January 1997 Reviews

RATING SYSTEM | Natacha Atlas | The Barnholes | John Barry | The Beach Boys | Bis | Black Rain | Brother Sun Sister Moon | BT | Richard Buckner | Built To Spill | Carcass | Karen Carpenter | Chubby and Nekkid | Coldkrushcuts | Crumbox | Martin Denny | Dipsomaniacs | Tanya Donelly | The Egg | Evita | Marianne Faithful | Haloblack | Hardhop + Trypno 2 | Clay Harper | Hayden | Hovercraft | Jim Greer | Joy Electric | Karma To Burn | Sarah Masen | McRackins | The Mighty Mighty Bosstones | The Moon Seven Times | Mortician | The Mysteries of Life | Nefilim | Outhouse | Pugs | Racer 10 | Rasputina | The Remnants | Republica | Rockers Hi Fi | Rutles | Sheep On Drugs | Silverchair | Sister Hazel | Smithwick Machine | The Sound Gallery | Speedball Baby | Steadfast | Dan Susnara | Swervedriver & Sophia | 30 Amp Fuse | To Have And To Hold | Tool | We're All Frankies (Tribute) |


NATACHA ATLAS - Diaspora (CD, MCA, World music)
There's a lot of world music in the world (hyuk, hyuk)...but there's also a lot of DULL world music. Natacha Atlas is not dull. She is sexy, sensual, seductive...and she has an unmistakably sultry voice that sounds like no one else. As lead vocalist for Transglobal Underground, Natacha has already gained a devoted fan base. My guess is that this solo release (sung mostly in Arabic) will only make that base much, much larger. Slick? Yes, yes, yes...it is so slick that it may frighten you at first. But give yourself time with this. Sit back, relax, take a deep breath...and let Natacha take you away on her magic carpet ride. Ah... (Rating: 4)

THE BARNHOLES - Barnhole Delight (Video, Darnrite Productions, Porn)
After finally getting my paws on a copy of this underground videotape, I thought I'd be in for some serious strokin'. WRONG. This is stupid to the point of being illegal. It's a waste of tape to scout for the barnyard waste in cabbageland. At the end of the tape, a small child is seen limping into a doodle. Interesting, yes, but it does nothing to save the fasting necks. (Rating: 2)

JOHN BARRY - The EMI Years Volume Three 1962-1964 (CD, Scamp, Instrumental/film soundtracks)
The Scamp label continues in its mission to release all kinds of quality stuff from the musical vaults of the world that is worthy of your attention. This is the third (and final) CD of this series which highlights the career of John Barry, a man who has influenced scores upon scores of musical artists. This CD not only includes the infamous "The James Bond Theme" (for which Barry has never received writing credit), but a whole slew of other great stuff...27 tracks in all, 22 of which have never been released before in the United States. This phase of Barry's career is marked by his exit from pop and entry into the field of soundtrack music. As a final bonus, the CD closes with Barry's collaboration with Duran Duran ("That Fatal Kiss"). This is a must have for fans, as well as crucial listening for everyone else. (Rating: 4)

THE BEACH BOYS - Pet Sounds (Cassette, Capitol, Dreamy pop)
This is a remarkable recording, and I have to admit that I had never heard this whole album until now. Thanks to Capitol for reissuing it. As a kid I never really cared for the Beach Boys based on the songs I heard on the radio. After hearing Pet Sounds, though, I now see what I was missing. It now seems particularly funny that as a teenager I felt that 10CC's first two albums were miraculous ground breakers. They were excellent records for sure, but what I didn't realize then is that the 10CC guys must've listened to Pet Sounds in their sleep for years prior to recording those albums. I'm glad to finally get turned onto this after all these years. This is completely...GROOVY. (Rating: 5)

BIS - This is Teen-C Power! (CD EP, Grand Royal, Pop/rock)
Bis is a Scottish teenager trio. They play power pop dittes that border on bubblegum and they remind me of both the Kinks and Lazy (more the latter than the former). It's upbeat boy/girl rock music using the direct approach, with crunchy guitars and spacey keyboards. In the space of only six tunes, these three kids have captured by rotten little heart. Top picks: "School Disco" and "This is Fake D.I.Y." Totally revved up fun. (Rating: 4)

BLACK RAIN - Nanarchy (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Electronic)
Very curious stuff. I really liked the last release from Black Rain (1.0), and I feel the same way about their latest. This band is actually the duo of Stuart Argabright and Shinichi Shimokawa. These guys' music has a somewhat surreal, cold sound. Songs range from eerie noise to techno dance music, but it's the band's unusual effects and obtuse recording techniques that really make this a good listen. Always sounding just slightly off-key, these tunes will make you feel just a bit uneasy. There's something frightening about this stuff... (Rating: 4)

BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON - The Great Game (CD, Hakatak/TRG, Dub/electronic)
Brother Sun Sister Moon is the duo of Paul Robb (ex-Information Society) and Barbara Cohen (ex-Farm Accident). Together, the pair create an interesting mix of music. The subtle dub of the opening track sets the tone for the CD...an understated, sensual, somewhat ambient piece that draws the listener in immediately. In the course of these ten tunes, these folks experiment with mood, trance, soul, pop, and trip hop...and almost every track seems to work. Ms. Cohen's vocals are particularly strong on poppier stuff like "Bangkok." Overall, a very intriguing listen from a couple who seem more geared for artistic than commercial success...although in the end I have a feeling they might just end up with both. (Rating: 4)

BT - Ima (Double CD, Kinetic/Reprise, Electronic/trance/dance)
It's unfortunate that electronic dance music is viewed so negatively by most people, but it's no wonder. After all, there ARE a lot of folks out there generating BORING CRAP simply because they have the technology to do so. Folks like BT, then, are a breath of fresh air in a medium that can sometimes be repetitious and tedious. Instead of churning out techno/dance crap, this fellow (whose real name is Brian Transeau) meticulously creates some very beautiful, mind-altering soundscapes that just happen to have a dance beat. BT bites off a big chunk with this double CD, and though there are only 13 tunes they cover a LOT of territory. Apparently this guy has had more success with his music in England than in the United States, but I have a feeling this release will change that. Spacey, ethereal, and haunting, this has the potential to give dance music a good name again. (Rating: 4)

RICHARD BUCKNER - Devotion & Doubt (CD, MCA, Acoustic/pop)
Not unlike a softer sounding Hayden or Richard Thompson (or possibly even a more masculine Donovan), Richard Buckner accomplishes a lot with a little on his MCA debut. His tunes are acoustic guitar based, reflective, melodic pieces that come across sounding very sincere indeed. Richard is to be commended for his extremely sparse arrangements...arrangements that accentuate (rather than detract) from the songs. And what songs. These are very strong, personal statements. This guy's deep voice has a really cool resonant quality that is very soothing. This CD will probably flop commercially because there's not a "single" to be found on it...but artistically Mr. Buckner is already a success. (Rating: 4)

BUILT TO SPILL - Perfect From Now On (Advance cassette, Warner Bros., Pop/rock)
WOW. This is the third full-length release from Boise, Idaho's Built To Spill, but it's the first thing I've heard from the band. Actually the project of a fellow named Doug Martsch, this band is a heady mix of artists like Yes, Pilot, Pete Shelley, and even Joe Walsh. Perfect From Now On is an extremely polished set of lengthy tunes that recall the progressive music of the seventies while retaining the production values of the nineties. And those vocals... Doug's vocals are INCREDIBLE, and they're nicely layered among all the instruments so that the two merge and become one beautiful orchestral sound. Whoever was in charge of arrangements on this release deserves a medal, because they are FLAWLESS. Almost all the tunes are exceptional, with one INSTANT CLASSIC ("I Would Hurt A Fly"). This is the kind of stuff we'll likely be hearing for years to come, because this is timeless music coming from a seriously talented man with a real gift for writing and playing. This is KILLER. (Rating: 5)

CARCASS - Wake Up and Smell the Carcass (CD, Earache, Metal)
This is a collection of previously unreleased and hard-to-find tracks by Carcass. This band has a dark, angry sound but it's not all noise. These guys have their chops down, as is evidenced on the impressive instrumental segments in their songs. In fact, this band is almost an odd combination of seventies guitar bands (Aerosmith, Deep Purple) thrown into the modern-day world of death metal. This is particularly evident on tunes like "Emotional Flatline." Perhaps if more metal bands played tunes as intelligent as this, the genre wouldn't have such a limited fan base. Crank this up. It SMOKES. (Rating: 4)

KAREN CARPENTER - Karen Carpenter (CD, A&M, Pop)
When you reach beyond post-mortem to retrieve long overdue music by the late great Karen Carpenter, it seems sad that we should have had to wait. Under the production of Phil Ramone, we now hear what what Karen's solo career (beyond Carpenters fame) would have sounded like. The original decision to shelve these tunes was a mistake. Who could have known that Karen's solo career was one rainy day and Monday away? The premier version of "Make Believe It's Your First Time" appears minus over orchestrated noise. The voice that once riveted will make you wish Karen had done more solo work and focused less on the Carpenters. (Jon Nickell) (Rating: 5)

CHUBBY AND NEKKID - Pants Off (CD, Debter, Classical)
Chubby and Nekkid are two country boys attempting to be "serious" musicians. Despite the fact that the two always perform without their trousers (which I will admit is a plus), this stuff sounds just AWFUL. Avoid this. (Rating: 1)

