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April 2002 Reviews by

 Accidental Betty
The Atomic Bitchwax

Avoid One Thing

The Baldwin Brothers
The BellRays

Ray Carmen
Coal Chamber

Coast To Coast (VA)
Comment Piece

Dick Dale
Mattias Ia Eklundh

Eternal Elysium

Geoff Farina
Flogging Molly
Gay Dad*
Grand Magus

The Green Pajamas*
GrndNtl Brnds
The Grunt Nuggets

The Holy Ghost
Lisa Loeb
Eleni Mandell*
Masters of the Hemisphere

My Education

1 Mile North
Pop Goes To Pot


Michelle Shocked
The Slow Wire

The Sound of Urchin
Squad Five-O
Tony Stampley*
Strung Out

Teen Feeding Frenzy!
The Tennessee Twin
Toilet Boys*
Vinnie and the Stardusters
White Wads of Juicy Jumbo

*Top Picks


April 2002 Comment Piece: 2002 is the Best Year Ever.

Never has there ever been a year to compare with the pivotal and unbelievable PEAK level of 2002. Do you think that we're being sarcastic? We can GUARANTEE you that we are being completely honest. We're hitting the HIGHEST peak of our lives this year...virtually EVERYTHING is going our way...GREAT things are bubbling up all over the place...and we are no longer plagued by the pointless and problematic CRAP that we once dealt with... The sky...it SPARKLES. The moon...is BRIGHTER every night. Sounds sound better. Smells are more VIBRANT than ever before. Our interest level in everything is at an all time HIGH. The best part? Absolutely NONE of these things are caused by chemicals (!). Finally at the highest point in our lives...we are not "on" anything...we do not now (nor did we EVER) consume alcohol... Our ultimate happiness is totally ORGANIC...based in REALITY...and about as POWERFUL as anything that we have ever experienced. So...where is the "hate"? Oh, it'll come back at some point, that's for sure... But at least for the time being...we are one great big SMILING BLOB of HUGGY SNUGGLES...and we are digging the HELL out of it. Tired and unhappy? Get over it. Life is what you make it. There's a lot of truth in that statement...

Accidental Betty - Those Funny Disfigured Things (Advance CD, Poppydog, Spunk rock)
Accidental Betty is a looker. This one-legged little adjective has holes in her legs, gashes all over her face, big steaks tied to her rear end, and funky little bananas choked on the tiny slot of her mystery hole. And you can bet your sister's booty that Betty enjoys all the attention she gets when she shimmies down the streets of San Antonio. The really shocking news is that Accidental Betty has released a "music" CD. During the course of this album, Betty wheezes, burps, sneezes, throws trash, has angry fits, jumps up and down a lot, frowns in the cemetery, bounces on a helicopter, throws salt in the pudding, dances like a magenta froglet, pisses in little plastic bags, and acts sassy when she doesn't know anyone isn't looking. But the one thing Betty NEVER does is actually sing. This is one of those oddities that has already been forgotten...even though it hasn't even been RELEASED yet (!!!). Do yourself a favor and do yourself a favor. Then stop for a minute...and do yourself ANOTHER favor... (Rating: 2)

The Atomic Bitchwax - Spit Blood (CD, MeteorCity, Rock)
Slamming things off on a damn good footing with a totally credible cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," The Atomic Bitchwax instantly prove that they are a formidable force to be reckoned with. The band is the side project of Ed Mundell who is better known as the guitarist for super cock rockers Monster Magnet. We'd put The Atomic Bitchwax in the same general category as babysue favorites Fu Manchu. The band has a big, big, BIG sound that is characterized by overdriven guitars...and fueled by ounces upon ounces of marijuana (or at least that's our guess...). This band has some KILLER loud rock tunes. Songs like "Get Your Gear" (Hell YEAH!), "Spit Blood," and "U Want I Should" are loud, ballsy, and full of killer throbbing rhythms. When listening to this band it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to stay still. Great stuff...plus you get a FREE bonus CD of other band's on the MeteorCity label... (Rating: 5+)

Avoid One Thing - Avoid One Thing (CD, Side One Dummy, Power pop/punk)
Featuring Joe Gittleman from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Avoid One Thing is an entirely different animal altogether. That's a good thing, because in our sassy ol' opinion ska punk has definite limitations. Avoid One Thing is mainly a pop band...but their melodic, catchy tunes are delivered with driving rhythms and overdriven buzzsaw guitars. Three guys and one girl...all revved up and armed with enough hooks to catch an ocean full of something that moves. The band rocks...all the while delivering tunes that are memorable and direct. Hot tracks like "Backyard Joey," "Every Second of Every Day," and "Next Stop Batteries" are reminiscent of seventies bands...while retaining a distinctly modern approach... (Rating: 4+)

The Baldwin Brothers - Cooking With Lasers (CD, TVT, Dance/pop)
Although The Baldwin Brothers' roots can be traced back to the mid 1980s this quartet did not formally begin their career until the last couple of years. (Note that these fellows have NO CONNECTION to the brothers of the same name who claim to be able to act.) The Baldwin Brothers compose and record technology driven dance music with a definite jazz flavor. These four fellows' have a knack for cutting and pasting...and making it all sound natural and real. We particularly like "Dream Girl" featuring guest vocalist Miho Hatori, "The Bionic Jam," "Viva Kneivel," and "Are You There Margaret? It's Me God." The only track that the band might have considered dropping from this album is "Urban Tumbleweed," a decent cut which is ruined by the presence of (c)rapper Barron Ricks. Other than this one stinker, this album is cohesive, upbeat, and very, very danceable. (Rating: 4+)

