August 31, 2003

Snowdrops "Mad World"

Pam Berry goodness! This little seven inch might have been a-long in birthin', but it's certainly a fun little record, worthy of consideration! The Snowdrops is, as obviously stated, the newest Pam Berry project, featuring Lovejoy's Dick Preece and Keith Girdler (also in Beaumont). The a-side is a lovely rendition of Tears For Fears' surprisingly good debut hit, "Mad World." "Don't Buy Anything," sung by Girdler, is softer, lighter, and not a surprise considering the softer nature of these popsters' back catalogs. Yummy!

--Joseph Kyle

August 30, 2003

girlboy girl 'forget the ladder, climb the wall"

It wasnít that long ago was Bristolís Mobstar Records was one of the best things going in British underground music. For a time, it seemed as if the roster was single-handedly updating the C86 indie-pop scene for the 1990s. Flagship band the Beatnik Filmstars were doing their own version of the Fall, with double the cynicism and double the hooks. Boyracer was, and still are, a speedier Wedding Present with attention deficit disorder. American transplants Jackass were recreating Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement. Last but not least, there was Girlboy Girl, who injected a necessary dose of musicianship and singing ability to the music of the Pastels. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. By the time the new millennium began, almost all of these bands had either broken up or were on their way to breaking up. The Filmstars morphed into slow-core band Kyoko (who just recently broke up), Girlboy Girl lost their lead guitarist and drummer and morphed into acoustic duo Hewas, Jackass completely disappeared from sight, and Stewart Anderson had to change both his hemisphere of residence and his entire backing band to bring Boyracer back into existence.

Now, Girlboy Girl comes out of nowhere with a sophomore album that picks up right where their debut album Fresco left off, with fourteen more songs of trebly guitars that operate in two settings (fuzzy and jangly) and shy co-ed vocals that sing of melancholy things in the most plainspoken method imaginable. Opener "Donít Shout" begins with the words "Youíre one of us/Come join the party/and when it suits/Go find your own way/Impossible to stay." This welcoming yet distant attitude permeates the entire record. When guitarist Rupert Taylor and bassist Paula Knight sing of reminiscing over past relationships ("On the Horizon," "Radiator"), they do so without a trace of melodrama. When they sing of screwed-up friends who are completely unable to do right, or even defend themselves ("Trying," "The Worldís a Better Place"), they do so without a trace of bitterness. Girlboy Girlís outlook on life can best be summed up in two songs: the feedback-drenched paean to individuality ("Lake Merritt") and the acoustic paean to solitude and nothingness ("Enjoy Yourself"). "Buildings are just ruins in the making," Rupert sings on "Impermanent." Life generally sucks and people suck too, the band says, so you might as well do your own thing and make the best of it.

On paper, it sounds depressing, but when these sentiments are couched in the sweet harmonies of Rupert and Paula, and decorated with the nimble leads of new guitarist Sean Taplin, theyíre turned into bouncy affirmations. One significant difference between Forget the Ladder, Climb the Wall and Girlboy Girlís debut is that Rupert and Paula sing more songs together now instead of individuality. The "do-do-doís" on "Cabmdhavas en Metten" have a front-porch intimacy that compensates for the lack of immediacy that the album occasionally suffers from. I have to give Boyracer alumnus Matty Green props for sitting in on drums for this record. However, as capable as he is, he isnít nearly as steady or powerful as their previous drummer, Jez Francis. The slight decline in rhythmic dexterity means that Girlboy Girl isnít rocking as hard as they used to. This isnít necessarily a bad thing, though. The songs are definitely good enough to justify the bandís calmer approach. I donít know if Matty and Sean plan on sticking around for the long haul, but hereís hoping they do. We should never have to go three years without hearing another Girlboy Girl record.

---Sean Padilla

Damien Jurado "Holding His Breath"

Damien Jurado is a man who continually grows darker, darker, darker, and this little five-song EP--hot on the heels of his most recent album, Where Shall You Take Me--is a most dark, melancholy affair. Losing a lot of the louder sounds of his past few albums, Holding His Breath is largely an acoustic affair, even though he has a band accompanying him.

For Holding His Breath, Jurado offers up three originals with two interesting covers. For a man whose voice is quite distinctive, Jurado sounds not unlike Will Oldham on "I Am The Greatest of All Liars" and "Oh Death art With Me." (Both songs have Oldhamesque titles as well!) The third of Jurado's originals, "Big Let Down," is a remake of one of his older songs; it's similar in style to his earlier work, and he's joined by the always lovely Rosie Thomas as well. "I Am The Greatest of All Liars," Jurado sounds ready to explode, and is at his most intense, even if the song is a brief minute and a half.

The last two songs on Holding His Breath are covers. "Now You're Swimming" is a slowed-down harrowing version of a 764-Hero song, and is perhaps the most disturbing track on the record. He accompanies himself on backing vocals, though the 'backing vocals' are nothing more than distant yelling, and at times, it sounds a lot like The Wall-era Roger Waters. It's a disturbing song, yet he makes it all his own. The final song is "Butcher Boy," by Peggy Seeger, establishing Jurado's link to more traditional folk music.

Jurado is quietly earning respect for his fine songwriting skills, and for good reason. His flair for the dramatic, painted with realistic strokes, is one that is not easily approached, and he is indeed in a league of his own. Holding His Breath is a fine edition to Jurado's catalog. Well worth seeking out, and a wonderful slice of modern Americana.

--Joseph Kyle

New Bethel "Inside the Blue Vera"

When I booked shows, I brought a pretty famous indie band to town. Of course, when these bands came through, local bands would always want to play, regardless of whether or not they were any good. "Support the local scene" was the motto, with no regard to actual talent. Anyway, this one particular band, who were like a fifth-rate Modest Mouse, were opening, and the drummer of Famous Indie Band came out to talk to me & the band, saying, "Man! you gotta check this band out! they're performing some AMAZING polyrhythms, and are extremely complicated!" I looked at him and said, "No, man, they're not innovative. They just don't know how to play." The fellow laughed at me--then, upon listening again, realized that, yeah, these kids were either super-geniuses who played stupid, or were just a bunch of amateurs who didn't really realize how brilliant they were.

New Bethel has found the perfect balance between charming amateurism and impressive skill, resulting in a fairly impressive debut mini-album, Inside the Blue Vera. In much the same way that Beat Happening charmed many a listener, New Bethel have a quite innocent-looking face, and you don't really mind it when they hit the wrong key or their singing doesn't hit the pitch just right. DO NOT BE FOOLED, though, by New Bethel's smile; much like Beat Happening, underneath the charm of innocence flows a river of experience. They know what they're doing, and Even though they seem quite loose--they're actually quite tight; they've toured up and down the land over the past few years--without an album to support!

Witness Inside the Blue Vera. It's a collection of new-wave driven indiepunk pop that is deceptively simple, yet musically rich. While "The Great Decline" may be a jazzy-pop rocker that's quite reminiscent of Wolfie, they switch gears on "Radio Started," a mellow, organ-driven instrumental that turns into mathrock-lite before chilling back out into a modern-day Percy Faith-style fade. New Bethel's wreckless interplay between mellow instrumental passages and art-rock codas mixed in with indiepop songs sung with arty indie-rock vocals certainly makes for one interesting mix.

Trouble is, it occasionally becomes slightly predictable, which is a shame, because they're otherwise utterly awesome. Such a heady mix works well on one or two songs, but it can be a bit annoying if it's not mixed up a little more. I'm not worried about it that much, though. See, I have this feeling that, in a live setting, all of these things come together onstage, where the singing probably isn't as self-aware. It should also be noted that the songs on Inside the Blue Vera are more instrumental than they are vocal. The songs often start off with one or two minutes of instrumental, one minute of singing, and then back into an instrumental passage. It almost feels as if New Bethel were an instrumental band who decided to add singing to the mix.

Flaws aside, New Bethel have me excited. Really excited. Here's to working out the flaws for that forthcoming full-length. If they get some of these minor bugs worked out--or if I just learn to get over it--then they'll have one really, really strong album. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it. They're certainly one to keep a keen eye on for the future.

--Joseph Kyle

Nanang Tatang "Munki"

Bands going on 'hiatus' can often prove quite fertile. When members of the band have ideas that don't fit into their band's template, what better way to siphon off the overflowing creativity by calling a one-year truce to pursue their individual ideas? In fact, a little down-time might actually keep a band together. Bands like Superchunk, Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie have not been hurt by allowing a little time for a side project or two. Heck, some people, like Stephin Merritt and Robert Pollard, keep several going at once, just to keep things interesting. It's been a few years since Ida last released an album, but that doesn't mean that their members have been anything less than active. In the past few years, Elizabeth Mitchell has released two critically acclaimed children's records, and Daniel Littleton has released albums with Jenny Toomey (Liquorice) and Tara Jane O'Neil.

Nanang Tatang is their first collaborative project together outside of Ida, and it's a stunner. Muki was conceived during a hiatus from Ida, when Littleton and Mitchell moved from New York City and became parents. As such, Muki feels very natural--but let's not mistake 'natural' for 'rootsy.' Instead of Ida's atmospheric-folk/country, Muki focuses mainly on the atmosphere, and though many of the elements are exactly like Ida's most recent work, it sounds like something entirely different. If anything, Muki owes much to This Mortal Coil; folk songs surrounded by deep atmosphere, with electronic passages here and there, all working together to produce a dark, cloudy mood. When you consider the fact that Mitchell sounds stunningly like Heidi Berry, you could quickly conclude that Muki is one of the best albums 4AD never released.

It should also be pointed out that, in a weird kind of way, Muki is a children's record. Though there are no purple dinosaur-style singalongs on here, their daughter Storey provides 'heartbeat', and apparently is also sampled in places. It shouldn't be that much of a surprise; Mitchell recorded two children's albums, and the music is calm, serene, and tranquil; throw in baby's heartbeat, and you'll have an organic experience that will put even the fussiest baby to sleep. Muki fits nicely between Howie B's Music for Babies and Mickey Hart's Music To Be Born By.

