February 1997 Reviews

RATING SYSTEM | The Archies | Art of Noise | Birdbrain | Michael J. Bowman | Camber | The Delgados | Fastball | Flap | Fluf | Serge Gainsbourg | Mark Humphreys | Icons | The Ken Ardley Playboys | Lefty Jones Band | The Living Abortions | Marbles | Mindphaseone | Mindset | Takako Minekawa | The Moneymakers | Neal | Nerf Herder | The Nerk Twins | Not Breathing | Panasonic | Rahsaan Patterson | Radio Oddyssey 2 | Scorn | The Shame Idols | Shonen Knife | Sister Hazel | Sloan | Sparkler | Starflyer 59 | Supergrass | Swell | Thick Black Theory | Thin Lizard Dawn | Trance Psyberdelic | Treble Charger | Trial of the Bow | Trona | Trunk Federation | United States Three | Vallejo | Velour 100


THE ARCHIES - Archie's Nightmare Psycho Violence Party (CD, Hardbubble, Industrial)
We thought they'd never return, and now we wish they hadn't. Sixties cartoon group The Archies are back with an entirely new image. Archie, Reggie, Jughead, Veronica, and Betty have gone industrial...complete with tattoos and piercings. This once wholesome comic book band has turned sour in an attempt to shake their "cutesy" image with disastrous results. I'd take "Sugar Sugar" over this ANY day. Songs include "Jingle Jungle Bloodbath," "(My Heart Went) Bang Bang Kill Kill Kill," "Betty's Got A Brand New Bag of Dope," and "Archie's Toilet." (Rating: 1)

ART OF NOISE - The Drum and Bass Collection / The Best of the Art of Noise / The Fon Mixes / The Ambient Collection (CDs, Discovery, Electronic/techno)
These are actually four individual CDs that have just been released on the Discovery label. Art of Noise is an infamous electronic band that preceded many of the house/ambient/techno bands that are around today. The Drum and Bass Collection (the only new disc of the four) is probably my favorite. It consists of various mixmeisters interpreting the tracks recorded by the band. The tunes are surreal, spacey, and trippy...and instead of too many layers, the tracks are unusually clean and simple. It's odd that my least favorite disc here is The Best of the Art of Noise, whether it be the fact that it contains more commercial sounding stuff or the fact that I've heard some of these tunes too many times. Whatever the case...the remaining two CDs offer more of the high quality experimental stuff the band is known for. My suggestion? Skip the "best of" and pick up the other three... (Rating: 4)

BIRDBRAIN - Let's Be Nice (CD, TVT, Rock/pop)
The three guys in Birdbrain obviously spent a great deal of time and energy on this one, and the time was well spent. Though the band's main focus is alternative sounding rock music, they are extremely proficient with various styles...and it's the variety in these tunes that make them so appealing. The band is based in Boston and consists of Ammo (vocals, guitar), Joe McCarthy, Jr. (bass), and Mike Benway (drums). Don't expect simple guitar/bass/drums arrangements on this CD, however. These songs have complex music arrangements that include horns, pianos, strings, and a whole slew of other instruments that add (rather than detract) from the music. And the bass player is SOLID, playing a heavy, anchored bass that sounds as thick as a BRICK. Top picks: "Talk About Me," "[She's Always] Glowing," "Inside Out," "High," and "The Ballad of Johnny Love." (Rating: 5)

MICHAEL J. BOWMAN - Lo-Fi / Unshine 1989-1992 (Independent cassettes, Pop)
If you've never heard Michael J. Bowman, you are missing out on a truly talented underground obscurity. Lots of home tapers really aren't doing interesting stuff and they tend to give the medium a bad name. Mr. Bowman continues to prove that you can record tunes in your own home that can rival anything put out by record companies. How does he do it? Simple. He writes and plays straight from his heart. You can hear it in every tune he writes. Honestly, this guy has got to be one of the greatest unknown songwriters around. Lo-Fi is more great new stuff, Unshine is a "Best Of" collection. Get in on a good thing, and order both of these cassettes. Contact Michael J. Bowman, 11 Orchard St., Cold Spring, NY 10516 or e-mail him at 76365.400@compuserve.com. (Rating: 5)

CAMBER - Beautiful Charade (Advance CD, Deep Elm, Rock/pop)
This New York-based band has a very thick produced sound that is very much like a cross between Walt Mink and the Smashing Pumpkins. On this, their debut full-length CD, the band comes up with some excellent material with very well-thought out (and complex) arrangements throughout. Most of the guitar arrangements sound as if they required a great amount of thought and energy. The busy arrangements and heavenly vocal melodies are anchored by a solid rhythm section. Whether Camber is rocking out at high volume or being somber and pensive, they seem to know exactly what they're doing. Produced by John Agnello (of Jawbox and Dinosaur, Jr. fame). (Rating: 4)

