July 27, 2003

Sekiden "1+1=Heartache"

Wowie! These Australian kids really know how to pack a powerful pop punch, and if you're not left totally smilin' and happy after the 9:56 minutes of onslaught new wave pop, then, well, check yr pulse! Sekiden go for that cutesy robotic pop thing--which works wonders, because they know what they're doing--and it all sounds perfectly radio friendly. They make The Rentals look like rip-off artists, yet they sound like Weezer's kid brother. The title track kicks things off, and it's a pop kick in the stomach. "Sloth" follows, and though they turn off the new wave and turn up the guitars, they do it quite well. Same thing for "Mastersystem" and "Sleepyhead." These kids are poised for greatness back in Australia, and if they play it right, they may conquer us, too. Let's hope so. It's been too long since we've been conquered.

--Joseph Kyle

Tony Scheuren "Gaining on You"

Gaining On You is a posthumous release of songs by Tony Scheuren, a man whose name you probably don't know. He was a relatively obscure musician; he was in two bands in the 1960s, Ultimate Spinach and Chamaeleon Church (only remembered mainly because Chevy Chase was a memeber), and he contributed several parody songs to the wonderfully hilarious (and one of the last radio programs) National Lampoon Radio Hour. His two shining moments during his time with National Lampoon were "Southern California Brings Me Down" (a Neil Young spoof) and his James Taylor parody "Methadone Maintenance Man." Other than that, he never made any commercial music, and he passed away in the early 1990s at the age of 45.

Like Love's Bryan MacLean or Badfinger's Pete Ham, Gaining On You is an album of mixed emotions; it's hard not to listen to these recordings without the spectre of their passing looming large--because had they not passed, we more than likely would not be privy to such releases. It's a peculiar feeling, too, especially if the artist released very little music during their lifetime. As such, Gaining On You is a tad solemn; it is a labor of love from his family, and it's difficult to judge fairly the works of a man who did not have the ability to choose the songs on the record, or even to offer an opinion about his music. As with most of the previously-mentioned artists, many of the songs deal with regret--regret at not being able to convince anyone that their music is good, and regret that their opportunity for fame and fortune never came. Witness the heartbreaking "Goodbye Takes So Long," where he comments that "When you're on, you're really on/But when it's gone, it's gone."

The most obvious observation is that Scheuren was a fine multi-instrumentalist; his songs--especially "Lucky Star" and "Heart By Heart" sound like a full band accompaniment--with excellent drums, guitars, bass, and percussion. All of the songs have a bit of a hint of age; they certainly sound like the 1970s, due to the lo-fi nature of the recording, as well as the general decay that comes from sitting inactive in a trunk. Scheuren was certainly aware of the popular styles of the day; at times, the songs on Gaining on You remind me of America, Steely Dan, Elton John and especially James Taylor. It's hard to compare the songs to the era in which they were written, as there are no records of when these songs were recorded.

While you've never heard of Scheuren, Gaining On You is still an intimate look at a talent who, for whatever reason, kept his music to himself. It's too bad, though, that he passed away shortly before the lo-fi/home recording trend in music became popular, and that he never got the chance to live in a world that was allowed to know him and his music. Gaining On You proves once again that obscurity doesn't necessarily obscure true talent, and that the fears of the artist towards his or her muse might be the only thing holding them back from deserved greatness. A touching, lovely document of a man nobody really was allowed to know.

--Joseph Kyle

Rob Crow "My Room Is A Mess"

Rob Crow is one of California’s wackiest and most talented exports, and that’s no small accomplishment in a state that has given rock the likes of Zappa, Beefheart, and Caroliner, amongst others. Since the late 1980s, he’s been in a multitude of great bands, of which Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, Optiganally Yours, and Pinback are just four. None of them sound alike (okay, maybe the first two I mentioned), but all of them are outlets for the man’s seemingly endless stream of indelible melodies and often-hilarious lyrics about prosaic subjects. Rock critics rightfully go crazy over people like Prince, Bob Pollard, and John Darnielle for churning out great music in bulk, but fail to mention Crow as much as they should. Like most other prolific songwriters, Crow has piles of songs that are too good to throw away yet can’t be easily inserted in the repertoires of already existing outlets. Out of these piles come solo albums like My Room is a Mess, which really should win an award for Most Appropriate Album Title Ever. This album is structured in pretty much the same way one would expect from the private space of a busy, creative person. It’s a disorganized mixture of things that guests are bound to trip over while walking around, some of which they really shouldn’t see, others of which they’ll end up happy that they discovered. It’s a concept that I can definitely relate to.

I’ll discuss the bad stuff first because, to Crow’s credit, there isn’t much of it. There’s the opening track, “Never Alone,” which is a note-perfect imitation of the late-nineties boy-band sound, right down to the lovesick lyrics and elongated “yeah”s and “baby”s. It’s a successful genre experiment, but at thirty-seven seconds, it’s also mercifully short. In my room, “Never Alone” would be that picture of an ex-girlfriend that I forgot to throw away the last time I looked through my pictures. Then, there’s “Jedi Outcast,” which is Crow’s attempt at black metal, right down to the de-tuned guitars, blast beats, and Cookie Monster growling. It would actually rock if it weren’t for the fact that all the drums are programmed, as well as the fact that THE SONG IS CALLED “JEDI OUTCAST.” In my room, this song would be like the mask I wore on my face the last time I took my role-playing way too seriously during a game of Dungeons and Dragons. There’s “Finger,” a minute-long snippet of choppy acoustic guitar noodling that sounds like a Gastr del Sol out-take. In my room, this song would be the book on semiotics that I never read, but prominently displayed in my library whenever I wanted to impress pretentious chicks. Last but not least, there’s the couple seconds of nauseatingly dissonant guitar chords that interrupt the otherwise excellent “Catching the Top.” In my room, those few seconds would be like the gross stain on my favorite outfit, which I forgot to put it in the hamper before my most recent trip to the laundry.

This leaves fourteen other songs on My Room is a Mess, all of which are somewhere between pretty good and absolutely brilliant. “Last Bus from the Che” is narrated from the point of view of a man watching a band play live, torn between leaving the club in time for the last bus home and staying for the rest of the set. The song gains intensity by changing keys frequently to mirror Crow’s argument with himself: “I’ll leave, alright, I’ll go…even though they haven’t played my favorite song yet.” “Helicopter” finds Crow raging against the song’s namesake as it hovers over his apartment and disturbs his sleep. Its stentorian harmonies and cheesy keyboards bring to mind early They Might Be Giants. In “Kill All the Humans,” Crow chides himself for being a “robot,” unable to even cry as a release for his all-consuming anger. “When You Lie” begins as a mellow acoustic screed against organized religion and superstition in general: “From Jesus down to Santa, you’re still lying to your kids…don’t believe them!” The song gains an almost orchestral grandeur once the programmed drums and electric guitars kick in. The booming drums in “Overtime” nearly drown out Crow’s vocals, save for a chant urging listeners to miss work, sleep late, and daydream about killing their bosses.My Room is a Mess ends with “A Subtle Kiss,” a love song with a breezy groove that’s almost the polar opposite of “Never Alone” in terms of quality and…um, subtlety! In my room, these songs would be the awesome CDs that I hadn’t heard in years until a guest pulled them out from under the couch. They would be the scraps of paper with phone numbers of people that I really like to hang out with written on them. I’m sure you all get the point by now.

