Welcome to A&A. There are 18 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 #254 reviews (June 2004)
  • The Awkward Romance Covington (self-released)
  • Carl Henry Brueggen Cinzano & Cocaine/Idler EPs (self-released)
  • Joey Cape * Tony Sly Acoustic (Fat Wreck Chords)
  • Clair de Lune Marionettes (Deep Elm)
  • Cougars Manhandler (Thick)
  • Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars [!!} 2xCD (Dielectric)
  • Electro Group Ummo (Omnibus)
  • Forty Piece Choir Tennessee (self-released)
  • Gutpuppet Gutpuppet (self-released)
  • The Hollow Points Annihilation EP (Dirtnap)
  • Hollydrift Waiting for the Tiller (Parasomnic)
  • The Marked Men On the Outside (Dirtnap)
  • The Mattoid Hello (Cleft Music)
  • Blake Rainey Appetizer Sickness (Two Sheds)
  • RJD2 Since We Last Spoke (Definitive Jux)
  • 63 Crayons Good People (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • The Stepford Five A New Design for Living (Reverbose)
  • Tarantula Tarantula (self-released)
  • All together now: Compilations, restrospectives, liveage, etc.
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Awkward Romance

    I never thought of Archers of Loaf as an emo band. Never occurred to me to even think about such a thing. Never even crossed my mind. Kinda strange, because I've always considered Treepeople to be an overlooked and underappreciated forefunner of the sound, and I've often pondered AoL's connection to those art-pop-punk boys from Seattle (nee Boise).

    The reason I digress so excessively is that the Awkward Romance has that old school emo anthem thing going, but there's this odd clunkiness to the riffage that is a direct descendant (notice I didn't say "theft," because it's not) to the one-time kings of Chapel Hill. These boys aren't doing anything new, but they've put together well-worn sounds in unique fashion.

    These guys are young. In their bios, they list Top 5 favorite albums. Weezer makes the cut in each--though not the same album. These guys are going for an edgier and more interesting sound--reminds me a lot of Vitreous Humor, the band that claimed it broke up because it didn't want to end up sounding like Weezer (that's not true, but it's still a funny joke).

    The difference between cool and dull is razor-thin. The Awkward Romance needs to expand its listening and work out even more new ideas. Still, this first shot is chock full of energy. As long as they keep evolving and challenging themselves, these boys have a real future.

    Eli Scott
    430 Fox Meadow Dr.
    Covington, GA 30016
    www: http://www.theawkwardromance.com

    Carl Henry Brueggen
    Cinzano & Cocaine

    Carl Henry Brueggen was, in an earlier life, guitarist for Mount Shasta. For those who don't recall, Mount Shasta ripped off a few tasty chunks of Jesus Lizard-inspired no wave back in the mid 90s. So you figure Brueggen would get louder or simply freakier, right?

    Try bossanova, baby. Brueggen jams along with some of the finest musicians Chicago has to offer (including the amazing Alejo Poveda on percussion--the one part of bossanova that simply has to be right), throwing down three songs per disc.

    Simply lovely. These songs are fully orchestrated, lusciously ripe pieces of fruit just waiting to be plucked from the branch. Give Brueggen ten seconds and you're on the beach in Rio watching the waves roll in and the scenery stroll by.

    Who knew you had to go to Chicago to find real bossanova? Just another reason why I consider the Windy City the greatest music town in the world.

    446 North Wells #316
    Chicago, IL 60610

    Joey Cape * Tony Sly
    (Fat Wreck Chords)

    The frontmen for No Use for a Name (Tony Sly) and Lagwagon (Joey Cape) strip away the electric guitars and plunk down simpler versions of their songs. Well, sort of.

    Sly's six pieces (each guy recorded five old songs and one new one) are just him and his guitar, with a little keyboard and percussion here and there. Not stripped down, though. The guitar has an astonishing amount of echo to it, and ubiquitous producer Ryan Greene multitracked both the guitar parts and the vocals. All that's missing is the rest of the band. I'm not sure this stuff is better than NUFAN, but it is still interesting.

