key concept for this album is "amalgam", a word that applies both to the musicians' approach to their ensemble playing and their attitude toward the styles from which they draw inspiration. The band's eponymous leader provides the compositions, which are influenced by a range of 20th century American musics: jazz, avant-garde and modern classical. There is nothing here that the fringe-pop listener will not have experienced before; even if "chamber music" is not your thing, there are any number of familiar elements. The heavy use of xylophone on several tracks is reminiscent of later Tom Waits recordings, and the various drum elements when combined with the cello's bottom end often echo a bass-guitar and drum kit rhythm section. For music that's not based on traditional harmonies, the melodies are often very...pretty. A great example of what makes this whole thing work is "Square Feet", which gives us a combination of Latin-inflected bongos, low cello tones and a doubled melodic line of picked violin and staccato xylophone. This is by far the most accessible "experimental" music I've heard this year, and a very satisfying listen. -- bm


Various Artists / Variious / Intransitive (2xCD)

Sample 30 seconds of John Hudak's "Gamelon"
Experimental musicians are always telling us that the only difference between music and garden-variety ambient sound is the complexity of the patterns; in the end, it's all just relational data, occasionally illuminated by contextual shifts. For Variious, the folks at Intransitive have assembled a globe-spanning group of experimental/electroacoustic/acousmatic/just-plain-weird artists, all of them eager to give the musical envelope a good hard shove. Few of these 22 pieces fit into a conventional definition of music; you'll hear burbling computer sounds, cicada-friendly whines, wheezing harmonic drones, judders, clicks, clangs, pops, loops, voices, electronically modified engine noises and -- ahem -- a whole lot more. You'll witness the collision of vast tectonic slabs of noise, partake in playtime with a group of rubbery digital apes and be harassed at length by a cloud of electronic insects. You'll experience rumbling, sub-audible bass tones and weather vast gulfs of repeated-value silence punctuated by the "bump" of numeric shifts. Needless to say, Variious isn't for everyone; you need to have a solid appreciation for sound art, and even then the disc is best when you're in the mood for studious, deconstructive listening, or when you're working on a creative project and this sort of disparate stimuli will help you to create a paradigm-shifting atmosphere. As the soundtrack for a cross-country car trip...well, the choice is yours, but don't be surprised if nobody wants to ride with you after the first few miles. -- gz


Signing Einstein / Self-Titled / JNI (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Edward Teach"
It may be that I’m not yet mature enough to appreciate "adult contemporary rock" of the variety that Signing Einstein performs. Gina Gonzalez, the lead vocalist, has a solid yet ethereal (perhaps from the effects?) voice, which blends nicely with the dreamy score. The band’s self-titled debut combines elements of Pink Floyd, ‘80s era Top 40 (think ‘Til Tuesday rather than Cyndi Lauper) and world beat. There are many pleasant moments on this disk, particularly the album opener, "Edward Teach", but what I feel is really missing here album is any sense of energy or boundary-pushing. The songs are solid and comfortable, but not seductive. -- az


John Adams / Jump Shot / Congruent (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ticotomy"
Bassist John Adams heads up this pleasant gathering of Texas jazz musicians, guiding his group through uptempo, bop-ready pieces that combine big band influences with the frankness of a small, tight company. Jump Shot chooses from time-tested tunes like "Darn that Dream" and the classic "Beautiful Love", but has its ultimate strength in its originals, which range from soothing to scorching hot! The title track ricochets through a heart-pounding exchange of horns while Adams' speedy bass delivery guarantees rhythmic satisfaction. The appealing "Tricotomy" lets Marvin Stamm's brass zip through a meticulous solo, leaving you -- rather than the soloist -- gasping for air. Adams sticks to the basics, creating a sturdy album that draws upon the drama of cool jazz ballads and the persuasiveness of bop's finest moments. Avoiding avant-garde and frisky free-jazz acuteness, he brushes off the need to impress through obnoxious musical interruptions, instead holding to the basic tenet that quality playing and well-orchestrated tunes will always attract appreciative listeners. -- am


