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June 2002 Reviews by

The Anomoanon
Asphalt Jungle

Atom and His Package
Azure Ray*
The Bevis Frond
Big Cities

The Blamed
Box Car Racer

Brand New Sin
Brothers of Conquest

Jerry Cantrell
Capitol K
Vanessa Carlton
Church of Betty

The Color Red
Comment Piece

Dora Flood
Entropic Advance
The Fall On Deaf Ears
The GC5

The Hangmen

Donna Lewis*
Gretchen Lieberum
The Means
Mull Historical Society*
Michael Nace

Nova Social
Over Kill
Pia Fraus

Something Corporate
Peter Stuart

Sunday's Best
Track Star**
John Vanderslice**
Townes Van Zandt
Tom Waits*
Paul Westerberg

*Top Picks, **Really, REALLY hot shit!


June 2002 Comment Piece: Nothing To Say

It doesn't happen very often, but this month we have NOTHING TO SAY. We've been saying so much for such a VERY LONG TIME that we just decided that we don't really have any comments on anything at the present time...which is, in a way, actually saying something. And that is because if we make a statement saying that we have nothing to say then what we are doing is actually saying something. So in a way this comment piece is a complete contradiction. But then, by the mere fact that we are stating it is a contradiction in a way that makes it NOT be a contradiction...doesn't it? It's funny how...when you really have nothing to say...that it actually takes a VERY LONG TIME to say it, isn't it? And in another kind of way, isn't EVERYTHING kind of funny and odd? The point of all of this is that there is no point to all of this. Perhaps next month we will think of something heady, relevant, or offensive. But in the meantime, this is just the way that things are. So...without further delay...here are those goddamn REVIEWS...

Alfie - A Word In Your Ear (British import CD, Twisted Nerve / Beggars Banquet, Soft pop)
Writing and recording on the west coast of England, Alfie is as smooth and effective as english muffins with strawberry jam. The band's debut album was the humorously titled If You Happy With You Need Do Nothing. That release caught the attention of a great many folks...all of which will be as happy as punch with the follow-up. A Word In Your Ear offers a wealth of soothing, thoughtful pop music featuring stellar arrangements and fantastic melodies. Lead singer Lee Gorton has a voice that is truly effective for this style of music...sounding slightly reminiscent of Donovan and Al Stewart. The main difference, however, is the fact that Alfie tunes are strikingly progressive in nature. Instead of samey formulas and predictability this band presents pop music with a difference. Unusual rhythms collide with strangely effective musical passages to create an album that is simultaneously unpredictable and easy on the ears. This is an album that will instantly satisfy fans of soft, lush pop music. Songs such as "Cloudy Lemonade," "Halfway Home," "Me and Mine," and "The Lighthouse Keeper" are INSTANT CLASSICS. (Rating: 5+++)

Anandi - The Mirror (Independently released CD, Pop)
Folks who enjoyed early Kate Bush and early Bonnie Raitt will most likely enjoy this album. Anandi (the name means "bliss" in Sanskrit) is an up-and-coming female vocalist who knows her stuff. She wrote all ten songs on The Mirror...and she has a voice that absolutely kicks ASS. Anandi's slightly soulful pop music is highly melodic. Her lyrics present a keen sensitivity to the world around her. The production is slick...but not so slick as to overshadow the main elements of the tunes. This young lady is a powerful newcomer and obviously destined for even greater things in the future. Top picks: "Enough of You," "How Sweet It Was," "Forgiveness," "Where You Started From." (Rating: 4+++)

The Anomoanon - Envoi Villon (CD, Galaxia, Acoustic pop)
An absolutely gripping and unforgettable recording from The Anomoanon. This release can be had either on CD or on etched 12" vinyl. This band presents stunning acoustic-based pop with a hint of country that is not unlike very early Neil Young. The songs take center stage...featuring wonderfully winding melody lines and lyrics that ooze with sincerity. Guitarist/vocalist Ned Oldham has a voice that could make grandmothers shiver. The man has a presence and genuine spirit that seems to seep from the speakers and permanently take up residence in the mind of the listener. Within the space of a mere four tracks, these folks manage to come up with a release that is amazingly striking and focused. Superb stuff. (Rating: 5+++)

Asphalt Jungle - Electro Ave. (CD, ROIR, Techno/dance/jazz)
Funky instrumental beat music with superb guitars. Asphalt Jungle is the duo of Brian Tarquin and Chris Ingram. Together they write, record, and produce thick and intense instrumental compositions that are heavy on rhythms and spacey guitar work. The music sounds something like a cross between The Chemical Brothers and The Grassy Knoll. Tarquin and Ingram have had their music featured on television shows such as Road Rules and have also produced music for the shows The X-Files and Making the Band. The compositions on Electro Ave. are heavily produced tunes based upon throbbing dance beats...but this music has little in common with generic techno. The music is smart, inventive, sometimes unpredictable, and quite hypnotic. Choice cuts include "Last Crusader," "Foxy," "Flight of Plato," and "Medusa." (Rating: 4+++)

Atom and His Package - Hamburger (CD EP, File 13, Pop)
Upbeat goofy pop that sounds something like a cross between Joy Electric and Chris Stamey (?!?). "I'm Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer" features a wonderful blend of keyboard noodling and fuzzy guitars...and the vocal melody is excellent. The lyrics to "Fraudulent" and "Head Gone Vertical" are both inventive and humorous. Despite the fact that these folks are approaching music from what might be described as a comedic perspective...their tunes are by no means novelties nor jokes. "Sebastian In Nigeria" sounds like a cross between goofy punk and ambient music (???). Atom and His Package is a strange little band to be certain...but underneath the silly lyrics and crazy sounds are songs that must be heard... (Rating: 4++)

