Welcome to A&A. There are 17 reviews in this issue. 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.

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A&A #263 reviews
(April 2005)
  • Animal Planet Special Care (Lap Records)
  • AqPop Beautifully Smart (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • Mike Comfort Free (self-released)
  • Dallas Orbiter Magnesium Fireflies (Princess)
  • Kevin Devine Split the Country, Split the Streets (Triple Crown)
  • Good Goodbyes Good Goodbyes EP (Omnibus)
  • Grayskul Deadlivers (Rhymesayers)
  • Hard Skin Same Meat Different Gravy (TKO)
  • The Heavenly Music Association Shaping the Invisible (Rehash)
  • Motormark Chrome Tape (Digital Hardcore)
  • A Northern Chorus Bitter Hands Resign (Sonic Unyon)
  • Parlour Hives Fives (Temporary Residence)
  • David Poe Love Is Red (self-released)
  • Amy Ray Prom (Daemon)
  • Robert M Robert M (Accretions)
  • Screamfeeder Take You Apart (Rhythm Ace)
  • The Secret Process Telecommute (K&H)
  • On the slab: Vinyl-only releases
  • Come together: Compilations, etc.
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Animal Planet
    Special Care CD5
    (Lap Records)

    Three songs from this British foursome. While the sound isn't exactly trademark Britpop, the wide range of sounds and general whimsical nature of the pieces certainly gives a few hints.

    The tunesmithing is impeccable, which leaves the band plenty of leash to play with. Even when the folks completely cut loose (large portions of "Pamela Anne," for example), there is enough structure to keep the song moving along nicely.

    This is the sort of short introduction that leaves me wanting to hear much more. Can Animal Planet sustain this level of quality and whimsy over an entire album? Will the songs continue to surprise, or will they begin to sound the same? Only the future knows.

    Lap Records
    43 College St.
    Sury St. Edmunds
    Suffolk IP33 1Nl
    United Kingdom
    www: http://www.laprecords.co.uk

    Beautifully Smart
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    Trippy, rocking pop music. You know, like the Aluminum Group on Prozac. And damn if that needs much explanation.

    AqPop blips through a wide array of keyboard- (or piano or organ or whatever) driven songs. When the organ takes the lead, there's a wonderful late 60s vibe. When the piano is more prevalent, the feel is more 70s. When the more synth-style keyboard sound drops in, the sound whips around from new wave to laptop and then back again.

    Which is to say these people play a lot of different styles, and they make them all sound good. The songs are mannered, but not at all stilted. Rather, the energy of the band ensures a vibrant feel to the album. No flagging during this one.

    It's never too early to get a summer album. This one is perfect for putting the top down (or ripping off the top with a cutting torch) and hitting the back roads. Don't forget to smile.

    Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records
    P.O. Box 1035
    Panama City, FL 32402
    www: http://www.hhbtm.com

    Mike Comfort

    Not too long ago, Mike Comfort was in a band called Thirst. It disbanded without recording, and so Comfort took his songs and recorded this disc. That was a very good idea.

    I will warn regular readers that Comfort is definitely a commercial artist. He does the stuff so damned well, though, that I simply don't care. This is fine AAA stuff--just enough guitar to sound rockin', anthemic choruses and a soft buff on the production. I know, normally I use discs like this for skeet practice. But this guy is good.

    Truth be told, if major labels would sign people with this much talent and then allow them to record albums with this much intensity, no one would be talking about a drop in sales. The reason people don't buy so many CDs is because there are so many crappy CDs being released. Mike Comfort is someone who could reverse that trend.

    Not everyone wants to be the next important artist. Some folks simply write and play solid music. That's what Mike Comfort does. He's so good, even my cynical ear melts, if just for a moment.

    www: http://www.mikecomfort.com

    Dallas Orbiter
    Magnesium Fireflies

    There's something about Minnesota that seems to inspire kids to play uptempo, off-kilter music. Think about it; even the most famous musical denizens of the Twin Cities are considered weird, if not demented. And hell, anyone who would call an album "Magnesium Fireflies" can't be all well.

