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OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION OF SHORTER REVIEWS
Aphex Twin, Margo Guryan, Rambient, Paula Carino, Black Faction, B-Line, Ochmoneks, Machine Boy, Troubleman Mix-Tape, The Matinée Spring Collection, John Littlejohn, Nice System, Sir Ivan, Harper Lee, Reclinerland, The Lassie Foundation/Duraluxe, M-16, Detective Kalita/Rhume, Orange Alabaster Mushroom, Jennifer Daniels, Bum/Pingu!, Sean Kennedy and the King Kats, The Daily Lives, Foetus, Mystechs, The Pattern, DFA, DIY-Fest: Compilation Volume 1, Travels the World, Pylon, Once For Kicks, Dave Audé, Mother's Choice, Student Rick, Mark Protus, Ladytron


Aphex Twin / Cock10 b/w 54 cymrv beats / Warp (12")

Sample 30 seconds of "Cock 10 (Delco Freedom mix)"
I'm not sure if it's meant to be subtle or ominous, but this anonymous 12" -- unlabeled and packed in a plain black sleeve -- is our first taste of the Aphex Twin's forthcoming double-album opus, Drukqs. It includes remixes of two tracks -- the Delco Freedom mix of "Cock10" (referred to as "Cock/ver10" in Drukqs' liner notes), and the Argonaut mix of "54 cymrv beats". Both tunes make it clear that Richard James hasn't lost his touch; they're an overpowering, unpredictable mixture of throbbing rhythms, post-acid melodies, hazy synth glissandos, punishing drums and...well, pretty much anything else that struck Mr. James' chemically enhanced fancy during the studio sessions. Rhythmic shifts, reversals and abrupt directional changes abound; you won't call these tracks dull or predictable, and it's obvious that ol' Aphex wasn't hard up for ideas. Indeed, it's a good thing both cuts are solid, as the only way to tell which side is which (other than playing them) is the etching on the run-off groove. My enthusiasm for Drukqs is now officially stoked... -- gz


Margo Guryan / Take a Picture / Franklin Castle (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Someone I Know"
The rules of pop are the same for everyone: an artist has about three minutes to capture your attention, tell a story, or merely just express him/herself. Margo Guryan fulfills all of these requirements, but is found wanting when she tries to emulate Lennon and McCartney or Paul Simon. Take a Picture, originally released in 1968, has achieved cult status among dealers in old vinyl because it's...well, really listenable. The newly-reissued album is pleasant enough; Guryan's voice is clear and beautiful (think St. Etienne's Sarah Cracknell years before the fact), and she sings sleepy, happy love songs about morning coffee, sunny days and rainy days. You could repackage the album as Playful Love Songs About Ambivalence, Nature, and Puppy Dogs, and sales would probably go up. Songs like "Sun", "Love" and "Think of Rain" discuss old and new relationships amid campy string lines, harpsichord and sundry keyboards; sometimes the music gets a bit syrupy, but Guryan's truly lovely voice always balances the equation -- and besides, how much 33 year-old music holds up this well? "Someone I Know" surprises -- not only by allowing the drummer some room to maneuver, but by working the melody of Bach's "Jesu, The Joy of Man's Desiring", deftly played on a trumpet, into the tune. In the end, though, Take a Picture comes across more as a better-than-average '60s pop artifact than an overlooked masterpiece. -- da


Rambient / So Many Worlds / Immergent (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Fresh Skin"
On So Many Worlds, film composer Harry Gregson-Williams and Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano set up house, then ask all of their friends to drop by for a spell. The results sound like an excellent hour of college radio, with relaxed, keyboard-heavy tracks dominating the mix. While appearances by Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto), Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), and Flea (duh...) are sure to garner the most attention, the standout track here is "Fresh Skin", which features the delightfully soft vocals of Ninette Terhart. This track, which also features bass work by Bruce Palma, is a perfect drop of sweetness that finds the magic between DiStefano's guitar and Gregson-Williams' electronics. This doesn't diminish the album's other pleasures; while "Idle Flow" finds Murphy joining in on a track that sounds like, well, like a Peter Murphy track, "We Dive" places the godfather of goth in a much more cinematic setting than usual. The instrumental "Birth of a Girl" is another bright spot, nicely displaying DiStefano's oft-overlooked guitar work. Because of the many guests, the album doesn't build up much of a head of steam, but the individual tracks are solid enough to deserve your attention. -- rd


Paula Carino / Aquacade / 125 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "First Come The Joggers"
Aquacade is a singer/songwriter album, and suffers from a syndrome unique to the singer/songwriter genre: with only one person making the decisions, its too easy for sub-par material to get mixed in with the good stuff. In a band setting, there'll always be at least one band member savvy or objective enough to cut lesser songs from the track list, but a singer/songwriter has no one to tell her "No". That said, this is a decent album. The best tracks are tuneful (and more often than not, water-related) relationship and slice-of-life tales. Ms. Carino clearly has the chops and experience to create substantial music (she is a former member of New York power-pop outfit Regular Einstein), and when her talents click, they produce some great material. For example, "First Come The Joggers" is one of the better "everyday observations" songs I've heard in quite a while. Carino runs into trouble, however, when she leans on clichés. Too often, the music sounds very mid-'90s standard alterna-rock-y, and it's at these points that her metaphors wear thin. "Discovering Fire", for instance: "And every time we meet, my friend/It's like discovering fire all over again". If a songwriter is going to rely on such an overused image, the music has to be incredibly good to carry the song. Unfortunately, on this track, it's not. Still, hitting this album's high points is time well spent. -- bm


