Welcome to A&A. There are 19 full 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.

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

A&A #264 reviews
(May 2005)
  • Angels Angels (Public Eyesore)
  • Autodidact Devotional Hymns for the Women of Anu (Public Eyesore)
  • Big Bear Big Bear (Monitor)
  • Channing Cope Sugar in Our Blood (54-40 of Fight!)
  • Esmerine Aurora (Madrona)
  • C. Gibbs Parade of Small Horses (Dren)
  • Collin Herring The Other Side of Kindness (self-released)
  • Koffin Kats Inhumane (Psychobilly/Hairball 8)
  • Th' Legendary Shack Shakers Believe (Yep Roc)
  • Lorna Static Patterns and Souvenirs (Words on Music)
  • Mardo Mardo (House of Restitution)
  • Muller and Patton Muller and Patton (self-released)
  • My Education Italian (Thirty Ghosts)
  • Ohn In the End, All Things Begin (self-released)
  • P:ano Brigadoon (Mint)
  • Alina Simone Prettier in the Dark EP (Fractured Discs)
  • Sound on Survival Live (Henceforth)
  • Thollem/Rivera Everything's Going Everywhere (Edgetone)
  • Variable Unit Mayhemystics Outbreaks (Wide Hive)
  • Come together: Compilations, etc.
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Angels CD5
    (Public Eyesore)

    Perhaps most intriguing because of its age (this album was recorded in 1981 and 1982), this set of linear power trio musings is something close to sublime.

    Not for the sound, which is positively abysmal. The studio tracks sound like old school demos, and the live sound isn't much better than mediocre bootleg. Still, the ideas within these songs are exciting enough to overcome the extremely primitive production. Suffice it to say Hiromi Unakami's guitar spans the gap between Frank Zappa and Duane Denison, with a real post-rock kinda feel to it.

    The vocals are in Japanese (Angels are--or were--a Japanese outfit) and are gawdawful. alternately droning or simply moaning, they don't really do much for the music. But then, the sound is so bad that it's quite easy to simply tune them out as just more background noise.

    Pay attention to the music. Unakami's guitar is amazing, and the rest of the band is more than capable. One for the fetishists, I guess, but a real treat for me nonetheless.

    Public Eyesore
    c/o Brian Day
    2464 Harney #15
    Omaha, NE 68131
    e-mail: sistrum1@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.publiceyesore.com

    Devotional Hymns for the Women of Anu
    (Public Eyesore)

    Anyone who would give their songs names like "Cry Me a River, Elizabeth Nietzsche" and "SS Fuck Puppets of the She-Wolf Ilsa" must be dreadfully interesting. Those titles are funny on too many levels to count. Autodidact caterwauls its way into the senses with the scratchy, power feel of early Godflesh while leaning on distorted melody and mechanistic percussion for wider appeal.

    My understanding is that this band is from Austin. At least, that's where the thing was recorded. But it could be from anywhere. This music not only sounds antisocial, it veers off on so many arcane paths that even I (who love this sorta thing) get lost now and then.

    Still, the mechanical rhythm structure generally gets things back on track. And no matter how wiggy things tend to get, there's always something interesting going on behind the wall of sonic disturbances. Trying to pierce that shield of white noise isn't easy, but it can be fun.

    Yep, another one of those head scratchers I love so much. The 50 or so of my readers who dig this sorta thing are probably chomping at the bit by now. The rest of you can move on, your sanity still intact.

    Public Eyesore
    c/o Brian Day
    2464 Harney #15
    Omaha, NE 68131
    e-mail: sistrum1@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.publiceyesore.com

    Big Bear
    Big Bear

    No wave with a prog twist. A lot like U.S. Maple working its way through King Crimson. Loads stranger and cooler than it sounds, too.

    Damned if I can really describe this any further. There are two guitars which seem to play rhythm or lead at their leisure, although most of the time they both play lead, sometimes playing in parallel, separated by one meager octave. Thing is, I never could predict what might happen next.

    That, of course, is a very good thing. Predictable rock and roll sucks. Big Bear is anything but.

