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May 2003 Reviews by

Jessica Andrews
Angry Amputees
Bee and Flower

Black Lipstick

Black Label Society
The Chains
Comment Piece
Vic Conrad & The First Third

Ex Models*
Friends Like These*
Alan Goodman*

The Grassy Knoll

The Kentucky Headhunters
The Indicators
Sammy Kershaw

Local H

Lord Bishop

The Marlboro Chorus
Dan Matz

Melon Galia*
Bill Monroe (Tribute)
The New Constitution

The Parkinsons
The Peppermints
Radial Angel

Sock Angels


Rafael Toral*
The Trailer Park Troubadours
Rhonda Vincent
World Leader Pretend

*Top Picks


May 2003 Comment Piece:
An Important Message Regarding The Average American

The Average American has never had good taste. This is due to the fact that the Average American prefers to be led around like a mindless sheep by corporations whose main objective is squeezing cash out of the Average American's wallet. And, of course, the Average American is as happy as pretty parched peaches to accept the slop that is churned out...all the while happily doling out the money like a mindless...and obviously retarded...puppy. Nowadays the Average American has hit an all-time low. It now enjoys nothing more than watching national talent contests where average nobodies (just like the Average American itself) compete for cash, prizes, and recording contracts. The main problem here is that the people who are competing are virtually void of any talent other than that one meager and limited ability to sing a goddamn song. Writing or playing an instrument is not even a requirement. Years ago the Average American was dumb enough to chomp up the bad "hits" being churned out by talentless assholes and greedy corporations. Nowadays the Average American is even happier to sit in front of the goddamn television watching pathetic wannabes doing HORRENDOUS covers of songs by shithole fuckoff artists like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Celine Dion, and the like (all of whom never should have received ANY attention in the first place...much less a recording contract!). The "celebrity hits" were bad enough to begin with...but now they are even worse than ever (is that possible?)...being featured on national television complete with midi-shitty arrangements...and desperate nobodies compete with one another to see who can fool the public the best with their goddamn crooning ability. So...congratulations, Average American. Your taste has sunk to an ALL-TIME low. We would say that it can't get any worse...but we know that it always can (and that it always WILL). You always preferred shitty things, Average American...despite the fact that the world is littered with millions of fantastic and credible musical artists. But you don't want that...you want to yeep and cheer with MILLIONS of others...so that you can all support the same worthless, shitty people (just like yourselves)...all of whom offer you absolutely nothing in terms of TRUE CREATIVITY and REAL TALENT. But music is just a matter of taste, isn't it? Isn't that right...? No, not exactly. Music is, in actuality, a matter of CHOICE. You can either make the RIGHT choices...or the WRONG ones. And we all KNOW, of course, exactly what your choice will BE...don't we?

Jessica Andrews - Now (CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
Now is the third album from young country/pop artist Jessica Andrews. Considering the fact that Jessica is still a relatively new entertainer...this album is impressively mature. She has an intoxicating voice...effortlessly switching from soft and breathy to loud and aggressive in a split second. Appropriately, the first track ("There's More To Me Than You") is also the first single. Make no doubt about it, Andrews is a modern country artist. Gone are many of the elements associated with country music of decades past...replaced with thick production and modern instrumentation. Producer Byron Gallimore added just the right amount of polish here...allowing the arrangements to support Andrews...rather than drown her out (which can sometimes happen in professional studio environments). Other standout tracks include "I Wish For You," "Sunshine and Love," and "God Don't Give Up On Us." A pure feelgood experience. Excellent. (Rating: 5)

Angry Amputees - Slut Bomb (CD, Dead Teenager, Rock)
Sprite and skittle-bumpy punky pop. San Francisco's Angry Amputees play punky pop with positive posturing...just as if 1977 never stopped at all. The band's fuzzed out power tunes are simple and played straight from the hip...and the main focal point is lead vocalist Stacey Dee. Dee sings with all the championed delight of a high school girl who has just discovered the merits of getting stoned and snorting illegal stuff. The band's highly charged tunes are counterbalanced by a slight bubblegum influence. The overall sound is fun and uplifting. Good stuff here. Top picks: "Want Dead," "Psycho Bitch," "Dubya," and "Fistfighting." (Rating: 4++)

Bee and Flower - What's Mine Is Yours (CD, Neurot Recordings, Moody progressive pop)
The new project headed by ex-Angels of Light member Dana Schechter. Bee and Flower play slightly dark progressive pop. Slow and moody, the tunes on What's Mine Is Yours are subtle and smooth. But while the music is soft...there are some strange undercurrents running through these tracks that lend some rather eerie effects. In addition to Schechter, the band includes Jeff Conaway (drums), Rod Miller (keyboards), Lynn Wright (guitar, lap steel), and Jon Petrow (violin, glockenspiel). This album was produced by Martin Bisi...and, accordingly, has a nice, slick, and heady sound. Some songs on this album are beautiful...while others are peculiar and odd. Not your usual fare. Interesting stuff... (Rating: 4+++)

