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July 2002 Reviews by

Ace Troubleshooter

Howie Beck
Bottles and Skulls
Claudia Malibu

Comment Piece
The Contrast

The Damn Personals
Doleful Lions

Ex-Models/The Seconds
Fear Factory
Frandy Po-Narch

Amy Grant
T. Hallenbeck
Joy Electric
The Kaisers
Licking the Spatula
Arto Lindsay

Little Cat
The Melismatics

The Steve Miller Band
The Paybacks

The Prom
Marykate O'Neil

Origami Arktika
The Smarties
Someday I

Darryl Worley
Yes Squares

*Top Picks


July 2002 Comment Piece: What Has Happened To Popular Music?

It's interesting to say the least all the things that have happened in the world of music during the past few decades. Popular music started out genuine and sincere...but over the years it has slowly mutated into a grossly distorted monster with virtually no signs of intelligent life at all. There was a time long ago when some truly creative and interesting artists could rise to the top of the heap. Nowadays that simply does not happen. But this isn't because there aren't any good or credible artists out there. The exact opposite is true. Despite the fact that most people will never even know they exist, the world is literally bursting at the seams with talented bands and individuals who have a great deal to offer. So why is it that all the best artists are doomed to obscurity? Mainly because your average airhead isn't interested in being challenged...and partially because most people simply don't want to expend the time and energy necessary to find the real jewels littered around the globe. One thing is for certain. Today's most successful artists are pathetic no-talent jerk offs who can do little more than dance and "look" a certain way that suits the public. The music is obviously secondary to the artist's image. Just look at any of the big superstars and see for yourself. Of course you can't really blame the big corporations for the choices that consumers make. If people wouldn't buy horrible crap you can bet your best naughty pajama bottoms that the companies wouldn't be manufacturing so much of it. Aren't we sounding JADED and SARCASTIC? Hardly. We feel extremely fortunate to be able to sample such a wide spectrum of music from all over the place...most of which never gets heard...simply because we don't mind taking the time to listen and write about it. (We would suggest that YOU do the very same thing.) So to all of those out there who feel that music has gone downhill, consider THIS. Music hasn't gone down the tubes. You have.

Ace Troubleshooter - The Madness of the Crowds (CD, Tooth and Nail, Rock/pop)
Wow. Ace Troubleshooter is a blast of frantic melodic energy. Other hard pop bands could take a cue from these guys. Charging rhythms and overdriven guitars cannot hide the fact that these four gentlemen write incredible tunes. Primary songwriter/vocalist John Warne has an incredible voice that makes these tunes charge right up into the higher echelons of heaven. While this band's tunes are drenched in pop formalities, the overall energy is definitely flushed with plenty of punk attitude and fury. The Madness of the Crowds is chock full of ultra-catchy nuggets. Tunes like "The Madness of the Crowd," "2:00 Your Time," "Amanda," and "Your Reach" are instant rock classics. If these guys don't catch on immediately then there's definitely something WRONG with the SYSTEM... GREAT stuff!!! Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

Anamude - Urban Comfort EP (Independently released CD EP, Folk/pop)
Nice unpretentious sparse folk music from a young lady whose music speaks for itself. Anamude is San Francisco's Ana Hortillosa. Ana has a wonderfully unaffected voice and simple way of playing an acoustic guitar. The two combine...presenting an artist who is content to let her songs flow freely from her fingers and vocal chords. In the world of folk music there are far too many preachy artsy fartsy types. Ms. Hortillosa's music never falls into these ditches. In the coarse of six tunes, this enchanting artist will most likely find a solid place inside your itty bitty heart. Our favorite is the title track with its nice organic sounding chords and pleasant lyrics... (Rating: 4+++)

