The Apples in Stereo | Ass For Lassie | A Taste of Tradition | Baby Fox | babyuse | Backsliders | Banco de Gaia | Battalion of Saints A.D. | Les Baxter | The Beatifics | Black Tape For a Blue Girl | Blind Melon | Adrian Borland | Rick Boston | The Breetles | Brutal Truth | Ray Campi | Carpe Wade | David Cassidy | Catfight | Chainsaw Kittens | Vic Chestnut | Les Claypool | The Clouds | The Cogs | Descendents | Division #9 | Dragstrip | Duotang | eels | El Vez | Elysian Fields | Engine 88 | Esquivel | The Evaporators | Exit-13 | Face To Face | Floodgate | Fluffy | Fountains of Wayne | Freaky Chakra Vs. Single Cell Orchestra | Frosted | Fulflej | Future Sound of London | Diamanda Galas | Geezer Lake | Germs (Tribute) | Golden Palominos | Gravy | The Grassy Knoll | Grither | Hang 10 (Various Artists) | Harvey Milk | Boo Hewerdine | Susanna Hoffs | Huevos Rancheros | Jason & the Scorchers | Joe Christmas | Komeda | Lazy | The Lemonheads | Lilys | Arto Lindsay | The Maids of Gravity | Marilyn Manson | Martian Electric | Mazzy Star | The McRackins | The Meatmen | The Melvins | Metal Molly | Country Dick Montana | Thom Moore | Morella's Forest | Ben Neill | New Bomb Turks | The Notwist | 101 Strings | Oppressor | Orange 9mm | Penny Dreadfuls | Pet Shop Boys | Pig | Pigeonhed | Pineal Ventana | Polara | Popcore | Pulley | Pure | The Rectums | Red Aunts | Red House Painters | REO Speedealer | rex | Ruth Ruth | 764-Hero | Kevin Salem | Saucer | Sheep On Drugs | Duncan Sheik | The Shadows | Shatterproof | Signal Aout 42 | Sissy Bar | Smart Brown Handbag | Space Needle | Spacetime Continuum | Speedball Baby | Statuesque | Steel Miners | John P. Strohm and the Hello Strangers | The Technical Jed | Test Dept | Thin Lizard Dawn | Tinker | Toledo | To Live and Shave in L.A. | Emmanuel Top | The Transatlantic Move | Trick Babys | Tweed | Vampire Rodents | Versus | Virago | Warm Wires | The Wedding Present | You'dsellarat'sassholetoablindmanasaweddingring |
= VERY GOOD
THE APPLES IN STEREO
- Science Fair (CD, spinART, Pop)
No, this is not a new batch of tunes from the Apples in Stereo (DAMN!), but merely something to satiate us until the real thing comes along. This CD contains material the band recorded prior to their last full-length CD on the spinART label, including one track that was previously unreleased ("To Love the Vibration of the Bulb"). Due to the low-fidelity recording of these tunes, this disc probably won't interest folks who aren't already familiar with this band. For folks in the know, however, this is another must have from this very subtle yet enchanting little band. The Apples in Stereo are very pop, sometimes sounding like the Beach Boys. Where this band is concerned, melodies are king. And some of the Apples' melodies are nothing short of incredible. Early sixties influenced pop music with a difference. Boy does this make me hungry for some new tunes...
ASS FOR LASSIE
- Dog Biscuits Bounce (Advance CD, Rebunya, Country)
Country-pop band Ass For Lassie pace and fight like bitches in heat. Their tunes are hazy, disfigured art pieces that are as pretentious as they are flattering. The bog that digs Lassie is not an ass, but rather a hedged photon that begs for distant liquids. The best tune here is "Underestimating the Power of Dog Meat," but even that suction tube jets off into the floor beams. If this is what Lassie sounds like, I hope she never comes home. This is some shitty damn shitty SHIT.
A TASTE OF TRADITION
- A Taste of Tradition (CD, Tradition, Various Artists)
Jeez...this is EXCELLENT. This various artists compilation contains some real gems from the past...from artists like Lead Belly, Coleman Hawkins, Odetta, Erroll Garner, Woody Herman, and a whole slew more. Twenty-two tracks in all (!) and every one is entertaining. If this is any indication of the music that's being released on the Tradition label, I'd consider myself an instant fan. Listening to these old "hits," it's amazing how similar much of this sounds to many of today's artists. It's also amazing how good these tunes sound so many dozens of years after they were made. The sound quality varies from song to song, but when stuff is this interesting...who cares? Tired of the same old alternative rock bands that all sound alike? Check out this CD...and enter a whole other world that's been there all along.
- A Normal Family (CD, Roadrunner, Dub/pop/experimental)
I really like this CD. This British trio dips into several different styles of music to create their own unique hybrid. Many times when folks try to merge too many styles together it simply doesn't work. That's certainly not the case here. These folks throw dub, jazz, pop, house, and techno into the mix and it all sounds as if these styles were meant to go together. Of course, the band's silky smooth female vocalist helps create a nice thread of continuity. The band consists of Christine Ann Leach, Alex Gray, and Dwight. It's certainly a nice change to hear electronic music that's slow and hypnotic rather than way too revved up like all that dance happy crap that's in such abundance these days. Trance-like and beautiful, this CD is a very nice trip indeed.
- No Use For a Baby (CD, Scrunchie, Pongopop)
Methinks the folks at Scrunchie are playing a mean joke on someone. "babyuse"? Gimme a break. I don't know where all these goddamn record companies get all these stupid, worthless acts from...but this is the worst shit I've EVER heard. Around this office, we've got no use for this CD.
- Throwin' Rocks at the Moon (CD, Mammoth, Country rock)
Thoroughly enjoyable, upbeat country rock. In the same vein as the Silos or Jason and the Scorchers (except not as calculated sounding), the Backsliders come across as very sincere and genuine. The title tune shows just how good these fellows are at constructing a good melody. Just how many many excellent bands can North Carolina produce anyway? The state's just FULL of great music. Instead of gimmicks, the Backsliders rely on talent and good tunes. Eleven tunes that'll simply make you feel GOOD.
BANCO DE GAIA
- Live at Glastonbury (CD, Mammoth/Planet Dog, Electronic)
The cover to this one is a scream...a lone keyboard standing out in a field with a bunch of cows. I've heard this band before and very much enjoyed their studio recordings. There's a certain gothic or even classical element to many of this band's songs, and they come across sounding like more thought went into them than most of your average electronic fare. If I'm reading this one right, the actual festival where this was recorded must have been something like a "country rave" held outdoors...which sounds much more inviting than all those smoke-filled, overcrowded rooms where you just want to run away. Good music, and you wouldn't even know it was a live recording if it were not for the occasional audience murmurs. Nice.
BATTALION OF SAINTS A.D.
- Cuts (CD, Taang!, Rock)
Hmmm... Mix Cheap Trick with Jane's Addiction, add a gram of crystal speed and what do you get? Well, this may at least give you some idea of what Battalion of Saints A.D. sound like. These guys play powerhouse punk music that's an all-out assault on the senses but they don't forget how to write good songs in the process. Some of these tunes whiz by in such a blur of speed that it becomes hard to tell what's going on, but upon repeated listenings you can tell a lot of thought went into making this CD. Plenty of good rockers, but my faves are "My New Low" and "I Don't Like You." Compared to most punk bands, these guys sound authentic. This is recommended only for folks into really FAST rock.
- Que Mango! (CD, Scamp/Caroline, Dinner music)
It's funny. Most of the people that will probably be listening to this CD will be the same folks that turned their noses up at this when they were little kids. I'm sure I did it, but by the time I was a teenager I was snapping up records like this out of the cheapie bins and playing them for the simple reason that they were so incredibly unhip. Well now...of all things...Les Baxter and the 101 Strings have achieved ranking status in the world of hipdom. It's well deserved. This unusually pleasant dinner music sounds mighty nice many years later, showing why a whole legion of folks once listened to stuff like this. A look back at an era gone by, this CD sure beats the pants off a lot of the current "lounge acts" out there...
- How I Learned to Stop Worrying (CD, No Alternative, Pop)
WARNING: If you don't like happy pop, stay away from this band. If you're a pop fanatic like myself though, you're gonna LOVE this one. Featuring former members of the Rockefellers, the Beatifics produce some incredible pop music that'll lift you up, up...WAY UP. I'm amazed at how vibrant this sounds when the basic recorded sound is so slick. Glossy pop can so often be bogged down by studio gear used just to try and hide the fact that there's really no substance underneath. NOT THE CASE HERE. Excellent tunes cleverly written and well-played...no gimmicks needed because there's plenty of quality pop inside. Every tune on this one is a gem. Standout tracks: "Almost Something There, "Something/Anything?", "Last Thing On My Mind," "Read You Wrong."
BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL
- Remnants of a Deeper Purity (CD, Projekt, Gothic/classical)
Black Tape For a Blue Girl is the project of a fellow named Sam Rosenthal and some of his pals. This is classically-influenced music with heavy effects, loads of reverb...and very haunting vocals. Sounding like it was recorded in a large, deserted castle, this CD is not really like anything else I've heard this year. Overly serious? Yes, this is EXTREMELY self-absorbed, serious music...but there's still something here that I find very appealing. There's a certain ambience to these tunes that somehow overrides the potential for pretentiousness. Long, epic tunes that sometimes remind me of Curved Air (minus the rhythm section)...this is the kind of stuff to play late, LATE at night before going into a very deep sleep.
- Nico (CD, Capitol, Rock)
Okay, so they WEREN'T the most innovative band on the planet... This retrospective CD puts the lid on Blind Melon's career, due to the death of lead singer Shannon Hoon from a cocaine overdose. Looking back, I can honestly say this wasn't my favorite band ever. But I still recognize the fact that they made a lot of folks happy. In an early concert I attended, Blind Melon had a mass of Atlanta kids jumping all over the place...so they must've been doing something right. It seems interesting to me now how much Shannon's voice reminds me of Janice Joplin. This retrospective disc is named after Shannon's daughter, and it's got some great tracks on it. This certainly sheds light on the deceased, but I hope it doesn't detract from the fact that the other guys in the band sure could/can play like Hell.
- Cinematic (CD, Setanta, Pop/rock)
Adrian Borland has been making music for some twenty odd years, but only now is his music getting released in the United States. This makes me realize (once again) that there are so many (...thousands even) incredible artists out there that there simply aren't enough people to provide an adequate audience for all of them. Adrian's past bands were the Outsiders and the Sound, who fared much better in Britain than they did the U.S. This, Adrian's fourth release, serves as an introduction for me. The guy's got a really great baritone voice, and he knows how to write good tunes. The arrangements are full and lush, the melodies very direct and hummable. This is the kind of thing that will appeal (hopefully) to a wide spectrum of folks. Top picks: "Bright White Light," "Night Cascade," "Western Veil," and "Spanish Hotel."
