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February 2004 Reviews by

Battery Life
Blankety Blank

Chester Copperpot

Comment Piece
The Evaporators
Denise James

Lights Out Asia

Brandon Patton
Private Lessons
The Residents
The Robot Ate Me*
Rocket From the Tombs
Social Functions
Sounds Like Braille

Sufjan Stevens
The Very Most

*Top Picks


February 2004 Comment Piece:
Everyone Is Precious

Everyone is precious.
Everyone is so goddamn precious
In their own goddamn way.

All the precious goddamn little babies...
All the precious goddamn different nationalities...
All the precious goddamn religions...
All the precious goddamn governments...
All the precious goddamn musicians...
All the precious goddamn retarded celebrities...
All the precious goddamn underground artists...
All the precious goddamn lesbians and homosexuals...
All the precious goddamn animal rights activists...
All the precious goddamn senior citizens...
All the precious goddamn teenagers...
All the precious goddamn dead people rotting in the ground...
All the invisible self-centered pseudo-underground artists and writers...
All the precious goddamn people on the entire goddamn earth.

Everyone is precious in their own individual goddamn way.
Precious, precious, precious...'til the weasel pops away.

Babyland - Past Lives (Independently released CD single, Electronic rock)
We have felt a strange kinship with California's Babyland over the years. Perhaps it is because they are in the land of babies...while we are the babies of the land. What a pleasure to cram our healthy arms into the mounting pile of releases this month to find Past Lives...a brand new CD single from the original techno-punksters themselves. The single finds the Babyland fellows in fine form...presenting four different version of the title track as well as a remix ("RGB") and a "string reissue" ("The Issuing Line"). Plenty of great unrelenting pulsing rhythms and those unmistakable vocals. The really exciting news...is that the band is releasing a new full-length (The Finger) Spring 2004. We can't WAIT... (Rating: 5+)

Battery Life - Shotgun Loudmouth (CD, Avebury, Pop/rock)
Nice direct punchy pop/rock with a slight hint of country. The three gentlemen in Battery Life play straight from the hip. Their tunes are simple and instantly catchy...utilizing nothing more than basic drums/bass/guitar arrangements. The band's exceptional melodies are supported by skillful playing and a vocalist with real presence...turning what might be mere pop tunes into energetic and vital hypnotic bite-sized rock nuggets. The songs on Shotgun Loudmouth are an interesting hybrid of pop, punk, and country (more the former than the latter two). By playing simple feelgood music without unnecessary frills...these guys succeed where many others fail. Cool cuts include "Stay Cool in the Dark in the Summer," "Typical Thinking Man's Blues," "Besides Who Said," and "Somewhere in the Night." Cool stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

Blankety Blank - Is This Your Pill? (Independently released CD, Bubblegum pop/rock)
Charged up bubblegummy rock that is so upbeat and ultimately dandy that you can't help but smile and tap your tootsies. Is This Your Pill? is a wonderfully invigorated dose of big happy funtime. The album is almost completely out of touch with what is currently popular among average idiot music listeners...and that is most certainly a feather in the band's hat. The four men in Blankety Blank write and record wonderfully uplifting pure pop music with soaring melodies that sound not unlike Jeremy Morris. They are not afraid of sounding upbeat and positive...their songs are instantly addictive...and the vocals are absolutely out-of-sight (!!!). The album is short...consisting of a mere nine tunes...but within the confines of those nine tunes, these guys convey more ideas and feelings than 95% of everyone else out there. A truly keen little band to keep an eye on. In this comfy little campground, Blankety Blank is an instant HIT. Killer cuts include "5 Minutes Ago," "#1 Fan," "Is This Your Pill?," and "You Come Through." (Rating: 5+)

