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June 2004 Reviews by

 GG Allin
Auburn Lull
The Autumdivers
Bambi Diapers

T. Graham Brown
Comment Piece
The Damnwells*
The Davenports
Joe Diffie
The Dirty Projectors*
Rick Dobbelaer

Jay Farrar
God Is A Poodle

Graham Colton Band
Kevin House
L.A. Tool and Die
Peggy Lee*
Park Avenue Music*
Pattern Is Movement

Rhythm of Black Lines

The Sad Riders
Shampoo Your Rectum

Graham Smith

Denison Witmer*

*Top Picks


June 2004 Comment Piece:
Why Did We Created You?

We are always being asked the question, "Why did we created you?" In order to get you to shut up (that'll be the day...), we have decided to offer you the TRUTH. We created you one day in late June long, long ago because we didn't have anything better to do. We didn't have any grand master plan and our intent wasn't to come up with anything more than something average in order to relieve boredom for a few minutes. Our motivation was something like that which one gets hit with on the beach when one wants to build a sand castle...but the only tool at hand is a tiny plastic cup. The cup is filled with wet sand and then dumped upside down to create a meek and quite officially dull lump that only slightly resembles a real castle. This is the same way that we created you. We didn't sit down and ponder it for a great period of time. We didn't envision any grand and wonderful things for your future. We simply balled up some leftover materials we had laying around on the floor and then plopped them down on earth...and whatever happened...just happened. Because we gave so little thought in creating you, we have always been perplexed as to why on earth you would spend so many wasted hours praising us to high heaven and back for "giving you the gift of life" (barf!). After all, it wasn't a gift at all. We were only thinking of ourselves. Our conclusion was that we had just created something very, very stupid. We are usually quite proud of the things that we create. But in your case, you have done nothing but let us down century after century after century. You could have been great but the fact is...you just aren't. So there you have it. The truth about your big ol' goddamn creation. It's kind of a letdown, isn't it? Just like everything else in the entire universe. Everything and everyone...nothing but great big DISAPPOINTMENTS. We aren't quite sure what you really are now...and quite frankly, we don't really care. Actually...we care about you a whole big amount and we really love you all the way and we wish you the happiest of nice things forever and always.

GG Allin & The Murder Junkies - Raw, Brutal, Rough & Bloody (DVD, Music Video Distributors, Shock rock)
Raw, Brutal, Rough & Bloody contains some of the best GG Allin footage we have seen in terms of both quality and content. The DVD contains three complete shows: San Diego (9/27/91), Chicago (10/10/91), and Atlanta (11/20/91). Watching these concerts, it suddenly became obvious to us how very much Mr. Allin resembled a baby in his concerts. After all, his favorite antics were (a) jumping around nekkid, (b) hurting himself, (c) throwing tantrums, (d) screaming, and (e) shitting in front of people. Now ain't that just like a baby? This is not meant to be a cut...but merely an observation. While his intent may have been to shock (and he probably did have that effect on most folks), GG never shocked us in the least. He just made us laugh. When a grown man acts this childish and people pay to see it...you've just gotta laugh (!). These three concerts provide more of what GG's fans came to expect from him. One thing is for sure...you either like this kinda stuff or you don't. We've always found GG to be rather entertaining...and this DVD contains some truly funny stuff. Folks who are shocked and offended by things like this are people who deserve to be shocked and offended by things like this. God Bless GG Allin. There'll never be another one like him...ever. (Not Rated)

Aroah - The Last Laugh (CD, Acuarela, Soft pop)
Spain's Aroah seemingly came out of nowhere and then very quietly...and very quickly...made great gains in the world of credible underground pop. The Last Laugh is the second proper full-length album from this enchanting young artist. Born of a Spanish father and an American mother, Aroah seems to combine influences from both countries in her well-crafted compositions (the liner notes are even appropriately given in both English and Spanish). What is most impressive about Aroah's music is that...without using gimmicks or obnoxious studio tricks...she comes off sounding totally original and unique. Her music is understated to say the least...and her vocals are wonderfully subtle. The Last Laugh is easily Aroah's best release yet. The album is chock full of smart, well-written tunes that glide past like leaves in the wind. If all artists had as much integrity as this young lady...the world would be a much better place. Standout cuts include "An Orchid Is A Flower That Thrives on Neglect," "Horoscope," "Madrid," and "Schooling." Fantastic from start to finish. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++++)

