Welcome to A&A. There are 26 full reviews in this issue (though one is a faker--April fools!). Click on an artist to jump to the review, or simply scroll through the list. If you want information on any particular release, check out the Label info page. All reviews are written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.

A&A #240 reviews (April 2003)
  • Andrew Happy to Be Here (The Bus Stop Label)
  • Appalachian Death Ride Hobo's Codebook (Anyway)
  • Aurore Rien Telesthesia (SunSeaSky)
  • The Boxing Lesson The Boxing Lesson (Send Me Your Head)
  • Cosmologic Syntaxis Cosmologic Syntaxis (Circumvention)
  • Cursive The Ugly Organ (Saddle Creek)
  • The Eyesores Bent at the Waist (Handsome)
  • FM Knives Useless & Modern (Broken Rekids)
  • Hello Defective Plastic Hearts EP (Element 115)
  • Nathan Hubbard Born on a Tuesday (Circumvention)
  • Hurl Soul Bridge Which Is Your Way? (self-released)
  • Rob McColley A Boy Named Laurie (Legal Records)
  • Midsummer/Coastal This Ageless Night split LP (SunSeaSky)
  • Mr. Dibbs The 30th Song (Rhymesayers)
  • Molasses A Slow Messe (Fancy-Alien 8)
  • Motion City Soundtrack/Schatzi split EP (Doghouse-Redemption)
  • Nineteen Firty-Five I Saw a Bright Light (Daemon)
  • PreFuse 73 One Word Extinguisher (Warp)
  • The Rum Diary A Key to a Slow Time EP (Springman)
  • Sin Ropas Trickboxes on the Pony Line (Sad Robot)
  • The Suggestions Mix Tape (Mr. Duck)
  • Terror Lowest of the Low (Bridge Nine)
  • The Tossers Purgatory (Thick)
  • Various Artists It Came from Louisville 4xCD box set (Touch and Go)
  • Waterdown The files you Have on Me (Victory)
  • Zentropia Zero Mass Calibration (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Happy to be Here
    (The Bus Stop Label)

    Andrew is Andrew Sandoval and a couple of buds. Sandoval writes the music, sings and plays guitar and other odd instruments. Ric Menck handles the drumming and David Nolte slaps a nicely rolling bass.

    As Bus Stop aficionados already should have guessed, Andrew sails the wide pop seas. Sweet, gorgeous melodies and pleasant harmonies. You know those scenes in movies where couples lie around in a meadow and watch the clouds float by? Andrew's music is perfect for just such an occasion.

    There are those who might find this stuff a bit too saccharine, I suppose, but since I'm one who is easily put off by sappy stuff I'd say Andrew puts enough vigor into this stuff to stave off such a reaction. Yeah, the tunes are impossibly light, but there is substance that keeps them grounded.

    Happy music. Stuff that manages to please without pandering or resorting to insipid cliches. Andrew simply makes music that will leave a smile on even the most dour of countenances. Purty purty purty, man.

    The Bus Stop Label
    2738A S. Shore Drive
    Milwaukee, WI 53207
    e-mail: thebusstoplabel@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.busstoplabel.com

    Appalachian Death Ride
    Hobo's Codebook
    (Anyway Records)

    Imagine a nice little punky roots country band, complete with fiddle and a strange affection for the 70s. Sorta like a down home Dixie Dregs without all the prog excesses.

    Rather, these songs ride home on strummed guitar riffs that remind me of Eleventh Dream Day and Uncle Tupelo. Great anthems, which would be more reminiscent of the former, but that guitar sound is straight outta Still Feel Gone.

    Ah, but the layers of distortion and blistering guitar solos are more along the Neil Youngish lines of EDD. Then comes the fiddle and banjo and all that, which makes these boys something original unto themselves.

    Which is what I mean to say, anyways. Appalachian Death Ride hails from Chicago, and it plays a fine amalgam of American music. These songs are insistently great. They hook almost immediately and don't let up. A few seconds is all it takes to fall under the spell.

    Anyway Records
    P.O. Box 90218
    Gainesville, FL 30267

    Aurore Rien

    This trio has been listening to a lot of Dirty Three and June of 44, with plenty of Sonic Youth thrown in. No, there isn't a fiddle player, but the band's tendency toward grand statement is what I was thinking of with that first reference. Four songs here, and they manage to roll on for almost 35 minutes. I barely noticed.

    Languid is a nice word to use when describing the sound. There's a quiet intensity to the pieces, a sharp focus that hides a bit behind some of the most entrancing waves of sound I've heard in a while.

    Aurore Rien doesn't make me marvel at the complexity of the sound. There are three members of the band, and that's quite apparent. The lack of studio accouterments, however, allows the precise thought processes behind the songs to bloom more fully.

