2008 REVIEWS
2007 REVIEWS

 
 

w12.28.09
The Bran Flakes
I HAVE HANDS-(ILLEGAL ART)- I Have Hands should appeal to picky listeners who need something to smush between Residents tracks and to know-it-alls who‘ve “heard everything.” The BFs is a mix/mash-up creature conceived between ‘zinesters in 1992. The resulting child is more like Rosemary’s baby than the innocent newborn for which most parents pray. At their fiercest the Flakes convey the visceral creepiness of Little Marcy (the dummy mouthpiece for an evangelical ventriloquist whose recordings were aimed at helpless children). The trick is in how this is made palatable by being mixed with Teletubbie-ish banality and cuts, like “I Have a Friend,” that are almost pretty. Most incredibly, the BFs are able to hold attention through this CD’s 30 tracks. Some, like the vaguely roller rink tones of “Rodeo Butterfly,” are oddly fun. “Stumble Out of Bed,” which samples Dolly Parton, the Osmonds, and Survivor, is more than amusing, satirizing a “normality” once dominating Middle America. “I’m Not Feeling Very Well” is a little girl weakly mouthing the word “cough” – once. “The Girl That I Used To Be” evokes a wistful European pop ambience. And on it goes, through “I Comb My Hair Sideways” and the chilling “You Can Do Most Anything.” I Have Hands reveals how the kid who’s characterized as “so quiet and normal” can turn into a serial killer, especially if he or she is left alone for long with the sort of children’s media from which the Flakes source. How can you assess the quality of Track #14, “Do You Want Salad With Your Taco”? I’m just appalled at how long I had to wait for it. www.thebranflakes.com MARY LEARY

w12.28.09
The Feelies
CRAZY RHYTHMS/THE GOOD EARTH-(BAR NONE)- I was soooo glad to see these terrific records reissued earlier this year. The Feelies were yet another 80’s band that left us way too soon and definitely deserve to be remembered. Even though CRAZY RHYTHMS was their first (released in 1980 while THE GOOD EARTH came along 6 years later, in 1986) the first one I heard was THE GOOD EARTH and thus still remains my favorite. Still, the debut is strong with this jittery, nervous energy that was sorta in the same ballpark as the Talking Heads (with dashes of the Velvets and Television in there as well) but I liked The Feelies a whole lot more. The pulse of the band were the two main songwriters/guitarists, Bill Million and Glenn Mercer. The former (curly hair and glasses) strummed really fast while the latter (straight hair and no specs) eeked out jittery leads and both together amounted to 50,000 volts coursing through your body. Several tunes on CRAZY RHYTHMS percolate for a few minutes before exploding into strings and wires (ie: “Moscow Nights”, “Loveless Love”, etc.) while others hit 4th gear right out of the gate (ie: “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness”, “Original Love”, “Raised Eyebrows”, etc.) They do a Beatles cover and there are a few demos and a few live versions as bonus cuts. By the time THE GOOD EARTH had appeared Mercer and Million were still there but had a different rhythm section (Stanley Demeski, later of Luna, on drums and Brenda Sauter on bass and they even added a percussionist in Dave Weckerman, frontman of the Feelies excellent side project, Yung Wu). On this record, produced by REM’s Peter Buck, the band mellowed on the hyperactivity and slowed things down a bit to a smooth jangle (as shown on the excellent opening cut, “On the Roof” and “The High Road”). They toss the lasso on “The Last Roundup’ and sound more drugged than Lou on the Velvets-esque “Slipping Into Something.” Later in the record they add a few more prime, grade A+ cuts in “Let’s Go” and the title track and this reissue adds a live version of “Slipping” as well as studio versions of The Beatles “She Said, She Said” and Neil Young’s “Sedan Delivery.” I’ll be brief: Get these! www.bar-none.com

w12.28.09
The Spindles
PICTURE IN PICTURE-(SELF RELEASED)- Always nice to see a talented new band come shakin’ outta my first adopted hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif (Portland being my 2nd adopted hometown). The vocals are by some guy named Coalmine (who I never heard of) but the band includes ex-Cropduster drummer Jamie Voss (he plays bass and harmonica here) and Sari Flowers on vocals (Sari was in a band called Pretty Face back in the early 90’s with Softie Jen Sbragia). The record opens with the sweet pop of “Sticky Sweet Jesus”, a terrific song with a catchy melody and the hushed vocals of Coalmine while “Something Serious’ is just as good with a killer, Byrdsy guitar work and “Asteroid” sounds like pure Beatles. A few of the tunes meander a bit too much but most of this is strong and I like the production job by man about town Jesse Wickman, eeking out (and leaving in) all of the band’s nuances. I unfortunately, missed their first Portland gig earlier this year but plan to be front and center for their next NW jaunt. www.myspace.com/thespindles

w12.28.09
The Verlaines
CORPORATE MORONIC-(DUNEDIN MUSIC)-
It’s always to see one of the old Flying Nun bands out of New Zealand still recording. While I admit I was always partial to the songs of other New Zealand brethren a bit more (The Chills, The Bats, The Clean) I still did enjoy the songs of Graeme Downes and company (JUVENALIA was my favorite from back in the day) and surprised to see this come careening put of a big manila envelope. Downes always seemed to go less for hooks and more the art rock path with each song on an emotional rollercoaster and CORPORATE MORONIC is no different.. First cut “Paratai Drive” is a minor chord gem while “The Situation is Hopeless (not serious)” might be lyrically dour but the blasting horns sure aren’t and cut three, “Paraphrasing Hitler”, is all over the map, slowing down, speeding up and even jogging in place and I loved Stephen Small’s added piano too. “The Way I Love You” sounds a bit like cabaret (think Divine Comedy) and “Wanting” roughs it up a bit by adding some well-placed fuzz. Also, do not miss the pedal steel’d “Tomorrow Without You”, one of the record’s best songs (tucked near the end). A few of the tunes go off a bit too far into left field for my liking (the dirgey “The Chosen People”) but most of this is really good. CORPORATE MORONIC finds Mr. Downes still near the top of his game and this being 2009, that’s quite impressive. www.dunedinmusic.com

w12.21.09
Devries
DEATH TO GOD-(NOISE ON NOISE)- This band is led by Travis DeVries. He used to be in a Seattle band called the Turn-Ons , who I’m not even 100% sure I ever heard, but I might have. This record was actually recorded 2 years ago in Seattle but DeVries has since moved to NYC and has found some able bodies to help him recreate the sounds of the music in his head. Back to the record though, DEATH TO GOD is a terrific record that is sure to be overlooked being on a small label but let’s hope not because this record is far too good to be cast aside. I definitely hear elements of The Velvet Underground (and thus, Yo La Tengo) as well as some druggier stuff like Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. After the intro of church bells and horse hooves clopping it kicks right into the awesome, sticky, melodic “Boys are Bores” and from there into the very Velvets-ish “Girl in the Fur-Skin Rug” (total Moe Tucker sound on drums) and “Broken Heart” sounds like it coulda been on the Girls record with that hazy/dreamy quality. There’s 14 songs in all and several other fabulous tracks on here I’ll say it again: this band is way too good to go this unnoticed so give DEATH TO GOD a spin an prepare to be blown away. Classic cover of, what appears to be a young boy in his underwear lying on a bed of nails while playing Monopoly. www.noiseonnoise.com

w12.21.09
The Ginger Envelope
INVITATION AIR-(ONE PERCENT PRESS)- With Invitation Air, the Ginger Envelope raises many questions, all of them good. Is the tone and feel of this record the "real" Ginger Envelope, more raw and twangy and even at times a little angry than the poppier Edible Orchids? Are they simply writing songs to learn how to record? Are they capable of writing and performing a dull song? With gorgeous and captivating numbers such as Care Take Her and Lady Be A Barber, the Athens outfit delivered a fantastic record in EdibleOrchids. The release, sadly, earned little notice. Hopefully, things will be far different with Invitation Air, with Patrick Carey's weathered voice lending a bit of wordliness, even cynicism, to Matt Stoessel-led array of instrumentalists. Stoessel's pedal steel is a joy to listen to, never overplaying and perfectly augmenting the traditional arrangements. Song highlights include Stray, which could have been written at a Dust Bowl jam session. Down That Well treads on Tin Pan Alley ground with emphasis on the "alley." The Gingers sound as if they're a group of street musicians who met up and composed this bluesy vamp, about hard times, on the fly. Gripping stuff. One of 2009's best records by a band that clearly knows how to remain viable. Supposedly, they're coming out with something new next year. That's the best news I've heard this week. www.myspace.com/thegingerenvelope ANDY GIEGERICH

w12.21.09
Jeremy
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF YOUR HEART-(JAM)- For those who don’t know Jeremy is actually Jeremy Morris. He has been releasing records for over two decades including several of his own that I have reviewed on this very site (on his own jam Recordings). From the artwork and the title I had this pegged as one of Jeremy’s prog rock records (most of his records fall into the power pop category but he does have some prog and spiritual records too) but no, this is a baker’s dozen of his patented psychedelic-y power pop and this is as good a batch of songs as he’s written yet. Armed with his guitars (acoustic and electric) and arching voice (plus pal/drummer Dave Dietrich, who has played on many of his records) he cranks out 13 more pop nuggets including the Cheap Trick-esque “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way”, the Byrds-y “Vanity Fare” (there is also a song called “Church of Byrds” on here) , the chiming “Sweet , Sweet Relief” and plenty more. If the aforementioned bands as well as Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and, of course, the Beatles take up lots of time on your stereo then Jeremy to your playlist. Tune in and turn on. www.jamrecordings.com

w12.21.09
So Shush
WISTFUL WANDERS-(SELF RELEASED)- How can I not love a band that has uses footage of the Obama election for its “On Top of the World” video? That includes George Harrison and the Hollies in its Myspace “top friends”? That came into wider view partly via crafting “We Are The Ones Who Say No” for Neil Young’s “Living With War Today” song challenge? That just rushed me a review CD from England? Vocalist/lyricist Carole Smart and instrumentalist Ian Drumm seem very nice and sincere. But Carole’s thin, rather nasal vocals (Christine McVie’s rightly-neglected cousin?), the monotony of melodies rarely challenged by instrumental counterpoints, predictable progressions, and tracks that plod thusly along, without variation… what’s to love? Happily (I really am – who wants to burst a bright, ‘60s-ish bubble?), SS is adored by a heap of alt. pundits. It’s been named to the ‘09 Top 10 by London’s Dandelion Radio and netted good reviews from Spin, Pulp, and Pegasus. Those reviewers hear‘60s tones, Smiths influences, and other niceties that elude me as I bang my head against the table, longing for something less unwittingly unpleasant (the instrumentation’s way too big in the mix, giving my ears a headache). But then, I can understand the urge to bury Smart’s unremarkable, tinny, sometimes pitchy singing. And shouldn’t it be wistful wanderings? Sheesh! Maybe I just need to smoke some weed. www.myspace.com/soshush MARY LEARY

w12.13.09
Afternoon Naps
PARADE-(HHBTM)- Wow, where did THIS band come from?! Ok, actually Cleveland, OH, home to many a great band (Devo, Pere Ubu, etc.) but not a lot of great indie pop (or at least not a lot that I know about). Afternoon Naps are mostly the duo of Tom DeChristofaro and Leia Hohenfeld who both sing an plays several instruments. They have been playing together since 2006 and released their debut in 2007 (SUNBEAMED, which now I really need to hear) and when I read in the press sheet that they were influenced by C86, 60’s bubblegum and the Yellow Balloon, well, I knew I’d be in heaven. Opening cut “Plum City Fight Song” has some near-perfect guitar jangle, like something found on an old Sarah Records band (Eternal?) with some sweet violin and Tom’s strong vocals while “Beach Bums” starts with a great organ run and is pure breezy pop. Leia takes over lead vocals on one of the record’s best songs “The Day We Started” and it has a great melody throughout and brings to mind one of Heavenly’s old indie pop hits of the 90’s. That’s the first three songs and there’s 7 more and really not a bad tune in the pack (later in the record, “The Fall Companion” and “Catholic School” are two terrific cuts as well). For those who still mourn the demise of bands like The Fairways, Rocketship and Poundsign well, here is a reason for you to smile. www.hhbtm.com

w12.13.09
Beautiful Supermachines
SHUT UP-(CHICKEN RANCH RECORDS)- Gotta love a group claiming Don Knotts as a member. Gotta listen beyond opener “The Stadium Moves,” which sounds like other disillusioned late-‘20s - mid’30s-somethings… but these reference T. Rex, and the Mersey’s “Sorrow,” so leave the CD in the drive… through the okay “Consumed” and the been-done progressions but startling lyrics of “Oakland 2008” (“Saw you bleeding from the hip/Saw you bleeding from the shoulder”). Interest grows with the piano-bass anchored majesty of “The Miserablists” (and more of that great T. Rex feel). And if “The Miserablists” is a poke at the Decemberists, all the better. On “(Nobody Cries for the) Missing-Hearted,” David Williams has the cracked semi-mumble of King of the Hill’s Bobby, which makes me smile & open the case to see a picture of the band by Derek Erdman that could have been drawn by Mike Judge. And Beautiful Supermachines is in Austin. Things are starting to make a warped, appealing sort of sense. Then there’s this explosion, “Carolyn Says,” which offers: (1) Affirmation that everyone in the band has gone off his or her medication, and (2) The kind of furious catharsis I’ve craved since Pere Ubu, Thinking Fellers, and vintage King Crimson shoved their needles in my arm. Nothing else gets it as well as “Carolyn Says,” but “Local Honey” mixes some of that “hurting people hurt” juice with stimulating interplay. This is a band to watch—or, if you need things in tidy categories – to watch out for, at least until it’s been herded back into the psych ward. Even then you may not be safe, as Track #10, bouncing with Teenage Fanclub/Stones-ish riffing, is “Diagnosis = Permission.” www.chickenranchrecords.com MARY LEARY

w12.13.09
Thomas Function
IN THE VALLEY OF SICKNESS-(FAT POSSUM)- Completely missed their debut from a few years ago on the Alive label and missed ‘em at the Scion Garagefest here in Portland a few months back merely because I still didn’t know who the hell they were , then this plops into my lap (actually my po box). Put it on once and dug it save for the vocals which sounded like a high-pitched Southern whine. But I kept playing the record and now I can’t stop listening to it (and now I LIKE the vocals). They have this songwriting thing down part, “Day in the Shade” is one of the best songs of the year, all pumping organ and boundless energy while “Picking Scabs:” asks “Are you gonna buy a record or what?” (at least I think that’s what he’s saying, I’ve had numerous record store owners glare at me while asking me the same thing) and “Waverly” is another get-the-party-started rocker while stating “It’s the silliest thing to know I need to so!” (with the slightest of lisps). “Belly of the Beast” is another contenda for one of the best songs of the year with more of that organ and killer backing vocals. I can’t state it any simpler: these guys can write a great, unpretentiousness rock tune and I have a feeling if they wrote the same exact kinda tunes for the next decade I wouldn’t get sick of them, nope, not one bit. www.fatpossum.com

w12.13.09
Zip Code Rapists
SING AND PLAY THE THREE DOCTORS AND OTHER SOUNDS OF TODAY-(EABLA)- They’re baaaaack. This San Francisco duo of Gregg Turkington and John Singer spent years confounding and annoying audiences the world over and they loved every minute of it. I booked the band a few times in Santa Rosa, Calif back in the mid-90s and they were never anything short of hilarious. This 36 song cd collects most of the bands material from the first half of the 90’s from records like The Man Can’t Bust Our Music and 94124. The record begins with a gnarled cover of The Doors “Touch Me” right into the “President’s Song”, a creepy acoustic number with crack up lyrics. Elsewhere they do a live cover of “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” (after several minutes of Gregg berating the crowd) as well as a song called “Wired’ that sounds like an old Drunks with Guns tune. In the 8 bonus tracks are another Doors cover (“Riders of the Storm”) plus a Springsteen cover (“Dancing in the Dark” but sadly, no Courtney Cox dancing) and too many others. Plenty of photos in the booklet and liners by Will York. This will definitely expand your definition of what “music” is. www.eabla.com

w12.06.09
Free Loan Investments
THE LAST DANCE 7”-(MAGIC MARKER)- After a few terrific 7”s and an ep on Shelflife this Swedish band packed it in far too soon. Luckily the Magic Marker guys persuaded them to drop 4 more cuts on us. These are the final recordings the band made from late Summer of 2003 and all 4 songs on here are terrific jangle pop with Amanda’s unmistakable vocals. “BBC” is among their best tunes as is “Anyone Can Dance” but really all 4 of these tunes are superb. (plus, there is a download code for a 5th song, “14 Years”). On red vinyl. www.magicmarkerrecords.com

w12.06.09
Goodnight Loving
NOTHING CONQUERS B/W SCARY BAD 7”-(DIRTNAP)- These guys have release a few records on little known Dusty Medical Records (and one , or maybe two, import-only full lengths) but these guys seriously have their chops down as the focus is on the songwriting. Here’s two songs on orange vinyl on (what might be?) their new label. Both of these songs shuffle along with the band’s patented garage rock meets country hoedown appeal. “Nothing Conquers Us” is a bit more melodic of the two tunes while “Scary Bad” stops, shuffles and stutters but both end up first art the finish line www.dirtnaprecs.com

w12.06.09
Magic Kids
HEY BOY B/W GOOD TO BE 7”-(GONER)- The cover shows 7 very young looking kids (hence the name) sitting against a brick wall, a few of them holding instruments (oh wait, that’s a skateboard) while the back side of the sleeve lists tuba, trombone, bassoon (!!), French horn, etc. Only two tunes on here but apparently these two tunes have gotten the bands some nods from the UK and beyond. “Hey Boy” is in the Pipettes vein but rougher (ie: big Spector/Beach Boys influence) while “Good to Be’ is less grand, more twee pop but no less effective. I need a full-length…now! www.goner-records.com

w12.06.09
Frankie Rose
THEE ONLY ONE 7”-(SLUMBERLAND)- The Slumberland winning streak continues with these two terrific songs by Ms. Rose who you know as the drummer for Crystal Stilts (formerly of the Vivian Girls). A-side is pure Aislers Set reverb heaven. You know what I’m talking about: surfy guitar, reverby drums, echoey vocals and gobs of melody buried underneath a ton of soot. The flip is slower n’ moodier with a hushed, whirring organ. Green vinyl and recorded by Mr. Gary Olson at Marlborough Farms. A full-length form Miss Rose is beyond mandatory. www.slumberlandrecords.com

w12.06.09
Suspect Parts
MANEATER 7”-(HOVERCRAFT)- This is the third single by this band which includes Justin Maurer who was in the Clorox Girls and drummer Chris Brief (formerly of Seattle’s Briefs). The a-side is not a Hall & Oates cover , instead it begins sorta slowly doo wop-ee and then cranks up the tempo, if just a bit. Not bad but the flip, “She Cracked”, is a solid take on the Modern Lovers classic. This isn’t bad but I hear the other two singles are both better than this one. Still, this is well worth it for the Modern Lovers cover. www.hovercraftpdx.com

w11.30.09
Aarktica
IN SEA- (SILBER)-Rarely has a musical project been as aptly named or titled as Aarktica’s sixth full-length release – the sounds that emerge from In Sea (and yes, the Terry Riley pun is entirely intentional) are long, spacious things extending as far as the stereo field of vision will go, windswept ice floe or endless ocean, with a single figure in the middle distance the only man in view. John De Rosa is that man, responsible for every drawn-out note on display, and Aarktica is his vehicle for broadcasting his isolation to the world. Ten years ago, he suffered near-total hearing loss in his right ear, and since then, he’s been translating the attendant effects to tape, moments of clarity interwoven with sounds both muffled and muzzled, aural ghosts drifting through the blurred soundscape, the air full of circumambient tones for the painfully alone. But an album of depressive drones, fortunately, this is not – while the longest tracks, “A Plague of Frost (In the Guise of Diamonds)” and “Corpse Reviver No. 2,” are nearly unbearable in their quiet, sustained intensity, De Rosa has learned to let select slivers of sunlight in when the mood strikes. In fact, large chunks of In Sea, lacking in forward motion as they are, could even be considered pretty as they rise and fall and bob up and down on waves of phase. There’s even a couple of honest-to-godlessness songs here, which brightens things up considerably. That one of them is a cover of Danzig’s “Am I Demon?,” and De Rosa manages to imbue that rather silly piece of mock-metallic morbidity with a certain non-parodic gravitas, means the whole enterprise ends on a curiously hopeful note, a sense of renewed direction that makes it worth catching his drift. www.silbermedia.com WILLIAM HAM

w11.30.09
Grand Archives
KEEP IN MIND FRANKENSTEIN- (SUB POP)-After a decade long run in Seattle’s Carissa’s Weird, the band packed it in and Mat Brooke joined in on the Band of Horses fun with Ben Bridwell. Never did find out what happened there but Brooke left that band and formed his own outfit, Grand Archives sometime in 2006 or 2007. Their 2008 debut, THE GRAND ARCHIVES, crated a similar animal to B.O.H. reverb heavy rock but G.A. focused more on pop stylings of 70’s California bands (think America and C.S.N.). The debut was very good and the 10 songs on KEEP IN MIND FRANKENSTEIN are nearly as good. In fact this comes off as basically a part deux of that debut record with the songwriting just a smidge the lesser. The record opens with the lullaby, “Topsy’s Revenge” (about an elephant) then drifts into the gorgeous, 6 and a half minute dreamy “Witchy Park/ Tomorrow Will (take care of itself).” Cut number three, “Silver Amongst the Gold” is among the band’s finest tunes, a galloping number with supreme harmonies (Brooke, while not having a bad voice at all, is at his best when harmonizing with another vocalist). “Oslo Novelist” adds some stirring pedal steel and again, is one of the band’s best songs (as does and is “Dig that Crazy Grave”) and the only non-Brooke written song, “Lazy Bones” (written by departed member Ron Lewis), opts for more ambient atmospherics amongst the soaring vocals and “Siren Echo Valley part 2” is an instrumental in the Calexico vein (and he duets with Sera Cahoone on part 1). If you have the debut you’ll need this one and, as always, I’m quite curious to see what Mat Brooke’s next move will be. www.subpop.com

w11.30.09
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
HIGHER THAN THE STARS 12” ep-(SLUMBERLAND)- After POBPAH released their self titled LP earlier this year I totally fell in love with this band and wondered if another record could remove it from atop my personal "Best of 2009" list. The year is almost over and it remains number one, so I'm sure you could imagine my excitement for this EP to be released. The title track is clean, perfect pop that had to be released as a single. It is simply too good to ignore. The second track, titled 103, displays the bands love of '80's pop, specifically The Jesus and Mary Chain. Falling Over, in my opinion, is the highlight of this EP. With light, dancy guitar and keyboard tracks, this song alone will keep this record on my turntable for quite some time. All in all, I have only one complaint: When does the heroin/junkie schtick wear off for these hipsters? That is so 2006. www.slumberlandrecords.com KIP KELGARD

w11.30.09
Sonic Youth -THE ETERNAL
Mission Of Burma
-THE SOUND, THE SPEED, THE LIGHT
also “Innermost” b/w “Here It Comes” (single)-(MATADOR)-Rock is a medium based on planned obsolescence – if it has a creed, it would be play fast, split young and leave a good-sounding corpus. Make your noise, make a splash, but for god’s sake don’t stick around too long, or worse, slink back and let everybody see how badly those leather pants fit these days. And nowhere would that seem to hold more true than with punk and its various offshoots – the whole point of it was to tear down the old strictures, rebuild ‘em in your own zit-speckled images, and get the hell out of the way once the next generation readied their own wrecking balls, right? You do realize how hard it would be to pull off a Mohawk/combover combo, don’t you?

Ah, but rules, like guitar strings and mic stands, are made to be broken, and here we have two of the most sonically adventurous combos to gush forth from the backwash of punk’s first wave, all roughly twice the age they were when they started, obstinately refusing to go gently into that good night and thanks for coming to this all-ages show and by the way does anybody have a floor we can sleep on? Sonic Youth’s new album, The Eternal, their umpteenth release (if I have my calculations right), even brings them, if not full circle, at least a fair distance back around the perimeter – after a couple of decades as Geffen’s favorite loss leader, they’re back on an indie label (albeit one of the biggest around), calling Gerard Cosloy “boss” for the first time since 1985. And their reverence for things past doesn’t stop there; the album includes songs dedicated to a dead Beat poet and a dead punk bawler, the cover painting is by dead acoustic genius John Fahey, there’s a photo of dead Doll Johnny Thunders in the CD booklet and a dedication to dead Stooge Ron Asheton on the back - even the title is kiped from renowned Mancunian dead guy Ian Curtis. Heck, these cats have more dead friends than Patti Smith! Oddly, whether intended or not, this roll-call of the deceased only brings into sharp relief the fact that Sonic Youth are, after three decades in the trenches, almost shockingly vigorous. If anything, they’re as tight as they’ve ever been – most of The Eternal is a master course in concision, full of songs that chug along with focus and a clear-eyed purpose, still driven to wrench as many sounds out of their guitars (three of ‘em these days, now that Kim Gordon has been upgraded from four strings to six and ex-Pavementalist Mark Ibold is left holding up the low end) as possible but largely content to put the skreek in the service of the songs rather than cyclonically rip them apart somewhere around the middle. Which turns out to be a bit of a mixed blessing – there’s little self-indulgence to gum up the works, but constant forward motion robs them of the passages of vertical ascension that provided some of their most exciting moments. Occasionally, you want them to knock a few more holes in the walls or at least deface them a little; every once in a while, you start to wonder if Steve Shelley’s always-solid drumming is grounding or anchoring them. But is that their problem, or ours? After almost thirty years of non-stop work, it’s remarkable how much they still do right. The personalities of the rotating frontpersons have been honed to as fine an edge as their guitars – Gordon sexier than any post-menopausal woman has a right to be (see “Sacred Trickster” and “Malibu Gas Station”), Thurston Moore the trash historian and punk-brat emeritus (“Poison Arrow,” “Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn”), and Lee Ranaldo the poet/seeker/philosopher – that is to say, the acidhead (“What We Know,” “Walkin Blue”). And it’s always an encouraging sign when a record’s strongest tracks are its longest, from the vaguely political (which is about as political as we ever need them to be) “Anti-Orgasm” to the nine-minute closer “Massage the History,” a fine showcase of their ability to meld whispery menace and cracked-crystal beauty like it was second nature. So, no, they may never pull off a Daydream Nation again, but a band capable of wrestling its legacy to a draw every time they step on the mat remains a rare and admirable thing.

The tyranny of raised expectations similarly dogs the third post-reunion release from Boston post-punk titans Mission of Burma. In many ways the 80s equivalent of the Velvet Underground (brief, underheralded existence followed by years of hip music-fan namechecks and younger bands copping every move they ever made), MoB already defied one of rock’s ironclad truisms by coming back after a long dormancy and not thoroughly embarrassing themselves. 2004’s ONoffON picked up precisely where 1982’s vs. left off and 2006’s The Obliterati was, if anything, even more muscular, so if The Sound, The Speed, The Light comes off a mite underwhelming, could it be that they just don’t have anything to prove anymore? Does the fact that the tempos on their raveups aren’t quite as breakneck as before denote an irretrievable loss of potency? Or is it simply too much to ask of any band, much less one whose members are all pushing sixty, to serve up a palate-strafing plate o’ blare every single time? At first, it would seem so – beyond the hysterical Clint Conley opener, “1, 2, 3, Partyy!” (words to live by: “Drink only when drunken to”), there’s little immediacy here, no “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” or “Ballad of Johnny Burma” to offset their denser passages. And even the denser passages don’t seem nearly as dense as before. But patience, even for this most jangled and jittery of bands, eventually pays off – three or four spins and buried hooks begin coming to the fore, the lack of fist-shaking anthems is made up for with a seemingly paradoxical blend of power and subtlety, and the strength of the unit comes clear even as the movements of its individual parts are thrown into relief. Peter Prescott still smacks his drums like they stole his girlfriend, Roger Miller seems to have every phase of art-rock (psych/prog/proto- and post-punk) coursing through his guitar at all times, Bob Weston saturates every inch of tape (they still use tape, right?) with behind-the-boards manipulations that keep turning up sonic surprises with every listen, and Conley anchors the madness as fluidly as ever – no matter how Burma bends and twists, their spine is his bassline. So the pulse-pounding ambition of its youth may have faded and even their aggression may have assumed a comforting familiarity (if you can’t tell ahead of time exactly when Prescott will emit his first howl from behind the kit, you don’t know Burma), but is that so wrong? The Sound, The Speed, The Light has repeatedly been tarred with the epithet “workmanlike” by numerous reviewers; that may be so, but when these mugs punch the clock, they punch it hard. (And as a sop to the more drooling elements of their fanbase, which should be pretty much all of them at this point, they’ve also whipped out a 7-inch single featuring two outtakes from these sessions. “Innermost,” essentially a showcase for Prescott and Weston, is a tad unfocused; the flipside, “Here It Comes,” Miller’s punful evisceration of inter-religious intolerance, delivers the goods quickly and cleanly.). www.matadorrecords.com WILLIAM HAM

w11.23.09
The Dimes
THE KING CAN DRINK THE HARBOUR DRY- (PET MARMOSET)-Portland’s Dimes mined some serious bits of history on their debut record (2007’s THE SILENT GENERATION) and now, on this sophomore effort, they take in the history of Beantown. Band leader Johnny Clay thought it a good idea to write a batch of songs about guitarist Pierre Kaiser’s hometown of Boston and these 12 songs on THE KING CAN DRINK THE HARBOUR DRY explore topics as varied and interesting as the Great Boston Fire of 1872 (on opening cut “Damrell’s Fire”), “Webster Thayer’ (about an infamous Supreme Court Justice from Mass. Who was judge on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial) “Susan Be” (about Mrs. B,. Anthony) and plenty of others. Leader Johnny Clay had a wonderful, soothing voice and it perfectly fits the folky/Americana vibe of the tunes and the musicians are all very talented and play to the subtleties of Clay’s songs. “Save Me Clara” (a fictional tale about Clara Barton) perfectly melds acoustic guitar, understated rhythms (and lead guitar) and Clay’s exquisite lyrics while the final cut “Boston (Trimountaine)” is another gently strummed folk tune while mentioning landmarks in Bahstahn (Newbury Street, Fenway Park, etc.). The Dimes want to educate as well as entertain and THE KING CAN DRINK THE HARBOUR DRY unveils a rich tapestry of music and history that unfolds before you in these 12 lush songs. Drink deep, my friends. www.petmarmoset.net

w11.23.09
Robin Guthrie
CAROUSEL- (DARLA)-As the man behind the Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie has influenced more than his fair share of up and coming dream popsters hoping to equal the standard he has set. In addition to the Cocteau’s (specifically his guitar playing) he also produced a number of bands in the late 80’s/early 90’s (Felt, Lush, Chapterhouse, The Gun Club, etc.). This decade has seen him release a string of instrumental eps and a few full-lengths too and CAROUSEL, his latest, is among his best. Each of these 10 tracks is ethereal, swirling, glowing and languid (all words that have been used to describe his work in the past) and one can’t help but be swept in by the shimmering beauty of tracks like “Close My Eyes and Burn”, “Sparkle” or “Search Among the Flowers.’ There is not one wasted note on the record, every sound on here needs and deserves to be. Guthrie subscribes to the less is more credo and this approach helps create these gorgeous textures throughout CAROUSEL. He has a recent record called SONGS TO HELP MY CHILDREN SLEEP but I’m going to try CAROUSEL out on our little one just to see what happens. Though not quite 2 yet, it might be her first favorite record. www.darla.com

w11.23.09
The June
MAGIC CIRCLES-(RAINBOW QUARTZ)- This is an Italian trio, who like most of the Rainbow Quartz stable, worship at the altar of RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER (and a few other late 60’s psychedelic pop records too). Heck, one of the songs here is even called “Revolver.” The three guys who make up The June, Chris, White and G, would most likely freely admit that they’re not doing anything wholly original but as I’ve stated before, if the songs are good, like they are one here, who cares?! A well-written song is a well-written song and MAGIC CIRCLES is full of them. Ok, I admit they do go a bit overboard on the sitar-soaked opener, “Barber Shop”, but from song number two on the band reels of a strong of marvelous, trippy pop songs: “Revolver” , “Big Black Mouth”, “Sir Eugene Maddog”, “Daisy”, and plenty of others. I find it hard to believe that this is the band’s debut! As always, I’m not sure where Jim McGarry (head of the R.Q. label) finds these bands but he seems to circle the globe to dig up the best in late-60’s influenced pop bands and The June is among his best. www.rainbowquartz.com