Auburn Lull - Cast From the Platform (CD, Darla, Atmospheric pop)
Sounding something like a cross between John Cale, The Cocteau Twins, and Eno...Michigan's Auburn Lull is a band that creates sweeping, spacey, moody pop. Cast From the Platform is a dreamy, casual spin...and it passes by just like the clouds in the sky. Highly orchestrated and atmospheric, the tunes on this album are beautifully crafted and thickened with layers upon layers of sound. The vocals are distant and understated...allowing them to blend in and become one with the instruments. At times the tunes play like soft, well-tempered pop...at other times the proceedings transform into ambient washes of sound with no discernible melody or structure. This blurry vibe is a real plus for the band. Listening to their music is something like looking at a watercolor painting that is being blurred by mist. Slightly hallucinogenic and decidedly peculiar, these folks are playing for a small, esoteric audience. Heady cuts include "Building Fifty," "Deterior," "Trenches," and "Shallow In Youth." Imaginative and different. (Rating: 4++++)

The Autumdivers - The Autumdivers (CD, Online Rock, Progressive pop)
Nice, intelligent, moody, soft progressive pop. The meat of this unit began as a shoegazer band called Stillmotion which eventually transformed into the Paul Gregory Group. With the addition of a permanent bassist in 2001 the band adopted the name The Autumdivers. What stands out most about this band are the vocals. Their super smooth soaring vocals are light years beyond most everyone. Add the fact that these guys are superior songwriters...and you have a band that just may be your new underground favorite. The band's self-titled album is neither cute nor predictable. Instead, the compositions found here are rather complex and unpredictable...and there are few recognizable verse/chorus/verse/chorus shifts. The music has a compelling flowing quality that makes it good for listening or driving...or just droning away in the background. Cool intermingling guitars ring and chime while the rhythm section's insistent drive keeps things right on track. There is something about this music that draws the listener back for repeated spins. Sort of like a subdued U2 without an asshole for a lead singer. Well conceived and well produced. Impressive. (Rating: 4++++)

Bambi Diapers (Poem Kind of Thing)

There is a world
A different world
And it is filled with
Bambi Diapers.

Bambi Diapers
Curdle and whey.
That is the way
They know they must stay.

When Bambi Diapers
Curl up and die.
That is the day
We all say bye bye.

(Not Rated)

T. Graham Brown - The Next Right Thing (CD, Compendia Music Group, Country/pop)
Good mid-tempo country/pop with leanings toward honkytonk. Unlike Toby Keith...who always seems willing to stir up controversy...T. Graham Brown provides country music with a solid backbone that doesn't ruffle feathers nor delve into heavy topics. As such, the tunes on The Next Right Thing are easy on the ears as well as the mind. Brown has a great masculine husky voice that is focused and perfectly suited for the style of music he plays. He contributed many of the tunes on this album himself but also includes some well-chosen tunes written by others. But whether he's playing his own material or that of others, Mr. Brown comes off sounding confident...surrounding himself with top-notch players and recording engineers. An easy crowd pleaser, The Next Right Thing focuses on all the things that are great about country music. Top picks: "Tennessee Hideaway," "Tools for the Soul," "Use the Blues," and "Wine Into Water." (Rating: 4+++)

Chagall - Soundlight (CD, Seven Thunders Music, Pop)
Anyone who has ever enjoyed the music of George Harrison, Neil Innes, or Neil Finn will most likely get a kick out of Keith Chagall (the title track was even written as a tribute to Harrison). Soundlight is a super slick affair. For most of the tunes the thick production works...but in a couple of cases it detracts. Chagall's debut album came out almost a decade ago. The delay in getting this album recorded was due to Keith being involved in a head-on car collision...but apparently he has recovered and is in fine shape once again. Nice melodic pop numbers include "Out of the Night," "I Know What You're Thinking," and "Share." (Rating: 4)

The Damnwells - Bastards of the Beat (CD, Epic, Pop)
Bastards of the Beat is a solid and thoroughly entertaining debut album from The Damnwells. These guys seem to have it all...songs, chops, and looks...and they've even got money behind 'em. Prior to this release, the band put out two EPs that whetted the appetites of a lot of listeners. Lyrically, this disc begins with one of the best first lines ever to appear on an album: "Everybody grew up and turned into assholes..." (from "Assholes"). But don't think these guys are sarcastic, angry thrashers...because they aren't. These four guys are classic songwriters and musicians...and the music on this CD is extraordinarily focused and accomplished. The tunes range from soft folky pop to mid-tempo rock. These guys don't delve into experimental or strange territory. Their songs feature traditional instruments and familiar chord changes...and yet their enthusiasm and talent somehow transforms their music into something bigger than it seems on the surface. Thankfully, a lyric booklet is included in this beautiful package so that the listener can follow along. Bastards of the Beat will easily end up being one of the best albums released in 2004. It's slick, thoughtful, memorable, and a truly clean spin from start to finish. Cool compositions include "What You Get," "Newborn History," "Electric Harmony" (a truly exceptional tune), and "Texas." Recommended. (Rating: 5++)