As for Littleton and Mitchell, they are both in fine form. Elizabeth's voice is extremely strong--more so when she's singing quitely--and Dan's still got a masterful touch with musical accompaniment. With the help of producer genius Warn Defever, Littleton and Mitchell never renig on the promises made on Ida's previous records, nor do they do any damage to the hopes for Ida's future output. Getting exactly what you expected is sometimes the greatest gift an artist can make, and that is certainly the case for this loving, happy family. Don't try listening for 'songs'--no song really stands out as better (or worse) than any other; consider this one long, ambient piece with twelve little distractions.

Muki is never difficult listening; instead of being difficult and complex, it's complex in a most simple way. Of course, what else would you expect from the masterminds behind Ida? At the very least, Muki will certainly whet your appetite for the next Ida record. Muki is the perfect companion for rainy days, early mornings, or those nights when your little one won't get to sleep. Fix yourself a stiff drink--be it coffee, whiskey or formula--and let Muki relax you.

--Joseph Kyle

August 27, 2003

Guided by Voices "Get Out of My Stations"

I have a very special connection with this little GBV EP. A few years ago, in Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, I met Guided by Voices. Well, I didn't meet them in person, mind you, but over the store's stereo, "Motor Away" was playing. I was excited, because I liked this song I'd never heard before. The person I was with at the time said "that's Guided by Voices, Joseph. You should check them out!" She told me that I should start with Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, because those two were their best albums, and I couldn't possibly go wrong with them. She was right, of course.

But, in my eager anticipation to hear more by this band, I happened to stop at a very small record store owned by a major Guided by Voices fan. He told me that they had many, many other records, and that some of them were better than the two albums I was looking for. Of course, any store owner's going to say that, but this guy was SO in love with them that he decided to be "point-blank honest" with me, and he said that, as a businessman, he had a self-interest in getting me to buy lots of music, but as a fan of GBV, and wanting to spread the word, he wasn't gonna screw me over when it came to his favorite band. This man was good people, I'm telling you.

So he played me some records, he told me what was good and what I should avoid. He told me that I'd be best suited by..heh...buying Box, as well as the two albums I had been looking for in his store. He was generous, though; he said that he'd take some off of the final cost, out of fairness. When it came to the seven inch records, he said that they had three that I simply must own. I Am A Scientist,, Fast Japanese Spin Cycle, and one that was special to him, Get Out of My Stations. It was kind of rare, as it had been out of print for years, but he played it for me and I instantly fell for it. I paid ten bucks for it--he took five off of it, again, out of kindness--and I loved it, too. So on that day, I walked out of his store with all of the records I've mentioned in this review, and I've not regretted it since.

The paper sleeve looked as if it had been photocopied at Kinko's and the music sounded like it was recorded by a cockroach living in an empty beercan in Pollard's basement, but there's a magical quality to Get Out Of My Stations that I have yet to explain. When the needle hit the groove and Pollard sang "In the scalding creek, we were happy just to be happy oh yeah," something inside me fell in love. It was lovely, it was pretty, it was badly out of tune...but it was magical. Following that up with the rock powerhouse of "Mobile," I couldn't help but be drawn in. It sounded like it had been recorded live in his garage. (Oh, wait, it was.) "Melted Pat" is one of my all-time favorite Pollard songs. "Dusty Bushworms" and "Spring Tiger" were also excellent, and, heck, even the weird little lo-fi sonic goofing off of "Queen of Second Guessing" and the horrible sounding "Blue Moon Fruit" were great!

It was with Get Out of My Stations where I realized my love of Guided By Voices. I'm happy someone took the time to reissue it a decade later. It still sounds about as bad as it did before--though, weirdly, the hiss of the vinyl only made the sound better, not worse. I'd also like to thank Slitbreeze for updating it with four shit-hot live recordings from that era. This really was, in my opinion, the best lineup of GBV, and to hear these four classics ("Motor Away," "Hot Freaks," "Weed King" and "Postal Blowfish") live shortly after they were released is a damn treat, and make this record even more essential. Whenever someone asks me "Joseph, where should I start with GBV?" I can tell them Get Out Of My Stations without feeling guilty about sending them out on a expensive search through eBay, or the embarassment of having to tell someone no when they ask to borrow it.

In case I didn't make myself clear, this record is essential.

--Joseph Kyle

Matt Suggs "Amigo Road"

Following up on hints of a promising career is never easy. Matt Suggs has always insipred a little bit of hope for something better. His previous band, Butterglory, were a darn good indie-rock band who imploded just as they were starting to hit their stride. After the end of Butterglory, he chose not to make music for a few years. He felt inspired and recorded some demos and was convinced to turn them into a solo debut. His solo album, Golden Days Before They End appeared in 2000, to mixed success. It was a slight disappointment, simply because it was quite obvious that Suggs could do better. It didn't seem to be anything more than nice songs with merely OK arrangements, and they didn't serve his true talents quite well--and, when added to the fact that the vocals were weak, it was a disappointing record from someone who certainly could do better. Luckily, he has beaten the sophomore slump with an ace trump. Amigo Row is not only Suggs' personal best, it's a wonderful record, period.

Perhaps Suggs' smartest move was to actually work with a band. It's a pretty bold step, recording all of the instruments yourself, and it's a move that requires a certain level of talent. A lot of people who do so never seem to admit that one instrument is invariably their weakest, and while it looks good on paper to say "I did it all myself," your weakest link will always be apparent--especially if it's drums. There's something to be said about the dynamics of a band, too; unless you have access to expensive studios or are indeed a musical prodigy, then you can't begin to compare to an actual group. Amigo Row is the formal debut of Thee Higher Burning Fire, and the pairing could not be better. Suggs' previous work suffered for the lack of outside ideas and collaboration.

Though Amigo Row most definitly fits the '' tag, it's not really a country record. If anything, Amigo Row's blood bleeds blues, (such as on "Jonathan Montgomery") even if it's tainted with a good dash of country. Really, though, it's all about the songs; Suggs is a very fine singer-songwriter, and his band fills out his ideas quite nicely. I'm really fond of all the piano and organ; it complements his smooth yet rough singing voice, and it adds a nice little dimension on songs such as on "Clementine" and "Eyes of a King." Even though Suggs and company shy away from rocking out, it's not because they can't do it; witness the driving pulse of "Calm Down." In fact, I'm a little disappointed that they didn't do more rock-n-roll; "Calm Down" shows that they have the ability to perform some pretty hot Southern Rock.

Suggs has certainly made a record to be proud of, and even if it's been a few years since his last record, he sounds as if he's been working hard ever since 1997. He's got an excellent band accompanying him, and he's got an excellent record label supporting him, and here's hoping it doesn't take him another three years to make his next record. Amigo Row is one of Merge's best releases--both this year and, well, ever. Welcome back, Mr. Suggs, and thanks for making a great record.

--Joseph Kyle

August 26, 2003

Paint It Black "CVA"

I am going to be a bit different and I'm going to try and complete this album review within the album's running time: eighteen minutes, so if it seems a bit off, you'll know why, but I think this is the best way to approach such a record. Melody might not seem to be a term used for an album that has seventeen songs and is eighteen minutes long, but CVA is actually quite surprising in that way. True, songs fly by, but they never seem to be short; instead, the album flows with succinct precision, which ensures that not one damn second of it is wasted. In fact, the band have wisely played songs off of each other, which makes the album, at times, seem like one big, continual song. I'm even surprised to admit that it didn't seem like it was only eighteen minutes long; they do such an excellent job in making their point in as little time as possible, that you really don't notice the time. An excellent example of this is "Womb Envy," which, on the surface, is only 1:25 minutes long, but among all those short songs, it's an epic of Prog-Rock proportions.

And intelligence! Let's not fail to mention how damn smart Paint it Black really are. "Don't talk until you take a walk in my chucks, I guess you're shit outta luck" is one of those lines that will always stick with you. Sure, these guys are hardcore, but they're not brain-dead duh-heads like so many other bands making this kinda thing. These guys ain't dudes, they're not your sk8er boi's, either--these guys who have a helluva lot to say and instead of moshin and breakin' skulls, take a damn listen to songs like "Watered Down," "Void" or "Less Deicide, More Minor Threat"--unless, of course, you're not down with that whole 'learning something new' thing.

As I think I've stated before, Paint It Black have a very keen sense of economy, the seventeen minutes on here--nothing wasted, and they've not passed up the opportunity to say something meaningful, either. There's nothing on here that's less than burning, and for a debut album, CVA is pretty damn impressive. It's pretty impressive because it's only 11 songs and I've said so much already. Paint it Black will leave you spent and smarter and this meal of rice was really a five-course dinner. If you're not down with hardcore or punk rock, you'd still do well to check out CVA; it's a most refreshing blast of music, and you'll totally enjoy it. Crank it in your car. Play it on your walkman. You're sure to enjoy it; the album is not made to dumb you down, it's made to smarten you up, and if you're left a little bit smarter, then who can argue with that? Besides, if you can make music this fast that sounds this good, then really, why shouldn't you?

Still, I've had a lot to say in the few minutes that CVA has been playing. I can't believe it's still not over yet! I'm just gonna try and think of things to say while the alb

--Joseph Kyle

August 25, 2003

Karl Hendricks Trio "The Jerks Win Again"

Ever wonder what happened to the Karl Hendricks Trio? Well, it’s been a few years, but they have a new cd out. It’s called The Jerks Win Again. I got it in the mail about two weeks ago. I listened to it a lot, usually late at night with a .40 oz of HIGH LIFE by my side. After the fifth listen, I’d decided that this album might just be MEANT to enjoy with a really big sweatty bottle of Miller. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great album, although lyrically depressing Pretty much every song on here is a sigh of defeat…which goes great with beer!

The first song is a tale about great work going unnoticed and someone else taking all the credit, pitting Chuck Dukowski and Henry Rollins of BLACK FLAG as the protagonist and the antagonist, respectively. I’ve still got most of my 40 left. The end of the third song surpasses the twenty minute mark of the cd.…My massive beer is now a quarter gone, and I’m half drunk. Yeah, these songs are really long…’s like the songs themselves will end, and then they’ll rock out at the end for another 5 or 6 minutes, to give you time to dwell on the dismal lyrics in said song. “The Overweight Lovers” is a tale of a hefty couple in a rocky relationship, and rather than communicating with each other to solve their problems, they’d prefer running from their problems into the comforting arms of a box of Little Debbie snack cakes.


Then, in “I Think I forgot something…My Pants”, Mr. Hendricks states “I think I left all my original thoughts back at some bar, I thought I had some friends left around here somewhere, now I wonder where they are”. And then they rock the fuck out.


