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December 2001 Reviews by

 The Aqua Velvets

The Chargers Street Gang*

Comment Piece
Dark Funeral

The Derailers
Joe Diffie
Flag Wavers
Granfaloon Bus
Hey Mercedes
The Hives

Peter C. Johnson
The Lassie Foundation
The Last Hard Men

Mickey Mouse
The Plan

Jonathan Richman
Riverboat Gamblers

Skating Club


The Waterboys

George Winston

*Top Picks


December 2001 Comment Piece: This Is The Last Year

Sad in a way but definite and obvious, 2001 is the last full year. In a way this makes us feel reflective and tender. Yet in another way we are framed with a sense of uselessness and boredom. People have always been bad. But in the past few years they have gotten much, much worse than ever before. Accordingly, everything is now poised to stop abruptly. Does it matter? Not particularly. The only sad part is that all the plants and animals on the earth will be forced to go down with the ship. Because everything is going to end, might we suggest to you (and any of your close acquaintances) that you use this opportunity to STOP TRYING. That's right. We are suggesting to everyone that you GIVE UP. Stop focusing on your education, your job, your career, and your hobbies...and use every last minute that you have to get MESSED UP ALL THE WAY. The one and only way to get through the next few months will be to stay as completely OUT OF IT as you possibly can. So...use whatever method pleases you the best. But whatever you do...do LOTS of it. Turn on, turn off, speed up, slow down, drink it, snort it, shoot it...do whatever it is that snickles your choco-bar. There is no longer any need to pay bills. Now is the time to load your credit cards up to the MAX. Do all the things that you always wanted to do...but were afraid to do. Use your remaining time WISELY. But do whatever you do and do it as you must...because these last few months are going to be as hellish as Slappy Doo-Dah in the messy ol' goddamn finger bowl. No, no, no, no, NO! Haha! We were only KIDDING all of you out there! This isn't really the LAST YEAR! We're just being goddamn SILLY...again! Everything's OKAY! The world isn't ending, not YET anyway! Everything's wonderful and COOL! Yes, yes, YES! Love and PEACE to everyone! But do you know WHAT? We're LYING again. The world really IS about to END. Oh the FUTILITY of it all. All of our lives and all the countless centuries we have all spent creating our modern way of life...and FOR WHAT? It's all about to GO TO HELL. Oh the PITY and the SADNESS of it all. Everything is really HORRIBLE and ROTTEN!!! But do you know what? It's not really all THAT bad because...we're LYING again! Everything is SUPER OKAY! Yes indeed it is! The sun is shining and the flowers are blooming and we LOVE everything and EVERYONE. And that includes YOU! So...HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of your wonderful, beautiful people out there! Particularly all of the wonderful beautiful people who record GREAT music and to all those superb publicists and record companies who SEND US CDs for REVIEW! We love you, every single ONE! And this time...we really DO mean that!!! And to all of you readers out there in topsy-turvy land...we TIP our HATS...because you are obviously proving something or another by reading all the WORTHLESS goddamn crap that we continually THROW UP all over the goddamn shiteating INTERNET (!!!). Happy holidays to EVERYONE. With sincere love and admiration. Sincerely, The Retarded Good-For-Nothing Kooks in the Fluffy, Pampered Offices of babysue.

The Aqua Velvets - Radio Waves (Double CD, Milan Entertainment, Guitar/rock/instrumental)
Tired of listening to artsy pretentious crap? Bummed out by generic bands overdubbed to death and polished to boring perfection? If so, you may very well want to check out The Aqua Velvets. In a world overrun with too many folks making music for all the wrong reasons, this San Francisco quintet truly is a blast of fresh air. What appeals to us most is that this band does not require any effort on the part of the listener. All you need do is slip the disc in...tap your feet to the infectious beat...and you will instantly be a fan of this timeless band. The Velvets' music is a combination of surf, rock, and spaghetti western...and that's just the beginning. What we find particularly amazing is that this double disc set features LIVE recordings of the band. But don't expect crummy live sound quality here. These recordings are so smooth that this could pass for a studio album. And the fact that this was played on the spot...with no overdubs...makes it even more appealing. Disc one features no less than 23 hot and snappy little numbers recorded for Phil Dirt's KFJC radio show. "Swampabilly Hop," "Green Sunshine" (this is a particularly great track), "Surf Nouveau," and "Nervous On Neptune" (ha!) are just a few of the standout numbers. The second bonus disc features four tracks recorded at a club called Sweetwater in Mill Valley, California. Pure FEELGOOD music delivered with integrity and style. (Rating: 5)