    Maybe it's simply been too long since I've heard something in the same ballpark, but Big Bear simply knocks me out. The power, the pain, the sheer agony of the enterprise enthralls me. Turn to 11. And then try to up it to 12.

    Monitor Records
    P.O. Box 2361
    Baltimore, MD 21203
    www: http://www.monitorrecords.com

    Channing Cope
    Sugar in Our Blood
    (54-40 or Fight!)

    The music is very similar to the bands I've reviewed above, but the presentation couldn't be more different. Channing Cope adheres to that whole post-prog, post-rock, math rock kinda axis, spinning songs that don't so much progress as evolve, but the sound is soft and inviting. A very jazz way to do this kinda thing.

    And you know, it's just as satisfying. Channing Cope invests more energy in finding cool melodic lines than selling them to the audience (that would be the math speaking, I guess), but man, what lines! The thoughts expressed in the tangents and curves of these songs would need thousands of words to explain properly.

    The more I hear of this sound, the more I like it. Kinda like listening to Stanley Jordan cruise through modern rock theory. Hey, when something works, stick with it, right?

    And boy does this work. Yes, the sound is much more commercially viable than that on the albums above, but that's not the reason these boys use it. They sound like this because this is the sound of Channing Cope. And it's a damned good sound at that.

    54-40 or Fight!
    P.O. Box 1601
    Acme, MI 49610
    www: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com


    More of that searching, yearning, high lonesome stuff that has found a new home in Montreal. By and large the work of Beckie Foon and Bruce Cawdron (with a few friends chipping in now and again), Esmerine builds its songs around cello and unconventional percussion.

    Okay, so maybe the percussion used isn't so odd, but the way it is played creates some really cool tones. When those are combined with the cello, the effect is damned spooky.

    A lot like Dirty Three--if you replaced the fiddle with cello and dropped the guitar. The sense of rolling motion is quite similar, as is the pervasive mood of slight unease. The sound on this album is quite stark. My ears tell me that this was recorded live in a miked room. I think the cellos may have been miked separately, but they mix in so well that I'm not entirely sure of that.

    One of those wordless albums that speaks most eloquently. Aurora is a haunting work, one that challenges and ultimately rewards those who complete the journey. Life is beautiful, but it's not without pitfalls. Esmerine knows all about that.

    P.O. Box 253
    Succ. R
    Montreal, Quebec H2S 3K9
    www: http://www.madronarecords.com

    C. Gibbs
    Parade of Small Horses

    He's not ancient, but Christian Gibbs has already lived a long life in music. He's been a hired hand, frontman for the Morning Glories, major label solo artist and now indie hero. After all that, he's either burnt out or he has plenty of stories to last the rest of his life.

    Judging by the wide scope of this, his fourth solo outing, Gibbs will be telling stories long after he's put into the ground. And he'll be telling them in style. Much like Neil Young--an obvious influence--Gibbs changes his voice and music to fit the song. Yes, all of this fits loosely into that whole alt. country/Americana sound, but there's a lot more in there as well.

    Each song tells a story. A hint: If you ever want to know if a songwriter will have legs, listen for character definition within his or her lyrics. If the point of view remains static, so will the songs. Gibbs not only inhabits his lyrics with real characters and ideas, he also make sure that the music fits the subject as well.

    Stylish and supremely assured, Gibbs has made one of those albums that threatens to echo well into the future. There's not a clunker in the set, and most of the songs sparkle with an energy can is rarely found. Few do it better.

    Dren Records
    P.O. Box 22496
    Philadelphia, PA 19110
    e-mail: drenrecords@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.drenrecords.com

    Collin Herring
    The Other Side of Kindness

    It's tempting to say that Collin Herring sounds like Ryan Adams without ADHD. His voice is a dead ringer for Adams's at times, and that's too bad. Because Herring writes some great songs, and he plays them with a controlled reckless abandon that is almost impossible to achieve.

    His writing style reminds me of the Alice Despard's more country-ish moments. There's some punchy percussion, some slightly understated vocals and one (or more) melodic counterpoints. And while Herring is willing to get all rough and tumble when necessary, most of this album is burnished to a shimmery indie shine.