Black Lipstick - Converted Thieves (CD, Peek-A-Boo, Minimalist rock/pop)
Black Lipstick sound a whole, whole, whole, whole, whole, WHOLE LOT like The Velvet Underground. And that is exactly the point. The band isn't trying to hide their influences...instead opting to proudly display them for the world to see (and hear). Not only does singer/guitarist Phillip Niemeyer sound like the true son of Lou Reed...but the band also sports a female drummer (Elizabeth Nottingham). Actually, V.U. isn't the only band from the past swimming around in the mix here. There are also definite traces of Television, early Talking Heads, and Richard Hell. Accordingly, listening to Black Lipstick is a bit like...revisiting New York City in the 1970s. And that isn't a bad thing. Because while the band uses their influences as a jumping off point...their music is entertaining and original enough to override their obvious idol worshiping tendencies. Another thing that to bear in mind here is that many folks hearing this music were not even born when the previously mentioned bands were around (!). Good stuff here...including "Voodoo Economics," "Ease Back," and "Self-Centered & Determined." We particularly love the "bonus track"... (Rating: 4+++)

Black Label Society - The Blessed Hellride (CD, Spitfire, Rock)
Wow. Absolutely FANTASTIC hard rock delivered with intense energy, style, and real passion. Black Label Society is dominated by the guitar stylings of Zakk Wylde who many folks may already know as the guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne's band. Wylde wrote all the tunes on The Blessed Hellride...and a helluva batch of tunes they are. Wylde rips and roars like there's no tomorrow...as heavy guitar riffs smack the listener in the face...and all the while his hellbent-for-leather macho vocals grab the spotlight (man, what a VOICE this guy has...). He also plays all the bass lines and piano. Rounding out the band is Craig Nunenmacher on drums. The man is a heavy duty basher of the highest order. Ozzy Osbourne even makes a guest appearance (offering background vocals on "Stillborn"). Considering how abrasive and heavy this music is, it is amazing that this album was created by a duo (!). If you are expecting "just another heavy metal" album, think again. Rather than a loud blare of generic noise, these tunes are intelligent and instantly memorable. This is what hard rock ought to sound like. A knockout. (Rating: 5++)

Brandtson - Death & Taxes (CD EP, Deep Elm, Pop)
Powerful and melodic. These power popsters have impressed us before...but only now do they really seem to be showing their true potential. These six tunes deliver a jolt...while still retaining the basic qualities inherent in pop music. The guitars are loud and powerful...but even more powerful are the band's melodic hooks. The only problem with this disc (which is the case with virtually all EPs) is that just when you start to get in the groove...the disc is over (!). A great taste of even better things yet to come from this thoroughly upbeat and appealing band... (Rating: 5)

The Chains - On Top of Things! (CD, Get Hip, Garage pop/rock)
Montreal's The Chains present an excellent collection of tunes that will undoubtedly draw legions of fans. The band's direct and unpretentious approach is refreshing and real. These five gents play with all the unbridled enthusiasm of some of the best bands of the 1960s. Their tunes might best be described as hard pop mixed with bubblegum and garage rock. But while the band's overall sound is reminiscent of the past...the production on the disc is surprisingly stripped down and modern. We particularly love the band's background vocals. Those "ooohs" and "aaaahs" help to push their tunes to another level altogether. While this album features three cover tunes, the band penned the remaining nine tunes themselves. Fun, uplifting, catchy, and instantly additive...On Top of Things! is a big ol' blast of smart pop. Great stuff....served up RIGHT. (Rating: 5+)

Vic Conrad & The First Third - Vic Conrad & The First Third (CD, Hidden Agenda, Progressive pop)
Unpredictable pop. Considering how many musicians in the world are writing and recording predictable pop...Vic Conrad & The First Third easily stand out from the crowd. In 35 minutes, Conrad and associates provide more quality entertainment than most bands provide over the course of their entire careers. This Australian trio creates strangely heady and thought-provoking skewed pop music with all kinds of twists and turns. The music sounds something like a cross between The Young Fresh Fellows and The Frogs. Standout cuts on the album include "See My Way," "The Day Before She Died," "Mr. V," and "I Love You." Wonderful cover art on this one. Unique pop from a peculiar perspective... (Rating: 5)

8-Eyes - Dust (CD, Neon Pie, Pop)
Instantly likable and direct pop/rock. Greensboro, North Carolina's 8-Eyes write great tunes. The trio's songs are built around addictive hooks and extraordinarily hummable melodies. Though they are obscure at present...these three guys are writing and recording material that ranks right up there with some of the best. To top it all off...the lyrics are smart and thought provoking. These guys are doing all the right things the right way. Fifteen nifty, upbeat little numbers here including "Dust," "Rich Hollywood Stars," "Kite," and "(It's Not My Planet) Monkey Boy." Well done. (Rating: 5)

Elliott - Song in the Air (CD, Revelation, Progressive rock/pop)
Subtle, spooky, progressive pop/rock. This is the third full-length release from Louisville, Kentucky's Elliott. Whereas most bands have an obvious approach and easily fit into one category...these fellows' music goes all over the place and has the potential to be appreciated by a wide range of listeners. The band integrates elements of pop, rock, and progressive jazz into their hypnotic and complex tunes. We are particularly impressed by the fact that the group effortlessly shifts back and forth from their very soft sound to a sometimes thick and heady wall of instrumentation. Despite the fact that this band's music is not wildly experimental...we are hard pressed to come up with any obvious comparisons. That is, in and of itself, a real achievement. Song in the Air features ten puzzling gems...including "Land and Water," "Believe," "Drag Like Pull," and "Away We Drift." Good stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

