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January 2003 Reviews by

Hugh Cornwell
d. Henry Fenton

Patty Larkin*
Limited Sight Distance

Ira Marlowe*

The New Folk Implosion

Brooke Ramel

The Red Thread
Kate Rusby*
Sweep the Leg Johnny / Rumah Sakit

Scarboro Aquarium Club
Slick Idiot

Summer at Shatter Creek*
10 Heads High
Tiger Mountain

The Vibrators

*Top Picks


Damone - From the Attic (CD, RCA, Power pop)
Wow. What a RUSH. Seemingly exploding out of nowhere, Waltham, Massachusetts' Damone deliver a power punch of melodic pop brimming over with hooks and fantastic energy. Though the band is most likely to be identified by teenage lead vocalist Noelle...songwriter Dave Pino is the brain behind the band. Damone tunes are thick and the band rocks hard...but the songs themselves always take center stage. Noelle's smooth vocals glide over the band's thick fuzzy guitars while the rhythm section provides an unrelenting foundation. The harmony vocals are fantastic. Damone's mission is to prove that power pop is not dead. After hearing this album, we doubt anyone will dispute the point...or be able to sit still. This band is exactly what we've been looking for to blast in our little red truck for the remainder of the year. Fantastic from start to finish, From the Attic is a mind blowing experience of the highest order. Top picks: "Frustrated Unnoticed," "Your Girlfriends," "On My Mind," "Leave Me Alone." (Rating: 6)

Hugh Cornwell - Mayday (CD, Track, Rock/pop)
Ex-Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell remains one of the greatest and most underrated guitarists of our time. This live recording from the summer of 1998 shows Cornwell is still in fine form. At the time of this recording, his band consisted of Michelle Marti (bass), Justin Chapman (drums), and Mike Polson (electric guitar). Playing for what sounds like it was a relatively small audience, Hugh and friends play a thoroughly entertaining set that proves this man still has a lot to offer. The sound quality is excellent throughout. (Rating: 5)

d. Henry Fenton - Autumn Sweet (CD, Laughing Outlaw, Soft pop)
Soft moody pop with a slight Americana feel. Australian born singer/songwriter d. Henry Fenton packed his bags and relocated to North Carolina...promptly enlisting the help of producer extraordinaire Mitch Easter to produce Autumn Sweet. This album contains a wealth of smooth pop tunes that sound not unlike the music of Neil Finn. The melodies are strong...the material is mid-tempo...and the vocals are always right on target. Even though the title track has the potential to become a huge international hit...we still think it sounds killer (!). This album should appeal to fans of Crowded House or Matthew Sweet. Fenton's motivation seems to be genuine and sincere...and this comes across crystal clear in his music. Excellent stuff. (Rating: 5++)

Glasstown - Your Trendy Dump (CD, Bitter Stag, Pop)
Thickly produced intelligent pop. Glasstown is the duo of Adam Klein and Michael Mullen. Klein and Mullen write and record pop music in the vein of mid-period David Bowie or even The Divine Comedy. At first the busy arrangements on this disc seemed out of place...but after spinning the album a few times the substance of the material sunk in. These fellows' material is extraordinarily well planned out and executed. The lyrics are smart and humorous. The title track was instantly our favorite...but we now also favor "Good Will and Charity" and "Everything You Save." This band is creating music that doesn't sound like everyone else out there. This is most definitely a BIG plus in their favor. Eclectic epic pop for thinking listeners. (Rating: 5)

