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July 2001 Reviews by

Adult Rodeo
All Else Failed
Natacha Atlas

The Autumns
Avalon Blues
Bird Mucous

Blues Traveler
Busy Signals
Vincent Clarke & Martyn Ware

Comment Piece
Econoline Crush
Fireball Ministry

Fluorescent Tunnelvision

From Zero

Cliff Hillis
Hundred Hands
Matthew Jay
The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up

Judas Priest
The Incredible Moses Leroy

Edwin McCain
The Moore Brothers*

The Revelaires

Saves the Day
Scared of Chaka

Season To Risk
Starflyer 59*
The Swords Project
Rufus Wainwright

Why Is Everything and Everyone Stupid?


*Top Picks


July 2001 Comment Piece: Some Thoughts About CD Duplication

One of the biggest issues facing the music industry is supposedly the "terrible problem" of people freely making digital copies of CDs. And, if we are to believe the arguments of certain major music labels, this is HURTING THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. Hmmmm...is this REALLY the problem? Of course, we can only speak from our own experience... In the past couple of years since friends started giving us CD-Rs in order to turn us onto new things...we have bought about TEN TIMES MORE MUSIC THAN EVER BEFORE IN OUR LIVES. Why? Because if we are exposed to an artist's music that we really love, we go out and buy MORE. LOTS more. And you can bet that if we TRULY dig something...we want the REAL thing and not a goddamn copy (!). And we're not the only ones operating in this manner. Lots of our friends do the exact same thing. If those ALL IMPORTANT sales figures aren't up to snuff...is it because people can now freely make perfect digital copies...or is it because the QUALITY of the average major label release has gone way, WAY DOWN...? (Now if you happen to work at a big record label, don't get your feelings hurt. We know that there are some companies who still give a damn about quality and release great stuff...there are exceptions to every rule. And we also admit that lots and LOTS of individual artists and smaller record companies are ALSO guilty of releasing far too much BAD CRAP...) But we're talking generalities here...and in general, you can be DAMN SURE that 90% of what is released is pure TRASH. We'd be willing to bet that consumers are spending as much money today (or probably more) than they ever have on music. The big difference is that now--because the channels of distribution have changed--more of the money goes into the hands of individual artists or small and medium-sized labels. One thing is for certain. If you release something that is really and truly CREDIBLE..and then market it right...people will most certainly BUY THE DAMN CD. One thing we do believe, however, is that people who illegally duplicate others' music and make a profit from it should be punished SEVERELY. This includes all those little mom and pop shops out there selling "under the counter" copies of rare...and ILLEGALLY DUPLICATED...CDs. And their measly excuse is that "we don't know where it came from" or "we barely make enough to survive." Awe, the poor, POOR babies... SCREW THEM. Anyone who profits from illegal music duplication IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM is a criminal. Accordingly, anyone who engages in these sorts of activities is dishonest and ought to be punished. (But then this would require active law enforcement, which is obviously in SHORT SUPPLY these days...big problem THERE...) Our feeling is that the more free things people are allowed to get hold of, the more that they will buy. It's that SIMPLE. If our depressing and pathetic society would concentrate on things that matter...instead of things that DON'T...everything would be so much easier. (And we're so goddamn clever and superior for being able to RECOGNIZE that, ain't we? Vomit, puke...) On the other side of the coin (and to jump off the negative pony for a moment)...even though 95% of what is released is virtual CRAP...that STILL means that there is so much incredible music being released that there's no way that one can take it all in. (This explains why we write so many positive reviews...we'd much rather concentrate on the GOOD stuff and ignore the BAD.) So...a couple of thoughts to everyone who whines about duplication killing the music industry as well as to those out there making a profit from illegal CD duplication... Perhaps the problem isn't free duplication...but rather (1) simple neglect on the part of the large corporations (and other guilty parties) to release good music, and (2) our seedy and inept government's obvious inability to perform certain basic functions...

Adult Rodeo - Long-Range, Rapid-Fire (CD, Four States Fair, Pop/rock/country)
We had to listen to this l'il baby several times in order to comprehend what was going on...and we're still not quite sure what to make of it. The four men and one woman in Adult Rodeo create heady and confusing pop that is thick...sometimes absurd...and sometimes verging on normal. "Moisturizin," the opening track, will likely leave most listeners breathless and wondering what happened. Our favorite track here is the understated "A. C. Carousel," which features a wonderful melody line and very matter-of-fact vocals. This was produced by Kramer...so that could have something to do with all the weird arrangements... We also like the slightly psychedelic stylings of "Eucalyptus"... Weird stuff that is still coherent enough to listen to and enjoy... (Rating: 4)

All Else Failed - Archetype (CD, Now Or Never, Progressive thrash/metal)
A few seconds of this band's music will most likely scare away 99.9% of everyone out there. And that's probably just fine with the four perplexing men in All Else Failed. For the tiny percentage of folks who can take it...they are likely to find this band's confusing style of thrash music unlike any other they have heard. While most people will probably dismiss these guys as just another death metal band, nothing could be further from the truth. While this band's main emphasis is spewing out harsh and virtually atonal thrash/metal, there's a lot more going on here than first meets the ear. Vocalist Luke Muir's voice is an all-out assault on the senses but, on at least a few occasions, he actually pulls back and reveals another side of his bad self. Likewise, while the band plays mostly harsh and aggressive evil rock, they also dabble in all kinds of interesting experiments. The most surprising track for us is the moody and sparse "In Time." While we dig this band's sound, we can only recommend them for folks who are into EXTREMELY violent and HARSH music... (Rating: 4++)