Calliope - Sounds Like Circles Feel (CD, Thick, Progressive moody pop/rock)
In most cities, hipsters are almost always very bad things. But this may not be the case in Lansing, Michigan...as the members of Calliope certainly seem to fit the mold of hipsters...yet their music is absolutely fantastic (!). More than any other band, the sound of Calliope recalls one of our top favorite bands of the 1990s, Radial Spangle...although their sound is smoother and less obtuse. The band's moody progressive tunes feature neat gliding melodies, intriguing arrangements, and vocals that recall John Cale or, even more so, Alan Laird (from the previously mentioned Radial Spangle). Sounds Like Circles Feel is a great spin...immediately setting a mood and staying with it. Although the band's sound is too artsy and peculiar for the average citizen, folks into quality music with a difference will almost certainly get a hell of a bang out of this one. Superb compositions include "What I Think You Mean," "Midwest Life," "Monsters In Here," and "It's Later Than I Thought." Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Charlemagne - Charlemagne (CD, Winterlander, Pop)
While he is probably best known as the leader and songwriter for the band Noahjohn, Carl Johns's first solo album (Charlemagne) proves him to be a credible one man band...and may very well be the beginning of a long and rewarding solo career. After all, when you can write and record an album this good on your own...who needs a band? Carl's smooth, deep voice is perfectly suited for his style of music...pensive, mid-tempo pop with a slight hint of country. Potentially interested parties should bear in mind that this album does not sound like it was created by one person. The tunes sound fresh and alive rather than calculated and overdubbed to death. Carl's overall sound is strangely reminiscent of 1990s Ohio home taper Ray Carmen. Gliding melodies on top of intricately strummed guitars create a hummable vibe that is both inviting and very smooth. Eleven great cuts here including "Prisoner Of," "Dawn Upon," and "Champagne Chin." Excellent. (Rating: 5)

Chester Copperpot - The Kings of Kirby (CD, Popkid, Pop)
Funny Swedish "rural power pop" with very loose vocals. Chester Copperpot (formerly The Kings of Kirby) is Fredrik Karlsson (guitar, lead vocals), Niklas Alden (bass, backing vocals), and Christian Sjogreen (drums, backing vocals). Despite the fact that this trio has an obvious sense of humor, they are by no means a joke band (although their main objective in forming was to "have something to do whilst drinking beer"). The Kings of Kirby contains a wealth of tracks (16 to be exact) showcasing these fellows' vibrant enthusiasm for what they do. The band's slightly sloppy approach seems almost purposeful and determined, recalling The Violent Femmes early in their career. But Chester Copperpot is mainly a power pop affair. There will almost certainly be a backlash against the band for the vocals on this album. In many cases, the singing is slightly off key. But this loose approach is part of the band's sound (rather than an error)...and is, therefore, rather endearing (rather than annoying). Kinda goofy in an odd way, these guys have their hearts in the right place. Some moments of genius even shine through here. Fun stuff. (Rating: 4++)

Chrash - The Party (CD, Future Appletree, Pop)
The Chrash (great band name, that) is the creation of Christian Burnout (another great name, natch....). In a world full of carbon copy musicians...Burnout's tunes are anything but predictable. We had to spin The Party many, many times before we finally came to the conclusion that...we really love this guy's music (!). The tunes are simple and direct...yet there are many hard-to-describe, subtle qualities that make the tunes sound rather unique and odd. The tunes are basic pop with a slight twisted quality that is never obtrusive...and the melodies are consistently wonderful. Although the overall sound is quite different indeed, the intent behind these songs reminds us of the inspired singing and playing on the first Talking Heads album. The Party is difficult to describe. Although we can't exactly explain why, we highly recommend this disc. Burnout is a superb, intelligent underground songwriter whose music is credible and genuine. Plenty of great cuts here...! (Rating: 5+)

The Evaporators - Ripple Rock (CD, Mint, Rock)
Fronted by Nardwuar the Human Serviette, The Evaporators provide hyperactive buzzsaw rock in the grand tradition of bands like The Dickies, The Buzzcocks, and the vastly underappreciated and obscure Pocket Fishrmen. Nardwuar's vocals, in fact, sound almost exactly like Brant Bingamon (!). The amplified frantic sound of Ripple Rock may scare off many folks...as this band is anything but tame and palatable. The Evaporators are, in a word, NERVOUS. They play like they have been permanently plugged into an overdriven AC current. The songs are fast, furious, and quite funny indeed. The band's over-the-top approach works...making Ripple Rock a cool little trip into the world of modern day comic book style power punk. No less than 23 tunes here...including "Addicted to Cheese," "(I've Got) Icicles On My Testicles," "Half-Empty Halls" (our favorite), and "I Say That On Purpose To Bug You." (Rating: 5)