Ex Models - Zoo Psychology (CD, French Kiss, Jagged, bizarre rock)
These guys are SO DAMN COOL (!!!). Ex Models are funny, intense, abrasive, smart, nervous, and totally KILLER. The band doesn't really sound like anyone else. Their chaotic, abrasive tunes are infused with freaked out spastic vocals that are just...totally...WILD. If you think you've heard it all...then you probably ain't heard Ex Models yet. Imagine mixing very early Devo with Gang of Four's Entertainment album...then turn the volume way, way, WAY up...and add about ten tons more energy and noise. Then...only then...will you have some idea of what this insane band sounds like. Damaged, fragmented, sharpened, destructive, and mental...this album is a total TRIP. Can you appreciate tunes like "Pink Noise," "Zoo Love," "Brand New Panties," "Kool Killer," and "The Password is Pelican"...??? Easily one of the weirdest bands EVER. GREAT STUFF. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5+++)

Fonica - Ripple (German import CD, Tomlab, Experimental/electronic/ambient/instrumental)
Fonica is the duo of Keiichi Sugimoto and Chikako Honma. Sigimoto also record s under the name Minamo. This duo creates experimental and inventive electronic instrumentals that are sometimes obtuse, sometimes moody, and more often than not...unpredictable. Sugimoto and Honma's compositions are unusual in that they avoid the usual pitfalls inherent in most electronic music. The sounds are mostly unfamiliar...and the ways in which the sounds are merged are even more unfamiliar. The tunes on Ripple have an odd accidental feeling...yet they are obviously well-thought-out pieces. Creating modern mood music with a difference...Fonica is a mildly trippy and highly rewarding experience. (Rating: 4+++)

Friends Like These - I Love You (CD-R, Pop)
Smart, friendly, highly melodic pop music reminiscent of The Lassie Foundation. Friends Like These is the duo of John Solomon and Adam Switlick...joined on this album by drummer Eric Fawcett. I Love You is a wonderfully entertaining album chock full of swirling, incredible melodies. Don't be put off by the fact that this disc has been released as a CD-R. This music is as well recorded and produced as a commercial release. Fans who loved the noisy yet heavenly pop music from the early 1990s will go apeshit over this band. (Actually, virtually anyone who loves soaring pop music will love this band!) While the music contains plenty of fuzzed out guitar noise...the band's wonderfully breathy vocals are the key focal point here. Amazing tunes include "Afternoon Funeral," "Heaven," "Fighting," and "Get With It." A great album from start to finish. (Rating: 5++)

Garlands - Bedroom Music (CD, Mister Records, Soft pop)
Intelligent, lovely, highly melodic smooth pop. Originally begun in New Jersey, Garlands are now based in New York. But don't expect their music to sound anything like other New York bands. Instead, the band's music is reminiscent of some of the best soothing popsters from the Pacific Midwest and Great Britain. The tunes on Bedroom Music remind us of the perpetually entertaining Starflyer 59...but we can also hear slight traces of The Smiths and The Kinks. The band's guitar-based pop music is thoughtful and sincere...and the vocals are breathy and extremely subtle. The band consists of brothers Chuck and Matt Blake, Brett Whitmoyer, and Raffi Yegparian. These four players obviously know the meaning of restraint. Instead of clobbering the listener over the head with too many ideas and too many instruments...these fellows instead keep things simple and allow their music to flow in a direct and unaffected manner. Eleven highly entertaining tunes, including "Four Fingers," "Barely There," "Alpha Doughnut," and "Slippers and Tea." Excellent. (Rating: 5)

Godsmack - Faceless (CD, Republic / Universal, Hard rock)
The wildly popular Godsmack's third album. Faceless features more of the metallic hard rock that the band is known for. The reason these guys have become so well known while many of their contemporaries have remained unknown is probably due to the fact that the band writes discernible songs that can actually be understood...while never compromising their number one objective...which is to assault their audience with aggressive intensity. Lead vocalist Sully Erna provides a great central focal point for the band. Not only can the guy sing like holy hell...but he also has a great look and lots of stage presence. But while Erna may be the main focus...the contributions of the other band members should not be underestimated. Robbie Merrill is one hell of a tight drummer. The man bashes hard while never missing a beat. His rhythms are tightened to perfection by the smooth, mental bass lines provided by Robbie Merrill. Tony Rombola's thick and meaty guitar riffs round out the equation. To be as successful as they are...the guys in Godsmack have yet to sell out. Hot rockers like "Straight Out of Line," "Changes," and "The Awakening" are focused and intense. Good stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

