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November 2003 Reviews by

Addison Project
Basement Jaxx
The Books*
The Capillaries

The Capitol Years*
Johnny Cash

Comment Piece
Desert City Soundtrack
Kevin Devine
The Dirty Projectors
Heather Duby
The Gay
Crystal Gayle

The Holy Ghost
Isolation Years

Lamont Skylark
Jonny Lang
Ray Mason Band
The Minders

Myracle Brah
New Bomb Turks
Faris Nourallah*
Yoko Ono

The Rum Diary
Slomo Rabbit Kick
Small Life Form
Mindy Smith*
Rod Stewart
The Strokes
The Suggestions


Vasoline Tuner
Young and Sexy
Paul Westerberg

*Top Picks


November 2003 Comment Piece: A New Goddamn Poem

Warm Vomit

Find the warm vomit
That is sitting in your head.
Feel the vomit,
Touch the vomit,
Bleed until you're dead.

Spread the vomit smoothly
Until heaven comes along.
Spread it over continents
Until it is all gone.

Eat the vomit giblets
With tenacity and love.
Give the giblets groovy rings
And keep them in a glove.

Even dogs don't get the joke
When they're not so warm.
Vomit doggies comatose,
Nailed inside a farm.

Addison Project - Mood Swings (CD, Unicorn, Progressive modern jazz)
Addison Project is Richard Addison and a variety of impressively competent guest artists. The compositions on Mood Swings are sure to please anyone who ever enjoyed The Grassy Knoll...or virtually any other credible modern progressive jazz groups. In addition to providing thick and solid bass lines, Addison also acts as programmer in this endeavor. These tunes play like modern mood music with a beat. Sometimes the sound is spooky...at other times light and playful...and sometimes downright calm and reflective. A variety of instruments and sounds keep things from ever becoming samey or dull...and they are all effectively incorporated into these finely textured pieces. Some of the melody lines are somewhat reminiscent of some of Frank Zappa's later work...and a few of the guitar leads remind us of Steve Hillage. These nine tunes hold up to many repeated spins...sounding better and better as familiarity sets in. Top picks: "Sleepwalking," "Mood Swings," "Mceuet," and "Controlled Freedom." Excellent. (Rating: 5+)

Basement Jaxx - Kish Kash (CD, Astralwerks / XL Recordings, Pop/soul/dance/techno)
Charging out of the gates with the furious and explosive vocal talents of Lisa Kekaula (on the tune "Good Luck"), it is immediately obvious that Basement Jaxx duo has another heavy hitter on their hands. Kish Kash is a maddeningly upbeat collection of tight dance kickers...featuring the vocal talents of some impressive stars. Guest vocalists include Meshell Ndegeocello, Cotlyn Jackson, J. C. Chasez, Phoebe, and Siouxsie Sioux (we could have done without Dizzee Rascal's disappointing appearance on "Lucky Star" but that's a minor point overall). Kish Kash is chock full of the stuff that techno kids love. The music is upbeat and very much with the times. For our own peculiar taste, we find the music of Basement Jaxx to be a bit overproduced...but hey, that's probably exactly the point of it all (!). Plenty of dance crazy stuff here to keep the club kids happy... (Rating: 4++)

The Books - The Lemon of Pink (CD, Tomlab, Eccentric/esoteric/difficult to describe)
In a world full of generic artists whose music all tends to blur together in an undefinable haze of boring nothingness...The Books are wonderfully inventive and entertaining. It is a rare case indeed when we cannot sum an album up in a few words...but this disc is virtually impossible to describe in a simple and succinct manner. And therein lies the exact beauty and allure of The Books. To pull a few phrases from the press release, this music might best be described as "electro-acoustic sound collage, laptop, glitch, folktronica, cut-up indie bluegrass..." That pretty much sums it up. This duo takes acoustic instruments, samples them, and then patches and layers the sounds with other additional instruments and voices...to come up with their own unique vision of what music ought to sound like. Amazingly, the overall effect is very calming and soothing...and the music has a surprising warmth that is sadly missing in much of the world's electronic wonderland. The tunes on The Lemon of Pink also have a strange personal feel...sounding very much like the music is being created right there in your very own living room. Thirteen perplexes compositions here including "The Lemon of Pink," "S Is For Evrysing," "Don't Even Sing About It," and "That Right Ain't Shit" (that isn't a typo...!). Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

BT - Emotional Technology (CD, Nettwerk, Accessible electronic techno rap hip hop)
Oh no...what happened to BT? We used to really dig this guy's stuff...but this one has us wondering what went wrong (?). Emotional Technology is way, way, way too calculated and obvious. The rap and hip hop elements are obtuse and annoying...and even the programming seems pretentious and tired. Our guess is that BT has decided to go for the bucks...leaving artistic integrity somewhere way, way, WAY off in the background. We know this guy has the skills and talent to create great stuff...but on Emotional Technology...it just ain't HAPPENING. Bleah. (Rating: 2)

The Capillaries - Overnight Lows and Daylight Savings (CD, Water Power, Pop/rock)
A damn fine debut. Seattle's The Capillaries present a wealth of melodic low fidelity tunes that possess a sincere and genuine intent...while featuring distinct, memorable melodies. The band is led by Matthew Southworth who, based upon his music, seems to be a fellow who is creating music first and foremost out of the pure love of doing so. His tunes are thoughtful pop pieces that recall a variety of artists from the 1960s right on through to the present. What is most impressive about this album is its lack of formulas. Each song stands up on its own...sounding distinctly different from the rest...all the while retaining a familiar thread which gives the album a nice flow. Joining Southworth are Jon Wooster on bass and Kelly Minnis on drums. Plenty of strong songs here including "Modern Dress," "Wait and Recover," "Genius," and "I Can Fall." This l'il sucker was mastered by Jon Auer (of The Posies)...who is also producing the band's next album. This is a true underground pop gem. The more you spin it...the more you want to spin it. Great stuff. (Rating: 5)