Throughout the album, Crow proves himself as a superb vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, layering harmonies and guitars on top of each other with a skill that most bedroom musicians don’t even approach. The obvious genre experiments aside, there isn’t much on this record that’s strikingly different from any of Crow’s already established bands. However, you can still see why these songs had to be reserved for a solo record. They’re not as musically complex or lyrically funny as the average Thingy or Heavy Vegetable song. They aren’t as melancholy and laconic as the average Pinback song. Last but not least, they’re not as bouncy and gimmicky as an Optiganally Yours song. These aren’t complaints by any means, for most of these songs stand alone quite well. Listening to an album like My Room is a Mess would be a humbling experience for anyone with writer’s block. You’ve got to hand it to a man if even his castaways sound better than most people’s strongest efforts. His room might be a mess, but you’ll definitely want to pay another visit soon after leaving. Speaking of such, does anyone have a vacuum cleaner I can borrow?

---Sean Padilla

July 26, 2003

Gordon B. Isnor "I Am A Conjuror"

I have to admit that initally I Am A Conjuror's beauty alluded me. I..just..didn't..get...it. When you first get the record, you'll look at the cover art and think, "what is this?" The text looks like some form of alien language, with an odd-looking drawing on the cover. I know, I know, you can't judge a book by its cover...but, indeed, you do, because covers are made so that the book will be judged. So I thought, "bet this music will be weird," and I was right. Gave it one listen and set it aside. Did nothing for me.I picked it up yesterday, thinking that maybe I should give it a second listen. I can't really figure out what it was that made me balk at it first, because I Am A Conjuror has plenty of the things I like. Weird lyrics? Check. Odd instrumentation? In spades. Keyboards? Tons. Cuteness? Totally. Sincerity? It's almost earnest. I guess maybe I was in a bad mood when I first heard it, because this record is so...awesome!

Imagine, if you will, a blend of a less-pretentious Mountain Goats and a funnier, less lowest-common-denominator Atom & His Package, and you've practically hit the nail on the head. I can't really tell if he's using a full band or if he's doing it all himself (details are quite sketchy here), but it sounds like he's got a pretty good accompaniment, and even though he uses programmed-based beats and rhythms, it's still done quite tastefully. Broken guitar strings and cracking singing voices meets electronic bleeps and bloops and sound effects straight out of the preprogrammed Casio beginner's keyboard--all of these things make a joyful noise when put together. Doesn't seem like it should, but, hey, stranger things have happened. As far as lyrical content, well, let's just say that I'm not gonna judge something this peculiar on the basis of interpretation. I am, however, a fan of "Discofuck," "If I were the Last Man on the Planet Earth," "Goody-B," "The War on Art" and "I'm Not a Person Anymore."

I Am A Conjuror is one of those rare records that simply cannot be captured in a mere review; I just don't feel like I've served it full justice. I looked back at what I wrote about it earlier (this is my second attempt at a review) and I feel like I'm selling it short. In fact, I still feel like I'm selling it way, way short. It's simple music, but it never sounds simple; it's smart music, but it never sounds very intelligent. It's a shambling mess of a record, and it sounds real good. It's nice, every now and then, to get a record that leaves you befuddled but happy, and I Am a Conjuror certainly does that. Thanks, Mr. Gordon B. Isnor. I needed that! It's quite refreshing.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.geocities.com/lordsirskronk

July 22, 2003

Landing "passages through"

Ambient music--it just ain't what it used to be. Used to be that ambient music was associated with musos like Brian Eno and Harold Budd, who made music for Ph.D's, podiatrist's waiting rooms and nobody else. If you took the time to look at the track listing, then you just didn't get it. Music for drugs? Nope, not really, because you couldn't listen to this music in anything but the purest of settings. You make babies to it, you bury people to it, you play a scene from a tragic European art film to it...and nothing more. And if you have an IQ of less than 140, then, really...you should just go listen to Warrant, because that's the only kind of music someone like you could ever appreciate.

Now, it seems like something changed. The musicians grew their hair, they started smoking those jazz cigarettes, and they became hippies. They became more interested in things like guitars, songs, and...singing. In fact, they started to resemble regular musicians--and their music was this dark, gothy mess called "post-rock" that just was oh-so boring. Sure, there were some exceptions--and some really great exceptions--but for most part ambient music it's just a delay pedal, distortion pedal, and tape loops, all put together in a recycled-paper package. Underground is where it comes from, and that's where it should stay.

Landing, however, is special. They're all touchy-feely-folky, but they're much more than that, because they're doing that whole cascading walls of ambient bliss-out noise sound type of thing, which is pretty good. They should be good at it, too--they've been doing it for years, both as Landing as well as in Yume Bitsu. What I like is the fact that they mix it up quite nicely; one ambient piece doesn't follow another; the shorter, folkier pieces always follow the epic ambient pieces--though it's often hard to tell them apart. When you float from "Hold Me Under" to "Close Your Eyes, Slowly," it all just seems so natural. Boy and girl vocals play peek-a-boo and tag throughout Passages Through but it's really not about the singing. Sadly, they never get as loud as you'd expect them to; they do get nearly silent, though, and that's something, isn't it? The epic, 14-minute "Breathing" is the highlight of the record; it is simply the light, breezy, slow sound of Landing--just breathing in and breathing out the melody; it's both haunting and very, very reassuring.

It's odd to see K Records developing a space-rock side, but it;'s not really surprising. Passages Through is a not-surprising collection of dream-pop from Landing; they've got their style on autopilot, and it's all systems go with Landing. It's a smooth ride with Landing, and though ambient music might not be what it used to be, methinks these Landing kids are worth keeping around. And, hey, from the looks of the cover, I bet Passages Through would go great with, erm...substances..though we don't condone them...openly, that is.

