Thursday, December 30, 2004

Album Reviews 2004

Converge - You Fail Me

Practically inventing the metallic hardcore scene, Converge have been consistently blowing minds since their inception in the early 90s. From the fury of When Forever Comes Crashing to the pure rage of Petitioning the Empty Sky, Converge have pushed the boundaries of their genre on each release. The band’s conceptual ode to misery, 2000’s Jane Doe, is one of the most emotive and cathartic records of all time. The album utilizes aspects of post-rock and blast beats to Converge’s sound, a change that added more chaos and texture to their already crushing sound. Jane Doe was widely received as a landmark for metallic hardcore, and found its place in reputable music journals and indie kid’s download folders alike. The general consensus was that Jane Doe was Converge’s swan-song, and that any improvement upon this release would be impossible. With the recent release of You Fail Me, Converge’s first record for Epitaph, the band has once again proven any criticism unfounded. Purging, heavy, and distraught, You Fail Me is Converge’s most unique effort to date. The album seemless mixes elements of indie rock into the band’s constantly evolving sound. As a result, Converge have once again set the standard in heavy music. Like any one of Converge’s albums, this record is completely essential, and proves that Converge are not going to be slowing down any time soon. -Josiah

Castanets - Cathedral
Asthmatic Kitty

Proving once again that Asthmatic Kitty is as important a label as it is a reason for animal charity, Cathedral, Castanets’ recent debut, is a boundary-pushing foray into modern indie-folk with deeply spiritual lyrics. However, where label-mates such as Liz Janes and Sufjan Stevens have built off of influences in gospel on past releases, Castanets embrace a moody, darkened form of country music that at times branches into avant-garde. With such a sturdy reference point, the album flows dynamically from soft to loud without seeming incoherent or premeditated. Rather, Castanets is a powerful and convincing glimpse into the human soul, exploring themes of loneliness, loss, and atonement. Featuring members of the Black Heart Procession and with Liz Janes lending some vocal help, this record remarkably blends originality and consistency with complete sincerity. The perfect remedy for a lonely Sunday and a tired heart. -Josiah

mcenroe and Birdapres - Nothing is Cool
Peanuts and Corn

Previously heard together on the Break Bread ep, mcenroe and Birdapres are back with a brand new full-length. Nothing is Cool is a fun, usually silly party record that focuses on life as a white, blue-collar working, Canadian hip hop fanatic. While both emcees have moments of rocking the mic with prowess, it is mcenroe’s smooth production that really shines on this record. Combining the goofy funk of Quality Control-era Jurassic 5 with influences from the early 90s, mcenroe refuses to jock DJ Shadow or Rjd2, a decision that is surprisingly refreshing. Lyrically, mcenroe and Birdapres are obviously sincere about their love for hip hop and have some really funny things to say, but it is not very often that they really raise heads with their mic skills. Regardless, Nothing is Cool is an extremely addictive record, and a symbol of both Canada and hip-hop pride. -Josiah

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - The Doldrums
Paw Tracks

Originally released as a CD-R a few years ago, this bizarre record is Ariel Pink’s first for Paw Tracks, the record label operated and maintained by everyone’s favorite animal-related collective, Animal Collective.. Recorded on a cassette player with only guitar, keyboard, and mouth (as both vocals and drums, the album is a surreal work of lo-fi, noisy pop that could have come out of Germany in the mid- to late eighties. The closest thinkable reference point would be a machine-washed cassette tape of the Munsters doing karaoke to elevator music. In many ways, this combination works as a fresh perspective on the pop song structure, and is at times quite interesting. However, the record is far too long for what it is, and its lack of diversity makes it less memorable. Though a somewhat pleasing record, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 2 is only for the extremely eclectic. -Josiah

Kites / Prurient - The Hidden Family / +White+
Load Records

The legendary noise-peddlers at Load Records seem as though they will never slow down. Every release they put out seems to be scarier and weirder than the last. Of course, there is no reason to complain, as with each release, the concept of music as human expression is stretched even further. The Hidden Family / +White+ is a split release between Kites and Prurient, two of Providence, Rhode Island’s many noise-makers who take comfort in the warble of a broken amp and the screech of feedback. Originally released as an LP only, the CD version includes a collaborative bonus track between the two artists. The five songs by Kites are probably the more accessible songs of the split (though this is subjective to the furthest extreme), due to the fact that there are small glimpses of melody amidst the beeping and hissing. Prurient takes a more aggressive approach on his two contributions, allowing for explosions of drums, feedback, and yelling. All in all, this split release is remarkable proof that noise can be purely expressive when stripped of its pretension. -Josiah