Alan Goodman - Romance Revenge Redemption (Independently released CD, Guitar/instrumental)
There aren't many guitarists with the guts...or more importantly the talent...to release an album of solo guitar recorded live with no editing or overdubs. But independent artist Alan Goodman did just that...and by doing so...has created a wonderfully entertaining album. Goodman's tunes are, for the most part, inspired by flamenco. His playing is fluid and mature...and his ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and ideas with his guitar playing...is most impressive. To put it more bluntly, this man can play the hell out of a guitar. One tune ("Don Ramon") is an original arrangement of traditional falsetas...the remaining ten compositions were written by Goodman himself. Alan seems like a regular guy...who just happens to be an extraordinary talent. A beautiful album that comes straight from the heart. Splendid material from start to finish. (Rating: 5++)

Grafton - Blind Horse Campaign (CD, Dead Canary, Hard rock)
Direct, throbbing, extremely hard rock. This Columbus, Ohio trio doesn't get bogged down with the more trivial aspects of making music...instead opting to simply belt out their intense tunes like there's no tomorrow. While the basic ingredients may be familiar (guitar, bass, drums)...the guys in Grafton make the whole genre sound vital and new again. This is a case where talent and intent change everything. These three guys obviously love what they're doing...and they are damn good at it. Despite the fact that the tunes on Blind Horse Campaign (their second album) are abrasive and loud...these tracks never degenerate into generic noise. Instead, the band incorporates all kinds of smart moves into their hell raising craft. The guitars are loud and over the edge...the bass solid and intense...and the drummer is a crazy wild crasher. And you've just gotta love those ultra-masculine rough vocals. The band consists of Lou Poster (guitar, vocals), Donovan Roth (bass), and Jason McKiernan (drums). Excellent thrashy hard rock played with true conviction. (Rating: 5+)

The Grassy Knoll - Short Stories (Advance CD, Sixty One Sixty Eight, Dub/electronic/ambient/experimental)
Bob Green has been releasing music under the moniker The Grassy Knoll since 1994. Considering the obtuse and unusual nature of the music...some of his compositions have shown up in some rather unexpected places (The Mod Squad, Monday Night Football, and The World Series to name a few). Short Stories, the band's fifth album, continues in the same general territory of cool dub-influenced modern mood music. What has always set Green's music apart from the vast majority of his peers is the prominent use of loud electric guitars. The superb guitar riffs add a rocky element in a world where guitars would normally take a back seat in the mix. The spacier, more ambient elements are similar to those used by Scorn. After a break of several years, the band made the wise decision to return to the studio. The only bits we could have done without are the spoken word segments, but that is a minor point given the overall sound and vibe going on here. As with all Grassy Knoll albums, we highly recommend this. Trippy, heady, and mind-throbbing. (Rating: 5+)

Jute - A Violent Narcotic (Independently released CD, Atmospheric pop)
Interesting Chicago band. The tunes on A Violent Narcotic sound something like a cross between Bill Laswell, The Cocteau Twins, and Yoko Ono. Jute compositions are built around dub-like rhythms and feature spooky electronics that merge with hypnotic female vocals. While the tunes have definite parameters...the band obviously enjoys experimenting with sounds. These eleven tracks are dense and peculiar...yet they have a strangely calming effect. Wonderful stuff here...particularly when you consider the fact that the band is doing it all on their own. Bewildering and satisfying cuts include "Southern Exposure," "Rising of Reason," "Clay," and "Opium." (Rating: 5)

The Kentucky Headhunters - Soul (CD, Koch / Audium, Country/pop)
Good, realistic, believable country/pop with a loose bluesy feel. The Kentucky Headhunters are a close-knit group. The band consists of brothers Richard and Fred K. Young, their cousins Anthony Kenney and Greg Martin, and their friend Doug Phelps. On Soul the band was given complete creative control...and this probably accounts for the exceptional material and hearty playing. The band's music is deeply rooted in blues/rock from the 1970s...with a keen eye gazing toward the future. These guys create a genuine feelgood vibe throughout this album...playing cocky danceable bluesy pop that makes it virtually impossible to sit still. Top notch tunes include "Everyday People," "Lonely Nights," "I Still Wanna Be Your Man," and "What You See Is What You Get." Excellent stuff with a slight southern edge. Good drinking music. Killer. (Rating: 5)

The Indicators - Kill the Messenger (CD, Lynn Point, Pop)
Wonderfully uplifting pop/rock that is reminiscent of Tom Petty as well as The Young Fresh Fellows. The Indicators hail from Atlanta...but don't hold that against 'em. These guys play with real guts and integrity...and their material is impressively strong. There are no gimmicks. The band doesn't resort to stupid studio tricks...dumb hairstyles...or ridiculous clothing. Instead, they seem intent on letting their music speak for itself. And speak it does. While this may or may not be the band's intent...many of the tunes on Kill the Messenger have the potential to become monster hits. Excellent vocals throughout. Fourteen great shop stoppers. These guys are sure to deliver in concert as well... (Rating: 4+++)

Sammy Kershaw - I Want My Money Back (CD, Audium / Koch, Country/pop)
Country legend Sammy Kershaw returns...with a mighty satisfying album brimming with pure upbeat country pop. Not only will this please Kershaw's fans...but our bet is that this album will bring in some new fans as well. In an era where it seems as if every male country singer in the world is singing about wars or patriotism...Kershaw avoids such tired territory...by concentrating on lighter topics. The opening track (also the title cut) is extraordinarily catchy and cool. Other top-notch cuts include "Miss What's Her Name" (full of country hooks), "Sunday Morning on Bourbon Street," "Gone for Good Goodbye," and "Are You Having Fun Yet?" This album offers some serious competition for newer country artists like Toby Keith and Darryl Worley. Kershaw is back with a vengeance. This rates right up there with his best. (Rating: 5)