- Numb (CD, World Domination, Acoustic pop)
Best known for his work with Low Pop Suicide, Rick Boston's solo CD features his more subtle side. The tunes are soft and pensive acoustic guitar numbers with Jessy Greene (of the Geraldine Fibbers) adding some really nice violin playing. Not that far removed from some of Donovan's mid-period work, Rick's acoustic music is mostly simple and straightforward...and he gets his ideas across without having to resort to studio gimmicks. My faves here are the moody "Zombie" and the almost funky "Life & Death."
- Spooj (CD, Shuss Systems/No Fault, Pop)
One of the United States' greatest underground pop heros really outdoes himself this time. The Breetles is the one-man project of Chris Breetveld, along with some help from friends. I was really impressed by Chris' last CD (Pop Go! The Breetles), but it didn't prepare me for this one. This collection of expertly-written, well-produced pure pop tunes reminds me of early 10CC and some of Roy Wood's early solo work. Chris has a superb knack for writing killer words and melodies...and his arrangements are INCREDIBLE. Into harmony vocals? The harmonies on these tunes will blow your mind. Making this collection of tunes was obviously a labor of love, as Mr. Breetveld effectively captures his emotions and filters them into his recorded work. There aren't that many home tapers that blow me away. This is different from the rest. Chris has real talent. Too many great tunes to list but some favorites are "Warm Dove Plains" (this one oughta be a hit), "Sign on the Bridge," "This Girl is Too Much Trouble," and "Please Find My Guitar at the End of the Night." For info on ordering, e-mail Chris at email@example.com.
- Kill Trend Suicide (CD, Relapse, Grindcore)
Wanna drive your parents absolutely NUTS? Interested in alienating your friends? Or are you just so filled with anxiety and frustration that you don't know what to do with yourself? Whatever the case may be, Brutal Truth is the band that can satisfy all of the above. I hear tons of noise bands...and to be honest, most of them have very little to offer. This band stands out for several reasons: (1) They can actually play well, (2) There's a lot more to these songs than meets the ears, and (3) These guys play so fast that you may have trouble believing what you hear. This is not for everyone, but it doesn't try to be. Hell, they even slip in a couple of tunes that are almost accessible ("Hypocrite Invasion"). It's the all-out assault of things like "Let's Go To War" that I like best though...
- Perpetual Stomp (CD, Bacchus Archives/Dionysus, Rockabilly)
Ray Campi has been recording since 1951. This CD offers a retrospective of his career to the present. Ray performs playful rockabilly that sounds about as authentic as it gets. The disc starts off with "Caterpillar," which has apparently been a favorite among rockabilly collectors for some time. Ray wrote about half of these sixteen tunes and produced most of them as well. Though the upbeat tunes are excellent, it's the slower numbers that I like best. Of particular note are "Toe Tapping Rhythm" (this is excellent) and "I Love You So Much It Hurts." Hopefully this CD will introduce Ray's music to a much larger audience, 'cause this guy obviously deserves it.
- Evidence (CD, NMC, Rock)
This CD didn't come with any band photos or bios...which means that I had to form an impression of it based solely on the music. Carpe Wade plays powerful, fast rock music with a wall of guitars sound. From reading the liner notes, I gather that the band is from Sweden...but you'd never know it from the sound. These guys sound more like they're from Seattle or even California. The thirteen songs here show a band that has a firm grasp on their ability to write songs, and an even firmer grasp on their ability to play their instruments. Though this does sound like many other bands out there at present, these guys certainly seem like they're on the right track.
- When I'm a Rock 'n' Roll Star: The David Cassidy Collection (CD, Razor & Tie, Pop)
This is a novelty...but it's an INTERESTING novelty. Everyone knows the Partridge Family albums...but few folks remember that David Cassidy released three solo albums in the seventies that flopped. Well, the fine folks at Razor & Tie are doing their part to help put these forgotten recordings back in the spotlight. These songs are culled from three of David's solo albums (The Higher They Climb the Harder They Fall, Home Is Where the Heart Is, & Gettin' It In the Street). David's voice seems to change a great deal from song to song, and much of this certainly sounds dated. Particularly interesting is David's cover of Pilot's "January," which actually comes across quite nicely. The anthemic title tune is nothing short of hilarious, but other tunes showcase a fellow who was actually quite talented ("Take This Heart"). Listening to this many years after the fact, it's odd that David's solo career wasn't more successful.
- Kitty Glitter (CD, Worry Bird, Pop/rock)
Worry Bird scores once again with the latest from Atlanta's best all-female rock band. I think what I like most about these tunes is that they sound quite sparse. If there are overdubs, I can't hear them. The songs sound so fresh that you could almost mistake this for a live recording. Catfight music is simple and direct...as soon as these ladies make their point, one song ends and the next begins. And what COOL songs. My top picks are "Conquest," "Do the Pussycat," and "My Mustang." Completely upbeat stuff with a sense of humor. There's a good buzz about Jennifer Kraft, Katy Graves, and Ann Ciovacco and now I know why. These girls sound like they'd be GREAT fun live.
- Speedway Oklahoma (Advance CD, Scratchie, Pop/rock)
The Chainsaw Kittens have got to be one of the most underappreciated bands in the United States. The band always puts out exceptional material, but somehow seems to get lost amidst the shuffle of too many bands. Well, hopefully this will be the one that breaks this band open to a wider audience because it's their best EVER. It took a lot of thinking, but I think I've finally found a way to describe how this band sounds. The Chainsaw Kittens sound very much like a cross between mid-period Sparks and early Bee Gees. Sound odd? In many ways, the Chainsaw Kittens probably alienate a lot of folks simply because they sound like no other band out there. But with completely knockout tunes like "Dorothy's Last Fling," "Heart Catch Thump," "Bones In My Teeth," and "Speedway Oklahoma" things may soon change. Tyson Meade and company have really outdone themselves, and get a rating of "6"...which means this is much BETTER than excellent. "Waltz Across Debris" is my favorite song of the entire year. This CD is easily one of the very best releases of 1996...
- About to Choke (CD, Capitol, Folky pop)
I did not want to like this CD. I have this theory that anyone associated with Peter Gabriel or Michael Stipe HAS to be a shithead. You know...a man is known by the company he keeps and all. Well, it's always good to keep an open mind...and you can't ALWAYS go around judging folks by who they hang around (although most of the time it works). Lucky for me I gave this disc a chance, because it's DAMN good. Vic Chestnut writes and sings in a manner very similar to Cat Stevens. He's insightful, honest, and his songs are very thoughtful. Above all, this is one man who doesn't try too hard. My favorite tunes are "Myrtle," "New Town," and "Degenerate."
LES CLAYPOOL AND THE HOLY MACKEREL
- Highball With the Devil (CD, Interscope/Prawn Song, Jazz/pop)
I had read so many negative reviews of this CD...I should have KNOWN it would be good. Primus' ringleader is often acused of being self-absorbed and egotistical...but I think the folks who make these claims are probably just jealous because of the incredible amount of success this guy has achieved. After all, it's not as if he isn't about twenty times more talented than your average musician. Although this "band" is presented as mainly jazz/rock, it actually comes across more like mutated pop. The music is spontaneous...and the obtuse vocals are distant, warbly, and peculiar. These tracks were recorded in Mr. Claypool's home studio, and thus do lack some of the energy of his "other" band. But that doesn't bother me in the least. Like Todd Rundgren, Les Claypool may eventually lose fans because of an overload of talent...but you've gotta hand it to him. This man is so talented that he belongs in a class all his own.
- Collage (CD, Altered/Ichiban, Pop)
Gooooooooooooooood stuff! If you're into highly melodic girl groups, you'll certainly want to check out the Clouds. Though the band has been around since 1990, this is only the second American release for this Sydney-based band. This CD includes old demos, songs from their debut album, and material from two other EPs. "Aquamarine," the opening track, instantly made a believer out of me. Those harmonies KICK. The Clouds combine clever melodies with absolutely HEAVENLY female vocals to create a sound that is both sweet and gutsy. Something like an odd cross between Fuzzy and Sparks, the Clouds will put you into seventh heaven.
- Macho (CD EP, Bear, Pop/rock)
I want MORE. This EP has whet my appetite for this unique little band. Playing ultra low-fi pop music with no frills or filler, these folks manage to make a much deeper impression than many other bands spending way too much money in expensive studios...and spending way too much time trying to make up for the fact that their songs aren't really that good. These folks songs are EXCELLENT. Simple, thoughtful, and ultimately hummable...even somewhat bubblegum...the Cogs have captured my stupid goddamn little heart.
- Everything Sucks (CD, Epitaph, Rock)
Wow. This is GREAT. Though I've been hearing about this legendary band for what seems like forever, this is the first actual release I've ever had in my hands. This is a brand new collection of tunes, and it rocks HARD. The Descendents play very fast hard rock music but it has a great deal of pop sensibility to it. Catchy, loud, and above all melodic, I can certainly see why these guys have such a devoted cult following. Shit, the song "I'm the One" won me over instantly. At times the music goes by so fast it's like a blinding blur, but for the most part this is one big RUSH. Boy does this ever make me want to see this band LIVE. These guys RULE.
- The True Creator (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Electronic)
Minimal, rhythmic electronic heaven. Division #9 is the creation of Mick Hale, and what a creation it is. In an age where everyone and his brother is making electronic music that is so overproduced that it gets downright annoying, this stuff is a welcome relief. The rhythms Mick uses are subtle and fluid...and he layers only a minimal amount of stuff on top to get his message across. The result is a very sensual, sexy batch of tunes that can either be listened to or played as background music. It amazes me how most musicians don't know the value of restraint, so my ears always perk up when someone does. Trace-like and hypnotic, these nine songs flow by like a good dream. The slow ones are the BEST.
- Reaction Time (CD, Shredder, Guitar instrumental)
Among other things, California's Shredder Records releases some of the best guitar instrumental bands around. Dragstrip is certainly more proof of that. This band serves up thirteen totally rockin' tunes on this CD, including knockout covers of "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Jack the Ripper." True, there are a lot of bands out there right now playing this style of music...but those that really seem to be able to pull it off are few and far between. Dragstrip ought to please young and old fans alike, as they sound as fresh and alive as this style of music did when it was first introduced way back when. Still think Man or Astroman? is the hippest guitar band around? Give a listen to Dragstrip..and add them to your collection NOW.
