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July 2003 Reviews by

The Agony Scene
The Album Leaf/
On Air Library

Brand New*
Comment Piece
The Contrast*

Die Trying
The Flops

Michael Franti
Frantic Flattops

Gina Artworth*
The Gits
Dana Glover
Joe Mannix

Marilyn Manson*
The Mosquitos

Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish
The New Christs
Tujiko Noriko
John O'Brien

Oh Susanna
William Parker
Pseudo Heroes

Skating Club

Smile Empty Soul
The Swamp Rats
The Swords Project
Chalee Tennison

Toys That Kill*
The Weisstronauts*
The White Liars

*Top Picks


July 2003 Comment Piece:
What ARE We Going To Do With All This Music?!?

Are there others out there who are completely overwhelmed by their music collections? We have loved music ever since we were old enough to listen...and we started collecting records as soon as we learned how to place one on the record player. Now...many years later...the result is thousands and thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of vinyl and plastic discs EVERYWHERE (!)...ALL OVER THE PLACE. Everything from 45s to 78s to LPs to CDs to CD-Rs to CEDs (videodiscs) and even laserdiscs...our office complex is now literally PILED TO THE CEILING with DISCS! It's an obsession that we purposely nurture, of course...but at some point we begin to wonder what the point of it all is. After all, once we tire of any particular disc...we rarely (if EVER) opt to spin it again. Because we are constantly bombarded with more and more and MORE fantastic NEW music (we can't even BEGIN to listen to all of the brand new stuff)...we are even less inclined to revisit the OLD stuff (!). We have concluded that this tendency in our lives is basically a compulsive disorder. It makes no sense at all to have this much music...but still...we always want more, more, MORE. Strangely enough...although we are aware of how out-of-control things are in our plush office complex at this point...there's NO WAY IN HELL we would ever change. After all...why SHOULD we? We love our lives just the way they are. We love jamming so much music into our heads (and into our offices) that we hardly have room to move (or to even think...). It's a great feeling having WAY TOO MUCH...isn't it? The way things are going...we will very soon have way, way, way, way, WAY too much. So...what IS the point here...? Well... What we would like to suggest to all of you out there is that you do EXACTLY the same thing yourselves (if you aren't already, that is...). Collect as much as you can every minute...and every second...of every day...of every month...of every passing YEAR. That way...when you DIE...you will know that your life at least meant SOMETHING. But...do large piles of PLASTIC and VINYL really mean ANYTHING...? Nah...not really. In the end, they're nothing more than big glutty space-eating piles of worthless stuff that don't mean anything. Music is important to us because it is just like our lives...pointless, worthless, and totally STUPID.

The Agony Scene - The Agony Scene (CD, Solid State, Death metal)
The Agony Scene is a roaring blur of anger and intense noise. Playing at the speed of sound and slamming songs down their fans' throats as if there there really is no tomorrow (and certainly no future...), these guys are a gang of hell raisers. Though the music is intense and frightening...the band is actually rather competent...and they come up with some surprises to make their music a bit more varied than your average death/metalheads. Lyrics matter little (if any) on this disc...as they are screamed and roared in such a way that it is virtually impossible to understand what is being said. This is the kind of thing that makes parents cringe...and, as a result, will appeal to kids who want to piss off adults. Hard to rate this kinda thing so...we won't (!)...but we can report that it is much better than most death metal we've heard of late. Can you handle it...? (Not Rated)

The Album Leaf / On Air Library - Split EP (CD, Arena Rock Recording Co. (ARRCO), Progressive)
Already having made a name for himself as a member of the wonderfully entertaining band Tristeza, The Album Leaf is a side project created by Jimmy LaValle. As such, this one-man-band sounds something like Tristeza...but a bit more light and accessible. Three Album Leaf cuts are presented here: "Another Day," "Essex," and "Lamplight." Anything LaValle is involved with is rather incredible. These songs are no exception. On Air Library is the New York trio consisting of Alley Deheza, Claudia Deheza, and Phillip Wann. Alley and Claudia are identical twins. Unlike The Album Leaf, On Air Library does feature vocals...although the band's vocals are extremely soft and subtle. Musically, the band presents atmospheric progressive pop with an abstract slant. Intriguing stuff...makes us want to hear more. It's hard to rate a split disc, so we'll just say that we would highly recommend this to you, the listener..and then you can draw your own conclusions about each band... (Not Rated)

Ambulance - Ambulance (CD EP, TVT, Pop)
While we don't normally review EPs, we're making an exception in this case because Ambulance is a wonderful up-and-coming band from New York. The band's songs are thickly arranged compositions featuring heavenly vocals and intriguing arrangements. The band consists of Marcus Congleton (vocal, guitar), Andrew Haskell (keyboards, backing vocals), Darren Beckett (drums), Benji Lysaght (guitar), and Matt Dublin (bass, backing vocals). Really nice stuff. The band has paved the way for what will most likely be a killer debut album... (Rating: 5)