The Capitol Years - Pussyfootin (CD, Full Frame, Pop)
The missing piece of the puzzle is, perhaps, the best of the puzzle pieces. Up until this point, The Capitol Years' short but illuminated career yielded but two releases (Meet Yr Acres & Jewelry Store EP). Pussyfootin' was, for the most part, recorded in between the two but never officially released. Very interesting...because this is where some of the band's meatiest tunes reside. Subtlety is the key here...with most of the tunes resonating with a folky feel that is particularly appealing. The softer approach makes it much easier for the listener to take note of what a great voice songwriter Shai Halperin has. But even more importantly...these tunes make it clear that this man is truly a songwriter to be reckoned with for many years to come. This album is chock full of fantastic little gems. Particularly entertaining cuts include "Old Crow," "It's the Law," "Tumbleweed Prayer," "Here Comes..." (possibly the band's best song yet), and "Talk Walk." We've been entertained by The Capital Years in the past...but Pussyfootin completely blows us away... Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

Johnny Cash

Christiansen - Stylish Nihilists (CD, Revelation, Hard rock)
The guys in Christiansen return...with another hard rock album for the discerning listener. These fellows have the three basic elements that make a band worthy of attention: (1) they're tight; (2) they have long hair; and (3) their material is unique and inventive. Stylish Nihilists contains plenty of loud thrashing...yet contained within the threads are some rather subtle elements that give the band's sound a unique twist. The song titles give a good indication of what this band is about: "Kentucky Goddamn," "The Middle Finger," "Dead Celebrities Are Amusing," "In Smut We Yearn"... Obviously there's a sense of humor lurking underneath these voluminous compositions. Christiansen tunes are somewhat epic in nature...sometimes sounding like arena rock...and at other times sounding like pounding hard thrash rock. Smart and intense...these four guys have a sound and image that could catch on with kids all over the world in a BIG way... (Rating: 4+++)

Desert City Soundtrack - Funeral Car (CD, Deep Elm, Progressive pop)
What...? A piano-based pop band that DOESN'T sound like Ben Folds...? IMPOSSIBLE. But...as shocking as it may sound...Portland's Desert City Soundtrack is a band that sounds virtually nothing like Mr. Folks on this, their debut album. Sometimes that is a plus...at other times it is a minus. But this band at least gets major bonus points for creating piano pop/rock with a different slant...the main unique trait being that some of their music comes off sounding like thrash and/or metal. Funeral Car is a decidedly schizophrenic album...with many of the tunes coming in like a lamb...and going out like a lion with rabies. Sometimes the idea works...and at other times the tunes seem to fall short. Overall, this is a puzzling album that seems rather out of step. That is, of course, another plus for this peculiar band. One thing is for certain. Desert City Soundtrack will not please everyone (and they most likely aren't trying to anyway). Some interesting stuff here nonetheless... (Rating: 3++)

Kevin Devine - Make the Clocks Move (CD, Triple Crown, Pop)
An intriguing album from a decidedly talented young artist. Make the Clocks Move is an interesting spin. The album contains straightforward pop compositions interspersed with sparse recordings that sound very much like demonstration recordings. The mix of the two types of tunes adequately portrays a songwriter with a sincere and genuine spirit...whose main motivation seems to be embedding memorable melodies with intelligent lyrics. Even though Kevin Devine is treading in safe and familiar territory...we are hard pressed to come up with any obvious comparisons or influences. This could possibly be due to the fact that his music contains such a wide variety of sounds and ideas from other artists. The simpler and less produced tunes here are the best...as they allow Devine's tunes and words to stand naked...proving that his music is strong enough that it doesn't need lavish arrangements in order to entertain. His voice is somewhat fragile at times...displaying a vulnerability that is arresting and mesmerizing. The more we spin this disc...the better it sounds. Credible compositions abound here...including "Ballgame," "Noose Dressed Like A Necklace," "Marie," and "Thanks." (Rating: 4+++)

The Dirty Projectors - The Glad Fact (CD, Western Vinyl, Obtuse pop)
The music of The Dirty Projectors is most likely to be appreciated by folks who have enjoyed artists such as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Captain Beefheart, and The Frogs. That is to say...this band truly does have a unique sound that takes some getting used to...particularly in terms of vocals. The band consists of Dave Longstreth...a man with an imagination ten times taller than your average modern-day musician. On The Glad Fact many of the tunes at first appear to be meandering and unsteady. Only upon closer observation and repeated listenings does it become obvious that Longstreth's tunes are actually sung exactly the way he intends them to sound. If you are the type who enjoys familiar music that does not challenge your current state of mind...you would do well to avoid this band completely. If, however, you are one of those unusual listeners who is not "freaked out" because something doesn't sound familiar...then we would highly recommend that you check this one out. The more we play The Glad Fact...the more impressed we are. Though it may be difficult to describe the sound of tunes such as "Like Fake Blood In Crisp October" or "Off Science Hill"...once you hear them, you aren't likely to forget the experience of hearing The Dirty Projectors... (Rating: 5+)