THE DELGADOS - Domestiques (CD, March, Pop/rock)
The Delgados consist of Emma Pollock, Alun Woodward, Stewart Henderson, and Paul Savage. They are also the folks who run the Chemikal Underground record label in Scotland (who brought us the band Bis). This band reminds me of Ohio's Lazy, perhaps because they trade off male and female vocals a good bit of the time. The music is basic fuzzed-out bubblegum pop/rock with lots of distorted guitars and fun noise. The band is at their best when they're playing straightforward in-your-face pop ("Strathcona Slung," "Big Business in Europe," "Sucrose"), but some of the softer stuff is pretty damn cool too ("Leaning On a Cane," "Smaller Mammals," "D'Estus Morte"). This band certainly has distinctively American as well as British influences. Upbeat, energetic, and quite a bit of fun...

FASTBALL (Concert review, February 5, 1997)
What do you do when you're playing for a college audience in a seated auditorium where no alcohol is served in a city where you've received little or no exposure...and the entire audience is waiting for you to get offstage so they can see Matthew Sweet? If you're Fastball, the answer is to just relax and have fun. This Austin trio plays power pop with muscle...and it was certainly obvious watching the band play live that the drummer is the man who really puts the punch in this band's music. Though I would have preferred to have seen Fastball play in a smaller, more intimate setting, the band put on a good show and proved that they're as tight in concert as they are on their recordings. The guitarist had a really good stage presence, making jokes with the audience that went over well. I already liked this band prior to seeing the show, but I have to admit that this particular concert didn't push me any further in any particular direction. I'd like to see Fastball perform in a more comfortable environment before passing further judgement. (Rating: 3)

FLAP - "Smash & Grab World" b/w "Styromania" (Vinyl 45, Fat Boy, Acoustic instrumental)
Actually, a better descriptive term than "acoustic instrumental" would be "psychedelic bluegrass." The two guys who form Flap play a distinctive style of music that sounds like no one else. They play very spontaneous, very FAST acoustic guitar instrumentals...but it's their style and speed that set them apart from everyone else. Both of the tunes are extremely interesting pieces. If you can't find it in stores, write to Fat Boy Records, P.O. Box 8146, Atlanta, GA 30306. I hope Matt and Andy are working on a full-length release, because I'd bet it's gonna be KILLER. (Rating: 5)

FLUF - Waikiki (CD, Way Cool/MCA, Rock)
It would be easy to dismiss Fluf as just another of the millions of fuzzy, power rock trios. Why? Well, they certainly have a lot in common with a zillion other bands. Upon closer observation, however, it becomes clear that these guys have a lot more imagination that your average "alternative" rock band. Zippy arrangements, catchy melodies, interesting instrumental passages...all sandwiched in between rather conventional pop/rock tunes. Guitarist/vocalist O (that's his entire name) has a real powerhouse of a vocal style, and it really makes these tunes kick. Thirteen tunes. My faves are "Skip Beat," "Bump," "TV Anthem," and "Pipe Bomb." (Rating: 4)

SERGE GAINSBOURG - Couleur Cafe / Du Jazz Dans Le Ravin / Comic Strip (Advance cassettes, Mercury, Lounge/jazz/various)
Mercury Records is simultaneously releasing all three of these compilations featuring the music of French celebrity Serge Gainsbourg. Already well-known in his own country, this fellow is virtually unknown in the States. These releases may well change that, espeically with all the recent interest in lounge and fifties/sixties music. Couleur Cafe features material from 1958-1975 with an emphasis on Latin and bossa nova. Du Jazz Dans Le Ravin features stuff from 1958-1964 and shows Gainsbourgh's adaptations of jazz. On Comic Strip (1966-1969) he demonstrates his interest in the pop music of that time period. This is a big mouthful to try and fit into one review, so all I can do here is to inform you of these releases and to HIGHLY recommend you check them out. This fellow is an odd eccentric who doesn't easily fit into one style or time period. Something like the French equivalent of Esquivel (but not really), this guy's gonna make a big splash here when this stuff hits. (Rating: 5)