Hayden - Live From Convocation Hall (Double CD, Badman, Pop)
Canada's Hayden is, without a doubt, one of the most engaging and unique talents on the planet. With each and every release, this young gentleman has outdone himself. His early releases received praise in some of the bigger publications...which would have made it very easy for him to simply modify his sound to reach a larger audience. But when Hayden made his "comeback"...he instead opted to re-emerge with an even more personal, introspective, and less accessible approach. The result, Skyscraper National Park, ended up being the strongest Hayden album of all...full of reflective, beautiful, and personal tunes. It is particularly fitting, then, that a double live disc set would be released of Hayden supporting that album. One of the remarkable things about this guy (unlike most musicians) is that he really needs nothing more than a single acoustic guitar in order to completely engage and entertain an audience. You can tell by the silence during the acoustic numbers that this man had the audience in the palm of his hand. He has written so many incredible tunes...and many of them are included in this performance. Exceptional versions of songs like "Streetcar," "Steps Into Miles," "Bass Song," "Two Doors," "Lullaby," and "Carried Away" make this a performance that will never be forgotten (particularly now that these discs been released to document it). Even though Hayden's tunes are pensive and thoughtful...his in between song patter is lighthearted and slightly goofy. If we were to name our top five artists of the past decade...this man would surely be one of the five. This is another MUST HAVE from a man who continues to get better with time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 6++)

Kobi - Projecto (CD, Silber, Electronic/ambient/experimental)
The best release yet on Silber Records (Raleigh, North Carolina's most obtuse and esoteric music label). Kobi is Kai Mikalsen...who is also a member of Origami Arktika, Sketch, and KA. Mikalsen is assisted on this project by various electronic pioneers of the Norwegian underground. The music is sweeping, ethereal, majestic, and mentally absorbing. Mikalsen approaches music from a unique angle...and the results of mind blowing. Despite the fact that the instruments are electronic...the compositions on this album are amazingly uplifting emotionally and very intense in a restrained manner. One of the most beautiful electronic masterpieces we have heard in years. Wendy Carlos would be proud. This is a MUST HAVE. (Rating: 6)

Patty Larkin - Red = Luck (CD, Vanguard, Modern R&B/pop)
Red = Luck will undoubtedly be the standard by which all other Patty Larkin albums are judged by from this point forward. In other words...this, her tenth album, is a direct HIT. This album incorporates ideas and sounds from Ms. Larkin's previous albums...and crystallizes them to absolute perfection. The songs are introspective and thought provoking...and Larkin's lyrics effectively communicate clear and concrete messages from deep within her soul. Though this is a very personal album...the tunes never come across sounding trite or sappy. Ms. Larkin plays electric and acoustic guitars...and then layers them with mandolin, bouzouki, lapsteel, accordion, piano, and harmonica. The arrangements are subtle...yet unbelievably effective. This is one of the best albums we have heard by any artist...in any genre...at any point in time...EVER. Tunes like "All That Innocence," "24/7/365," "Too Bad," and "St. Augustine" are mesmerizing, inventive, and absorbing. Destined to be one of THE top releases for 2003. This is an instant CLASSIC. (Rating: 6+++)

Limited Sight Distance - 4-Song EP (CD EP, Hand-to-Mouth Recordings, Progressive pop)
Offbeat progressive pop that bears similarities to 1970s progressive lords Curved Air. These thickly produced tunes were written and performed by Stefanie Fix and Kevin McMahon...but the pair enlisted the support of eight other well-known players on this EP. Ms. Fix's vocals are most definitely similar to Sonja Kristina (the lovely voice of the previously mentioned Curved Air). The music, however, is much more current...combining standard instruments with state-of-the-art electronics and effects. The overall sound is something like a well-planned drone. Obviously created as an art project first and foremost, this EP offers an intriguing glimpse into an obscure underground creative artists collective... (Rating: 4+++)

Ira Marlowe - Save the Day (CD, Caliban, Pop)
Though he's been writing and recording for years...this is most likely the album that will introduce the public at large to the music of Ira Marlowe. For anyone who ever enjoyed John Cale at his peak...or even The Blue Nile's first album...you will most certainly get a major charge out of the material on Save the Day. Marlowe writes material that comes straight from his heart. His compositions are smart and instantly memorable...and the arrangements are always exact and perfectly suited for the material. Marlowe's vocals sound very much like the previously mentioned Cale...although his songs have a depth and honest nature sadly missing in most of John's later efforts. Ira Marlowe is, without a doubt, one of the most talented (and virtually unknown) songwriters we've heard in years. His ability to write melodies that stick in the mind is amazing. And his ability to transfer his ideas and feelings through his music is 100% effective and real. Top notch tunes such as "Arielle," "Living With Robots," and "Troublesome Sky" make this album a superb spin from start to finish. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5+++)