    Indeed, even the cheapest CDs these days sound professional. So the trick comes in knowing when enough is enough--or even when to introduce the occasional "amateur" element into the mix to dirty things up a touch. Herring deftly manages this task, giving each song the sound it needs.

    Herring ought to get past the Ryan Adams comparisons soon enough. He's more adventurous (at least within the confines of a single album) than Adams, and he's got a vision of his sound that is impressive. The sort of album that will be treasured for years.

    www: http://www.collinherring.com

    The Koffin Kats
    (Psychobilly/Hairball 8)

    I suppose the label names are self-explanatory. The Koffin Kats play full-tilt distortion-laden rockabilly with a hardcore attitude. A long time ago, Eugene Chadbourne led the band Shockabilly. I guess the term "psychobilly" comes from that. Or maybe not. It does roll of the tongue nicely.

    In any case, the Koffin Kats play a most spirited version of this sound. The guys have a nice way of simply blasting through whatever trouble spots a give song may have. Play it loud, play it fast and maybe no one will notice.

    I think that's true, actually. One of the cool things about a sound like this is the energy. The production is raw enough to ensure a feeling of sheer power, and the frenetic performances simply drive that even further.

    Not the most sophisticated album in the world or anything, but one that accomplishes what it set out to do, nonetheless. Highly enjoyable. Take the ride.

    Hairball 8 Records
    PO Box 681674
    San Antonio, TX 78268-1674
    www: http://www.hairball8.com

    Th' Legendary Shack Shakers
    (Yep Roc)

    I think Firewater was the last band to combine gospel and klezmer in a song, and while the sonic results were different, the quality was similarly high. Th' Legendary Shack Shakers riff through all sorts of "classic" American music (gospel, rockabilly, folk, blues, bluegrass, James Brown-style r&b, etc.) and shove it through a grinder, filtering the result through a reducing filter.

    In other words, you ain't never heard nothin' quite like this. Electric all the way, but in the spirit of acoustic anarchists. There are so many different sounds and ideas that I was afraid the Shack Shakers would lose their way. They don't.

    A lot of that is due to the leadership of Col. J.D. Wilkes. He wrote the songs (except for the blues standard "Help Me") and kept a firm eye on the production. His singular notion of what a mish-mash of American music ought to sound like seems to have kept this album along a recognizable path. Indeed, no matter what the band is playing, the songs retain a certain Shack Shakers feel.

    So when the sun goes down and the bourbon has melted the ice, put this disc in. Holler, dance, do what comes naturally. Just don't blame these boys in the morning.

    Yep Roc Records
    P.O. Box 4821
    Chapel Hill, NC 27515
    www: http://www.yeproc.com

    Static Patterns and Souvenirs
    (Words on Music)

    Listening to this album is like floating in the Gulf of Mexico on a July evening. The air and water are essentially the same temperature, so all you feel is a warm glove enveloping your entire being. If you close your eyes, you could float out to sea in a hypnotic state.

    Lorna plays beautiful music. Not pretty. Not gorgeous. Beautiful. An approachable beauty, one that lends a certain grace to any day on which it is glimpsed.

    The songs move along at middling clips, but it's the wonderful tone of the guitars and bass that really set off the entrancing melodies. This album is quite well-suited to zoning out, but there are plenty of reasons to keep your frontal lobes engaged as well. This kind of album is generally hit or miss with me. I find a lot of meditative rock truly dull, but Lorna excites me. This album is just so...well, beautiful is the word. An apocalypse of wonderment. Just let it wash all over you and see what happens next.

    Words on Music
    715 University Ave. SE #201
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    e-mail: tidings@words-on-music.com
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com

    (House of Restitution)

    Every so often, someone comes along and tries to do the whole MC5 maximum r&b shindig. Circus of Power did alright with its first album, and the Delta 72 morphed quite nicely along those lines as well. Now here comes Mardo, hoping to do the job right.

    And this L.A. three-piece manages to find just the right balance between old-school rock and roll, glam, r&b and punk attitude. At times, the sound is a bit plastic for my taste, but honestly, this is about as restrained as you might expect from a SoCal outfit.