Flamen Dialis - Symptome - Dei
Mio Records

This obscure electronic classic of Mellotrons and other tone-benders emerged from France in 1978. Like a cross between Wendy Carlos, The Residents and Stockhausen, this album stands as an early foreshadowing of underground and pop experimentation with electronic music. This is a must-have if you appreciate early Tangerine Dream, Tonto's Exploding Headband and that other French creation, Magma. The instrumental music and wordless songs of this album are wonderful world of the weird and eerie. (4) -Tom Schulte

Victory at Sea - Memories Fade
Gern Blandsten Records

Keyboards and violin give the melancholy indie rock here that haute-hip chamber pop feel as well as a full and rich dynamic. The smoky voiced Mona Elliot is a fitting complement to the treble-heavy music. While none of the music stands out in a particular catchy or memorable way, this is recommended if you like Black Heart Procession, June of 44 or Shipping News. (3.5) -Tom Schulte

Play Pretty for Baby - s/t
The Agency Records

Play Pretty for Baby is some swinging noise rock that at times sounds like NoMeansNo, as on "Free Radio" and "Paratroop Disco". However, the band is at its best when the anvil-heavy tunes are rather funky in a James Chance/Contortions kind of way, as on "You've Asked me to Come all the way Here for This?" (3) -Tom Schulte

Gorge Trio - Open Mouth, O Wisp
Skin Graft Records

On this recording, guest musicians augment the trio. This includes members from Deerhoof, The Flying Luttenbachers and more. The organized and directed clamor may be a feat of logistics to keep together, but the effect is one more often challenging than it is musical. A trio that was once three-fourths of Colossamite recorded this mostly instrumental album. There is one track with vocals, due to guest vocalist Tennis Saya. (2.4) -Tom Schulte

Zolar X - Timeless
Alternative Tentacles

Unearthing this gem of pre-punk science fiction glam is an excellent entry into Alternative Tentacles' Re-Issue of Necessity series. Like an extraterrestrial version of The Monks, this group's members wore their costumes onstage and off along with suitably alien hairdos. The music is shades of Spinal Tap and with all the dedicated camp, it seems the world is a poorer place without a documentary on these would-be aliens. At least we can thank Jello Biafra for compiling this collection of UFO-inspired album cuts, non-album songs and more, twenty tracks and all. (4) -Tom Schulte

Tom Waits - Real Gone

The Chinese finger trap is a toy made of straw that is a loosely woven tube about a half-inch in diameter and five inches long. A player inserts an index finger into each end. When the player tries to pull out his fingers the tube contracts and traps his fingers. The harder he pulls, the tighter the trap becomes. The only way to release the trapped fingers is to bring the hands together. The tube then expands enough for the fingers to be gently withdrawn. Tom Waits' unique, rough and apocalyptic stylism at times threatens to be his own finger trap. The album opener "Top of the Hill" is so clamorous, primitive and dark as to be a threatening storm cloud of Waits' own destruction in the sound and fury of sonic nihilism. However, Tom quickly follows up that attention-getting overture to this American gothic opus wit the gentle handclasp of melody and misery in the sea shanty-like "Hoist that Rag". "How's it Gonna End" is another superlative success as an eerie ode to hopeless destitution. Tom Waits generally avoids all social and topical commentary in his gritty little story songs, but it is hard not to detect an exasperated currency in, "Tomorrow" a song about a soldier writing home. It contains such reflective lines as "Trying to say is don't they pray/To the same God that we do?/And tell me how does God/Choose, who's prayers does he/Refuse..." (5) -Tom Schulte

The Muffins - Double Negative
Cuneiform Records

The Muffins is akin to such progressive groups as Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Henry Cow or Soft Machine. Here the core art-jazz-rock quartet is augmented with nearly twice as many guest musicians. Two of those are saxophone alumni of the Sun Ra Arkestra (Marshall Allen, Knoel Scott). This is a second career offering by The Muffins, which disbanded in 1981 after nearly seven years of a successful progressive rock career. This is the second album since the group's reemergence and it is a monster album of jazz-rock and progressive art rock. Instead of being a time machine to clever Canterbury cacophony, this is a tautly and cleanly executed post-rock opus that has a greater presence in the camp of '60s forward-looking jazz groups like Art Ensemble of Chicago than it has in the RIO descendants of the National Health-Magma scene. (4.5) -Tom Schulte