--Joseph Kyle

July 21, 2003

The Forms "Icarus"

This review is for all of the guitar geeks out there. Iím starting to think that there should be a sub-genre of rock called ìdrop-D.î Critics can use this terms to label and pigeonhole bands with the same impunity with which they use terms like ìindieî and ìemo.î There have been so many bands out there that used drop-D tuning as their primary method of writing songs: Hum, Hurl, Aereogramme are the first three examples that come to my mind as I type this, but Iím sure you guitar players out there can name many more. While the three bands Iíve mentioned donít sound very much alike, they do share a similar compositional aesthetic. Drop-D tuning is the perfect tool for bands that want to sound simultaneously melancholy and hard, and alternate easily between crushing riffs and pretty arpeggios. Icarus, the debut EP by intentionally obscure (the liner notes donít give any information about the members) New York band the Forms, is the best illustration of this concept that Iíve heard in recent memory. Itís beautiful, it rocks, and it couldnít have existed without drop-D.

Anyone who has read my reviews of the latest Mclusky and Giddy Motors albums knows that I pay special attention to records that were ìrecordedî by Steve Albini. He does a sterling job on this EP. As usual, he makes the drumming sound as palpable as a series of a hard, quick blows to the head, but unlike on some of the other records heís worked on, he doesnít do it at the expense of the clarity of the vocals or bass lines. However, most of the credit for the success of the record has to go to the band itself. The singer effortlessly switches from a croon to a scream. He has a habit of inserting wrong notes into his melody lines on purpose, veering off-key yet maintaining perfect pitch. Sometimes he harmonizes with himself in extremely close and dissonant harmony. His singing reminds me of a child with a steady hand who still insists on coloring way outside the lines. Although heís particularly compelling, everyone in the band is excellent at his or her instrument. The various time signatures, frequent tempo changes, and dexterous guitar work (the dramatic, lightning-fast riff that opens the appropriately named ìClassicalî could definitely be played by a symphony orchestra) make the band sound as if it has many albumsí worth of playing experience.

The Forms definitely live up to their name by building and destroying the structures of their own songs with good humor. Theyíve indexed the seven actual songs on Icarus into ten tracks on the CD, but for some reason it isnít nearly as annoying as when Joan of Arc did it on The Gap. (Then again, that might be because the songs on Icarus are way better.) During the breakdown in the middle of ìInnizar,î one of the guitars starts noodling as if it doesnít know which note to play next. This randomness, however, only makes it sound much more powerful when the band returns to the songís introductory riff. The extremely long scream that ends ìSeagullî devolves into a random spoken monologue about a dream the singer had. As soon as the monologue starts gaining momentum, the guitars interrupt him to play the opening riff of the next track. On ìStravinsky,î a snippet of studio chatter is heard right before the drums usher in a gorgeous duet between guitar harmonics and grand piano. The Forms have a knack for making intentional conceits sound like accidents and vice versa.

If youíll excuse the bad pun, I wish to say that Icarus presents this band as not only fully formed (ka-ching), but capable of exceeding the greatness of the eighteen minutes of music contained therein. I hope that they stick to "drop-D," never auto-tune the singerís voice, and integrate more piano playing into their sound. I expect to be surprised, hypnotized, and utterly ROCKED by whatever the Forms decide to release in the future.

---Sean Padilla

July 20, 2003

Club 8 "Strangely Beautiful"

Talk about coming at exactly the right time! Strangely Beautiful comes at a time when the discriminating pop fan needs relief from all this hot, hot heat, and like a frothy milkshake, its a cooling, chilled-out affair. The lovely duo of Johan Angergard and Karolina Komstedt present their vision of pop music as they know it, and it's an extremely lovely affair, one that's rich and intoxicating yet never ever heavy. Sure, there have been comparisons--unfair comparisons--to Saint Etienne and the Cardigans, but let's not focus on that for right now. Komstedt's voice is a wonderful commodity; aloof yet confident; sensitive yet strong; sweet yet seductive.

Strangely Beautiful starts off with the seductive, after-hours drive-hope radio-friendly pop of "When Lights Go Out," and it never strays from that pattern. Indeed, this is romantic, down-beat, chillout music, the kind that you use to wind down with--or to get in the mood. Their pop formula works extremely well, even if it's one that's quite limited in nature. You know what you're getting from Club 8, and thankfully, they never fail to disappoint. And while earlier comparisons of St. Etienne or the Cardigans might have been valid, with Strangely Beautiful, Club 8 have clearly come into their own sound, and they no longer sound indebted to anyone but themselves.

If there's one complaint with Strangely Beautiful, it's that it passes by too quickly. Eleven songs in thirty minutes? It doesn't seem like it. Besides, I'm kind of selfish. I want to hear more shuffling bossanova (like "The Next Step You'll Take"), more downbeat electropop (like "We Move in Silence"), more classic pop (dig the flagrant"I Will Follow Him" riff in "I Wasn't Much of a Fight") and more vocals from Johan ("Saturday Night Engine," "This is the morning"). Yes, I want more of Strangely Beautiful, simply because it's one of this year's most likeable Europop albums.

--Joseph Kyle

Sister Sonny "The Bandit Lab'

For the past few years, Norway's been producing some really interesting acoustic/electronica hybrids. Bands like Kings of Convenience, Poor Rich Ones and Sondre Lerche have been redefining the sound of melancholy music, and have been receiving well-deserved praise for it. Sister Sonny first hit these shores with 1999's beautiful Lovesongs. For the past few years, though, Sister Sonny have been rather quiet, focusing their objective in their native Europe. The Bandit Lab is their fourth album, and their newest American release in three years.

On the front cover is a little tagline that states "a 2-record set on 1 compact disc," and this should be seen as a bit of a warning. The Bandit Lab is a most ambitious little record, filled to the rim with seventeen songs that run the gauntlet of musical styles. You like atmospheric landscapes tempered with haunting, sad vocals? They're in there. ("Rumba Parumba," "Schaflen zie?") You like danceable pop with a bit of darkness to it? Yep, it's in there! ("Stupid And The Silver Fox," "Burning Teddy," "Educating Jimmy") You like Britpop? Yep, it's in there. ("Bugs Dreams #2,""Watching a House Burn Down") You like things that are just weird? Yup, there's a little bit of that, too. ("Neon Party")

What makes it all better, though, is that every one of the album's seventeen songs are excellent; there are no clunkers on The Bandit Lab. As much as that that is a commendable feat for any band, it must be stated that the sheer volume of music on The Bandit Lab is its greatest flaw. Too many pop wonders, you say, isn't a bad thing? Well, that may be the case, but because everything is excellently wonderful, it is sadly rather easy for the really great songs--which come toward the end of the album--to be overlooked. Indeed, the length of the album--you could make an even stronger record if you were play around with the length. With no bum tracks, any way you combine these songs would make for a killer record.

