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September 2001 Reviews by

 Arabian Travels (VA)

The B-Sides

The Casualties
Charity Empressa*

Comment Piece
The Crystal Method

Detroit Grand Pu Bahs
The Four Corners

Gilberto Gil & Milton Nascimento
The Isley Brothers
Toby Keith


Los Straitjackets
Machine Head

Mink Lungs
John Morton

Now It's Overhead
The Pills*
Puddle of Mudd
Kevin Salem
Michael J. Sheehy
Sarah Slean
Stinking Lizaveta

The Suicide Machines
The Texas Governor
The Toilet Boys

Dwight Twilley
Bill Wolford's Head

Woo Hoo Bank (VA)
David Z

Hector Zazou & Sandy Dillon*

*Top Picks


September 2001 Comment Piece:
What Matters?

Do you ever wonder if anything matters? If so, exactly what is it that matters anyway? We've been doing a great deal of thought about this topic lately and we have come to the conclusion that nothing matters (again). Oh sure. There are all kinds of things that people feel certain are very, very important...but when you look at their situations realistically you come to the conclusion that the importance they place on any particular person, place, or thing is only in their imagination. So, after one comes to the conclusion that nothing matters...then what? Should one attempt to place importance on something anyway? After all, what is the point of living if nothing and no one is important? Actually, placing false importance on things can be a temporary solution. Of course, it is important for the individual to realize that the importance is artificial. Does music matter? Not really. How about friends? Are they important? In the big scheme of things, no. How about the earth? Plants and animals? Nope, sorry. What about love? And happiness? No, no, no, no, no. In the end, you must accept the fact that everything and everyone is nothing more than a big letdown. Ho hum. The world and all life in it is, unfortunately, quite dull and BORING. Ooops...we almost forgot about YOU. You are very, VERY important. Yes you are! Say, "Yes I am, yes I am!" You are the most unique and important person EVER!!!

Arabian Travels - Six Degrees Collections (CD, Six Degrees, Middle Eastern/techno/dance)
One of the more interesting and puzzling occurrences over the past several years has been the increasingly common merging of Middle Eastern music with modern techno/dance music. At first we thought the whole idea was rather strange as we were introduced to the sound by the likes of Banco de Gaia...but over time and given more thought, the intertwining of the two styles actually seems appropriate. After all, both styles are based upon repetitive rhythms and music that is intended to put the listener into a trance-like state. For folks who haven't yet been introduced to this new wave of techno artists (or for those who have but want to hear more), this various artists collection from San Francisco's Six Degrees label will provide a very entertaining overview. In addition to the previously mentioned B. de Gaia, the disc also features some wonderfully trippy tracks by Fifth Sun, Karsh Kale, Arabic Breakbeats, Ekova, Acid Queen, and more. The recording quality is top notch, and the disc has an amazing feel of continuity considering that these compositions were all recorded at different times and in different places. Exotic, infectious, and melodic, we'll be keeping our eyes open for more things on this esoteric label... (Rating: 5)

Afroman - The Good Times (CD, Universal, X)
We absolutely HAD to review this if for no other reason than it contains the incredibly hilarious tune "Because I Got High." (The song is kinda like "99 Bottles of Beer" except the lyrics refer to pot.) It's so refreshing to see a song like this become a hit. In these overly paranoid times we are living in there are so many retards that are so goddamned afraid of dope. It's nice to see someone stand up and show how ridiculous this fear really is. And Universal Records deserves an award for supporting an artist who is so obviously offensive as well as pro-marijuana. Some of you may be saying, "But this sounds like every other rap artist on the planet!" Ah, not so dear reader... For you see, unlike rap artists...this fellow is extremely silly and ridiculous...and that's EXACTLY why we dig what he's doing. Afroman's real name is Joseph Foreman. This guy would make Richard Pryor proud. He's certainly not afraid to offend anyone. What's he into? Getting high, drinking, and pussy. (Now that's the kinda guy WE like here in this filthy campground.) The best thing about this album is that once you get past the hilarious lyrics...there's still some fun, thumpy music to enjoy. We have heard few artists in the past decade who take themselves less seriously than this guy. Whatcha wanna bet Afroman becomes a really BIG star...? This is a goddamn RIOT. (Rating: 4+)

Bows - Cassidy (British Import CD, Beggars Banquet, Dub/trippy pop)
Bows is the latest musical project of British wonderkid Luke Sutherland. Most people will remember Mr. Sutherland as the leader of the band Long Fin Killie, although he is also an author of books as well as a part-time violinist with the band Mogwai. Whew. This is the second Bows release. Luke presents twelve dreamy tracks of slightly surreal pop that feature his own vocals as well as several guest vocalists. At times some of the arrangements remind us of seventies progressive hero Steve Hillage...but most of the material is more up-to-date and subtle. Instead of presenting predictable pop ditties, Mr. Sutherland uses the recording studio like a canvas on which to paint mesmerizing audio landscapes. Sounds blur in and out of one another while hypnotic rhythms pulse away in the background. In a way, this is almost like listening to muzak on acid. Whatever it is, it is calming, fluid, and different. Many of these tunes are breathtakingly beautiful. Our favorites include "Luftsang," "Boy Blunt," and "Sun Electric." (Rating: 4+++)

