April 1997 Reviews

RATING SYSTEM | Another Girl | Baboon | Ben Folds Five | R. L. Burnside | Don Campau | The Cunninghams | The Dandy Warhols | Delerium | Dissonance | The Divine Comedy | Fairy Bryan | Fountains of Wayne | Frankenfinger | The Frogs | Q. R. Ghazala | Gladhands | GWAR | Pete Ham | Junkster | Karate | Timothy Leary | Livin' Joy | Louie Says | Lunachicks | Marcy | John Mayall | Kenneth George Mills | The Moviegoers | The Newlydeads | Obituary | Pollen | Poole | Puzzle Gut | Amy Rigby | Savage Aural Hotbed | Shoegazer | Silver Jet | Skeleton Key | The Supremes | Asmus Tietchens | Tubetop | The Velvet Underground | The Verge | Why?Things Burn/Vasoline Tuner | X25


ANOTHER GIRL - In the Galaxy (CD, RCA, Pop)
It seems there's a one-man band on every corner, but how often do you hear of a one-woman band? Another Girl is just that, the solo project of an impressively talented lady named Lynne Kellman. The "band" name couldn't be more deceptive, for Lynne is certainly not just another girl. That she wrote, produced, and also engineered the CD is rather mindblowing...given the inventive arrangements and professional sound quality. Hopefully Ms. Kellman will inspire a great many more ladies to try the one-woman approach. She is also living proof that more and more musicians are taking the route of setting up a home studio and foregoing the normal route of the professional studio. After all, with high quality recording equipment now so inexpensive...why bother with "professional" studios? Oh yeah...the tunes. Lynne pens tunes that range from pop to light rock. She's good, with a smooth voice and flair for good melodies. Most importantly, Lynne doesn't seem to be trying to impress anyone in particular. I get the impression that she just enjoys what she does. It shows. (Rating: 4)

BABOON - Secret Robol Control (CD, Wind-up, Noisy rock)
Controlled chaos. This Texas band hurls out some mighty noisy stuff on their latest CD, with song titles like "I'm OK If You're OK," "Numb," and "The Man With the Plastic Penis." Lots of screaming and noise in most of the tunes. This is a band that I could either love or hate depending on their live show. I get the impression that the live show is big fun though, so I'll have to see 'em before I decide which way I'm gonna go with Baboon... (Rating: 3)

BEN FOLDS FIVE - Whatever and Ever Amen (CD, Caroline/Sony, Pop)
Receiving this band's Caroline debut CD in the mail was a real treat. For a band that came seemingly out of nowhere, I couldn't believe how good Ben Folds Five were...and I had never heard a peep from anyone about the band prior to hearing the first disc. Now, many months later, it seems as if everyone and their uncle is proclaiming this trio as "the next big thing." Personally, I get tired of hype...and to be honest, I didn't want to like this CD because of all the hoopla. But once again, this extremely talented North Carolina band comes up with a batch of tunes that's practially impossible to not like. And Ben Folds himself certainly has earned the crown of this decade's piano man. Time will tell if success will ruin this overly talented songwriter, but he seems to be weathering it well thus far. As he himself says on the opening cut of this CD, "Now I'm big and important." Well, we all realize that Ben...I just hope it doesn't go to your head, cuz right now you RULE. (Rating: 5)

R. L. BURNSIDE - Mr. Wizard (CD, Fat Possum/Epitaph, Blues rock)
Hot and NASTY. This guy plays a mean, loose guitar and sings like a mighty heap of camel bunks drawling down the plain. This music slides, rocks, creeps, and growls past...and it sure sounds like the real thing. There are so many folks that play this style of music, but this guy stands out simply because he has balls. Not fake balls, but real ones. The ones you can't buy in a convenience store. These are the kind of balls you have to EARN when you're young. The song titles say it all: "Over the Hill," "Georgia Women," "Rollin' & Tumblin'," "You Gotta Move." I don't know 'bout ya'll, but I thank it time fo' nuthuh bee-yuhr... (Rating: 5)

DON CAMPAU - Pen Pals 2 (Independent cassette, Lonsely Whistle Music, Rock/pop)
One of the strongest proponents of home taping in the United States, Don Campau is a true original with staying power. Over the past several years, this man has produced a whole SLEW of underground cassettes full of obtuse, kooky pop music that is characterized by his gritty vocals and ultra-inventive guitar playing. On Pen Pals 2, Mr. Campau presents no less than 18 tunes with various pen pals contributing to the arrangements. In addition to recording his own music, Don also hosts a long-running radio show called "No Pigeonholes" on KKUP Cupertino (91.5 FM) in which he presents a wide array of other home tapers. Don deserves your support. Write him c/o Lonely Whistle Music, P.O. Box 23952, San Jose, CA 95153. Go Don, Go! (Rating: 5)