MARK HUMPHREYS - Leap Day (CD, Trough, Pop/folk)
Mark Humphreys is a great songwriter. He doesn't have a record contract, he isn't featured in big music magazines, and he doesn't get a lot of radio airplay...but what Mr. Humphreys does have is a genuine, real talent for writing words and melodies that extends far beyond what most folks with record contracts are capable of. Mark deals with human thoughts and emotions in a way that is neither sappy or gimmicky. This is his third full-length release on his own label, and it's just as good as the first two. Mark's voice has never sounded better. I highly recommend this to folks who are into folky pop. Write to Trough Records, P.O. Box 789, Sierra Madra, CA 91025-0789. Oh yeah...Mark will be touring from April through May 1997 in Borders Book stores all the way from New Jersey to Tennessee to promote this release. (Rating: 5)

ICONS - Emotions With Intellect... (CD, React America, Drum & Bass)
Formerly known simply as Blame and Justice, the British duo of Conrad Blame and Tony Justice are now known as Icon. This excursion into electronic sound and rhythms contains twelve tunes. Very heady stuff, with most of the songs being driven by busy, nervous rhythms. Most of the arrangements here are rather sparse, which allows the bass lines and drums to become the central focus of the songs. Some of the tempos seem unnecessarily fast to me for some reason, so I tend to go for the tunes where things are a tad slower ("Planet Fusion"). (Rating: 3)

THE KEN ARDLEY PLAYBOYS - We've Got Ken (CD, Lucky Garage, Pop)
After an evening of hearing way too many CDs with impeccable musicianship and super slick production, this CD came as a breath of fresh air. Sloppy, sloppy, SLOPPY yet lovable tongue-in-cheek music from a British group I'd never heard before. The singer sounds kinda like a cross between John Lydon and Vivian Stanshall if they were both drunk and on valium. Out of the 23 tunes here, some certainly work better than others...but the good ones are more than worth checking out. My favorites were "Eni Fing Two Be Faymus," "We've Got Ken," "Popstars," and "Pointless." This is certainly not for everyone, but if you like having a laugh while listening to some darn good music pick this up, get really, really drunk, and TURN IT UP. (Rating: 3)

LEFTY JONES BAND - Red Sails (CD, Saturday Records, Acoustic/folk)
Very, very, VERY laid back music that sounds as if it were recorded in someone's living room with a bunch of old friends playing songs they've known for a very long time. It's this band's home grown, organic sound that makes this disc sound unlike others I've run across this month. The main songwriter is Jeff Harris, and the guy certainly comes up with some real genuine songs on this CD. In addition to acoustic guitars, the songs are filled with banjo, violin, pedal steel guitar, and more. At times, this music is more bluegrass than folk. Whatever it is, it's not your standard fare...and that's what makes the Lefty Jones Band stand out. Best tracks: "Red Sails," "Jonesy," "Rain Comes Down," and "Shiny River." (Rating: 4)

THE LIVING ABORTIONS - The Living Abortions (CD, Blacklist, Rock)
The song titles say it all. "Bullet for Jane," "Serial Killer," "Piss On the Sun," "Suicidal Superstar." Actually, the song titles don't really say it all...because you might think that this is just another band with a nasty attitude. Well, they do seem to have a nasty attitude...but more importantly The Living Abortions have a really forceful, hard rock sound driven by heavy bass lines and drenched in guitar feedback. The sum of the parts is one big wash of rock and roll fun. The lead vocalist reminds me very much of St. Johnny at times, with his casual style of speaking/singing. This is the second release on Austin's Blacklist label. These folks seem to be signing some damn good bands... (Rating: 4)

MARBLES - Pyramid Landing (CD, spinART, Pop)
This is a collection of home recordings by Robert Schneider (of Apples in Stereo fame) from 1992 and 1993, and what a collection it is. Apparently, Robert never recorded these songs with the intent of releasing them commercially. This shows in the very personal, unpretentious feeling present in these tunes. The songs are very much like Apples in Stereo tunes, but they're mellower and more folky. Robert's biggest asset is his ability to seemingly pull really catchy melodies out of thin air and then present them simply and succinctly. Now that he's achieving so much success, I hope it doesn't deter Robert from his home taping efforts...because after hearing this, I can certainly say he's one of the best. Very reminiscent of early Harry Nilsson stuff. This is very, very cool. (Rating: 5)

MINDPHASEONE - A Wave Length Away (CD, UltraModern/TRG, Electronic)
This is the side project of John Golden and Mike McClure (of the band Auto Kinetic) along with their friend Dave Jarosz. This is not generic computer-generated crap, as is the case with many electronic bands. Instead, these guys create music that ranges from ambient to droning to downright surreal and spacey. Most of the tunes lack any sort of identifiable melody that you can latch onto...and that's probably what I like best about this stuff. You hear a song and then you're not quite sure what you were listening to...kind of like daydreaming, if you will. These nine songs offer a great deal of entertainment value, and the song titles offer no clues at all ("Funny," "Ticki Ticki," "Sometime Next Fall," "Absorb"). Vague, puzzling, and trippy. (Rating: 4)