Break Bread - s/t EP
Peanuts and Corn

If you haven’t heard of Peanuts and Corn, then you have missed out on an entire piece of Canadian culture. Peanuts and Corn is the only Canadian hip hop label that matters, and Break Bread is a supergroup comprised of their entire roster. Members mcenroe, Pipi Skid, John Smith, Gruf, Hunnicutt and Yy have all been representing Canada for the past ten years in their respective projects, including the hilarious Hip-Hop Wieners, and have continuously put out album after album of real, quality hip hop. With the tracks handled by mcenroe (who also emcees) and newcomer Hunnicutt, the production on this album is of the highest caliber, matching sick beats with melodic samples. The rapping is playful but totally sincere, with each emcee namedropping Canadian landmarks and quickly passing the mic. With the idea of Canadian hip-hop constantly referring to indie jackass Buck 65 and Vancouver morons such as Swollen Members and Kyprios, Break Bread brings a refreshing dose of true hip hop to the table and gives biters a run for their money. -Josiah

Jesus Wept - Sick City EP
Strike First Records

When a new band has a new ep on a fairly new record label, its fair to give them the benefit of the doubt and graciously understand that it is their first effort, which is something I often try my hardest to do. However, when I released that the supposed new band is made up of most members of the long-running xDisciplex AD, and that new label is just a new subsidiary of Facedown Records, my expectations were running high. And, unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed. Jesus Wept play bland, mid-paced, Christian “hardcore” (though I’m not sure if I know any hardcore kids who would dare let this be called hardcore) with weak vocals and shitty breakdowns. I’m sure they’re all very nice guys who sincerely believe in what they’re doing, and they are very honest lyrically, but it is unfortunate that the most interesting thing about this release is the band photo, as one of the members looks impeccably like Nick Lachey from Newlyweds. -Josiah

Gentleman Reg - Darby & Joan
Three Gut Records

Touted as a sometimes member of Broken Social Scene, Gentleman Reg writes melodic indie pop reminiscent of the Canadian uber-collective. The songs are for the most part well-written, featuring interesting guitar parts and an array of other instruments, but the release often falls flat due to often irritating vocals and not enough originality between songs. There is no question that there are moments of creativity on this release, but not enough to set it apart from any other singer-songwriter release. If you are a huge fan of Broken Social Scene, and you want to collect the seven million records put out by each member’s different projects, you might want to pick this up. Otherwise, it is by no means necessary listening. -Josiah

Cran - Consider It Pure Joy
Self-released CD-R - Download it Here

Armed only with downloaded copies Fruity Loops, Acid Pro, and a whole lot of patience, Jonathan Hughes (known locally as the founder of arrogant-gone-humble website, drummer and founding member of the Hand, and one sweet-ass dude) has worked diligently for the past two years to produce this, his debut full-length under the moniker Cran. The result is an entirely original album that contains enormous potential to break into both mainstream and indie circles as a huge success. Consider It Pure Joy has at once the appeal of mainstream legends like Bjork, Radiohead, Beck, or Air, as well as the indie subtleties of Pedro The Lion, Mount Eerie, and the entire Morr Music roster. The release is also soaked with a healthy dose of pop hooks and Justin Timberlake-inspired beats. However, this wide range of influences does not hinder the album’s continuity, as it is a comprehensive and expansive effort. Lyrically, Jonathan’s images are textured by powerful diction as he explores themes of humility, grace, and faith. In a world of music where irony and posturing take the place of transparent expression, Jonathan’s extreme sincerity is both an encouragement and a challenge to live more passionately. Based on its sheer originality and dexterity, it is only a matter of time before Consider It Pure Joy will gain wide appeal and find its release on a reputable record label. In the mean time, track it down on the internet, and be one of the first to hear it! -Josiah

