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August 2003 Boppy L'il Reviews by

The Afflictions
A Northern Chorus
The Blue Series Continuum
The Break / Let It Burn

Comment Piece
Dakota Suite

Dave Derby*
The Distant Pokers

The Everyothers
Figure Four

The GC5
George Usher Group*
Pat Green
Guapo and Cereberus Shoal
Head of Femur

Holy Sons*
The Husbands

The Innocence Mission*
Bill Jones*
Paula Kelley

James Kirk
Seth Knappen
The Latin Project

The Larkins
Les Sans Culottes
The Meeting Places
The Mitchells

My Name Is Timmy
New Bethel
The New Normal

Pedal Steel Transmission
Pia Fraus

The Potomac Accord
Rebel Powers
The Robot Ate Me
The Sabians

Toshak Highway vs. Sianspheric
Velvet Crush*
Watashi Wa
Denison Witmer

*Top Picks


August 2003 Comment Piece: Drug is Bad? Or Drug is Good?

Drug... is they bad...or is they good? Drug, they is good. Drug, they is bad. Drug hurt you. Drug help you. Drug is confused topic, making for unfortunate on part of both taker and one of disposing. No take drug, take drug...but no, you go take drug yes. Are all drug similar...or not similar? Is question for discussion...for taking rice and noodle equation to next century. You like fried rice with vegetable? You want rice topping with drug? Make fun of using drug not funny, for drug ruin many life. All size and kind of children give in to drug and become dependable with success. If there is one thing world not need, it dependable children. Teenager all take drug because of wanting to feel happy inside. But is taking drug really happy inside? To consider, we look at possible situation. Consider teenager that is opting for no breaking law. Teenager is to be seen as goodie goodie and not happy noodle producer. Now consider different teenager what goes to wild party and throw caution to wind. Is happy on outside yes...but on inside is ALL TORE UP and BLOODY. Tendency for position of late is for showing all thing that happen in happy family. You want spicy...or not spicy? Spicy is VERY spicy, perhaps? You liking egg drop soup? Now take fortune cookie. Open cookie and reading, which says One day soon you know difference between good and bad...but for now, only do anything necessary for condition to improve. Next day, reading changes and says, You very small baby, so small that nobody wanting you around anymore for milking to produce. Two week later, reading change to say Pokey ball go up and down hallway in very odd motion, reflecting tendency for author to go off on obtuse tangent WAY too often for general tasting. We not have taste, so we not care. As for now, you, our reader, should (1) throw cookie in garbage, (2) fart baloney particles, and then (3) swim far, far away...right into the light of the goddamn moon.

The Afflictions - Janet Style (CD, Killdeer / Trophy Buck, Rock)
Great upbeat bluesy alternative rock with plenty of extra punches for the buck. Chicago-based The Afflictions have been around since 2000. Their sound is reminiscent of early Rolling Stones, particularly Jeremiah McIntyre's vocals (although the band also cites The Buzzcocks, Stevie Wonder, The Meters, Bo Diddley, and The Oblivions as influences). From our perspective, the band's music reminds us a great deal of Richard Hell. The playing is energetic but loose...the songs catchy yet artsy...and the overall sound is slightly reminiscent of 1970s punk (although these guys are definitely not a punk band!). This is one of those cases where intent is everything. These guys are playing and singing for the right reasons--to have a good time and to entertain people. Their passion for what they are doing comes through loud and clear on Janet Style. This is a great upbeat album chock full of spontaneous energy. Features killer cuts like "Ain't Nobody," "I Like to Push You Around," "Do the Munky Rentch," and "Old Testament Love." This one is a BLAST. (Rating: 5+)

A Northern Chorus - Spirit Flags (CD, Sonic Unyon Recording Company, Progressive pop)
Music that flows like our minds on a breezy day in completely natural surroundings. Canada's A Northern Chorus create wonderful musical landscapes that are slow, methodical, and determined. The band's compositions sound something like Low...except the overall sound is more focused and complex...and also somewhat like Friends of Dean Martinez...except the music is not quite as drug influenced. Spirit Flags is cerebral in nature. In addition to vocals and guitar, the band's songs incorporate basses, flute, viola, violin, and various percussion instruments. Despite the complicated arrangements, the songs never come across sounding pretentious and overproduced. Instead, the overall simplistic nature of the playing is central to understand the band's music. The vocals are absolutely heavenly. Eleven beautiful crafted tunes here...including "Red Carpet Blues," "Mombassa," and "Flag In Hand." Excellent. (Rating: 5+)

Ballboy - A Guide for the Daylight Hours (CD, Manifesto, Pop)
The first studio album from Edinboro, Scotland's Ballboy. At this point, we have suspicions that a "Manifesto sound" is beginning to emerge. That is to say, if you like the music of labelmates David Gedge and Lilys...there is a good chance you will also dig Ballboy tunes. The band released their first EP back in 1999...but apparently took their time coming up with the material for A Guide for the Daylight Hours. The band's sense of humor is obvious from their song titles (which are often more like social statements): "Where Do the Nights of Sleep Go To When They Do Not Come To Me"..."I Lost You, But I Found Country Music"..."Nobody Really Knows Anything"..."All the Records on the Radio are Shite"... Funny stuff to read, but the band's sound and approach are anything but a joke. The songs remind us of The Kinks and Television Personalities...but only slightly. The band is a group of four normal people...who just happen to enjoy playing ultra-groovy music together. In real life Gordon McIntyre and Katie Griffiths are school teachers, Nick Reynolds is a nursery nurse, and Gary Morgan is a sound technician. Although this band's music is not "cute"...it is most certainly decidedly clever and intelligent. Simultaneously thought provoking, fun, and...different. (Rating: 5+)

Beloved - Failure On (CD, Solid State, Hard rock)
Beloved is a harsh and aggressive musical outfit with much more depth and creativity than your average generic metallic crashers. These five monster men produce a big, thick wall of sound that is harsh and intense...but they never regress into that disappointing basket of boring rockers who make loud noise for the sake of making loud noise. Beloved tunes are unpredictable...combining elements of pop, rock, metal, and progressive rock into a heady and even (at times) catchy concoction. Sometimes the band roars...at other times they rock...and they even occasionally lower the volume to present a completely different side ("Allure"). If you think all hardcore bands sound alike, these guys will prove you wrong. Powerful rockers include "Failure On My Lips," "Rise & Fall," "Watching the Lines Blur," and "Insult to Injury." (Rating: 4+++)

