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March 2002 Reviews by

 The Andersons
Armchair Martian

Audio Learning Center
The Beatles
The Bevis Frond

Citizen Cope
Josh Clayton-Felt
Comment Piece
The Czars
The Dears

Departure Lounge

The Distillers
Fairport Convention
Neil Finn
Louise Goffin
Eyran Katsenelenbogen
King Diamond

The Lesser Birds of Paradise
Little Stuck Up Ethel

My Hotel Year

Need New Body
Nine Inch Nails*
Norfolk & Western

Graham Parker

Toshi Reagon
Paul Ruderman
Scorched Earth

Sufjan Stevens*
To Live and Shave in L.A.
Tri-State Crematory

Unwritten Law
Viva las Vegas*
Walking Wounded

Keith Welsh

*Top Picks **Pick of the Month


March 2002 Comment Piece: The American Flag

Question: What is ugly? There is a simple answer to this perplexing question. The American Flag is ugly. It is very, very ugly. Whoever designed the American flag didn't have the slightest bit of artistic sense or graphic integrity. Red and white stripes...and a blue square with little white stars all over it? How inventive is that? But even though it's ugly, the flag actually does represent our country well. The flag is dull...boring...unimaginative...and a complete visual failure. Just like the United States. Let's face it. The most wealthy country in the world that everyone is always raving about...is nothing but a great big disappointing piece of crap. Yes, you read that right. All of our hard work...all of our inventions...all of our big cities...our museums...our medical breakthroughs...our educational institutions...they're all a great big WASTE. If you don't want to face the truth, that's your own business. Here in the babysue camp, however, we are NOT afraid to face reality. What we would like to suggest is for others to join us in seeing things as they REALLY are. Ah, it is so VERY easy for ALL to see! Just remember. The next time you see the flag and you start to well up with emotion...note exactly what that feeling really is. It's the feeling of partially digested food making its way back up your throat and out of your mouth. And what is that? It's called vomit. Our flag and our country are one big sloppy pile of smelly VOMIT.

The Andersons - Family Secrets (CD, Smile, Pop/rock)"
Nice fresh clean melodic guitar pop. Four guys who share the last same name (Anderson) got together and formed a band. To everyone's surprise, they named their band The Andersons. This Los Angeles based band plays upbeat music that harkens back to the 1980s when guitar rock ruled the world. These Anderson fellows play happy upbeat stuff that would almost make you forget what miserable shape the world is in. The world may be in miserable shape, but these guys aren't miserable. In fact, they sound downright exuberant and charged up. On Family Secrets the band fires off one oughta be hit after another, overwhelming the listener with their positive energy. Top picks: "Killing Me," "Let You Down," "A Million Dollars for Christmas." (Rating: 4+)

Armchair Martian - Who Wants To Play Bass? (CD, My Records, Pop/rock)
If there's one thing that can make or break a band it's the vocalist. This is the weakest link in so many bands that when we hear a singer who is really, REALLY good...we are automatically impressed. Armchair Martian is a good, Americana-like, hard rocking band..and they just happen to have an INCREDIBLE vocalist named Jon Snodgrass. Mr. Snodgrass has a husky and super sexy vocal style like we haven't heard in ages. His urgent, masculine voice truly kicks these songs into seventeenth gear. Even though this is an underground band on an underground label...these guys have the potential to elevate into superstardom if that's what they choose. In all honesty, the music...and particularly the vocals...are that good. Plenty of great tunes here, including "Mexican Song," "Break Your Frame," "Re-Routed," and "Monsters." Excellent stuff, highly recommended. (Rating: 5)

Audio Learning Center - Friendships Often Fade Away (CD, Vagrant, Pop)
Audio Learning Center is a bit different from bands one normally hears on the increasingly productive Vagrant label. Yes, the band's music does rock at times...but the guys in this band are basically popsters at heart. Perhaps the most fitting term for the music on the sadly titled Friendships Often Fade Away is progressive pop. The band's tunes are, first and foremost, highly melodic. But the chord changes and song structures don't follow the normal or expected paths. Lyrically the band seems to take a serious approach, and their messages shine through crystal clear. The vocals are nothing short of spectacular. This is an extremely strong eleven song album that will immediately have fans singing their praises. Audio Learning Center is no flash in the pan. Their material will surely hold up over time. Top picks: "The Shell," "Hand Me Downs," "A Dedication," "If You Choose." Absolutely STUNNING packaging on this one. (Rating: 5+)

The Beatles - Half Dead and Still Overrated (CD, Krapitol, Slop pop)
Two down...two to go. It was a relief when John Lennon died. Then when George Harrison fell out of the saddle he finally proved that he TRULY WAS the "quiet Beatle." The final two lame ducks are still afloat, but probably not for long. Was there EVER a good Beatles song? Nope. Was there EVER a memorable moment from the Fab Four? Never. Did they EVER do anything worthwhile. Certainly NOT. This, the final album to be released from "the vaults" is even worse than usual. John plucks on a banjo while Paul farts out musty bananas on top of Ringo's backbone. Meanwhile Ringo recites bad poetry while making love to George on top of a pile of cabbages. Does this make for good music. In a word, YES! Everything that the Beatles wrote and recorded was LEGENDARY. Their music lacked everything. Our conclusion? BUY THIS CD! It's FANTASTIC! These undiscovered GEMS are PRICELESS! Great tunes like "This Time I'm On Top and George Is On Bottom (Rectal Feces)" and "Let's Do Some More Acid and Waste Expensive Studio Time in London" make this album a MUST HAVE for any serious collector. Don't MISS out! This special edition CD is limited to 150,000,000 copies! Get yours NOW! (Rating: 2)