w11.23.09
Spiral Stairs
THE REAL FEEL- (MATADOR)-After two impressive yet underrated records under the curious moniker of Preston School of Industry (which came, of course, after the demise of Pavement) Scott “Spiral Stairs’ Kannberg has released his first record of tunes in about 5 years or so (the last P.S.O.I. record was released in 2004) and while it still has some of the pop hooks that made the P.S.O.I. records interesting it’s a much darker record. Apparently Kannberg went through some difficult times (divorce, isolation, too much alcohol, etc.) and it shows in some of the lyrics (“Did you realize that was betrayal, did you see the lies, in all the details” from “Call the Ceasefire”) but the music is a superb mix of bruised blues (“Wharf Hand Blues”), Kiwi pop (“Cold Change”), swaying country (“A Mighty Mighty Fall”) and of course some nods to his heroes, The Fall (see “Subiaco Shuffle”, “Maltese T”) and one balls out rocker (“Stolen Pills”…wish there were a few more of these). The thing about THE REAL FEEL is that it is a real grower, these low-key tunes sneak up on you and suck you in before you know it. Kannberg will forever be the underdog to (Pavement leader) Malkmus and that’s ok. It’s the strength of his tunes that deserve notice so maybe that Pavement reunion next year will serve more than one purpose (ie: giving this record the attention it deserves). www.matadorrecords.com

w11.16.09
The Black Hollies
SOFTLY TOWARDS THE LIGHT- (ERNEST JENNINGS)-If this band could be transported back to any era of music it would undoubtedly be the late 60’s when psychedelic pop bands ruled the earth as that is where they have placed themselves. On this, record number three by the NJ bunch they recorded it in an actual studio (as opposed to recording at home as they did on their first two records ) and while the record sounds a bit cleaner it is by no means sterile. The organ runs that open the first track, “Run With me Run” is pure 60’s psychedelic magic as is the next cut5, “Gloomy Monday Morning.” At times vocalist/main songwriter Justin Angelo Morey reminds me a bit of Mr. Breathy himself, Colin Blunstone and this is no knock as Morey’s vocals are certainly pleasant and fit the music to a tee. They get a bit more tender on the gorgeous “Everything’s Fine” but where they REALLY shine is on the marvelous , Zombies-esque “How Did We Get Here.” In fact I think it would be a great idea if the band recorded and entire record full of this kind of tender pop with plinking piano, mellotrons and the like. Come on guys, think about it! www.ernestjenning.com

w11.16.09
Boat
SETTING THE PACES- (MAGIC MARKER)-In which our heroes from Seattle put it all together and come up with a winning formula for most of this record. I liked their two previous records for Magic Marker label ok enough but didn’t seem to go bananas for ‘em like a lot of my friends did (and had no idea that they had a few self released records prior to the first Magic Marker one). I enjoyed the lives shows and would occasionally play the records but SETTING THE PACES is where, in my humble opinion, that Boat has become a real band. They might still consider what they do “sloppy pop” (they have that phrase trademarked) but the edges have been smoothed off, if just a bit and the melodies stickier. Housed in another handmade, foldover sleeve (done by band leader Dave Crane) SETTING THE PACES begins with the happy wink of “Friends Since 1989” (which makes great use of a xylophone) and then sashays into “Lately (I’ve been on my back)” which deals with some poor sap eating nachos with his mother and looking for a hero in the Garden State ( New Jersey, woof woof woof!). On “Interstate 5” they kick things into high gear and make it sound like a genuine party while “Prince of Tacoma” sounds like the earliest, most playful Pavement tune and “100 Calorie Man” is wistful and bittersweet. These three men from the Emerald City enjoy the finer things in life but mostly they want you, the listener (or audience member) to leave a Boat show happier than you did when you came in. I don’t think that asking for too much, do you? www.magicmarkerrecords.com

w11.16.09
The Impulse Internationals
POINT OF ACTION-(DIRTNAP)- When Julius Buck (Adam Rabuck) decided to disband his long running pop punk outfit, Dirt Bike Annie, he also wanted a change of scenery so he split the grimy climes of New Jersey for the land of orange groves, rednecks, senior citizen and death metal bands. I’m talking about, of course, Florida. This trio give you quite a bit of bang for your buck with 14 songs that grind away onto the head of that statue that sits right between pop punk and mod (think The Jam meets The Buzzcocks by way of The Garden State). “Soundtrack Tonight” is a good, punchy opener with plenty o’ hooks and “Rooftops and Bus stops” adds a bit of vaguely ska guitar (think Ted Leo). “Hey Girl” sounds like the bet song the Exploding Hearts (r.i.p.) never wrote (same with “Telephone”). The hits come fast and furious and while this batch of songs isn’t quite in the Dirtnap hall of fame of bands (see records by Exploding Hearts, The Minds, The Briefs, The Epoxies and Marked Men) it’s on the verge. Bet their next record gets ‘em there. www.dirtnaprecs.com

w11.16.09
V/A
WELCOME TO THE WETHERBEAT SCENE/1988-1991- (555RECORDINGS)-God bless Stewart Anderson. You might know him from long-running indie outfit Boyracer but he was in a few other bands too as this compilation suggests. Apparently this comp documents the late 80’s /early 90’s scene of Wetherby High School somewhere in the north of England (a suburb of Leeds, I’m thinking). David Gedge was a god amongst these kids and you get to hear these bands in all of their scratchy pop glory in bands you have heard of like Boyracer and Hood and some you haven’t like The Liddles (who open the record with the terrific “Kind”), Baby Doll Lounge, The Harbour Pilots, The Paisley Springtime and a few others. A few of these early Hood songs give you an ideas of their post-punkier early days (like on tracks like “Absolute Grey Summer” and “Tractor”) and do not miss Baby Doll Lounge’s terrific cover of Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl” or Boyracer’s rousing “My Favourite Pastime.” There’s 36 songs in all and from what the press sheet tells me the age of any and all band members of this was between 14-17 (when I was still cradling my Led Zeppelin records). Not sure what the price of this is but I’m sure it’s steal at whatever Stewart is charging so go to the website to the right and get a few (they make perfect stocking stuffers and the photos of a young Stew on the inside sleeve are not to be missed). www.myspace.com/555recordingsofflagstaffaz

w11.09.09
Box Elders
ALICE AND FRIENDS- (GONER)-My initial thought is that these guys got their name from an old Pavement song but I don’t think that’s the case (bugs). Nonetheless, the brothers McIntyre (Clayton on bass and Jeremiah on guitar, both sing) and their pal Dave Goldberg (drums and organ…apparently mom McIntyre played drums before Dave) got together in a basement (had to be a basement) and began making a noisy racket a few years back and released their debut 7” in January of 2008. Thus debut full-length has all the making of a fun garage rock record on the Goner label, which it is. Opening cut “Jackie Wood” has a surf band drum sound but more of that Flying Nun/Clean-esque organ that every band should own and play. The title track has that same righteous organ but skips its beat a bit quicker and “Stay” is pure Phil Spectator (minus the fro and jail sentence). That’s the first three songs and there;’s 11 more and not all but most of ‘em hit that sweet spot of sloppy, lo-fi and fun garage (and I know each of those words, especially lo-fi and garage, have been wayyyy overused the past few years but trust me this time). This is the kinda music they SHOULD be playing in church, heck, it might even get me back to church. With ALICE AND FRIENDS in your hand, get down on your knees and pray and who knows, your prayers just might be answered.
www.goner-records.com

w11.09.09
The Furious Seasons
THANK YOU FOR A SATURDAY- (STONEGARDEN)-I have always liked and respected The Donnas who formed when back in high school and have kept the band going (same four members too) despite the pressures of the record business and all of the b.s. you have to endure to keep a band going. Even if I don’t love all of their music I certainly respect them (I more favor their early records when they were more Ramones influenced but now seem more regular hard rock). The funny thing about GREATEST HITS VOLUME 16 is that it is, of course, not their 16th collection of greatest hits. In fact, these 16 songs are basically a mish-mash of live tunes, b-sides, re-recorded songs from previous records and the like. Like a lot of odds and sods collections there is stuff that is for hardcore fans only but having said that, there is some strong material embedded in these 16 tunes. The roar of “She’s Out of Control” was full throttle while the live version of “Take It Off” kicks on all cylinders (and vocalist Bret’s pre song banter is pretty hilarious) and the riff rawk of “Play My Game” was boss as well. Again, there is some average riff rawk here that didn’t do much for me but for the most part, GREATEST HITS VOLUME 16 is more ’73 Plymouth Barracuda than ‘01 Ford Tempo. www.myspace.com/thedonnas

w11.09.09
Girls
ALBUM-(TRUE PANTHER SOUNDS/MATADOR)- If you haven’t heard the story yet (doubtful) Christopher Owens leader of Girls grew up in a bizarre cult called The Children of God before escaping to live in the streets of Amarillo, TX, playing in a few gutter punk bands before heading out to San Francisco and forming Girls with his pal JR White. Thanks to the internet the record made a huge splash as heaps of praise was foisted upon them (with the help of a few videos). I can see why some folks might dismiss the band based on that alone but once you hear the songs on ALBUM you’ll instantly change your mind (unless you have lousy taste in music, in which case I can’t help you). Opening a record with a song called “Lust for Life” that isn’t an Iggy Pop cover is a brazen move but the song is so catchy and the lyrics so brutally honest (“Yeah I’m just crazy and fucked in the head….maybe if I try with all of my heart I can make a brand new start”). You can’t help but be mesmerized. Cut #2, “Laura” about an ex, again adds more twinkling melodies amid the fuzz and raw lyrical imagery (“You been a bitch, I’ve been an ass, don’t wanna point the finger”). “Ghostmouth” begins with the drum tap of “Be My Baby”, “Goddamn” adds bongos, “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” is the Beach Boys done Jesus & Mary Chain style and “Hellhole Ratrace” is the sad hit everyone wants to hear (you’ve gotta see the video) and you won’t want to miss a second of the nearly 7 minute song. Just when I think that no other band can do anything new with the basic Beach Boys-meets-fuzzy-90’s-indie -rock approach along comes these guys and blow my theory out of the water. Yup, it’s that good. www.matadorrecords.com

w11.09.09
The Slow Poisoner
MAGIC CASKET- (ROCKTOPUS!)-San Franciscan Andrew Goldfarb (aka The Slow Poisoner) has been casting his murky spell over unsuspecting audiences for several years now. Previously he had a band and now just does the one man band thang and quite well I might add. The music is a bit hard to describe, it has elements of rockabilly, goth, blues, garage rock, country, etc. The opening cut , “From the River Bottom” begins as a spoken word thing (with just a drum in the background) and then goes full blown spook (Goldfarb’s voice reminds me a bit of Jello Biafra’s on this song only) while the title track is a catchy mid-tempo number complete with some eerie theremin. “Le Grand Zombi” is perfect for this time of year and should be played in every haunted house from San Diego to Seattle while “Thundering Fists O’ the Lord” is a real knee slapper with some tasty organ. The other originals are all righteous and the records ends with two covers (Thomas Edison and Blind Lemon Jefferson) and then the Slow Poisoner is, once again, out into the night not to be seen or heard from again until the next witching hour. Trust me, you’ve never had this much fun being scared. www.theslowpoisoner.com

w11.02.09
Adam Arcuragi
I AM BECOME JOY- (HIGH TWO)-With a previous full-length (2006) and ep (2008) under his belt this sophomore long player by an unknown (to me anyway) from the City of Brotherly Love hit me hard. With a cast of characters supporting him called the Lupine Chorale Society, Arcuragi proves himself to be quite a natural and gifted songwriter (apparently he is also a poet and a playwright). The tunes all seem to start out with Arcuragi’s voice and acoustic guitar strumming away but then the songs slowly unfold (not unlike some Belle & Sebastian songs but from a different angle) into full on acoustic jams with a real loose feel (but please do not think jam band, this is soooo much better than any jam band). This is best expressed on the horn-soaked (incredible) “People and Private Music” and “She Comes to Me.” The sparer songs, which usually add some dulcimer and piano and are more downbeat, but are just as effective (check out the gorgeous “Go With Them”, “We Steal People’s Medicine” or “The Guns That Bring the Morning Home”). In addition to the marvelous songs on here, which prove he is nothing less than the real deal, the tunes are also augmented by a series of between song chatter, coughs, laughter and the like, giving it a real live-in-the-studio feel. While you’re listening make sure to make it to the very end to hear the record’s terrific closer (like a spiritual hoedown) “Bottom of the River.” A live gig by these guys is now mandatory. www.hightwo.com

w11.02.09
The Furious Seasons
THANK YOU FOR A SATURDAY- (STONEGARDEN)-It is funny that just by the name of a band you can get some preconceived notions in your head of what the band sounds like. When first hearing the name The Furious Seasons I had them pegged as an emo (or maybe hardcore band). Knowing that this is the same label that has released some records by The Black Watch should have dispelled that notion but it didn’t. I then remember reading a review and seeing a comparison to the Go Betweens, legendary (defunct) Aussie popsters and one of my favorite bands of all time. Needless to say I then immediately popped the cd in and have been enjoying the sweet sounds ever since. The band is made up of two brothers, David (vocals, guitars and drums) and Jeff Steinhart (bass) along with violinist Ray Chang and David writes all of the songs and though this band may new (it’s their 2nd record) he has been on countless other records with other bands Pop Art and Smart Brown Handbag. In addition to the wonderfully jangly guitars and busy violin a special treat here is David’s vocals, at once heartbreaking and supremely confident. A few of the sparkling gems here in clued “Swirling Around”, “The Way Forward”, “Where Are You?” and the slight country influence of “Drown You Out.” Seriously though, give this a listen and see if you can find any duds, you can’t. This one is already one my “Under the Radar” top 10 of 2009. Produced glisteningly by Black Watch/Velouria’s Scott Taylor. www.thefuriousseasons.com

w11.02.09
Girls
ALBUM-(TRUE PANTHER SOUNDS/MATADOR)- If you haven’t heard the story yet (doubtful) Christopher Owens leader of Girls grew up in a bizarre cult called The Children of God before escaping to live in the streets of Amarillo, TX, playing in a few gutter punk bands before heading out to San Francisco and forming Girls with his pal JR White. Thanks to the internet the record made a huge splash as heaps of praise was foisted upon them (with the help of a few videos). I can see why some folks might dismiss the band based on that alone but once you hear the songs on ALBUM you’ll instantly change your mind (unless you have lousy taste in music, in which case I can’t help you). Opening a record with a song called “Lust for Life” that isn’t an Iggy Pop cover is a brazen move but the song is so catchy and the lyrics so brutally honest (“Yeah I’m just crazy and fucked in the head….maybe if I try with all of my heart I can make a brand new start”). You can’t help but be mesmerized. Cut #2, “Laura” about an ex, again adds more twinkling melodies amid the fuzz and raw lyrical imagery (“You been a bitch, I’ve been an ass, don’t wanna point the finger”). “Ghostmouth” begins with the drum tap of “Be My Baby”, “Goddamn” adds bongos, “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” is the Beach Boys done Jesus & Mary Chain style and “Hellhole Ratrace” is the sad hit everyone wants to hear (you’ve gotta see the video) and you won’t want to miss a second of the nearly 7 minute song. Just when I think that no other band can do anything new with the basic Beach Boys-meets-fuzzy-90’s-indie -rock approach along comes these guys and blow my theory out of the water. Yup, it’s that good. www.matadorrecords.com

w11.02.09
The Slow Poisoner
MAGIC CASKET- (ROCKTOPUS!)-San Franciscan Andrew Goldfarb (aka The Slow Poisoner) has been casting his murky spell over unsuspecting audiences for several years now. Previously he had a band and now just does the one man band thang and quite well I might add. The music is a bit hard to describe, it has elements of rockabilly, goth, blues, garage rock, country, etc. The opening cut , “From the River Bottom” begins as a spoken word thing (with just a drum in the background) and then goes full blown spook (Goldfarb’s voice reminds me a bit of Jello Biafra’s on this song only) while the title track is a catchy mid-tempo number complete with some eerie theremin. “Le Grand Zombi” is perfect for this time of year and should be played in every haunted house from San Diego to Seattle while “Thundering Fists O’ the Lord” is a real knee slapper with some tasty organ. The other originals are all righteous and the records ends with two covers (Thomas Edison and Blind Lemon Jefferson) and then the Slow Poisoner is, once again, out into the night not to be seen or heard from again until the next witching hour. Trust me, you’ve never had this much fun being scared. www.theslowpoisoner.com

w10.26.09
The Apples In Stereo
#1 HITS EXPLOSION- (YEP ROC)-After 6 full-lengths and countless other eps and a few singles compilations too I think it’s about time that Robert Schneider and company offered us a greatest hits package and here it is, 16 songs. When The Apples first burst upon the scene in 1994 (or maybe 1995?) they sounded quite unique and still do (though some pop bands have copped their sound or at least tried to ) and this is as fine a smattering of their smorgasboard of pop as any out there. It opens with the punchy rocker “Energy” off their latest record ,NEW MAGNETIC WONDER (which was their first for the Yep Roc label after years on NYC’s Spin Art label) and zips into “Go!” and the trippy “Strawberryfire” (which sounds straight off of a psych record from 1967). There’s also some terrific straight-up pop tune like the buzzing “Tidal Wave (radio remix)” , the driving, fuzzy “Please”, the finger-snapping “The Rainbow” and, of course, my two all-time favorite Apples songs: the Hilary Sidney-sung “Winter Must be Cold” from their debut FUN TRICK NOISEMAKER and “Seems So” from their 2nd record, TONE SOUL EVOLUTION. The thing that sets Schneider and his mad scientists of pop apart from the rest of the pack is the absolute giddy enthusiasm in which they pour into the songs, not many other out there can compete. Her guy is a true rock historian and wants to cram every second of every song with hooks n’ history. #1 HITS EXPLOSION (love that smirky title) is a terrific overview of the band and while some faves are bound to be missing it will hopefully make you go out and buy all of their records. www.yeproc.com

w10.26.09
The Minus 5
KILLINGSWORTH- (YEP ROC)-Some mellow with age. Others ripen. Scott McCaughey, on the other hand, is all about the rot. Eleven-plus albums and 16 years into his Minus 5 project, continues to find new sloughs of despond to plumb in the name of pop, trucking in subject matter so bleak in the name of cheerful misanthropy it’d give his pal Robyn Hitchcock pause. And as always, he is able to corral a veritable Murder Victim’s Row of alt-luminaries to help illuminate the blackness, from constant compatriots Peter Buck and Ken Stringfellow to chick harmonists the Shee Bee Gees and pretty much the whole of the Decemberists (McCaughey relinquishes the mic to Colin Meloy on “Scott Walker’s Fault” – and call a paean to the dark enigma responsible for The Drift the most life-affirming moment on the album should tell you something). Uptempo numbers like “It Won’t Do You Any Good” dot the landscape like freshly-dripped hemoglobin, but otherwise, it’s country death songs all the way – lotsa pedal steel, banjo pickings and accordion trills, arranged prettily enough to lull you into head-bobbing to songs with lyrics like “your wedding day was so well-planned, like a German occupation” and titles like “The Disembowelers.” This is high-water music with a sinister undertow, sure to slap a happy rictus on your face. www.yeproc.com WILLIAM HAM

w10.26.09
The Moog
RAZZMATAZZ OREFEUM-(MUSICK)- This 5-piece band hails from Budapest, Hungary and after chewing on it for a bit I was not able to come up with any other bands that hailed from there (though that country did give us the Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa and Eva, as well as the Rubik’s Cube, so there). The band formed in 2004 while fresh out of high school and after dropping their debut record on us in 2007 (SOLD FOR TOMORROW, also on the Musick label) took their time for this sophomore effort and it paid off. On initial listens it sounds like a mix of some modern radio bands (ala Franz Ferdinand meet The Strokes) but further listens reveal some deeper inspiration (like goth, they covered Bauhaus on a 7” earlier this year and I hear some mid period Damned in there too, especially on “Panic”) and a whole lot of strong songs. The driving, confident opener, “This I Horror” is one of the band’s best yet as is said single, “You Raised a Vampire”, the moodier “Can’t Say No, Can’t Say Yes” and the slow building “Lost Day.” On “When I See You” they sound a bit too much like Weezer for my liking and the production is bit slick but honestly, those are minor quibbles. These youngsters can write a damn good pop/rock song and hey, they want to be famous and would probably day so in interviews and who can blame ‘em for that? www.musickrecordings.com

w10.26.09
Kurt Vile
CHILDISH PRODIGY- (MATADOR)-It’s hard to believe, but, apart from some possible regional variants I’ve never heard, no one’s really captured the true sound of young America – the noise of maladjusted, hormone-poisoned males bashing out their lonely, inarticulate frustrations from the solitude of their empty bedrooms – to my liking since the Stooges nailed it on their first album four freaking decades ago. I’m not talking subject matter, understand – that’s been one of the wellsprings from which rock/punk/power-pop/Morrissey has drawn its water from day one – but the actual sonic evocation of same. There are a few artists that come close, of course – I’m thinking of Gary Wilson’s infamous 1978 release You Think You Really Know Me – but even there, it’s sublimated under bizarrely bleached-out jazz-funk and vocally/lyrically tipping over into psychosis a little too ripe for even some weirdness enthusiasts. To make the grade here, you need to be capable of a ruckus without catharsis, make the listener feel your boredom, horniness and rage, and do it – and here’s the tall order few can fill at this late date – without a speck of irony. I don’t know how Kurt Vile pulls it off (and before you disqualify him off the bat, he insists that’s his real name), but damned if Childish Prodigy doesn’t do the job. First thing is the sound itself – if it wasn’t recorded in obsessive solo overdubbing sessions on a rec-room four-track, it sure seems like it; cheap-sounding delay effects on the vocals, heavily-saturated guitars, and either cardboardish drums or chintzy rhythm machines predominate. Then come the songs themselves, all seemingly structured in a circular fashion that winds itself ever tighter with every rotation until the tape mangles itself in its own gears or he just fades the thing out arbitrarily. (The best example of this, “Freak Train,” gets steadily crazier and tenser over the course of seven minutes until it sounds like one of Suicide’s more uptempo roundelays rearranged for “real” instruments with a little pseudo-No Wave sax thrown in, crossed with what the Strokes could manage if they weren’t such overprivileged wussy-boys.) In the midst of all this, Vile comes off like the acne-scarred misfit of your worst repressed recollections play-acting at being a scowling street punk. Oh, there’s sensitivity here, too – finger-picked acousticidal reveries like “Blackberry Song” and “Heart Attack,” and even the occasional ethereal female backing voice reminiscent of Liz Frazer’s guest appearances on old Felt albums, which can’t possibly have been intentional. Though the reality is surely quite different (an indie-rock star is a rock star all the same), Vile’s loverman side falls right in line with his snotty, sneering persona elsewhere. Which is to say, I don’t buy a word of it. And good for him. www.matadorrecords.com WILLIAM HAM

w10.26.09
Jobriath
JOBRIATH/CREATURES OF THE STREET (REISSUES)- (COLLECTORS CHOICE)-
The short, sad saga of Jobriath deserves retelling, if only as a cautionary tale to the impressionable youth of our nation about the dangers of unprotected hype. Born Bruce Campbell (and no, not that one), he spent several years as a mere scallop on the fringes of late-60s/early-70s hip culture, a player in the New York and Los Angeles companies of Hair and a member of Pidgeon, one of the many short-lived pop-psych combos seduced and abandoned by the recording industry of the time. And so might he have stayed had Svengali/opportunist Jerry Brandt not been in Columbia Records prez Clive Davis’ office when Brucie’s solo demo tape sailed over the transom. Undeterred by big Clive’s insistence that the artist was “mad, unstructured and destructive to melody,” an enthralled Brandt tucked Jobriath under his wing and began cawing, loudly, to anyone who would listen. Here was the future of rock and roll incarnate, the Fat Man and Little Boy of the transatlantic glam wars, the one who would outlast that poseur David Bowie because, um, he could pirouette and Bowie couldn’t. His biggest hook? At a time when even Elton John was a few years away from coming halfway out of the closet, Jobriath would be the first openly gay rock star; while coy ambisexuality reigned supreme and maybe-gay was the rule of the day, America’s youth were crying out for someone to take them to that next level of depravity, and now, (to quote J.’s own, ceaselessly reiterated words) “a true fairy” shall lead them. Big plans were hatched, Elektra convinced to drop an unheard-of sum (literally so, as no one seems to know just how much) for international recording rights, and a grandiose scheme for world domination mapped out, to culminate in a massive coming-out (oh, brother) event in Paris, climaxing (I know, I know) in a recreation of the final scene of King Kong¸ wherein the Empire State Building would morph into a giant, spurting pee-pee and Jobriath would turn, as would logically follow, into Marlene Dietrich.
Uh-huh.
As you may have guessed, especially given the fact that very of few of you even heard of the cat before his name showed up at the top of this review, the whole scheme was a massive flop. Astute observers may have noticed something was amiss when the Paris concert was cancelled and his debut scaled down to an appearance on NBC’s The Midnight Special, where an obviously distracted Gladys Knight introduced the future of rock ‘n’ roll as “JO-BRATH” and the biggest expense appeared to be the construction of an stage costume comprised mostly of dryer vent hose. And the eventual album, promoted incessantly via billboards and breathless rock-press profiles? It didn’t even chart. Could it be that the record-buying public wasn’t ready for an unabashedly queer rock star? Perhaps. Could they have been turned off by the thick, rank clouds churned out by Jerry Brandt’s hype machine? Quite possibly. Or did they finally get an earful of his music and decide that it kinda blew? Ah, now there’s the rub.
The ultimate result? Jobriath was dropped from Elektra in the middle of his sole American tour, his two albums went out of print with depressing speed, and all concerned performed a thorough disavowal of responsibility and even knowledge of his existence worthy of the most brutally efficient totalitarian government. Elektra’s Jac Holzman confessed his embarrassment at the whole enterprise and quit the label he co-founded soon afterwards, presumably in shame. The mortified music press wrote him off. And even Brandt himself, the guy who proclaimed “it’s Crosby, Sinatra, Presley, the Beatles and Jobriath … no doubt about that,” wound up muttering that the kid was nothing but a worthless alcoholic, and apparently looked to atone for his misdoings by holding the lad to a draconian ten-year contract, effectively keeping him from recording anything for the rest of his life. And Jobriath himself? He retreated to his sanctum in the Chelsea Hotel, emerging only to perform in East Village clubs as lounge singer Cole Berlin, and eventually died a sadly appropriate death by AIDS in 1983. As for a legacy, he basically had none. His albums held no sway even among collectors (the only copy of either I was ever able to track down turned up, not in a used record store, but in a frighteningly skeezy consignment shop) and, with the exception of a bemused writeup in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and a first-place ranking on somethingawful.com’s list of the Ten Worst Rock Stars in History, he warranted scarcely a footnote in music history’s little red book.
And so might it have stayed were it not the shelf-haired hero to the downtrodden, the counselor of camp, the Mancunian candidate (for anti-depression meds) himself – that’s right, friends, Stephen Patrick Morrissey loped forward to rescue Jobriath from oblivion. It started awkwardly – he sought the singer out to open for him on his Your Arsenal tour, unaware that he hadn’t been up to the rigors of touring for the better part of a decade – but Moz was not to be deterred. He curated a 2006 compilation, Lonely Planet Boy (kind of telling that he needed to christen it with a New York Dolls quote, eh?), talked him up in interviews, and inspired a set of Japanese reissues. With the cult heroes’ cult hero in Jobriath’s corner, it was only a matter of time before the resurrection-happy domestic CD market saw fit to follow suit, and thanks to the efforts of Collector’s Choice Records, Jobriath has risen again to “camp” out under the stars.
So, after all this, what do you get when you crack the shrinkwrap on the collected works of the world’s forgotten spaceboy? It’d be immensely gratifying to report that beneath the hype and the record-buying public’s resistance to same lay a lost treasure trove of irresistible glam anthems, but I’m afraid that the record-buying public had pretty much the right idea. Too much of this material sounds forced, imitative and plodding, which is murderous to glam – if you’re gonna be light in the loafers, you’d best be light on your feet. The hooks evidently stopped at the marketing level, and the only groove to be found is the one the makeup people put on his forehead. He does a little better by the ballads – his overwrought vocalizing turns out to be a much better fit with string sections and pianos (the latter played, not badly at all, by Jobriath himself) than with the mock-Ronsonisms of most of the louder material. (As for the lyrics, the less said the better – just know that one of the songs is entitled “Space Clown” and extrapolate from there.) It’s not unlistenable, especially once you stop thinking of it as “real” rock ‘n’ roll and as the soundtrack to an imaginary off-Broadway glamsploitation musical (which makes Jobriath a Hedwig of his time, perhaps), and, oddly, the second album (cobbled together quickly using leftovers from the first) turns out to be the stronger of the two, with more emphasis on ballads and a truly oddball country-and-western-inflected (!) number with the radio-friendly title “Scumbag.” Still and all, it’s hard to imagine who to recommend these discs to. If I were in charge of such things, I’d’ve put it out as a book with a suitable-for-framing “Certificate of Inauthenticity” and relegated the discs to a free-with-purchase bonus (and given the job of writing it to veteran rock archivist Richie Unterberger, whose liner notes tell the tale of Jobriath’s rise and demise economically, while deftly sidestepping the question of whether the damn things are actually worth hearing). In its present form, though, most of you can quite blissfully walk past and not miss a thing. But if you’re a glam completist, a gay-rock historian or a collector of curiosities (and there are precious few pop artifacts that manage to be both historically significant and utterly inconsequential), by all means make way for the homo inferior. www.ccmusic.com WILLIAM HAM

w10.19.09
Yo La Tengo
POPULAR SONGS- (MATADOR)-Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward of indie-rock (actually, the title should probably go to Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, but I already wrote that review). As such, a new YLT album tends to feel as comfortable as a successful long-term relationship, and Popular Songs is no exception. Not boring, mind you – they’re too skilled at pop pastiche for that – but whether they’re doing the string-driven thing (as on opening track “Here to Fall”), dipping into Farfisafied fuzz-pop (“Nothing To Hide”), Booker T.-ing themselves off with a Monks-ish breakdown (“Periodically Double Or Triple”), whitefacing Motown (“If It’s True”) or stretching out in acoustic languor with dreamy washes of guitar atmospherics (“The Fireside”) , there’s a ease and even a calmness at play (particularly in the vocals, almost always sleepily agreeable even when their instruments are kicking up a little dust) that comes across as reassuring, opting for the nice, straight line of contentment over the impassioned needle-jumps of younger, more hormonal combos. That is, until they finally raise the pulse rate over the fifteen minute span of “And The Glitter Is Gone” (the last of the three extended workouts that conclude the album), where Kaplan wrings some rather impressive, sustained feedback ‘n’ yowling from his axe while Hubley eggs him on from behind her kit. I dunno, maybe they had an argument that day. www.matadorrecords.com WILLIAM HAM

w10.19.09
Drive By Truckers
THE FINE PRINT: A COLLECTION OF ODDITIES AND RARITIES 2003-2008- (NEW WEST)-I’m not sure if most bands out could release a collection of outtakes that is this strong but then again, not many bands have released a string of records in the last decade as strong as this Athens, GA bunch have. Not sure if calling these outtakes is even fair as the title says “oddities and rarities” and not outtakes but still, this is a nearly as good a batch of songs as they’ve released yet. These guys never forget he importance of writing good songs with strong hooks and THE FINE PRINT has plenty of them. Opening cut “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues” is a classic (“thank god your liver’s made of leather”) while the following tune is a cover of Tom Petty’s “Rebels” (aka “I Was Born a Rebel”) and tune #3, the previously released Uncle Frank”, is among their best (even this alternate version). Another alternate version, “Goode’s Field Road” is terrific as well and one of the best here is departed guitarist Jason Isbell’s “When the Well Runs Dry” (which sounds oddly familiar, like it’s an old, lost classic). Elsewhere there’s strong covers by Dylan, Zevon and even Mr. Tom T. Hall as well as a couple of lesser tracks that probably could have been left off (ie: “TVA”, “Little Pony & the Great Big Horse) otherwise this is yet another D.B.T record that I can whole-heartedly recommend. www.newwestrecords.com