The Davenports - Hi-Tech Lowlife (CD, Mother West, Pop)
The Davenports is a project spearheaded by Scott Klass who, up to this point, is best known as a prior musical partner with Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingwood in a former band. Not surprisingly, Hi-Tech Lowlife offers pure positive pop that plays in the same vein as Collingwood's compositions. Co-produced by Charles Newman and Klass, this album is a slick and melodic affair. Klass writes smart tunes that feature thick and sometimes busy arrangements and shed light on his exceptional vocal skills. On first spin, one might be inclined to dismiss this music as nothing more than generic pop coming down the pipes. Upon closer observation, however, the nuances of these tunes sink in...proving that this guy has a great deal more to offer than your average shallow popster. Well written upbeat pop tunes include "Melissa Now," "A Deadhead's Lament," and "Your the Only Girl For Me." (Rating: 4++)

Joe Diffie - Tougher Than Nails (CD, Broken Bow, Country/pop)
Joe Diffie is getting better with age...and Tougher Than Nails is easily his strongest album yet. Although the lyrics remain corny (seemingly a trademark of Joe's music), the songs themselves are smart, strong, and satisfying. Where Diffie really shines this time around is in the vocal department. His deep, husky voice has never sounded better...and he has never seemed this confident in the past. As is almost always the case with country albums, the title track ("Tougher Than Nails") is the weakest. After you get past that tune, however, things take a really good turn for the better. The softest track ("If I Could Only Bring You Back") is easily the strongest cut...and shows what a great singer Diffie is when he sings words that are actually meaningful. While not a perfect album, Tougher Than Nails offers positive proof of Diffie's continued improvement as a singer and an artist. Judging from the sound of this album, Diffie could prove to be a major contender in the years ahead... (Rating: 4+++)

The Dirty Projectors - Slaves' Graves & Ballads (CD, Happy Happy Birthday To Me / Western Vinyl, Obtuse pop)
This album is an important release not only because it is truly unique and unusual...but also because it combines the talents of some of the most talented individuals and finest companies in the United States. The increasingly influential Happy Happy Birthday To Me label paired up with the taste-conscious folks at Western Vinyl (the same label that introduced babysue favorites Faris Nourallah and Salim Nourallah to the world)...to release the second album from Dave Longstreth (the man who calls himself The Dirty Projectors). Also adding his own particular sensibilities to these proceedings is Jason Nesmith (of Casper and the Cookies fame)...who contributed his mastering abilities to the project. As such, Slaves' Graves & Ballads truly is an all-star project (if you're a fan of the fertile pop underground, that is). The band's debut album (The Glad Fact) had everyone scratching their heads in confusion...and this album will most likely elicit the same reaction. The main difference is that--whereas the debut album contained in-your-face strangeness--Slaves' Graves & Ballads is much more subtle and, as strange as it may sound, features a healthy modern classical influence. Longstreth has a truly unusual voice...yet it somehow merges perfectly with the varied instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, french horn, violin, cello, etc.) heard here. Folks into early Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Frogs, and Bessie Smith are likely to get a big charge out of this album. While it is certain to leave most listeners standing naked in the dust...this is most certainly a wonderful and intriguing collection of tunes that is so original that it will probably only be embraced by an embarrassingly small number of listeners. Ultra-clever creations include "Somberly, Kimberly," "We Are Swaddled," "Unmoved," and "Obscure Wisdom." (Rating: 5+++)

Rick Dobbelaer - Interim (Independently released CD EP, Pop)
Interim is a good example about what is so wonderful about home recording. Singer/songwriter Rick Dobbelaer found out that he had to have a heart transplant in 2003. Instead of sitting around moping and doing nothing while transfixed on the upcoming event...Dobbelaer instead chose to use his situation as an outlet for creativity. Not only did the project help him get through what must have been a difficult time...but in the process he also created something truly worthwhile and entertaining that he could later share with others (as a celebration of sorts) once he got through the operation (which he did, by the way...). The idea was a good one...and fortunately the tunes are even better than the idea behind them. This EP includes six highly melodic pop tunes that feature introspective and strikingly honest lyrics. Dobbelaer is not just a man sitting at home randomly twiddling knobs. This guy knows what he's doing. His songs are mature, well-constructed, and memorable...and the sound quality is superb. Heavenly pop tunes include "This Day," "Letter to Self," and "Load Your Guns" (a wonderfully heady and sensational piece). Rick Dobbelaer is not a man whose music is being processed for the masses. He is a real person creating credible, positive music as a vehicle for directly communicating with other individuals. It is so refreshing to hear music created by someone who is coming from such a sincerely genuine perspective. And the fact that the songs kick ass don't hurt none neither (!). Great stuff. Really great stuff...! (Rating: 5+)

