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November 2002 Reviews by

The Agenda

Authority Zero
Badly Drawn Boy

Bon Voyage

Franklin Bruno

Comment Piece
John Cunningham*
DJ Me DJ You

Brad Dutz & Jeff Kaiser
Jad Fair & R. Stevie Moore
Peter Gabriel

Bill Hicks
The Holy Ghost

Matt Maneri
M. F. McAdam
Morella's Forest
Of Montreal

People Get Angry At Us
Rocket From the Crypt
Saint Etienne

Michael J. Sheehy
Sigur Ros

The Earl Slick Band
Rolo Tomase

Velvet Crush
We Ragazzi

Western Keys
Denison Witmer

*Top Picks


November 2002 Comment Piece: The Love High

We are high on LIFE. We are high on LOVE. We love the little things like stones and mustard and pegs and dice and pigs and giblets...but we also love the BIG things like trees and mountains and clouds and chicklets. When we wake up in the morning we look into the sky and see the beauty of everything. While evil and hatred prevail over much of the world, in our sturdy little isolated campground everything is SERENE and SURREAL. Sometimes mean strangers throw stones our way. But we just turn those stones into barnhole flowers and dance a jiggity-jig in circles as we watch the flowers change colors and MELT AWAY. Our happiness is REAL. We created the earth. As a result, we can make it be whatever we WANT it to be. Our beliefs are in something much bigger...much more encompassing...something GRANDE...something WONDERFUL. We believe in EVERYTHING. And we believe in getting totally and completely HIGH on LOVE.

Abdullah - Graveyard Poetry (CD, MeteorCity, Rock)
Heavily influenced by the first three Black Sabbath albums, Abdullah is a hard rock band that focuses on songs and melodies. The guitars are loud and the band powerful...but the singer has an Ozzy-ish voice that rises above the music and provides a great focal point for the band's music. Most of the music is solid rock heavy...but a few of the tracks go off on a more trippy, obtuse angle ("Salamander" is a good example of this--one of our favorites on the album). Abdullah is a hard rock band with a modern sound that should please any fan of 1970s stoner rock... (Rating: 4+++)

The Agenda - Start the Panic (CD, Kindercore, Rock)
Athens' Kindercore label turns up the volume...shifting their focus from pop to rock...and hit the ground running with the adrenaline rush of The Agenda. This band doesn't just throw exclamation points around for no good reason. Each song title ends with an exclamation point because these guys are all about energy, volume, and EXCITEMENT. Playing garage rock the way it ought to be played, these five guys drive their tunes home with a masculine punch and a nasty screamer growl. Start the Panic is, first and foremost, a party record. This is the kinda stuff that is best enjoyed when drinking and getting totally messed up...and turning the volume way, way, WAY up. J. R. Suicide's vocals are killer. Plenty of rockin' tunes here. "Crash! Crash!," "Last Chance for Action!," and "No More Dancing!" are our top picks... (Rating: 4+++)

Authority Zero - A Passage In Time (CD, Lava, World pop)
Though this band is being lumped into that oh-so-tired-and-overused category called "punk"...in our opinion, the music they play could more appropriately be labeled complicated world pop music. Rather than slam bam bam in a monotonous way until the end of the day...the guys in this Arizona band opt to mix and merge influences from all over the world into their heady and sometimes intense brand of modern day rock music. True, they do look like punksters...but fortunately they really aren't (!). These gentlemen are smart. They can totally rip and roar with the best of 'em...but just when you think they're another one of "those"...they take off in a completely different direction. The overall sound of this album is somewhat schizophrenic...and we have a feeling that is exactly what the band had in mind when they recorded this. Probably too complex for the punks...and too loud for the artsy fartsy world music loonies...this band may have a difficult time finding their niche. But...who knows? One thing is for certain...they're approaching things from a unique angle. (Rating: 4+++)

Badly Drawn Boy - Have You Fed the Fish? (CD, Artist Direct, Pop)
The more we hear Badly Drawn Boy the more impressed we are. This bearded and wooly capped British gentleman has been entertaining audiences with his gentle brand of inventive pop since his 2000 debut album. Since that time, Badly Drawn Boy has garnered rave reviews from writers across the globe. Have You Fed the Fish? may just be this man's best work to date. The songs are well crafted and feature intriguing melodic twists. The arrangements are full and form fitting. And the vocals are smooth and easy. (Badly Drawn Boy doesn't ever try to force anything.) While the music is smart and clever, this fellow's material never comes off sounding contrived and premeditated. Cool tunes like "Born Again," "You Were Right," "Using Our Feet," and "Bedside Story" showcase an artist who has truly hit his prime. Great stuff, well executed... (Rating: 5+)

