Welcome to the A&A archives. There are currently 341 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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  • SP111
  • Space Explosion
  • Space March
  • Space Streakings (2)
  • Spaceboy
  • SpaceStation
  • Spahn Ranch (6)
  • Spanish for 100 (2)
  • Spankin' Rufus
  • Sparechange00 (2)
  • Sparkmarker
  • Speak 714
  • Speck Mountain
  • Species Being
  • Spectre
  • Speed Duster
  • Speed McQueen
  • Speedball (2)
  • Speedbuggy USA (2)
  • Speedway
  • Speedwell
  • Speer
  • Sperm
  • Sphere Lazza
  • Sphinx
  • Spider Rockets (2)
  • Spiders & Snakes
  • The Spies
  • Spilth
  • Spindle
  • Spindle Shanks
  • Spine
  • Tony Spinner (3)
  • Spinvoid
  • Spiral Realms
  • Spirit Caravan
  • Spirit Kid
  • Spirit of the Beehive
  • Spirit of the West
  • Spiritualized
  • Spite (2)
  • Spitkiss
  • The Spits
  • Spitters
  • Spiv (2)
  • Splitsville
  • Spock's Beard
  • Spo-Its (2)
  • Spokane
  • Sponge
  • Spooge
  • Spookie Daly Pride
  • Spool
  • Jason Spooner
  • Spoozys
  • Spore
  • Spottiswoode (7)
  • Sprawl
  • Spring Heeled Jack
  • Tobin Sprout (4)
  • Sprung Monkey
  • Spudmonsters
  • Spur
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers
  • Squirrelbait (2)
  • Squirrels
  • Squirtgun (3)
  • Squish
  • Sqonk Opera
  • Sri Lanka
  • SSD
  • Staind
  • Max Stalling (2)
  • The Standard
  • Stanford Prison Experiment (2)
  • Stanley (2)
  • Mike Stanley
  • The Stanleys
  • Star Period Star
  • Star Star (3)
  • Starfish (2)
  • The Stargazer Lillies
  • Starmarket (2)
  • The Stars of Aviation (2)
  • The Starside Eight
  • State of Mind
  • State of the Nation
  • Static Eden
  • Stationary Odyssey
  • Statuesque (2)
  • Stavesacre (2)
  • Steadman
  • Steamroller
  • Steel Miners
  • The Steepwater Band
  • Bernd Steidl
  • Lou Stein & Elise
  • David Steinhart
  • Stella (2)
  • Stellamara
  • Step Kings (3)
  • Step Softly, Ghost
  • The Stepford Five
  • The Stereo State
  • Stereo 360 (2)
  • Stereobate (3)
  • Stereolab
  • Stereotaxic Device
  • Steril (2)
  • Corey Stevens
  • Vic Stevens (2)
  • The Joe Fonda/Michael Jefry Stevens Group
  • Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson (4)
  • Philip Stevenson
  • Stew
  • Poindexter Stewart
  • STG
  • The Stickmen
  • Stiff Miners
  • Stillborn (2)
  • The Stills (2)
  • Scott Stine
  • Stinking Lizaveta
  • Stir Fried with Buddy Cage
  • Scott Stine
  • Rory Merritt Stitt
  • Stoley P.T.
  • Stone Coyotes (3)
  • Stone Deep (2)
  • Stop
  • Storm & Stress (2)
  • Stormtroopers of Death
  • Stormdrain
  • Chris Storrow
  • John Stowell/Rick Helzer
  • Strange (2)
  • Strange Cargo
  • Stranger Death 19
  • The Stranglers
  • Strangulated Beatoffs (2)
  • Strapping Young Lad
  • The Stratford 4
  • Straw Dogs
  • The Kerry Strayer Septet
  • Straylight Run
  • Tresa Street
  • Street Chant
  • The Streets (3)
  • The Streets on Fire
  • The Streetwalkin Cheetahs
  • Stretch Armstrong
  • Strife
  • Strike Force
  • John P. Strohm (2)
  • Struction
  • Strung Out (2)
  • Strunken White
  • Strychnine
  • Stuck Mojo
  • Student Rick
  • Study of the Lifeless (2)
  • Joe Stump (2)
  • Stunt Monkey
  • Stuntdriver
  • Stymie
  • Subduing Mara
  • Sublime
  • Subliminal Bob
  • Suburban Kids with Biblical Names
  • The Suburbs
  • Yontz Sucre
  • Suffocation (3)
  • Sugar Army
  • Sugar Shack
  • Sugarplum Fairies
  • Sugarsmack (2)
  • The Suggestions
  • Suicide Culture
  • Suicidal Tendencies
  • Sukpatch
  • Summer Blanket
  • Summer Hymns
  • Summer People
  • Ryan Summers
  • Sun Dial
  • Sun Kil Moon
  • Sun Red Sun
  • Sunday Munich (2)
  • Sunday Puncher (2)
  • Sunfur
  • Sunnmoonsekt
  • Sunride
  • The Suns
  • The Suns of Orpheus
  • The Sunset Curse
  • Sunset Harbinger
  • Sunset Heights
  • Sunshine
  • Ron Sunshine
  • Sunshine Blind
  • The Sunshine Factory
  • Super Chikan
  • Super Chinchilla Rescue Mission
  • Super Deluxe
  • Super Snake
  • Superchunk (5)
  • Supercreep
  • Superdude
  • Supergrass
  • Superkreme
  • Supermodel (2)
  • Supersuckers
  • Supperbell Roundup
  • Surrealist
  • Surrounded
  • The Suspects
  • Susu Bilibi
  • Susurrus Station
  • Sutcliffe Jugend
  • Swains
  • Swamp Terrorists
  • Swamp Zombies (2)
  • Astrid Swan
  • Greg Swann
  • Swans
  • Swansea
  • Swaybone
  • Patrick Sweany
  • The Swear
  • Swear Jar
  • Swearing at Motorists (2)
  • Sweat (4)
  • Sweat Engine
  • Sweaty Nipples
  • Sweet Baby (2)
  • Sweet Diesel
  • Sweet John Bloom
  • Sweet Knievel
  • Sweet Pea
  • Sweet William (2)
  • Sweetwater
  • Swervedriver
  • Swindle (2)
  • Swingin' Utters (3)
  • Swirl Happy
  • Swirlitbox
  • Swissfarlo
  • Switchblade Symphony (3)
  • Swivelneck (2)
  • Swoon
  • Sybil's Machine
  • Synaesthesia
  • Syrup
  • Systems Officer

  • SP111
    reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93

    Mostly Michael Gibbons, who was last heard with the band Leeway. He's still playing a very technical, classical guitar, and it sounds like a lot of other good guitar players.

    This is that classic metal sound of the mid-to-late eighties, just like Leeway played. Not much here to distinguish from a large pack of such bands. Gibbons is a capable singer, but the music just sounds too familiar.

    Space Explosion
    Space Explosion
    (Purple Pyramid-Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #149, 12/8/97

    Some well-known German industrial types crank out five spacescapes. Included are Dieter Moebius of Cluster, Jurgen Engler of Die Krupps, Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru, Chris Karrer of Amon Duul and Zappi Diermaier and Jean Herve Peron of Faust (alright, so they're not all Germans).

    I don't know what else to say. This is spacey industrial stuff, bordering on the ambient at times, but never quite crossing over. I like it, even the excessively long Krakatau, but I'm not overwhelmed.

    Space Explosion is entertaining, though kinda lightweight. I think that might even be the intent, as there are plenty of playful passages. Amusing, not life-changing.

    Oh well, who has to change the world, anyway? Enjoyment is good enough.

    Space March
    Without This You Can Never Change
    (Ninth Wave/Death By Karaoke)
    reviewed in issue #292, December 2007

    Electronic pop, rock and roll in full force. Not strictly new wave or laptop or that sort of thing--though there are similarities, of course.

    The main similarity is that Space March is one Craig Simmons, and this album is seriously assembled. Not unlike the Elliot Carlson Botero album I reviewed earlier, the electronics serve their master and don't wag the dog.

    Yeah, there are Erasure or even Abba-esque moments. And there are some serious kick-ass rock bits. Sometimes in the same song. Simmons is a master of assimilation, which probably will put off a few people. That's okay. He appears to be serving the interests of good music, and I'll vote on that party line every time.

    Fun and engaging. Simmons has a sense of melody and lyric that reminds me a bit of Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields, etc.). Simmons lives in a much brighter universe, but his occasional wry asides (in both music and lyrics) tell me that his eyes are wide open. He simply prefers to walk on the brighter path. Works for me.

    Space Streakings
    (Skin Graft-Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #63, 9/30/94

    Everything about this band is highly entertaining. Start with the music. A heady mix of horns, over-amped electric instruments, drum machine and wild sampling, you simply cannot comprehend what is going on immediately. You must listen over and over to get the subtle nuances, just like your favorite movies. Only after completely immersing yourself can you even begin to understand.

    Then there is the plain wackiness of the band. If you can get a press kit, read it! any interviews are worth their weight in laughs. Space Streakings just might be the height of inspired lunacy in industrial music. Strike that. They are at the peak.

    So at times you think you're listening to a Nintendo or Sega set suffering terminal breakdown. And at times it sounds like the Duke Ellington Orchestra on PCP. And sometimes the music is just merely loud and fast. Are you gonna complain?

    I didn't think so.

    Taco Beya 7"
    (Skin Graft)
    reviewed in issue #115, 7/29/96

    Two shots of pure adrenaline from Japan's foremost authority on the subject. Space Streakings, if you don't know, crank out keyboard-driven mayhem like no one else I've heard.

    Some call this video game music. Apparently kids (like 10-year-olds) love it, mostly because it moves at about the same speed they do, I guess. I like to tap into that source, and I love the mess left in the wake of the attack.

    Honestly, it's pretty futile to try and explain the differences between the sides, except to say that the flip ("Life Up 65000") is a bit more experimental and also a bit more aggro. You can make out more of the vocals, though as they're in Japanese, it doesn't help me much.

    Um, yeah, I loved it. Can't you tell?

    A Force that Holds Together a Heart Torn to Pieces
    (Howlingbull America)
    reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01

    Taking prog to the extreme. Literally. Spaceboy combines the extended jams and technically demanding guitar and keyboard lines of prog and interpolates them into a death metal stew. That's an interesting idea.

    And it works, if only at times. The problem Spaceboy has is that it plays both prog and death metal, and the fusion comes only in the transitions. That fusion is truly exciting. The opposite ends are merely average.

    So, too, is the production quality, which seems to change even as the songs lurch from one side to another. The prog production is thick and reverb-laden, while the death metal sections are sharper and tinnier.

    I'd rather hear the two sounds in a solution rather than a mixture, if my chemistry reference makes any sense. Spaceboy has something here, but it hasn't quite figured out what to do with it. Keep trying, guys.

    "There's nothing routine about space travel."
    (Fusi Pumper)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    Breezy, spacey (duh) pop tunes that benefit from the Pfilbryte production touch. So there's quite the sense of fun beaming out from this disc.

    Hey, there's nothing wrong with trippy party music. And if SpaceStation decides to toss in a message or two, well, that's okay. Nothing can bring this stuff back to earth. It's light, but hardly lightweight.

    The list of players (and instruments) is lengthy, and all of those pieces find their proper place. SpaceStation's grooves are simple, and the complex decorations simply fill out the picture. The sound is resplendent.

    Need something to get in that early 70s soul-rock-party mood? SpaceStation lays down more than enough wax here to satisfy any jones. There are even covers of "Summer in the City" and "Sunshine Superman," though these versions are drenched in flyaway funk. Don't underestimate the power of this stuff make your booty move.

    Spahn Ranch
    Collateral Damage
    reviewed in issue #56, 6/15/94

    Athan Maroulis, also of Tubalcain, provides the vocals, and R. Morton and Matt Green provide the strident industrial soundtrack.

    Spahn Ranch is as lean and vicious as Tubalcain is catchy. Spahn Ranch merely cuts through all pretense and serves up 10 tracks of pure vitriol. Rather damned impressive stuff, too.

    I know this is a little late, but certainly better than never. If you never got this or simply haven't picked it up, then now is the time. Essential.

    Blackmail Starters Kit EP
    reviewed in issue #60, 8/15/94

    There are no drums or guitars or anything other than electronic equipment going on. And yet Spahn Ranch is rougher and tougher than most bands who flail their hair along with their axes.

    Mixing elements of heavy industrial, goth and just plain meanness, Spahn Ranch creates a picture of the world that is sparse and unyielding. A departure somewhat from their recent full-length, this release sees them really descend into an electronic hell.

    Technically stunning, there is a vibe here that cannot be ignored. It may be painful to experience, but you cannot turn away.

    The Coiled One
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    The first Spahn Ranch outings were quite sparsely produced, which lent the band a cool techno industrial sound that was rather unique.

    I don't think it sold too well, though, and so those ideas are updated on The Coiled One. The sound is much fuller and the beats omnipresent. Artsy this isn't.

    But the first track, "Locusts" is a perfect example of how truly talented people can sell out without getting dull. There is a neat goth feel mixed in with the techno beats and industrial guitars. Indeed, the added goth influence throughout the album adds just the right amount of sheen to that patented Spahn Ranch feel.

    But this is much more a dance album than anything that band has done before. Every tune here is revved up and club-ready. As I noted before, the full production really gives a more commercial feel to the stuff, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. How anyone could overlook this disc is beyond me. One of the best industrial dance discs in years.

    Parts Assembled Solely remix EP
    reviewed in issue #110, 5/27/96

    Six remixes of tracks from The Coiled One, and four live versions from the same.

    The only remix that outdoes the original is the first track, the Birmingham 6 take on "Heretic's Fork" (which is one of the better songs of the past year). The album was one of my favorites from last year (we even played "Locusts" at our wedding-not pleasant lyrically, but a great dance tune), and many of the takes simple elongate and emphasize for no good reason.

    The live tracks prove that Spahn Ranch can play live, I guess, but they are completely redundant. No use, as far as I'm concerned. Still, that first track is an amazing rendition. Worth the price of admission.

    reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97

    The word I got on this was simply "not good". After listening, I understand. I don't agree with that assessment, but I understand.

    Spahn Ranch has wandered all over the electronic music frontier, from old school techno to a more gothic feel on the last album to the new electronic (Chemical Brothers, etc.) that's featured here. Yeah, it's really different, particularly if you're expecting more stuff like "Locusts". On the other hand, The guys know how to make good music, no matter what sort.

    Not quite as adventurous or highly textured as the top Brit electronic bands, Architecture actually adds an interesting gothic layer to this sound. This works better at some times than others, but it's never dull.

    Spahn Ranch has always tried to be one step ahead of the trends. The Coiled One anticipated the big gothic surge, and so Architecture is poised to cash in on the big electronic wave that is just now reaching shore. And if you want more of the older days, you'll have to be content with tracks like "Futurist Limited".

    I'm never going to bitch about a band that likes to take chances. Some of the stuff here sounds just a bit contrived, but you've gotta try stuff to see what works. Spahn Ranch is simply doing what comes naturally.

    Retrofit remix EP
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    Following established form, Spahn Ranch follows up its Architecture album with a set of remixes. Folks like Astralasia and David Harrow, as well as band members Matt Green (who does three) and Athan Maroulis take aim. Unlike many remix projects, however, this one works.

    The songs generally are completely reworked, which I feel is all-important. If you're gonna do it, do it, y'know? And, indeed, the deed has been done here.

    Five songs are given the treatment (many have more than one, for ten tracks in total), but each mix creates a new song. Some of the elements are still around, but these mixes are new creative grounds. Remix albums can be hairy. This one provides a great bang.

    See also Tubalcain.

    Spanish for 100
    Metric EP
    reviewed in issue #274, May 2006

    Spanish for 100 claims all the right Americana influences. But these boys don't play Americana. There is something of a roots flavor here, but we're talking about contemplative indie rock. Put it all together, and you've got a fine combination.

    Reminds me a bit of Eleventh Dream Day, a band whose myriad sounds confounded any attempt to become popular. Spanish for 100 has a bit of luck, as the last 15 years have proven EDD prophetic.

    Only five songs here, but each is well worth hearing over and over again. This is the sort of date that must lead to another.

    Say What You Want to Say to Me
    (Fish the Cat)
    reviewed in issue #288, August 2007

    Back in the glorious '90s, there was something called modern rock. Not exactly "alternative," not really punk, not anything in particular. Most of the time, though, most "modern rock" bands sounded a lot like U2--pick whatever album you like.

    Spanish for 100 sounds nothing like U2, but it seems to me that this is what "modern rock" ought to be. Vaguely melodic songs played with vigor and intensity without a commitment to any particular sound.

    At times mathy, at others simply nice and stridently anthemic, Spanish for 100 merely plays good music. Stuff that is most definitely rock, not pop. Serious fare for folks who don't mind thinking about what they're hearing. Like I said, good music.

    I'm still not able to pick out anything particularly distinctive about these guys, but that should come with time. And I think I'll be spending plenty of time with this disc.

    Spankin' Rufus
    Spankin' Rufus
    reviewed in issue #28, 2/14/93

    A real Columbia (Mo.) institution. These guys were at it when I first started school, and they just get around to releasing their first disc.

    Horn-flavored frat-boy funk with enough of a kick to get you going. Oddly, I find this a lot better than their live performances. It's more focused, better orchestrated. Those of you with more commercial formats should check this out. It can be a fun ride.

    ...At First Sight
    (Grilled Cheese-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00

    A three-piece from Canton, Ohio, home of the pro football hall of fame, Sparechange00 cranks out one tuneful anthem after another, the sound just dirty enough to keep the boys honest.

    'Cause the truth is, this stuff is awful infectious, and a sharp production job would have made these songs sound much too commercial. Sometimes it is something that simple that saves an album.

    The other thing that keeps these boys from getting too slick is the seeming necessity to cram each song full of heavy riffage. See, once again, an impulse that I wholly applaud. These songs are like trains, chugging forward relentlessly and arriving at the station in full glory.

    A nice amalgamation of recent punk trends, from pop to emo to hardcore and back again. Sparechange00 mixes and matches, assembling some of the better punk anthems I've heard in a couple years. Wholly addictive.

    Fifty Thousand Moments EP
    (Grilled Cheese-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01

    As this EP rapidly approached its end, I was just sitting on my butt enjoying it, rather than actually writing anything. So I figured I'd look up my review of last year's album, just to see if I liked it as much.

    Um, yeah. Sticky, ragged hooks and blistering riffage. Eternally uptempo, the kind of stuff that makes the heart sing. You know, really good and all.

    Five songs are not enough. Sparechange00 has shown an astonishing propensity for cranking out utterly blissful tunes. I'm getting the idea that there's no way to stop it. And, you know, I have no idea why anyone would even want to try.

    reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97

    Some nice Vancouver boys who sound nothing like the regular local exports. Sparkmarker has a cool emo-core feel filtered through the Trance Syndicate rhythm machine. Something like Texas Is The Reason mixed with Johnboy. Um, well, that is something, now.

    A sludgy pop sound with punchy bass and drums. Everything is in motion, and yet the feeling is somewhat laid back. As the songs roll on, they simply continue to kick my ass.

    Another touchstone would be Kepone, that fine band which records for Touch and Go (and a recent recipient of a AAAAA review). Sparkmarker is still a little inconsistent, but the raw feed here is most impressive. If this sort of thing is the sound of the future, I'm all set to get on board.

    Of course, the average mallrat wouldn't get anywhere near music of this quality. Sparkmarker has a wonderful sound and an incisive feel for songwriting. An astonishing debut; an album worth searching out. The power is immense.

    Speak 714
    Knee Deep in Guilt
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    Much the same influences as the Battery release I got in the same package. Mid-80s hardcore, with an emphasis on personal beliefs and rolling riffage. Speak 714 generally makes its point in two minutes or less (another connection to the past), so it doesn't shift around so much. The base, however, sounds very familiar.

    The vocals are hidden a bit in the mix, which is very guitar heavy. The riffs themselves aren't particularly impressive, though I do like the way they're slashed out. Intuitively, with little care for technical perfection. Not sloppy so much as impassioned. Always better, in my book.

    A wonderful aggro attack. This puppy flies past in a spot more than 20 minutes, but the rush lasts longer. These slices of philosophy aren't terribly sophisticated, but they get the job done. Well.

    I had to warm up to this one a bit, but once there, I was in the spell. Speak 714 doesn't truck much with subtlety. And, well, that's perfectly okey-dokey.

    Species Being
    (Grauspace Music-Jamaelot)
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    Spacey jazz-fusion stuff, completely improvised on the fly. And still, the songs are surprisingly coherent. I'm figuring some editing went on, but the spirit of experimentation comes through loud and clear.

    Like the milder moments of Naked City, I suppose. Which, of course, is still way out there. The playing is quite good, which is not generally the case with jam albums. These folks certainly can play, and they got a ton of good ideas, too.

    A joyous rush. Driving music which rarely lets up for more than a moment or two. The songs are linked together, so as to sound like one long piece, though that's definitely an editing gimmick. I'm not complaining, though. This stuff sounds good in any order and with any linkage.

    Intense and invigorating. Music for the strong-of-heart, folks who are not afraid of what lies beyond the veil. Lesser souls couldn't even begin to approach this. I'm just happy to make the climb.

    Speck Mountain
    Some Sweet Relief
    (Carrot Top)
    reviewed in issue #304, February 2009

    Speck Mountain plays on the verge of incitement. I kept waiting for something to burst out and splat against the wall. But what actually meanders out is an intensely moody set of songs that always keeps a more-than-even keel.

    That may sound like a complaint, but it isn't. The tension between the impulse to let loose and the compulsion to keep a lid on things is palpable and exciting. Reminds me a lot of Black Box Recorder, the Brit band that sounded like a much more exciting Mazzy Star.

    The horns are the kicker. Whenever horns (and electric piano, for that matter) come in, you just know there's an anthem in the offing. But no. Not here. Speck Mountain just keeps on keeping on. And on. And on.

    I can go for that. These songs are electric, even in their ponderous and introspective style. There's so much between the lines that it's hard not to get all riled up. I like the way this makes me feel.

    The Second Coming
    reviewed in issue #151, 1/19/98

    Thick, thick, thick in the bass. These grooves are slow, they are funky and they just might take your life. Hip-hop grooves reformulated and slowed down to near incomprehensible levels, and then mixed with some wacky religious and vampiric messages.

    I'm not exactly sure how seriously to take what lyrical content that exists here. In any case, the focus here is on the killer grooves, the sorts of rhythms that infect your brain and warp your soul. Perhaps that's why Spectre goes by the name of The Ill Saint.

    A typically engrossing Wordsound release. Spectre is at home with basic beats or complicated compositions, even when he lays on rap or club-style vocals over his "normal" distorted bass vocal musings. But no matter how the ideas are expressed, the bottom always drops out. A slow rumbling that is murder on the mind.

    The Spectre ideal is fat, heavy bass grooves, period. What gets piled on top varies wildly, it's impossible to miss the real reason for this music. Take the trip, and enjoy the ride.

    Speed Duster
    Last Stop, Motor City 7"
    reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95

    Basic, straight-ahead punk rawk with all the trappings: silly lyrics, real fuzzy guitars and a real fast beat. We've heard this formula a thousand times before just this year, and many times better.

    The point of this music is to suck (at least at some level), so a harsh critique is pointless. Speed Duster doesn't really have the fun quotient of other bands who have employed this sound, and I guess that's where the failure lies. There are a few nice musical references, but those bits don't help the whole package.

    Speed McQueen
    Speed McQueen
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    Slick packaging, slick music. Too slick for me.

    This has the feel of a band that wants to be cool and trendy, and is willing to subvert whatever its personal artistic motives might have been to score a few more sales.

    The songs are decent enough, as rock songs go. The production is way too punchy and plastic. At times this sounds like fucking Journey, for God's sake. That's getting a little silly.

    What might have been a nice pop album became this BIG MONSTER ALBUM concept. Maybe that's what it takes to make it these days. I don't know. What I do know is that this puppy is way too steroid-heavy to get me going. Rock by numbers never lasts very long.

    Do Unto Others, Then Split
    reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95

    Rising from that hole that is called Detroit comes a band that has more than a little in common with a certain pre-punk band that blasted off from the same city over 25 years ago.

    Blistering old-time rock riffs explode from a wall of feedback and attitude, which is where Speedball does draw a few (favorable) comparison with the MC5.

    Of course, the extreme years ago is passe today, and Speedball is mostly a riff-spewing machine fueled on mid-tempo rockers. And nothing wrong with that in the slightest.

    Sure, you can call this punk, but it really is following the tradition laid down by 50's and 60's garage bands, plastered with 90's delivery and attitude. Simple, to-the-point and a load of fun to boot. Lean back and enjoy.

    Drive Like Hell EP
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    Fuzzy old style punk rawk. Like the album of a year ago, Speedball rides through the familiar territory of Motown inspiration the MC5. The aim isn't anything fancy, just killer riffs and stance, stance, stance.

    Throwaway, but nice and crunchy on the way down. Four new tracks, all quality, and three live versions of songs from the album. The studio tunes are sharply produced and have that slightly metallic feel that seems to make everything alright. The live tracks are a bit muddled, but if you missed the album, you get a taste of the best tunes from that opus.

    Not sure if even the members of Speedball know where this train is headed, but the bumpy ride is awfully fun. A cheap and easy drunk with no hangover.

    Speedbuggy USA
    Cowboys and Aliens
    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    Polished punk (which means the boys aren't afraid to whip a little jangle 12-string or pedal steel into the sound), almost rock. Well, almost country punk rock, that's what this is.

    In fact, the stuff works the best when it's soft. Or, more correctly, when it is carefully plotted out. Speedbuggy is that odd punk band that doesn't quite work when it kicks out the jams. I don't know if it's a comfort thing or what, but the midtempo pieces suit the boys better.

    And that's most of the album, really. Oh, there are those who would call this some sort of sellout sound, and it sure is unusual. But the fact is the most radical elements of the sound are the parts that work the best.

    It's good, particularly when the boys reach into the bag of roots. Strange? Only if you're doctrinaire. There's a certain part of me that thinks this sound is quite natural. Maybe it's just because Uncle Tupelo was the house band where I went to school.

    Round Up EP
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    Six songs from the outlaw side of country music. Speedbuggy USA prefers to call its sound "cowpunk," but there's a lot more cow than punk. And just enough rock and roll and folk to drop this smack dab in the middle of the dread "alt. country" morass.

    Actually, the closest reference point I can find are the Mermaid Avenue projects, where Billy Bragg and Wilco wrote music to accompany a number of unfinished Woody Guthrie songs. The loose arrangements and spirited playing would fit in well there.

    Just a fun set, even if it's way too short. Six songs? Sixteen would have been much more welcome. Speedbuggy USA's laid back style is most welcome in these here parts.

    Pedigree Scum 7"
    (Fantasy Ashtray)
    reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97

    Brit-pop with just enough of a glam feel to glaze me over. The a-side is a rip on a wayward member of England's House of Lords; mean, nasty and oh-so-much fun. Damned short, which is a shame.

    The flip, "26 Years" is even shorter, but much the same. Peppy stuff. This is an import-only 7" that is intended to prime the pump for a full-length on Lava/Atlantic later this year.

    Well, with some serious cash and effort behind it, I'm sure Speedway will do fairly well. Nice to get an early sighting.

    My Life Is a Series of Vacations EP
    reviewed in issue #239, March 2003

    Basic rock and roll in the modern sense. Speedwell utilizes liquid bass, pop hooks and strident guitar riffage. Great harmonies, too. There are times that I'm tempted to call this the Britpop version of emo, but Speedwell really goes for a lot more than that.

    What I mean is that each of the four songs on this frustratingly short disc is quite different. I get a sense of adventure from the pieces here, like Speedwell is just beginning to discover what it might be able to do with its collective talent.

    Good songwriting, polished performances and a nicely thick production sound. I like the way Speedwell ranges over its territory like a lion stalking its prey. If you don't watch out you'll be the next meal.

    Sixes & Sevens
    reviewed in issue #247, November 2003

    It's odd. As I vainly searched the Speer website for snailmail contact info, I came across the "official" description of the band. Something along the lines of pop, rock, alternative and then some. For some reason, no one thought of soul.

    Maybe it's just because James Speer's voice is highly reminiscent (in all the good ways) of Seal. And maybe it's because he and his band fill out the sound on this disc to lushly evocative levels. I dunno. Just screams soul to me.

    Not that there isn't plenty of rock and pop and all that. And I suppose it is alternative, in that people seem to forget that rock and soul used to be the same damned thing. It's not like many people are trying to make music like this these days.

    Few are making it this well, in any case. Speer has an almost perfect ear for writing songs, and the production here presents them in full glory. The sort of "alternative" that could break big quite easily.

    Jessica Speltz
    (self-released) reviewed in issue #191, 11/15/99

    Speltz lives in Nashville, but this really isn't typical fare for that territory. There is a vague Rosanne Cash feel, but that's a sound that country music hasn't acknowledged in more than a decade. Speltz spins tales of joy and loss, power and insecurity, wandering all around all sorts of emotional pitfalls.

    The music is generally moody pop, and whether you want to place individual songs near Lisa Loeb or 10,000 Maniacs, early Mary Chapin Carpenter or anyone else, the fact is that Speltz has carved out a nice sound of her own here. Folky pop with the vaguest of country lilts.

    The emotions do hang heavy, but they never become overwrought or excessive. This is the sound of a woman baring her soul with tender grace. Speltz's alto voice isn't a perefect instrument, but those flaws are what inject the most feeling into the songs. Speltz knows how to sell the lines, some hard and some very softly, in such a way as to produce the greatest effect.

    A rather assured album. Speltz's music may fall somewhere in the cracks between "acceptable" women's music trends, but I'm guessing there's got to be someone out there willing to take a chance on a singer/songwriter like this. There's just too much talent here to ignore.

    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    Rather crunchy, disjointed pop. I'm not sure if Sperm is trying to sound like Pearl Jam playing Squeeze, but that's the impression I get.

    It might work better if the songs had a flow of any sort. Instead, the sometimes insightful lyrics are kinda flung out over woefully inept music. No hooks, no grooves, just rather painful-sounding notes.

    Nothing works. Pop gone bad can be a seriously distressing listening experience, and that's what I had here. These guys are obviously working very hard, and they play well. But the songwriting machine needs an overhaul.

    Sphere Lazza
    The Enemy Within
    reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95

    Hard techno with those industrial club beats ringing into your brain. The vocals come through nice and distorted, lyric topics include despair and the loneliness of cyberspace.

    Kinda like a New Order for the 90's, really. Sphere Lazza write catchy songs with just the right amount of bouncy bass to keep things moving along. The vocals have that goth restrained tendency, and most of the music consists of drum machines and synthesized bass and guitar. The keyboard synth overlays are few but effective.

    About five years ago I would have dismissed this sort of album as electro-pabulum. Now I like such stuff, I guess. Nothing earthshaking, mind you; just rather amusing and affecting music. And, of course, you can dance your ass off.

    (Heart & Soul)
    reviewed in issue #50, 3/15/94

    Rather commercial metal from Chicago. And the odd thing is, I like it.

    I know I usually rail against this sort of thing, but for some reason Sphinx really appeal to me. Maybe it's because they have everything down.

    Reminds me a little of the first Saigon Kick album, which I also really liked. Good harmonies, but not too cheesy, cool riffs that don't rip off anyone in particular and coherent, thoughtful lyrics.

    I can't remember the last time I really got into something that sounds like this. It's been a long time. Don't skip over Sphinx. This is good shit.

    Spider Rockets
    Spider Rockets EP
    reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99

    Ahh, yes. Back to the late 80s, some groove-laden glam metal (remember Bang Tango? Cross that with Queensryche). The complexities are in the relation of the vocals to the tunes (the music itself is relatively normal). The songs themselves are, well, addictive.

    Simple enough to attract immediate attention and intricate enough to handle some scrutiny. Spider Rockets have a cool sound. I don't know how it will fly these days, but that's merely a commercial comment, not an artistic one.

    'Cause I'm having blast listening to these four songs. This sort of sound can go wrong in so many ways, and instead, it's done so right here. Quite well, indeed. This is the level so many bands failed to reach.

    I hope times are turning right for Spider Rockets. Because stuff this good deserves to be heard. I'm not just riding a nostalgia wave here. This sound is quite grand even years past the trend.

    Flipped Off
    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    Apparently Spider Rockets realized that Euro glam metal wasn't the wave of the future. This disc is much heavier than the EP I heard last year, and that kinda bums me out.

    Because this is a much more generic sound. The only real unusual feature is that it's a woman (Helena Cos) doing the growling.

    There are still a few glam references, and Spider Rockets don't quite lurch into the Pantallica or metal-core areas. On a song like "Fortune," this heavier attitude works pretty well.

    Still, even on that song, there just isn't much in the way of an original band sound. It's not so much that the band is ripping anyone off; it's just that this sound is a little tired. Maybe the folks just need a little more time to figure out where they're going. This disc just doesn't get me all that excited.

    Spiders & Snakes
    London Daze
    reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00

    In case you're a true geek and you've always been wondering who the "L. Grey" was that co-wrote "Public Enemy #1" with Nikki Sixx, wonder no further. It's Lizzie Grey, who fronts Spiders & Snakes some 20 years after recording a demo (band name: London) with Sixx and Nigel Benjamin.

    The style is quite similar to that first Crue outing, a mix of punk and glam sensibilities, though much heavier on the Mott than the Clash. It's a fun little trip, though it does sound more than a bit like a retread.

    And Spiders & Snakes decided to record "Public Enemy #1." It's not that the song is worse than the Crue version, but Grey just doesn't quite have the inept audacity of Vince Neil needed to carry off such a silly song.

