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"Lofty Poodle" May 2004 Reviews by

 Alkaline Trio / One Man Army
The Beat Farmers
The Blackouts

Bockman's Euphio*
Broken Spindles
Call and Response

The Caribbean
Casper & The Cookies

Nat King Cole
Comment Piece
John Conlee
The Defog

Devil To Pay
The Envy Corps
The Gamits

John Wilkes Booze
Jonathan Inc.

Louis Jordan*
Mick Karn
The Legends

Living Things
Loretta Lynn
Machine Head
Nine Pound Hammer
Power of Soul

S Prcss*
Les Sans Culottes
Senor Happy
Single Frame

The Slats
United State of Electronica

Sarah Vaughan*
Tamas Wells

The Wildhearts*

*Top Picks


May 2004 Comment Piece:
Ellen DeGeneres - A Case In Point

Whether she realizes it or not, comedienne Ellen DeGeneres has taught the world a valuable lesson...and one that we have been trying to drill into people's heads for decades now. When we were first exposed to her stand up comedy, we were completely delighted with Ellen. She seemed genuine. Her jokes were really funny and different. And there was something about her that made her stand out. But after her initial success, she made the horrendous decision to "come out" publicly on her television show...flaunting her lesbianism for all the world to see. This career move lost her a lot of fans...caused her career to falter...and turned off most people.

Then, after a cooling off period, Ellen came back with a new talk show and she was greeted with OPEN ARMS. GONE were the lesbian references...and GONE were the elements that had tarnished Ellen's career. The public embraced the "new" Ellen because she was just being funny...and she was no longer being political. Sure, everyone knows she's a lesbian...but that doesn't matter so much. What matters is that nobody wants that fact SHOVED DOWN THEIR THROATS.

Now that Ellen has put her sexuality in perspective...everyone loves her again. A happy ending to a story that we can all learn from.

The main point here--and one that we would hope others would glean from this story--is that people will probably accept you NO MATTER WHAT TYPE OF PERSON YOU ARE...AS LONG AS YOU DON'T TRY TO CRAM YOUR LIFESTYLE INTO THEIR FACE.

We here in babysueland are willing to accept virtually anyone (with manners, of course)...UNTIL they choose to make A BIG DEAL out of their race, their sexuality, their age, or WHATEVER. At the point when people choose to become overly focused on their own specific group...it is THEN that they deserve to be HATED LIKE HOLY HELL.

Look at it this way:

A homosexual is just a homosexual...until it becomes obsessed with being a homosexual. At that point, it becomes a worthless faggot.

A black man is just a black man...until it becomes obsessed with being a black man. At that point, it becomes a shitty and irritating grunthole.

A handicapped person is just a handicapped person...until it becomes obsessed with being handicapped. At that point, it becomes a pathetic cripple.

A religious person is just a religious person...until it becomes obsessed with its religion. At that point, it becomes a tedious jerk off jesus freak.

A lesbian is just a lesbian...until it becomes obsessed with being a lesbian. At that point, it becomes an obnoxious dyke.

An atheist is just an atheist...until it becomes obsessed with being an atheist. At that point, it becomes a goddamn moron.

Get the point? It is not what they are that makes people bad...it is HOW THEY DEAL with WHAT THEY ARE. It's so goddamn OBVIOUS. So why does virtually everyone seem to be blind to the facts?

Don't hate people for the kind of people that they are. Hate them for the BAD and OBNOXIOUS WAYS that they cope with what they are. The bad ones are easy to spot. They are the people with SUPER SOFT SHELLS...the ones who feel that EVERYTHING that happens to them is BIASED and UNFAIR because they are being discriminated against. The poor, poor babies. Life just hasn't dealt them a fair hand, has it...? Their problems aren't a result of their own personalities and the decisions they make in life...it's because everyone else is so goddamned prejudiced against them. Sheesh...what pathetic JERKS.

If everyone would just be themselves and SHUT THE HELL UP about how they are treated unfairly and STOP BROADCASTING WHAT SPECIFIC CATEGORY THEY FIT INTO...they just might find that no one ever REALLY hated them in the first place.

But then again, maybe not.

* * * * *

Alkaline Trio / One Man Army - BYO Split Series / Volume V (CD, BYO, Pop/rock)
True to the claim on the cover of this disc, this album truly does feature "2 great bands together on 1 classic record". It is, in fact, difficult to pick a favorite as both Alkaline Trio and One Man Army create credible and totally entertaining pop/rock. First out of the gate is Alkaline Trio, offering six tracks' worth of their melodic guitar-driven rock. The band is focused on melodies and song structures and their playing is subtle yet effective. Next up is One Man Army, whose music harkens back to the early days of The Undertones. Our favorite cut from the band is "TV Song," an absolutely killer tune that oughta be a hit. Twelve kickass tunes from two bands that obviously have the right idea about what they're doing. Good underground guitar rock from both involved parties... (Rating: 4+++)

The Beat Farmers - Tales of the New West (CD, Rhino Handmade, Americana)
Re-issue of the debut album from The Beat Farmers complimented by the addition of tunes from Glad 'N Greasy and Live at the Spring Valley Inn...as well as some demos and a brand new track thrown in for good measure. The fine folks at Rhino Handmade always give you more bang for your buck...particularly in this case, as this disc features no less than 28 tracks (!). At this point, there is no way to determine how many bands The Beat Farmers may have influenced. When they were playing their country-influenced Americana in the mid 1980s...few bands were choosing this particular fork in the road. If these guys had come along in the late 1990s...they would probably have had several major hits. The music is vibrant and accessible...yet during their career The Beat Farmers had a rather small audience, limited to mainly college radio listeners. Rather than sounding dated, the material on this album sounds so fresh that you could swear it was recorded yesterday. Great upbeat raunchy tunes include "Bigger Stones," "Goldmine, " "Beat Generation," and "I Still Miss Someone." (Rating: 5)