Appliance - Imperial Metric (CD, Mute, Electronic/pop)
Appliance is not a band that one would expect to be on the Mute label, if for no other reason than they play somewhat standard high-tech electronic pop music. The band was formed in 1996 and consists of James Brooks (keyboards, guitars, sampler), David Ireland (drum machine, sampler, drum kit, keyboards), and Michael Parker (bass, keyboards, violin). The tunes on Imperial Metric remind us of Ultravox (after John Fox left). The tunes are built around strong beats and the vocals are soft and breathy. Unlike most Mute releases, this is an album that could actually yield (gasp) a hit single. Our favorites here are "Skylight" and "Where Has the Space Race Gone?" Good stuff. Not mind blowing, but pleasant and listenable... (Rating: 4)

Aroah - Cuando Termines Con Todo, Habra Terminado Contigo (Spanish import CD EP, Acuarela, Soft pop)
The more we hear on Madrid's esoteric Acuarela label the more impressed we are. Aroah is the pen name used by Irene R. Tremblay, a 20-year old obscure Spanish songwriter who has a stunning knack for writing tunes...and this young lady has a most engaging voice that is strangely arresting. In many ways, Tremblay's overall style reminds us of babysue favorite Ileni Mandell...because she is creating music from her own unique universe. And even though her tunes are based around an acoustic guitar, she is far from being one of those political folkies that we all know and hate. Ms. Tremblay writes quiet, thoughtful, creepy guitar lines and then layers them with softly sung lyrics. Her ideas work marvelously, as there is some strange quality to the music that is both haunting and mesmerizing. Though only six songs in length, this is a wonderful...and almost completely obscure...delight. (Rating: 5)

Natacha Atlas - Ayeshteni (CD, Beggars Banquet, Exotic pop)
Natacha Atlas is a unique lady in the world of popular music. Over the course of a few short years she has managed to cultivate her own unique fan base...a major feat, considering how very un-American her music is. Ayeshteni continues where the critically acclaimed Gedida left off. Ms. Atlas glides and floats in a wonderfully eclectic world of exotic music. And unlike most folks who simply try to flavor their music with hints of the foreign and unusual, Ms. Atlas jumps dead center into the pool. Dub-like beats provide a foundation for all kinds of middle Eastern sounds...strings glide from speaker to speaker...and high above it all are Natacha's unmistakable vocals. The best part is that she sings in ARABIC on all the tracks with the exception of the one and only 'average' selection (a forgettable cover of "I Put A Spell On You"). Nevermind that, however, as the rest of the cuts KICK ASS. Several years ago, an Arabic singer would never have had a chance of American success. Times have changed though, and Natacha has proved that you can play the game your own way and still achieve your goals. Yet another beautiful collection of tunes from one of the most unique and enchanting vocalists around... (Rating: 5)

The Autumns - Le Carillon (CD EP, Absalom Recordings, Soft pop)
This is a beautifully packaged and extremely well conceived four song EP. This Los Angeles band has a great deal in common with some of the super slick pop bands that were seeping out of Britain in the late 1980s. Clean, precise arrangements support vocals that are so silky smooth and on the mark that you just can't HELP but be drawn into the music. (We are tempted to compare The Autumns' tunes to some of The Smiths' better material...but must refrain, as this band seems EVER so much more sincere in their approach.) Four tunes here: "Thieves in Blue," "Quite," "Slow Kiss," and "She Whispers the Winter Snow." Top notch stuff, and quite beautiful indeed... (Rating: 5)

Avalon Blues - A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt (CD, Vanguard, Tribute/blues)
While we usually aren't too impressed with tribute CDs, this one caught our attention because it has something different to offer in terms of the artist being honored. Mississippi John Hurt was a blues artist born in 1897. His music did not receive wide recognition until late in his career. This various artists compilation is also an intriguing overview of where the esoteric Vanguard label is coming from these days. This tribute CD was produced by Peter Case, and he did a damn good job of selecting artists and material. There are a great many standouts here. Our top favorites include "Frankie & Albert" by Chris Smither, "Avalon, My Home Town" by Bruce Cockburn, "Candy Man" by Steve and Justin Earle, "Chicken" by Geoff Muldaur, "Beulah Land" by Gillian Welch (this one's particularly nice), and "I'm Satisfied" by John Hiatt. Of course, that's only the tip of the iceburg...as this disc contains covers by fifteen artists, almost every one of which does a wonderful job of interpreting the material of John Hurt. Whether or not you are familiar with Mr. Hurt's music is irrelevant, as this collection of tunes can be enjoyed by those in the know...or those who are just seeking some good ol' quality Americana... (Rating: 5)