Azure Ray - Burn and Shiver (CD, Warm Electronic Recordings, Soft pop)
Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor have come a long way in a very short time. Their success just goes to show that when you have something truly credible and incredible to offer...a good number of folks will actually sit up and take notice. The two ladies began Azure Ray as a side project (they are both in other bands as well). Audience response was so strong that both, thankfully, opted to devote more time to this engaging project. Once again, the duo teamed up with producer Eric Bachmann. You might think that with the buzz that they have created these ladies would have opted to take a more commercial approach...but instead the exact opposite is true. Burn and Shiver is even more obtuse and peculiar sounding than prior releases...but it is also more highly produced. The strangely sad threads in the lyrics and music remain intact...and those heavenly vocals remain wholly intact. There are few musicians we have heard in the past few years who have reached such a high artistic peak...and have managed to keep the quality up. This album is more haunting than the first two Azure Ray releases...and that's saying a lot. Bachmann once again incorporates just the right sounds and production techniques to enhance and accentuate that is already there. Mind bending and hypnotic. (Rating: 6)

Babalu - The Ultra Wide Band Meets the Mighty Babalu Pt. 2 In Hi-Fi Lo-Tech Spaceblues (CD, EWB / Kindercore, Electronic/instrumental)
Sporting a title longer than a big brown baby bonnet, this album is a collaboration between Babalu and the Ultra Wide Band collective. The electronic compositions on this album present a combination of styles ranging from dance to dub to ambient to experimental. Interestingly, some of the cuts here date back to as early as 1997. No cute electronic twiddling here. These songs are thick and heady...and based on throbbing, hypnotic beats...and there is seemingly no formula, rhyme, nor reason to the goings on. While the tracks are instrumentals, sampled vocals and voices creep in from time to time. This is the kinda stuff that you either like or you hate. In our minds, groove-oriented music is always a nice kick in the ass. Accordingly, this is a nice free-flowing collection of tunes that is both entertaining and simultaneously relaxing... (Rating: 4+)

The Bevis Frond - What Did for the Dinosaurs (CD, Rubric, Pop)
An underground cult favorite for years, The Bevis Frond is back...with their first new album since 2000's wonderfully satisfying Valedictory Songs. The first digitally recorded music thus recorded by founder and mainman Nick Saloman, this album charts territory not unlike early BF releases. The main differences are (a) the drastically improved sound quality and (b) thicker and more elaborate arrangements. Saloman's songs are as strong as ever...and his vocals have a nice urgent quality that is intriguing and genuine. This album contains a whopping eighteen tunes. Many of these compositions are direct and obvious. As is to be expected, the guitar playing is satisfying throughout. In a world full of phonies and folks trying way too hard to be "cool"...Mr. Saloman stands out as a true spirit in the world of music. Top picks: "The Wrong Side," "Our Number," "Breathe Out," "Down To Earth," "Dustbins in the Rain." (Rating: 5+)

Big Cities (Oversized and overrated kind of shitty things)
Funny how everyone seems to gravitate towards BIG CITIES. The truth is that ALL big cities are horrible. The stench of car fumes...the overcrowded streets...the worthless bums on the streets...the pathetic and shabby big buildings...the unmistakable emphasis on MONEY... What we find very confusing is that most people who live in big cities see themselves as being superior (??!??) to folks who live in smaller and more rural areas. In actuality the exact OPPOSITE is true. Based upon our observations, big city dwellers tend to be PHONY and ARROGANT...and their priorities are completely SCREWED UP. Personally, we abhore ALL big cities...Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Madrid...and MORE THAN ANY OTHER...the extremely shitty and pathetic city of Atlanta. Big cities...what an overrated waste of time, money, and space. (Rating: 1)

The Blamed - Give Us Barabbas (CD, Tooth and Nail, Hard rock)
Hard, intelligent screamer rock. In the world of hard rock, overkill noise bands are a dime a dozen...mainly because virtually anyone can turn an instrument up full blast and whack the hell out of it and scream. And, in many cases, this formula goes over well with the public. The Blamed are a hard rock band with a definite extreme edge...but the band's music is anything but a mere wall of noise. On the surface the listener may at first mistake this band's brutal loud attack for heavy metal or thrash music, but labeling these folks as such would be doing them a great disservice. These four gentlemen are smart...and their musical arrangements are way beyond what one normally hears in loud rock music. The tunes range from metal to jazz to explosive and spastic...and the vocalist has a really intense voice that can shatter and splatter midgets. Some of the instrumental passages sound difficult to say the least. This esoteric band is playing for a young audience...those who can still take the hard blows that they deliver. Top picks: "The Lonely Zagreb," "You Not Me," "Szentendre," "Best In Show." (Rating: 4+++)

Box Car Racer - Box Car Racer (CD, MCA, Rock)
This young band is full of energy and melodies. While these guys fall into the category of loud, powerful guitar bands their music is actually quite different because the vocals are way up front in the mix and always right on key (i.e., they are NOT mere screamers). But don't think that these four guys are softies either because they kick ass with their instruments. In overall tone, the sound of Box Car Racer is similar to Built To Spill (particularly the vocals at times). Another plus in this band's favor is the fact that you can tell one song from the other. With many hard pop/rock bands you get nothing more than twelve slammed out numbers that all sound the same. Not so here. The songs on this album are all uniquely different and they are all easy to discern from one another. Lots of smart lyrics and cool guitar licks complete the package...making this a band that rocks enough for the kids but also has enough musical substance for the older generation. Top cuts: "Tiny Voices," "Cat Like Thief," "The End With You," "Elevator." (Rating: 5)

