Whit Dickey
Ides of Space
Kultur Shock
Legends & Deeds
Minus the Bear
Willie Heath Neal
Rah Bras
The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Tall Paul
VA: The Entire History of Punk
Hector Zazou and Sandy Dillon

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AM/FM, Tweaker, Bruce Anderson and Dale Sophiea, Happy Supply, Brazen/Kevlar, Vibrationland, Pilote, The Court and Spark, Turnerjoy, The Emerald Down, Peter Frampton, Hot Little Rocket, Mark Mallman and Vermont, Suite 706 at Hyatt Regency Paris-Madeleine, Tenboy, Amber, Tamika Williams-Clark, Rally Boy, New End Original, String Builder, Replicator, Interfearence, Velvet Crush, (Smog), The Clean, Boilermaker, (lYd)2, Half-Handed Cloud, Broadway Project, Trans Champs, Craig Taborn Trio, Bill Morrissey, Trent Summar & The New Row Mob, Mixmaster Mike, Vanethian, Charly McLion, Finisterre, TKA

AM/FM / Getting Into Sinking / Polyvinyl (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "It Fell Out Of My Head"
Getting Into Sinking opens very prettily, with what I believe to be lots of falsetto background vocals. AM/FM is grounded, but not limited by, its two-piece nature; Brian Sokel, the primary songwriter, composed this album for the spareness of two instruments, and then spiced it up with lots of "session" musicians. As a result, there’s something pleasantly clean and minimalist about these songs -- although appearances by the occasional trombone, organ, keyboard, bass and a second voice really flesh them out. The first track, "Virgins! Virgins!", is a morose, Beach Boys-inspired tune, with the melodic vocals taking pride of place over the instruments. Many of these songs come off as delicate, perhaps even fragile, sometimes belying the angst of the lyrics ("I walk up to you and say a prayer for the kids that died last year"), and at other times perfectly reflecting a childlike sense of wonder and daydreaminess ("My feet will appear to be off the ground/when in fact they’ll just be upside down"). What AM/FM lacks in adrenaline, they make up for with lots of imagination. -- az

Tweaker / The Attraction to All Things Uncertain / Six Degrees (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Come Play"
A year or so ago, I picked up a copy of American McGee's Alice, an extremely dark PC game re-imagining of Alice In Wonderland for which Chris Vrenna, now recording as Tweaker, provided the music. The music from Alice (which Six Degrees will release later this month) still haunts me, so I was more than willing to give The Attraction to All Things Uncertain a try. Attraction..., which grew from Vrenna's fascination with the Joe Sorren painting that appears on its cover, tells the story of Elliott -- a lost, detached Everyman whose emotional journey moves him through shades of grey. The story gives Vrenna a lot of room to stretch his musical muscles; he delivers a frequently haunting mixture of hard rock, NIN-style angst, shimmering slide guitar, high-tech hip-hop beats, industrial paranoia and ethereal electronics. High points include the twangy conflagration and haunting music box tinkling of "Swamp", the Will Oldham-fronted techno-blues dirge "Happy Child", the clamorous proto-IDM of "Susan", the glitchy, melodic industrial pop of "Microsize Boy" and the album closing "Come Play", which would fit easily onto an early nineties Warp Records sampler. My only real gripe about The Attraction to Things Uncertain is that it panders to alt-rock radio by placing its "chunky chord" tracks up-front, which may prompt indie rock fans to turn up their noses at this intriguing record. -- gz

Bruce Anderson and Dale Sophiea / Medication / Family Vineyard/Quadruped (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Exaggerated Feeling of Well-Being"
The two key musicians on this album have been working with each other for over 30 years, starting with the experimental rock band MX-80. I will break the official indie-music critic's code and admit that I have never heard this apparently legendary band -- but judging by this album, I have definitely been missing something. Though more conceptual and ambient, Medication is something of an avant-garde sister to Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space. That album was packaged like medication; this one not only features the titular references to chemical euphoria, but the track names are a list of "side effects you may experience". Clearly, these guys don't have J. Spaceman money to throw around on gospel choirs, but they accomplish their objectives quite admirably given vastly fewer resources. The album is through-and-through guitar experiments, with almost no feedback and a great deal of multitracking and chiming harmonics. The sound is continuous throughout, but is more clearly separated into individual ideas than is the norm with this kind of record. The "side effect" titles are not simply for effect; more often than not, they are quite descriptive of the corresponding sounds. "Ringing In Your Ears" consists of feedback carried over from "Euphoria", accompanied by soft chimes. "Metallic Taste" increases the tempo and adds high, picked guitar notes that somehow recall plaque scraping (in a pleasant way). "Sensitivity to Light" makes use of some weird backward-sounding effects that recall the freak-out segment of Midnight Cowboy. Granted, abstracted cork soundscapes should probably not be judged on their listenability, but there is something to be said for the fact that I find myself listening to this album much more often than other, similarly ambitious endeavors. I suppose here, as everywhere, experience really does count. -- bm

Happy Supply / Health Place EP / Dutch Courage (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Color Song"
Okay, Happy Supply wins. They've got luscious, creamy pink vinyl, a very odd, vibrant and shiny record sleeve, totally dorky drum machine beats and one finger guitar solos, not to mention a cute girl singer with tattoos, bad hair, a funny hat, a guitar and a scooter. Oh, and really silly, dreamy, synth-pop songs that sound like Kim Gordon doing non-stoopid spoken word/saucy girl tracks with a couple of slightly confused Devo rejects as her backing band. All the cool kids dig this, but they're afraid to let it show. You're bigger than that; go ahead, put this one on, get out your tinfoil spacesuit and show those tight-sphinctered hipsters how to have some fun! -- ib