The Blue Series Continuum - Good and Evil Sessions (CD, Thirsty Ear, Modern jazz/progressive)
The Blue Series Continuum is an open ended project consisting of a rotating group of musicians...with no particular individual being the leader at any point in time. For this, the debut album, the continuum consists of Roy Campbell, Alex Lodico, William Parker, Josh Roseman, Matthew Shipp, and Miso. Due to the nature of the band, the compositions on this album are (understandably) unpredictable. Some pieces are more jazzy than others...while other tracks tread into experimental territory. Good and Evil Sessions is a good fit for its name. Some of the music is relatively light and airy while other pieces are dark and unusual. Considering the wide range of material, this album holds together unusually well. Smooth, clever pieces include "Brainwash," "The Stakeout," "Change of Plans," and "Sweetbitter." (Rating: 5)

The Break / Let It Burn - The Break / Let It Burn (Split CD EP, Doghouse, Rock)
Hell-raising hard rock music from two New Jersey Bands. Up first is The Break...an appropriately named little firehouse of a band with a hard rock sound that is punchy and smart...and rather intense. The band offers three tunes...including the intensely furious "We Live Without Sleep" (a great rocker) and the crazy rhythmic sound of "I Name You Disaster." Let It Burn has an even rawer sound. These guys are hard rockers whose music is reminiscent of late 1970s rock. The vocalist has a great "who the f*ck cares" attitude that makes the songs cook. The band presents three cuts: "I Believe In Love," "Guzellugh (Celebration of the Sun)," and "Fade Away." All are reminiscent of The Sex Pistols. Two new kickass bands on one disc (!). (Rating: 4+++)

Buchanan - All Understood (CD, Ultimatum Music, Pop)
Credible soulful pop that would make Joan Armatradding proud. The four men in this band reside in Southern California...and they provide plenty of Americana-based soul pop on All Understood. Make no mistake, Buchanan is most certainly not an alternative band. The band's music is very middle-of-the-road...and wouldn't sound out of place at all chiming out of mom and/or dad's car stereo on a hot summer afternoon. That said, this album is a nice, smooth listen. Instead of challenging the listener...these guys seem intent on simply providing some good, hummable toe-tapping music. Bandleader Jay Buchanan has the pipes to make this band's tunes cook. Well-written compositions such as "Plans," "Satan Is A Woman" (?), and "How Crazy I Am" make this album a cool, smooth ride. Solid. (Rating: 4+)

Dakota Suite - This River Only Brings Poison (CD, Planting Seeds, Soft pop)
This River Only Brings Poison, the third full-length album from Britain's Dakota Suite, is a soft, subtle, and cerebral affair. The album casts a grand spotlight on bandleader Chris Hooson's strong songwriting abilities as well as his deep, smooth voice. Recorded with Bruce Kaphan and Tom Mooney (both were members of American Music Club), these compositions are major accomplishments in the world of restraint. While his songs are understated, Hooson's material is by no means wimpy or weak. The tempo is so slow that--at times--the music seems to limp along. But that is the exact intent. These tunes were not meant to charge out of the gates like lions on speed nor to drown the listener in a wash of loud instruments. These modern moody pop pieces were created out of an obvious love of music...and the desire to provide wonderfully relaxing music. The overall result is jazzy as well as slightly hazy and dreamy material. Don't expect to pick up on what this man is doing on the first listen. The true meat of his material only becomes obvious after many spins. Delightfully entertaining cuts include "The Lepers Companion," "Verdriet," "We Made It Rain," and "The Space Around Your Sleeping." Includes four bonus tracks: "Love Gun," "One for the Shoeshine Man," "When I Think of Myself Dead," and "The Streets Were All I Saw." Excellent. (Rating: 5+++)

Darlington - Moron-a-Thon (CD, Stardumb, Power pop/rock)
Texas-based Darlington return with another album chock full of purely uplifting power pop/punk. These guys are obviously dedicated to their cause...and as years go by their music seems to become even more infused with power and virtual integrity. Moron-a-Thon is a wonderfully catchy l'il album...much of it sounding amazingly like The Young Fresh Fellows in their prime. The guitars are loud buzzsaws...the rhythms direct and unrelenting...and the vocals have just the right amount of attitude and sloppyness to make the whole think click like flying saucers at midnight. This band's strongest strength is their simplicity and their ability to craft quality melodies. The lyrics are sometimes funny...often seeming like entries from a personal diary. Ten great little cuts guaranteed to make your granny proud. Includes "Chelsea," "21 Park Lane," "Girls + Summer = Fun!," and "Electrocute Me." Great stuff...! (Rating: 5+)

Dave Derby - Even Further Behind (CD, Badman, Pop)
The man who should've been a major kingpin in the pop world of the 1990s...is back with yet another stunning collection of shimmering pop. Dave Derby first came to the attention of most folks by way of his first band The Dambuilders. Even though the band was fantastic, they ended up being somewhat of an obscure favorite among critics...and had little commercial success. After the band dissolved, Derby released two CDs under the name Brilliantine...which consisted of home-recorded compositions. Switch to 2003...Derby is back...with a super slick and totally satisfying batch of extraordinary tunes. Why did he drop the Brilliantine name? In Derby's own words, "I wanted to remove that level of artifice that was really a solo project masquerading behind a band name. Of course now I'm masquerading as an earnest sensitive singer-songwriter, but what can you do?" Actually, Derby is by no means masquerading. He truly is an earnest and sensitive singer-songwriter of the highest callibre...and the man has a voice to die for. Because he has produced so much great work, it is difficult to say whether or not this is Derby's best album...but it certainly rivals anything he's done up to this point. Exceptionally well-written tunes include "Middle Class Hero," "California Nervous Breakdown" (an amazing cut), "Sad Northern Town," and "Cigarette Cowboy." Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++++)

The Distant Pokers
Polly and frag...The Distant Pokers are on a rag. They dilly and they froth, put their pillies on a mention. Then they sass it up and down 'til their neighbors lose their pensions. There's not nilly or a nally that can punch their tilly-tally. But they wicker and they weigh for the poxacilan day. Mr. Fixture asks away, "How can pokers save the day?" There's no answer 'til next morn...when the old folks nurse their porn. Mr. Fixture fades away...leaving grey stains on the tray. The tray gets up and gets all sissy, making teething sounds with Lissie. The Distant Pokers turn and sway, taking clouds inside their cave. "How do, Mr. Fixture," asks the second tiniest poker. "Ain't no bitt-niss o' YERN!" he screams back, allowing ample time for an attack. Mice and miniature pasture geese trickle in...leaving a big rumpled overcoat laying in the briney waves. (Rating: 1)