The Blackouts - Living In Blue (CD, Lucid, Pop/rock)
What would Television have sounded like if Robert Smith (The Cure) had been the lead vocalist...? The answer to that question may be found on the sophomore album from The Blackouts. The band's crazy guitar driven rock music has a heavy 1970s slant...yet the vocals are straight out of the 1980s. The best cuts on this album are really, really, really great. "Something I Can't Say," "The Games That Play Us," and "Where It Begins" are some of the best rockers we've heard this year from any band anywhere. Some of the band's other tunes aren't quite as exciting...but they're still worthy of many repeated spins. If this band can fine tune their keenest points...they could easily become a huge underground phenomenon. They've got the ingredients, that's for certain. We'd like to hear more of those crazy, wild lead guitars. Fun stuff, well executed. (Rating: 4+++)

Bockman's Euphio - Gorjus: Fighting Bockman's Euphio (CD, Totoba, Progressive jazzy pop)
Bockman's Euphio is a rather odd name for a rather odd band. What stands out most about this release are (a) the quality of the songwriting and (b) the quality of the recordings. The tunes on Gorjus: Fighting Bockman's Euphio are even more impressive when one considers the fact that this album was a do-it-yourself project. As such, it is most surely one of the most successful independently recorded projects of the past few years. This band's thoughtful and articulate tunes are driven home by exceptional playing. The attention to detail is astounding. Even better yet is the fact that the material is, indeed, truly original. Although we could hear a few subtle, fine traces of bands like 10CC and Steely Dan roaming around in the mix...this album bears little resemblance to other bands currently on the playing field. To add even extra taste and flavor, the band's lyrics are smart, inventive, and rather unusual. Although we hesitate to mention this (for fear that it may scare some potential listeners off), the jazzy flavor that is inherent in many of these tunes is most appealing. Bear in mind, however, that these guys are first and foremost playing pop...the jazz elements only serve as an added support system. This is an exceptional album from start to finish. Independent and/or major labels should take note. This band's material is much, much stronger than 98% of everything out there. Excellent thought provoking compositions include "Patience," "Cold Front," "Sound Bed," and "From What to Where." Recommended. (Rating: 5++)

Broken Spindles - Fulfilled/Complete (CD, Saddle Creek, Electronic pop)
Broken Spindles is the solo project created by Joel Petersen, the bass player for The Faint. Far from being just another generic project created for the purpose of spewing out tired pop songs, Spindles is Petersen's creative outlet to do the things he can't do within the confines of the band. Fulfilled/Complete is an unpredictable grab bag of instrumentals, pop tunes, and experiments. Though the album is short (just over 30 minutes), the point is clearly made. This is, first and foremost, an act of artistic expression. Petersen didn't record these tracks with the idea of selling a million copies. He created them from pure inspiration. Odd tracks like "To Die, For Death" and "Events & Affairs" are proof of this claim. Intelligent, slightly obtuse, and ultimately creative...Fulfilled/Complete is both fulfilling and complete. (Rating: 5)

Call and Response - Winds Take No Shape (CD, Badman, Progressive pop)
Cool and calculated progressive pop that flows by like a bubbling brook. Sounding something like a smoother and less obtuse Komeda, this Bay area quintet plays soft and pleasing pop with superb melodies and subtle arrangements. The playing is extremely laid back and loose...so loose, in fact, that at times things almost seem like they are about to fall apart ("Misty Moon"). Winds Take No Shape is a calming album...reflective in nature yet thought provoking. The distant female vocals are particularly appealing...as are the strangely elastic guitars. This band's music is anything but obvious...requiring many spins before one can take it all in. Call and Response is a different sort of progressive pop monster...recalling a wealth of other artists...while never sounding exactly like any one in particular. Intriguing stuff. (Rating: 5)

The Caribbean - William of Orange (CD EP, Home Tapes, Progressive pop)
The Caribbean truly is a band of the modern age. The four band members (Matthew Byars, Michael Kentoff, Tony Dennison, Don Campbell) live in different cities and record their tunes by transmitting tracks to and from one another to create the finished product. This means of recording may be commonplace among people recording experimental electronic music or grating noise...but how often do you hear of a pop band recording their music in such a fashion? These guys' approach is odd...but even stranger is how cohesive and normal their music is, considering how it was recorded. Caribbean tunes are strangely accessible...yet they retain cool progressive threads that keep them from sounding familiar or conventional. We have yet to hear anything from this band that isn't cool and credible. William of Orange is yet another welcome addition to our permanent collection. Great triple fold cover on this one. Outstanding stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Casper & The Cookies - OH! (CD, Happy Happy Birthday To Me, Pop)
Like Kenny Siegel of the sadly overlooked band Johnny Society, Jason Nesmith (the man who calls himself Casper Fandango) is an underground artist whose own music is superior to that created by the folks he produces and/or plays with on the side. And that's saying something, as Nesmith has chosen to associate himself with some cool, credible, and rather fantastic underground artists (Orange Hat, The Sunshine Fix, and Marshmallow Coast among others). Despite being entertaining on its own merits...it's great fun to guess which artists may have influenced this album. We can hear traces of The Bonzo Dog Band, Fountains of Wayne, 10CC, Game Theory, The Beatles, Let's Active, The Beach Boys, Andy Pratt, The Young Fresh Fellows...the list could go on and on to infinity. Despite Nesmith's tongue-in-cheek humor, when he's at his best his pop tunes are about as good as they get. The opening track ("Your Stereo") and the final cut ("Yer Birthday") are mind boggling and fantastic...right up there with the very best pop tunes ever recorded. Highly inventive and filled with infectious melodies, OH! is a refreshing blast of original pop madness. (Rating: 5)

