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October 2004 Reviews by

Air Formation
Badly Drawn Boy*
Devendra Banhart

The Beat Circus
Mark Chesnutt
The Cinch
Clyde Federal
Comment Piece

The Eames Era
Golden Shoulders

The Hoyle Brothers
Janis Ian
Phillip Johnston
Bill Laswell
Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers
Barry Manilow
Manual & Syntaks
Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti

Silver Sunshine*
The Stereotypes

The Telepathic Butterflies*
The Uncle Devil Show

The Vinyl Skyway
Victory At Sea

The Zinedines

*Top Picks

Additional Items Received


October 2004 Comment Piece:
The Gap Gets Wider

There was a time...several decades ago...when a credible musical artist would occasionally leap into the charts and achieve fame and fortune. Sadly, those days are long gone. One would think that--with the advent of the internet and the declining cost of technology--more and more credible underground artists would be successful. But instead...the exact opposite is true. The world of commercial music was never such a great world, to be certain...but the twenty-first century has seen new lows in terms of shitty musicians being thrust into the spotlight. Once upon a time...when we were young...we were idealistic enough (and dumb enough...) to believe that, if the average dumbass listener was exposed to great music, he or she would buy it instead of crappy corporate crap. We were dead wrong. After trying for years and years to introduce tasteless shallow friends to great, new, adventurous artists...we have found that this is a losing cause...and a complete waste of time. The average music fan doesn't want to hear interesting, original, or unique music. They are just as happy as moronic peaches to listen to the same old droning fart noises that they have been listening to forever. And they are more than happy to gobble up whatever is force fed to them through the slimey, stinking channels of that great big bloody corporate asshole in the sky. The world is full of so many fantastic musicians creating music that is well worth buying...yet the greatest of the great continue toiling in obscurity, recording music and playing to an audience so small that they can barely survive. So...what is to be learned from all of this? Here are the four certainties:

Certainty #1: People who listen to shitty music are shitty people.

Certainty #2: Shitty artists are successful because the average shitty fan prefers to listen to shitty music.

Certainty #3: You can lead shitty idiot fans to great music, but they will always choose shitty music instead.

Certainty #4: The greatest artists in the world are those who are not motivated by money...but by the need to create.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **

Air Formation - Stay Inside / Feel Everything (CD, Clairecords, Shoegazer pop)
The folks in UK-based Air Formation play mind-numbing shoegazer pop. The band's repetitive tunes feature thick fuzzy guitars, distant keyboards, and extraordinarily subdued vocals. The overall effect is something like listening to a rock band playing in a room that is very far away. Interestingly, there is a peculiar majestic quality to the band's music ("Seethrustars" is a good example). The songs on Stay Inside / Feel Everything spin like the ocean. Wave after wave after wave approach and disappear...creating a peculiar organic brand of subdued droning fuzz pop. Eight lengthy tunes here including "Turns Into Sky," "Caught Upon the Waves," and "Here Comes the Rain." The disc features some wonderfully trippy photographs of the sky. (Rating: 4+++)

Badly Drawn Boy - One Plus One Is One (CD, Astralwerks, Pop)
Commercial success usually ruins artists. But in the case of Badly Drawn Boy, the exact opposite seems to be true. As Damon Gough's fan base has grown larger and larger...his songs have grown stronger and stronger. More sparse and personal that the previous album Have You Fed the Fish, the tunes on this album sometimes bear a strange resemblance to John Lennon. The chord progressions are smart and unusual...and the vocal melodies are simply out of this world. Most artists who are thrust into the spotlight concentrate on making their music more and more accessible. But once again, in direct contrast, Mr. Gough seems content to follow his own muse...letting his music take him where his mind wants to go. One Plus One Is One is clever and inventive...but most importantly, the tunes possess that special quality whereby they sound better and better over time. In addition to the title track, exceptional cuts include "Easy Love," "This Is That New Song," "Another Devil Dies," "Life Turned Upside Down," and "Holy Grail." The U.S. release includes two bonus cuts ("Don't Ask Me I'm Only the President," "Take the Glory"). Possibly the best album yet from Badly Drawn Boy, One Plus One Is One is a direct HIT. (Rating: 5+++)

Devendra Banhart - Nino Rojo (CD, Midheaven / Young God, Obtuse acoustic pop)
Devendra Banhart has, in a very short time, captured the hearts and imaginations of music reviewers everywhere. His music is obtuse and unfamiliar sounding...having a great deal in common with Marc Bolan's early Tyrannosaurus Rex recordings. The tunes are simple, featuring wonderfully flowing melodies...and Banhart's unmistakable quivering vocals. In many ways, this man's songs sound as if they could have been written in the 1920s or 1930s. There is some undescribable quality that makes his music sound very out of place in today's musical climate. Nino Rojo was culled from the same recording sessions that produced Banhart's previous CD (Rejoicing in the Hands). As such, it is just as equally rewarding and hypnotic. Featuring sixteen obtuse cuts, Rojo is a cool trip into the mind of an excellent songwriter. Pensive cuts include "Ay Mama," "We All Know," "An Island," "Owl Eyes," and "Electric Heart." A word of warning: Most folks will probably not appreciate this music. Because people in general want music that sounds familiar, this greatly limits Banhart's potential audience. If, however, you have an adventurous spirit...we would encourage you to get hold of both of Banhart's CDs. His music is...strangely pleasing. (Rating: 5)