Did I mention that these guys rock?

The last song on this album is titled “The Summer of Warm Beer”. This is kind of eerie, as I seem to have made a habit of drinking 40’s while listening to this cd, and by the time I get to this track, my beer is always warm (and it just so happens to be August). But even though the beer is warm, I finish it anyways, you know why? Because even though the jerks keep winning, beer makes everything better. And… I may be drunk now, but you should buy this cd.

--Kyle Sowash

August 24, 2003

Beat Happening "Music To Climb the Apple Tree By"

Ah, Beat Happening! One of the great bands of my youth, and one of the bands that really, truly helped to define D.I.Y. Their shambiotic lo-fi indie-pop folk-punk rock sound always teetered on the verge of collapse, yet it somehow stayed together just long enough to get the point across. Calvin, Heather and Bret were professional amateurs; the singing was always slightly off-key, the music was out of tune and off-tempo, the recording was often thin and hollow---yet it was utterly magical. It was a sound that launched a thousand imitations--a thousand not-very-good imitations--and it was the foundation for Calvin's K Records empire.

Music To Climb The Apple Tree By is a collection of odds and ends from Beat Happening's first sixteen years. True, they've been all but dormant for the past decade, save for their last new release, the "Angel Gone" single in 2000, and a comprehensive box set in 2002, Crashing Through. This record was included in that box set, but is just now seeing individual release, and I'm happy that it's finally appeared. See, if you liked Beat Happening, you probably didn't just stop with one or two albums--you probably owned everything they ever released. That's the kind of band Beat Happening were. As such, Crashing Through was a bit of a luxury release, and so Music To Climb the Apple Tree By is a wonderful little apple-basket full of single sides, compilations, and various other rare whatnot. (Is it possible that the book that was included in the set will ever be made available for those who have no need for the box set? I hope so!)

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this little collection is it really highlights how excellent Beat Happening could be when the focus was simply on the song. On one side of a 45 or among others on a comp, the song had better be really good, for it shall stand alone, to fend for itself, representing the band the best that it can. Surprisingly, songs like "Nancy Sin," "Not a Care In The World" and the newest song, "Angel Gone" are all excellent; Calvin, Heather and Bret are all in fine, fine form, and if the band ever sounded better than these fifteen tracks, I couldn't tell you where. Calvin's voice has a deep, dark Johnny Cash tremble, even though his singing's not exactly what we would call..ummm....good. After all, it's not how good you sing the song, it's how you sing the song. The sweetest plum in this basket is the inclusion of the Beat Happening Screaming Trees collaboration--itself pretty typical Beat Happening songs, though it contains a song not sung by Calvin, the excellent "Polly Pereguinn" and one of Calvin's sweetest songs, "I Dig You."

Though this record is geared towards the already converted, it serves the band quite well, and these already-strong songs sound even tougher when paired next to each other. While it's pretty much assured that Beat Happening have retired, rumors seem to pop up occasionally about a reunion. Whether or not such a thing happens, Music To Climb The Apple Tree By is as fine as any new record, and it's certainly a testament to the magic that was this really great but not-very-good trio from Olympia.

--Joseph Kyle

Pistol for Ringo "Solid State Neo-Hedonist"

Dear Mark Everett,

Okay now, Mr. 'E.' You can fool me once, but you can't fool me twice. I really thought MC Honky was indeed an older man making feel-good music, but I've been informed that he is, indeed, you. I wondered why nobody saw the two of you together on the recent Eels tour, but that's beside the point. See, I think you're at it again, and this time, you're a four-piece "band" named Pistol for Ringo. Apparently Shootenanny! wasn't the only thing you've been working on. I know it's you, Mark. "Nothing Equates to a Saturday" is not only the kind of song title you'd come up with, but it really sounds like your voice, too. And, really, who else would make a mellow, relaxing lounge version of "I Am The Fly?"

But I'll indulge you in your game, Mark. Okay, so you're a band now, and this is your 'debut' record. It's a great one, by the way. I shouldn't really complain, though. I don't understand why it is you've decided to draw attention away from your really wonderful songs by throwing in little clips of found sounds and experimental whatnot between the bigger 'songs'. Sure, some of them are cool, but some of them are annoying, and they draw away from what you're best at, guys: the songs. Between the samples of big band records, girls talking in pretentious poetic voices, noises and various and sundry whatnot are some really good songs.

Actually, I'm being a little bit too hard on you, Mark. I think you've certainly made a great record; in fact, Solid State Neo-Hedonist is much better than Souljacker and Shootenanny!combined. I know that I've hit the repeat button after hearing "Nothing Equates to a Saturday," "Hero," "I Am the Fly" (a brilliant cover version, by the way!) and "Complicated," so I guess you're doing something right. Personally, I like the fact that your songs are smart but not obnoxious, arty, yet without any pretentiousness. You've really struck a chord with this one, and I hope you kind of get it together for your next record. You could learn a lot from Solid State Neo-Hedonist, my friend.

Joseph Kyle

PS. Okay, so just in case you aren't really Mark Everett, and are a band who simply have discovered the wonderful powers of the Fountain of Everett--it doesn't really matter. Solid State Neo-Hedonist is a pretty fun record, full of odd sounds, pretty strong and enjoyable pop songs, and a fun attitude. There's nothing finer than that, is there?

--Joseph Kyle

Herman Dune "Mash Concrete Metal Mushroom"

This album begins with a mundane answering machine message from a person who I assume must be a friend of the band. It’s the perfect opening for an album that sounds like the best bits of a quiet, late-night jam session from a group of talented yet underachieving buddies. French singer-songwriter Herman Dune and his band gets by with an almost Velvet Underground simplicity in two ways. One is their uncomplicated instrumental setup: two guitars, minimal, unassertive drums, and bass whenever someone feels like playing bass, I guess. The other reason is their insistence on using no more than four chords in any of their songs. The most striking feature of their sound is the extremely nimble guitar playing. If this album were completely instrumental, one could fall asleep listening to the gorgeous fingerpicked and slide guitars dance around each other in almost every song.

Of course, there are vocals, but that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes the harmonies are sublime, some examples being “On the Knick” and “Not That Big a Story.” At other times, they sound like a drunken campfire sing-along gone awry. The most grating example is “Monkey Song,” in which the lead singer’s horribly off-key vocals are mixed excruciatingly loud. It doesn’t help that the lyrics seem like they were written for Michael Jackson to sing: “If some of my friends could be monkeys,” the chorus insists, “they would have four hands and understand me.” Fortunately, the lyrics aren’t always that infantile. Most of them revolve around standard singer-songwriter concerns such as road trips, drugs, and on the album’s best songs, women.

“Not That Big a Story” finds Dune shallowly admiring a woman’s beauty and not much more: “Spread your shoulders/Untie your hair/Give me a picture/The rest, I don’t care.” “Why Would That Hurt (If You Never Loved Me?)” lives up to its lengthy title by turning its verses into interminable run-on sentences: “I’m not the kind of guy who leaves marks on a girl’s hearts and make them cry at night and hold their teddy bears tight --- the ones they kept in a box in case the people they loved would go away (like ten thousand miles) --- and drive with another girl riding shotgun, listening to the tape you made --- they wouldn’t even care, and instead they’d put the radio on and listen to Alanis Morissette.” Those two are the album’s funniest and catchiest songs. There’s also “Metal Mash,” which is neither funny nor catchy, but the shambling percussion and minor-key strumming create a foreboding atmosphere that suits Dune’s warbling about wanting to die in a plane crash extremely well. It’s also the only song in which the female singer in the band shares lead vocals. This is a strategy that Dune might want to use more often, especially since her singing is stronger than his is anyway.

Unfortunately, most of the other songs on Mash Concrete Metal
won’t grab you by the ears on first, second, or even tenth listen. Herman Dune’s easygoing nature is both the album’s blessing and its curse. Other than the moments in which Dune sings off-key or lets his thick accent obscure his words (listen to him pronounce “week” like “wick” and “futon” like “fuh-tin” on “Futon Song”), this album won’t tax your patience. Neither will it have you reaching for the repeat button. The almost haphazard lack of urgency that characterizes the singing and playing on this record will translate to most listeners a bit too well.

---Sean Padilla

August 22, 2003

Timonium "Until He Finds Us"

Timonium is slow.

No, that's not right. Slow implies that they don't move very fast, or that their intellectual abilities are less than able. While their previous works might have been labeled "slow-core," Until He Finds Us isn't exactly the slowstorm of Suspende Animation, though. Their music has actually picked up a quite nice little pace; while they will never be mistaken for The Minutemen, they won't be found guilty of making pace-is-glacial art-rock. They've discovered a nice little niche for their chilling, relaxing music.

Timonium is relaxed.

That's not right, either. Sure, they make music that might be called "mellow," but there's plenty of tension going on in their music. Take a listen to "Across the Footlights" or "Rememory Screen," and you'll realize that their music, while mellow SOUNDING, also resonates with some pretty serious tension. Okay, so it's not really 'tension,'' it's more of a contrast based on several factors (male/female vocals, loud/soft moments, fast/slow) as opposed to a "tension."

Timonium is serious.

That is a lie. If you've ever met Timonium leader Adam Hervey, you'll know right away that 'serious' is a relative term. While Timonium are a band who are quite professional and quite capable of making serious-sounding music, they are, in actuality, some of the funniest people you'll meet, which is a far cry from the anonymous, been-there done-that bands making 'music' today.

Timonium is just another anonymous art-rock band, like all the rest.

That is incorrect. While it is true that they enjoy art, and their music is "rock"-like, they are not anonymous. They are Adam, Adam, Tracy and James. Like all the rest? Hardly. Timonium is perhaps the most multi-culti band out there, representing different sets of beliefs, cultural ancestry and sexual orientations. You can't find a band anywhere out there today that represents such a cross-section of the world's population.

Until He Finds Us is a good album

That is a bit of a misnomer. It's not just a good album, it's a great album, and it differs as much from Resist Education as that album differed from their debut. They get better with each album, but it's a better that never negates their previous work, and that, my friends, is something that is all too rare. Though they're a band that takes their time whenever it comes to making and releasing music, it's certainly not for naught. Until He Finds Us is as fine an album as Timonium has ever delivered. Consistency of product is never to be shunned, and Until He Finds Us finds Timonium delivering on all the promises that they've ever given you. Isn't that awful nice of them?

