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OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION OF SHORTER REVIEWS
James Coleman: Theremin, Butch Berry, 69 A Go-Go, Lovesick/Aloha, Troy Lukkarila, Stewart Walker, Big Numbers, Diafana Krina, Lovesick, Neko Case, Velvet Crush, Lure, 6Gig, Now It's Overhead, Thistle, Solarbaby, Sarah McLachlan, The Action Items, Rev99, The Bedroom Set, Autocad, Ryan Adams, 19 Ways to Avoid the Draft, The Casualties, The Sock Angels, Ball in the House, Shoot Lucy, The Windmills, John Henry, Solo Busca


James Coleman: Theremin / Zuihitsu / Sedimental (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "This Castle Keeps Me"
If everything you know about the theremin -- you know, that wonderful instrument you play by using your hands to create fluctuations in its electrical field, which are then amplified, or something along those lines -- has to do with its use in sci-fi films of the fifties and sixties, Zuihitsu will be a definite surprise. The title, a Japanese term which translates as "miscellany" (or, less usefully, "running brush"), offers an apt description; while you'll hear some recognizable theremin warbling, you'll also hear a lot of electroacoustic pieces that sound, as such works usually do, less like music and more like someone ushering pigs into an elevator, or attempting to make his way through a disorganized kitchen in the dark. Even if you're not interested in the theremin per se, don't worry -- the disc is full of intriguing sounds and textures, including saxophone, trumpet, bowed percussion, cellos and drums, though all are used sparingly. Zuihitsu isn't an easy disc to get into, and beginners will likely find it rather dull, but listeners who are accustomed to spartan, explorative music will enjoy exploring the hidden depths of its miscellany. -- gz


Butch Berry / Self-Titled / Ruby (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Stranger"
With an acoustic guitar and two layered voices, Butch Berry poetically unveils his love and his social life to all who care to listen. The four songs here vary broadly, due largely to Berry's freely changing rhythms and his diverse singing styles. In this way, each track is oddly yet pleasantly connected with choruses of varying sizes, mixing rousing refrains with simple statements. However, as Berry gets lost in his quasi-free-flowing style, he often slips into white boy acoustic soul jamming, which isn't too enjoyable; at these times, lines like "Trapped like a butterfly / In the hands of love" sound even more pompous than they normally would. It is on "Stranger" and the John Lennon-esque "Cover It Up", when Berry is at his most raw, that he is also at his best. -- jk


69 A Go-Go / New Flava b/w Fag Hag / With an X (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "New Flava"
"New Flava" gushes from the stereo, sounding like an updated Stiff Little Fingers meeting up with Marc Bolan at the local pub, as thumping bass lines and horn-driven choruses open the portal for a musical time warp and send you back 25 years! Jason Wicksell's nasty vocals growl out an explosive bit of retro-punk, outfitted with the decadence of early Stones. The flip side, "Fag Hag", has Wicksell's glam-inflected vox snarl through warbling guitar lines, while Jim and Tim's rhythm section carefully plods through a slow-burning beat that's nothing short of a truly sinful listen! You'll find yourself at confessional after a few spins, and you'll certainly have to cover your beaming grin as you sift through your recent listening sins. Easily worth the few bucks it costs for your own copy, 69 A Go-Go leaves me salivating for more of the band's emotionally charged, no-holds barred rock 'n' roll! -- am


Lovesick/Aloha / Split / Makoto (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Alohaís "Let Your Head Hang Low"
This little platter of canary yellow wax is the second release of the first series in Makoto Recordingsí bi-monthly split 7" series. Hopefully, that wasnít so confusing that you just stopped reading the review outright, because those of you brave souls who have diligently continued onward will learn more about the Lovesick and Aloha tracks that grace the grooves of this most colorful of 7Ē releases. Home team favorites Lovesick kick things off with "Hearts by Their Names", a down and dirty two-minute blast of obstreperous post-punk thatís practically over before it starts, and will undoubtedly leave you craving more. Aloha, the pride and joy of the Polyvinyl stable, enter the fray with the swank slice of post-rock that is "Let Your Head Hang Low". Sounding not unlike a stripped down Tortoise or Isotope 217, "Let Your Head Hang Low" shuffles along, head held high as a buoyant xylophone line and Caribbean-inspired percussion puts an extra bounce in its step. Now you know the bands, the format and the label, everything else should pretty much take care of itself, shouldnít it? -- jj