    That's cool with me. Dallas Orbiter does depart a bit from the formula I described above. While the songs here are decidedly off-kilter--trending somewhere between straight up psychedelia and simple dementia--the boys aren't afraid to be contemplative when necessary. Always, though, with an attendant boot to the head.

    These boys aren't weird for the sake of being weird, though. There's a method to the lunacy. The songs make more sense than the sounds that make them up, if that makes any sense at all. Sometimes it helps to be able to assemble a song after it has passed, but hey, isn't that exactly the sort of band music critics love?

    Of course. Dallas Orbiter doesn't make things easy for its listeners. But it does reward the adventurous with a journey that is well worth the fare, one that improves in value every time you take it. Get lost. And don't come back until your head has been rearranged.

    Princess Records
    www: http://www.princessrecords.com

    Kevin Devine
    Split the Country, Split the Streets
    (Triple Crown)

    Understated songs that sound kinda slight at first listen. Then you start to pick up on the slyly subversive ideas that Kevin Devine is kicking about. He's got a slightly cracked viewpiece on the world, and that's what makes this album really sing.

    The music is very basic, sometimes just Devine and his guitar--though he's more than willing to overdub his own vocals and employ all sorts of sneaky studio tricks to add just the slightest bit of sonic definition. Indeed, there's always more texture than I anticipated.

    Even when Devine rocks out, he holds back a bit. He never screams or shouts. He keeps his voice on an even keel and lets his lyrics do the talking. This wouldn't work if the music weren't so wonderfully arranged. There's always that little bit extra that helps the songs pop out.

    It might take a while, but this album will sneak up and bite you in the ass. There's a lot more here than you might catch on first listen. Keep working it and you'll find treasure.

    Triple Crown Records
    331 W. 57th St.
    PMB 472
    New York, NY 10019
    www: http://www.triplecrownrecords.com"

    Good Goodbyes
    Good Goodbyes EP

    A pleasant little side project that features members of the Shins and Busy Signals. Four wonky, quirky pop songs that don't necessarily go anywhere--not like you'd notice, anyway.

    The scenery is so goddamned gorgeous, it doesn't matter if this is the road to Timbuktu. Though, for the most part, the boys do pull things together by the end of each song.

    The pedigree of this band is certainly enough to catch the eye of most anyone. The results are predictable--predictably good. Probably won't set the universe on fire, but it ought to make a bowl or two just that much more fulfilling.

    Omnibus Records
    P.O. Box 16-2372
    Sacramento, CA 95816
    www: http://www.omnibusrecords.com


    Onry Ozzborn and JFK of Oldominion and Rob Castro put together the sounds, and a plethora of pals (Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, Canibus and many more) help lay down the tracks.

    The beats and bass are almost criminally good, and the rhymes are better than average. The guests are sometimes more distracting than anything else--I'd say let Grayskul be Grayskul, you know?--but the songs are tied together quite well.

    There are two basic schools in hip-hop today. Either you kick out ideas or you don't. It was great to see Kanye West score big last year with an occasionally introspective work, but these folks have been dropping some serious science (does that date me, or what?) for much longer. This album is just the latest installment.

    Yeah, the progressive side of hip-hop is still something of an underground phenomenon. But hell, that means I get to hear it, so I'm not complaining too loudly. Grayskul never lets off the throttle, spinning ideas both musical and lyrical until the final beat of the album. Breathtaking.

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

    Hard Skin
    Same Meat Different Gravy

    While true of punk in general, there's an extremely thin line between generic and transcendent oi. And while I can quantify a couple of things that can flip and album either way for me, the main reaction is simply one of the gut.

    These three London boys seem to have "it." The raggedly tuneful melodies, the rising bass lines, the pissed-off energy--all here. And, you know, the songs are kinda funny, in a sad sort of way (one of the tells of great oi, if you ask me).

    The sound is exceptional, almost too good for oi. Not that it's anything exceptional, but I can actually hear each instrument and even tell the difference between the various vocals. Yeah, I guess that's some sort of backhanded compliment, but the relatively clean sound is a new wrinkle, one that I kinda like.

    Hell, this is great oi in my book. Two fingers to ya if you don't agree.