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists: "Sad Songs Remind Me: The Emo Diaries, Chapter Nine"

Sad Songs Remind Me is perhaps one of the stronger volumes of this series. Unlike past volumes of this series, no really well-known bands appear. In fact, the label is represented by only two bands--Italy's Settlefish and a stunning new signing, Sweden's Surrounded. You might think that an album of unknown bands that are teniously linked together as "emo" might not be good, right?

Wrongo, slappy.

After listening to this for the first time, my very first reaction was, "whoa!" Instead of cheesy, let's-get-soft-then-really-loud meets oh-I'm-a-sad-teenager-but-I'm-really-thirty-two-to-impress-the-underage-girls sound that we all know and hate, the twelve bands on Sad Songs Remind Me are impressively different. Sure, all of these bands seem to have an intense nature, but none of the bands sound remotely like the other, nor do they sound like any of your usual suspects--you know, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, At The Drive-In, Texas Is The Reason and other bands of said emotional inspiration. If any band seems to be influential, it's Radiohead--and even then, it's nothing that overwhelms the songs.

All of the bands on Sad Songs Remind Me are good, but some bands are better than others. The award for "most improved" would be La Pieta, whose debut album betrayed their real strengths and talent; "More of The Sky" shows that their growth over the past two years has certainly improved their sound. I'm kind of keen on "Karenaihana" by the Japanese band The Local Art. Though their sound might be the closest to the generic emo, they definitely win a prize for singing in their native language--making this song quite...interesting. It's a pretty good sign when even the lesser bands are better than average, and that's certainly the case here.

Of course, there are some real monsters on here, too. Each time I've listened to Sad Songs Remind Me, I've been blown away by three songs. Athens, Georgia has produced yet another excellent band, Michael; their song "Finish Line" is a fine little rocker that reminds me a bit of a healthy mix of Spoon meets R.E.M., yet they don't erally sound like either one. Austin, Texas is another city that's produced another wonderful band; Milton Mapes' track, "Big Cloud, Big Sky," sounds like a vintage Bruce Springsteen outtake, mixed with a dark, electronic heartbeat. It's an ominous epic number that defies classification and is a real mindblower.

The best track on here, though, is also another epic mindblower, "High Five Hiero" by Sweden's Surrounded; it's a quiet number that gets bigger and louder and colder and more intense and at the end of it all, you'll be scratching your head and wondering what happened. "High Five Hiero" sounds like an odd mixture of Britpop and Dylanesque singer-songwriter fare, and as weird as that description sounds, it really fits it well. Deep Elm have wisely jumped on this band--a good decision, too.

Once again, Deep Elm have shown that a lot of the best music being made is not being heard, and once again their Emo Diaries serves as an excellent introduction to music you might not have heard elsewhere. A record that's worth it for the three songs mentioned above; who knows, you may wind up with 12 new favorite bands afterwards.

--Joseph Kyle

Roomtone "Lay Awake"

Roomtone is an amazing band from Los Angeles, and their album, Lay Awake, is one of the most impressive, awe-inspiring debuts I've heard all year. It's quite obvious that Roomtone mastermind Nico Chiotellis listened to--and, more importantly, studied--some of the best albums of the last decade (OK Computer, Grace, The Death of Cool, even Stoned & Dethroned) and realized that not only could he do the same, he could do better. Roomtone sound expertly "modern." Mixing one part Grace with two dashes of OK Computer and just a hint of Parachutes might not be the most original recipe for music these days, but if you're good at what you do, then does it really matter? Lay Awake might be indebted to Britpop, it is never anything less than 100% original, and the sound--an epic sound--is one that they can truly call their own.

Roomtone's not-so-secret weapon is their mastermind, Nico Chiotellis. It's clear that the man is an extremely talented musician, as he plays all of the non-rhythm section instruments on Lay Awake, save for the guest electric guitar player. Not only does he play them, he breathes a level of excellence into their parts. He's not a slouch on any of them, either.That they are but a three piece, with Chiotellis playing most everything, save for percussion and bass, makes it even more impressive. It takes a lot of damn gall to kick off your debut album with a seven-minute epic like "Laugh in the Dark," but Roomtone can pull it off as if there were no Thom Yorke.

Luckily, "Laugh in the Dark" is not the highlight of the album--in fact, I'd say it's the weakest out of a whole album of strong songs--though it's more than lesser bands could possibly hope for. Starting off with a quiet guitar pick and the sound of rolling wind and thunder, it turns into something quite grand the minute Chiotellis open his mouth. When the rest of the band joins in, the song turns into a beautiful, cinematic experience that many bands attempt but very few successfully create. By the end of the song, you're left emotionally spent, for the highs and the lows of "Laugh in the Dark" will indeed leave you wanting more. You're forgiven if you hit 'repeat' the first few times, but I wouldn't do it too much, as there are other songs on Lay Awake --and they're all wonderful.

And what songs they are! From the dreamy, haunting "Premonitions" to the driving "Fool's Gold" and "Radio" and the stoned 'n' dethroned folk countryish hints of "Lay Awake" and ""Captain," Lay Awake travels the emotional trail from sadness to fear and back through anger and regret, and you'll love every moment of it. You'll certainly be blown away--that's for certain. That they do it all without sounding too contrived is even more impressive. After all of the electronic moments and the utter passion of intensity, emotion and hurt, the album closes on the quiet, sad ballad "Let Time Stand Still." Nico sings with a hungover croon that will draw you in and make you feel the pain and make you realize that somewhere in the world, it's 4:00 AM and someone's coming down from an evening of debauchery.

While there might be some obvious debts to other bands, don't let the fact that some of these songs sound vaguely familiar bother you. After all, were the Beatles, The Who, Rolling Stones--are their debut records known for being particularly original or innovative? Nope. It takes a little bit of time for a band or an artist to truly find their voice. Lay Awake is one heck of a impressive debut album, and Roomtone are clearly looking back from their influences, blowing them farewell kisses, and are on the verge of greatness and well-earned acclaim. Until then, it's best to sit back and let Lay Awake leave you breathless and slack-jawed. Perhaps the debut of the year, and a certain highlight of a year full of excellent music.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:

August 21, 2003

Gameface "Four To Go"

YES!! These dudes ROCK!

For some people, that right there might be reason enough to never bother touching Four To Go. Some people are quite funny about things like that, and I'll never understand why people freak out about something so simple as rock. For other people, such a statement might send them rushing out to their local store or internet to check it out. Doesn't matter how it sounds, those people who like THE ROCK won't mind. This, Gameface's fourth album, is nothing more--or less--than a really tight band who know how to rock. There's none of that smelly bro-punk rock going on here, nor is there any of that whiny, annoying 'emo' musical poop, either. On the surface, there's nothing particularly innovative or different about Gameface; if you wanted a band that simply defined "rock music" in its most basic form, you couldn't find a better example than Gameface.

And I have no problem with that.

See, Gameface apparently have a unique, admirable rule that they adhere to: if a song they write cannot be replicated live, then they won't record it. That explains tons about the fact that Four To Go has a warm, immediate, live feeling. It's hella tight, too; songs like "When You've Had Enough" and "Give Me Something Real" simply ring loud and true when played upon the old car stereo. Luckily, they never are too 'rock' or too 'emo' or too 'punk' or too 'alternative.' Gameface never breaks any of Bob Seeger's rules, and have become the new classic rock in quick-time.

Four To Go is a fun record from a band who are meant to be seen live. Besides, wouldn't you wanna buy these guys a beer? Where's the fun in trying to be the most complicated band in music today? Why not be enjoyable? A pleasant record from a bunch of guys who simply like to get together and rock out. If you have a problem with music that's good yet not original, what does that say about you? Four To Go wins this year's "we don't need genius when we've got talent and the ability TO ROCK YOUR BODY as you roadtrip to Austin" award. A more enjoyable car-stereo record has yet to see the light of day this year.

--Joseph Kyle

Aerogramme "Livers & Lungs"

Sleep & Release, Aerogramme's second album, has been impressing critics left and right. Livers & Lungs contains two songs from the album, "Indiscretion #243" and "Inhilation Blues" (which is a bonus track on foreign editions of the album) as well as two previously unreleased numbers. "Indiscretion #243" is a pretty intense little rocker that reminds me a little bit of Blind Melon, truth be told. "Inhilation Blues" is a dour little number; it's pretty, but really nothing more than that. The two unreleased numbers, though, are the real goodies. Both songs were recorded on tour, in hotel rooms, backstage, and in the tour van (!!) via a laptop computer plus other recording goodies. Even more amazing about that is the fact that they're both orchestrated (!!) and they sound utterly symphonic (!!!), leaving you to scratch your head in amazement at how grand these songs are. "Asthma Came Home For Christmas" is a beautiful number, similar in style to Grandaddy, and the final track is "Thriller." Yes, it's that "Thriller." Yes, it's Wacko Jacko's "Thriller." What the song lacks in rhythm it makes up for in intensity; it's a very slow version, and it's utterly ominous--thanks in part to that fake orchestra. This is a fun little release, and if you've not checked out Aerogramme, this little single should serve as incentive.

--Joseph Kyle

August 19, 2003

Mates of State "team boo"

As much as I hate employing overused angles to in my reviews, it’s tough to discuss the music of Mates of State without discussing the personal lives of its members. Organist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel are spouses who make beautiful music together in all senses of the word. There are many other married couples in independent rock, from Deerhoof’s Greg and Satomi to Yo La Tengo’s Ira and Georgia. However, it’s easier to make critical analyses of those bands’ music without mentioning their interpersonal dynamics because they aren’t a dominant part of the musical package. For example, there isn’t a single Sonic Youth album in which Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon hold hands in every picture in the liner notes. Alan and Mimi of Low don’t miss cues in their live shows because they’re too busy staring at each other in complete adoration to concentrate on the music. Deerhoof haven’t made a concept album about how simultaneously excited and scared they were to quit their jobs and get married. Mates of State happen to be guilty of all three actions. Yes, it’s an overused angle, but every cliché is based partially in truth. You can enjoy the Mates’ music in complete ignorance of the love that fuels it, but you won’t fully understand it.

