October 28, 2004

Kill Yourself "soft touch of man"

England’s a cold, grimy place, which might explain why in recent years a number of English bands have taken a shine to that dirty, grimy Midwestern sound spearheaded by groups like The Jesus Lizard, Tar, Shellac, and maybe even Dazzling Killmen. And with the recent successes and quasi-successes of Giddy Motors and McClusky (who actually might be Scottish), could this Chicago infatuation eventually turn the British Isles on its head? Will all the Radiohead baby bands who have populated the airwaves here and there now become worshippers at the altar of Steve Albini and David Yow? From the looks (the cover features a stark portrait of a muzzled canine) and sounds of Kill Yourself’s debut recording, it could very well be so.

Taking most of their cues from the growling, hard-hitting intensity of Shellac, the trio run through an industrial, gray set of 7 songs in an equally industrial, gray 26 minutes. Factory-like, staccato, heavy-handed rhythms sit alongside weird chords that don’t quite sit with you. Every few minutes a guy whose voice falls somewhere between a less provocative Steve Albini and a gravelly English longshoreman appears to rant and rave about moustaches, coffee, computers, ribs, and ID’s. Check out these colorful excerpts and you might get the picture: “I am a watchtower/I am a real man” (from Computron 2000); “I have a moustache/but I ain’t no homo” (from “Moustache”).

While Kill Yourself may be the obvious product of their influences, the group manages to put enough of themselves to keep it interesting and, judging from the lyrical content, damn entertaining. The Soft Touch Of Man is a respectable debut in my book.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

Artist Website: http://www.obscenebabyauction.tk
Label Website: http://www.gringorecords.com

Quintron "The Frog Tape"


You may think you know what they sound like, you may think they simply go 'ribbit', but in all actuality, they're the source of some of the more disturbingly mysterious sounds you'll hear at any forest or lake. Emitting a low-cycle hum, mixed with other odd, inexplicable noises, if you're ever in the presence of a large group of frogs, you'll hear a sound that's most...unsettling.

Of course, it would require a swamp-raised musical marvel like Mister Quintron to fully realize the potential of frogs as musical collaborators, but he's done it, and here it is. Actually, The Frog Tape was first released as a tour-only cassette, but then some people complained that this surprisingly ingenious collection needed to be reissued, and here it is. Enlisiting the assistance of the Boys Club Swamp Frogs, Quintron and his cast of thousands has created what is perhaps the best Halloween mood music since The Exorcist soundtrack.

True, there aren't very many 'songs' on here; a cover of "Stray Cat Strut" is nothing more than the melody line from the song repeated over and over on organs with the frogs in the background. For the most part, it's just haunting-sounding organ and the frogs. As novel as the concept may seem, The Frog Tape is far from a novelty record. In a weird way, it's quite the entrancing listen; the frogs are heard throughout, providing a disturbing hum over Quintron's signature organ accompaniment. Sometimes you can't really hear them, sometimes their presence is overwhelming, but those frogs, they're there, man. If you don't like frogs, then I highly suggest you skip over the final magnum opus, the 15-minute frog symphony entitled, quite simply, "Frogs."

The world needs more halloween music--and The Frog Tape would actually be quite the compelling soundtrack for haunted houses, twisted parties and just plain old weird folk. And, true, you might not listen to it outside of the last week of October, but then again, do you really listen to your Christmas records after the 25th?
Didn't think so. All Hallow's Eve just got a new addition to the canon.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Styrofoam "Nothing's Lost"

Nothing's Lost is the third album by Belgian electronica composer Arne van Petegem, better known as Styrofoam. A staple of the German scene (based around influential label Morr Music), Styrofoam's sound is a gentle atmosphere pulsed by a soft undercurrent of electronic beats and various electronic sounds. For this record, he's enlisted the help of several notable musicians, including members of American Analog Set, The Notwist, Lali Puni and Death Cab For Cutie/The Postal Service. Considering the help he has, it's no surprise, then, that Nothing's Lost is an interesting mesh of both electronica and more traditional rock influences.

Styrofoam's stylistic blend is nowhere near as awkward as that description might lead you to believe. After all, Ben Gibbard impressed and surprised a lot of people with his new project The Postal Service. Indeed, "Couches in Alleys" sounds very much like a continuation of the ideas found on Give Up, and this song finds Gibbard in particularly rare form. His naturally sad lyrics play well against Styrofoam's gentle, heartbreaking beat, and it's quite clear that Gibbard is a man who can tackle any style with great aplomb. Though it would not be unsurprising that Gibbard's track would serve as the album's focal point, that doesn't mean that the rest of the album pales in comparison, nor would such attention serve justice to Styrofoam's music, because "Couches in Alleys" is not the best song on Nothing's Lost

"Inspired" is perhaps the best adjective to describe Styrofoam's selection of guest vocalists. Lali Puna's Valerie Trebeljahr's detatched singing on "Misguided" is a must-hear, and the rap of Anticon's Alias adds a certain depth that most electronical lacks. "Anything" follows up on that initial blast of boy/girl vocal exchange; Das Pop's Bent van Loy's lead vocals are rough and are nicely accompanied by the song's beat and the utterly heavenly vocals of Pitchturner's Miki make the song even dreamier. Perhaps the best moment would be "Front to Back," which features the vocals of American Analog Set's Andrew Kenny. He sings with a very lush croon and he sounds quite at home with Styrofoam's gentle, soft world.

Indeed, Nothing's Lost is an invitation to a sensual, dreamy world of sound; it's a record full of meaningful moments and quiet reflection and gentle yet heart-poundingly soft rhythms, sure to set your slow-dancing emo heart on fire. A gentle pleasure, this record--so gentle, in fact, it made me forget the fact that I generally can't stand the music of Ben Gibbard.

--Joseph Kyle

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

October 27, 2004

Tree of Snakes "Peanut Butter & Smelly"

Columbus, Ohio’s Tree of Snakes have finally released something. The band’s beer-soaked three-chord-basement indie punk has been getting Ohio drunk for the past three years or so, and now we get a release from them. 8 songs, each clocking in at under 2:00. Yet, much to our surprise….it’s acoustic! While quite a departure from their usual stylings, Unplugged really works for them. It sounds wonderful, too. It showcases the band’s songwriting in a different light. These guys are not out to prove anything; they’re having a great time, and it shows. One listen to this disc will tell you that Tree of Snakes are definitely a great time. The songs are catchier than the flu, most notably “Serious Knife Fight” and “Earl”. The album’s closer, “Beerless in Seattle” comes all too quickly (each song being under two minutes), but word on the street is that these dudes are going to release a rock album at the beginning of the year. Keep your ear to the ground for that, and while you’re waiting, pick up Unplugged.

--Kyle Sowash

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

DJ Krush "Jaku"

Jaku, the thirteenth album by reknowned Japanese electronica genius DJ Krush, is an amazing blend of beats, blissful ambience, traditional Japanese instrumentation and many other hypnotic sounds. The resulting mix is so contageous and narcotic, I seriously do not recommend you listening to this while operating heavy equipment. That sounds like record reviewer hyperbole, but it's not; Krush's trance-like rhythms can easily lull you into an enlightened, distracted state.

Instead of a pulsating, schizophrenic dance beat, DJ Krush has opted for a much more cinematic landscape, in the literal sense; almost all of Jaku feels theatrical, but it's never melodramatic. As a result, it's not uncommon for you to feel as if you know these songs already; you'll swear you've heard "Still Island" before, even if you don't know where. Jaku is an album of heady incidental music, but don't let that term put you off, because it's easily some of the darkest, foreboding incidental music you'll ever hear--the jazzy "Stormy Cloud," for instance, sounds like a dark alleyway on a stormy Wednesday night. If you feel uncomfortable, that only means DJ Krush has done his job right.

As is often the case with such music, it would be rather easy for Jaku to become monotonous, and Krush wisely breaks this tendency by using several guest vocalists, including Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock and Akira Sakata. While Sakata's contribution is traditional Japanese folk singing, both Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock add a hip-hop touch. Krush's choice of collaborators is inspired, and both songs--especially "Kill Switch"--are some of the better hip-hop tracks I've heard all year. Despite their quality, because of the general nature of the rest of the album, both songs are incongruous with the mood of the Jaku; the beat is amazing, the rhymes even more so, but for this record, they simply feel out of place.

That's a minor quibble, though; Jaku is still an excellent record, even with those songs. If you're looking for brooding mood music for a dark, stormy Sunday night, or you simply want to liven things up in the bedroom by creating a tense, near violent atmosphere, then DJ Krush will serve you well. Just be warned, though, if things get disturbing.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.djkrush.com
Label Website: http://www.sonymusic.com

Monorail "A Whole New City"

I don't know what the story is about DC-via-Florida band The Monorail, but I really would like to learn more. This Jacksonville-based foursome has just released A Whole New City, which I am assuming is their debut, and it's an interesting, if not wholly satisfying, collection of fresh new sounds. It's quite clear that these guys have some major pop druthers, and it's also quite obvious they're quite fond of le Indie Rock, but they have enough talent to blur the lines between those styles, and they do so with very little effort.

Seriously, though--it's rare for such a young band to sound this..this...TIGHT, especially on their debut. These guys have some great singing (think Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay meets Dismemberment Plan's Travis Morrison, if you must), their rhythm section is top-notch and always on the beat, and there's plenty of hard, crunchy guitars--so soundwise, they're quite varied. From the tight, funky rhythm of "The Shizampah" to the mellowed out dance beat of "The Club" and the jazzy "Writing Has No Volume," these guys clearly prove that they can deftly take on--and master--fast-paced rockers and mellow ballads.

Normally, I'm not keen on emo-ish rock, and there are moments here and there that kind of edge towards that direction, but thankfully they move away from those murky waters quite quickly. Though The Monorail's sound is great, I'm also a little bit antsy about the singing. While Andy Matchett occasionally sounds a lot like Braid/Hey Mercedes' Bob Nanna, it's not a problem that makes me dislike their music. There's also a really, really cool Dismemberment Plan-style vibe running through the entire record, most obvious on "Writing Has No Volume." Making this song even more interesting is that it was written in 1998, and though I have no history of this particular song, I can't help thinking these kids beat Travis to the punch.

I'm impressed by this little record. The Monorail's a great little band, and I think it's time you help out a great little band by checking these guys out. You'll enjoy this little record, and there's enough evidence that their forthcoming album, A Thousand Reactions is going to be brilliant.