    Cape's tracks are even more adventurous. For starters, he's brought in a number of his Bad Astronaut cohorts to play strings, banjo, piano and whatever else needed to be done. And while the five "old" songs here were originally done by Lagwagon, these tracks are steeped in that proggy, art-punk Bad Astronaut vibe. Which is just fine by me.

    Acoustic? Well... let's just say two talented guys decided to goof around. And they goofed in most excellent ways. This isn't punk music, but it's good music. In the end, nothing else matters.

    Fat Wreck Chords
    P.O. Box 193690
    San Francisco, CA 94119-3690
    e-mail: mailbag@fatwreck.com
    www: http://www.fatwreck.com

    Clair de Lune
    (Deep Elm)

    Some ten to fifteen years ago, a few veterans of the midwestern hardcore scene decided to go deconstructionist. The result was no wave, symphonies of dissonance that seemed to simply explode from the center with no intention of returning. It started with bands like Dazzling Killmen and the Jesus Lizard and quickly disintegrated into squalling pockets of raging noise. I happened to love the stuff, but I was in the minority. Even such a startlingly strident sound as emo was in its infancy found a way to go pop. Hardcore turned toward the extreme. And all the noise faded into a dull roar.

    Clair de Lune found it and has turned it into true symphonies. The arrangements here are grand and ambitious, and the raucous lines within fairly blister with their intensity. These songs are searingly bright screeches of anger and agony.

    The Mars Volta used similar influences in crafting its deconstructionist prog-metal sound. Clair de Lune sticks to a rougher, meaner punk edge, but the overarching visions are quite similar. Both bands want to make the most important music on the face of the earth.

    And damned if the boys don't come close. The songs here are densely-packed bombs, and just when you think you've escaped the carnage, another anti-personnel blast takes off your ears once again. I'm amazed by the vision and scope of this album. I'm awestruck by the achievement. Simply astonishing.

    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 36939
    Charlotte, NC 28236
    Phone (803) 631-6319
    Fax [803] 631-6314
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com

    Manhandler EP

    There's just something about a hard rock band with horns. Sassy horns, too. Actually, this sounds an awful lot like some old school midwestern bluesy hardcore/hard rock (somewhere between Laughing Hyenas and Raging Slab, I'd say) with a horn chaser. There's a lot of complexity within the noise.

    And don't let the song titles ("Dick Dater," "Vegas Makes Her Fuck," etc.) fool you. There is a lot of caustic attitude being tossed around in between the impossibly thick boogie grooves, but don't ignore the subtleties.

    Well, feel free to save them for repeat visits. On first listen, just let the throbbing desire pound its way into you. Once you've been properly softened up, you'll know much better how to accept the greatness that is being thrust upon you.

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

    Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars
    [!!] 2xCD

    Not so much a group as an artistic concept, the Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars (on this release) are Loren Chasse, Die Elektrischen and Jason Levis. They went into a studio and were instructed to conduct a minimalist (however they interpret that concept) session based on a single concept: an alarm clock (wind up, I must assume). The tracks were then manipulated further by a number of other artists.

    So what we have here are two discs of electronic and percussive noodling, only just so. This is "minimalist," of course. The liners suggest listening in the dark. That might work. It also might scare the shit out of you, especially if you've read too much Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart," in particular).

    When reviewing music of this sort, I almost always mention that either you get it or you don't. Some folks think this is a cop-out, but I think it's only fair to be up front about the relative inaccessability of some types of music. If you do get stuff like this, then these discs will blow your mind. Minimalist doesn't mean simple. It doesn't--necessarily--even mean uncluttered. I wouldn't pay too much attention to that part of the name. The music here does exist within a significant amount of open space, but there are ideas galore.

    And that's what this is all about--wandering around and discovering new ways of making music. New thoughts to share with the world at large. So what if most of the world isn't listening? This stuff doesn't exist in a vacuum. Well, not quite, anyway.