Bantam - Bantum (CD, Heavy Nose, Hard rock)
Punchy hard rock played with adrenaline and style. Bantam is the latest project headed by Gina, a former founding member of the well-documented all-female band Lunachicks. Bantam is a hard rocking three piece. Gina is joined by Pete on drums and Doug-O on bass. Together, the three present ass kicking rock music that packs a much harder punch than the Lunachicks ever did. The guitars are loud and in your face and the rhythm section is tighter than a tornado in Toronto. This, the band's debut album, contains eleven snorting blasts of rock and roll fury. Among our favorites are "Come Undone," "Dirty Machine," and "Don't Ask Don't Tell." (Rating: 4+++)

Howie Beck - Hollow (CD, Devil In The Woods / Future Farmer Recordings, Soft pop)
Sounding something like a cross between Big Star (Sister Lovers era) and Rick Springfield (before he hit it big and started pumping out consumer crap), Canada's Howie Beck is a man with plenty of cool melodies up his sleeve. In a world where most everyone seems to be trying too hard, it is refreshing indeed to come across such a cool and casual singer/songwriter. Beck recorded this album in his home studio, and it's a real mindblower. The man's voice just oozes with cool sincerity and and a subtle urgency that is sadly missing in many of today's songwriters (for proof, check out the beautiful gliding melody in "Maybe I Belong"). Coming from the same general acoustic area as Hayden...but possessing a completely different style of writing and singing...Mr. Beck manages to convey his ideas and emotions in a way that is inviting, unique, and personal. Standout cuts include "Hollow," "The Chance Is Gone," "She Moves (Rosie)," "Serves You Right," and "The One You Wanted." This man is an amazing new talent. Hollow is easily one of the best soft pop releases of the year. (Rating: 5+++)

Bottles and Skulls - Amped the F*ck Up (CD, Sickroom, Hard rock)
Music for kids to get f*cked up to, pure and simple. The four guys in Bottles and Skulls are playing a wild, out-of-control brand of hard rock that entices kids to drink, smoke, snort, and shoot up...and there ain't NOTHING wrong with any of that. Unlike most underground hard rock bands, however, Bottles and Skulls tunes are actually quite complex and, at times, difficult. The band is fronted by intense guitarist/vocalist Alpha Hyde Roxy...aided and assisted by Tiny Riot (guitar), Hollywood Hildo (bass), and Scavuzzo (drums). The first seven tunes on Amped the F*ck Up are studio tracks. We particularly like the impressive guitar speed riffs in "The Inside," a deceptively complicated tune that rocks hard. The last ten tracks were recorded live. While the sound quality isn't as good as the studio stuff, it's a cool glimpse into what these guys must be like in concert (OBVIOUS crowd pleasers to the max). Intensely hard rock with a sense of humor. (Rating: 4+++)

Claudia Malibu - Silver Tangerine Hangover (CD, Teardrop, Pop)
In a world bursting apart with underground recordings artists it is actually rather rare when we hear something that strikes our fancy. In the case of Amherst's Claudia Malibu we have found a truly novel obscurity worth raving about. This band is a good example of what great low fidelity pop ought to sound like. The folks in this band don't rely on technology to cover up for a lack of songwriting skills...because songs are what the band is all about. Claudia Malibu tunes are thoughtful, hummable, uplifting, and clever...and leave a definite impression on the listener well after the disc has played out. The songs on Silver Tangerine Hangover seemingly have tape hiss left in the mix on purpose (!). Hiss matters little when material is this strong, and in this case it seems to add to the overall ambience. Seven wonderful delights here that are somewhat reminiscent of Track Star and The Frogs. But make no mistake, these folks are clearly their own unique entity. The band is led by Capt. Luke Cavagnac. The man is an unknown star in the making. Our favorite tracks here are "What's Goin' On Down Below?," "Good Morning Pussycat," "I Want to Hear It Again," and "Brother Eye in the Sky." There is no web site nor e-mail to direct you to them (damn!)...but interested parties (and that ought to be you...) should contact the band at Teardrop Records, Box 3194, Amherst, MA 01004 or e-mail 'em at claudiamalibu@wormco.com. KILLER. (Rating: 6)