Beck - Sea Change (CD, Geffen, Soft pop)
Except for being briefly amused by his breakout tune ("Loser"), we have been mostly unimpressed by the music of Beck. We haven't disliked anything we've heard...but the overall sound and approach just didn't appeal to us. By this time, Beck's original fans have probably all gone out to pasture...which is interesting because, in our opinion, Sea Change is the best thing this man has yet to come up with. Playing it slow and easy, Beck's tunes on this album sound something like a cross between Gordon Lightfoot and Peter Gabriel (?!?). Of all his albums thus far, Sea Change is by far the biggest departure yet from the original sound and vision. It should appeal to an even larger audience than Beck has already managed to reach. We're still not blown away...but we are certainly entertained by the new shift in tide. Calm, relaxing pop tunes include "The Golden Age," "Guess I'm Doing Fine," and "Side of the Road." (Rating: 4+)

Bon Voyage - The Right Amount (CD, Tooth and Nail, Soft pop)
It would have been criminal for us not to review this CD...considering how much we have supported the work of brothers Jason and Ronnie Martin over the past decade (!). Jason is best known for his work with the stellar pop outfit Starflyer 59. Ronnie is the genius behind the always eccentric and entertaining Joy Electric. Bon Voyage is a side project created by Jason and his wife Julie Martin. Jason writes the tunes, Julie handles the vocals. Brother Ronnie joined the project to offer some of his creative studio savvy. One might think that the end result would sound like...a cross between Starflyer 59 and Joy Electric. But that isn't necessarily the case. There are certainly some similarities to both...but this project is different overall in both sound and approach. Julie's breathy, subdued vocals are a perfect fit for these soft pop compositions. In many ways, the sound of Bon Voyage is similar to Ivy. Don't expect to be immediately knocked off your feet. Just as the case with Ivy, the music gets better with repeated listenings. Our favorite cut here is the provocative and dreamy sound of "All The Traps." (Rating: 5)

Franklin Bruno - A Cat May Look Like A Queen (CD, Absolutely Kosher, Pop)
Up until now we have had a difficult time figuring out who Franklin Bruno reminds us of. When we put A Cat May Look Like A Queen into our player it suddenly hit us. Mr. Bruno reminds us a great deal of David Gedge of Cinerama. Not that he's trying to ape or copy Gedge's style...but Bruno's overall approach...and particularly his vocals...are quite similar. This is Franklin's third full-length release. We are impressed not only by this man's writing ability...but we are particularly impressed by his lyrics. His words are reflective and poignant...and yet never come off sounding overly clever or forced. The basic, sparse arrangements positively support the melodies...and the overall sound has a nice organic feel that is particularly appealing. Interestingly, Tommy Larkins plays drums on this album (Larkins is best known for having played with Jonathan Richman). Soft pop for the thinking listener. This is yet another underground hit for Mr. Bruno. Our favorites include "Dashboard Issues," "Janet Shaw, " "Callous," and "Blue's the Only Color." (Rating: 5)

Cathedral - The VIIth Coming (CD, Spitfire, Heavy metal)
Cathedral mainman Lee Dorrian is a man driven to achieve. Not only does he lead one of the most credible heavy metal bands of the past decade but he is also responsible for bringing incredible acts like Electric Wizard and Orange Goblin into the public consciousness (both bands are two of our top favorites). As opposed to heavy metal, in our minds the music of Cathedral might more appropriately be termed progressive hard rock. The band's intelligently crafted tunes are loud and forceful...but the music is surprisingly intricate and well thought out. Dorrian's super macho vocals are the icing in the cake. When most men tackle the territory he tackles they come off sounding silly. Dorrian is the real thing, roaring like thunder while never regressing into just another generic metal screamer. The VIIth Coming is chock full of good hard stuff for rockers who can think. Our favorite cuts are "Phoenix Rising" and "The Empty Mirror." (Rating: 5)

Charlene - Charlene (CD, SharkAttack!, Pop/rock)
Charlene is a smart band. Their overall approach to their career reminds us of The Poster Children (one of the most criminally overlooked bands of the 1990s). Instead of seeking out a record contract, the three folks in Charlene took matters into their own hands...recording their own album and creating their own record label. Sure, lots of folks do this nowadays...but few have done so in such a professional and credible manner as Charlene. The band's self-titled debut starts off with the throbbing New Order-ish "Ripoff." (The song should be an instant hit...although in the world of commercial music it probably won't be...) The remainder of the album consists of mostly soft and moody pop music with subtle, atmospheric arrangements. The sound quality is excellent throughout. This is an excellent debut from a band to keep an eye on... (Rating: 4+)

CKY - Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild (CD, Island, Rock)
Island Records finally have their ace in the hole. CKY is a dynamite rock band with a punchy hard sound and songs that truly stand out from the crowd. CKY is an impressive band on many levels. First and foremost, their songs instantly stick in your mind. Second, they can play like HOLY HELL. The drummer is a true powerhouse of a basher and the guitarists play absolutely wonderful riffs that are light years beyond what one normally hears in a hard rock band. Third, the vocals are superb. (How many hard rock bands can you think of who can throw in multi-layered harmonies and make it work?) Fourth, the arrangements are heady, slightly psychedelic, and extraordinarily creative. Producer/mixer Chad Ginsburg deserves major points for the mind-bending sound quality. This CD was mastered at about TWICE the volume of normal CDs. It seems to nearly jump out of the stereo and grab you by the nuts. We've tried our best, but we are hard pressed to come up with comparisons. These guys have a truly original sound. At this point in time, CKY may very well be at the TOP of the heap when it comes to hard rock. Plenty of unforgettable tracks here. Our favorites are "Escape From Hellview," "Flesh Into Gear," "Shock & Terror," and "Inhuman Creation Station." A classic hard rock album for the twenty-first century. (Rating: 5+++)