Nat King Cole - Soundies and Telescriptions (DVD, Idem / Music Video Distributors, Male vocalist)
Nat King Cole is one of the greatest male vocalists EVER. This DVD contains soundies and telescriptions of Mr. Cole performing prior to his chart topping days in the 1950s. The players are great...and Nat's super smooth vocals sound as heavenly now as they did when these films were made. The men is simply one of the best male vocalists of all time. That being said, Cole was not a visual showman. He was, instead, a man concentrating purely on music. As a result, the visuals here are interesting...but don't add that much to the entertainment value. This DVD does shed some light on the fact that Cole was an impressive and accomplished pianist as well. Great stuff from a purely archival point of view. (Rating: 4++)

John Conlee - Classics (CD, R C R, Country/pop)
Old school country pop presented with class and style. On Classics, John Conlee offers twenty-two tracks of classic country that harkens back to the early 1970s when country music had not yet been so heavily integrated into the world of slick corporate pop. The songs on this album feature sweeping string arrangements and plenty of thick backing vocals. Up front are Conlee's focused vocals, however, and his presence steals the show. Some folks might categorize John's music as "square"...but those folks would, indeed, be missing the point entirely. Classics harkens back to the earlier days of country music when sincerity and integrity meant everything. Cool soothing cuts include "Rose Colored Glasses," "Friday Night Blues," "Common Man," and "How High Did You Go?" (Rating: 5)

The Defog - Sounds From the Stars (Independently released CD EP, Pop)
Combining elements from artists like Emitt Rhodes, 10CC, and The Nazz, Pennsylvania-based The Defog is a band squarely on the right track. What initially caught our attention about this band is how much their songs sound unlike other bands. Their smooth flowing pop sounds deceptively simple. The tunes feature strangely intertwined guitars and keyboards...and vocals that are utterly fantastic. The lead track ("Downstream") is destined to be an underground favorite for years to come. This is a short disc, featuring a mere four tracks (plus a radio edit of the first track). The second song ("Asterisk") doesn't quite work, but the band pulls things back together for the third ("Calibrated") and fourth ("Corner Stores") cuts. With just a bit more focus, these guys could easily become instant darlings among underground pop fanatics. The material is quite strong indeed. After hearing this, we will be eagerly awaiting the band's next full-length. Keep your eyes on these guys, they are destined for greatness. (Rating: 4+++++)

Devil To Pay - Thirty Pieces of Silver (CD, Benchmark, Stoner rock)
Heavy 1970s influenced stoner rock. The band Devil To Pay sounds something like a cross between Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, early Red Kross, and Black Sabbath...except with extra punch and volume. The tunes on Thirty Pieces of Silver are heavy on riffs and relatively light on guitar leads. There is a misconception that Indianapolis is solely the home of pop bands, as these guys can compete with the best stoner rockers in northern California. This album begins with the unlikely "Mouthful of Spite"...an unusual choice for opening cut because this one is a heavy instrumental. The Sabbath influences creep in on "The Lamb" and remain intact for the remainder of the album. While the guys in Devil To Pay are not treading any new ground, they certainly play with infectious enthusiasm and style. Featuring great heavy rock from start to finish, Thirty Pieces of Silver is a fine platter that holds up to many repeated spins. (Rating: 4+++)

The Envy Corps - Soviet Reunion (CD, Bi-Fi, Moody progressive pop)
Hailing from the unlikely city of Ames, Iowa, The Envy Corps have a sound and style that is exceptionally mature and refined...particularly when you consider the fact that Soviet Reunion is the band's debut album. These folks' tunes are not as much straightforward pop compositions as they are mood enhancers. The songs are subtle and understated...as are the instruments and vocals. Yet in terms of melodies and song structures, this is some pretty strong stuff. The Envy Corps are not following trends nor trying to be hip. Instead, they are following their own inner voices...foraging forward with their uniquely crafted moody creations. Plaintive and poignant, Soviet Reunion is a solid album that gets better the more you spin it. Thought provoking pieces include "Prisoners of War," "Walls"(a real standout track), "A Purpose," and "Keys to Good Living." (Rating: 5)

Fancey - Fancey (CD, March / What Are Records, Pop)
Fancey is the solo project created by Todd Fancey who is best known as a member of The New Pornographers. Todd's solo material is very different from the music his band plays. Instead of straightforward pop, his tunes tend to be more moody and much less obvious. After spinning this album more than a dozen times, we are still left with the feeling that we don't quite know what to make of it. "Carry Me" (the first track) is an exceptionally great 1970s style pop tune. The others...? Hmmm... We just don't know what to make of this album. Perhaps you will...? (Not Rated)

