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August 2001 Reviews by

Bruce Anderson & Dale Sophiea*
Arling & Cameron
Andrew Clyne
Comment Piece
The C*nts

Craig David
Degenerate Art Ensemble
Five Horse Johnson
The Four Bags
Ganz Brothers
Garland Buckeye
The Hermit
Bill Hicks
Clive Holden
Idle Wilds

Daniel Johnston
Jolie & The Wanted

Karma To Burn
Kill Creek
Adam Levy
Maya Shore
Martin Newell
Mr. Wright

The Philistines Jr.
Red Planet
Rilo Kiley
Jimmy Sommers
Sons of Otis
Telefon Tel Aviv

Tight Bro's
Unstable Ensemble
Visitor Jim
Wordsound Dub (Best of)

*Top Picks


August 2001 Comment Piece:
When Musicians Become Politicians

We absolutely HATE it when musicians (or any other celebrities for that matter) become politicians. It is our belief that any musician who stoops to using his or her "clout" or influence in order to influence others politically is a musician who should be totally and completely IGNORED. Obviously everyone does not feel the same way that we do, as some of the biggest stars out there churn out their sloppy opinions year after year after year...and all the stupid sheep just EAT IT UP. The very worst part, of course, are the dreaded BENEFITS. You know...those sleazy, scummy events where everyone pays WAY too much money to attend some worthless dinner or party, wearing their overpriced shitty clothes to impress others, and then everyone supports each other by walking around talking about their own stinking, filthy GENEROSITY and the goddamn GOOD DEEDS that they feel they are doing. It's called (vomit)...MAKING A DIFFERENCE (puke, puke, puke...). Of course we can't change the world...but we can certainly change our own little corner of it. Whenever we receive any CD that gives us the impression that the artist is...ONE OF THEM...then that item goes directly into the DISCARD stack. While we attempt to listen to most everything we receive, we DO NOT listen to crap from those who try to push their ideas on other people. (We're certainly glad that WE are never guilty of such a thing...) Political musicians. Jesus Christ, what a pathetic bunch of losers...

Bruce Anderson & Dale Sophiea - Medication (CD, Family Vineyard, Psychedelic Modern Classical)
Readers should take note that this disc is actually by the above two individuals as well as Jim Hrabetin, Marc Weinstein, and Dave Mahoney. We had previously reviewed one of Bruce Anderson' s solo albums and found it to be quite amazing. While certainly not intended for everyone, Medication is a marvelously bizarre and surreal mental trip. The song titles were created from side effects that one might experience from taking prescription medication: "Euphoria," "Ringing in the Ears," "Vivid Dreams" (this one's a REAL strange ride). Believe us, after hearing four or five of these compositions in a row you will certainly FEEL as if you have taken some medication. This truly is psychedelic modern classical music, as it embodies many of the ideas of both genres. Many of the tracks here will literally melt your brain. We must make a point here to warn folks who are looking for traditional song formats (melodies, vocals, standard structures, etc.) that this CD is definitely NOT for you. This is the kind of thing that your aunt, your brother, your workmates, and your children will not understand in any way, shape, or form. These compositions are VERY far out and obtuse. The real success of this disc is that it truly does embody the feelings of the side effects of drugs. Words can't really describe pieces like "Decreased Production of Tears" and "Vertigo." Suffice to say, however, this is an OUTSTANDING piece of work. Highly recommended for those who really enjoy their altered states of consciousness... Easily one of the best recordings we have heard this year. (Rating: 6+)

Arling & Cameron - We Are A&C (CD, Emperor Norton, Electronic/pop)
Dutch duo Gerry Arling and Richard Cameron obviously have connections in the right places. Even though you may not be familiar with their names, you have probably already heard their music many times. The duo's music has already been picked up by a variety of big TV shows, films, and commercials. They've even scored a dance club hit ("Voulez-vous"). Considering all of the commercial connections, you might think that the music would suck. Well color us surprised...because We Are A&C is chock full of great upbeat electronic pop. And unlike albums released by many of today's modern electronic duos, these two gentlemen provide amazing variety in their music. Time doesn't permit our going into each track individually...but here are some favorites. "5th Dimension": A surprisingly straightforward pop tune with an addicting melody. "Dirty Robot": Great dance tune chock full of thick and meaty synthesizers and detached female vocals. "Ocean Drive": Fitting the title exactly, this wonderfully free-flowing instrumental glides along a lot smoother than your car probably does. "Don't You F*ck": The most abrasive track on the album features a breathy female vocal repeating the phrase "Don't you f*ck with me." This track is over as soon as it has begun. Overall, this is a stimulating album that is both fun and thought provoking. Neat. (Rating: 4++)

Bedbugs - Happiest of Hours (CD, Two Sheds / Tight Spot, Pop)
Nice, uncontrived, basic pop music. This Austin, Texas trio presents ten understated tunes on Happiest of Hours that range from basic rock to pensive soft pop. Once upon a time many years ago Austin was home to all kinds of out-of-control psychedelic noise bands. Nowadays, the city seems to be bubbling over with pop bands. In any event, Bedbugs are a keeper. Their music is sincere and their approach is so simple and straightforward that it requires almost no effort whatsoever to get into the band's music. Preferred cuts: "Anytime At All" and "Big Day Out." This isn't the kind of stuff that blows you away immediately...but rather creeps into your subconscious and leaves permanent mental trails... (Rating: 4)