    You know I love to talk about musical lines and the wonderment of points of intersection. I enjoy the lines themselves here so much that Aurore Rein almost makes me forget to listen for the moments of tension. Quite a fine little disc.

    SunSeaSky Productions
    307 West Lake Drive
    Random Lake, WI 53075
    www: http://www.sunseasky.com

    The Boxing Lesson
    The Boxing Lesson EP
    (Send Me Your Head)

    The Boxing Lesson plays some of the coolest, most meditative stuff I've heard in some time. The four songs here are relatively long (two clock in a more than six minutes), but there's very little excess. Rather, the deliberate style allows the ideas to unfold at an appropriate pace.

    The songs are moody, but they're not morose. And they're anything but dull. The Boxing Lesson proves that slow and thoughtful music doesn't have to be deadly dull. Not at all. Just gives folks like me a better opportunity to figure out what's going on.

    The sorta disc that would go well with a bourbon and ice. Let the cubes melt halfway and then begin to sip. Unconsciousness will take you slowly, and you'll enjoy every minute of it.

    Send Me Your Head Records
    1337 1/2 Laveta Terrace
    Los Angeles, CA 90026
    www: http://www.theboxinglesson.com

    Cosmologic Syntaxis
    Cosmologic Syntaxis

    When you're in college, the natural impulse is to experiment. Good thing, too. These four UCSD students play jazz on their own terms. They pick and choose from their favorite influences (there seems to be a particular affinity for the whole John Coltrane/Miles Davis axis--that's a broad spectrum, but I think it holds together) and then fuse them into something completely new.

    Sometimes the stuff works, and sometimes it's merely interesting. I like the way Michael Dessen often teams his trombone with James Robinson's tenor sax. The two instruments are naturally friendly toward one another, and using them in tandem really highlights some cool melodies.

    Scott Walton's bass is a bit lost in the mix, but when I can make it out it really helps to hold together some of the more "out there" moments. And while Nathan Hubbard must feel a bit underused as the percussionist, unlike many drummers he doesn't mind hanging out off the beat if that's what it takes to make a song really work.

    These guys are not at the height of their powers. They're just beginning to figure out how to really play and how to write songs that fit their talents. Nonetheless, I hear a lot of potential. Anyone who is willing to try as many things as these boys do is off to the right start.

    Circumvention Music
    P.O. Box 948609
    La Jolla, CA 92037
    Phone (858) 205-8859
    www: http://www.circumventionmusic.com

    The Ugly Organ
    (Saddle Creek)

    Nearly ten years ago I first discovered the glory of the Wrens, one of the greatest pop bands of all time. Cursive takes a similarly adventurous approach to the form, imbuing each song with an infectious energy.

    Further proof that Nebraska has long been underappreciated in terms of bands. Cursive's innovation is the heavy use of cello, which adds more color to the bottom end of the sound. There's a bit more than just an electric bass rumbling down there.

    The sound is so utterly live that it isn't hard to imagine the band recording these songs in one take. The stuff just jumps out of the speakers, which makes the already blistering songs acquire that much more power.

    I love the Wrens. Cursive is just as intense, only in different ways. And anyone who is willing to completely reinvent pop songs as these dark musings is a good friend of mine. A most impressive accomplishment.

    Saddle Creek
    P.O. Box 8554
    Omaha, NE 68108-0554
    www: http://www.saddle-creek.com

    The Eyesores
    Bent at the Waist

    Did you know that Tom Waits began his career as a country song writer? Okay, so he wrote songs like "Looks Like We're Up Shit Creek Again," the kinda song that Patsy Cline probably wouldn't record, but still, it was country. The Eyesores play Tom Waits kinda country.

    When your lead singer plays accordion, and the rest of the folks play a wide variety of stringed instruments--drums come in only occasionally--chances are the songs are going to sound interesting. The bass is a stand up, and banjo rivals guitar for frequency of use. There is something of the demented cabaret sound to the songs.

    Not unlike Waits's recent efforts, actually. The Eyesores aren't aping anyone, not in the least, but Waits is the closest reference I can come up with. In truth, the Eyesores have created something truly warped and wonderful here, something that no one else has quite attempted.

    And man, does it work. So I'm a sucker for the exemplary use of accordion and other unusual instruments. If the songs sucked, the strangeness of the instrumentation wouldn't matter. But these songs are inspired lunacy, with plenty of sweat behind them. Beguiling, to say the least.

    Handsome Records
    P.O. Box 603106
    Providence, RI 02906
    www: http://www.handsomerecords.com

    FM Knives
    Useless & Modern
    (Broken Rekids)

    What might have been if the Ramones decided to be a lo-fi garage band rather than a somewhat souped-up punk band. The FM Knives rely on much the same sort of understated and simple melody structure and highly aggressive (if decidedly basic) guitar riffage.