The Bevis Frond - Triptych (CD, Rubric, Pop/rock)
The third in a series of Bevis Frond reissues on the Rubric label, Triptych seems to the the first on which Nick Saloman's ideas are fully realized (the first two albums were relatively experimental and the sound quality varied from tune to tune). Here, Saloman's pop sensibilities are up front and obvious. The sound has now improved substantially, mainly because this was the first album to be recorded in a real recording studio. The album features more semi-psychedelic pop heavy on melodies and thick with cool fuzzy guitars. We would bet that this was probably the first album to make folks really stand up and take notice of Saloman's work. In addition to the original twelve tracks (including one on which Saloman's mom sings) the CD reissue also includes six bonus tracks. For anyone who wonders what all the underground buzz is about regarding the Bevis Frond, this would be an excellent starting point. Plenty of great underground numbers here including "Debbie's New Song for Drums," "Nowhere Fast," "Time To Change," and "You Got To Unwind." (Rating: 5)

Citizen Cope - Citizen Cope (CD, Dreamworks, Funk/soul/pop)
Clarence Greenwood, the man who now calls himself Citizen Cope, was formerly a keyboardist and DJ for Basehead. This is his first solo album and it is impressive indeed. Greenwood's mission was to record a "timeless" album. He has done just that. This self-titled debut is full of well produced funk/soul/pop music that ranks right up there with the best. Producer Bob Power worked with Greenwood to produce tunes that are surprisingly accessible yet completely genuine and sincere in their execution. No underground noise or schmaltzy gimmicks here...just good solid songwriting combined with snazzy arrangements. Greenwood's vocals are understated and his music defines a definite groove and stays in it. Great tunes like "Contact," "If There's Love," "Salvation," and "Theresa Prelude" present a determined and strong talent on the verge of creating a sensation. This truly is a timeless album chock full of catchy, danceable tunes that should appeal to young and old. RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5++)

Josh Clayton-Felt - Spirit Touches Ground (CD, Dreamworks, Pop)
Josh Clayton-Felt first entered the public consciousness by means of an album he released many years ago with his first band School of Fish. The album has since become a favorite of pop fans worldwide and spawned the unforgettable hit "Three Strange Days." The second School of Fish album wasn't as successful. Accordingly, Josh went solo...recording no less than four albums before he died prematurely from cancer. This album was mixed shortly before Clayton-Felt died in 2000. Just as sad as the death of this young songwriter is the fact that this batch of tunes is as good as anything he recorded. His sincerity and masterful way of turning a tune are evident from start to finish on Spirit Touches Ground. It's a fitting farewell...but a strangely tragic reminder that there won't be any more albums to follow... (Rating: 5)

The Czars - The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People (CD, Manifesto, Soft pop)
Although it may take a few listens to sink in, The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People is a soft, moody, beautiful collection of slick, melodic pop music that should appeal to a wide array of people. This Denver band released a couple of albums on their own before being discovered by Simon Raymonde (of The Cocteau Twins) who promptly signed the band to his Bella Union label in Britain. The band's music is hypnotic and slightly orchestrated pop with smooth vocal work. We particularly dig the understated brilliance of "Drug" and the rocking sound of "This." The Czars are not trying to sound ultra weird or to stretch the boundaries of popular music. Instead, they seem intent on writing good solid tunes and them giving them just enough polish to make the music sparkle. Listeners should take note of all new releases on the Manifesto label. These people are consistently putting out amazing things...and this is certainly one of them. (Rating: 5)

The Dears - Nor the Dahlias: The Dears 1995-1998 (CD, Grenadine, Pop)
Somewhat reminiscent of The Smiths and The Housemartins, this CD serves as an introduction for us to the music of Canada's The Dears. The band's bright, bouncy, British influenced pop music is infectious and surprisingly accessible. As is to be expected of a disc culling tracks from many different sources, the sound quality of this album varies from tune to tune. But considering the quality of the songwriting, this doesn't matter in the least. Hearing this sure makes us wanna go out and grab hold of the band's debut full-length (End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story). Top picks: "Everlasting," "Nine Eight Two," "Mute Button," and "She's Well Aware." (Rating: 4+++)

Departure Lounge - Too Late to Die Young (CD, Nettwerk, Pop)
Britain's Departure Lounge is the project spearheaded by Tim Keegan, who has collaborated in the past with Robyn Hitchcock (who makes a guest appearance on one tune here). The music of Departure Lounge is lush, orchestrated pop music with memorable melodies and moody electronics. Too Late to Die Young was produced by Kid Loco. This may explain the sometimes lush and occasionally trippy production elements. The tunes here are, for the most part, moody compositions...but the group also explores some rather intriguing instrumental territory that is challenging and inventive. Keegan's super smooth vocals are right on target every time. This is a very satisfying collection of tunes. Standout cuts include "Straight Line to the Kerb," "Tubular Belgians In My Goldfield," "Be Good to Yourself," and "Silverline." (Rating: 5+)