Bird Mucous (Wet and sticky straight-from-the-mouths-of-birds kind of thing)
Everyone and their grandmother seems to be falling all over the place groveling about how cool and hip Bird Mucous is these days. "Gosh, do you think we can get back stage passes to Bird Mucous?" "Gee, there's nothing as totally original and convincing as Bird Mucous." "Bird Mucous looks so COOL...why can't I look cool like that?" We decided to go straight for the throat and obtain some mucous from the mouth of a really big and important bird to find out what all the fuss was about. And do you know what? We determined that Bird Mucous is...BORING. Yup, we compared that goddamn ol' sloppy bird mess to some of our own goddamn mucous and we couldn't tell one bit of difference between the two. The lesson? If everyone is excited about something in particular, you should try your best to IGNORE IT. Particularly if it has a STUPID NAME. "Bird Mucous." Sheesh. How ridiculous. Go on now, get out of here, will ya? (Rating: 2)

Blues Traveler - Bridge (CD, A&M, Pop)
There was a time not that long ago when we would have immediately yanked a CD like this from our player without giving it a second thought. But nowadays in our quest to give everything a fair chance, we have become increasingly open minded to things that we once hated. Blues Traveler is a band for folks who like their music easy and accessible...for folks who don't want to be challenged by music...and for folks who simply want to have a couple of drinks and relax. While these traits don't really apply to our own peculiar manner of being, this is probably how most folks perceive music. Accordingly, we can highly recommend this disc to that sector of the population that breeds on familiarity. Now those of you who can actually read between the lines may be thinking, "Those babysue folks must really HATE this band--they're just being polite." Actually, we don't hate Blues Traveler at all. In fact, we find the songs on Bridge to be fine, enjoyable, and well executed. While not the most original band in the world, the fellows in this band are superb players and they give off "good vibes." (Jesus Christ...did we REALLY use that phrase???) (Rating: 3+)

Busy Signals - Pretend Hits (CD, Sugar Free, Pop and more)
What a great title for an album...wish we'd thought of it... (Not Rated)

CKY - Volume 1 (CD, Island, Rock)
We receive hundreds and hundreds of CDs by hard rock bands that all sound alike. Hard rock bands generally tend to just turn up and drone away, boring both listeners and (probably) themselves. A band like CKY is a blast of fresh air because they inject incredible new life into a medium that is often tired and samey. Consider them a thinking man's hard rock band if you will, because not only are these guys loud and abrasive...they are also intelligent and know how to write some KILLER tunes. The single element that drew us into the music first were the wonderful guitar riffs. No unstoppable power chord slamming here. These guys play smart and super catchy riffs on their guitars and they are anchored in some super masculine and complex rhythms. That in and of itself would cause us to melt and swerve off the road...but the vocals are another HUGE draw. No atonal screaming. CKY's vocalist sings in a very restrained style...but make no mistake, he is powerful. It's just that--unlike your average hard rock singer--he doesn't feel the need to SCREECH in order to get the message across. CKY is an extremely HEAVY band. And we get the impression that they'd rather play really, really HARD...than play way too fast (which is the norm these days). In all honestly, we haven't heard a loud guitar band we've liked this much since Fu Manchu. These guys are an absolute mind blower. And if you don't believe us, spinning this disc will most likely make a believer out of you. Killer rock tunes like "96 Quite Bitter Beings," "Disengage the Simulator," and "My Promiscuous Daughter" will have you doing cartwheels in your front yard. CKY is easily one of the BEST HARD ROCK bands we've heard this year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5+++)

Vincent Clarke & Martyn Ware - Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (CD, Mute, Electronic/instrumental)
We never cared for the music of Erasure (Vincent Clarke's former band) and we were only barely amused by Heaven 17 (Martyn Ware's former band). We believe that it is better to leave doors open in general, however. After listening to Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle it's a good thing we didn't just throw this disc to the side because we didn't care for these two gentlemen's former bands. Basically, this is modern mood music...and it sounds nothing like Erasure or Heaven 17. The pieces are divided into colors (White, Yellow, Red, Blue, Green, White)...and each composition and corresponding color was created to evoke a specific mood (white = you are in heaven, yellow = you are on a beach, etc.). Sure, we've heard better electronic music...but this is still quite nice, relaxing, and calming stuff that does the trick... (Not Rated)

Econoline Crush - Brand New History (CD, Restless/EMI, Rock/pop)
Thick, loud, melodic, danceable rock music played with balls and conviction. We were at first put off somewhat by the all the studio gloss and polish of this release...but once we got used to the sound, we found that we actually liked it. Econoline Crush is, first and foremost, a rock and roll band. (How many times have you heard THAT line before?) These four gentlemen truly do rock out in a believable and interesting manner. Their wall of sound is anchored in heavy and danceable rhythms, and the lead singer has a vocal style with a great deal of commercial potential. Canadian lead singer/songwriter Trevor Hurst knows how to turn a tune. Lots of catchy, upbeat tracks like "Make It Right," "You Don't Know What It's Like," and "Here and There" are easy on the ears but still have an edge. Interestingly, "May I Go" is our favorite on the album...one of the more subtle compositions... Tight, loud, and pulsing with energy, Econoline Crush is a band on the verge of superstardom. (Rating: 4++)