    I know the garage thing is a big trend. One that's probably already lost its bloom. After all, the standardbearer albums aren't exactly great (despite incomprehensibly good reviews), and a lot of these bands sound the same. FM Knives have managed to carve out their own corner of this sound quite nicely.

    For starters, these guys know how to write songs. Yes, the construction is simple and the charm relies on energetic playing, but these songs would work if they were arranged for Joan Baez. They've got life, that special something that pricks up the ear and turns up the corners of the lips into a smile.

    Will FM Knives change the world? Are they as good as the Ramones? Does it matter? Nope to all three questions. This is a nice little unpretentious album that kicks some ass. Which is pretty damned good in my book.

    Broken Rekids
    P.O. Box 460402
    San Francisco, CA 94146-0402
    www: http://www.brokenrekids.com

    Hello Defective
    Plastic Hearts EP
    (Element 115)

    Over the last few years I received two EPs from something called ESP All-Stars. A band which, according to the minimal liners, "consists mostly of Kirby and Armitage." These boys played gorgeous distorted pop in the manner of latter-day Flaming Lips. And they, too, are from Oklahoma City. Interestingly enough, they met because Kirby saw Armitage wearing a bootleg Mercury Rev t-shirt that Kirby had sold at local record stores. Talk about divine intervention, or at the very least blind luck.

    So now I get an EP from something called Hello Defective, which also seems to consist mostly of Kirby and Armitage. Four songs (as seems to be the norm) which are almost transcendently beautiful in their dissonance and distortion. Oh, yeah, there are some wondrous melodies flitting about as well.

    And so, despite the awesome weirdness that two bands from central Oklahoma might actually play awesome wigged-out psychedelic pop, this continues to be the case. The name has changed, but Hello Defective still knows how to play the game. Apparently a full-length is due in the near future. Not soon enough, in my estimation.

    Element 115
    P.O. Box 2754
    Oklahoma City, OK 73101
    Phone (405) 408-4686
    www: http://www.hellodefective.com

    Nathan Hubbard
    Born on Tuesday

    And now we come to point in our broadcast where Jon spoos all over an album that maybe a thousand people will have the balls to buy. Nathan Hubbard is, for the most part, a percussionist, though he augments his rattlings with some cool electronic bits just for the hell of it. Careful readers will also remember him as (i my words) the somewhat underused percussionist in Cosmologic Syntaxis. When you've got an outlet like this, there's no need to hog time in another band.

    The percussion in question is something along the lines of jazz. Hubbard isn't one of those freaky guys who simply makes noise for the sake of noise (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course). Rather, he's tightly composed these pieces (or, at least, loosely composed them), which nicely showcases his wide-ranging skills and ideas.

    Yes, there is a lot of banging and pinging and such. That's the nature of these kinda projects. But Hubbard's skill keeps everything coherent, and since he's the only one playing a damned thing, there's an eerie feeling of dementia that never quite fades into the background.

    Me, I like such single-minded lunacy. It means someone really gives a shit about their music. Every once in a while, such pigheadedness actually results in a great album. Like this one. If you thought percussion was just drums, well, Hubbard will set you straight. There are enough sounds here to populate an orchestra.

    Circumvention Music
    P.O. Box 948609
    La Jolla, CA 92037
    www: http://www.circumventionmusic.com

    Hurl Soul Bridge
    Which Is Your Way?

    Before I go any further, let me say that a band releasing its own disc really oughta at least include a web site address, if not full contact information, on the packaging. Somewhere. Anywhere. I know, it looks cool, calculating and commercial, but c'mon folks, someone has to know where to call to congratulate the folks on a good album, right? (You'll note that there is contact info at the end of the review; the band was kind enough to point out to me that the phone number for their management is listed on the back of the CD--my bad--and it also threw in its web site for good measure).

    Of course, Hurl Soul Bridge is fronted by a guy named Roadie (at least, he wrote all the lyrics, so I figure that's him with the Gram Parsons-esque voice), so maybe good music is all you can ask for, after all. In any case, these songs are tres-Burrito, some tasty alt. country bits that take their time to develop.

    Perhaps the coolest part about the sound is that it is so round. No one felt the need to sharpen things up or, as they say nowadays, put a little garage in it. Just to classic new wave country style of the late 60s and early 70s, played by folks who really can, um, play.

    Great stuff for kicking back and watching the ice melt in the bourbon. Hurl Soul Bridge doesn't write simple songs, but the ease of delivery makes this album go down dreadfully smoothly. I'll take my own leave now.