The Gamits - Antidote (CD, Suburban Home, Pop/rock)
Combine Herman's Hermits, The Ramones, and Rush...and what do you get? Possibly a very catchy, very loud, very modern buzzsaw pop band called The Gamits. This Denver band has already hit it big in Italy and Japan...but they've yet to transfer that popularity to the always trite, boring, and shitty United States. The tunes on Antidote are, for the most part, loud buzzsaw pop numbers with an aggressive edge. Lead man Chris Fogal sure knows how to turn a tune. His songs are full of intelligent chord progressions, exceptional vocals deliveries, and pure passion. The rockers on this album are strong and intriguing...but the last tune ("Bridges") may very well offer the best glimpse of what this band is capable of. Instead of ending on a loud note, the band lowers the volume to show just how strong Fogal's tunes really are. Smart and inventive stuff that KICKS. (Rating: 5)

John Wilkes Booze - Five Pillars of Soul (CD, Kill Rock Stars, Rock/pop)
This disc was compiled from five previous limited edition releases from the band, each dedicated to a different celebrity (Melvin Van Peebles, Tania Hearst, Albert Ayler, Marc Bolan, and Yoko Ono). What stands out most about this band is the vocalist. Hearing his vocals, one would easily assume that Seth Mahern is a woman. But while his odd warbling high vocals are the band's absurd trademark...in actuality the band has a great deal more to offer. John Wilkes Booze tunes rock hard with a solid core that seems to burst at each and every turn. The unpredictable and spontaneous nature of these recordings harkens back to the heydey of experimental rock in the 1970s when bands were exploring wild new territory using only conventional instruments. The variety on this album will blow minds. Just when you think you have this band pigeonholed...they come up with something from another universe completely ("Marc Bolan Makes Me Want To F*ck Pt. II"). Far from being just another goony group of crazy musicians...these folks are extraordinarily talented and creative. This band is an INSTANT FAVORITE in babysueland. Totally fantastic stuff. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Rating: 5+++)

Jonathan Inc. - Things Done and Left Undone (CD, Anniedale, Soft pop)
Smart, sincere, thoughtful soft pop with breezy melodies and intelligent lyrics. Begun as a solo project by Jonathan Anderson, Jonathan Inc. transformed into a band over time...incorporating Michelle Grunert, Jon Brotherton, and Glenn D'Cruze into the mix. Prior to the release of this album, the band released two prior full-length releases (Waiting For Morning, Transient) and an EP (Halfway to a Better Place). If the third time is the charm...then that certainly makes this a most charming album. Using traditional instruments, the folks in this band create classical soft pop in the traditional sense. The melodies take center stage...while all the instruments and backing vocals are there to support the main melodies. Anderson's vocals are spectacular throughout. His delivery is smooth yet sincere...he comes across sounding personal and real. Refreshing tunes include "Reading Between the Lines of an Empty Page," "Lights Go Down," "One Year," and "Bitter Seed." Not a bad seed in the bunch. An outstanding collection. (Rating: 5+)

Louis Jordan - Films and Soundies (DVD, Idem / Music Video Distributors, Swing/R&B)
Widely cited as the man who provided the missing link between the swing/big band era and modern rhythm and blues, Louis Jordan was the man in the 1940s and early 1950s...scoring no less than 57 hits that charted in the United States. More than just a mere saxophone player or singer, Jordan was an extraordinary showman...providing plenty of visual entertainment to his fans, as is evidenced by this juicy DVD collection. The disc includes material from Jordan's three films (Beware!, Reet, Petite, and Gone, Look Out Sister) plus additional soundies (short clips that were mainly shown in black cinemas at the time). Jordan's influence is mind boggling. Many big names (including Ray Charles) have cited him as a major influence. Other artists such as Flip Wilson and Little Richard were obviously affected in a big way by Jordan's charm and charisma. This DVD offers a wealth of material that sheds light on the appeal of this early rhythm and blues pioneer. The songs themselves are irresistible, as are the performances. Some of the material seems downright strange, particularly the lyrics to "That Chick's Too Young To Fry" which offers some solid advice for would-be child molesters. In some of the clips from the clips the sound and visuals don't quite match up...but that matters little, considering the top-notch performances. Of particular interest are the soundies at the end of the disc. By the time these were recorded, great advances had been made in film and recording techniques...making these the best documentation of what Jordan must have really been like in concert. A fun and thoroughly thought provoking collection of material. (Rating: 5++)

Mick Karn - More Better Different (CD, Invisible Hands Music, Instrumental)
Exceptionally thought provoking instrumental music from Japan bassist Mick Karn. More Better Different features nine brilliantly imaginative tracks that not only feature Karn's precise bass technique...but also shed light on his talents as a composer, producer, and engineer. These tunes are heady and complex...and involve an impressive assortment of instruments and sounds. While each cut presents a different mood, the album holds together nicely as a whole. The overall feel is slightly spooky and surreal...with lots of subtle electronics creeping in and out of the equation. More Better Different is a highly rewarding album full of unusual textures and obtuse rhythms. Precisely entertaining cuts include "The Jump," "It's His Birthday This Year," "The End Gag," and "Great Day in the Morning." Excellent. (Rating: 5+)

The Legends - Up Against The Legends (CD, Labrador, Pop)
Modern pop heavily influenced by artists from the 1960s and 1990s. The band themselves cite The Television Personalities and Comet Gain as influences...which proves at the very least that they have very good taste. The band The Legends is a young new Swedish band formed in January 2003. In their short career, they have already received a very good positive response in their own country...and now word is beginning to spread across the globe about the simple upbeat tunes on Up Against The Legends. The tunes are simple and direct and possess many of the traits that made AM radio in the 1960s such a delight. Slightly mod and definitely pop, this band's tunes are obvious and don't require a great deal of thought...which makes for some truly great escape music. The sound quality is rather peculiar...but instead of detracting it actually adds another dimension to the band's appeal. At times, The Legends' sound is something like an indie pop version of The Strokes. Interesting stuff that is well executed. Catchy cuts include "Call It Ours," "Right On," and "Trouble Loves Me." (Rating: 4+++)