Local H - The No Fun EP (CD EP, Thick, Rock)
Local H is such a fun band. We fell in love with 'em years ago...and since that time they have never let us down. Over time most bands change or alter their approach. Not these guys. The band continues to be the duo of Brian St. Clair on drums and Scott Lucas on guitar and vocals. St. Clair and Lucas create music that is just as vibrant and memorable as they did when they began. This EP features three originals and three covers...and they all rock like holy hell. Our favorites here are "No Fun," "Cooler Heads," and the band's cover of The Ramones' "I Just Want Something To Do." Other bands could learn a thing or two from these guys. Great addictive energy. Wonderful. (Rating: 5+)

Longwave - The Strangest Things (CD, RCA, Pop/rock)
Pleasant melodic pop. Not mindbending...but smooth and easy on the ears nonetheless. Longwave have a familiar sound. The band's music is based on the familiar setup featuring guitar, bass, and drums. The vocals are clear, on key, and way up front in the mix. Thus, it is quite easy for the listener to understand the words to the songs. This album doesn't blow us away...but we find it pleasant to spin just the same. Some of the tunes feature melodies that are well above average. Twelve accessible tracks here including "Wake Me When It's Over" and "The Ghosts Around You." Good stuff. (Rating: 4+)

Lord Bishop's Rockadelic Kings - Sweat 'N Blood (CD, Noiseworks, Rock)
A hell-raising assault on the senses. Badass black guitarist/singer/songwriter Lord Bishop has risen to give rock music a mighty kiss in the rear. Like many black rock artists from the 1970s...this man is not afraid to make a spectacle of himself. He's a real character with his bright clothing, funny hates, and big black shades. But make no mistake about it...this man is not riding on image alone. He's one hell of a guitarist and singer...and this album is pure 100% proof. Don't expect limp wristed soul or mind-numbing rap. Lord Bishop is a true rock and roller. His plays loud buzzsaw guitar and sings with bulletproof intensity. His music will shake your bones and cause music fans to stomp and shake with every vibrant beat of his music. Bishop is by no means a second rate copycat. He writes all his own material...and it totally ROCKS. Badass tunes like "Bad Love," "Great Ass," and "Chocolate Covered" prove just hot good this guy is. Lord Bishop is...RED HOT. (Rating: 5)

The Marlboro Chorus - Good Luck (CD, Future Appletree, Pop)
Nice subtle understated melodic pop. The Marlboro Chorus is (mainly) the one man band consisting of B. Patric. Patric writes sincerely reflective pop gems. While the tunes have strangely familiar qualities...the lyrics and song titles are rather abstract ("Potters, Daisies," "Mrs. Bury-The Bone," "What's Your Alignment?"). Most songs are centered around acoustic guitar...while Patric's wonderfully breathy vocals take center stage. While these tunes are instantly memorable...they are neither calculated nor instantly catchy. Instead, the tunes on Good Luck possess that strange quality that draws the listener in for many repeated spins. Good stuff. Unique. (Rating: 4+++)

Dan Matz - Carry Me Over (CD, Amish, Soft pop)
Dan Matz has been creating music for many years...first with the band Windsor For the Derby and then later his solo project The Birdwatcher. With Carry Me Over, Matz continues in his quest to provide simple, subtle, thoughtful acoustic based soft pop. This album was created in an unconventional manner. Instead of spending months...or even years...writing and recording the material, Matz recorded and mixed this l'il baby in two weeks. Interestingly, the songs were written when the electricity went out during a winter storm with the assistance of pianist/vocalist Anna Neighbor. Not surprisingly, the end result is an album that continues in the tradition of Matz' previous work...except for the fact that these compositions sound more spontaneous. These tunes seem to float in mid-air...driven by cool understated guitar playing and subdued vocals. Top picks: "Carry Me Over," "Rice Road Ramble," "Bearcat Blues," "To Know My Song." (Rating: 4+++)

Mensen - Oslo City (CD, Gearhead, Rock)
All female hard rock band from Norway. Produced by Nicke Andersson (of The Hellacopters), Oslo City is one punchy, hard rocking album. These girls play with all the adrenaline and mental rushes of the best American bands. The guitars are in constant overdrive...and the drummer is a manic crasher. But make no mistake...these ain't dumb chicks. The Mensen girls write smart, memorable tunes that stick in your head and won't let go. Fortunately for everyone, this band doesn't need to rely on complicated arrangements or studio tricks. Mensen songs are strong enough to stand on their own. Given that the band plays basic buzzsaw pop...the fact that they can keep and maintain interest throughout this album is a major achievement (so many bands can't...). In the world of music...melodies are king. Oslo City is chock full of exceptional melodies. Killer tunes like "Keep Up!," "Move Over," "Bosnia," and "The Night Before the Morning After" make this album a great spin time after time after time... Great hard rockin' stuff. These girls are FOR REAL. (Rating: 5+)

