Welcome to the A&A archives. There are currently 554 reviews in this section. Click on an artist to jump to those reviews, or simply scroll through the list. All reviews written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.

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  • Baboon (3)
  • Baby Carrot
  • Baby Snufkin
  • Baby Strange
  • Babylon A.D.
  • Daniel Bachman (2)
  • Back of Dave
  • Backseat Dreamer
  • Backstreet Law
  • Backworld
  • Backyard Babies
  • The Backyard Committee
  • Bad Astronaut (3)
  • Bad Biscut
  • Bad Haskells
  • Bad Livers
  • Bad Religion (3)
  • Jonathan Badger
  • Badtown Boys
  • Badwrench
  • Baggerboot
  • Bailterspace (2)
  • Bill Baird
  • Bakelite 78
  • Aidan Baker/Thomas Baker/Alan Bloor
  • Baleen (2)
  • Matt Balitsaris/Jeff Berman
  • Ballbusters
  • Ballurio
  • The Band that Should Not Be
  • The Bangkok Five
  • Bangkok Shock (2)
  • Bangs
  • The Bank Robbers
  • Bankhead
  • Bantha
  • Baphomet
  • The Bar Feeders
  • Eric Barber
  • Barbez
  • Barbie Complex
  • Bardo Pond (3)
  • Barely Pink
  • Blixa Bargeld, Nick Cave and Mick Harvey
  • Barkmarket
  • Scotland Barr & the Slow Drags
  • Barrow
  • Bars of Gold
  • Chris Barth
  • Base 4
  • Baskervilles
  • Bastards of Melody (2)
  • Bathory (3)
  • Battalion
  • Battalion of Saints
  • Battery
  • Battery Life
  • The Battle of Santiago
  • Bauhaus
  • KaiL Baxley
  • Bazooka (2)
  • BE
  • Be/Non
  • The Beach Machine
  • Beans
  • Bear
  • Bear & Moose
  • Bear Colony
  • Bear in Heaven (2)
  • Bear Lake
  • The Beatifics
  • Beats the Hell Out of Me
  • Thavius Beck
  • Jason Becker
  • Bedhead (3)
  • The Bee Zoo
  • Beef (2)
  • Beehatch
  • The Beers
  • Believer (2)
  • Christopher Bell
  • Hudson Bell
  • Bella Morte
  • Belladonna (2)
  • George Bellas (2)
  • The Bellbats
  • Belle Academe
  • Belloluna
  • The Bellrays (3)
  • Bellwether
  • Beluga
  • Beneath Autumn Sky
  • Benediction (4)
  • The Benevento-Russo Duo
  • Bennet
  • Aaron Bennett
  • Craig Bennett (3)
  • Bent
  • Bent Leg Fatima
  • Bentmen
  • Benton Falls (3)
  • Joe Bergamini
  • Bergers with Mayo
  • David Berkman
  • Victor Bermon
  • Alan Bernhoft
  • Johnny Berry and the Outliers
  • Butch Berry
  • Iris Berry
  • Robert Berry
  • Cindy Lee Berryhill (2)
  • Johnny Bertram & the Golden Bicycles (2)
  • Bethlehem
  • Bettie Serveert
  • Betty Already
  • Between the Buried and Me
  • Bevel
  • Beyond
  • Beyond-O-Matic (4)
  • Jello Biafra (4)
  • Biastfear (3)
  • Biblical Proof of UFOs
  • Bichos
  • Don Bickoff
  • The Bicycle Thief
  • Bien
  • Big Ass Truck
  • Big Bear
  • Big Black Delta
  • Big Boys
  • Big Breakfast
  • Big Catholic Guilt
  • Big Drill Car
  • Big Electric Cat (2)
  • Big Eyes Family Players
  • Big Gulp
  • Big Hair
  • Big Hate
  • Big Hell
  • Big in Japan
  • Big Meteor
  • The Big Parade
  • Big Wig
  • Big'n (2)
  • Bigelf
  • Bile (3)
  • Bill's Band
  • The Billionaires
  • Billy Club
  • Billy Mahonie
  • Terry Binion
  • bio-tek
  • Biohazard (2)
  • The Bird Circuit
  • Birdbrain
  • Birds & Arrows
  • Birmingham 6 (2)
  • Bis
  • Sam Bisbee
  • Martin Bisi (2)
  • Gregg Bissonette
  • Bitch Funky Sex Machine
  • Bitesize
  • Bitter Grace
  • The Bitter Tears
  • Bivouac
  • Frank Black
  • Black Bird Sky
  • Black Box Recorder (3)
  • Black Cat Bone
  • Black Crowes (2)
  • The Black Drumset
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Black Fiction
  • Black Fork
  • The Black Heart Procession (3)
  • Black Lung
  • Black Moth (2)
  • Black Moth Super Rainbow
  • The Black Neon
  • Black Rain
  • Black Sabbath (3)
  • Black Spartacus
  • The Black Spiral
  • Black Sunday
  • Black Tape for a Blue Girl
  • Black Train Jack (3)
  • The Black Water (2)
  • Black Whales
  • Blackeyed Susans
  • Blackfeet Braves
  • Blackhouse
  • The Laura Blackley Band
  • Blackmail
  • Blackmarket
  • Blackmore's Night (3)
  • Blakk Sweat
  • The Blarney Rebel Band
  • Blessed Light
  • Blind Pilot (2)
  • Blind Willies
  • Blinder
  • The Blinding Light
  • Blindside Blues Band (3)
  • Blinker the Star
  • Blister Rust
  • blld
  • Block Watch Captain
  • Blonde Redhead (3)
  • Thomas Blondet
  • Blondie (2)
  • Blood (2)
  • Blood Axis
  • Blood Duster
  • Blood for Blood
  • Blood from the Soul
  • Blood Meridian
  • Bloodline
  • Bloodstar
  • Bloodthrone
  • Bloody & the Vaynes
  • The Bloody Lovelies
  • Bloody Mary
  • Kath Bloom
  • Blow Up Hollywood
  • Bludgers (2)
  • Blue
  • Blue Canyon Boys
  • Blue Collar
  • Blue Dogs
  • Blue Meanies (5)
  • Blue Mountain
  • Blue Oyster Cult
  • Blue Plate Special
  • Blue Sandcastle
  • Blue Stingrays
  • Blue Yard Garden (2)
  • Bluebird (2)
  • Bluebottle Kiss
  • BluesBurners
  • Blume
  • Blurt
  • Blush 66
  • BMX Bandits
  • BOAC
  • Kip Boardman
  • Bobsled
  • The Bogmen
  • Peter Bohevsky
  • The Boils
  • Bold
  • Bolt Thrower (3)
  • Bomb 20
  • Bonecrusher (2)
  • Bones Garage
  • Bones of Contention
  • Bonga
  • Bongo Poets
  • Bongwater
  • Matt Bonner
  • Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (2)
  • Brian Bonz
  • Boom Hank
  • Boorays (3)
  • Luiz Carlos Borges
  • David Borgo (3)
  • Boris the Sprinkler
  • Born for Bliss
  • C.J. Reaven Borosque
  • Bossa Nova Beatniks
  • Rick Boston
  • Botanical Bullets
  • Elliot Carlson Botero
  • Both Worlds (2)
  • The Bother
  • Bottom of the Hudson
  • Bouncing Balls
  • Bouncing Souls (3)
  • Bounty Killer
  • Bourbon
  • Bourbon Jones & the Smokes
  • The Bourbonaires
  • Bowery Electric
  • Bowman Arrow
  • Boxhead Ensemble
  • The Boxing Lesson
  • Boy in Static
  • Boy Wonder
  • CJ Boyd
  • Boyracer
  • Boys Life (2)
  • Boys Life/Christie Front Drive
  • Boys School
  • Boysetsfire (2)
  • Bozzio Levin Stevens
  • Bracket
  • Chad Bradford
  • Brain Leisure
  • Brain Police (3)
  • Brain Surgeons
  • Brain Transplant (5)
  • Brainchild
  • Brainiac (3)
  • Brainstorm Sheen
  • bran(...)pos (2)
  • Brand New Trash
  • Brando (6)
  • Brandtson (6)
  • Brassy
  • Grace Braun
  • The Bravado
  • Brave (2)
  • Brazzaville
  • Breach
  • Breadwinner
  • Breaking Pangaea
  • The Breakups
  • Breathing on People
  • Brenda
  • Brent's TV
  • Jack Brewer
  • Jack Brewer and Bazooka
  • Brian and Chris (3)
  • The Brian Jonestown Massacre (4)
  • Brick Bath
  • Brick Layer Cake (2)
  • Brickbats
  • Bridge
  • Bridge and Tunnel Club
  • The Briefs
  • Bright and Hollow Sky
  • Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands (2)
  • Brighter Death Now (5)
  • Paul Brill
  • Brimstone
  • Brise-Glace (2)
  • The British Columbians
  • Brizz
  • Broadcaster
  • The Broadways
  • Robin Brock
  • Cole Broderick Quartet (2)
  • John Brodeur
  • Mark Brodie & the Beaver Patrol
  • Mark Brodie & the Saboteurs
  • Broken Hope (3)
  • Bronze (3)
  • Tom Brosseau
  • The Brother Egg
  • The Brother Kite
  • Brothertiger
  • Brother Weasel
  • The Brought Low
  • Coby Brown Group
  • Hannis Brown
  • Brown25
  • Carl Henry Brueggen
  • Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
  • Bill Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez
  • Bill Bruford's Earth Works
  • The Bruisers
  • Brujeria (4)
  • Ze Bruno
  • Brutal Juice (2)
  • Brutal Truth (4)
  • Brutality (3)
  • Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes
  • Dan Bryk
  • BT
  • Clarence Bucaro
  • Buck-O-Nine (3)
  • Buckfast Superbee
  • Todd Buckler
  • Buddha Stick
  • Vince Buffa
  • Buffalo Daughter (2)
  • Buffalo Tom
  • The Bug
  • Built Like Alaska
  • Bullets of Orange
  • Bully Pulpit (2)
  • Bunjie Jambo
  • Buried Alive
  • Burma Jam
  • Burning Heads
  • The Burning Hotels
  • Burns Out Bright (4)
  • R.L. Burnside
  • Charlie Burton
  • The Business
  • Busses
  • The Busters
  • The Busy Signals
  • Jon Butcher (2)
  • The Butchies
  • Butt Frenchers
  • Butt Trumpet (2)
  • Butterfly Joe
  • Butterfly Messiah
  • Butterglory (2)
  • Butthead
  • Buzz Prophets (2)
  • Buzzov*en (2)
  • By a Thread
  • The By Gods
  • ...By the End of Tonight
  • James Byrd (2)
  • The James Byrd Group
  • D.L. Byron

  • Baboon
    Secret Robot Control
    (Wind-Up/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #131, 3/31/97

    Highly calculated noise pop, sorta like a less ambitious Brainiac. Baboon whips out all sorts of vocal styles and guitar lines, always keeping the percussion moving, if not always completely coherent. A good way to mix things up.

    Everything is supertight. Even spots where I think the band maybe oughta get a bit dirty are spic and span. This puppy is primed for mass acceptance. And I guess that's where I'm disappointed.

    Baboon does a lot of things well, but the production and final execution of these songs are so antiseptic, I'm just not finding a purchase point. No handholds or nooks to jam a shim.

    Which is why the shorter songs like "Numb" and "Time Wounds All Heals" work best. No exposition, no fucking around. But when Baboon gets beyond short shouts of noisy fury, the excess really gets, well, excessive.

    There's too much good stuff here to rip it badly, but Baboon was on the cusp of greatness, and the band let someone in A&R (or worse, themselves) clean things up. A damned shame.


    Something Good Is Going to Happen to You
    (Last Beat)
    reviewed in issue #239, March 2003

    The most common question I get from readers is "Do you keep all the albums you receive?" I don't. I do shelve everything I review. My shelves only hold about 5,000 discs, and they've been full for a couple years now. So each month I have to cull out some old discs to make room for the new. Just in case you were looking for an ethical lapse, I don't sell the old discs. Everything goes to the Salvation Army. I'm sure Glen Benton is turning over in his grave knowing that Deicide is doing the Lord's work.

    Anyway, some six years ago I reviewed a Baboon album that came out on Wind-Up (better-known as Creed's label). I thought the stuff was good, but that someone decided to process the sound a bit too much. And so I culled it about a month ago. It was still waiting for its trip to a better place when I heard this album. And after hearing this disc, I immediately pulled that old disc out of limbo and put it back on the shelf.

    It's not that the old album is actually better now. But this album is great. Baboon still makes wonderfully noisy pop music, and while there's plenty of processing, the additions here are made for artistic, not commercial, reasons. At least, this processing job is perfectly in character with the writing and playing. I'll call that artistic.

    The songs here are buoyant and blissful, bright power pop decorated with deliciously wicked sense of sound. Kinda like what the Flaming Lips were doing 10 years ago, though a bit more in the three-chord joy mode than that. The kinda album that will never leave my shelf.


    Baboon
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #296, May 2008

    I seem to get something from these guys every five years or so. Intense or insistent doesn't quite describe what's going on here. More like solid pop music with the feel of the impending apocalypse. A simple pleasure that only improves with age.


    Baby Carrot
    Play Every Day
    (Some Guy Down the Street)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    When the first song on an album is titled "Chinese Food & Donut," it might be forgivable to assume the guys might be a little quirky. That's really not the case here. Baby Carrot does play a form of pop music, albeit one that often incorporates the strident sounds of emo and a fairly technical approach to song construction.

    Makes it kinda hard to get into the stuff. This isn't an immediately attractive sound. The simple, yet deliberate, attack just doesn't bring out the easy smiles.

    So the question becomes, does this sound have the necessary depth? Can it stand up to repeat listenings? I feel better about the answers to those queries. Baby Carrot's intensity and forcefulness does add a nice coloration. There may be something behind the simplicity that, indeed, makes these songs more than they seem.

    I'm not entirely convinced. Albums like these, ones of obvious quality that don't quite leap out at me, are the hardest to review. Baby Carrot simply does not provide a facile entry point. A listener must to break down a couple walls to really get inside the sound. The effort may well be worthwhile. I'm just not sure.


    Baby Snufkin
    Pokey in the Bobo
    (Heyday)
    reviewed in issue #159, 5/18/98

    Complicated (relatively) punk music played to the outer limits of sloppiness. Baby Snufkin shifts tempos, rhythmic ideas and melodies (such as they are) without much thought or concern for the cohesiveness of the song. That the pieces hold together at all is astonishing.

    This disjointed approach almost makes me believe these guys are avant-garde popsters in disguise. Horns abound (in limited and strictured appearances) and the lyrics are rather ambitious. Not your usual punk fare.

    So much thought behind such a messy sound. I can't groove on all the songs (some change up one too many times), but I like the way the band is willing to take chances. They don't always pay off, but Baby Snufkin sure works the ideas for all they're worth.

    A wild collection of scattered thoughts and musical bits. Not quite great, but rather intriguing. Baby Snufkin deserves some serious attention. Something amazing may emanate from these quarters sometime soon.


    Baby Strange
    Put Out
    (Primary Voltage)
    reviewed in issue #256, August 2004

    The press says these guys worship at the altar of the Who, the Zombies, etc. And let's not forget the band's, um, namesake, the tune from T.Rex's The Slider. So we've got some anglo-pop, some straight-up rock and roll and a certain modern sensibility that ties it all together.

    Indeed, these boys are anything but retro copycats. Sure, that opening lick for "Broken Heart Mechanic" is tres Bolan, but the song incorporates some Stones-y attitude and a little bit of Big Star tunesmithing. These boys do have a bit of a penchant for the blue-eyed soul as well. A nice mix of styles that mix well together.

    The sound has that clean-yet-thick feel that made those classic T.Rex albums so great. Not overdone, but enough power to get the adrenaline pumping. Quite nice.

    Just one of those albums that sounds great from the first riff. Baby Strange has a knack for writing fine songs, and they made sure to get the right sound as well. That sort of attention to detail is always good to see, and it bodes well for the band as it further harnesses its power.


    Babylon A.D.
    American Blitzkrieg
    (Apocalypse Records)
    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    These guys released a couple of albums in the late 80s and early 90s, back when metal was already fading into the dust. I remember the first album, vaguely (I was hard rock director at my college radio station back then). I never charted it, and I can't find any reference to the band in my notebooks (yes, I kept notes!)

    Basically, the style is that mechanical glam thing that characterized post Shout at the Devil Crue. If you've been reading my reviews recently, you know how I feel about that.

    I will say, however, that at least on this disc, Babylon A.D. easily outdoes today's Crue. The production sounds a bit, well, cheap at times (keyboards and drum machines are a bit too obvious), but the songs themselves are fairly solid, as far as this kinda thing goes.

    It's not my cuppa tea, but I figure this thing has to please the old fans. And since not many folks are trying this these days, a few others may join the fold. If the sound intrigues you, this is more than worth a listen.


    Daniel Bachman
    Seven Pines
    (Tomkins Square)
    reviewed in issue #341, October 2012

    I've been getting some killer instrumental acoustic guitar albums lately, and a number of them have been coming from Tomkins Square. Daniel Bachman keeps that string running strong.

    I suppose this might be called folk, as Bachman does a fair amount of fingerpicking in between his aggressive, thrashy drones. His term for this stuff is psychedelic Appalachia, which is alright. And he manages to get psychedelic without using much of reverb or distortion, which is quite impressive.

    What really knocks me out is the way Bachman sets his pieces. Each song comes alive almost immediately, and then the journey kicks into overdrive. There's no wasted motion in these kinetic works, many of which clock in at six minutes or more.

    I'm breathless. Bachman may be a guitar player, but he's really a storyteller. An epic work, all the more remarkable because the only sound to be heard is Bachman's guitar.


    Jesus, I'm a Sinner
    (Tomkins Square)
    tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams
    Unnamed Lands
    (ThosSounds)
    reviewed 3/16/14

    Modern music would not exist without the guitar. And while the guitar seems to be the perfect amalgam of violin and piano (capable of playing melodies like the similarly-shaped violin, but also very useful for its ability to play more than one note at once, like a piano), the history of the guitar likely predates both of those other instruments.

    Any fool can play a guitar. And that's a good thing. The relative ease with which a novice can produce pleasing sounds is why the guitar is central to today's highly democratized modern music scene. But there are a few folks who are radically understating the facts when they say, "I play a little."

    I've been following Daniel Bachman for a couple of years. Seven Pines, released in 2012, was a revelation filled with stunning guitar fugues. He created great walls of sound just by playing an acoustic guitar. It was a singular effort. The one drawback is that the songs pretty much stuck to that fugual state. After a while, the listener either had to surrender or run away. And while I'm at my happiest when I give up and melt into the music, I can understand those who might resist.

    Jesus, I'm a Sinner is a more accessible effort. For starters, Bachman brings in Sally Anne Morgan on fiddle for a couple songs. Morgan and Charlie Devine (banjo) sit in on "Chattanooga." Bachman even switches to banjo on "Goose Chase." While still an exquisitely structured and mannered album, this set flows more freely than Pines.

    While his style is very much in the mid-Atlantic folk guitar tradition of John Fahey, Bachman is able to do things on a guitar that pretty much no one else can. And he's still quite young. He's proven he's an adept. What next? Prove that he's an artist. That's always the trickiest step for young geniuses.

    Sinner does just that. Bachman still works his way in and out of the fugue, but this album is much more emotionally varied and open than Pines. The ebb and flow makes this set flash by almost instantly. It's wonderful to hear a young player mature into a true artist. Bachman has recorded four albums, but he's just beginning.

    Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber have been around for almost forever, it seems. Lams trained in his native Belgium, and Griesgraber snatched a degree from Berklee. Lams is best known for his work with the California Guitar Trio, but he's worked and performed with a long list classical, jazz and rock artists and ensembles. Griesgraber was originally a guitarist as well, but he started working with the Chapman stick (which has both bass and guitar strings) in 1997. Like Lams, Griesgraber tends to make music across all genres.

    This latest Griesgraber/Lams effort, Unnamed Lands, tells the story of one person on a wagon train headed west. The particulars aren't important; it's the journey that matters.

    There are times when this sounds like Pat Metheny playing the songs of Dirty Three. Most often, however, it's even better. The songs tend to be conversational, as if the fictional traveler is relating his story to the listener. The sound is open, which certainly suggests the wide spaces of the American prairie and how amazing those vistas must have seemed to someone more familiar with urban America in 1840.

    Griesgraber and Lams are classically-trained, and they have technical chops to burn. But instead of turning this into some sort of mellow shredfest, they use their skills to create a world out of sound. I've long appreciated Lams ability to create a wide variety of emotions within his precise playing style. He has his own language, and he uses it exceptionally well. Griesgraber uses the stick for both atmospherics and exposition. I can't even begin to comprehend the difficulty of making that thing work, but Griesgraber seems to do so effortlessly. The range of the instrument in his hands is amazing.

    The story itself isn't revelatory in terms of plot. But the idea of focusing on the inner thoughts of someone making a journey of outward exploration is wonderful. The execution here is simply stunning. The sound is inviting from the start, and once a listener has hitched on there's no looking back. Like the pioneers, there is only one way to move: Forward.

    Bachmann, Lamm and Griesgraber aren't the future of guitar. They are examples of some of the finest playing done on the instrument (or one of its variants) today. Sometimes the best players don't know how to translate their technical prowess into ideas that mortals can comprehend. These guys have done that and more, creating albums that amaze and, more importantly, inspire. Wonder knows no bounds.


    Back of Dave
    Glory of... 7"
    (Thick)
    reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95

    Another of those "emo-core" things. Back of Dave packs a load more sonic violence and traditional song construction than the Crank 10" twosome.

    The three songs included are all very nicely done, with some rather exceptional songwriting and wicked playing. I really didn't expect something this good, and I can't really explain much else about it. The pictures on the disc are cool, and the music much better. Do not miss this one.


    Backseat Dreamer
    The Colors of Dreams, They're in You
    (Stickfigure)
    reviewed in issue #320, September 2010

    Sean Neuse created these lovely electronic fields of pop. He's got an almost immaculate feel for the right balance between sterile synth backdrops and warm keyboard melodies.

    The vocals are minimalist, and they're secondary. The highlight is the interplay between the icy rhythm section and the ebullient melodies. Neuse throws in just enough contemplation to add the necessary layers of depth.

    Reminds me a lot of early Ming and Ping, though this is more playful musically than lyrically. Neuse is more than content to let his music be the focus. The lyrics can be intriguing, but he never lets them get in the way.

    It's always good to recognize your strengths and go with them. Neuse has started something great with Backseat Dreamer. I hope he keeps heading into that great fractal sunset--very slowly, of course.


    Backstreet Law
    Hockey Helmet
    (Riviere International)
    reviewed in issue #186, 9/28/98

    A fine selection of metalcore treats. Backtreet Law doesn't skimp on when it comes to prime riffage and funky grooves. Put 'em both together and the result is a fairly intoxicating brew.

    Not especially original in style, but excellent on the execution side. Yes, there are huge echoes of Sepultura and Biohazard and Rage Against the Machine. But Backstreet Law is a bit more tuneful than all of those. Not a softening, really, but an acknowledgement of melody as a useful element.

    And the sound is great. The mix emphasises the rhythm elements, but only slightly. Every part has its due, and all the parts come together to make some fine music.

    Sometimes it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. Backstreet Law follows a lot of trends, but in doing so it occasionally outdoes the originals. Completely compelling.


    Backworld
    Holy Fire
    (Harbinger House-World Serpent)
    reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98

    The gothic gothic, soundscapes of stark horror, punctuated by a wide-ranging examination of religion in our time. Quotes from the Bible and many philosophers, samples of David Koresh and other recent "prophets". All combining to create a surreal reality which, despite its seemingly incongruous nature, is in fact a perfect mirror on our struggles as a society to find spiritual peace.

    The usual hardcore gothic instrumentation: acoustic guitars, strings, a clarinet and overwashing keyboards. The arrangements are lush, but not overwhelming, with the samples serving as both rhythm and dramatic elements.

    In a weird way, like My Dying Bride without the excess. The song subjects are similar, and while Backworld never ratchets up the guitars, the passion burns intently. Following the Zen model, the questions are more important than the answers. And that makes the intriguing lyric content at least as important as the intricate music.

    A complete package, the journey of mind toward fulfillment. Contemplative, but not wishy-washy. Backworld manages to probe the spiritual world without getting either preachy or goofy. Some achievement, that.


    Backyard Babies
    Total 13
    (Scooch Pooch) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    From Sweden , with feeling. The Backyard Babies have a lush glam metal sound with all the requisite hooks intact. And, you know, this sorta thing is coming back around again.

    If it arrives in a package like this, I'm not sure who can resist. The songs don't fuck around; they come on in full buzzsaw mode and don't let up from there. Dirty, gritty, messy -- it doesn't matter what you call it, as long as you call it good.

    That's really the deal. Backyard Babies have a great feel on this sound (a bit more glam than metal, so they're really going back to the Sweet/Kiss roots) and the songs pack some serious punch. The wall of sound is exactly what's called for, and it just booms out of the speakers.

    A true joyride of epic proportions. Where I live, it's illegal to have this much fun. Yeah, sure, I'm riding the remnants of my teenage throbbing desire, but fuckit. Them's the best kinda days.


    The Backyard Committee
    The Backyard Committee
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #328, June 2011

    The Backyard Committee starts out sounding like any other solid, jangly americana outfit. And then it takes off. "We Can't Stay," the second track, is a bounding pop song that allows its roots to show. The next track, "Once in a Blue," takes the bluesy side of americana and drops in a decidedly modernist feel.

    The most interesting thing about these songs is that they're almost devoid of hooks. Rather, the Backyard Committee seems driven by the groove, the riffage that makes summer songs so much fun to blast on the car stereo.

    Maybe the grooves are the hooks, but I've always felt they represented different sides of the song. And while I've always felt that it is the hook that truly makes a song distinctive, these boys are rapidly making me change my mind.

    If you want to hear what I'm talking about, jet on over to the Bandcamp site, where this album is available for free. And while I was always taught that if you don't put a price on something then it isn't worth anything, this album proves that theory wrong as well. Thrilling.


    Bad Astronaut
    Acrophobe
    (Honest Don's)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    Ultra-catchy pop, with equal parts punk attitude and spacey keyboards. There's also this kinda odd prog feel that drops in and out without warning.

    All of these things add up to make the confection even sweeter than it might have been originally conceived. The hooks soar incandescently, and the surprisingly complex music works its way in slowly.

    There's even a cover of the old folk favorite "500 Miles" to totally trip up any potential genrefication. Bad Astronaut simply refuses to be tied to basic three-chord power pop.

    That has left this album as not only instantly gripping, but deep enough to withstand excessive exposure. Ear candy is rarely this fulfilling.


    Armchair Martian vs. Bad Astronaut split EP with Armchair Martian
    (Owned & Operated)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    Armchair Martian and Bad Astronaut played some of each other's songs (with one ringer), using the same drum kit and amp and such. The band members kinda switched off now and again as well, if I'm reading things right.

    In any case, this is a wonderfully loose and spirited set of tunes, seven in all. The liners don't mention who's playing what, and really, it doesn't matter. Just listen to the thing front to back and back to front and smile. Roots punk rarely sounds as good as it does coming from these guys.

    The sorta effort that simply leaves me sitting around with a silly grin on my face. While the stuff here would certainly stand up to heavy analysis, it's best appreciated in the spirit in which it was played: Just for fun.


    Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem
    (Honest Don's)
    reviewed in issue #234, October 2002

    I've been a fan of Bad Astronaut from the time I heard the band's first Honest Don's effort. But I always identified the boys with slick, catchy power pop. And I expected the best power pop album of the year when I popped open the package. The title is funny (in a nicely dumb way) and I figured this was going to be one big joyride.

    It is. But there's a depth and texture to these songs that I wasn't expecting. This isn't just the power pop album of the year. It might be the album of the year, period. The effect is kinda like listening to old Flaming Lips and then popping in The Soft Bulletin. Okay, so many of these songs are still punchy and very, very poppy. Underneath that veneer of slick riffola lies a deep, old soul. And that's what blows me away.

    The big change is that not all the songs are punky rave-ups. Joey Cape and the boys in the band (which includes two keyboard players, which should've told me something a while back) have put together some astonishingly beautiful songs to go with the disarmingly sweet ear candy. Most of these songs shift gears a few times, and the transitions are simply exquisite. There is nothing on this album that sounds out of place.

    Another reference might be NOFX's The Decline, which was so blisteringly brilliant (and surprising in both its range and ambition) that it gave me a whole new set of reasons to love the band. Bad Astronaut has laid down the gauntlet here. The roots may be punk, but the music is simply timeless. If there is a better album this year, it's gonna have to be better than I can imagine.


    Bad Biscut
    The American Dream?
    (Cathedral)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Three tracks produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest knob guy), the album coordinated by Anthony Bongiovi (Jon's uncle who cut the "Runaway" single and helped set up Bon Jovi's album deal) and a cheesy cover of "Kids in America".
    Goodness, it seems like these boys are going places.

    And why not? Cheap and easy punk rawk (and glam metal overtones) with irresistible hooks and sublime pop sensibility. If they look good on video, there should be no stopping them.

    While I often rail against extremely commercial fare (which this is), I have to admit that this stuff is really fun. Throwaway? Yeah, that too. But why quibble?

    Play them while they're still unknown. That won't be long.


    Bad Haskells
    Day Glo
    (Pinch Hit)
    reviewed in issue #174, 12/28/98

    The basic sound here is trippy groove rock, but don't let that scare you. Bad Haskells do all those 60s excess things right (wah-wah, soft distortion, grimy harmonies) and graft them onto a vague white-boy funk platform.

    But, to use a slightly insensitive phrase, these guys know they're white. The bass lines are bouncy, but they don't even try to approximate deep funk. Just enough groove to move the tunes along.

    And so, instead of writing insipid songs filled with dreadful musical and lyrical cliches, Bad Haskells craft silly little effervescent ditties. Nothing substantial, mind you, but fun nonetheless. Tight and tuneful, with just the right amount of wit.

    A good little party album, really. Bad Haskells won't be changing the world any time soon, but it might make a few folks smile.


    Bad Livers
    Horses in the Mines
    (1/4 Stick-Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #51, 3/31/94

    Sounding like a scratchy 78 from the forties or fifties, Bad Livers not only go straight to the source of country music (rural blues, bluegrass and folk for starters), but they present it as well as I've heard.

    The three guys recorded this thing in a shed. And the low-tech production absolutely sparkles with life. It also could be the rather entertaining songs, which sound wonderful in this setting.

    I've always preferred this sort of music for driving or drinking (though not at the same time). You can pretend you're wandering down the now-mythical Route 66 listening to a clear channel station from Nashville all the way to Albuquerque. A hoot and a holler now and again will help get you in the mood. Or you can simply pop a beer, kick back and prosper.


    Bad Religion
    Generator
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #7, 2/15/92

    Saturday morning. Just watched "The Candidate" last night and am feeling rather cynical. Then the mail guy drops off this package. Enclosed is the return of the greatest band in the world. The heavens part and the sun shines through the cold. Life is better than bliss.

    Okay, so now you know my bias. But to be as prolific as they are and still as damn fucking good... This time out, the lyrics have a definite dark tint to them. Most of them have at least a little to do with the recent Gulf conflict, especially the two tracks from a 7" they issued last year with M.I.T. linguist Noam Chomsky.

    Longer songs, too. While the album still clocks in right at 30 minutes, there are only 11 songs as opposed to the normal 15+. But who out there is going to bitch? Not me, man.

    The songs show more construction, with an occasional lead break (oh my!) and more time to flesh out the music. Why hasn't a major picked these guys up?

    Well, I suppose it would be a bitch to leave your own damn label to go big and sell out. So let's all get out and celebrate! Bad Religion has been around for over ten years and is still as vital as they were when their first EP came out in 1981 (tho' a bit more polished, I must say).

    Did I mention I love this album?


    Recipe for Hate
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93

    This is the fifty-seventh time I've listened to this. I kept track.
    At first it sounded forced, though "Recipe for Hate," "Skyscraper" and "American Jesus" are definite BR classics. Especially galling was Jonette Napolitano's anthemic wail on "Struck a Nerve". And "All Good Soldiers" seemed awful crafted.

    At this point, however, I must say I like this album almost as much as Against the Grain, a good two steps better than Generator. The dirge-like pace of their last album has been abandoned for traditional BR speed and even tighter harmonies.

    It is absurd to put any other punk band in the same sentence with Bad Religion. They're leading a punk renaissance, selling a shitload of records. Yes, this stuff can be played on a commercial station. And it's heavy enough for the meanest alternative outlet.

    Five albums in six years. Seventy-two songs and not a bad one in the bunch. NO ONE ELSE can make such a claim. To overlook these guys would be a terrible mistake.


    The Gray Race
    (Atlantic)
    reviewed in Money Whore issue #3, 4/8/96

    Having been a fan since what today qualifies as "the old days", I was one who didn't understand the shift from Epitaph to Atlantic (see A&A #105 for a more detailed take on the Offspring, a related subject). Apparently Bret Gurewitz didn't either, as he left after recording the last album, Stranger than Fiction.

    He and singer Greg Graffin (the other main songwriter) have similar songwriting styles, but they often focused on somewhat different lyrical subjects. After more than 15 years of writing angry punk screeds, Graffin seems played out. The songs on this album are alright, but don't have any of the energy of the Bad Religion glory days. Actually, the last consistently good BR album was Against the Grain, which was five years and four albums ago. Generator and Recipe for Hate found the songs slowing up, with more tendencies to the dread anthemitis. I actually thought Stranger than Fiction was a bit better, though that metal guitar sound Andy Wallace introduced really wanked.

    Ric Ocasek (yes, the Cars guy) produced this one, reportedly recording the songs in one take. A good idea, and The Gray Race is the freshest sounding BR album in a long time. But that doesn't make up for the relatively dreary songwriting. Yeah, even Gurewitz's songs had lost their bite by Stranger, so you can't pin the band's creative decline solely on Graffin (though he wrote or co-wrote all the songs on this one).

    Perfectly acceptable, which is probably why I'm disappointed. I remember a Bad Religion that really said something in its songs. That band hasn't been around for some time. Yeah, the MTV kiddies will eat this up with or without a spoon (while in Key West last week I heard "A Walk" squeezed between Pink Floyd and Primus on the radio), but I'll have to sit on the sidelines and harrumph. And listen to the younger generation of punkers who still have new ideas.


    Jonathan Badger
    Unsung Stories from Lilly's Days As a Solar Astronaut
    (MT6)
    reviewed in issue #315, March 2010

    As the title suggests, this is the work of a fairly obsessive guy. The pieces on this disc are a testament to many areas and levels of devotion--not to mention distortion. Badger crafts his songs in symphonic style, laying out a theme and then building on (or, as often as not, deconstructing) that theme.

    Which is to say that patience is required. My ears immediately picked up on the sophisticated composition style and unusual arrangements, but some folks might just hear electronic disturbance. I think this stuff is much more accessible than that, but I'm not the most objective judge in that area.

    What I can say is that Badger knows his music theory. And while the sounds here might be a bit estranged from the orchestra, some of the ideas behind them are in the finest traditions of modern composing.

    Some of the ideas, of course, come from verse-chorus-verse-chorus songwriting. And Badger is pretty good at that, too. Mostly, though, the greatness on this album comes from the synthesis of structures and sounds that Badger manages to achieve. This is an album sans genre, one that is good enough to stand alone from the mountaintop.


    Badtown Boys
    epidemic
    (Gift of Life-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95

    Without sounding a whole lot like Bad Religion, the Badtown Boys are the first band I've heard to successfully bridge the speed hardcore and pop punk traditions in years.

    There's a lot of angst, and most of the songs end up being some sort of personal rant about this or that, but then, it wouldn't be punk without such sentiments, now would it?

    Completely solid in every way: songwriting, technique, production, whatever. I can't think of one serious criticism, though in the future some breadth of lyrical topics might be nice.

    But that's really nitpicking. This is a great album chock full o' goodies. Who can complain about that?


    Badwrench
    Cosmo Rocket
    (Buzzchunk)
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    One note from the hook. That's all Badwrench really needs.

    Now, folks that dig "alternative" stuff like Better than Ezra will find this brilliant, but I've got my standards, folks. And Badwrench plays the backbeat syncopation game with skill, but not enough verve to kick my ass.

    It's too bad, because I can hear where just one little bit could move this from sorta catchy to riff-wrapping ear candy. One idea would be to lighten up a bit on the vocal style (which adds a level of pretentiousness that the songs cannot support), but even then they guys have to know that their song construction needs about one more chord change each chorus. Just to shift into overdrive.

    Or maybe they don't want that. Fine by me. Right now, though, Badwrench is muddling between musical concepts. Borrowing from a couple, but not able to really fly on its own. Plenty of potential, but the guys just aren't there yet.


    Baggerboot
    Baggerboot
    (Henceforth)
    reviewed in issue #270, November 2005

    This violin/viola, bass and accordion trio is perhaps the perfect counterpoint to Anti-Social Music. Here we have three people playing "free jazz," a form that is often mistaken for pure improvisation. It's not, not exactly, but I'm afraid I'm not the best person to explain the difference.

    Suffice it to say the players have a sense of where they're going. And the members of this trio are so attuned to each other's playing that the songs themselves often sound like they've been written out beforehand (again, something that might well be true for parts of each work).

    But I'm making everything so complicated, when in truth the attraction of this album is simple: Three people who know how to manipulate each other's wavelengths into creating some truly inspiring sounds.

    There's something about the way string instruments grind and groan that plays exceptionally well with an accordion--especially one played with the enthusiasm and range shown by Ute Volker here. Three pieces, all named "Cascade" (I through III) and each of them is almost overwhelming. Spectacular.


    Bailterspace
    Capsul
    (Turnbuckle)
    reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97

    From the looks of things, this Kiwi trio has been cranking out a large amount of music for a long time under at least two names, going by the Gordons through the mid-80s, and Bailter Space since 1987 or so. Alright, so there were at least a couple of lineup changes, but you get the gist.

    And the main point is that Bailer Space likes to play pop music without regard for structure, volume considerations or any convention whatsoever. Unlike Sonic Youth, with whom this band has been compared many times, Bailter Space has continued to evolve, incorporating new ideas all along the way.

    The result is somewhere between Storm & Stress and any number of emo-core bands. There are some undeniably gorgeous moments ("Dome" comes to mind), but just when I settle into a groove with the music, Bailter Space shifts reality again. Unnerving, but ultimately more satisfying.

    This album pushes the pop envelope in both attractive and disquieting ways. The members of Bailter Space seem to have an inner understanding of how to make music that truly connects. It's so easy to get lost, and once there, who cares?


    Strobosphere
    (Fire)
    reviewed in issue #339, August 2012

    Picking up where the boys left off more than a decade ago, Bailterspace continues to epitomize the dronier, more atonal side of Kiwi rock. What's most surprising is how 1994 this sounds. That may not be the best thing in the world, perhaps, but I liked this stuff then and I like this album now.


    Bill Baird
    Spring Break of the Soul
    (self-released
    reviewed in issue #346, 3/3/13

    The usual eclectic one-man band fare--in that pretty much anything goes. Baird layers his instruments and vocals in a hypnotic gauze, and this lends a further disconnect from reality. I like these sorts of albums; they do such a wonderful job of painting a picture of a singular mind. Baird doesn't always make sense, but his music is always alive.


    Bakelite 78
    What the Moon Has Done
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #335, March 2012

    Absolutely absurd, completely addictive mood americana. Bakelite 78 rolls the red carpet back to the days of Tin Pan Alley and Dixieland, and lays the metaphors (both musical and lyrical) on with a trowel. But the band fails to fall prey to cliche (unlike this hack reviewer, sad to say).

    There's something about the sound of a walking double bass, banjo and saw (yep, saw) that makes me smile. Yes, there is the echo of the past, but these songs have their feet firmly set in the present. Listen closely; the writing is utterly present-day.

    This is the second iteration of the band. Founder Robert Rial wandered around the Chicago area for a few years (recording a couple of albums) before heading all the way west to Seattle back in 2009. This is the first set for the reconstituted group. I think it holds up the high standards of those earlier efforts.

    You'll laugh, you'll cry--and sure, you might scowl as such silly fare as "Lurid Lounge." This is one band that doesn't take itself terribly seriously. Which only serves to make this album that much more fun. A complete blast.


    Aidan Baker/Thomas Baker/Alan Bloor
    Terza Rima
    (Public Eyesore)
    reviewed in issue #265, June 2005

    Three lengthy live pieces recorded from the sound board. That's about as pure as it gets. Aidan Baker plays guitar, Thomas Baker plays piano and Alan Bloor manipulates "amplified metal." Oh yeah, it's one of those.

    The label ought to have tipped you off, of course. Public Eyesore traffics in all sorts of music, but all of it is significantly off the beaten path. I think that's why I like their stuff so much. In any case, these guys create an astonishing atmosphere. It's hard to believe that three people are creating this stuff in real time.

    Contemplative, yes, but in an intense way. These guys set up recurring rhythms and ideas and then play with them. Not loops (this is live and supposedly not automated), but rather variations on a theme. Lots of variations and many, many themes.

    I'll be honest; I can't stand listening to this stuff in a live setting. Puts me to sleep. But slap a recording like this on my home stereo and my senses jump. Everything becomes more real. I can see things I've been missing. Orgasms get better. I guess it's like crack for dorks or something. Anyway, I like it this way, and I like what these guys do. And that's more than good enough for me.


    Baleen
    Soundtrack to a Normal Life
    (Liquilab)
    reviewed in issue #226, February 2002

    Apparently, Baleen's idea of a normal life is a diverse one. The band refuses to stick to any one style, instead flinging itself headfirst into electronic, pop, rock and vaguely jazzy sounds. When you've got full-time keyboard and sax men, that sorta thing probably comes naturally.

    What is consistent is the way that the members play off each other. There's a synergy here, a real band feel that is often missing in true collaborations. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but often "playing together" means compromise. With Baleen, all of its members are focused on the same goal, and that tight gaze keeps the songs aimed in the right direction.

    This is an astonishingly crafted album. As the notes say, "all songs written performed recorded lost re-recorded looped cut pasted and finally mixed by baleen." Indeed. I've got a practiced ear for this sort of collage creation, and I can barely hear the edits. The work is top-notch, retaining a forceful live sound.

    With so much going on at once, it would have been easy for Baleen to allow its songs to degenerate into a mess of competing ideas. Instead, all those thoughts coalesce into a solid volume. You haven't heard anything quite like Baleen. And once you hear it, you'll wish you could hear so much more.


    Follow Me Blind
    (Liquilab)
    reviewed in issue #269, October 2005

    A King's X for the modern era. Baleen is much more electronic than hard rock (though these songs are played, not programmed), but there are more than a few points in confluence. The science fiction references (The title of a song on this album, "Magnifico (The Mule)," is a character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy). There's also the use of strong, if somewhat unusual harmonies and an off-kilter rhythmic base.

    Mostly, though, the resemblance is strictly artistic. At its best (say, on its second and third albums), King's X re-invented hard rock. Baleen is simply a modern rock and roll band, but by infusing jazz elements (including saxophone), an electronic sensibility and more melodies than any album rightly ought to have, these boys have carved out their own space.

    And it's one hell of a space. Even in the quiet moments, a lot is going on. I know a few folks who would make a Morphine reference, and I suppose that's legit on an artistic level. Hell, while you're at it, why not include Roxy Music and any other band that didn't fixate upon any fixed conception of music?

    Sorry about the soapbox. This is one of those albums that sneaks up on you fast. The first few bars aren't anything spectacular, but I can't imagine anyone not getting hooked by the end of the first song. Spectacular.


    Matt Balitsaris/Jeff Berman
    An Echoed Smile
    (Palmetto)
    reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97

    Balitsaris plays a range of guitars, and Berman handles the vibraphone and other percussion. Yeah, it's quiet and contemplative. Rather mellow. But certainly not dull.

    The pair are joined by special guests Dave Liebman, Hearn Gadbois and Guy Klucevsek on three songs, but Balitsaris and Berman provide the main attraction. Eight of the ten tracks are written by one or the other, showing a nice range of intricate, intimate jazz.

    The guitar and vibraphone often operate on completely different lines, converging only to convey the main point of each song. This leaves plenty of room for exploration, and the two take full advantage. The sound is small, but the ideas are large.

    More proof that mellow doesn't mean insipid. Balitsaris and Berman have crafted a fine album of many soft moods. Low volume doesn't indicate low intensity, though, as An Echoed Smile is as passionate a jazz album I've heard in a while.


    Ballbusters
    No Jerk'n Off
    (D.I.L.L.I.G.A.F.)
    reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93

    If you've heard of the Jerky Boys, then you know precisely what this stuff is. I didn't really like the Jerky boys, and this is not quite up to that standard of quality.

    Of course, if you're like most folk, then you'll get off on this for at least a few minutes.

    Now, I got the tape somewhere at CMJ, and it doesn't have a contact address or anything, so you probably can't do a damn thing with this review. But I figured I'd get in on the fad and register my opinion.


    Ballurio
    Spider Dance
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    A somewhat different take on the whole instrumental guitar sound. Ballurio still relies on a rather processed sound--drum machines or simply sharply recorded drums, a metallic guitar sound, etc. But instead of merely aping the pyrotechnics of a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai or whatever, Ballurio takes a bluesy stance.

    For me, it doesn't work too well. The bombastic arrangements and sterile sound don't really get me into a bluesy mood. The playing is good and often fairly expressive, though I'm not sure how much feeling could be wrought through this sound.

    Still, I'll give good notice for the attempt to break away from the pack, even I'm not particularly knocked out. My real problem is more with the sound. For this approach, something earthier and duller would have worked much better. Take all the edges off, and maybe then we'd be talking.

    But I've gotta write about what's actually here. And even with a fairly creative approach to the sound, Ballurio doesn't quite ride above the rest. Good playing and decent arrangements aren't enough


    The Band that Should Not Be
    The Band that Should Not Be
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #119, 9/23/96

    Sounds a lot like early King Missile (you know, when Dogbowl was in the band). Songs with jokey themes and the same musical idea that keeps getting repeated over and over again. With really low-fi production, even on the number that use a lot of keyboards.

    And still damned entertaining. The band's name is absolutely correct, but this is a 90-minute tape that is almost crammed with music. Plenty of filler and far-too-long songs, but plenty to smile at as well.

    This is exactly the sort of tape that my brothers would wear out while in the throes of chemical immolation. They also listen to a lot of Beck at these times, but this stuff is much better in my book. Strangely compelling. I simply can't stop listening.


    The Bangkok Five
    10 the Hard Way EP
    (Aeronaut)
    reviewed in issue #267, August 2005

    Garage attitude combined with a full-fuzz sound and some decidedly polished guitar work...when you crank out a pile of shiny rock, you'd damn well better overload the energy factor. These boys do.

    Kinda like the "Sister Havana" side of Urge Overkill's major label experiment, these boys flash some killer hookmaking skills even as they try to rock out the universe. And like I noted above, the sound is tres "I wanna be a star."

    That's cool with me. The energy is, in fact, overloaded in a most pleasing way. The Bangkok Five probably ought to do a little more to differentiate itself from the pack--be it rock or emo (or can we merge those two terms, please?)--but I'm not gonna complain about the five swingingly stylish pieces of big rock on this disc. Just what the dog days of summer ordered.


    Bangkok Shock
    Arrested for Success
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97

    An awfully tinny sound, though that's not an awful thing for cheap and sleazy glam metal. The songs are typical ("Sex, Money & Drugs", "Any Way She Can Get It" and "Trash Can Lover" are certainly representative), with competent cheesy guitar keeping the whole thing moving reasonably well.

    I've got a soft spot in my heart for this kinda thing. There's not a whole lot of musical talent (or songwriting skill, for that matter) wandering about here, but it's still strangely compelling. Completely absurd, but fun nonetheless.

    There seems to be some intent here to paint the band in "punk" terms (the spoken intro refers to the band as "hardcore"), but I guess times have been pretty rough for glam cheese the past few years. Bangkok Shock sounds more than a little like another Asian city band, Hanoi Rocks. And God knows the last time a used store bought the latest Michael Monroe release.

    Simple, stupid and pretty inane. But when turned up to 11, gotta admit I got off. Ten seconds to love, indeed.


    Back on the Streets
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #134, 5/12/97

    The latest from these Vegas boys. The charm of rock-bottom production values remains, but everything else is stuck in the same gear as well.

    The songwriting is passable glam metal stuff, except that there needs to be a little punch in the booth to keep this stuff on the positive side of kinetic energy. That's not here.

    And the best moments here are obvious GN'R and AC/DC rip offs. Now, of course, with some serious cash for recording and good marketing, Bangkok Shock could sell a shitload of stuff. The baseline songwriting is puerile but not much below acceptable for this sort of thing.

    But this package doesn't make it. I still think the guys need to define their own sound much better, and that starts with more songwriting work. I really wanted to like this, but Bangkok Shock didn't progress enough to impress me.


    Bangs
    Sweet Revenge
    (Kill Rock Stars)
    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    There's this strange situation that crops up about once every couple of issues. I've got to review an album where one of the performers is a label flack. In every case, it's a person I like (even if I don't know them well). Strangely, it seems most of these people are drummers. I wonder what that says about folks who work for indie labels?

    Anyway, suffice it to say I've run into that situation again here. And once again, it's not a problem. Bangs are cool. Not sophisticated. Not glossy. But quite accomplished, particularly in the writing area. Sarah Utter's guitar work is also quite spectacular.

    Just yer basic punk, with some great lead riffs and vocals that sound uncannily like the Go-Go's on speed. Tuneful, though still nicely rough around the edges. Infectious, most certainly.

    A lot of fun, but don't dismiss Bangs are mere fluff. There's substance behind the adrenaline train. A most impressive set.


    The Bank Robbers
    Tomorrow Belongs to Me
    (No Milk)
    reviewed in issue #275, June 2006

    Extremely earnest, nearly prehistoric-sounding emo. Strident guitars, anthemic verses (much less choruses) and group vocals abounding. Takes me back...with pleasure.

    I didn't know bands wanted to sound like this anymore. Or maybe I'm way out of touch with the mainstream and this is current "thing." Quite possible. In any case, the tight production sound on these raucous performances locks in something special.

    The Bank Robbers don't screw around. They give their songs lengthy titles (see "The Truth Is Rarely Pure, and Never Simple" and "Here's Your Song You've Never Wanted") and don't mess around with silly concepts such as metaphor. This is as straightforward as it gets (that's the "earnest" thing, I guess). I can appreciate that.

    And it just sounds so good. Very sharp production, but the playing and singing is just ragged enough to keep me smiling. The Bank Robbers save all their complexity for the music, and that works very well.


    Bankhead
    This Won't Hurt a Bit EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Five peppy pop songs, with a vague ska feel at times. Just a strange skank beat from time to time. Yeah, I don't know, either.

    Anyway, the cheesily heart-wrenching lyrics are lots of fun. The sort of stuff that Green Day used to write before the band got all serious. And while this isn't anywhere related to punk, it's a reference I like.

    In fact, the rather restrained production and simply songwriting makes the goofy lyrics sound that much more sincere. Hey, these songs are effervescent, but they're fun while they last.

    Easy to like, easy to forget. Just bubbles away. Still, some cool jangles.


    Bantha
    The Finest of Silks
    (Hammerhead)
    reviewed in issue #129, 3/3/97

    Most of the stuff I've gotten from Hammerhead has been atypical of the general stereotypical greater Chicago area (I know where Champaign is, damnit). Finally, a band that would sound at home with the good folks at Touch and Go.

    But probably even more like the Austin gang at Trance. Trippy, bass heavy guitar lines, rapidly shifting rhythm work and a general disregard for vocals and melody. If you remember Johnboy, Bantha could be a second cousin.

    These guys insist on destroying every song they write. I mean, "Clowns of the Carnivale" could be a seriously gorgeous pop tune. And yet the end result here is a song without any lyrics during the verse, and a totally distorted chorus to boot. Completely brilliant.

    Utterly incomprehensible at times, Bantha wields its music as a big, ugly stick with which to subdue any praise. Didn't work. Sometimes this sounds like nothing more than a big-ass shouting match, but the real result is rather satisfying.


    Baphomet
    The Dead Shall Inherit
    (Peaceville-Caroline)
    reviewed in issue #17, 7/31/92

    One of the few bands that has not deserted the fine Buffalo death metal breeding grounds. You could not guess how many of those Floridian bands have upstate roots.

    Judging by the response I have already received, you dig these fuckers. With good reason. The music is more than mere incoherent noise with scratching noises pretending to be vocals. No, there is a band here. The riffs are rather Slayer-esque at times, but the delivery is pure Baphomet.

    A fine debut work that shows a real future for these boys.


    The Bar Feeders
    Pour for Four, Por Favor
    (Fast Music) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    Fast and sloppy hardcore. The songs are rather silly, with odes to Attica and Salma Hayek, among many other topics. Tuneful? Um, nope.

    Amusing? Well, in a blunt force kinda way. The Bar Feeders don't quite have the unfailing energy of a Zeke, but they're almost as messy. This isn't music for the faint-hearted. Indeed, if the tuneage doesn't getcha, the lyrics will.

    Tasteless, tuneless and generally ragged. If it weren't for the crude humor, well, this wouldn't be worth much time at all. But see, that's the hook.

    Alright, alright, even with the silly jokes this isn't exactly enlightened fare from any viewpoint. Still, it made me smile. There's always room for that somewhere.


    Eric Barber
    Maybeck Constructions
    (pfMENTUM)
    reviewed in issue #252, April 2004

    Eric Barber plays tenor and soprano sax. At least, that's what he does here. The "Maybeck" in the title comes from the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, where this album was recorded. Not live, as near as I can tell, but simply in the empty hall to take advantage of the marvelous acoustics of the place.

    This is Barber alone, by the way. Just him and his muses and demons. The pieces themselves have starkly different characters. Barber is more than willing to deconstruct his own instruments in order to find original sounds, and he's also able to play extremely technical fingerings in a fluid and expressive manner. His adventurousness and ability to shift gears are what really grab my ears.

    As for the acoustics of the recital hall--they're amazing. As a former high school band fag, I can attest to the astonishing difference the right performance location can make. The Maybeck is warm, but not mushy. It's forgiving, but not to the point of obscuring subtle moments. It sounds like a wonderful setting for the solo artist who wants to present his or her music in the best way possible.

    Barber's compositions are intense and thought-provoking. His playing is as varied and skilled as his composing, and he really brings these pieces to life here. Top it off with the perfect setting, and you have a truly exceptional album.


    Barbez
    Barbez
    (Important)
    reviewed in issue #256, August 2004

    Important releases stuff from the likes of Jad Fair, Merzbow, Daniel Johnston, etc. Indeed, the King Missile III album reviewed below is also an Important release. So right off, I got the idea that this wasn't going to be just any ol' album.

    I guess not. The dominant instruments are violin and marimba, with a healthy dose of accordion. The Kurt Weill-meets-Residents-meets-Russian wedding band reference from the web site isn't that far off. The accordion and marimba do lend an "old Europe" feel to the pieces here, which are themselves steeped in the European art song tradition.

    Well, until they kinda devolve into punky noise and general chaos. See, Barbez is almost as interested in deconstruction as it is in standard musical forms, and that dichotomy makes for some most interesting conflicts. These songs often sound like a musical representation of a Stalingrad reenactment--staged within the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic.

    Mind you, I think that's utterly awesome. Barbez is perfectly willing to play nice. For a time. And then the knives come out. Those moments are the ones that really grab me. Mordant and glistening with greatness.


    Barbie Complex
    No Brain No Pain
    (Funky Mushroom)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Power punk pop, a la Die Monster Die or Hammerbox. Ali Rogers' vocals are somewhat more distorted, and the band relies a little more on lead guitar work, but other than that the sound is pretty much the same.

    And the songwriting is just about as solid as well, so as this 13-song collection rolls along it just continues to impress. I would prefer that the band find a more original sound, but as long as the folks want to stick around here, they might as well do the thing as best they can. So they do.

    Fun listening, but nothing new or revolutionary. Fans of the aforementioned bands ought check this out, and if you don't believe that a woman can belt out a song with the best of men, well, you can listen in as well. There is nothing wrong here; I just wish the Barbie Complex had bothered to find a more original style.


    Bardo Pond
    Bufo Alvarius, Amen 29:15
    (Drunken Fish)
    reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95

    Just in case you were curious, the 29:15 is the timing of the "Amen" track and has no biblical significance.

    Bardo Pond creates these monstrous musical compositions that center around a certain member of the band (usually guitar, but also sometimes the drums), with caterwauls of feedback and distortion so extreme you might swear the song got lost somewhere.

    Music at its most deconstructed. There are but a few musical ideas on this entire disc, and not every song really has one. At times I think the purpose is to simply annoy and frighten the listener.

    But is it "art"? Oh, sure. Bardo Pond celebrates cacophony in all its resident forms, to unbelievable excess. Incomprehensible much of the time, sure, but I still dig it.


    Bardo Pond
    (Fire Records)
    reviewed in issue #325, March 2011

    Just what is Bardo Pond? Hell, the band has been around longer than A&A, and that's sayin' something. So what is Bardo Pond? One of the finest purveyors of eccentric heavy noise to ever hit the planet.

    This isn't grunge, and it isn't sludge. It's a few steps down the evolutionary ladder from mid-80s Sonic Youth, but certainly more sophisticated than Mudhoney. I will say this: If you don't recognize those references, this album just might strip away all your skin.