Brazen/Kevlar / Split Double 3" / Snuff (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Brazen's "Statues and Waifs"
If you do indeed judge a record by its cover (and it's surprising how often you can), this shared effort from Swedish groups Brazen and Kevlar should be pretty cool: two 3" discs, one solid black and one plain white, hold two lengthy songs each and come folded in a glossy, compact package. The 20 minutes of music on the discs doesn't quite achieve the same level of innovation, but the contents are solidly well-executed. Brazen open with the instrumental "Everlasting Gestures", which builds into a satisfying wallop before settling back for a quiet passage; the all-tension/no release continues until the fade. "Statues and Waifs" pounds similar themes at a faster tempo, adding some screamed vocals to the otherwise harnessed onslaught. Kevlar play their instrumental second, but its pattern is suspiciously similar, as a quiet guitar strum turns slowly into a full-band rumble of swirling feedback. The vocal track, "Capitol City Child", plays straightforward indie rock with a dark, Girls Against Boys-like sound. Good things do come in small packages. -- rt

Vibrationland / Brownian Motion / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "All Day Breakfast"
This is a strange, strange CD -- but pleasantly so. A lot of bands do the genre-hopping thing, but normally they do it from track to track rather than mixing a slew of styles on each and every song. Vibrationland does the latter, taking it upon themselves to try anything that comes to mind at any point during a given song. This makes it particularly difficult to adequately describe their sound, because there is so much going on here that it would take forever to list all the different styles and sounds. These range from traditional (the bluesy saxophone on "Ascencion" -- yes, that's how they spelled it) to bizarre (the underwater vocal effects of "Undry Hours"). I can't quite explain exactly why Brownian Motion enjoyable, but it is -- the band's enjoyment of their own music is so genuine and thorough, you can't help but get caught up in it. Even so, the album must be heard in its entirety to be understood -- and even then, if you're like me, you may still be slightly baffled as to why this mish-mash of music is so endearing. -- al

Pilote / Do It Now Man / Domino (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Paul Oakenfold"
Electronic music, much like abstract art, is a style in which it is difficult to recognize inspiration, because the results can easily understate the effort engaged in the composition. For example, do looped beats represent an honest repetitive mantra or simple cut and pasting? This ambiguity diffuses the impact of Pilote's second release. While the skittering patterns are undeniably pleasing, the downtempo grooves feel just a touch too scripted. Certain tracks, such as opener "Paul Oakenfold", rise above this failing to become masterpieces of layered, conflicting rhythms. However, the middle third of the album mixes and matches a bit too obviously to really knock me dead. In the end, this makes the album quite good, but not great. -- rd

The Court and Spark / Bless You / Absolutely Kosher (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "National Lights"
The Court and Spark would like you to know that they are not a country band, and that they aren't named after Joni Mitchell's classic album. Why a band would name themselves the same thing as one of a very well-known artist's more popular records, and then deny that one has anything to do with the other, is a mystery to me -- almost as much of a mystery as why a country band would deny that they're a country band. That last bit was something of a joke, because whatever they are, The Court and Spark are definitely not a country band in the traditional sense. However, their sound is country enough to warrant the concern that some philistine might mistake them as such -- they ply a sort of mellow, lazy, countrified pop music, somewhat similar to bands like Beachwood Sparks. Singer M.C. Taylor sounds like a combination of Richard Buckner and a very drowsy James Taylor, and while his voice can be quite affecting, it can also come dangerously close to parody. There aren't too many cringe-worthy moments on Bless You, but when Taylor sings "I'd like to call Big Mama/trade a pistol for some grain", on "Rooster Mountain", you really have to wonder what the hell he's talking about. In the end, this song comes across more like an outtake from Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats than as a serious song by a non-country band. I suppose that my main problem with The Court and Spark is that many of their songs reach for an over-arching traditionalism, which rings slightly false coming from a group of San Francisco twenty-somethings. However, if you can get past the fact that these guys probably aren't singing from experience, you could do a lot worse than Bless You as far as mellow, autumnal albums go. -- j-s

Turnerjoy / Cigarettes and Serevent / Self-released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Home"
If this band was playing next to the subway, you wouldn't hesitate to give them one of those fancy new quarters you're collecting! They're like Aden performing Radiohead with an added sis-boom-bah. They pounce on the keyboards in "Home" as if home was space, and they swirl through the gravity of their songs, making every feeling seem like it's a delight to sing about. This infectious indie pop group throws its world around like pom poms. Their ripping cover of The Stone Roses' "I Wanna Be Adored" reminded me that I really need to listen to the original again. Turnerjoy's version is so urgent, anthemic and deliriously emotional ("I don't have to sell my soul/He's already in me") that it worked for me even when I misheard the words -- it just amazed me how a man's odd wish to be a door could move me so. It's this ability -- not their proggy instrumental prowess -- that makes Turnerjoy more impressive than most of their peers. -- td