In my opinion, many critics were unfair to the Mates’ sophomore album Our Constant Concern. They dismissed it as a drag simply because it wasn’t as hooky or bouncy as their ironically titled debut My Solo Project. In retrospect, though, the album wasn’t supposed to be a ray of sunshine. Look at the title again: Our Constant Concern. Its lyrics were the direct byproduct of Kori’s and Jason’s conflicting feelings about the big and risky decisions they were about to make with their lives. The album was only a drag compared the music they made before it; compared to almost everything else released that year, Concern was still guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Even at their saddest, the Mates can’t help but lunge at their instruments and microphones with all of the passion inside of them. You knew that they were scared of what they were about to do, but you also knew that they weren’t going to turn back.

The end result of their courage is Team Boo, their best and most fully realized album yet. Kori and Jason made the right decision for themselves, and they are once again comfortable in their own skin. This contentment bleeds through every facet of the album, from the title to the artwork to the actual music. Once again, look at the album’s title: Team Boo. Remember that in hip-hop songs, lovers often refer to each other as “boo.” (This passing acknowledgment to hip-hop could also explain why the Mates sing “This couldn’t be more ghetto,” which would otherwise be the album’s strangest lyric, on the climax of “I Got This Feelin’.”) Kori and Jason seem to be reasserting their status as both lovers and partners, with equal say in both their marriage and their music. Both of them sing, neither of them plays solos, and writing credits on every song are shared. If the Mates actually changed their band name to “Team Boo,” not one iota of meaning would be lost in the transition.

The actual SONGS on the album (yeah, I was going to discuss it eventually) sound like a fusion of the happy-go-lucky circus-pop of My Solo Project and the weightier lyrics of Our Constant Concern. They still alternate between harmonizing with each other VERY loudly and singing different words simultaneously. Many of their songs still sound like the best parts of two or three different songs stitched together, but the transitions aren’t as awkward as they were on previous albums. Their musicianship is getting nimbler with each album: Kori sounds as if she has twelve fingers on certain songs, and Jason keeps finding new ways to play the same three or four rhythms. The Mates break up the pace every other song with additional instruments (xylophones, horn sections) or guest background vocals in order to keep things from getting monotonous. They also make a brief acknowledgment to dub on “An Experiment.” Otherwise, though, their sound has changed little. If you liked the Mates before, this album will only cement your opinion of them. If you didn’t like the Mates before, this album is just different enough to potentially change your mind.

The lyrics on Team Boo tackle standard subject matter in a slightly less cryptic manner than we’re used to from the Mates. “Middle is Gold” chronicles a middle-aged couple arguing with each other after one of them has cheated on the other. “We have enough to make us stay,” Kori whispers; “This ain’t enough to make us stay,” Jason yells. ”Parachutes” examines the last moments of a woman about to die in a plane crash. She takes stock of her life and is ultimately content because not only did she live a full life, but she also had someone to support her along the way. “I’d say I’m better ‘cause I lived before I died,” the Mates sing, “and at least I know you tried.” Album closer “Separate the People” find Kori and Jason plotting to help out a man who’s down on his luck. “You are the bigger man,” they sing, “and it’s time to separate the people from the men who disregard them.” These songs cross the line dividing the merely cute from the truly touching, and show that the Mates are gaining emotional depth as writers. Musically, they’ve far from exhausted their admittedly limited palette, and lyrically they’re getting better. Now that even Quasi, the band that the Mates are most frequently compared to, don’t even sound like themselves anymore (Hot S**t? More like a Hot Mess; Sam, save the guitar wank for Blues Goblins), it’s nice to see a band sticking to their strengths without getting samey. The time for us to fall in love with the Mates again is now, and Team Boo is like Spanish fly to my ears.

---Sean Padilla

August 18, 2003

Pimmon "Snaps Crackles Pops"

Now that Kid 606 has let his music descend into Plunderphonic hell and Cex has left the label to become an indie-rap sensation, not as many people seem to make a fuss about Tigerbeat6 nowadays. Two years ago, they were the kingpins of a revolution designed to bring humor and personality back into IDM. I’m not sure if the revolution’s been entirely successful or not, but you can’t say that Australian artist Paul Gough (better known as Pimmon) isn’t doing his part to uphold the cause. The title of his latest record, Snaps Crackles Pops, comes from the slogan of a breakfast cereal, for crying out loud! However, that title isn’t as much of a laughing matter as one might assume. It’s actually an appropriate name for an album sprinkled with so many hisses, whizzes, and blips that listeners might feel as if they’ve been listening to a vinyl record instead of a CD. However, this album is nothing but serious sonic manipulation, in which Gough digitally twists organic source material into otherworldly configurations. As prolific as Gough is, it comes as a surprised that this is only his second release on Tigerbeat6. However, he always seems to save his best material for this label. Snaps Crackles Pops splits the difference between the serene but diffuse ambient of Secret Sleeping Birds and his unnecessarily abrasive Assembler. It’s more beat-driven than the former, less noisy than the latter, and significantly better than both.

A common strategy of Pimmon’s is slowly drown a track’s original motif in weird effects until the end of the track sounds nothing like the beginning. Opener “No Jazz for Jokers” initially sounds like a drum circle invaded by a gamelan orchestra. As the song progresses, a flurry of chopped-up Arabic horns fades in and out of the mix, completely taking the music over by the four-minute mark. The trip-hop song that “Frosty Pink” samples is rendered unrecognizable because Gough punches it in and out so rapidly that the silence actually BECOMES the rhythm of the song. This song is also overtaken by squishy effects, which can sound like anything from tapes rewinding to crickets chirping. These sounds become more and more distorted until the whole thing sounds like sandpaper in a blender. “The King, the Eye, and the Surfboard” sounds like a tape of a jazz band rehearsing that’s been cut into pieces and rearranged at random, with all the upbeats and downbeats sounding lopsided. Gough slowly lets that backdrop be subsumed in a sea of tape hiss and over-modulated organ. Album closer “The Sacred Dance of Mimi Lush” takes what sounds like a sample from a synth-pop song and flips it in reverse. This placid loop is augmented by various low groans that sound like tapes of people talking slowed down to a crawl.

Fortunately, Pimmon doesn’t employ this strategy throughout the whole album. “In Einem Teich Des Treibstoffs” runs a flute sample through a Markus Popp-style CD-skipping effect, and segues it into a symphony of what sounds like bowed glass and church organs. “Babylon’s Burning” betrays a slight Pole influence, with minimal bass, muted guitar, and the rhythm of the song being dictated entirely by clicks and pops. “Over the Black Dot” finds a groove that you can dance to and rides it for four and a half minutes, never letting the squishy sound effects completely dominate. I can imagine a more adventurous DJ playing this song during a rave. Then again, I’ve only been to one rave and it sucked, so maybe I’m giving that scene a bit too much credit. Anyway, Snaps Crackles Pops gives me precisely what I want from contemporary IDM: sounds that I can’t describe easily, shoehorned into memorable, evocative structures that I can (occasionally) dance to (if I’m feeling particularly spastic).

---Sean Padilla

August 14, 2003

Tonefarmer "Where you Go"

Thank you, Tonefarmer. You've quelled one of my biggest fears. It seems as if it's uncool to be an excellent songwriter, but with Where You Go, you've helped me to realize that melody and attentive detail to songwriting is, of all things, coming back into fashion. You guys have gotta know this, or you at least must be aware that there's a general lack of excellent pop music that doesn't automatically aim for the lowest common denominator. And it's good to hear that you guys aren't aiming for the disaffected upper-class teenage outsider market, either (Hello, Mr. Oberst, Ben Gibbard is on line one!). There's more to life than having cookie-cutter teenage kids listing you as an interest on Live Journal, too.

Tonefarmer--okay, let's just get this out right now, because it has to be said--sound like IRS-era R.E.M. At first, I even thought Where You Go was really Life's Rich Pageant by pressing plant mistake. When the first chords of "You Don't Turn Around" hit your ear, youll automatically think, "this sounds familiar." When lead singer Rob Hamrick opens his mouth, you'll swear you're hearing the long-haired Michael Stipe. I'm pretty sure that Tonefarmer are going to get sick of the R.E.M. comparisons, but darn it, Hamrick's a dead ringer for Stipe, and an excellent dead ringer at that! Lest you forget, R.E.M made some wonderful records before they were posterboys for alt-rock or the cautionary tale of being a band who are too long in the tooth.

While it's true that imitation might not be the forebearer of originality in this fickle music world in which we thrive, but all's fair in love and war, baby. R.E.M. dropped that jangle-country-folk-alternative-bliss crown a decade ago, so we really cannot hate Tonefarmer for finding the crown, picking it up, dusting it off and placing it on their head. In so doing, they've really taken a risk; the whole R.E.M. thing may or may not be out of date, depending on whom you ask. When you make totally and utterly wonderful songs like "I Need You to Be True" and "Where You Go," though, an expiration date should be the least of your concerns. The only way that these songs could be made better, mind you, would be having Mitch Easter behind the production.

While Where You Go may be brief, it is never slight. It's always a wonderful experience, finding an artist who can say so much and leave a vast impression on you over the course of six songs, and Tonefarmer have won me over. Does the world still like intelligent music? I hope so, for Tonefarmer's sake; they have quietly discovered a wonderful pop-song formula, and it's merely a matter of time until the world soon discovers their
magic. Still, an excellent record like Where You Go should not go unheard; luckily, I have this distinct feeling that it won't.

(For audio samples and more information, please visit

--Joseph Kyle

August 13, 2003

tractor kings 'gone to heaven'

Good things come to those who wait. Sometimes, you've gotta be patient. That's certainly the case with Tractor Kings' second album, Gone to Heaven. Tractor Kings' mastermind Jacob Fleischli's voice is an aquired taste, but once you grow use to it, you'll realize that his songs are quite...magical. If you think "man, this guy sounds like Bob Dylan," you aren't alone. It's quite obvious that Fleischli has a Zimmerman fetish; his singing style is not merely indebted to Dylan, it owes almost everything to him.