Troy Lukkarila / Don't Sit On Tables / 12th House (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Compulsion"
Lyrics are supposed to be the centerpiece here, but they're often a distraction. In "Compulsion", the main character is freakishly afraid of germs, which makes his statements ("There's germs everywhere and I gotta stay clean!") border on "Hey, ain't I weird?" territory. The whole song is like John Merrick, Elephant Man, going up to girls and saying, "I'm a hoot." Such joyously sung self-awareness from the song's subject also hurts "Confessions of a Necrophiliac"; chants like "Dead women are the only kind I ever get" is the type of line you expect from kids who still fart for laughs, not those trying to be Randy Newman. "Twenty Bucks", a prostitution fuck song between a 16-year old virgin and 50-year old hag, is equally weak; at the end of the song the virgin says "Twenty bucks don't get ya what it used to". Like what, for example? When the kid was twelve? Troy Lukkarilla, a good vocalist, musician and occasionally fantastic composer, is far better at song construction than lyrics (where he should only be applauded for playing "the bad guy" in each song). His worst failing is not entering his strange subjects' minds with honesty, and stooping to amusing himself far too readily. His present variety of broad satire might work on a TV skit show, or a video, but not here -- and not on an Adam Sandler album, either. -- td


Stewart Walker / Reclamation / Persona (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Meer-Mir"
I'm of two minds about this disc, a compilation of Stewart Walker's smooth and subtle techno tracks from 1997-1999. On first listen, these tracks struck me as having virtually no identifying features; they're totally generic mid-tempo techno tunes that use same bland drum machine and bass line sounds as countless others. But some of Walker's other releases, notably 1999's Stabiles, have been very well received, which made me think that maybe I was missing something. After many more-or-less careful re-listens, I'm starting to appreciate some of the rather subtle structural and rhythmic nuances that seem to be Walker's specialty. His pieces do use interesting large scale forms, and even on a micro-level his beats are often rather more complex than a surface listening might suggest. But here's where the two minds come in: are those things interesting just because I was a bit paranoid and I decided to go looking for them (self-fulfilling prophesy)? Or is there really something special going on in this music? The answer is probably a little of both (cop out!), although the fact that I've felt compelled to keep searching would seem to suggest that there's more to this disc than immediately meets the ear. -- ib


Big Numbers / Now, Everything / Frog Man Jake (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "The Violent Lads"
Now, Everything is a second-wave punk rip-roar through two-minute songs that ape Wire's penchant for offhanded, crappy song construction. The bass lines never change -- a handful of chords played over and over, most notably in "The Violent Lads". Nat Rabb's vocals are screamed with such intensity that his vocal chords have to be stripped by now; he reminds me of PiL and Johnny Lydon, particularly when he chants voice-overs in the title song (lists of birds -- very odd) and in "Death to Hate". "Death to Hate" is the most SoCal punk-flavored of all of the songs, and seems to be the closest to the aesthetic the band wants to achieve -- which is a long way of saying that it's their masterpiece (so far). Lovers of vividly earnest punk should seek this thing out as fast as they can without ripping out their piercings. -- js


Diafana Krina / It Is Just That It All Came Too Late/ This Is My Voice (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Track #1"
Only a couple of weeks ago, I enjoined all of you to somehow get a hold of Silence Gives The Odour of Wild Cherries, despite the fact that it is a Greek import-only album. I am now compounding that ridiculous request by beseeching you to also find It Is Just That It All Came Too Late, a four-track EP by the same band. I nag because I care. Once again, Diafana Krina has delivered the goods; this disc is like a Whitman's Sampler of everything that made Silence great. There's the same attention to detail, the same sweeping guitars and evocative singing style. There are some new touches, like the light female backing vocals on the first track (sorry, the titles aren't translated), and the echoing, hollowbodied guitar atmospherics on the second. Listening to this record gives the English-speaking music fan a taste of what a Greek fan might feel listening to Ok Computer or The Soft Bulletin. What the hell is he saying? I don't care. Listen to how he says it. -- bm