The Beat Circus - Ringleaders Revolt (CD, Innova Recordings, Circus/burlesque/tango)
Sounding something like 1940s jazz music being funneled through The Barnum and Bailey Circus on L.S.D., The Beat Circus is a group of serious musicians who joined together to create some seriously credible--yet looney and wacky--music. Despite the sometimes silly sounding nature of some of the tunes on Ringleaders Revolt, it is obvious that a great deal of care and attention to detail went into the recording of this album. Just as is the case with "Weird Al" Yankovic, it takes a great deal of talent and skill to be really, really funny. While most of this album is upbeat, this is not a totally feelgood experience. "Requiem for John Merrick" explores the more serious side of The Beat Circus...a peculiar composition in which the music becomes almost totally spontaneous and experimental. But before you know it...the circus atmosphere returns and it's funtime once again. Just like in a real circus, this album even includes an intermission (track number 8). Topping off the package are some fantastic illustrations created by David Goldin. A great little package completely unlike anything else out there, Ringleaders Revolt is a success on virtually every level imaginable. (Rating: 5+)

Character - We Also Create False Promises (CD, Fictitious, Progressive/instrumental)
Free-flowing progressive instrumentals with a cool jazzy feel. Nashville's Character is a band that features a rotating roster of six musicians...all of whom contribute equally to the overall sound. The tunes on We Also Create False Promises glide by smoothly...creating a moody ambience that is provocative and soothing. The band's music incorporates strange guitars, spacey keyboards, and theremin...all of which seem to fade in and out of the mix at will. Because there are no vocals...the band relies completely on their instruments to get their point across. And get the point across they most certainly do...as these eleven cuts present an impressively tight and imaginative collective unit. It is difficult not to appreciate this music, as these folks are obviously creating music for all the right reasons. Some of this music is reminiscent of The Grassy Knoll. Wonderfully heady and slightly surreal...Character is a band with a firm grasp of what they are doing. Groovy cuts include "What You Are in the Dark," "Progressive Democrat," "Don't Tell Winston," and "Quality." Cool stuff... (Rating: 5+)

Mark Chesnutt - Savin' the Honky Tonk (CD, Vivaton!, Country/pop)
Mark Chesnutt gets together with a bunch of his favorite musician pals to record more of the satisfying, smooth country pop that his fans have come to know and love. Chesnutt was one of the biggest country artists during the 1990s. In the 2000s his career seemed to wane a bit as some of his later recordings did not seem to match the peak of his earlier work. Savin' the Honky Tonk is likely to turn Mark's career around, as this is a very strong and captivating album chock full of good tunes. Whereas some modern country artists tend to upset the apple cart, Mark prefers to keep things simple and direct...and his music never offends. His deep vocals still sound as good as they did early in his career. Plenty of good ol' downhome tunes here including "Somebody Save the Honky Tonks," "What Are We Doing In Love," and "Beer Bait and Ammo." Surprisingly, we found the last cut ("Honky Tonk Heroes") to be the most satisfying. The track features Mark all alone with his guitar...and it makes us think that a great career move would be for Chesnutt to do an entire album alone. Hey, who knows what the future might hold...? (Rating: 5)

The Cinch - Shake If You Got It (CD, Stutter / Dirtnap, Rock)
The folks in Canada's The Cinch play cool riff rock in the grand tradition of bands like the Velvet Underground, The Feelies, and Poster Children. The idea is to come up with excellent guitar riffs which the entire band supports with tight and relentless playing. The great thing about this band is that their music doesn't require a great deal of thought...but rather gets right to the listener's consciousness...inciting instantaneous movements of various parts of the body. Shake If You Got It is a groovy little album just brimming with great rhythms. The songs have a nice thick sound featuring fuzzy guitars and throbbing bass lines. The band consists of CC Rose, Jennifer Smyth, Kathy Dube, Geoff Thompson, and Mark Epp. The great thing about this band's music is that the more you spin it...the better it gets. Hypnotic rockers include "Get Up and Get Out," "Forwards and Backwards" (a particularly exceptional track), "Mystery Train," and "Killer Fog." Great hipster music played with gusto and style. This one ROCKS. (Rating: 5+)

Clyde Federal - Sensitive Skin (CD EP, Contraphonic, Pop/rock)
Great direct rock music with pounding energy and excellent lyrics. This Chicago quartet doesn't smother their music in overdubs and unnecessary clutter. Instead, they play with the conviction and focus of great super tight bands like Poster Children...while presenting ultra-hummable tunes that sound something like a modern version of The Kinks. It would be impossible to lump these guys into the same category as most bands because their tunes are just too damn smart. Lots of lyrics here just seem to stick in the head permanently (used to be hot, now you're model hot...). The band crams tons of crazy words into this short five song EP...creating a swirling, whirlwind of bubblegummy buzzsaw guitar pop music that glides by like happy lemon trees. Five killer cuts: "Behold," "Model Hot," "Oh Bother," "Forever," "Ordeal." Truly great material. (Rating: 5+)