Black Faction / Internal Dissident Part I / Soleilmoon (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sepia Indate"
Andrew Diey, the Manchester-based human behind the Black Faction, makes his bread doing sound design and effects for video games, radio and TV. During his off hours, he puts those skills to good use working to make the I in his particular take on IDM stand for Interesting. The press notes that accompanied this disc go on about Internal Dissident Part I's structural relationship to Dante's The Divine Comedy -- but without those notes, which aren't part of the CD packaging, you'd never guess that there's a relationship, or indeed that there's any unifying narrative thread at work here. What does hold the disc together is Diey's keen ear and obsessive attention to detail; you can sense the thought and hours he put into creating each of the sounds and effects that make up these mellow but intricate tracks. Where someone might normally use a simple noise burst or high hat hit as an accent, Diey uses a voice saying "ch". Where countless other ambient tracks use worn out synth pads, Diey cooks up his own twirling, buzzing backgrounds. These tracks aren't terribly inventive from a structural or rhythmic perspective, and some of the vocal samples are a bit goofy (unintentionally), but the terrific quality and variety of sounds on Internal Dissident Part I make it a fully engaging listen nonetheless. -- ib


B-Line / Late Night Riding / New Amsterdam (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Late Night Riding"
B-line, rock a band from Minneapolis, Minnesota, play a forgotten form of rock and roll. Not to demean the band, but they totally remind me of the kind of early-'90s local bands I loved when I was a teenager living in the suburbs of Chicago (Busker Soundcheck and Dyslexic Apaches, anyone?). Late Night Riding... is straightforward rock and roll EP that runs the hard rock gamut, but without ever sounding too cheesy. The songs themselves lean to the darker side of the spectrum, but occasionally break into poppier, sweeter moments. The music is relatively well written and tightly performed, but the production, and the inclusion of the (admittedly well done) cover of Jimmy Hendrix's "Manic Depression" gives me the impression of a band that, while clearly talented, isn't doing something new enough to break the mold of a small city act. On the other hand, some of the fondest memories of my early teens are of going to see my first rock shows -- and B-line plays right into that vibe. It's a sound that's not easily forgotten. -- ea


Ochmoneks / Consummation / Self-Titled (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Angle of Plague"
This confusing mixture of faux-industrial metal smells of early '90s influences that I'd sooner forget. Adding insult to injury, a swirling blur of heavily effected guitar enters the scene on several tracks, evoking memories of My Bloody Valentine at their puerile stages. Ochmoneks seems to have an identity crisis; certain tracks are gloomy goth drones, while others use repetitive drum machine beats to lay the foundation for heavy, psychedelic implosions. It's difficult to decipher most of these songs -- they're either laden with musical clichés or unable to fashion a solid train of thought. Everything isn't for naught, as "Grey Angel"'s tranquil, keyboard-tinged strains provide an elegant ambiance that illustrates a more introspective and developed side of the band. Likewise, the heavenly, intimate "Angel of Plague" quietly bleeds into a pool of electronic experimentalism, displaying the most musical promise of the lot. While a metallized MBV may sound good on paper, Ochmoneks' true skill is their peaceful, balladeering side, which uses space and silence to strong advantage. -- am


Machine Boy / (real) fakey / Mp3.com (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Info"
If I had to choose an album to have a nervous breakdown to, this would be it. The beats are just danceable enough that my friends would think my odd quivering and shaking was just the latest sort of breakdown-breakbeat dance. That fake organ in the background would have enough emotional oddness to make someone behind me say, "That's weird." The song-title-repeating lyrics of "5am:Crelm" wouldn't just be some odd voice going for shock effect -- no no no! -- they'd actually represent my scattered thoughts. Fast fast songs like "Phat Sam" and "Take On" would make me act like a beetle tipped on its back -- for even though by then I'd have lost all consciousness, skewed awkwardly across my section of the dance floor with my mouth foaming uncontrollably, the music is so damn fast that my limbs would move automatically (if not autonomously). Happily, I'd wake up during "Info", (real) fakey's second-to-last track, to find myself in a European discotheque, dancing along with an ominous, omnipresent bassline. -- jk


Various Artists / Troubleman Mix-Tape / Troubleman Unlimited (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Outhud’s "Emperor Selassie’s Morning Wood"
In honor of their 50th release, Troubleman Unlimited has gathered together a slew of their favorite artists and compiled -- as the title makes clear -- a kick-ass mix-tape. Nearly four years in the making, the Troubleman Mix-Tape is a two-disc mish mash of new-wave, hardcore, no-wave, spazzcore, proto-funk, indie pop and any other genre you’d care to name. Featuring previously unreleased tracks from 49 of your favorite/least favorite artists, this mix-tape is the perfect soundtrack for your next theme party, bridal shower or christening. Whether you’re looking for grinding liquid-funk (!!!/Outhud), shit-kicking no-wave (Erase Errata/The Locust/XBXRX) or new tracks from artists you already know and love (Blonde Redhead/Unwound/The Fucking Champs), the Troubleman Mix-Tape has got your number. Hey, it's an affordable, two-disc, 49-artist compilation full of bands you've actually heard of -- can you really go wrong? If nothing else, it’s a hell of a lot better -- and hipper -- than those gas station Hits from the Road compilations you keep stashed in your car's armrest. -- jj