The BellRays - In the Light of the Sun (CD, In Music We Trust, Rock/soul)
This is the first CD reissue of the long lost debut album by The BellRays that was originally issued as a cassette-only release. If you've never heard of the band, The BellRays are playing a unique blend of hyped up rock and roll with plenty of soul thrown into the mix. Vocalist Lisa Kekaula is definitely the focal point of the band visually and in terms of the overall sound. This lady has a voice like you won't believe until you hear her. Unlike most singers who simply sing a tune...Ms. Kekaula takes a song and literally belts and rips her way through it with all the fervor and intensity of the greatest singers of all time. And she's completely believable. These recordings offer excellent insight into why the band has such a strong following today. Twelve great tunes including "Crazy Water," "Same Ground," "You'd Better Find a Way," and "Tell Me What You've Been Working On." (Rating: 5)

Bitesize - Sophomore Slump (CD, Packing Heat!, Pop/rock)
For anyone who ever loved the music of The Fastbacks or The Pixies...Bitesize is sure to be a welcome new contender in the ring. Bitesize tunes are just that. The band's short and succinct songs are slightly spastic and feature male and female tradeoff vocals. The band's super catchy ditties are characterized by a decidedly skewed sense of humor, and this is obvious from the song titles. Fans of underground pop/rock are almost certain to love odd little numbers like "Father Figure," "Chicken Shit," "Press Junket," and "Proverbial Old Guy." If you're looking for upbeat fun played with direct style and intent, Bitesize are almost certain to fill the bill... (Rating: 4++)

Ray Carmen - Correct Me If I'm Wrong (CD-R, Cut and Paste, Pop), Pop Victrola (CD-R, Cut and Paste, Pop), Too Old for Angst (CD-R, Cut and Paste, Pop)
Folks who followed the (now defunct) underground cassette culture of the late twentieth century will remember the name Ray Carmen. Mr. Carmen released a slew of wonderfully inventive pop masterpieces that were only heard by a small but wildly appreciative audience. Now...AT LONG LAST...Carmen has re-released his material on CD-R. While silly rabbit purists may be bothered by the tape hiss on these albums, in our minds the most crucial variable that is important in music is INTENT. And now...more than ever before...it is clearly obvious that Ray Carmen is one of the most sincere singer/songwriters ever to hit the planet. You won't find any of these discs in stores..nor will you find it on eBay (the ugly corporate monster gone BAD)...so you will need to contact the label at cutandpasterecords@yahoo.com. (Not Rated)

Coal Chamber - Dark Days (CD, Roadrunner, Death metal)
Good loud hostile stuff. Coal Chamber pay much closer attention to song structure and playing than your average death metal band. Many metal bands simply turn up way too loud...play way too fast...and scream unintelligible gibberish...which is okay, depending upon who is doing it and how (!). But unlike other death metal heads, the four folks in Coal Chamber actually write some pretty cool stuff...and then hammer it out with genuine intensity...and they've got the chops to make it work. They also throw curve balls in their tunes which goes a long way in making the music more entertaining. The vocals...while harsh and growly...are actually sung in such a manner that most of the time the listener can actually make out what is being screamed and/or sung (!). This in and of itself is a rarity in the sometimes intense world of hard metal music. Entertaining and purely nasty, Coal Chamber is a band that stands out from the pack for the plain and simple fact that they have good ideas and TALENT. (Rating: 4+++)

Coast To Coast - Coast To Coast (CD, Jarmusic, Various artists compilation)
Another pleasing, super fine compilation CD from the fine folks at Germany's Jarmusic label. Featuring a slick triple foldout cover, this CD is chock full of super pop music from a wide variety of artists from all across the United States. Artists include Lynn Miles, Ani DiFranco, Ramona the Pest, Violet, Hannah Fury, Coleen Rider, and Becki DiGregorio. This disc features some prime cuts and also introduced us to a great many artists we had not heard before. Includes a neat "Coast To Coast" foldout map (!). (Rating: 4++)

Crevice - Lullabies for Little Albert (CD, Uncle Buzz, Experimental/sound collage)
It is unfortunate that...considering the number of recording artists in the world...there are so few people out there who are recording truly experimental music. The reason is probably that the audience for obtuse audio art is so exceedingly small that most folks don't want to go through all the time, effort, and expense of creating things that are going to be appreciated by such a small and esoteric audience. Crevice does not make music in the normal sense of the word. The unnamed persons (or person?) in the band piece together random sounds and voices...and then blend in their own spacey and experimental compositions into the mix... The overall effect is something like switching channels on the radio...except for the fact that nothing you hear is familiar. Dreamy, unpredictable, sometimes funny and sometimes provocative...these compositions are a pure excursion into artistic audio imagery... (Rating: 4+++)