The B-Sides - Yes, Indeed, the B-Sides, Quite! (Independent CD, Pop/rock)
We had no choice but to review this. Any band of young gentlemen who put this much positive energy into what they're doing deserve coverage. Personally, we think that it takes more balls and guts to record happy music than hateful, mean music. After all, virtually anyone can blare out bad noise and write mean lyrics. But how many people can create positive energy in a true and meaningful fashion? These men not only have a refreshing approach to making music...but they are also capable or writing some damn good tunes. Purposely self conscious pop tunes like "The Theme Song" and "Megan" remind us of the general approach of The Turtles. Folks who hate the happy stuff will want to steer clear of this. But for the more open-minded listeners out there, this obscure little album contains some real gems... (Rating: 4+++)

The Casualties - Die Hards (CD, Side One Dummy, Punk rock)
If you think punk rock is dead, think again. And if you think punk rock styles from the seventies are a thing of the past, then you will again need to think again. This New York band has been carrying on the grand tradition of punk rock for the past decade with their spiked and brightly dyed hair, leather jackets, and multiple studs. Even the album title seems to suggest where these guys are at with their image and sound. The songs on Die Hards is, as you might expect, frantic and loud thrash rock music that is played specifically for all those kids out there who like to smash and crash into each other and jump off of stages. We have absolutely no doubt upon listening to this album that in concert The Casualties drive kids into an absolute frenzy. Tunes like "Nightmare," "Get Off My Back," and "Can't Stop Us" will drive adults up the wall...but kids will no doubt LOVE it. (Rating: 4)

Charity Empressa - Charity Empressa (CD, Absalom Recordings, Ambient/trance pop)
Wow. What a stunning piece of audio art. In a very short amount of time, Canada's Absalom Recordings has become of of our favorite music labels...and this release is a good example of why we feel this way. Actually this particular disc is like a double dose of excellence...because Charity Empressa is the latest project undertaken by Eric Campuzano, who is also a member of babysue favorite The Lassie Foundation. Mr. Campuzano began this project in part because of the influence of Chris Colbert and Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. The compositions on this album are strangely calming and create an odd drone that puts the listener into a truly cosmic state. The eleven tracks on this album contain lengthy instrumental sections, but vocals do fade in and out. The more we listen to this CD the harder it is to describe...? Eric sure knows how to mingle with the right folks. Members of The Autumns, Starflyer 59 (yes!), and Duraluxe make guest appearances on this disc. A wonderfully fascinating and heady trip, Charity Empressa hits all the right targets dead center... (Rating: 5+++)

Chimaira - Pass Out of Existence (CD, Roadrunner, Growler rock)
Loud and obnoxious, Chimaira is a band that is certain to make parents feel threatened. This six-man-band is raunchy and frantic, and they definitely have that Satanic sound that makes teenage boys get husky. Much better than your average growler rock band, the guys in Chimaira write some good tunes. And while Pass Out of Existence is obviously not for everyone, it will likely go over really big for those who like this style of music. We are not usually fence sitters, but in the case of growler rock we are relatively picky with regard to what bands we will listen to on a regular basis. These guys get bonus points for adding a great deal more variety than we are accustomed to, but this is still basically angry and violent death metal... (Rating: 3+)

The Crystal Method - Tweekend (CD, Geffen, Techno/electronic/dance)
Wow. We liked this band's first album but Tweekend blows us completely OUT THE WINDOW. The Crystal Method is two fellows: Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan. Their debut album that came out a few years ago thrust them instantly into the spotlight. Rather than immediately follow it up with meaningless fodder, these gentlemen took their time recording an album that they felt would be better than their first. Boy did they succeed. If you think electronic music has no heart or soul, a few spins of this disc will change your mind. What is most striking about these guys' approach to music is that by not writing and recording standard tunes they have managed to find a large audience. Perhaps other artists should take note of this. As hard as it is to believe, in order to succeed you don't necessarily HAVE to sound like other successful groups. The Crystal Method is a case in point. Their bass-heavy sweeping electronics are psychedelic, but the rhythms provide enough substance for the average listener to latch onto. If you like thick meaty beats and trippy electronics, you won't do much better than this. Rather intense dance music. (Rating: 5)

Detroit Grand Pu Bahs - Funk All Ya'll (CD, Jive, Funk/pop/techno/dance)
Great funky dance music...! And these folks have a definite sense of humor about what they're doing. Detroit Grand Pu Bahs is the duo consisting of Mack Goudy Jr. and Andy Toth. Together the two present some thick and nasty funked-out dance music that features high-tech effects and thick, meaty beats. Goudy and Toth have coined a new phrase to describe their music..."funkno" (a combination of "funk" and "techno"). Actually, their new descriptive term fits their music perfectly. Funk All Ya'll contains fifteen beat crazy dance tracks that will have club folks sweating their noodles off. Our favorites here are the title track, "One Hump or Two" (funny stuff here), "After School Special," "Off Beat Killer," and "Rain." Cool, funny, and energetic, Detroit Grand Pu Bahs are reeling and rocking in their own unique space... (Rating: 4+++)

