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October 2001 Reviews by

The Bad Wizard
The Black Widows
Shane Caldwell

Call and Response 
Charlatans UK
Comment Piece
The Court and Spark
Dan Dilego

The Dragons

40 Below Summer
Flyte Reaction
Scott Garth
Lee Gibson
The Goblins
The Goddamn Gentlemen

Haymarket Riot
James William Hindle
Joy Electric*
Matty & Mossy

Medicine Ball
Jeff Mellin
Million Yen
The Mockers
The Nectarine No. 9

S.I. Futures
The Sights
Sorry About Dresden
SS Bountyhunter

Joe Stampley

The Strawberry Smell
They Come In Threes
This Beautiful Mess

The Timeout Drawer
Toys That Kill*

Suzanne Vega*
Mike Walker
Will Haven

*Top Picks


October 2001 Comment Piece:

What time is now, this time in October 2001? Answer is easy. Now is HAPPY FUNTIME. All things point to happy, and best thing for always doing is for having FUNTIME. No time for walk, is time for jolly SKIP! No time for frown, is time for LARGE SMILING! No time for disappoint and sad, is instead time for LAUGH and JOLLY! Looking at everyone so unhappy and so upset, and for what reason? No reason for sad, bad, upset, or anxious. If there reason for being, then reason is ignoring all and be up, up, UP. We so "up" we almost have no way of "standing" how up we being. Everything is seeming very, VERY funny right now. The more we look and the more we listen...the more we laugh, laugh, LAUGH. Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA! All is very ridiculous! Next time you start for being upset, remember to look underneath superficial surface to realize the OTHER side of all! Is very, very EASY! Is so really super much IS very much right NOW!

The Bad Wizard - Free and Easy (CD, Tee Pee, Hard cock rock)
YowwwwwwwWWWWWEEEE!!! The Bad Wizard is a one hell of a wild, loud, incredible rock and roll band. Originally formed in Athens, Georgia in 1999, these guys headed up to New York City and hit the big time (at least on the local NYC circuit). One listen to Free and Easy will explain everything. These guys have a simple and incredibly effective formula. Turn way, way up...and just LET THE HELL LOOSE. These guys' tunes possess a wild, carefree attitude that is sadly missing in most super loud rock bands. The rhythm section is one of the best we've heard in recent memory...and once you hear the vocalist you will never forget him. The overall approach reminds us of the Candy Snatchers except these guys rock harder and have a very slight blues influence in their music. This is the sort of thing that makes it virtually IMPOSSIBLE for the listener to stay still. Hard driving classics like "Lay Your Love On Me," "Hey Mama" (this KICKS ASS!!!), "Keep High/Stay Low," and "Come In" ought to please even the most jaded fans out there. Intense and OUT OF CONTROL. (Rating: 5++)

Bigwig - An Invitation to Tragedy (CD, Fearless, Hard rock/thrash)
Whew. Not many folks will be able to handle the audio onslaught of Bigwig. This band has a big, nasty, super fast and super loud sound that will leave most people folded in neat little piles in the back of the bus. In a possible attempt to be sensitive to the ears of their listeners', the band does occasionally slow down enough so that folks can comprehend a word or two (for example, "Moosh"). But that is the rare case, as this album is like a virtual non-stop blur of frenzied adrenaline. Anyone care for a few lines of crystal speed? This one will leave older folks running for the hills...all the while causing the kids at the band's shows to lose their minds in an uncontrolled mass of sweaty exhilaration... (Rating: 4++)

The Black Widows - Arocknaphobia (CD, Vital Gesture, Rock/instrumental)
Ahhh...mystery...MYSTERY... The masked men in The Black Widows aren't giving away their identities...but we have it on good authority that the band includes members of The BellRays, The Excessories, Gizmos, and The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. We can't confirm any of this, of course, as the band members cover their heads with what appear to be black stockings (???). But names and appearances aren't nearly as important as music...and that's where The Black Widows shine. It seems as if over the past two or three years there has been a growing number of all instrumental rock bands popping up all over everywhere. Could it be that the band Karma To Burn started this new trend...? In any event, the Widows are a truly rockin' little band...and they churn out no less than eighteen rockers on the humorously titled Arocknaphobia. Hot, loud, raw, and raucous...this is dance music for those who don't mind getting their panties turned inside out. No web sites for the band or record label that we know of... (Rating: 4+++)

Shane Caldwell - Drive Time (CD, Rush Hour, Comedy)
Remember Lily Tomlin's Modern Scream album? It was a wonderfully overlooked comedy release that really pushed the limits of what a person could do with a comedy album. Shane Caldwell's Drive Time reminds us very much of Modern Scream in style and overall feel. This is NOT an album where a comedian stands in front of an audience and delivers a monologue. Instead, this album consists of a series of 26 meticulously recorded comedy pieces...pieces in which Mr. Caldwell assumes a wide variety of personalities...often within the space of the same sketch. Caldwell spent about two years making this...and it shows. The best part is that, while this obviously took a lot of work, overall this album comes off sounding fresh and spontaneous. Caldwell's "comedy for the common man" should appeal to many folks...but probably folks in particular who are into country music. (Many of the characters on the album are rednecks and rural rejects.) There are plenty of chuckles to be had here. Our favorites are "Thai Food," "Rehab," "Andy & Barney," and "Have A Goddun." Irreverent and ridiculous...this guy is not afraid to let loose and just be SILLY. (Rating: 4+

California - California (CD, Trauma, Rock)
Such an obvious name for a band and yet...apparently no one ever went with it before...? Like the name, the band California is obvious. These guys are not trying to break any new ground...to offend anyone...to test their listeners endurance levels... Instead, this is a band that simply wants to entertain their audience. And from what we hear on this album, the band's fans are probably more than satisfied. California tunes are thickly produced excursions into melodic pop/rock that are very much in the vein of John Cougar Mellencamp. Call it Americana, if you will...because the tunes on this album are appealing to your average music listener. For our own admittedly peculiar tastes, this doesn't really rock our boat correctly...but we're including this review and link for those of you out there who like and prefer "easy" stuff. Lots of potential hits for the FM radio market. (Rating: 3)