--Joseph Kyle

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

October 26, 2004

AM "Francophiles & Skinny Ties"

With a swagger straight out of 1979, Brooklyn band AM rock and rock hard on Francophiles & Skinny Ties, their debut mini-album. With a sound that's torn someplace between that whole 'new rock and roll' thing from a few years ago and pure British punk--Buzzcocks, not Sex Pistols--this threesome blend unapologetic rock riffs ("Sex N Drugs") and hard yet gracefully melodic moments ("Quiet N Dayglo"), AM deftly pulls faces at all that come in its wake. Poppy at times, full of drunken swagger at others--and James Jones is easily the best snotty singer since Mclusky, the eight songs on Francophiles & Skinny Ties does exactly what it needs to do and then get the hell out of here--not a moment of the eighteen minutes on here is wasted in the least. Could they offer more than that? Probably, but too much would weigh it down. A quick blast of rock and roll music, just like they used to make it.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Silver Sunshine "silver Sunshine"

Silver Sunshine prove to be a bit of a confounding little group. They're a tight little four-piece who, unintentionally or not, are a retro group. It's clear they've got a sweet tooth for the Sixties, and it's also quite clear that they've got a penchant for the indie-rock bands of the 1990s who had a sweet tooth for the Sixties. So which are they-- are they inspired by the inspired, or are they inspired by those inspired by the inspired? Think about it.

Thought about it?

It's hard--if not nearly impossible--for a young band to avoid sounding like those who inspire them, and though that's true, it's hard to listen to Silver Sunshine, because the songs occasionally sound too similar to more familiar tunes. "Trinkets," for instance, sounds a bit like The Beatles' "Rain," and it doesn't help that the singer sounds a dead ringer for John Lennon. But don't think they're going for a Beatles style, either; "If I had The Time" sounds too much like "Last Train to Clarksville" for my taste, and let's hope that the lawyers of the writer of "Happy Together" don't hear "Way Up In the Big Sky," either. What makes these blatent rip-offs so frustrating is that it's obvious these guys can play quite well. Good musicians shouldn't resort to such...thievery?

When they're not sounding like the hitmakers of the past, they tread the same territory as Beulah, Stereolab and Of Montreal, and though they might not have the most original sound, it's on songs "Velvet Skies," "Miranda May" and "Greenfield Park" that they start to form their own musical identity. It's not always prevalent, but it's there. In the future, Silver Sunshine should focus on less distinctive styles, so that their next record won't seem so--unoriginal.Silver Sunshine means well, but a little more work should be spent on developing their own identity.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.silversunshine.com
Label Website: http://www.wishingtreerecords.com

Absinthe Blind "Winning Is Our Business and Business Is Good"

Champaign, Illinois' Absinthe Blind were one of those great bands you never heard about. Led by members of the Fein family, this sibling group blended indie-rock with Britpop and shoegazer, mixed it all together with a great deal of melody and stunning atmosphere resulting in obscure album after album of really beautiful music. Their last album, Rings, was easily their best; that it was their final farewell makes the album's excellence even more frustrating. It should have been a bigger album; it should have been one that established Absinthe Blind as more than a really good regional band. It didn't; leader Adam Fein left the band, and they regrouped as Headlights.

Winning Is Our Business and Business Is Good is a wrap-up of the band's loose ends; this double Cd-R package is a labor of love from the band, and is a fitting farewell. That it's compiled on handmade cd-roms with printed-up sleeves only adds to the intimate, labor-of-love feel that made the band so likeable in the first place. It doesn't really seem right that the band would have to revert to such budget-string tactics, especially considering the quality of their music, but such is the fickle nature of this business. It's a shame, for if any record deserves lush packaging, it's this one; there should be an ornate cover with detailed history and photographs and recollections and song descriptions...but alas, it is not to be.

But where to begin? There's plenty of ground to cover, but, ultimately, the sound always remained the same. Like all good bands, they occasionally experimented with their sound, but they never strayed from their post-shoegaze Britpop-inspired dreampop style. From loud, powerful rockers, such as outtake "So You're The Hero" and B-Side "Doing Exactly What You Want" to quiet, atmospheric acoustic numbers (witness the title track, "Worth The Time" and "Phoenix") to blissed-out numbers that were heavy on both power and beauty ("Orphans,""Small")--they could handle it all. Heck, even two risky dance remixes--"It's Your Life"and "The Threat" (based on "The Truth That Paints Your Eyes" and "Do You Know What You Mean To Me, respectively) work quite well. The only time the collection really falters are on the good-but-you-shoulda-been-there-instead live covers of "Shout" and "Don't You Forget About Me." They're well-performed, but in this collection, they seem out of place.

So as the final chapter of Absinthe Blind closes, a new one begins; from the remnants of their career, Winning Is Our Business and Business Is Good not only shows that Headlights have a lot of work ahead of them if they wish to better Absinthe Blind's greatest heights, but it also gives ample evidence that they should have no problem carrying the torch. A fond, fitting farewell to a really great band.

--Joseph Kyle

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

October 25, 2004

the eames era 'the second ep'

The Second EP by The Eames Era is a quick blast of jangly mid-1990s indie-pop, and boy, does their sound take me back! Lead singer Ashlin Philips could pass for Velocity Girl's Sarah Shannon, and that crunchy guitar work and occasional boy vocal reminds me a lot of Mr. Archie Moore. Philips sings softly ("I Said"), sweetly ("Could Be Anything") and sassy ("All of Seventeen"), and I'm not complaining about that one bit! The only thing I'd want to warn this young band is that they should probably work on a sound that's a little more varied from song to song, else you could get trapped in your style--just like what happened to Velocity Girl.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.theeamesera.com
Label Website: http://www.cstudentrecords.com

oRSo "my dreams are back and they are better than ever"

Chicago's oRSo, the free jazz-slash-country-slash-whatever the hell you want to call it project of Phil Spirito (Rex, Red Red Meat) has delivered yet another utterly wonderful little record filled with all sorts of sounds, and it's about time. Bearing the same sort of pleasantly unclassifiable roots folky whatever songs that made them so appealing with Long Time By, the appropriately titled My Dreams Are Back and They Are Better Than Ever proves to be a wonderfuly confounding yet always quite enjoyable listen.

When I say oRSo is unclassifiable, I do so with amused and impressed confusion. Each listen yielded a different interpretation of what they were setting out to accomplish, and as this review is being written, it's impossible to say with any certainty that any of these particular interpretations are right or wrong. On one listen, songs like "Wedding Day," "Everyman's Blues" and "Old Times" made me think of oRSo as a jazz band with a banjo. At other times, such as on "Milanesa Two," they sound like a country band that's inspired by early 1960s jazz innovators like John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy. After hearing "Oh Look Singing I Can Watch This" and "Crown Point," I thought oRSo sounded like an experimental string quartet who were augmented by a very distinctive folk singer. Each listen to My Dreams Are Back And They Are Better Than Ever differed ever-so-slightly from the one before,

That oRSo's stylistic inspirations are so incongruous makes their music so appealing. You really can't be sure of what's going to come next, and it's the anticipation that comes from listening that makes My Dreams Are Back And They Are Better Than Ever such an enjoyable listen. Throw in just a slight lo-fi quality to the songs, and you'll quickly discover a traditional sounding record that sounds wonderfully out of this world

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.bintofamily.com
Label Website: http://www.perishablerecords.com

October 24, 2004

Auburn Lull "Cast From The Platform"

The artwork of Michigan quartet Auburn Lull’s sophomore album Cast from the Platform consists of blurry but nonetheless strategically positioned photographs of nature scenes and architectural designs (bridges, satellites, windmills). Many of the song titles (“Jersey Narrows,” “Trenches,” “Direction and Destination”) allude to geography. After releasing their wonderful debut Alone I Admire in 1998, the band waited nearly five years to begin recording a follow-up…at a studio called the Simultaneous Workshop, no less! Take all of these facts into consideration, and you can conclude before even listening to Cast from the Platform that the members of Auburn Lull take their time crafting songs, putting careful consideration into every note, word and beat. The actual music on the CD underscores this conclusion by sounding just as hazy and deliberate as its artwork would imply.

Even from the beginning, Auburn Lull were even more reliant on pure atmosphere than their dreampop/shoegaze ancestors. The songs on Cast from the Platform sound as if they’re being recorded from the bottom of a well, with reverb serving almost as a fifth member of the band. The reverb is so thick that even when singer Sean Heenan’s breathy tenor is in the front of the mix, the lyrics remain mostly indecipherable. In a peculiar sonic role reversal, the guitars are completely stripped of their attack so that they sound almost like keyboards, and the keyboards are often percussive enough to resemble guitars. Bassist Jason Kolb keeps his presence subtle, almost to the point of being subliminal. Some of the songs don’t even have a discernible bass line. Every instrument is light and airy when heard individually, but when put together they form a dense and foggy web of sound.

Where Cast from the Platform differentiates itself from its predecessor is in the band’s occasional employment of minimalism. A number of this album’s songs use space and silence to great effect, suggesting what dub versions of long-lost Slowdive songs would sound like. On the appropriately named “Season of False Starts,” Jason Wiesinger’s brushed drums are rendered unbearably heavy by an even thicker cloud of reverb than usual, as well as the constant stops and starts in his own playing. Heenan’s voice shares center stage with the drums, while the other instruments play just enough to outline the barest sketch of a chord progression. None of the musicians play an actual chord until the last minute of the song, but by then most listeners will have already filled the blanks of the song in their heads. “Direction and Destination” begins with waves of guitar that slowly rise, ebb and disappear. Halfway through the song, Wiesinger starts playing at twice the speed of the rest of the band, unleashing a series of jazzy, machine-gun drum fills. Despite the aggression and virtuosity of his playing, the drums still sound light as feathers in the context of the rest of the song.

Most of the album’s songs, though, continue the expansive layering that Auburn Lull perfected on Alone I Admire. “Jersey Narrows” begins with a scratchy drum loop and faraway keyboard drones. Heenan’s voice is slowly run through an ever-increasing amount of delay. As this happens, the drum programming gets exponentially intricate, the guitars start getting louder and higher and the bowed celli of producer/guest musician Andrew Prinz (who, by the way, runs the Simultaneous Workshop and is a member of the equally brilliant outfit Mahogany) starts ricocheting from speaker to speaker. The song ends in a much more intense state than it began in. “Deterior” does the same trick almost in reverse: first it builds up a mass of guitars and keyboards, then it lets splashy drumming and lush vocal harmonies provide the big finish. Even on the comparatively conventional album closer “Shallow in Youth,” on which the band sounds like they’re playing in a gymnasium instead of a well, they make room for a brief outburst of hissing cymbals and white noise before saying goodbye.