The Everyothers - The Everyothers (CD, Hautlab Music Group, Rock/pop)
Heavily influenced by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, The Everyothers' self-titled album sounds a great deal like the music their idols made many years ago...but with an updated style and sound. Discussing this disc, the band says they "wanted it to have the influence of Iggy's Lust for Life album." They most certainly achieved this goal. The overall sound and energy...and particularly the vocals...are very similar. But after spinning this album a few times...the only slight problem that we have found with The Everyothers' music...is that, at this point in their career, they are simply too derivative. That is not to say that these guys will not produce some great music at some point in the future. They have real potential. They can play and sing up a storm. And their songs are good. They just need more unique songs that display their own individual sound...rather than the sound of others. Still a good album nonetheless... (Rating: 3+++)

Figure Four - Suffering the Loss (CD, Solid State, Hard rock)
Loud, harsh, intense, and brutal rock played with plenty of thick hard metallic thrashing. Figure Four could almost be termed as a death metal band...except for the fact that their music actually rocks and one can even occasionally understand the lyrics. (For those who cannot, a lyric booklet is included.) This quintet of abrasive thrashers don't quite look the part. A couple of the members look like normal guys...and the band even features a female guitarist. Suffering the Loss is chock full of the kind of unrelenting, furious, alienated rock music that adolescents crave. The folks in Figure Four seem utterly dedicated to their cause...touring constantly...and playing like there's no tomorrow. This band isn't for everyone...but that is exactly the point. Songs like "State of Mind," "Kill and Deceive," "Suffocation," and "Thieves Don't Knock" are hard, roaring rockers meant to blow roofs off. Loud and vicious. (Rating: 4++)

Flattbush - Smash the Octopus! (CD, Kool Arrow, Hardcore/thrash/noise)
Loud, abrasive, intense, violent, frantic, and totally out of control. Flattbush plays a style of music that is certain to alienate 99.9% of all who come into contact with their music. The only folks who are going to be drawn in are those who seek a world where hard persistent noise is never restrained...and throbbing screaming noise reigns supreme. In other words...all parents will hate this band. Smash the Octopus! is the band's first album...and it's frightening. But it is also impressive...that the band could come up with something this coherent for a debut disc. Crazy stuff here, including "Better Off Dead," "Foxhole," "Death Squad," and "Red Light District." Very, very, VERY intense... (Rating: 4++)

Garrison - The Silhouette EP (CD EP, Revelation, Rock)
Garrison returns with a harsh and intense five song EP. The Silhouette is a blistering little disc...once again proving what an intense band Garrison is. Slamming out of the gate with "Come On Die Young (No Seriously)," the band instantly grabs the saddle and politely heads off to hell in a sassy little handbasket. Their punk roots pop up on "Everything You Want"...and then they get down to some serious rocking with "God Is Not On Our Side." The EP concludes with "We Know Our Demographic" and "The Closer." No one does hard rock quite like these guys. A slam dunk disc. Loud and crazy. If this were a full-length it would've received a "5." (Rating: 4+++)

The GC5 - Kisses From Hanoi / Horseshoes & Handgrenades (CD, Thick, Rock)
The GC5 sound something like an updated cross between Sloppy Seconds and early Stranglers...except the music is much faster than either. Kisses From Hanoi was originally released in 2000 but fell out of print. The fine folks at Thick have reissued the album and added five songs from the (previously available only as an import) Horseshoes & Handgrenades EP. These guys have an unrelenting, powerful sound that that is characterized by an assaultive rhythm section, buzzsaw guitars, and hoarse throaty vocals. Formed in 1996, this Ohio band is a furious little group. They play loud and they play hard. What probably sets these guys apart from thousands of other similar punk rock bands is that their lyrics are smart. Cool loud rockers like "Nothing But These Songs," "Not the Only One," "Culture Wars," and "Bastards of Young" ought to please virtually all those wishing to dance themselves into a hot and sweaty blur. (Rating: 4+++)

George Usher Group - Fire Garden (CD, Parasol, Pop)
George Usher may not be a household name...but chances are you've heard his music before. This man has been writing and recording since he was in his teens...eventually playing in the bands The Decoys, Beat Rodeo, The Bongos, and House of Usher. Though he's been at it for years...Mr. Usher has obviously not lost the spark that he had in the beginning. Fire Garden is a lovely album full of sparkling melodies and shimmering instrumentation. Many of the tunes have a slight British influences...and are strangely reminiscent of some of the best 1980s guitar pop. The guitar playing is particularly impressive. Fluid guitar notes seem to soar right through the mix and puncture the skull with their precise and effective direction. Joining George in the band are Doug Larcey, Dennis Ambrose, and John Bellow. The album was (appropriately) mixed by legendary producer Mitch Easter. Fifteen killer cuts...just the right dose of uplifting music to brighten your brightest days. "Too Busy Dreaming" is so good that it gave us chills (!!!). (Rating: 5+++)

Pat Green - Wave on Wave (CD, Republic / Universal, Country/pop)
After a two year absence from recording...Pat Green is back with another absorbing and satisfying collection of country music infused with a healthy dose of Americana pop. Recorded in both Texas and California, Wave on Wave effectively presents where Mr. Green is currently at in 2003. Having already received two Country Grammy nominations, this young man is well on his way to making his name a household word. For those who may be unaware of his growing popularity...his last album (Three Days) debuted on Billboard's Country Album Chart at #7 (!). Wave on Wave is likely to create an even stronger buzz...as it is quite possibly Green's strongest album yet. The tunes are polished and smooth...but while they are most certainly easy on the ears, there is also a subtle and appealing urgency present. Green wrote and/or co-wrote twelve of the thirteen tunes here. This album is chock full of feelgood country pop that should appeal to most anyone who enjoys this genre of music. Top notch tracks such as "Guy Like Me," "California," and "All the Good Things Fade Away" make this an exceptional album. (Rating: 5)

Guapo and Cereberus Shoal - The Ducks and Drakes of Guapo and Cereberus Shoal (CD, North East Indie, Experimental/progressive electronic drone)
Music that certainly isn't for everyone. This CD contains one composition each from Guapo and Cereberus Shoal...and a third track that was recorded jointly by the two artists. The music on The Ducks and Drakes of Guapo and Cereberus Shoal is really not so musical at all. Instead, these three lengthy cuts feature electronic experimentation that, more often than not, is somewhat of a heady drone. The overall effect is slightly hypnotic...and somewhat trippy. There are no beats...no easily discernible melodies...very little indeed for the average listener to grasp. This is truly esoteric stuff...and it is, surprisingly, a rather smooth spin. Features three tracks: "Idios Kosmos," "A Man Who Loved Holes," and "Kdios, Iosmos, He Two Loved Holes." Strangely addictive. (Rating: 5)