    472 1/2 Alcatraz Ave.
    Oakland, CA 94609
    Phone (510) 541-0875
    www: http://www.dielectricrecords.com

    Electro Group

    Electrified? Surely. Electric? Yep. Electro? Well...

    I know, only lame critics rip on band names. And I'm not complaining. But I am curious. These folks blast out some fine late 80s/early 90s vintage distortion-laden pop. As I've noted many times the last year, this stuff is coming back with a vengeance, and this time I don't think it sucks.

    It didn't suck then, either, but I was a bit of a philistine in this area and said a few nasty things about said sound. Take a look at some early reviews in the A&A archives and you might see what I'm talking about. In any case, Electro Group has a fine handle on the stuff, loading up delicate melodies with all sorts of extraneous noise. The key is the core of the songs. And these folks know how to write a good song.

    Now, I do wish Electro Group had updated the sound just a bit. These songs could have come out of a time warp, down to the indie rock roughness of the basic lines. Still, when the songs are this good, I'm just not going to complain. Not very loudly, anyway.

    Omnibus Records
    P.O. Box 16-2372
    Sacramento, CA 95816
    www: http://www.omnibusrecords.com

    Forty Piece Choir

    Thre's something about the whole Americana movement that seems to inspire some really wild attempts at musical assimilation. A band like Lambchop throws in everything and then heads out to the junkyard to look for more. A guy like Ryan Adams is comfortable channeling Gram Parsons, Neil Young, James Taylor and the Replacements--sometimes in the same song. Forty Piece Choir is just as diverse in its influences, and that results in a fine album--an album that's probably too unique for most labels to stomach.

    I mention labels because the band's website mentions that it is searching for one to call home. There are plenty of outstanding record labels in the band's Chicago home, and I figure one of them will pick up on these folks sooner or later. What to do with Forty Piece Choir is another question altogether.

    While the vocals of Dana Okon and Kelly Kruse do lend a sense of familiarity, there is an awful lot going on here. The sequencing of the album is alright, but it really isn't optimal. There's not the sort of flow between the tracks that there ought to be, and they really don't build to much of anything.

    Which isn't to say the stuff isn't great. Most of these songs are wonderful; they just seem a bit jarring in the order that they're placed. Sequencing is an art. When done right, it makes an average album great. A reshuffling here would make a very good album even better. When you're trying to do as much as Forty Piece Choir, every little bone thrown to the listener helps.

    www: http://www.fortypiecechoir.com


    Scot Ray on dobro, slide guitar and banjo and Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica. And in a few stomps and shouts and that's all there is. Period.

    These songs aren't improvisations, but they do have the same electric thrill of discovery about them. Ray and Barrett know how to work with each other within the confines of a song, and they both play off and with (in a nice way, of course) each other to fine effect.

    The sound is stark, with just a bit of echo behind Ray's picking. Like you were there at the coffee shop watching these boys work. I say coffee shop, but these bluesy pieces would do just as well in a downtrodden gin joint.

    Or an Appalachian church--one that allows music, anyway. There's a bit of the city and a bit of the mountain in these songs, and maybe it's that unspoken tension that attracts my ear. Barrett and Ray weave an intricate spell, one that is curiously strong.

    e-mail: slidations@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.billbarrett.net

    The Hollow Points
    Annihilation EP

    Not yer normal Dirtnap release. None of that new wave-inflected raggedy punk. Nope, this is tuneful and aggressive hardcore--the sort of thing that Epitaph put out ten years ago. Equal emphases on melody, power and lyrical stridency make these guys throwbacks.

    In a good way. As NOFX observed on it's most recent album, punk music has always been about a reaction to the middle. No matter your persepective, the most important thing is to have one. There's nothing dumber than punk songs with nothing to say.

    The Hollow Points have plenty to say, and they're polished enough to ensure that they say what they want with aplomb. Fans of early Pennywise or Bad Religion (before the oozin-ahs completely took over) will listen and smile faintly to themselves.