Minibar - Fly Below the Radar (CD, Foodchain, Pop)
Can too much money hurt a band? Such may have been the case with Minibar. Despite the fact that the band's last album (Road Moves released on the Universal label) was great...the excessive marketing and manufacturing campaign left thousands upon thousands of copies unbought on web sites, in used record stores, and even at yard sales. And that is a shame...because these London transplants have a great deal to offer. Perhaps Fly Below the Radar...released on a smaller label...will solve the problem. The album is at least as good...if not better...than Road Moves. Like its predecessor, the album features wildly melodic pop that is polished to perfection. The band's three part harmonies are virtually perfect. For those who love pure pop, it just doesn't get much better than this. This album is chock full of lush, hummable, and beautiful gems. Transfixing tunes include "It Is What It Is," "Somebody Down Here Loves You," "Badlands," and "Snake Buckle Belt." Fantastic stuff. (Rating: 5++)

Melon Galia - Les Embarras du Quotidien (CD, Grenadine, French pop)
Well written and beautifully constructed French pop. Unlike other French artists who write and sing in English...these folks made the intelligent decision to sing in their native language. Les Embarras du Quotidien was first released in the Belgium in 2000 and was only released in North America this year (courtesy of the fine folks at Canada's Grenadine label). Produced in part by babysue favorite John Cunningham and mixed by Mike Mogis, this album is destined to be a favorite all over the world. Melon Galia tunes do not sound like other French pop we have heard. This band works in a more adventurous territory...often incorporating a wide variety of instruments into their music. And their songs are anything but predictable. The band was begun by friends Thierry De Brouwer and Samir Barris who met at the University of Brussels. The pair eventually hooked up with Frederic Van Bever and Aurelie Muller...and the band was born. It is difficult to come up with comparisons here. These tunes are complex, beautiful, haunting, and quite mesmerizing indeed. The arrangements are absolutely stunning. Killer stuff. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

A Tribute to Bill Monroe - The Legend Lives On (Double CD, Audium / Koch, Country/pop)
With the recent resurgence of bluegrass music...what could be more timely than a whopping double CD featuring premium artists covering the music of Bill Monroe? This is an absorbing and thoroughly entertaining endeavor...featuring the talents of Ricky Skaggs, John Hartford, Marty Stuart, The Whites, Ralph Stanley, Charlie Daniels, Jim & Jesse, Connie Smith, Del McCoury, Bill Carlisle, Larry Sparks, The Bluegrass Boys, Jerry & Tammy Sullivan, Tim O'Brien, and James Monroe (whew!). Each disc contains thirteen tracks featuring individual artists...and then on the fourteenth track all the artists get together for an intense encore. A DVD and VHS of this concert will be released simultaneously (initially only available through donations to PBS). This set is bound to please old and young fans alike. Some of this stuff makes punk music sound...quite SLOW and TIRED (!). (Rating: 5)

The New Constitution - On 4 (CD, Audello, Pop)
The seventies revival continues. Chicago's The New Constitution play pop/rock with obvious 1970s influences and connections...particularly from the British perspective. This band's overall sound and approach reminds us very much of The Sights. The music is bright, melodic, and upbeat...yet the band retains an energetic crunch that prevents the music from coming off too sugary sweet. The guys in The New Constitution cite Badfinger and T. Rex as their main influences...but the music bears only slight resemblances to these bands. Plenty of pure friendly feelgood tunes here...including "Shook Last Night," "No Easy Way," "Lies About It," and "East Lawn." (Rating: 4+)

Nothingface - Skeletons (CD, TVT, Hard rock)
Infamous leather and zipper-faced heavy rockers Nothingface have developed a hardcore fan base over the years. While Skeletons contains plenty of the band's well-known abrasive roar...the band's fans...as well as other listeners...may be very surprised to discover how much progressive pop/rock is included on this album. It is doubtful the band's fan base is changing yet...but if this album is any indication, this band may be making a slow but calculated overhaul of their sound. As far as lyrics and song titles go...things haven't changed one bit. Those who have been intrigued by the band's nasty side will be fascinated by cuts like "Murder is Masturbation," "I Wish I Was a Communist," and "Big Fun at the Gallows." For our own personal tastes...we are more impressed by the band's more melodic and articulate side ("In Avernus" is a good example of this). In the case of Nothingface...there truly is more there than meets the eye. (Rating: 5)

The Parkinsons - A Long Way To Nowhere (CD, Elevator Music, Rock)
In the grand tradition of The Stooges, The Sex Pistols, and The Dead Boys...Britain's The Parkinsons have come along to (once again) give rock music a bad name. (Note that no one in the band is named Parkinson...the band is named after the disease.) These guys have a reputation for getting naked and raising holy hell. After hearing the first six songs on this album we were skeptical...but then "Scientists" came up and made believers out of us. The tune is an exhausting exercise in extreme, chaotic rock and roll...and gives an indication of what these guys probably really sound like. The other standout tune on this album is "Pill" which was recorded live at the Tune Inn (Sid Vicious would be proud). While this album may not capture the band's energy and spirit in all of its filthy, bloody glory (our bet is that The Parkinsons are mainly a live act at this point)...it most certainly will give many listeners a badly needed shot in the arm. Is this 2003...or 1977? Good stuff. (Rating: 4++)