Call and Response - Call and Response (CD, Emperor Norton / Kindercore, Pop)
Interesting simple pop music. Call and Response sound something like a more streamlined and readily accessible version of Stereolab. The vocals and overall sound are similar, but these folks play pure and direct pop as opposed to the bizarre textured experimental sounds of les lab de la stereo. That is not to say, however, that this band does not occasionally delve into their own unique little quirky bag of electronic tricks. Those who are unable to enjoy the positive side of the universe should be forewarned that this band's music is extremely light and happy (a good case in point is the wonderfully boppy "Lightbulb"). It is interesting indeed how the pop sounds of San Francisco and Athens seem to be merging in some kind of odd, accidental freak of nature. But we should be grateful for whatever force has caused the music of the two cities to be intertwined, because it is good for everyone. Our favorite here is the curiously addictive "The Fool," which features great lyrics and a totally absorbing chorus. While this band's music is upbeat and positive, they should not be dismissed as fluff. The songs on this album showcase a band with substance, style, and talent. (Rating: 5)

Charlatans UK - Wonderland (CD, MCA, Pop)
This is the seventh album from Charlatans UK. Wonderland sounds much like what we heard from this British band many years ago. Charlatans UK are playing and staying in the same basic musical territory...slightly dub-influenced dance/pop. The album starts off with the aptly titled "You're So Pretty-We're So Pretty," a tune that reminds us of some of the Rolling Stones later work. The same is true of the tune "I Just Can't Get Over Losing You," a surprisingly bluesy/funky number with falsetto vocals. Interestingly, our favorite track on the album is "The Bell and the Butterfly," which is an instrumental. This is slick stuff...but these guys have enough style and class to pull it off. There are plenty of tunes on this album that will please the band's original fans, while still pushing things just enough so that nothing goes stale in the process... (Rating: 4)

Clarias - Intro (CD, Coast To Coast, Pop)
This is the debut by Boston's Clarias. This band plays an odd combination of folk, pop, jazz, funk, and guitar rock. What is probably most unusual about this band is that they utilize a saxophone a great deal of the time...an instrument that is not usually associated with underground pop/rock bands. It works. The strange, unpredictable jazzy sax gives the band's tunes an unusual twist. The vocals sound not unlike Sting which puts us off somewhat... If the vocals were a bit more laid back we think they would merge better with the instruments. But what do we know? Sheesh...we're just goddamn music reviewers (yechhhhhhh...). In any event, Clarias is a good band off to a good start. Nice debut. With a bit more fine tuning, we'd be even more impressed... (3+)

The Court and Spark - Bless You (CD, Absolutely Kosher, Soft pop)
Nice, smooth stuff with a wonderful lack of pretentiousness, The Court and Spark is a band of four fellows who do not follow trends nor do they use gimmicks. The band's songs are basic soft pop with just a hint of country. The vocals...as well as the tunes...are understated. And yet the band still has a certain commercial appeal that is unusual in the world of underground pop. Our favorite track on this album is the subtle and sparse "Marlborough Sound," which features a lovely yet very simply plucked acoustic guitar. Another great cut (and one of the more country influenced) is "Pearly Gates," which features a strangely catchy chorus...as well as some really cool guitar lines. This is a band that won't blow you over instantly...but will rather creep into your consciousness and provide plenty of good entertainment in the years ahead... (Rating: 4+++)

Crashpalace - Crashpalace (CD, Trauma, Rock)
Thick, heavy, loud, dense, and melodic. Australia's Crashpalace is a band that manages to successfully combine loud guitars, driving rhythms, melodic catchy phrases, and mind-bending instrumentation. These gentlemen are quite showy in their presentation...but that's okay, because their songs have enough depth and integrity to hold up under scrutiny. The band's loud numbers ought to please fans of Smashing Pumpkins (before bad ol' baldy got so goddamn full of itself). The loud stuff sounds just fine...but the mid-tempo numbers are particularly outstanding. Our favorite track here is "Sit and Watch the Sky," which has familiar cloudy echoes of The Beatles running through its veins. We also like the moody, slightly surreal sounds of "Two Kinds." On this self-titled album, these guys prove themselves to be both credible and entertaining. Next time around, we'd like to hear a bit more of the mid-tempo stuff and just a bit less of the loud rockers...mainly because they seem more original sounding. That is a minor point of dispute overall, however, as this band obviously has its act together. (Rating:4++)

Dan Dilego - The Lonestar Hitchhiker (CD, Kingcut, Pop)
Nice earthy pop music with hints of Americana. Don Dilego has been bopping around the music scene for years but he, like most musicians, has run into his share of obstacles along the way. After seeing label deals fall through and leaving his previous band (Standing On Earth), Deligo finally decided to release an album on his own. The Lonestar Hitchhiker is a strong debut. It presents a man who is obviously confident about who he is and what he is doing. The title track here ought to be a big hit...although only time will tell. The song has a nice loose feel and some cool slide guitar work that make it appealing. Actually there are a great many tunes on this album that would make solid hits. "The Vegas Man!," "Ohio Fight Song," "Mister Goodwill"......these are all direct and catchy compositions. Interestingly, the last two tunes on the album are our favorites. "Texas Motel" has a wonderfully winding melody and great harmonies. "Goodnight, Aliens" is even better...a soft and subdued piece which shows just how good this guy's voice is... (Rating: 4++)

The Dragons - Rock n Roll Kamikaze (CD, Junk, Rock)
Really good pulsing loud guitar rock. Unlike many hard rock bands, The Dragons look and sound genuine. This is the band's fourth album for the Junk label, but it contains the intensity and excitement of a band that has just recorded their first album. The songs on Roll n Roll Kamikaze are basic loud rock tunes with wild out-of-control guitars and a really believable raspy vocalist. We can hear traces of The Stooges as well as The Candy Snatchers. This is a wild ride, and gives a good indication that these guys are a real force to be reckoned with in concert. Our favorites here are "Life Is Cheap," "Crying," and "Like It's a Bad Thing." (Rating: 4)