Aveo - Bridge to the Northern Lights (CD, Red Tide / Barsuk, Pop/rock)
Although other reviewers tend to compare this band to The Smiths, we (fortunately) don't hear many similarities. What we do hear is a vibrant young band with softly exploding energy and an urgent melodic sense. Bridge to the Northern Lights was originally released on the Brown Records label but quickly sold out, at which point the always-on-top-of-it folks at Barsuk promptly rereleased the album. Aveo (pronounced ah-ve-o) is a four-piece band playing slightly jagged pop music with vocals that, in all honestly, do sound a bit like the Smiths. But the similarities end there, as the songs on this album have much rougher edges and more jerky rhythms. Hard to believe that this is a debut album, as these guys are mature songwriters and play like pros. Even more interesting is the fact that this entire album was recorded in a mere seven days...so obviously there was no time to make up for bad tunes by layering them with too many overdubs (a problem that plagues many up-and-coming bands). Produced by Phil Ek (who has produced many other quality bands of late), the sound quality is slick but not impersonal. These fellows--and their producer--have managed to come up with a warm, somewhat safe, and ultimately satisfying collection of material... (Rating: 4+++)

Badawi - Soldier of Midian (CD, ROIR, Percussion driven Middle Eastern music)
Badawi is Raz Mesinai, born in Jerusalem and raised in New York City. Mesinai's music is obviously influenced by both his native country as well as America. Soldier of Midian is an impressively authentic audio trip into Middle Eastern percussion. Drums thump and pound in unison as eerie musical lines float by. This album is a purely artistic endeavor, and our guess is that Mesinai has no interest whatsoever in trying to produce a "hit" single or anything of the sort. ROIR is an appropriate home for this artist, as it seems that the label's main motivation has never been money in the first place. The pieces on this album range from hypnotic to somewhat nervous frantic. But whatever the mood, the intense percussion keeps the listener on their toes. As mesmerizing as the compositions on Soldier of Midian are, we must warn potential listeners that this music is not for everyone...nor does it try to be. There are no traditional elements to latch onto...no catchy choruses...no guitars...virtually none of the usual elements present in the music of modern America. Pieces like "Evocation," "Voices From the Sky" (wow...), "After a Path Has Been Paved..." and "Dehydration" are sure to please those with minds open enough to take in this engaging music... (Rating: 5+)

Bonobo - Animal Magic (CD, Ninja Tune, Esoteric ambient obtuse pop)
Ninja Tune is one of the few truly great music labels out there. What makes them so great in our mind is that we have not yet heard a single release from them that we have not enjoyed immensely...and that's saying A LOT. (With many record labels you have to throw five to the side before coming upon ONE disc that is worthy of attention.) Label licking aside, Bonobo is a calming and obtuse one man band featuring Simon Green. Green writes and records haunting audio landscapes that are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. The compositions on Animal Magic are, for the most part, sparse and distant. Yet the music somehow retains a warm and inviting character that is strangely appealing. A great deal of the material is instrumental, although vocal do pop up occasionally. Note, however, that the way the vocals are used is unusual...as they are not prominent in the mix and are frequently unintelligible due to effects used. If you, like ourselves, are always on the lookout for the subtle and unique...Bonobo will push ALL of your buttons just the right way... MARVELOUS. (Rating: 5++)

The Chargers Street Gang - Holy the Bop Apocalypse (CD, Get Hip, Hard rock)
Wild, loud, crazy, funny, intense rock music. If there's one band on the planet that is chock full of unstoppable energy, it must surely be The Chargers Street Gang. These five fellows play with the fiery intensity of some of the best garage bands of decades gone by. The rhythms are fast and furious...the guitars turned way, way, WAY up...and the vocals have that wonderful "who gives a sh*t" attitude. What really pushes this band over the edge for us is their sense of humor. Some of the lyrics as well as some of the song titles had us falling down on the office floor laughing. "Tom Waits For No-One" is most certainly one of the funniest song titles we have heard in some time. From the sound of Holy the Bop Apocalypse, it sounds as if the entire band got totally ripped out of their skulls...plugged their toes into an electrical socket...and then recorded this entire album in one unforgettable take. This is a wild ride through the world of modern garage rock. Top notch tunes include "Say No More Forever Amen," "Twisted and Old," "Hey Guys Thanks for Believing In Me," and "Shitty Song." We would have liked to have heard a bit more bass in the mix, that that is a minor point because...this is one HELL of a KICK ASS rock band. Way to go guys. Listening to this is like riding a goddamn roller coaster. KILLER. (Rating: 5++)