No worries, though; Dylan never made music this spaced out. Dylan didn't have Matt Talbot on guitar and as a producer, and Talbott--known for his wonderful production skills as well as his own well-loved band Hum--makes this affair quite...different. It's hazy and fuzzy and rather trippy, but Gone to Heaven never really loses its way from the country-rock road. Sure, it gets a little spaced-out and even a bit shoegazer on "Beautiful Night" and "My Old Ways Are Gone," but those are brief moments; the A.P. Carter cover of "Little Moses" is actually quite revealing; despite his trippy tendencies, Fleischli's a rather traditional-based singer/songwriter. A little folky, even. "Goodnight" mixes elements of post-and folk- and country-rock and it makes you wonder, "what is this?"

While it's true that Fleischli's vocal range is actually quite limited, it never really hinders Gone to Heaven. Sure, some might easliy be put off by his singing style, but letting something as minor as his vocal technique get in the way of the songs would be wrong. After all, if Lou Reed and Bob Dylan can do it, why can't Jacob Fleischli? If I had to offer one word of advice to Fleischli about his music, it's this: get weirder with the instrumentation. When you're straightforward, you're pretty good; When you're weird, you're mindblowing and disturbing and thought-provoking and everything Reed and Dylan used to be at your age.

Admittedly, Gone to Heaven isn't for everyone. If you find off-kilter, slightly off-key singing annoying, this album will most likely make you cringe...which would be too bad for you, as you'd be missing out on some highly original, interesting music. Gone To Heaven finds Fleischli at a nice crossroads with his music; his ideas here are indicitive of a songwriter whose time has yet to come.

--Joseph Kyle

August 09, 2003

George Usher Group "Fire Garden"

Why must an artist switch off their creativity simply because they grow older? Why is it that the music world only really allows people who were marginally famous when they were younger to continue to make music? It's very rare when you have an older, unknown artist to suddenly appear out of nowhere and receive tons of critical acclaim.
Just because you're older doesn't mean you're less capable. It's an argument that I think about as I grow older; it doesn't go away, especially seeing how the distinction between the teen-pop world and the independent music world grow less and less distinct.

For those of you who don't know, George Usher played in legendary 80s 'college-rock' combos The Bongos and Beat Rodeo. If you're under thirty and you've never heard of either of them, that's okay--they were both rather obscure in their day, though they were quite excellent, and specialized in a rocky, poppy blend of that stuff we called "college rock." (Methinks you should do some record-store scrounging for Beat Rodeo's two albums, and The Bongos' retrospective on Razor & Tie is a fine purchase, too). Anyway, Usher's got a fine history of great records, and Fire Garden is a fine affair.

With the lovely "Are You Coming or Going," Fire Garden starts off with jingle-jangle, and it never stops. Usher sings with a coy croon, and his songs of experience sound positively innocent, free of any ulterior motive, other than that of sharing his feelings. He's sharing his wisdom through song, you know. Songs of love, life, heartbreak and confusion--it's all a part of a winning combination. Though Usher and company never stray too far from his formula, his songs are consistently charming, and numbers like "There Is No Sleep" and "Nowhere" rise to the top.

Fire Garden is a steady album of fine, sunny-day pop-rock. George Usher may not win any Teen Choice awards or Indie Hipster Credibility awards, and that's fine. In fact, it's even great. Who likes listening to music that's caught up in its image? Substance is the new style, and in that way, George Usher is an innovator. Fire Garden is about nothing more than the songs, and in this day and age of indie-image, such simple virtue is to be praised.

--Joseph Kyle

Airport Girl "Do You Dream in Colour?"

I'm almost starting to resent Matinee Recordings' constant high-quality singles, because I know I'm gonna say the same things I've said before, and Airport Girl's EP, Do You Dream In Colour?, continues the trend of wonderful reviews. The title track is an orchestrated ballad with sad violin and a melody based on Pachelbel's "Canon in D," but its slightly sad nature is quickly overwhelmed by "When You Fall," a rousing blast of early 90's trumpet-led Britpop. "Easier to Smile" is a wonderful blast of sing-along jingle-jangle pop and features Jimmy Tassos on bongos! Closer "Been Waiting" is a drifting ballad complete with wonderfully sad harmonica. If you fell in love with their debut album Honey I'm An Artist, then this EP will certainly tease you for their forthcoming album.

--Joseph Kyle

Accelera Deck "Softcore Paradise"

You know how Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices has made a habit over the last couple of years of overdubbing his vocals onto other peopleís music for his Fading Captain releases (Airport 5, Go Back Snowball, Phantom Tollbooth, etc.)? Well, I believe that the Adams brothers of Hood should one day overdub their own vocals on top of this album. Why? Because every single note on Acetate Zeroís Softcore Paradise sounds as if it were ripped lock, stock, and barrel from Hoodís Silent ë88 and Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys. Theyíve got the sound down pat: the slow guitar arpeggios, brushed drums, meandering bass lines, and occasional blasts of fuzzy feedback and programmed beats. What arenít present, for the most part, are vocals and hooks.

Out of the eighteen songs on this album, only four feature singing, and only two of those are any good. Thatís because they feature only female vocals (the band members are listed by the initial of their first name, so I donít know who is who). When the girl sings, the bandís personality leans more toward slow-core giants Low and Empress. On the opening track, ìContemplating the Existence of the Leaves,î her vocals usher in a swell of flutes and synthesized strings that give the song a kind of bombast sorely lacking in the rest of the record. Although ìMetropolitan Fatal Dawnî begins with a chorus of droning cellos, it quickly turns into a suffocating acoustic dirge once she takes the microphone. Acetate Zero are at its closest to distinctiveness and brilliance when she sings. On the other hand, when the guy sings his tuneless warbling pummels the music into the abyss of suckdom. The first half of ìZealous Atomís Rageî is the worst vocal performance Iíve heard on a rock record all year, and the only thing that redeems the song is the fact that the girl takes over on vocals halfway through. The bandís instrumental compositions are tuneful and pretty, but overall theyíre just not dynamic enough to compensate for the lack of vocals. Youíll keep waiting for the shy, throaty vocals of the Adams
brothers to come in.

The dearth of true personality is even more evident in the remixes contained on the CD: the Remote Viewerís contribution sounds exactly like a Remote Viewer song, and Stewardís remix sounds exactly like Steward. While Softcore Paradise has its merits, it is firmly a ìRecommend If You Likeî record. Program the two songs with male singing out, and you have forty minutes of decent background music. Otherwise, I cannot enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who doesnít already own records by the any of the artists Iíve already cited. However, if the band decides to write lyrics for their next album, and NEVER, EVER, EVER LET THE GUY SING, Acetate Zero could really be on to something good.

--Sean Padilla

August 07, 2003

Camera Obscura "Teenager"

Wow!!! Camera Obscura return with this little teaser from their second album, Underachievers Please Try Harder. Their debut album was one of our favorites, and this little single really hints that, hey, the magic of Camera Obscura might not have even been close to developed on Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi! The lead song, "Teenager" is a wonderful little nugget of acoustic pop, and Tracyanne Campbell really has never sounded so charming and sweet! "I Don't Want To See You" is a quiet piano-led ballad and "Footloose and Fancy Free" is a wonderful country number sung by John Henderson. All three of these songs, though small and slight in sound, are all wonderfully well-developed numbers that are much more mature than their debut album. Looking forward to hearing that full length! Note: the album will be released by Merge Records in January (too long!) in the US, and rumors abound as to whether or not these songs will be on the American version. (They are--editor)

--Joseph Kyle

Cabrini "show-offs get hurt"

Cabrini, the project of Kory Ross and Austin Bean--two fellows from bands you've never heard of--is a band that redefines mellow. Show Offs Get Hurt, their debut album, runs no risk of being hurt, because they're not really showing off--after all, it ain't bragging if you can do it, and boy, Cabrini can do it. Show Offs Get Hurt doesn't sound like a low-budget home recording, but it is.

At times, Show Offs Get Hurt sounds an awful lot like a band I don't really care for, Death Cab for Cutie. Not only do Ross and Bean sound like them, they could easily pass as Ben Gibbard. Don't believe me? Think I'm indulging myself in Lazy Music Writer Hyperbole? Just listen to "Say 'I Love You'" and tell me I'm wrong. Go on, I dare you. See, you can't say that I'm wrong about that one. I'm not jumping to the sound of hip band references, either. If anything, they also should remind you that Death Cab For Cutie were, at one time, considered Built to Spill imitators. Then again, "Nine Thirty Line" sounds a lot like The Beatles' "You Won't See Me" via Aztec Camera, so it's not all about Gibbard.

Unlike Death Cab for Cutie's albums, Show Offs Get Hurt has not one bum note, not one wasted song, not one minute that should be/could be better. For a young band, this level of excellence is to be commended, even if it might happen to sound like the forthcoming album by Great White Indie Rock Hype. Cabrini's blend of soft, soothing atmospheres, kinda-sad but still smart lyrics, and the creamy crooning of Ross and Bean really cannot be beat.

If you're eager to hear the new Death Cab for Cutie record, yet have the moral compunction to not download it, then you should do yourself a favor and seek out Show Offs Get Hurt. You'll be glad you did--because not only will you not be stealing money out of Ben Gibbard's mouth, you'll also be giving money to two young men whose music deserves to be heard.

--Joseph Kyle

The Saturday People "The Saturday People"

Gotta love the DC music scene. Over the past twenty years, that one city's provided a range of wonderful, interesting and intelligent music. The Saturday People are indie-rock veterans of the scene, and it would probably be a lot easier to list the bands these guys haven't been in. Either way, their pedigree speaks for itself, and it's certainly a factor responsible for The Saturday People being a wonderful little record. The Saturday People's self-titled debut was a good, if not totally consistent pop affair. It balanced the sounds of old and new, and though some moments weren't as good as others, the album showed that they were capable of making some pretty good pop.

The cover art should tell you a great deal about what The Saturday People is going to sound like. Made up to look like a vinyl album of days gone by, The Saturday People is a vintage exploration of the wonderful indiepop of yore, with a hint or two of something a bit more retro. They have more than their fair share of jingle-jangle moments that just scream late 80s and early 90s retro indie-pop, but there are also moments of pure 60s harmony bliss, such as the lovely three-part harmonies on "Preamble" and "Man Without Qualities Pt. 1 (Drunk in the Babypool)." Could it be that The Saturday People are the first band to be retro about the retro bands of ten years ago? Are they the first retro-squared indie pop group? Of course, what DC indie-pop record would be complete without a visit from the ubiquitous Pam Berry? Yup, she pops up here on "No Photos Exist." Always good to hear her, you know. And the blissy, lovely "When You Come Around" and "Conditional Tense (Now It's Gone)" are worth the price of admission alone.