Dredg - Leitmotif (CD, Universal / Interscope, Progressive rock)
Complex and intelligent progressive rock music. This album was originally released in 1999 and is being reissued by Interscope this year. With so many flash-in-the-pan bands going through the motions, coming across a band like Dredg is refreshing. The band stands out for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are extremely proficient on their instruments. Actually, a great many of the tunes on Leitmotif are reminiscent of some of the dinosaur progressive rock bands of the 1970s...except this band has a harder edge that creeps up at times. Particularly appealing are the instrumental passages on this album that border on jazz. The vocalist is somewhat of an arena rock frontman...so expect this band to go over big with consumers. We could have done without the bonus "junk" at the end of the disc (???). Good stuff. Not ground breaking, but good... (Rating: 4-)

40 Below Summer - Invitation to the Dance (CD, London-Sire, Hard progressive rock)
40 Below Summer is an extremely loud and abrasive band. But even though they can truly blare out some really intense noise, this band also proves on Invitation to the Dance that they are intelligent and creative...and much more than just another band of devil worshiping hippies (hyuk, hyuk, hyuk...). But even though this five-piece band may present tunes that are much smarter than your average death metal band...most folks are still not going to be able to handle their music because of those lethal blasts of intense noise that the band lashes out quite frequently. But what makes this palatable is the fact that there are all kinds of progressive threads running through the music as well. It's almost like combining thrash music from the 1980s with progressive bands from the 1970s...and then jamming it chock full of the intense energy associated with bands of the present day. M. Shawn Crahan of Slipknot was the executive producer of this project, so the band probably already has a built in audience. Good stuff, if you can take it... (Rating: 4)

Flyte Reaction - Sensilla (CD, Rubric, Rock/pop)
One thing we've learned over the past couple of years is that if a CD is on the Rubric label...it HAS to be a a "keeper." Rubric released this under license from England's Woronzow label (owned by the Bevis Frond). What makes Rubric so great is that it is one of the few American labels that releases great British stuff that is bubbling under the surface. Flyte Reaction is a good example. This obscure little band recorded this album at The Chicken Shack and Sardine Sound (love those names...) on 8-track analog. This could explain why this band's sound is so stripped down and warm. There are a great many sounds and ideas on this album. From the straight ahead pop of "Candy Girl," the band then delivers the pensive and beautiful "Swim Around the Moon." These guys don't just stick to pop formulas however. Check out the fourteen minute plus "Dark Rain Falling," which features some slightly psychedelic guitar droning. Our favorite song here is the subtle and slightly goofy "Toasty." This particular tune reminds us of The Beatles and David Bowie. This is one of those albums that gives us the impression it was recorded for the pure love of making music. What could be better than that? (Rating: 4+++)

Scott Garth - Scott Garth (CD, My Records, Pop)
This would have been an easy CD to overlook. The record company didn't provide a lot of information in the package and the artist looks very much like many other artists... We're very glad that we just happened to be paying attention when we slipped this CD in for review, because Scott Garth has come up with a truly entertaining debut album that is more than worth your while. Mr. Garth's tunes are centered around an acoustic guitar, but he does not come off as a folkie. Instead, this fellow concentrates on writing and recording sincere, introspective pop music that is particularly strong on melodies. And Jesus Christ Almighty...what a VOICE this guy has. Garth can insert more real emotion into 30 seconds than most folks can impart in the space of an entire album. The best part? This guy isn't trying too hard. Instead, he seems to just let his true instincts guide him. Favorite tracks: "Cretin Velour," "Horse," "Magdalene," "Bandit's Ruse," and "Faith." This is bound to become an underground favorite and will, hopefully, develop an audience for a young fellow who truly does have his act together. (Rating: 5)

Lee Gibson - Somewhere Other Than Here (CD, Garageband, Country/pop)
Very strong debut from a new country artist with a hell of a voice and a real knack for writing catchy tunes. Lee Gibson kicks this album off with what ought to be a hit. "Tennessee Rain" is an excellent upbeat country pop number with a great melody and excellent harmonies. But that's just the beginning, as Somewhere Other Than Here sounds very much like a non-stop string of country/pop hits. Other standout tracks include "What Else Could You Do," "Does She Know," and "Somewhere Other Than Here." The production is excellent, and the guitars are loud and up front in the mix. There were no web sites included with this promotional package, so your best bet to score a copy of this would be to visit CDbaby.com. A word of advice. Don't be misled by the cover art. While the packaging leaves something to be desired, the music inside is all Grade A stuff... (Rating: 4++)

The Goblins - Missing Fits (CD, My Pal God, Rock)
"What a silly, SILLY band you have, Grandmother! And what a silly, silly HARDCORE band you have, Grandmother! Are the stories really true that the songs on your album came from mysteriously lost Misfits tunes that were found inside the coffin that the band once used onstage, Grandmother?" The Goblins obviously have a sense of humor. Their physical appearance is a mockery of bands like the aforementioned Misfits as well as the currently hip and stylish Slipknot. The music sounds something like the Misfits, the Ramones, and even The Cramps at times. You never know quite what to expect from the folks at My Pal God...and this is a good example of why this is. Is this a novelty....or something more? And is the story behind the CD...actually TRUE??? Funny stuff, entertaining as well... (Rating: 4+++)

The Goddamn Gentlemen - Sex-Caliber Horsepower (CD, Upper Cut, Hard rock)
We KNEW we were going to love this one before we even slammed it in the goddamn socket. What a GREAT goddamn band name!!! The Goddamn Gentlemen play loud, wild, out-of-control rock music with fury and intense focus. Instead of using tricks...or gimmicks...these five gentlemen seem to content to simply churn out simple, head-banging rock music like there's no tomorrow. The band's harsh, loud guitar rock is centered around solid 4/4 rhythms and a vocalist who absolutely sends this into the next hemisphere. It's obvious from the song titles that the band has a solid sense of humor ("Odd Rod," "Chuck's Bleedin' on the Street," "Duck, You Sucka"). The photo of guitars on fire on the insert gives the listener a good indication of what the music is like. This band absolutely BURNS. Great loud rock played JUST RIGHT. Goddamn. Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn, GODDAMN!!! (Rating: 5)