Die Form / Some Experiences with Shock / Metropolis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Damaged Corpse"
If creepy Europeans pounding out industrial-darkwave ditties like "Masochist", "Catheterization" and "Survival of a Severely Burned Child" make you want to paint your nails black and get down, you'll be all about Die Form. Originally recorded in 1983-84 on limited edition vinyl and remastered this year, Some Experiences with Shock consists of two sections, "Survival & Determination" and "Lacerations & Immolation". Drum machines, synthesizers and vocoders dominate the "Survival" section, and dominate is apparently the word of choice -- although it's difficult to enjoy the gory details through the language barrier, the band's aesthetic tends toward the sadomasochistic. (Although after bringing up the band's "notorious" penchant for bondage imagery, the hair-splitting press release goes on to note that, for the duo of Philippe Fichot and Eliane P., "sensuality, not just sexuality, is their guiding light.") At this late date -- post Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and others who have buffed up industrial music with grinding guitar bombast -- the music itself is well-produced and interestingly textured, but the minimalist approach sounds like the product of an earlier era, and is less sophisticated in its use of shock value. The second half ("Lacerations & Immolation") tends toward minimalist soundscapes; the screaming female voice and demonic growls that make up "Anesthesia & Disfigurement" are genuinely disturbing, despite their patina of studio echo, and most of the other tracks set an appropriately sinister tone. File under Halloween treats. -- rt


Heavenly / Heavenly Vs Satan / K (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Fell in Love Last Night"
Many kudos go to Calvin and K for reissuing this debut from the most infectious indie popsters of the early '90s. Amelia, Matthew, Rob and Cathy had such a knack for balancing offbeat melodies and girl-group melancholy against a kick-in-the-air cheeriness, that one reason to play them repeatedly is simply to figure out their tone. By then, you may still teeter from happy to sad, but you'll also be hooked to the group's sound. There are a handful of must-have tracks on Satan, especially "Cool Guitar Boy" and "I Fell in Love Last Night", but I don't recommend that newcomers start here. While Le Jardin du Heavenly and their remaining work offer nothing but flawless examples of jangly punk-pop, a handful of tracks on Satan ("Lemonhead Boy", "Stop Before You Say It") sound like Tallulah Gosh retreads. When these tunes are heard in the same sitting as "Our Love is Heavenly" or "Shallow", Satan will seem like the Heavenly equivalent of merging Rubber Soul with Beatles for Sale: there's both progression toward new heights, and regression to earlier glories. Satan succeeds most brilliantly when Heavenly acts like the new band they were, intent on doing something different. It's a testament to the group's artistry that their newest track always became my new favorite song. -- td


Alien Canopy / Pipe Dreams / Photon (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What's On My Mind"
Normally, any CD with a name and cover like this one (vast Armageddon sky, aging android being electrocuted by rusting pipes, gloomy landscape, toxic spew, etc.) would be cause for lots of winks and snarky comments. But I've got to admit that this cover is actually pretty cool, despite its middle school aesthetic (okay, I guess that's a bit snarky). The music itself is not quite what I expected; given the cover and the band's self-described influences -- Hendrix, Santana, Led Zepplin, Metallica, Satriani -- I was expecting lots of shredding, squealing and leather pants-wearing pyrotechnics, but the music here is very sincere, measured, middle of the road rock and roll. I get the feeling that the folks in the band wouldn't quite describe it that way, as there is a sense that they've got some built up hellraising in them for which they haven't quite managed to find a release. I also suspect that the band is not yet quite able to pull off some of their more ambitious ideas vis à vis hard-edged, psychedelic rock. But what this disc lacks in true spark, it makes up for in solid playing, good intentions and sincerity. -- ib


Lanterna / Elm Street / Badman Recordings (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Departures"
Lanterna play music so ethereal that it leaves you as soon as it meets you. This two-man ambient-rock band's new album is built on steady, mellow drums, simple chord progressions, subtle keyboard strokes and clean swooshes of guitar. The songs range from feel-good light rockers like "Elm Street" and soft minor melodies like "Spirits" to the abstract soundscapes of "Saturn's Rings". The crystal-clear production goes a long way toward making this music a sweet, spacious, audio treat. This is the kind of music I imagine floating out of my head when I catch myself staring into space while I'm at work; it doesn't really exist, but it's good while it lasts. -- ea


The Potomac Accord / Silver Line on a Black Sea / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Are They Careless Those Who Leave"
Silver Line on a Black Sea is as beautiful and somber as the title and cover art suggest. As the album is only seven songs long, but 65 minutes in length, each song is a near-epic. Some tracks are entirely instrumental, while others have spare lyrics that are present more as a supplemental instrument than as word-poems that build the song. The entire disc is suffused with power and angst, but the piano drives nearly every track. Full and lush, played in lower scales with the pedal held full for the entire performance, the keyboard becomes a human voice in a way that's rarely heard in contemporary pop music. "Are They Careless Those Who Leave", which highlights the piano most, could be the alternate soundtrack to Blue, and is so very mournful that I couldn't review Silver Line... last week, as I kept crying. "Maya", also not to be missed, is an elegy to something -- The woman it's about? The lyrics aren't clear -- brought to a soaring conclusion by repeated piano chords and a xylophone crescendo. The Potomac Accord has built a fairly strong fanbase in the Midwest, and Silver Line on a Black Sea should bring the rest of the world into agreement. -- js


