March 30, 2003

A Band of Bees "Sunshine Hit Me"

It's been a dour, gray weekend. The skies have been overcast and the wind has been terribly cold, and we've had drizzle on and off for the past little while. It's certainly different from two days ago, when it was sunny, warm, and the sky was the biggest brightest blue. Those days seem to be a distant memory today. Don't get me wrong; I love this kind of atmosphere, especially when I don't have to actually go outside. Just give me a cup of coffee and a great record to listen to, and I'll be just fine. But what shall I listen to today? Should I go for something dark, melancholy, and sad, or should I seek out something much more meaningful? Something warm and fuzzy, bright and sunny, blue and beautiful?

Yeah, that second one sounds nice. Let's go there.

So we're going to listen to A Band of Bees' much-hyped debut album, Sunshine Hit Me. They've actually been around for a few years and have released a number of EP's under the less wordy name of Bees, but this is their American debut. No matter; this happy duo of Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher have grown since those early days, including several new members, so maybe the whole "band of" is more appropriate for them now. And yes, in true England to US translation, many of these numbers have been previously released on those EP's.

Also worth pointing out about Band of Bees' name is that their influences draw heavily from artists with the name of "b". Yeah, they borrow more than a few chapters from Beta Band's book, and they've taken much from Beck's bag of tricks, but simply because they're borrowing doesn't mean they're boring. Oh, and hello, what's this, they also have more than a passing inspiration from Bob. Marley, that is. Yeah, it's quirky whiteboy funk with a liberal dose of reggae, mon--but don't think for a minute that these things stop them from being 100 percent fun!

And, yes, FUN is the right word to describe Sunshine Hits Me. I mean, look at the cover--Luche Libre! Pastel colors! Pink! Wrestling masks! Li'l fluffy clouds! It's bright, colorful, and just so darn cute, too! I mean, that right there should tell you *plenty* of what you're going to get. Yeah, you could also say that it looks like a potential Melvins record, but shame on you for thinking that. Shame, shame shame on you---though the Band of Bees are as good as the Melvins, too.

Ohhh....the music? The music! The MUSIC. It draws heavily from the springs of quirky pop, and especially of those bands I just mentioned to you, but it indeed also draws from lovely Caribbean sounds, with enough of a rum-splashed sound to make their pop all the more interesting. This is a most engaging, interesting mixture of world-beat and whiteboy--certainly an odd concoction, but one that really, truly works. About the only other band who makes sounds as organic yet fresh are Zero 7, so the fields that Band of Bees roam in are quite spacious.

As for me, I'm quite happy to report that Sunshine Hit Me has totally warmed me up today! Listening to such numbers as "No Trophy" and "Sunshine" takes me to a warm, sunny beach, with a cool drink in my hand. Their cover of Os Mutantes "A Minha Menina" is one of the best things I've heard all year--and last year, when the track originally appeared. If there's one flaw to be had with Sunshine Hit Me is that it the sunny vibe disappears right after "A Minha Menina," opting instead for a slower, softer, more electronic pop style that is very similar in style to Zero 7. And to further confuse things, it ends with "You Got To Leave," which is...a PUNK ROCK SONG! Yeah, this Band of Bees certainly know how to fly all over the place!

Regardless of this one minor programming flaw, Sunshine Hit Me is pleasant, sunny, friendly world-beat music, with no hint of suck-ass, feel-good NPR-liberalisms "diversity is good" stench that often overwhelm interesting sounds that aren't European or American in nature. Sunshine Hit Me is the sound of a band just having fun, tapping into that untapped well of, I don't know, intelligence. Mainly, though, the music is a lovely pleasure for the ears. Just be careful where you light that spliff.

--joseph kyle

Aberdeen City "We Learned By Watching"

For the astute listener, it will take all of one minute for you to know what bands Aberdeen City consider their inspirations. Yes, dear readers, another band takes their inspiration from both Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, and once again I find myself caught between a (modern) rock and a hard place. Should I judge a band simply because they've not really made a secret about their influences, or should I simply look past that and judge them on the basis of their record, never mentioning the fact that these guys borrow heavily from some of the best artists of our time?

Setting aside the obvious fact that these guys probably have owned multiple copies of both Grace and OK Computer, I have to admit that I've been most impressed by Aberdeen City. We Learn By Watching is their second EP, and though I haven't heard their first record, I think I can safely say with some certainty that it probably wasn't as awesome as the one I have on my stereo. How can I be so cocksure? It's simple, really. We Learn By Watching is not the record of mere amateurs; it's one that doesn't hide the fact that Aberdeen City is obviously on the way to being one helluva band.

I mean, how can you not be impressed with lead singer Brad Parker's painful, tortured singing? On "Naysayer," he launches into an angelic falsetto that will draw you in and launch onto your soul. You'll be left impressed--I know I was. And, best of all--that's but one song. Parker's voice is strong enough to take on any kind of mood the rest of the band throws his way, from dark atmospheric storm of "The Protagonist" and "Empty Roof" to the lighthearted, poppy "Popular Music." Parker does it with such ease, you might think that he was a veteran of the Britpop explosion ten years ago.

Keep an eye out for Aberdeen City. We Learn By Watching is merely a hint of what's to come, and if it's any indication, then that full-length debut is going to be a stunner, and those comparison to Radiohead and Jeff Buckley will be moot. M.O.O.T. They'll be their own band, their sound will be their own, and the world will be theirs. Personally, I can't wait.

--Joseph Kyle

March 29, 2003

Ronderlin "Wave Another Day Goodbye"

These are testing times. With war, terrorism, unemployment and uncertainty, it's really easy for you to get stressed out. Relaxation? That's so 1990s; we've got too much to worry about right now; let's schedule relaxation for, say, 2033. Besides, when society is built on and obsessed with fear, anxiety and nervousness, doesn't it seem a bit anti-social to be calm, cool and collective?

Leave it to Sweden to provide some cool, chilled-out music. Ronderlin are Hidden Agenda's latest Nordic offering, and their arrival couldn't have come at a better time. Their light, folky-pop is a balm for trying times. How could it not be? Their music is soft, soothing, and gorgeous; with piano and acoustic guitar and a very soft-voiced singer, there's no way that Wave Another Day Goodbye is going to offer anything less than a relaxing, meditative listen. There's not much information about Ronderlin, but that's okay; their music doesn't really require much in the way of identity. Though the little promotional blurb suggests that Ronderlin is less Nick Drake, more Smiths, I'm hearing more than a passing resemblence to Coldplay, though I don't think Coldplay really have the same emotional fire that burns brightly through Wave Another Day Goodbye.

In a perfect world, songs like the title track, "Summer Likes The Wind" and "You Made Somebody Want You" would gain airplay on "modern rock" radio, and it's a shame that they aren't. Ronderlin have a sound that's all their own, yet is totally accessible, enjoyable, and very, very pleasant. That may not be music to your ears, but it certainly is to mine. Wave Another Day Goodbye is a fresh-sounding record that, while slightly innocuous at times, certainly shows a great deal of promise. Then again, they're not trying to be anything that they're not, which leads me to think that Ronderlin are, indeed, poised for great things. Too bad America probably isn't listening...

--Joseph Kyle

March 27, 2003

Chatham "Something Fell"

Every college town has a band of guys who like good music and who like to get together and rock out at the local bar. You know their motivation is to bring a little bit of coolness into their lame-ass town, who, for one night, can offer an escape from the blahdom of bar-bands, booze, and classic rock. When I was in college, it was Nirvana, then Pearl Jam, then Pavement, Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr., Archers of Loaf, Modest Mouse, Promise Ring, At The Drive-In. Now it's 2003, and I really have no idea who the kids today want to be. I'm happier that way.

Sadly, it would be quite easy for Chatham to fall through these cracks. It's nothing personal; "rock" is something guys like to get together and do. That many of these bands don't have the originality to make an album says a lot about Chatham and their talent. That they can make an album that's not directly inspired by their influences is also even more impressive. It's also reassuring to note that while they're not breaking much new ground, you can hear that they're not fully retreading the familiar sounds of the current underground.

Something New kicks off with "Letdown," which is easily the worst number of the lot; the vocals are quite annoying, and the affair is just blah--a shame, because the rest of the album is nothing like that initial number. Of course, this might be a little psychologcial game, making you go, "whoa, genius!" when you get to the next song, "Leafs." The other six songs are very much along the same lines of "Leafs," with a mellowed-out, slowed-down, slightly stoned rock groove that barely hints at Archers of Loaf's slower moments--or AOL's student Will Johnson's melow Centro-matic project South San Gabriel, actually--but in reality is a sound that they can truly call their own. Stoner rock for grad students? Pretty darn close. Though at times the songs kind of all blend together, I'm pretty impressed with grooved-out closer "Stalwart."

If anything, Chatham are having a good time just making rock music. I think that a band can't ask for any more than that, and when they get what they ask for, it's a truly great thing to behold. Something Fell is the sound of some guys having fun. You know, just like Archers of Loaf did. A pretty good debut, but I'm certainly looking forward to hearing where they go from here.

--Joseph Kyle

Cave In "Antenna

So, here it is--the long-awaited major-label debut of indie-rock darling sellouts, Cave In. How they've grown...from loud, screaming noise, to hard-ass metal, to stellar prog-metal, and now....alternative rock and/or nu-metal? Ummmm, guys, I'm not sure about this one...I mean, your "Lost In The Air" was a bit of a shock, and a hint of what you were up to, and it was good! I loved that little record. Then came Tides Of Tomorrow, that little odds-n-sods that was meant to tide us over until this record came (hey, maybe that's what the title means?) that was interesting, even if it did contain one of the worst lines I've heard in a while ("The reality check is in the mail") to "Tides of Tomorrow," which sounded disturbingly like Sugar Ray--listen again, and you'll hear it.