Haymarket Riot - Bloodshot Eyes (CD, Thick, Progressive hard rock)
Smart loud rock band with occasional snippets of pop. Haymarket Riot is first and foremost a guitar band. On Bloodshot Eyes these guys come up with some very smart and unique guitar riffs...and, for the most part, these are layered over a loud, pumping rhythm section. But what separates this band from the others is the fact that the men in the band aren't afraid to lower the volume occasionally and let their more melodic tendencies shine through. This is particularly appealing on such tracks as "Tasting a Good Movie," "Placid," "A Needle That Skips," and "Wax!" When the band is in loud mode, the vocalist reminds us of early Alice Cooper...although the tunes themselves are actually quite different. We always appreciate it when a band successfully delves into several musical universes all at once...and that is exactly where Haymarket Riot excels... (Rating: 4+++)

James William Hindle - James William Hindle (CD, Badman, Soft pop)
Calm, reflective, and poignant. On his self-titled album, James William Hindle demonstrates a unique command of his domain. His songs are strong, well constructed, and extremely mature. These compositions are based around an acoustic guitar, but the music is by no means mere folk. Instead, Hindle's sweeping melodies and well written lyrics shed spotlight on a man whose songs have an amazing depth. The vocals, while understated much of the time, come across sounding extremely sincere and unaffected. We particularly like "Remember My Markings" which features a great arrangement for strings. Interestingly, Mr. Hindle opted to cover one of our favorite tunes of all time...the extremely sad and remorseful "I Started A Joke" by the Bee Gees. The song features a lone guitar and single vocal take...and yet James somehow manages to do justice to the tune based squarely on his concentration and technical skill. We also like the subtle stylings of "The List of You & Me" and the impeccably arranged "Brooklyn Song." There are hundreds of thousands of guys out there carrying acoustic guitars on their backs...but there are few indeed who could match this young man in terms of sheer talent. Strong stuff. (Rating: 5)

Hydroplane - The Sound of Changing Places (CD, Drive-In, Atmospheric soft pop)
Very soft and sparse atmospheric pop music with slightly eerie electronics. The press release that accompanied this CD probably best sums up this band's sound by describing it as "a more experimental version of Saint Etienne." Hydroplane is the duo of Kerrie Bolton (vocals) and Andrew Withycombe (electronics). One is almost tempted to refer to this as lo-fi electronic music because Mr. Withycombe exercises such extreme restraint in his arrangements. Whereas your average modern day electronic composer layers and layers their music to the point of overkill, this fellow does the exact opposite. This approach leaves these tunes sounding naked and, at times, as if they were not completed. Ms. Bolton's breathy, distant vocals fit perfectly. After hearing too many overproduced artists, we find the music of Hydroplane to be a refreshing change. There are no hits here, but rather gentle slices of experimental art... (Rating: 4)

Joy Electric - Legacy Volume One: The White Songbook (CD, BEC Recordings, Electronic pop)
Joy Electric is an intriguing and wonderful band for a great many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that most reviewers seem to ABHOR the band. We can't understand exactly why this is, except for the fact that most supposedly "hip" and "cool" writers out there don't seem to be able to absorb obviously happy music. Here in the pompous yet necessary offices of babysue, we love extremes. It can be evil and loud...or as sweet and happy as pumpkin pie...but we almost always find extremes to be interesting. Ronnie Martin is a man on the extreme side of the positive and the upbeat. In both his writing as well as his presentation, this man always provides uplifting upbeat pop music that is probably too goofy for most folks...as well as too honest and heartfelt. We have loved the approach from the moment we first heard this guy's music. And we are proud to report that this album is somewhat of a return to the original sound of the band's first album. The tunes are melodic and bubblegummy...and they are laced with all kinds of electronic noodling that is reminiscent of early synthesizer bands of the 1970s. While we normally don't like anything that even borders on "preachy," somehow things like "The Good Will Not Be Cloned Or......" come off amazingly genuine and sincere. As usual, the quality is consistent throughout this entire album. Interesting note: This is the first CD that we have noticed to include the words "First Edition" on the inside of the front cover--NEAT idea (!). More folks should follow this example. One of the best songwriters...as well one of the most under recognized talents out there. Ronnie Martin continues to amaze and delight. And yes...we LOVE the new haircut...! (Rating: 5++)

Matty & Mossy - Fraimers Hamey (CD, Fleece, Abstract pop)
Obtuse guitar pop that often scampers into unknown territory. Matty & Mossy sound something like a more abstract version of Komeda...and that comparison holds true mainly on the basis of the female vocalist. This band comes up with some intriguing and effective guitar work throughout this album. Unlike the aforementioned Komeda, the folks in this band do not hit the listener with catchy choruses and repetitive lyrics. Instead, the songs are almost like accidental compositions that somehow magically hold together with unknown threads. Another comparison that comes to mind here is Slapp Happy...although these folks are not quite that strange. One thing is for certain. Matty & Mossy are not playing the game like other bands. Their material is thought provoking and unusual...and yet they somehow pull the listener in with their compelling and unusual style. Favorite tracks: "Christmas," "Simpatico," "Trojan Radio," "Shark Week." Really good stuff... (Rating: 5)

Medicine Ball - Fresh Ape (CD, Rubric, Pop/rock)
We don't hear of many bands who call Rhode Island their home. Medicine Ball hail from Providence...but that apparently hasn't held them back. (or hampered their fashion sensibilities). Though the band has been together for about ten years, this is the first thing we've heard from them. Impressive. Fresh Ape is the band's fourth full-length album, and it is chock full of smart guitar rock. The variety on Fresh Ape stems from the fact that there are three songwriters in the band: Don Sanders, Mark Stone, and Evan Williams. This is a CD we're going to have to play many more times before we can decide what we think of it...? Our initial reaction is good...but this could be one of those cases where ten or twenty plays down the road this becomes a true favorite. Hey...why not go to the band's web site and decide for YOURSELF...? (Not Rated)