Fireball Ministry - FMEP (CD EP, Small Stone, Stoner rock)
Excellent high quality pothead rock. For anyone who ever loved the first three Black Sabbath albums, you are almost guaranteed to get a big POWER CHARGE out of Fireball Ministry. But don't expect a mere Sabbath carbon copy, as these folks are doing things their own way. What we find most interesting here is that the band consists of two men and two women...and note that the women DO NOT sing. If you think that women can't play as hard or as heavy as men can, this band will prove you dead WRONG. Though this is only an EP, this little baby jams and rocks with all the power of a true fireball (which is obviously the point, natch...). Shucks...there ain't a lot more we can say here...except that this is a KILLER band with some GREAT tunes. LOVE them wild GEE-tarrs! (Rating: 5)

Fluorescent Tunnelvision - Fluorescent Tunnelvision (Double CD, Submergence/Mother West, Various artists compilation featuring electronica and psychedelic space rock)
Space rock seems to be a dying breed these days...but for the life of us we can't figure out why...? Perhaps people aren't doing as much acid as they used to (sad)...or perhaps people have just lost interest... Whatever the case, we've always loved far out space rock...and this whopping double CD set is a great introduction to some new artists we had never heard before. There's a lot of cool trippy stuff here, but a few tracks stand out in particular. F/i's "Quantum Foam" is like a bizarre cartoon soundtrack, with lots of cool synthesizers sneaking in and out of the mix. Oranj Climax present some mind expanding experimental electronics on "Offering." Ektroverde go metallic hard edge with their abrasive "Suru." Volanic the Bear (great name) present the very subtle and obtuse "Strausshand." Tombstone Valentine's classically influenced "Fleeing From the Perfect Master" features acoustic piano as well as violin. There are a great many more peak moments on this disc, so we'll close here. This is a nice meaty chunk of space rock, and it includes some wildly experimental pieces... Personally, we LOVE this kinda thing...so we're hoping the Submergence/Mother West labels will be releasing full-length albums by some of these bands... (Rating: 4+++)

From Zero - One Nation Under (CD, Arista, Rock)
From gazing at the publicity photo we were certain that Chicago's From Zero was going to be another one of these samey noise/thrash/metal bands that are a dime a dozen these days. (Ridiculous haircuts and piercings are not exactly our favorite physical traits.) You can't always judge people by the way they look however (although it usually works just FINE for us...). Accordingly, the five odd looking guys in From Zero proved us wrong because their music is actually quite melodic and intelligent. The band sounds something like a cross between Queen and Rush...with a little death metal and industrial flair thrown in for good measure. The band has been in existence since 1998...and they're obviously playing the game to make money. That in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing...but it is evident from the overall sound and image they present. Still, good tunes like "Smack" and "Jeer" make One Nation Under an entertaining spin... (Rating: 3)

Gorillaz - Gorillaz (CD, Virgin, Cartoon/dub/dance/pop)
A cartoon band that plays...dub music?!? Sounds weird, huh? In some ways it is...in others ways, not so weird. This British quartet is approaching things from a different angle if for no other reason than their publicity photo features cartoon characters rather than human beings. The players are Murdoc (the founder of the band), 2-D, Noodle, and Russel. These four characters play a light and playful sort of dub/pop that is isn't too far out...but it certainly isn't what we are accustomed to hearing from the cartoon world. But according to the press release...the band also plays live concerts...so perhaps they aren't TOTALLY a cartoon band? You'd better check out their web site for more detailed information... Interesting idea here, and some of the tunes are quite good. We like the more abstract stuff like "Double Bass"... (Rating: 4)

Cliff Hillis - Be Seeing You (CD, Not Lame Recordings, Pop)
Super clean catchy pop filled with plenty of meaty hooks and absolutely fabulous harmony vocals. There's a bit of a bubblegummy sound to several of the tunes on Be Seeing You which we find most appealing. But don't think that Cliff Hillis is just another wimpy popster because he most certainly is not. Many of his compositions have a nice gritty sound with jarringly loud electric guitars...and when this guy gets charged up he can really be quite aggressive. Hillis' tunes are intriguing because even though most of them sound very familiar...we are hard pressed to come up with any accurate comparison. Our top picks: "Coming Out Alive," "Second Dimension," "Medicine," and "Nothing Matters More." Fun and highly melodic stuff that'll appeal to all those power pop fanatics out there... (Rating: 4+++)

Hundred Hands - Little Eyes (CD EP, Deep Elm, Rock/pop)
Cool moody pop featuring excellent guitars and mindbending vocals. Hundred Hands is the trio of Aaron Pillar (vocals, guitar), Christopher Crisci (bass, guitar, vocals) , and producer Ed Rose (drums, keyboards). Pillar and Crisci are also both members of The Appleseed Cast. The tunes on Little Eyes are somewhat drony...yet they also have an odd hypnotic quality that draws the listener in like cheese spread (it's probably those intermingling guitars...). Cheese spread is obviously relevant in our current time and space. Accordingly, this band's music is like a good jolt of health cheese for the peculiar segment. Six quality tunes here. Our top picks are "A Replay" and "Sunday." Neat stuff, which is what we normally expect nowadays from the increasingly eclectic Deep Elm label... (Rating: 4)