At first, I wasn't too keen on the six unlisted tracks at the end of the record, but listening to them again, they're actually quite rewarding. They're sonic clips--some from the previous songs, others are not--that are oddly ambient, yet highly melodic. Personally, I'd love to hear some of these ideas fleshed out, but that's just me. The Saturday People is a wonderfully strong mini-album, and it leaves me wondering when we'll hear more from these fellows.
A fine, fun and quality release from expert pop-makers and music reviewers.

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Survive & Advance, Volume Three"

And so, we come to the most common of albums: the label sampler. Sometimes, they're a boon of good music, sometimes, they're simply bust, opting instead for previously-released songs and/or soon-to-be hits of albums that are mere days away from release. Some labels release killer samplers: Darla, Parasol, Fat, Lookout--all of these labels have samplers you can trust. Others haven't quite caught the hang of it, though. Merge Records's quickly become a trustworthy label; in fact, they've only released one or two clunkers over the past few years.

The greatest aspect of Merge Records' newly-formed Survive and Advance series is the sheer quality of the music. Out of fourteen tracks, only eleven of them are previously released, and though it might be tempting to dismiss some of these "unreleased" tracks as leftovers (two of them are 'demos' of already released songs; in Spoon's case, the song was previously available in mp3 form; Crooked Fingers' "Angelina" is a live version recorded during a radio show, and M. Ward's "Fearless" is from one of his earlier albums), they don't really take anything away from the general kick-assness of the rest of Survive and Advance. The highlights are from longtime label stalwards; Lambchop's "Heavy Metal Trouble Girl" proves that it's been too long since the last Lambchop record, East River Pipe's "Hypnotized" is a stunning track that should have been on their newest record and Matt Elliott's "Brunlette Espagnol" makes up for--and sounds nothing like--his difficult solo debut. The album tracks, too, are incredibly strong; Matt Suggs' "Calm Down," Essex Green's "The Late Great Cassiopia" and

It seems strange for a Merge sampler without the genius of Stephin Merritt, and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, and still-there bands Spaceheads and Pram seem to be sadly missing from the fun times of Survive And Advance. It's true that you can't include everyone, and though Merritt and Trail of Dead have moved on to bigger labels, that whole sense of family will (hopefully) always assure them a place at the Merge table. In theory, at least. Still, Survive And Advance is an awesome little sampler from an awesome little label--and nice 'n' cheap for all you broke-ass college slackers.

--Joseph Kyle

The Carolines "Youth Electronics"

I'm going to do something right now that I never do. I'm going to make a wager with you, dear readers, about the fate of The Carolines. In one year's time, the following things are going to happen to The Carolines. There's going to be an indie-rock bidding war for them. Many major independent labels--and some majors--are going to want to sign them, but only one will win. (The odds are with Merge, Polyvinyl, Parasol, and Tiger Style.) I'm thinking they'll stick with a major indie. After they sign to said major indie label, it will not be long before the majors come around, wanting to take them on, and though I don't think they'll sign (they seem smarter than that), I think they'll give it some serious consideration.

They'll also tour like hell, and after that first gruelling yet satisfying tour, they'll get an invitation from a large band to be an opening act. Upon doing this, their visibility will increase, and they'll become one of those "must-see" bands. The reception will convince the band to tour on their own yet again, which will be important. Their next on-their-own tour will prove to be much better for them; the word-of-mouth of this young Portland band will certainly propel them to a whole other level. Because of this, they'll really hone their skills, and write a whole new batch of songs that are even better than their utterly flawless debut full length, Youth Electronics.

Yeah, there's Youth Electronics to talk about. See, the reason all of these things happen is simple: they've made one of the most impressive albums that critics (like yours truly) have heard. It's a blend of pure pop, with enough of a rock edge to never be too sweet. Baroque pop meets Seventies rock? The Carolines should be--and are going to be--hailed for creating such a blend. Critics liked to make comparisons to Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren, though others liked to point out that they have skills that also reminds you heavily of Superdrag, Superchunk circa Jim O'Rourke and/or Ben Folds, and that the worst song on the album (which is impossible for me to determine as they're all equally awesome) still sounds like the best song ever written by Ken Stringfellow on a bad day. As this critic would like to point out, the only thing that could make this album better would be a horn section, but I have this feeling that it's only a matter of time before they get one--making their already rich sound and ultra-tight harmonies even better. (Then again, you really cannot go wrong with a Wurlitzer and a Rhodes, can you?)

It's an exciting time to be in The Carolines. Big things are expected to happen over the next year, and for good reason--they deserve it. They sound great, and have made one of the best summertime records since I don't know when. I'll wager you that these things will come true within the next year, and, to be honest, it couldn't possibly happen to a better, nicer band. In fact, I'd like to inform you of a new feature, "The Carolines watch," to prove to you that my skills at future-predictions will indeed be as I predict. You should rush out now and buy Youth Electronics, because your life needs it, your wife needs it, and you want to stay ahead of the trend, don't you?s The Carolines have easily usurped the throne for "album of the year."

(Check 'em out NOW at

--Joseph Kyle

August 06, 2003

Ballboy "A Guide For The Daylight Hours"

Scottish quartet Ballboy’s first domestic full-length Club Anthems was actually a collection of previously released import EPs, and it positioned them as a half as literary yet twice as lovelorn version of Belle and Sebastian. Whereas that album was promising yet flawed, their first proper album A Guide for the Daylight Hours finds them confident and fully formed. They’ve become better editors by cutting down on the momentum-killing spoken-word bits and repetitious riffing that often dragged their songs to unreasonable lengths. The musicianship, especially the keyboard playing, has also improved. Other than that, though, little has changed in the world of Ballboy. They’re still a bunch of sarcastic Scots who use their wit as a shield for heartbreak and social ineptitude, and transform this duality into catchy songs with funny titles that won’t leave your head for weeks. They also have the decency to begin their album with a stone-cold classic, “Avant-Garde Music.”

In this song, singer/guitarist Gordon MacIntyre is so distressed over the San Franciscan girl who rejected him because he wasn’t “avant-garde enough” that not even a personal acknowledgment from the Queen of England can cheer him up. Yet, he still maintains that he doesn’t “give a f-k what she says or thinks” about him. We know he’s lying, but the band chugs behind him with a drive a conviction that almost makes it believable. “You Can’t Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around with Arseholes” finds MacIntyre sick and tired of pining in vain for a girl who’s too busy chasing after scenesters whom she’ll never fit in with. In another song, he tells a girl “I Wonder If You’re Drunk Enough to Sleep With Me Tonight.” His under-confidence becomes even more pathetic once you realize that the lyrics indicate that he’s already slept with the woman at least once. “Nobody Really Knows Anything” unflinchingly chronicles a relationship’s decline: the guy drinks himself into impotence while the girl starts courting her ex-boyfriends. In “Sex Is Boring,” a full-band remake of an acoustic Club Anthems song, MacIntyre ends up more interested in a girl’s record collection than her body. Daylight Hours ends with the surprisingly sinister “Meet Me at the Shooting Range,” in which he sings the quotable lines “If I was going to kill you, I wouldn’t tell you/I’m not going to kill you, but I realize that that’s what I would say.” Nick Cave would be proud.

The two songs that sum up the album’s theme the best are actually the ones that deviate most from Ballboy’s sonic template of shy crooning, jangly guitars, cheesy preset synths, and a driving rhythm section. With no more than ninety seconds of Gordon’s voice and guitar, “I Lost You but I Found Country Music” sketches the perfect anthem for anyone who has used music to recover from rejection. “A Europewide Search for Love” is the only entirely spoken-word track on the album, and it’s buttressed by a gorgeous string arrangement. In this song, MacIntyre ruminates about how matters of the heart take up more of most people’s thoughts than economic or political matters ever could. “If I lose some money, then I lose some money,” he says. “I don’t really care; tonight, I’m thinking about much more important things.” “Country Music” and “Search for Love” are positioned right next to each other at the middle of the Daylight Hours, giving the album a sort of pyramidal structure in which the first four songs build up to a climax and the final four songs come down from it.

If the words “Britpop” and “High Fidelity” mean anything to you, you should already own the import version of this record already. If they mean something to you and you DON’T already own this album, you are seriously out of character. Reward yourself for going against stereotype and save a couple of bucks by purchasing the domestic version, which has two great bonus tracks! The packaging is also worth mentioning because it includes a number of hilarious drawings and pictures from a guy named David Shrigley. Check out the “Swearing Contest” drawing in the CD’s inlay and you’ll see what I mean.

---Sean Padilla

Fred Avril "That Horse Must Be Starving"

Some artists mix styles together and they make a pleasant sound. Nothing too scary; nothing too dangerous--they just play one element off of another and in so doing, they create their own particular style. Personally, I love it when when someone can take their paintbrushes, slaps things together, and only after making what looks like a holy mess of things, can create a brilliant work of art. We're not talking cut-and-paste, we're talking about random acts of creativity.

Fred Avril is a musical Jackson Pollock. He's dripped and dribbled all sorts of sonic colors onto a musical canvas and has created a record that is wonderfully unclassifiable. Sure, he's playing around in that whole "electronica" genre, but Avril's not about to be pigeonholed that easily. He can't be, because he refuses to sit still. That Horse Must Be Starving, his debut album, makes a mockery of classification, because you'll never know what's going to pop up next. He'll throw in an industrial-style beat that gives way into a quiet, ambient passage, which then turns into a passionate ballad sung to a hypnotic drum beat.

Song titles? Meaningless, because he switches things around mid-song and you might think that it's a whole other track. Take "The Date." It starts off as a wonderful little dance song, but near the end of the track it ends and drifts into an ambient number with faint vocals. Perhaps the best of the lot is the utter free-for-all of "Big Wheel II" and "Global Headphones." These two epic numbers, over fifteen minutes, go through every change in the book. Dance into trance into country into...well, everything else...Avril's not content to give you one thing at a time. Smudging the styles like this is very risky; if you're not masterful enough, it will be a huge mess. Luckily, Avril pulls it off; That Horse Must Be Starving is an album in a class all by itself, with no equals.