Donovan - 7 Tease / Slow Down World (CD Reissue, Edsel, Pop)
Two long lost treasures in Donovan's vast catalog are finally available for the first time on CD. We have been waiting anxiously for decades for some intelligent company to scoop up these treasures for a re-release...and not surprisingly, it ended up being the tasteful folks at England's Edsel label. These two albums (recorded in the 1970s) are thought by most to represent the lowest point in Donovan's career...but nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, these two albums are right up there with Donovan's very best albums. The only difference is...these two were not marketed properly at the time and, as such, did not produce any hit singles. Recorded in Nashville with the backing of some top-notch players, 7-Tease contains some absolutely mind-blowing treasures that most folks have never heard even to this day. Mesmerizing tunes include "Your Broken Heart" (quite possibly the best Donovan song of all time), the autobiographical (and hilarious) "The Ordinary Family," the soothing and ethereal "Ride-a mile," "Sadness," Love of My Life," "The Great Song of the Sky," and the poignant "The Quest." Some of the louder numbers don't work quite as well...but that matters little. The fact that this album has remained dormant for so many years is criminal. Most folks might not have thought Donovan was hip during this period...but then most folks are usually wrong about everything (!). 7-Tease was a commercial flop...and Slow Down World didn't fare any better in terms of sales. Until now, both albums had only been available as forgotten vinyl novelties. Just as was the case with 7-Tease, the only reason Slow Down World didn't fare any better is the fact that Donovan's label wasn't behind him at the time...and people probably tended to dismiss him as nothing more than a well-known has-been (to which he addresses the point with the tune "A Well-Known Has-Been"). Produced by Donovan himself, Slow Down World is another incredibly effective album with some totally absorbing and unforgettable masterpieces...including "Dark-Eyed Blue Jean Angel" (unbelievably perfect pop), "The Mountain," "Children of the World," "My Love Is True (Love Song)," and "Slow Down World" (which features one of Mr. Lietch's most beautiful, gliding melody lines). To add insult to injury, many years later when Donovan released the utterly fantastic "comeback" album Sutras...it went all but unnoticed except for the fact that it was produced by a modern heavyweight (Rick Rubin). Donovan's hit singles from the 1960s will always be treasures to many...but his truly meaty stuff (found on other more obscure albums that came along later in his career) may be destined to be appreciated by only a select few. Interested parties would be well-advised to check out other forgotten later classics like Open Road, Essence To Essence, Cosmic Wheels, and Donovan (an exceptionally brilliant self-titled album which received virtually no attention when it was released). Donovan will always be one of our favorite artists of all time. In his many years of making music, he only released one bad album (Neutronica). We highly recommend this disc. It is well worth the money. (Rating: 5+++)

Jay Farrar - Stone, Steel & Bright Lights (Advance CD, Transmit Sound, Pop/rock)
In his many years of making music (as a founding member of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt and then later as a solo artist) Jay Farrar had never released a live album. Now that Farrar owns his own label (Transmit Sound, formerly Act/Resist Records)...he can pretty much do whatever he wants whenever he wants to do it...thus, the release of this live disc. Live albums usually feature inferior versions of songs fans are already familiar with. But in the case of Stone, Steel & Bright Lights, Farrar has come up with a rather stunning collection of tunes accompanied by the Washington, D.C.-based band Canyon. What is most impressive about this album is Farrar's vocals. The man's sense of pitch and control in a live setting is phenomenal. Surprisingly...many of these tunes are as good or even better than the studio versions. In addition to previously released tunes, the album also features two new songs ("Doesn't Have To Be This Way" and "6 String Belief"). This is a hefty CD...featuring a total of nineteen tracks. The official release also includes an eleven song DVD featuring concert footage from Slim's in San Francisco. Easily one of the best live albums released this year. (Rating: 5)

God Is A Poodle (Poem Kind of Thing)

God is a poodle
With ticks and worms
He scratches the ditches
And creams in the storm.
His bitchy old woman
Is watching the seas
As God picks his wisdom
With curry and cheese.