Brand New - Deja Entendu (CD, Triple Crown / Razor and Tie, Moody rock)
The second album from Brand New (their first was entitled Your Favorite Weapon). This band is multifaceted with a sound and style unlike the zillions of other generic drone bands that are currently invading Planet Earth. After spinning Deja Entendu several times...we were still hard pressed to come up with comparisons. The band's fuzzy pop/rock is unpredictable in a rather inviting manner. And while band's sound is certainly accessible and melodic...they are by no means an artificially created sell out act. The band consists of Jesse Lacey, Vin Accardi, Brian Lane, and Garrett Tierney. These four guys seem driven more by artistic sensibility than a desire to sell their music...and that in and of itself...is appealing. Another great plus for this band is the fact that they chose to not put their photos on the album...opting instead to include a lyric book that includes some slightly peculiar astronaut art. The band's melodic compositions are balanced by a nice progressive infusion that makes the pieces hold up to many repeated listenings. Cool cuts include "Tautou," "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" (ha!), "Jaws Theme Swimming," and "Good To Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have To Do Is Die" (GREAT song titles, fellows...). Damn intriguing stuff from a new band with something truly worthwhile to offer. This one's ggggrrRREAT!!! (Rating: 5++)

The Contrast - Wireless Days (CD, Rainbow Quartz, Pop)
Wonderfully melodic guitar pop. Based in Peterborough, UK, The Contrast is led by David Reid...a young man who truly knows how to turn a tune. The compositions on Wireless Days are chock full of thick guitars and super smooth harmonies. The band's music recalls a wide variety of artists from the 1970s on through to the present. Image-wise, the band is impressively normal looking. (They appear more like college students than rock musicians.) Reid has a remarkable voice. In some ways he sounds like a softer, more contemplative Paul Weller. The band is rounded out by James Crossley (drums), Richard Mackman (bass), and Spencer Hart (rhythm guitar, backing vocals). Together, these four gentlemen produce impressively sincere and mature pop that is instantly memorable and sticks in the head like glue. The melodies are exceptionally strong...and they are supported by arrangements that perfectly fit the songs. The result...is an album that will hold up to dozens and dozens (hundreds perhaps?) of repeated spins. The first features one quick moment that will, inevitable, have everyone reaching for their stereo (or computer) to try and fix the problem--but it works, a great little production trick (!). Twelve luscious tunes here including "Can't Stand the Light," "Fortune" (particularly great), "Charlie Grey," and "Elvis Fix." Exceptional pop delivered with integrity and just the right amount of polish. (Rating: 5++)

Depswa - Two Angels and a Dream (CD, Geffen, Rock/pop)
Depswa is a good band. This five man group plays hard buzzsaw pop/rock. All five are tight on their instruments...and their vocals are right on target. Two Angels and a Dream is a very slick and highly produced album full of tunes that range from soft and pensive to loud and aggressive. Depswa is obviously a competent band. The only detracting factor about this album is that this band sounds like hundreds and hundreds of other bands currently on the horizon. In order to truly stand out in the world of music, an original and unique sound...combined with memorable songs...is critical. These guys are without a doubt entertaining...but with stronger material, they could be truly outstanding... Top picks: "This Time," "Prom Song," "Where I've Begun." (Rating: 4)

Die Trying - Die Trying (CD, Island, Rock)
Thick, masculine, hard pop with veins that nearly pop. While there are a great many bands that have the same basic sound as Die Trying...there are few who sound as convicted and determined to prove their point. Another fact that separates these guys from the rest of the pack...is that they have a recording contract with Island. That helps a lot. Another feather in their hat is the way they look. These guys look like budding rock stars. They're young...and they have that "tousled" hair look that is so popular these days. Good stuff, not great, but decent. With more original material, these guys could go far. (Rating: 3++)

The Flops - Ooh La La (audio CD & CD-ROM set, Mockingbirds, Folk/pop)
The Flops are John Munson and Matt Wilson. John also plays bass and sings in Semisonic and Matt was the founder of the band Trip Shakespeare. The two came together to create The Flops...an acoustic duo with a difference. This is a double disc set featuring an audio CD and a CD-ROM. The audio CD features fourteen tracks recorded live. The band made the wise decision to fade in and out of songs...rather than leave those long silences and obnoxious verbal dialogues that are more often than not included in live recordings. As a result, this disc is infinitely more listenable than your average concert recording. Of course, including killer material doesn't hurt either. These guys' songs are well-written and come straight from the heart. Using only the bare minimum, the pair manage to entertain and maintain their focus incredibly well. Our favorite cuts are "Deep All the Way Down," "Two Wheeler, Four Wheeler," "Drummer Like Me," "Travel Plans" (our favorite), and "Susannah." Some very intriguing stuff here. Great melodies from start to finish... (Rating: 5)