The Contrast - Mystery #1 (CD, Rainbow Quartz, Pop/rock)
This British quartet hails from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. The band plays urgent guitar-based rock music not unlike early Bob Mould. The band's melodic pop tunes feature minimal overdubs and a straightforward approach that is refreshing and genuine. While the listeners' immediate reaction might be that this is just another underground guitar band, during the course of a few more spins the band's subtle, unique traits begin to dissolve their way through the eardrums. The intent here is not to clobber the listener over the head with volume and noise...but instead to present quality tunes using as little as possible. Plenty of fresh, upbeat tunes here. Our initial favorites are "Perfect Disguise," "She's Been Here Before," "Falldown," and "Friend for a Day." (Rating: 4++)

The Damn Personals - Standing Still in the U.S.A. (CD, Big Wheel Recreation, Smart hard pop)
The Damn Personals are a damn good band. The band's solid rhythms and loud guitars do nothing to hide the fact that this quartet's main objective is, first and foremost, to provide good, solid songs with strong melodies and quality hooks. The band's vocalist is a real standout. His vocals seem to trip, slip, gallop, and slide right through the other instruments and land right on top every single time. (The guy's got a great falsetto.) The thing that sets The Damn Personals apart from 99% of other bands is the fact that they have very strong material. The tunes are catchy and hummable...the lyrics are smart and memorable...and the overall sound is superb (courtesy of megaproducer Michael Deming). There's a certain 1970s influence in many of the tunes that is most appealing. Fun upbeat stuff from four guys who obviously know what they're doing... (Rating: 5)

Doleful Lions - Out Like A Lamb (CD, Parasol, X)
Subtle abstract qualities are inherent in the music of the curiously titled Doleful Lions. More than any other artist, this band reminds us of Jeremy Morris (of JAM Records)...although we can also hear slight traces of Emitt Rhodes in some of the tunes. The band is led by singer/songwriter Jonathan Scott, a fellow who writes beautiful melodies and has a sinfully sweet voice. In a world full of generic pop bands, Doleful Lions is a blast of fresh air. The band's 1960s influences blend in seamlessly with their affinity for 1980s pop music. Some tunes sound like hits while others are experiments in sound and technology. What impresses us most about this album is the creativity present throughout. Most artists have one basic idea or sound...and then promptly drive it into the ground. This album grows and evolves as each track glides by. Mr. Scott writes about the world around him and presents his ideas in profoundly moving ways. It is rare indeed when we hear an artist whose words and music come straight from the heart. This is obviously the case here. Out Like A Lamb is chock full of music that will touch and warm your heart on the very first listen. Pop music just doesn't get much better than this... (Rating: 5+++)

Ex-Models / The Seconds - Split EP (CD EP, My Pal God, Obtuse rock)
A decidedly odd and uncommercial split EP from two bands who compliment each other well. First up is Ex-Models, a band we already admired greatly based on their last full-length. These guys' crazy, spastic approach to yelper rock remains intact. "U Got What I Need (Shake)" is silly, absurd, ridiculous...and quite brilliant. "3 Weeks" offers more angular strangeness that most folks simply won't understand (or tolerate). The Seconds offer up "Mommy Mommy Mommy," which sounds about as nervous and obtuse as the Ex-Models. Only the last track ("Better Suit") begins to venture into accessible territory (but only slightly). An unusual EP from two very unusual bands... (Rating: 4+++)

Farrah - Moustache (CD, Ark 21, Pop/rock)
A pure dose of sugary sweet British pop music. This album was named after Farrah bass player Mike Walker...whose Uncle Ted just happens to have the longest moustache in Britain. (If you don't believe it all you need do is fold out the front insert for 100% proof.) The band began back in 1998 and had a hit with their debut single ("Terry"). Surprising that is has taken this long for the band to get their first album out...? Moustache begins with a rerecorded "Terry" and then charges off into pure pop terrain. The band's upbeat music is highly melodic and easy on the senses. The four guys in Farrah are middle-of-the-road sort of fellows. No dumb haircuts, no dumb images...just four British guys who enjoy playing music and making people feel good. No one gets offended...but everyone goes away happy in this campground. Interestingly, it is the closing track ("Goodnight God Bless") that is the real treat here...although we sure WISH they'd left off that "hidden casio track" at the end (!). Nice stuff, solid... (Rating: 4)