Brand New Sin - Brand New Sin (CD, Now or Never, Hard rock)
Hard and heavy macho cock rock. The six guys in Brand New Sin play a brand of loud in-your-face rock music that has more in common with 1970s southern rock than current metal bands. The band plays loud and hard...but to their advantage, the main emphasis is on playing hard rather than playing at a blinding speed (which is what many hard rock bands are guilty of doing). The band hails from Syracuse...but vocalist Joe Altier could easily pass for a good ol' Georgia boy. Fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd will definitely like the sound of this man's voice. The band's hard rock tunes are infected with a nice bluesy thread which makes the tunes really kick. This is a damn fine debut album from a band that kicks monkey ass. Cuts like "Broken Soul," "Sad Wings," "Missin You," and "Shattered" ought to please fans who don't want the crap and attitude...but instead just want to let loose and ROCK OUT. (Rating: 4+++)

Brothers of Conquest - All the Colors of Darkness (CD, Go-Kart, Rock)
Raw, loud, masculine rock and roll played with big ol' hairy ballpower. This band is fronted by vocalist Adam Neal (better known as The Rock And Roll Outlaw). Neal was previously in the bands Hookers, Nashville Pussy, and Nine Pound Hammer. This guy has an out-of-control screamer style of singing that he has perfected over the years. His backing band delivers mighty punches throughout this album. Particularly impressive are the tasty (and many times extremely technical) lead guitars provided by Tony Rivers. Instead of just smashing out power chords over plodding rhythms these guys write songs based upon guitar riffs and the songs are often quite difficult in terms of structure and rhythm. And like many great loud rock bands of the 1970s, they throw tons of meaty little instrumental hooks in their tunes that really make 'em COOK. Rip roaring tunes like "Kill for Rock n' Roll," "Hot Southern Nights," and "Gravel Roads" just make us wanna wave our fists in the air and scream "HEEEEEEEELLLL YEAH!!!!" KILLER stuff...! (Rating: 5++)

Jerry Cantrell - Degradation Trip (CD, Roadrunner, Rock/pop)
Heavy pop featuring sweeping melodies and thick guitars. Jerry Cantrell was formerly with the band Alice In Chains. His bluesy, raw brand of powerful guitar pop treads nicely in that territory between heavy metal and power pop. Mr. Cantrell is proficient in coming up with good guitar riffs and at writing good melodies. The two combine on Degradation Trip to deliver some nice and surprisingly accessible hard pop. In some ways, many of these tunes remind us of some of Todd Rundgren's material from the 1980s. Like Rundgren, Cantrell has long hair and knows how to sling an axe. Another similarity are the vocals. Many of the tunes on this album feature thick doubled vocals and exceptional harmonies. Plenty of good tunes here including "Psychotic Break," "Solitude," "Give It A Name," and "Spiderbite." (Rating: 4+++)

Capitol K - Island Row (British import CD, XL Recordings / Beggars Banquet, Ambient/electronic/experimental pop)
Strangely peculiar...and only slightly familiar. Capitol K sounds unlike other British recording artists we have heard. The band is the one man band consisting of Kristian Craig Robinson. Mr. Robinson's writing...as well as the overall sound of his music...has a great deal in common with American electronic/experimental artists. His music balances nicely on that fine thin line between experimental noise and familiar pop. Robinson never veers too far in either direction, instead relying on his instincts to take him to places that his audience can comprehend. This is an important variable. Many artists...in their efforts to be original and unique...go so far off the deep end that they alienate the very people they are attempting to entertain. Mr. Robinson comes close to going off the deep end on many of the tracks on Island Row...but he stops just short of self-indulgence. This heady collection of tunes includes "City," "Darussalam," "Heat," the "Duffle Coat." Intriguing... (Rating: 5)

Vanessa Carlton - Be Not Nobody (CD, A&M, Pop)
What would Ben Folds sound like if he were a...GIRL? To find the answer to that question, one need only spin the new CD by Vanessa Carlton. This young lady's upbeat piano-based pop has a great deal in common with the great Mr. Folds in terms of overall sound, melodic sense, and general intent. The main difference between the two is that in many cases Carlton's music has a more loose, bluesy feel. The majority of the tunes on Be Not Nobody are thick, highly polished tracks with overdubs galore. The tunes with more space tend to sound best ("A Thousand Miles" and "Pretty Baby" are both good examples of what Vanessa is capable of). While this album tends to be a bit overproduced, that is a minor point when you consider what this young lady manages to accomplish. Highly melodic slick. (Rating: 4++)

Church of Betty - Tripping With Wanda (CD, Fang, Pop)
The Church of Betty is the recording project of Chris Rael, who is a producer as well as a composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist. Rael began the band in 1989 and has since captured the imagination of many. This is the first release we have heard from Church of Betty. The first thing that stands out about this band is the use of sitar (?) mixed in with traditional pop instruments. Our first reaction was that it seemed confusing...but after a couple of spins it became obvious that this idea works. The sound is something like mixing the Archies and the Beatles with Natacha Atlas. These compositions are thick and heady...possibly because Rael brought together an amazing number of musicians to assist on the project. The number of instruments used on this album is nothing short of astounding. Interestingly, Rael co-wrote two of the tunes with one of our favorite underground artists...Kenny Siegal of Johnny Society (this guy is truly amazing). Siegal also co-produced several of the cuts. This is a very eclectic album full of surprises and spilling over the brim with imagination. So much so that this CD will probably be over the heads of most listeners. In any event, Church of Betty is a keeper for sure. Pop music with a unique and definite difference. (Rating: 5+)