Dignity (Sort of lost thing in the big scheme of things kind of thing)
Whatever happened to DIGNITY? Remember dignity? Dignity used to be a thing that was very important in the lives of many people. But as times have changed...and the general philosophy switched to accepting people for what they are..no matter HOW rude and TRITE they are...dignity has, unfortunately, become virtually non-existent. So...how does one go about instilling dignity back into their life? Easy. First you must refrain from using and all all drugs and stop drinking alcohol. These things most definitely interfere with dignity's ability to survive. Second...and even MORE importantly...it is imperative to refrain from any and all sexual activity. There is nothing that makes dignity disappear faster than having sex or talking about it. Once you have refrained and abstained...there is a chance that dignity may grow in your lonely little soul. But then again...it just might not. Whatever happened to dignity? Nothing really. It's still there. It's just rarer than it once was. (Rating: 2)

The Distillers - Sing Sing Death House (CD, Hell-Cat / Epitaph, Hard rock)
Hell YEAH!!! Fast, loud rock music played just the way it OUGHT to be played. The Distillers are the real thing. Their music is full of attitude, volume, intensity, and guts. This young Australian quartet is a true force to be reckoned with. Considering the playing and the quality of the material, it is difficult to believe that this is a debut. What we like best about this band is that they seem to be writing and playing based on pure INSTINCT. We get the feeling that these folks aren't thinking too hard about what they're doing. Instead they seem to get off on simply letting the combined energy of their spirits flail, crash, bash, and blur into infinity. Breath taking tunes here include "Sick Of It All," "Seneca Falls" (our favorite), "City of Angels," and "Lordy Lordy." This band is definitely playing for the kids. And if that ain't the right motivation then...what IS? (Rating: 5)

Fairport Convention - XXXV: The 35th Anniversary Album (CD, Compass, Pop)
Before playing this, a friend who is a Fairport Convention fanatic warned us that the band's later material wasn't so impressive. Prepared for the worst, we popped this disc in...and were pleasantly surprised. No, it doesn't sound anything like the band's early material...but then that's probably not the point. After all, decades have passed and only one original member (Simon Nicol) remains. These days, the music of Fairport Convention is much more pop than folk...but it still retains a nice, fresh, and sincere quality that impresses us. XXXV consists of a mixture of new material and reworkings of some of the band's standards. The album is chock full of uptempo tunes that feature some mighty satisfying fiddle playing. While many fans of the band's original sound may scoff at this, in our minds this group of musicians now calling themselves Fairport Convention are still providing credible and highly entertaining material. (Rating: 5)

Neil Finn - 7 Worlds Collide: Neil Finn & Friends Live at the St. James (CD, Nettwerk, Pop)
Although seemingly incredulous, most people are probably not familiar with Neil Finn's name...despite the fact that he has written countless hits with his former bands Split Enz and Crowded House. Mr. Finn has embarked on a solo career in the past couple of years. This album is a stunning collection of live tracks culled from a five day string of concerts performed in Auckland, New Zealand in April 2001. The band line-up is mindblowing. Backing Neil are Johnny Marr, Eddie Vedder, Phil Selway, Ed O'Brien, Tim Finn, Lisa Germano, and Betchadupa (his son). The sound quality, playing, and overall mood here are staggering...particularly when you consider the fact that this is a live recording. The band covers a great deal of ground--presenting no less than 17 killer tracks, always right on the mark and always sounding spectacular. This must've been something to experience in person. Since we weren't there, we can live vicariously through this disc. Finn is still in great form and hasn't lost the magic that has always made his music so memorable. (Rating: 5)

Louise Goffin - Sometimes A Circle (CD, Dreamworks, Pop)
Kids of famous people have it easy...and yet in some ways they have it rough. While their parents' celebrity status often gives them an easy "in"...people tend to scrutinize their work more thoroughly, most likely because they didn't have to "work" for their fame. To be more blunt, these kinds of kiddies can record and release some pure DRECK. But then, on the other hand, there are exceptions. Louise Goffin is most definitely an exception, perhaps because her mother is the charming and talented Carole King. Ms. King always struck us as a genuine and real personality despite her legendary status. Louise must have inherited some of these traits, as is evidenced by the tunes on Sometimes A Circle. Although her music is somewhat similar to her mother's, we get the impression that this young lady is not trying to copy or ape Carole's style. Instead, she presents a solid and well-thought-out collection of tunes that are mighty entertaining and smart. The straight ahead pop stuff is good...but it's the sparser tunes like "Saved By the Bell," "Clicking to the Next Slide," and "Quiet Anesthesia" that get our gears moving the most. It would be a shame if everyone dismissed this lady's work just because of her lineage. Nice. (Rating: 4)