w10.19.09
Horse Shoes
THE IMPERIAL LIFE-(SHELFLIFE)- Housed in yet another gorgeous Shelflife gatefold 7” with a cd on a spindle (cd has 6 songs while the 7” has 2) comes the American duo of Drew Diver (Ohio) and Jacob Graham (Florida….he is also in band-of-the-moment, The Drums). Did I say Ohio and Florida? Yes, I did but while listening to this you, like I, might think these guys hailed from a far off land like Oxford, England or Glasgow, Scotland as their supple synth melodies brings to mind the best of the Sarah Records stable. As they stated in the press sheet, “We both grew up listening to The Smiths nonstop and we’ve spent our entire lives trying to write the strongest melodies we possibly could.” And it shows. They created the songs via the U.S. Mail (ala Postal Service) and the hard work on the melodies certainly paid off. “I Can’t Decide’ is pure Field Mice from the sighing vocals to the sticky melodies (and let’s not forget the omnipresent drum machine) while “Changing Winds’ could become the dance club hit of 2009 if enough djs gave it a chance. The title track begins with a grand opening and then swirls into dreamville while “Hay Come Back!” is the song every 17 year old needs to put on his next mix tape to get the girl of his dreams back. With very few missteps, Horse Shoes are onto something here, now all we need is the next John Hughes (r.i.p.) to put their music in his next movie. www.shelflife.com

w10.19.09
Violet Vector & The Lovely Lovelies
EP II- (COLOR WHEEL)-Unrealized potential is still potential. Which is a lot more than most bands have going for them. Still, why is it so maddening to hear a group that is so obviously close to taking just one or two critical steps that could make their record memorable, or even important, worth listening to during periods dark and shiny Meet Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies, a Chapel Hill outfit that, on their EP II five-song release, is a melody and vocal tweak away from greatness. Starting with the good, the playing on this set is, for the fuzzy and bouncy garage-like psych, top-notch. The songwriting is excellent, unpredictable yet filled with instrumental hooks and interesting structures. Kudos for the Melloman (got it from their Wiki), a Mellotron-like device with organ tones that fluctuate in and around the distorted guitars. There's also liberal use of the wah pedal, although it doesn't get old. Nice job on the production and mixing, as well. On occasion, lead singer Amanda Brooks offers a nice harmony with a second singer (it could be Brooks herself). And that's when VVLL hits on all cylinders, the combination proving infectious. In particular, What's Going On In Your World gels together nicely at the end when Brooks (or someone else, sorry, can't find the info readily online) hits a gorgeous soprano part that floats above the main line. Yet Sunshine in Space would be a career song — it's brilliant, reminiscent of Robert Schneider's best writing — for most bands. Yet the song's vocals, as on most of the record, just come off as oddly double-tracked. The vocal lines, too, often seemed pouty instead of musical. In some cases, it sounds like the Beastie Boys meet Tuscadero. Which could be taken as a compliment. It's really not. It would nonetheless be interesting to hear a full VVLL effort, or at least hear them live. Violet Vector et al is definitely a band worth noting. They could, one day, become much more. www.colorwheelrecords.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w10.12.09
The Hush Now
CONSTELLATIONS- (SELF-RELEASED)-his Boston band, led by fine songwriter, Noel Kelly, self-released their debut last year to some fine acclaim, and it deserved it. Here is the follow up and its 10 songs are even better. Produced by Mighty Lemon Drops dude Dave Newton (who seems to be doing a lot of producing these days) the songs are crisper and hookier than before and have more punch to them as well (and Kelly also sounds more confident). Not sure what to call it? Me either…it has some elements of Built to Spill (but more pop) plus some shoegaze elements as well as well as some nice jingle jangle (someone mentioned the late, great Pole and I’d say that’s accurate). Opening cut “Contrails” pounds and bashes with the best of them while the low end on “Hoping & Waiting” has a nice driving beat and the title track brings it all together. The other 7 songs are all worthy as well as CONSTELLATIONS is a solid record from start to finish. I’m hoping they can pull it off live and if they ever play Portland I’ll be front and center. www.thehushnow.com

w10.12.09
The Maldives
LISTEN TO THE THUNDER-(MT. FUJI)- Kids, Seattle just isn’t for grunge anymore. I’m sure you esteemed readers already knew that (was joking, actually) and the fact is lots of fine bands of all shapes and sized call the Emerald City home including this one. Instead, however, of taking cues from says Blue Cheer and The Stooges. The Maldives (say Mal-deevz) , a 9 piece band led by Jason Dodson, are more likely to name check bands like Neil Young & Crazy Horse and the Cosmic Cowboy himself, Gram Parsons and they do it damn well. One of the first things you’ll notice on LISTEN TO THE THUNDER is how strong the songwriting is. First tune ‘Goodbye” repeats that word over and over amid a wash of guitars, drums, keys and probably other instruments not invented yet and then launches into the chorus of “I’ve got this feeling down in my soul” and it’s one of the best leadoff tracks I’ve heard this year while cut #2, “Time is Right Now” might begin all prim and proper but then dives into a great “Layla-esque” jam by the songs end and “Cold November” is just straight up pretty while the other 8 songs are all worthy of your ears too. Kudos to the Mt. Fuji label for offering us this fine platter and while I’m not sure if they ever make it the 180 miles south to Portland ever I’m gonna start scouring the papers now. www.mtfujirecords.com

w10.12.09
Jeremy Morris
ALIVE- (JAM)-While I knew that Jam Records founder Jeremy Morris had been releasing his music for ages I had no idea it had been for 25 years This debut record by him, originally released on vinyl in 1984, is finally getting a reissue treatment with 8 bonus tracks and a nice 20 page booklet that includes photos, lyrics, liners, etc. Armed only with his pal Dave Dietrich on drums and percussion (Jeremy plays guitars, synths, bass, piano and sings) they tear through 21 tracks (including the 8 bonus ones) of very 80’s pop. There’s hooks a plenty and while some of the music sounds very of the era (especially the synths) it doesn’t matter as the songwriting is strong and throughout the cuts Morris shows his love for bands like Cheap Trick, The Rubinoos and , his favorite, The Beatles (remember them?). A few of my faves on here are “Translated’ (with the killer trumpet) , the gentle “Mark’s Song” (written for his young son who is now and adult and in the terrific band Glowfriends) and the synth-heavy title track. I’m not going to say this is Jeremy’s best record ever but it’s important as it shows his evolution as a songwriter ( the guy has released nearly 20 records to date) and for that alone well worth hearing. www.jamrecordings.com

w10.12.09
Pissed Jeans
KING OF JEANS- (SUB POP)-Pissed Jeans’ 2005 debut, SHALLOW sounded like it was recorded in a basement with the jackhammer was on full tilt while their follow up, 2007’s HOPE FOR MEN sound like the jackhammer was turned on low. Some might think the words “better produced’ would ruin a band but not this Allentown, PA (I think now living in caves in Philly) who cajoled big time guy Alex Newport into “not fucking up their sound” and it worked! He brought out all of the bands best subtle ( ha ha ) nuances while retaining all of their, uh, charm. I almost don’t even want to read the lyric sheet ‘cos if I don’t then I’ll think of vocalist Matt Korvette as the wisest man in the universe but after reading it I just think he’s hilarious while the rest of the band more than ably kicks up some major dust (especially guitarist Bradley Fry who I think of as the band’s secret weapon). Song title include: “Request for Masseuse”, “Human Upskirt”, “Dominate Yourself” “Half Idiot” and other works of near-genius. If HOPE FOR MEN offered redemption then KING OF JEANS swirls them back down into the toilet of guilt and self-hate where they belong. Amen. www.subpop.com

w10.05.09
The Clientele
BONFIRES ON THE HEATH- (MERGE)-I first became entranced with this U.K. trio when I heard their A FADING SUMMER ep that March Records released back in 2000, specifically the song “An Hour Before the Light” that was included on that ep (originally released as Johnny Kane Records 7” in 1999). It’s hard to believe that they have been going for a decade now as the trio became a quartet a few years ago adding multi-instrumentalist Mel Draisey, the addition of whom seems to have helped the band flower even more. Beginning with the Johnny Kane single as well as others on labels like Pointy and Elefant the band has now released their 5th full-length on Merge (including the singles compilation, Suburban Light). While 2007‘s God Save the Clientele saw an ever-so-slight dip in quality after 2005’s brilliant Strange Geometry, Bonfires on the Heath show the band, led by main songwriter Alasdair MacLean, back at top of its game and sounding s confident as ever. First cut “I Wonder Who We Are”, with its effervescent bounce and 60’s pop horns, is a perfect way to open a record while the drowsy swoony title track recalls the best parts of Galaxie 500. A couple of song fly a bit too far off into never never land (the dull “Harvest Time”, the meandering “Jennifer & Julia”) but pop gems like “Never Anyone but You” and the swinging “Sketch” more than make up for it. Come ride the fiery breeze of The Clientele! www.mergerecords.com

w10.05.09
Rose Melberg
HOMEMADE SHIP-(K)- Through her nearly 2 decade career, Rose Melberg has never let the pop fans down. From the beginning with Sacto all-female pop punks Tiger Trap through the years of peppy/poppy bands like Go Sailor and Gaze and then the softer musings of The Softies and onto her solo career, Melberh has , at the core, focused on the quality of a good pop song and, I’m happy to report, there’s plenty on HOMEMADE SHIP. Armed with no much more than an acoustic guitar and her pillowy-soft voice, Rose Melberg returns with her 3rd solo record (the first two were on the Double Agent label) and it’s just about the most warm and wistful record you’ll hear all year. Melberg continues to hone her craft and make her thoughtful, hushed songs all the more engaging. Opening cut “Things That We Do” offers hope through lyrics like “Don’t you remember the good times? How much we made each other smile” while on “Look Skyward” she’s searching for a long, lost friend. On “Look Skyward” she continues to look for love amid a sea of hope (an a great guitar hook throughout the song) and on the title track she is joined by P:ano’s Larissa Loyva and the two sound just about perfect (when’s the next P:ano record?!). The record was recorded in the winter in her adopted home of British Columbia and it feels like a wintry record. I could complain about their not being a Softies record in ages but why bother when HOMEMADE SHIP is the perfect replacement. www.krecs.com

w10.05.09
Pastels/Tennis Coats
TWO SUNSETS- (DOMINO)-Maybe I have not been paying much attention but I thought the Pastels were long gone until this collaboration with the Japanese band Tennis Coats came along. Have never heard the Tennis Coats before so not sure what kind of sound they bring to the collaboration but those hoping for the chugga chugga C-86 pop of the earlier days of the Pastels will be quite surprised. Remember, this is the band that, with terrific (compilation) records like TRUCKLOAD OF TROUBLE and SUCK ON THE PASTELS, introduced the world to classic noisy pop with tunes like “Truck Train Tractor”, “Baby Honey” and “Million Tears” (plenty of others, too). On TWO SUNSETS what you’ll hear are gently strummed guitars, light keyboards, tinkling pianos and hushed vocals and on the first listen I thought it was throwaway lullaby music but I popped it in again and I now heard some gorgeous melodies not heard initially. The title track is exquisite as is the hushed “Song for a Friend” (in which Stephen Pastel and T.C. vocalist Saya harmonize together). “Vivid Youth” has some well-placed clarinet and “Yomigaeru” sounds like an early Belle & Sebastian track (if they had a female Japanese vocalist). At times the sound does get repetitive (and occasionally dull) but most of TWO SUNSETS is lovely, perfect for sitting on the porch on a sunny Autumn day just as the leaves begin to turn and the sun begins to set a bit earlier. www.dominorecordco.us

w10.05.09
Wonderwheel
SAFE AND SORRY- (RAINBOW QUARTZ)-Two Norwegians, one named Ulf and one named Oyvind make up this gentle, acoustic duo. Quite frankly, from the front cover photo, they look like they’d be more at home sitting behind the desk of your local bank rather than being in a rock band, but that’s ok (no judgments here). Oyvind was in another Rainbow Quartz band called Deleted Waveform Gatherings (ok, let’s just say it, one of the worst band names ever but a good band) and while I’m not sure if D.W.G. are still around or not this rich collection will more than make up for it. First tune, “The Day I Fell to Earth” was solid but unspectacular but the next tune, “Sing It One More Time”, should’ve been the opener, all melodic bounce and smooth harmonies as is the terrific “If She Don’t Mind.” When they harmonize together, as on “Five Minutes Away” or “Rebound Girl” , you think you’ve discovered the modern day Simon and Garfunkel. In the end SAFE AND SORRY is full of simple, easy likeable pop songs without the flash so common to pop bands these days and for me that’s enough. www.rainbowquartz.com

w09.28.09
Lou Barlow
GOODNIGHT UNKNOWN- (MERGE)-It’s hard to believe that Lou’s EMOH record from a few years was actually his first one under his own name. Sure he’s released countless records with bands like Sebadoh, Sentridoh, The Folk Implosion (and of course as bassist for Dinosaur) but like a lot of songwriters it gets to a point where they simply want to go under their own name. In the press sheet he mentions how he wanted to, for the first time in his career, record a batch of songs at roughly the same time and in the same studio. GOODNIGHT UNKNOWN is that record. He also mentioned how he met producer Andrew “Mudrock” Murdock (producer for Avenge Sevenfold, Godsmack, etc.) while he was walking his dog by Lou’s house and agreed to listen to some of Lou’s music and out came GOODNIGHT UNKNOWN. First cut “Sharing” has some pounding drums but don’t let it fool you, it’s a tender pop tune under the bashing while the title track is more of the same (though I think the former is a better song). The next three songs have that Sebadoh/Sentridoh feel with up(down)stroking guitars and Lou’s gentle vocals (I have always thought he was a highly underrated singer). “Too Much Freedom” is the best of that bunch and one of the best songs Lou has ever written. The rest of the songs on the record (14 in all) waver between angsty folk tunes and more crashing pop numbers and several are very good (“I’m Thinking”, “Praise”, etc.). Lou is nothing if not honest (to a fault maybe) and GOODNIGHT UNKNOWN is the kind of honest, heart-on-the-sleeve rock music that Barlow has been delivering for years. I’m happy to report that he’s still got it. www.mergerecords.com

w09.28.09
Tony Cox
UNPUBLISHED-(SELF RELEASED)- Had never heard of Tony before but a good review on the Not Lame website had me dropping him an email to see if I could receive copy of his cd and sure enough, a week or so later it arrived. The guy hails from the U.K. and is obviously inspired by the sunny sounds of Mr. Brian Wilson as the delicate melodies will inspire. Vocals are handled by a guy named Nigel Clark who name I thought sounded familiar only to realize that he was member of underrated U.K. band Dodgy. Opening cut “Sweet Elaine” would be a perfect tune to open a mix tape that is, if people made mix tapes anymore (am I the only one?) while “Feel Real Love” has a real classic 60’s feel and some marvelous horns. “Jamelia” is another bouncy pop gem that needs to be heard as is the Blunstone-esque “Sacred Woman.” The only slight complaint I have here are the keyboards which start off “Life is Hardcore” which have that cheesy 70’s sound to them (good song just drop those keyboards) otherwise UNPUBLISHED is an unsung gem that fans of this site and readers of , say, THE BIG TAKEOVER, will eat up again and again. Give him some of your money. www.coxymusic.com

w09.28.09
Dennis Diken With Bell Sound
LATE MUSIC- (CRYPTOVISION)-Yup, the same Dennis Diken who played drums in The Smithereens for all those years (still does) but that band has been finding inspiration in covering old Beatles and Who songs it’s Diken who has been writing original material. Diken says he has had melodies, songs even, bouncing around in his head for years but this was the first opportunity that he felt like he could let them out. Along with his pal Pete DiBella (apparently Diken and DiBella did their first home recordings together in the 70’s) they crafted these 13 songs that each seem to be a throwback to a different, simpler era when music was music and not so much, well, whatever it has become (fashion, clichés, etc.). Receiving help from a few Wondermints as well as Andy Paley, Jason Falkner and even The Honey’s (Brian Wilson’s first wife’s band) to create a solid pop record with many highs and no lows. Opening cut “The Sun’s Gonna Shine in the Morning” is a confident anthem while “Standing in that Line” is pure homage to Mr. Brian Wilson and those pounding drums that open “Long Lonely Ride” is a perfect mix of 1960’s Who (when Mr. Moon was on drums) and a long lost surf band from that era. Later on “I’ve Been Away” approximates The Byrds jangle and “So Hard to Say Goodbye” and “No One’s Listening” skim the doo-wop surface while appreciating 60’s AM radio pop. The following seven songs slip into one of these categories (with some psych thrown in for good measure) and while no one could accuse LATE MUSIC of being the most original record made this year who cares, it comes down to the songs and there’s many superb ones on here. www.cryptovisionrecords.com

w09.28.09
Fruit Bats
THE RUMINANT BAND- (SUB POP)-While I loved the two previous Fruit Bats records (both on Sub Pop) this one not so much,. Well, not at first anyway but then on the drive home from daycare my one and a half year old daughter said “Dad, don’t dismiss this record. Remember, you love the Fruit Bats!” As always Miss Sophia was correct as repeated listens have offered many fruits (sorry) of the band’s hard work. These days Eric Johnson may be more well known as a member of The Shins (Vetiver too) but Fruit Bats is his baby, where he’s able to delve deep into his heart and pull out gorgeous songs like those on THE RUMINANT BAND. As with every record he has a different cast of characters but this time the records seems more like an actual band and not simply a side project. The record, while heavy on the jamming (normally not something I like but it totally works here) opens with the perfect 1-2 punch of “Primitive Man” and the title track while the next few cuts were solid but not spectacular but it’s on song five, “The Hobo Girl” where the record really begin its ascent to heaven. This cut has some neat barroom piano and Johnson’s echoey vocals while “Being on Our Own”, the records finest track, adds some pedal steel to the earnest piano playing to add up to a near-perfect pop song (“The Blessed Breeze” too). You also have to hand it to the other players on here ‘cos while Johnson writes the songs it feels like a real collaborative effort and even more astounding is the songs make it seem like these guys have been playing together for decades (a testament to their talent). In the tunes I hear bits of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Fleet Foxes (though I’m sure they were influenced by Fruit Bays, if anything), folkier Grateful Dead stuff, The Band, a dash of Allman Bros, etc. This one is already on my short list for one of the best records of 2009. www.subpop.com

w09.21.09
The Corner Laughers
ULTRAVIOLET GARDEN- (POPOVERCORP)-This is one of those records I had a feeling I’d like from the get go. The cover is a drawing of hummingbird sucking from a purple flower and the purple, green and red background caught my eye as did the “produced by Allen Clapp” written on the inside jacket. Bay Area guy Clapp has been producing some of the best pop music for over the past decade (under his own name as well as The Orange Peels). The Corner Laughers are based in San Francisco and most of these 13 songs were written by band leaders Karla Kane and Angela Stilletto. The songs are bright, ebullient and have some of the most hilarious lyrics I’ve heard in quite a while but the band is no joke. Musically I’d compare them to bands like The Apples in Stereo (especially when Hilary used to sing), Dressy Bessy and (surprise) The Orange Peels. The ladies voices blend perfectly and there’s enough 6-string jangle on here to keep any pop lover happy for days. They have a strong pop sensibility and my picks to click here are opener “Shrine of the Martyred Saint”, the bouncy “For the Sake of the Cat”, the darker “Stonewords”, the pretty “Half a Mile” and plenty of others (really no filler on here). I can’t wait until they make a trip to Portland for a gig. www.cornerlaughers.com

w09.21.09
The Drums
SUMMERTIME!-(TWENTY SEVEN RECORDS)- The Drums are Jonathan and Jacob, two string bean hipster from Brooklyn who seem like the kind of guys you want to hate because they’re so happy all of the time but you can’t hate them ‘cos they’re nice guys (plus they’re even happier because this record just got a rave review in the brand new Rolling Stone). This 6 song ep is so damn peppy and unique that , well, you can’t not like it. The first tune is “Saddest Summer” (wait, did I say happy?) but trust me, listen to it before you assume you’ll be crying over your Jolt Cola while “Let’s Go Surfing” has a dark, post-punk vibe with happy….whistling and “Make You Mine” is all handclaps and more handclaps. It’s like if Sweden’s The Legends were from America and dropped all of the noise. Best song title: “Don’t be a Jerk, Jonny.” Essential post-summertime listening. www.twentysevenrecords.com

w09.21.09
Chris Marshall
STARTING OUT EP- (OH MY SOUL RECORDS)-There’s only 5 songs on this, the 3rd ep from Portland native Chris Marshall (first one I’ve heard) but the songwriting is ace enough that you’d think Marshall and his road-weary tunes had been around the block for years and years. Apparently in his early years be developed a love for both punk as well as gospel (and country music) and in between borrowing his mom’s acoustic guitar and playing in his dad’s church Marshall began writing his own songs and developed into a top notch songwriter. Opening cut “Atlanta” , about a road trip taken to that fair city, is a gorgeous lament with tinkling ivories and some lush pedal steel reminiscent of the best songs that Ryan Adams has written while the title track has more of the latter with more introspective lyrics and Marshall’s soulful vocals. “I Found You” slows it down a bit but is no less effective and the other two songs, while not quite as good as the 3 mentioned here, are still fine songs (no bad ones in the bunch). In the press kit Marshall says how he arranges and writes all of the songs in his mind before he even plays a note on his guitar which obviously works for him as STARTING OUT is a strong collection from a songwriter I definitely want to hear more of. www.chrismarshallmusic.com

w09.21.09
Pugwash
GIDDY- (APE)-These Irish lads came out of nowhere last year with the superb ELEVEN MODERN ANTIQUITIES full-length (well, out of nowhere for me, the band has been around since 1993 and released their first record in 1999) . On that record the band proved themselves as pop masters with dreamy songs punctuated by sweeping strings on most of the songs. GIDDY is no different. Well, when I say “the band” I mean Thomas Walsh who basically is Pugwash, along with the rhythm section of Keith Farrell and Johnny Boyle and occasionally getting some assistance over the years from the XTC guys (this record is on Andy Partridge’s Ape label) as well as Jason Faulkner, Neil Hannon, Michael Penn and plenty of others. GIDDY is a 13 song compilation of the bands best material and is absolutely essential for any discerning pop fan. The first cut, “Apples” sounds like a McCartney cut on a later period Beatles record while “Cluster Bomb” has some gorgeous swaying strings and “Sunrise Sunset” falls into prettiness on the biggest pile of leaves you’ve ever seen (as does “My Genius”). In Walsh’s songwriting you’ll hear elements of masters like the Beach Boys, Love, The Zombies, The Kinks and others but he’s not slavishly borrowing , more like putting his own stamp on a genre that rarely hears it done this well anymore. www.ape.uk.net

w09.14.09
Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh
OVERLOADED ARK- (DRAG CITY)-I heeded Masaki Batoh’s warning. All critical listening to this album took place on a fairly high end home hi-fi capable of delivering frequencies from 39 Hz to 20+KHz clearly in my listening (living) room. I listened at high volumes. This effort paid off. What a tremendous record. It’s incredibly dense and the recording is seriously clear and emotionally involving. This is not pop music, it is a welcoming overview of the ancient, the retrospective, and original music with an OUR worldly bent. All is lovingly delivered with respect to the music’s origins while judiciously including some modern flair (hot electric guitar, organ, and electronics). This approach allows we listeners to join these musicians in the head/spirit space to which they have invited us. The first song “Little Blue Dragon” is a familiar tune first identified in the 13th century (can we call any tune from that time period familiar?), also known as a “Saltarello”, a folk dance. It’s an off putting song in that it doesn’t reflect the feeling of the rest of the record. With tons of treble it authentically captures a medieval spirit, while including banjo and some piercing guitar feedback only becoming apparent as the song comes to an end. I’m probably way off here, but I feel that this song is intended as a litmus test for the listener to prepare for the time and space bending qualities of the songs to follow. And they are all amazing. Cuba to France, Japan to Roman hymns, Overloaded Ark is a meticulously chosen group of songs which at my best I can describe as inspiring and life giving. Improvisation within a pure and clear context, always remaining joyful in its intention. Mind blowing hits as follows - “Until Tomorrow” is an acoustic original with angelic treated vocals hovering overhead including occasional lightning slashes of electric guitar scoring and defining the soundscape as if it were the night sky. “Sueno Con Serpientes” is a hauntingly beautiful Cuban folk song written by Silvio Rodriguez, with evocative vocals by Espvall, perfectly complemented by the brilliant tracking of Batoh’s guitars. “Pro Peccatis Suae Gentis/Nun Fanget An” is an intensely engaging layered cello piece played by Espvall, evincing true beauty and strength. “Over the Luminous Land” is an astonishing drone, a diamond of cello, organ, recorder, ever shifting facets of sound as if belonging to the current which inspired LaMonte Young. Ok. I really dig this record, Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh are treasures, so I guess you must buy it. Thanks. www.dragcity.com BRIAN EMERY

w09.14.09
Lights
RITES-(DRAG CITY)- Initial thoughts were that these kids were the product of parents with great record collections who would consistently “look the other way” when their progeny would sneak into their stash (pot, psilocybin, blow). The kids were gifted and had a real infatuation with Buckingham/McVee/Nicks era ‘Mac and with that unused turntable on the shelf. Parents encouraged the plunder of said record collections, made up significantly of late 60’s-early 70’s psych, folk, disco, 70’s AOR, with some Patti Smith thrown in. And, after multiple listens, I agree with these initial thoughts. That said, there are songs that do stand a few feet above the rest, and make this record worth some consideration, specifically of what the band could achieve when they get it together. Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder sing quite well throughout the album, with lilting melodies and harmonies that loosely play off of one another. The opener, “Heavy Drops” hits pretty well with Knapp’s guitar comping some nice Buffalo Springfield like riffs, sea shanty style. “Hold On” nicely flows out of the lesser tune “Love”, with a stomach churning one chord riff not unlike “Odyshape” era Raincoats on some Robo-D. “War Theme” is a crazy psych mélange, where apocalyptic disco meets The Stooges partying with Os Mutantes at Jefferson Airplane’s pad. “Nothing Left To Build” is what I’d consider the most crafted song on the album, with some beautiful piano accompaniment. It’s the album’s highlight and a double plus in that it’s not trying to hit you over the head with heaviness or overt reference to the LIGHTS many influences. In the end, Rites is music made by cool folks with minor mastery of many pop genres currently in vogue and are unsure of what they want to say while speaking to a bunch of cool kids who do not know what they should like. Here’s to the next release. www.dragcity.com BRIAN EMERY

w09.14.09
Jay Reatard
WATCH ME FALL- (MATADOR)-Not sure if Jay is doing a parody of Glenn Danzig on this cover of his 2nd proper solo record (after 2 singles comps in the last few years) but while the cover looks dark and menacing (did he use dry ice?) the tunes are pretty darn sprightly. The opening cut, “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” is all fuzzy guitars and wiggly synth work and Jay’s patented Faux Brit vocals. Some folks think that the guy has softened and while it’s true that this doesn’t have the reckless abandon of BLOOD VISIONS (who can forget the cover shot of Jay standing in his underwear covered in blood) it’s still not “soft” by any stretch. “Before I Was Caught” starts with the best guitar hook the Buzzcocks never used and then rips into more synth punk magic. Elsewhere “Can’t Do It Anymore” reminds me of the best Minds/Jeff Genetic/Briefs work and “Faking It” has some cool call and response vocals (both coming from Jay) and “I’m Watching You” would be a top 10 single if….well, maybe if his name wasn’t Jay Reatard . The final tune, “There is No Sun” is a total epic that even has some cello (?!). Aside from the cello and drums on a few tracks Jay played everything else on here so for that alone (and the terrific songwriting) it’s obvious the guy is enormously talented and I’m now officially a diehard fan. One of 2009‘s best so far. www.matadorrecords.com

w09.14.09
Sugarplum Fairies
CHINESE LEFTOVERS- (STARFISH)-I was surprised to learn that this is the 4th record from this Los Angeles (via Austria) duo of Silvia Ryder (she sings) and Ben Bohm (guitars) . I assumed the other one I have, 2004’s INTROSPECTVE STUDENT RAINCOAT MUSIC, was their only other one but no need to search out the others. Armed with help from Joey Waronker, Ric Menck and a host of others CHINESE LEFTOVERS shows the band gracefully doing what it does best: creating dreamy pop nuggets led by Ryder’s swoony vocals (reminiscent of Hope Sandoval, Britta Phillips and the gal from the Cowboy Junkies) while the musical backdrop includes elements of dream pop, country and folk. Opening cut “A Story” begins the journey perfectly while “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine” adds some nimble slide guitar to the mid-tempo proceedings. Other cuts pick up the pace a bit like the superb “First Rate Show” (which adds horns) and the stomping “Mercy” but the band is really strong no matter which hat it’s wearing. Sugarplum Fairies really deserve more attention than they have received (do they ever tour?) as CHINESE LEFTOVERS is a well-crafted record from start to finish that deserves repeated plays. This isn’t a band hoping to compete, they’ve arrived. www.sugarplumfairies.com

w09.07.09
Boy Genius
BLAME IT ON LOVE 7"- (GREENPOP RECORDINGS)-Two songs on some beautiful white vinyl by this NYV pop band. These guys made a believer rout of me with their ANCOHRAGE full-length from last year. Here’s 2 more songs worth hearing, the a-side does everything a good pop tune is supposed to do (look down at your foot, is it tapping?) while the flip is, I believe, a Miracle Legion cover called “The Backyard” and has some great oozin’ ahhhhs. www.myspace.com/greenpoprecordings

w09.07.09
Joey Casio
DEBTOR’S PRISM B/W TIMES OF WAR 7”-(K)- Wow, I had no idea that K was still releasing the 7”s for the Intl Pop Underground series (this one is CXXV) so good for that (when are the Pounding Serfs gonna reform??). This is some casio pop by none other than Joey Casio, the a-side could be a dance club hit if the kids knew what was going on these days while “Arists in Times of War” was dub-ier n’ funkier and not my cup of tea but I liked it anyway. www.krecs.com

w09.07.09
Mean Jeans
LICENSE 2 CHILL 7”- (DIRTNAP)-2nd single by these Portland nutjobs and I hear it’s better than the first (still have yet to hear that one). These three songs grind out a filthy Ramones stomp for a good few minutes. “License 2 Chill” is good but the real singalong here is “Bogus Memories” with a great Sha Na Na meets Ramones type ending that sounds like a real party. The flip,.. “I think U Stink” shows theys gots senses of humors. Zip it and buy. www.dirtnaprecs.com

w09.07.09
The Moog
YOU RAISED A VAMPIRE 7”- (MUSICK)-This foursome from Budapest, Hungary has been turning heads lately and with good reason. They have a smart, confident pop sound and on this 2 song 7” they nail the a-side while the b-side, a Bauhaus cover of “The Passion of Lovers’ (featuring David J.) they make the song their own wit h a dark brooding yet totally listenable version. www.musickrecords.com

w09.07.09
Jennifer O'Connor/Dump
SPLIT 7"- (KIAM)-Betcha didn’t know that Matador recording artist Jennifer O’Connor also has a label of her own with some choice platters. This one is a 3 song , white vinyl single and it begin with an awesome version of the Rose Royce classic, “I Wanna Get Next To You” (remember that James (Mcnew , who is Dump) has gotten funky with some Prince songs on previous records) while Jennifer offers up the spare and lovely “I’m a Racecar Driver.” The flip is James remixing one of Jennifer’s songs which should be NYC dance club hit! www.myspace.com/kiamrecords

w09.07.09
Glowfriends
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD- (JAM)-Record number four by this Kalamazoo, MI bunch and this review is a bit late (the cd somehow got misplaced…then again, if you have ever seen my mess of an office then it wouldn’t be surprising at all) but well worth writing about. The band features a few of the kids of Jam Records head honcho (and all around good guy) Jeremy Morris. The songs are usually hushed and gentle and are in the vein of The Sundays though the bands take inspiration from everything from folk to indie pop to dream pop to shoegaze (vocalist April Morris has been the leading light of the Kalamashoegazer Festival the past few years). First tune “Miraculous” is all jangly guitars and cooing vocals while “Speak Now” ups the tempo with some strummy acoustic guitars and the harmonies of April, her brother Mark (guitar) and bassist Holly. “Every Song Comes Untied” has a Galaxie 500 influence (they did an excellent cover of “Flowers” on their last record) and “Go Back to Sleep” is a lullaby for indie parents with fussy kids. On first listen I thought this wasn’t as good as their previous record, A FAREWELL TO FAIR-WEATHER, but after many listens it’s at least that good and maybe better. It’s a grower and sometimes those are the best kind. Excellent production by Charlie Piper. www.jamrecordings.com