Dolorean - Violence in the Snowy Fields (CD, Yep Roc, Pop)
Really cool organic pop music in the vein of Gram Parsons and early Neil Young. Dolorean is driven by the songwriting skills of Al James...a young man who really knows how to write great soft pop with a slight country influence. The tunes on Violence in the Snowy Fields are dreamy and subtle...and feature some really killer three and four part harmonies. Melodies are what make this album such a cool spin...and there are plenty of killer melodies here that just sound better and better over time. Unlike most underground artists, James isn't trying to sound weird and unconventional. His music is, instead, extremely accessible. But unlike most accessible and/or commercial tunes, his songs have integrity and style. James surrounds himself with utterly competent players who lend a hand in making his music come across sounding as smooth as cream-filled apple pies. The pedal steel guitar work sounds just great. Emotionally charged yet padded with oodles of restraint, this is a great collection of tunes from a superb new artist. Top picks: "The Search," "Dying in Time," "My Grey Life (Second Chances)," "In the Fall." (Rating: 5+)

The Eames Era - The Second EP (CD EP, C-Student, Pop)
Instantly satisfying pop music that glides. The folks in The Eames Era play clean unrestricted pop music that with hooks galore. These four tunes are journeys into modern feelgood pop. The playing is tight and simple...the vocals right on target...and the sound just polished enough to make the music shine. This band might best be summed up in a word: Effervescent. Our only complaint? After these four tunes ended...we wanted to hear more. This is a great little EP from an excellent up-and-coming pop quintet. Includes "Could Be Anything," "All of Seventeen," "You May Not Know My Name," and "I Said." GREAT UPBEAT POP. (Rating: 5+)

Entrance - Wandering Stranger (CD, Fat Possum, Blues/pop/rock)
Cool and rough underground blues stuff. Entrance is Guy Blakeslee (vocals, guitar), Paz Lenchartin (piano, fiddle), and Tommy Rouse (drums). Blakeslee is a young singer/songwriter whose music is very similar to Devendra Banhart. Both artists write and record music that is timeless and sounds strangely out of synch with other musicians currently on the horizon. Not surprisingly, the two have already paired up for live performances. When playing Wandering Stranger we get the same feeling we get when we pull out our old 78's for an evening of peculiar spinning. Blakeslee's vocals sound not unlike early Marc Bolan. His voice shakes and quivers in unusual ways...but all the while he retains distinctly firm controlling hands on his guitar. This is a strangely addictive body of work from a mesmerizing young artist whose work demands attention. Cool cuts include "Train Is Leaving," "Wandering Stranger," "Lonesome Road," and "Happy Trails." (Rating: 5+)

Fun - Szklarska Poreba (Import CD, If Society, Rock)
Complex headbanger rock from Finland. Fun is an intense little band featuring some absolutely crazy guitar playing and frenetic rhythms. Szklarska Poreba knocks the socks off most American noise bands mainly because these gentlemen have imagination and aren't trying to sound like everyone else. Plus...despite the mindbending speed of most of these tunes...these guys' music really rocks. Half of the fun here is due to the fact that these guys are super tight, tight, tight on their instruments...which gives added macho punch to the proceedings. The vocals are rough and raw...the bass throbs like nightmare pudding on toast...and the overall sound is thick and furious. Ass kicking tunes include "Arizona Spit Trip," "Bagpipe," "Alcohol," and "Killing the Conditional." Cool stuff. (Rating: 5)

Golden Shoulders - Friendship is Deep (CD, Doppler, Pop)
Intelligent melodic pop that drips over the edges with cool melodies and neat arrangements. Golden Showers is the project spearheaded by Adam Kline...a young man with a keen ability to write memorable tunes. The tunes on Friendship is Deep sound simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar...a nice balance which challenges the listener while providing enough of a comfort zone for easy listening. Kline enlisted the help of a wide range of musicians to assist here...some well known and some who are obscure. The end result is a tight little album chock full of surprises. The lyrics are honest and insightful...and thoughtfully reproduced inside the front insert. Drawing from a wide range of influences while never sound exactly like any one band, Kline and company keep the quality up throughout all twelve tracks. Top picks: "I Will Light You On Fire," "This is a Test," "I Get Over," "Believe Me." (Rating: 5)

Hercules - In the Alleyway (CD, March / What Are Records?, Pop)
Beautiful, soft, flowing, highly melodic pop. The folks at March Records and What Are Records? have proven themselves to be credible underground forces with keen ears for quality artists. Hercules is yet another fine band on their roster. The band is the duo of Peter Baldwin and Ben Sumner with Gordon Zacharias handling the vocal duties. Their music is reminiscent of underground British pop from the 1980s with slight French accents. In the Alleyway was mixed by J Mascis...and features special guest Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne). The album was, interestingly, recorded onto two four channel cassette decks...and then later mixed into its present form. Apparently the recording process was complicated and caused more than a few problems during the course of the project. The result, however, is a surprisingly slick and professional sounding collection of tunes. The overall sound is very similar to David Gedge (Cinerama). This classy collection includes "Something's Been Missing From My Life," "Good For You," and "Temporary Like Hercules." (Rating: 5)