    Remarkably nimble for a band that isn't afraid of using a sonic sledgehammer, this Bardo Pond album (the first one I've reviewed in 16 years), does sound a bit more introspective than earlier works. A bit. There are some unconscionably gorgeous segments. There are some very weird moments. And then there are the requisite "end of civilization" brain-splitters.

    I kinda like a band that can roam around the edges of reality and then drive its point home with a bludgeon. I've loved Bardo Pond for ages (even when its previous labels didn't send me the latest album), and this album continues that trend. Geezer rock, I suppose. Or, at least, freaky geezer rock. And damned good stuff, too.


    Peace on Venus
    (Fire Records)
    reviewed 2/9/14

    Bardo Pond has been releasing albums for almost as long as I've been writing A&A. I reviewed the first Bardo Pond album way back in 1995, and now I'm catching up again.

    Most appropriately, the band is on Fire Records, which is home to a lot of the reconstituted modestly-successful "alternative" bands of the 1980s and 90s. Did I mention that I love Fire Records?

    I'm 43 years old, so of course I do. And since I am 43, I love this new Bardo Pond effort. Is it revolutionary? Is the band trying something new? Is there any reason for, say, a 25-year-old to check it out? Of course not. But that doesn't mean it sucks.

    Rather, this compendium of turgid riffage, squalling noise and ear hair-shredding feedback is pretty much what Bardo Pond has been doing all along. If you dig it, great. If not, go home.

    I like that in a band. While I am also partial to the failed masterpiece, there's something comforting in knowing exactly what you're going to hear when you hit play.

    I'm sure this reads like a backhanded complement, but old guys like me appreciate getting our ear hairs shredded now and again. Beats yanking the fuckers out with tweezers.

    But seriously, there is something to be said for doing what you do well--and continuing to find interesting ways to do what you do well. These new songs have pounded their way into my primitive brain, and I imagine they'll stick around for a while.

    This is the perfect music for holing up in a cave. Turn it up to 11 and let its slimy goodness seep into your soul. Do not play this around the kids. It will scare them, and they will wonder about your sanity.

    On the other hand, that's a perfect reason for playing this around the kids. Children are much easier to control when they're scared--and moreso when they are worried about the sanity of one or more parents.

    So maybe this new(ish) Bardo Pond will find a new audience: parents of school-age children. It's time to scare the bastards straight. Frighten them away from their Imagine Dragons and such and force the moppets into lives of juvenile delinquency.

    I don't know why I didn't think of this before. Thank you, Bardo Pond! Once again, you have inspired ideas that will change the world.


    Barely Pink
    Number One Fan
    (Big Deal)
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    Barely Pink hails from somewhere in the Tampa Bay area. Now, the press claims Tampa, but the mailing address is in St. Pete, as is the one club (well, restaurant, actually), and as a former resident of southeast St. Pete, I'm kinda aware of how such people hate to be stuck in with Tampa. And, for the record, the Devil Rays will be playing baseball in St. Petersburg next year. None of this Tampa crap, okay?

    As for the band, the sound is power pop with a lot of Velveeta. The sticker on the cover compares Barely Pink to Cheap Trick (fair enough), T. Rex (not even close) and Big Star (mostly in the way-off harmonies, I guess). Enjoyable fare, but not particularly inspiring.

    Whenever any song seems ready to barrel full-steam into some nicely discordant seconds of distortion-laden madness, the sound instead thins out into some clean lines. The hooks are acceptable, if a little tired, but the thing that sticks out is the lack of adventure.

    I know that Tom Morris loves to craft an immaculately clean sound with most every album he produces (one of the few insights I get for three years in Florida), but even he should know this kind of music needs to be at least a little dirty. Some grime at the corners, a little sand in the axle grease. It's not here. If Barely Pink were to actually take some shots, it might really get somewhere. This album is far too safe.


    Blixa Bargeld
    Nick Cave
    Mick Harvey

    To Have and To Hold Soundtrack
    (Mute)
    reviewed in issue #129, 3/3/97

    Um, yeah, it's an Australian film. Why do you ask?

    All kidding aside, the main work the "big three" at the top of the marquee is compose. This is orchestral stuff of the film variety, which means rather overdone, with way too many strings swelling. Still, there are a few nice moments.

    Most of those occur in odd sampled moments that take the music away from a Gone With the Wind feel and more toward the ambient. But honestly, there aren't enough of those spots to make up for the garish excess. Yeah, sure, I remember who's in charge here, but a track record of overblown, moody music doesn't mean you should cheese out that vision for a movie paycheck

    There are two tracks here that aren't of the "filmic music" variety. First is "Mourning Song", by Raun Raun Theatre, bit of which are sprinkled throughout the instrumental parts. And second is Scott Walker's Englebert Humperdinck-esque walkthrough of "I Threw It All Away". Yow. Imagine Nick Cave doing "Love Will Tear Us Apart" while overdosing on Prozac.

    Well, I prefer not to think about that. Same goes for the soundtrack.


    Barkmarket
    Gimmick
    (American)
    reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93

    Barkmarket used to be a noise band without real oomph to the sound. Not any more.

    This gets positively heavy at times, and with all the feedback and squeals going on, a rather pleasant vibe escapes.

    Remember Bullet Lavolta's The Gift? I can't put my finger on it, but this reminds me of that a lot. It probably has something to do with the hoarse shouting vocal style and coherent lyrical thought.

    Gimmick is not the kind of album a first-time listener will appreciate. That's a good thing, of course, because it means you have to crank a great album five or six times to really appreciate it. Sounds like a plan to me.


    Scotland Barr & the Slow Drags
    All the Great Aviators Agree
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #295, April 2008

    Reminds me nothing so much as Josh Lederman, that purveyor of Irish americana from Boston. Scotland Barr hails from the other coast, and he dips into just about every musical tradition he can find and runs it through a bright filter.

    See, this is americana. It's sharply produced and polyglot by design. It works because Barr's songs are solid and his band plays with a loose, accomplished feel. Nothing sounds rushed, but all the notes arrive on time.

    And when you've got this much stuff in the pot, you need a strong hand on the knobs. If you allow too much sloppiness, then this would become incomprehensible. There's a clear vision in the sound, and this album was produced with that in mind.

    Down and dirty songs that ought to make just about anyone feel good. Bring your troubles to this bar, and you're sure to go home happy.


    Barrow
    Though I'm Alone
    (Mayfly)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/10/13

    Taking the whole extreme hardcore thing and then tearing it apart, Barrow has crafted a most intriguing sound for itself. Most of these songs are screamers, but a couple are much more experimental. I really like the way these songs morph into different creatures. The deconstruction is most impressive. There's a lot more here than glorious noise (though the noise is, indeed, wondrous).


    Bars of Gold
    Of Gold
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #320, September 2010

    Befitting most unusual music such as this, the boys in Bars of Gold have decided to release this puppy in glorious green (or orange) vinyl. The music itself doesn't quite hearken back to the glory days of indie rock, but there are moments.

    What this sounds like is an astonishingly nourishing combination of no wave, math rock and early Superchunk, with just a dash of the anthemic tendencies of early Springsteen thrown in, just for the hell of it. In other words, lots of noise that somehow comes together into a blazing statement of greatness.

    Really. The sound on this album is so clean and stripped-down that every little click and slipped fret is easily heard. Of course, these boys can really play, so there's very little slipping. The arrangements are where the songs get interesting. There is a grandiosity in these collections of snap and crackle that is mindblowing.

    You might not hear this after a minute or two. Just let the first couple songs work all the way through, and I think you'll hear what I mean. This is highly-crafted music that merely carries the surface sheen of incompetent hacks before blooming into something spectacular. Absolutely brilliant. I can't pull my ears away.


    Chris Barth
    Loving Off the Land
    (Mr. Whiggs)
    reviewed in issue #228, April 2002

    Chris Barth leads his songs with an acoustic guitar. Well, that's generally where the melody starts out. He gets this astonishing ringing quality on the guitar sound, and then he starts to add any number of other instruments (piano, bass, melodia, electric guitar, organ, trumpet, accordion, whatever) until he's got his engine running. Then he starts to sing. Or he doesn't. That sort of forced intimacy works well. The listener (well, me) is brought into Barth's head quickly. Sure, it's an often disturbing exhibition. Should be. Barth has the courage to turn his head inside out and let all of us have a gander.

    And so these songs exhibit strength and marked vulnerability, refreshing originality and cloying sentiment and more of all, a sense of Barth and the story he's trying to tell. Most affecting, I must say.


    Base 4
    Axes of Symmetry
    (self-released)
    reviewed 10/9/14

    Improvisation is at the heart of jazz. In fact, improvisation is the heart of jazz, period. Without the ability to find something new in between the lines of the written score, jazz would simply have been another form of pop. And no matter the strictures put on the form by the big band era (and truly audacious composers like Ellington and the Gershwins), jazz is still all about improvisation.

    Ornette Coleman popularized (and, in fact, gave a name to) the "free jazz" movement of the late 50s and early 60s--a movement that splintered almost immediately but is still important today. Between Coleman and Charles Mingus and many others, the idea that jazz could include sound as well as played notes took hold and never left.

    Still, the radical improvisers of today are not really embraced by the world of "serious" jazz. The established jazz world wants to hear your playing and songwriting chops. If you choose to break down on a solo, that's cool, but such experimentation has to be circumscribed within acceptable limits.

    The radical improvisational movement today is centered in California between San Francisco and L.A. It recognizes no limits. In many cases, it doesn't even recognize established instruments (see Tom Nunn, etc.). Very few people manage to mingle in both the radical improvisational and mainstream jazz circles. Ken Vandermark's MacArthur Genius Grant was probably more of a hindrance than a help for him as he has tried to do just that. But he soldiers on. As does Bruce Friedman.

    Base 4, which features Friedman on trumpet, Alan Cook on drums and Derek Bomback on guitar, manages this trick in superlative fashion. Axes of Symmetry interpolates deconstructions of seven standards (some more "standard" than others) with five straight improvisations.

    And while these are no wild-eyed, tear-your-brains-out renditions, Base 4 illustrates precisely why improvisation is still the key element of jazz. The two songs that are probably most familiar are "Straight No Chaser" and "My Funny Valentine." Like the other five restatements on this album, the main lines of those songs are declared at the start of each track, followed by a mildly anarchic game of variations on a theme. By the end, an entirely new song has been constructed. The original is honored, but not deified.

    The improvisations (shorter than the reworkings) provide the context for this album. Without them, this is merely impressive noodling. These improvisational "stitches" tie the whole work together with their irrepressible energy and intellectual ferment. More importantly, they honor Friedman's stature and work with the more "out there" improvisational community.

    A bit of an aside here: The notes on this album at CD Baby and other places describe this as "smooth" jazz along the lines of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. I can't help but read that as a sophisticated joke. While Davis and Coleman have plenty of introspective work, the intensity of their recordings is hardly "smooth." And while Bomback doesn't shred his guitar, the complexity of his playing is well beyond that of the average player. This is, by and large, a quiet album. But it is simmering with movement and ideas. The overall result is energizing, not enervating.

    Like the mainstream people, I generally classify the more radical improvisers as something other than jazz. Music, yes. Jazz, no. At least, not jazz as I think of it. On the other hand, I have a feeling that jazz encompasses a bigger tent than I realize.

    In any case, this is improvisational jazz at its finest. I think just about everyone can agree on that.


    Baskervilles
    Twilight
    (Secret Crush)
    reviewed in issue #296, May 2008

    Ultra-sharp orchestrated pop, produced by (no surprise here) Mitch Easter and Rob Keith. Keith is the band's main songwriter. Mitch Easter is...oh, c'mon. Let's Active? Produced Murmur?Etc.? Thank you.

    He still knows what he's doing, by the way. As does Baskervilles, which might well have crafted the first orchestral garage album in history. I suppose that's not quite right, but it's closer than you think.

    Most important to the sound is a lugubrious pop bass line that seems to burble through every song. Some might think that such a thing could just be programmed in, but an awful lot of bands seem to forget that as the bass goes, so does the butt. And if your butt doesn't feel the groove, there is none.

    Mine's shakin' plenty, and yours will, too. These bright, peppy songs keep on coming until fourteen have passed. I hope these folks didn't wear themselves out. This is going to be a tough act to follow up.


    Bastards of Melody
    Fun Machine
    (Ransom-IMG)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    Good old fashioned rock and roll. Like the sorta thing that Cheap Trick used to play eons ago. Loud, fast and almost criminally hooky. There are a few nods to more recent developments (the odd jangle anthem--and these boys even that well!), but simplicity is the word here.

    Another big key is the way Bastards of Melody never lets the energy lag. Even on mid-tempo songs there's an insistent groove that keeps everything in motion. There just isn't time to get bored while listening to this disc.

    The kinda album that makes you want to buy a convertible and drive up and down the Florida Keys. Raucous, joyous and all that. The thick sound ties in with the tight arrangements to ratchet up the fervor that much more.

    Maybe not a perfect album, but a pretty damned good one. I really can't come up with any serious complaints at all. If Bastards of Melody doesn't make your soul bubble open with joy, then you're already dead.


    Break Up
    (FDR-Ransom)
    reviewed in issue #238, February 2003

    Speaking of the Replacements (or, more accurately, Paul Westerberg), here come the Bastards of Melody. They have that Sire-era 'Mats style down (slightly sloppy, but still tuneful and generally recognizable as "normal" music), and they write nice three-minute pop songs.

    With titles like "Fuck Wakin' Up." Though, to be honest, most of the songs are relatively clever. Take "Cheat," a song which details the quintessential high school experiences of cribbing for a test and trying to impress a girl. They write it better than I explain it. Trust me.

    I'd like to hear just a bit more clutter in the sound. These songs aren't clean, but there just isn't much messing about, either. And with the garage guitar-slinging style, well, a bit more distortion and reverb would add a bit of "authenticity" (yes, folks, the quotes denote irony) to the proceedings.

    But hell, these songs are too fun to pick on excessively. Just ragged enough to play at top blast on the car stereo, and with tight enough hooks to sing along--just out of tune so as to sound really cool. A bright blast in the middle of winter.


    Bathory
    Jubileum, Volume II
    (Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #36, 6/30/93

    If you don't know Bathory, this and Volume I (which I haven't gotten) should help your education.

    As most of their catalogue has been out of print in the U.S. for some time (some of it never was issued here), the Jubileum series will correct that problem to some extent.

    Not much more to say, except that even if you usually don't play compilations like this because of the previously released material, you really should give this one a chance. You just might discover why these guys are revered as influential heroes by many.


    Requiem
    (Black Mark-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    For some unknown reason, the only place the songs are listed in their correct order is on the CD, which is sorta a pain in the ass.

    But for the most part, you can't tell one song from another anyway. The first three go blitzing off into some sort of distorted thrash realm, powered by what really sounds like a cheap drum machine. Okay, so "War Machine" is pretty good (ironic that it is the slow piece among the collection).

    And after that, there's more of what came earlier, and a couple other decent songs. You know, I don't mind thrash, but do something with it. Just cranking things up to 150 bpm and laying over moronic guitar licks does not take genius.

    I didn't expect a legendary performance, but I also didn't think I'd get a third-rate Slayer impersonation. Bleah.


    Blood on Ice
    (Black Mark Production)
    reviewed in issue #109, 5/20/96

    Sort of an expansion on stuff Quorthon was working with back in the late 80s. Which is probably why it sounds much more interesting than recent Bathory efforts.

    Requiem and Octagon were exercises in the futility of repeating yourself (and the same riff over and over and...). But, thankfully, this release has more of the European melodic lines and less of the cheesy drum machine. I've always thought Bathory was at its finest when really wrapping itself around a grand project. And Blood on Ice is meant to be an epic.

    Okay, so some of the songs are middling (probably the later stuff, written to flesh out the core, but I really can't tell). It's just nice to listen to a Bathory album that I like. It has been a while.

    His days of trailblazing over, Quorthon might as well content himself with keeping Bathory reasonably up-to-date. And an odd good album isn't too much to ask.


    Battalion
    Excessive Force
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94

    Merging touches of thrash, industrial and death metal with a base of mid-eighties power metal, Battalion have successfully updated one of my favorite metal sub-genres.

    Close enough to their roots to satisfy any NWOBHM fan, Battalion are light-years heavier than most of those influences. The playing is top notch, the songwriting emphasizes the strong points of each player. Lee Davis has a voice that keeps its strength even as he climbs the register. To top it off, the production is major release quality. Whoever was on the knobs knew exactly how to capture this band.

    Everything just came together correctly on this tape. Now it's time for someone out there to notice and give these guys the deal they deserve.


    Battalion of Saints
    Death-R-Us
    (Taang!)
    reviewed in issue #87, 9/18/95

    Most of the original band members are dead (so sez the liners). The new lineup goes by the name Battalion of Saints A.D., and this group contributes the first two tracks (which are solid Motorhead-inspired hardcore pieces, much like the original B.O.S. sound).

    The official Battalion of Saints LP and EP are included, along with some other recordings (a cover of "Ace of Spades" even). The early stuff has been nicely remastered, and it really punches out the speakers.

    A nice retrospective, and notice of a new generation (though the guys should really choose another name).


    Battery
    Whatever It Takes...
    (Revelation)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    A D.C.-area band which slogs its hardcore along in more of a west coast fashion. Thrashing drum work, cascading riffage and half spoken-half howled vocals. Classic athemic stuff.

    Very raw and ragged. Battery often shifts course in the middle of a song, which can be a bit annoying. Still, the gang-shout choruses and impossibly energetic pace make Battery easy to love.

    More of an old school approach, with echoes of Black Flag, Seven Seconds, Suicidal and other such bands who didn't share a style so much as a feel. Just enough hook work to encourage singing along while the riffs plow forth.

    Simple and solid. It can pay to get back to the basics. Battery easily proves that point.


    Battery Life
    Shotgun Loudmouth
    (Avebury)
    reviewed in issue #249, January 2004

    Back when I was a pup in college, I listened to bands like the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo and Soul Asylum play to "crowds" of a dozen or two. And those were the "big" bands. Plenty of other acts slid up and down the roots-punk axis, but most of them didn't even leave a CD tombstone. Battery Life could be one of those. And I mean that in the best way possible.

    The feeling is nice and loose, somewhere between Made to Be Broken and the rougher edges of No Depression. These boys claim to be simply a punk band that likes pop music, but the truth is even more complicated.

    What is true is that the songs are plentiful, short and well-cut. There is an underlying bombast which provides plenty of power. But the melodies are as much Gram Parsons as they are Bob Mould, with cloudy lyrics casting a pleasant pall over bright hooks.

    Reminds me way too much of those dollar-pitcher-of-Natural-Light evenings of days gone by. And I suppose there aren't an awful lot of folks like me who did time in midwestern colleges in the late 80s and early 90s, but hell, you gotta take nostalgia where you find it. These boys play my kind of music. Period.


    The Battle of Santiago
    Followed by Thousands
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #346, 3/3/13

    Canadians well-schooled in Caribbean (especially Cuban) jazz, the Battle of Santiago rumbas its way through some interesting terrain. Not exactly jazz, and certainly not rock, these pieces often float above everything--to the point of disengagement at times. Perhaps a better way to look at this would be experimental jazz, which would cover the band's many flights. An intriguing set, but one that requires a free-spirited listener. I'm happy to volunteer.


    Bauhaus
    Crackle
    (Beggars Banquet)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    While I think a general re-issue of the Bauhaus catalog would be well worthwhile, this disc will turn on some folks who had no idea that Love and Rockets was the second installment in a musical family.

    All the fan faves are here: "Bela Lugosi's Dead", the cover of "Ziggy Stardust", "The Passion of Lovers", "She's in Parties". All the stuff that I heard over and over again in college. While I don't actually own a single Bauhaus album, most of the stuff here has been burned into my brain.

    Which isn't so bad, even if the music isn't quite as great as some folks like to think. Still, followers of the current resurgence of goth (or dark wave; whatever) culture would do well to look back at one of the originators of the sound. This disc will do that trick.

    Nice to have some Bauhaus around the house. More bits and pieces from the real 80s retro music. You know, the stuff that still matters.


    KaiL Baxley
    Heatstroke/The Wind and the War double EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #343, December 2012

    I've been through Williston, N.C., dozens of times. It's on the route my family would often take from our place in Durham to the in-laws over in Camden. I know that part of the state, and I'm familiar with many of the musicians who come from those parts. KaiL Baxley has risen above.

    These punchy folk-blues-gospel anthems mix Baxley's plaintive wail with a thick, yet peppy, rhythm section. The results aren't just infectious. There's no defense against music of this magnitude.

    The songs themselves are pretty basic. But the arrangements on these EPs are stunning. The sound could have been backwoodsy, or maybe stripped-down folk, but Baxley created a sense of latent power instead.

    This music is best appreciated loud. Baxley imbued his pieces with a stealthy strength, one that hits up front and on the back end as well. Don't miss.


    Bazooka
    Blowhole
    (SST)
    reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94

    When the band backed Jack Brewer's poetry, trying to improvise everything, I thought things were a bit limited. Sure, the guys could play, but their improvisations seemed to go one way: play a funky beat and stick to the major scales.

    And that's where Blowhole sticks, as well. Bazooka tries its hand at some bop rhythms, but doesn't riff like you're expecting. Just nice, tuneful playing.

    I know I'm unconventional; when I listen to jazz I like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Coltrane, Monk and Branford Marsalis's bop records. Stuff that challenges you. Bazooka is light years ahead of stuff like Kenny G, but unfortunately their simple music is aiming at the same audience.


    Cigars, Oysters & Booze
    (SST)
    reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95

    Live, which is probably the best way to appreciate Bazooka. Their improv collaboration with Jack Brewer (he's got something to say on "Incense & Wax") was often more interesting than moments on Blowhole, their first (regular instrumental) disc.

    Those wacky guys in Bazooka like to think they're playing jazz, and the percussion-electric bass-sax trio manages to corrupt just about every theory professor's notion about jazz that exists. Hell, I listened to one of my profs in school who tried to make me believe that Ornette Coleman's free jazz had something to do with theory (still don't buy it).

    Returning from that tangent-from-hell, Bazooka sometimes tends to repeat itself (these guys don't really vary their style much), but the live improvisations sound much more spontaneous than the studio disc (with obvious good reason). As a jazz record this is pretty sloppy and not terribly innovative, either. But it is amusing stuff to hear, and that Sab rip-off on "Painful Theraputic Process" is interesting, even if Iceburn does that sort of thing much better. Put this one in the middling pile.

    See also Jack Brewer.


    BE
    Thistupidream
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Power pop with a moody side. Even when the songs get nice and bouncy, BE insists on retaining a dark caul over the stuff. A sense of foreboding. As if what comes next just might be horrific.

    I'm not talking about the music, now. I'm referring to the plot lines in the songs. The music colors them that way, you see. Takes a little talent and practice to be able to do things like that. BE knows how to craft some seriously intense songs.

    Craft, however, is just the beginning. There is an emotional intensity that is just as impressive. Most bands master one or the other of those two elements. BE is pretty damned good at both.

    And so it should come as no surprise that this album bring with it many smiles. Even if they are uneasy. I like music that challenges. BE doesn't seem to know how to make it any other way.


    Be/Non
    Microsurgical Vasectomy Reversal 7"
    (Turnbuckle)
    reviewed in issue #138, 7/7/97

    Yet another seven-inch from a cool Lawrence band. It's as if now that the whole grunge thing has lifted, all the truly talented people have clawed their way to the surface.

    These guys are something like a less-processed Brainiac. Cool noise pop with lots of odd things running about in the background. The b-side, "Claw Use in the Autumn Years of the Twentieth Century", reminds me a lot of Morsel, another truly fine noise pop outfit.

    These guys understand how to manipulate their instruments to present a wondrous sound. Yeah, the sound is awfully lo-fi, but there is no other way to really present these ideas.

    An album's worth of brilliance in a small slab. Be/Non is plowing some amazing fertile ground.


    The Beach Machine
    Companion
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01

    Blasting straight to the edge of the pop music universe, the Beach Machine gets off on a lot of reverb and distortion. Songs that sound like they might be constructed on loops, but I'm guessing they're simply played that way. It's a cool effect.

    For me, anyway. I like to kinda get lost in music like this, feeling my way through the excess to find the center. There is a center, by the way. It lies in the rhythm section, which really doesn't muck about much. The lead guitar? There's a lot of wandering there. Not to mention a few electronic accouterments.

    The reason these songs work is that center. This isn't simply noise; the Beach Machine plays songs. Somewhat excessively twisted songs sometimes, but songs nonetheless. Me? I wallow in that excess, because I know there are goodies lying at the bottom.

    Twenty-four songs here, and each one is distinct from the other. The band's sound and philosophy run through each, however, making this a most fulfilling listen. The Beach Machine may be a tough sell to the masses, but these guys sure know how to explore some great musical ideas.


    Beans
    Shock City Maverick
    (Warp)
    reviewed in issue #260, December 2004

    The latest from former Anti-Pop Consortium member Beans finds him working just as hard as ever to find the funk within the electronic. The rhymes? Solid, if occasionally a bit heavy on the braggadocio. Ah well, like they say, it ain't braggin' if you can do it.

    And since Beans doesn't skimp on the political musings, his occasional forays into silliness don't worry me too much. Personally, I prefer to lie back and let the beats wash over me. It's all too easy to get lost in the background of this album.

    The reason it's so quickly addictive is that Beans keeps things stark and simple. The sound is stripped down and basic. One bass line, one beat track. That's it. Hey, if those two elements are great, why throw a blanket over it? Just let the funk roll.

    So it does, and interestingly, this one sounds better on repeat listens. I wasn't knocked out after my first listen, but I'm quickly becoming a fanatic. I'd say sneaky good, but this is really much better than that. It's quality is apparent from the beginning. Just turn up the volume and keep out of the way.


    Bear
    Tracks
    (BGR Records)
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    Approaching pop introspection with the same approach to dynamics as Engine Kid, Bear manages to veer much closer to the mainstream than their American soul-mates.

    First off, these folks were raised on the Smiths and other melancholy pop bands that never quite broke through over here, so there is more of a tradition on that side of the pond.

    The three tracks are all quite nice, but the stunner is "Counting", a masterpiece of morose emotion that runs over 10 minutes long. The other two tracks are shorter, but each is quite different than the other. In fact, "Not Even People" owes a nice debt to Neil Young, who made it acceptable to painfully distort a bass guitar as Bear does.

    Would that there was more.


    Bear & Moose
    Bear/Moose
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #332, November 2011

    A couple guys from Portland (left version) who play Big Starry anglophile pop run through a Flat Duo Jets garage filter. With a lot of fuzz thrown in because, y'know, it just sounds cool.

    Songs of blistering intensity, intricate craftsmanship and almost brutal execution. Bear & Moose believes in pinning the needles on almost every beat, and then ramping things up from there.

    Despite all that, this album has a charming, intimate sound. There are quiet moments, although they tend to get mangled sooner or later. Not so much deconstructive as simply the "you know it's gonna happen" kinda thing.

    Don't know why there's any need for complaint. Bear & Moose have put together some of the most compelling music of the year. Yeah, the songs are great, but the way they're played here is otherworldly. Feel the pain. And then go back for more.


    Bear Colony
    Soft Eyes
    (Esperanza Plantation)
    reviewed in issue #342, November 2012

    Under waves of drone, Bear Colony serves up some serious music. First, though, you have to adjust your ears.

    Some folks don't appreciate the need to do so much work. I get it. But the lovely sounds that lie underneath simply wouldn't be so wondrous without their setting. And so.

    Past the vaguely oppressive sound, Bear Colony is one of those mellowcore alternative bands that seems to be ubiquitous these days. These lyrics are often modestly intriguing, but the guitar lines that blip, burble and flow are what really catch my ears. These songs come alive when all the elements play off each other.

    This is so 2012, and I suppose it will sound dated in a few years. That's fine. I dig it now, and that's the only way to really judge stuff like this. Solid and engaging.


    Bear in Heaven
    Red Bloom of the Boom
    (Hometapes)
    reviewed in issue #290, October 2007

    Seven songs that sound like they were created by a couple of mutant geniuses. There's a wiggy electronic (even ambient) feel to these songs, the sort of thing that generally doesn't lend itself to a band.

    But Bear in Heaven is a band. And these intricately loopy songs are played more than assembled. Color me impressed. In the end, though, it's the final sound that matters, not how it came to be.

    And this does sound like the inner musings of a disturbed mind. There is no set "sound," as one piece might be a relatively traditional "song," while the next piece is a sublime bit of experimental whimsy. Sometimes that sorta thing shifts within one individual song. That's when you know there's something cool going on.

    It would take years to properly dissect the sounds here. Imagine if Aphex Twin was inspired to interpret 60s and 70s Pink Floyd in his own style. And that's just the starting point. I'm rather blown away. The ambition here is so far beyond what I can imagine that I simply must bow in awe.


    Beast Rest Forth Mouth
    (Hometapes)
    reviewed in issue #311, October 2009

    Imagine Peter Gabriel playing June of 44 songs. Except that the melodies are both prettier and much, much more twisted. Bear in Heaven has a yearning for pop, but the band takes a most torturous path to get there.

    Which can be maddening for literal-minded folks, I know. But even a moment's worth of patience will bring huge rewards. These pieces pulse with energy, and the range and scope of the music is breathtaking. Not many bands have the imagination to even consider music this ambitious.

    The sound is just muddy enough to keep an organic sound on these intricate songs. The preponderance of synthesizer could easily drag the sound into techno or old school new wave territory (which wouldn't be all bad, I suppose), but there's enough raggedy rumpus to keep this stuff in the key of rock.

    Most bands who attempt this much either fail spectacularly or end up sounding dreadfully pretentious. Bear in Heaven retains an intimacy that makes this album one of the best of the year. Prepare to be astonished.


    Bear Lake
    If You Were Me
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #330, September 2011

    Most folks who try on techno-freakpop tend to either get too technical or too freaky. Even the Flaming Lips, venerable masters of this sound, lost it with Embryonic. Which is why it's so refreshing to hear Bear Lake.

    The songs are sophisticated and deftly layered. But they're all based on simple, easily-identifiable grooves. Most importantly, they're fun.

    Fun is utterly underrated in music. Bands trip all over themselves to create ponderous, overbearing albums. Forget that. Bear Lake shows that it is quite possible to show off some serious playing and compositional chops without succumbing to the dread "I'm too serious for my pants" disease.

    Freaky? Sure. Electronic-laden? Sometimes. But these songs sing, and they bound from the speakers with verve. Lovely stuff that brings a smile or two a minute. This one will burble its way to your heart in no time flat.


    The Beatifics
    The Way We Never Were
    (The Bus Stop Label)
    reviewed in issue #235, November 2002

    Plenty of bands have channeled Big Star over the years. The Posies were right up front about it, and certainly the dBs and R.E.M. and the Jayhawks and many more owe a big debt. Still, I've never heard anyone fuse the disparate visions of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell like Chris Dorn (songwriter for the Beatifics) does.

    Dorn's got Chilton's ragged craft down cold, including the descant-like ringing chords that are a Big Star hallmark. But he also has a nice chunk of Bell's unrestrained exuberance. And so, more than anything, the Beatifics sound like true inheritors of the sound.

    Even better, Dorn has a few tricks up his sleeve. These aren't simply songs in the key of Big Star. He has a sly wit that is his alone, and the fuller sound of the Beatifics (six players instead of three) fleshes out these ideas to the hilt.

    Simply gorgeous, but hardly simple. The Beatifics play pop in a classic style, creating what might well become a classic album. There's so much here to like, I can hardly contain myself.


    Beats the Hell Out of Me
    Beats the Hell Out of Me
    (Metal Blade Modern)
    reviewed in issue #54, 5/15/94

    Um, another band that really wishes it was Skin Yard. Sorta like the Sabbath clone thing, this was a nice trend when only a few folks were doing it. Now, it seems a lot more passe.

    And while capable, Beats the Hell Out of Me doesn't breathe any life into this sound. The folks seem content to wallow in an increasingly commercial yet creatively dead void.

    I've heard better and worse from bands like this. BTHOOM is just another voice in a crowded hallway.


    Thavius Beck
    Thru
    (Mush)
    reviewed in issue #280, November 2006

    Nominally hip-hop, I guess, but the emphasis here is on sonic construction. Thavius Beck populates his aggressively electronic sounds with all sorts of organic debris. The result can be intoxicating.

    First, though, you've got to be willing to give this album a chance. Beck veers from experimental structures to fairly straightforward jazz construction. It's not easy to find purchase with the ideas presented. But just let your mind wander and see what strikes your fancy.

    Very much a Mush album in that way. Simplicity has no home here. There's simply a raftload of ideas (almost all of them expressed musically) spinning around on a skeleton of throbbing beatwork.

    It's safe to say this is precisely the sort of challenging album that dorky critics like me adore. It's not Top 40 (or even Top 4000, necessarily), but damn, is it good. Don't think too much, and you might agree.


    Jason Becker
    The Raspberry Jams
    (Shrapnel) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    Those of you who recognize the name will wonder: Is it new? Nope. As the liners say rather simply, Becker hasn't recorded anything since 1992 due to ALS. Perhaps best known as David Lee Roth's guitartist in the late 80s, on this disc Becker collects demos from 1987 to 1992.

    Mostly snippets, though there are a few fully-formed songs as well. Actually, I kinda like the asides, where Becker really tries to expand his sound and range. "Jasin Street" is a nice little blues piece, and pieces like that impress more than, well, ones like the next track, "Beatle Grubs," which fall into the basic instrumental guitar sound as defined by Joe Satriani.

    Picking through the bits isn't the easiest thing in the world, but that's obviously what Becker had in mind here. This isn't a finished album by any means; it's more a final clearing of the decks, an attempt to better define a legacy.

    And what I sense more than anything is his potential. Not unlike Randy Rhoads, who was just beginning to expand his sound into something amazing when he was struck down, Becker's later recordings have so much more depth and heart. I know he doesn't want to hear it put this way, but the loss of his playing is a damned shame.


    Bedhead
    What Fun Life Was
    (Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #51, 3/31/94

    Unlike almost every other Trance band, these folk do not hoot, holler, scream and scratch their way into your brain.

    No, what we have here is a cool sampling of atmospheric pop music that, while addictive, is not mind-debilitating. In fact, expanding the palate to include such sweets is a very good thing for the musical appetite.

    There are a lot of British bands who try to do this sort of thing, and those fuckers drive me absolutely nuts. Bedhead, while topically similar to bands like Blur and Ride, are so far superior I don't think even a doctored photo putting the Clovis (N.M.) Hotel up against the Empire State Building would be enough to illustrate the difference.

    When the Superchunk album comes out in a couple of weeks, jam it with this disc. Everything will begin to make sense.


    Beheaded
    (Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #112, 6/17/96

    Even more understated than previous outings, Bedhead takes minimalist pop out toward Galaxie 500 territory (though with more of a garage feel, to be sure). The tunes are often pretty, in their sparse ways. Just a little hollow in the middle.

    I don't mind paying attention to music. Stuff that's on the mellow side of mellow, whatever. And earlier Bedhead certainly fits that territory. But at least the songs got somewhere. With an act like Palace (whatever), the focus is purely on the raw emotions of the lyrics. Bedhead has never really focused on the vocals, and the music here is simply too often two string chords in search of a point.

    Now, quite a few of these tunes are better than that (particularly "The Rest of the Day", which, ironically, is also the longest and most self-indulgent song on the album), and on the whole I liked the disc. There are enough good moments to put this on the better side of average. But Beheaded simply doesn't quite live up to my expectations, fair or not.

    If you're into this minimalist sound, Bedhead is a band you should check out. Start with the first album, and the later EPs were good, too. If you like all that, then you'll probably groove on this album, too. It's just not the band's best work.


    Macha Loved Bedhead by Bedhead Loved Macha with Macha
    (Jetset)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    The Brothers Kadane of Bedhead and the Brothers McKay of Macha all grew up together in Wichita Falls, Texas. Some time back, they decided to collaborate on a long-distance record.

    So the Bedhead brothers (still in Texas) made a tape of songs-in-progress (containing mostly drums and guitars) and sent it to the bothers in Macha, who by now had relocated.

    The result is, well, stunning. Not surprising, considering the pedigree, but most separated studio efforts can sound stilted through no fault of the participants. There's no problem here. Six journeys into the possible, with very little held back. In fact, the distance seems to have inspired even greater flights of fancy than might have been allowed if the collaborators were nearby.

    Bedhead, alas, is now gone, but this record is certainly good enough to stand in line with the band's output. Needless to say, this should also please the avid Macha fan. A sum that might be greater than its parts.


    The Bee Zoo
    Boobalah
    (self-released)
    reviewed in #164, 8/3/98

    I'd never quite seen that spelling for bubeleh (or bubalah, or bewbaleh or whatever). Not that spelling has a damned thing to do with the album. Just something that stuck in my head right off. Sorry about that.

    Yer basic alternapop, I guess, with lots of commercial pretensions. Keyboards and acoustic guitars are layered on top of the basic crunchy chords, to the detriment of the songs, I think. Makes the heartfelt lyrics sound trite, like they don't mean anything anyway.

    The arrangements are more AAA-oriented as well. Perhaps that's where the money is. Personally, I kinda like a more raw sound. Here, though, the songs start out in interesting ways, but by the end they're fairly cheesy sing-alongs.

    I'm thinking the band has painted itself into a corner. The songs aren't crafted enough to really excite major label attention, but they're a bit too simplistic for the average underground pop fan. Kinda sitting at a crossroads here. Good, but for whom?


    Beef
    Thinking in a Drunk Tank, Drunk in a Think Tank
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    Punk pop forced through a sludge filter. This package arrived rather unadorned, and the music follows suit. The songs are simple, straightforward and strangely beguiling. Somewhere behind the wall of distortion and muddy recording lie the vocals and some semblance of song structure, but the loopy goop on top is impressive enough.

    Swirling in a haze of excessive reverb and pinned recording levels, Beef hurls forth a barrage of anger and cutting social comment. At least, that's what I think I hear. I can't be sure.

    An artistic use of the lo-fi ideal. I'm not claiming any sophistication for the band, but by God, this sound really works for this music. There's hooks in them thar roiling clouds, but don't expect to find them by staying in the boat. Gotta get out and explore a little bit.

    A touch of the apocalyptic is the crowning bit. This disc may have arrived with minimal fanfare, but it made maximum impact.


    Stink, Stank, Stunk
    (Hoex)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    A collection of songs from assorted 7"s and compilations. Beef proudly carries the banner of indie rock, with simple riffage, upbeat grooves and the usual lack of singing prowess.

    These songs are somewhat understated, with grunge-like song construction and emo-style lead guitar work. All within the usual indie pop sound, of course. There aren't many highs and lows, mostly just mid-range howls.

    Makes it a little difficult to get real excited about the stuff. It's solid, and at times the lead/rhythm interplay is impressive. But this is almost too basic, if there is such a thing.

    Not stupid basic, but just a sorta middle of the road feel. Within the milieu, of course. Mindlessly enjoyable, but kinda faceless as well. Nice. I usually hope for more.


    Beehatch
    Beehatch
    (Lens)
    reviewed in issue #296, May 2008

    Phil Western and Mark Spybey reconvene ten years after Download's first demise. Spybey is the guy behind Dead Voices on Air (reviewed in these pages 13 years ago), Zoviet*France and other similar projects. So maybe funky is a subjective term.

    This is, however, much more delicate than, say, Download. It's also much more accessible than DVOA. The gist of the album is a series of wig outs, of course, but more cerebral than raucous. Western and Spybey work hard to get inside their sound. It's an almost impossible task, but sometimes they succeed.

    And then that happens, the world actually turns upside down. If you're not careful, your brain will escape to balmier climes and you'll be left wondering who turned out the lights. Don't worry; I've been there. Just wait out the disc and you'll find your own way home.

    Beehatch travels far afield, but the journey is most rewarding. Conscious thought is your enemy. Let the music take control and everything will be alright. Trust me.


    The Beers
    The Beers Hotel
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    This disc is marked by a complete lack of subtlety, either musically or lyrically. This lends a real stream-of-consciousness feel to the pieces, and I kinda like that. I do, however, wish that I might have surprised at some point or another.

    Once the setting for each song has been set (and I must say, some of those backdrops are pretty cool), it's real easy to predict where everything is going. Rather than building on their fairly creative foundations, the Beers just roll off the concrete flooring.

    The production sound is dreadful, as low-fi as any demo I've heard in some time. It's almost as if the guys were going for a muddled, mushy sound. If they were, it was a mistake. A sharper job on the knobs might've helped here.

    Man, I do wish some more effort had been spent developing these songs. Because there are good ideas dancing around here, but they generally just sit in a pool of nothing waiting for a catalyst. One that never arrives. Bummer.


    Believer
    Sanity Obscure
    (Roadracer)
    reviewed in issue #4, 12/15/91

    Well, a couple of months ago this seemed damn heavy for Christian band. Now, it seems tame. But the talent is still apparent. The occasional peppering of acoustics into the mix is nice, and as you know, I'm a big fun of enunciation. Here the vocals are more punk than death, anyway.

    The variety of rhythm is very nice. Diversity if good in a death metal band, even one on the accessibility edge such as Believer. I'm not into all the ideology (like the anti-drug screed "Stop the Madness), but this is a great album to listen to.

    Specifics: "Wisdom's Call," "Nonpoint," "Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)" are great, as is the rollicking U2 cover "Like a Song." First rate work.


    Dimensions
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93

    Believer was one of the first real "Christian death metal" bands around. But they simply borrowed from many death metal bands and forged their own sound.

    Yes, you can detect a "bravo" from me. There are so many textures to this album (though on the whole I think it lies somewhere in the industrial vein) it would take a scholarly article to lay them all out. And I have more interesting things to do.

    So listen. This is part of Roadrunner's "breed beyond" (along with Cynic and Pestilence). Okay. I would only ask why every band couldn't be interesting and experimental (though then I wouldn't be jamming such cool Bad Religion discs all the time). Ignore the tangent.

    Don't be afraid. I know you fucks don't care about the religions of the bands you play (Living Sacrifice and Tourniquet come to mind most recently), so play this because it is rather good. Amazing, even.


    Christopher Bell
    I'll Be Home
    (Silent Home)
    reviewed in issue #308, June 2009

    A word of warning at the start of all these reviews: There's a lot of alt country, americana or whatever you want to call such sounds. That kinda stuff filled my mailbox this month, and a lot of it was pretty damned good. Christopher Bell trafficks in the lean and mean version of this sound, and he is, indeed, pretty damned good.

    Heavy echoes of Uncle Tupelo's second album--the one that was a bit more refined but dark as all get out--combined with a some really fine arrangements. Bell plays most of the instruments and does most of the singing, but he makes sure each song is properly dressed.

    And these are some gorgeous songs. Think Gerald Collier in terms of lyrical content; maybe not quite so caustically witty, but just as bitter. The sparse sound simply brings out that much more emotion.

    Not a fun listen by any stretch of the imagination, but utterly compelling. Bell's songwriting is confident and assured, and he knows how to make his songs sing. Like I said up top, pretty damned good.


    Hudson Bell
    Captain of the Old Girls
    (Upperworks)
    reviewed in issue #230, June 2002

    One of the mysteries of Half Japanese is how Jad Fair managed to make such great pop music without much instrumental talent and no vocal skills to speak of. Hudson Bell isn't the world's greatest singer (his style reminds me a lot of Fair's, to be honest), but he sure does have a way with his music.

    The songs also follow the kinda bludgeon-style anthems that typify my favorite HJ stuff. These aren't plodding works, but swooping, majestic delicate sledgehammers that keep falling until the point is driven home once and for all.

    Bell's voice also reminds me, at times, of Jay Farrar. And the sophisticated collage style of song construction here is reminiscent of Sebastopol. Not a bad thing at all.

    Mostly, though, Bell manages to be himself, no matter who he's reminding me of from moment to moment. I'm a sucker for quavering vocals, and I'm equally enamored of grandiose layered pop music. Plenty of both here to satisfy.


    Bella Morte
    The Quiet
    (Metropolis)
    reviewed in issue #236, December 2002

    The thing I always liked about industrial goth pop is the way it blended new wave sensibilities with washes of guitars, chunky drum machines and pretty melodies. Perhaps the epitome of this sound for me was Big Electric Cat.

    Bella Morte comes pretty close. If Andy Deane could hit his notes just a bit more often, I might give these folks the edge. Still, this album has a great sound. The writing is quite well done, and there's a lovely warmness to the chilly sound.

    And don't think that I'm saying Deane can't sing. He can. It's just that sometimes he quavers a bit too much for my taste. A minor quibble, really. Most of the time, he's dead on.

    Anyway, it's been a while since I've heard someone do this sound this well. Bella Morte balances its competing urges very well. This is one well-conceived and constructed disc.


    Belladonna
    Rob You Blind CD5
    (Mausoleum)
    reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95

    Obviously, this is Joey's new project since getting the boot from Anthrax. The song sounds like a more anthemic Anthrax, but the lyrics are kinda dumb.

    He's got good sidemen, and they seem to have a more Eurocentric view of metal. Fine by me. Unlike many folks, I always though Joey was a good enough singer. We'll see what the album sounds like.


    Belladonna
    (Mausoleum-BMG)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Sounding a lot more like Anthrax than, say, the last Anthrax album, Joey Belladonna has put together a solid band and, co-producing with old Anthrax knob-meister Alex Perialas, created a classic hard rock disc.

    Mausoleum got major label distribution for this one, and good thing. It should be a monster. The lead track is good, but there is much better fare on the full album. Just start with "Blunt Man" and take it from there. "Injun" seems to have something to say about Joey's parting with Anthrax, if that sort of thing interests you.

    Takes me back to high school (in terms of years, that is). Belladonna is deserving of all the attention it garners. This album, while certainly a different style, is as good as White Noise, and I like Joey's voice better. I'm having way too much fun just listening.


    George Bellas
    Turn of the Millennium
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97

    Gee whiz guitar playing, without much regard for presentation or feel. This is very much a sequenced project, and Bellas doesn't even try to rough up the sterile edges.

    Much of the playing (if not all) is run through MIDI, and that "soft" digital sound leaves the lines sounding almost computer-generated. Oh, I'm sure Bellas played them and all, but the sound is just too tinkly for me.

    Other than the solos, almost no thought seems to have been paid to songwriting and the backing music. I'm being harsh, because I know how hard it is to put this sort of thing together, but Bellas simply has left the artistic side of his talent out of this disc. Can he play expressively, instead of relying on pyrotechnics? Can any of his songs make sense without an attached solo? I can't answer either of those questions after listening to this disc.

    Almost an artificial album. I know that human hands were heavily involved, but there is no residue from that touch to be heard.


    Mind Over Matter
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98

    While this album, like Bellas's previous Shrapnel solo outing, was assembled from various parts, it doesn't sound nearly as artificial. Bellas's solos are fluid and impressive, and he has a better feel this time out. A much stronger outing altogether.

    And it all began in the studio. Bellas got a little more help, but he also had learned how to use technology better. I mean, everything is mixed on a computer today, but it doesn't have to sound that way. This time, the songs are much more grounded in "real time", as it were.

    Bellas still doesn't pay enough attention to the underlying structure of his songs, many of which are solos strung together by middling fare. And he's a bit too happy with whipping out the virtuoso chops and ignoring the real magic of music, which is to communicate.

    Overall, however, this is a huge stop forward. Bellas is getting the hang of things, and that bodes well for future endeavors.


    The Bellbats
    Century
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #138, 7/7/97

    Rambling and sometimes raucous emo stylings that every once in a while almost coalesce into a hook, a little catchphrase that always manages to fall through at the last minute. The build-up is excruciating, and the ultimate letdown pure agony.

    It's been a while since I've been so wondrously manipulated. The playing is always slightly out of tune, and the singing is never even close. The songs sound like they've just been decanted from the storehouse, with the band discovering them just as they are being played here.

    Fresh is an overused word. I heard someone a couple days ago refer to some Nirvana song as "fresh". But despite my misgivings, I think you'll understand. This is truly fresh music. The songs are written in an unusual yet accessible style, and the performances here have been captured in amazing style. It's as if the Bellbats are playing right in front of me. And the show is one of the best I've seen.

    Alright, the folks have trademarked their name. I'll overlook that bit of legal excess (mostly because I know plenty of folks who didn't do that and then got screwed, even after recording a couple albums) and simply exhort anyone reading this to find this disc and play it lots. Play it loud, play it soft, play it for your lover, your friend or even that asshole down the street who slashed your tires. Great music must be shared at all costs.


    Belle Academe
    Shimmer
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    The shimmer is the vocal work. Performed by a woman who goes by the name "Nicole". The voice is cool. The music doesn't quite make it that far.

    That kinda pop-rock thing, more pop than rock as the album moves ahead. And the more pop this band gets, the more the songs sink into musical cliches. Oh, the singing is nicely fuzzy, but the songs aren't particularly clever or inventive. Comeptetent playing and production, but in severe need of a sense of adventure.

    I wish I could be nicer, but there's not much here to recommend. On a couple tracks the guitars start buzzing and I feel a Hammerbox vibe. But I'd much rather hear Hammerbox (not to mention a couple thousand other bands) than this.


    Belloluna
    Livid and Loving It
    (Daemon)
    reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98

    Pop from the big tent, replete with offbeat lyrics and unusual arrangements. Not convoluted, but certainly complex. The sort of sound which quickly draws a listener in to the music.

    In other words, music with intent. The basic group plays the standard instruments, with a fair emphasis on piano as a rhythm device, but there's plenty of horns and other things thrown into the mix as well.

    Pretentious, in that Belloluna is definitely going for it. But really, this is just easygoing pop music dressed up in tails. References to all sorts of sounds (heavy on the seventies, from fuzz guitar to Burt Bacharach), always fresh and inventive.

    An album which simply doesn't let up. Heavy on the craftsmanship, but so smooth it sounds like it was recorded live to tape. Quite the listen, indeed.


    The Bellrays
    Wall of Soul 7"
    (Vital Gesture)
    reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97

    I also got a tape from these folks; that will be reviewed in the next issue. The Bellrays are yer basic rockin' blooze foursome. Lisa Leilani Kekaula has a great wail, and the band doesn't slouch behind her.

    The songs are well-written, and manage to avoid any obvious cliches (a real accomplishment within this particular vein of music). Alright, so the production leaves a lot to be desired (the sound simply drops out in the middle, and the bass is barely hanging on. A little more power would be good.

    But the base is solid. Good playing, great singing and three solid songs. A good set.


    In the Light of the Sun
    (Vital Gesture)
    reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97

    As promised, the review of the full-length tape. The music is a bit more hippie pop than the blues exhibited on the seven-inch, but Lisa Leilani Kekaula's jazz-inflected vocals are still impressive.

    I definitely prefer the stuff I heard last time out. The music sounds somewhat rote, with little spark. I don't think this style properly shows off Kekaula's voice or the talent of the band. Of course, this tape also suffers terribly from "demo-itis", which makes it kinda hard to hear what's going on much of the time.

    The seven-inch is much better. Since this tape is pretty old, I hope the band has moved more in that direction. This isn't up to what I expected.


    Punk, Rock & Soul split LP with the Streetwalkin Cheetahs
    (Coldfront) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    Actually, the Cheetahs are first up on the disc. I was just playing the alphabetical game. Anyway, the Streetwalkin Cheetahs are the punk side of this equation, ripping off huge chunks of riffage and infusing them with just the right amount of hooks. Most tasty.

    Plenty of fun without getting stupid. The Cheetahs don't let the tempo slow, and that fine aggro attitude infuses the songs with a palpable energy. Quality, yes indeed.

    The Bellrays have found a new sound since the last time I heard them. Lisa Kekaula's voice is as soulful as ever, but her band is much more into an acid rock/hippie metal sound (somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and Black Sabbath). If I didn't know this was the Bellrays, I couldn't have guessed it.

    Perhaps, however, the band has found its niche. For the first time, the elements seem to come together well. Perhaps this Bellrays can make it work.


    Bellwether
    I Can't Hear You
    (Anechoic)
    reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01

    The press sticker on the case of this disc described the music as "correlating the loud and soft of rock music." Or, to use a well-worn label, emo (this is acknowledged in the next line of the sticker, which places the band in the "post math/emo/hard core stratosphere"). Now, Bellwether is a bit more straightforward in its song constructions than more traditional emo bands, but I think this just takes the sound in a somewhat different direction.

    Because emo has been heading in the power pop direction. This turns the other way, wandering back down a Archers of Loaf/Treepeople kinda path. There is some wonderful idiosyncratic lead guitar playing, and in general, the music consists of many lines coming together at the most intriguing points.

    And, of course, it's soft and it's loud. Not to mention in-between. The one thing Bellwether isn't is subtle. There's none of that here. Not much wit, either. These boys simply play with music with all the passion and intensity they can muster. Ah, the glory of youth in full bloom!

    I'm not making fun of the guys. Rather, I'm marveling. Making an album like this requires huge piles of inspiration and hard work. Not to mention a little luck. Bellwether has all three, and also seems to have a sense of how songs should sound. That's damn near priceless.


    Below Sound
    Mr. Blue 7"
    (Transonic Artists)
    reviewed in issue #101, 3/4/96

    Fuzzy, bass-heavy pop stuff. With just enough of that Seattle operatic whine to remind you where these folks are from.

    The guitar work is rather reminiscent of the tremolo-laden sound Stone Gossard had on the Mother Love Bone album. Wild and loopy and stuff. Not an unattractive bit.

    But after a while, the stuff starts to drone (and there are only two songs here). You want to yell "Time to kick ass boys! Let it go!". But the sound just keeps rolling and rolling and rolling...

    And it's done. Not a terrible ride, but those last spins were kinda monotonous.


    Bowl
    (Transonic Artists)
    reviewed in issue #125, 12/23/96

    Fuzzy pop that fits the name of the band very well. Lots of distortion, and no shortage of hooks, even if they get a bit on the drony side of things. Yeah, just a load of that pseudo-psychedelic grunge pop.

    I can't believe I just committed label-itis like that. Ah well, it fits the band, anyway. Kinda like Pearl Jam after a couple joints. Below Sound has a nice feel, but I do wish the songs would go somewhere sometime.

    Like with the 7", the production is good, dirty enough to keep the feel the band obviously wants. And each part operates well within its space. I'd simply be happier if this didn't degenerate into mellow Seattle-type stuff so often.

    Good, but not hyper-affecting. Nothing to rip on, particularly, but the effort never rises above workmanlike. I can't hear the inspiration.


    Beluga
    Nuke the Gay Whales
    (CM)
    reviewed in issue #96, 1/22/96

    An interesting amalgam of heavy blues and punk, with plenty of other touches thrown in. The production is a little weak, leaving the edges rather fuzzy and undefined.

    Sometimes Beluga pulls a gem, like the faux-gospel blues riff "Let's Get High and Read the Bible", the nice boogie of "Blackout Blues" and the bluesy-DK feel of "Cocksucker Pig" (singer Tom Hevey sounds a lot like Jello on this one). But many of the other songs come off forced-sounding and don't leave much of an impression.

    Too uneven to rate highly, Beluga manages to pull off the improbable often enough to impress me. I would hate to ask the guys to get a little more coherent, but some closer attention to the nuts and bolts of songwriting might pay big dividends. The stuff doesn't need to be toned down, just tuned up.


    Beneath Autumn Sky
    Beneath Autumn Sky EP
    (Hefty)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    There's something about these experimental electronic reworkings of hip-hop grooves. Maybe it's just me, but I'm almost always knocked out. Are all of these kinda things really great, or am I just getting the cream of the crop?

    With Beneath Autumn Sky, I'm pretty sure it's the latter. Like some of the best stuff on Wordsound, these folks manage to express their new ideas within existing hip-hop vernacular, thus ensuring the continuation of the groove.

    Or, to put it simply, these are some tight jams. Really great stuff, both out there and utterly intimate. Listening to these pieces is like watching the thoughts flit through someone's head. That's how up close these songs can get.

    Nothing ordinary or repetitive here. Just some astonishingly creative fare expressed in truly beautiful fashion. Pretty hard to argue with a proposition like that.


    Benediction
    Dark Is the Season EP
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #24, 11/15/92

    While there are only three new tunes (of the five), and one is an Anvil cover, I'm still glad to hear something new from these guys. Their album The Grand Leveller was a highlight of last year , and I had high hopes.

    Not completely dashed, but this seems to be a quick-kill kind of release. They should be sitting down soon to record another great album, and then we can forget about most of this disc. Not that it's bad, but only the title track lives up to their past. And why dump a track from "Leveller" here?

    Hey guys, if you want to stay on my "waycool" list, better record a full-length pretty soon. 'nuff sed.


    Transcend the Rubicon
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #33, 4/30/93

    Haunting, delicate melodies twist and mesh in a sound that can only be compared to a steaming cup of tea...

    I've always wanted to start a review that way. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from wondering how you transcend a river and all, this cruised my brain and left me smiling.

    The Grand Leveller was a masterpiece, and this picks up where that left off. A seamless death metal performance. These boys have always had a certain flow that put them above the pack, and it is further evolved on this album.

    Incorporating various elements of the different metal circles is a great marketing move, and it sounds even better. This is a true death metal album that has wide-ranging appeal. The lush production leaves no eardrum cell left unshaken. Another god-like performance.


    The Grotesque/Ashen Epitaph EP
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #60, 8/15/94

    I don't know why they bother with these middling EPs. Cash, I suppose.

    Oh, the two new studio tracks are passable for Benediction, but neither are particularly great (well, "The Grotesque" is pretty good, actually). Anyway, the three live tracks sound like they were recorded underwater, with everything sloshing into each other. I like the studio versions much better, thank you.

    With any luck, we'll see a positively stunning full-length in six months or so. That should make up for this little bit of silliness.