The Peppermints - Sweet Tooth Abortion (CD, Pandacide, Noisy rock)
Rough, sloppy, and energetic. This trashy little Southern California trio don't seem to give a goddamn about commercial appeal. As a result, Sweet Tooth Abortion is a strange and funny journey into the minds of three young, determined, and demented souls. In the current environment where so many bands are struggling for a clean digital sound...these folks seem determined to insert as much distortion and noise into their music as possible. The band consists of Lil G'Broagfran, M-ron Hubbard, and Grim Graham. We are not certain whether or not the band intends to be funny...but their music made us laugh. Seeing as how we like to laugh...we got some major kicks out of Sweet Tooth Abortion. It's a hell-driven, nasty little platter that is a definite slap in the face to the world of commercial music. Tired of bands who take themselves too seriously and try way too hard...? If so, then you may get a major charge out of The Peppermints. We did. Good, hard, and funny. (Rating: 4+++)

Pinback - Offcell (CD EP, Absolutely Kosher, Pop)
Bright, shimmering, smart, inventive, slightly obtuse pop with a difference. We had a feeling we were going to love Pinback...mainly because band member Rob Crow was once a member of the hypnotically inventive Optiganally Yours. In this band, Crow collaborates with Armistead Burwell Smith. Together, the two come up with some challenging and nifty compositions. The instrumentation is unusual...while the vocals are direct and always right on key. Lots of ingenious studio tricks here...pushing these tracks to an entirely new and appealing level. Our only gripe is that after the fifth tune ended...we wanted the disc to keep playing. Ahhh...such is the case with EPs by nifty bands... (Rating: 5)

Radial Angel - One More Last Time (CD, Warner Bros., Christian rock)
You can bet on one thing. Christian rock music has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. Years ago you could always spot a Christian band because they had (a) a nice clean look and (b) a nice clean sound. Nowadays it is difficult to tell who believes what because there are lots and lots of angry, loud Christian bands...and lots of very soft, soothing, and sweet Atheist bands. It is all VERY CONFUSING INDEED (!). But beliefs aren't what matters. Music is what matters. We don't really care what anyone believes...as long as they make good music. Oklahoma's Radial Angel provide plenty of good, solid rock tunes with soaring melodies supported by a big arena rock sound. The band has a clean accessible sound that is balanced by a nice, masculine rock thrust. Vocalist Jared Taber has a nice, masculine, varied singing style that really makes this band's epic compositions work. Top picks: "Give," "Something," "It's Over." (Rating: 4++)

Sock Angels - I See What I've Done Wrong (CD-R, Year of the Tiger, Soft pop)
Daniel Moriarty returns with the third full-length Sock Angels release. For this outing, Daniel is joined by Mandy Walters (vocals, piano, percussion) and Martha Moriarty (violin, melodica). Moriarty's tunes are soft and easy on the ears. His melodies are memorable and catchy...and yet you always get the feeling that this man isn't trying too hard (something many artists are certainly guilty of...!). These compositions have a nice personal touch...which just might be due to the fact that Daniel writes, records, and releases his music independently. As with prior releases, the tunes on this album bear similarities to Sparklehorse...although the similarities are beginning to fade...shedding more light on Moriarty's own unique vision and style. We particularly love the strange and slightly epic sound of "Dear Jane." Very nice stuff. Don't expect to find this out there in the real world...you'd be better off visiting the Sock Angels web site for more info (link above)... (Rating: 4+++)

SouthFM - Drama Kids (CD, MCA, Pop/rock)
Exceedingly commercial pop/rock music. Dallas-based SouthFM have a sound that is remarkably similar to Duran Duran. The band's churning, pop-oriented rock music is slick and calculated...and idea is obviously to achieve fame and fortune. Despite all of this, this band actually has some decent songs. We like "Dear Claudia" and we particularly enjoy the unexpected sounds of "Because It Was You." If the guys in SouthFM would take a few more chances with their music...the end result would be infinitely more entertaining music. Taken at face value, this album is simply...a "good listen"... (Rating: 3+)

Sukilove - Sukilove (CD, Hidden Agenda, Soft pop)
The pop project spearheaded by The Netherlands' Pascal Deweze...who is also a member of the country-influenced band Chitlin' Fooks. Deweze writes classical pop music. His tunes are highly melodic and direct...and they are not marred by the latest electronic gadgets, "hip noise," or obnoxiously famous guest artists. Nothing seems to stand in the way of this man and his knack for writing endearing pop gems. In addition to Deweze, the band consists of Stoffel Verlackt (drums, percussion, vocals, piano, horn arrangements), Pieter Van Buyten (bass, background chatter), and Helder Deploige (electric guitars, vocals). There are plenty of mesmerizing moments on this album. "Talking in the Dark" virtually floored us with its uplifting feelgood melody and sparkling arrangement. The strangely Nilsson-like sound of "Did You Ever Feel So Lonely?" is a sparse yet effective peculiar symphonic pop drone. "Please Don't Ever Change" is simply...an emotional masterpiece. Pascal Deweze is an exceptional new talent. His tunes that come straight from his heart. Wonderful. (Rating: 5++)