THE CUNNINGHAMS - Zeroed Out (CD, Revolution, Pop/rock)
ANOTHER great Seattle pop band? How many can there be? The Cunninghams pack a mighty punch with this CD, spewing out hook-filled tunes with passion and style. Crashing drums, crunchy guitars, and hummable tunes abound here...and the songs tread nicely on that thin line between pop and rock. These tracks are heavy on melody, but they're not soft pop fodder. The tunes rock, but not so much that the words get lost in a wall of volume. A whole slew of radio friendly stuff, including "Days Gone By," "Bottle Rockets," "International," "Wannabe," and "Alienate." (Rating: 4)

THE DANDY WARHOLS - ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down (CD, Capitol, Surreal pop)
This band took a few listens to grow on me, but the time was well spent. The Dandy Warhols' major label debut sounds COOL. The band plays psychedelic-tinged, somewhat droning pop music that alternates between slightly alternative rock and just plain weird noise. The band's breathy vocals bleed seemlessly through a somewhat eerie wall of spaced out instrumentation to create a soothing yet somewhat creepy listen. Though The Dandy Warhols' poppier material is certainly top notch, it's on the longer tunes...when they REALLY go nuts...that they really shine (the last two tunes in particular). This feels good. Not unlike a bad dream. (Rating: 5)

DELERIUM - Karma (CD, Nettwerk, Electronic)
Another side project of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber (of Front Line Assembly)??? Just how many side projects can two men handle? These two mega-musicians are at it again...this time producing a batch of tracks in the electronic, organic, ambient, hypnotic vein. All kinds of things are thrown into the mix with this particular project, and the production is top notch (as usual). Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) even provides sampled vocals on the tune "Forgotten Worlds." Eleven dreamy, trippy tracks that pass by like clouds. My fave here is "Twilight." Nice. (Rating: 4)

DISSONANCE - Dissonance (CD, Hakatak/TRG, Dance/pop)
Techno dance music that reminds me of Republica as well as Annie Lenox. Dissonance is the duo of Cat Hall and David Sebrind. This Texas duo writes some excellent tunes, and the instrumentation is way above average for dance music. These folks must be doing something right, because this music makes me want to dance. Bright, upbeat, catchy, and energized. (Rating: 3)

THE DIVINE COMEDY - Casanova (CD, Setanta, Pop)
NEAT. This is the third U.K. album from this band, but it's the first that's been released in the States. The Divine Comedy is actually one person, an Irish fellow named Neil Hannon...and he's one of the best romantic, suave crooners around. Writing death defying pop that borders on vaudeville or show tunes, Neil's sound is something like a cross between David Bowie and the Bonzo Dog Band. He plays various instruments on this CD, but has an elaborate and large ensemble lending a hand (various instruments include violins, violas, cellos, flute, clarinet, saxophone, tuba...and that's just the beginning). Usually, highly produced pop is created as a facade to hide an empty center. Not so here. Mr. Hannon writes GREAT songs...and then arranges them so intelligently that he pulls of his "modern Casanova" persona. Lyrics? They're TOPS. Check this out (from "The Frog Princess."): You don't really love me and I don't really mind 'cause I don't love anybody. Moving stuff. EXCELLENT. (Rating: 5)

FAIRY BRYAN - Maybe You'll Like Me Now That I'm a Female (CD, Islamic, Pop)
This is frightening. You might remember this woman from a few years back. Her name used to be Bryan Ferry, but she's had a sex change. Elton John coming out of the closet was bad enough, but this is SICK. I guess Fairy Bryan felt that she'd sell more CDs if she changed her appearance. Well, she's changed all right...for the WORSE. What is it with all these freaks who feel the need to have surgery performed on their genitals? Don't they know how retarded that is? I would say "Each to his own" but that's such a DUMB idea. Maybe one day she'll have reverse surgery to try and salvage the damage she's done to his body and her career. Until then, don't support this...thing. It's a goddamn atrocity. (Rating: 1)