Head of Femur - Ringodom or Proctor (CD, Greyday Productions, Progressive pop)
If you love art rock from the 1970s...chances are you'll find a lot to latch onto on Ringodom or Proctor. On this, the band's debut album, their love for early Sparks, Eno, and Roxy Music is obvious. The core of Head of Femur consists of Mike Elsener, Ben Armstrong, and Matt Focht...although in concert the trio solicits the assistance of up to seven additional players. The songs on this album do not fit into any easily identifiable category. The guys in Head of Femur are writing and recording music that does not sound like other bands currently on the horizon. Because of this, they are almost certain to develop a small but devoted underground following. After spinning this album several times...we still aren't quite sure what to make of it. This may be one of those cases where everything sinks in after 50 spins. Includes eleven unusually obtuse but intelligent pop tunes like "January On Strike," "Me, My Dad, My Cousin, and...Ronnie," and "Finally I've Made It Nowhere." (Rating: 4+++)

Holy Sons - I Want To Live A Peaceful Life (CD, Film Guerrero, Soft pop)
I Want To Live A Peaceful Life is an engaging and well-developed album featuring exceptionally well-written songs. Holy Sons is the one man band consisting of Emil Amos. Understanding exactly where Amos is coming from is not a quick and easy task...and therein lies the beauty of his music. Approach and overall feeling vary greatly from tune to tune...as this multi-faceted album showcases this man's unique musical vision. This, the fourth Holy Sons album, features songs that are personal and real. Emil's music possesses a vulnerable quality that is ultimately satisfying. His vocals range from confident and self-assured...to somewhat shaky and uncertain. Listening to this disc, one gets the impression that this man is honestly laying out his ideas and feelings for the world...and allowing all aspects of his personality to shine through in the mix. While the album was produced and recorded by Adam Selzer at his Type Foundry studio, Amos also includes five songs that he recorded in his home studio. There's a great deal more depth here than one normally finds in modern pop music. Intriguing pieces like "Trivialized," "Family Man," "Last Hurrah," and "Amen" make this album a true winner. (Rating: 5+++)

The Husbands - Introducing the Sounds of The Husbands (CD, Swami, Rock/pop)
If you like bands on the Kill Rock Stars label...there's a good chance you will dig the lo-fi, semi-distorted sound of The Husbands. Sadie Shaw, Sarah Reed, and Nikki Sloate are a trio with attitude. Their rough tunes sound like demonstration tapes for a future album...but the sparse sound is most certainly not a mere coincidence. These girls aren't trying to clean up their act or make a commercially accessible single. They are playing for that small audience that wants their music raw and undiluted. The band writes the majority of their own tunes...but they also include covers by Bo Diddley and Carole King (?!?). Introducing the Sounds of The Husbands is a strange and sassy little album that showcases three young girls with lots of energy and the skills to transform that energy into some badass underground rock and roll. (Rating: 4+++)

The Innocence Mission - Befriended (CD, Badman, Folk/pop)
Cool, thoughtful, soft, and wonderfully innocent folky pop. Members of The Innocence Mission first played together in a Catholic school production of Godspell. Since that time this band has transformed into highly original unit. The players are Karen Peris (guitars, piano, organ, vocals), her husband Don Peris (guitars, drums, vocals), and Mike Bitts (bass). Karen writes most of the material and handles most lead vocals. Her voice is extraordinarily unaffected and genuine. The tunes on Befriended are personal and well-written. The ten cuts on this album sound like virtual classics. The band never overplays or buries their music underneath overdubs. Instead, they keep their music simple, direct, and to-the-point. This will easily be one of the best soft pop albums to be released this year. Ultra-satisfying cuts include "Tomorrow on the Runway," "When Mac Was Swimming," "No Storms Come," and "Look for Me as You Go By." Absolutely wonderful. (Rating: 5+++)

Bill Jones - Two Year Winter (Double CD, Compass, Folk)
Bill Jones is a girl (Bill is short for Belinda). But Bill Jones is not just any girl. Bill is an exceptionally fresh and talented young lady whose music recalls the golden era of the folk resurgence in Britain in the 1970s...when artists such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span were making it cool for young folks to listen to traditional folk music. Two Year Winter is a genuine and sincere collection of tunes that will please even the most jaded music listeners. With a voice as smooth as a mountain breeze, Ms. Jones manages to instantly captivate and mesmerize...basing her tunes around piano and accordion. Instead of burying these songs under thick productions...Bill instead opts to leave lots of open space in her compositions...allowing the listener to concentrate on the core melody...and her wonderfully optimistic delivery. The fluid and organic sound of cuts like "From My Window," "The Story of Our Darling Grace," and "Bide" is haunting and superb. In addition to the album, this package also includes a bonus CD featuring Jones' Bits and Pieces EP. Folk music doesn't get much better than this. It sure makes American folk sound...absurd and totally boring (!). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 6)

Paula Kelley - The Trouble With Success or How You Fit Into the World (CD, Kimchee, Pop)
Smooth and beautiful girlpop. Paula Kelley was formerly with Drop Nineteens, Hot Rod, and Boy Wonder...but is now off on her own. After obviously paying her dues...Ms. Kelley comfortably displays her real talents here...as a solo artist. The Trouble With Success is a lovely album, merging pop elements from the 1960s all the way through to the present...with the single identifying thread being Ms. Kelley's wonderfully smooth vocals. Some of the compositions are basic guitar pop...while others feature orchestral elements and lush background vocals. The fresh, upbeat sound of this album is almost impossible to dislike. Instead of sounding like a jaded artist who has turned bitter with time...Paula sings with the enthusiasm of a woman who has just recorded her first album. In a word...this album is... groovy (!). Features thirteen cool cuts including "My Finest Hour," "The Rest of You," and "Where Do You Go." Wonderfully inviting. (Rating: 5)

James Kirk - You Can Make It If You Boogie (CD, Marina, Soft pop)
James Kirk's name might not instantly familiar to most people...but the influences of his music have most likely been felt. Kirk was originally in the band Orange Juice (which also included Edwyn Collins). In addition, the band James named themselves after him. Other bands such as The Smiths, Primal Scream, and Belle & Sebastian have cited him as a major influence. For one who has been making music for so many years, it may be surprising that this is James Kirk's first solo album. His songs are subtle and understated...yet they contain major hooks and feature wonderfully appropriate arrangements. The tunes on the humorously titled You Can Make It If You Boogie possess a certain classic feel that may give the listener the impression that he/she has heard this music before. But with the exception of a new recording of the Orange Juice track "Felicity," these are all new compositions...which provide obvious proof that this man still has a lot to say. This is a beautifully crafted yet laidback album that goes down nice and easy. Smooth, hummable pop music that is likely to please fans of the previously mentioned Belle & Sebastian (whom, interestingly, Kirk will be touring with to promote this album). Quite the cool spin indeed... (Rating: 5)