Bilal - 1st Born Second (CD, Interscope, Soul/funk/pop)
Our interest in jazz, soul, and funk has been on the increase during the past couple of years...partly because we were so closed-minded in our youths that we neglected to recognize some of the more intriguing aspects of these styles of music. And while most of our attention has been drawn to the great artists of the past, we have been keeping our keen little ears open for any great new artists that might pop up. Bilal is one cool dude. Not only is he cool...this guy is a real talent. For all of you Prince fans out there, you will want to latch onto this man's stuff early on...as this gentleman is coming from the same general direction. Bilal places a great emphasis on words and lyrics...but his abilities in the studio are just as well defined and developed. Interestingly, 1st Born Second is this young man's first album. Hard to believe, as this is an extremely mature and slick collection of tunes. Throughout this album, Bilal effortlessly merges aspects of jazz, hip hop, pop, funk, soul, rap, and electronica. Great tracks like "For You," "Sally," "Queen of Sanity," and "Second Child" reflect the overall talent of this red hot star whose music is just now hitting the airwaves... (Rating: 4+++)

Chrysanthemums - Insekt Insekt (CD, Jarmusic, Pop)
Before we start this review, we must first state that we know absolutely nothing about this band (?). From what it appears, this live concert recording is actually a merging of two different bands: Chrysanthemums and Go Germany. This limited edition digipack release serves as an introduction to these bands from our point of view. The music is progressive pop with wonderfully soaring melodies, jangley guitars, and understated keyboards. From the sound of it we'd say the band was playing for a somewhat small audience, which may explain why the music comes across sounding so sincere and genuine. This band (or bands?) consists of Jonathan Lemon, Yukio Yung, Robyn Gibson, Alan Jenkins, and Vladimir Zajkowiecz. It is difficult to judge a band based solely on a live recording, but we can report that from what we're hearing we'd love to hear some of this (these?) band's studio recordings... Cool stuff. (Rating: 4)

Andrew Clyne - Phatt Phunk: Plugged In (CD, Phatt Phunk, Dance)
This is a wonderful various artists CD compiled and mixed by DJ Andrew Clyne. Clyne presents a host of artists who call the Phatt Phunk label home, as well as other acts on the Fade and In-Tec labels (the latter is run by Carl Cox). From start to finish, Plugged In is just that. Mr. Clyne plugs in some damn fine and mesmerizing tunes that will have you up and moving in no time. Coincidentally, possibly our favorite track here is "The Back Nine," which just happens to be one of Andrew's own musical creations. The trippy minimal composition is spacey and subtle...gently tripping its way through your speakers. Another favorite is Fisher Project's "I Get A Rush (Moogwai's Trauma Mix)"...a great dance tune just dripping with surreal effects and a hypnotic beat. Super cool Organic Vegetarian Liberation Front (great name, eh?) present the soulful "Only One," which must drive folks absolutely wild on the dance floor. Trevor Rockcliffe's "Visions Of You (Smith & Seiway Remix)" is also a clever and wild little track that ought to please folks who just want to get up and boogie their noodles off. The individual tracks on this disc are entertaining to say the least...but what impresses us even more is the manner in which they are presented. Mr. Clyne seems to be a master in the field of creating moods and bleeding songs into one another. Accordingly, this disc is meant to be listened to as one long track... (Rating: 5)

The C*nts - Your Funny (CD, Disturbing, Garage rock)
Yet another limited edition CD chock full of fantastic garage rock from Chicago's The C*nts. Despite the fact the they are still an underground cult band, these guys simply refuse to give up. The music is lo-fi revved up buzzsaw guitar rock, and the vocals have that wonderful "who gives a f*ck" style that makes it all work. But what really grabs our nuts about this band are the lyrics and song titles. These men have a great sense of humor, and it makes their music infinitely more enjoyable than most of your average modern-day rock bands who take themselves way too seriously. This is highly recommended for folks who like early 1970s punk music before the genre turned into a sellable commodity. The band's songs are simple, melodic, catchy, and like a direct shot of a very good substance indeed. Favorites? This time around we're digging "Throwing Rocks at Your Window," "Man That Fell Out of the Sky," "I Can Run Like You," and "Overwhelming Darkness." It's unlikely you will find this in stores...so write to Disturbing Records, 3238 S. Racine, Chicago, IL 60608. A great little chunk of obscure reality. (Rating: 5)

Craig David - Born To Do It (CD, Atlantic, R&B/pop)
Even though he is not yet 20 years old, Craig David is already big, big, BIG in the United Kingdom. In fact, Born To Do It has already sold more than 1.5 million copies (?!?) there. Even though we like the sound of this album, we are relatively certain that most of our readers would probably HATE it. Mr. David's music is super slick, super commercial R&B, and it has that Top 40 sound that makes most underground music fanatics CRINGE. We like things loud and crazy...but we also like things lite and smooth from time to time. Accordingly, this album is a nice change of pace from whizzing through too many alternative pop and hard rock CDs. A change of pace is a very good thing...and, as such, we'll be spinning this disc in the months ahead if for no other reason than it serves as our current connection to what "hit radio" currently sounds like on the other side of the world. Whatever you say about this man, almost everyone would agree he has an amazingly silky smooth vocal style that is inviting and cool. Our top picks here are "Fill Me In," "Key To My Heart," and "You Know What." (Rating: 3+++)