    Probably most interesting to Crue fans is the inclusion of three songs from the demo that Grey, Sixx and Benjamin recorded back in 1980. The stuff is appallingly bad (and I'm not talking about the horrid condition of the recordings), but those overblown songs perfectly presage all of the dreck that Motley Crue would wander into some five years down the road. I'm now pretty sure that Sixx just got lucky back in 1982 and 1983. Everything since is right up his alley. Pretty sad.

    The Spies
    Toy Surprise Inside!
    (Fig Records)
    reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98

    Heavy-duty pop. Lots and lots of sugary verses punctuated by choruses which are fairly well hollered. All balanced out with a serious wall-of-sound production job.

    Yes, yes, songs of love and disappointment, some genuinely affecting ("Tired of Being Alone" has a heartbreaking lyric), some simply treacly. I the guys haven't quite figured out the meaning of "too much". A hint: 12-string guitar is generally a bad idea, and the only good pop band who ever successfully pulled off power ballads is Cheap Trick.

    Even with all the excess, though, there are plenty of great hooks and cheesy bounce-along songs. Alright, so the stuff can wallow in shallow sentiment from time to time. I'm willing to forgive that. 'Cause songs like "Becka" really work for me. Even if they are dreadfully saccharine.

    Whatever, you know? I dig cheese pop as long as it is genuinely felt. And I have no doubt about the intentions of the Spies. Edgy? Hardly. These are three guys with the emotional ages of about 16. So you can see why I identify with them, right?

    Maximum Pity 7"
    (Urban Warfare)
    reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95

    Heavy nastiness that would be at home with either Glazed Baby or Buzzov*en. Of course, Spilth is not quite as polished as those bands (if you can imagine).

    The two songs are both quite lengthy and mastered to an amazing lo-fi sound. Songs construction as such is nonexistent; the tales (that's what they are) kinda slouch toward Babylon at a slow and rough rate of speed.

    This is a 33 7"; if you play it at 45, however, it sounds amazingly like Black Sabbath. That's how slow a lot of this grinds. Sure, it's excruciating at times; I think that's the point. Quite an unholy racket.

    Henrietta's Mix
    (Soliloquey Records)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    Minimalist grunge tunes, songs which often rely on muted guitar and vocals, at least until the meat kicks in. Anthemic fare which doesn't shy away from artistic arrogance.

    The first four songs are titled "Songs we despise". The last four are "Songs we despise less". The formula remains the same: grunge licks employed sparingly, with many dynamic shifts.

    Just doesn't turn the trick for me. The only song I dug was "Intermission", which is much more a loopy pop song (with some cool side noise) than anything else. "Fred" provides a nod to Hammerbox, but only a pale one.

    Nothing for me. Perhaps I've heard it all too many times before. Perhaps I didn't hear that "spark" I like to hear. I don't know, really. All I can say is that I didn't find my groove.

    Spindle Shanks
    Spindle Shanks
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    The most basic gothic sound possible: keys and vocals. Sometimes the keyboard simply kicks out simple lines, sometimes it gets busy. Always, Jeanne Fahey presents her voice in a surprisingly unaffected style.

    Stark and immediate, Spindle Shanks isn't looking for mass acceptance. This stuff is much too dark for weekend vampires; no, it would take a hardcore fanatic to truly dig this. I know a few, and this is precisely the sort of thing they swear by. Even the most extreme find simplicity to be a tonic now and again.

    The songs themselves are haunting and unhurried. Still I'm surprised by how straight both the keyboard and the vocal lines are. There isn't much angst or wailing involved. Simply cool melodies weaving together.

    Out there, surely, but fine work nonetheless. With the excess that sloughs off so many dark wave acts these days, Spindle Shanks stands out as a breath of fresh air. Just as effective, perhaps more so.

    Disruptive Influence
    reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95

    Formerly known as Puke Weasel (a band that released three quite nice demos from 1992-1994), this outfit hailing from the middle of Kansas sounds much more like a big time hard rock outfit.

    Combining classic heavy metal conventions with the more grating industrial style popular with bands such as Helmet and Pantera, Spine has crafted a cool sound for itself. But is this ahead of or behind the curve?

    I don't know. The playing is superb and Spine seems expert at trying new things out while sticking to the basic formula. In other words, this band is ripe for plucking. If I had the cash (and a label, perhaps)...

    But I've said that before. This stuff is right down my alley, and the guys crank out the tunes with a cheerful fury that would make about anyone blanch. Someone with serious bucks should take notice.

    See also Puke Weasel.

    Tony Spinner
    Saturn Blues
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #50, 3/15/94

    How can you tell it's white boy blues? Two volumes: loud and louder. But after getting past that minor sticking point, Spinner does put together a decent album. His voice does have a bit of a metal rasp, but then that originally came from blues players, so things are just wandering in their circular way again.

    While none of these songs really grab me by the balls and make me go ooh, yeah, none of them make me turn the damn thing off, either. I'll be honest: I've heard worse.

    I know that doesn't seem like much of an endorsement, but Spinner needs to do a little roots research and broaden his base before he starts shooting for the stars.

    My '64
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #82, 8/14/95

    Average blues attack (better when Spinner unleashes his slide) completely let down by Spinner's reedy, glam metal vocal style.

    And while the great blues singers can compensate for less than sterling material with great playing or an amazing vocal presence, Spinner has neither. He is a good player, and his slide work is very nice, but the lyrics are dull and as previously mentioned, he does not have a good voice for the blues.

    Add to these woes a one-dimensional view of the blues (the rhythms barely seem to change from song to song; where did the idea of many shades of blue go?) and an over-amped guitar and you get a blues album that is not quite up to my standards.

    Spinner would be much better off recruiting a new vocalist and slowing things up a bit. Fast and flashy playing is alright (and even appreciated somewhat) in hard rock circles, but the test in blues is to make one 30-second note say everything in the world. Spinner isn't quite there yet.

    Crosstown Sessions
    (Blues Bureau-Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #120, 10/7/96

    Spinner has all the right ideas: a little blues, a little soul, a splash of flash and gritty vocals. Nothing over-the-top, just basic music.

    But while I can hear all the separate parts, there is no assimilation. Everything remains in suspension; no mixture. The songs themselves are workmanlike in construction and performance. Nothing to complain about, but nothing exciting, either. Spinner is a fine guitar player, but talent can get you only so far.

    Few can overcome a lack of inspiration. This music fits together like a perfect puzzle, but doesn't have that extra kick. No faulting the effort, but the results are just not impressive.

    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    I'll admit right up front that there's a family issue here. The guy behind Spinvoid is my wife's cousin. Got to get that out right up front. Just so you know.

    That out of the way, I'm free to jump into the music. Basic trance beats, with one or two melodic lines carrying the water. The bass lines do not get terribly involved. In fact, most of the bass sound comes from the beats.

    While there are some sampled vocals, they're used more as instruments than as singing. More effective that way, really. A nice way to add some texture to the sound.

    Solidly conceived and produced, this somewhat minimal electronic project uses its sounds wisely. There's no need to overwhelm the listener if the lines are this creative. Not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, Spinvoid's use of heavy beats with ambient structures (trance by one definition) does create some inviting pieces.

    Spiral Realms
    Trip to G9
    reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94

    AKA Simon House, who has previously manned the 'boards for Hawkwind and David Bowie. House has plotted a deep space course, for all those who dare.

    The main tenet of space music is to be lush and understated. Oh, there can be trills and such, but the music is supposed to be relaxing. As little loud stuff as possible.

    House violates that idea with a vengeance. His music is dramatic (well, what could you expect with an ex-Hawkwind keyboardist?) and often almost overbearingly loud (even at low volumes). The music is simply overpowering at times.

    Yes, an acquired taste. Spiral Realms challenges you to think about music without chords, music without shouted vocals. Music that often enough really has no center. And that's the point: you're supposed to get lost. So let yourself go and enjoy.

    Spirit Caravan
    Jug Fulla Sun
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    Just yer basic deep in the Sabs power trio. Early Black Sabbath, that is, based on lean guitar lines and a relatively sparse sound. Perhaps not quite so polished (and when you consider what I'm talking about...), but what the hell.

    Alright, this IS getting close to what I'd call a rip-off. Spirit Caravan doesn't really do anything but wallow in the sound. Hey, the songwriting is convincing (any of these songs could've been on Paranoid), but it's really not original.

    The guys don't steal any riffs, but still, if there was a copyright on a particular sound, well, they'd be nailed. On the other hand, they do this so well, Black Sabbath might think about hiring them to do the actual playing at Ozzfest this summer.

    Heh. Heh. Whatever. I'm entertained, but for no particularly good reason. If you really want to hear a band that channels the Sabs, this is as good as yer gonna get. Past that, well, yer gonna get a band that channels the Sabs.

    Spirit Kid
    Spirit Kid
    (RPL Audio)
    reviewed in issue #317, May 2010

    Ah, just another affected, eclectic pop outfit. Spirit Kid isn't a collective, and it isn't Canadian, either. Rather, it is the solo effort of Emeen Zarookian, a Bostonian. Zarookian is hardly proper, however, and his quirks help make this album a delight.

    An obvious fan of late Beatles (this album is probably best described as a pastiche of Abbey Road and the White Album), Zarookian infuses his songs with lyrical and musical wit. It's hard to get through even a minute without a smile breaking out.

    I also like his flights of fancy. There are references to the Byrds, Big Star, the Posies and other pop gods. But Spirit Kid isn't overwhelmed by these ideas. This is the work of an assured pro.

    Don't believe me? Go to the website below and download the tracks for yourself. I think you'll be at least as knocked out as me. This one brims with pleasure.

    Spirit of the Beehive
    Pleasure Suck
    (Tiny Engines)
    reviewed 4/21/17

    Imagine the Wrens playing Captain Beefheart . . . no, really! The Spirit of the Beehive grafts just about every sort of musical whatnot on top of a laptop-esque rhythm section, and then ties all the pieces up into a pretty bow.

    Or not so pretty. Depends on the song. There are some very Creedle-y moments here, and more than a few passing references to 80s Flying Lips. You might notice a trend in my references. This album does not sound like it was recorded in this millennium.

    It would fit in nicely with the mid-90s wacko-pop explosion, and it truly does not seem to have much footing in the music world of today. Which is precisely why it might be utterly visionary. Of course, I'm not interested in that. I'm much more interested in the way that the Spirit of the Beehive subverts its own interests.

    I'm sure these fine Philly folks could play a straight pop song, but that wouldn't be nearly as exciting as what is actually on this set. Resolutely dissolute, this sucker slouches toward Babylon with abandon.

    Spirit of the West
    Two Headed
    reviewed in Money Whore issue #4, 5/27/96

    Spirit of the West has been around long enough to understand and master the contemplative pop form. The band has mutated its sound over the years (indeed, an album recorded with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has recently been released in Canada), and finds itself in comfy territory on Two Headed.

    The songs are well-crafted and orchestrated with a wide variety of instruments. The use of accordion, flute and a whole array of other instruments really textures the album well.

    And just because this is a well put together album, don't think for a moment it's dull. The songs are mostly bright, with lyrics alternately whimsical and brooding. A nice kaleidoscope of life experiences, which you might expect for a band that's been performing for over 13 years.

    Spirit of the West knows what it's doing, and Two Headed is a natural result. If you like pop music, particularly stuff with thought provoking lyrics, then go no further.

    Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    Spiritualized has one of those "Love 'em or hate 'em" slots in the music world. I know a few folks who think that this sort of over-the-top, heavily-processed moody pop is the stuff of life itself. And I know a few folks who find Spiritualized at least as annoying as U2.

    I think both of those camps speaks worlds about themselves. Personally, I"m more in the second camp. Yeah, I can somewhat appreciate all the hard work that went into crafting the lush and gorgeous sound. Boy, laid the overdubs on with a trowel, eh?

    And to what effect, I ask? Not much, except to be there. Spiritualized never got over Sgt. Peppers, much less Pink Floyd. Sure, there are some thrashy moments in tunes like "I Think I'm in Love" that recall the duller bits of Love and Rockets ('nuff sed, really), but Spiritualized is in the business of eradicating rational thought and the general world of reality.

    The cover and liners are present in the form of a medication wrapper. A bit obvious, aren't we, folks? And that's the whole problem here: Anything good was done to the ultimate excess. No consideration of subtlety or nuance, just smash it over the head. No thanks, man.

    Heavy Whipping Cream
    reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98

    The guys at Opulence sent me "the whole enchilada". Which included a thrift store blouse, an Archie-series TMNT comic, a couple Topps cards from the 1978 season and other assorted junk. Oh yeah, and this disc.

    I'll bite on the humor, but let's get to the music, okay? Spite plays a brand of hardcore which can only be described as "southern-fried". You know, like Buzzov*en, Eyehategod and other bands based in the vast American Sun Belt. Apocalyptic riffage, nearly incoherent vocals (not that you really want to know what's being said, anyway), pile-driving drumming.

    Spite doesn't quite have the power of the other bands I mentioned, though. Some of that is definitely a studio problem (I would have mixed the extremes a bit higher; this puppy is mired in the middle), but some of it is simply the way the band arranges its songs. There isn't the commitment to chaos and pain. Spite doesn't quite make it to the edge.

    And so, it's a bit more of a generic offering. Oh, still amusing, certainly, but just not enough "oomph" to really move me. Up the amperage, boys.

    Bastard Complex
    (Prosthetic) reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99

    The new album, which means the disc I reviewed a few months back qualifies as "the old album". Spite is still trolling the angry noise-sludge-pain grooves as best it can, and here, the band does it better.

    Some of that can certainly be traced to better production, but more than that, the songwriting is paying much more attention to rhythmic coherence (no matter what the guitars are doing), which invariably leads to a tighter, more harsh sound.

    The stuff has come together. Spite has found its sound, and the noise qualifies as glorious. Not so raw, but much more effective. I can feel the pain behind the riffage.

    An altogether better album. Yes, some of that comes from general clean-up, but I'd say these guys just got a better handle on what they wanted to do. This time, the execution was impeccable.

    Violence is Golden
    reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99

    A vaguely (and I mean really vague) version of the Boston sludge sound. The guitars are thick and bruising, and the bass simply rumbles underfoot. There are elements of grunge, but I really hear is Tool trying to play Seka. Youknowutimean?

    Ah, hell, that may not have fired the right synapses. Anyway, there's the sludge, and then there's this keyboard and sequencing stuff almost coexisting with it. Sounds very cool, really. Adds a nice, introspective feel to the carnage.

    Which is probably helpful, because the songs themselves are fairly crudely written. Well, the basic songs. The backing stuff is rather more crafted (that's where the vague prog sound comes in), but it's generally in the background. Just enough for flavor.

    What a cool sound. Take away any piece, and Spitkiss would sound rather ordinary. But these guys have gone the extra mile, and the results are impressive. Turn it up, but don't forget to listen.

    The Spits
    The Spits
    reviewed in issue #252, April 2004

    Exceedingly lo-fi renderings of tres-Ramonesy pop punk. To be completely honest, the Spits sound like a drunken tribute band. And see, there's a certain charm to that.

    For starters, these boys are anything but pretentious. This is silly, throwaway fare, recorded on a fraying shoestring budget. And it might be more accurate to call this an EP (nine songs, 17 minutes...I dunno).

    Fast, furious and noisy as hell. Utterly toe-tapping and generally appealing. Yeah, plenty of folks will dismiss this as some sort of wannabe stuff. But I can't. The Spits do have that certain something that screams "charisma."

    Don't know why. Can't put my finger on it. But this album managed to worm its way into my brain. I somehow doubt it will be leaving any time soon.

    (Funky Mushroom)
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    Crashing through with a wonderfully atonal attack, the Spitters have all sorts of nasty things to talk to us about.

    The production leaves everything sounding rather flat, which is fine, since there is just about no attention to melody anywhere. Well, maybe an occasional coherent bass line. The drums and guitars seem to be merely weapons in a sonic assault on the world.

    But like any good fighting machine, the Spitters have a few feints before the final attack. So don't expect the wall-of-noise or any such thing. Much of the disc merely grinds into your subconscious, supplanting your aversion to horror.

    Certainly not easy taskmasters, the Spitters make things difficult for the listener. But if you persevere, you just might find the light.

    Everybody's a Rock Star Tonight EP
    (Pop Sweatshop)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    The "rock star" in the band is Ken Stringfellow (he once of the Posies), but the real star is Chris Barber, who sings and wrote the songs. Stringfellow produced and played bass (and added a few keys). And not to leave out the third member, Sean Sippel plays drums and throws in a little sax for good measure.

    As you might guess, though, this is shimmering pop music with a dark edge. Immaculately crafted fare, Barber never fails to also draw out more than enough emotion to keep interest high. This isn't some mere exhibition of hooks.

    Though the hooks are pretty nice. Really nice, truth be told. Still, there's a lot more to Spiv than a vacant smile. The gears are spinning behind the wall of pop. And that's always a good thing.

    Don'tcha Know?
    (Pop Sweatshop)
    reviewed in issue #237, January 2003

    Spiv is mostly Chris Barber, with some serious help from producer Ken Stringfellow (he once of the Posies, etc.) and some friends. Barber prefers jaunty pop tunes, the kind that sound like old-timey rock and roll. Cleaned-up garage fare, I suppose.

    And man, does he write some catchy tunes. Each of these songs is bound up in a rock-solid hook, and they're just as toe-tappingly refreshing as they are hummable. Purty nice.

    Stringfellow keeps a light hand on the knobs, allowing plenty of space in the sound. There's not much fuzz, but rather plenty of room for the songs to make a good impression. I get the feeling that I can really hear inside Barber's mind. That's a nice job from the booth, folks.

    But the star is Barber's writing. He's got a real knack for writing fluffy stuff, and he has a right to flaunt it. This disc is an effervescent piece of candy, but boy it sure goes down nice.

    (Big Deal)
    reviewed in issue #134, 5/12/97

    Power punk-pop, and guys have a fairly high opinion of themselves from the sound of things. Snotty and catchy? What a combo!

    At times the anthemic temptation takes over, and that's where Splitsville gets a bit tiring. Most of the stuff is cool and bouncy, though, so that complaint gets lodged only once in a while.

    They sure like the Posies, though Splitsville's sound is lighter, and the lyrical content isn't nearly as deep. Just a nice sundae for a sunny afternoon. I haven't an album like this in at least a month, so it makes me happy.

    There's something missing, though I can't identify the problem. The hooks are nice, and the band knows how to shuffle this stuff on out of town. But I want to hear just a little more of... something. Perhaps I'll keep listening until I find it.

    Spock's Beard
    Kindness of Strangers
    reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98

    A more accessible side of prog rock, with folk-rock breaks and a generally watered-down approach to the technical ideal.

    What got watered down is the devotion to pyrotechnics. Sure, there's plenty of fast guitar licks and classical melody lines. But Spock's Beard infuses this base with more traditional rock vocals and a definite passion. These guys feel this music. And that translates into a more satisfying sound.

    Of course, this is still prog rock. Grandiose, excessive and generally over-the-top. There are some songs of monster length, and on the last track (which clocks in at just under 16 minutes) there's an intro which plays a bit much with the whole stereo recording thing. I mean, the Beatles got over that 30 years ago, y'know?

    Still, this disc displays a confident band playing music it loves. Music with purpose and passion. And for all the problems, Spock's Beard knows how to sell a song.

    Handgun 7"
    reviewed in issue #74, 4/15/95

    While the live performance is where Spo-Its is at, this 7" does a decent job of showing all the possibilities the band can offer.

    The sound is vaguely industrial, with all sorts of noises lurking in the shadows. But the a-side is warm and alive, not the sterile clanking of most industrial acts.

    The flip consists of a warped torch 'n' twang song and a song called "Dead Girls Don't Say No" (their jangle pop tune). Rather loopy.

    One note: the 7" says 45, but at that speed everyone sounds like chipmunks, and it sounds (relatively) normal at 33, so I'd go with that speed. Putting this music together with the power tools and roving s&m show that is Spo-Its would be rather interesting, indeed.

    ...And Your Little Dog Too!
    reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96

    One of the worst production jobs I've heard in ages. But then, when your live show consists of grinding metal and (not always) simulated sexual gratification, maybe other things are important.

    Like the general mordant nature of the songs. Spo-It's (no, I don't know what the name means or even if it is grammatically correct) makes every attempt to offend most any person inhabiting the U.S. of A. With an astonishingly high success rate, I'd imagine.

    A description? Sample-driven, with lots of crap going on in the muffled background and generally ranted vocals. And the aforementioned nasty lyric content. Amusing, but are we dealing with an awesome talent or just a royal mess?

    Well, the music isn't coherent in any proper sense of the word, but it does move, and I can only imagine the live accompaniment. And the lyrics are quite amusing, even if they don't necessarily make sense, either.

    Far too "out there" for mainstream humanity, Spo-It's just might have found a nice niche amongst the educated lunatic fringe.

    Leisure and Other Songs
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    Another outing from a former Drunk member. Rick Alverson wrote a lot of Drunk songs, and so it's not surprising that this sounds a bit more like the old band than Bevel.

    There are points of departure. For starters, this is much more personal and muted than most Drunk fare. Alverson wasn't exactly feeling on top of the world when he recorded this, and you can hear his quest to regain self-confidence.

    I should be clear that the confidence in question doesn't involve music. Alverson never lost his feel for that. Indeed, as these songs twist and turn (they're written in sort of a road-novel construction, if that makes any sense) it becomes quite apparent that the writing is sharper than ever.

    Oh, and the pieces are achingly beautiful. Simply gorgeous at times. It's all I can do to listen and not simply bask in the splendor. Life changes can sometimes result in great art. Spokane is such a project.

    New Pop Sunday
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    Um, basic overproduced pop music. Moments remind me of Britpop bands like China Drum, though the glare is just a bit too much for my poor scorched retinas.

    And then come songs like "Live Here Without You", which sound like Made-for MTV infomercials. Pop is best when it undercuts its inherent pretentiousness. Sponge amps it up, instead. Anthemitis everywhere.

    Add to it the ultra-sharp, dreadfully effect-laden production. All the vocals are either overdubbed or echoed or something else. Where is the real voice? Good question. I can't find the band for the sound.

    And it's too bad, because about half of these songs are quite good. I just can't stand everything that happens after the tune kicks in. I know, I know, that's what "the industry" is all about, and always has been, but I'm tired of it. And the songs aren't great enough to overcome the window dressing.

    Nice and Warm
    reviewed in issue #114, 7/15/96

    Six songs, all exhibiting wild creativity and manic musical tastes. The sort of thing Thought Industry and Faith No More crank out successfully from time to time.

    Spooge tries very hard to make all the disparate elements work together. At times, it works. In particular, the first track, "Ewe Are in My Dreams", starts off completely disjointedly, but by the end it really whips itself into a crazily cool song.

    You also gotta love a song that ties the suicides of porn star Savannah and Kurt Cobain (in a really shameless Temple of the Dog rip-off sound). The song itself is a little less then successful (as are many parts of the tape), but there are enough laughs to keep going.

    When a young band is this ambitious, I hate to be discouraging. But Spooge needs a lot more work to make the chaos approachable. Oh, the potential...

    Spookie Daly Pride
    Marshmallow Pride
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    Imagine you are David Lee Roth. You've just left Van Halen. And instead of veering into 50s and 60s rock, you decide to kick start the kitsch groove rock sound.

    Well, Spookie (that would be the singer) doesn't have Roth's pipes, but he does have that low rumble, and he speak-sings his lyrics (just like Diamond Dave when he was playing the hipster). The music lies somewhere between Smashmouth and the Spin Doctors, though it usually has a ton of extra junk tossed on top. Piano, horns, you name it.

    And the band isn't afraid to completely change moods, slipping in a Latin feel here and some trip-hop there. It's all in good fun, though Spookie doesn't seem to have the self-awareness to wink at his audience. This is silly-sounding music, and that's a compliment.

    Deep? Naw. Introspective? Come on. But as party jams go, Spookie Daly Pride has what it takes to impress. Just ride along with the goofs, and you'll have a good time.

    (New Dog-World Domination)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Spool is Jhno and John Ridenhour, with some friends popping by now and again. What this means is long explorations of time, space and the mind.

    Ambient in all the important ways. Trips through rhythms, found sound samples and a slowly pulsating universe. A consciousness that is very much alive and inviting. A nice warm place for contemplation and rejuvenation.

    Spool never repeats itself, but simply slowly evolves into a variety of soundscapes. Nothing too harsh, nothing at all that is dull. Just an evenly maintained ride, with lots of side shows.

    Exciting? Well, not in a blood rushing to the head sorta way. But in an intellectually stimulation fashion, sure. This is music which encourages the listener to find a new way of thinking. Nothing forced, just an easy path to the subconscious mind.

    Jason Spooner
    The Flame You Follow
    reviewed in issue #288, August 2007

    I put a note on this one after doing my first listens: "Keep listening. It gets better." So I didn't start writing this review until I hit the fourth song. It does get better, I think, but I also think that Spooner's well-polished version of latter-days Dylan-meets-mid 70's Paul Simon is a bit out of my comfort zone. I needed to meet him halfway.

    It's not that these songs are bad. They're cool, sophisticated and sublimely crafted. And I like Dylan and Simon (no matter the era). But something in his manner didn't sit well with me. I spent a long time thinking about it, and then I realized that I liked this stuff an awful lot. So I didn't worry about whatever reservations I had.

    Part of it is that the songs in the middle of the album are more complete and interesting than the ones on the edges. It's almost like the first three songs are warm-ups--good ones, but still. Then everything takes off before it fades a bit at the end. Ah, well. Those five songs in the middle are great, and that's better than most albums. Sometimes Spooner finds the groove, and sometimes it's obvious that he's working hard. If he can find that extra gear, that way of getting into the zone on all his songs, he's got a great future.

    Astral Astronauts
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    So like, these Japanese folks got together and spliced three-chord pop, industrial metal and other electronic thoughts together into a frantic soda. Not on the weirdness order of a Space Streakings, but almost as manic.

    Joyous, bounding and impossibly hooky. There's a streak of silliness that abounds, like when the folks drop a surf riff into the mix. No reason, really. Just for kicks.

    That's all this disc is. One big electric kick. There's not a lot beneath the surface really, but I don't want anything deep here. Sometimes ear candy can be enjoyed just for the sheer fun of it.

    Loony, wacky, zany, whatever. It's the other side, the side that's just a bit out of control. Spoozys (I mean, just look at the name!) deliver a blistering shot of distilled decadence. Suck it down. As fast as you can.

    reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93

    You folks have been reporting this for quite a while, but I get my first taste through the CMJ bag.

    I understand the appeal. Wall-of-noise screams interspersed with slightly mellower moments. This is where grunge and hard core meet head to head.

    There is this odd, almost unconscious feeling I get listening to this. I like it, but for no good reason. It just resonates with my bones. Wish I could do better than that, but I'm afraid my lexicon is all tapped out for now.

    Jam this, please.

    Ugly Love
    (self-released) reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99

    Amazingly dark songs about love and other pains of life. Spottiswoode utilizes all sorts of cheesy pop cliches, but he invariably strips then down to their cores and inverts them, leaving behind some truly spooky stuff.

    An obvious, easy reference point is Leonard Cohen. Spottiswood doesn't quite have that bass rasp down, but he's close. His minimalist approach to music and instrumentation also bears some resemblance.

    As for the musings themselves (kinda the point of the whole affair, really), they aren't light. Not angry, but certainly disappointed with the way life has turned out. That the songs are written in character only makes them that much more poignant.

    Not yer everyday album, but those of us with a dark side will partake with gusto. Some really amazing work here.

    Spottiswoode & His Enemies
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    Truly warped love songs and other observations. Spottiswoode (and plenty of enemies, if that's what he wants to call them) create a wonderfully textured album of dark pop songs.

    Which isn't too surprising. This disc picks up where he left on his last album and just expands his wicked worldview on concentric circles. The eclectic arrangements and busy instrumentation ensure a sonic depth that illustrates the lyrics quite beautifully.

    And while the themes may be on the mean side, the sound is gorgeous. Lilting, rambling, gamboling, as if on the pillowtops of clouds. This is one of the most sophisticated sounds I've heard on any album, particularly one independently produced. Though I think I said the same thing of the last Spottiswoode disc.

    Well, see, it wasn't a fluke. This is amazing music, the kinda stuff that sticks in the mind long after the sound waves have moved on through the air. Intelligent songs played with style and care. A beautiful sound. What else do you want?

    Building a Road
    reviewed in issue #246, October 2003

    Jonathan Spottiswoode has a pleasant rasp that is moderately reminiscent of Tom Waits. He's also got a way of traversing genres (with truly twisted results) that might remind a listener of Mr. Waits. Of course, if you listen to just one song, you'll realize that Spottiswoode is completely and utterly his own man.

    Yes, the mood is dark--sometimes spooky, sometimes quirky--but these aren't songs steeped in depression and disappointment. They're just windows into the deeper recesses of humanity.

    Spottiswoode likes to write about flawed characters. Many of these songs revel in dysfunction, encouraging the listener to embrace his or her own inner turmoil. After all, everyone has to face the demons someday.

    I guess the most astonishing thing about these songs is their delicate nature. Even when steeped in the blues and backed by a gospel-style choir, the writing is precise and direct, with each song progressing at its own pace until fully unfurled. The sort of music that is immediately unforgettable.

    (Spottiswoode & McMahon) S&M
    (New Warsaw)
    reviewed in issue #279, October 2006

    Jonathan Spottiswoode is something of a modern-day Leonard Cohen. He's got that baritone-bass voice and a wryly bleak way of looking at the universe. I've been digging his stuff for years. Here, his "band" has been pared down to longtime collaborator Riley McMahon--though there are plenty of friends who help out as well.

    These guys have worked together for a long time, and together they create some truly amazing settings for Spottiswoode's songs. Earlier recordings were rough in spots, though listening to them it's pretty easy to hear the progression that led to this set. Spottiswoode jettisoned just enough of his eccentricities to allow him to make a truly great album.

    Which isn't to say the other stuff is mediocre. It's fabulous. But this album is something else altogether. There is an emotional depth past mere melancholy, and the music is sparsely sumptuous (where did that vague bossa nova feel come from? I love it!). What was done quite well in the past has been stroked perfectly here.

    An album to play on a cold winter night when it seems the spring will never come. You'll warm up knowing that someone feels worse that you do, and you just might get a laugh or two while you're at it. One of the finest albums of any year.

    (Spottiswoode & His Enemies) That's What I Like

    (New Warsaw)
    reviewed in issue #293, February 2008

    I've been a Jonathan Spottiswoode fan for years. Every person I turn on to his work ends up one as well. You'd think he'd be astoundingly popular by now.

    But he's not, and listening to these two albums (released at about the same time, though Like is listed as 2007 and Salvation is 2008) just makes the situation that much more mystifying. Spottiswoode's songs are lyrically and musically deft, one side often making a comment on the other. His "Enemies" are as good a band as you can find, especially long-time collaborator and producer Riley McMahon, who knows exactly how to present this exceptionally sophisticated (especially when utterly crude) material. So, yes, I love these discs. They're as good as his past work, and I think the world of that.

    In short, Like is a typical Spottiswoode outing, drawing in all sorts of sounds and ideas and cranking them through the ol' grinder. The resulting sausage is sweet, spicy and well-aged. The usual treat.

    Salvation is a bit of a departure, probably as close as the Spottiswoode cabaret can get to americana. Mostly acoustic, more western than country. Think Fear and Whiskey and then end up on the opposite side of the coin. Just as incisive and brilliant, but completely involved and lush (in a sparse sort of way, which is exactly how I would expect it to be played). I think I'm in love with this one.

    I hate to give such short shrift to two fine albums, but most readers know of my great affection for J.S. and his Enemies, and really, if you've heard one song from the folks, just seeing that there's a new album (two, even!) is all the news that's necessary. I still have no idea how it is that these folks still toil in relative anonymity, but perhaps these albums will change that. And if not, we still have the music. I can live with that.

    Piano 45
    (Old Soul)
    reviewed in issue #315, March 2010

    No enemies this time. Or, at least, most of the time. The vast majority of this album is Spottiswoode at his piano or with his guitar. Once again, the setting doesn't matter. The songs simply overwhelm.

    This may be Spottiswoode's first official solo album in a decade, but I don't think fans will find much changed. Yeah, the arrangements are sparser, but Spott and his "Enemies" have always been able to wring epochal grandiosity out of some of the quietest moments. It's all in the skill of the writing and the sincerity of the performance. Few have more of either than Spottiswoode.

    I keep wondering when someone will get the man to pen a Broadway show (Salvation, one of two albums he released last year, is almost perfect as is). I've given up on stardom for him, however. This is great music, but not the sort of thing that grooves the masses.

    Well, as long as an album or two comes down the pike every year or so, I won't worry. I think it's safe to say that no one has written as many good songs in the last decade. And with this album, he's got a head start on the next decade as well. All hail.

    Wild Goosechase Expedition
    (Old Soul)
    reviewed in issue #325, March 2011

    The "enemies" are back, and Spottiswoode has crafted another full set of songs. Seventeen in all, grouped under four headings (as if this were some of a soundtrack for a novel or movie by the same title). That sort of preciousness often comes off as pretentious, but Jonathan Spottiswoode has always managed to avoid that problem.

    Rather, the songs are gloriously eclectic, from the resplendent first track, "Beautiful Monday," to the burbling ramble of the title track. The songs traverse a huge range, with the unifying traits being Spottiwoode's vocals--and his acerbic wit.

    But even with his offhanded delivery and cutting lyrics, Spottiswoode has always managed to come across as sincere. This astounding feat is one reason he has attracted his significant underground fan base, though it is also probably the reason his music will never leap into the mainstream.

    As usual, Spottiswoode put as much effort into the music as he did his striking lyrics, and the result is one more fabulous album. I can understand why this stuff might freak out some folks, but for me it has become mother's milk.