Fear Factory - Concrete (CD, Roadrunner, Death metal/industrial rock)
Recorded in 1991 but never released, only now is the first studio album by death metal rockers Fear Factory being made available to the public. Concrete is an interesting glimpse into the band's beginnings. Not surprisingly, the music here is abrasive, loud, intense, violent, and chock full of anxiety...in other words, everything a kid could ever WANT in a rock band (!). Death metal is an esoteric thing. Almost everyone hates it...but those who dig the stuff will stand by it until the very end. Considering all bands in this genre, Fear Factory are definitely one of the best and most sincere. In short, they really MEAN what they're doing. This sixteen-track rape of the senses will tease fans and scare away everyone else (which is probably exactly what the band wants). Massive assault injuries include "Arise Above Oppression," "Crisis," and "Piss Christ." (Rating: 4++)

Frandy Po-Narch (Sloppy grind)
Piss and patch and grab a pot of grass...Frandy Po-Narch has lots of stuff to put him in the right class. It was sometime way back before when children had little antlers when Mr. Po-Narch started grabbing up porksters to stew and distribute to midgets. His story was old and parched...but his mission was so noble and feeble that everyone in the town eventually learned to inform outsiders of the apparent abundance that was above and beyond. Frandy never paid any mind to what the people said though, because all he wanted was to slap the spears and grant wishes to his prize crannie. Sister Teacup had little blisters all over her peephole when she finally went outside and found nothing in any of the tiny little boxes her aunt left on the porch. The twister froze up big time and cracked Lizzie's little birdhouse blips. Then we all got our box-hairs frizzled up and strapped up five big joints and got wasted. That was the point, and it was well intended. (At least that's what we thought before we lost our frigid mouse patrol.) (Rating: 1)

Amy Grant - Hymns and Faith (CD, A&M, Religious pop)
It is always important to give things a listen...even when your first impression may be negative. Our first impression to this was..."An album of HYMNS...by Amy Grant...? C'mon!" But it only took a couple of listens before we realized what a nice, soothing, and effective collection of tunes this really is. (It is unfortunate that most people who are not religious seem so turned off by this kind of music...particularly when they themselves are always whining about how people need to be more open-minded!) In our mind, the main point of music is to effectively convey ideas and emotions...and on this album, Ms. Grant does just that. It is obvious that this lady truly loves this style of music, as her words come straight from the heart. Grant's silky smooth vocals are just perfect for this style of music. Tunes like "This Is My Father's World," "Do You Remember the Time," and "Marching to Zion" ought to please young and old music fans alike. The sound quality is impeccable. An idea well executed... (Rating: 5)

T. Hallenbeck - Secret Society (Independently released CD, Acoustic pop)
The cover letter that accompanied this CD caught our attention initially ("I hope you find this CD much more interesting than this cover letter.")...but the tunes themselves made the real impression. California's T. Hallenbeck is a one man band with a difference. Instead of spewing out generic pop or alternative slop, Hallenbeck provides poignant, intelligent, and amazingly well-constructed tunes that are heady and extremely melodic. The overall sound of this album reminds us of both Roy Wood and Ian Anderson. The tunes are centered around an acoustic guitar...but Hallenbeck adds layers of cello, mandolin, and mandola (all of which he plays well) to create a finely woven web of acoustic instrumentation that supports his tunes perfectly. The vocals are absolutely great. Cool tunes like "Hymn to the Mothman," "Antigravity," and "Missing Time" make this album a thoroughly entertaining listen. Even though this is a top quality release chock full of smart and inventive tunes, you aren't likely to come across Secret Society in your local music shop. Visit this guy's web site. His music demands an audience. This is a damn fine album independently recorded and released. If only all self-produced projects were this good... (Rating: 5)