Eclipso - Hero and Villain in One Man! (CD, Death Barney, Pop)
YES. Yes, yes, yes, yes...YES. If you think sincere, upbeat, infectiously catchy and hopelessly throbbing happy pop music is dead...Eclipso will prove you wrong. The band is the brainchild of Colorado's Bruce Gordon, a man who has an amazing melodic sense as well as a true flair for arrangements and harmonies. Hero and Villain in One Man! is like a non-stop string of underground hits. But bear in mind we do not mean "hits" in the normal sense of the word. A "hit" in current times seems to imply boring idiot crap (i.e., N-Sync, etc). We're talking hits in the grand tradition of what hits OUGHT to be...super catchy, super smart, well-constructed pieces of heavenly melodic art (y'know...the kinda stuff The Turtles recorded...). All twelve tracks on this album will have pop fans tripping all over themselves to heap praise upon this man for creating an album this amazingly cohesive and strong. We have seldom heard harmony vocals sound this good...EVER. Although all the compositions here are nothing short of fantastic, our top favorites are "Nothing's Gonna Happen," "This Means War," "Guess I'm Dumb," and "The Last Time." Even though this is a brand new release, in our minds this has already become an INSTANT CLASSIC. This will easily end up being one of the very BEST releases of the year. Oh...and we must not forget to mention that this was touched by the golden production fingers of Mr. Earl Mankey (!!!)...so you KNOW the sound quality kicks ass. Essential listening. (Rating: 5+++)

The Four Corners - Say You're A Scream (CD, Kindercore, Rock/pop)
Yet another intriguing new band from the seemingly unending supply of exciting new artists residing in Athens, Georgia. While the cover photo might lead one to believe that this band is a Velvet Underground clone, nothing could be further from the truth. The Four Corners are basically a retro-garage pop band with one major difference. The vocalist is a young lady with a super smooth voice. The band's lo-fi approach to writing and recording is refreshing and forces the listener to concentrate on the music rather than recording techniques. Interestingly, this album is divided into two halves...a mono half and a stereo half. The first half of the album features 14 tracks in mono and following that are the same 14 tracks mixed in stereo. While we like the idea, we definitely prefer the stereo mixes. And for anyone who might be saying to themselves, "But I don't WANT to hear the same song twice each time I play the disc!" our response is that you can just pick the half you like best and burn your own CD of those mixes. The Four Corners sound something like a cross between Ivy and Steppenwolf. Our favorite tracks are "The Secret Life" and "Don't You Wanna Hear Me." (Rating: 4)

Fugu - Fugu 1 (CD, Minty Fresh, Pop)
Hmmmm...different. Very different. Fugu is a French band that has had connections with cult favorites Saint Etienne and Stereolab in the past (Laetitia Sadier even lends vocal talents to one track on this album). That said, this band doesn't sound too much like either...although there are similarities in the overall approach. The songs on this album are centered around the harpsichord, and that alone should alert you that these folks are approaching things from a different angle. Actually, the general sound here reminds us of Harpers Bizarre is many ways...although perhaps the most appropriate comparison is The High Llamas. The band comes up with fantastic arrangements throughout this album, incorporating cello, trumpet, organ, guitars, and numerous other instruments and noises. At times the songs sound slightly goofy ("Vibravox") and at other times they approach pop from an almost Kinks-like perspective ("Monocorde"). In still other cases, we hear traces of Sparks ("Tsimbalon"). This is a very smart collection of well-produced obtuse pop music heavy on melodies and with a distinct penchant for clever instrumentation. Peculiar and yet strangely calming... (Rating: 5)

Gilbert Gil & Milton Nascimento - Gil & Milton (CD, Atlantic, Brazilian)
Two superstars of Brazilian music...and we're so out of it we had never heard of EITHER one until now. Duh. Oh well, better late than never...? This release marks the first time that both of these fellows have recorded together. Gilbert Gil has released over 30 albums and has performed in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Milton Nascimento released his first album in 1967 and has also released close to 30 albums...in addition to touring North America, Europe, Japan, and Latin America. Not surprisingly, this is a big-budget recording...everything has a nice glossy sheen. But that doesn't detract from the music. This album contains a whopping fifteen tracks. Our favorites are "Sebastian," "Trovoada," "Dora," and "Palco." (Rating: 3++)

The Isley Brothers - Eternal (CD, Dreamworks, Soul/pop)
Anyone who has been recording music for 40 years and can STILL produce something credible deserves bonus points. Ronald and Ernie Isley's Eternal sounds amazingly fresh and vital...perhaps due in part to some assistance by some very talented friends. Artists who offer a lending hand on this album include Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Raphael Saadiq, Angela Winbush, and Jill Scott. We have been very optimistic of late about the resurgence of soul music that seems to be happening. The disappointing rap invasion that seemed to rule the world of black music for such a long time has hopefully run its course...so the next logical step would be for artists to embrace the original soul sounds from the 1960s. Perhaps The Isley Brothers are attempting to capitalize on the latest wave of soul, or perhaps their new release is just coincidental. In any case, this is a surprisingly fresh album of glitzy soul pop that will please old fans as well as (hopefully) hook the brothers some new ones. The tracks on this album are slick, slick, SLICK. And they have enlisted the assistance of some top notch backup singers that really helps to push these tunes to a higher level. Tracks like "Move Your Body," "Warm Summer Night," and "You Didn't See Me" ought to land the Isley Brothers right back into the limelight in no time. Nice stuff. (Rating: 5)