Lovesick / Self-Titled / Makoto (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "To The Dead"
Though the label's press release for this Lovesick CD was a bit jarring -- it began "Dear Jackasses" and didn't get much kinder after that -- I was able to wipe away my tears and put aside my bruised ego and listen to some blistering but strangely melodic music. Lovesick's sound is loose, with guitar and drums working themselves into a structureless frenzy, then, every-so-often, dropping to a repetitive but effective refrain, with the bass holding a consistent line. On the vocal front, you should expect a certain amount of off-key yelling, but somehow it's easy to overlook, and in this album's context it's practically endearing. Stand-outs include the sonic, and ironically titled, "Calm For Hits", and the pessimistic "Where Are The Homes..." This really ain't your grandma's music -- and if the press release is any indication, they don't want it to be. -- al


Neko Case / Canadian Amp / Lady Pilot (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Knock Loud"
If you've caught the lovely Miss Case on tour any time in the last month or so, you've probably had the opportunity to pick up one of these delightful but hard-to-find souvenirs. Recorded by Neko in her apartment kitchen, Canadian Amp is an eclectic mixture of covers, traditional songs and originals. If you're at all familiar with the Chicago alt-country scene, you'll recognize a lot of the names in the credits -- Kelly Hogan, Andy Hopkins and other Bloodshot usual suspects, as well as Andrew Bird, The Handsome Family's Brett Sparks and even Case's roommate, Kathleen Judge. Name dropping aside, the disc is good -- really, really good. While the EP's prevailing country twang is thoroughly pleasing, its most striking tune, "Knock Loud" -- originally recorded by former Bob's Your Uncle vocalist Sook-Yin Lee -- would be more at home in a David Lynch movie; sparse and creepy in a faintly fifties style, it pairs Case's multitracked vocals with Hopkins' multitracked guitar work. "Knock Loud" may get the most attention, but there's not a stinker in this bunch -- any two of these eight songs will justify the purchase price. Now you have one more reason to catch Neko Case live. -- gz


Velvet Crush / In the Presence of Greatness / Action Musik (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Drag me Down"
The Velvet Crush have been a pretty decent power pop band for over ten years now, and I guess they figured that it was time for a reassessment of their catalog. On their own Action Musik label, the Crush have reissued their first album, In the Presence of Greatness, as well as assembling a singles-and-B-sides compilation, entitled A Single Odessey (the title of which is an ode to the Zombies classic LP, Odessey and Oracle) which we'll review next week. Throughout their ten year existence, the Crush -- bass player/singer Paul Chastain, drummer Ric Menck and guitarist Jeffrey Underhill -- have put out several worthwhile (if not revelatory) slabs of post-Big Star pop. In the Presence of Greatness is as good a place as any to start -- there's nothing at all bad here, and a few truly excellent songs (the best of which, the jangly, rollicking, "Drag Me Down", should be on any compilation of the best pop songs of the '90s) make this a worthwhile purchase for the power-pop connoisseur. The reissue adds three bonus tracks: the original "Circling the Sun", plus covers of Teenage Fanclub's "Everything Flows" and Jonathan Richman's "She Cracked". Though not exactly essential listening, the Velvet Crush's first effort holds up well over the years, and still sounds pretty spry, all things considered. -- j-s


Lure / Self-Titled / Self-released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Grace"
Lure plays turntable-hip-hop-influenced electronica that sounds a lot like Portishead. Music man Dan Yashiv creates tightly woven beats and minimal melodies, which fit nicely beneath Kristen Sampsellís sly vocals and introspective, dreamy lyrics. While this self-titled albumís music is smartly subtle, with distorted keyboards and wah-wah guitars augmenting Kristenís persistent voice, at times it seems to be a little too minimal. Once you've been listening for a while, the songs all begin to sound a lot alike, if only because Lure's stripped-down production approach allows for little in the way of distinguishing details. Still, if youíre into this sophisticated NYC groove, that might not be a bad thing. -- ea


6Gig / Yesterday / Artemis (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Yesterday"
Punchy and ethereal, 6Gig delivers the goods on this single from their latest effort, Tin Can Experiment. If you like Bush, Creed and others of that ilk, you will enjoy 6Gig's Tool-like heavy beat, pinch-harmonic, palm-mute guitar and chorused vocal. The lyrics are somewhat insubstantial, and often take a back seat to the thunderous syncopation being laid down. As a result, the band has to resort to dreamy interludes to give lip service to the singer's feeling of regret, and that doesn't always manage to hit the mark. Consisting of the lines "It's good to see you down low/it's good to be a part of it" repeated over and over again, the bridge is equally ineffective in getting across any real emotion. Still, while the song may be the new bubblegum, it's at least chewable. 6Gig is tight, well-rehearsed, and able -- even if they are pretty lightweight in the profundity department. Look for them on MTV. -- da