Joy Electric - The Art and Craft of Popular Music (Double CD, BEC Recordings / Tooth and Nail, Pop)
Ronnie Martin (the man who is Joy Electric) has been making incredible music for quite some time now...and he has still yet to receive the recognition he so rightly deserves. Perhaps the release of The Art and Craft of Popular Music will change that. This whopping double CD set contains a wealth of Joy Electric material...some new, some old, some re-recordings of earlier demos, and some remixes. Mr. Martin is a true genius at writing pop tunes. His songs are smart, heady, catchy, and possess a wonderful heavenly quality that puts the listener in a true state of bubblegum bliss. This beautifully packaged set is testament to that fact. This man is a master at his craft and it's about time more folks woke up and took notice. We've been fans since the beginning. This stuff turns us on now more more than ever. Thirty-four fantastic tracks. Wow... (Rating: 5+++)

The Kaisers - Shake Me! (CD, Get Hip, Pop)
Time may not be standing still...but after listening to the music of The Kaisers you may think that it is. This Scottish band plays early sixties British pop that is so authentic and genuine that you'd swear it's the real thing. But make no mistake, this is not a group playing cover tunes of old Beatles songs. Nope, instead of retreading tired old tunes we've all heard too many times before...this quartet performs their own material. But the amazing thing is how genuine and real it sounds and feels. Even though you've never heard these songs before you'd swear that you heard them long ago when you were a kid. The band's material really is that real. Even more intriguing is how fresh and relevant the material seems. Tunes like "Take Your Time Caroline" and "No Other Guy" possess a cool urgency that is refreshingly genuine. These guys do all the right things just the right way... (Rating: 5)

Licking The Spatula (Ordinary, dreary kind of thing)
Everything is so terribly important. All we really care about, however, is LICKING THE SPATULA. The money matters and earth-like tragedies may continue...but the only thing worth striving for is getting that last bit of icing from the kitchen utensil. Mothers may come and mothers may go...but the grand tradition continues as child after child lines up at the counter to take a big, sloppy slurp of some of the tastiest batters and icing that the world has ever known. Little Muffin Cheesecake has an amazing agenda to consider. Happy Mouser Tink gets blinked out on chocolate windshield. But even though the meek and the mild take no sense into consideration...the licking continues. And the licking always will continue as long as there are prizes to be won and activities to be encountered. (Rating: 2)

Arto Lindsay - Invoke (CD, Righteous Babe, Soft pop with a Brazilian flavor)
One of our favorite artists of the past few decades, Arto Lindsay never ceases to come up with intriguing and entertaining material. Invoke is yet another fine addition to this talented man's impressive and lengthy catalog. Much of the material on this album will sound instantly familiar to fans of Lindsay's material...the moody textures...the breathy vocals...the provocative rhythms... In a matter of a few years, Arto has developed a style of music that is distinctly his own while still retaining an accessible quality that makes it appealing to a wide range of listeners. This is right up there with his best, featuring eclectic cuts such as "Illuminated," "Over/Run," "Uma," and "Beija-me." Yet another instant CLASSIC from a man whose music just keeps getting BETTER ALL THE TIME... (Rating: 5+++)

Little Cat - Little Cat (CD, Pandacide, Electronic/instrumental)
Devon Rumrill, the man who calls himself Little Cat, enjoys delving into curiously lo-fi electronic territory. This is in direct contrast to most modern electronic artists whose main mission in life, it seems, is to keep up with the latest technology. Rumrill's mission is exactly the opposite, as he doesn't like using anything that was created after 1991 (!). Interestingly, this album has a great deal more depth than albums by folks who are insistent on keeping everything up to date. While some of the tunes here are light and airy, there are also some unusual and obtuse ditties that are puzzling and inventive. We particularly like the peculiar sounds of "Etch-A-Sketch," would could very easily be the soundtrack to an outer space animated short. "Mousetoy" is another favorite here, as the tune actually seems to convey the basic ideas and sounds that might be inherent in...a "mouse toy" (!!!!). Overall, the stranger Rumrill's music gets...the better we like it. This album contains no less than 20 heady cuts...all of which delve heavily into the imaginative world of a man who refuses to follow trends... (Rating: 4+++)

