April 25, 2005

Various Artists "Little Darla Has A Treat For You, Volume 23"

Darla Records' long-running label and distribution sampler, Little Darla Has a Treat For You is in its twenty-third volume, and it has yet to show a slip in quality. If the selection for volume twenty-three is any indication--and it should be--Darla Records continues to improve with each successive quarter. You'll find a whole bunch of great songs on here, covering all kinds of musical generes. There's the stoned-out country-rock from The Channel, Maquiladora and Lowlights, followed by the cute indie-pop of The Baskervilles, Momus and Darren Hanlon, followed by the electronica blips of Superaquello, Lullatone and Manual (who do an excellent--and exclusive--cover of Miami Vice star Don Johnson's theme song), all hand-in-hand with the dark, melancholy sounds of Aarktica, The Field Mice (whose song, "Missing the Moon," alone makes the 5.99 sticker price one helluva steal) , Piano Magic and Dead Cowboys. Over these nineteen tracks--and over the past twenty-three volumes--Little Darla Has A Treat For You highlights why Darla Records has become the trusted source for independent music lovers.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.darla.com

Various Artists "Bonnaroo Music Fest 2004"

Every year, tens of thousands of hippie progeny descend upon Manchester, Tennessee, for the annual Bonnaroo Festival. Sure, there's plenty of reasons to compare it to those festivals of yore, but that would be a bit of an insult to both the past and the present generation. Still, that whole "jam band" trend is built on nostalgia, and while this is neither the time nor place to launch into a rant about that particular musical genre, it's still something that's glaringly obvious when you consider the Bonnaroo experience. But ya wanna know something? When you look at the actual lineup of each year's festival, you'll realize something: the organizers have to be credited with being extremely diverse. Sure, you've got your Dead and Phish-insipred (and related) bands, but you'll also get a whole bunch of other styles, ranging from pop to electronica to world-beat to folk and beyond. Once you get past the jam-band image, you'll discover that Bonnaroo is actually a damn good festival, run by experts who know the value of mixing up musical styles for discriminating, intelligent music lovers.

After the festival's over, though, the organizers continue to give the gift of music: a solid two-CD set of highlights. Much like the festival itself, the CD collection is often well-organized, with a blend of well-known artists mixed in with younger, lesser known artists. Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004 is no exception. Heavy hitters include Bob Dylan, performing an excellent rendition of "Down Along The Cove," weirdos Ween and their song "Zoloft," Steve Winwood and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and an excellent David Byrne offering, "Dialog Box." There are excellent offerings from younger bands, such as "Big Eater" by The Bad Plus, "One Big Holiday" by My Morning Jacket, Los Lonely Boys' "Crazy Dream" and Damien Rice's "Volcano." Guster's contribution, a cover of the Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers," is a can't miss track as well. Then again, even songs by Dave Matthews Band and Trey Anastasio are tolerable for a non-fan like me--which is truly a sign that Bonnaroo's doing something right.

The one criticism worth noting is that this set is a bit too jam-band heavy, shutting out other great artists who appeared on the bill, including Mike Doughty, Grandaddy, Calexico, Wilco, Fema Kuti and the Hackensaw Boys. Where are they? They're excellent artists who deserve representation, as the set would benefit from them rather than Moe, Umphrey's McGee and Kings of Leon. But, again, such is the case with the limited space and time alloted; someone's gonna be left out--and besides, the point is to tempt people to come to the festival. In that case--mission accomplished! Bonnaroo Music Fest 2004 is a fun collection of what's easily this country's best music festival that will make you want to go to this year's fest. (I know I do--anyone up for it?)

--Joseph Kyle

Festival Website: http://www.bonnaroo.com
Label Website: http://www.sanctuaryrecords.com

The Supersuckers "Devil's Food: A Collection of Rare Treats & Evil Sweets!"

Long-runnin' country punks The Supersuckers are still alive and kicking. Hard to believe that they've been around for fifteen years. Led by Eddie Spaghetti--one of today's most underrated singers, period--The Supersuckers have, quite simply, morphed into one of the best damn live bands today. That their most recent releases have been live albums is no surprise; those live records capture the band's intensity and they whet the appetite for a chance to see them live. Though they now spend more time on the road than they do in the studio, every now and then they find the time to record some killer tunes, some of which don't always find a proper home.

Devil's Food is an odds-n-sods collection, gathering tunes from compilations, studio outtakes and fan club releases. As far as other information about the songs, forget it; these songs are all placed together with no sense of context. After fifteen years, they've managed to accumulate an album's worth of obscure material, and this record's a lot better than your average rarities collection. Originals such as "Kid's Got It Comin'," "Shake it Off" and "Then I'm Gone" are fine originals, highlighting the rock and roll style that The Supersuckers have made their own. They've got a few "country" versions of some of their earlier songs, "Doublewide" and their classic hit "Born With A Tail." A couple of covers are noteworthy, too; their cover of the classic Jerry Reed theme song to Smokey & The Bandit "Eastbound & Down" isn't much of a surprise, nor is their cover of Electric Frankenstein's "Teenage Shutdown," but the same can't be said about their surprisingly faithful version of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" (Visit their website for a hilarious video of it!)

Devil's Food is a great little record; it's fun, it's frantic and it's a sign that The Supersuckers have yet to peak. When your outtakes and set-asides are this good, that's saying something. They could have packages Devil's Food as a record of all-new material, and only the hardcore would have been wise to it. A great little dessert from a meat-and-potatoes band.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.supersuckers.com

April 22, 2005

The Sights "The Sights"

Lovely! This Detroit trio could easily be grouped in with that whole ‘rock revival’ movement, and while such a classification might be understandable, it wouldn’t be all that fair to these guys, because they’re a bit better than that. The trio owe more to Queen than the Rolling Stones or the MC5, and, really, there's nothing at all wrong with that, because these guys make some great music. For their third album, they've continued to pour on the melodies, and the results are simply excellent. They make a crunchy sound on "Will I Be True?" and "Last Chance," they get all cool and mellow on "Waiting On A Friend" and "Frozen Nose," and there's few songs that are as sweet as the lovely "Baby's Knocking Me Down." Lead singer Eddie Baranek sings with a syrupy-sweet style that's instantly appealing, and poured over the band's crunchy rhythm, their music will make you hyper. If you place The Sights between your Raspberries and Jellyfish records, you'll discover that these guys are carrying the proud torch of bubblegum-rock, and they do it quite well. Enjoy and avoid at your own risk!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.wearethesights.com

April 21, 2005

Okay "Low Road"

Okay is the moniker of Marty Anderson, a West Coast musician who has been in such great indie-rock bands as Dilute and Howard Hello. Anderson was diagnosed with a very rare and debilitating stomach disorder, and during the first part of the century, the disease's progress intensified and has since made him housebound. With such life-changing events taking place, it's understandable that Anderson would seek solace in music, and as a result, Okay was born.

Low Road, Okay's debut record, is a unique, interesting artistic achievement; it's the sound of a man who is in pain, whose life is changing, but he does so without ever addressing his personal hell. Musically, Low Road's sound is limited in the way that a one-man-bedroom band can be, but don't let that fool you. Utilizing the concept of "it's not what you can do, it's what you can do with what you have," Anderson has created eleven songs that are at once beautiful, disturbing and ugly.

When a record starts off with a cloyingly upbeat song that sounds like something off of a children's record yet the song itself is describing bleeding to death, you realize that you're dealing with something that defies the limited notion of "normal." That the song becomes an anthemic and utterly catchy sing-along makes things even more...interesting. The combination of quirky, cute and interesting arrangements that adds to Low Road's instant charm, all topped off with Anderson's voice, which sounds like a happy-go-lucky helium-sucking David Bowie imiation done by a childlike mind such as Daniel Johnston.

Do not think, though, that these cute and quirky moments are happy moments, because they're not. The songs on Low Road are quite catchy--some border on sing-alongs--and, in some cases, extremely heartbreaking. "Devil" has a dance-y rhythm and catchy melody, but the very first line is "We're killing you just like we're killing me/But what can we do." "I don't give a hoot no more," on "Hoot," will reveal itself both one of the catchiest songs you'll hear all year AND one of the most pathetic statements about life you'll hear all year. Then there's "Replace," a melody about Anderson's acceptance about his fate that's built on the melody of "Amazing Grace," that starts off with "I don't live in my head/Somebody killed it dead/I don't live in my head any more." By song's end, you won't hear "Amazing Grace" quite the same.

Low Road's greatest moment, though is on "Oh." It's a simple song with a very basic lyric; when he sings, "I got a full life, oh yeah, the good life, the way it's supposed to be, but it hurts to be stabbed in the back," that you really, truly sympathize with Anderson's plight. On the surface, it's about betrayal of a friend, but the song is deeper than that; when it leads into a conversation, "when I was down and blue, and then you said to me, boy, you're right where I want you to be," you realize that the 'friend' that's betrayed him isn't a person, but it's his body. Or, of course, it's God. Or maybe it's both. Regardless of your interpretation, one thing remains: this is powerful songwriting at its most effective; this song will leave you in tears, and it's more real and emotional and painful than anything Conor Oberst has ever written.