    The Dreams You Dread
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95

    Running through band members almost as fast as Napalm Death (which is where at least one ended up, and where more than one came from), Benediction has soldiered on, mostly because of the keen perception that a famous band name sells more than a good record.

    But Benediction has always come through with the goods on the full-lengths (though the EPs have mostly blown chunks). This disc is more tightly produced than any previous outing, and Benediction has always been known for a pretty clean sound.

    There is certainly an emphasis on song crafting and structure that lesser bands ignore, to the point of overwork at times.

    Benediction has arrived with another good effort. Not sparkling, but certainly worthy of note. While the time of benediction for the band may be arriving one of these days, this album makes it easy for the boys to keep on keeping on.


    The Benevento-Russo Duo
    Play Pause Stop
    (Reincarnate Music)
    reviewed in issue #276, July 2006

    Somewhere between prog, indie rock and laptop pop lies the Benevento Russo Duo. I've been grooving on these folks for a quite a while, and they've been playing for even longer.

    Marco Benevento plays keyboards (with generally two or three things going on at once) and Joe Russo supplies the skin work. And while these songs are impeccably written and arranged, it's the way these guys work together that really makes their music wonderful.

    The sound on the album is slightly fuzzy--Benevento prefers that different lines have different sounds, and one of them is a slightly-distorted electric piano--which lends these songs a vaguely off-kilter feel. In no way, however, does this take away from the astounding melodic instinct of the band. And unless I miss my guess, these songs were recorded live to tape (or whatever). If not, these guys are even more talented than I've guessed.

    These guys have been playing together for something like 15 years. You can hear it in the way these songs come together. We're not talking about mere anticipation...these two know what the other will be doing. And that rapport helps these intricate pieces come together most impressively.


    Bennet
    Super Natural
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #126, 1/13/97

    Well, everyone needs an acerbic Britpop band in their lineup, I suppose. And honestly, Bennet is much better than most of the wankers some other indies have been propagating.

    Attacking the pop form with guitars wailing, Bennet scrawls its way through 16 songs, including "the obligatory secret track", a song whose construction rips Pavement a new asshole. Hey, I love these folks!

    The stuff is incandescent joy, peals of arrogance and shards of cynicism. Plenty of work went into this album, and none of it was wasted. Superbly written, performed and produced. A wondrous debut.

    Oh, sure, you gotta figure these folk will score big, ending up fat and coked out, like Liam (or his brother; I can't keep Oasis scandals straight). But for now Bennet is content to rail at the pop establishment, two fingers in the air.

    Really fine. If Bennet can keep this up, may God save us all.


    Aaron Bennett
    Live at Luggage
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    Aaron Bennett plays soprano sax here. And that's about it. He's playing live at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, quite literally making it up as he goes along (these are improvisations).

    He does share the sound on a couple tracks, first with Kattt Sammon (who uses her voice much like an experimental musician might use an intrument) and later with the audience, who play toy instruments along with Bennett on "Concerto for Soprano Sax and Audience."

    So you know the guy's got a sense of humor, too. In fact, through these six improvisations, Bennett displays a remarkable variety of emotions. His playing isn't merely assualtive, prodding or inquisitive. It's all three and much more.

    Some artists don't know what to do with total freedom. Bennett uses it to find new and better ways to express himself through his sax. There is a lot going on here, despite the fact the vast majority of the album contains the sound of just one instrument. Or, just maybe, there's a lot going on here because Bennett is the only person making noise.


    Craig Bennett
    More City Sadness
    (Black Cottage)
    reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00

    Personal and idiosyncratic lyrics spit out over somewhat densely-layered pop burblings. Sounds like the latest thing from England, but of course, it's not.

    There is, though, that smug sense of importance in these songs. But Craig Bennett doesn't go so far as to jump wholly into the pool of pretentious poets. He dips his toe here and there, but mostly sticks to the sides.

    Which makes the songs all the more approachable. There is so much style in his substance that it might be easy to dismiss this as merely pop candy. The disc sounds quite wonderful. But there is plenty beneath that veneer that invites a listener back again for more (and more).

    You know, it's be great if the next big thing from the U.K. sounded like this. I'm just happy someone turned the trick. Bennett sure knows his way around a pop song.


    Happy Hollowdays
    (Black Cottage)
    reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00

    Craig Bennett has his heart set somewhere in England. He writes songs that evoke Nick Cave and other similarly moody--yet talky--artists. The feeling here is pure understatement, which means you've got to pay some attention.

    Work does have its rewards. Bennett has a wry take on relationships. His lyrics have plenty of bite, but these aren't the songs of some disillusioned, heart-broken misanthrope. That's because Bennett is just as likely to turn the mirror on the characters in his songs (characters that are most likely him, at least from time to time). We all do silly (not to mention stupid) things, and we might as well get over it now.

    Coming to the heart of these observations isn't easy, however. Bennett hardly writes shiny songs, and while his plodding melodies do carry some charm, they aren't instant crowd-pleasers. Repeat listens are necessary. And recommended. Highly recommended.


    Faster Forward
    (Black Cottage)
    reviewed in issue #247, November 2003

    If Craig Bennett didn't pay attention to his craft, his idiosyncratic observational songs would quickly get tiring. Mind-numbing, even. But Bennett makes sure that each dark little notion is slotted into the correct position, and wonderful pop songs fall out.

    It's quite possible to pay too much attention to form, ending up with cookie-cutter songs. Bennett's point of view is so contorted that he needs a little convention to get him back within the viewfinder. And boy, does he know how to turn out a fine downcast line.

    Bennett prefers a minimalist feel to his sound. He does allow things to get messy now and again, but usually that's the result of distortion rather than reverb. There's very little echo, and in general the feel is a bit flat. Which fits his wonderfully subversive noirs just fine.

    I've heard a few Bennett albums, and they're all great. This one doesn't really take him to another level, but he was already pretty high up there. Pain junkies, here's your next fix.


    Bent
    Nothing Grows Here Anymore...
    (Grass)
    reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94

    I had been warned that this was a simply stunning album, one that I had to hear. And lo, it showed up a couple days later.

    My source was more than correct. This is aggressive pop music, the likes I haven't heard since the dawn of Treepeople. Bent is too nonlinear to really call its music punk influenced, but the speed and attitude are around in spades.

    Every song is a gem. I just wish the folks might have seen it in themselves to put more than 10 on the disc. I mean, I need more. Now. Immediately. Screw the tour, write another disc and send it to me pronto. That's the only way I can be satisfied. Would it help if I begged some more?

    All silliness aside, Bent have a perfect alternative pop sound, and the boys can write smashing tunes. And they're from St. Louis? How the hell did I manage to never hear them before? I believe that is the true tragedy here.


    Bent Leg Fatima
    Bent Leg Fatima
    (File 13)
    reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99

    The first track sounded a hell of a lot like Dirty Three. Nothing wrong with that. But Bent Leg Fatima isn't one of those bands which plays a one-influence tune. Now, some of the other influences are hard to describe, but it's easiest to say that the band likes to mess around as much as possible with the pop music form.

    Lots of asides and tangents. In fact, some songs are simply randomly connected ideas which may or may not actually work together. If played by other folks, that is. BLF has a knack for making sense of its own odd ideas.

    So if you'd like to hear what Thingy playing a Beatles song through a Palace filter (the best way I can describe "Dr. Spound & the Art that They Dismissed"), well, come on aboard. Each song sounds nothing like any of the others, and yet, I wouldn't mistake these folks for anyone.

    Perhaps the simplest sound description would be June Panic if it didn't sound like June Panic. And there I go, warbling a strangled tune again. There is much wonder to be discovered here. Be sure to pass the gate.


    Bentmen
    Immaculate Contraption
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    Post-apocalyptic rumblings. At least, these folks are acting as if the apocalypse has already come to pass. Lots of songs about evil holy men, things lurking in the shadows, the general nastiness of society and the like.

    There's also a number of weird jokes (say, a short monologue concerning Jean-Claude Van Damme) and plenty of strange musical burblings. Generally, the sound is out of the early 90s, when vaguely industrial, bass-heavy hard rock propagated by the likes of Course of Empire (though Bentmen aren't nearly so mechanized) was kinda popular.

    The thing is, these folks do not stick to any program. They rage and wail and meander all over the place. I'm not complaining, mind you, I'm just trying to explain or something.

    Not the strangest band in the world, but definitely on a different wavelength than most bands of its ilk. Bentmen have created their own universe, and they have to live in it. You, on the other hand, may enter at your own risk.


    Benton Falls
    Fighting Starlight
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Fairly straightforward emo, with the usual strident riffage and churning climaxes. Benton Falls doesn't vary far from the realm of the expected, but it does do the sound quite well.

    But despite the fine playing and well-crafted songs, I began to get a bit itchy. I wanted to hear a little more ... something. I definitely wanted the guys to take a few more chances. This is solid. Can't deny that. Just somewhat undistinguished. Or, more correctly, indistinguishable.

    Another Red House production job, and this sounds as solid as anything else coming out of the eastern Kansas casa de emo. No complaints there. Really, I can't find much wrong with this album. I just can't seem to get revved up about it, either.

    Ah well. That happens. I will admit that I much prefer experiments gone awry than perfect replicas of masterpieces. Benton Falls doesn't copy any one band in particular, but this disc is a poster child for the generic emo sound. Which will more than suffice for most folks, I know. Just not quite distinctive enough for me.


    Guilt Beats Hate
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #239, March 2003

    Now this is what I call old school. There was a time when emo was loud and scratchy, not loud and tuneful. Benton Falls has lots of great musical lines banging into each other at odd angles and some cogent thinking in the lyrics as well.

    The choruses are pretty basic. The guitars start wailing (as much as tightly-controlled strident lead guitar can wail, anyway) and the words are sung just that much louder. I'm not complaining. I've liked this style for years. I wish more bands would take it on.

    I feel that way because this is the sound that put the emotion in emo. These are heartfelt songs of real passion--even if the passion is generally more existential than temporal. See, these boys do like to think. Another big plus in my book.

    Solid work that is inspiring when taken as a whole. There's real anger and pain and desire and hope burned into every second of this disc. If this album doesn't wake you up, then you're already dead.


    Ashes and Lies EP
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #325, March 2011

    A bit more conventional than what I've heard from the band, but there's still a nice kick to most of these songs. The guys from Claire de Lune drop by on the final track, which is the most sharp and urgent song of the bunch. Perhaps just a lull in the proceedings. We'll see.


    Joe Bergamini
    Arrival
    (Spec Records)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    I must say that I've never heard a solo album where the featured performer is a drummer. Well, in the rock trade, anyway.

    Zak Rivzi wrote the songs and plays guitar and keyboards, thus carrying the melody. The sound is basic rock guitar instrumental stuff, not terribly inspired, but not insipid, either.

    Bergamini's drumming is fairly impressive, though for most of the album he simply keeps time. There are a few breaks, but nothing like a serious solo. Of course, if there's one thing that's overdone, it's the bombastic drum solo, so maybe I should be happy for that.

    A somewhat confusing project on the surface, though it gets much easier to judge simply by the music alone. The stuff is decent, but generic. And that's about it.


    Bergers with Mayo
    Live at Pete's 12/7/91
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #209, 12/11/00

    Back before the Renovators were the Renovators, they were Bergers with Mayo (an easy pun, as the trio was Al and Ted Hemberger with Bob Mayo). This live set from almost 10 years ago gives a good idea as to the roots of the current band. All the songs are covers, but played with more enthusiasm than I heard on the band's studio disc.

    Three Hendrix tunes, and pieces from Stevie Ray Vaughn, Doc Pomus, Mark Knopfler... you can see where this is going. Fiery smooth blues seems to be the aim.

    I have to say I like the way these pieces are played much better than the newer stuff. These guys are having fun, even if they really aren't taking the old songs to new places.

    For me, it's always interesting to hear the progression of musicians. And I'm sure the fans of the Renovators feel the same way. Now, I generally do prefer covers to be interpreted in more unique ways than these are. Still, it's always nice to hear guys enjoying themselves with music.

    See also the Renovators.


    David Berkman
    Handmade
    (Palmetto)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    A member of Cecil McBee's ensemble (among other things), David Berkman's debut shows off his range as a leader as much as his skill on the piano. As the band isn't one which plays together on any sort of regular basis, Berkman had to familiarize the players with his compositions and organize the arrangements in a short period of time. This entire album, in fact, was recorded on one day.

    That unfamiliarity may have been a virtue in spots, leading to some vibrant moments where it sounds like the players are working out both competitive and collaborative urges. The skillful balance between the two has to be accomplished by the leader and arranger, and Berkman does a great job.

    All this lauding of management skills overlooks the fact that Berkman has a great touch on the piano. He's able to wander around in the background for a while before, almost without warning, striking out to the forefront, demanding and receiving recognition.

    A wonderfully conceived and performed disc. Berkman's pieces have a simple sort of elegance. Even as the individuals in the band occasionally wander off, the vision of the whole is never lost. A fitting description of both his playing and his leadership.


    Victor Bermon
    Arriving at Night
    (Hefty)
    reviewed in issue #282, February 2007

    The sort of vaguely-jazzy minimalist electronic fare that I seem to recall emanating from Hefty. Not that this label can be pigeonholed, of course. I'm just saying this sounds like the classy sort of stuff Hefty has brought forth in the past.

    Howzat for sucking up? Anyway, Bermon is a college student in Perth (Australia), and on the side he writes these contemplative compositions. The sound lies somewhere between laptop pop and somewhat ethereal electronic stuff, but the songs themselves are intensely grounded. There is a strong sense of structure within them, so much that even the slightest shift in rhythm or tempo tends to cause something of a tectonic shift in mood.

    All that means is that Bermon is a master of putting together systems of patterns, and he knows well what happens when you shift. A lit professor of mine called it "dramatic tension." You know, the sort of thing that makes you want to pay attention to what's going on.

    I swear, this is one of the lamest reviews I've ever written. But hell, take my word for it: This is one sweet album. Bermon sets a mood and then revels in occasionally ripping the carpet out from under your feet. That, friends, is something wondrous.


    Alan Bernhoft
    Mrs. Sippy Bone
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #261, February 2005

    Alan Bernhoft is well-schooled in classic rock...everything from the Replacements to the Beatles, if you're willing to accept my definition. He's willing to dip into the blues, roots, punk, pop and just about anything else in order to write the song he wants to hear.

    This disparate and wide-ranging palette is held together by fairly primitive recording. The sound is rough and often sounds like it has pegged the levels now and again. Still, all those serrated edges can't take away from the sweetness of the songs. Bernhoft writes some of the tastiest hooks I've heard in a while.

    And, well, he's one hell of an expressive guitar player as well. He's not exactly a virtuoso, but he knows how to wring a song out of the strings. And that's more important than the finest technique on the planet.

    A quick search shows that Bernhoft has cranked out a number of these self-released discs. If those other discs are anywhere near as good as this one, I simply cannot understand why someone hasn't taken a chance on the boy. He';s a fine writer, and he has a great feel for crafting songs in the studio (even if the results are a bit crude). Top notch.


    Johnny Berry and the Outliers
    Fegenbush Farm
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #274, May 2006

    Johnny Berry's got a rough-hewn baritone that sounds great when mixed with traditional country music. And when I say traditional, I mean unadorned. Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. Or, in this case, Johnny Berry and two guys from Kentucky (with some friends on the side).

    Honky tonk laments, heel-clickin' two steps, rip-roarin' wailers...you name it, Berry plays it. Now, again, we're talking about real country music. None of that Californy nonsense, no trips to the hills. Just a guitar and a pair of shit kickers.

    Berry's songwriting is solid, and he's obviously smart enough to know when to turn to a friend for help when he needs it. But what I like best is the presentation. This sounds authentic. For that very reason, it probably isn't. Life goes on. This disc sounds great.

    A fine CD for traveling down the road a piece. Especially if you're hankering for a bit of what Johnny Cash used to do so well. Johnny Berry and the are worth quite a few spins.


    Butch Berry
    Butch Berry EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Acoustic guitars and layer vocals. Butch Berry creates intensely personal songs full of tension and drama. Indeed, each of these songs verges on overkill. And yet, walking the edge, Berry manages to keep from slipping into parody.

    Reminds me a bit of some of the Posies' acoustic moments, though the harmonies aren't quite so crafted or tight. Berry keeps a firm hand on the emotional content of his songs, doling out just enough to keep reeling in the listener.

    Takes a few minutes to really dig, but once I fell in step with Berry's style, I found myself entranced. It's rather difficult to make this style sound authentic, but Berry has done it. I'm impressed.


    Iris Berry
    Life on the Edge in Stilettos
    (New Alliance)
    reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95

    Conceived in greedtime, written more recently, this project (comprised of poems, stories and a few fragments) sounds curiously dated, like tales from a past we still haven't overcome. Or maybe Hollywood never left the eighties.

    Berry likes to riff on pop icons, from Keith Richards to Cocoa Pebbles. This gets a little annoying after a while, and Berry doesn't help when she decides to beat you over the head, rather than stroke you with subtlety.

    But many of the stories are fun and intriguing, if occasionally maddening. Berry needs a little editing and guidance. Her voice carries her ideas well, though, and that partly makes up for the shortcomings.


    Robert Berry
    A Soundtrack for the Wheel of Time
    (Magna Carta)
    reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01

    If you don't know, The Wheel of Time is a series of astonishingly thick (in terms of pages, I mean) fantasy books written by Robert Jordan. I haven't read them; they came along a few years after my own flirtation with fantasy passed. I have a few friends, though, who swear by them. And I've always liked the idea of soundtracks for books.

    As you might expect from a Magna Carta release, Robert Berry takes a prog approach to his work. He incorporates plenty of Celtic and other ancient European folk styles (the kinda stuff that just about everyone links with the "days" of swords and sorcery. The songs are classical in composition. Berry takes a theme and works it through a few variations. He obviously knows what he's doing.

    Sound grandiose and overbearing? Then you haven't read the books. Even many folks who like them will admit that the stuff is overwritten and pretentious. See, that sorta thing works in the fantasy genre. If you're creating another world, you've gotta really set it all down. Berry does a very good job of illustrating Jordan's creation.

    I guess that's the best way to judge this. Standing alone, well, this might be just another excessive orchestral prog record. But put in its proper context, this album really does make sense. Kinda what I expected, but in a good way. Berry has done his homework and created a worthy soundtrack.


    Cindy Lee Berryhill
    Garage Orchestra
    (Earth Music-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #52, 4/15/94

    You wonder how a person with a voice situated somewhere between Cyndi Lauper and Juliana Hatfield can even get a deal.

    As usual, the answer is good songs. These aren't lush pop productions, but nicely understated folk-style things. That the five musicians play cello, vibraphone, autoharp and a palm frond among other things lends to a somewhat otherworldly feel.

    This is about as far from straightforward as pop music can get. Berryhill has quite a way with unusual melodies (her voice helps a lot), and the lyrics are insightful in a rather non-traditional way. I've liked everything I've heard from her in the past, and this keeps that streak intact.


    Straight Outta Marysville
    (Earth Music-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #105, 4/8/96

    Settling down with Cargo for the second time, Berryhill continues to crank out perceptive folky pop tunes. And she's not about to change for anyone.

    So if you don't dig her affected singing style or poetic, yet jarring, writing style, well, then you won't like this album. And you won't like any of her stuff. So leave, then.

    Many of these tunes deal directly with the usual high school angst bullshit, which, again, is something I can easily identify with. And perhaps it's that high school theme that led her to cover "Season of the Witch". Not that it's a terrible rendition or anything, but still...

    In all, another solid album. Berryhill walks her own quirky path, and she has a good strut. While not winning over any new converts, this album will certainly satisfy all her fans.


    Johnny Bertram & the Golden Bicycles
    Days That Passed
    (Esperanza Plantation)
    reviewed in issue #317, May 2010

    Bertram writes laid-back songs steeped in 70s cool, but he arranges them in orchestral americana settings. So, y'know, if Gram Parsons had been in an acoustic version of Steely Dan or something.

    I'm speaking of a general musical feel, of course. Bertram's vocals aren't as distinctive as Parsons's (whose are?), but they fit his songs perfectly. The organ, strings and occasional horns fill out the largely acoustic sound quite well.

    And these songs do roll. I suppose that it's possible for someone to listen to a song from this album and yawn, but I can't imagine that happening. The off-handed delivery underlies some serious playing. Bertram isn't afraid to let his band get its licks in, and the results are generally combustible.

    Thoroughly enjoyable. This album instantly grabbed on to my ears and did not let go. A real wowser. If folks don't know Bertram now, they will quite soon.


    Neon City
    (Esperanza Plantation)
    reviewed in issue #337, May 2012

    The sound is much more electric, but the arrangements are as far-reaching and orchestral as before. Bertram and his band have decided to embrace the rock roots of their ambition, even while keeping touch with the subtle grace of their first album.

    I've been on a 70s rock kick for the last few months, and the way Bertram fuses grace with power reminds me a lot of the best examples of that sound. The easiest comparison, of course, is the difference between the Posies first album and their Geffen major-label debut. The bones are the same, but the sound is so much more.

    And yes, more electricity and volume do amplify the gorgeous settings of these songs. In truth, beauty runneth over here. These songs are so well-proportioned that I can hardly thing of a better way to put them together.

    This one has a real chance to become a classic. The songs are exceptional, and they're played with a charmingly loose flair. But it's the gracefully lush production that simply makes this album timeless. Absolutely wonderful.


    Bethlehem
    Thy Pale Dominion 7"
    (Red Stream)
    reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95

    This sounds a lot like the first Darkthrone, except sub in traditional death metal vocals for the yelping.

    Which means this lies somewhere between black metal and death metal. And I think Bethlehem is better off for it.

    To be sure, there is little musical creativity, but at least it doesn't sound absolutely silly. If you're into the darker side of death metal, Bethlehem does it pretty well.


    Bettie Serveert
    Attagirl
    (Palomine/Minty Fresh)
    reviewed in issue #262, March 2005

    Despite the general marketing use of Carol van Dyk, Bettie Serveert is a band. I don't know any Dutch, but perhaps the name means something more in the band's native tongue. In Amurrcun, of course, Bettie Serveert means "breathy pop music."

    Which is A-OK with me. Minty Fresh is something of a home to fading major label pop icons (Veruca Salt, the Cardigans and the Waterboys have all passed through), but I think a more appropriate description would be shelter for prog pop orphans--like, say, the Aluminum Group (also on the roster).

    In any case, this is probably the most confident and beguiling Bettie Serveert album I've heard. The songs are complex and playful, and van Dyk plays up the sex kitten in her voice to full effect. If you're not into getting entranced, find another album.

    Fun is the order of the day, in the final analysis. And I'm not going to argue with that. There's plenty here to keep me hooked for some time--but in the meantime, I'm simply bouncing.


    Betty Already
    Amerimaniacs
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    Raucous, almost throttling fare. Betty Already bashes out its songs with little in the way of subtlety or depth. I'm not saying there's no thought here; actually, there are quite a few tasty cynical digs to be had here. It's just that everything is on the surface.

    And it's really loud. Betty Already utilizes two singers (male and female) who often wail in tandem. I've always liked that; it sounds really cool, especially when the lines don't run parallel. And they certainly don't here.

    Rough and ready rock and roll. Not much more than that, but a more than attractive way of thrashing things out. The vocal work is about as complex as things get, and that's not terribly complicated. Sometimes, like now, simplicity is its own reward.

    Play it loud. Don't think about it too much. Just let the power surge through you. That's the best way to appreciate Betty Already. Overanalysis will get you nowhere fast.


    Between the Buried and Me
    Alaska
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #268, September 2005

    Exquisite extreme hardcore churned with proggy Euro-metal and strikingly thoughtful (if often unintelligible) lyrics. Reminds me of a more coherent At the Gates.

    A more extreme At the Gates as well. This album is positively brutal--plenty of double bass drum licks, crashing riffage and throat-throttling howls. The impressive mix of styles and ideas reminds me of early Fear Factory, though almost completely different in content and tone.

    Between the Buried and Me is a direct descendent of some of those fine Century Media and Nuclear Blast bands from the early 90s, European death metal types who couldn't quite give up on melody. Now, we're not talking about Tiamat--these boys are much, much meaner--but more like Asphyx, Grave, Meshuggah, that sort of thing. But again, much, much harsher on the back of the throat.

    I've been preaching this gospel for almost 15 years, but it's still true: Smart people do play loud music. And some very smart people play some excellent loud music. This album is the perfect case study.


    Bevel
    Turn the Furnace On
    (Jagjaguwar)
    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    Via Nuon (of Drunk) is Bevel, and the songs pretty much feature his voice and guitar, though a trap set sneaks in from time to time. Nuon isn't the world's most accomplished player or singer, but that doesn't stop him from delivering some stunning pieces.

    At times, Nuon tries out a banjo or tracks in an organ or some other accompanying instrument. Interestingly, he seems to prefer using each instrument separately, so even though each one would have to be recorded on a different track, as often as not each instrument has the song to itself.

    Needless to say, Bevel is a rather unique project. I've heard plenty of guitar-driven singer-songwriters, and Nuon has a corner all to himself. There aren't many on-ramps for the non-believers; you've gotta dig this sorta stuff to gain entrance.

    But if "indie hipster dudes" (as a music critic friend of mine prefers to refer to this sound) get you off, I'd say Bevel is a good course to follow. Nuon's eccentricities are pronounced, but not so much as to keep me from enjoying the music. Kinda like Drunk that way. There's plenty depth here. Dive right in.


    Beyond
    Crawl
    (Harvest/Continuum)
    reviewed in issue #14, 5/31/92

    Wow. And you know I don't say that a lot. But I really like what they're trying to do here. A funky rhythm section tacked onto minimalist metal. Not a lot of melodic things going on for the most part, but then once you think you have pegged their sound they change again.

    The closest I can put them to anything would be Faith No More, but even that is unfair. The Beyond has its own sound, a combination of many musical styles, including samples and some neat electronic trickery.

    An album I want to spend a lot of time with. Don't play just one track, I don't care what the label says. To deny yourself this experience would be a very bad thing.


    Beyond-O-Matic
    The Flight of Luis Garcia
    (Chroniclers of the End)
    reviewed in issue #94, 1/8/96

    Self-produced (and self-released) spacey stuff that was mostly recorded live (the guys admit to a few overdubs). This disc (packaged in a color photocopy sleeve--very cool) rambles all over the prog/space/whatever universe first traveled by the likes of Hawkwind.

    The lyrics are pretty damned silly (they sound like typical 70s mystical shit), but since most of the tunes were kinda improvised on the spot, I suppose you don't want any real sharp, soul-searching diatribes.

    For a "jamming" album, this stuff is pretty tight. I'd say the guys have a good sense of how to make music, and if this is what their improvisations sound like, I can only imagine what real crafting might do. Yes, I know, that just might ruin everything. But then, producing an album like this is pretty risky, too.

    As long as Beyond-O-Matic doesn't take itself seriously, future albums should be pretty good. The only real mistake they guys could make is in getting a monster advance and really overproducing the album. The appeal of this disc is in its understated simplicity. That's the real secret to good space stuff.


    Sonic Reclamator
    (Jamaelot)
    reviewed in issue #147, 11/10/97

    I was rather intrigued by this band's self-released disc when I heard it almost two years ago. Spacey prog stuff that purported to be mostly improvised. While I've never been particularly enamored of "jam" albums, the sense of adventure obviously possessed by this band is hard to overcome.

    Indeed, I was impressed despite myself. Since I knew what to expect here, I was rather keen to hear what the folks had come up with this time. Much of the same would be a cool trip to the outer limits of normal music, and that's what's here. Alright, so the lyrics ("largely composed on the spot") are as obtuse and somewhat silly as before. Some folks like simple mantras, which is the basic lyric form here.

    The music, on the other hand, is the real treat. Yeah, it's three guys with various synthesizers, guitar-type thingies and the occasional skin-type drums (with few overdubs) playing whatever comes into their collective mind at the time. It's just that that particular collective is rather fertile.

    The intent behind improvised albums is to find a certain air of discovery. That usually doesn't happen, though. Beyond-O-Matic is an outfit that does deliver. A real trip, in many senses of the word.


    Your Body
    (Jamaelot)
    reviewed in issue #176, 2/8/99

    The third disc I've gotten from these folks. They still rely on the "recorded jam" sound, but with overdubs. Perhaps they decided to buckle down and really craft some songs. Still spacey, still with a hint of mellow prog, but fully fleshed out ideas. An improvement.

    Who knows? Maybe the live show is still highly improvised. But these generally quiet and introspective tunes (dominated by a variety of keyboard sounds and drum machines) demonstrate how hard the folks have worked. This sounds like a coherent album. Actually, it just sounds great.

    Not what I was expecting at all. Wonderfully challenging sounds, creative and entrancing. The best of the improvisational and crafted worlds. Kinda like enhancing a brainstorm, y'know?

    Just keeps getting better. This is a wonderful disc. If you're at all into the pop side of space music, then search out Beyondomatic at all costs.


    Time to Get Up
    (Trail)
    reviewed in issue #318, June 2010

    I haven't heard from these folks in years, and this album is yet another new direction. I like that. Beyond-O-Matic has always been adventurous, and this proggy, trippy effort adds a technical dimension to the band's sound that I haven't heard before. A cool descent.


    Jello Biafra
    (as Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon with the Toadliquors)
    Will the Fetus Be Aborted? 7"
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93

    While I never thought of Jello as being influenced by Willie Nelson, the comparisons here sound pretty clear to me. The A-side is a reworking of the old Carter Family tune "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (which is a hymn now in a few denominations, I think). I don't know who thought of it, but this is really fucking funny.

    If you thought this little bit of blasphemy would tick off Grandma, pop open that 7" sleeve and check out the handy items detailed within. Oh my. It's enough to think Pat Robertson founded a college to pick up coeds.
    As for the flip, Jello, Mojo and company take on Jurassic Park, with mixed results.

    I would sneak in to the Opry to catch this act. I wonder what ol' Hank Snow would think of it, though.


    (as Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon with the Toadliquors)
    Prairie Home Invasion
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #50, 3/15/94

    I have waited my entire life to hear Jello croon "Ol' Mizzou!" Let's just say it's too bad KCOU (I mean, KEJJ) won't touch this album with a hot poker.

    Whatever you think of Jello or Mojo, they have made careers out of lampooning the rich, famous and stupid. Sure, there are jibes at traditional targets God, Don Henley, "alternative" music, David Geffen and big business, but while both had seemed a little stale at times recently, they seem rejuvenated here.

    And by the way, call them both "Reverend."

    Like the single, the accompanying cover and liner art is immaculately presented (down to the Roy Orbison movie poster and statuette of Gorgeous George amongst the clutter on the back cover).

    Yeah, it's mostly country-esque music, but that just adds to the fun. This is about the perfect tape to pop in the deck when your grandparents want to hear something relaxing... just wait until Jello's voice kicks in and their eyes roll to the backs of their heads.

    The best drinking record of the year. And it's pretty good when you're sober, too.


    Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94

    Despite a nasty incident that has sidelined Jello for the last few months, he has managed to cobble together over three hours worth of spoken word musings.

    While this collection won't bring any new followers, Jello's shrill criticisms of government, big business, the educational system and more are often more on than off. His main point, "Don't buy into my shit blindly, but think (and search out truth) for yourself", is in marked contrast to Rushian "dittoheads".

    One of the most amusing moments is his description of meeting Tipper Gore on Oprah (twice). What, a politician's wife is a hypocrite? Oh, Jello, you'll make me a cynical bastard yet!

    Jello is not only one of the most informed social critics, he's pretty damned funny, too. Kind of like a Dick Gregory for today. Check him out when he hits the road again. Until then, you have some required listening.


    (with The Melvins)
    Never Breathe What You Can't See
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #259, November 2004

    If you've never heard of Jello Biafra or the Melvins, then go on to the next review. Or, better yet, go to another web site. I don't mean to be, well, mean, but I do assume a certain knowledge of ancient music history when I write reviews. If you are familiar with the boys, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

    Hardcore metal riffs and Biafra's unmistakable histrionic wail. The songs are loud, fast and (surprise, surprise) political as all get out. If you remember the album Jello did with DOA 15 years ago (!!) ago, then this puppy ought to bring on a nice flush of nostalgia.

    I know this statement approaches sacrilege, but I prefer the albums Jello has made with DOA, Nomeansno and now the Melvins to old Dead Kennedys. For starters, the production is much better. And while there are a number of DK songs which are undeniably brilliant, the albums tended to be kinda scattershot. And while there's no "Let's Lynch the Landlord" on these later albums, it's obvious that Jello and the bands like each other and are having fun. The albums are cohesive, solid shots of blistering rock and roll.

    And, y'know, these "other" bands are much better musicians than the DK boys were back in the day. Maybe I am getting old, but that does count for something in my book. Whatever. Even with considering all that nonsense, this album is a real blast--even if those who made it can count the days until they are eligible to apply for AARP membership. Sometimes loud music ages exceptionally well.


    Biastfear
    A Worthless Emotion
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96

    Good post-death metal, grinding stuff with gothic singing, a la Fear Factory. If it weren't so derivative, I'd be a bit more happy.

    The riffage is great, and the production is above demo quality, though a bit muffled and treble-heavy (I wish I could hear even a little bass!). But this has been done before (and much better) by Fear Factory.

    Perhaps three years ago this would have been good enough to garner some attention, but with all the "death of death metal" laments I've been reading for a couple years, this isn't the time to jump on the bandwagon, even if the tractor is a fine one.

    Wrong time, and not quite original enough. But nonetheless a good effort.


    The Ties that Bind
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #159, 5/18/98

    The band is still borrowing a bit too much from Fear Factory for my tastes, but this first full-length from Biastfear is much better than its fairly impressive demo.

    The songwriting is more cohesive, and the songs do draw from more influences. More of a European feel in some of the riffage, and a greater emphasis on up-tempo songs. Sure, there are some traditional death metal descants and double bass drum bits, but they don't overwhelm the package.

    The more I dug into this disc, the more impressed I got. The sound is great (a wonderful production job which left the guitars sharp as knives and the percussion elements a bit thicker than most), and it compliments the band's musical direction well. The limited use of samples also helps flavor the package.

    Hey, I know lots of folks still dig this stuff, even if the labels are moving away. Biastfear is attempting to buck the trends, playing music that the industry doesn't want to hear right now. I admire that. The band keeps getting better. I hope something breaks for these guys.


    All Angels Scream
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    Some new wave metal bands have jumped on the hip hop bandwagon, and a few have even embraced a form of the Fear Factory goth vocals. Few, however, have gone as whole hog as Biastfear, picking up a new singer who might well be much more at home wailing with Destiny's Child.

    Crystal Moore sings and raps (kinda) along with the grinding Biastfear attack. And you know something? It works, particularly when Moore unwinds her formidable voice.

    In fact, this album could use a more of Moore. When she's singing, the material just smokes. When she's rapping or standing on the sidelines, the stuff sounds a lot more mundane. Her voice combined with the music's rough edges really packs a wallop.

    There's definitely something here. This idea worked. The songwriting needs to be tweaked a bit to take more full advantage of what the band has, but the big risk has been taken. It paid in full.


    Biblical Proof of UFOs
    Vishnu Were Here 7"
    (Cambodia Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    One of the better puns I've seen in a while, but after that buildup, I'm kinda disappointed in the music.

    Rambling, disjointed and noisy pop music. I'm sure the guys meant to do or say something, but I have no idea what it is. Well, say is a bit strong, as there isn't any singing as such, though on "Walkie Talkie" (the a-side) there is some unintelligible "gibberish" (that's what the liners call it, not me).

    The music is fair, but I must admit I was hoping for something more than plodding waves of distorted bass and guitar. Incoherence can be a virtue, but not when it doesn't lead anywhere.

    See what I mean?


    Bichos
    Four Legs in the Morning
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #140, 8/4/97

    Rather messy, disjointed rock music punctuated by the verbal abuse of the late Robert Winson. Winson's arrogant delivery and awesomely pretentious lyrics are perhaps the chief reason Bichos stands out.

    The music is adventurous enough, though I get the feeling that sometimes the members are trying a bit too hard to sound different. Sometimes the meandering lines work, sometimes they don't. That's the be expected. But Winson's apocalyptic presence keeps this project alive.

    Doors-y in that sense, I guess, though most folks wouldn't hear the connection. Bichos cycles through a gamut of musical ideas and moods, the playing good, if not great. I like the sense of discovery that pervades this disc. I can almost hear ideas getting uncovered on the fly. That's pretty cool.

    All told, though, Bichos is a cult of a personality. Robert Winson's passing also marked the passing of Bichos, but this disc is a fine testimony to what is now gone.

    See also The Gagan Bros. Band.


    Don Bickoff
    Celestial Explosion re-issue
    (Tomkins Square)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/24/13

    Originally released more than 40 years ago, this spacey take on solo acoustic folk guitar remains impressive. Bickoff styled himself more of a composer than player, and his playing can be a bit chilly at times. He also knows how to take his time; the playing is exquisite and never rushed. Quite an exploration.


    FONT SIZE=+3>The Bicycle Thief
    You Come and Go Like a Pop Song
    (Artemis)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    A friend of mine reviewed this disc when it first came out back in late 1999 on Goldenvoice. He loved it then, and I'm happy to see that this fine album will have the chance to find a wider audience.

    The Bicycle Thief is Bob Forrester (of Thelonious Monster) and a few friends. The idiosyncratic lyric style is still in full effect, though Forrester has moved his music just a wee bit toward the mainstream. You know, these things sound like fully-formed songs. That sorta thing.

    In fact, Forrester has managed to craft a number of songs that deserve to be played over and over by mainstream radio. Clunky pop songs with just enough of an anthemic climax to burn the choruses into the brain. Kinda like World Party, though somewhat less crafted.

    In all, a joyous affair. My friend was absolutely dead on here. You Come and Go Like a Pop Song is utterly brilliant. There isn't a dull moment or misstep. Just bliss.


    Bien
    Eleven
    (Dualsix Records)
    reviewed in issue #243, July 2003

    I'm always surprised whenever I hear an MC who can really flow the rhymes. It's not that I think it's all that tough to be smooth. It merely takes a lot of hard work. But the style today (and for the last decade) has been overwhelmingly messy. Richard Marshall (who goes by Bien) prefers to float against the tide.

    Thank God. Hey, I like loopy, disjointed hip-hop as well as the next guy, but it takes hard work to make that sound work as well. And most of the folks who sling slop are simply lazy. Marshall and producer Matt James have crafted eleven superb tracks that spin some fine science but are also just as comfy throbbing at parties.

    The sound is late 80s, a sophisticated, complex version of the pop rap that destroyed the street value of hip hop for a time. Bien gets it right, using catchy electronic beats and a clean production sound to create a real sense of adventure. What I'm trying to say is that Bien is at home in the mainstream, but there's so much depth in these songs that the more studied listener will also find plenty to enjoy.

    Yeah, okay, so I'm an old fogey. I actually like to know what people say, and I'm not above enjoying some throbbing bass. But there's no questioning Marshall's skills on the mic or James's studio acumen. This album is for real. Bien is a true master.


    Big Ass Truck
    Who Let You in Here?
    (Terminus)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    Yer basic groove-soul four-piece, except that there are five guys. The fifth man plays beatmaster and turntable king. And that makes all the difference.

    All of a sudden Big Ass Truck goes from average to just about awesome. Okay, it's not just the electronic addition, as that stuff had been incorporated into the songwriting, but I'm telling ya, it's a big piece of the action.

    The boys don't range that far afield from the groove-soul sound, apart from the odd garagey moments. That's okay. This disc was recorded in Memphis, and there's plenty of Stax in the sound. The generally loose construction of the songs is helped by a light hand in the mix, which allows all of the elements to blend together well.

    Enjoyable. A nice little party album that would segue well with some Gran Torino (though this would change the mood just a bit). No, it's not old soul, but there are moments where you might forget that. Made for smiles.


    Big Bear
    Big Bear
    (Monitor)
    reviewed in issue #264, May 2005

    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.


    Big Black Delta
    BBDLP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #332, November 2011

    Mellowdrone's Jonathan Bates has a bit too much time on his hands. So he created the Big Black Delta to satisfy his cravings for electro-pop-metal. He popped a single last year and then an EP earlier this year. This release takes some of the tracks from BBDEP and adds a healthy dose of new material.

    If you ever wondered what the bastard child of ELO, Mike + the Mechanics, Nine Inch Nails and Laibach might sound like, this might help you out. Of course, the references are tres 80s (I've always thought of NIN as the logical extension of that decade), and the music leans strongly that way.

    I approve. Anyone who can harness the strong songwriting, soaring melodies and raw power of the best acts of that decade deserves high praise. And damned if I'm going to pass on this opportunity.

    Okay. So this is something of a throwback. It's kinda like a Wes Unseld Bullets jersey--so cool you simply cannot keep your eyes off it. Or ears, as the case is here. An adrenalin rush from beginning to end. And it's good for you, too. Bliss and then some.


    Big Boys
    The Fat Elvis
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93

    Long before I was into punk there were the Big Boys. Too bad, but back in 1982 I was listening too... no, it's too damned depressing. Chalk it up to an isolated New Mexico junior high experience.

    Yes almost a full ten years before the Bosstones wandered out of Boston the Big Boys were combining funk, horns and hardcore. So maybe the ska was a later addition (though I can hear an almost accidental Jamaican rhythm now and again), these guys were prescient. Now there are lots of folks who want to be like the MMB. They mean the Big Boys.

    If your station is like my old one, you don't format reissues. This is worthy, not only for time passed but historical value. Not to mention a lot of fun (fun, fun?). Yes, indeed.


    Big Breakfast
    This Kind
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #228, April 2002

    Some folks who ply the whole alt. country "thing" just want to play easy-rockin' roots music. Nothing wrong with that. I can dig it. But I more prefer what Big Breakfast tries to do, which is find its own way through the morass of folk, blues and other roots sounds brilliant American musicians have laid down on tape during the last 70 years or so.

    And so no two songs on this album sound alike. There are a couple bluegrass-rock songs (really), a couple true blues tracks, a couple rockin' blooze tracks and even the odd folk groove shuffle. Reminds me a bit of what Ryan Adams and pals tried to do with Whiskeytown. Big Breakfast isn't quite that good (almost no one is, of course), but you'd be surprised how close these folks come.

    Big Breakfast is best at the slow and mopey pieces. Unlike most bands, which tend to get sappy or overblown when the tempos slow down, these boys sound utterly sincere and convincing when they really get down. Strangely, the uptempo bits are what don't work as well.

    Even then, however, the songs are at least witty, if not downright clever. Sure, this is a somewhat sloppy disc. Can't lie to you there. But I've found more than enough here to make me smile.


    Big Catholic Guilt
    Judgement
    (Cherry Disc)
    reviewed in issue #36, 6/30/93

    Many of you reported these folk (and the Tree). Both albums almost charted. Pretty cool.

    But even better than that, this is a great industrial band. Yes, a band. They incorporate bass, guitars and real drums along with sampling and drum machines.

    It is completely aggressive and yet still dance music. And metal music. And all that.

    Because, as we are finding out, this is the future of heavy metal.

    Did I mention the lyrics? These are songs, not just grooves with a sentence or two laid over them. Traditional thrash/hard rock with all of the club savvy of industrial drones. This definitely should be played by all of you.


    Big Drill Car
    No Worse for the Wear
    (Headhunter-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #54, 5/15/94

    The guys may have cast off from Cruz, but a couple of ALL-sters twist the knobs and keep that familiar punk sound rolling on.

    A lot of this harkens back to earlier (and almost long-ago) days, when BDC had the rep of an up-and-coming young band.

    They're up now, and no longer all that young. The goods are still around, but when you've been accorded near-legendary status, you should produce a little more. This would be a good album from an average band, but it is barely an average Big Drill Car album. I miss the sparkle.


    Big Electric Cat
    Dreams of a Mad King
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #62, 9/15/94

    Goth-tinged pop that also draws in some industrial influences. Wonderfully atmospheric throughout.

    The album opens with a real dreamy pop gem, "Christabel", and you might prepare for a more mellow experience. But no. Things get noisy and fast, even while keeping to the pop constructions. Images of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Love and Rockets flow into your mind.

    Obviously, Big Electric Cat has the talent to crank out ten great goth-pop tunes, or ten great industrial-pop tunes or even ten pure pop tunes. But instead, Dreams is an album that flows all over the pop universe while still managing to stick to a coherent band sound. The disc challenges you to accept all of its offerings, which you will do gladly. Perfect music for a rainy fall day (or almost any other time). This gets a big WOW.


    Burning Embers remix EP
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    More an effort to make the tunes a little more club-ready than overhaul some fine goth. Just a few added beats here and there, with the songs laid over.

    The production is just as lush as the album, and that keeps this project on the same high level. The songs aren't really improved (they were quite good to begin with), but they are punched up a little. Not a bad thing.

    This is mostly for DJs, I think, as the original pieces just haven't been changed that much. Kids wearing Black No. 1 will just have to move a little faster on the floor.


    The Big Eyes Family Players
    Family Favourites
    (Karate Body)
    reviewed in issue #325, March 2011

    First there was Big Eyes, which was mostly James Green. Then some people more people joined. And then, when it became clear that there would never be a stable band line-up, the Big Eyes Family Players were born. This compilation set pulls together songs from this British band's albums and gives them a proper American airing.

    What would be really nice is a full airing of all the Big Eyes (etc.) albums. At the moment, they are available electronically through various British labels. But a proper U.S. outlet would be nice. I'm just sayin'.

    Few bands provide such a clear deconstruction of the folk form. Dirty Three, in its better moments, could do that. And there are songs here that do remind me of such travails. More often, though, Big Eyes rearranges folk traditions into its own particular groove. Pretty, yet unsettling.

    I like both, especially when they come at the same time. Whatever the name and whatever the origin, Big Eyes has put together some stunning music during the last ten years. This album barely begins to do justice, but I'll take it. Absolutely amazing.


    Big Gulp
    Pit Boss
    (B.G. Phonics)
    reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95

    These guys may be from Vancouver, but the sound is pure Chicago noise, with a few grunge pop inflections.

    Not a pure cross of Jesus Lizard and Mudhoney, perhaps, but pretty close. The styles certainly compliment each other, and Big Gulp emphasizes the heavy side of things with one Vancouver trademark: monstrous bass work.

    The production also brings out the lower registers and aids the brain pounding attack. Big Gulp has a very clear and coherent vision, and this comes through very well on this disc. I can think of any number of labels who would be quite interested in these guys.

    Sloppy enough to keep the music interesting and polished enough to keep everything together, Big Gulp is more than worth a listen.


    Big Hair
    The Pickle Farm
    (Energy)
    reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95

    Combining the extreme use of musical scales (not to mention violin) that you find in prog rock with the anarchic energy and lack of attention to detail found only in the sloppiest punk bands, Big Hair manages to sound like nothing I've ever heard before.

    What a gawd-awful racket. This is just a complete mess, and I think that's the intent. Usually, five musical ideas are living separate lives throughout most of the songs, and then the band executes an occasional break where everyone gets together.

    Something at the core of my being appreciates the nebulous nature of Big Hair's music. I certainly can't justify such feelings rationally, but then again, you shouldn't have to think about music all the time.

    I have no idea what kind of market could be dredged up for these guys, but I hope people take a chance. This is a very strange album, and I like it a lot.


    Big Hate
    Big Hate
    (Flip)
    reviewed in issue #103, 3/18/96

    Faux-grunge stuff that generally keeps the beat up-tempo. Sure helps to keep boredom from setting in immediately.

    Certainly not much original musical thought here. The riffs are recycled, the vocals just a latter-day Cornell rehash. But, like I said, if you keep the speed up, the stuff is at least poppy enough to stand. For a minute or two.

    And the melodies are reasonably catchy. Another flavor of the STP theory, I suppose, except that the members of Big Hate don't seem to be completely full of themselves.

    The song "Simple Things" is a perfect example of the problems with the album. The guitars are a little overwrought, and the production is a bit pristine, but the underlying songwriting is decent. And then a big load of shit is dropped right in the middle. That kind of thing can ruin a nice pop song. Perhaps if this wasn't crafted as to satisfy a marketing report...

    But it was. If Big Hate were to drop some of the grunge silliness and stick to heavy pop, that might be a little more satisfying, in my book.


    Big Hell
    Big Hell
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    The vocals are definitely hip hop, but the music is something else entirely. I suppose this might fall somewhere in an electronic category, but the sound is quite messy and organic. The more I listen, the more I'm entranced. I think I'll be liking this a lot better in a month or two.


    Big in Japan
    Destroy the New Rock
    (Honest Don's)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    Crunchy, hooky punk rawk. There was a time that this might have been described as the San Diego sound, but these boys are from Reno and that was 10 years ago. Sounds can migrate.

    The key here is to make the hooks thickly sweet and to keep the riffage moving. Big in Japan does it just right. These songs simply abound with joy. Lots and lotsa fun ringing out.

    Big in Japan really works out the hooks, too. This is a bit more polished than I was expecting when I heard the first chords crashing. There's almost a Joe Jackson feel to some of this stuff (you know, like I'm the Man era). I likes that a bunch.

    This album gets more and more attractive as each song blasts through. Big in Japan combines a wild mass of energy with some serious craft. Instead of sounding stilted, however, this just sounds "together." Found all the pieces. What rock and roll should be, methinks.


    Big Meteor
    Wild River
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    The disc has a decidedly understated sound, and the music follows suit. The whole set is fairly laid back, and the songs require a little getting used to before acceptance begins to follow.

    One problem is that the title track (which comes first) is one of the weakest songs on the disc. I don't care what you call your album, but put a good song up front. The second song, "Poor Boy", would have been a nice way to kick off.

    Big Meteor flits between electric and acoustic AOR/roots fare. The playing is very nice, and while the singing is somewhat less than enthusiastic, once you get used to the vocals, they're fine. The biggest problem with the disc is the mastering, which left the general levels quite flat and the volume low. I had to crank my stereo to hear this, and when I did, some of the parts seemed to have been flattened together.

    The more I heard, the more I liked. Find a better lead-off, guys, and step out in your finery. A nice, easy bath.


    The Big Parade
    The Big Parade
    (self-released) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    Moody examination of the whole Hollywood phenomenon. Lotsa keyboards and lotsa slow contemplative numbers. Not quite as eloquent as it thinks it is, I'm afraid.

    Hey, I know that the big city can get you down. And I'm all for noble and epochal stretches. The Big Parade has ambition alright. Apparently the folks think this is the grand statement on Tinseltown. Or, at the very least, A grand statement.

    I don't think so. Part of the problem is the music, which simply doesn't have a sense of grand tragedy or enough complexity to accentuate the love/hate relationship expressed in the lyrics. The sentiment expressed is that for all the shit, Hollywood is still the center of dreams. If you want to get to heaven, you've got to wallow in hell for a while.

    Perhaps I'm reading too much into this. Quite possible. I'm working really hard to find something as grand as the concept, and I'm not finding it. The Big Parade tries its ass off; I'll give the boys that. The delivery is lacking. The results here just can't match up to the vision.


    Big Wig
    Big Wig
    (Wonderdrug)
    reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97

    A little sludge-groove going on, a more accessible mutation of the familiar Boston sound. Even some glam moments, which I find kinda interesting.

    Of course, you could also chalk those up to a latter-day Suicidal influence. The bass lines stay pretty much the same throughout, which makes Big Wig less appealing as the disc spins through.

    The sound is typical sludge, very muffled and dull. It sounds much better when cranked to the ceiling. Big Wig also fares better with such treatment.

    The lyrics are damned funny at times, though I'm not a huge fan of the delivery style. Kind of a wanky, whiny sorta wheeze. On the whole, I like this better than I should, though it gets old quickly.


    Big'n
    Discipline Through Sound
    (Gasoline Boost-Skin Graft)
    reviewed in issue #121, 10/21/96

    Some pretty, bashing pop music tied with some of the sludgier vocals around. The Jesus Lizard if fronted by L.G. Petrov (without extra distortion on the vocals). I'll take it.

    The puppy just keeps rolling along, one cool tune after another. There's a sense of danger here much of the time, like the band is about to open a closet door on a dark and stormy night. A nice tension before all hell breaks loose.

    Yeah, I know you're not surprised that Big'n hails from the windy city. Strange concepts in pop music do seem to emanate from the shores of Lake Michigan. But, you know, that's not a bad thing.

    A quirky sense of humor permeates the proceedings. It's obvious that Big'n doesn't take itself too seriously. And while this music would probably excuse any pretentious hack that created it, I'm happy to see that the boys are human.

    A big noise, and a wondrous one at that. Keeps me happy.


    split EP with Oxes
    (Box Factory)
    reviewed in issue #187, 8/30/99

    Each band gets three songs, and away they go. Big'n has first shot, and doesn't pull any punches. For those who are curious, these might well be the last Big'n recordings, so if you want to play completist...

    Ah, hell, but why not just sit back and bask in the raucous glory of the band. Noisy guitars, pile-driving drums and lots of extraneous sound. Nothing surprising here, which means, of course, that the tunes are a big load of whup-ass.

    Oxes hails from Baltimore and plays a somewhat cleaned-up version of the same sound. The songs are just as disjointed, it's just that there's a tad less distortion coming from the guitar section. Just as crunchy, though, and it satisfies well.

    A good pairing for an EP. Wish that there might have been more Big'n, but I'll make do with Neutrino and other current projects. As for Oxes, well, I'm hoping to hear much more.


    Bigelf
    Money Machine
    (Record Heaven Music)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    Record Heaven calls itself a "classic rock" label, and I suppose there isn't a better way to describe the sound that Bigelf is going after.

    A few specifics might help, though. Bigelf focuses on the organ-heavy sound of British hard rock in the early 70s, with more than a nod to the complex harmonies and chord structures of the later Beatles.

    Bigelf acquits itself admirably. Without directly stealing any particular sound, the guys have managed to replicate a time and a feel and even write songs with something of a modern flair. Maybe it's the stoner rock moments that give me that impression. Hard to say.

    I'm still not the biggest fan of revivalists like these, but Bigelf does as good a job as I've heard in a while. There are enough different ideas to keep the sound fresh (or as fresh as possible, anyway), and the guys really work to give the songs a bright energy. If you're gonna do something like this, you might as well do it this way.


    Bile
    Suckpump
    (Energy)
    reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94

    The sorta album that leaves you breathless just listening to it. I think this is the kinda thing doctors should play to patients in terminal comas. If it doesn't wake them up, the folks are brain dead.

    Bile has an amazingly aggressive industrial attack. Most industrial acts are predatory by nature, but Bile seems to want to leave scorched earth in its wake. This is positively soul-wrenching music.

    I don't think anyone has achieved this sound before because no one really wanted to. There is a definite slowing of time at the edge of anything, and once Bile takes hold, it may seem like ages before you can crawl back and reclaim consciousness.

    Nasty and evil, pure and simple. The band's name says it all, and the music speaks for itself. A lot of you have latched on to this like mother's milk, and I don't blame you. Feed and grow stronger, children of the beast.


    Teknowhore
    (Energy)
    reviewed in issue #110, 5/27/96

    The extreme aggro sound of Suckpump has become passe, and Bile is smart enough to know that. So what to do? Take it to the next level. I've bent over; give me twenty.

    Cranking the distortion up another notch, giving the tempo an adrenaline overdrive and popping in some of that ga-ga-ga drum machine action will do that for you. Once again, Bile has managed to push the envelope of extreme experimental industrial music.

    Even Nine Inch Nails fans would be pressed to call this music, and yet it moves like no other. Some wondrously evil grindage for those predisposed to that sort of thing. Yeah, some of the dirges get a bit dull; just wait for the beats to kick back in.

    A horror thrill ride into the seamy side of modern culture. Bile not only takes music to a new frontier, it spews out the vitriol needed to truly describe our society. Bravo.


    Biledegradable EP
    (Energy)
    reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97

    The industrial sound of fuck returns, leading off with a really torqued rendition of "My Generation". Don't worry; it gets much better.

    Actually, "Rubber Love" is worth the entire price of admission, which also includes two versions of the Who song, a demo track, a couple long-ass remixes of tracks from Teknowhore and the title track, "Degradable". And on my disc, the demo song ("Fascion") and the longer version of "My Generation" are combined onto the same track. I have been informed that this is a manufacturing defect, so the general public shouldn¹t be concerned. If you get one like mine, consider it collectible.

    Anyway, those who know Bile are prepared. The sound on the two "new" tracks is really great, better than anything accomplished by the band previously. The tunes are somewhat gothic, though in a really messy fashion. You won't see many poncy goth types snapping this up (though I know a couple...)

    A lot of excess, which brings the level of the whole down somewhat. Still, I'm sufficiently impressed. The new album is due fairly soon. I can't wait.


    Bill's Band
    Basic Tracks
    (Frontier)
    reviewed in issue #158, 5/4/98

    Bill is Bill Greenberg, who plays guitar, sings and wrote all but one of the songs. A quirky roots-rock style, easygoing but not necessarily sunny. To complete the album title, the basic chord progressions are listed alongside the lyrics in the liners. Cute.

    The songs themselves are rather a hit-and-miss affair. This is definitely Greenberg's vision, and the lack of collaborative friction is telling. There are a couple of extremely cliche-riddled tracks, and a couple of brilliant pieces as well.

    Greenberg's hero is obviously Neil Young, patron saint of the less-than-gifted vocalist. Bill's Band occasionally packs an emotional wallop, but most of the time it lies somewhere in the middle, which is a place Young rarely resides.

    All over the place, stylistically and qualitatively. Greenberg kicks out the occasional great tune, but too much of this album just doesn't rise out of mediocrity.