Various Artists / The Matinée Spring Collection / Matinée (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Striking Out on Your Own"
A seven track sampler of bands included in a London showcase last April for Washington, DC label Matinée, this collection is based firmly on fashions from the past. The first six tracks -- "Unkiss", an unreleased song from the Windmills; an "exclusive" track by Slipslide, "Life (Relived)"; a b-side, "Striking Out on Your Own", by Airport Girl; an album track from Lovejoy, "Radio"; an EP track by Melodie Group, "Raincoat"; and another b-side, "A Nation of Soul", by Sportique -- are almost indistinguishable throwbacks to the jangly mid-'80s sound of UK pop as played by Echo and the Bunnymen or the Smiths. The vocal tones of the (male) British singers vary only slightly, and the music is anonymous, slick and a bit forgettable. The last track, the Would-Be-Goods' "Everybody Wants My Baby", throws the only curve, with a spare acoustic guitar and violin backdrop and a female vocalist employing a hint of a French accent. The lyrics ("They call it love but it's only lust/There ain't nobody you can trust/And in the end it turns to dust") barely merit such forward treatment, but the delivery is better than the preceding gaggle of lads. It may be striving for haute couture, but this spring collection remains strictly off the rack. -- rt


John Littlejohn / Slidin' Home / Arhoolie (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "What in the World You Goin' to Do"
Arhoolie's blues catalog is notable for housing the work from "neglected giants" whose causes were championed by popular blues performers. Through talks with Buddy Guy, Arhoolie owner/musician Chris Strachwitz financed two of the best sessions from Earl Hooker (brilliant harmonica player) and slide guitarist John Littlejohn. Slidin' Home is a strong, impressively varied record of traditional and soul-influenced blues that seems timeless the first time you spin the CD. Given his band's two tenor saxophonists, songs like "How Much More Long" have a ring of Otis Redding, but it's purely Littlejohn's show. He has a great voice, and a rare ability to play a blues lick in a million different ways. These nine originals and three covers are distinct expressions of his hope-filled despair, and his love for the music; the best of them is "Dream". It's the disc's most lonesome song, but its lyrics ("I had a dream last night that my baby had left this town") induce smiles, too, as I've never heard someone so bummed out from a dream -- especially one in which he didn't even die. First released in 1969, Slidin' Home stands as a remarkable contrast to most other blues albums of this period, by having a producer -- Willie Dixon -- respected the medium. I not only recommend it to fans of Buddy Guy, but to all those who bought John Lee Hooker's late '60s output and wondered what went wrong. -- td


Nice System / Impractical Guide to the Opposite Sex / Radio Khartoum (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sara 0157"
Nice System are from Norway. They play pretty, fluffy, completely inconsequential "cocktail pop", which can be kind of fun if you don't pay too much attention. If you do, you're liable to discover lyrics like "I love you/Yes, I do", or an entire song that floats by on nothing but "Ba-ba-ba's" ("A day In Cristoffer's Bedroom"). While it's hard to really fault anyone for wanting to indulge in this sort of thing, I find it hard to wholeheartedly recommend Impractical Guide to the Opposite Sex (despite the boss title), when there are bands out there doing the same sort of thing, and actually saying something while they're doing it (such as Nice System's countrymen, the Kings of Convenience). However, if you're in the mood to do nothing but sit back and float away on a cloud of aural cotton candy, Nice System might just fit the bill nicely. -- j-s


Sir Ivan / Imagine / Tommy Boy Silver Label (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Omega III Radio Edit"
José Saramago's book The Gospel according to Jesus Christ provoked some of the religious faithful to dismiss the novel (or at least find it personally distasteful) for its satire of Christ. John Lennon isn't Christ for most of us, but hearing his song "Imagine" remixed as a dance track is going to strike some music lovers as deeply profane. At least its message of peace is timely, and all three of this EP's remixes are highly danceable. The first two, "Lake n Rizzo Radio Edit" and "Omega III Radio Edit", are nearly identical, although the latter features fewer vocals (some passages are repeated). If the Pet Shop Boys covered "Imagine", and got Keoki to remix it, you'd have the first two tracks. Sir Ivan's voice echoes Tennant's, but is somehow less sharply nasal, and resonates far less as well, but it's a well-schooled tenor. The "Eddie Baez Club Mix" is much heavier with drum and bass, and is larded in the opening with interesting breakbeats -- Sir Ivan chose his mixers well. I Imagine Lennon wouldn't be displeased with this retake. -- js


Harper Lee / Train Not Stopping EP / Matinée Recordings (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Sea Gently Lifting"
Harper Lee is a Brighton-based two-piece that specializes in what are ostensibly pop songs with depressing -- even maudlin -- lyrics. Despite the eye-rolling that such a description would engender, they're worth seeking out. The three tracks showcased here are proof that this band is headed for greater things; you can take your overblown Belle and Sebastians and stick 'em out by the bin -- Harper Lee are that good. The songs have a faintly misty feeling to them. It's difficult to describe, but the shimmering keyboard and chiming guitar lines of songs like "The Sea Gently Lifting" evoke the sound of rain, or the feeling of a fogged-in seaside. Hot cups of tea and a half-suppressed sigh are what I hear coming out of my speakers while listening to these tunes, which could easily be held up against anything The Chills ever released. Janglepop for the bummed, Harper Lee walk a fine line, but the loss in the lyrics stays on the right side of overwrought. Inexplicably, this EP reminds me of some of New Order's better moments. I can't put my finger on why, precisely: perhaps it's the sadness-in-happiness aspect that Harper Lee conveys so successfully, or maybe it's a vague sonic similarity. Either way, that should be enough of a rave-up; if they're good enough to put New Order in mind (and in a good way, too) on the first hearing, then they're good enough for me. -- lm