- Smash the Ships and Raise the Beams (CD, Mint, Pop)
Here's an odd one. Duotang is a duo made of up two guys: Rod Slaughter (bass, organ) and Sean Allum (drums). Actually, on the CD there are some overdubs of different instruments to fill out the sound...but from listening to the parts with just bass and drums, these two fellows do a great job of sounding just fine without any additional instrumentation. "The Message," the opening track as well as the single, is like a blast from the past...replete with "ba ba bas" (a la the Partridge Family). These two fellows display a wide variety of songwriting styles, at times sounding like the Jam. Canada's sure got a lot going on musically, and this is but one more example of that. Good tunes, played simple, played well.
- Beautiful Freak (CD, Dreamworks/Geffen, Pop)
A nice mix of technological knowledge and good songwriting. eels (the band name is never capitalized) is the project of a guy who just goes by the name E, who was originally from Virginia but he now lives in California. eels music is sedate, mostly keyboard oriented pop music with a difference. Sometimes reminiscent of early Rick Springfield (I hope the band doesn't hate me for the comparison...I loved that stuff), this is a band that doesn't sound like others on the scene right. The only possible comparisons I can think of would be Multiple Cat or Sparklehorse, but all three bands are really quite different from one another. These twelve tunes present a band with a heavy emphasis on melodies, and way-above-average vocals. I have a feeling this one'll stand up to many repeated listenings. "Susan's House" is particularly good...
- G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues (CD, Big Pop, Pop/rock)
Gimmick...good thing or bad thing? Well, that depends on many different variables. El Vez is certainly pushing an image and a gimmick...but he's exceptionally good at it. The fellow is presenting himself as the Mexican Elvis. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but upon popping this CD into my player I was very impressed. This guy's got a backing band that REALLY pumps. And El Vez certainly has a sense of humor about what he's doing. Interestingly, El Vez was the rhythm guitarist in the legendary California punk band the Zeros. The cover tunes on this CD are particularly intriguing. John Lennon's "Power to the People" turns into a rave up, while the version of T. Rex's "The Groover" (which was a great choice of a T. Rex tune to cover because most folks in the U.S. don't even know this one) is very much true to the original. After hearing this, I definitely wanna see this guy in concert. You can tell just by listening to this guy sing that he's got TONS of stage presence...
- Bleed Your Cedar (CD, Radioactive, Soft jazzy pop)
I wanted to like Mazzy Star and I didn't. I wanted to like Elysian Fields and I DID. What's the difference? Well, the former tries very hard to be overly artsy fartsy with songs that are so apathetic sounding that they put the listener to sleep. The latter, however, creates haunting, beautiful music that is both soothing and stimulating...and the vocals are WAY superior to the former. The former is entirely too trendy and hip, so much so that I would want to run in another direction no matter how good they were. The latter draws me in with sheer talent and innovation. Ignoring the comparison (this band does actually remind me of Mazzy Star), Elysian Fields have come up with a real winner with this CD. Provocative, sexy vocals (courtesy of Jennifer Charles) are just the beginning. The musicianship on this disc is really interesting as well. Sexy, haunting, and ultimately satisfying, this is one cool fucking band.
- Snowman (CD, Caroline, Rock/pop)
I'm not sure whether Engine 88's second release is much better than their debut or whether I'm just in a better mood today. But music writers aren't supposed to admit that our moods affect our reviews, are we now? Whatever the case, I'm rather blown away by these guys' new CD. Straightforward rock that just pulsates with energy, and the walls of guitars layered like sheets of rain over the thundering rhythm section sound just explosive. Sort of like a cross between Bracket and the Buzzcocks (but not really), this band has both the songs and the balls to pull things off. I found many of the bass guitar breaks particularly interesting. This makes me wanna catch this band live. Top picks: "Ballerina," "Seconal," "Snowman," and "Killer Willow."
- Merry Christmas From the Space Age Bachelor Pad (CD, Bar/None, Offbeat Christmas craziness)
Those who know Esquivel have a good idea of what to expect with this. Those unfamiliar will be astounded and amazed at what they hear. These holiday treats were recorded from 1959 to 1962 by the infamous Esquivel, and they have that same peculiar twist that we've come to expect from this undisputed genius. It's great that so many folks are wild about this man now...before Bar/None started rereleasing his stuff he seemed doomed to underground cult status. This will be one of the few holiday releases that I'll be playing this year...simply because it doesn't sound like all the rest. Millions of mindless American families once listened to this stuff without giving it a second thought. Now, decades later, it all sounds as WEIRD AS SHIT.
- United Empire Loyalists (CD, Nardwuar, Party rock)
Major party band. Once you get past the packaging (12" vinyl LP which includes the full-length CD PLUS a 24" X 24" gatefold cover), you'll be glad you got sucked into the world of the Evaporators. Playing crazy party music like it never went out of style, these guys play wild, crazy, sometimes sloppy, and at other times totally out of control. The Evaporators' spontaneous side is probably what makes this batch of tunes such a treat. And there are a LOT of treats here...nineteen tracks in all... And do you wanna know the BEST thing about this band? Most of their songs last UNDER two minutes! What a nice change from all those bands that play way, way, WAY too long. The Evaporators get in there and get it done quick...accomplishing more in two minutes than your average band accomplishes in ten. Not only that, they've got a keen sense of humor to boot. Big fun? You bet. This is one big dirty, distorted ball of FUN. Yeeeeee-hah!
- Smoking Songs (CD, Relapse, Jazzy pot pop)
Loose, jazzy, lounge-ish music with a heavy emphasis on reefer. Exit-13 is a band that definitely has a sense of humor about what they're doing. The song titles say it all. "Light Up!," "Jack I'm Mellow," "When I Get Low I Get High," "Weed," "Hempcake"... Get the idea? The slow, jazzy nature of the music is very endearing, and I particularly like Ms. Bliss Blood's throaty vocal style. How many bands are there in the world that have the balls to hold a joint in their publicity photo? Exit-13 is mellow and very, VERY cool.
FACE TO FACE
- Face To Face (CD, A & M, Rock/pop)
Drummer play fast, very fast. Bass player play fast, very fast. Guitarists play fast, very fast. This is band what play fast, very fast. Music speed by like racing car, yet song like pop of yesteryear. That probably best thing about band. They not just play fast, they play well-crafted song fast. There is difference. Many band what plays fast not have anything underneath blinding speed. Face To Face have talent for writing good song. For wanting proof of "Walk The Walk" or "Ordinary." Fun, upbeat, original band is somewhat like crossing of Dickies and Bad Religion. Above all, though, band play very, very fast.
- Penalty (CD, Roadrunner, Rock)
This is the latest band to be signed by Roadrunner's Monte Conner, the same fellow who brought the bands Sepultura, Type O Negative, and Fear Factory to our attention. Basically, Floodgate sounds very much like an angry Fu Manchu. Well lemme tell ya, Fu Manchu is considered REALLY HOT SHIT here in babysueland...so any comparison to those rock gods is a very high compliment indeed. Floodgate is a band with major balls, rocking out with high intensity on this CD. The guys have a BIG sound...nice, juicy, FAT guitars...and a vocalist who can really carry the weight. Plus, the rhythm section is tight, tight, TIGHT. Songs like "Shivering," "Those Days," and "Black With Sin" are but a few examples of the anthemic rock power of this band. For pure rock and roll fun, these guys have got what it takes...
- Black Eye (CD, The Enclave, Rock/pop)
This all-female British group is a group with attitude. The girls play simple, straight-from-the-hip, stripped down rock music that is both catchy and upbeat. I particularly like the lyrics to many of the tunes, as well as the fact that lead guitars are used very sparingly. Fluffy has a tight rhythm section that is as good as most male groups. There are plenty of good tunes to dig here...like "Hypersonic," "I Wanna Be Your Lush," and "Dirty Old Bird." This doesn't quite capture the explosive sound of this band that was evidenced on their live debut EP, but there's still a lot to like here. I'll be eagerly awaiting Fluffy's second full-length...
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE
- Fountains of Wayne (CD, TAG/Atlantic, Pop)
WOW. This is an easy "5"! The songwriting/recording duo of Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger (Adam is also a member of the band Ivy) have come up with a REAL winner. Shimmering, wonderfully melodic pop music that sounds as if it were conceived in Heaven. Happy, uplifting, and at times very Beach Boys, this batch of tunes is about as pure pop as you can get...and those vocals will just make you melt into the ground. All twelve tunes are winners, with the standout tracks being "Radiation Vibe," "You Curse At Girls," and "She's Got a Problem." There are tons of pop groups out there attempting to do what these guys have already achieved. For pure melodic sensation, you won't get much better than this. If Chris and Adam don't score at least one hit with this one, then there's something wrong in radioland. This is incredibly wonderful stuff...
FREAKY CHAKRA VS. SINGLE CELL ORCHESTRA
- Freaky Chakra Vs. Single Cell Orchestra (CD, Astralwerks, Electronic/instrumental/dance)
Groove heavy, funky, electronic music made for the dance club in heaven. The press release gave absolutely no information about this CD, but judging from the publicity photo I gather that each of these "bands" is really one individual...and that the two individuals joined together to make this CD. The best thing about this disc are the rhythms...they're inventive, tight...and they sound more organic than electronic. Secondly, the electronics that are layered over the rhythms are simple and sparse enough that they don't overwhelm you. (Many electronic bands and artists tend to go overboard with their work.) Somewhat trippy and airy, this one ought to go over BIG in the clubs...
- Cold (Advance CD, Geffen, Pop/rock)
Yeah! I would've thought that Jane Wiedlin would never surface again but...surprise! She's back, and she still sounds great. After the Go-Go's, Jane recorded some solo stuff but it was always too programmed and keyboard-oriented for my taste. Now she's back with a guitar-based rock band. I find this setup much more suitable for Jane's songwriting style. Instead of playing with girls now, Jane's playing with three fellows who all sound pretty damn tight. These songs don't jump out at you...their hooks are subtle. This may get lost amidst the shuffle of so many rock bands out there fronted by women, but I hope not...because this CD has some great tunes to offer.
- Fulflej (Wack-Ass Tuba Riff) (Advance cassette, Scratchie, Pop/rock)
Scratchie Records has GOT to be one of the best small labels around. With bands like the Chainsaw Kittens and Fulflej, they've certainly got stronger bands than just about anyone. I was very impressed with the last Fulflej EP I heard. This, their debut full-length, is even BETTER. I can still compare the band to the Smashing Pumpkins in their basic approach to music, but Fulflej is much more direct than that. Instead of heading off the path (as the Pumpkins often do), these folks play straight from the hip. They play hard, they're tight, and at times heavy...but those melodies are what will keep me playing this one for a long while. Super catchy stuff to be sure, and the vocals are SUPERB. If this doesn't get a lot of folks frothing at the bit, I'll be surprised. This kicks ASS!
THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON
- Dead Cities (CD, Astralwerks/Caroline, Instrumental)
Wowee Jesus Christ Almighty. This just might be my favorite release yet from The Future Sound of London. At first I was thinking this CD was more accessible than their previous stuff, but a closer listen revealed plenty of the same obtuse, offbeat music that has characterized all the work of this amazing two man band. Combining the very best elements of experimental, trance, synth, dub, techno, and dance music into one big nut, these two guys are inventive with a medium that can often be trite and tedious. Something like listening to a soundtrack that might be played when your life is over, this is some wild hypnotic stuff. YES.
- Schrei X (CD, Mute, Experimental)
This one easily scoops up the prize as "most difficult CD of the year to listen to." If difficult listening is your thing, this is one compact disc that will certainly test your endurance. This disc contains nothing but Ms. Galas' voice. She screams, growls, howls, whispers, screams, screeches, and yelps like a coyote in heat. Is it music? Does it really matter? If there has ever been an artist with virtually no commercial appeal at all, Dimanda is certainly it. This sounds something like Yoko Ono's first album if you took away all the instrumentation. This is not for everyone, but I have to give this lady credit for simply doing what she wants to do without giving any concern whatsoever for her listening audience. She's wild, she's over the edge, and she's brave. I like that.
- King Frost Parade (CD, Thick, Rock/pop/experimental)
Wow. Geezer Lake bite off a BIG CHUNK with this one. Alternating between thrash, jazz, experimental, and pop music, there's no way to know what the next song will sound like. Whatever style they play, however, they do it WELL. I find the mellower tunes particularly appealing ("Blind to Reason," "Fade Away"), although my top faves here are "Madam Moves" and "Lying Down" (the latter reminds me of the Technical Jed). Though this band has been around since 1988, I believe this is the first thing I've heard from them. This is SOLID.
- A Small Circle of Friends (CD, Grass, Rock)
Over five years in the making, this tribute CD features a star-studded cast that includes L7, the Melvins, the Posies, the Wrens, O-matic, That Dog, the Meat Puppets, and a whole slew of others (including some bands that were formed just for this tribute). The top track here for me is certainly the Melvins' cover of "Lexicon Devil," which sounds very much like speed metal. Interestingly, the most inaccessible track is Matthew Sweet's cover of "Dragon Lady," in which Matthew goes electronic...with some very interesting results. The Germs were one of the very first California punk bands. Lead singer Darby Crash committed suicide the day before John Lennon was shot. Gone but not forgotten, the Germs obviously left a permanent impression on a great many folks, as this tribute CD certainly proves...
- Dead Inside (CD, Restless, Electronic/spoken word)
I have to admit that I don't care for spoken word CDs. The medium reeks of pretentiousness and gets on my nerves quickly. Because I was already biased against this CD before I heard it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I rather like this. The Golden Palominos is the continually evolving project of Anton Fier, and this time his partner in crime is none other than Nicole Blackman. Anton's technical manipulations sound pretty damn good, but Nicole in particular scores major points for not trying too hard. She lets her words flow from her tongue in a very relaxed manner, so much so that you almost get the feeling you're sitting on the couch next to her having a conversation. This isn't my favorite disc of the year, but any spoken word disc that gets a "3" in babysueland is a very rare thing.
- After That It's All Gravy (CD, Fused Coil/Fifth Colvmn, Noise)
Those who like their music to have melodies and structure are advised to STAY AWAY from this CD, which is certainly one of the weirdest things I've received this year. Instead of writing songs, these folks tie sounds, voices, and various other audio effects into a thread... The overall effect is that you've left a television set on in the other room, and you can't really get a grip on what program is on. Now all of this may sound like I'm cutting this disc, but the truth of the matter is that this kind of experimental stuff goes over big here in babysueland. No, it's not something that you'll want to play all the time...but when you want atmosphere instead of sing-songy music bullshit, this stuff works JUST RIGHT. Way, way, WAY off the deep end, Gravy flows and oozes through my stereo like a retarded snake.
THE GRASSY KNOLL
- Positive (CD, Antilles/Polygram, Instrumental/dub/jazz/experimental)
This one makes me feel like I'm dreaming. It gets a rating of "6," which is still as of yet undefined here in babysueland. Honest to Jesus Christ Almighty, this here is one TRIPPY collection of tunes. The one-man project of Bob Green along with whoever he chooses to play with, the Grassy Knoll has a glossy, psychedelic, intense sound that purrs along like a well-oiled motor. Funky, slow rhythms roll by as spaced out sounds move in and out of the background...while obtuse, spastic guitar lines bleed in and out of the speakers. If you like listening to music that makes you feel like you're on the ocean riding the waves at midnight, get hold of this. Soothing and at times highly dischordant, this one reminds me of some of Eno's really early stuff...
- The First Man on the Sun (CD, CherryDisc, Rock)
No, it's not the Grifters...it's Grither. I hope the possible name confusion doesn't hurt this band, because they have more in common with St. Johnny than the Grifters. Thick guitars and dense production abound on this CD, and the band almost always goes for the direct approach. The vocals are either spoken/sung (a la St. Johnny) or pleading and urgent...and an ultra-tight rhythm section holds everything together quite nicely. Above all, however, it's those cool guitars that pull me into this band's music. Top picks: "Trickledown Justice," "One Piece Missing," and "Crawlspace." Grither sounds like they'd be a lotta fun live...
HANG 10 (Various Artists)
- Volume One (10" vinyl EP, Shredder, Various artists)
To tell you the truth, I almost didn't even play this one before reviewing it. Why? To be blunt, ANYTHING on the Shredder label is worth listening to...so I knew this would be good. If you're not familiar with the label, this is an excellent introduction to fabulous bands like Mark Brodie and the Beaver Patrol (these guys are GREAT), Cub (cool girl band), the McRackins (one of the best power pop/punks bands around), and much, much more... Ten cool tunes here, and the packaging (including the lable) is top notch. A new one for me here that I really like is the band Fun Fun Attitude and their tune "Teenage Summer," which sounds somewhat like early Dickies.
- My Love is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be (CD, Yesha, Sludge rock/soft pop)
Harvey Milk is one of the most schitzophrenic bands I have ever heard. I saw the band play live a couple of years ago. They played very slow, hard, loud, harsh music. I figured this whole CD would be more of the same. Wrong. If you're expecting to put this CD in your player and immediately be smashed over the head with power and volume, look out. This band sneaks up on you...saving their power and energy to be used only when necessary. At times these fellows play so soft and meek that you can barely even hear them, and at other times they play so hard that things become downright painful. Sound weird? It is. Sounding something like an obtuse cross between Low and the Melvins, this is one band that certainly knows how to challenge their listeners. I'm up for the challenge. Harvey Milk is a very difficult band. "The Anvil Will Fall"...what a MIND BLOWER. Recommended only for folks who are extremely adventurous.
- Baptist Hospital (CD, Discovery, Soft pop)
This CD from Britain's Boo Hewerdine reminds me in many ways of mid-period Donovan (around the time of 7-Tease). Boo writes very pretty, very soft pop songs with nice, flowing melodies...and his voice is fairly effeminate. Though he's been in other bands (The Great Divide, Georgia Peach, the Bible), this is the first thing I've heard from this fellow. Slick, highly produced pop that is likely to turn a lot alternative types off. For me, this is some pretty nice sounding music that's a breath of fresh air after hearing too many bands playing WAY too loud for WAY too long. Top picks: "World's End," "Dreamlife," and "Greedy." Mr. Hewerdine could possibly really heat up the FM radio waves in the U.S. with his music...
- Susanna Hoffs (CD, London/Polygram, Pop)
Susanna Hoffs is an unknown artist with some incredible contacts. On this CD, her guest artists are former Go-Go's member Charlotte Caffey, Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), and David Lowery (Cracker), among others. Interestingly, Susanna's music doesn't really sound like any of the aforementioned artists. She has a voice that reminds me of Dolly Partin, which is by no means a cut. Her voice is silky smooth, like a young girl...and her music is innocent and highly melodic. This is extremely slick, commercial stuff...so if you don't like that kind of thing, stay clear of this. If you like simple, good music that you can hum along with...that simply makes you feel good....then check this out. I think this lady may have some hits on her hands with this one...
- Get Outta Dodge (CD EP, Mint, Instrumental)
One of the best guitar instrumental bands that I know of, along with Mark Brodie and the Beaver Patrol. Canada's Huevos Rancheros play some of the most believable (and energetic) instrumental music on the planet. Though only a trio, these guys have a really BIG sound. Hyper-throbbing rhythms support some of the best guitar stylings to be heard on the planet today. These seven tunes make me hungry for the next full-length. This is one HOT fuckin' band...
JASON & THE SCORCHERS
- Clear Impetuous Morning (CD, Mammoth/Atlantic, Country/pop/rock)
People usually either love this band or they hate 'em. I'm always enjoyed this band's music, even though I wouldn't label myself as a die-hard fan. On their latest CD, Jason & the Scorchers basically provide more of the same country flavored rock tunes that have gained them so many loyal fans. I doubt this'll bring in new listeners, but it sure as Hell ought to please old fans. The band offers up fourteen tunes, and Jason's voice sounds as good as it ever did. Upbeat and energetic, this band always puts out for their fans.
- North to the Future (CD, Tooth & Nail, Pop/rock)
Slow, droning, dreamy pop music with tinges of psychedelia. Though this band's last CD didn't do much for me, their latest sounds completely COOL. I'm not sure if they've made changes in their sound or if my head's just in a different area now. Whatever the case, this CD has some truly fine stuff on it. I think what I like best about Joe Christmas is the slightly atonal guitar and bass interplay...instead of just going for minor and major chords, these folks put some rather odd chords and notes together. Because of this, the band ends up having a very unique sound. Of course, the songs themselves are pretty damned superb. Most of these tunes are rather slow and droning, but the clever arrangements and laidback vocals make things work. This gets better the more I hear it. Nice stuff that drifts along, with its own unique mood and personality. Ah...
- The Genius of Komeda (CD, Minty Fresh, Progressive pop/rock)
Man have I been missing out. Apparently Sweden's Komeda have already achieved a great deal of success in their home country over the past several years, but this is the first I've heard from them. If this CD is any indication of what their past recordings sound like, I want the whole collection. Sounding like a really odd mix of several bands from several different decades, this is one group that's hard to pigeonhole. Probably my favorite comparison for Komeda is Slapp Happy, a vastly overlooked band from a couple of decades past that I was crazy about. The sound is a lot heavier and harder than Slapp Happy, though. This is a weird haze of pop, rock, seventies progressive stuff, and...and...and... Oh shit, just get hold of something by Komeda and give it a listen. This BLOWS ME AWAY. Favorite song: "Top Star." Abba it ain't, thank God.
