Welcome to A&A. There are 20 full reviews in this issue. Click on an artist to jump to the review, or simply scroll through the list. If you want information on any particular release, check out the Label info page. All reviews are written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.

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

A&A #251 reviews (March 2004)
  • Ahleuchatistas On the Culture Industry (Angura Sound)
  • Azeem with Variable Unit Mayhem Mystics (Wide Hive)
  • The Bloody Lovelies Some Rush and a Little Money (Cheap Lullaby)
  • Curtis Cairns Runaway Train (FireHeart Productions)
  • Calliope Sounds Like Circles Feel (Thick)
  • Chromelodeon On the Year 20XX (self-released)
  • Cock E.S.P./Panicsville Last Train to Cocksville (Little Mafia-Nihilist-SunShip)
  • Gainer You Say It Like It's a Bad Thing (Bent Rail Foundation)
  • Jim Lampos Cosmogram (self-released)
  • Meow Meow Snow Gas Bones (Devil in the Woods)
  • Minefield Decomposition: Reinventing Minefield (self-released)
  • Molar The Time and Motion Studies (False Walls)
  • Ness Up Late With People (self-released)
  • New Black New Black (Thick)
  • 90 Day Men Panda Park (Southern)
  • Six Fing Thing Self-Portrait As a Venerable Shrub (Dogfingers)
  • Slapbak Ghetto Funkography (self-released)
  • Southkill Southkill (Noreaster Failed Industries)
  • Sun Kil Moon Ghosts of the Great Highway (Jetset)
  • Two Lone Swordsmen Peppered with Spastic Magic (R.G.C.)
  • Old friends: New releases from previously reviewed artists
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    On the Culture Industry
    (Angura Sound)

    This Asheville (N.C.) trio plays close to my heart. The label web page lists Don Caballero and Colossamite as obvious influences--damn, these boys are too good to be true!

    And, yeah, they play a funky, proggy, jazzy sort of post-rock kinda thing. I understand some folks are calling this type of technical rock "math." That's cool. Beats "post-rock," I guess. Hell, I'm always five years behind genre names, anyway...

    What's important is the music. And what Ahleuchatistas (I don't know what the name means, either) does is lay down some basic themes and then riff on a few variations. You know, like all those dreary compositions your piano teacher tried to get you to play. Except, of course, these pieces are hardly dreary. They're bright and exciting, brimming with all sorts of ideas.

    That's the best thing about this sort of abstract music. It's whatever you happen to make of it. Let your mind wander a bit and see where the lines take you. Chances are you'll end up in most interesting environs.

    Angura Sound
    499 1/2 Fairview Rd.
    Asheville, NC 28803
    e-mail: info@angurasound.com
    www: http://www.angurasound.com

    Azeem with Variable Unit
    Mayhem Mystics
    (Wide Hive)

    Variable Unit is a wide-ranging collective of musicians and such. Azeem is one of the most inventive and perceptive MCs going these days. From what the press notes say, these talented folks kinda hung out for a while and, after a good amount of jamming and experimentation, this album emerged.

    Certainly, Azeem seems to be in more of a freestyle mode here, though as Variable Unit is very much into crafting the final product, my guess is that these are hardly dressed-up improvisations. Rather, the songs have an exciting spontaneous feel enhanced by the depth that comes from hard work in the studio.

    Much more low-key than recent albums from both Azeem and VU. The feel is cool--as in the birth of the--but combined with the burbling undercurrent of those earliest fusion ventures. Using the Miles reference once again, something's definitely brewing.

    The sound on this album is simply amazing. It lulls the listener into a comfort zone and then raises the stakes. The intensity is constant throughout, but it becomes apparent only now and then. Ah, the benefits of fine crafting. Quite a divine organic experience.

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

    The Bloody Lovelies
    Some Truth and a Little Money
    (Cheap Lullaby)

    The Bloody Lovelies play a pleasant sort of rollicking pop, lying somewhere between the Box Tops and Big Star. Except for the piano. That changes everything.