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE (Live performance, April 9, 1997)
I love this band's debut CD on TAG Records, but because they've been receiving so much attention lately I went to this concert with two concerns: (1) they might not be very interesting visually, and (2) they might very well be so bored with their songs by now that they just wouldn't come across live. Well, I'm pleased to report I was wrong on both counts. Fountains of Wayne put on a GREAT show, and they were entertaining as Hell. After seeing this show, I can honestly say that I like the band's music even more than before. Not only did they accurately reproduce their songs in concert, but they were great entertainers as well. Lead singer Chris Collingwood was totally comfortable with the audience, and interacted with the crowd during the entire show. Adam Schlesinger was nothing short of hypnotic (what incredible eyes this guy has!), taking a back seat to Chris's presence but still throwing out a ton of energy for the crowd. The lead guitarist and drummer played with pure passion, igniting the club with a really cool energy. It's odd...so many people complain about "formula" pop music. I think the real problem is that most folks simply don't know how to use the formula. Chris and Adam know exactly what they're doing, and they do it well. They played all their "hits" plus E.L.O.'s "I Can't Get It Out of My Head" and even an obscure Zombies tune. This was a rare concert where both the band and audience seemed to merge, causing this particular concert to somehow transcent to a higher plane of reality. Wow. (Rating: 6)

FRANKENFINGER - Forty Hour Sea (CD EP, Cash Monkey, Pop/rock)
Fun stuff. Semi-psychedelic, hummable pop music with great fuzzy guitars and male/female vocals that remind me of Lazy. Even the lyrics are great ("I like your Mom...she's got a nice ass, I like your Dad...he doesn't say too much"). This trio doesn't take themselves too seriously, yet they come up with some seriously good music that holds up to many repeated listenings. My only criticism here is that there are only five tunes. I want MORE! (If you can't find this in stores, write to Cash Monkey at 1350 Mahan Dr., #E4, Ste. 203, Tallahassee, FL 32308 or e-mail 'em at aajr34@freenet.fsu.edu. (Rating: 5)

THE FROGS - Starjob (CD EP, Scratchie, Pop/rock)
Very interesting EP. This Milwaukee-based band does not sound like all the rest, in large part due to a very distinct sounding vocalist with a unique warble. Actually, it's the unusual sounding vocals that draw me into this band's music. But in addition, the tunes are way above average with clever yet simple arrangements. Geez...the more I listen to this, the more I love it. My initial faves are "Raped," "Weird," and "I Only Play For Money." I can't WAIT to hear a full-length from these folks. The Frogs are completely COOL. (Rating: 6)

Q. R. GHAZALA - Requiem for a Radio (CD, Realization Recordings, Noise)
Is that a compact disc playing? Or is there something wrong with the air conditioning system? Qubais Reed Ghazala is certainly testing the abilities of music listeners with this extraordinarily curious CD. To sum it up, the disc contains four selections. In the first, a small plastic radio is pried apart. For the second piece, the radio is run through an ice crusher. For selection three the radio parts are cremated, and the final piece consists of the radio being sawed into chunks. All those trendy, alternative rock fans out there who think their latest fave band is so BIZARRE and WEIRD don't know the meaning of the words. This disc certainly is in the running for the most peculiar music release I've ever heard or reviewed. I can't recommend this for everyone, because most people would not even define this as music. I'm perplexed...but I like feeling confused, so this hits a big HOME RUN with me. (Long time babysue readers should be aware that I did NOT make up this artist...this CD actually DOES exist.) (Rating: 6)

Q. R. GHAZALA - Threnody to the New Victims of Hiroshima: The First Insect Symphony Performed on the Vox Insecta (CD, Realization Recordings, Electronic)
Qubais Reed Ghazala is one unusual composer. He's totally in his own sphere, creating compositions that aren't just different...they're so far out in left field that there is little to compare them to. On this disc, Mr. Ghazala uses his "insect voice synthesizer" to create "tunes" that are extremely disarming, cold, distant, and eerie. I would not recommend this CD to most folks, because it is not an easy listen. I thought I had heard it all until I discovered Q. R Ghazala. This guy is REALLY OUT THERE. Way, way, way, WAY out there somewhere. Is this a dream or what? Ah... (Realization Recordings, 9452 Telephone Rd., #116, Ventura, CA 93004-2600) (Rating: 6)