If I were younger, or if I were a lot more obsessed with Cave In, I'd scream "sellout." The justifciation for such an accusation is quite clear; the songs have not remained the same; they've become glossy, their hair looks a lot nicer, and they really seemt o have been primed-up for some heavy-duty Clear Channel rotation. But I'm older, wiser, and a little more open-minded; realizing that nobody's forcing these guys to make this kind of record, I can't be as dismissive. It's wrong to simply dismiss a band because they're doing what they want to, even if none of the "true believers" hate what they've done.

As it stands, Antenna isn't as bad as you'd think. It's a really great-sounding record; even if you don't like the band, you cannot fault their recording. It's very, very thick, heavy, and dense, yet it's a very friendly, easy-on-the-ears sound. Yeah, it kinda has a bit of a soulless alt-rock sound at times, but those moments are rather few and far between. Stephen Brodsky and company like rock music, and it shows; "Antenna" has all the makings of a radio hit, if radio still plays music like this. Does it? The last time I checked on one of those "modern rock" stations, there was very little difference between it and both classic rock and top-40 pop. "Youth Overrated" sounds like a great single, and I still think that "Lost In The Air" is a great single, regardless. And Brodsky and company are great musicians; Adam McGrath plays one helluva guitar, too, and it's great to hear his musical skills expand so greatly. He's a force to reckon with, and Antenna proves this quite well. Every song, good or bad, has expert guitar work, and I'm at a loss to name other current young musicians who are as brilliant.

Alas, Antenna isn't as good as you'd wish. If you've picked up both Tides of Tomorrow and the Lost In The Air, you heard a band that was atmospheric, a little spaced-out, not really metal, but not really pop. They blended a mixture of several different styles that was rather impressive, and I had this idea that Cave In were going to really make a splash. Those ideas really aren't followed-up on, and the music is, at times, a bit bland--bland for Cave In, bland for any band, really. And some of those lyrics are..."She is rubber and I am glue?" What can I say? I mean, there's nothing that makes me think of the Cave In of old, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you're gonna hint at greatness, you need to follow up, baby.

So, what do we think of Cave In? Great band, a good album that sounds great, even if it is a bit weak. Luckily, though, Cave In have yet to stand still when it comes to their music, and if there's one lesson to learn from these guys, it's that there's always a new sound to be found with every new album. It kind of makes me wonder where they'll go from here; Antenna shows that they do indeed have something good, even if they don't realize their full potential. Staind, Incubus, Linkin Park, Lifehouse---these guys really have nothing to fear from Cave In; their radio-rock crowns aren't in danger--at least for now. Let's just hope that they'll still have an audience when they make that great record.

--Joseph Kyle

Joy "joy"

If you're a folk musician, I'm sure getting tagged as "Nick Drake" is a real pain in the ass. I mean, come on, there's more to life than him now, and there's a tendency to get overrated. It's kind of dismissive. Problematic, though, is that sometimes tags and labels are apt. Sometimes people do sound like others, and I don't believe that some people can't/won't admit to it. It's okay to be influenced; it's not so okay, though, when the influences are forced upon an artist due to circumstances out of their control. See, there's this tenious little relationship between band and label, Shrimper.

Yes, like the other artists who have recorded for Shrimper, Joy is lo-fi. Yes, they're acoustic. Yes, they have some weird moments going on. But unlike 99.9% of artists who operate in this genre, Joy have magically concocted a sound all their own. At times, Joy makes me think of the old Lou Barlow lo-fi days, back before he scored a major hit record; back before when "next big thing" and success was a lure away from the 4-track. Instead of Sentridoh, though, Joy is a sound that's refreshing, new, and yet somehow quite familar.

Much should be made about the "embellished" nature of Joy. The duo of Matt Savage (vocals) and Daniel Madri (instruments) have been making music together for years, but this is their first recording as Joy, so they cannot be accused of the typical lo-fi amateurism. Instead of keeping the songs lo-fi, Joy took their record into a studio and tweaked it...adding odd noises, klinks, guitar solos and washes of sonic joy; in doing this, Madri and Savage created something that really stands out; you certainly don't think about the limited recording quality of the music.

Joy's lyrics are, in a word, odd. They distract your attention from the music, simply because you can't help but wonder what the HELL they are talking about. Sometimes the words are sweet, such as the pretty "Something"; sometimes, they're introspective, such as "The Trouble With Motivation," and then, sometimes they're just plain wrong. For instance, "Sex" is a winsome description that seems about as deep as a high schooler's attempts at deep poetry: "Calamity is only skin deep/How thick does she get?/I shoot panic when she jerks and sways/the unnerving gob/the squawk." Charming! I get the feeling, though, that there's a greater sadness underneath his really odd lyrics. Other songs, such as "Lump Of Eels," are best left to your own interpretation.

Joy is a very brief record that lasts less than a half hour. Sure, it will go by you rather quickly--but it won't leave you. The words will haunt you, stick with you, and will not let you go. At times, you'll listen to a song and think, "did he just say what I thought he said," and will go back again. Joy is haunting but not haunted; disturbing but not disturbed. It's a rather sublime journey that might easily be missed. Painfully shy singer singing twistedly absurd breakup songs and ballads about his fears, that grows and grows in your mind upon every listen. You might not be hooked the first time you listen to Joy, but are you brave enough to take that second listen?

--Joseph Kyle

March 26, 2003

Windy & Carl "Introspection: 1993-2000"

Windy and Carl are a duo in love, and for two people they sure do make an orchestra-size racket. Since 1993, they've been making soft, sensual, slow, blissed-out noise. Though they're kind of obscure, they've never failed to deliver anything that's less than wonderful. Along the way, their albums have helped many labels develop a reputation for quality, including Kranky, Ba Da Bing, Burnt Hair, Darla, Earworm, and Enraptured. They came of age during the mid-nineties, a surprisingly fertile era for spaced-out blisspop, and though names such as Flying Saucer Attack, Jessamine, and Labradford might not mean much now, at the time, all of these bands seemed poised to...well, you know...herald in a new era of electronic music.

Introspection: 1993-2000 is Windy & Carl's own handpicked, handmade retrospective, documenting their first seven years of music-making. While you might think that three discs' worth is a bit much, I'll be forthright and say that after listening to this collection numerous times, I don't think I'm all that sure I know all that much about Windy & Carl. Sure, there's a wonderful booklet, with pictures of flyers and record sleeves and photos and artwork, as well as detailed notes for each song, and that's quite good, but who are they? While most bands could easily put 70-100 songs on a three disc set, Windy & Carl only have enough space for thirty-seven songs! Does that tell you anything about how long some of their songs are?

The songs on Introspection have been divided into three distinct categories: singles, compilations, and live/unreleased. The singles disc is first, and of the three, it's the calmest, as most all of the songs are studio recordings. It's also quite apparent that these two love nature and the cold, as it seems to be a subject that appears quite frequently, at least in the titles--"Crazy in the Sun," "Clouds Within You," "Snowing," "Green," "Dragonfly, to name but a few of 'em. Songs simply go on, not really meandering, not really plodding--they simply flow. You'd expect a band's sound to change somewhat from the first single, but that's certainly not the case with Windy & Carl. Songs like "Green" (from a split with Hopewell) and "Snowing" are two songs that make Introspection a worthwhile purchase. Heck, you're never going to find MOST of these records anywhere, so this first disc fills a nice little void.

On the second disc, "Compilations," the sound gets a little bit rougher. Sure, there are some pretty quiet moments, (such as the sleep-inducing "Beyond Asleep") but there's a bit more roughness to their formula. Harsher? No, not really; it's due mainly to the fact that a few of their compilation appearances were recordings from live appearances. It's quite fascinating, though, that this quiet band is obviously a very LOUD live act, as apparent on "Underground, "a live recording from 1997, which the band says was at the 'beginning stages of our instrumental/noise/drone performances.' (What, and your other shows were singalongs?). Seeing as they're probably not going to come to a city near you anytime soon, the live tracks on here more than suffice, though maybe a singular live disc/seperate boxed set of live performances might be nice. (Hint, hint!) One thing to note, though, is that several of the live performances are untitled, leading me to wonder if they do a lot of improvisation and song composition onstage?

The third disc, "Live + Unreleased," is perhaps my favorite disc of the set. It starts off with a four song, twenty minute live radio appearance. It certainly makes me a little bit jealous of this particular city, because these four songs, "Fuzzy," "Undercurrent," "Set Adrift," and "Hipnos" are just so utterly gorgeous. The rest of the disc contains alternate takes and demos of previously unreleased songs, my favorites being two different versions of "Lighthouse" and the beautiful epic "Whisper." While these songs don't particularly differ that much from the released versions (some of which are included here), they're still extremely gorgeous put together in one place, and again I wonder if the songs they finish and release are edited down from much longer compositions.

On one of the discussion lists I subscribe to, it's not uncommon for DJ's to advertise their shows by posting their playlists. One fellow on the list has/had a radio show that was on from 4:00 AM to 7:00 AM on Sunday morning, which specialized in dreampop. Windy & Carl are a band he plays a lot, and listening to Introspection: 1993-2000, it's easy to understand why. Their music is the sound of a Sunday morning sunrise, while the world's partially asleep and the day is fresh. Perhaps if I had a radio show I'd do the same as this fellow, because Windy & Carl's music is a beautiful dreamlike state. Three hours of Windy & Carl? Why do I feel like that wasn't enough? We hardly got a chance to get to know ya! A beautiful, essential collection--and I wish more bands took it upon themselves to release such wonderful and lovingly-made compilations!