Reclinerland / Self-Titled / HUSH (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Miss Haze"
By covering "Baby I'm a Rich Man" on his last CD, Mike Johnson established himself as Beatlesque. A true independent, he and Reclinerland have been impossible to pin down, veering from sleepytime acoustics ("Only Mildly") and teen film pop ("All You Need is Me") to the styles that dominate here: string-heavy folk and a fleet of concert-closing, album-closing rockers. While "Meet Me Later in the File Room" and his radical interpretation of Chad Crouch's "Pears" wander down orchestra pits with love letters in hand, you can't hear songs like "Pound Coins", "19th Century Boy", "Eight" or the fantastic slow-release opener without strapping on imaginary guitar. Each offers the same emotional release that Camper Van Beethoven's "Come on Darkness" or Chris Stamey's "When We're Alone" provided, but follow their own unique bridges; "Eight" combines anger at wasted work days and people who get off elevators in slow motion, while the epic "Pound Coins" is soaked to the bone in whiskey and a chorus of na-nas. Lyrically, the latter is stunning ("Thinking about pound coins/Spending them on cider/Peeling back the labels/Watching your big eyes") in its ability to make Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" sentiment fresh again, and best displays Johnson's knack for evoking true-to-life detail (like being in a shower, messing with busted curtains). Unlike other indie artists, Johnson's voice is strong enough to attract a mainstream audience, but his "pigeonhole-me-and-I'll-string-you-up-in-violins" attitude is likely most comfortable where it's at: in a world that should know his songs, but doesn't. While Johnson has said before (in "Viva Portland") that he'd take a good love over "hipsters and warehouses" any time, he'll definitely please all the hipsters with this top-notch gem. -- td


The Lassie Foundation/Duraluxe / I Duel Sioux and the Ale of Saturn / Grand Theft Autumn (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of the Lassie Foundation's "You Could Shoot Me Down"
Duraluxe and The Lassie Foundation split this full-length down the middle -- each group gets six songs. And if you're not paying close attention when "You Could Shoot Me Down" ends and "Ruled By Fear" begins, you'll completely miss the transition between bands. Yes, there's a noticeable shift of lead singers, but that's the only major change; admittedly, The Lassie Foundation apparently left most of their shoegazer-friendly effects pedals at home for this session, but Duraluxe brought in a few extras to balance things out. The Lassie Foundation typically worship at the Brian Wilson altar, but some of their material here sounds like "Tomorrow Never Knows"-era Beatles, while Duraluxe favors a simpler application of John/Paul/George/Ringo dynamics, but regularly slips into Beach Boys-style harmonies. By the time you reach "She Wants a Lucky Strike", you'll no longer be willing to trust the CD case to tell you who's playing. But that's okay -- whoever's playing, they've done a top-flight job, from the layered vocal harmonies of "The Psalm of the Strongest Man" and the glittering beauty of "You Could Shoot Me Down" to the New Order-like ignition of "All Right" and the punked-up encore glam-jam of "The Ones You Trust". It may be a split LP, but this sucker sticks together better than many single-band efforts. -- gz


M-16 / Canciones Escritas En El Exilio / Mother West (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "La Sangre Que Corre En Mis Venas"
Metal hasn't been this good since Master of Puppets. M-16 are the best thing to come out of the Dominican Republic since Sammy Sosa, and they've set their sights on Stateside success. Making metal and thrash safe to listen to again, M-16 preserves the chunk-chunk-chunk-chunka riffs and the screaming, but manages to keep it interesting; there are none of the obligatory-but-tired death soundtracks and odes to moral turpitude. They do employ the expected "monster riffage" of Omar Rodrìguez and the cannon-fire drumming of Ray Reed on such songs as "La Sangre Que Corre En Mis Venas" and "Porque No Morir?", but it's obvious they have worked hard to fine-tune each track, perfecting every crunchy chord and chunky drumbeat. I don't care what anyone says, metal is not about subtlety -- but don't let M-16 know that. Although Daniel Estrella's lyrics will leave you wishing you hadn't blown off Spanish 200 quite so many times, I wouldn't worry about it; the only thing you really need to know when listening to a song like "Raza" is how to bang your head without getting too dizzy. -- da


Detective Kalita/Rhume / Tuning at the Refinery b/w In the Hills, Iron Wills / Kelp (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Teddy Bear"
This is what you might call a peculiar record. One side is three alterna-radio-friendly guitar-pop cuts from Rhume, and the other is five very odd alterna-back porch-friendly semi-folk cuts from Detective Kalita. They seem to have absolutely nothing to do with one another, aside from the shared Canadian background of their creators. There's nothing innately wrong with such a eclectic pairing, but in this case it seems to be a shame, as the Detective Kalita tracks are so much more interesting than the Rhume ones. Rhume has a nice touch with titles ("Brethren, she will never lose", "Lincoln Fields"), but their music is pretty much the same guitar-driven pop-punk that's been cranked out by the metric ton for the last decade or so. They play well, and some of their lyrics are interesting, but it's really hard to get excited about this stuff. Detective Kalita, on the other hand, is a real weirdo. His tracks are a strange mix of inscrutable lyrics, iffy guitar/accordion playing, folky singing, demonic chants and sudden, bizarrely lovely moments. The recordings sound like they were done on someone's back porch with a boombox's built-in mic, but they still manage to be really interesting. Ultimately, that's all that really matters. -- ib