The Timeout Drawer / A Difficult Future / Someoddpilot (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Soon a Winged Beauty will Appear"
For their sophomore effort, these Chicago space-rock mavens have strapped themselves into a kaleidoscopic rocket ship and blasted off on an analog synth and dissonance-fueled trip into the outer stratosphere of rock ‘n roll. A Difficult Future sees this newly-expanded outfit treading a fine line between their lunar-inspired past and a rocket fuel-drenched future so bright, they’re gonna need Teflon-coated shades. While the majority of their debut, Record of Small Histories, gently lulled the listener into their vast sonic vortex, A Difficult Future will grab you by the throat and dare you not to become enveloped in The Timeout Drawer’s blanket of supersonic sound. Former collaborator Jason Terchin's return to the group has given them a thicker, more sonically varied musical palette from which to draw. They flex some Spiritualized muscle on the expansive "The End of Every Movie", then somehow engineer a head-on collision of Galaxie 500 and Kraftwerk on the chiming sci-fi dervish "Dusty Planes and Daydreams of Adventure". Warm, languid tones dominate the thrillingly melodic "Soon a Winged Beauty will Appear", making it an ideal choice for use in nature documentaries. Throughout A Difficult Future, The Timeout Drawer prove themselves to be adept noisemongers whose fractured sense of restrained beauty and ethereal melody is eclipsed only by their stunning songcraft and instrumental ingenuity. -- jj


Oddibe / Self-Titled / Giant Blue Monkey (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Moon"
Sounding like a fusion of Barenaked Ladies (see "Time Bomb") and folkie outfit Caedmon's Call (except without the "Christian Contemporary" label), Oddibe strikes me as a band that thrives in the sort of coffeehouses that like to keep the noise to a minimum and the lyrics middle of the road enough that none of their patrons are offended. While there's nothing wrong with this sort of musical fare, there's nothing quite right, either. With a few exceptions (as on the wonderfully melancholy "I'm Alive"), most of these songs sound a little too similar and formulaic. As a result, they never quite manage to build that all-important bridge across the gap between bland and satisfying. -- al


Mad For The Racket / The Racketeers / Muscletone (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Czar of Poisonville"
The emo kid stood on one side of the playground, the rough rawker on the other; the short-skirted girl swung on the swings between them, trying to choose one over the other. The rawker, Wayne Kramer, was formerly of MC5, and had joined some sort of "super group" called Mad For The Racket, which was also led by the UK punker Brian James, of the even more prestigious The Damned. And how could that cute girl deny that sort of resume, when all the emo kid could say for himself was that he records songs in his bedroom on his four-track with his teddy-bear by his side? And besides, James had brought along a bunch of friends -- Duff McKagan of Guns 'n Roses, Stuart Copeland of The Police and Clem Burke of Blondie. I mean, come on...songs like "Chewed To The Bone" and "Trouble Bones" have such strong and manly beats, and "Czar of Poisonville" has that ominous meandering guitar. So why would the girl even care that MFTR's music sounds surprisingly juvenile, and offers few surprises? And would it really matter to her that their song structures are, for the most part, more normal than normal? Would it matter that the ever-repeating choruses sound like they were written on matchbooks and bar napkins? Of course not. The girl went towards the rawker -- who, I'll admit, had attitude and a good solo or two up his sleeve (not to mention modest but steady income from royalties). -- jk


Joe Morris / Singularity / AUM Fidelity (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Creature"
Morris, we should be explain, normally favors a plugged-in Les Paul guitar. His performance here -- improvising ten pieces on a steel-string acoustic guitar -- is, in effect, a distillation of his talent, compressing his skills into the tightly-packed titular point. The abilities he displays here are jaw-dropping; you'll be impressed not merely by his nimble fingers, or by his instinct for improvisation, but by the sheer speed at which his mind must work to produce pieces as varied and as listenable as these. Morris coaxes every conceivable sound from his instrument, squeezing out nimble arpeggios, plucking, tweaking, jabbing, brushing and massaging the strings, dashing through complex progressions and generally establishing himself as an Olympic-class fretboard athlete. That said, the pieces here don't always mesh well with their one-word titles; "Flight", for instance, would offer little suggestion of airborne travel were it not titled as such. Morris's improvisations are clearly best suited to contemporary jazz fans, who are more accustomed to the idiosyncratic, sometimes discordant routes he favors. Less adventurous listeners would probably welcome these performances as the centerpoint of a like-minded combo, but may find them wearying in this relentless solo format. -- gz