The Bandit Lab might be a bit much to take in during one sitting, but it's certainly not an unpleasant listen. It's never too moody, never too serious, never too lighthearted, and never too bland. I might suggest, too, that you could put this on random or in a disc changer and hit random, and you'd never be disappointed. It's just right; it's a great record on its own merits, and everything about The Bandit Lab is excellent. A rare feat these days, my friend...a rare feat, indeed.

--Joseph Kyle

July 19, 2003

Matt Elliott "The Mess We Made"

Matt Elliott is a man who makes complicated music. His track record includes a stint in Flying Saucer Attack--perhaps one of the loudest, noisiest bands of the 1990s. When he left the band, he formed Third Eye Foundation, which dropped the guitar noise in favor of cold, aloof electronic beats, blips and noise. He released several albums--often to wide critical acclaim--until last year, when he retired the moniker. So it should really come as no surprise that Elliott's solo debut The Mess We Made is an album of cold post-electronica soundscapes, and is both a departure from--and a conitnuation of--the music he's made over the past decade.

Why, then, is The Mess We Made somewhat disappointing? It's simple, really. Random thoughts and musical ideas thrown together doth not a cohesive album make. The music is certainly pretty enough, and there are plenty of interesting ideas--personally, I like the idea of mixing piano with electronica--but they just do not seem to come together. The songs are a little too long, with a few too many ideas in each one--stylistic shifts are great, but when you rely on them, it's a bit messy. Give Elliott credit for trying to make a more "organic" sound; he does introduce some ideas worth exploring, even if the album itself seems to be a cuttered mess.

The only song that stood out after repeated listens was "The Sinking Ship Song." This is one of the most haunting compositions I've ever heard. It's a sea shanty, but...it's a sea shanty that sounds like a group of sailors on the way to their death. (It's also the only song with printed lyrics; if it weren't for that, you wouldn't understand a word of what is being sung). The singing is tempered with samples of a rainstorm, wind blowing, and creaking wood. As the song progresses, the wind grows stronger, the singing becomes more and more faint, until all you're left with is a distant, fading song that is overpowered by the wind. It's extremely spooky, it's quite disturbing, and it's utterly beautiful.

The Mess We Made, though at times quite pretty, is not an easy listen. It's very challenging, thought-provoking music that might not click with some listeners. It's downbeat, dreary, and sad; as cliched as it might be to say it, you'd probably need a whole heap o' drugs to really appreciate what it is he's doing. Elliott's a talented, ingenious man who has an itch for composition; his Third Eye Foundation records are certainly in a league of their own. The Mess We Made simply extends on Elliott's more experimental ideas, even if they'res not entirely satisfying. Kind of like Third Eye Foundation.

--Joseph Kyle

Rothko "A Continual Search for Origins"

In the quest for inner peace, one learns that when you simply listen to nature, you're hearing a song. Yes, nature provides its own ambiance, and from that realization, many artists have taken it upon themselves to create music that would recreate that experience. Perhaps the most famous of these artists is Brian Eno, whose Music for Airports and Music for Films have provided the template for many, many others, including Harold Budd, Banco de Gaia, Bark Psychosis, Acid Mothers Temple and, yes, even Yanni. Ambient music and New Age music often go hand-in-hand, much to each other's resentment.

Rothko's Mark Beazley frequently spends time at a friend's house in a small village in Switzerland. On one such trip, something inspired him to take a tape recorder and simply record the outdoor sounds of nature and life in this little town. On returning to London, he used these as the basis for his next album, A Continual Search for Origins. This version of Rothko differed greatly from previous incarnations, mainly because the once three-bass guitars had dwindled down to one. While the novelty of the lineup--which had gained them attention--was gone, Rothko was now somewhat of a clean slate.

This rhythmic shift, however, should not be mourned, for Beazley's found sounds serve as a wonderful basis for his music. Indeed, the music on A Continual Search for Origins is driven by the slow sounds of small-town Switzerland, and it's all the better for it. While Rothko continue to have an electronica purr, the true heartbeat of A Continual Search for Origins comes from these quiet tapes of even quieter nature; you'll hear the buzzing of insects, the sounds of the street, the quiet violence of mother nature, tempered with some pretty songs. Once you hear these slight little additions to the songs, you'll be listening for them

Indeed, the songs on A Continual Search for Origins almost seems secondary; it's quiet, soothing, and relaxing--certainly proving that Beazley has succeeded at creating the quiet sounds of Switzerland. In fact, I don't really think that naming these songs was necessary; the album flows together wonderfully, and trying to seperate elements from the whole seems a bit wrong. Same thing with the singing; while Caroline Ross provides beautiful singing, it doesn't really seem necessary; in fact, the vocals seemed to interrupt the soothing, smooth musical flow.

This change in direction reminds me of Slowdive, another band who did a similar change. While Rothko owe nothing to Slowdive, their change from driving instrumental rock to slow, meditative ambient music is quite shocking, especially considering Rothko's past. Apparently, this record was their final album for Too Pure, and let's hope that this album--not released in the United States, by the way--is not condemned to the din of post-label obscurity.While this record might be a little more difficult to find, it is certainly worth seeking out.

--Joseph Kyle

July 17, 2003

Violet Nine "S/T"

This four-song EP arrived just in the nick of time...summer! The world will never grow tired of bands that are meant just for summertime fun, and Violet Nine certainly fit that category. Their sound blends alternative rock with a little bit of the emo style that's popular with the kids, and, guess what folks? It's pretty good stuff! For a demo, these guys have a real clean, tight sound, one that's very friendly, easy on the ears, and is actually pretty much ready to go straight to radio. They're never heavy on the cliches, either, which is always a really good thing as well. When they're rocking, as on "Proposal" and "Behind the Glass," they're super tight, but when they slow down on "Counting Down" and "Slow Down," they're really really melodic. I really like Ben Consoli's voice, too; it's never too whiney, never too hard--it's just right. I'm hoping these guys get swooped up by a label that will do them right, because it simply just doesn't seem right for them to be self-releasing their stuff, when obviously they deserve much better.

--Joseph Kyle

July 15, 2003

The Thorns "The Thorns"

I am intrigued by The Thorns. Is this a band that is greater than the sum of its parts? Some might say "yes," and it's easy to understand their point of view. Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins are all intelligent songwriters; if you're under twenty-five, it would be easy for you to say "who?" to any of the two and if you're over twenty-five, you might say "ewww!" to any of them, too. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Mullins, but he suffered the one-hit wonder syndrome with one of his worst songs, "Lullaby." That one shot at fame undid several years of hard work in exchange for radio-play and a quick cluttering of the "Mu" section of most used record stores. It's too bad, too, as said song was not reflective of his songwriting, and it's a shame he was never given the chance to show off his talent. Pete Droge had a minor hit in the mid-nineties with "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself)," and has been dutifully obscure ever since, and Mr. Sweet is well-known even if he's not well-known. Still, these three men come together nicely in a supergroup form, and it sounds excellent.