    P.O. Box 21249
    Seattle, WA 98111
    www: http://www.dirtnaprecs.com

    Waiting for the Tiller

    "All songs written and deployed by Matthias Anderson." Deployed. I like that. It works, of course, because this is a collection of found and manipulated sound pieces, random bits of the ether tied into loops and bound to one man's notion of coherence.

    Make that two. I like the way Anderson builds his pieces, starting off with a few atmospherics before dropping off into some serious trippage. It's never a good idea to get too weird too early--even practiced listeners of this type of fare need a reference point now and again. Anderson eases into his dementia, slowly turning up the heat until it is too late to leave the pot.

    I mentioned electronic manipulation (distortion and other stock tricks of the trade), but Anderson is generally happy to let his pieces speak for themselves without too much window dressing. The power of the ideas is stronger than the edge of the sound. That's why this album is so good.

    Plenty of regular readers will read this review and sigh. I'm off on another of my cherished field trips to the frontal lobes. Damned straight. And the other two hundred people in the world who love this kinda thing will savor this album like 30-year-old scotch.

    PMB 2211
    10002 Aurora Ave. N, #36
    Seattle, WA 98133
    www: http://www.parasomnicrecords.com

    The Marked Men
    On the Outside

    Lean licks and tight grooves. Most Dirtnap releases revolve around some sort of warped Ramones/Devo nucleus, and the Marked Men adhere much more closely to the boys from Queens. Some serious manic energy ripping through here.

    Basic basic basic. Solid hooks with very little adornment. The writing has to be sharp and the playing has to be almost giddy. Both elements are executed to perfection. These boys have this sound down.

    This isn't the most original-sounding album around. But the Marked Men make up for a general lack of new ideas with their precisely-crafted songs and driving tempos. While speed and energy can't hide all flaws, they do make most music much more engaging.

    One of those "simple pleasures" albums. Nothing to write home about, I suppose, but well worth writing about here. This one's perfect for a long drive across the plains with the top down.

    P.O. Box 21249
    Seattle, WA 98111
    www: http://www.dirtnaprecs.com

    The Mattoid
    (Cleft Music)

    There's a somewhat undefinable charm about a guy who enunciates clearly while crooning and then grunts for no particular reason. The Mattoid (a man and a band) sounds a lot like Leonard Cohen's younger, slightly brain damaged brother. My guess would be that the damage came from listening to too many Doors records at high volume, but that's pure speculation on my part.

    Equally at home in the worlds of Burt Bacharach and Screamin' Jay Hawkins (or Roxy Music and Chuck Berry, if you like), the Mattoid doesn't really try to actually fit into any particular sound. The lyrics are insightful, though it does take some effort to parse the stream of consciousness pabulum. In other words, there seems to be a method to the dorkiness.

    The sound is straight studio project. Think early Brian Jonestown Massacre (well, not real early, but pre-TVT, anyway). These songs don't sound real. I'm not even referring to the lyrics. The late 60s/early 70s pop/blues feel sound like it was whipped up in a test tube and swallowed without regard to the consequences. This ultra-contrived conceit is impossibly charming.

    I would imagine that a lot of people would listen to about four bars of "Funeral Party" (the first track) and run away screaming. I figure that's cool with the Mattoid (man and band). If the folks really cared what people thought about their music, they'd never make an album like this. And I wouldn't like it nearly as much.

    Cleft Music
    P.O. Box 330976
    Nashville, TN 37203-7507

    Blake Rainey
    Appetizer Sickness
    (Two Sheds)

    There are some folks (though not me) that think Uncle Tupelo's third album, the mostly-acoustic one recorded by Peter Buck, is that band's master work. On it, Tweedy and Farrar played a lot of old folk songs and added a few modern chestnuts of their own composition. This album has the same spare, agonizing feel of March 16-20, 1992. Rainey's voice even sounds like an odd amalgam of the two.

    What's really strange (and cool) is that Rainey's voice also has something of a 1960s Neil Diamond feel. He has that certain assured self-awareness that doesn't quite cross over into the flat-out cocky smarm of Neil in the 70s and beyond. It's a great voice, and no matter how fine these songs may be (and they're quite good), it's that voice that carries this album.