    8941 Atlanta Ave. #505
    Huntington Beach, CA 92646
    Richmond, VA 23221
    www: http://www.tkorecords.net

    Thee Heavenly Music Association
    Shaping the Invisible

    By and large the product of Dave Hillis and Helen Storer, Thee Heavenly Music Association is a collection of musical ideas run through a few processors and then edited into a semi-coherent shape.

    Actually, some of these songs are really songs. Really good songs. And even the more conceptual pieces here are quite striking. Imagine Black Box Recorder on a bad trip--but with guitars by Anton Fier. I'm not exactly sure how Hillis and Storer put together live shows, but apparently they do. I'd pay to hear that.

    Maybe all the experimentation that went into the recording is simply distilled into a straight retelling. I doubt it, though. Anyone willing to put together an album this adventurous wouldn't--make that couldn't--do something so insipid.

    And in case the album doesn't warp your musical sensibilities enough, there's a cover of Kate Bush's one and only U.S. "hit." Oh, don't worry. This is no ape job. It's a surprising reimagining of the piece, surprising mostly in its delicacy. Thee Heavenly Music Association knows how to make a mark.

    Rehash Records
    78625 Alden Circle
    La Quinta, CA 92253
    www: http://www.rehashrecords.com

    Chrome Tape
    (Digital Hardcore)

    An electronic garage band. Of course. What else is necessary to drive a nail into this most overblown of trends?

    Still and all, electronic garage is just another way to say "new wave," and so Motormark manages to leap from a dying bandwagon onto a coming flavor of the month. Now that's style!

    Of course, it wouldn't matter if the songs weren't tight, mean and atonally melodic. Just enough processing to give the sound a post-modern sheen, just enough feisty whining to leave a whiff of early Berlin.

    Some seriously attractive noise. I'm not sure there can be a discussion of Motormark without getting into current trends, but in any case, I like what I hear. The throb may be the thing, but here it bulges quite nicely.

    Digital Hardcore
    P.O. Box 35019
    London NW1 9YT
    United Kingdom
    www: http://www.digitalhardcore.com

    A Northern Chorus
    Bitter Hands Resign
    (Sonic Unyon)

    Another moody Canadian collective. Seems like there's another one popping up every week. I didn't even know there were that many people in the whole country, man...

    Cheap joke, and a bad one at that. A Northern Chorus is hardly "another" anything. Yes, the music is contemplative, and yes, the band is large and features a number of "non-rock" instruments. But the results are something else again.

    There's just enough studio manipulation to render these songs otherworldly. It's like I can stand within shouting distance of A Northern Chorus, but I can't quite reach it. There's a sense of mystery about these songs (and this album in general) that is palpable. I pull back one veil, and another falls into place.

    Not exactly magical. These folks seem to be rooted quite solidly. Nonetheless, that sense of elsewhere is most invigorating. Quite pretty, with plenty of character to back it up.

    Sonic Unyon
    P.O. Box 57347
    Jackson Station
    Hamilton, ON L8P 4X2
    Phone (905) 632-1905
    Fax [905] 632-8879
    www: http://www.sonicunyon.com

    Hives Fives EP
    (Temporary Residence)

    Tim Furnish (The For Carnation, Aerial M, Crain) is still the main force, but this time out he's put together a seven-piece and he keeps the sound decidedly in "the real."

    The funny thing is that the absence of major electronic appliances doesn't change the sound all that much. These songs are still playfully orchestral, with the sense of mirth and wonder that often inhabits Furnish's work.

    Four songs are certainly not enough. But that's what we have right now. Another day, perhaps another Parlour album. Until then, we'll have to make do with this brief packet of bliss.

    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 11390
    Portland, OR 97211
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

    David Poe
    Love Is Red

    Recorded in Berlin, David Poe's third album is an example of everything that is wrong with the music "industry." He recorded two fine albums, and they didn't sell. So he got dropped. And then he recorded this album, one with the quiet fire of an underwater volcano--as seen and heard from the surface of the ocean.

    Poe makes these songs of love, loss and internal strife sound almost effervescent. His voice is strong, but he sings with an effortless air. Yeah, yeah, I know it's a bitch to work out proper phrasing and that it's almost impossible to sound this carefree. Poe has worked his ass off to get this sound.