w08.31.09
Greg Pope
PETE EP-(OCTOBERVILLE)- Philly guy Pope released a superb record last year in POPMONSTER. Unless you know the comings and goings of the power pop world the record may not have been on your radar but if you dig juicy, hook-laden pop (akin ,a bit, to The Who and GBV) then this guys NEEDS to be on your radar. Here is the follow up and it’s 7 songs and the song quality is right up there with POPMONSTER. First cut “Fall into Your Arms” is a cool opener while “Help Yourself” is an epic with what sounds like Pete Townsend windmill guitars and “Roll With It” is a near-perfect Beatles/Rasberries distillation. The only song I thought was just ok was the loping “How Do You Do It” but hey, 6 out of 7 is not a bad batting average at all (with a few home runs in there). www.gregpope.net

w08.31.09
Seeland
TOMORROW DAY- (LOAF)-There are some albums that I know I will love within the first ten seconds of the opening track. "Tomorrow Today" had that effect on me immediately. Seeland features Tim Felton (ex-Broadcast) and Billy Bainbridge (ex-Plone), and their electronic influence is evident on this album. However, the overall feel of the album is rather gentle, drifting between dancey, compelling rhythms and lulling, dreamy synths without missing a beat. The male vocal harmonies are reminiscent of the Aluminum Group- the voices almost melt together in a most pleasant way. The stand-out track for me is "Captured." Perhaps it is because it's the only track to feature live drums, or maybe it's because it is so darn catchy that it has the danger of being stuck in your head for days. The loping cadence and clever keyboards in "Library" bring to mind the Magnetic Fields. The entire album is interesting to listen to, and there's not a wasted song in the bunch; every song is simply infused with melody and a rich warmness that is the aural equivalent of being wrapped up in a comfy blanket. Seeland have accomplished a release that I can dance to, sing along with, and daydream about. www.l-o-a-f.com LAURA WATLING

w08.31.09
Sons Of Great Dane
S/T- (SELF-RELEASED)-Had it not been for a positive review on the Absolute Powerpop site I would never have heard this band. Now I have and they were kind enough to send me copy of their cd. This Kansas City, MO bunch do trad pop the right way. The band does a real nice mix of power pop and alt country (ala Old 97’s) but the strength of the songs is what makes this record so darn tasty. Plus, inside the hand done cardboard sleeve is a small envelope that has “Why ramble?” on the outside and inside has a small card with the songs titles and no other info. No address, no band info, nothin’ (go to their my space site for that) . The tunes are terrific, opener “Early Train” reminded me a bit of the more upbeat Volebeats tunes while the more noir-ish “Always Wrong, Always Right” adds some twang to the proceedings and “Bullet Left Its Barrel’s Head” is pure, shiny melody. That’s the first there tracks and there’s 7 more and not a bum one in the batch. There’s even a few fine acoustic numbers mixed in between. This is definitely going to make the DAGGER top 15 “Under the Radar” cds for 2009. Write the band and send ‘em your money. www.myspace.com/sonsofgreatdane

w08.24.09
The Clean
MISTER POP- (MERGE)-Like putting on a favorite T-shirt, eating at an old neighborhood haunt or drunk-dialing your high school friends, listening to The Clean's first record in eight years remains a pleasure because of its sentimentality and familiarity. Mr. Pop, in retaining the same simple structures and sing-song melodies the New Zealand outfit has perfected, is, thankfully, more of the same. Well, mostly. Loog, the LP's opener leans into a moderately tempoed Hammond organ-led ride into a what could be a very, very dark funhouse. It's an addictive number, just waiting to be plucked for a Tarantino or Aranofsky soundtrack. The same goes for Are You Really on Drugs (with the follow-up query, "Everyone wants to know.") Then there's In the Dreamlife U Need a Rubber Soul, the album's best song and the best reminder of why this outfit inspired so many stellar New Zealand
outfits (the Chills, Look Blue Go Purple, hell, all of 'em). Robert Scott takes the mic in Asleep in the Tunnel, which would have fit perfectly on some of the Bats' better records. Back in the Day sounds
just like the Chills, and that's a huge compliment. Jeez, looks like I'm going through this song-by-song and writing about how much I like each of 'em. Uh, let's just say the whole record is. . .hang on, gotta say something about Factory Man, in which the band lives up to the album's name. Mister Pop indeed. www.mergerecords.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w08.24.09
Iron And Wine
AROUND THE WELL-(SUB POP)- When I heard the debut by Iron and Wine from a several years back (2002’s THE CREEK DRANK THE CRADLE) I assumed singer/songwriter Sam Beam would be a real good guy . The music had a certain gentleness and homespun-ness about it and when I interview shortly thereafter he came across as about as nice and unassuming as a person could be. Give AROUND THE WELL a listen and you’ll feel like Sam is singing directly to you while the two of you are hanging out in his living room. This 2-cd collection spans those early years through 2007 and it’s a collection of rarities including some songs that have never before been released. Disc 1 is some unadorned home recordings (including some that never made it to the debut record) while the second disc has tunes that were recorded in studios (including a few unreleased songs from the film IN GOOD COMPANY). Some of the songs from the movie are among the best of disc 2 including the superb “Belated Promise Ring” and the warm, enveloping “God Made the Automobile” while it Is also interesting to see Beam’s choice in covers (Flaming Lip’s “Waitin’ for a Superman”, New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” and his amazing, acoustic-fied version of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”). I am always amazed at what folks can do with their voice and an acoustic guitar and it’s people like Beam who show us that the world of music can be an open field if you’re willing to take chance. www.subpop.com

w08.24.09
Tinted Windows
S/T- (S-CURVE)- It seems that ever since Asia (ok, maybe Cream) that supergroups have been among us and they get folks all up in a tizzy of how good a band can be if it has x, y and z musician in their ranks. Some have worked (Traveling Wilburys….umm…ok, I can’t think of anymore) while others have been a joke (Zwan, Mr Big, don’t even get me started on Chickenfoot….ok, I admit it I have yet to hear them but come on, Joe Satriani!??!!). Well you have probably heard the back story on these guys but if you have not T.W. includes Taylor Hanson on vocals (yup, from that Hanson) with James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) on guitar, Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and none other than Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) on the skins. Amongst the other three Hanson might be a surprise but if you ever heard later Hanson records they aren’t too different on what you hear on this debut and if you’ve heard the other bands (specifically Cheap Trick and F.O.W.) then you’ll be pleasantly pleased at these 11 sugary, well-produced pop nuggets. The guitars are sharp, the rhythms is tight and pumping and Hanson’s vocals are , well, great. The hits start coming right out of the gate form the “Kind of a Girl” to the riffing “Messing with my Head” to the should-be-a-huge-hit “Can’t Get a Read on You” (which could have been on The Knack’s debut). They’re not too tough to get tender as on cuts like “Dead Serious” and “Back with You” but let’s face it, we’re here for a sugar rush and there’s plenty of them here. Don’t laugh, just buy it. www.tintedwindowsmusic.com

w08.24.09
V/A
.ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOW: THE COLORADO MUSICAL UNDERGROUND OF THE LAYE 1970’S- (HYPERPYCNAL)-Denver? Really?! Although a few faves have crawled out of Denver in recent decades (Apples in Stereo, Dressy Bessy, etc.) if you asked me anything about pre-1990 Denver, much less 1970’’s Denver, I would have snorted “The Fluid and John Denver” and walked away. Lovingly put together by Dalton Rasmussen and some friends, we get to hear and read the story of Denver’s early days. In the fantastic/informative 24 page zine that come with the cd we find out that Wax Trax Records started here before moving to the Windy City and if course that this state spawned Jello Biafra (Eric Boucher to his parents and teachers, see if you can recognize the photo of long-haired Jello standing next to Joey Ramone in the mag) . About the music? Well, it’s good to see that Denver, like any other major metropolitan city, had angry, frustrated kids who were fed up with AOR and MOR music they were hearing on the radio and decided to do something about it. What you get in ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOW is a collection of 31 songs that range from weirdo art punk (Joey Vain and the Scissors) to skinny tie power pop (Immortal Nightflames, etc.) to the Ramones-inspired punk of Johnny III . Elsewhere I wonder if the Dancing Assholes (great name!) got in any hot water for their version of “I Wanna Kill the President” and Dirty Dogs would have given the Dead Boys a run for their money had they been based in NYC. There’s plenty of other band you’ve never before heard but need to (Profalactics, Cells, Healers, etc.). Hopefully with this inspired collections other folks will document their lesser-known cities and give us all history lessons that we all deserve (and need). www.rockymountainlow.com

w08.17.09
The Boy Least Likely To
THE LAW OF THE PLAYGROUND- (PLUS ONE)-This UK duo of Jof Owen (vocals) and Pete Hobbs (most of the instruments) took the indiepop world by storm a few years back with their terrific debut record, THE BEST PARTY EVER. Ok, so maybe they didn’t take it by storm but I sure enjoyed the heck out of that record. For the sophomore effort they do more of the same of the charming pop they offered us on the debut. Now, I must say, this isn’t as good as the debut and the production here seems a tad slicker (though the record isn’t slick) but still THE LAW OF THE PLAYGROUND does have its share of knockout tunes and it mostly enjoyable. “Saddle Up” is a nice way to open a record with its chirpy bounce (and lots of violin) while it is followed up by one of the record’s best songs, “A Balloon on a Broken String”, with its smooth harmonies and creamy melodies. Song four, “I Box up all the Butterflies” tries its hand at a blues riff done indiepop style and it’s doesn’t work out too well but “Stringing up Conkers” makes excellent use of handclaps and a xylophone and the ebullient, “Every Goliath Has Its David”, is pure pop bliss. If you liked the debut this you’ll want to hear this and even if you’ve never heard the band then this is worth your hard-earned dough. www.plusonemusic.net

w08.17.09
The Delfields
OGRES-(SELF RELEASED)- Hailing from New Brunswick, NJ (one of my old stomping grounds, saw lots of great shows at the Court Tavern in the late 80’s) like another one of my recent faves, The Gaslight Anthem but those two bands could not sound more different from each other. While Gaslight goes for more of the Social Distortion melodic punk vein The Delfields go for more of a Shins vibe (I have read it in most of their reviews but they really do sound quite a bit like The Shins). The back cd cover shows 5 guys jumping for joy in a grassy field while their myspace site lists the band as a trio so they’re already messing with our indiepop heads. Opening tune “A Slippery Slope” sounds like it could be a James Mercer outtake or maybe some lost 60’s pop tune that the Rev-Ola label reissues. Regardless , it’s a sweet tune as are most of these 9 cuts. Others gems include the airy “Francine”, the swirly “Our Beds” and the driving title track but really , none of these 9 songs is bad. Discover your new favorite band right now by going to the website to the right. www.myspace.com/thedelfields

w08.17.09
Morrissey
YEARS OF REFUSAL- (ATTACK/LOST HIGHWAY)- Never did hear his last record, RINGLEADER OF THE TORMENTORS, though I really wanted to but the one before it, YOU ARE THE QUARRY, was certainly solid. The reviews for this new one have been universally positive and it’s another strong record from Mozzer. He seems to be on a roll here (I read somewhere he’s in love) and it shows on the ripping opener, “Something is Squeezing My Skull.” The classic melodies are still here as is the brilliant wit. Check out the swirling “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”, the sharp “All You Need is Me” (“There’s so much destruction all over the world an all you can do is complain about me”). He even adds some brilliant Spanish horns on ”When I Last Spoke to Carol” and “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farwell” to perfect effect. I’m not sure if those rumors of Mozzer being in love are true and to be honest, who cares. The 90’s were bit rough on him but he has more than made up for it in the 2000’s (plus if the guy never released another good record he still gave us THE QUEEN IS DEAD and that’s enough). He sounds as if he has a new lease on life and YEARS OF REFUSAL is full proof of it. www.attackrecords.com

w08.17.09
The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
...AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON- (BLOODSHOT)-This Chicago bunch, led by the elusive Elia, made huge strides on their Bloodshot debut from 2007 (2nd record overall) and now here, on record number three, they plant more brilliant songs on us. First tune “Stop” gives a sample of their acerbic with as the song opens with the line, “I hope that you catch syphilis and die alone” sung in Elia’s if-you-want-me-to-sound-like-Morrissey-this-is-the-best-I-can-do vocals while the violin is sawing n’ swaying away. I love his vocals but they do take some getting used to. From here there is a lineup of killer tunes: the superb “One Night Stand” with some cool Stevie Jackson-esque guitar and a driving beat, the twee “Something’s Happening”, the faster ,shuffling “I Pretend She’s You” (“When I’m in bed with her I usually pretend she’s you, ‘cause I don’t know what else to do”). You want more? How about the shambling “Libertyville or Somewhere”, the gentle, acoustic “Praying is a Heartache” (sung by the gal), the jangly “Castles of Wales” (Elia was born in Wales), the jarring, Pogues-ish title track and a few others. There’s a few missteps on here but not many. I’m hoping this is the record that gets this band the real attention they deserve because these guys are first stringers as far as I’m concerned. www.bloodshotrecords.com

w08.10.09
The Twin Atlas
GOOD LIGHT- (Tappersize/TuneCore)-Sean Byrne and Lucas Zaleski are the collective known as The Twin Atlas, and 'Good Light' is their 5th release, a lovely follow-up to 2005's wonderful 'Sun Township'. I can't tell you much about Zaleski, but Byrne is a veteran of the Philly music scene, and has had a role in many a great 'City of Brotherly Love' area bands (mainly drumming) such as Lenola, Mazarin Audible, BC Camplight and Matt Pond PA. And although Byrne's pedigree is quite impressive, his songsmithing, along with Zaleski's collaboration, is really his most impressive accomplishment, in my opinion anyway. The Twin Atlas write songs with a craftsmanship few and far between, all done with a highly refined pop sensibility. 'Good Light' doesn't stray too much from the vibe of it's predecessor, but that hardly matters. The lazy slide guitar touches are there, along with the summer breeze, thermal riding harmonies reminiscent of course, say the Beach Boys or The Byrds, but maybe also of that of Yo La Tengo ('Wonder Why'). The layered and quirky instrumentation almost has an early Magnetic Fields feel at times ('Versions'), and that's just fine and dandy by me. The middle of the record (more or less) has an instrumental ('Fill The Sky) which crescendos to a very shoegaze-esque effect, which i take as a wink to that bygone era when we all had at least one record representative of those times. And there are plenty of psych nuances throughout the record, used just enough to help bind the pieces together solidly, but yet keeping it light enough to be a true pop record. But check out 'Good Light' for yourself, for Byrne and Zaleski have the new record streaming on their site for you to peruse and enjoy, for the time being anyway. You'll want to own this one though. For how else would you take that drive down a great country road without 'Good Light' at your disposal? An Indie gem, and definitely on Dizzy's Top 10 for 2009. thetwinatlas.com
DIZZY DEAN

w08.10.09
Ben Kweller
CHANGING HORSES-(ATO)- Have never really thought much of Ben Kweller. In fact he was most notable to me because I used to get him confused with Ben Lee all the time. Well, my pal who works at a local record store told me this was good and I usually trust him so I gave it s shot and I must say, CHANGING HORSES is well worth hearing. I have heard very little of his previous records but apparently he flirted with country music on them but he goes full bore into the genre on this record. Kweller decided to embrace his Texas roots on CHANGING HORSES and most of the time it works magnificently. They could have left the dreary, bluesy opener, “Gypsy Rose” off the record but on song number two, “Old Hat”, Kweller sounds like an old soul with vocals reminiscent of Gram Parson and some lovely, crying pedal steel. “Fight’ is a honky tonk number with a chorus of “You gotta fight fight fight, all the way. You gotta set your sights on the lord in your life you gotta fight ‘til your dying day” and some rollicking piano and “Sawdust Man’ sounds straight off an old record by The Band (with some Beatles tossed in). Hopefully this record a merely a taste of things to come by this young songwriter who is finding his muse and showing his true talent. www.atorecords.com

w08.10.09
The Lovetones
DIMENSIONS- (PLANTING SEEDS)- I have a two other previous records by these jangly Aussies and this one, their first for Planting Seeds, might be their best one yet. Basically, if you’re going to add some 12-string (Rickenbacker) guitar to your record then I will take notice. Apparently leader Matthew Tow has been palling around with Brian Jonestown Massacre leader Anton Newcombe (Anton co-wrote and mixed one of the songs, “A New Low in Getting High” and Tow plays occasionally as a member of BJM) and thus this doesn’t sound unlike some classic BJM stuff. Opener “Moonlit Suite (her room)” drifts off into Pink Floyd territory but the following tune, the gorgeous “Journeyman” , is all jangly 12-string guitar and dreamy vocals and one of my favorite songs of the year (as is the similarly terrific “Love and Redemption”). On “There is No Sound” they get a bit folkier and more into Simon & Garfunkel territory while he channels Bowie on the mellotron-infused “Song to Humanity.” The record was co-produced by the Quarter After’s Rob Campanella (as well as Tow and Liam Judson ) who has also done superb production jobs on records by BJM, Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde. Add this one to his list and please buy Campanella, Liam Judson and especially Matt Tow a soda on me next time you see him because after hearing DIMENSIONS they all truly deserve it. www.plantingseedsrecords.com

w08.10.09
Metric
FANTASIES- (METRIC/LAST GANG)-Yet another band that I have always read good things about but never really gave them the time of day and I’m not sure why. For this, record number three, the Toronto-based quartet, led by the vocals of Emily Haines, manicures their synthed-out pop tunes with stickier melodies and some honest-to-goodness thump to make this one a dancefloor hit from coast to coast. On opener “Help I’m Alive” Haines sounds positively fierce when she sings/growls “Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?” and it’s when she sings the word hammer (sounds like hammaaa!!) that gets me and “Sick Muse” should be a huge hit and why it’s not…well, there’s no accounting for taste, right? Several other cuts on here sound like they could be the songs of the summer if the kids really knew what was going on (check out “Satellite Mind”, “Gold Guns Girls”, “Gimme Sympathy” and “Front Row”). If FANTASIES sounds like the band’s bid for pop success well, it is and when the songs are this cart5chy and well written you can easily forgive them. It demand repeated plays and that is exactly what I have been doing. www.ilovemetric.com

w08.03.09
Golden Bloom
FAN THE FLAMES- (THE SLEEPY WEST)-First things first: "She Leaves Me Poetry" is my favorite song so far of 2009. Simply constructed but lushly orchestrated, this gem teems with introspection and infectious hooks and lyrical couplets. It's the rare songwriter who can offer such a deep look inside himself (writer Shawn Fogel presents a character that's insecure, yet observant and more realistic than one might think, given that he's preparing to leave a relationship that at times thrilled, perhaps even defined him) without coming off as narcissistic. "Poetry" is a songwriting clinic, a piece for the ages. Fogel's love for basic pop, and his craft in presenting, define the rest of Fan the Flames. "Doomsday Devices" delivers snappy organ hooks and peppy guitars before, near the end, veering into a Casiotone-drum-driven break. It's way more subtle than it sounds. Indeed, the whole song, while brilliant, could have even been bigger, more dramatic (gotta wonder whether Fogel takes this band on the road much: I'd love to hear this song live, as it's likely a barn-burner) but works fine just as it is. There's also "The Mountainside Says," a more deliberate and, like "She Leaves Me Poetry," moderate number with a "da-da-da" break that's kind of like a sideways version of the "na-na-na-nah" chorus in Hey Jude. I really like the playing on this song: I'd just listened to the Band's Music from Big Pink right before giving it a final, "let's-review-it-now" spin, and there are odd similarities in the tone of each. Not to say that there's much rootsy stuff happening with Golden Bloom: It's pop all the way. It's just that within that convention, one expects an epic or ponderous song to break out at any second. And, lo and behold, Fan the Flames ends in proper (save for an odd ditty about Rod Blagojevich) with Theme for An Adventure At Sea, which, as any good last song will do, ties together many of the elements — great playing, exceptional writing and singing, terrific energy and stellar lyrics — expressed earlier in this sensational record. Definitely one of 2009's best releases. www.goldenbloom.net ANDY GIEGERICH

w08.03.09
The Meatmen
COVER THE EARTH-(MEATMEN RECORDS)- After wowing audiences for most of the 1980’s Tesco Vee and his Meatmen seemingly vanished for nearly the last two decades. Apparently this is the first record Tesco has been on in 13 years (or so says his website) and after nearly 2 decades in the Washington , DC area Tesco is back in Michigan (where he belongs). I’m not sure who he has playing with him on this one but suffice it to say the brothers Ramsey and McCullough are long gone (no James Cooper either) and the other three guys on here all have fake names but who cares, this is great. Cover the Earth is, as the title implies, a collection of 24 covers ranging from obvious stuff you’d expect from Tesco and his men of meat (G.G. Allin, Fear, Johnny Thunders, Motorhead, etc.) to some stuff that might surprise you (10CC, The Temptations, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.). No surprise that Cover the Earth is terrific because for all of Tesco’s slapstick knuckleheadness he is a huge music fan and loves to pay homage to his heroes (and is the world’s biggest Abba fan, who they cover here with a rousing rendition of “So Long”). Don’t get me wrong, COVER THE EARTH is lude, crude and socially unacceptable, which is why I love it. If you want to hear some high-octane , grunting scorch check out the version of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Me 262” or Saxon’s “Freeway Mad” and, of course, Fear’s “I Love Living in the City.” Funny too as I always thought what The Meatmen were doing was far superior to similar jokesters like Fear. Go to the web site listed below and tell Tesco how much you appreciate him and pick up a copy of COVER THE EARTH while you’re at it. As it says on the inside cd booklet: Tesco Vee: a Michigan original since 1955. www.tescovee.com

w08.03.09
V/A
LOVING TAKES THIS COURSE: A TRIBUTE TO KATH BLOOM- (CHAPTER MUSIC)- I have to admit I have only ever heard of folky Kath Bloom when associated with avant garde guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors but I had no idea that she had been releasing records since the 70’s (incidentally, she met Connors in 1976 and they ended their musical partnership in 1984). After reading a bit more about her it is no surprise that some of the indie scene’s biggest heavyweights (musically speaking) agreed to record her songs. Among them Bill Callahan, Davendra Banhart, Scout Niblett, Mia Doi Todd plus others and batting cleanup, Mark Kozelek. I don’t know what Kath’s versions of these songs sound like so I am not sure if these versions sound the same or if the artists put their own spin on the songs (probably the latter) but I really enjoyed Callahans’ plaintive version of “The Breeze/My Baby Cries” , Kozelek’s downcast “Finally”, Banhart’s swingin’version of “Forget About Him” and The Dodos “Biggest Light of All.” Other artists appearing here include Meg Baird, The Concretes, Josephine Foster, Corrina Repp and others. These artists obviously hold Bloom in high regard and it shows as this is terrific from start to finish. Side note: apparently this is a 2 disc set with one disc of covers (the one I have) and one with Kath’s version of the songs (which I did not get). www.chaptermusic.com.au

w08.03.09
V/A
MAN OF SOMEBODY’S DREAMS: A TRIBUTE TO CHRIS GAFFNEY- (YEP ROC)-Had never heard of Chris Gaffney so the first thing I did when I received this was read the liners notes written by Blaster Dave Alvin (who put the record together) who not only counted Gaffney as a musical collaborator but also as his best friend. Like the Kath Bloom tribute above for Alvin to get so many quality artists to contribute to this must mean Gaffney meant a lot to a lot of people. The list reads like a who’s who of roots music’s biggest names: Los Lobos, Calexico, Peter Case, Robbie Fulks, John Doe, Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys plus Alvin and others (including Boz Scaggs and my mom’s favorite, Freddy Fender). Gaffney, who wrote all 18 of these songs and was most well-known for his band the Hacienda Brothers , died in 2008 of live cancer but his spirit lives on on this terrific tribute record. Among my faves are Joe Ely’s honkey tonk version of “Lift Your Leg”, Dave Alvin’s partly spoken word “Artesia”, Peter Case’s barroom brawling “Six Nights a Week”, Calexico’s gorgeous “Frank’s Tavern”, Robbie Fulks cry-in-your-beer fave “King of the Blues” and plenty of others (including the finals song on the record being an unreleased song done by Chris called “The Guitars of My Dead Friends”). Kudos to Dave Alvin for getting a collection of artists who definitely put their best foot forward for their friend. All proceeds from the record go to both Chris’ family as well as a non-profit group called Hungry for Music. www.yeproc.com

w07.27.09
Jeremy Jay
SLOW DANCE- (K)-The front cover has a pic of (I assume) Jeremy looking cool in his black pants, black and white striped shirt and long-sleeved shirt over top, staring straight ahead at the camera with thumbs in his pocket. He could pass for a Germs disciple or a new wave geek (and I mean that in the best way possible). After hearing the music I’m guessing he’s the latter after hearing these 10 sugar-coated synth pop nuggets that occasionally go dark. I’m reminded most of the Frausdots record that Sub Pop released a few years ago or some of the early Smog stuff with more of a melodic bent. From the song titles though is seems like Jeremy remembered back to his high school days (which may not have been that long ago , he looks pretty young in the photo) with titles like “In This Lonely Town”, “Will You Dance With Me”, “Breaking the Ice.” The mood and tempo stays roughly the same throughout and some of these songs are gooier than molasses (check out the terrific “Canter Canter”). I’m pleased to say that SLOW DANCE has been one of 2009’s most pleasant surprises. www.krecs.com

w07.27.09
Ross Island Bridge
VOLUME ONE: THE PROCESS IS NOW-(A BOUNCING SPACE)- Portland's Ross Beach has become somewhat of a pop scene godfather, an impresario-like figure who hosts some of the city's best shows in his living room while lending his organizational skills and time to such efforts as the vaunted PDX Pop Now! festival. And along with being one of the city's most beloved musicians, he's also a top-notch songwriter. With Ross Island Bridge, Beach steps aside and gives other Portland performers a chance to vocally interpret his songs, a la Stephin Merritt and the 6ths. The music even sounds like the 6ths, with Beach employing a bevy of effects-laden arpeggio-filled synthy structures that would welcome any singer worth their diaphragms. The effect comes off as oddly psychedelic, a decidedly different direction for the head Hellpet. Ali Ippolito, of Heroes and Villains, gets the toughest assignment, having to turn around lyrical nuggets such as "Is that fucking hilarious or what?" that Beach himself might deliver on a dime. But Ippolito captures Beach's intended phrasing perfectly, making the song, along with the frantic gear-switching ending, one of the record's three gems. The others include Dreaming Of, sung by the etherally piped Kaitlyn NiDonovan, and Ifeelmyselfhoping, sung by Autopilot's Adrienne Hatkin. Hatkin's one-of-a-kind voice — sorry, can't describe it, can't even come close to any references, it's just unusual without being atonal or gimmicky — fits, I'm guessing, with Beach's project aesthetic: He gave them a template, be it through melodies or vibe, to follow, but didn't suck the life out of their tracks by watching over them too carefully. The one thing about the release: Beach's voice is a pleasant baritone that enunciates clearly and forcefully. I miss that on this disc, and am hoping he'll put out a companion LP with his own interpretations of these tunes. That said, this 7ths CD is pretty damn good. www.rossbeach.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w07.27.09
The Summer Wardrobe
CAJUN PRAIRIE FIRE- (SAUSPOP)- Austin bunch who apparently have backed Roky Erickson a number of times (as have Austin’s other psych masters, The Black Angels). These guys had a solid debut on the Rainbow Quartz label then decided to stay local on the sophomore effort on San Antonio label, Saustex/Sauspop label. C.P.F. is filled to the brim with 8 snot-thick, heavy jams but these are the kind of jams I dig (no unnecessary noodling here). Pedal steel guitarist Jon Leon adds plenty of personality to the tunes as does terrific Austin utility drummer George Duron (Sally Crewe, Dumptruck, Seth Tiven solo, etc.). “Highs in the Mid-90’s” has epic written all over it while Jon Leon adds his magic to “Ocotillo Sundown.” Just when you think you have the band’s sound pinned down they toss a vague reggae beat on the title track and then a straight pop song (with horns!) on “Baby, Let’s Switch Graves.” It’s all here: plenty of twang, plenty of trip and pop when you want that too and it’s well worth your precious time (and money). www.sauspop.com

w07.27.09
Wake The President
YOU CAN'T CHANGE THAT BOY- (MAGIC MARKER)-I've been flipping through the latest issue of Roctober, a 'zine that never seems to go away (it's been around for what seems like decades) and remains consistently entertaining and useful, if not all that editorially clean. One of the pub's devices, that allows editors to review hundreds of records, is to blast out short snippets that play off the bands' names. Say the band's name is the Angry Bookshelves. A Roctober review might read like this: "They should call themselves the Angry Hookshelves, because you won't be able to get these songs out your head!" And on and on. The net effect is, they can knock out a lot of reviews without really listening to a lot of the release, plus, readers may not really take those snippets seriously because, clearly, I think, Roctober doesn't either. And I hope that doesn't sound like a knock of Roctober because it's meant as a compliment. It really is. Anyway, I began listening to Wake the President's You Can't Change That Boy right after finishing a round of Roctober reviews and started wondering about clever word plays on their name. "They should have called their band 'Rock the President. . .'" "Wake the President? More like, 'Wake the World and Tell Them About This Awesome Band." And, by the time I came up with a couple more, four songs had played and I realized nothing had made me stop to think about what I'd say about the music. A bad sign? Maybe at first. But the disc is a bit of a grower: Its production and arrangements might lure in listeners more so than its songs, but the tunes are subtly clever and wrap themselves around listeners during the second or third listen. It's an inoffensive pop set that moves around nicely, like a moodier Dressy Bessy or nascent Cheap Trick. The guitars are early-90s twee and the vocals emit from a strain of Scot that could be the coolest English-language accent in the world. The best song, "Miss Tierney," is about a woman who's from Glasgow and apparently, if I understand singer Erik Sandberg's brogue, served the song's narrator unconditionally (the narrator reciprocated). It's catchy and alluring, and makes me glad the bands that Belle & Sebastian inspired, either directly or indirectly, are making great records. No idea about much of the history of this band, but they sound, their voices and instrumentation, a little young. Which makes me wonder how where they'll progress to in, say, five years. Will they pioneer a new hybrid we've not yet imagined, say, psychedelic-bluegrass? Or will they keep making pop records? Just curious, is all. Hmmm. Wake the President. Maybe they should rename themselves "Wake the President with an Awesome-Pop Alarm Clock!" Yeah! www.magicmarkerrecords.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w07.20.09
Comet Gain
BROKEN RECORD PRAYERS- (WHATS YOUR RUPTURE?)-These U.K. popsters (with a punk attitude) have been showing less talented folks how it’s been done for well over a decade now. Led by David Christian Feck and a revolving door of other members since its inception, the band is able to capture that same kind of electricity in much the same manner that Ben Franklin did that day in Philly all those years ago. BROKEN RECORD PRAYERS is a 10 track odds and ends collection of singles and rarities that were released in the ten years from 1998-2008. Opening cut “Jack Nance Hair” is a tribute to late heavenly drummer Matthew Fletcher while “You Can Hide Your Love Forever” channels Orange Juice in both title and spirit. “Young Lions” is one of those classic Comet Gain rockers you’ve always heard about but were never quite able to find or hear, all sizzling melody, passionate vocals and a guitar and keyboard slugging it out with one another. That is the first three cuts and there’s 17 more here, I’m not saying all 20 are the bee’s knees but the ratio of god to bad definitely leans way to the former. They even tackle a Clean cover and do it more than justice. What I’m trying to say is that this band that you may have never heard before is a band that you NEED to hear. www.whatsyourrupture.com

w07.20.09
Desolation Wilderness
NEW UNIVERSE-(K)- I’m always curious to know what is going on in Olympia, Washington. It never seems like a whole lot these days. Oh sure, K Records is still there and still releasing records by a bunch of bands, many who I’ve never heard of, like Desolation Wilderness. Still, listening to a lot of the releases on K these day still finds the label to be a challenging and unpredictable one, willing to take changes on bands that many label would stay away from (reggae, for instance). This Desolation Wilderness cd looked like something I would like. The cover of it looked nice, a shot of the Pacific Ocean looking fairly calm with some nasty clouds moving in and the opening cut is called “Venice Beach” so I was thinking I was in for a nice, bucolic pop record and I was right. First tune “Venice Beach” is all hazy sunshine as the weatherman likes to say and “Boardwalk Theme” is much of that same sorta sunshine with perhaps a few clouds sprinkled throughout. “Strange Cool Girl” drifts along with the same kind of attitude that a Galaxie 500 songs used to have, “Slow Fade” is way more chipper by comparison and “San Francisco 2 AM” is one of those blurry epics that the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev used to be able to write like decades ago. Desolation Wilderness is not the first band to be called hazy, gauzy, blurry and lazy and won’t be the last but in NEW UNIVERSE they have made a supremely casual, easy-to-like record. www.krecs.com