J.C. - Deathbed Recollections (CD, Kiss Chase, Soft pop)
J.C. is the duo of J.C. and Amphibius. Together the two present soft piano-based pop that sounds something like a more subtle version of The Divine Comedy minus the excessive arrangements. The one who calls himself Amphibius provides some damn fine piano accompaniment that match J.C.'s vocals to a T. The tunes on Deathbed Recollections have a somewhat distant romantic quality that we find enchanting. This is the sort of music that creeps up on the listener. The emphasis is melodies and lyrics, with arrangements that exist solely to support both. Stark and sincere, these guys obviously know what they're doing. This is an impressively mature batch of tunes. (Rating: 4+++)

Eryan Katsenelenbogen - It's Reigning Kats & Dogs & Bogen (Independently released CD, Jazz piano)
The humorously titled It's Reigning Kats & Dogs & Bogen is a thoroughly entertaining collection of jazz piano interpretations of mostly well known tunes. This, Mr. Katsenelenbogen's sixth album, was recorded at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto. The compositions feature Katsenelenbogen playing alone with no accompaniment and no overdubs. This man has a way of taking a tune and sparking it with his own imagination in a manner that is unique and compelling. Although we feel certain that it is not the case, he makes it all sound very simple. If the point of music is to evoke emotion in the listener, then this album should be considered a resounding success. Katsenelenbogen's free flowing style is particularly appealing on "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Blussette," " Try To Remember," and "The River Is Wide." The nice organic sound of the recording makes it particularly appealing. Plus you have to respect a man who--with the credentials that he has--even donates his time to play free for senior citizens (!). Classy and genuine. (Rating: 5)

King Diamond - Abigail II (CD, Metal Blade, Progressive heavy metal)
King Diamond is back...with his long-anticipated follow up to the original Abigail concept album released fifteen years ago. Diamond is one of rock's most unusual looking characters. The man gives Marilyn Manson a run for his money with his bizarre makeup and stunning publicity photos. This epic album is sure to please the band's fans. All the essential elements are there. Storytale lyrics...crunching guitars...death metal drums and bass...operatic vocals that would make Queen proud...all tied together by the conceptual story of the young girl Abigail...and the never-ending question, was she born...to die? Thirteen big tunes here, including "Spare This Life," "Slippery Stairs," "The Wheelchair," and "Sorry Dear." (Rating: 4+++)

KMFDM - Attak (CD, Metropolis, Techno/dance)
Eighteen years and counting...and KMFDM continue in their mission to provide some of the tastiest techno dance music on the planet. Sascha Konietzko and company are back with one of their strongest releases yet...and that's saying when you have as many fine albums under your belt as these folks do. The band has never strayed too far from their original concept...and that just may be what has kept them afloat for so long. Artwork is provided (as always) by the fantastically creative and visually stimulating Brute! The music? Highly technological dance music with industrial style vocals and hypnotic melodies. For us, this band is eighties industrial dance music personified. There is no other band on the planet who hones in on this specific style of music as well as KMFDM. So...what makes Attak stand out? More great songs for one thing...perhaps even stronger than before...but also the fact that the band seems to keep stepping up to the technological plate...adding more bizarre sounds and samples to overwhelm and entertain the listener. More throbbing stuff to beef up the dance floors here. We particularly dig "Attak/Reload," "Dirty" (this one KICKS!), "Superhero," and "Sleep." (Rating: 5)

The Lesser Birds of Paradise - It Isn't the Fall (CD EP, Loose Thread Recordings, Pop)
Nice subtle pop music that reminds us of Granfaloon Bus (except not quite as loose). This Chicago quartet approaches pop music from a slightly awkward angle. The rhythms are just a bit offbeat...the songs themselves familiar sounding...and yet there is something pleasingly unique about the melodies and song structures. The vocals are particularly genuine and effective. Naturally organic in many ways, we'll be keeping our eyes and ears open for this band's second full-length album which is forthcoming... Our only complaint here? Only 21: 58 minutes of music. When the sixth track ended, we wanted to hear the band KEEP ON GOING. Top picks: "If You Wanted," "She's Got a Set of Wings," "'Til Next Spring." Well worth checking out...! (Rating: 4+++)

Little Stuck Up Ethel (Some kind of spoiled goddamn brat)
Over in the corner is Little Stuck Up Ethel. She's done all the bad things she could've done, so now she's gone and got PUNISHED like she shoulda been a long time ago. See them bruises all over her face and legs? Them bruises means that Ethel done LEARNED something. Something that she shoulda learned way, way, WAY back when. See them cuts on her forehead? Them bruises mean Ethel is a much BETTER girl than she ever was before. See them boogers hangin' outa her nose? Them boogers means she's just the kinda girl you always WANTED to meet. See them mouses runnin' down the side o' her panties? Them mouses means she's full of SWEAT and JUICE for all the unwanted Asians of the world. See the way she shoots smack in her big leg veins? That means she's SWEETER than the big SACKS OF SILVER that she tore off down the river carrying. Little Stuck Up Ethel. She's just the kinda girl you wanna SHACK UP WITH and sing along with. (Rating: 1)