MINDSET - Mindset (Advance cassette, Noise, Rock)
Mindset play an interesting mix of heavy rock, pop, thrash, and rap music to create an unusual wall of sound. At times reminiscent of the Beastie Boys (eeeeeyuckkkk...), this band is at their best when they lay off the "beastieness" and the rap elements in their music. The straight-ahead rock stuff seems to work best for them, as is evidenced in some of the band's more explosive tunes. The vocalist is a real screamer, managing to rise above the heavy duty roar of the band. To Mindset's credit, they aren't afraid to throw in identifiable melodies in their music (something many hardcore bands seem averse to or afraid to do). Best tunes: "Shed the Skin," "Shoe Shine Boy," and "Sleeping Pills." (Rating: 3)

TAKAKO MINEKAWA - Roomic Cube (CD, March, Peculiar pop)
Very cool and different. Takako Minekawa is a young Japanese lady who doesn't play by the rules, and has come up with some absolutely fabulous music. Takako incorporates real instruments with synthesizers and electronics to create sometimes silly and at other times pensive tunes. Whether it's the surreal drone of "Sleep Song," the oddball "Fantastic Cat," the pure pop of "Klaxon!," or the soft simplicity of "Dessert Song," this lady manages to be highly entertaining throughout this entire CD. Takako has a nice breathy voice that draws the listener into her music...and she's certainly not afraid to throw in lots of unexpected sounds and other odd elements into the mix as she proceeds. There is a wealth of great Japanese pop these days, and this lady is certainly one of the best I've heard. This doesn't quite fit into any particular genre of music, but rather creates its own niche.

THE MONEYMAKERS - Selling Millions (CD, Copter Dubs, Asian pop)
The Moneymakers are lacking in many areas. Their songs suck, they can't sing, they can't play, they're lousy entertainers, and their lyrics are stupid. But they must have something...for a company to put out their music, mustn't they? Yes, the Moneymakers do have something. They have connections...and as we all know, connections are more important than anything else. Song titles: "I Married the A & R Representative's Sister," "My Father Sells Dope to the Head of Publicity," and "I'm a Music Writer." You're stupid. Buy this. You're stupid. Buy this. You're stupid. Buy this. (Rating: 1)

NEAL - Neal (Independent cassette, Bone HQ, Rock/instrumental)
This is the solo project of Chris Neal of the Mill Valley Taters, a band you may not have heard of...but they've made some real waves among underground music critics in the U.S. The tunes on this tape sound very much like the music of the Taters, except that most of them are fuller and more heavily produced. This is kind of like hearing surf music mixed with television themes...and sound effects thrown in for good measure. The folks at Bone HQ always put out good stuff. Contact 'em at 426 Highland Ave., Stratford, CT 06497 or e-mail 'em: gandvich@cris.com. (Rating: 5)

NERF HERDER - Nerf Herder (CD, Arista, Pop/rock)
Punchy, extremely catchy pop rock music that'll have you singing along and dancing instantly. These three guys are proud of the fact that they aren't alternative freaks or hippies, and rightly so. The Nerf Herder fellows look more like accountants than rock musicians, sporting golf shirts and conservative haircuts. But forget about image and all...the thing these fellows have are truly great songs. "Down On Haley," "Golfshirt," "Van Halen," "Nosering Girl"... All unforgettable songs with not only a sense of humor but so many hooks that there's NO WAY you can't get caught up in them. Though they remind me of many other bands, Nerf Herder manage to combine all their influences in such a way as to make them totally their own. This is GREAT stuff! (Rating: 5)

THE NERK TWINS - Either Way (CD, Broken Records, Pop)
Upbeat, exhilerating pop music that's super melodic and catchy. The Nerk Twins is the duo of Jeff Murphy (from the Shoes) and his pal Herb Eimerman. This CD is refreshing in three ways. First, it's just good damn music. Second, because it shows a different side of Mr. Murphy's songwriting skills outside his regular band. Third, because it brings Herb Eimerman to our attention...this guy is GOOD. Either Way contains plenty of melodic pop anchored by cool harmonies and chiming guitars, and the sum of the parts is amazingly commercial sounding. All the songs are good, but standouts for me are "What Does It Take?", "Either Way," "Stay Away," and "She Said." Maybe this will pave the way for something I've always wanted to hear...a Gary Klebe solo CD! (Rating: 4)