Toby Keith - Pull My Chain (CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
Yet another superb release from our favorite modern country artist. Some readers might accuse us of supporting obscure underground acts and dragging all commercial artists through the mud. We admit that we are guilty of doing this at times...but only when the shoe fits. In the case of Toby Keith, all the attention and success are well deserved. Because this gentleman's music is so damn catchy and wonderfully refreshing, it wouldn't bother us in the slightest if every song he recorded hit #1 on the charts. This is Mr. Keith's eighth album (dedicated to his father this time around). Just like all the others, it features excellent super clean country pop. What really separates this man from other country artists is his voice. Man oh MAN can this fellow sing. His deep masculine voice is always instantly recognizable...and even when he's singing the most ridiculous lyrics in the world (which does happen at times) you still find yourself hopelessly drawn into his world. Pull My Chain is Toby Keith's strongest album to date. This time around he has combined all of the aspects of his previous albums with even better arrangements and an even stronger style of production. Picking favorites is difficult because there is not a bad apple in the bunch. "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight," the lead track, has the most obvious hit potential. The title track also sounds like a monster hit. While Mr. Keith is mainly known for his louder, honky tonk pop tunes, the stuff that really gets us going is the less obvious material. Accordingly, the more pensive material is the strongest here. "You Leave Me Weak" is a fantastic romantic ballad that'll have you reaching for your hankie in an instant. "The Sha La La Song" has a great singalong chorus and just begs to be played repeatedly. The beautiful "Yesterday's Rain" (co-written with Scotty Emerick) is a good example of just how good this guy can write and sing. Without a doubt, the real champ on this album is "You Didn't Have As Much To Lose." The song is pure proof that Keith is not just a throwaway hit machine...but instead one of the most important country vocalists of our time. While we feel certain that country fans will go ape over this album, it will most likely appeal to all fans of great pop music... (Rating: 5+++)

Lanterna - Elm Street (CD, Badman, Progressive instrumental)
This is a stunningly beautiful collection of instrumental compositions with traces of psychedelia as well as trance...although the overall mood is subdued and hypnotic. Lanterna is Henry Frayne, a man who is obviously driven by motives other than commercial success. Frayne has had previous releases on both the Parasol and Rykodisc labels. Even though this man records wonderful music, we can certainly see why he remains an underground cult favorite. As great as these tunes are, they have very little that would appeal to commercial radio stations. First, there are no vocals...and that fact alone limits airplay. Secondly, melodies are secondary to the overall mood and interaction of the various instruments. Like Tristeza (another great hypnotic instrumental band), Lanterna songs are meant to induce moods and feelings rather than make you bounce around the room singing along. Heady numbers like "Elm Street," "Departures," "Wolves," and "Glass" make this album a super relaxing and reflective listen... (Rating: 5)

Lefty - 4 3 2 1 (CD, Interscope, Power pop/punk)
Nice punchy and loud pop rock heavy on melodies and hooks. While we really dig the sound of Lefty, we'd be willing to bet that their overall approach will alienate most folks. The band is too loud and crunchy for your average pop music fan...but the band's songs are far too melodic for your average little punkin' head. So...where does that leave Lefty? Most likely playing for a smaller audience than they deserve, as these guys present some vibrant tunes on 4 3 2 1. Over the course of the thirteen tunes on this album, these guys prove that not only can they rock out...but they also are just as good at presenting reflective pop music. Even thought the anti-female anthem "Girls" (the single) really is the standout track here, there are still plenty of other catchy tunes that are certain to please... (Rating: 4)

Lifer - Lifer (CD, Universal, Hard rock)
Hmmm...an odd mix here. Imagine mixing the guitars and rhythm section from Pantera with some of the basic song structures of bands like Pearl Jam...and what do you get? Most likely, something similar to Pennsylvania's Lifer. The band has a nasty loud side that is countered by some very poppy singalong material. Obviously the formula is working, as the second tune on this album ("Boring") is already a big hit for the band. The two sides of this band are somewhat schizophrenic, but the guys seem to manage rather well. Not too loud and not too soft (Goldilocks would dig it...), Lifer will probably please folks who don't want things to swing too far in either direction... (Rating: 3+)

Los Straitjackets - Sing Along With the Straitjackets (CD, Cavalcade / Yep Roc, Pop/rock)
Hmmmm... Let's see now...What WOULDN'T an instrumental band do... Most likely, they would not release an album with vocals. But in this case, that is exactly what Los Straightjackets have done. This increasingly popular band has previously released three full-length instrumental albums. So perhaps for a change of pace...as well as to surprise their listeners...the guys invited guest vocalists to step in for this album. And Jesus Christ Almighty...what a list of guests they lined up (!!!). Folks lending their vocal talents to this disc include Big Sandy, Mark Lindsay, El Vez, Exene Cervenka, Nick Lowe, Leigh Nash, and many more. For an album featuring so many different vocalists, this album is amazingly cohesive. But that's probably due to the infectious and energetic performance of the masked men themselves. A upbeat batch of big time FUN. (Rating: 4+++)