Liz Janes - Poison and Snakes
Asthmatic Kitty

Asthmatic Kitty, the label that discovered Sufjan Stevens and Half-Handed Cloud, is quickly proving to be one of the most consistent record labels around. Poison and Snakes, the latest release by Liz Janes, is no exception to this rule. Though most often compared to Neko Case, Janes often reflects classic females such as Patti Smith and Janis Joplin, as well as the musicianship of such contemporaries as Sufjan Stevens, Ugly Cassanova and Br. Danielson. Flawlessly merging elements of indie rock, gospel, country, and rhythm and blues, she is at once sincere, original, and unforgettable. Backed by a revolving cast of creative musicians exploring unique instrumentation, the sound of this album is refreshingly textured. Lyrically, Janes explores lost loves, deserted landscapes, and redemption from a sincerely Christian worldview. The most refreshing aspect of this release (and any other release from the Asthmatic Kitty / Sounds Familyre roster) is Janes’ ability to be so transparent and honest about her beliefs without being predictable or cliched. With an entirely original sound and divine lyrics, Poison and Snakes is the most sincere indie record I have heard in as long as I can remember. -Josiah

The Monorail - A Whole New City
Milquetoast Records

This album is catching my attention as I'm swayed from moments of mediocre alterna-rock to displays of a pure ingenuity that has been displayed from bands like The Clash. I'm not a big fan of the vocals though, since they seem too have the dance-funk come across as a little too adult contemporary, and the alterna-indie tracks a little too Edge Fest. If you're following what I'm saying, you may get a hint that the styles on this record come across as flexible and strangly contrasting. However, the overall feel is unanimously of one discernable origin. It's a hard sell, but the moments that blow me away make up for those I could do without. -Stu

GFK - If Liberty Isn't Given, It Should Be Taken
G7 Welcoming Committee

YES! I didn't know this type of music was still around. Generic early-90's underground thrash metal-core. Serious. It's great because it IS generic to that era, before bands started whining in the middle of their songs. I don't know the genre as well as all you metal-core diehards to compare them to anyone specific, but they remind me of old Solid State compilation bands like Focal Point, early Zao and Living Sacrifice and as well we must not fail to mention similarities to Sepultura. I suppose I shouldn't be too suprised since they've been around for 8 years in Québec, but I am relieved to hear such a band not wade in the waters of transformational 'maturity' after playing for so long. Double kicks, epic riffs and dry throat growls make this album genuine killer hardcore. -Stu

Struction - s/t
Noreaster Failed Industries

I just had this band's follow-up release to this album sent to me recently, and then noticed I still had this one to review. If one were to judge by appearances, the artistically abstract designs of their covers are certainly apt in foreshadowing their experimental scene-rock sound of thwarted and jangly indie riffs. Male and female vocals are pedestals of angst and uninhibited sputterings that are held with good composure and novel structure as the intensity of the music goes out of its way to not lend you a hand in understanding. As all great doctors of rhythmic concoctions, Structure's format can come across as patched together and aimless through unfocused lenses, but to that I attribute their keen ability to sustain raw maliciousness tide to the leash of the technical loyalty. -Stu

Brahm - Built to Be Brought Down
Lujo Records

This machine is bulging out of the earth. Its voice is a hatchet and it has no eyes. It's nice to hear an ambience in electronica that doesn't drag on while you watch it struggle, but instead leads along the way this album does. With vocal and guitar help from Frodus/The Out_Circuit's Nathan Burke on some of the tracks, Brahm messes around with contrasts of jazz, drum & bass, and carnal garage experimentation. Dark and echoing in some parts, a futuristic mysteriousness relatable to Bladerunner seems to be a citable influence. With confidence enough for an indie rock label to release a genre of this type you'd usually expect some sort of mediocre dabbling, but Lujo is fortunate enough to be hosting the level of quality that Brahm has to offer. -Stu

Pattern is Movement - The (imp)possibility of Longing

With a name like Pattern is Movement you'd expect some artsy math-rock band with song titles like 'albatross' and 'icarus' right? Well you ARE right. The songs' professed inspirations range from Don Cabellero to Bjork and are mostly sung along to with the likeness of Elliot Smith. The math-rock spidery repetitions are getting out of hand these days though, but I'd rather not blame this talented lot for furthering the epidemic as their compositions actually rise above the level of the most. Still I get the feeling of different parts blindly thrown together to be called original. -Stu