--Joseph Kyle

March 25, 2003

Hellfire Sermons "Hymns: Ancient and Modern"

"Hellfire Sermons. Who?"

Such a reaction would be a fairly typical and slightly justified response to the mention of this obscure late 80s-early 90s British indie band. I certainly never heard of them back then. Perhaps their obscurity isn't necessarily their fault, or anyone's for that matter. After all, how many great local and regional bands do you know of that never really went any further than their city limits? Yeah, we all know bands like that, and Hellfire Sermons are a band who fall firmly into that category.

Hellfire Sermons, ten years on, don't sound bad, but they probably aren't going to become a Field Mice-type of inspiration to anyone, either. Why? Simply because they weren't very shy about their main influence, the Pixies. If anything, they were victims of the times; another band that wasn't shy about their Pixies influence had reached nirvana, and the tidal wave that they caused all but drowned smaller bands like this--ironically, that mastermind would have probably liked Hellfire Sermons, had he heard them!

Still, just because a band is never anything more than regional doesn't mean that they're devoid of charm, talent, and good songs, and Hellfire Sermons have plenty of them. When taken individually, all of these songs are dirty little pop jewels. When taken collectivly, though, their formula shows, and you can't help but think that their genius may have been limited to one or two good ideas. Still, those ideas produced some great numbers, such as the ripping "Covered In Love", the lovely and popping "Quicksand," and the brooding "No Hands." Those three songs pretty much cover the gamuet of what Hellfire Sermons did at the time--and yes, they do sound quite familiar, but that's okay. These limitations lead you to understand why they never released a full-length album.

Some people think of Hellfire Sermons are a long-lost jewel, and I guess if you were there the first time, I can understand why; they're the type of band--the local underdog for whom nothing goes right--of whom rock and roll myths are made of; their fanbase, though small, probably snapped up all of these releases and still cherish them today. Hymns: Ancient And Modern is a collection that provides those of us who weren't there the first time the evidence of what exactly was so great about Hellfire Sermons to those who were.

--Joseph Kyle

March 24, 2003

Buzzcocks "Buzzcocks"

The godfathers of punk rock return with their strongest album yet. It's a pleasure, really, to be reminded by those who started it all that they're still going, and still have plenty to say. I mean, really, how can anyone say anything about both punk and indie rock without mentioning the Buzzcocks? Their influence has been duly noted; I dare most any band to write songs as great as "Oh! Shit," "Ever Fallen In Love," or "Orgasm Addict." Like the best artists, Shelley and company made--and still DO make-- punk rock look oh-so easy; just look at any Punk Planet or Maximum Rock & Roll to see how quickly their legacy lives on.

Kicking off with the hard-biting, still lovelorn after all these years "Jerk," it's clear to see that whatever it is that has fuelled Pete Shelley has yet to run dry on him. His words are still biting, jarring, and moving; you'd think that aging would mellow some of the heartbreaks. Buzzcocks certainly shows that this is far from the case; in fact, every one of the songs on the album contain the same one-two knockout punch that was with them from Time's Up. Consistency of product is something to be admired, and both Shelley and guitarist Steve Diggle are in fine, fine form; in fact, "Driving You Insane" may well be one of my favorite songs this year!

It's also quite interesting to note the author of two of Buzzcock's Mr. Howard Devoto! "Stars" and "Lester Sands" both are dark, brooding numbers, and is that Devoto signing in there? I doubt it..but still, one can dream, can't they? These two songs don't really sound anything like the Shelleydevoto collaboration from last year, but Shelley really, really sounds biting, and he's not really singing, he's snarling.
I'd love to hear Devoto come back to making music this hard, this driving, this...intellegent.

I wonder if Pete Shelley and his crew secretly have pictures in closets that age for them, because they still sound fresh, new, and current, even though they've been making music since before many of today's punkers and rockers were born! No matter, though; if they want to make a new record or a hundred new records, they're more than welcome to do so. Buzzcocks is an awesome little record; it doesn't do much to blemish their excellent history. It's a far cry from nostalga when you've deviated very little from your beginning, and while the band may have been around for well over twenty-five years, they've yet to sound like it.

--Joseph Kyle

March 23, 2003

Summer Hymns "Value Series Volume One: Fool's Gold"

Value Series Volume 1: Fools Gold is not a new Summer Hymns album. They even said so in their press release, stating that it's meant to 'kill time between albums.' And, you know what? That description pretty much sums up this little release. Instead of sounding like a full-length record, this lowkey, lo-fi record sounds like a band just hangin' around in their living room, playing songs they know, but playing them reall mellow-like, ya know? Not really rehearsin', not really practicin', just...jamming. And drinking beer. And smoking cigarettes of different forms. And just having a good old time about it. The music is rough yet charming; sometimes, such as "Button Flies" and "Crazy Baby," they're just silly, other times, like "What they Really Do" and "It's Just Not Right," they're pretty. They even offer up two gorgeous, 'didn't recognize 'em at first' covers of George Harrison's "Behind That Locked Door" and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's "It Takes Two." Value Series Vol. 1: Fools Gold is a cookie-dough record; if they'd actually baked these songs, the results would have been really good and yummy and delicious--but consuming it raw is just as enjoyable.

--Joseph Kyle

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March 22, 2003

Throwing Muses 'Throwing Muses'

This is the comeback record that I've wanted to hear. How rare it is, indeed, for a band to come back after a long-dormant state and sound like a brand new band! Kristin Hersh and company have returned to form in the best of ways, with no hint of the so-so records that dominated their last few years. Instead of the glossed-over sounds of University or the forced rawness of Red Heaven, Throwing Muses is the sound of a band with nothing to prove to anyone.

Of course, it is important to note that this record was "recorded over three weekends in November 2001." I think that is what makes Throwing Muses' return so exciting and so fresh. It's also worth noting that this self-titled record sounds more like the Throwing Muses circa their first self-titled record. "Mercury" kicks off their return, and is a hard and fast kick to the intellectual nuts. If you're not going "!" after first listen, then you've never really knew what the Muses were capable of. That mellowing-out that occured with Sire certainly seems to be a thing of the past; Throwing Muses sounds as if Hersh and crew have spent a lot of time listening to House Tornado and In A Doghouse and suddenly remembered what made them great!

Of course, if you listen, you'll hear another nice little thing...Tanya "Prodigal Muse" Donelly! Yes, Miss Belly has returned to the fold, and although she's not providing more than backing vocals, it's nice--VERY nice--to hear the two of them together. I've always thought that Donelly was the yang to Kristin's yin--their voices intertwine in a very special way--and her leaving made the Muses lose a little something. (Maybe on the next record she'll have more of a presence?) If Throwing Muses has a flaw, it's that a little editing might not have done too much damage. Some songs seem to go on a minute or two more than they should, and while no song is bad, it just rambles a bit here and there in the middle. It's okay, though; a little too much Muses is certainly better than none at all! Songs like "Portia", "SolarDip" and the closing one-two punch of "Flying" are simply smoking in a way that they NEVER were before.

When Hersh sings "I am unshaken" in "Portia," she speaks a truth about Throwing Muses' return. They sound like they never left--and, better still, like their lesser albums never happened! Hersh's voice is in fine form, and she sounds stronger and tougher than ever--it's been a long, long time since she's really sung full-out rock songs, and it's obvious that she's still got it. (Guess all those quiet solo records really built up her desire to just belt 'em out.) It's good to have them back. Hersh proves herself, even though she had nothing to prove; it's good to know that a hero of mine from a long time ago still has it. Welcome back, guys!

--Joseph Kyle

Dredg "El Cielo"

What the hell is this? Sure, I asked that question with Crawling Chaos, but at least with that record, I had a leg to stand on, and with the passing of twenty years, that could be passed off as a historic document. Dredg are to me, now, what I'm sure Crawling Chaos were back then. Unlike Crawling Chaos--who were something that people could dismiss as the odd release of an independent label--Dredg has no such crutch, having been released on the artist-unfriendly Interscope.

It really, truly is an odd pairing. Who knew that the label that dropped The Dismemberment Plan because they weren't what they had in mind (and who subsequently became massive in spite of a major label) would, four years later, present this to the public? It seemed like the risk-taking days of Interscope (who signed such non-commerical acts as Primus, Clawhammer, Brainiac, and Clawhammer) were long a thing of the past. Who would have thought that a label would invest some serious money into an act that is destined to go nowhere for them? I just don't see how--or what--Interscope sees in Dredg. They're not a radio-friendly band; they don't fit into any genres, they can't be marketed to teens, and album-oriented radio--where this could have possibly been exploited as a weird stoner concept album--has been a dead medium for the past fifteen years.

Funnier still is the fact that El Cielo must be an anomaly to the people at Interscope. The press for it has been, erm, how shall we say, awkward. I haven't seen much in the way of press for El Cielo, save for a few places that care for this kind of music. The indie press seems to think--and understandably so--that this is a bad pairing of emo and "experimental" music that doesn't come off as anything more than really bad prog rock if Black Heart Procession made bad prog rock. Many of the reviews for it in the major-label loved publications have been of the head-scratching variety. Having never really heard music like this, they seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to comparisions; the Radiohead comparisons are understandable, as are Tool, but not Limp Bizkit, Staind, Pink Floyd, Korn, or Linkin Park! I seriously doubt the soon-to-be-tattooed-out, pretty boy high school thug type that these last few bands are marketed to would even have anything to say to something like El Cielo. I certainly bet they've never heard Dead Can Dance or Three Mile Pilot--two band who, at times, remind me of Dredg. I hope that more people hear them, but I sense that they're missing their audience because of their label. Fans of bigger bands won't go for them, they don't have the "cred," even though they've been around for ages, and the fans of the type of music that Interscope pushes won't go for this weird, original music--if their publicity firm even promotes it.