Michael Franti and Spearhead - Everyone Deserves Music (CD, iMusic / BMG, Soul/funk/rock/reggae)
Michael Franti is the founding member of the bands The Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Accordingly, the man already has a built-in following for his latest band Spearhead. Everyone Deserves Music will please Franti's longtime fans...as well as bring in new recruits. This twelve track album features upbeat, refreshing, modern funk/soul/pop music that is smooth, inviting, and infectious. Franti produced the album himself...so the sound quality is, not surprisingly, rather exceptional. The songs are intriguing and entertaining...but what is most captivating about this man's music is his voice. Michael has a deep, sexy voice that is not unlike some of the best soul artists of the 1970s. Some of the lyrics here are wonderfully inventive: "We can bomb the world to pieces but we can't bomb it into peace" (extraordinarily well written...really stays with the brain!). The best songs here are the ones that emphasize funk and soul...and deemphasize the hip hop elements. Plenty of great cuts here, including "We Don't Stop," "Never Too Late," "Bomb the World," "Love Invincible," and "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy." (Rating: 4+++)

Frantic Flattops - Hi Fi Honey Revisited (CD, Get Hip, Rockabilly)
Hi Fi Honey Revisited is a remastered reissue of this band's first album (Hi Fi Honey, originally released in 1993) plus some bonus live and studio cuts. Frantic Flattops are still on the road, playing to audiences who just can't get enough of their super direct and ultimately genuine rockabilly music. This trio captures all the basic energy inherent in early Elvis Presley recordings. There is no glossy polish...no unnecessary overdubs...absolutely nothing to get in the way of the band's addictive and solid sound. Though Hi Fi Honey was recorded in a studio...it has all the energy and excitement of a live recording. If you think The Stray Cats are what rockabilly is all about...you're living with your head in the sand. Frantic Flattops are the real thing. Their music induces dancing and beer drinking...and provides a guaranteed rousing good time for all who are fortunate enough to hear it. This reissue contains a whopping seventeen tracks, including "Juke Joint's Jumpin'," "Dressed Up," "One More Dance," and "Buzzard Luck." (Rating: 5)

Gina Artworth - Gina Artworth (CD, Another Record, Progressive rock)
Intriguing and unpredictable progressive rock. Gina Artworth is the name of a band...not a person. The band consists of Florian B. (drums), Aurelie V. (voice), Charles F. (guitar), and Sylvain T. (bass). The band's sound is most obviously characterized by Aurelie's unusual vocal stylings. She sounds something like a more inventive...and more peculiar...young PJ Harvey (or, at times, even Yoko Ono). Instead of singing in a traditional manner, Aurelie uses her voice as an instrument. She whispers, screeches, whimpers, wails, gets all worked up...and them calms down again. Her voice is very much like the ocean: full of deeply unreal impressions and prone to sudden bursts of violence. The band plays progressive guitar rock that mimics Aurelie's voice. You never know exactly what will come next. In some ways, the music (taken without the vocals) could almost be described as modern jazz...due to the spontaneous nature of the instruments. Moody, intense, dark, remarkable, and at times even funny, the music of Gina Artworth will only be appreciated by a select few. Six lengthy tunes here, including "Fourty Niners," "Intuition," and "Immature Music." Great stuff...! (Rating: 5++)

The Gits - Frenching the Bully (CD, Broken Rekids, Rock)
We've all heard the story before. Band records album for record company. Record company goes out of business. Owner of rights to album refuses to sell rights back to band. Album becomes legendary and highly sought after once it is out-of-print. And then, finally, band is finally able to obtain the rights after all...and the album is reissued. Such is the case with The Gits, a California punk band from the 1990s. Their story is made even stranger by the fact that Mia Zapata, the band's lead singer, was eventually murdered. Frenching the Bully, the band's debut album, has been remixed, remastered, and now includes nine extra tracks recorded live at the X-Ray Cafe in Portland, Oregon in June 1993. The album features thirteen hard rock numbers characterized first and foremost by Zapata's rather masculine vocal style. The tunes are crashers and bashers...and the band sounds like they were serious hell raisers. This album is being released prior to the release of a feature length film to be called GITS: THE MOVIE...which will cover the short life of this energetic band. An interesting look back at California's hard rock scene... (Rating: 4+++)

Dana Glover - Testimony (CD, Dreamworks, Pop)
Can pretty girls compete in the real world? If your name is Dana Glover...the answer is YES. This breathtaking young lady is no mere fluffball. Glover writes and/or co-writes all her own material...and she's really talented. Her music is basic glossy pop with a soulful underbelly. Her biggest selling point, however, is her voice. Ms. Glover has a very intense and focused style of singing that is purely emotional and tugs at the hearts of her listeners. Produced by Matthew Wilder and Robbie Robertson, Testimony is one slick and thickly produced affair. This is a big difference between artists who are overproduced to hide the fact that they have no talent...and artists whose work is strong enough to merit such costly situations. Glover is clearly in the second category. Her music is strong...her voice clear and determined...and her overall sound is both commercially accessible and artistically sound. Cool hummable tunes like "Rain," "Almost Had It All," "Make It Real," and "Testimony" make Testimony a resounding success. (Rating: 4+++)