NOT BREATHING - Sangre Azul (CD, Invisible, Electronic)
Coooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool. Thick, spacey, cerebral, trippy electronic music that'll put you on another planet. This is the project of Dave Wright with several other folks adding their ideas to various tracks. This is NOT predictable computer-generated stuff...these songs fade in and out of your consciousness in such a way as to make you feel as if you're dreaming. The peculiar effects and strange off-key sounds collide to create a confusing array of tunes. My favorites here are "Revlon Sky," "Mindsweeper," "Rotorhead Aggression Release," and "Quiditity." Not Breathing is in the same general music arena as Scorn, except it is more electronic and less organic sounding. (Rating: 4)

PANASONIC - Kulma (CD, Mute/Blast First, Electronic/experimental)
If you want catchy singalong songs, you've chosen the WRONG band. Panasonic are a Finnish band and this is their second CD on the Blast First label. "Teurastamo," the opening track, immediately tests the endurance of the listener. Trippy rhythms flow as almost obnoxious distorted sounds don't let up. The second track "Loutain" lasts only half a minute and is more like an experiment than a song (how come more bands don't do stuff like this?). For the rest of the disc, these guys do an excellent job of distorting sounds and ideas to create music. The rhythms on this CD are often harsh and cold, the electronics bleak and industrial...yet this doesn't really sound like techno OR industrial music. If you're into having your mind expanded without the use of illegal chemicals, check this out. For folks who like simple, easy music...skip right on to the next review. (Rating: 5)

RAHSAAN PATTERSON - Rahsaan Patterson (CD, MCA, Soul/funk/pop)
Funky, smooth, feelgood music with a big chunk of soul. Though he's worked with a lot of BIG names (George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Jason Weaver), Rahsaan Patterson steps out on his own on his solo debut for MCA Records. Mr. Patterson writes very slick pop tunes that are definitely very easy on the ears...and the arrangements are extremely full and lush (LOVE those backing vocals!). This certainly harkens back to soul music of the seventies...before rap music came along and flushed so many potentially talented artists down the toilet. Rap this ain't, thank God. Rahsaan is an extremely talented man who writes memorable music with great tunes. Plenty of great stuff here. My personal favorite is "Stay While." Niiiiiiiice... And it sure beats the PANTS off Michael Jackson. (Rating: 4)

RADIO ODDYSSEY 2 - The Georgia Music Show (CD, Altered/Ichiban, Various artists)
Before I even begin this review, I have to admit that I'm not fond of live CDs or various artists compilations. This is the second in a series of CDs put out by college superstation WRAS, the largest all-student run station in the country. If you're expecting a bunch of poorly produced tracks recorded by technically illiterate students, think again. The folks at the controls knew what they were doing when they recorded these bands...and the lineup is a good cross section of what's currently happening in Atlanta. The bands that stand out on this disc are The Continentals, Pineal Ventana (these folks' stuff is always excellent), Bob, Velvet Overkill Five, The Goodies, Tweezer (great noisy rock), Heinous Bienfang, Frontstreet, and Smoke. As is almost always the case with discs like this, you'll need to do a lot of skipping with your remote...but if you don't mind that, you can find some really good stuff here. (Rating: 3)

SCORN - [Zander] (CD, Invisible, Dub/electronic/instrumental)
The one-man project of Mick Harris, Scorn is one of the best electronic things around. Instead of programming canned bleeps and blips that are instantly annoying, Mick sets up a nice, sensual rhythms with drum and bass loops...and then layers it with some absolutely CREEPY stuff. Odd scraping sounds, machine like droning, wind, surges of electronic noise... Possibly the most interesting about this music is that the sound effects seem to be operating on an entirely different plane than the rhythms. The strange combination of the two gives the music an eerie, distant sound that is intriguing and peculiar. This is the first Scorn release on the Invisible label, and it's as strong as Mick's earlier releases. As usual, there's not a bad song on the disc. This is excellent experimental stuff that should please the most discerning electronic music fans... (Rating: 6)

