Friday, December 31, 2004

Mono - Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined (Temporary Residence, 2004)

Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined
Temporary Residence


Rating: 7.5 paper candles out of 10 
The third full-length by rising Japanese noise masters Mono, finds them heading in a bit of an orchestral direction, but without giving up the bombast that makes their songs so memorable.  The band combines the song structure and dynamics of early Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, with the sheer volume and waves of sound like My Bloody Valentine were known for.  The end result is overwhelmingly powerful, especially when listened to through headphones at a high volume; and it’s especially noteworthy if you see the band play live (they’ve come over here to the States twice over the past couple of years). Last time I saw them, the music hit so powerfully at one point that I thought it might have made my heart skip a beat.  Their recorded material will never quite match up, but with Steve Albini behind the helm producing, this record may be as close as we ever get.

Shoplifting Shoplifting Kill Rock Stars 2004


Kill Rock Stars

Rating: 7 press releases out of 10

Shoplifting, made up of a good chunk of folks from the Chromatics and Soiled Doves, may have put out a short-player, but it packs the wallop of most folks’ full lengths. I dunno exactly how to describe it, but the sound is like the perfect mesh of everything that was great about both the Pacific Northwest and Washington DC in the early 90’s, but it doesn’t sound dated. While I was listening to this I could totally envision this band opening up for Nation of Ulysses or Bikini Kill on some tour back in the day. The whole effort is clangy and messy and punk, but you could totally dance to it, if that’s your bag.

Mystery Girls - Something in the Water (In The Red, 2004)

Mystery Girls
Something in the Water
In The Red


Rating: 5 pocket radios out of 10
The Mystery Girls are pretty straight-forward, un-offensive run-of-the-mill modern garage music; not bad, not good, just there.  They probably put on an enjoyable show, and I’m sure plenty of ladies come out when they play because they seem like handsome fellas from their photos on the front of the CD. So that’s something, I guess: go to their shows cause there might be some hot chicks there. Otherwise, you could do better or worse in the genre I suppose. 

The Ukrainians - Istoriaya: The Best of the Ukranians (Omnium, 2004)

The Ukrainians
Istoriaya - The Best of the Ukranians


Rating: 7 unconcerned babies out of 10
I had no idea until this was given to me that
The Ukrainians is the alter-ego of the Wedding Present; you can just color me stupid I guess. What apparently started off as a joke band has seemingly become a pretty regular thing for them, as they have gone on to produce four albums and three EPs under the Ukrainian’s name. If you’re unfamiliar with their sound, it comes across as a blend of eastern-European folk songs, the eclecticism of the Pogues, and the straight-forward modern rock sound of their other band the Wedding Present. If for no other reason, the album is worth a listen for their Ukrainian covers of the Smiths “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and “The Queen is Dead”, Velvet Undergrounds “Venus in Furs”, and the Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK”, all fantastic.

Shy Child - One With the Sun (Say Hey, 2004)

Shy Child
One With the Sun
Say Hey


Rating: 7 failed wines out of 10 
El Guapo were a pretty damn good band, but then they broke up/disappeared/I dunno what happened. Turns out this is what happened to two of them – they moved to NYC and formed Shy Child. And as much as I liked their original group, this one might be even better. This is how dance-rock should be done, it would be nice of some of the more popular ones would recognize this fact and stop sucking. In a lot of ways this is a lot like El Guapo but with tons of keyboards and synths layered on top…catchy stuff, dancy beats, I have no doubt that if the cool kids catch onto this band they’ll be huge in no time, and it will be well deserved.

Secret Machines - Now Here Is Everywhere (Reprise, 2004)

Secret Machines
Now Here Is Everywhere


Rating: 8 white linen sheets out of 10
Secret Machines might have started out as small Texas band putting out a decent first album (“September 000”) on lesser known label (Ace Fu), but they have grown into something much bigger.  Not only are they now on a major label, but they managed to escape two of the largest pitfalls in the music industry – putting out a great second album (thus avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump), and making the transition to the big leagues and still putting out a quality release.  The sound on this record is very, very big – imagine elements of Friedman-era Flaming Lips, a little pit of Pink Floyd psychedelia, and a dash of Spoon’s pop instincts, over a backbone of post rock via Kraftwerk (or maybe even Trans Am) beats.  Sounds weird but oddly fetching doesn’t it?  I think so at least, and this album has been getting lots of spins in my player.  Don’t be surprised if at the end of the year you find this record listed on a lot of top 10 lists, and take solace in the fact that I’m not the sort to say “I told you so.”

The Mountain Goats - We Shall Be Healed (4AD, 2004)

The Mountain Goats
We Shall Be Healed


Rating: 7 pig vultures out of 10
This Mountain Goats album continues along the same path that John Darnielle started down last year with his first major label release on 4AD titled “Tallahassee”. That is to say, for the most part he’s stepped away from the Mountain Goats of the past, which was just him, his guitar, and an old boom box to record on, in favor of a richer and fuller sound involving collaborations with other musicians; in the case of this album, those musicians include Peter Hughes (DiskothiQ), Franklin Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue), Christopher McGuire (12 Rods), and engineered by John Vanderslice. Honestly, to me it still sounds like the same ol’ Mountain Goats, only with a little backing music and recorded on proper equipment, but no doubt there are those purists out there who hate it. For everyone else, this album is yet another argument for the fact that Darnielle is one of the best songwriters happening today, and a riveting live performer as well. Particularly stand-out tracks include “Palmcorder Yanja”, “The Young Thousands”, and “All Up the Seething Coast”.

Antiseen - Badwill Ambassadors (TKO, 2004)

Badwill Ambassadors

6 rebel flags out of 10

Growing up in North Carolina, I’ve known of the legend of Antiseen for years, and even caught a show or two by them during my high school years (I can remember one show in a rec room of a Warren Wilson dorm that was particularly ribald...). And while I can’t say that I listen to them very often these days, hearing their new disc “Badwill Ambassadors” only proves to me that they haven’t lost a step. Their Motorhead-like aural assault mixed with all things redneck/white trash is certainly an entertaining combo, and I can just imagine ne’er-do-wells I grew up with, if they're not in the local prison or working at it, really digging this total shitkicker audio attack.