    The Billionaires
    Really Real for Forever
    (Too Soon)
    reviewed in issue #293, February 2008

    The obvious comparison is the New Pornographers, though the Billionaires are more precious and moody than those effervescently eclectic Canadian popsters. The pretension level is high, but by and large these songs aren't quite overbearing.

    This may sound like a right slagging, but in truth, the greatest stuff is always just this side of crap. The Billionaires have big ideas, and while there ought to be a similar focus on hooks (some increased sweetening would be nice), these folks generally manage to bend some complicated concepts into tasty packages.

    Most bands can't swerve from a Supertramp-esque rumination into a raucous raver without losing something in the translation. On this album, such a whipsaw makes perfect sense.

    The one major flaw is that this album is missing that one shimmery song that might burn itself into the brain. All of these songs are good, and some are great. The sound is wonderfully varied. Nonetheless, I never quite reached bliss. But then, I think the Billionaires are shooting a bit higher than that.


    Billy Club
    Serve Loud EP
    (Cold Front)
    reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99

    Heavy metal riffage filtered through a fuzzy hardcore sound system. With the snarls and growls, well, the sound is loud, mean and a big wad of fun.

    Don't let that metal reference throw you. This is simply hardcore with somewhat melodic guitar lines. Somewhat. Mostly, it's aggro angst flying right in yer face. And boy, what a breath of fresh air.

    How does the song go? Fast, fucked and furious? Something like that. Billy Club isn't subtle, and it doesn't pull punches. What you hear is what you get, and there's plenty to go around.

    Ooh, some fine noise. A simple pleasure, but definitely a pleasure. With a real big head (you know, like a beer).


    Billy Mahonie
    What Becomes Before
    (Southern)
    reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01

    By the way, Billy Mahonie is a band. Four guys wringing noise pop instrumentals out of the ether. Bash, crash and sigh. Not a bad way to live, methinks.

    Sharp rhythms and squalling guitars twist and congeal at the center of the attack. From there, plenty of unorthodox sounds and ideas flit to and fro. I didn't use those words to belittle the ideas. Rather, I'm fairly astonished at the flexibility of the players and the songs themselves.

    How can a guitar can mutate from a screech to a ringing tone in a second? No, really, I know the answer, but the amazing part is that such a transition can be employed within a cohesive song. Billy Mahonie has locked down what it wants to do.

    And that is, simply put, to make good music. Great music. The sorta stuff that whips around the brain a few times and then settles in the queerest of places. An album that makes you think. There can never be enough of those.


    Terri Binion
    Leavin' This Town
    (Daemon)
    reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97

    Laid-back folk-rock with more than a twinge of classic country touches. The songs roll off almost effortlessly, though they have a much larger impact. This is potent stuff.

    Binion thanks the Indigo Girls in the liners, and she also uses the first person personal. The music is nicely crafted, but not excessively thought out. Don't make it more complicated than it is.

    My personal favorite tracks are the ones that feature Wally Murphy on pedal steel guitar, "Abilene" and the title song. They're classic country songs, the kind you could have heard on clear-channel AM stations 40 years ago. Immaculately presented, too.

    There is a temptation for some to spice up this sort of music, cranking out something that might be a little more palatable to the general public. Seems most folks are almost embarrassed to embrace the sparseness. Whatever. Binion and her producers left things as they should be, shining the light on her formidable songwriting and singing skills. Fine work.


    bio-tek
    Punishment for Decadence
    (Doppler Effect) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    Some S&M for the pain, baby. Jonathan Sharp is bio-tek, and the music which flows from his creation isn't exactly nice. Heavy techno in full industrial effect. A somewhat gothic form of what the Reconstriction folks liked to call "cold wave."

    The main difference is that these songs simply do not flow in normal ways. Sharp is something of an idiosyncratic songwriter, preferring to wallow in synth overage and excessive beatmongering at the drop of a hat.

    The results can be disorienting, certainly. Add to it the theme of the album (something of a comment on religion), and this stuff can sound downright evil at times. Particularly when the chaos begins to overwhelm what solid construction exists.

    Ah, but that's where the beauty lies. This album is all about pain, physical and psychic. It's loud, mean and nasty. And when least expected, it's just plain crazy. Perhaps that is the ultimate rebuttal of religion: The chaos of the music resembles the anarchy of the universe. I dunno. But I quite like albums that make me think like this.


    Biohazard
    Urban Discipline
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #24, 11/15/92

    I remember the hype over their album on Maze a couple of years ago. After hearing the album, I thought to myself, "Who were they kidding?" Turns out they were just early.

    Now, this is not perfect or original by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a pretty decent marriage of traditional hardcore and that stuff they've been playing in New York for a while (Helmet, Prong, Beastie Boys, etc.) And, of course, they have what I think is the first recorded Bad Religion cover (tell me if I'm off base here). And it is a lot better than their first album.

    I was a skeptic; this goes a long way to convincing me Biohazard is for real, and real good as well.

    One note: don't just play the two tracks on the single; go through the whole damn thing, alright?


    No Halds Barred--Live in Europe
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #140, 8/4/97

    The main problem with punk (hardcore, metalcore, whatever) live albums is that the bands aren't exactly known for innovation. That's not the point of the genre.

    On the plus side, the songs are evenly chosen from the four Biohazard studio efforts, with a rendition of "After Forever" rounding things off. Also, there has been minimal post production work (with the exception of a fine mixing job), and that gives this disc a fine "live" sound. It's not hard to imagine the band playing this as I hear it.

    But these are still rote performances with arrangements very similar to the original studio takes. Yeah, this stuff is rawer, and in some cases better played (particularly the stuff from the first album on Maze), but I don't see the point.

    Well executed, probably as good as it could be. I'm just not sure why this exists in the first place.


    The Bird Circuit
    No Swingouts, Rockaway
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #234, October 2002

    Well-conceived, ambitious pop music. Pretty stuff that is enhanced by the presence of many guests playing horns, harmonica, keyboards and more.

    The music is basic at its core. The Bird Circuit takes simple ideas and then gussies them up bit by bit. At no time do those "extras" get in the way of the fun, and in fact, the band seems to have taken great care to make sure that the proceedings never get too complicated.

    And the sound hews to a surprisingly sparse feel. Almost folky at times, with plenty of emphasis on acoustic guitar and other "basic" sounds. And even when the window dressing is at its shiniest, the music still retains that spartan garb. Not exactly stark, but certainly loose.

    Best of all, these guys never seem to repeat themselves. The album flies high and low, gearing up for a (restrained) power pop attack and then sliding down to almost nothing in the blink of an eye. That the Bird Circuit managed to keep its focus throughout is impressive. As are the songs themselves. Most engaging.


    Birdbrain
    Birdbrain
    (TVT)
    reviewed in issue #82, 8/14/95

    Seriously commercial alternative (using that word in a corporate sense) hard rock fare, ranging from nasty grunge moments to the occasional 12-string whining.

    This is catchy enough that I like it on my first run-through, but I can also tell that I really won't want to hear it again. A complete lack of original licks and ideas pretty much seals Birdbrain's fate.

    More processed-sounding than really shitty, Birdbrain seem to have followed someone's idea of grooming for the big time. And I just don't like that sort of thing.

    Sorry.


    Birds & Arrows
    Coyotes
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #346, 3/17/13

    Take one earnest, introspective folky duo, add some serious ambition and then throw in Chris Stamey to find the final mix. The sound on this album is amazing. Stamey seems to always find the right balance between minimalism and an enveloping sound. The songs themselves take a long time to unwind. This is where the ambition comes in. Andrea and Pete Connolly have the belief that listeners will stick around long enough to let the songs flower fully. I think they will. This one sounds better with every listen.


    Birmingham 6
    Assassinate
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95

    The guitars, beats, keyboards and everything just scream "German industrial!" all the way.

    Never a bad thing, though Birmingham 6 doesn't do much to break out of the mold. As a fan of this sound, there's plenty here for me to enjoy. But the average person is probably quite happy to just crank the new KMFDM. With good reason, as well.

    Perhaps a little more techno oriented than many German outfits, Birmingham 6 does push the speed envelope somewhat (and I wish some local DJs would play stuff like that in the clubs, but oh well…) and crank things up, but still nothing really original.

    A solid album within a well-defined (and well-known) sound concept. I'd just like to hear a little more personal experimentation.


    Policestate
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95

    Four remixes of "Policestate", two of "Godlike" and one of "Birmingham 6".

    I grooved on the album well enough, with the caveat that the band really didn't vary from the German industrial ideal at all. The remixes are a help, though even they are still wall-of-guitar, in-your-face sort of things. But is that a bad thing?

    Nah. Each of these remixes makes for great club fodder, and they are distinct enough for differentiation. Particularly impressive is the sinner remix of "Godlike", utilizing the base riff and sample to great effect.

    A good set of remixes, even if, as before, the stuff is such a product of the genre it makes me blush.


    Bis
    Social Dancing
    (Grand Royal/Capitol)
    reviewed in issue #186, 8/16/99

    Flavor of the month from the U.K. Peppy and fun, just the sort of thing to quest a thirst for some sweet Britpop. Substantial? At times, though a good number of these tunes melt away like cotton candy subjected to excess saliva.

    Because once past the complex-sounding exterior, there's nothing underneath. No gems to discover on future visits. Just gotta hope the hooks can hold up.

    And they do, most of the time. No, there's nothing profound or intriguing here, simply some light moments and sugar-coated choruses which are swallowed most easily. There's nothing wrong with that, I swear there's not.

    But let's not go nuts and declare mass hysteria (I've seen some strange stories the past couple of weeks). Bis is a pop act, more along the lines of the Cardigans (I know, they're Swedes, but give me a break) than Blur. I don't hear any long run possibilities, so we might as well enjoy this now.


    Sam Bisbee
    Vehicle
    (Terrible)
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    Trippy pop with some hip-hop grooves. Not, I repeat, not trip hop. These are transcendental pop songs, stuff that deconstructs old formulas and rebuilds them according to newly discovered physical laws. They sound somewhat familiar, but there's always something weird at the center.

    It's that disconcerting nucleus which really drives the songs. It's not just that Bisbee and friends sound odd. Bisbee's songwriting is almost a mosaic style, laying down shards of cliches in stunningly original ways.

    And, well, it all sounds so good. The production has left a thick, but not exactly lush, sound. Just enough of an edge to properly show off these wonderful songs. The sorta sound Matthew Sweet often achieves. It's good.

    The kinda album that ends before you notice. Certainly before I was ready to quit listening, anyways. These songs are immediately arresting, and there's so much going on that they should stand up for years to come. Really, really fine.


    Martin Bisi
    All Will Be Won
    (New Alliance)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    A well-traveled producer (John Zorn, Sonic Youth and Cop Shoot Cop to touch on a few) who in his spare time has decided to delve into Central American Indian and Hispanic folk music. But this is not quiet contemplation by any means.

    Boss Hog-er Cristina helps out on three tracks, and you can hear a real psychotic, swirly guitar flying around. The lyrics are not in English most of the time, of course, but that's what you get for being faithful.

    Inasmuch as he also stamps his own vision on things. These aren't happy little paeans to a life gone by. They are examinations of the troubles and celebrations of modern life. Just run through an exquisite filter.


    (y Las Cochinas)
    See Ya in Tia Juana EP
    (New Alliance)
    reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95

    Bisi has produced bands that pretty much cover the sonic spectrum, and he tries valiantly to bring every last one of those influences into every one of his recordings.

    This leads to a real jambalaya of sounds, from down 'n' dirty sloppy punk to funk to Mexican folk to whatever else popped into his head at the time.

    While crowd sounds permeate the four songs on this disc, I'm not terribly sure this is a live EP. Bisi is a damned good craftsman in the studio, and there is no mention anywhere of where this might have been recorded live.

    Minor complaint. Bisi and regular collaborator Sandra Seymour rip through a nasty rendition of "Suzie Q", and then he and Las Cochinas (look that one up) pound through three tunes that alternate English and Spanish lyrics (not to mention sound styles) seamlessly. A typical effort, excellent as usual.

    Bisi's music has never been for the faint of heart, and this disc continues that tradition. If you want something coherent, buy the new live Pink Floyd. Get out of my face.


    Gregg Bissonette
    Gregg Bissonette
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98

    Gregg Bissonette is a versatile and talented drummer. Yeah, he's best known as the guy who pounded skins for David Lee Roth after Roth and Van Halen split the first time. But he's also played with plenty of other folks, from Maynard Ferguson to Brian Wilson to Andy Summers. If only such a variety had been showcased on this disc.

    The songs (with the exception of a couple covers) were written by Bissonette's brother Matt, who also produced the disc. A who's-who of guitarists provided support, names like Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Steve Lukather and Andy Summers. Too bad the songs sound like mere ramblings of studio hacks.

    Matt Bissonette has played in at least as wide an array of bands as his brother, and yet his songs stick to a strange hard rock fusion sound. Uninspired. Technically proficient, but nothing special. which is too bad.

    Sometimes this stuff works out; sometimes it just don't. This is one of the don't times.


    Bitch Funky Sex Machine
    Love Bomb
    (Doctor Dream)
    reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95

    More blues than funk, really, and more bombast than anything else. Sorta like what might happen if a hardcore band decided to listen to a lot of Sabbath and ZZ Top.

    And they cover "Just Got Paid", heavy on the bass and light on the boogie. Which is pretty much what the whole album sounds like.

    I've always like the blues for the subtleties. BFSM leaves nothing to the imagination. Most of the songs sound bludgeoned to death, and I can't figure out why.
    Oh well.


    Bitesize
    The Best of Bitesize
    (Packing Heat)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    Jaunty power pop trio, with much more panache than skill. The songs are full of obvious jokes and fairly stilted chord progressions. The playing and singing is, well, let's just say I recognized this as music.

    For all of its drawbacks, however, Bitesize did manage to release four albums, and these are the best of the bunch (so sez the band, anyway). And I can see how these folks earned an audience. For all the flaws, this is an utterly earnest band.

    There is an energy that's undeniable. From a technical standpoint, Bitesize is a nightmare. But when it comes to some kicking some ass, I'd like Bitesize in my corner any day.

    Quality this ain't. But that's okay. Bitesize has more than enough attitude and fuel to even the score. Just tap in and see what develops.


    Bitter Grace
    ...God and the Abyss
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98

    Harking back to the old days of guitar-driven Gothic rock (rock, mind you, not pop), Bitter Grace infuses its basic Goth feel with heavy riffage. The songs are generally uptempo, and the band does remind me of a heavier Bauhaus.

    And I'm guessing that's the intent. The band does slip in a few nice soundscape moments, but those are merely interludes. The meat is the songs, and those songs have a strength that isn't often heard in Gothic fare.

    To put it in Bubba-speak, this ain't no candy-ass darkwave band. Bitter Grace puts its boot in your back, and I'm all for that sort of thing. The production suits this feel, presenting a sharp and somewhat graceless sound. This is music of power more than nuance, and the songs just kick out.

    A nice fusion of old and, proving that history, indeed, rhymes. A very attractive disc, particularly for folks who didn't know that they liked dark music in the first place.


    The Bitter Tears
    Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse
    (Carrot Top)
    reviewed in issue #304, February 2009

    Ultra-stylish pop music that draws on almost more influences than the band can handle. Well, almost. But that overreaching is a large part of what makes this album so exciting.

    The songs have an innate sense of drama that draws from the question, "Will they pull it off?" A number of these songs start off as lurching shuffles, and then rootsy elements and some horns are draped on this spare skeleton. Then jazz and rock bits are sprinkled in, and the effect is much like pixiedust. All of a sudden, it's quite apparent just how well these songs are working.

    Not an easy sell, by any stretch, but a rewarding one in the end. The sophisticated arrangements aren't for everyone, but they're awfully impressive. There's a somewhat basic resemblance to a fair amount of latter-day Tom Waits, but the Bitter Tears are, despite the name, much brighter.

    Quite a lovely piece of work. I'm not sure it that's the sort of review these folks want to read, but there it is. I'm sold.


    Bivouac
    Derby & Joan
    (Engine)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    Just like the press sez: a Brit pop band that sounds rather American. Nice thumping bass and feedback guitar. Others have compared to Dino Jr., etc. I like these guys a lot better. I think they have a sound somewhat reminiscent of those fine Northwest popsters Treepeople.

    Early Treepeople, to be sure, but there sure is a lot of talent swirling around here. I certainly wasn't expecting anything and this shows up in the Earache package (really). Wow. To be blown away is a cliche. Simply stunning.


    Frank Black
    The Cult of Ray
    (American Recordings)
    reviewed in Money Whore issue #1, 2/19/96

    Considering that I didn't like any Pixies album after Surfer Rosa, it shouldn't come as any surprise that I haven't liked what I heard from Frank Black's first two solo outings.

    And the same sentiments ride along here. In the early days, the Pixies weren't good enough (or indoctrinated enough) to play clean arrangements of the pop tunes promulgated. So the stuff was cool. Once producers and A&R folks started whispering in ears, it was all over. The clean pop tunes were dull, and any attempt at tapping the vital forces of distortion sounded stilted.

    If Black weren't so damned pretentious, he might have pulled this one off. His band is nice and tight, and the tunes are as interesting as anything he has ever done. Yeah, the production is far too clean, rendering attempts at dissonance rather pale, but the real failing is that Black wants us to think he's a really deep guy. He's got a collection of reasonably catchy tunes, and then he bollocks it up with silly, overwrought angst and vitriol. I mean, he waxes positively Cure-ish with tracks like "You Ain't Me", and that sort of thing is absolutely unnecessary.

    As I often said about the Pixies, the stuff doesn't suck. The Cult of Ray is merely not very interesting. Message to Frank: Chill out and have a beer, okay?


    Black Bird Sky
    Black Bird Sky EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00

    This is becoming something a trend: Lush, panoramic pop presented as some sort of apocalyptic vision. Or, in other words, the success of The Soft Bulletin has helped like-minded folks crawl out of their holes.

    Immaculately crafted; almost too much so, really. The power of the arrangements is somewhat undercut by the band's almost slavish need to drop a little distortion into the mix from time to time. Really guys, it's not necessary.

    Nope, just play the heavy pop game for all it's worth. I mean, that's what Black Bird Sky does best. This is a fairly mainstream take on the sound, but I'm not saying it's dull or anything. Just more the sorta thing lots of people will like. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.


    Black Box Recorder
    England Made Me
    (Jetset)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    No relation to the electronic Black Box, though the band is structured similarly. Two guys perform all the instruments, and a woman stands out front as the main vocalist. This, however, is introspective and sometimes intentionally clunky pop.

    The songs do not have a flow. I don't think they're supposed to have one. It sounds to me like the whole notion here is to expose all of the pieces of craft. I'm not sure why. That's an odd notion. But, there it is.

    The music is put together in such a just-so fashion, so precisely, that there's no way the less-than-smooth style is the result of incompetence. Nope. These folks want to sound like this, an off-kilter Velvet Underground (don't even get on me about that reference).

    Pretty cool, if you can find the groove. Black Box Recorder doesn't leave too many hints, so getting inside the sound requires some serious work. And I don't know why I tried, but I seem to like this now. Though I'm not sure why. Strange and, well, strange. For those who like to work their brains.


    The Facts of Life
    (Jetset)
    reviewed in issue #215, 4/23/01

    One of the things I noticed during my English holiday last year was that Brits love just about everything American when it comes to music. Out in the counties, bands played country music--the old stuff, mostly--in the pubs. In London, the fixation on r&b (in all its forms) is as apparent as ever.

    Black Box Recorder makes soul music. No new jack or none of that. More of a retro new wave take on Al Green or Marvin Gaye. With female vocals, of course. The effect isn't unlike that of Magnetic Fields, though these folks go for a much more lush sound.

    Shimmeringly beautiful tunes. The sound of the vocals is more important than what is actually being said. Not to say that the lyrics are irrelevant, but the voices act as an extension of the music--something very few acts these days bother to craft.

    Pretty. Very pretty. With just enough of a look back to trigger an almost imperceptible nostalgic response. Very clever, this Black Box Recorder. Time to hit repeat.


    The Worst of Black Box Recorder
    (Jetset)
    reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01

    Odds and ends, b-sides, remixes, videos, etc. Some better than others. Strangest of all is the first track, a rather straight cover of "Seasons in the Sun," a song that I've always found dreadfully trite. Almost as bad as Love Story, the book or the movie. One of those 70s moments that keeps coming back, whether I like it or not.

    The rest is uneven, as any such collection must be. There are some interesting side trips, and since Black Box Recorder is rarely dull ("Seasons in the Sun" notwithstanding), I was always interested in what lay around the next corner.

    A nice set for the rabid fan (I'm one of those). Unlike the band's albums, this disc has absolutely no cohesion and probably won't appeal to the uninitiated. There are more than a few tangents here that only make sense if you know what has come before.

    But that's okay. Art isn't always pretty and it doesn't always make sense. Black Box Recorder, though, is always worth hearing. Even when it takes a misstep or two. Especially then, to be honest. It's good to know that even great ones have an off day now and again.


    Black Cat Bone
    Truth
    (Chameleon)
    reviewed in issue #15, 6/15/92

    A little mo' heavy funk heading your way. More of the Liquid Jesus rather than Chili school. Winding songs built around a single groove, vocals that soar, shriek and inundate.

    The songs actually mean something. That seems like an odd thing to say, but think about it: how many times have you listened to an album and gone "they spent forty minutes not saying shit!" It makes you shake you head. This will make you think a little bit.

    I know this has been out for a while (I think it just finished its format run at KCOU), but if you somehow missed it the first time around, get on the stick.


    Black Crowes
    Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
    (Def American)
    reviewed in issue #13, 5/15/92

    What to say about an album that will have already sold two million by the time you read this?

    It is not Shake Your Moneymaker II. It is the album they wanted to make in the first place. There are mostly extended jams on blues grooves. I like it. I remember Chris and Rich Robinson on MTV's Rockline sometime last year. I was working in Mazzio's Pizza at the time, watching TV instead of working. I remember Chris was so stoned he could barely speak, and when he did it didn't make any sense.

    But when they launched into "Thorn in My Pride." I remember thinking after hearing it, "Damn, this album is going to be good."

    Don't overplay this album. There is other stuff college radio should focus on. But it's okay to cure the occasional blues-rock jones.


    Three Snakes and One Charm
    (American)
    reviewed in Money Whore issue #8, 8/26/96

    Now that they're plucky underdogs again, you'd think the Black Crowes would start ripping into the simple, pleasurable jams that made the debut so much fun.

    You get hints here and there, and Chris Robinson's vocals are as soulful and electric as ever. But the overall effect is still one chord too many, one drum break too far. There is a delicate balance between dull and overwrought, and the Crowes still hit the far side too much.

    The looser production doesn't help matters; in fact, it points out just how self-indulgent the songs on this album are. Yeah, the stuff is alright, but I couldn't find one song that got me excited. And I got that listening to the first two albums. The Crowes are wallowing where they've been lying just a bit too much. Yeah, it sounds alright, but I had hoped for more.


    The Black Drumset
    The Black Drumset
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #309, August 2009

    Brian Willey and Carlos Orozco are the men behind the Black Drumset, but they have many friends. And a whole bunch of them dropped something or another onto this disc.

    The band name gives you the core of the sound, which is throbbing analog percussion filtered through any number of effects. Kinda like dub, and kinda like Neil Young. Then the guys add on synthesizers, guitars, and the occasional bit of vocal noise.

    Not necessarily lyrics, per se, but more often vocals used as instruments. The Black Drumset simply refuses to be cornered into any category. I suppose "experimental" would pretty much cover everything here, except that these pieces are quite accessible. Think the Fucking Am after extended frontal lobe exercises.

    Pretty cool. I've never heard anything quite like this, which is about the highest compliment I can give. Utterly original and exceptionally compelling.


    Black Eyed Peas
    Promiseland 7"
    (Morehead)
    reviewed in issue #60, 8/15/94

    Cranking horns, heavy guitars, and then out of that chaos a mellowness pervades. And that's just the a side, "We Must Go On". Yeah, you could take it as some sort of cheesy anthem and be right, but there is something interesting.

    The flip is called "Chunkwagon", and as you might expect, it's much more random and crazy. The horns and guitars go wild, vaguely reminiscent of an Infectious Grooves tune (yikes). But instead of cheese, this is the real thing. The production is not the best, but that also keeps this from being completely overbearing.

    You have to hear it to understand what I say. Not innovative, necessarily, but certainly worth a few spins.


    Black Fiction
    Ghost Ride
    (Howell's Transmitter)
    reviewed in issue #276, July 2006

    Slyly dancing through the back roads of Americana, Black Fiction actually creates an amazing amalgam of modern music. Looping bits and pieces of roots flavor into the mix, Tim Cohen and Evan Martin show a deft hand with disparate material.

    Oh, yeah, the lyrics are completely whacked. Sometimes they make sense. Personally, I like it better when they don't. Makes me think. As if the music here doesn't already.

    This album was assembled on an 8-track Tascam 388 (not hard to guess, given the intentionally choppy nature of the pieces), and so there is a vague demo feel to the sound. 21st century demo, of course. None of that blasted old school incompetence. The sound is sharp, almost too sharp. But I'm sure that's the point.

    Quite the romp. Probably best suited for those who prefer a little experimentation with their tunes. Black Fiction never plays it safe. The guys simply play it good (or is it well?).


    Black Fork
    Rock for Loot
    (Lookout)
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    Black Fork is a true practitioner of the punk ethos. I can't identify a shred of talent in the singing, playing or songwriting, but as the music is flogged along at a furious tempo, this is sometimes hard to notice.

    Black Fork makes the Smears sound like King Crimson. I'm not trying to put anyone down here, but I know that statement is sure to cause hard feelings. Whatever. There are 24 songs on this disc. The full time is 26 minutes. I couldn't tell much of a difference between the songs, except for the occasional sampled intro.

    Fun? Sure. But that's as far as I'm going here. There is a large group of people who find this sort of music astonishingly fresh and tasty, because of the pure lack of artistic ambition. Okay. That certainly seems fair.


    The Black Heart Procession
    The Black Heart Procession
    (Headhunter-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    Tortured stuff, something like a gothic version of World Party (you know, like way back in the "Ship of Fools" days). Oh, yeah, there's some real nice pop songs here, but a lot of the tunes are long, agonized wails. Another strange description might be Nick Cave on heroin and no money for recording.

    Is that ironic or something? I can hear people laughing at me, and I don't know why. Maybe it's just the paranoia induced by this wonderfully creepy album. Now I know, most of you see "Headhunter" and you're expecting some kind of punk something or other. At the very least, some manic pop music. That ain't happening.

    When the Procession gets coherent (on tracks 3, 5 & 8, as the disc so nicely points out), I also get a Three Mile Pilot vibe, though much weirder, to be sure. Perhaps now you understand my distress.

    I've never heard music quite like this before. That, by the way, is the highest compliment I can bestow. The Black Heart Procession is truly original, and also truly amazing. An album that must be heard to be believed.


    2
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    In my review of the first Black Heart Procession disc, I noted that the band sounded "strangely" like Three Mile Pilot. Not strange at all in reality, since two of the guys in the band are in TMP (as more than one knowledgeable reader informed me). Now, in these days of a mainstream backlash against "gothic" music in all forms (last week I heard someone refer to Black Sabbath as a "goth" band'; I guess old prejudices die hard), this disc arrives.

    Of course, the Black Heart Procession is hardly goth. And it is unlikely that any overzealous blame-assigners even know the band exists, but still. This is TMP music somewhat recast in a more gloomy and eclectic universe. The reliance on unusual instrumentation (for rock music, anyway) is still around, lending a Nick Cave-meets-Mekons kind of feel to a lot of this. With a healthy dollop of TMP song structure.

    Yeah, weird is one way to put it.

    But the thing is, the songs work. The journey may be dark and seemingly endless, but no matter how strange and otherworldly the sounds may get (and trust me, you have no idea), the stuff holds together. This is cohesive, part of a rather astonishing whole.

    I'm out of things to say, really. The first album was really, really good. Great in many places. This one is so far superior that I can't begin to describe its wonder. Suffice it to say most of the songs here are amazing, and then some are better than that.


    - three -
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    With the shelving of Three Mile Pilot (that¹s what the oddities double disc was all about), the Black Heart Procession is now the main show for Tobias Nathaniel and Pall Jenkins. And so, with that earlier project now just a memory, this current band starts creeping back from whence it came.

    Which isn't at all bad. It's just that the Black Heart Procession is branching out here, taking the occasional sidestep from the rootsy goth feel that has been its hallmark. The roots are still here, but there is a resonance and a lushness at times. These songs are haunting, but in a different way.

    And they sound more like the weirder side of TMP. Can't get away from that. This is by far the most ambitious album for this pair, so much so that they've asked a few friends to sit in from time to time. It seems two guys weren't enough for the current vision.

    But don't take my description as disapproval. Indeed, this slight refocusing merely reinforces my awe. Jenkins and Nathaniel are two of the most accomplished songwriters around, and their arrangements are nothing short of stunning. Another jaw-dropping performance. Long may they run.


    Black Lung
    Silent Weapons for Silent Wars
    (Machinery)
    reviewed in issue #74, 4/15/95

    Reasonably accessible experimental electronic fare. Not quite ambient, as there is too much noise going on. But this is no club record, either.

    Black Lung works with the variations on a theme idea, starting with one basic rhythm, melody or whatever and then building on that until a more fully fleshed-out concept is realized. But this isn't like a rule, or anything.

    In other words, not for the average listener.

    But I don't want to scare you off. Black Lung is weird, challenging, strange and beautiful all at once. It just requires a little work on your part.

    I really dig stuff like this because it makes my mind work. I actually have to think about what I am listening to. A little work never hurt anyone.


    Black Moth
    The Killing Jar
    (New Heavy Sounds)
    reviewed 1/31/14

    I'm finally getting around to reviewing again. And I'll start with an album that came out in England almost two years ago.

    Black Moth plays stoner punk metal. Or is it stoner metal punk? Probably the former.

    In any case, we're talking about chock-a-block riffage with engagingly energetic vocals from Harriet Bevan (if that isn't an English name, I don't know what is). Much of the time, Black Moth skips the doomy excesses and prefers to blister ahead full steam. But even on the slower grinders, the product is firm and effective.

    Two years is a long time for an album to be around, and I was curious if other folks dug this as much as I do. Seems there are a couple of broad points of agreement. First, this sound has been done before. Second, Black Moth is pretty damned addictive.

    Fans of riffage have fewer and fewer opportunities to satisfy their fix these days. Black Moth does so with brain-throttling power and volume. I spent a month starting and stopping this review in an attempt to say something unique and interesting about a sound that lends itself to generic pleasure. Guess what? There's nothing new to say. Black Moth figured that out a long time ago, and so the band simply says nothing new in a most engaging way.

    I must have listened to this album twenty times in the last six months--probably more than any other album. I don't know if it's my favorite album of 2013 (oops, make that 2012!), but I do like it a lot. I'm a sucker for power chords and an alto voice, and when those are presented with such skill and energy as Black Moth manages, well, the combination is irresistible.

    I enjoy a fancy meal as much as the next guy, but sometimes the day calls for meat and potatoes. Just the basics, preferably presented with a flagon of ale. I can definitely get behind this.


    Condemned to Hope
    (New Heavy Sounds)
    reviewed 9/14/14

    The most interesting thing about grunge is that it should have been prog-heavy. The sludgy attack lent itself to nerdy noodling breaks. But that didn't happen much. I think Nirvana might have ended up somewhere in that territory, but that's highly speculative. Anyone claiming to know the mind of the Cobain is a fool.

    Black Moth is a new wave stoner rock band out of England. I loved the band's previous effort, The Killing Jar, and I was stoked to see that a new album was already on the wing.

    "Already" for those of us in the States who had to wait more than a year for Jar. The relatively short wait on these shores this time around makes these presents all that much more welcome.

    I mentioned grunge up top. Black Moth has waded into that sound full-bore, which makes sense. The Killing Jar had a punk edge that is largely missing from most modern stoner rock (the songs just weren't all that turgid), and a lot of early grunge had similar punk elements.

    I'm happy to say that this album is anything but constipated. The songs move along with alacrity, but with even more emphasis on heaviness. Sounds grungy to me--more Skin Yard than Nirvana, although Hammerbox might be more appropriate. In fact, "Looner" sounds like something Hammerbox should have recorded.

    There's a bit more of a metallic sound here, and the overall production reminds me of mid-career Cathedral. That's quite welcome to my ears.

    I'm not sure how many people are listening to stoner rock these days, but a lot of people ought to be listening to Black Moth. There are few bands out there who do heavy this well. With riffage that's damned hummable, even.

    Maybe I'm just flashing back to my increasingly-departed youth, but I have completely fallen for Black Moth. And in case you haven't, there's a song on this album called "The Undead King of Rock 'N' Roll." It's one of the more sludgy efforts here, but that's okay. There's also a wiggy solo that betrays a certain interest in the noodly ways of the 70s.

    I don't think Black Moth is out to reinvent the bong or anything, but these folks sure do know their way around a riff. This album is a real step forward, which is saying something. Something massive this way comes.


    Black Moth Super Rainbow
    Falling Through a Field
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #241, May 2003

    That which was once Satanstompingcaterpillars is now Black Moth Super Rainbow. Or something close to that, anyway. The same cool graphic design on the CD sleeves, the same idiosyncratic approach to moody pop (a goofily morose electronic tangent, if you can believe that), the same great results.

    Some folks just know how to make interesting music, no matter what name appears above the title. And in this case, interesting also is good. The songs generally fall into the noodly electronic realm, but there's a nice scratchy feel to the sound. And the vocals are half-whispered in a droll sort of way (that's where I get "morose," I guess).

    The key is how it all is put together. These songs would fall apart if there wasn't a kernel of coherence in the center of it all. And there is. The far-flung ideas never quite escape the orbit of the central themes. The pieces are loose, but not lost.

    Like I said, it doesn't matter what these boys decide to call themselves. The music is what's important. And stuff this good will make a name for itself.


    The Black Neon
    Arts and Crafts
    (Memphis Industries)
    reviewed in issue #278, September 2006

    Very seventies, in a 21st century sort of way. The Black Neon spins minimalist electronic pop tunes with eclectic flair. The references to Air and Kraftwerk (not to mention Beta Band) in the press clippings aren't far off. But rather than veer toward one influence or another on a given song, these folks simply meld their various strains into a singular sound.

    So despite the old school underpinnings, this really is a sound that could exist only today. One of the nice things about the chaotic nature of the music world these days is that just about anything can be mashed up. When you hear stuff as inspired as this, you're inclined to believe that anything should be mashed up.

    Minimalism applies to both song construction and the production. There is a bit of distortion wafting through a few of these pieces (after all, there are real guitars and drums interacting with the electronics), but nothing is overdone. At first blush, it seems ephemeral. And then the full import of what's going on here hits dead on.

    Terribly stylish, I'm afraid. One of the most fun albums I've heard all summer--and it's anything but bubblegum. I dare you to listen without bounding around.


    Black Rain
    Nanarchy
    (Fifth Colvmn)
    reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96

    Meandering through the experimental electronic universe, Black Rain makes many stops but never really puts down roots. An ambient piece here, a techno-industrial there. And plenty in between, some it virtually unidentifiable. Always a fine thing.

    There's a lot going on here, and the casual listener might miss some of the finer points. No problem, as the overt cues are just as compelling as the more subconscious ones. Black Rain seems to be a electronic gadfly, landing just long enough to grab a bit to eat.

    The one constant is the fine production, which fills out the sound and gives it a life of its own. I know this is electronic music, but it sounds so... well, real. Not just random sound waves colliding at my middle ear, but a living, breathing entity which forces itself upon me.

    And I don't mind being violated this way one bit. Turn the lights off and it's sensory overload, baby!


    Black Sabbath
    Cross Purposes (advance cassette)
    (I.R.S.)
    reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94

    Back to the future with Tony Martin back in the vocal saddle and Iommi writing new riffs for the first time in years. Sounds like a comeback to me.


    Guilty As Hell CD5
    (I.R.S.)
    reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95

    It's not just that Tony Martin is a pretty dull singer. This is a really dull song. Iommi has been mining the Black Sabbath moniker for over a quarter of a century now, and I think he's about out of cool riffs.

    Not an auspicious lead track for the album, though I liked parts of the last disc well enough (songs that were not singles). I'd like to be hopeful, but I'm not.


    Forbidden
    (I.R.S.)
    reviewed in issue #84, 8/28/95 When all else fails, call Ice-T.

    Well, he does have a (short) guest spot on the first track, "Illusion of Power", a song which is as dreadful a dirge as Tony Iommi has ever come up with.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn't get better. At times the stuff is as bad as anything Warrant ever put out. Makes me wonder why.

    $$$$$$$. That's about the only answer. This is metal by the book, and it's a bad book, to boot. Yeah, so Black Sabbath should have hung it up at least 10 (if not 15 or 20) years ago. But in sticking around, they provide me with filler. Precisely what this album is full of...


    Black Spartacus
    Andromeda
    (Asaurus)
    reviewed in issue #248, December 2003

    Black Spartacus is Kevin Hume (the younger), a fine young man who makes his home in the Big Q (Albuquerque, for those who aren't old Lies Magazine devotees). Hume plays pleasant little pop songs processed through an often bewildering array of electronic noises and effects.

    Pleasant is more the operative term than pop. These songs are as much Tin Pan Alley fragments as they are modern pop pieces. They remind me sometimes of the sort of thing that might pop out of an organ grinder.

    And that's pretty cool, in my book. Hume is a damned creative guy. The songs themselves are real charmers, and whatever electronic additions he makes fit in quite well. They augment, rather than detract from, the whole.

    A fine, understated little gem of a disc. This is no spectacular spectacular, but that doesn't mean there's a shortage of great stuff.


    The Black Spiral
    Defeat
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98

    Unabashed metal, the letter says. And so it is. Industrial rhythms, operatic lead guitar lines and grindcore riffage. Underproduced (the sound is a bit thin), but certainly good enough to make an impression.

    A good one, at that. Black Spiral takes the basic melodic Eurometal style and runs it through a Sepultura-style processor. The result is fast, furious and much more textured than I expected. Solid work.

    I do wish the extreme ranges (both treble and bass) had been recorded a bit better. This disc is quite middle heavy, which is great for the kick ass rhythm guitar work (reminiscent of Slayer's good old days), but not so good for some of the more creative elements.

    Ahh, but I'm quibbling, really. This disc gave me a real rush. One of the best self-released metal discs I've ever heard. Really. These guys are damned good.


    Black Sunday
    Tronic Blanc
    (Dirtnap)
    reviewed in issue #266, July 2005

    Dirtnap bands are usually fuzzy, raucous beasts. Black Sunday fits right in there. But the sheer sonic inventiveness of Alicja (who, for all intents and purposes, is Black Sunday) is astounding. There's psychedelia, new wave, pop punk and experimental electronic punk as well--and often enough, more than one of those styles in a given song.

    Focus, focus, focus. Black Sunday does not have it. These songs and the music within them are all over the map. I applaud the desire, and my intellect is most gratified by the unwillingness to pander to pop dorks like my decidedly dull emotional side.

    When the energy stays solid (which is most of the time), the visceral thrill of power is able to carry the day. Black Sunday needs to figure out how to keep that wire live all the way through.

    If it does, I'd have to predict (sadly) that Dirtnap will not be big enough for its future. Black Sunday has more potential (a good portion of it almost realized) than anyone I've heard in some time. This album is rough, ragged and often inexcusably messy. A fine wallow, if you ask me. A bit more attention to detail, and the world will not be big enough for Alicja and Black Sunday.


    Black Tape for a Blue Girl
    Remnants of a Deeper Purity
    (Projekt)
    reviewed in issue #120, 10/7/96

    This is the musical project of Sam Rosenthal, who also happens to run Projekt, the label. While he knows good goth when he hears it, Rosenthal isn't the world's greatest performer.

    He's attracted good musicians to back him up here, and the production is quite good. In fact, the knob job is so good, it brings this whole album to an almost acceptable level.

    Alright, alright, so I'm not the world's biggest fan of excessively moody music. There's not a lick of percussion here (with the exception of a tambourine, and that doesn't really count), but then I understand the most extreme sides of goth music. No, the thing that bugs me is that I just don't care what the band is doing. The music is attractive enough, but utterly without passion.

    Well, duh. It's goth, you keep saying. Perhaps. But I just want to smack Rosenthal upside his head and say, "Get on with your own bad self. Quit moping and mucking about!" Perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about, but this is not a great musical statement. And with pretensions like those present, it had to be to be anywhere near good.


    Black Train Jack
    No Reward
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93

    Why is it punk bands from New York (or on New York labels) always seem to be directly descended from the Ramones? I suppose the answer is obvious.

    Black Train Jack do have a few licks Joey and the boys didn't think of first, but let's face it: this is throwaway pop.

    That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Everyone needs something to lighten up a set or something, and if you're not in the mood to yell at Dischord (a tough thing to do, anyway) or Epitaph, I suppose this will do. Triple X is also good. C/Z has a nice set of punk bands, too.

    Kinda punk, kinda cheezy, kinda good. Listenable, at least.


    You're Not Alone
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #53, 4/30/94

    Let's get something straight right away. This is bubblegum punk, and nothing more.

    I like bubblegum punk. It's good for a sunny day on the beach and a trashy kiss-and-tell fundamentalist evangelist expose book. And I like this album better than the first one.

    But we're not talking about solving the earth's problems or anything pretentious. The attempts at social commentary are more silly than affecting, and I get this feeling the BTJ boys have listened to a little too much Social Distortion.

    Add in a bizarre, way-overblown cover of the Steve Miller tune "The Joker". As I recall, it was meant as an anti-anthem. The boys missed the point. Completely. Kinda like that rendition of "Mrs. Robinson" by Kik Tracee (yipes) a few years back.

    Fun, guys. This music is all about fun. Okay?


    Handouts CD5
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #59, 7/31/94

    "Handouts" is one of the better songs from the album, and they throw in a few extras to round everything out.

    "No Use" is a fast punk rave that is a long ways from the usual BTJ sound. Playing with the old days, I suppose. And speaking of old days, they re-record a track from their first album. As a joke, it's kinda funny. I think that's what it is.

    Of course, there's a hidden track. They even tell you it's there, which doesn't make it so hidden, does it? You're supposed to enjoy it, so go ahead.


    The Black Water
    Train, Man, Drunk
    (Blopop)
    reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98

    A group of guys who play slowly-evolving, eventually mind-scraping ramblings of the first order. Riffage of apocalyptic proportions, song construction which mutates from moment to moment. The sort of disc to get completely lost within.

    Oh, yeah, it's that good. Okay, so I'm sucker for bands who hail from places where I used to live (a list which just keeps growing; I lived in Lawrence, Kan., from 1976-1979). Actually, despite having a degree from the University of Missouri, I think the U. of Kansas scene in Lawrence is pretty great. The Regrets (ex-Vitreous Humor), Season to Risk (now hailing from K.C.) Boys Life (R.I.P., I understand) and many more. This is a fertile, reasonably diverse scene.

    And this disc shows off a wide array of influences and interests. Kinda like wandering from the Doors to the Cure to Black Sabbath to Neil Young. But the sound isn't retroid; it's of the day, right now. Always on the groove, always trying to escape the groove.

    I could say something like "oof". "Wowsers" is another little silly phrase I trot out from time to time. Not completely appropriate in this setting. Wildly amazing might be more like it. Most definitely worth anyone's time also works.


    Whores
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99

    Still reaching for that elusive wretched haunting quality of sound. The Black Water evokes bits and pieces of the Doors, Pink Floyd, Robert Plant's early solo work and stuff like that. Just snatches, though, woven into a coherent, unique whole.

    This is a band which knows what it wants, and it gets what it set out to find. This is the second disc I've heard from these guys, and it is in all ways more impressive than the first. The songwriting is tighter, more adventurous and simply a further evolution of the band's experience.

    Somewhere in the anti-matter of distortion-laden space music. Yeah, this is certainly trip music, music for letting the mind wander. And done in such a way that even a stuck-up sticky bit like myself can appreciate and like intensely.

    I really liked the first disc and quite anticipated listening to this one from the moment it popped into my mailbox. I was surprised, simply by how much the album exceeded my expectations. Musings of the highest order.


    Black Whales
    Shangri-La Indeed
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #339, August 2012

    This one's been around for a year or so, but good music is always worth shining a light. Black Whales take the whole Pac NW pop thingy and spins it rootsy and psychedelic. Wait, you say, that sounds like the Posies. Well, kinda, except these boys are completely different.

    Allow me to explain. Rather than build every song around a pop core, Black Whales tend use use different bones for different songs. And so the organ and reverb-laden lead guitar are pretty much ubiquitous, but the ever-shifting rhythms and riffage put those familiar sounds into different contexts.

    This works. Black Whales are able to be adventurous within the loose constraints of a band sound. The songs are tightly written but played with a loose hand. Just the way they should be.

    When I catch up to something great, I don't hesitate to give it a pump. Black Whales have it going on. Here's hoping for something new from the guys sooner than later.


    Blackeyed Susans
    All Souls Alive
    (Frontier)
    reviewed in issue #53, 4/30/94

    Some ex-Triffids collect together with new blood to continue their tribute to American pop music.

    Much of this is positively gushing sounding, the lush production nearly overwhelming everything else. Thankfully, the songs are quite well-written and manage to pierce through the wall of sound.

    They do an oddly upbeat rendition of the Leonard Cohen-Phil Spector tune "Memories", but it works, as does the rest. A disc I don't want to take out of the discer.


    Blackfeet Braves
    Blackfeet Braves
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/17/13

    These boys call what they do psychedelic surf rock (I'm paraphrasing a bit), and that works. More surf than psychedelic, but the distorted vocals and reverbed guitar do give a sense of the latter. On the whole, this is a little understated for my taste, but the band does set a nice mood.


    Blackhouse
    Dreams Like These
    (Blacklight)
    reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00

    I haven't heard such solidly experimental electronic fare in a long time. Blackhouse does a lot more than just noodle at the margins of the moody electron cloud. Vocals are also treated as a element of construction, which adds a whole new dimension to the sound.

    There's a strong sensation of walking into a haunted house, or perhaps the momentarily unused portion of a person's mind. Lots of dark spaces, and every step creates three echoes.

    The effect is to unnerve, and it works most certainly. There's the ever-present sense of impending fright, but that moment never arrives. Instead, the skin is left electric and waiting, the mind an increasingly tense ball of nerves.

    And that's something. Listen, this is a strange disc. It doesn't follow any of the accepted rules for creating an album. Even as a sort of gothic soundscape, Dreams Like These is outside the bounds of normalcy. I rather like that, myself.


    The Laura Blackley Band
    Liquid Courage
    (SBS Records)
    reviewed in issue #255, July 2004

    "Liquid Courage" means exactly what it sounds like, but the same saying could just easily describe Laura Blackley's voice. It's just the slightest bit husky, almost perfectly-formed for the sort of rootsy country-blues she plays so well.

    SBS Records is Michelle Malone's label, and Malone also produced this album. So it won't come as any surprise that Malone fans ought to find plenty here to love. The arrangements tend to provide one or two truly haunting moments per song without getting maudlin. Blackley herself sounds like a more rough-hewn version of Malone--reminds me of James McMurtry's first album, where he sounded like a much more weathered conception of producer-mentor John Mellencamp.

    I still listen to Too Long in the Wasteland a few times every year, and I think it's likely I'll put this album into my regular rotation as well. Malone does very well behind the boards, adding a few things when the songs pick up the tempo and stripping down the sound on the slower numbers. When it's most important that Blackley's voice come through without adornment, Malone shuts down everything. Her instincts are impeccable.

    Simply an exceptional album. Kind of a throwback to those great country-rock-blues albums of the late 80s--back before the more cutesy elements of today's Americana movement took over. Just the sort of thing that makes me crave a bourbon or three--just for the taste, of course.


    Blackmail
    A Female Impersonator EP
    (Ransom)
    reviewed in issue #121, 10/21/96

    Obvious fans of the heavier side of 80s metal (Maiden, Dio, etc.), Blackmail winds classical melodies into heavy guitar and bass parts just like you remember. And a title track that may or may not be the first metal anthem to bisexuality.

    I'm just not sure if the thing is a joke or not. It almost works better straight (which would be not straight, you see). Whatever. The playing is nice, even if the bass is just a bit too fuzzy. All of the songs are sharp examples of the best in Euro-metal, which makes sense as Blackmail hails from Sweden. A bit of the whole grunge thing creeps in as the disc progresses, which isn't the best thing in the world.

    A nice set, even if I was hoping for a bit more of that Euro thing by the end (though the last track, "World of Misery", does get back a bit). I'd be interested in hearing some more from these guys, just to see where they're taking themselves.


    Blackmarket
    St. Vincent Decor
    (The Militia Group)
    reviewed in issue #317, May 2010

    Three guys who combine the power pop of the Posies with the crunchy hooks of pop punk. Not quite as aggressive as Amazing Disgrace, but certainly heavier than Dear 23

    I kept waiting for the Posies influence to fade, but it never quite did. Which is cool, I guess. Blackmarket does throw more into the pot, as these songs are at once more straightforward and more arranged than what the Posies used to do. Which then takes the band more into an Elvis Costello orbit. Which, again, is not a bad place to be.

    The use of mellotron and other keyboards works well. I like the lush feel these boys give their songs; indeed, that feel is what attracted me in the first place. The idea seems to have been to keep the writing simple and add things in the studio.

    Good stuff. I'm not sure about the shelf life of these songs, but they sound great on the first few listens. Given the band's track record, I'm guessing I'll keep listening for quite some time. I'll just have to play them a few dozen more times and find out.


    Blackmore's Night
    Shadow of the Moon
    (Steamhammer-SPV)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Richie Blackmore and Candice Night doing the goth/Celtic/etc. thing. Blackmore plays his guitar as well as ever, and even though some of the medieval stuff is silly (particularly the courtly pomp and circumstance which wanders in once in a while), there is a sense of fun to this disc.

    That's really the key here. Even the more pretentious stuff is kinda tossed off, as if Blackmore and Night know they shouldn't try to convince folks that this is earth shattering fare.

    The sound is lush, and even somewhat overdone at times. Blackmore's guitar doesn't dominate, even though his acoustic picking is great and certainly should be higher in the mix than keyboards. Still, those keys do add some nice goth overtones.

    You've gotta be in the mood for some "swords and sorcery" kinda music to groove on this, but Blackmore is in fine form, and Night's strong but airy voice is perfect for this music. A more than pleasant piffle.


    Under a Violet Moon
    (Steamhammer/SPV)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    The second album from Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night. Another round of the medieval/goth/etc. tuneage. These pieces are somewhat more crafted than on the first album, and the production is more solid as well.

    Which makes the overall endeavor that much more fulfilling. This is very much an acquired taste (a somewhat more commercial and excessive version of latter-day Dead Can Dance), but Blackmore's Night plays the music without condescension.

    And that's the key to the enterprise. This stuff is kinda cheesy by nature, and it has to played with a sense of fun and devotion--in equal measure. This music isn't exploring new territory, but nonetheless it's played with just the right touch.

    A smidge better than the first album, which I rather enjoyed. Nothing spectacular or earth shattering, of course, but still fun. Works for me.


    Fires at Midnight
    (Steamhammer/SPV)
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    Richie Blackmore relies a lot more on traditional rock sounds on this, the latest Blackmore's Night album. The synth strings and flutes sound synthesized. Which takes this more toward the "rock goth" side of things. Not a bad thing, necessary. In a way, Blackmore and Candice Night sound a lot more at ease in this (somewhat) more traditional setting.

    There are missteps. Right off the bat is a cover of "The Times They are a Changing." It's pretty, but also almost creepy. The thing is an anthem, of course, but the way its played here, well... let's just say the song doesn't do real well translated into a faux medieval setting.

    Still, the relatively more modern sound generally works. Blackmore and Night have written another passel of fine songs. The performance is, to say the least, spot on and expressive.

    Another pleasant trip down a side road. Blackmore and Night rarely make the common goth mistake of thinking these songs are deeper and more important than they are. There's a sense of fun here, and in the end, that's what makes this project a winner.


    Blakk Sweat
    You Were a Shaman
    (MT6)
    reviewed in issue #283, March 2007

    The artwork (and what serve as liner notes) for this disc are so obtuse I couldn't even figure out the name of the band. Oh yeah, idiot, look at the CD.

    Similarly, it took me a few times through to get a handle on the music. It's kind of a minimalist take on the 22nd century blues promulgated by the good Captain B all those years ago. Fewer flights of fancy, but plenty of weirdness. All wrapped up in a package that kicks out every sound as clear as day.

    Indeed, the stark production here means there can be no mistaking what you're hearing...except that it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. At first. Then I kinda let go (which is going to be something of a theme this month, I believe). Two bourbons down, I was still a bit baffled, but I felt better.

    That's when this snapped into focus for me. The whole Beefheart connection. And the nicely warped stripped-down take on all that. Is it as brilliant as all that? Probably not, but it's definitely as strange. For professionals only. But it sure do make us pros some happy folks, now.


    The Blarney Rebel Band
    Pursuit
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #346, 3/17/13

    Yes, yes, St. Patrick's Day is the perfect release date for band that plays traditional Irish music. And the Blarney Rebel Band is much more traditional than most. There are the requisite reels, ballads and such--without much interference from the rock side of things. Yes, this is just what one might expect, though perhaps a bit better. Good stuff.


    Blessed Light
    Love Lights the Way
    (Mill Pond)
    reviewed in issue #255, July 2004

    Tres Big Star-y, focusing on the slower, more melodic bits. Quite electric, though, complete with some really nice keyboard/organ work. And so when the pieces occasionally wander down into blues territory, well, the whole thing falls together nicely.

    Like on "My Beloved," which is one of the more soulful rock songs I've heard in many an age. The guitar is a bit too clunky, but that provides just the right counterpoint to Toby Gordon's impassioned singing. One of those things that couldn't have been predicted--lucky accidents are truly blessed, indeed.

    Blessed Light rambles its way through the dregs of the 60s and 70s, and still manages to find the path to the new millennium. These songs aren't carbon copies of an ancient age. Rather, they take well-worn sounds and give them just enough of a modern spin to make them shine all over again.

    One of those albums that's perfect for a late afternoon beer or bowl. Hang out and let it all wash over you. Oh, my soul.


    Blind Pilot
    3 Rounds and a Sound
    (Expunged)
    reviewed in issue #298, July 2008

    As the press note says, there is a certain Shins-like quality to these songs. Which is a bit unfortunate when you live in the same town and all. Nonetheless, Blind Pilot manages to make up for certain tendencies with a laid-back attitude and some scintillating songwriting.

    Maybe the fact that Blind Pilot is (mostly) two guys (Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski) is what leads to the minimalist take on soaring pop. Whatever the reason, the restraint gives these songs something of a phantom ring behind the actual music. The mind imagines grandiose, soaring pop when it just isn't there.

    That's just so cool. These small songs have so much to say that they play tricks on the mind. It's subversive and utterly irresistible. Kinda like crack for pop fans. But, y'know, crack with vitamins and stuff. So it's good for you.

    Wow, that was messed up. I'm really kinda shell-shocked by this disc. It completely hijacked me with its greatness. Give Blind Pilot two songs and you'll feel the same way. Something wild, indeed.


    editor's note: Due to a faulty brainpan, this album got reviewed twice. Enjoy the "repeat"!

    3 Rounds and a Sound
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #313, December 2009

    Originally a duo that toured the west coast on bicycles (that's commitment!), Blind Pilot has fleshed out its kicky folk sound by expanding to a six-piece. Finding some range is just fine, as long as the basics don't get lost.

    And they haven't. There are a few moments that bring faint echoes of follow Portlandsters the Shins (especially in the harmonies), but by and large Blind Pilot sticks to its nuevo Nick Drake sound.

    This isn't americana, at least as most people define it. Blind Pilot sticks to folk construction and restrained, syncopated rhythms. There's no country and little western going on here. These are still the songs of bicycling troubadours. And that's pretty cool.

    A most enjoyable album. I like the deeper focus, but mostly I love the songs. Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski are fine writers, and their band brings those pieces to life quite well. Good stuff.


    Blind Willies
    Needle, Feather and a Rope
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #329, August 2011

    There's enough gypsy flair to give these songs that slimy carny feel, though as the album descends into madness the gospel elements begin to take over.

    And so what begins as a trip into blindness becomes a tale of redemption. Of sorts. The resolution isn't half-hearted, but it's more resignation than acclamation. Life will wear on you.

    All that may sound drearily deep, but the music is so searing and enthralling that the themes of good, evil, life and death are hardly overwhelming. Rather, such grandiose routes of thought seem like the perfect accompaniment.

    An utterly ambitious album, and one that follows through with a massive emotional impact. This'll put you through the wringer, but in the best of ways.


    Blinder
    Mienakusuru EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98

    The nicely arrogant letter I got with this disc says "It's better than what you're listening to now. I promise." Moxie. I like that. And you know, if I had been listening to something before I slapped this in (turns out it was the first review of the day), well, the letter might have been right.

    Stuttering, surging stuff, with lots of drum work on the toms and guitar chords on the off beats. Strong stuff, though, not wanky faux funk. No, this is something like what grunge pop might sound like if played by a Louisville band. Except, of course, Blinder is from the Jersey side of New York.

    Don't matter, don't matter. The three songs here are amazingly strong, ripping through reams of territory and still managing to stick together. Aggressive, arrogant and altogether satisfying.

    The band is looking for a label. I'd think labels would be queuing up for an audience.


    The Blinding Light
    Glass Bullet EP
    (Deathwish)
    reviewed in issue #236, December 2002

    Billed as a the sort of band that would appeal to fans of Slayer, etc. Kinda funny that the band's name is a parody of a soap opera, eh?