Clann Zú – Black Coats & Bandages
G7 Welcoming Committee

I remember Clann Zú's last album spilling over with Irish folk rock of a centuries old traditional sound in a more modern format. While this new release hold on the dark seriousness, most of the direction has headed towards an late 80's post rock not uncommon to The Durutti Column. Still a lot of similarities to U2 as well, even though these Irish lads play out of Australia. -Stu

jerseyturnpike – permafrost

This album is so nice. Too nice. Serious. They even sent a long personalized letter explaining the 'interwoven form of song and improvisation' of each of the tracks. The music is as polite as I've ever heard as well. The instruments used to record the album were simply guitar, vocals, wine glasses, a double-strung harp, and a snare. Primarily, though, the songs are almost as soft as air itself, with delicately picked strings and the almost whispering vocals of Dina Carpenito whose past includes the bands Strike Force and Mariner. As mentioned, each of the tracks blend into each other from those sung into instrumental intermissions and then back again. It's certainly not an album for short attention spans or energetic moods, but can always be popped in when distractions are best kept to a minimum. -Stu

All Purpose Voltage Heroes – The End Of Daniel Johnathan Poole

I'm not a big fan of keyboard rock, but I am a sucker for the piano and organ rock these guys are putting out. From Edmonton, they describe themselves as damaged electro-pop, which is probably a good fit for their sound although any confusing cross-genre tag would probably do justice to the scope of their art. They even fuse rap with hardcore while still sounding indie. What the fuck. I've been told they're major geeks too; no not Linkin Park type geeks, we're talking MAJOR geeks.. that's GOOD. Another plus is the spookiness, like Fun 100 covering Peter Gabriel songs. Oh MAN. Scary. GOOD scary. -Stu

The Sermon – Volume
Alternative Tentacles

Ok, so I don’t really like the White Stripes too much, and all of these other modern garage bands that everyone was so excited about never caught my attention either. That’s why I wasn’t expecting much from The Sermon. However, this band, for lack of a better phrase, KICKS OUT THE JAMS! This is in no way watered down, nor is it trying to gain attention from the mainstream. This is relentless, blistering rock and roll at its finest. From the beginning of this release, The Sermon deliver song after song of straight up, badass, bluesy rock and roll. I implore you to check this out. -Josiah

The Reason – s/t
Smallman Records

Man, this is awful. Smallman has always toed the line in my opinion. Everything they have ever released has had the potential of being bad, whether it was the new Moneen, or something from Choke. When you’re dealing in emo, it’s dangerous business. Having said that, they’ve usually done a good job. Another Joe, Moneen, Choke; they are / were all awesome bands. But now, with the signing of Ontarian piss-ants, The Reason, Smallman will have to do a lot to impress me again. I’m sure when you think of their band name you think of Hoobastank; they were probably real scared of that. Well, the scarier thing is that you’re not far off. Think Hoobastank covering From Autumn To Ashes. I’m sorry, Smallman, I tried to like this, but it just hurt me too much. -Josiah

Zolar X – Timeless
Alternative Tentacles

The title of this release describes it as it actually is. Without reading the liner notes, I couldn’t tell if this fantastic glam rock was from the early 70s or the 2000s. Turns out it is from the early 70s. Anyways, Zolar X play very interesting, space inspired glam rock in the veni of Ziggy-era David Bowie. There is also an old school punk sensibility that probably appealed to Jello Biafra, who remastered this cd (which isn’t really that big of a deal, anyone can run a cd through a digital mastering program…). All in all, I would say that although the album’s length is a bit tedious at times, this is a very exciting release that would be of great interest to fans of eclectic rock and roll and sci-fi music. -Josiah

Enginedown - Enginedown
Lookout Records

Here's a band that is amazingly unstoppable. Release after release, Engine Down's albums have yet to lose any sign of their talented songwriting formula. They're also untouchable; I can think of about fourteen dozen other bands who try to sound like these guys and fail miserably. Like past albums, this new self-titled release has the same sharp intelligence in its rhythms coupled with the hard to soft melodic harmonies of bass and guitar. The vocals are also perhaps the only around that are a worthy comparison to Jeremy Enigk as they hold everything together with strength and emotional stability. Hopping onto a larger label with this release, I'm sure they're in for a busy year. -Stu

the pAper chAse – God Bless Your Black Heart
Kill Rock Stars

This is the pAper chAse's first album on a larger label giving them some much deserved exposure, but it's too bad it's also the worst album they've put out so far. There's not really anything exciting aside from one or two moments to be excepted, such as the track Ready, Willing, Cain & Able's upbeat dementia which I must admit impresses me with its catchiness as a completely mad anthem. The album actually is good and I'm still trying to warm up to it, but it's just annoying when a band puts out albums that seem to successively deteriorate in the originality and horror that got you hooked on them in the first place. If you liked this album, check out their other albums because they're all better. -Stu