Gingersol - Eastern (CD, Rubric, Pop)
Gingersol blew a lot of people's minds with their last album...and Eastern has absolutely the same effect. Playing beautiful pop music the way it ought to be played, the guys in this band really have their act together. Gingersol is, in fact, one of the most artistically successful pop bands of the past few years. But because the band is playing from their hearts...instead of trying to fill their wallets...they are, unfortunately, not a likely candidate for commercial success. Not that they don't deserve it, of course...but the songs are simply too genuinely good for the general public to digest. Eastern is a thoroughly absorbing collection full of gliding melodies, stunning guitars, and mellow rhythms. In terms of vocals, these guys beat just about everyone...recalling such greats as Evan Dando, Matthew Sweet, and Gigolo Aunts. Gingersol's emotionally-charged pop music is instantly effective and addictive. Exceptional cuts include "I Tried," "Please Let Me Go," "Birthday Girl," and "A Great Day for War." Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Denise James - It's Not Enough to Love (CD, Rainbow Quartz, Pop)
Obviously heavily influenced by female pop artists from the sixties, Detroit's Denise James is an amazing talent. Though you may not realize it, there is a good chance that you have already heard this young lady's music before. She has sung with and/or has had her songs recorded by a variety of previous bands before going solo. James' debut solo went over well with the critics...and It's Not Enough to Love is certain to be embraced with the same ferocious devotion. The album was produced by Matthew Smith...who deserves a great deal of credit because the overall sound is so close to the sound of the 1960s that the listener is almost inclined to believe this is an album of reissued material. But make no mistake, these are all new offerings...all ten tunes penned by Denise herself. This is not indie or lo-fi slop...but new underground classic pop music with a definite emphasis on melodies and lyrics. And what melodies...the tunes glide by, driven by James' reverb-drenched vocals. It's a pleasant and smooth affair from start to finish...undoubtedly destined to delight pop fans around the world. Many of these tunes remind us of Herman's Hermits and early Kinks. Top picks: "Hold On This Time," "Absolutely Sad," "No More Goodbyes," and "Your Every Word." (Rating: 5)

Lights Out Asia - Garmonia (CD, Sun Sea Sky Productions, Progressive/instrumental)
Nice epic instrumentals that generate moods. Garmonia is the debut album from Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Lights Out Asia. The band's music is smooth and soothing...yet cerebral and, at times, completely absorbing. Combining dub, ambient, electronic, and progressive elements, these folks obviously spend a great deal of time on their arrangements. Listening to Garmonia is like heading off on a journey during which you don't know exactly where you're going...but you have a great time getting there. Nice thick tunes like "Knock Knock," "Chapters Of A Red Sky," and "Not Every Day's A Victory" showcase this band's talents. Exotic modern mood music with class and style. (Rating: 4+++)

Ness - Up Late With People (CD, High Pilot, Pop/rock)
Slamming out of the gates with a serious KICK....the debut album from Ness is serious stuff (!). "Where the People Kick It" grabs you instantly with furious drumming and power chords...and from that point forward, these guys do no wrong. The real notable standout here is the title track...a thirteen minute pop epic that recalls Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in terms of song structure and presentation. The song is long and complex...yet never boring...and quite brilliant. How often do you hear a pop band tackle something this lengthy and dramatic...? Answer: Never. As if that track alone weren't enough to persuade you to buy the disc, the remaining seven cuts are instant classics as well. For fans of power pop with a punch, Ness is almost certain to entertain and delight. Great stuff... (Rating: 5)

Brandon Patton - Should Confusion (Independently released CD, Pop)
An excellent independent release. Brandon Patton may be an unknown...but many of his tunes rival those of the biggies. His ability to turn a tune and...even more importantly his voice...are extraordinarily impressive. More than any other artist, Patton's approach and material remind us of Evan Dando. His songs are, for the most part, soft pop based around an acoustic guitar...and his vocals are wonderfully breathy and sincere. Rather than sounding like all those interchangeable indie/lo-fi artists...Brandon chooses to write classic pop that is fully produced and slick. Should Confusion is chock full of mature tunes that just get better with repeated spins. The only clunker here is "Auspicious Moment" but...considering that it is the only bad track, eight outa nine ain't bad (!). Particular standout cuts include "Counting the Pages," "Did That All Before" (very Nilsson-esque), and "The Good Life." (Rating: 4+++)

Private Lessons - False Alarms (CD, No No, Electronic pop)
Atlanta, Georgia is largely seen by the rest of the world as a city with few...if any...credible musical artists. Looking at the larger picture, this may be well be true...but bubbling under the surface are some rather incredible and genuinely intriguing acts. Private Lessons is a case in point. The band's sound and attitude are completely out of tune with what one is accustomed to hearing from the biggest and shittiest city in the Southeast. Private Lessons is the duo of Jesse Atchison and Darren Tablan, both former members of the band Floraline. The tunes on False Alarms sound something like a cross between 10CC, Starflyer 59, and Joy Electric. Atchison and Tablan use technology to their advantage...keeping the human elements in their tunes firmly intact. Tunes are the central focus of any album, of course...and there are some truly choice gems to be found here. Heavenly cuts like "Emotional Shock," "Beach Blankets," and "Good Life" showcase wonderfully gliding melodies and vocals that are smooth as newborn baby acid. Cool stuff from a brand new band on a brand new label... (Rating: 4+++)