Hotwire - The Routine (CD, RCA, Rock)
Loud and abrasive rock music that manages to retain identifiable factors like lyrics and melodies. The Routine was produced by Matt Hyde...so you know the sound quality kicks ass. California-based Hotwire began in 1999 and released an EP in 2001. This, the follow up, is likely to create quite a buzz. The quartet plays it loud and sassy...with everything turned all the way up on practically every song. Hotwire tunes are a mindblowing roar...the kind of thing that kids really go for. The drummer is a crash and basher all the way...the guitars are in constant overdrive...and the bass player lays down solid lines that create a cool...if not mind numbing...groove. The band consists of Gabe Garcia, Chris Strauser, Brian Borg, and Rus Martin. If you like powerhouse modern rock....there's plenty of that to digest here. Throbbing monsters like "Not Today," "Nice Profile," and "Colorblind" are adrenaline-fueled rock and roll chunks injected with big slabs of masculine pajamas. Some of the band's more poppy material is even somewhat reminiscent of Material Issue (?!?). Neat stuff. (Rating: 4++)

Joe Mannix - White Flag (CD, Bongo Beat, Pop)
Classic new pop. White Flag was originally a self-released disc before the fine folks (with the keen ears) at Canada's Bongo Beat made the wise choice to reissue the album. Joe recorded two albums with his rock band Mannix and then opted to take a softer, more poppy approach on this, his first solo album. A good choice...because a voice this good could get lost in the chaos of a loud rock band. The album opens with the beautifully gliding "Silver Girl," an exceptional tune that really showcases this man's vocal skills. Mannix then proceeds to deliver fourteen more originals (one of which was co-written with Dave Rave) as well as "The Echo" (written by Ernest Mannix, Jr.). Interestingly, this album was recorded in a church in Ontario, Canada. This may help to explain how the songs came out sounding so earnest and sincere...(?). Other songs that stand out in particular are "Caroline," "Everyman," "House Is Not A Home," and "Whiter Flag." Our only very minor complaint is that this album could have been made even stronger with a bit more variety in the choice of material. But considering the quality of the writing here...that is not such a big deal. A fine album from a real talent. (Rating: 4+++)

Kenna - New Sacred Cow (CD, Columbia, Pop)
Damn, this man sounds so WHITE. That fact alone doesn't mean much...but when you consider the fact that Ethiopia's Kenna (raised in the U.S.) has written and recorded an album that rivals some of the best...now that says something. Actually, the man who calls himself Kenna impresses us for many reasons. First, he never integrates any elements of "rap" or "hip hop" into his music (thank God!). Second, he does not make any attempt to draw upon his roots. You won't find any "soul" or "blues" influences here. Third, this man is obviously a pop fanatic all the way...and he's not afraid to share that love with the world. Kenna's music is unashamedly upbeat...and has more than a little in common with bands like Crowded House. His songs are smart, direct, and feature lyrics that interesting...but not so unusual that they detract from his overall light music. Many of these songs have the words H-I-T written all over them. The vocals are exceptional...and the overall tone is so free-flowing and addictive that you can't help but love this music. All the songs are great, but our favorites here are "Within Earshot," "Man Fading," "Hell Bent," "I'm Gone," and "Love/Hate Sensation." Great stuff... (Rating: 5+)

Marilyn Manson - The Golden Age of Grotesque (CD, Interscope, Rock/pop)
Now many years into his career...Marilyn Manson has seen many of his original fans fall by the wayside. Interesting and puzzling...because we find his newer releases to be even better than his early material. There is no disputing the fact that this man hires the best makeup artists and publicity photographers in the business. The visual images related to Manson are always stimulating and ultimately bizarre...and they have been a major piece of the puzzle leading to the man's superstardom. The Golden Age of Grotesque is a highly entertaining and sensational album. While the overall sound and style isn't that different from previous albums...Manson's songwriting skills are now much more impressive. If there is one fact about Manson that separates him from those who condemn him...it is that he is never boring. Most modern bands who attempt to come off sounding "bad" or "satanic"...end up seeming phony and pathetic. Marilyn does not. His music is abrasive enough to grab the listener by the balls...and his lyrics are always a crash course in modern aesthetics. In many ways, Marilyn has become a modern drag queen with a truly nasty streak...delighting youngsters and freaks...while causing conservatives to shudder in disgust. While many dismissed earlier albums as nothing more than loud blasts created primarily to anger parents...this case can no longer be made. Age of Grotesque is an extremely varied album...proving just how far this man has come musically during the past decade. He is no longer a mere crazed freak or hot conversation topic. Marilyn Manson is not a certified artist who can compete with the best of 'em. Superb tracks like "This is the New Shit," "mOBSCENE," "Ka-boom Ka-boom," and "Better of Two Evils" prove that Marilyn Manson isn't past his prime...but rather he is just now hitting an all-time high in his career. Another great album from a true entertainer. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