    Sarah Veladora
    reviewed in issue #237, January 2003

    Ralph Kircher sounds like Robyn Hitchcock. He's got just the right amount of earnest whine in his voice. Sprawl, on the other hand, plays heavy pop music. Stuff that wails and moans in a most atmospheric way. The combination is pretty cool.

    There are down moments, of course, times when the band chills out. At times like that, Kircher generally croons--losing his whine in the process. Soon enough, though, that little edge creeps back into his voice. I like it there.

    Nothing spectacular going on. Just some good music. Sprawl doesn't go for the jugular, but it doesn't just sit on its ass, either. These songs are nicely crafted and played with restrained aggression. At times I'd like to hear a bit more, well, something in the writing. Maybe a bit more of a sense of adventure. Not a big deal. There's a fine comfortable cheese feel going on here.

    I think I've pretty well summed this up. This puppy slipped in smooth and continued to satisfy long after its time was done. And there's not a damned thing wrong with that.

    Spring Heeled Jack
    Songs from Suburbia
    (Ignition Records)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    When the first song on the record is a really damn good song, one has to wonder if the rest of the CD will live up to the beginning. "Mass Appeal Madness" is the tastiest piece of ska/rock on this disc, but it's not the only good thing about it. Other gems include "Pop Song (Green)" and "Makisupa Policeman."

    The thing about Spring Heeled Jack is that it sounds like a ska band that used to be a rock band, but incorporated ska for the right reasons. The sound needed spice, and this was the way to do it. I keep flashing back to bands like Danger Danger and Steelheart from the late 80s. Crappy bands that had hit songs because they were (conveniently) able to craft one song to fit the glam rock of the time. I think SHJ is better than those bands, but every time I listen, these are the thoughts that race through my head.

    Are we in the declining days of ska, where everyone plays a chink chink guitar rhythm so we know it's not a KISS rip-off band? Will we care about these late 90s days of music, or will this be the forgotten time of music--much like hair bands of the 80s are only remembered by the kids unlucky enough to be 16 and full of hormones at just the right moment to sing along to "32 Pennies?"

    Only time will tell, I guess. One thing I can say about Spring Heeled Jack is that they are a powerful live band, and there are some really tasty cuts on this disc, even if I feel guilty about saying it.

    --Matt Worley

    Tobin Sprout
    Sentimental Stations
    reviewed in issue #234, October 2002

    Once again recording under his own name (as opposed to Eyesinweasel or any of his other alter egos), Tobin Sprout has created another set of quirky and slyly engaging pop songs.

    There's nothing particularly threatening about a Sprout song, but there's always something slightly askance. It might be the way he seems to throw his voice every once in a while. Or it might be that the guitar sounds like it's being strummed to death. Or maybe it's just an instrument that's not immediately identifiable.

    These songs have been recorded with a deliberately muddy sound. Nothing excessive, just a slightly queasy muddle in the middle ranges. It lends these already unusual songs that much more of an otherwordly feel. I like it.

    Sprout has a talent for writing songs that get under the skin. He doesn't put up a big front or come at the listener screaming. His talent is sneaking cool little ideas into what seem like innocuous tunes. Clever one, he is.

    Lost Planets & Phantom Voices
    (Recordhead-Wigwam/Luna Music)
    reviewed in issue #237, January 2003

    Tobin Sprout can take a straight pop hook and twist it so many times he's made a dreadlock by the time he's done with it.

    That's a compliment, by the way.

    Some folks find his lo-fi affectations either pretentious or silly. I like them, myself. As long as you're gonna screw with melody construction, you might as well noodle around in the booth as well. And when the results are as shimmeringly enchanting as this, well, I don't know how you can complain at all.

    But then, there are those who are still convinced that Wayne Coyne still hasn't written a good song. I'll have no truck with Philistines. The simple truth is that Sprout is such as master of this form that he can almost will a song to work, no matter how odd it might be.

    Thing is, for all the machinations in the background, these songs aren't all that weird. They're just not, um, normal. And that's definitely true. Greatness isn't normal. It's something that should always be appreciated.

    Live at the Horseshoe Tavern 2xCD
    (Luna Music)
    reviewed in issue #261, February 2005

    A full set from Tobin Sprout, with three new demos tacked on to the end. Those who don't know Sprout might well find this set of his deceptively simple pop songs a revelation. Those who know him will know most of the songs (which include a couple of songs he wrote with Robert Pollard while a member of Guided by Voices).

    The sound is pretty good. Not studio quality, but I like a little mess in live albums. Otherwise, it might as well be new noodlings on old themes, right? In any case, Sprout and his band blow through 29 songs without flagging a bit. The demos are, well, the usual outstanding work.

    Highly recommended for fans and for anyone who digs slightly loopy, exuberant pop music. If you haven't gotten into Sprout yet, this is the perfect primer.

    The Universe and Me 2xCD
    reviewed 1/30/17

    While Tobin Sprout has had only sporadic output since he left Guided by Voices, it is clear that he is still inextricably linked to that sound. This album, his first in seven years, is a bit of a ramble. There are fresh recordings of old songs (the lead/title track, which was apparently intended for Guided by Voices way back when--and sounds like it) and newer ruminative pieces.

    All of this is to say that fans of GbV and Spout generally will be pleased with this album. Really pleased, I think, as some of the stuff here sounds like actual demos (in the finest GbV tradition), and most of it has a comfy ragtag coating. There's nothing earth-shattering, and Sprout doesn't sound interested in breaking new ground. Fine by me. To take a metaphor way too far, he's got one hell of a fertile plot to till.

    There's probably a bigger question in why Sprout's songs are so distinctive and so obviously "better" than 99% of the GbV garagey wannabes. I think part of his secret is in what he leaves undone. Sprout's voice is wildly imperfect, and he's not too fastidious about either the performances or sound. But still, he seems to be a master of walking the line between charmingly messy and unbearably sloppy. I guess it's instinct . . . or something.

    In any case, that inner pilot is still serving him exceptionally well on this generous set. Guided by Voices was/is known more for quantity than quality (witness the new GbV double album), and Sprout's albums, infrequent as they may be, are equally generous. Some songs soar more than others, but there's no filler. Just a loping jaunt through the world of Tobin Sprout. Always a fine place to visit.

    Sprung Monkey
    Mr. Funny Face
    (Surf Dog/Hollywood)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    It's rock and roll your mom and dad wouldn't mind you having. These San Diego natives throw in tastes of funk, hip hop, and a taste of hard core blended with the common rock flavor. Nothing in excess, nothing over the top, nothing frightening.

    The music does twist enough to make each song stand on their own, so the tracks don't blend into a pile of stock rock beats. Having a good producer always helps in that regard.

    While Mr. Funny Face won't take you to any place new, it has enough punch to merit a stroll down to the local music shop and giving it a listen. Not everyone wants to hang out on the ledge, so squat in the middle of the floor with lots of space around you and be soothed by some rock that won't hurt you. In fact, it even hugs you at the end with a Hawaiian traditional.

    --Aaron Worley

    Stop the Madness
    (Massacre-Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #47, 1/31/94

    These guys have obviously ignored all of the marketing folks who told them how they should sound in order to be "hip" metal guys. There's some grind, some hard core, a couple of death metal tracks, and some shit I don't even want to try to identify. Actually, they will often seg between what people who think too much call subgenres.

    With titles like "10 Lbs. of Shit in a 5 Lb. Bag", you know you're not dealing with the sensitive artist type. And the level of humor is somewhat below, say, the "Honeymooners".

    This isn't a bad thing at all. Who says a band that plays like their various appendages are about to fall off can't have a little fun (or a lot). You should too.

    Moon Doggies
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    A D.C.-area horror punk band not unlike the Groovie Ghoulies. There are some amusing song titles (particularly "Libido Bandido"), but the music is terribly banal.

    Almost as if the words were written first, and the band then wrapped the first tune to come to mind around each set of lyrics. There are plenty of almost desperate-sounding shifts in style and sound within individual songs, which doesn't help provide much continuity.

    I have a feeling the changing grooves and general off-kilter feel are intentional, but they still don't work. Spur is plying standard rock riffage, and the lyrics aren't clever enough to make up for that fact.

    A big boatload of effort, and it kinda bums me out to rag on the guys, but this doesn't cut it. Spur isn't a big name trying to pass a load of tired music on the kids, but the sad thing is the final sound is the same.

    Squirrel Nut Zippers
    Perennial Favorites
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Okay, so they aren't forging any new ground here, but who the hell is these days? And it isn't that rock band masquerading as a swing band, which seems to be the new "underground" sound coming out of everyone's garages. Nope, they play straight forward dance jazz. The kind of stuff illegal drunks sloshed to in the twenties.

    Unabashedly clean and meticulous, these guys have an ease about them--as if this huge ensemble work ain't that hard. Well, this is a really nice album. Lots of fun. Nothing as funny as "Hell," their breakthrough (and probably only) single, but in the same vein. Nice, clean, and suitable to play for your girlfriend's mama. Not to mention your own.

    -- Matt Worley

    (Drag City)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    A band that is so seminal that two of its offshoots are considered primal instigators of the whole 90s indie rock thing. Yeah, Squirrelbait existed for a short while and recorded albums that either the Replacements or Husker Du (the most common references for Squirrelbait) would have been proud to release instead of their own end-of-the-road stuff.

    Right; so a couple Squirrelbait members went on to form Slint, David Grubbs did Bitch Magnet (and more, obviously) and singer Peter Searcy kinda kept wandering about Louisville from gig to gig, most notably (I guess) Big Wheel.

    From perusing the "experts", I find that Rolling Stone never made a mention of the band. The Trouser Press likes Skag Heaven much better, while Spin prefers this album. Both claim there is a huge difference between the two albums.

    They're both wrong. The second may be a bit more textured, the first a bit more raw. If you heard either of these albums, you might think the guys got lucky. But two in a row should have served notice of the future.

    Skag Heaven
    (Drag City)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    Like I alluded in the first review, Squirrelbait advanced its sound just a tad on this album. The production is a little tighter, though no one could accuse the band of meticulous recording habits. There is a bit of a drop-off energy-wise, but that's fairly minor. And as I noted, the "experts" disagree with me anyway. Believe who you want.

    A thoroughly enjoyable romp through midwestern punk, a la 80s. It would be disingenuous to claim that this stuff could have existed without Minneapolis, but the Louisville transfer added a little something to the concept, and certainly gave these guys the requisite musical education.

    As history, these discs are valuable. Hell, I'd be impressed if these were albums by group of teenagers recording today. There's still no way of seeing how important future projects by the members would be, but with the benefit of hindsight, you can almost see it.

    The odd "important" albums that also happen to be a lot of fun.

    The Squirrels
    Scrapin' for Hits
    (Poplust-Pop Llama)
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    What started as Rob Morgan using the Young Fresh Fellows as a backing unit playing some truly silly songs (and sillier versions of other folks songs) has managed to keep riding through loads of personnel (including the main men of the Posies and a ton of Seattle scene stalwarts).

    Really goofy shit, if you must know. These tracks are taken from various Squirrels albums, songs from compilations and quite a few singles. And while a pretty much straight-up "Alone Again (Naturally)" (yes, a cover of the 1972 hit) managed somehow to get named best single by the Northwest Area Music Association (they're still checking for ballot-stuffing, I understand), there really aren't any hits to speak of.

    Unless you count the "Seasons in the Sun/The Hustle" medley that appeared on the second Pravda Super Massive 70's Hit Explosions... compilation, I guess. Not like this should be taken seriously at all.

    Liners from Mojo Nixon, Scott McCaughey, Ken Stringfellow and the authorized biography from Pete Bletcha, among other luminaries. Pop a beer, kick back, and try not to smile. Betcha do anyway.

    reviewed in issue #90, 10/23/95

    Lots of thanks to Ben Weasel on the liners, and what do ya know? These Hoosiers (literally) have that straight ahead Boogadaboogadaboogada sound that helped Screeching Weasel to legendary (if not fiscal) success.

    Every song is astonishingly catchy, and since the whole disc clocks in at just over 25 minutes, there's plenty of time to play over and over (and over and over).

    If pop punk were so simple, a lot more people would do it well. Squirtgun has a handle on the formula, and the guys keep modulating it to keep thing interesting. A couple more albums will tell the story, but this is an auspicious debut.

    Mary Ann 7"
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    Them Indiana boys again, with four tunes about life, love and bad TV. Well, they think it's good TV, but I won't hold it against them.

    Standard punk-pop, a little short on the hooks this time out. Sure, it's still good enough to keep me bobbing, but I'm predicting chord changes and melodic ideas a bit too easily with these four songs. Should be a surprise every now and again, methinks.

    I liked last year's album better than this stuff, which is just above middling. It takes a little more to keep my attention on the second spin. Squirtgun can do better.

    Fade to Bright
    (Honest Don's)
    reviewed in issue #244, August 2003

    I liked this band's self-titled album on Lookout the first few times I listened to it. Then it got old. While I can't promise anything, I think this album has a bit more staying power.

    First off, the obvious reference here is Naked Raygun, not Screeching Weasel (which was my comparison for that early disc). A pretty big difference, even when you're talking about two sets of folks who were hanging out in Chicago at about the same time and all. Anyway, these songs have a bit more heft to them. The hooks are less sugary and more substantial. Incremental improvements, but important ones nonetheless.

    Bassist (and prolific punk producer) Mass Giorgini did the honors on the board, and he gave the band a thick, slightly plastic sound. It works well with the added power of the writing. The sharp edges give these songs that much more oomph.

    A fine effort by a band that went MIA quite a while ago. Good to know the boys's skills didn't go away. This tightly-wrapped disc is a lot of fun.

    fig. 1
    reviewed in issue #186, 9/28/98

    Just yer basic roots rock. Kindly harmonies and jangle guitar skimming along with uptempo backbeats. Fun stuff. Take the top off and feel the wind stuff.

    And so it's easy to overlook the shallow song subjects (or, at least, the less than perceptive lyrics) and the way everything comes together so predictably. Squish isn't reinveting the wheel. Indeed, it's riding on the latest model.

    But all that doesn't matter a whole lot. The way to judge this sort of music is how it makes me feel. Does it lift the spirits, add a bit of a spring to the step? Yeah, sure. A nice little pick-me-up. And as long as there's no need for anything further, then we're cool.

    I know, I'm a sucker for this stuff and all of you are tired of me saying things like this. Tough. I've got a nice little smile going and no one is going to take that away.

    Squonk Opera
    reviewed in issue #88, 9/25/95

    Vaguely jazzy, with goth and classical overtones. A wondrous mix of styles and (lots of) substance.

    Eclectic doesn't really begin to describe the stuff. While it is fairly easy to classify all of the songs on this disc as "Sqounk Operatics", the mood and feel often changes gears from one tune to the next. And to be honest, "tune" doesn't do these pieces justice.

    Highly pretentious, to be sure, Squonk Opera still manages to pull off a wacky, cool album. Just because these folks know they are "out there" doesn't mean it sucks. Indeed, while it may take a few listens to even start to acclimate, there is plenty here to admire.

    Sri Lanka
    reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93

    Combining standard rock rhythms and middle-eastern melodies (well, at least a pretty good approximation), Sri Lanka have a fairly addictive sound.

    The beat rarely slows down, but things don't get too heavy or overwhelming. Everything just keeps moving forward at a nice pace.

    I've heard other bands do a song or two in a style like this, but I think these folk have a grip on something original. I know I haven't heard anything like this for an entire album. And the dance cut at the end of the album manages to convey this sense into a fast goth cut.

    Something good and different. I like their chances.

    reviewed in issue #13, 5/15/92

    Not the kind you find in books. Aural (not oral) history. This is a lesson in the roots of Boston hardcore. How is was, and where it was destined to go. If you have never heard of the band, this is a good primer. It contains many live tracks, but mostly unreleased jams (thrashes?) from various recording sessions. And if these were throwouts...

    Yeah, so SSD is legendary in Boston circles. This release should help spread the word nationwide, if it hasn't been already.

    This is not just one of those "take the money and run" session rip-off releases. All of these songs stand on their own, and most bands would be incredibly happy to have one on an album. It's in the interests of history...

    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    Metal. The kind of metal that isn't terribly cool now. Which makes Staind either stupid or truly driven. Just a few seconds should give you the answer. This is pain-stained music, as if the band expects to ride the pine at radio statons.

    And that may be the case, but these guys sure know how to craft pile-driving music in such as way that it doesn't become drudgery. Not quite sludge (there are too many quiet moments), but not quite anything else, either. Armored Saint is the closest reference that comes to mind, but Staind is much more rhythm than melody oriented. Just good stuff.

    I haven't heard a band like this, period. The songs would probably benefit from a bit of further tightening in the rhythm section, but the mechanics are sound.

    A nice find. Glad this one came down the pike.

    Max Stalling
    Sell Out
    (Blind Nello)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    Funny thing about some of this "new-fangled" country music is that it sounds like the old stuff. Max Stalling's voice ilies somewhere between George Strait and Randy Travis, though his songwriting is something of a cross between Rodney Crowell and (lyrically, anyway) Carolyn Mark. Which is to say he seems to come from that "new traditionalist" movement of the late 70s and early 80s, but with his own little quirks.

    I don't know what his studio albums sound like. It's possible to take songs like this and really trash them with glossy production and overblown arrangements. I'm guessing he didn't make that mistake, as the sound on this live album is strong and assured without any sense of bombast.

    The tinny sound on the acoustic guitars is annoying (I'll always complain about that when I hear it, I guess), but otherwise the sound is clear and full. Stalling comports himself like a good ol' boy who's been there and who assumes his audience listens to more than country ("6x9 Speakers" references AC/DC, April Wine, Cheap Trick and more). Oh yeah, he's 35...I knew there was a reason his stuff speaks so much to me.

    Mostly, though, it's the quality of the songs. Stalling does 13 here, and all of them are at least excellent. I don't know why I haven't heard him before, but I know I'll make sure to hear a lot more from now on. One of those albums that brings clear vision to the blind.

    Topaz City
    reviewed in issue #289, September 2007

    Not too long ago, I reviewed Stalling's live album. I liked it a lot, but I hadn't heard any of his studio albums, so I had no way to hear if the understated feel of the live sound was his regular style or an anomaly. I mentioned that in the review, and Stalling was kind enough to send me his fine back catalog. Sometimes it's good to be in this business.

    Each successive album, Stalling has been adding new elements while dialing back on the production sound. He branches further afield from straight country music on this album, borrowing liberally from folk, blues and other traditions even as he adds more organ, dobro, horns and other instruments.

    Which moves him ever so slightly from the "Texas country" fold and toward that more nebulous genre of "americana." I don't know if it was the experience of recording and listening to the live tracks, but Stalling has achieved the loosest and sparsest feel of his career on this album--despite, as I noted, much more of a "large band" instrumentation on many songs. There is also the fact that this is Stalling's first studio album in almost five years. A progression of sorts had to be expected.

    I think this is Stalling's most realized album. He's always been a great songwriter with a sly delivery, but I think he's coming to understand the best way to present his stuff. That this album is a stunner comes as no surprise (my wife tried to steal it from me before I even reviewed it), but the depth and restraint of the sound here is most impressive. Wonderful and then some.

    The Standard
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #233, September 2002

    In many ways, the Standard isn't yer usual Touch and Go band. The sound is often atmospheric and keyboards play a large role in the band's approach to songs. On the other hand, the guitars play linear lines (in addition to distorted chord washes) and there is a definite sense of allegiance to the noise fusion sound so well-loved in the Chicago indie community.

    Of course, the Standard hails from Portland. Which probably explains the unique take on the Slint/Rodan axis. To be perfectly honest, I like the noodly keyboards. They're playful, not proggy, and they add a sense of fun to what otherwise might be dreadfully solemn fare.

    Now, I'm a big fan of serious abstraction, but I think these folks balance things out nicely. With all of the different ideas and styles in the mix, a keen sense of what works and what is excessive is important.

    Thoughtful, fun and ultimately quite moving. The Standard has put together a complete effort here. It's easy to hear all sorts of influences bopping in and out, but what really emerges is a sense of the Standard. A very good sense, to be sure.

    Stanford Prison Experiment
    Stanford Prison Experiment
    (World Domination)
    reviewed in issue #52, 4/15/94

    Combining a late-Skin Yard rhythm approach with straight rock riffs, SPE are amazingly catchy for something that sounds this, um, rough.

    I thought for a few minutes before settling on "rough". I knew a load of you had reported this, and I was expecting something a lot more commercial. Not so. This is wonderfully discordant and generally loud and cranky.

    You folks get an A for spotting this puppy. Sometimes I wonder what it takes (other than legend status or heavy favors) to get a cool album noticed. Maybe, if the moon is full and the stars align, it just takes a good disc. I'd like to think that, anyway.

    The Gato Hunch
    (World Domination)
    reviewed in issue #84, 8/28/95

    The debut was a surprise creative smash, and anyone expecting a sophomore letdown will have to be informed of their mistake.

    Stanford Prison Experiment roars back with its "industrial metal as a fuckin' attack machine" concept in full form. Like you might expect, the disc is filled with mean, atonal discourses on various injustices that society presents folks with every day. Well, so some of the songs get a little more personal than that. Life goes on.

    And, just to increase the coolnees quotient, SPE includes a great cover of the Babyland tune "Worst Case Scenario" and a bonus track which is merely 28 minutes of Noam Chomsky spoken word.

    In other words, there is no reason to avoid this disc. Slackers will be penalized.

    (Another Planet-Profile)
    reviewed in issue #90, 10/23/95

    Excellent hardcore pop three-piece. The tunes whip around with vigor and purpose, fanning the flames of angst and anger.

    Heavy? Distorted? Loud as fuck? Um, sure, but the songs are just so damned catchy, even when Stanley fully descends into Chi-core territory.

    Tunes like "Cancer" show how it's possible to modulate a potential Green Day song into pounding and furious mess. Sure, it could have been a simple sing along (which does indeed take talent to do well), but Stanley passes on that option and just rips the song a new asshole.

    I'm not sure if this is quite accessible enough to get big commercial attention, but for anyone who wants to know what a combination of Treepeople and the Jesus Lizard might sound like, this is your disc.

    Low Maintenance Man 7"
    (Another Planet)
    reviewed in issue #91, 11/6/95

    The a-side is one of the catchier tunes from the full-length reviewed (and raved about) in the last issue. If you missed that, then please understand that Stanley has a pleasantly noisy take on the whole post-punk pop kinda thing.

    The flip, "Camel Toe", is more of the same, though possibly even a little more accessible. A great set of riffs with a killer bridge. If Stanley can keep this up, then its future seems to be limitless.

    Mike Stanley
    (Stand Up!)
    reviewed 1/9/17

    Some comics put themselves forward as superheroes starring in their own fantastical tales. They curse a lot and puff themselves up like some two-bit pop star. Those comics are boring.

    ike Stanley spins tales from his life . . . or, at least, he puts a spin on his life. And he's eternally self-deprecating. The main theme of this set is his move back to Detroit from L.A., and there are moments where his California values come into a bit of conflict with the audience. He does a screamingly funny bit about explaining gay marriage to kids that did not get the uproarious howls it deserved. And that makes this set that much more intriguing.

    Stanley occasionally puffs himself up, but every time he immediately undercuts it with a backhanded swipe. This is a classic trope, but it still works wonders. It allows the members of the audience to take a closer assessment of themselves.

    How deep does he get? I don't know. I think Stanley's approach may be a bit too subtle to really drive home any greater points, but he does manage to skewer the ideal of the white male suburban male. And he does reach something of a rhapsodic peak in the middle of the set, rambling through a female bodybuilder fantasy and then segueing into a lengthy, full-throated faux-attack on feminism that, of course, affirms it.

    I'm not sure I'd recommend a harsher approach, though. White guys can only take so much change. Look at the recent election if you don't believe me. Perhaps Mike Stanley is just the guy to stamp out the last of the Neanderthal DNA that remains. Or maybe he's just pretty funny. Either way, it's good.

    The Stanleys
    Always EP
    reviewed in issue #338, June 2012

    Four songs that shimmer with the heat of summer sun. Of course, it's now heading into winter back at their home base in Australia, but I don't live there, and I'm happy to hear some serious bash 'n' pop.

    The sound lies somewhere between Cheap Trick and Nick Lowe, though the lyrics are much more earnest and straightforward. Indeed, I wish these guys had a bit more of a dark side. But the hooks are stellar.

    The feeling is pure joy. Don't too much about it, and you'll simply bop to 11. Just lovely.

    Star Period Star
    Star Period Star
    (Super 800)
    reviewed in issue #131, 3/31/97

    Absolutely refusing to pigeonhole itself, Star Period Star fairly insists upon playing wildly disparate styles of pop and rock.

    Because while the band usually sticks to the outer limits of the alternapop sound (with nicely looping guitar lines and complimentary rhythm work), there are delicate songs like "Drowning" which add nice counterpoints.

    Some of the explanation for this is the rapid turnover in the band, just on the songs on this disc. The only member who appears on all the tracks is Dan Sweigert (guitar and vocals), and the current bass player didn't play here at all. All this turmoil might have helped craft the nice juxtaposition in sound, though by the end (and the tracks seems to run somewhat chronologically) a more coherent vision of Star Period Star has emerged. I'd put the stuff toward the end solidly in the Chicago eclectic noise pop category, though there are still some pretensions toward accessibility.

    Maddening in a way, but also satisfying. The one certain thing is that Star Period Star should continue to be a vital musical force, no matter exactly where the pursuit of music takes the band.

    Star Star
    Star Star
    reviewed in issue #15, 6/15/92

    Listing most of the major glam acts of the seventies (including the Ramones) as influences, things become obvious.

    I don't why I am such a sucker for cheap hooks, whining vocals and grinding riffs. I should say those three things should be done well, like early Kiss or T. Rex, not clones such as Poison. Some of you may have heard of Rochester (New York) 's Chesterfield Kings. Their last album sounded much like this, and I love it.

    What's wrong with guilty pleasures? Absolutely nothing. I could get sexual on this one, but the music is too obvious a conduit for that. Three cool songs. Score them.

    Science Fiction Boy CD5
    reviewed in issue #18, 8/15/92

    The upcoming Star Star album is the most commercial product Roadrunner has released in some time, and still should be one of the best. This single is not the best thing on the full disc, so don't sweat. I really don't groove on it much myself. It sounds a little too much like the new Faster Pussycat to really do anything for me.

    But Star Star at its best combines the finest parts of seventies glam with the moods of the Ramones. So be sure to check out the album when it arrives in a few weeks.

    The Love Drag Years
    reviewed in issue #20, 9/15/92

    Back in 1986, a little label called Enigma signed a distribution deal with Capitol records. The first record to be released as part of that deal (if I have my history correct) was Poison's "Look What the Cat Dragged In," a great album because it was thrown together in overnight sessions in a studio for $15,000. They spent $450,000 on the follow-up and cruised into retread hell. But that first album.

    It was dumb. It was stupid. It consisted of one blatant rip-off after another. BUT IT WAS FUN, DAMNIT!

    So here is this great album cranked on my stereo. Star Star take the Sweet/Slade/Glitter (etc.) riffs and reprocess them into their own signature. I don't know why I even mentioned Poison, because these guys are a lot more talented and original (and this album is a lot better than Look...).

    The lyrics are dumb as hell. You'll want to forget them immediately, but the tunes will drive them into your brain. Soon it will be as natural for you to sing "Ya gotta have action/To be the main attraction" as it is for you to know that Little Willy won't go home, and everybody comes (a running) when foxes on the run scream.

    These guys did not invent their sound. They're at least twenty years too late for that. But they do it better than anybody else right now. And it goes down smoother than a spoonful of sugar (this album cried out for a cheesy review phrase).

    Stellar Sonic Solutions
    (Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    One of the real finds on the !Cinco Anos! compilation was Starfish, whose two tracks leapt out of the discer and kicked my ass right then and there.

    So when this disc was the slightest bit slow in reaching my desk, I put out a frantic call, and in two days it arrived. Seventeen songs full of punk fury and melodic intensity. Kinda like if Rancid was an art band. Or perhaps kinda like Alice Donut.

    A lot like that, really. Starfish knows how to rumble, but there are also plenty of contemplative moments on the album, too. The sound is fun, but you can't miss the serious underpinnings, either.

    A listen to the first track will have you addicted, so that by the time "Kliffordave" rolls around to grind your ass into a noisy grave, you'll be only too pleased to comply. Fuck genres. Starfish knows how to make great music. And this disc is just plain full of that.

    (Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    Not sure what Starfish means by "frustrated". Critics have raved over this band's deft handling of noise pop, and I have a feeling more than a few folks have been to the shows and bought the albums. I can only assume a more personal form of frustration.

    I have to admit that it takes balls to open an album with an 8 1/2-minute exploration of sound and space. Not really ambient or whatever, just noise. Cool noise, to be sure. And you know that the baser guitar instincts will kick in.
    But even that takes a while. Starfish seems determined to fly out to the fringe of accessibility, all in the name of making great music. Whaddya know? It works.

    Incomprehensible, painful and ultimately starkly moving, Frustrated is about as good a representation of that emotion as I've heard in a long time. This isn't easy listening by any stretch of the imagination, but then, Starfish fans weren't looking down that well, anyway.

    The master statement (so far) by one of the finest bands around. A glorious tapestry of beauty, anguish, exhilaration and freedom. And the odd hooky chorus, thrown in almost for laughs. Gotta love it.

    The Stargazer Lillies
    We Are the Dreamers
    reviewed 12/29/14

    I am more than a year behind on this one. Just so we're clear. But I'm more bummed about missing out than being late.

    As the band name might well indicate, this is prime shoegazer territory--with a MBV chaser, just for fun. Waves of distortion and gauzy vocals battle ennui, and tarnished glory wins out in the end.

    Kim Field does her best to out-etherealize John Cep's aural anguish. I can hear some of you muttering right now, and I understand. When I was a pup, I had louder and faster things to chase. That's cool. What's more, a lot of folks make noise without purpose. The Stargazer Lilies know exactly what they're going for, and they make sure to leave plenty of clues in the mist. The ideas within the fog are quite beautiful. Kinda like looking at a Rodin through billows of smoke.

    And yes, I'll give a nod to those who say "MBV did this better!" This is obviously and incontrovertibly true. But even MBV can't out-MBV these days, and there's no good reason to turn your back on an appealing sound just because perfection might well have been achieved a couple of decades ago. After all, there have been a few pop bands since the Beatles.

    The best part of this album are the rough edges. That's where Cep gets everything right. Razor blades haunt the night here, and that's why I keep coming back.

    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99

    Following what seems to be the trend in emo these days (at least as propagated by Deep Elm), Starmarket infuses a good amount of power pop feel into the traditionally edgy sounds. A bit more seamlessly than Planes Mistaken for Stars, and in some different ways.

    An extremely raucous album, not at all contemplative. Starmarket is always in motion, ripping and wailing. The guitars have a cool crunchy feel, and the songs just pop out of the speakers, alive and screaming.

    This is really more an adjunct of the Archers of Loaf/Treepeople pop sound than emo, if you ask me. And again, if you care, I'm perfectly happy with that. It's hard to go wrong following in the footsteps of legends.

    Just another great album, the sort of thing which doesn't pass the desk very often. Starmarket has all the tools, and they're all on display here. I can't begin to describe the wonders of this disc.

    Four Hours Light
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    Yet another Deep Elm band that has pretty much left emo behind in search of a purer pop sound. There is very little stridency here. Nope, instead Starmarket has discovered kitchy 70s pop, which it has merged with its punk sensibility.

    So there are 70s-style keyboard effects draped over alternately complex and starkly plain lines. Then all of a sudden an Alex Chilton lead drops in out of nowhere. What a revelatory moment.

    And even while running in all these disparate directions, these four Swedes have managed to capture a snapshot of American pop music that might have been difficult for a home-grown band to achieve. I mean, we know why all these sounds aren't supposed to appear on the same record. You know, Big Star didn't open up for the Carpenters or anything.

    And don't take that as a description of the sound, please Remember, Starmarket is a recovering emo band, and so there are some nicely crunchy moments as well. It's just that these guys blend all of the sounds so damned well. I've never heard anything quite like this. It's done so well.

    The Stars of Aviation
    Greatest Disappointment E.P.
    (Grandpa Records)
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    Understated, deeply introspective songs that immediately demand attention. The Stars of Aviation set the table right and then deliver a sumptuous feast. Not one of those bells-and-whistles sorta dinners, but more of a candlelight affair where the duck is crispy and succulent.

    The guys have a knack for developing their songs. These pieces starts slowly and build in intensity (if not in volume) until something appropriate happens. A shattering climax. A slow fade. Something like that.

    What I'm saying is that the band refuses to follow formulas. These songs are small symphonies, works that illuminate rather than educate. Knowing the difference is one of the small things that makes the Stars of Aviation most impressive.

    Snow on Snow CD5
    reviewed in issue #243, July 2003

    It's still cool in England to release singles. Oh, sure, there are some hip-hop outfits in the U.S. dropping 12"s every once in a while, but it seems the only place I get real singles from lies across the pond. It's too bad, because the short release can be a great format.

    Stars of Aviation takes the opportunity to do four songs, each rather distinct from the other despite the fact that the band adheres fairly strongly to a dreamy pop ethic. One song sounds vaguely Kiwi, another somewhat Australian and the other two are decidedly British. I know, I'm splitting hairs, but when you've heard enough of this stuff you start to truly appreciate those who have mastered the art of subtlety.

    And when you name a song "Stars of Aviation Are Singing About Summer, But Is It Going to Be Sunny, Carol?," the only thing a guy like me can do is smile. Which is what I did the entire time I was listening to this disc.

    The Starside Eight
    Goodnight Noises Everywhere
    (Electric Frog Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #233, September 2002

    Mainly the duo of James Eight and JJ Starside, who trip through a nice selection of (generally) acoustic pop. The hooks are ragged and the sound is decidedly folky, but for some reason I get the idea that these boys really want to sound like the Posies.