Rasputina - Frustration Plantation (CD, Instinct, Obtuse progressive pop/rock)
One of the most unique acts to emerge in the 1990s, Melora Creager continues to entertain and amaze with her peculiar brand of cello-based progressive rock. Considering the quality of the band's output, it seems amazing that Rasputina has only garnered the attention of a relatively small underground audience. While not the band's best recorded work, Frustration Plantation is a welcome addition to an already impressive collection of releases. The album contains some real gems but the overall flow is hampered somewhat by the inclusion of some novelty pieces. The best tracks are the stranger ones..."Doomsday Averted" and "Momma Was An Opium-Smoker" being the obvious standouts. While Creager's spoken word pieces are usually clever and hilarious, in this case there is a real clunker ("My Captivity By Savages") that would have best been left off the album. By anyone else's standards, this would be a modern day masterpiece. By Rasputina's admittedly high standards, this is a very good album that will, at the very least, satiate fans until the next offering... (Rating: 5-)

The Residents - Demons Dance Alone DVD (DVD, Music Video Distributors, Bizarre art rock)
Much more than a mere concert video...Demons Dance Alone is yet another peculiar and fascinating journey into the mind(s) of The Residents. Like a good dream, the concert starts slowly...getting weirder and weirder with each passing section/song. The Residents are, quite possibly, the most successful unconventional band on the planet. Since the band began, they have continually pushed the limits of what rock music can and/or should be. What is particularly interesting about this DVD are the effects. Instead of merely taping the concert from a normal perspective, the camera person actually becomes part of the show...following members around on stage...and even backstage at times. The effects are bizarre and often times frightening...blurred colors and stop/start images give the viewer an uneasy feeling. Musically, the band is once again on top of their game. Although generally considered to be a novelty by many, Residents tunes are actually incredibly complex and intelligent. Perhaps one day...unlike Gwar...the band's music will be appreciated on its own merits. There are so many outstanding moments that it would be impossible to include them all here...but a few highlights include (a) the freakish dancing demon himself, (b) the segments where everything turns into an unintelligible blur of bleeding colors, and (c) the "Life Would Be Wonderful" segment...in which the King Resident himself recalls a wildly hilarious story about meeting James Brown in the 1960s. We would highly recommend anything and everything that The Residents have ever produced...and that includes this peculiar little gem. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

The Robot Ate Me - On Vacation (Double CD, Swim Slowly, Offbeat pop)
You have to listen to a few thousand new bands each and every year...to realize just how boring most of them are (!). But on a positive note, all the generic uninteresting artists do serve a purpose...they make you really appreciate the good ones when they come along. The Robot Ate Me is an obtuse underground band that instantly stands out from the pack. The songs are almost completely out of touch with everything else currently happening in music...and what a refreshing change that is indeed. On Vacation is a brilliant two CD set enclosed in a beautifully crafted (and individually-numbered) handmade booklet. The Robot Ate Me is Ryland Bouchard along with David Greenberg (drums, percussion) and Jay Hoffmann (bass, violin). Bouchard's tunes sound something like Broadway musical tunes from the 1930s or 1940s...infused with all kinds of bizarre electronics, odd sounds, and treatments. The tunes sound simultaneously old and new...drawing inspiration from a wild variety of sources...all the while retaining a cohesive overall vibe. Possible modern influences might include The Eels, The Residents, Sparklehorse, Radial Spangle, and The Flaming Lips. Possible older influences could include everyone from Peggy Lee to Robert Wyatt to Ray Davies to Neil Young. But in all truthfulness, The Robot Ate Me tunes are their own pure entity...borrowing ideas and sounds from others...while retaining a distinct originality and uniqueness that is overwhelmingly appealing and fantastic. Bouchard's vocals are fragile and subdued...as are the atmospheric electronics that curdle his vocals. Each disc was recorded in a different location...presenting a combined total of seventeen tunes. The first disc is very moody and obtuse...while the second disc is more accessible and considerably less peculiar. This is a great package that should be grabbed up quickly...only 5,000 copies produced. On Vacation is a wonderful little trip...highly recommended...unique, refreshing...and REAL. (Rating: 5+++)