Low Road is a fascinating, captivating debut record. While one wouldn't wish Anderson to go through what he's going through, it's good to know that his illness hasn't ceased his creative process, and that he is using this opportunity--as cursed as it may be--as a blessing. This is a beautiful record that demands your attention, and it's the most honest artistic statement you'll hear this year--or, to be honest, in years. A truly timeless record that opens up and blossoms with each successive listen. Easily one of this year's best records.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.absolutelykosher.com

April 20, 2005

The Cops "Why Kids Go Wrong"

Seattle’s The Cops make a raucous rock racket. With a crunchy guitar formula that borrows much from late 70s UK Punk (Clash, Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello come to mind), the five songs on Why Kids Go Wrong are lovely little nuggets of ear candy. All of these songs are catchy as hell; it’s hard to get “Waiting List” and “Protection Act” out of your head. Lead singer Michael Jaworski has a really great voice; his toughness never overwhelms the melody, and Why Kids Go Wrong’s hard edge is nicely glazed with a sticky-sweet melodic sound. This is a fine, fun EP that will leave you wanting more.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.mtfujirecords.com
Label Website: http://www.thecopsmusic.com

The Curtains "Vehicles of Travel"

Over the course of three albums, San Francisco trio the Curtains, which is currently comprised of Open City drummer Andrew Maxwell and Deerhoof members Greg Saunier and Chris Cohen, has slowly inched itself out of the “recommended if you like” ghetto that so many side projects occupy and become its own distinct entity. Their first album Fast Talks, which was recorded before the arrival of Saunier and Maxwell, specialized in amorphous and sloppy twin-guitar instrumentals that inspired the editor of this site to invent a sub-genre called “rehearsal rock.” Follow-up Flybys brought both a change in lineup and a change in sound. Cohen’s long-lined melodies were no longer augmented by a second guitar, but instead by Saunier’s inventive synthesizer playing, which is now as essential to the Curtains’ music as his drumming has always been to Deerhoof’s. Not only that, but Maxwell’s drumming gave the music a lighter, less rigid touch. The music was still amorphous and sloppy, but there was a greater emphasis on melody and joy than there was on dissonance and tension.

The Curtains’ new album Vehicles of Travel pushes this progression a bit further in two ways. One is that they’ve harnessed their constant meandering into more song-like structures. They still like to keep things short and sweet --- only three of the album’s 23 tracks crosses the two-minute mark --- but you can spot discernible patterns emerging in the music. The Curtains don’t deconstruct songs so much as they leave them generally incomplete. “Fletcher’s Favorite” is a sweet ode to a kid who likes to wander around vacant skating rinks. It has verses and choruses, but they’re slotted in between an introduction and a coda that sound nothing like each other. On “Personal Resources,” choppy riffs and martial snare rolls underscore a narrative about government corruption. Just when the song starts building momentum, an unaccompanied guitar solo abruptly undercuts it, and the song ends. On this and many other songs, Maxwell doesn’t even sing all of the lyrics that appear in the booklet. The 49-second “Observation Towers” is even more minimal than that --- the guitar introduces the melody, Maxwell sings one verse and the song ends.

Of the instrumentals, “Nite Crew” and “City of Paris” come closest to the riff-driven craziness of Deerhoof. In the former song, Saunier’s synthesizer ekes out an insistent beeping bass line while Cohen slashes out staccato chords. Cohen and Maxwell speed up and slow down according to the aggressiveness of Saunier’s playing. In the latter song, Maxwell taps out a pendulum-like rhythm on his cymbals while bells and guitars harmonize with each other. “The Gadabouts” and “The Bronx Zoobreak” come across like soundtracks to chase scenes in imaginary detective flicks. The acoustic guitar that enters the former song midway through is an especially nice touch, and the latter song’s jazzy drumming and descending bass line could get anyone’s blood racing. “Crooked Weapon” is the only song on Vehicles of Travel to imitate the arrhythmic blowouts of Flybys, and it sounds out of place among the kinder, gentler tracks that surround it.

Not every song on this album works. The least successful tracks are the ones in which Maxwell attempts spoken-word (“Cops in Cologne,” “Soapeaters!”). His speaking voice isn’t assertive enough to sustain a listener’s interest, and the music the band plays underneath him is strangely nondescript. A couple other songs really DO sound like snippets from unproductive rehearsals. However, very few albums with this many songs are consistent from beginning to end…and besides, even the weaker songs pass by too quickly to be truly offensive. It’s good, though, that each Curtains album is a slight improvement over its predecessors. Maybe next time around, the dudes can crank out a masterpiece that will speak entirely for itself so that reviewers like myself won’t even have to namedrop their main gigs. I believe they can do it!

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://curtains.suchfun.net
Label Website: http://www.freneticrecords.com

Okay "High Road"

Okay is the moniker of Marty Anderson, a West Coast musician who has been in such great indie-rock bands as Dilute and Howard Hello. Anderson was diagnosed with a very rare and debilitating stomach disorder, and during the first part of the century, the disease's progress intensified and has since made him housebound. With such life-changing events taking place, it's understandable that Anderson would seek solace in music, and as a result, Okay was born.

High Road, Okay's debut record, is a unique, interesting artistic achievement; it's the sound of a man who is in pain, whose life is changing, but he does so without ever addressing his personal hell. Musically, High Road's sound is limited in the way that a one-man-bedroom band can be, but don't let that fool you. Utilizing the concept of "it's not what you can do, it's what you can do with what you have," Anderson has created eleven songs that are at once beautiful, disturbing and ugly. High Road is a lush, downcast record that reminds of Grandaddy and Mercury Rev on 1/100ths of a studio budget and 100 times more pain, and highlighted by Anderson's voice. Childike but wise, he sounds not unlike Daniel Johnston and Vic Chesnutt.

The ugly beast of his sickness doesn't conceal itself very well. Underneath High Road's pretty moments are some moments that are simply heartbreaking. "Good" is an excellent example of this. The song itself is a pretty song that has grand moments that sound like the Polyphonic Spree, but the chorus of "What's happening, Can do without" will break your heart. Of course, the song isn't negative; it grows into a colorful kaledescope of joyous sounds and the refrain of "look for the good then find the good" will warm your heart. Then there's "Sing-Along," which doesn't do a very good job of being subtle about pain. Seemingly about being angry while talking to a doctor or therapist, Anderson's chorus of "I don't believe anything that you say" in reply to some form of optimism in the face of terminal illness will break your heart; it's the fine line between being hopeful and hopeless that's been crossed, and it's not pretty. (And dig the sad, heartbreaking kazoo chorus!)

It's hard not to get wrapped up in Anderson's plight. When, on "Give Up," he sings "I've got to give up, I've got to give up," you'll more than likely think, "no, Marty, don't give up!" Throughout High Road, you're drawn into his world and his pain, and it's hard not to root for him. But all is not lost; hope seeps from even the saddest song on here, due in no small part to Anderson's unique, interesting voice--one that sings of innocence while the world around him burns. Even though the future may be bleak, the present is all that matters, and it's this virtue of appreciation for what you have now is what makes High Road wonderfully compelling.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.absolutelykosher.com

Mike Doughty "Skittish/Rockity Roll"

Mike Doughty first gained the world's eye in the mid-1990s as the lead singer of Soul Coughing, who had two minor hits, "Super Bon Bon" and "Circles." Though the band's style--an alt-rock blend of funk, beat poetry and experimental music--was quite pleasant, the band imploded thanks to a combination of record label pressures, internal conflicts and Doughty's escalating drug use. The band's final album, El Oso was a brilliant showcase of Doughty's talents, a testament to a band forced to compromise and was generally and unfairly ignored. They quietly broke up in 2000. Doughty, however, refused to allow himself the luxury of obscurity, and set out on a solo career. Taking the term 'solo' quite literally, for most of this new journey, it's just been Doughty and his guitar and other sound effects he can devise. He recently signed a record deal with ATO Records and has chosen to reissue two self-released records during his exile.

Doughty was no stranger to working by himself; before Soul Coughing, he had developed a name for himself in New York's folk and poetry underground. In 1996, he teamed up with legendary producer Kramer to record a solo album, Skittish. The record--which was simply Doughty and his guitar--was understandably rejected. Like Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Whiskeytown's Pneumonia, the record took on another life amongst file sharing fans--and, to Doughty's surprise, audiences at his solo shows knew this material, prompting him to release the record himself. That it's been nearly seven years since he's released a proper full-length record full of new material is criminal.

Doughty seems quite comfortable in this relaxed, solo atmosphere. Though Soul Coughing was an extremely complicated band that emphasised strong, powerful rhythms and intricate musical backing, on Skittish, Doughty eschews his band's style, opting to make his music with simply a guitar. In his liner notes, he states that Soul Coughing had no room for this kind of music, and it's easy to see why. It's also somewhat understandable why his record label rejected it as well; many of the songs sound like nothing more than demos, and though they're compelling, they're a hundred miles away from Soul Coughing's alterna-funk. At times, songs like "No Peace, Los Angeles" and "Thank You, Lord, For Sending Me The F Train" remind of Dave Matthews and Tracy Chapman; not bd, but just different from what he was doing with Soul Coughing. It's music that's suitable for a quiet coffee house setting; not too loud, not too threatening, thought provoking yet enjoyable. Ultimately, Skittish is nice, pleasant, but somewhat nondescript.

In 2003, he then released a limited-edition EP, Rockity Roll. It finds Doughty breaking the notions of what a solo act should sound like. Though brief--eight songs in fifteen minutes--it whetted the appetite even more than Skittish. With plenty of time for maturity, songs like "27 Jennifers" and "Ossining," Unlike his album, these songs have accompaniments that are fuller; the songs are a bit more upbeat, there's less of a demo feel, and they show the promise of where Doughty's music will go next. What's fascinating about Rockity Roll--and a goodly portion of Skittish--is that Doughty's style is clearly influenced and inspired by "Circles," Soul Coughing's last minor hit, and a song initially dismissed as a record-label compromise. Funny how the circle comes around, isn't it? Added to this reissue are two outtakes from Skittish; two live songs from last year's Bonnaroo festival. The live tracks hint at Doughty's reputation as a consumate live performer.