    Ah, but the payoff is immense. Poe is an exceptional craftsman as a writer; he refuses to resort to cliche or to force a lyric into a space where it doesn't fit. That's how these songs sound so unfettered. Poe put in the time beforehand, and then he made the record.

    And quite a record it is. Unlike athletics, getting demoted from the "big leagues" in music is often a compliment. Perhaps it's the sort of appreciation Poe didn't necessarily need, but then, his music certainly didn't need big money to retain its high quality. Poe has cemented his place as one of the great songwriters of his (or any) generation. Outstanding.

    www: http://www.davidpoe.com

    Amy Ray

    If you recognize Daemon Records as the external expression of Amy Ray's musical interests, then perhaps this album won't surprise you. Hell, if you've picked up her first solo album (Stag), you'd know she doesn't hew to the expected Indigo Girls vibe when she steps out on her own.

    Nonetheless, the gentle (yet punchy) pop feel of this album is somewhat surprising. If Stag was something of a dagger, Prom is more of a stiletto--sneakier and even more deadly. Ray's lyric focus is even tighter (once she gets a hold of a subject, she wrings it dry), and often a line or two would strike me a song or two down the line.

    The subject of this album, most often, is high school. In particular, how difficult high school can be for anyone who is perceived as different. Ray tends to focus on sexual orientation, of course, but it's not hard to insert any other sort of social distinction into these scenarios and find a mirror of your own experience.

    Damn if we aren't all the same, after all. I know, it's a hackneyed and sometimes tiresome message. But Ray makes it sound fresh and new, and these songs are simply joys to hear. I skipped my own prom (one of those "different" things, I guess), so I'm happy to attend this one some 18 years down the line.

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

    Robert M
    Robert M

    The world of experimental electronic noise never sounded better. Robert M takes dissonant ideas, wraps them up in addictive beat poems and then lets them run for the long haul. These are extensive, involved compositions that somehow float like steamed milk on top of cappuccino.

    Ah, but there is depth. So much that it's often impossible to reel in any given line before the next one takes off. No worries, though. Like I said, these pieces are long (six to 14 minutes) and they take their time. Which is why the effervescence of them is so astonishing.

    If you've got a pal who has shown some interest in the wilder side of electronic music but stops somewhere on the other side of Selected Ambient Works, well, give this album a try. It's slyly seductive, with just enough accessibility to draw in a few civilians even as it lowers the boom on us professionals.

    And what do we profess? Don't ask. I, for one, like to get lost in my music. And Robert M is an expert at leading the way. An album with almost infinite possibilities.

    P.O. Box 81973
    San Diego, CA 92138
    www: http://www.accretions.com

    Take You Apart
    (Rhythm Ace)

    Lovely Britpop...from Brisbane. I guess everyone sounds British when they sing. I mean, doesn't Green Day?

    Aw, hell, that's an old one. Anyway, Screamfeeder plays pretty, jangly and occasionally crunchy pop music. Not a lot of attitude, but plenty of energy. I suppose it is that exact trait that gives this a Britpop feel. That and the fact that it's really obvious that these boys have listened to a lot of Supergrass and the Who.

    And, hey, who hasn't, right? Nothing like a little bash 'n' pop to get the blood flowing. Screamfeeder may not scream a lot, but it still pushes plenty of buttons. The easy-going feel of the sound (my God, are those hand claps in the background?) makes this album almost too easy to drink. The stuff just slides right down.

    No hangovers, either. I'm not entirely convinced these boys have the depth to make it in the long haul, but I'm more than willing to be proved wrong. In any case, I'll be listening to this one for some time to come.

    Rhythm Ace Records
    www: http://www.rhythmacerecords.com

    The Secret Process

    Another electronic noodling project, but one that is almost the spectral opposite of Robert M. Rob Gwin (a member of the elektrojazz outfit Kooken & Hoomen and the man behind the Secret Process) not surprisingly takes a jazzy approach to electronic music. There's not a hair out of place in these compositions. Every single sound is where it ought to be.

    And yet the album sounds anything but sterile. Gwin has achieved a wonderful organic sound, so that when he decides to sing (and take these pieces into post-TMBG territory) there's not even the slightest hiccup.