Clairvoyants - Your New Boundaries (CD, Wishing Tree / Badman, Ambient/drone/soft pop)
Slow, haunting, and sparse. Cambridge five piece Clairvoyants are a lesson in subdued restraint. The band's tunes creep by slowly and feature echoed instruments that support casual vocals. The compositions on Your New Boundaries are extremely slow methodical pieces. The tunes are methodical and hypnotic, often retreating to the bare bones essentials of one instrument and/or vocal. The main point of all music should be to get the point across, and this is what makes this CD so intriguing. Using very little, Clairvoyants manage to get their point across quite clearly. Main singer/songwriter Brian Dunn has a very personal vocal style that makes these tunes most inviting. At times, this band's material comes across like a slowed down version of The Durutti Column (particular the guitars). At other times the music sounds something like a more modern and atmospheric version of Donovan (or even Bert Jansch for that matter). If you're looking for upbeat energy, look elsewhere. If you're in the mood for slow and strange restraint, this band will most certainly hit the target. Definitely NOT like other bands currently on the horizon... (Rating: 4+++)

Dark Funeral - Diabolis Interium (CD, Necropolis, Black metal)
Intense stuff...for those with the stomach to take it. Begun in 1993, Dark Funeral has the distinction of being one of the pioneers of black metal. As you might guess, this is NOT happy stuff. Tunes like "Hail Murder," "An Apprentice of Satan," and "Heart of Ice" will only appeal to a limited audience...those into loud, abrasive noise and satanic leanings. (Another of the band's tunes not on this particular album--"Teach Children To Worship Satan"--is sure to enrage touchy parental units.) The band's live show sounds like a real mindcruncher. These guys have been known to play drenched in blood, spit fire, and tear decapitated pig heads off of crosses and brutally mutilate them in front of their fans. Sound like fun? Well...for the right kind of people, it actually IS. There's no denying that most people simply do not want to see or hear stuff like this. In fact, most folks would prefer to simply pretend that bands like Dark Funeral do not exist. In the world of music, however, everything is permitted. Even though the music here tests our composure, we still find it...interesting, to say the least... Can you TAKE it? (Not Rated)

Daryl - The Technology (CD, Beatville, Rock/pop)
Daryl is a band with a unique sound...approaching pop/rock from a different direction. This album will be interpreted many ways by many different people because it does not fit into any specific category. The main difference in this band's sound is the fact that they incorporate synthesizers into their melodic hard pop. There are fuzzy guitars present, but these are counterbalanced by some lovely keyboards that do a great deal to fill out the sand. But if you're thinking "wimpy synth pop," think again. Daryl songs are defined by raw energy and aggressive vocals. What we like most about these folks is that--while they aren't afraid to crank out the loud stuff--they also aren't afraid to venture into territory that borders on ambient and even modern classical at times. The songs on The Technology are not written around formulas. Instead, the band writes songs that seem to head in directions that the listener would never expect. Great tunes like "Motion in Progress" and "The Stare" (our top pick here) make this album a mentally challenging and stimulating listen... (Rating: 4+++)

The Derailers - Here Come the Derailers (CD, Sony Nashville, Country/pop)
Austin's The Derailers are back with their strongest album yet. The band's catchy, easy-on-the-ears approach to country pop goes over well. The music is light, catchy, and upbeat. But what really makes the music on this album kick is the fact that these guys obviously enjoy what they're doing...and they're damn good at it. The band's tunes combine elements from country pop all the way from the 1950s on through to the present. Much to the band's credit, producer Kyle Lenning had the good sense to avoid overproducing this collection of tunes. As a result, most songs have a nice open feel...letting the songs and the melodies shine through. This band's music might best be described as white-collar country pop (particularly appropriate since the band is decked out in business suits on the cover of this album). No curse words and no dirty stuff in this campground. The Derailers are a clean act, which is just fine with us. Great singalong tunes like "More of Your Love," "Bar Exam," "I'd Follow You Anywhere," and "There Goes the Bride" make this disc an entertaining listen... (Rating: 4++)

Joe Diffie - In Another World (CD, Sony Nashville, Country/pop)
Friendly, well orchestrated, slick, upbeat country pop. Joe Diffie's formula is obviously working. This handsome fellow has already scored five number one hits on the country music charts. Like Toby Keith (our favorite main man of country pop), Mr. Diffie presents amazingly sincere compositions with instantly lovable melodies and a vocal style that is masculine, absorbing, and confident. Unlike Keith, Diffie is not a songwriter and instead opts to interpret tunes written by others. The selection of material is strong indeed, as this album comes off sounding like a non-stop string of radio hits. From the title track right on through to "The Grandpa That I Know," Mr. Diffie keeps the quality up. The production is lush...featuring no less than 16 (!) backup musicians and singers. This album is certain to please fans of country pop. Our top picks here are "My Give A Damn's Busted," "Hollow Deep As Mine," and "What A Way To Go." Solid stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