Lolas - Silver Dollar Sunday (CD, Jam, Pop)
Shimmering, vibrant, melodic pop that harkens back to the glory days of happy 1960s AM radio. Lolas play with such intense happiness that it is virtually impossible NOT to love their music. The tunes on Silver Dollar Sunday are like an adrenaline rush of sugar coated pop like we haven't heard in decades. This album is like a non-stop string of oughta be hits. Particular standouts for us are "Silver Dollar Sunday," "See Yer Picture Too," "The Only People In The World," "Wild Blood," and their cover of the Shoes tune "I Can't Go Wrong." This band will cause pop fans the world over to fall all over themselves. Yes, it really is THAT good. A true blast of infectious EAR CANDY. (Rating: 5+)

My Hotel Year - The Composition of Ending and Phrasing (CD, Beyond Music, Rock)
What a GREAT title for an album. Pumping out their massive wall-of-guitar rock like there really will be no tomorrow, the four guys in My Hotel Year are smart, inventive, progressive, and LOUD. But don't expect a mindless wash of loud noise here, because these guys write intelligent and frequently complex progressive rock tunes that have real depth, intensity, and integrity. Recorded in their own studio, The Composition of Ending and Phrasing really kicks ass in terms of sound quality and production. Top picks: "6 a.m.," "Walking and Dreaming," "Key Exchange," and the title track. A truly promising new band that delivers the goods. (Rating: 4+++)

Nekromantix - Return of the Loving Dead (CD, Hell-Cat / Epitaph, Graveyard rock)
Something like a combination of Bad Religion, The Stray Cats, and The Addams Family. Few would deny that the three guys in Nekromantix have a definite and clearly defined image happening. With their odd haircuts and fascination with all things dead and buried, the band looks really good. The bassist even plays a stand-up with a body that looks like a casket. Now that is pretty damn cool. But as any good music listener knows, image alone isn't enough. Fortunately, Kim Nekroman, Peter Sandorff, and Kristian Sandorff are presenting much more than just an image. The guys write clever rock tunes with smart hooks and they've got the muscle and energy to drive the songs home every single time. The music ranges from rock to rockabilly to speed rock. Fun tunes like "Nice Day for a Resurrection," "Gargoyles Over Copenhagen" (our favorite), and "Haunted Cathouse" make this album a interesting excursion into the world of graveyard rock. (Rating: 4)

Need New Body - FT41 (CD, File 13, Art rock)
Obviously shrugging off any and all commercial appeal, Philadelphia's Need New Body are tapping into all kinds of odd sources and obtuse sounds to create their own strange hodge podge compositions. The basic motivation here is to try different things and have fun doing it. As is usually the case with experimental stuff, sometimes it works better than others. But in most cases on FT41 these guys succeed. Lots of short tracks here (we like that)...22 cuts in all. Some have vocals, some are instrumentals. Standouts for us are "Dirty Bitch," "Tittiepop," "Bananas and Dragons," and "Don." (Gotta love those song titles!) Although the music is certainly not for everyone, for those who want upbeat experimental fun...these guys hit the vein. (Rating: 4+)

Nine Inch Nails - And All That Could Have Been: Nine Inch Nails Live (CD, Nothing, Rock), Still (CD, Nothing, Rock)
The career path of Trent Reznor is an interesting one. Initially, Reznor's music seemed to appeal to fans while critics overall weren't too impressed. Over time, however, it seems as if the critics have become more supportive than the initial fan base. This is certainly the case in the babysue campground. Reznor's first couple of albums didn't do much for us. But the last few releases have blown us away. The Fragile is particularly amazing and is highly recommended for anyone who doubts Reznor's credibility. Starting the new year off right, we are treated to not one...but two new Nine Inch Nails discs. And All That Could Have Been is a collection of live recordings that documents the Fragility V2.0 tour. Still, the companion CD, features deconstructed tracks plus intriguing new compositions. That's a mighty big mouthful to chew off in one big bite...but NIN fans (and others) will most likely be impressed as hell with the results. The sound quality of the live disc absolutely KICKS--so much so that you can almost feel the heat, sweat, and intensity of the concert in the safety of your very own domain. If you've never seen him in concert, Reznor is a performer of the highest callibre. Not only is the man talented as a monkey's bucket...but his stage presence is overwhelming. The CD contains sixteen heart stoppers. Still is another can of worms...including one new vocal track, and four new instrumentals. The instrumental tracks are extremely cool and inventive, and may possibly be indicative of what to expect from NIN in the near future. How many folks would have expected Reznor to come up with instrumentals that border on modern classical and ambient? LOVE it (!!!). We recommend both of these CDs without reservation. (Rating: 5+++)