The Melismatics - Postmodern Rock (CD, Hygh Tension, Rock/pop)
Fantastic. Just fantastic. The opening bass lines of "Can't Relate" burst through our speakers...and we KNEW we were in for a a real treat. The Melismatics are a four piece band consisting of Ryan Smith (vocals, guitar), Jeremy Ylvisaker (guitars, vocals), Christopher McGuire (drums), and Mark Wade (bass, vocals). Mr. Smith is one helluva singer and bandleader. He and fellow songwriter Ylvisaker crank out wonderfully melodic pop/rock tunes that have a spark that is sadly missing in many of today's rock bands. The songs are simple yet they contain addictive melodic elements that transform them into fantastic musical gems that'll put you into an instant state of bliss. The band is competent to say the least. Playing less rather than more (which is almost always a plus), these guys play with a tight confidence that pushes their music into the next realm. Utilizing just the right blend of sound, style, and image...these guys are headed STRAIGHT UP. CD includes a video of the opening track. Great stuff here... (Rating: 5++)

Migala - Restos de Un Incencio (CD, Acuarela, Pop)
Spanish pop has seen a resurgence in the past few years due in no small part to the aggressive and fascinating pursuits of the folks at Spain's Acuarela label. Rather then focus on artists with big selling power or unlistenable noise acts with no commercial appeal whatsoever, the folks at this unique label consistently release albums by artists whose main mission is to write and record credible, personal, and entertaining music. This is the fourth album by Migala...a Spanish group whose music has gained a wide cult following both in their native country and beyond. This is particularly interesting, considering the odd nature of the group's material. Also interesting is the fact that this album consists of material the band had previously written and recorded...but opted to re-record in order to present the "new" sound of the band (which now includes Nacho Vegas, formerly a member of Manta Ray). The band's moody, smoky, and subdued pop music relies heavily on stark arrangements and understated vocals. The overall idea seems to be to strike a mood and stick with it. This is music to alter the consciousness...but in a constructive (rather than destructive) manner. Excellent compositions like "El Pasado Diciembre," "Noche Desde Un Tren" (this one's KILLER), and "Tiempos de Desastre" make this album flow by like an expansive, incredible river... (Rating: 5++)

The Steve Miller Band - King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents... (Double CD, King Biscuit Flower Hour, Rock/live)
For pure feelgood American guitar rock from the 1970s, The Steve Miller Band were surely right up there on top of the pack. Longtime fans of the band will welcome this whopping double CD set featuring the band at the peak of their career. The shows captured on these discs were recorded November 1973 at Shady Grove in Washington, DC and June 1976 at the Beacon Theater in New York. The band's infectious energy is obvious throughout this lengthy album. Mr. Miller's guitar playing is nothing short of amazing, and the band is tight and propulsive. If you're only familiar with this band's hits, this might be a good jumping off point to discover other facets of the band's sound. Steve Miller's material ranged from rock to pop to jazz to blues and then back again. Judging from the noise at these concerts the attendees must've been having a BLAST. The fine folks at King Biscuit continue to offer intriguing glimpses of legendary artists recorded live. These recordings will remind those who lived through it why the seventies were so much fun. For those who missed out, well...here's your chance to get a nice meaty taste... (Rating: 5)

Mus - El Naval (CD, Darla, Soft pop)
Mus is Fran Gayo and Monica Vacas. El Naval is the Spanish duo's second album. Gayo and Vacas play sparse, minimal, moody pop music featuring extremely breathy...almost whispered...vocals. On this, their second album, the two join up with Ivan Palacios (bass) Luigi Navarro (guitars), Frank Rudow (drums)...and Irene Tremblay (better known as Aroah) who plays acoustic guitar on the tune "Sacramento." El Naval features some absolutely beautiful melodic tunes. Our favorites are the piano-based compositions "Al Oeste De La Divisoria" and "Rencor." The only track which seems out of place is the uncomfortably atonal "Cuesta." The entire album is sung in Spanish...which is particularly cool since the language lends itself to this style of music... (Rating: 4+++)