The 90 Day Men - Panda Park (Southern, 2004)

The 90 Day Men
Panda Park


Rating: 7.5 dead silver birds out of 10 
The 90 Day Men are slowly but surely becoming one of the greatest rock bands out there without anyone really knowing about them.  I’ve seen more than a few comparisons to Radiohead floating out there in reviews.  It’s somewhat founded, for two reasons – not only does some of their output sound a bit like Radiohead, but their desire to constantly define and redefine what they sound like rings true as well.  Additionally, you could throw a little Pink Floyd, the more morose lements of 70’s glam rock bands like Roxy Music and T. Rex, and maybe even a little Black Heart Procession thrown in there for good measure.  All in all, it’s a very ambitious and big record, one that most bands would fail in trying to accomplish, but it’s just another day at the office for these lads.  With each album they put out, they separate themselves more and more from the pack.  All of the sheep out there eating from the trough of Radiohead would do themselves a favor by snacking on some of this – or you could just wait a couple more years until someone hip and happening finally “discovers” them and your ear is turned then.  Either way, it would be to your benefit to check out 90 Day Men. 

(note: I absolutely love Radiohead, so no insult meant to them; merely to the folks who listen to them just because they’re "supposed” to…)

The Marlboro Chorus - Entangled (Future Apple Tree, 2004)

The Marlboro Chorus
Future Apple Tree

6.5 packs of Kools out of 10

With a name like The Marlboro Chorus, I think I was expecting some pretty ordinary alt-country or something along those lines. Instead, I get pop music – not over-the-top rehashed 60’s fare, not goofy Unicorns-style stuff, just straight-forward pop music. This EP, with 6 songs and only 15 minutes in length, cuts right to the point and doesn’t mess around with a bunch of unnecessary crap. These are simple, straightforward, 3-minute pop songs, reminding me of Beulah, Elf Power, Sea & Cake, and the like. A pleasantly surprising little gem in this sea of mediocrity I’ve been hearing lately.

The Thermals - Fuckin’ A (Sub Pop, 2004)

The Thermals
Fuckin’ A
Sub Pop


Rating: 7 known entities out of 10
Man, the Thermals just keeps getting better and better.  Their first release “More Parts Per Million” was in heavy rotation in my CD player for a long time, and this new release has slid right in there like it already knows what to do.  If you can imagine a punk band that sounds like old lo-fi Guided by Voices and being fronted by a singer that sounds similar to the Mountain Goat’s John Darnielle, and you’ll find yourself in the ballpark where the Thermals can be found.  This group of Portland residents manage to pack more hooks in one of their short albums than most bands manage in a career.  While not quite as scratchy and gruff as the first recording (which was recorded in one of the band member’s kitchens), it still manages to pull off the same aesthetic this time from the comfy confines of a studio.  And if you like your music infused with lots of politics, you’re in luck, cause The Thermals have that in droves, but they manage to pull it off in such a way that even if politics aren’t your bag, the songs are still great anyways. 

Carolyn Mark & the New Best Friends - The Pros and Cons of Collaboration (Mint, 2004)

Carolyn Mark & the New Best Friends
The Pros and Cons of Collaboration

7 corn husks out of 10

Most folks probably know Carolyn Mark as Neko Case’s other half in the Corn Sisters (as well as having worked with Neko on her solo stuff). “The Pros and Cons of Collaboration” finds Carolyn stepping off on her on, and doing it well. Musically, this solo effort would fit in nicely in any collection already containing Corn Sisters or Neko Case CDs, as it tows that same familiar line of being modern country music, heavily influenced by the classics; lyrically though, Carolyn has a much better grasp of the language, and her songs have an acerbic wit that is missing from much of the material produced by her contemporaries. Shit, I rarely even notice the lyrics for most bands, but these were so interesting that my ears perked right up. Even though Carolyn may not have the push behind her that a solo Neko has, she’s every bit as talented and entertaining, and hopefully folks will catch onto her music as well.

Beep Beep - Business Casual (Saddle Creek, 2004)

Beep Beep
Business Casual
Saddle Creek

7 korg keyboards out of 10

It’s pretty obvious to all out there the 80’s revival that has been sweeping music the last few years has some staying power…but for all the crap bands that have come from the rehashing (way too many to mention), a decent group slinks out amongst the rubble. It is at this point that I present to you Beep Beep, a fine purveyor of dance rock coming straight out of the Midwest (Omaha, NE to be exact). Featuring one of the members of The Faint,you're going to want to compare the two groups, even if they aren't really similar. If you think more along the lines of spazzier outfits like The Seconds, The Ex-Models, Whirlwind Heat, or Dance Disaster Movement, you’ll have a much better idea of what’s in store. Additionally, there’s a heavier Fugazi-like bent that runs through many of their songs and the vocals on occasion sound like a weird amalgam of Craig Wedren (Shudder to Think) and Ian Svenonius (Nation of Ulysses), thereby making the Dischord triumvirate comparison complete. Definitely an auspicious debut and a good listen, proving yet again that a rehash isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s done well.

Rhythm of Black Lines - Human Hand, Animal Band (Gold Standard, 2004)

Rhythm of Black Lines
Human Hand, Animal Band
Gold Standard


Rating: 4 human teeth out of 10 
This band, Rhythm of Black Lines, is bit too wankery for my tastes; and not wankery in the “Neil Peart is god” kind of way, but in the “Syd Barrett is my hero and I really like psychedelic drugs” way. Not a bad album by any means, just way too much of that. I sorta get the feeling that while I’m listening to this and not seeing the point, there’s a lot of folks out there who would really, really like it. I have a feeling that both the band and their fans like a lot of music that could be described as “prog-fusion” and they’ve taken some jazz theory classes at the local college.