GLADHANDS - La Di Da (CD, Big Deal, Pop)
Really, really, really, REALLY upbeat pure pop. This one ought to make a lot of pop music fans very happy indeed. This North Carolina bands plays pop music that harkens back to the sixties and seventies, but it definitely has nineties polish. I can hear traces of Todd Rundgren, Ben Folks Five, Raspberries, The Beatles, The Move, The Beach Boys, The Shame Idols...and that's just the beginning. This disc is chock full of great harmonies and some really thick vocal layering (check out "Smallsville"...wow). Though the overly upbeat, happy sound of this band may scare off the "alternative crowd," these guys are certain to find a dedicated audience in no time because they write great tunes. Ben Folds Five bass player Robert Sledge even appears on several of the tracks. La Di Da is certainly one of the better pop releases I've heard of late. (Rating: 5)

GWAR - Carnival of Chaos (CD, Metal Blood, Heavy metal)
GWAR lives!!! This band has become legendary based on their live shows, and to be completely honest I'd have to say I'm not sure how crazy I would be about this band's music if I hadn't seen them play live. But...I have seen their show...and I'd have to say that GWAR is most certainly one of the most amazing live bands that's ever existed. If you've never seen a GWAR concert, I'd highly recommend PAYING for it (gulp...that's a BIG one...). I went to see the band expecting a lot, and they far exceeded my expectations. GWAR's recorded music is good, basic heavy metal music that stands up well on its own. I'd recommend this CD to fans of heavy metal, but more importantly...I recommend the band's live show to EVERYONE. GWAR good thing. (Rating: 3)

PETE HAM - 7 Park Avenue (CD, Rykodisc, Pop)
Long ago I wished for a solo record by Pete Ham. Now, more than 20 years after his suicide, the wish comes true. This CD is a difficult listen, and by the end I found myself in tears. When I first started listening to Badfinger in high school, Mr. Ham's tunes gave me emotional rushes. The sincerity of his words and the strange quality of his voice were somehow reassuring and comforting during the most difficult period of my life. That Badfinger was shrugged off by most folks as a Beatles rip off was always a mystery to me...particularly since their music was actually superior in many ways. This CD is a collection of Pete's solo recordings from the late sixties and early seventies. Fortunately, this is not a batch of Badfinger demos. Instead, it is a collection of Pete's tunes that haven't been heard until now (with the exception of an early acoustic version of "No Matter What"). I wouldn't recommend this CD to folks who are unfamiliar with this man's recorded work. But for those who once got the same emotional charge I did from Pete Ham's music, this CD is a must have...because this man's death was one of the biggest blows ever to hit the world of pop music. May he rest in peace. (Rating: 6)

JUNKSTER - Junkster (CD, RCA, Pop)
There's a lot to like about Junskter. Thoughtful tunes, good vocals, and cool rhythms. That said, there's also a certain calculated, restrained aspect to most of this band's tunes. With a little more punch and spontaneity in their recorded sound, I think Junkster would be greatly improved. Even though, I think this band may have some hot stuff in store for us in the future. Time will tell...

KARATE - In Place of Real Insight (CD, Southern, Pop)
Moody pop music with occasionally great vocals. This isn't really slow core, but some of it comes mighty close. This band plays an odd style of music that is heavy on guitar arrangements and peculiar mood changes. The opening track "This Plus Slow Song" grabbed my attention instantly. What a tune...and what a VOICE. Track two lost me ("New Martini")...these guys just don't need to scream. Track three ("Wake Up, Decide") had me back in the water, but tracks four ("It's 98 Stop") and five ("New New") lost me again. "Hang Out Condition"...sounding good again... Ultimately, my reaction to Karate is that I'm NUTS about the soft stuff, but the louder material leaves me cold. The softer songs are KILLER, but the loud ones are somewhat forgettable. Still, this is worth checking out. I hope next time around they stick with the moody, softer stuff...cuz it's the BEST. (Rating: 3)

TIMOTHY LEARY - Beyond Life With Timothy Leary (Advance cassette, Mercury, Ambient/spoken word)
This release isn't actually "by" Timothy Leary...it's a collaboration between David Silver (who conducted the interviews from whence much of Mr. Leary's vocal musings were taken) and Jim Wilson (who recorded most of the music). Timothy Leary has a terminal illness, and this collection of music was apparently prepared in honor of the man before he passes away. The Moody Blues offer two tunes here: "While Birds Sing" and a remake of "Legend of a Mind (Timothy Leary Lives)". Much of Jim Wilson's music has an almost Indian sound to it, while Mr. Leary's words glide in and out of the mix. The overall effect (appropriately enough) is rather trippy and intriguing...something that is very rare in ANY release even remotely connected with the concept of spoken word. I guess old folks just do it better than the youngsters...eh? (Rating: 4)