Curlupanddie - Unfortunately We're Not Robots (CD, Revelation, Death metal/noise/hate/thrash/rock)
Good God. Just when you think that bands can't get any more intense...along comes Curlupanddie. Starting things off on a positive note, the first four "tunes" are the words "WE," "ARE," "ALL," and "DEAD"--each word is a "tune"...and each word is screamed at the listener in such a violent tone that it is virtually impossible to even recognize what is being screamed. The band then takes off on the highly schizophrenic "100 M.P.H. Vomit Dedicated to Jon." One thing is for CERTAIN. There are VERY FEW FOLKS (even amongst the death/speed/metal crowd) who are going to be able to deal with this stuff. The band's music is jagged, skewed, atonal, violent, and EXTREMELY intense. Not surprisingly, one of their influences is the extremely offensive Today Is The Day (with whom they share several distinct traits--one of which is to completely alienate virtually everyone). Pushing things further than they can be pushed is a real talent these days...and these guys most certainly are pushing things about as far as they will go... Totally INTENSE and intensely NEGATIVE. (Rating: 5+)

Dick Dale - Spacial Disorientation (CD, Dick Dale Records, Surf/guitar instrumentals)
Major guitar honcho Dick Dale is back with a mixed bag. The first half of Spacial Disorientation consists of what Dale is known for...wild surf instrumentals with the volume turned up and a backup band in full gear. These first eight tunes are entertaining and prove that Mr. Dale's playing is as good as it ever was. The remaining tracks on the album are, unfortunately, not nearly as entertaining. Beginning with the ninth cut ("Oasis of Mara") and continuing on through to the end, Dale plays acoustic guitar...with mixed results. There are also two vocal tracks ("Belo Horizonte" and "Haji") that just seem out of place (?). We're usually up for folks trying new things...but in this particular case it seems to hurt the overall flow of the album. Our conclusion? Listen to the first half...and skip the second... (Rating: 3)

Eels - Souljacker (Double CD, Dreamworks, Rock/pop)
Eels is the band led by the man who calls himself E (real name: Mark Oliver Everett). Mr. Everett is one talented muthufukka. Not only is the man a seemingly endless river of unforgettable tunes...but with each release he pushes his limits and expands upon his creative genius. But while his talents are many, our favorite single aspect of this band are the word to the songs. Lyrically, this guy writes some of the most heartfelt lines around. He has a way of taking the normal, everyday things in life and giving them some odd sense of purpose. On Souljacker, Everett approaches things from a slighter louder perspective this time around. But never fear, these songs are still basically pop in nature and feature spectacular melodies and arrangements. The vocals are, as usual, outstanding...sincere...and heartfelt. This is right up there with all the other Eels albums. In other words, this another MUST HAVE. Top picks: "Fresh Feeling," "Woman Driving, Man Sleeping," "World of S*!T," "What Is This Note?" Includes a bonus CD with other tunes, including "Rotten World Blues." (Rating: 5+++)

Mattias Ia Eklundh - Freak Guitar (CD, Favored Nations Entertainment, Guitar hero rock)
The first thing we thought when we heard this CD was, "This sounds very much like Steve Vai!" We were not aware (until we read the press release) that Favored Nations just happens to be owned and run by...Vai (!). Sweden's Mattias Ia Eklundh (try saying THAT fifty times FAST!) is most definitely one of those amazing guitar whiz guys who seems to be able to make a guitar sound like anything and do just about everything under the sun. The man is a self taught wonder. His style is frantic, funny, spastic, intense, and breathtaking at times. Freak Guitar is a BIG ol' chunk of guitar madness...containing no less than 22 wild tunes. Included is a cool little booklet containing cartoons and little blurbs about each song. This is a wild and trippy ride through the mind of a young man who is obviously compelled to play and intent on pushing the limits of what one can do with an electric guitar. Our favorite cuts include "God-The Mechanic," "Lisa's Passion for Heavy Metal," "Cornholed," and "Revenge of the Bambi Loving Terrorist" (GREAT song title there...). Top notch sound quality with stellar playing throughout... (Rating: 5)

Eternal Elysium - Share (CD, MeteorCity, Stoner rock/hard rock)
Blowing out overdriven guitars like there's no tomorrow and blasting out driving rhythms like there's no today, Japan's Eternal Elysium are out to show America how heavy they can be. And based upon the tunes on Share the answer is very, very, very, VERY... These guys present a thick, heady, intense excursion into a world where the intent is to turn up ALL THE WAY and blow your soul down to the bowels of ALABAMA. The sound is American all the way. There's no way that you would know by listening to this disc that the band members are Japanese. In any event, they sure give American bands a run for their money. Masculine pot-fueled rockers like "Schizy," "Machine," and "Fairies Never Sleep" recall the heyday of 1970s psychedelia and 1980s grunge. Heavy, loud, and RAW. (Rating: 4+++)

Falconer - Chapters From a Vale Forlorn (CD, Metal Blade, Rock)
Interesting three piece band that sounds something like a cross between Uriah Heep in the vocal department, Queen in the guitar department, and Morbid Angel in the rhythm department. If that description sounds odd, we may be misleading in our description...because the music of Falconer is actually surprisingly melodic and accessible. Though the band's rhythm section is mighty, heavy, and loud...the music is chock full of cool melodies and anthemic choruses. The lead guitars are far and beyond what one normally hears in a modern rock band. Falconer consists of Mathias Blad (vocals, keyboards), Stefan Weinerhall (guitar), and Karsten Larsson (drums). This band should appeal to fans of King's X. (Rating: 4++)