Skittish/Rockity Roll is a worthwhile compilation, and serves as a prime reminder that Mike Doughty's a talented man who makes great music, and it's a great little appetizer for his proper debut album. Hopefully, his career won't get sidetracked again, because the world needs intelligent music, and Doughty's one of the most intelligent songwriters today.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.mikedoughty.com
Label Website: http://www.atorecords.com

April 18, 2005

The Happy Couple "Fools in Love"

Janehoney and Tom Hilverkus are a happy couple who, together, make up The Happy Couple. They make pretty indie-pop that's reminiscent of a bit more mature Sarah Records act or a less caffeinated-laced Pipas. Their music's as sunny as the sunny day they sing about in "Another Sunny Day" (hmmm, can't make any Sarah comments, can we now?). Jane sings with a sweet croon, and Tom backs her quite nicely. Occasionally they get a little rowdy, such as on the charming "Hopeless Case" and "The Pop Kid," and I like it! I like their softer side, too, and "Don't Call It" is quite nice. These two are one Gail O'Hara photo session away from being the next big indie-pop stars! Another charming band, this happy couple!

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee

Peter Ulrich "enter the mysterium"

Peter Ulrich, who performs with the renowned World Music duo Dead Can Dance, is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist on his own, and over the past few years, he's quietly released a few solo projects. It would be unfair, of course, to compare his work with Dead Can Dance, but such comparisons cannot be avoided. It's best to note his role, and judge his work on its own merits. As you should expect, Enter The Mysterium is a ten-track journey into the past. Though there seems to be a bit of a Celtic influence in his work, this isn't an Irish record. Unlike Dead Can Dance, Ulrich's work isn't really dedicated to one particular moment in time.

Enter The Mysterium is, however, a focused folk record that's inspired by--but not overwhelmingly indebted to--Europe's vast musical heritage. At times, one might think Ulrich is melding electronica with the ancient melodies of the past. It's a risky endeavor; Dead Can Dance attempted this on their last studio album, Spiritchaser, and the results were surprising; it was poorly received and is perhaps Dead Can Dance's lowest point, simply because the elements were not right. It's to Ulrich's advantage, then, that he doesn't have a spotlight of expectation shining on his work; he can freely experiment within the genres of world music, folk and electronica.

The majority of the songs on Enter The Mysterium have well written folk arrangements. Ulrich's voice is not particularly strong--it's very similar in style to Brian Eno's--but he compensates with interesting lyrics, beautiful arrangements and a general intelligence that's lacking in music today. On songs like "Another Day" and "Kakatak Tamai," his mixture of sounds blends into a dark ambient style that's quite fascinating and chilling, while elsewhere, his jazzy "Through Those Eyes," is a catchy tune with ideas you'd wish he'd expand on further.
While there's an occasional chant here, a dulcimer there and percussion elsewhere, you won't find a full-blown foray into Medeval Europe on Enter The Mysterium. He comes close on "Across the Bridge," the Irish jig of "The Scryer and The Shewstone" and "Flesh To Flame," but he restrains those tendencies--which, in an interesting twist, is perhaps the album's weakness; maybe a song that's totally Dead Can Dance in style wouldn't be that bad after all.

Still, Enter The Mysterium is a lovely, sedate record. While it might not scale the grand heights as Dead Can Dance, it does fill the appetite for beautiful world music, and serves as a nice treat between now and the next Dead Can Dance record-which, apparently might not be too long of a wait.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.peterulrich.com
Label Website: http://www.citycanyons.com

Ruins "vrresto"

Since their formation a decade ago, Japanese duo Ruins has cast a long shadow over the fringes of underground music. Initially conceived as a power trio, the band settled on a bass-and-drums-only format after their guitarist failed to show up for their first rehearsal. After drummer Yoshida Tatsuya and his revolving cast of bassists proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that you don’t need a guitarist to make a room-clearing racket, Ruins’ influence started being heard in the music of a host of younger, similar bands. The distortion and speed of Lightning Bolt, the skate-punk fury of Godheadsilo, the goofiness and tape cutups of Olneyville Sound System, and even the jazzy meandering of Dianogah can all be traced back to Ruins. The same also goes for the onomatopoeic screeching of Mike Patton and the ever-shifting meters employed by any band that’s ever been referred to as “math-rock.” Ruins’ latest album Vrresto is actually a domestic reissue of an album that the band self-released on their Magaibutsu label seven years ago, but it pulls off the double whammy of sitting proudly next to their progenitors while simultaneously taking them to school.

Ruins play the kind of music that could only be generated through either rigorous rehearsal or telepathic improvisation, depending on which section of the song you’re listening to. Vrresto’s second track, “Warrido,” sets the tone for the rest of the album. It switches from an odd-metered metal rhythm to a four-on-the-floor disco beat at the drop of a dime. Both Tatsuya and bassist Sasaki Hisashi harmonize with each other in goofy falsettos while singing in an invented language. (I’m shocked that titles like “Warrido,” “Zumn-Vigo,” and “Savollodix” actually appear in their respective songs.) Two minutes into the song, the duo lets go of anything remotely resembling structure, launching headfirst into a flurry of processed noise. Hisashi uses a MIDI interface to make his bass sound like a synthesizer; at one point, his instrument sounds like an organ being violently flat-handed. Toward the end of song, Ruins returns to the original theme, but it proves to be a fluke.

Many other songs on Vrresto announce a theme, only to spend the rest of track going on nonsensical yet exhilarating detours. For instance, “Zumn-Vigo” devotes the first 30 seconds to crashing metal, only to shift into a mellow jazz breakdown. The song’s midsection could be described as “Muppet funk” because of the juxtaposition of intense rhythmic syncopation and cartoonish vocalizations. At the end of the song, Hisashi switches on his MIDI controller to make his bass sound like a symphony of bells. “Larikoschodel” has a section in which both musicians sound like they’re doing imitations of Tuvan throat singing, which is then followed by a series of clashing synthesizer chords straight out of Frank Zappa’s Jazz from Hell album.

Such quick and constant juggling of incongruent ideas can get monotonous or tiring over the course of an hour, which may partially explain why I don’t know anyone who owns everything that Ruins have ever released. Taken in mix-tape doses, though, the band can provide the musical equivalent of a swift smack upside the head to unsuspecting listeners. Vrresto is a snapshot of two expert musicians from a country that already processes information a bit faster than the rest of us, going anywhere and everywhere their minds and hands want to take them. If you’re already a Ruins fan, you should have bought this a long time ago. If you’re not…brace yourself!

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www5e.biglobe.ne.jp/~ruins
Label Website: http://www.skingraftrecords.com

April 13, 2005

Math & Physics Club "Weekends Away"

Now, out of the gate and a nominee for prettiest pop band of the year is Math & Physics Club! This Seattle-based quartet are a gentle lot, with a quiet sensibility that's quite smart, and they'll quickly cause your heart to smile. With a gentle shuffle and quiet drums and a lovely, subtle violin in the background, this young band is best described as sedate. It's a lot like a warm spring weekend with a newfound love, this. "Weekends Away" and "Love Again" are charmers, thanks in part to lead singer Charles Bert's coy voice. Their style's a little bit similar to the Ocean Blue, but with a more indie-pop edge. Dig the handclaps on "When We Get Famous," too! All four songs on this little record are smile-inducing toe-tappers, and I can't complain one bit about that--can't wait to hear more!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.mathandphysicsclub.com
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee

Weather "Calling Up My Bad Side"

Young bands like Weather are a lot like teenagers. They've got a personality that's their own, but in the process of defining who they are, they do tend to wear their influences on their sleeves. The way they wear their hair, the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch--it's almost always based upon someone else's style. You can't blame the kids for being that way; it's just the nature of being young and impressionable. Annoying as it may be, it is also an important phase of growth--the search for an identity.

The principle is certainly true with Calling Up My Bad Side, Weather's debut album. When you set aside the feeling that you've heard their record before, you'll find a band who likes soft, somewhat sad pop music. They do tend to wear their influences on their sleeve, and at times their sound is a bit too reliant on the Britpop style, leaning towards a style that reminds a bit too much of Coldplay and Travis. This isn't necesarily a bad thing, though, because those bands have a high quality style that requires a bit of talent to duplicate--and besides, there are worse bands to emulate.

Gentle melodies are made quite wonderful by vocalist Sean Campbell, who occasionally sounds like a mix between Chris Martin, Britt Daniel, Bono and Sting, and you can't fault Weather for not appreciating and not writing a good melody. From the sad "Falling Down" and the heartbreaking "All This Time" to the joyously upbeat "Calling Up My Bad Side" and "Short And Sweet," these songs have a mature grace about them that's lacking these days. The combination of Campbell's singing and the band's talents results in radio-friendly songs that have a sound that's both modern and, at times, reminiscent of the better pop hits of the 1980s, without all the trappings of sounding retro. "Torn Man Down" and "In My Blood" have an appeal that makes you wish Weather was on the radio.

Despite these little annoyances, Calling Up My Bad Side is an excellent debut record. Sure, it might occasionally sound generic here and there, there's plenty to enjoy here, and many bands should be so lucky as to release such a great-sounding debut. Give this young group some time, and it's a likely thing that their less than original moments will quickly develop into a sound that's all their own.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thebandweather.com
Label Website: http://www.cakerecords.com

Auburn Lull "Regions Less Parallel"

For the past ten years, New York-based band Auburn Lull has quietly made very beautiful, very quiet music. With cascading waves of slow, heavenly drones and gentle, touching melodies that are often highlighted by faint, soft singing. Though technically Auburn Lull could be classified with groups like Windy & Carl, Low and pretty much any band on Kranky, they do have a distinctive feel that sets them apart. Their two albums, Alone I Admire and Cast From The Platform, are two gorgeous works of art that have rightfully received criticial acclaim.