    I could be so far off with that observation, but there are these little hints. The vague attempts at harmonies--which sound something like "we're not real good at this, so we won't try too hard to sound bad"--are one. The clincher is jaunty strummers like "Fit of Love." And then, of course, there's the fact that the Posies began as an acoustic duo.

    Pretty, generally introspective songs. Even the raucous bits are measured. There is very little unfettered anything here, even when the electrics kick in. And that's alright. There's no need to act like crazy buffoons when you have such a nice handle on channeling an inner voice.

    Charming, I guess, is the best description I can come up with. Which isn't to say that these are songs brimming with joy and hope. A couple do, but mostly these songs stick to familiar theme of outsiders looking in. And what voyeurs they are!

    State of Mind
    (Cool Stuff)
    reviewed in issue #28, 2/14/93

    A bass, an acoustic guitar and voices. That's all. Sure, it lends itself to that late sixties folk-rock kinda thing, but as that goes it's not too bad.

    Blessed with a knack for writing songs that, like R.E.M., sound a lot more important than they really are, State of Mind have some serious potential. And they can play their instruments rather well, which puts them at the head of their pack.

    State of the Nation
    State of the Nation
    reviewed in issue #87, 9/18/95

    When the press describes a band as "Fugazi cum Husker Du", I get skeptical. But can't think of a better way to describe State of the Nation to folks who have never heard.

    This is pop music with passion and a purpose. It's kinda loud, and you can hear the punk roots, but this is pure pop. And not bad at that. Perhaps a little undistinguished musically...

    But the lyrics come through. SOTN is out to make plenty of points, and delivering them without preaching is pretty impressive. Dig in and get impressed.

    Static Eden
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    So imagine a grunge band hooked on the Smiths. Really. I'm not making this up. I couldn't make this up.

    It took me a few minutes to place exactly what I thought I was hearing. But what Static Eden does is combine vicious grunge riffage with Morrissey-style vocals and a vaguely new-wave production sensibility.

    I kept waiting for my judgment to be wrong, for a song to come along that completely defeated my take on this. Some songs are grungier than others. Some songs are Smithsier than others. But both elements are always present. This is a really strange combination.

    Oh. By the way, it works. I mean, when I think about it a little, that only makes sense. There's an anthemic streak in each, and Static Eden plays that to the hilt. These songs may not be as important as the sometimes pompous presentation makes them out to be, but they're pretty damned good. A lot more fun than should be allowed by law.

    Stationary Odyssey
    Sons of Boy
    (Joyful Noise)
    reviewed in issue #311, October 2009

    An Indiana trio that plays post rock the way post rock ought to be played. Or that's what I would have written fifteen years ago, anyway. The problem with updating that description is that post rock splintered into all sorts of disparate sounds, and Stationary Odyssey prefers to dip its toes into every pool--even the dread baby pee tank.

    Before my allusions go completely awry, let me just say that these guys play songs with energy and style, most of the time winging it around a particular rhythmic imperative. Sometimes the guitar goes off the reservation, and sometimes the bass heads off to town. There's always a throb somewhere.

    And the sound is wonderfully dense. There's none of that "you can hear every single note" clarity. Rather, these sharply-produced songs often sound like a blender on puree. I'm all for that.

    Every once in a while the boys throw in some vocals. Really, guys, they're not necessary. The music speaks for itself. Oh well. Perfection is a noble idea but rarely realized. All Stationary Odyssey needs to do is hit puree a few more times and things will be just fine.

    Shire Refusenik 7"
    reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98

    Basic pop, without bass on the two a-side tracks. Bouncy stuff that covers the bases with just a guitar, drums and echo-laden vocals.

    Songs that sound a lot like the stuff Duotang (a Canadian bass-drum duo) does. Maybe the whole duo thing simply lends itself to loopy pop songs that require awesomely hooky riffs.

    The flip, which includes some barely audible bass, is a much looser affair altogether. A far-flung meditative piece, with guitar lines stuck to a one-line shimmer. Hope that makes sense.

    Unusual, almost exploding with creativity. Another is definitely in order.

    Arbiters Anonymous
    reviewed in #164, 8/3/98

    The band has found a full-time bass player, so it's a trio now. The offbeat approach to pop music remains.

    Generally, the guitar lines don't have much to do with the other proceedings, though Statuesque is quite happy to get truly convention for a moment or two, just to throw folks off.

    Rambling pop tunes which the band occasionally allows to soar. But most of the time the exuberant melodies are somewhat obscured, hidden behind competing thoughts and sounds. I like that. The eternal struggle against mendacious happiness, played out on disc.

    In the end, pretty much indescribably good. I know, I've done a horrible job here, but Statuesque is so insistent on trying new ideas that the sound simply cannot be pinned down. What they do works amazingly well, but you've got to hear it to even begin to understand. I made a comparison to Duotang when I reviewed a 7" a while back, and that stands. Bouncy pop with a serious undertow. Alright, then.

    (Tooth and Nail)
    reviewed in issue #108, 5/6/96

    Taking the whole grunge guitar thing and infusing it with a poppy drum beat, Stavesacre almost makes something really cool.

    I like that backbeat-style of drumming, particularly behind loud music. But Stavesacre drops it a lot, in order to bring in more grunge-metal convention. Like the guys wanted to secure a big record deal. Too bad. Sometimes bucking the tend is cool.

    Way too much of this is just average trendy-sounding stuff. It doesn't suck, really, but I just can't get myself interested. I've heard hundreds of bands like this, and with the exception of the cool drumming from time to time, Stavesacre isn't moving the concept anywhere.

    Too bad. I almost got exited. And then banality kicked in.

    (Tooth & Nail)
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    Once again, the rhythm section, particularly the drumming, is excellent. The reliance on ancient-sounding grunge riffs and generally boring song construction sinks Stavesacre into a morass of bands hanging on to a Seattle sound that is at least five years past its prime.

    And it's too bad, because there are parts that truly shine. And an odd thing: the man on the throne has changed, but the unique drum sound remains. I can't explain.

    It's ugly, listening here at the end of a musical trend. Even if the band is reasonably competent, there's very little than can be done to rescue a moribund concept. Trends tend to burn folks out on certain types of music, and this is one of them.

    Still plenty of potential, but the final result is just as disappointing as the last album.

    Loser Friendly
    reviewed in issue #182, 5/17/99

    I have recently come into a great community of unsigned British bands, some really creative folks. This is the latest in that line. And, possibly, the best I've heard so far.

    I'm a sucker for textured, edgy pop. The title of the album is brilliant, and it sets the tone. This is dark stuff, with musical and lyrical ideas piled on top of each other. They settle down nicely into well-orchestrated, angst-ridden pieces. High impact, indeed.

    Okay, so this is Britpop in the extreme. But it's quite good, and not obsessively eccentric (like, say, Prolapse). There are hooks here, and they set with a vengeance. Once in, you're going nowhere. Not that you'd want to, in any case.

    One of those discs best experienced in a prone position. Allow the music to wash over slowly, like an incoming time. It's utterly unavoidable, and you don't notice that you've drowned until it's way too late. Not that you'd mind, anyways.

    Steamroller EP
    reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99

    Imagine a cross of Mountain and AC/DC. Not that hard to do, really. Steamroller combines a linear, slinging guitar style with pile-driving riffs and apocalyptic drumming. Perfect posing music.

    And I mean that in the best way possible. This stuff just reeks of testosterone, and just when I think the well might be running dry, they come up with a fresh supply. Yes, it's simple and a bit cheesy. That's the point, see?

    If you don't, well, that's okay. This is "guy music," no doubt about it. Steamroller isn't the most proficient practitioner, but hell, it'll do. Oh, yeah, this'll do. Don't ask for too much, and Steamroller does the trick nicely.

    Steel Miners
    (Double Deuce)
    reviewed in issue #121, 10/21/96

    Snotty pop hardcore with just enough moxie to keep me interested. The playing is sloppy, the production worse, but there's still enough redeeming factors to bring the disc back to mediocre.

    The lyrics are traditional punk vitriol, mostly railing against authority and rich people (sentiments I can sympathize with, for sure). I wish they were eloquent, or at least witty, but you take what you can get.

    Like a messier version of the Leaving Trains. When a song works, it is pretty damned good. But when it doesn't, look out below!

    Not enough here to get me excited, but passable.

    The Steepwater Band
    Going' Back Home EP
    reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00

    Some young guys from Chicago way who love the blues. And not the over-amped, under-souled blues that seems to be in vogue these days. Indeed, the boys plus two Muddy Water tunes and an Elmore James piece among the five on this disc.

    What's impressive is that the band didn't cover obvious songs. Also, the original material fits right in with the classics. There's not an obvious dropoff in song quality between any of the tracks.

    Which leads to my #1 observation: Write some more songs, boys! You obviously know how to get inside the blues, so toot your own horn a bit more. Everything on this disc is excellent, from the song choice to the playing to the production. I just need more; more original stuff, more songs...more, more, more! That's all.

    Bernd Steidl
    Psycho Acoustic Overture
    reviewed in issue #25, 11/30/92

    Instrumental goodies from the Shrapnel bag. With help from the usual Shrapnel session culprits, Steidl makes something other than rock music. He performs almost entirely on an acoustic guitar, achieving rather un-guitarlike noises on that instrument much of the time. Challenging.

    Obviously classically influenced, Steidl does not fall prey to the temptation to simply "rock the classics." He keeps his classical leanings fairly pure, and in so doing makes this album much more satisfying.

    This would seg well with My Dying Bride, not because it is heavy but because it is rather classical and well-played. If it's not heavy enough for you (Shame, shame!) pass this on to your regular music directors. They'll know what to do with it.

    Lou Stein & Elise
    Go Daddy!
    (Pullen Music)
    reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95

    The gimmick: veteran pianist Lou Stein records an album with his daughter, Elise, for the first time. The possibilities are truly stomach-turning.

    But the execution is better than I expected. Stein, who has worked with all sorts of jazz musicians (including a large number of the true greats), exhibits a cool mastery of the ivories while allowing whoever is beside him a chance to shine. As Elise sings on only six of the 16 tracks, Stein's choice of sidemen is quite important. They run through standards and Stein's own compositions with panache.

    As for Elise, she has a good voice but still needs some time to really work out her own style. At times it's possible to hear her vocal training overshadowing her personal vision of a song. Perhaps after more time she will be more accomplished, but even so, she is no embarrassment.

    Stein and his band keep up impressive riffing, with a sound that is reminiscent of the variety of jazz styles in the fifties. Plenty of allusions to Brubeck as well as the bop school. My advice? Skip the gimmick and just listen.

    David Steinhart
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    Now, there's no more room for subterfuge. David Steinhart, the main songwriter behind Pop Art and the driving force behind Smart Brown Handbag, has finally recorded a "solo" album.

    Of course, the songs here sound more than a little like those that Steinhart penned for and played with those two bands. Only makes sense, when you think about it. And so I have to listen to a set of sparkling, smart and, well, clean pop songs.

    By clean, I mean that Steinhart doesn't clutter either his lyrics or his melodies. The lines are straight and pretty (hardly stark). Very few people can write songs like Steinhart, and this album is at least as good as any other collection of his I've heard.

    I use the pronoun there advisedly. Yes, Steinhart came into his own as an artist a long time ago. He has finally decided to put his name above the title. The results are similar to previous efforts. Steinhart, quite simply, is a master at the pop form. All I can do is revel in the beauty.

    See also Smart Brown Handbag.

    Blissmark 7"
    (Laundry Room)
    reviewed in issue #123, 11/18/96

    Doing its damndest to breach the gap between Seattle's pop and grunge sounds, Stella plies "Blissmark" with massive riffage and an oddly hooky pop sensibility.

    Hooky if you can get through the bombast, that is. The production has left everything with an extra helping of distortion, and that doesn't help anyone trying to find the pop core of the song.

    Yeah, the Posies sound a lot like this live, but their albums are a little more circumspect. And then how to explain the b-side, "Azure", which is little more than an acoustic guitar and a really strained voice. Pretty enough, but a serious counterpoint to the excesses of "Blissmark".

    I have no idea what's going on here. Perhaps that's for the best.

    (Beggars Banquet)
    reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97

    That whole punk rawk thing is getting pretty cool these days. Last issue I reviewed the Magnolia Thunderfinger, and now comes Stella. An Ann Arbor band who is quite obviously enamored with the MC5, Iggy and Love. I know, those folks don't always like to stand together, but fuckit. I mean, that's where the music leads.

    And Stella just keeps slogging through thick chords and chunky beats. Kinda like Mule with a more commercial sheen and a knack for hooks. A throbbing mass of goo, the sort of thing I slurp up greedily.

    I'll admit: this stuff is like chocolate to me. Can't get enough. Sends my endorphins flying. The best part about Stella is that these guys bash more than pop. The emphasis is on pulverization and propagation of fear.

    Be very afraid, but not so much that you miss this disc. Stunning power, delivered in the most delectable package imaginable. I can't get enough. Feed me more.

    Star of the Sea
    (City of Tribes)
    reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97

    At once reaching back and moving forward, Stellamara takes timeworn lyrics and melodies, merging them with the latest in sound technology. The results are more than impressive.

    References to Dead Can Dance aren't too far off the path, though Stellamara works in different languages and musical traditions. The sound is often ethereal and haunting, and there the connection lies.

    Other than the use of modern instruments (along with plenty of ancient ones), however, I think Stellamara is rather faithful to its original influences. And while I can't understand a word of Galician or any of the other languages used, the music is a fine interpreter. Both voice and music are complimentary without overshadowing each other.

    Often achingly beautiful, and nearly as often unspeakably sad. A strict understanding of the lyrics is not necessary to find inspiration and solace in this disc.

    The Step Kings
    Seven Easy Steps EP
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    I pegged the Step Kings as a ska band based merely on the name. Not really. Hardcore with a backbeat and oozin-ahs. There's a bit of a Sepultura-style guitar throb, but the attack is melodic.

    Quite refreshing, actually. The Step Kings are really much more in line with Black Flag and the old line of hardcore. The melodic choruses are a welcome respite from the avalanche of gang shout aficionados which populate this style.

    Short, tight and to the point. The Step Kings don't mess around or bother to wreck their sound with excess baggage. A supreme exercise in discipline and songwriting.

    Quite good, if not quite to the level of great. I can feel a wild vibe in this music, and that's pretty cool to tap into. A little more experience, and who knows?

    Let's Get It On
    reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99

    Um, just a reminder. These guys are not a ska band. Nope. Hardcore in that finest NYC fashion, influenced by Sepultura and Biohazard as well as Murphy's Law. Not quite metalcore, though. The guitars still have that dull punk edge. For the most part.

    The lyrics come fast and furious. Not quite a rap, but close enough for rock and roll. The choruses vary from hoarse shouts to soaring gang vocal harmonies. The variation is most invigorating.

    Much like the EP I heard a couple years back, this one had to grow on me. Took a whole couple minutes. Then I was hooked into the flow. Once in the trance, man, there's no getting out. And unlike certain terribly popular popularizers of this sound, the Step Kings never resort to repetition for simplicity's sake. Nope. They stand true. And the songs are a testament to the talent.

    Did I mention it took me a minute to dig this? Well, infatuation kept growing fast and furiously after that. And it hasn't even begun to think about quitting. Not yet, anyway.

    3 the Hard Way
    (We Put Out Records)
    reviewed in issue #229, May 2002

    The new album from these boys. The Step Kings don't stint on the power metal/extreme hardcore and their energetic approach to the music hasn't slackened. I don't hear a lot of growth, but then again, last time I check this band was at the top of its game.

    Step Softly, Ghost
    Ruined in Repetition
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    Um, so these guys really dig early June of 44 and the strident edge of emo in equal amounts. So there's some really amazing interplay between the musicians and lots and lots of noise.

    The songs themselves aren't exactly constructed normally (another nod to the whole noise-rock-fusion-post-rock-whatever scene), but rather they tend to ferment for a while and then blossom in a fury. Again, when done well, this is a very god thing.

    And Step Softly, Ghost has done its homework. There are no cliches, no shards of "regular" music that creep into this roiling brew. The stuff just keeps moving and moving, and then every once in a while there's this moment of clarity. That whole blossoming thing.

    Alright, it ture that these guys aren't moving the sound along. They simply have a nice handle on the stuff, and they've put together a really fine disc. You're not gonna catch me bitching about that.

    The Stepford Five
    A New Design for Living
    reviewed in issue #254, June 2004

    Minimal liners. No need. Let the music speak for itself. And it most surely does.

    Grand, arching punk anthems. Math guitar lines meet emo structure and just plain rock and roll power. For reasons that I don't care to explain fully, this makes me think of what U2 might have begun to sound like if it hadn't cheesed out with The Unforgettable Fire and beyond.

    Yes, I'm a mean, picky, snot-nosed music critic kind of a bastard. And the Stepford Five gives me the smackdown I deserve. Most bands with a punk background (I'm guessing that most of the band members have done some time in such an outfit) tend to prefer a simpler, leaner production sound. But these songs require the full power provided here by Neal Schmitt. And they soar because of it.

    The sort of "underground" album that is fully street-ready. I'd like to imagine a world where albums like this rule the charts. But if that happened, then how could I continue to feel superior to all those moronic idiots out there who don't know shit about shit? I'll just settle for being able to give a listen to such superior good as this disc. That's enough for me. For now.

    The Stereo State
    Crossing Canyons
    (Creator Destructor)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    I've been ambivalent about some of the melodic hardcore bands I've reviewed in issue #344, lately (I'm a sucker for the stuff, but I recognize middling fare when I hear it), but the Stereo State is so muscular one thinks steriods might have been involved. These songs blister across the sky. A true joy.

    Stereo 360
    Stereo 360 EP
    (BPR Music Corp.)
    reviewed in issue #228, April 2002

    Sounds a lot like Urge Overkill's major label albums--punchy, crunchy, loud and tuneful. I liked those discs and wondered why the kiddies didn't go wild. But then, my favorite albums rarely sell more than 1,000 copies.

    So maybe it's not such a good thing that I really like Stereo 360. Too bad. These boys know how to play power pop (perhaps that's why their web site is http://www.kingsofpop.com), and they do it very well.

    It is very hard to carry through on a ragged edge and still manage to have gorgeous harmonies. Stereo 360 does it without blinking. Yes, this stuff is ready for the big leagues (the production is brassy, though not too glossy), but that doesn't mean it's dull. Just shined up for the masses. And I can't complain about the results.

    Enjoy Yourself Poolside
    (Baby Pea)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    The boys ponied up and got Ryan Greene to produce this puppy. And it sounds like it. The songs jump right out of the speakers and start bouncing around on the floor. The sound is so round and powerful that it's hard to stop tapping my foot (much less pogoing).

    Stereo Three-Sixty isn't really a punk band. They play power-pop with a rock edge, and so the major-label sheen that Greene has infused into this album is perfectly appropriate. The songs are loud, just a bit faster than midtempo and as addictive as crack. The songwriting has been improved a notch, leaving some of the extraneous debris by the wayside.

    This is the sort of album that little kids (well, little to a geezer like me) ought to go out and buy in droves. Old farts like me can dig it because it's punchy and utterly oozing with excess energy. And the hooks are pure spun sugar.

    I liked the last thing I heard from these boys. I love this album. No, it's not the deepest disc around. Who gives a shit? It's summer, man, and when the sun comes out what you need is an album that still sounds great when pumped to 11. A simple joy, which may well be the best kind.

    The Dub EP
    (Distance Formula)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    Nicely spacey emo pop, meandering guitar and bass lines which converge at the most interesting points. And vocals which are generally processed in strange fashion. Reminds me a bit of Poster Children.

    The vocals, that is. The music is a bit more out there, though if I stretch things they might also reminds me of that fine Champaign outfit. Mostly, though, I'm impressed by the unique way that Stereobate plays. This is odd fare.

    And I like things that way. While Stereobate doesn't toe the straight and narrow, this path makes sense to me. The musical ramblings speak to me, inspiring my mind to fly away and ponder for a while.

    Pretty cool, indeed. Only four songs, which leaves me a bit bummed. I could use some more.

    split 7" with the Distance Formula
    (Distance Formula Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    I'm not going to talk about the titles for the songs here (two of them clock in at about 20 words per). Commentary about the music will suffice.

    Stereobate brings a nicely complex instrumental to the party, the sorta song that would do Don Caballero or June of 44 proud. There isn't a point so much as a general theme, and then the story ends abruptly. As it should.

    The Distance Formula whips out a couple of well-constructed tunes, somewhere between the ol' indie-rock ideal and emo stridency. Nice harmonies and fairly atonal guitars. All tied up into a tight little package. These folks sure know how to write songs.

    A quality pairing. Two bands that don't quite fit together naturally, which makes for a good set. There's just enough of a connection to help expand both bands' horizons.

    Selling Out in the Silent Era
    (Distance Formula)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    Not many bands manage to combine pile-driving guitar lines with seriously contemplative lyrics. Or, for that matter, with delicate sonic exploration. Stereobate is at home in those territories and so much more.

    So much so that while I'd feel comfortable dropping Stereobate into the emo pile about half the time, there's also more than enough evidence to align the band more with noise rock and experimental pop. So much to choose from on just one album.

    A thoughtful nature is threaded through all the songs, and that's what holds the album together. Stereobate isn't the sort of band to repeat itself often, but the guys do have their own way of speaking.

    A most engaging style, I must admit. This music challenges, to be sure, but it rewards as well. Get inside the main track and ride all the way to the station. The scenery is most impressive.

    Aluminum Tunes 2xCD
    (Drag City)
    reviewed in issue #186, 9/28/98

    Another set of rare and unreleased tracks from one of the more creative acts around (the first five tracks were originally released as Music from the Amorphous Body Center). And don't think this means Stereolab has gone indie. This is just for this particular release, something that Elektra might think is a little too weird for the general public.

    Plus, you know, two-disc sets by marginally profitable cult groups are a recipe for fiscal bloodletting. Better let the little guys take care of this. Not a horrible strategy, on any front.

    As for the contents therein, if you don't know Stereolab, this is not the way to get introduced. Go find one of the major-label releases and work yourself in slowly. A lot of these tracks sound like demos or songs which haven't quite been worked out. Devoted fans love this kind of thing. You get to dig into the heads of yer favorite stars. A friend of mine scored a bootleg tape of the Actung Baby sessions just before the album. I've gotta tell you, a lot of good stuff got left on the floor. Here, it's not too difficult to hear how Stereolab puts things together.

    Stereolab has this larger-than-life image among many folks who claim to know something about music. There's a good reason for that. Few acts take chances like this. There is always a good reason to listen to Stereolab.

    Stereotaxic Device
    100 Per Day Extinct
    (Kk Records-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #12, 4/30/94

    They're not out for appeasement. As you might guess by the name, these folk are animal-rights activists. Very aggressive industrial dance music, when the beat gets going. When it doesn't, however, the results are even more interesting.

    For the most part, club-types will not flock to this release. The stuff just isn't always that danceable. But it is very good, and has a message to boot.

    Perhaps this album, along with Malhavoc and the dance re-mixes of "Slavestate," provides the idea bridge between the dance floor and a loud music shift. The stuff certainly has the volume and aggression. The innovative programing is up to you.

    Transmission Pervous
    (21st Circuitry)
    reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95

    Cool techno industrial pop from the heart of Germany. Steril keeps club beats and a sparse sound up through most of the disc, leaving a very favorable impression, indeed.

    In fact, the lack of atmosphere in these songs sets Steril apart from the better-known German imports. 21st Circuitry and other labels have presented compilations of the more experimental German acts, but this is the first full-length I've seen.

    And it is more than pleasing. All of the usual suspects abound: samples introducing the songs, the ubiquitous German guitar noise, distorted vocals and the like. But Steril keeps the noise to a minimum and in so doing has crafted a slightly spooky-sounding group of songs. Unusual and interesting.

    (21st Circuitry)
    reviewed in issue #103, 3/18/96

    More hard techno for the elektro fan. I can dig it.
    A little more lush than Transmission Pervous, with more emphasis on songwriting. I like. Very much.

    All in all, more coherent and attractive than the first album. Yeah, that cuts down on the experimental touches, but then, Steril wasn't heavy into that, anyway. This is music ready-cranked for the dance floor.

    And plenty of good humor, too. Like the sample from Simon and Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park. I'm not sure what it's meant to do, but it sure is funny. And once the laughs are done, the beat kicks in again. Fine by me.

    Much more satisfying than Pervous, in every way possible. Steril is almost up to X Marks to the Pedwalk territory here. Not a clunker in the bunch.

    Corey Stevens
    Road to Zen
    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    Still sounding way too much like Eric Clapton, Corey Stevens plows through a set of decent rockin' blues. But, see, it does help to try and do your own thing.

    He wrote or co-wrote every song here, which makes his fixation even worse. I mean, if he can write in this style so well (the stuff is better than Clapton has done is ages, which still isn't saying much), my guess is that he can write in a more unique style that would give him a personal voice.

    Until then, though, I just can't get behind Stevens. There are plenty of folks who would be satisfied with white-boy blues like this and not worry about any comparisons. That's not my style, unfortunately.

    Vic Stevens
    (as Vic Stevens' Mistaken Identities)
    No Curb Ahead
    (Lolo Records)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    Vic Stevens is a drummer, and his idea of good jazz means experimentation and virtuoso performances. Within a fusion context. Kinda like the Yellowjackets playing Yes, although those references don't do this music justice.

    Yeah, it would sure help to have at least a passing appreciation for prog rock to groove on this. The keyboards are everpresent and can get somewhat drenching. The songs are built around Stevens' rhythmic ideas, and that leads to some very strange structural tangents.

    All the more interesting, though a straight line now and again would be nice. All of this rambling gets tiring, no matter how impressive the idea.

    Still, in all Stevens drumming and light hand over his sides has led to one of the few real "fusion" albums that I can stomach. At play in some fine fields, these folks spin a few nice webs.

    (as Scott McGill Michael Manring Vic Stevens)
    Addition by Subtraction
    (Free Electric Sound)
    reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01

    Been a while since I've heard solid prog jam fusion. This album certainly fulfills that need. Scott McGill handles the guitar work, Michael Manring rumbles around on his fretless bass and Vic Stevens blisters all manners of percussion. Jordan Rudess joins in on keys every once in a while, and producer Neil Kernon plays with some loops.

    A group endeavor all the way around. Most of the songs are a series of solos built around a particular theme, though there is some nice interplay as well. The obvious camaraderie makes it quite apparent these guys like to play with each other.

    Kernon has given the sound just a bit of a metal sheen, and that helps to give this album a slightly off-kilter feel. I mean, these guys are playing in a more rock style, but this is hardly bash 'n' thrash. Technical soul is the order of the day.

    That's what really impresses me here. Yeah, these guys can play. But it's the feel, the tenor of the sound, the way true ideas are expressed by that playing which really knocks me out. Artistry, in a word. This isn't a sterile prog project. It's three (or four or five) friends talking. And that makes all the difference in the world.

    Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson
    One of a Kind
    reviewed in issue #85, 9/4/95

    Your basic jazz trio: two bald guys and a member of the Hair Club for Men (um, that's piano, bass and drums). The style is, well, jazz jazz.

    Not contemporary or anything facile like that. At times cool, but the playing is always hot. Five tunes of their own, and six standards, with a style that carries over nicely throughout. These are not cheeseheads!

    Well, they aren't (I sound defensive, eh?). The sparse sound really highlights the expressive playing of each member of the trio. No one has to shout to be heard, though there can be quite a din (particularly on Ellington's "Caravan").

    A cool disc that is still a challenging listen. Nice trick.

    Points of View
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    I quite likes this trio's first album, One of a Kind, and this one falls squarely in the same spot: all over the place.

    The liner notes here are alone worth the price. A short essay trying to explain that the best parts of jazz come from the melding of ideas into new forms. And these three guys do just that, merging very different styles into a fine brio (um, sorry, I got carried away).

    Jazz that serious listeners and neophytes can equally appreciate. Stevens, Siegel and Ferguson never get too far out of line with traditional musical notions, but the lines don't always follow the accepted form, and it's in those deviations where great music is made. Plenty flows here.

    Just over half of the songs are original compositions (and the covers include pieces by Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane), and despite different moods and perspectives, all work together to form a group sound that can be identified.

    Another fine album by three of the best, guys who seem to get just a little better when they play together.

    (Featuring Valery Ponomarev) Panorama
    (Imaginary) reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99

    A couple months ago I got a fairly pleasant letter from Michael Jefry Stevens requesting that I spell his middle name properly. You can trust I won't make that mistake again. Anyway, this disc finds the piano-drums-bass trio augmented by Valery Ponomarev's trumpet (and related instruments).

    As usual, kicking around some standards and original compositions. One of the things I've always liked about this group is the interplay between the band members. Even if one is off on a solo, the others are working to compliment, not just accompany, their mate. I was curious to see what the addition of a guest (especially one so prominent) would do.

    It didn't change the group's dynamic, which is great. Ponomarev fits right in, taking his turns and providing support when necessary. He seems to share the other members' attitude toward creative reinvention. The sounds aren't strident or terribly dissonant, but this jazz band has a feel all its own. That's pretty rare.

    As rare as the quality on this disc. The third SS&F album is just as great as the first two, perhaps even a smidge better with the addition of such a great trumpet sound. The sort of album which just might inspire a person to become a jazz fan.

    reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01

    I like these guys. I've reviewed all of their albums, and each time I come away impressed once more. This is just a classic piano jazz trio: Michael Jefry Stevens on the bench, Jeff Siegel on drums and Tim Ferguson on bass (stand up, of course). Three players, each of whom has his own style and way of approaching the material.

    And, as usual, that material is rather varied. A couple songs from "South Pacific," a Billy Strayhorn piece, something from Sidney Bechet, a spiritual and a song which is best known for receiving the Dizzy Gillespie treatment. Oh yeah, each member contributes a song as well.

    Which makes this set the least "original" of the trio's four albums, at least in terms of songwriting. Of course, the real trick in jazz is taking a song, no matter who wrote it, and finding something new inside of it. Making that piece your own, if just for a moment. Stevens, Siegel and Ferguson seem to have an instinctive knack for just that.

    Of course, such "instincts" are earned by years of hard work. As a trio, these three men take their time working out the various pieces of a song, taking one and then another on a spin around the floor before coming together at the end for a smart summation. Yeah, that's standard theory, but when a trio has the chops and creativity of these three, the "formula" yields beautiful music. The song selection, arrangements and playing are all first rate. This is, quite simply, great jazz.

    See also The Joe Fonda/Jefry Stevens Group and The New York Trio Project.

    Philip Stevenson
    (Night World)
    reviewed in issue #314, February 2010

    By and large a true solo effort, this latest album from Philip Stevenson sounds a lot like the work of a collective. Maybe it's just multiple personality disorder, but I have a feeling that Stevenson just happens to be a stellar songwriter.

    More importantly, though, he knows how to put his songs down in the studio (as such, anyway). These pieces ramble through rock, the blues, a bit of americana and a whole lot of attitude. Somewhere between the Magnetic Fields and Leonard Cohen, I suppose.

    I'd include the quality of the lyrics in that judgment. Stevenson don't quip much, but he's got fine powers of observation. The characters in these songs ought to be recognizable to just about anyone, and they lay down some serious insight.

    Explaining this album to those who haven't heard it would be impossible. Stevenson refuses to pigeonhole himself. He simply writes what he sees and then works his ass off to give the song as much life as is possible. Quite the experience.

    The Naked Dutch Painter
    reviewed in issue #228, April 2002

    My main problem with the "lounge" movement of the last few years is that most of the stuff consists of lazily written and played material. The best "easy listening" music is tightly crafted, as any student of Burt Bacharach or (yikes!) even Barry Manilow can tell you.

    Stew works his ass off. Along with collaborator Heidi Rodewald, Stew artfully creates an easy-going, soulful jazz sound. His pieces are written in something of an art song style, and he gives them a winning soft sell, rounding off harsh edges and emphasizing the pleasant.

    All that "easy" work on the surface is deceptive. Many of these songs were recorded live, but what's impressive is that there is little difference between the studio and club sounds. And the performances are similarly indistinguishable. That's what hard work can do for you.

    Not nearly as simple as it sounds, this album contains plenty of exciting and dramatic moments. When folks aspire to recreate an authentic "lounge" sound, they should listen to this disc a hundred times. Because Stew gets it right. These are songs you will want to hear over and over again.

    Poindexter Stewart
    College Rock
    reviewed in issue #35, 5/31/93

    Apparently, Mr. Poindexter (lead singer of what SST says was a band named Poindexter Stewart) has now signed a major label contract to continue making stuff like this. The only question I have is why this project was started in the first place.

    While "College Rock" is a pretty funny satire on the whole Morissey/Stipey brand of whiny pop (and the whole band situation), the rest of it comes off as rather incoherent noise. If you like that, you might dig this. Personally, I think whoever signed this guy should line up their A&R staff and start picking off the bastards at random until they get the idiot who lost them a lot of money.

    You know, I think they should do that anyway.

    See also Screw Radio.

    No Longer Human
    reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93

    Also known as Screaming to God, this had the unfortunate problem of showing up the same day as the Treponem Pal. So I was a bit underwhelmed.

    Not much, though. High-grade industrial dance, a la Ministry. More samples and less guitars and you have the idea. If there were a spot more bass I think I would be happier, but that's no good reason to bitch.

    Um, much like the last Young Gods album, the last track is long. Twenty-five and a half minutes long, to be accurate. Personally, I liked it.

    See also Idiot Stare.