Now Itís Overhead / Self-Titled / Saddle Creek (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Whoís Jon"
A non-Nebraskan band signed to Saddle Creek? The hell, you say! Yes, you heard right, the newest additions to the SC roster do not hail from the aforementioned Cornhusker state, but rather from the cozy confines of noted pop hotbed Athens, Georgia. Their signing shouldnít come as any shock, really; after all, the goal of Creek bands like Bright Eyes and Son, Ambulance was to fashion a sound that made folks believe that they hailed from REMís beloved hometown. But donít worry, Now Itís Overheadís sound isnít your usual Athens fare -- i.e. no marching bands, singing saws, tubas and so forth. Instead, the young quartet concocts a dreamy, synth-laden pop sound that has more in common with Aztec Camera or Depeche Mode then it does with Elf Power or Of Montreal. Swirling, atmospheric keyboards and strummed guitars form the bedrock of the groupís sound, and atop this they add clenching percussion, yearning vocals and the odd blast of muted trumpet. There is an air of paranormal isolation that hangs cumbrously above the album, especially on standouts like "Whoís Jon" and "A Skeleton on Display", making them more disquieting with each subsequent airing. Musing, moody and eerie, Now It's Overhead's debut proves that from time to time, the darkness even overtakes Athens. -- jj


Thistle / Oxygen EP / Tiberius (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Part II"
Oxygen is the third release from Cincinnati's Thistle, and it sees them at the top of their game. The band makes a canny mix of the wall-of-grunge approach, demonstrated by bands like Soundgarden, and more melodic songwriting, to create something that's approachable without reaching the level of blandness that usually comes with that territory. Imagine a Soul Asylum record with a little more backbone, and you've got these guys. Thistle provide a fuller sound than you'd expect from a three-piece, and their songwriting is just as well-developed. "Part II" is the EP's standout track, with a chorus that'll bring a hitch to the most cynical throat. It's a joy to hear a band that know where they're going. Thistle's particular blend of DIY and Dinosaur Jr. has greatness written upon it; look for big things from them in the future. -- lm


Solarbaby / Another Sidewalk's Bloody Dream / Pale Horse (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Benzedream"
Singer Marq Desouza has the sort of hardy, rough-edged voice that goes down like milk and orange juice; comparisons to The Smashing Pumpkins and Aerosmith are inevitable. Yet despite their arena rock, let's-take-advantage-of-the-minor-sixth style, Solarbaby definitely stand out from other major label bands who match that description. This is due to their messy-room guitar-rock sound, which keeps them from coming across as overly polished. This style is hinted at in the packaging, but needs to be heard to be understood. And like a dirty room, Solarbaby's view of life is at times gloomy, but by avoiding the beaten path, they never become sluggishly slow and self-indulgent. Rather, the tempo is always up and on the go, as Desouza, despite his voice, always has something to say. The disc's final track is mostly acoustic, and in the spirit of Bob Dylan's "Sad Eyed Lady" mixed with Dismemberment Plan's "The Ice Of Boston", clocks in at ten and a half minutes. The much-repeated line "Keep your gun powder dry" doesn't offer a dreary thesis on life -- if anything, it sounds like the words of a motivational speaker. -- jk


Sarah McLachlan / Remixed / Nettwerk (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "I Love You (BT Mix)"
Yes, yes, yes -- this is an Attention Maintenance Product. But before you bury it in scorn, permit me to remind you that McLachlan cut her teeth as a backing vocalist for groups like Manufacture and the recently revived Moev. Indeed, it's only her most recent work that has de-emphasized the electronic elements she favored early on; Touch and Solace, for instance, produced some very interesting remixes. Had things gone differently, McLachlan could've (and still could) be a house diva. Listeners who appreciate her sometimes chilling vocal abilities, but haven't enjoyed the syrupy sentimentality of her chart-topping Lilith fare, should definitely check out Remixed. Removed from their comfortable, familiar environment, McLachlan's vocals shine; as many of these remixes are actually ground-up re-imaginings of the songs in question, they often reveal new nuances to her performance, while at the same time refreshing performances that have grown cloying. Of particular note is BT's Underworld-friendly mix of "I Love You", as well as William Orbit's mix of Solace's best and creepiest track, "Black". You even get another mix of Delerium's "Silence" -- I know you wanted that. Take it from someone who has been increasingly skeptical of McLachlan's recent material -- Remixed is surprisingly good. -- gz