Machine Head - Supercharger (CD, Roadrunner, Goddamn HARD rock)
Really, REALLY hard rock. Not only is this band really loud and really hard...they're also really, really GOOD. (You certainly can't say that about most of the ultra loud nasty bands out there.) This is Machine Head's fourth album, and it will literally blow your BRAIN out of your SKULL (as well as your intestines out of your gut area). As soon as the album kicks off with the chunky masculine energy of "Bulldozer" you know immediately that these guys are the real thing. What we admire most about these four gents is that they have enough guts and imagination to avoid playing a droning blur of loud noise...which is what most really loud rock bands do. This band comes up with tons and tons of meaty guitar riffs and they have a driving rhythm section that should make any rock and roll racer throttle into high gear. Machine Head definitely have a really harsh death metal sound, but their evil side is counterbalanced with some very intriguing progressive elements that make our heads swirl. Intense rock and roll energy abounds throughout this CD, but our top favorites here are "White-Knuckle Blackout!," "Only the Names," " Brown Acid," and "Supercharger." This band should appeal to fans of Monster Magnet...although these guys are much more abrasive and out of control... Wild stuff. (Rating: 5)

Mink Lungs - The Better Button (CD, Arena Rock Recording Company, Rock/pop)
Mink Lungs are a band in the truest sense of the word, as all four members (Gian Carlo Feleppa, Jennifer "Miss Frosty" Hoopes, Tom Galbraith, Tim Feleppa) equally share the spotlight. So...what do they sound like? A great many bands including The Wedding Present, The Pixies, Fuzzy, and even The Kinks. Listening to The Better Button is like listening to a various artists compilation where you have no idea what to expect next. One minute the band is playing buzzsaw power pop, the next minute they're playing soft and pensive, and then before you know it they're experimenting with noise. This schizophrenic approach is intentional, as the band obviously doesn't want to be easily pigeonholed. The plan works, as this is a very difficult album to pinpoint and to describe. This one will take a lot of listening to figure out, but our initial favorites are "I Sell Love," "Think Of Me" (great tune), and "Peep Show." Unorthodox. (Rating: 4+)

John Morton - Outlier: New Music for Music Boxes (CD, Innova Recordings, Modern classical/abstract instrumental)
This is an interesting idea in terms of the overall concept as well as the execution. We've always been fascinated by music boxes, so this CD immediately caught our attention. This is not music box music in traditional terms. Instead, composer John Morton uses music boxes as musical instruments...bleeding them in and out of the mix...layering several boxes (and several tunes) on top of one another so that the effect is like a swirling blur of tinkling bells...and mutating their overall sound so that their sound is somewhat disturbing. This disc will appeal to a very limited audience (that's an understatement). The album is divided into seven sections (sections four through six are actually one long piece). This is a strange and bewildering album. Quite puzzling, peculiar, and strangely familiar. This is one that will undoubtedly have your friends asking questions while it's playing... Odd and slightly trance-like... (Rating: 4+++)

Now It's Overhead - Now It's Overhead (CD, Saddle Creek, Pop)
Funny how like-minded folks tend to gravitate toward one another...even when they are hundreds of miles apart. Many years ago when the world had its sights focused on Athens, Georgia, the city was producing substandard and boring acts (R.E.M., The B-52s, blah blah blah, yap yap yap...). Now that the city actually has an amazing number of incredibly talented bands who call Athens home, only small pockets of underground fans seem to be paying attention. No matter. The best things in life are always appreciated by a select few. Though the Saddle Creek label is based in Nebraska (and usually signs Nebraska acts), the label folks decided to make a smart exception by releasing the debut CD from the strangely titled Now It's Overhead. The band is made up of members of Bright Eyes and Azure Ray...both of which have previously received well-deserved and stunning praise in the pages of babysue. This band's material is coming from the same general direction as the members' other bands...but there seems to be more of an emphasis on recording technique here (probably due to the fact that band member Andy LeMaster works in the studio where this album was recorded). For those out there (like ourselves) who become very, very tired of so much crap creeping about in underground pop circles, this band and album will come as a pleasant surprise. No throwaway tunes here...and the main emphasis is on composition. There are several tracks that make it all the way up our driveway and into the carport, including "Who's Jon" (great melody), "7th Grade Roller," and "Goodbye Highway." Well written and well executed... (Rating: 4+++)

Owen - Owen (CD, Polyvinyl Record Company, Soft pop)
Owen is the one man band consisting of Mike Kinsella. Mr. Kinsella was formerly in several bands including American Football, Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls. His first solo album finds him dabbling in some beautiful musical arenas. The subtle tunes are based around guitars, but these are not predictable nor are they standard compositions. The overall sound here reminds us of the great underrated Radar Bros, except Mr. Kinsella's music is slower, more sparse, and places more of an emphasis on acoustic instruments. The vocals are soft and subtle, and fit the music perfectly. The idea here seems to be to put the listener into a calm trance. If this is indeed the case, then this disc is a complete success. Some absolutely stunning guitar lines creep in and out of these tunes. Our favorite lyric: "I can't do my hair right or have a good time." (Rating: 4+)

The Pills - Kick In (CD, Monolyth Record Group, Pop/rock)
Fierce pumped up happy pop music played with fresh conviction and definite style. Opening up with the infectious, hyperactive "Pop Goes Mandy" these guys let the listener know immediately where they're coming from. The guitars are loud and the rhythms are speedy indeed, but neither get in the way of the band's soaring melodies. Drummer Jamie Vavra is a fantastic drummer, continually churning out a solid beat with tons of frenetic improvisation. Bassist/vocalist Corin Ashley keeps the throbbing bass lines going while guitarists/vocalists Clyde O'Scope and David Thompson spew out guitar chords with precision. The overall feeling when get listening to this band is the same feeling we get when we hear very early Beatles or even Elvis Costello before he hit it big. These men are excited about what they're doing and that natural energy shines comes across crystal clear...making their music really and truly "kick in". This album is chock full of instantly catchy tunes. Songs like "Musclecar," "Big Muff" (yeah!), "Spork," and "Dictionary" will have pop fans crawling through the cracks to get their hands on a copy. Do we love it? Hell YEAH!!! (Rating: 5+++)