Regions Less Parallel is a collection of singles, compilation tracks and outtakes from the past ten years. Considering the high quality of their music--and personally possessing a few of the records included here--such a compilation is quite welcome. The split twelve-inch with Mahogany was the band's first major release, and it was a stunningly beautiful introduction, but to the chagrin of those who heard them, the band went silent. For the two years between it and the release of their debut album saw only two other releases, "Sigma" and "A Harbored Distance," both on obscure compilations--and, after Alone I Admire appeared in 1999, the band quietly disappeared again, releasing only "Rural Divide" in the five years between albums.

Auburn Lull's masterpiece, though, is easliy their 2001 Zeal Records single, Behind All Curses of Thought Lies The Ability to Focus on Vacant Spaces. "North Territorial" is a quiet epic; laden with beats, it takes Harold Budd's methodology and updates it for a new generation, quietly and slowly building to a beautiful climax, and the B-Side, "Van Der Graaf," continues the style, but with a darker, cinematic tone; with the atmospherics in the background, the gentle sound of a heart beating becomes a disturbing menace. For these two songs alone, Regions Less Parallel deserves five stars. While the other songs on Regions Less Parallel are beautiful and intoxicating, none of them have the "zeal" of these two tracks.

Unlike most rarities collections, Regions Less Parallel has a seamless flow; a case could be made for saying that this is the great lost Auburn Lull record. If their past track record is any indication, it might be a few years before they release another record, so enjoy this one to the fullest. Then again, it'd be impossible not to.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.auburnlull.com
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

April 12, 2005

The Supersuckers "Mid-Fi Field Recordings Volume 1: Live At The Tractor Tavern, Seattle, Washington"

Ah, yes, it's the Supersuckers, y'all! This long-standing punkabilly army has decided to grace the world with "field recordings," and damn, that's a fine idea! This, the first in a hopefully long-running series, captures seven songs from a live set at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle. The band's in damn-fine form, but then again, considering they're one of the best live bands today, that's really not saying all that much. The seven songs are all familar numbers, including classics "Born With a Tail," "Pretty Fucked Up," "Killer Weed" and "Creepy Jackalope Eye." But shit, dig "Alabama, Lousiana or Maybe Tennessee"--if that ain't enough of a convincing factor to go see these boys live, then damn, ain't nothin' gonna. Ah well, if you can't get out to see 'em, just put this record in your stereo and crank the fuck out of it. The only problem? At seven songs, this thing is too damn short--more!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.supersuckers.com

ZZZZ "Palm Reader"

Remember Sweep the Leg, Johnny? Sure, their records were kinda noisy, but their live show was insane. It was always a bit of a shame that they never quite captured their live show's intensity--or their sense of fun. Through the sheets of noise and the sea of bored-looking hipsters, their alto sax-driven fun always made the night enjoyable. Even though Sweep the Leg, Johnny broke up, sax man Steve Sostak hasn't lost his desire to make fun, energetic music that's specially built for a live audience.

That's certainly true with Palm Reader. ZZZZ certainly wastes no time in setting down the fun-time vibe, with the upbeat gypsy dance number "Assassination Polka." Invoking the sounds of a rogue bunch of happy rogues, ZZZZ starts off with a fun vibe--and the band never loses its energy; as they travel from the funky "Snowball" to "Bandit King & Queen" to the final jam of "Buncerto," you wonder when they're going to stop for air. The boy/girl vocal interplay gives the music a real nice feel, too, but, really, the record doesn't seem to be about making a lyrical statement as much as making a really great groove. Indeed, at times their sound reminds of great bands like Drums & Tuba, World/Inferno Friendship Society, Brave Combo, Gogol Bordello, Spaceheads and The Coctails, but their sound is all their own.

If ZZZZ had anything to improve on, it would be on working on making each song a little more distinctive. When they flow together like they do on Palm Reader, the record sometimes feels a bit too connected, decreasing the overall intensity of each song. Still, that's a minor flaw for a generally awesome record, and it's a safe bet that this too will change with maturity. Still, Palm Reader is never too heavy, never too boring, and it will keep you on your feet--and dancing, too! The groove cannot be denied, and it's probably a safe assumption to say that their live show is 100 times more electric than the songs found here--which means, of course, that you shouldn't pass on seeing this band live!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.zzzzmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

Antony & The Johnsons "I Am A Bird Now"

Devestatingly beautiful.

That's about the best description of I Am A Bird Now, the second album by New York-based Antony & The Johnsons. The singular vision of a boy known simply as Antony, I Am A Bird Now is a record that escapes easy categorization; at times, it's downright contradictory. It's not a record for the faint-hearted, but at the same time, it's meant for those whose hearts are faint. It's a cold, distant record that's full of love and warmth for those who dare to brave the emotional blizzard. It's a grand, lush, symphonic record, yet it's basically a piano record. It's a record that feels like a day-long spiritual exorcism, even though its length is barely thirty minutes.

And then there's that voice. To say his voice is unique is simply stating the obvious; it sounds like an otherworldly combination of Nina Simone, Klaus Nomi and Jeff Buckley--except, in many ways, his is better than all three combined. No, Antony is his own man, and even though this only his second record, he has the strength and the confidence of someone with decades upon decades of stage experience. His is a voice that's come out of nowhere, and it says quite a bit that he can make musical luminaries Boy George, Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and Devendra Banhardt sound like mere back-up singers. That he can take four of the most distinctive voices and make them seem second-rate compared to him says much about just how wonderful. (It's also interesting to note that "The Johnsons" consist of members of Jeff Buckley's band, as well as his girlfriend, the excellent Joan Wasser.)

Then there's the songs themselves. Though occasionally his music is flush with string and brass--most notably on the somewhat incongruous "Fistfull of Love," which features Lou Reed and a sexy R&B rhythm track--the record never really strays from the simple piano-based melodies. His lyrics document a journey through pain, loss, failed dreams and confusion--confusion caused by love gone wrong, but more specifically, his songs deal with gender confusion and the pain it causes. Simple arrangements make for more powerful words; it's hard not to avoid the waterworks when you reach the end of the simple "Today I Am A Boy," where he duets with himself over the painfully simple words, "For today, I am a child/For today, I am a boy." "You Are My Sister," a duet with his childhood idol Boy George, is perhaps one of the most touching songs you'll hear this year. "Hope There's Someone" is both a sad song of acceptance, but also a hopeful number about being lonely in the world, a reassurance that even the oddest person has someone in the world that will love them. By the time you reach "Bird Gerhl"--perhaps the most beautiful song on the record--you'll be emotionally spent.

Is it possible for a man to make a record that makes every other record you've ever heard totally and utterly inferior? Not only is it possible, it's been done. I Am A Bird Now is that record. It will leave you breathless, weeping and feeling all alone, yet it will love you, comfort you and make you feel loved. I Am A Bird Now is a classic, beautiful work of art.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.antonyandthejohnsons.com
Label Website: http://www.secretlycanadian.com

April 11, 2005

Kissinger "Me & Otto"

Austin, Texas' Kissinger make music that's straightforward pop-rock. Not a surprise, really, considering that Kissinger mastermind Chopper was in the pre-hit version of one-hit wonders Vertical Horizon. Most of these songs have a pretty rockin' beat that mixes alt-rock sensiblities with a blues-based rhythm that's not that bad, but not all that distinctive. There are some pretty good moments, such as the upbeat "Certain Girls," the driving "Vicario" and the closing ballad "Silent Sky." This isn't bad stuff; it's pretty good bar-rock, if truth be told, but like a good
drink, it's best enjoyed in the bar.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.kissingertheband.com

Luxxury "The Drunk EP"

This four-song EP is, from what I gather, a reissue of an earlier record. Or maybe it isn't. Either way, its history shouldn't bother you all that much, because it doesn't change the fact that this music is too sleazy for its own good. Yeah, it's rather randy, glam-laden techno that's hedonistic in every possible way, reminiscent of vintage My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. "All The Way" and "Disco Noir" both have a hint or two of Roxy Music mixed with New Order. "Disco Noir" borrows too much from "Blue Monday" for my taste. Still, this is well-done sleazy music made for sleazy guys with big hair and cheap sunglasses and the foolish girls who fall in love with them. Not bad, but I feel a little dirty now...

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.luxxury.com
Label Website: http://www.omegapointrecords.com

The Bravery "the bravery"

I can’t say I’m surprised that this record’s getting a lot of attention. We’re talkin’ about the American answer to Hot Hot Heat and Franz Ferdinand-a highly energetic dance-oriented rock band with lovely vocals that remind you of the 1980s, made for the cash flow of kids who weren’t even born until 1991. Okay, maybe that’s a bit cynical, but really, I’m ambivalent on this sort of thing. Sure, The Bravery sounds good, but that’s perhaps the greatest flaw-it sounds good. Then again, it’s supposed to sound good. There’s nothing underneath, though, is there? It’s great ear candy, and songs like “Out of Line,” “Fearless” and “An Honest Mistake” are catchy as all get-out. Not original at all--if you want originality, stick with the bands they imitate--but if you want to have a fun listen, then you can't go wrong here.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thebravery.com
Label Website: http://www.islandrecords.com

Engine Down "enginedown"

Saw these guys a few years ago and I dug ‘em. Back then, they made droned-out rock that was occasionally rather loud and beautifully soft, and their record Under The Presence of Present Tense spent a lot of time on my stereo. This new record, however…is a bit different. A LOT different, actually. It’s as if they’ve decided to go for the emo crowd, and that’s a bit of a shame. Their sound is a lot poppier, with a sound that’s reminiscent of bands like Brand New and Jimmy Eat World. Seriously. I didn’t recognize them at first. I mean, it’s cool if this is the direction they choose to go, but it’s a bit of a shock for those who know their earlier sound. Oh, there are some good moments, too; I really dig “In Turn” and “The Walk In,” and the overall sound of Enginedown isn’t unlistenable. It’s just a bit of a shock that I’m not sure I’m ready to admit that I like it just yet.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.enginedown.com
Label Website: http://www.lookoutrecords.com

Milton & The Devil Party "What Is All This Sweet Work Worth?