The Action Items / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Great Big Kiss Off"
Awwwww, it's so cute. I'm such a sucker for things like 3" mini-CDs. There's always something weird about getting an EP on a regular sized CD; mini-CDs take care of that nicely. This one has four songs on it. They're pretty normal sounding DIY rock, with nice indie boy vocals, semi-fuzzy guitars and minimal drums. While the music is regular, the songs themselves are pretty neat; the vocals are fun and they have silly/clever lyrics that help make up for the rather murky sound quality. "I guess this means you're pissed off, I guess this is the great big kiss off, But I don't mind if you're kissing my behind or simply kicking it, 'Cause I don't give a shit." That's the whole of "Great Big Kiss Off". Okay, it's not exactly a masterwork, but in the context of the song it works pretty well! Nothing super distinctive here -- just personable, good-natured indie rock. -- ib


Rev99 / Turn a Deaf Ear / Pax Recordings (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "We Should 'ave Known"
Turn a Deaf Ear is Rev99's advice to any listener who expects to find conventional music on this exploratory, improvisational album. These self-proclaimed "noisicians" do their best to uncover as much dissonant improvisational noise as their instruments will allow. Unfortunately, they don't create much entertainment in the process. The closest they come are the occasional moments when a Bobcat Goldthwaite voice rants about nonsense, or a women moans over someone singing Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" -- and these moments are few and very far between. Rev99's manifesto states that they are dedicated to the purity found in the sound of everyday life, and that the only burden on the "musician" is to interpret and improvise this sonic environment using the "language of sound". That's all well and good, but Turn a Deaf Ear seems to actively obscure any relevance or connection to the listener; clearly we don't all speak the same "language of sound". -- da


The Bedroom Set / Meet The Bedroom Set / Cherry Coated (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Lolita"
Initial evidence suggested that this Virginia-based duo would fit nicely into the new wave niche inhabited by Ladytron and Barcelona. However, while the band favors bouncy keyboard melodies, they're not Euro-computer popsters per se; they actually sound more like Roxy Music covering Men Without Hats, due in no small part to vocalist Joe Kelly's droning, oddly petulant delivery. As "Lolita" demonstrates, this can actually sound pretty good; there's wonderful energy here, coupled with solid songwriting. Unfortunately, the album is let down by extremely inconsistent production. This sort of stuff works best when the production is squeaky-clean, but most of Meet the Bedroom Set sounds like it was recorded inside a U-Haul Trailer or a burnt-out water heater, using microphones wrapped in duct tape and carpet padding -- except, that is, for the keyboards. These, while always (and sometimes jarringly) crystal-clear, often sound as if they were added as an afterthought, with little regard for the songwriting or recording process. Despite these complaints, my message to The Bedroom Set is ultimately positive: You have a good idea here, guys. It just needs more work and more polish. -- gz


Autocad / Evolution / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Replicant Colony"
It's only a three-song, eleven-and-a-half minute EP, but with a name like Evolution, this disc (and the band that wrote it) is clearly a work in progress. "Blue Note" is charged with a loop that's either an insane trumpet or a mastodon (based on the mock-up recordings you hear in the Museum of Natural History, anyway); the song's synth line doesn't alter much, either, and there's really no melody. "Replicant Colony" is the perfect soundtrack for lower-budget sci-fi/adventure flicks; it belongs in an episode of Star Trek Voyager or perhaps in the Mummy 3. All three songs are quite dark and labyrinthine, with layers of ominous sounds piled on top of each other. Listening to them is the aural equivalent of being caught in a Jaycee's Haunted House. You'll have to contact Autocad directly via email if you're interested, but this one's worth the effort to procure if you host Trekkie parties or are into the goth/vampire scene. -- js