Replicator - You are Under Surveillance (Substandard, 2004)

You are Under Surveillance


Rating: 7 frozen banana stands out of 10 
As cheesy as it sounds, sometimes when I’m listening to Replicator the thought pops into my brain – this is the sound of breaking shit.  It just seems like the perfect soundtrack for a good, old-fashioned freak out.  Historically, this Oakland, California trio has drawn a lot of comparisons, praise and criticism for sounding a lot like Shellac, and it was mostly justifiable; but this sophomore LP (they’ve also released an EP between the two full lengths) finds the band very much coming into their own sound.  Sure, the Shellac comparison is still there, but their current output is much darker and more frantic than anything that Albini & company have ever produced.  Personally, I also hear a good chunk of Brainiac and Jesus Lizard buried in there as well, and nearly every song is rounded out with any number of oddball samples (one song in particular samples a recording of wank-off metalhead Yngwie Malmsteen freaking out on an airline flight, something that was floating around the internet for a while about a year back and was good for quite a few laughs).  Very enjoyable.

U.S. Christmas - Bad Heart Bull (No Mass, 2004)

U.S. Christmas
Bad Heart Bull
No Mass


Rating: 7 important assholes out of 10
Even though I dislike the term “stoner rock” as much as most of the bands that get classified in that genre, I’m not smart enough to think of a better group with which to lump U.S. Christmas. This album, their second full length, is quite a leap from their first in both the songwriting and recording departments. The mix sounds much cleaner this time around, and you can really hear all the little nuances that have been muddled somewhat in the past. Texturally, you have to love a band that has a guy playing theremin nearly full time. If you can imagine the Neil Young soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man”, a little bit of Hawkwind, some racket that sounds like it belongs in a 1950’s sci-fi movie, and a smidge of southern rock, you have the general idea here.

Danielson - Brother is to Son (Secretly Canadian, 2004)

Brother is to Son
Secretly Canadian

7 tree costumes out of 10

, Brother Danielson, Danielson Famile…a number of different incarnations of essentially the same thing; and if Daniel Smith is the one doing the singing, his signature voice is a sure sign that it’s more of the same. Not that that’s a bad thing – I love all things Danielson, and their version of folky-Pixies songs sung through a helium balloon, but they are most certainly not for everyone. They pretty much send my girlfriend into convulsions every time she hears one note of theirs. I suppose the main thing that sets this apart from other Danielson releases is that instead of collaboration with fellow family members, he wrote the entire thing himself and then had them help out in the recording only. This album also features the talents of many already-familiar folks who often pop up on the Danielson releases – Sufjan Stevens, John Ringhofer, and more. If you know what you’re getting into, I highly recommend this album, it’s as good as any of the Danielson’s other work.

Je Ne Sais Quoi - We Make Beginnings (Coalition, 2004)

Je Ne Sais Quoi
We Make Beginnings

6.5 lingenberry pancakes out of 10

Cue Jerry Seinfeld voice – what is the deal with Sweden? Most of the time, you’d think they have an institute set up to try and replicate our bands to the best of their ability. Despite the French name, Je Ne Sais Quoi are yet another group of retro rockers coming out of Sweden, but at least they manage to keep it fairly interesting and entertaining most of the time. They play a dancey new-wave/post punk thing, with a tinge of soul thrown in. For comparisons, you have to look no further than their home shores and The (International) Noise Conspiracy, but without the heavy political discourse and socialist leanings (as much as anyone Swedish can not have socialist leanings, which is probably pretty hard given the setup of their government, but that’s a discussion for a different day). Other musical touchstones or “recommend if you like” might be Les Savy Fav, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and maybe even a little Fugazi for good measure. They aren’t breaking any new ground, but it’s still a pretty damn entertaining record full of catchy hooks and highly danceable if you are into that sort of thing. When I dance I tend to look like Bill Cosby so it might be best if I skipped that part though.

The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Memphis Industries, 2004)

The Go! Team
Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Memphis Industries

6 weather patterns out of 10

Remember that DJ/mash-up/pastiche group from Australia called The Avalanches? Well, The Go! Team sounds pretty much like a live-band version of those guys - every possible style of music all mushed together, creating a sound that on paper shouldn’t work but somehow does. And not only is the album as a whole as eclectic as my grandmother’s curio cabinet, even within the songs the music jumps from place to place. I quite enjoy this, although I’m not so sure that the album will have much long-term staying power.

Crime - San Francisco's Still Doomed (Swami, 2004)

San Francisco's Still Doomed

9 giant burritos out of 10

I’m not a religious man, but it is times like these when I want to bless the lord for Swami Records. Not only are they responsible for putting out all things Hot Snakes, but now they’ve gone and re-issued one of the all-time great punk records “San Francisco Is Still Doomed” by Crime, a San Francisco-based punk group that recorded from 1976 into the early eighties.

To be honest, it’s actually a re-issue of a (sorta) re-issue titled “San Francisco’s Doomed”, but such is the game you play when you start dealing with more obscure stuff. When it was originally re-issued in 1990, there still wasn’t much interest in the Crime catalog except with hardcore collector nerds; the band had been criminally (no pun intended) neglected up to that point by punk historians, despite the fact that they were one of the first bands of this kind to be releasing music in the States. After the poorly distributed 1990 release (which culled 20 tracks from a couple of different unreleased studio sessions), the band began to finally get the recognition they so rightly deserved. Obviously, this meant their material became harder and harder to find, more and more expensive, and bootlegs of questionable quality began popping up all over the place. Thankfully Swami put out their version of the album, which was just like the original “Doomed” album with two additional outtakes.