Snotty power-pop is what this is. It’s not hard enough to be ‘punk’ and it’s too hard to be ‘pop’ and it’s too whimpy to be ‘rock,’ but for what they do, they do quite well. Their website calls them “a literary band with rock pretensions,” and that’s about as good a description as you’re going to get. Led by two English professors, they do write some rather smart lyrics; occasionally, they have a bit of a Cure vibe (as on “Not to Talk” and “Live Without Me,” but for the most part they make an enjoyable racket that’s reminiscent of the 1980s, but with no real distinctive imitation. Though occasionally the record has a tendency to be a bit monotonous, all in all it’s a great-sounding album by a band that probably is even more enjoyable live. PS. Dig the literary-minded band title!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://miltonmusic.tripod.com

Crash Berlin "Crash Berlin"

Sometimes I get confused by electronic-minded records. Crash Berlin’s a record I’m not so much confused by as overwhelmed. Through the records thirteen songs, there are several common elements: hard, relentless beats, loud rhythms that are perhaps two seconds away from sexually harassing your soul and singing that’s a soulful siren-song that will lead you to your blissful destruction. Made by Dan Merlot, who’s apparently been involved with and shared the stage with Jane’s Addiction and Aphex Twin and is a veteran DJ in his own right, it’s obvious that Crash Berlin is the work of an expert. Ah, but when you tune in, you’ll be turned on by the vibe of fast songs like “Lady Luck,” “Touch Me Where I Bleed” and “Earth Basic,” and your mind will go into a lysergic state over “Assassination Raga” and “Reach Out To The Sun.” Oh, and Merlot’s got the genius Kool Keith on one track, “Movin’ The Hype Track.” If you like fast-paced techno and electronica, this is the thing for you.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.crashberlin.com

Golden Republic "Golden Republic"

This Kansas City band is pretty good; they’ve got a pretty good sound that borders between trashy glam rock and sultry, seductive rock, all sung quite well by lead singer Ben Grimes, who sounds like a Midwestern version of Thom Yorke. Sometimes, they highlight their songs with a cello, as heard on songs like “She’s So Cold” (which reminds me a bit of INXS) and “NYC.” In other places, the band has a sound that’s pretty good, if not a little bland and somewhat generic, sounding not unlike many bands coming out of New York these days. The weight of inspiration has always been somewhat of a curse for any band’s debut record, and those little blemishes don’t really detract from the fact that these guys are pretty damn good. I wish they’d slow it down a little bit, for when they do, as heard on the lovely “Things We Do,” they’re really, really pretty. The Golden Republic is young band worth watching.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thegoldenrepublic.com
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com

Von Iva "Von Iva"

Damn, these women rock, and they rock hard. Though bassist Elizabeth Davis was in the great 7 Year Bitch, this is not your mother’s riot-grrrl band. With a synth-driven beat that’s downright soulful, and some extremely powerful caterwauling from the sultry Jillian Iva, this is a great band that mixes new wave and hard rock in a quite refreshing way. I mean, when you listen to the powerhouse intro “Same Sad Song,” you’ll recognize that you’re dealing with a bad-ass. Iva and company don’t disappoint, as the six songs on this EP are all high-quality. “Showboat” and “Solid Gold” have a slamming rock beat that will make you realize that Von Iva are perhaps the first-and only-band to have realized the full potential of updating the Riot Grrrl style. This is an exciting debut record, and I’m breathlessly awaiting their next move. Von Iva shows that it’s gonna be good.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.voniva.com/

Neko Case "The Tigers Have Spoken"

One of the things I like about country music is the insistence that any country singer must have the ability to perform live. That's one of the reasons there's never been a country-western Smile or OK Computer. It' s not that country artists can't make that kind of innovative music--it's just that they have a different set of priorities. It's the difference between being an "artist" and an "entertainer." Some would argue that many musicians have lost the entertainer aspect of music-making. Country music won't stand for that kind of crap, and it doesn't matter if you'
re talking about Garth Brooks or Hank Williams--if you can't play live, then, well, that means you're not very good.

Alt-country crooner Neko Case's first live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, proves that she's more than just a studio songbird. She's backed by The Sadies, as well as friends Jon Rauhouse, Carolyn Mark and Kelly Hogan, and their accompaniment sounds nothing short of grand. She is in fine voice, belting out song after song with a tenderness that makes you appreciate the beauty in her voice and a toughness that gives these songs a strength and forcefulness that's not found in a studio setting. The setlist for The Tigers Have Spoken isn't a full concert per se, but it is brief and concise, allowing for a more focused spotlight on her talent, and her song choice is interesting and entertaining.

Case offers up great deliveries of several songs out of her enjoyable discography, including "Blacklisted" and a rather rare early song of hers, "Favorite," but it's the covers that really make this an enjoyable experience. Sure, you might not be surprised about her cover of Loretta Lynn's "Rated X," Catherine Ann Irwin's "Hex" or Buffy Saint-Marie's "Softer Shade Of Blue," but the cover of obscure songs by The Shangri-La's ("Train From New York City") and Nervous Eaters' "Loretta" come straight out of left-field. Her covers of traditional songs "Wayfaring Stranger" and "This Little Light of Mine" show that she knows a thing or two about the jewels to be found in Americana's vast Traditional treasure-trove.

The Tigers Have Spoken may be all-too-brief, and it might whet the appetite for more Neko Case records, but it serves its purpose well; it's hard to listen to this record and not come away thinking that Case is easily one of the best--and underrated--country singers of our time.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.nekocase.com
Label Website: http://www.anti.com

British Sea Power "Open Season"

To this American, it seems as if the English have a love/hate thing with 'rock & roll.' American rock is often dismissed as passe and possessing a certain amount of machismo and sexism (okay, so that's not really unique to Britons, but still, work with me, please). Yet, in an odd twist, the English also have a fascination with the genre, giving the world bands like The Libertines, The Darkness and The Killers, and they also seem to love bands like The Strokes, The Kills and White Stripes. Go figure. But the British--who often allow their music to fall victim to fashion--seem to like their music a little bit smarter; their bands offering a seeming intelligence that American bands lack.

Ditto British Sea Power. Their reputation was sealed by images of the band performing live in naval outfits and having a general turn-of-the-century feel to their releases. Their debut album, The Decline And Fall of British Sea Power, was a massive tome; at times it was thick and heavy, not unlike Moby Dick; it was an okay record, but it just seemed to demand too much of the listener's time, while not really making a definitive statement. The album was a bit disappointing, because it didn't seem to highlight the band's songwriting skills--or its abilities as a powerful live act.

Luckily, their second album, Open Season, is a much more organized and focused record. Touring and the maturity that comes with playing live have certainly worked wonders for the band, because Open Season is the sound of a young band finally finding its voice. Though "It Ended On An Oily Stage" starts the album with a slightly generic guitar lick, it doesn't hurt that said guitar lick is extremely catchy. Lead singer Yan is in fine voice; his singing is strong, and overall the band's sound is fresh and exciting. Yan's singing is occasionally reminiscent of David Bowie, and songs like "Please Stand Up" and "To Get To Sleep" certainly have a feel that will remind you of the Thin White Duke, but they're no glam band. They mix up their more upbeat moments with some really great slower songs; "North Hanging Rock" and "Victorian Ice" are lovely numbers that gives Open Season a nice balance that was somewhat lacking with their debut.

British Sea Power could have easily fallen victim to the fashionable rock band trap. Open Season is simply enjoyable. It's grooving, it's smart and it's beautiful; it's obvious that British Sea Power set a simple goal--of making a great British rock record--and the mission is accomplished. What's more successful than that? If a great record is its own reward, then British Sea Power should be quite happy with the booty of their victory.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.britishseapower.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.roughtradeamerica.com

April 10, 2005

Kawaii "If It Shines, We Have It"

This Norwegian group’s name means “cute” in Japanese, and their light-hearted pop approach that really lives up to their name. Occasionally lo-fi but always quaint in their cuteness, the duo of Mats Jorgensen and Hedda Fredly have a charming style that’s not unlike a less-hyper Mates of State. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the record sleeve suggests they recorded this together in their kitchen; this record has the feeling of love written all over it, as the music has an intimacy not seen outside of couple-based bands. The two trade vocal duties throughout, and though the music’s a bit awkward-sometimes the synth-driven melodies feel ‘piped in’-and the music tends to fall on the twee side, the overall sincerity factor of their music will win you over instantly. Personal faves include “Paper Sun,” “Even Lineups” and the closing duet “Hard to Get Sleep.”

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.shelflife.com

April 07, 2005

Wowz "Long Grain Rights"

Talk about a lack of subtlety! “Happy Today,” the first song on Long Grain Rights, is as instantly addictive as a shot of heroin, and it sets a pretty high standard for the rest of the album. The song is catchy as all get-out; with its loud strummy acoustic guitar and happy, upbeat singing, there’s no reason for you to not feel happy today. Seriously, folks—this might be unfortunately classified as ‘anti-folk,’ but to this writer, The WoWz do not sound a damn thing like any of those kinds of bands, nor should they be classified as such. (Damn lazy music writers, always forcing bands into meaningless genres!)