The Mosquitos - The Mosquitos (Advance CD, Bar/None, Brasilian pop)
The Mosquitos sound very much like a Brasilian Ivy. The band's music is melodic bossa nova pop...and vocalist Juju Stulbach most definitely has a voice that is reminiscent of Dominique Durand. Being big Ivy fans, we were not surprised to find ourselves immediately drawn into this band's world. While the Brasilian flavor is definite and obvious, The Mosquitos are not afraid to delve into straightaway pop as well. What is most appealing about this band's music is the fact that they leave a great deal of open space in their compositions. Whereas it would have been easy to overproduce these soft pop numbers into oblivion, the band instead chose to keep the arrangements simple...thus allowing the listener to focus on the key elements. On the first listen, we were impressed. On the second listen, we became intrigued. On the third spin...well, we decided that we simply had to review this addictive little sucker. Wonderful tunes like "Rainsong," "Mosquito," "Footsteps," and "Semente" make this album a truly rewarding experience... (Rating: 5)

Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish - A Tribute to Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (CD, Animal World Recordings, Various artists)
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish features the music of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band...as interpreted by a wide array of modern recording artists. The album starts off with a kick...a riveting rendition of "Dirty Blue Gene" recorded by Mike Watt nearly a decade before the release of this album...but never released until now. None of the following tracks match the quality of the first cut however. Beefheart was an artist whose sound was so uniquely different that it would have been hard to imagine anyone else playing it...until now. Some of these artists do an impressive job of emulating Van Vliet...most notably Truman's Water, and Azalia Snail. Unfortunately, many of the artists resort to mere noise making...probably because creating credible covers of Beefheart's music was a difficult task. In the end, as has always been obvious, no one can do Captain Beefheart like Captain Beefheart could do Captain Beefheart. Though interesting and intriguing in many ways, this is an uneven album that will most likely only be of interest to fans of the dear ol' Cap'n...and that includes us. If you are fans of the man...then you will undoubtedly want to hear this one despite the imperfections and flaws. Great cover art (a cool artistic spinoff of Trout Mask Replica). A true oddity. (Rating: 4+)

The New Christs - We Got This! (CD, Smog Veil, Rock)
Simple and direct rock and roll with no gimmicks and no dumb image problems. The New Christs is/are the latest band featuring ex-Radio Birdman vocalist Rob Younger. The legend of Radio Birdman has expanded exponentially over the past few years...so much so that the band has even reunited for sporadic touring. The good news is that The New Christs are as valid and wonderfully entertaining as Radio Birdman...if not more so. In addition to Younger, the quintet consists of Mark Wilkinson (guitars, keyboards), Alan Creed (guitars, keyboards), Stuart Wilson (drums, keyboards), and Christian Houllemare (bass, harmonica, keyboards). The tunes on We Got This! were written by both Younger and Wilkinson...and they are impressive indeed. This band's music sounds something like well-produced garage rock (which may sound like a contradiction until one actually hears the music). The songs have just the right amount of polish...and Younger's vocals sound just as great as ever. Without trying too hard...these guys have managed to come up with an album that is mighty satisfying and infinitely rewarding. Top picks: "We Got This!," "Groovy Times," "He's Too Slow," "The Party Died." (Rating: 5+)

Tujiko Noriko - From Tokyo to Naiagara (CD, Tomlab, Experimental electronic pop)
There are numerous instances where the real meaning of the words "experimental electronic pop" mean "obnoxious and pretentious crap." Fortunately Tujiko Noriko is an obvious exception. From Tokyo to Naiagara is a free-form, cool, flowing collection of heady compositions that is ultimately rewarding and filled with a uniquely creative spirit. While Noriko's music is most certainly expanding the boundaries of electronic pop...her music is by no means awkward and unlistenable. Instead, this young artist incorporates just enough familiar musical elements to draw the listener into her world...while interspersing her compositions with a healthy helping of the offbeat and the unusual. The most successful electronic artists are those who manage to use technology while interjecting it with a genuinely human feel. Born in Osaka, Japan...Tujiko now divides her time between Tokyo and Paris. This is a strangely successful album that, while not for everyone...will satisfy those seeking something that is simultaneously soothing and peculiar... (Rating: 5)

John O'Brien - Real Life (Independently released CD, Pop)
We must admit that John O'Brien's hand written cover letter first sparked our interest because he mentioned that his current band consists of members of Creeper Lagoon, MK Ultra, Court and Spark, and The Mother Hips. But the hip connections aren't what made us decide to review the disc. It was, instead, the music contained on this highly entertaining and rewarding album. We are suckers for pure and sincere pop...and that is precisely what Real Life is all about. In Mr. O'Brien's publicity photo he appears to be just an average guy...but he is, in fact, a compelling and impressive singer/songwriter. The thirteen tracks on this album offer personal glimpses into this man's mind. He writes about topics in such a way that the listener can't help but be drawn in. The melodies featured in these tunes are absolutely fantastic. We found ourselves humming along on the very first spin. Hundreds of independent releases are submitted to our offices each month...but rarely do we hear a self-produced project of such a high caliber as this. Mr. O'Brien sounds something like a more soft, subtle, subdued, and straightforward Scott Miller (of Game Theory)...or even a calmer version of Austin's wonderful (yet underrated) Silver Scooter. This guy's style is direct and real....and his music is a refreshing blast of fresh air. Top picks: "Real Life," "Doc Marten Dreams," "Bottle on the Table (Prozac)," "High Wire." (Rating: 5+)