Living Things - Resight Your Rights (CD EP, Dreamworks, Rock)
Heavy rock with a thick and hard punk lining. Living Things is a three piece band consisting of three brothers: Eve Berlin, Lillian Berlin, and Bosh Berlin. These three decadent young men play with all the fierceness and attitude of The Stranglers when they first started out. Their tunes are tight and direct...and feature superbly thick guitars and hummable melodies. The Berlin brothers are fancy dressers and they've got grrrrrrrreat hair. But their tunes are their true juice meat. These four tracks oughta please even the most jaded rock fans. Four super cool rockers here: "Bombs Below," "End Gospel," "No New Jesus," and "A.D.D." Excellent. (Rating: 5)

Louque - So Long (CD, Lava, Soul/pop)
So Long should have been a very solid and satisfying debut from Dustan Louque (pronounced "Luke"). Rarely do artists release debuts this mature and seasoned. The album consists of tuneful, top notch soul influenced pop that is dominated by Louque's superb vocals. Everything was sounding just wonderful up here in our plush offices above the clouds but then...unfortunately..."Kenny the Jet" came along and completely RUINED the vibe with UNBEARABLE hip hop crap. At that point, we had to yank this CD from the player and deem it to be UNLISTENABLE. Too bad. Louque has so much to offer...too bad he had to RUIN what could have been a wonderful album with bad vibes. (Rating: 2)

Loveless - Gift to the World (CD, Q Division, Pop/rock)
Are you a goddamn sucker for melodic guitar rock? If so, you will most likely go nuts over Loveless. Sure, it's all been done before...but few bands do it as well as these folks. The guitar waves of "Go" immediately drove through our brain...as we instantly fell in love with this band's sound. The lush and heavenly melodies are driven home by wonderfully thick guitars, simple arrangements, and absolutely stunning vocals. Gift to the World is a pure feelgood experience. You don't have to think too hard...or even listen to the lyrics. The songs are so damn great that you will automatically find yourself hitting the play button again and again and again. Super hummable and groovy in all ways imaginable, Loveless is a pop lover's pop band with a sound that kicks. Combining substance with style, these folks have created ten cuts that do the ultimate: They entertain and make the listener feel great. A stunning collection of tunes including "You Wore Me Out," "This Is A Way" (wow!), and "She Could Be Something Good." Excellent. (Rating: 5++)

Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (CD, Interscope, Country/pop)
A good idea...that just didn't work. Country music icon Loretta Lynn is a talented lady with an impressive career...and she has given the world a wealth of great music. Sad to say, Van Lear Rose is a failure in virtually all respects. The album features thirteen tracks penned (for the most part) by Lynn herself. One of the main problems here is that Loretta is backed by a "modern" pop/rock band called The Do Whaters. At times, these guys play like a garage rock band. Hearing Loretta sing over this type of music just sounds awful (to put it mildly). Even the most devout Loretta Lynn fans will probably be unable to tolerate these recordings. This is a truly sad and disappointing album that will, in all likelihood, be considered by most to be Loretta's worst album of all time. This is just really, really bad. (Rating: 2-)

Machine Head - Through the Ashes of Empires (CD, Roadrunner, Hard rock)
Merging stoner rock with heavy metal with hard rock and death metal...the guys in Machine Head deliver intensely and intelligent driving music with credibility and style. Through the Ashes of Empires, the band's fifth studio album, is another rip-roaring and intense affair. These guys play with a solid sense of song composition which is somewhat reminiscent of hard rock bands from the 1970s...yet their music features a decidedly modern twenty-first century assault. The band's guitar work is amazing...heavy yet intelligent...fast yet tight. For our bucks, these guys are one of the best hard rock bands out there. They have their moments when the music explodes...but they also have the good sense to include plenty of segments with discernible melodies and intelligent instrumentation. Cool rockers include "Imperium," "Elegy," "All Falls Down," and "Wipe The Tears." [WARNING: The only negative is that the CD is COPY PROTECTED...so you may not even be able to play it.] (Rating: 5+)

Marizane - Stage One (CD EP, Vibro-Phonic Recordings, Pop)
For anyone who loves David Bowie's early recordings, Marizane may be the band that dreams are made of. The tracks on Stage One virtually sound as if they were lifted from Bowie's Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, and Hunky Dory albums. The vocals sound virtually identical to Bowie...and the guitars even sound like Mick Ronson (?!?). This EP was appropriately produced by Tony Visconti, which may explain some of the similarities in the arrangements. While it may be difficult to resist loving this music, the tunes are in many ways far too similar to Bowie for comfort. Which is to say, while this band is doing a hell of a job paying tribute to their idol, in the long run they will need to find their own sound and style in order to survive in the future. But then again, maybe not...? After all, how many folks have always wanted to hear more Hunky Dory when there was nothing more to hear? Although they may be treading in dangerously familiar territory, Marizane is still a highly entertaining band with the potential to be truly great as their vision progresses. (Rating: 4+++)