    Big Park Management
    Phone (310) 729-8832
    e-mail: roadie@hurlsoulbridge.com
    www: http://www.hurlsoulbridge.com

    Rob McColley
    A Boy Named Laurie
    (Legal Records)

    Depending on what exactly you read in the liners, the artist that performed this music is Rob McColley, Laurie McColley or Robert Laurie. My guess is that we're talking about a certain Robert Laurie McColley, but I'm not going out on a limb. I decided to go with the info on the spine.

    Nomenclature aside, McColley is hardly confused. He plays dense, bouncy pop music thick with hooks and not above the occasional pun or silly joke. Maybe the plethora of names is just another manifestation of McColley's penchant for loopiness. Makes sense to me.

    The lyrics may be loopy, loony or simply underhanded, but the music is dead solid straight. I did note the bounce that often comes in the bass, but McColley has a fine handle on the grand pop sound. These songs sound important, and sometimes they even are despite the superficial wackiness of the lyrics.

    A tough album to fully appreciate in just a listen or two, and that always bodes well. There's so much here to hear, and I'm afraid I just scratched the surface. Maybe that's just anticipation masquerading as fear, because this puppy is going to be cruising my discer for a long time to come.


    This Ageless Night split LP

    I'm familiar with Coastal from an album on Words on Music a couple years back. Like the folks a lot. Midsummer is new to my ears, and I'm simply blown away.

    Contemplative rock is something of an undercurrent in a wide variety of scenes. It's always been around, but most folks don't seem to notice it. Like Coastal, Midsummer reminds me a lot of Seam and other similar bands. Thing is, these folks really give the sound a big rush. Kinda like if Three Mile Pilot channeled its tangents into sweeping themes instead. Yep, this stuff is pretty damned great.

    And lest I jilt the band I came with, Coastal's five pieces don't let me down. I had an idea of what to expect, and for the most part these songs exceed my premonitions. Coastal is much more minimalist than Midsummer, and that makes for a nice counterpoint to the second half of the album. A loosening of the tensions without actually lessening the train of thought.

    A fine pairing, and a fine album. These are two bands that have moved past "potential" and are beginning to deliver. Thoughtful music that is strikingly moving as well.

    SunSeaSky Productions
    307 West Lake Drive
    Random Lake, WI 53075
    www: http://www.sunseasky.com

    Mr. Dibbs
    The 30th Song
    (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

    The first of two DJ projects I'm reviewing in this issue. Mr. Dibbs plays things pretty straight, blasting out some slammin' (literally) beats and dropping in nice bits of conversation here and there.

    That conversation could be a sample from some sort of instructional filmstrip or a little singing or, well, something Mr. Dibbs found on the street. Truth is, it's hard to say what to expect from the next song, except that the beat work will be solid.

    Hey, anyone who combines slick grooves with a slice of Grace Slick (at Woodstock, I think, though I'm not an expert on Jefferson Airplane or that particular festival) surely has something cool going on.

    If you want the full effect, you're gonna actually have to pay attention. But the beauty of this disc is that the mindless folks out there can simply jam on the beats and not worry about all the wildness in between. I prefer the entire picture, of course, but then, that's my job. This is first rate work, folks.

    Rhymesayers Entertainment
    2411 Hennepin Ave. S.
    Minneapolis, MN 55405
    e-mail: info@rhymesayers.com
    www: http://www.rhymesayers.com

    A Slow Messe 2xCD
    (Fancy-Alien 8)

    So I get this package from Fancy and I know it must be a Molasses album. I rip the envelope open and take hold of the elegantly appointed contents. And it hits me. This isn't a Molasses album. It's a Molasses double album! I coulda died happy.

    Well, maybe I still want to get a novel published and go to tea with Susan Sarandon, but still and all, this was pretty good. When I put the discs in my player, the sensation returned, only moreso.

    For those who missed my orgasmic reviews of the first two Molasses efforts, this collective of musicians (there are seven regulars and almost twice as many guests) plays experimental noise alt. country. That's perhaps the dullest and least interesting description imaginable, but I think it does get the point across. Well, except for the fact of the band's utter brilliance, of course.

    The pieces are often morose and tinged with a decided flavor of evil. Maybe just an aftertaste, really, as the feeling I get after listening to this stuff is one of hope and redemption. Maybe not today, but sometime before our planet passes into oblivion. Until then, of course, life consists mostly of disappointment and loss, but it's not without startling moments of stark beauty.

    I sure do hope all this rambling is making sense to someone. I don't know of any other band that can take me away to an entirely different existence as quickly as Molasses. I get lost in the songs almost immediately, and often my own consciousness doesn't return until long after the final note has faded to black. Bleak has never come in so many vibrant colors.