If you get the feeling that The Thorns sounds exactly like a collaboration between Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge, you'd be more than correct. It's quite obvious from the first notes of "Runaway Feeling" that The Thorns is going to be nothing more than the mellow trip trhough the history of Southern California folk-rock, most notably, Crosby, Stills & Nash. Throw in a little hint of the Eagles, a drop of Fleetwood Mac and just a hint of Jayhawks, and you've got the basic recipe for this record, the record you remember--you swear--you've heard before. Deja-vu? Please, let's keep the irony out of here. (Curiously enough, The Thorns bears more than a passing resemblence to Velvet Crush's Free Expression, which was a Matthew Sweet production--so this sound is nothing new for Sweet.)

But, really, The Thorns isn't anything more than that. Normally such a singular devotion to exactly one sound would be a major flaw. When the harmonies are this rich, this deep, this beautiful--I cannot complain. I accept The Thorns for what it is--a jam session between three guys who know a thing or two about writing a good song--and in so doing, I'm happy. Heck, they only falter once, on the not-as-funny-as-you think, guys theme song, "Thorns." It's the only clunker among thirteen songs. A dozen harmony-soaked melodic folk-rock numbers? I think I can live with that. Their cover of The Jayhawks' "Blue" is dead-on, "Think It Over" is a wonderful song that borrows many an idea from "Our House," and "I Set The World on Fire" is just breathtaking. Heck, they've joked about being "a male Dixie Chicks," but, at the end of the day, they are in fact nothing more than a male Dixie Chicks.

The Thorns has got all the harmonies you want, and though you only think your life has plenty of melody in it, just a few minutes of your time with Messers Sweet, Droge and Mullins will provide you with your minimum daily requirements. After all, they are a band that is clearly greater than the sum of their one-hit blunders. Though it may seem as if The Thorns is ultimately devoid of anything resembling depth, what the songs lack in distinctive characteristics they more than make up in melody. Too bad that most bands and artists can only dream of being this wonderfully monotonous.

--Joseph Kyle

July 13, 2003

Porter Harp "Drinking Season"

I love the fact that bands and sounds are currently mutating. What was oh-so boring and cliche yesterday might just mutate into something quite interesting tomorrow. Case in point: Pavement were considered knock-offs of the Fall. Does anyone think about that when they hear "Stereo"? See, after time, they created their own sound, and nobody--save for the tragically hip--really thinks of them as Fall imitators. In that sense, Porter Harp is a man who has taken his love of bands such as Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, and he doesn't really hide that fact on his debut album, Drinking Season.

Drinking Season owes much to the 1970, and Harp's music is very much in tune with West Coast beach-bum singer-songwriter fare. At times, I swear that Harp's vocal style is quite close to that of James Taylor--albeit a good James Taylor. Of course, it's hard not to think of California, considering that he covers Neil Young's classic "Old Man." Harp is cross-pollinating two musical styles that you wouldn't normally consider--1970s Southern California singer-songwriter pop and the more modern sound of classic indie-rock, and as bland as that might sound, Harp actually does it quite well. The combination of booze, travel, despair, the devil, and producer Phil Ek actually comes together quite well. All of the songs on Drinking Season have a darkness to them, tempered with an epic quality that indeed hasn't been seen since 1976. At times I couldn't help but think of Blue Oyster Cult.

Drinking Season is a fine, fine debut. While occasionally the album suffers from overt stylistic similarity, it's really not much of a problem, because all of the songs are excellent--especially "I Wish You Well," "Cary," and a cover of Steve Earle's "S. Nashville Blues." I'm sure that, given time, Harp and company will hone down their skills, and will, in time, produce one killer album. Like Built to Spill, whose Ultimate Alternative Wavers was a good record that was occasionally top-heavy, I'm hoping that when it comes time for that second album, Porter Harp will pull it all together and produce one helluva album. A fine album.

--Joseph Kyle

Lisa Germano "Lullaby for Liquid Pig"

Pity Lisa Germano. Her pedigree as John Mellencampís former violinist has caused many indie snobs to turn their noses up at her, and criticsí insistence on lazily aligning her music with the Lilith Fair aesthetic of ethereal girls with guitars hasnít helped matters much. Over the last twelve years, Germanoís discography has been such a model of consistency and reliability that even fans of her music can take it for granted. We know that every couple of years, she will release an album of songs chronicling unhappiness in all its forms. These songs will be written with Velvet Underground simplicity and catchiness. Theyíll be performed with a stoicism and numbness that hides the torrent of emotions lurking underneath. Last but not least, theyíll be produced with cinematic, near-gothic flair. (Then again, what else would you expect from a longtime 4AD artist?) Each album has been solid, with no masterpieces or stinkers standing out among the restÖuntil now. Germanoís sixth album is the perfect tonic for people who find Cat Power too catatonic and Xiu Xiu too grotesque, yet still seek soundtracks to their bad moods.

Lullaby for Liquid Pig is a concept album. The last time Germano attempted something like this was on 1996ís Excerpts from a Love Circus, which chronicled an abusive romantic relationship. This time, the main theme is alcohol, which is referred to in exactly half the songs either directly or indirectly. ìLiquid Pigî chastises an antagonist who says the wrong things when drunk. In ìPearls,î alcohol is used as a method of escape, to ìfill your open soresî and ìwear your mask like itís real.î The protagonist of ìCandyî realizes that as good as drinking feels, it still wonít make the hurt inside go away: ìWhat a good place to be/Too bad itís raining inside.î Yet, on ìItís Party Timeî she goes right back to her ten-dollar bottle of red wine. The lyrics to the title track initially read like a desperate plea to her lover: ìWithout your love, the world is just here/It doesnít move me.î However, its first line, ìI need a fix,î makes it clear that Germanoís singing to her bottle, not to another human being. The closest thing this record has to a love song is ìPaper Doll,î in which she repeats the words ìYou can always play with me,î an assertion that doesnít sound as reassuring when bracketed by masochistic commands such as ìscissor meî and ìcut me out.î The albumís final song, ìÖto Dream,î could be viewed as some sort of intervention: ìDonít give up your dream. Itís really all you have, and I donít want to see you die.î Overall, these lyrics are the simplest and most plainspoken of Germanoís entire career.