It took a while for Auburn Lull to return, but it was well worth the wait --- every second of Cast from the Platform is a pleasure to listen to, a soothing soundtrack for sweet slumber. Once content to be compared to great dreampop bands from 10 to 20 years ago, Auburn Lull has now become the kind of band that can influence its own generation of neophytes. I would definitely be willing to wait another six years for a third album that will be as much of an improvement on Platform as Platform is on the band’s debut. Keep up the good work, guys!

---Sean Padilla

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

Method and Result "The Things You Miss"

The husband and wife duo The Method and Result have really made a mark for themselves. On their debut EP, The Things You Miss, they offer 6 songs of excellence sure to make you remember them by. The group succeeds at what the Dismemberment Plan tried to pull off during the latter part of their career with the help of their drum machine’s precision. As you'd expect, tricky time signatures and clever lyrics run rampant on this disc. Frontwoman Megan Wendel tackles topics from admiring strangers “Party List” to playing it safe “Safety Scissors”. Lyric of the week (from “Party List”): “I think I like you but I don’t know why/it comes and goes”. All in all, a wonderful release. My only gripe is that its too short. -

--Kyle Sowash

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

October 22, 2004

point line plane 'smoke signals'

Last year, Point Line Plane's self-titled debut really impressed me. I raved about their wonderfully fun screamy parts, their entertainingly weird, robotic new wave noise parts and their general devil-may-care attitude that vibrated through their music. Even though the music was far from a bold statement of artistic genius, Point Line Plane thumbed its nose at the oft uber-serious noise-rock scene. As silly and noisy and fun as Point Line Plane may have been, It wasn't hard to hear that the band have a talent that runs deeper than their music would lead you to believe. Secretly, though, I worried; it didn't seem like the band's style would translate into anything more than one fun album. I wondered if they would find a way to mature their style without losing the elements that make their music enjoyable.

Smoke Signals, their second album, isn't that grand statement, but it's certainly a step in that direction. Gone are the loud screaming blasts of noise has been replaced with a refined focus on mellower--almost gentle--ambient waves of sound. The band's expanded sound isdue to the addition of a third party, Howard Gillam. This isn't the only change to the band's style, though. The singing has gone from insane yelling to a nearly gothic/blues-based croon, not unlike a more disturbed Gary Numan. Point Line Plane's restraint and maturity over their previous records is reminiscent of Black Dice's transformation from screamo/grindcore to electronica. True, some elements of the band's past remain--check out "Descender" and "Adult Contempt" for those moments, but throughout the rest of the album--such as on the lovely "The Messenger" and "B.U.G.S."--you could be forgiven for thinking this wasn't Point Line Plane at all! So, I'm happy.

The final song on Smoke Signals, "Lights Out II," is a number that's brief, but it gives hope for their future. It's a mellow instrumental, with a gentle, repetitive rhythm. It's somewhat Eno, somewhat Low-era Bowie, and it's not really like the rest of Smoke Signals, either. If expanded by more than the 1:36 time length, Point Line Plane could easily take their music into beautiful galaxies that are far, far away from anything they've done before, and this little snippet shows that such an adventure would more than likely be quite worthwhile.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.pointlineplane.net
Label Website: http://www.skingraftrecords.com

October 18, 2004

Year Future "The Hidden Hand"

Sonny Kay's (Angel Hair/The VSS/GSL Records) newest project, Year Future, offers us three new songs, and from the quality of the material, I wonder why these guys simply haven't gotten around to going full-out for a full length. These songs are hard, in-your-face and compelling, but with a difference--they're dark and they're coated in post-punk atmosphere. It's not screamy, it's not preachy, but it's some of the most politically informed commentary I've heard in quite some time. "Nature Unveiled" is a song about society's tendency to drug itself into submission in order to simply cope with life: "If our senses served our sentences then 'truth' wouldn't be the consequence of prescription-written invitations." Deep! The other two songs, "Police Yourself" and "The Hidden Hand," are rants about the government, and though they're as in-your-face as the first song, music-wise they're not as strong. Still, The Hidden Hand shows that they're growing and maturing quite nicely; if they keep it up, they'll wind up leaving a nice impression on the bland, boring "punk rock" scene. God, I hope so.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.yearfuture.net
Label Website: http://www.goldstandardlabs.com

See Venus "Hard Time For Dreamers"

Fort Lauderdale's See Venus certainly ake a soft-rock splach with Hard Time For Dreamers, their long-overdue debut album. This five piece have some quite obvious loves: Beach Boys, Bacharach, as well as the soft-rock hits of the sixties, seventies, eighties and today. The only thing that ever makes the record cause your pulse to race is the dreamy croning of lead sindger Rocky Ordonez, who coos and sings in a so-sweet-it'll-kill-ya voice that instantly draws you in and soothes your heartbroken soul. (Rocky is a woman, by the way.)

See Venus has a great variety of musical instrumentation at their disposal--from keyboards to coronets, marimbas and melodicas (oh my!), as well as accompaniment by enough instruments to form a soft-rock symphony. All of these thigs combined with the band's ovbious sweet-tooth for pop music guarantees (or at least promises) that you're going to get some interesting pop tunes. Just dig on the opening number, "Trust," with its breezy, Billy Joel meets Bacharach meets Christopher Cross-style vibe; it sounds about as lovely as a warm summer's walk on a moonlit beach. The same with the really cool, mellow "I'll Bet You Know" and "Each And Every Word"--two songs that could have easily been hits this summer, and both are excellent mix-tape crush song fodder.

Despite the pop goodness, there's one major flaw. If, upon reading the above description, you were instantly reminded of Stereolab, then you'll know how the record sounds. While there's nothing inherently wrong with sounding like Stereolab, it guarantees that the band will be held up to a standard that they may not be able to live up to. Though See Venus have yet to come close to making Peng, but Hard Time For Dreamers shows that they've got some great ideas, and maybe with a little time and maturity,they'll be able to shake those Stereolab comparisons. I hope so, too, because this is a nice sounding record, and I hope they have a long future full of wonderful soft pop-rock.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.seevenus.com
Label Website: http://www.marchrecords.com

Velvet Crush "Stereo Blues"

In an article that referenced new albums by Mission of Burma and Guided By Voices and the reformation of the Pixies, the writer snidely commented that 'old guys are saving rock and roll!' I don't necessarily think that these artists are 'saving' rock and roll--or that rock music even needs to be saved. I will admit, though, that many older artists have lately been maturing quite nicely, coming into their own and finding a fresh vitality in today's 'scene.' I don't think that's a question of age in as much as it is for artists finally breaking free and finding their voices, especially after years of misguided ideas (commerce, major label hassles, etc.) that did them no good.

Velvet Crush's new record, Stereo Blues, is a great example for my theory. After a handful of archival releases and reissued/remastered albums, Stereo Blues is Velvet Crush's first album of new material in several years. They've been releasing great power-pop records since the early 1990s, and the band's core duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck have a long history of making great pop music, having worked together on various other project since the early to mid 1980s. Even though you probably don't know their names, don't hold that against them, because these two guys ROCK.

Unlike earlier releases, Stereo Blues is a very concise and to the point album; each of these songs have been sugar coated with a very light glaze of rock genius, one that wastes no time in taking you on and impressing the hell out of you. So refreshed and vital does Velvet Crush sound, you're almost left wondering if they haven't felt a little bit threatened by the success of like-minded yet harder-sounding bands such as Spoon and Nada Surf. Seriously, folks, Velvet Crush sound utterly refreshed, and their songs have a tension and an urgency that's not been seen since...well, to be honest...ever. Whereas in the past their songs often got overwhelmed by overt Beatles/Raspberries/Kinks/Flamin' Groovies-style homage (a common malady of most 'power pop' bands, actually) Instead of sounding like a tribute band, they sound like the long-lost father of today's indie-rock scene.

From the first note of album opener "Rusted Star"--which kicks off with some dischordant guitar and then turns into some of the band's best-ever haromines--it's quite apparent that you're in the presence of rock gods. Indeed, the album is much rawer in nature than anything done before--even their demos didn't sound this vital, this energetic--for once, they're not guilty of trying to be something they're not, nor are they trying too hard. When they crank up the rock (such as on the gritty "Do What You Want" and "Want You Now"), they kick ass and sound like a young band who have just discovered their music writing abilities. When they slow things down and turn introspective on "Here It Comes," "The Connection" and the touching "Great To Be Fine," the maturity and wisdom of their age makes these songs even more potent and touching.

If you have any preconceived notions as to Velvet Crush's sound, you just forget about them and pick up Stereo Blues. Personally, I wasn't sure of what to expect; their earlier records were nice, though occasionally workmanlike and sometimes kind of bland, but that's most certainly NOT the case here. Stereo Blues is easily one of this year's biggest surprises, and it will be fascinating to watch these guys as they catch their second wind.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.actionmusik.com
Artist Website: http://www.velvetcrushrockgroup.com

October 15, 2004

Various Artists "Little Darla has a Treat For You, V. 22"

Just in time for Fall, Darla Records offers up the latest installment of their Little Darla Has A Treat For You series. Not so much a compilation as it is a sampler of all the good things the label/distribution company has to offer, I have yet to be disappointed by any of these fun budget compilations, and volume twenty-two does not disappoint. It's fascinating to see the label going in all sorts of stylistic directions without stretching itself too thin.

From the brooding psychedelic country of Maquiladora and Lowlights to the upbeat new wave pop of Freezepop, the sad folk of Anna Domino and Pale Horse and Rider to the detatched electronica of Manual and the out and out relentless weirdness of Crispy Ambulance, Darla has very little room for tradition or uniformity of style. Of all the songs on this little collection, my favorites would have to be The Naysayer's fokly take on Mr. Rogers' "Good People (Sometimes Do Bad Things)," Freezepop's remix of "Parlez-Vous Freezepop?" and the album's biggest surprise, unknown The Russian Futurist's "Two Dots On A Map," whose sound sounds a lot like vintage Polyphonic Spree--only better.

Little Darla Has a Treat For You Volume 22 is a fun, interesting collection that will surprise and entertain you with each listen. Dig in!