    There's a big punch in the sound, but not the overwhelming sheen of nothingness that pervaded a lot of later glam metal efforts (including the second CoP album). I'm not saying Mardo fits in with that sound--not entirely, anyway--but the loosey-goosey feel, heavy guitars, bouncy beats and obvious affection for tight harmonies in the hooks do lead me in that direction.

    Whatever you want to call it, Mardo does it right. The boys do get wiggy now and again, but they establish their groove early on, and suspension of disbelief sets in. This is Mardo's world, and anything is possible. Highly enjoyable.

    House of Restitution
    20841 Ventura Blvd.
    Suite 121
    Woodland Hills, CA 91364
    www: http://www.mardomusic.com

    Muller and Patton
    Muller and Patton

    That would be Jaye Muller and Ben Patton, two guys who appear to be about 15 years old. They're not; at least, the music on this disc doesn't sound like the work of teenagers.

    It does sound like the work of folks who love late-60s pop music--Beatles, Beach Boys, etc. Lots of lush arrangements (layers of vocals as well as a fair amount of orchestration) and some really pretty songs.

    Do the songs really say something? Well...they're pop songs. They're not really intended to be particularly deep, so it can be a bit disconcerting when the occasional profundity pops out. Still, I think most folks can handle that.

    Yeah, that was sarcasm. And there's very little of that here. This is earnest, straightforward, well-built pop music. Very pretty. Very very pretty. Bright enough to bring the sun to an arctic winter's day.

    Jaye Muller
    34A High Street Teddington, London
    TW11 8EW
    United Kingdom
    www: http://www.MullerandPatton.com

    My Education
    (Thirty Ghosts)

    A more fully-orchestrated version of that haunting, high lonesome sound that I described in my review of the Esmerine above. My Education actually sounds a lot more like Dirty Three--the guitar and viola help. Of course, with six members this stuff really fills the sonic canvas at times.

    Like a midwestern spring day, these songs can go from full sun, to hail, to rain, to snow and then back to sun, all in the course of a few minutes. Some pretentious farts might even call that storytelling.

    Gosh, all this sarcasm just keeps rolling out. I don't know why. These songs are great. They have that rolling rhythm that, well, reminds me of the prairie. You look in any direction and you think you can see forever.

    I suppose the test with music like this isn't so much "Do the songs tell stories?," but rather "Are the stories compelling?" Yes, they are. Gorgeous, heartwrenching, compelling...you name it. A most impressive set of work.

    Thirty Ghosts Records
    8707 Coastal Drive
    Austin, TX 78749
    www: http://www.thirtyghostsrecords.com

    In the End, All Things Begin

    Some might call this acid jazz, but I think what we have here is a fine representation of electronic funk. Mellow funk, to be sure. I know, a lot of folks would call mellow funk "happy jazz," but I don't. There is a difference. And it lies in the way these songs come together.

    I can't be sure, but I think the band recorded its tracks, and then they were somewhat reassembled in the studio. And when I say band, I mean a full workup, complete with DJ and horns. Ohn uses its horns more as jazz ornamentation than actual funk drivers, but I think that's just a nice way of moving the flavor. Then there are songs like "Bubblegum," which bring out both the funk and the acid jazz. I suppose I could go mad trying to shoehorn these folks into a box, but that's a dumb idea. Ohn is Ohn, and that's enough.

    Nice little jams for your next party or intimate get-together. A word of warning: There are ideas on this disc. It's not quite mindless. I think that's a good thing, myself, but it might lend itself to some issues, depending on your agenda when you're playing the disc. Just thought you'd like to know.

    www: http://www.letsgetitohn.com


    More Canadian pop goofiness from the fine folks at Mint. P:ano isn't, in fact, riffing through the songs of the musical "Brigadoon." Yes, that would be a hoot, but this is so much dorkier. And let's not kid ourselves: Folks who like their pop music this involved are, indeed, dorks.

    I've been a dork for as long as I can remember. And if that means I get to enjoy music like this, I can live that. P:ano tends to build its songs around rhythm elements--whether that is piano or drums or whatever. The melodies are often convoluted and a bit forced. I find that endearing, for some reason.

    It's probably the breathless nature of the songs. Even though the sound is generally understated and somewhat "acoustic" in feel (if you know what I mean), the songs simply keep moving along. No dirges. Nothing like that.