    Which is why the lean sound works so well. There's Rainey's voice and his guitar. Sometimes a piano or something else drops by, but mostly there's Rainey's voice. I can't think of an album so dominated by a vocal performance since Patty Griffin's Living with Ghosts.

    As I rate that album as one of the ten best ever recorded (by anyone, anywhere, any genre, at any time) that's a reasonable jigger of praise. Blake Rainey doesn't go straight for the jugular like Griffin did on Ghosts, but he's got quite a few compelling stories to tell nonetheless. Arresting from beginning to end.

    Two Sheds Music
    P.O. Box 5455
    Atlanta, GA 31107-5455
    www: http://www.twoshedsmusic.com

    Since We Last Spoke
    (Definitive Jux)

    I was planning to review a 12" for the last issue. The name on the vinyl was Ronnie James Dio II, and damn if the song "Exotic Talk" didn't sound like a scrambled, beat-heavy rehash of 80s metal. But I knew the name was a cipher, and I couldn't figure out who it was. So I didn't do the review.

    Duh. Look at the first letters (and transliterate "II" to "2") and you get RJD2. Of course. How could I be so stupid? Um, let me count the reasons... Anyway, this is another collection from one of the most eclectic and catchy DJs around. I mean, the guy could open for the likes of Kiss, Radiohead, Macy Gray and El-P and no one would blink.

    Unlike Dead Ringer, this one is all RJD2. There are a few vocal snippets here and there, but no MCs. Just the man, the turntable, the editing booth and himself. Or something like that.

    And the sounds groove around rock (hard, soft and...prog?), funk (in many forms), r&b (especially of the early 70s variety), trip-hop and some straight electronic stuff as well. The most impressive thing is that all this variety doesn't cancel itself out. Rather, RJD2 skillfully orchestrates his pieces into a fine symphony of sound. Few would even attempt an album as ambitious as this, and only a chosen few could succeed. A wonder for the ages.

    Definitive Jux
    451 Greenwich St. #507
    New York, NY 10013
    e-mail: info@definitivejux.net
    www: http://www.definitivejux.net

    63 Crayons
    Good People
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    There aren't many bands that could sincerely claim both the Carpenters and Frank Zappa as primary influences. If 63 Crayons doesn't, then they ought to. The album is dedicated to Carl Sagan, which kinda proves my point.

    Jason NeSmith helmed the production, and he's a perfect choice for the warped pop music of 63 Crayons. He seems to have a real feel for how to ensure a loopy--but not lunatic--sound. There's no need to add a bunch of extraneous noise to these songs; the band has already crafted some wonderfully twisted arrangements.

    I think I'm pretty much dead on with my initial assessment, though if you like, substitute Jan and Dean and Captain Beefheart. Not the same, but close enough. I haven't heard sincere pop music this crazed--yet controlled--since I got a Wallmen disc six years ago. This stuff is just normal enough to keep most people in the room.

    But there's so much just beneath the veneer. I'm not sure how deep all this is in the end, but it's so pretty and weird and wonderful that I really don't care. I'll be in the corner wearing headphones and a whacked-out grin.

    Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records
    P.O. Box 1035
    Panama City, FL 32402
    www: http://www.hhbtm.com

    The Stepford Five
    A New Design for Living

    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.

    Reverbose Records
    PMB 250
    30 Dilmont Drive
    Columbus, OH 43225
    www: http://www.reverbose.com


    Cello. Violin. Guitar. Bass. All sorts of percussion. Four people making music that has classical underpinnings but branches out into jazz (many varieties), rock (ditto) and folk (in the old old-fashioned sense of peasant dances and such). Which means, of course, that it's "classical" after all.

    Think Dirty Three on steroids. Whereas that trio is roughhewn and ragged (and wonderfully so), this quartet is shiny and tight. The songs are produced with a "big rock" sound (the almost clinical bass takes preeminence), and that adds an extra element of drama.