The Emerald Down / Scream The Sound / Pop Sound (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "another day"
Remember that silly time when our country was afraid of people with black trenchcoats? Well, the people who wore them in my mid-'90s high school also wore black lipstick and eye shadow, fishnet stockings and pierced eyebrows -- and although they might have been thought of as weird, they were never considered threatening. Just thinking back on those days makes giggle, and hearing the gothic soundscapes of The Emerald Down only recalls the past without adding any twenty first century touches to it. The entire span of Scream the Sound is awash in a blur of serenely distorted noise, with driving drums buried in the back. Singer Rebecca Basye’s ethereal voice floats aimlessly through the music, like a wordless cloud; it’s done well, and is occasionally haunting, but this rather long album offers relatively little melody, and almost no significant changes in its non-stop textural flurry. Think My Bloody Valentine without the cool hooks, or Flying Saucer Attack without the extreme experimentalism. The album ends up becoming one long blur, in which any possible deviation is buried in the fuzz. That’s neither scary nor funny. Instead, like many an upstanding citizen's high-school Goth phase, it’s best experienced as a distant, hazy memory. -- ea

Peter Frampton / Frampton Comes Alive / A&M (2xCD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Just the Time of the Year"
This 25th Anniversary edition not only brings the magic of Frampton to a new generation of guitar-starved minions -- it also gives longtime fans four previously unreleased tunes (specifically, "White Sugar", "Day's Dawning", "Nowhere's Too Far For My Baby" and "Just the Time of Year"). After the former Humble Pie axe-slinger decided to seek fame in the music world, Frampton began his steady ascent in the annals of rock 'n' roll history with relentless touring and a steady string of albums. With numbers ranging from acoustic ballads to ballsy electric shakedowns, the entire gamut of Frampton’s early work is represented on these two CDs. Frampton reveals that he's more than a guitar-soloing prodigy, as the sentimental "Baby I Love Your Way" may still bring a tear to your eye and a swoon to your stance with its acoustic beauty and lyrical charm. Frampton's 13-minute marvel "Do You Feel Like We Do" anchors the second CD, combining melody with a true guitar artifact, the talkbox, which warbles and squawks back to the roaring crowd in a wack-ass alien verbiage. Whether you're young or old, perhaps it's time to (re)visit one of the true gems of '70s rock. The ultimate test is whether Frampton has withstood the evolution of music, and after the first CD sinks into your CD tray and blazes from the stereo, you, too will enjoy the epiphany that the hordes of Winterland fans did back in Frampton's heyday: he is, indeed, a god. -- am

Hot Little Rocket / Danish Documentary / Endearing (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Firesale"
The first, and possibly the only thing, that will strike you about Hot Little Rocket is the distinctively wry, Fred Schneider-on-helium vocals of lead singer Andrew Wedderburn. No matter how hard you may try to ignore them, they’re there. You can practically see Wedderburn on the floor, writhing in mock agony, spouting lines like "If you drive far enough in a car small enough, you get airtime on Danish documentary television" ("Denmark"), while both the crowd and his bandmates look on in disbelief. But to Wedderburn’s credit, his vocals and clever lyrical wordplay are just about the only worthwhile elements to be found on Danish Documentary. Throughout the album, his bandmates seem more interested in making sure nobody realizes they are actually with him than they do in creating exciting and visceral musical accompaniment for his quirky tales. As a result, the songs themselves ("The Last Thing" and "Did Yr Ship Come In?", for example) trudge along traditional emo-influenced paths, going nowhere you haven't been before. Until Wedderburn and his colleagues can get on the same page, Hot Little Rocket is going to remain a decidedly one-sided affair. -- jj

Mark Mallman and Vermont / Eponymous / Guilt Ridden Pop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Romeo Daze"
Exposing the seedy underbelly of society, and concomitantly the relationships that make up that society, iconoclastic artist-at-large Mark Mallman scratchily sings over the easy vibe laid down by Vermont. Collaborating at the drop of a hat, the prolific Mallman is backed by Promise Ring's Davey Von Bohlen and Dan Didier, along with Pele's Chris Roseneau, providing a nice cross-section of the highly-touted Twin Cities music scene. The feel is demonstrably laid back, with Didier applying tasteful fan-played drum fills under resonating single-note bass lines. Similarly, the electric guitars are arpeggiated and strummed slowly and cleanly, reminding one of Vic Chesnutt's The Salesman and Bernadette. Between swipes at the harmonica, Mallman sounds like he's having a Will Oldham-style struggle to get his lyrics out. A few of his most amusing and representative lines appear in the opener, "Dear Glory": "I could find me a place in the country/with a billy goat up on the roof/and my Chevy on bricks in the driveway/and some blood-money stuffed in my boot." Mallman is mainly interested in American urban decay, poignantly and humorously expressing its intangibles, as in "Four Letter World": "Tell me, tell me where do I go in this library of illiterate men/where the graffiti is just scribbles and shapes/and the librarian is passed out again." Despite the overt cynicism, Mallman and Vermont's effort is more descriptive and poetic than anything else -- and rightly so. -- da

Various Artists / Suite 706 at Hyatt Regency Paris-Madeleine / Milan (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Grand Tourism's "Les courants d'air"
The last time I was in France was many years ago, and I didn't stay at the Hyatt Regency Paris-Madeleine, so the whole Suite 706 thing is lost on me. Luckily, that doesn't matter; regardless of your own background, Suite 706 is a collection of European electronic pop compiled by MTV France host Jacky Jayet. The overall mood here is sultry; you won't go wrong keeping this disc in the bedroom, though a few of its cheesier moments might result in coitus interruptus. Most of the artists here fall between the Enigma/B-Tribe and Portishead/Massive Attack islands on your musical map, favoring acoustic guitar textures, downtempo beats, new agey keyboards and sexually charged lyrics. The best tunes buck the formula: Aim's "Phantasm" kicks an aggressively funky beat, horn stabs and vocal samples over a jazzy melody, while Grand Tourism's "Les courants d'air" opens the disc in style with its breathy female vocals, swaggering midtempo rhythm and insistent horn accent. Banc de France also acquit themselves nicely on their two tracks (their second is the unjustly "hidden" Massive Attack homage, "For My Life"), and Chicane present "Low sun" as proof that they've been studying William Orbit's early solo material. On the naff end of the scale you'll find Angelo, whose two offerings -- "Save the Musik" and the annoyingly titled "In My Bentley" -- cross the line into new age porn music sans redeeming irony. Despite a few missteps, Suite 706 is worth owning; if nothing else, it's certainly romantic enough for the boudoir, and chances are you'll be done long before you get to those Angelo songs. -- gz