    Hell, any album that references both Half Japanese and New Order has to be kinda interesting, right? Well, this one is pretty durned intriguing. Weird, idiosyncratic...that and more. Exciting as hell? Oh yeah, that too. Sometimes it's very good to be a dork

    P.O. Box 3613
    Main Post Office
    Vancouver, BC V6B 3Y6
    Phone (604) 669-MINT
    Fax [604] 669-6478
    www: http://www.mintrecs.com

    Alina Simone
    Prettier in the Dark EP
    (Fractured Discs)

    It is something of a cliche to take a woman's raw voice and leave it out front, accompanying it with the barest of essentials--or at the very least, leaving the music well down in the mix. Think Edith Frost or Shannon Wright or PJ Harvey (at times) or plenty others. This technique does raise the emotional quotient, but it can come off as a cheap studio trick if the song doesn't actually have the necessary punch.

    Not here. Simone's open, direct voice is perfectly suited for this treatment. And while the music on this EP does take a back seat, there's plenty of interesting stuff in there as well.

    Sometimes cliches are true. Simone's talent is very real, and this six-song set proves it. A harrowing ride direct to the soul. Hang on at your own risk.

    Fractured Discs
    www: http://www.fractured-discs.com

    Sound on Survival

    Lisle Ellis on bass, Marco Eneidi on sax and Peter Valsamis on drums. Three guys, four improvisations. That ought to be enough to either entice or drive away most of my readers.

    Those of you who stuck around will be happy to know that while these pieces are improvised, they do have structure and form. These songs adhere to principles set down by the musicians--consciously or subconsciously, though I'd bet the former. I'm not entirely sure what these principles might be, but I can here more than mere personal familiarity in this music.

    These songs explode with life and vibrant ideas. As the liners say. "...more often than not...the songs come to an arbitrated (not arbitrary) ending." Exactly. All tangents aside, these men know what they're doing and, more importantly, where they're going.

    Not that this disc is going to make a believer out of someone who eschews improvisation. Hardly. But this is improvisation of the highest order, the type that inspires on repeat listens just as much (if not more) than the first.

    P.O. Box 33694
    San Diego, CA 92163
    www: http://www.henceforthrecords.com

    Everything's Going Everywhere

    I reviewed an earlier album by the duo of Thollem McDonas and Rick Rivera a couple months back, and this new effort is even more impressive. McDonas's piano playing is bright and expressive, and Rivera's drumming holds these songs together with tight rhythms and an almost virtuosic repertoire of sounds.

    And, yes, this is almost entirely drums and piano. That's a pretty good thing, in my book, as the piano (played properly) is an orchestra unto itself. McDonas and Rivera riff off each other, trading licks and adding layer after layer to these pieces. But don't get the idea that these are improvisations. They're well-crafted.

    The sound is very sterile--jazz studio, essentially. After all, this is--at its heart--a jazz record. That it appeals to so many folks on the outside is just a plus.

    Lots of fun, which is sometimes hard to say with so many notes flying by. These guys know how to make exciting music, no matter what you want to call it.

    Edgetone Records
    P.O. Box 2281
    El Cerrito, CA 94530
    www: http://www.edgetonerecords.com

    Variable Unit
    Mayhemystics Outbeaks
    (Wide Hive)

    The latest from Variable Unit, a new disc and not remixes of Mayhem Mystics--just so you're not confused.

    This Bay-Area hip-hop/jazz collective knows how to craft some truly inspirational jams. Some smooth and some rough, but all decidedly incendiary.

    If it seems like I'm not writing a whole lot about this, you're right. Variable Unit is best experienced on its own merits. I could write reams, but it would all boil down to the fact that VU is something unique in the hip-hop world: a set of experienced pros who have the singular mission of making important music and important rhymes.

    Yeah, the lyrics are great, but the music behind them is even more impressive. Play it again. And again. And so on.

    Wide Hive
    P.O. Box 460067
    San Francisco, CA 94146
    Phone (415) 282-9433
    Fax [415] 282-6432
    www: http://www.widehive.com

    Come together:
    Compilations, etc.