    Well, the press is right. This reminds me of Slayer at its finest. Plenty of aggression, but without the overkill that permeated that band's early work. Think of some of the more astringent pieces from Seasons in the Abyss (for me, the greatest Slayer disc) and you begin to get the idea.

    But hey man, these guys can play. The Blinding Light has at least as much in common with bands like Boysetsfire as it does with Slayer. A nice melding of the metal and extreme. The five songs here are a delicious taste. I'm ready for the full course.


    Blindside Blues Band
    Blindside Blues Band
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93 (advance cassette review)

    Take the rhythm section from Badlands and add a dash of commercial blues. That's what it is and that's what it sounds like. Heavy, but decent.


    Blindsided
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #62, 9/15/94

    Heavy blues rock, veering between such influences as John Mayall, Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers.

    They steal more feeling than riffs, and all the songs are originals. Technically competent throughout, occasionally sensational sounding.

    But often enough, there just isn't the fire needed to really shine. The band seems content to just play a few licks, forgetting about any sense of inspiration. Too bad, because there is a load of potential here.


    Messenger of the Blues
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    Three albums and the guys still don't get it. Or maybe I don't. That is certainly a possibility.

    The Blindside Blues Band plays syncopated beats so straight any notion of soul or emotion (or any other reason for playing that way) is lost. The essence of the blues is lost.

    Sure the musical performances are fine, and the songs are written up to a decent standard. But the real test of the blues is feel, and in my book this band still hasn't found that. Indeed, I think these guys would be much more at home being heavy metal heroes if that paid anything these days.

    If I got even the slightest hint that the Blindside Blues Band really felt the blues, then I could stand it. But once again, emotion is a no-show.

    See also Mike Onesko's Blinside Blues Band.


    Blinker the Star
    Blinker the Star (advance cassette review)
    (Treat and Release)
    reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95

    North-of-the-border pop-punk, with a little more distortion and swirly guitar than usual, almos to a Mercury Rev sound at times. Gives BTS a nice bit of individuality. Smashing songs, smashing sound. Dig this up at all costs.


    Blister Rust
    Birth Is Painful
    (Thundermug)
    reviewed in issue #158, 5/4/98

    Somewhere between an EP and an LP (seven songs clocking in at a bit more than a half hour, though different versions of "Heavy Drugs" bookend the set), Blister Rust likewise can't quite figure out what sort of music it should play. I swear to God, this stuff sounds like the love child of Hanoi Rocks and Blind Melon. For the hell of it, there's even a nearly incomprehensible Beatles cover.

    The songs themselves sound like they've been tossed off in a couple seconds, bad parodies of glam metal (with a weird hint of the whole Dead Again movement) given a tiny sound in the studio.

    Difficult to sit still. I keep wanting to punch the discer and get on with the weekly carnage, but I've got to get through this bastard. Somehow. Don't know how.

    I just have no way of connecting with this music. It's not so much that the playing is horrible (because it's not). I just can't understand why the band wants to play this way.


    blld
    materia prima EP
    (Squatter Madras-Iapetus)
    reviewed in issue #315, March 2010

    A British duo made up of Markus Reuter and 05ric (Ric Byer), blld does the whole soundscape thing. Far from the usual notions of dreamland, however, these boys create a kinetic world full of power, energy and grace.

    And they do sing, which might have had the unfortunate effect of turning this into a wonky prog project. But it doesn't. Somehow, Reuter and Byer retain enough of an otherworldly sense, using the vocals more as instruments than vessels of lyrical thought.

    They could be the bastard children of Syd Barrett, I suppose--if they were subsequently nursed at the breast of German techno and the orchestral new wave sound of bands like Tears for Fears. There's just enough accessibility to bring civilians into the fold. These guys aren't complete wonks; they want a bit of the ol' adulation as well. I'm all for that.


    Block Watch Captain
    The Golden Stations
    (Smokeylung)
    reviewed in issue #215, 4/23/01

    A couple guys from Kansas City give moody pop a slow burn. Vaguely atonal melodies and burbling riffage put together a collage in dribs and drabs. Oh, and did I mention the psychedelia? Plenty of that to go around, though it is run through a minimalist filter.

    Spooky is the best way to describe this. Block Watch Captain rarely hits a straight note. Instead, there's a whole lot of noodling around what might be considered a central theme. If the guys actually expressed these thoughts in a straightforward manner, these songs would soar.

    Instead, the stuff porpoises about, flying high one moment and crashing to earth the next. I think I like that better. Spacey, halting pop music with grand ambition ought to be undercut now and again.

    And Block Watch Captain is just the group to do it. Alternately embracing and parodying "important" pop is a tough task, but these boys manage to do just that. Carefree at times and harrowing at others, The Golden Stations has the ring of truth.


    Blonde Redhead
    In an Expression of the Inexpressible
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Having somehow managed to never hear this band before (I'm thinking it might have something to do with a certain postal service employee who has ripped off about 20 packages from me in the past year), I'm left with the impression that this is one of those "just-strange-enough-to-be-hip" outfits.

    Because as we all know, Blonde Redhead is one of them "buzz bands". The sort of band that is a litmus test amongst certain folk. Now, that doesn't mean the band sucks, because it doesn't, but I get the feeling there's something going on behind the scenes and that someone just might be laughing at the whole spectacle.

    The sound is highly calculated, with precise rhythms and intricately written guitar parts. Even the seemingly wailed (or spoken or squeaked or whatever) vocals sound like they've been sampled and run through a sequencer. Not in a physical sense, but they're delivered with such deliberation that they sound like an emotive machine.

    That's it exactly. Blonde Redhead sounds like an emotive machine. One that may be programmed by exceptionally creative people, but stuff that is mechanically-generated nonetheless. The songs are growing on me, slowly, but I don't think I'm ever going to go full godhead with the band. Personally, I'd rather full flow the dissonance and quit mucking about with semi-melodic fare. But that's just me.


    Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00

    One of those bands that just had to grow on me. I'll be honest: I was puzzled by its last album. Being used to the "analog" musings of June of 44 and the like, the technical "digital" precision of Blonde Redhead sounded foreign to my ears. After a while (a good while), I finally figured out that the tight, hypnotic beats and lines were simply perfect trance-inducing conduits.

    I'm still not convinced that this is the deepest music in the world. Blonde Redhead mixes dissonance with a strictly-imposed groove structure, and there's not a lot of room for extraneous exploration.

    But does that make this shallow? Naw, not really. It just means that the music has more of a classical underpinning. At least in the way it was conceived. Where it falls short of that ideal is in truncating the variations, a la rock. At most, the songs kick through a couple cycles. Intriguing, but really asking for more.

    Still and all, I gotta say I'm really starting to get into Blonde Redhead. I'd advise merely letting the effect hit. Deconstruction of the songs doesn't yield further pleasure. On their own, however, the songs here are quite moving.


    Melodie Citronique EP
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00

    A French version of "In Particular," an Italian version of "Hated Because of Great Qualities," A Serge Gainsbourg song ("Slogan"), a remix of "For the Damaged" (retitled "Four Damaged Lemons") and a little ditty called "Chi E E Non E" (I'm not getting all the accents right; oh well). Typical Blonde Redhead.

    Which, I must admit, I'm appreciating more and more. I still think these folks are weird for weirdness' sake, but even so, I can dig it. I've given up worrying about why the band plays this stuff, and I'm now concentrating on the sounds themselves. A vast improvement in my appreciation technique, I think.

    You've never heard the band before and want to know what it sounds like? Well, start with Stereolab and then run a 10k to the edge of sanity. That should pretty well cover it. Except that Blonde Redhead brings an awful lot to the table. Aw, hell, I'm not gonna worry about it here. This disc is for the fans. You know who you are.


    Thomas Blondet
    FutureWorld
    (Rhythm & Culture Music)
    Thomas Azier
    Hylas
    (Universal)
    reviewed 9/25/14

    I really love Azier's single, "Ghost City." It's got the perfect mix of 80s new wave, 90s techno and 00s electro. Also, it moves. More of a slink than a canter, but that enough to find the groove. In addition, Azier uses his falsetto to perfect effect. The soaring chorus is just lovely.

    So I was expecting more of the same on his debut album. Turns out that Hylas is more Tangerine Dream than Kraftwerk. Even when the tempos pick up, they're leavened by long stretches of synth washes and drawn-out phrases. This is one moody pile of bits and bytes.

    While I it's likely would have been happier with an album full of songs like "Ghost City," I think Azier has marked some interesting territory. His song construction trends toward the gothic (and maybe a little goth, but you'll understand my differentiation if you hear this), and he has a real knack for the dramatic chorus. The most common song here is the slow-jam electro anthem, and that's unusual to my ears.

    With a less-deft touch, this sound could get dreary fast. Azier throws in plenty of ideas for each song, though, and he manages to drag this album to a satisfying conclusion. Not the sort of album you'd crank in the car, but it is pretty good if you're looking for an intensive chilldown.

    I do still think that "Ghost City" is the best track here, but that song is a bait-and-switch. Azier has his sights set on more introspective territory, and he does a pretty fair exploration here. This album had all sorts of chances to fall into a torpid mess, but Azier made it shine instead. It can be hard to warm up to cold steel, but Azier's talent should be more than enough to warm your ears.

    Thomas Azier has a song called "FutureSound." Thomas Blondet brings us an album called FutureWorld. Despite the obvious differences in rhythms (Blondet is a definite dub aficionado), the concepts are surprisingly similar.

    Blondet fuses his dub work with vocal guests from around the world, which makes this album much more than reggae 2.0. There are bits and pieces from Asia, India, Africa and South America, as well as the requisite Jamaican patois. Blondet is the producer. He built the stage for his guests to shine.

    The album title is an obvious reference to "world beat" music, a now-archaic term that was pretty lame even when it was in popular use. I think the idea here is to take sounds from all over and spin them into a tasty concoction.

    Blondet's greatest accomplishment is mixing all those influences without turning them into grey goo. All the personality and unique traits remain. His structure is more than generous enough to give room to all of his collaborators.

    This does lead to the occasional problem of identifying an actual "Blondet sound." If you want to call that a problem, of course. I'm more inclined to call it a strength. This album floats and bounces all over the world, even while its electronic soul resides in the Caribbean. That's a pretty cool trick.

    The way forward is to put together old ideas in new ways. Blondet and Azier have succeeded in fusing electronic past and future. And now, the future.


    Blondie
    No Exit
    (Beyond/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #175, 1/25/99

    I was never one of those Blondie freaks. When Blondie was big, I was into showtunes (really). By the time I turned my attention turned to rock and roll, Blondie was gone. I knew a couple of songs, the big hits, and they were pretty cool. But I didn't go out of my way to acquire them. About three years ago I picked up the Best of Blondie on a used tape; I left it on the dash one afternoon in Florida. Oops.

    I still haven't replaced it, though, see? And now I'm supposed to get all excited about a new Blondie record? When the best thing about Debbie Harry's solo career was... well, what was it? Anyway, I'm listening to this disc. And it's not bad. It sounds like old Blondie. A little ska, a little rock, a little disco, a little rap (Coolio guests), a little Eurotrash, a little... Toccatta and Fugue? Yep.

    In other words, this Blondie album is just like all the others, though maybe a bit more consistent in the songwriting. Yes, it's generally synth-drenched pop which marginally incorporates all the divergent influences, but then, that's all Blondie ever was. And a lot of people bought those albums.

    Now, don't kid yourself. Despite everything the marketing dolts will sell you, this is not an "alternative" album. Far from it. Blondie is about as establishment as it gets. But hey, the stuff's got a good beat and you can dance to it. And I can truthfully say that this album stacks up pretty well next to the "old" Blondie. Make your own judgments accordingly.


    Live
    (Beyond/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    Well, okay then. I'm thinking you know Blondie. That makes my task a lot easier. This is not archive material, but stuff from the re-formed band's tour this year. The material probably focuses on the new album a bit too much (by a song or two) for most fans, but that's really not the problem.

    The mix is heavy in the bass. Too heavy. The keyboards are all mushy as a result, and the band sounds like its slogging along, even though the tempos are as crisp as they can be. This is not the keepsake live album you might like.

    I don't really like live albums much anyway. But the sound here is so horrible that I can feel quite good about dissuading anyone from checking it out. Yeah, I've got an advance CD, and maybe the final mix is better, but what I hear is awful. I can't imagine it going out like this.


    Blood
    Christbait
    (1MF-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #32, 4/15/93

    Kinda spooky to see the Rough Trade logo on this disc. I guess we all know what happened here. The jewel box has a rather strange design, as well. But to the music.

    A pleasant combination of doom and death sensibilities, with a dash of the grind at times. Simmer for ten minutes, and you have a wonderful… Christ, I sound like Chef Tell.

    As this album has been around for a while, waiting to be released, it does sound a little dated. The production is adequate, but a little muddy. I do like the doom elements a lot. This is an amusing little wine and... there I go again. I think I need to eat some dinner. Jam this. I like.

    For a real good laugh, read the press. Lines like "a band that tries not to be experimental" keep jumping out at you. Very cool.


    O Agios Pethane (advance cassette)
    (1MF-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #47, 1/31/94

    An honest attempt to combine the speed of grindcore with the mess of death metal. When it slows down and sounds less like Cannibal Corpse it works better.


    Blood Axis
    Blot
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #169, 10/12/98

    The basic tracks of this album were taken from a show commemorating Cold Meat Industry's 10th Anniversary. Now, a good amount of cleaning up and other parts have been added, but the feel is still that of a live recording.

    Blot means "sacrifice" in Swedish, and Blood Axis explores that word and its many meanings. The music wanders about, sometimes vaguely classical pipe organ (very cool sound here) with some chants and percussive underpinnings. Some of the songs are much more traditional gothic folk undertakings, acoustic guitars and storytelling.

    And more, for that matter. Blood Axis doesn't wallow in any particular style, but moves about as the song subjects dictate. Yeah, the songs generally plod along, but the sounds are hardly repetitive.

    Well planned and well executed. The sonic explorations are first rate, and the scope is much wider than most bands even think to undertake. Top notch music for those with dark souls.


    Blood Duster
    Yeest
    (Relapse Underground Series)
    reviewed in issue #113, 7/1/96

    Four Australians who crank out a nice and crunchy form of grindcore that kinda merges the sex raps of Ice-T with the messiness of Anal Cunt (though, actually, this stuff is cleaner--soundwise). Oh, and general mean and vicious "die you motherfucker die" lyrics interspersed with the sex stuff.

    Amusing, and there's 32 tracks to keep the faithful going. I found this good for a few laughs, and even the odd cool riff. Nothing substantial, of course.

    I find Blood Duster to be more puerile than obscene. Which leaves the band with its moments, but not much more. The complete lack of musical creativity kinda bummed me out. Sure, this is a bit bouncy and silly for grindcore, but I don't think that's much of an advancement.

    Worth a shot if you're truly into everything grindcore (since there's not much of the real thing these days). But I've heard this sorta thing done much better.


    Blood for Blood
    Wasted Youth Brew
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    If you've missed anything from Blood for Blood, say a compilation track or seven-inch or something, there's a good chance you'll find it here. This set of odds and ends (including a show recorded at the Middle East back in January) should pretty well catch everyone up with this Boston crew.

    I'm not so sure this set provides a full picture for the noninitiated (though the live show probably does alright), but current fans should have a lot of fun digging through this chest of goodies.

    The sound quality does vary (in particular, the demos get a little ragged at the edges), but considering the number of covers and other side trips the stuff holds together astonishingly well. Not the most coherent album, but I don't think that's the intent.

    A celebration of Blood for Blood. That's what this is. And if you're in the mood, join the party. Happy presents for those ready to receive them.


    Blood from the Soul
    To Spite the Gland that Breeds
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #47, 1/31/94

    What is it about all these Napalm Death side projects featuring drum machines? Almost all of them do. Is ND planning on going industrial?

    I doubt it, myself. These outings are a nice catharsis for the boys. This one features ND bassist Shane Embury, who does everything but sing. Oh, and by the way, Sick of It All's Lou Koller fills in the vocals.

    Much like Meathook Seed, this sounds nothing like either band, really, but is an interesting departure. It is closer to an industrial hard core sound, but then there are those little sampling moments. Shane sure had some fun.

    This doesn't quite measure up to the Meathook Seed (that sure isn't a crime, though), but it is solid work that deserves attention.

    See also Napalm Death.


    Blood Meridian
    We Almost Made It Home
    (Teenage USA)
    reviewed in issue #259, November 2004

    A collection of players from off-Broadway lights (Chupacabra, Black Halos, Bughouse 5) get together to play roots-heavy indie rock.

    The songs (written by Matthew Camirand) whip from the Palace/Simon Joyner axis all the way through early Uncle Tupelo and Eleventh Dream Day and into straight-up early (pre-major label) Pixies. Looking at those references, I get another hot flash of geezerhood. Oh well. That's what this stuff sounds like. Sue me.

    Not only does Blood Meridian bring to mind those bands, the quality of the music put it in their league. These songs aren't all haunting paens to the inevitability of death, which makes the dark moments that much spookier. The more upbeat songs not only provide a nice counterpoint; they're truly inspiring.

    One of those albums that sticks with you. There's so much going on that I know I missed more than half of it. That's okay. I've just got to listen again. With an album this powerful, that's a joy, not a sentence.


    Bloodline
    Can't Rest on the Times
    (Nemesis-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #17, 7/31/92

    You just gotta like a grunge-core band that thanks Prince in the liners. The songs are slow, rhythmic killers that keep building in intensity. I'm not sure exactly where the hard core connection comes in, but it is there. I could see these guys opening up for Fugazi or Naked Raygun. They're heavier, but… the attitude, I suppose.

    Hard core certainly needs to be taken in directions other than the pop-leanings of Bad Religion or straight-out pop of Senator Flux (two of my favorite bands, by the way.) Bloodline have done that, and created a cool sound to boot. Kinda in the tradition of Helmet, but also different. You know you've heard it somewhere before, but it still kicks your ass - that's Bloodline.


    Bloodstar
    Anytime, Anywhere
    (Red Decibel)
    reviewed in issue #29, 2/28/93

    Where its first effort was perhaps the first true dance-metal album, this goes a long way to becoming the first dance-death metal album. Yes, it should get club play out the ass, but just because you can dance to it doesn't mean aggression is lacking.

    Fuck Godflesh. At this point, those guys can't get either the club or the metal things down, it seems. Where in their transformation they seemed to dull out, Bloodstar is sharp and piercing. Your listeners will like this, and so will the dance folk at your station.


    Bloodthrone
    Storms of Apocalypse
    (Forever Underground)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Ahh, I haven't heard any black metal in a long time. And Bloodthrone isn't quite silly enough to qualify, but it's close. Lots of great crashing around and snarled vocals and the like.

    This kinda thing, when pushed over the top, really gives me a rush. Bloodthrone doesn't quite get there. Kinda strange, but these guys are more of a mid-tempo death metal band. Not enough of the "crazy" stuff for my taste.

    On the other hand, these boys do have a nice feel for riffage. They're not particular, mind you, but they can crank out a solid groove if they're in the mood. And the sound is fairly solid, though hardly overpowering.

    Hey, I like the energy. The guys aren't the most adept writers or players, but they sure can wail from time to time. Which is more than I can say for most bands that tend toward the dark side of metal.


    Bloody & the Vaynes
    Bloody & the Vaynes
    (Black & Blue) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    Back in the olden days when I was in college (somewhere around 10 years ago), my little college radio station got a 7" from a band called Bloody Mess & the Skabs. Fours songs, all "unplayable" by FCC standards. Lucky for us we had decreed that anything goes from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. My shift, not coincidentally, was from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. I often partook of a little ditty called "Cigarette on the Clit."

    Strangely, my feminist girlfriend found the song somewhat less than annoying. Funny, to be certain. Anyway, the reason I bring this long tale up in that the "Bloody" in this band is most likely the same singer as the one who crooned with the Scabs. I might have guessed that with the cover of the Skabs "Empty" at the end of the disc, but the styles are similar as well.

    That is, fast and abrasive hardcore with little to no letting up. The pressure just keeps building. The power is not in the guitars, which are rather lean, but in the way the rhythm section just keeps bashing out the beats. The singleminded task of grinding out songs works, at least at this level. Yeah, it's extremely Stoogish. Not a bad blueprint, if you ask me.

    Not quite as, well, raunchy as the Skabs, this new Bloody outfit is as addictive as its last incarnation. More than worth checking out.


    The Bloody Lovelies
    Some Truth and a Little Money
    (Cheap Lullaby)
    reviewed in issue #251, March 2004

    The Bloody Lovelies play a pleasant sort of rollicking pop, lying somewhere between the Box Tops and Big Star. Except for the piano. That changes everything.

    Nearly every song is driven by singer Randy Wooten's piano playing, which adds a certain Randy Newman (early 70s, not Toy Story) or maybe Supertramp (again, from the 70s) element. Jaunty, see, but still with a bit of the brood. It's nice that way.

    Actually, the boys take care to fully instrument their arrangements, adding horns, a drum machine or whatever else is necessary to fill out the sound for a particular song. The core is always the piano, but there are plenty of decorations.

    Those pretties simply add luster to songs which have a natural shine. I guess it's obvious that these boys worship the pop rock of the 70s--and thinking back, a lot of that stuff was purty damned good. Songs that tell stories. Songs with attitude and personality. Songs that are immediately catchy and yet deep enough to withstand incessant replays. It's a crime that these boys are still hawking their own wares, though I think those circumstances will change sooner than later.


    Bloody Mary
    Bitch Needs Psychotherapy
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #6, 1/31/92

    You know, I'm not sure if the title is a take-off on the band's name or what. It's rather incongruous with what's inside: decent almost-death metal. You can understand the singer, and the riffs are great. No real excursions into the land of "speedier than thou." More of a Prong/Helmet kinda thing going on here, with each song branching into a little different territory.

    "Soul" is rather inspired songwriting, and the other three tracks are almost as good. But why the title? Attention? It works for that, I suppose. Ah well, the music speaks for itself.


    Kath Bloom
    (and Loren MazzaCane Connors)
    1981-1984
    (Megalon)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    Bloom wrote most of the songs here (there are a couple of standards), but both Bloom and Connors played guitar and sang. Bloom's work is at the edge of what might be considered folk, but Connors is quite past the pale. The liners have a nice discussion of this issue, much better than I could give.

    The recordings are somewhat crude, but they lend a sense of immediacy to the songs. And these are pieces which could hardly be more intimate. Bloom's approach is so open, it's often frightening. Connors (who also produced these recordings) hangs out on the edges, and when he sneaks in the effect is even more unsettling.

    Thirteen of the songs here are taken from five Bloom records in the early 80s (thus the title). Connors also includes a recent Bloom recording for purposes of comparison. The didactic nature of this disc is compelling. It's interesting not only as an artifact of a time and place, but also as a commentary the nature of artistic creativity.

    Not yer usual cup of tea, certainly. These are songs well worth revisiting, perhaps even in more depth than possible here. The sound waves sparkle with pain.


    Blow Up Hollywood
    Fake
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #255, July 2004

    The access to Blow Up Hollywood is minimalist at best. The liners almost don't exist. The web site is more confusing than anything else. There are these pictures everywhere, but there are no explanations.

    So screw it. Turn on the music. And all that was lost is now found. The music doesn't necessarily explain anything, but it sure does fill in the blanks--so much so that you don't even remember what your questions were in the first place. Blow Up Hollywood is definitely putting itself in the running as a truly "important" band.

    And while the music is overwhelming and astonishingly powerful, it really isn't pretentious. All that stuff I listed earlier? The vagueness of the web site, etc.? That might be taken as a bit precious, but the music is the thing. And Blow Up Hollywood's full-blown huge sound is a marvel to behold. The songs evolve slowly, taking on one idea after another without sounding forced. And when the summation arrives, it's like a revelation from beyond the veil.

    This is not happy summer music. It isn't bouncy, and it isn't peppy. At their fastest, the pieces are midtempo. The lyrics are generally downcast--though not pessimistic--and the orchestral arrangements produce an effect of ponderous grace. These guys might just be more "important" than they think they are.


    Bludgers
    Better Off at Home
    (Hammerhead)
    reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96

    And what if Uncle Tupelo had this odd grunge thing going on in the background?

    The Bludgers take that well-worn (and now even trendy) midwestern country-rock thing and give it a new shine with the occasional burst of overwrought bass and distorted guitar. Yeah, I haven't heard anything like this.

    It surely wouldn't work if the Bludgers didn't have such decent songwriters as Jon Pheloung and Paul Colussi. The lyrics are generally upbeat bits describing various parts of the average midwestern life, which is a few light-years removed from the coasts (which might explain why the critics spooged over last year's awful Wilco and Son Volt albums). Being used to this sort of thing from my college days spent watching Uncle Tupelo turn into a good band, I feel confident in pronouncing Bludgers the best heartland band since the Boorays (who don't really play country-style at all, but still).

    There are rough moments, and spots where the songs run a little thin, but the Bludgers generally carry off this album with real style. The playing is average, and Pheloung's voice is nothing spectacular, but the songs themselves are worth all the worry. A very good piece of pop work.


    Set Your Sights Low
    (Hammerhead)
    reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97

    The second set from this group of Aussie transplants who met at the U of Illinois. I was surprised at how well the guys seemed to understand American roots rock after hearing the first album, and this one beats that by a mile.

    The sound is much more assured, with fewer self-conscious tics and a greater feel for that whole "midwestern" sound. The songs are timeless, the touch just right. A simply fantastic set of songs.

    It takes a certain non-chalance to really make this sound work. The harmonies are fairly tight, but not overbearingly so. The playing is sharp, but in an offhanded sorta way. A tough trick to master, but Bludgers seems to have found the secret.

    I'm not sure how to praise this album much more. See, if a band actually tries to make music like this, it never works. You simply have to fall into it. I hope Bludgers never finds its way out.


    Blue
    Holly's Song
    (Sanity Check Musec)
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    Subtitled a gothic drama in four acts, Holly's Song tells the story of a murder, a love, a death and a haunting. Indeed, sounds good and gothic to me.

    It's the story, not the music, that is gothic. On the rare songs that are completely electrified, Blue sticks more to a thick, bluesy guitar that's rather reminiscent of Eric Clapton in the late 60s and early 70s. When generally acoustic, Blue sounds like any number of pretentious folk bands. When trying to sound spooky, Blue does appropriate a few goth touches, just enough to be truly haunting in quality.

    The real question comes down to this: Which is more important, the story or the music? Blue answers the question unequivocally. The story. The music is often an afterthought. Hey, I understand, but you've gotta make the music work before you throw in the lyrics. If the tune is catchy or otherwise affecting, it will draw listeners in. If not, well, even the most poetic of lines will find a rocky purchase.

    I like the story, both the way it's expressed and the theme. But I wish the songs presented that stuff better. There's a lot of good ideas here. They're just lost in mediocre tunes.


    Blue Canyon Boys
    Next Go 'Round
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/10/13

    These Colorado boys kick out some serious old-school bluegrass. Fifteen songs, six original and nine traditional selections. While my mind could pick out which was which, my ears couldn't find the difference. Solid, energetic playing and tight songwriting. There's no crossover here; bluegrass fans will immediately pick up on the quality, and the uninitiated with probably run away. That's okay. I'll settle in for the long haul.


    Blue Collar
    Lovely Hazel
    (Public Eyesore)
    reviewed in issue #271, December 2005

    The usual from Public Eyesore: A trio of guys who make barely playing their instruments an art form. Nate Wooley on high brass (trumpet and flugelhorn), Steve Swell on low brass (trombone) and Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion (percussion). It's pretty rare that either of the brass players gets off a complete note, but this noisy, crackling series of improvisations never fails to astound me.

    These guys know each other. Maybe not Biblically, but certainly they have a fine feel for what the other players are going to do. And that form of divine anticipation leads to a surprisingly large number of inspirational moments.

    The songs hang together quite well, and the sound is decidedly full--somewhat surprising considering the way the music is being played. Many of the pieces sound like some sort of possessed popcorn popper (with added melody), and the rounded sound does right by them.

    Yes, yes, I'm probably preaching to the converted here, but what the hell. This is yet another outstanding release from "Omaha's most unknown label." More than enough to make me smile.


    Blue Dogs
    Letters from Round O
    (Black River)
    reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99

    The accompanying press makes a big deal of the fact that David Lowery (of Cracker, etc.) produced the disc. Now, Lowery does sing and play on the album as well, which probably means he does like the band somewhat.

    I'm guessing he likes the Blue Dogs a lot. This album is right up the latter-day Cracker alley, bluesy roots tunes that paint life's downs in wistful tones. Easy on the ears, to be sure, and not at all cloying.

    No bite, either, but hell, nobody's perfect. Lowery's hand is sure here, simply allowing Blue Dogs to ooze nicely out of the speakers. Every moment is genuine, even if some of the color sometimes seems to be missing.

    I don't have any real complaints. This is commercial roots rock, with all the nice country touches on the side. There aren't any grand statements, true, but Blue Dogs also doesn't make any missteps. Highly enjoyable.


    Blue Meanies
    Pave the World 10"
    (Thick)
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    Coulda used this stuff on Halloween. The title track is done in a Nice Cave-y circus style (no, really), with some of the bleakest lyrics I've heard in quite a while. And a chorus to die for. And the rest just follows from there.

    Plenty of wacko noises and musical ideas congregate on this here slab of vinyl, which is about what you'd expect from the Thick folks. This sort of morose philosophizing might get annoying, except that the music is so cool you kinda forget the sillier stuff.

    Moody, yes. Mean, sure. Not your average band, absolutely. The Blue Meanies defy description and convention and still manage to crank out a set of reasonably amusing and accessible tunes. Now that's a feat.

    This will probably fare even better on repeat listens. Strap yourself in for the long haul.


    Full Throttle
    (Thick)
    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    I think I had the speed wrong when I reviewed the Blue Meanies 10" a while back. When my brothers went to a show in the big Q and told me what a great ska band the Blue Meanies are, I didn't quite get it.

    But, see, I can't fuck up the speed on my CD player. And so this sounds something like ska. Like if Dead Kennedys played ska. Sure there are horns, and the occasional skankin' riffs, but everything is so much... more, really. Where the idea behind skadonna is to strip down the sound and pop out, the Meanies keep adding layer after layer. Something like the Bosstones would have sounded like five years ago if they had any musical sophistication.

    The arrangements are astonishing. There is serious interplay amongst just the horns themselves. I've never heard a ska band use all of its instruments in such creative ways. The Meanies prove that no particular genre has to be limiting. All-out, in-yer-face ska-core, with more texturing and side thoughts than Mr. Bungle.

    Almost anyone could turn this music into a real mess. It takes serious talent to fashion the elements into great stuff. The Blue Meanies come through. And one side note: anyone who calls their publishing Vim Fuego music has to be cool. No bad news here.


    Livelivelivelive
    (Asian Man)
    reviewed in issue #186, 9/28/98

    Perhaps the most inventive ska band around. The Blue Meanies have a fine sense of humor (note that the band's songs are published by Vim Fuego Music) and an even keener feel for the outer limits of the ska sound.

    This is a live disc, and it does reprise most of the songs from the band's first album on Thick Records. Plus a lot more. In general, the band likes to take basic ska, throw in a number of musical asides and speed the brew up an awful lot. As for the lyrical content, the notion of DK ska is not unfounded.

    The recordings are uniformly solid. The sound is good, if not great. Good enough to bring forth the greatness of the band without sounding artificial. You can hear plenty of mistakes and goofs. Which is what makes live albums so fun.

    It's really amazing that this band can carry off these songs live on a consistent basis. But I guess it does. I'm not a big fan of live albums (go see the show, y'know?), though in this case the album should do a good job of representing. The Blue Meanies are a force to be reckoned with.


    Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!
    (Asian Man) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    Blue Meanies may take their name from Yellow Submarine, but there are very few sweet harmonies. Rather, the emphasis is on hardcore and quick steps. This particular disc is actually a reissue of the band's 1995 album, which has long been out of print.

    Music that refuses to bow to convention or acceptable form. Any given song might borrow from a number of influences, often three or four at a time. "The Time Is Now" uses some jazz tunings in the horns and some old school hardcore rhythms (with just a hint of the ska) to create a wholly infectious piece. Likewise, "Grandma Shampoo" melds klezmer, ska and straightahead rock (not unlike Firewater, though much faster) into a blenderized frazzle.

    The manic energy of the band is irresistible. The creative ferment within each song is intoxicating. There are so few bands willing to try new things, that when a truly original act comes along, it simply stuns. While this is somewhat dated material, it still holds all of the manic fervor that has come to be known as Blue Meanies.

    Just another reason to pry up any rock and look into every cranny to get a taste. Yes, this is only for folks who crave complexity in waves, but hell, there's at least five or six of us around, right? I'm blown. Twice in a night.


    The Post Wave
    (Thick)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    There's a long story behind this album. Blue Meanies signed with MCA a while back, and this album was released last year. MCA immediately forgot about it and the band negotiated an astonishing lucrative escape route. Basically, they got to keep everything they had bought with MCA money, and MCA also handed over about 10,000 copies of this album. It's about the rosiest major label drop story I've ever heard.

    And it's true. Anyway, since the album really never made it to stores (though I recall seeing it in one and asking myself, "What the hell are Blue Meanies doing on MCA?"), the guys are re-releasing the thing on Thick. They sent it to me. And so I'm giving it a listen.

    The ultra-manic adventurism of earlier albums is missing, but for a major label-release, this is quite "out there." The intensity is still high, and while the songs--the music in particular--have been "straightened" a bit for the masses, this does, indeed, sound like a Blue Meanies album. With tight harmonies and razor-sharp horns.

    Oh yeah, and Jane Weidlin guests on "She Breathes Fire." See, it was a major label album. Probably not the best Blue Meanies effort, but an interesting side trip for one of the most creative bands around. The boys compromised a little, but this disc doesn't embarrass the legacy one bit. Alright, so it had no chance of attracting hordes of No Doubt fans. I still don't know what MCA was thinking. Doesn't matter. I'll take this album as is.


    Blue Mountain
    Dog Days
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Once upon a time there was a band called Uncle Tupelo, and that band's mix of folk, country and punk was considered somewhat revolutionary when it was released.

    Of course, everyone and their dog claims to love Uncle Tupelo now that the band is dead and buried, and we have also begun to hear a generation of bands who have been influenced by that sound.

    Blue Mountain adds a nice Neil Young-esque sense of the blues to the aforementioned formula, leading to some wildly disparate-sounding songs. And I like them all.

    Quite an adventurous signing for Roadrunner, who may finally break into the regular college market in a big way with this disc. Blue Mountain will flow freely with bands like the Jayhawks and Wilco (the latter a Tupelo offshoot who passed through town last night). And while references abound, these folk have found an easy reconciliation that serves as their own sound.

    Great music for sitting around drinkin' and cussin' on a rainy night. Or whenever you want to hear a cool album.


    Blue Oyster Cult-see Various Artists/Bad Channels Soundtrack/Score


    Blue Plate Special
    A Night Out With...
    (Beyond/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98

    As more than one critic has observed, most of what folks call swing today is actually jump blues. Semantics, you say? Well, screw it. Blue Plate Special is dead on the trend.

    Not bad, mind you. The band is suitably talented and loose, not terribly concerned with hitting notes dead on. In fact, the musical arrangements are what make this disc work. The lyrics are banal, generally utilizing dated hipster slang, and the Harry Connick soundalike (and we all know who he's cribbing from) at the mike is not particularly interesting.

    But the band keeps the tempo up and the bass lines jumping. I'm not a fan of the new jack swing, mind you, but this is at least tolerable. At least until the vocals kick in.

    I'd like the hear the band all by itself, no vocals need apply. Then I might be enthusiastic.


    Blue Sandcastle
    If You Only Knew...
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    Ten years ago, Erik Schuman and Jean-Paul Vest were in a band back in Texas. A couple years ago they met once again--this time in New York--and decided to play some music once again.

    The duo is somewhat stuck in that whole midwestern roots punk thing. Think the first couple Uncle Tupelo albums or maybe some early Husker Du. Maybe. These guys make music that falls right into Still Feel Gone territory, though Vest's vocals are much more reminiscent of Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos.

    Mostly, though, these guys simply make fine roots-flavored rock. The sound is nicely chunky, though it isn't excessively loud or feedback-laden. The sort of stuff that's a bit loud for the porch, but just right for the back yard.

    A fine set of songs. There are a couple of covers, done with cool new settings (why else would you do a well-known song, anyway?). Just right for the onset of summer.


    Blue Stingrays
    Surf-N-Burn
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97

    A group of faceless and nameless folks try and resurrect the sound of the Ventures and other such second-tier surf instrumental acts of the sixties. I have more than a few ideas as to the identities of the players, and if I'm right, contractual obligations to other labels are the reason for the lack of names. In truth, the whole anonymous thing is probably used in order to drum up interest in a decidedly tepid album.

    One of the joys of good surf music is the unrestrained energy that goes into its making. This sounds like much of Dick Dale's stuff from that era, when labels told him to "calm down". And even with more than a little Duane Eddy twang action, the Blue Stingrays can't really excite me.

    On the other hand, if you're one of those folks who really likes anything that has even the smallest scent of surf overtones, then this will probably do you fine. I think all of the secrecy is silly, but considering the middling quality of the music, perhaps I should rethink my theory again. Maybe they just didn't want their names on such a mediocre album.


    Blue Yard Garden
    On the Galaxy
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #123, 11/18/96

    Rootsy stuff that rarely allows a sheen to accumulate. It's fairly easy to find points of reference, from the Hooters to Tom Petty and plenty of others. There is a faint undercurrent of pretentious (these mostly acoustic tunes are awfully anthemic at times), but it runs together fairly well.

    Jeff Zutant has one of those raspy voices that just screams "rock singer", and he uses it to good effect. The songwriting is capable, though a couple steps away from inspired. One of the main problems is a reliance on standard construction, which makes the tunes a bit too predictable.

    Of course, pop does as pop wants. I'd pick Blue Yard Garden over Hootie & the Blowfish, Sheryl Crow or whoever else is propagating this sound on MTV these days. But there's still some work to do.

    Nicely produced for an unsigned project. The band (listed as producer) left plenty of spaces in the sound, understanding that a listener will fill up the silence with much more than could be recorded. A deft and gentle touch was needed, and the band provided one.

    Tripping a bit too far to the commercial side for my general tastes, Blue Yard Garden is still an impressive band with a fine CD. Check them out:

    P.O. Box 536
    Rockville, MD 20848
    (301) 881-2621
    byg@worldnet.alt.net


    No Good Sundays
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98

    I'll just start by saying this really isn't my sound. Call it Dead Again or simply the Blues Traveler syndrome (which overlooks an awful lot of successful bands which also traffic in this stuff), it's not my gig. I don't particularly like it.

    Still, that said, I've now heard a couple albums from this band. And this disc is a step ahead of the last one. The songs are somewhat tighter, and in general the sound is light enough to communicate the easy feel of the music.

    I must say that the harp work is a bit derivative, but in general the band has done a good job of carving out a decent personal sound. The tunes are more introspective, lying somewhere between Temple of the Dog and the jam band sound. More interesting to me than I figured they would be. No, I wouldn't search it out. But like I said before, I'd pick Blue Yard Garden before Phish or any of the other more popular practitioners of this subgenre. This is a solid album from a band that just gets better.


    Bluebird
    Bluebird
    (Revelation)
    reviewed in issue #144, 9/29/97

    The liners say these songs came about from two days of improvisations. I'm sure some bits were hashed out a bit before the final recording (certainly the lyrics), but the spirit of exploration is present throughout.

    Four rather short songs fused with two 10 minute sonic explorations (one, the first track, very contemplative, the second a basher like the rest). Noisy and oh-so-fun.

    These guys have little respect for traditional ideas of composition and construction, particularly when they stretch the songs out. The short songs are cool, but perhaps not quite as evocative as they might have been with a little more air. And while the long songs are quite expressive, the band does seem to get lost from time to time.

    Quibbles, really. The ambition is huge, and the result is reasonably close to that high mark. A joy to behold.


    Bluebottle Kiss
    Revenge Is Slow
    (In Music We Trust)
    reviewed in issue #239, March 2003

    These guys are Australian, but they sound so Kiwi it's frightening. Chilly pop music that's fraught with every sort of possible allusion. Each line seems to have three meanings (I'm speaking of the music as well as the lyrics). While these songs are positively gorgeous, there's this terrifying undercurrent flowing beneath.

    Perhaps the perfect companion to the new Go-Betweens album (also reviewed in this issue), Bluebottle Kiss relies more on studio tricks (some extra reverb in the guitars or a little distortion here and there), but the songwriting style and quality are quite similar. I get a real Straitjacket Fits feel here, though the guitars don't blister quite so much.

    Oh. Sorry. I forget that most of you didn't grow up worshipping Flying Nun. A bit before your time, probably. I had a friend in college who hitchhiked to New Zealand (I'm not kidding about that, either) and then bummed around until she found the record label's office. She then spent two weeks in the generous care of some highly amused (and probably a bit frightened) label "execs." I can only hope to do something as cool within my lifetime.

    So you know where I'm coming from. And maybe you understand--just a little bit--what Bluebottle Kiss does. The music is gorgeous. The lyrics are haunting. The album is spectacular. Enough?


    BluesBurners
    Roll with the Punches
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00

    A nice, stripped-down sound. BluesBurners aren't the sort of band to tear down the house, but these easy-going pieces have a simple charm. There's nothing complicated, just good, basic slow boogie.

    K.C. Caramillo has a fine blue voice. She doesn't worry about the pyrotechnics, instead focusing on keeping the songs in motion. And these aren't the sorts of songs that demand an over-the-top performance. Keep it in pocket. That's all.

    That sound I mentioned is a real key to the success of this disc. It's full enough to provide a great canvas for the songs, but it doesn't get in the way of things or in any way interfere with the music.

    Hey, this isn't the world's greatest blues album. BluesBurners can lay down a moderate boogie, though, and move the night along. Solid, if unspectacular.


    Blume
    Low Glider Bus Rider
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01

    Reminds me a bit of June Panic, what with the idiosyncratic minimalist pop thing that underlies all these songs. Still, all the scratching, horns and other accouterments do take the final sound in quite a different direction. Almost faux-jazzy at times.

    Nowhere near the mainstream, of course. Joel Blum wrote or co-wrote most of the stuff here, and his band (with plenty of friends) really give the songs a workout. Everyone is on the same page, trending toward the same kinda weird excess. Focus like that is cool.

    Eccentricity serves Blume well. The rollicking whine of the vocals fit in perfectly with the loosey-goosey playing style of the band. This kinda stuff could get oppressively pretentious, but that never happens. These folks are too easygoing.

    Honest recordings like this are pretty rare. This album was recorded with an almost pure desire, and such emotional risk-taking is breathtaking. Probably makes a few folks uncomfortable, really, but I dug it.


    Blurt
    The Best of Blurt--Volume One--The Fish Needs a Bike
    (Salamander Rcords)
    reviewed in issue #256, August 2004

    Ted Milton plays sax. Blurt was (and is) his outfit, a nice little trio (guitar and drums). The tracks here were recorded from 1980-1986 (Vol. 2 will be released at some future date). Those are the facts. But there's a lot more to tell.

    First, Milton isn't a jazz saxophonist. I'm sure he's played a little jazz here and there (and maybe even a lot), but the noises he makes here are good old rock and roll. The stripped-down rhythm section is as bare as it can be, but that just gives these songs that much more kinetic impulse.

    Not unlike Flat Duo Jets--the groundbreaking guitar and drum garagabilly duo--Blurt's charms are amplified by the decidedly low-tech approach to writing and recording. I didn't hear any overdubs; it sounds like these songs were recorded live to tape. They certainly have that loose, akimbo feel to them. It's hard not to get swept up in the fun.

    I gave in almost immediately. Blurt's charms aren't refined, but that only makes them that much more irresistible. One of those albums that is simply too much fun to avoid.


    Blush 66
    Domecstasy EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    Pulsating electronic pop percussion, basic power guitar and smoky chanteuse vocals. Gosh, I think these folks are trying to hit it big.

    And, well, they just might. These songs have the depth of the Bering Strait during the last ice age, but they're still addictive as hell. Each one carefully crafted so as to utterly enthrall on the first listen.

    Now, a few spins down the line I might get a little bored. But right now? These songs have burned their way into my brain. That quick on the uptake, indeed.


    BMX Bandits
    Theme Park
    (Big Deal-Paradigm)
    reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97

    While most popsters these days prefer to crank out their songs with exuberant abandon, the BMX Bandits toss off three-chord nuggets with all the enthusiasm of an environmentalist running a paper mill. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be ironic or what, but it sure isn't much fun.

    And the songs rarely climb above the sophistication level of another Scottish pop outfit. Dull presentation and truly insipid lyrics. I'm still trying to figure this out.

    And having no luck whatsoever. There has to be some reason, really, but I'm feeling dense and stupid today. These folks sure have the format down pat, but the BMX Bandits simply don't go anywhere with it. The sound comes up lame.

    A very strange album. I have the feeling I'm missing the boat here, but I guess that's bound to happen from time to time.


    BOAC
    Modern Originalus
    (2Burn1-2B1)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    BOAC is a member of Bay-area stalwarts the Earthlings (not to be confused with "Earthlings?"). The sound is straight out of the Native Tongue movement (De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, etc.), with more than a few modern flourishes. The lyrics have a free-style feel, and the tone is most definitely laid-back.

    And highly creative. The backing music reminds me of some Wordsound stuff, beats which don't quite match up and samples which lend an air of unease to the project.

    BOAC sounds a lot like Tony Gwynn (you know, the greatest baseball hitter of our generation), so I keep trying to shake that image. Not a problem, because there's plenty here to dig into and take my mind off that oddly incongruous notion.

    The disc just flows along, with plenty of asides an odd notions. Probably a bit too eclectic for the average fan, but for those who like to scour the underground, BOAC has just the right flavor.


    Kip Boardman
    The Long Weight
    (Ridisculous)
    reviewed in issue #326, April 2011

    It's been a while since I've heard an album that owes so much to There Goes Rhymin' Simon. I guess the 70s are back in force. Or maybe Kip Boardman is just settling into a particularly fertile groove.

    The specific sound of that electric piano is what colors this for me. Boardman has an easygoing-yet-crafty approach to his lyrics that does hold a couple echoes of Simon's style, but it's the slyly mellow music that really pricks up my ears.

    And, yes, the songs are put together quite well. Boardman has a way of ruminating right to the heart of a problem. And he isn't content to stick with any one groove or beat. Within the general confines of the electric piano, this album rambles a bit.

    As it should. If, like me, you hold an affection for "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" and other tres-mellow Simon hits, Boardman ought to make you happy. And if you listen long enough, you'll start to hear where he blazes his own trail. Keep moving along, young man, and see where the music leads.


    Bobsled
    Darlahood
    (Tacklebox)
    reviewed in issue #98, 2/5/96

    Plenty of hootin' and hollerin' on this set of crunchy pop-hardcore tunes. The stuff is intended to amuse, and if you can get through the awfully self-indulgent song structure, well, you'll laugh.

    At times, Bobsled resorts to simple pop-punk glory, and the band does alright with that. But the main reason folks are interested in Bobsled is the unusual way the women construct their tunes. Lots of herky-jerky moves, combined with a real off-balance list to the beat often enough.

    This sort of thing grows on you. The odd moves almost remind me of a raw version of Nomeansno, though this is more of a feel issue, as Bobsled's music is nothing like the cool ones from Vancouver.

    Still, Bobsled has done something fairly impressive: create an original sound in the punk-hardcore oeuvre. This bodes well for the future.


    The Bogmen
    Closed Captioned Radio
    (Arista)
    reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98

    The second album from this pop band (pop in the vaguest of ways; as the Bogmen don't stick to one sound for long), and the package was replete with rather excessive pronouncements of world domination and the like.

    The Bogmen aren't THAT good. But singer Bill Campion sounds like a cross between Guy Kyser (Thin White Rope) and Axl Rose, in his crooning moments. So drop that voice over a wild landscape of generally excessively orchestrated pop music, and the proceedings do fall into place.

    Most of the time. Unlike Muckafurguson, another band that throws everything into its sound, The Bogmen had a serious studio budget, and every penny was used. Many songs have one or two overlays too many, and sometimes even the songs themselves are overwritten.

    Some stripping down is needed. Yeah, this stuff is good enough, but when you've got folks with this sort of talent and charisma, why hide them behind a wall of studio tricks? Let the boys come out front and center and stake their own claim to greatness.


    Peter Bohevsky
    Peter Bohevsky
    (Tender Stone)
    reviewed in issue #150, 12/29/97

    The warnings on the cover claim that Bohevsky has gotten tired of playing games and decided to crank out a disc of utterly offensive offal. Luckily, he did much better than that.

    The music is uninventive (wanky lite pop, with the odd intriguing guitar line) and Bohevsky's voice is generally whiny and annoying. Something like the famous Zappa "comedy vocal" style, with much less subtlety.

    On the other hand, the lyrics are inventive and silly. Plenty of scatological riffs, with a good measure of sexual posturing thrown in. Song titles like "Bobby Floats a Fence Post", "Tanked Up and Horney" and "Grandma's Vagina" give you an idea of the material. But instead of merely being crude and rude, Bohevsky imbues his observations with wit and a strangely delicate touch.

    The music is regrettable, but the lyrics more than make up for that shortcoming. An amusing ride.


    The Boils
    The Goons

    split 7"
    (Torque)
    reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97

    Each band rips through three songs apiece, with the usual punk abandon. Lots of fun doctrinaire politics, which always keeps things interesting.

    The Boils are from the Philly area, and here they espouse a stripped-down approach that can only be called old school. Peppy tunes with just a hint of melody. Adrenaline without the guilt.

    The Goons sound like Jello fronting Bad Religion. The vocabulary may not quite live up to those standards, but the songs are generally scathing critiques of why we should all give up and kill ourselves now. Pretty cool.

    Punks bands that are light-years away from selling out. If you need a dose of what made punk great, check this slab out.


    Bold
    Looking Back
    (Revelation)
    reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94

    If you want to know where Tom Capone was before Quicksand or Drew Thomas was before Into Another, then this disc might help you out.

    Recorded in 1989, this is fairly representative of New York hardcore of the period. Perhaps a little tighter; maybe just the slightest bit better produced than folks like Sick of It All, etc.

    Not an essential document, but a nice portrait nonetheless.


    Bolt Thrower
    The IVth Crusade
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #28, 2/14/93

    I don't think I've ever used the word "textured" in a death metal review before, but it sure fits here. While staying true to traditional death and doom roots, Bolt Thrower manage to blitz into amazingly fresh territory.

    No gimmicks, just sharp riffs, impeccable playing (when the goings gets fast, it sounds like a purring engine, not a blacksmith's shop) and great production. I was warned last week in Columbia about this; that and more has come true.

    Toss this in the machine and watch it fly away. Whenever I hear something amazing, I can never write enough about it. And it seems the better the album, the feebler I feel my writing talent is. So, in order to go back to listening to this, I'll stop now. But believe me: The IVth Crusade is rather spectacular. One play and you'll be hooked.


    In Battle There Is No Law
    (Patois-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #56, 6/15/94

    In case you were wondering where one of the top bands in the death metal scene came from, listen up.

    This is the first BT disc, previously available only as an import. The production can only be described as woefully inadequate. Most of the guitars sound like they were recorded in a wind tunnel, and everything else kinda meshes together.

    On the other hand, the songs are great and the energy level almost makes up for the shitty production. The only way to really put a value on this is in the historical sense, and there it rates a 10.


    ...For Victory
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #68, 1/31/95

    While breaking no new ground, Bolt Thrower has come forth with a wonderfully fresh-sounding album.

    It is odd, because the band strictly adheres to every convention of death metal. The slow warm-up to each song, the double-bass drum attack, mostly incoherent vocals grunted in rhythm to the riffs. You know, standard fare.

    Of course, Bolt Thrower does have some of the best technicians in the business, and each song is carefully crafted to get the full effect of the band's emotion. Sure all these songs are about the glory of war (like most Bolt Thrower songs), but the band obviously believes in the effect of the music. You can feel a real energetic vibe passing through. Yeah, the crisp production also helps, but it all comes down to the attitude of the band. Bolt Thrower makes this album sing.

    Then there is the live disc included with the album. It's a good thing it's free, because the production and performances are substandard. This sounds like a punched-up soundboard tape. But what the hell. You're going to play the studio disc anyway.


    Bomb20
    Field Manual
    (Digital Hardcore)
    reviewed in #164, 8/3/98

    Well, kinda fits the name of the label. Imagine Ultraviolence and that ilk taking up the noise banner full tilt. Heavy, fuzzy beats combined with an all-out aural assault. Oh, yeah, pretty fuckin' cool, indeed.

    The basic format alternates sample-heavy constructions with the more extreme musical poundings. Does it make sense? Are the ideas coherent? Can you dance to it? Oh, come now. These aren't the right questions, and you know it.

    The intent is to bash through the self-made walls of safety and induce a sense of panic and awareness upon the general public. Of course, if the general public had its way, this sort of music would be illegal, but I think you might be getting the point now.

    Cultural commentary blended in with hyper-aggro music. Bound to be a clash, and in that struggle, greatness is created. Not for the faint of will, by any means. But certainly essential.


    Bonecrusher
    Singles Collection
    (Outsider)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    A set of five pieces of vinyl have been collected for this disc, a total of 18 songs. The production values changed markedly between the releases, but otherwise the quality is similar.

    Vaguely tuneful, rather angry punk in the British tradition. Though, of course, the guys are American. Nothing wrong with that. I'm just talking about the style anyway.

    These guys are fairly grizzled, which imbues the songs with something of a voice of experience. I mean, the members of Bonecrusher have been around long enough to actually have been slammed by the system. Kinda makes for a more authentic rant, you know?

    Aw, the boys aren't taking this sound anywhere, but this sure is a fun ride. Not faceless, not this sound. There's something very singular about the way Bonecrusher rips off its pound of flesh.


    Followers of a Brutal Calling
    (Outsider)
    reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00

    Tuneful yet crunchy hardcore. Reminds me a lot of old (like, you know, old) Social D. Before those boys discovered the evils of the 12-string guitar. Short, pithy anthems that are high on energy and low on technique.

    The melodies sometimes are more assumed than sung. But hell, the stuff doesn't slow down and get stuck in a ditch. Bonecrusher keeps the pedal down, and the songs follow in proper order.

    The production quality varies from song to song, but most of the time it lends a thick feel. Bonecrusher needs a little power to go with the primitive hooks, and that's amply provided.

    Anthems in their purest state. If this stuff gets cleaned up much more, it would probably become dreck. But right here, in this form, it's like rock candy. Maybe it's bad for you (maybe not), but it's just so damned tasty.


    Bones Garage
    Bones Garage
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93

    This is a side project of Harm's Way (below) and Damien. Sounds like they have a few kinks to work out. Trying to do sorta a euro-doom thing, but it doesn't click yet. Keep trying.


    Bones of Contention
    Signs of Weakness EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    Sort of a hardcore take on that NWOBHM sound. Raw metal, with ragged but tuneful vocals and riffage that's more energetic than refined.

    Indeed, much of the playing is not really up to par. Most of the band members are not the most accomplished musicians. But this lack of skill is mostly made up for by the frenetic way the songs are played. It's hard to slag on guys who are working this hard and obviously enjoying themselves. The sound is infectious.

    No, they really don't take this rather dated sound anywhere. No, Bones of Contention isn't a band a virtuosos. Still, there's a lot here to like. I've always liked this style, and the boys seem to have tapped into the most important part--the heart. A lot more fun than it should have been.


    Bonga
    Angola 74
    (Tinder)
    reviewed in issue #169, 10/12/98

    Bonga is better known in political circles as Barcelo de Carvalho. His activities during the Angolan drive for independence made him persona non grata in his homeland and in Portugal (the colonial power which administered the country), and he cultivated the pseudonym Bonga in an attempt to give himself, his views and his music some cover.

    This is Bonga's second album, recorded in 1974, a year before Angola achieved independence. His main style on this disc is semba, an antecedent of samba. But the sparse instrumentation (often just a guitar, some percussion and his highly expressive voice) lends the disc more of an American folk feel.

    If you're looking for soul, it's right here. Bonga sings from the depths of his soul. It is easy to hear pain and hope battle it out in his voice. The performances are astonishingly emotional, highly charged and affecting.

    I'm not sure how anyone could fail to be drawn in by this album. It is simply too real to ignore. Alright, so it's 24 years old. Time does not diminish the power of emotion. And that is Bonga's stock and trade.


    Bongo Poets
    Ordinary Guise
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01

    Two guys, Jeff Root and Kim Miller, who do all the writing, playing and singing. This album does have that clinky "one-man band" sound that you can get with lots of overdubs, but I'm kinda used to that.

    Root sings in the rather affected style of Roger McGuinn, and the harmonies do have a Byrds-like quality. But with so much electronic instrumentation (percussion, keys, etc.), this has a decidedly modern feel.

    I do wish the guys had gone for a more stripped-down approach to the sound. The punchiness of all the electronic gear doesn't quite fit with the folky pop-rock of the writing. I'm sure it was cheaper to record this way, but the sound doesn't really serve the songs.

    And the writing is pretty good. There are plenty of little cliches decorating the surface, but at the core, Root and Miller have a good feel for the dramatic, lilting style they've chosen. Just wish they could make it sound better.


    Bongwater
    Box of Bongwater4xCD
    (Shimmy Disc-Knitting Factory)
    reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98

    Bongwater's existence (or at least, album releasing career) approximately spanned my college years. At KCOU, where I spent many happy years, Bongwater and Swans albums kept getting stolen. We'd buy replacements, and some idiot would steal those. A testament to their popularity, I guess.