Swell - Bastards and Rarities: 1989-1994 (CD, Badman, Pop)
Despite the fact that they have released plenty of swell albums...San Francisco's Swell remain an obscure delight for a small number of fans across the United States (the band has, however, received more recognition overseas). The Badman label seems to have a reputation for picking up exceptional artists forgotten by other labels...and once again, their dependable sniffing abilities have paid off. As the title implies, this album is a collection of odds and ends recorded between 1989 and 1994...and it offers an interesting glimpse of this band's more obtuse side. Just as is the case with all Swell albums, this disc takes several listens to sink in. But the time is well spent...because the material gets better the more familiar it becomes. Swell tunes are not obvious. The most interesting aspects of the band's music are subtle. Ten tracks that all churn a groovy hum. Neat. (Rating: 4+++)

Thicke - A Beautiful World (CD, Interscope, Soul/pop)
The folks at Interscope have a real ace in the hole here... Singer/songwriter/producer Robin Thicke has hit the target dead center with this release. A Beautiful World is one of the best soul albums of the past decade. Thicke began his career as a producer...but eventually worked his way into the spotlight with his own music. A wise decision...as this man is obviously best suited to write and perform his own music rather than simply take a backseat to the endeavors of others. Those who miss the simple, direct, and emotionally effective soul music from the 1960s and 1970s...will find this album highly rewarding. The music is upbeat, melodic, and extremely danceable. Thicke is the ultimate blue-eyed soul boy. His compositions are the perfect balance of all the best elements from both black and white pop. Listeners will find it difficult not to fall in love with cuts like "Oh Shooter," "Flowers In Bloom," "Brand New Jones," and "Lazy Bones." There isn't a bad track on this album. Delivering the goods from start to finish...Robin Thicke has come up with an album that works on all levels. Killer stuff. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Rafael Toral - Electric Babyland / Lullabies (CD, Tomlab, Ambient/electronic/guitar)
Anyone who begins their album with a soft, subtle, almost inaudible solitary audio tone for two minutes...deserves BONUS POINTS (!). Offbeat electronic artist Rafael Toral obviously isn't targeting his music at a large audience. Instead, his heady experimental compositions are meant only for that small group of people who prefer their music minimal, understated, and hypnotic. Listening to this music gives us the same exact feeling we get when looking through a kaleidoscope. Toral's songs are extraordinarily subtle and sparse...yet startling effective. The dreamlike soundscapes this man creates are strange and otherworldly...yet they have the strange of effect of calming the nerves and putting the listener in a state similar to meditation. While on the surface this music may sound simple, it actually took a great deal of time and concentration to create it. Heady and atmospheric in the best way possible...this album is a luxury for those willing to dabble in the unknown. Superb. (Rating: 5+++)

The Trailer Park Troubadours - The Live Experience (CD, Rugburn Records, Country/pop)
R.J. "Antsy" McClain and Stephen Foster are The Trailer Park Troubadours. Emerging from the unlikely town of Screamin' Holler, Kentucky...these guys have made quite a name for themselves on a variety of different levels. These two slightly odd looking gentlemen create music that is surprisingly accessible and upbeat. This album is exactly what the title suggests...the two recorded live in concert. McClain and Foster are obviously crowd pleasers, as is evidenced by the reaction from the audience on this album. This particular performance includes eighteen melodic numbers...including "Living in Aluminum," "Mud Wrasslin' At Pinky's," "Weenies & Beans," and "Billboard." Fun and funny...intelligent and thought provoking... (Rating: 4+++)

Rhonda Vincent - One Step Ahead (Advance CD-R, Rounder, Bluegrass/pop)
Chosen as Female Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association, vocalist/mandolin player Rhonda Vincent is obviously a rising star. One Step Ahead is a lively journey into the world of modern bluegrass...with integrity and respect for the past. Vincent's got a voice that could stop kittens in their tracks. Her heartfelt, smooth vocals magically pull the listener into her world. Vincent surrounds herself with some of the best players in the business. Alison Krauss even makes a guest appearance on the tune "One Step Ahead of the Blues." This album clearly shows why Rhonda Vincent has received so much recognition. This young lady has earned her well-deserved success through talent, dedication, and hard work. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

World Leader Pretend - Fit for Faded (Independently released CD, Progressive pop)
Amazingly mature music from such a young band. Most beginning musicians start out playing power punk or easy pop...but not these guys. Instead, the members of World Leader Pretend write and record complicated pop music that is reminiscent of bands like 10CC and Utopia. While songwriters Keith Ferguson and Parker Hutchinson obviously focus on melodies...they also consider arrangements to be just as critical in getting their messages across. The compositions on Fit for Faded range from pop to rock to jazz. Many of the tunes are understated and far from obvious. The music isn't instantly catchy...but rather slowly dissolves into the diluted consciousness. Interesting stuff. Our favorites are "Panic Button," "Fire With Fire," and "Theme." (Rating: 4+++)

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