Cinerama - Torino (CD, Manifesto, Pop)
Possibly the most fully realized Cinerama release yet, Torino is a step forward for David Gedge while returning to his roots. The main difference between Torino and previous Cinerama releases is the obvious and intense presence of guitars. Fans of Gedge's former band (The Wedding Present) will be happy indeed with these louder and more aggressive tunes. But make no mistake about it, this album is by no means a mere rehashing of ideas from the Wedding Present. Instead, Gedge melds the styles of both of his bands to create a sound that is current, relevant, and very moving. There are few artists we can think of who have weathered the test of time like Gedge...and Torino is proof of the fact. Cool, melodic, uptempo tunes like "And When She Was Bad," "Cat Girl Tights," and "Close Up" make this yet another ultimately satisfying release... (Rating: 5+)

Clarinette - Haze (Vinyl LP, ecstatic yod, Experimental/instrumental)
Clarinette is Dan Vallor, a new experimental electronic music artist. The five cuts on this album are peculiar and esoteric. These compositions do not involve melodies or song structures that one would commonly recognize. Instead, the tracks are experiments in sound. The music falls somewhere in between the genres of ambient and modern classical. There is no web site listed for either the artist nor the record label. Policy prevents us from rating this release, but interested parties are advised to contact Dan directly at his e-mail address: dvallor@yahoo.com. (Not Rated)

The Color Red - Clear (CD, RCA / BMG, Rock)
The band may not like the comparison, but The Color Red sound very much like Duran Duran...except the guitars are louder and the rhythms more forceful. This Southern California rock quintet have a big, powerful sound that will likely appeal to the arena rock crowd. Clear is the band's second album. This collection of tunes has every possibility of becoming a big seller. While the band may not be the most original sounding combo ever to hit the planet, they are definitely providing what the public wants. And that is not necessarily a bad thing... (Rating: 3+)

Crosstops - Cloverleaf Fandango (CD, Tinnitus, Country punk/pop)
Loud redneck country-flavored pop/rock with raunchy vocals. These guys obviously aren't taking themselves too seriously, and that is a good thing. The music on Cloverleaf Fandango ranges from loud country punk to rather silly bar humor. This album contains a whopping 18 tunes...many of which could pass for punk rock were it not for the vocals. This disc is a good listen...but we'd be willing to bet that Crosstops are one of those bands whose main draw is their live show. And from the sound of these tunes we'd bet these guys are entertaining as hell in concert... (Rating: 3+++)

Dora Flood - Welcome (CD, Dora Flood Records, Rock/pop)
Lush, dreamy, slightly psychedelic pop from San Francisco's Dora Flood. This is an exceptionally well-executed batch of tunes, independently recorded and financed by the band themselves. Some of the tunes on Welcome remind us in some ways of The Lassie Foundation. While the overall sound of Dora Flood is easy on the ears, the music is by no means sappy or premeditated. The band's music features sweeping melodies and a sound that merges fuzzy guitars with free flowing rhythms. The traits that make this band sound unique are subtle and understated. For a band doing it all on their own, these folks are doing all the right things...just the right way. Tunes like "Welcome," "Give Us This Day" (a real standout), "Eraser," and "Starflower" shed light on a band that is providing exactly what fans of underground pop are looking for. Sincere and real music for the intelligent listener. (The folks at Deluxxe Media sure know how the right things to publicize!) (Rating: 5)

Dropsonic - Belle (CD, 54 40 or Fight!, Rock)
Hard rocking, super tight three piece guitar rock. This band's compositions are deceptively complex. On the surface these three fellows may appear to be simply churning out rock and roll formulas...but upon closer inspection the listener is drawn in to surprisingly complex tunes that are based upon what could only be described as some truly kickass drumming. The guys in Dropsonic have a dense, thick sound that rocks hard while constantly retaining melodies and intricate arrangements. The band consists of Dan Dixon (guitars, vocals, keys), Dave Chase (bass), and Brian Hunter (drums). Belle is chock full of smart rock played with super tight nuts and frisky gusto. Top picks: "Stolen," "Eyesore," "Congregate," "Did You Notice." (Rating: 5)

Duraluxe - The Suitcase (CD, Hidden Agenda, Pop)
Heady, heavenly, thickly produced pop. Duraluxe tunes range from hummable Beatles-like material to swirling walls of sound reminiscent of bands like The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. The band began in 1997 in the unlikely city of Nashville, Tennessee when producer/engineer Chris Colbert and guitarist Troy Daugherty began playing music together. Our favorites on this CD are the more reserved numbers such as "7ths & Minors" and "Phantom Power." On this album former Lassie Foundation member Frank Lenz offers support on piano, harmonies, and orchestrations. Pleasant pop for positive people. (Rating: 4++)

Entropic Advance - Red Yellow Noise (Double CD, Symbolic Insight, Electronic/ambient/experimental)
Yeah. Oh YEAAAAAAH... This is a really trippy, super imaginative limited edition double CD set that is sure to satisfy fans of experimental electronic music. Entropic Advance is the duo of Wesley Davis and Casey Jones. These two gentlemen play and incorporate a wide array of sounds, ideas, and instruments into their mind-bending, psychedelic electronic compositions. Unlike many electronic composers, their music is NEVER boring (!). The music is somewhere in the territory between Nine Inch Nails and Scorn (more the latter than the former). The band's bio says it best: "Lush, haunting trumpet, vocals, and spaced-out slide guitar textures, blend seamlessly with heavily manipulated tribal-electronic beats, dark pulsating drones and glitches, and thick layers of delicious ear candy." This pretty much sums up where these guys are coming from. But what is so appealing is that they do it all SO WELL. The sound quality is excellent...and these discs are chock full of audio surprises. It's like opening a box of Cracker Jacks over and over and OVER again...continually finding new surprises in the bottom of the box. This is a big whopper...containing 2 hours, 22 minutes and 59 seconds of sound. The vocals are heavily saturated in effects and seem to drift over the music while the odd beats and puzzling sounds zap the mind of the listener. With so much that can be done with electronics, it's a shame there are so few people who are doing something credible and imaginative. This is some great stuff, to be certain. With only 1,000 copies made this double disc set is sure to be chomped up FAST. Check out the web site and get yours now. (Rating: 5+++)