- The Lazy Music Group (CD, Roadrunner, Pop/rock)
Lazy has been putting out exceptional music that for some reason gets overlooked by most people. I've been nuts about everything I've heard by the band, but this time they're REALLY pulled out the stops. The band has a very direct, simple approach to music...but the spare instrumentation and simple song structures support extremely STRONG songs... Lead singer Steve has a voice that sounds like no one else, and he's supported by a female rhythm section that is tight, tight, TIGHT. This OUGHT to be the CD that puts this group over the edge. With completely incredible tunes like "Favorite Song" (this one's KILLER!!!), "Cut It," "Get It Right," "Cherry Smash" and "Half Assed," this knocks the socks off most pop rock releases I've heard this decade. I've already played this one dozens and dozens of times, and the excitement has yet to wear off. Lazy ROCKS OUT big time on this one...this is a MUST HAVE for certain!!!
- Car Button Cloth (CD, TAG/Atlantic, Pop/rock)
Why is it not cool to like the Lemonheads? Is it because the band has achieved success? Or is it because Evan Dando is so often the target of jokes among musicians? Who really cares? What matters to me is good music, and the latest release from Mr. Dando and crew offers a whole slew of great tunes including a great tune co-written with Eugene Kelley ("If I Could Talk I'd Tell You") as well as one co-written with Epic Soundtracks ("C'mon Daddy"). Evan's raspy voice sounds great on these tunes, and the tunes themselves are way above your average pop fare...combining ultra-hummable melodies with sometimes perplexing lyrics. I can sure see why kids go crazy over Evan. Unlike the majority of successful musicians out there, this man has real talent. Hats off once again to the Lemonheads.
- Better Can't Make Your Life Better (Advance cassette, Che/Sire, Pop/rock)
GODDAMN HELL! The new CD from Lilys is so good that it merits a "7"...a rating NEVER BEFORE USED in babysueland. This new rating is well-deserved, because this CD will most certainly end up being one of the BEST RELEASES OF 1996. The continually evolving project of a fellow named Kurt Heasley, Lilys is a band that is hard to figure out or get used to. Whereas the band's last CD was so obtuse and weird that it took several hundred listenings to get a grasp on (it was one of my top favorite CDs of 1994), this release is much more straightforward and direct. Geez, there might even be a RADIO HIT on this one (?!?). Mr. Heasley has an uncanny knack for writing some of the most incredible melodies I've ever heard, and his voice is PERFECT. Hazy, fuzzy, pop rock tunes that are as catchy and easy to listen to as they are perplexing...this is the kind of thing that I'll be able to listen to for many years without tiring of it. In actuality, everything that Lilys have put out is outstanding and incredible. This is an ABSOLUTE MUST for all fans of pure pop. YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- The Subtle Body (CD, Bar/None, Moody pop)
I sure know this guy's name, but until now I'd never heard anything he's done. Arto Lindsay is one of those "cooler than cool" guys who's played with artists like the Lounge Lizards, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, and many others. This record was released in 1995 in Japan, but is only now seeing the light of day in America. Basically, this sounds like lounge music with a little something off-kilter about it. Really nice melodies flow over some very subtle and simple arrangements, and often in the background there is some odd noise of effect altering things just slightly. The idea works on this CD, making this a very calming yet odd listen.
THE MAIDS OF GRAVITY
- The First Second (CD, Vernon Yard, Pop/rock)
This band is the project of a fellow named Eddie Ruscha, who used to play bass for Medicine. This, the second release by the Maids of Gravity, was produced by John Cale. The CD contains a whole slew of bright, well-constructed tunes with even better arrangements that showcase a songwriter who is adept at writing a variety of styles of music. Plenty of cool guitars are layered on top of one another for a very thick sound, and the urgent/pleading vocals sound just perfect. There are a couple of tunes that I don't care for (like the opening tune "Half Awake"), but there are many more that really hit the target ("Islands," "In the Days," "No Room"). This one took a little getting used to, but once I got into this I found that I really, really enjoy it...and I have a feeling this is going to be a CD with staying power.
- Antichrist Svperstar (CD, Nothing/Interscope, Devil music)
The band that everyone's parents love to hate is back. If you ever wanted to rebel, this is the band for you. Obviously relishing every single family they are able to help destroy, Marilyn Manson is indeed a social phenomenon. They do, in fact, show just how far bands will go nowadays to shock and confuse. Publicity photos of what look like corpses...completely offensive lyrics (and ideas)...and a sound that often makes you feel as if you're in Hell. A gimmick? Yes, but a very interesting gimmick...that WORKS. This Manson guy is no dummy. He's not only very aware of exactly what he's doing...he readily admits that he likes manipulating his fans. Sort of like a Madonna for the industrial/heavy metal set, eh? Forget the gossip. Forget the gimmicks. I think this band's music ROCKS. In a BIG way. Fun stuff. Which is more fun...discussing ABORTION...or the latest MARILYN MANSON CD? You decide.
- Sky-Fi (CD, Starfish, Pop/rock)
This is a very fresh and interesting band from Cincinnati. Martian Electric reminds me at times of Game Theory, but that's only a generalization. Particularly good are some of the acoustic numbers, my favorite being "This Robot Destroys." This low-fi pop group has a lot to offer on this disc, but for some reason I have a feeling that this is only a hint of things to come. Good melodies and simple arrangements abound on this CD from a a very talented, up-and-coming band.
- Among My Swan (CD, Capitol, Soft pop)
Though this his band (the duo of Hope Sandoval and David Roback) has been around since the late eighties, this is only their third full-length release. I can't quite understand why some folks go so nuts over Mazzy Star. The music's not bad. Rather pleasant, in fact. I just think that there are a lot of other artists out there who are much better at playing this style of music.
- Back to the Crack (CD, One Louder, Rock)
One of this century's most prolific rock bands, the McRackins always aim to please...and they always end up hitting the target dead center. Playing power punk/pop in the simplest manner possible, these guys' energy always comes across crystal clear in their recordings. And their melodies are always way above average for this style of music. Eighteen tunes here, with my favorites being "Envelope," "Bike Fight," "Sad Happy," and "Lonesome." These clowns (they always play in whiteface) always manage to make me smile. This band serves as a nice reminder that less is more...and when it's the McRackins, it's a WHOLE LOT more. Fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN...pure and simple.
- War of the Super Bikes II (CD, Go-Kart/Soapbox, Rock)
Believe it or not, this is the first release by this legendary band that I have ever owned. This CD actually features two albums. The first nine tunes are a re-release of an album the band recorded in 1988, and the last ten are new tunes the band recorded in 1996. This is good stuff with a lot of punch (the rhythm section is dynamite) and growling, gnarly vocals courtesy of Tesco Vee. The press release states that the band has influenced a wide variety of artists including Nine Inch Nails and Slayer. After listening to this, I'd say the list probably includes many more (Gas Huffer even, perhaps?). As I said, I wasn't familiar with any of the group's work until hearing this...but to me, the new tunes sound as fresh as the old ones...
- Stag (CD, Mammoth/Atlantic, Rock)
Hard rock music is often monotonous and boring. Why? Because most musicians simply aren't creative in whatever style of music they choose to play. The Melvins stand out in a BIG WAY in the world of heavy rock bands. In fact, I've never heard a song by these guys that I didn't like. This is partly due to the fact that the Melvins are natural born musicians. They make it all seem so effortless, but yet they're really playing some wildly interesting stuff. Instead of just turning up the volume and blaring away like retarded schoolboys, these guys continue to evolve...creating some blindingly hard rock music that is bold psychedelic and unusual. This ranks right up there with their best. How could you not like tracks like "Yacobs Lab" or "Sterilized"? Shit, on top of it all they've got one HELL of a sense of humor. The Melvins still rule. Yeah...
- Surgery for Zebra (CD, Silvertone, Rock)
I don't know about you, but when I find out a band is from some weird country it usually means they SUCK. But as everyone should know by now, there are exceptions to every rule...and Belgium's Metal Molly is certainly an exception. Sounding very, very, VERY American indeed, this young trio (they're all in their twenties) are a powerhouse of melodic pop played straight from the hip. In addition to playing hard and playing well, these fellows' harmonies are way above average...and they throw in some nice studio tricks to keep things from getting boring. They get extra points for consistency...there's really not a bad track on this CD. Top picks: "Flipper," "Orange," "Monday is Queer," and "Zebra."
COUNTRY DICK MONTANA
- The Devil Lied To Me (CD, Bar/None, Country/pop/rock)
I had to do a double take on this one. Handsome Dick Manitoba is doing...COUNTRY music? No, no, no...I read it wrong. It's not Handsome Dick Manitoba...it's Country Dick Montana. This guy is a really odd one. Sorta like a mix between Johnny Cash, Frank Zappa, and Martin Mull, Mr. Manitoba is both funny and moving. The man certainly has a sense of humor about what he's doing ("Only Whore Around")...as well as a very sexy, ultra-deep voice. Not simply a novelty act though, Country Dick has the talent and balls to pull this one off. Leave it to those crazy folks at Bar/None to come up with real surprises with their musical offerings. This is different, unique, and just kooky enough to be totally cool. My favorite track is "I Wanted You To Know," which is nothing short of beautiful.
- Splitting Songs (CD, Deaf Khan, Pop)
For every credible, talented artist that makes it, there are a hundred other artists just as talented whose work somehow never reaches more than a very select group of folks. Such is the case with Thom Moore, an obscure fellow best known for his work with the Rubber Band. Thom played around Pasadena, California for many years in the bands Orange Kate, the Plumps, and Lord Escalator in the late eighties and early nineties. This CD is a collection of tunes from those bands, as well as a couple of Thom's solo recordings. Thom's music is basic acoustic guitar based pop music, but the man's got a style that's all his own. Killer melodies, simple arrangements...I would have never known these tunes weren't recorded last week. This is just the kind of thing that makes me glad I'm a music reviewer, because otherwise I might never have heard this obscure delight. Mr. Moore now resides in Berkeley and plays in the band Thumb of the Maid. If you can't find this, write to Deaf Khan Records, 2440 16th St., #326, San Francisco, CA 94103 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ultraphonic Hiss (CD, Tooth & Nail, Pop)
Taking their name from an early band headed by Jason and Ronnie Martin (of Starflyer 59 and Joy Electric fame respectively), Morella's Forest play very melodic pop music with breathy female vocals. While I like the basic sound of this band, sometimes the busy guitar work seem to get in the way of the vocal melody lines. This isn't such a big problem, though, and ultimately this ends up being a rather pleasant listen.