Tenboy / I Must Be Dead / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Can U See"
I Must Be Dead is a quickie: two songs of five minutes combined length. Basically, it's a demo. It's a strange career move for Tenboy, which is composed of the well-established Dean Cook and Ben Alexander. Mainly the brainchild -- and entirely the voice -- of Cook, the songs sound like Bryan Adams if Bryan Adams smoked a few thousand more cigs, had a huskier voice overall, and sang songs that were more upbeat, but grittier, suggesting that Cook has actually had some wear and tear in his life. "Can U See" is a rollicking, anthemette about troubled relationship gook -- it's not broken yet, just frayed. Lyrics don't really matter, because Cook either can't articulate cleanly when he sings or the production values are such utter shite that you can't understand him. The songs, however, rock quite handily, and a full-length would be lovely when it does hit Stateside. Try the EP if you can lay hands on it. -- js

Amber / Yes! / Tommy Boy Records (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Yes! (Original Radio Edit)"
"I put my arms around him, yes, and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts." These aren't the sort of lyrics an indie rock reviewer hears on a regular basis (Nor do most of them regularly feel breasts in real life. -- Ed.). But on this single, which features four essentially similar versions of this fairly generic techno-pop track, the sentence is repeated. Ad infinitum. To the point where if I hear it again, I will vomit. Sometimes singles can be an invaluable part of a collection -- a chance for bands to release more experimental songs, or live versions of favorites. "Yes!", however, seems to have been designed to pound some deeper, hidden message into the listener's head, every programmed drum thump driving the music deeper into the grey matter. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a sudden need to shop at the Gap, drink Pepsi, and buy every Top 40 album I can get my hands on. -- mp

Tamika Williams-Clark / Artist Sampler / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Chocolate Caramel Brown"
Driven by a bass groove that brings to mind Rose Royce's "You're a Winner", the opening "Chocolate Caramel Brown" is one funky gem of a song. The vocals dramatize the lyrics most effectively, touching on lust, anxiety and a sort of old-fashioned pride that suggests Sonia Sanchez or Amina Baraka poems put to song. On paper, the lyrics don't look impressive at all, but they caramelize the beat, sweetening it against the funk. The other likeable song here is the ballad "Why Don't You Believe", with a jazzy soul backdrop that Williams-Clark's singing does not drown out. Tastefully produced, the song shows Williams-Clark to be an artist with the goods. Unfortunately, she also has the guts to toss out blatantly generic dance filler ("When You Try") that even Jody Watley or Taylor Dayne would have turned down. -- td

Rally Boy / Hooks & Crutches / Jealous Butcher (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Undrest"
Rally Boy's music points towards its influences openly; thankfully, it avoids slavish imitation -- mostly. "Undrest" features a bridge that Paul McCartney would sell his farm for. "Stuck" sounds suspiciously like something Paul Weller would write, were he feeling upbeat, replete with crisp, clean soloing. Unfortunately, it seems to end just as a reasonable head of steam is developed -- a problem that also occurs elsewhere on the disc. Despite the addition of some crazy clarinet work (and garbage-can percussion), "Low E" sometimes seems a little too musically indecisive to save it from the "could've been a Weezer track" file. Likewise, "Slang Tips" sounds like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in a clean pair of pants, jamming with the Clash, though with no clear sense of purpose. On the plus side, "The Check-Out" gives a nod to Yo La Tengo in the verse, but pulls clear just in time for a marvelously fuzzy chorus that inexplicably brings to mind images of people dancing the twist. This is a good thing, considering the song's subject-matter seems to be firmly in the domain of the indie-boy-who-just-lost-his-girl whine. "Submarine", the disc's closer (discounting a five-second track called "Ping", which does exactly what you'd expect) is this endeavor's saving grace -- a Pixies-esque tune that breaks into a tropicana-styled cheesefest. It's the perfect end to an album that proves that being dumped ain't no excuse for sounding miserable. More, please. -- lm

New End Original / Thriller / Jade Tree (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "14 to 41"
New End Original is the latest in a long line of emo/post-punk "supergroups", and their lineage is strikingly similar to that of Jets to Brazil, Rival Schools and The Owls. Featuring former members of Texas is the Reason, Far and Chamberlin, NEO’s debut crafts a distinctive blend of hardcore aesthetics, peppy pop-punk and AOR-laced ‘70s schmaltz. The electrifying triple punch of "Lukewarm", "14 to 41" and "Hostage" opens Thriller with a bang...and if only the rest of the album half was as strong, you’d be looking directly at a bona fide album of the year contender. But as soon as that stellar triad's pulsing beats and stellar guitar work fade to silence, the album takes a rather abrupt and unexpected nosedive. It’s as if the group suddenly loses sight of who they are, and races through a variety of styles in a frantic effort to regain their identity. "Leper Song" is a piano-led ballad whose wimpy demeanor is better suited for an Elton John record, while the sludgy "Better than Ever" is an overlong wankathon that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dream Theatre album. They manage to make up some ground on the backside with the sprightly "Halo" and the tender "The Name", but by then it’s really too late -- the damage has already been done. Uneven but sporadically exhilarating, Thriller hints that New End Original could be big -- if they can get their shit together. -- jj