Minmae - Ya Te Vas (CD, Devil In The Woods, Pop)
Funny how like-minded folks seem to find one another...now more than ever due to the power of the Internet. When we last heard from Minmae, the band was an obscure independent project. Now, rather appropriately, the band has teamed up with the Devil In The Woods label...a suitable home indeed for such an eclectic and credible underground band. As a result of the merger this album, not surprisingly, features greatly improved sound...and yet that has done little to tarnish the creative spirit and integrity of bandleader/songwriter Sean Brooks. Though the songs are a bit more accessible this time around, the strange qualities that make Minmae tunes so entertaining remain mostly intact. (Personally, we'd hate to hear things get much more polished for fear of the uniqueness being rubbed off over time...) Brooks' tunes are almost impossible to figure out initially...the subtle, intricate qualities only become apparent over time. What impresses us most is how few influences are apparent. It is almost impossible to figure out what artist(s) might have influenced the creation of these tunes. Featuring a wealth of challenging material, Ya Te Vas is further proof that Minmae is a true creative outlet. The softer tracks are the strongest. (Rating: 5+)

Nine Pound Hammer - Kentucky Breakdown (CD, Acetate, Hard rock)
Pounding loud redneck rock. Nine Pound Hammer is Blaine Cartwright's "other" band. The big ol' big hairy badass motherf*cker is best known as the leader of the critically acclaimed Nashville Pussy. Kentucky Breakdown is the first full-length from the band since 1998. Joining Cartwright is original lead vocalist Scott Luallen and the newly recruited rhythm duo of Earl Crim (bass) and Brian Pulito (drums). Nine Pound Hammer is loud and powerful. The tunes are driven by Cartwright's fat juicy signature guitar sound. He plays loud, loose, and tight at all times...and is obviously one of the greatest axe-slingers of all time. The rest of band matches Blaine's intensity...playing with all the fury and intensity of guys who have just learned how to turn up and play. This album is as humorous as it is danceable...great drinking music. Pounding head crunchers include "Rub Yer Daddy's Lucky Belly," "Double Super Buzz," and "Goddamn Right" (easily the best cut on the album). Killer stuff. (Rating: 5)

Oval-Teen - Yorkville, IL (Double CD, Bi-Fi, Indie pop)
Limited edition double CD featuring songs from early cassette releases, demos, and unreleased recordings from Yorkville's Oval-Teen. Named after the strangely-named beverage, the band is light years better in terms of satisfying real thirst. These discs feature an overwhelming amount of material...55 songs total. Closed minded folks with the need for super slick sound quality at all times would definitely be turned off by this band's music. But more open minded individuals who realize that quality of the songs themselves is what matters most...will find a great deal of substance scattered across these CDs. The band's music sounds something like a modern low-fidelity Beach Boys or even Young Fresh Fellows...with an underground slant. Because of the nature of this collection of tunes, there are bound to be hits and misses. While there are some throwaway tunes here, there are also some rather incredible little gems that make these discs more than worthwhile. With only 500 copies being produced, interested parties will want to grab this up as quickly as possible. A rather cool little package here... (Rating: 4+++)

Power of Soul - A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (CD, Image Entertainment, Various artists/rock)
While far from perfect, this Jimi Hendrix tribute album is at least entertaining. If there is one point that is made crystal clear by the recordings on this CD, it is the fact that in order to play really, really, really great electric guitar...you need to be high as holy hell. If you don't believe it, give this disc a spin...and then give a listen to Jimi's original recordings. The proof will be immediate and obvious. While these new covers are intriguing in many ways, no one even comes close to matching Hendrix...most likely because he was so high that he was communicating on another plane...a plane that is far out of reach to anyone who is not maxed out on heavy drugs. The main problem with the majority of the tunes on this album is that they are way, way, way overproduced. What made Jimi's music so intense was the fact that he alone, with the assistance of a bass player and a drummer, could produce such terrific sounds and create such an intense wall of sound. The artists on this disc try to compensate and match the intensity by overdubbing and over playing everything to death...and this causes many of the tunes to be very disappointing and tedious. The standout cuts are Musiq's "Are You Experienced?," Santana's "Spanish Castle Magic," and John Lee Hooker's "Red House." The biggest failures are (not surprisingly) Prince's "Purple House," Sting's "The Wind Cries Mary" (embarrassingly awful), Eric Clapton's "Burning of the Midnight Lamp," and Chaka Khan & Kenny Olson's "Little Wing" (eeeeeeeyyyyyyuch...). If Hendrix were alive today, he would probably find this music very boring. For the most part...it is. Yet...the album still has some high points...that make it worth a couple of spins... (Rating: 4)

Rectangle - Uno Nunca Sabe (CD, Stereorrific, Obtuse rock/pop)
Approaching rock from a sideways perspective, Illinois band Rectangle plays a peculiar brand of noisy pop/rock. The folks at Stereorrific first tweaked our interest by comparing the band to The Poster Children (one of our all-time favorites)...and the comparison rings true...as do comparisons to other greats like Polvo, The Pixies, and Dinosaur Jr. But while the influences are many and varied...Rectangle is ultimately a band with their own style and sound. And what a sound they have. Ranging from thoughtful and moody to wild and out of control, the tunes on Uno Nunca Sabe are intelligent, occasionally thrilling, and often times confusing. The band's guitar assault is intense...at times so crazed and atonal that the tunes seem to get lost inside themselves. Fortunately, the folks in this band counterbalance their noisy stuff with lighter more peculiar material that provides a nice overall curious vibe. Listeners may confused as to whether they should dance or laugh while spinning this album as the band has an odd sense of humor. Not an outfit to be easily figured out, these folks are both entertaining and talented... (Rating: 5+)