- Triptycal (CD, Antilles/Polygram, Dub/jazz/electronic/experimental)
I'm not surprised that this CD blows me away. Ben Neill's debut CD (Green Machine) was a brilliant exploration into the potential of soundscapes, and this one offers more of the same. Even though most of the sounds here are electronic, they tend to sound very organic. That may be what sets Ben's music apart from the rest. He manages to compose things in such a way that they don't sound sterile and canned. This is very EARTHY stuff. Some of the layering he does with background sound is nothing short of astounding. Nine lengthy tunes here, including "Propeller," "Dream Phase," "After the Gold Rush," and "Twelfth Flight." Trippy, surreal, hypnotic, and very, very sensual. This is cool. Goddamn cool as Hell.
NEW BOMB TURKS
- Scared Straight (CD, Epitaph, Rock)
Whew. Playing at a blistering speed, Ohio's New Bomb Turks are an all-out assault of buzzsaw guitar rock. Sounding something like a sped-up Gas Huffer without the redneck twang, these guys sure know how to rock out. And their drummer is a REAL powerhouse. Apparently these guys have quite a devoted following judging by some of the reviews they've received. In the genre of fast rock, there are lots of posers. The New Bomb Turks are definitely the real thing. Virtually all of these tunes will put blisters on your ear drums, but my top picks are "Hammerless Nail," "Jeers of a Clown," "Shoot the Offshoot," and "Wrest Your Hands."
- Only in America (CD EP, Zero Hour, Rock/pop/metal)
This band has a split personality. They shift in and out of soft pop, alternative rock, and heavy metal...sometimes all within the scope of one tune ("Johnny and Mary"). It's an interesting idea, and sometimes it works. I don't usually review EPs unless they really make an impression, and this one does. I'd like to see the Notwist concentrate on their poppier side, because that's where their strength lies. I'll be very curious to see what these folks do on a full-length...
- Astro-Sounds From Beyond the Year 2000 (CD, Scamp/Caroline, Dinner music)
What'll they re-release NEXT??? Amidst all the re-releases and lounge acts out there, Scamp comes out of nowhere...re-releasing some completely odd and obscure stuff. Sheeeee-yut...I never even knew 101 Strings had even PUT OUT an album like this! Pretty odd stuff in a very subtle kind of way. Not only does this contain all the tracks from the original album, but you get three bonus tracks as well. As you can imagine, 101 Strings at their most futuristic sound dated...but isn't that the point? Funny, oddball, and somewhat relaxing instrumental music to baffle your friends and or to play while your acid-head parents are over for dinner.
- Agony (CD, MIA, Death metal)
Playing in the same general vein as Morbid Angel, this is a band with a heavy, angry, fierce sound. The vocals are a growling roar...and the music is blinding metal power. Oppressor throw in some neat sound effects occasionally ("Suffersystem") which keeps things from becoming redundant. This will most likely only appeal to folks who are already into the speed metal/death metal thing, but Oppressor know how to do it right. Volume plus anger equals...
- Tragic (CD, Atlantic, Rock)
Orange 9mm combines many different elements from many different rock bands. Powerhouse guitars, screaming/distorted vocals, and thundering rhythms... No, Orange 9mm is not the most original band in the world. I've heard a whole slew of bands that play this style of music. What makes these guys stand out is that they are believable, they can play like Hell, and they write good songs. This CD was produced by Dave Sardy, who has also worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slayer. My favorite tune here is "Kiss It Goodbye," which is pretty damned catchy indeed.
- Penny Dreadfuls (CD, Restless, Rock/pop)
This all-female quartet has a sound more in common with male bands than with the majority of female bands out there. This could partially be because these cool ladies are very adept at playing their instruments, but it's much more likely due to the nature of their songwriting. Instead of cutesy, fluffy pop tunes, this band's music sounds more like it comes directly from the soul. The Penny Dreadfuls debut CD was produced by D. C. Herring, who has also produced Cracker and Throwing Muses...so you know this one has some polish to it. Quite impressive for debut full-length. These girls pack quite a punch but even more importantly, they've managed to come up with some rather infectious tunes. Top picks: "Unravel," "I Feel Fine," and "Try It On."
PET SHOP BOYS
- Bilingual (CD, Atlantic, Synth/pop)
This doesn't do anything for me. I'm not saying this music is bad. It just isn't something that I would choose to listen to.
- Sinsation (CD, Nothing/Interscope, Industrial)
Pig is the one man project of Raymond G. Watts, who most folks know as one of the founding members of KMFDM (he still tours and records with them). Raymond has also worked with infamous folks like Einsturzende Neubauten, Coil, and Psychic TV. Raymond "Pig" Watts' first full-length release on the Nothing label is chock full of industrial pop that's extremely dance-oriented. Instead of the unbearable noise constructed by many industrial artists, Pig utilizes things that could be harsh and annoying...but in the context that he uses them, they sound pretty damn smooth. Sometimes spooky, sometimes gothic, sometimes indescribable... Mr. Watts has his bases covered on this one.
- The Full Sentence (CD, Sub Pop, White boy soul)
Pigeonhed is the two man project of Steve Fisk and Shawn Smith. This CD features slick yet funky high-tech music. At times some of this music reminds me of (The Artist Formerly Known As ) Prince, and at other times the tunes come across sounding like trance/techno. Above all, however, the sound here is fat and BIG...and the music makes you want to move. Though most of these tunes are highly polished pieces, my favorite is the stripped-down "Honor," which proves that these guys can come up with good tunes that don't even need studio tricks. Nice stuff.
- Let Them Fuck EP (12" Vinyl Picture Disc EP, Scuss Media, Experimental rock)
One of Atlanta's most uncommercial rock bands, Pineal Ventana seems destined for success. Instead of playing safe, this band takes a lot of chances with their music. Interestingly, this has worked for them both artistically and commercially (they just got signed to Ichiban Records). This picture disc features beautiful artwork and is limited to 500 copies. Three tunes: "Let Them Fuck," "Vacant Twat," and the real mind-bender..."The Screen." If you want one, you'd better get it now 'cause these won't last. Contact: Scuss Media, P.O. Box 55138, Atlanta, GA 30308-0183 or call 404-876-0736.
- Pantomine 10" (10" vinyl EP, Interscope, Pop/rock)
Already a favorite among critics since their first full-length release on Restless a couple of years ago, Polara has only gotten better with time. Slow, psychedelic pop with heavy, infectious melodies and lots of swirling studio tricks that add rather than detract from the music. Four tunes here. "Pantomine" is definitely the catchiest, "Wove a Magic Carpet" is the odd one. The group will have another full-length out March 1997. I can't wait.
- Make 'Em Mokum Crazy (CD, Mokum/Roadrunner, Techno/Various Artists)
Goofy techno music from Holland. This various artists compilation includes Technohead's "I Wanna Be A Hippy," which was a #1 hit in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Austria. According to the press release Lee Newman (who was one half of the band) died from cancer just prior to the tune becoming a hit. In addition to the Technohead tracks, this compilation also includes songs by Party Animals, Milk Bar, Back 2 Bass, Soap, Search & Destroy, Wildchild, Zieke House, and CJ X-Play. Techno bands take themselves way too seriously much of the time, but that's certainly not the case here. This almost sounds like techo/house music if it were combined with Saturday morning cartoons. Way upbeat and funny, this contains some pretty cool stuff.
- Esteem Driven Engine (Advance CD, Epitaph, Rock)
There's a lot of really cool straightforward rock music on this, the debut CD from Pulley. The band consists of ex-members of Ten Foot Pole, Strung Out, Scared Straight, and Face To Face (how's THAT for credentials?). This band has a particularly killer drummer who really knows how to crash and slam his kit. The band has a fairly wide range of songwriting capabilities, and they vary the tempo just enough from song to song to keep things interesting. Instrumentally, the basic sound is buzzsaw guitar rock...but these guys throw in some curve balls from time to time. Of course, songs are what matters most with a band (well, most of the time anyway...) and these guys have some memorable tunes. The harmony vocals are really good, and it's the tunes with the cool dual vocals that appeal to me the most. An excellent debut.
- Generation Six-Pack (CD, Mammoth/Atlantic, Pop/rock)
This one took several listens to sink in. This Canadian quartet recorded these songs themselves in their home studio(s), and then had them mixed professionally. The resulting songs have homemade sincerity, yet sound fairly professional. These fellows come up with some good tunes here, particularly "Anna" and "Monster." The best aspect of Pure is the simplicity in almost every song. These songs are not multi-layered and full of studio tricks. The guys just let the songs speak for themselves, and they stand up well...due to good lyrics and above-average melodies. Pure is a band to watch.
- Resurrectums (CD, Jolly, Pop)
Originally called the Assholes, the Rectums are a five-piece pop band based in New Orleans, Louisiana. They sing a lot of songs about how dumb God is. Now isn't THAT a novel and shocking idea? Duh. The CD comes wrapped in toilet paper. Wow. And the music sounds like SHIT. I'm not surprized. I expect this no-talent band will become a big hit over the next few months...and why not? Every other band that sounds like shit makes it really big.
- Saltbox (CD, Epitaph, Rock)
It was that long ago that the majority of girl groups were novelty acts. Most of them couldn't really play that well, but they were fun nonetheless. Over the past few years, girl groups have really come a long way..and the Red Aunts are a perfect example of what ladies can do with a little determination and talent. To tell you the truth, if I hadn't seen this band live I might not have given this release a "5." But after having seen the band, I know how energetic these girls are...what stage presence they possess..and how focused they are in what they're doing. This is certainly a case where these girls can not only sing like Hell, but they can play like Hell too. They are VERY proficient on their instruments, churning out 14 snotty, tight little rockers that'll capture your heart and soul. Get the CD...but even more importantly, catch the Red Aunts when they play your town. They are highly entertaining and they are...HOT.
RED HOUSE PAINTERS
- Songs For a Blue Guitar (CD, Island, Acoustic pop)
This one took a couple of listens to sink in, mainly because my first impression was "Jeez...this stuff sounds WAY too serious..." After getting used to the sound of this band, however, I find it rather pleasant indeed. Bandleader singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek sounds a great deal like Donovan (one of my favorite folksters ever). Mark's music is very thoughtful, mostly serious, and extremely reflective...and though there's a lot of polish on these tunes, the melodies and ideas still shine through. Lots of great tunes here. The title track is probably the standout track for me, but other cool wonders include "Have You Forgotten," "Priest Alley Song," and "All Mixed Up."