Ryan Adams / Gold / Lost Highway (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Enemy Fire"
On his sophomore effort, former Whiskeytown lead singer/songwriter Ryan Adams delivers another staggering batch of Nashville by-way-of New York twanging folk-punk ditties that will all but solidify his reputation as the Gram Parsons of the no-depression set. Aching yet audacious, this follow-up to last yearís critically adored Heartbreaker is the record that Adams has always threatened to make, ever since the earliest days of Whiskeytown. Without even trying, Gold oozes a cocksure bravado and dusty road elegance that punk rockers and cowboys alike would kill for. He proves himself to be a jack of all trades as he vamps like an alt-country Bowie on the stinging "New York, New York", croons like a starry-eyed Dylan on the lovelorn "La Cienega Just Smiled" and gets the prog-rock out of his system on the ten-minute long cavalcade of sound, "Nobody Girl". But for all its dirt-encrusted ingenuity, Gold is not without flaw. Clocking in at just over 70 minutes, the album could use a bit of streamlining; trimming a few songs ("The Rescue Blues" springs readily to mind) would not only help the albumís flow, but would make each note of the remaining tunes that much more poignant. Adams is a rare talent, with an uncanny knack for writing amazingly self-assured songs about heartbreak, misery and loss -- and that, if nothing else, is exactly why this nugget of Gold is worth digging for. -- jj


Various Artists / 19 Ways to Avoid the Draft / Airborne Virus/ Mar/ino (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of Ms. Black's "Input/Output"
Anyone who doubts that great packaging can unduly influence one's opinion of an album should consult Britney Spears' sales figures. Alas, I too am susceptible; the two parchment inserts and ultra-cool CD slipcover on this compilation make me go all gooey. The music inside is somewhat more hit-or-miss; the eighteen tracks (the title lies!) vary pretty wildly, so it's hard to sum it up. Those efforts are only complicated by the fact that this compilation represents two different labels at the same time. Rather than try to recapitulate the CD in words, I hereby give you the high and low points: a) the four bands present that really wish they were Slint or Don Caballero are varying degrees of okay; b) Ms. Black's "Input/Output" is warm, fuzzy, enveloping and delicious; c)Fred Cast and the Spiders From Mars seem to consist of Fred, a guitar, and a Target music department-grade Casio, but you've got to admit he had a pair to choose that name, huh?; d) the two bands trying to sound like Low (Empress and Halkyn) are actually pretty good; e) total number of ambient-soundscape/feedback loops that sound like the Velvet Underground's instruments half an hour after the band left the stage: three. Finally, the compilation's highlight is the nearly ten-minute "We Who Are Not Lonely" by Drekka. It sounds like it's coming from a distant AM station, with the feedback acting as static. As it surges in the sixth minute, the vocals seem to melt into the feedback line as a treble-heavy beat track coalesces behind. The song is brilliant, and along with the other high points makes this compilation well worth buying. -- bm


The Casualties / Die Hards / SideOneDummy (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Nightmare"
Bands like the Casualties fly all in the face of the old adage "you can't judge a book by its cover". Given the cover art shown here, I'll give you three guesses as to what Die Hards sounds like. Eclectic world-beat with underlying electronic accents? Err, sorry. Sludgy '70s groove-rock reminiscent of Kyuss? Nope. C rusty street punk with hoarse, unintelligible vocals and a maximum of three chords per song? BINGO! These guys revel in flexing every punk rock cliché in the book, and bring nothing new whatsoever to the genre. Musically, every song sounds exactly the same (even the one that's barked in Spanish), and lyrically, the only thing that these guys are proficient at is shooting the hell out of dead horses. Sample lyric: "Break all the fucking barriers/This street noise is all we've got/Fury and fucking anger/No more rules for the punx." (from the sardonically titled "Punk Rock"). Save this for the guy in the booklet of Die Hards with a big Casualties logo tattooed on his belly. Now that's punk rock...right? -- j-s


The Sock Angels / Self-Titled / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Into the Blue"
After years with Minneapolis groups like the Portals and the wonderfully named Hicky Party, Daniel Moriarty has moved to the bedroom, producing a gentler, acoustic one-man-band version of the East River Pipe. "Into the Blue", "Hallelu" and "Heavenly" -- with its moody keyboards, rousing harmonica, majestic "sha-la-la" chorus and inspired vocals -- would stand out on any indie compilation, as would "Greater Things" ("Everything has its purpose/You said one shitty day") and "There Can Be No Peace", which features lovely violin work from Moriarty's wife. The acoustic guitar is a near-perfect fit with Moriarty's sensitive, Ian Broudie-like voice, and the other instruments serve as tasteful supporting characters, casual and unbecoming as they are strummed, plucked, or keyed from a sofa or fluffy pillow. However, if you listen to the record from start to finish, and not as individual singles, the record earns fewer superlatives, as there's little variety or change of mood. Also, once you hit the sixth straight Sock Angel song, Moriarty's ultra-relaxed voice mutates from a halo into a dagger; it serenely stabs you, over and over, with the declaration that this singer's life has more peace than your own. -- td