Seth Knappen - Leaving Sound (CD, Future Appletree, Ambient pop)
Subtlety is rare...and Leaving Sound is subtle. Seth Knappen has played in numerous bands over the years, including Darling, Multiple Cat, and Driver of the Year. With this release, Seth charts out on his own...combining ambient electronics with soft pop to create a pleasing and soothing album. Many of these cuts remind us of early Eno and early Todd Rundgren--although there are no direct or obvious links. Leaving Sound was (appropriately) produced by Alan Sparhawk (of Low). Knappen is a master of understated soft pop. His compositions are thoughtful...and far from obvious. Soothing hypnotic tunes like "Hard Knock Life," "Tumbling," and "Out of Sight" make this album a smooth and entertaining spin... (Rating: 4++)

The Latin Project - Nueva Musica (CD, Electric Monkey, Latin/pop/dance)
Nueva Musica is the highly satisfying debut album from The Latin Project, which is the duo of Jez Colin and Matt Cooper. Colin and Cooper are a good match for one another. Their love of Latin music and their ability to infuse it with modern techno is quite appealing indeed. This album was three years in the making...and features many guest artists including Junno Homorich, Katia Moraes, Freddie Crespo, Robbie Nevil, and more. This music might best be described as world dance music, as it incorporates sounds and ideas from a variety of sources from all over the world. We are intrigued by how well these men merge traditional sounds with modern electronics. Instead of sounding schizophrenic...the overall sound is quite natural and inviting. Smooth danceable cuts include "Lei Lo Lai," "Universal," "Windows," and "Rio Negro." Cool stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

The Larkins - The Larkins (CD, Audium / Koch, Country/pop)
The debut album from East Tennessee sisters The Larkins. Even though they've just begun, this duo (Shaunna and Tina Larkin) is already making major waves in the world of country music. Of course, the sisters' initial burst onto the scene has not been hampered by the fact that Dolly Parton makes a guest appearance on their first single ("Steady As The Rain"). Support from the pro teams at Audium and Koch isn't likely to hamper the sisters' career either...nor should the fact that their music is refreshingly sincere and vibrant. Shaunna and Tina are young (21 and 19 respectively)...and their youthful enthusiasm about their music comes through loud and clear. These girls' talent is impressive enough on their more upbeat material...but we prefer the softer and more pensive songs. A case in point is "I Still Believed You Loved Me," a beautifully moving piece which showcases the sisters' vocal abilities. Most surely destined to be major contenders, The Larkins have certainly started off by putting their best feet forward. (Rating: 5++)

Les Sans Culottes - Full Frontal Crudite: Live in Paris (CD, DCN, Rock/pop)
Les Sans Culottes is a New York-based band playing a peculiar brand of humorous French pop satire. The names of the band members offer a good indication of what these folks are all about: Morris Chevrolet, Prof. Harry Covert, Celine Dijon, Clermont Ferrand, Kit Kat Le Noir, Cal D'Hommage, and Jean-Luc Retard. As the title suggests, Full Frontal Crudite was recorded live. It captures the creative spirit and often hilarious energy of a group of folks who are obviously--first and foremost--doing what they do for pure enjoyment. The band's music is basic upbeat garage rock with the most unique feature being that the lyrics are sung in French. It is obvious from the goings on that both the audience and the band had a great time during this particular performance. The band has a fresh spontaneous sound that is instantly likable...and the female vocalists add just the right touch of realism to the proceedings. This album was released courtesy of the folks at DCN, a label which concentrates on releasing a wealth of live music performances. (Rating: 4+++)

Margo - The Catnap (CD, Tsk! Tsk!, Electronic pop)
Smart and absorbing electronic pop. Margo creates music that is simple, subtle, smooth, and slightly trippy. In some ways, the band's soft electronic pop compositions remind us of a more restrained (and less bubblegummy) Joy Electric. Though there is a slight "loopy" sound to some of the electronics, Margo is by no means cute nor a joke. Instead, these French folks' music is a light and airy affair featuring wonderfully breathy female vocals and slightly unusual sounds that are rather peculiar and striking. Interestingly, the band wrote, composed, and produced the entire album themselves in their home studio. The results are impressive to say the least. These slick pieces are anything but commercial...although they very well might appeal to a large audience just the same (if they had the right exposure, of course). Margo is Jean-Francois (electronics, guitars), Melanie (keyboards, vocals), Jerome (bass), and Caspar (their cat). It isn't obvious exactly what Caspar's role is in the band...but the other members love him just the same. This beautiful and captivating album features "La Baumette," "Warm," "Sifits," "Luminous," and "Le Bal." (Rating: 5++)

The Meeting Places - Find Yourself Along the Way (CD, Words On Music, Dreamy progressive soft pop)
The Meeting Places is/are Arthur Chan (bass), Chase Harris (guitar, vocals), Scott McDonald (guitar), and Dean Yoshihara (drums). This Los Angeles-based band formed in 2001 with their mission being to create epic, droning dreampop. On Finding Yourself Along the Way...the mission is accomplished. Appropriately released on the intriguing Words On Music label, the album presents the band in fine form. These subtle pieces are characterized first and foremost by heady and thick guitar work. In overall tone and method, the hypnotic cuts on this album remind us of a more restrained and pensive Spiritualized. The music is slow and determined...and trance-like in nature. Interestingly, the band's vocals remind us of early Starflyer 59. Intriguing drone pop with a difference. Includes "Freeze Our Stares," "Same Lies As Yesterday," and "Turned Over." (Rating: 4++++)

Melomane - Solresol (CD, Vermillion Music, Progressive pop)
The second full-length release from New York's Melomane. Resolvo, the band's debut album, created quite a buzz. Solresol is bound to receive the same reaction, as it features more inventive and unusual pop with a uniquely cool slant. Melomane tunes are not obvious. The band composes material that is strangely different...yet intertwined with enough familiar threads to make for an easy and smooth listen. The band consists of Pierre de Gaillande, Daria Klotz, Frank Heer, Quentin Jennings, Kenny Savelson, and Jesse Neuman. Not surprisingly, the band's music has a French flavor (de Gaillande was born in France, you see...). The twelve tracks on Solresol present this band's multifacted nature...making it difficult to draw comparisons. Soothing, complex...and very intriguing. Includes "Complicated Melody," "The Fighting Guitars," "The Cruise," and "Buddha Statue." (Rating: 5++)