- REO Speedealer (CD, Spanish Fly, Rock)
This is a really wild, loose, out-of-control rock band. Hailing from Dallas, Texas, these guys remind me of many different bands including the Butthole Surfers and Black Flag. Never has there been a more appropriate name for a band, as these guys play at a blinding speed...at times so over the edge that it is actually difficult to tell exactly what's going on with their music. It is this band's extreme excesses that I find appealing though, and in the end this one gets a big thumbs up for sheer assaultive power. Best tracks: "Binge," "The Great Santini," and "Sticky Alan." From the sound of this, I betcha these guys blow the roof off any club they play in.
- C (Advance CD, Southern, Soft pop)
In the grand tradition of bands like Low, rex play very soft, very slow music that is soothing and calming. This is just the kind of stuff that I like to hear on a rainy afternoon when there isn't too much going on. Somewhat reflective and pensive, these three guys manage to come up with some really fine tunes...and often the soft introductions to the songs lead into some almost classical arrangements. With so many bands trying to blow everyone's socks off with power and volume, subtlety is something that I just can't get enough of. By not trying too hard, rex manage to come across as a sincere and very refreshing band. Eleven tunes. Top picks: "Morning," "Jubin," "Porcelain," and "Farther Along."
- The Little Death (CD EP, Epitaph, Rock/pop)
This is the first thing I've heard from New York's Ruth Ruth. The band plays very melodic rock/pop that is slower than most of the stuff I hear on the Epitaph label. At times these tunes remind me of early Joe Jackson, but that's really not an accurate comparison. Six tunes here, with my faves being "Julia, You Have a Heartbeat" and "Daddy Can't Shoot." This EP is a great introduction to a band I'll be looking forward to hearing more from...
- Salt Sinks and Sugar Floats (Advance CD, Up, Rock)
This two member band consists of guitarist/vocalist John Atkins (ex-Hush Harbor) and drummer Polly Johnson-Dickinson (ex-Bell Jar). I wasn't familiar with either of the former bands before hearing this. John and Polly create some very atmospheric, moody rock music that is at times provocative and at other times skewed and unpredictable. Sometimes similar to Modest Mouse, possibly because this was recorded at Steve Wold's Moon Studios (where Modest Mouse have also recorded). These tunes are pensive and thought-provoking...and I get the impression listening to this that these songs were created more from the heart than out of a desire for commercial recognition. Polly is an exceptional drummer, and John's guitar work is inventive and original. Overall, this is a collection of very unique material...and particularly spectacular for a debut CD.
- Glimmer (CD, Roadrunner, Pop/rock)
Kevin Salem is a very talented fellow. He's a producer, studio musician, and singer/songwriter/recording artist. This, his latest CD, contains more of the catchy pop that Kevin is known for. Of course, there are plenty of those cool sounding guitars and flowing, hummable melodies. Though this CD sounds more accessible than Kevin's first solo CD, it is also a bit less adventurous. Still, the twelve tunes presented here all sound quite nice. This guy doesn't really make bad music. It all sounds good.
- Saucer (CD, Spanish Fly, Pop/rock)
This is a very odd collection of tunes from a very peculiar band. Five tracks are studio recordings, and the remaining twenty-five are home recordings done on a four-track machine. Though the studio tracks sound fine, the real gems here are the four-track recordings. Thirty tunes is a lot, and this band goes all over the place with their music. From the early David Bowie-ish "We Want Our Brains Back" to odd, instrumental pieces like "Paper Towel", this band never fails to confuse me. As with most experimental things, some of these tunes work better than others. When this band hits, though, they hit dead center.
SHEEP ON DRUGS
- Double Trouble (CD, Invisible, Electronic/dance)
When I heard the first song on this CD I thought, "Uh oh...Sheep On Drugs have gone commercial!" Alas, I was wrong. The first tune on this disc is more accessible than the fare normally served by this obtuse duo, but the tunes that follow offer more of the same unearthy electronic stuff these guys are known for. Nine tracks of odd noises, voices, and hypnotic beats that'll keep the clubs hopping for months. Top picks: "Coma," "Talk About Drugs," "Night Fever," and "Here To Stay."
- The Shadows Are Go! (CD, Scamp/Caroline, Surf/instrumental)
Hey...this is GREAT!!! Lots of biggies have declared this early sixties band as an major influence (including Neil Young, Richard Thompson, and Bill Nelson). After giving this just one spin, I can see why. The Shadows were obviously a very influential group in England from 1960 to 1963. The music is very simple and basic...but that guitar work is the BEST. Dreamy, reflective, rockin' stuff that is as timeless as just about anything I've heard. It's odd that this band has never had a bigger following in the United States. This release may change that. Twenty-three tracks of some absolutely HOT stuff. Back when these guys came out, you actually had to know how to PLAY your instrument. No bad noise here. This is an exercise in skill, restraint, and pure talent.
- Signal Flare (CD, Fort Apache, Pop)
Clear, shimmering pop music. This is pop in the purest sense of the word. The band places a heavy emphasis on melody and song structure, and they don't muddy things up with too much production bullshit. Only three songs, darn it: "Signal Flare," "Going Nowhere," and "Helicopter." The best thing about this EP is that it makes me want to hear more from this band.
SIGNAL AOUT 42
- Immortal Collection 1983-1995 (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Dance)
This is a best of collection of material from this band's first three albums that were originally released on the Play It Again Sam label, as well as some Belgian 12" releases. For a compilation disc, this holds together quite nicely...and it's amazing how some of this band's early material sounds very much like what a lot of groups are producing today. A couple of cuts sound dated ("Dead is Calling" in particular), but for the most part this is just as credible as much of the current dance music out there.
- Statutory Grape (CD, Sugar Fix Recordings, Pop)
GREAT NAME FOR A BAND...and the music ain't bad, neither. The humorously titled Sissy Bar is a pop band, first and foremost. The band's song structures and arrangements are simple, yet effective. They are apparently one of a growing number of "cuddle core" bands out there. In addition to having a sense of humor, these folks have a good sense of melody. Those breathy female vocals are just right for this style of music. Subtle, sometimes sensual, and at times even bubblegum, this is a band to watch. They've apparently already got a buzz going. This is one sissy bar I wouldn't mind being associated with...
SMART BROWN HANDBAG
- Monkey in the Middle (CD, Stone Garden, Pop)
Playing jangly pop in the tradition of many bands from the early to mid eighties, Smart Brown Handbag sound something like a cross between the Jam and R.E.M. Strong melodies abound on this fourteen song disc, with interesting guitar lines and harmony vocals rounding out the sound. The band hails from Los Angeles, and is the project of David Steinhart (formely of the band Pop Art). The band shows an intelligent use of restraint on most of these tunes, using only the bare essentials to get their message across. Pleasant stuff that doesn't try too hard. Nice.
- Duncan Sheik (CD, Atlantic, Pop)
A handsome young guy who plays piano and writes pretty pop songs. Sounds AWFUL, doesn't it? Well I tell ya what...after hearing too many loud bands playing too much loud junk, this is one nice change of pace. Duncan is slick, there's no doubt...but the guy's actually got a really nice voice and he writes some DAMN fine melodies. I'm sure all my friends into alternative shit just HATE this CD...but it's their loss. Plenty of good stuff here like "In The Absence of Sun," "Days Go By," and "The End of Outside." This is the kind of stuff your sister or your mother would like. But hey...guys can like it too, can't they? Barry Manilow it ain't...cool and calming it is. Mr. Sheik is a very talented man.
- The Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle (Advance CD, Zero Hour, Experimental)
The last Space Needle CD (also on Zero Hour) wasn't exactly an exercise in commercialism, but on this disc the band goes even further to alienate listeners. "Where the Fucks My Wallet?," the opening track, won't make most listeners feel welcome. A noise piece clocking in at over thirteen minutes, I bet most folks won't make it to song number two. For those who don't leave the concert hall, however, there's some really good stuff that follows. The dreamy "Flowers For Algernon" is ghostly sounding. Other tracks sound almost normal ("Love Left Us Strangers," "One Kind of Lullaby"). The overall feeling I get from listening to this is that Space Needle is schizophrenic. They either sound really, REALLY strange or really, REALLY normal...there's very little in-between. I always like a challenge, though, and this certainly fits in that category.
- Remit Recaps (CD, Astralwerks, Electronic/instrumental)
This one is actually remixes of tunes from the last Spacetime Continuum CD by artists OST, Carl Craig, Velocette, Move-D, Kobat, Herbert, Higher Intelligence Agency, Subtropic, The 4 Quarters, Autechre, and Spacetime Continuum himself (Jonah Sharp). Electronic gadgetry and mixing tricks abound on this eleven track CD. Though I'd have to admit that I liked the original Spacetime Continuum mixes better, these are interesting and thoughtful remixes that stand pretty well on their own. Either you like this stuff or you hate it. I find the whole electronic music scene very interesting and, at times, overwhelming...
- Speedball Petite (CD EP, Fort Apache, Retro/rock)
I've been seeing and hearing this band's name a lot lately, but this serves as an introduction for me. On this five song EP, Speedball Baby show they have a very diverse sound. Whether it's the all-out craziness of "Mex Blo-Out" or the slow saunter of "Crazy Date," the band comes off sounding fresh and energetic. Though it's hard to judge a band on only five tunes, this at least tells me these folks are heading in the right direction. Sounds like they'd be great fun live...
- Angleterre (CD EP, Cassiel, Pop)
Exceptional English pop music. If this were a full-length, it most likely would've gotten a "5." Smooth sounding and rich in melody, this little EP makes me want to hear a lot more from this band. Led by songwriter/singer Stephen Manning, I predict that Statuesque is gonna make a BIG splash...based simply on strong melodies. My favorite here is "Coward's Way." Though this EP contains only five tunes, this band has already won me over. Can't wait to hear a full-length...
- Irony (CD, Double Deuce, Garage rock)
All right! Garage rock the way it OUGHT to be played...simply, aggressively, and with tons of raw energy. Steel Miners are a three-piece band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania featuring former members of Gumball and the infamous Cynics. These three guys are so tight they make other bands sound like damn sissies. In addition to the way-above-average musicianship here, the sound is BIG and FAT. Steel Miners know the importance of brevity...most of these sixteen tunes are short and to the point. From the hardassed rockin' of "We're Gonna Rock" to the sultry "Lie Baby Lie" these guys hit nothing but home runs. This is one of the best garage rock releases of the year, for certain...
JOHN P. STROHM AND THE HELLO STRANGERS
- Caledonia (CD, Flat Earth, Country-tinged pop)
John P. Strohm's name may not be familiar to most folks, but one day it might be. John's former bands include the Blake Babies, Antenna, and most recently Velo Deluxe (YEAH!!!). The last Velo Deluxe CD was one of my favorite discs of a couple of years ago, so it comes as no surprise that his latest CD of tunes is absolutely KILLER. This disc contains a whole slew of country-tinged pop in the same tradition as some mid-period Kinks stuff (Muswell Hillbillies, perhaps?). John is backed by Bloomington, Indiana's Hello Strangers who provide a nice, solid backdrop for these very familiar sounding songs that I have never heard before. This is a very solid disc, but my top faves are "Slip Away," "Fool," and particularly "Thelma." Maybe one day John will be a star. Until then, only those in the know will appreciate the simple genius of his music.