COLDKRUSHCUTS - Coldcut Food Fight & DJ Krush Mix (Advance CDs, Ninja Tune, Electronic)
Although the actual name of this band/DJ duo is Coldcut, these two CDs are listed as being by Coldkrushcuts...and I'm not sure but I'm going to assume that this is a double CD set. These fellows bite off a BIG chunk with these two discs. Matt Black and Jonathon More offer strange, obtuse remixes of tunes by The Herbaliser, London Funk Allstars, Peezee, Funki Porcini, and more. The result? Music that sounds as if it were torn to pieces and glued back together again. The electronic recording medium offers seemingly endless possibilities...and folks like Coldcut are taking advantage of it. State-of-the-art club music that sounds as good at home as it would on a dance floor, these guys are right up there with the best of them. (Rating: 4)

CRUMBOX - Resident Double U (Advance cassette, Time Bomb, Rock/pop)
As much as I don't like to admit it, I sometimes become overloaded by the sheer number of music releases I'm receiving in the mail. As a result, I sometimes toss releases that don't immediately grab my attention. This was almost the case with Crumbox. The name didn't hit me right, and the publicity photo was rather plain. Thank God I didn't let my first reaction keep me from giving this band a listen. This band plays tight, upbeat pop/rock music that has as much in common with the Cars as it does with St. Johnny. This is very basic wall-of-guitar pop music...but this band got our attention based simply on the fact that their songs KICK...plus vocalist Scott Bradford's speak/yell vocal style is rather appealing indeed. Once again those cool folks at Time Bomb have another winner on their hands... (Rating: 4)

MARTIN DENNY - Forbidden Island & Primitiva (CD, Scamp, Exotic/instrumental)
Scamp RULES. Whoever is in charge of selecting the releases for this innovative label hits dead center every time. These two releases were originally released on vinyl in 1958 during America's strange fascination with exotic music, when Martin Denny was at the forefront of the movement. This is the kind of stuff I remember being in my parents record collection, and as a kid I never understood why they listened to such stuff. Now that I'm old and useless, I can certainly see what the attraction was. Whether this was created as a form of escapism or not is irrelevant. What matters is that...fourty years after it was recorded...this music sounds incredibly fresh and alive. Twenty-four tunes that'll make you feel like you're in paradise. Includes liner notes by Mr. Denny himself. Coooooooooool. (Rating: 5)

DIPSOMANIACS - Smaller Than Life (CD, Face Down, Pop/rock)
Nice, upbeat, hummable rock tunes with excellent guitar arrangements. The Dipsomaniacs use a stripped down approach in the studio that works well with their tunes. Though the band certainly knows how to rock out (at times reminding me of the Raspberries), it's the softer stuff that turns me on the most ("How High"). This disc is a fun listen, but I get the feeling that it just hints at what these guys are capable of. (Rating: 3)

TANYA DONELLY - Sliding and Diving (CD EP, 4AD, Pop)
Tanya Donelly, previously from the bands Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and Belly (whew!) steps out on her own. I have to admit that I missed the whole Belly experience completely, so I can't compare Tanya's solo recordings to that. "Bum," the leading track, is a nice hummable tune with very thick, layered vocal work. "Restless" is softer and more introspective. "Human" loses me...but the closing tune "Swoon" is a really nice ballad indeed. If these tunes are representative of the direction Tanya is taking, I'd say the decision to go solo is a good thing. (Rating: 3)

THE EGG - Albumen (Advance cassette, Discovery, Jazz/electronic/fusion)
Combining all sorts of sounds and styles of music into one big melting pot, The Egg manage to come up with a very unique sound. This British band (that includes two identical twins) has a big, funky sound that ought to please fans of jazz music as well as folks into the whole trace/dance scene. Live, the band shows their own films onto themselves and the audience...which sounds like it should be a real treat indeed. At times like the soundtrack to a movie, and at other times like some mid-period Talking Heads (minus the vocals), this is a band that is hard to pigeonhole. Top picks: "The Fat Boy Goes to the Cinema" and "Shoplifting." Cooooooooooool. (Rating: 4)

EVITA - The Complete Motion Picture Music Soundtrack (Double CD, Warner Bros., Soundtrack)
Tough score...and several years ago Madonna set upon a mission. Money...sex...power...and Evita, not necessarily in that order. We saw, we heard, she conquered, and the similarities between both ladies run a new parallel. I really wanted to hate this, but I must admit that Madonna has given Webber's score a new slick gloss that was long overdue. If it was a material thing Eva Peron wanted, then the material girl fulfills. (Jon Nickell) (Rating: 5)

MARIANNE FAITHFUL - 20th Century Blues (CD, RCA, Cabaret/pop)
One of the most haunting, provocative, and elusive female singers of our time is back. For her RCA debut, Marianne Faithful is featured performing live backed by a single piano in a small club called the New Morning in Paris. This particular performance was a tribute to Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Noel Coward. After hearing this CD, I wish I could have been there. Although she's most widely known for hits of long ago ("As Tears Go By," "Broken English"), Marianne's later work is most certainly her strongest (particularly the vastly underrated A Secret Life). And although I prefer the lush arrangements of her studio work, this CD shows a different side of this talented lady and also demonstrates what an extraordinary singer she really is. The disc also features a stunning version of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me." (Rating: 5)