Heather Duby - Come Across the River (CD, Sonic Boom Recordings, Pop)
Heather Duby's second full-length begins with the wonderful haunting strains of "Make Me Some Insomnia"...a wonderfully subtle and hypnotic pop masterpiece...captivating, haunting, and stunning. "Stamped Out" follows with the same basic formula and works very well. For better or for worse, from the third song forward this album seems to meander...never quite matching the quality of the first two tracks (although "Three Miles" comes close). Duby has a wonderful vocal style which seems to work best when surrounded by the right instrumentation. The more sparse pieces on this album just don't seem like they are quite focused enough. Thankfully, the kinks are finally worked out...and the album ends with the appropriately satisfying "Golden Syrup"...a beautiful composition in which piano and strings compliment Duby's voice perfectly. Although this isn't the one, Heather obviously has the potential to make a truly great album... (Rating: 4-)

THEforREALS - Wash Away the Cheer (Independently released CD, Pop/rock)
THEforREALS is the trio of Norm Buccola, Tom Nunes, and Micah Kassell...three session musicians who took it upon themselves to form their own band and follow their own vision...rather than follow the vision of others. Smart move...because this band sounds nothing like a group of sessions musicians getting together for generic jamming (!). THEforREALS sound something like an odd crossing of Thunderclap Newman and Dinosaur Jr...but that description only hints at the band's true sound. On Wash Away the Cheer these three guys have come up with some amazingly credible pop/rock featuring a very minimal produced sound...and absolutely killer masculine vocals. The songs are direct and immediately effective...and the lyrics are smart and right on target. There are some real classics here...like "Butter Cookies" (!!!), "Grey," "Savior Imbibes," and "Slo-Mo." This l'il sucker is worth ordering from the band (besides...you aren't likely to find this in local music shop...). Featuring a great big wad of infectious melodies...Wash Away the Cheer is a real winner. (Rating: 5)

The Gay - You Know the Rules (CD, Mint, Pop)
Blissful upbeat happy pop. "Opulent Canine" caused us to instantly fall in love with this band. The bizarre lyrics mix with the sugary sweet pop sound and particularly loose drumming...to present a band of folks who aren't taking themselves too seriously...all the while presenting some seriously effective pop. The Gay are not a conventional band in many ways...not the least of which is the line up (the band consists of four girls and one guy). As an added bonus...one of the female singers' voice bears an eery similarity to Kirsty Maccoll. While the remainder of You Know the Rules is not as immediately accessible and gripping as "Opulent Canine," with repeated spins the rest of the album holds up just fine. In some ways, these folks' music reminds us of The GTO's (those crazy groupies from decades ago)...partially because these tunes display a novel innocence that is missing in the music of most seasoned bands. This is a smart album...yet it is basically an easy spin. If all bands sounded this fresh and vital...the world would be a much better place. Great tunes include "Critics," "Cindy Lou," "Fidelity," and "Fishin' Jim." Another winner from the fine folks at Mint... (Rating: 5)

Crystal Gayle - All My Tomorrows (CD, Southpaw, Pop)
Perusing the track listing on this CD, one might get the impression that this is just another collection of tired old hits rehashed for the fifty millionth time. Beware of first impressions, however, because Crystal Gayle has a real winner on her hands with All My Tomorrows. To put it simply, this is a beautiful album of classic tunes produced to perfection...and sung with such conviction that the listener can't help but be pulled into Ms. Gayle's musical universe. In many ways, this album's overall tone is reminiscent of the approach K.D. Lang took on her spectacular Shadowland album. When Gayle chooses a tune and records it...she makes it her own. Her silky smooth voice is inviting and amazingly resonant...and she surrounds herself with the best musicians and arrangers. While this album is a slick and highly produced affair...it is my no means schmaltzy or insincere. Fourteen heart stoppers here...including "You Belong To Me," "Falling In Love Again," "What'll I Do," and "For All We Know." Lovingly produced by Jay Patten and Gayle herself. (Rating: 5)

The Holy Ghost - Get Your Funeral Shoes (CD EP, Clearly, Rock/pop)
The gentlemen in Brooklyn's The Holy Ghost continue in their mission to provide intelligent rock music that--with the right marketing--might eventually be appreciated by the masses. (That would be contingent on whether or not the average citizen could get used to the band's unusual vocalist.) Actually, the strange vocals are what make this band so great. No generic whiny screams and yelps here. Christopher Dean Heine is truly a man who feels what he sings. His voice is distinctive yet immediately effective. But don't mistake this for a solo affair...the other players' contributions to the overall sound are just as important. Kent Heine's bass playing is thoughtful yet appropriately restrained...Eric Willhelm's drumming is punctuated and determined...and guitarist Alec Ferrell's playing is the icing on the cake. This is a great l'il EP...it just leaves you wanting more. Five superb tunes including "Ghettobird" and "What If We Never Change?" (Rating: 5)

Isolation Years - Inland Traveller (CD, Galaxy Gramophone, Pop)
This is a noteworthy CD for two reasons. First, this is the first album to be released on the new Galaxy Gramophone label...and secondly, because Inland Traveller is the debut album from Scandinavia's Isolation Years. Thus, that's a nice match between a good new label and a good new band. Traveller was recorded in 1999 and mixed in 2001 but is only now seeing a U.S. release. The band's thick heavy pop features keyboards and guitars that mix and merge while the clean vocals are the central focal point. The band's 1980s inspired pop may appeal to folks who are into present day bands like The Strokes. Isolation Years consists of Anton Berglund, Daniel Berglund, Mats Hammarstrom, Jakob Mastrom, and Jakob Nystrom. Inland Traveller is a strong album that only hints are what these guys will be capable of in the years ahead... (Rating: 4+++)