Comparisons to bands like the Byrds and the Beatles may abound on their website, but there’s something a bit more…childlike…about their music. The wholesome innocence of sing-along numbers like “Happy Today,” “He Wanders” and the clappy-sad “Nothing Would Be Better” are reminiscent of a weird blend of Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese and Beck on a Schoolhouse Rocks! tip. The simple melodies are compounded by words that are instantly catchy; it’s easy to envision the WoWz as a great live band, one who gets the audience worked up and happy—even though, of course, sometimes they’re singing songs about breakups and death and not happy stuff. New York has too many people and even more crappy bands, but the WoWz stand out in the crowd.
Literally—they’re the kind of band you’re more than likely see standing out on the street, singing outside subway entrances and street carnivals, entertaining the crowd.

Getting hooked onLong Grain Rights is really easy to do—it’s getting off of them that’s complicated. Once you’ve put this deceptively simple record into your stereo, you’ll find that attempting to remove it is an utterly complicated thing to do. Now, how’s about coming out and wowing the rest of the country? In complicated times, The WoWz’s simplicity and wholesome innocence is a welcome relief.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thewowz.com
Label Website: http://www.riylrecords.com

Gibby Haynes & His Problem "s/t"

Gibby Haynes, the mastermind behind the Butthole Surfers, is a complicated man who makes challenging music. There’s no denying that he’s had a long career of utter weirdness; two decades on, he’s still a man whose name is synonymous with ‘strange.’
That he’s been rather successful at what he does is even more impressive, but perhaps the weirdest thing is that his tendency to not stay still music-wise is still challenging the listening world. After twenty plus years, Gibby’s decided to step out with a solo record, and it’s a good thing, this.

That the reviews of this record, for the most part, have been rather negative shows that the music world still only thinks they understand Gibby Haynes, when, in fact, they fail to grasp one simple fact: that the only thing you should expect from him is the unexpected. The most surprising aspect of this record is what makes it so challenging: it’s what you might consider…relatively normal. There’s no acid-freakouts here; there’s no loud, challenging screaming moments, either. Though you might hear casual hints of Butthole on “Redneck Sex” and “Charlie”--where, tellingly, Haynes sings “Been a long time since I lost my mind”--for the most part, the material here is straightforward Texas psych-rock, but even then, it’s more ‘rock’ than ‘psych.’ To compare Gibby Haynes & His Problem to his past records would do Haynes—and you—a great disservice.

When you separate Haynes’ past from his present, you’ll be stunned to discover that Haynes has a pretty keen pop sense, and several songs on this record are quite catchy. “Letter” has a quite addictive keyboard lick; “15000” has some vocal manipulation that’s not really that weird but will make you come back for more, and it’s simply impossible to deny the appeal of “Dream Machine,” too. Oh, he’s got the ability to write songs that are quite colorful and unique in a catchy but juvenile way—“Superman,” for instance, where he sings about Superman smoking pot he got from Dan Rather—but for the most part, his songs are relatively straightforward.

“Straightforward.” I never thought the day would come that I’d use that word to describe anything by Gibby Haynes, but the times have changed, and slightly psyched-out rock like that found on Gibby Haynes & His Problem is no longer an anomaly, thanks, in large part, to Gibby Haynes! Keep on keepin’ on, brother. You’re not wrong, man. The rest of the world is…

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.surfdog.com/gibby.html
Label Website: http://www.surfdog.com

Aarktica "Bleeding Light"

When you look at the name "Aarktica," you might think it pertains to something "artic," or possibly "Antartica." Listening to the Aarktica's fourth album Bleeding Light, it's quite obvious that such allusions are apt. To top it off, the album is wrapped up in chilling, stark white packaging, making it the sonic equivalent of spending six months in the tundra. It's cold, it's bleak, it's warm, and only occasionally is it warmed up by a ray or two of light. Wear a light jacket while listening and you'll freeze to death.

Such description might seem silly, but in the case of Aarktica, it's certainly apropos. Jon DeRosa's a man who likes his music to be atmospheric, whether it's cold gothic post-pop (Dead Leaves Rising) or country & western (Pale Horse & Rider), his music is always, always heavily drenched in atmosphere. For Bleeding Light, DeRosa--accompanied by members of the Antony Braxton Ensemble--examines a world that's arctic, cold and detatched and ambient. The pace is glacial; the music is extremely detatched and listening is narcotic, and that's most likely what DeRosa set out to accomplish. Unlike those other projects, Aarktica is more of a focus on the mental state; it's beautiful music for thinking, and lyrical content is not the focus.

While Bleeding Light has overtones of Eno--from the quiet, subtle ambient drone to DeRosa's somewhat awkward, drowsy vocals that pop in and out between long periods of gentle instrumental bliss--there's much more than mere rehashing of Music For Airports or Another Green World. Underneath the cathederals of relaxing sound, you'll soon discover that the music is built on late 1990s electronica ("Twilight Insecta"), Eastern rhythms ("We're Like Two Drops Seperated By A Drowning") and free jazz, ("Night Fell Broke Itself") but it never really sounds indebted to any one style. When he sings on "A Wash A Sea Goodbye It's Me" and "Depression Modern," he adds a dimension of melancholy to his work. Knowing that he's a good singer with a beautiful voice on his other projects should be kept in mind, because his singing here is as cold and detatched as the instrumental passages.

Bleeding Light is austere and cold and sounds like it should be played in art galleries and museum foyers. It's also intelligent, gorgeous and worth repeated listens. It is a beautiful soundtrack to a cold weekend, a good night's sleep or a simple forty-five minutes of meditation.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.aarktica.net
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

April 05, 2005

The Lucksmiths "The Chapter of Your Life Entitled San Francisco"

There's nothing finer than a really good Lucksmiths song, and when there's more than six months between the last great Lucksmiths song, life can get a little less enjoyable. (It seems weird, but it's been nearly two years, wow.) But let's not talk about that--there's a new Lucksmiths record to talk about! It's another fine CD-EP with four wonderfully wonderful songs, all of which are quite relevant, pretty and just about every other adjective that's ever been used to describe a pretty Lucksmiths song.

As always, the title track is the main attraction; it's a sad and upbeat little number about being in love with someone who is far away and not hearing from them. (Talk about relevant!) Tali White sings, sadly, in his Tali White way, of how he went "a fortnight without so much as an email, then a postcard scant of detail in which you wished me 'all the best!' from the non-specific Northwest." (Oh, so he loved her too, I see!) But the brother can write a witty chorus, and I love this one: "should it one day come to pass/ that you sit down to your memoirs/where will this go, the chapter of your life entitled 'San Francisco?'" Damn. I can listen to this song over and over and not get sick of it. The next two songs, "Young and Dumb" and "The Winter Proper" are more of the same; the former is a jangly little tune that disguises its melancholy quite well, the latter is a sad little piano-based number. (Who broke his heart? Shame on you. I know several girls who have a thing for you, Tali. Don't fret!) The final song is a country-rock cover of the Bee Gees' "I Started A Joke." Nice! I'm telling ya, buy this one for the title track alone--it's DEFINITELY worth it, especially if someone's recently trampled your heart.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thelucksmiths.com.au
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee

Ticonderoga "Ticonderoga"

Ticonderoga are one of those bands that seems to be blessed with an overabundance of talent. Not only are all three of its members capable singers and songwriters, but they all play a multitude of instruments, not all of which are traditionally associated with rock music (clarinet, violin, accordion, et cetera). All three members have played with each other in various bands over the last decade, since they were grade school students in Iowa City (they now live in Raleigh, NC). Their first full-length collaboration under the Ticonderoga name was self-recorded entirely at home, free of any of the budgetary or artistic constraints that a “professional” studio might impose. When three talented musicians who know each other extremely well are placed in an environment where they’re free to do whatever they want, they’re bound to get a bit self-indulgent, if only to keep themselves entertained. More than anything else, the songs on Ticonderoga’s debut album are characterized by an unyielding refusal to draw a straight line and follow it.

Ticonderoga have mastered the art of arrangement, and frequently keep listeners on their toes by adding new colors or textures to their songs at precisely the right moments. The album’s first proper song, “Northshore,” begins as an acoustic spaghetti western romp. At various points, one of the instruments suddenly drops out of the mix, only to reappear later on in the song. You’d expect this kind of trickery on a dub plate, but the warmth and intimacy of the recording makes clear that the musicians are doing this live. I can almost imagine the members nodding at each other, as if to telepathically communicate when to stop and start. “Kim and Kelly” begins with homemade percussion, weeping violins and world-weary singing, but abruptly shifts into a tangent of jazzy instrumental meandering. “All the Proud Dead” begins with a Polvo-like collision of skittish guitar riffs, but toward the end it fades into a duet between double bass and clarinet. The transition sounds as if someone had surreptitiously slipped Don Byron into the CD changer. The final song, “High Score,” sports a long bridge with layered violins and repetitive riffs that betrays a serious Steve Reich fetish before jolting itself back into the second verse.

Ticonderoga’s arrangements can get a bit too obtuse. Some songs have moments in which the musicians sound as if they’re playing in the same meter but can’t agree on where the “one” is. “Arrowhead,” in particular, sounds like each instrument was punched in from an entirely different song and glued to the same click track. (What makes it even more bewildering is that “Arrowhead” is one of the album’s catchiest and most grandiose songs.) The lyrics follow a similar pattern, or lack thereof. All three members’ voices tend to blur into one another, pitched midway between the clipped tenor of David Grubbs and the croaky slur of Ian Williams. The words don’t align themselves into clear verse/chorus demarcations. It’s as if the members just sang whatever came into their heads in one take, with just enough forethought to ensure that their vocals were in tune and on beat. Only two songs (“Over the Hill” and “Two Old Witches”) have anything close to conventional, repeated hooks.