String Builder / Self-Titled / Handsome (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "When All Is Well"
Combining country-tinged acoustic friendliness and a pair of young and sweet voices, String Builder demonstrates that you can play bluegrass, country or a mix thereof, and still be hip (Something Bloodshot's artists have been proving for ages now. -- Ed.). As the name "String Builder" suggests, the album revolves around the group's talented guitar work. Many of the tracks layer three acoustic guitars (or two guitars and a banjo), painting a beautiful and complex picture; the layers are well-matched, but discrete, allowing you to tune each musician in and out as you listen. This, of course, works best on their faster songs, namely "Blackstrap & Wail", "Cataract Revolver" and "I'm Not Burning Yet", all of which make the solitary listener feel like he has drunk twice as much coffee as he actually did (and cause the amateur square dancer to trip over himself). Although String Builder seems to feel more comfortable with fast-paced songs, I enjoyed their slower numbers more; "When All Is Well" and "Up To Etna" made me want to meander happily into the sunset, and reminded me of Friends of Dean Martinez (which is automatically a good thing) while they were at it. -- jk

Replicator / Winterval / Feedback Loop Industries (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Journey To The End Of The Night Part 2"
Winterval is a promising release, if cover art is anything to go by -- blue-tinged pictures of overcast inlets, blurry streetlamps and no band-member snaps. One expects, from such a setup, a misanthropic, brooding listen, and for the duration of the first song, at least, I was rather satisfied. Then the singing started. "(No More) Salt Beef" starts off in the usual post-rock "tense and clean" style, before exploding in a manner of which Josh Homme would be proud. Tension and fuzz go well together, and it seems that Replicator's take on it, while not wholly original, is a good one. "Soda Troll" features some pickup-switch action, combined with a tone that's been yoinked from J. Mascis' stompbox of tricks. "Journey To The End Of The Night Part 2" features some well-judged ebow work that haunts the listener -- right before he's bludgeoned by the Fuzz Guitar of Death at around the two-minute mark. The tunes here are good -- they're propulsive, they're dark, they're loud and there's a satisfying amount of heft to them. Unfortunately, Replicator mar the success with their vocals, which for the most part come off as ill-considered, and sound as if they were recorded in a phone-booth. Not a lot of import is said -- not that I could make out, anyway -- but it does sour the listening experience, turning promising instrumental rock into sub-standard shouty wannabe punk. Replicator are good at making instrumental music. They can nail a tune to the wall, and keep you interested, despite the fact that you're sure Kyuss have thought of something a bit similar before. I'm just hoping they jettison the vocal aspirations and continue down the instrumental path -- they're as good as Billy Mahonie, so why shouldn't they? -- lm

Interfearence / Take That Train / Ubiquity (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dinheiro"
Somewhere, in an nameless but undeniably sweaty club, something a lot like Interfearence is playing. This London-based duo makes music aimed squarely at the dance floor, and they hit their mark quite consistently. The group wisely folds a variety of influences into its tracks. This method yields a nice mix, including Latin ("Dinheiro"), Arabic ("Xtradition") and illbient approaches (the ironically titled "Vari Happy"). Despite this, the music lacks a specific identity that clearly identifies it as the work of Interfearence and nobody else. Granted, this anonymity is an asset for club DJs who are trying to move seamlessly from one track to another, but on an album, it doesn't make for the emotional connection that will keep you returning again and again. Despite this, because of the solid, catchy tracks here, you will certainly turn to Take That Train when creating mix tapes for your next party -- or, given the overall quality of the album, you could simply save time and play the whole thing for your guests. -- rd

Velvet Crush / A Single Odessey / Action Musik (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Remember the Lightning"
A Single Odessey compiles ten years of The Velvet Crush's power pop singles. It's the first time that many of these tracks have appeared on CD, so this is obviously a treasure trove for any fan. Unfortunately, the disc's importance to the average listener is negligible -- apart from a few snappy tunes, Joe Power Pop Fan would be much better off picking up one of the group's better, more cohesive albums, such as the recently re-issued In the Presence of Greatness or the minor alternative classic Teenage Symphonies to God. The Crush are a pretty consistent lot, and none of these songs are outright bad, but twenty tracks proves to be a bit of an overdose. Only a few tracks stand out from the jangly, midtempo sweetness -- a rockin' cover of 20/20's '80s chestnut "Remember the Lightning" and the beautiful, ethereal, harmony-drenched "On My Side" among them. While pleasant enough, most of the rest of the tracks on A Single Odessey simply lack distinction, and wind up lost in an oozy sea of harmonies, 4/4 beats and winsome vocals. -- j-s

(Smog) / Rain on Lens / Drag City (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Dirty Pants"
The slight variation among artists’ monikers seems to run rampant in the Drag City camp. There's Will Oldham and his endless array of Palace/Bonnie Prince nameplates, David Pajo and his endless barrage of M-related projects, and then there’s the Champs, or the Fucking Champs, or whatever they’ve decided to call themselves this week. You can now add Bill Callahan to the Nebulously-Named Artist list; for his ninth album, he has decided that he’d prefer to be called (Smog), as if hoping the newly-installed parentheses will make him...what? Subtler? Identity issues aside, Rain on Lens is without a doubt one of Callahan’s most inspired collection of songs to date. Leaving behind the grandiose leanings of last year’s Dongs of Sevotion, Callahan has created a caliginous and barren pop underworld in which his sonorous croon and trusty guitar reign supreme. There is now an urgency apparent in Callahan’s songwriting, born of a willingness to brush aside his heartache and get on with his life. From the punky swagger of "Song" to the vaguely Neil Young-ish strut of "Short Drive", Callahan tumbles and rolls down a dusty path of sullen apathy and moody recalcitrance. Rain on Lens’ songs are both instantly memorable and effortlessly heartfelt -- characteristics that make this an album you can hang your hat on, even after the rottenest of days. -- jj