Hitchhike - Night Light (CD EP, Favorite Street, Pop)
Night Light is the first release from Austin's Hitchhike. This five song EP presents a band that plays from the heart. The tunes are extremely unpretentious...using only the bare essentials to get the point across. Neat guitars combine with driving rhythms to create hummable pop tunes that are smart and unique. The band consists of Kyle Barnett, John Alderson, Jonathan Elborn, Lisa Barnett, and Lynn Boland. A neat little EP from a band that is obviously off to a great start... (Rating: 5)

The Hoyle Brothers - Back to the Door (Independently released CD, Country)
No "alt-country" crap here. The Hoyle Brothers play real country music that sounds as genuine and authentic as Nashville artists from the 1950s. Recalling the music of country greats like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, Back to the Door is a genuine slice of country at its finest. Interestingly, these five gentlemen call Austin, Texas their home...but in actuality, they sound more like good ol' boys from Tennessee. The thirteen cuts on this album feature clean, sparse arrangements that allow the listener to concentrate on the melodies and lyrics. Lead vocalist Jacque Judy has a deep voice that is simultaneously relaxed and sexy. Memorable cuts include "Call Heaven," "Got Hammered," "Relief's Just a Swallow Away," and "Truck Attack." Great stuff. (Rating: 5)

Janis Ian (Live performance, September 4, 2004, Miller Plaza, Chattanooga, TN)
Janis Ian is one of the most important folk artists of our time. We were absolutely delighted that she decided to play a free concert on September 4, 2004 in downtown Chattanooga. Ms. Ian now resides in Nashville, so this was a relatively short rendezvous. Playing alone with a small strange black acoustic guitar, Ian enchanted the crowd with her sincere presence. Her set consisted of a solid array of tunes from the past to the present. The in-between-song patter was thoughtful and often hilarious. Many artists lose their magic over time, but not Janis. She has retained her integrity over time and has gotten better with age. While motorcycles roared in the background (obviously part of the Miller Plaza weekend event), Ms. Ian strummed away...only occasionally playing with intense forcefulness. Her voice sounded amazing. A particularly mindblowing part of the show was Ms. Ian's present-day take on her first hit from long ago, "Society's Child." The original recording sounds dated now...but the live version was bursting at the seams with passion. This made it seem particularly fitting that a black and white male folk couple had been the opening act. Few artists have stood the test of time as well as Janis Ian. Her songs are just as vital and unique as they ever were...and her music will surely live on forever. (Rating: 5+)

Jarboe - Thirteen Masks (CD, Atavistic, Progressive pop/rock), Beautiful People Ltd. with Lary Seven (CD, Atavistic, Progressive pop/rock)
Jarboe is a truly unique voice in the world of music. Hats off to the folks at Atavistic for reissuing these two albums, both of which have always been worthy of wider recognition. Originally released in 1991, this remastered version of Thirteen Masks is a real treat. The disc includes three bonus tracks ("We Are The Prophecy," "St. John," "Surrender") and an expanded 16 page insert/booklet. Masks features an all-star line-up of musicians...including Michael Gira, Lary Seven, and J.G. "Foetus" Thrirlwell, and more. Now...more than a decade later...the album sounds better than ever. Beautiful People Ltd. (recorded with Lary Seven) is an even more intriguing body of work...and receives the same classy remastering treatment. In addition to a 16 page booklet, the disc features six bonus tracks ("Volcanic Ash Mix," "No Mix," "Warm Liquid Pleasure Mix," "Suicide Song Mix," "Badge of Courage Mix," "Unraveling Thread Mix"). This album is even more obtuse than Masks and is ultimately even more satisfying and peculiar. Jarboe's vocals sound mesmerizing...and many of the atmospheric sounds are bound to expand the mind. Both of the reissues were created with attention to fine details...and offer a startling reminder of what a magnetic lady Jarboe truly is... (Rating: 5++)

Phillip Johnston - Rub Me the Wrong Way (CD, Innova Recordings, Jazz)
Rub Me the Wrong Way consists of music that was originally composed for three separate dance performances entitled (a) Minor Repairs Necessary, (2) Rub Me the Wrong Way, and (3) The Further Adventures of Slap & Tickle. These tracks stand up on their own without the visuals, proving that Phillip Johnston is a true musician with a real flair for composition. Instead of being overproduced, these tracks are sparse...relying on the bare essential elements (most tracks feature no more than four musicians). These smooth sounding cuts are as easy as pie on the ears...and showcase Johnston's prowess on the saxophone. Much of today's modern jazz is cluttered with an overabundance of spontaneous noise..but this is not the case here. Restraint is the word for the day, as Johnston and his associates prove that you can be hipper than the hippest...by playing less instead of more. This is a beautiful and absorbing album featuring seventeen compositions that are reminiscent of some of the great jazz artists of decades gone by. Quite serene...and very real. (Rating: 5++)