    I guess normal is where you find it, and in that way, the Secret Process is just as whacked out as anyone. But the structure underlying these pieces is most impressive. It's amazing that Gwin is able to wring such a "band" sound out of his one-man effort. Hell, I can see a four or five-piece right now...but it isn't there.

    Whatever. Expectations are made to be shattered, and good music is simply good music. Gwin has created an electronic album par excellence, and he doesn't need to apologize to me or anyone else. Just keep kicking out albums like this, and there are no worries.

    805 52nd St.
    Oakland, CA 94608
    www: http://www.kookenhoomen.com

    On the slab:
    Vinyl-only releases

    The Drift Streets/Nozomi 12" (Temporary Residence)
    I'm kinda cheating here, since Temporary Residence sent me a CD for review. But the release is available only on 12" vinyl. Gotta love promo, baby. Anyway, the Drift features Danny Grody of Tarantel and a few Bay Area buddies playing introspective, well-constructed stuff. "Streets" is an uptempo groove, and "Nozomi" is more meditative piece. Both songs take an awful long time to evolve, but stick with them; they say a lot of things worth saying.

    The First Punic War Candle 7" EP (Carthage vs. Rome)
    You know the Stephen Bishop character in Animal House? The dorky folk singer whose guitar is trashed by John Belushi? The First Punic War lies along those lines, though with much less melody and inordinately more dorkiness. This stuff lies along the Daniel Johnston/Half Japanese axis of "Is this really, really bad or is it brilliant?" Honestly, I can't tell you. I kinda like it, just because it's often utterly artless. I guess that's not much of a recommendation, but what the hell.

    The Fugue Four Corner Races 7" (Recommended If You Like Records)
    If DK was a math/noise band, well, it would sound an awful lot like the Fugue. Hyper-intense ideas played in a fairly sterile manner. With lots of little crackles (that don't seem to be related to the vinyl) and distortion to add some color. I'm not sure I could take an album of this stuff...but who knows? I sure did bite into this live wire.

    Heroic Lane Change/The New Lows split 7" (Slow January)
    The band names are way too cute, but the music is much better. Heroic Lane Change has a deliberate approach to rock that reminds me of 80s indie rock. The New Lows meander around the same waters, but they're something like the Seam to HLC's Bottle Rockets. Though I'd hesitate to use either of those bands as actually references. I need more material from both to make a real judgment, but there's definitely something interesting going on here.

    The Morningsides Summer Song 7" (Recommended If You Like Records)
    A fine little trio that plays vaguely discordant lite pop. Kinda like early Young Fresh Fellows--if the boys never tuned up. I suppose that might annoy some folks, but I find such nonchalance charming. The songs themselves are gorgeous little gems. Quite a nice piece of green marble vinyl.

    The Pathways Productivity 7" (Recommended If You Like Records)
    Utterly charming jangle rock with an interesting approach to instrumentation. The sound is stripped bare, and the various lines of the songs come together only momentarily--which is just long enough to fuse hydrogen. Three songs are but a cruel tease.

    The Rachel Nevadas Sally Green 7" (Bittersweet/Choir Invisible)
    This band strangely reminds me of the Nevada Bachelors, a quirky pop band that occasionally tried a bit too hard. The Rachel Nevadas hail from Richmond, Va., though you'd never guess from the jaunty pieces on this slab. "I'll Miss You" is easily the standout--it works best in large part because it is the most straightforward song in the bunch. Keep playing songs live, boys, and more will fall into place.

    Dan Sartain Who's Sorry Now? 7" (Bent Rail Foundation)
    I've had this 7" for a few months, and every month I misplace it and forget to write a review. Not any more. Sartain has a Tom Waits-style of songwriting--he incorporates character into both his lyrics and music. That somewhat obsessive approach results in one of the finest pieces of vinyl that I've heard in many a year. If there's one 7" you check out from this bunch reviewed, this should be the one.

    Come together:
    Compilations, etc.

    Various Artists Completed 2004 (Blind Pigeon)
    Eighteen songs by 18 locals acts. Cool. So where's local? A little burg called Orwigsburg, Penn.--just down the pike from Pottsville, home to Yeungling. So we're talking about the weird part of central Pennsylvania (I know of what I speak here). These bands have little in common except geography and that they were recorded at the same studio by the same engineer. That's a really good way to ensure a compilation that has a common sonic element. And hey, most of the songs are purty damned good, too.