w07.20.09
Dinosaur Jr
FARM- (JAGJAGUWAR)- I remember the day I first heard Dinosaur’s “You’re living all over me” pretty clearly as murky recollections from my youth go. Record store, East Bay, 1987. Charles Hutchinson pulled out the SST new releases we got from some distributor like Important or some such outfit, and as we were all stoked with SST’s expansion, presenting many differing and difficult genres to the ears of the suburban kid, we felt we needed to hear this now. Charles puts the needle on the record, and I’m greeted by a wall of noise, so simple, nearly stupid, but fucking loud and immediately blasting into some of the most moving music I’d ever heard. “Raisans” (not sure why he put on side 2 first) shamed 95% of the hardcore post punk whatever I’d been filling my head with over the past years. Paradigm and tectonic shifts occurred. A band who understood the power of sound that SWANS and Sonic Youth had been putting out, validating my dirty secret reverence of Sabbath, and authentically singing about the inherent sadness of things. Intoxicating. The romance continued through the tail end of “Bug”, what with NME finally getting a clue to what was going on in the US, and then the Jr. broke up. Fast forward to 2005. Seeing the reformed band at the Avalon in LA was amazing. “Beyond” came out in 2007, and it made me think they were climbing to reach the place they held when they broke up. “Farm” is that record. It is a real deal. The melodies throughout the album have evolved, and the hooks per song quotient is crazily high. Production values are pretty boxy and compressed, fitting right between “You’re living all over me” and “Bug”. The mid-fi is great, and fits right into their best work, sounding like they remembered their place and how good and right it is. There are too many highlights in Farm to list them all, here are the ones jumping out at me. “Pieces”, the opener, has an amazing POV similar to songs from the eponymous lp from ’85 . “I Want You To Know” is a stunning song culling the sheer volume the band is capable of producing with a super Crazy Horse shuffle beat and the best chorus J.’s pulled together since his last truly amazing chorus. “Over It” is this records “Freak Scene”. It lacks the bridge which spawned a new generation of indie rockers, but makes up for it with its amazing double time bridge banging eternal. NME, you putting this song on one of your 7” compilations? J. dives into a somewhat southern rock pop direction with on “Friends” and “Ocean in the Way”, but absolves himself on both counts with tremendous choruses and bridges. Tim and I often discuss J.’s potential status as a “guitar god”, with Tim generally in the affirmative, me generally saying, naw man, I can play that shit…that said, the guitar breaks on “I Don’t Wanna Go There” really add credence to Tim’s point. There’s genius, loose and free, happening here. The Lou Barlow songs need to be called out as real highlights of the album. They truly put me into the magical place that all of his work through “Smash Your Head Against The Punk Rock” put me. Out there in the most positive and mind expanding ways. Someone said that Farm is a record without any apology associated with it. I agree. No apologies, I’m back in 1987 here listening to what was once my favorite band in the world. Hopes and Dreams are all we have. Join me or them or us. www.jagjaguwar.com BRIAN EMERY

w07.20.09
The Minus 5
KILLINGSWORTH- (YEP ROC)-Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey pulled up stakes from his long time home in Seattle a few years back and headed south 180 miles, deciding to make roots here in Portland. One thing is for sure though, he didn’t come here to be a hermit, when he is not on tour with the M-5 ( or with R.E.M. as their extra guitar player, which he has been for years) he can be seen at any number of haunts around our fair city. You can’t miss him either with his bushel of frizzy hair and his ever-present sunglasses on (day or night, indoor or outdoor) and he’s about as down to earth and friendly as a man could be. On this, record #8, McCaughey assembled a loose collection of Portland musicians and decided to pay homage to his adopted hometown and, in the title of the record, a street in N.E. Portland (the cd cover is great too, it’s a collage of, what I assume are some of Scott’s (and mine) favorite places in Portland. You’ll see Berbati’s Pan, Hotcake House, Clinton Street Video, Hollywood Theatre, etc. etc). . The opening cut, “Dark Hand of Contagion” (co-written by McCaughey and Tim Bracy formerly of DAGGER favorite the Mendoza Line) is a low-key acoustic song that will be a cry in your beer fave on Portland jukeboxes for years to come while the pedal steel on “The Long Hall” ,and many other songs on KILLINGSWORTH, will have you thinking it’s country record (but I have been told it is not) but that song and the next one, “The Disembowlers’ are two of the best on the record as is “The Lurking Barrister” and “It Won’t Do You Any Good”, both which features the lovely backing vocals of the She Bee Gees. Ok, I’ve just mentioned the first 5 songs and I am not going to go through the record song by song but I will end with this. KILLINGSWORTH is a poignant, at times humorous record chock full of superb songwriting and killer playing all the way around. It will definitely make my top 10 for 2009. www.yeproc.com

w07.13.09
Audible
IN SIMPLE INTERVALS- (SELF RELEASED)-This is full-length number two for this blossoming Philly band (who once did a split cd with DAGGER faves Swivel Chairs…their debut full-length was released on Polyvinyl in 2005). Apparently the band began in 2000 as a bedroom recording project between Mike Kennedy (who had spent time in both Mazarin and Matt Pond PA) and then girlfriend Mary Garito. The relationship didn’t last but both stayed in the band and added more members (including ex-Bigger Lovers guy Ed Hogarty on guitar last year). IN SIMPLE INTERVALS was again recorded in Kennedy’s bedroom but this is not lo-fi by any stretch. The is ambitious, layered pop by a band that took their time to write GOOD songs and not just toss some crap off In the studio (nor did they waste time./money and make a 78 minute record either). Opening cut “April is Real” starts with crashing drums/cymbals/keys then slips into a gentle pop tune with perfect harmonies and roars coming from the background while “Hours Ago (Sad Mac)” sounds like a perfect autumn song but then I hear the bass groove of “Summer Lovin’” (yup, from the Grease soundtrack) and I’m reminded of Olivia Newton John on the beach so maybe it’s a summer song. “Army of Teeth” is not only one of the best song titles I’ve heard all year but a fantastic song too with shuffling rhythms and soaring guitars/keys crawling over top. There’s plenty of terrific , low-key pop songs on here A truly underrated band that deserves a lot more attention. www.audibleband.com

w07.13.09
The Autumn Leaves
LONG LOST FRIEND-(DABBLER)- Sounds like from reading this band myspace page that the Leaves are no more but leader David Beckey is recording a solo project with (other DAGGER fave) Charlie Dush. The Autumn Leaves had been around for 15 years but only recorded (counting this) 3 full-lengths. I do wish the band’s output was more but I can’t really complain as all 3 of their records are terrific. Returning from the debut record (TREATS & TREASURES on Grimsey Records) and joining Beckey is bassist Keith Patterson as well as drummer Steve Kent and they got ex-Monk Gary Burger to produce and the songs are superb and I’d have to say this is the ‘Leaves most consistent record of thee 3 (and the other two are very good too). “Lighthouse’ with one of those perfect jangly guitar riff (think Byrds) while “Summer Sunshine Girl” ups the pizzazz anty with more bounce. The title track is one of the band’s best yet (again, think McGuinn and Co.) and “Next to Me” approaches ….ska a bit but totally works. You want more? Give a listen to “Staring at the Sun”, “Feels Like Rain” (reminded me a bit of The Orange Peels), “Make My Move”, etc. This is a great way to go out ….see ya’ long lost friend, thanks for the memories. www.myspace.com/theautumnleaves

w07.13.09
Cameron McGill & What Army
WARM SONGS FOR COLD SHOULDERS- (PARASOL)- Chicago (via Champaign) dude who has a bushel of previous records, none of which I’ve heard. This is his Parasol debut and it’s a doozie. This is some of the warmest and most intimate indie folks I’ve heard in quite some time (or since the last Pernice Bros record). Aided and abetted by plenty of pals , McGill offers up 10 songs perfect to lay by the fire. In the vein of Bob Dylan and Mojave 3, McGill‘s warm voice warps around his acoustic picking, wooshes of keys and (Wurlitzer) organ, lightly brushed drums and , of course, pedal steel (what beautiful record does not have it? Ok, so there’s plenty but you know what I mean). Opener “Not on my Side” is too pretty for words while “Please Don’t Let me Down” reaches deeper and comes up with gold. “Dark Times, Dark Times” is a bit more uplifting and “Sold the Rest” shuffles along like the best Gram Parson tunes. 10 songs here and not a bad one in the bunch. Cameron McGill could/should be every bit the songwriter that Conor Oberst is but with one one millionth the recognition. Hopefully with WARMS SONGS FOR COLD SHOULDERS that will all change. www.parasol.com

w07.13.09
The Powerchords
THINK I'M GONNA- (SINGLE SCREEN)-These San Diego pogo/mod pop punks have all the right clothes, buttons on their jackets , haircuts and thankfully, the songs too. I was initially reminded of former Dirtnap bleach heads The Briefs (and most of the Dirtnap stable, to be honest) but these guys also have a strong UK influence too (read: Buzzcocks, The Boys and The Jam). These 14 songs speed by in under 30 minutes and the opening cut (title track) shows off the bands chops (as does the terrific “Games” and “New Pheromones”) quite nicely with buzzing guitars and snotty vocals while “Amygdala” is a bit darker and moodier but no less effective. “Bad Guys” adds some cool harmonies and “Blow” adds more of a 70’s skinny tie power pop influence (ala The Knack). The label, which is run by the band’s bassist Craig Barclift, sent me a few of their other releases and if they’re as good as this well then I think we have a new contenda for best up and coming punk label. www.myspace.com/singlescreenrecords

w07.06.09
Linda Draper
BRIDGE AND TUNNEL- (PLANTING SEEDS)-Linda Draper has quietly carved out a place for herself amongst the folkies of the NYC coffeehouse unit. She has had at least 4 records for the Planting Seeds label and I believe had even a few before coming to that label and BRIDGE AND TUNNEL is the best one I’ve heard yet (her debut RICOCHET was released in 2001). Even though she has bass, drums and keyboards on most of the tracks the sound would still be considered folk and still sounds fairly minimal. On the strength of the songs (and Draper’s honeydew voice) BRIDGE AND TUNNEL stands head and shoulders above what I considered “folk” these days (sorry to use the f-word so much in this review). Among the best here are the waltzing “I Will”, the shuffling “Time Will Tell”, the gentle “Close Enough” and the should-be-a-hit “Broken Eggshell.” She even does a real minimal take on the Rolling Stones “Mother’s Little Helper” in a version that would make Mick and Keef proud. BRIDGE AND TUNNEL is the best record yet from an artist who has continually practiced her craft for a number of years and it’s really paying off. www.plantingseedsrecords.com

w07.06.09
The Leftovers
EAGER TO PLEASE-(CRAPPY/OGLIO)- Had never heard of these snotty power poppers before but apparently they have three other records out. Apparently they hail from, the other Portland (Maine) and have one member who spent some time in The Queers. The fact that it was produced by Linus of Hollywood make me take more notice and one spin was all I needed (also, there are cameos from members of The Muffs, The Donnas, The Rubinoos, The Romantics, and others). There’s 14 songs here and I have to say there is not a bad song in the entire pack. Honest. The songs waver between early 80’s-esque nuggets akin to Elvis and his Attractions while a handful of tunes get a bit speedier and sounds like Ramones (and thus , The Queers). Seriously, the songwriting here is top notch and if you have any doubt just spin cuts like “Telephone Operator” (not a Pete Shelley cover), “Get to Know You”, “You Know What To Do”, “I Want You Back”, and plenty of others. The calendar reads July 4th which means summer’s here, time to put the top down (if I had a convertible, that is ) and crank EAGER TO PLEASE! www.crappyrecords.com

w07.06.09
Misc.
HAPPINESS IS EASY- (BADMAN)- While releasing records by some fantastic bands Badman Records head Dylan Magierek has already established that he can round up some ace bands/musicians (not only that, but I love the packaging of a lot of his releases) but with Misc, he puts his money where his mouth is and does some recording himself. With help from a few American Music Club folks, Magierek has created a brooding, slowly bubbling record with keys, strings and vocals from LA-guy Daniel Ahearn (whose PRAY FOR ME BY NAME ep from a few years ago was solid). “Korea Vs. Japan” is a slow-burning masterpiece as is “Such a Fighter.” 10 songs including a cover of Low’s “Sea.” Dig deep, my friends. www.badmanrecordingco.com

w07.06.09
The New Dawn
THERE'S A NEW DAWN- (JACKPOT)-Here’s hoping that music archeologists continue to unearth more obscure 1960s American music. In the 1980s, I was blown away by Attack of the Jersey Teens, with four not-to-be believed-good songs by the Young Monkey Men (if anyone has this and wants to sell it, God, please try to get a hold of me through Dagger). A decade later, Sundazed released a bevy of goodies from Michigan bands, including one by the Frederic, featuring a very unpolished David Geddes (who gave the world Run Joey Run). Sundazed continues to put out regional compilations that regularly astound. Now comes the New Dawn, a Willamina, Oregon combo that may have defined how Northwest bands interpreted psychedelia. That is, they kept the fuzz, added a lot of minor-chord mopiness and retained and rewrote garage-y hooks that make this reissued record brilliant. Take Dark Thoughts, with a sweeping organ lilt and perfect drum fills that accompany singer Dan Bazzy’s admonishments that he’ll visit a gypsy to eradicate his bubbling emotions. It’s creepy but in a harmless Munsters kind of way, There’s also the tale of Proudman, who needed to work to help his parents but quit his post because his boss seemed to pity him. Proudman is his name. Isaac Slusarenko, owner of Portland-based Jackpot Records, gets the credit for finding this gem (he also released an album by Portland-based 1960s wrestler Beauregarde) and ensuring that the music, which nearly earned a major label contract from ABC-Dunhill, survives. Especially recommended for fans of Ugly Things magazine. www.jackpotrecords.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w06.29.09
The Bats
THE GUILTY OFFICE- (HIDDEN AGENDA)-One of New Zealand’s most beloved bands, The Bats, went on hiatus after the release of COUCHMASTER in 1995 (or maybe they just broke up?). Still it gave time for leader Robert Scott (also of The Clean) to work on solo stuff while the others raised families. They returned a few years ago with AT THE NATIONAL GRID (released here on magic Marker records) , a wonderful return to form and here they come again, on a new label, with another strong effort. THE GUILTY OFFICE is not their best record but is still very good and shows a band which has been the model of consistency since their inception (with the same 4 members). The first single, “Castle Lights” is a stunner with gentle, rolling melodies and bucolic strings added for perfect effect while “Satellites” is a classic in the truest Bats tradition (think DADDY’S HIGHWAY) and “Steppin’ Out” (not the Joe Jackson song) kicks up the tempo and scatters some dust. Yet another feather in the cap of a band that deserves every one of those feathers. www.parasol.com

w06.29.09
The Besties
HOME FREE-(HUGPATCH)- The Besties seemingly popped out of nowhere in 2005 with the ep SINGER on the Skipping Stones label. Each of the 8 songs has the word song in the title (ie: “Prison Song”, “Western Song”, etc.). The ep was sturdy and the band seemed to bring back all of the best parts of indie pop that seemed to have vanished after its peak in the late 90’s/early 00’s. Marisa, Kelly and Ricky have returned for HOME FREE but have added Frank Korn on drums and the songs are just as scrumptious. “Right Band Wrong Song” starts things off on the right foot but the band really kicks into high gear on the curiously named “What Would Tim Armstrong Do?” (named, I’m guessing, for the Rancid leader) and “Helgafell” has some of those great, sorta-cheesy keyboards that I love so much and “Night Watch” adds some elements of folk and 60’s girl group pop for some gentle fun. Later on, “The Gothenburg Handhake” is no doubt about their time in Sweden (they played the Emmaboda festival last year) and the beginning guitar on “St. Francis” adds some bite to the proceedings. I would definitely call HOME FREE a strong outing. R.I.Y.L. Dreamdate, Cub, Tiger Trap, Vancougar, etc. www.hugpatch.com

w06.29.09
Outrageous Cherry
UNIVERSAL MALCONTENTS- (BOMP/ALIVE)- In the Trouser Press Record Guide editor Ira Robbins calls Velvet Crush’s Ric Menck “one of pop’s truest believers, a brilliant pilgrim on a lifetime quest to understand and master the inscrutable fusion of allure, insight and energy that yields the most sublime melodic devotionals to the grand wizards of the two minute single.” Ok so that was a mouthful (and I agree with it) but I feel the same can also be said for Detroit songwriter and O.C. leader Matthew Smith. Through several records (and almost as many labels) Smith and his mop-topped pals searched the depths of their 60’s garage records, Motown records and flowery 70’s pop to come up with a sound that blends all 3 genres as good as I’ve heard. In addition to those influences there are some other namechecks on here and Smith doesn’t mind letting those influences shine through: early Stones, Bowie, T-Rex, etc. The record opens with the woozy grunt of “I Recognize Her” while tune three, seemingly a Stones homage, is “It’s Not Rock n” Roll (and I Don’t Like It)” has a cool foot-tapping groove from start to finish as does “The Song Belongs to Everyone” and the awesomely-titled “I Wouldn’t Treat My Enemies the Way You Treat Yourself.” Make sure you have plenty of time (8 minutes) to listen to the next to last tune, “Outsider”, which is the definition of a psychedelic tune. All in a day’s work for the mighty Outrageous Cherry. www.alivenergy.com

w06.29.09
Poland
MOST OF THEM ARE CLOCKWORK- (SERIES TWO)-Series Two Records only pressed 300 copies of Most Of Them Are Clockwork. Here’s a suggestion: Track one down. For the second straight release, Poland has provided a highly listenable collection of coolest-kid-in-the-class (you know, the one who quietly sits in the back, waiting for school to end so he/she can get to band practice) songs. As with the brilliant Schoolboy Crush on Che Guevara, the Seattle outfit recalls the best of West Coast jazz, circa 1965, along with Burt Bacharach with a touch of British pop. A more modern point of reference might come from Ladybug Transistor (hey, what are these guys, as well as the Essex Green, doing these days?), circa Albemarle Sound (see King Mary, Clockwork’s gorgeous fifth track). Highlights from Clockwork include Finally September, a brilliant strings-filled backbeat-driven romp that sounds very Left Bankish, and Starling Street, with a haunting beginning that should hit an NPR newscast, as between-story filler, any day now. If there’s any quibble, it’s that singer Mark Romanowski’s voice might come off as a little too detached. If could have something to do with the mix: Vocals aren’t as up front as they probably should be. Still, he’s a nice singer who ultimately compliments the array of strings, xylophones, marimbas, and on and on. Here’s hoping he, and Poland, continue making beautiful music. www.myspace.com/seriestworecords ANDY GIEGERICH

w06.22.09
Almost Charlie
THE PLURAL OF YES- (WORDS ON MUSIC)-This fine Minneapolis label has been around for quite some time and while they don’t release much what they DO release is usually a cut or two above and this Berlin, German band certainly is. The band was an odd pairing as German singer/guitarist Dirk Homuth answered an ad from American lyricist Charlie Mason. Mason had some lyrics but he just needed the songs and that is where Homuth came in. The arrangements are obviously indebted to 60’s pop and the songs waver between haunting folkier numbers and more mid-tempo stuff that recalls The Beatles at their bounciest. Songs that fall into the former category include opener “Everyone Deserves to Love”, “So Far and Yet So Near” and “Will You Still be Here” while the more Beatle-esque stuff includes terrific cuts like “Leaving Is Easy”, “The Monster and Frankenstein” , “In Another Life’ and a few others. Then there is the very Nick Drake influenced, string-soaked, closing title track which closes the record perfectly. Here’s to hoping Mr. Mason has a notebook full of lyrics and that Homuth is itching to put them to songs for a PLURAL OF YES Part 2! www.words-on-music.com

w06.22.09
God Help The Girl
S/T-(MATADOR)- So you’ve been waiting three year s for the new Belle and Sebastian? Well, keep waiting. Is God Help the Girl a band, an album, or a movie? Well, possibly all three. It’s guided by Stuart Murdoch’s obsession with female voices, but many other B&S members are here as well. (Stuart does sing on my favorite tracks, “Pretty Eve in the Tub” and “Hiding Neath My Umbrella,” but this wasn’t the plan.) This feminine difference covers all of the female vocal styles of the past with heavy string and piano filled, soaring melodies that have “digital Dolby surround sound” written all over them. In other words, these songs will make a great soundtrack to the movie. Throw in a traditional jazz instrumental, “A Unified Theory,” and a suspense filled, string instrumental,” The Music Room Window,” and you have it. However, most of the tracks are sung by newcomer, Catherine Ireton, who delivers a strong, vibrant sound. Gone is the subtle, raspy whisper of Isobel Campbell of days past. Other guest vocalists include Brittany Stallings, Celia Garcia, Alex Klobouk, Dina Bankole, Smoosh’s Asya, and The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. Two Life Pursuit throwaways are reworked and given new life, “Act of the Apostle II” and “Funny Little Frog” with the second song being the second single of this project. (The b-side, “Mary’s Market,” a non-album track sung by Stuart, is definitely worth tracking down.) The first single, “Come Monday Night,” captured my immediate attention. I personally would skip the “French” intro, but the remainder has me singing along complete with its “baby you will sleep much better, maybe you will sleep much better” ending. I’m guessing this project might be just what Stuart needed to deal with his recording contract. www.matadorrecords.com ERIC EGGLESON

w06.22.09
The Isles
TROIKA- (SELF RELEASED)- New York’s Isles’ third release starts off with “Justine,” a track that could have easily been written by Marshall Crenshaw. Remember him? Me neither, but the comparisons stop there. The next track, “Lately,” reveals the true influence of this band, The Smiths. With its Morrissey-ish, dead pan, whiny vocals and Marr’s jangly guitar, The Isles deliver finely crafted pop that I bet sounds better live. By far one of the best, and longest, tracks is “There’s No Heaven.” (Most of their songs clock in around two minutes.) Here’s a bouncy, jangly guitar pop song with David Byrne-ish vocals that ends with upbeat blistering guitar chords. Troika ends with a somber ballad, “Over & Under,” that brings Kitchens of Distinction to mind, mainly because of the vocals. As for the influences listed on their myspace: Guided by Voices, The Zombies, and Motown; I’m not seeing it. But if you like any of the bands I mentioned above, The Isles are right up your alley. ERIC EGGLESON www.myspace/theisles

w06.22.09
Socialist Leisure Party
TACTICAL POP! FOR COFFEE CADETS- (SHELFLIFE)-Andy Hitchcock made his fame and fortune while recording with his band Action Painting on the much vaunted Sarah Records label. When the band ended Hitchcock needed a 2nd act but wasn’t sure what to do, it was here that he reappeared as Andy Putitdown and began pissing people off on the indiepop list. On the list Hitchcock’s rants were often so vile that he was asked to never come back but he did time and time again. His final insult, which mentioned Harvey Williams and a cat proved too much and he left the pop list for good. For his 3rd act he’s gathered up his Action Paining bandmate Kevin House and two other chaps and have released this terrific 8 song record (6 songs on the cd and 2 on the 7” which all comes together in another one of Shelflife’s amazing packages (colorful 7” gatefold sleeve with the cd stuck to a spindle). Influenced by early 80’s Scotland (Orange Juice, Josef K,) plus other oddball stuff (Monochrome Set, etc) each of these 8 songs takes on a life of its own. Opener “Scented Crowbar” sounds like a lost classic from the 80’s that you’ve heard before (except you haven’t) while “No Tattoos” crackle with the kind of energy and excitement not hear since the earliest days of the Wedding Present. Elsewhere, “Down with the Kids” has a punk sneer out on outside while not forgetting the melody (with Andy spitting “You’re so criminally young!”). The punk-pop spirit continues until the end and what you’re left with is another winner from the Shelflife stable. www.shelflife.com

w06.15.09
Sir Richard Bishop
THE FREAK OF ARABY- (DRAG CITY)-“The Freak of Araby” by Sir Richard Bishop is a magical record. A mix of originals, covers and a “Taqasim” (an improvisation within a set musical structure) that all share a similar exploratory nature and continue SRB’s journey to exist in a land where music has meaning beyond time. There is much virtuosity and a mastery of a variety of musical genres, the main being Lebanese, but also a gentle cross into improv/psych, early 60’s guitar heroes (Chet Atkins, the Ventures), 80’s era Marc Ribot, and Django Reinhardt. The music is produced with bracing clarity and honesty. The musical ideas are experimental and challenging to a western mind-set, yet its warmth and detail give insight into these ideas and make this a welcoming trip into distant cultures, imagined or real. There are gems in this record - “Taqasim for Omar” is a beautiful solo guitar improvisation, an offering of reverence to Omar Khorshid (of Belly Dance with Omar Khorshid and His Magic Guitar, 1974, where another version of track 4, Solenzara can be found). “Barbary”, an SRB composition championing the guitar and the inherent funk of non-western rhythms. “Essaouira” rules in that spaghetti western, Marc Ribot style. The album’s closers, “Sidi Mansour” and “Blood-Stained Sands” are epic, and overtly eastern while referencing a 60’s R & B rave up, Syd Barrett slide guitar, and 80’s Muzlimgauze. Quietly. Except for “Blood-Stained Sands”. Pick it up. www.dragcity.com BRIAN EMERY

w06.15.09
Los Straitjackets
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF..-(YEP ROCK)- I will say one thing, these Nashville, TN-based masked surf marauders can certainly put a package together. This one is a fold-out digipack that has a comic on the inner sleeve a well some cool baseball-style cards on each member. Very cool and the band continues on in their quest for the perfect surf song. With two guitarists like Danny Amis (ex-Raybeats) and Eddie Angel their interplay is near perfect and together they speak many languages. Opening cut “Cal-Speed” has that smooooooth sound and sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack to ENDLESS SUMMER while “Challenger ‘64” sounds like pure Ventures. On other, more rockin’tunes like “Blowout” , “Teen Beast” and “Sasquatch” the band sounds as if they put the pedal a bit more to the metal and enjoyed the sound of the twin carbs and posi rear. There you have it, 13 original, instrumental songs, most co-written by all 4 band members and like all L.S.J. records, it smokes. Summer’s here! www.yeproc.com

w06.15.09
The Sand Pebbles
A THOUSAND WILD FLOWERS- (DOUBLE FEATURE)- This is the first release on the new label begun by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillipps of Luna fame and after you hear the record you’ll notice there are at least some similarities to Luna. The band hails from Melbourne, Australia, took their name from an old Steve McQueen movie and has been around for at least a decade (I remember hearing at least one of their releases on the Camera Obscura label in the early 00’s. This record is a 13 song best of comp that features 10 songs then 3 bonus cuts (2 of which are live and one being an obscure 13th Floor Elevators cover) and the band calls their sound “flower punk”, which I love. Opening cut “The Day Summer Fell” sounds like it could be a PENTHOUSE outtake with some killer slithery lead guitar, handclap and drums that sound like bongos (but in a good way) while “Wild Season” adds some guitar grit to the proceedings and tune number three, “Red, Orange , Purple, Blue” will definitely get the band some “psychedelic’ tags. Elsewhere “Kitten Heels” is a killer driving pop tune with some fantastic horn work and “Future Proofed’ is a bit more new wavey (“inspired by the Human League”, says the liners). The comp is seriously solid and a perfect beginning for the Double Feature label. What’s next? www.myspace.com/doublefeaturerecords

w06.15.09
Vetiver
TIGHT KNIT- (SUB POP)-As of this writing, my favorite record of 2009. Tight Knit combines Andy Cabic’s true understanding of late 60’s/early 70’s folk, pop, and psychedelia, and couples to his most consistent songwriting to date. Tricky, intelligent songs with a butter warm veneer. The music veers from unquestionably classic (“Rolling Sea”, “At Forest Edge”), to simple pop gems (“Everyday”, “On the Other Side”), to some amazing dreamy psych numbers (“Down from Above”, “Strictly Rule”, “At Forest Edge”(again)). On the dark side, I don’t gel with “Another Reason to Go”…keyboard wah envelope filters remind me of Edie Brickell and put me in a late 70’s Dead return mindset, both a turn off…I guess I need to evolve. That said, they make up for it with “Strictly Rule” and “At Forest Edge”, the albums closers. Looking at their recent releases there are no real surprises here, but the way the majority of these songs stick have me enjoying this record right now(!) and I leave each listening session with serious enthusiasm for the next release. Can someone please tell me how Cabic manages to channel both traditional and second wave psych (Rain Parade, Opal) so authentically? Enjoying this record, and sincerely looking forward to what Cabic has to offer as we all gracefully age. www.subpop.com BRIAN EMERY

w06.08.09
Camera Obscura
MY MAUDLIN CAREER- (4AD)-It’s hard to believe that this Scottish band have been around for 13 years but indeed they have. While they seem to have shed their Belle & Sebastian Jr. tag, it still pops up in every review (including mine) but with their superb take on northern soul and girl groups of the 1960’s the band, led by Traceyanne Campbell, seems to have gone in a different direction than Stuart Murdoch and company as these are more wall of sound in their delivery. These 11 songs seems to pick up right where 2006’s superb LET’S GET OUT OF THIS COUNTRY left off as the swirling opener (and single) “French Navy” indicates with blaring horns, soothing keys and Campbell’s cooing/pleading vocals. On “The Sweetest Thing: the opening doo wop vocals give way to a soaring string section and yet another perfect melody. From there the songs alternate between mid-tempo janglers soaked in melody and more pensive, snail-paced ones that the band seems to like to play live. Not sure why they placed the knockout “Honey in the Sun” as the last song but it could have easily been the opener (and a single, if it’s not already). Like the three previous full-lengths this is already on the short list to make my top 10 of 2009. www.4ad.com

w06.08.09
Dear Nora
THREE STATES: RARITIES 1997-2007-(MAGIC MARKER)- I feel like I missed the boat on the early, golden years of Magic Marker Records. By the time I moved here in the summer of 2002 Boy Crazy had broken up, Kissing Book had already changed the lineup several times (from the classic band that made the terrific debut) and Dear Nora’s Katy Davidson had already split for the Bay Area (or was close to it). The Magic Marker label has stayed remarkably consistent over the years and while I still enjoy their releases I wish I would have been here for those early days and a big part is Dear Nora. This 2 cd 57 songs disc unearths every single, comp track, unreleased song, b-side and demo that Katy ,I think, has ever recorded (this includes covers by Bob Dylan, The Zombies and Missy Elliott). Still, for such a hodge podge collection the songwriting is consistently good throughout and originals like (the previously unreleased) “Second Guess” and “The World is Falling Down” , the playful “Up on the Roof”, the reverb-heavy “I Don’t Know What To Say” show a songwriter coming into her own. Disc two offers more tunes including those from the split 7” they did with Mates of State and plenty more tracks from compilations too. In these trying times you want bang for your buck and this delivers time and time again. www.magicmarkerrecords.com

w06.08.09
Dreamdate
PATIENCE- (SKYWRITING)- This is the first I’d heard of this Oakland, California trio though they have at least a previous full-lengths and a 7” as well (and maybe more?). I loved the only other release on Skywriting Records (Cloetta Paris cd) so I figured this might be up my alley and what do you know, it’s a fantastic little record. The band is led by the Yea-Ming Chen (guitars/vocals) and Anna Hilburg (bass/vocals), two best friends who sound like they have been playing together for years (and probably finish each other’s sentences too). Upon first listen I immediately began thinking of the defunct Vancouver, BC trio Cub (who I booked a few times in the mid 90’s in Santa Rosa, Calif at Café This) so no surprise that they do a Cub cover on here (“Go Fish”). The record varies nicely from the jangly, lo-fi pop of the opener “How Low Are You?” to the dreamy acoustic tune “Tour Song” (where they drop the f-bomb) to “Have I Told You?” which starts off all Tiger Trap on us but then the guitars kick in and it gets all Versus on our ass. That’s just the first three songs and the songs are a nice mix of those styles and I can always appreciate a band who don’t go for sameyness and instead can mix it up. This is one of those records that any music fan would have a hard time not liking. www.skywritingrecords.com