Bill Laswell - Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission (CD, ROIR, Dub)
There are few artists with the staying power of Bill Laswell. While other musicians jump on bandwagons and offer albums that are often hit-and-miss affairs...Laswell continues to hit one home run after another. Considering the high standard he has set for himself, the King of Dub may have even outdone himself on Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission. Enlisting help from the mind-boggling line-up of Jah Wobble, Bernie Worrell, Karsh Kale, and Abdou Mboup, Bill presents some of the most groovy and sexy music of his career. These six lengthy tunes (ranging from six to nine minutes in length) are particularly spooky and surreal...and feature incredibly cool technology tricks. The grooves are thick and heavy...with solid, hypnotic bass lines. Trippy sounds fade in and out while infectious grooves persist to eternity. Six compositions here: "Dystopia," "Simulacra," "Space-Time Paradox," "Babylon Site," "Night City," and "System Malfunction." Modern mood music...with plenty of cool twists. (Rating: 6+)

Lazarus - Like Trees We Grow Up To Be Satellites (The Backwards America) (CD, Temporary Residence Ltd., Pop/folk)
Cool melodic soft folky pop with a slightly spooky feel. Lazarus is William Trevor Montgomery and his associates Scott Solter, Wendy Allen, Jared Hawkins, Jim Redd, and Jeff Shannon. The curiously-titled Like Trees We Grow Up To Be Satellites (The Backwards America) is the second Lazarus release...and it is an incredibly smart and curious spin. Montgomery's fragile, quivering vocals are the trademark of his sound...and he does some amazing things with his voice in these compositions. Describing the music on this album is difficult because there are few comparisons to note. Montgomery isn't following trends...and it is difficult indeed to come up with possible influences. His tunes sound somewhat sad and alienated...yet there is also something strangely uplifting about his music. The lyrics are personal and honest...and they are caressed in wonderfully appropriate arrangements that sound strangely peculiar. While it is difficult to describe this music...it is almost impossible not to fall in love with it on the very first listen. Cool inviting cuts include "The Walking Sonnet," "The American Dream," "Singing to the Thieves," and "Mostly Ghosts." Wonderful and refreshing. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers - Believe (CD, Yep Roc, Country/pop/blues/polka)
Highly entertaining music from a cool trio with a unique approach. The guys in Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers
play a strange style of music that incorporates everything from hillbilly and country music to underground rock and pop...and even polka on occasion (!). At times, the band's music sounds like a country/agricultural version of Cockney Rebel...while the vocals generally resemble a young John Lennon...if he were picking vegetables on a farm. As strange as the description might sound, the music itself is surprisingly accessible...and extremely infectious. Some tunes are simple toe tappers, while others have a rather vicious bite. According to top sources, lead singer "Colonel" J.D. Wilkes is one hell of a showman, being voted Best Frontman by the Nashville Scene. Many of the tunes feature some southern gospel preacher schtick that adds some extra punch. Songs are what matter most...and the songwriting on Believe is what makes the album such a truly entertaining spin. Spirited tunes include "Agony Wagon," "Where's the Devil When You Need Him?", County of Graves," and "Cussin' in Tongues." (Rating: 5++)

Mango - Faux Music / Shy Music (CD, Earthling, Pop)
Faux Music / Shy Music is a surprisingly varied album from a band that seems to thrive on diversity. San Diego's Mango is the duo of George Flores and Mike Kamoo. Both guys play a whole slew of instruments. Flores writes the songs. This man has a real knack for writing unconventional pop/rock tunes that sound simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. He seems to know just how far to push things without losing the interest of his listeners. These two guys are top-notch arrangers...and they push their music to new levels by the mere presence of intelligent instrumentation. Because of the unpredictable nature of the songs...it is difficult indeed to come up with any comparisons or possible influences. The accompanying press release compared the band's music to Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Beck, Guided By Voices, Bread, Kraftwerk, Tool, Neil Young, and Pavement--not a bad summary of some of the sounds swirling around in this puzzling album. Absorbing and intelligent, Faux Music / Shy Music is bound to captivate and amaze. Crazy cuts include "Folk Fusion Blues," "Lazy Goes My Heart," "Prime Time Apocolypse," and "She Wishes She Was A Hippo." (Rating: 5+)

Barry Manilow - Scores (Another shitty CD from the supreme shithead of pop)
Barry Manilow has always been a pile of shit. Because this fact is so clear and obvious...why are all these retarded people still buying his music and treating him like a "star"...? The answer is obvious. Music listeners...in general...are shallow shitheads with no idea of what is going on in music. Actually and in fact, they don't even know what's going on in their own boring little goddamn lives. The fact that so many people love Barry Manilow is proof of this fact. There are so many credible and incredible artists on the planet just waiting to be discovered...and so deserving of attention... It seems absurd indeed that old squishy lame farts who have never provided anything of any substance are allowed to continue prancing around in the spotlight like goat-infected geeks. Go to hell, Barry Manilow fans. You are the rotting smelly scum at the bottom of the lake. You are meaningless and crummy. And your rotten little lives will never have any real meaning. (Rating: 1)