Crime’s sound was that of pure rock and roll - fuzzed out blues-rock with a sneer you could actually hear in the music; imagine The Stooges with a little more intensity and a lot more attitude. The band seemed to regard the “punk movement” and the trendiness that rose with it to be a cancer upon the music, and they would have no part of it. But despite staying on the outskirts of popularity, they still had an influence that was not only local but far reaching – Sonic Youth were vocal supporters, and even covered the Crime classic “Hot Wire My Heart” on their legendary “Sister” album. For a while now, there have been rumors of box sets and complete discographies and DVDs, but until any of that materializes this release is your best bet to discover the greatness that was Crime.

The Ends - Concrete Disappointment (Dirtnap, 2004)

The Ends
Concrete Disappointment

6.5 mob hits out of 10

Hey, who says people from Texas can’t sing with a British accent? If Robert Pollard, born and raised in Ohio, can pull off Paul McCartney impressions, then The Ends should be allowed to sound as much like Joe Strummer and The Clash as they like. The songs on “Concrete Disappointment” are very catchy and good, especially the second track “Workin’ on Some Feeling”. For some reason I never mind when a younger band (or maybe any band for that matter) apes a classic group as long as the music is still enjoyable, and this very much is. This is a lot more common in punk, especially since everyone who writes a good poppy track almost always sounds like The Buzzcocks or The Ramones or The Clash anyways. And to the credit of The Ends, it doesn’t all sound like The Clash – the disk opener sounds quite a bit like Mott & the Hoople, which is pretty damn cool.

Dolour - New Old Friends (Made in Mexico, 2004)

New Old Friends
Made in Mexico

7 amigos out of 10

Shane Tutmarc is the man behind Dolour, and what a man he is – writing an album that is so instantly likeable that you want to start listening to it again the second it finishes playing. This is pop music exactly the way I like it - full of hooks and reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub and Sloan and Big Star and the dB’s and…whoever else comes to mind when you think of the great Beach Boys and Zombies followers. I’ve listened to some of the older Dolour stuff, and while good, none of it sounds nearly as complete and fleshed out as the music contained in “New Old Friends”. Highly recommended for pop lovers.

Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop, 2004)

Iron & Wine
Our Endless Numbered Days
Sub Pop

7.5 old calendars out of 10

Iron & Wine
is Sam Beam, film school professor in Florida by day and amazing singer and performer by night. To call him this generation’s Cat Stevens might be somewhat apt, and a good basis on which to draw comparisons of this man and his ridiculously beautiful voice. Plenty or other comparisons are floating around out there - from Nick Drake to CSN&Y to Palace to Lou Barlow – and each of these have probably had a hand in influencing the songwriting of Beam. His songs are beautiful in their simplicity, where equal importance is placed just as much on the lack of instruments at times than an overabundance of them. His first album, “The Creek Drank the Cradle”, was a very even-paced affair, but this record finds Beam branching out a little – some drums and percussion here and there to speed the tempo up in places, but not enough so that it would alienate his already established fan base. Beam has more than proved that his first record was not just a fluke, a one-off by an unknown artist that sent those educated in his sound rushing to the store to purchase his album; instead, with his triumphant return and sophomore effort he’s telling everyone that he’s in it for the long haul, and for that I am extremely happy.

Interpol - Antics (Matador, 2004)


7 border smugglers out of 10

Like many folks who enjoy “indie rock” or whatever it’s called nowadays, I was a bit put back (and put off) by all of the hype that Interpol received after the release of their first album. Not that it was a bad record, but other than the track “NYC” there was nothing overwhelmingly gratifying about “Turn on the Bright Lights” other than that it reminded most folks of Joy Division. I figured I would just rather listen to Joy Division themselves, and skip the middle man - no fuss, no muss. I even saw Interpol live a year or so after the record came out, and felt the exact same way – a decent band, not really worthy of the hype being heaped upon them, but it’s still better than most of the garbage that the mall crowd buys. They did have a great light show though, but that’s neither here nor there.

So fast forward a couple of years, to the fall of 2004 and the release of Interpol’s sophomore release, “Antics”. Now, I’m not sure what happened – maybe my listening tastes changed a bit since the last record was released, or perhaps the band switched up their sound significantly (I’m thinking it was a little of both), but I have been listening to this new record a lot. A whole lot really – not quite obsessively, but nearing that. The first thing that sticks out on this release is the pace of it – there are many more upbeat tracks here, much less plodding along through mid-tempo numbers, which is probably the biggest reason why I find this album so interesting. Perhaps it is also that same upbeat, almost poppy (gasp) sound that makes the album seem a lot less morose and dark than its predecessor. This is instantly obvious when you hear “Evil”, the second track and a song in which my friend though the band was trying to imitate REM. My personal favorite on the album is “Slow Hands”, which has nothing to do with Eric Clapton as far as I can tell, but still makes me want to go dancing at the local bar during goth night and make out with some pasty faced ladies in black velvet dresses (not that I don’t normally feel like making out with goth girls anyways, but that’s another story all together). The bottom line is that Interpol has not only avoided the dreaded sophomore jinx, but they’ve actually managed to one-up their previous record, and even have me thinking about giving the old one a second shot.

Blood on the Wall - Blood on the Wall (Social Registry, 2004)

Blood on the Wall
Blood on the Wall
Social Registry

Rating: 6.5 reruns of "The Shining" out of 10

I’m not really sure what to make of this release, but I know I like it. Blood on the Wall owe most of their influence to Sonic Youth, but some how a lot of it got filtered through some sort of fanciful machine that makes them sound like a punk-influenced Violent Femmes, even down to singer Ben Shank’s voice. There are a couple of exceptions to this sound though, most notably “On the Mouth” where Ben’s sister (and fellow band mate) takes over vocal duties and produces what sounds like a Jesus & Mary Chain outtake, and it’s probably the best song on the record. An extremely interesting debut, highly listenable and quite catchy, and just “out there” enough that even the cool kids should like it.