The Mitchells - Hear Where You Are (CD, Pigeon, Pop/rock)
Most albums can be digested in a listen or two. We had to spin Hear Where You Are several times before finally coming to some conclusions about it. First, and possibly most importantly, The Mitchells don't really sound much like other bands. There are similarities, sure...but their overall approach and sound is rather unique. Second, the guys in this band sing like men. (Note that this does not mean they scream and yell and make horrible noises like many men.) Third, these guys write memorable songs and they play them with completely genuine enthusiasm. The accompanying press release gave us a hint that this would be an intriguing album, as it was recorded and mixed by Thom Monahan. Perhaps the best way to describe the band's sound would be to say that they sound something like a cross between My Dad Is Dead and The Feelies (the former because of the deep vocals and the latter because of the crazy guitars). The arrangements are particularly unusual. Instead of merely slamming out chords and playing a steady beat...these guys' music can be downright quirky and kinda jerky...slightly spastic in a nice rocking kinda mental way. Ten cuts including "Our TV Theme," "Stakeout," "Home Build Kit," and "Prefab." A credible and cool album. (Rating: 5++)

Mya - Moodring (CD, A&M, Soul/pop)
Wonderfully addictive modern soul pop. Moodring is the third full-length release from Mya. This beautifully attractive young lady has been turning a lot of heads lately...and this album is likely to further ignite her career. Unlike many modern soul artists who infect their music with the horrid threads of rap and hip-hop...for the most part, Mya and her associates keep their music clean and pure...utilizing many elements from early soul music and fusing them with modern technology. The end result is an upbeat and danceable sound that is inviting and very easy on the ears. Of course, Mya's super smooth and sexy vocals are the focal point of the music. She sings with a natural ease that brings the listener dead center into her musical universe. A slick album that (thankfully) proves soul/pop is continuing to make a major resurgence in the United States. Cool tracks include "My Love is Like...Wo," "Sophisticated Lady," "After the Rain," and "Whatever Bitch." Track that would have been better left off: "Why You Gotta Look So Good?" (Rating: 4++)

My Name Is Timmy
Hello. My name is Timmy and I have a dog named Timmy. My mother is named Timmy and my father is named Timmy. We also have a parakeet that is named Timmy. My teacher at school is named Timmy and my best friend is named Timmy. The flowers in the garden behind our house are named Timmy and so are the trees. When I can't sleep at night, I try to remember my name...but sometimes it is so easy to forget. Who am I? Where do I live? Where do I come from? If there is a reason for everything, then there must surely be no reason for anything. I don't believe in anything. My name is Timmy...and I don't give a goddamn about my crummy fingers. (Rating: 1)

New Bethel - Inside the Blue Vera (CD EP, Kittridge, Pop)
New Bethel is Molly Williams (organ, bass, vocals), Aaron Buckley (guitar, vocals), and Charles Maxey (drums). Begun in the summer of 1999 as a recording project, the band is now touring and releasing their music in hopes of gaining a larger audience. Inside the Blue Vera should help the band in their mission...as it presents six fresh and clever pieces that fall outside the boundaries of normal underground pop. Instead of playing noisy alternative rockers or sugary sweet alternapop...these folks instead opt to blend all kinds of ideas and sounds into their own unique concoction. The result is a highly entertaining sound that draws on few obvious influences...yet remains accessible nonetheless. Some pieces involve little or no vocals...instead allowing the band to present their (almost jazzy) instrumental abilities. Intriguing stuff. Includes "The Great Decline," "The Ticket," and "Over the Counter." (Rating: 4+++)

The New Normal - The Sprightly Sound of The New Normal (CD-R, Mallard Pointe Sound Recordings, Pop/rock)
How could we not love The New Normal...? Featuring Mike Ritt (of Shades of Al Davis) and the original ripping rhythm section from The Young Fresh Fellows (Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchison)...The New Normal is a band full of underground superstars. Hell, even Scott McCaughey, Chris Ballew, and Conrad Uno make guest appearances on some of the tracks. Recorded over the course of two weekends in Seattle, this album is a spontaneous ball of melodic fun. Nothing difficult or atonal here. As the title suggests, these tunes are totally upbeat and..."sprightly." Ritt wrote all the songs with the exception of "We Are Carloadbuyers" (co-written with Tad) and "Keep Searchin'" by Del Shannon. Purely infectious tunes like "Your Damn Uncle," "Chez Me," "Never Never Man" (ahhh...beautiful!), and "The King of Goretex" make this album a wonderfully entertaining experience. Great driving music. (Rating: 5)

Paloalto - Heroes and Villians (CD, American Recording Company, Pop)
If you enjoyed the softer side of Queen on their first few albums...chances are you'll go apeshit over Heroes and Villians. Bandleader James Grundler has a voice that one could almost mistake for Freddie Mercury at any given point in time. This, the album's second full-length album, is a wonderfully entertaining ride through the modern world of slick melodic pop. Produced by Rick Rubin, the album is like a finely detailed painting. The songs...already strong on their own merits...benefit from the intricate arrangements and obvious attention to detail. While Paloalto tunes most certainly have the potential to make lots of money for those involved with their projects...in reality, the band is putting their music first...creating credible, memorable tunes that will sound good years from now. Uplifting tunes include "The World Outside," "Going Going Gone," "Sleeping Citizens," and "Seed." Smart catchy pop for thinking listeners. (Rating: 4+++)

All the lonely idiots...proudly displaying how much they love their country. The retarded and the meek clamor...waving flags of artificial power...trying hard to get along...all the while hating one another from across their lawns. The patriotism grows like a tumor at a picnic...making ticks grow larger. The power of nothing becomes gratuitous. Something inside the stupid people makes them babble about everything that gets loafed by the media...while their pathetic families shit and crumple up papers. Throw them in the wastebasket. The ugly and the stupid and the dumbest of the dumb...get all worked up and become more irritating with every passing day. It is best to ignore everyone in every little way...than to respond to the retards we pass by every day.