--Joseph Kyle

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

Kalima "night time shadows"

In the 1980s, several bands attempted to create a hybrid of jazz, rock and pop. Bands like Swing Out Sister, Sade and Everything But The Girl all took this formula to different levels of success. Though it may seem a bit naive now--after all, pop music's always contained trace elements of jazz and rock--these bands often had good intentions, often falling and failing when money (or lack thereof) became an issue, or when label interference pushed such bands into more commercially-minded product. Still, when it comes down to it, the music was what mattered most, regardless of what happened on the business side of things.

Kalima appeared in 1984, though they had actually formed several years before and had released an album and two singles as Swamp Children. Unfortunately, it seems Swamp Children were doomed; they had a horible band name, but it didn't stop there: they were damned with faint praise, caused confusion by a scene that didn't understand them and were treated as nothing more than a side project from A Certain Ratio. Still, listening to So Hot, you'd be hard-pressed to deny that they weren't onto something; their melding of post-punk and jazz, while not always rewarding, showed that these kids had some good ideas.

In January 1984, Kalima released their debut twelve-inch single, The Smiling Hour, and the maturity from Swamp Children is immediately apparent. "The Smiling Hour" is an upbeat, almost sing-along version of an old jazz standard, and the B-side, "Fly Away," was a nice shuffling bossanova number, very similar in style to contemporaries Everything But The Girl. Their Four Songs EP followed in 1985, and it only furthered their sound into deep, traditional jazz, with friendly, fast-paced groovers like "Land of Dreams" and "Sparkle." Lead singer Ann Quigley sounds utterly blissed-out with happiness and enthusiasm, making the already highly danceable rhythms even better. With such a promising start, it should come as no surprise that Night Time Shadows would be a great debut album. Others thought so, too, including Robin Millar, who had produced Sade's debut album, Diamond Life and he generously offered to produce the band. This offer fell through, as Factory thought the recording budget would have been too expensive, so the band recorded it themselves...and spent more money than it would have cost to work with Millar. (One must simply shake their heads at some of Factory's business decisions.)

As it turns out, Night Time Shadows was an extremely strong debut record, delivering on the promises of past releases, increasingly popular live performances and the maturity that comes from relentless touring. The band mixes traditional jazz with all the joi de vivre of the then-trendy 'new jazz' scene. Their sound was nothing if not utterly sincere; listen to the intro of "Black Water" or "Father Pants" and you'll here shades of Brubeck and Monk. Ann Quigley's voice was raw and gritty; though her voice wasn't always that strong, you could easily tell that strength was something that would develop over time--she was barely out of her teens by this time, after all.
Still, her voice simply radiates throughout Night Time Shadows, especially on the jaunty "On Green Dolphin Street" and the lovely "Mystic Rhythms" It's no surprise, then, that Kalima were popular in Europe and Japan.

Sadly, Night Time Shadows would be the final hurrah for this version of Kalima; touring commitments to A Certain Ratio and Swing Out Sister caused half of the eight-piece band to depart. Kalima would soon refine their sound to something even better, though, as they would go on to release more records--which are slated for reissue in Winter 2005. As it stands, Night Time Shadows is a great record that's well worth seeking out, a lost gem of a record that will please you immensely with each successive listen.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.ltmpub.freeserve.co.uk

October 13, 2004

Solyoni "prairie monsters"

Seattle’s Solyoni have released quite a concept album. The album’s songs string together a tale of how two of the group’s members tried to deliver one of their girlfriends’ car (containing all of her belongings) from Ohio to Seattle, and the defeat they encounter when the car breaks down in the middle of the trip. They set the tone of the record with the western feel of the first track, “Scarecrow Country”, where they “set out to become what they would be, and set out across the asphalt sea”. As one travels, the mind tends to wander. Solyoni demonstrates this throughout this album; it seems as if they wrote the entire thing while in transit. While “Hill Boys” has the melancholy feel of staring out the window, “The Ballad of Wiley Granger and the Town with no Sidewalks” has that sort of excitement one might feel after meeting a local at a general store or filling station with a beard so crazy it deserves to have a song written about it. The boys start having car troubles halfway through the album. While waiting for AAA outside a Six Flags, they penned “Amusement Park Untitled”, a yearning for roller coasters and viking ships stationed at a Six Flags that isn’t open. By the album’s end, Solyoni admits their defeat and reflect on their journey. After hearing this epic tale of adventure, I can’t help but believe they are better people now after having experienced this.

--Kyle Sowash

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

Bill Santen "In The Night Kitchen"

Bill Santen used to release records under the moniker Birddog, and he used to enlist some rather notable talent to help him out, including Edith Frost, Elliott Smith, Sebadoh's Jason Loewenstein and Wilco's Glen Kotche. Birddog's records followed an alt.country/folk pattern that was quite good, but Santen never really gained the acclaim he deserved. While I don't know if Birddog has been retired, but after listening to In The Night Kitchen, Santen's first release under his own name, it's quite obvious that he can handle being a solo act.

Shaking the Birddog name has given Santen's music an added depth that Birddog's records just didn't quite have. Using his name means he's standing alone with no monikers to hide behind, and that's liberating. At the same time, it's also apt that he uses his name, as Santen is unaccompanied for all but one song. Starting off with a guitar strum and a haunting harmonica, "Hustler" sets the mood; dark acoustic songs sung with a haunting, heartbreaking voice. Santen sings with a haunted voice that falls somewhere between Neil Young and Elliott Smith, he has the ability to compose songs that both break your heart and stay in your mind.

Recorded on New Year's Day 2004, In The Night Kitchen also has a very immediate, live feel; listening to the heartbreaking "Redbud," the jaunty "Brooklyn" or the upbeat "Down to the Palisades" all resonate with a 'you-are-there' feel that so many solo acts fail to capture. Heck, even the only song with other musicians, "Cincinnati Sings" (which wasn't recorded at the same time as the rest of the record, and was, I presume, meant as a Birddog track) sounds quite nice, and I really wouldn't suggest he should stick to making music all by himself.

Admittedly, In The Night Kitchen caught me by surprise. Perhaps due to its brevity, or perhaps due to the intimate nature of the recordings, or perhaps it's simply that Santen's risen to another level--whatever the case, if you didn't care about (or have never heard) Birddog, In The Night Kitchen shows that Santen's an artist who deserves your attention.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://hhbtm.com/sweatinbetty

Black Dice "Creature Comforts"/Wolf Eyes "Burned Mind"

I’m certain that to the average music fan, Luigi Russolo might as well be a minor character on The Sopranos, Stockhausen and Merzbow are probably German automobile companies, and John Cage is related to that guy from Gone in 60 Seconds. This isn’t a condescending judgment call. Over the last century, no experimental composer has stood a chance of registering high on the pop culture radar…unless, of course, the composer was fortunate enough to marry a Beatle. This makes it doubly surprising that Black Dice gets to release records on a label owned by a production duo who has worked with Britney Spears, while the even weirder Wolf Eyes signs with the label that spearheaded grunge and gets asked to play Lollapalooza. I’m not suggesting that teenage girls across America are about to start dancing to the Emergency Broadcast System like it’s the latest Southern “crunk” jam. However, you know that the times are changing when Black Dice and Wolf Eyes are popular enough to prove to people outside of the halls of academia that noise, when given a deliberate and definite order and structure, can be just as evocative and compelling as “real” music.

Both Black Dice and Wolf Eyes spent their embryonic stages pushing the boundaries of hardcore punk, eventually blossoming into avant-garde noisemakers. They’ve even collaborated with each other on the full-length album The Lord Helps You, which has become a highly sought collector’s item since its release. (You know they wouldn’t truly be “avant-garde” if all of their releases were widely available for public consumption.) However, the similarities might end there, as their latest albums find the bands positioning themselves as near polar opposites of each other. The cover of Black Dice’s Creature Comforts is a meticulously arranged, pastel-drenched array of squares, with various facial features and architectural designs embedded therein. Wolf Eyes’ Burned Mind is a messy brown-and-gray drawing of a scrawny bird pecking and clawing at two circular mounds that might be either rocks or skulls. The music on both albums follows suit: whereas Comforts sounds like nature and life refracted through a mechanical yet fractured lens, Burned sounds like decay and death viewed up close with your very own eyes.

“Treetops,” the second track of Creature Comforts, begins with a rhythm reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express,” on top of which various laser-gun squiggles duel with each other across the stereo spectrum. This duel is interrupted by a loop of cleanly played guitar, which is then adorned by what sounds like the chopped-up cooing of a baby. These coos slowly drop in pitch and become increasingly over-modulated; by the end of the track, they sound more like honking car horns than human voices. The second half of the appropriately named “Creature” sounds like a fight between animals recreated by machines. The ominous drumming is nearly overtaken by an array of high-pitched squeaks and squawks. It’s amazing how accurately the band imitates the calls of distressed animals with little more than expertly manipulated feedback. “Creature” comes closest to expanding upon the Boredoms-like tribal trance of Black Dice’s previous album Beaches and Canyons; the rest of Creature Comforts, though, is comparatively arrhythmic. At least half of the 15-minute “Skeleton” consists of two guitar chords blurring into each other until the proceedings take on an iridescence worthy of the best “shoegaze” bands. In a case of expert sequencing, the album lets its longer, more expansive songs be followed by brief palate cleansers that restate the other songs’ main ideas. The 90-second “Live Loop” is a foreshadowing of the more static moments on “Skeleton,” and the car-horn orchestra that closed “Treetops” makes a slight return on the two-minute “Schwip Schwap.”

Most of Creature Comforts could be described as playful, or even pretty. Wolf Eyes, on the other hand, are having none of that. The track listing of Burned Mind is pure truth-in-advertising: “Dead in a Boat,” “Stabbed in the Face,” and “Reaper’s Gong” sound exactly like their titles. “Dead” begins in near-silence, but as the track progresses you can hear the creaking of the boat, the flow of the water, and increasingly louder footsteps. At the 43-second mark, an unexpected squeal of feedback announces a sonic onslaught so overbearing and indistinct that I can’t tell whether it’s a collage of distorted voices or just pure white noise. The noise makes me feel as if I’ve stepped inside the head of a man who has just been snatched up by a bloodthirsty stranger and knows that he’s about to die, no matter how much he fights…and I’m only 90 seconds into a 42-minute album.