Flag Wavers (All of a sudden everywhere kind of things)
We'd like to take just one eensie teensie little minute to salute all you wonderful FLAG WAVERS out there. Yeah, you...you're the ones we're talking about. All of you proud Americans out there who have suddenly embraced patriotism by wearing flags, hanging them from your rooftops, attaching them to your cars and trucks, and smearing them in everyones' face... Why, seeing all of you flag wavers out there makes us PROUD as hell to be goddamn Americans! Hell, YEAH! Fact of the matter is, we're just CRAZY AS HELL about the whole idea of flags in the first place. Just think...squares of colored cloth being waved about all over the place...to show WHO YOU ARE or WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT. It makes SO much sense, doesn't it? We should all WANT everyone else to know WHO we are and WHAT we stand behind! That's what's so GREAT about flags. They tell people in an INSTANT just what kind of a person you are. The best part about all the folks out there waving the U.S. flag nowadays is that they are telling the world how they feel about terrorism. Isn't that NEAT? Some mean nasty bad foreign people blew up two of our ugly office buildings...now that's what you call TERRORISM. But when we turn around and blow the holy hell out of another country by dropping bombs everywhere...that's just STANDING UP for ourselves and LOVING OUR COUNTRY. That's what it is now, ain't it? SURE it is! We're all PROUD as hell to be Americans...despite the fact that all of our prosperity and hard work has proven one thing and one thing for sure: CAPITALISM STINKS. (Rating: 1)

Flanger - Outer Space (CD, Ninja Tune, Experimental ambient electronic jazz)
Very unusual and strangely satisfying. Flanger is the duo of Burnt Friedman and Atom. Together, these two gentlemen create some extraordinarily obtuse, quiet jazz music that is as experimental as it is calming and subtle. If you could get them to listen to this (highly unlikely), most diehard fans of classic jazz would probably get off on the music on Outer Space. The album's sparse and slightly off center compositions have a great deal in common with many of the great jazz artists of the 1950s and beyond. The main difference, of course, is the fact that these two fellows use mostly modern instruments. Improvisation reigns supreme on all eight tracks here. The sound quality is outstanding. Heady and pulsing with creativity, Outer Space is a must have for fans of modern jazz music. (Rating: 5+)

Granfaloon Bus - Exploded View (CD, Future Farmer Recordings, Slanted folkpop)
Loose folky pop with threads of country running through it. Somewhat reminiscent of early Neil Young (but only slightly), Granfaloon Bus is another great (and yet virtually unknown) acoustic-based band on the Future Farmer label. Guitarist/vocalist Felix Costanza sums up this album best by describing it as "all drinking songs." While this would make for some good beer-chugging music, bear in mind that this is DRINKING music...which is very different from DRUNK music. The music is loose and natural, but it is not sloppy and out-of-control. The vocals are the real trademark of this band. Costanza's vocals are simultaneously masculine and bashful...and despite his laid back approach he manages to get the point across clearly on every track here. The arrangements have a nice loopy quality that is appropriate for this style of music. This is one that takes a few listens to sink in, but the album is definitely worth the time invested. Tracks like "The Bender," "Heatwave Marchingband Soldier," and "A Binary Story (The Murder Wagon)" don't really sound like anything else currently out there in the world of music. Both funny and thought provoking, this band is certain to capture the hearts and imagination of open minded listeners... (Rating: 5)

Hey Mercedes - Everynight Fire Works (CD, Vagrant, Rock/pop)
Smart, punchy, powerful pop/rock. Recorded in a mere two weeks, Everynight Fire Works showcases a young band with energy to spare and a good melodic sense. Hey Mercedes tunes feature driving rhythms, heavy guitars, and well-above-average vocals. The band's sound, while retaining a hard edge, is basic masculine pop music. All four guys are damn good players, and the arrangements in these tunes are not your average rock plodding. Instead, the band interjects their upbeat pop with lots of stops and starts and little jolts of energy that is uplifting and inspiring. On first listen this disc might not catch your attention. After three or four plays, however, we found ourselves happily tapping our tootsies to the tasteful and addictive sounds of Hey Mercedes... (Rating: 4+)

The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious (CD, Epitaph / Burning Heart, Hard garage rock)
Easily the best hard rock band we have ever heard from Sweden. The Hives are one big blast of frantic, loud garage rock played with conviction and style. The production on Veni Vidi Vicious is thick and in-your-face. Listening to the record, it almost seems as if the band is playing right in the middle of your goddamn living room. Playing at the speed of light but never throwing in the towel in the songwriting department, these five young fellows are one intense jolt of electrified energy. The band consists of Nicholaus Arson, Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, Dr. Matt Destruction, Chris Dangerous, and Vigilante Carlstroem. Together, they push the limits of how much energy can actually be contained within the digital grooves on a compact disc. If you think rock is dead, then you simply have not yet heard this band in action. Twelve ass-kickin' tunes here, including "Die, All Right!," "Hate To Say I Told You So," and "Supply and Demand." Intense. (Rating: 5)