    Stick Men
    (7d Media)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/24/13

    Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter. You need more? These boys are at the top of their game, creating an adventurous prog sound within tightly-crafted songs. Accessible to the extreme, the songs here show a true appreciation for ideas and emotion. There's plenty of wigging out, but what really comes through are the solid arrangements. I'm sold.

    Stiff Miners
    reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95

    The entire industrial scene as seen by Russians.

    Naturally, the folks are a little behind the trends. The base is synth, and the sound in positively orchestral. Vocals do sound astonishingly like the Young Gods. In other words, guys who have been digging Kraftwerk and Einsturzende Neubauten for the longest time.

    These are not bad jones to have. The songs are quite well constructed, and the meticulous attention to detail is somewhat refreshing considering the sloppiness of some American industrial acts. And yet I still get the feeling this album was recorded around 1987 or so.

    Oh well, you can do worse than outstanding retro industrial. This is sure to bring a smile to the faces of those who really remember, and those who don't can get an interesting sonic history lesson. Dig in for a great meal.

    State of Disconnection
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #36, 6/30/93

    Solid metal album. This is straight-ahead power hard rock. No apologies need apply.

    Reminds me of Roadrunner's Defiance release a year or so ago. It was paired with something else (Toxik? I don't remember) and fairly ignored by the reps. Now, Paula is working these guys, but this is not the priority OLW (deservedly) is.

    It bugs me, though, when solid albums get swept aside. This is nothing special, but I sure like the sound. It is damned refreshing to hear unpretentious crunchy guitar now and again. That's all.

    Permanent Solution
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #49, 2/28/94

    This, of course, is their first album, which was obviously once licensed to a certain "All Blacks" organization (their familiar "Stop the Madness" anti-drug logo is fuzzy but present in the lower right-hand corner on the back).

    Decent traditional metal, their most recent album was hurt by its release proximity to Only Living Witness, perhaps the best traditional metal album of last year.

    This is good, maybe even a little more interesting than their later album. But the art reproduction (on the back) is at bootleg level. Come on. The band deserves much better treatment than was exhibited on this release.

    But ignore my annoyance at the label folks. This music deserves your attention.

    The Stills
    Logic Will Break Your Heart
    reviewed in issue #246, October 2003

    Four guys from Montreal who really, really, want to be the Smiths. But hey, they sound great doing it, so why complain?

    Okay, yes, there is the standard complaint that it's still remarkably easy to buy Smiths records. And there are those who think a band ought to aspire to more than simply aping someone else. Fair enough. But perhaps I'm making too much of the similarity.

    The vocals aren't nearly so affected as Morrisey's (a big plus, in my book), and these songs are decidedly upbeat. Imagine if Johnny Marr had been allowed to kick mucho ass within the construct of the band. Then you might have an idea of what's really going on here.

    Here's the deal: The Stills have appropriated the soft-edged pop approach of the Smiths without actually stealing a song or even a riff. True-blue Smiths fans will (probably rightfully) turn up their noses. Those of us who are less doctrinaire will simply kick back and enjoy this fine bit of work.

    Without Feathers
    reviewed in issue #275, June 2006

    The title, of course, is shared with a Woody Allen story collection. I don't know if the Stills know this (the book's publication likely predates the birth of any of the band members), but I'm guessing they might.

    There's a slyness to the sound here that is really impressive. I liked the first Stiills album, but it didn't blow me away. The sound was very Smiths-y, and while there are still echoes of that here, the boys have worked really hard to find their own sound.

    Which is something of a ringing, reverb-laden guitar feel combined with intricate pop anthem construction and a palpable sense of ambition. These guys are really going after it this time around.

    Know what? I think they get there. This is a really fine album, the kind that I believe will age exceptionally well. Solid in all the right ways. Sometimes the second take is better. And when that happens, number three might just be a killer.

    Scott Stine
    reviewed in issue #67, 11/30/94

    Wandering around the mainstream hard rock universe in search of his sound, Scott Stine delivers a solid, but undistinguished album.

    Segments of songs emulate heroes (you can hear echoes of Satriani, Vai, Tony MacAlpine and many more), and then Stine sort of melds the divergent ideas together into single tunes.

    Which is a good idea. Stine plays well, and you can hear him coming through his guitar often enough. It's just that he apparently hasn't quite decided what to say.

    Much like his other gig with Crimeny. That band has talent and can put together decent songs. I just want to hear them (and Stine solo) venture beyond the ordinary. Blow me away. I dare ya.

    Stinking Lizaveta
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    I'm sure this description is going to offend about everyone involved, but Stinking Lizaveta sounds to me like prog stoner rock. The riffage is certainly rooted in late 60s/early 70s hard rock, but there's so much more. And it's certainly not all prog.

    But with titles like "War of the Worlds," well, there is a sense of the grandiose and excessive to go along with some stellar playing. Suffice it to say I haven't heard anything quite like this.

    And yes, I'm impressed. The pieces are heavy, but they move along nicely. And the sharp composing and playing ensure that the final sound is good. The production has dulled the edges (which reminds me of stoner rock), but the notes still come through clearly.

    Boy, this is a real find. Hard to believe that folks still want to make music like this, but I'm sure glad they do. This almost obsessively-crafted album is a real gem.

    Stir Fried with Buddy Cage
    Last of the Blue Diamond Miners
    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    These folks have some famous friends. Buddy Cage plays his steel guitar all the way through, and folks such as Dr. John, Vassar Clements and Bernie Worrell sit in every once in a while.

    Perhaps you've picked up that what we have here is an eclectic vision of the blues. Extremely eclectic, ranging from groove tunes and even a little funk to doleful ballads and soaring anthems.

    Stir Fried itself is a rather cumbersome undertaking, packing the stage with a fairly sizable number of members. The pictures looks kinda like some sort of festival jam, and indeed, that's also the feel of this disc. Serendipity is always just around the corner.

    An utterly unclassifiable set of songs. Well, the heart's in the blues, I guess, but there's so much more here as well. The name of the band is appropriate. Too many cooks made a great bouillabaisse.

    Rory Merritt Stitt
    The Narcissist
    reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00

    Using throbbing electronic sounds for the rhythm section and piano (or, occasionally, keyboards) for the melody, Rory Merritt Stitt has put together a rather dichotomous sound. Both sections tend toward the complex, increasing the business of the songs.

    And, of course, Stitt writes dreadfully clever songs, lyrics that amuse and excoriate. The only thing you can count on is that everything is in motion all the time. Stitt rarely slows down to catch a breath (and even when he does, he's messing around).

    Which is not to say that Stitt doesn't create beautiful and inspired music. He does. But this isn't music for enjoying; it's music for living. It demands attention and quickly worms its way into the subconscious.

    It's rare to hear someone so accomplished. I'm not talking about simply self-released stuff; in general, there are few artists with such a complete vision and ability to put those concepts to tape. A wonderful revelation.

    Stoley P.T.
    Lesson #1
    (In Music We Trust)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    Clunky, bouncy pop songs. The hooks shimmer without really going overboard. Nothing pretentious at all. And sometimes that's the thing that really attracts my ear.

    Because Stoley P.T. isn't doing anything particularly revolutionary. The songs are good--and sometimes better--but the sense of whimsy in the verses contrasted with the white heat of the choruses do elevate things. Nice bit of work there, really.

    Otherwise, we're talking about a less-refined version of mid-career Flaming Lips. Which is a plus in my book--and these folks aren't ripping off anyone--but I'd like to hear more. And this album gives me that.

    I'd be interested in hearing where Stoley P.T. goes from here. This is a fine statement, but progress would be good. I think there's every chance we'll hear that.

    Free advance cassette
    (Black Mark-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #32, 4/15/93

    Actually, this live thing is a buzz thing to get people awake for their new studio album, due when, Karl? Rather accessible pop-thrash (or so I have to describe this), it still packs a punch. It kept my interest, anyway.

    The Stone Coyotes
    Situation Out of Control
    (Red Cat)
    reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00

    A real family act, mom and pop and son. Barbara Keith has a nice alto voice and a way with Angus Young-like riffage. It's all John and Doug Tibbles can do to keep up.

    The songs veer from out-and-out bashers to the occasional introspective rock tune. Like early AC/DC, the sound is rooted in the blues. Never can get away.

    And that adherence keeps the stuff moving along nicely. Complicated? Hardly. But just because a sound is fairly simple doesn┬╣t mean it's easy. In fact, sometimes the simple is the hardest to master.

    But no worries here. The Stone Coyotes just blast through whatever comes their way. Not a thought about what might go wrong, this just fires hard and smooth. Always invigorating and often truly exciting.

    Born to Howl
    (Red Cat)
    reviewed in issue #215, 4/23/01

    Not yer usual power blues rock trio. The Stone Coyotes prefer to boogie, with a healthy dollop of acid rock (the real thing) plopped in now and again. That this is a family band (dad Doug on drums, mom singing and playing guitar and piano and son John on bass--and some guitar) makes for an even more interesting dynamic.

    No matter what the Stone Coyotes are playing at any given time, the songs move. Whether laying down pile-driving riffs on the autobiographical "First Lady of Rock" or tripping through Dolly Parton's "Jolene" (a song also popularized by Olivia Newton John way back when), the tight center drives the music forward.

    Folks don't make music like this any more. I mean, these songs are big and loud and utterly human. This is a strange reference, but I remember on the first Tesla album there was this motto spelled out big in the liners: No machines! There's nothing mechanical or programmed about what this family does.

    It may seem odd to call such raucous fare "organic," but that's how I hear this. And I really, really like it. The rhythm section bounds with joy and the rest of the song always follows. Fun? Undoubtedly. And a big ol' blast of fresh air to boot. Top notch.

    Dreams of Glory
    (Red Cat)
    reviewed in issue #287, July 2007

    Still trying to work the boost from Be Cool (Stone Coyotes were the inspiration for the band in Elmore Leonard's book), the Stone Coyotes haven't quite come to terms with the fact that making solid rock and roll isn't a blueprint for success. Especially when it's a band consisting of a couple and their grown son. That's just not sexy, no matter how good the music is. But damn, the music is good. Too bad life just ain't fair.

    Stone Deep
    Stone Deep
    reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93

    Featuring ex-members of (ex-groups) the Hard Corps and Scatterbrain, so you can guess what it sounds like. It sure is oddly underproduced for the resources and experience these guys have.

    Thing is, the lean grooves are rather attractive. Less bombast, and more focus on the lyrics, which are occasionally puerile but mostly socially conscious and reasonable commentary on the sad state of life these days. Sure to be picked up soon.

    Gangs and the Government 7"
    reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95

    Survivors from Scatterbrain and the Hard Corps. The sound pretty much follows from there. But in case you don't know...

    Stone Deep plays what it calls "street fusion". Basically, this is cheese metal riffs laid over hip hop beats (played on real drums). The title track is an attempt at a political statement, though the band seems more enamored of repeating the title than explaining the concept. The flip is a lighter track called "Mr. Sunray", that sounds a lot like early De La Soul, but more hippie than clever.

    This single is much better than the stuff I heard on their demo about a year ago. With similar improvement, Stone Deep should find a deal soon enough.

    (Smut Peddlerz-Bomp!)
    reviewed in issue #111, 6/10/96

    Cheap and easy rawk en rool, fronted by Mickey Leigh, the younger brother of a certain Joey R. Guest shots from folks like Handsome Dick Manitoba and others who don't necessarily take their music seriously.

    And that means the only way to judge this album is the fun quotient, which is reasonably high. Nothing erudite or sonically impressive, but enough to cause a chuckle or few.

    A good enough excuse for an album. I can't imagine what else to say. If you've got a few extra bucks and want some slutty music, this is the choice of the week. Next week, buy something else. It may be eminently forgettable, but Stop cranks out enough amusement to keep me into the silliness.

    Storm & Stress
    Storm & Stress
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    If The Lost World is a high concept movie, then Storm & Stress is perhaps the ultimate low concept band. There is simply no way to explain what this band is doing (much less try and guess why) in my standard 150-word review.

    Perhaps this will explain things better: Two of the guys play with Marc Ribot, and Ian plays guitar for Don Caballero. Indeed, the first main obstacle for the band is figuring out where to practice, as Pittsburgh and New York aren't exactly neighbors.

    But once they worked all that out, this disc got produced. Seven songs over 59 minutes, so you know you shouldn't give up on a song just because the first six minutes made no sense.

    In fact, very little here makes sense in a lineal, mathematical equation approach to music. Luckily, there are other ways of approaching things, and Storm & Stress has found but one.

    In yet another chaos-inducing move, the photos which decorate the album were shot in a truck which was decelerating very fast (this is why everything seems to be flying). Pretty damned cool, eh? I thought so.

    Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    I think the song titles have more verbage than the songs themselves. But such is the state of Stormandstress, a band without a hometown or ever regular practice times.

    Those who don't know just cannot comprehend without listening. I looked over my review of the band's first album, and it makes about as much sense as crushed Alpha-Bits poetry. The music is somewhat more comprehensible than that, but only barely.

    What can be said is that the players are always reacting to what the others are doing. There aren't really tangents so much as lengthy conversations, with plenty of room for exposition. And while the playing may sound chaotic at times, these guys are always, always in full control of what they're doing.

    Do I need to mention that Jim O'Rourke produced? I don't think so. This is precisely down his alley: Ultra-creative music without a care for the rest of the world. All I can do is try to hold on.

    See also Don Caballero.

    Tongue EP
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    More of a cold wave kinda sound, that vaguely gothic industrial techno stuff that 21st Circuitry features so prominently (and well). The sound is great (as you might expect with a techie recording), but Stormdrain's biggest plus is the breadth of its sound

    Each song is markedly different from the others, even while maintaining the basic sound. Much of this comes from an inventive use of samples (many different sounds serve as percussive instigators), but the songs themselves aren't constructed in a normal format.

    This somewhat haphazard approach to song construction would be maddening, except that it works here so well. The hardest thing in the world is to build a cohesive band feel even while experimenting. This is what separates most self-recorded acts from bands with label deals. Stormdrain is good enough to go now.

    Very impressive, from all angles. The sound is terrific, the writing superb. All phases are full-on great. That an act can be this appealing and still experiment as much as Stormdrain does is amazing. Wonderful work.

    Stormtroopers of Death-see S.O.D.

    Chris Storrow
    The Ocean's Door
    reviewed 2/25/16

    Storrow hails from Montreal, and he says he's really influenced by 60s pop. His drums are positively Spectorian (I'm pretty sure the psycho copyrighted his insistent backbeat), but the overall sound is couched more in the 80s rediscovery of the 60s.

    So, more World Party than Zombies. And I would argue that's the better choice. It's always better to have more influences than fewer. But nomenclature aside, Storrow's songs are the treat here. His voice is relatively pedestrian, but he gives that ordinary instrument some lovely handcrafted settings.

    Yes, you can see the strings. These songs are a bit clunky, but in a most endearing way. Those seams in the sound are a big part of the charm of this set. At times, it's easy to wonder when a song will take off. But when the piece eventually soars, the effect is breathtaking.

    And after having heard this a few times, I think the better reference points are Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello--though in fitting with Storrow's intent, this is probably closest to Costello's collaborations with Burt Bacharach.

    Instantly charming, but wait for the glow. It is overwhelming. An ultimately spectacular effort.

    John Stowell/Rick Helzer
    Friendship and Remembrance
    reviewed in issue #294, March 2008

    Helzer plays piano and Stowell has a guitar. And that's it. The setting is simple. The execution is elegant. The music is stunning.

    This duo seems to never be in a hurry, even when the tempos pick up. They simply never break stride. And for those who might read that and scream "Aaaarghh! Not happy jazz!," well, rest assured. This stuff is more than sophisticated enough to satisfy any palate.

    Good music, no matter its style, is able to communicate ideas clearly--sometimes by shouting, screaming or wailing and sometimes with a whisper. Helzer and Stowell are more seductive than anything else. These songs slink their way into the subconscious. And once they're there, there's no letting loose.

    I can't recall a recent album that gave me so much pleasure. I love the sound of piano and guitar. The interplay of the two stringed instruments is remarkable. Combining the natural affinity of the instruments with pieces like these that challenge and engage is a masterful feat. Simply wonderful.

    Love and Other Atrocities EP
    reviewed in issue #102, 3/11/96

    Generic Britpop with metal guitars. From Wyoming, of course. Not too annoying, but not terribly interesting, either.

    It's always a bad sign when the lead track is a cover, in this case Bob Geldof's "I Don't Like Mondays" (and I'm not enough of a fan of his to know whether that's from his solo work or with the Rats).

    Some folks know how to write a wonderful pop song, and some don't. These guys have studied the masters and have copied copiously. Fine, but you'd better infuse it with a little of your own heart and give the stuff a spark. That is what's missing.

    Sure, the average hack will bob along and smile, but no one will notice when the song is over and another tune comes on. Decent pop, but not good enough to break the veneer.

    reviewed in issue #108, 5/6/96

    I remember the EP. It wasn't good. At least this isn't bad.

    It does rip off everyone from Nirvana to Green Day, but then, that's what the kids today want, right? Strange purports to be a pop-punk band, but even one from Laramie should have a better idea how to write hooks.

    Again, this is much improved over the EP, which washed way too much metal over the pop stuff. Not to mention some really dreary songs. The writing here is better, though just moving things up to the "tepid" level.

    Strange may not be bad, but I can list over a hundred bands (off the top of my head) who do this better. Strange may be a good band someday. I can hear some potential. But the boys need time to work and write. And I'm afraid they won't be getting it.

    Strange Cargo
    reviewed in Money Whore issue #1, 2/19/96

    The musings of William Orbit, the guy behind Caroline Lavelle's music. While the base of the stuff is the ambient movement, Orbit refuses to stick with that school, bringing in plenty of samples and musical ideas to keep his pieces vibrant and interesting. Unlike many ambient producers, Orbit sticks to a more rigid style of songwriting, refusing to wallow in the nebulous sphere of just plain ambient.

    However, in using the pop song format, Orbit also closes many doors of exploration. The vocal choruses to many of the songs get awful repetitive and don't advance anything at all.

    And then as soon as I am about to resign this to the slag heap, a really cool track like "Montok Point" surfaces, and I have to admit I like some of this stuff. I do wish he were more consistent though. If Orbit didn't feel the need to experiment with commercial sounds, this album would have been much better.

    Stranger Death 19
    Jealous Robot
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    Another three-piece from Elastic. Unlike the Pressure, Stranger Death 19 fills out its sound pretty well, booming the pop to all corners of the room in a ragged style. The raucous delivery really does wonders for the songs.

    Because sometimes those just aren't thought out quite so well as they ought to be. There are some strident guitar lines, but those are usually washed out by waves of distortion and a tendency to get a bit more melodic.

    In fact, Stranger Death 19 just can't quite get that emo influence out, no matter how hard it tries. Now, I'm not faulting the boys. It works, and there's no two ways about it. Those understated moments really set off the more rambunctuous parts of the disc quite well.

    More than anything else, this is a band in search of its sound. It's often best to work these things out as they go along. With the ferment that is audible here, I'd expect to hear something great from these folks in a couple years.

    The Stranglers
    Friday the Thirteenth: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
    reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98

    Those unfamiliar with the Stranglers will remember the Prong cover of "(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)" of a few years back (though that particular song is not here). Then I'd suggest you do a little research.

    Not as influential as, say, the Buzzcocks, the Stranglers were a huge proto-punk pop band back in the early 80s. They never quite crossed over to the U.S., and despite making it into stores before the Pistols or the Clash, never got full popular credit for their chunk of the punk ideal.

    This album, however, won't help. Performed with a full string orchestra, some really great songs are reduced to Muzak-style arrangements. The band sounds old and tired, and Paul Roberts is a poor replacement for Hugh Cornwell. I'm not exactly sure when this change at frontman occurred (my books don't mention a death or anything), but in any case, Roberts is exceedingly dull.

    One of the reasons folks don't remember the Strangers is that most of their output after 1980 sucks. Albums like this (and this show was videoed for VH1, of all things) reinforce the necessity of such ignorance. Yow.

    Strangulated Beatoffs
    Strangulated Beatoffs
    (Skin Graft)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    Loopy. As in tape loopy. Strangulated Beatoffs specialize in the paranoia-inducing neverending mobius strip of tape. The various loops keep building on each other, but they don't vary. Just more and more and more and more and...

    It's enough to spook a person into madness, really. Music for obsessive compulsives by obsessive compulsives. Yeah, so I have to admit I allowed myself to get in a wee bit of a trance and bliss out for, oh, say, a half-hour or so, but really now. I should've just gotten stoned or something.

    Since music is my prime intoxicant, however, I'll have to settle for this form of suggestive inducement. Now, I'm not kidding about the madness part. If my wife listened to this album for more than a minute I'd have to go hide the knives. But if your mind is ordered a certain way, well, perhaps this will speak to you.

    That's all I'm gonna say. Really. This is dangerous music. Only for those who have fallen off the edge. Or want to in the worst way possible.

    Reverse Child Psychology
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    Truly yummy electronic noise explorations. Strangulated Beatoffs like to play close to the edge of reality, just so they can make fun of such silly notions.

    A fine example is "That'll Be 200 Dollars, Ma'am." It could be the basic rhythm track for a Beck song or something, except that it's kinda fucked up with slightly excessive distortion. That and the song never breaks out of its loop. There's a message there. I swear.

    The loop technique dominates this disc, though it is rarely used to the extreme of "200 Dollars." Hearing the same loop (and in some cases, almost the same loop) over and over again exposes some things about mainstream music. There is, once again, also the obvious point to be taken.

    It's uncanny. These songs are almost on the mainstream radar. But the edge is clear, and Strangulated Beatoffs play just off the screen. Lots of fun, if you have a somewhat mordant (not to mention tolerant) sense of humor.

    Strapping Young Lad
    Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #76, 5/15/95

    Bitter and dispirited industrial (I know, all these bands are like that) that transcends the usual genre ethos for despair (see?).

    Also, the title does mean something. Much of the disc has so many layers of guitars, keyboards, vocals, etc., that it sounds like a thrash version of Queen's greatest hits. If not really great, it sure is interesting.

    Very simply put, this disc contains nine visions of pure pain and suffering (mostly for your ears, if you listen to is at the same volume I did) that really have to be experienced to be comprehended. You simply cannot imagine the sonic anarchy within until you subject your stereo equipment to the torture of Strapping Young Lad.

    The Stratford 4
    The Revolt Against Tired Noises
    reviewed in issue #226, February 2002

    One of the cool things about Britpop is that its fads change so quickly. The Stratford 4 is not a Britpop band, mind you, but it is quite happy to play a range of sounds on this disc.

    Most of the stuff is contemplative fare. But then jaunty bits like "All Mistakes Are Mine" trip by. And even within the more restrained songs there are surprises. Is it normal to write a maudlin anthem?

    I don't think so, but that's what these folks seem to specialize in doing. Most often, the songs take their time getting to the point--but there is one. There is a reason for the gorgeous, lilting guitar work and offhand vocals and suddenly soaring melodies.

    Jetset knows just what college kids like. This disc is just another example of alt. radio bliss. Almost stereotypical, down to the fact that the stuff is so damned good. It's that last part I care about most.

    Straw Dogs
    Any Place at All
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    Straw Dogs is a couple of guys playing earnest, folky roots rock. The songs are expertly crafted and the playing is spot-on. The harmonies, it should go without saying, are immaculate.

    Like I said, David von Beck and Darren Smith put everything they've got into these songs. There's no lack of effort here. And that's what wins me over in the end.

    Because this isn't one of those sounds that usually gets me revved up. Straw Dogs tightly control everything, which generally mutes the emotional impact of even the most intense songs. But the obvious hard work is enough to get me involved.

    Still, I generally prefer it when bands are able to turn difficult music into brezy work. Nonetheless, I find it hard to get down on Straw Dogs. This is a first-rate rendition of the style.

    The Kerry Strayer Septet
    Jeru Blue: A Tribute to Gerry Mulligan
    reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98

    A tribute to the man who took the baritone sax out of the closet and established it as a "real" jazz instrument, much like Sidney Bechet did for the soprano sax. Gerry Mulligan wasn't just a great player, though. He wrote a multitude of songs, and he always seemed to have a new take on where jazz should be headed.

    Strayer put together this septet with rhythm section of old Mulligan hands (Ted Rosenthal, Ron Vincent and Dean Johnson) and a top-flight set of horn players (Randy Brecker, John Mocsa, Ted Nash and Strayer himself).

    The title track is a Mulligan-influenced Strayer composition, and the other eight songs come from Mulligan's vast list. Strayer presents a nice overview of Mulligan's career, even as he adds his own touch to some classic pieces (and some lesser-known ones).

    The septet doesn't sound intimidated by the task at all. Instead it revels in the material, the chance to work through some great pieces. There is a sense of fresh discovery and even playfulness, making this album as fun as it is informative. Extremely good work. A find of the highest order.

    Straylight Run
    Prepare to Be Wrong EP
    reviewed in issue #269, October 2005

    Taking Back Sunday splintered after its debut album, and Straylight Run is one of the offspring. Of course, TBS 2.0 released a new album last summer, but I don't think there's any huge competition. The bands don't sound a lot alike.

    And that's cool. Straylight Run trends toward the At the Drive-In "punk" ideal: somber, thoughtful, crafted yet emotional pieces. And the stuff is really good. It's nice to see a good band sell some albums.

    Or in this case, EPs. I have no doubt that this release will be as successful as the SR debut album from a couple years back, and I think the songs here are a bit stronger. No plateau yet for these folks. I'm still breathless.

    Tresa Street
    That's My Final Answer CD5
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    Um, the title alone causes alarm bells to go off. And then the heavily-produced modern country sound kicks in (which reminds me mostly of mid 80s AOR stuff, strangely).

    It doesn't get better. The song is intended to be some sort of "woman standing up for herself" piece, but the novelty shtick of the title (and much of the lyrics) is too much to take. I know this is just a demo to try and sell the song, but I just don't like the song.

    Maybe some up-and-comer will need a cheap novelty piece to round out an album. I don't know. I just didn't like this song at all.

    Street Chant
    Street Chant
    (Arch Hill)
    reviewed in issue #326, April 2011

    No matter how modern a New Zealand band might be, it still sounds like a New Zealand band.

    Howzat? Well, Street Chant sounds a lot like Pinback (which is definitely not from New Zealand) with a more traditional sense of melody. And then there are the harmonies. The harmonies are what gives the New Zealand in the band away.

    Well, that and the particular ringing guitar sound that folks my age immediately identify with the likes of the Chills and Straightjacket Fits. The Chills made the sound famous, and the Fits did a few nice things with it a few years later. Street Chant picks up the tempo and the aggression (I guess this might well be considered Kiwi punk), but that ringing lead guitar sound still dominates.

    And that's just fine by me. These songs are wonderfully assertive, immediately ratcheting up the energy in the room. Street Chant never lets off the pedal, but rather imposes melody and order on its internal combustion. It's unusual for that to work, but then, this band's from New Zealand. 'Nuff Sed.

    The Streets
    Original Pirate Material
    reviewed in issue #235, November 2002

    This album has so much hype that my local newspaper reviewed it. Not the hip weekly, mind you, but the corporate daily. Big feature in the Sunday reviews. P.E. was right, but sometimes there's substance beneath the glitz.

    That's certainly the case here. The Streets seems to be a group of DJs from across the pond and a veddy British MC. The beats consist of au courant electronic fare and trippy samples, but the real key are the rhymes, which are delivered in an old-fashioned on-the-beat rhythmic sensibility.

    The stuff is funny. Cutting, really, about as mean and incisive as any hip-hop I've heard since Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Though this disc is more likely to critique culture rather than politics. And just maybe that tack actually manages to make a deeper impact.

    Now, this is white-boy rap. Hip-hop for the college rock crowd. Decidedly not music from the streets of America. The streets of London? Maybe. Doesn't matter much to me. There's too much greatness here to worry about small stuff like that. I'd rather spin this puppy once more.

    A Grand Don't Come for Free
    reviewed in issue #255, July 2004

    Where Original Pirate Material was smooth and styled, Mike Skinner has decided to give the finger to making easy, accessible bits. The songs here are disjointed and fractured, almost unlistenable at times. But what still comes through is Skinner's scathing analysis of pop culture and life in general.

    When I call these songs fractured, the beats are chopped and diced to create that effect. This isn't matter of incompetence; rather, it is one of intent. Take "***Not Addicted***," which has some really catchy beat work in it. It's just that the bass, rhymes and accompanying sounds don't really match up. Every once in a while Skinner screws up and actually drops into the groove, but he's quick to leap off as soon as he realizes his mistake.

    If anything on this album is a mistake, of course. Skinner's work is some of the most calculated and intensely designed in all of hip-hop, so maybe his occasional "slips" into normalcy are designed to keep people like me off balance. Of course, I happen to think that the off-kilter beat work, song construction and rhyme structure is a daring stroke. It doesn't work all the time, but I'm happy to hear that success hasn't spoiled this boy yet.

    Ach, what a cheesy reference. I guess that's fitting. It seems Skinner is having an awful lot of fun playing the anti-star. As long as he doesn't get too caught up in himself, that's cool with me. A somewhat surprising follow-up to a monster success, but one that might well set up The Streets for the long run.

    The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
    reviewed in issue #275, June 2006

    Mike Skinner staggers back into the ring, full of piss, vinegar and just about every other foul thing imaginable. His first two albums (especially A Grand Don't Come for Free, which might be the best album of the millennium so far) deconstructed society with the sledgehammer blows of an outsider. Now that he's a star, Skinner can have only one possible target: the cult of celebrity.

    And Jesus, does he level the boom. It would be easy to dismiss these songs as narcissistic and crude, but Skinner is a true connoisseur of vulgarity. He uses the tools of the culture in question to illustrate his satire.

    There are those who would equate Skinner and a certain Marshall Mathers. Skinner's lyrics are slightly less misogynistic, but he's scads more self-deprecating. He's the target of his songs (this is true on all his albums), and by illustrating his own flaws (real and imagined) he forces a thoughtful listener to be, well, thoughtful.

    Does he repeat himself? Yeah, especially in the beats. And there are only so many way you can say "Society is debased, cruel and generally unworthy of human participation." But damn, the guy is infernally clever. And if you don't happen to be thoughtful, you can always crank up the volume and grind your ass off. I'm not sure which reaction is more fulfilling.

    The Streets on Fire
    This Is Fancy
    (The Currency Exchange)
    reviewed in issue #319, August 2010

    The latest from this Chicago act--folks who propagate what I've been inclined to see as a Windy City lo-fi new wave renaissance. Two albums in two years, and both a chock full of fuzzy electronics, ironic melodies and awesome minimalist lead guitar licks.

    Not so much throwbacks as purveyors of a modern luddite sensibility. The Streets on Fire chunk these songs at the wall and see what happens. Most of the time, they come together quite well. There are a couple of trainwrecks, but in some ways those are more compelling.

    I mean, whoever thought of new wave as a bludgeon? Well, there are a few other Chicago bands that have hinted at such blunt aggression, but these folks are more than willing to wield the cudgel. Yeah, you can dance to it, but I can guarantee that if this song was played over the air, the first track on This Is Fancy would be a lie.

    You'll have to look that up for yourself. Let the insistent beats and incandescent throb jellify your brain. And then repeat. You'll thank me, I promise.

    The Streetwalkin Cheetahs
    Punk, Rock & Soul split LP with the Bellrays
    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.

    Stretch Armstrong
    ((A Revolution Transmission))
    (Solid State)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    There's been a recent movement within the extreme hardcore sound toward more technical and experimental expression. Geeks like me who dig loud, abstract sound have been, you know, pretty much overjoyed. So it should surprise no one that I find Stretch Armstrong thoughtful, blistering attack most glorious.

    Somewhere between Fudge Tunnel and the Refused (still the gold standard of this kinda stuff), these boys churn out stuff that's alternately sludgy, violent and shimmering. There are melodies. There are tight rhythms (and even the occasional polyrhythm). There are incisive and biting lyrics. One of those "total package" deals.

    And let's not forget a sense of humor. These are generally songs of rage and anger (that whole "revolution" thing), but every once in a while comes a wry aside that makes me smile. Never take yourself too seriously.

    These boys stuck their necks out a long way, and it paid off big. This ambitious album comes through on nearly every level. Stretch Armstrong has laid its name among the very greats in extreme hardcore. Now let's see if it can keep up the pressure.

    One Truth
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    Smack dab in the middle of today's hardcore trends, Strife manages to set itself apart, mostly by some outstanding riffage.

    Well, that and the boys cut loose often enough to recall old hardcore heroes as well. In fact, the slow stuff doesn't really suit the band. Only when the speed picks up considerably does Strife sound completely coherent.

    Plenty of the old school in their playing, but the members of Strife have also come up with a few engaging musical ideas. For a genre where innovation is often reviled, it sure is nice to hear some fresh playing styles. Strife has enough going on to attract attention even from those who don't play much hardcore.

    Strike Force
    Life Threatening
    reviewed in issue #39, 9/15/93

    Rather cool Bay-style thrash. The production is a little muddy, but not too bad. Think of Exodus and you're halfway there.

    And I really liked early Exodus, before they kinda cheezed. Strike Force is very aggressive and has a hint at a melodic core, with a strong rhythm section.

    Nothing terribly original, but a classic form done well. Nothing to sneer at.

    John P. Strohm
    and the Hello Strangers
    (Flat Earth)
    reviewed in issue #141, 8/18/97

    John Strohm has been a member of such bands as Antenna, the Blake Babies and the Lemonheads (back when it was a band, and he's out on tour with the Dando now). One unifying factor in these bands is that they play(ed) very tight, calculated music. Oh, it was intended to sound off-the-cuff in all cases, but I was never convinced.

    Here I am. Okay, so the sound is that whole post-Uncle Tupelo clunky midwestern rock thing, but my five years at Missouri kinda predisposed me to like that stuff. And unlike many of his other projects, Strohm has managed to achieve a loose, easy feel. The songs simply keep rolling out at their own pace, each one relating well to its neighbors on the disc.