Minmae - My Quiet Life (CD, Blackbean & Placenta, Esoteric experimental pop)
We are pleased indeed to be one of the few folks in the country to have obtained a copy of this disc. Minmae is Sean Brooks...with assorted friends lending a helping hand. Brooks is a master of composition. His material is light years beyond what we normally hear. Instead of going for one sound or style, Brooks' material jumps around all over the place...yet there is a consistent thread that gives this album a consistent feel. With most albums you can pretty much guess what the next song is going to sound like. This is not the case here. This album is chock full of surprises and unexpected turns. Sean's vocals are extraordinary. His lyrics are smart and puzzling...and the melodies have a peculiar quality that draws us back to the disc again and again and again. Our favorite tunes are "Alex NYC," "The Man Who Fought for Speed," "Bluebird," and "Sound of One Hand Clapping." In some ways, this music reminds us of a more experimental Solipsistics (!?!). The alternative title of the album is From Juniper to Couch...undoubtedly added to make things for confusing for the general public. Only 500 copies of this sucker were produced...so get yours now...or you LOSE. This fellow is an underground genius. EXCELLENT. (Rating: 5+++)

The New Folk Implosion - The New Folk Implosion (CD, Artist Direct / iMusic, Rock/pop)
Lou Barlow is a man who is driven to create. His former bands include Deep Wound, Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, Sentridoh, and The Folk Implosion. Prior Folk Implosion collaborator John Davis has left the band...so now Barlow has re-named the band The New Folk Implosion. At this point in their careers, most folks would have either burned out or given up the ship. Not the case with Mr. Barlow. The tunes on this album sound as fresh and vital as anything we have yet to hear from the man. The tunes are smart and well thought out...the arrangements direct and to the point...and the melodies are instantly memorable. Great tunes like "Brand of Skin," "Pearl," and "Leaving It Up To Me" make this one a superb spinner. Highly recommended... (Rating: 5++)

Paik - The Orson Fader (CD, Clairecords, Instrumental)
Heady and mind-numbing progressive drone music. The three folks in Paik create instrumental music with a difference. Instead of going off on lengthy solos or writing cumbersome material...they seem content to write relatively simple compositions...and then, through the process of repetition, slowly drive them permanently into the consciousness of their listeners. Something like a modern day shoegazer version of Hawkwind perhaps...? The tunes possess an odd epic quality...combining throbbing bass and unrelenting drums with thick walls of slightly psychedelic guitars. Our favorites are "Detroit," "Ghost Ship," and "Red Current." Twelve intriguing journeys into a strange world where the familiar meets the unfamiliar... (Rating: 5)

PAS/CAL - The Handbag Memoirs (CD EP, Le Grand Magistery, Pop)
Perfect music in every way imaginable. PAS/CAL truly is a pop lovers dream come true. From the moment "The Bronze Beached Boys (Come On Let's Go)" began we knew we were in for a REAL treat. This Detroit-based quartet plays pop music filled to the brim with catchy hooks...chock full of smart and incredibly inventive arrangements...intelligent lyrics...and the band's vocals are to DIE for. These six songs gave us chills on the very first listen...and our only reaction since has been to play the disc over and over and over... The remaining five cuts are "I'd Bet My Life That You Bet Your Life," "I Wanna Take You Out In Your Holiday Sweater," "Grown Men Go Go," "Marion/Mariam," and "This Ain't For Everyone." This band is INSTANTLY one of our ALL TIME FAVORITES OF ALL TIME. Absolutely...FANTASTIC. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 6+)