THE SHAME IDOLS - Rocket Cat (CD, Frontier, Pop/rock)
GODDAMN!!! Yeah, yeah, YEAH!!! Question: Put one of the best underground rock bands together with one of the greatest producers around (Conrad Uno) and what do you get? Answer: Pure FUN. The Shame Idols hail from the great (and vastly underrated) musical meca of Birmingham, Alabama. Their debut disc was great, but this one is THE BEST. This time around the band goes for a pure pop sound that lands somewhere between The Records, The Young Fresh Fellows, and The Beach Boys...all the while retaining a nice freshness and sense of originality that just gushes with enthusiasm. This band has quickly become one of the best pop outfits around...and if this one doesn't do it for them I don't know what will. Want great vocals? And breathtaking harmonies? Look no further. These guys' vocals are PERFECT. Top picks: "Ubermensche," "Endora," "Rocket Cat," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "Well Wisher," and "Mascot Lodge." The disc features artwork by Jaime Hernandez. Fans of pop, you must GET THIS CD!!! Fantastic. (Rating: 6)

SHONEN KNIFE - Brand New Knife (Advance cassette, Big Deal, Pop)
A lot of Shonen Knife's original fans may not care for their latest release, simply because the band has softened their sound. Whereas these three talented Japanese ladies started out more punk than pop, now they're the exact opposite...and with the new softer sound the girls show how truly gifted they are as songwriters. Never before has the band written a tune as beautiful as "Wind Your Spring." No, this won't do anything to change the band's image as cutesy popsters (thank God), but I have the feeling that it will open up a lot of folks' eyes to a band that was formerly only considered a novelty. Plenty of top-quality, ultra-hummable bubblegum pop...with my favorites being "Explosion!," "Wind Your Spring," "Wonder Wine," "E.S.P.", "Magic Joe," and "Fruits and Vegetables." This is the strongest release yet from this unique and inventive band. (Rating: 6)

SISTER HAZEL (Concert review, February 8, 1997)
Sistel Hazel are from Florida, but instead of heavy metal they play country-tinged pop that is both accessible and catchy. The band has done quite well with their own independently produced CD (which is being re-released on the Universal label). I would have liked to have seen this band play under different circumstances. Though it was certainly in their favor that they were playing to an overly packed house, from my point of view I could barely even see the band...and there was so much conversation going on that it was virtually impossible to block it out and focus on the music. From what I was able to discern, these guys seem very comfortable playing live and their sound was indeed remarkably similar to their recorded work. It sounds like these guys are moving on the right track. Hopefully next time they play Atlanta, they'll be playing somewhere that's a little less chaotic... (Rating: 3)

SLOAN - One Chord To Another (CD, The Enclave, Pop)
Underground pop favorites Sloan are back with their third full-length release and their first for their new label (The Enclave). This is a multi-faceted band, probably due to the fact that all four members write songs, sing lead vocals, and play different instruments. The band consists of Jay Ferguson (guitars, vocals), Chris Murphy (bass, vocals), Patrick Pentland (guitars, vocals), and Andrew Scott (drums, vocals). I was nuts about this Canadian band's first two albums, and this one hits me the same way. Sloan is a band that knows how to pack melodies onto an album, and One Chord To Another is chock full of memorable tunes. This band's trademarks are chiming, gutsy guitars and soaring vocal harmonies all supported by very basic rhythms. Even more than on previous releases, this one reminds me of Badfinger. I have yet to hear a song by Sloan that I did not like. Particular standout tracks this time are "Autobiography" and "The Lines You Amend." Great pop music to be played over and over and over again. (Rating: 5)

SPARKLER - Wicker Park (CD, Revolution, pop)
This is Los Angeles popsters Sparkler's debut CD. This band's songs recall various influences such as the Raspberries, Elvis Costello, and David Bowie among others. So why, you may ask is the CD called Wicker Park (a neighborhood in Chicago)? Hey...I can't answer that one. Duh? Keith Cleversly produced the disc (he's probably best known for his work with Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev). Sparkler songs are bright, simple, and direct. This trio keeps things simple for the most part, and this simplicity is probably what I like best about their music. These songs don't jump out and grab you, they're more subtle than than. Very hummable, melodic pop music from a very tight little trio. Top picks: "Hey Long Hair," "Discover," and "Magic Lantern." (Rating: 4)

STARFLYER 59 - Americana (CD, Tooth & Nail, Rock/pop)
I've been enjoying the music of Starflyer 59 for quite some time now. The band is headed by Jason Martin, whose brother is Ronnie Martin (of Joy Electric). The trademarks of Starflyer 59 songs are breathy vocals, distorted guitars, and psychedelic production. On this CD, the songs range from thick psychedelic-drenched pieces to more direct and to-the-point stuff that verges on sounding extremely accessible (something not really found on the band's earlier releases). I like some of the more accessible songs the band comes up with here, but it's that heavily produced, far out stuff that really stands out. (Rating: 4)