(Not Rated)

Graham Colton Band - Drive (CD, Universal, Pop/rock)
Pure and upbeat feelgood pop/rock delivered direct without all the extras. The guys in the Graham Colton Band play music that is very much in the vein o.f pop music from the late 1970s. While the songs are obviously formulaic...they are by no means boring or trite. On Drive, melodies are the main ingredient...and there are plenty of fine, memorable melodies here. Very hummable stuff here. Cool cuts include "Don't Give Up On Me," "First Week," "Cut" (a real standout), and "All the World Tonight." The only slight detracting factor is that the vocals are a bit one-dimensional overall...but considering how good the music is, that is a minor point. Highly entertaining stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

Hayden - Elk Lake Serenade (CD, Badman, Folk/pop)
Another excellent release from one of the world's greatest songwriters. Canada's Hayden Desser is something like a laidback modern-day Cat Stevens. His voice is deep and expressive...his lyrics thoughtful and personal...and he can truly evoke real emotions in the minds of his listeners. Elk Lake Serenade may be Hayden's most varied release yet, featuring more varied styles of music that on his previous albums. Make no mistake, however, this man's meatiest treats are the simple recordings featuring little more than him and his guitar. Using the bare minimum, Hayden does more than bands with 4, 5, 10, or even 20 members. Hayden presents his tunes with a great deal of sheer concentration and focus. So much so he makes very simple tunes seem extraordinarily resonant and profound ("Woody" is a good example of this.) While Elk Lake Serenade may not be Hayden's strongest album, it is certainly a welcome addition to his catalog. Skyscraper National Park (the previous album) was so incredible that it would have been virtually impossible to follow it with anything stronger. For all its strengths, Elk Lake does include a couple of clunkers. "Hollywood Ending" is rather generic and "My Wife" just doesn't work. That being said, there are some absolutely lovely tracks here. "Wide Eyes" and "Killbear" are the best songs...which makes us believe that Hayden would be well advised to focus on piano and strings in the future. These instruments seem to complement his voice perfectly. While not perfect, this is another great album from one of our favorite artists of all time. Excellent cover art and lyric booklet. Recommended. (Rating: 5+)

Kevin House - Gutter Pastoral (CD, Bongo Beat, Soft pop)
Canada's Kevin House is a skilled songwriter with an incredible voice and a keen melodic sense. Gutter Pastoral begins on a confusing note....an electronic percussion-driven tune ("Stories Without Words") that doesn't represent what the album sounds like as a whole. "Twilight In Wilderness" quickly follows, however...and offers some of the best aspects of Mr. House's music. His soft, gently played tunes are sincere, heartfelt, and original...recalling a variety of artists from the past several decades (including Hayden, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits). The sparse tune is accentuated by some lovely orchestral elements that creep in and out of the mix. "Black Smoke Rising" may well be the most memorable selection here. The lyrics are particularly lovely...as is the unusually restrained horn solo. "I Don't Believe In You" is a sad and reflective tune (particularly reminiscent of the previously mentioned Hayden)...and it works wonderfully. This disc contains a wealth of memorable cuts...each one following the other with a nice, absorbing flow. Strangely, the album ends with one of the weakest tunes ("The Fun Side of Death")...another electronic percussion-driven tune. With the exception of the beginning and ending tracks, Gutter Pastoral is a resounding success. Kevin House is obviously one of the most solid and real upcoming talents in the world of soft folky pop. Recommended. (Rating: 5++)

L.A. Tool and Die - Fashion for the Evildoer (CD, AAJ, Pop)
L.A. Tool and Die is a band that is doing it for the right reason which is simply...to have a good time. The fresh, sincere, upbeat tunes on Fashion for the Evildoer are brimming over with good vibes. The band's general direction may best be summed up by their appropriate cover of the Sparks tune "Eaten By The Monster of Love." L.A. Tool and Die is a lighthearted pop band with no interest in providing difficult or complex music. Instead, the band members provide music that is simple and direct. As a result, the album is an easy spin. The lyrics and the playing are obviously genuine and heartfelt. This, the fourtieth release (!) from Charlotte's AAJ Records is a keeper. Cool cuts include "Jesus Saved Me at the Record Show," "Lucky For Me," and "Game Over." (Rating: 4+++)