Ball in the House / The Way it Has to Be / Redeye (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Karma Chameleon"
Ball In The House are a diverting, though ultimately disappointing group -- which is unfortunate, as their a capella instrumental mimicry is eerily convincing. The Way It Has To Be is packed with perfectly serviceable mainstream pop tunes, though their roots are sometimes a little too obvious -- "Tasty" in particular being little more than a Backstreet Boys cast-off. Elsewhere, Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" is given a dire hip-hop update that scores points for using the word "vermillion", but loses something -- appeal, perhaps? -- in translation. While it's admirable that the band writes its own material, it's easy to see why many acts hire professionals to do so. The songs here all seem to lack the pizzazz needed to take them over the top -- which is where all the best boy band pop lives, after all. There's no doubt that Ball In The House are talented; it's just a shame that their second-rate material stops them from realizing this. -- lm


Shoot Lucy / Bipolar Expedition / Smack Me (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "My Only Release"
Shoot Lucy means well. They really do. Unfortunately, this honky-tonk outfit from Minnesota comes off as an ersatz Old 97s. The songs are predictable and only serve to underpin the triteness of the lyrics. Singer Dave Berntson does his best to make it up to the listener by randomly throwing in humorous lines, such as this pre-chorus to the third track, "A Little Bit Worse": "Tell me I'm not the only one/who had to put up with this/I can't hold my head up high/can't even listen to Kiss." Shoot Lucy will surprise with a good melody -- i.e. "My Only Release" -- but they'll also resort to hackneyed styles, like the sophomoric, Blues Traveler-esque "All the Time," the biographic "Larry" or the maudlin "Heaven and Hell", all of which detract from the disc's stronger compositions. The overall effect is like listening to a competent high school band covering the Connells. You just expect better from Minneapolis. -- da


The Windmills / When It Was Winter / Matinée (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Snow White"
Windmills lead singer Roy Thirlwall is a vocal dead ringer for old Suedehead himself, Morrissey. For this British quartetís second single, Thirlwall wraps his brassy croon around four deliciously shimmering slices of pure pop. He proves heís got Mozís laid-back delivery down pat on the bouncy "Snow White", while "Pounds Shillings & Pence" revels in the same understated glory that marked Feltís finer moments. Although When It Was Winter is unlikely to bring them mass adoration on a par with Coldplay or the Doves, its decidedly British demeanor and propensity for jangly, minor key musings should curry the group some favor with the more adventurous faction of the anglophile crowd, not to mention confused Smiths fans. -- jj


John Henry / A Gentleman's Anaesthetic / create.transmit (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Insectopia"
In keeping with create.transmit Records' modest governing brief -- "We experiment with electronic sound" -- this nicely packaged 3" CD offers eight tracks (roughly twenty minutes) of improvised textures and melodies. Fortunately, the Gentleman behind this Anaesthetic, one John H. Zipps, possesses musical instincts that go beyond the "I'll just lie down on this keyboard and wriggle for twenty minutes" methodologies of many self-styled improvisational musicians, so nothing here will make you long for the oblivion of sleep; while the disc strays into mildly "difficult" territory on "Insectopia", the majority of the music offers a pleasingly hazy, sometimes downright womblike listening experience. Is it exciting? No, not really. But it's listenable, and competently assembled, which in itself is a nice change. -- gz


Solo Busca / Flying in the Grass / Self-released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "It's Raging Inside the Lab"
John Wesley Harding has never been seen as the paragon on originality or creativity. His name is taken from a Bob Dylan album, while his music borrows heavily from rock's past successes. Though he has enjoyed his share of success, one wouldn't expect Harding to inspire imitators. Solo Busca proves such an expectation wrong, creating an album which clearly owes a large debt of gratitude to Harding, as well as many of the musical legends from whom Harding himself borrows. However, this does not mean that Busca does it well. Flying in the Grass retreads the familiar paths of 1960s pop, with little more than grungy guitars included to account for musical developments of the past 30-plus years. Sixties pop was fine, but do we really need one more person trying to recreate it in 2001? -- 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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