    Various Artists Dear Johnny... A Tribute to CASH (Hairball 8)
    A number of rockabilly acts (as befits the label) and plenty more run through a long list of Johnny Cash songs. Notables include Deadbolt, Speedbuggy USA, the ScotchGreens and Supersuckers, but most of the renditions here impart enough personality to give these songs a brand new shine. Almost like one of those parallel universe things...Johnny Cash influenced each of these artists in one way or another, and the tracks here are mostly faithful to the originals, but there's always something that makes the song leap out of the speakers with renewed vigor. A most interesting set.

    Various Artists This Is Indie Rock, Volume Two (Deep Elm)
    This compilation makes the name change (from The Emo Diaries) even more apparent. Few of the artists on this set even remotely reference emo from any era--but the quality is just as stellar. Deep Elm has always managed to avoid getting stuck in a rut, and this new series appears to have plenty of drive. This Is Indie Rock, indeed, in all the many forms that it takes.

    Various Artists Voices in the Wilderness: Dissenting Soundscapes and Songs of G.W.'s America (Pax Recordings)
    Put together by Marjorie Sturm and Ernesto Diaz-Infante, this collection includes many of the usual Pax (and friends) suspects: 99 Hooker, Bonnie Kane, etc. The set is wildly uneven, both in tone and style. Free jazz gives way to loopy pop gives way to loops, period...and so forth. The compilation as collective, if you will. While many of the pieces kinda hit you over the head, there are plenty that make subtle and interesting points. A real conversation-starter.

    Also recommended:

    Anaphylaxis Noise for Lovers (Parasomnic)
    As strange as it might seem, this is, indeed, a seductive noise album. And not in the "I really like it" kind of seductive, but the, you know, seductive kind of seductive. Music that might well induce folks of a certain mindset to get it on. Especially if you're trying headphone sex (boy, is that trend so 1988). Sly, cool and lots of fun.

    Arms of Kismet Cutting Room Rug (Wampus Multimedia)
    Dry, amusing, cut-and-paste country music. "Outbound Train" is truly impressive--yes, Beck and Califone and others have done it before, but hell man, great is great--and the rest of the album does its best to keep up. The only thing holding Arms of Kismet (better known as Mark Doyon) back is something of a faceless sound. I've heard it all before, though not necessarily done so well.

    The Che Guevara Memorial Marching (and Stationary) Accordion Band The Che Guevara Memorial Marching (and Stationary) Accordion Band (Public Eyesore)
    Just about what it sounds like, as long as you know the members of the "band" are Bob Marsh, San Cantrell, David Slusser, Ernesto Diaz-Infante, John Finkbeiner and Ron Heglin. There are a lot of accordions (and a few other things) doing some seriously weird stuff. I got lost a few times, but man, this album is compelling.

    Coltrane Motion No Well OK Maybe Just a Little EP (Datawaslost)
    Trippy experimental synth pop. And Coltrane Motion balances those varied concepts quite nicely. There are some deviously inventive beats and melodies, but they never get in the way of the songs. Always intriguing, always enjoyable. More is required.

    Matt Davignon Bwoo (Edgetone)
    Speaking of experimental electronic noise...Matt Davignon is right out there on the edge. These pieces contain some really interesting ideas, and since Davignon is more than willing to spend the time necessary to flesh out those ideas, the songs are always worth a full listen. This sounds cool, and feels even better.

    Girlyman Little Star (Daemon)
    A trio that kicks out truly pretty pop songs with witty lyrics. My only caveat is that there's a bit too much early 70s aping going on. Hey, I like Carole King and James Taylor as much as...okay, I don't. But I appreciate them, and I know what they sound like, and I know that even when a song is as outstanding as "Superior," it went to the well just a bit much. If Girlyman could work out its own sound just a bit more, it has the chops to be something spectacular.

    Gliss Halfway Gone EP (Mountain Lo-Fi)
    Like I've gone back to the early (or maybe mid) '90s. Breathy female vocals, vaguely goth guitars and chirpy drum machines. Somehow Gliss manages to take those dreadfully cliched elements and turn them into something worth hearing. Still a little generic for my taste, but an impressive achievement nonetheless.