S Prcss - Taste Like Daughter (CD, My Pal God, Progressive pop)
The best release we have ever heard from the folks at My Pal God, Taste Like Daughter is an absorbing and intriguing album. S Prcss is the duo of Bob Doto and Daneil Mazone. The two have been making music together since 1996. Judging from the press release, it sounds as if their relationship isn't always what it should be...they've had their share of ups and downs along the way. Human variables aside...the two ought to stay together...because they just happen to write and record utterly fantastic heady progressive pop that sounds familiar...yet uniquely different. The staccato throbbing drumless rhythm of "Look: Explosion! New Spring" makes it immediately apparent that these folks are approaching music from an unusual perspective both musically and lyrically. This is no easy "verse/chorus/verse/chorus" stuff. Many times a tune will begin and then mutate into an understated jam session...making it difficult to guess exactly where this duo is going. And that is the beauty of the music. The understated compositions on Taste Like Daughter are effective and addictive...yet at the same time they are strange and dreamlike. The duo's less-is-more attitude is one of the main reasons their music succeeds. Most artists would have smothered these songs in overdubs. Doto and Mazone leave their songs wide open...with plenty of air and space to give the listener room to contemplate. The best word to describe this band's sound is...persistent. Something like the Hawkwind of the progressive pop circuit, the duo's tunes just keep on trotting and trotting forward until the point is firmly driven home. Six lengthy tracks here including "Your Motivation Is: Less Like This," "I Call I Gorilla (Mountain Lifter)," and "Give the Beaches to the People." Great stuff indeed. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Les Sans Culottes - Fixation Orale (CD, Aeronaut, Pop)
This seven-piece band includes members from Paris, La Jolla, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Denver...all of whom contribute their mental and physical elements to create the challenging and unpredictable sound of Les Sans Culottes. Perhaps because the members come from so many disparate places, the band's sound collects sounds and ideas from all over the map. These folks now reside in Brooklyn...having taken up permanent residence as the New York band most likely to find an appropriate audience. The band is unique in that they sing all of their tunes in French...a rather unlikely choice for an American band. Les Sans Culottes tunes sound something like Serge Gainsbourg...if he were in a modern indie garage pop/rock band. Fixation Orale contains a wealth of upbeat, melodic nuggets...including "Toxico (the Addict)," "Tout Va Bien (I'm Alright)," and "Deux Boules de Glace (Two Scoops of Ice Cream)." Simultaneously funny and entertaining...and quite stylish to boot... (Rating: 5)

Senor Happy - I'm Sorry (CD, Q Division, Pop)
Fans of the Gigolo Aunts will most likely go head-over-heels apeshit over Boston's Senor Happy. The band's upbeat, highly melodic guitar pop is quite similar to the Aunts...yet still uniquely original and fresh. The band's first self-titled album came out way back in 1998. Because of various outside activities of the band members, it took them six years to complete this, the follow-up. The album's title is an apology to the band's fans that it took them so long to release their second album. I'm Sorry contains eleven soothing and heavenly absorbing tracks that are certain to please fans of pure pop. The guitars chime and ring...intermingling with superb vocals to create a solid wall of pure pop heaven. This band's tunes feature melodies that put other bands to shame...and they have the good sense to layer their tunes with just the right amount of overdubs. The sound is fat and layered...yet never overproduced. While every tune is a keeper, particular standouts include "She's New," "Someone Invaded Me," "Even The Score," and "Happy When You Leave." Excellent in all respects. Great stuff. (Rating: 5+)

Single Frame - Wetheads Come Running (Enhanced CD, Volcom Entertainment, Rock)
Cool, creative, unpredictable, and effective music from Austin's Single Frame. On Wetheads Come Running, this thoroughly modular band comes up with no less than 20 tracks...and all but one (#6, generic hip hop crap) are rather incredible. Try as we may, we have great difficulty thinking of similar sounding artists of possible influences. The guys in Single Frame incorporate elements from punk, power pop, experimental, and other assorted odd influences to create a formidable force that sounds like no one else. In 1978, "Floral Design In A Straight Line" would have been a hit anthem in England. In today's market...who knows? Most people go for mundate boring music...so these guys are probably destined to be an underground favorite among critics. No matter, however, because as far as credibility goes, the band is already a big success. Dropping nineteen kickass tracks on one disc is no small feat. There's so much here to digest that it could take years for listeners to take it all in. In addition to the audio tracks, this enhanced CD also includes three videos. Plenty of great stuff to chomp on here. (Rating: 5+)

The Slats - Pick It Up (CD, Latest Flame, Rock)
The Slats play crazy, crazy, crazy rock and roll with a difference. Instead of hiding behind gimmicks and overdubs, this enigmatic trio instead prefers to play with stripped down confidence...and let the audience decide what to make of the reality of their sound. The band released their first album (The Great Plains of San Francisco) in 2002 and then began touring the U.S. Their driving intensity is counterbalanced nicely by a very slight amateurish feel that is most appealing. Instead of trying to make everything precise and perfect, The Slats leave their tunes raw and real with plenty of rough edges which add a great deal of personality to the proceedings. The band is at its best when they really go nuts. "Algorithms & Arithmetic" is wildly exciting because of the loose and unpredictable nature of the recording (the guitar playing on this one is absolutely insane). The Slats play garage rock like it ought to be played. Plenty of cool intriguing cuts here, including "Another Physical Reaction" and "The Rules Are There Are No Rules." (Rating: 5+)