Orange Alabaster Mushroom / Space & Time: A Compendium of... / Hidden Agenda (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ethyl Tripped a Mean Gloss"
I’m pretty sure that Gregory Watson, the man behind the Orange Alabaster Mushroom curtain, has done more bong hits than The Olivia Tremor Control, Bardo Pond and Cypress Hill combined. That's the only thing that could even possibly begin to explain the acid-dipped songlets that dot Space & Time’s flowery musical landscape. Split into two separate time periods -- 1991-1992 and 1998-1999 -- Space & Time gathers together hard-to-find nuggets from OAM’s lengthy and unjustly ignored recording history. From previously vinyl-only slices of fuzzed-out, kaleidoscopic pop ("Tree Pie") and jaunty, Harmonium-laced psychedelia ("Ethyl Tripped a Mean Gloss") to previously unreleased chunks of pure, opium-dipped bliss ("Mister Day" and "Sydney’s Electric Headcheese Sundial"), this collection has everything any upstanding stoner would need to soundtrack his next clambake. Elephant 6 fans will undoubtedly appreciate OAM’s fume-laden, resin-scented brand of whimsical pop excess. With all this wonderful music laid out before you, your only obligation is tune in, smoke up and pass out. -- jj


Jennifer Daniels / Dive & Fly / Tntrees Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Ohio"
Dive & Fly is this Tennessee-based singer/songwriter's second full-length, and it alternates between folky, acoustic-based songs and slightly more upbeat songs with a more rock-oriented format. Daniels has a very pretty, lilting voice, perhaps reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan's country cousin, and is an above-average lyricist. Although you wouldn't think it, she's actually fairly successful at melding her trad-folk with a more driving rock sound, as showcased on songs like "Ohio" and "Day to Live". My biggest problem with Dive & Fly is that at times, Daniels' delivery can get a bit cloying -- sort of like the aural equivalent of a Hallmark card. In addition to this, she seems unwilling to take any chances with her music -- she has a style, and she sticks to it. However, she does what she does quite competently, so if Dive & Fly sounds like a middle-of-the-road folk-rock record, that's probably what Daniels intended. -- j-s


Bum/Pingu! / Magic Teeth Presents... / Magic Teeth (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Bum's "Feel Like a Lot of People"
What do you mean, you haven't heard of Bum? They're pretty famous in their native Victoria, BC -- at least famous enough to justify a tribute album featuring bands you've actually heard of (Neko Case, Young Fresh Fellows, etc.). Like a lot of Canadian rock bands with one-word names, Bum play catchy, upbeat power-pop with seventies AM radio flair. "Feel Like a Lot of People" is infectious as fuck-all, and packs a secondary wallop in the form of a killer reprise. "Don't Ever Be Sorry" offers more of the same, in a smaller and marginally less catchy package. Pingu!, who've piggy-backed here for no readily apparent reason (though if they weren't sharing the bill, the record sleeve art would've been a lot less entertaining), take more of a punk rock approach. Their snarky "Sugar Sandwich" has heavy metal undertones, and smirkingly borrows the unmistakable lead line from "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for its bridge; I didn't know whether to laugh or hold up a cigarette lighter. Older rockers (and risk-taking Sloan fans) will be pleased. -- gz


Sean Kennedy and the King Kats / Big Town / Rocket King Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I'll Be Yours"
Grab a handful of your favorite sweet-smelling pomade, slick back your hair, put on your sharpest looking winkle-picker boots and prepare for a rockabilly blast, '50s style. Guitarist Sean Kennedy lays down jump blues, classic rock 'n' roll and a taste of swing, all with satisfying results. Most noticeable on several tracks is Jim Hannibal's outstanding sax action; playing this fierce and audacious is rarely heard in today's rockabilly recordings. Hannibal has clearly listened to his fair share of King Curtis and early Sun Records recordings, and he capably demonstrates that he can drive any would-be swing dancer into a frenzy with abrupt changes that race from melodious lines to guttural honking. Kennedy and his Kats shine on originals like "Ball and Chain" and the brooding "I'll Be Yours", while their rendition of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" updates the classic number for a new generation of listeners. If your time warp is broken and you've got a hankerin' for some classic, rump-shaking tunes, Kennedy and the King Kats not only have a tight-knit rhythmic outfit, but have ample ammunition when it comes to superb songwriting. Get ready, get set and get DOWN! -- am


The Daily Lives / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Beauty Goes Out Looking"
There's nothing wrong with enthusiasm. However, misplaced enthusiasm can be a big pain in the ass for all concerned. Let's examine the case of The Daily Lives. Due to their enthusiasm for the music that they've committed to tape, they have seen fit to send out CDRs with (poorly) handwritten song titles on them. C'mon, guys -- regardless of what you might think, this stuff does matter. Although content is certainly more important in the end, presentation plays a big role in what a reviewer will think about your music. As for that content, well, let's just say that the enthusiasm with which they wrote their "press material" and cobbled together this CD is not at all reflected in the material on the CD itself. What we have here is four long songs with virtually no variety whatsoever. Poor recording values and a singer who can't keep a pitch (and who seems to think that drowning his voice in reverb is the solution to this problem), coupled with uninteresting song structures and bland instrumentation, add up to one big chore when it comes to sitting through this thing. The only good thing I can say about this CD is that I had it on while I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone, and not once did I hear anything that distracted me from my conversation. As soon as the disc changed to something else, however, I had to shut the stereo off to keep my concentration. So if you have ADD like me, and are looking for some background music to put on while you yak on the phone, this is perfect. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and stay far, far away. -- j-s