Peter C. Johnson - Bloodshot (CD, Windjam, Progressive pop)
One of the greatest things about life...and music...is that you never know what's going to come next. We certainly never expected to see a new CD (?!?) show up in our mailbox from 1980s underground icon Peter C. Johnson. But as surprising and unexpected as it may seem, Mr. Johnson is back with a brand new album of tunes. Folks who were following the undercurrents in 1970s and 1980s music may remember Johnson for a great album he recorded for the A&M label. The record went over extremely well with reviewers worldwide...and even did reasonably well in terms of sales. But like so many other talented musicians, Peter got caught up in the trappings of the music industry and eventually retreated into obscurity. This album picks up where Peter left off two decades ago...featuring obtuse pop numbers...and that obscure growl/whisper that made his music so distinctive in the first place. (He vocals still sound something like a cross between Don Van Vliet and Bob Dylan.) One thing is for certain. This tunes are (unfortunately) not going to be heating up the airwaves anytime soon. The music is simply too offbeat and unfamiliar sounding for most folks. It'll be interesting to see whether this album hits a few targets around the world...or whether it remains (like Johnson's previous releases) an obscure favorite among music collectors. In this l'il ol' corner of the universe, we LOVE it. And we hope Peter is back FOR GOOD. (Rating: 5)

The Lassie Foundation - The El Dorado L.P. (CD, Anisette, Pop)
We honestly cannot remember the last time we were this excited about hearing a new album by a pop band. We have been all gushy and excited by every release thus far from The Lassie Foundation. The El Dorado L.P. does not disappoint. Pop fans who hunger for soaring dreamy pop music in the vein of The Beach Boys or even Lilys will want to check out every release from this amazing band. To put it simply, pop music just doesn't get much better than this. While the basic ingredients may be very familiar (drums, bass, guitars, harmony vocals), the way this band blends everything together...it sounds MILLIONS OF TIMES BETTER. This band's melodies put other bands to shame...and their falsetto vocals are neither forced nor feminine. The guys in The Lassie Foundation have such an unbelievable knack for writing melodies that you will most certainly be knocked out of your chair. This album is easily the band's best release yet. On the first listen we were getting chills for well over half of this album. Words cannot describe the sheer and intense brilliance of tunes like "Every Line Has Let You Inside of Me," "You Can't Deny a Broken Heart," "Through & Through," and "Hero." Shooting straight from the heart with genuine sincerity and tons of true style, these guys are a pop lover's dream come true. We don't give sixes very often...but in this case, the decision was simple. This just may be the BEST pop album of 2001. WOW. (Rating: 6)

The Last Hard Men - The Last Hard Men (CD, Spitfire, Rock/pop)
Recorded way, way, WAY back in 1996 and 1997...these recordings are only now seeing the light of day, thanks to the driving fury and commitment of the folks at Spitfire Records. So who exactly are the provocatively titled The Last Hard Men? Somewhat of an unknown supergroup, in a way. The band consists of Sebastian Bach, Jimmy Flemion (of The Frogs), Kelley Deal (of The Breeders), and Jimmy Chamberlin (of The Smashing Pumpkins). Apparently the band originally got together to simply record a cover version of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" (included here). But after playing together, the band members decided they needed to continue. Thus, they recorded the 23 tracks that comprise this album. We are big fans of The Frogs recorded work, so we had to give this a spin. Interestingly, Mr. Flemion wrote the majority of the songs on this album....although it is surprising how un-Frogs-like these tunes are. What is not surprising is that this album has a strangely disjoined feel...coming off sounding something like a various artists compilation. This band is an experiment. And as is the case with experiments...sometimes they work ("Sleep"), and sometimes they don't ("That Very Night"). There are some great gems on this album, but there is also lots of filler to contend with. One thing's for certain...this'll stay in our permanent collection because it is...and probably always will be...a strange obscurity... (Rating: 3++)

Map - Eastern Skies, Western Eyes (CD EP, Velvet Blue Music, Soft pop)
Folks who are familiar with Velvet Blue eagerly await each and every release from this delightful and yet somewhat obscure label. The folks at Velvet Blue consistently retain an extremely high standard of quality by selecting artists with have something truly valid to offer. Map is a wonderfully entertaining trio consisting of Josh Dooley, Joesph Esquibel, and Angelo Esquibel. On Eastern Skies, Western Eyes these three gentlemen offer some mighty tasty morsels. The disc begins with the instrumental stylings of "Lazy Susan Serenade" which leads into the heavenly smooth vocals found on "Make Believe" (a song that would make Starflyer 59 proud). "Juliette's Secret" is a great melancholy piece drenched in reverb and cool guitars. "Christmas in September" is another riveting pop number featuring a great melody line and some absolutely killer guitar work. The disc closes with the instantly catchy sound of "Crash"...a tune that should become a big hit for the band. This is a fantastic EP from a band that fans of underground pop will want to keep their eyes open for. Subtle yet fantastic. (Rating: 5)