Ticonderoga’s avoidance of the obvious is both a blessing and a curse. The constant switching of gears and the frequent moments of synergistic instrumental interplay make for an excellent headphone listen. However, many listeners will be awestruck while the CD is playing, only to struggle to remember any of the songs once it ends. This album is a quintessential “grower,” one that should worm its way into adventurous listeners’ hearts after repeated listening.

---Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com
Artist Website: http://www.ticonderobics.com

South San Gabriel "The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until The Operation's Through"

Cats are wonderful. They're amazing creatures. I've known quite a few special kitties in my day, and I'm glad to have known 'em. (Well, most of 'em.) There was Kitler, the cat who looked and acted like Hitler. Then there was Milo, the punk-rock cat that could sneak out of any situation--or building. There was the two cats whose names I forget right now who were caught recording messages on their owner's answering machine. There was Zoe, the cat of this girl I liked, who disliked me and would scratch me every time I came over. Then there was the old kittenless cat who adopted a beanie-baby cat as its own. Then there Mister Bruce Lee, a big black cat who would curl up beside me and snuggle at night, whose picture I keep in a frame by my stereo. Then there's my cat Ink, who always turns on the kitchen sink when he wants a drink of water. Heck, I could write a book on the hijinx of my own black boy cat. I've had a life filled with unique felines, and I wouldn't trade my memories of 'em.

I thought of all of these wee beasties when listening to Will Johnson's latest opus, The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until The Operation's Through. For Johnson, this record's a bit different. While it fits in with South San Gabriel's formula--dark, atmopsheric music that's gorgeously hazy, slightly stoned and more than a little melancholy--it's different in that it's his first full-blown concept album. The concept? It's about a cat who gets thrown outside at night and runs away but returns because he's hurt and needs an operation. Yeah, it seems a bit haughty, doesn't it? Of course, having a love for all things Will Johnson-related--and knowing that the previous South San Gabriel album was on my top ten list of 2003, I knew that I would be biased towards The Carlton Chronicles. I mean, the man releases so much music, it's easy to run out of different ways to praise his genius, so why not get an expert opinion on this concept record? I quickly decided that the best person to review this record would be Ink, the unofficial Mundane Sounds mascat.

So this evening, it was just me and the boy-cat. I turned down the lights, put some food and water in his dish, picked him up and curled up with him while the music gently played. Though I don't speak Feline, he and I communicate with excellent non-verbal expression. I wasn't sure how he was going to react to this experiment; Ink's all man-cat, he doesn't really go for the 'cuddle' thing. He's also a genius, so I'm confident he'll dig the concept; Johnson writes simple but occasionally obtuse lyrics, but I have every reason to believe that Ink will understand it all and will offer me the appropriate opinion after the record's done.

As expected, when the first notes of the gorgeous "Charred Resentment the Same," his ears perked up, but he really didn't seem that interested. I told him that the record's about a cat's life, he seemed a bit more interested; he sat on my chest, looking at me with great interest. He then snuggled up beside me for the majority of the album. He occasionally gave me a look that was somewhere between smug and stoned, usually at moments where Carlton tells of a general truth--such as "I Am Six Pounds of Dynamite," a lament to being thrown out for the night--and in his own way, he told me 'I know that's right!' to "The Dark of the Garage," which highlights the urge to go out and answer the call of the wild, whilst being stuck inside for no apparent reason other than punishment. Mostly, though, he relaxed while listening. He is a cat, and such human things really don't interest him--he is above us, after all--but the washes of atmosphere and strings and piano and pedal steel guitars is a relaxing lullaby for creatures of all genus and species.

For the most part, I'd say he listened to it patiently, and it seems as if he liked it; he didn't protest, nor did he try to leave, but he did purr the whole time. And if you don't think he understood the concept, think again: when he heard "Sicknessing," the album's touchingly sweet finale, he cuddled up to me in a way that's unlike him, and he told me in his own special way that he loves me and that I'm important to him--which is the theme of the song. He knew what was going on, and his affection and appreciation of me made my heart melt.

The Carlton Chronicles might be a bit of an odd concept--and if you don't have the script that goes with the record, you won't hear the concept at all--but when you give it a chance, you'll hear a mellow, depressed record that's got a stoned-out Texas vibe that's warm and beautiful and moving and is nothing more than a fine addition to Will Johnson's increasingly impressive discography.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.south-san-gabriel.com
Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com

Transient Tractor "Failure"

The first two tracks of the more-than-aptly-titled Failure, "False Ego" and "Hyper Wreck," were inconsequential, barely-OK indie-rock numbers with poorly recorded vocals and an even poorer attempt at humor. When I got to track three, "DJ Poopy Pants," which contains the opening line "I am DJ Poopy Pants/I make you shit and dance/I'll make you feel like you are rollin'/Get on with the swollen colon," I pressed the stop button, took the CD out of the player, smooshed it with up into a million pieces and threw it on the fire. This record is just so bad, I didn't even want to keep the jewel case. (The only reason I bothered writing a review is so that I can sleep at night knowing that I warned you about it.)

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.transienttractor.com

Sparkwood "Jalopy Pop!"

Austin, Texas' Sparkwood are pop masters. It's obvious that they've grown up listening to the right records; you'll hear everything from the Posies to Jellyfish to Ben Folds Five. These are good things, mind you; though their music is instantly recognized as retro-pop, it's hard to fault them for their sweet tooth, because what they do, they do well. The harmonies are tight; the lyrics are fun and funny, and there's just a wonderfully sunny disposition to Jalopy Pop. When you've got songs like "D" and "Checklist" and "In Your Lovin' Arms," who needs prozac? They have all kinds of little toys and tricks for your ears to enjoy; a clarinet here, tons of harmonies there, and other little sonic tricks that will keep your attention. It's sweet and yummy and pretty and all those things you wish most retro-pop bands were. Not a bum note in the lot, I tells ya.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.sparkwood.com

Over The Rhine "Drunkhard's Prayer"

Talk about beautiful! The Ohio-based group has been making beautiful, dark “alt-country” music for the past fifteen years, but this record, Drunkard’s Prayer, is an excellent milestone for any group. Recorded in a living room, it’s dark, beautiful and intimate in a way most music isn’t any more. Backed with gorgeous, twinkling pianos, heavenly pedal steel guitars and the gorgeous singing of Karin Bergquist, I can’t think of a record I’ve heard this year that’s quite as lush and beautiful and dark and touching as this one. Jazzy yet countrified; operatic yet minimalist, the band mixes and matches some gorgeous songs with gorgeous music and the results are…gorgeous. From the Cabaret-style “Hush Now (Stella’s Tarantula)” to the country rock of “Lookin’ Forward” and the lovely cover of “My Funny Valentine” and the simple ambience of the title track, Over the Rhine have made a record that captures pure emotion quite simply, and that they do it so effortlessly makes Drunkard’s Prayer even more rewarding of a find; it’s gorgeous music for those ‘tears in your beer’ moments.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.overtherhine.com
Label Website: http://www.backporchrecords.com

April 04, 2005

Charlie Lang (Demo)

See, it's things like this that make mediocre records worth sitting through. Charlie Lang can best be described as a male Tori Amos; for his songs, it's mainly him and his piano, singing his lonely ballads. His voice has a quality that's like a smooth liquor--its warming, lush tone plays well with the simple arrangements, and it's hard not to like what he's doing, especially on songs like "Wild Soul" and the gorgeous "Last Embrace." It's not to say that he's obtained perfection yet; his voice isn't quite as strong as he'd like to believe and when he substitutes synths for real piano, the songs take on a cheesy quality that betrays his obvious talent. There's definite potential here; Lang's voice is good and he's got some interesting ideas, and that comes through regardless of the fact that this record ultimately sounds like nothing more than a demo. My suggestion: get a real band, get a residency and let your skills mature on stage. It's the only way you're going to improve--and the results of maturity could prove interesting.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.nobullproductions.com/

Pit er Pat "Shakey"

Okay…now this is interesting. Take folks from emo rockers Alkaline Trio, the legendary Neutral Milk Hotel and a classically-trained pianist, and what do you have? A record that’s…interesting. The band mixes up jazzy rhythms, a few rock moves and lots of piano, but not in the way you think. Occasionally the mixture sounds clunky, like on “Gated Community,” but methinks that’s what they are going for, honestly. When pianist Fay Davis-Jeffers sings, the music takes on a Stereolab vibe which, while derivative, isn’t bad. Other songs, like “False Face” and “Vultures Beware,” are quite catchy. Pit Er Pat isn’t really breaking any new musical ground, and Shakey sounds like something you’d expect from Thrill Jockey, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that this is a really pretty record.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.piterpat.com
Label Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com

Sunburned Hand of the Man "Sunburned Hand of the Man"

The nature of experimental rock bands often makes them well-equiped to handle live performance. With rhythms that are designed for improvisation and melodies that are open to interpretation, these bands can often sound as good live--if not better. Sunburned Hand Of The Man is a group that's had a bit of attention as of late, and this record--a repressing of a super-limited live performance--is an interesting case. On the four tracks (none of which are titled), you'll find all kinds of styles. Noise, rock, and even a little bit of sexy funk can be heard throughout these songs. They run from the pretty (the epic final track is worth the price of admission) to the pretty horrible (the singing on track two is downright annoying), with very little room in between. On the first track, SHOTM is downright SEXY, with a rhythm that sounds like an unhealthy crossbreeding of Prince and !!!. It's been said that SHOTM is a very frustrating live act, and even though this live record isn't bad, it certainly does give evidence to such a claim. The curious might want to seek out their studio work, but the diehard will love it.

-Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.sunburnedhandoftheman.com

Adrian Belew "Side One"

Adrian Belew’s a “musician’s musician,” meaning he’s respected by those who appreciate the technical side of musicianship whilst being ignored by the world at large. He’s best known for being a member of King Crimson and The Bears, as well as a long, varied and interesting career as a session guitarist and sideman. Side One is his first new album in several years, and if you didn’t know he had been around for decades, you’d think that he was a newcomer onto the funk-rock/jam band scene. Side One is pure art-rock. Though he does some mellower pieces, such as “Matchless Man” and “Under The Radar,” most of the record is devoted to Primus-style freakouts. Some of them are really good, such as “Madness” and “Writing On The Wall,” while others are…well, not so good. (It shouldn’t be a surprise that Belew did some recording with Primus’ Les Claypool, even though those songs don’t appear on here. They might appear on his next two albums, Side Two and Side Three.) This is…an interesting record. Not bad, but not overwhelmingly great…just ‘interesting.’

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.adrianbelew.net/Label Website: http://www.sanctuaryrecords.com/

Yellow Second "Altitude"

Young Colorado band Yellow Second's record, Altitude, is certainly appealing. These guys are veterans of other emo bands, but you shouldn't hold that against them. They've got a crunchy pop-rock sound that's quite bouncy and enjoyable, and their lead singer sounds not unlike Superdrag's John Davis. And, like later-period Superdrag, Yellow Second's songs are gritty and slightly stoned-out, but because these guys are a Christian band, I doubt that weed's on their agenda. By the end of the record, my initial skepticism gave way to a smile; "Forget What You've Heard" is a great rocker, and there's something utterly catchy in songs like "Plume" and "Seed." I also bet you can't keep the catchy "Hello to Never" out of your mind, either. Though the first song or two might lead you to think otherwise, Altitude never gets too pop-punky or too emo; instead, their mid-90s alt-rock style is quite rewarding. A surprisingly nice little rock record that holds up after repeat listenings.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.yellowsecond.com
Label Website: http://www.floodgaterecords.com

Nedelle "From the Lion's Mouth"

On her second solo album, Nedelle Torrisi continues on the same folky-pop explorations that made her debut, Republic of Two. Her sound is still simple, jazzy and still very reminiscent of Tracey Thorn’s early solo work and the Marine Girls. While some might find the folk-rock format a bit tiresome after three or four songs, her arrangements are good enough to not grow dull, and the little additions and light dusting of horns-such as on the pretty “Just In Time”--are enough to keep you compelled. Her voice is friendly, soothing and instantly loveable. Songs like “Begin to Breathe” and “Tell Me A Story” will charm you and you’ll discover that they’ve stuck in your head long after you’ve set aside From The Lion’s Mouth. This is music for cold rainy weekdays in coffeehouses.
--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.nedelle.com
Label Website: http://www.killrockstars.com

The Evens "The Evens"

I always loved that naked DC indie-pop style that Unrest created many moons ago. You know, just a guy and his guitar and a girl helping him out here and there, nothing too fancy or weird-just nice, pretty songs. Imagine the surprise to be had when you listen to The Evens for the first time. Yeah, it’s Ian McKaye (you know, from Fugazi), but this ain’t punk rock at all. If anything, it’s indie-pop, and it’s quite different-in all the right ways. It’s just him and Amy Farina (from The Warmers), and there’s nothing loud about this record at all. Sure, there’s the occasional sing-along, such as “All These Governors” and the great closer “You Won’t Feel a Thing,” but there’s nothing loud or in-your-face about it. No, the jangle here is almost Teenbeat in nature, and that’s a good thing. Knowing McKaye’s penchant for experimenting, this wasn’t exactly the direction I thought he’d go in this post-Fugazi world, but I’m really not complaining. I love the boy/girl vocal interchange that runs throughout the record, too. And yeah, there’s a political bent to the music, but you won’t notice it at all. Actually, come to think of it, it’s kind of reminiscent of John Frusciante’s recent fascination with stripped-down music. Ah well, a good record’s a good record, and this is a GREAT record.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.dischord.com/bands/evens.shtml
Label Website: http://www.dischord.com

Various Artists "Il Programma di Religione"

Considering world events, what better time for a record like Il Programma di Religione, a unique tribute to the Pope. Not just Pope John Paul II, but...all of them. All 265 of them. On one disc. Think about that. On the surface, 265--that's going to mean a lot of songs about popes. Heck, that's a lot of songs, regardless of the subject matter! Though there are 265 songs for every Pope, if someone played Il Programma di Religione to you blindfolded, you wouldn't know what the theme was. Instead, you'd think you were hearing a bunch of really random noises put together in fifteen second bursts and put together to form a one-minute song.

Actually, that's pretty much what this is. While the concept is interesting, and the execution is done rather well, the content itself doesn't really lend itself to a tribute. At times, it feels as if this is nothing more than a noise rock project, something similar in nature to John Zorn's Naked City--where sounds go in and out at such a frantic pace, it's hard (and pointless) to look at the individual 'songs,' leaving the listener to consider the larger scope of the project. There's just so much going on with Il Programma di Religione--and it's not exactly easy to keep up with who does what and where--that highlighting one moment becomes a daunting--and downright impossible--task. It's worth pointing out that sometimes mundane sounds contributor Eric Wolf (AKA Sergio Van Lukenstein) appears on here, paying tribute to Pope Innocent II.

While the record may be an epic--kudos to mastermind Shawn Knight for spending two and a half years on this obviously difficult project--it's still an interesting listen. Where else can you go from computerized beats to screaming to heavy duty metal-like riffs to a burst of uncontroable noise and other forms of total weirdness and back again, all within a matter of minutes? Best advice is to simply forget about the concept and just put this in your stereo and let it overwhelm you. It works so much better that way.

-Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.boyarm.com

Outhud "Let Us Never Speak Of It Again"

This is the last album I need to be listening to right now --- not because it isn’t any good (it’s brilliant), but because I’m just not in the right environment to appreciate it. As I type this, I have $15 to last me from now until I get paid next Friday, which means that I am too broke to do anything but sit in this apartment and write record reviews. With their sophomore album Let Us Never Speak of It Again, NYC quintet Outhud have set a standard for “indie-house,” “dance-punk” or whatever you want to call it so high that I can’t listen to it without wishing I was at some house party in Williamsburg. I imagine myself tipsily grinding against someone I barely know while the bass frequencies hit me in the chest and a bunch of bright blinking lights blind me into submission. Unfortunately, I’m listening to this album by myself on a pair of cheap computer speakers in a one-bedroom apartment in Austin.

Outhud’s debut album, 2002’s Street Dad, would have been a slightly more appropriate soundtrack to solitude and reflection. You could dance to it, of course, but the lack of vocals and the emphasis on live instrumentation (especially on Molly Schinct’s sonorous cello) made for an aesthetic that was a bit closer to the funkier moments of Tortoise’s Standards than it was to the funk frenzy of Outhud’s doppelganger Chik Chik Chik (!!!). This time around, though, the band almost completely bypasses the mind and aims straight for the booty. The live drums are completely gone, replaced by volleys of equally kinetic and intricate programming that can sound like anything from Detroit house (“One Life to Live”) to a tribal drum circle (“The Song So Good They Named it Thrice”) to Aphex Twin-style drill-and-bass (“The Stoked American”).

Let Us Never Speak of It Again is definitely a more process-oriented record than its predecessor. Outhud member Justin Vandervolgen reportedly spent more than a year mixing and re-mixing the songs after the basic tracks and overdubs were recorded. Although the music is a bit too minimal to sound overcooked, Vandervolgen’s attention to detail is definitely palpable. All of the instruments are played staccato and render subservient to the groove. On “One Life to Leave,” the guitars are digitally chopped up and run backwards until they sound just as percussive as the drums. The normally choppy nature of the music makes the sporadic ambient moments stand out even more. Listen, for example, to the vortex of droning guitars, white noise and sirens on “The Song So Good They Named It Thrice,” or the swell of keyboards, flutes and celli that begins album highlight “How Long.” Moments like the aforementioned keep Outhud’s new music from sounding robotic or bloodless.

Then, of course, there are the vocals. More than half of the songs on Let Us Never Speak of It Again surprise us with singing from Outhud’s two female members, Schinct and drummer Phyllis Forbes (who probably would’ve spent most of the sessions for this album twiddling her thumbs anyway). They’re not exactly the most pitch-perfect singers on the planet (their vocals on the first half of “Old Nude” almost made me hit “eject” prematurely), but their breathy sighs and catchy choruses help the songs get stuck in your head long after the CD ends, which can’t be said for any of their previous work. My two favorite songs on the album have vocals. There’s “One Life to Leave,” in which Schinct and Forbes dismiss na├»ve people with distorted sneers: “There’s people like me, and then there’s people like you…you don’t see evil.” Then, there’s the awesome slap-bass groove of “How Long,” atop which the ladies lament the aftermath of a broken friendship. “How Long” will probably go on every mix CD I make for the next six months.

Over the last four years, we’ve been inundated with rock bands who think that a four-on-the-floor beat, a scratchy guitar and a “Disco Inferno” bass line are enough to turn their scenester pajama party into a “Fantastic Voyage.” Outhud, on the other hand, have moved far beyond misguided Public Image Limited worship. They’ve put their own sprightly spin on the music of the masters (Todd Terry, Arthur Russell, Giorgio Moroder) to make grooves of their own that could sit comfortably next to them in a DJ set without anyone on the dance floor having to do a double take. The Rapture? Moving Units? Let us never speak of them again. In 2005, Outhud rule the school.

That's it. I’m going out dancing next Friday and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

--Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.kranky.net
Artist Website: http://www.brainwashed.com/outhud