Peggy Lee - Peggy Lee (DVD, Music Video Distributors, Female vocalist/swing/jazz)
Peggy Lee will always be one of the most important and essential female vocalists. She paved the way for thousands of ladies in the world of music. There is no way of knowing how many other singers were influenced by her...or how many others were influenced by singers who were influenced by her. With her subtle and soothing presence, Ms. Lee could take a tune and send it soaring into the heavens. Despite her somewhat limited range, Peggy proved that intent and purpose meant everything. Many of today's artists who seem to be struggling and pushing so hard to make an impression could learn a great deal from Ms. Lee. Without ever breaking a sweat, Peggy could magically hypnotize listeners. Peggy Lee (the DVD) features six incredible telescriptions that show just how unbelievable this young lady really was. Though this disc features only six tunes from Lee, that is more than enough to make it a worthwhile endeavor. "I Cover the Waterfront" is so good that it hurts. The telescription of "I May Be Wrong"...which features Peggy singing while she sews...is absolutely priceless. The DVD also features material from June Christy, Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears, Lorraine Page and Her Orchestra, and Rita Rio and Her Mistresses of Rhythm. The folks at Idem Home Video are doing an impressive job of reissuing fantastic vintage material in their "swing era" series...and this is possibly their finest compilation yet. Fantastic stuff. (Rating: 5+++)

Mellowdrone - Go Get 'em Tiger (CD EP, Los Feliz, Pop)
Originally begun as a solo project, Mellowdrone became a full band when frontman Jonathan Bates relocated to Los Angeles to play with Greg Griffiths, Tony De Matteo, and Scott Ellis. Bates had already made a name for himself opening up for Johnny Marr on his 2003 tour of the United States. Now he and his fellow bandmates are poised to take their music to the next level. If Go Get 'em Tiger is any indication of what is in store for the future, these guys are going to have a very fulfilling and luxurious career. This EP presents six intelligent, lush pop tunes that feature exceptional melodies and heavenly vocals. The arrangements are fantastic...thick, full, and spacious. In this case, the band's name almost fits their music. These soft pop tunes are somewhat mellow...and they also produce a slight droning effect. Expect Mellowdrone to be an instant favorite among reviewers. Great tunes include "Bonemarrow," "Worst Song Ever," "Pretty Boy," and "Anglophile." The more you spin this...the BETTER it GETS. BRILLIANT and INSTANTLY MEMORABLE. (Rating: 5+++)

Midlake - Bamnan and Slivercork (CD, Bella Union, Pop)
Wonderfully understated electronic pop that sounds not unlike a cross between The Kinks and The Flaming Lips. The confusingly-titled Bamnan and Slivercork is an almost perfect melding of traditional and modern musical styles. One unusual feature of Midlake tunes is how the drums are mixed relatively far in the background...a very different approach from virtually everyone else...which gives the music a slightly retrospective feel. But make no mistake, the folks in this band are not throwback dinosaurs. They are, in fact, precisely fantastic tunesmiths...coming up with one unforgettable melody after another on this album. Songs are what matter most, of course, and songs are the main feature here. Beginning with the mind-numbing lyrical repetition of "They Cannot Let It Expand" the band then launches into the heady and unforgettable "Balloon Maker." Not only do these folks write great songs...they also embed them with intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics which push the music to an entirely different level. Lyrics are so often the weakest link in the chain...but not in the case of Midlake. The lyrics are exceptional throughout. Destined to be an underground favorite, Bamnan and Slivercork is an unusual dose of something truly different. Exceptional. (Rating: 5+++)

Molasses - Trouble at Jinx Hotel (CD, Alien8 Recordings, Soft atmospheric pop)
Canada's Molasses caught the attention of a great many people early on because of their strangely sparse music and intricate, individually prepared album covers. While the band's music has caught on among a growing number of listeners, the music retains the same soothing qualities that originally made it so appealing. On Trouble at Jinx Hotel, singer/songwriter Scott Chernoff offers his best tunes yet. The arrangements are particularly fascinating and often times complex. Some of the tunes are stark and naked...while others are padded quite nicely with a varied array of instruments. Integrating elements from disparate sources such as Low, Azure Ray, John Cage, and more...Chernoff manages to create music that holds up to many repeated spins. This music is very healthy for the spirit. Very slow and methodical...this album is a subtle and hazy experience not to be missed. Easily the best Molasses album yet. Inspired and beautiful. (Rating: 5+++)