Spokane / The Proud Graduates / Jagjaguwar (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Proud Graduates"
Rick Alverson wants to make the musical equivalent of Styron's Darkness Visible. The aim is not to romanticize gloom or make sadness feel good, like Roy Orbison, but to make you think there's a Prozac pill lodged in your throat. Like Ian Curtis, Alverson's voice sets the tone for the song; he has graduated from singing the relatable feelings of Drunk's "Coming Home" to lines that mordantly echo Thomas Bernhard or post-WW2 Beckett ("The happy faces spoiled my evening"; "Don't let me win, don't let me win"). This movement toward the extremities of moroseness does not exactly work well in the confines of a four-minute tune. Since humor, used any way but sparingly, would have kept Spokane from its intent of choking listeners with grief, Alverson is caught in a no-win situation as his over-the-top depression almost requires palatable hilarity. Taken individually, each vocal track on The Proud Graduates is drearily effective, and filled with nothing but beautiful instrumentation, but it's telling that the only song I like to hear again and again is "Other Rooms". It has no words, no singing and a pain that is welcomingly redeemed by some hopeful guitars at its end. -- td


Tara Jane O'Neil / In The Sun Lines / Quarterstick (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Winds You Came Here On"
In The Sun Lines is O'Neil's second solo album, and departs very little from what has become her signature sound. To one who has never heard O'Neil's work (she's a former member of such vaunted indie combos as Rodan and The Sonora Pine, and a current member of Retsin), this could very easily come as a welcome breath of fresh air -- her airy voice coupled with sparse instrumentation (brushed percussion, strange jazzy guitar chords, weepy violin) can create quite an intoxicating effect. However, to those who have followed O'Neil's career, this disc might come as a bit of a disappointment, as it simply does not sufficiently distinguish itself from her other work to make it a truly important purchase. Of the ten tracks presented here, four are strange, rather experimental instrumental tracks that float by without ever making a real impression. On the slightly more fleshed-out tracks, such as the beautiful, haunting opener "The Winds You Came Here On", O'Neil reveals her ample strengths as a musician -- she has the ability to conjure an ethereal mood like few other artists, save perhaps Cat Power's Chan Marshall. However, too much of the disc sounds like O'Neil is coasting -- aimless instrumentals, and vocal lines that don't really go anywhere. In the Sun Lines is pleasant, pretty, and slightly unsettling, but ultimately not terribly filling. -- j-s


Automatic Head Detonator / Buffalo EP / Lo-Fi (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Buffalo"
This Los Angeles-based trio's joyous hooks are sure to sate any listener's quest for quirky electronic fuzz-rock. The band is at its best on songs like "Buffalo", where they meld down-tuned guitar rock with intermittent electronic warblings and the throaty vocals of lead singer Zeke Wray, creating an eccentric melody that's as enchanting as it is bizarre. While latter songs take a notable dive -- relying more on disjointed electronics and sampled vocals -- the disc shows enough promise to leave you wondering what might happen when Automatic Head Detonator learns to put aside songs with no melodic feasibility and concentrates on their ability to construct inventive guitar hooks and irregular vocals. In time, that formula could pay off for them in a big way. -- jw


Will Haven / Carpe Diem / Revelation (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Saga"
Will Haven shreds with accuracy and enmity. Exploring new horizons of isolation, doom and disaffection, Will Haven make you bang your head and beg for mercy; let's just say that there is more screaming here than at a Banshee Convention. Vocalist Grady Avenell hemorrhages saturnine, albeit clichéd homilies that are supposed to be didactic. Take, for example, the lyrics for "Carpe Diem": "Greed rules what we make of ourselves/from the beggar to the chooser/who survives at the end of the trail." Avenell sprinkles these truisms throughout the album, whilst guitarist Jeff Irwin goes apeshit with his flanger pedal and the internecine rhythm section tries to hammer every beat into submission. Admittedly, metal offers a modicum of choices and Will Haven seems happy enough with their signature sound, as they don't vary it at all. Some may call it pabulum, but Will Haven delivers the goods -- they're appropriately loud, distorted, bitter and did I mention loud? -- da


Red Level Eleven / Fort Seduction / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Calling Orson"
There must be something in the water down there in Georgia -- some kind of holy rock water. Atlanta-based Red Level Eleven continues in this fine and time honored musical tradition. There is something Pixies/Breederish about their sound; the two female vocalists contribute a harmonic (almost twee) prettiness to many of the songs, yet behind them, the guitars wail and crunch. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but a compelling one. Nowhere is this contrast more evident than in "Freshman Year", the album opener. But the songs I find most captivating are the instrumental "Bent Steel" and "Calling Orson", a maelstrom of runaway guitars, screamed vocals and convulsive cymbals. -- az