    Nothing pretentious or overbearing, and I think that's why this succeeds. The members of the Blake Babies were simply prodigies who didn't really know how to harness their various talents, and with Antenna, Strohm was trying too hard to convince people of his genius. Yeah, Velo Deluxe was (is) better, but still, I think this is perhaps the best complete package he has delivered.

    A good range of topics and emotions. A fine set of roots rock pieces that stand up to my tough scrutiny. This is the genuine article. Strohm has finally started to pay off on his potential.

    Everyday Life
    reviewed in issue #286, June 2007

    This is Strohm's first solo album in eight years. He hasn't strayed too far from what made his first two records so much fun to hear.

    Chunky guitar chords, plenty of twang in the lead and a stellar sense for the dramatic. Americana on steroids, I guess. With some killer hooks. But then, folks who know where Strohm has been (Blake Babies, Lemonheads, etc.) already know that.

    This is wonderfully-produced album. Major label quality, but without the bombast and overblown edges that would come with such an enterprise. There's plenty of power straight down the middle, and a slight tapering away on the extremes. Just makes you want to pour a glass of bourbon and set a while.

    The songs themselves aren't exactly easygoing, but they sure put a mind at ease. This is the kinda stuff that made some people think the indie rock revolution would last. Strohm took all the best from his past and has made a thoroughly enjoyable modern record. One of those that just screams "repeat."

    13 Minutes of Love and Doom EP
    (Noreaster Failed Industries)
    reviewed in issue #258, October 2004

    Back in the day, they called this no wave. I suppose there's a better name for it now, though I can't think of it. Struction is so in touch with its sound that I really can't improve upon the title of the EP. Well, except to emphasize the exceptional rhythms produced by these folks.

    Loud, throbbing and generally on the edge of coherence, these songs are utterly inspiring. In particular, "Even If They're Big We'll Find Something Sharp" is completely mindblowing. I'm a sucker for anyone who travels to the edge and still manages to make me want to dance.

    Yeah, I dance in a completely fucked up sort of way. I'm utterly in sync with Struction. Few bands are able to touch my inner being the way these folks do. I know that says something about me. What it says about you is just as important.

    Strung Out
    The Element of Sonic Defiance EP
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00

    Another one of those long EP/short LP things. Eight songs, 25 minutes... still an EP in my book. Lucky for me that Fat Wreck agrees. What isn't short in any way is the firepower. Strung Out plays a prog form of hardcore that kinda hard to describe.

    You know, somewhere between Tool and the Refused. Hardcore, not metal (the guitars are fairly soft and without massive effects), but still with a fair amount of "mosh" in the riffage. These guys probably grew up jamming to Anthrax and Rollins in equal measure.

    Jesus, that dates me. Whatever. There's a certain tunefulness to the vocals that doesn't quite fit the music. I likes it. Even when all hell is breaking loose, there's this hint of melody. One more thumb at convention.

    Just a throbbing mess of wonderfulness. You can quote me on that, too.

    An American Paradox
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #228, April 2002

    Remember the insistent anger of NOFX's brilliant EP The Decline? Strung Out replicates those tight, somewhat dissonant harmonies and throws in guitars that are even more strident and metallic. Pop punk goes protest.

    There are a few winks here and there, of course. One band member thanks Vanilla Ice (for what, precisely, we are left to guess), and the La Femme Punkita design of those liners is pure fun. To be honest, I think any band with tinny electric piano (I don't think there's actually any organ) in the high end of the mix can't be all serious. But that's just me.

    What I do know is that Strung Out has crafted an album that just can't be ignored. From the very start, this puppy blistered itself into my mind. Yeah, I know, I'm predisposed to like this kinda thing. Doesn't matter. I wouldn't be shooting jizz if I wasn't knocked out.

    That good, indeed. Sometimes everything clicks. It sure did here. Hey, if I can overlook some seriously metal guitars in a punk band, everything else must be great. And it is. Strung Out has done itself proud.

    Strunken White
    Rock School! split 7" with Sorry About Dresden
    (Moment Before Impact)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    One song from Strunken White, and two from Sorry About Dresden. The medium is emo. An early version of the form, if you will.

    Strunken White's constant coloration reminds me a lot of Senator Flux's first album. Kinda half-spoken, half-shouted vocals blurted out over a roiling, bubbling bit of tuneage. Most agreeable to my constitution.

    Sorry About Dresden is a bit more traditional, starting softly and slowly and then building to a nice burn. Both songs are well-crafted and tightly played. Kinda like they should be.

    A solid slab. Takes me back a few years, and I'm not complaining. Just smiling.

    Hate Finger 7"
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    The recording leaves a lot to be desired. The playing and writing, however, is first-rate. Strychnine manages to make its points with sly humor, rather than overwrought angst. And the riffage rumbles well into the night.

    I do wish I good hear this better. But then, I guess the lo-fi treatment does have a charm all its own. If I really crank up the volume, just about everything in the house shakes.

    A fine adrenaline rush. Nothing spectacular, mind you, but more than solid enough to make an impression.

    Stuck Mojo
    Snappin' Necks
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #76, 5/15/95

    Metalcore by the numbers. Nothing to really complain about, except that every time a silly metal cliche is called for, Stuck Mojo cranks one out. I mean, most of the kids who wanted an album where they could predict every chord and tempo change has already bought the last Slayer disc.

    And as regular readers can testify, I'm pretty fucking tired of the Biohazard metalcore-funk-rap gig. Mostly because almost all the folks involved don't have a funky bone in their bodies, and the syncopation remains straight, making the whole package stilted as hell.

    Stuck Mojo is not bad, just boring. And that's a shame, because the lyrical ideas are pretty good (even if the words do descend into cliche territory from time to time). Perhaps a little more work and creativity on the musical end will help. Until then, Stuck Mojo will be crammed into an increasingly irrelevant (but heavily populated) subgenre along with a thousand bands who sound all too much the same.

    Student Rick
    Soundtrack for a Generation
    reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01

    You remember the mullethead side of 80s music, all that AOR radio stuff? Kinda hard rock with some keyboards in the background. Like Loverboy, 38 Special (they were the deep-fried version, of course), Night Ranger or the Outfield. That sorta thing. Well, Student Rick is the emo version of that.

    I'm not kidding. There's this ragged, grandiose feel to some of the more uptempo pieces, and even when the boys pull back into more of a traditional emo style I can hear them echoes. Particularly of the Outfield.

    There's also a pretty serious Millencolin sound, which makes sense. Those Swedish boys aren't afraid of cheesy American rock, either. I like the way these guys incorporate mega-anthemic styles into a stripped down punk sound. It only makes sense. And, of course, it's astonishingly addictive.

    Um, if yer lookin' for something truly underground and edgy, Student Rick is not gonna pass muster. But if you like tight tunesmithing and an extremely sharp sound (courtesy of Edgerton, Livermore and Stevenson at the Blasting Room), well, I can't imagine a finer choice at this moment. Damn, did I have fun.

    Study of the Lifeless
    Study of the Lifeless
    (American Pop Project)
    reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00

    I swear to God, just today I was listening to Loveless in my car thinking, "Goddamnit, what was it about this I hated back in 1991?" I still don't have an answer, though obviously I was smart enough to snag a freebie copy from the campus radio station when one showed up.

    Anyway, slicing off that tangent, Study of the Lifeless obviously has a jones in the My Bloody Valentine way. The vocals and music drone behind a veil of distortion, though not quite so hidden as MBV.

    Not quite so transcendent, either, though to be fair Loveless is one of the great albums of all time (I've really turned around on this, obviously). Study of the Lifeless is merely good. The songs don't quite have the same air of mystery, though they are pretty good.

    My only real complaint is that the band doesn't advance the ideas anywhere. This is just a somewhat simplified version of the end of the MBV road. I don't hear much in the way of new thought on the matter. Hey, this is awful pretty, but more like a silk rose than a hothouse flower.

    The World Revolves Around You
    reviewed in issue #237, January 2003

    Have I mentioned recently that I think the whole heavily-processed psychedelic sound as epitomized by latter-days My Bloody Valentine is making a comeback? I thought so. Anyway, Study of the Lifeless stand up to the bar for inspection.

    These songs are long, and sometimes they plod. There are moments, I confess, that I think the songs just might come apart without all the heavy fuzz.

    They don't, though, and that's pretty damned impressive. I kept waiting for a real clunker, but these folks are well-schooled in this sound. The songs themselves get a little faceless--they need a bit more life in them--but the sound carries the day.

    There's a lot here to like. If Study of the Lifeless can find one or two more elements to add into its songs (and maybe take a step sideways from the Loveless sound, which it has aped mercilessly), then it could really take a big step forward. Even so, what's here is most intriguing.

    Joe Stump
    Supersonic Shred Machine
    reviewed in issue #108, 5/6/96

    Instrumental guitar by one ugly motherfucker. But luckily, Stump's hands are much prettier.

    Yeah, he plays really damned fast most of the time, but that seems aimed more at advancing the music than impressing the listener. See, Stump actually seems to have a handle on how to write stuff for a solo guitar. He jumps around stylistically and isn't afraid to take a few chances.

    This is the best such album I've heard in quite a while. Yeah, Stump could use a little editing from time to time. But I'd rather listen to a seven-minute Stump tune than most other folks' four-minute songs.

    I'm impressed. Folks told me I would like his stuff, and they were right. More than adequate.

    Rapid Fire Rondo
    reviewed in issue #157, 4/20/98

    He's a speed merchant, no doubt about that, but Stump manages to humanize his pyrotechnics with a real feel for crafting a meaningful song. Not in a weepy or other such way, but just good, solid writing.

    Many of the songs are still too long, but Stump manages to keep my interest even through the longest of the pieces. I'd edit, but hell, he's the artist. My ideas really shouldn't count.

    The music does not transcend many of the limitations of the instrumental rock guitar album, but Stump is as good anyone out there. Alright, I wish the drums didn't sound like machines (though I think at least some of them are skinned), but that's a minor quibble.

    Another solid album. Stump hasn't broken through, but he's proven his consistency. Always a good way to start.

    Stunt Monkey
    reviewed in issue #245, September 2003

    There are probably a million pop-punk bands in this country, most of them are faceless. Being dull is a greater sin than simply sucking, which is at least interesting. Stunt Monkey is one of the few, the proud, the truly awe-inspiring pop-punk acts.

    The key to this is sharp songwriting--clever riffs as well as fine wordsmithing. Doesn't matter if the kids can play; as long as the songs have a nice hook, fit together well and don't obviously rip anyone off, well, you've got a fighting chance. You'd be surprised how few bands can actually pull this off.

    Stunt Monkey not only writes well and plays sharply, it also got a great sound out of the studio. The songs pop right out of the speakers, with both the music and the vocals clear as a bell. This isn't necessarily according to punk, of course, but when you're pop, you might as well pop.

    Man, are these songs great. Reminds me of early Green Day, except that the lyrics are a bit more mature (though when one of the hooks is "my girlfriend likes girls," it's hard to support that point). That is a compliment, you know. Solid stuff all the way.

    Yuen Wah Is Going to Lose 7"
    (LoTioN Industries)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    Upbeat noise pop. Highly distorted vocals and guitar punctuate these little rambling bits of pop culture references (though I don't know who or what Yuen Wah is, though my guess is it might have something to do with John Woo).

    The lyrics are fairly interesting, but the music is just dead. I kept waiting for something appealing, but the chords stayed within regular boundaries and despite the rusty edges didn't really go anywhere I'd never been before.

    Now, at 45 (the single is master to 33 1/3), the songs at least had something resembling hooks. Maybe that's a hint: These guys are so cool they're making pop music at the wrong speed. Or maybe I'm just trying to hard to justify this.

    The Grocery Bag 7" EP
    (New Rage)
    reviewed in issue #31, 3/31/93

    You remember these guys from the outstanding "Things that Are Heavy" 7" compilation, right? Well, these three heavy pop tunes crank me just as much as their short appearance there did.

    The "grocery bag" reference comes from the fact the single covers were made of 125 bags the band rounded up. Cool idea.

    Hey, even without the wild promotional gimmick, this is some prime vinyl.

    Subduing Mara
    Glossolalia EP
    (Fear of Nebraska)
    reviewed in issue #149, 12/8/97

    Thashing pop with just enough roots influence to provide a twangy blur to the edges. Appealing without slaving to the trends.

    The songs crash out one after the other, without much variation in mood or feeling. When the band does let up, the holes in the songwriting become apparent. Whenever in doubt, Subduing Mara tends to rely on musical cliches. How much of this is the actions of the producer, I can't say.

    Subduing Mara works best full steam ahead. Whether that's electrified or acoustically executed, as on "Mettlesome (In Fine Feather)", the uptempo and more intense songs are the best. Those are pretty damned good, actually.

    The only let down is when the band pulls up, often lame. I wouldn't shoot this horse; just go to the whip a bit more. And keep working on the slower stuff.

    Robbin' the Hood
    (Skunk Records)
    reviewed in issue #62, 9/15/94

    A little dance hall, some hip-hop beats, plenty of samples and raw punk power. Sound strange? Of course not.

    It's all a little sloppy and silly, but that only makes sense. As the songs meld from hard core to cheez r&b to reggae and back all over the place, I keep wondering just what these boys sound like live, and exactly who sticks around.

    Obviously fans of Bim Skala Bim and Bad Brains can dig, and I've never been a fan of slagging diversity. Sublime's technical skills are a little wanting, considering what the band is attempting. But it's a noble quest nonetheless.

    There's plenty here to interest almost any music programmer, but you will have to put in your dues and dig a little. With a little direction, Sublime could really blossom.

    Subliminal Bob
    Subliminal Bob
    reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93

    Despite the bizarre testimonial from WFIT, I decided to listen to this. There was a "Subliminal Bob" side and a "Not Subliminal Bob" side. The marking tape was switched.

    Adding to my confusion were all the songs by other bands. I guess we can chalk that up to eccentric. And if you like such stuff as They Might Be Giants or King Missile, this could appeal to you. It's pretty atonal and makes the most sense if you live in New York. Witness the WFIT support. I live in Michigan and never liked Too Much Joy. Oh well.

    Suburban Kids with Biblical Names
    (Minty Fresh)
    reviewed in issue #280, November 2006

    Swedish laptop pop that sounds just like, well, a Scandinavian Magnetic Fields. The lyrics are less wry and more, um, obsessive. With what, I can't quite make out, but there sure are a lot of lyrics in these songs.

    The music itself is minimalist and very attentive to a certain school of melody--thus the Magnetic Fields reference. Fans of Stephin Merritt the musician ought to dig this. Those who groove more on his exceptional lyrical stylings might well be confounded.

    So be it. I'm confused and confounded, but I kept right on listening. I freely admit to being a fan of minimalist pop, and these guys have a fine feel for the stuff. The production is a bit thin, but not dreadfully so. I'd punch up the beats and the bass a bit, which is probably why I'm not a producer.

    A pleasant repast from the troubles of the day. Hard not to smile when listening to this album. At least, I still am.

    The Suburbs
    Hey Muse!
    reviewed 8/3/17

    There are very few bands that can claim a 40-year history. The Suburbs formed in 1977, and while they called it quits in the late 80s, they've spent the better part of this decade rounding back into form. This is the band's second "comeback" album (after 2013's Si Savauge), and I think it is safe to say this is the band's most complete effort.

    Much like latter-day New Order (another one of those 40+ years bands--if you count Joy Division), the melodies are darker, the guitars have more shading and the vocals hold more gravitas. This is still pop music, but definitely pop music for adults. I'm not complaining; I've been an adult for a long damn time, myself. There are times I prefer a wink and a nod to full-frontal exposition.

    The Suburbs don't shy away from anything, but the band's characteristic slyness has infected its music as well as the lyrics. And about that music. The production on this album is spot-on. Clean and lush, with plenty of room for horns, backup singers and the usual new wave sonic attack. Some things do get better with age. The trick for bands is keeping the energy from flagging within the modern production sound. The Suburbs have no need to worry. This set remains kicky from start to finish.

    I don't think I've heard a more engaging pop album this year. The title track kicks off the set, and it's a fine introduction that leaves room for the wonderment that follows. Indeed, I found myself getting happier and happier as the album rolled on. If there is any filler here, I did not hear it. The Suburbs have spent a few decades working toward making an album like this. Not-quite geriatric exuberance is just as exciting as the youthful kind, especially for those of us who will be receiving that AARP envelope in the mail any day now. Simply sublime.

    Yontz Sucre
    Electric Jam
    (Buzz Jam)
    reviewed in issue #118, 9/9/96

    An instrumental guitar album from a guy in the middle of North Carolina. And he has a few riffs to sell.

    Unfortunately, the verse lines of his tunes are a bit lacking. A little generic and faceless. I like the slower, more expressive style he favors, but I don't hear him doing anything with the freedom he's allotted himself. Sucre cranks out some vicious riff work in the chorus sections, but that simply doesn't make up for the rest of the songs.

    He produced this himself, giving the album a bit of a shiny feel, which is good for this type of recording. Actually, I think his talents may lie a bit more behind the glass than in front of it. He did a wonderful job of piecing this together. The musical ideas are what's lacking.

    Still, as instrumental albums go, he's acquitted himself reasonably well. If he only knew what to do with his lead verse breaks, Sucre might just have himself something.

    Effigy of the Forgotten
    reviewed in issue #3, 11/30/91

    Not even a nod toward enunciation here. This is classic death metal with some guy hocking up phlegm on vocals. And he's got one hell of a rhythm, too.

    These guys remind me of Grave, with their almost overbearing use of speed as a musical device. And, there's always the novelty of having two black musicians in a death metal band.

    As with Grave, I must confess a desire to be able to differentiate between the songs. But I may be able to wean my friend Dave from mini-thins if I can wire him to the energy created by these guys.

    Breeding the Spawn
    reviewed in issue #35, 5/31/93

    I have wanted to like these guys forever. They are one of the few death metal bands with black members, and their lyrics are rather insightful.

    Not that you could understand them as delivered. But I don't really care about that. After all, it's the style and all.

    But the music is so mundane (if rather fast, even for death metal). I guess if pure brutality is the goal, Suffocation deliver with a vengeance. But I want more. And I think they will deliver, someday.

    Pierced from Within
    reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95

    Longtime readers know that Suffocation is not one of my favorite bands. But, like Death before, Suffocation has taken a more technical approach to the music, and the results are more satisfying.

    Yeah, maybe it is something as simple as the guys finally learned how to play their instruments or Scott Burns figured out how to produce a clean-sounding record (which has become a recent hallmark for him), but this disc is by far the best Suffocation ever.

    I still think the band wallows in the old school death metal conventions a bit much, but unlike previous Suffocation outings, I am willing to give the guys a conditional thumbs up. I must admit to severe (pleasant) surprise.

    Sugar Army
    The Parallels Amongst Ourselves
    reviewed in issue #319, August 2010

    Impeccable complex, eclectic rock. Sugar Army is marching out to conquer the world--and while this is simply an early sortie, these western Australian boys might just get their way if they keep this up.

    Imagine Kiwi pop on steroids (despite the thousands of miles between Perth and Wellington), with the requisite shiny production popping each song out as if from a mold. I'd like to buff a few of the edges, but this type of hyper-tight sound works pretty well with self-important music.

    That last bit isn't a slag, either; Sugar Army is seriously ambitious. That's cool by me. For the most part, that ambition is fulfilled. These songs are dense, shiny gems that glitter almost uncontrollably.

    Quite a sortie, but I'd like to hear more from this army. One very good album is fine, but another would be impressive. Put Sugar Army on your radar. There's almost unlimited potential.

    Sugar Shack
    reviewed in issue #18, 8/15/92

    You all know the original Sugar Shack. Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs made it famous back in 1963. I went to high school with the daughter of one of the Fireballs. The Sugar Shack was a whorehouse south of Clovis, NM (the town where Buddy Holly recorded the majority of his tunes). History.

    Sugar Shack (the band) sounds nothing like the Fireballs or Buddy Holly. But I felt like telling you all that. No, Sugar Shack is straight-ahead sum-bitch slammin' sludge. But as unsavory the grooves and harsh the scents emanating from Charmer, I still can't help but hum (not the right word, let's try hock) along with the songs. Good music to sacrifice a cat to, and feel good about it to boot.

    Sugarplum Fairies
    Introspective Raincoat Student Music
    reviewed in issue #250, February 2004

    Sylvia Ryder and Ben Bohm are Sugarplum Fairies, Ryder is a willowy blonde who does the singing, and Bohm focuses on everything that's behind her. Sounds a bit like Luna, eh?

    Yeah, it does. But in a good way. And anyway, there are differences. For one, Bohm never takes the front mike (and doesn't sing much in the background, either). Also, as Bohm runs essentially a one-man band, the music is a bit less lush and dreamy. There are sharp edges from time to time.

    One shared characteristic is solid songwriting. If you want to succeed in the whole soft-pop genre, you'd better have a serious wit and some real musical chops. Both are on full display here. Ryder and Bohm fill this disc with perceptive lyrics and music.

    Yeah, I'd advise them to work a bit harder on a more unique sound. But this album is a fine example of the form. Sugarplum Fairies have plenty of skill. Now they have to go out and make something of themselves.

    Top Loader
    reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93

    A couple of Fetchin' Bones types get together a new band that really doesn't remind me at all of their previous work. Absolutely stunning rhythm-oriented pieces crashing at my brain. Not industrial, really, but just throbbing. Sure, there are a few machine parts, but for the most part it's the live instrumentation that impresses.

    A creative club dj could certainly find ways to get this on the floor, as should the innovative radio pud. Just because it doesn't fit any convention doesn't mean it sucks. Rather the opposite, usually. And Sugarsmack makes great music.

    Tank Top City
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    Hope Nicholls and friends at it again. Strangely, this puppy is even less accessible than the Invisible disc I reviewed ages ago. Oh well. If someone's willing to foot the bill, I'll take a ride...

    And this ride is a no-frills trip to loud land. Heavy bass, crashing guitars and Nicholls's patented sneer. Disjointed, ragged and most definitely malodorous. The pieces don't come together in every song, but when they do, well, the result is pretty amazing.

    That's the old Fetchin' Bones formula. I think this piling on technique worked better on Toploader than here, but this album does have its moments. Greatness has been missed, but the aspirations are breathtaking to behold.

    I'm still mystified as to who thought this would sell 100,000 discs, much less a million. That's a horrible aspiration of course, but when you've got the cash behind you, it's got to enter the mind sometime. Oh well. Like I said, I'm happy to enjoy the ride.

    The Suggestions
    Mix Tape EP
    (Mr. Duck)
    reviewed in issue #240, April 2003

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

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

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

    Suicidal Tendencies
    (Suicidal-Side 1)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    I long ago lost track of band changes, but this incarnation includes Mike Muir and Mike Clark, and while Clark isn't an original member, he's been on most of the band's albums.

    Actually, the lineup is so tenuous that there isn't even an official bass player. Ah, well, there is an album, so perhaps that ought to be the focus. And what's here does certainly hearken back to the day, or at least the mid-80s. The sound is sharper (better production, better playing), but the aggro style and buzzsaw guitar are true hardcore.

    Which is somewhere that CBS/Sony/whatever wouldn't let the boys go very often. Suicidal become something of a metal band, and that didn't make any sense. Then there was the whole Infectious Grooves thing (which is still a going concern, I think), and well, Suicidal got even more muddled.

    So, even if this isn't the greatest Suicidal album ever, it is a nice return. I will say I think the production just might be a bit too sharp, too good, for the feel that I think the guys wanted. Hardcore needs to be a little sloppy to really get some bite. This disc is clinical at times, but it's still awful nice to hear that whiny Muir growl again.

    Suicide Culture
    Suicide Culture
    reviewed in issue #175, 1/25/99

    Definite adherents to the Pantallica sound, Suicide Culture impresses more with its lyrics than the music. Oh, sure, the stuff is competently written and played, but it's not all that impressive. Very much a rehash.

    But the ideas behind the words are something to check out. Sure, they're wallowing in the depths of angst and pain (you expect songs about the daisies in the field?), but this band expresses itself extremely well. Not high-brow, but simply well-written.

    I sure wish the music was better. It's not bad, it's just kinda dull. Perhaps some more work will cure that part of the formula. Because that extra spark in the music could really push Suicide Culture to the top of the heap.

    Tie Down that Shiny Wave EP
    (Grand Royal/Capitol) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    A few hip-hop grooves overlaid by some retro-ish Manchester hooks. Candy for the ears, without all the filling. Any filling, really.

    Which is hard to argue about, to be quite honest. There isn't much depth here, but the surface is so damned pretty I'm just about ready to forgive. None of the songs really skips far afield, but again, I'm not asking them to, either.

    This isn't the future of music. Not by any stretch. But, damn, is it addictive. I'm about ready to bounce out of my skin. That's never a bad thing, my friends. Never look gorgeous pop in the mouth, and you'll live a happy life.

    Summer Blanket
    Whisper Louder
    (Pop Up)
    reviewed in issue #268, September 2005

    Summer Blanket is Keith Michaud and a somewhat evolving circle of friends (all of whom play in other bands). The songs do have that somewhat eccentric "one-man band" feel to them--something that used to be a curse but seems to be coming into style.

    Me, I always like the idea of popping into someone else's head for a while. True band efforts generally have greater depth, but these projects headed by a single person (not always a man, of course) generally have a sense of deviant genius to them. The good ones, anyway.

    And yes, we are talking about the stereotypical slightly loopy pop sound. I guess that's the sound that makes the most sense to such people. Michaud is smart enough to make sure this album has a lush feel--a nice bit of unease mashed up against the singular writing. These songs never quite stay on even keel.

    Which is why I like it, of course. Quite solid writing and fine playing. Summer Blanket isn't yer typical south Florida effort. But then, typical doesn't make the cut with me. This one is special.

    Summer Hymns
    Backward Masks
    reviewed in issue #279, October 2006

    The press notes contain references to everything from Galaxie 500 and J Mascis to Mercury Rev and Yo La Tengo. I guess there are lots of music reviewers out there who are geezers like me.

    The Galaxie 500 reference makes the most sense to me, though this album sounds a lot more like a loosey-goosey version of Luna. I never understood how folks could hear bands as disparate as, say, Superchunk or Lambchop and claim to hear something "southern." But now that I've relocated a couple hundred miles to the north (though still south of the Mason-Dixon line), I think there's something to all that. These guys are from Athens, and there a languid grace to these songs that might, indeed, have southern roots.

    Or maybe not. I mean, Dean Wareham is anything but southern. The ringing production sound helps to lend character to these songs, so that even when they spin a bit off their axis there's always something pretty to hear. For the most part, though, that lackadaisical feel is one of the great joys of this album.

    If you ask me, I'd say these guys are closer to the Comas than anyone else. Cheerier, to be sure, and a bit more dedicated to pop song construction, but that's my call. It really doesn't matter who you want to hear in these folks as long as the other band is one you really like. 'Cause these folks sure do make a nice album.

    Summer People
    Good Problems
    (Red Leader)
    reviewed in issue #316, April 2010

    I've gone around and around on this album. Summer People can sound like a vaguely raucous americana outfit that has less use for melody than other such bands. That's nice, but not particularly interesting.

    At other times, the songs are a caterwauling mess. I can appreciate how that might bother some folks, but I like those parts. Sometimes, when things really get going, the band pulls those two impulses together into something really cool.

    Most of the album, though, lies at the extremes. I like the louder, more manic extreme, but it's the combination that really intrigues me. This is hardly a great album, but there are a number of striking ideas warping around.

    Like I said, I went around and around on this one. I'm still not sold either way. But there's definitely the potential for something great. If Summer People can work a bit harder to merge its inspiration, the future is bright, indeed.

    Ryan Summers
    reviewed 4/6/17

    There are ambient artists who simply make music for the somnambulist. Or the insomniac. Or maybe, if you're lucky, both. Ryan Summers prefers his listeners to be fully aware when listening to his pieces. Though he does somewhat undercut that notion with the title of the album, which is the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) code for insomnia.

    These songs have a lot going on. Summers incorporates many ideas and styles into his electronic cloud world, and some of them contain structure (!!!). All sarcasm aside, what really strikes me about this set is the range of sound and emotion that Summers is able to wring from an ambient base.

    Plenty of the space, of course, but lots of other experimental electronic touches abound. Some of these even have something approaching a coherent beat. If you don't label yourself as an artist, I think you give yourself a lot more room to roam.

    And Summers has taken it. This is not a peppy techno ride by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a rather varied exploration of the ambient. Hop on, and you're sure to find something to tickle the frontal lobes.

    Sun Dial
    (Dutch East India)
    reviewed in issue #34, 5/15/93

    I've heard it all before: the fuzzy guitars, vocals tweaked with a spot of echo, harmonies on the chorus and that almost grating kinda syncopated drum beat. Not to mention the minimalist lead guitar work.

    Yes, so every band who wants to make it in the "college rock" world employs this stuff, but few can make it work. The Godfathers and some of that Manchester crap (you can tell how much I usually dislike this stuff). But the difference here is solid songwriting. Sure, they're not doing anything original, but it sure sounds great.

    Four songs, and not a clunker in the bunch. This will probably end up in the regular rotation, but give it a listen. Awful fine.

    Sun Kil Moon
    Ghosts of the Great Highway
    reviewed in issue #251, March 2004

    I've got some friends who swear by Mark Kozolek and his work with Red House Painters and elsewhere. Me? I can take or leave him. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

    This time, his channeling of Neil Young is charmed. Maybe it's the other guys in the band. Maybe the songs just worked out. Maybe somebody pointed out that moping around all day is a really boring way to live. You got me. In any case, these songs are quite good, and Kozolek sounds almost animated at times.

    I know, that's kinda like imagining Steven Wright on coke. But still, Kozolek stays involved with these songs. He's not tossing off riffs, and he's not pissing away solid hooks. He and his mates give these songs the basting they deserve.

    Which isn't to say this stuff is manic. Hell, it's barely midtempo. What did you expect? Still, Kozolek keeps his focus, and these songs burn with a quiet intensity. Solid stuff.

    Sun Red Sun
    Sun Red Sun
    reviewed in issue #107, 4/22/96

    The last project for singer Ray Gillen (previously of Badlands) before his death from cancer in late 1993. So this has been on a shelf for some time.

    Not terrible so much as horribly derivative. While plenty of folks take credit (or share the blame) for the songwriting, the most common denominator is John McCoy, who is probably best known for producing Ian Gillian. His is the only name on the strongest song on the disc, "I know a Place", which has a real Rainbow feel to it.

    Other luminaries include Mike Starr, original bassist for Alice in Chains, and Bobby Rondinelli, who has done session work for the likes of Rainbow and Black Sabbath. The whole project was realized by Al Romano, which is why he's the one on the dreadfully cliche cover.

    Joey Belladonna co-wrote a few of the tunes, and it's a good reason he threw those out before putting together his own band. They're pretty awful. And most of the rest is middling at best. Which is probably why it's been on the shelf for so long.

    Sunday Munich
    reviewed in issue #171, 11/9/98

    Droning, whirling, ethereal gothic pop. The backing musical tracks borrow from a variety of current electronic trends, but the vocals, sometime more processed than others, are definitely in that witchy way.

    As long as that's not a problem (and it isn't for me, anyway), the effect is pretty good. Overall, the music has a very sparse and haunting feel. I'm guessing some of that is a result of production limitations, but most of it is likely intended. In any case, it works.

    The mood is set, and it doesn't falter, even as the music takes some interesting side trips. As long as the vocals keep moaning, the music can move about a bit. In fact, I rather approve. Most tasteful in its experimentation.

    A solid effort. A disc that drew me in slowly, and then kept me around. There's a lot more going on here than I hear in most goth discs. A worthy endeavor.

    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    I really liked the first disc I heard from Sunday Munich, though I recall having troubles quite explaining what it was that I was hearing. I look back at my description of "Droning, whirling, ethereal gothic pop," and I wonder if there's not more I would have said.

    There is a gothic feel, but the beats throb far too much to really fit in that category. But this isn't merely arena electronica; Sarah Hubbard's vocals have an intimacy that is immediately arresting. No, there's a lot more to it than that.

    Constructed so as to build to a sonic and emotional climax, rather than around a verse and chorus, the songs have something of a tribal feel. Again, the heavy beats help out there, but what's more important is the way the songs move. Slowly, but insistently, until release.

    And that's really the gothic part of this. There is a vague Switchblade Symphony feel, but Sunday Munich has a much more sophisticated way of presenting its ideas. The music here is glorious, and the vocals transport my to another place. Just gorgeous.

    Sunday Puncher
    The Livid Eye
    reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97

    Produced by Alister Parker of Bailter Space, so that might give some hint. The result is a raucous noise pop excursion that reminds me a lot of the first Brainiac album. Just enough melody to paint an outline, with a line on some pure musical energy feeding the rest.

    The songs are fairly short, but packed full of ideas. The density of the sound (and the lines within) is astonishing. Sunday Puncher has almost a perfect feel for this kind of music, and this album has been set up perfectly. Production, playing, writing, everything.

    I know lots of folks can't imagine this sort of music as catchy, but that's what these songs are. Yeah, they're really messy and loud, but like Starfish and other such ace practitioners, these guys can wrap all of that into a warped hook that is truly amazing. I'm rather shocked by how accessible this seems.

    But that's a sign of genius, methinks. Sometimes everything works out right. This is an example, and I'm not asking questions. I'll merely keep listening, thankyouverymuch.

    Do-Over 7"
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Two more songs from this band, whose album impressed me so much last year. Disjointed, punchy pop songs, full of complex guitar lines and more depth than the average rock band.

    Depth in the lyric position, that is. But for all the agonized riffage (the chords sound like they'll split apart at any moment), this is some seriously accessible music. Not in an overly commercial way, but just good stuff that goes down easy after biting the back of the throat.