The rhythm of “Stabbed in the Face” is a hissing, insistent blip that sounds like, well…a subwoofer being stabbed in the face! Even if vocalist Nate Young wasn’t growling through a megaphone like an angry gremlin, the track would be a tough listen: the “bass line” sounds like a engine revving itself up, and the mix is crammed with screaming women and flatulent tape manipulations. Strangely, the most ominous moment of “Stabbed in the Face” comes when the noise stops for a few seconds halfway through, leaving nothing more than a single footstep keeping time. This is where the genius of Burned Mind lies: not in the terror of its harshest moments, but in the suspense of its quieter, more textured moments. When everything else drops out, and a sound is left to linger in isolation for a while, you know that something even more terrible is about to come next.

For instance, the brief interlude “Urine Burn” sounds like little more than the impatient gurgling of a radio that’s been stuck in between frequencies for too long. It doesn’t hit you upside the head with noise, but it sets things up perfectly for the next track: with its slowly undulating synthesizers and hissing-sprinkler loops, “Rattlesnake Shake” seems explicitly designed to make its listeners seasick and nauseous. On the title track, a swarm of bowel-loosening, detuned guitars suddenly drop out of the mix, leaving a single strand of feedback to pierce the listener’s ears for 43 seconds; the minimal coda ends up being even more irritating than the denser cacophony that preceded it. “Black Vomit,” the album’s “final” song, is one long eight-minute tension/release exercise. If the eight songs that came before it don’t scare the crap out of you, THIS one will, as its stops and starts are too unpredictable to handle even after multiple listens. (Skip past the three blank tracks and you’ll find an even scarier piece, if you can believe it.)

Neither Creature Comforts nor Burned Mind have anything remotely resembling a danceable beat, a catchy tune or an intelligible lyric, which will probably make these albums difficult listens for even the average indie-rock fan. (It has to be said, though, that at least Black Dice’s music has the advantage of not being the soundtrack to a nightmare.) Nonetheless, they’re done artfully and unpretentiously enough to appeal to people who don’t have a Ph.D in electronic composition. Black Dice and Wolf Eyes might be as close as John and Jane Doe get in this lifetime to discovering that you really CAN make “music” out of anything.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.blackdice.com
Label Website: http://www.dfarecords.com
Label Website: http://www.subpop.com

October 12, 2004

The Life & Times "Suburban Hymns"

Somewhere in Kansas City, the city that Allen Epley calls home, there’s a coterie of hipsters who would look at me like I had three heads if I told them that my first exposure to his music was through his current band, the Life and Times. They’d probably have the same reaction that I had when I met people who didn’t know who Stephen Malkmus was until he formed the Jicks. However, there’s an advantage to not knowing much about their previous bands: it allows one to evaluate their current music on its own terms, rather than unfairly comparing it to the music they made during their so-called “glory days.” Thus, just as my friend Sophia is able to appreciate Malkmus’ Face the Truth as the worthy album it is without the scepter of Pavement hovering over her head, I can listen to the Life and Times’ debut album Suburban Hymns without being forced to compare it to Shiner. Frankly, I think people like us ought to be envied.

It must be said, though, that the music Epley makes with the Life and Times is basically a streamlining of the sound that Shiner began to crystallize on their final album, 2001’s awesome The Egg. It’s a sound that I like to call “shoegaze on steroids.” There are a number of other bands I would give this description to (Hum, Failure, Electro Group) but, since most of them are either defunct or take way too long to make albums, I’m willing to call the Life and Times its leading practitioners.

Opening track “My Last Hostage” serves as a sonic template for everything that comes after it. Epley’s guitar plucks out high-pitched arpeggios, so drenched in distortion and reverb that the notes quickly blur into each other. His slightly raspy croon draws out each syllable so slowly that his words literally pull against the brisk tempo of the song. Synthesizers lurk and swoop over him as he sings. While Epley gazes at his shoes, his rhythm section supplies the steroids. Eric Albert outlines the actual chord progression with a muscular bass line, while Chris Metcalf drums with the swagger and force of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. These two are the Life and Times’ secret weapon, ensuring at all times that Epley’s dreamy, diffuse songs rock way harder than they have any right to.

Although Suburban Hymns is consistent almost to a fault, a couple of tracks do stand out. “Muscle Cars” sounds a bit like Interpol gone dub: the verses ride a dark, five-note guitar melody, while the stop/start drumming is run through various studio filters at seemingly random intervals. “Thrill Ride” is the closest that the band comes to making a ballad; the lugubrious music sharply contrasts the excitement Epley sings about in the chorus (“blasting my way out/bombs fall around me”). On the verses of “Shift Your Gaze,” Epley’s voice blends in so thoroughly with his guitar that the music assumes trance-like properties. It’s the perfect backdrop for the lyrics, in which Epley selflessly submits to a distant other. Last but not least, there’s “Skateland,” which is my personal favorite. Not only does this song boast the album’s best bass line, but the lyrics catalogue adolescent memories with haiku-like economy (“these southern days/radio station/black rollerskates”).

This album isn’t perfect: a couple of songs are short on hooks, and “Mea Culpa” is too long. However, at 42 minutes, the Life and Times don’t give themselves enough time to make any major screw-ups. Suburban Hymns is a solid --- often excellent --- album by a band good enough to render its members’ pedigrees completely irrelevant. If their next album can maintain this level of quality and supply a bit more stylistic diversity, Epley will have another classic album in his hands.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.thelifeandtimes.com
Label Website: http://www.desotorecords.com

Andrew Bird "Fingerlings 2"

I love Andrew Bird's music. It's simple, it's heartfelt, and you should seek out his last two records Weather Systems and The Swimming Hour. Fingerlings 2 is not a new record; it's a self-released record that he's made available for those who visit his website and who see him live. It's a collection of live tracks, in various incarnations--solo, band, and accompanied by My Morning Jacket. Having never seen the man live, I can't say if this is representative of his live show--these songs are compiled from many different sources, so it's not a full-length concert--but I'll happily take what he's offering.

He's a master musician, and even by himself, songs like "Master Fade," "First Song" and "Skin Is, My" have a full, rich sound; when he's got this much music dripping out of him, who needs a band? On songs where he is accompanied with a backing group, his music's even hotter; I've fallen for the Jeff Buckley-esque country-rocker "Way Out West," and "Depression Pasillo" has an awesome gypsy-band sound. Most fascinating is "Sovay," a collaboration with My Morning Jacket--not only is it a great Andrew Bird song, it also whets the appetite for a more formal studio collaboration. It could be interesting; Fingerlings 2 is a great little obscurity that's well worth seeking out, and it's a handy little appetizer for those waiting for the next Andrew Bird album.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Saves the Day "Ups and Downs: Early Recordings and B-Sides"

I dismissed this band as being capable of making interesting music sometime around 2001. I was never a huge fan, however, about 4 years ago, I was intrigued by all the punk kids at the mall wearing their tee shirt; it made me check ‘em out. I’d heard their first album at a party; I thought it was o.k. Didn’t really think too much about it. I remember noticing that most of their songs tend to have that annoying punk rock drum beat. Y’know….the one that Pennywise uses a lot.

My next exposure: a friend (said friend was yours truly--ed) had made me a copy of their acoustic EP, I'm Sorry I'm Leaving. He told me I’d like it a lot. Upon the first listen of that tape, I had decided they were fantastic. I played that tape so many times it broke. I’d kind of forgotten the fact that I was unimpressed when I’d heard them the first time. So when my tape broke, I went to Best Buy to pick up a copy of that on compact disc. They didn’t have it, so instead I thought I’d take a chance and buy a copy of their new release at the time, Stay What You Are. While it seemed the band had matured, having dropped the annoying Pennywise drumbeats in every song, they also seemed to drop the great lyrics and catchy hooks included on the acoustic EP. I was disappointed with that album, and I hadn’t really thought of the band since.

Somehow, I wound up with a copy of their new disc, Ups And Downs: Early Recordings and B Sides. It is a compilation of early recordings and B-sides. I thought this would be a good opportunity to listen to this band again and reevaluate my attitude toward their music. There’s nineteen songs on this bad boy, and five of them are included on the acoustic EP I loved so much. I hadn’t heard them since my tape broke. That made me happy. I listened to those tracks first. They sound just as good as they did when my tape still played. Lyrics like “Pick the nicest lawn and imagine the two of us rolling around down on the ground” and “how shitty this town would seem without you in it” almost inspired me to write some decent lyrics of my own!

Then I started from the cd from the beginning. The first three songs are actually pretty good. Yes! The band has redeemed themselves! The first three songs are definitely better than anything that was on Stay What You Are, being both clever and catchy as all hell. I listened to the acoustic songs all the way through a second time, well…because they’re awesome. The next eight songs have that annoying Pennywise drumbeat. I guess I’m getting old, because I wasn’t digging it. On the other hand, they do a decent job covering the Descendents’ “Cheer” and the Clash’s “Clash City Rockers”. There’s also a pretty good live version of “Jesse and My Whetstone” from 2003. So, if you are a die hard Saves the Day fan, then this disc is for you. If you’re not, I would recommend just picking up their acoustic EP, and maybe that Vagrant sampler that tracks 2 and 3 were on. Who knows, maybe in the process, you’ll find you really DO like that whiny emo stuff.

--Kyle Sowash

Artist Website: http://www.savestheday.com
Label Website: http://www.vagrant.com

The Anomoanon "Joji"

Spaced-out banjo, misty harmonica and some of the best rural vocal harmonies I've heard in ages are but three reasons why I've totally fallen for Joji, the latest release by Baltimore's The Anomoanon. Led by Ned Oldham, The Anomoanon has been making music that happily defies and bastardizes the genres of folk, country and rock, and the resulting sound is something unique, something different--yet you'd be hard-pressed to consider it anything less than "traditional." Considering that they've not only released albums of original material, but also have released a tribute record to late Who bassist John Entwhistle and two albums that set Mother Goose rhymes and Robert Lewis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses to music, "traditional" is hardly the word one would use to describe The Anomoanon.

If you're a sucker for music that's honest, Joji will quickly win you over. Oldham's singing--which sounds hauntingly identical to brother Will--has a quality that makes you instantly believe every word he sings. Though he's hardly going for an 'everyman' persona, you'll be captured by his haunted, simple voice, which will leave you feeling that he speaks wisdom when he sings his songs about heartbreak, God, life and love. In many passages, when he sings his words are accompanied by multiple voices, which makes his words even more striking. In "Green Sea," when he sings of an unfaithful love, the voices accent the last words of each verse, to dramatic affect. Just listen for the line "your heart is beating for another man,"and quickly you'll feel what it's like to realize your lover has been unfaithful.