JamisonParker - notes&photographs E.P. (Advance CD EP, Interscope, Pop/rock)
It would be easy to dismiss all modern power pop bands for the pure and simple reason that most of them are generic and virtually unrecognizable copies of one another. But that would be taking the easy way out...and it might mean missing an integral exception to the rule...like JamisonParker. The name is confusing. as the words are purposely spelled together with no space...and the name is taken from the two individuals who make up the band (Jamison Covington and Parker Case). Covington and Case come up with some rather dynamic and catchy numbers on notes&photographs (again, no space in between the words there...). True to the press release, the duo's tunes are reminiscent of bands like Jimmy Eat World. This EP sets the stage for what may very well be a fantastic full-length. Keep your ears peeled... (Rating: 4++)

Jem - It All Starts Here... (CD, ATO / BMG, Pop)
This young lady is being heralded as an important newcomer in the world of pop...that great big ol' marketing machine in the sky is telling the truth (!). Born in Wales and eventually relocated to London, Jem began singing and writing songs when she was thirteen. Her dedication and commitment eventually led to her co-writing a tune with Guy Sigsworth that ended on Madonna's American Life album. That solidified her foot in the door...but gave no true indication of the true validity of her work as a solo artist. It All Starts Here... validates everything that Jem has been working towards. It immediately establishes her as a credible new artist with a real flair for writing songs...and a silky smooth voice that is incredibly captivating and cool. Jem's music is reminiscent of the late great Kirsty MacColl in that there is an inherent subtlety to the music that is endearing and genuine. The overall effect...is simple and wonderfully produced music that gives one the feeling of floating. Five exceptional tunes: "They," "Come On Closer," "Finally Woken," "Just A Ride," and "Flying High (Acoustic Version." Rarely have we been this impressed by an EP from a new artist. Fantastic stuff that reverberates in the mind. (Rating: 5+++)

Lamont Skylark - Love Poems and Fight Songs (CD, Broken Home, Pop)
Upon first listen, Love Poems and Fight Songs didn't impress us much...but something about the disc made us want to play it again...and again...and again... During that time, we were pleased to find ourselves falling in love with many of the tunes on this album. Lamont Skylark tunes combine the best elements from pop, folk, and country...to create a fresh sound that is vibrant and inviting. Bandleader Lincoln Morris writes some truly heartfelt songs...and his deep voice is perfectly suited for his material. This album recalls some of the more pensive material by Gram Parsons. As mentioned previously, this band's material does take a while to sink in...but once it does, you will find yourself completely immersed. Cool tunes include "Stew," "Grey," "How Do You Know," and "Down From the Sky." (Rating: 4++++)

Jonny Lang - Long Time Coming (CD, A&M, Blues/rock/pop)
Not many people score a platinum album at age 16...but then...not many people can play and sing like Jonny Lang. With a voice and style that defy his young age, Lang is a surefire hit in the world of music. He's confident...he has a great, deep voice...and he has that nice slick clean look that goes over so well with the general public. Usually when a young artist hits it really big...they really don't have the talent to justify it. That is most certainly not the case here. Jonny Lang is an unusually talented young man. He really does have the talent and intensity of folks more than twice his age. And Long Time Coming will only add fuel to the already intense flames surrounding his career. People will go absolutely nuts over this album...because it is chock full of the exact kind of familiar slick blues rock that so many people love. The songs are great...instantly catchy tunes like "Give Me Up Again," "Red Light," "Goodbye Letter," and "Dying To Live" all sound like instant hits. The only thing that is a major concern at this point is the people that Lang is choosing to associate himself with. Bono...and Elton John...? C'mon Jonny...you should know better (!). If Lang keeps hanging around with bloated no-talents like this...he will quickly lose his credibility among critics. But...at least for the time being...his music remains intact and tactfully alive. So...at least for the time being...we'll give Jonny a thumbs up. Hopefully he'll avoid the shitty superstar trip....and concentrate on his career...rather than on becoming a "superstar airhead." We'll just have to WAIT and SEE, won't we? Hmmm... (Rating: 4+++)

Map - Secrets by the Highway (CD, Velvet Blue Music, Pop)
If you're the sort of person who is always on the lookout for that unknown yet completely incredible unknown underground artist or band...you can do yourself the grandest favor of all by checking out the Riverside, California-based band Map. These folks have really outdone themselves with Secrets by the Highway...creating a masterpiece overflowing with beautiful and haunting pop compositions. This band is the brainchild of Josh Dooley, a young man who can write circles around other songwriters...and whose vocals are absolutely sincere and fantastic. Secrets was produced, mixed, and recorded by Richard Swift and Frank Lenz who also act as Dooley's backup band. Since the album was completed, a permanent band has created which includes Ben Heywood (drums), Heather Bray (guitar), and Jeff Loop (bass). There are so many knockout tunes on this particular CD that it is difficult to choose favorites. The tracks that initially stand out are "Everything Is Bad For You," "Beautiful Friend," "Love and Magazines," "Riverside," "The Dancing Girl," and "Is This Goodbye?"...but in all honesty, every track is a keeper. Easily one of the best dreamy pop albums of the year, Secrets of the Highway will satisfy for many decades to come. Very highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Ray Mason Band - Idiot Wisdom (CD, Captivating Music, Pop)
In an age filled with uncertainties...Ray Mason is always a sure thing. Mason and his friends continue to provide smooth sailing pop music that is highly reminiscent of some of the great light pop music that was popular on FM radio in the early 1970s. His tunes and overall approach are something like a cross between early Neil Young and Martin Mull. What is most impressive about Mr. Mason is that virtually every song he writes is a direct hit...and that is saying something, considering the generally disposable nature of modern pop music. What makes Idiot Wisdom one of Mason's better albums is the fact that he is sounding even more confident now than he did a few years ago...particularly with regard to his vocal delivery. Considering this man's quality output over the years...it becomes more and more amazing that he has not yet been picked up by a major label (?!?). This man's music could so easily be marketed (and purchased) by a very large audience...! Perhaps one day the rest of the world will take notice. Until then, Mason and his associates will continue to draw the support of an incredibly devoted underground base of fans. Eleven knockout cuts here including "Ring-A-Ling," "Water Off A Duck," "Slippery," and "Backroad Highway." (Rating: 5+)