The Paybacks - Knock Loud (CD, Get Hip, Rock)
Really great, loud, in-your-face hard rock music. These four Detroit folks produce stripped down rock music with masculine intensity...and they've got one HELL of a lead singer...a tall bleached-out lady named Wendy Chase. When Wendy belts out a tune...you'd better RUN FOR THE HILLS. The Paybacks play intensely well-written garage rock that hits hard and leaves a solid impression long afterwards. The band is fleshed out by Marco Delicato (guitar), Mike Latulippe (drums), and John Szymanski (bass). Veterans of the Detroit rock scene, these four play with a tight fury that is impressive and instantly addictive. Ten crowd stoppers here including "Just You Wait," "Thin Air," and "Hot Shot" (this one REALLY kicks!). This band is a complete KNOCKOUT. (Rating: 5++)

The Prom - Under the Same Stars (CD, Barsuk, Pop)
Moody progressive melodic piano pop. Seattle's The Prom sound something like Ben Folds if he were more relaxed and less direct. This band's tunes are memorable not only in terms of melodies but also in their smart and inventive arrangements. Many of the compositions on Under the Same Stars possess qualities that are reminiscent of 1970s progressive rock. The band's overall sound contains a sense of longing and an underlying passion. Both of these qualities make the music striking and inviting. A good deal of time was obviously spent writing and recording these tunes. The attention to detail is obvious. For folks who find Mr. Folds a bit too obvious and poppy, The Prom just may be exactly what you're looking for. Cool tunes include "Living In The Past," "Brighter Than the Moon," and "Room With White Walls." Particularly nice cover art completes the package... (Rating: 4+++)

Marykate O'Neil - Marykate O'Neil (CD, 71 Recordings, Pop)
Some folks may remember Marykate O'Neil as a member of the Boston-based band Piewackit. Nowadays Marykate is out on her own...writing and recording some impressively upbeat and well-produced pop music. Interestingly, this album was co-produced by Jill Sobule and Michael Demming. O'Neil's music sounds similar to Ms. Sobule's...except that it is slightly more progressive in nature. We couldn't help but be impressed by the fact that in her press kit Marykate actually took the time to include a "Hello My Name Is Marykate" sticker and a personal note. (Few artists take the time to do things like this.). This album is chock full of melodic ditties that are hummable and original. Plus, Marykate has an absolutely killer voice. Favorite tracks: "Getting Out of Bed" and "Sunny Day." Well done. (Rating: 4+++)

Origami Arktika - Vardogr (CD, Silber, Experimental/noise/ambient)
It is not likely that you'll be hearing the "music" of Origami Arktika on your local radio station anytime soon. This Norwegian band isn't playing for any particular audience. Instead, they are creating music for the pure art of creation. The compositions on the curiously titled Vardogr are accidental, strange, eerie, sparse, and definitely not what the average person would consider music to be. Raleigh, NC-based Silber Records is presenting challenging and eclectic music...for those curious enough to seek it out and listen. We're always up for a challenge...and we openly embrace the idea of noise and sound presented as music. Accordingly, we find this album to be perplexing and genuine...the work of a group of fellows who obviously are, first and foremost, interested in pushing the boundaries of their creativity. Worth seeking out for those with truly open minds, this album features seven tricky cuts...including "Orretstov," "Eltavaag," and "Den Sorgfulle Sjomann." Obtuse stuff to be certain... (Rating: 4++)

The Smarties - Stop or I'll Bust Out Crying (Independently released CD, Pop/rock)
Simple and direct, San Francisco's The Smarties don't need gimmicks because they write good, solid pop tunes. The trio consists of Margo McAdams, Doug Carson, and Mike Henry. The band's music sounds something like a younger Elvis Costello...but their tunes are more straightforward and rock a lot harder. Stop or I'll Bust Out Crying was recorded at John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone recording studio...so you know the album has a good vibe. This band seems to be having a great time doing what they love and enjoy...and their enthusiasm and talent shine through loud and clear. Good stuff...! Hummable rockers here include "Breaker," "Queer For Weather," and "Shut Your Mouth." (Rating: 4+++)