Decahedron – Disconnection_Imminent

Well it sure took me long enough to review this album, since I've had it sitting around for more than a couple of months now. When I first heard about Decahedron I was easily excited about it being a new incarnation of Frodus, and when they went and enlisted Jonathan Ford from Roadside Monument I could hardly contain myself. Hearing the songs and albums as they came about weren't as exciting for me though. Each of the trio being members from two of my all-time favourite bands, I had expected an instant gratification in the sound or at least some recognition of a nostalgic resurrection. Instead, however, the songs are more of a polished maturation due partly, as lead Shelby Cinca has told me, to the fact that they hadn't had the chance to play their songs for a live audience before taking them to the studio. The album also resembles Frodus' final release, a more controlled sound and less raw ferocity. When I was finally fortunate enough to have the chance to see them play recently, my opinions took another turn when they would undoubtedly show an ability of unsustainable energy. There is less math but more science to their sound; political science even. -Stu

Suffering & The Hideous Thieves – Rats In Heaven

Hey look who it is. Mr Suffering and his crew are back with a full-length album to carry on their drama, and do I ever mean drama. It's not exactly melodramatic, but more of a bandaged sophistication that can be a little uncomfortable at first, but so very warm. Let's call it foreign and cultured sounding 'chambre pop' with a morbid tongue that thrives on delirium. Like past material, most of the songs are filled with the emotional release that Suffering slurs with his very rough vocal style that only grows on you if you let it. -Stu

Various Artists – Active Suspension vs Clapping Music
Active Suspension

Two discs from two labels out of France. The artists are mostly acoustically atmospheric and electronically experimental aside from some hip-hop and simplistic electronica. From the first disc I liked Yann Encre vs Sonia's 'Though shalt abide by the mighty deadline rules' which included an instrumental dual of acoustic guitars and strings that was quite nice. From the second disc, Quasigital Love's 'More important than the government, more important than the church is the home' was satisfyingly eerie. Man, compilations can be exhausting. -Stu

Judith and Holofernes – Dairymen & Festa Queens

This album has been a new favourite of mine for the past couple of months. Composed of lamenting folk and dreamy acoustics it crosses fine lines of sarcastic depression and upbeat horror. The songs are deeply serious underneath with very little signs of cliche, and the variety of male to female vocals are outstanding to listen to. If you're sick of everything and need something nice to listen to, I believe this band will save you. -Stu

Oblivion – The Garden in The Machine

I thought the sample from the movie Session 9 at the end of the long and unnecessary intro of this album was great. That's about it though. Well I suppose a band that sounds like a Van Halen/Chilli Peppers/Moist orgy can come in handy when friends come over who aren't into tolerating any queer shit. -Stu

Davide Balula – Pellicule
Active Suspension

This is interesting. It's French, so it has to be right? "Jokes!" as Jonny Valid would say. No really, it is interesting if you're into the soft yet extremely experimental music. I wasn't really into it until all the weird textures started adding a nice ambience to kind drown out the vocals. It's a good album to drown in, but as I hinted, the attempted quiet singing can be distracting, except for the parts when it's basically harmonizing along with everything else. Fans of Xiu Xiu or Kid 606 might take a fancy in the moments of bubbling electronica, but really it's pretty open with regards to a specific vibe. -Stu

The Album Leaf – Seal Beach
Acuarela Discos

I wasn't sure about this one at first because I hate long intro when I'm rushing to review a pile of albums. It was worth it for this album though, as each song slowly breaks into soft and relaxing instrumentals anyone could just sit around and slack their ass off to. Too bad it's only 5 songs, but I was sent this album a while back so maybe they have a full-length out now. Check it out if you need some new lazy summer music to have naps to. Serious! -Stu

Nap Attack – Choose Your Own Adventure EP
Monosyllabic Records

A second release from this young instrumental trio who favour the sounds of the Don Caballero style. They remind me of early Roadside Monument at times, mostly dangling and twisting long progressions from soft to dark to tell their subtle stories. The 5 new songs show a commendable growth in the band's efforts when compared to their debut demo, especially when noting the use of more atmospheric effects to sharpen their music's mood. -Stu