Because the music often goes into extended instrumental passages, featuring acoustic guitars, pianos, banjos and other good 'rustic' music, there's an understandable temptation to say "Grateful Dead," but that's wrong. Still, The Anomoanon is more than just Ned Oldham's singing; he's got a whole troupe of fine backing musicians, and when they stretch their musical muscles on "After That Before," "Down and Brown," "Wedding Song" or "Nowhere," you really don't mind, because they sound...real...good. There's something enjoyable about people getting together and vamping and playing off of each other. Just don't call The Anomoanon a jam band--because, well, they're better than that. Personally, I'm a sucker for banjo, piano and acoustic guitars, and all three of those instruments are used here, and they're used quite wonderfully.

Joji is music for pitchin' woo on a Friday night, sittin' on the porch on a Saturday night and for getting over your hangover on a Sunday morning. Joji is a collection of simple folkified country rock songs that sound like nothing you've ever heard, yet they sound exactly like you'd expect from a bunch of Appalachian musicians. Joji is a great record, period.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.temporaryresidence.com
Artist Website: http://www.anomoanon.com

October 11, 2004

The Gurus "The Gurus"

Barcelona's The Gurus have no ulterior motives--they simply want to classic-rock you. Their self-titled debut is a fifteen-song slab of tasty, slightly psyched-out jangle-pop. Unless you were told, you'd never know these guys were from Spain, either--their sound is spot-on British Invasion-meets-Laurel Canyon folk-rock. They've got it all: tight, tuneful melodies, drop-dead harmonies and a charm that makes you think it's 1966 all over again. Really--their sound is so indebted to the Byrds and/or the Hollies, less-knowing listeners could be fooled into thinking the Gurus' sound is vintage. Don't think they're copycats of one particular sound, though; "Kamala" parts one and two launch off into space-rock territory that sounds quite nice--and is thoroughly modern, too.

Though The Gurus is a great-sounding record, their sound doesn't sustain itself over fifteen tracks, and the album wears down rather quickly. Don't worry about it, though; taken in small doses, the record's still undeniably poppy and fresh. Besides, you really shouldn't miss "It's Only Love," either--it takes its title from a Beatles song, but they make it their own. Look forward to hearing a more refined record from these guys in the future--and from what you'll hear on The Gurus, that's a great promise!

--Joseph Kyle

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

Camera Obscura "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" (reissue)

Here's what I said about Camera Obscura's Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi way back in 2002:

God, I love this record! I haven't been this taken by a band from first listen since I first heard the Clientele a few years ago, it was a moment in time that meant total love and devotion from me, and I'm happy to say that there's another band that's done that from the get-go. Maybe I'm getting older, or maybe I'm getting harder to impress, but nothing just knocks me over and causes me to admit my total love and devotion from listen numero uno.

Really, though, how could I NOT love Camera Obscura?? Their music is charming and lovely and a little bit sad. I like the sweet boy-girl vocal exchange, simply because---well, because they're simply lovely! I don't know who does what, because there's not extensive crediting for duties in the liner notes, but I want to commend whoever does the singing for having one of the sweetest voices out there today. And those accents, too! Listening to
Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi--Camera Obscura's debut--is much like looking at baby pictures, automatically you fawn over the little fellow or lady, and you simply cannot help but smile. I'm gushing, yes, I know, because there's also a little baby that's won my heart recently, and Camera Obscura's totally won my heart over.

I'm sure you're thinking, "yes, but Joseph, how do they sound--and don't just say 'beautiful' or 'lovely,' please, because I really want to know!!" Well, they're folky and jangle-jangley, and, yes there's a sonic similarity to that B&S band we know and don't particularly love over here. The singer, she also has a sound that's very similar to Rose Melburg of the Softies, and that's only a good thing. There's not a bum song on
Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, and thanks to Elefant for adding on two b-sides from their Elefant single, because that means more Camera Obscura, which I simply cannot get enough of!!

Okay, so I went over the top then, and guess what? I'm still over the top. Merge, the band's American Label, has seen fit to reissue this wonderful treat of a record, and personally, I'm glad they did. Though the album's identical in track listing to the Elefant label version--which added two bonus tracks, "Shine Like a New Pin" and "Let's Go Bowling"--it's probably a moot point, as you more than likely haven't heard the album anyway. Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi still shines with the brilliance of what made this band so special in the first place: beautiful singing, intelligent lyrics and excellent arrangements--those strings on "Eighties Fan" simply leap out of the speakers, surrounding you in beautiful pop goodness.

For those of you who fell in love with them long ago, there might not be anything new with this reissue, but there's plenty of magic to be found for those who only recently discovered this fine Glasgow band. Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi is still a pop treat, three years on; kudos to Merge for reissuing this fine, fun album.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.mergerecords.com
Artist Website: http://www.camera-obscura.net

Various Artists: "African Underground Volume One: Hip-Hop Senegal"

American hip-hop is going through a twofold crisis. Its mainstream rappers seem hell-bent on keeping their lyrics as materialistic, misogynistic and content-free as possible. Underground rappers spend more time pointing out the problems of mainstream rap music than they do providing viable solutions. Many of them possess superior lyrical skill, but either they lack the beats and hooks to engage mainstream listeners or they’re simply too cerebral for their own good. Meanwhile, hip-hop culture travels all over the world, casting its influence over foreign youth in ways that aren’t always positive. Witness, for instance, the trend of Japanese girls darkening their skin and imitating “ghetto fabulous” fashion in the most contextually deficient manner possible. African Underground Vol. 1, on the other hand, is an example of cultural hybridization done right. The Senegalese rappers showcased on this compilation use hip-hop as a “voice of the people” in ways that American rappers haven’t managed since the advent of NWA, and their producers provide backdrops that sound surprisingly current given the fact that most of these songs are at least three years old.

Benny Herson, who founded the Nomadic Wax label and co-produced this compilation, spent three consecutive summers (from 1998 to 2000) in Dakar studying the Senegalese hip-hop scene for his college thesis. He watched Senegal celebrate its first democratic election in three decades during the same year that we Americans were questioning whether our current president actually won the election. He noticed how Senegal’s transition to democracy was partially sparked by its rappers’ efforts to mobilize their communities through their music. (One rapper on this compilation, Omzo, released a song that criticized the World Bank so harshly that it was believed to have directly affected the outcome of Senegal’s 2000 election.) Herson took note of the linguistic fluidity of these rappers, many of whom could flow in French, English, Wolof, Swahili and many other African dialects. (Contrast this with American rappers who can’t even spell the word “here” correctly.) Herson returned to Dakar in 2001, set up a portable studio at a community center, and let rappers come from all over Senegal to write, record, eat, sleep and pray together over that summer.

Because all of the songs were produced by Herson and his cousin, the Hip-Hop Senegal compilation bears a consistent sound. The beats find a happy middle ground between the austere griminess of Wu-Tang and the live instrumentation of the Roots. Beat-wise, most of the highlights are concentrated on the second half of the record. The staccato, squealing synthesizers of Las MC‘s “Africans Don‘t Wanna Understand“ borrow a bit from the sound of early-’90s “G-funk.” The samples on Sul Suli Klan‘s “Mbedo Bama Woo“ are so distorted and dinky that they make the song sound like a demo. “Begguma,” a collaboration between Slam Revolution and BMG 44, runs the emcees’ voices through numerous dub-style production tricks, at one point making them sound like they’re being run backwards when they aren’t. Sen Kumpa’s “Deglu Xel” glides along on some very jazzy Rhodes work, and Abass’ self-titled contribution adds flute and guitar to a loop that sounds like it was created on an archaic drum machine (and probably WAS).

Lyrically, the quality of these songs is inversely proportional to the amount of cribbing that the emcees do from American rappers. The worst contributions come from Shiffai, who raps almost exclusively in English. The infantile rhymes schemes and off-key female singing on “Shiffai” suggest what Nelly would sound like with a thicker accent and a smaller budget, and the elegy “Never Forget” (which was written in tribute to two deceased emcees who appear elsewhere on the record) is just a slightly less monotonous version of P. Diddy’s Biggie tribute “I’ll Be Missing You.” The gruff call-and-response choruses of BMG 44’s song “44” come straight from the DMX handbook, and the lyrical allusions to Biggie’s “Kick in the Door” only underscore the lack of originality. It also doesn’t help matters that one of BMG’s emcees goes by the name of Nigga. My other main gripe with this compilation is that almost all of its artists, whether they rhyme in Wolof, English or French, have the disturbing habit of throwing the N-word around almost as much as American rappers do.

Although the liner notes give brief write-ups explaining the subject matter of each song, there are no lyrics or translations provided. Thus, monolingual listeners like yours truly have to glean what they can strictly from studying the emcees’ voices and deliveries. I listen to Ozmo’s measured, laidback flow (reminiscent to that of Gangstarr’s Guru) on “Missalu Aduna” and get the impression that he’s trying to teach through his rapping. I can understand how the fate of an entire nation could be changed by his words. It only takes the first few seconds of “Africans Don’t Wanna Understand” to hear the rage and frustration in Las MC’s husky baritone. The Slam/BMG collaboration “Begguma” tackles the subject of police brutality. In this song, the rapid tag-team style employed between the two groups becomes a symbolic gesture. Like Boogie Down Productions’ all-star classic “Self-Destruction,” “Begguma” is a collective effort from some of Senegal’s biggest rappers to address a common societal ill. Careful listening to many of these emcees reveals an abundance of complex internal rhyme schemes that can stand toe to toe against the best American rappers. These are not just some dudes that listened to a Public Enemy record last week and got inspired. You might be listening to the Biggies and Rakims of the Motherland. We should pay attention and take notes.

---Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.nomadicwax.com
Label Website: http://www.notable.com

October 07, 2004

Victory at Sea "Memories Fade"

Listening to a Victory at Sea record can be like tasting a meal by a friend of yours who just happens to be an above-average amateur chef --- a meal that you enjoy but don’t quite savor. Even though it may have too much or too little of a certain ingredient, it’s still good enough to eat. You don’t criticize it too harshly because you want to get invited back to the house the next time he/she cooks, just in case the next one ends up being better. Over the last five years, Victory at Sea has been slowly inching toward perfection, with two main hindrances keeping the band from the brass ring. One is that singer/songwriter Mona Elliott occasionally couldn’t tell the difference between “minimal” and “underwritten.” The other is that Victory at Sea runs through drummers almost as frequently as Spinal Tap. This high turnover rate has negatively affected the band’s instrumental chemistry, especially in the studio. Fortunately, their fourth full-length Memories Fade goes a long way toward rectifying both of these problems.