Foetus / Blow / Thirsty Ear (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Kid 606's remix of "Shun"
Remix albums are, by nature, a difficult and often unloved breed; they're generally only purchased by fairly rabid fans, but those fans are often less than receptive to the liberties remix artists take with their favorite songs. Blow, which is intended to be a companion piece to Foetus's newish Flow, is a different -- and entirely more successful -- animal. Perhaps it's because Blow was developed in tandem with its parent album. Perhaps it's because Foetus guy J. G. Thirlwell is no stranger to the world of remixes. Perhaps it's because of the album's list of stellar remix/production talent, which includes Amon Tobin, Kid 606, DJ Food, Phylr, Pan Sonic and the Young Gods' Franz Treichler. Most of all, however, credit goes to Thirlwell's inimitable style; between his distinctive and forceful delivery and the sheer bombast of his musical compositions, it's unlikely that any remix artist could quell the music's fundamental Foetusness. Thus, while the assembled producers take Thirlwell's hellish cabaret in new, intriguing, and sometimes predictable (care to guess what Kid 606 does with "Shun"?) directions, it never stops being what it always was. A few of the remixers go a little too heavy on their trademark "additional production" (stand up, Amon Tobin), but in general their efforts pay off, saving Blow from cruel jokes about its title. -- gz


Mystechs / Unholyland / Omega Point (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "La Revolucion"
This may be the single worst album I have heard in my life. I don't make this statement lightly, nor do I normally believe there is a point in invective for invective's sake. Still, I can't imagine any listener, regardless of taste, playing this album for any reason; even the tone-deaf would find it useful only for socialist party rallies of the least thoughtful sort. The "band" is composed of three comrades (two men and one woman), one of whom (Emeril Hyde) is responsible for the "music". Remember Timbuk 3? They wrote charming ditties with bargain-basement electronic keyboards and drum machines backing their often funny and well-written lyrics. Think of Timbuk 3 with no ear for melody and lyrics so didactic they make you want to shift your political views to the right just to annoy the band. The music is neither charmingly naíve, nor even lowest-common-denominator. It has created a new lowest common denominator. The beats are Casiotone, the rhythms are stiff and banal, and the keyboard flourishes are lacking utterly in taste, nuance or purpose. The funny thing is, I really like electro-pop (even cheesy electropop); this is just boring. And oh, my God, the lyrics. The band is way Left, which is not a problem when such politics are espoused by a Woodie Guthrie, a Phil Ochs or even a Chumbawamba, for Christ's sake. The problem stems from the fact that in this case, the politics are not only the message, but the sole reason for the creation of these songs. They never rise above rank sloganeering; all of the traditional targets (global economy, corporations, the rich, corrupt governments) are accounted for, but the critiques are toothless, hackneyed, jargon-laden and whinily middle-class. When one of these folks presumes to speak from the perspective of a Latin American peasant oppressed by a huge western corporation, one feels almost as offended by the gall of the singer as by the oppression itself. Christian rockers are traditionally the group that substitutes dogma for creativity and evangelism for musical purpose, but ironically, this overtly anti-religious group is far more dogmatic than virtually any religious proselytizer I have ever come across. The Mystechs parrot Marx and Guevara as robotically as anyone ever quoted St. Paul. Perhaps I'm being too idealistic, but I would hope that a group espousing a politics of liberation would lend itself to creativity and depth of expression. -- bm


The Pattern / Immediately / Lookout! (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Mary’s Sister"
The Pattern have arrived, and their sole purpose is to prove that the East Coast does not have a monopoly on the new breed of rock. Sure, the right coast might have The Strokes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but the West coast can now add the Pattern's amped-up, garage-laden performance to its arsenal of post-millennial, balls-out guitar action. Already garnering quite a buzz both here and abroad, Immediately is a six-song firecracker ignited by savage guitars, insistent vocals and pummeling rhythms. The swampified boogie of "Sunned Things Speak" is absolutely massive, with the lads weaving threads of melody through snarling, ZZ Top-style riffs and barbaric rhythms. In fact, you are unlikely to hear anything as viscerally exciting as the fantastically titled "Finger Us" or "Mary’s Sister" coming from the other side of the country. Chalk this one up not only to The Pattern, but to the coast they (perhaps unwittingly) represent. -- jj


DFA / Work in Progress Live / Moonjune (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Escher"
This disc captures the first live US performance by this Italian prog-rock group. Although they are relatively well known in their homeland, they have yet to make a significant blip on American radar, which is a shame. Combining guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and the occasional vocal, their tight arrangements invite favorable comparisons to King Crimson. A key difference between the two bands is that whereas Fripp and crew have been digging deeper and deeper into the darker side of life, DFA's compositions reflect a more positive outlook. This sunnier disposition gained a favorable response from the audience, and works well in recorded form as well. The group's four musicians are technically gifted and approach their instruments with an exciting inventiveness. Guitarist Silvio Minella uses his instrument to add texture to the songs, rather than simply shredding each moment, and Alberto Bonomi deserves equal credit for using even old-school analog synth sounds in off-kilter ways. Finally, the rhythm section of Alberto De Grandis (drums) and Luca Baldassari (bass) fills the tunes with enough time signature changes and demanding grooves to satisfy the snootiest of listeners. -- rd