Rocket From the Tombs - Rocket Redux (CD, Smog Veil, Rock)
In many ways, Rocket From the Tombs may be one of the strangest reunions of all time. The band was formed about three decades ago...only played about a dozen shows...and then broke up and splintered into other bands. The "splinters" are the important variable here...as members of the band went on to join Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys. This album features the original line-up of David Thomas (vocals), Cheetah Chrome (guitar, vocals), Craig Bell (bass, vocals), and Steve Mehlman (drums)...along with a bonus musician: Richard Lloyd on guitar. Talk about an all-star line-up (!). You would think...with middle-aged musicians getting back together after such a long time...that the proceedings would be dull, uninspired, and tedious but...surprise! This album is fresh, intense, and quite an interesting trip. Lloyd produced, recorded, and mixed the album. An interesting simultaneous glimpse into the past and present... (Rating: 4++)

Social Functions (Tedious, trite, and boring thing that appeals to retarded morons kind of thing)
Hey, blah blah is having a PARTY at blahblah! Oh, let's go! All of our friends will be there...it'll be SO much FUN! Parties, parties everywhere...and not a drop worth SHIT. Why do people hang out with each other in groups? Why is it, you ask? It is because they are STUPID and PATHETIC. You see, dear readers, stupid and pathetic people have ONE IMPORTANT THING in common. They all like to HANG AROUND WITH EACH OTHER. And being the stupid, pathetic retards that they are, when they get together for their GODDAMN SOCIAL FUNCTIONS...they actually think that they are having a GOOD TIME. Which just goes to show, of course, how truly stupid and pathetic they REALLY ARE. Strength lies in individuality...never needing to have the support and or approval of friends or strangers...or ANY GODDAMN GROUP OF PEOPLE AT ALL. Yet everywhere we look HORDES of people are crowding into STORES...CONCERTS...SPORTING EVENTS...FUND RAISERS... Strange how EACH and EVERY goddamn large group looks just the others...like a stinking horde of INSECTS rooting about in a piece of ROTTEN WOOD. People are shitty, ugly, worthless goddamn SCUM...each one shitty, ugly, and worthless in its own UNIQUE GODDAMN way. So the next time you consider going to a concert...or to a hip party... or WHATEVER...REMEMBER THIS. Hanging around with others doesn't make you seem "cool"...it makes you seem DUMB AS SHIT. (Rating: 1)

Sounds Like Braille - Right Out of Left Field, Straight to the Middle of Nowhere... (CD, Contraphonic, Progressive/instrumental)
Riding the crest of the new wave of progressive instrumental bands, Wisconsin's Sounds Like Braille certainly have the right idea...as well as the talent and skills to make it work. The band's complex and often-times thick instrumentals are moody and slightly surreal...pushed to the next level by the appropriate use of real drums (a huge plus). Odd guitars and subtle electronics merge into a compelling haze of bizarre imagery...while clever bass lines and precise drumming hold things together. It is difficult to describe the sort of dreamy music this band provides...thus, the listener is left to draw his or her own conclusions. Jazzy instrumentals with modern rock overtones. This band delivers the goods with subtle intensity and style... (Rating: 4+++)

Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans (CD, Sounds Familyre, Soft pop)
Easily one of the most gifted unknown artists around. Sufjan Stevens is a brilliant young man with a unique approach to music and an instantly identifiable sound. Seven Swans was recorded approximately three years before its release by Daniel Smith (of Danielson Famile). It is, in fact, the only Sufjan Stevens album that he hasn't recorded himself. As such, it seems interesting that the album features a more stark and realistic image of the man. In many ways, the overall tone of Seven Swans is reminiscent of Donovan's A Gift From A Flower To A Garden. The songs are simple, super soft, and direct and feature sparse arrangements...allowing the listener to focus on the melodies and, in particular, the finely tuned lyrics. Superb introspective tunes like "All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands" and "Sister" give this album true appeal. While we prefer Stevens' own brand of recording and arranging, this is still an intriguing glimpse into the mind of the man from a different perspective... (Rating: 5+)

The Very Most - Making the Case For Me (CD, Coming In Second, Pop)
The Very Most is the one man band consisting of Jeremy Jensen. His latest album is offered to the public courtesy of the fine folks at Coming In Second, a small Boise, Idaho-based label dedicated to promoting some of the area's more obscure musical entertainers. Jeremy Jensen is an intelligent popster with a super smooth voice...and an impressive flair for writing tunes. His music is inspired and extraordinarily unpretentious. The overall vibe of Making the Case For Me is pleasant and upbeat...without ever sounding too sweet or sugary. Some of the tunes are highly reminiscent of Jeremy Morris in that the words and melodies are persistently positive. This album is a nice little jewel that you aren't likely to find in the stacks at your local record shop...so your best bet would be to visit the label's web site (link above). A cool little gem, this one... (Rating: 4+++)

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