Degenerate Art Ensemble - Rinko (CD, Unit Circle Rekkids, Modern classical/experimental)
If it's on the Unit Circle Rekkids label...you can BET it has no commercial value whatsoever. That is certainly the case with this disc. Degenerate Art Ensemble is a group of Seattle artists who were originally known as The Young Composers Collective. Possibly their most well-known achievement thus far is the soundtrack they recorded for Fritz Lang's film Metropolis. Rinko the album is the audio portion of one of the group's first full-scale performances. What does it sound like? Actually many different things...and yet nothing at all. The music is abstract modern classical with lots and lots of experimentation going on. At times the sound is like an awkward, nervous orchestra...and at other times things get creepy and almost stagnant. Some of the pieces are similar to Frank Zappa's classical compositions. This is not for everyone...but for folks into the odd, the bizarre, and the peculiar...Rinko will be a welcome treat. Our favorites here are "Hibernation," "The Target," and "Circle." The folks at Unit Circle always release intriguing stuff... (Rating: 4+++)

Five Horse Johnson - The No. 6 Dance (CD, Small Stone, Rock)
Heavy, funky, loud, raunchy, and hard. Them's five things we DIG...and them's five things Five Horse Johnson IS. This band sounds kinda like a cross between Mountain and Monster Magnet. Hell, they even named the second song on their album "Mississippi King"...so you KNOW there are some Leslie West influences going on here... Actually while the vocals sound similar to Mr. West, the guitars are much more in line with Southern redneck rock bands of the 1970s. Apparently the band's fan base is somewhat similar, as they have already shared the stage with Lynrd Skynyrd and Alabama Thunderpussy. If there's one thing these guys do right, it is to rock HARD. The music is not a blur of noise and power chords (like many rock bands thrive on of late). Instead, these guys play some great meaty riffs that are supported by heavy driving rhythms. The topper, of course, are those ultra-raspy masculine vocals. There's a whole lot to drink and drive to here...but our initial favorites are "Mississippi King," "Gods of Demolition" (our top pick...crank this one UP!), "Hollerin'," and "Buzzard Luck." Excellent hard rock with appetizing big hairy nuts... (Rating: 5)

The Four Bags - The Four Bags (Independent CD, Jazz/modern classical/instrumental)
Love it. Loooooooooooooove it. The Four Bags are a wonderful little band indeed. This New York-based ensemble features accordian, trombone, guitar, and woodwinds. While most listeners will probably appreciate the band's cover tunes the most (they cover the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" and Brecht & Weill's "Alabama Song"), it is actually their original compositions that are the REAL treats on this, their debut album. These fellows write some wonderfully understated soft jazz pieces that are virtually perfect in their execution. This is not a noisy experimental group of no-talents. Rather, these fellows are extremely gifted players and this fact shines through crystal clear on all twelve cuts on this album. Our favorite track is the strangely subdued "Distance," an appropriately titled cut that is basically a modern classical composition. Another favorite is the slightly loopy "Family Vacation," which sounds like it might've been recorded by the Kinks' horn section from their Preservation Act II album. So often when groups try to be artsy they end up sounding pretentious and tedious. This is definitely NOT the case here. These four gentlemen (Michael McGinnis, Tom Aldrich, Sean Moran, Brian Drye) create some absolutely wonderful mind-bending music that is provocative and intriguing. Recommended listening... (Rating: 5)

Ganz Brothers - First Steps (CD, Extravaganza, Soft jazz)
Unlike many artists that we have heard over the past few years, the Ganz Brothers really are brothers...and not only that, their last name really is Ganz (!). Brothers Steve (tenor sax) and Keith (guitar) serve up some mighty slick and fine jazz numbers of this (apparently) self-released CD. The brothers are accompanied by Vinson Valega on drums and George Mitchell on bass. The tracks on First Steps are basic and traditional mid-tempo jazz. This is the sort of music that would be perfect either for an afternoon gathering or for dinner music with that special someone in your life. Steven and Keith wrote all of the tunes on this CD with the exception of one ("My Shining Hour" by Mercer). Nice stuff, played straight from the heart... (Rating: 4)

Garland Buckeye - More Seas Than Before (CD, Hello, Rock)
Sassy, punchy upbeat rock music from Kentucky's Garland Buckeye. Upon first listen, some folks may be apt to lump this band into the generic alternative rock category...but doing so would be a gross error as well as a miscalculation. Rather than churning out droning slop, the three members of Garland Buckeye present some very well arranged and at times complex little pop/rock ditties that are both catchy and strangely out of step with other bands of our time. While the band uses the standard guitar/bass/drum instrumentation, their use of these instruments is challenging and inventive. The vocals have that strangely detached speak/sing approach that made us love the band St. Johnny so much a few years back. The drums kick dynamite ass, the bass throbs like a twinky blister, and the melodies are strong and intense. Fourteen neat goddamn little tunes here with our favorites being "From Atop Your Suitcase," "Crime Payments" (LOVE this one), and "Connecting Dotted Lines." Cool band with a nice genuine approach to making music... (Rating: 4+++)