Matthew Jay - Draw (CD, Capitol, Pop)
One of the best new artists that we've heard in the past few years on the Capitol label, Britain's up-and-coming pure popster Matthew Jay has the goods and delivers them with style and conviction. To sum it all up, Draw is a great album. Mr. Jay has the energy and excitement of a fellow who has just found his calling...yet his tunes have a certain maturity that one rarely hears from an artist so early in their career. While many of the tunes are centered around an acoustic guitar, Matthew is definitely not a "folkie." Instead, his inspiration seems to come from the pop heavens above. The guy's smart. Not only does he write tunes that your average bozo can easily walk around humming, but he also throws in heady material that ought to please the artsy crowd. The icing on the cake? Matthew Jay has a completely fantastic voice that recalls many of the true greats from decades past. This album is chock full of memorable tracks, but our favorites are "Let Your Shoulder Fall" (the first single), "Molasses," "Please Don't Send Me Away" (wow!), and "A World Away." This guy will most certainly be a critical success... It'll be interesting to see how the public at large reacts... (Rating: 5)

The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up - It's Winter Here (CD, Absolutely Kosher, Rock/pop)
The folks at the Absolutely Kosher label claim that they are "up to something special here." There's no doubt about that, as we have been properly blown away by a great many artists on this wonderfully refreshing label. These folks seem to have an amazing ear for great music (Optiganally Yours and Franklin Bruno instantly come to mind). The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up is a band in which no one is named Jim Yoshii. The band does not sound very much like any other bands that we have heard. The music balances in between the gray areas left vacant by rock, slo-core, drony pop, and psychedelia. This isn't easy music, but neither is it difficult on the ears. At times the band becomes a blur of wild guitars...while at other moments the music is so soft and gentle that it makes you stop whatever you are doing and pay very CLOSE attention. If this is any indication of the "new" sounds coming out of San Francisco, then perhaps there is a musical reawakening happening in the area. Be aware that this band does not attempt to write and record hits...nor do they rely on catchy little riffs and clever melodies that stick in the brain. Instead, these folks create an intriguing kind of consciousness with their music that is reassuring and mind blowing. This is a case where you'd be better off checking out the CD yourself, as this one is not easy to describe... (Rating: 4+++)

Judas Priest - Demolition (CD, Atlantic, Hard rock)
Surprisingly good stuff here... In the case of Judas Priest, the change in lead singers a few years back was a major PLUS for the band. Vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens has a great voice for rock music that reminds us of mid-period Alice Cooper. Fans of the band's early music will probably dismiss this...as well as any other new releases from the current line-up...as being untrue and unfaithful to the band's initial sound and style. But to our ears this merging of grunge, pop, metal, and hard rock sounds DAMN good. Certain songs still retain that epic/arena rock sound that made the band so popular in the first place ("Close To You" is a good example). But it is actually the more straightforward rock numbers of Demolition that are the strongest. "Machine Man," "One On One," "Devil Digger," and "Feed On Me" are all great hard rock songs with heavy rhythms and big ol' macho overdriven guitars. This is the band's fourteenth (!) album...and they're still going strong. There aren't many bands who can make such a claim... (Rating: 4++)

The Incredible Moses Leroy - Electric Pocket Radio (CD, Ultimatum Music, Pop)
Fun and slightly goofy music from what is virtually a one man band. The Incredible Moses Leroy is Ron Fountenberry. On Electric Pocket Radio, Fountenberry solicits help from some friends ...but this is basically a one-man project. Whereas most bands and artists have one basic sound, Mr. Fountenberry skips in and out of a wild variety of musical style. The only constant seems to be his inventive arrangements. Many songs that might sound almost normal become heady and psychedelic due to the bizarre instrumentation this man uses in his tunes. Some high points include the light and airy "Beep Beep Love", the sing-songy catchiness of "Fuzzy", the moody and abstract "Christmas in the Summertime" (our favorite), and the straight ahead jazz of "Tomato Soup." This fellow is amazingly talented and he is obviously approaching things from his own unique perspective. A cool and different blast of ideas... (Rating: 4+++)

Edwin McCain - Far From Over (CD, Atlantic, Pop)
Clean and memorable Americana radio pop. Far From Over is like a non-stop string of hits. Recorded in a small studio outside of Austin, these twelve tunes ought to appeal to just about anyone who appreciates FM radio pop. Edwin McCain's sincere style of songwriting and his raspy vocal style are classic in many ways. And while most of these tunes are very formula-based, that doesn't really matter so much because the delivery is so strong and genuine. McCain doesn't seem to be falling into any strong image mold. His long straight hair and blue jeans give the impression that he is just an average guy who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. And at least with this release, McCain isn't trying to stretch any boundaries or challenge his listeners. Instead, his intent was just to "make a fun record, something where people can just put the top down and turn it up." If this was the intent, then this album is indeed a success. Many of these hummable tunes oughta be heating up the airwaves in no time. This guy is not only good...but he also knows what he wants to do and how to do it. Good, solid music. The is the sound of...America...? (Rating: 4+)