    P.O. Box 493
    Place du Parc
    Montreal, PQ H2X 4A5

    Alien 8
    e-mail: alien8@alien8recordings.com
    www: http://www.alien8recordings.com

    Motion City Soundtrack

    split EP

    Two bands whose stripped-down old school approach to emo is almost archaic. The commitment to anthemic choruses and the occasional nice melody remains, but the focus (to my hears) is on how the parts of the band work together.

    Motion City Soundtrack is the more adventurous of the two. Of course, its songs were recorded last year, while Schatzi put down its tracks in the summers of 2000 and 2001. Still, there is a solid resonance between each band's work.

    I ought mention that Schatzi throws in a decidedly straight rendition of "Any Way You Want It" that still sounds punk. Must be the flat tone on the guitars. Very cool. A nice way to wrap up a fun set of songs. This puppy is way too short.

    P.O. Box 8946
    Toledo, OH 43623
    Phone (419) 726-5512
    www: http://www.doghouserecords.com

    The Redemption Recording Co.
    P.O. Box 10238
    Beverly Hills, CA 90213
    www: http://www.redemption.net

    Nineteen Forty-Five
    I Saw a Bright Light

    I think I said something in my review of the most recent Nineteen Forty-Five album that I wanted to hear Katherine McElroy's voice a bit more often. I don't know if a lot of folks mentioned this as well, but she does seem to do a bit more singing on this album. Of course, Nineteen Forty-Five is hardly about vocals.

    Not that McElroy and Hunter Manasco don't have cool pipes. Both seem to have a strong aversion to singing in tune. In fact, most of the vocal work here sounds more shouted than sung. But no matter. These folks have a line on what made the "indie rock" of the 80s so cool. Take a simple idea, drag it in the dirt for a while and then play the hell out of it.

    There is an energy which carries these records, an energy which remains constant no matter the tempo or mood of the song. As soon as I hear a Nineteen Forty-Five song (or anything off the second Three Finger Cowboy album, for that matter), all the hairs in my ears stand up straight, ready to receive vital sonic information. Maybe I'm weird, but this music strikes me in the most basic of ways. I simply cannot control my response.

    Which is overwhelming. To say I am in love with this band and what it does is an understatement. As of yet, I've been unable to burn out on these folks no matter how many times I play everything I've got from them. This makes me rather compromised when it comes to making a value judgment on the music, but hell, for what it's worth I think these folks are one of the greatest bands rolling right now.

    Daemon Records
    P.O. Box 1207
    Decatur, GA 30031
    Phone (404) 373-5733
    Fax [404] 370-1660
    www: http://www.daemonrecords.com

    Prefuse 73
    One Word Extinguisher

    Scott Herren returns, dragging along friends like Dabrye and Tommy Guerrero and Mr. Lif and Diverse. Herren is the DJ, and his pals add some color--be it rhymes, guitar or whatnot.

    There's always a big load of whatnot in what Herren does as PreFuse 73 (if you aren't familiar with the guy, the name comes from Herren's love of jazz before the advent of fusion). And despite his stage moniker, it's pretty safe to say that the work on his albums are a fine fusion of r&b, hip-hop, jazz and cutting-edge electronic fare.

    This album follows in those tracks. The musical ideas within the songs are as adventurous as ever, though I have to say that this puppy is rather infectious. I know, creative work can still appeal to the masses, but this set of songs seems a bit more mainstream-ready than earlier work.

    Which isn't to say that you'll be hearing any PreFuse 73 on a Clear Channel station near you. But if you're in the mood to take a step away from the ordinary without abandoning your senses, well, Herren is waiting for you. I've never failed to be astonished by the thought within the PreFuse discs, and that's why I'm always happy to recommend them without hesitation. Worthy of adulation.

    Warp Records
    503 8th Ave.
    4th Floor
    Brooklyn, NY 11215
    www: http://www.warprecords.com

    The Rum Diary
    A Key to a Slow Time EP

    Noodly pop tunes that are strangely reminiscent of Heavy Vegetable run through a June of 44 filter. The lyrics are simplistic and at times loopy; the melodic structure is complex but languid. The results are, not surprisingly, quite compelling.

    The boys themselves call this puppy an EP, but even though there are only five songs the entire collection clocks in at more than 33 minutes. Sure, the last 12 are part of an extremely extended final track, but the thing does hold together.

    Whatever you call it, this disc is impressive. The Rum Diary likes to toy with its music, poking and prodding until the innards are exposed. Most of the time the boys put their toys back together, but every once in a while there is deconstruction left unrequited. Those are the parts I like the best.

    I don't think I mentioned the sometimes spacey elements. There are some electronic accompaniments that really help to make this stuff take off. These songs are so pretty it's frightening. Just the kinda scare I like to have.