JIM GREER - Lucky Day (CD, Honeybowl, Eclectic pop)
Originally from Hudson, Ohio and now residing in San Francisco, offbeat popster Jim Greer has created a real underground gem...creating somewhat obtuse pop that recalls a variety of artists, including the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, and even the Lilys at times. Lucky Day has a very nice laidback quality to it, making this almost sound as if it were recorded at home. Well, actually four of the tunes were recorded at Jim's home four track studio. So many new artists seem to be trying so hard to sound ULTRA-WEIRD and STRANGE...that they end up being annoying. This guy just seems to be following his instincts...and creating some GREAT pop along the way. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5)

JOY ELECTRIC - Old Wives Tales (CD EP, Tooth & Nail, Synthesized pop)
Ronnie Martin (the man who is Joy Electric) is the first to admit that his music is out of synch with what's currently hip and cool. By following his own muse instead of going with the flow, however, Ronnie continues to stay ahead of the herd by simply producing excellent quality recordings. It's interesting that Mr. Martin has more heart and soul than most other pop artists...since he relies almost exclusively on synthesizers to create his music. This EP contains more of what I've come to expect from this amazing craftsman: Smooth, dreamy, ultra-melodic, inventive electronic pop that sounds like no one else. Standout tracks: "And It Feels Like Old Times" and "The Golden Age." GREAT...as always... I highly recommend everything so far released by Joy Electric. (Rating: 5)

HALOBLACK - Funkyhell (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Electronic)
Members of Thrill Kill Kult, Chlemlab, and 16Volt merge to create Haloblack. This CD consists of eerie, experimental electronic soundscapes to bend your mind and spirit. "Distractor," the opening track, is worth the price of admission alone. This is not pretty music. At times it may make you feel uncomfortable...but that's probably the whole idea. At one point, the music becomes simply an annoying crackling noise...which makes me think some of this was recorded just to test the listener. Peculiar and esoteric, Haloblack is an experiment into the darker side of electronics. (Rating: 4)

HARDHOP + TRIPNO - Volume 2 (CD, Moonshine, Electronic)
This follow-up to the first Moonshine compilation once again puts the spotlight on a music label excelling in a very specific area of music. For a long, long time now the folks at Moonshine have been drawing attention to some obscure yet compelling recording artists. On Hardhop + Tripno Volume 2 we are treated to a harder, somewhat more confusing area of dance music. There's certainly more here than simple, computer-generated dance crap...as evidence by such creative combos as Planet Jazz, Darkglobe, Control-X, Coffee Boys, and Mental Blox. There are a lot of folks out there who dismiss electronic dance music completely. Those people can die. This goes to show that with a little bit of imagination, ANY style of music can be compelling. (Rating: 5)

CLAY HARPER - 1996 Single of the Month Club (12 7" vinyl singles, Casino Royale, Rock/pop)
Rather than review these twelve singles individually, I am reviewing them as a set. During 1996, Clay Harper released a new single each month....quite a feat in itself, not to mention the fact that the set contains some damn fine tunes. A lot of time and energy obviously went into the making of these singles. Nice packaging and all, but as always it's the tunes that count most...and there's a SLEW of good ones here, including "American Solider," "Roly Poly," "Freedom?" and "Prayin' Hands." These singles probably brought Clay's material to a lot of folks' attention for the very first time. It's about time. He's been putting out excellent stuff for as long as I can remember... (Rating: 5)

HAYDEN - Moving Careful (CD, Outpost, Folk/pop)
I'm not sure why, but Hayden's debut full-length CD caused a wide range of reactions in 1996. A few folks loved it (myself included), but it seemed that even more folks were really turned off by it. All the better...because the negative reviewer comments only strengthened my appreciation of this man's music. Carrying his tape recorder around with him, Hayden records practically anywhere (including outside, in restaurant kitchens, etc.)...and the results are astounding. Only seven tunes included on this EP (damn!), but they're even better than I was hoping for. "Stride" is the standout track for me, but in actuality they're all excellent. (Rating: 5)

HOVERCRAFT - Akathisia (CD, Blast First/Mute, Experimental/instrumental)
I certainly doubt this particular group will have any hit singles off THIS one! Playing obtuse, mutated, totally surreal music to trip by, this trio is WAY out there. Of course, bearing names like Campbell 200 (guitar), Sadie 7 (bass) and Karl 3-30 (drums), you wouldn't think they'd be playing Top 40 hits now...would you? On this CD, Hovercraft present a mere five "tunes"...but these five tunes combined last over 64 minutes. Shrugging off any type of commercial appeal, these folks are a spaced-out, wild, hypnotic experience. There's good noise and there's bad noise. Hovercraft definitely fits into the former category. This is COOL as shit. This ought to please Hawkwind fans... (Rating: 5)