    Always in motion. That's what I like about this band. Even in languid moments, Sunday Puncher is whirling about. I can't wait for the next album.

    New Skin
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    A vaguely retro-Indian sound. Indian as in the continent, both in some rhythms and the way that some of the acoustic guitars imitate sitars. There is a lush, proto-hippie prog sound, if that makes any sense.

    A terribly well-developed sound, too. Sunfur sounds like no other band I've heard before, and that scores a big wad of points with me. Not only is the feel unique, it really works well. The songs roll out slowly and develop into power moments of expression.

    Almost grunge-like at the climax, which shouldn't be too surprising since some of the earliest grunge ideas are closely related to the concept of drones. Boy, this stuff just smokes.

    Five studio tracks and five live tracks, and honestly, the lilve stuff is almost as impressive sonically as the studio stuff. Only further proof that this band really has a good handle on its sound. This is the complete package. These guys are good to go.

    reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00

    Thick, thick, thick in the groove. Heavy bass, but more of an electronic heaviness than a hip hop fuzz. The real star here is the beats; the rhyming is passable but often not much more.

    Still, the creativity surrounding the beats and music is awesome. While sticking to a basic hip-hop feel, Sunnmoonsekt drops in all sorts of fresh ideas. Unfortunately, the rhyming is rarely up to task. As innovative as the backing tracks are, the lyrical delivery is rather generic. It just falls flat.

    Part of that problem is the material. The lyrics cover familiar ground: Boasts, the street, goofin', rhymin', etc. There's not much there to get excited about.

    On the other hand, a lot of this disc sounds great. If the rhymes can catch up with the music, watch out.

    reviewed in issue #114, 7/15/96

    Fuzzy Finnish metal, kinda in that Sentenced and Cemetary sorta vein. I think some of the fuzziness is merely a result of the fairly poor production, but I like the overall lo-fi sound. Got that Incantation feel, you know?

    Sunride likes the epic riff and keeps everything moving nicely with a crack rhythm section. Perhaps a bit more precision in the booth could bring out some of the subtleties that I think got lost, but overall the presentation is quite good.

    I know plenty of folks who really dislike this more commercial side of death metal (and Sunride doesn't even claim that genre, anyway, so don't get pissed at the boys), but I think it's a natural fit. Sunride has that innate sense of how to put together this new breed of epic rock, and does it well on this 5-track tape.

    Close Calls in the U.S. Space Program
    The Howl and the Many
    reviewed in issue #322, November 2010

    I've always figured double EPs as something of a novelty designation. You've got nine songs, just call it an album, okay?

    Suns are making me reconsider. A bit. The Space Program EP is, indeed, a bit more spacey than the Howl EP. Suns sound like a somewhat bizarre cross between Three Mile Pilot and Collin Herring. There's that raggedy americana thing going on in addition to the intricate indie doom rock thing. Believe it or not, it works well.

    No matter how you want to classify (or even attempt to comprehend) this music, it is immediately arresting. Few bands sound anything like this, and I can't think of one that manages to entice both the intellect and the emotions as well.

    So hey, if the boys want to call this a double EP, good for them. I'll simply call it a stellar collection of songs. Blows me away.

    Suns of Orpheus
    Amoris Orbita
    reviewed in issue #343, December 2012

    American music from around the world. Frederico Geib gave up his native Brazil for the drier climes of Austin, and he's collected a wide-ranging ensemble. The sound is one that could only be made in America, because such a melange makes the most sense on these shores.

    There are plenty of Latin and (specifically) Brazilian themes, but it's not too hard to hear east African notes in the guirar, straight-ahead rock and roll and even disco from time to time.

    Rock is such a mongrel that it pretty much accepts any contribution to the canon. The only key is making sure the groove is locked in. Suns of Orpheus employ a drummer and a percussionist, which complicates this task. Nonetheless, the band never seems to lose focus. The music is always served first.

    I gave up trying to identify influences early on. What is apparent is that the band is comfortable and confident, no matter what burbles into the mix. There's not much in the way of shifting gears; ideas simply come and go. Roll with the punches, and this album should insinuate its way into your heart in no time flat.

    The Sunset Curse
    Artificial Heart
    reviewed in issue #318, June 2010

    A largely electronic trio that sounds kinda like the offspring of the Shins and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. The Sunset Curse gets trippier and alternately more electronic and more guitar-driven than your average laptop act, but the reference mostly works.

    What really works is the way these three guys use just about every musical implement at their disposal to create these songs. There is a definite "assembled" feel, but that's mostly from the experimental side of the songwriting.

    To be sure, there's probably not a huge market for this sort of ambitious and decidedly off-kilter pop. The Sunset Curse at times approaches a true pop sensibility, but then it veers back into its more avant garde comfort zone. That's more than cool with me.

    I simply liked letting this one unwind. There are far too many ideas to process in a listen or two, so I'll leave that to future sessions. And trust me: There will be plenty.

    Sunset Harbinger
    Finally Home EP
    reviewed 8/29/16

    Some bands are from L.A. Some simply are L.A. Sunset Harbinger is the latter.

    From its bedroom-eyes first track ("I Need Another") to the relatively rousing finale of the title track, Sunset Harbinger casts a sharp-eyed gaze on the loucheness that is Los Angeles. Trippy slow jams, some well-placed R&B horns (ersatz or not) and just enough edge in the electronic rhythm section.

    While it's not hard to be entranced by the surface, Sunset Harbinger populates its songs with plenty of lyrical and musical subtext. Each piece has more than one thought pattern, and if you think you've got this on the first take, give another listen. More ideas will ooze into your ears.

    In other words, this set works on many levels. The sound is lush and gorgeous, but the undertow is what will really drag you in. Sunset Harbinger may just be starting out, but the future sounds limitless.

    Sunset Heights
    Sunset Heights
    reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99

    Southern-fried rock which might have been reasonably palatable if not for the heavy-handed production job laid down on the tracks. Everything comes out so thick, the songs lose any sense of motion they had.

    But, of course, that's what happens when folks want a hit, I guess. Sunset Heights has a nice blues base to the songwriting, with the usual southern guitar licks and wailing that you'd expect. The music just doesn't need to be amped up to kingdom come.

    Not at all. This is not epochal arena rock. It is, like I noted, just yer basic blues and boogie, with window dressing. Remember the first Black Crowes album? Kinda sparse in the production, and that worked real well. Let the playing and singing come through and make an impact.

    Boy, with a different knob job... but I get to deal with what's here. And this stuff is just so overblown and puffed up that the original ideas seem drowned out. Too bad. I think there is something here worth hearing.

    reviewed in issue #345, 2/24/13

    Jaunty blister fuzz-pop from Vancouver. Like many bands plying these waters, I imagine Sunshine will suffer a bit from the return of the master (MBV), but this set is more than strong enough to stand up on its own.

    Ron Sunshine
    reviewed in issue #248, December 2003

    If you're gonna play hipster jams, you've gotta have the lyrical chops. These smoothed-over jump blues and jazzed up Motown-era r&b songs are expertly arranged and played, but the music is still fairly normal. Ron Sunshine provides the spark that ignites the whole mess.

    Yeah, these songs are bright, incisive and witty. Not many folks would write a song comparing various drugs ("Coffee and Reefer") and then still be able to sing a sincere love song. But Sunshine not only does this, he's able to make sense of it all.

    He's not some shallow Rat Pack wannabe. Nor is he some novelty-tossing freak show. He can sing, and he can write. Yeah, he's got some great musicians behind him, but like I noted above, without the right feel and attitude at the front, all this would simply come off as a faded Vegas junket. Instead, Sunshine proves that any kind of music can sparkle if done well.

    A lot of fun, but way more than that. Sunshine's got the personality and ability to make these songs something special. Quite the disc.

    Sunshine Blind
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    I've heard rumblings about this band from the goth scene here in St. Pete (no, really). Lots of excitement about this album, let me tell you. And now that it's in my hands, I'd say a good amount of it is justified.

    The band relies on goth cliches a bit much (the monotonous electronic percussion is the worst of the bunch), but unlike many goth bands, the guitars are wielded as real instruments. Sure, plenty of keyboards fill out the mix, and Caroline Blind's vocals are just a bit too dramatic, but toning that down too much would remove from the goth universe. Gotta tolerate a little excess.

    I really wish the sequencing was better, though. Just a bit more attention to detail there could have really picked this album up. Of course, the folks do a wildly excessive cover of "I Ran (So Far Away)", so I guess dull drum beats must be in the blood.

    More potential than actual success, Sunshine Blind shows why it should be considered a serious up-and-comer in the fast-growing goth legions.

    The Sunshine Factory
    reviewed in issue #322, November 2010

    Originally an EP, the kind folks at the Sunshine Factory decided to add a few songs and make an album of it. I'm always happy to see bands that cater to the needs of their fans.

    On a more serious note, I'm also happy to hear a band try to squeeze something new out of pop music. This Mobile outfit trafficks heavily in JAMC and MBV processed tuneage, but with a more modern feel.

    Most of the time. There are a couple moments where I thought I was listening to outtakes from Loveless, but on the whole the Sunshine Factory takes a modestly cleaner approach to the sound. The production is handled electronically, which might be the main reason for that. But the key is having songs that respond to this sort of treatment, and these do.

    Sure, I wish the folks would edge a bit closer to a truly unique take on this sound. Maybe they will in the future. What's here, though, is impressive. Bend your brain.

    Super Chikan
    Shoot that Thang
    (Rooster Blues)
    reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01

    When most folks think of the blues, this is what they think about. Tuneful, sometimes rollicking songs about pain, despair, bad women and worse men. Plenty of side trips into drink and other fine vices. James "Super Chikan" Johnson (& the Fighting Cocks) simply cranks out one fine original after another.

    Recorded at Blue Heaven Studios in Salina, Kan. (the town where I went to kindergarten in 1975-76), this disc has a sharp, professional sheen to the sound. Like I said earlier, this stuff has the feel of major label blues releases in the 70s and 80s.

    What really sells these pieces, however, is the quality. Writing, playing, singing, you name it. Some albums simply have the word "classic" imprinted upon them. This one sure does.

    A lot of small things have to be done right to make an album sound this big. And while all that craft was completed conscientiously, these songs roll off the disc like the most natural things in the world. I guess that is the true test of greatness, and Super Chikan succeeds admirably.

    Super Chinchilla Rescue Mission
    The Tim Version

    Go Halves on a Bastard split EP
    (Attention Deficit Disorder)
    reviewed in issue #230, June 2002

    Super Chinchilla Rescue Mission (which deserves accolades just for its name) hails from D.C. (the metro area, at least) and the Tim Version is once from Tampa. Both are melodic punk bands that don't let solid tunesmithing get in the way of making glorious ragged noise.

    SCRM is vaguely more raucous, but also more melodic. The Tim Version strikes me as almost emo from time to time (musically, not in terms of the themes, which are much more punk kinda punk). Both know how to pen fine songs and kick them out with style.

    And with song titles like "Drink Till the Mirror Loves You" (SCRM) and "I left My Nuts in San Francisco" (TV), well, it's easy to see that these boys have a fun sense of humor. Indeed, this entire outing bristles with energetic joy.

    Super Deluxe
    Via Satellite
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    One of the first Seattle bands that can really be called a Posies retread. Super Deluxe does a good job of flaming through distortion-filled pop hooks, albeit with a sheen that gets a bit gooey at times.

    Still, lots of fun. The lyrics are clever, almost too clever, really. All of the current references kinda take the timeless appeal out of the songs, but perhaps they'll be better appreciated today.

    Particularly in the harmonies in the choruses, Super Deluxe gets a little too close to the Posies ideal. I cringe a bit, even when I try to avoid it. My other main complaint is that the sound is way too clean. There's actually space between the chords (what's that all about?), leaving the riffs sounding a bit cookie-cutter.

    Don't know why I'm bitching this much, though, because on the whole I had a great ride. I'm not sure this album will hold up over time, but it shines pretty brightly right now.

    Super Snake
    Leap of Love
    (The Same Ghost Collective)
    reviewed 3/30/17

    Reminds me a lot of the ol' Chainsaw Kittens, though much heavier on the stoner rock (and without a singer in drag, of course). Still, stripped-down psychedelia warped out with maximum attitude and just the right amount of haze.

    And I kinda like the whipsaw between the straight psychedelic, the sleaze and the stoner riffage. It's pretty glorious when the band throws all three into the pot, but dropping one (or even two) from time to time really livens things up.

    Energy is the key. Super Snake is not particularly crafted and certainly doesn't keep its surfaces clean. Indeed, much of the album is a mesmerizing mess. But the ever-churning rhythm section ensures attention from any sentient being within fifty feet.

    I liked this sucker from the first few chords, but I took my time, making sure that infatuation would blossom into love. It did, of course. Sometimes you just know.

    Mower CD5
    (Merge - Touch & Go)
    reviewed in issue #24, 11/15/92

    Crowned, along with the way-overhyped Pavement, by most pundits as the heirs to the R.E.M.-U2(oot)-Sonic Youth throne, Superchunk have still only recorded two albums and scads (yes, scads) of one-off singles and EPs. Most of those were captured on the recent Tossing Seeds, but here is something new.

    Sounds like Superchunk, which is pretty damn nice. Of course, the third track is a live version of a song off their last album. But the other two tracks sit right alongside everything else this North Carolina band has recorded. Sounds great, but they are going to have to get past semi-grungy semi-jangly three chord pop music if they want to make a real impact on the future of music.

    Of course, I jammed this a lot, and don't plan to let up. Lack of originality can't erase the irresistibility factor.

    The Question Is How Fast CD5
    reviewed in issue #28, 2/14/93

    Since they started, Superchunk has felt the need to resurrect the vinyl seven-inch format (though I've been getting these on disc) by releasing singles between album projects. The product of those early releases became last year's Tossing Seeds, and since then they have released at least two more singles.

    They are prolific songwriters, and what they write quickly is pretty damn good. Superchunk are the goods. And a lot of fun, too.

    reviewed in issue #51, 3/31/94

    First it snowed. Then it hailed. Then the package with the new Superchunk disc arrived. Then it snowed some more. Then I played the disc real loud. Then it rained. Then I went to work.

    I've been playing the advance most days since I got it, and I think I`m beginning to really burrow into the grooves. This is not a platter of straightforward post-punk raves, nor is it a morose collection of depressing (and dumb) moans.

    It is overall more introspective than previous Superchunk albums, but you can still hear echoes of the glorious past amongst the greater attention paid to songwriting and construction.

    I'm not the first to say the decision to release on Merge makes good sense. But that is secondary to the music, which just might leave you lost in a reverie.

    I hear a revitalized band here. Not that they slipped that much, but what was beginning to become banal is now vibrant. Superchunk proves it is a band for everyone, the mainstream and the underground alike, to watch.

    Incidental Music 1991-95
    reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95

    More than any pop band since Young Fresh Fellows, Superchunk puts out a ton of songs on every label imaginable.

    But, just in case you wanted to complete your collection, these folks are nice enough to put out the occasional singles compilation. This is the second installment in that series, and it showcases precisely why Superchunk is a word best used breathlessly.

    I've reviewed at least five of the tracks on this disc in these pages over the past four years, so no real need to get into specifics. But while Superchunk can get self-absorbed and put out the odd bad song, there aren't two bummers in a row on this 19-track collection.

    A few covers (Chills, Motorhead and more), but mostly original. Like Rocket From the Crypt, Superchunk may well have a better singles track record than album track record. This set is ready to be reaped.

    Here's Where the Strings Come In
    reviewed in issue #87, 9/18/95

    As if the kick-ass music fairy godmother waved her wand over Chapel Hill and said, "Enough of this moody shit already," Superchunk roars back from the mellow pop of Foolish with a set of raucous anthems that is best appreciated at 11.

    And there's a kinda nasty song named for the nickname of the state I reside in, too. Just a personal aside, really. The song doesn't have anything to do with Florida anyway.

    Many have said it before (myself included), but it bears repeating: While Superchunk may be the greatest singles band of the past 10 years, the albums are always a little disappointing. Not because the band slogs in filler or anything mundane like that. No, Superchunk likes to try different feels and sounds from time to time, and there just isn't that bouncy beat that permeates just about every 7".

    Yes, you assholes, you have to pay attention and even think instead of chanting "Slack Motherfucker" over and over again. And don't worry; there are more ravers than last time, and no song truly sucks. What more can you ask for from a Superchunk disc?

    See also Portastatic.

    (Pat's Record Company/Universal)
    reviewed in issue #271, December 2005

    How Joey Delli Santi actually got this album released by a major label is beyond me. It's not that it's bad or anything, but a drum machine (and an obvious one at that) driven one-man pop act isn't exactly the sort of thing that screams "Ten times platinum, baby!"

    That aside, the album is extraordinarily ambitious, and generally it succeeds. The cheesiness of the drum machine and the resulting cheap beats somehow work in Santi's favor. He frees himself up to write wry, metaphor-laden songs that manage to avoid collapsing under their own wit.

    It does help to be a child of the 80s. I remember a number of folks who tried to do this sort of thing (Timbuk3, Thompson Twins, Sly Fox...well, scratch that last one), though Supercreep is much more rock and roll and kitsch.

    Then again, the whole "mad genius" solo artist has come back into vogue. I still don't think an album this interesting can sell a boatload, but I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong.

    Guerilla Rock
    (Ace Records)
    reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97

    Casio-driven cheese rock, a la "Maniac" and such stuff. The sort of thing you really have to hear to truly believe.

    And believe me, it's bad. I think it's some sort of joke, but even then it fails to rate much of anything.

    Bad singing, bad lyrics, bad guitars and that nasty Casio pre-programmed drum machine going wild. This is the sort of thing I'll hear when I go to Hell.

    I'm sorry. There's nothing nice I can say at all.

    (Island/Def Jam)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    The reason Britpop doesn't translate has something to do with the sonic collage style. You know, like mixing acoustic guitar wailing with disco and then blending in some Manchester beat. That's just part of the first song on the disc. The album takes off from there.

    There are clunkers, sure, but just moments within songs. Each piece has some redeeming value, and most are fairly solid, if not coherent, throughout.

    The coherency issue, I think, is what might keep Supergrass from really kicking things off over here. That and there really isn't a massive single, at least not one I can hear. The lead single, "Pumping on Your Stereo," is a cool Stonesy piece, but not mindless.

    So I guess I'll just have to say the boys have released a superior album and leave it at that. This is the sound of a talented, confident band reaching out and trying to create something great. I think Supergrass almost did. That's pretty damned good.

    (Acme Entertainment)
    reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98

    Punchy power pop, with plenty of throbbing choruses. Like the first Magnapop album, or maybe Sugar. That heavy, bouncy style.

    Just never a chance to let any contrary opinions to form. The songs keep flying out with no let up. Powerfully tuneful, muscular hooks. And, oh, those tight pop chords.

    Perfect for blasting on the radio or simply for rectifying a bad mood. After five minutes, only the clinically depressed could resist. And this isn't to say the lyrics are all shiny happy. No, I'm simply talking about the restorative powers of the music.

    I guess the name of the band says it all. It's sugary pop, but supercharged. Hard to find any points of weakness. Just blazingly cool tunes.

    split 7" with Unbelievable Jolly Machine
    reviewed in issue #186, 9/28/98

    Supermodel does two, UJM one. I'll try this in alphabetical order.

    The Supermodel style is something like a glam reworking of the AmRep sound. Bright guitars slashed about in a sludgy style. The recording itself is pretty meager (awful amounts of unintentional distortion. Maybe it isn't so much glam as bad recording, Hard to say. But in any case, certainly worth a spin or few.

    UJM's tune is called "Vermillion". I associate that name with a tributary of the Kansas River (we always crossed the Vermillion on the way to Grandma's house...). Suffice it to say this song doesn't have much to do with my memories. UMJ tosses off some sloppily-played emo bits, though with enough verve and attitude to almost pull the trick off. Almost.

    More interesting in musicological terms than for the music itself. Seven-inches are where the next trends in music arise from these days, and, well, this one seems to be right on the line. The music, well, it's okay.

    reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99

    Imagine if the Jesus Lizard got recorded up at AmRep (shut up, I know), got a new lead singer with a really snide and whiny voice and started playing pop songs (while still doing what it does). I remember a single from these guys. I remember not liking it so much. I think the entirety of the album helps out. 'Cause I dig this. Mostly.

    Mostly for the absurdity, sure, but that's still a good reason. The songs move quickly along, often with a nice, driving guitar lick, and every two or three minutes there's a whole mess to contemplate. That's good.

    And mess is the right term. Supermodel uses pop constructions, mostly, but this is still noise of the Chicago fashion. With lead guitar pyrotechnics that are yet another new wrinkle. The sound is muddled, though some of that comes from the general messiness of the songwriting. Doesn't hurt at all.

    You know, I think I'm coming around to this pretty well. As each song washes over my ears, I gain a new appreciation. Pretty cool, after all. Forget whatever it was I said about the single. This is good.

    La Mano Cornuda
    reviewed in issue #50, 3/15/94

    Yes, this is the first SubPop album reviewed here. It's, I'm told, the first SubPop album marketed to metal.

    Highly glossy punky stuff in cowboy hats (the hats are strictly for style). Everything is damned near perfect-just the right amount of sloppiness, good songs, rough-hewn vocals and a pounding beat. And the shit is loud, too.

    It seems so perfect, I should dislike this album just for that, right?

    Fuck, no! So this panders to my heart's desire and makes me want to find a pit (guess next week's Sepultura et. al. fest will have to do) and do some damage. Sounds like a plan.

    Supperbell Roundup
    At Station Four
    (Side 1)
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    The third Uncle Tupelo album (March 19-20, 1992) was something of a return to folk roots and included a good number of banjo picking songs. Brendon Massei is from Missouri, and I know he knows that album. One of my favorites. What Massei does is play simple songs, him singing along with a banjo or acoustic guitar. His voice is a bit less raspy than Jay Farrar's, but I still get that feel.

    But these are his songs, and Massei has put his stamp on everything here. Extremely personal and introspective pieces, the sort of thing which is immediately arresting. It is simply impossible to hit the stop button while this disc is playing.

    The recording is perfect. A wonderfully full acoustic guitar sound (none of that nasty tinny sound which is way too prevalent), and Massei's own voice, with just a few overdubs at key points. Haunting is a good word.

    Quite a set. Massei has worked hard at his picking and playing and singing and writing skills, and that's so easy to hear. Intimate and inviting, the perfect accompaniment for a meandering afternoon.

    See also Brendon Massei.

    Playing God
    reviewed in issue #33, 4/30/93

    I'm beginning to get the idea there are a lot of mid-eighties Eurometal freaks up in the northland (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota). The production makes this sound like every part was recorded on a different continent, but that kinda grows on you after a while.

    As for the songs, the vocals soar very nicely, and the whole thing has a great early Fates Warning feel to it. As with Shylock last issue, I wish more people liked this brand of metal so that good bands like this could get signed more often. Oh well. I'll still be jamming it.

    Safety in Numbers
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #246, October 2003

    Grandiose, sweeping rock, with reverb-filled yet delicate guitar lines, anthemic melodies and loads of special effects. Surrounded has worked its ass off trying to make an album that sounds important. Which begs the question...

    No, it doesn't quite live up to its own billing. Yeah, this sounds like the "greatest fucking album in the history of the universe." And it's pretty damned good. Just not quite great. Some of the songs aren't complete (and if that's intentional, then it was a bad intent), and every once in a while the lyrics wander down a side path for a bit too long.

    Nonetheless, I won't hesitate to recommend this puppy. The production is quite good--if a bit overdone--and even the "unfinished" songs are good. Ambition is always good in my book, even when a band can't live up to its own desires. Hey, these boys came close. That's worth a lot.

    Again, there are those who might read this as a pan. Hardly. Surrounded has put together a fine album. It's not as good as the boys intended, perhaps, and it certainly doesn't quite live up to the scope of the sound. It's still a most engaging effort. These guys have real potential.

    The Suspects
    New Dawn in the 21st Century
    reviewed in issue #125, 12/23/96

    Blue-collar hardcore. No mincing of words or riffs; indeed, many songs are short on both. But the attitude and driving rhythm section will keep you straight.

    Nothing spectacular, just old school hardcore riffs and a throbbing beat. Quite honestly, there ain't much else here. And yet, it's more than enough.

    Everything is dirty and understated, from the guitar-playing to the production. The grimy sound fits the band and its songs, though, so no complaints on that measure.

    Not a whole lot more to say. Workmanlike punk rawk that impresses on the merits of its sweat. Must be a great bar show.

    Susu Bilibi
    Dziwo Nefa
    (CrossCurrents Music)
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    Folk melodies and traditional rhythms of Susu Bilibi's native land, Togo, combine with a more worldly pop sensibility to create music that could be accepted anywhere.

    More often than not, the idea works. I would prefer to hear something a bit more traditional, but I'm not about to begrudge this personal musical vision. Susu Bilibi presents old ideas in new ways, a time-honored musical craft. The keyboards rankle just a bit, but they are usually overshadowed by the very real horned and percussion.

    African music, updated for the 90s. Purists might cringe, but the melodies ring clear and the rhythms are still vibrant. Music is music, after all, the merging of cultures will inevitably bring new forms of musical expression. Susu Bilibi has accomplished this very well.

    Simplified, but never treacly, the music of Togo lives on here, even if in a different form.

    Susurrus Station
    reviewed in issue #335, March 2012

    Experimental, but not exactly electronic. These folks noodle around a variety of sounds, and while there do seem to be a few programmed elements, most of this seems to exist in the analog realm.

    And that's about the only rational realm Susurrus Station inhabits. Oh, these songs have a few nice grooves and some really intriguing tangental lines, but there's really nothing to grasp here. These songs circle around a vast nothingness. That lack of center is rather effective in creating a strong sense of ennui.

    Not toward the music, which is constantly challenging. But rather, a decided ambivalence toward life as it actually exists. The world Susurrus Station inhabits is one that relies on few of the physical laws of our universe. But it's one that I'd like to whirl around for a while.

    Few bands can transport so completely as these folks. I don't have any idea how this album tripped its way into our relatively static universe, but I'm sure glad I got a taste.

    Sutcliffe Jugend
    When Pornography Is No Longer Enough
    (Death Factory-Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98

    A duo, yes, but with the names of Tomkins and Taylor. Doesn't sound as cool as Sutcliffe Jugend, I agree. As for the music, well, it's on the edge. Squalls of electronic disturbance (like the less hectic moments of Merzbow) and truly disturbing screeched vocals. Misanthropy has a new champion.

    You know, like American Psycho kind of stuff. Each song is a detailed description of torture and, occasionally, murder. Not the sort of thing to play while eating dinner with your girlfriend.

    If "Darling Nikki" apalled Tipper Gore, I think this stuff might make her apoplectic. Even I'm a little concerned about the sanity of the boys. I'm struggling to find the redeeming social value in these songs.

    Ahh, why try? I do like the sound, nice and violent. And I guess the lyrics simply express what has always been in the music. Intense and cruel, inutterably mean. Sometimes that's just what it takes.

    Electric Soul
    (KK Records-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #10, 3/31/92

    From the heart of house-land (Belgium) come (s?) Swains. But instead of listening to that annoying bomp-bomp-bomp for all ten songs, these folks change things up, sampling different riffs and beats all through.

    Each song is an aural adventure. Who knows where the beat will wander next. While most of the house beats are visited, many others are explored. And the sound! It is wonderfully textured. This is a perfectly pleasant perversion of the house album. Just when you expect something, the mood shifts.

    Maybe not the best dance record, Swains have put together the coolest dance music album in some time.

    Swamp Terrorists
    Combat Shock
    reviewed in issue #55, 5/31/94

    For the longest time, folks have been trying to foist quite a few European industrial bands on the States. These bands have in common: lots of guitars, dance/metal beats and a general metal attitude. I'd put Bloodstar, God Is LSD, the Young Gods and these folk at the top of the list.

    Why people haven't really picked up on this is a mystery. It's catchy as hell, heavy enough to attract the headbanger and with good enough beats to work in a club. Some of you may remember the Swamp Terrorists album on Noise some time back. I loved it, and so accordingly it disappeared.

    This moves ahead the sound, cleaning it up and yet adding a little aggression. A nice sort of grind (in the non-metal sense) pervades. Check it out.

    Swamp Zombies
    (Doctor Dream)
    reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93

    One of the finer pleasures in my life is leaning back after blasting my ears off and digging the latest disc those cool folks at Doctor Dream have sent me.

    Southern California's finest pop outlet has dropped off the latest from the Swamp Zombies, which calls for a beer. Well, I would if it weren't one p.m. on a Monday. I should wait until two, at least.

    Mostly sixties-style garage pop, with touches of blues and a few other, more obscure, influences. Always interesting to listen to, sometimes absolutely mind-lifting.

    If you have heard of a (former) K.C. band called the Coctails, then you know just what to expect. Compellingly goofy.

    Hamburg vs. the World 7"
    (Doctor Dream)
    reviewed in issue #59, 7/31/94

    A couple of sparsely-produced pop songs are the latest in the DD bands vs. the World 7" series. The Swamp Zombies follow their usual formula: interesting melodies run through a swamp-country-pop wringer. Very pleasant.

    Now, to be honest, this is fluff. But very tasty fluff, so you'll hear no complaints from this side.

    Astrid Swan
    (Minty Fresh)
    reviewed in issue #285, May 2007

    The sort of piano-based, proto-Bacharachian pop stuff that Minty Fresh is known for propagating, only more so. Astrid Swan hasn't heard a variation on the "do-do-do" background vocals she doesn't like. Despite this seemingly silly affectation, she imbues her songs with a sense of drama so overwrought you'd guess she did her dissertation on the effects of Wagnerian sledgehammer blows to the brains of audiences.

    So, you know, I think it's great. This album drips with excess, but Swan voice itself is such an ordinary and simple tool that she comes close to making these songs feel like campfire ditties. Almost.

    But not quite. It's impossible to ignore the bombast behind those vocals, and really, who would want to? I mean, it's great fun to get overrun by a flood. As long as you don't die or anything.

    This is kind of the opposite of Tori Amos. Amos tortures her voice while playing relatively conventional music. Swan kicks out some seriously contorted songs and then adorns it with straightforward singing. I think I like this better. In fact, I know I do. Pretty sweet.

    Gregg Swann
    Dizzy at the Door
    reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98

    The sort of pop music that swept through college radio stations in the late 80s and early 90s. Swann is obviously a huge Robyn Hitchcock fan (nothing wrong with that, indeed), and his songs incorporate the same electric/acoustic guitar combos and rolling hook styles.

    Swann even sometimes seems to affect a British accent, though that might be my mind playing tricks on me. In any case, he's got this sound down cold. The keyboards rush just when they should, and the guitars kick out just when things start to drag. Ace craftsmanship, both in the writing and the production.

    And really, for such a cribbed together project (the players list is lengthy, and the recording took place at a number of studios), Swann managed to create a wonderfully cohesive disc. From the song sequencing to the liners, everything is done just right. A top-notch project.

    Takes me back, indeed. I can see all the kids in black drinking coffee and smoking, this disc blaring out over speakers in the commons. A little nostalgia trip I am more than happy to take.

    The Great Annihilator
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    You never know what to expect from a band that has influenced acts all over the music spectrum. Swans can destroy you with a single throbbing beat plowed over and over into your skull, or Swans can entrance you with gothic pop. Or any number of other things.

    What you usually can expect is an album that lies all over the place, with many spotty moments. This 16 track opus is no exception.

    There is no one thing Jarboe and Gira do best. The brilliance is in the diversity and complexity of the result. My personal favorite on the disc is "My Buried Child", which drops layers of vocals over a single rhythmic idea and various percussive and other effects. It just sounds great.

    At other times, things do lag a bit. But Swans attempt to make every disc a masterwork, and it's pretty impossible to live up to that each time out. This is the best Swans disc I've heard in some time.

    See also M. Gira and Jarboe.

    reviewed 7/6/17

    This Portland trio makes some brilliant laptop-esque pop noise. Even better, there are no laptops involved. Just minimalist keyboards backed by bass and drums.

    And, yes, quirky. Swansea rarely gets to the point quickly, but that journey is generally at least as involving as the band's off-kilter hooks. Perhaps early LCD Soundsystem playing Human League songs. Or, you know, something much stranger and more intriguing.

    I just can't get over the indie pop blister in these songs. The sound is almost conceptual at times, but the band dynamic wipes that away almost instantly. These songs are meant to be played live. They bristle with electricity.

    Every song draws the listener in further. While Swansea sounds like it is trafficking in the most basic of sounds, the truth is the opposite. The sophistication of this "simple" style is incredibly hard to master. And mistakes are impossible to hide. Luckily, Flaws has few flaws. Swansea knows exactly what it is doing. Be entranced.

    Careless With Matches
    reviewed in issue #72, 3/15/95

    Winding prog-funk (really) with strained and sometimes whiny vocals. It all sounds so... earnest.

    This isn't cheesy at all, but with titles like "Tiny Little Super Guy" and "The Advertising Song (Burning Painful Product)", you know Swaybone isn't opposed to using a little humor in order to make a point.

    And for some reason I quite like this sound. Kinda like if Rush replaced Alex Lifeson with Bootsy Collins' kid by Steve Harris (well, just imagine). This isn't alternative or anything on the cutting edge, but it is an interesting blend of commercial sounds. I approve heartily.

    Patrick Sweany
    That Old Southern Drag
    (Nine Mile)
    reviewed in issue #324, February 2011

    Rolling down the road, Patrick Sweany keeps it steady as she goes. After some earlier success, he hitched up and headed to Nashville in hopes of fame and fortune.

    Fame and fortune may be fickle, but good music is good music. Sweany specializes in bluesy renditions of old-school rock and roll. A bit more rough-hewn and raucous than yer average americana sound, though certainly in that ballpark.