John Cunningham - Happy-Go-Unlucky (CD, Parasol, Pop)
Beautifully melodic British pop. Happy-Go-Unlucky is the fourth album from John Cunningham...and it is a stunning collection of tunes. Cunningham is treading in musical territory that lies somewhere in between Stackridge, The Beatles, and Robert Wyatt (the first and the last being two particular favorites here in babysueland...). The hummability factor of the material on this album is extraordinarily high. Superb melodies flowing in tunes such as "Losing Myself Too," "It Isn't Easy," and "Welcome to the World" possess a wonderfully magical quality that is timeless and unforgettable. The strangely subtle "Here It Is" is about as good as pop music gets. Slightly surreal and heady arrangements complete the picture, presenting a man who has just hit his prime in terms of writing and recording. This is a truly great pop album that MUST be heard. Highly recommended. Hats off to Parasol for making this available in the United States. (Rating: 5+++)

Damnation - The Unholy Sounds of... (CD, R.A.F.R., Hard rock)
While the guys in Damnation might appear to be punks...the band's music is actually a great blend of hard rock and solid pop. Damnation is now in its tenth year...and they show no signs of letting up or wearing down. These guys have a lot going for them. They have a loud, intense sound that is focused around credible songs. The band can play it fast or simply hard and direct. But whatever they do, they come across amazingly focused and dedicated to their craft. And MAN are they TIGHT (!). Meaty macho tunes like "Fuel Injected Priest," "Garbage Truck," "66613, " and "R.I.P" should appeal to all fans of music that simply rocks hard and gets permanently embedded in your head until you're dead. Excellent stuff here! (Rating: 5)

DJ Me DJ You - Can You See the Music? (CD & DVD, Eenie Meenie, Dance/pop/collage)
Most acts and CDs can be summed up easily and lumped into a generic category. In the case of the duo DJ Me DJ You, we had to do a double take to catch what was going on. Though there have probably already been a number of releases prepared in a similar manner, this is the first disc we have received for review that combines an audio CD with a video DVD...a neat double disc set packaged in one neatly prepared foldout sleeve. This idea is certain to be more and more common with the increasingly accessible DVD recording and editing technology now available to virtually anyone with a few hundred bucks to spare. We are rarely impressed by impressive accomplishments and celebrity name dropping...but we are often impressed by imagination and skill. In the case of DJ Me DJ You, we were impressed in all arenas. These two fellows (Ross Harris and Craig Borrell) have worked with some impressive people on audio and video projects. With this undertaking, the two are apparently utilizing all of their skills and offering them to the public in a single package. Pretty neat. The music is cool...a hybrid of techno and dance and pop. What we like best about these guys' music is that it doesn't require too much thinking. You just put it on and...get a good feeling from it. Happy stuff...we LIKE that. While we have never been huge fans of music video, we rather enjoyed this band's DVD. While the clips on the disc are creative and professional...they possess a nice homemade quality that is appealing. Looks like something you would find by accident on some offbeat cable channel very late at night. DVD track number five KICKS ASS...it's a wonderfully trippy psychedelic experience. A real UPPER. These guys succeeded in their mission because the video clips are a good match for the music. Overall, this is a very entertaining double disc package. Our guess is that these fellows had a great time producing this l'il sucker... (Rating: 5)

D.O.A. - Win the Battle (CD, Sudden Death, Rock)
Formed in 1978, D.O.A. is perhaps Canada's longest running punk rock band ever. Numerous bands have cited these three guys as a major influence. Win the Battle is the band's tenth full-length album. The band is still in fine rocking form and their sense of humor remains intact. Hell raisin' tunes like "Dead Men Tell No Tales," "If I Were A Redneck," and "Return to Lumberjack City" should please the band's fans. D.O.A. are touring to promote this album as well as celebrate 25 years in the spotlight (!). More rock than punk nowadays, these guys still have what it takes... (Rating: 4++)

Dredg - El Cielo (CD, Interscope, Progressive pop/rock)
Dredg is a rarity these days. These four guys have their own distinct image and style...and their sound is unique. The band's music is a heady blend of progressive rock and pop. The arrangements are far from standard. The instruments are used in unusual and untraditional ways to support the band's melodic compositions. Vocalist Gavin Hayes has a nice smooth voice that glides perfectly over the band's often complex music. The songs on El Cielo have an epic sound...sounding something like arena rock...but more relaxed and subdued...and decidedly more brooding and ethereal. The production is slick and impressive throughout. Top notch tunes include "Same Ol' Road," "Sorry But It's Over," "Scissor Lock," and "The Canyon Behind Her." (Rating: 4+++)