    Nearly every song is driven by singer Randy Wooten's piano playing, which adds a certain Randy Newman (early 70s, not Toy Story) or maybe Supertramp (again, from the 70s) element. Jaunty, see, but still with a bit of the brood. It's nice that way.

    Actually, the boys take care to fully instrument their arrangements, adding horns, a drum machine or whatever else is necessary to fill out the sound for a particular song. The core is always the piano, but there are plenty of decorations.

    Those pretties simply add luster to songs which have a natural shine. I guess it's obvious that these boys worship the pop rock of the 70s--and thinking back, a lot of that stuff was purty damned good. Songs that tell stories. Songs with attitude and personality. Songs that are immediately catchy and yet deep enough to withstand incessant replays. It's a crime that these boys are still hawking their own wares, though I think those circumstances will change sooner than later.

    Cheap Lullaby Records
    1223 Wilshire Blvd. #450
    Santa Monica, CA 90403
    www: http://www.cheaplullaby.com

    Chris Cairns
    Runaway Train
    (FireHeart Productions)

    I don't get many bluegrass albums in the mail, and it's a shame. I love the stuff. There's something about the frenzied--yet technically perfect--banjo and mandolin picking and raucous shouts that speaks directly to my soul.

    But Cairns shows off many more sides of the sound than that. His songs take on all tempos and subjects. He even throws in a gospel quarter for good measure. Cairns is a fine songwriter, and he plays a nice banjo (and rhythm guitar), but most importantly he creates wide open spaces for his compatriots on fiddle and mandolin and such.

    That's the nice thing about bluegrass, and acoustic music in general. There's plenty of room for every player to shine without overshadowing anyone. The sound on this album is immaculate--there's none of that tinny "authentic acoustic" sound that I just hate. Rather, the tones here are rich and full. Which is, after all, truly authentic.

    If I had to quibble, I do wish Cairns would relax and let loose a bit more. There's plenty of energy on this album, but I need a bit more to send me into the stratosphere. Still, this is a fine collection by any standard. And, for the record, I'd love to hear lots more in the future.

    FireHeart Productions
    P.O. Box 1482
    Goleta, GA 93116
    www: http://www.fireheartpro.com

    Sounds Like Circles Feel

    Calliope is all about fusion. Fusion of rock, jazz, funk, electronica, hip-hop and a few other sounds I can't quite put my finger on just yet. The result is an arresting set of low-key moody rockers. You know, lounge music for music snobs.

    Hey, I think that might be a catchphrase or something. Readers from a few years back might recall the derision I heaped upon most "lounge" acts, and so they've probably already picked up on my distinction. This is lounge done well, or perhaps more accurately, mellow mood rock for moderns.

    Wow, the hits just keep on coming. What Calliope does better than most is find a solid groove and then chill. The songs don't really go anywhere, but damn, they sound good. And the little stylistic and instrumental decorations about the edges subtly burnish the sound. Just enough to make my smile grow eight miles wide.

    Cool. As in cool. You know, cool. Very cool. Am I repeating myself? Maybe, but Calliope deserves as much praise as I can wring from my increasingly meager pen. Everything else written here is mush.

    Thick Records
    409 N. Wolcott Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60622
    www: http://www.thickrecords.com

    In the Year 20XX...

    Damn, I think this set of reviews might end up being some sort of 70s tribute. In a good way, which isn't exactly something I ever expected to hear myself saying. Nonetheless, Chromelodeon channels 70s prog cheese excess into four songs of epic grace and power.

    Not unlike a sci fi-nerd version of the Fucking Champs, these boys play synth-drenched mini-operas full of martial beats and sweeping melodies. This stuff is so excessive that it comes almost all the way back to the mainstream.

    Yeah, the stuff is silly, but I think the eight members of the band know that. They're just having fun. And that's why this album soars. There's no pretension to be fond anywhere. Just a few folks getting as loopy and geeked-out as possible.