Oh Susanna - Oh Susanna (CD, Nettwerk, Pop/country/female vocalist)
Oh Susanna is Canadian Suzie Ungerleider...a young lady with an amazing voice and presence. Ungerleider is unlike other artists on the Nettwerk label in that her music is very mainstream and accessible. In other words, this young lady could very well become hugely famous in the United States. This self-titled album is Ungerleider's third. Her first (Johnstown) was a dark and moody affair and the follow-up (Sleepy Little Sailor) was much lighter in tone. Our guess is that Oh Susanna will be the album that boosts this vocalist into the spotlight. Her tunes are highly melodic...and she is supported by traditional instruments and arrangements...which works just perfectly for her style of music. But her voice is what will have listeners come back again...and again..and AGAIN. Most commercial sounding music stinks...but this album is definitely an exception to the rule. Instant hits like "Carrie Lee," "Mama," "Little White Lies," and "Billy" are wonderfully entertaining and will hold up to many repeated spins... (Rating: 4+++)

William Parker - Violin Trio (with Billy Bang & Hamid Drake): Scrapbook (CD, Thirsty Ear, Jazz)
Originally a pop/rock label...Thirsty Ear is now one of the main proponents of New York City's avant garde jazz scene...releasing music that many companies might overlook...and many listeners might consider unlistenable. In the world of jazz, stretching the limits seems to be a thriving tradition in New York. Bassist William Parker serves up some mighty tasty numbers on Scrapbook. The album is divided into six lengthy numbers ("Scrapbook," "Sunday Morning Church," "Singing Spirits," "Dust on a White Shirt," "Urban," "Holiday for Flowers"). Joining Parker on this album are Billy Bang on violin and Hamid Drake on drums. The three play together seamlessly...feeding off one another while managing to maintain a steady groove. All three players put in captivating performances here...making this album a strangely hypnotic experience. While fans of classic jazz might find this a bit awkward...those seeking the more progressive and experimental side of jazz will find a lot to love here... (Rating: 5)

Pseudo Heroes - Prison of Small Perception (CD, Go-Kart, Rock/punk/pop)
Florida's Pseudo Heroes continue in their mission to provide fast and unrelenting punk pop with furious style. What stands out most about this band are the lyrics. If one actually takes the time to sit still and pay attention...it becomes obvious that much of what the band is saying is rather hilarious. Consider "Bad Show"...Bad show! Bad show! Last night I played a bad show and man we really blew...we couldn't keep a steady beat...we couldn't hold a tune... Millions of bands have had this experience...but how many have written a song about it...? Some cuts are surprisingly accessible. "I Know What You Need" sounds like a dead-on hit tune. Pseudo Heroes have a great deal more variety in their music that your average fast pop/punk band. While the band is generally loud and fast...their songs and ideas are much more inventive than one normally hears in this genre. Prison of Small Perception is, basically, a bang-up fun album from start to finish. Standout tunes include "Conspiracy," "I Know What You Need," "Under the Sun," "Human Time Bomb," and "A Million Miles of Missteps." (Rating: 4+++)

Sand: Featuring Kim Fowley and Roy Sweden - The West Is Best (CD, Zip, Pop/rock)
No, this isn't the 1970's band Sand (whose album featured the vinyl-wasting idea of pressing a double album with one side blank on each). Instead, this is a new band called Sand which features underground icon Kim Fowley and his partner-in-crime Roy Swedeen. Most people know Fowley's name...but can't recall a single song that he himself recorded. The man has worked with so many big names that it is pointless to repeat them here. But suffice to say that success has always eluded the man who has had a hand in so many legendary recordings. And although The West Is Best is an entertaining album...it is not likely to change his situation drastically. One reason more folks have probably not been drawn to Mr. Fowley is because his vocals sound peculiar. Personally, we like the sound of Kim's deep, unusual voice...but it does require a bit of getting used to. The tunes on this album feature desert/surf pop that is actually rather pleasant and surprisingly accessible. Based upon our limited exposure to Kim Fowley's large body of recorded work...we'd say this is most likely one of his best. Interesting... (Rating: 4+++)