The Hermit - Flying Out of Solitude (CD, Nutone, Varied styles)
The Hermit is basically the one-man project of Hamish Thomson who was assisted by a few friends in the creation of Flying Out of Solitude. As has been the case with all Nutone releases thus far, there was no publicity photo or press release accompanying this release. We like this idea, as it forces lazy reviewers to actually pay attention and focus on the music rather than extraneous variables. Fortunately for artists like The Hermit, there really is no need for a sales pitch in the first place...as the music easily sells itself. This CD is chock full of wonderfully esoteric recordings...and despite the fact that you never know what will come next, the album has a nice overall sense of continuity. Don't quote us on this, but we are relatively certain these tracks feature live drums (a rarity in the world of one-man recording). The album is mostly instrumental, but vocals do manage to creep in and out of a few tunes. Mr. Thomson's music ranges from dub to ambient to mood music to dance to world music to electronic experimentation. And in every genre that he explores, this man does it up right. Our own particular favorites here are the swirling "Driving In Solitude," the R&B influenced "Trap9," and the strange gravitation of "Sunset Trail." This album will most likely mean a great many things to a great many people because it covers so much territory. A superb release that will stand the test of time... (Rating: 5+)

Bill Hicks - Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks (CD, Rykodisc, Comedy)
Although he's obviously somewhat of an underground legend, this CD served as our introduction to the comedy of Bill Hicks. DAMN this guy was FUNNY AS HELL. Honest to God, our ribs were splitting within the first 60 seconds of this CD...and we didn't stop laughing until the last track was over. Until now we had never heard a comedian who so closely parallels our own views of life. Our favorite line on this album is when Mr. Hicks shares his views on gays in the military by saying "Anyone stupid enough to want to be in the military...should be allowed in." What a SCREAM. Even though Hicks spent most of his adult life in Los Angeles, we find it interesting that he was born in Valdosta, Georgia. Bill was pals with Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld...but his career never really took off like theirs did (most likely because of the CONTENT of his material--he presents some very UNPOPULAR points of view). Hicks did have a very loyal and growing base of fans when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 and died shortly thereafter. Very sad, particularly since this gentleman's humor was based solidly on exposing truths inherent in the human situation. This man's material is wonderful not only because it's EXTREMELY funny...but also because underneath the humor he makes so many valid observations. This "best of" compilation was taken from four other full-length albums that Rykodisc is also releasing... We'll be trying to pick up EVERY ONE of 'em... (Rating: 5++)

Clive Holden - Trains of Winnipeg (CD, Endearing/Cyclops Press, Spoken word/experimental)
Trains of Winnipeg is a spoken word album featuring the writing of Clive Holden. The mostly ambient music in the background is provided by Jason Tait, John K. Samson (both are in the band The Weakerthans), and Christine Fellows. The overall sound of this album reminds us of John Cale's spoken word pieces from the 1970s and 1980s. The music in each selection was written to match the words which it supports. The web site (link above) features art videos made from poems on the CD as well as graphic/animated poetry, and audio field recordings. Spoken word recordings not really being our cup of tea, we're going to let you explore the web site on your own... This project was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. (Not Rated)

Idaho - Levitate (CD, Idaho Music, Pop/rock)
In the lavish beast-like babysue offices there is always cause for great celebration whenever a new Idaho CD arrives. Levitate is as good as any Idaho release yet...and that is truly saying something. This album was, for the most part, written, played, and recorded entirely by Jeff Martin. (Guest drummer Alex Kimmel plays drums on five tracks.) The man is one of the most extraordinarily talented singers and songwriters of our time. And despite the fact that he receives limited exposure, he continues to compose and release one masterpiece after another. And while the public at large seems to be virtually unaware of the band, those who love Mr. Martin's stuff REALLY love it. Idaho releases are almost always exercises in restraint and longing melodies...but this album is even more extreme than previous efforts. The arrangements are extremely sparse and the vocals even more delicate and introspective than normal...but those unusual and unmistakable melodies remain. This is a complex and haunting collection of tunes that blows us completely out of the house. Thus far in his career, Jeff has done no wrong. While most folks are missing the boat, he continues charting unknown territory and exposing his heart for all those who just happen to be paying close attention. Great tracks like "Wondering the Fields," "For Granted," "Santa Claus Is Weird," and "Levitate" will one day be recognized for the fantastic standards that they are. RECOMMENDED LISTENING. (Rating: 6)

Idle Wilds - Unheard (CD, Kool Kat, Pop)
What?!? No WEB SITE?!? Heh heh heh...just kidding, dear readers. For you see, in all actuality web sites are not a necessity in today's world...despite the fact that most of us THINK they are. Everyone does not need an "electronic business card" because everyone's motivation is not to simply sell stuff and become hugely popular. The mission of the folks at Kool Kat music seems to be releasing material that they love and believe in...rather than putting out discs that they feel will yield them a "hit." This is the first CD to be released by this independent label, and if this is any indication of where they're headed we'll be keeping our eyes peeled for future releases. Unheard consists of 15 rare and previously unreleased tracks by Idle Wilds. For those who are unfamiliar with the band, this group was headed by David Gray in the 1990s until he split to pursue a solo career and to produce other artists. This album plays like a non-stop string of hits that never were. The tunes are guitar-based pop ditties that feature urgent vocals, great guitar lines, and--above all--superb melodies. In case you have trouble finding this, the CD can be ordered for a mere $13.00 by writing to Kool Kat Music, P.O. Box 471, Sewell, NJ 08080. Well worth it, we'd say... The disc even includes the band's first recorded demo ("Tender Distance"). (Rating: 4)