As for me, I'm really taken in by Dredg. Setting aside that I think the fact that such a record can exist in 2003, I think that they've got a pretty interesting little thing going on. Dredg never sits in one place--they can go from loud rock freakout to simply inexplicible, and yet they escape unharmed, master of their own little universe. Dredg mastermind Gavin Hayes (I call him that because I really can't figure out if anyone else plays as "dredg") has a voice that's quite operatic, and when placed over the grand, sweeping instrumental backing of El Cielo, it sounds like nothing you've heard before. Only problem, though, is that occasionally the "different" music being made by Dredg gets a little top-heavy; unlike bands who make grand music like this, Dredg haven't quite mastered the art of cohesion. El Cielo could be improved if I felt like all of these great ideas were going in some direction. Unlike, say, Godspeed You Black Emperor, who make epic orchestral pieces that sound like different songs melded together, Dredg make a lot of songs (sixteen on El Cielo) but it seems so divided, like they're trying to make an album from an orchestral movement.

Perhaps this will be corrected in the future. I certainly hope so; El Cielo could be uncompromising and relentless, but it just feels like they're trying too hard to make as many odd musical statements at once. It's refreshing as hell, even if it doesn't really gel. Though it's a tad puzzling, El Cielo is a great little record, and Dredg are certainly a band worth watching. Maybe over time, they'll develop their (excellent) ideas into a more cohesive-sounding record, one that doesn't feel disjointed. Though I'm still puzzled by the fact that they're on Interscope, it doesn't take anything away from Dredg, and here's hoping they won't get dropped because of who they are--one of the oddest bands today.

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "the great tomato singer-songwriter collection"

I like budget samplers. I like the idea of spending four or five dollars for a full-length record, especially if I've never heard many of the artists on it. If the record's not good, you can sell it back and only be out a buck or two, and if you do like it, then you've got a nice little record that gives you something to build on, to research. Some labels have made an art of this. If you're lucky, and the label's really loving, you'll get some great unreleased music as well.

This sense of exploration and curiosity led me to pick up Tomato Records' The Great Tomato Singer/Songwriter Collection. Okay, so actually it was Townes Van Zandt. See, I've always been curious about Van Zandt, but being short of cash, I wanted to hear a few songs first, to see if I'd like it. When I saw this sampler with four Townes tracks, I decided to opt for it instead of a Greatest Hits. Yeah, I know, you start with the greatest hits records first...but I know that the song choices on those selections are left to debate, and when a label puts many songs on a budget sampler for their catalog, it's pretty safe to assume that those songs will be choice.

There are eleven artists on this collection, and though most of the newer artists are lesser known doesn't mean that they're of lesser quality. Amanda Tree's piano-jazz songs, "Treasure Island" and "When I Find Your Beat" are gorgeous, interesting, and terribly original. Brenden O'Shea is much more traditional singer-songwriter, and he sounds great. Tom Barris sounds like an American Billy Bragg, and Eric von Schmidt protŽgŽe Chris Smither writes some great tunes, even if his voice teeters dangerously close to Dylan imitation. (Dylantation, perhaps?) The only artist that doesn't really work for me is Ryan Montbleau. "Already There" is a bland, reggae-tinged pop number, and though "Variety" is a pretty little number, Montbleau seems to come off as a bit too influenced by Ani DiFranco. Montbleau really highlights one of the problems of the singer-songwriter genre; a heavy reliance on the ideas of others. Still, he's not bad, though, and understandably enjoys a live following.

The classic artists, though, are what make this package a steal. Townes Van Zandt's three numbers, "For The Sake Of The Song," "Our Mother The Mountain" are beautiful, and the stunning "Colorado Girl" has quickly become a staple of my mixtapes. Eric von Schmidt, while not particularly my type of style, proves why Dylan loved his work, and "Joshua Gone Barbados" is a classic. While these songs are nice, the four archival tracks, Ledbelly's live take of "Midnight Special," Jimmie Rodgers' "In the Jailhouse Now" are scratchy and lo-fi, and are utterly beautiful for it. Johnny Cash's Louisiana Hayride take of "I Walk The Line" also taps into the man's magical power, but the track that made 6.98 seem criminal was the closing number. It's a live, Louisiana Hayride recording of Hank Williams, tearing up the audience (it sounds like Beatlemania!) with his classic hit, "Jambalya." I don't know if these are one-off appearances, or if they are from forthcoming disks from the Hayride (like their recent Elvis Presley disk), but I know that I've been transfixed by these little numbers.

While some of the newer artists on The Great Tomato Singer-Songwriter Collection are a bit questionable when it comes to "great," this is a solid, well-rounded disk of some really, really great music. If you've wanted proof that "singer-songwriter" doth not automatically mean James Taylor or John Denver. Tomato is a label with a historic past and a pretty interesting future. Spend a few dollars here, and enjoy some great music.

--Joseph Kyle

March 21, 2003

Guitar "Sunkissed"

I might as well get the most obvious reference point out of the way: this album does little more than pay homage to My Bloody Valentine's sophomore album Loveless. The fact that you're even reading this is cause to assume that you already know about Loveless, but in case you don't, STOP READING THIS AND BUY IT NOW, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. It's a modern masterpiece of guitar-based music that, eleven years after its release, still slays ninety percent of the music being released today. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields' inability to produce a follow-up to this album has opened a window for two generations' worth of bands to produce infinitesimal variations on his trademark sound of pitch-imperfect distorted guitars and breathy post-orgasmic vocals.

Some bands, like Astrobrite, are simply content to remake MBV's more
aggressive debut Isn't Anything over and over. Others are more adventurous: the Swirlies' oblong song structures and quick time changes owe just as much to math-rock as they do to shoegaze, and Lenola weds Shields' whammy-bar tricks to low-fidelity psych-pop. Some bands push a particular element of Loveless to its extreme. "To Here Knows When," the album's fourth song, is the building block of Lovesliescrushing's entire discography, as that band strips away rhythm completely in order to concentrate on the oceanic guitar noise. On the opposite end, we have Guitar, who seems to favor the more danceable "Soon." The waves of guitar are still there, and they still sound more like currents of wind than electrified pieces of wood. However, they are slightly subordinate to the vocals and booming 4/4 beats. Of course, many critics have already dismissed Sunkissed as a derivative carbon copy of the MBV sound. To this, I say: "Well, freakin' DUH---so what's your point?" There are loads of listeners out there who don't feel that Shields truly pushed his sound to its limit with Loveless, and they will gladly listen to other people's attempts to finish the job that he started. I count myself as among these listeners, and I have an absolute blast listening to Sunkissed.

Yes, this record is definitely a case of style over substance, or sound over songs. The prominence of the vocals in the mix ends up unintentionally highlighting the lyrical shortcomings. The songs that Ayako Akashiba sings definitely have an ESL feel to them. Her idea of a chorus is "I breathe in breath deep/See sea, bee, and me/Honey bee, please be," and her thick accent makes the word "sunkissed" sound like "sun-kees." Because of such, this record will get on your nerves if you don't like anything Japanese or twee. A German lady named Regina Jannsen sings on three songs, but the closest that she comes to lyrical profundity is "How free can you be without being lonely?" Obviously, the lyrics aren't of Shakespearean quality, but I doubt that you'd get very profound insights from reading Kevin Shields' lyric sheets either. A more crucial drawback would be the fact that none of these songs have more than two chords. Say what you will about how MBV's guitars might make you nauseous, or about how indecipherable the lyrics are, but if you strip the half-million-dollar production from Loveless, you've still got a fine collection of pop songs with memorable chord progressions. Strip the production from Sunkissed and you basically have silence.

None of this will matter, though, once you press play and simply immerse yourself in the sonic bliss. "House Full of Time" and "Feel Flows Free" sound like first-rate outtakes from MBV's Glider EP. "Hot Sun Trail" sounds like a mash-up between a Loveless between-song interlude and an early-nineties club hit. "How So Bright of Universe" sports a beat that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would have killed to include on Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation, and "Melt" has a stomping beat that sounds like Led Zeppelin's John Bonham gone IDM. "See Sea, Bee and Me" creates a wave of backwards percussion, guitar, and vocals that feels like the soundtrack to a steamy love scene in a movie whose reels have been flipped upside down. In short, this record not only manages to simulate the Shields sound impeccably, but it also will get your booty moving much faster than a thumbtack on a couch would. That counts for much more than most hipster critics are willing to admit.

---Sean Padilla

March 17, 2003

Spiraling 'Transmitter'

Transmitter is a record that's quietly won me over. Okay, it hasn't quietly won me over. It's quite loudly won me over. It's very rare for me to be sucker-punched by a pop record from listen numero uno, but Spiraling is special. Damn special. Tom Brislin's a brilliant songwriter, and in the era where songwriting is becoming less important, but he's got skills, and it SHOWS.

See, Brislin's talent is directly proportional to his experience. Though you wouldn't know it by listening, he was a sideman for Meat Loaf, and then got a dream gig playing keboards with a band he loved, Yes. As you can imagine, he'd probably have to be damn good to be playing "Owner of a Lonely Heart" or "Love Will Find A Way," and that experience only made him BETTER. Transmitter synth-pop is really more along the lines of Yes side-project the Buggles than with the 70s rockers, though--so don't be scared.