Is Fred Avril the next Marc Almond? If he keeps it up, he certainly will be, and that's not coming from the obvious reference to "Tainted Love" in "Big Wheel II." Like Almond, Avril is a man whose art and music is fair game to his inspiration. He owes a deep debt to many kinds of styles, and he's not going to negate one or the other, simply because they might not seem compatable. And, yes, at times, it's utterly camp. If you're not enthralled, confused and frustrated by That Horse Must Be Starving, you either don't get it, or you're lying. Avril is an artist seeking out, simply because you'll probably not have such an utterly confounding and totally enriching experience this year.

--Joseph Kyle

August 03, 2003

Robin Guthrie "Imperial"

Any record that bears the name "Robin Guthrie" is going to be a pleasure. Whether it's the sterling, sparlking twinkle of the Cocteau Twins, or one of his later productions for his own label, Bella Union, you can rest assured that Guthrie's not going to slouch on the production, and he's very rarely let his audience down. (Okay, so Violet Indiana wasn't exactly a charmer, but let's not muck about on the kudos, okay?) Give him credit, too, for starting the wonderful Bella Union label. Thus, it is nothing more than obvious--or more honest--to say that you know exactly what you're going to get from Imperial. Guthrie's style is so distinct, so original and so obvious, to expect anything more would be asking too much. Just don't worry about what he's going to give you, it's going to be a quality production.

While it's true that everything on Imperial sounds like a Guthrie production, there is one thing that is quite conspicuous in its absence--vocals. Once again, though, Guthrie's expert production is an assurance that you won't miss them--and you don't. In fact, it's a good thing that there is no singing; vocals cover up the beauty found in instrumentation. While beautiful vocals have always been the strongest feature of Guthrie's productions, with that distraction gone, he has to focus on the minute details--a twinking piano here, a pulsing yet very faint heartbeat beat there--which really turn his songs into a quiet and subtle symphony for the subconscious. Though the overall feel of Imperial is not far removed from the Cocteau Twins' collaboration with pianist Harold Budd, Guthrie has certainly grown as a producer and as a composer. Indeed, on the opening title track, the quiet drum-machine beat towards the end of the song turns it away from an ethereal instrumental into something more--blues based? Rock oriented? Laugh as you will, but edit about a minute off of the song, and "Imperial" would fit quite well in any detective movie or police TV drama.

Perhaps, though, the most minor weakness is the strength of his past. He doesn't have to win anyone over, and if you're not willing to accept the music on that level, you could easily think that he's simply reliant to recreate past victories. It's certainly not the case, mind you, but if you own more than two of his previous records, you'll be well-versed with what Imperial sounds like. When Guthrie introduces quiet, subtle beats to his music, you kind of wonder if he's going to delve further into beats and rhythms. Sadly, he doesn't stray too far from the Robin Guthrie formula; while extremely satisfying, it does leave the listener wanting a little bit more from the music. At times, I get the distinct feeling that he's practicing restraint; the first time I listened to "Music for Labour," I kept waiting for it to turn into a dancefloor-ready electronica beat...but it didn't. It would have been wonderful, of course.

Instead of taking gigantic leaps, he seems more content to quietly let change happen--no need to rush, is there? Some might say that this isn't particularly risky, but why should he? After twenty years of brilliant music, Guthrie has nothing to prove, and he doesn't have to. Imperial might not add anything new or innovative to the already well-respected Robin Guthrie canon, but it certainly does not take anything away from it, either. Will he ever reach the same heights as he did with the Cocteau Twins? Maybe he will--or maybe not. At this point in time, he doesn't need to try anymore, and that's the best thing about Imperial. A well made album by a master album-maker--no surprises, no shocks, no alarms required, and none given.

--Joseph Kyle

Tosca "Dehli9"

Ah, dance music. There have been some real innovators over the past few years, names that instantly earn the respect of the devoted, and Germany has produced many of them. One of the more notable groups of note has been a duo, Kruder & Dorfmeister. More known for their mixing and their sporadic singles than they are for any one hit, they are a name that holds a great deal of respect in the electronica/dance world today. Because they are not very prolific, they are a rather scarce, unknown act, and they both do a lot of work outside of the Kruder & Dorfmeister partnership. Tosca is the brainchild of Richard Dorfmeister, with the help of longtime friend and collaborator, Rupert Huber. Delhi9, their latest album, is divided into two distinct, individual parts, seperated by two disks.

The first part of Delhi9 is exactly what you'd expect from Tosca. It's mellow dance music, not too fast, yet not too slow. At times, it borders on easy listening or jazz; the beat is never intense; it's just great music for lounging with a smooth, stiff drink. We're talking about a danceable version of lounge music. Rave music? Hardly. Easy listening for the post-ecstacy set? Exactly. Though the duo's work together is strictly instrumental, they do employ several guest vocalists, which range from the detached Anna Clements' 'lyrics' (just the same line repeated for several minutes) on "Me & Yoko Ono," and "Oscar," Earl Zinger's britpop-flavored singing on "Wonderful," to the toasting of Tweed on "Gute Lounge," the vocals serve as nothing more than extra flavoring to some really wonderful dance beats. All of this first disc flows together quite naturally, with a really laid-back vibe that cannot be beat. It's like a summer night at Ibiza, sans the drugs and sex and violence.

The second part of Delhi9 is totally opposite than the first. Where the first part of the album is a warm, upbeat Saturday night of a record, part two is a cold, dreary, hungover Sunday morning of a record. Instead of the warm tones of the first set, this disc is based off of Rupert Huber's own composition, "12 Easy To Play Piano Pieces." Instead of dance beats and warm rhythms, you're given ambient sounds that occasionally drift into New Age. Some of the pieces sound like a second-rate Brian Eno imitation, and others sound like a brilliant continuation of Harold Budd's ideas. This disc is a pleasant enough listen, but it's not exactly original, nor does it leave much of an impression. It's worth noting, though, that the piano touches on this disc do pop up on the first disc, on songs such as "Mango di Bango."

While Kruder & Dorfmeister may be a sporadic project, it's good to know that Dorfmeister's brilliance continues in other formats. Delhi9 is a lovely, brilliant record, full of soothing, mellow yet dancefloor-ready moments. A lovely collection of songs from one of the dance world's most respected talents, Delhi9 never gives itself over to painful pretension or difficult soundscapes--and that includes the difficult, downbeat second disc. A true pleasure from beginning to end.

--Joseph Kyle


You wouldn't think from listening to this record that S Prcss are a band ahead of its time. Their latest album MNML falls right in line with all the five billion other indie bands making arty, vaguely danceable post-punk with electronic elements at the moment. It was released by a label that's already put out records by similar bands Les Savy Fav and Enon, which makes it sound even more like a record slightly behind its time. The lack of attention that MNML has received in the music press since its release indicates that the market for this kind of music has long been cornered, to the point where a backlash almost seems inevitable. That would be unfair to S Prcss, though, because they've been making this music way before it became fashionable. Their previous album More Me energetically breezed through ten songs in less than a half-hour, as if the band just couldn't wait to show everyone all of the tricks they learned from their first Gang of Four records. This was way back in 2001, which isn't that long ago in real life but can seem like decades ago to a rock critic. This was before Williamsburg became the new center of cool, before the Providence scene developed its noise fetish, and before high school kids in Lubbock were able to convincingly shout "Who rocks the party that rocks the body?" without ever having heard a Slick Rick record. More Me was a great record that happened to be out of its proper context, and it sank under the radar rather quickly. The band's inability to tour behind it, due to the members living in different cities, didn't help matters much either.

Anyway, times have changed and so has this band. They've dropped the vowels from their name, dropped a member from the band (they now have a rotating spot for the bass player), moved to the same city, and gotten both artier and more tuneful. For the most part, the dissonant scraping that characterized the guitar playing on More Me has vanished. In its place is a style of guitar playing closer to that of U2's the Edge, with lots of single-note melodies run through copious amounts of delay for rhythmic effect. Guitarist Bob Doto has grown more comfortable as a singer, projecting at the right moments and layering his raspy vocals on top of each other to create exquisite harmonies like those on "Hiyah Is a Karate Chop." He also breaks his words apart to fit the rhythm of the song, placing emphases on unexpected syllables; for instance, on opener "A Boulder Tycoon or Enya" the word "experimental" becomes "Ex-pair…ee-men…tal." This makes his already cryptic lyrics even harder to decipher properly.

I mean, who the hell really knows what he's talking about in songs with E.E. Cummings-style titles like "The Geometric Is Written Is:" and "In Its Mouth a Murder. Oh MNML"? I mean, the latter song can be interpreted as an attack on dishonest people ("Et tu brute simulacra/Million times removed"), and "Our Bikes Are Silver. Her Bed Is Hers" ends with what could be a challenge to potential date rapists: "All you boys so in love: are you prepared to get off when she says to you, "get off," and tells you to go jerk off?" However, Doto almost always throws in a turn of phrase that throws whatever logic one tries to establish within the lyrics out of the window. Lyrically, the most direct moment on MNML is album closer "I Heart You," in which Doto enumerates everything he likes about a particular girl. That song notwithstanding, Doto's obfuscation is by no means a bad thing…and even if it was, moments like the Pixies surf-punk riff that drives "Boulder Tycoon" and the spaghetti-Western techno of "Geometric" will keep you too busy jumping around to really care.

The album's only weak spot is "Spring Garden Drive-By," the only song that drummer Daneil Mazone sings. It's a tone-deaf, super-referential shout-out to the Providence music scene that has the same momentum-killing effect that Kim Gordon's songs have had on recent Sonic Youth records (Murray Street notwithstanding). Mazone is a capable drummer, but someone might want to auto-tune her vocals the next time she steps up to the microphone. Otherwise, every track on MNML is solid, with even the brief instrumental jams serving as effective palate cleansers in between the "proper" songs. Of particular note among these interludes is "Random Factor/Start Code," which sounds like a typewriter and a video game having a war with each other. Maybe on future albums S Prcss can do more to incorporate moments like that into the "proper" songs. They don't have to completely segregate the noise from the music for the sake of accessibility. I'm pretty sure that with S Prcss finally functioning as an all-in-one-place band, they'll take a couple of steps away from the sterility that occasionally plagues MNML (its songs WERE written through the mail, after all). Overall, though, this album is excellent, and deserves so much more than to be filed away as just another genre exercise.

---Sean Padilla