KARMA TO BURN - Karma To Burn (CD, Roadrunner, Rock)
Excellent hard rock in the same general vein as Fu Manchu. These four West Virginians play straight-from-the-hip, no-holds-barred rock music the way it was meant to be played. Virtually free of studio gimmicks, this batch of tunes CRANKS. Originally an instrumental band, Karma To Burn now have a vocalist who is a real growler. It's those charged up guitars and beefy rhythm section that really give this band it's trademark sound however. With tunes like "Mt. Penetrator" and "Twin Sisters and a Half Bottle of Bourbon," these guys prove that they can rock out BIG TIME. (Rating: 4)

SARAH MASEN - Sarah Masen (CD, re:think, Pop)
This is an extremely professional, mature CD for someone who's only 20 years old. Detroit native Sarah Masen is a real talent. Not only does she play guitar, piano, violin, harmonica, and autoharp, but she also penned 9 of the 10 tracks on her CD. Her voice is very focused and expressive, and she sings straight from the heart. From the sound of these tunes, I'd say this young lady has a quite a future ahead of her. If Sarah can lighten up just a little and have more of a sense of humor about what she's doing, I think she has the potential for a much wider audience. But even with the sometimes overly serious nature of these tunes, Sarah still comes up with a winner. (Rating: 3)

McRACKINS - Best Friend (CD EP, Shredder, Rock)
Possibly the world's most prolific rock band (How many releases do they have out now anyway?) once again offers another iresistable batch of tunes: Three new, four live, and one acoustic. This time around my fave tunes are "Dim Sum" (this one's catchy as HELL) and "Get Crackin'", in which the band makes no bones about self promotion. Upbeat, funny, melodic, and energetic as Hell, this is one band I'll never get enough of. (Rating: 5)

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES - Let's Face It (Advance cassette, Mercury, Ska/pop)
The Bosstones are back...and they take a somewhat different approach with their latest release. Longtime leaders of the whole ska movement, these guys have an extremely devoted fan base that is probably the direct result of a live show that blows most other bands off the planet. On this year's release, the band has a somewhat calmer and definitely poppier sound. No, don't worry, they still crank out hyper rockers that'll keep the fans happy...but they now seem a lot more concerned with melodies. The slower numbers certainly prove once and for all that Dicky Barrett has a really beautiful voice. Yes, the Bosstones have changed their sound somewhat...but personally, I like the new directions they're heading in... (Rating: 4)

THE MOON SEVEN TIMES - Sunburnt (CD, Roadrunner, Progressive pop)
Man, this is SMOOTH. It's also the best release yet from this incredibly talented band. Playing progressive, somewhat classical sounding pop music, this Champaign, Illinois based group has a real winner with this one. Actually, I've liked everything I've heard from this band...but they've really outdone themselves this time. In all honesty, if I had not seen The Moon Seven Times in concert I might not be so crazy about their music. In their recordings, the band's songs sound very serious and reflective. Live, however, it becomes obvious that these folks have a sense of humor about themselves. And while you might think lead vocalist Lynn Canfield would be a serious "artist type," nothing could be further from the truth. Her vocal work is amazing, but the best part about her is that she doesn't take herself too seriously. This is a flawless batch of tunes that is both pensive and beautiful. Mmm... What a great way to start the year... (Rating: 5)

MORTICIAN - Hacked Up For Barbecue (CD, Relapse, Sick gore/metal)
It's not for everyone...THAT'S for sure. I've heard tons of death/metal bands, but this one might get my vote for most violent thematically and most unintelligible vocals. Virtually every one of these 24 tracks deals with hacking up people in some form or another. It's so extreme that after a song or two it actually seems funny. Lots of horror movie tidbits spliced in between songs as well. I'll admit that this is not something I can listen to all the time, but these guys have a sense of humor about what they're doing...and that counts for a lot. (Rating: 3)

THE MYSTERIES OF LIFE - "Cold Out" b/w "The Shortest Day of the Year" (Vinyl 45, Flat Earth, Pop)
Nice, simple acoustic pop that doesn't try too hard. Good harmonies and just the right amount of polish make this little single a really good listen...making me want to hear more from this cool up-and-coming band. The A-side is strangely catchy, while the B-side is a great wintery instrumental. (Rating: 4)

NEFILIM - Zoom (CD, Metal Blade/Beggars Banquet, Gothic/electronic)
Remember the band The Fields of Nephilim from a few years back? Carl McCoy was the guiding light of that band, and he's back now using the name Nefilim. Carl's music is an odd hybrid of gothic, hardcore, and experimental electronics. Most "goth" bands bore the shit out of me because they take themselves too seriously and, above all, they aren't very imaginative. This one's different, though, because the only thing you can predict is the unexpected. Lots of weird electronic noise ties these tunes together, and sometimes things get downright scarey ("Melt"). Deep, moody, sometimes eerie...this gives new credence to the gothic scene. (Rating: 4)