Petracovich - Blue Cotton Skin (CD, Red Buttons, Ambient pop)
Petracovich is Jessica Peters. Ms. Peters has accomplished what thousands and thousands of other artists only dream of. Based on her own determination, skill, and talent...she has written and recorded an album...and released it on her own label...and has come up with a collection of tunes superior to virtually everything being currently being released by major labels. Peters' voice is incredibly silky and smooth. Her music reminds us of Donna Lewis...except the music is not as sparse. Blue Cotton Skin is an amazingly effective collection of ambient pop music...executed to perfection. The tunes are smart, heady, relaxing, cerebral, and intensely beautiful. Highly recommended. (Rating: 6)

Brooke Ramel - Be (CD, Little Notes Music, Pop)
Brooke Ramel is an excellent example of a modern artist playing the game the way it ought to be played. Instead of depending on a music label to kickstart her career...young Brooke has taken matters into her owns hands...and she's already achieved a level of success that most only dream of. Ramen's music is basic upbeat pop music that is easy on the ears and retains a consistently upbeat quality (i.e., this is happy pop). While most of the world seems content to drip and drool at the heels of Britney Spears...this young lady is capturing the mind and hearts of those seeking something with a bit more substance. Colorful tunes such as "When I Saw You See Me" (a wonderfully moving composition) and "Walk Through the Flowers" make this album a delightful spin... (Rating: 5)

The Red Thread - After the Last (CD, Badman, Soft pop)
Some folks may remember Jason Lakis from the San Francisco band Half Film. Jason has parted ways with that band and is now on his own. For this album, Lakis is backed up by another San Francisco band...The Inspectors. Lakis and friends create soft, pensive pop music that is easy on the ears and subtle in approach. Jason's voice reminds us of Peter Gabriel at times (when Mr. Gabriel isn't trying too hard). There's a bit of a weary sound to these slightly Americana-based tunes. The album includes eight originals plus a cover of Bad Brains' "Sailin' On" (?!?). Nice smooth uncompromising stuff... (Rating: 4++)

Kate Rusby - 10 (CD, Compass, Folk/pop)
Folk music has gotten a bad reputation over the years because so many folks use it as a vehicle to spout off about their mindless political views. Fortunately there are exceptions. Britain's Kate Rusby has renewed our faith in folk music by avoiding heading down that tedious political highway...and by creating wonderfully sincere and heady tunes that make us feel incredible. 10 consists of re-arranged versions of Rusby favorites, live recordings, and brand new tunes. This young lady has a voice that puts her right up there with the all-time greats. One of the best artists we've heard in years. This album is chock full of absolutely FANTASTIC cuts. Rusby is destined to be a critics' favorite for years to come. Highly recommended. (Rating: 6)

Sweep The Leg Johnny / Rumah Sakit - Live September 9th, 2000 (Double CD, Sickroom, Rock)
This dynamic double CD features two bands recorded live at San Francisco's The Bottom of the Hill club. The first CD features Chicago's Sweep The Leg Johnny playing a somewhat spastic and intense set...adequately preparing the audience for San Francisco's Rumah Sakit (on the second disc). Rumah Sakit is a wild and unbelievably tight band. These guys play a style of music that sounds something like a thrash band playing jazz. The music is unpredictable, intense, wild, and amazingly complex. Never have we heard an instrumental band that sounds quite like these guys (!?!). They deliver a blow that you will NOT ever forget. Chicago's Sickroom Records continues in their mission to unearth some of the most unusual and unique underground bands in the United States... (Rating: 5+++)

Scarboro Aquarium Club - Poisoned (CD, Le Grand Magistery, Electronic pop)
Intriguing electronic pop. Scarboro Aquarium Club is Corey W. Schmidt. Schmidt writes and records upbeat techno pop that is not unlike some of Sparks later material. The music is cleverly crafted and executed to perfection. We particularly like "FuturePop" which features guest vocalist Melissa Boraski. This is a captivating album by a young man who obviously enjoys what he is doing...and is driven by a passion to create. Top picks: "Never Been to the Moon," "Sleeping Sound," "The Hemlock Girls," "Jumping in Front of Trains." (Rating: 5+)