Ken Stringfellow / Touched / Manifesto (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Find Yourself Alone"
On his second solo outing, former Posies singer/songwriter Stringfellow digs deep into his bag of tricks to craft a batch of pop tunes so deceptively simple, you’ll wonder why you’ve never written them yourself. Then again, simplicity has been Stringfellow’s stock-in-trade since his earliest days with the Posies. He has always been an ace tunesmith, and the misty power-pop nugget "Find Yourself Alone" proves that he was a natural choice when it came time to staff the second incarnation of Big Star. The buzzing "Spanish Waltz" bears the mark of recent Stringfellow employers REM, while "Uniforms"' quasi-orchestral opening and fuliginous atmosphere sound not unlike latter-day Hollies. On the downside, even Sherlock Holmes himself would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely beguiling about the acoustic guitar-driven "Here’s to the Future" or the Beatles-aping melodies of "This One’s on You". It's unlikely to set the pop world ablaze, but Touched is the perfect accompaniment for all those lazy Sunday afternoons when too little is just right. -- jj


Coal / Beautiful Afterburn / Coal (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sangfroid"
On their third full length release, these four Canadians create an affecting mix of alterna-rock, blues and country. The finished product has the same disturbed familiarity as Twin Peaks, in which a sweetly innocent mask hides something a little darker. The songs move at a sensual pace, giving tracks like "Sangfroid" plenty of time to work their seductive spell. The band deserves some serious attention for the effectiveness of its music; the album easily draws listeners in. Unfortunately, Beautiful Afterburn doesn't achieve its full potential. Although the band fleshes out their four-piece presentation with horn, pedal steel and other touches, they don't go far enough. Adding a double-tracked vocal to a chorus here and a touch more echo there could push songs like "In the Rough" the rest of the way to greatness. As it stands, the tunes are still damn good, giving a strong indication that Coal's vein has yet to be tapped out. -- rd


The Convocation Of... / Pyramid Technology / Tiger Style (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Face to Face with the Beast"
You'll know within seconds if Pyramid Technology is your cup of tea. The sinuous, squelchy guitar lead that opens "Face to Face with the Beast" is the key; if "Voodoo Chile"-style noodling gets on your nerves, or if dense, bleak minor-key tunes make you reach for the remote, you should probably hold onto your money. This Baltimore trio likes their music heavy, and they've learned their music history well. They capture the spirit of seventies proto-metal but avoid the histrionics, touch on late-eighties sludge-rock without stooping to four-track production values, and pull in just enough emo influence (mostly in the vocal department) to interest punk rock kids. In the process, they eliminate almost every shred of ear-pleasing melody; if you're going to derive any pleasure from Pyramid Technology, it's more likely to come from appreciation of the band's technique, or of the disc's sheer, uncompromising intensity. While I readily acknowledge the skill and effort that went into this album, I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it much. -- gz


Andy White / Self-Titled / Thirsty Ear (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hysteria"
With modest vocals and plenty of backup instrumentation, Irish singer-songwriter Andy White's music is far from objectionable -- but it isn't something that you can easily cuddle up with, either. Rather, it just sort of plays and you just sort of bob your head and just sort of say, "that's nice", as if you were listening to the radio -- not that that's a bad thing. White's music would have been a lot more intimate if it hadn't been glossed over with the sort of lush production techniques you tend to pick up when you work with folks like Peter Gabriel and Neil Finn (as has White). As I listened, I kept wishing I could hear White play these songs while sitting by himself in a quiet room, using just a guitar and his voice. However, despite the constant shifts in mood, which seal each track in an emotional vacuum, there are a couple of successes. "I Want It Straight" highlights the vocals with an echoing slide guitar, and "Hysteria", a rhythmic acoustic tune, pleasantly mocks club-going socialites. The rest of the songs here are so densely lacquered that you'll need to dig through the production fat to find any emotion. At the core, you will find that soothing acoustic guitar and that quiet voice -- but you'll have to hunt for it. -- jk


Robert Nanna/Elizabeth Elmore / Split EP / Troubleman Unlimited (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Elizabeth Elmore's "You Blink"
"Forgiveness" is the same spare and intimate song I've heard Bob Nanna perform, and it's a total winner. Instead of providing a simple spotlight for his smart lyrics and surprisingly understated vocals, there's a wonderful movement for the guitar that you never want to end. The song finishes with painterly strums pressed against a background of rhythmic blue that, for me, nearly transforms the whole song into a study of the friendship between a guitar and its owner. If it were used in Herschel Gordon's Color Me Blood Red, Nanna's "Forgiveness" would even make the blood and guts look pretty. Impressively, the gorgeous music not only continues with Elmore's "You Blink"; it gets more lovely. Elmore's lyrics still have a vivid, sweaty sort of strength ("You watch the flames rise, I salvage what I can"), but her barely recognizable vocals are at their highest and most delicate peak, and the primal guitar/piano surge just smacks at the root of the song's emotions. "You Blink" is easily her best and liveliest ballad, and makes Split EP the rare joint effort in which each artist's work promises a future that's too good to be true. -- td