    Nashville did do right by Sweany in one way: This album is pitch perfect. The production brings out the sweetest and saddest notes in each of these songs without getting in the way. Like too much makeup on a beautiful girl, too much meddling can leave a great song staggering under the weight of the sound. Not here. The songs are unfettered and free, with just the right emphasis in the right spots.

    Folks might prefer to hearken back to folks like the Band, but Patrick Sweany is here today playing down another lost highway. And he's got a few new tricks to share. Very nice.

    The Swear
    Hotel Rooms and Heart Attacks
    reviewed in issue #300, September 2008

    Easily the most commercial album I've reviewed in while, and I took a long time deciding what to do. In the end, the album won me over. It's basic power-pop rock with throaty female vocals. Done exceptionally well, I must add.

    Anthem after anthem tumbles out, and yet each has its own space. No two songs sound alike. Given the gist of this album, that remarkable.

    The sound is full and lends the songs plenty of power. This is ass-kicking music, and the production has given it the necessary steel-toed boots. Almost as thick as Hammerbox's A&M album--a compliment, by the way.

    Cheap and easy, to be sure, but awfully tempting. The Swear breaks no new ground. All it wants to do is make music that could warp a mill saw. A success, I believe.

    Swear Jar
    Split LP with Knife the Symphony
    reviewed 5/23/13

    If you've taken any sort of music lessons, you know that music comes in all sorts of time signatures. When I was in school band, we played everything: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 7/4, 6/8, 9/8. Well, that's not everything, but it's a lot.

    Popular music tends to stick to standard (4/4) time. Yes, Dave Brubeck popularized 5/4 time, and it lives on in jazz and some prog bands. But other than Radiohead, very few rock bands use it. Country music has an affinity for 3/4 time, as "two-step" is simply Texan for "waltz." And Iron Maiden remains famous for its many songs that utilize 6/8. Mostly, though, rock and roll is standard.

    There are ways to dress up 4/4. Early rock and roll tended to emphasize the first and third beats. The Beatles aped rock pioneers like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry by throwing a backbeat (emphasis on the second and fourth beats) into their early ravers.

    And then there's syncopation, where an unusual hiccup in the beat produces interesting results. This often results in a sound that is exciting when heard the first time, though pretty tedious when repeated over and over. Think of the wanky white-boy funk backbeat that all sorts of "modern rock" bands used in the late 80s and 90s (the Spin Doctors' "Two Princes" is the best/worst example of this). That dreadful beat is the reason all Blues Traveler songs sound alike. I hate this beat on constructive grounds, because its repeated starting and stopping kills any positive momentum within a song. But that beat sure was popular in its many varied forms.

    My favorite use of syncopation is a backbeat with no fourth beat. This results in the familiar ba-BA-ba, ba-BA-ba (often with a fill of some sort in the fourth measure of the vamp) that pretty much drove the Touch and Go sound of the late 80s and early 90s. Even before that, Black Flag and other hardcore bands dabbled in and refined the basics of the beat. The Jesus Lizard is probably the most famous adherent to this device, but plenty of other T&G bands (June of 44, Shipping News, etc.) dipped deeply into the well. Over in D.C., Ian MacKaye built the Fugazi legend around variants of this beat.

    It's easy to understand why this beat became so popular (within the very insular world of hardcore/noise rock) so fast. Unlike the herky-jerky alt. rock backbeat, dropping the fourth beat immediately draws the listener into the rhythm. We fill in that missing beat when we listen, and we become part of the engine of the song. This is audience participation at its finest.

    I'm sure plenty of folks have had enough of this device, but I still love it. This driving beat is a perfect engine for slashing guitar riffs and shouted vocals. In short, it is integral to the sound of agitation and aggression.

    Rock and roll, distilled to its purest form.

    Knife the Symphony shares my predilection. The band has three songs on its split EP with Swear Jar, songs that are wondrous expressions of anger, rage and torment. Is this stuff nice? No. Will it play on any sort of commercial radio station? No. Is it flat-out fucking awesome? You betcha.

    This is the entirety of the band's "About" page on their website: "Knife the Symphony owes a debt to SST, Dischord and Touch and Go." Yep. Terse, to the point and unquestionably true.

    So, yeah, if you're 40-something and you still get out your vinyl and turn your stereo up to 11 (your stereo still has knobs, of course), Knife the Symphony will overload your pleasure center in about two seconds flat. The throb on these songs is incredible. The noise is immense. The high is unbearable.

    As for the other band on this split, Swear Jar is nice in an incoherent, no wave-y sorta way. These songs have no center, but they are raucous. This is music for sweaty teenagers and rabid raccoons, two sets of beings who very much need music that caters to their whims. But I got over teenagerdom a couple decades ago, and I'm not a procyonidont. Even so, I like the Swear Jar stuff quite a bit. But I prefer Knife the Symphony.

    By and large, rock music has moved on from the propulsive 4/4 practiced by Knife the Symphony. But every once in a while, I like to be reminded just how good rock and roll can be. Call it nostalgia, if you like. I prefer to think of it as aggression therapy, a sensory overload that soothes my troubled mind.

    Swearing at Motorists
    More Songs from the Mellow Struggle
    (Secretly Canadian) reviewed in issue #192, 12/6/99

    There's just something about fine rock and roll driven by lean guitar licks. The riffage is most fine, but the songs really sing when the lead guitar kicks in.

    The album is somewhat made up of interconnected fragments, not unlike Chevy Heston albums. Taken apart, I'm not sure how well Swearing at Motorists would stand up. As a whole, well, it really works.

    Almost like an engine that way. Think of each song as an integral system, with the parts of each tune serving as the individual pieces. You have to sit for a couple minutes, letting the ting warm up (there's even an opening theme which serves this purpose nicely), and then everything starts humming along nicely.

    The title sorta says it all. This isn't aggro fare, though it certainly doesn't shy away from action, either. Basically, the album works extremely well. As an album. Which is the right way to listen in the first place.

    Number Seven Uptown
    (Secretly Canadian)
    reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00

    Unlike the band's previous effort, the songs on this album are rather more completed. The songs still have goofy titles like "Inadvertent Christmas Song" and "Dog with the Lampshade Head," though, and that cockeyed sense of reality pervades both the music and the lyrics.

    Vocals that are often overdubbed in unison. Kinda creepy, really, though I did manage to get used to it after a while. Mostly, of course, because these songs are so warm and inviting that it's hard to stay outside for every long.

    And even though the construction of the songs is a bit more coherent (most of the time), the stream-of-consciousness feeling still pervades. This disc channels inner thought processes, an intrusion that can be uncomfortable at times.

    That's a good thing, to leave listeners unsettled. Swearing at Motorists has evolved, but it hasn't come close to cheesing out. The songs simply strike home that much faster.

    reviewed in issue #47, 1/31/94

    Guys who like to vary their music. This starts off with some basic Sabbath rehashing (not that good), then merges into more of a pop-punk-grunge sorta thing (much better). Side two is what was described to me as the "spacey" side, and it is. Don't worry, the guitars still make a lot of noise.

    In all, mostly rooted in the seventies, but I liked the stuff that wasn't. These guys can play, and a little more work could do wonders. Well-produced, with very little of the typical demo muffling.

    The Besides 7"
    reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94

    Two tunes that don't appear on the soon to be released Sweat disc (on CM Records).

    One of the things I like about Sweat (judging not just from this slab but from last year's demo) is that no two songs sound alike. "Scenic Loop" is an up-tempo psychedelic pop-punk rocker (really), and "They Didn't Know Him" is a sorta twisted coming-of-age anthem. Yeah, it was on the demo, and the production shows to an extent, but it is still a real interesting song. I'm not sure if it's a parody (or if so, then of what?), but I like it nonetheless.

    reviewed in issue #75, 4/30/95

    The cover of "Stranglehold" is no coincidence. Sweat is a fan of long extended jams with winding guitar riffs and sorta mystical lyrical benders.

    But if Sweat is going to play in this mode, the band needs a real singer. Dennis Randall is a great guitarist, but his voice is extremely limited and while he does well in the softer moments, his vocals don't lend themselves well to the times that Sweat really start cranking the sound.

    The best moments are when the band simply jams. Sure, it reminds you of the Nuge at times, but I liked those free-form Amboy Dukes jams, and Sweat carries on the spirit. This is a guitar album, and anyone who likes to hear experimental, yet catchy, riffage should check in. While they don't necessarily help the DJ, the longer pieces are much better.

    Life from this Stage
    reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95

    I've heard tapes, 7"s and a CD from this band, and it never does the same thing twice. A lot of that has to do with a passing parade of more guitarist/lead singers than you can imagine. This incarnation has more of an alternative pop feel, a la Buffalo Tom or something like that. The last was more of a Nuge thing.

    As usual, I like what the band does. It isn't pretentious or silly, but simply good. I do think the band should stick to a particular style long enough to attract attention, but the variety has kept me on my toes. A worthy effort.

    Sweat Engine
    Multiple Insertions
    (Vinyl Communications)
    reviewed in issue #98, 2/5/96

    The first track is a CD-Rom thing, and I don't have that capacity. Oh well. I'll just stick to the music. Sample and distortion-heavy industrial stuff that reminds me a bit of a more-commercial Skinny Puppy.

    More experimental than club ready, for sure. Sweat Engine has crafted a nice melange of sounds into this vision of sound (nice paradox, eh?). Not for the squeamish, certainly.

    I can't quite figure out what this is all about, but then, I can't see the CD-Rom. That could make all the difference in the world. As music alone, though, Sweat Engine has left a few necessary pieces out of the mix. Still, there are plenty of cool experimental electronic bits to keep my attention.

    Sweaty Nipples
    Bug Harvest
    reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94

    Attempting to merge a glossy anthemic glam sound with industrial cheez funk, Sweaty Nipples sound like Love/Hate trying to be Queen, run through a latter-day Motley Crue filter. Really.

    Take that as you like. I think this is awfully silly music, years behind the trends. It's not like there is any attempt at anything serious, but why record absolutely throwaway music? At least get a big advance first.

    I listened to the whole disc trying to find something nice to say about it. Well, it's mostly upbeat and manic, which might be good for the occasional spin. There. I hope Thumper's happy with me.

    Sweet Baby & Brent's TV
    Hello Again
    reviewed in issue #111, 6/10/96

    The story is convoluted (though the Aaron Combetus' liner notes do a decent job of explaining), but Sweet Baby (Jesus) and Brent's TV were different versions of the same musical nucleus, with plenty of future East Bay stars wandering through from time to time.

    And as the liners dutifully note, the sound in the late 80s was considered too pop to be punk even by Lookout, so Sweet Baby released an album for Slash. It didn't work out (for reasons too strange to explain here), but that record will be re-issued by Lookout in October.

    What's here are various demo versions of the songs from the album, recordings from what was to be a second record, various odds and ends and stuff Brent's TV recorded (without hope of release), including 12 live tracks.

    Fans of MTX (Dr. Frank did play with Sweet Baby Jesus for a very short period of time) will like the goofy, love-stricken songs. And well, lots of other folks might find this endearing as well. I sure do.

    Nothing astonishing or anything, this still follows the now well-established East Bay formula: hooks, guitars and more hooks. Some might say this established said formula. I won't make any grand statements, but I do think it's fair to call this a fine document of a moment in musical time.

    Sweet Baby
    It's a Girl!
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    I generally don't review re-issues, but since no one paid any attention when this album found major-label release almost 10 years ago, I figure it's safe to venture a thought or two.

    This album, of course, had been promised when the Sweet Baby/Brent's TV set came out earlier this year. This is the first album, the only one of all the stuff that ever saw much of the light of day. Yeah, you got demo versions of a few of these tunes on that disc, but these versions sound a lot sharper.

    Simply an East Bay classic a few years too early. Simply charming in its innocence, Sweet Baby was a band far out of time. Perhaps this renewed attention will do the band some justice. One can only hope.

    Sweet Diesel
    reviewed in issue #147, 11/10/97

    Ooh, some pop folks who prefer the noisy, hooky style of Ff. That, of course, means the band bashes the hell out of the tunes, but always with an ear for good songsmithing.

    After all the crap I've had to review this issue (I know, I shouldn't say that, but still), it's nice to hear a band that knows how to put together the complete package. This is solid pop music rusting beneath a noise veneer. Great stuff, mon frere.

    This is adrenopop, with a nice dollop of distortion. The production has left the sound a bit grimy, which only adds to the fine sensation. The complete package.

    Joyous rapture. Mindless ecstasy. I know, some of this is merely a response to the mess before, but honestly, Sweet Diesel is fucking great. That much I know.

    Sweet John Bloom
    Weird Prayer
    (Tiny Engines)
    reviewed 6/29/15

    So maybe I've been listening to a bit too much dissonant 80s indie rock as an antidote to all the poppy 80s sounds I've been hearing. But I will admit to wondering why more folks aren't going full buzzsaw and meandering into early and mid-80s Minneapolis territory. You know, when the 'Mats actually scared people and when Husker Du was absolutely tearing holes in the universe. Back when when Soul Asylum was actually good and the Jayhawks were a country band. You know, the stuff that inspired Uncle Tupelo to pretty much rewrite the history of "American" music.

    I'm overstating (by a lot), but you get my drift. Those were awesome bands that blazed across the sky in what increasingly appears to have been a singular time in music. Despite the dramatic drop in the price of creating and (particularly) promoting and distributing music, there are not nearly as many independent outfits out there. And the big boys aren't nearly so big. Music as a cultural force seems to be ebbing. Maybe that's because the music itself isn't grabbing enough folks by the 'nads.

    Sweet John Bloom has a real appreciation for the music of the great sundering (my term; I'll probably explain it once I figure out why I think it's so appropriate). These shorts blasts of sonic chaos hold some beautiful ragged hooks, but mostly they simply bash. My boys look at videos of mosh pits from the 80s and ask, "Why are those people crashing around like that?" My answer is to play stuff like this, and they instinctively begin jumping into each other. My almost two-year-old is perhaps the most drawn to these sounds. He throws pots into the wall and generally goes berserk. It must be primal.

    I know, it's just the human attraction to rhythm and noise. Paul Mooney has a great riff on how all African-American kids immediately start grooving when they hear James Brown. True enough, though I'm sure Mooney knows that all kids start grooving when they hear James Brown. Then they lift their heads and shout when Maceo starts wailing. But I digress.

    The fourteen songs here clock in at around a half an hour. The time passes even more quickly. Once again, I'm left saying that while no new ground is covered, this stuff is amazing. The noise, the intensity and the hooks are first rate. And if you're looking to get the neighborhood kids moving, this is a good place to start.

    The 80s were remarkable for the wide range of sounds that permeated the era. And if you allow for a bit more than a decade, pop music of the time included disco, heavy metal, new wave, Prince, Madonna, Lionel Richie, Journey (the Imagine Dragons of yesteryear, though I must admit a geezers preference for the boys from the Bay), and the usual blend of Beatles knockoffs, nostalgic retreads and manufactured major label tripe. Oh, and "Islands in the Stream." The breadth of sounds from that decade becomes more and more impressive as time passes.

    And then there's the non-pop music of the era. The rough-hewn indie rock stuff never hit commercial radio, but it deserves to be repurposed as much as anything else. Sweet John Bloom gives this sound the treatment it deserves. Bashy crashy lovely.

    Sweet Knievel
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/28/13

    A jam band, yes, but one that actually has fun. Not just noodling for noodling's sake, but certified entertainment. I am not a fan of jam bands, and I imagine that I wouldn't be able to take fifteen minutes of a live show, but these (relatively) edited and coherent pieces are nice. One thing, boys: Stick to playing. The vocals are superfluous and distract from the real star of the show.

    Sweet Pea
    Chicks Hate Wes
    (Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #110, 5/27/96

    It's not often that I really have no idea what the fuck is going on, but Sweet Pea has done it to me. Thick, throbbing guitar and bass meld around a completely incoherent songwriting style that might best be described as deconstructed Jesus Lizard.

    Yeah, I know.

    Most of the songs are damned long (11 songs, 67 minutes) and at first it seems they simply go on forever. The vocals are distorted and laid a ways behind the sound most of the time. When they exist at all, that is.

    Add in a reworking of the old Nails hit, re-titled "88 Lines About 44 Men", oddly coherent (stealing the original drum machine and keyboard tracks), and I'm left wondering just what the fuck is going on (did I mention this before?).

    Is it so brilliant that I simply cannot comprehend it, or is it simply shit? Well, it's not shit; I couldn't stop listening. Kinda like watching Nascar for the crashes or Sportscenter to watch the umpire die over and over again.

    You got me. This is one of the strangest albums I've heard. And, remember, I'm a big Craw fan.

    Sweet William
    Sweet William
    reviewed in issue #171, 11/9/98

    One of the more successful attempts to merge commercial and modern rock I've heard. A bit of the chintzy backbeat, vaguely poetic lyrics, guitars which swirl or jangle and a top layer of keyboards. Definitely aiming as mass appeal.

    With enough hooks and wit to attract a few from the edgier side of the fence. Personally, I liked the recent Cracker album lots more, but this is in the same ballpark, soundwise. And Sweet William does it pretty well. I could hope for more inventive music, but accessibility does have its price.

    The songs don't always trend to anthems, also a plus. Whenever I think the stuff might be getting too self-important (the swelling of the keyboards or organ is a hint there), the band undercuts that with deft irony in the lyrics or the music. I like that.

    A little too easy for me, but decent stuff. Music for reformed alterna-rockers, folks who still look askance at stuff like Sheryl Crow or Blues Traveler.

    Gone to Seed
    reviewed in issue #244, August 2003

    I'm not sure exactly why New York has become such a haven for alt. country (I guess the current term is "Americana," though I find that label even less informative than the earlier one) acts, but I've gotten more than 20 discs from such bands in the last year. Sweet William is one of the best I've heard.

    These boys focus on the music, sometimes to the point of ignoring the vocals completely. Which is alright. There's a heavy emphasis on finger-picking, though I would hesitate to call the stuff bluegrass. It's more technical folk, if you understand my meaning.

    The sound is warm and vaguely old-fashioned. There's a slight echo wherever where these songs were recorded, and that does lend a strangely "authentic" feel to the stuff. In fact, it was this sound that pricked my ear even before I began really hearing the music.

    Extremely well-done. For all the well-crafted picking, these songs are as loose as rib meat roasted to perfection. Sweet William sure does know how to do this stuff up right.

    Sweet Water
    Clear the Tarmac
    (Golden City)
    reviewed in issue #305, March 2009

    A bit too fuzzed-out to be power pop, but far too full of catchy riffs and sticky hooks to be cock rock. Something that cuddles up in between the two, I suppose.

    These northwest boys have a bit of an Oasis jones, I suppose, but there's the slightest hint of Madchester in the rhythm section as well. Take that and then add some drenching guitars and you get the mishmash I described up top. An interesting set of ideas, I suppose, but execution is key.

    By and large, Sweet Water comes through. There are a couple leaden moments when the band seems to be working through some songwriting issues, but the playing is loose and the energy level is high. These guys are having fun.

    Sweet Water might have to make more of a conscious choice between the pop and the rock if it wants to hone the songwriting. Or maybe this will be the band that finds a middle way. Either way, I'll be most interested in the progress.

    99th Dream
    (Zero Hour)
    reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98

    Overpowering prog pop anthems appear to be one of the waves getting back to the future. The new Radiohead is chock full of epochal prog-pop ramblings, and the new Hum has also gotten some serious buzz. Yeah, Swervedriver isn't quite in the same territory as either of those bands, but the lines of sight are clear.

    Actually, Swervedriver gets as close to the pop psychedelia revival sound of six or seven years back (remember My Bloody Valentine?) as anything I've heard since. The vocal melodies are sweet, but the music and unerlying effects don't hesitate to drop a little dischord in from time to time.

    Complex and rambling, the songs take Beatles pop (of the 1969 sort) to a logical extreme. I realize that I am repeating myself, but hell, everyone should understand what I'm talking about now. Within the confines of an intentionally messy construction, the songs do cover a wide range of sounds and emotions. Gorgeous, though, as you would expect.

    I didn't like this sort of stuff last time round. Maybe I've matured (the horror!) or maybe I've simply broadened my tastes enough. Whatever. I like the stuff now, and 99th Dream is a positively shimmering experience. An album that demands full attention.

    Within These Walls
    (Grilled Cheese-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    Raucous and seething, Swindle keeps the San Diego scene's good name. Not at all mature or restrained, this is punk rawk at its most malevolent. Not quite to hardcore, but merely very messy melodic stuff. More than a hint of RFTC and other San Diego sorts, which isn't a bad thing at all.

    And here's a case where the production really works. Everything is cranked to high distortion levels, giving a sound kinda like the Lee Harvey Oswald Band (again, no complaints from me on that score).

    Lotsa fun, with good feeling to spare. Attitude to spare, with riffs slung from the belt and vocals simply hurled into space. The more I listen, the better it sounds.

    Highly entertaining. The SD scene shows well again, and if Swindle can keep this up, who knows where things might lead. A very promising debut.

    Better Off Dead
    (Grilled Cheese-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #160, 6/1/98

    Yer basic melodic hardcore, riffs slung out in the style of Seven Seconds. You know, rhythmic chord changes that don't quite follow the path of the vocals. Something Thin Lizzy was really good at doing (there's a reference for you!).

    Workmanlike. Good, but not particularly distinguished. Makes me want to dig out some old CDs. Swindle does the sound as well as anyone, but there's no real growth or musical movement.

    I'm not sure if it's worse to suck or be stuck in the middle of the crowd. There's a lot of decent punk bands out there, and Swindle is one of them. Just not in the great category.

    What else to say? I enjoyed the spin, but there's nothing here that I haven't heard before. Just doesn't get me going, you know?

    Swingin' Utters
    Five Lessons Learned
    (Fat Wreck)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Polka Punk? Maybe it's just that they use an accordion on a few tracks. Still, I like what these guys have to offer. The lead singer, Johnny Bonnel, does a good Social Distortion impression, although it's more laid back. The guitar sings its little solos, and the rhythm section definitely has that polka feel. Now I'm back to the question at the beginning of the paragraph.

    I won't lie to you. It took me a few listens to catch their wave length, but at least I kept thinking their was a reason to go back to it. It's pretty laid back as far as punk goes which is what probably threw me into a state of confusion. Relaxing punk? Soothing punk? I know. It's sounds kind of strange and mutated.

    They use a lot of beats and rhythms you've heard before, but they play them in a nifty way. The lyrics are catchy, and the head starts bouncing soon after figuring them out. If you're looking for kick back punk, give them a shot. Maybe a double if you have the tolerance.

    -- Aaron Worley

    (split LP with Youth Brigade)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    The second in a series of BYO split albums. Swingin' Utters come from the oi side of things, but as the liners correctly note, they've got a bit more going to their sound than that.

    The six songs here incorporate a bit more of a conventional pop feel, with plenty of nice (if not exceptionally tight) harmonies. I've been hearing bits and pieces from these guys for a while (my brother reviewed an album they did for Fat Wreck), and this is the most solid I've heard them.

    Youth Brigade is the perfect foil. The nicely aggro hardcore tunes (with shouted backing vocals) present another face of punk. And unlike the last thing I heard from the boys, this is newly minted fare. Sounds as good as ever.

    I really like the idea behind this series. So far, two great albums. I can only hope that future issues can be so fruitful.

    Swingin' Utters
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00

    Fat Wreck continues collecting some of the Bay area's more accomplished punkers. Swingin' Utters have that great punk bar band feel (like, say, the Humpers or New Bomb Turks), though they do pay more than lip service to craft as well.

    So the songs have a tossed off feel but ring out sharply. They're warped, goofy and fun, though generally not all three at once. Though fun is usually in the mix. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm rambling a bit much here.

    It happens when my head bounces about like it's been for the past few minutes. I admit; this kinda stuff just sends my brain into some sort of terminal bliss. After a couple minutes I tend to lose track of reality. Generally, I find this to be a pleasurable occurrence.

    So it is with the Swingin' Utters. Some folks just know how to crank out this great stuff. These boys do. Case closed. Gimme another beer.

    Swirl Happy
    Perpetual Atonement
    (Swirling Discs)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Sorta like if Treepeople led with the bass instead of the guitar. Swirl Happy refuses to play pop music by the rules, and Dave Baldini's bass is all over place making sure that the music stays unconventional.

    Just as soon as you've settled in a you think a song will stick to it's simple intro, Swirl Happy, well, swirls things up. The band's wonderfully loopy songwriting style is rather addictive, and the whole package was produced to really bring out the strengths of the band.

    Of course, this isn't completely commercial fare, though songs like "Plunge" certainly have potential mass-appeal. Swirl Happy should have no problem finding someone who shares my opinion and is willing to pick them up.

    Plastic Universe
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    Thick, thick pop stuff. Plenty of reverb and distortion, but it's all in the background. What's up top are the vocals, and they convey songs of disappointment and distress as intensely as anything I've heard recently.

    Solidly in the mid-tempo range, Swirlitbox plays the morose card so well, it's hard to escape from the feeling of impending doom which envelops the songs and the sound. I mean, if that's what the boys wanted, they sure got it.

    And for all the extras, this still has the feel of a garage outfit. It's a simply wonderful sound, pure in its ragged glory. The band produced this, and it one of the more impressive jobs I've heard.

    The complete package. Great songs, unabashedly intense playing and a most expressive sound. Pretty hard not to like this puppy. An awful lot. I'm guessing lots of folks are paying attention.

    reviewed in issue #253, May 2004

    Back in the late 1980s, a lot of bands played this easy-going-yet-tight sorta pop music. Production values varied, of course, but most of the time they sucked. Which tended to add to the appeal of said bands. This was music at the edge of existence.

    Swissfarlo gets it. Rather than bashing it out in the garage, the boys kept things tight. Sure, the production isn't exactly shiny, but again, that simply allows the simple pleasure of the songs to blossom in the hothouse.

    Nothing complicated, nothing pretentious, nothing annoying. Rather, Swissfarlo has distilled the essence of pop music into a fine minimalist pulse. Why throw on all the bells and whistles when things sound this good?

    Got me. I will note--for the record--that this album is a couple years old. A new set ought to be forthcoming sooner than later. Sooner is better for me.

    Switchblade Symphony
    Serpentine Gallery
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    Edgy and eclectic goth pop. Switchblade Symphony adds industrial and ambient touches here and there to fill out the range of sound nicely. But I'm not sure if that's enough to keep my interest.

    The songs are just so... nebulous, I guess. Even when the drum machine and bass is keeping the rhythms tight and fast, I feel the songs falling apart at the center. Is there anyone home?

    Well, you could also call this a commercial goth vision of Dead Can Dance (or what that major label album sounded a lot like, really). Just want to be known as eccentric geniuses, you know.

    Fine, whatever. There's a lot of crafting going on, but I don't feel anything from this music. And while that coldness is a feature of goth pop, the god bands manage to swarm that with an overage of emotion. Not here. Just plain detachment. I can't get into it.

    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    Some odds and ends from one of the preeminent goth/dark wave bands. Much more experimental and creative than anything I've heard from these folks in the past. I'm quite impressed.

    There are a couple early tracks from the pre-Cleopatra days, a couple remixes, a couple new studio tracks (which are the highlight), a live track and a radio interview.

    The early stuff sounds, well, a little unrefined, which is kinda nice, considering how excessively produced the last album sounded. I do really like the new stuff, particularly "Chain". All this somewhat surprises me.

    In a good way. A pretty cool package, all told.

    Bread and Jam for Frances
    reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97

    A pretty serious departure. Switchblade Symphony never quite fit the description of "regular" goth band, but this disc is much more an exploration of where technology can facilitate the fulfillment of a fertile imagination.

    There are some goth moments, particularly in Tina Root's singing style, but the drenching keyboards are gone and the underlying rhythms are as likely to be some strange sample as a drum machine (and often both). The effect is a haunting form of electronic music. The result is easily Switchblade Symphony's best album to date.

    It's really amazing what self-control can do. Instead of glorying in excess, Switchblade Symphony has tightened up all the holes and finally gotten down and crafted some seriously amazing songs. Sure, these pieces are almost indescribable, at least in terms of genre, but that only serves to prove how good they are.

    I'm shocked, really. After the last disc (of various oddities), I was hoping for something good, but there was no way to expect this. An album of agonized curiosity. I really can't say enough.

    reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94

    The latest from the label that used to have Drive Like Jehu and Rocket from the Crypt.

    A stripped-down (but amped up) version of what a lot of the punk scene in S.C. are sounding like these days, Swivelhead manage to keep the pop constructions fresh and the distortion heavy.

    The inconsistency of overall song quality is a little disconcerting, but I think a few more listens will give me the ability to understand the point of all this (besides the silly extraterrestrial ramblings of the press enclosed).

    A rule to remember: If there is a Headhunter on the new disc in your hand, it should be played an awful lot.

    Baby Cry Cry
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    More of that fine San Diego hardcore sound. In my review of their last, some misunderstood SC to mean South Carolina and not Southern California (I got a few phone calls about this). Hopefully the OJ trial has taken care of any misunderstanding about that abbreviation.

    Tangents aside, this is as creamy good as the last, full of chunky riffs and an awesome thick sound that really fills a room (particularly at maximum volume, which is recommended). The melodic touches are as dead on as before, leaving the songs quite catchy.

    Better driving music there is not, though it might not pick up the babes in that Camaro convertible next to you. Life goes on. Remember, good music is better than cheap sex (unless you're really hurting, and even then it's a toss-up), so just turn up the volume as they turn up their noses.

    reviewed in issue #129, 3/3/97

    Kinda trippy, kinda-rockin' stuff, a lot like Seam and that sort of thing. Swoon doesn't get into the excesses of production like a My Bloody Valentine (God, remember when? Do I feel old...), and that helps the songs themselves work things out.

    The guitar lines are particularly good, and as they go, so go the songs. Most of the time the sound is dead on. Add in the aforementioned restrained knob job, and you get a nice set of tunes that aren't overbearing or silly.

    And there's a big danger of that sort of thing with music like this. After all, each song is a sort of anthem, and that sort of pretentiousness can wear thin quickly. Swoon manages to downplay the annoying bits and simply focus on the music.

    Cool enough by me. I'm not the hugest fan of this mellow-psychedelia stuff, but Swoon does an admirable job making it presentable. Surprisingly good.

    Sybil's Machine
    2000 A.D. 2xCD
    reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98

    Here's a band that has opened for the likes of Dokken and the Nixons. And lots of bands in between. Sybil's Machine avoids sticking to any one sound or genre. And with 35 songs across two disc, there's plenty of space to fill out.

    Most of the songs have a good nugget or two. Some work quite well all the way through. But most of the time, I keep wondering what might have happened with a little more focus, some more work. Sometimes the groove gets dropped midstream, sometimes the lyrics don't fit well over the music and sometimes the songs never really get going.

    While the band reaches out for a variety of sounds, nearly everything is filtered through a vague glam metal filter. Certainly the fuzzy falsetto of lead singer Jeff Skocdopole has something to do with that. It's not a bad sound at all. I like the way the guys take chances. Even if they don't work out every time.

    Still, if I was advising, I'd suggest paring this down to a single disc and really crafting the 17 or 18 songs to be used. Too many of these tunes sound unfinished, not quite complete. I like to hear ambitious bands, though, even when the ambition isn't realized.

    reviewed in issue #68, 1/15/95

    A cool ambient project that shares some of the eastern sounds of the Grotus remixes. As an added bonus, the project was produced and mixed by Bill and Rhys of FLA. So there are lots of mellow moments, and also times that get pretty darned rough for an ambient project.

    It is indeed fair to say that much of this really cooks. If you thought ambient meant "new age", then you haven't heard the good stuff. While some of the spacier parts of the disc get on my nerves a bit, once everything gets going, the songs are very nice. Best enjoyed when you have nothing in particular to do.

    (Feedback Symphony)
    reviewed in issue #285, May 2007

    Somewhere between Grand Funk and Kiss (though certainly leaning a bit toward the latter) lies Syrup. Here's a line that I think sums up the boys nicely: "Don't give up that 'tang, just shake that funky thing." It's not lewd, exactly. In fact, there's a certain gentlemanly air about it. If, you know, you were inclined to think that way.

    Of course, there are lots of pile-driving riffs (played with just a hint of twang) and enough energy to power most developing nations. The sort of thing that inspires teenagers to roll down their windows, crank up the stereo and start gesturing incoherently. At least, that's what I did 20 years ago back in New Mexico. I see kids doing it here in D.C. today, so I'm guessing it's something hormonal.

    It's a little sad to see a thirty-something guy with two kids in the backseat doing the same thing, I guess, but I've never been one to worry about shame. If the music moves me, it moves me. And Syrup, well, it moves, period.

    Puerile? Um, sure. But so much fun (especially when turned up to eleven) that you don't even notice. You can't take these boys seriously, but then, who would want to do that? Don't think about Syrup; just enjoy it. Anything else would be a waste.

    Systems Officer
    (Temporary Residence)
    reviewed in issue #312, November 2009

    Reminds me a lot of Three Mile Pilot. Which makes sense, as Armistead Burwell Smith IV (the entirety of Systems Officer) was the bassist and sang for that outfit. Oh, and he's currently in something called Pinback right now (ahem).

    As befitting a one-man project, Smith adds quite a bit of keyboard and other "filler" sorts of instrumentation. But this doesn't distract; rather, it simply finishes the songs.

    Smith has a distinctive songwriting style, and I think it's safe to say that he breaks no new ground here. But when you are as adventurous as he's been and you play with folks as creative as his current and former bandmates, well, it's possible to do great things without doing anything new.

    So it goes here. This may be a minor highlight of Smith's already stellar career, but it's a worthy venture. Plenty of crannies to explore.

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