OUTHOUSE - Welcome (Advance cassette, Mercury, Rock)
Excellent punchy rock music with a powerhouse trio/power pop approach. Though this band's produced sound is somewhat generic sounding, these guys' songs are catchy as shit. Instead of grunge rock with snarly, growling vocals, Outhouse is a band that is not afraid to let their melodies shine through. And the band's harmony vocals are what really makes these tunes shine like gems (check out "Familiar"). Some of this even sounds like an updated, more powerful version of the Beatles. Though these guys aren't the most original sounding band I've ever heard, they are still incredibly entertaining. After all, a great band doesn't always having to be breaking new ground...do they? This is a big ball of FUN...pure and simple. (Rating: 5)

PUGS - Pugs Bite the Red Knee (CD, Casual Tonalities, Rock/pop)
The evolution of Japanese groups has been similar to that of girl groups. Initially, the bands were essentially novelty acts who couldn't play their instruments too well. A couple of decades later, the situation has changed drastically for both types of bands. Pugs are certainly an example of how far Japanese groups have come. They're tight, they've got attitude, and they have a firm grasp on what they're doing. The band has a thick, highly-produced sound that is sometimes overly busy, but those unusual female vocals (courtesy of Honey K.) still manage to shine through. The band's all-out assault works really well ("Mari In Love"), while other tracks are sometimes generic ("Spock On"). This band certainly is headed in an interesting direction. I'd definitely like to catch their live act to see what all the fuss is about... (Rating: 3)

RACER 10 - Melodies & Memories (CD, Onefoot, Speed pop)
Fast pop music not unlike the Young Fresh Fellows or even Bracket. Racer 10's drummer is hyper for sure...pushing what would be a normal pop group into an overdriven speed trip. This band's got clever tunes ("Marshall Dill Pickle" for example), and they throw some real surprises in their arrangements. With 16 kickass tunes, these guys have certainly caught my attention...but I think their best work is yet to come. This band already sounds good...but I bet that in a year or two they're gonna be EXPLOSIVE. (Rating: 3)

RASPUTINA - Thanks for the Ether (CD, Columbia, Experimental pop)
Weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, WEIRD. But...and here's the surprise...weird GOOD. Very, very, very, VERY good weird. This is one band that is so out of synch with what's out there that they will, most likely and unfortunately, only gain cult status among a small group of people. No matter. These three overwhelming ladies are a MIND BLOWER. Yup, this is one of those rare cases when a group is so original and unique that there's really no comparison currently on the horizon. Imagine an updated mix of early Slapp Happy, Curved Air, or even early Sparks...throw in some strings (cello, violin, etc.)...add bizarre lyrics and turn-of-the-century clothing and there you have it: Rasputina. These ladies are pushing the limits of popular music. All the songs on this CD are mind blowers. Check out "Fire," "Nozzle," "Mr. E. Leon Rauis"...truly incredible stuff. A refreshing dose of originality in a sometimes samey sounding world. Goddamn, for sure. Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn. (Rating: 6)

THE REMNANTS - Parts (CD, Slow Summer, Rock/pop)
Extremely sincere little band from Maryland that seems to be completely lacking in pretentiousness. These three fellows play with a great deal of energy and vitality, making the whole bass/guitar/drum setup seem as if it were just invented yesterday. The press release included a quote that compared the band to a mixture of The Replacements and George Jones. That's actually a fairly accurate description. These country-tinged pop rockers are real fun to listen to, and another case where a band proves that you don't need a record company to put out a great CD. Top picks: "Feeling My Way Around" and "Fraidy Cat." (Rating: 4)

REPUBLICA - Republica (CD, RCA, Dance/pop)
Think all dance music has to be samey and redundant? If so, then Republica may just prove you wrong. This British group combines infectious dance rhythms with some absolutely killer tunes, creating a very consistent CD indeed. Fronted by Saffron, a lady too beautiful and talented for words, this group is going to be BIG. If you've become jaded and bored by the idea of dance music because it usually means programmed electronic crap, give this band a listen. Too many superb tunes to list, but my top picks are "Ready To Go," "Bloke," and "Don't You Ever." Music to move you both mentally and physically. (Rating: 4)

ROCKERS HI FI - Mish Mash (CD, Warner Bros., Electronic/dance)
What?!? ANOTHER electronic duo from England? It seems that everyone and his brother (or sister) have become an electronic duo...and with everyone playing the game, many of these projects can (and do) all sound very similar. These two guys (Richard Whittingham and Glyn Bush) stand out from the pack because they have an uncluttered and challenging approach with their music. Much of this is very simple, trippy music with a heavy emphasis on bass lines. The thoughtful arrangements pull these tunes way ahead of the pack, and show just how good these fellows are at composition. The only three tracks that don't grab me are the ones featuring guest rapper Phoebe One, simply because they get in the way of the great vibe created by the rest of the CD. But hey...nine hits and three misses ain't bad. Cool, inventive, and HIP. (Rating: 4)