The Fall on Deaf Ears - The Fall on Deaf Ears (CD EP, Post-Parlo, Obtuse hard rock)
Intentionally harsh and atonal hard rock with a bizarre river of energy. The lo-fi sound of this CD is due to the fact that these songs were recorded direct to 2 track tape in 1996 (and originally released on cassette tape!). The Fall on Deaf Ears was a fierce and loud band with really rough and intense vocals. The band's jagged guitars cut through some very nontraditional rhythms to create a sound that was sharp and intense..and, at times, even slightly frightening. These five songs are the band's only (!) recordings. Shortly after they recorded these trippy tunes two of the members (Laura Beard and Sarah Resier) were killed in an automobile accident. As a result, this band's career was tragically cut short...leaving only these five tunes to remember them by. If they had lived, these two ladies would definitely have made a bigger dent in the world of music. Wild stuff, not for the faint of heart... (Rating: 4+++)

The GC5 - Never Bet the Devil Your Head (CD, Thick, Hard rock)
Pulling out of the driveway at 500 m.p.h. and never letting up, Ohio band The GC5 are all sparked up and ready to pump some gas. These guys play a style of no-holds-barred rock music that is instantly infectious and virtually out of control. The quartet's youthful energy bounds and rebounds in a wealth of catchy and sometimes hummable fast, loud rock tunes that should drive kids into a sweaty and intense frenzy. Though the band's basic formula is familiar (drums, bass, dual guitars in overdrive), the way these guys make their music is unique in overall approach. That is to say, when it's done right...it doesn't matter if it's all been done before (!). Plenty of rip-roaring tunes here like "The Long Goodbye," "Lies and Prophecies," and "Tear Down the Town" make Never Bet the Devil Your Head a pure dose of high octane rock and roll... (Rating: 4+++)

The Hangmen - We've Got Blood on the Toes of our Boots (CD, Acetate, Rock)
Really CRANKIN' stuff. We've Got Blood on the Toes of our Boots captures The Hangmen in a furious and mesmerizing concert. These guys play balls-to-the-wall rock and roll like there's no tomorrow. Most bands would give up after being dropped by not one but TWO major labels...but bandleader Bryan Small refused to give up. This collection of tunes shows the band rocking as hard as ever. The band's last album (Metallic I.O.U.) was a favorite among critics...and this, the follow up, ought to please just about everyone. Perseverance seems to be paying off for Small and company. The band's fans (as well as the critics) now seem more supportive than ever. The band's bluesy rock music should appeal to a wide segment of the listening community. Rock stoppers like "Last Drive," "Rotten Sunday," and "Lonely" hit the spot... (Rating: 4+)

JrCorduroy - I Don't Want to be Around When You're Gone for Good (CD, Sealed Fate, Pop)
Nice, thoughtful soft pop strong with exceptional lyrical content. Boston's JrCorduroy is the trio consisting of Ben Hedlund (drums), Mark Kraus (vocals, acoustic guitar), and Andy Santospargo (electric guitar, cello). These fellows' hummable material is basically upbeat but there is a sadness inherent in the lyrics that is strangely appealing. Our favorites here are the soft numbers. "Would You Stay With Me" has a nice twisting melody and the super soft vocals sound superb. "Where the Street Lights Warm Your Golden Face," the closing number, the our top pick. The tune is strikingly reminiscent of Hayden (whose work we greatly admire). Readers should take note that the Sealed Fate label is being run by the very talented Eric Masunaga who many folks may remember for his excellent role playing in the seriously underapprecated Dambuilders. (Rating: 4+)

K-Rad - Deli Mood Spot (CD, Someoddpilot, Dub/dance/ambient/electronic)
Interesting...and quite heady...mixture of dub beats, samples, drum and bass, ambient soundscapes, and trippy sounds. Deli Mood Spot is the band's first official (and confusingly titled) album. The folks in K-Rad seem to enjoy messing around with the speed of things. While drum beats flow along in a nice, steady manner...the overlays often speed up and slow down ever so slightly...giving the listener the feeling that he or she has just downed a few hits of something or another... These folks create a mood in which you can either tap your feet...dance to the music...or simply scratch your head in confusion. The song titles are as abstract as the compositions: "103BR18," "Vous," "177JIF," "126TINK"... The band consists of Chris Grabowski, Joe Hahn, and Mark Hardy. Cool, trippy stuff... (Rating: 5)

Donna Lewis - Be Still (Promotional CD, Peruzzi, Soft ambient pop)
To look at this young lady's publicity photo, one would be inclined to think that she is just another generic throwaway female pop vocalist...but nothing could be further from the truth. Hidden inside the grooves of Be Still (the promotional CD) is an extremely gifted and unorthodox singer/songwriter. Instead of writing cutesy pop crap or dime-a-dozen dance tracks, Ms. Lewis writes thoughtful soft pieces that feature wonderfully breathy vocals layered over some intricate and, at times, rather odd ambient soundscapes. In some ways, the music sounds like early Kate Bush had she been involved with ambient electronics. What is most unique about these tunes, however, is the fact that the music is extraordinarily sparse. In many instances a song consists of nothing more than one keyboard and a few vocal tracks. Many artists attempt to cover up the fact that their music has no substance by overdubbing and overarranging. This is definitely NOT the case here. The great big spaces in these tunes are what make them so appealing and unique. Thoroughly enchanting tunes like "Ireland," "Nowhere To Run," "Blutides," and "Moonbeam" make this disc a fantastic listen. Listeners should be aware that this piece of music is available ONLY as a download from Ms. Lewis' web site. So click on the link above and get ready to download some truly GREAT stuff... Very soft and wildly soothing... (Rating: 5++)