The Minders - The Future's Always Perfect (CD EP, Future Farmer Recordings, Pop)
Despite the obstacles that are always present when one is trying to maintain a career in pop music...The Minders' Martyn Leaper manages to stay on track by concentrating on crafting quality songs. The Future's Always Perfect may not be quite as direct and easily digestible as some of the band's earlier releases...but it's still basically a smooth sailer with plenty of excellent melodies. The band's music continues to blend elements from the 1960s and 1970s together and lace them with a modern pop sensibility that is equally soothing and genuine. We tend to go for the tracks featuring Leaper on lead vocals. Of the eight cuts on this EP, our top picks are "It's So Hard," "Go Wave Your Hand," and "All the Way Round." (Rating: 4+++)

MJB - Bad Faith (CD, Semper LoFi, Pop)
Sometimes known as MJB...and at other times known as Michael J. Bowman...this man remains one of the true home recording wonderkids of our time. Bowman has been doing this for many years now...which might explain why his music has become so curiously mature and involved. The basic elements from his early solo work remain intact (simple guitar playing, real drums, inspired bass lines)...but the overall tone is more focused and even somehow...more real. Michael has never made music with the intent of making money...instead seemingly content to write and record his music for his small yet devoted following (which still seems to be growing every year). Potential listeners should be forewarned that this is truly a low fidelity recording. There are no glossy effects and no fancy studio gimmicks. Yet this is actually one of the real juicy aspects of this music. Rather than having unnecessary variables getting in the way of the music...the listener is confronted with only the essential elements needed in order to get the point across. The cover of the album states that Bad Faith is "a collection of poorly recorded songs about despair, resentment and other bad attitudes..." That being the case, it seems odd that the music has a strange uplifting quality (?!?). Not surprisingly, this album is filled with more brilliant compositions that most folks will never have the privilege to hear. Top picks: "Letdown," "Apple Orchards," "Pickup," and "Moon." Filled with brilliant material... (Rating: 5+)

Myracle Brah - Treblemaker (CD, Rainbow Quartz, Pop/rock)
Myracle Brah is the latest project spearheaded by Andy Bopp...who some may remember as the brains behind the 1990s band Lovenut. Treblemaker is the band's second full-length release...and it is chock full of the same melodically soaring music that made Lovenut such an entertaining experience. Although the two bands do have similarities, Myracle Brah is most definitely a much harder rocking unit. The tunes are propelled by thick fuzzy guitars and a super tight rhythm section. Treblemaker is infused with the sounds of decades of pop bands...yet the overall sound is very credible and timely. The band's music is characterized first and foremost by Bopp's crystal clear vocals. Plenty of pure pop numbers here, including "This Is Where We Belong," "Climbing On A Star," "Heedless Headless," and "Runaway." (Rating: 4+++)

New Bomb Turks - Switchblade Tongues and Butterknife Brains (CD, Gearhead, Hard rock)
Switchblade Tongues and Butterknife Brains is not a new New Bomb Turks album, but rather a collection of tunes from previously released EPs and B-sides. Thanks to John Golden's masterful mastering, however, the collection holds up well with consistent sound quality from one song to the next. This album can be summed up rather easily. If you love New Bomb Turks...you'll go apeshit over this sucker. It really does match the quality of the best albums they've released. If you've been turned off by the band's loud unrelenting punk music in the past...then you probably won't be interested. Whatever the case...it's chock full of hot slammers like "Bad For Me," "Ad Nauseum," "Action," "Chip Away the Stone," and "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young." (Not Rated)

Farris Nourallah - Problematico (CD, Western Vinyl, Pop)
Farris Nourallah is a one man band...writing, playing, and recording Problematico almost entirely by himself (the only exception being backing vocals on track nine provided by Amy Kneppenberg). Nourallah plays a melodic yet subdued brand of low fidelity pop that sounds not unlike The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society album. What first stands out about Problematico is that Nourallah uses traditional instruments almost exclusively...which gives the album a wonderful warmth and genuine sound that is in stark contrast to many modern computer driven solo projects. His vocals are particularly appealing...very restrained, never forced...with overdubbed harmonies that are virtually perfect. These tunes feature absolutely absorbing and beautiful melodies that slowly sink into the listener's subconscious and take up permanent residence. The lyrics are personal and introspective...offering a glimpse into how this man's mind works. This is an excellent fifteen tune collection...featuring extraordinarily meaty nuggets like "You've Got It Made," "Problematico," "Moscow In The Morning," "I Know Your Name," and "Adieu." Easily one of the best pop releases of 2003. Instantly memorable. (Rating: 6)