Brad Dutz & Jeff Kaiser - The Order of Her Bones (CD, pfMENTUM, Modern classical/obtuse jazz/experimental)
This is an art project in the truest sense. Though you may not know their names, Brad Dutz and Jeff Kaiser have been involved with a mind-boggling array of artists and/or projects over the course of their careers (far too numerous to mention here). Suffice to say, these men have their roots firmly entrenched. There are few things on earth that please as much as artists who create purely out of a love for creation. Dutz and Kaiser most certainly fit within this description. The Order of Her Bones is an obtuse, eccentric, peculiar, and almost completely non-commercial collection of compositions that virtually defy description. Kaiser plays trumpet, flugelhorn, and provides voices. Dutz plays marimba, vibes, xylophone, bass, gongs, Indian bells, shakers, bones, pandiero, and...and...well, you'd have to read the list of things he plays on this album to believe it. You won't be hearing these twelve tracks on any normal radio station anytime soon. These two gentlemen provide wildly experimental stuff that is only meant for those who like being challenged. The disc is packaged nicely, complimented by a piece of hand-tied string which holds the package together. Very nice stuff, we would recommend checking out the label's web site (see link above)... (Rating: 5)

Ether - Great Ocean Road (Independently released CD, Soft pop)
On the first listen we were intrigued. By the tenth spin...we were HOOKED. The soft smooth pop on this album fits the title. Great Ocean Road truly does give the listener the feeling of driving on a great ocean road. This Australian band is fronted by songwriter extraordinaire Garth Adam. This guy writes extremely understated yet effective smart soft pop that ranks up there with the best. Adam and bandmates Dave Kelly (drums) and Douglas Sandrini (various acoustic instruments) are also the rhythm section of the band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts (no, that's NOT a typo!). Obviously Adam and company deserve to be in the limelight. The tunes on this great sounding self-released CD are soothing...and ultimately satisfying as Hell. The pensive lyrics and intimate vocals pull you in while the melodies keep you coming back for more. Great tunes like "Not the Girl," "Not My Way," and "Questions" make this an exceptionally striking album. Destined to be an underground favorite for sure. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

Jad Fair & R. Stevie Moore - FairMoore (CD, Old Gold, Experimental stream of consciousness)
Interesting pairing here. R. Stevie Moore...the undisputed king of home recording...and Jad Fair...formerly of Half Japanese...team up and record a strange album by anyone's standards. Fair handles vocals and percussion while Moore handles just about everything else. Fair's vocals are actually more like stream-of-consciousness spoken word experiments...while the accompanying music ranges from dub to jazz to awkward pop. We particularly dig the graphics on the inserts (both fellows contributed artwork to the project). One thing is certain. This music is too peculiar for the average listener. As a result, this album is not likely to propel either artist into superstardom. And that is a shame...because many of the most talented artists on the earth continue to create in the shadows...while shallow artists with virtually no talent whatsoever get all the money and attention (!!!). Worthwhile for the adventurous... (Rating: 5)

Peter Gabriel - Up (CD, Geffen, Pop/rock)
There was a time many, many years ago when we followed Peter Gabriel's career like a hypnotic moose. When he was at his best, his music was beautiful, touching, and absolutely incredible. But as we all grew older...Mr. Gabriel's career took some unflattering turns...and we grew to despise the man, his music, and particularly his outspoken political stand on everything. To bring things into the present...we felt relatively sure that we were going to hate Up. This is a case where we are happy to report that we were absolutely WRONG. This is the best solo album this man has produced in a very long time. Strangely, this album bears a great many similarities to Gabriel's first three solo albums. Considering that those were some of his strongest undertakings, you can bet that Up truly is an "up" in the winding career path of Peter Gabriel. The songs are strong...the arrangements impeccable...and the man's voice sounds as great as it did when he helped created masterpieces like Foxtrot and Selling England By the Pound. If you ever appreciated this man's music, you are likely to be blown away by cuts like "Darkness," "No Way Out," "My Head Sounds Like That," and "The Drop." Welcome back, Peter. It's good to have you home again. (Rating: 5)

Bill Hicks - Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 (CD, Rykodisc, Stand-up comedy), Love Laughter and Truth (CD, Rykodisc, Stand-up comedy)
Along with Andy Kaufmann and Martin Mull, Bill Hicks stands out as one of our favorite comedians of all time. We were (sadly) never aware of Bill's existence when he was alive. As a result, we have been turned onto this brilliant man's humor over the past couple of years through CD reissues of his concerts. Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 is a virtually unedited recording of a 1991 show in Pittsburgh (it would have been completely unedited but the tape ran out before the show ended). The concert is divided into 31 sequences chock full of Hicks' zany and often times offensive humor. You've gotta love any man who would stand up in front of an audience and proclaim to their faces that they have won the "worst f*cking audience I've ever faced" award (they didn't sound too pleased about that...). Love Laughter and Truth is an edited "best of" compilation retrieved from shows in 1990 to 1993. As a result, the sound quality varies...as does audience response from track to track. What we like best about Hicks' humor is that he caused his listeners and audiences to think. Few performers can do that. Without a doubt, this man was genuinely hilarious. Rykodisc will be releasing further volumes of Flying Saucer Tour in the near future. We can't WAIT. (Rating: 5++)