Bermuda Triangle Service - High Swan Dive (BTS, 2004)

Bermuda Triangle Service
High Swan Dive

6.5 grass skirts out of 10

It’s not often that group can come right out of the gate sounding this good, this professional, this polished, all of their own merit – but that is exactly what we have with Bermuda Triangle Service. This three piece led by Cynthia Wiggington has played with such greats as Richard Buckner, Alejandro Escavedo, and the Mekons, and have given San Francisco a fresh shot of alt-country that doesn’t sound too much like anything else but is instantly recognizable at the same time. According to the band’s press sheet, Wiggington started writing these songs while “sequestered on a tropical island”, which might explain the strains of Hawaiian or Caribbean music that give that make the overall sound of this record particularly unique. Fans of Carolyn Marks, Neko Case, Tift Merritt and that lot would probably enjoy this. Definitely worth checking out if you like strong songwriting with a little twang...and maybe a little hula thrown in.

Galaxie 500 - Uncollected (Rykodisc, 2004)

Galaxie 500

8 classic cars out of 10

Galaxie 500
is the name of one of my favorite cars of all time, and I will own one someday even if my old lady won’t let me fly out to Montana to purchase one off of the internet and then drive it back here to SF…but that is neither here nor there. Like the car, though, the band called Galaxie 500 are one of the most under-appreciated bands of the late eighties, and one of the best bands to come out of Boston outside of the Pixies. Their mellow, minimalist, wistful-pop sound proved to be a great influence on any number of bands, from Codeine to Low to Yo La Tengo and beyond.

This release, Uncollected, is a group of random b-sides, covers and rarities otherwise only available if you bought the box set the band released a while back; apparently demand was so great that the label saw fit to just release this portion for those folks who already had all of their other material and only needed these songs to round out their collection. Although lacking in the continuity you get from a proper album, the material here is just as strong as anything else they have put out; particularly good is their cover of the Young Marble Giant’s “Final Day” (yet another group that has never received their due). There are also Beatles and Jonathan Richman tracks on there to go with many great songs that most bands would be happy to have as their A-sides. This disc is obviously a welcome addition for fans who haven’t already bought the box set, but it also works as a great starting point for this wonderful band, who finally seem to be getting at least a little of the respect they deserve.

Frausdots - Couture, Couture, Couture (Sub Pop, 2004)

Couture, Couture, Couture
Sub Pop

7 fashionable fashionistas out of 10

There may be a lot of charges you can leverage against Brett Rademaker, but failing to be a prolific musician is not one of them. From Spacemen 3-influenced Further, to Byrds-influenced Beachwood Sparks, to the Beach Boys-influenced The Tyde, and now the all-things-80’s-inspired Frausdots, Rademaker isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeves. While the band only seems to officially consist of Rademaker and Michelle Loiselle, this record is packed full of guest stars from such bands as the Cure, the Tyde, Rooney, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the Warlocks. The entire record feels like it could be from 1985, but without coming across as being a bunch of doofuses trying to cash in on the current backward-thinking music scene that has been embraced by the mainstream. For a more accurate description, try and imagine the long lost tapes of a recording session where Echo & the Bunnymen and the Cure decided to collaborate together, and that will give you a general idea of what to expect upon hearing “Couture, Couture, Couture”. There are also a couple of tracks that sound as if they could be outtakes from his other band the Tyde; and most notably of all, the second song on the album, “Fashion Death Trends”, is easily one of the very best songs I’ve heard all year. So immediately catchy, you’ll find it gets stuck in your head after only one listen. This is a solid record from start to finish, and one that gets better with each successive listen.

Dizzee Rascal - Boy in da Corner (Matador, 2004)

Dizzee Rascal
Boy in da Corner

9 mischievous children out of 10

That sound you hear is the collective “Holy Shit!” that comes out of people’s mouths the first time they hear the sounds of the 18 year old British superstar Dizzee Rascal. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that this is the most original and imaginative hip-hop album to come out in quite some time, but there is something extremely limiting by just calling this a hip-hop record after you’ve heard the glorious sounds etched into it's wax. The music is mostly a combination of extremely hard, erratic beats and Rascal’s intense lyricism, which is nearly overpowered by one of the thickest English Cockney accents I’ve ever heard on record or film; there are times when you think you’re listening to a foreign language. Additionally, there are songs that bring in heavy guitar riffs, operatic chorus singing, and odd techno-style bleeps and bloops that really round out the recording. I’ve been pretty bored with hip-hop for quite a while now - with the exceptions of El-P, Meanest Man Contest, Outkast and Dalek, the only groups out there willing to do something different than tow the line and push the boundries of hip-hop and music in general – but hopefully this release will help swing some folks in the direction that different can be better, and being sheep no matter what the musical genre is serves no purpose but to put people asleep. I know that’s what the record companies want, but we as consumers need to hope and want and fight for more.

Clinic - Winchester Cathedral (Domino, 2004)

Winchester Cathedral

7 doctors taking communion out of 10

I’m not going to lie to you – if you’ve heard a previous Clinic album, then you should know that their new album “Winchester Cathedral” doesn’t really veer far from the course they set forth in their previous two albums “Internal Wrangler” and “Walking with Thee”. That said, it’s still some of the most intriguing and original stuff being put out these days by a band so close to the mainstream. Comparisons to Gang of Four, Wire, and Suicide still seem fitting (and thankfully so), but the description of them having “garage rock-like tendencies” doesn’t really hold up on this album as much. They’ve replaced many of the more upbeat numbers with something a bit more mellow and reverential, almost as if they were writing church music (possibly for the cathedral that the album is named after?), but never quite breaking free of the mold that makes the band so distinctive and instantly recognizable. Clinic may not be for everyone, but you’re doing yourself a world of disservice if you don’t even give them a shot – and this new record is as just a good a place to start as any. If nothing else, you’ll not find another group anywhere else in rock-n-roll that utilizes the melodica as well as Clinic – what more could you possibly want?

The Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge, 2004)

The Arcade Fire

8 pinball arsonists out of 10

Wow…on first listen it becomes all too clear why the Arcade Fire has been receiving the buzz it has over the last few months. This Montreal group may never appear on MTV or the OC, but you better be damn sure that they will take the music world by storm, from the bottom up. The list of influences/”sounds like” can be quite long if you try to break it down to it’s constituent parts…The Talking Heads, Neutral Milk Hotel, Broken Social Scene, British Sea Power, etc…certainly a list of bands that would make many folks want to give them a listen. But the way they meld and merge these influences into its own, unique shape is the real draw – the music sounds so rich and exuberant and full of life that it is like the audio equivalent of one of those giant boxes of Crayola crayons (the 64 count variety box, obviously). Additionally, they have embraced the old-fashioned idea of creating an album - as in the whole thing sounds great together, where the sequencing and song constructions balance and help each other out, as opposed to just creating a record of disjointed songs as most folks seem to do in the ADD-addled world we live in now. This record works best when listened to all at once, not broken up into various play lists in your iPod. This is probably the best and one of the most original records of the year, sure to be an epiphany of happiness to many people as they discover it over the next few months.

Point Line Plane - Smoke Signals (Skin Graft, 2004)

Point Line Plane
Smoke Signals
Skin Graft


Rating: 5.5 adult bugs out of 10
Not to be all “when I was a kid things were better blah blah blah”, but I really liked the older Point Line Plane material a lot better. Now I dunno if it was adding a third member or just “growth” as an artist, but something is missing from this newest release. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still decent, just not balls-out awesome like the older material (especially that split release with The Planet The that I bought off of them a couple years back at a show). In a lot of ways, this just sounds like a new Liars record, and I like the Liars, but it just wasn’t what I was hoping for I guess. Too much production is one of the biggest problems, these cats were one of the few bands that actually sound better the dirtier it is. Great album art though.

The Clean - Anthology (Merge, 2004)

The Clean


Rating: 9 fuzzy kiwis out of 10

The Clean. They’re one of those bands that have been name-checked as influences time and time again by indie bands over the past number of years. This record, Anthology, is just that – an anthology of their recordings for the past 20 years. Although I had heard of these guys for years and years, I somehow managed to never really hear much of their music. When Merge released their album "Getaway" a year or two ago, I listened to a couple of tracks off of the Merge website, enjoyed what I heard, and made a mental note to pick up some of their records but never actually got around to it. With the release of this anthology, I guess I’m finally getting around to it – and I’m kicking myself for ever putting it off in the first place.

This anthology covers the entire spectrum of music released by The Clean, from their first 7 inches all the way up to "Unknown Country", the album before their 2001 release "Getaway". It includes both album tracks and rarities, with enough good stuff that I can’t imagine there’s not something on here for everyone. For me and many others, the best track is the first one on the first disc – "Tally Ho", a perfect blend of pop hooks and garage production. Put simply, this is one of the best songs of all time.

The only negative is the length - it would be pretty impressive if you could sit through both discs, as that’s well over 40 songs total. Anyone who’s a novice to The Clean might become bewildered at first with the vast amount of music presented to them. But if you just take it a bit at a time, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best and most influential music created in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Elf Power - Walking with the Beggar Boys (Orange Twin, 2004)

Elf Power
Walking with the Beggar Boys
Orange Twin

6 panhandling dwarfs out of 10

In what seems to be their seventh proper album (along with god knows how many EPs, compilations, whatever), Elf Power bring you “Walking with the Beggar Boys”, an album that manages to sound instantly recognizable as their work and yet have a number of odd influences and quirks that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear out of these erstwhile Elephant 6’ers. Most notably, this record is much more of a straight-forward rock record than the silly songs that populate the band’s past; at times it sounds like it could be a Snow Patrol record as much as an Elf Power one. Still, it’s a good listen, with a great 1-2 punch out of the songs “Walking with the Beggar Boys” and “Drawing Flies”. This album may be a disappointment to some die hard fans, but I think most folks will easily realize it’s still a great record, even if there’s no mention of serpents or leopards or birds with candy bar heads.

Rogue Wave - Out of the Shadow (Responsive Recordings / Sub Pop, 2004)

Rogue Wave
Out of the Shadow
Responsive Recordings / Sub Pop


Rating: 8 bald vultures out of 10

There’s a certain type of sound captured in the music of Rogue Wave that I’m having a really hard time wrapping my vocabulary around. My best effort would be to say that a lot of their songs remind me of some early to mid-nineties radio pop – Buffalo Tom, Teenage Fanclub, Gin Blossoms, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dillon Fence, The Connells – but I don’t think that really does the band justice. They certainly don’t sound like a throwback to that era, yet they seem to capture a similar mood in their music and a knack for same type of pop sensibilities. There’s even a certain element to their music that reminds me of eighties stalwarts like R.E.M. and later, non-punk Replacements, but I’m afraid that pigeon-holes their sound too much too. Occasionally, their rhythm section follows odd time signatures not unlike a mellower version of Thingy or Heavy Vegetable, and some of the more upbeat tracks remind me of Elliott Smith’s side project Heatmiser.

The bottom line – I’ve been listening to this record for over a month now, and I’m still really enjoying it. It seems like that’s been harder and harder to say over the last couple of years – I hear a lot of bands I enjoy for a couple of weeks, and then I file their CD away and forget all about them. I think it’s the same intangible quality that makes Rogue Wave hard to describe, that also makes them interesting to listen to. Sometimes I get the notion that the best bands are those whose influences you can’t really pin point exactly, and this is one of them. This is great first release, and I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes open for more out of them in the future.

Electro Group - Ummo (Omnibus, 2004)

Electro Group


Rating: 6.5 rivercats out of 10

Well, now we know what kind of kid you get when you mate My Bloody Valentine and old-style Stereolab. Electro Group is highly enjoyable, noisy pop music at its finest coming straight out of Sacramento, California. God knows if these kids will ever get the fanfare and praise they deserve for crafting quality tunes; my guess is the press will keep heaping the praise on the crap irony rock and cheeseball electroclash. Too bad for the band, but at least us fans get to keep them all to ourselves.