Love Selective / El Bimbo Latino / Tommy Boy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "El Bimbo Latino: Axwell's Vocal Mix"
Love Selective, AKA DJ Mixmaster, has been spinning various flavors of hard house music in New York and around the globe for a long time now. He has also released quite a bit of music of his own and in collaboration with house stars like Gloria Gaynor and The Tramps. "El Bimbo Latino", as its title suggests, is a Latin-inflected hard house track. The relentlessly energetic drums have a definite tribal edge, while the bass-line is clearly meant to bring out the Latin lover moves you've kept hidden away in your closet since the unfortunate incident that one time in Puerto Rico. Over the top is a loungey organ line that sounds like it was copped from a 1970s afternoon game show theme song. There are five versions of the tune on the disc; two by DJ Mixmaster, two by Axwell and one by EddieX. I like "Axwell's Vocal Mix" the best; it speeds things up a bit and adds a layer of saucy vocals, giving an already tasty track just that extra bit of sabor. -- ib


Jeff Kelley / Indiscretion / Hidden Agenda (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Somebody’s Daughter"
Aside from being a decent, hook infested pop-rock album, Indiscretion serves as a spiritual valve for San Francisco’s Jeff Kelly. I’ve never heard his other band, the Green Pajamas, but I’m fairly certain that that band isn’t as firmly rooted in such spiritual crisis. One must be careful when criticizing an album because of spiritual content, and there are many bands I like that use spirituality to deepen their music, but unfortunately in this case Kelley’s concept album becomes far too much of a strain on the listener. Not to mention the weird Catholic/Sexual undertones: "She looks like Mary, and how can I deny the mother of God?" There’s way too much intense shit going on in the world right now, so for me, having to sit through a rocker's hyper-personal musings on his Christian guilt seems rather tedious. There are some moments here, like "Somebody’s Daughter", that transcend the concept -- but overall, the music isn’t amazing enough to justify a second listen. -- ea


Mad Daddys / The Age of Asparagus / RAFR (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Good n' Stoopit"
Like their early mentors The Cramps, Mad Daddys just want to have some good, raunchy, trash-rock fun. You can tell from the dark-haired bombshell wrapped around a stalk of asparagus in the cover painting, the groan-inducing puns of the band members' names (Stinky Sonobuoni, Eddie Cochring, Pete Moss, Wrongo Starr) and of course the songs themselves. Plowing a scum 'n' surf patch of irony somewhere between the genuinely sleazy anarchy of The Cramps and the retro-rockabilly of the Reverend Horton Heat, the Daddys work their mojo ("Shake It Like Ya Mean It") and assert their manhood ("King of the Wild Frontier"). "I'm Mad" stomps convincingly through a loser's lament ("I can't help complaining about this life"), while the seven minute closer, "(I'm Gonna) Die of Rock n' Roll", slows the tempo to a bluesy dirge without neglecting a few lengthy guitar solos. Despite the band's professionalism (singer Sonobuoni has been at this schtick since 1982), few of the songs stand out from the pack; The Age of Asparagus feels monotonous, as if wilting in the heat. Their label's initials stand for "Rock and Fucking Roll", and that spirit -- manic, striving, a little forced -- defines the Mad Daddys as well. -- rt


Therecordtime / Dream in Color Dream in Sound / My Automation (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "A Girl A Rose A Stage"
Recorded straight to 16 tracks in the good ol' city of Austin, Texas, Dream in Color Dream in Sound packs a walloping punch of pompously-confident rockitude. Spongy bass lines sop up each band member's discontent with three-chord rock, pushing the envelope of musical confrontation through a storm of notes. Therecordtime's sonic reverberations clock in somewhere between '80s rhythm kids Honor Role and the self-destructive fireball of The Appleseed Cast. Passmore's vocals are the deciding factor here, as his voice sings flat on each of these tunes –- adding a distinct tone, but possibly turning away listeners who prefer a more accomplished vocal performance. Careening through numbers like "Last One Picked" and the tightly wound "A Girl A Rose a Stage", therecordtime glistens with the focused intent of their carefully coordinated search and destroy mission. Crass without falling into the punk niche and strikingly pensive without succumbing to emo's blandness, therecordtime showcases five solid songs that'll leave a lasting impression. -- am