    So by now you oughta know if Chromelodeon might be your bag. If you dig music made on a grand scale, I haven't heard better stuff in ages. I haven't had an album thrill me and make me laugh out loud in sheer bliss in ages. Quite the package.

    e-mail: chromelodeon@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.chromelodeon.com

    Cock E.S.P.

    Last Train to Cocksville
    (Little Mafia/Nihilist/SunShip)

    The album so brutal that it took three labels to release it. Well, maybe not, but still. This collaboration between two mostly one-man electronic noise masters (each hauls in some friends to help out now and again) is truly staggering.

    Andy Ortmann (Panicsville) and E.W. Hagstrom (Cock E.S.P.) are two of the more inventive noise deconstructionists around. They like to take "normal" sounds and reduce them to feedback, distortion and crackle. Then they'll throw in something vaguely recognizable just to fuck with your head. Put the two of them together, and the results are cosmic.

    Which isn't exactly what I expected. Often this sort of sonic chaos is best created by one person. If you keep adding cooks, the soup is reduced to burnt beef tips and dried onions. But Hagstrom and Ortmann are nicely restrained, and the pieces here retain the playfulness which characterizes much of their individual work.

    It's supposed to be fun, goddamnit! And, truth be told, this album is a blast. Okay, so maybe 500 other people on this planet might agree with me (I'd be willing to go as far as an even thousand), but we know good noise when we hear it, and these two boys have created one fine stew. Hearty enough to eat with a spork.

    Little Mafia
    4725 NW 13th
    Oklahoma City, OK 73127
    www: http://www.littlemafia.com

    2255 S. Michigan #4E
    Chicago, IL 60616
    e-mail: ortmann@nihilistrecords.net
    www: http://www.nihilistrecords.net

    P.O. Box 580218
    Minneapolis MN 55458-0218
    www: http://www.freenoise.org/sun

    You Say It Like It's a Bad thing
    (Bent Rail Foundation)

    Combining the strident, insistent riffage of "old" emo (you know, back before it became pop punk) with the caffeine-inspired manic rhythms of ALL or Descendents (take your pick), Gainer thrashes out 10 altogether lovely songs.

    This stuff is very simple, and these boys play by only one rule: Keep the energy levels pegged to 11. Even when the tempos drop a hair, the intensity remains. Gainer simply refuses to get out of your face.

    Which is one of the nicer things I've every said about a band, I think. The sound of this album is fine--a little ragged on the edges but razor sharp in the rhythm section. I'm sure that's one of the things that keeps this album so focused and bright.

    A fine little adrenaline wire. That Gainer actually knows how to write solid songs with well-considered lyrics is simply another plus. This one's the real deal.

    Bent Rail Foundation
    P.O. Box 2283
    Birmingham, AL 35201
    www: http://www.bentrail.com

    Jim Lampos

    On the surface, Jim Lampos sounds like any other nuevo-folk singer-songwriter. There's the half-sung, half-spoken vocals, the walking guitar lines and the spartan arrangements. All that is de rigeur. But what continues to impress me, album after album, is how much Lampos does with so little.

    While my reviews are notorious for ignoring lyrics (a valid complaint), Lampos's phrasing is so exquisite that it's impossible for me to miss his. He's a good guitar player, and he isn't willing to allow his vocals overshadow his rolling picking.

    Lampos sings about everyday life--most of the time, lives that reside a few miles from the freeway. He doesn't dress up his characters or try to make them more than they are. He just gives them a quiet dignity. There are echoes of Russell Banks and Richard Russo in his people, and that's only fitting. Like them, he celebrates the natives of the unseen parts of the northeast.

    Given his previous efforts, I'm always expecting something wonderful. And it seems that I've always forgotten just how amazing Lampos's songs are, because every time I'm knocked out all over again. Sometimes the great just get greater.

    P.O. Box 355
    Cooper Station
    New York, NY 10276
    www: http://www.lampos.com

    Meow Meow
    Snow Gas Bones
    (Devil in the Woods)

    Somewhere between the Jayhawks and Fountains of Wayne (which, come to think of it, is one of the prettiest valleys around) sits Meow Meow, a foursome who can't quite kick the alt. country habit as it launches its songs into pop perfection overdrive.