Jeremy - Pop Rules (CD, Jam, Pop)
Underground icon Jeremy Morris has yet another hit on his hands with Pop Rules. Possibly his most sugary plus release yet, this CD is a true exercise in bubblegummy sweet pop music. As is the case with all of Jeremy's releases, the melodies, vocals, and guitar work are all OUTSTANDING. The tunes on this album sound very much like The Bugaloos, and this comparison is meant as a great compliment. There are so many angry, nasty, dirty, mean bands out there pissing everyone off because of their extreme noise and negative energy. Jeremy's music is bound to have a negative effect on a great number of people out there...because most folks simply cannot take it when music is this purely uplifting and positive. For our own tastes, we certainly like it loud and nasty...but we also love the super sweet stuff. If they could only hear it, we feel certain that Jeremy could sell millions of CDs. His audience? Besides unlikely candidates like ourselves, we feel absolutely CERTAIN that kids would LOVE this stuff...if they could only hear it...! This baby is full of plenty of potential monster hits. Tunes like "It's Getting Better," "Where Is Love?," "Good Times," "Where Were You?," and "Farewell" would be hits if the world were a perfect place in which to live. Things being as they are, this album will only be heard and appreciated by those folks who happen to be plugged into the pop underground. Once again, Dave Dietrich provides perfect drumming throughout. Recommended for folks into Badfinger, The Shoes, the aforementioned Bugaloos, The Monkees, and The Archies. This guy really is a genius of melody... (Rating: 5+)

Daniel Johnston - Rejected Unknown (CD, Gammon, Pop)
Daniel Johnston...genius...or NOT a genius? The answer to that question is still up for debate, and Mr. Johnston's first studio album in several years is probably not going to settle the question once and for all. For those who may not be familiar with the name, Daniel Johnston is an odd character who lives in Austin, Texas. He began his career by trotting around giving away his own home-produced cassettes and playing around anywhere and everywhere. Through perseverance, he eventually became an underground celebrity...receiving a seemingly non-stop string of endorsements by some very big celebrities. His career seemingly culminated with his first and only major label release in the 1990s, Fun. Fun received mixed reviews, which may explain Daniel's lack of recorded output over the past several years. Our own position? We find this man's work interesting...but we can only listen to a couple of songs before we must press "eject" and go onto something else. The songs themselves are fine...but we must admit we have a problem with the vocals. Actually, what strikes our interest most about this release is the label that the album is on. From reading the press release, we are expecting some intriguing stuff from Gammon in the future. We feel certain that Daniel's fans will be pleased with this album, as this is probably his most polished and well-arranged album yet. Maybe we're missing out on something here...so we're not going to rate this. Recommended for Johnson fans only. (Not Rated)

Jolie & The Wanted - Jolie & The Wanted (CD, Dreamworks, Country/pop)
Jolie Edwards is a fresh and exciting new country star. She's young, she's pretty...but most importantly, this lady has a fantastic voice that just oozes with passion and personality. Like female vocalists from a few decades ago, Ms. Edwards is not as much a songwriter as she is an interpreter of songs written by others. It is difficult to believe that Jolie & The Wanted is a debut album, because the overall sound is extremely polished and professional. Most of the songs are based around simple ideas and phrases that most people will instantly recognize. Edwards' voice reminds us of early Dolly Parton, but without the nervous quiver. Of the eleven tunes presented here, we'd guess that at least ten have the potential to become huge hits. Our favorites are "Boom," "Let It Go," "The Wantin' Not the Gettin'," "It's Only Love," and "I Go Crazy." This is a fantastic collection of tunes from a woman who obviously and truly loves what she is doing. An instant country classic. (Rating: 5)

Karma To Burn - Almost Heathen (CD, Spitfire, Rock instrumentals)
We have been mighty impressed by previous releases from this band. Accordingly, we are as pleased as pumped up pussy to find that the guys in Karma To Burn are still solid in their mission to provide the world with some of the most rockin' and meaty instrumentals ever to hit the planet. These guys have always been great...but now with several years of playing and touring behind them, their music is tighter and mightier than ever. You have to give these guys credit for sticking with it, as playing purely instrumental music means that they will probably always have a limited audience. (That's not because the music isn't good, mind you...but rather because in the world of commercial success all those needle-nosed mucous-brained fans out there seem to need vocals in their music.) In any event, the tunes on Almost Heathen are powerful testament to the furious and vital force of three men who obviously know what they're doing. To make their music even less accessible than it already is, all of the tunes on Almost Heathen are named numbers ("Nineteen," "Thirty Four," "Thirty Five," "Forty," etc.). This would make it VERY DIFFICULT to discuss individual tracks with other folks because it becomes VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE to remember song titles. But you see, dear readers, in the world of Karma To Burn words and song titles are irrelevant...because the main element is the pure force of the music. This is a wonderfully unpretentious album that totally KICKS ASS. There are few bands on the planet who rock as hard as these guys. (Rating: 5+)

Kill Creek - Colors of Home (CD, Second Nature Recordings, Rock/pop)
Lots of really cool tunes here from a band that has a unique sound and approach. Kill Creek hail from Lawrence, Kansas. The band was originally on the Mammoth label. For whatever reason, they have found a more proper home on Second Nature. The band's songs are smart and feature dynamic guitars and wonderfully imaginative melodies and song structures. At times things become suddenly calm and quiet, but the band definitely knows how to turn up and jam out. What impresses us most here is that the overall sound just doesn't remind us of other bands. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why this is, because the individual pieces are the same...electric guitars, bass, drums... But the way these fellows arrange their songs and put the pieces together, the genre suddenly sounds fresh, new, and vital again. Our favorites are "Hardly Accounted For," "Mousetrap," "Divorcee," "Cops," and "Prying." Our guess is that folks into Game Theory, The Radar Bros, and other pensive unconventional bands will really get off on Kill Creek. This one will be receiving major spins in our van in the coming months... GREAT stuff...! (Rating: 5)