Deedrah / Reload / Hadshot (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Land Of Freedom (2001 Mix)"
A break from the psychedelic-induced trance music for which Deedrah (aka Dado) is predominantly known, Reload plays like its happier techno cousin. In other words, if raves were conducted in a sunny field of flowers, this is what the DJ would spin. More than any other element, though, it's the record's pace that will catch your attention; each track moves along at an insane happy-hardcore-type speed, and if the idea of few tempo changes is to your liking then you're definitely in luck. As with the majority of techno-trance hybrid discs, the sound quality on Reload is as close to perfect as you're likely to find -- it even sounded good coming from my crappy computer speakers, which is quite a feat. I've yet to test this one out in my car, but I'm thinking that even my one blown speaker won't slow Reload down. -- al


Weights and Measures / Tonight, the Lower Abdominals / Matlock(CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Weekend is For Making Babies"
If you're in love with Teenbeat and Merge bands like Versus, Superchunk and Unrest, Tonight, the Lower Abdominals will give your (heart) muscles a workout. Dubbed math rock because of its NIST-style precision, Weights and Measures transcends the traditional curse of math rock, which is a lack of emotion. The album isn't emo, either; it's much more melodic, and far too tidy to be libeled that way. Drummer Jeremy Gara is absolutely fabulous, and the band knows it (song three is titled "The Overstimulated Drummer is Always Given to Hyperbole"); you can hear every beat, tap and brush he makes, and the rhythm pushes the tight guitar melodies and bass backup of Kevin Jagernauth and Samir Khan to a turgid finish. If you've mourned the recently muted punk spirit of Chapel Hill and DC, look to Ottawa -- Weights and Measures are setting the standard for a beautiful future. -- js


Scott Sandvik / Open Field / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "On A Charge To Keep I Have"
Scott Sandvik is a guitarist and professor of jazz and improvisation at the New England Conservatory of Music. His inspiration comes from two fairly disparate sources: the microtonal harmonies of modern classical music, and traditional black folk music. He performs all of this inspiration on his acoustic guitar, which means there is a minimum of flash to these performances. His pieces typically start with a small scattering of notes and dissonant chords. From this point, the songs develop in tiny but significant ways; as stated, the inspiration is a particular brand of folk singing in which there is minimal emphasis placed on tonal change and maximal emphasis placed on the textures of these notes. The album is framed by a series of variations on a theme. The liner notes explain that this theme was recorded by a folklorist in the 1950s. The theme, "Field Call", was the song an elderly black woman recalled her father singing to her mother to tell her to come in from the fields. The simplicity of the variations recalls the stark power of much traditional singing, and the care with which Sandvik has arranged and recorded his approaches to this music speaks both to his respect and his artistry. In this case, a few carefully-chosen notes are more eloquent than a symphony.-- bm


Various Artists / Make Way For No Karma / No Karma (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of IfIHadAHiFi's "Murder is For Me"
If there was an award for Best Budget-Priced Label Sampler, Make Way... would be a strong contender. It's far more than a bog-standard "three previously-released songs from each of our five bands" throwaway; the fifteen original, unreleased tunes here represent not only the current No Karma crop, but also a handful of bands the label admires and has long wanted to work with, as well as new projects from some of their oldest friends. This could be a recipe for disaster, given the narrow tastes of a lot of label folks, but -- oh, let's not beat around the bush: if you're expecting (or dreading) an hour of emo, Make Way... will surprise you. There are a few emo bands here, to be sure, but there's also a healthy variety of slowcore, math rock, prog and melodic hardcore, not to mention numerous flavors of pop. Thoughtful sequencing keeps the album free of genre-clumping ruts; if a given song doesn't float your boat (and there's likely to be at least one that doesn't), you can be reliably certain that the next track will offer something different. As a whole, Make Way... comes off as more of a manifesto than a label sampler -- it's clear that the label wants to reach listeners in a personal, individual way, but not in that heavy-handed, "I Must Make An Emotional Connection With The Listener" fashion favored by a lot of contemporary punk labels. That in itself is laudable. -- gz


Jackie-O Motherfucker / Liberation / Road Cone (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ray-O-Graph"
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to you to learn that this eight-member improvisational/noise/art house/free jazz/everything-but-the-kitchen sink outfit recently released an album on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label, or that lazy reviewers out there will lump them in with groups like Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Sigur Rós. In reality, this most offensively monikered of groups has more in common with avant-garde outfits like John Zorn’s Masada or Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. The wildly eclectic and unpredictable Liberation is sure to curry the group favor with listeners who enjoy a more challenging listening experience. Consisting of eight loosely arranged compositions, Liberation is more an experiment in sound manipulation than a cohesive album. A wide array of instruments (including pump organ, cello, banjo and melodica) creates the swirling, cacophonous atmospherics of "Ray-O-Graph" and "Tea Party". Elsewhere, as on the extraterrestrially beautiful "In Between", the group combines electronic blips, savage blasts of overdriven guitar, libidinous bass runs and frenetic drumming, creating an air of restrained chaos and unrequited beauty. It's not always the most accessible of albums, but Liberation is a treasure trove of sonic delights that more adventurous listeners would be well advised to open. -- jj