Manual & Syntaks - Golden Sun (CD, Darla, Electronic/progressive/world music)
Manual & Syntaks is the duo of Jonas Munk and Jakob Skott...both of whom record music individually using each of these band names (and others). Golden Sun is divided into two sections: Nissarana and Sundazed. Nissarana features influences from all over the world (most notably Middle Eastern sounds floating in and out)...while Sundazed is a more trippy, ambient affair. Munk and Skott are masters of their craft. They combine and manipulate an astounding array of sounds...melding them together in such a way that they all seem to fit together seamlessly. In many ways, this album plays like the soundtrack to a dream...a very good dream where anything can and does happen. The stranger the music gets...the better it sounds. The last seven cuts in particular are heavenly and absolutely absorbing. To lift a phrase from the accompanying press release, this album truly is "a transcendental journey." Beautiful stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti - The Doldrums (CD, Paw Tracks, Progressive pop/rock)
This is such a peculiar album that, unfortunately, we cannot recommend it to most listeners. And that is a shame because The Doldrums is a strange and ultimately satisfying collection of tunes. What would be most troublesome for the average listener is the sound quality. Instead of going for a clean, polished sound...Ariel Pink goes instead for the exact opposite. The sound quality of this album is peculiar to say the least. The strangest part is that Mr. Pink wants it that way. He goes out of his way to manipulate his music and interject noise and other distractions to give it a very rough and unprofessional sound. Oddly enough, the idea works rather well. These tunes sound like demo recordings transferred from a bad cassette onto a CD-R...and then mastered with very little attention to detail. That said...the songs are actually rather incredible. But you have to really listen to glean the meat from the bones here. The words and melodies don't jump out at you like they do on regular recordings. Instead, the intricate qualities of the music are buried in underexposed hiss and distortion. And the more you spin this disc...the more puzzling it gets. This isn't for everyone...nor does it try to be. Experimental recordings include "Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups," "For Kate I Wait," "The Ballad of Bobby Pyn," and "Let's Build a Campfire There." Truly unusual. (Rating: 4+++)

Rhapsody - Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret (CD, SPV USA, Symphonic heavy metal)
Talk about excessive. The guys in Rhapsody have really outdone themselves this time. Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret is a mind-blowing recording where heavy metal meets symphonic choral music. The disc opens with "The Dark Secret," a full blown classical piece that sets the appropriate mood. When the second cut ("Unholy Warcry") begins...the band's complex brand of heavy metal slowly creeps in. Strange as it may sound, the classical music blends seamlessly with the rock...creating a thick wall of sound that is something like a cross between Uriah Heep, The London Symphony Orchestra , and the The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This disc plays like the soundtrack to a medieval movie. Strange in nature but executed to perfection, The Dark Secret is a modern marvel where traditional sounds and modern technology merge to create a formidable forcefield. Standout tracks include "The Magic of the Wizard's Dream" (a particularly beautiful cut), "Dragonland's River," and "Nightfall on the Grey Mountains." (Rating: 5)

Silver Sunshine - Silver Sunshine (CD, Empyrean, Pop)
For anyone who loves The Beatles' Revolver album and the criminally-overlooked "Kings of the British Invasion"...The Move. Formed in December 2001, San Diego's Silver Sunshine play shimmering pop music with a decidedly psychedelic edge. The band's tunes feature distinctly superb melodies and really cool guitar licks. Many of the mindbending bass breaks sound particularly reminiscent of Roy Wood. What really stands out about this band's music, however, are the soaring melodies. Listening to this album is like tripping on a sunny day in May..without the after effects. The band consists of Richard Vaughan (guitar, vocals), Conor Riley (guitar, vocals), Stuart Sclater (bass, vocals), and Iain Sclater (drums). This album is a pure feelgood experience pulsing with good vibrations. Standout cuts include "Velvet Skies," "I See the Silver Sunshine," "If I Had the Time," "Miranda May," and "Merry Go Round." Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

The Stereotypes - 2 (CD, Earthling, Pop/rock)
Nice melodic garage pop/rock with an edge. 2 is the follow-up to 1...which garnered a good bit of attention for this up-and-coming band. It seems incredible that no group has ever made much use of such a great band name until now (?!?). In any event, The Stereotypes fill the bill. Their music is uplifting and highly melodic...incorporating elements from 1960s pop to 1980s alternative rock to present-day garage rock. Some of the band's more hard-edged tunes are slightly reminiscent of The Strokes...but they are anything but a copycat band. Featuring eight cool rockers, 2 is a cool cut of modern pop played with conviction and style. Top picks: "New Situation," "I Drink," "Almost Lost," and "Unsure." (Rating: 5)