Gretchen Lieberum - Brand New Morning (CD, Lakeshore, Female vocalist)
Soul-based pop music with a light and airy feel. Although she has had a great deal of exposure on the Internet and on television, most people probably don't recognize the name Gretchen Lieberum...yet. On Brand New Morning, Gretchen combines the sensual elements of jazz singers from the past with updated rhythms and modern recording techniques. Vocally, Gretchen sounds something like a more soulful and relaxed Barbra Streisand...although her singing style is by no means as forced and piercing (!). Lieberum's debut album (Three A.M.) was not only a hit on the Internet...but it also resulted in her being picked up by Lakeshore Records. The tunes on this album are slick and well produced and should appeal to a wide range of music fans. Ms. Lieberum has what it takes to make people feel good. Fifteen cool cuts including "Brazen Girl," "Heart On Your Sleeve," and "The Bed's Too Big Without You." (Rating: 4+++)

The Means - Vil/Viol (CD, Doubleplusgood, Rock)
Loud in-your-face garage rock played with fierce intensity and belch-induced fury. Frontman Jason Fredrick has a growling screaming roar of a voice that could shake the dead out of Hell. The Means are a band in constant overdrive. The rhythm section sounds like they've overdosed on steroids...and the guitars are distorted and loose. But it's those over-the-top vocals that are this band's trademark. These tunes are all rock and roll with no additives...no frills...and no crappy production tricks. These men shoot straight from their hips...and in doing so provide quality and totally believable rip-roaring rock. Hard and furious show stoppers include "Primitive," "Record Holders in the Blood Purge," "Consider Yourself a Hero," and "(t.p.) Massacre." Intense stuff played with great big GUTS. (Rating: 4+++)

Mull Historical Society - Loss (CD, XL Recordings / Beggars Banquet, Smart pop)
Colin MacIntyre, the main man in the band Mull Historical Society, has already caused quite a stir in the British music community. In his brief career thus far, one of his band's releases was already picked as single of the year by the NME in 2000. Mr. MacIntyre hails from Scotland, but his music has more in common with British and/or American pop artists. We can hear traces of a great many folks in this man's music, but some of the more obvious (influences possibly?) are Harry Nilsson, Ben Folds, and even the long lost obscure piano man Andy Pratt. MacIntyre's tunes are thoughtful and extremely well written...and they possess a cool sincerity that is often missing in modern pop. He has a way with words too. His lyrics range from poignant and serious to strangely funny and peculiar. This young fellow is destined to be a favorite among pop enthusiasts for many years to come. He has that certain something that sets his music apart from the rest of the crowd. Plenty of pleasing material here, including "Public Service Announcement," "Instead," "This Is Not Who We Were," and "Paper Houses." (Rating: 5++)

Michael Nace - The Voyage Out (Import CD, Minority, Atmospheric pop)
Very nice, lush, soft pop music centered around the acoustic guitar. Michael Nace's breathy vocals are sincere, genuine, and very effective. His music is reminiscent of Neil Halstead in that his compositions are personal and primarily based around very strong melody lines. This is a truly amazing collection of tunes...particularly considering the fact that this is Nace's debut full-length (!). The arrangements on this album are precise, intricate, and far beyond what one normally hears on a pop album. This is an extremely strong debut from a new artist who has a great deal to offer in terms of talent, integrity, and presence. Top cuts include "All of Them," "Time Passes," "Schuykill River," and "I Will Go For the Millionth Time." (Rating: 5)

Nebula - Dos E.P.'s (CD, MeteorCity, Rock)
Underground stoner rock kings Nebula return with three new cuts and a collection of various out-of-print cuts from earlier releases. An interesting disc because it has tunes representative of how the band sounded when they begun (much more like Fu Manchu) as well as tracks that reveal their current sound. We've been crazy about Nebula ever since we first laid ears on 'em...and we love their newer stuff just as much as the old material. The basic formula consists of driving rhythms...big ol' fuzzy guitars in overdrive...and masculine cocksucker vocals that drive that goddamn vehicle all the way home. The three new cuts are "Rocket," "Long Day," and "Bardo Airways." The remaining tracks were previously available on two EPs. If you're into modern day stoner rock, you won't do much better than this... (Rating: 5)

Nova Social - The Jefferson Fracture (CD, Big Sleep, Pop)
Impressive debut CD from the New York/New Jersey duo Nova Social. The Jefferson Fracture features nice melodic pop in the vein of Ben Folds. or even The Beatles. Melodies are strong throughout...and the arrangements are amazingly professional and effective (the use of strings is particularly nice). Nova Social is Thom Soriano and David Nagler...an unlikely pair who look more like the boys next door than seriously talented musicians. But seriously talented musicians they are...coming up with twelve tunes that are literally infested with hooks...and all twelve tunes have something to offer. These guys' songs are hummable, upbeat, impressive, and thought provoking. Neat kickers like "Fingerprints," "Caravan of Kindness," and "You Don't Have To Go To Bed Early Anymore" make this album a cool and entertaining listen... (Rating: 4+++)

Over Kill - Wrecking Everything - Live (CD, Spitfire, Rock)
This album was recorded live in March 2002 at the Paramount Theatre in Ashbury Park, New Jersey. Listening to this live recording it is easy to imagine these guys sweating their balls and giving the crowd everything they've got. The guitars are loud, the rhythms intense, and the vocalist has a throaty cool vocal style that is just perfect for heavy metal. The album contains thirteen crowed pleasers such as "Necroshine," "Evil Never Dies," "Bleed Me," and "Un Union We Stand." An excellent live recording that is certain to please the band's fans... (Rating: 4++)