LIVIN' JOY - Don't Stop Movin' (CD, MCA, Disco)
What year is this? 1976? 1977? It's hard to remember, particularly if you're listening to Livin' Joy's latest CD. This music has all the elements that made early disco what it was...simple, danceable rhythms, spacey keyboards, and a black female singer with attitude. I mean...what more do you really need? These tunes harken back to a time when folks used to really, REALLY blow their minds with drugs and alcohol. Doesn't sound bad, does it? Well, neither does Don't Stop Movin'. Although disco overall is too synthetic and samey sounding for my own particular taste, my point in reviewing is not necessarily to just present what I like...but what I think is good. This is good, enjoyable disco music...and I think most folks into that sound will go for this. After all, at least one tune on the disc ("Dreamer") was already a worldwide hit about a year ago. (Rating: 4)

LOUIE SAYS - Gravity, Suffering, Love and Fate (CD, RCA/BMG, Pop)
This band is the project of Clark Stiles (Portland producer/engineer) and Sam Slovick (formerly of the band The Pedantiks). This is a very well produced, slick collection of pop tunes with a hint of soul. To say these tunes are radio friendly would be a vast understatement. This is music that has the potential to sell a lot of units (sheesh...am I beginning to sound like an industry schmuck?). Overall this is a good listen and very pleasant sounding, but there's also something somewhat processed and generic about it. Not bad, but not the best thing around either... (Rating: 3)

LUNACHICKS - Pretty Ugly (CD, Go-Kart, Rock)
I question whether I'd like this CD (1) if this was a guy band instead of an all-girl band, (2) if I didn't know what these girls looked like, and (3) if I didn't know what the lyrics said. BUT (and this is a big but)...this IS an all girl band, I've seen how completely ridiculous these girls look, and I know what really FUNNY words these ladies write. So, in total, even though the Lunachicks are somewhat of a gimmick band...the gimmick works. These four crazy chicks make me laugh. Some songs are better than others, sure...but these girls get their messages across loud and clear. And anyone with a real sense of humor about what they're doing deserves credit. The artwork and photos on this CD are wonderful. (Rating: 4)

MARCY - Marcy (CD, Flip/Ichiban, Pop)
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice. This debut CD is from an Atlanta band that I had not heard before. Songwriter Lisa Fletcher writes cool pop tunes, and she has an interesting vocal delivery as well. What really makes this collection of tunes work, however, are the arrangements. Each tune has well-thought out arrangements that accentuate (rather than detract) from the song itself. A great many bands use studios to hide the fact that their songs aren't so good. Marcy uses the studio as a tool to better get their already interesting ideas across...and it works. Somewhat drony pop music with a slight psychedelic edge, there's a lot to like about this band. This band does not really sound like an Atlanta band. Could that be because this CD was recorded in New York? Whatever the case, I like Marcy. My favorite tunes are "Driver," "Summer Luvin'," "Song Six," and "Good Grammar." (Rating: 4)

JOHN MAYALL AND THE BLUESBREAKERS - Blues For the Lost Days (CD, Silvertone, Blues/rock)
Hey...wait a minute. I HATE blues music. I do. It makes me sick. All the whining, long guitar solos, just the sound of it makes me want to gag. All that said, I rather like the latest release from John Mayall. This guy's been around a long, long time but he's still got that spark...and his latest band of musicians are HOT. In all honesty, this CD is not particularly up my alley...but I have a lot of friends who like this style of music and I'm pretty certain they'll go APE over this. And for that reason, I'll keep this in my collection. Besides...it's always a good thing to expose yourself to things you wouldn't normally expose yourself to (unless they're underage, of course). (Rating: 3)

KENNETH GEORGE MILLS - Let Robots Melt: Keyboard Soliloquies (CD, Sun-Scape/Access Music, Orchestral/keyboard)
Jesus Christ this is incredible. If you think MIDI music has to sound like a can of refried beans, give this CD a listen. This guy is AMAZING. Kenneth George Mills is not only a musician...he's also a poet, writer, painter, architect, fashion designer, city planner...and the man is 75 years old!!! Yup, this is certainly a case where all those young electronic pioneers out there could certainly learn a thing or two...like how to create real emotions and moods with electronics instead of mass producing refried beans. This guy knows his craft so well...you'd think you were sitting in front of a live orchestra. Beautiful stuff for sure... Recorded in Canada, this is certainly one of the most outstanding "programmed" electronic CDs I have ever heard...period. If you can't locate this CD, call Sun-Scape at 800-437-1454). (Rating: 6)