Jeff Mellin - Good for a Gander (CD, Stereorrific, Pop)
We were going to describe this as folk/pop but somehow that didn't seem appropriate. Then it occurred to us that perhaps it was Americana...but that term is so damn...overused... We eventually settled on describing the music of Jeff Mellin as "organic pop," a phrase which pretty much sums up where this guy is coming from (although readers should be aware that these compositions do feature electric guitar). The tunes on Good for a Gander as basic, stripped down pop music with a nice genuine feel. They are not buried in effects and five billion vocals (an approach used by many modern pop bands). Instead, Mr. Mellin seems content to let his songs speak for themselves without the use of clutter. The songs are nice and mellow and flow by like a pleasant little stream in the forest. The vocals are smooth and sincere. Favorite tracks: "Blue Corduroy" and "There Ain't No Ash Will Burn." (Rating: 4++)

Million Yen - Blue Television Windows (CD, Veronica, Pop/rock)
Entertaining mid-tempo melodic rock music that is reminiscent of some of Bob Mould's better moments. Chicago's Million Yen is a band off to a great start. Blue Television Windows was recorded in their own studio, and they've already garnered quite a buzz across the nation...mostly on the basis of the tune "Chemical Drip." We like the song...but there are many other tracks on this album that are even more striking. Particular standouts for us include "Velveteen," "The Sweetest Boy" (sounds like a hit to us), "Seven Days," and "Superficial Things." The band's tunes are supported by thick, loud, fuzzy guitars and very basic rhythms. The only slight drawback to the album as a whole is that almost all the tunes sound very similar to one another. But...when you're dealing with melodies this good...does that really matter? No. Especially when you consider how goddamn good the good tracks really are. With just a bit of fine tuning in their overall approach these guys will easily rate a "5" or higher next time around... (Rating: 4)

The Mockers - Living in the Holland Tunnel (CD, One Eye Open, Pop)
After a stunning debut album that had a lot of listeners and reviewers groveling in the shadows, The Mockers had their work cut out for them in recording a second album. After all, how do you live up to all the praise? Well...if you're smart...you take your time writing another batch of killer tunes and then solicit Mitch Easter to produce. And that's just what The Mockers did. Living In the Holland Tunnel features twelve stunning little pop classics, chock full of chiming guitars and smooth vocals. In many ways the tunes on this album remind us of the vastly underrated Hang Ups...as well as The Young Fresh Fellows. The tunes are pop, but the melodies and arrangements have subtle odd qualities that make them sound unlike other pop tunes. This album holds up wonderfully as a whole, but standout tracks for us are "It Wasn't Just Me," "Sheepwalking," and "Robin's Problem." This may or may not be obtainable in your local record shop, so we would suggest going to the band's web site (link above). (Rating: 5+)

The Nectarine No. 9 - Received, Transgressed & Transmitted (British Import CD, Beggars Banquet, Pop)
Nice melodic pop music with all kinds of crazy accidental guitars and electronics sprinkled all over the background. This is the fourth album from this Edinburgh band, and the first on the Beggars Banquet label. This album has a weird mixture of sounds and styles that seem simultaneously heady, slightly psychedelic, and strangely intoxicating. There is certainly a lot more going on here than one normally hears on a pop album. For positive proof, check out "Pong Fat," "Susan Identifier," "It's Raining for Some Cloudy Reasons," and "Lid" (you've gotta LOVE those song titles!). Smart and inventive to be certain, this is one of those peculiar bands that is almost impossible to describe. We LOVE it. (Rating: 5++)

Nickelback - Silver Side Up (CD, Roadrunner, Hard rock)
Compared to most acts on the Roadrunner label, Nickelback is amazingly commercial. Not only that, they are much less tame than your average Roadrunner band. But that's not to say that these guys are lightweight, because most acts on this particular music label are intense death metal noise artists whose music goes well beyond the comprehension of most folks. Nickelback is a hard rock band for certain...but their songs contain standard things like verses and choruses (gasp!)...which means that a lot more people are going to get into the music. Apparently these guys are already experiencing major success with this album. They've scored a hit with the tune "How You Remind Me" and one of their videos is being shown on MTV. The closer you listen to this album, the more it becomes obvious that these guys possess a great many elements that could easily push them into the BIG time. Although this is most certainly arena rock, the band is much more entertaining than most arena rockers. Decent restrained hard rock for the masses. (Rating: 4)

Ozomatli - Embrace the Chaos (CD, Interscope, Latin/rock/hip hop/pop)
This CD started off sounding so great with a wonderful dance crazy Latin tune...but then instantly lapsed into the curse of crap rap and lost us altogether... Such a great start and then...oh lordy lordy...such a disappointment... (Rating: 2)

Readymade - One Point and Red (CD, Endearing, Drony pop/rock)
Into guitar drone? If so, Vancouver's Readymade will provide enough drone to make your head spin and your body fall comatose on the living room floor. On this, the band's second album, Readymade provide tune after tune of mind-numbing guitar droning pop music with spacey keyboards that will leave your brain dead and your body hungry for more. To the band's credit, they do not "uni-drone." Not only do they drone soft...but some of their drone scampers into some loud intense territory as well. The band's vocals are drenched in effects and mixed so as to be very unobtrusive. Our guess is that this band has listened to lots of Spiritualized over the past few years. With all this talk about drone, you might possibly be thinking that we are beginning to drone with this review. Such is not the case. We most certainly dig things that help us to numb our minds. Accordingly, we find this album to be haunting, strange, and inviting. Top picks: "Lightstrands," "Cold Lamping" (wow!), "No Longer Ortona," and "Adrift Ambition." This is not for everyone...nor does it try to be... (Rating: 4++++)

Sappington - Sappington (Independently released CD EP, Soft atmospheric pop)
Nice. Really, REALLY nice...and super smooth. San Francisco's Sappington is the duo of Ann Talbott and Keith Vidal. Together, the two write and record strangely haunting soft droning pop (for lack of a better word) that slowly creeps into your consciousness. The compositions on this EP are extraordinarily slow and restrained. The songs are based around an acoustic guitar and feature breathy, solemn vocals...and some wonderfully swirling/swishing electronics that sound something like ocean waves in the background. "Submarine Mission," the opening tune, is our favorite here...sounding something like a cross between Low and Brian Eno. Definitely a band to keep an eye on, these folks are starting off with a good solid release... (Rating: 4+++)