Skating Club - Bugs and Flowers (CD, Wishing Tree, Soft pop)
In the world of music...subtlety is the key. Oddly, very few artists know how to use this particular key. The folks in Skating Club seem to have realized that--by not trying too hard--you can achieve a great deal more. Bugs and Flowers, the band's second full-length release, features wonderfully soothing pop tunes with a sincerely personal touch. The band consists of Aubrey Anderson, Matt Smith, and Kenneth Bernard. Anderson writes the material and has a great understated vocal style that really makes these songs work. His songs are dreamy and subdued...and yet they still possess subtle (there's that word again) hooks that make the listener want to hear the material over and over again. These moody tunes were produced with just the right amount of polish. Only the bare essentials were used to support the melodies...which are the central and most important element in this band's sound. Ten exceptional tunes. Great stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Smile Empty Soul - Smile Empty Soul (CD, Lava, Rock)
Smart power rock. Smile Empty Soul is an impressively strong debut album. This Los Angeles-based trio has a sound that is not unlike Nirvana...but with occasional snippets of introspective soft pop. The first cut ("Bottom of a Bottle") includes an anthemic refrain that is bound to hit home with modern kids: "I do it for the drugs, I do it just to feel alive, I do it for the love that I get from the bottom of a bottle." Such words reflect the alienation and addictions inherent in our everyday lives. The lyrics on this album are likely to strike chords with adolescents (as well as any adults who have not yet turned bitter and sour). Smile Empty Soul is smarter than the average band...with songs that are memorable and thought provoking. (Of course, the fact that these three guys are as tight as a monkey's uncle don't hurt neither.) Cool churning rock tunes with groovy melodies. Top picks: "Bottom of a Bottle," "Nowhere Kids," "Your Way," "All My Problems," "Eraser." (Rating: 4+++)

S.T.U.N. - Evolution of Energy (CD, Geffen, Rock)
Young rebellious energy abounds on S.T.U.N.'s debut album for Geffen. The name stands for Scream Toward the Uprising of Non-Conformity. The band consists of Christiane J. (lead vocals), Neil Spies (guitar, vocals), Nick S. (bass), and Bobby Alt (drums). This quartet's music sounds something like a cross between The Pixies and Jane's Addiction. Interestingly, there is a slight British influence in this Los Angeles-based band's sound...as is evidenced by their more than adequate cover of Wire's "Reuters." A huge plus for S.T.U.N. is the fact that they consider lyrics and melodies to be key ingredients in their music. The band's overall energy and excitement about what they are doing is obvious. There is a spark here that is sadly missing in many modern rock bands who churn out the same old garbage album after album after album. Evolution of Energy is a smart loud rock album. The band's tunes are loud and vibrant...yet they are catchy and full of hooks. There's a punk-like feel to many of the tracks...but the band is definitely not simply re-churning the same tired old trends from 1974. Fun, smart, and essential...S.T.U.N. are off to a great running start... (Rating: 5)

The Swamp Rats - Disco Still Sucks! (CD, Get Hip, Garage rock)
Disco Still Sucks! is the first proper reissue of all the 1960s recordings by The Swamp Rats...and the folks at Get Hip have served up this baby just right. Featuring all the distortion and fairly limited sound quality possible at the time they were recorded, these classic garage tracks sound just great. This disc collects all the band's singles plus some unearthed goodies..."Hey Freak," "Tobacco Road," "I'm Going Home," and an intriguing cover of The Kinks' "She's Got Everything" (how many bands were even aware of this song at the time...?!?). The Swamp Rats have witnessed somewhat of a resurgence of interest over the years thanks to some of their tracks appearing on various compilation discs. This CD includes a detailed booklet including all the specifics of the recordings...as well as the band members' insights about their music. This disc represents years worth of work...and it shows. If only all projects were this thorough and well prepared...the world would be a much better place. An instant classic for fans of obscure rock history. (Rating: 5+)

The Swords Project - Entertainment Is Over If You Want It (CD, Arena Rock Recording Co. (ARRCO), Progressive pop/rock)
Thick, heady, and unpredictable...Seattle's The Swords Project play spontaneous, progressive, sweeping, melodic pop music with a difference. The hilariously titled Entertainment Is Over If You Want It is the band's debut album and it is a very mature effort. The music, however, is neither silly nor humorous. Instead, this six person group plays extended, serious compositions that merge elements of jazz with modern progressive pop. The overall sound is swirling and complex...but this is counterbalanced by the occasional...and almost normal...pop vocals that seep in and out of the mix. The best way to listen to this music is to sit back in an armchair...and let the music wash over you like waves on a beach. The music is fluid in nature...charging and raging on...while changing ever so slightly...until finally peace and calm reign supreme. The Swords Project is Corey Ficken, Joey Ficken, Jeffrey Gardner, Evan Railton, Liza Reitz, and Ryan Stowe. This is a big band with a big sound. Lots of instruments happening here...including drums, guitar, bass, juno, keyboards, violin, accordion, and melodica. A peculiar album...strangely unsettling...yet ultimately calming nonetheless... Beautiful. (Rating: 5)