Geoff Farina - Blobscape (CD, Kimchee, Guitar improvisation)
A member of the bands Karate and Secret Stars, Geoff Farina is also a solo singer/songwriter. Blobscape, however, is somewhat of a departure for Mr. Farina in that it is a collection of solo guitar improvisation. Farina is damn good...his liquid fingers skitter and scrawl up and down the frets with endless ease...continually striking new peculiar chords and foraging in odd timing progressions. This is a very moody album...quite sparse overall...but the moods it evokes are awesome. Because of its obtuse nature, you probably won't be seeing or hearing much about this particular album...which is a shame...because it contains a wealth of heady and unique compositions. More than any other group of listeners, we would recommend this for jazz fans. Odd tracks like "Feign Elsewhere," "Fiction Part 1," "Hibye," and "Universal Indians" are mentally provocative and ultimately relaxing... (Rating: 5+)

Flogging Molly - Drunken Lullabies (CD, Side One Dummy, Rock)
Flogging Molly is a band with an unusual history. While the seven man group was formed around Irish singer/songwriter Dave King, King actually met his fellow band mates whilst having brews in an Irish pub in Los Angeles called Molly Malone's. Word has it that the band came together and began playing at Malone's...and became a big hit. So much so that they were picked up by a record label and asked to headline on the 2001 Warped Tour. Not bad for a band that literally came out of nowhere. The music is an odd blend of traditional Irish elements mixed with decidedly loud buzzsaw guitars and plenty of punk rock volume and attitude. Not surprisingly, Mr. King is a fan of the Pogues. The band is a touring machine. Their 2002 tour includes no less than 50 shows in a single two month period (!!!). Plenty of stuff to please the kids here...but the tunes are catchy and hummable enough to please other folks as well. Top picks: "Drunken Lullabies," "May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake)," and "The Son Never Shines (On Closed Doors)." (Rating: 4+++)

Gay Dad - Transmission (CD, Thirsty Ear, Pop)
Explosive British power pop. Question: Are British folks better than Americans? Answer: Most definitely...YES. And if there was ever a case in point, it just might be the three young men in the band Gay Dad. These guys play swirling effervescent super catchy loud pop music that will turn even the most jaded listeners into a pool of runny custard. We fell in love with this disc on the very first listen. The band consists of Cliff Jones (guitar/vocals), Nigel Hoyle (bass), and Nicholas Crowe (drums). But even though they're a trio, don't expect a minimalistic sound. In the studio, these guys enhance and tweak their tunes to infinity with effects and tons upon tons of extra stuff. The result? Tight, punchy ditties with clever mental audio images bleeding in and out of the mix. Of course, nothing is ANYTHING without good melodies...and that's where these boys REALLY shine. Angst-fueled show stoppers like "Transmission," "Nightclub" (yowwwWWW!!!), "Dinosaur," and "Promise of a Miracle" present a young band so creative and so powerful that they seem as if they are exploding at all times (!!!). GREAT stuff, highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Grand Magus - Grand Magus (CD, The Music Cartel, Rock)
A grand mixture of sludge...heavy metal...and good ol' southern boy rock. Considering the mixture...it seems rather odd that the three guys in Grand Magus are Swedish (?!?). But Swedish they are...and their brand of loud, overdriven, loud, slow rock is as believable as it gets. The band sounds something like a cross between Mountain, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Melvins. The rhythms are slow and plodding...the guitars in constant overdrive...and trademark vocalist JB is a super macho screamer who can compete with the best. All three gentlemen sport hefty beards...which creates a visual image which fits the music perfectly. Loud horny tunes like "Gauntlet," "Never Learned," and "Wheel of Time" are destined to appeal to fans the world over who love to drink and smoke. Good stuff, played as though Hell is freezing over... (Rating: 4+++)

The Green Pajamas - This Is Where We Disappear (CD, Rubric, Pop)
The Green Pajamas are one of those obscure bands whose CDs pop up in our mailbox every year or so...and every time, without a doubt...the music contained within impresses the HELL out of us. We have never been so impressed, however, as much as we are with the music on This Is Where We Disappear . This truly is an amazing album...chock full of slightly off kilter pop music that is heavy on melodies and cool, abstract arrangements. More than any other band, The Green Pajamas remind us of The Hang Ups...except the music has a slight psychedelic bend to it and is much more progressive in nature. We had to play this CD a great many times before finally deciding how incredibly strongly we felt about it. Perhaps the best way of summing up the band's music is to use a direct quote taken from the press release sent by the ultra cool folks at Midnight Feeding. It says The Green Pajamas "embrace a sound that is still ahead of the times while remaining lost in time; a quality that keeps the listener haunted yet always craving more." Big Star fans will LOVE this one. This is a MUST HAVE album by a band that has been around for a very long time...and just keeps getting better... (Rating: 6)

GrndNtl Brnds - The Great Dumbening (CD, Vaccination, Pop/rock/abstract)
Tough band name to spell...but it'd sure be worth your time and effort to take note of it. GrndNtl Brnds is one puzzling group of musicians. The music ranges from experimental...to pop...to noise...to rock...and back again. These folks heady concoctions are inventive and obtuse...and probably too odd for the average listener. This is the second full-length release from the band. We are guessing that the CD title must be a statement on the current human condition all over the world...whereby folks...instead of getting smarter...are obviously getting DUMBER by the year (!). What we like most about this band is that...despite the unconventional and experimental approach...their compositions have substance and enough familiar variables to entertain the listener spin after spin after spin. The tunes on The Great Dumbening might best be described as progressive pop. Superb maximum impact tunes include "Impact," "Sister," "Empty Space," and "FM Radio." A great band that doesn't sound like the rest... (Rating: 5)