Pedal Steel Transmission - The Angel of the Squared Circle (CD, Cardboard Sangria, Progressive pop/rock)
Depthy music from a band whose name adequately describes their sound. Pedal Steel Transmission is a Chicago-based quartet with a difference. Instead of striving for one image or sound...they successfully intertwine many. The band's music does, in fact, cover so much territory...that it is quite difficult to describe. Listening to the tunes on The Angel of the Squared Circle is like looking into a kaleidoscope. Reality becomes distorted...sounds mirror themselves in unusual ways...and the listener eventually becomes hypnotized by the band's cool inventive sound. The only problem these fellows may encounter is that their music may be too complex for the average listener...possibly limiting their audience to a small underground cult. That may or may not be a problem for the band. In our minds, artistic success is the ultimate...and these gentlemen have already achieved that. This is a wonderful album. The progressive and unpredictable tunes are entertaining and thought provoking...and they honestly don't sound like anyone else. That's a mighty big accomplishment in and of itself. Wildly creative tunes here include "Waiting," "Amy," "Breakin Windows Everywhere," and "Silent Like Hands." Excellent sound quality throughout. (Rating: 5+)

Pia Fraus - Plastilina (CD EP, Clairecords, Pop)
Pia Fraus is a young Estonian group who have managed to impress the critics in a short amount of time. In Solarium, the band's 2002 album, was hailed by many as a pop masterpiece. Plastilina is a not a new release, but rather a collection of tracks culled from the band's debut album Wonder What Its Like. One composition ("Deep Purple Girl") was re-recorded for this EP...and a hidden bonus track is also included (a "sanfu remix" of "Summer Before Spring"). Plastilina features wonderfully refreshing upbeat pop that accentuates this band's flair for writing catchy tunes and presenting them with style. This EP is undoubtedly intended to whet folks' appetite for the band's next full-length. (Rating: 5)

The Potomac Accord - In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten (CD, First Flight, Progressive pop)
Subtle, understated progressive pop with an epic feel. In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten is the second full-length release from The Potomac Accord. The band blends piano, bass, drums, and guitar into their own unique brand of unpredictable...and slightly obtuse...pop music. In terms of volume, these folks are varied. At times the band is unusually slow and soft...and at other times, the proceedings become quite loud and intense. Overall, however, The Potomac Accord is a restrained affair...concentrating on song composition, lyrics, and keeping things simple. In an era where too many bands are competing for an unknown prize, these folks don't seem to be in it for the sake of competition. Their tunes are, instead, obviously coming from the heart...and being played with sincerity and conviction. There are no catchy hooks...no funny and unusual studio tricks...and no attempt to overwhelm the listener with cleverness or cuteness. These mature tunes have an overall serious tone that is peculiar and strangely inviting. Cool cuts include "A Quiet White Cut by the Longest Blue Shadows," "Sunset on the Empire," and "New Fallen Century." Wonderfully obscure stuff that sounds even better with repeated spins. (Rating: 5)

Rebel Powers - Not One Star Will Stand the Night (CD, Strange Attractors, Experimental/noise/abstract)
Rebel Powers consists of members of Acid Mothers Temple, Telstar Ponies, and Mainliner. That fact alone should give some indication of what this band is all about. Not One Star Will Stand the Night is a peculiar album. There are only two tracks ("We Are For the Dark," "Our God is a Mighty Fortress")...but they are long (each clocks in at well over 20 minutes). These compositions are experimental spacey drones of eerie noise...recorded in such a way that they often seem to resemble identifiable music. This material was recorded in 1998...but is only now seeing the light of day (probably due to currently increased underground interest in Acid Mothers Temple). Produced by Toby Robinson, this is one obtuse little disc...expanding the boundaries of music...and exploring the possibilities of dreamy subconsciousness. Slightly unsettling... (Rating: 4+++)

The Robot Ate Me - They Ate Themselves (CD, Swim Slowly, Progressive pop)
A unusual band...and an unusual album. Although it may take many spins to get into, They Ate Themselves is a powerful body of work well worth the time and energy. More than any other band, San Diego's The Robot Ate Me is coming from the same general direction as Radial Spangle (one of the most underappreciated yet incredible bands of the 1990s). The tunes on this album are anything but obvious. Rather than slamming out samey hooks and punching the listener in the face with familiar sounds...these guys instead opt to create perplexing and confusing compositions that arouse the curiosity of their listeners. The track "What We Thought Was Fog" has to be heard to be believed. It is a peculiar yet gripping piece with strange emotion that cannot be defined. In addition to intriguing and mind-numbing melodies...this band gets major bonus points for their lyrics. Instead of the same old generic dribble that most bands pass off for lyrics...these guys come up with funny and perplexing words that are as entertaining as they are thought provoking. Despite the overwhelming number of albums coming out every week...on this planet, creativity still remains rare. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes The Robot Ate Me so appealing...but they most definitely are a hearty and meaty treat for the mind and ears. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

The Sabians - Shiver (CD, The Music Cartel, Progressive rock)
Formed by ex-Sleep guitarist Justin Marler and drummer Chris Hakius, this San Francisco band doesn't sound like the rest. The Sabians have a mature, progressive sound that is characterized by intelligent guitar work and highly concentrated rhythms. The band has a heady sound that goes all over the place...making it very difficult to draw comparisons or come up with possible influences. Sabian tunes are not obvious...but are, instead, moody and mysterious. The tunes on Shiver range from loud rock to restrained...all the while retaining cool threads of intelligence. The only comparison that we can come up with here is to say that this band's music sounds something like Lou Barlow's Folk Implosion. Plenty of good quality stuff here, including "Sixteen-Forty," "Cannibal Machine," "Bullet," and "Broken Circle." Pity that more bands can't strike an original chord the way these guys can. Highly original and yet strangely accessible. Great stuff. (Rating: 5)

Sentridoh - Lou B's Wasted Pieces (CD, Shrimper / Revolver USA, Pop/rock)
Whether recording under the names Sebadoh, Sentridoh, or Folk Implosion...one thing is certain. Lou Barlow always entertains. Lou B's Wasted Pieces is a collection of old recordings Barlow originally released in the early 1990s (much of which was only available on audio cassette). These pieces have been remastered...transforming them from low fidelity to something much more listenable (i.e., the sound quality has been improved greatly). As one would expect with such a release, this is a real hodge podge of material. Some are experimental pieces...while others sound almost clean enough to appear on current Folk Implosion releases. What impresses us most about Barlow is that...even when he's just tampering around by himself with an acoustic guitar...his music possesses a strange quality that is difficult to describe...but infinitely absorbing. There's a lot to digest here...31 cuts in all. While this is probably most appealing to completists...in our minds, this collection of music is astoundingly good...especially considering the limited audience it was originally intended for. Featuring some good, some great, and some...rather incredible cuts...Lou Barlow's Wasted Pieces are anything but a waste of time... (Rating: 5)