Transmitter kicks off with "The Connection," a keyboard-driven rock that sounds like late-90s Alternative rock, and it's pretty damn good, too. The next two numbers, "The Girl On Top (Of The Piano)" and "(I Don't Want To) Grow Up" are nice, but their energy isn't quite as high as the beginning number. Don't worry--there's a pleasant surprise coming, though, when you reach track four--and it's one that will stay with you on subsequent listens, too.

"This Is the Road" shows you exactly who Brislin's main influence is--XTC. Once you realize this, the album changes. Your opinion of it changes. You'll not be able to escape just HOW MUCH Brislin sounds like Andy Partridge. In fact, Spiraling sound like what XTC would have sounded like had they started in 1987 instead of 1977. If you're not convinced by "This Is The Road," just wait--"Transmitter" is PURE Partridge. In fact, I even checked to make sure that it wasn't a cover. It wasn't.

The rest of Transmitter continues in the same vein, and it's an utterly pleasant listen. If you're wanting to dance around the room, Transmitter will probably make you want to chill out and think. If you're wanting to take it easy and mellow out, it might just make you break out in unapologetic bedroom dancing. Now that we are soon to be living in a world without the Dismemberment Plan, it's good to know that there's going to be a band that will fill in that void. Try not to think about the fact that this is their debut album--the anticipation for their next album might just kill you.

--Joseph Kyle

March 16, 2003

Andrew "Happy to Be Here"

I'm happy that Andrew's happy to be here. Andrew seems the kind of fellow who would indeed be happy to be here. I mean, look at that mug! And that dreamy, pop-kid swoon-inducing car! You really cannot go wrong with Andrew's light pop. He's got an utterly sunny-day voice that, at times, could pass off as an all-natural alternative to prozac. In fact, Andrew's record is almost a male version of Sarah Shannon's utterly charming debut album--a baroque-pop treasure with an ear to light, fluffy Bacahrach-pop, yet never anything less than original.

Of all the great, sunny pop songs on Happy to Be Here, I love "He Can Fly" the most. It sounds like a long-lost Brian Wilson Gary Zekley nugget, with a 60s-pop sound that's probably due to guest musician Tom Dawes, from the great, classic Cyrkle. Oh, yeah, and he's also accompanied by the occasional purrying pussycat. (If you've got the kitten factor, I'll fawn over you.) It's one of the best pop songs I've heard in ages. That it's followed by "If I See You Smile," which is easily the best 1970s AM Radio pop hit Allen Clapp never wrote, makes me fall even harder for Andrew's record.

And while we're on the subject of what makes Happy to Be Here great, I have to ask a general question....why are bands afraid of orchestration? Why aren't more of you indie "pop" bands employing little orchestras for your records? Andrew certainly makes a grand case for using them, and in my mind, he's just raised the bar on other bands making said pop sounds. I mean, really, why rush into the studio when you could save a few bucks, go on the road, sell your possessions, etc., to make your record sound this great? And why, too, don't more bands invest in a Hammond Organ? Andrew uses one on two songs (a cover of Dion's "Now" and "Tears Anyway") and if you think that one little instrument doesn't make a record better, take a'll be pleasantly surprised.

Andrew, I'm happy to have you here. Your record makes my day, it really does! It's so sunny and bright and sophisticated and intelligent! You'll be happy to have him in your record player, too...a fine addition to any collection, and Andrew's quietly climbing to the top of the modern-day singer-songwriter fare....Allen Clapp, you have now been warned!

--Joseph Kyle

March 15, 2003

Nada Surf "Let Go"

Nada Surf were popular. Remember? "I'm popular!" was their MTV cry, ushering in the one-hit nerdboy-wonder era that begat Harvey Danger, Nerf Herder, Barenaked Ladies, Fastball, and White Town. You know the story--label dude hears some local band in a bar, thinks they have what it takes to be the "next big thing," and boom! A few million dollars (and albums sold) later, the label's spent from the talent-rape, leaving the band dropped and record store clerks grumbling when everyone who bought it sells off the only hit album of the formerly "hip" band in order to get store credit for the next big one-hit wonder.

But there's often more to the story, an often unpleasant revelation that we don't like to admit to, much less mention. Okay, let's go there now. Their second album, The Proximity Effect, found Nada Surf trying to follow up their big hit, and it was not very memorable--okay, we're being nice here, it really wasn't good. The lessons the band had to learn had yet to come; perhaps the label had, indeed, been right in balking at this record, because it wasn't going to go anywhere.

Instead of retreading the hum-drum sounds of the past, Nada Surf have looked inward, mellowed out a bit, and have produced their best record to date. Instead of the poppy-rock, their songs are now slowed down; at times, songs like "Killian's Red" and "Neither Heaven Nor Space" sound more than a bit like Coldplay. Heck, the intro to "Inside of Love" sounds more than a little bit like "Yellow," but who are we to judge? Apparently Nada Surf like that kind of thing, and that's what they wanna do.

There are two songs on Let Go, however, that warrant mention, and certainly more than make up for the rest of the album. "Hi-Fi Soul" is a loud, driving number; it has a beat that reminds me of New Order, and it just sounds great on my car stereo. Ditto "The Way You Wear Your Head," which is a powerful modern power-pop song that could easily match anything on the radio today. Both songs have a nice hint of that driving rock sound that really made the Foo Fighters' first album a classic.
It is no accident, then, that their British label, Heavenly, has released both songs as singles; were they still on a megasuperconglomerate label, these songs would be hits. Maybe. Who knows? Either way, both could and should be hits.

Like former labelmates Spoon, Nada Surf need an album to transition themselves. Let Go, while not perfect, is still an excellent album. It's the sound of a band taking stock of what it is that they want to do, and setting forth on a course that compromises little and delivers much. Could they do better? Probably, but then again, why should they? They're doin' quite fine right where they are. In fact, I have a feeling that their next record is going to be utterly massive. Heck, maybe they will be "popular" in the end! In fact, let's close this little review by consulting my shocking accurate and totally trusty Hype-O-Meter Magic Eight Ball. "Do you think that Nada Surf will make up for lost time and become popular with either this new album or their next record?" "All signs point to yes."

--Joseph Kyle

March 14, 2003

California Snow Story "One Good Summer"

This is the perfect record for the kind of weather we're having these days. It's cool, sunny and breezy. There are light, whispy clouds drifting by, not really threatening, not really promising anything. The weather could be cold tomorrow, it could be warm tommorow, but it really doesn't matter. Why wonder about tomorrow when right now is just so pretty? It's not worth fretting about; just get on with your life and enjoy the fresh weather, the blooming flowers, and the chirping birdies.

Well, California Snow Story is quite lovely too, even if you might have heard their kind of strummy pop elsewhere. You really don't mind, because it's all about the here and now with them. There's an ex-Camera Obscura (good Scottish one, not the loud boring San Diego one) bloke fronting the band--which explains much about their sound--and he's got a girl singing some of the songs, and occasionally they join together in song, and when they do, like on "Snow In Summer" or "Summer Avenues" (sense a theme here?) it's really, really nice.

The only complaint to be had is with its length. While the five songs on here are all breezy and nice, they just breeze by too fast, and hungry little pop-heads like me want a little more than a snack. Still, five songs and Calfornia Snow Story is better than no songs and a used Belle and Sebastian record. One Good Summer is perfectly good for those Saturday afternoon drives to the lake, the Sunday morning wake-up coffee, and the rest of the week, too.

--Joseph Kyle

March 13, 2003

Hood "Singles Compiled"

Semi-obscurity is never enough. When Hood released their excellent Cold House last year, their recognition level rose...just a little bit. True, they weren't made into instant indie-rock stars, but it's safe to say that they weren't as overlooked as they had been in the past. That their style had undergone an electronic metamorphisis only made their reception all the better--even if the sound seemed a bit colder, more distant, and less organic. You can't blame a band for wanting to rise from the indie-rock swamp, and Hood rose to the challenge, even if they have since distanced themselves from the lo-fi weirdness that marked their earlier works.

Listening to Singles Compiled, which starts with 1995's "A Harbor Of Thoughts" 7", you're struck by how far Hood have come since those obscure, lo-fi days. Those expecting the electronica atmospherics of Cold House and Home Is Where It Hurts might be a bit put off by the earlier sounds of Hood. Don't get me wrong; their early records, especially "Lee Faust's Million Piece Orchestra," have a certain charm, even if the best part of the song is the title. These songs range from acoustic ballads to weird bursts of noise and/or drum machine/synth bleats, and often all at once! The notion of a "song" is also rather fuzzy; when you're talking about more than five or six songs per seven inch record. Unlike Guided By Voices--the only other band who have constantly piled-on the music on their singles--Hood's songs aren't always cohesive; they can be nothing more than noodling or beats, and often these songs are indistinguishable from the others.

It's not until about 1998 that they started to really get more into the atmospheric styles of today, and even then, these are tempered with lo-fi weirdness that really don't quite stand the test of time. The brooding, synth-layered Hood doesn't really appear until "Impossible Calm" (on 1998's "(The) Weight"). When they released their two US singles, "Filmed Initiative" and "The Year Of The Occasional Lull" in 1998, that lo-fi weirdness had been replaced by a colder, more refined atmospheric sound, which certainly pointed the band towards the sounds that they're currently making. Unfortunatly, the set ends with these two transitional records, leaving the listener wanting more, and closing this chapter of Hood's existence right when they were becoming a lot more interesting--and releasing some beautiful records.

If you're not a fan of the weirder, shorter lo-fi experimental folk, then most of the unreleased tracks will probably not hold your interest. These are some very lo-fi songs, and have a lot more in common with Hood circa 1994-1997, though once again, there are hints at greater things, such as "Morpeth," "Killing The Band," and "To Emphasise Words," but these songs are simply brief moments, as opposed to longer, more substantial pieces. I don't really know when these pieces originate, so I'm only assuming that they're from Hood's formative years.