w06.08.09
The Silent Boys
PROGRESSION 1986-1991- (WALRUS)-I had no idea that Virginian Wallace Dietz (who IS The Silent Boys) has been perfecting his craft for over two decades. I first heard about the band from the indiepop list and Wallace was nice enough to send me a few of his previous releases (them being 2007’s ONE STEP CLOSER, 2006’s WISHING WELL EYES and 2004’s, BEAUTY TIPS). This, as the title implies, is an odds and sods collection spanning those 5 years in the late 80’s and into the 90’s. There’s 23 songs in all and there’s some interesting liners where Wallace describes the comings and goings of his life when the songs were recorded. The songs definitely sound of time, a handful of the tracks, like “Scream” and “Plastic Cowboy” sound like they could have been recorded for the Factory label (some Joy Division influence there an even a big New Order influence on the opening cut, “Band from Heaven”) while others are janglier and bear more of a Feelies influences (“See You Later”, “I Wanted To See You”, etc.) and plenty of C86 and Sarah Records moments creep in as well. The band is more than the sum of its influences, however, and if you like any or all of the bands mentioned here then this will be a most pleasant surprise. www.silentboys.com

w06.01.09
A.M. Vibe
CAPRICORNO- (PLANTING SEEDS)-This San Diego band has been around for a while now and includes former Red Dye No. 5 vocalist, Lisah Nicholson (who also added guest vocals to a Honeyrider song or two back in the day). I remember hearing a previous record by them but not liking it as much as I like CAPRICORNO. This is driving, catchy dream pop that wavers between upbeat n’ catchy indie pop like Velocity Girl and moodier, shoegazier tracks “Don’t Wanna Stay” and “Lullabye.” I prefer the former but the band excels at both. Then, towards the end of the record they toss in some lovely acoustic tracks, “Black Dogs” and “Sea Song” (both of which are in the Juliana Hatfield vein) Really glad to see that Nicholson and her cronies have carried on as this is a band that definitely needs more attention than they are getting. www.plantingseedsrecords.com

w06.01.09
The Atlantic Manor
ON THE WRONG SIDE OF SATURDAY NIGHT-(DO TOO)- Florida introvert Rick Sell has been creating downcast rock for the past several years (his debut was released in 2001) and each record has been better than the one before it. The guy hails from Miami, FL but I’m guessing doesn’t spend his day shirtless on the beach (more likely with a shirt on in his basement). With record titles like FAILING BY THE SECOND, THE HATE WE GET GOING and SNEAKING UP ON THE DEATH SCENE you’re not going to be getting any kind of flowery pop here but if you dig early Neil Young or Smog then this will endear itself into your hermetic heart. My faves here are “A Pause Before Dust” (w/ some gorgeous piano playing) and the gentle “Town and Country” (I’m guessing those titles go with the songs I like but I could be wrong as the songs are not listed on the back cover). Dive head first into the Atlantic Manor…misery never sounded so beautiful. www.theatlanticmanor.com

w06.01.09
Liechtenstein
SURVIVAL STRATEGIES IN A MODERN WORLD- (SLUMBERLAND)- Another ace in the Slumberland deck comes in the form of 3 women from Gothenburg, Sweden who offer up 9 songs in less than 25 minutes. Renee, Naemi and Elin first appeared with a single in 2007 and then another one last year so this is their debut full-length and the 9 cuts on here waver between moody, murky, bass-heavy tunes with eerie vocals that sound like an early 80’s Rough Trade band (“All at Once”, “White Dress” ) and other more bubblegummy tunes with cooing harmonies and fuzzy guitars that bring to mind The Shop Assistants, Aislers Set and Tallulah Gosh (“Postcard”, “By Staying Here (We Will Slowly Disappear)”, “Roses in the Park”, “Reflections”, etc.). The thing is , though it is reminiscent of several past bands Liechtenstein add a unique and fresh twist to the proceedings so it doesn’t sound derivative but more like 3 women who want to join the ranks of those that came before them and I must day, they do a damn good job of it. www.slumberlandrecords.com

w06.01.09
Something Fierce
THERE ARE NO ANSWERS- (SELF RELEASED)-This Houston, TX trio released this one on their own but Dirtnap records is doing the vinyl and will be releasing the bands next record as well. Dirtnap seems like a perfect home for these guys as their ultra-catchy tunes remind me of the more classic bands that Dirtnap has released (Briefs, Marked Men, The Minds, etc.). “Aliens” is a great way to start a record off all meaty guitars and hooks galore, same thing with tune two, “Teenage Ruins.” Same with tune number three, “Second Son” and well, I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. I also really like the way the band reels the songs off one right after another, in high energy fashion which really reminds me of the Marked Men as well. 12 songs in all and there’s more hooks here than Heather Locklear’s closet (ok, was that really bad?). The best thing here is that Steven, Nikki Sevven and Andrew , who not only know their punk history very well, but it seem like they all have a really good sense of humor as well. As much as I like their original songs I think an all covers record might not be a bad idea In the future. No problem here Houston. www.somethingfiercemusic.com

w05.25.09
Bricolage
S/T- (SLUMBERLAND)-…and the revitilazation of the Slumberland label continues with this Glasgow 4-some who do the city damn proud. I’ll bet even an old codger like Alan Horne would approve as this bunch. And speaking of old Glaswegians, they got none other than Altered Images guitarist Stephen Lironi to produce and not sure what he fed these guys in the studio but the songs crackle and pop and the band’s tunes fit in nicely between those of the old school (Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, etc) and the newer/recent breed of movers and shakers (Franz Ferdinand, Libertines, etc.). “Bayonets” opens things nicely with a distant drum, then a strum of guitar, a rumble of a bass and finally those yearning vocals and the cut is a winner. Speaking of Mr. Horse, “Footsteps” sounds like a single he might have released back in yee olde early 80’s as it has an extra little bounce to its step. “A Terrible Souvenir” has that classic “Be My Baby” opening drumbeat then kicks into a classic pop tune with chugging guitars, obedient rhythms and some well-placed horns. All 12 of these songs are worth your time and these guys look young enough to have quite a promising career in front of them. www.slumberlandrecords.com

w05.25.09
The Jesus Lizard
INCH-(TOUCH & GO)- After waiting these agonizing months, April 18th finally arrived. Record Store Day. The crown jewel of the day (though there were many worthy slabs) has to be the Jesus Lizard's Inch set of 9 7"s released on Touch & Go. Limited to 2000 hand numbered and assembled by Corey Rusk himself pieces, this literally flew off shelves and for good reason. Reason #1: The remastering by Bob Weston. Holy shit! These songs sound vibrant and new as if it were 1992 all over again. I have the original copies of all of these 7"s and it shows what can be done when in the hands of a competent engineer. Reason #2: The packaging. Arriving in fold up shower curtain(?), this is a throwback to the 80's and in my opinion couldn't have turned out better. Should the rumors be true and T&G truly will stop making music, God forbid, this is one hell of a way to go out. www.tgrec.com
KIP KELGARD

w05.25.09
Starflyer 59
DIAL M- (TOOTH & NAIL)- With 10 albums under his belt, Jason Martin (leader, singer, and producer) of Starflyer 59 ventures in to new ground. This is my first exposure to Starflyer 59 and it only makes me want to check out his other releases. (The Minor Keys Ep includes a few acoustic versions along with a cover of The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”) His band’s label, Tooth and Nail, has been a leader in positive rocking music for years. I understand this outing is a more personal one involving the loss of his father. Anytime an artist can dedicate his craft to a loved one means a stronger mission or vision is at stake. By far, the standout track is “M23,” not to be confused with the band M83. A beautiful, haunting melody that sticks with you throughout the day, wanting more , until you have to crank it up again to enjoy its brilliance. With “M23,” synthesizers abound with solid beats and Richard Butler (minus the raspiness), monotone vocals. In fact, imagine the Psychedelic Furs meeting Modest Mouse and Interpol and then you are close to Starflyer 59. Other favorites include, “Taxi,”“Who Said It’s Easy,” and “Altercation.” His dedication to his father, “Mr. Martin” is a beautiful, electric piano-driven ballad complete with strings, acoustic guitar and the chirping of birds. I’m certain his dad is smiling in heaven. Gratefully, Jason’s loss is our gain. www.toothandnail.com
ERIC EGGLESON

w05.25.09
The Tomorrows
JUPITER OPTIMUS MAXIMUS- (KOOL KAT)-This is a few of the guys who were in the Vancouver, BC band The Roswells. That band released a fine power pop record a decade or so ago and then vanished. Two of the main songwriters from that band, Marc Stewart and Scott Fletcher, are in this quartet who wear suits on the cover and of course have similarities to Ringo’s old band (can’t remember their name) but I also hear some fine Rasberries crunch on here as well the string-bending sounds of more current acts like Chewy Marble and Teenage Fanclub (some Velvet Crush too) a few of the bands on the Rainbow Quartz label . “Effortless Lee” is a terrific opener while “Love is Dead” sounds like prime Cheap Trick and would be perfect to play either air guitar or air drums to. “Such a Shame” is classic jangle pop and there’s plenty of other winners here. A few of the tunes go one for a bit too long but that’s really a minor quibble here as this is still well worth picking up. www.koolkatmusik.com

w05.18.09
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
VS. CHILDREN- (TOMLAB)-Owen Ashworth’s fifth release starts off with a rising, short instrumental evoking what might sound like a spiritual or religious side to his music. A number of song titles express this also like “Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL,” which discusses Tom’s situation through prayer and sinfulness with a beat box and piano and organ. “Optimist Vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)” is a bouncy piano-driven anecdote complete with “Hallelujahs” that does end with a church organ playing that old, familiar hymn. “Traveling Salesman’s Young Wife Home Alone on Christmas in Montpelier, VT” is a somber, depressing piano ballad that features a washboard beat for rhythm, but picks up later with a soaring, roller skating rink organ. Another track, “Harsh The Herald Angels Sing” is a heart-felt regret to overdrinking, over-smoking, and overdoing it period. These extremely long song titles, along with the occasional issues of spirituality, bring Sufjan Stevens to mind; but the comparison stops there. Imagine piano, minimal guitar, various organs, a raspy, male storyteller with a gorgeous sounding female backing up and you have Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. I just wonder how he is able to create this sound live. www.tomlab.com ERIC EGGLESON

w05.18.09
The Legends
OVER AND OVER-(LABRADOR)- As if the Acid House Kings and Club 8 didn’t keep Johan Angergard busy enough he still has the Legends (I guess he has another band, Pallers, but I have never heard them before). This is record #4 and while each one has staked a different sound they all have their moments of brilliance and OVEER AND OVER is no exception. This one was , as it says, “recorded in a decrepit basement in South-Central Stockholm” (something tells me it’s the same as South-Central LA, but what do I know), the album goes from the dark, pounding opener (ala Frausdots) “You Won” while then ripping right into the records first single, “Seconds Away.” On this song Johan lays his guitar down and replaces it with a dentist’s drill set on stun. Yes, in much the same fashion that MBV made pure noise beautiful to listen to Mr. Angergard does the same thing on this first single as he does not forget the lovely melodies that lay underneath the mounds of soot. Apparently the song was triggered by a series of panic attacks and that tune, along with other noisy ones on the record, were a form of therapy for Johan (a few other songs on the record are in much the same fashion: “Always the Same”, “Recife”, “Over and Over”, etc.). Elsewhere he bring sunny pop to the table in the form of the awesome “Monday to Saturday” and doesn’t let the fans of his gentle, bucolic pop songs (ala Club 8) down with the gorgeous “Heartbeats.” If you’re an Angergard fan like I am you will not be let down at all by OVER AND OVER and the thought of them possibly coming to the States for some gigs has me quite excited. www.labrador.se

w05.18.09
Mazes
S/T- (PARASOL)- The leaders of Mazes, Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan, are also in a band called 1900’s (who also have records out on Parasol) but while that band goes for a more ambitious pop sound , in Mazes they trim it down , if just a bit, keep the delicious harmonies and go to town (an add pal Charles D’Autremont to finish out the trio). Apparently these 11 songs were recorded “in various studios, bedrooms and basements over the past few years” and they call it “mid-fi” , not lo-fi but the songs are real relaxed and very easy to like. Opening cut “Manual Systems” gives me that same sort of warm feeling I got when first listening to bands like The Bats, Essex Green, Honeybunch and the like with its bittersweet melodies. Their voices blend perfectly on the folky “Things I Threw in the Well” and the bouncy pop number “Love to Lay” is sure to be a fan favorite (it already is in this household). Honestly, if you’ve read this far and like what you’ve read give this neat little record a chance. I’m glad I did. www.parasol.com

w05.18.09
The Sleepover Disaster
HOVER- (DEVIL IN THE WOODS)-Fresno, CA’s the Sleepover Disaster have been at it for nearly a decade and have released at least three other records to very little acclaim (on their own Overcast Records) . Now they’ve been signed to small California indie Devil in the Woods (who awoke after a long absence from releasing records….check out their 1998 release by Dumptruck. TERMINAL. One of the band’s best!). Only 9 songs here but the trio of Luke Giffin (vocals/guitar), Eric Peters (bass/backing vocals) and Vince Corsaro (drums) don’t waste a minute of time or space on HOVER. From the driving, gorgeous opener “Friend” with its heaping waves of distortion (like the best Ride song) right into the more sweeping “Code Breaker” (with guitars that sound almost operatic) which then dives right into the slashing searing “Funnel Cloud” the band proves , beyond A shadow of a doubt that they belong! And if you want a competent, confident vocalist, in much the same vein as Shields, Masters, Bell and the like then look no further than Giffen who commands any room that the cd is being played in while the rhythm section doesn’t let up for a second. If you have a passing interest in shoegaze or are just a fan of well written rock music played with guts, determination and intelligence then HOVER is a must play. Now, if the band would only make good on their long-overdue trip to Pacific Northwest for some shows. www.devilinthewoodsrecords.com

w05.11.09
Roxy Epoxy And The Rebounds
BANDAIDS ON BULLET HOLES- (METROPOLIS)-I have to say that when Roxy Epoxy first told me that when her band, The Epoxies had broken up, I was mightily bummed. That Portland band had become pretty legendary to me for some incredible live shows as well as 2 full-lengths (one amazing, one merely good) and two strong eps. Vocalist Roxy has returned with a new band and a slightly different sound and 12 fine songs. The record took me a little while longer to get into than the Epoxies records, the hooks aren’t as immediate and the overall sound is darker but after several plays the songs began to stick and hooks that were previously buried (or seemed so) were rising to the surface. The record opens with the moody “Walls” and then rips right into the moodier/darker “New Way” (akin to early Siouxsie and the Banshees) which goes from a slow beginning into a driving rhythm. Elsewhere “The Twist” is a high-octane punky new wave song that is not totally unlike The Epoxies (as is “Fun”) and “Svengali” keeps the rhythms moving and adds some phasey synth work. Do not miss the final two songs as Roxy has tucked two of the record’s best songs at the end, the Siousxie-ish “Unnamed” and the straight-up paranoid punk track, “Watch Me” (with a guitar lead that sounds like it was lifted off an early Damned record). Really glad to see Roxy has moved forward and taken a chance on trying something new. It was a courageous move for her and has paid off in spades. www.metropolisrecords.com

w05.11.09
The Vaselines
ENTER THE VASELINES 2CD-(SUB POP)- I first heard (and loved) this pervy Scottish band when they were on the flipside to a live Beat Happening tape (before Mr. Cobain started yapping about them, thank you very much) and was overjoyed when Sub Pop released that WAY OF THE VASELINES comp back in the 90s. The core of the band was Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, a wry couple who were like the indie rock version of …oh, I dunno, maybe George and Gracie? They never had played any gigs in America so I was even more stoked when the band appeared at last year’s Sub Pop 20 Fest. (with a few Belle & Sebastian members in tow) and put on a rousing performance. This basically collects everything the band ever did. This includes the band’s 2 eps and one full-length on disc one while disc 2 compiles 3 demos, 5 songs from a live date in Bristol, England and 9 more live songs from a gig in London (from that K Records tape, if I’m not mistaken….been a while since I have listened to that, must go find it now ). It’s a nifty package with a fold-out digipack with new artwork (a smashing photo of Eugene and Frances, both looking a bit dour, against a lovely, upbeat, green backdrop) that also includes a 24-page booklet with band photos, liners, pics of the original record covers and the like. The music was a tawdry mix of crackling guitars, cardboard, galloping drums, nasally vocals and a sound that wasn’t unlike their heroes, The Pastels. You don’t want to miss instant classics like “Dying For It”, “Son of a Gun” (on the live version of this song from the Bristol gig Eugene announces the title of the song as “Up Your Arse”) , “Rory Rides me Raw”, “The Day I Was a Horse” (at the London gig they play this one twice as Eugene mentions drummer Charlie having “cancer of the drumsticks” , a joke I remember from the live K Records tape) and plenty of others. After the band called it a day Eugene went on to form Captain America which evolved into Eugenius. He even released a terrific solo record a few years ago but The Vaselines is where he and Frances belong. As the risk of sounding too kiss assey in this review I’ll sum it up by saying get everything with their name on it (including, ok especially, this….duh) and do not miss ‘em this coming Wednesday at Doug Fir Lounge here in Portland (You’ll be excused if you’re on your deathbed) . www.subpop.com

w05.11.09
Yahowa 13
SONIC PORTATION- (PROPHASE MUSIC/MVD)- So you can now find Yahowa 13 albums at Best Buy. Who’d a thunk. Father Yod apparently died in ’75 in a hang gliding crash on the coast of in Makapu’u, Oahu, Hawaii. And, it may have been for the band’s better…Yod was obviously a charismatic with a vision, and listening to his recordings, he tends to remind me of distant relatives stepping above their used car salesman roots who happened to dip deeply in to the Owsley. Dangerous from a personal perspective, but great to experience through our rose colored glasses. I believe this incarnation of YaHoWa 13 delivers the spirit of Yod’s teachings, which is cool, without Yod’s personality, which will remain questionable. The various snippets I have in my collection of Father Yod music are authentic in spirit but limited in trip versatility. They don’t take you much beyond the historical picture of the Source Family. Sonic Portation shows the band members, without Father, have evolved in their musicianship, specifically from an improvisational perspective. Djin (guitar and erstwhile ringleader) is a virtuoso of raga style guitar. Many would-be kraut rock guitar slingers would give up their early Guru Guru albums to capture the tone dished out on Sonic Portation. Djin’s guitar sounds like a thunk stoned version of Arto Lindsay hanging with Lee Ranaldo’s fun city like tendencies. Octavius is an amazing drummer, he gets the tribal, which is somewhat expected, but drives it like a fine metronome, which isn’t so expected. Sunflower IS the bass, authentically pushing the songs to Yod-approved heights. Free is the word here. Highlights abound within each song, provided you’ve got the wherewithal to stick with it in its entirety. From a song stand out point, Rockers, song 3, “Yod Hey Vua Hey Tetractys” will do it for you. For the rest, the songs remain engaging spiritual jams. Not quite on the level of my current fave, Phil Pearlman, but deeply resounding nonetheless. www.mvdvisual.com BRIAN EMERY

w05.11.09
V/A
SPEED DATING- (NO. 6)-If you don’t know the name Terry Tolkin then you know some of the work he has done over the years in the music industry : A & R man for Caroline Records, Touch & Go Record employee ( the GOD’S FAVORITE DOG comp was his baby and be brought the Butthole Surfers to the label) ), Rough Trade Records , 99 Records clerk and, of course, A & R man for Elektra Records (he brought Luna, Afghan Whigs and Stereolab to the label among others). In his spare time he had his own little label, one called No. 6 , and he released a bevy of 7”s on the label and this 2 cd comp compiles every one of them. 36 songs in all and what you have on SPEED DATING is pure magic. Disc one opens with Ornament who I think is Greg Dulli and Scrawl’s Marcy Mays) doing the Afghan Whigs “Tonight” while song two is them doing a cover of “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow?” (with Marcy singing lead). The next 9 songs are the Dwarves in all of their psychotic glory from the “Lucifer’s Crank” 7” , charging ahead with some of their best material (including “Free Cocaine” and “Nobody Likes Me”). Elsewhere on disc one is a few songs from Dean Wareham (including an early version of “Anesthesia”), Philly industrial rockers King Carcass and one of Bob Bert’s many bands ,Bewitched. Disc two begins with the all female band Ford (once, in the early 90’s, caught them play a house party at the home of the Blackjack Records guys in Guerneville, CA) as well as songs by Tindersticks (I had no idea they had released something on No. 6), Cagney & Lacey (Dean Wareham and his ex-wife), Unrest (two versions of “Winona Ryder”) and others by Glue, Pork and Vegetarian Meat. Now that all of the 7” s are compiled let’s hope that Terry decides to reissue some of the great full-lengths that No. 6 released (Crystalized Movements, Jennyanykind, Jule Brown, etc.). Be seeing you…. www.teenbeat.net

w05.04.09
The 88
NOT ONLY...BUT ALSO- (ISLAND)-Well, they got their record deal. A few years back this L.A. trio, led by main songwriter Keith Slettehdahl, seemingly had songs on every tv show, movie and commercial you could think of but couldn’t get arrested as far as label interest was concerned. Well here they are, after two solid records, with record #3 and it’s an overflow of flashy production (at least in part by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds) and some seriously good songs. The opener “Go Go Go” is all punchy Cheap Tricks chords and some hooks to die for as is the hooky “I’m Nothing” and the bouncy, piano pop of “Coming Home” (which has apparently been featured on like 200 tv shows or something…it really is a great song ) and “Love You Anytime” is solid as well. “No One Here’ is a ballad that goes a bit too much on the syrupy side and “Like You Do”, where the band briefly forgets they aren’t Parliament Funkadelic, is really the only bad song on the record, otherwise most of this is terrific. When the band sticks to what they do best: writing catchy, punchy pop songs they’re tough to beat. www.the88.net

w05.04.09
Cloetta Paris
SECRET EYES-(SKYWRITING)- Housed in a pink and white checkered digipak sleeve comes this cool synth-pop duo from Sweden. I was tipped off to this by Ed from Shelflife Records and while the band is from another country the label is a local one here in Portland. The vocals are from a woman named Cloetta Paris while the music is played by Clive Reynolds (aka Roger Gunnarson who was previously in Nixon , among other Swedish pop bands) and it’s super catchy, dancey synth pop with hooks to die for and Cloetta’s cool yet vulnerable vocals iced over the tunes. The opening cut “Did We Collide?” is a would be dance hit, that is, if dance fans has any brains while the title track is nearly as good. “Breakdown” speeds it up a bit and adds in these robotic (male) vocals in the middle of the song. “Beat Street” sounds like it could have been off the Magnetic Fields classic, HOLIDAY and the band tosses in a synthed-up cover of E.L.O’s “So Serious.” Suffice it to say if you dig the sounds of anything Mr. Stephin Merritt has done or masters like St. Etienne or the Pet Shop Boys then you’ll have a new favorite record. www.skywritingrecords.com

w05.04.09
Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit
S/T- (LIGHTNING ROD)- Thank God for Jason Isbell! A recent live show at Portland’s Doug Fir proved this band to be a well oiled, great sounding touring group supporting Isbell’s second solo effort since departing the Drive-By Truckers. The 400 Unit, named after a mental treatment facility in Florence, Alabama, features five guys coming together to produce and record eleven well written, memorable songs. The record opens with “Seven Mile Island”, open tuned resonator guitar, skiffle hi-hat and Jason’s soulful southern vocal. “Sunstroke” is written with minor key passion, Small Faces-like organ fills, highlighting the band’s ability to play softly then swell to a powerful climax. Track three shows of their hard pop, driving edge, while “Cigarettes and Wine” is a stand-out track of blues waltz about broken romance. “The Blue” features Jason’s Gibson guitar and click drum track, nice vocal harmony at the chorus, all coming together blending into a warm sensitive track fading out with a lone drum. “No Choice in the Matter” again shows the band in their blues vibe loaded with horns and soul keyboard. One of my favorites is “Soldiers Get Strange”, a track about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This cut got me back into what southern rock is about, G, F and C chords all the way! The final cut “The Last Song I Will Write” may have the best feel of any track on the disc, warm, rich and epic. I love bassist Jimbo Hart’s fat bass, a band member Jason has known since he was sixteen from school marching band. Interestingly, the last half of this song climaxes into a powerful collage of rock melodies woven together to end a great album. Notice how this half of the song is the same chord progression as track six “Coda” - they must have liked it so much they wanted it to stand as it’s own track. This band revitalized my appreciation for southern rock bands - Jason wanted this record to be known as a band record, something they all did together as an inclusive project. On record and live, this band is a great representation of the future of southern rock in America! www.lightningrodrecords.com GREG SOCOLOFSKY

w05.04.09
Wild Light
ADULT NIGHTS- (STAR TIMES)-Though the band hails from New Hampshire a few of these guys were boarding school pals of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and at least one member of Wild Light was an early member of A.F. (these guys have also toured with Arcade Fire too). Having said that the band’s don’t sound too much alike as Wild Light goes for a Golden State feel with creamy harmonies and puchy pop songs (ala Rooney) but songs titles like “California on My Mind” (with the chorus of “Fuck today, fuck San Francisco, fuck California”) , “Canyon City” and “Surf Generation” show where their heard are at. They get a bit tender on the anthem to their home state, “New Hampshire” while the previously mentioned, trippy “Surf Generation” adds some cool sleigh bells. “Future Towns” has a jangliness akin to early REM and “My Father was a Horse’ has some anthemic woo-hoos to open the song and then rips into a driving pop song. While the band aren’t breaking down any doors for originality they have given us a baker’s dozen here with 13 well-written catchy songs and while ADULT NIGHTS is definitely a good record I have a feeling this band could scale much grander heights in the not-so-distant future. www.startimeintl.com

w04.27.09
Charley Dush
SEPTEMBER'S SUN- (CFD)-I have been a fan of this Twin Cities musician since his debut cd came out in 2001. This is record number four and each one has improved upon the one previous so simple math will tell you this is his best. He has assembled a terrific cast of Mpls musicians all over the record and it fits nicely in the Americana category (with some add power pop moments as well). Opening cut “Whiskey Mama” features, in addition to Dush on vocals and acoustic guitar, some piano, mandolin, fiddle, banjo (the two previous instruments played by Ex-Son Volt guy Dave Boquist…not sure why he isn’t in Son Volt anymore but Jay Farrar should do himself a big favor and get him back) and it all adds up to a hooky, cry-in-your-beer kinda tune while “Drug Test Blues” amps things up a bit and goes for more of a Blasters feel. Track number three completes the trifecta and has some perfect fiddle and mandolin. That is just the first there tunes and there’s 9 more (“Come in from the Cold” is another standout track) and if you’re keeping score there’s also members of the Jayhawks and Honeydogs who play on this as well. A guy with this much talents definitely needs more fans so this is your chance to become one. www.charleydush.com

w04.27.09
Obits
I BLAME YOU-(SUB POP)- I first heard of the Obits when they were a surprise guest at the Sub Pop 20th Anniversary Festival in June, 2008. I was intrigued upon learning that Rick Froberg (Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes) was in the band. Maybe it was the outdoor venue, maybe it was the July sun, but the underwhelming performance that day could not have prepared me for I Blame You, their first album on Sub Pop. This has to be the most melodic recording Mr. Froberg has put out to date. From the moment I put the record on it felt like a natural progression through DLJ, through Hot Snakes and now with this we are seeing a songwriter truly show the wisdom of his 41 years. From the opener, Widow of My Dreams, through the final track, Back and Forth, I Blame You will go down as one of the finest albums of the year. Rick Froberg has genuinely shown us what most stars of his generation are hesitant or afraid to; growth. www.subpop.com KIP KELGARD

w04.27.09
Reigning Sound
LIVE AT GONER RECORDS- (GONER)- As the story goes, after the Reigning Sound had played a sweaty, stompin’ gig on a Saturday night at a local Memphis club they decided to do another one the following day at Memphis’ best record shop. The date was 6/6/05 and it sounds like the handful of folks who were there were treated to an epic 16 songs set complete with many of the band’s best songs. It originally was released in late 2005 (as a CDR benefit cd to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims) and was then released officially in January 2006 on vinyl only. Here we are a few years later and the official cd release comes out and, like all R.S. records, it is well worth hearing. The sound quality is good and Greg Cartwright and Co. toss in a few covers (most notably, “Tennessee” by Carl Perkins and an amazing version of “Black Sheep” by Sam the Sham) and smokin’ originals like “Time Bomb High School” (off of their 2002 cd of the same name) , “We Repel (Each Other)”, “Reptile Style”, the tender “What Could I Do?” and plenty more. Cartwright is able to hit that sweet spot where so many styles of music converge that you’re not sure what exactly to call it, it’s kinda garagey, it has some serious pop hooks, a bit o’ country, a dash of rhythm and blues and a whole lotta soul. He doesn’t get nearly the amount of respect he deserves so here’s hoping LIVE AT GONER RECORDS will change that, even if just a little. www.goner-records.com

w04.27.09
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives
COMMUNION- (YEP ROC)-Communion is a two CD, 24 song release that according to leader, Ebbot Lundberg, is a song for every hour of the day, but when does the day begin? “Babel On” has a building, driving beginning to represent the sunrise of a new day. Even with 30 songs to choose from, this release features the first cover they have ever put out, Nick Drake’s “Fly.” Don’t expect the melancholy jangle of Nick; TSOOL adds a kick of rousing rock to it. After ”Fly,” “Pictures of Youth” begins as a soft, mellow, organ droning ballad that builds and peaks and then drops you back down to your initial state. “Just a Brother” is another standout track. This is the TSOOL we have come to love, jangly, borderline prog rock, with its lyrics of hope, “What can we do to get along? If we can’t find love anywhere under the sun?” The second half of the day begins with “Everything Beautiful Must Die” which sounds like a droning, sleep deprived, depression-filled outlook with organ and slide guitar. “Lost Prophets in Vain” brings back the punch in their music with its crunchy, rockin’ guitar melody and sing-along lyrics. “The Passover” states “don’t worry, stop, hurry, get on with your life.” An acoustic guitar, bongo beat anthem ending with beautiful harmony-filled vocal rounds that could easily be played over the closing credits of a romantic comedy. The day has ended, but TSOOL are back. Hopefully they will return to the US for a longer stay than their six stop visit. While waiting four years to follow up their successful Origins Vol. 1, I tracked down the import only, also two CD, 32 track compilation of rarities/b-sides called A Present from the Past. This, by the way, is a great journey of the band’s history up to Communion. www.yeproc.com ERIC EGGLESON

w04.20.09
Joe E.
LOVE GOT IN MY WAY- (EABLA)-When I found out that the folks behind this record were none other than Brandan Kearney and Gregg Turkington I knew it was going to be good. Brandan used to run the Nuf Sed label in San Francisco while Turkington was at the helm of the Amarillo label in S.F. as well. While both produced it the (new) label is Kearney’s and this is his first release (and he is now based here in Portland). Basically Joe E. is Joe E. Neubauer, a Florida construction worker in the 60’s and 70’s who had a booming voice (occasionally bringing to mind Scott Walker) and the drive to be famous. Basically, a Ft. Lauderdale, FL based label, SRS International Recordings charged Joe a hefty fee and provided him with a band and songs too. After he recorded the record it was released and seemed to be doing fairly well. One day he showed up at the SRS. office, to get more info on his upcoming tour of the U.K., only to find the place empty and the label owners nowhere to be found. He was crushed and even more so when he found his master tapes in a nearby dumpster! Anyway, it has taken over 3 decades but here it is, reissued in all its glory with a fantastic, informative 16 page booklet. Of the 11 songs my favorites are the snappier, upbeat ones like “Thinkin About Me, Thinkin’ About You”, “Mother Nature” and “Live It Like It Is” but there is honestly not a bad song in the bunch. The string arrangements are gorgeous and Joe’s vocals have some serious range (I was not kidding about the Scott Walker comparisons). If you’re thinkin’ a redneck Tom Jones with a bad suntan and too much chest hair you’d be wrong, these songs are truly worth hearing. www.eabla.com

w04.20.09
Fucked Up
THE CHEMISTRY OF COMMON LIFE-(MATADOR)- Ok, I completely missed the boat on this Toronto bunch (band members: Pink Eyes, 10,000 Marbles, Gulag, Young Governor,. Mustard Gas and Mr. Joe) who formed in 2002. This is their 2nd proper album (they have plenty of releases though) and I have to say, as an old hardcore fan, this is incredible. In much the same way that Union Carbide Productions debut, IN THE AIR TONIGHT, first lit my stove back in the mid-80’s and then Turbonegro’s ASS COBRA did decade later this bunch, led by the very large Pink Eyes, just rip from start to finish but this is no generic h/c blueprint, this band adds keyboards, a flute and plenty of subtleties that will begin to sink in after a few listens (the record was described as “lush” by one reviewer and I can’t say I disagree) . The first two songs, “Son the Father” and “Magic Word” both rush out of the gate like a rabid pitbull (well, “Son the Father” does so after a 90 second intro) while tune three, “Golden Seal” is odd experimental pop with twisting keyboards. The searing guitars on “Days of Last” reminded me of 80’s Ohio band Sister Ray while the , umm, shoegazey “No Epiphany” adds Pink Eyes guttural growl atop the hazy guitars and “Black Albino Bones” just gallops from start to finish. The rest of the record is no letdown at all and I’ve heard live they have to be seen to be believed. . If you like what you’ve read so far and don’t have this record stop what you’re doing and go out and buy it. NOW. Pink Eyes commands you. www.matadorrecords.com