The easy rhyme schemes and near-clichÈs that pop up all over the songs would sound maudlin if not for two things: the despondence that oozes of her raspy voice and the woozy musical arrangements. Whereas previous albums occasionally overwhelmed her voice with odd instrumentation and studio trickery, Liquid Pig puts Germanoís voice front and center. The majority of this album lacks both drumming and tempo, with Germanoís singing and playing speeding up, stopping, or slowing down at will, and the rest of the instruments following suit. She handles these songs with the delicacy of a mother singing nursery rhymes to a child at bedtime. On opener ìNobodyís Playing,î the piano and guitar follow each other as if theyíre walking up and down a staircase together, haunted by the disembodied voices and drones that surround them every few seconds. ìLiquid Pigî sports a slight dub influence, with the drums placed front and center and everything else (minimal bass, distorted vocals, distant flute) trailing behind it. The string arrangement on ìDream Glasses Offî veers off-key at just the right moments, adding another layer of spookiness to an already eerie song. On ìAll the Pretty Lies,î the two-step drum programming is buried so low in the mix that it sounds like a faint heartbeat, making the song sound much slower than it actually is. In many songs, toy instruments harmonize with proper instruments, and Optigans duel with the instruments they were meant to imitate. These choices in instrumentation underscore the tension between drunken fantasy and sobering reality that runs through the lyrics.

The liner notes to Liquid Pig list only two musicians other than Lisa, whereas previous albums sported a very long cast of characters. By stripping things down musically and sharpening her lyrical focus, Lisa has crafted her best effort yet. Those of you in the know probably already own it by now, but everyone whoís slept on her skill really needs to give this beautiful, brilliant buzz kill of an album a chance.

--Sean Padilla

Appleseed Cast "Two Conversations"

Follow-ups are a real bitch sometimes. You've got the pressure of the label, who naturally want to repeat the success you had before, especially if it's a really successful album. If your previous record was a critically-acclaimed record that didn't sell a whole lot, there's going to be the pressure of "this record's going to be the one to break out." Of course, the press will be watching to see what you do next, to see if the greatness that was heaped upon you the last time around was justified. Let's not forget the fans, either, who will be eagerly hoping that your record will be mind-blowing..but not too much different, lest you are a sell-out or are trying to be "more commercial." (Of course, considering how "hardcore fans" nowadays seem to have very little moral compunction about stealing the record out of some sense of "I'm their biggest fan and I have a right to steal the new Death Cab for Cutie record," the rules of fandom are a little different now, but that's a different subject.) Of course, this is a common problem, and it goes with the territory.

The Appleseed Cast certainly has this problem. In 2001, this merely-OK band from Nebraska released a stunning, "my god, is this the same band as that boring emo group I saw live?" two-volume album, Low Level Owl. Critics (myself included) were certainly shocked at the transformation from yawn-inducing emo to the epic, art-rock Britpop-but-not-really style that had developed. The praise that the two-volume set (not released simultaneously) received was almost unanimous and was certainly well-deserved, yet it created another little problem: how do you follow it up? It's an extremely difficult yet totally fair question to ask, and when Deep Elm released the smells-like contractual obligation Lost Songs earlier this year, you could sense the anticipation building.

When it comes to records in such an unenviable position, I try to forget about the previous album and focus on the music at hand. Sometimes it's easy to do; sometimes, it's extremely difficult not to do. Sadly, it's impossible to judge Two Conversations without mentioning Low Level Owl. Why? Because the change in the band's sound and style was quite dramatic; no longer could the "emo" tag hold them, and, frankly, they didn't sound like the same band anymore--due, in part, to a major lineup change. That change did them a world of good; gone were the typical emo chords, the posturing, and, franlky, the tedium. When I saw them a few years ago, they were so underwhelmingly average that I really could not remember anything from their set the next day. Low Level Owl changed ALL of that for me.

Personally, I think the reason I'm not really warming up to Two Conversations is due in large part to Lost Songs. That album was their final record on former label Deep Elm, and the album's concept--where they took a several "lost songs" from their previous lineup and reworked them with their current lineup--created a dangerous little precedent. Even though it was all-new material, it was not intended to be a follow-up record, though to not consider it as such would be ludicrous. At the time, I wondered if these recordings were symbolic of the changes that were coming pre-Low Level Owl, or were these songs a sign of what their older material would sound like, given their new style and sonic direction. Yeah, it's a real chicken and egg argument, but it rings true. Two Conversations sounds like the work of the band that released Lost Songs, as opposed to a maturation in their sound. It's understandable why you would fear this suddenly-good band reverting back to its older, less inspired sound, especially when you consider that the songs on Two Conversations don't sound that different from Lost Songs. Instead of artistic growth, I'm simply getting artistic coasting along. Had Lost Songs been released after this album, would I have reacted differently? It's impossible to tell.

It shouldn't be assumed that The Appleseed Cast have all of a sudden become boring again; in fact, there are some great songs on Two Conversations, such as "The Page," "Ice Heavy Branches" and "Fight Song." All of these songs have just that wonderful mixture of atmosphere, emotion, and passion, but there are moments that just scream..typical emo-rock. I'd hate to see these guys slip back into their old ways, and while there's no firm proof that they are about to do so, Two Conversations dances a little too close to that ledge for my comfort. They've already proven themselves capable of making masterful, wonderful music--there's no reason for them to set themselves on creative autopilot just yet. Maybe Two Conversations is a grower, and maybe they're already planning for another big, wonderful artistic statement. I'd hate to see these guys slip off of the mountain so soon after their victorious rise.

--Joseph Kyle

The Clientele "The Violet Hour"

It's been a bit of a wait, this. I can still remember how, in the throes of heartbreak, a friend of mine told me about this most melancholy band from England, who only released seven inch singles and who sounded like a lot like the Zombies. Of course, being heartbroken and mopey-eyed, I quickly rushed to buy up their records--often paying a few dollars more than normal for those import fees. It really didn't matter, though, because those fuzzy songs were worth every penny. I even made a tape of them and contemplated sending them to my ex, because I wanted even my worst enemy to hear this amazing little band from England.

That was 1999. Those songs were compiled for an album, Suburban Light, but if you had most of the singles, there was no need for the album. One lone EP appeared in 2002, and it was--different. The songs were...longer...sadder....better. It was the first time I heard them on compact disc, too. The format didn't seem quite right, but at the same time, the band sounded great, the songs were longer, darker, and possessing a certain depth that their previous recordings lack. I have to give them credit; even though their musical style hasn't really changed, they've never flooded the world with tons of records ever few months, either. Thus, their strict adherence to their original style never grows old or tired, and you'll never be wont to say "can't they do something a little bit different?"