Park Avenue Music - For Your Home or Office (CD EP, Clairecords, Soft experimental electronic pop)
Park Avenue Music is the husband and wife team of Wes Steed and Jeannette Faith. Their music sounds something like a cross between Ivy and The Lemon of Pink. If that sounds strange...indeed it is. For Your Home or Office is a surprisingly weird spin. Steed and Faith could easily be creating music to please the masses...but instead they are opting to record and release music that will most definitely only reach a very small and select group of people (applause!). Thank God everyone isn't in the game of life for the money. This EP begins with the super strange sounds of "Cutter"...a really odd tune that combines super smooth and serene sounds with clicks and pops that sound like something has gone terribly wrong with your CD player. The vocals on this one are particularly peculiar. The remainder of the EP isn't any more familiar or accessible. Good reference points are "The Mellow One" or "How's Your 401K?" We love it when artists demand our attention...and these folks truly do. Another great release from a superb l'il duo. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Pattern Is Movement - The (Im)possibility of Longing (Independently released CD, Progressive pop)
Wonderfully heady and dreamy progressive pop with a distinct difference. Philadelphia's Pattern Is Movement create music that gives the listener the feeling of being in a trance or dreaming. Sounding something like a jazzy progressive 10CC or later period XTC, these guys are creating music from an entirely different perspective...and 99% of the time...it works. That is particularly impressive, considering how many risks these gentlemen take with their music. Far from being safe, easy, and predictable...the compositions on The (Im)possibility of Longing are complex and peculiar. That being said, it is strange indeed that much of this disc has a strangely calming effect on the listener. According to band member Andrew Thiboldeaux, "We wanted this record to touch a part of the listener that they didn't know was there all along." Well, in that case...mission accomplished. The only potential problem that this band may encounter is that their music is so unfamiliar and strange that most folks will simply get lost and turn away...which is a sad thing indeed. The most creative and unusual musical creations almost always get lost or overlooked simply because most people want to hear things that are generic, safe, and familiar. Pattern Is Movement is most definitely not generic, safe, or familiar. The band's music is a confusing wash of complex and imaginative ideas colliding with one another in one big ball of creativity. Open minded folks will want to check this out. Narrow minded shallow jerks...are advised to steer clear. Cool cuts include "Non Servium," "Julius," "Albatross," and "Postlude." Truly off-the-wall stuff that "touches the part" dead on....although we are not certain exactly what part that is...? (Rating: 5+)

Phosphorescent - The Weight of Flight (CD EP, Warm Electronic Recordings, Soft pop)
Insightful and slightly fragile introspective...intelligent soft pop. Phosphorescent is Matthew Houck and whatever musicians he chooses to accompany him at any given point in time. Houck began in Alabama playing to small audiences under the name Fillup Shack. Shortly thereafter word began to spread to a limited degree around the world...prompting him to form a band. Thus, Phosphorescent was born. The Weight of Flight EP follows the band's debut album (A Hundred Times or More), which was also released on the Warm Electronic Recordings label). While Houck's music has been compared to Bright Eyes, the comparison only holds true to a limited degree. In actuality, his tunes are more straightforward, accessible, and positive. Interestingly, with a little tweaking Houck could easily be transformed into a country music superstar (should he choose such an alternate career route, of course). His voice is sincere and effective...and his melodies are both striking and memorable. These six tunes present a young man who is most surely on an upward climb on the ladder of success... (Rating: 5)

Rhythm of Black Lines - Human Hand, Animal Band (CD, Gold Standard Laboratories, Progressive pop/rock)
What would a modern progressive rock band sound like if Pete Shelley or Howard Devoto was the guiding force behind the music...? The answer may lie in the music of Rhythm of Black Lines...an intriguing new band that virtually defies categorization. Most albums can be summed up in a single spin. Human Hand, Animal Band takes a great many spins to sink in...but the time is well spent as the music is absorbing and impressively unique. A wild variety of influences collide in this band's music...which combine together and flow surprisingly nicely. What is intriguing about this music is that...while it is obviously entertaining while it is playing...after the disc ends, it is difficult to remember exactly what went on (a trait that is strangely reminiscent of the music of the band Lilys). Anything but easy listening...Human Hand, Animal Band is an imaginative experiment that works. Excellent in the truest sense and difficult to describe. (Rating: 5+)

Rollerball - Behind the Barber (CD, Silber, Experimental/modern jazz)
Freeform spontaneous knockaround sound experiments. Behind the Barber is the tenth album from Rollerball. The band's penchant for the peculiar and the unexpected has earned them a solid reputation among fans of underground free-form jazz. Because of the nature of this band's music, it takes several spins for the music to sink in. After giving considerable attention to this disc, we found that for our own tastes the music works best as background music...played at low volume to create an atmosphere. While the band's music certainly does not make for easy listening...when played as background music, it most definitely creates distinct moods. This unusual album features eleven oddball creations including "Do The Slim Jim," "Autotelic," "The Guarantee," and "Fake Tan." (Rating: 4+++)