Mark McKay / Nothing Personal / Dren (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "One Day"
Describing this disc with more verve than the Washington Post's ever-creative term, "rootsy rock", is a feat that would be impossible for just about anyone shy of William Shakespeare -- but I'll do my best. Things get off to a decent start with "One Day", a rough and ready rock n' roll track featuring mildly fresh guitar dawdling. However, all passion and urgency stops there; songs like "Morning In her Eyes" and "Black And Blue All Over You" proceed to rehash this basic template ad nauseum, rapidly eroding the modest good will that "One Day" accumulated. Perhaps McKay says it best when he sings, in "Canyons", "I wandered out this morning, like a fading, stumbling melody." Prophetic words... -- jw


Halo Effect / Waves / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Introvert"
This Minneapolis-based four-piece plays solid, if rather unoriginal, post-shoegazer rock. As with most bands of this type, Halo Effect are at their best when they're rocking out, and they do this quite effectively on songs like "Introvert", which is quite the frantic pounder. However, it's on slower tracks such as "Option Overdrive" and "Indigo" that the band's weaknesses are laid bare, and they are exposed as yet another second-rate Radiohead wannabe. Thom Yorke could sue for copyright infringement the way singer Daniel Williams-Goldberg apes his signature warble, and the band's layered, effected guitars and middling tempos do nothing to dispel the argument against them. Other songs veer between piling on the guitars and laying Goldberg's warble bare, with varying success: while "Twelve" sports a pretty good Pixies-ish soft-to-loud dynamic and a very catchy chorus, "Atmosphere" finds the boys worshipping a bit too fervently at the Altar of Corgan. However, despite the group's overt plagiarism, Waves actually does make for an enjoyable listen -- if you can ignore the fact that you've heard all of this before. -- j-s


Various Artists / The Embryo Compilation: 03 - Adventures In Homemade Music / Cubby Control (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Patina Praxis' "Is It True That I Am No Longer Young"
In which Brian Weaver of the Cubby Creatures puts together a grab-bag of San Francisco's finest homemade music. This sampler, surprisingly, features a lower level of crap tracks than most discs of its ilk. The range of musical styles covered over the course of the disc is quite impressive -- no matter what your taste, there'll be something to pique your interest, be it post-rock, plain rock, surf-rock, sample-tastic weirdness or plain folk. The home-made angle is really pushed here; there's a certain level of roughness to most of the tracks, while Dax's "9am" (sounding very like an escaped Grant Lee Phillips tune) really runs with the ball and features an alarm clock as accompaniment. As home-made music compilations go, this is a good indicator of what can be done when you've got passion and a four-track. At worst, you'll be convinced that you can't do any worse, and head out to make an album of your own. At best, the joy found in just making music -- which is readily apparent here -- will capture you. Pay special attention to the Shackleton, Patina Praxis, SVS Sound Labs and That Hideous Strength tracks -- they're more impressive than most disposable compilation tracks. -- lm


The Wooldridge Brothers / The Unreel Hits / Wooldridge Group LLC (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Unbelievable Truth"
Drawing from demos and unreleased studio tracks, Scott and Brian Wooldridge have put together a nice assortment of songs. They're the leftovers from several previous albums, but they manage to cohere pretty well despite having been recorded over the space of several years. Both brothers play Midwestern country-rock almost instinctively; imagine, if you will, Cracker without David Lowery's sardonic sense of humor, or the Counting Crows fronted by Mellencamp, all thrown together with some Big Star sensibilities. Scott's singing is emotive and Brian has an exceptional ability with guitar hooks, but the quality of the songs isn't quite there yet. There are, to be sure, a couple of standouts, like the Costelloesque "Fascism on the Radio" and the Tom Petty earnestness of "The Unbelievable Truth". Then again, there are some pretty horrible missteps, such as "Counter Culture People" (please don't make me quote these lyrics). Mostly, the Brothers' dynamic grasp of harmony and welcome use of mandolin, fiddle and organ round out the album and eventually sway the listener to their side. If The Unreel Hits is the stuff they didn't use, I can only imagine the quality of their five previous albums. It's hard to fault musicians who try this hard. -- da



gz - george zahora | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak | td - theodore defosse
rd - ron davies | js - jenn sikes | rt - ryan tranquilla | al - amy leach | jw - john wolfe | az - alex zorn | ea - ed anderson
jk - josh kazman | mp - matthew pollesel | bm - brett mccallon | da - daniel arizona | j-s - jeremy schneyer | lm - luke martin

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