    Springman Records
    P.O. Box 2043
    Cupertino, CA 95015-2043

    Sin Ropas
    Trickboxes on the Pony Line
    (Sad Robot)

    A duo which did most of its recording in Germany--but some in Chicago. I'm guessing there's some sort of military connection, though the music is hardly martial in any sense. I'm just going on the addresses.

    Maybe one of the guys just likes Germany. That's cool, too. Anyway, these dark little songs rumble on about plenty of personal subjects, often using sweets as metaphors in the titles ("Butter on Cane," "Syrup Coat," "Candy Cobra" and "Crumbs"). I like the thematic consistency.

    I also like the way Timothy Hurley and Danni Iosello populate their songs with all sorts of distended sonic objects. The odd clunk or squawk here and there, and sometimes the noises even constitute a twisted sort of descant. Sometimes the best melodies are only hinted at by the musicians themselves.

    There is an element of connect the dots to these songs. I like that. When an album forces me to think it requires that I get personally involved. Sin Ropas isn't for everyone, but anyone who takes it on will not forget the experience. Let the songs crawl into your ears and rearrange your brain. As you pick up the pieces, you'll discover even more things you never thought you heard in the first place.

    Sad Robot
    P.O. Box 3171
    Seattle, WA 98114
    www: http://www.sadrobotrecords.com

    The Suggestions
    Mix Tape EP
    (Mr. Duck)

    Let's get one thing straight right off: The Suggestions don't really mix it up. This is classy, assured, smooth pop with just enough guitar crunch to keep the songs honest. The boys don't go around trying different things. Know what? That's cool with me. Given that this is John Brodeur's new project, well, I oughta have guessed it would be pretty damned decent.

    The guys do a version of George Harrison's "Art of Dying," which is one of the first such tributes I've heard. The rendition here is transcendently beautiful and also manages put a new face to an old chestnut. While it's plain to hear that Suggestions are highly influenced by Harrison's soft but firm grasp on pop music, the music here apes no one but rather creates its own space.

    I think the most important word in my description up top is "assured." When you play stuff like this, it's important to do so with confidence. Any sort of indecision would have made these songs insipid. The Suggestions know what they're doing, and they do it very well, indeed.

    Mr. Duck
    P.O. Box 8961
    Albany, NY 12208
    www: http://www.thesuggestions.com

    Lowest of the Low EP
    (Bridge Nine)

    My own personal take on extreme hardcore is that the stuff has to get your blood going. Thus, fast stuff with exciting (and often catchy) riffage is what really grabs my ears. If the music actually has something to say, well, that's a nice bonus. Terror scores on all fronts.

    Reminds me a lot of early Anthrax, though this stuff is much better produced. There are some fine, throbbing mosh moments (there's a term I haven't used in ages!). Nothing complicated, just fire-breathing guitar licks and pile-driving rhythms. The power is palpable.

    And the songs themselves are some of the better alienation anthems I've heard in a while. Maybe "You think you fucking know me, but you don't know a fucking thing" isn't Milton or Yeats, but it does pack a nice punch of its own. These guys don't fuck around. Which is one of the reasons I really dig this disc.

    Bridge Nine Records
    P.O. Box 990052
    Boston, MA 02199-0052
    www: http://www.bridge9.com

    The Tossers

    A batch of folks who play relatively traditional Irish reels. Cover art by Jon Langford of the Mekons. Put out on Thick. The sort of album that might to prove to unbelievers that Chicago is, indeed, the spiritual center of the musical universe.

    When I refer to this stuff as traditional, I must admit that there are a few modern concessions. Electric bass, for example, and a high usage of mandolin. Still, the fiddle and tin whistle do evoke a certain Irish air, and the music itself sounds reasonably authentic to me.

    But why am I stumbling all over myself here? Good music is good music, regardless of roots or the tightness of connections to the "old country." The Tossers play a very enjoyable sort of Irish music. I'm not inclined to like this kinda thing; if I find myself a nice "Irish" pub, I always pray that some dingbat with a fake brogue doesn't step up to a microphone before I've finished my Murphy's. After hearing this disc, I'd love to have the Tossers accompany a pint or few.

    An album that goes down easy. I can't really put my finger on why I actually like this disc, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Tossers don't seem overly concerned with authenticity (whatever that might mean). These folks just want to play good music. And so they have.

    Thick Records
    409 N. Wolcott Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60622
    www: http://www.thickrecords.com

    Various Artists
    It Came from Louisville 4xCD box set
    (Touch and Go)

    A lot of people don't know it (or simply haven't put thirteen and nineteen together), but a lot of what passes as "Chicago" music these days has its roots in Louisville. I've got cousins who live in Louisville, and they claim that the town had been dead for years. Of course, they live in a suburb that's closer to Nashville than downtown Louisville, but still.