    Five songs. Twenty-nine minutes. These folks call it an album, and I'm in full agreement. The sweep and grandeur of these pieces is mind-blowing. Just when I figure a song has riffed its final variation, another ace summation comes along. Sometimes a surfeit of creativity can make music sound cluttered. Tarantula somehow spins all those ideas into gold.

    There is a market out there for great music, regardless of genre. Tarantula really can't (and, I think, doesn't want to) claim any particular label for itself. It shouldn't. "Great music" should suffice. Let the posers wilt. Brilliance like this can't be hidden forever.

    9-03 43rd Ave.
    Long Island City, NY 11101
    e-mail: info@tarantulamusic.com
    www: http://www.tarantulamusic.com

    All together now:

    Bootsy's Rubber Band Live in Oklahoma 1976 (Funk to the Max)
    An early live set, which features still-evolving versions of songs that would become classics in another year or two. The recording quality is high-bootleg--more than acceptable, really. Probably best appreciated by the true fanatics and musicologists, but a whale load of fun nonetheless.

    Nomeansno The People's Choice (AntAcidAudio)
    Fifteen songs from the breadth of band's career. A couple of my favorites (including the stellar "Angel and Devil") are here, and a number of them aren't. That's cool. While I think a collection like this is a good way to get into the band, Nomeansno is best appreciated in the entirety of its output. If this is your first taste of the boys, then by all means go back and buy the original albums. You won't be disappointed.

    Ocasek Cinematic 1996-1997 (Digitalis Industries)
    Brad Rose and John Mulhausen released two albums as Ocasek. The tracks here come from those albums and some stuff that found its way onto compilations. Like most Oklahoma home studio projects (an obscure, but strangely important side road in American music), there is a sense of faded grandeur in these songs. Kinda remarkable, since these boys weren't even old enough to smoke when they recorded this stuff. Even nearly a decade later, this stuff sounds just ahead of its time.

    Oval-Teen Yorkville, IL 2xCD (Bi-Fi)
    Somewhere between Pet Sounds, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Young Fresh Fellows and the High Llamas (of course) lies Oval-Teen. Just a few guys from (you guessed it) Yorkville, Ill., who like to make post-surf pop. This stuff may have been recorded from 1994-1999 (or so), but it sounds more like a product of the indie rock revolution of the mid-80s. I don't often say this, but 55 tracks really aren't enough. These guys really had a handle on what they were doing, and the songs are just smashing.

    Various Artists Datawaslost: Beep Click Strum Sing (Datawaslost)
    This collection brings together artists who do most (if not all) of their recording at home. The sounds are diverse, but this set is sequenced so well that you might not even notice. Some labels do their homework and put out superior compilations. Datawaslost is at the top of that list. Dig in an prepare to be amazed.

    Various Artists Preserve Volume One (Fractured Discs)
    Spokane, Shearwater, the Decemberists, TW Walsh, the Verna Cannon and more get together to raise money for the Carnivore Preservation Trust. The tracks are unreleased or "rare"--I hadn't heard any of them, though that's not exactly saying a lot. The styles bounce around a bit (as you probably already noticed), but the stuff is generally of good quality.

    Various Artists The Turntable Sessions Volume 1 (Amulet Records)
    For the past three years, Billy Martin and Limor Tomer have been setting up "Turntable Sessions" at various New York clubs. A DJ is paired with improvisational musicians and the "group" is then set free to do what it will. This disc contains 11 performances, the most stunning of which might well be Scotty Hard/Mike Ill's frightening rendition of "Ramblin' Man." These bits are proof that sometimes the best things happen by accident.

    Ween Live in Chicago CD/DVD (Sanctuary/BMG)
    Seventeen tracks on CD, and a full 26-song performance on DVD. The Ween boys have come a long, long ways from their humble Shimmy Disc roots. This set is a celebration of people who have been able to make a living making the music they love--all the music they love. I'm not knocked out by all the live arrangements, but there are some real nice moments. A fine set for the fans.

    Also recommended:

    Battles C EP (Monitor)
    Electronic math. Not techno, but simply a lot of electronic lines draped over a rock base. Highly conceptual and generally abstract, these songs get out there in a hurry. I followed along like a pup who caught a whiff of a bitch in heat.