The Holy Ghost - Color Sympathy (CD, Clearly, Rock/pop)
The Holy Ghost stirred up a good bit of interest with their debut CD Broken Record. This, the follow-up, has the potential to kick them into the major leagues. Color Sympathy has the potential to appeal to a wide range of music listeners. This slick and polished effort sounds something like a cross between The Strokes, U2, and The Cure (although there are a great many other influences swimming around in the mix as well...). Unlike most new bands, these guys are focused and they truly have their own sound...and the songs are top notch and executed to perfection. The reviewers are on their side. Now..will the average listener follow? Top picks: "Color Sympathy," "Toledo," "Snow White." (Rating: 5)

Jackpot - Shiny Things (CD, Surfdog, Pop)
Most underground bands sound like underground bands. Sacramento's Jackpot does not. These guys have surprisingly accessible songs that could very well become commercially successful in a BIG way. But don't think we're cutting the band down...because the guys in Jackpot write some damn good tunes. In fact, what we like best about the compositions on Shiny Things is that the songs are accessible and easy to listen to...but they are by no means generic and crappy (as is the case with most commercial sounding music). The band's strongest strength is that they have the uncanny knack to get in a groove and stay solid with it for the duration of each song. (How many bands can make such a claim?) As familiar as many elements of the music are...we can't put our fingers on any particular comparison for these guys...?!? To put it simply, this music makes us feel good. Top picks: "Far Far Far," "Pennies," "Fleas on the Tail of Time," "Bring on the Chimes." (Rating: 4+++)

Kimone - Meres of Twilight (CD, Silverthree Sound Recordings, Pop)
Question: When is a British pop band not a British pop band? Answer: When the band is based in Boston, Massachusetts. All kidding aside, Kimone do have a great deal in common with British pop bands...particularly British pop bands of the late 1980s. The swirling progressive pop tunes on Meres of Twilight are melodic and polished to perfection. Some may already be familiar with bandleader Tim Den, as he is assistant editor of Lollipop magazine. Not that it means anything in particular, but this musical endeavor obviously has some money behind it. The album's slick sound can be attributed to a big slick studio and a professional producer (J. Robbins). But songs are what count after all...and there are some fine songs on this album. Nice, floating pop treats like "Barrierbarrierbarrier," "Shipwright," and "Desert Age" make this a comfortable spin... (Rating: 4++)

Matt Maneri - Sustain (CD, Thirsty Ear, Experimental jazz)
If you are into easy listening or smooth jazz...AVOID THIS CD (!). Son of composer Joseph Maneri, Matt Maneri is following in his father's footsteps...already surpassing his dad in term's of musical output. The compositions on Sustain are basically jazz music...but not in the traditional form that most people are familiar with. Over the course of these nine compositions, Maneri and accomplices perform music that is difficult for the average listener. Many songs are atonal...some consist of mostly noise...others have some identifiable musical elements that are slightly familiar...but then they mutate into heady and explosive mental exercises. The disc features saxophone player Joe McPhee, whose playing is as abstract and unpredictable as Maneri himself. This is a daring...and at times jarring...collection of tunes. Strange pieces like "Alone (Origin)" and "Divine" (our favorite) are unusual and challenging in an obtuse way. Very different...very unique. (Rating: 5)

M. F. McAdam - Boy Wonder (CD, Superhead, Pop)
We fell in love with this CD on the very first listen. Being huge fans of Harry Nilsson and Harpers Bizarre, it was impossible not to love the music of M. F. McAdam. McAdam has already been in the spotlight with his previous band Sumack. Now he's out on his own...and the results are astounding. Beginning with the music box sounds of "Hello I Must Be"...this album magically floats along from track to track...slowly drawing the listener in. Melodies are the key factors in McAdam's writing. The arrangements are kept simple...utilizing only what is necessary in order to get the message across. This lyrics and vocals are a pure delight...light years beyond what one normally hears in pop music. We have gone completely APESHIT over this album. Exceptional tunes like "While You Wait," "The Rouxs," "Skin Thick Skin," and "Sob Story No. 2" are imaginative, crisp, smart, and inventive. More than anything, however, this music is simply entertaining as HELL. Highly recommended listening...!!! (Rating: 5+++)