Cinecyde - Like a U.F.O. (Tremor, 2004)

Like a U.F.O.

6 dying films out of 10

This record is proof positive that you cannot judge a book by its cover – the design is pretty bad, and Cinecyde looks like they would all be working with me in some boring office drone job (shit, maybe they do). But it only took the first track for me to realize I was foolish in trying to judge, and equally foolish in not knowing the history of this band – this Detroit band that has been around in one form or another since 1977. Knowing that now, the sound of the music they perform makes more sense to my easily confused brain - classic pop-punk, real catchy stuff, mixed with Pulsars-type indie rock and maybe a hint of M.O.T.O.’s pop savvy. Outside of the weird, overlong final track (performed with 4FR), this is a very good album, well worth checking out by punk fans both old and new.

Detachment Kit - Of This Blood (French Kiss, 2004)

Detachment Kit
Of This Blood
French Kiss

6.5 games of operation out of 10

It’s no secret the Detachment Kit sound a lot like Les Savy Fav; now, it's been taken that one step further by having their newest release “Of This Blood” on the Fav's label French Kiss. For their sophomore effort, they parlayed that sound with a slightly more mainstream “indie” influence on some tracks, recalling groups such as The Walkmen or former Self-Starter label-mates Haywood. This blend really works for them I think – still spazzy enough to appeal to the already established fan base, but with a broad enough appeal to attract outsiders who might not have otherwise considered them. Comparisons aside, this is a very enjoyable record that I’m sure will see a number of spins on my stereo.

Castanets - Cathedral (Asthmatic Kitty, 2004)

Asthmatic Kitty

6.5 coughing calicoes out of 10

At first Castanets would just seem like more modern folk music to fill your flavor-of-the-month quota, only this time outta San Diego instead of the obligatory San Francisco. The difference between this release and a lot of other crap of similar ilk, and it's a big difference, is this album is pretty damn good. From what I can understand, the core of this group is a young guy named Raymond Raposa, who got a bunch of folks from other famous San Diego bands (Pinback, Rocket from the Crypt, Tristeza) to help him finish his album. Although not generally my type of music, this sounded pretty good to me from the get-go – kind of like Will Oldham run through a Twin Peaks filter, if such a filter existed. That would be an awesome filter to have. There is a lot of strange percussion, clanging and banging like a grumpy thunderstorm, and is often used as a segue-way between tracks to keep things flowing smoothly. A fantastic trait of this record is that it seems to have the ability to appeal to both the freak flag folk fiends and regular music dorks such as myself, all at the same time. A good first effort for sure.

Brandon Butler - Killer on the Road (Gern Blandsten, 2004)

Brandon Butler
Killer on the Road
Gern Blandsten

6.5 slim jims out of 10

OK, I’m not ashamed to admit the only reason I grabbed this CD to review is because I wasn’t paying much attention and thought it was a solo record from Bernard Butler of Suede. I should not pay attention more often though, because this record is great. Turns out I should have known who this lad was though – Brandon Butler was the front man for two of the mid-90s emo greats Boy’s Life and The Farewell Bend, and then went on to form Canyon with some of his former band mates. Those Canyon discs are great, and this release falls pretty much under that same sound - a little more rootsy/country if anything else, and sparser in instrumentation (it is a solo record after all). It also doesn’t hurt that the album was produced by Brendan Canty, because the man not only lends instantaneous cred to anything he touches but he does a great job behind the boards (see some of Blonde Redhead’s more recent recorded material for further proof).

Lansing-Dreiden - The Incomplete Triangle (Kemado, 2004)

The Incomplete Triangle


6.5 rhombuses out of 10

A friend, who was hip to this record long before I was, laughed at me when I said
Lansing-Dreiden reminded me of Information Society. Especially the tenth song, I.C.U. (one could also argue a case for Depeche Mode as a major influence as well, and my only response is that my childhood was obviously fucked up as I really was into Information Society for a while). And I’m not even going to get into the fact that, strangely enough, the second song “The Eternal Lie” sounds like a Kiss cover. Essentially, this sounds like an 80’s throwback album, as is popular today; but without a hint of irony, it genuinely feels like it was buried in a time capsule and only recently dug up. And most importantly, it’s really fucking good.

Aberfeldy - Young Forever (Rough Trade, 2004)

Young Forever
Rough Trade

6 freezing cold lochs out of 10

Yeah, it’s ANOTHER “chamber pop” or “twee pop” or “mellow ass pop” band from Scotland… there must be something in the water over there. On their debut release, Aberfeldy shows a bit of an ear for the catchy song but they aren’t quite there yet. Obviously, with the likes of Belle & Sebastian, The Delgados, and Camera Obscura hailing from the same land, you’re going to be held to a little higher standard than most pop bands. It’s entirely possible they’ll be just as good someday, but they need more seasoning. Great cover art though, some of the best I’ve seen in ages.
More album art featuring humping animals, please.

Ben Kweller - On My Way (ATO, 2004)

Ben Kweller
On My Way


Rating: 6.5 child prodigies out of 10

A more mature Ben Kweller? I dunno, sounds about the same, although he’s toned down the glossy pop sheen that shined on much of his last album in place of a number of mellower singer/songwriter type songs, many of which sound like they could have been plucked from a Jackson Browne album (especially “Living Life”, which is probably the best song on the album to boot). The Weezer comparison is still there, but less so in song structure now and more just because Kweller’s voice sounds quite a bit like Rivers Cuomo. Honestly, I think this guy is very talented, and expect big things from him. He’s not there yet, but this is another step closer to being a really fabulous song writer.