THE MOVIEGOERS - Twin Pop (CD, Hear Diagonally, Pop)
Hmmmm... My first reaction is that I like this. Good band name. Eye-catching cover art (twin girls giving the finger). Good song titles ("Radio Slave," "Stupid," "Besides"). Put in the CD...and you get punchy, pure pop that's energetic and melodic. This band combines simple arrangements and nice vocal harmonies to create a sound that's easy on the ears and ultimately hummable. Not only that, they've come up with some damn fine tunes for this CD...particularly "Is It All Over?," "Girlfriend's Friends," and "Emma Thompson." At times the tunes...and particularly the lead vocals...remind me of Tyson Meade (of the Chainsaw Kittens). Good stuff. If you can't find this, e-mail the band at MvGrs@aol.com. (Rating: 4)

THE NEWLYDEADS - The Newlydeads (CD, Mutiny, Rock/industrial)
I can be such a closed-minded reviewer. I looked at the name and publicity photo of The Newlydeads and was immediately turned off. "Dumb name," I thought, "and this guy is nothing but a poser." Well...I was wrong (again!). This is a GREAT CD. The Newlydeads is the new project of Taime Downe, who most folks will remember as the lead vocalist in Faster Pussycat. Mr. Downe's new endeavor is one of the best fusions of hard rock and industrial music I've heard. Why? Mainly because this music lacks clutter. So many industrial "artists" layer so much stuff on top of one another that it becomes a big boring blur. Not so here. Taime only uses enough to get his messages across...and his messages, or rather music, are excellent. Tunes like "In Denial" and "Melting" are compelling and just make you wanna move. Excellent arrangements and superb vocals throughout. This damn thing ROCKS. (Rating: 5)

OBITUARY - Back From the Dead (CD, Roadrunner, Death metal)
The whole death and speed metal movement is an odd thing. Unfortunately, most bands playing this style of music seem confined to simply playing at blinding speeds and screaming. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn't. Obituary stands heads above your average death metal band because they aren't obsessed with speed and their songs don't feature unbearable guitar solos. This band bases their tunes around guitar riffs...and while the singer is a screamer, he's not unintelligible. This is the band's first release in three years (the first CD Slowly We Rot was released back in 1989). Folks who don't like it loud and heavy will wanna steer clear of this band...but for those headbangers who want more than just volume and speed, prick up your ears. Another nice aspect of this Obituary is that they are more horror-oriented than they are Satanic. Thumbs up, guys. This here's a groooooovy thang. (Rating: 5)

POLLEN - Peach Tree (CD, Wind-up, Rock/pop)
Excellent hard rock music with a definite pop edge. Originally known as Crosspatch, this Pittsburgh band now calls Phoenix their home. They're also pals with Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton (of the Descendents/All...name drop, name drop), who even produced some of their early demos. These five guys' music has a really fat guitar sound that's propelled by an explosive rhythm section, and the lead vocals are urgent and right on key almost all the time. The five parts of this band add up to one big, punchy ball of fun. The band doesn't seem to take themselves too seriously...and above all they've got tunes with memorable melodies. Oughta be fun live...especially since they'll be opening for the Descendents on their 1997 tour (Rating: 4)

POOLE - The Late Engagement (CD, spinART, Pop)
College radio favorites Poole are back with their second full-length CD. These guys play very accessible, hummable pop music that brings to mind a whole slew of bands including Matthew Sweet, They Might Be Giants, and even Bracket at times. Melodies are this band's main draw, and this CD is chock full of great tunes. No production tricks, no gimmicks, no outrageous haircuts...just good solid music. The band consists of Brian Barnhart (drums), Jeff Booth (guitar, vocals, bass guitar), Harry Evans (vocals, guitar, bass guitar, percussion), Harv Evans (lead guitar, backing vocals), and Pall Masters (bass guitar, vocals, harmonium). Our faves are "Glumb," "Like Anybody," and "Venus Passing." (Rating: 4)