THE RUTLES - Archaeology (CD, Virgin, Pop/satire)
Neil Innes has to be one of the most underrated pop songwriters of all time. As co-leader of the Bonzo Dog Band, Neil penned some of the most clever, hummable tunes ever written. Though he's only put out a few solo albums, they are by far some of the most memorable recordings I know of. With the latest Rutles CD, Neil is once again doing what he does best. This man not only writes killer tunes, he also has an incredible sense of humor about what he's doing as well. Interestingly, the new Rutles album is actually better than who it mimics...which is to say, this stuff is better than the Beatles. Don't believe it? Check out "Questionnaire" or "Don't Know Why" for proof. I get the feeling that Mr. Innes has never been taken seriously as a songwriter simply because his songs are often funny. This CD offers much more than satire, sparking emotional chords way beyond the Fab Four ("I Love You"). Easily one of the best CDs to come out during 1996. DYNAMITE. (Rating: 6)

SHEEP ON DRUGS - One For the Money (Advance CD, Invisible, Electronic/dance)
Duncan X and Lee Fraser continue in their tradition of creating electronic mayhem that, in most cases, you can dance to. Never has there been a more appropriately titled duo...as these guys' stuff conjures up both sheep and drugs (in my mind, anyway). Their latest effort contains ten twisted tunes, including an obtuse cover of "Waiting For the Man" that certainly sheds different light on an overworked tune. Sheep On Drugs always manage to entertain me... (Rating: 4)

SILVERCHAIR - Freak Show (CD, Epic, Rock/pop)
It would have been very easy for me to toss this CD and not even give it a chance. After all, I didn't care for Silverchair's last CD (Frogstomp) and besides...they're very, VERY popular. I'm glad I gave this group another chance though, because this CD has some excellent stuff on it. And though the band is known for their rockers, this CD shows that when they soften things a bit they can come up with some KILLER tunes ("Freak" and particularly "Cemetery"). There's more variety here than you would expect, as the group takes some chances. Sure there are some lame tunes ("Slave" and "The Door"), but the good stuff more than makes up for the bad. This is a band the critics hate and the fans love. Here in babysueland, we're entertained to say the least. (Rating: 4)

SISTER HAZEL - ...Somewhere More Familiar (CD, Croakin' Poets, Country-tinged pop)
This band is about as genuine sounding as you can get. Based in Gainesville, Florida, these guys play simple, straight-from-the-heart acoustic based pop music with a definite country influence. In addition to superb melodies and an infectious rhythm section, the harmony vocals are truly exceptional. This CD will soon be re-released on the Universal label early 1997. Top picks: "Just Remember," "All For You," and "Superman." (Rating: 3)

SMITHWICK MACHINE - High Fashion Horsepower (CD, Blacklist, Rock)
The debut CD from Smithwick Machine is also the first release from the new Blacklist label. This band hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and their tunes harken back to some of David Bowie and Iggy Pop's better material from the 70s (particularly Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World). This is a very basic recording, which is probably a good indication of how the band sounds live. Plenty of good rockin' tunes like "Electric," "High Fashion Horsepower," "I Pity the Fool," and "Seventeen." The playing is solid, and the lead singer sounds like he's probably an excellent frontman. I hope to catch these guys live sometime soon... (Rating: 3)

THE SOUND GALLERY - Volume 2 (CD, Scamp, Various artists)
Hearing this cool collection of music culled from the EMI vaults makes me wonder why there are so many folks aping this style of music today. After all, why not just go for the REAL THING? If you want the real stuff (rather than a modern-day imitation), this collection has a LOT to offer. Featuring 27 tracks from folks like Laurie Johnson, Lord Sitar, Johnny Pearson, and even the first-time CD release of a track by George Martin ("Theme One"), this packs a great big punch. Most of these tracks (recorded during the late sixties and early seventies) sound very much like T.V. music. The folks who collected and mastered these tracks deserve a rousing round of applause. Do I like this? Hell yeah. This KICKS. (Rating: 5)

SPEEDBALL BABY - Cinema! (CD, Fort Apache/MCA, Rock)
I liked the last EP I heard from Speedball Baby...but I love this full-length release. The EP hinted at a band with a wide range of influences, and this CD is a full realization of that fact. Sounding something like early Richard Hell or even the Cramps, this band rocks out with some real ass-stomping music. Cool speak/sung vocals crash and glide over some absolutely superb guitar work...and all of this is layered over a really tight rhythm section. If it all sounds too good to be true, it isn't. These folks knock off thirteen insantely good tracks on this disc. Pure energetic fun. Can't WAIT to see 'em live... (Rating: 5)