Morella's Forest - Tiny Lights of Heaven (CD, Big Beef / Endearing, Pop)
This is the first new release in four years from Dayton, Ohio-based Morella's Forest. The band put out three albums a few years back on the Tooth & Nail label and have now returned with a fuller sound and even stronger material. Vocalist Sydney Rentz has never sounded better. Her soft, breathy vocals are inviting and glide perfectly over the band's melodic compositions. When most bands return from the void it is usually because they either (a) need money or (b) have nothing better to do. In the case of Morella's Forest, the band has returned with a much stronger sense of who they are and what they are doing. They are likely to make a much bigger dent in the world this time around. We certainly hope so, as Tiny Lights of Heaven is a beautiful album...chock full of soothing soft pop and subtle intricacies. Ultimately satisfying cuts like "Running," "Love Is Blind," and "Gentle Go the Hours" make this album a cool glide through modern pop terrain. (Rating: 5+)

Of Montreal - Adlhils Arboretum (CD, Kindercore, Complicated pop)
Winning the top prize for "most complicated pop band in the United States," Of Montreal return with an album that is...a slight bit simpler than normal (which means the music is still very complicated). For those who are not familiar with the band, the music sounds very much like a cross between Apples in Stereo and Lilys. Sound unusual? It is. This band's trademark seems to be taking melody lines and seeing how unpredictable they can make them. But the strange part is that...while listening to the music...the listener has the tendency to try singing along. This is, of course, impossible unless one listens to the disc over and over and over and OVER. This album seems to be more accessible than past releases...but that's not saying a whole lot (!). While the instruments used are basic, the way the instruments are played and the song structures are unconventional. To top everything off to the max, the music has a slight goofiness slithering around in the background (?!?). We can never quite understand what these folks are attempting to do. But we are absolutely certain that with each and every release we are more and more IMPRESSED. Heady, mental pop music for people with the patience to let it sink in over time. (Rating: 5++)

People Get Angry At Us (Unimportant kind of nothings)
This is not a review, this is an all-encompassing response to some folks who may know exactly who they are... We're not quite sure why...but in the past few weeks we've received more "hate mail" than normal. Accordingly, we wanted to send a "generic" message to all those sad individuals who don't deserve a personalized note because of their rude and inconsiderate nature. So here goes...
Dear People Get Angry At Us:
Why you are angry at us, People Get Angry At Us? You do not even KNOW us. Do you not realize we care NOTHING about you? Do you not realize we not CARE what you think? Do you not realize that no matter HOW much you rant in your pathetic little e-mails and no matter HOW much you criticize us...we will never, EVER give you a "personal reply" because you are not WORTH it....? So, see there People Get Angry At Us? Think of all the time and effort you have spent sending us a message...detailing your EXACT feelings and thoughts and trying to convince us that how we feel and what we say is WRONG. All of your efforts are in VAIN. We are always glad to entertain all viewpoints and ideas from ANYONE...as LONG as they are POLITE. Rude people get what they deserve. NOTHING. And because they ARE nothing the only thing they will ever GET in their small lives is NOTHING...
In closing, dear People Get Angry At Us, we hope you aren't going to get angry at hearing the TRUTH. The truth CAN be painful, can't it? Particularly when you have lived your entire crummy little life in a cramped and smelly shell that you call REALITY. Perhaps you will live for a while, perhaps you will die soon... We don't particularly care WHICH, because you are irrelevant in the big picture. But we would suggest that you just save your time and energy for something that matters, People Get Angry At Us...because in our case you are simply WASTING YOUR TIME. Ha ha! And you can't ANSWER BACK now because this is ONE-WAY COMMUNICATION at its FINEST! Nyah, nyah, nyah, NYAH, nyaaaaaah!!!! You BORE us to TEARS.
The Polite Folks in the Plush Offices of babysue
(Rating: 1)

Polara - Jetpack Blues (CD, Susstones, Acid-drenched pop/rock)
For the life of us we can't figure out why Polara has not become explosively popular. The band has released nothing but exceptional material. They have even had the backing of the big corporate record label crowd. We have lapped up everything Polara has put out like hungry kittens on crystal speed. Yet it seems as if the public at large just doesn't snap at the savory bait. People are stupid though. Very, very stupid. As good as Jetpack Blues is...there's a very good chance that the band still won't hit it big. But it won't be because they aren't supplying the goods. This album is chock full of slick melodic pop music with superb vocals and wild guitar work. Musically, the band's material fits somewhere in between bands like Smashing Pumpkins (before the pumpkin rotted), Game Theory, Young Fresh Fellows, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. While there are traces of these bands...and more...Polara is actually a band with their own sound. Perhaps that is why they are slow to catch on. There are no obvious reference points. This album is right up there with all of Polara's releases. Here's hoping at least a few more thousand will jump on the bandwagon this go 'round. Superb artwork, groovy digipak, and eleven dynamite little tunes. Excellent stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Rocket From the Crypt - Live From Camp X-Ray (CD, Vagrant, Rock)
No, this is not a live album. Live From Camp X-Ray is a new batch of studio recordings from the legendary Rocket From the Crypt. What this album lacks in length (clocking in at 28 minutes)...it more than makes up for in pure force and aggression. Interestingly, the band's latest tunes remind us a great deal of Elvis Costello's very early material (except louder, harder, and faster). Must be all those horns and urgent, forceful vocals. RFTC has been around for a very long time without ever wimping out. Tight rockers like "I'm Not Invisible," "I Can't Feel My Head" (great song title), and "Bucket of Piss" make this album a true explosive rocking good time. More great stuff from a band that just keeps getting better. (Rating: 5)