Saso - Big Group Hug (CD, Melted Snow, Atmospheric pop)
Since this group is British, we can't help but wonder if the album title was influenced by the Teletubbies...? (hardy har har...) Actually, Big Group Hug is anything BUT childish or silly. We reviewed a previous EP (Warmed Up) that this band sent us that we really enjoyed. Since that time, these folks have gotten much, MUCH better...and that's saying something, because they had already started off on a great footing. With this album, this band has all of their bases covered. The songs are wonderful and unique...the sound quality is superb...and the graphics are absolutely fantastic (the booklet/insert features some incredibly cool images). What more could any listener want? The band's songs are somewhat droning atmospheric pop compositions that are hypnotic and subtle. They creep into your consciousness almost without your knowledge. Saso experiment with instrumentals, but they also include fragments/sections with vocals. The vocalist has a wonderful and extremely understated vocal style that reminds us of Jeff Martin of the band Idaho. He sings in a breathy style that is almost a whisper, and it is most effective. The trippy electronics mix with some superb guitar work to create one of the best heady, ambient pop CDs we've heard this year. You probably won't find this in stores. Contact Melted Snow at the link above to obtain ordering information. This is worth seeking out. Absolutely WONDERFUL. (Rating: 5+++)

S.I. Futures - The Mission Statement (CD, Novamute / Mute, Electronic/dance)
S.I. Futures is the one man electronic project of Si Begg. Mr. Begg is yet another electronic artist who records under a slew of different names and releases music for a wide array of music labels. In addition to S.I. Futures, he has also released music under the monikers Bigfoot, CabbageBoy, and Buckfunk 3000. Confusing, isn't it? Fortunately...and for the moment at least...you only need to remember one name. Begg has already had a great deal of success with the last track on this album, the cleverly titled "We Are Not A Rock Band." Some of the tunes on The Mission Statement are built around straightforward dance beats, while others are more funky in nature (a good example of the latter is the wonderfully oblique "Assault On Precinct 14"). Our favorite is the collage-style "Ionic Funk," which is like a strange audio cut and paste segment. Good stuff for dancing...thinking...or just bopping around in your automobile... (Rating: 5)

The Sights - Are You Green? (CD, Fall of Rome, Rock/pop)
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it was about this band that first caught our attention. Part of the appeal was surely the lo-fi sound quality of this album (recently reissued by the folks at Fall of Rome). This album sounds very much like a young band who is just finding their ground and space...and the great excitement that these guys experienced recording this album comes through loud and clear. The music is basically pop/rock music with many similarities to bands from the 1960s and 1970s. Instead of just slamming out power chords, the guitarist has a really cool way of playing killer little guitar riffs that are difficult to resist. The rhythm section pumps gutsy juice without stopping...and the vocals are right on target. We can hear similarities to The Nazz as well as Jack Bruce (a man who the band obviously loves). In all honesty, the sound quality and slightly sloppy playing (which we love, by the way...) are probably going to alienate a lot of folks... But for those who like to hear a great band BEFORE they "hit it big"...well then, you may just wanna get your sloppy ol' paws on a copy of Are You Green? This is a totally rockin' and super cool little band that has all the key ingredients to become an underground legend. We cannot WAIT to hear what The Sights come up with next...(Rating: 4+++)

Sorry About Dresden - The Convenience of Indecision (CD, Saddle Creek, Rock/pop)
We made an error in not reviewing an EP from Sorry About Dresden that we received several months ago. We can hopefully mend the error of our ways by reviewing this, the band's latest album. Perhaps this is for the best...as this album is even stronger and more focused than the band's EP. This Chapel Hill band is led by Matt Oberst. If the last name seems familiar, you may be thinking of Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame). The two are brothers. Whereas Conor's band is rather obtuse and peculiar, Matt's music is more pop oriented...although this is by no means easy or simple pop music. This fellow's music is simultaneously reflective and subtle...and yet is still direct enough to make for some natural and easy listening. The guitar work on this album is outstanding and complex...and Oberst's vocals fit his music perfect stylistically. The lyrics are personal and have a nice genuine feel. Overall, this is an excellent album of moody pop. We rarely hear songs this strong. Even though the band has been around for a few years, this is their first full-length album. It was obviously worth the wait. KILLER. (Rating: 5++)

SS Bountyhunter - Serpents For Eggs (CD, Velvet Blue Music, Fuzzy, peculiar rock/pop)
This band sounds unlike any other band we have heard on the Velvet Blue Music label. We usually associate Velvet Blue with smooth, mid-tempo pop bands. But with the signing of SS Bountyhunter that is obviously not always the case. This band's thick, fuzzy, techno-driven, skewed pop/rock music has a great deal in common with bands from 1972...when there were lots of folks who really were pushing the limits of recording. Call this progressive pop, if you will. SS Bountyhunter tunes are free-floating excursions into semi-psychedelic terrain where vocals are secondary and effects and instruments rule the horizon. Lots of tunes to confuse the needy and perplex the shallow minded. Our top picks here are "Beating," "Through the Flames," "Just Before You Die," and "Broken I Stand." Although we'd bet the lyrics are intriguing, we can't say for sure...because we can't understand a DAMN word that these folks are saying (!). Distant, obscure, and anything but obvious... (Rating: 4+)

Joe Stampley - Somewhere Under the Rainbow (CD, Critter, Country/pop)
Even though we were not familiar with this man's name until this disc arrived in the mail, apparently Joe Stampley has led a long and successful career...and is a well-known figure in and around the Nashville music scene. Mr. Stampley has recorded over sixty...count that SIXTY...records that have charted in the United States. He originally came to fame as leader of the 1960s group The Uniques who had a hit with the tune "All These Things" (Stampley later re-recorded the song which went to #1 on the charts). Joe's son Tony Stampley is already following in his father's footsteps (on the Dreamworks music label)--he even appears on the last track of this album and co-wrote some of the tunes. But back to dad... Somewhere Under the Rainbow was self-produced, and the title track has already garnered a good deal of attention. Stampley presents a good choice of standards as well as his own tunes. The standards are good...but we definitely like Joe's own tunes best. Favorites "How Lucky Can One Man Be" and "Knock Down Drag Out." Fun stuff with a definite sense of humor and style... (Rating: 4)