    Did I mention that there's a solid dose of Neil Young (particularly in the sue of feedback and distortion as musical adornments) as well? Hey, these folks sure know where to plumb for inspiration. Lucky for us that they take those ideas and create something entirely, astonishingly new.

    Soaring pop songs with pure distortion at the center of the hooks. Gorgeous melodies that slip onto a back road just as they're about to become unbearably beautiful. Subtle, sensitive pieces that are irretrievably marred by the presence of shocking sonic violence.

    All that is really, really (really) damned good, by the way. Meow Meow has some sort of inner barometer of great music, because in breaking just about every rule I can think of, these folks have created one of the most breathtaking albums I've heard in ages. Each song is a new adventure; the album is an epic of improbable proportions. Bathe in wonder.

    Devil in the Woods
    P.O. Box 6217
    Albany, CA 94706
    www: http://www.devilinthewoods.com

    Decomposition: Reinventing Minefield

    Four songs from Minefield's After the Ball EP go under the knife, and these 10 remixes emerged. I generally don't get off on remix albums, but this one works for me.

    Dead Poets Society, Karl Mohr, Soviet Radio, Cryptomnesia and Soy Futura did the slicing, and what's impressive is how different the interpretations are. Perhaps that's why this collection impresses so much. Creativity unleashed can be fearsome, indeed.

    The intent behind this, of course, is to put a larger spotlight on Minefield. Judging by the sounds here, that would be a good thing. There aren't many ethereal industrial goth acts around (that's my description, not the band's), and I'd say these folks are among the best. Quite an impressive set.

    www: http://www.minefieldmusic.com

    The Time and Motion Studies
    (False Walls)

    Abstract, experimental electronic fare. Molar is that most unusual of such acts: an honest-to-God trio. Three guys who work really hard to create some of the most impressive sonic explorations I've heard in quite a while.

    Most intriguing is the way these guys use rhythmic loops. A lot of the songs here have a central structure, but the main elements meander so much that they become almost counterpoints. I like that. I like to hear new and interesting ways to define a rhythm.

    There are also a couple of laptop pop moments, which initially surprised me. But then, if you're going to go to the edge, you might as well return fully geeked out, right?

    I love this sorta stuff. It kinda wanders in and out of my mind, freeing up previously frozen synapses and allowing me to really kick off some awesome thinking. I know, music doesn't have to be so practical, but when it works, why bitch? Quite the brain laxative.

    False Walls
    P.O. Box 146788
    Chicago, IL 60614
    e-mail: fwalls@xsite.net
    www: http://www.falsewalls.com

    Up Late With People

    So I'm listening to the first song, "Where the People Kick It," and I notice that it keeps going and going. I'm thinking to myself, "Man, these guys must have mainlined Cheap Trick when they were younger." And I wander over to the band's web site, and, indeed, these Illinois boys describe themselves as a combination of said Rockville heroes and the Sweet.

    I may one of the few people alive today who thinks that's a good thing. But that's okay. And Ness doesn't really venture into straight pop territory--there's always a Nielsen-esque curve in there somewhere. Which kinda eliminates early Sweet. But, say, the goofy progginess of Off the Record and Level Headed? Yeah, alright. I can hear that.

    Please don't take from my words that these guys sound just like Cheap Trick. Ness simply has the same off-kilter approach to massive rock. There's always a way to undercut the most pretentious riff, and Ness rarely fails to find it. This stuff could be bombastic and dreary, but instead it's clever.

    More exciting clever than funny clever. Ness is that rare band which manages to take an exceedingly old and rusty saw and turn it into spun gold. Well done, boys.

    www: http://www.nessmusic.com

    New Black
    New Black

    Maybe it's just my youth playing tricks on me, but New Black reminds me of P.I.L. A lot. There are these goofy new wave moments, a number of wonderful thrashy punk bits and a general disregard for sonic integrity.