    Various Artists The Future of the Blues (Northern Blues)
    I rarely discuss label samplers, but NorthernBlues is one of those labels whose sampler is simply outstanding. There are very few labels for whom I can recommend just about everyone on the roster, and this is one of them. Fifteen tracks of burning blues.

    Various Artists More Ways than Three (Innocent Words)
    Any cause that can unite King's X, Ani DiFranco, Hammell on Trial, Kinski, Haymarket Riot and Juliana Hatfield must be something. Proceeds from this disc benefit Riley's Children's Hospital, and unlike an awful lot of benefit discs, the music given to this compilation is absolutely first rate (if not necessarily previously unreleased). Something of a whipsaw ride, but one that is most enjoyable.

    Various Artists Ohio 2!?! (Foot in Mouth Productions)
    Thirty Ohio punk bands on one slim CD. The production quality (not to mention song quality) does vary widely, but the enthusiasm is infectious. A most engaging collection.

    Various Artists Sunsets and Silhouettes (Planting Seeds)
    I'm not sure there's much reason for this compilation other than putting good music together...hell, that's enough for me. Planting Seeds artists are sown amidst the likes of Fiel Garvie, Camera Obscura and Tracy Shedd. Hey, there doesn't need to be a reason if the songs are this solid.

    Also recommended:

    The Benevento Russo Duo Best Reason to Buy the Sun (Ropeadope)
    This may be a duo, but the sound is fuller than that. A full-on elektro-geek out, meandering between TMBG, Aphex Twin and Jazzhole. With some stops in between. These songs don't always come together--and that's what makes them good.

    Bloody Sign Vana Vigala Loits (Ibex Moon Records)
    Goddamn, it's nice to hear some honest-to-God death metal. Been what, five years? Longer? I've got to drop my ear to the ground more often. Bloody Sign plays the vaguely prog, often manic style of a Gorefest or maybe Unearthed, but a lot more raw. The mics were drenched during the recording of this puppy. A big dose of extreme adrenaline.

    Capstan Shafts Unrecontructed Lo-Fi Whore EP (Ladder the Christmas Monkey Records)
    Yet another set of songs from Dean Wells, recorded in the offhanded style described in the title. I suppose it's fair to say he means the stuff to sound like this. Anyway, these songs might well be his best yet--and with his prodigious output, that's hard to believe. It's kind like if Uncle Tupelo had decided to combine country music and Sonic Youth, as opposed to country and the 'Mats. And that's purty durned cool. One of these days, Wells ought to cull the best of these EPs and put out a monster album.
    e-mail: deanedwardwells@yahoo.com
    www: www.asaurus.org

    Copperpot Chapter Seven (EV Productions)
    It's not often the elektro beats overwhelm the rhymes, but Copperpot is not yer regular hip hop collective. The sound of this album is outstanding, and its enough to make me kinda gloss over the occasionally confused lyric content. Quite arresting.

    Eleven Minutes Away Arson Followed Me Home (Deep Elm)
    Deftly mixing melody and discord, Eleven Minutes Away crafts some really sharp sounding songs. I do with the guys could move away from some of the more derivative emo sounds (at times, the melodic side of things could be cranked out by any number of bands), but nonetheless, I'm impressed.

    Eniac All That's Left of Us (self-released)
    The first of two antique computer bands reviewed in this issue (Univac is the other), Eniac plays the introspective emo game in math tunics. There's plenty of punchy riffage, but everything is under lock and key. That level of craftsmanship needs to be balanced by a bit more feeling in the playing, but these guys do know how to write great songs.
    P.O. Box 351
    Denton, TX 76202
    www: www.eniacmusic.com

    Funerus Festering Earth (Ibex Moon Records)
    Funerus is a fine raging doom death metal band. There's a constant overhang of imminent despair and destruction welling up within these songs, even as they career off the tracks at 200 m.p.h. This is the sort of music that was made for moshing. Really works up a sweat, and sounds cool, too.