Puddle of Mudd - Come Clean (CD, Geffen, Rock)
Good hard droning rock music. The humorously titled Puddle of Mudd have a sound that is anything but muddy. These four guys have a sound that is based around loud blaring guitars and anthemic style vocals. But the underlying churning rhythms are what really make this band click. The band's drummer is a true pulse maker, and the bass player keeps everything driving along rather nicely. Come Clean features eleven tunes that are chock full of the kinda energy that drives those high school boys up and over the fence. We've heard a lot of other bands with this same basic sound, but still...when it's done well..it still works. Our favorites here are "Control," "Out of My Head," "She Hates Me," and "Basement." (Rating: 3+)

Kevin Salem - Ecstatic (CD, Future Farmer Recordings, Pop)
Kevin Salem has been writing and recording for a very long time. His situation is very much Jeff Martin of Idaho. Mr. Salem is a great writer, performer, and superb guitarist...but for one reason or another his music always seems to reach only a limited audience (although Rolling Stone magazine did choose him as "Best New Male Singer" in 1995---we can see how much good THAT did!). In the cases of both artists, fame may elude them because they both just look like regular guys...and because neither one uses cheap gimmicks. We're pleased to see Salem has found an appropriate home on the eclectic Future Farmer label. His debut for FF contains the same sort of Americana-based pop we've come to expect. Actually and in fact, his songwriting has never been stronger. The tunes on Ecstatic contain cool flowing pop melodies that are supported by some really killer arrangements (and of course killer guitar playing). Kevin's vocals sound fantastic, as usual. Will this be the album to boost this relatively obscure artist into the big time? Probably not, but that's just one more reason to pick up a copy of this. Chock full of excellent melodies and sincere intent, this album is certain to please pop music fans... (Rating: 4+++)

Michael J. Sheehy - Ill Gotten Gains (British Import CD, Beggars Banquet, Soft pop)
A couple of years ago we received a CD by Dream City Film Club. The disc was oddly subtle in its approach and stuck with us, remaining in our permanent library. Because we never received anything else by the band, we were pleased to receive the latest CD from Michael J. Sheehy...the vocalist for the aforementioned band. Ill Gotten Gains contains tunes that have the same distant, odd quality that made us like D.C.F.C. The main differences with Michael's solo album are that the songs are not as heavily drenched in reverb and the overall feeling is more soft and calm. But what strikes us most about this album is how strong Mr. Sheehy's vocals are. This gentleman has a wonderfully smooth vocal style that is neither sweet nor nasty. Instead, he has a cool, sincere voice that really makes these tunes glide by like glass slippers on a chocolate cake. The tunes are as subtle and understated as they are mesmerizing and hypnotic. Top picks: "Sweet Blue Gene," "Mystery Train" (this one's great), "Just a Word," and "Let It Be Love This Time." (Rating: 5)

Sarah Slean - Sarah Slean (CD EP, Atlantic, Pop)
So first let's try to forget that this young lady's music is prominently featured in the television series Murder In Small Town X. After we got this fact out of our measly little heads, it became very easy indeed to enjoy and appreciate the tunes on this wonderfully entertaining EP. While Sarah Slean had previously released an album and EP, this is the first thing we have heard from her. Wow. She's great. Not only does she write all her own material, but she also has a strangely emotional and slightly quivering vocal style that is haunting and real. Actually...more than any other artist...Ms. Slean's overall style and sound reminds us very much of Heidi Berry (one of our all-time favorites). This is particularly true with the tunes "Twin Moon" and "John the 23rd." Beautiful and articulate, Sarah Slean is a true BLAST of FRESH AIR... Let's just hope that her eminent success doesn't diminish her talent... (Rating: 5)

Sparklehorse - It's A Wonderful Life (CD, Capitol, Soft, obscure pop)
Mark Linkous (the man who is Sparklehorse) doesn't release albums very often...but when he does, boy oh boy is everyone in for a MAJOR treat. Sparklehorse fans will LOVE this album. It's a Wonderful Life contains more of the soft, pensive, and slightly peculiar pop that this man's fans have come to expect. We feel that this is absolutely the best album that Mr. Linkous has yet to record. As usual, Mark recorded most everything himself...but there are guest artists who offer support on most of the tunes...including Tom Waits (who co-wrote one song), Polly Jean Harvey, and Nina Persson. As we would have expected (and just as has been the case in the past) there are no real "hit" songs here because that is not what this man is striving for. This is audio art, with strange sweeping arrangements and peculiar lyrics that will leave most listeners in a trail of confusion. These songs remind us of the softer stuff that Neil Young recorded very early in his career. All of the tracks on this album are cool and dreamy, but our own particular favorites are the title track, "Gold Day," "Eyepennies," "Little Fat Baby," and "Babies On the Sun" (this guy's song titles are always humorously abstract). The best Sparklehorse album yet. (Rating: 5+++)