The Grunt Nuggets - We Is Proud of Diseases We Got (CD EP, Taller Trees, Electronic)
By now you must surely have heard of The Grunt Nuggets. If you haven't, you are late...because everyone ELSE has (heard of them, that is...). The Grunt Nuggets live on a farm. It is a very big farm. The Grunt Nuggets like living on their farm. They plant things and water them. When the things produce stuff that can be picked they pick the stuff and then continue to water the plants. Then they sell some of the things. But sometimes some of the plants die. When they do, The Grunt Nuggets have to replace the dead plants with young new living ones. By doing this they keep everything from dying away completely. But what about fertilizer? What do they use for fertilizer? Fortunate for them, The Grunt Nuggets are already fertilizer. So all they have to do is situate themselves over the right place and it then becomes fertilized automatically. Isn't that a cool thing? Yes, it is a cool thing. Everything is cool. Cool and groovy. We wish that we could say something, but we can't say anything. All we can do is type, type, TYPE... (Rating: 1)

The Holy Ghost - Broken Record (CD, Clearly Records, Rock)
This album took a couple of listens to sink in...but when it sunk it we felt it. The Holy Ghost might best be described as a cross between The Pixies and The Strokes. The band's jagged and somewhat unpredictable rock is characterized first and foremost by unique vocals. What we find interesting is that while the band plays all kinds of atonal chords and throws in plenty of jerky rhythms...underneath it all the band's tunes are actually rather catchy and memorable. In addition to the addictive tunes...these folks have also come up with lyrics that are unusual and impressive...and not by any means standard fare. Cuts like "Mary Was a Maker," "Horses on TV, "You Are Red," and "Thunder and Lightning" are puzzling, original, smart, and odd. Pleasing and distinctly different. (Rating: 5)

Knodel - Dawn of the Butterfly (CD, My Pal God, Pop/dance/new wave)
Knodel is a French trio drawing their music from a wide range of influences. The band's music draws heavily from sources in the 1970s on through to the present. The tunes are simple and direct...and these traits are probably what make the music so effective. The band's compositions combine elements of 1970s electronics with 1980s new wave dance music and 1990s technology to create a heady combination which is strangely fresh and uplifting. The tunes are sparse. Much of the time there are only three or four instruments and/or a vocal track or two. And that is all that is necessary because the band's material is strong enough to carry itself with all the unnecessary clutter. There is a strong flavor of 1980s new wave in many of the tunes that we find most appealing (love those analog synthesizers!). Cool stuff that won't knock you over the head...but will instead casually meld into your subconsciousness and take root... (Rating: 4+++)

Lisa Loeb - Cake And Pie (CD, A&M, Pop)
Timing seems to be everything lately. While we had heard Lisa Loeb's name before, we had never (to our knowledge) heard her music. Just last week when we were junk store shopping we came across one of her CDs for a measly buck so we bought it...and we were pleasantly surprised with the music. Then...almost like magic...within a week her new CD just happened to make its way to our mailbox courtesy of the fine folks at A&M. Cake And Pie is a damn fine album...chock full of melodic, bright, upbeat pop music. On this CD Ms. Loeb opted to write, produce, and play with a wide range of people. This may explain why there is so much diversity here. Those lending a pen and/or instrument include Randy Scruggs, Dweezil Zappa, and Peter Collins. One thing is certain. Lisa is an extremely talented young lady. Not only is she incredibly physically attractive...but she can write circles around most songwriters...and her voice is nothing short of amazing. Cake And Pie could actually pass for a "best of" collection...because almost all of these tunes sound like Top Ten hits (!!!). Our personal favorites: "The Way It Really Is," "Someone You Should Know," "You Don't Know Me" (WOW!), "Payback," and "She's Falling Apart." Smart, inventive, memorable, and totally FRESH! (Rating: 5+)

Eleni Mandell - Snakebite (CD, Space Baby, Acoustic pop)
Eleni Mandell is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive new artists of the past decade. Over the past few years this young lady has had some impressive success...mainly through word-of-mouth...and by playing some absolutely unforgettable concerts in small venues across the United States. Yup, the buzz is strong indeed...and in this case it is well deserved. Mandell's smoky, sexy, sensual, and inventive wordplay is smart, provocative, genuine...and she does indeed sound very much like a female Tom Waits at times (who she is frequently compared to by other writers). What appeals to us most about Mandell's tunes is the timeless quality that is inherent in each composition. Listening to "I Believe In Spring" and "Dutch Harbor" it seems almost impossible to believe that these are not "standards" that were written decades ago (?!?). When Eleni is at her peak--which is most of the time--few artists could even begin to match her in terms of emotion and integrity. While the saucier tunes with a bite are effective ("Pirate Song," "Snakebite," "Madhouse"), Ms. Mandell is actually at her tip-top best when she presents her songs alone with a single acoustic guitar. She won't be an underground celebrity forever...so get in on the ground floor now and catch Eleni Mandell while she's still playing the "small club" circuit. She will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS right off of your feet. (Rating: 5+++)

Masters of the Hemisphere - Protest a Dark Anniversary (CD, Kindercore, Pop)
Hailing from the unlikely city of Warner Robbins, Georgia (???), Masters of the Hemisphere record wonderful stuff. The band's understated, highly melodic pop tunes would not sound out of place in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. The compositions on Protest a Dark Anniversary possess a certain timeless quality that is endearing and bound to endure. Simple melodies...sparse arrangements...minimal production...all of these aspects help the listener to focus on the songs themselves...songs strong enough to stand on their own without excessive frills and overdubs. Direct and sincere, tunes like "Anything, Anything," "Take Time" (our favorite), and "Summer With You" are sure to stand the test of time... (Rating: 4+++)