Norfolk & Western - Winter Farewell (CD, Film Guerrero, Pop/folk/ambient)
This, the third album from Portland's Norfolk & Western, is well executed and classy. The band is the project of singer/songwriter Adam Selzer. Selzer's previous two albums were one man affairs on which he played everything. On Winter Farewell Selzer invited an array of guest to join. Selzer's tunes are sparse, gentle, and personal with subtle arrangements and atmospheric electronics. The overall sound is reminiscent of Sparklehorse, but make no mistake this man is his own master. The songs are serious in tone but laid back in terms of execution. Many intriguing tunes here. A few that we found particularly impressive are "Sound West" (features double vocals which seem to purposely not quite match up), "Hegira" (slow and intent with strings), and "The Things We Do On Sunday" (a strange instrumental with odd swirling surges). Topping it all of is splendid limited edition, handcrafted packaging. As always, if its on the Film Guerrero label...it's a MUST HAVE. (Rating: 5+)

O-Type - Lugubrious (CD, Family Vineyard, Modern classical/ambient/experimental)
Most people are probably unfamiliar with the names Bruce Anderson, Dale Sophiea, Marc Weinstein, and Dave Mahoney...and that is unfortunate, because these individuals are creating some of the most ethereal and mind bending music we have ever heard. The four have thus far released three albums under each and/or all of their names (which may be as confusing to the general public as the music they make). The four have now opted to record under the name O-Type, and this is the first release using the new moniker. So...what is Lugubrious all about? The esoteric audience who has heard these folks' prior releases probably has a pretty good idea... For folks who have never been exposed before, consider yourselves forewarned. This is intense, obtuse, difficult, cerebral, and extremely bizarre stuff. The group's compositions are pure experiments in sound. There are no limits...no boundaries...and no preconceived notions of what music should or ought to be. But here's the clincher. These tracks are NOT mere noise. Instead, these people's creations somehow convey real feeling and emotion...no matter how dark and peculiar those feelings and emotions may be. This is the kind of thing where you really have to hear it to get it. We can sum here by saying that there are few abstract artists we have heard who have affected us as much as these folks. Tracks like "Soliloquy," "Clearing," "Ritual," and "Escape" don't really fit into any specific category. And yet...they somehow create a musical genre all their own. Looking for something that is TRULY unique and far reaching? This is a completely intense MINDBLOWER. In short, it just doesn't get much better than this. (Rating: 6++)

Graham Parker - King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents (CD, King Biscuit Entertainment Group, Pop/rock)
This live recording captures Graham Parker at the peak of his career in 1983. The disc contains fifteen energetic renditions of some of Parker's best material. On these nice, crisp recordings the band is in top form and you can feel the energy and excitement of the audience. As an extra added bonus, Graham himself provided the cool artwork for the cover. This CD is available only through the web site, so click on the link above for ordering information... (Rating: 4++)

Piebald - We Are the Only Friends We Have (CD, Big Wheel Recreation, Rock)
Our first reaction to Piebald was that they sounded very much like Built To Spill...but after a few more listens, the comparison didn't seem to hold. This young band has been working hard for the past several years building up quite a following and releasing an impressive amount of material. In their own opinion, this is their most fully realized album to date. Because we never heard prior releases, we can only offer reactions to the band's current sound and direction. We Are the Only Friends We Have is an impressively varied collection of tunes. The band easily glides in and out of rock to progressive to alternative pop. The songs are complex but not overdone. The band credits some of the success of this album to producer Paul Q. Kolderie who has produced bands such as Radiohead and The Pixies in the past. The sound quality is excellent, and the tunes are laced with appropriate knob twiddling that adds (rather than detracts) from the overall sound. Lots of smart up-tempo tunes here. Our favorites are "The King of the Road," "Fear and Loathing on Cape Cod," and "Sex Sells and (Unfortunately) I'm Buying." (Rating: 4+++)

Toshi Reagon - Toshi Reagon (CD, Razor and Tie, Funky soul/pop/rock)
Brooklyn's Toshi Reagon is a new contender in the world of female pop. Her husky vocal style and slightly funky pop tunes are instantly infectious and extremely accessible. Make no mistake, however, her music is by no means generic corporate slop. Reagon's tunes are smart and hit the listener where it matters. Chunky tunes like "Oh No No No," "Slippin' Away," "Ballad of the Broken Word," and "Somethin' Good" are smart and laced with cool melodies. Her music effectively bridges the gaps between funk, pop, soul, and rock. Accordingly, her music will appeal to a large audience who will most likely propel her to stardom in the very near future. She's mature and direct...and she has a voice to DIE for. Toshi is a direct HIT. (Rating: 5)

Paul Ruderman - Wish (CD, Q Records / Atlantic, Pop)
You've gotta like anyone who would begin their album with the lyrics "woe-owe...yeah-eah...un-huh...mm-mm." Actually, these very first lines tells you the listener a great deal about the music of New York's Paul Ruderman. The music is simple and straightforward...and doesn't require too much thought on the part of the listener. This can be very refreshing, particularly since so many artists seem to be tripping all over themselves to be more unusual and unique than the next. Mr. Ruderman's material is extremely upbeat and radio friendly. His nice smooth vocals should appeal to most folks, and the slick arrangements make the overall sound particularly accessible. If you're looking for something ultra weird and unique then this most likely won't be up your alley. But if you're in search of some simple toe-tapping pop that you sing along with and have a good time, this is worth checking out... (Rating: 4)