So is Singles Compiled a worthwhile collection? I think so. I know some people who swear by early Hood, and who think they've been going downhill since "I've Forgotten How To Live." I'll also say that I enjoyed earlier period Hood as well (as well as owning a few of these singles), but since their startling transformation into a really strong electronica-based group, I've had a harder time appreciating some of their earlier releases. Hood have certainly come a long, long way over the past decade, and Singles Compiled certainly documents some of that change. If you only learned of Hood in the past year, you would be forgiven if you were to assume that this Hood was an entirely different band. Listening to this collection, it's certainly worth arguing that they indeed were.

--Joseph Kyle

March 12, 2003

Paper Moon "One Thousand Reasons to Stay, One Reason to Leave"

First listen, I automatically thought, "teen TV drama soundtrack." When I read the onesheet for One Thousand Reasons to Stay...One Reason to Leave, I learned that songs from main Moonie Allison Somers' previous band, B'ehl, had indeed made appearances on Dawson's Creek and other (assumably) teen shows. You know, it's kind of nice to recognize these things immediatly, but that's another matter altogether. One Thousand Reasons to Stay...One Reason to Leave would make great music for a kick-butt independently-minded smart teen who wants something more to life than angst and boy or girl trouble, yet doesn't want to be completely vapid, either.

Of course, if I had the opportunity to soundtrack a teen-oriented show, I'd probably include Paper Moon as well. They have that certain charm that would fit in nicely. You know--sweet, sassy, but not too threatening; quirky, poppy, different--but not too different, and always, ALWAYS, fun fun fun! Somers sounds like she suckled off the teat of Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donnelly, but I wouldn't want it any other way. It's better to have too much candy than to have none at all, and while some might find Somers' voice dangerous to diabetics, I'm happily and unapologetically risking my life for a little Paper Moon.

See, that's the great thing about Paper Moon. While things I've seen or read about them mention new-wave, I'm not hearing it. Sure, Heather Campbell might have been a key keyboard player in that great, if-you-heard-them-you're-lucky new-wave band Bossanova, but all I'm hearing is alternative. You remember alternative, don't you? Sensitive, sincere lyrics made by Real College Graduates that aimed for the heart and the intelligence of the listener. Anyway, I loved those days...Belly was a great band, so was Juliana Hatfield 3, and I didn't shy away from a little Velocity Girl, Letters to Cleo, Cardigans or that dog. to brighten my day.

Sadly, those days just faded away, and alternative-lite like this quickly became passe, replaced by machismo-driven rap-rock and "I'm rich!" bland jock-rock. Happily, this hard truth doesn't phase Paper Moon one bit. From the lovely crash of "Your Thesaurus Won't Help You Now," it's rather obvious that they're partying like it's 1995, and they never once apologize for it. Why should they? Personally, I'm fond of the light and sweet "The History of Punctuation," but if you're fond of this sweet, sassy, and smarter'n'you pop, you'll find ten crushworthy songs here.

It's sad and frustrating that Paper Moon is still Canada's best-kept secret; I'll give you Celene Dion and Alanis Morrisette if you'll give us Paper Moon. Until that happens, just go and get One Thousand Reasons to Stay...One Reason to Leave. You'll be glad you did, and you'll feel smarter for it.

--Joseph Kyle

The Asteroid No. 4 "Honeyspot"

What is a space-rocker to do? After making two or three albums of spaced-out stoner rock, you've gotta be pretty much in love with your sound, lest you get bored. Plenty of bands that were seen as "seminal" in the late 1990s are now nowhere to be seen, simply because they burned out, or their audience moved on. With Honeyspot, Philadelphia's Asteroid No. 4 have performed a major stylistic shift. Gone are the grand post-rock statements; instead of a psyched-out trip into space, Asteroid No. 4 have stumbled upon a magical musical time machine. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they are no longer post-hippies making futuristic stoner-rock, they're now officiallly hippies. It's okay, though, because they pull it off.

Starting off with "The Preacher & The Setting Sun," Asteroid No. 4 start off on a long, strange trip down the dusty road of classic psych rock, but unlike the Beachwood Sparks (and, to a lesser extent, the Ladybug Transistor collective) these guys never sound like a group of hipsters making ironic music. For all of the bands that take the trip back to the groovy Sixties, Asteroid No. 4 have to be the most authentic band of the bunch. If you didn't have the pictures of these younguns, you'd rightfully think that these guys were your dad's college buddies. In fact, Asteroid No. 4 have something that all of these modern-day retro-rockers don't--a magical instrument that sends Honeyspot back in tim--when bands with names like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape roamed the earth.

It's the harmonica.

I don't know where they managed to find it, but somewhere along the line, they picked up Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home harmonica and are milking it for all of its glory. In fact, it's great to hear that it's still being used, because Scott Vitt is a damn master at it. Just listen to "As Soon As Dawn" or "Made Up My Mind" and tell me that his playing isn't as good as Dylan's or Garcia's. The songwriting's just as good, too; with a wonderful combination of banjo, honky-tonk piano, harmonica, guitar, pot and whiskey bottle, you'd probably think they should have called themselves Flying Astronaut Brothers' Burrito Number 4. Honeyspot sounds like the bastard child of a one-night pot-smoking session between Blonde on Blonde and Workingman's Dead. Throw in a little bit of Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Meat Puppets II for good measure, sprinkle little bits of peyote and shrooms, and you'll pretty much have the recipe for Honeyspot. They never venture out past 1969, and they don't need to. They're stuck in a time-warp, and we're all the better for it.

Asteroid No. 4 have succesfully done what's proven to be impossible: they've radically changed their defined musical style AND made an album that is utterly indebted to the past yet never sounds like a novelty. Honeyspot is a wonderfully refreshing album of mind-expanding road-tripping psychedellic country rock that owes everything to its inspiration yet never sounds anything less than completely original. Good show, gentlemen--just make sure to watch out for the pigs when you tour. They don't trust longhairs...

--Joseph Kyle

March 06, 2003

Brandston "Death & Taxes"

These guys have impressed me. Though they're following the (insert the dirty "e" word here) pattern, they've really done something great: they've refused to hide their love of Elvis Costello. Listen to "On Three" or "In the Pills" and tell me that they've not worn out one or two copies of Armed Forces or Imperial Bedroom. I've never heard any of Brandtson's other records, but this little record certainly quickly convinces me that they're a powerful rock band.

Yeah, they're just "rock." None of those other adjectives are necessary, because they're so repetitve, so meaningless. I mean, they've got everything good: intelligent lyrics, a really pulsing, driving beat; some great guitar licks, too. Everything that a rock band needs to have, they've got it. I can tell they're probably a kick-ass live band as well. What I like most about Death & Taxes are the vocals. They're doing the dual male vocal thing, which really works for this kind of crunchy pop. They even slow things down a bit on closer "In A Word," and their tenderness doesn't sound a bit forced, which is a problem when loud rock bands "slow it down a bit." About the only weak spot on here is "Ain't No Trip To Cleveland," which is too much of a feel-good, "this bud's for you" moment that developed back in the seventies and simply will not go away. It wasn't very clever 30 years ago, and it certainly isn't now.

Death & Taxes is a lovely little mini-album from a great little band. While some might be a little put-off by the "e", you really shouldn't think about it that much; they're a great little rock band, and if they continue to look inward while songwriting, they'll soon be a force to contend with. As for now, consider Death & Taxes your final warning.

--Joseph Kyle

Boards of Canada "Twoism"

Originally released as a limited-edition twelve-inch, Twoism is both a far cry from and a wonderful look-forward-to for Boards of Canada. While it's not as grand as their most recent work, especially last year's Geogaddi, it's certainly lovely in its own right. For a debut album, it's rather tight, though "tight" is a relative term when it comes to electronic music, isn't it? The musicianship is high, and they sound like they're already experts at the game.

That's not to say that Twoism is a flawless record. On some tracks, like the otherwise lovely "Twoism," there's a weird kind of offness that reminds me of the days of cassettes, when the tape would slip and drag a little bit; at first, it sounded like either their recording tape or my CD was defective. It's a technique that is rather annoying and takes away just a little bit of the magic. The only time the music really falters is the out-of-place "Basefree," which is a drum-machine gone terribly terribly wrong. Okay, so it's not really bad, it's just out of place with the rest of the groove.

Not to fear, though. Twoism is loaded with mellow, slightly intoxicated chill-out grooves that would easily make for some wonderful fodder for those moments when you need a "relaxing" atmosphere. Then again, that's all that Boards of Canada are trying to do, and they do it well. Numbers like "Iced Cooly" and "Seeya Later" are lovely, mellow, rum-scented beat-driven chillout grooves, and could easily turn your bedroom into a lovely little relaxation grotto. While Twoism may be the simple babysteps that would lead to later greatnessm if they had never made a record after this, they would have at least made a pretty good record.

--Joseph Kyle

birddog 'songs from willipa bay'

Birddog is the vision of one man, Bill Santen. While I'm not sure what his reasoning is for using a band name. Like his previous album, Santen's enlisted a few music veterans to help him out, and instead of folkies like Edith Frost and Elliott Smith, he's assisted by Jason Loewenstein and Paul Oldham, who add a down-home feel to the proceedings. Indeed, these two help to make Songs From Willipa Bay feel like down-home Louisville.