Mayday - Old Blood (CD, Saddle Creek, X)
Mayday is the latest project spearheaded by Ted Stevens. Mr. Stevens is also the leader of the band Lullaby for the Working Class. In addition, he has also spent time playing in other bands...Cursive, Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, Simon Joyner... This fellow is obviously in with the right crowd. Old Blood is an extremely well thought out collection of tunes...subtle in overall approach and effective particularly in terms of melodies and the man's wonderfully subdued vocals. What we like best about the tunes on this album is that they are hard to pinpoint. Coming up with comparisons is difficult indeed, which is usually a sign that there is something truly credible and genuine happening. Mr. Stevens is one of those rare talents who is following his own muse. He isn't trying to sound like anyone else or jump on any trendy bandwagons. This is evident throughout all nine of these heady and introspective tunes. Our favorite track is the unpredictably odd "Tone/Stone/Atonal"...which is best heard, as it would be quite difficult to describe. Unique and yet strangely familiar, this is a wonderfully addictive dose of something from a different angle. (Rating: 5+)

My Education - 5 Popes (Independently released CD, Guitar/instrumental)
Five lengthy compositions featuring swirling guitars and cerebral rhythms. Austin's My Education has a sound that reminds us of Tristeza. The overall mood of the song takes precedence here. There are no easily discernible melodies. The band's chord progression mania builds in intensity and shifts in levels during the execution of their songs. "Concentration Waltz" is an appropriately titled dittie that'll wash your brain out and leave you laying underneath the kitchen tank. "Lesson 3" is more subtle at times, while still allowing the band to rock out (rather than "rock in"). "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" is a strange excursion and contains some noisy moments. "Deep Cut" is a beautifully moody piece and definitely our favorite. The album closes with "Crime Story," with its many shifts in tone and almost orchestral layering. Really cool guitar maneuvering here, but this CD probably isn't easy to find. Best bet is to e-mail the band at my_education@hotmail.com. Neat! (Rating: 4+++)

1 Mile North - Glass Wars (CD, Old Colony Records, Instrumental)
Slow, sparse, methodical, and hypnotic instrumental music designed to put the listener in a state of meditation. This a design that works. The strangely calming compositions on Glass Wars are slightly eerie...strangely familiar...subtle in approach...and very, very effective. 1 Mile North is the duo of Jon Hills (guitar) and Mark Bajuk (synthesizers). Some folks may lump this duo's compositions into the modern classical category while others may opt to peg them as new age. In actuality the music fits somewhere comfortably in between the two domains. The guitar work is very reminiscent of babysue favorite Vini Reilly (of Durutti Column)...who, not surprisingly, is cited by the band as an influence. Seven lengthy well conceived tunes make this album a curiously satisfying listen. Although most likely destined for obscurity, this is a disc that will be remembered and played repeatedly by those fortunate enough to get their hands on a copy... (Rating: 5+)

Pop Goes To Pot - Get High On Pot or Pop or Something That Starts With "P" (CD, Rolio, Smartmouth gas)
We're not so sure that pop has gone to pot...but we're relatively certain that pot has gone to pop. Apparently this "band" has similar views...as their lyrics and overall image seems to reflect something or another. Bandleader Dixie "One Breast" Pasture seems out of touch with most things in the universe. Her bland expression creates a distance that she cannot penetrate. And this distance goes a long way towards solving the wrecking ball universe that she tends to create. The backup band consists of three monkey-faced musicians going for the gold...but they never really get anything. If all of this sounds mixed up, then it is mixed up. Pop Goes to Pot...yet another reason to stop buying CDs altogether... (Rating: 2)

Radiogram - All the Way Home (CD, Endearing, Pop/Country/Americana)
Smooth and sincere...the second release from Radiogram is a pure feelgood experience. The band's slightly alternative relaxing country flavored pop tunes go down nice and easy. Sparse, open arrangements make it simple to focus on the melodies...and this is the area in which the band truly excels. Heartfelt words and strong songwriting abound. If they could only hear it, the music most likely would...in fact...appeal to a very wide audience. Bandleader Ken Beattie isn't trying to break new ground...to test his listeners...or to push any limits. Instead, his intent seems to be to simply entertain his listeners and enjoy his craft. Judging by these tunes, our opinion is that he is doing both. Excellent tunes like "Gone To Stay" (this one oughta be a hit), "Whisky In My Bed," "Buy the Farm," and "Not Here" are not only thoughtful and real...but they also possess a strange quality that sticks... (Rating: 5)

Seafood - When Do We Start Fighting... (CD, Nettwerk, Rock/progressive pop)
Jeez...these guys sound JUST LIKE another band but for the LIFE of us we can't remember exactly who that is...? In any case, London-based Seafood plays danceable, upbeat guitar pop that is reminiscent of new wave bands of the 1980s. These guys got extra bonus points with us right off the bat by NOT putting their photos anywhere on the CD. In an age where everyone wants to see their faces smeared all over everything, we always admire those few artists who put their music first...and their appearance second. In the case of Seafood, the music speaks for itself. The band's nicely textured pop tunes retain a nice buzzsaw edge while remaining basically light and fluffy on the inside. Guitarist/vocalist David Line has a killer voice. This guy is obviously going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. The more accessible upbeat stuff is great...but the band is actually most effective when they lower their guard and just let it happen. "What May Be the Oldest" is a wonderfully sincere tune with great lyrics and a cool sweeping melody that evokes many emotions and images. "Similar Assassins" is superb melodically...and is a perfect showcase for Line's softer and more refined vocal style. This album is effective in many ways and should touch a wide range of listeners. Recommended. (Rating: 5+)