Scorched Earth - Fed To Your Head (CD, Rubric, Stoner rock
Cool loud punchy British stoner rock. Scorched Earth tunes are basic rock tunes characterized by loud guitars and impressive vocals. We hear lots of stoner rock bands in the United States...but surprisingly few that spring out of Great Britain. Could it be that marijuana is not as popular overseas? We're not certain but in the case of this band...probably not. Scorched Earth consists of Jay "The Prophet" Pharoah Curd (drums), Chuck "The Horse" Kowalski (bass, guitar, organ, piano, vocals), and Randy "The Snake" Kyser (guitar, harmonica, vocals). What is particularly appealing about this album is the variety. Just when you think these guys fit into one category, they come up with something moody and slightly psychedelic like "Blues for the Universe." There's so much cool stuff bubbling up in the British underground. It's a pity more of it doesn't get heard in the United States. This is a great, multifaceted rockin' album. (Rating: 4+++)

Speedbuggy - Round Up (CD EP, Cargo Music, Country/pop)
Cool rockin' underground country pop with a slight bluegrass feel. These guys have a surprisingly mature and well tethered sound for a bunch of young fellows. Although most folks would probably lump this in the "alternative country" category, in our opinion this sounds genuine enough to be classified as pure country. Good songwriting and solid playing throughout. Six rockin' tunes: "Club 190," "I'll Do All Right," "Piece of Your Heart," "Drive On," "Sad & Lonely," and "Singin' Doors." (Rating: 4)

Sufjan Stevens - Enjoy Your Rabbits (CD, Asthmatic Kitty, Electronic/instrumental)
Is it ambient? Is it new age? Is it modern classical? Is it experimental electronic? In the case of Sufjan Stevens' Enjoy Your Rabbits the answer is...all of the above. This truly unique album consists of fourteen compositions...each song named for an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. All of the tracks are named "Year of the X" (where X stands for the animal in question)...except for the curiously titled eleventh cut (the title track). We're not sure what this means, but that is secondary to the fact that this is a wonderfully heady and inventive collection of compositions by an intriguing artist with a difference. Sufjan is extremely good at what he does...and his music covers a amazingly wide range. Some of the tracks are almost accessible...while others jump off the map and chart their own course in musical history. In addition to the cerebral and eclectic sounds, the CD is complimented by a stunning and super colorful twelve page booklet that contains absolutely NO information whatsoever about the music contained within. A truly artistic package in every sense of the word, this is about fifty times more creative than your average music CD. RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5+++)

Switched - Subject to Change (CD, Virgin / Immortal Hard rock)
Intense music. Hailing from the suburbs of Cleveland, Switched is five young fellows who really know how to turn it up and GRIND AWAY. The band's propulsive music blends progressive metal with hard rock to form a surprisingly accessible sort of metal arena rock that is certain to drive young boys WILD. The band's drummer is a true powerhouse...smashing and crashing away for all it's worth. The bassist is solid and persuasive...the guitars continually in overdrive...but it's those strained/screamed vocals that will impress most listeners. Readers should note that this is not just a "noise" band. These guys interject their brand of loud rock with melodic choruses. Make no mistake, however, this is a very loud and very harsh band...but their music is smarter than most. Nice cover art on this one... (Rating: 4-)

To Live and Shave in L.A. - The Wigmaker in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg (CD, Menlo Park Recordings, Collage/noise/abstract)
Underground artist Tom Smith has made a career out of creating abstract noise collages. Unlike most abstract artists delving into this style of composition, Mr. Smith seems to be in it for the long haul. After a few years absence, the man is back with his most ambitious release yet, the confusingly titled The Wigmaker in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg. Like previous To Live and Shave in L.A. releases, almost everyone will find the "music" here unlistenable. There are no melodies. There are no rhythms. There are no real identifiable structures. There is very little for your average idiot to grasp onto. Smith continues to record for an extremely small, esoteric audience. He has now found the perfect home...on the continually perplexing, obtuse, and bizarre Menlo Park Recordings label. In a world where so many folks record in order to find an audience, it is refreshing as holy HELL that there are still true artists out there who follow their own strange muse. This is a big plate of brownies for anyone to wolf down. If you can listen to the entire thing without pressing STOP...you WIN. Wanna feel alienated, nervous, and LOST? Turn this baby up really loud and prepare to lose your grip on reality COMPLETELY... (Rating: 5)

Toog - Easy Toog for Beginners (CD, Le Grand Magistery, French pop)
Cool simple French pop with heady electronics. This is the second album from Toog, who some folks may know as a keyboardist on recent Momus tours. Toog's tunes are like poetry set to music (which makes a lot of sense considering the fact that he is also a poet). The songs on the humorously titled Easy Toog for Beginners are smart, direct, inventive, and catchy. And Toog's deep vocals are enchanting and just slightly sexy. Instead of playing it safe, this gentleman provides plenty of experimental electronics in his tunes that push them to the next peculiar level. The overall sound is something like an obtuse cross between Brian Eno and Serge Gainsbourg (but not too much like either one). Heady and imaginative, this album is bound to create a solid fan base of Toogaholics around the world. We're fortunately already on the bandwagon. Exceptional stuff from a fascinating new artist. (Rating: 5++)