Stinking Lizaveta - III (CD, Tolotta, Instrumental/rock)
This is an unusual band for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the drummer is female (but you'd never know it from hearing her play). Another unique aspect of this band is that the bass player plays an electric standup bass. Considering these two facts, you would probably never expect Stinking Lizaveta to be a guitar instrumental band. Not surprisingly, this band's music sounds very much unlike other guitar instrumental bands. This trio can certainly turn up and blow out the chunks with their music...but they are just as likely to play a softer, almost jazzy style of music that most rock bands wouldn't touch with a ten foot stick. Stinking Lizaveta tunes have a cool spontaneous quality that is sadly missing in many rock bands of late. This could be one of the many traits that has helped them to garner a sizable underground following. Lots of wonderfully entertaining tunes here like "War of the Worlds," "Tenuous," "The Hanged Man," and "Eastern Sun" make this disc a truly enjoyable listen... (Rating: 4+++)

Sugarcult - Start Static (CD, Ultimatum Music, Rock/pop)
Hard punchy bubblegummy pop music played by four guys who obviously have energy to spare as well as a knowledge of the medium. Sugarcult is a band with a super happy and super charged up sound. Start Static features nice thick production and really super vocals. The band's tunes are based around big fat thick fuzzy guitars, but the vocals are way out front. In a way, the sound here reminds us of Thin Lizard Dawn (a fantastic pop band that never did receive the recognition they deserve). From the driving frantic pace of "You're the One" right on through to the somewhat moody "I Changed My Life" these four guys demonstrate that they not only have a solid grasp of what they're doing...but they also know how to write great tunes. The album features a twelfth acoustic track that is not listed on the cover. This Santa Barbara band is doing all the right things in all the right ways. This is just the sort of thing we LOVE. A really good RUSH. (Rating: 5)

The Suicide Machines - Steal This Album (CD, Hollywood, Rock)
If you think bands get more boring over time, then you have obviously not been following the career of Detroit's The Suicide Machines. These guys started off loud and crazy, but now they're about twenty times MORE intense. The humorously titled Steal This Album features absolutely cool kiddie cover art which completely deceives potential buyers. This music is definitely NOT lightweight pop (!). These guys play in-your-face hard rock like you probably haven't heard in ages. And they do it RIGHT. The playing is on target, the tunes are smart and melodic, and the recording quality will blow your BALLS off. Fourteen dynamite kickass tunes including "The Killing Blow," "Honor Among Thieves," "Middle Way," and "Leap of Faith." These guys prove that rock music isn't dead. But it does bring to light the fact that there are lots of bands who just don't know how to play the game and have fun. A superb hard rock treat. (Rating: 5)

The Texas Governor - The Texas Governor (CD, Archenemy, Pop/rock)
With a press release like the one that accompanied this, the debut CD from The Texas Governor...how could anyone resist writing a review? After a lengthy stint as singer of the notorious and fabulous underground cult band The Elevator Drops, Goolkasian (that's the only name he goes by) eventually decided to call it quits and go solo. This album is actually very much in the same vein as The Drops music, except the overall sound is more lo-fi and basic. These tunes were recorded in Goolkasian's new home studio, and from the sounds we're hearing it seems as if this man is enjoying what he's doing. The tunes here range from simple pop to rock with slightly psychedelic hazy overtones. Overall, this is much less aggressive than the E. Drops...but we're guessing that is exactly what this gentleman was aiming for. Top picks: "Tennessee (Million Miles Away)," "Faith, Hope, Love, and Jesus," and "No Mention Of My Dreams." (Rating: 4)

The Toilet Boys - The Toilet Boys(CD, Master Plan Entertainment, Rock)
The Toilet Boys play a style of raunchy rock music that harkens back to the glory days of rock and roll in the 1970s when men dressed like women and the truly great bands had attitude and image to spare. These guys play buzzsaw guitar rock with plenty of hooks...and their lead singers is one of the prettiest we've seen of late (most people will probably mistake this man for a woman, as he looks very much like a white version of Ru Paul). Even though the band may play with gender bending in their appearance, the music is completely macho beefcake all the way to Tuscaloosa. The band hails from New York, and they have the potential to (hopefully) ignite a new wave of trashy stuff similar to what came from The Big Apple decades ago (like The New York Dolls, Wayne County, and Blondie). There are lots of potential hits here. "Party Stops Now," "Can't Wait," and "Runaway" would all make great singles. Interestingly, the band opted to release this CD through their own newly formed company rather than sign their lives away to someone else. These guys have created a real underground buzz which might just land them in the center spotlight on the sheer strength of their songs, image, and ambition... Total fun. (Rating: 4+++)

Dwight Twilley - The Luck (CD, Big Oak Recording Group, Pop/rock)
Most folks will remember Dwight Twilley for his 1975 hit "I'm On Fire" and/or his 1984 hit "Girls." But what most folks don't realize is that Twilley has continued to release albums. The Luck is the first disc we've heard from Oklahoma's Big Oak Recording Group. This is a slick batch of tunes, almost all of which deserve to be hits. This album finds Mr. Twilley in fine form, providing more of his crunchy guitar-based pop. The tunes are infectious and catchy...and the vocals are nothing short of wonderful. Dwight has been a favorite among power pop fanatics for years now...and this CD will certainly satisfy his fans as well as earn him some new listeners. Most artists turn stale after a decade or two. This is not the case with this gentleman. His songs and particularly his performances on this disc sound as fresh as someone who just discovered that they can write songs. All of these tunes are treats, but our initial favorites are "Holdin' On," "No Place Like Home," "Reach for the Sky," and "Leave Me Alone." A solid album from one of pop's brightest spirits. (Rating: 5)