Moke - Carnival (CD, Ultimatum Music, Rock)
For those who just want to rock out and have a great time, South London's Moke may fill that empty void in your life. And for those who may have become increasingly tired of all the artists who seem to be trying to outdo themselves to be original and different...Moke just make make you a believer in the simple and pure force of music again. These four men play music that is direct, pure, honest, and very commercial. But don't let that last adjective scare you. Contrary to popular underground theory, commercial does not have to mean "bad." And in fact...if there were more bands like Moke...the world of commercial music probably wouldn't have the horrid reputation that is has gained over the past couple of decades. Moke is already a big success in England...but that doesn't necessarily mean that their fame will transfer to the big ol' ugly United States. After all, in this country if you are doing something that is truly great then you will probably achieve only very limited success. (It's true. If you don't believe us, take a look in the mirror.) But back to Moke... These guys write great songs, they really know how to play (LOVE the guitars!!!), and their harmony vocals are nothing short of...FANTASTIC. Note that this album was mixed by Bob Clearmountain. Pure feelgood music to play really loud with the windows down. This is one KILLER band. (Rating: 5)

The Moore Brothers - Colossal Small (CD, Amazing Grease, Pop)
We had to listen to this disc several times before we finally came up with the only comparison possible... The Moore Brothers remind us of one of our top favorite obscure bands of all time...The Hang Ups. Both bands play subtle and smooth pop that has a certain odd quality that is difficult to describe or pin down. The Moore Brothers really are brothers named Thom and Steve...and their wonderfully sincere approach to pop music comes through clearly on Colossal Small. Unlike most pop bands who fire easy shots from predictable cannons...these guys' pop music is skewed and full of surprises...and yet it still retains a fantastic hummable quality. This is an album that gets better with each and every listen. The melodies are so well constructed that you get pulled in further and further the more you listen. The songs themselves are killer...but the minimal arrangements are actually what make these brothers' music so ultimately fulfilling. Superb tracks like "Harry Lion," "Moleslica" (GREAT tune...sounds like The Solipsistics), "The Ghost of San Rafael," and "We're 25" will still sound great decades from now. Wow...the folks at Amazing Grease sure know how to pick 'em... REQUIRED LISTENING. (Rating: 5+)

Novadriver - Void (CD, Small Stone, Stoner rock)
Loud, overdriven, pot-induced rock with a definite sense of determination. Detroit's Novadriver was formed by prior members of the band Walk On Water. The band's 1970s-influenced sound is not simply a retrospective trip, as these guys incorporate modern elements into their music as well. Of course, the main emphasis are those fat, meaty guitars and manic/propulsive rhythms. Many of these tunes harken back to the early days of Black Sabbath ("End of the Universe" in particular), while others have more in common with modern-day bands like Fu Manchu ("Void" comes to mind). These guys are good at what they do...and they have the mighty, hairy chops to pull it off. This CD also features some wonderful graphics that are simple yet visually simulating... Good stuff if you like to turn it up ALL THE WAY and get LOADED... (Rating: 4)

The Revelaires - High Tide (Belgian Import CD, Kinky Star, Surf/guitar instrumental)
Fifteen great upbeat surf covers. We've heard many, many surf bands over the past few years, but The Revelaires have got to be one of the best as well as one of the most talented. This band's guitarist is a fast damn player and picker, and he knows how to make that whammy bar do what it's supposed to do. The rhythm section plays it straight...providing a solid and dense backbeat that makes it almost impossible to stay still. The band covers tunes by The Nocturnes, Dick Dale, and Henri Mancini to name a few. Great cover art depicts the band members with "martian" heads (a la The Residents). The disc ends with an A+++ cover of the theme from Hawaii Five-O that is about as good as it gets... Fun stuff, well executed and played with guts and spirit... (Rating: 4)

Saves The Day - Stay What You Are (CD, Vagrant, Rock/pop)
Another fine release from Vagrant, one of the most consistently entertaining independent labels in the country. Saves The Day is an appropriately named band, as these five young fellows just might make believers out of those who have become jaded and bored by the unstoppable multitude of guitar bands flogging the planet. These guys will be many things to many people. Their music and their style of execution are far and away much better than your average band. Of course, songs are the central point of gravity for any new artist...and these fellows write some strong goddamn material on Stay What You Are (their third full-length). The music is basically punchy guitar rock, but the interplay between the instruments is much more complicated and inventive than what we normally hear. In addition, the vocals are prominent in the mix...which is a plus considering the wealth of superb melodies that bounce off of these digital grooves. Smart and thought provoking lyrics complete the picture. Our top picks are "At Your Funeral" (oughta be a hit single), "Cars & Calories," "Jukebox Breakdown," and "This Is Not An Exit." Smart, fast, loud, and intelligent...this is obviously a very dedicated and hardworking band with a great deal to offer... (Rating: 5)

Scared of Chaka - Crossing With Switchblades (CD, Hopeless, Spastic hard and fast rock)
Wheeeeeeeeewwwww... Take a deep breath and get ready to get loaded to the music of Scared of Chaka. In a world where every punk band sounds like every other punk band, these guys are a WILD BREATH of FRESH AIR. The band plays frenetic buzzsaw guitar rock (which is not all that uncommon), but what pushes these tunes over the edge and makes them unique are those wild and melodic vocals. (Reminds us in a way of early Dickies except the overall sound is not as silly.) The problem with most bands that play really, REALLY fast is that all the songs turn into one unintelligible and droning BLUR. Not so here. These guys never forsake songs in favor of speed. Instead, they used the idea of revved up rhythms and loud guitars as a jumping off point for some excellent tunes that verge on being completely out of control. Excellent song titles ("I'm Atomic, Baby," "Permission To Die," "I Don't Wanna") complete the picture...making Crossing With Switchblades a MUST HAVE for fans of truly loud and intense bands. Our favorite here is the mid-tempo "My New One," which shows a different side of the band's talents. After hearing this we can't WAIT to catch these gentlemen in concert... (Rating: 5+)