Stereobate - Selling Out in the Silent Era (Independently released CD, Rock)
Somewhat difficult, somewhat abstract band with unusual qualities. This New York-based trio are very strong instrumentally. The playing on this album showcases a band with articulate instrumental skills and a real desire to do something different. Most of the time, they succeed. "The French Letter" is an absolutely absorbing instrumental number that features dynamite guitar work. Great moody piece that weaves in and out of the consciousness. Also interesting is the trippy, experimental sound of "Jazz is for Russians." Our favorite louder track is the excessive "False Porno Alarm," featuring guitars that would make Sonic Youth Proud. The song starts off like a lion and then scampers off into the pasture like a fluffed up little sheep. Interesting band with an interesting perspective. We like the instrumentals best... (Rating: 4)

Stereolab - Sound-Dust (CD, Elektra, Orchestrated surreal pop)
Music fans...and particularly music writers...can be so FICKLE. In the early years of their career, it seemed as if Stereolab could do no wrong in the eyes of music writers across the country. But as the band matured and got better...those same supporters suddenly began to turn on the band...claiming that they were in a rut and had run out of ideas. We loved Stereolab in their infancy...but we love their present sound and style even MORE. Sound-Dust reminds us in many ways of our favorite previous Stereolab album...Dots and Loops. The subtle somewhat drony electronics of these tunes tend to make the listener almost forget how cool the melodies are. And, as always, the vocals are as smooth as strawberry pudding on a day with plenty o' sunshine. Stereolab albums are almost always extremely consistent...and this is certainly the case with Sound-Dust. Our favorites here are the piano-based "Dust," the soft and subtle "The Black Arts," and the light and airy sounds of "Gus the Mynah Bird." Another crowd pleaser from one of the most esoteric bands on the planet. (Rating: 5++)

The Strawberry Smell - Odorama (CD, Rainbow Quartz, Pop)
Bright hummable pop music full of thick harmonies. France's The Strawberry Smell possess many similarities to the very early recordings of The Apples In Stereo. That is to say, the band's music draws heavily upon the slightly psychedelic side of mid-period Beatles. The heavy British influence present on most of these tunes seems odd for a French band, but these four gentlemen make everything work like easy magic. The band's emphasis is, first and foremost, on melodies. But what impresses us most are the arrangements. The Strawberry Smell connect inventive guitars with cool keyboards and layer them on top of simple yet effective rhythms. The band's overall sound is both thick and airy. There are plenty of tunes to get pop fanatics all hot and bothered here, but our favorites are "Friends of Da Teenage," "Ire," "Underspere," and "Footprint On The Moon." This band seamlessly combines elements of bubblegum with pure pop, at the same time managing to present their own unique sound and style... (Rating: 4+++)

They Come In Threes - Blindsided Pt. 1 (CD, Fall of Rome, Rock/pop)
Mmmmm, mmmm...what a refreshingly UNIQUE band. This is an amazing debut album by a band that really doesn't sound like any other we have heard in the past few years. Detroit's They Come In Threes play slightly surreal peculiar pop music. The band's strange chord progressions and subtle discordant sound is counterbalanced by some decidedly simple and straightforward melodies. Unlike most modern-day pop bands, these folks are not afraid to try different strategies in their work. This makes for what some folks may mistake for "difficult music." But in all actuality, this band' s music flows by easily and can be taken in large unhealthy doses. The compositions on Blindsided Pt. 1 are smart and heady. The vocals are, for the most part, soft and breathy...which is in direct contrast to some of the staggeringly odd instrumentation. In some ways these tunes remind us of the some the very early "new wave" bands of the mid-1970s...when people weren't afraid to play weird chords and delve into their imagination. Folks who liked early material by The Pixies as well as The Jesus and Mary Chain will most likely dig this stuff...although the band doesn't really sound too much like either. The song titles give a good hint of where these folks are coming from: "Rubber Band Collection," "June Starts With Monday," "The Rug Is On The Wall," "He's Got Stories"... Too bad everyone doesn't have the creative impulses these folks have. A damn solid album full of cool...and sometimes funny...surprises. (Rating: 5)

This Beautiful Mess - Falling On Deaf Ears (CD, Deep Elm, Progressive pop/rock)
Most bands have one sound. The appropriately titled This Beautiful Mess have a sound that encompasses so many musical sounds and styles that it is difficult to describe. The band's orchestrated soft side is counterbalanced by their thick, swirling wall of noise...and they use all kinds of sounds, effects, and instruments to get their point across. Actually, and as much as we hesitate in using this as a comparison, This Beautiful Mess sound like U2 would sound if they hadn't become the bloated, self-indulgent pigs that they are today. Many ingredients are similar...the echo-drenched guitars, the urgent vocals, the semi-anthemic nature of the tunes... We hate U2 to hell and back...but we rather like the sound of this band. Top picks: "Black is the New Red," "Fly Anna Fly" (our favorite), "Kill," and "Last Day's Embrace." (Rating: 4+)

The Timeout Drawer - A Difficult Figure (CD, Some Odd Pilot, Instrumental/pop)
God we just LOVE bands like this. The Timeout Drawer is a puzzling, obscure, odd band that creates delightfully bright and peculiar instrumental pop music. At times the compositions border on modern jazz, while at other times the band's music is more similar to ambient techno/dance. One thing that sets this band apart from other similar bands is the fact that they use a live drummer. It is truly amazing what a difference a live drummer makes. The tunes on A Difficult Figure are obtuse, slightly confusing, and strangely calming. Whereas many instrumental bands just kind of drone and sludge their way through their albums, these guys constantly push limits and test the listener. In several cases on this album it doesn't even sound like the same band is playing. This is progressive instrumental pop for free-floating intellectuals. Nice. REALLY nice. Gotta love those song titles too... How 'bout "Springtime Brings An Organ Grinder" (???). (Rating: 5)