w04.20.09
The Music Tapes
MUSIC TAPES FOR CLOUDS AND VOLCANOES- (MERGE)- With The Television Tells Us, former Neutral Milk Hotel multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster made several statements. One of them was that compact disc packaging design shouldn’t be limited to one-dimensional artwork: The pop-up collage remains a classic of the form. The other big statement, one borrowing from schools that include a weird hybrid of John Cage and Jandek, was that music didn’t necessarily have to be tonal, organized or remotely cohesive to be interesting. The record consisted of several mini symphonies that required repeated listenings to absorb. (Alas, I didn’t really have the time, and haven’t put it on in years, although I do occasionally play with the pop-up CD cover, also available in its LP form.) Which didn’t prevent me from picking up Clouds and Tornadoes. And, surprise! Koster has, as he did with Chocolate USA, again begun creating more traditional song structures, in terms of rhythms and pop trickery. The landscape remains the same: Music Tapes employ Koster’s musical saw as the primary driving instrument, and while the device lacks in dynamic range, it’s as soulful, in Koster’s hands, as, say, Sly Stone’s organ. The standout songs are “Majesty,” which recalls the finest of the Elephant 6 late-1990s tunesmithing, and Nimbus Stratus Sirus (Mr. Piano’s Majestic Haircut), which melds the Beach Boys spirit with Neutral Milk’s more arty tendencies. This record is, at about 28 minutes long, compact yet memorable. It’s not the definitive Elephant 6 record — let’s face it, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea could become the collective’s Dark Side of the Moon, purchased and digested to long after its initial release — but it’s still a very nice step in Koster’s distinguished and intriguing career. www.mergerecords.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w04.20.09
Still Flyin
NEVER GOING TO TOUCH THE GROUND- (ERNEST JENNING)-I must say, I have never been a big reggae fan, I own Bob Marley’s LEGEND cd, a few burned cds my pal Chris has made for me and I did see one kickass gig a decade or so ago by Toots and the Maytalls. Oh, plus my Bad Brains cds but I fast forwards past the reggae songs. Not sure if San Francisco’s Still Flyin’, a musical collective of nearly 20 people led by Athens, GA transplant Sean Rawls (which includes a few Aislers Set members, among others) want be labeled as a reggae band, party band is more like it those they came up with the term HAMMJAMM. There is , however, a nice mix of reggae, rock steady and straight up indie pop on NEVER GONNA TOUCH THE GROUND and it all totally works and adds up to one of my most listened to records of the year, so far. The record starts off with the title track in which Rawls begins, after a dubby intro, by singing “Your arms are sweaty, so fuck the stress” which curves its way into a singalong with the song title being repeated over and over while some sweet melodies back it up. “Follow the Itinerary” starts with the opening chant of “Wuh-oh-oh” and continues through most of the song til it leads to another killer chorus. Track three, “Forever Dude” jumps it up a bit and kicks into a cool rock steady beat with danceable horns and bouncy rhythms. Not all of the songs hit the mark, a few doze off into never never land (“Act of Jamming”, “Haunted Houses”) but heck, most of this is a blast. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this band’s intoxicating tunes and I can’t wait ‘til their party bus rolls into Portland and I can finally see them live. www.ernestjenning.com

w04.13.09
The Bye Bye Blackbirds
HOUSES AND HOMES- (AMERICAN DUST)-This one is a bit of an older one, being released late last year but I just recently got around to listening to it and I’m glad I did. This is terrific guitar pop in the Yo la Tengo/Teenage Fan Club vein from Oakland, CA and why they’re not bigger than they are I have no idea. The songwriting is strong and having an opening cut go one for 5 minutes would normally send me reaching for the fast forward button but not this one: “The Ghosts are Alright” is pure Byrdsy bliss and worth hearing all 5 minutes and change. . They tone it down a bit on the wispier “Shed the Skin” (which reminded me a bit of Elliott Smith) while then channeling classic 80’s Aussie/Kiwi pop on “In Stereo.” The band has enough good taste to mention bands like Sneaky Feelings, Buffalo Springfield and The Reigning Sound as influences in their press kit. I’m really bummed it took me so long to finally put this in the cd player but with so much other stuff around, I’m glad I gave it a chance. Can’t wait to hear their next one. www.americandust.net

w04.13.09
Justin Townes Earle
MIDNIGHT AT THE MOVIES- BLOODSHOT)- You know him as the son of rebel country rabble rouser Steve Earle but on this, his sophomore effort, Justin Townes Earle seems more willing to sing about love and life than any sort of political agenda and it pays off in spades as Earle has unleashed a terrific record here. With a crack musical cast (including his live sideman Cory Younts who adds banjo, mandolin, harmonica, piano, etc.) the songs range from the slow-as-molasses opening title track (a bit reminiscent of early American Music Club) to the barroom honky tonk of “What I Mean to You” to the quick banjo pickin’ of the stellar “They Killed John Henry.” Elsewhere he does serious justice to the Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait” while he channels the ghost of Gram Parsons on “Poor Fool” and gets caught up on the railroad tracks on “Halfway to Jackson.” Whether you care for his old man or not doesn’t matter, Earle has made his own record here and one listen to these 12 tracks you can’t help but notice the man has some serious talent. www.bloodshotrecords.com

w04.13.09
Greater California
ALL THE COLORS- (SUBTITLED AUDIO)- Was really happy to see this 3rd long-player by this Long Beach, CA bunch come into the po box as I wasn’t sure if they had packed it in or not. I booked them once in Santa Rosa, CA about a decade ago and leaders Terry and Kari Prine were real nice folks who put on a fine live show. They got a different producer this time (Mike Kamoo did the first 2 records) in Isaiah Ikey Owens but luckily he kept all the same gorgeous subtleties of the first 2 records. Think The Zombies, American Analog Set, The Kingsbury Manx, The Byrds and even a hint of Beach Boys too. The bouncy, opening title track is a good indication of where they are at while track two, “Them The Downs” adds a bit more grit to the proceedings and by track three, “Five Sense”, they are adding some McGuinn-isms and sounding at the top of their game. My favorite stuff they do is on a tunes like “The Foolish Son” where they dig up some cool 60’s melodies ala The Association or Zombies but add enough u-turns to keep it interesting. I’d like to say I think it will be this record that will break them but I have a feeling these guys will continue to be a well-kept secret until the indie kids start to wise up. www.myspace.com/greatercalifornia

w04.13.09
Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele
THE GOOD FEELING MUSIC OF...- (PAW TRACKS)-Dent May and his band, the Magnificent Ukulele are one of those bands that I saw live before I had ever heard them on record. They opened for someone, I can’t remember who, but they won my heart over with those superb songs and playful stage presence. He, Dent, looked like Chris MacFarlane (man behinds the awesome Indiepages website) but hailing from Mississippi he had a slight drawl in his voice and sounded to me like if Jens Lekman hailed from the American south instead of Sweden or perhaps a poor man’s Jonathan Richman (actually a mixture of the two). Yes, Dent played a magnificent uke while the rest of the band followed his every move and really brought the tunes to life. Songs like “God Loves You, Michael Chang”, “College Town Boy”, ”You Can’t Force a Dance Party” might be overly precious if, well, if they weren’t so darn good. He adds plenty of humor in his lyrics (as if those previously mentioned song titles weren’t a tip off) and the music itself? Well, to me it goes down like a tall glass of sweet tea I used to drink at my grandma’s house (in the American south, Georgia to be exact). www.paw-tracks.com

w04.06.09
The Gaslight Anthem
THE '59 SOUND- (SIDEONEDUMMY)-Second record (first I’ve heard, though) from these emo punks from New Jersey who seem to hit nail that sweet spot where the fist-pumping hope of a Bruce Springsteen meets the high-energy melody of a Social Distortion into a batch of terrific songs. Yeah, you’ve probably really about it by now: overproduced, vocals mixed way high, forced emotion , lyrical clichés, blah blah blah …just put it on and try and take it off. Do not lump these guys in with bands like New Found Glory or Good Charlotte as they’re so much better than that crap. I don’t mind vocalist Brian Fallon’s voice up in the mix ‘cos I like his pipes as it’s got the right amount of grit mixed in with the soaring harmonies. The record opens with the galloping “Great Expectations” which rips right into the searing title track (one of the best songs I heard all of last year) and 2 songs later is “High Lonesome”, which seems to be yet another song about dying friend (seems to be a theme here). “Miles Davis & the Cool” and “The Patient Ferris Wheel” are two more winners (the former reminded me of Mike Ness and Co.) in a record full of them. A few of the tunes plod along, the clumsy “Old White Lincoln” comes to mind but heck, most of this is great. It really is. www.sideonedummy.com

w04.06.09
Ideal Free Distribution
THEN WE WERE OLDER- (COLOR WHEEL)- Lots of talk these days about the end of the album, in terms of music being presented as song cycles or multi-part components. I’m honestly not sure if that means artists will issue one song at a time, or over how long that would be, or whether the form will break down completely in favor of quick-shot singles. Maybe it’s even been that way for a while. I recently came to the iPod world and after resisting devising an electronic playlist for a few months, can now appreciate the beauty of easily drafting an mix barrage consisting of favored songs off various records. And, what the hell, I haven’t listened to commercial radio since 1987, so if the more popular artists want to peddle their wares in bite sizes rather than formatted thematical chunks, fine with me. It actually might be a good point of demarcation: Many might base their buying habits based on whether an artist is capable of issuing any type of multi-song formats, or collections, or, yeah, what we used to call “albums.” Whatever, with Then We Were Older, Ideal Free Distribution has made an album, a remarkable set of pop tunes that harken to Flying Nun’s late-80s/early-90s lineup as well as to, especially in the vocals department, Apples in Stereo. Fitting since Robert Schneider, the head Apple, discovered the group in his adopted Louisville hometown. It’s an album that flows effortlessly from one gem to another. Even the middle, typically a repository during the CD age for the songs not quite good enough for a record’s beginning or daring enough for the
end, features the winning William Buss, a tale of a mother’s boy that’s at once catchy and mildly depressing. The fourth song, Turn To Find You, beautifully displays Tony Miller’s tenor (a bit Thom Yorke-ish), which, throughout the record, meshes well with the array of acoustic guitars, marimbas and sleigh bells that give this record a keen post-British Invasion feel. www.idealfreedistribution.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w04.06.09
Daniel Martin Moore
STRAY AGE- (SUB POP)- As the story goes apparently this Kentuckian was signed by Sub Pop label on the strength of an unsolicited 4 song demo. They got it, liked it and last October released it. This isn’t, however, some bedroom folkie. No, in 2007 Moore flew to LA and at least part of this record was co-produced by Joe Chiccarelli, who you may know from working withU2 and The Shins. I mean, this kind of quiet folk, akin to Nick Drake or the stuff Mojave 3 leader Neil Halstead is doing these days, sure doesn’t sound L.A. produced. Moore’s songs excel in their graceful, understated beauty. Listen to the gorgeous “That’ll be the Plan” or the haunting “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” and bask in Moore’s delicate voice. There’s also some lovely piano (courtesy of Moore’s brother, Earl) and exquisite violin (by Ms. Petra Haden) which only adds to the superb songwriting. It’s not anything you haven’t heard before but Moore simply does it really, really well. www.subpop.com

w04.06.09
Royksöpp
JUNIOR- (ASTRAL WERKS)-I thought it would be pretty hard to top the last Royksopp release, The Understanding. But the Norwegian duo have met my every expectation with their latest album, Junior. Its dance-y of course, but with just a tinge of darkness that makes the songs interesting on many levels. We get to hear Karen Dreijer (The Knife, Fever Ray) making another stunning vocal appearance on 2 songs, as well as guest singers Lykke Li, Anneli Drecker, and Swedish pop sensation Robyn. The songs are as varied as the vocals, going from the bouncy, brilliant "Happy Up Here" to the more serious, string-laden "Roykopp Forever." This band has just got it right- dance music with pop sensibilities and amazing voices. I can't wait to hear the counterpart album, Senior, to be released later this year. www.astralwerks.com LAURA WATLING

w03.30.09
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
SUNDAY AT DEVIL DIRT- (FONTANA)-I know I’m not the first one to day this (an won’t be the last) but geez what an odd pairing this is. The twee temptress formerly of Belle & Sebastian and the gravelly dude who used to be in the Screaming Trees. The thing is their first record totally worked and so does this sophomore effort. Basically the songs are mostly slow n’ steady, a little like the old Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra records of the 60’s except Lanegan has a voice more like Tom Waits (or Nick Cave) and the yin and yang of their voices is quite chilling (in the best way possible). I love the should-be-on-a-western-soundtrack vibe of “The Raven” and “Who Built the Road” (both complete with eerie strings…the latter with some of Isobel;’ best vocals on the record). “Back Burner” is mostly all Lanegan and it sounds like what you’d hear in the mountains of Taos, NM on a full moon night. “The Flame that Burns” is a tweaked waltz and one of the most upbeat songs on the record and “Shotgun Blues’ sounds like a broken down jalopy. It must be mentioned that Isobel wrote, produced and arranged the record and if you want to try something a bit different on then SUNDAY AT DEVIL DIRT will definitely scratch that itch. www.v2music.com

w03.30.09
Hello Seashore
HOY A LAS OCHO- (MAGIC MARKER)- You don’t hear about a lot of bands coming from Mexico (or at least I don’t) but Magic Marker took a gamble and have released this , the 2nd record, by this pop trio from Mexico City. The band is the trio of Oro de Neta (synths, piano, bass), Bonnz (drums) and Vanil LA Face (vocals) Their debut, AND THE JELLYFISH PARADE, was released in 2006 and the Mexican version of this record came out in 2007. The record consists of 11 songs of sweet, sweet indiepop. Vocalist Vanilla face goes back and forth between singing in English and Spanish and while I prefer the former the latter is fine as I can brush up on my Spanish. Her voice is completely infectious and on several of the songs you hear a toy piano (one of my favorite instruments) which only add to the playfulness. A few of my favorite songs on here include the bouncy “Ok!...Lobster”, the super melodic “The Island Trip”, the dreamy “Won’t Say Anything” and plenty of others. 11 songs in all (this includes 4 bonus tracks) be the first on your block to discover this ebullient bunch. www.magicmarkerrecords.com

w03.30.09
Middle States
HAPPY FUN PARTY- (EFFEN)- When a band that rocks hails from Minneapolis you’re supposed to say how influenced by The Replacements, Husker Du or Soul Asylum (I swear, S.A. used to be a great band) they are and in the case of this Twin Cities band, led by Wes Morden, there is a bit of ‘Placemats influence but I hear more GBV, a bit of New Pornographers , a dash of Big Star and even some early Who as well (check out “No Curse No Drunk No Fight”). I also dig when they slow the tempo down a bit, like on the terrific “Straight to the All or None” and Morden digs deep for the vocals. “Thought Control” kicks it into high gear from the start while Morden’s guitar partner, Ben Glaros, adds some meat to the proceedings and the rhythm section of Peter Fleming on bass and Craig Gallas just pounds. If you’re reads this far and are still interested then go ahead and drop your hard-earned dough on HAPPY FUN PARTY. Well done gents. www.myspace.com/middlestates

w03.30.09
Tennis Courts
DIG THE NEW SOUNDS OF- (SWEET SCIENCE)-Nice, it seemed like just as I was ready to put the previous Tennis Courts cd to bed out comes another one. This Chicago band is led by the elusive Wes Hollywood who was in a band known as the Wes Hollywood Show who I must admit, I’d never heard but that previous T.C. disc from 2007 was a sweet jolt in the vein of other Illinois brethren like Cheap Trick and Material Issue. Hollywood has no lack of hooks hidden in that (very large) duffel bag of his and the guitars go crunch too. Opener “Forever True” is a driving opener with cascading vocals and melodic guitars while “Swimming Pool” states “all I want is a swimming pool” (me too) is hooky as all get out and “Love I the Light” employs some well-placed keyboards. If Elvis Costello wasn’t so busy hanging out with folks like Robert DeNiro he would go back to his roots and take these guys out on tour with him (and have Gentlemen Jesse as the openers) and give these guys the fanbase they deserve. www.thetenniscourts.net

w03.23.09
The Black Watch
AFTER THE GOLD ROOM EP- (ESKIMO)-Two decades on and this Los Angeles institution, led by the elusive John Andrew Frederick (a professor by day), is still going strong. This ep has 6 songs (2 of the remixes from last year’s ICING THE SNOW QUEEN full length) and the songs mostly fall into that buzzing pop territory with plenty of melodic feedback (if you dig MBV or Jesus and Mary Chain, and I know you do). My fave songs are the squealing opener “Strawberry Girl”, the bouncy pop number “One for the Republicans” and the closing acoustic tune, ”When Lauren First Opened.” If you’re jut dipping your feet in this is a good place as any to start. www.myspace.com/theblackwatch

w03.23.09
Mascot
ART PROJECT- (RED PANDA)- Though sporadic, the catalog of Mascott (aka Kendall Jane Meade) more than makes up for its occasional-ness by being so strong. The ep (1998’s ELECTRIC POEMS) and the full-length (2000’S FOLLOW THE SOUND) were both on the Le Grand Magistery label while 2004’s full-length, DREAMER’S BOOK was the first release on her own Red Panda Records imprint. Now comes ART PROJECT, released last year and it’s 9 songs of enchanting beauty. You’ll hear the strum of an acoustic guitar her, gentle keyboard line there, some sophisticated strings at times but for me the real strength here is Meade’s magical vocals. You hear it on the opener, “Live Again” when she begins the “la la la la la la” (hitting a higher pitch on the last la) and again on the near-perfect pop-folk “4th of July.” The songwriting quality does not let up as the record is full of quaint pop tunes like those and then, on the record’s closing tune “Wildwood Flower” Meade breaks out the banjo and just then you realize you’d like to hear a whole record full of her doing country songs. We have a serious low-key talent here folks. www.redpandarecords.com

w03.23.09
Jonathan Rundman
INSOMNIACCOMPLISHMENTS- (SALT LADY)- Talented yet unknown Mpls songwriter (who has a ton of records out) in the Marshall Crenshaw/Alex Chilton vein . Apparently he titled this 2008 record after recently becoming a father and to getting much sleep (I know the feeling Jonathan!). At 18 songs it’s bit much to take (I’m into the less is more credo) but the songwriting stays strong throughout and you gotta hear terrific tunes like “Imperfection”, “New Eyes” and “”Dialysis Carpool” and plenty more. While you’re at it also pick up his BEST OF cd released in 2007which grabs 20 of his best songs from his records. www.jonathanrundman.com

w03.23.09
Sagittarius
THE BLUE MARBLE- (SUNDAZED)-Sagittarius pitted the talents of Beach Boys producer Gary Usher with The Millennium’s Curt Boettcher and their psychedelic soft pop was among the best of the genre. On this sophomore record, originally issued on Together Records in 1969, as Usher is quoted in the liners, he was experimenting with the Moog quite a lot and with several different keyboards so the final product here is different than their fantastic debut, Present Tense but apparently it was much closer to what Usher originally wanted to accomplish with Sagittarius. The record opens inexplicably, with a trippy Beach Boys cover of “In My Room” and then drips into a Boettcher composition, the harpsichord-heavy “From You Unto Us” and onto the gentle, soaring “Will You Ever See Me?” Elsewhere, the title track, written by Usher and ( Millennium member) Lee Mallory, is one of the most poignant and beautiful songs on the record. A few of the songs dissolve into their own ambitions like the quirky “Lend Me a Smile” and the hippy dippy “I Sing My Song.” Of the four bonus tracks one is a Harry Nilsson cover while two others are mono single versions of “In My Room” and “I Can Still See Your Face.” While not the masterstroke that Present Tense was, The Blue Marble is still a welcome addition to the collection of any fan of psychedelic pop. www.sundazed.com

w03.09.09
Cause Co-Motion
IT'S TIME- (SLUMBERLAND)-Nice to see Slumberland come back in a big way with the trifecta of Brooklyn, NY bands in Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Stilts and this bunch. This is a collection of singles from 2005-’08 and these 14 tunes zip by in 21 minutes but it’s all great fun. If you like the short, shambling, frantic tunes of the early Television Personalities or Comet Gain (14 Iced Bears too) then this will be right up your boulevard (‘cos an alley is not big enough). One listen to the fantastic opener, “Only Fades’ Away” and you’ll know whether you like it or not, youpre either with us or against us (as Dubya once said…’cept he wasn’t talking about Cause Co-Motion!). “Baby Don’t Do It” has one of those great one not guitar solos while “Take a Look” add some fuzz pedal fuzziness and a giant mound of reverb. I honestly don’t think there is s single song on here that I don’t like and even though it is a collection of singles it sounds remarkably cohesive, like all the songs were recorded at the same time. Plus, the booklet contains reproductions of all of the 7” sleeves. Phil Knight has one of these, you should DO IT too. www.slumberlandrecords.com

w03.09.09
Sally Crewe & The Sudden Moves
YOUR NEAREST EXIT MAY BE BEHIND YOU- (8-TRACK MIND)- Sally Crewe landed in Austin Texas a few years back, coming from her native U.K . After a strong debut, (2003’s awesomely named Drive It Like You Stole It) she came back strong with a fuller sound (including keyboards) on her 2005 sophomore effort, Shortly After Take Off. On record number three she goes for a more stripped down sound and with a terrific, obedient rhythm section (including Dumptruck’s George Duron on drums and Matt Babb on bass…ummm…is Dumptruck still around?) who seem to be able to do whatever it is she asks (“Ummm, can you guys play “No Dancing” backwards in 3-4 time?” , “Why, of course Sally”) they pump out twelve winners on here. The record starts off strong with cool, jittery energy of the title track and while the next couple of tunes were decent –to-good it’s on song number 4, “Sleepyhead” where Crewe and company reel off a clutch of superb tunes. That song could/should be the single while the next cut “How Can People Wear That Stuff”, has an opening guitar riff worthy of anything off Vs. and “Looks Fast For a Reason”, arguably the record’s best song, has some to-die-for hooks and shows Sally stretching her vocals chords to full effect. The second half of the record is just as durable so remember, the next time you’re in the record store THIS is the kinds stuff you’re supposed to take a chance on and buy. Buy this. www.thesuddenmoves.com

w03.09.09
Neil Halstead
OH! MIGHTY ENGINE- (BRUSHFIRE)- Six years after the debut solo album of Neil Halstead, which I played to death by the way, I began searching the Internet to find out what he was up to. Yes, he’s still in Mojave 3, but I was shocked to see he was touring as the opening slot for Jack Johnson of all people. Not that I have anything against JJ, I just couldn’t believe Neil was opening for him. Upon further research, Neil has left 4AD (dropped?) and with his new label Brushfire Records he is still performing his melancholy folk the same as usual-or is he? The CD starts off with the title track and no new ground is broken here except maybe that this CD is more stripped down than the other, more straight out acoustic guitar. He still pays his dues to Nick Drake with songs like “Little Twig,” “No Mercy For The Muse,” and even “Paint A Face” with its repetitive guitar picking and subtle piano touch sounds like a Drake outtake. The highlight of this release is “Witless Or Wise” with its heart-filled melody, mysterious lyrics, and the occasional pedal steel guitar. Another standout is the droning beauty with added synth beats in “Always The Good.” I couldn’t help feeling that I’ve heard these songs before. I kept checking song titles-maybe b-sides to a Cdsingle? But “Baby, I Grew You A Beard” appears to be a direct lift of “Hi-Lo And Inbetween.” Luckily it’s one of my favorites from Sleeping on Roads. Oh, and guess who owns Brushfire? Jack Johnson. It’s all becoming clearer now. www.brushfirerecords.com ERIC EGGLESON

w03.09.09
AC Newman
GET GUILTY- (MATADOR)-Another year, another solid release from indie-rock's favorite Canuck, and Juno award winner, Newman. Lemme tell you, this man knows how to write a great pop song - end of story. "Get Guilty" is Newman's second solo outing away from his 'day-job' in the much beloved New Pornographers, and while it differs slightly from his debut and the New Pornos records, his songwriting is fairly unmistakable. Side one of "Get Guilty" is a logical progression from 2004's "the Slow Wonder," minus the cellos, whereas the tracks on side two could easily be mistaken for New Pornos B-sides - substituting some acoustic guitars for the usual, rampant keyboard antics. Certain tunes like "The Palace at 4 am," "Prophets," and "All of my days..." are immediately catchy and great, while others like "The Heartbreak Rides," "Thunderbolts," and the album's opener are more 'growers' that sneak up on you unsuspectingly. Either way, the hooks abound, the lyrics are clever and intelligent and the gang vocal harmonies are in full effect - all of which sound terrific. Rarely can a songwriter / band draw from so many different styles and eras and be able to blend it all together cohesively. AC Newman seems to be able to do that without any trouble at all. If you've enjoyed any of his previous work, from Zumpano onward, this record will definitely not disappoint. If you're new to the fold, it's not a bad place to start either. Well done once again. www.matadorrecords.com JEREMY GRITES

w03.02.09
The Handsome Family
HONEY MOON- (CARROT TOP)- While I must admit I have not kept up with the comings and goings of the Handsome Family (married couple Brett and Renie Sparks) the few records I do have by them are fantastic and on this, record #8, they do not disappoint. This record was written to celebrate their 20 years of marriage and as someone who has been married for not even half that long I toast them for their longevity (and the music too). The band’s music has been called Gothic Americana and that seems as good a place to start as any, Brett writes the music and sings most of the sings while Renie writes the lyrics and they have rounded up a batch of ace musicians in their adopted hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico (where they moved to several years ago after many years in Chicago). And the songs you ask? Just a gorgeously haunting as I remember them. The opener “Linger, Let Me Linger” adds some lovely cello to the proceedings (which already include Brett’s rich baritone) while “Little Sparrows’ adds some zippy pedal steel which gives it a completely different feel. “When You Whispered” is pure Carter Family country and the nearly perfect, “A Thousand Diamond Rings” is the record’s best song (that has a murky, Calexico-ish feel to it but these guys were doing this kinda stuff long before Calexico). It seems like The Handsome Family could keep doing this forever and I really hope they do. www.carrottoprecords.com

w03.02.09
Jay Reatard
MATADOR SINGLES '08- (MATADOR)- Does Jay Reatard ever NOT record? Not counting the 2 cds I have by this teenage band The Reatards, for his solo uh, “career”, I already have a full length by him (the 15 songs on BLOOD VISIONS, where is blood-soaked an standing in his underwear) then there was the 2 disc set that In The Red released last year of singles (17 tunes in all) and now this, 14 more slice of pure Reatard heaven. Apparently he released six 7” singles last year on the Matador but they were all in real limited runs so the kind folks at Matador compiled them here and one thing that really stands out is the songwriting which is stellar throughout. Cuts like “See Saw”, “Painted Shut”, “Always Wanting More” and plenty of others take on the title of classics the first time you hear them. Part punk, part garage, part pop and part new wave, he reminds me a bit of some of the new wave spazz that the Dirtnap label was releasing a few years ago (The Minds, Briefs, etc.). I know what you’re thinking, the guy on the back cover who looks a bit, uh, retarded, with the frizzy afro, with man boobs, the guy taking a dump, how can it be any good. Trust me, it is. It’s better than good. www.matadorrecords.com

ww03.02.09
Volcano Suns
THE BRIGHT ORANGE YEARS & ALL NIGHT LOTUS PARTY- (MERGE)- One of the first times I saw the Volcano Suns was in the Summer of 1986 on a bill with some punk bands (Descendents and Agent Orange, but labelmates/kindred spirits Squirrel Bait were also on the bill) and they had just played a slow dirge when the crowd yelled “Play faster!” to which the Volcano’s singer/drummer/leader Peter Prescott replied, “Ok, here’s a real fast one for ya’” and they proceeded to play a song even slower and dirgier than the previous one. It was hilarious and such was the life of the Suns as they never met a punk crowd they didn’t make fun of. On this, their debut record, (which the Homestead label initially released in 1985) they reached for the gold and struck it. Opener “JAK” is garage pop at its finest (and the best song the band ever wrote) as is the rollercoaster ride of “Descent into Hell.” They slow the tempo down a bit on “Balancing Act” but don’t forget the hooks while “Promise Me” is pure schitzo fun and ”Cover” is even more schitzo and MORE fun. In addition to the 12 songs on the original version there’s 9 bonus cuts including their terrific 1986 single “Sea Cruise’ b/w “Greasy Spine” (sample lyrics; “Never trust a man with a skinny tie, never trust a girl with a greasy spine, when she says she wants to be your Valentine!”). Their 2nd full-length, ALL NIGHT LOTUS PARTY is the lesser of the two, solid to good but not great. Still there’s a handful of terrific songs on it like “White Elephant’ and “Sounds like Bucks.” Pick them both up but if you only have enough dough for one then make it THE BRIGHT ORANGE YEARS. After these two records the band changed lineups (again…..Prescott had a rotating cast of members in the band over the years including Big Dipper/Dumptruck’s Steve Michener, Big Dipper’s Gary Waleik, Sorry’s David Kleier and Shellac’s Bob Weston to name but a few) after this record and made a few more records but never quite had the magic of these two. www.mergerecords.com

w02.22.09
The Distant Seconds
SPECTRAL EVIDENCE- (SWEETHEART CONTRACT)-This Austin, TX quartet, led by Matt Babb (who also plays bass in Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves) are onto something here. Judging by the band name and the cover photo of a crusty barber chair that is in a dirty basement I just knew I'd like it and my intuition was right (and that cover photo is from a prison in Philly). Apparently they have been getting gobs of good press, especially in their hometown and with good reason, this is the kind of good, hard-working guitar rock that made me fall in love with good, hard-working guitar rock in the first place. The first comparisons I hear are Pavement and Television (the latter is a big influence on the band). The record opens with a minute-long musical interlude (which you can skip)but the cuts into the superb "Throb in Unison" and then into the anthemic, Burma-esque "We're Unstoppable" which is followed by the slinky title track. The poppiest song on the record, and my favorite (natch) is "The Manual" (which has some nice keys and what I think is a marimba). It's only 2:08 which I think is the perfect length for a song and the 2nd half of the record houses some nice cuts too. The Distant Seconds have made a fine record here and I think they have an even better one in them so you'd better start paying attention (and pick up that new Sally Crewe cd while you're at it). www.myspace.com/thedistantseconds

w02.22.09
Lorna
WRITING DOWN THINGS TO SAY- (WORDS ON MUSIC)- The only other Lorna cd I have is their sophomore effort (and Words on Music debut) STATIC PATTERNS AND SOUVENIRS though the band has been around since 2001 and have released records on other labels. I would have guessed they were American but Nottingham, England is where they call home (which, if you recall kids, was Robin Hood's home). The band is led by the husband/wife team of Mark Rolfe and Sharon Cohen-Rolfe and while the band does mix it up a bit most of this would fit in with the hushed beauty of bands like Mojave 3, (early) Low, Northern Picture Library, Ida and others. The opening cut, "Look Left", which Mark and Sharon both sing on , is absolutely gorgeous as is their cover of Sebadoh's "Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)." Song number four, "(I Wish I Knew) How to Build a House" has some tasteful electronics in there and "Mostly Good Times" might be the most upbeat song on the record (and one of the best) and the record ending "Warm Architecture" is a perfect lullaby for the end. Good night and sweet dreams. www.words-on-music.com

w02.22.09
Marked Men
GHOSTS- (DIRTNAP)- Record number four by Denton, TX's favorite sons and they have done it for the 4th time in a row. Done what, you ask? Made a great hooky pop punk (I know, pop punk usually=garbage) that sounds unique and instantly familiar at the same time. As terrific as this is it's still not up to their Dirtnap debut ON THE OUTSIDE (which is the band's classic imho) but hey, it's good to see them back on Dirtnap after one record on Swami records (FIX MY BRAIN…their S/T debut was on Rip Off). What I'm trying to say is you can't go wrong with any of their records and GHOSTS has its share of sticky gems too. "All in Your Heads" gets things off to a fast start with the guitars rip roaring while Ditch" is about ……ummm…being stuck in a ditch and "Fortune" is prime M.M. with those classic cascading guitars and soaring vocals. That's the first three cuts and there's 15 in all here so commence to listening and if you've never heard the band before , well, let's change that , huh? www.dirtnaprecs.com