A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder (Matador, 2004)

A.C. Newman
The Slow Wonder


Rating: 7.5 dinosaur babes out of 10

In case you were unaware, A.C. Newman is one of the main cats from that ultra-hip super-group, the New Pornographers; and if you didn’t already know that he was the brains behind that operation (with a little help from Dan Bejar of Destroyer fame), it will become incredibly obvious after your first listen of this record.  This album has a great, summertime feel to it, like riding down the Great Highway in a convertible watching the surf wash up against the dead whale carcasses. If you know and love the output of the New Pornographers, or even Newman’s previous band Zumpano, you’ll get along well with this album of glistening retro-pop. In fact, if you threw a couple of guest vocal spots on here from Neko Case, you’d probably assume it was a New Pornographers album. This release bustles right along, and although it registers only a half hour or so of recorded material, it’s the quality that counts; plus, “leave them wanting more” is a popular expression for a reason. I have a feeling this is going to get played a lot in my house, car and walkman over the next few months.

Languis - The Four Walls (Plug Research, 2004)

The Four Walls
Plug Research

Rating: 7 gazebos out of 10

I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone by now, even out-of-touch people from rural America, that the “80’s” are back and have been for a while now. Look at the fashion and culture of the youth, the resurgence of cocaine as the drug of choice amongst the hipster elite, and most telling, the music. And like any rehash of some long gone era, almost all of this music is terrible. That may be part of the reason that I enjoyed this album by Languis so much – it doesn’t suck at all, and that alone is a feat in the keyboard-drenched landscape of modern music.

I think what really makes this group and this album place head-and-shoulders above their peers is the sincerity of it all – you get the feeling that this is the music they want to make and truly enjoy, not that they’re just trying to hitch a ride on the trendy train in hopes to cash in. If I had to point to one particular band or sound that Languis most remind me of, it would be the melancholy of New Order. If you’re looking for a more current comparison, the instrumental tracks from Dntel’s “Life is full of Possibilities” might suffice. I’m having a hard time coming up with a genuine comparison for the vocals of “The Four Walls”, but either way I really enjoy them and they blend in well with the music and are there if you need them but not so oppressive that you can’t overlook them if you want to.

I highly recommend checking Languis out if you get a chance and you enjoy this type of music – listening to the album a couple of times will quickly leave you with the feeling of just how silly most of this 80’s revivalism really is.

Desoto Reds - Hanglide Thru Yer Window (Floating Man, 2004)

Desoto Reds
Hanglide Thru Yer Window
Floating Man

Rating: 6.5 sugar gliders out of 10

Desoto Reds are more screwball, Elephant 6-inspired pop from here in the Bay Area, but it’s tough not to like this. The level of whimsy involved in this record probably surpasses even old Of Montreal, and it does verge on crossing the line into “annoying” a time or two, but it never actually gets there. The whole record has a very summery feel, and it’s somewhat interesting that anything like this could come out of the monotonic climate that is their home. Nonetheless, it’s a decent, catchy listen that makes me wish I had a convertible and some warm weather in which to properly listen to this album.

New Black - The New Black (Thick, 2004)

New Black
The New Black


Rating: 6 robocop olympics out of 10

Considering I can’t think of anything off of the top of my head on the Thick Records label that’s worth a shit, it makes the fact that the New Black album is pretty good all that more monumental. Their press release wants to compare them to a cross between the B-52s and Q and not U, which seems reasonable I suppose. More than anything, though, is that they kinda have the same punk rock energy and pop song hooks to make me think of Pretty Girls Make Graves (and the male/female dueling vocals don’t hurt that comparison either). This is nothing amazing, but it’s a fun listen, and I can only imagine they put on a fantastic show. Just listening to the CD you can practically hear them jumping around the studio while they recorded it.

The Mendoza Line - Fortune (Cooking Vinyl, 2004)

The Mendoza Line
Cooking Vinyl

5.5 power hitting catchers out of 10

I always want to love The Mendoza Line, I really do – they’re southern, they’re named after an obscure baseball stat, they’re twangy – all the makings of a great band in my book. But somehow, the pieces never quite add up. Not that they are a bad, they have their shining moments, but overall I find that their sound jumps around a bit too much, and what usually sticks with me in the end were the bits that I didn’t like. One song will be a mellow rock number ala Wilco, the next track will sound like Neko Case, and then there will be a jangly rock number (these are my favorite and what I personally think they excel at). If you’re already a fan, this record seems to be more of the same and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, enter at ye own risk.

Two Gallants - The Throes (Alive, 2004)

Two Gallants
The Throes


Rating: 7 tin monkeys out of 10

Is this new generation of folk music that the kids seem to be into nowadays the new electroclash, or is it here to stay?  Here in San Francisco it is certainly the happening scene, with Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Joanna Newsome and the like packing houses across the city (and from everything I’ve read, around the country as well).  But for me the most talented and engaging performers of the bunch are duo of newcomers known as Two Gallants.  Although both are still in their early twenties, their songs bear a world-weariness that is light years past their current age.  More than anything, they remind of The Pogues - minus the tin whistles and Irish accents and although I’ve never seen the Gallants up close, they can’t have nearly as fucked-up teeth.  Other obvious touchstones would be Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, and possibly even Neutral Milk Hotel, or at least that one solo live Jeff Mangum album.  Put simply, this is some of the best story telling I’ve heard in songs in a long time, and the fact that it’s coming from such young kids makes it equally astounding.  

Brightblack - Ala.Cali.Tucky (Galaxia, 2004)


Rating: 7 southern states out of 10

If I close my eyes while I listen to this record by Brightblack, I’d swear I think I’m back home in the mountains of North Carolina, sitting on the porch on a warm evening watching the fireflies flash their butts around and listening to the symphonic chirping of the frogs and the crickets. Imagine if you will someone got the bright idea to mix Mazzy Star with Palace, and the result would be something akin to this. In fact, those Palace boys Paul and Will had a hand in helping with this recording, adding back up vocals, bass, whatever. A truly beautiful recording, but I’m pissed that it really makes me want to quit my cubicle job and big city life and go back to the country where I belong.