Slick Idiot - Slick Idiot (CD, Cleopatra, Techno pop/dance)
Slick Idiot is the latest project spearheaded by En Esch and Guenter Schulz. En Esch and Schulz were former members of industrial dance pioneers KMFDM. After the breakup of KMFDM in 1999 the two gentlemen picked up the pieces and opted to continue their career. Not surprisingly, Slick Idiot tunes sound similar to KMFDM tunes...with one major difference. The tunes on this album have a darker and more sinister overall sound. The band is rounded out by backing vocalist Mel and drummer Mike. It's amazing indeed that after so many years these fellows' material still sounds so vital and refreshing. Slick Idiot will undoubtedly prove that En Esch and Schulz still have a lot left to give. The sound quality on this disc is superb throughout. Dance music doesn't get much better than this... (Rating: 5)

Summer at Shatter Creek - Summer at Shatter Creek (CD, Absolutely Kosher, Pop)
The curiously titled Summer at Shatter Creek is actually one man...a gentleman by the name of Craig Gurwich. This project is different from the average one-man-band project however. First, the recordings don't sound like solo recordings. Second, the material is more mature than what you normally hear from a man recording alone in his bedroom or basement. Beginning with the lovely lilting melodic strains of "Home for the Holidays," this album is entertaining from start to finish. The main reason this album is a success is that the tunes themselves are thoughtful, well written, and possess an odd unique thread that is difficult to define. Gurwich's clear vocal deliveries make each tune stand out like a rare gem. Destined to be a favorite among critics, this is an album that gets better with repeated spins. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

10 Heads High - From Here to Tupelo (CD, Pile On, Rock/pop)
Any record labels on the lookout for a band with the potential to hit it really BIG...might very well check out 10 Heads High. This Astoria, New York-based band has recorded an album that is bursting at the seams with potential hit singles. The band has amazing energy...but the songs are even more outstanding. Songs like "Evolution Queen," "Arms of December," and "Sideways by the Ocean" are well beyond what one normally hears from a band that has seemingly come out of nowhere. These guys are doing all the right things the right way. Great vocals, kickass rhythms, and mind blowing guitars. Great stuff... (Rating: 5++)

t.A.T.u. - 200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane (CD, Interscope, Pop)
Two Russian girls who are very fond of hugging and fawning all over each other in their publicity photographs. Are they lesbians? Or are they NOT lesbians? Our guess is that they aren't...but they're having fun making folks think that they are. The music reminds us of Madonna...which is not a bad thing. Good synthetic pop music here. If they can be a bit more original with their material this would greatly enhance their appeal. Expect to see and hear a lot about these two beauties in the "real" media... (Rating: 4++)

Tiger Mountain - Analog Heads Gone French (CD, Lucky Cat, Rock)
Wonderfully upbeat rock band whose energy reminds us of early Rolling Stones. Great meaty guitar riffs abound throughout this album...and the band's immediately catchy and upbeat tunes are a pure feelgood experience. Produced by Go-Kart Records' Dean Risper (who also plays bass for the band), Analog Heads Gone French has an immediate appeal in that it was produced to perfection and captures the essence of the band's spontaneity. The vocalist kicks ass. Great rock music that doesn't require thinking. (Rating: 5)

The Vibrators - Energize (CD, Track, Rock/pop)
One of the original "new wave" bands...although they never did really fit into the mold. This British trio never gave up the ship and, amazingly, are still providing the same sort of melodic and upbeat tunes that originally made them so appealing. Most folks who have been at it as long as these guys have either softened their sound, become smug and obnoxious, or fallen prey to overproducing themselves into oblivion. The tunes on Energize are fresh and vibrant...and the band is still writing cuts that are catchy as hell. Sixteen spicy songs...and they all sound MARVELOUS. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

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