The seven songs on Songs From Willipa Bay are faint, flickering flames dancing on the shores of dark, foggy souls, with Santen kindly allowing us to take a look inside. At times, such as on "Red Red Wine" (not the Neil Diamond number) and "Beaches", Birddog veer into Will Oldham country; hard to avoid when making this kind of bleak country-folk, harder even still when you have the brother of said influence playing in your band! About the only complaint that you can make about Birddog is that there are a lot of Oldhamites out there in Indie Rock Land, which makes cynical writers like me think "been there, done that," and if you're not particularly fond of the style, you'll simply go, "oh, great, another one."

You know what? Who cares about that?! I mean, really, it's hard to not like Songs From Willipa Bay. The music is mellow, pleasant, and intelligent; Santen's songwriting is excellent, but I suspect he's a lot more passionate when he's up onstage.

While Songs From Willipa Bay may be brief, it's certainly deep. For a mini-album, it certainly feels like a full-length. Though I don't know what his plans are, or who he will be working with next, I'm sure it will be excellent. If you're new to Birddog, Songs From Willipa Bay is certainly a fine place to start; though brief, it is still a strong, fine collection of an underrated talent.

--Joseph Kyle

Deerhoof "Apple O'"

This site’s editor knew what he was doing when he sent this record to me. Anyone who’s read the review that I wrote for Deerhoof’s previous album Reveille already knows how enamored I am of this band. I still stand by my assertion that Reveille is as tuneful and unpredictable as rock music got last year. However, judging from some of the Deerhoof interviews that I read from earlier this year, the band wasn’t as satisfied with it as I was. Shortly before recording Apple O’, Deerhoof added a second guitarist, Chris Cohen, who felt that the music on the previous album had a bit TOO much going on. This prompted the rest of the group to take a stripped-down approach to writing and recording the new album. Upon reading this, I feared that they would make a sequel to their second album Holdypaws, which remains the most conventional and least appealing release in the band’s discography. Fortunately, Apple O’ is more like a slightly less awesome Reveille, without the nine-second interludes and eight-minute songs. Don’t get it twisted, though: any album that manages to be just “slightly less awesome” than Reveille still needs to be purchased immediately, even if you have to sell your own plasma to get the money!

Despite the absence of studio trickery, Deerhoof still sound like Deerhoof. Greg Saunier still plays drums like a jazz-trained Keith Moon, and his wife Satomi still sings like a saner, pitch-perfect Yoko Ono. A glimpse at the lyric sheet reveals even more of the simplest and most infantile lyrics known to man. The lyrics to one song in its entirety are: “China panda/Bamboo panda/I like panda/Bye bye panda/Panda road.” (The song is creatively titled “Panda Panda Panda” for those of you who didn’t get the point.) Satomi milks lyrics like these for all they’re worth, stretching her syllables and vowels to sound like she’s singing more than she actually is. Guitarists Cohen and John Dieterich still run honeyed Merseybeat melodies through ear-piercing distortion and feedback. The band still writes nursery rhymes, only to blow them up to arena-sized proportions, and then run them through a rusty ghetto blaster. These songs don’t end as much as they peter out after running out of tangents to pursue. The band’s sound-collage fetish pops up only twice on this album: “Sealed with a Kiss,” a song consisting almost entirely of staccato samples of organs and trumpets, and the beginning of “Adam and Eve Connection,” which is basically a reprise of the climax of “Sealed.” Otherwise, Apple O’ is basically a live-in-the-studio recording: two guitars, drums, and Satomi’s voice and occasional bass playing.

“My Diamond Star Car,” a sharp instrumental blast of lightning-fingered guitars and time-signature trickery, would make the perfect soundtrack to a cartoon chase scene. I kept waiting to hear Road Runner pop up with a “Meep! Meep!” before the song’s end. The musicianship on “Panda Panda Panda,” on the other hand, is so loose and sloppy that the song sounds like it’s being held together by sheer centrifugal force. “Apple Bomb,” the album’s most lyrically intelligible song, is a slow, soothing ballad that compares the creation of Adam and Eve to the explosion of a bomb. The song itself eventually rises to a thunderous peak, making it the most fitting representation of an album that seems to have love as a thematic core, in which things that seem placid on the surface often have volatile undercurrents. Greg and Satomi sing together in equally goofy falsettos during almost-unplugged songs such as “Dinner for Two” and “Adam and Eve Connection,” and the results are as intimate and heartwarming as indie-rock ballads can get without Ira and Georgia of Yo La Tengo being involved.

Though it’s not as instantly challenging as Reveille, very little of Apple O’ is anything but excellent, which makes this album the third consecutive addition to Deerhoof’s winning streak. In fact, this album may end up turning more people on to this group than Reveille did precisely BECAUSE of its comparatively Spartan approach. O what a pleasant world this would be if more people got to relive their spastic pastel-colored childhood through Deerhoof’s wonderful music!

---Sean Padilla

March 03, 2003

Heth "Clean"

I've never been one to hold a grudge against an artist or a band who explore musical styles that have, over time, worn out their welcome. Just because a sound is played out doesn't mean that the music is going to be bad; after all, isn't the whole point of being "innovative" one that is based on taking the trite or mundane and improving it? Of course it is! You should also realize that when an artist makes a record whose style is terribly trite it must also mean that the artist really, really LOVES said style. When the love is there, that's all that matters. (Of course, it could also be argued that the artist doesn't get it, but that's not the point here).

Alternative Rock is a style that's most stigmatized, and rightly so. The house that Nirvana built begat a lot of crap, and then it all came tumbling down when crap-metal, airhead pop, and "sensitive" folk musicians sucked out the feeling.
Heth Weinstein is a young man who looks like he's too young to remember "the good old days," but he has that alt-rock star look DOWN. Slightly aloof, he looks like a younger David Bowie, and the music he makes? Well, it shouldn't be a surprise that it's going to be "hip" sounding.

From the first chord of "Falling Together," you're instantly struck with how apt the title Clean is. That clean sound is due to having REM/Courtney Love producer Jamie Candiloro behind the mixing board. I'm instantly shocked by how AWESOME it sounds. It's one of the most commerical indepedent releases I've ever heard...period. I mean, didn't bands in 1997 and 1998 spend millions sounding like this? Anyway, Heth's an alt-rocker. On first listen, "Falling Together" sounds like a lost INXS demo; at times, Heth sounds like a dead-ringer for Michael Hutchence.

Aside from the sterile-clean production, Heth's got a great sound in him. He never really changes up his alternative-rock formula--if you think Third Eye Blind, you'd be forgiven--and while most bands would falter when making this kind of record, Heth amazingly pulls it off. In fact, one of my main complaints is that Clean sounds TOO perfect, and the music seems to be lacking a bit of passion. I think that has more to do with the production than the music, and I'll admit right now that I'd rather have a too-clean production than very little production any day.

While I'm not particularly fond of Heth's style, I'm not going to dismiss it, either. Why should I? He's made a great record. Clean is never unpleasant; if it's radio play that he wants, then songs such as "Life's A Photograph" or "Homegrown" wouldn't be unwelcome; hell, I'd turn them up if I heard 'em! These six songs are a nice little tease of what could be a great career for this up-and-comer. Glad to know that someone out there's willing to pay their way and make it themselves, rather than wanting to American Idol themselves. Probably a good thing, because Heth's too talented to be whored out.

(If you want to check out his stuff, visit for more info.)

--Joseph Kyle

Joan of Arc "So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness"

I never thought I'd see the day in which Joan of Arc released an album I could place on my year-end top-ten list without hesitation, for three reasons. One is that it's only March, and I don't even begin contemplating a top-ten list until December. Another is that Joan of Arc is the virtual definition of the phrase "acquired taste." Up to this point, most of their songs sounded like a grown-up Alfalfa hollering nonsensical puns atop second-tier Gastr Del Sol backdrops that steadfastly refuse to settle on a groove (or sometimes, even a key). The third reason is that Joan of Arc's first incarnation ended on a very, very bad note. Though even their best records could frustrate the average listener, their final album The Gap took pretension to its absolute limit: forty minutes of blipped out wide open space, with what few proper songs they deigned to include being short-circuited by faulty editing and excessively parenthetical song titles. Their subsequent EP, How Can Anything So Little Be Any More?, sounded like outtakes from The Gap interspersed with field recordings of a slightly pedophiliac bent. After those two blunders, Joan of Arc's breakup became more of a relief than a tragedy. This is why it is so bewildering for me to admit that their "reunion" album manages to reshuffle the deck in their favor. After all, second-tier Gastr Del Sol is still better than many of the bands we all listen to these days, and So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness is so much better than that.

This album and The Gap can be held next to each other as examples, respectively, of what musicians should and shouldn't do with computers. Whereas the latter album used digital cut-ups to either compensate for the songs' lack of structure or completely obliterate whatever structure there was to begin with (years after its release, I still can't decide which), So Much Staying Alive takes a summer's worth of jam sessions with different instrumental lineups and shapes them into comparatively cohesive songs. There are moments when you can blatantly hear this process taking place in the music. Opener "On the Bedsheet in the Breeze on the Roof" maintains the listener's interest for six minutes by unpredictably dropping instruments in and out of the mix. In the beginning of "Olivia Lost," all of the instruments seem to be playing in different time signatures; its coda accelerates the elaborately finger-picked guitar riff to triple the speed of the rest of the song. On "Diane Cool and Beautiful," the listless strumming of an acoustic guitar is used as a sort of rhythmic click track, only occasionally playing in the same key as the rest of the band. However, the songs never get annoying, and most of the credit, ironically, can go to front man Tim Kinsella. Previously content to string together references to pop culture icons and obscure French films in a strangled yelp, he actually sings on key and tells coherent stories for the majority of this album. Hell, the lyrics are even presented in paragraph form in the liner notes!