    And now, looking back (and listening to this set, three times already), it's pretty easy to understand how much Bongwater had to do with the whole "alternative" scene. For starters, the notion that "serious" music could be laugh-out-loud funny. And the notion of music as performance art (already advanced by such folks as Diamanda Galas and Laurie Anderson) was seriously enhanced by Ann Magnuson's off-kilter vocal character studies.

    The real innovation, though, was the way Kramer (just the one name, of course) used tape loops, found sound and regular instruments to craft his music. For all the ways that Magnuson could warp her voice to properly express a song, Kramer could mold the music to do the same. This willingness to experiment (and occasionally fail) is what made Bongwater albums so refreshing and vital.

    All that and more is in this set, which contains most everything Kramer and Magnuson released as Bongwater. Fans of such disparate acts as Beck and Tori Amos can find plenty of reference points. If you're even the slightest bit interested in recent important (not to mention exciting) music, this box is required listening. Many mainstream folks have commented on Bongwater's failures, dismissing the band as hopelessly "arty". But it's precisely those failures (and the spirit of experimentation which caused them) which made Bongwater so necessary. And to be honest, the failures were a small percentage of the output. For each screw-up there are bits like the amazing cover of Roky Erickson's "You Don't Love Me Yet", "Dazed and Chinese", "Khomeni Died Tonight" and "David Bowie Wants Ideas". Goofy, complex and always arresting. Bongwater was never boring. The nearly five hours of music here will testify to Bongwater's prescience and glory. Not to be missed.


    Matt Bonner
    Signs of Passing
    (Stone Circle)
    reviewed in issue #237, January 2003

    This is the sort of disc I would have overlooked in a busier month. Part of it, certainly, is the commercial sheen to the production. This stuff does sound like it was made for AAA radio.

    But, see, December allows me a little more time to get used to what folks are doing. And Matt Bonner is working to say a lot with his lyrics--precisely the sort of approach I usually miss. The music is slinky (in a rootsy way), and Bonner croons in a decidedly Peter Gabrielian key, but there is substance beneath the glitter on top.

    Bonner does cheese out in the bridges from time to time. There are very few really imaginative flights in the music. It's not rock by numbers, it's just fairly standard stuff. The lyrics, though, are insightful and occasionally haunting.

    All of which is to say that every once in a while I like a little commercial cheese in my discer. Bonner does the mainstream thing quite well (though I have a feeling he's hearing from the suits that his music is a bit too "out there" for them), and he's certainly got something to say. Worth a spin.


    Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
    I See a Darkness
    (Palace)
    reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99

    Still a band for Wil Oldham, but more of a reversion to the early Palace stuff: minimalist piano, barely conscious drums and maybe a guitar line. Oldham's mastery of the music between the notes remains unparalleled.

    When folks speak of Oldham and his music, it's stuff like this that generally comes to mind. Highly theatrical affairs, though stripped of pretense. There is no insistence from the music, no incessant anything to drive a listener into the songs. Instead, just what is.

    So, yeah, you have to listen between the lines. Create sounds in your mind to accompany the sparse notes. Get inside the poetry of the lyrics. Make your own reality.

    The best of Oldham's work provides a jumping-off point for listeners. It's not what's here, after all; it's what isn't. This theory of musical negativity has served him well for years, and his Bonnie 'Prince' Billy project proves he's still got the touch. Amazing. Simply.


    (Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy)
    The Brave and the Bold
    (Overcoat)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    I've heard two reviews of this album and read three more. Rest assured, anything I say will disappear into the ether just as soon as I post it. But what the hell...

    As you may know, this album contains rather odd recordings of (generally) well-known songs (Springsteen's "Thunder Road," Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross," Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Daniel," etc.). Decidedly louder than the average Tortoise or Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (Wil Oldham) album, it is safe to say that no one checked their artistic arrogance at the door.

    And arrogance is what's needed to even contemplate a project like this. Why simply record a bunch of songs the way they originally appeared? My all-time favorite cover is the one Palace (again, Wil Oldham) did of AC/DC's "Big Balls" for a Skin Graft 7". There are some renditions here that nearly reach the same level of mutant genius perfection.

    It's possible to listen to this album and simply compare what's here with the originals you know by heart. And it's also possible to simply listen and appreciate the tunes as they sound here. And, of course, it's possible to do both over and over again. That would be my choice.

    See also The Anomanon and Palace.


    Brian Bonz
    Susan the Boy Scout EP
    (Electric Frog Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #252, April 2004

    Five songs, and not a one sounds like another. There's some wonderful sonic construction, a little acoustic pop, a raver and more. Yeah, I guess this all ties in with Big Star one way or another, but Bonz insists on playing this game by his own damn rules.

    Right, on, man! No use making music that everyone's heard before. Take some of the old rules and then blow them out yer ass. Or something like that. Bonz isn't so much a revolutionary as an iconoclast. He doesn't seem to have any desire to make "normal" music, and that's more than cool with me. In fact, that's why I like this decidedly diverse EP.

    In pieces, this set probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But whip it all together, and I think I've gotten a pretty solid snapshot of Bonz's brain. It's not a pretty picture, but that's why this EP is so good. Taking chances is always good for the soul.


    Boom Hank
    Ishly Ghost Fly Your E & I
    (Iota)
    reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00

    Generally influenced by emo and noise pop, Boom Hank has this arty streak which leads it into some adventurous sounds. The songs are often not particularly viscerally appealing, relying more on an arresting intellectual reaction.

    And if you carry that bag as much as I do, well, Boom Hank has plenty to offer. The ramblings rarely get tedious; rather, there is a transcendent beauty which emerges as the disc plays. Skipping through will not achieve this effect. You've gotta commit.

    Hell, that's what music like this is all about, anyway. There are little switches in the brain that have to be turned on in a particular way, and they an't be flipped at once. But as soon as the music has zapped those synapses, well, there's no hope for recovery.

    Yeah, I know, you've gotta think about this stuff. If you can't hack that, then go find something else. Boom Hank has crafted a loopy little masterpiece.


    Boorays
    Stop, Drop and Roll 7"
    (Faye)
    reviewed in issue #10, 3/31/92

    The third Faye release features a St. Louis area rockabilly band who will be having a full-length album coming out soon on another label. But this is good enough on its own.

    "Stop, Drop and Roll" is your basic rockabilly howl, but the b-side is the gem (which seems to be the case with the Faye releases).

    "Pickup Truck" is a simple, lilting ballad that slowly builds speed (but not bombast) and just rolls into the sunset. If you don't catch yourself singing this song for days after hearing it once, I'll be surprised.

    Another quality Faye release, and I'm not saying that just because it's out of Columbia.


    Girl Repellent 7"
    (Faye)
    reviewed in issue #34, 5/15/93

    Another slab of glory from this St. Louis group of plain-old wackos. Not in an evil, but fun, way.

    Their loopy rockabilly always seems to put me in a great mood. Why nobody has put the cash moves on these boys is a complete mystery.

    As usual, two completely deranged love songs, although they have moved past the food metaphor. I just can't imagine these folk staying unknown much longer. They're far too good.


    Hollow in the Middle
    (Faye)
    reviewed in issue #54, 5/15/94

    One of my anal rules about having a favorite artist is that the person or band in question has to have recorded at least two full-length albums. So here come the Boorays, fresh off a great album of a couple of years ago and scattered singles, and me wanting them to be my favorite band.

    More guitar this time, but the basic rockabilly construction toes the line. Mark Stephens sounds like he's on the verge of hiccupping every time he opens his mouth, and the resulting voice is one of the more endearing I've heard.

    This is happy music, but the Boorays have a cool habit of encoding these poppy tunes with sarcastic lyrics. But no food metaphors this time.

    And the coolest thing is the guitar sound achieved by Mike Hellebusch. It's the way a guitar was meant to sound in the first place, pure and pristine.

    Who am I kidding? They've been my favorite band for sometime, and this album more than confirms it. The Boorays are perhaps the finest pop band in the whole country (and I've heard a few) right now. You cannot help but get addicted.


    Luiz Carlos Borges
    Gaucho Rider
    (CrossCurrents)
    reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98

    We Norteamericanos like to think our stories and myths are the only ones that matter. And with the octopus-like tentacles of Hollywood encircling the globe, there might even be a bit of objective truth to that. When we think of cowboys, we think of Doc Holliday the wild West. When we think of Cowboy music, we think of Gene Autry and western swing.

    Argentina, one of the great beef and sheep producing countries of the world, has its own legends to contend with. Out on the vast plains of the pampas (which reach into the far southern reaches of Brazil), the gauchos reigned. Their macho code isn't far removed from the Marlboro Man ingrained in U.S. consciousness, but the music has a distinctively different cast.

    Luiz Carlos Borges (accompanied by Grupo Alma) brings that music to life on his accordion and guitar. The songs are at once energetic and plaintive, filled with a sense of resignation that comes with watching your way of life slowly disappear.

    That is what's happening, and you can hear it in the music. All the Latin rhythms in the world can't quite pull this music into a fully happy reel. Which is alright. Not mournful, not by a long shot, but somewhat blue. Entirely appropriate and expressive.


    David Borgo
    Massanetta Springs
    (Circumvention)
    reviewed in issue #244, August 2003

    It's been a while since I reviewed a "straight" jazz album. You know, one which relies on established form and content rather than extreme improvisation. I've never been particularly comfortable reviewing jazz, due to my decidedly limited knowledge, but I like the stuff. So here goes.

    First, Borgo plays tenor and soprano sax. Generally tenor, and he sounds more comfortable on that instrument. Second, most of the songs here are his pieces or those of his mates. One glaring exception to that rule is Charles Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," which is played without much embellishment.

    Borgo is a fine player, but the real strength of this album is his writing and the quality of his band. I don't know how well these guys know each other, but they have a real rapport. The solos are taken within the concept of the group, which lessens the individual effects but strengthens the sound as a whole. I haven't really described the actual sound, and that is hard to do. There are bop moments, and there are certainly cool moments. Borgo does well to incorporate a number of sounds into his mix. Think late 50s Coltrane, but with a fuller and more collaborative band. This album isn't about one person's genius. It's about the beauty of a sextet working songs to the limit. And that's pretty damned good.


    Reverence for Uncertainty
    (Circumvention)
    reviewed in issue #261, February 2005

    Borgo plays sax--soprano, alto, tenor, you name it--and his pieces are improvisations with a revolving circle of friends. The improvisations are more contemplative than complex, but they set a mood that is most inviting.


    Ubuntu
    (Cadence Jazz)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    David Borgo, like most musicians, has certain passions. Beyond merely composing and performing, Borgo also likes to study the roots of music everywhere. And so comes this album comprised mostly of pieces written by South African jazz master Abdullah Ibrahim. The non-Ibrahim pieces on this set also hail from the same part of the world.

    Borgo's playing and arranging reminds me a lot of Branford Marsalis in the late 80s and early 90s--lots going on, and the space within the music to capture a complete picture. He rarely rushes an idea, preferring instead to take the time to fully parse the thought.

    The sound is warm and inviting, and this, too, reminds me of those Marsalis Trio and Quartet recordings. It might be unfair to call this jazz for the non-jazz listener (we're not talking "smooth" or "happy" jazz here, after all), but when I say something like that I mean to say that I can't imagine anyone failing to immediately warm up to these recordings. Borgo takes plenty of chances and does a stellar job of combing through Ibrahim's pieces, but he presents all this in such an accomplished and complete form that it's hard to imagine the songs being played any other way.

    Like I said, I can't think of anyone I know who wouldn't like this album. It's not perfect, but in its ability to connect a wide range of listeners to really great jazz, it's pretty damned good. Hard to sing louder praises.


    Boris the Sprinkler
    Suck
    (Go-Kart)
    reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99

    These guys are dorks. Probably not a plus in the dating department, but strangely, that's about the only way to do the jokey punk-pop shtick well. And these guys sure do have a handle on fun.

    And I've got to smile, because taking this seriously would be a serious mistake. Songs like "Jonestown Judy" and "Got2Fuc2Day" might offend folks if not delivered with such a tongue-in-molar approach. Not to mention some of the bounciest music since the last Hanson Bros. opus.

    A very apt comparison, really. Tons of Ramones references, with a healthy side of Devo (mostly for the dorkiness quotient). Silly songs, big smiles. Works for me.

    I suppose certain uptight folks might get a little antsy listening to this set (sacred cows make the best eatin', after all), but fuckit. If you can't laugh at the utter absurdity of life now and again, well, don't come near me. I'm cranking up the volume.


    Born for Bliss
    Flowing with the Flue
    (Deathwish Office-Nuclear Blast America)
    reviewed in issue #138, 7/7/97

    Deathwish is the darkwave side of Nuclear Blast, if you hadn't gotten that message already. Born for Bliss sounds a lot like the Cure run through a Pet Shop Boys machine. A pretty cool idea, really.

    The production is awfully tinny, which hurts both the vocals and the drum machine. The latter sounds dreadfully fake, and I don't think this is intentional.

    When all the cylinders start firing, though, the sound is very impressive. The uptempo pieces are not only club ready, they demand an audience. The synth and guitar mix is very nice, and that strange production doesn't seem to affect them as much.

    I'm not sure how the kids in black will take such upbeat musings, but I'm sure they'll work it out. There are enough moody slots on this disc to keep the succubi happy. Oh, and for the cover crowd, there's one of the better rips of "White Rabbit" I've heard. A cool set.


    C. J. Reaven Borosque
    with Rent Romus' Lords of Outland
    The Metal Quan Yin
    (Edgetone)
    reviewed in issue #233, September 2002

    The whole notion of a poet rhyming over the squonks and yips of a jazz band is so very fifties. I've got this image of some skinny dude with a goatee all dressed in black up at the mic, with some other weenie whacking a bongo or something.

    That's not what's going on here. C. J. Reaven Borosque has an imposing presence. Her poems are hardly light or delicate. And Rent Romus and the Lords of Outland aren't really bongo-bashing dingbats.

    Which is not to say that this is somehow more mainstream fare. Not at all. The fiery combination of poet and band shoots these pieces straight for the edge of space and time. Blistering thought--both musical and poetic.

    Not for the meek or lazy, this isn't. But those seeking adventure and something, you know, different, will find precise what they crave. Feel the chaos. Let the waves crash over your head. Absorb every body blow. And then do it all over again.


    The Bossa Nova Beatniks
    The Moon Unit EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    This band has one of the more appropriate names I've ever heard. The songs light pop, driven often enough by a bossa nova (or other vaguely Latin) beat and punctuated by the instrument of the beat movement--congas. Big ones, mind you, and not the little pipsqueaks you might be expecting.

    The lyrics are sly, befitting the loungish feel perpetrated by the band. This is music for sitting back and enjoying, and it's real easy to do just that. There's nothing contrived or smarmy in the writing or the playing. The songs are dished out with a nice helping of style.

    Most importantly, this is a live recording, which only increases the loose feel. In fact, there's a thousand ways for a band like this to really screw things up in the studio. The biggest mistake would be to somehow make this music into something that it isn't. Like loud, obnoxious or crude.

    But rather, the live setting allows the Bossa Nova Beatniks to show off their smart, seductive songs in the best possible light. Nothing complicated here; just good music.


    Rick Boston
    Numb
    (World Domination)
    reviewed in issue #119, 9/23/96

    Boston was one of the main forces behind Low Pop Suicide, so you probably know what to expect here. Moody, even morbid pop music with hints of real genius.

    And along with that comes Jessy Greene of the Geraldine Fibbers providing plenty of vocal help. Sounds like a winner. And it's close.

    Boston has stripped down the sound to an acoustic (occasionally electric) guitar, a fiddle, drums and just a hint of bass. Some kind of weird pop hoedown, a concept that works more than it doesn't, but oh those missteps. A couple of times the sound is almost embarrassing.

    Certainly an interesting idea. Not as effective as I might have imagined, but still a good album. Boston's knack for inserting a cliche at the worst possible moment still remains, and that can grate. Not enough to make me dislike this puppy, though.


    Botanical Bullets
    We Bleed Fluorescent EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #327, May 2011

    If you recall such electro-pop groups as Emperor Penguin or the sample-heavy Corporal Blossom, you might get your groove on with Botanical Bullets. Yes, yes, I know I could reference LCD Soundsystem, but this New Jersey trio plays things much more on the edge.

    For starters, the melodies often hide behind or even within the electronic riffage. Everything revolves around the soft electro beats--and then things get silly.

    That's really the kicker for me. Botanical Bullets insists on having fun, even if that fun gets just a wee bit dorky. That's cool by me. It's always best to be yourself, no matter who that is. Botanical Bullets have that lesson down solid.


    Elliot Carlson Botero
    Parasite: A Love Story
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #292, December 2007

    A wild stew of hypnotic, sleazy rock, electronic wackiness and almost overwhelming attitude.

    Some of this is in Spanish and some in English. Doesn't matter that much, as the music pretty explains everything that's happening. Botero's feel for musical expression is astounding.

    This is a real cut-and-paste effort (Botero refers to it as "frankenstein-ishly patched together), but it sounds like a real band playing music in real time. A lot of it is electronic, but Botero has worked hard to get a fairly organic feel to the songs. And, of course, the general feel is straight rock (or off-kilter rock, but you get what I mean), so the electronics are simply helping him get home.

    The sort of album that sidles up and then sets its hooks. A slinky little beast that simply won't let go of the ears. Sweet.


    Both Worlds
    Beyond Zero Gravity EP
    (Another Planet)
    reviewed in issue #103, 3/18/96

    One part hardcore, one part pop, one part grunge. Once again, I have to ask: Why?

    The pop-hardcore thing is a good idea, well-executed by quite a few bands. And for moments (the verse of "Flip the Switch Fantastic" in particular) Both Worlds manages just fine.

    But the lyrics are not strong enough to anthemize, and that's just what happens. The whole grandiose methodology of grunge does not fit with the other ideas. By the end of EP, everything has just merged into a blur of generic guitars and silly rants.

    I hate to reiterate this every week. I really hate to rail on album after album this way. But this is the fact: There hasn't been a big new grunge band since Candlebox, and even fans of their first album (pathetic fools) have to admit now that those fuckers suck. So quit trying to be cool by sounding like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden and folks like that. The stuff is passe. It's dull. It's time to try something else.

    And now, off the soapbox and back to your regularly scheduled reviews.


    Memory Rendered Visible
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #157, 4/20/98

    Still mired in that grunge-hardcore mode, Both Worlds has worked hard on the songwriting front. These tunes are much more crafted and compehensible. Less mess and more emphasis on the groove. Good moves.

    In fact, the grooves are the best part. The lyrics have improved; they match up with the music better and in general help the songs. The tight rhythm work is rather impressive, and even the riffage has found some original elements.

    Still middle-of-the-road. The songs have not improved to the point that they make for good anthems (and why use grunge riffs if you're not able to kick the song over the top?), and often the competing hardcore impulse simply complicates matters when what's needed is simplification.

    On the whole, though, this is a big improvement. Both Worlds shows here that it is willing to work its ass off and craft a finer sound. Hey, if this progression continues, these guys could be great.


    The Bother
    The Night Bleeds Gold
    (Three Ring Records)
    reviewed in issue #248, December 2003

    While the whole singer-songwriter thing is tres trendy these days, William Rahilly insists on doing things his own way. And all by himself, to boot.

    Fans of Smog will smile at Rahilly's idiosyncratic singing style and his unusual methods of using effects, samples and noise. These songs are much folkier and less-populated than those of Mr. Callahan, but the resemblance is still striking.

    Perhaps the most obvious connection is the way these seemingly simple songs evolve into complex beings. Rahilly isn't content to do anything the normal or ordinary way. He's always pushing himself to find a new way of expressing an old thought. Good impulse, that.

    The sort of album that keeps rolling along until you realize that you've spent your entire day listening to the thing over and over again. Rahilly's songwriting is entrancing. The spell is difficult to break. I'm not sure I want to, anyway.


    Bottom of the Hudson
    Fantastic Hawk
    (Absolutely Kosher)
    reviewed in issue #286, June 2007

    This reminded me enough of the Wrens (who have been nicely ensconced at AK for some time now) that I wanted to make sure it wasn't, in fact, some sort of side project or something. In short: No. But these guys do make stellar, wide-ranging pop music as well.

    As well as? Well, now, that would be close to blasphemy. Bottom of the Hudson is, in fact, somewhat more subdued than the Wrens (there's an R.E.M. influence here that the boys from New Jersey don't have), but the commitment to whatever means necessary is still in full effect.

    It's tricky throwing in everything and the kitchen sink. You always run the risk of extraneous parts. But not here. This stuff is tightly-crafted, but played with such verve that you wouldn't know.

    Don't try to guess where the next song is coming from. Just listen and stand entranced. It's the safest thing to do.


    Bouncing Balls
    Bouncing Balls
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #144 (9/29/97)

    Power pop with a little punk throb (the band's name is just about perfect, really) that plows through plenty of cliches (musical, mostly) and still manages to impress.

    Goofy as all get out, and rather messy. That works pretty well in the band's favor, since the music really isn't going to impress many folks. What does leave an impression is the joy in the playing. These guys are having a hell of a lot of fun.

    So it's not too hard to get in the spirit and bounce along. A transient pleasure, certainly, but it's bands like Bouncing Balls that help remind folks like me just why people get in a band: to tap into an adrenaline line and fly until the energy gives out.

    A garage band that embodies all the good things in that name. Greatness isn't in the cards, but who cares as long as there's smiles all around?


    The Bouncing Souls
    The Bouncing Souls
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97

    I saw these guys open up for NOFX a couple years back, and I was unimpressed. In fact, my review of those proceedings inspired a big load of protests from Bouncing Souls fans. My lame response was that perhaps the band had a bad night.

    And listening to this, I think that's possible. Much like NOFX, the Bouncing Souls write songs that draw from just about every corner of the punk arena. This is good for diversity and the overall sound of the band, but it can lead to some real presentation problems, particularly live. You know, am I skankin' or rockin' out right now? Honestly, the band seemed confused at that show I saw.

    Not much confusion here. The songs are tight, and they certainly do have a nice bounce. This isn't a classic album, but the Bouncing Souls show quite a bit of potential here. I haven't heard their two previous albums, but I would guess that there has been a decent progression. And so the next time out might be something special.

    Quite good. My ladder of expectations has been raised.


    Tie One On! (Live) EP
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98

    Eight live versions of songs from pre-Epitaph albums, and one studio track from the forthcoming album.

    I've gotten more shit for my three sentences about the Bouncing Souls in a NOFX live review than anything else I've ever written. Like 500 people flaming me. And you know, I've written all those people back and said, "Maybe it was a bad night." However, this album makes me think that perhaps it was regular night. Sure, this is rousing, fun stuff. It's just delivered in an utterly haphazard way, generally out of tune and not terribly coherent.

    Now, I know, playing like you're drunk off your ass (I don't want to make any unfounded accusations, here) is a lot of fun to do. Listening, however, isn't necessarily so amusing.

    On the other hand, the studio track is really good. Like the last album. Dead solid. Perhaps these guys simply haven't figured out how to stay away from the Budweiser (or whatever) before and during shows. Everybody has to grow up someday.


    Hopeless Romantic
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    More of what I heard on the first Epitaph studio disc. Hard-edge tuneful fare, with just a hint of reckless debonair. Unlike the live set, which was simply reckless. These guys have the potential to get snotty and stupid, but once again, on this disc their bad tendencies are turned into a positive undercurrent.

    The songwriting is quite solid, with even more experimentation than I heard last time out. The willingness to try new things and the ability to meld those sounds together are two big reasons why the Bouncing Souls have such a committed fan base. I still wish they played better live.

    Man, I'm just asking for trouble there. Whatever. The production here is solid, but not shiny. The talent and spirit of the band is on full display, and the producer didn't stand in the way. He did keep the boys under control, but that's about it.

    Another fine set. These guys keep building on a solid rep, who knows where the progression will stop. I'm simply more impressed than ever.


    Bounty Killer
    Next Millenium
    (TVT)
    reviewed in issue #174, 12/28/98

    The easiest way to describe this would be gangsta dub. But that would be simplistic. Really, this is an interesting mix of New York styles. The old-old-school rap of Run-DMC and those that came before. Some electronic dub, a more commercial version of the sort of thing Wordsound cranks out so nicely. And some good ol' reggae and r&b to fill things out.

    Plenty of special guests, from Nona Hendryx to Noreaga (with lots in-between). Those two names should give you an idea of the bridge Bounty Killer tries to build. Sometimes it works. And sometimes, well, it's boring.

    There is a message of peace which pervades, but not much in the way of a political philosophy. I'm not really asking for spun gold, but it sounds to me like Bounty Killer was trying to make some sort of statement. And it's not really there.

    Uneven, and that's too bad. At its best, the music is innovative and the vocals intermingle with the dub to create some great stuff. But most of the album trends more toward the mediocre. Bummer.


    Bourbon
    The Burden of Pants
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95

    If there was such a thing as the "Chapel Hill sound", and I think there might be, Bourbon has a good grip on that concept. Meandering pop music that's at times moody, at times mean.

    The production left things a little muffled, but nothing to worry about, really. Once you turn up the volume, everything becomes pretty much clear as day. Eight songs, and I wish there was more. Perfectly wonderful.


    Bourbon Jones & the Smokes
    Tamano del Rey EP
    (Last Chance)
    reviewed in issue #189, 10/11/99

    Some folks use electric instruments to pick the blues up a bit. Some folks use the blues to give electric instruments a way to sound interesting (think Jon Spencer). And there are those, like Bourbon Jones & the Smokes, that use the blues as a springboard, wandering far afield into all sorts of strange musical territories.

    Any way you slice it, this is dark territory. The bass lines are reminiscent of grunge, but the guitars are blues with country tinges. The vocals are, well, bourbon and smoke-soaked.

    And the tempos never quite pick up. I usually find that annoying (turgid is a word I've been known to bandy about), but it works here. I mean, the blues don't have to be happy, and most of the time they're better when not.

    A spooky ride into the darker shades of the blues. Bourbon Jones & the Smokes never lets up, presenting a strange and eclectic vision of the mean life. Always welcome at my house.


    The Bourbonaires
    A Shot of Bourbonaires
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    Well. This is most certainly rockabilly. In the classic sense. Lean sound, ultra-clean guitar and a walking stand-up bass. The parts are assembled and put forth quite nicely.

    This is so much a throwback that it could have been recorded 45 years ago. There's just no difference. Which then begs the question... why?

    The songs are good. Not always soul-stirring, but certainly played with verve. I don't hear much in this past pure revivalist intentions, but then, as that goes, the Bourbonaires sure do have the trick down tight.

    This is for hardcore rockabilly fans only, but if this simple early strain of rock and roll gets you moving, then the Bourbonaires can't help but make you smile. Nice work.


    Bowery Electric
    Lushlife
    (Beggars Banquet)
    reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00

    Kinda like a pumped-up version of that old 4AD sound. Wispy vocals falling around restrained, yet pulsating beats. Like a straighter kinda trip-hop, more trip and less hip-hop.

    When movie composers want to effect a hip, nighttime groove, they create music like this. You know, a vague sense of foreboding, those not-quite-there female vocals that knock most guys stiff. That sorta thing.

    And it is intoxicating. Truly. Bowery Electric sets the mood nicely. But past that, well, there's not much. Of course, plenty of folks will settle for a chill groove. Sometimes, even I do.

    But not right now. As often happens, I ask for more. A little more experimentation in the beats and grooves, something more than breathy vocals. Or, really, something in addition to the breathy vocals. This rings just the slightest bit hollow.


    Bowman Arrow
    r.e.b.
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #144 (9/29/97)

    Acoustic-based roots rock, with a bit of that Jimmy Buffet feel. The use of "Roland" for much of the percussion probably contributes to that. Of course, since Ron Bowman and his buds live in Florida, such a connection makes sense. And it works for them pretty well.

    I really like the laid-back style of the songs, which provides a nice stage for the lyrics. And that's where some problems creep in. Bowman has a nice touch for semi-cheesy lines, but occasionally he comes up with a few too many cliches in a row, and the songs can sound a little hackneyed.

    Still, it's hard to get too hacked at a band that records a song called "I Love You More than I Love My Truck". Nothing spectacular, just fairly loopy, yet sincere, love songs. Nothing wrong with that.


    Boxhead Ensemble
    The Last Place to Go
    (Atavistic)
    reviewed in issue #171, 11/9/98

    Live recordings taken from a European tour of Dutch Harbor, a documentary. Members of the ensemble include Will Oldham, Ken Vandermark, Edith Frost, Mick Turner and Jim White (there are 11 members overall) and David Grubbs and Rick Rizzo (not official members) also appeared on some of the tracks.

    From the names of the folks, you might get an idea of what to expect. Brooding, haunting stuff, the sound of Dirty Three (not surprising, as White and Turner are 2/3 of that band) utterly deconstructed. If the movie is anywhere as bleak as this music, well, it should be just as compelling.

    Most often, the members of the ensemble (usually five or six are playing on any one song) move around a central theme, passing the idea along in sort of a circle. There isn't so much the sense of a collective as a group of players. But that also makes the music that much more stark.

    An interesting idea, putting together a band to play music for a movie tour. Not done very often these days. With music like this, though, perhaps it ought to happen a bit more.


    The Boxing Lesson
    The Boxing Lesson EP
    (Send Me Your Head)
    reviewed in issue #240, April 2003

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

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

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


    Boy in Static
    Violet
    (Mush)
    reviewed in issue #285, May 2007

    Minimalist electronic pop by Alexander Chen. Well, electronic with plenty of guitar and such. Chen isn't so much married to his sound as he is to the idea of the song.

    That is, he's not at all abstract when it comes to how his songs work. They pretty much hew to the pop construction ideal, if you allow for the odd bit of stretching here and there.

    And while I'd classify a lot of the background noise as experimental, Chen makes some really pretty music. These are songs for savoring, not necessarily pondering. I like it when someone can challenge convention even while sticking to it.

    I guess some would call that rocking the boat while you're still in it (or some other cliche), but I dunno. I just like the way this stuff sounds. It's almost achingly beautiful. And then your heart breaks. Just like it should.


    Boy Wonder
    Wonder-Wear
    (Cherry Disc)
    reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97

    Meticulously crafted power jangle pop. That excessive hand of creation leaves most of the songs sounding somewhat clunky (the band never really cuts free), but at least the blueprints plot out a fine course.

    Paula Kelly has a cool voice that she melds into a snotty sneer, almost avoiding that Kim Deal baby doll sound that has gotten really annoying. She's perfectly suited for this sort of music, and the mildly abrasive lyrics fit her to a T. Of course, she wrote the songs she sings, so that makes sense.

    The other guitarist, Jake Zavracky, handles the vocal work on his songs, and while his tunes are bit more open, the band still seems to be struggling a bit to make things work.

    I really do wish the band could loosen up a bit. Both singers are quite good, and the song subjects drip a nicely diluted acid. If the clunky factor could get addressed, these folks could be quite fine.


    CJ Boyd
    Aerial Roots
    (Joyful Noise)
    reviewed in issue #311, October 2009

    Three extensive meditations on the possibilities of bass-driven music. Not jazz, not improvised and not rock and roll--though there is plenty of roll. Indeed, these songs rise and fall like waves on the sea, telling stories as they go.

    Bass is particularly suited to this sort of languidly bounding sound. There's a natural bounce that's inherent in the playing of the instrument, and movement on the low end of sound always seems to bring to mind large-scale events, such as the motion of the ocean.

    The pieces clock in at 15, 9 and 20 minutes. The slowest and most introspective is the shortest one, which works out well. The longer pieces are more involved, though none drag. Boyd has a fine ear for editing as well as playing, and he never stays in a track too long.

    The sound may be miles from the mainstream, but I think it has a wide appeal nonetheless. Boyd is an outstanding craftsman, and he infuses his playing with more than enough passion to make these songs something wonderful to behold. This one will haunt for years to come.


    Boyracer
    Insults and Insights EP
    (Kittridge)
    reviewed in issue #267, August 2005

    Boyracer has that tinny fuzz endemic to old-school indie rock, and there are some fun fake falsetto vocals, too. And just when I feel like I can put these folks down as smooth retroids, they shift gears into modern art pop. And then back again. And then I realize that the folks are combining those two fairly disparate ideas, and it's only on a couple songs that one filters out the other.

    By indie rock, I'm talking about Wedding Present or early My Bloody Valentine. And by modern art pop, I'm talking about anything from the Sea and Cake to Tortoise to one particular phase of the Mekons or latter-day Wilco. That's a lot of territory to cover, and Boyracer spans these ideas with exuberance.

    Above all my arcane analysis, this is one hell of a fun disc. The songs never flag, and in the end, it's that excitement that carries over into my opinion. Crunchy as hell, and quite tasty that way.


    Boys Life
    Boys Life
    (Crank!)
    reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95

    Overpowering hardcore pop arising from the Kansas City area that has spawned such cool bands as Shiner and Season to Risk (not to mention last issue's awesome Crank! band, Vitreous Humor, though VH is from Lawrence).

    Boys Life meander from disjointed pop musings to full swirl attack pop and then back by the back road. Sure, there is a debt to bands like Jawbox and Treepeople, but Boys Life stakes its own claim to this territory, refusing to follow any lead.

    Indeed, this is not the trendiest music around. But it may be close to the best. Boys Life should probably tighten things up just a notch, but in all respects this is an outstanding debut.


    Departures and Landfalls
    (Headhunter-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #123, 11/18/96

    Further proof of the fertile musical territory surrounding Kansas City, Boys Life rips out a second set of randomly chaotic "emo-core" tunes.

    The first set, on Crank!, quite impressed me. This one does no less. Boys Life has utterly left coherence behind on this album, fully embracing the potential wonderment of noise pop. This is not music for a top-down sunny day. But it serves very well with a side of whiskey and water.

    And in case you thought the band might revert to its earlier style of paying convention lip service, check out "Twenty Four of Twenty Five", almost seven minutes of stuff that Engine Kid would be proud to claim.

    That previous statement shows an evolution in my musical thinking, and I'm happy to say that I quite appreciate the delicate harshness of the music promulgated by Boys Life. And Departures and Landfalls flows along much like the title. Some tunes are going somewhere, and some aren't. The musical course set by the band has left this album in most impressive shape.

    Not a lot else to say. Not much more I need say, either.


    Boys Life
    Christie Front Drive
    split 10" EP
    (Crank!)
    reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95

    Christie Front Drive hails from Denver; a CD of previously released 7" and EP tracks will be coming out soon from Caulfield (the cool Omaha label). Boys Life has a (very good) disc out on Crank! and a track on the Red Decibel KC Misery compilation. Obviously, that band resides somewhere in the greater Kansas City area. Both bands play something the label calls emo-core (something that I've always called "post-punk pop", as I really hate adding -core to everything).

    As previously noted, the Christie Front Drive tunes are right in that Jawbox sorta area, perhaps a bit more introspective. Very nice moody pop songs.

    Boys Life kicks it a little heavier once the songs get moving, but the three songs here are decidedly lower-key than the recent album. This is not a bad thing. I got a real Engine Kid feel from a couple of these tracks. And now that I've come around to that sorta thing, that should be taken as a real compliment.

    A nice set of six tunes from two bands with loads of potential. Keep your eyes open; both of these groups could flash before your eyes soon enough.


    Boys School
    Boys School
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    Brett Farkas takes the lead in creating an most entertaining riff on the whole Elvis Costello/Joe Jackson mod power pop sound. Original? Not really. But certainly sprightly with its own charasmatic sneer. Much fun.


    Boysetsfire
    After the Eulogy
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    You know, in the coupla years that I wasn't getting much from the Victory camp, I forgot how cool extreme hardcore could be. Buzzsaw guitars, screamed vocals and big wad of aggro adrenaline. But that's only one side of Boysetsfire.

    Not unlike the Queers' Don't Back Down, the songs on this disc seem almost schizophrenic. There are a number of extreme pieces, more than a few straight melodic hardcore pop (think Jawbox) and some stuff that fits nicely into a Naked Raygun or Pegboy box.

    What ties the songs together is the quality. These are well-conceived, quite well-performed songs. No matter what sound Boysetsfire chooses, the songs always turn out right.

    I usually like to encourage bands to pick a sound and stick with it. That's good career advice, anyway. On the other hand, when a band can morph through styles as impressively as Boysetsfire, well, I'm more inclined to let the boys work things out for themselves. It sounds like they've got a good handle on things already.


    Live for Today EP
    (Wind-Up/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #235, November 2002

    A good while ago, there was a labal called Grass. It had bands like the Wrens and Ditch Witch and did a fine job of discovering new acts. Good bands, but not particularly marketable ones. So Grass morphed into Wind-Up, a label best known as the home to Creed. Not so long ago, Boysetsfire was one of the hottest up-and-coming bands of the extreme underground. Now the boys have cashed in, and it's time to see what major-label cash has wrought.

    The songs are more slickly produced. The guitars have a more pronounced "metal" edge. Not what I like, even though I know that's what has to happen if you expect to sell hundreds of thousands of albums. On the plus side, there's a more pronounced space between the instruments, which highlights the band's somewhat proggy (certainly technical, in any case) songwriting style. That's a nice surprise.

    Three new tunes, and all of them are up to Boysetsfire's previous high standard. Three live tracks as well, which should serve to introduce new fans to the truly incendiary nature of the band's older stuff. It should be most interesting to hear what a full-length sounds like.


    Bozzio Levin Stevens
    Black Light Syndrome
    (Magna Carta)
    reviewed in issue #157, 4/20/98

    A jam album, putting together some fairly legendary names: Terry Bozzio, Steve Stevens and Tony Levin (by coincidence, I've got one more Bozzio and two more Levin discs to review in this issue). Spacey stuff in general, as often ruled by Bozzio's deft percussion as Stevens's guitar mastery.

    And to leave out Levin's bass work would be to miss the glue of the project. Levin doesn't often take the forefront, but his interplay between the guitar and drums cements the deal.

    Not a perfect improv album, as a few overdubs were added later. But the basic tracks were played live to tape, with minor planning beforehand. Levin had four days, and this album was recorded in four days. A sense of desperate creativity flows.

    A lot of folks probably haven't heard Steve Stevens play in such a restrained manner. Oh, there are a few pyro moments, but nothing excessive. He obviously has learned that less can be more. And in the case of these three, a lot more. A cool, meandering and wonderfully introspective album. Time to get lost.

    See also Bruford Levin Upper Extremities.


    Bracket
    When All Else Fails
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    Thick chords, uptempo songs and lotsa tight harmonizin' (punk style), all wrapped around one cheap joke after another. Yeah, this is something of a typical Fat Wreck band, but you think I'm gonna complain?

    When the first song is called "Everyone Is Telling Me I'll Never Win, If I Fall in Love With a Girl from Marin," I'd guess anyone could figure out where this was going to end up. The cheap humor is clever, and somewhat insiderish (it helps to know something about the East Bay punk scene), but if you've heard of Fat Wreck is, you pass the entrance exam.

    Simply one fun song after another. Bracket differentiates itself from some other Fat Wreck bands by referencing a fairly broad range of rock sounds (all implanted nicely into the band's thick punk style), and that's more than enough to give this a thumbs up.

    I mean, there are very few Fat Wreck bands I wouldn't recommend. I love this kinda sound, and Bracket does very well with it. Hard to bum out a guy who's smilin' as much as me.


    Chad Bradford
    Dollar Short
    (Sevier Productions)
    reviewed in issue #271, December 2005

    I'm not against country music produced with a fine sheen--the Foster and Lloyd albums are among my favorites. But more often, producers with heavy hands take all the fun out the songs, churning out dirge-like fare that would be more at home in a Romanian castle than a honky tonk.

    Chad Bradford has a wry sense of humor. And even though he delivers his songs with ramrod sincerity, every once in a while he winks. The production is awfully powerful, but it allows Bradford enough space to make his own mark. His personality is evident throughout this album.

    Not unlike Travis Abercrombie (reviewed in this issue), this is an obvious stab at mega-stardom. And Bradford has a production company behind him, which certainly improves his chances. He's got a good shot to really do something, and this album might get him the attention he needs.

    There are a few touches on this album that aren't particularly country (not even "big-time" country)--a keyboard rumination at the end of a ballad, say, or the odd chord change that suggests punk or goth more than Nashville. I like that. And even if he didn't have anything to do with those studio bits, they fit Bradford. If he does make it big, I hope he keeps making albums as interesting as this one.


    Brain Leisure
    Mindfire
    (Hard-Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95

    Spacey techno that has an intriguing new wave feel. Kinda like an alternate evolution path for Eurythmics or something.

    It's mostly the synth sound that is direct from the early 80s. The beats, sample style and distorted vocals are all pure 90s trends. Like many in the electronic field, the introductions to songs can last a couple minutes before the dance beats kick in. Of course, with average track length well over five minutes, this leaves plenty of time for the meat.

    Nicely engaging, yet oddly anonymous. This French act has a nice feel for both the experimental (in the intros) and the club (in the songs themselves). Yeah, this sort of thing can be a dime a dozen, but Brain Leisure just might have what it takes to establish a name. I'll wait for further postings.


    Brain Police
    Harm 7"
    (Brain Police)
    reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93

    I think a lot of the obvious emotion present got lost behind this wall of fuzz left by the production. The vocals are just a bit too far removed from the mix.

    But I do really like the songs. My aversion to dirge-like hard core aside, this seems to make all that work. At least better than the Dog Eat Dog reviewed elsewhere in this issue. It sure is a lot more interesting. And things are sped up much of the time, anyway.

    As you know, I'm no advocate of clean production, but it is nice to hear the vocals, especially if they are as interesting seem to be.


    Head/Escapment Wheel
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93

    Much better production than the 7" also reviewed. This is a bit more metallic, too, but I like the heavier direction. The songs are tighter and more intense. I like the versions of songs on the 7" that are included here much better. I can hear the vocals!


    Unlucky 7"
    (Red Stream)
    reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95

    A pounding industrial-sonic construct attack. The guitars split the air and lots of loops keep you on your toes.

    Confusion reigns once the meat-and-bones chords of the song really kick in. And once everything has stopped, the question remains: was that a song?

    Hell yes. Music doesn't have to be coherent. Much of this is reminiscent of Swans of 10 years ago, though not quite as sterile. If the folks would cut down on the silly guitar solos...

    But a brutal attack nonetheless.


    The Brain Surgeons
    To Helen With Love: A Tribute to the Life and Music of Helen Wheels
    (Cellsum)
    reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01

    Another New York insider disc from the Cellsum folks. A lot of the same names wandering around the David Roter album are here: Handsome Dick Manitoba (who kinda explains the reasons behind this disc), Buck Dharma, Andy Shernoff, Albert Bouchard, etc.

    The Brain Surgeons are led by Bouchard and his wife, Deborah Frost, and indeed, a few of Helen Wheels writing credits are from old B.O.C. tunes--which are reproduced somewhat unfaithfully here.

    It's kinda funny. While the titular names of the "acts" change, the players are the same, simply coming together in a number of different combinations. The proper artist designation is probably what's on the spine, "Brain Surgeons and Friends." But enough of this conundrum.

    Aw, well, it's a tribute and there are an awful lot of people on this disc. Everyone here knew Helen Wheels, and they obviously loved her. That emotional current is what drives this disc, and it makes listening a most satisfying experience.


    Brain Transplant
    untitled
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00

    Brain Transplant has an upcoming split 7" with Panicsville. That might tell you all you need to know. Also, that's not a picture of a floppy disc as the cover. It is a floppy disc (including the disc itself) as the cover.

    So if you're guessing some extraordinarily experimental electronic gibberish, we'll you're on the right track. I wouldn't go so far as to call this incoherent, but it sure does fly in that direction. And my brain, starved as it is for attentions such as this, couldn't be more pleased.

    The press notes that there are few recurring rhythms. There's not much recurring anything. Squalls of noise, pieces of melodies and other sorts of sampled stuff abound. There isn't much overt structure, but it sure holds together well nonetheless.

    Oh, man, I'm knocked out. I could eat this stuff up all day. I know I'm in the minority here (lab studies have proven that noise like this can sterilize cockroaches), but that's okay. I always like to hear folks out on a limb. It's the best place to be.


    split 7" with Panicsville
    (Nihilist)
    reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00

    If you've read the reviews of these two acts in the archives, you know that there is nothing expected. Not one thing. I drop the needle on Panicsville or Brain Transplant and I have no idea what will come out.

    The Panicsville songs are fairly restrained, well-assembled collages of clicks and squeals. Nothing that will torch your speakers or anything, just some cool sounds.

    The Brain Transplant songs are a bit more melodic, but just as experimental. The notes say the pieces were performed on demo software, which is pretty impressive (I've messed with some of that stuff and I haven't come up with anything nearly this cool).

    Just a journey to the edges of electronic experimental music. The only expectation is a sense of wonder. This small slab comes through with that and more.


    Grue/Bleen CD5
    (Parked Disc)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    I'm just gonna warn off the casual reader right now: Brain Transplant does not operate within the laws of physics. Sounds to me like the boys have invented themselves a few new rules.

    Yep, right out on the experimental electronic frontier, this is. Enthralling, truly, if you can appreciate the unexpected. Brain Transplant has actually taken good care to create two fairly accessible tracks here. But you've still got to be in the mood.

    Minimalist and spartan, yet still completely thrilling. Come to the edge, and then let go. Don't worry; there's plenty of us in limbo. We'll keep you insane.


    Sasquatch, Telepath
    (Parked Disc)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    A full-length adventure from the electronic assault that is Brain Transplant. This time around, Chris Smentkowski gets a little help from Dave Stone on saxophone (though I challenge you to identify the sax when it actually appears). The sound is ragged and edgy, rather along the lines that have been established before.

    Which is not to say that Brain Transplant is repeating itself. Hardly. There are some explorations into the three-dimensional sound that are just stunning. And the modulation and manipulation of the sax recordings are often breathtaking.

    Not entirely a pleasant experience. This puppy rears right up and bites you on the ass. There's very little nice going on here. Maybe that's why it appealed to me.

    Or perhaps I simply like adventurous, creative noise. Brain Transplant certainly fits that bill. This long player only cements the band's reputation in my mind. I can't wait to see what comes along next.


    Live at the Prarie House CD3
    (Absit Omen)
    reviewed in issue #232. August 2002

    The very idea of Brain Transplant live is interesting. Any experimental electronic act has its work cut out in a live setting. While not as focused and incendiary as the studio stuff, this short bit of hiss is quite intriguing.


    Brainchild
    Mindwarp
    (R.E.X.)
    reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93

    Also known as Circle of Dust, this album is more guitar driven than that project. To continue the Ministry reference, this is more like Psalm 69...

    CMJ gave this a rave a few months back (geez, I hate getting stuff late), and I'll have to concur. There are not many out there doing anything this interesting, and Brainchild/Circle of Dust/whatever deserve the same notoriety.

    As a special note, look for Circle of Dust remixes of Brainchild and Living Sacrifice material later this year. Seems the latest trend is techno death metal. Could be worse. Could be grunge versions of Lionel Richie songs.

    See also Circle of Dust.


    Brainiac
    Super Duper Seven 7"
    (Limited Potential)
    reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92

    Crank that rhythm to the stars! I always react positively to that chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka noise some bands have their guitarist play. You know, where they sorta loosely hold the strings and crunch the pick up and down? Anyway, that excellent sound is used well, and the rest of it is pretty cool, too. Not bad for a Dayton band. Well worth your while.


    Internationale EP
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    Two crack pop tunes filtered through all sorts of distortion and samples, with a sample-ridden intermission thrown in to satisfy the noise freaks.

    That would be me. Brainiac tries really hard to fuck up any notion of accessibility with its idiosyncrasies, but to no avail. "Go Freaks" and "Simon Says" are infectious as hell and impossible to put down.

    Tres cool, mon dudes. Now, an album release one of these days wouldn't be asking too much, would it?


    Hissing Prigs in a Static Couture
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96

    Quite the metamorphosis. The first time I heard Brainiac, it was more of a hardcore-pop kinda thing. Very low-tech.

    And the recent EP and this album show off the technical brilliance of what can only be called about the best noise-pop band operating today. Brainiac keeps the song structure simple, merely imbibing its peppy tunes with random caterwauls and electronic screeches. And all the excess doesn't deter the joyful nature of the tunes from shining through.

    The most astonishing feature here is the tenency toward subtlety. With most of the instruments amped into heavy levels of distortion, every song has at least one undercurrent that will flow with or against the general song concept as it wills. This isn't easy to do with straight pop music, though the bands that can are masters (say, the recent Wrens album). Brainiac manages even while bashing everyone's brain out.

    This sort of sound is very difficult to control. Only folks this talented could even begin to try. Brainiac has succeeded well beyond my expectations. Noise for the masses.


    Brainstorm Sheen
    bs.3
    (Dunket Records)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    The name says it all. This is, indeed, one of those electronic collage sort of efforts, a few guys (or maybe just one) locked up in a room playing with relatively old equipment.

    Rather than focusing on any one feel, Brainstorm Sheen feels free to borrow from all over the musical landscape before eventually landing in that comfy, fuzzy Kraftwerkian technoland.

    But with all the beats and ideas swirling around, it's hard to peg the real sound here. This level of intensity and complexity is extremely addictive. Each song simply drives up the ante for the next. And Brainstorm Sheen always pays off.

    This album easily could have been sterile and stillborn. It's a testament to the quality of the band that bs.3 is instead a living, breathing, vital piece of work. Unstoppable, really.


    bran(...)pos
    chirphuis
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #258, October 2004

    If you've played around with iTunes at all, you know that the music genre classification system is beyond lame. "Alternative & Punk"? "Alternative" (not punk)? Jesus. What a mess. Anyway, there is one description I like: Unclassifiable. A lot of my favorite albums fit in there. It's a classification made for bran(...) pos.

    This is theatrical electronic fare. Some of the songs are almost blandly coherent (the first track is redolent of Esquivel, without the guitar), while others explode with gorgeously-defined pin-pricks of created noise. Those more abstract don't immediately make sense, but give them time.

    And maybe a little more, for good measure. Like I said, this stuff is theatrical (though not dramatic, if you catch my drift). There is a reason for the madness, but it's hardly obvious. Instead, you've gotta cruise through layer after layer of truly intriguing, um, intrigue. And then give it more time.

    I like wrapping my head around these loopy abstractions. It keeps me sane (or maybe insane; it's always hard to tell). In any case, bran(...)pos crams more ideas into one album than most bands do in a career. Intense...exciting...electric...yeah.


    Coin-Op Khepri
    (C.I.P.)
    reviewed in issue #294, March 2008

    Goofy, wigged-out electronic explorations into the ids of pranksters. I've liked what I've heard from bran(...)pos in the past, and this release does nothing to hurt that. If you're not ready for the onslaught of playful ideas launched by this outfit, your brain might explode. I prepared accordingly, and it was still touch and go there for a bit.


    Brand New Trash
    Brand New Trash
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    The Dewald brothers (of Zu Zu's Petals fame) hook up with fellow Petal Kevin Alan Walters to continue the journey. Disjointed and self-indulgent, but with flair. This definitely does not come together (as a fair portion of it really should), but there are some wonders in the wreckage.


    Brando
    Peacocks on Linen
    (Smoky Lung)
    reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00

    It took me quite a while to get a handle on this disc. The tricky thing is the fragile beauty of the songs. They often sound as if they're about to evaporate or simply fall apart, but they never quite do. Instead, the crumbling veneer on top exposes some rather strong underpinnings.

    In the case of Brando, the strength is this almost overwhelming adherence to the notion that hooks were made to be bent. These are all pop songs in the strict sense, but they don't fly straight. Those meandering directions provide some nice color by the wayside.

    Some of the songs sound unfinished, and many are truly disjointed. This is more of a style than anything else, and perhaps that's what I'm talking about with the whole "fragile beauty" thing.

    Pop music that requires a bit of getting used to, really. This isn't easy fare, but the rewards are immense. Let the intensity simmer and sip slowly. There's plenty to go around.


    The Adder
    (Smokeylung)
    reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00

    This is the first Brando recording, preceding the one I reviewed a few months ago. The songs are a bit more straightforward, but they still hang together by the grooves and wander about from there.

    That "fragile beauty" concept I talked about is still operative. Brando is not overwhelming in any way, instead preferring to subtly attack the listener. Many times, the key phrase is one that passed a few seconds before you recognize it, Realization comes with a rush of pleasure.

    Yeah, I'm a sucker for this introspective "roots singer/songwriter" style of music. That doesn't entirely apply here, as Brando was a band with multiple songwriters, but fans of Songs:Ohia and Simon Joyner will certainly recognize where this stuff is coming from.

    A quiet disc, one that impresses gradually. The superficial sounds are pleasing and intriguing, but it's what's inside that truly impresses. Rather fine.


    The Headless Horseman is a Preacher
    (Smokeylung)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    Just when I was starting to think of Brando as a trippy pop band, I get this. It's still trippy, but in the more conventional sense. This album is mastered for headphone use, with a deceptively full sound and soaring melodies driving the engine.

    Um, yeah, there is a Flaming Lips thing going on. Old Lips, where the focus was on simple effects rather than excessive layering. Sure, there's plenty of the latter going on here, but this sounds more like a garage band trying to create a massive symphonic pop sound.

    Just as a note: That's a really good way to do this. Brando's songs are just a bit off-kilter, and on this disc that off-balance sense is manifested in the sound construction. There are a lot of weird little things going on just beneath the radar. Probably why there's a note to use headphones or simply turn the sound way up.

    This is a good place. A secret garden of smiles and whispered glances. Brando has found that spot where a fine band simple transcends what it has done before. This baby shimmers.


    Single Crown Postcard
    (Recordhead/Mr Whiggs-Luna Music)
    reviewed in issue #230, June 2002

    Brando has always had the potential to test the limits of pop excess. Derek Richey's songs are winding and idiosyncratic, lending themselves to washes of distorted synth strings and other elaborate touches. On this album, that potential is realized.

    It only took 15 years or so for the Flaming Lips to make the world safe for such sounds once more, but we should all stop for a moment and thank Wayne and the boys once again. Certainly Brando owes a debt there. But these songs are much more Oh My Gawd! than The Soft Bulletin.

    Sometimes lurching, sometimes bounding and sometimes simply sitting on top of a cloud, the pieces here ring out with a fractured clarity. The excess is simply window dressing. It helps to show off the songwriting a bit.

    But only a bit. Richey's straightforward style translates well to this sound. I'm glad he's taken Brando further down this path. Maybe next time he'll dive in headfirst and surface only at the end. That would really be something.


    Instantly Spaceships double EP
    (Smokeylung-Recordhead-Mr. Whiggs)
    reviewed in issue #234, October 2002

    Twelve pieces that were used in the decidedly indie movie that shares it's title with this effort. And then 12 more pieces from a much earlier period. The songs in the soundtrack stuff are quite good. The incidental music is a bit uneven. The old stuff is cool; kinda interesting to hear how Brando has evolved. A nice set.


    943 Recluse
    (Recordhead/Mr. Whiggs-Luna Music)
    reviewed in issue #249, January 2004

    In the beginning, Brando was a band. Then, after a series of starts and stops, it became mostly Derek Richey and Josh Seib. Now Richey has hooked up with many of his "original" mates (and, of course, newer compatriot Seib) and made the "band" a sorta full-time thing.

    While I thought the recording-geek phase of the band was pretty cool, this new band phase is much more satisfying. These songs still sound a lot like some sort of one-man-band effort, but the band really fleshes out the sound. It's a trippy thing; the excessive idiosyncrasy is still present, but a lot of people are working hard to make it sing.

    And, like many obsessive bands, these boys do remind me a bit of the Lips. Of the 1980s. Without so much distortion. But with all the loopy inspiration and manic, introverted energy.

    The songs just keep lurching along. There are moments when I wonder if Brando can actually make it to the end of the song. I love that sort of tension. It really makes listening to an album that much more intense. And, by the way, Brando always finishes what it begins...in the most pleasing manner possible.


    Brandtson
    Letterbox
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    Thick and juicy power rock that avoids hooks and concentrates on killer riffs. Holy cow, that guitar sound is so fucking great! It immediately crushes all resistance and takes over consciousness. Rolling thunder in my mind.

    There are plenty of emo moments, particularly in the astonishingly atonal melodies, but this is basic song structure. Kinda like if Soul Asylum had evolved into a grunge band instead of a crap band.

    Fuck and me. Brandtson is simply far too powerful to even contemplate anything else. The amazing thing is how nimble and graceful the lines are, considering the bone-crushing sound. These guys know how to kick these songs out to achieve maximum impact.

    Anthems for the dark days ahead. Arena rock played out through grunge and emo filters. And it's great, which is all the more amazing. Put this on and watch loads accumulate in the jeans at your next party.


    Fallen Star Collection
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99

    Brandtson continues to expand the emo universe, sounding more and more like a pop band that has momentarily lost its melody chit. Not just any pop band, either, but a damned good one.

    Ranging from delicate to downright aggressive, Brandtson rips through large pieces of pop while retaining some tethers to the emo realms. However, a few more steps and I'm gonna have to simply use pop to describe these boys.

    And that three-letter word isn't any sort of pejorative term, but a bland descriptor for some of the finest music around. And Brandtson's willingness to try on different hats (while wearing the same coat) makes for most enjoyable listening.

    I don't hear so much evolution as the passage of time. Brandtson already knew how to make good music. This disc simply continues the trend. Personally, that's more than alright with me.


    Trying to Figure Each Other Out EP
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    More than ever a pop band, Brandtson continues to crank out thick, crusty gems. Songs with immediate appeal and plenty of complexity for the long haul.