Saint Etienne - Finisterre (CD, Beggars Banquet / Mantra Recordings, Soft technological pop)
While never a huge success commercially, Saint Etienne have been incredibly influential and popular in circles of underground music fans. We have enjoyed all the band's previous releases...but Finisterre doesn't seem to hit the mark. Sarah Cracknell's vocals still sound marvelous. Some of the band's compositions on this album just don't float our boat. We certainly hope the band will not be delving further into the world of hip hop (?!?). In any event, this isn't bad...it just isn't up to the level of excellence that the band set for themselves. (Rating: 3++)

Michael J. Sheehy - No Longer My Concern (CD, Beggars Banquet, Soft pop)
Every so often an artist strikes us in such a way that we get a rush when we receive a new release from them. Such was the case when we opened up a package to find the new album from Britain's moody popster Michael J. Sheehy. No Longer My Concern continues in the tradition of Sheehy's previous releases. The music is slightly hazy and smoky...with cool vocals and subtle production twists. The album flows consistently from track to track...challenging the listener in a peculiar and distanced manner. The disc is packaged in a beautifully designed triple-fold digipak. Of all the tracks, we are particularly impressed by the beautiful melody in "Dark Country Moment"...although there really isn't a bad cut on the album. A unique artist in his prime, Michael J. Sheehy is one of Britain's best...and most provocative...artists. (Rating: 5+)

Sigur Ros - O (CD, MCA, Atmospheric pop)
Nice, calm, reflective music. O is the third full-length release from Iceland's Sigur Ros. This band has big money pushing them to the forefront of the artsy music arena. These four lads create heady, soothing music that combines elements of soft pop with ambient electronics. The packaging is interesting. The outside of the CD has no words nor recognizable images of the band--making it very hard for the average person to identify the disc. The CD itself is completely white. (The only problem with this sort of overly artsy approach is that the listener has to make absolutely certain to keep the disc in the right box...which can be quite difficult when 20 other bands have also dropped the idea of putting their name on the disc and jewel box!) In any event, the music here is pleasant and well executed. Is it unique and different? Not particularly (although judging from some writers' opinions you would think they are the best thing to hit planet earth since string cheese). But the main thing is the music...and these guys are quite good at what they do. Next time around we'd like to see them make it a bit easier on all of us by including words, a song list, etc...but we are still quite content with what we see and hear... Nice stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

The Earl Slick Band - Slick Trax (CD, Metal Blade, Rock/pop)
Slick Trax was released to coincide with Earl Slick's presence on the 2002 David Bowie tour. This album is a collection of re-mastered tracks Slick and company recorded over the past few years. If the name doesn't sound familiar, you have almost certainly already heard Earl Slick's guitar playing for decades. He has added his talents to a stunning array of artists' albums including Bowie, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger. The songs on this album are impressively simple and direct. Instead of overdoing it in the studio (which the aforementioned artists have been guilty of on more than one occasion), Mr. Slick keeps the arrangements clean...letting his music rock out just as it should. Interestingly, Slick's vocals sound slightly similar to Bowie. An interesting glimpse into the world of one of the world's most famous sidemen. (Rating: 4+++)

Rolo Tomase - Plan B (CD, [sic] audio reproductions, Progressive rock/jazz)
Rolo Tomase is not an individual but rather a band consisting of Brian McBrearty (guitar), David Perrott (bass), and Liam Hurley (drums). This New York trio plays a heady experimental blend of progressive rock and jazz. Their playing seems to be based first and foremost on spontaneity. The odd and slightly angular pieces on Plan B showcase a band with little regard for commercial success. This music is an underground taste sensation to be certain...as the general listening audience would most likely be left scratching their heads. The rhythm section is tight yet loose at the right moments...while the guitar work is cerebral and strangely inventive. This CD might be difficult to find in your local music store...so we would suggest checking out the band's web site (link above) to find out more. Intriguing stuff off the beaten path... (Rating: 4++)

Thirdimension - Protect Us From What We Want (Import CD, Telegram, Pop)
This album was originally released in 1998 exclusively in Sweden. It was eventually discovered by two interns working for Parasol. The label worked out a deal with the record company to re-press copies of the CD for release in the states. Accordingly, Protect Us From What We Want is finally available in the United States of America. In our mind this band has a decidedly British sound. The band's classic melodic tunes are driven by explosive rhythms and thick fuzzed out guitars. Many of the tunes on Protect Us From What We Want have reflective similarities to 1960s pop while the overall sound is definitely present day. Vocalist Bjorn Stegmann provides the perfect central focal point. His voice is sincere and genuine. This band reminds us of a great many bands...while never quite sounding like any. Cool tunes like "This Time," "Other Side of Town," "Lonely Road," and "Over" make this album a splendid spin indeed... (Rating: 5+++)