PUZZLE GUT - Puzzle Gut (CD, Trauma/Interscope, Rock/pop)
Direct. Very, very, very direct. Very, very, very, VERY direct. Puzzle Gut don't mess around. They know what they want to say, how they want to say it, and they get their message across loud and clear. "Metamorphosis," the opening track, is a perfect melding of power pop and thrash rock. Over the course of the next eleven tunes, this band proves to be a solid force to be reckoned with. Tunes like "Hangin' On", "You Know Me," and "Kiss the Mirror" hold up to many repeated listenings. This is hard rock that doesn't sacrifice songs or melodies. Fun music that's both loud and intelligent. (Rating: 3)

AMY RIGBY - Diary of a Mod Housewife (CD, Koch International, Pop)
Slick pop with a slight hint of country. Amy Rigby's former bands were The Shams and Last Roundup. Her first solo CD just SCREAMS for radio airplay. Strong tunes, strong melodies, and top notch production make this collection of tunes an extremely easy listen. There aren't really any surprises here, but I don't think that's the point. Amy just seems to be out to write some hummable tunes and have a good time with it. The array of folks who had a hand in creating this will boggle your mind (too many big names to list here). These tunes combine the warmth of down-home country with big city radio pop...and the result is a disc that most folks into FM radio pop will really enjoy. Best tune: "Sad Tale." (Rating: 3)

SAVAGE AURAL HOTBED - Pressure of Silence (CD, TRG, Percussion/Bass and Drum)
YEAH! You'd think with the incredible amount of stuff musicians have at their fingertips these days that there'd be TONS of original sounding groups, wouldn't you? WRONG. Occasionally a group comes along that really does have its own unique sound, however, and this is one of them. Don't let the name fool you, Savage Aural Hotbed is NOT a rap band. Instead, these folks are true experimenters...using found objects (among other things) to create a peculiar style of music that I find most intriguing. It's not ambient, it's not techno, it's not alternative rock...it's something else that I can't really describe. The band's music is based mainly on percussion, which gives it a somewhat tribal feel at times. I don't know how else to describe this, but I'd highly recommend it. It sure made me sit up and take notice... (Rating: 5)

SHOEGAZER - Intoxicated Birthday Lies (CD, T.O.N., Hard rock)
I liked the last release from California thrashers Shoegazer, but their latest is even better...due mostly to the drastically improved sound quality. In a world where too many blaring, loud bands exist, it's easy to get them all confused. This band simply comes across better because they sound sincere...and because they're a lot more creative than your average thrash band. This CD contains mainly rockers, but near the end the band goes off an a very interesting tangent in the tune "Powerconverter" (reminds me of Harvey Milk). Fast, furious, hyper, and at times difficult, Shoegazer is a strange one. (Rating: 5)

SILVER JET - Pull Me Up...Drag Me Down (CD, Virgin, Pop/rock)
Tight, punchy, upbeat three-piece rock band. Bandleader Luke Tierney has an interesting way with a guitar, and his songs just scream for radio airplay. With so many three-piece rock bands out there, most of them become a blur of tired chiches. Silver Jet has a sound that is both fresh and uncluttered. These tunes make particularly good driving music. The band seems to thrive on one of the basic principles of rock music: Simple is best. My favorite tunes here are "Kid," "Free To Roam," and "Meant To Be." It'll be interesting to see if this band gets lost in the shuffle or if they hit it BIG. Either could happen, depending on publicity and radio airplay... (Rating: 4)

SKELETON KEY - Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon (CD, Capitol, Hard rock)
Funky, hard-hitting, cool hard rock music. This New York-based band packs a mighty punch...the musicianship is excellent, the songs are inventive...but most of all, these guys create a REAL GROOVE with their music that is hypnotic to say the least. Sort of (but not quite like) the Butthole Surfers or even The Jesus Lizard. Skeleton Key manage to play loud and hard while still developing clear tunes...and that rhythm section absolutely KICKS. Top picks: "Watch the Fat Man Swing," "Wide Open," and "Vomit Ascot." (Rating: 5)

THE SUPREMES - Our Vaginas Is Secret! (CD, Notown, Soul/pop)
These long lost tracks from the vaults sound pretty damn good twenty years after they were recorded. On the title track Diana Ross croons "You think you know us so well, but our vaginas is secret." I guess The Supremes must've been drunk or something when they recorded this stuff, cuz they really go off the deep end on some of these here tracks. Take "The Wetting," which ends with Diana repeating the words "Love me, spit on me, love me, spit on me..." over and over again. "Love Baby" is a really odd outtake (the song is about a woman who has an affair with her newborn baby). "Our Little Drug Orgy" is probably the real gem here with all its panting, groaning, and snorting. Sheesh...this sure don't sound like the trio that I was listening to in elementary school. I never knew these girls were so, well, DIRTY. You should be ashamed, Diana. Really... (Rating: 2)