Yoko Ono - John Is Dead and Now I Can't Get F*cked By Nobody (Advance CD, Orange Peanut, Excuses rock)
We had to drink two buckets of vomit before we could understand this CD. We kept asking ourselves..."Is Yoko being for real about all of this?" The answer to it all is that YES, she really is being for real...and the reality of it all is that it really is something real for the first time in several years. To prepare for this recording, Ono spent several months masturbating in the corner of a restroom on the top floor of her home. It was hard work, but she has never been an artist to take the easy way out. She kept smelling old pieces of John in her vaginal fumes and this gave her the inspiration to begin a new album. She took a few layers of the skin from John's rear end and layered them with some smoothed down doodoo of her own...and then sprinkled some okie dokie on top of that. Her own rear end wouldn't work right so she made some adjustments, finally coming to the conclusion that her dead husband was never going to rump her barnhole ever again. She cried and she cried. Oh how Yoko cried. The she decided that the only way she was going to get someone else to rump her was to start farting. She flipped on her recorder and farted high and low. She farted sweet and she farted sour. She farted long and she farted short. She farted south and then she farted north. And just when she thought she couldn't fart again...Yoko stood up and said with a grin, "You know my new CD isn't crappy as pudding, but that's how I planned it...now would someone rump my goddamn noodle hole like that dead worthless atheist husband of mine used to do before he crumped up and died?" The CD features photos of Yoko's rectum in various modes of photosynthesis. Each CD includes a bonus chunk of John's uterus. (Rating: 1)

Pelican - Australasia (CD, Hydra Head Industries, Heavy progressive instrumentals)
Chicago's Pelican is an instrumental band whose music features a slightly different slant. The band combines elements from 1970s progressive bands with modern heavy metal...creating a formidable wall of sound that seems to change and evolve from one minute to the next like a kaleidoscope. The band's music has an epic sound that incorporates a wide variety of ingredients along the way. While the band occasionally hints at ambient and even classical music...they always seem to return to riding the crest on a wave of heavy sludge guitars as their primal base. There are millions of instrumental bands on the planet...but few have opted to take the heavy-handed path of Pelican. In a world of generic instrumental bands, this quartet stands out as a unique entity. Lengthy cuts include "Nightenday," "Angel Tears," and "Australia." Good stuff... (Rating: 4+++)

Pseudosix - Days of Delay (CD, 54 40 or Fight!, Moody pop)
Pseudosix is a band whose music takes time to sink in and that can be a very good thing...particularly when the end result is so ultimately satisfying. The band is the trio of Tim Perry, Emil Snizek (who also has his own great band named Holy Sons), and Joe Kelly. Perry, Snizek, and Kelly play a thoughtful, subdued brand of soft pop music that is characterized by soft vocals and some very smart and personal lyrics. The band's tunes are anything but obvious. Instead of approaching music from the same general principle as is most often applied...these guys are instead coming from their own unique direction...providing tunes that truly do not sound like the rest. For our bucks, the softest and more sparse tunes are the best...recalling the general feel of tunes from Lou Reed's fantastic yet underrated Berlin album. Perry and Snizek's vocals are truly a perfect match. Dreamy cool sounds abound on Days of Delay ...making this one of the great standout albums of 2003. Classic cuts include "Holly Abyss (Introduction)," "Run Rebel," "Put Your Back to the Sun," and "Hey Revenge." Recommended. (Rating: 5+)

The Rum Diary - Poisons That Save Lives (CD, Substandard, Progressive pop/rock)
The majority of the people in the world are so goddamn obvious. It's a shame, isn't it? You can always spot truly shallow and trivial individuals simply by identifying those whose lives are obvious. Those poor, pitiful folks who feel they must always clearly state their position on everything...that their ideas and opinions must always fit together like pieces of a goddamn puzzle... It is sad. So very sad. These same individuals seem to feel that their real identities in this big cruel world are so painfully important...and that the way they are perceived by others is absolutely crucial to their very existence. Because there are so many obvious bands and artists in the world...it is fortunate indeed that at least a small percentage of the recording public take the attitude and approach of The Rum Diary. The band's material plays something like the soundtrack to an abstract painting. There are no obvious reference points. There are no catchy choruses. There are no images of the band on the cover sporting dumb haircuts and inappropriate piercings. Instead, this band's music blends and blurs away in its own unique universe...never quite giving itself away...all the while providing substantive food for thought. Poisons That Save Lives will unfortunately not appeal to most people...because in the world of music, most folks prefer the obvious. (We don't understand it, but it is most certainly a fact.) Those who take the time to hear The Rum Diary, however, will be rewarded with the fine fruits of a truly rewarding listening experience. The band's tunes are wonderfully understated and sly...creeping around unexpected corners...and always focusing on clarity in the most subtle ways imaginable. Eight great cuts here...including "Greasers Win," "It's Midnight," "Killed By the Cowboy President," and "The No Hunt." Excellent. (Rating: 5+)

Slomo Rabbit Kick - Bass Monster Lives in the Bass Forest (CD, Skrocki, Pop)
At this point we have to wonder...is a shortage of good "dot com" names causing artists to come up with better and more creative band names...? Maybe, maybe not...but when a band comes along with a name like Slomo Rabbit Kick...this certainly seems to be the case (!). This is the new project spearheaded by Jay Chicolte (previously with the band The Revolutionary Hydra). Up until now, Chicolte has probably received most of his notoriety from a song he wrote ("That Fact That Launched A Thousand Shits") that appeared on the first Death Cab For Cutie album. Bass Monster Lives in the Bass Forest firmly establishes Chicolte as a viable one man band. He sang and played everything on this album with the exception of some backing vocals supplied by Jamie Kline. Bass is an odd album...sometimes sounding familiar...and at other times sounding decidedly unfamiliar and peculiar. We are particularly impressed by the fact that Chicolte opts to play real drums rather than use the ones in cans...it sounds so much better. Reading the song titles...it is difficult indeed to figure out where this guy is coming from ("spacer.gif," "To An Abject Degree," "Interstitial Walrus Revere"...). Whatever is being said...it sounds strangely relevant. An intriguing album from an intriguing artist... (Rating: 4+++)