Season To Risk - The Shattering (CD, Owned & Operated, Noise rock)
Another excellent release from one of the great loud and noisy rock bands of our time, Season To Risk. Unlike other great loud and noisy rock bands, for some reason unknown to us this band has yet to reach a large audience. A few years back we were at a very small club to see another band and Season To Risk just happened to be on the bill. Because we weren't very familiar with the band, we were not expecting very much. From the moment Season To Risk launched into their first tune they had us completely mesmerized and under their control. Not only do these guys play like holy hell, but they have major presence...something that makes their live shows something that you do not want to miss. Ever since that show, we have had great respect for this band. The Shattering is probably S.T.R.'s best release yet as it captures the band's live sound but also corrals the chaos so that the songs shine through clearly. Interestingly (and appropriately), this album was recorded by Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore. The sound is crisp yet sharp. And despite the fact that the tracks are noisy, this is by far the most melodic collection of tunes yet from Season To Risk. If you like it heavy, hard, mindbending, and real, you owe it to yourself to check this out. This is a band whose TIME HAS COME. (Rating: 5)

Smoother - Chasing the Dragon (Canadian import CD, EMI, Pop)
Completely unoffensive..and completely upbeat happy pop with superb melodies. These five Canadian gentlemen are SMART. Their music balances wonderfully on that unsteady point where commercial appeal collides with artistic integrity. Almost every single tune on Chasing the Dragon is a potential hit single. How many bands have one really great song on their full-length...let alone TWELVE (???). Of course, some of these tunes are bound to have all those smelly, worthless, shiteating corporate lawyers going crazy. While there's certainly nothing illegal about using the words "Good day, good day, good day, sunshine..." for the chorus of a song, the words OBVIOUSLY bring to mind a certain song by a certain group from a few decades past. (This strategic songwriting strategy reminds us of what Britain's The Pooh Sticks were doing a few years back when they began writing songs that freely used entire lines from other folks' tunes in order to construct their own.) As touchy as we are about copyright infringement (something that the government ought to take more seriously), we feel that what the P. Sticks were doing...as well as what the guys in Smoother are doing...ought to be completely legal. But even though that is the case, it will still drive certain people up the wall (way to go, guys!). While this is an import CD, the always entertaining Nettwerk label will be releasing this album in the United States. With punchy and amazingly catchy tunes like "Good Day," "East Side," "East Coast, West Coast," and "Revolution" spinning past, you are likely to SWEAR you've heard these tunes before. But that is the sheer beauty here, because these tunes are both strangely familiar as well as strikingly fresh and new... (Rating: 4+++)

Starflyer 59 - Leave Here A Stranger (CD, Tooth and Nail, Pop)
How many great albums must an underground band release before a reasonable number of people will take notice? In the case of Starflyer 59...who knows? We have been blown away by this band's music from the very first moment we heard them...and we are still entranced and intrigued. Unlike many bands who never "make it" and then simply lose their spark...lead singer/songwriter Jason Martin just gets better with each and every passing year. It is interesting to note that Starflyer 59 is a Christian rock band because you would never know it from listening to their music. (A note to folks who might NOT be religious...don't let this variable stop you from delving into this music...because if you do, you will be missing out on some KILLER stuff!) While the band lets their obvious religious leanings be known in their liner notes, they never clobber the listener over the head with preachy stuff. Instead, Mr. Martin and his associates just let the music run free like the rivers into the oceans...leaving the listener breathless in a cloudy haze of audio delight. It's hard to say whether this is the band's best release because...in all honesty...they are ALL so damn good. Fantastic and unforgettable tunes like "All My Friends Who Play Guitar," "Can You Play Drums?" (wow!!!), "This I Don't Need," and "Your Company" will leave underground pop fans panting for more. Will the public at large ever take notice of this FANTASTIC yet OBSCURE treasure? There's no way to know for sure... We're just glad to be among the lucky ones experiencing this... Pure magic from a band that has already achieved legendary status in our little corner of the universe... (Rating: 5+++)

The Swords Project - The Swords Project (CD EP, Absolutely Kosher, Jazzy, eclectic, mostly instrumental)
Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. From the amusing pink and white unicorn cover art right on through to the music on the CD, this is one of those really cool acts that is obviously creating and recording for the pure enjoyment of it. The Swords Project is based in Portland, Oregon. They have a stunning sound that blurs across many boundaries. The music is something like a modern version of progressive jazz/rock...with slight tendencies toward modern classical. And while this is only an EP, these people manage to do a great deal within the space of half an hour. Long, complex tunes that contain consistently mind-bending sounds are the special of the day, and after the last track spins out you are likely to try to figure out what it is that you just heard. Absolutely KILLER stuff that reminds us of some of the really tripped out progressive rock bands from the mid-1970s... (Rating: 5)