Various Artists / DIY-Fest: Compilation Volume 1 / Digital Hardcore (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of alleged GW Bush's "Missing Press Conference"
This sampler backs up what is perhaps Jello Biafra's most dead-on statement: "Resistance isn't (just) necessary, it's also a hell of a lot of fun." Punks, rappers, folkies and veteran anarchists like Howard Zinn have been gathering since December 2000 to produce these festivals of free speech, free anger and free frustration. The timeliness of the subject matter will be unimportant a decade from now, because genuine discontent always has a riveting appeal. It's fun to hear Hanin Elias sing "You suck", and mean it, just as it's a blast to hear old man Zinn follow the painfully loud remix of "43% Burnt" by Nick Endo and Dillinger Escape Plan. Mystic's "The Life", Ani DiFranco's "Fuel" and White Collar Crime's "Fight Song" are my personal musical favorites in the bunch, while The Icarus Line is the disc's best hardcore group. The only minor annoyance was a little lecture from Creation is Crucifixion, which kisses the collective ass of a youth audience that wants to feel mass persecution sensations. Still, I enjoy the enthusiasm and passion so much that I feel a bit bad, having sold out to the sentiment that most kids actually get wiser with age. -- td


Travels The World / I Can't Ask You To Break My Heart Anymore / Ionik (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Don't Think I Would Call This Healthy For Anyone"
I'd be happy to spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitschily, poppily, '80s glam-rock-reminiscent universe of Travels The World's Mike Fair. My lack of an emo taboo (Surely all emo is taboo? -- Ed.) actually makes it enjoyable to bask in the sunshine of small and catchy tunes, while bobbing my head -- and occasionally shaking my booty -- to the singer's cute little insecurities. It's just that there's no way Fair is going to get away with that voice of his; he sounds like a pre-adolescent Robert Pollard mixed with Billy Corgan. The vocals are so childish and nagging that at first I thought I Can't Ask... was intended as an emo parody. Fortunately, Fair has a couple of tricks that keep his vocals from numbing the listener: he sometimes alters his voice to sound more nasal, or English, and he also shares the spotlight with occasional guest vocalists (both male and female), as well as a clip from a Woody Allen movie. But none of it really works. The album works its way through simplified accounts of relationships ("Lupita") and stripped down '80s beats ("A Thing or Two About Last Night" and "Powerlines"), but it isn't until the second-to-last track, "I Don't Think I Would Call This Healthy For Anyone", that the music manages to sound grown-up and sincere. Between "I Don't Think..." and the short, aptly-titled "Closing Track", the album comes to a better ending than might be expected. -- jk


Pylon / Keep Your Melody Hands on My Burning Gems / Boing Being (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Snake Terror"
First off, this is a 7" from the Finnish band called Pylon, so it's quite likely that you've never heard them before -- but that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention now! Finland is known for its very active experimental music scene; while I don't know anything about how Pylon fits into that scene, it's clear that they're much more interested in interesting sounds and strange atmospheres than they are in pop music. These four tracks all seem to have been recorded live, with varying degrees of processing. The sounds involved range from echoing plucked strings to bowed metals, to grunting bass tones, to high, quiet, screechy noises that my kitties are none too fond of. One side of the disc is full of simple rhythmic variations accompanied by strange noises. The other side is essentially the opposite -- an abstract soundscape punctuated by occasional rhythmic outbursts. There's not really enough here for me to get a full sense of what Pylon is working toward, but what there is, is certainly intriguing. And it's on really cool looking brown vinyl with a red label, which never hurts. -- ib


Once For Kicks / Chrome And Tiny Toys / Book (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bound To Break"
Slip in this disc, and you're in the straight-ahead land of rock, though its progenitors wouldn't have you believe it. "I don't even rock anymore, and I don't mind," we're told on the disc's second track, "Pigs On Parade" -- though it's wrapped in a rifftastic blanket of sound. "Bound To Break" has the whiff of Supergrass to it, with a couple of "woo!"s to prove it; no intro, just a pounding progression, some slightly strained vocals and frenetic honey-covered soloing. All of this in under three minutes, too. This sort of song is where the strength of Once For Kicks' sound lies; writing punchy songs that almost make it. Almost. The downside of this album is that it's so relentlessly unimaginative. The guys can play; nay, the guys can channel rock when necessary -- it's just that this doesn't translate into anything incredibly new. The album sounds, in places, like the best bits of albums you've heard before - hey! Isn't that Redd Kross? Listen! It's a bit of harmony! Clean guitar/fuzz guitar chiaroscuro! Oasis-like vocals! If you've been to university and heard the sort of bands that float around campuses like virii, you'll have heard this kind of approach before; maybe even played it yourself. If that's the case, move on, 'cause there's nothing to see here. It's chugga-rock with collegiate overtones, which is great, in as far as it goes, and is probably an excellent disc to buy if you've got great memories of things happening with this album as a soundtrack to them -- otherwise, it's nothing really special. -- lm