Pia Fraus - In Solarium (CD, Clairecords, Pop)
Beautiful and heady thick pop with breathy vocals. The sound of Estonia's Pia Fraus is something like a cross between The Cocteau Twins and Harpers Bizarre. The band has a thick sound that is heavy on guitars and keyboards while the vocals are very melodic and right on target for this style of music. The band's first album (Wonder What Its Like) was released in a limited edition CD-R in Estonia. There are no less than six individuals in Pia Fraus, which may explain the thick and complex arrangements. On the first listen one might tend to dismiss these folks as just another generic modern band with too much going on. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes obvious that these folks are absolutely skilled and intriguing in the way that they construct their songs. The vocal melodies are far beyond what is normally found in pop music. And even though the melodies sometimes seem to be buried beneath a wall of sound, after a few spins the listener is bound to find themselves happily humming along with these infectious and thoroughly upbeat songs. Stunning cover art completes the package, making this release both compelling and stunning. Best cuts: "400 & 57," "Bibado," "Octobergirl," "Zodalovers." (Rating: 5+)

Retsin - Moon Money Moon (CD EP, Acuarela, Folk)
Retsin is the duo of Cynthia Nelson and Tara Jane O'Neil. The two met in 1993 and put out a release on Simple Machines in 1994. Nelson and O'Neil continue to play in other bands while occasionally writing and recording under the Retsin moniker. The five tunes on this EP are soothing, gentle, and unpretentious folk featuring nice melodies and smooth vocals. These five compositions have that nice warm home recorded sound. Unlike most modern folk music that is churned out by the big companies, these tunes are NOT overproduced. This EP includes "Duck Out," "Pauline and Susie," "The Moon Fickle," "Money Song," and "Moonshine." If you think The Indigo Girls are what folk music is all about, you probably have had your head in the sand ever since you were born. Forget crapola sellout schmuck folkies and get into the REAL thing. Without a doubt, Retsin truly IS the real thing. Beautiful stuff. (Rating: 5)

Rubyhorse - Rise (CD, Island, Pop)
This Boston-based band plays a brand of slick pop music created for the masses. Virtually every cut on Rise sounds like an FM radio hit. This thickly produced collection of pop tunes obviously isn't breaking any new ground...but that's probably not what the guys in Rubyhorse are striving for anyway. While pleasant and unoffensive, the tunes on this album unfortunately lack a true creative spark. If the band could or would take some chances with their music they might have something. Taken as they are, our own personal tastes require something with a bit more substance and originality... (Rating: 3-)

Something Corporate - Leaving Through the Window (CD, Drive-Thru / MCA, Pop/rock)
Something Corporate is kinda like a power pop version of Ben Folds. The band's highly orchestrated pop music is upbeat and positive...but it also has the bite of big fuzzy electric guitars. The centerpiece of the band is Andrew McMahon...a 19 year old wonderkid who plays piano and sings like nobody's business. McMahon cites Elton John and Billy Joel as influences...but we (fortunately) hear little of either in his music. Besides...neither Mrs. John nor Mr. Joel ever produced music that rocked this hard. True to the name of the band, this is an extremely polished album that was produced to the max to appeal to the masses. But even though this is the case, these songs still have merit and provide a nice listening experience... (Rating: 4)

Peter Stuart - Propeller (CD, Vanguard, Pop)
Beautifully melodic, highly produced, and lightly orchestrated pop music. This is the debut solo album from Peter Stuart who was formerly the frontman in the band Dog's Eye View. Stuart writes pensive yet direct pop tunes that feature floating melodies and thoughtful lyrics. He got his start by being a roadie for the band Fat Lady Sings during which time his payment was being allowed to be the opening act on the tour. One thing led to another...and eventually Peter was able to sell a whopping 6,000 copies of his own self made demo. He then recorded two albums with Dog's Eye View for the Columbia label...and then opted to go it alone. Mr. Stuart has now found a proper home with other similar artists on the highly regarded Vanguard label. While the majority of the tunes on Propeller are accessible and upbeat, the tune that strikes us most is the sad and remorseful "Bring You Back." Mr. Stuart is a songwriter with a true flair for writing pleasant melodies...and his delivery is unique and exceptional... (Rating: 5)

Sunday's Best - The Californian (CD, Polyvinyl Record Company, Pop)
This is an album for fans of solid melodic guitar pop. Whereas your average guitar pop band tends to churn out chords and layer vocal melodies over the top, Sunday's Best approach things from a slightly different angle. These fellows incorporate a much more intricate style of guitar playing into their music. Instead of churning out samey power chords, guitar melodies intertwine with some very effective vocal melodies to create a heady sound with a real backbone. Since forming in 1997, this band has been through their share of changes...some good, some not so good. But in the case of The Californian it seems as if change was for the better, as this is a shimmering, upbeat collection of smart pop music. As is the case with any pop band, the real core of this band are the vocal melodies. Smooth vocals ride the crests of the rhythms...soaring up and down and never wavering off key for even a moment. Slightly offbeat chord changes help to transform the band's tunes into a swirling mass of pop that is both danceable and thought provoking. This is a great spin from start to finish. Excellent cuts include "The Try," "The Californian" (a real mind blower), "If We Had It Made," "Brave, But Brittle." Truly yummy stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Track Star - Lion Destroyed the Whole World (CD, Better Looking Records, Pop)
Lion Destroyed the Whole World is a great album. Track Star is a completely mind blowing trio consisting of Brian Girgus (drums), Wyatt Cusick (guitar, bass, vocals), and Matthew Troy (guitar, bass, vocals). Although this band is difficult to compare to others, we can hear traces of The Hang Ups, The Feelies, and even The Shoes. Make no mistake about it, however, these guys clearly have their own vision and sound. Using the most basic instruments possible these fellows manage to push us way, way, WAY over the ledge of pop bliss. On the surface the songs sound extremely simple...but the real magic is the way the pieces of this puzzle are put together. In some ways this album reminds us of Talking Heads 77 for the pure and simple reason that when that album was released it didn't sound like anything else on the horizon. Lion Destroyed the Whole World is one of those life changing albums that only comes around every few years. Words cannot explain the brilliance of strangely peculiar tunes like "Feet First," "The One We Play" (YEAH!), "Goodbye to the Dream," "Something To Do," "Cross Country," and "Cities on Cities." A very satisfying album. (Rating: 5++)