The Clean / Slush Fund / Arclife (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Point That Thing Somewhere Else"
Two Clean releases in a single year? Suh-weet. Technically, Slush Fund might predate the newly-released Getaway; its contents were culled from the band's performance at last year's Dunedin Sound festival, as well as a 1999 live studio session. As a companion piece to Getaway, Slush Fund is quite effective, showing the band at their low-key, rollicking best. While the improvised title track is a relative throwaway, the rest of the disc offers a healthy mix of The Clean's trademark jangle and throb, with comparatively minimal emphasis on vocals. Kiwi pop fans will particularly appreciate the disc-closing version of "Quickstep", which features The Chills' Martin Phillipps on omnichord (Okay, admittedly he doesn't sing or anything, so it really could be anyone playing the damn omnichord -- but it's not just anyone, it's Martin Phillipps, which is damn cool). The verdict: while not essential to your Clean collection, Slush Fund, which is limited to 500 copies, is not only money well spent -- it's a good investment. -- gz

Boilermaker / Leucadia / Better Looking (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Pathos Delay"
Light, distorted guitars ebb and flow in "White Wash", Leucadia's opener. The soft and controlled music retains a hidden punk quality; indeed, it's one of the best-rounded post-punk songs that anyone could ask for. Unfortunately, "White Wash" is not a taste of things to come. For the next hour, the listener is subjected to three rare Boilermaker EPs back to back to back, and listening becomes a challenge as every song melts into quasi-desperate static punk noise. And it doesn't help -- it really doesn't help -- that vocalist Terrin Durfey sings in an extremely monotonal, manly punk voice, dulling any emotional impact. It's like listening to a friend who's always in the middle of some sort of crisis; you might care at first, but after a while it all sounds the same. It's a real shame, too -- there are a couple really nice songs here. "Trunk" -- between the louder noise -- twice falls into quiet, amazingly-placed melodies. "Pathos Delay", which builds percussive energy during its verses, repeatedly explodes into one of the group's most memorable choruses. But if you're looking for consistent brilliance on Leucadia, you'd better be willing to spend plenty of time in Boilermaker's noisy pit of punkish entropy. -- jk

(lYd)2 / Elefanta Poteket Bukentaur / Norway Rat (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Unknown Side A"
The simple act of unsheathing this pink 7” makes me want to pick up the vinyl slab and lick it as if it was an ice cream cone. Unfortunately for those callow to the more avant-garde flavors of Norwegian dessert, this ain't no peppermint-flavored recording event -- it's not even one of the familiar 31 Flavors. If the label’s name, Norway Rat, doesn't augment your expectations, here's the deal: plan on a vermin-infested mixture of plodding rhythms and escapist jazz drones that leave the atmosphere sticky with intangible melodies and occasionally explicit, noisy statements. While I'll leave it to a qualified linguist to translate "Elefanta Poteket Bukentaur", it doesn't take an ethnomusicologist to revel in the unnatural progressions and volatile nature of (lYd)2's music. Side A enjoys an earthier, atonal structure that uses repetition to create a trance-like atmosphere. The flip side will undermine your self-confidence with subliminal, musical-torture techniques. Barely recognizable melodies are grafted onto an alien tempo, which mystically shatters into a chiming and endless nursery rhyme-like melody. Get the infants out of the f***ing room immediately; you'll be branded as the bad son/daughter-in-law if your in-laws catch their offspring being exposed to any of this Norwegian madness. -- am

Half-Handed Cloud / Learning About Your Scale / Asthmatic Kitty (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Secret Christ Costume"
Learning About Your Scale has to be one of the oddest albums I've reviewed. Most songs are less than a minute long -- quick sketches, like those art exercises where they use an egg timer to count down a limited amount of time in which you have to draw your hand without looking at it. Unless you're a fucking DaVinci genius, you wind up with a bunch of hand-ish looking scribbles. Half-Handed Cloud's idea must have been similar to that art exercise: these are song-sketches, as puerile as they could make them. Chirpy and at times chiming, the album lists Playskool xylophone and ukulele among its more out-there orchestral options. The lead singer occasionally sounds like Paul Simon, and at other times just sounds nasal. As a whole, the disc is cheerful, like alterna-Barney for adults. Many of the songs are about Jesus, albeit in much the way that the Dress-Up Jesus website (Jesus can be dressed up in paper-doll robes and crown online!) is about Jesus. How much you like this album depends solely on your sense of humor; some people like Andy Dick, and some people think he is one. Knaawhatimean? -- js