Adam Levy - Buttermilk Channel (CD, Lost Wax, Instrumental)
Stunning. Absolutely stunning. Adam Levy is a guitar player with a difference. His fluid, loose, and sometimes loopy style reminds us in some ways of guitars in the band Duretti Column...although the songs themselves are vastly different. The songs on Buttermilk Channel are subtle, yet they have a strange mesmerizing quality that is inviting. Levy's backing musicians on this album offer near perfect accompaniment. Larry Goldings offers some fine and absorbing organ work, and Kenny Wollesen's drumming is right on key (we love those atmospheric cymbals). This music touches on jazz, easy listening, lounge, and could also pass as the soundtrack to a film. Seven lengthy tunes here, and all of them are superb. Our top picks: "Buttermilk Channel," "I Guess," "Dear John," and "Sphere of Influence." (Rating: 4+++)

Maya Shore - Maya Shore (CD, The Music Fellowship, Moody pop)
Decidedly sincere and real music from a band with true artistic integrity. Maya Shore is an area on the west coast of Mexico. The band chose the name because it captured their desire to be "able to create peaceful surroundings around the listener where can feel at ease and at one with himself." This gives you a good idea of where these folks are coming from. While this is basically a guitar band, these folks use an amazing amount of restraint in their playing as well as their arrangements. In many of the compositions the band plays sparse notes and chords layered over simple rhythms and there are plenty of wide open spaces in the mix. While the band's tunes feature plenty of instrumental passages, Maya Shore tunes also feature vocals. But the vocals, like the music, are subtle and restrained. The overall sound is rather quiet and moody...and the band truly does seem to capture the essence of the great outdoors with their music. Although formed in 1997, this is the band's first full-length album. Of the eight tunes presented, "Five Minutes," "She Went To China," and "Daytime T.V." are our favorites. Soothing and thought provoking... (Rating: 4+)

Martin Newell - The Wayward Genius of Martin Newell (CD, Cherry Red / Jarmusic, Pop)
One man whose name just keeps popping up in the world of underground pop is Martin Newell. And it's no wonder. Despite the fact that he is still a very obscure underground musician, this man has a very devoted following because his material is always a refreshing delight. Of course, most folks will know Mr. Newell for his Greatest Living Englishman album that he recorded with Andy Partridge a few years ago. But what most folks probably don't know is that Newell has been recording and releasing material for a very long time now (originally with his home taping project The Cleaners From Venus). But away from the past and onto the present. The kind folks at Germany's Jarmusic label sent us The Wayward Genius of Martin Newell, and as such we are indebted to them. This album was released in 1999 and is a compilation of no less than 21 tracks. The songs are all highly melodic and catchy with minimal arrangements and unmistakably clean vocals. As is always the case with a Martin Newell release, there really are no "bad cuts." Each song stands squarely on its own, making this an extremely entertaining disc pulsing with pure pop magic. Tracks like "Julie Profumo," "Living With Victoria Grey," "The Dark Lovely Daughter of the Trashman," and "It Could Have Been Cheryl" are but a few examples of how good this man's music truly is. Perhaps one day in the future the world at large will realize the immense talent of this fellow's recorded work. But in the meantime, Mr. Newell's work will remain an obscure delight for those with enough perseverance to seek it out... Wonderful. (Rating: 5+)

Mr. Wright - Hello Is Anyone Out There (CD, Le Grand Magistery, Orchestral pop)
For anyone who ever loved The Divine Comedy (this includes us), you are almost certain to love Mr. Wright. We are pleasantly impressed by the understated beauty of the compositions on Hello Is Anyone Out There. Kevin Wright (his full name) has a real talent for writing melodies...but even more importantly, his arrangements are breathtaking and right on target. No alternative slop here. This man's music is the real thing. He's sincere...and he just might be the next big thing (at least among reviewers, that is). The tunes on this album are understated, soft, pensive pieces. Mr. Wright doesn't try to drown the listener with overproduction. Instead, he includes just the right blend of instruments in order to get his ideas across. Our favorites here are "Sailor On The Sea," "Coming Home," "Winter On Harrow Road," and "Voyage." Beautiful music that doesn't sound like other stuff currently floating about... (Rating: 4++)

The Philistines Jr. - Analog vs. Digital (CD, Tarquin, Pop)
Wow. We feel ashamed to admit that we had never heard of The Philistines Jr. until now. This band is right up our alley. It is also (apparently) an obscure delight among reviewers of underground music. Bandleader Peter Katis is a true mastermind in the world of home recording. The music here is rather difficult to describe. Katis and friends dabble in oddball lo-fi pop, instrumental, experimental, and soundtrack-sounding material....and the amazing thing is...it all WORKS. There are some folks out there who may be put off by the low fidelity nature of these recordings (Katis apparently prefers recording on analog equipment), but those folks are going to be missing out...as there are plenty of great gems scattered throughout this mind-bending collection of fifty-two tracks. Yes, you read that right...this disc features 52 (!!!) compositions... Rating: 5)