Masonic - Never Stood A Chance (CD, Tight Spot, Pop/rock)
A tip for you. If you see the Tight Spot label on a CD...BUT IT. This up-and-coming Austin-based label seems to have good ears for good things...and this is particularly true in the case of the band Masonic. The band's ultra melodic guitar rock is simultaneously happy, dreamy, and hypnotic. What impresses us most is that the band manages to conjure up so many feelings using nothing but guitars and drums. Simple ingredients perhaps...but Masonic is a band that just goes to show that the intent of the people making the music is just as important as the music itself. Part of the reason these songs sound so fresh and genuine is that the band is not trying too hard. Instead of attempting to impress people and push things to the limit...they just let their songs flow naturally from their spirits. There's a wonderful homey sound to these compositions that gives us the impression that this album was recorded in a home studio. Whatever the case, the sound is nice, thick, and quite personal. Cool tunes like "Say Goodbye," "Satellite Tonight," "Friday Night Song" (yes!), and "Way Down Avenue" are sure to please fans of underground pop. GREAT stuff...! If John Peel heard this disc *he'd LOVE it... (Rating: 5+)

Mickey Mouse (Overrated cartoon character rat-like sort of thing)
Why the HELL do so many people love Mickey Mouse? If there is one cartoon character on the planet who is NOT worthy of all the fame and attention, it is most certainly Mickey. The sweet-voiced rodent has absolutely NO personality...has never ONCE been funny...and isn't even the least bit interesting to look at. And yet, despite all these shortcomings, almost everyone seems to LOVE the goddamn mouse. Actually, the fact that Mickey is lacking in things like personality and charisma probably explains why people DO admire him so. The general population wants boring, mundane, samey, average things. In Mickey Mouse they get ALL FOUR. If you want entertainment, look to someone with presence...someone with LOADS of character...like Bugs Bunny (now THERE'S a role model for ya!). But for goodness sakes...we mustn't forget that Mickey Mouse was one of the original animated characters. That counts for SOMETHING, doesn't it? Not really. That still doesn't make this lousy mouse matter. Although most people don't want to face the truth, Mickey Mouse STINKS. (As do all of the other trite and disappointing Walt Disney characters.) (Rating: 1)

Morsel - Para Siempre (CD, Small Stone, Progressive rock)
Puzzling music. Morsel is a band with so many influences swimming around in the mix that it becomes difficult to determine exactly who or what they sound like. While the band possesses those thick, fat guitars that seem to characterize bands on the Small Stone label, other elements are drastically different. First, the music itself is progressive in nature...unlike the marijuana-fueled loud rock supplied by other bands on the label. Second, Morsel have a female vocalist. And instead of screaming or yelling...she sings. Actually, the breathy, seductive vocals of Miriam Cabrera are what will initially draw listeners to the band's music. After a few spins of this disc, however, the intricate nature of the compositions begin to shine through. Musically this is rather complex stuff. At times the band rocks out...but in between these segments the listener is showered with drone, atmospherics, traces of psychedelia, and pure experimentation. Para Siempre could best be described as a collection of heady and intelligent noisy pop/rock. Our favorite tracks are "Meadow," "Pieces," and "Hint of manMan." Somewhat different and yet strangely familiar, this band doesn't really sound like anyone else in particular. That alone is reason enough to check them out... (Rating: 4+++)

Nillah - The Power of Pop (CD, Shut Eye, Pop)
Super charged glossy melodic pop music. This Atlanta-based three piece band consists of Greg Gentry (guitars, vocals), Elisabeth Eickhoff (bass, vocals), and Jeff Dehner (drums, percussion). If we had not known the band was based in Atlanta, we would've guessed they were from Massachusetts or California. We rarely hear hummable, bubblegummy music like this being produced in our home city. Perhaps things are changing...and perhaps one day the rest of the world will perceive Atlanta as a credible music community. Bands like Nillah should help the cause considerably. These folks' radio-friendly sound is polished, professional, and pulsing with groovy melodies. Ms. Eickhoff's vocals are breathy and strong...and perfect for this style of guitar-based power pop. Happy, vibrant tunes like "It Hasn't Been My Year," "Deep Ocean Blue," and "Punk Rock City" present a band that obviously believes in the true power of pop... (Rating: 4+)

Nobodys - Less Hits More Tits (CD, Hopeless, Punk rock)
The best release yet from the notorious Nobodys. Few bands grip the punk torch as proudly as these guys. There are no gimmicks here and no filler added. Nothing but loud Ramones-inspired power chords and super snotty vocals. Unlike many punk-wannabe bands, Justin Disease (drums, vocals), JJ Nobody (bass, vocals), and The Rodman (guitar, vocals) are convincing and inspired. The songs are, for the most part, played at lightning speed. The band's intensity is well particularly fine on "All I Wanna Do," "Hate To See You Go," "Trash," and "Get Out of Denver." Not only do these guys deliver with intense power and energy, but they also have a great sense of humor to boot. What more can be said? If you want a straight jolt of fast, loud punk...you won't do much better than this. (Rating: 5)