Broadway Project / Compassion / Eighteenth Street Lounge (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "No Pain"
Most of the releases from the Thievery Corporation's Eighteenth Street Lounge Music label stick more or less to TC's smoothly orchestrated mix of lounge, samba and tropical styles with slickly modern beats. The Broadway Project's Compassion -- complex, slightly unnerving and a little over-the-top -- quickly sets itself apart from the label's usual aesthetic, with an emphasis on minor chords and darkly symphonic textures. The Englishman behind the BP name, Dan Berridge, turned to music only two years ago as he battled the chronic fatigue illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. That difficult beginning certainly manifests itself in the music, which has a fractured, hallucinatory structure that's both strength and weakness. "Born Spirit" opens with a heavy metal introduction, ends with a spooky theremin-like touch and, in between, wends its way through a few sub-genres of downtempo electronica. Sampled sounds and voices, ghostly keyboards, static, strings and a dozen other bits of music all compete for room in tracks like "Non-Resistance" and "Quiet Revolution". The layered sound is engaging, but the album as a whole lacks the spark of variety, as each track struggles to turn a downcast mood into an actual song. But the songs that succeed, like "London Broken Heart", can evoke both compassion and interest. -- rt

Trans Champs / Double Exposure EP / Thrill Jockey (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Give it to You"
Batten down the hatches kiddies, cuz this is gonna get ugly. In what is destined to go down as one of the most impious musical alliances of all time, perennial post-rock favorites Trans Am have teamed up with ballistic Californian noise merchants The Fucking Champs to create a tasty slab of sock ‘n stroll. A progressive rock album in the truest sense of the word, Double Exposure sounds like a knock-down, drag-out street brawl between Rush, Kraftwerk and Spock’s Beard. Stitched together Frankenstein-style over the course of year-and-a-half, the five songs on Double Exposure defy categorization as they hopscotch around a variety of styles, textures, genres and attitudes. While nothing here particularly resembles the bands' previous work, fans of either group will appreciate the metal spluttering guitarnage of "Give it to You", the handcuffed Motorhead squall of "Then Comes Saturday Night" and the ominous, Night Ranger strut of "Somebody Like You". All, however, will be taken aback by the delicate, acoustic-led instrumental, "First Comes Sunday Morning". Grimy, groovy and gregarious, the Trans Champs' maiden voyage is sure to leave you seeing double every time you play it. -- jj

Craig Taborn Trio / Light Made Lighter / Thirsty Ear (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bodies We Came Out Of"
This is an exceptional disc, and I'm not just saying that because of the incredibly cool black plastic CD-R it's recorded on. Craig Taborn has played as a sideman with a bunch of contemporary jazz folks -- most notably James Carter -- but here he's an inventive and confident leader, playing with the super tight rhythm section of Chris Lightcap on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The first thing you might notice about the eleven tunes on the disc is that they all sound terrific; whoever recorded these tracks did a great job. The music here is clearly jazz, although it manages to both dispense with the bad things and accentuate the good things that I usually associate with something like an acoustic jazz trio. These aren't pointlessly abstract wankfests that no one but the players is going to enjoy; neither are they boring rehashes of a gazillion jazz clichés. The tracks range from full-on wailing freakouts to slightly over-melancholy ballads to simple "pass around the solo" cuts that give each member a chance to show off his considerable melodic and rhythmic gifts. If you're the "I hate jazz" type, then this probably isn't the disc that will turn you around; however, if you're kind of neutral, or if you're actually a fan looking for something that's a bit of a stretch, then this is a disc for you. -- ib

Bill Morrissey / Something I Saw or Thought I Saw / Rounder (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Fix Your Hair the Way You Used To"
Bill Morrissey sings stories about drunks, doomed romances and the sort of sinners that Steve Buscemi would love to play. His lyrics show almost every emotion through actions ("When the kitchen phone rang once more/he threw his arms around her waist"), which is a rare gift among songwriters, and which helps all his songs to achieve rare color and intensity. You have to pay complete attention to get a strong payoff, though, as his music seldom matches the complexity and nuances that his words can convey. Either the setting is spare, with guitar serving as mere backdrop, or the song is pimped by horn sections that get the bluesy taste they want without passing it on to the listener. I've found myself less riveted by Morrissey's recent work, mostly because it does not seem to be the medium he's interested in anymore. Whereas earlier tracks ("Last Day of the Last Furlough", "Birches") had incredible beauty and drama, wordy of new songs like "Harry's Last Call" and "Buddy Bolden's Blues" seem destined to be stolen by lazy kids, who'll turn them in as their own work in short story writing classes. The one real exception that's pure song, head to pinky toe, is "Will You Be My Rose?". It is the most simply structured number here, and just about the prettiest thing I've heard all year. In it, you needn't even pay attention to his words ("Will you be my rose/When I'm gone away?") to drown in the lost hope of his crackling voice and gentle playing. Whenever Morrissey quits this music gig to write novels full-time, it is songs like "Rose" which will make me long for the days when he only had musical notes in his head. -- td

Trent Summar & The New Row Mob / Self-Titled / VFR (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Too Busy Missing You"
Trent Summar and his New Row Mob present themselves in a sort of alt-country fashion. At first I was expecting something of a Bloodshot-type band -- something rootsy, but with a slight hint of contemporary indie flair. What I got from Trent Summar was a mainstream, well-played mixture of Nashville rockers, bluesy pop songs, some rock-a-billy, honky-tonk and soul twinged ballads like "Be So Blue". Basically, we hear songs about Dodges, being "country", people in the "big city", cold-hearted women named "Colene" and broken hearts. The one song that really tickles me is "It Never Rains in Southern California", a beautiful Hammond/Hazelwood ballad driven by twangy guitars and cheesy synthesizers; you, like me, may remember it best as a Tony!Toni!Toné! song. Although I couldn't be a bigger fan of traditional country music, the closest I get to the contemporary Nashville scene is Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats. While this album doesn't offer me much that I can't find on country hit radio, Summar and his boys improve on the formula enough to raise it above the endless clutter of sameness that is the Nashville music scene. -- ea