As usual, Victory at Sea underwent significant lineup changes before recording their latest album. First of all, they switched drummers AGAIN, and it seems as if the fourth time’s the charm. David Miller Norton finds the perfect middle ground between original drummer Christina Files’ jazzy shuffling and second drummer Fin Moore’s showiness (a trait that made 2000’s Carousel album sound like Keith Moon drumming for Low). It helps that, unlike on their last album The Good Night (the second half of which was almost entirely drum-less), the band actually lets Norton play! Second of all, the band adopted Taro Hatanaka, who played violin on one Good Night song, as a permanent member. Last but not least, bassist Mel Lederman put away his bass and is now the band’s keyboardist. In Victory at Sea version 4.0, Elliott, Lederman and Hatanaka wrap so many melodies and riffs around each other that you don’t even notice the lack of bass. Their sound is actually fuller now than it’s ever been! Mona Elliott sweetens the deal by turning in her best vocals to date. She has always had the huskiest alto in indie-rock, but now she isn’t afraid of hitting the high notes and letting us hear the catch in her voice. Her newfound confidence does wonders for even the weakest songs on Memories Fade.

As befits the album’s title, the songs revolve around nostalgia (“Animals and the Weather“), decaying relationships (“Break of Day“), impatience and wanderlust. The couple in “Love Is Ageless” pray that they’ll be able to maintain the love of their youth even as they grow older. The protagonist of “Games” puts on a stoic front in order to mask her turbulent emotional state. “Logan Way” sports the best kiss-off to an ex I’ve heard all year: “You said you’d never leave/You were lying through your teeth/and guess what?/I appreciate it.” On “Little Town,” Mona urges her lover to leave his home in order to escape the prying eyes of small-town gossip hounds. Two songs later, on “Happy for You,” she congratulates him for actually heeding her advice. Album closer “This Life” finds Mona concisely chastising a turncoat (“With friends like you, I don’t need friends”) whom she knows is hiding a dark secret from someone else (“That night, it could have lasted longer/only if I told her”).

Surprisingly, Memories Fade is the first Victory at Sea album to have overcooked songs. Every once in a while, Mona will go on a nonsensical lyrical tangent (“All Night Superstar”) or repeat a verse a couple times too many (“Logan Way”). However, bombast suits the current lineup of Victory at Sea more than restraint does, which makes these lapses a bit more forgivable than those on previous records. Besides, the last four songs make up for the rest of the album’s excesses by being utterly shocking and totally perfect. “Little Town“ boasts numerous hooks that scream for radio airplay, “Break of Day” is a seven-minute “Hey Jude”-style crescendo, “This Time” ends in a group sing-along, and “Happy for You” actually lives up to its title! Who’d have thought that Elliott would be just as capable of composing uplifting pop songs as she is of writing wrist-slitting dirges?

With Memories Fade, Victory at Sea has fully transformed from a promising B-list band into honor roll students just a few points shy of turning that A- into an A+. Here’s hoping they keep their lineup just the way it is and bring us a fifth album soon.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.victoryatsea.net
Label Website: http://www.gernblandsten.com

October 06, 2004

Giant Sand Is All Over...The Map

Howe Gelb deserves a special reward for "most apt album title," as Giant Sand Is All Over...The Map applies to this record on three levels. First, it's a subtle joke about the state of Giant Sand, as this is the first album without esteemed members Joey Burns and John Convertino (better known as Calexico), both long considered permanant members. Second, it refers to the fact that this album was recorded in various places around the globe. The title also refers to the album's heavily diverse nature.

If you were worried that Giant Sand would lose something with the departure of the rhythm section, your fears were not well grounded. Sure, they're missed, but Gelb's enlisted a very fine backing band, and they fill in quite well. Heck, it only takes one listen to realize that Giant Sand won't suffer simply because of a change in the lineup. He's also enlisted some friends and family to help him out, including Scout Niblett (on "Remote"), Vic Chestnut (on "A Classico Reprise"), Eric Drew Feldman (on "Hood (View from a Heidelberg Hotel)") and John Parish (PJ Harvey) as producer and as a member of the band. So the loss of two key members might be sad for the hardcore, but it doesn't affect the music at all.

As you would expect, the music is indeed all over the place. What you'll find on here is a man and a band that refuses to define its sound. You'll find music that's lovely, quirky country ("Fool"), jazzy, desert-fried soundtrack-style numbers ("Napoli"), balls-out rock numbers ("Remote"), French ballads ("Les Forcats Innocents") and something that runs between all of these style (everything else). My personal favorite--and perhaps one of my favorite musical moments of 2004--is "Anarchistic Bolshevistic Cowboy Bundle." The song starts out quietly enough, and then it shifts into a thrashed-out version of "Anarchy In The UK," sung by his daugher (a kid of undetermined age), and the song then launches into a humorous country ballad, with Gelb warning the listeners "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Tolstoys," and then it launches into the quiet jazz of album closer "Ploy." You'll laugh your ass off at the sheer cheek--and genius--of it all.

All over the map? Definitely. All over? By the sound of it, not hardly! Giant Sand Is All Over...The Map is a fun, satisfying musical adventure--and a return to form, if you ask me--of one of indie-rock's greatest (and sadly underappreciated) musical masterminds. Howe Gelb has proven that life goes on, and he's clearly shown that Giant Sand will ultimately prevail, in spite of lineup and location changes.

--Joseph Kyle

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

delgados 'universal audio'

The discography of Scottish indie-pop stalwarts the Delgados is a case study in self-actualization. Each successive album finds them getting closer to their niche, making their previous work sound comparatively like rough drafts. From the indistinct Pixies-like thrashing of their debut Domestiques to the ambitious orchestral pop of Hate, each Delgados album up to this point boasted improved songwriting, bigger production and a broader instrumental palette. However, the band has thrown its fans a bit of a curveball with their fifth album, Universal Audio. Just as the better moments of the White Album removed the bells and whistles of the Beatles’ psychedelic period to show what better craftsmen they had become over the years, Universal Audio almost completely removes the orchestration of Hate to reveal the Delgados’ strongest set of songs ever.

Whereas on Hate, the violins and celli shared the spotlight equally with the guitars and drums, Universal Audio places the Delgados’ instruments and voices front and center, with all other embellishments pushed squarely into the background. Singers/guitarists Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward make such a tactic pay off by delivering their most confident singing and writing yet. Like the Beatles, even the Delgados’ weaker songs (what George Martin would refer to as “potboilers”) possess more than enough musicality to justify their existence. Songs like “Everybody Come Down” and “Bits of Bone” are pure ear candy. Lyrically, they make no sense at all, but they compensate for it with good melodies, creative arrangements and an array of sweet production tricks. In little more than three minutes, “Everybody Come Down” gives us a verse that pits wheezing synthesizers against jangling guitars, the band’s catchiest chorus ever, a choppy breakdown with a guitar solo that briefly reverses itself and a mid-song key change. However, they make such information overload sound effortless, a trick of genius that all good pop songs display. “Bits of Bone” repeats this trick with washes of distorted vocals, handclaps, Mellotrons and dulcimers that cover up the unforgivably lazy rhyme schemes nicely.

Fortunately, not only are there are very few potboilers on Universal Audio, but in what is surely a first after Emma Pollock’s domination of the last two Delgados albums, the great songs are actually split evenly between her and Alun Woodward. Opener “I Fought the Angels” finds Pollock delivering clear and plainspoken lyrics about the futility of rage (“Trust, I need to learn again/My words were rarely for a friend”) atop violently strummed guitars and cavernous drumming. Lyrics that sound simple on paper are given extra weight by the resignation in Emma’s voice and the dramatic pauses in between her words. The other great Emma song is “The City Consumes Us,” whose protagonist pisses her life away in reaction to the realization that she can never escape the city she so desperately longs to. “I was convinced in my mind I was not of this kind,” she sings; “Faced with reality, I chose frivolity.”

Alun matches Emma with the second track, “Is This All That I Came For?,” which chastises a friend who has problems asserting himself. He one-ups that song three tracks later with “Get Action!,” a bombastic “chin up” to a friend who has been knocked down by the hurtful words of others. Woodward sings in the second verse, “Every single person who has told you that you couldn’t lives in fear that you’ll achieve the things they think you shouldn’t.” The song begins with a spaghetti-western melodica intro and sneaks in a T. Rex allusion during a chorus that puts a lilting vocal melody on top of a punishing Mogwai-style crescendo. It might just be the best song on Universal Audio.

The other major development on this album is the traces of actual optimism that creep into the lyrics. The resignation and cynicism of Hate is still present in spades. When Emma sings “This is how it feels to drown” on “Come Undone,” the distortion applied to her voice makes her sound as if she’s truly drowning underneath the droning piano and hissing cymbals. “Keep on Breathing” describes life as “Just another list of consequences of things that we do/Just another set of happenings that we have to live through.” This time around, though, the sadness is equally counteracted with a willingness to fight oppressive circumstances instead of merely giving in. Alun appends the reaffirmations of “Get Action!” four songs later on “Girls of Valour” with the admonition, “Come on, fight on…now is not the end.” “Now and Forever” closes the album with an incantation, “Come…let’s get life,” that is sung in exquisite multipart harmony.

Whereas Hate was a bummer even at its bounciest, Universal Audio is more even-keeled. Life still sucks, the Delgados seem to be saying now, but you can’t be sad about it ALL the time. Universal Audio, a title that at first sounds generic, turns out to be appropriate on more than one level. This is an album that can be accepted by a much broader audience than anything the Delgados have done before, not just because it’s a bunch of straightforward three-minute pop songs, but also because it is a much more multidimensional analysis of the human condition than any of their previous work.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.delgados.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.chemikal.co.uk

October 05, 2004

various artists 'garden state'

\I still haven’t seen this movie. I guess I’ve been out of the loop. Everyone I know has seen it. They strongly encourage me to go do so. Especially my girlfriend. She says she’d go w/ me just so she could see it again. She liked the movie so much she got the soundtrack. I gotta say, the soundtrack is pretty damn good. I mean, I’d heard most of these songs before, but I guess I’d never really realized how much they shine until hearing them on this compilation. Maybe the fact that I’m half drunk and listening to these awesome songs via headphones aides my opnion a bit. Anyways, each song is pretty outstanding. Very soothing stuff. Personal highlights include Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t think I’ll Ever Get Over You”, The Shins’ “New Slang”, and Iron and Wine’s cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”. I predict it’ll probably be a wonderful sountrack to many a nap to come. I’ll also bet that when I do finally see this movie, I’m going to enjoy these songs even more.