The Telepathic Butterflies - Songs From a Second Wave (CD, Rainbow Quartz, Pop)
Canada's Telepathic Butterflies present another collection of extraordinarily catchy 1960s-inspired pop. Recorded and mixed at the band's home onto 16-track analog tape, Songs From a Second Wave is clearly another step in the right direction. The band's songwriting continues to mature...the playing is tighter...and the vocals sound absolutely spectacular (the harmonies really rock!). Upbeat and bright pop tunes spin by one after another like a "best of" collection...but they're all tunes you've never heard before. Like the band's previous release, Second Wave sounds decidedly British. But rather than sounding calculated, the music sounds impressively sincere and genuine. While the overall sound is pure pop, this time around the band proves they can really rock out with major crushes ("A Passing Glance" is particularly intense). The Telepathic Butterflies are Jacques Dubois (drums, vocals), Rejean Ricard (vocals, guitar, bass), and Eric Van Buren (bass). These three gentlemen are evolving into one of the best pop bands of the twenty-first century. Second Wave is positively uplifting...and bursting with cool energy. Ultra-hummable cuts include "Bonhomie," "Four Leaf Clover," "Angry Young Man," and "Big Bang!" Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Ulysses - 010 (CD, Eenie Meenie, Pop)
Robert Schneider's latest project, Ulysses provides more of the melodic underground pop that this man is known for. Unlike Apples in Stereo and Marbles, Ulysses is more of an immediate impact band. There are less overdubs and spontaneity represents a large piece of this juicy pie. In many ways, these tunes are similar to early Kinks and even The Young Fresh Fellows. Rounding out the band are John Ferguson (drums, backing vocals), Ben Fulton (synthesizer, bass), and Robert Beatty (electronic sound manipulation). Ferguson and Fulton are also in the band Big Fresh while Beatty is in Hair Police. The bulk of this album was recorded using a single microphone...rather amazing, considering the high fidelity heard here. The band was originally going to re-record these songs in a studio...but they were so pleased with these initial recordings that they decided to use them instead. Smart move. When the material is strong, who cares if some of the polish is missing...? Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, this short album features credible cuts like "Push You Away," "Glacier," "Burning You," and "Her Silver Veil." (Rating: 4++++)

The Uncle Devil Show - A Terrible Beauty (CD, Compass, Pop)
Well prepared studio pop in the grand tradition of 1970s bands like 10CC. While The Uncle Devil Show will most likely be remembered because of the line-up (Del Amitri's Justin Currie, Simple Mind's Jim McDermott, and Kevin McDermott), the band's material actually stands up on its own merit. Surprisingly, the music sounds virtually nothing like Del Amitri or Simple Minds. Our initial reaction to the tunes on A Terrible Beauty was a mix of emotions. While we were knocked out by some songs...others seemed a bit too sugary sweet (even for our admittedly bubblegummy taste). But over the course of several spins the excellent soaring melodies won out...proving that these guys are a formidable pop band with real staying power. The lyrics range from poignant to humorous...but the melodies and arrangements are what pack the real power punch. Top picks include "Gilbert O'Sullivan," "Tambourine," "Dandelion," and "I Had a Drink About You Last Night." The Uncle Devil Show is puzzling in many ways and decidedly out-of-synch with other bands (a very big plus indeed). This one gets better the more you spin it. (Rating: 5+)

Vanishing - Still Lifes Are Failing (CD, Gold Standard Laboratories, Dance/rock)
Sounding like a cross between Suicide, Hawkwind, Donna Summer, and Siouxsie and the Banshees...Vanishing is a modern rock trio that combines thick heavy dance beats with trippy psychedelic overtones. There are few bands around with a truly similar sound. The thick beats conveniently make the bizarre music accessible to the average dance fan...while the bizarre female vocalist yelps and squeals her way through the wall of crazy sound. Combining saxophones with synthesizers and more otherworldly sounds...this band makes dance music that doesn't sound like the rest. If you're sick to death of dance music that is nothing more than canned peaches with way too much artificial sweetener...then Vanishing just may be the band you've always wanted. Crazy punk dance cuts include "Lovesick," "Still Life," "Idle Eyes," and "Skin." (Rating: 5)

The Vinyl Skyway - The Vinyl Skyway (Independently released CD, Pop)
The Vinyl Skyway is led by Michael Hayes, who is also in the band Lemonpeeler (of which the members are currently on hiatus). Recorded at Q Division Studios in Boston, The Vinyl Skyway is an excellent collection of smooth melodic pop tunes. Hayes and his band mates (Andy Santospago, Kelly McCann, Jon Frederick, Ben Hedlund) enlist the assistance of several pals here. The result is an album with plenty of outside input in all areas (just reading the listing of what everyone played is mind boggling). Hayes' tunes are thick and rich...with intelligent lyrics...and groovy organic textures. The vocals are exceptional and inviting throughout. This music might be best described as soft pop with a very slight hint of Americana thrown in for good measure. This would be a great album anyway, but when you consider the fact that the band released it themselves...it seems even more impressive. Wonderfully reflective tunes include "Shine," "That Girl," "Rich Blood," "Porchlight," and "20 Feet Under." Plenty of great material here... (Rating: 5+)

Victory At Sea - Memories Fade (CD, Gern Blandsten, Progressive pop)
The folks in Victory At Sea play music that sounds very much like John Vanderslice...if we were a woman who played progressive pop (!). Memories Fade is a wonderfully moody collection of intelligent pop music. In addition to the Vanderslice influence, we can also hear traces of PJ Harvey and Slapp Happy in these tunes. The band's arrangements are wonderful...incorporating strings, piano, and even melodica into the mix. The overall sound is smooth and seductive...and the songs sound better and better with each and every repeated spin. Mona Elliot's vocals are superb. Her distant, odd style of singing merges with the band's complex music perfectly...providing an absorbing and effective focal point. This timeless album includes many classics such as "Love is Ageless," "Logan Way" (a real standout track), and "This Life." Smart, provocative, and sincere. Recommended. (Rating: 5+)