The Sad Riders - Lay Your Head on the Soft Rock (CD, Doghouse, Soft pop)
While Chris Wicky's other band (Favez) has more or less transformed into a disappointingly generic and noisy outfit...he has thankfully begun a solo project. The Sad Riders is Wicky's outlet for his more personal and pensive music...which is quite fortunate for his listeners. Virtually all of the intrinsically rewarding aspects of early Favez recordings remain intact here. The tunes range from very soft to mid-tempo pop with restrained arrangements...and feature those heavenly vocals that make Wicky's music so cool and inviting. The tunes on Lay Your Head on the Soft Rock display mostly sad, reflective, and vulnerable qualities that are slightly reminiscent of the criminally overlooked band Varnaline. Songs are strong throughout this album...but particular standout cuts include "Maybe Just On Fridays," "The Radio Man," "Ace," and "I'll See You in the Morning." Excellent. (Rating: 5)

Shampoo Your Rectum (Poem Kind of Thing)

When shower time comes
And there's no one to see
Shampoo your rectum
With power and glee.

There's no time like peasants
Except just like pests.
There's no time whatever,
To patch all the guests.

Dreamboats are not boats and
Empires are not fires.
Rectums is all dirty
Unless they gets shampooed, that is.

So shampoo often,
Shampoo well.
Shampoo 'til
You rot in Hell.

(Not Rated)

Graham Smith - Final Battle (CD, March \ What Are Records?, Pop)
Final Battle thankfully marks the return of Graham Smith to the arena in which he operates best. After initially catching the attention of an impressive number of folks with early recordings by his band Kleenex Girl Wonder, Smith began introducing various odd elements into his music...pushing pop in the background in favor of experimental compositions. This was frustrating mainly because the folks who loved Smith's music wanted to hear him doing what he did best...which was to write good pop tunes. Final Battle is certainly a return to form. The album seems purposely loose with its low fidelity sound...which suits the tunes perfectly because they are so strong that they come across crystal clear without unnecessary embellishments. The songs sound something like a cross between Ray Davies (The Kinks) and Kurt Heasley (Lilys). While there are strange familiar threads running through the music...there are just as many puzzling twists and turns that take the listener off guard. This return-to-form is a pleasant surprise and is likely to garner Graham a whole new legion of fans. He's a very smart fellow with enough unique qualities to make him a truly viable artist for decades to come. (Rating: 5+)

Tangiers - Never Bring You Pleasure (CD, Sonic Unyon Recording Company, Pop/rock)
Canada's Tangiers is a band with a slightly unusual sound that is instantly entertaining. While the band's overall approach is similar to The Strokes...their actual sound is somewhat different. The guys in Tangiers combine elements from artists like Wire, David Bowie, and The Pretty Things to create their own unique brand of modern pop. The tunes on Never Bring You Pleasure are delivered with integrity and style...and the lead singer has a nice urgent vocal style that really makes things click. The guitars have a strange sound that is integral to the band's music...very trebly and full of reverb...quite hollow, loose, and very cool. This album follows on the heels of the band's warmly received debut (Hot New Spirits). Songs are truly what make this album such a great spin. Instead of slamming out generic power chords and tired, familiar formulas...these guys write and play memorable tunes with decidedly smart melodies. The general vibe is something like a grand mixture of party bands and garage rock. Fun, upbeat stuff with a different slant. Most entertaining. (Rating: 5)

Denison Witmer \ The River Bends - ...and Flows Into the Sea (CD, Tooth and Nail, Pensive soft pop)
...and Flows Into the Sea is a grrrrrrrrrreat album...! Denison Witmer beefs up his sound a bit this time around by playing with a real band...and the results are most impressive. Many folks have the mistaken impression that there are few new classic tunes being recorded these days because the charts are all flushed out with vapid generic crap. While the latter is most certainly true...the former most certainly is not. Denison Witmer is a true modern classic. His has universal appeal...yet his music is artistically sound and credible. Unlike most underground celebrities...this young man has a real chance of hitting it big. We just hope that future success doesn't ruin a good thing because ...and Flows Into the Sea is an outstanding album chock full of thoughtful lyrics and smart melodies. These tunes are right up there with Paul Simon and James Taylor's best material...or better even. Considering the fact that neither of these men are credible anymore...Witmer seems to have come along at exactly the right time. The reasons this man stands out are simple. First, he has incredible focus in terms of both his songwriting and in his vocal delivery. Second, he has a real presence that transmits. He has a way of creating music that actually makes the listener feel the things that he is feeling. This particular ability is very rare in music. Third...he's just really damn good. This is a wonderfully sincere, original, and genuine album that is not to be missed. (Rating: 5+++)

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