Small Life Form - One (CD, Silber, Ambient/drone/electronic)
Whenever we need an ambient drone fix...we turn to Raleigh, North Carolina's esoteric Silber label for the latest pertinent injection. Small Life Form is a particularly welcome release...because it was created by the founder of the label himself. Brian John Mitchell has developed a solid following by releasing music by bands and artists with virtually no commercial potential and who truly expand the boundaries of music. From the start, Mitchell's label has obviously been a labor of love...with an emphasis on releasing unique, quality releases. One should be warmly received by those who are already familiar with the obtuse and mesmerizing Silber sound. Mitchell spent five years working on this album. It was recorded in real time without overdubs, with Brian playing all the instruments himself. On the first spin, one might be inclined to dismiss this album as a mere electronic drone experiment. Upon closer observation, however, it becomes apparent that these compositions are keenly focused and contain a wealth of subtleties that make them truly hypnotic and intriguing. Some of the basic ideas here remind us of those inherent in the music of Charity Empressa. The idea is to use sound in order to put the listener into a trance-like state. These seven pieces are wonderfully peculiar and tastefully executed to perfection. While not for everyone, this album should be welcomed by those into truly mind-expanding electronics with a difference. Seven lengthy cuts including "Small," "Organ," "Pulsar," and "Melodica." (Rating: 5+)

Mindy Smith - One Moment More (CD, Vanguard, Folk/soft pop)
This is a beautiful collection of tunes...and easily one of the best releases from the Vanguard label this year. Though a newcomer on the scene, Mindy Smith had already generated quite a buzz with her initial recorded work (she made quite a splash with her cover of "Jolene" which appeared on a Dolly Parton tribute album). Her pure, crystal clear voice is reminiscent of Alison Krauss...and her delivery is as equally captivating and sincere. One Moment More is a super smooth and pleasing collection of classic soft pop tunes sure to please even the most jaded listeners. It would, indeed, be difficult to imagine anyone not being able to appreciate this disc (!). It really is that good. Excellent tunes...unbelievable vocals...superb arrangements...what more could one ask for? This album is destined to be on a great many "best of" lists for the year. Features eleven cool cuts including "Falling," "Raggedy Ann" (particularly impressive...rivals even the best Janis Ian tunes in terms of pulling emotional strings), "Angel Doves," and "One Moment More." A truly amazing debut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5+++)

Rod Stewart - Favorites For Old Farts Who Can't Move Forward and Other Tired Old Hits (CD, DNI, Pop)
Rod Stewart just keeps getting older and older...right along with his elderly fans. Unlike other celebrities who move and change with the times, Rod just keeps shitting along in the same old tired rut he's been in for years...and that's just the way his fans like it. On Favorites For Old Farts Who Can't Move Forward and Other Tired Old Hits, Rod truly gives his followers what they want...new renditions of his generic hits from decades ago...all redone with the vitality and vigor of a three-month-old slug. Stewart's highly publicized brain transplant is now months old...but he still seems plagued by the publicity that it aroused. And even though he can no longer remember the lyrics to his tunes, he still tries his damndest to remember them...even though he really can't remember any of them. But he sure tries, goddamn it. At least the goddamn man tries. He never does succeed, of course, but that's all just part of the real fascination. Complete with burps, farts, hiccups, and other gutteral noises, Favorites is truly what old farts want. Shitty old crap churned and rechurned for the millionth time. Stewart is apparently planning on having his heart removed during his next concert tour which will no doubt delight his fans to infinity. Until then, this collection of feces will cast shame on the toilet ramps that evoke positive remourse from the childish yet giddy frommish that teedles and toodles all the live long day. Dlah dlah... (Rating: 1)

The Strokes - Room On Fire (CD, RCA, Pop/rock)
Cut from the same fabric as the band's last album (Is This It), Room On Fire is bound to satisfy the growing legions of Strokes fans around the world. The band made the wise choice to stick with producer Gordon Raphael, who was largely responsible for the band's uniquely peculiar sound last time around. All the elements that make this band so uniquely attractive remain intact: the hypnotic angular guitars, the smooth bass lines, the simple steady rhythms, and those ever-so-slightly distorted vocals. While the songs may not be as initially gripping and compelling as the material on the previous album...with repeated spins, this l'il sucker holds up just fine. Most really popular bands suck like there's no tomorrow have have nothing valid to offer. In this very rare instance, the public has actually adopted a credible and compelling band as their saviors. That is to say, The Strokes really and genuinely do satisfy with quality material and heartfelt delivery. Plenty of great material here including "What Ever Happened?," "You Talk Way Too Much," "Meet Me In The Bathroom," and "The End Has No End." The Strokes are easily one of the strongest, credible bands leading us into the twenty-first century... (Rating: 5++)