ASMUS TIETCHENS - Das Vieh Und Sein Vater: Eighteen Contributions for Cassette and LP Compilations 1981-1995 (CD, Realization Recordings, Experimental/electronic)
Realization Recordings is perhaps one of the all-time strangest music labels in existence. To say that the label has no regard for commercial appeal is an understatement. Artistically, however, these folks know EXACTLY what they're doing. A case in point is this CD by German abstract electronic composer Asmus Tietchens. The CD features eighteen contributions this man has made to various compilations over the years. What does the music sound like? It's actually hard to describe...but I can promise you that these "tunes" are very obtuse and mentally challenging. This is the first thing I've heard by this fellow, but after this experience I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for ANYTHING he releases. This beats the pants off almost all the stuff I get in the mail lately that's dubbed "ambient" or "trance" music. This is delightfully STRANGE. (Realization Recordings, 9452 Telephone Rd., #116, Ventura, CA 93004-2600) (Rating: 6)

TUBETOP - Three Minute Hercules (CD, Laundry Room, Pop)
KILLER. The appropriately-titled Three Minute Hercules contains a wealth of exceptional power pop. This Seattle band writes infectious pop tunes, and they've got the vocal harmony thing DOWN. What really pushes this one over the edge for me is the fact that underneath all the pop action, these guys' songs have, for the most part, very steady, simple rhythms (something missing in many modern pop bands). Although I know it's probably not the case, these four fine fellows make it sound as if creating this pop masterpiece was as easy as pie. The band consists of Gavin Guss (voice, guitar), Brian Naubert (voice, guitar), Dave Fox (bass), and Mike Musburger (drums). Sure there are lots of bands playing this style of music....but Tubetop simply does it BETTER. Current favorites: "Full Bloom" (this one oughta be a hit), "Erika Smiles," "What You See," and "The Weight of the World." The melodies on this disc will blow you away... (Rating: 6)

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - The Most Underground Collection of All (CD, Transformation, Rock)
Yet another CD of "rare" tracks by one of the most overrated groups of all time. Lou Reed and John Cale aren't making any money from their solo careers, so once again someone digs into the vaults to find more previously unreleased, poorly recorded noise to package and sell to a public that is ready and willing to eat it up. Does it matter if it's GOOD? Of course not. After all...it's the Velvet Underground (all kneel and pray). (Rating: 1)

THE VERGE - Phenomenon (CD, Big Deal, Rock/pop)
No, no The Verve...now we have The Verge. Aren't band names confusing? I have very mixed feelings about this CD, but I expect big things from this Newark, Delaware band in the future. The songs that are good on this CD are REALLY good ("Magic Man," "Theory of Relativivity," "Everyone Creams") but there are some clunkers ("Hephaestus," "The Tale of the Old Wives"). This three-piece doesn't play formula pop...the song styles vary a great deal from tune to tune. And most of them work. Reminiscent of a whole slew of different bands, I get the feeling The Verge is just on the verge of making some groundbreaking recordings. Definitely worth a listen. (Rating: 4)

WHY?THINGS BURN/VASOLINE TUNER - "Glistening" b/w "Mr. Ugly" (Split 7" vinyl single, T.O.N., Rock)
Cool single from two cool bands. The oddly-titled Why?Things Burn offer the tune "Glistening," which is a nice slab of moody pop music that is somewhat droning and surprisingly accessible. Vasoline Tuner's "Mr Ugly" is much more obtuse, with the eerie chorus refrain leaving a permanent impression on my feeble little brain. Vasoline Tuner is a band to watch. Their music is odd and somewhat dissonant, and their vocalist is KILLER (be certain to check out their full-length!). On cool minty green vinyl. (Rating: 4))

X25 - Tidy (CD, Paradigm, Pop/rock)
Mostly psychedelic screamer rock, but X25 have much more substance than that. The bulk of the songs are written by bandleader Jaik Miller, a fellow who has a lot to say and says it in interesting ways most of the time. Though the overly emotional pained screaming in some of the tunes wears thin, when Jaik calms down and just lets things happen he can be a damned intriguing vocalist. The Cat Stevens-like "Reaching Upwards" is probably the highlight of the CD for me because of its subtlety. Whatever my opinions are, X25 do have a great deal of commercial potential. I wouldn't be surprised if they hit it BIG. (Rating: 3)

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