Personally, I love The Violet Hour. You don't need irony to appreciate them; their music is so simple, so basic, so...uncomplicated...that you really don't have to think about it. Like a great love poem or a Beethoven sonata, you don't have to work at appreciating it. Gone are those little twinkles of Sixties pop; The Clientele are ultra-modern, even if their sound is quiet, gentle, and unassuming. Maclean and company are simply brilliant; but, what's more, their music is extremely complex, but they make it seem so rudimentary, so basic, so...simple. Isn't that a sign of true genius? I would argue that Maclean is certainly an underappreciated talent, and I'd use The Violet Hour as proof. The songs remain the same, even as they grow longer, slower, and sadder. Throw in nice little acoustic guitar riffs, some piano, a few field recordings, and even a hint or two of jazz, and you've got a nice little combination. Though I'm fond of every track, I'm particularly taken to "Porcelain," "Voices in the Mall" and "The House Always Wins."

As usual, The Clientele have yet to lose their cinematic quality; all of the songs on The Violet Hour sound as if they belong in the closing credits to some long-lost 1970s European art film. Alasdair Maclean still has one of the most distinctive voices ever, and I wonder if he learned a long time ago that when you speak (or sing) very quietly, you force people to concentrate on what it is you are saying. You really have to listen to Maclean to pick up on what he's saying; his voice is a simple wisp among the pretty guitars, and once you pick up on what he's saying, you'll realize you've just been impressed by some of the most subtle and prettiest songs ever. In fact, maybe he's trying to be subliminally somber, trying to make a generation of college students mopey and sad-eyed via the gentle sounds of The Violet Hour? Perhaps that's not such a bad aspiration after all. The greatest accomplishment of The Violet Hour? They're no longer comparable to Belle & Sebastian.

Album of the year? Umm...it's only July; too soon to say, my friend! But, erm, uh, just say that I smiled when you asked me that question.

--Joseph Kyle

July 06, 2003

The Lucksmiths "Naturalise"

Australia produces some wonderful pop music. From Kylie to INXS and back through Nick Cave, Sekiden through Go-Betweens, it seems as if they're one of the last bastions of excellent craft in music. Was music destroyed in some sort of moral nuclear war, and Australia was the only country that survived? Okay, so that was slightly stupid, but I wonder about it sometimes. The Lucksmiths have made a name for themselves, it seems; this trio have won over many a indie-pop heart, and are quickly becoming international underground stars. And why not? Naturaliste certainly is a fine record, their finest full-length to date, and if indie stardom is in their future, then they certainly deserve fame and fortune, even on an indie level.

For years, The Lucksmiths toiled away in indie obscurity, releasing a few good albums and tons of stellar singles and EPs. Indeed, it speaks volumes about them that their albums were never quite as stunning as their singles collections, and it's certainly true that for a band that's only been around for eight years, they've already released two such collections. Their albums have been good, yet at times The Lucksmiths' genius never really seemed to translate into a record with more than four songs. Perhaps they realized this; it has been a few years since their last full-length album, and the flow of excellent singles had slowed down to a mere trickle. Naturalise certainly seems to be a more polished effort, indicating that perhaps they chose to spend a little more time on a full-length effort.

Luckily, The Lucksmiths have never really tampered with their award-winning formula, so there's nothing on Naturaliste that comes as a surprise. After many years of performing in their style--acoustic-guitar based pop that's never overwhelming mixed with slow sad-eyed ballads--it's no surprise that their sound is extremely tight. Kicking off with "Camera-Shy," you're instantly drawn in by their charm; lead singer Tali White's voice is strong, confident, and award-winning. Of course, Naturaliste does include their best song, "Midweek Midmorning," so you know that the quality's gonna be at least B+ simply because of that awesome song. I considered that one of the best pop songs of 2002, and with its inclusion on this album, I'm happy to extend its reign. It's also nice to admit that such an award could easily go to any of the other songs on Naturaliste--especially the utterly lovely "Sleep Well" or the smary-pants titled "There is A Boy That Never Goes Out."
Each song is a heartbreaker and crush-inducing...just take your pick!

Nautraliste is a great album. End of story. Period. It may seem a bit smug to be so cut-and-dry about it, but, really, why mince words? If you've always wondered what the fuss is about, Naturaliste will answer any questions you might have. Good job!

--Joseph Kyle

bishop allen 'charm school'

These nerds rock! Yeah, indeed Bishop Allen rule the cool school in 2003, 2002 or whatever year matters to you! "Quirky" and "offbeat" are terms that really don't do them justice, because those can be kind of dismissive. But I'm telling you, my friend, Bishop Allen's the band you've wanted for a long time, and your wait is now over. I'm telling you, if you've always wanted a Modest Mouse without the stench of body odor and cheap liquor, or a Pavement without the overwhelming desire to smack the smirk off of Stephen Malkmus, then Bishop Allen are certainly the band you want.

I mentioned two other bands that are good, but they're not anything like Bishop Allen, and the 'len, as I like to refer to them, aren't a darn thing like those two, either. Bishop Allen slip through the pigeonholes quite nicely, with their hair and their skinny ties left intact, and if you're not smiling a big one when it's all over, then, my friend, you have some personal issues that need to be taken care of--or you have muscular problems which prevent you from doing so. (Please accept our apologies if this is the case, no offense meant.) Their songs are some of the bestest sing-song sing-a-longs that I've heard in years, my friend, and I'm almost afraid to listen to it in my car now, because I don't wanna risk the lives of others simply because I'm wrapped up in this record.

I'm telling you, it took me exactly one listen to Charm School to be hooked on Bishop Allen, and it took exactly two listens before such wonderful songs as "Eve of Destruction," "Little Black Ache," "Empire City," "Penitentiary Bound," and "Quarter to Three" permanantly burned on to my tounge, my heart, and my mind. I sing along every time I listen to this record, and I'm pretty sure you will, too. That is, of course, if you let 'em in to your heart. But I think I summed up Bishop Allen best when I finally took my enthusiasm online. I said this, and I think it's perfectly true; go out and buy this record now to realize that I speak the truth when I say:

Bishop Allen--your life needs it.

Well, actually, your life needs oxygen first. Then maybe a little food. Some water would be nice (these pretzels are making me thirsty), and maybe a little love. A roof over your head might not be bad, either. A job would be nice, but not really required.

Then you need Bishop Allen.

It's not spam, because there's meat in it!

Truer words have yet to be uttered.

--Joseph Kyle

p.s., I'm not going to give you any answers to the pop quiz. Honor system, you know.