Mixmaster Mike (as DJ) / Spin Psycle / Moonshine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Board Burner"
Even if Mixmaster Mike's work with the Invisible Skratch Picklz somehow slipped beneath your radar, you'll probably recognize his name from his work with the Beastie Boys. Regardless of where you heard of him, if you've marveled at his mad turntablist skills in the past -- and really, how couldn't you -- Spin Psycle will be a particular treat. It's a sixty minute-plus DJ set in which Mike slips, drops and scratches his way through an impressive batch of old-school and revisionist hip-hop, including tracks from KRS-One, Mass Influence, Gang Starr, Large Professor, Deltron 3030 and, of course, the guys from his day gig. The beats are heavy, the mixes are tight and the turntable work is flawless. Best of all, while Mike slips in a few of his own tracks, you don't have to endure any of his own rapping; I'm sure he's as relieved as the rest of us, 'cos he's really better off behind the mixing board. Oddly enough, the first time I listened to Spin Psycle, I was driving a big-ass American car through a less than friendly urban neighborhood, overtaxed woofers thrumming wildly. I won't go so far as to recommend that you listen to it in similar circumstances, but it certainly didn't hurt the mood. -- gz

Vanethian / Futures Past / Self Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Rivalled Reign Menu Theme"
If you've ever caught yourself getting into the soundtracks that play in the background of sci-fi fantasy games, you might enjoy Futures Past. Unassuming synthesizers create a circumambient musical flow, taking you first to the distant and icy plains of Pluto, then back in time, where you'll mingle with the shoguns of Japan and explore England's age of chivalry. Born in Palermo, Manuel Marino, the man behind the music, started out playing solfeggio-style fingerpicking and jazz guitar. Marino's heavy interest in role-playing games is evident on Futures Past; he takes his own personal enjoyment and translates it sonically through MIDI sequencing into breathtaking soundscapes that take the listener left of heaven into the World of Dreams. Taking Korgs, Rolands and Moogs to the next level, Marino remains modestly mindful of old masters Rick Wakeman and Alan Parsons when evoking his own brand of medieval methodology. From intergalactic battles to dystopian visions of society, infinite space is the only limit for Marino and his music. -- da

Charly McLion / The Nature Of The Universe / Kingfisher (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Private Cosmos"
Bottle up Enigma, Enya and Pat Metheny, shake them really well, and you have the basic formula for The Nature Of The Universe. So to speak. Charly McLion's first solo release since the break-up of his duo, Double Fantasy, finds him still treading the electronic terrain, as on "Black Hole", but here he adds a variety of genres to the mix, including occasional acoustic work ("Sunshine"), a bit of fusion ("Eye In The Sky") and a heavy dose of New Age fare ("Midnight Summer Rain", "Private Cosmos"). McLion succeeds on all levels, thanks in part to some truly excellent production -- and also a healthy amount of restraint. There are moments here where most artists experimenting with this sort of fare would have gone over the top -- but thankfully, McLion understands the importance of breathing room in heavily synthesized music, and he uses the knowledge to his (and our) benefit. -- al

Finisterre / Storybook / Moonjune (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "In Limine"
So what's going on? Only a few weeks ago, I reviewed an album by Italian duo Soulstance that employed a flute as a lead instrument. Now, here's another Italian group with a flute. And it's a prog rock band, to boot. Eloi, eloi, lema sabahtani? Finisterre is a tremendously talented guitar, keyboard, bass, drum and (shudder) flute lineup who have clearly worked hard to perfect a very specific musical form. The fact is, people respect this kind of endeavor when the music in question is 13th-century Gregorian chant, or Chopin's nocturnes. Less respect and adulation tends to accrue to the musician who chooses to master '70s-style progressive rock. Storybook is a live recording of the band's first American concert, and their abilities and cohesion as a unit are beyond reproach. They accomplish all of the required abrupt tempo and time-signature shifts with aplomb, and they change musical styles on a dime. Still, unless you are an aficionado of this form, which by now can pretty safely be considered in the past tense, you may find very little to celebrate. Stefano Marelli, the band's guitarist, stands out as a hallmark of both the band's strengths and weaknesses. His technical skills are breathtaking. He handles densely-packed, carefully composed guitar arias with the same finesse he brings to improvised flute and guitar blues freakouts. The problem lies in the fact that for all of his skills, his work sounds like a recapitulation of Steve Howe, or Martin Barre, or any other prog rock guitarist from the genre's heyday. Finisterre are preservationists, and their chosen style is a museum piece. As demonstrated by the ample crowd response on this disc, there is certainly still an audience for this kind of music -- but if you're looking for anything you didn't hear during your awkward, classic-rock geek junior high period, you're whistling over the wrong flute. -- bm

TKA / Feel The Music / Tommy Boy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Feel The Music"
This song would probably sound great to me if I was sitting in a dimly-lit club, buzzed on watered-down B-52s, surrounded by a bunch of underage teens pretending to be adults. Sadly for TKA, most people don't find themselves in that situation once they get past their second year of university -- and as such, it's hard to see how a single like this will whet consumer appetites for the group's new full-length, Forever. The main problem with this track is that it sounds exactly like every other male vocal dance song: there's a bit of acoustic guitar to give some musical credibility, coupled with frenetic beats that place the music squarely in some indeterminable electronic subgenre. It's bland and inoffensive, to be sure -- and for pop, that may be high praise. But if you consider you tastes to be even remotely eclectic, you'd be well advised to steer clear of "Feel the Music", in all its variations. -- mp

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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