John Vanderslice - Life and Death of An American Fourtracker (CD, Barsuk, Pop)
In a very short amount of time, John Vanderslice has created a seriously devoted and intense fan base. With each release thus far, he has continued to improve upon his original sound...coming up with increasingly spellbinding material...sounding more and more focused with each passing year. Life and Death of An American Fourtracker is John's most fully realized album yet. The Bowie influences are beginning to fade away...as this release sheds more light on this young man's own unique vision of the world. As with past releases, melodies are the key ingredient...but the melody lines are driven home by the fact that Mr. Vanderslice has a voice that is distinctly perfect for the style of music he composes. Not only are these the strongest tunes that John has yet to write...but this time around the lyrics are particularly poignant and effective ("Underneath the Leaves" and "The Mansion" are good examples of the fact). It is rare indeed to find truly unique voices in the world of music. John Vanderslice is one of those rare individuals who is following his own muse...consistently providing satisfying and hypnotic music for an audience that is ready and willing to follow his every move. Stunning pop masterpieces include "Fiend In A Cloud," "Me and My 424," "The Mansion," "Greyhound," and "From Out Here." HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 6++)

Townes Van Zandt - A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt (CD, Dualtone, Folk)
This is a live recording of Townes Van Zandt made November 26, 1969 at Carnegie Hall. Only 25 at the time, Van Zandt played a style of revolutionary folk music made popular by Bob Dylan. At his best, Townes sang poignant tunes strong on melody and coming straight from the heart. At times...and only infrequently...his lyrics were a bit preachy. In this concert the man's sincerity shines through...showcasing a young songwriter just hitting the prime of his career. It is obvious from the noise of the crowd that Van Zandt had his fans in the palm of his hand from beginning to end. The man's husky voice and simple style of guitar playing are endearing and timeless. Ten crowd pleasers including "Rake," "Second Lover's Song," "Lungs," and "Talking Thunderbird Wine Blues." (Rating: 4+)

Vomitory - Blood Rapture (CD, Metal Blade, Death/speed metal)
Man oh man oh man oh MAN. Vomitory is CERTAIN to scare off most folks with this release. Blood Rapture is one super LOUD, super ANGRY, super FAST, super INTENSE batch of death/speed metal that is most definitely more than most folks can (or would care to) handle. This band is not a one-shot deal. They have been around since 1989 and they survived the 1990s metal scene during which time most folks landed by the wayside. These four angry gentlemen are still at it...and from the sound of these recordings they show absolutely no signs of letting up. This band hashes, crashes, bashes, slams and jams, growls and howls...and abuses the listener from every angle possible. Plus they've got GREAT hair (!). Whatever this stuff is, it certainly AIN'T happy stuff... (Rating: 4+++)

Tom Waits - Blood Money (CD, Epitaph, Esoteric pop), Alice (CD, Epitaph, Esoteric pop)
Tom Waits returns with not one...but TWO new albums...on the Epitaph (?!?) label. Considering all artists over the past few decades there are few who can match Mr. Waits in terms of originality, style, longevity...and a completely unique way of approaching music. These two albums are the first releases from Mr. Waits since 1999's Mule Variations. Not surprisingly, Waits continues in his same strange tangent...playing sad, alienated, barroom tunes that are as bizarre as they are startling. His gravelly voice is as obtuse and peculiar sounding as ever. Blood Money and Alice could have easily been combined into a two disc set...but it somehow seems particularly fitting that they would be released separately. The folks at Epitaph did a superb job on the packaging here. Each CD is packaged in a asskicking digipack with enclosed lyric booklet. The latest publicity photos of Mr. Waits are striking and unusual to say the least. At times he looks very much like a person who has come back from the dead (?!?). As is the case with all of his past albums, there are no bad or inferior tracks on either of these CDs. Our personal favorites here are "Misery Is the River of the World," "Knife Chase," "Calliope," "Alice," "Everything You Can Think," "Table Top Joe," and "Fawn." Tom Waits is one of the truly unique originals left in the world... (Rating: 6)

Paul Westerberg - Stereo (CD, Vagrant, Pop)
Paul Westerberg (formerly of The Replacements) returns with not one...but TWO new albums packaged together. The first album entitled Stereo finds Westerberg playing and singing everything himself. The second album entitled Mono features Paul's band Grandpa Boy. As one might expect, the first disc is softer and more pensive...while the second disc features the kind of rock and roll music that made Westerberg famous. The Replacements were overrated from the very beginning. While the band had a few good songs, they had a great many more songs that were generic and forgettable. While Westerberg's solo material may leave many Replacements fans scratching their balding heads...in actuality, this fellow is a much stronger writer and singer than he was when his face was splashed and plastered all over the place. Stereo is proof of this fact. The album contains a wealth of strong melodies...the lyrics are particularly effective...and Mr. Westerberg's voice has never sounded better. Mono sounds very much like an extension of The Replacements...and will most likely please Paul's early fans. In reality, however, the first CD is the real keeper here... (Rating: 4+)

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