July 04, 2003

James Mason "Carnival Sky"

Carnival Sky is a record that must be listened to properly, or you're going to miss a lot. See, when I received this record, I listened to it on my car stereo a few times. "Nice," I thought. "It's pretty good Elliott Smith-like country folk." It was certainly a nice enough record; it didn't strike me as anything particularly bad, even if it wasn't all that original. When I came around to listen to it for review, I put it on my stereo and gave it a listen. And then another. And then...nothing. It just seemed like a quiet guy making quiet music, kind of like Elliott Smith or Nick Drake, but, again, nothing special. I couldn't really find any satisfying things to say about it, because, really, what more can you say about a guy with a guitar and a penchant for folk and country?

When I put Carnival Sky on my diskman, though, something about it changed again. It was...different. Different not in the sense that I suddenly "got" it, or that the album clicked...it literally sounded like a much different record. While the points I made above certainly still rings true, the album is certainly requires precise listening procedure, else it will slip by you. "Subtle" is too strong a word; "ethereal" is perhaps more apt for Mason. Songs that were slight and small--such as the beautiful "Black Lines"--are deeper, much more expansive, and, if you're into this sort of thing, mind-blowing. Instead of the typical Smith/Oldham/Drake comparisons, I'm certainly convinced that his influences also include Galaxie 500, Felt and the Cocteau Twins. A folkie Cocteau Twins? He's certainly making a case for it. And it seems I spoke too soon, too; Mason may indeed be the first band that owes an obvious debt to the Clientele as well--listen to "Laura's Stones" and tell me I'm wrong about that one.

While Carnival Sky is certainly brief, it's mixed together in such a way that it feels like one long song cycle--or is that from the fact that the ten songs are grouped into three not-really obvious categories? Who knows.Carnival Sky is a beautiful, atmospheric record with lots of very small, very slight nuances that you might and probably will miss the first few times around. I know I did. When you get really, really close to the music, though, you'll find that this is no mere imitation. Mason's got something here, and it will be interesting hearing how it develops over the next few albums. Chalk another artist on the 'one to watch' pile, ma.

--Joseph Kyle

July 03, 2003

mmfan316 "dot matrix with pop music"

As a general rule, I never read the press kits that come with the CDs I am sent for review. This is because I don’t want anything a publicist writes to influence (be it negatively or positively) my opinion of the CD in question. In this case, however, I’m making an exception. The cover of this CD proudly proclaims, “All tracks are made using only Nanoloop.” For those who don’t know, Nanoloop is a piece of software that is used to program and compose music, and is compatible only with Nintendo Game Boys. The brief, blunt press kit that accompanied it, little more than a two-inch printout, contained the following statement: “The music may be flippantly referred to in uneducated circles as ‘low-fi electronica,’ but is much more deserving of further attention.’” After reading that, my initial thought was, “Oh, COME THE HELL ON!” If a computerized device generated every single sound on this record, how can it not be electronica? Also, if this computerized device happens to be a fricking GAME BOY, how can it not be low-fi? Last I checked the Super Mario Brothers games weren’t the universal standard of pristine sound and dynamic range. Even the front-page of MMFAN316’s own web site refers to his music as “low-fi electronic pop.” Let’s face it: if you’re listening to a record that contains guitar, bass, and drums, nine times out of ten it’s going to rock (or at least try to). Not all genre classifications are as lazy as they seem.

Having said that, whoever wrote the quoted sentence in the previous paragraph was right when he/she said that the music is much more deserving of further attention. Instead of getting by solely off of the novelty of the Nanoloop, MMFAN316 pays enough attention to melody, rhythm, and song structure to keep his tracks interesting. His songs are good enough that if a four-piece band played them, said band would be hailed as the new kings of post-rock. There are loads of contrapuntal melodies and tempo changes in these songs. There are also lots of moments when it sounds as if someone is seriously abusing the pitch modulation control on a synthesizer. MMFAN316 straddles the line between twee, bouncy riffs (a couple of songs almost sound like variations on “Ode to Joy”) and sandpaper noises, coming across like a less destructive DAT Politics on a shoestring budget. There are even elements of two-step drum-and-bass and Oval-style micro sampling in the mix if you listen hard enough.

Things don’t even begin to get monotonous until the last third of the album, which is quite an accomplishment for a sixteen-track CD of video game music. The worst moments of the record are monotonous only because of the limited timbral range of the Nanoloop, NOT because of the strength of the melodies and rhythms themselves. It’s a lot harder for me to get tired of guitar-based music, but that says more about my own listening habits than it does about MMFAN316’s gifts as a composer. Dot Matrix with Pop Music is definitely too much of a good thing; program any ten of these songs at random and you’d have a killer thirty-minute album. I wonder how MMFAN316 is going to manage a compelling second album, let alone a third or fourth album, with such a limited palette. He’s a good enough composer that he could integrate other instruments (or at least other software) into his music easily. Of course, that would mean he wouldn’t be able to work the “low-fi electronica” novelty angle much. Then again, I’m sure that his publicist wouldn’t mind TOO much.

---Sean Padilla

Mark Bacino "Million Dollar Milkshake!"

I made the mistake of drinking a cup of coffee before listening to The Million Dollar Milkshake, and now I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight! I really do think that someone should notify the FDA about the Million Dollar Milkshake, because after one listen, I was bouncing off the walls, grinning from ear to ear, and on such a high that I felt like I'd just taken some...well, you know, stuff. And there's never been any primo pop on the market like this in decades. Posies? Jellyfish? Man, those guys have nothing on Mr. Bacino! He makes Eric Carmen look like Alice Cooper, too...that is how sharp Bacino's pop sweet tooth is!

As silly as the above paragraph may seem, I really can't think of any better way of describing Bacino's music. I have yet to hear any other record this year that even has half of The Million Dollar Milkshake's pop power. Of course, every bit of Bacino's album screams happy fun bubblegum pop; from the really cute drawing of a teenage couple drinking a big milkshake to the picture of Bacino's smiling mug on the back, you know you're gonna have a real good time. And what's wrong with that? We need to have a good time every now and then, and the half-hour pleasure of The Million Dollar Milkshake is one heck of a good time! "Good clean fun" never sounded this good!

From the opening "Bubblegum Factory," and "Want You Around," you know that you are not going to sit this dance out. Bacino and his big band of cheery popsters are tight, and there's not a single sour note in this sweet shop. And it's not all guitars and drums, either! He's got a pop orchestra, featuring strings, brass, pianos and percussion all around him, as well as his "non-dairy crooners" who back him up as well, making his pop concoctions quite lush and dreamy. Personally, I'm quite fond of "Milkshake Bossanova," "Rockin' Mood," and "Sunny Day," though I feel wrong in picking just one or two favorites--all of these songs are equally great! The Million Dollar Milkshake is a strong album that really, truly is a pleasure. That's the best word for this album: pleasure. Ignore this one at your own peril, folks.

--Joseph Kyle