    All in the same song, mind you. It's that anarchic spirit that touches off my Lydonic reminisces, I suppose. New Black doesn't really sound much like any band from the early 80s, but it does echo a few.

    The sound is quite restrained, which tends to make the music sound even more warped than it probably is. After all, New Black generally keeps its songs fairly well-focused. It's just that some of those foci are desperately diffuse.

    Alright, now I'm just talking shit. No matter. New Black is exciting, and it refuses to conform to anyone's idea of respectable. That along oughta earn it a few stripes.

    Thick Records
    409 N. Wolcott Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60622
    www: http://www.thickrecords.com

    90 Day Men
    Panda Park

    Obsessively working riffs (in the classical sense, not in the chunky guitar way I usually use the term) to their natural extreme, 90 Day Men approaches the prog ideal of post-rock.

    Which is weird, because other than the odd noodly keyboard, there isn't much here that says "prog." However, there is a lot of "art rock," that other bastard child of the late 60s and 70s which has been roundly scourged by the public at large.

    So there's really no way these boys can strike it rich. That's a shame, I guess. Well, not really. I'd rather folks follow their collective muse than make music they think people want to hear. Be yourself. Make a statement.

    And damn if this isn't one. I couldn't tell you exactly what it says--there are moments here that get a bit obsessive and warped even for me. Of course, those are the parts I like best. If I can't get my mind around something the first time, I have to keep trying until I do. 90 Day Men have given me quite a bit of homework.

    Southern Records
    P.O. Box 577375
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.southern.com

    Six Fing Thing
    Self-Portrait As a Venerable Shrub

    Six Fing Thing is mostly James Cobb, with plenty of assistance from the likes of James Sidlo, Gabe Herrera and other folks who have done something or other for Dogfingers in the past. At least, I think that's where I know their names.

    Cobb handles reeds (saxes of all sizes, clarinets and a few exotic-sounding things) and percussion. He grounds his pieces in a bass groove or a particular beat pattern and then goes off. This isn't free jazz. Not exactly, anyway. But the structure is often more imagined than real.

    Often, Cobb's compositions approach the ambient, which is kinda cool. He does use keyboards and other electronic gear at times, but the sound is always organic at the base. Cobb borrows from all sorts of musical traditions, but mostly he invents his own.

    Which is more than fine by me. Every piece is different. Different in substance and in personnel. Everything bounces back to Cobb, of course, but that free-spirited approach has served this album well. The unexpected arrives almost every minute and is almost always welcome. Most impressive.

    Dogfingers Recordings
    P.O. Box 2433
    San Antonio, TX 78298

    Ghetto Funkography

    Everything Slapbak does, P-funk did better. That said, there aren't many practicing funk bands around these days, and very few are as clever both musically and lyrically as Slapbak.

    Jara Harris is the ringleader, and he's a tough taskmaster. These songs often start off sounding quite au courant, but there's always a subtle twist. Which is, you know, exactly how a certain Mr. Clinton wrote his best stuff as well.

    The sound is quite restrained, which makes the funk that much more greasy. Why blast out a listener when you've got music this complex? No reason, really. Slapbak does it right.

    I'll repeat my earlier assertion: Slapbak isn't doing anything original here. But the songs are unique. Even when they echo a classic track, there's always a switchback waiting around the corner. Cool stuff.

    www: http://www.slapbak.com

    Southkill EP
    (Noreaster Failed Industries)

    Two guys who love distortion and reverb--and know how to use each to its separate advantage. John Dudley takes skins and Jason Kerr handles the guitar. At times, a third instrument wanders by, but I would guess that these guys are able to replicate this stuff live with just the two of them.

    Which isn't to say that it sounds the same live. In many ways, this album reminds me of Storm & Stress, a Don Cab side project (sort of). There are the rolling waves of sound, the songs that don't really end--even when the sound quits--and the general attitude that "louder is better, unless it isn't."

    I do detect a somewhat subversive sense of humor here. Can't say why, exactly. This music is much more awe-inspiring than funny. But there's just something about the way these songs were written that makes me smile in a sly little way. That sort of thing never hurts.