STEADFAST - Sixteen Reasons Why (CD, Onefoot, Power pop/punk)
This band ought to please fans of bands on the Epitaph label. Steadfast play speedy pop with tons of personality and style. This is not a perfect recording...the band does slip occasionally. But I think that in this case it just makes the music more endearing. Even though they play fast and loud, this band is first and foremost a pop band. The playing is solid and the vocals way above average...but it's those intelligent songs that make this one a winner. Check out these lyrics from the tune "Responsibility": He sits alone and wishes he were younger so he could feel the feeling of no responsibility. These guys are smart and inventive, and they sound like they're just on the crest of something bigger. (Rating: 4)

DAN SUSNARA - The Raynebo Parke L.P. (Independent cassette, Psychedelic pop)
Despite the title of this release, it's actually a cassette...and despite the fact that it is a single cassette, it actually contains twice the normal amount of material (90 minutes). In addition, this is probably the best release yet by Chicago home taper Dan Susnara. Dan writes subtle, psychedelic pop tunes that recall artists as diverse as the Beatles and the Monochrome Set...and he bites off quite a chunk with this release. Lengthy pop tunes that are anything but predictable ("Sell Jenny Fisher" goes WAY off the deep end) abound on this release, and the sound quality of Dan's music keeps getting better. Although the electronic drums are a drawback for me, there's still plenty of stuff here to enjoy. Particularly good lyrics and melodies, and I really like the sections where things become almost completely abstract. (Rating: 4)

SWERVEDRIVER & SOPHIA (Double vinyl 7" single, Echostatic/Space Baby)
The folks at Echostatic and Space Baby release some damn fine double singles, and the latest is no exception to the rule. This time around we have two songs from Swervedriver ("Why Say Yeah" b/w "In My Time") that ought to really please their fans...more of the fuzzed-out melodic pop the band is known for (the B-Side is very Beatles-like). The second single features two tunes by the band Sophia ("So Slow" b/w "Sometimes"). The A-side (recorded on a 4-track machine) is a nice slow track with some nice guitar work and cool lyrics. This is a limited edition single, so pick it up now 'cause they won't last long...

30 AMP FUSE - Saturday Night at the Atomic Speedway (Advance CD, Dedicated, Rock)
Bands like 30 Amp Fuse and Superdrag are making lots of folks sit up and take notice of Knoxville, Tennessee. 30 Amp Fuse is a power pop trio blasting out hooky pop tunes at high volume in a style not unlike Bracket. This CD was produced by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton (of Descendants and All fame). These fellows did an excellent job of capturing this band's sound in the studio. As is always the case, however, producers and studios don't mean SHIT without good songs. This advance CD didn't come with a song list so I can't discuss specifics, but I can tell you after one listen that this is one CATCHY damn disc indeed. Simple, punchy, solid, and an excellent listen. (Rating: 4)

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD - Motion Picture Soundtrack (CD, Mute, Soundtrack)
I usually don't review soundtrack CDs because they usually SUCK. Invarioubly they tend to be various artists compilations of trendy bands that someone's paid somebody off to promote. The soundtrack to To Have And To Hold is another bird altogether. This film (the latest from director John Hillcoat) features an original score by Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and Blixa Bargeld...and what a score this is! Included are some brilliant classical pieces ("Candlelit Bedroom") along with world music ("The Jungle of Love"), and a whole lot more. This music was brilliantly produced, and it has real heart to it as well. Whether you've seen the film or not, this soundtrack is...BEAUTIFUL. (Rating: 5)

TOOL - Ænima (CD, Zoo, Progressive)
I've always liked Tool, but this gets my vote for the band's best release. Instead of going for one sound, the guys in Tool mess around with a whole SLEW of musical styles...mixing and screwing around with them to come up with their own unique sound. Sometimes as soft as a whisper and at other times as loud as a tornado, this is one complex batch of tunes. If you want music that's easily digestible look elsewhere, 'cause this one's a mouthful. Plus...the artwork on this disc is really cool. An excellent blend of technology and talent. (Rating: 5)

WE'RE ALL FRANKIES - A Tribute to Martin Rev and Alan Vega (CD, Fifth Colvmn, Electronic/Various artists)
And you thought it couldn't be done. Yup, those creative creatures at Fifth Colvmn have done the unimaginable. Underground icons Suicide, long considered to be one of the first and most innovative electronic bands ever, have their songs reworked on this most unusual tribute CD. Artists include Bloodstar, Foil, Dive, The Neon Judgement, Darkstar, Kirlian Camera/O.E.M., and Psyche. Interestingly, these songs are amazingly good treatments of the originals. The music of Suicide was not for everyone and probably never will be. Thank God this CD will do nothing to change that. (Rating: 5)

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