    The Generators Excess Betrayal...and Our Dearly Departed (Fiend Music)
    If it hadn't been for The Empire Strikes First, a truly fine album, I would have said this was the best Bad Religion album I'd heard in years. Yeah, the Generators are a bit more ragged, but even the chord changes are quite similar. Which isn't a bad thing--melodic hardcore is always fun--but perhaps these boys might want to consider tweaking the sound just a bit.

    Greyscale Discord for the Dead Kid (Battle Born)
    Somewhat dramatic--maybe even too much so--punk music that borrows from emo, hardcore, extreme and even ska and, um, Faith No More. So is it punk, really? Well, why not. The more I listen, the more I hear the Mars Volta and FNM, but that's not a bad thing. Not at all.

    Howard Hello EP (Temporary Residence)
    This time out, Howard Hello is only Kenseth Thibideau (Marty Anderson is otherwise occupied). I'd say a lack of creative tension is apparent in some of these songs, but even the most eccentric is awfully pretty, and pretty interesting to boot. Amazaing how many ways it is possible to interpret electronic music.

    Jet by Day The Vulture (Future Farmer)
    An almost indescribably idiosyncratic collection of songs...it's hard to really take this as an album. From electronic excess to blistering riffage to pretty pop, well, Jet by Day takes on all comers. It does pretty well for itself, too. I just can't really put it all together. But maybe that's my problem.

    New York Rel-X Sold Out of Love (TKO)
    The band's name is most appropriate. This stuff is metal punk from the 80s (New York or otherwise). The Rel-X don't really advance the sound (and, really, can't match such classics of the genre as Too Fast for Love, though it is produced much better). But the stuff is still appallingly enjoyable nonetheless.

    Queen Esther Talkin' Fishbowl Blues (EL Recordings)
    Queen Esther's voice is just a little too pretty for the blues. And that's okay, because she doesn't really play the blues (the title track is a snarky rocker, not unlike something off Jagged Little Pill). What she does have is a fine sense of style, and she colors her songs most impressively.

    Saababanks Saababanks (Wooden Man)
    Something of a review of great post-punk bands of the 80s and 90s (Fugazi, Jesus Lizard, June of 44, Kepone, Laughing Hyenas, etc.). Saababanks sure knows its way around noisy angst. Time was I heard stuff like this every month. I'm glad to hear some kids are still interested--and even more impressed by how well these boys channel their heroes--but I must admit I'd like to hear a bit more Saababanks and less Touch and Go.

    Settlefish The Plural of the Choir (Deep Elm)
    Very much on the abstract, math side of emo. Settlefish constructs its songs on convoluted lines, and then shouts some lyrics every now and again. You'd be surprised how effective that can be.

    Skintones Never Get Better (Crustacean)
    Lovely, throbbing, bash and punk. There's something about strident riffage paired with awesome bass lines (Naked Raygun comes to mind) that just gets the mind and body moving. Kinda like if Kiss were an indie rock band. Or something completely different.

    Soltero Hell Train (self-released)
    Wonderfully complex songs that sound oh, so deceptively simple. Soltero meanders through a series of seemingly delicate pop pieces that turn out to be something else altogether. Kinda like a flower unfolding, these songs bloom before your ears.
    Tim Howard/Soltero
    51 Cranston St.
    Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
    www: http://www.solterosongs.com

    Tongues Ugly (Laughing Outlaw)
    Disjointed, vaguely psychedelic anthems. You know, in the same general territory as Telepathic Surgery, though decidedly more fractured. Except without the overarching scent of genius. Yeah, well, mere mortals can make good music, too. Tongues knows how to thrash out a tune.

    Chris Tsefalas I'm All Right? (In Music We Trust)
    Damn, but Chris Tsefalas writes some nice songs. A little too nice, maybe, and sometimes a bit faceless as well. All the parts are in the right place, but every once in a while he seems to disappear. Still, this album has all the makings of a songwriter of the future.

    Univac Univac EP (The Glorious Potemkin Recording Company)
    The second of this issue's antique computer bands, Univac kicks out four songs full of exceptional riffage and unusual vocals. I really like all the songs here; the band shifts gears nicely and shows a talent for varying its style without losing its sound. A full length of this quality would be something glorious, indeed.

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