Tracker - Polk (CD, Film Guerrero, Experimental/collage/instrumental)
Most artists create within the narrow confines of one specific genre. Fortunately there are those who refuse to be limited by such boundaries. Tracker is a case in point. The band consists of one man...John Askew...and a variety of guests artists who lend an occasional hand. The compositions on Polk fit mainly within two categories. The first is ambient/instrumental/experimental/jazz. Askew writes heady and provocative instrumental pieces and then uses his knowledge of the studio to add wonderful mental lustre to the finished pieces. The second style of music presented is (mostly) straightforward soft pop. Instead of spewing out familiar and generic pop dribble, however, Askew's soft pop is wonderfully solid and real...seething with incredible melodies and imaginative arrangements. The sound quality is excellent throughout and the disc is packaged in a beautiful "drill-proof" digipak. Top notch tunes include "Area," "Distance in the Sun," "Chemistry," and "French." Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

Ultramarine - Every Man and Woman Is A Star (CD, Darla, Soft pop/techno)
This is a remastered reissue. Every Man and Woman Is A Star was originally released by Britain's Ultramarine in 1991. Over time, the album has become a favorite among reviewers and fans of the underground. The music is a nice smooth melding of dance, pop, ambient, trance, and easy listening music. The fourteen cuts on this album won't blow you away instantly...but will rather slowly transport you to a land where there are no cares, worries, hassles, or assholes. It is a great feeling being transported...and that is the exact effect of this music. Soothing creepers like "Weird Gear," "British Summertime," "Panther," and "Canoe Trip" are wonderful excursions into the obtuse world of electronics. Recommended. (Rating: 5)

Velvet Crush - Soft Sounds (CD, Action Musik, Pop)
Though there have been numerous Velvet Crush releases since 1998, this album serves as our introduction the band's music. This is interesting, because on this release the band has taken a different approach...writing and recording soft, soothing pop. This music reminds us of Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet (the latter comparison makes sense, as Sweet engineered the album, plays numerous instruments, and sings backup). Velvet Crush is now the duo of Ric Menck and Paul Chastain. Menck mostly plays drums and Chastain mostly plays everything else. After hearing this collection of tunes, it would be hard for us to imagine these guys playing more aggressively. We are inclined to suggest to these fellows that they stick with their new softer approach--it seems to work really well for them. This is a nice, even, solid collection of compositions...but for us, "Save Me A Place" stands out from the pack. Those thick, lush vocals and that soaring melody sound absolutely KILLER. (Rating: 5+)

We Ragazzi - The Ache (CD, The Self-Starter Foundation, Pop/rock)
The first thing we had to contend with about this band was the vocalist. We instantly liked the angular and strangely jagged tunes...but the yelping seemed odd and out of place on first listen. After several spins, however, Anthony Rolando's vocals began to sound better and better...until we finally decided that his singing was the best and most engaging feature of We Ragazzi. He sounds something like a cross between Robert Smith and Richard Hell (!?!). The band's overall sound reminds us of bands from the 1980s...particularly the guitars...but the production and instrumentation are modern day all the way. The Ache is certainly an appropriate name for this album, as the overall tone is one of yearning and desperation. We Ragazzi tunes are not easy listens, nor are they simple dance tracks. The band has a sound that doesn't really sound like other acts currently on the market. This release gets better the more you hear it...which is definitely a feather in this band's hat. Our initial favorites are "I Want You 2 Love Me So Much," "Sickest Thoughts I Ever Had," and "I Was So Goddamned" (how could we NOT love a song with a title like that...?). Cool stuff, a blast of fresh air... (Rating: 5)

Western Keys - Damage (CD EP, Self-Starter Foundation, Rock/pop)
True to the claim of the press release, the music of Western Keys is reminiscent of Modern Mouse...but only slightly. Western Keys is Ben Dickey and whoever he chooses to play with. Dickey writes and plays modern rock/pop music with a difference. His tunes come straight from his heart and he sings about events that happen in his life. Some of the tunes here are mid-tempo rockers while others are more sparse and introspective. Excellent vocals and superb songs. We look forward to hearing a full-length from Dickey and associates in the near future... (Rating: 4+++)

Denison Witmer - Philadelphia Songs (CD, Burnt Toast Vinyl, Soft pop)
The packaging on this disc is killer. Not only is the CD enclosed in a beautifully designed triple-fold digipak...but it also includes a thick glossy lyric booklet as well. The intricately crafted tunes of Denison Witmer were well worth the extra cost to design and package this album. Witmer, who does reside in Philadelphia, plays a soft and innocent brand of soft folky pop that seems to come straight from the heart. As if the top notch songwriting weren't enough, the guy's voice is to die for. Witmer's vocals truly stand out from the pack. He isn't trying too hard or adding too many vocal tracks...but rather sings in such a real and relaxed manner that you can't help but get into the music. The lyrics are the real icing on the cake. This man's words are personal, effective, and extraordinarily moving. Philadelphia Songs is a beautiful collection of tunes from a young artist who possesses what most lack: real TALENT. (Rating: 5++)

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