THE TECHNICAL JED
- The Oswald Cup (CD, spinART, Rock)
This is a GREAT CD. The Technical Jed were originally on the now-defunct Brilliant Records label based in Richmond, Virginia (a label very much missed around here in babysueland). Listening to this band, I get the same feeling I do when listening to Modest Mouse. Basically, I can't really figure out who these guys sound like. At times they play swirling rock, at times they're very psychedelic, at times they're really poppy, and at other times they just rock out. That virtually every tune on this CD stands on its own as a unique and interesting composition is a feather in these guys' hats. I predict big things for this band, because these fellows are extremely focused in what they're doing...plus they write some KILLER tunes. A CD that'll hold up to many repeated listenings, this is one that certainly doesn't sound like all the rest. And those guitars...WOW.
- Totality (CD, Invisible, Electronic/dance)
This appropriately named band has been in existence since 1981. Test Dept's basic sound is trance-like sounds layered over hypnotic dance beats. The sampled sounds they use are inventive and unusual. They often merge all kinds of odd sounds into one tune, giving some of this stuff an almost classical feel. Some of these tracks sound very futuristic, while others almost sound retrospective. "Chillo (Sunrise)" ought to become a dance club hit...it's got all the right elements: An infectious beat, airy vocals, and a synthesizer line that's super catchy. Compared to a lot of electronic releases out there, this is very focused and mature stuff. The stuff I like best is when they really go off the deep end, creating songs more with sounds than with actual structures or melodies. Cool.
THIN LIZARD DAWN
- Thin Lizard Dawn (CD, RCA/BMG, Pop/rock)
Wow. This is FLAWLESS. Combining the best elements of early 10CC (around the time of Sheet Music) with the modern techno sound of Self, Thin Lizard Dawn have created a MASTERPIECE. There are lots of bands with great songs and lots of bands with a firm grasp on technology, but there are few bands that can effectively incorporate the two. This band succeeds, and all I can say again is...WOW. Beautiful melodies, KILLER three-part harmonies... If this is the band's debut CD, then I can honestly say this is one of the best debuts I've ever heard...PERIOD. There are so many pop bands out there playing it way too safe. This band takes chances...LOTS of chances...and they all work. From the hyper-bubblegum of "Sexual Dynamo" to the extremely humorous "Power Ballad" (with the lyric "Stop me if I start to suck like Oasis"), this band hits nothing but home runs. Songs like "Happy/Loonies" and "Weed" make me feel like I'm floating in the clouds. This is one of the very best CDs released in 1996. A real MIND BENDER.
- Soft Shell Friend (CD, Bear, Rock/pop)
Montreal's fuzz-rock band Tinker is a band that has gone through some changes. After creating a buzz a couple of years ago, the band disintegrated around bandleader Steve Durand. Rather than be outdone, Steve reformed the band into a trio...and the result is an astrounding success. The tunes on this CD are thick with layers of fuzzy guitars that accentuate (rather than detract from) the melodies. The rhythm section is powerful, often throwing odd curves into the music. Though the band has put out previous releases, this is their first full-length. Tinker is a thinking man's band, often challenging the listener by doing the unexpected.
- Fishnets and Cigarettes (CD, Moonshine, Improvisation/jazz/lounge)
Here at babysueland, it is always a privilege to receive a CD from an artist who simply doesn't sound like all the others. That is most certainly the case with Toledo, an improvisational vocalist who sounds something like Captain Beefheart if he was a lounge singer. The music is cool, somewhat acid-jazz that flows freely from song to song...but it's those peculiar vocals that really add the snaz to this CD. Toledo goes off the deep end quite often...more concerned with the sound of his lyrics and phrasing than with simply singing a song. All of these tunes kick, but my top picks are "Death Took a Holiday" and "Dead Man's Cigarette." My favorites are the ones where the musicians and Toledo himself let things almost completely fall apart...so that some of this doesn't even SOUND like songs! This is cool as SHIT.
TO LIVE AND SHAVE IN L.A.
- "Helen Butte" vs. Masonna Pussy Badsmell (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Noise)
Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very fucked up.
- Asteroid (CD, NovaMute, Electronic)
Stream of consciousness electronic soundscapes. French electronic pioneer Emmanuel Top is the thinking man's electronic musician. Instead of the usual, Mr. Top experiments with the unusual...continually challenging himself and his listeners. Though this fellow is best known for his work with his own Attack Records label in France, this disc may very well open up a whole new audience for him. But then again, maybe not. After all, clubs and radio stations most often want to play predictable crap that folks can easily digest. This does not fall into that category. These lengthy tunes are obtuse and odd...rhythms start, stop, and sometimes disappear altogether...while electronic threads are the only thing that holds the tunes together. Waves of sound shift and reverse in unpredictable variations.
THE TRANSATLANTIC MOVE
- Mixed by Superstar DJ Keoki (CD, Moonshine, Dance)
When it comes to dance music, I'm not so easily pleased. Let's admit it. Because everyone has a computer now, everyone can also create dance music...which leads to a lot of unimaginative, repetitive dribble. It's compilations like this that renew my faith in dance music...proving that you can come up with some great stuff if you just use your goddamn head. The Transatlantic Move is an annual trip each year where movers and shakers of the global dance community gather together to listen to the latest stuff while they travel to some exotic location. From the sound of these tunes, it sounds like it was some fuckin' party. This is one compilation that THROBS.
- A Fool and His Money Will Soon Be Partying! (CD, Go-Kart, Rock)
Trick Babys lead vocalist Lynne Von has one of the most aggressive voices I've ever heard. The woman belts out tunes with more energy than most men...and she makes it sound so goddamn easy. Meanwhile, the band pounds, pounds, POUNDS away at their instruments. The overall effect is that a really big, really WILD party is going on. The Trick Babys made a big splash with the critics with their last CD (Player), but I have a feeling this one's going to get even higher marks. I've heard the Trick Babys are a GREAT live band, and after hearing this one they're certainly on my list of bands I'll go out of my way to catch. A big rockin' fun time.
- Only You Can Hear the Dirty Sound (CD EP, Meltdown, Pop)
As all good babysue readers know, simplicity always gets the worm. That's why we enjoy the Tweed CD so much. Instead of overly busy arrangements, studio tricks, and general overproduction, this band keeps things simple...concentrating instead on simply getting their tunes across. And what great tunes. Very hummable, melodic ditties that stick to your brain like glue. Fave toons: "Away" and "Loneliness."
- Gravity's Rim (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Industrial Dada)
Industrial music all sounds the same...right? Wrong. Daniel Vahnke is out to prove that you can still be creative in a medium where folks normally churn out the same old shit. This batch of 25 tunes is a real mind bender. Spaced out, peculiar sounds trip in and out of the speakers while various guest vocalists appear. Another plus for this disc is the lyrics. Check out these lines (from "Prophet Clown"): Decay is just a way to say/Everything was history yesterday. Prophetic? Yes, in a way. Even more interesting is when things almost turn into jazz ("Beta"), where guest vocalist Jared Hendrickson ends up spewing out sounds instead of words. Overall, this is a very psychedelic trip indeed...and you never know where the songs are going or where they'll end up. Way, way, way cool, this CD is highly recommended for folks into experimental music.
- Secret Swingers (CD, Caroline, Pop)
Nice, somewhat moody rock music. This band was formed from the remains of the bands Flower and Saturnine and are based in Brooklyn, New York. Many of the tunes on this CD are basic fuzzy pop rock music with some nice production tricks thrown in. For me, this group's greatest strength is in their arrangements. Interesting guitar lines and restrained use of backing vocals go a long way to make these tunes sound very lush and full.
- Transition (CD, St. Roch, Pop/dub)
Good female trio who don't take themselves too seriously. The three young ladies in Virago are not only beautiful, they also have a sense of humor. The music here is basic dub/pop with nice sounding female vocals. The lyrics are often a hoot ("$9.99...all you can eat"), and the music is often under rather than overproduced...which works just fine given the simple nature of these tunes. Above all, this music is simply fun to listen to...and it sure beats the pants of Luscious Jackson! Oh, I almost forgot...this was produced by underground hero Kim Fowley...
- Severe Comfort (CD, Sugar Fix Recordings, Pop)
Does Warm Wires sound like All About Chad? Or does All About Chad sound like Warm Wires? I'm afraid I can't answer that question because I don't know which band came first. All I know is that there is a STRIKING similarity to these two bands. If the two haven't met, they certainly ought to get in touch with one another because the resemblance is startling. This is very upbeat, sing-songy, and at times silly bright pop music with a heavy emphasis on melodies and vocal harmonies. The nice thing about Warm Wires is that these folks manage to throw in lots of surprises in their little pop gems. This is the latest project from Brad Mossman, formerly of the band Harm Farm. Fifteen songs to thrill and delight, and at times things even get downright psychedelic. Sheee-yut......
THE WEDDING PRESENT
- Saturnalia (CD, Cooking Vinyl, Pop/rock)
I have yet to hear anything by the Wedding Present that I did not instantly like. Once again the rule holds true for the band's latest release. This British band has been creating some of the most remarkable pop/rock music around for quite some time now, and from the sound of this disc they certainly aren't letting up. The band has a peculiar penchant for knocking off obtuse little ditties that sound like no one else, and they make it all sound so damn easy. Though this is much more polished than the band's earlier recorded work, none of the enthusiasm and energy have been forsaken in the process. I don't know if this band will ever achieve anything beyond cult status in the United States, simply the music doesn't have that samey, canned "alternative sound" that so many music fans want. Whatever the case...the Wedding Present always deliver a quality collection of tunes.
- Various Artists (CD, The Bureaucracy of Hope, Electronic/instrumental)
With cheap technology putting recording equipment in the hands of virtually anyone who really wants it, you'd think the underground would be brimming over with quality recordings. WRONG. Whenever there's more stuff being made, there's always more shit that goes along with it. It's rare to find things like this CD (I'm not going to attempt typing the title again...). Although this is listed as a various artists CD, I have an odd feeling that all these bands are probably the same one or two fellows in their home studio creating all this stuff. The music? Swells and surges of electronic noise...but it's all very well-crafted and recorded with the listener in mind. This is great, trippy, heady stuff that'll blow your mind. You won't find it in stores. Contact The Bureaucracy of Hope at P.O. Box 541241, Houston, TX 77254.