w02.22.09
St. Christopher
THE STARS BELONG TO ME: 1992-2001- (SELF RELEASED)- Always good to see my old pal Glenn Melia (who basically IS St. Christopher) with some new stuff out even if most of it is previously released material. On this comp is 24 songs in all with songs off of their 3 Vinyl; Japan records, a few off their live cd (CE SOIR) and even some off of their Parasol full-length from 2001 (GOLDEN BLUE). You get to hear St. Christopher classics like the dreamy "Cathedral High", the punchy "Utopian", the gorgeous "She Looks Like You", and some great live cuts, among them my faves in "Antoinette" and "You Deserve More than a Maybe." One of the two unreleased songs, "Kerrie", was on a comp cd I released nearly a decade ago (and since said record is long out of print I'm glad it's on here). The only tune missing here is their hit single "All of a Tremble" (which is on a few others cds and a Sarah Records comp too…in fact , while you're at it also pick up the LOST AT SEA: THE SARAH RECORDINGS cd that Plastilina Records released in 2007 which has their 4 Sarah singles and the BACHARACH 10") . www.myspace.com/stchristopheruk

w02.16.09
Burning Hearts
ABOA SLEEPING- (SHELFLIFE)-The first regular release in the mk 2 era of Shelflife that isn't a 7" gatefold sleeve with 7" and cd. This regular old digipak cd houses some of the best pop music you'll hear this year. Burning Hearts if the Finnish duo of Henry Ojala (who is also in the terrific Cats on Fire) and Jessika Rapo (who is in Le Futur Pompiste, a band I'd previously never heard of ) and on these 9 songs Henry creates some of the stickiest, soothing melodies while Jessika's yearning vocals match it perfectly. Opening tune "I Lost My Colour Vision" is one of the best songs of the year and if it's not a single well, it should be. The next two songs, "Iris" and the moodier "Various Lives' are nearly as good. "The Galloping Horse" adds some interesting samples and "We Walked Among the Trees" could be the dance hit of 2009. The gorgeous "A Peasant's Dream" is yet another marvelous pop song that needs to be heard by all fans of Stereolab or Camera Obscura. Do whatever it takes to get this record and that means starve yourself , have your heart shut off, whatever. Already on the short list for one of the best of 2009. Wow! www.shelflife.com

w02.16.09
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
GOODNIGHT OSLO- (YEP ROCK)- In these complicated days of rampant uncertainty, it's nice to know that we can still count on Robyn Hitchcock. (If you caught his recent I often dream of trains tour you can testify.) A year rarely passes without a new batch of songs from Hitchcock, and in my opinion, they never disappoint. And so it goes with Goodnight Oslo, his latest offering on Yep Roc, which is a bit of a return to his 'Egyptians' period sound as opposed to his recent quieter solo albums and/or Venus 3 rave-ups. On Oslo, his signature guitar jangle and intriguing lyrics are ever-present along with more varied production that works really well. Plus, the songs are good and that never hurts. Usually, if you like 1 of his records, you like them all and this record is no exception. Dig in… www.yeproc.com JEREMY GRITES

w02.16.09
Jan & Dean
THE COMPLETE LIBERTY SINGLES- (COLLECTOR'S CHOICE)- Holy smokes did these guys record a ton for Liberty Records! On here you have 42 songs (recorded between 1962-'66) spread across 2 discs with a nifty 20 pages booklet with photos, liners and photos of the 7" sleeves. They were never as successful as their across town rivals/friends, The Beach Boys but the tunes you hear on this set will show you that these two UCLA college students were just as prolific (including 13 top 40 hits, 11 of which are on here) and ambitious as well. Of course hits like "Surf City" (co-written by Brian Wilson) and "Dean Man's Curve" (with its amazing wall of sound sound) are on here as well as "The Little Old lady (from Pasadena)" but plenty of other fine songs grace these two cds like "Linda", "Honolulu Lulu", "Drag City", "Ride the Wild Surf" and too many others. It all ,sadly, came to a screeching halt on 4/12/66 (I came into this world on the same day but two years prior) when Jan Berry was injured in a serious car accident in Beverly Hills where he suffered serious brain injury. Before that sad chapter in their history hear where they made their mark on the world on these two discs. www.collectorschoicemusic.com

w02.16.09
The Secret History
DESOLATION TOWN EP- (LE GRAND MAGISTRY)- Interesting pairing of former My Favorite dude , the serious, stoic Michael Grace (if he does smile I've never seen it) and one Lisa Ronson, daughter of Bowie's guitarist Mick Ronson, who apparently met through a newspaper ad. Only six cuts here but it's a nice enough slice of pie to prove the pairing of these two was well worth it. The opener "It's Not the End of the World Jonah" hammer and stomps and adds enough tension and melody to keep in interesting throughout while "Our Lady of Pompeii" opens with a guitar hook right off….well, an old Bowie record. On "The Ballad of Haunted Hearts" Ronson gets a chance to stretch her pipes and proves she has quite a set (of pipes, that is). The classic "Mark & John (Bring on the Glitter Kids)" adds some guitar grit and then goes full on anthem on us while once again Ronson proves she can belt it out. I hope this isn't some one-off project (that would be too much of a tease) and let's all pray for a full-length. www.magistery.com

w02.09.09
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
S/T- (SLUMBERLAND)-I am totally psyched to see one of the definitive indie-rock labels, Slumberland Records, back in the game and better than fucking ever! Mike Slumberland has put out a rash of terrific singles and cds lately, my favorite of which happens to be this full length from Brooklyn's newest stars, the Pains… This record is pure Slumberland – a perfect mix of shimmering & scratchy guitars and reverb-y boy/girl vocals with melodies that are sweet and catchy. Immediate comparisons include: Velocity Girl (this record was mixed by Archie Moore!), Jane Pow, Henry's Dress, Black Tamborine, Lorelie, early Lilys, J&M Chain, Heavenly, Tiger Trap, Dressy Bessy etc. A great slab from front to back – bravo! www.slumberlandrecords.com JEREMY GRITES

w02.09.09
Greg Pope
POPMONSTER- (OCTOBERVILLE)- Apparently this guy is in a band called Edmund's Crown but I'd never heard of them before (before receiving this, I mean) but I may have to check them out if for no other reason that this thing smokes. Normally I'd bitch about a cd having 16 songs on it (hey, I gotta bitch about something) because in most cases record with that many tunes have a ton of filler but that is not the case here. Even more amazing is that Greg plays everything on this record. The name of the game is power pop but it cuts a pretty wide swath as it goes from high octane workouts to more tender acoustic cuts and and even some slight Americana influences and I hear echoes of Guided by Voices, Axle Chitlins, and Mr. Westerberg too. Give a crack at stellar cuts like "Lost My Friend", "Sky Burn Down", "Footpath", "Magic Show", "The Only Thing I've Got" and plenty of others. If you're a fan of most o the stuff I champion on this site then by all means make this a purchase and soon. I hate to use the word refreshing (at least when describing music, I don't mind using it about food) but it seems apt here. www.gregpope.net

w02.09.09
Starling Electric
CLOUDED STAIRCASE- (BAR NONE)- Starling Electric's Clouded Staircase is the best album Robert Pollard never wrote. It's no wonder he praises it and has had them open for him on tour. What started out as self-released in 2006, Bar/None picked up and released in the fall of 2008. Yes at times, the GBV influence is obvious or is it that they share GBV's influences? But it doesn't stop there. "Camp-fire" is a straight out ode to the Beach Boys via High Llamas with its catchy pop harmonies and trademark organ. This eighteen song chamber pop opus covers many styles and sounds including numerous instrumentals, but it's no surprise these Ann Arbor youngsters wear their 60's influences on their sleeves. What's great about this album is that it has so many different sounds from the past. Whether it's a power chord rocker like "Black Ghost/Black Girl" or "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre," a jangly harmonic pop song like "To Flunker With Love," or a soft piano ballad like "Clouded Staircase (part two)," there is a song for everyone. Whether it makes this piece disjointed or not is up to you, but I'll choose the latter. I'm looking forward to what's next in their psychedelic world and hopefully seeing how they can perform these multi-layered gems live .
www.bar-none.com ERIC EGGLESON

w02.09.09
The Weather Machines
BONES & BRAINS- (TIGERS AGAINST CRIME)- Geez , it's about time. This band, led by the elusive Jason Ward, used to be based in Rapid City, South Dakota but when Jason decided he wanted to run for mayor of a large American city he pulled up stakes and moved to Portland. He lost out on that race (but hey, no sex scandal) to he just decided to release another record as The Weather Machines. He/they released the terrific THE SOUND OF PSEUDOSCIENCE in 2006 and I waited for a follow up and waited and waited and….well, you get the picture. Only 5 tunes here but I'll take it and demand an lp before the year end, plus you got 5 winners. The opener, "Parts of Speech" has some cool glockenspiel and it fist pumper to be sure while "202" was darker an quirkier (a was "Last Known Tropic Control"). "New Soft Archetype" is like something off that first ep, all jumpy guitars and pumping rhythms and the ep-ending "In the Dreamtime" is pure epic with Feelies guitars and scattershot rhythm. Pick this up and bug Jason for more music. www.tigersvscrime.com

w02.02.09
Vic Chestnutt, Elf Power And The Amorphous Strums
DARK DEVELOPMENTS- (ORANGE TWIN)-Wouldn't it be great if our favorite artists could, say, once a year, combine on a record? Just go through your CD collection or iPod and pick two. Here, I'll do it: Slapp Happy and the Ruby Suns. Hey, that would be pretty cool. Getting down to it, the Athens, Ga.-spawned Chesnutt/Elf Power combination works perfectly. Chesnutt gets to toss out what sounds like some long-gestating lyrical couplets ("Little fucker needs a wide berth/Little fucker's more trouble than he's worth. . .") while Elf Power gets to relax and play backing band to one of their scene's success stories. The result is a captivating mix of darkly (befitting the record's title) comedic presentations that would work well as a Jim Jarmusch soundtrack, or, should he move back to indy-budget films, Wes Anderson. The playing is terrific, the songs are top-notch and Chesnutt is Chesnutt. www.orangetwin.com ANDY GIEGERICH

w02.02.09
Luke Jackson
...AND THEN SOME- (POPSICLE- 3rd record from this UK born/Toronto based popster (first one I've heard though) who went to Sweden to record this with his new pal Magnus Borjeson (who was in Beagle and Favorita)on bass. Not only that but Jackson got Nick Drake's string arranger, Robert, Kirby, to do the strings on here and the results are usually fantastic. The opening cut, "Come Tomorrow" is a nearly perfect, unabashed pop song with killer melodies and a near-perfect chorus. "This Life" is good but not quite as good and "Trouble" is a relaxed and pretty song. As mellow as "Trouble" is is as raucous as "Goodbye London" is, which ups the tempo greatly and again drops some more well-placed hooks and "A Little Voice' sounds like it could be a long lost outtake from Nick Drake. That is side one and the 5 songs on side two are just as strong including the driving "Half a World Away" , the somber "All I Can Do" and the blasting "Longest Day." It was nice to see Jackson mix it up on here and I think the guy is capable of a flat out great record from start to finish. This isn't it but that doesn't mean …AND THEN SOME isn't worth hearing, on the contrary, it was one of the nicest surprises of 2008. www.popsiclerecordings.com

w02.02.09
Love
OUT HERE- (COLLECTOR'S CHOICE)- LOVE Out Here, 1969, reissue Collector's Choice. This record is part of a re-released series of Love's Arthur Lee after the band's epic Forever Changes in 1967, Love, one of the most popular LA bands of the 1960s, was always undergoing personnel changes which is reflected in all their subsequent releases. Out Here contains several cuts off the original sessions of Four Sail, both records released on for Electra. This record reflects a very different focus than Love's earlier work, and of all the Love I've listened to, Out Here has some of my favorite Love cuts of all time. It's great hearing Arthur's voice on the opening track I'll Pray For You, how he doubles the vocal track, with groovy tambourine, boogie piano, and soul backing ensemble. Abalony may be the earliest disco drum beat on record, pretty happy song considering the track that follows, Signed D.C. This cut contains a chilling vocal by Arthur backed by a clear tone guitar, heavily distorted guitar and bass, building to climax with bluesy harmonica solo – a song about the fear of being a heroin addict. Listen To My Song could be on Forever Changes, Arthur's vocal vibrato, excellent control and a whistle solo! Backed by electric and acoustic guitar, a beautifully naked song. This record has a few harder rock blues cuts, including tune six, Stand Out, the middle part could be off a Hendrix record. Discharged is ultra cheesy but a statement about the times, being discharged from the Army. America deployment in Vietnam was at its height when this record came out, and Arthur wanted to make a statement. Number eight, Doggone, is my favorite song on the record, beautiful melody which builds into a fabulous instrumental reminiscent of Grateful Dead's Live Dead. Drummer George Suranovich is great on this one, how he utilizes the snare and ride symbol, and is featured on a lengthy drum solo, pretty entertaining. There are some real rock guitar experiments on the rest of the record, especially Love Is More Than Words Or Better Late Than Never at 11:20! Apparently the guitar was recorded at ½ speed then sped up for the final mix. Check out cut 15 Instra-Mental in 12/8 time – sizzling on vibe, they recorded this at full volume. The final track Gather 'Round is the perfect end, positive and supremely groovy with a bit of dated guitar solo during the fade out. The line up on Out Here lasted for only one record, but it's really great to hear Arthur's voice so clearly during a time that was personally very difficult and confusing. Love had already made their mark, but unfortunately they were never able to sustain their earlier glory. Excellent liner notes by Richie Unterberger. This record and all the Love reissues are important pieces of Love's catalog of material. www.ccmusic.com GREG SOCOLOFSKY

w02.02.09
The Well Wishers
JIGSAW DAYS- (SELF RELEASED)- While San Francisco's Jeff Shelton might be unknown to a lot of the musical community in the power pop scene the guy is a heavy hitter. Through his work with first the Spinning Jennies and now The Well Wishers the guy has bene blasting our hook-ridden pop gems for over a decade. The Wishers aren't brand new though as JIGSAW DAYS is their 4th full-length, so they've been around while but it is definitely the best. Apparently on this record Shelton wanted to get back to the basics of writing the kind of sunny melodies he was known for through the 90's and he succeeds in spades on here. From the opening 1-2-3 punch of "Heroes", "All the Suckers" and "Conscience Breaking Down" the record begins on a supremely upbeat note. Shelton then goes acoustic on the terrific "Florida", completely rocks out on "Moving Mountains" and offers up another (mostly acoustic) gem in "Love Lies." A lot of the reviews I've read compare this bunch to The Posies but I don't think that overrated band ever released a record anywhere near as good as this. Pure pleasure all the way around. www.myspace.com/thrwellwishers

w01.26.09
V/A
BLUE SKIES DAISY DAYS- (PLANTING SEEDS)-The Planting Seeds label has already released a few terrific comps and this one is no exception. There's 21 songs on here and it's broken into 2 sides, songs 1-11 is the Blue Skies side while 12-21 is the Daisy Days side. The record starts off with the International Jetsetters remix of "Inside Out" then goes right into The Corner Laughers gentle "Stonewords." Later on The Tamborines offer up the fizzed-out classic "Be Around" while Allen Clapp's Fairwood Singers toss in the stylish "Half Life." Also on the Blue Skies side is The Ocean Blue, The Loose Salute (Mojave 3 side project), The Voyces and a few other worthy bands. Daisy Days includes the majestic, horn-soaked 60's pop of Loz Colbert , the Teenage Fan Club-ish Primary 5 plus cuts from The Incredible Vickers Brothers, Michael Barrett, Pinkie and several others. A superb comp and a portion of the proceeds from sale of this go to the Keep A Breast Foundation so this is well worth picking up. www.plantingseedsrecords.com

w01.26.09
V/A
GUITAR SKETCH- (QUINCE)- Ok, so this comp is 5 years old (released in 2004) but I recently got a box o' stuff from the Quince label outta Japan so I wanna give 'em some ink. I have liked this label ever since they released The Shermans debut cd several years ago (reissued her by Shelflife). I've heard about half the bands on here and some of the heavy hitters include Club 8 (with the sultry "If You say"), the Beach Boys-esque Heavy Blinkers ("Try Telling That to my Baby"),, the jangly Ally Kerr ("Future Mending") , the folky Mascott ("Turn Off/Turn On"), the classic pop of LA bunch Fonda ("Life") an the new version of "On & On" by the now defunct Evening Lights (a few of them are now in Tearsrunrings). Other fine offerings come from bands I had previously never heard of: Tiger Baby, Discover, Fine!, Caroline Soul and a few others (17 songs in all). www.quince-records.com

w01.26.09
V/A
MESSTHETICS #106/THE MANCHESTER MUSICIANS COLLECTIVE 1977-1982- (HYPED2DEATH)- H2D emperor Chuck once again dives into the dusty basement archives and pulls out more obscure tunes than you can shake a stick at. This time, a the title says, he goes off to crusty olde Manchester, England, he tells Mark E. Smith to take a hike and instead digs up all the bands that didn't become nearly as famous as The Fall. The song by Contact, "Someone Like You" is easily the most poppy thing on here with chugging organ and a chorus for the ages but Mud Hutters, who open the cd with "Water Torture" sound like they came from another planet as do Elti-Fits. God's Gift, with the awesomely scraggily, "Discipline", sound bit more pro than early Half Japanese and Liggers, with their spindly "Deathwish", sounds piped in from some long lost John Waters flick (if Waters resided in Manchester, England and not Baltimo). 21 songs in all and a killer 24 page booklet. This label gives the phrase "found sounds" a whole new meaning. www.hyped2death.com

w01.26.09
V/A
MESSTHETICS GREATEST HISS/ CLASSICS OF THE CASSETTE CULTURE D.I.Y. 1979-1982 VOLUME 1- (HYPED2DEATH)- If you're read the above review then you know what to expect. This is like H2D's version of a K-Tel record only instead of the Starland Vocal Band, The Sweet and Eddie Money you have bands like Jelly Babies, Gravity Craze, Colin Potter and The Get. This is the superstars of cassette culture and if you thought that a band like The Pastels embodied the word "shambling" then listen to 391 with the choppy, tweaked "Jet Plane" and you'll have a whole new appreciation of shambling. Like all recent Messthetics comps this has a comprehensive 24 page booklet with plenty of liners, photos, fliers, history and the like. If you're smart enough to know that you know less now in life than you ever did then this is for you. www.hyped2death.com

w01.19.09
The 18th Dye
AMORINE QUEEN- (CRUNCHY FROG)-A decade after this seminal indie band's break-up, and nearly 14 years since their last record, German/Danish powerhouse the 18th Dye have returned to show all the new indie kids just how it should be done. Now I admit, I am extremely biased because I have been a die-hard 'Dye fan (and completely in love with bass player Heike Radeker) since their debut in 1992, BUT nevertheless - this record is completely awesome. All of the band's signature qualities (oblique lyrics, undeniable hooks, beautiful squealing feedback, solid drumming etc.) remain intact with some newer layers, textures and ideas that are intelligent and cool yet still totally bring the ROCK. Listen to the song "Is," and tell me I'm wrong. Seriously though, from the quiet-loud-quiet opener "Island vs. Island," to the lush, sweeping closer "Air," AMORINE QUEEN refuses to disappoint. (The first half in particular is just relentless!) Other instant 18th Dye classics include "Go N Go," "Soft the Hard Way," "Chinese Spoon," and the absolutely killer title track that sounds like the best song the Velvet Underground never wrote and Superchunk never covered. Of all the bands out there that could reform, I sure am glad that it was the 18th Dye that decided to do it. Welcome back. JEREMY GRITES www.myspace.com/18thdye

w01.19.09
Canadian Invasion
THREE CHEERS FOR THE INVISIBLE HAND- (SELF-RELEASED)- Well, for starters, this bunch doesn't even hail from, Canada despite their name. They call Philly home (sorry about the Eagles today) and the guy in the band named Eric Miller in the band is not the MAGNET guy (I asked). The band, led by guitarist/vocalist Andy Paul (also known as Andy Canadian) , have tossed out 11 terrific slices of jangly pop with some bits of Americana thrown in here and there. No curveballs here, probably no knucklers either, a few sliders and several fastballs right across the plate. It's all pretty much mid-tempo but the guitar shuffle off like early REM or Wilco and there's no bad tunes on here and a few excellent ones. The gas-pedal zip of "One hand Claps the Other", the cowbell-infused "The Last Time I went to Church" or the Fountains of Wayne-ish opener ("Pop Magic Fantastical Masterpiece") all count as the latter and would definitely impress your next date. Dig in. www.canadianinvasion.org

w01.19.09
Jennifer O'Connor
HERE WITH ME- (MATADOR)- Record number four for Ms. O'Connor (and her 2nd for Matador after 2006's excellent OVER THE MOUNTAIN, ACROSS THE VALLEY AND BACK TO THE STARS) and this was supposed to be reviewed a while back but, per my usual excuse, it got lost in the shuffle (which it did). O'Connor's enchanting folk-pop has been turning ears for quite some time now and each record of hers has been a bit better than the one before it (and her debut was quite good). This begins with the light shuffle of "The Church and the River" and then slips into the gorgeous "Always in Your Mind" with it gentle plucked acoustic guitars and lovely piano and then dives right into the quicker-tempo'd, rockin' "Daylight Out" (same with the title track). I love the mix of styles on here but it's those terrific mid-tempo acoustic numbers, however, that get me the most on here though ("Credit in the Cost" is a perfect example). She adds an emotional depth that's usually missing on most singer-songwriters (most sound way too forced) and doesn't forget the hooks. In the end it's a record full of beautifully written tunes and one of my favorites of 2008. www.matadorrecords.com

w01.19.09
The Smittens
THE COOLEST THING ABOUT LOVE- (HHBTM)- The Smitten are twee and damn proud of it. Listening to the lyrics on some of these songs you'd think these Vermont kids (including p/t solo artist Colin Clary) are affecting a chipper , love-everyone-in-the-world type of attitude but without ever having met these people I'd say that they truly and genuinely feel that way. They have not hate in their hearts and just want to write songs about love and friendship and hope you come along for the ride. The songs are classic indie pop, mid-tempo tunes with whirring keyboards, plinky guitars and cooing male/female vocals while a few are more spare and intimate. Song number two, "Half My Heart Beats" has the chorus of "We were true and not pretending, you broke my heart in two and now my heart beats fast fast fast for you" while "Something Sassy' begins "I don't some drastic, I just want something sassy…to do right now!" Then you have the ebullient "It's a Saturday" which could be this band's theme song and if you find yourself pumping your fist In the air to this song, then you know you're in the right place. www.hhbtm.com

w01.12.09
Averkiou
THROWING SPARKS- (CLAIRE)- Not sure where these guys came out of (Gainesville, Florida, actually) but these guys might just have knocked The Brother Kite off the mountain as my new favorite Claire Records band. Right from the classic opening tune, "I Don't Wanna Go Out", which is all fuzzed out (yet totally melodic) guitars ala Ride or My Bloody Valentine with some dreamy vocals perched on top. Song number two, "Holland & Headaches" is more of the same and just as great. "New York Friends' slows it down a tad and adds a simmering guitar leads (and reminded me a bit of Human Television, Florida expatriates themselves). The other 5 tunes are just as good and it's all over in 22 minutes (my kinda record, keep me wanting more). Seriously, this is that good. One of my favorites of 2008. www.clairecords.com

w01.12.09
Novillero
A LITTLE TRADITION- (MINT)- I don't listen to the other Novillero records I have nearly enough (2001's THE BRINDLEFORD FOLLIES and 2005's AIM RIGHT FOR THE HOLES IN THEIR LIVES, both on Mint Records) but whenever I get a new one it always make me appreciate the others. A LITTLE TRADITION follows in the footsteps of the others in that right out of the gate it starts off with a kickin' pop tune in "Life in Parentheses" and the rips right into the choppy pop of the title track and the mid-tempo piano-led pop of "Shadowboxing." I think the band these guys remind most of is Zumpano (remember them? The band that the New Pornographers Carl Newman was in prior to the NP's….Novillero also reminds me a bit of the NP's too). What can I say, Novillero is yet another terrific Canadian band that doesn't get nearly the amount of respect they deserve. I guess if this reviews adds a few more fans then I've done my job. www.mintrecs.com

w01.12.09
Rinaldi Sings
BINGO- (TANGERINE)- Now this is what I call Shagadelic! No, this is not an opera record even though the title might imply. Rinaldi is actually Londoner Steve Rinaldi who has made one swinging, ebullient pop record with horns all over the place and hooks a plenty. The first song "You Take Me There" is all fist-pumping good times, like a Housemartins outtake or something while "You Got me Believing" is St. Etienne if they replaced Sarah with a suave male vocalist (Jarvis Cocker?) and "End of an Error" is Dexy's Midnight Runners minus the overalls and replaced with suits. Not sure who he has playing on this (the writing is too small) but this is terrific and these guys can play! Now I definitely need to hear his debut form 2005 (WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?) and this will definitely make my "Under the radar top 10" for 2008. www.tangerinerecords.com

w01.12.09
The Rosebuds
LIFE LIKE- (MERGE)- Speaking of underrated (see Novillero above) this North Carolina husband/wife duo of Ivan and Kelly (who I believe have different friends in the drummer seat….a few tours ago they had Matt "Brother of Mac" McCaughn) might be the most unheralded band on the lofty Merge label. On the heels of their dark and brooding, synthy previous record (NIGHT OF THE FURIES) LIFE LIKE is more akin to their debut which is understated songs with sneaky hooks that crawl into your head after a few listens. "Border Guards" could be off that prior record while "Cape Fear" and "Bow to the Middle' are both songs that could be hits and the gorgeous, acoustic guitar n' piano "Nice Fox" was a road I'd like to see these two go down more often. The 2nd half of the record (10 songs in all) is just as strong and I love thed way Ivan and Kelly trade off on vocals (I really like both of their voices) and while this isn't my favorite Rosebuds record (that would be BIRDS MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS) it's still fantastic and only adds to their already impressive catalog. www.mergerecords.com

w01.05.09
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
CARDINOLOGY- (LOST HIGHWAY)- This is Ryan Adam's and the Cardinal's 5th release together since their beginning as a consistent, recognizable, great studio and touring band in 2005. I have listened to a full dose of Ryan in recent months including much of his solo material, Whiskeytown, all of his releases with The Cardinals, and several live concerts. Cardinology is one of my favorite records from Ryan of all time for more reasons than I can count. The first cut Born Into A Light begins with a dramatic minor key, acoustic run that merges beautifully into sweet vocal ensemble which rides out into the same ending as beginning – short, sweet, perfect. Go Easy may be the best track on the record - electric guitars explode, leading to a short break, then the "go easy" chorus with piano accent. Ryan's guitar playing is very recognizable and unique, reminds me of a handful of marbles. He has a crunching sound that has a tight yet loose feel – great use of that sound in this cut. Cut three Fix It is a well written song with great vocal arrangement and spacious theme, sporadic accents by Ryan's guitar. Nice how the band uses dynamic contrast on this cut, playing softly then building to several climaxes , like the best nights you can remember!?! Track four Magick employs a round vocal technique, and there's no doubt some cranking guitars here – super passionate and high energy. I love number 5's tribal drum sound intro on Cobwebs. This cut is dramatic and spacey, and wonderfully held together by delicate single string chordal work – then this track rides out in a vamp "will you confuse my love for the cobwebs …" they build and build ending with an effective echo. Perfect transition into another great cut, number six Let Us Down Easy. Nice easy tempo, major chords except the minor bridge, then major chorus. The guitars remind me of the syncopated trademark of the Rolling Stones' Beast of Burden, great tambourine at the end. Crossed Out Name is downstroked acoustic guitar with a hard edge intro, then piano and band added building riding it to an abrupt end. Track eight Natural Ghost has some hidden treasures including the band's tight vocal harmonies, nice pedal steel, and distorted guitar in the background, underneath a bed of steel guitar until it rises to the top with a muffled distorted solo, like ol' Neil Young. Sunk Ships is a softer side cut with obvious clear tone Stratocaster guitar, nice vocal harmony in the middle section, ironically ending with heavy distortion. Evergreen calls for drummer Brad Pemberton to use brushes, nice light shuffle and fingerpicked guitar. I like Ryan's soft vocal on this one – what a good live cut this will be. Like Yesterday is mellow with a hiding revolving Leslie guitar speaker in the background … leads us to the Allman Brothers-like solo section in the middle, riding out with vocal harmony, nice ending with twang bar shaking the last chord … The last cut is Ryan on Piano, Stop, a song written about rehab. A very personal, sensitive song sung and fueled by experience. This record represents a fabulous cross section of this band and their capabilities. It's great hearing Ryan playing with a group that appears committed to each other, the music, and their fans. Already great professionals, they just keep getting better. Can't wait for the next release. www.losthighwayrecords.com GREG SOCOLOFSKY

w01.05.09
Belle & Sebastian
THE BBC SESSIONS- (MATADOR)- Scotland's Belle & Sebastian have long been a favorite of mine since I first heard their 2nd record IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER (the first one most of us heard as, at the time ,very few folks had heard their debut TIGERMILK) and truth be told, I think they are easily the best band of the past decade. I have long been a pop fan (Love and The Beach Boys are at the top of that long list) and at the time I was looking for a band to take the place of longtime faves, New Zealand's Chills and these guys fit the bill perfectly (I don't want anyone to think that both bands, while they do have some similarities , sound exactly alike or anything) as Stuart Murdoch was as important a songwriter to me as Martin Phillipps was a decade prior. As the title says, these are songs the band recorded for their BBC sessions (1996-2001) and there's 14 songs total (including 4 unreleased songs) and while the versions of these songs aren't too different from the versions released on records but there is enough difference to make this a total keeper. A few of my personal faves on here include rawer versions of "Judy and the Dream of Horses", "I Could be Dreaming", "Slow Grafitti", "Sleep the Clock Around" and a few others. Of the unreleased songs I love two of them:"The Magic of a Kind Word" and "Nothing in the Silence", both gorgeously melancholy while the final cut "(My Girl's Got)Miraculous Technique" was merely good (the awesomely named "Shoot the Sexual Athlete" wasn't so hot). If you're a fan (or want to become one) this should be in your collection. www.matadorrecords.com

w01.05.09
The Charade
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES- (SKIPPING STONES)- Here we go with record number three from the Swedish trio The Charade. This band is led by Mikael Mattson who was previously in red Sleeping Beauty and The Shermans (his wife Ingela, who was also in The Shermans, is also in this band while the trio is rounded out by Magnus Karlsson, formerly of the great Happydeadmen). There hasn't been a whole lot of difference between any of Mikael's bands, all three excelled at writing compact, incredibly catchy pop nuggets with a slight Motown influence (though that influence seems strongest on this record). The thing about the band is that while their melodies are bright and the harmonies always sunny it's the lyrics that always convey a sense of sadness or doubt. The opening title track is a perfect example of that as are tunes like "The World is Going Under", "You Don't Wanna Know", as well as more humorous titles like "I Used to Live in the 80's" and "Ballad of Uneasy Rider (I'm a Loaded Gun)". With this being their third terrific record in a row the band has hit the trifecta. Buy all three and give yourself the perfect post-Christmas gift. www.skippingstonesrecords.com

w01.05.09
Doug Derek & The Hoax
WHO THE HELL IS DOUG DEREK?- (KOOL KAT MUSIK)- The title of this record is total truth in advertising as I'm guessing very few people outsider of the New Haven, CT scene even knew who the hell these guys were (apparently popular L.A. producer Jon Brion was originally part of this scene). The fact that a band this good (despite their goofy name) never released a record is a major bummer but here we are, nearly 30 years later and the band are finally getting their due thanks to the Kool Kat Musik label. The band was led by bassist/vocalist Doug Riccio (aka Doug Derek) and guitarist/vocalist Michael Brochin and had they been around longer than a year (and released more records) would be added to the ranks of bands like 20/20, The Records, Cheap Trick, The Knack and other power pop heavies. The pop gems fire off in rapid succession: "Bobby's Gotta Get Back to Boston", "I Don't Really like it Here", "Airwaves", "Never Seen a Girl Like You", and 8 more (including 2 bonus tracks, one being a 1980 version of "Bobby's Gotta Get back to Boston") as the songwriting stays strong throughout. As obscurities go, this is well worth your hard-earned money. www.koolkatmusik.com