    Brent Arnold and the Spheres Last Boat (Up)
    These boys play whatever esoteric sort of music comes to Arnold's mind (he's the main songwriter). Craft is emphasized over feel, but these aren't sterile songs. They're simply meticulously painted and layered. A serious challenge, but one worth taking on.

    Brian and Chris Palimpsest 12" (Dielectric)
    I've got to be honest here: I reviewed this off a CD. From what I can tell, there are more tracks on the 12". Still, I've never been disappointed with anything from these guys, and this set is pretty cool. From the apparent nothingness of the title track to the experimental electronic stuff beyond, there's much here to love.

    Desert City Soundtrack|Settlefish|Sounds Like Violence split EP (Deep Elm)
    Three Settlefish, two Desert City Soundtrack and one Sounds Like Violence. The three bands don't always play with similar sounds, but here they're in sync. So much that it can be hard to tell them apart. Six songs of brutal desperation. The perfect mood music for your next paranoid party.

    DJ Zeph Sunset Scavenger (Wide Hive)
    This one's all about the beats. Sure, Azeem, Rashaan Ahmed and other pals drop by to lay down a few rhymes, but most of the tracks here are just Zeph and the tools at his disposal. To be honest, he ought to stick with that. His beatwork is far superior to the stuff his MC buds came up with here. Fun and wide-ranging beats, stuff that doesn't suffer any letdowns.

    The Envy Corps Soviet Reunion (Bi-Fi)
    Introverted, somewhat rambling rock songs. The sort of warbly vocals that seem endemic to the midwest. I'm not complaining; we're talking about my heritage, remember? Anyway, some of these songs take a while getting to the point, but the journey is always worth hearing.

    The Girls The Girls (Dirtnap)
    Think the first couple Cars albums (or P.I.L.--you make the call) with even more affected vocals. There's not a whole lot more here, but you've got to admit that sounds like a lot of fun. The Girls don't disappoint, whipping out track after track of loud, bouncy amusement.

    The Ross Hammond Trio Optimism (Prescott Recordings)
    A guitar-bass-drums jazz trio. Songs burned directly into laptop. The stuff is a bit noodly--there's more than a bit of prog in Hammond's guitar. Still, he and his mates always take care to make sure the main point of each song is served. Solid and workmanlike, but quite enjoyable and soulful nonetheless.

    JW-Jones Blues Band My Kind of Evil (NorthernBlues)
    Produced by Kim Wilson and featuring Colin James on a couple tracks, well, you know what this sounds like, right? Right. Tight, bright blues-n-boogie stuff that shares as much with old school r&b as it does with traditional blues. I wish the sound was a bit dirtier, but that's just a quibble. The songs are solid, and the band has the slow burn down. Alrighty then.

    Madvillain Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
    MF Doom and Madlib get together to produce this collection of electro-horror-hop. Sometimes all the messing around doesn't work, but there are a few tracks that sound like 200 Motels as envisioned by George Clinton. That's something else.

    Rochester Fosgate Rochester Fosgate (Smooth Excavator)
    Simple, acoustic-driven roots stuff. A little folk, a little pop, a little rock, a little country. Think of some of the more laid-back Meat Puppets moments--no pyrotechnics. Nothing too aggressive, but still tight enough to set the hooks. Basic is, indeed, sometimes best.
    www: http://www.rochesterfosgate.com

    Tristen Shields Migrations (Datawaslost)
    Soft-spoken roots pop with electronic beats. Not groovy-funk like Beck, but simply a crunchy texture. Shields's songs rely on solid craftsmanship, not studio trickery, and that simply makes this album that much better. Like a soft summer rain, this album creates a nice, warm feeling.

    Gary Young's Hospital The Grey Album (Omnibus)
    Dreary, manipulated stuff. I doubt these songs would be pleasant if allowed to stand normally, but at their altered speeds and sounds, well, this sounds like a geek's nightmare. A damned compelling fright, I might add.

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