The Plan - Only These Movements Remain (CD, Matlock / Rewika, Progressive hard rock)
Loud unpredictable rock. This is a co-release from Canada's Matlock label and Germany's Rewika label. The Plan are a mind numbing experience. The band is harsh and aggressive...but their brand of loud rock is a good deal more complicated than what we are accustomed to hearing. Rhythms change, stop and start...guitars spew out jagged powdered snorts of nervous riffs...and vocalists speak/sing/yell like there's no tomorrow. The compositions on Only These Movements Remain are an odd hybrid of thrash, punk, metal, and progressive rock. Tunes like "Lit Like A Monument" and "Brushes Held Like Hammers" are obviously not for everyone. The Plan is a band that has no intent of scoring it bit with a hit single. Instead, they present the ugly and intense side of underground rock for that esoteric audience with enough balls to handle their approach... (Not Rated)

Jonathan Richman - Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow (CD, Vapor, Pop)
Yet ANOTHER superb album from one of the true underground heroes of our time. We have been groovin' to the tunes of Jonathan Richman since...since...well, we honestly can't remember now that we are senile. But it's been a VERY LONG TIME. Most folks who create music for more than one decade either burn out or get so full of themselves that they end up turning everyone (with any brains) off. This is not the case with Mr. Richman. Success has always eluded Jonathan and we can only guess that this is because he refuses to alter his basic concept and sound to suit the masses...and also because he refuses to try and cover up his mistakes. The formula here is basically what the formula has always been...but this time around there's just the teeny tiniest bit more maturity in the tunes. But fans shouldn't worry. That maturity is actually to be expected at this point in time, and on many of the tunes on this album that aspect actually makes the songs even better. Anyone who has ever seen this man play live seems to come away loving him. Why? Basically because Jonathan Richman is an embarrassingly irresistible character with so much stage presence that his consciousness literally bleeds off the stage and into the heads of his audience. True, he may never have a hit record (especially if he continues writing songs with titles like "Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow"...!). But this man is actually accomplishing a great deal more than simply having a hit record (something that he probably doesn't even WANT)...because he continues to offer his many diehard fans all over the planet solid, captivating, sincere albums that can be played again and again and AGAIN until the grooves turn red. A couple of tracks on this album almost brought tears to our eyes. This album is right up there with Jonathan's best. Easily one of the best releases of 2001. Great. Just GREAT. (Rating: 6)

Riverboat Gamblers - Riverboat Gamblers (CD, Beatville, Rock)
Goddamn GREAT band. Riverboat Gamblers play the kind of loud, vibrant, loose, out-of-control, wild rock that makes our britches get all tight and itchy. This Denton, Texas based band seems to have one interest and one interest only...and that is to crank it up the max and play HELL RAISIN' rock with plenty of punch and attitude. Big bitchin' guitars are layered over throbbing rhythms and topped off with super cocky vocals. This band is tight as a fairy's barnhole, and they interject their energetic tunes with plenty of nice, meaty guitar riffs. This is one hell of a debut album featuring top-notch rockers like "High Roller," "Drink Alone," "Whatever Whatever," and "Outta My Way." This band is highly recommended for folks who are fans of bands on the Get Hip and Estrus labels. Obviously the folks at Beatville have a high regard for great garage rock, and they hit the target dead center with this band... (Rating: 5)

Stavesacre - Collective (CD, Tooth and Nail, Rock)
Created from the ashes of The Crucified and Focused, Stavesacre retain elements of their hardcore roots while heading towards a more accessible sound. This CD is a collection of material culled from the band's previous releases. The band's arena rock sounds like it came straight from the late eighties. More than any other band, these guys sound like a very loud version of Duran Duran (this is particularly true with regard to the vocals). These guys' image is obviously an important element of their appeal. They certainly all look the part. The band's loud fuzzed out guitars are based upon thunderous drums and hypnotic bass lines...but it's those trademark vocals that are going to pull the fans in like cheese dogs. Unlike many other bands on the underground rock circuit, these guys actually have a sound that could propel them into the mainstream. Hard, heavy, catchy tunes like "At the Moment," "Colt .45," and "Rivers Underneath" (our top pick) should please fans of arena rock who just wanna get tripped out on good loud rock. (Rating: 4)