Tri-State Crematory ("We'll get that thing fixed one of these days but for the time being let's just throw 'em in the pit.")
Yes SIR!!! One of our FAVORITE news stories of ALL TIME...and it just happens to come out of our very own GODDAMN STATE! Yup, putting Georgia smack dab on the front of newspapers everywhere, the Tri-State Crematory shows just what kinda people we are down South. Dead bodies? Heck, just throw 'em somewhere and let the Good Lord take care of 'em. Besides...gettin' that dadburn CREMATION MACHINE fixed was gonna cost us an ARM and a LEG! And besides...they're just corpses. Ain't nobody gonna know what happens to 'em ANYWAY. And besides...we got all that damn CEMENT DUST in the back shed. We'll just fill up the URNS with that. Yup, you've gotta hand it to anyone who would claim to run a legitimate business for YEARS...while secretly dumping dead people all over his property. We particularly love Mr. Marsh's expression whenever he appears on the news. The man obviously has NO REMORSE WHATSOEVER. And why SHOULD he be remorseful? Hell, they're just CORPSES! We can't understand WHY THE HELL they're spending all that goddamn TIME and MONEY digging 'em all up again and trying to IDENTIFY THEM. How stupid is THAT?!? Why don't they just designate the property a cemetery and put a goddamn PLAQUE or something in the middle of it? In our opinion, Mr. Marsh clearly won the game. After all...he's made FRONT PAGE NEWS all over the world. Above all, however, we're just glad that yet ANOTHER news story has proven how SCREWED up we are down here in the South. (Not Rated)

Unwritten Law - Elva (CD, Interscope, Hard rock)
Thick, hard, pounding, well-written hard rock music with balls. The folks in Unwritten Law have a dense sound that is hard hitting and infectious. The album begins with the explosive sound of "Mean Girl" which features harsh overdriven guitars and thick synthesizers. The band then tosses off no less than sixteen more (!) masculine rockers with finesse and style. Despite the glossy and well produced sound of this album the energy and enthusiasm of the playing are still evident. If it weren't for the aggressive playing and loud guitars, some of melodies on this album would almost border on bubblegum. (To any folks in the band who might be reading this: We mean this as a compliment...honest!) Featuring an effective mixture of the upbeat and intense music, this is a hard rocking band with HEART. Good stuff, well executed. (Rating: 4+++)

Viva las Vegas - Viva las Vegas (CD, Acuarela, Moody, sexy, soft guitar pop)
Viva las Vegas is the duo of Frank Rudow and Jose Luis Garcia and this is their first proper release. Spain's Acuarela label has been making great strides in the past few months (particularly in the U.S. market)...and this album is a good example of why so many folks are now seeking out releases on this esoteric label. This self-titled album presents slightly abstract pieces based around unusual guitars and slow, flowing rhythms. The overall effect is calming...and yet somehow slightly puzzling. The lyrics are sung in Spanish which for our own listening taste is a huge plus. The instruments are often layered in tons of reverb and echo...which enhances the stranger aspects of the compositions. You may have to seek out this CD, but it'll be worth your effort. Our top favorites here are "Corazon Sano," "Estare de Paso," "Duotronic," and "Por Que Te Escondes Del Amor" (this last one's INCREDIBLE). Very consistent, very heady, slightly trippy...and very EFFECTIVE. (Rating: 5+++)

Walking Wounded - Artificial Hearts (CD, Stonegarden, Pop/rock)
Upbeat, highly melodic guitar pop/rock played with sincerity, integrity, and style. This is the fifth release from California's Walking Wounded. The band consists of Jerry Giddens, Michael Packard, and Luis Ruiz. These guys write all of their own music and they come up with some real ass kickin' tunes on Artificial Hearts. The album begins with "Thousand Mile Stare," a real standout tune that should be a hit single. Some of the other cuts have a more moody feel, such as "Angels and Ether"...with its breathy vocals and hypnotic guitar work. We also dig the slide guitars in the toe-tapping "She Don't Live Here Anymore." If you're looking for music without gimmicks that comes straight from the heart, these guys are sure to fill the bill. SUPERB vocals throughout. Produced by John Avila (of Oingo Boingo fame). (Rating: 4++)

Keith Welsh - American (CD, Box Car / Tiger Mouth Recordings, Folk/acoustic pop)
American is a beautiful collection of tunes by Keith Welsh. Welsh's music consists mainly of a single acoustic guitar and vocal...but the things he can do with the two are instantly genuine and effective. Hard to believe that Welsh got his start playing in hardcore bands in Florida (?!?)...you'd NEVER know it from the sound of this album. This man's songs speak oceans. The words are introspective and poignant...and the guy has a voice that'll turn you into a sloppy pile of mush on the floor. No excessive overdubs...no fake posturing...no attempt made to impress anyone... Keith Welsh is one of those guys who is obviously doing what he loves...and his love of making music shines through clearly throughout this album. Standout cuts include "Turn In Your Books," "Golden" (this track is particularly great), "Leave Nothing," and "Eye Lash." =This may not be readily available out there in the world, so click on the Box Car link (above) for ordering information... (Rating: 5)

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