Red Planet - Let's Degenerate (CD, Gearhead, Pop/rock)
Urgent hyper-melodic bubblegummy pop music with neat guts. The guys in Red Planet make music that is happy, upbeat, and LOUD. Their tunes pulse with happy sing-songy pop backed by heavy rhythms and amped up buzzsaw guitars. The vocals have that snotty "I Know Everything" kinda sound that tugs mightily at the very heart of teen angst. This is the sort of music that OUGHT to be all over America's Top 40...but it never will be, because it's too smart and too out of touch with what your average citizen/asshole wants. Though difficult to believe, bubblegum zapped on overdrive doesn't float everyone's boat. But on this placid lake, this is just the kind of thing that revs up our motors and makes us TAKE OFF. It is almost impossible not to move while listening to Let's Degenerate. The music throbs like canned monkeys, and those happy harmonies just make us wanna grab clouds and sniff 'em. The icing on the cake? The four guys in the band are very normal in appearance. But man oh man do they produce some crazy energy. We love all the tunes on this disc, but standouts include "Get Back At You," "Let's Degenerate," "Law of Tonnage" (KILLER tune), and "C'mon Little Girl." (Rating: 5)

Rilo Kiley - Take Offs and Landings (CD, Barsuk, Pop)
Nice understated soft pop with off-the-cuff female vocals. Neat stuff, which is what we have come to expect from the increasingly influential Barsuk label. The music of Rilo Kiley (that's a band name, not the name of an individual) took several listens to sink in...but the listening time was well spent, as this is one HELL of a rewarding little band...particularly in terms of lyrics. Take Offs and Landings is the band's second full-length (we never heard the first), and it's a definite keeper. The band consists of three gentlemen and one lady. Their approach to pop music isn't quite like anything we've heard. Some elements are familiar...but the overall combination of sounds and ideas is rather unique. "Go Ahead," the opening tune, creeps up on you slowly with its strangely plucked acoustic lines...and gives a good indication of what is to come. Another great tune is "Pictures of Success," a beautiful yet bitter little tune that presents thoughtful contemplation on what matters and what doesn't...when you're dead. We also love the line Your resentment grows 'til you're all alone in the lovely "Plane Crash in C." Simultaneously thought provoking and relaxing, this band does some AMAZING stuff... (Rating: 5)

Jimmy Sommers - 360 Urban Groove (CD, Higher Octave Jazz, Jazz/pop)
Bright, upbeat, slightly funky jazz pop. Jimmy Sommers made a big splash with his 1997 debut album James Cafe. Now he's back with an eleven-song platter that's sure to satisfy previous fans as well as tempt new listeners. The compositions on 360 Urban Groove range from light jazzy pop to pure dance music to funky rhythm and blues. While Mr. Sommers and his nice fluid saxophone are main constants on this disc, a wide variety of impressive guest artists lend a hand along the way. Guest musicians include Les Nubians, Ginuwine, Eric Benet, Raphael Saadiq, and Norman Brown. While there are several tracks with vocals, the instrumentals are our favorites. In particular, we really dig "Cruisin'," "Falling For You" (this cut really showcases Sommers' abilities on the sax), and the funky sound of "Tell Me You Got It." This is an extremely slick recording, and should appeal to a wide range of listeners... (Rating: 4)

Sons of Otis - Songs For Worship (CD, The Music Cartel, Grunge/sludge/rock)
All of you Melvins fans out there might want to put your big ol' overused bong down on the coffee table for a minute and pay attention. Sons of Otis take the slow, sludge-infested, drug-induced idea of sludge and grunge to a new level. The band's slow yet extremely loud and dense brand of drug rock is driven to heights previously unknown by their frightening and virtually unintelligible vocals. To sum things up...most folks are going to HATE this band. But for many of us out there in the land of the underground, that is exactly the draw. For many years we have been drawn to bands and artists who test the limits of what we can tolerate. This band pushes the limits in an interesting manner. From the bizarre graphics on the cover to the green and purple marijuana images on the CD itself to the music on the disc...these guys prove that they are on a crusade to blow everyone's minds (including their own). It is difficult to pick favorites here, as these compositions are so obtuse and weird that at least initially it is difficult to discern one from the other. Are you man enough for "The Hunted," "The Other Side," or "In From the Storm"? This band will drive any parent into the insane asylum. Neat. (Rating: 4+++)

Telefon Tel Aviv - Fahrenheit Fair Enough (CD, Hefty, Instrumental)
Interesting that this band seems to be into clever wordplay...as their music is completely instrumental. Telefon Tel Aviv is the duo of Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper. Together, these two New Orleans natives have been recording and producing music since 1999. The duo is probably best known for some of their NIN remixes as well as their soundtrack recording for the film New Port South. Fahrenheit Fair Enough is a calming and seductive collection of tunes that combines modern electronics with the natural ambience of acoustic instruments. Many of the tracks on this album could easily serve as soundtrack pieces for experimental film shorts. The music is somewhat unpredictable, yet there are enough familiar threads running through the tunes to make the listener feel comfortable and safe. Many of the tunes have a slight jazz flavor that we find most appealing. The song titles alone will have you rolling on the floor. How about "John Thomas on the Inside is Nothing But Foam" (which, incidentally, is a great track)...or "Your Face Reminds Me of When I Was Old" (which is killer as well...). Our bet is that while these guys are serious about what they're doing...they probably don't take themselves too seriously. Exotic and mature. (Rating: 5)