Chalee Tennison - Parading in the Rain (Advance CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
Chalee Tennison is an enchanting newcomer on the country/pop scene. Parading in the Rain is likely to propel her to instant stardom. More than any other artist, Ms. Tennison reminds us of a female version of Toby Keith. After spinning this album, we could swear that she and Mr. Keith have the same vocal coach. Their phrasing and style of singing is almost too similar to be a mere coincidence. Produced by James Stroud, this is a super slick collection of eleven tunes specifically designed to bend FM radio waves. Tennison presents mainly cover tunes...but she did co-write two of the tracks on this album ("The Mind of This Woman," "Believe"). This album is further proof that the folks at the Dreamworks Nashville label have their fingers firmly gripped on the pulse of modern country pop. Chalee Tennison is a real winner. Her music is uplifting, her vocals particularly lovely, and her choice of material right on target. Top picks: "I Am Love," "Lonesome Road," "More To This Than That," "Peace." (Rating: 5)

Tindersticks - Waiting for the Moon (CD, Beggars Banquet, Soft pop)
The sixth album from Britain's Tindersticks. The tunes on Waiting for the Moon are soft, smooth, moody, lightly orchestrated...and quite possibly the band's best recordings to date. The band currently consists of Stuart Staples, Al Macauley, Dickon Hinchliffe, David Boulter, Neil Fraser, and Mark Colwill. You'd think with a bard this large that the sound would be thick and overproduced...but instead, the opposite is true. These tunes are subtle and understated...perfect mood music for that quiet evening alone with someone special. Standout tracks include the wonderfully music box-like title track and "Sometimes It Hurts," which features a duet with French-Canadian vocalist Lhasa De Sala. Featuring beautiful music from start to finish...Waiting for the Moon is a thoroughly entertaining endeavor... (Rating: 5)

Toys That Kill - Control the Sun (CD, Recess, Rock)
Toys That Kill is/are a great rock band. The band's gutsy intensity is captivating and intense. Rather than splattering out nothing more than a loud blur (which is very common in the world of rock bands)...these four gentlemen are intent on presenting intelligent material that just happens to rock like holy hell. Recorded at the Sweatbox in Austin, Texas, Control the Sun is an impressive and fun album. Toys That Kill possess an addictive energy that is exciting, slightly unorthodox, and at times very funny. The drummer is as tight as Samantha's barnhole...the guitars thick and heavy...the bass gripping and unrelenting...and the vocals delivered with just the right amount of youthful spirit. This band doesn't rely on gimmicks because they don't need to. Garage rockers like "Runnin the Front," "Blanket," "Illegitimate" (an absolutely killer cut), "Puppies With Rifles," and "No One" are bound to please virtually anyone who comes into contact with them. Looking for a real rock and roll band? Toys That Kill are...IT. (Rating: 5++)

The Weisstronauts - Featuring "Spritely" (CD, Stereorrific, Guitar/instrumental)
Many years ago...when things were very, very different than they are now...music was simpler. In most cases, music was made simply to make people feel good. Much of the music that was produced in the 1930's through the 1950's was very direct. The point of making music was not to shock nor to confuse nor to overwhelm...but to entertain the average listener by providing good toe-tapping music. To get this genuine old feeling of the past, we once had to pull out our old 45s and 78s (or our CD reissues)...but that was before we discovered The Weisstronauts. Led by Pete Weiss, this band plays straight from the heart...and their main intent is to satisfy simply and completely. And on Featuring "Spritely"...they do just that. This album features fifteen jaunty little numbers that will appeal to the young and old...fans of traditional rock...fans of alternative rock...fans of country...hell, just about ANYONE oughta enjoy the hell out of this disc...(!). Weiss is a killer guitarist with a true sense of style...and the rest of the band plays with such sincere energy that you can't help but be drawn into the magic. In addition to Weiss, The Weisstronauts consist of Kevin Quinn, Ken Lafler, Aaron Tap, and Emily Jackson. Fantastic and uplifting in every way possible. This is an album to be played INTO THE GROUND. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

The White Liars - Pharmacia (CD, 24 Carrot, Hard rock)
A killer independent release. The cover of this disc is deceiving...a strangely amateurish yet appealing painting of a nurse opening a bottle while pills swirl around her. But make no mistake, The White Liars are anything but amateurs. This Stanton, California band has a big thick sound and wonderfully infectious songs that immediately grab the listener's attention. The vocalist is a low masculine growler whose voice is somewhat eerie and infinitely compelling. The band's sound features driving rhythms and big fat guitars that combine to create a hard rock sound that beats the hell out of most recent bands signed to the major labels. The White Liars are Barry Stevenson (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Ben Maddux (guitars, keyboards), Jeff Scholz (bass), and Chris Scholz (drums, backing vocals). Being a limited run independently released CD, you aren't likely to find this little gem out there in the real world. Check out the band's web site (URL above) and grab this one up. It's a pure rock and roll delight. Top picks: "Pack Yer Shit," "It's All About Me," "Count To A Million," "GMT." (Rating: 5+)

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