SWELL - Too Many Days Without Thinking (CD, Beggars Banquet, Pop/rock)
Though they've released three full-length discs prior to this, Too Many Days Without Thinking is the first thing I've heard from San Francisco's Swell. This band certainly chose an appropriate name, because it certainly describes their music. Swell write and record really superb pop music with a difference. Instead of going for formulas and a generic sound, these fellows continually throw curve balls into their music...rhythmically, compositionally, and particularly with their mixes. Despite the variety of songs they (and these do run the gamut), those cool vocals always pull the songs along to their climax. Catchy without being cliche, this band has a VERY addictive sound that blows my mind. Top picks: "Throw the Wine," "Make Mine You," and "Sunshine, Everyday." This disc is a very nice mix of accessibility and innovation. (Rating: 5)

SUPERGRASS - In It For the Money (Advance cassette, Capitol, Pop/rock)
I went nuts over this band's debut album (I Should Coco). That CD featured some really crazy, off-kilter, super catchy hard pop that went over really big here in babysueland. I wish the follow-up had the same effect, but it does not. Whereas the band's debut had a really cool, spotaneous, somewhat bubblegum sound to it, the new disc is much more thickly produced and the guys seem much more aware of themselves. This CD is not bad...far from it, but it certainly sounds a lot more generic than the last one and the title has me wondering what the band's motivation is at this point. This is listenable stuff for sure, and I'm certainly not giving up on Supergrass yet... (Rating: 2)

THICK BLACK THEORY - Thick Black Theory (CD, Hidden Hand, Pop/electronic/various)
Thick Black Theory is actually a one man band made up of Deek Maha. On this self produced and self released disc, Deek proves to be a master of many styles of music. His tunes range from atmospheric to industrial to rock to skewed pop, and then back again. Instead of going for one style, Mr. Maha delves into a wide variety of stuff...with surprisingly good results, and his vocals are particularly appealing. The only detracting factor are the programmed drums...live drums would really make some of this stuff KICK. But even as is, these tracks are mighty damn enjoyable and present exposure for a home taper who certainly has his act together. Top picks: "Point Mall Discovery," "Should You Life the Lidj?", and "I've Been Left to Rage in the Outer Darkness." You probably won't find this in stores. Contact deekmaha@worldnet.att.net. (Rating: 3)

THIN LIZARD DAWN (Private Performance, February 10, 1997)
I am one lucky fellow. Sometimes I feel that my time is not best spent listening to and critiquing music. Then something happens and it all seems justified. Thin Lizard Dawn have just released one of the best debut discs I've ever heard, so I was eagerly anticipating seeing them play live. Instead of having to wait all night in an uncomfortable rock club, I was fortunate to be able to attend a private listening party at the APC Recording Studio in Atlanta where the band played some of their tunes. Live, this band KICKS. And unlike many other "studio bands" who can't create their sound live, these guys manage to do it with grace and style. Heavenly harmonies that verge on perfection, crunchy guitars, driving rhythms, all tied together with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor... This music is infectious to the point of being lethal. If this band can keep up the pace, they're gonna be BIG. (In my mind, they are already are. Can you tell?) At at time when there are way too many bands around with no real substance, Thin Lizard Dawn are the breath of fresh air I needed. Tons of talent and creativity, and the best part is that they come off as being totally sincere. Get in on the ground floor. These guys are THE BEST. (Rating: 6)

TRANCE PSYBERDELIC - Various Artist Compilation (CD, Moonshine, Trance)
This collection of music was compiled by Pete Martin, a well-known producer/composer in London's psychedelic trance music scene. Many of these tunes actually sound more like techno/dance music to me, but what do I know? Techno, trance, dub, house...they all eventually blur together and mean virtually nothing. These tunes are basic trippy electronic pieces with solid bass and drums to provide a heavy backbeat. Artists include U.X., Kox Box, Slide, Process & Tristan, Prana, Slinky Wizard and more. This is the kind of thing you could listen to in a club environment or at your home while cleaning house. Charged, frenetic, obtuse dance music. (Rating: 4)

TREBLE CHARGER - Self-Title (CD, Ear Candy, Pop)
Nice, fuzzy, indie-sounding pop music. Treble Charger is based in Toronto, but I woulda swore from their sound that they were a California band. On this, their second full-length, the band comes up with some really excellent tunes...and the production fits the music perfectly. Instead of clouding their tunes with gimmicks and tricks, these guys prefer to just let the songs stand on their own. Very minimal arrangements and definitely hummable melodies are what make this disc so appealing, and I particularly go for the softer stuff ("Sick Friend Called," "Disclaimer"). For folks into this kinda thing, the disc also includes CD-ROM material. (Rating: 4)