    One note: The boys call this an EP, even though its five songs take up more than 36 minutes on the disc. Sounds like an album to me, but like I said, the guys are funny. And pretty damned good at making abstract music that translates to concrete reality quite well.

    Noreaster Failed Industries
    6423 Richmond Hwy. #3204
    Alexandria, VA 22306
    Phone (703) 725-7027
    e-mail: info@nfilabel.com
    www: http://www.nfilabel.com

    Sun Kil Moon
    Ghosts of the Great Highway

    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.

    67 Vestry St. 5C
    New York, NY 10013
    Phone (212) 625-0202
    Fax [212] 625-0303
    www: http://www.jetsetrecords.com

    Two Lone Swordsmen
    Peppered with Spastic Magic
    (RGC Records)

    Unlike the other remix album reviewed in this issue, this disc is a set of remixes crafted by one act. Two Lone Swordsmen, to be specific, marking up stuff by Calexico, Six by Seven, Texas, St. Etienne, Stereo MCs and other similar folks.


    So you get the idea. A lot of folks who play all sorts of music have allowed the Swordsmen to so a little slicing and dicing. Not surprisingly, there are a few themes that keep recurring. For starters, TLS likes to keep things as minimalist as possible. There are a lot of electronic bloops and pops, but not a lot of bombast.

    More importantly, TLS remakes these songs completely. At times, it's hard to even tell what the original source material might have been. Not exactly great for the original artist, but pretty damned good for the cause of art.

    RGC Records
    www: http://www.rottersgolfclub.co.uk

    Old friends:

    Burns Out Bright Distance and Darkness EP (Deep Elm)
    Six churning, bubbling songs from these boys. The quality is exeptional--as always--and the production here lends a subtle complexity to the stuff that I haven't quite heard before. A very nice set, indeed.

    Cordero Somos Cordero (Daemon)
    More genre-mixing tunes sung in Spanish and English. The core is pop, but Cordero draws from so many influences that it's hard to really describe the final product. Top quality, once again.

    Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Matt Hannafin All the States Between (Pax Recordings)
    One of those strange little mail projects: Diaz-Infante laid down his electro-noise bits on one coast, and the Hannafin waxed distortion and such on the other. I've always liked this sort of "compiled" collaboration, and these two seem to have a real knack for it. The two lengthy tracks here are full of wonderful ideas and sounds.

    The Evaporators Ripple Rock (Alternative Tentacles)
    Most folks either love or hate Nard Wuar and his band of nerdy pranksters. I used to find him tedious, but I've come around (sorta) to his brand of geek rock. The expansive collection finds the boys at the height of their powers--whatever they may be.

    Haymarket Riot Mog (Thick-Divot)
    Recorded by Albini, produced by Congleton, released on two of the more eclectic labels in the decidedly exapnsive Chicago universe. That's a pretty cool picture, right? Start with some strident riffage and then add plenty of noise and a certain strange Naked Raygun wash and you get another fine album from these boys.

    Ingram Hill June's Picture Show (Hollywood)
    In an earlier short review, I said these guys had what the big boys wanted. And so they do. On this, their major label debut, Ingram Hill kicks out more solid punchy, backbeat-driven AOR-meets-emo-meets-alt. country jams. The big money production sheen actually helps to flesh these songs out better. Quite enjoyable.

    Subhumans Live in a Dive (Fat Wreck Chords)
    Though the active members of Subhumans are probably better known these days as part of Citizen Fish, every once in a while the old gang gets back together to play some oldies. Ryan Greene engineered a fine live sound that's thick-yet-raw, and the boys themselves prove to be most enthusiastic, even after all these years.