South - With the Tides (CD, Kinetic, Progressive pop/rock)
Swirling, epic, progressive pop/rock. With the Tides is the second full-length release from Britain's South. Though this band is a trio (consisting of Joel Cadbury, Jamie McDonald, and Brett Shaw)...their sound is thick, full, and very B-I-G. This could be due, in part, to the influence of producer Dave Eringa, who has also produced the bands Manic Street Preachers, Idelwild, and Ash. Needless to say, this is a highly polished and heavily produced album. Fortunately, the band writes material that is strong enough to weather all the overdubs and sometimes busy arrangements. Some of these pieces are beautiful...particularly "Colours in Waves," "Loosen Your Hold," and "Nine Lives"...which feature the band's more introspective, restrained side. This trio's music ranges from accessible and direct...to rather abstract and (at times) unpredictable. With a bit less emphasis on unnecessary studio polish...South's compositions would be even stronger. Solid stuff. (Rating: 4++)

Starbag - Starbag (CD, Happy Happy Birthday To Me, Pop)
Light, airy, hummable pop with a slight hint of country. Some of the songs on this album remind us of some of Harry Nilsson's very early material...although the overall tone is more loose and fluid...and based around guitars rather than keyboards. The songs are snappy, smart, highly melodic, and tend to stick in the brain like glue. The guys in Starbag call El Paso, Texas their home...but they don't sound like other Texas bands. This is a short album consisting of only eight songs. But when the material is this good...the length of the album is irrelevant. The sparse arrangement are an integral part of this band's sound. Moving pieces like "I Just Can't Wait," "I'm So Tired," "My Way Back Home," and "Give Me A Place" make this album a pleasant and entertaining spin. Real catchy stuff. (Rating: 5)

Toshak Highway vs. Sianspheric - Magnetic Morning / Aspirin Age (Split Double CD EP set, Sonic Unyon Recording Company, Pop)
We've seen split CDs before where a CD contains songs from two bands...but this is the first time we've seen a split CD that contains two complete and separate CD EPs by two different bands. An interesting idea...made even more interesting by the music contained on these two discs. On the first disc, Toshak Highway present five slightly moody pop pieces that are highly melodic and well produced. This is the third release for this project (spearheaded by Adam Franklin of Swervedriver)...and it offers more solid proof of what a great songwriter this man is. His side projects all seem to be superior to Swervedriver releases (!). The second disc features five tunes by Sianspheric...a band with a more obtuse and abstract view of the world. This is their fifth release. Sianspheric tunes are strangely haunting and leave a marked impression. They might best, perhaps, be termed as epic mood music (?). This is a groovy l'il double EP set...featuring two underground bands whose music is more than worth the price of admission. (Rating: 5)

Tsurubami - Gekkyukekkaichi (CD, Strange Attractors, Ambient/drone/psychedelic)
Tsurubami is Emi Nobuko (drums), Kawabata Makoto (guitar), and Higashi Hiroshi (bass). Makoto and Hiroshi are also in the band Acid Mothers Temple. As the title suggests, Gekkyukekkaichi is a very strange album. Consisting of two lengthy pieces that were completely improvised (with no overdubs added)...the album plays like a bizarre, distorted soundtrack to a peculiar livid dream. Drums are used more for sound effect than for rhythm. The guitar and bass seem to hover in unbridled Robert Fripp territory...with heavy sustain and plenty of effects added to heighten the hallucinogenic aspects of the music. This album is not for everyone...nor was it meant to be. This trio is playing for a very select audience...that esoteric audience seeking to enhance their consciousness through music...while (most likely) getting high on something. Of course, one needn't be high to appreciate this music. Instead, the music itself can be used to induce a high (honestly!). Very trippy, very strange, very hypnotic...this one is WEIRD. (Rating: 5)

Velvet Crush - Free Expression (Expanded) (Double CD, Action Musik, Pop)
Velvet Crush is one of the most satisfying pop bands on the planet. Their music possesses a cool ethereal quality that gives the listener the feeling that he/she is floating in the clouds. Free Expression was originally released in 1999. The album has now been remastered and reissued along with a bonus disc containing the original demonstration recordings. The first disc (the "real" album) was co-produced by Matthew Sweet, who also adds his playing and singing skills. This 14-song album is an instant refresher course in positive melodic guitar pop. Cool guitars and exceptionally heartfelt vocals literally bleed out of the speakers...infused with so many hooks that the overall effect is heavenly intoxication. Powerful tunes like "Kill Me Now," "Between the Lines," "Goin' To My Head," "Gentle Breeze," and "On My Side" make this album a true pop classic. The second disc of fourteen demos offers a more personal glimpse of the music...not as slick and produced...yet still mesmerizing and effective nonetheless. Paul Chastain and Ric Menck are two of the most incredible pop songwriters around. Killer stuff...! (Rating: 5+++)

Watashi Wa - The Love of Life (CD, Tooth and Nail, Pop)
Wonderfully shimmering and uplifting music. Jangley pop may not be hip anymore...but if word gets out about California's Watashi Wa, the entire genre could see a major resurgence in the years ahead. The Love of Life is the band's third full-length album and their first on the Tooth and Nail label. Fans of pure pop are certain to flip over this one. These four guys don't dabble in noise or experimental crap. Instead, their focus is on writing and recording slick pop with superb melodies...using an ultra-direct approach. This style might not work for every band...but when the material is this good...everything just CLICKS. Love of Life contains twelve "oughta-be-hits"...and each and every one rings true. For many bands, this little sucker would be a "best of" collection (!). Pure feelgood cuts include "All of Me," "With Love From Me to You," "Her Dress," and "Life is Beautiful." Great stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Denison Witmer - Recovered (CD, Fugitive Recordings, Pop)
Recovered is an intriguing album consisting of covers of appropriate and well-chosen tunes. Instead of picking obvious hits to cover...Denison Witmer instead picks lesser known...and in most cases more credible...tunes by well-known artists. The album begins with an astounding cover of Graham Nash's "Simple Man"...which not only does the song justice...but is also injected with enough original ideas to make it sound new again. Witmer then proceeds to present nine more tunes, infusing them with his own unique sound and vision. Particular standouts include a strangely easy remake of Big Star's "Nightime" and a sparse and atmospheric rendition of Carole King's "So Far Away." Cover albums are usually dull and uninteresting...but this album is an exception to the rule. In paying tribute to some of his favorite artists...Witmer proves himself to be a thoughtful and gifted new artist. (Rating: 5)

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