Someday I - ref 4 (CD, Owned and Operated Recordings, Rock)
Smart, loud rock music featuring interesting arrangements and husky vocals. Someday I is a band fueled by overdriven guitars and thumping rhythms. Rather than simply churn out walls of power chords, these guys inject their tunes with tons of intelligent guitar riffs and chunky bass lines. While some of the tunes on ref 4 are basic twenty-first century hard rock, still others have a strange funky quality reminiscent of Gang of Four's mind-expanding Entertainment album. The band is led by guitarist/vocalist John Meredith, who has a nice in-your-face masculine voice that works perfectly with this style of music. Backing up Meredith are Damon Smith on drums and David Schutz on bass. For a three-piece band, these guys have a big, big, BIG sound. Great rockers like "The Sun Will Burn Out," "Not OK Computer, and "Concrete" make this album a nice buzz to turn onto... (Rating: 4+++)

Superbees - High Volume (CD, Acetate, Rock)
Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. These guys ain't foolin' around. This is high volume rock and roll played with intense attitude...and the band has a real screamer of a vocalist. Superbees have a great deal in common with The Stooges and the MC5. The guitars are loud and hot, the rhythms fast and furious, and the band plays with a wild abandon that you don't often hear in the world of hard rock. The band consists of Dave James (vocals, guitar), Scott Carlson (vocals, guitar), Dat T. Ngo (bass, vocals), and Johnny Sleeper (drums). Our favorite rockers here are "Really Wanna Know," "Do You Understand," and "Run Rabbit Run." Really good guitar rock that's a real kick in the butt. (Rating: 4+++)

UHF - If It Was Easy (CD, Second Story, Pop)
Interesting pop music with slight psychedelic underpinnings. Portland's UHF share a great deal in common with The Green Pajamas. Both bands are virtually unknown, both create credible pop music...and both have a similar overall sound. This album was produced by Gregg Williams who has worked with a great many fine artists of late. The tunes on If It Was Easy bear a striking resemblance to much of the alternative pop music of the 1980s. The band's guitar-driven melodic pop is based first and foremost around vocal melodies...with interesting twists in arrangements to keep things interesting. Our favorites here are "Mr. Grey" and "Last Rays of the Sun." (Rating: 4+)

Darryl Worley - I Miss My Friend (CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
Charging off on a good foot with "Tennessee River Run," up-and-coming country artist Darryl Worley gets funky with some uptempo honky tonk pop. Worley seems to be quickly maturing as a songwriter and singer. Compared to his last release, this young man sounds like he has gained a lot of ground in terms of confidence and ability. This album is more polished, more focused...and more thoroughly entertaining. This big guy (he's 6 feet 6 six inches tall...!) has tapped into the minds of a great many country music fans. I Miss My Friend is a nice solid chunk of modern country pop that comes from the heart and affects the soul. Top cuts include "I Wouldn't Mind the Shackles," "The Least That You Can Do," and "Spread A Little Love Around." (Rating: 4+++)

Yes Squares (The right response to the things kind of thing)
Don't you go saying "no" when you know you don't mean it. The only thing that can ever be said is a resounding "YES" to the Yes Squares. They originate from some city in some area, but it took a real long time for them to come up with something. But eventually they did and when they got it all going it was really something. After they made a bunch of them they gave them to a lot of people. And a lot of people went "YES!" to the Yes Squares. They duplicated the things and handed them out to their friends. Those friends paused without hesitation, went off and got dainty, and then proceeded to fill their sacks with plenty of quality packing material. There they go across the country, giving off vibrations and offering stable comments to all who will listen. There is no mission and there is no gear, for the Yes Squares drive off into nothing very near. (Rating: 2)

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