    It took me a few attempts to get through the disc (my ancient player is beginning to skip way too much), but I simply had to do it. The snatches I heard were far too tasty to give up on. And when I finally got the laser in harmony with the plastic and metal, well, I was rewarded.

    Or, as one of the subtitles of the EP says, "Some things are worth figuring out." Indeed. Brandtson just keeps getting better, and it's been pretty good since the beginning. This short set (six track plus a bonus) is simply sterling.


    Dial in Sounds
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #226, February 2002

    Emo's come a long way. Brandtson revels in the strident lead guitar work emblematic of the sound. But it adds rich harmonies and anthemic hooks, creating a grandiose sound that manages to avoid being presumptuous.

    The little touches (some sly production work and innovative arranging among them) are what keep Brandtson from sounding bloated. That and the occasional straight-ahead pop punk tune, like "Some Kind of Jet Pilot." Yeah, the guys know how to make those kinda songs sing, too.

    Few bands can create a personal and introspective sound and still kick out all the jams. This is an album for playing loud, despite the fact that some of its best qualities are the thoughts expressed in the lyrics.

    Some bands just know how to make great music. Brandtson is one of them. No matter what it does, the stuff almost always comes up golden. No clunkers on this disc, certainly.


    Death & Taxes
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #241, May 2003

    While some emo bands have decided to pop out with a vengeance, Brandtson has consistently kept a nice rock edge to its bright melodies and sharp hooks. This might be its best set of songs yet.

    And make no mistake--this stuff is crafted with extreme diligence. These songs are precisely-cut gems, subtle enough to be truly beautiful.

    I find it kinda interesting that Brandtson has veered toward a early-80s arena rock feel. Poppier, sure, but with plenty of punch as well. If you can imagine Night Ranger with well-written material (the first couple of albums, say) and a decided lack of keyboards, then you're getting close.

    I'm sure the boys really won't like that comparison, but that's the way I hear it. And I like what I hear. These songs aren't bloated and overblown--which is where they're clearly superior to 80s AOR--but they really do a nice job of communicating within a mainstream sound. Top notch. split EP with Camber, Seven Storey
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #245, September 2003

    One song from Brandtson, three from Camber and two from Seven Storey. Very punchy stuff, though it's interesting that the Brandtson stuff sounds a bit more cerebral than usual, while the (quite similar) Camber pieces sound much more off the cuff. Must be my expectations of the band in question.

    I'm not sure if there's really a theme to this set, other than really fine songs by great bands (well, Seven Storey is a one-man affair, but still). While each band did its recording separately, the sound achieved by each is startlingly similar to the others. I don't know if this intentional, but it sure does aid continuity.

    A great introduction to these three great acts. Fans will certainly want to hear this stuff, but this is the sort of release that brings in new admirers in exponential numbers. Simply outstanding.


    Brass- see Richie Cole


    Brassy
    Got It Made
    (Wiiija-Beggars Group)
    reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01

    Thick, throbbing, classic hip-hop grooves and over-the-top attitude-laden vocals. Oh, my, but this is one big pile of fun. No way around it. None at all.

    You know, the sort of songs that get played over and over at sports arenas. Except that there's just the slightest bit more depth here than in most of those vapid anthems.

    I guess part of that comes from the fact that these are much more party songs than real anthems. Just for fun, folks, and nothing else. Which also translates well into mass experiences.

    Alright, one last shot: If acid jazz got a hard edge and didn't give in to the faux-soul singing. Brassy is just that: Loud and up front. Nothing subtle and nothing hidden. Just full-on pleasure. Easy? Yep. And there's nothing wrong with that.


    Grace Braun
    It Won't Hurt
    (Slow River-Rykodisc)
    reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97

    Braun has a classic folk voice (rather imperfect, but those imperfections are what gives it character), and she crashes through a set of raucous acoustic music. Not quite folk, not quite country and not quite pop, she's carved a nice little sound here.

    Now, Braun does give in to the folk tendency of rather clumsy lines (some editing would have helped smooth over some of the overwrought bits), but her slightly off-key singing helps to emphasize the unusual tacks of her lyrics.

    She runs through covers of "What Wondrous Love Is This" (done with a cappella overdubs, kinda emphasizing her somewhat inaccurate tones) and "Stand by Me" (a hymn, not the pop song, done western swing-style, complete with pedal steel), the first not terribly good, but the second a perfect example of her talent in evoking songs.

    Spotty and inconsistent, but some true shards of glory within. Braun may not be the best with the technical aspects of singing or playing guitar, but she knows how to draw out the most from a song. An intriguing set.


    The Bravado
    Intimate with Slaves
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #248, December 2003

    Fuzzy, glam-drenched rock from a couple guys in Columbus. Reminds me a bit of Royal Trux (the crunchy period), and not just because of the way these guys process Donny Monaco's vocals and split up the instrumental duties. There's a vague, anarchic spirit in the songs themselves, like they're about to blow up any second.

    Loads of distortion, but the production is extremely clean. Which means that the fuzz is sharp rather than soft and cushy. These songs have an edge, and the sound helps express those further.

    There's also a bit of Jon Spencer here, both in the occasional blues references and the production style. Monaco and partner Seth Massing sure know where to find inspiration. Hey, you might as well emulate the best, right?

    The strange thing about these five songs is that they're all so easily accessible. A small indie label would be most comfortable releasing this, but I can also imagine a major label putting this puppy out as is. Very few folks have that sort of wide-ranging sensibility. A most impressive set of tunes.


    Brave
    Deep in Dark Waters EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01

    Reminds me a lot of this Illinois band the Moon Seven Times, except that Brave trends toward keyboard-laden hard rock. Right. So there are these ethereal (but still strong) female vocals floating around with mashed keys and operatic guitar work. It's interesting, to say the least.

    And it works, really. Probably better in the studio than live, since the key to these songs are subtle things, and live all that would likely get wiped out by the heavy guitar playing. Maybe not. The thing is, I'm reviewing what I hear here, and that stuff is pretty impressive.

    A real unique blending of styles and feels. Not many folks would think of putting together college rock and NWOBHM (the latter being the school of hard rock I think Brave most tries to emulate). Imagine Lisa Loeb (with a much better voice) fronting Diamondhead and you might begin to understand what Brave is trying to do. What Brave is doing. Pretty damned cool.


    Searching for the Sun
    (Dark Symphonies)
    reviewed in issue #232, August 2002

    Churning goth hard rock. Plenty of tasty dark melodies and soaring vocal runs accompanied by striking riffage. Pretty and powerful. Just as good as I was expecting.


    Brazzaville
    East L.A. Breeze
    (South China Sea/Vendlus)
    reviewed in issue #291, November 2007

    Pretty much the opposite of Audubon Park. Brazzaville trafficks in ultra-crafted smooth pop. Sometimes with laptop beats, sometimes not. In any case, these songs are as tight as this year's F1 championship points race.

    But, y'know, much quieter. Brazzaville sets up a groove and then spins little gems within it. The sorta sound that is immediately arresting. What makes these folks so good is that they keep these songs fun.

    Even when the songs are serious, I hear jokes. Or, at least, self-deprecating asides. Very dry, of course, but there is levity. For all the hard work that is (almost too) apparent here, these guys still know how to have fun with their music.

    I do wish the band would unwind just a bit. But when you've cut the diamond this nicely, it's really hard to tone it down.


    Breach
    It's Me, God
    (Prosthetic)
    reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98

    Another licensee from Burning Heart in Sweden (home of Millencolin and Refused, among others). A lot more in the Refused vein, an arty (and messy) approach to hardcore.

    Fans of Fudge Tunnel, it sounds like. The riffs are basic and screeching, with a heavy emphasis on pile-driving rhythms. Pain is the aim, and Breach provides plenty. Man, right down the mainline.

    A throbbing maelstrom of power which simply doesn't let up. The pounding continues and continues without respite, a glorious testament to the innate strength of hardcore. Noise which will no be denied.

    Yes, yes, the rush is complete. Heart-stopping, almost. I'm awe-struck, sitting here letting the waves of aggression wash over me. Powerless, and yet feeling strangely potent. I've taken the tonic; now it is time to act.


    Breadwinner
    The Burner (advance cassette)
    (Merge-Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94

    Very unusual. An attempt to play technical metal with a lot of distortion. An interesting sound.


    Breathing on People
    Breathing on People
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    The keyboard style is straight out of the Doors, but luckily the guitar has more of an eighties feel. John Singleton's vocals kinda sound like Morrison, but I think that's more a result of the feel than real similarity.

    And the music and lyrics are nowhere near as pretentious as the Doors. The tunes are fairly catchy, and loopy enough to keep me interested. A little more work and the band could really be on to a cool sound.


    Breaking Pangaea
    Cannon to a Whisper
    (Undecided)
    reviewed in issue #226, February 2002

    Following much the same musical path as Brandtson, Breaking Pangaea also plays some great anthemic emo and power pop punk tunes. But rather than go with the full-on sonic boom production treatment, these boys stick to a more bare-bones sound.

    That works too. Really, I think these two albums prove that just about any production style can fit emo, as long as the underlying songs are well-written. Breaking Pangaea isn't particularly innovative, but the songs are tightly-crafted and solidly played. No complaints in those areas.

    Very few complaints, period. This is an album for those who prefer a more "traditional" emo feel. The songs are immediately arresting and contain a good amount of depth as well. There are plenty of reasons for repeat visits.

    I do wish the band would develop a bit more of its own character, but that's quibbling, really. These songs are great, and that's really the main thing. As long as the guys keep working hard, the rest will follow.


    The Breakups
    Eat Your Heart Out EP
    (Bait Shop Pop)
    reviewed in issue #299, August 2008

    The folks pursue pop bliss with the sheer abandon of the Posies, though their harmonies trend more Wilsonian than Chiltonian.

    The structure is impeccable. These songs possess impressive character and hooks that trap with steel rather than sugar. I didn't detect a single misstep, even if the opening and closing skits are a bit silly.

    Six songs, and each one a gem. I don't know how long the Breakups have been in the business, but this EP augurs a bright future.


    Brenda
    Me/Not Me 7"
    (!Ruido!)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    Bass groove-oriented stuff, the kind that actually moves the booty now and again. The a-side sounds kinda like if Biohazard and the Jesus Lizard took up together and decided that procreation was a viable option.

    The flip is a bit more pop oriented (in an emo way), but still impressive. Brenda plays all over the place, from noise rock to more coherent hardcore stylings. And this is just in two songs. A lot of bands try to achieve less and still sound overloaded. Brenda pulls off a finely-textured sound that could have been crafted by the finest Swiss watchmakers.

    A truly impressive slab of vinyl. I haven't been this blown away by a seven-inch in months. Bravo!


    Brent's TV- see Sweet Baby

    Jack Brewer
    Rhythm or Suicide
    (New Alliance)
    reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95

    Forty spoken work bits and pieces. All of these were recorded live, so some of the production is more sparkling at some spots than others. But the sometimes smudgy sound really lends an alive feel to the proceedings.

    Sometimes sad, often hilarious and occasionally even brilliant. Brewer's (artistic) voice can be maddeningly inconsistent. But once you persevere through an incoherent muddle of thought, the true picture often reveals itself. Brewer isn't as blatant as some (he is a poet, after all), but he knows how to deliver his work in a way that isn't terribly pretentious but still conveys the real fire of inspiration.

    Brewer doesn't go on an on about nothing. He has a point, and he often provides great insight into this condition called human. Can't ask much more of a poet.


    Jack Brewer and Bazooka
    Saved from Death in the Dream World
    (New Alliance)
    reviewed in issue #57, 6/30/94

    Yes, the Jack Brewer who used to sing for Saccharine Trust. He met the Bazooka folks in the studio for an earlier spoken word set, and they got together.

    According to the label, this is a complete improvisation, Jack reading from notebooks and the band jamming as it feels.

    If so, this is pretty impressive. As you get to the end, you begin to realize Bazooka's somewhat limited heavy jazz range, and, yes, Brewer does seem to have and endless supply of pretensions. But there are moments of real inspiration (I am particularly enamored of the middle of "The Sinister Rain").

    I live for moments like that, and will endure the merely above average to experience them.


    Brian and Chris
    Brian and Chris
    (self-released) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    More formally, Brian Fraser and Chris Palmatier. Both take on the task of programming drums and samples and then plugging in some guitar and other extraneous melodic inputs. Very much an assembled sound, but still fairly organic in feel.

    It does help to use acoustic guitar and samples which sound "real" (if that makes sense). There are also a few voices, though usually fuzzed out in the extreme. Dissociative and inviting all at once.

    There isn't a consistent sound on the disc, but that's only because there are so many ideas expressed. Well, I take that back. The use of electric guitar throughout stays within a certain boundary. And most every song has electric guitar. But all have so much more.

    Noodling disjointedly into the sunset, Brian and Chris pulse out some seriously cool tunes. The density of the sound may scare some folks off, but you shouldn't flinch. Once inside, you'll hear what all my scribbling is about.


    Vectors
    (Megalon)
    reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00

    Brian Fraser and Chris Palmatier. Brian deals with most percussion issues (electronic and otherwise) and Chris handles most of the guitar and keyboard work. Though that's not exclusive by any means. The boys also get some help from friends on a few tracks.

    This disc presents a few new ways to look at old songs, whether simply different takes (say, without vocals) or remixes. Antimatter and jhno take care of the latter, and the former is a wordless version of "Northward Nimbus." Near as I can tell, the other five tracks are new.

    What these guys do is play with the notions of electronic music. More particularly, they simply refuse acknowledge a line between "regular" and electronic music. The pieces have a wide range of sounds, from sterile to overpoweringly organic, and it's really pretty damned impossible to pigeonhole any of them.

    Well, what can be said is that just about every song is terribly involving, drawing the listener in immediately and then taking that frontal lobe on an unpredictable journey. Pretty cool isn't even close. Brian and Chris do use musical vectors to great effect. Simply wonderful.


    3
    (Dielectric)
    reviewed in issue #258, October 2004

    That would be Chris Palmatier and Brian Fraser. Fraser handles the percussion and programming, while Palmatier deals with the guitar and much of the noise. The music is electronic, after a fashion, but mostly what it is is alive.

    I'm not entirely sure why each of these guy's collaborative albums has been on a different label. The stuff is sufficiently brilliant to impress even the most wonkish critic, and yet it has a nice approachable patina. These songs were intended for a relatively wide audience, not simply a few geeks who like truly weird stuff.

    Which isn't to say that Palmatier and Fraser don't push themselves. They do. There's no accommodation to the mainstream here. It's just that the songs express themselves so beautifully that accessibility shouldn't be an issue.

    And yet, the boys keep moving around. Maybe they like spreading the joy to all their friends. Who knows? I'm not suggesting that this stuff is major label material. Of course it isn't. But it's goddamned great, and there are a large number of folks out there who ought be able to get their heads into this space.


    The Brian Jonestown Massacre
    Thank God for Mental Illness
    (Bomp!)
    reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97

    With a dreadful pun for a name, I should have expected it. An album that sounds a lot like a loose version of Sister Lovers (Big Star's album #3, which also goes by the less-interesting name of Third). Sixties-influenced pop that is utterly messy.

    The liners state that this was recorded for a whole $17.36. I assume the tape deck or whatever they used cost a bit more than that, but why quibble? Yeah, the songs are disjointed and may rely on one-too-many Dylan or Townsend references. They're still a big load of fun.

    Indeed, the lack of professionalism is quite apparent, and that is precisely what appeals to me. This is music, straight from the heart with no distractions in the way. And hell, isn't unrefined sugar so much better than that crap you throw on your cereal?

    Compelling beyond all reason. Plenty would assail the horrific playing, singing and production, but I listened past all that and found something even more important: a raw nerve of emotion. Tap into that, and who knows what comes next.


    Give It Back!
    (Bomp!)
    reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97

    This puppy sounds a lot better (in all sorts of ways) than the album I reviewed last spring. For starters, it was recorded in a studio, and the music sounds like it was played by fairly competent musicians. Hell, the singing is even in tune as often as not. This is a throbbing, caterwauling sound compared to the fairly minimalist feel of the last album.

    What hasn't changed is the brilliance of the music. The influences remain the same (that whole Big Star thing and its predecessors, for starters), but this collection of songs is much more sophisticated and crafted. Amazingly, my reaction is the same.

    Usually when people do a quick shave-and-shit, I detect a definite level of self-censorship and loss of creativity. Not here. Not now. While I don't think the scope has increased, there's plenty of room for exploration, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre plumbs every crevice.

    And still wacky as all get out. This is an album that should attract a huge amount of attention. All of the extraneous details that were lacking last time out have been corrected, and yet the Brian Jonestown Massacre still sounds wonderful. Something amazing is going on here.


    Strung Out in Heaven
    (TVT)
    reviewed in issue #174, 12/28/98

    After years of toiling in semi-obscurity, the Brian Jonestown Massacre has hit the big time. Sorta. Good news: The sound is still great.

    A lot of bands whose heads lie in the 60s slavishly replicate the old sounds. The Massacre has always seemed to get inside the sound, creating music which reminds me of the finest moments of the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, etc., but which is still completely distinctive.

    So yet another album of twisted ramblings, love songs which are simultaneously psychotic and sincere, general good times and the odd strange trip. It does sound like this one was actually recorded in a studio (a step above Give It Back, which was certainly the band's most polished disc before this one), but the songs are still loose and easy. Like they should be.

    Slowly but surely, this band has emerged as one of my favorites. This album only strengthens that position. An inspirational set.


    Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective 2xCD
    (Tee Pee)
    reviewed in issue #260, December 2004

    Kinda fitting that this arrived in the mail just after the passing of Greg Shaw, founder of Bomp! Records. BJM was the first Bomp! artist I heard, and soon I was a big fan of the label. Anton Newcombe and whoever else has filled out the Massacre has been on one long trip the last 10 years, and this set is just a hint of the madness of that experience.

    I should note that there are no tracks from the band's biggest "hit," Strung Out in Heaven--not coincidentally, the only album with major distribution. After that puppy flopped, Newcombe simply kept writing songs and releasing albums. And while the sound has changed a bit in the last decade, the quality has always been high.

    Now, of course, there's Dig, a documentary that focuses on the divergent paths of the Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard it's great. The music shouldn't suck, anyway.

    This is kind of a cute little Christmas present for me, a mix tape of some of my favorite songs. There are a few unreleased songs and alternate versions here--just enough to interest the true fans--but this set ought to serve as a nice into to one of the better songwriters of the last decade for those who know BJM only from the movie. As a friend of mine used to say, "These are happy presents."


    Brick Bath
    I Won't Live the Lie
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    Technical extreme metal. Ultra-sharp production shows off these boys' chops. The playing is most impressive. And it doesn't take anything away from the visceral impact of the riffage.

    I know I'm a little strange, but I always liked the first Pantera album the best. Just something about that clean, cutting style that got me off. The stuff that followed was okay (for an album or two, anyway), but it didn't have that cool sense of the groove.

    Brick Bath doesn't groove much, but the clean lines of these songs are most attractive to me. Certainly, these boys know how to put together songs that hold together. No getting lost here.

    And still a nicely-throttling experience. I dunno where everyone got the idea that a clean-yet-heavy guitar sound sucked. No such concerns here, and the result is one of the freshest, arresting metal albums I've heard this year. Brick Bath doesn't really go anywhere unexpected. The writing is solid, though, and the sounds sound great. Sometimes you don't need more than that.


    Brick Layer Cake
    Tragedy-Tragedy
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94

    Most psychedelic pop acts find the base of their sound in the wall of fuzzy strummed guitar that permeates the genre. And guess what? It can get dull quick.

    But because Brick Layer Cake is headed up by Todd Trainer, who in real life drums for Shellac, Rifle Sport and Breaking Circus, the sound starts with the drums. Yes, psychedelic music with all the necessary overlays that is based on rhythm, not slush. The songs actually move. Hallelujah! A vision!

    Well, the main difference is that it sounds like these songs were actually written. Crafted. Not this, "Well, you've got a nice guitar track, let's just decorate the tree" approach that has been so popular. My God, someone who works!

    Forgive me my sarcasm, but I've had to listen to all of these people coo over My Bloody Valentine. Maybe they'll hear this and get the point I've been making for years. Or maybe they'll just dig the disc. That's okay, too.


    Whatchamacallit
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    It's been seven years since Todd Trainer (drummer for Shellac, Rifle Sport, etc.) has put on his BLC guise and cranked out some seriously deranged music. The riffs are thick, the tempos too slow to believe. BLC may be rock and roll constipation, but the stuff still sounds fabulous when cranked to 11.


    The Brickbats
    We Are the Dead
    (Dismal Abysmal)
    reviewed in issue #131, 3/31/97

    A glance at the title and the cover and you might think you're getting another of those dreary goth sorts. But instead, the sound is a lot more reminiscent of the Lee Harvey Oswald Band (though less produced), and while the tunes are basic pop that ventures occasionally into gothic territory, if anything, the Brickbats are planting a well-placed right to the jaw of the new dark wave.

    Silly as hell (song titles include "(I'm Not) Starting With You (A Dieting Cannibal)", "Black Dress Girl" and "Hell House"), the Brickbats simply rip through some goofy material and then fade away. A little more cheesy than the Groovie Ghoulies, and even less serious (as if that's possible).

    The production has left the sound a bit flat, but nothing horrible. With stuff like this, the emphasis should be on basic melody and lyrics, and that's where it sits here. Pleasant enough.

    Fairly funny, though not much more. I'll give the Brickbats points for their goth parody, and hope the band finds a few less easy laughs next time.


    Bridge
    Collapse
    (Mosquito Taquito)
    reviewed in issue #162, 6/29/98

    Thick and chunky AOR riffs and straight-up rock hollerin' and gang vocals. Not exactly flavor of the month now, is it?

    But that's okay. Bridge does a good job of constructing anthemic rockers that aren't overly pretentious. Plenty of that Michael Anthony-style bass bounce keeps the songs moving along.

    The playing itself is good, if not virtuosic, and the production has left a rough edge on a shiny veneer. There are nods to more recent guitar rock trends (grunge, punk, etc.), but Bridge's base is solidly in the late 70s and early 80s.

    And the guys do it well enough. This isn't a particularly popular sound for bands just starting out, but hell, Bridge knows all the ropes. Enjoyable.


    Bridge and Tunnel Club
    Next Best Letdown
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #265, June 2005

    If you have a few hours, poke around the Bridge and Tunnel Club website. You'll see this explanation of the band: "The Bridge and Tunnel Club exists not as a band in the typical band kind of way more than it is there for the amusement of whoever gets involved with it. Which is to say, it is like a hobby, and like any good hobby no one really expects to make any money off of it." Doesn't get much more cool than that.

    The website contains loads of information about the New York area, but it never really gets around to explaining who's in the band, past discussing previous projects by members. If we're talking about members and not simply one deranged fool.

    The music? Well, it's drum-machine driven. Some songs have more "real" instruments than others. Some songs are kinda poppy, some are more straight-up rock and roll. And the rest are mutant versions of the same. Highly idiosyncratic approaches to rhythm and melody are the highlights here, though it must be noted that these songs somehow manage to come together in a highly endearing fashion.

    Much more accomplished than, say, Half Japanese or Daniel Johnston, but these folks (?) certainly share a similarly warped view of the world. I can sympathize. This is one of those truly strange albums that is hopelessly charming. Simply lovely.


    The Briefs
    Hit After Hit
    (Dirtnap)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    Sharp, thin guitars piled into a classic punk sound. The Briefs sound like they belong back in 1978 and not 2001, but the spirit is most welcome. There's a lot of energy in these songs.

    Not a lot of power. That thin sound I described keeps these songs lean and tight. Three chords and a dream. Not the most melodic fare, but good enough to make me smile.

    And with songs like "Silver Bullet" (the chorus is "Kill Bob Seger right now!"), well, it's hard not to like the Briefs. Goofy? Yep. And with just enough of an off-handed approach to keep the feel loose even as the songs tighten up.

    Hard to pull that trick off, too. The Briefs make this stuff way too much fun. Nothing complicated or particularly deep. No need for any of that. Just crank it up and get ready to bounce.


    The Bright and Hollow Sky
    Gemstate
    (Pop Faction)
    reviewed in issue #265, June 2005

    Four guys from Austin (former members of Silver Scooter) who bring a nice post-rock feel to pretty pop songs. That's pretty much the story here, but damn, is it a nice one.

    There's a cool math-y feel to the rhythms, and a semi-abstract approach to the guitar work. Past that, though, we're talking about understated stuff. Some nice harmonies, a few solid hooks and an overall warm feeling.

    Yes, these folks are old pros at this stuff, and they put that experience to work here. It would be easy for any of the influences to take over the sound, but the Bright and Hollow Sky keeps everything in balance. Which does, indeed, make all the difference.

    At first, this disc sounds innocuous and even innocent. But careful listening finds plenty of bite. This one might skate by on first listen. So be sure to give it plenty of spins.


    Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands
    Muses and Bones
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #335, March 2012

    Crystal Bright has wandered just about everywhere, it seems, and she likes to cram all of her travels into her songs. This album uses the loping rhythms of the Roma as her base, grafting all manner of ideas to that fluid and engaging style.

    Over the top? Yeah, just a bit. Bright pretty much insists on your full attention from the first minute. I didn't mind, though. These songs are immediately arresting, even if the sense of drama within them might feel a bit contrived now and again.

    That's okay by me. Bright enlists so many "Silver Hands" to flesh out her ideas that the album resembles the carnival that its musical underpinnings suggest. If that last sentence didn't quite make sense, well, I'm under the influence. Of Bright, that is.

    Lovely, stirring and generally enthralling. Bright's breadth of sound is almost unbelievable, and this album moves along with power, grace and style. Must remember to breathe. In a moment.


    The Absolute Elsewhere
    (self-released)
    reviewed 5/28/15

    I really liked the last Crystal Bright album. Muses and Bones was a breakneck dash brimming with a wide variety of sounds. I'd heard all the pieces before, but not stirred up with such vigor. After such a whirlwind romance, though, the question of staying power remains.

    The Absolute Elsewhere is relatively more contemplative. These songs still whirl and delight, but there are some quieter moments in between the dramatic climaxes. And, yes, this album impresses just as much.

    Bright draws on eastern European folk music, klezmer, Appalachian holler folk and a whole lotta gypsy tradition. So there's plenty of syncopated acoustic guitar, a generous dose of accordion, ethereal belted hooks (um, you read that right) and plenty of horns. These songs have a spinning motion, and I find it nearly impossible to stay still when I hear them.

    Again, I'm most impressed by the quieter moments. There's no question about her strength, but Bright's strong, expressive voice is flexible enough to convincingly convey fear and doubt. This album is a richer and fuller experience.

    The growth in her songwriting is wonderful. Instead of simply channeling her influences, Bright is coming much closer to creating her own sound. My infatuation is turning into something much deeper, and that's all for the good.


    Brighter Death Now
    Innerwar
    (Release-Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #116, 8/12/96

    Real tasty noise sculptures. Karmanik, the pseudonym of the man who is Brighter Death Now, has put together wondrous set of noise and sound that merges the industrial metal musings of folks like Dead World with the noise underground. The samples are sparse and repeated often, but the way all of this has been crafted is quite stunning.

    Hypnotic, psychotic and purely malevolent. Brighter Death Now brings out the evil of the world in full sonic detail. Unlike some noise artists who are content to scratch and claw their way to a vicious sound, Karmanik has worked overtime to whip his sound into shape.

    Like a mean version of Dead Voices on Air. Where that loop project is more ambient in nature, Brighter Death Now uses the same techniques to create a noise masterpiece. The level of sophistication is amazing, and the auditory chaos it induces leaves me bereft of sanity.


    Pain in Progress
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    A re-issue of an album from 1988, with seven bonus tracks of stuff from assorted compilations, 7"s and the like. Gothic noise, if you weren't already aware. Brighter Death Now is the work of a guy who calls himself Karmanik, and his genius is just as apparent in these early works as it is in his more recent albums.

    The breath is the pulse of industry, and the heartbeat the pain of all mankind. Brighter Death Now swoops in on its subjects, clothing them in the tatters of a broken society and then unmasks the whole procedure, revealing soundscapes of agonized futility.

    I think part of the point is to provide a soundtrack to Death. Lives that are already dead, a culture that is slowly committing suicide. The music is unrelenting, but still carefully textured and structured so as to bring off the full effect.

    An impressive exploration of the depths of the human experience. Brighter Death Now pulls no punches in plumbing the bowels of humanity. As the back cover says, "I have become Death, the Shatterer of Earth". Couldn't have said it better myself.


    Greatest Death
    (Cold Meat Industry-Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #162, 6/29/98

    The most popular selections from the Great Death limited edition sets. First issued in 1990 as a single disc, in 1995 it resurfaced as a double disc set with a third portion which could be acquired with a form included in the set.

    Needless to say, with only 500 and 1500 copies, respectively, those earlier releases sold out quickly. For those not in the know, Brighter Death Now traffics in true industrial noise, layers of samples and distortion occasionally broken up by something resembling music. All very gothic, in a traditional sense.

    Way loud, way offensive. Painful to the touch. My kinda stuff. This "Greatest Hits" of the Great Death series is rather impressive. The tracks bleed anguish and suffering, with samples from the lowest parts of society.

    Another fine set. Music on the edge, but genius never hangs around the mainstream.


    May All Be Dead
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    Not exactly a sunny day band to begin with, the electronic disturbance pioneers extraordinaire lurch forth with another album that is just screaming to be banned.

    You know, I don't think Dr. Laura could take likes like "I wish I was a little girl/I could be dead/raped/mutilated/slaughtered/fucked..." out of context. Well, actually, she could, but that's another story.

    High art, stuff that at once attacks basic visceral emotion and the intellect. Why all the hate? Well, there's a million reasons, at least half of which seem to be discussed on this album. Discussed, of course, is something of a euphemism. Very little in the way of clear speech bleeds through the cascading walls of distortion.

    Man, this stuff sounds great. I love the way the sounds kinda weave in and out, escaping the chaos for a moment before fading back into a generic caterwaul. I just love the fuzzy pulsations. Nothing like it in the world. That's why BDN is so cool.


    Obsessis
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01

    The master of gothic noise rock returns. R. Karmanik has been traveling these jagged waters for some time now, but this effort really shows off his skill and tortured mind to fine effect.

    A lot of noisesters use distorted vocals as a way of getting their ideas across. Karmanik has none of this, instead using his vocals as an instrument unto themselves, modulating them into rhythmic pulses and playing them off the percussive samples he uses.

    Um, you know, like really loud and mean. That's what this sounds like. Terror knows no bounds when in the hands of Brighter Death Now. Once the onslaught begins, you have to wait until the final wave of agony passes. There is no respite.

    But for your trouble you'll be left bereft of hope and peace. Maybe not the bargain you thought you were making, but that's what happens when you parley with a disturbed genius.


    Paul Brill
    Harpooner
    (Scarlet Shame)
    reviewed in issue #282, February 2007

    Sublimely disjointed songs. Paul Brill may write these songs straight, but somewhere between concept and final product he strips everything down. And his rebuilds are nothing short of miraculous.

    Some might consider his approach a bit too meddlesome. At times Brill does seem to take a perfectly beautiful thought or melody and just bash it all to bits. The remnants survive, but in an almost unrecognizable form.

    Still and all, this is music that hits on a gut level. In other words, Brill's evocative arranging is designed to affect the soul, not the mind. I can appreciate what he's doing, but I have no control over my visceral reaction to these songs.

    It's a strong reaction, too. Without even thinking about it, I somehow gave myself up completely. Looking back, I can kinda explain why--Brill's deft ear and intuitive collage technique create some of the most arresting sounds I've heard in ages. Still and all, the heart leaps first. And that's always a good sign.


    The Brimstone Solar Radiation Band
    The Brimstone Solar Radiation Band
    (Big Dipper)
    reviewed in issue #267, August 2005

    Kinda like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, except that these folks are serious about bringing back the 60s, and most of the members are Norwegian (guitarist and vocalist R. Edwards has a name that sounds suspiciously non-Scandinavian).

    And like BJM, Brimstone drops plenty of modern ideas into this peace, love and psychedelic rumination brio. There's a good chunk of organ, some mandolin and--oh yeah--a little sitar here and there. These guys reference Love as much as the Airplane...though the lyrics certainly do seem to have been steeped in a mushroom stew.

    The sound is the most modern part of this album. The full, lush production is decidedly non-60s, but that's cool. It brings out the otherworldliness of certain aspects of the music. Makes everything a bit more out there. And that doesn't hurt one bit.

    If I had to take a position, I'd say these boys are a bit too enamored with the past. I'd like to hear somewhat more modern ideas thrown into the mix a bit more often. But this is a fun little piece of historical reconstruction, one that goes down well with psilocybin chaser.


    Brise-Glace
    In Sisters All and Felony 7"
    (Skin Graft)
    reviewed in issue #58, 7/15/94

    When you think you've gotten used to the bands on a label (Mount Shasta, Shorty and the incomparable Dazzling Killmen, to name a few), it's nice to hear a surprise.

    Brise-Glace practises a sort of eclectic jazz-industrial thing. Not jazz in the mellow sense, but more of a bop/jazz hard core thing like John Zorn or Ornette Coleman of a few years back.

    You haven't heard anything like this before. That isn't a challenge to your musical range or anything. It is a statement of fact. This is weird, and I love it. The a-side sounds something like hyperactive elephants in heat (I guess it's the bass clarinet), with the flip slowing up a bit, still managing to destroy me. Oh, that eerie organ!

    The nucleus of Brise-Glace is Jim O'Rourke of Gastr Del Soul (the press says B-G is his rock band. Wow.), Darin Gray of Dazzling Killmen, Thymme Jones of Illusion of Safety and Dylan Posa of Flying Luttenbachers. A full-length is due at the end of August, with some help from Henry Kaiser (!!!) and others.

    The best dose in a 7" casing I've had in some time. Maybe ever.


    When in Vanitas...
    (Skin Graft-Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94

    After the up-tempo wonder of the a-side of their single, I was expecting a little more of the same on the album. Well, I know this is a soundtrack and all, but I was still hoping for music that would stand out.

    It is there. The problem was my preconceived notions about how Brise-Glace should sound. I should have known better. Brise-Glace is the last band to try and pin down to anything.

    Headed up by Jim O'Rourke (Gastr Del Sol and many other bands), Brise-Glace is a collection of "alternative" musicians who have decided to make a jazz record. And not just any jazz record, but a really weird one. One that would probably sound more in step with sonic constructionists, except that this music is performed, not sampled. And the music...

    Can't be defined. Not now, not ever. The songs usually end up focusing on some odd rhythm or another, and you can count on a distinct lack of melody. The recurring theme is almost always somewhere in the rhythm. It is hypnotic.

    And, well, brilliant. Why else would such folk as Henry Kaiser stop by and contribute? Brise-Glace refuse to stoop to expectations. Instead, the music soars above such mundane things.

    See also Dazzling Killmen, Gastr del Sol, The Red Krayola and Yona-Kit.


    The British Columbians
    The British Columbians
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #303, December 2008

    Old-school blues played by a top-notch rock and roll outfit. You know, kinda like Led Zeppelin without so much Led. I'm not trying to make any sort of pretentious comparison, except to say that these guys are talented, versatile and energetic. And, you know, they're translating old music into a newer idiom.

    Slightly newer, I guess. This is more 70s rock than indie rock, and it's produced with a confident hand. This sounds just like something any major label in the 70s would have loved to release. I've been trying to make more comparisons, but the more I listen, the more I'm convinced these guys are simply the British Columbians.

    I couldn't even start writing until I'd listened to the album halfway through. I was just in awe. This is an epochal album, something that comes along only so often. It's probably 40 years too late to make music history, but I'm not gonna worry about that. Good music is its own reward.

    This isn't good music. It's outfuckingstanding music. Yes, I'm a guy who came of age in the 80s sporting long locks and playing Led Zep tapes with my Sparkomatic cranked up to full distortion. So perhaps I'm naturally inclined toward this kinda thing. On the other hand, I know shit from shinola. This stuff is pure gold.


    Brizz
    Don't Mean Much promo CD5
    (TCL/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    After hearing this, I'm kinda at a loss. Brizz plays an industrial form of pop or rap-metal or SoCal party ska or whatever. And I mean that. The guys kinda skip around without landing in any one solid place.

    Which is kinda cool. Except that the boys sound like they're trying to be someone else rather than focusing on themselves. Each song does have some sort of spoken intro, which isn't entirely original, but at least it ties the stuff together.

    Thing is, none of these songs really jumps out at me. I'm a horrible judge of what the kids will groove on, though, and any of the four songs here could be a decent hit with enough of a push. I just wish there was more there there.


    Broadcaster
    The Epidemic of Falling Backwards EP
    (Congregation)
    reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98

    Some former members of Godplow re-forming way up north. Definite emo-pop construction, and the guys have the basics down, with a bit more punch.

    Before I forget, I love the jacket construction. Yeah, it's definitely on the inexpensive side, but still quite impressive. As for the music, well, it's perfectly good. But doesn't really break out from the fairly large pack.

    And that's not to say the music is generic. Like I said, there is more emphasis on guitar power here than with most emo-pop, and that certainly lends an air of distinction to the songs. It's just that, well, The stuff doesn't knock me out. I like it okay. You know the feeling?

    This one just didn't speak to me. I don't think there's anything particularly technical in my disapproval; just a vague sense. No spark for me. It happens.


    The Broadways
    The Broadways
    (Asian Man)
    reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98

    A nice survey of punk sounds, rounded off with some of the more cogent and intelligent lyrics I've heard in a while. There's reams of cynicism ("Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Genocide I Learned in the Third Grade" and "Jonathan Kozol Was Right..."), but a few ideas as well.

    And while the music is nicely eclectic (as punk goes, anyways), it is the vocal presentation of those fine lyrics which really sets the band apart. The Broadways have something to say, and those ideas are communicated extremely well.

    Long stuff, too, averaging nearly three minutes a song. My goodness. I didn't really notice the length until I punched up the totals. The punchy tunes just keep coming along, and I sure didn't want to impede their progress.

    I don't know what it is, but I've heard lots of great punk in the last month or so. I mean, I'd gone almost a year thinking that punk might have played itself out (or, at least, that I had finally tired of the somewhat limited musical vision I'd been hearing). But hell, the Broadways have helped bring me back into the fold.


    Robin Brock
    Blame It on Rock and Roll
    (A2 Records)
    reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00

    A good-looking woman with throaty vocals singing about getting out of control. Nothing wrong with that at all. Well, okay, maybe there are other considerations.

    The music is straight out of the 80s, somewhere in that Loverboy/Night Ranger light hard rock territory, if that makes sense. Songs like these lit up Top 40 radio 15 years ago.

    They don't any more, for plenty of reasons. My own take is that there are only so many ways to sing about the hard rockin' life while playing relatively tame music, and most of those were exhausted on Midnight Madness. Most of this kinda stuff was in a retread mode by the time Bryan Adams picked it up, and it's been quite a while since then.

    Brock is a good singer, and she knows how to stick to her range. But the material needs to venture a little past the middle of the road. She's not taking chances here, unless you want to call playing an out-of-fashion style a chance. She needs to find an edge, a hook for people to catch on. There's just not enough here.


    Cole Broderick Quartet
    Autumn in Saratoga
    (Cole Broderick Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #112, 6/17/96

    Volume three in Broderick's "Seasons of Saratoga" series, perhaps a jazz answer to George Winston or something. Broderick, in the liners, says he simply wants to portray a full picture of his hometown, Saratoga Springs.

    I can't judge that, as I've never been. But the music walks the line between cheesy commercial jazz and more creative jazz quite well. Broderick or bandmate Marcus Benoit wrote all the tunes, and, as any portrait should, the tones vary from bright to smoky and even some foreboding (it is autumn, after all).

    While certainly not a great statement of art, Broderick and mates whip through a series of easily enjoyable tunes which aren't cloying in the least. My preferences still run to more edgy sounds, but this is the sort of album folks from all over the jazz appreciation map can like. Not an easy trick to pull off, but I think marketing was on the back burner here. And that is probably the final saving grace.


    Winter in Saratoga
    (Cole Broderick Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99

    The last of his Saratoga seasonal sequence. As long as Easter in Saratoga and other such bit of silliness don't come along. I'm betting they don't.

    Much the same sort of bright, intricate sounds which populated the last Saratoga disc I reviewed. Broderick often has a feel which reminds me of Vince Guaraldi (the Peanuts music guy, if you don't know), partly because of his light touch on the piano and partly because of the way his bass lines walk around so much.

    What I particularly like is the way Broderick paints winter as an active and joyous season, not the season of ice and death. I happen to like this season, and his compositions do justice to this wonderful time of the year. The sun never shines brighter than the morning after a big snow (and you don't have to sweat it out, either!). I get that feel from this disc.

    Almost studiously anti-formal, Broderick does "commercial" jazz the right way, without sacrificing any of the skill and emotion of more adventurous composers. While perhaps not "literary," this is good stuff indeed, agreeable to the devotee and casual fan alike.


    John Brodeur
    Tiger Pop: Songs by John Brodeur
    (Mr. Duck)
    reviewed in issue #226, February 2002

    Just slightly off-kilter pop music. John Brodeur has a vaguely unsteady voice, and he uses that to full effect. His music, too, hits a few blue notes. Most effective in their application, I've got to say.

    There's this feeling of subtle, but constant, undercutting. Almost like Brodeur could make gorgeous pop music that would make a listener swoon. But instead he crafts these fractured tunes of love lost and lives gone astray.

    I kept waiting for Brodeur to "straighten out." He never does, even though it sounds like such a development is right around the corner. I love that sorta tension. It adds a whole new dimension to the music.

    For those of us who see the world from angles gone moderately astray, Brodeur sounds perfect. He sees the silly and sad in proper proportion and expresses them both with a wry wit. Nothing maudlin, just a wink and a warbled smile. You know, kinda like life itself.


    Mark Brodie & the Beaver Patrol
    The Shores of Hell
    (Shredder)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    From the titles of the tunes ("Bitch Stole My Board", "Death at Mile Zero", etc.) you might think the music would be just a little more aggro.

    But this is surf a la the Ventures, meek and mellow at times. Brodie sounds like he'd really like to get that Dick Dale sound, but he's not willing to go through the pain of playing tuned-up bass strings. So this sounds like... another surf band.

    Not bad surf stuff, but I'll take Dale or Shadowy Men over these folks. Sure, this is nice stuff for a sunny day, but art it ain't. The trick is to play hard and still sound laid back. Brodie & Co. need to get the first part of that equation down.


    Mark Brodie & the Saboteurs
    T.I.G.E.R. Rock 7"
    (American Pop Project)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    He's still cranking out the goods. I've never been particularly impressed by either Brodie's playing or his style, but I have to admit that he's proficient, if nothing else.

    Here's the deal: Brodie can play a decent laid-back surf guitar. I'm not a big fan of pyrotechnics, mind you, but Brodie plays the slow licks with the same lack of passion that makes speedster runs just as dull. There's no soul here. See also the Metalunas.


    Broken Hope
    Swamped in Gore
    (Grind Core)
    reviewed in issue #6

    One of the better releases from Grind Core. Rather disguised vocals, but the music is interesting enough to keep anyone going. Especially fine drum work from Ryan Stanek keeps the songs moving at a quick, but usually not insane, pace.

    If you've been into the earlier Grind Core stuff, then by all means add this fucker immediately. If you haven't, check it out, because it is worth a listen. I especially dug "Incinerated," the title track, "Devourer of Souls" and "Gobblin' the Guts." Some things just make me smile...


    Hobo Stew 7"
    (Metal Blade)
    reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93

    Reasons not to like Broken Hope: I've heard it all before, didn't like it then, um, I guess that's it, really.

    Sorry to be so hard on the guys. This isn't as bad as the stuff they put out on Grind Core (it's better produced, for one thing), but I still can't escape the urge to fall asleep whenever I hear them.

    On the other hand, a lot of you like stuff that sounds like this, so enjoy. (That wasn't a cop out. It is the truth.


    The Bowels of Repugnance
    (Metal Blade)
    reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93

    Of all the bands on Grind Core, this is the one I liked the least. Of course, it was one of their stronger performers. Oh well.

    This is, of course, much better produced than the GC disc, but the music is still caught in a vicious boredom cycle. Too many people have called them Cannibal Corpse Jr. for me to forget. I just would like to forget this album.

    Find some creativity, boys.


    Bronze
    Let It Rain CD5
    (The Bus Stop Label)
    reviewed in issue #235, November 2002

    The first single from the upcoming Bronze album, this three-song set runs through so much pop territory it's hard to believe that the same band wrote and played these songs.

    Or maybe not. All three are heartfelt pieces, though "Let It Rain" has a certain 60s sense to it, while "The Statue in the Stone" (title track of the aforementioned album) is a straight-up raver and "We Stand Alone" is a contemplative and soulful.

    The thing is, each song is immaculately crafted, though all that attention hasn't drained a drop of emotion from the final product. Quite well done.


    The Statue in the Stone
    (The Bus Stop Label)
    reviewed in issue #239, March 2003

    I think the theme of this issue is dreamy power pop. Bronze plays wonderfully-crafted stuff with plenty Byrds-y ringing guitar and slightly ragged harmonies. The songs are little gems, finely cut and exquisite at every facet.

    The Bus Stop Label is an expert at finding this kind of stuff, but Bronze at the top of that impressive heap. I loved the CD single that I reviewed back in November, and this full-length fills in all the space between the three relatively-disparate songs on that disc.

    Two of the three songs from that single are here, and they fall into place perfectly. If I had to characterize the overall sound, I'd say this stuff is decidedly modern with more than a hint of 60s soul (no matter if the muse in question is Gram Parsons or Pete Townsend).

    In truth, the only proper label for Bronze's music is "great." These are eminently hummable songs with real depth. There's always another layer to uncover, and repeat listens will reward time and time again. Some folks hit the nail on the head; Bronze obliterates the target completely.


    A Common Prayer
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #256, August 2004

    Classically-styled pop played flawlessly. The sound is often acoustic, but always tight and focused. Even the mellower moments here are light-years away from mawkishness. Paul Handy write some beautiful songs, and Bronze brings them to life in the brightest way possible.


    Tom Brosseau
    Tom Brosseau
    (Loveless)
    reviewed in issue #282, February 2007

    That old-fashioned low-lonesome sound, if you will. Tom Brosseau takes a seriously minimalist approach to country-folk ballads and in so doing manages to make everything sound larger than life.

    There are hints of pedal steel and the occasional backup vocals. But most of this is guitar, voice, bass and drums--and that rhythm section stays out of the way as much as possible. This sound makes tough demands on the songwriting, but Brosseau is up to the task.

    Indeed, these songs are so intimate that dressing them up further might well diminish their raw beauty. Not to mention that Brosseau would have to sing louder, and I don't think he's got the voice for that. At this volume, he has one of those vaguely quirky, endearing voices. You push that, and he might end up sounding like a strangled squirrel.

    But he doesn't. Brosseau stays in pocket, these songs shimmer and the album rolls most pleasantly toward its conclusion. Exceptionally solid.


    The Brother Egg
    Billy Barty's Brains CD5
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00

    The guys call their stuff "futuristic" pop, I guess because of the fuzzy shimmer and fairly obsessive production sound. I'll have to make do with "pretty damned good."

    Three tunes, all of which display a rather full and lush sound. Sometimes it's accomplished with just the regular band, and at times some friends come in on strings and such.

    There are the requisite "wig out" moments, particularly on the intros and fade outs. The Brother Egg knows what it's doing. It does this well. Exceedingly so.


    The Brother Kite
    Waiting for the Time to Be Right
    (Clairecords)
    reviewed in issue #278, September 2006

    The shimmery pop album that always seems to signal the end of the summer for me. The Brother Kite sucks at the breast of the Beach Boys and Fountains of Wayne, with nips from the Big Star bottle from time to time.

    Oh, and they do it so nicely. These are hardly languid pieces. Rather, many race ahead at an almost breakneck pace. Even those bashers are astoundingly pretty. There's just no getting around the gorgeous nature of these songs.

    The production is excessive. I mean, it has to be to achieve the ringing reverb and haunting harmonies that populate this disc. That kind of stuff can get grating when the songs are no good. But these folks know how to knock out a great song or few.

    Put this in, crank it up and watch the sun go down. A cloudy glass of hefe would be nice right about now.


    Brothertiger
    Future Splendors
    (Mush)
    reviewed 3/9/14

    If you came of age in the days of the second British invasion (a.k.a. "New Wave"), you'll remember a lot of supposed one-hit wonders. Some truly were: Spandau Ballet had a lot of albums, but no one remembers anything other than "True." But others, like Big Country and Level 42, had pretty solid careers. In places other than the U.S.

    But people were listening. Every time I've cranked up the new Brothertiger (calling card of a certain John Jagos) set, I flash back to Level 42. And not just that band's one U.S. hit, "Something About You" (which, in truth, has to sit pretty high on just about any Top 100 Songs of the 80s list). But the totality of World Machine (the album from whence that song came) and the other two L42 albums that I've heard.

    I always thought I should go back and dig up more from that band. And Future Splendors is just another impetus. Not only does Brothertiger summon up the ambient/pop/vaguely funky feel of its British influence, it uses "There's something about you" within "Crazy, Again." It's a subtle nod, but the feel of the song ensures that a savvy listener won't miss the reference. Either that or it's a complete coincidence, and I'm simply reading way too much into this. But that's what critics are supposed to do!

    More to the point, Brothertiger exhibits its pop tendencies only so often. More of the pieces on this album trend toward the abstract and ambient. At times, there's even a mellow experimental feel. If you were wondering, it is a similar refusal to play the pop game that doomed Level 42 in the States. World Machine is chock full of songs that sound nothing like "Something About You." Future Splendors is chock full of electronic sounds that often have little to do with the song that came before.

    I don't hear this as being willfully obtuse, however. The album has a wonderful flow, largely because Brothertiger never quite leaves its dispassionate comfort zone. This is not an album of ranting and raving. It is programmed as a thoughtful chilldown. And while my 12-year-old self would have been pissed off (and possibly even bitched about a bait-and-switch), my 43-year-old self is content to sit back and contemplate existence now and again.

    More importantly, Brothertiger updates the whole electronic pop/jazz sound with the ambient and other more recent developments. The sounds are gorgeous, and they pack a wallop even at their most diffuse. There's still a high nostalgia factor to my ear, but I find nothing wrong with that. Bringing an overlooked sound back is always a welcome idea. Improving upon that sound is sublime.


    Brother Weasel
    Swingin' n Groovin'
    (SST)
    reviewed in issue #187, 8/30/99

    Unlike some bands which make some strange claim to be playing "swing" music, Brother Weasel knows it's playing a modified version of the jump blues. The band's composition includes harp, tenor sax, guitar, drums and bass, with a little organ every once in a while. The songs are lengthy instrumentals, played in the familiar "pass the solo" jazz style.

    When I say lengthy, I mean it. The songs average more than six-minutes-per, and none are shorter than five minutes. The soloing structure contributes to this, and it's that song construction which makes this decidedly non-swing music sound a lot more jazzy than most "swingers" today.

    A timeless form and some timeless musings. It's pretty easy to get lost within the ramblings, and each solo has something to say. Music for kicking back and contemplating. This is stuff that stand up to rigorous listening.

    Enjoyable, and honestly, more than that. Brother Weasel knows how to find, and keep, a mood.


    The Brought Low
    The Brought Low
    (Tee Pee)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Another example of stoner rock with southern fried flavor. In the case of the Brought Low, the riffage is where that down home feel comes from. The songs are very much in the Sab style, with extended riffage punctuated by a sentence or two of vocals.

    If you're unconvinced by this prospective marriage, think of bands like Agony Column. It worked then, and it works now. The whole point of stoner rock is to go over the top, and a little boogie helps take you there.

    Plus, that kinda thing helps to move the songs along. They're still long and all (duh), but a little variety sure does add spice. The sound is crunchy but not overdone. Somewhere between early Sabbath and some good Muscle Shoals.

    I got more into this the more I listened. I think the guys may even be better at the boogie than the stoner stuff, actually. But right not they're tryin' to play both worlds. Not badly, either.


    Coby Brown Group
    Homesick
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    Soulful, rootsy stuff with just a light touch of groove-band guitar stylings. Lots of fairly trendy pieces thrown into the pot, and Coby Brown Group does a pretty good job of keeping everything together.

    Yes, this is commercial stuff. It's aimed at the masses. The tempos stay right down the middle of the road, and the melodies hew the same line. Adventurous, these guys ain't.

    That said, the songs are immensely listenable. Not really what I go out of my way to hear, but this stuff is definitely done well. To hit the next level, these guys need only one thing: better hooks.

    'Cause if it can craft three or four of those "can't get it out of my head" choruses, Coby Brown Band could really blow up, All the basic tools are here.


    Hannis Brown
    oh ah ee
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #315, March 2010

    An excellent set of energetic electronic compositions. Hannis Brown uses just about whatever sounds he can find to create his songs, and then once in a while he decides to sing.

    His voice is so ordinary that it provides a striking counterpoint to the exceptionally wide-ranging sound of the music. There are more ideas rambling through ten seconds of any song here than most artists get onto an entire album.

    Brown's imagination is, indeed, impressive. But even more gripping is the way he brings together all of the ideas and sounds. This ought to be a collection of noise, with the occasional bit of structure sticking out of the rubble. But Brown has constructed a masterpiece.

    Yes, we are a few miles away from the mainstream here. Brown has no intention of challenging today's pop stars to a popularity contest. But his mastery of writing and arranging makes this one of the most exciting albums I've heard in quite some time. May his imagination never give out.


    Brown25
    Lunar Modular Unit
    (Bionic Milk Plant)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    It sure is a good time to be an eclectic fuzzy pop band. I mean, the Flaming Lips finally broke into the upper regions of the Voice's Jazz/Pop poll and little labels everywhere seem to be signing left and right.

    Bionic Milk Plant is not so much a label as it is one of those "fancy self releases," where the band figured it might as well start a label as well as kick out a disc. No worries, though. The music works no matter its packaging.

    The guys are really more into mid-60s Beatles than Todd Rundgren; the rhythms are clunky and the disturbances are more straightforward than mind-numbing. In other words, this isn't headphone music. But that's OK. Really.

    See, it's just nicely weird pop music. Enough spinning around to make repeat visits pleasant, and tight enough hooks to make the head bob along. Simple, sure, but then, that's the point. Why mess too much with a good thing? Brown25 knows exactly where to draw the line.


    Carl Henry Brueggen
    Cinzano & Cocaine
    Idler
    EPs
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #254, June 2004

    Carl Henry Brueggen was, in an earlier life, guitarist for Mount Shasta. For those who don't recall, Mount Shasta ripped off a few tasty chunks of Jesus Lizard-inspired no wave back in the mid 90s. So you figure Brueggen would get louder or simply freakier, right?

    Try bossanova, baby. Brueggen jams along with some of the finest musicians Chicago has to offer (including the amazing Alejo Poveda on percussion--the one part of bossanova that simply has to be right), throwing down three songs per disc.

    Simply lovely. These songs are fully orchestrated, lusciously ripe pieces of fruit just waiting to be plucked from the branch. Give Brueggen ten seconds and you're on the beach in Rio watching the waves roll in and the scenery stroll by.

    Who knew you had to go to Chicago to find real bossanova? Just another reason why I consider the Windy City the greatest music town in the world.


    Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
    Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
    (Papa Bear)
    reviewed in issue #157, 4/20/98

    Bill Bruford and Tony Levin have been getting together fairly often of late. They're both members of the extended King Crimson family, and as such worked on the soon to be released Projeckt One "fractal" of that group. And there's this disc, with Chris Botti along on trumpet and David Torn picking up the guitar and doing some technology duty.

    Much like Bruford's solo album last year with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez, the result is a prog take on jazz. A more expansive and straightforward approach to the form than is usually heard, but certainly much more sophisticated than the average "rock guy plays jazz" album.

    Much more sophisticated than the average "jazz guy plays jazz" album, for that matter. Bruford and Levin lay down seductive, intricate grooves, and Botti and Torn flit about over the top. The interplay is impressive, and when some of Torn's looping comes into play, the songs get downright involved.

    Laid back, for the most part, but also incredibly dense. There are tons of ideas expressed, all begging to be noticed. In finest prog tradition, this is encouraged, not repressed. And in finest artistic tradition, these men are talented enough to turn a melange into music. An incredible listen.

    See also Bozzio Levin Stevens and King Crimson.


    Bill Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez
    If Summer Had Its Ghosts
    (Discipline Global Mobile)
    reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97

    Another instrumental album featuring a drummer (my second in two issues). And when you consider that the drummer is Bill Bruford, probably best known for his work with King Crimson.

    Add Ralph Towner on guitar (piano, and much more) and Eddie Gomez on bass, and the sound runs somewhere along the lines of the Ginger Baker Trio. Bruford's percussion work is a bit more sensitive and less bombastic, but still, I think the comparison is a good one.

    The liner notes take pains to emphasize that this is not just another example of rock types "playing at jazz". I'm not a fan of labels, and in any case, this is a good album. It happens to be jazz. Bruford is the leader, and he happens to be a drummer.

    Most of the album lies on the cool side, and Bruford showcases his considerable talents in subtle ways (check out "Somersaults" for some truly impressive playing that never resorts to bashing). His sides are quite talented, and the music they make is inspired. Quietly absorbing. And, like the most recent Ginger Baker Trio album (excerpts of which are used interludes for NPR's All Things Considered), a disc that will continue to be heard for a long time to come.

    See also Bruford Levin Upper Extremities and King Crimson.


    Bill Bruford's Earthworks
    A Part, and Yet Apart
    (Discipline Global Mobile)
    reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99

    Yet another change in pace for Bruford, this time back to jazz. And, strangely, fairly straightforward fare. Not bad, mind you, or bland or overly technical or anything like that. Just about what you might expect of four talented, creative musicians.