    The Gun Shys The Gun Shys (Aeronaut/Intravenous)
    Kicky, shiny, new wave garage stuff. These boys pack enough trendy sounds into their songs to satisfy a dozen A&R guys. Wouldn't work, though, unless the songs themselves had something to them. One look at the skinny ties and shiny shirts and you know these boys want the ring. Who knows? Maybe they'll get it.

    The Fareed Haque Group Cosmic Hug (Magnatude)
    An interesting melding of Indian and western music, this album gives Fareed Haque plenty of room to show off his skill on all sorts of stringed instruments (sitar included). The final results are a bit too fusion jazz-oriented for my tastes (the keyboards have an electric piano feel, for example), but this stuff was unusual enough to attract my ear. For fans of the sound, there's plenty here to like.

    Eric Kolo Sketches EP (self-released)
    Highly-crafted rock--on the prog-pop side. Somewhere between Supertramp and Stereolab. Kolo does need to loosen up a bit, as a couple of songs here are too tightly-wound. But he's got a good ear for melody, and a fine feel for what he can do well. His voice is average, but he comes up with melodies that show off its unique characteristics. If he could just let it roll a bit, he'd really knock me out.
    www: http://www.erickolo.com

    The Mad Maggies Crazed and Enthused (self-released)
    The Mad Maggies is a really swinging band that is as at ease with klezmer as with Irish reels or Mexican folk music. Maggie Martin is the leader (and accordionist). She's a great musician (and writes some wonderful tunes), but she runs into problems on the lyrical side. Her voice is too thin and imprecise to really fit in with the band. A better singer might be able to carry off these sometimes off-the-beat lyrics, but oftentime she can't. Still, the music is absolutely amazing, and the five instrumentals are impossible to criticize. I sure wanted to have a better time.
    www: http://themadmaggies.com

    More Dogs Never Let Them Catch You Crying EP (Monitor)
    Reminds me a lot of early Nick Cave-without vocals. That whole spooky keyboard music thing. Three guys who really know how to set a mood. I kept waiting for something to happen, and it never really did. A lot of atmosphere, but no real plot. That's more of an observation than a criticism, of course. I quite enjoyed the scenery.

    No Wait Wait No Wait Wait (Chairkickers' Union Music)
    The press mentions all sorts of luminaries when describing No Wait Wait, but the most telling is Weezer meets the Cars. It's appropriate, mostly because these boys want to be midtempo pop-rock outfit with lots of keyboards. It's a nice sound, and who knows, maybe it's time for this sorta thing to come around again. The songs are solid, if occasionally somewhat faceless, and those keyboard are an awful lot of fun. Cheesy, but amusing.

    The Old Haunts Fallow Field (Kill Rock Stars)
    If there was such a thing as no-wave garage, I'd say the Old Haunts have pegged it. These boys may be melody-challenged, but they still manage to pump out some really satisfying hooks. The songs hang together by the barest of threads--but they do. Raggedy, and proud so to be.

    Pacific Ocean Fire Pacific Ocean Fire (Smokeylung)
    A fun electro-roots outfit. At times. I mean, sometimes there are almost Casio-style drum machines, keyboards and the most lonesome acoustic guitar you can imagine--with some horns on the side. But more often, this sounds like the brother of Neil Young. While probably not quite "Bright Eyes meets Lambchop..." (the words of another scribe), there's plenty here to like.

    Roue Upward Heroic Motive (Exit Stencil)
    Imagine a slightly more catchy, slightly less inventive Jesus Lizard. Roue has plenty of energy and style, but I hear just a bit too much craft in these disjointed songs. I know, that sounds stupid (and it probably is), but I do wish Roue took a few more chances. This is quite enjoyable, but I'd trade that for unforgettable.

    Velcro Mary Gold Trim on Fresh Fruit EP (self-released)
    Velcro Mary is Jason Erb, and this EP does have a certain "one-man" aspect to it. These songs bounce around all over the place (from jangle pop to industrial metal to fuzzy new wave and more), and the only thing that really connects them is Erb's vaguely atonal vocals. There are five really nice songs here. I just wish they had more to do with each other.
    www: http://www.velcromary.com

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