Dave Audé / Nocturnal Wonderland / Moonshine Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of PMT's "Gyromancer"
Nocturnal Wonderland is an exercise in technical virtuosity. What it lacks in emotion, it makes up for with epinephrine rush. This isn't music for listening to in your car, before you go to sleep, or at a pizza party; this album is for the dance floor, and that's it. The CD opens with the sound of water rushing through underground pipes, and that's your clue for what's coming: musical Drano to unclog your head. The opening track, PMT's "Gyromancer", offers a gentle segue into a rush of house, allowing you to warm up slowly. Mid-album, the excellent "It's Alright/Dave Audé Remix" provides more frenetic beats that go at a speed only slightly slower than DJ Dara's. The humorous and very occasional "It's alright / Everyone feel alright?" sample reassures any dancer actually listening that the world outside the rave-up is far away. The differentiation between tracks is subtle; transitions flow so smoothly that it'll be a long time before you realize the song has changed. Attendees of great raves know that the best atmosphere a DJ can provide is like an enclosed bubble of sound, in which the only thing you can feel is the darkness behind your eyes. The best dance CDs should be like Nocturnal Wonderland, sealing you inside that bubble so that all you can feel is all right. -- js


Mother's Choice / Self-Titled/ 2% Productions (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "She's Got A Way With Robots"
This Portland band won't have to worry about having a fanbase consisting solely of mothers. Unfortunately, they probably also won't need to worry about the pressures of stardom. Not that there's anything wrong with Mother's Choice; their poppy harmonies make pleasant listening, and their songwriting talents are bolstered by tight musicianship and a good ear for melody. It's the usual complaint: there's nothing here that hasn't been done before, and better, by many other bands. Even worse, Mother's Choice sometimes sound like they're trying too hard to be quirky and off-beat; songs about being a sasquatch concubine ("Sasquatch Concubine"), for example, or a girl with a knack for building robots ("She's Got A Way With Robots") are intriguing, but hardly ideas one could reasonably expect to build songs around. Perhaps, then, they should rethink their music and live up to their name -- after all, the adult contemporary market can be quite lucrative. -- mp


Student Rick / Soundtrack for a Generation / Victory (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "October Skies"
You’ve really got to hand it to Victory Records -- they genuinely seem intent on forging a new image for themselves. For proof of this, you need look no further than Student Rick; there's no way in hell the "old" Victory would have released an album like Soundtrack for a Generation. This young, South Bend-based quintet specializes in a potent brand of pop-punk that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on TRL. After just one listen to Soundtrack for a Generation, the group’s antecedent influences become readily apparent -- and perhaps not surprisingly, many of them are still going strong. On "Monday Morning", they harness Saves the Day’s ability to seamlessly combine stacked vocal harmonies and buzzsaw guitars, and they nail Jimmy Eat World’s nearly patented strum-to-scream explosiveness to a tee with "I Wish". That said, the real problem with Soundtrack for a Generation is that it never really offers listeners anything they couldn’t, or haven’t, already found elsewhere -- not a surprising problem for a group that's still struggling to find both themselves, and their sound. Get ready Victory; your first foray into Tiger Beat madness has begun. -- jj


Mark Protus / The Future that Used to Be / Buddy Boy Music (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Still Crazy for You"
If variety is truly the spice of life, Mark Protus's second album holds more seasoning than a supermarket shelf. From his home studio in rural Bothell, Washington, Protus gleefully concocts everything from cheesy '80s metal (the opening "24 Miles to Go", which sports a wailing guitar solo and an echoey vocal) to the buoyant acoustic strum of "Where is the Love?", to straight-up country. The last, "How Do You Measure a Man?", asks an apparently unanswerable question with an authoritative twang; sung by Kat Spitz -- one of the many guests who contribute everything from mandolin to saxophone -- the song also contains the record's funniest lines, "How do you measure a man?/By his honor and deeds?/Or the bulge in his jeans?" The epic, Beatles-referencing "Mushroom Fields (& Lemon Trees)" begins with a Jethro Tull-like flute, adding bits of free jazz squawk and the far-off sounds of children playing. Despite their variety, these songs are all, at heart, pop songs, sung and played with a low-key conviction. As with much of the rest of the album, the closing "I Love You" is so disarmingly straightforward that criticism in the traditional sense seems beside the point; the rainstick effects may be questionable, but the sentiments ("All the money in the world/Couldn't buy my love for you") speak for themselves. -- rt


Ladytron / Playgirl EP / Emperor Norton (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Playgirl (Simian Playboy mix)"
I gather that this is a promo-only release in the US, but if you're a rabid Ladytron fan -- and surely there must be a few of them out there somewhere -- I'm sure you can track it down as an import. What you get here is six different remixes of "Playgirl", arguably the best song on the group's 604 LP. Most of the remixes follow tried-and-true rules, either stripping the melody down to basics, or punching up the percussion, or dumping most of the original song in favor of (usually inferior) "additional production". Just about every dancefloor taste is catered to, from the stripped-down trance of the Zombie Nation mix to the hot 'n' heavy bump-and-thump of the I Monster mix, and Felix Da Housecat's Glitz Clubhead mix does a fine job of capitalizing on the song's inbuilt disco groove. However, the most interesting mix -- the Simian Playboy mix -- isn't danceable at all. Ever wondered what "Playgirl" would be like if it was transformed into a Franco-folky, accordion-driven duet, suitable for wedding and bar mitzvah slow-dancing? Now you can find out. It might not be the sort of thing you'd expect from a remix EP, but it's actually the gem of the collection. -- gz



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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