--Kyle Sowash

Frenchmen "Sorry We Ruined Your Party"

With their debut, Sorry We Ruined Your Party, Californian quartet the Frenchmen have made a quintessential “Recommended If You Like” album that rigidly adheres to a “crash-pop” template that hasn’t been substantially expounded on since Henry’s Dress broke up eight years ago. They write short, tuneful and terminally lovelorn ditties about a wide variety of mundane subjects: unrequited crushes, seasonal changes, flaky friends, parties, wanderlust, etc. They play them way faster than necessary, and with an abundance of jangle, distortion and feedback, thus connecting the dots between the Who and the Wedding Present. Off-key vocal duties are split evenly between the male and female guitarist; it must be said, though, that the girl’s voice is far stronger than the guy’s. There’s at least one cover of a song by another indie-pop band so obscure that it might as well be an original composition (the Flatmates’ “Tell Me Why”). In short, this is the third album that Henry’s Dress never made, or the album that HD alumnus Amy Linton’s current band the Aislers’ Set would’ve made if they hadn’t decided to go all “Belle-and-Sebastian-dub-stylee” on us. Aislers’ Set member Wyatt Cusick recorded one of the songs, which only cements my comparison.

The Frenchmen get props for both their songwriting skills and their musicianship. Every song’s a winner, crammed to the gills with good melodies (you can even hum the bass lines!) and unfathomable drum fills. However, Sorry is peculiar in that as the record progresses, the writing gets stronger and the singing gets weaker. By the time you get to the 10th song “Like the Weather,” you might not notice the seamless time changes or the dueling sets of lyrics because you’ll be disgusted with the vocals. Even if you have as high of a tolerance for “crash-pop” as I do, I can’t guarantee that you’ll consider the pitch-imperfect singing endearing instead of annoying. If Amy and Leon invest in a vocal coach (or, God forbid, an auto-tuner) before the next time they set foot in a studio, their sophomore album should be a no-strings-attached classic. Sorry We Ruined Your Party, on the other hand, can only be cautiously recommended as an above-par genre exercise.

--Sean Padilla

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

Zykos "Zykos"

For the past year and a half, I've been giving a lot of love to Zykos' debut album, Comedy Horn. Sure, I've been playing it loud in my car--it's an album that's GREAT for driving, especially with the combination of Catherine Davis' unrestrained piano and Mike Booher's unrestrained snotty yet sensitive singing style. Hell, track two, "Understanding Fire," is utterly perfect for speeding down city streets at night with that girl or guy you like or when you're by yourself and you're feeling particularly angst-ridden. Not since ZZ Top or the Toadies have I been so inspired to put my life at risk so consistantly by a Texas band, but damn it, I can't help it.

Of course, I will admit that Comedy Horn was not without its weaknesses--the main one being that the sound seemed kind of blurry and the vocals didn't sparkle and shine, but considering this was a very young band on a no-budget budget, forgiveness and acceptance came quickly. I loved the record, though--and in fact it left me wanting to give lead singer Mike Booher a hug--and it still gets constant airplay on my stereo. Still, the second album would be a make-or-break proposition for this young band; a sloppy, muddy sound would not--nay, could not--be easily forgiven, especially considering how much the band has grown. With these things in mind, I prepared myself for Zykos, the band's highly-anticipated (by me, at least) new album.

I shouldn't have worried.

I was instantly floored.

Zykos has matured into a really wonderful band and this growth resulted in one of the best albums--if not the best album--to be released by an Austin band. In the past year and a half, it's quite obvious that they've learned the value of restraint. Lead singer Michael Booher's vocals are softer, yet retain all the power of a young man who is full of emotion, and Catherine Davis' piano, while not nearly as prominent or dominant, flutters and coats the songs with a mature sound that 'indie-rock' has needed--though I wouldn't really consider this 'indie-rock'---in my mind, Zykos is straight-up pop; after all, why regulate them to the mediocrity of modern indie rock, especially when they've upped the ante?

To clarify, they're not totally out of the indie-rock game, either. On your first listen, you'll notice the first four songs sound like a maturation of the elements that made Comedy Horn so great--sharp rock meets smart words meets great sounding music. (To tell the truth, it took me a little time to listen to the album beyond the second track, "Above the Map"--it's so good, I kept hitting repeat!) When you hit track five---expect a MAJOR change that radiates through the rest of the record. A time warp, if you will. Personally, I thank God someone's decided to make a record that's more Joe Jackson than Death Cab For Cutie.I'm not speaking hyperbole here, though--just listen to "George Eliot" and tell me they weren't listening to Look Sharp! or Night & Day. Sure, there were hints of a new wave heart on Comedy Horn, but Zykos definitely defines them as inspired by that era. Just listen to any one of these songs, and you'll hear a bass line that's pure Peter Hook, piano that is definitely Joe Jackson and an attitude that is clearly their own.

There are twelve highlights on this twelve-song album and to list them all would not be interesting reading. I will give you a few hints, though. I love "George Eliot," not just because it reminds me of vintage Joe Jackson, but because it's a wonderfully melodic pop song that reminds me of 1984, of college, and that girl I crushed out on four girls ago. "Disappearing Act" has a nice shuffle and beat that reminds me of Spoon, only better. I love Catherine's piano twinkles on "Dark Tan"--they highlight Booher's sad-eyed singing. Then there's the rerecored version of "Understanding Fire." It's completely different, and at first I didn't like it. Upon repeated listens, it grew on me; Comedy Horn's version is overwhelmed with an awesome, unrestrained piano line. With this new version, they've removed all traces of that piano and have replaced it with a bass-and-guitar lick that's wild, frentic and obviously stolen from Peter Hook's locker.

I realize I'm rambling, but I don't care--Zykos is a great record and there's no way I could be anything but rambling about this album. It's clearly the best album to come out of Austin, Texas this year--and I'll be honest, it's got a permanant place on my top ten list this year. Zykos is the best band you've never heard. Yet. This album's going to be a big one, folks--I guarantee you that--and Zykos deserve every ounce of the ensuing hype. They're great musicians, they're great people and they make great music. Such a combination means that Zykos couldn't be anything less than great, now could it?

And I still owe that Booher SOB a hug.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.zykosmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.postparlo.com

Zykos "Zykos"

For the past year and a half, I've been giving a lot of love to Zykos' debut album, Comedy Horn. Sure, I've been playing it loud in my car--it's an album that's GREAT for driving, especially with the combination of Catherine Davis' unrestrained piano and Mike Booher's unrestrained snotty yet sensitive singing style. Hell, track two, "Understanding Fire," is utterly perfect for speeding down city streets at night with that girl or guy you like or when you're by yourself and you're feeling particularly angst-ridden. Not since ZZ Top or the Toadies have I been so inspired to put my life at risk so consistantly by a Texas band, but damn it, I can't help it.

Of course, I will admit that Comedy Horn was not without its weaknesses--the main one being that the sound seemed kind of blurry and the vocals didn't sparkle and shine, but considering this was a very young band on a no-budget budget, forgiveness and acceptance came quickly. I loved the record, though--and in fact it left me wanting to give lead singer Mike Booher a hug--and it still gets constant airplay on my stereo. Still, the second album would be a make-or-break proposition for this young band; a sloppy, muddy sound would not--nay, could not--be easily forgiven, especially considering how much the band has grown. With these things in mind, I prepared myself for Zykos, the band's highly-anticipated (by me, at least) new album.

I shouldn't have worried.

I was instantly floored.

Zykos has matured into a really wonderful band and this growth resulted in one of the best albums--if not the best album--to be released by an Austin band. In the past year and a half, it's quite obvious that they've learned the value of restraint. Lead singer Michael Booher's vocals are softer, yet retain all the power of a young man who is full of emotion, and Catherine Davis' piano, while not nearly as prominent or dominant, flutters and coats the songs with a mature sound that 'indie-rock' has needed--though I wouldn't really consider this 'indie-rock'---in my mind, Zykos is straight-up pop; after all, why regulate them to the mediocrity of modern indie rock, especially when they've upped the ante?

To clarify, they're not totally out of the indie-rock game, either. On your first listen, you'll notice the first four songs sound like a maturation of the elements that made Comedy Horn so great--sharp rock meets smart words meets great sounding music. (To tell the truth, it took me a little time to listen to the album beyond the second track, "Above the Map"--it's so good, I kept hitting repeat!) When you hit track five---expect a MAJOR change that radiates through the rest of the record. A time warp, if you will. Personally, I thank God someone's decided to make a record that's more Joe Jackson than Death Cab For Cutie.I'm not speaking hyperbole here, though--just listen to "George Eliot" and tell me they weren't listening to Look Sharp! or Night & Day. Sure, there were hints of a new wave heart on Comedy Horn, but Zykos definitely defines them as inspired by that era. Just listen to any one of these songs, and you'll hear a bass line that's pure Peter Hook, piano that is definitely Joe Jackson and an attitude that is clearly their own.

There are twelve highlights on this twelve-song album and to list them all would not be interesting reading. I will give you a few hints, though. I love "George Eliot," not just because it reminds me of vintage Joe Jackson, but because it's a wonderfully melodic pop song that reminds me of 1984, of college, and that girl I crushed out on four girls ago. "Disappearing Act" has a nice shuffle and beat that reminds me of Spoon, only better. I love Catherine's piano twinkles on "Dark Tan"--they highlight Booher's sad-eyed singing. Then there's the rerecored version of "Understanding Fire." It's completely different, and at first I didn't like it. Upon repeated listens, it grew on me; Comedy Horn's version is overwhelmed with an awesome, unrestrained piano line. With this new version, they've removed all traces of that piano and have replaced it with a bass-and-guitar lick that's wild, frentic and obviously stolen from Peter Hook's locker.

I realize I'm rambling, but I don't care--Zykos is a great record and there's no way I could be anything but rambling about this album. It's clearly the best album to come out of Austin, Texas this year--and I'll be honest, it's got a permanant place on my top ten list this year. Zykos is the best band you've never heard. Yet. This album's going to be a big one, folks--I guarantee you that--and Zykos deserve every ounce of the ensuing hype. They're great musicians, they're great people and they make great music. Such a combination means that Zykos couldn't be anything less than great, now could it?

And I still owe that Booher SOB a hug.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.zykosmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.postparlo.com