    Also recommended:

    Arcade Into the Light (self-released)
    Bands like Scrawl epitomized the female "ideal" of indie rock. Arcade falls directly into that family, ripping off big chunks of riffage and undercutting them with clever lyrics and moments of quiet intensity. A throwback, to be sure, but one that's looking directly into the future.
    www: http://www.arcadetheband.com

    Babbletron Space Tech Banana Clip 12" (Embedded)
    In the interests of full disclosure, I'm reviewing this on CD, not vinyl. But I'm told this is a 12", so that's how I'm listing it. In any case, this is just more densely-populated hip-hop, with groove upon groove and rhyme upon rhyme piled upon each other (and one another). The title track is most engaging, and the "flips" have bite as well.

    The Building Press Young Money (54-40 or Fight!)
    Somewhere between the noisy mess of Shellac and, I dunno, U.S. Maple maybe, lies the Building Press. Disjointed riffs punctuated by a hard-charging rhythm section. The songs seem to be on the eternal verge of collapse, but always they pull through. Somehow.

    Elliot the Letter Ostrich Motocross Be Thy Name (Asaurus)
    The goofy band name and cover art is just a hint at what lies inside. Lots of Atari 2600-inspired music (the music is laptop pop taken to its simplistic extreme) and cheesy lyrics. Though it all is this strangely attractive innocence. I don't know exactly what does it, but these folks really made an impression on me.

    The Frequency The Frequency (Noreaster Failed Industries)
    The first solo effort from Trans Am's Sebastian Thomson sounds a lot like, well, Trans Am--only a bit more techno and less experimental. Which is, on the whole, a good thing. A little coherence can go a long way.

    Ghost Parade Dying Breed (self-released)
    Channeling Bauhaus, the Cure and other early 80s icons isn't a bad idea. There's a part of me that wishes Ghost Parade did a bit more than simply utilize modern recording techniques, but in fairness, none of the stuff here is stolen. It's just emblematic of a specific place in time--one that I don't mind visiting now and again.
    1919 SE Morrison St.
    Portland, OR 97214
    www: http://www.ghostparade.com

    Hayes Eleven (self-released)
    Bright rock with shiny hooks and sparkly riffage. There's plenty of punch to the songs as well, ensuring a solid footing beneath the prettiness up top. Two steps away from the current state of emo power pop--just a bit more standard rock and roll in the formula. And that's alright.
    c/o Aaron Smart
    6525 Sunset Blvd, Studio B
    Hollywood, CA 90028
    Phone (323) 819-9849
    www: http://www.hayesmusic.com

    If Hope Dies The Ground Is Rushing Up to Meet Us (Ironclad Recordings)
    The more folks call this kinda stuff extreme, the more it sounds like good old fashioned death metal. Hell, I don't care what you call it. As long as there's apocalyptic riffage and a solid double bass drum attack, I'm not going to quibble about labels. Quite a rush.

    Kieskagato You, Are the One, Who Can (Iconic Rocket)
    Understated, complex fare. Vaguely psychedelic--in an electronic, rather than distortion-laden way. Trippy, in any case. Kieskagato reminds me a bit of early Seam, but with a tighter handle on the music. The lines come and go, crossing each other at unexpected times. Which is exactly what they should do. A most intriguing album.

    Lesser Birds of Paradise String of Bees (Contraphonic)
    Intensely subdued fare. Or maybe that's subdued, intense fare. Funny, but both work. These songs are intricately crafted and played with a quiet fury. Not the sorta stuff to make a big splash, but rather an album that quietly impresses over time. Give this one some space, and it will grow on you.

    Various Artists The Secret Is Out! Vol. 2 (Off the Hook Promotion)
    Thirty-three tracks (well, more like 27 or 28--there are some short freestyle intro bits) from a plethora of hip-hop artists. Quantity seems to be the point here, as these acts hail from all over and utilize just about as many sounds. I didn't get into everything here, but geez, a good 10 really impressed me. Easy access into the underground.

    Arthur Yoria I'll Be Here Awake (self-released)
    Guitar-driven (duh) stuff that always seems to fall into a gorgeous hook. Pretty, but not exactly soaring. I kept waiting for one of these songs to really shift into overdrive, but Yoria seems to like to keep a lid on things. That's cool. Focus your energy on craft and performance, and you'll end up with a gem.
    www: http://www.arthuryoria.com

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