The Zinedines - Take Me Take Me (CD, , Rainbow Quartz, Pop)
Fans of Teenage Fanclub and The Gigolo Aunts will go meganuts over The Zinedines. Featuring soaring, absorbing pop played with exact precision, this band is a true mindblower. Over the past ten years or so, Spain has emerged as one of the most fertile climates in the world for pop and rock music. As such, The Zinedines are most certainly one of the most impressive. The band's music sounds genuinely American...and the vocal harmonies are incredible. The lead vocals sound quite similar to Emitt Rhodes (of The Merry-Go-Round). At times the band's sound seems a bit overpolished...but when the tunes are this good, who cares? This is a highly entertaining collection of songs...featuring gems like "Twice Upon A Time," "Diggin' Everything," "Over You" (particularly impressive), and "We All Look Quite Good." (Rating: 5+)

Additional Items Received:

Accidental Sons - It's always tomorrow
Alientar - Alientar
Eric Anders - Songs for wayward days
Kasey Anderson - Dead roses
The Anomoanon - Joji
A Very Unschooled Christmas - A Very Unschooled Christmas
A Western Jubilee - Songs and stories of the American West
Badfinger - Three quarters of the way there
Rick Bain - Virtual heavy pet
Bambix - What's in a name
Bill Banfield - Striking balance
Bear Claw - And the sun
The Beatles - Unfinished assholes holding your hand
Daniel Bijan - Daniel Bijan
The Black Swans - Who will walk in the darkness with you?
Blanket Music - Cultural norms
Blues Explosion - Damage
Boat - Treble hooks
Books on Tape - The business end
Branches - Branches
Jake Brennan and the Confidence Men - Love and bombs
The Burning Dirty Band - 17 Year Sun
Brandan L. Butler - Killer on the road
Close Harmony - A history of southern gospel music
A.C. Cotton - Notes for the conversation
Crimson Sweet - Boulevard/Blood Transfusion/Waste You, Taste You (vinyl 45)
DJ Baby Anne - Mixtress
Charles Douglas - Statecraft
Dub Trio - Exploring the dangers of...
Elton Junk - Moods
Evan Emge - Along came a guitar
4 Ft. Fingers - A cause for concern
Farma - Farma
Rene Ford - Unsentimental
The Forty-Fives - High life high volume
From Satellite - From Satellite
Furious Billy - Sleep
Gasoline Fight - Useless Piece of weaponry
Stacy Golden - Thin wire walk
Greater California - Somber Wurlitzer
Grizzly Bear - Horn of plenty
The Harsh Reality Tour 04 - Freakhouse / Sybreed / Lyzanxia
The Heavenly States - The Heavenly States
hwreckit - devices.for.crisis
It Was 40 Years Ago Today - A tribute to the Beatles
Elton John - I'm a burned out old faggot with no talent left
Kava Kava - Maui
Faith Kleppinger - No galore
Larry's Orangutang - Larry's Orangutang
The Late Great Daniel Johnston - Discovered covered
Little Darla Has A Treat For You - V. 22
Lock and Key - Pull up the floorboards
Lost Weekend - The art of wasting time
Love Doodoo - Feces covers our sex organs
Low Millions - Ex-girlfriends
Lunky Pork - See the little pokey dog get beat up by old nothing bitches
The Macc Lads - Three bears: The best of 1982 - 1988
Richard March - These dreams
Man Enough To Kill Babies - When we kill 'em we eat 'em
Maserati / Cinemechanica / We Versus the Shark - Split CD
Mina Mauldin - Super psychotic queen
Metal Church - The weight of the world
MotionPictureDemise - Rebuild/reform
New Brutalism - Turbo record!
Piney Gir - Peakahokahoo
Powerman 5000 - The good, the bad, and the ugly vol. 1
The Prefects - Amateur wankers
The Puss Buckets - Puss 'n Boots
Racetrack - City lights
Resurrection - 2
Ron Jeremy's Rectum - Getting to the bottom of it
Ricochet - The Live Album
The Rubens - Esmerelda
Rubikon - The hollow men
Saxon - Lionheart
Shellshag - Shellshag
Shemps - Spazz out with the Shemps
Sister Dinky - Meat chunks from brother stinky
Skates - Lord of the rinks
Sleepytime Gorilla Musuem of Natural History - Aiming to answer common questions
Sputnik - I, cosmonaut
Styrofoam - Nothing's lost
Swerdlove - Swerdlove
Seth Swirsky - Instant pleasure
Take Action! - Volume 04
Take Out - Take Out vs. the world
Ten Words For Snow - Spit on electrics
This Is Indie Rock - The best bands you've never heard: Volume one
This Providence - Our worlds divorce
This Song Is A Mess But So Am I - Church Point, LA
Trekkies 2 - How much is too much? (DVD)
Trekkies 2 - The official soundtrack
Virginia and the Telephone Livers - Our sickness is our sickness yesterday
Vaugue Ping-Pong Drugs - The damn things won't lurk to pussy
Gina Villalobos - Rock 'n' roll pony
Visqueen - Sunset on dateland
Wovenhand - Consider the birds
The Youngs - The Youngs
Zoo Diapers - Mucky pucky and the disaster sore potion

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