    I've often referred to this sound as the "Slint/Rodan axis," but that's not giving enough credit to Squirrelbait. In fact, in terms of commercial success, the latter probably scored bigger than any other--though not as Squirrelbait itself. After all, Big Wheel (Peter Searcy's first post-Bait project) was on a major label and received plenty of attention, and Britt Wolford (who also did a bit of skin-bashing for Slint) was the first drummer for the Breeders (she recorded under the name Shannon Doughton, for reasons that aren't quite clear to me).

    Ah, but that's not where the best stuff lies. David Grubbs went on to both Bastro and Bitch Magnet before embarking on a career as experimental music troubadour extraordinaire. Brian McMahan played with Slint and also produced the Rodan album. Rodan, of course, begat such luminaries as Tara Jane ONeil, Jeffery Mueller and Jason Noble. Mueller went on to June of 44, and he and Noble are now proud proprietors of Shipping News. That's but one leg of the story, though. Wil Oldham is from Louisville originally (he even shot the cover for Spiderland, believe it or not), and so that whole Palace thing (with which just about every member of Squirrelbait and Slint played at one time or another) also can claim Louisville as ancestral home. There's even a track here from Billy Corgan's new band Zwan, which features David Pajo (he once of Slint and a thousand other projects).

    Is this set complete? Of course not. I wish there was a bit more attention paid to today's bands from Louisville--kids who aren't all that far from what Squirrelbait was doing some 20 years ago. But does this set do justice to the weird musical legacy still being created by a certain passel of Louisville musical sluggers? Oh yeah. There are those that might call Louisville the cradle of modern American music. If this set helps to shed light on what, up to now, has been a sadly overlooked chapter in the history of rock and roll (and its mutant cousins), well, hot damn.

    Touch and Go
    P.O. Box 25520
    Chicago, IL 60625
    Phone (773) 388-8888
    Fax [773] 388-3888

    The Files You Have on Me

    Hardcore has come a long ways since the time of Black Flag and similar contemporaries. What started out as untrammeled anger and angst has evolved into a wide variety of sounds and feels. Waterdown tries its damnedest to hit on each and every one.

    And so there is some extreme riffage, a healthy dose of melody and more than a little Refused-style dissonance. I'm not talking about changes from song to song, but from measure to measure within each piece. The writing here is complex and involved, and the playing is intense.

    But it all comes together. This is no mish-mash without purpose. Rather, Waterdown simply wants to use all of the tools at its disposal to make its many incisive points. Believe me when I say no band sounds anything like Waterdown.

    I mean, who can shift from a little art hardcore (a la the Ex) straight into an emo-esque melodic passage--and make it really sing! I've liked these guys from the first import disc I heard a couple years back. This album is an extension and refinement of those earlier ideas. Greatness confirmed.

    346 North Justine
    Suite 504
    Chicago, IL 60607
    Phone (888) 447-3267
    Fax [312] 666-8665

    Zero Mass Calibration

    If you like your experimental electronic fare on the spacey, yet rhythmic, side, Zentropia should do nicely. This disc is chock full of some of the finest construction I've heard in some time.

    Edgy, but not really out there. And that's okay. If you're gonna spin a few new ideas, it doesn't hurt to put them in the context of vague normality. And so while there are lots of side trips to unknown regions, the songs themselves are still fairly easily accessible by the masses.

    I keep getting Pigface flashes, but this stuff really isn't all that industrial. It's more along the lines of the post-Skinny Puppy project Download. Plenty of noise, but the bass and drum machines still keep time.

    There are moments where it pays to let go, and experienced sonic drifters will appreciate the final two tracks here for those very reasons. The disc as a whole is chock full of creativity, and it's displayed in a most attractive package. Intriguing and fun, two descriptions that generally don't go together.

    Crystaleyezed Fine Arts
    2887 College Ave. #430
    Berkeley, CA 94705
    www: http://www.zentropia.com

    Also recommended:

    Benna What's Meant to Be (Adult Swim)
    Benna's got that waifish, Eurostyle ethereal way of singing. She lays it over hipster swinging power pop. I like this in small doses. Benna does a nice job of selling her songs, though I wish the production was a bit less cloying. Still, more than interesting enough to recommend.

    Caustic Resin Keep on Truckin (Up)
    These boys covered an Argent song on their last album, and this disc is a further dip into the spacey, majestic and excessive rock of the 70s. That I happen to love this sound is almost beside the point, as this disc stands up quite well on its own. Caustic Resin adds one more into the win column.