United State of Electronica - U.S.E. (CD, Mannheim Worldwide, Electronic pop)
Sounding something like a cross between Kraftwerk and New Order, United State of Electronica is an electronic dance band extraordinaire. What sets this band apart from their contemporaries, first and foremost, are their tunes. Instead of generic pop dribble with unimaginative melodies and mind numbing repetition, these folks seem intent on providing intelligent songs that just happen to be layered over infectious electronic dance beats. While the band is currently being labeled as a party band they are, in actuality, much more than that. The songs are infectious and overtly upbeat. Providing quality music that entertains and requires little thought is an art...and these guys have painted quite a portrait here. Upbeat dance cuts include "It Is On!," "Emerald City," "There's Always Music," and "La Ciscoteca." Great stuff...! (Rating: 5)

Sarah Vaughan - Sarah Vaughan (DVD, Idem / Music Video Distributors, Jazz/swing/female vocalists)
Sarah Vaughan was, without a doubt, one of the sweetest and smoothest female jazz vocalists ever. This DVD plays tribute to the irresistible sounds of Ms. Vaughan as evidenced in five early film clips. The clips are simple documentaries of Sarah in action. Her approach is subtle yet effective...yet her presence is amazing. Ms. Vaughan's arm and mouth movements are peculiar and remarkable. In some ways, watching Sarah is like watching a calmer, sexier Judy Garland. The lady is a true performer, and it is fitting that a DVD should document the early stages of her career. In addition to the Sarah Vaughan clips, this DVD also features performances by Lena Horne, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ida Cox, Ethel Waters with Count Basie, and The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. So much has been made about the fact that Michael Jackson made a "ground breaking" (ha!) short film that incorporated a music video (Thriller). Strange that no one seems to realize that Bessie Smith did the same thing...and did it much BETTER...way back in 1929 (!). The film short of "Saint Louis Blues" is priceless...and one of the best segments on this disc. Another particularly appealing segment is Lena Horne's "Boogie Woogie Dream" is a fun and fanciful affair in which all kinds of sounds and images are incorporated into the piece. The DVD ends rather appropriately by making a point. Black women weren't always just vocalists...in the case of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, they were the entire band. These ladies have never gained the attention and credit they deserve...so perhaps this disc will help to spread the word about this early and particularly innovative all-girl swing band. This DVD offers a fascinating look back in time at some of the all time greats in action. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Vetiver - Vetiver (CD, DiCristina, Folk/pop)
Some of the songs on Vetiver's self-titled album sound like something Paul McCartney might have recorded very early in his career if he hadn't been so preoccupied with impressing his fans and making money. It is refreshing to know that there are plenty of artists just as good or better who have now taken his place. Make no mistake, however, Vetiver's chief songwriter Andy Cabic is no mere Beatles wannabe. He is, instead, a uniquely talented new artist whose songwriting skills far exceed what one normally hears on the underground horizon. Both his music and his approach are subtle...yet effective. The tunes teeter on that fine line between folk and pop, all the while incorporating wonderfully organic instruments into the mix. Lyrics and melodies are the real draw here, however. The songs on this album have great depth and substance and hold up to many repeated spins. The quality of Cabic's songwriting only becomes apparent after one becomes very familiar with the tunes. The man's vocals are incredible. Absorbing and sincere cuts include "Without A Song," "Los Pajaros del Rio," "Luna Sea," and the incredibly engrossing "On A Nerve." A superb album from start to finish. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Tamas Wells - A Mark on the Pane (CD, Popboomerang, Soft pop)
Soothing reflective melodic pop that is highly reminiscent of the softer side of The Shoes. A Mark on the Pane is the debut album from Australia's Tamas Wells. Previous releases (a single and an EP) sparked good word-of-mouth...prompting producer Tim Whitten to step in to produce this album. In addition to Wells, the band consists of Nathan Collins, Anthony Francis, and Owen Gray. These fellows create heavenly music in the truest sense of the words. Beautiful melodies, dreamy arrangements, and vocals that are virtually out of this world combine to create genuinely satisfying soft pop. True, this music is fairly one-dimensional. But when the dimension sounds this good...who cares? Tamas Wells tunes are crafted to perfection and delivered with real style. We have heard few debut albums that rival this. A Mark on the Pane is bound to set the hearts and minds of soft pop lovers on fire. Cool, memorable cuts include "When Do We Fail Abigail," "Petit Mal at a Grand Occasion," and "If You Bring Me Aubergines." Truly lovely stuff... (Rating: 5+)

The Wildhearts - The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed (CD, Gut, Pop/rock)
One of the best hard pop/rock bands on the planet...has yet to make it big in the United States. The Wildhearts are (not surprisingly) very popular in other...more taste conscious...countries of the world. What is odd about this band is that they aren't really doing anything out of the ordinary or even that particularly original...yet their music somehow possesses strange charismatic traits that send it soaring high into the clouds and beyond. To categorize the band as just another loud guitar-slinging pop/rock band would be a big mistake, because Ginger (the band's main songwriter) and company write songs that absolutely KICK ASS. Soaring melodies and hard driving rhythms merge with hooks galore to create a swirling whirlwind of pure rock bliss. The opening cut ("Nexus Icon") is absolutely absorbing and magnetic. In a perfect world, the song would be a number one hit all over the world. "Only Love" follows in a somewhat softer groove but still throbbing with catchy melodies and heavenly harmonies. The nine cuts that follow are all super H-O-T. Like most Wildhearts discs, The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed plays like a non-stop string of singles. These guys are not playing obtuse noise for the underground crowd. Instead, they play music that is highly accessible. But the amazing part is that they manage to retain pure artistic integrity. After ten years plus of recording music, this band has yet to lose a single ounce of their zippy energy. Killer tracks include "Vanilla Radio," "So Into You," and "Out From the Inside." Highly recommended. (Rating: 5++)

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