Rufus Wainwright - Poses (CD, Dreamworks, Pop)
Rufus Wainwright is a young singer/songwriter with an incredible voice. A really, really, REALLY incredible voice. The son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, this is one artist who is most certainly not treading in the dust of his parents' success. Although his music is most certainly accessible, Mr. Wainwright breaks molds. He's gay...but you'd probably never know it from the sound of his music. His songs are wonderfully out of place in today's world. Rather than coming across as just another generic nineties popster using all the latest technological garbage, Wainwright approaches music from a classical perspective. His piano-based tunes feature wonderfully lush arrangements...and the overall sound is very reminiscent of Harry Nilsson (particularly the vocals). You'd think with all the praise that this fellow received from his debut album that his follow-up would be self-absorbed and dull. Not the case, as Poses is chock full of grand, melodic pop masterpieces. Each song stands squarely on its own, but taken as a whole these tunes represent a truly credible and amazingly talented young man who seems to be hitting a major peak early in his career. Solid tunes like "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," "Greek Song," "The Tower of Learning," and "In A Graveyard" ought to please even the most jaded critics and music fans. Especially recommended for fans of Ron Sexsmith... (Rating: 5)

Weezer - Weezer (CD, Geffen, Pop/rock)
Before we begin this review, we must admit that we are NOT authorities on the band Weezer. In fact, we have heard very little of the band's previous material...so in this particular case we cannot contrast and compare. First impressions. Weezer tunes are (for the most part) basic buzzsaw guitar pop ditties that are not too harsh on the ears. But the band's music is far from wimpy. In fact, the blend of pop and rock ought to please fans of all-time-greats like Elvis Costello. The melodies and vocals are way above average, and the band seems to come off best when they're presenting mid-tempo material ("Island In The Sun" is particularly appealing). There are some good rockers too, though. We particularly like "Don't Let Go" and "Known-down Drag-out." There are a great many bands playing this particular style of music these days...but it still holds true that when you're good you're good...and these guys obviously know what they're doing... (Rating: 4-)

Why Is Everything and Everyone Stupid? (Puzzling question kind of thing)
Do you ever wonder about things? Do you ever try to figure out why things are the way that they are? Do you ever think? For those of us who DO think, one of the most common questions that seems to keep popping up is...Why Is Everything and Everyone So Stupid? Now some might stop us right here and make such claims as, "But everything and everyone is NOT stupid...there are all kinds of great things and wonderful people in the world!" But as we all know, of course, anyone who would make such a claim is very, very stupid. Sometimes answers to questions are purely simple, and that is most certainly the case here. Why Is Everything and Everyone Stupid? Simple. Because God made them that way. of course God likes creating stupid things and stupid people because they are more fun to watch. Consider this... Which would you rather observe...a healthy, normal puppy playing in the yard...or one that is missing two legs and is mentally retarded? Obviously, the retarded puppy would be infinitely more entertaining. The same goes for all things and people. Stupid is more interesting. And God knows that. Over the years he has become very, very good at creating stupid stuff. So much so that nowadays that is virtually all he creates. So, the next time someone asks you anything just look them in the eye and say, "How can I take you seriously when I know that you have something WRONG with you?" (Rating: 2)

Woe - Last Stop (CD, Some, Instrumental/jazz/rock)
Neat stuff. Truly neat goddamn stuff. Woe took us by surprise, mainly because bands on the Some label are usually rock acts. Not so this time. These guys play free style jazz layered over a rock backbeat. The overall effect is completely wild and spontaneous...and we LOVE those out-of-control horns. The band recorded these tracks instantaneously WITHOUT any rehearsal (!). Some of the tracks on Last Stop have a somewhat jazzy beat while others feature rock and roll rhythms. The compositions on this album are heady and very intense...and they represent a band that is taking a cool and unusual approach to recording music. And the quality of these recordings KICKS ASS. "This Soundtrack Will Break Your Heart" closes the disc on a strange and bizarre note that will take you by surprise... Because this music is basically uncommercial and abstract, there is little chance that you'll be hearing it on your local radio station. So...do yourself a favor and go the label's web site (above) to find out more. Unusual and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED... (Rating: 5+)

Wolfie - Tall Dark Hill (CD, March, Pop/rock)
Upon first listen, one might be inclined to dismiss Wolfie as just another indie guitar band. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that these folks' level of skill...particularly in the area of songwriting...far surpasses your average little pop/rock outfit. The band consists of Amanda Lyons (vocals, keys), RJ Porter (drums), and Joe Ziemba (vocals, guitar, bass, drums). The group has a playful upbeat sound that is characterized by tradeoffs between the male and female vocals. The interesting thing about this band is how they throw lots of unexpected curves into their tunes, especially in regard to melodies (the wonderful "A Checkered Begonia" is a good example). Whereas most trios would just churn out chords and drone away into oblivion, these three individuals are too smart for that. Instead, they change rhythms and vocalists (often in the space of a single tune) and upset the traditional generic formats that are so common in pop music. Rather than try to clobber the listener over the head with how clever they are, though, the differences in this band's music are ever so subtle...and that is the true beauty of the music. Lots of quirky little gems like "Gwendolyn," "Slip of a Shingle," and the perplexing "Happy State of Mr. Bubbins" make Tall Dark Hill a wonderfully entertaining listen... (Rating: 4+++)

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