    Consumed Pistols at Dawn (BYO)
    Ultra-tight and super clean, this disc from Consumed is almost metallic in its precision. Luckily, the band is talented enough to sully the sound enough to retain a nice punk sensibility. Great melodies and hooks that set tight and mean make this a most pleasurable experience.

    Ernesto Diaz-Infante Ernesto Diaz-Infante (Pax Recordings)
    Something of a catch-all disc that travels through a good many of Diaz-Infante's thoughts and musical journeys. The results are scattershot, more in sound than quality. The guy likes to try new things, and this disc is full of sounds that I never even imagined existed. No one can accuse Diaz-Infante of playing it safe.

    Dropsonic The Big Nothing (54-40 or Fight!)
    A more straightforward rock band than you might expect from this eclectic label. Dropsonic delves deep into the rockin' blooze, throws in plenty of electronic bits and pieces and bashes out a fine set. Fun and unpretentious, strangely enough. A real pleasure.

    Chris Katris Songs From the Basement (self-released)
    Demo-quality recordings that still manage to charm. Katris is one hell of a songwriter (he's got a nice handle on the uptempo downer, if you know what I mean), and those songs sparkle despite a decided lack of studio expertise.
    www: http://www.chriskatris.com

    Kill Henry Sugar Sell This Place (Surprise Truck)
    Haunting proto-folk songs. Kill Henry Sugar is Erik Della Penna (he wrote the songs) and Dean Sharenow (he produced). I'm not sure how the work is split, but this duo produces some really nice moments. I've liked what these folks have done in the past, and this disc only confirms that impression.

    Malade de Souci MMMMM-bbaa (No Sides)
    The album title really says it all. This disc supposedly contains 92 tracks. The "songs" have titles like "mmo" and "mmoomm." In reality, everything blurs together into a wild melange of noise. Wildly incoherent, but still I am drawn to the mordant energy of the band. Only for the most adventurous of folks.

    NOFX Regaining Unconsciousness EP (Fat Wreck Chords)
    Three songs from the upcoming War on Errorism, another piece called "Hardcore 84" and a preview of said upcoming album. Unless you're a freaky completist, the album (due next month) will probably suffice (the songs here are quite good), but do check out the preview track. It's hilarious.

    Roman Evening Tiny Ladies (Bitter Stag)
    Exceptionally well-crafted songs. Mostly piano-based, which is interesting enough all by itself. Roman Evening plays a sort of mellow-yet-complex pop-rock that I don't hear often. Absolutely gorgeous and immediately entrancing.

    Rubber City Rebels Pierce My Brain (Smog Veil)
    Utterly cheap and sleazy punk. Simplistic riffage and stupid jokes played with utter abandon. Simply put, this is a major guilty pleasure for me. The complete and total lack of redeeming virtues simply makes me smile all the wider. I can't make myself hit the stop button. So I guess I'll sit here and run through this puppy another time.

    Brandon Sahm Good Thoughts are Better than Laxatives (Purocrema)
    The album title should be enough to know that Brandon Sahm inherited his father's decidedly off-kilter sense of humor. The music itself is a wild mix of prog, country and hard rock riffage that gets more appealing with every listen. He may not yet quite be able to live up to Doug Sahm's legacy, but this disc shows plenty of potential.

    The Sun Love & Death EP (Warner Brothers)
    Yes, this is another attempt by the major labels to cash in on the whole garage thing. Problem is, the Sun refuses to play things simply. What starts out as a raucous journey very quickly degenerates into an amusing trek through some highly fertile thinking. The Sun is probably too good to sell a lot of records, but then again, you never know.

    Trumans Water The Singles 1992-1997 (No Sides)
    Just what the title says. This is a collection of stuff Trumans Water put out on 7" back in the mid 90s. If you don't know the band, well, maybe you ought to start with something with a bit more cohesion. These folks are an excellent example of the ol' no wave movement, whereby a wide variety of musicians made some of the most excellent and inexplicable music around. A nice way to catch up with an old friend.

    Vermilion Flattening Mountains and Creating Empires (Redwood)
    Four songs, forty minutes. The cover is by Roger Dean (he of all those Yes covers, etc.). The music is a tres-proggy version of the Chicago noise-rock school. And yes, Steve Albini twisted knobs. I'm not entirely sure this stuff is as good as its press claims (comparisons to Slint, etc.), but it is pretty darned good, nonetheless.

    Mark Winkler Sings Bobby Troup (Rhombus)
    Bobby Troup wrote "Route 66" and a bunch of other hipster stuff back in the 1950s and early 1960s. He didn't quit writing--one of his later compositions is included here--but his time had passed. Winkler does his best to swing up (in a traditional saloon jazz sense) 13 Troup tunes. He does a fine job of illustrating the time which embraced these songs.

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