Toys That Kill - The Citizen Abortion (CD, Recess, Hard rock/pop)
GREAT band name...!!! And surprise, surprise...great BAND as well. Toys That Kill play with the same fury and intensity that made the first punk bands of the seventies so cool and exciting. These guys are as loud as holy hell, but the songs are precise, direct, and catchy. We absolutely love the song titles: "Ass Mirror (Puckered Lips)," "Amphetamine St," "2 Billion Bastards," "Hare Ruya"... Funny, loud, tight, smart, and chock full of passionate energy...Toys That Kill are one of the best really loud bands we've heard in quite some time. This album is hard-driving, crazy, frenetic, and MIND BLOWING. How 'bout we keep this short and simple... Fans of loud rock...you must BUY THIS. Truly GREAT stuff!!! (Rating: 5+++)

Transmatic - Transmatic (CD, Virgin, Rock/pop)
For those of you out there who may feel as if you're wasting your time uploading all those MP3 files...you may want to consider the case of Transmatic. An MP3 file of one of this band's songs grabbed the attention of John Maurer (of Social Distortion and Loudenergy.com)...and before you know it, the band had landed a deal with Immortal/Virgin. It's not surprising that the band was picked up. Their metallic, somewhat progressive pop music sounds not unlike what most consumers want. The guys are good at writing melodies and they are obviously tight. The thick, slickly produced sound will no doubt go over well. No, this isn't pushing any boundaries or challenging anyone. But those of us who are always looking for new and different artists must realize that there are a great many folks out there (make that ALMOST everyone, in fact...) who do NOT want to be challenged by bands. What they want is something that sounds pleasant and familiar. Transmatic is both. (Rating: 4-)

Urbosleeks - Preconsumptions (CD, 8th Street, Progressive rock)
A band as different and hard to understand as their name. Urbosleeks formed in Louisiana...but eventually found that their geographic location was limiting how far they could go with their music. An intelligent choice for relocation was Athens, Georgia...a city which has become a hotbed of talent over the past five years or so. From what we're hearing on this album, we'd bet that these four guys are already favorites in Athens rock clubs. Their music doesn't really sound like other Athens bands. This is neither pop nor rock music...but instead a heady and complicated conglomeration of all kinds of sounds and influences. The band seems to enjoy combining basic rock rhythms with spacey guitars and using these as the diving boards for some trippy experimental improvisation. Particularly interesting are the vocals...they have a nice rough quality that sound very unlike what we are accustomed to hearing of late. The four guys in Urbosleeks seem to be complete void of gimmicks and any level of pretentiousness. This is heady music with slightly rough edges. These guys can REALLY play their instruments. Some folks may accuse these guys of sounding too much like early U2...and it is true, a couple of the tunes are a bit too similar for comfort. But overall, this is a relatively minor point. Great tunes like "Egzect Disidge," "After 1 A.M.," "Sad Cookies of Fortune," and "Tasty Roadkill" make this album an intriguing listen. (3+++)

Suzanne Vega - Songs in Red and Gray (CD, A&M, Pop)
One of the most talented ladies in music returns...with what just may be her strongest album EVER. We fell in love with Suzanne Vega's debut when it was released many years ago...and even caught her New York album release show. Over the years, Ms. Vega has influenced a remarkable number of songwriters. Her soft, introspective, thoughtful style of writing just didn't sound like anything else that was happening at the time. Since her debut, Ms. Vega recorded many other albums that were very entertaining...but they somehow didn't match the integrity and warmth of her first couple of records. That's all changed now, as Songs in Red and Gray is as good as her debut...and BETTER. Suzanne has always been a master lyricist...and this is particularly true on this album. Instead of spewing out garbage for lyrics (as many artists do), she tells stories and uses creative imagery in a manner that is both unique and riveting. If it weren't enough that the songs and lyrics are top notch, the arrangements and production on this album will warm your cockles and make your heart melt. It'll be interesting to see how the public reacts to this. Our guess is that Ms. Vega still has a strong fan base out there...and they are going to go absolutely APE over this. FANTASTIC. (Rating: 6)

Mike Walker - Mike Walker (CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
Newcomer Mike Walker is a singer very much in the old school style of country music artists. He is not so much a songwriter as a man who interprets the songs of others. On this, his debut album, Walker presents fourteen upbeat numbers. While he co-wrote three of the tunes, the remainder of the tracks were written by other folks (many of them well-known names). Walker has the voice...and particularly the looks...to make it big. He started his career by singing for quarters in a bowling alley. A funny story, and most likely a true account. According to Walker, ever since the incident he determine that he was meant to be a singer. Judging by the performances on this album, this young man truly does love what he's doing. The choice of material is strong...from the Elvis Presley-ish "Honey Do" to the bluesy "Memphis Women and Chicken" Mike serves up one hit after another. Great sound quality, courtesy of producers James Stroud and Don Cook. Good stuff, pure feelgood music... (Rating: 4+)

Will Haven - Carpe Diem (CD, Revelation, Death/metal/thrash/hardcore)
Whew. Will Haven is a real test of endurance. Carpe Diem, the band's third album, is one intense blast of hostile, angry, violent noise. Interestingly, this is a band whose songs tend to come across well despite all the rampant chaos and general blur of noise. The guitars are extremely loose and accidental..and JESUS CHRIST the vocalist will scare the socks off of your granny's knee sockets. The band has already become quite popular among the hippest of the hip. Deftones, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, and Fear Factory all adore these guys. And it's no wonder. For intense, out-of-control, wild rock music, you are not likely to do much better than this. This Sacramento band is powerful and foreboding. A word of warning...this is not for the meek nor the faint of heart. This album is an intense and mean assault on the senses. Tunes like "S.H.R.," "Dressed In Night Clothes," and "Moving To Montana" are not likely to be hits anytime soon... But for those underground rock fans seeking the loudest and most intense stuff out there...Will Haven is certain to please... (Rating: 5)

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