The Suggestions - Mix Tape (CD EP, Independently released CD, Pop)
When it's done right, there ain't nothing as pleasing as pure happy pop...and Mix Tape is brimming over the edges with plenty of superbly executed upbeat pure happy pop. The Suggestions are Keith Hosmer, Jason Schultz, and John Brodeur. The band's tunes are characterized by surprisingly gliding melodies and unusually smart and unusual hooks that are anything but standard fare. This is a band with a refreshing jolt of real talent and enthusiasm. John Brodeur's songs are instant classics...sounding strangely familiar, yet injected with all the excitement and energy of something new and different. This is a fantastic little EP featuring such killer cuts as "Be True, " "Art of Dying," and "Changing Your Mind (Again!)." The vocals are out-of-sight (!). (Rating: 5+)

Superhopper - Does This Sound Exciting Yet? (CD, Guilt Ridden Pop, Rock)
Playing a peculiar brand of aggressive power pop that sounds something like The Buzzcocks mixed with The Chainsaw Kittens...except with a harder edge than either...Superhopper is a band whose music features moments of sheer brilliance. "New Fresh Midwest," the opening cut, is nothing short of fantastic...with its repeating refrain of It's now new, it's not fresh, it's the Midwest... An unforgettable tune played with true conviction. This band's buzzsaw punk/pop has a distinctive jolt that is different from the rest...and it is hard to explain exactly what that jolt is. Does This Sound Exciting Yet? has an overall sound that recalls the original bands from the 1970s...while making the delivery with all the punch and energy of a twenty-first century rock band. Cocky and smart...the guys in Superhopper are one big whopping ball of loud rocking fun. Standout cuts include "Something Real Cool," "Button," "Laraine Newman," "Backslash Wall," and "What It Takes." (Rating: 5)

Tyrades - Tyrades (CD, Broken Rekids, Punk rock)
The term punk rock has been thrown around and mutated to the point where it now means little to the modern music listener. But while most bands claiming to be punksters simply don't fit the bill...Chicago's Tyrades genuinely and really do. The band's sloppy and intense sound is loud and aggressive...yet their songs easily stand out amidst all the crashing and bashing. The band's sound is characterized first and foremost by a girl singer who can belt 'em out like the biggest bossiest hairy badboys out there. She sounds something like Johnny Rotten on LSD. While it is virtually impossible to distinguish what the band's lyrics are actually about (very difficult to understand)...that matters little because with Tyrades, intent is everything. This band is providing a well-needed spiked injection into the big old tired veins of a musical community that has become way too tame and safe. Fuel-charged nasty-ass rockers like "Money Boy, Money Girl" and "Let Down" are about as close as one can get to the original intent of punk in the 1970s. Excellent and wonderfully hyperactive... (Rating: 5)

Vasoline Tuner - Rock Out With Your Cock Out (CD-R, H22, Abstract rock/pop)
One of the most obtuse and underrated bands on the planet, the guys in Vasoline Tuner continue to do things their own peculiar way...creating challenging music with a decidedly hilarious sense of humor. Rock Out With Your Cock Out is easily the band's funniest album yet...featuring lyrics and song titles that are almost certain to make even the most jaded listeners howl out loud. The album begins with the furious tension of "Ugly Girls F*ck Better" (Hell YEAH!)...and then plunges into the overtly silly "Staying At The Y." Before you can catch your breath, the band proceeds to present the trippy, thoughtful, and eerie "Your Mom is a Man." Vasoline Tuner is always a strange and bewildering experience...but they've really outdone themselves with this l'il sucker. Other cuts that make a definite impression include "Clouds Are Sexy," "First Call the Police Then Suck My Dick," and "Dracula Was a Ding Dong." In an age where creativity seems to be getting harder and harder to find...these guys prove that all it takes is a vivid and intense sense of imagination...and the ability to play a few instruments. This band's crazed music is highly reminiscent of the super creative stuff that was released on Frank Zappa's Bizarre Records label decades ago (Wild Man Fisher, The GTO's, Captain Beefheart, early Alice Cooper, etc.). You'll never find this in a store...so it'd be in your best interest to visit these wildmen at their web site (link above). Absolutely great and intense stuff. This band just keeps getting better as the years go by. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

Young and Sexy - Life Through One Speaker (CD, Mint, Pop)
Refreshingly sincere melodic pop music with a difference. Begun in 1993, this band's has a subtle, pensive, and reflective approach to making music. Instead of inundating the listener with volume and a wall of sound...the folks in Young and Sexy prefer to take a more roundabout approach in presenting their tunes. The songs are wonderfully complex melodically...and crafted using just enough ingredients to get the point across. In some ways, the band sounds like a more soft and thoughtful New Pornographers (and we're not just saying that just because they share the same label). The songs are smart...featuring male and female vocals...and, like the Pornographers, these folks' tunes just don't sound like any other band that comes to mind. The tunes on Life Through One Speaker are unpredictable...and yet somehow sound strangely familiar. With most modern bands, you can pretty much guess what's going to come next in the tune. This is definitely not the case here. These compositions take cool, winding paths...often ending up where you would least expect...all the while maintaining focus and integrity. The inherent beauty of songs like "Oh My Love," "Weekend Warriors," "Lose Control," and "Life Through One Speaker" make this album a joy to spin again...and again...and again... Truly lovely stuff. (Rating: 5+++)

Paul Westerberg - Come Feel Me Tremble (CD, Vagrant, Pop/rock)
New studio album from the 1980s Replacements rocker. On Come Feel Me Tremble, Mr. Westerberg seems to be taking the attitude that he simply wants to give the people what they want...which is basically more the the kind of music that made the Replacements famous in the first place (around the time of their Tim and Let It Be albums). If you liked Westerberg's music in the past, this one should hit a home run for you. If you weren't impressed before, you probably won't be impressed with this one either. There is also a DVD release coinciding with the release of this album... (Not Rated)

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