Bill Wolford's Head - Exposure To Living (CD, Go-Kustom, Eclectic pop/rock/folk)
Hard to describe or pinpoint. The first tune ("Exposure To Living") had us thinking that Bill Wolford was very much like another Daniel Johnston. But by the time the second tune ("Somewhere To Play") rolled by, we began to think his sound was more similar to John Lennon. A few songs later we gave up trying to come up with comparisons and just started enjoying this odd fellow's unpredictable style. Every time you think you have Mr. Wolford figured out, he comes from another direction completely. Amazingly, the album holds together well despite the slightly schizophrenic differences of the tunes. Other offbeat ditties that we dig: "Big Trucks," "Sweet As Honey," "The Sun Is Blue." Wait, wait, wait!!! We just came up with a good comparison for this guy. His approach reminds us very much of one of our favorite new artists of the past couple of years...Ivan Klipstein (!). (Rating: 4+)

Woo Hoo Bank - Volume 1 (CD, Yawn, Various artists pop compilation)
Like a non-stop string of hits you've never heard before, Woo Hoo Bank: Volume 1 is a consistently entertaining collection of tracks by obscure bands almost all of which are worthy of more attention than they're currently receiving. It could just be our slanted perspective, but it seems as if there has been an increasing musical presence in the state of Oklahoma over the past five years or so...? Despite all the negative aspects of the technological revolution, one of the few positives is that folks in areas other than the "big cities" can now compete more effectively in the big scheme of things. This disc starts off with The Merrymakers' "Saltwater Drinks"...a song that SHOULD have been a major hit in the United States...but since the airwaves in this goddamn stinking country are filled with phony dreck, songs with any real substance don't have a chance nowadays. Other favorites are Scott Peace's "Picture This", Hosty Trio's "Silent Me", Epperley's "Don't Stay Home, Los Angeles", and Antenna Lodge's "Nightmares in Pantyhose" (this last one's weird). A varied collection of tunes as well as an introduction to a whole slew of artists you've probably never heard before... (Rating: 4++)

David Z - David Z's Beatbank: Ready, Set, Go (CD, District Z, Pop)
A while back we reviewed an obscure little gem entitled Surf 60 by a then unknown recording artist named David Z. Since that time, David has apparently been keeping very busy. Strangely surprising is the fact that his music is now appearing in--of all things---SOAP OPERAS. (The Young and the Restless and One Life To Live to be specific...) In some ways this seems really, really odd to us...but in another way, it isn't that shocking. In addition, David's tunes have become rather popular on the MP3 download circuit. Ready, Set, Go was produced by Anthony J. Resta who has worked with many big name artists. The music on this disc...like the music on Surf 60...is playful techno pop. The main difference this time around is that many of the tunes feature guest vocalists. The tracks with the vocals certainly have the most commercial appeal...but our top picks here are the instrumentals. In particular, "Tori" and "Repetition" are amazing tunes...sounding quite similar in overall tone to some of Sparks later recordings. David Z is a man who uses very simple ideas...and creates tunes that are so catchy you won't be able to get them out of your head. That seems to be the trademark of some of the legends out there...so we would expect even bigger and better things from this man in the very near future... (Rating: 4+++)

Hector Zazou & Sandy Dillon - 12 (Las Vegas is Cursed) (CD, FWD / Crammed Discs, Experimental)
While lots of bands and artists claim to sound original...very few do. Here's an exception to the rule. Producer Hector Zazou's approach to music reminds us very much of Bill Laswell. While each fellow's music is very different from the other...they both made a name for themselves (and a great deal of money) by producing others. Like B. Laswell, Mr. Zazou creates music purely for the love of creating it...without giving a goddamn doughnut hole if it has any commercial potential. Believe us, the oddly titled 12 (Las Vegas is Cursed) has virtually no commercial potential whatsoever. There is little to grab onto in these compositions in the way of repetitive choruses or catchy melodies...or recognizable song structures...or anything... Interestingly, this collection of music was recorded by using the phone line and postal service. There are some big (and we mean B-I-G) name guest artists who appear on this disc, but their involvement must have been mainly a labor of love or simply because they wanted to be involved in this wildly adventurous project. We find it very encouraging and uplifting to hear folks who are successful working on and recording stuff that is this far out. It almost gives one hope for the future. Almost. Sandy Dillon is referred to as the vocalist, but she does a lot more with her voice than most vocalists. So perhaps she is a vocalist...PLUS. We can't really think of anyone that compares with this. No matter how wild and trippy this is (and believe us, it is...IT IS...) we cannot recommend this for everyone. Most folks simply do not get into experimental music. That is a fact. A sad fact, but a fact nonetheless... Try on "Channel 12" or "God Believes in Showbiz"... We'd like to hear these folks pair up with Bruce Anderson for some recording. Now that WOULD be weird (?!!?)... (Rating: 5+++)

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