    And I can't stress this enough: That's pretty damned good. Fans of Bruford will be knocked out, as usual, by his expressive drum work. Patrick Clahar's sax (tenor and alto) work carries most of the melodic side, and Mark Hodgson on bass and Steve Hamilton on piano team up with Bruford to create the intricate rhythmic patterns.

    You know, again, I really can't say enough how good this is. And yet, I had a notion that there might be true greatness here. That extra spark of inspired lunacy which often accompanies Bruford's work. I did not get a sense of that. For whatever reason, the spirit isn't in the tapes.

    Which puts this disc in the weird position of apologizing for not being one of the great albums of the year. It's merely very, very good. And, really, that should be more than enough for me. Really, it should.

    See also Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, Bill Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez and King Crimson.


    The Bruisers
    In the Pit Live and Rare
    (TKO)
    reviewed in issue #207, 10/30/00

    Some unreleased tracks and unreleased versions of songs from the Independence Day sessions along with a number of live takes.

    The session tracks haven't been cleaned up much; they're kinda rough and grungy. That unproduced quality does add some gravity to the fairly light version of hardcore that the Bruisers espouse.

    The live tracks are taken from three different events. The cleanest sounding songs were recorded at WUNH. Almost clinical in their tightness. The club live songs are much muddier; at times the guitar is just a roar.

    Decent fare, though it doesn't really inspire me. The Bruisers have a nice feel on the sound, but somewhere between the writing and the playing some energy got lost. Crank it up, boys.


    Brujeria
    Machetazos! 7"
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #18, 8/15/92

    So many songs it almost qualifies as an EP. This is brutal death from Mexico. As the story goes, some guys in a Juarez jail wrote Billy Gould of Faith No More and sent him a tape. He decided to produce a couple of singles. The real story is much less interesting, but it still involves Billy Gould...

    Thanks to excellent press from outgoing LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, the first single on Nemesis records sold quite well. And so should this one. It transcends the novelty of the situation. This is a decent band. The name is Spanish for a kind of witch, but I can't remember exactly what the connotation is. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to listen to the 7" again. Damn.


    Matando Gueros
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #36, 6/30/93

    The first thing you should do when you get this is burn that red press sheet.

    I am used to a pile of bullshit coming with albums. But when it is so far from reality and rather racist, well, I have to draw the line.

    Last I checked, Brujeria are a bunch of folk from various bands, major label and otherwise. All of the bizarre satanic conspiracy and drug dealer stories are untrue.

    There is no such thing as a "Mexican nationality." Like the United States, Mexico has many different ethnic groups. Most are a combination of Indian and European blood, but there are plenty of Asians and others. And of course, the whiter you are, the higher up you are.

    Whoever wrote that stuff should have done some research before sending such crap across the country. While I'm no PC maven, there is such a thing a reasonable sensitivity.

    As for the music, it is rather unproduced grindcore. Rather entertaining, actually. The disc also includes the songs from their AT single.

    A much better way to promote this would be just to send out the disc. Call it what it is: the Spinal Tap of death metal. It's all a big joke. If it weren't for the press, I would've laughed even harder.


    El Patron 7"
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #54, 5/15/94

    If you don't know who's really in this band, ask around. Everything about this band is a joke.

    Hell, a Father's Day tribute to Pablo Escobar is pretty damned funny. And if you can't read Spanish, find someone who does. The lyrics are rather amusing.

    The flip is, what else, a glorification of the Menendez Boys. Somehow I don't think they'll be using it in the mini-series.

    Good for a cheap, if morbid, laugh.


    Raza Odiada
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #84, 8/28/95

    I really ripped on the press for the last Brujeria full-length. It seemed just a bit over the line. And so is the "Death to Pete Wilson" poster included with this release, but I think it's perfectly fine to pick on a racist Republican pig (and are there any other kinds of Republicans, anyway?) Plus, this is much funnier.

    Jello makes a cool cameo as Pete Wilson on the title track "Raza Odiada (Pito Wilson)". Certainly as amusing as the Paris tune "Bush Killa" of a few years back.

    If you don't know, Brujeria is really made up of members of Fear Factory, a guy from Faith No More and some other assorted malcontents. I'll let you do the sleuthing from there. The music is a lot cleaner and meaner than the last time out (sounding a lot like the first Fear Factory disc). In other words, you can play this one for the music and not just the laughs.

    And, of course, it helps to have at least some grasp of Spanish to get the jokes, as the lyrics, liners and all are in that language. A firm knowledge of Mexican (as opposed to Castillian) cuss words is necessary as well. After all, you really couldn't say the English translation for "Hechado Chingasos" on the air. But since it's in Spanish, what the hell...

    Enjoy to your heart's content.


    Ze Bruno
    Big Circle
    (Tonga)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Ze Bruno is a Brazilian percussionist. He doesn't have any intention of being constrained by that description, however. Rather, he uses his skills and instruments to try out a variety of different pop sounds, even ripping through a light, horn-laden cover of "Come Together" which sounds like something that Prince might try.

    In general, Bruno sticks to the pop side of things, whether he's pounding his drums with a house beat or simply as color. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. His cover of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" is perfectly fine, but he really doesn't add anything. It's pretty much straight from the original.

    The sound is good, and generally Bruno's percussion work is nicely balanced with the rest of the music. He's crafted some fine-sounding songs. Even if some of those songs are more interesting than others. And that's how this disc bounces. I think Bruno has the right idea in using his skills to try new things. I do wish that he'd be a bit more ambitious and really push the sounds that he's attacking. No limits if that were to happen.


    Brutal Juice
    Black Moment of Panic 7"
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #35, 5/31/95

    Brain-pounding rock from the heart of Texas. Like a slightly upbeat Neurosis, to compare them to another AT band. But only a little.

    This really kicked my butt upon first listen, and I cannot explain why. Sure, the riffage is great, and the sound all but sublime. I put my hands in front of my speakers and the hairs all stood on end, even at low volume. The bass is definitely pumped.

    I still can't put my finger on it. I suppose a few more spins will help to solve this dilemma (damn).


    I Love the Way They Scream When They Die
    (Sound Virus)
    reviewed in issue #62, 9/15/94

    Live, live, live; the way I understand is best to appreciate Brutal Juice. These noise merchants from Denton, Texas had a recent 7" on Alternative Tentacles, but there is so much more here.

    Brutal Juice takes a slightly punky approach to the walls-of-guitar sound, so trendy with the kids these days. Things work best when everything gets going fast and just the slightest bit out of control, as is usual with this sort of band. Most songs end up in that pleasant territory.

    The production is pretty decent for a sound board recording, only the usual problems with extreme highs and lows. The songs were recorded live, but there is no pretense; the tracks are banded, not all run together. Doesn't matter to me.

    Brutal Juice isn't the greatest as far as songwriting or even song construction goes, but the members almost make up for that deficiency in fiendish energy. There is plenty of that fuel to feed on here.


    Brutal Truth
    Perpetual Conversion
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    The Brutal Truth album was one of the most lauded things around. Still haven't heard it. But if this is any indication, I did miss something great. Oh well. I won't miss the next one.

    Dan Lilker was in Anthrax and took off when they got a little more accessible. Same for Nuclear Assault. I hope this project doesn't go too far into the mainstream. There is the techno remix "Perpetual Larceny" and all, but even headbangers have to dance (it's true).

    There's what seems to be obligatory there days: a Sab cover, but it's fairly tasteful, if not a little too faithful, so no big complaint.


    Need to Control
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94

    Lilker and co. return with the second full-length. As devoted to grindcore as Extreme..., this disc goes a little further in the mellow direction (that term being extremely relative).

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing is the precision behind the mess. Even when the music heats up and threatens to blow the radiator, the band plays within itself, simply pushing the feeling further. This is a band that really knows how to play. When everything is rolling well, the sound is sublime. I hate giving tracks, but I absolutely love "Godplayer". Well, that and a few others. You can dig in for yourself.

    There are a few surprises (and I'll let you discover them yourself). After all, sometimes the best thing is to put the disc on, crank the volume, and lay down in splendor.


    Kill Trend Suicide EP
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #119, 9/23/96

    Um, well, technically a mini-LP. Of course, the puppy runs over 33 minutes, which was long enough for an LP not 10 years ago. How things change.

    Anyway, the reigning kings of grind (like anyone else is left) once again cruise through all sorts of shapes and sounds, from classic grind to classic death metal to serious noise abuse and more. The move to Relapse is apparently permanent, by the way, as Dan has decided to consolidate his efforts with the Pennsylvania boys (he's also a member of Exit 13, among other oddities).

    While much more raw than Need to Control, this disc still shows an even more coherent game plan than before. The guys know exactly what they want to do, and they seems to be able to do that even when faced with less time in the studio. Fine by me.

    More than enough to keep the fans happy. Brutal Truth is one of the few bands that is really advancing the cause of extreme metal these days. By pushing the envelope still further, Lilker and co. ensure that people will be paying attention for a long time to come.


    Sounds of the Animal Kingdom
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #144 (9/29/97)

    Dan Lilker and his buds in Brutal Truth have always managed to turn any doubters on their heads. It has been impossible to lump the band in with a good number of run-of-the-mill grindcore acts (most of which aren't recording anymore) due to some seriously good playing and songwriting.

    This album has Brutal Truth turning back the clock, focusing on sonic violence instead of creative songsmithing. The production by Billy Anderson is quite good, providing a cover of fog but still allowing the general ideas to float through. This is music for a black evening.

    There are bits here that show the band's unique touch: a surprisingly faithful cover of Sun Ra's "It's After the End of the World", the noise-ambient soundscape of the first half of "Blue World", the four minutes and twenty seconds of silence in "4:20" and the truly twisted loop that creates the nearly 22-minute "Prey".

    But after 22 tracks, I'm afraid I don't hear enough of the musical creativity I've always associated with Brutal Truth. This is a decent grindcore album, but one that plenty of bands could have made. Perhaps the first time that can be said about a Brutal Truth album.


    Brutality
    Screams of Anguish
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #40, 9/30/93

    Almost anthemic death metal. Geez, is this stuff infectious. It's not that innovative, but it sure is fun.

    I'm really not sure what else to say here. I enjoyed the listen and all, but for some weird reason I can't get fully into it. Kind of a bummer, because I certainly cannot find a fault ('cept maybe it does get a little commercial, but just a spot).

    I hate it when I get stumped like this. Oh well, here comes the closer: sounds great, there is no reason you shouldn't play the hell out of this thing. Sorry it (the review) sounds so contrived, but that happens sometimes.


    When the Sky Turns Black
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #68, 1/15/95

    A mix of an early-day Napalm Death obsession with percussion (yes, even for death metal) with the occasional flirtation with real riffage.
    Often enough, Brutality seems to be turning the starter, as the drums pound and the guitars swirl, as if to note the pending apocalypse. But then things end, and the song is over.

    Certainly a much more interesting production than is usually obtained from the Morrisound folks, Brutality have chops. The playing is proficient, but the songs seem to lack real centers. There's a lot of noise, but no sonic focal point.

    Hell, noise for noise's sake is fine by me, but by the end of the disc, I was merely bored. A little more direction might make Brutality a little less cliche.


    In Mourning
    (Nuclear Blast America)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    One of the reasons I dreaded moving to the Tampa Bay area a few years back was that my honest opinion of local bands wouldn't go over too well with said acts.

    Luckily, most local "extreme" metal acts (apparently this whole "death metal" title is way passe, kinda like the goth/darkwave brouhaha) have put out fairly good albums while I've lived here.

    And while this is certainly one of the better Brutality albums, that doesn't make it terribly good. For once, though, the playing and production are top notch, which inevitably leads to closer scrutiny of the actual songs themselves.

    There Brutality falls well short of the mark. The songs are cliche ridden, full of cascading riffs and double bass drum work. Sure, this might have been interesting ten years ago, but we've heard it all by now. Brutality wants to thrash along as a classic death metal band, and that's alright by me. But the guys need to figure out how to mutate their sound beyond the ordinary.


    Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes
    Black Coffee
    (WJO)
    reviewed 2/15/15

    I listened to this album a couple of times through, nodding my head along. I kept thinking to myself, "I just need one more thing to really get me excited." I said that over and over, until I realized I was about to listen to the album again--and that made me happy.

    Bryan is Australian, but he sings like an American. That is, with an American accent. The music, too, sounds very much like americana that trends toward new traditionalist country (with side trips into Motown, bluegrass and other "conventional" americana affects). The arrangements and lyrics are constructed very nicely, and the performances are spot on. In fact, there's very little tension in the technical aspects of the music.

    The lyrics do show a fine feel for expressing interesting ideas within established convention. There's nothing shocking here, but Bryan is able to use ordinary words to express rather more intriguing ideas. Yes, the songs go exactly where they seem to be headed, but there's often an undertow.

    That's why I kept hoping to hear something. Once I realized what I was missing, however, I just went with the flow. Despite a number of reviews I've read, Bryan is the anti-Nick Cave. He traffics in the same music and lyrical ideas, but he disguises his intentions. Cave's mental torment is apparent from the striking of the first chord. Bryan is much more subtle, though that probably makes him even more subversive.

    On the surface, this is a massively enjoyable album. The rumblings beneath raise the bar much higher. Your ears are playing a trick on you: There's a whole lot more going on here. Just keep digging.


    Dan Bryk
    Lovers Leap
    (Scratchie)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    Sometimes I hear someone sing, and I can immediately recognize that "other world" sound. As in, the guy is in some other world. There's no reason music like this would come out of the usual hack struggling musician.

    And the thing is, these "other world" sorts usually aren't great musicians. Dan Bryk is pretty good (I assume he plays piano and guitar, just because their lines rather resemble Bryk's warbling singing style), but he can't sing. Still, the stuff is terribly endearing.

    A somewhat crazed imperfection is about the closest thing to inspired that I can imagine. Bryk plays in that classic dBs style; in fact, the title of his album is rather similar to a song title from the Holsapple-Stamey reunion album of almost 10 years back.

    Don't think that was intentional. But it sure got me in tune with the style quickly. Bryk does a lot of things wrong, and each little misstep makes this album that much more irresistible.


    BT
    ESCM
    (Perfecto/Kinetic/Reprise)
    reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98

    The further evolution of ambient music. As evidenced on Robert Miles's works, there is a confluence not only of the industrio-techno and ambient arms of electronic music, but also new age and space elements. BT (Brian Transeau) whips all of these ideas and more into a sound that isn't quite trance, isn't quite ambient and most certainly isn't new age.

    And yet, folks who dig all those can find parts they like. The beat work is subtle, but still involved. It just lies beneath the surface of many of the songs, poking its head out once in a while to add a little bounce to the proceedings.

    The songs generally fit an ambient structure, with waves of lines washing over each other, though when the beats predominate, there is a definite techno club feel (though "Lullaby for Gaia", one of the upbeat tracks, is straight out of Flock of Seagulls). BT isn't great at mixing his influences; he generally moves from one to the other. The transition is seamless, but I'd like to hear more interplay.

    A very nice disc, with all the good and bad connotations that brings. Good in that it's extremely listenable. Bad in that few chances were taken in the songwriting. The songs do not seem to be making much of a statement. They're mostly just there to be pretty. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, though I demand more.


    Clarence Bucaro
    Sweet Corn
    (Burnside)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    Clarence Bucaro is a guitarist. He's spent hours upon days upon weeks upon years practicing his guitar, playing all sorts of styles until he got them down straight. How do I know this? He sounds as comfortable playing an east African jive lick as he does showboating a little old-timey jug-band bit or a flamenco-tinged Mexican/Spanish blues.

    He wrote all of these songs (and arranged one piece that has passed into the public domain), which is almost as impressive as his playing. There are times that I think he's simply showing off, but then the next song comes along and puts me back under the spell.

    Each song is produced so as to be true to the sound that it borrows, which lends this album a bit of an uneven feel. But that teeter-totter of styles provides just the right gait for listening to these songs. After all, music shouldn't always be comfortable.

    Bucaro is a certifiable man out of time. This is one of those albums that would be pretty damned good as a multi-artist compilation but that is positively astonishing when you consider that it sprang from the hands of one man and his band. Something else, indeed.


    Buck-O-Nine
    Barfly
    (Taang!)
    reviewed in issue #87, 9/18/95

    Sounds a shitload like what the Bosstones did when they were on Taang! (much less produced than these days). The horns are incorporated nicely into the ska/hardcore attack, with everything flowing smoothly from the source.

    Obviously not an original sound. But then, not many bands have been able to really do this well (Bim Skala Bim, Operation Ivy and the Bosstones are among the few execptions). Buck O Nine is more than passable and plenty enjoyable.

    Even unnecessary covers of "Pass the Dutchie", "Wrong Em Boyo" and "Sound System" (doing OpIvy is almost like doing the Bosstones) fail to really take the shine off the disc. And anyway, it's all in fun.


    Twenty-Eight Teeth
    (TVT)
    reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97

    The last time I heard this band, it was on Taang! and the sound was very rough. In fact, the one big redeeming factor was the exuberance of the performances.

    With ska-core supposedly being the next big thing (I've commented plenty on this recently), larger labels are picking up some long-time scene survivors and cleaning up the sound(witness the last two Voodoo Glow Skull records on Epitaph, etc.), and the majors are scooping up any band with a cute lead singer.

    Buck-O-Nine fits into the former category. The songs here are very tight, the playing almost mechanical. The horns are precise, as if placed there by a computer. By-the-numbers ska. Competent but unexciting.

    I'll let my brothers hassle them for misspelling Albuquerque. As for the album, this sounds way too calculated. I know, I'm still coming down from the Blue Meanies experience (which is still in heavy rotation in my car), but I want more. That spirit of "anything can happen" is gone, probably forever. I'm sure they sell more records now, but this is nowhere near as much fun. Since few ska bands will score points on musical sophistication, that's gotta be how I judge this. And Buck-O-Nine comes up lame.


    Libido
    (TVT)
    reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99

    You know, I've heard just about everything Buck-O-Nine has had to offer. And it doesn't work for me. Much in the way the non-plaid version of the Bosstones has failed to raise any interest on my part.

    Horns will always improve bland rock (check out the first eight Chicago records if you like), but they don't make it wonderful. I simply can't get in the Buck-O-Nine groove, no matter how hard I try.

    Okay, you got me. I'm not trying that hard. This general style isn't exactly what I dig very often (though there are exceptions), but even past that, I'm simply not impressed by anything I hear. The chord progressions are by numbers, and the horns aren't much more than window dressing. Use, 'em, boys!

    Whatever. Just another chapter in the "I just don't like these guys" book I seem to be compiling. Life goes on. They've got plenty of fans (my brothers among them), so I'm guessing this one-note song of mine won't sting too much.


    Buckfast Superbee
    You Know How the Song Goes
    (Walking Records)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    A big fatty of that thick, fuzzy punk-tinged rock. Buckfast Superbee thanks the likes of fluf, and while these boys aren¹t quite that accomplished, they do have a good handle on how to make this stuff jump.

    Yeah, alright, at times the beats get a little too "up and down" for my taste (I'm always in favor of moving forward), but that is part of the sound. I can't complain to loudly there.

    There are moments I wish the guys cranked up the sound just a bit or found that extra dose of power some other way. I just want to hear that extra bit of something that would really kick these songs into another gear. One more drum break, or tighter hooks or something else. Anything, really.

    Solid, if unspectacular. Buckfast Superbee has learned its lessons; now it needs to figure out how to break the rules a little bit. There's nothing wrong with these songs In fact, many of them are quite good. But there's a spark missing. Maybe that will come with time.


    Todd Buckler
    Let Me Know You Got Home OK
    (Employment Records)
    reviewed in issue #303, December 2008

    Five instrumentals and four tracks with guest vocals. The presence or absence of a human voice makes little difference, however. Todd Buckler is out to nail your ass to the wall.

    In a nice way, I suppose. These slamming electronic pieces simply pound remorselessly. Buckler takes the whole big beat concept and triples the size of the sledgehammer. As for the rest of it? Merely innovative beat work and insightful melodies.

    Goddamn, though, those bass drum (well, synthesized bass drum) beats are heavy. And even when he gets all abstract and experimental, the low end is just as wicked.

    To play the name game: Chemical Brothers meet Aphex Twin and then decide to tag-team Download. I know, those are old school references, but for all his innovation, Buckler does seem to have some reverence for the past. Maybe that's what drew my attention in the first place. Or maybe it was the overall brilliance of the album. Hard to say.


    Buddha Stick
    Soundtrack for "The Movie In Your Head"
    (Absolute Sound)
    reviewed in issue #131, 3/31/97

    Featuring characters like "Herb the Herb" and sporting a rather metallized psychedelic feel, Buddha Stick seems to be trying to evoke another night of the living smokeheads.

    Simply a punched up rehash of Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Iron Butterfly and other bands that really have nothing to do with each other. The overall feel is intended to have that "acid rock" feel, I guess, but the ring is fake. Fools gold.

    As for all the pot propaganda, I'm sympathetic, except that all this merely seems like a marketing decision. I see guys in suits saying "Smoke is in this year" and thus approving the project.

    But even if this is an honest attempt by real-life stoners trying to make a point, the music still sucks. And that's the main reason for the existence of any CD, I think.


    Vince Buffa
    Rosa
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    I'm a sucker for layered pop-rock done well. Most often the sound is done interminably badly, but when things go right ... well, Vince Buffa does it right.

    Veering from glam to Beatles-esque collage to Lou Reed-style talk-singing to 50s-era be-bop-a-lula to a little Dylan (with a few other side trips as well), Buffa refuses to be stuck in one category. There are a few constants to his sound, however.

    One is the meticulous production. It's easy to get that when you do almost all the playing and singing. But these songs sound like band efforts. There isn't that oft-demented one-man-band feel here. Buffa must have split personalities, because he's able to give each of the instruments in the sound a singular presence.

    The music is positively beautiful. The lyrics are amazingly dark, aggressively so at times. I like the dichotomy, and I like the way Buffa puts the entire project together. A whaleload of effort, work that has been rewarded with a most fulfilling album. Not for the faint of heart, but then, few worthy works of art are.


    Buffalo Daughter
    New Rock
    (Grand Royal)
    reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98

    Electronic is an extremely vague term to lay on music, and even that general term doesn't quite cover Buffalo Daughter. The songs are assembled on a tight line, but the piece might be an acoustic guitar riff, some scratching, heavy fuzz or keyboard noodling. Often, all four (and more) at once.

    The key is that the music works. It makes sense. It has something to say and says it in a most amusing fashion. The key here is that the final product sounds great. "Pastiche" is used in some of the notes, and I can't think of a better word. From many, one. One that certainly impresses.

    This music is alive. Vital. Throbbing. Exciting. Imagine, say, a Beck album that sounded good when you weren't stoned. Buffalo Daughter has the rare knack of bringing the avant garde to a place where average folks might like to take a gander.

    Big fun. This Japanese threesome knows how to craft fine music. I'm not even going to try and explain further. You simply must dig.


    WXBD
    (Grand Royal/Capitol) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    The loopy pop music of Buffalo Daughter is often maddeningly trippy. It's one thing to go off into another world. It's another to create one. This remix album smooths out a few of the edges and drops a further hip-hop sheen onto the theory.

    And what a theory it is. Basically, Buffalo Daughter plays whatever the hell it wants to play. By splicing away a good chunk of the excess, these mixes create more recognizable songs. Though I think they also remove some of the charm as well.

    But, see, that's what these things are all about. Experimentation and redefining the norm. Even if that norm is kinda out there to begin with.


    Buffalo Tom
    Asides from Buffalo Tom
    (Beggars Banquet)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    Buffalo Tom was on the cusp of stardom for like, forever. I got vaguely hooked on the band with "Birdbrain" and "Velvet Roof," not paying too much attention because I was always thinking the boys would just fly away to mainstream success and leave little indie-addled me along. I really thought massive recognition was imminent after "Late at Night" was featured in the most-popular episode (among the MTV set, anyway) of "My So-Called Life." But fame always somehow slipped away.

    So we're left with the music. The first couple of albums sounded a lot like early Uncle Tupelo (which is one reason they were so popular at my college radio station), but Buffalo Tom kept evolving, as bands like to do. The guys cheesed out, found their edge again and then sorta settled into a middling groove. I think one of the reasons Buffalo Tom never quite broke through was that none of its albums were totally solid. There were truly great songs on each one, but there was always a clunker or two.

    And then there's this compilation, decidedly sans clunkers. But the songs don't quite fit together, even though they're all by a band that touched musical greatness more than once. Stripped of their context they don't quite work as well. I guess what I'm saying is that the old albums may have been better than I was remembering.

    Maybe I'm just working too hard here. Most bands would kill to write one song as good as the worst one here. Greatest hits packages (which this is) are always going to be sterile and somewhat muddled. We're talking about more than 10 years of work here. So I guess I'm bitching a bit much. Buffalo Tom is one of the great underappreciated bands of the 90s. This set does, indeed, confirm that simple fact.


    The Bug
    Tapping the Conversation
    (Wordsound)
    reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97

    "The Conversation" refers to the Francis Ford Coppola movie, and while no samples have been taken from the movie, "The Bug" has managed to replicate the feelings of paranoia that a viewing of the movie can produce.

    The music is more sound sculpture, with very few attempts at conventional construction evident. The one familiar factor is an underlying groove (which doesn't always exist), but the noise on top can get strange.

    Just where I like it. This is dark and foreboding stuff, unrelenting in its apprehension. The pieces have been meticulously assembled and this final result is impressive.

    I could do with a little more exposition of the noise ideas and fewer loops, but that seems like a minor complaint. A challenging and unrelenting album.


    Built Like Alaska
    In Troubled Times...
    (Future Farmer)
    reviewed in issue #331, October 2011

    Built Like Alaska fits in with the somewhat moody ethos of modern modern rock, but there's just enough punch in these songs to lift them out of the ditch.

    And yes, there's a pleasant snark component and some skillfully-executed pieces. I was really on the edge about this one, but it improved as the album went on. Or maybe I just got in tune with what the guys are doing.

    I truly think it's the former, though. Built Like Alaska actually rocks out more and more as the album moves along, eschewing the noodly introspection for some solid crunch. Oh, the band never quite kicks things into overdrive, but the stuff slips past midtempo for a song or two.

    Really, folks, I'm tired of the "we're too cool for rock and roll" sound. Built Like Alaska comes close to that exceedingly silly tradition, but it finds a way to subvert its influences and create a fine little cubbyhole for itself. An intriguing little set.


    Bully Pulpit
    Beyond Elysium and into the 7th Layer
    (Lotuspool)
    reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94

    Like a crazed version of My Bloody Valentine, Bully Pulpit rides a pop psychedelic wave right into the apocalypse. Nothing is sacred, and everything ends up destroyed.

    Instead of washing the entire production in competing layers of distortion, Bully Pulpit crafts each song in a different way. And there is no predicting what the next sound will sound like. But it will be interesting.

    Nutty would be an apt description. I wonder if these folk can even come close to doing this music live? Well, it doesn't matter to me, because the effort that went into making this album is more than enough in my book.

    You can't even expect the unexpected. Bully Pulpit does things with sound I hadn't even imagined before. Wandering through this house of musical mirrors might leave you temporarily insane, but I'd recommend plunking down the tickets for the ride. You might see things a little differently afterwards.


    Dope Take 7"
    (Lotuspool)
    reviewed in issue #106, 4/15/96

    Much more coherent than the CD I heard a couple of years ago. That doesn't mean that Bully Pulpit has restrained its repertoire or scope of intensity. Not at all. It's just these songs are much more integrated units than most of the previous CD.

    And "Dope Take" particularly shows this trend. It's merely a gorgeous pop song, with all the little extras that Bully Pulpit fans expect. A really nice bit.

    The flip, "Gain Buy-In", is somewhat more experimental, but not overly so. Yeah, so real song construction, but it all makes sense in the end.

    This single bodes well for upcoming projects. I can't wait to hear.


    Bullets of Orange
    Bullets of Orange
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #232, August 2002

    Alright, now I'm convinced. That fuzzy, distorted, industrially-psychedelic sound that My Bloody Valentine used on Loveless is definitely on the way back in. Bullets of Orange splashes washes of sound over its lush pop tunes, occasionally deigning to even speed up or slow down the proceedings if that will make for a cooler sound.

    The trick is to have good songs to begin with. With a solid base, all sorts of studio tricks can really help to flesh out a sonic painting. Bullets of Orange makes sure to keep the basic songs simple. That way the stuff holds together nicely with all the icing on top.

    Man, this is just one gorgeous album. The pop style is reminiscent of the early 70s (think Bacharach), but with plenty of power elements as well. The distortion and reverb and all the other studio additions simply make these tunes that much more dreamy.

    And dreams are what Bullets of Orange are all about. These songs don't exist in the real world; just on this album. Don't worry about the apparent paradox. Everything will become clear when you turn up the volume and hit repeat.


    Bunjie Jambo
    Morning Breath
    (Sin Klub)
    reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94

    A punk-ska band that uses horns only occasionally. And they try to get as many jokes in as possible. Some might call this a party band.

    And in that context, everything is fine. The musicianship is good, the tunes uptempo, and some of the jokes are even funny. Hey, not every band has to be out to change the world, right?

    My only beef is the trendiness of the music, which isn't really these guys' fault. The genre is pretty limited. Any band who sounds like this will be compared to the Bosstones or Bim Skala Bim, and the production here is certainly below the Bosstones standard. Of course, the tunes are fresher.

    I had fun with this disc. Is that a crime?


    Buried Alive
    Last Rites
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    Don't worry. The title is hyperbolic and not emblematic of the demise of the band. Maybe you're more in the know than I am. Whenever I see a title like that, I kinda flinch.

    But no. Buried Alive is quite the going concern, as this album should prove. Few bands can blister the extreme hardcore sound like these boys. Few bands have the creativity and energy of these boys. Few bands can blast out pure power like... you get the picture.

    In short, Buried Alive has burned out another winner. Now, you'll notice a few live tracks at the end. They were recorded at a CMJ show. There's something you should know about CMJ shows. You don't get a good soundcheck. I'll give the guys bravery points for recording this stuff, but the sound isn't very good and the tuning is reprehensible. You don't think tuning matters with music like this? Um, take a listen and get back to me.

    It's not kosher to bitch about "bonus" fare, however. That stuff is just the trimmings. Buried Alive has burned out another great album. That's what's important here. Let the power overwhelm you.


    Burma Jam
    New Ground
    (Turn of the Century)
    reviewed in issue #103, 3/18/96

    Category-defying music that once existed in Richmond.
    A few foreign students, some locals (including Tim Harris, who has since found a nice home in Kepone) draping plenty of cool sounds around basic dancehall grooves. Samples, moody vocals and wonderful atmospheric guitar licks (courtesy of Mr. Harris, of course) permeate the air.

    I don't like much reggae stuff in general ; I don't like much dub or ska in particular; acid-jazz is not my thing. But Burma Jam manages to merge all that and more into an astonishingly addictive sound. The story of the band is that the "out-of-towners" went back to Uganda and Jamaica, and some other local sorts stepped in to keep the thing going. This disc is the second (recorded in 1992), and has the original membership intact.

    Ahead of the current trends by a few years, Burma Jam also does this stuff so much better than just about anyone I've heard. While it's almost impossible to explain the difference between a band who loves the music it plays and one that's angling for a record deal, Burma Jam is a perfect counter-point to any of the Caribbean groove pretenders out there.

    I sure didn't expect to like this. But that didn't stop me from having a wonderful time. Burma Jam will win over all comers.


    Burning Heads
    Escape
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00

    Some French guys who really like 7 Seconds. Epitaph passed this one on to Victory. Maybe Brett's got too much on his plate. I dunno. This disc certainly doesn't lack for quality.

    'Cause most tuneful hardcore owes a big debt to Kevin Seconds. No way around it. And Burning Heads doesn't go out of its way to imitate the masters. In fact I hear more in the way of Bad Religion (circa 1989) riffage here than anything else.

    Which, again, is hard to avoid. What Burning Heads does is keep the energy level high. The spirit never flags. There's always another pick-me-up on the way. A tasty little adrenaline rush.

    Which is what this music is all about anyway. If you want to make important points about politics and the way life sucks, be my guest. But don't bog down your music with ponderous ideas. Punch up those deep thoughts with slashing guitars. Like 7 Seconds. Like Bad Religion. Like NOFX. Like Burning Heads.


    The Burning Hotels
    Novels
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #315, March 2010

    There are all sorts of "modern" bands that one might reasonably compare to the Burning Hotels, but really, all you've got to do is listen to some early Smiths or Cure.

    Which are, to my mind, much better references than the Strokes or Franz Ferdinand. This is clean pop sung with just a hint of affection. The tempo gets pushed from time to time, and there are some fine keyboard and guitar licks. You know, new wave with a kick.

    And don't worry. The production is ultra sharp, which certainly does distinguish this from those days of 30 years gone by. Pretty stuff, the kind of songs that make me nod along with a smile on my face.

    One of the better albums of this type that I've heard recently. Jaunty songs, pretty melodies and just enough edge. Well done.


    burns.out.bright
    Incandescent Light EP
    (Butt Lettuce)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Fully embracing the strident, anthemic tendencies of emo, burns.out.bright plays blistering songs full of angst and pain. The kinda stuff that appeals to those of us who never really want to forget what it's like to be young and confused.

    Not in a stupid and condescending fashion, of course. These pieces are thoughtful and intense, unwilling to merely skim the surface. Rather, they head straight for the marrow, the substance. Which is precisely why listening to this album can be, at times, rather uncomfortable.

    That disquiet serves the band well. Why play songs that are so vapid they evaporate before your ears have released them? No worries about that here. This is chili con carne, all the meat you want.


    with Dade County Resistance and Last to Know
    Twelve Step Program
    (Three Day)
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    Who knew that Columbia, S.C., was such a haven for great emo? Well, there have been signs. A while back I was pretty well knocked out by Burns Out Bright, and it's pretty rare that a scene has only one good band. If there's no competition, it can be hard to really be inspired to work on your chops.

    And once again, Burns Out Bright blows me away. Without sticking to any one particular emo ideal, the boys do a nice job of hitting the sound just so. The depth of the ideas in the songs is most impressive.

    Dade County Resistance is a bit more limited in its approach, sticking to an uptempo, melodic feel (not unlike a rougher-edged Ataris, say), but these guys do have four great songs here. Same goes for Last to Know, who whipsaws from contemplative to blistering (sometimes in the same song).

    The production values are a bit limited (particularly with the second two bands), but the songs are great. And isn't punk supposed to be just a little ragged on the edges? I thought so. I wish more bands and labels would put together projects like this. It's always nice to have a snapshot in time of a particular scene.


    Distance and Darkness EP
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #251, March 2004

    Six churning, bubbling songs from these boys. The quality is exeptional--as always--and the production here lends a subtle complexity to the stuff that I haven't quite heard before. A very nice set, indeed.


    Save Yourself a Lifetime
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    I've really liked everything I've heard from these boys, and this album is no different. Slash-and-burn emo with the occasional foray into complex construction. I didn't get into this one as quickly as the others...which may mean that it turns out to be my favorite BOB album in the end. Hard to say much else right now, except that this puppy is rock solid.


    R.L. Burnside
    Come On In
    (Fat Possum-Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98

    Back in the late '60s, Buddy Guy was told he couldn't use more distortion in his recordings because "that's not the blues". Then Hendrix came along and the rules changed. I can guarantee that the same folks who held Guy back wouldn't be too happy with R.L. Burnside. Of course, Burnside has walked the other road a few times before. Witness his collaboration with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Critics whine. Life goes on.

    Tim Rothrock, who has worked with a wide range of folks (including Beck), remixes a number of Burnside tunes, and the remixes (there is also one from Alec Empire of Atari Teenage Riot) sit alongside more traditional, some might say regular, tracks.

    The general effect is stunning. Rothrock knows how to keep the groove in place while dissecting much of the rest of the music. Burnside's guitar and howl are everpresent, even if somewhat jumbled into the mix. A completely addictive concoction.

    In case you're got any questions, skip to "It's Bad You Know" a harp-driven wailer draped over a delectable groove. That pretty much should prove just how amazing this particular shade of the blues is. Oh me, oh my, indeed.


    Charlie Burton & the Dorothy Lynch Mob
    Salad
    (Wild)
    reviewed in issue #277, August 2006

    When you're throwing funny lines left and right, it helps to have a solid backing band. After all, every comedian needs a wall to throw things against. Burton's band knows how to play. Combine that with Burton's almost-deadpan delivery, and you've got some seriously funny stuff.

    More wry than goofy, Burton sells his songs with sincerity. The musicianship is stellar, and that alone makes this album worth hearing. Burton's sense of humor is dry and broad--think You Are What You Is-era Zappa.

    If Zappa played the some version of the country blues, that is. These are easy-going rambles down some alternate-universe urban country back alley. Far too much fun to make the top five on Dr. Demento.

    Though I'd guess a few of these pieces would be welcome in those quarters. These aren't novelty parodies, though. Even "Peggy Sue Got Divorced" (which references the original in the rhythm section) is more of a genial continuation of the story. Jokes for the belly and the brain. I like that.


    The Business
    Keep the Faith
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94

    Reasonably catchy pop-punk that always seems to amuse. My favorite is the first track, "Maradona", which is, of course, an attack on the fat, drugged-out ex-captain of the Argentinian side. The addictive chorus is simply "Maradona-you're shit!" repeated over and over. Must still be pissed about 1986.

    The rest stays at the same intellectual level, but it is pretty funny nonetheless. Some of that humor may be unintentional, but I'm inclined to let it ride. After all, you have to have fun some of the time.

    Wonder what these hooligans will sing about when England storms into the 1998 Cup (in Frogland, no less). Could be fun, indeed. Maybe New Order won't get the official single next time out.


    Busses
    Wizard of the Eye
    (self-released)
    reviewed 3/24/15

    The one snuck up on me. I enjoyed what I was hearing, but at first I wasn't going to do a review. Then "Bubbles" dropped, and I finally figured out what was going on.

    For starters, "Bubbles" is what it might sound like if the Jesus Lizard were to do a Shins song. That alone is pretty incendiary. The forced fusing of relatively disparate indie rock sounds somehow manages to feel normal, especially in the context of the album itself.

    The songs here have the freewheeling rock feel of the 70s, dipping into mellow haze, stoner rock and pretty much everything else from time to time. But the execution is very much of the 80s. This trio attacks its songs with gusto, and so even the mellow moments are filled with an intellectual intensity.

    Like Marah, another Philadelphia band, Busses don't stick to any one sound. In general, the though seems to be, "We've got a bass, a guitar and some drums . . . let's see what we can do with that." But rather than going all power trio, these boys plug in their prog tendencies into the dirty side of rock. They get some friends to toss in the occasional keyboard or horn accoutrement. In general, the production and arrangements have a gritty feel which tends to obscure the almost-clinical execution.

    All of that could be saying that Busses doesn't really know what it wants. But I don't think that's true. Writers like me have been lamenting the absence of great indie rock (as opposed to the snoozer rock that has dominated the "indie" scene for a while now), but I'm thinking we just aren't listening enough. Busses is a rock band in the grand old tradition. Sammy Hagar got it exactly wrong: There are a myriad of ways to rock. And Busses seems determined to try as many of them as possible.

    Godspeed boys. And save me a seat for the journey.


    The Busters
    Welcome to Busterland
    (SPV)
    reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00

    In case you were wondering, the ska thing has made it to Europe. It's ... weird to hear a singer with a German accent wailing over horn and keyboard-drenched skankin' beats.

    But the Busters do have this style down. Maybe even a little too well. The playing is technically perfect, and that does drain out some of the soul.

    A lot of it, really. Ska is a dirty style at its best, and in order to be done right the production has to let some of the sounds intermingle. The stew requires some simmering.

    Hey, the songwriting is capable and sometimes wonderful. The arrangements, at their best, are reminiscent of the Pietasters and the Slackers, two bands who do know how to get down in the muck. The Busters should take a cue.


    The Busy Signals
    Baby's First Beats
    (Sugar Free)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    Electronic pop music, laying lengthy samples over hip-hop beats and dreamy, lush arrrangements. There is so much here, and the Busy Signals make sure that you can hear every little bit.

    It does take a couple minutes to really lurch into the loops, but once there, well, the stuff is entrancing. If you want a sonic reference, think of the Flaming Lips on low, perhaps something of a Stereolab tip. I use those references purposely; the Busy Signals are that good.

    Probably what brings it all together is the playful sound. It never bogs down in self-importance or finds itself heading into blind corners. The simply arrangements make the tuneage most catchy.

    Sealing the deal are all the nice touched dropped in just under the radar. There's depth here, sounds which reveal themselves on subsequent listens. That's where the quality lies.


    Jon Butcher
    Positively the Blues
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    His heart is in the right place, but for the most part Butcher can't overcome the white boy blues syndrome: keep it loud and no one will notice the lack of soul.

    I know, that's kinda ironic, but Butcher has never been the most soulful guitarist in the world, and he just can't seem to find it for this set. He did right by writing all the songs on the album. They aren't bad at all, but he just doesn't have the right touch to bring them down to the blues.

    Yes, bring down. The best blues is just a touch underproduced. This album is so slick kids could use it as a waterslide without the water. Butcher's playing is fine, but without much feeling. Perhaps that's the production, perhaps it's something else.

    Hey, if you like Jeff Healey and all that stuff, then this is just fine. But if you live by a higher blues standard, then Butcher will just have to try again.


    Electric Factory
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #120, 10/7/96

    For a black guy, Jon Butcher plays white boy blues pretty well. Sure, the songs have little to say musically and pack no emotional punch, but then, that's the genre.

    Cliche after cliche cruises past, and yet Butcher's voice has just enough character to not embarrass himself. And when he cuts the blues a bit loose on songs like "Rather Go Fishin'", Butcher sounds alright.

    Hyper-commercial and not terribly original, Butcher seems to have found a nice spot to hang his guitar for a while. Butcher and side man Ben Schultz (the two played almost all the instruments here) wrote all the tunes, which is quite unusual for a blues album of any stripe. Sure, I with many of the songs were a little more inspired, but that's what I've always thought about Butcher's work in general.

    The guy can play, and he slings his talent all over this disc, echoing everyone from Hendrix to Buddy Guy. Not perfect by a long shot, Butcher still has a decent take on the accessible side of the blues.


    The Butchies
    Make Yr Life
    (Yep Roc)
    reviewed in issue #253, May 2004

    It's pretty rare that I get to review a local act. Once or twice a year--at most. Look at it this way: I've reviewed more albums from bands in Vilnius than I have local folks (whatever local might have meant over the 12+ years I've been doing A&A). So it's nice to get this disc from one of the true stars of the area scene.

    The easiest way to describe the Butchies is that they're Sleater-Kinney--if Sleater -Kinney was a pop band. There's the strident riffage and strained lead vocals, but that's all tied together by tight hooks and sweet harmonies. Another way to think of it: The Butchies are what the Go-Go's would have sounded like if Jane Weidlin was the most "normal" member of the band.

    The sound is sharp, which tends to emphasize the tough sides of the songs. But when rounder tones are needed, they're found. No one would mistake this for a major-label outing; the songs themselves are the power element here. And the last track, a muted rendition of the Outfield's "Your Love," is simply electrifying.

    I'm not going to make any judgment against the overall Butchies canon (I just haven't heard enough of the band's earlier, much-praised albums), but Make Yr Life is simply outstanding. Edgy and occasionally terrifying, but always, always tuneful. This tightrope isn't razor-thin; the width is more atomic in size. And the Butchies dance across in perfect time.


    The Buttfrenchers
    Cigarette 7" EP
    (R Styles)
    reviewed in issue #250, February 2004

    In most ways (okay, in about every way), the Buttfrenchers are a generic garage band. They do have an infectious energy, and they know how to write a decent, punchy song or three, but there's nothing particularly great here.

    Except for the fact that this is on a slab of vinyl. I can't explain it, but that makes all the difference in the world. The medium doesn't improve the music, but it does measurably kick up the vibe. All of a sudden, this stuff feels oh-so-real.

    Anyway, the Buttfrenchers do sound cooler when their music rolls off a turntable. There's no rational reason for it, but then, music criticism isn't a purely rational act. Emotions factor in strongly, and my personal investment in the future of the turntable made average music sound great. Shoot me or something.


    Butt Trumpet
    I Left My Flannel in Seattle 7"
    (Hell Yeah)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    Not just a song about everybody's favorite slag-town, but a whole concept based on the SubPop seven-inch club. Complete with weird writing where the song should be. I can't fuck up my needle more than I already have, so it didn't bother me. But you just might look out.

    Oh, the music? Well, imagine the (old) Melvins (in keeping the Seattle thing) on mini-thins (trucker speed). Not really faster, but more animated. The whole thing is a real hoot!


    Primitive Enema
    (Hell Yeah!)
    reviewed in issue #56, 6/15/94

    For some folks, the purest essence of punk is streams of profanity dumped on top of extremely simple music. I believe you can safely put Butt Trumpet solidly in that school.

    Just because 15 of the 18 songs contain at least one word that the FCC deems unsavory shouldn't stop you from really digging into this disc. After all, one of the "clean" songs is a diatribe against the annoyance of yeast infections. If punk is going up against authority, that's about as good as it gets. You don't fuck with Mother Nature (wasn't that an ad campaign once?)

    Sure, it's lower than puerile, but there is still some big part of me that really gets into Butt Trumpet. It's just a big (gooey) load of fun.


    Butterfly Joe
    Butterfly Joe
    (Razler-Lightyear/WEA)
    reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00

    Formed by former Dead Milkmen Joe Genaro and Dean Sabatino (nee Clean), Butterfly Joe hews closely to the eclectic pop track. The lyrics are often silly (if not stupid), but then, what can you expect, really?

    I was one of those folks who found the odd Milkmen song to be amusing, but in general I thought the guys ran jokes into the ground. Butterfly Joe doesn't always even try to explain itself (is it joking?), and I'm not sure if that's better or not.

    There is the intensely incompetent writing, though, and that still grates. Genaro's sense of rhythm and harmony is, shall we say, off kilter. Sometimes it's off the map. Now, I'm all for unusual-sounding stuff, but Butterfly Joe tries to be They Might Be Giants and just ends up as another clunky pop band.

    There are plenty of average moments, and the odd nice one. I've just never shared Genaro's vision of musical carnage, and so this project also comes up flat for me. No oomph for my ears.


    Butterfly Messiah
    Butterfly Messiah
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99

    Kaleidepy was the first post-Guchlrug project to come my way; now, the other side of the band emerges with its own new band. And I'm starting to understand how and why that band sounded so interesting.

    Butterfly Messiah is a loopy electronic project, low on structure and high on tangents. When merged with the basic pop tendencies of Ben Glover (now in Kaleidepy), these notions formed something of a symbiosis, a unique structure and sound.

    Here, well, once again, absent the yin and yang (or, at least, competing urges), the result is not quite so arresting. I like most of what I hear, but it isn't the same sort of driving astonishment. Merely contented earfeel.

    I guess the same postscript goes here. I liked the previous project better, and now I know why. Still, these are some talented folks, and I wouldn't put it past them to astonish me in the future.


    Butterglory
    Crumble (advance cassette)
    (Merge-Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94

    Simple, understated pop. The occasional burst of guitar glory makes this an even more appealing album.


    Are You Building a Temple in Heaven?
    (Merge)
    reviewed in issue #97, 1/29/96

    The second full-length set from this California band falls right into the same territory: Pleasant, often quite pretty pop music that still somehow manages to be just off a spot.

    Some folks might find that off-kilter feeling to be some sort of artistic statement about pop music. But I don't. Butterglory demonstrates a wonderful sense of minor key glory on a few songs, and then the next song seems, well, a bit off. Not really discordant or anything, but not right.

    And I do wish I could identify what it is that bugs me. Unfortunately, I can¹t. There's plenty here to like and all, particularly for those who worship the new pop wave. A cool, varied instrumentation and as many songs written in minor keys as major ones. And you probably won't understand why I have any problems with this at all. I've been wrong before...


    Butthead
    Volume 7"
    (Heat Blast)
    reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92

    Four songs, one seven-inch. Butthead combine elements of classic metal with hard core and the blues. Very tasty. I would love to see these guys live. Reminiscent of earlier Suicidal Tendencies, slowed up a little. Better vocals. This should find a home at many cool radio stations.


    Buzz Prophets
    Redwood
    Acoustic Interlude
    EPs
    (Tender Stone)
    reviewed in issue #125, 12/23/96

    Fairly commercial-sounding rawkin stuff. The tunes on Redwood are rather catchy, while the second tape of two songs is more contemplative fare.

    The sound on Redwood is kinda muddy, which makes discerning the bass from guitar difficult. The songs are good without getting too tricky. Nothing spectacular, but fine.

    A change at bass later, Acoustic Interlude presents an all-acoustic version of the power-ballad "Waiting", which also appeared on the earlier EP. The second tune, "Break Down", is a more-uptempo rootsy thing, but the faster guitar work is also somewhat disguised by the poor sound of the tape.

    There's potential in these here woods, but the Buzz Prophets have a good amount of work ahead before they find their sound and their own road.


    Kentucky
    (Tender Stone)
    reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99

    Much better produced than the other things I've heard from these guys, I can now get a better handle on what's going on. What I hear is a fairly unique attempt to fuse the current roots rock frenzy with 80s AOR stuff (you know, .38 Special, etc.). With grunge bass lines, just for the hell of it.

    And don't forget the singer who wails. A lot. And he does a pretty good job of it, too. I'm not the biggest fan of the constituent pieces of this sound, but these guys do a nice job of putting it together. Their result is much better than what went in. This is the way to move commercial music into a new dimension.

    And I just can't get over how much better this sounds than the first two things I heard a couple years ago. Impressive, really. The band's musical philosophy has coalesced into something special, and now they know how to make that work in the studio.

    Another reason why I never give up on a band, no matter what. I heard snippets of potential before, and all that and more has come through on this disc. Solid work, a fine album.


    Buzzov*en
    Sore
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #59, 7/31/94

    I didn't think it could happen. Not to slam Roadrunner (really), but Buzzov*en is a little far out for their roster. There isn't a straight-ahead bone in any of the members. How would they fit into the wondrous metal marketing machine that is Roadrunner?

    I can't answer that, but the album rules. It manages to capture even more of their live feel (talk about amazing) than their Allied stuff, and the moderately clean production suits Buzzov*en's style perfectly.

    You haven't heard of them? Bullshit. I first heard of the live show about two years ago. When I finally caught it at CMJ, I was suitably impressed. Stunned, actually.

    Rising from the outer reaches of hell, Buzzov*en haS come to pillage. Maybe if you offer your soul, the boys will let you off lightly. Buzzov*en demands attention. You won't be able to resist.


    ...At a Loss
    (Off the Records)
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    The last time I saw these boys, they were one show away from getting off a Gwar tour. And they looked like guys who had just played 20 shows and gotten no audience response. Hey, I cheered for them, and so did one other guy. Out of a thousand or so.

    Buzzov*en records are pretty ugly. Live, it can get weirder. This disc continues the fascination with low-rent horror videos (samples galore) and the thick and nasty southern sludge equivalent of grindcore. Oh, the vocals are reasonably coherent (if you can hear them over the music), but the subject matter, well, remember I mentioned them videos?

    Slouching toward Babylon, indeed. Buzzov*en hacks through riffs as if they were jungle, rearranging the scenery and creating something even more horrible. That's just the band's job, folks. Take it or leave it.

    Me? I'm cranking up the noise and following this festering path. What horrors await can only be imagined. All I know is that music like this comes along only so often, and I'm not missing it. Tag along, if you dare.


    By a Thread
    The Last of the Daydreams
    (Revelation) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    I know, it's pretty easy to cast a band into the emo pit these days. And damned if By a Thread doesn't have half a foot there. But this too tuneful, too focused. There isn't the blind rage or distance found in most emo. Just a further pop sheen on the form, I guess.

    So what is By a Thread? A strident pop band, I guess. These songs do generally stick to standard construction. There are a few "letting go" moments, but even those are within the bounds of the sound. By a Thread keeps a handle on its emoting. And that's why this isn't an emo album.

    Jesus, what am I? Some dork who has to label everything he hears? I really hate that. But I don't hate this. Actually, I kinda dig it lots. By a Thread does tear off some nice, hooky riffage. The songs are rather satisfying.

    I'm just gonna stay away from the whole "genre" argument. Too much of a mess for me to figure out right now. This is simply good music. That's all. Really. No need to blabber on so.


    The By Gods
    I Don't Care Who Believes Me . . .
    (self-released)
    reviewed 1/11/15

    Tye Hammonds and George Pauley are the By Gods, but a big part of some of the best songs on this album is the utterly brilliant bass playing by Paul Kintzing (whose regular gig is with German Error Message). Kintzing didn't write any of the stuff, but when he cuts loose he's got a loopy, bouncy feel that recalls Peter Hook in his salad days.

    Which is to say that Hammonds and Pauley are not just great songwriters, they're smart as hell, too. If you've got a friend that can play like that and you know it would help your songs, sign that guy up. It's not like these throttle 'n' pop songs needed extra flourishes, but the light touch on the deep end is lovely.

    In general, this recalls some of the great semi-melodic, semi-hardcore, semi-pop/rock bands of the early 90s. I happen to love that stuff--I'm a sucker for anthems that feature shouted gang vocals--and from the first lick I knew this album would be in my wheelhouse.

    Judging by the photo, Pauley and Hammonds are about my age (maybe a tad younger) and have loved music like this for quite a while as well. That's cool. When you're playing music you like and playing it loud and fast, life doesn't get much better.

    I laid it on pretty thick at the top when I was talking about Kintzing. He's great. The songs are even better. This set is short, sweet and blistering. Happiness comes in many flavors, and an awful lot of them are on this album.


    ...By the End of Tonight
    Complex Full of Phantoms split LP with Tera Melos
    (Temporary Residence)
    reviewed in issue #290, October 2007

    ...By the End of Tonight bashes its way through near-manic angular instrumentals. Tera Melos is just as geeky, but there are vocals. Sounds like a winning recipe to me.

    And it is. BTEOT is something of a lighthearted Don Caballero, featuring plenty of strength but also remarkable agility. These songs turn on a dime, but they make sense all the way through. I like the way these songs think.

    Tera Melos plays music that's even more intricate and involved, and the guys play it faster. The vocals tend to be used more like instruments rather than lyrical vehicles--I've always like that approach, myself. Sound at the speed of light, with added brighteners.

    If I haven't lost you yet, this album might. It's high-octane, well, music. Lots of speed, lots of power...almost a sensory overload, really. My brain is bleeding and I couldn't be happier.


    James Byrd
    Octoglomerate
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93

    Highly technical playing, soaring scale runs and, unfortunately, predictable chord changes. I know this guy has talent, he wields it like a big stick. Now he has to prove to me he can write the interesting song, which is pretty tough for solo guitar stuff.

    Not quite there yet. There are flashes of inspiration here and there, but certainly not a coherent vision of uniqueness. Oh well. That's what time is for.


    Son of Man
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    A religious instrumental guitar album? One that opens with a Motley Crue sample? Hell yes, I'm interested!

    Byrd continues his anthemic daze, with lots of keyboards and other softening agents added in the spin cycle. Not bad, not completely boring.

    But oddly uninspired. Byrd has a nice feel for the guitar, and he doesn't waste his time convincing folks he can play by whipping up and down the fretboard. His deal is songwriting, and he puts together some nice (loud) neo-classical stuff.

    There is no diversity in the sound, which is a serious danger with instrumental work. Byrd needs to find some other sorts of musical inspiration to temper his current writing mode.


    The James Byrd Group
    The Apocalypse Chime
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96

    Byrd's last album was the first overtly Christian instrumental guitar album I'd heard. An odd concept, sure. And now that he's put together a band, complete with singer (Robert Mason), the tunes are much less religious in nature.

    Completely overdone bombast in the style of UFO, MSG or early Yngwie. Mason has the perfect voice for this sort of music: a good range, but still that hint of a rasp that has worked so well for folks like David Coverdale. Byrd has toned down his guitar pyrotechnics, allowing the songwriting to shine.

    I know a lot of people simply hate this kind of music (and when it's done poorly, there's plenty of reason for that). Yeah, this may be 10 years behind the times, but it would stand up well to some classics of the genre. That Uriah Heep-style organ is the classic touch (the same thing that kicked Whitesnake over the top) that really makes the sound.

    Excessive, anthemic as all hell and way behind the current trends. A ballsy choice for a sound, indeed. But the James Byrd Band has put together a really good album. I had this pegged as mere silliness when it hit the discer, but these guys really believe in the sound, and Byrd has simplified his songwriting style just enough to make the whole work. For those who reveled in the excesses of 80s metal, here's an album ready-made for you.


    D.L. Byron
    Exploding Plastic Inevitable
    (Zen Archer)
    reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98

    Eight songs, 26 minutes. Short LP, long EP? I dunno. Don't matter. The music does. Byron does the jangle thing, coloring it with some really cool acoustic lead guitar work.

    More of a basic pop sound than a roots thing, despite the abundance of acoustic guitar. You know, like when Tom Petty does the Byrds. Actually, the more I think of it, there's something of a Petty groove going on here, and I'm not one to complain about such things.

    Byron's lyrics are a bit tortured. He's obviously worked very hard on them, and it sounds like he forced some lines. Sometimes you've got to cut good stuff in order to make a song work. But such clumsy moments are fairly rare. Most songs skip and trip along quite well.

    An easy listen (NOT easy listening). Byron ought to loosen up just a bit, but he's certainly got all the tools. A most impressive disc.


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