Skating Club - Skating Club (CD, Lowly / Wishing Tree, Slow pop)
While this may not technically qualify as slow core...it comes mighty damn close. Coming from a direction somewhere between where Low meets the Radar Bros meets Donovan, Skating Club is an excellent super soft pop band with knockout tunes and spectacular vocals. This, the band's self titled debut album, was recorded over a two year period in their own Boston studio. Attention to detail is obvious, as these soft, mesmerizing tunes were meticulously written and recorded. The band consists of Aubrey Anderson, Colin Rhinesmith, and Bruce MacFarlane. Potential listeners should be forewarned that this band's music is extremely subdued (the label calls it "shy," which is perhaps more fitting). This album has a wonderful overall flow and features killer tunes like "G.T.I.," "High Noon" (our favorite), and "The Princess and the Pea." We rarely hear debut discs as good as this... (Rating: 5)

thebrotheregg - Snowflake & Fingerprint Machine (CD, Rubric, Pop)
Ultimately satisfying obscure pop music with a difference. thebrotheregg have come into their current public consciousness through their association with The Bevis Frond's Nick Saloman. The two acts played a live show together back in 1998 after which "the egg" sent their demo tapes around to several labels. Saloman loved the tapes, and signed them to his Woronzow label (the British label that is closely associated with Rubric). Listening to Snowflake & Fingerprint Machine, the connection between Nick and this Portland band seems obvious. thebrotheregg play what is best described as underground pop. Interestingly, despite the high quality of the material on this album, this band will most likely be supported by a tiny fragment of the music listening community. The main reason is that there are no potential hits on this album. Overall, the feeling we get when listening to this is the same general reaction we have when listening to Sparklehorse. The tunes are subtle and grow on the listener slowly. Unlike Sparklehorse, these gentlemen use a great deal of three part harmonies that are most inviting (a bit reminiscent of Pink Floyd at times). This album won't hit you over the head...but will instead creep under your skin and stay with you for years to come. Another great item from the fine folks at Rubric... (Rating: 5+)

The Waterboys - A Rock in the Weary Land (CD, RCA / BMG, Rock/pop)
We were surprised to find that we like this CD for two reasons. First, we never cared for previous releases by The Waterboys. Second...we normally find that by the time artists are in their 15th or 20th year of recording, they have burned out and have nothing left to offer. With 18 years and counting, one would expect Mike Scott (the man who actually is this band) would have used up all of his gasoline long ago. But after giving A Rock in the Weary Land a spin, we found the exact opposite is true. Sure, there are touches of the overblown excess that burdened prior releases...but there are also some genuinely entertaining compositions here as well. The title track is a nice epic pop song featuring a great melody line and good vocals. We particularly dig the short acoustic "It's All Gone," which shows just how good Mr. Scott can sound without all the extra instruments surrounding him. Another keeper here is the slightly eerie "Malediction," another soft, acoustic number that works extremely well. "His Word Is Not His Bond" is another keeper, very subtle yet effective. There are some tracks we could have done without ("Let It Happen," "Crown")...but overall, this is the best releases we have heard from Mr. Scott and company. (Rating: 4)

George Winston - December: 20th Anniversary Edition (CD, Windham Hill, Piano/instrumental)
This is a reissue of George Winston's famous December album featuring two bonus tracks ("A Christmas Song" and "Sleep Baby Mine") plus sheet music to "Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel" included on the CD which can be printed out on your computer. Fans of the Windham Hill label are already familiar with the subtle integrity of Mr. Winston's music. Other listeners who appreciate the use of restraint...will certainly appreciate the warmth inherent in the music on this album. The collection of tunes is a tribute to the winter season. As such, it effectively captures the spirit of the coldest season of the year. The pieces are stark, yet somehow presented with a friendly and kind spirit. Hard to believe this was recorded 20 years ago, as the sound quality is impeccable. Winston fans will surely want to add this to their collection because of the bonus tracks. Others wishing to enjoy the nice calming effects of solo piano will also enjoy this immensely... (Rating: 5)

VPN - For Nearby Stars(CD, Evil Teen, Pop)
In the case of this band, VPN stands for "very pleasant neighbor"...but others might remember the letters as a World War II code name that meant "friends of the communist party." Never fear, the folks in this band are neither communists nor are they war mongers. The personnel lineup here is interesting. The nucleus of the band consists of vocalist/guitarist Austin Hughes and his twin sisters Pat Hughes and Jean Rodd. Mr. Hughes wrote all the compositions on this album which is impressive as these songs are light years beyond what most bands come up with. Hughes' raspy yet restrained vocals fit his music perfectly, spearheading his smart and impressively consistent melodies. On first listen, it may seem as if VPN tunes are fluff. But upon closer inspection it becomes obvious that these tunes are actually quite complex and intricately crafted. The musical arrangements are particularly intriguing, combining an odd array of musical tricks one doesn't normally associate with pop music. Approaching things from a unique perspective, VPN are without a doubt one of our favorite new discoveries of the year. Great tunes like "Flypaper," The Flood," "Ten Years From Tomorrow," and "From the Ceiling" will still sound great decades from now... (Rating: 5++)

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