TRIAL OF THE BOW - Rite of Passage (CD, Release, Eastern/world/trance)j
My first reaction to this band was that I thought these two Australian guys seemed to be taking themselves WAY too seriously. One listen to Rite of Passage changed all that. This is one coooooooOOOOOOL piece of music. Trial of the Bow consists of Renato Gallina (percussion, vocals) and Matthew Skarajew (stringed instruments) and let me tell you...these guys are off on their own planet doing their own unique thing...and it WORKS beautifully. This is extremely well crafted music that consists of traces of all kinds of music, but Eastern music in particular. Renato and Matthew are not afraid of using unconventional instruments. Riding camels, doing mescaline in the desert, pushing through a crowded market, staring into the blaze of the sun...these are all feelings you will get listening to this music. My favorite is the droning, heady "The Eyre of Awakening." There are lots of pretentious, boring artists out there manufacturing prefabricated "exotic" music. These guys are for REAL. This KICKS. (Rating: 6)

TRONA - Trona (CD, Cosmic, Pop/rock)
Nice clean pop/rock that sounds something like a cross between X and Game Theory. Boston-based Trona is the project of Christian Dyas (previously in Orangutang) and Mary Ellen Leahy (ex-publicist for Taang! Records). Pete Sutton (bass) and Nick White (drums) round out the band. Trona has a nice, mild rock sound with the trademark being dual male/female vocals in most of the tunes. While most of the disc is upbeat, my personal favorite on this CD is "Dumb" which for some reason reminds me of one of my favorite bands of the past few years, Radial Spangle. The other standout track is the catchy "Wow and Flutter" that closes out the disc. (Rating: 4)

TRUNK FEDERATION - The Infamous Hamburger Transfer (CD, Alias, Rock)
I don't hear much music coming out of Pheonix, but if Trunk Federation is any indication of what's going on it must be a fun city for music. This band is difficult to describe because their music is such a hodge podge of various stuff. I can hear traces of other bands like Walt Mink, Sparks (at times), Smashing Pumpkins...but the thing that sets this band apart from the rest are their somewhat spastic stops and starts. Darting back and forth from jagged stuff to straight ahead rhythms, these guys will keep you guessing...all the while being entertaining as hell. Top picks: "Quality Burn," "Match," "Edible," and "Beanie's Soft Toy Factory." (Rating: 5)

UNITED STATES THREE - Le Temps du Tempo (CD, Flat Earth, Pop)
United States Three is one of my favorite obscure pop bands. This is the band's second full-length CD, and I like it even better than the debut (She's the Word). This Indiana-based trio plays soothing, moody, mellow pop that is filled to the brim with excellent melodies. The vocals are somewhat distant, almost aloof sounding...and the Beatles-like harmonies are cool as shit. These nice, simple clean recordings include just enough audio tracks to get the song across and nothing more. At times the band sounds very much like Badfinger. All of the tunes on this CD are excellent, but my top faves are "Le Temps Du Tempo," "I Don't Wanna Start," "Peel Out Stephanie," "Orange Carpet," and "The Big Break." KILLER. (Rating: 5)

VALLEJO - Vallejo (CD, TVT/Imi, Pop/rock)
The core of this band is formed by three brothers who were originally known as the Vallejo Bros. To steal a quote from the press release, the band fuses "the alterna-funk of Jane's Addiction with Aerosmith rhythms." Not only that, they throw in an odd Latin flavor to the whole formula...and would you believe the sum of the parts actually sounds quite accessible and conventional? Vallejo is a very rhythm-heavy band, with most of the tunes being punchy, ballsy rock tunes. Where the group really shines, however, is on the track "Omega" where they loosen up and slow things down a bit. (Rating: 4)

VELOUR 100 - Songs From the Rainwater E.P. (CD, Tooth & Nail, Acoustic/pop)
If you wanna get in on something REALLY cool before anyone else, grab hold of something by Velour 100. The band's first full-length CD ended up being one of my favorite discs of 1996, and their new EP is just as good. The music is dreamy, acoustic-based pop music that is simultaneously spacey, beautiful, dreamy, and just plain incredible. Amon Krist has a voice that will make you want to melt, and the arrangements range from subtle to experimental. It'd be hard to really categorize this band, simply because they seem to be in a space all their own. This is the kind of thing you can play OVER and OVER and OVER again... (Rating: 5)

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