Michelle Shocked - Deep Natural with Dub Natural (CD, Mighty Sound, Blues/pop)
Michelle Shocked is back with a new album...featuring "new dub blues and gospel birdsong"...? Put in layman's terms, this album features bluesy pop music with a heavy emphasis on electronics and studio gloss. Ms. Shocked's voice is in fine form...making these sometimes lush and spacious tunes work well. Our guess is that this album is going to surprise a great many people...because it presents a surprisingly mature and seasoned vocalist who has expanded well beyond her original image and style. Best tracks: "What Can I Say," "Forgive to Forget," "Can't Take My Joy," and "Go In Peace." Smooth and resonant. (Rating: 4+)

The Slow Wire - analog.living (CD, amBiguous CITY!, Pop/rock)
Really nice moody and melodic guitar rock. The Slow Wire is the brainchild of David Urbano...a young gentleman with the voice and songwriting skills to go far. This album was recorded at Wayne Dorell's Pigeon Club. The thick compositions on analog.living are smart and energetic...but there's a strong melodic sense that pushes them to another level. Urbano's vocal style is just right. His breathy vocals are in that perfect part of the mix in between the guitars and the bass...and he makes it all sound like it takes no effort at all (which we are certain is actually NOT the case...). The tunes, are, for the most part direct and to the point...with little excess in terms of overdubs and arrangements. Plenty of good, heady, alternative guitar rock here... Our particular favorites are "Crossed Wires," "Medicine," "Pixel Addict" (great song AND great song title), and "Untitled Somehow." Killer tunes, killer delivery... (Rating: 5)

The Sound of Urchin - You are the Best (CD, RCA / BMG, Rock/pop)
This Pennsylvania quartet seemingly came out of nowhere and are suddenly on the tips of the lips of the hippest of the hip. You are the Best is a diverse collection of tunes that sneak in and out of several different musical realms. The Sound of Urchin seem intent on bouncing back and forth from loud atonal rock...to pounding metal...to surprisingly accessible pop. More than any other band, the overall concept here reminds us of some of the later work by The Butthole Surfers. Some good stuff, some throwaway material...but overall this band shows that they've got some good ideas and some good tunes... Produced by Keith Cleversley, Dean Ween, and Chris Shaw. (Rating: 4)

Squad Five-O - Squad Five-O (CD, Tooth and Nail, Rock/pop)
Brothers John and Jeff Fortson are a formidable rock and roll duo. A note to all the girlie girls out there...these two brothers are CUTE as HELL. Actually, the entire band looks great (!)...and all five contributed songs to this album. But as we all know, looks aren't everything...but fortunately for Squad Five-O...they're not thriving on looks alone. What these guys ARE thriving on is instantly effective and ultimately addictive loud rock and roll with hooks a' plenty and attitude galore. The guitars are loud and in your face...the rhythms tight and precise...and lead vocalist Jeff has the presence and vocal chords to make these rock anthems work. This is the kinda stuff that is CERTAIN to drive wall-to-wall super curly girls completely WILD with teenage angst. This album is chock full of teenage wonders. Our top picks: "I Don't Want to Change the World," "Make You A Star," "Wasted (With You)," and "Get Away." Tough stuff with credible underpinnings. (Rating: 5)

Tony Stampley - Rebelution (CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
The son of country legend Joe Stampley, Tony Stampley is a genuine talent in the world of country music. His first claim to fame was that Hank Williams, Jr. recorded three of the first five songs that he wrote. Since that time he has also written tunes for John Anderson, Randy Travis, Confederate Railroad, and Lonnie Mack. But potential listeners shouldn't get the idea that Tony is tagging on the coattails of the bigger stars...because Rebelution showcases a man who is as good and credible as any of the folks he has written for. Stampley's got a great big ol' masculine, husky vocal style that works perfectly with his sincere, heartfelt country pop tunes. This guy's no wussy though. Tony can crank it up and get funky when he wants to (for proof, check out "One Shot" or "I Know What You've Got Up Your Sleeve.") But ultimately it's the lighter stuff and the more pensive tunes that are the most impressive here. Our favorites are "American Offline" (funny lyrics, an obvious hit), "Dreamin' Again," "Doctor Jesus," and "You Won't Mind the Rain." In the world of commercial country music, there are certainly those artists who are insincere and just in it for the money. Tony Stampley is the real thing, playing from the heart, and putting his soul into it. This album should appeal to fans of Toby Keith. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Strung Out - An American Paradox (CD, Fat Wreck Chords, Rock)
Another hard-hitting intensely macho release from Southern California favorites Strung Out. This is the band's fourth release, and they show absolutely no signs of letting up. While these guys' tunes are lightning fast and furious, the main current flowing through their music is a strong sense of melodic pop. The band's drummer (Jordan Burns) is a true adrenaline-fueled maniac...continually crashing and bashing away like the sun is going to explode at any given moment. The rest of the band almost seems at times like they're giving everything they've got just to keep up with the guy (!). Strung Out present a believable mixture of punk and pop with a great big heaping dose of hyperactive energy. Top picks: "Velvet Alley," "Alien Amplifier," "The Kids," "Cemetery." (Rating: 5)