Tight Bro's - From Way Back When (CD, Kill Rock Stars, Hard rock)
Playing out-of-control loud screamer rock music in the same vein as the Candy Snatchers, Tight Bro's sound as if they've just stepped out of 1979. Their amps are turned up to full blast and their drummer is a pure adrenaline rush. The vocalist is a real screamer...but he manages to stay on key, despite his shrill yeeps and yelps. Note that this is a HARD ROCK band...rather than a punk, thrash, or metal band. (There's a BIG difference, believe us...) These five guys play with conviction and they've got some damn good tunes. The lead guitars are particularly appealing as they splash and screech all over the place while the rhythms pulse away and that vocalist goes completely insane. If you ever wondered what happened to hard rock, one listen to this album will convince you that the medium is still alive and well. Lots of cool cuts here, but our top picks are "Make It A Habit," "My Bad Luck," and "Inside Looking Out." The basic sound here reminds us of very early Aerosmith... except the Tight Bro's are about ten times louder and faster... Totally rockin' stuff... (Rating: 4++)

Unstable Ensemble - 17 Ways (CD, Family Vineyard, Jazz/noise/experimental)
If there ever was an ensemble whose name fits the music, it must surely be Unstable Ensemble. In fact, listening to this music may cause a great many people to actually feel very unstable. Like Tangerine Dream, all of this group's pieces are completely spontaneous creations...and all of the recordings on 17 Ways were recorded directly to two track digital audio tape (that in and of itself is impressive given the sound quality of these recordings). That's where the similarities to T. Dream end, however, as this band takes more of an accidental offbeat jazz approach to creating music. Horns blip around, percussion starts and stops...the overall mood is generally jerky and peculiar, although the group does produce at least a few passages that are somewhat smooth and calming. To sum it all up...this album will probably drive most folks UP THE WALL. We don't think that is the point, but that is probably going to be the general reaction. Being the noise lovers that we are of all stuff that others cannot handle or swallow (you know that you can take that any way you want to...), we find this to be absorbing, strange, unpredictable, richly entertaining, and very...UNSTABLE. The Unstable Ensemble consists of Marty Belcher, Jason Blvins, Joe Donnelly, Matt Griffin, and Richard Patterson. Groovy stuff. You have to give these folks credit for taking such an obtuse career path... (Rating: 5)

Varnaline - Songs In A Northern Key (CD, Artemis, Rock)
One of our favorite artists of the past decade. While the past few years have seen an amazing number of Varnaline albums hit the horizon...this fantastic band remains a puzzling obscurity that most folks are unaware of. Songs In A Northern Key is probably the best Varnaline album yet. The songwriting has never been stronger...and the vocals absolutely kick our brains out of our skulls. Singer/songwriter Anders Parker is as good or better than any of the big name legends out there. His tunes are laced with wonderful sincerity and the man possesses a true passion for writing unforgettable melodies. After hearing this album, we can only speculate as to why more folks have not picked up on this band...yet. First, there are no gimmicks. The songs are pure and straight from the heart. Second and perhaps more importantly...Mr. Parker does not look nor act the part of a rock star. Instead, he comes across as someone you might walk past on the street or who might live next door. But that is exactly his appeal. The man's lack of pretentiousness and his ability to concentrate solely on his art is amazing...particularly since so many musicians get bogged down with unimportant variables like their haircuts or the clothes they wear. The man is an amazing guitarist as well, but his playing displays restraint as well as a wealth of technical skill. In case we haven't yet gotten the message across...we absolutely LOVE this band. Songs like "Still Dream," "Blackbird Fields" (wow!), "Down the Street," and "Murder Crow" will make a believer out of anyone who loves poignant and dreamy rock music. To put it simply...it just doesn't get much better than this. If this man never becomes a huge celebrity it will be because he is not opting to play the game. Whatever the case, we would highly recommend picking up every single Varnaline album that's been released. They are all...SUPERB. (Rating: 6)

Visitor Jim - Visitor Jim (CD, Fortune, Pop)
Take three guys named Jim who moved to San Francisco, have them form a band, and what do you call them? Visitor Jim, of course. Upon spinning this CD we knew something sounded familiar. Turns out that this band is also the latest project spearheaded by Jim Greer, a wonderful pop songwriter who had already released three albums of his own prior to forming this band. This album has a lot more punch and volume that the solo albums we have heard by Mr. Greer, most likely because he is now fronting a live band. All three guys in this group play like holy hell. The guitars are amped up and fuzzy, and the rhythm section absolutely THROBS. Layered over the top are wonderfully clear vocals and soaring melodies that ought to have most pop fans swaying in the breeze. This band possesses a nice fresh sincere quality that is sadly missing in many of today's pop bands. This could be because the three Jims obviously enjoy playing their music. Top picks: "Place of My Own" (our favorite), "Kill That Jungle," and "Deepest Blue." It's always great when a band's songs take center stage. That is certainly the case with Visitor Jim... Nice...REAL nice... (Rating: 4+++)

The Best of Wordsound Dub - Below the Radar (CD, ROIR, Dub/various artists compilation)
This is not only a very unusual compilation...but it also contains some of the strangest dub music we have heard yet. The tracks on this CD were compiled by Skiz Fernando Jr. and are taken from the fifty (!) albums that he has released over the past six years. Because of his mind-boggling output, we are embarrassed to admit that until now we were unfamiliar with the man's name, his music, or the artists he has worked with over the years. Skiz is apparently into the darker side of dub, as most of these tracks feature a bizarre spooky sound. Our initial favorites here are "Dungeon of Dub," "Born God," "One," "Closed Door," and "Stolen Moments." Artists featured on the disc include Slotek, The Eye, Spectre, Style Scott, Bill Laswell...as well as many more. A wonderfully trippy disc that is a MUST HAVE for fans of dub... (Rating: 5+)

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