"On the Bedsheet" finds our hero drunkenly watching homemade art films at a rooftop party. "The Infinite Blessed Yes" underscores its allusions to domestic abuse by adding tense, atonal coronet solo to the song's main hook, which consists of Tim repeatedly intoning a typically oxymoronic maxim: "The problem is that you don't understand what the problem is." "Perfect Need and Perfect Completion" chronicles a couple on a road trip through West Texas. The man wants his needs to be satisfied before anyone else's, and the woman can't seem to tell whether or not her own needs are being satisfied. It's quite a Hemingway-like view of relationships, proving once and for all that Kinsella actually has literary talent beneath the surface cleverness. It also helps that the weeping pedal steel and honky-tonk piano does a good job at evoking the vast, arid Lubbock landscape without sounding overtly countrified. "Mr. Participation Billy" gets most of its mileage between the saccharine instrumentation and the sordid lyrical subject matter. When's the last time you heard an English music-hall waltz about a series of violent muggings ("Mary was choked for her bag on the stoop while her children watched")?

It suits Joan of Arc's contrary nature that its first album in which Tim actually sings well is also the first album to feature guest vocals; Todd Mattei sings lead on "Mean to March," and sounds basically like Tim after serious voice training. "Hello Goodnight Good Morning Goodbye" is a danceable kiss-off to a pretentious girl ("Camus isn't your boyfriend/you'll never go back to school") that ends with Tim babbling as if he had just received the Holy Ghost. "Dead Together" is a portrait of an elderly couple who reflect proudly on their life together during their final dying moments. The first couple of minutes of "Madelleine Laughing" meander without a tempo in sight, almost sounding like a lost cousin of The Gap's "Zelda," but midway through it morphs into a propulsive pileup of fuzz guitars and woozy vocal harmonies. The title track closes the album with nothing but Tim singing and playing his guitar with front-porch intimacy. The song is already a step up from the formless noodles that traditionally closed Joan of Arc albums, but when the tempo picks up, Tim delivers a spoken-word narrative in which a woman reminisces about two of her old teenage friends. It's so detailed and sincere that I almost feel like I'm watching an episode of The Wonder Years while listening to it.

"Staying Alive and Lovelessness" is a perfect ending to an album that finds Kinsella finally attempting to connect with, rather than confound, his audience. Joan of Arc still writes and plays as if they're allergic to 4/4 rhythms and verse/chorus structures, but the attention paid to melodic and lyrical continuity here exceeds all of the band's previous releases. The greatness of this album is definitely sufficient cause to give this band the second chance no one even knew they deserved.

---Sean Padilla

Rivulets "Debridement"

Sad songs say so much, especially when the writer of said songs knows and understands that singing sad songs requires an effort of both words and music. Without listening to a single note, Rivulets' sound is painfully obvious. The association with Low's label Chair Kickers Union should give you an idea of what you're about to hear; the assistance of Jessica Bailiff, Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Jon DeRosa seals the deal. Friends and assistance aside, Rivulets' sound owes nothing more than the singular vision of Nathan Amundson. It really shouldn't matter, though, and thankfully,
Amundson side-stepps these concerns, by making music that's entirely his own.

To his credit, he also understands that brevity is the soul of wit, and that his kind of music isn't conducive to a long listening time. Debridement may be soft and folk, but it sure isn't easy listening. The acapella "An Evil," with its haunting, tortured repetition of "There's an evil in this room," should be your warning that this musical journey is not going to be anything less than emotional. I wonder, though, how much atmosphere plays a part in his music; being from the bitter-cold northern regions of the country, like his friends in Low, I wonder if this atmosphere directly affects his music.

From the striking beauty of "Conversation With A Half-Empty Bottle" and "The Sunset Can Be Beautiful (Even In Chicago)" to the simple "Shakes" and "Will You Be There," Amundson is one of the few artists who can sound so lush with just a simple guitar, without having to resort to big, loud effects that drown out the music. The pain is there, it's subliminal, and it's real. He never lets up on the sadness; at times, he hints at Nick Drake with a touch of Will Oldham, but he's no mere imitator; instead, his voice is haunting and beautiful in a more classical way, much like Flare's LD Beghtol or Pale Horse and Rider's Jon De Rosa--who appears on "Bridges" and "There's Nothing I Can Do." When he teams up with Jessica Bailiff on "Cutter" and "If It Is," the songs blossom into something utterly heavenly--lifting the sadness, allowing a little bit of sun to shine through, but only for a moment, so as not to break the sad, somber mood.

I'm hesitant to call Debridement a sad record, though, because it's not sad. Amundson has a stethoscope to the human soul, and while his songs may be lovelorn, they're strinkingly beautiful in a way that gives you a sense of hope. It's like a child watching a thunderstorm--they're scared by the darkness, and too inexperienced to know that the storm will soon pass. That's how I felt after listening to Debridement--sad, a little melancholy, but, like the darkness, this too shall pass.

--Joseph Kyle

March 02, 2003

The Velvet Teen "The Great Beast February/Comasynthesis"

Ah, "baby steps." These kind of records always provide an interesting insight into bands that are currently being hyped as Next Big Thing (like The Velvet Teen). Do bands simply start out brilliant, or do they develop genius over time? Often, it's impossible to tell if a band is brilliant from their early recordings, but there are those artists who strike gold from their very first release. California's The Velvet Teen are certainly up-and-comers for the Next Big Thing crown. They've got that whole post-emo Britpop sound going on; their new album, produced by Chris Walla, is earning some well-deserved praise--thanks in part to an OH MY GOD THEY ARE SOOOOO LUCKY slot opening for Death Cab For Cutie. This collection gathers up their two out-of-print EP releases, niftily packaged together for your listening pleasure.

The Great Beast February, released in 2001, is a strong single, and it certainly showed that The Velvet Teen were a band worth watching. "Naked Girl" sounds like a lost top-40 "modern rock alternative" radio hit; with a melody that reeks of Smashing Pumpkins' "1979," it's certainly an excellent song that deserves to be a hit. "Counting Backwards" (not the Throwing Muses song) starts off with a cheesy, drum-machine bit, and then borrows MUCH from Jimmy Eat World's then-unreleased hit, "Sweetness." Ironically, both songs borrow heavily from Unrest's wonderful "Make-Out Club," where both Jimmy Eat World and The Velvet Teen are much-loved! (Will the circle be unbroken, indeed!) The final track, "Mother of Love," is a sad, mellow Coldplay-esque number that neither offends or impresses.

Their debut release, Comasynthesis, was a strong but not wholly satisfying record. I reviewed it for my Mundane Sounds print precursor, Lois Is My Queen, and said it was "a brave debut by a group of guys who have some good records in their collection an who are probably much loved by their local college radio station and local indie-kids and nobody else." Who knew? My main complaint was that it was too Radioheadesque for its own good, and I still kind of think that it's too clever to be killer. Though it sounds great (I wish more bands sounded this AWESOME on their first record), it's still kind of bland, middle-of-the-indie-road for my tastes, though it sounds better than when I first heard it, and "Super Me" is pretty rad.

So, are The Velvet Teen really worthy of "next big thing" classification? Well...we'll let you decide that. This collection helps to satisfy those who are already converted, and it really would raise the interest of those who might want to check 'em out--and at a budget price, it's more bang for your buck, and is ultimately quite enjoyable. Having not heard Out Of The Fierce Parade, this little record has certainly made me--and will make you--want to check it out.

--Joseph Kyle

Rye Coalition "Jersey Girls"

HELLLL YEAH! This is total and utter male slut rock, as dirty as that dude who works in the back at the bowling alley, and as hard as that biker dude who's hitting on you and your girlfriend. Macho, in-your-face, balls to the wall rock and roll that rides you raw, assumes that you're dead in the alleyway, and leaves you wanting more, more MORE!!!!!!!!! Think I'm speaking in hyperbole? Why, my friend, are Jersey's finest now currently ripping it up live across the country with Queens of the Stone Age, who currently are one of the best damn rock bands, period?

It's simple, really. Rye Coalition rock! They have a certain crunchiness that hasn't been seen in ages (not since Karp, at least), and that, my friend is refreshing. I might have seemed dismissive of their previous album, last year's comeback On Top, but that was only because I wasn't in the right state of mind to really appreciate what they're doing. Rye Coalition are guys who want to rock and roll all night and party every day, and their music is a full-tilt realization of their desires. They like their cars fast (DUDE DIG THAT KILLER TRANS AM ON THE COVER, I want that airbrushed on my van!), their women hot and slutty, and their rock classic. Literally. All of these songs have either drug references ("Stop Me While I'm Smoking," "Snow Job" or references back to rock and roll ("Break Wind and Fire," "Communication Breakdance," "Speed Metal Tap Dancer," "ZZ Topless," and my favorite, "Paradise by the Marlboro Light."), and ALL OF THESE SONGS WERE CREATED BY THE HAMMER OF THE ROCK GODS. I'm serious, man; if this were 17 years ago, they'd be on Capitol, on tour with LA Guns, and they'd be on Decline of Western Civilization, Volume Two, drinking Jack Daniels.

Musically, they aren't really doing anything they didn't do on last year's On Top. Not surprising, as two of these songs came from a limited-edition seven incher that was released before the album came out, and "Stop Eating While I'm Smoking" is from the album. (What, no "Whole Lotta Rosie" from the Sub Pop 7"? Man, that's some hot shit, why'd you leave it off?) The other four songs also seem to date from that time as well, but you really don't're ass is being rocked, and, dude the rock NEVER ages or expires! My only advice to these guys now, though, is to be careful with those flashpots and check the ID's of those cute young thangs that come backstage now. And, dudes, keep up the cock and roll!

--Joseph Kyle