Teen Feeding Frenzy! - A Tribute To Music Teens Love (CD, Go-Kustom, Various artists compilation)
The Go-Kustom label puts out some MARVELOUS various artists compilations with a DIFFERENCE. Whereas most record companies churn out these things simply to generate sales of other CDs by their artists, the folks at Go-Kustom come up with a specific idea or purpose...and then invite obscure folks out there in wonderland to come up with creative ways of contributing to the project. On Teen Feeding Frenzy! the idea is just that. Obscure artists were asked to cover teeny bopper and/or bubblegum tunes for this album. There are some truly strange gems to be found on this disc. Possibly the strangest "cover" is Remora's almost unrecognizable cover of New Kids on the Block's "Hangin' Tough." Steelhead's obtuse cover of Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey" is eerie and strikingly peculiar. Elks Skiffle Group turn in a subdued yet effective retake of T. Rex's "Jeepster." Introversion's noisy and distorted rendering of "Runaway" is almost certain to drive Del Shannon fans up the wall. These are only a few of the highlights. Lots of surprises on this disc, which is what we have come to expect from Go-Kustom compilations... (Rating: 4++)

The Tennessee Twin - Free To Do What? (CD, Mint, Country/pop)
What a great title for an album (!). The Tennessee Twin start off with a strong catchy statement and then proceed to charm the listener with their inventive bluegrass inspired pop for the remaining eleven tunes on this, their debut album. Lead singer Cindy Wolfe has a wonderfully loose and somewhat comical vocal style that is both engaging and fun. This is a BIG band...featuring no less than eight members (some of whom also play in the critically acclaimed The New Pornographers). This album is chock full of feelgood music...the kinda stuff that was popular several decades ago when music was purer and more direct. Our favorites here are the title track, "Oh Darkness," "These Thoughts Are Occupied," and "It's Just Propane." (Rating: 5)

Toilet Boys - Toilet Boys (CD, Masterplan / Hall of Records, Rock)
To all of those old farts out there who may proclaim "It's ALL been DONE BEFORE!"...we have a response for you. SURE it has...EVERYTHING has been done before. But the thing to keep in mind is that there are always new people out there who have never SEEN it or HEARD it before. And as usual...when you do it RIGHT (no matter whether it is NEW, OLD, TIRED, or TRITE)...it still WORKS. The Toilet Boys are one tight, ultra-visual band. Sure the image is reminiscent of a great many glitter, transvestite, and punk bands of the past. But the important thing about this band is that they combine just the right ingredients...with some damn good songwriting...to pack a mighty wallop for all those kids out there who need it the most. For anyone who missed the glitter rock phase of the 1970s...this is your second chance to jump on the bandwagon. Yup, these five guys are pretty...sassy...nasty...full of attitude...and they can crank out some goddamn KICKASS rock and roll tunes. Punchy upbeat tunes like "Party Starts Now," "Saturday Nite," "Ride," and "Kiss in the Wind" oughta make all those hungry, horny, drug addicted kids go completely WILD. And isn't that, after all, the main POINT of it all? (Rating: 5++)

Vinnie and the Stardusters - The Baroque Wind Sessions (CD, A Simple Sense of Superiority, Guitar instrumentals of classical compositions)
There aren't many bands who have gone as far on the sheer basis of their own talent, determination, and hard work as Vinnie and the Stardusters. In all honesty, when we looked at this package we felt inclined to pass on reviewing the band. But upon hearing the first tune on The Baroque Wind Sessions we realized that we HAD to review these guys' work. Vinnie and the Stardusters are smart, inventive, talented, funny, and ultimately very WEIRD. But most importantly...just like The Mothers of Invention...they are EXTREMELY proficient and talented. Most importantly they are not...repeat NOT...covering up a lack of talent and substance with a weird gimmick. Actually, if there's ONE thing that's probably going to get in the way of these fellows becoming very successful...it is the fact that their music and approach are going to leave 99% of everyone out there scratching their heads in confusion. And that is probably exactly what these men want. In listening to this, we aren't sure whether we should be laughing...dancing...or breaking the furniture (?!?). Goofy and hyperintelligent, Vinnie and the Stardusters are easily one of the most original underground bands out there... And they most certainly ARE "out there"...!!! (Rating: 5+)

White Wads of Juicy Jumbo - We Keeps Dreaming About It All Over Again (DVD, Ansiom, Puberty)
If you're up for it this is a great big long footage kinda thing featuring White Wads of Juicy Jumbo. So...who is Juicy Jumbo, we asked...? No one answered. We called again...and got no answer. We called five hundred more times...and finally someone picked up. When they said hello we got nervous and hung up again. Then it took us another two thousand calls to get them to pick up again. When they finally did we decided we didn't want to talk to them anyway so we hung up again. This DVD features a bunch of stuff. Some of if is real stuff. Other parts of it are imaginary stuff. The white wads that keep reappearing are the purest stuff of dreams...thick white streams of pushy presents that only we could truly appreciate. We would give this one a high rating but then everyone would want White Wads of Juicy Jumbo. And, truth be known, those wads are ours and ours alone...and so we're giving this DVD a SHITTY rating...even though we LOVE the HOLY HELL out of it... (Rating: 1)

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