The Kettle Black – Was Wollen Sie Mehr?
Capital Punishment

From Vancouver, a one man act reenacting the rock and folk mood of happier times with guitars, samples, loops, synths and other collaborative apparatuses. The styles of each of the 9 tracks are a little jumpy, from snappy lead bass riffs to stringed acoustic echoes full of lament. Without the conventional full band backing the songs, they can sometimes come off as a bit thin in their sound. Even though at times layers of samples try to fill the void, there's a missing fullness. The lighter ballads bring out the best though, giving room for the strong and defined vocals to centralize as the main focus. -Stu

Death From Above – Romantic Rights

When I first heard Heads Up!, the debut EP by Toronto’s Death From Above, I was pretty floored by the sheer monstrosity of their killer bass riffage and sassy singing. The EP stayed in my CD player for months, and when I saw them live I was equally amazed. So when I knew that Romantic Rights was on its way, I was totally stoking that there would be more songs that I could bump in my car. However, while Heads Up! ruled with non-stop balls-to-the-wall rock, Romantic Rights seems to fall flat. Don’t get me wrong, this EP has its moments, particularly the sexy romp “Pull Out,” but it fails to erect the hairs on my neck like their first EP. I would recommend this only for huge fans of the band. Otherwise, pick up Heads Up!, or wait and see what their full length on Vice sounds like later this year. -Josiah Hughes

Piebald – All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time
Side One Dummy

Ok, so this album is being released on SideOneDummy. I found this extremely disconcerting, as Piebald do not have any ex-members of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones that I know of, and the last time I was in Chilliwack, no one was talking about how fuggin’ wicked Piebald is. I was nervous that this label change meant that Piebald was becoming the Casualties knock-off that I never thought possible. My fears, however, were false, and this release is just like Piebald’s last two efforts – a fun and bouncy album of pure rock and roll bliss. One thing I noticed about this album is that there are a lot more pianos in the equation, which basically makes it sound like bitchin’ Ben Folds songs with the addition of guitarmonies and funnier lyrics. This album is so summer vacation that I refuse to put on pants while it's on, and instead dream of root beer slurpees. Songs that particularly stood out were “Haven’t Tried It,” “Get Old or Die Trying,” and “All Senses Lost.” There’s no question that Piebald still have the ability to write insanely catchy rock songs, horribly shitty label or not. -Josiah Hughes

V/A - Tracks and Fields

This is one hell of a roster on 2 discs of some of the most interesting bands these days who are slowly rising to deservedly respectable reputations. I can hardly think that most would take a fancy in each and everyone one of these tracks, as I found myself skipping around here and there, but there's a guarantee of at least something new and exciting for everyone. I'm also amazed to find a few of my all-time favourite bands (Xiu Xiu, the pAper chAse, Danielson) all in the same nice and colourful package. I wouldn't have thought that ever possible in this drowning age, but there it is right in front of my face. Other acts that I've been taking interest in are included as well, i.e. Need New Body and Young People, as well as another favourite, Dead Meadow. KRS has proven their good taste and deserve for attention, in my opinion of course. -Stu

Cassette Boy And DJ Rubbish - Inside A Whale's Cock
Spy Mania

Pure satirical audio terrorism. Cassetteboy is back on this release lending his brilliant reinventive talents in splicing sound bites from countless sources into well-rounded and witty comic masterpieces. Also included are hip-hop, dub and other acts composing seriously unbelievable tracks like George Bush Is An Islamic Fundamentalist by 'The Rub Feat Bill Clinton On Sax', and Picasio's merge of a Craig David hit sung over Eye of the Tiger. A lot of current events and superstars are thwarted as well, including renditions of Jenny on the Block and a play session with the Al Qaeda news clips and statements. -Stu

Scott Marshall - My Life in the Gush of Boasts

The title suggests Brian Eno and David Byrne's groundbreaking album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Like that album, there are elements here of electronic music of the cerebral and dance varieties. While the album title and such piece names as "Squirrelbrain" (in three parts) and "Days of War, Nights of Love" suggest a comedic if not frivolous attitude, the electronic music is serious and cinematic, Eno-esque and often eerie in its organic minimalism. However, Scott is not content with being merely a Steven Reich with a home studio. His music transmutes into being the angular soundtrack of robot marionettes and can at times feature the impulsive breakbeats of today's techno. (4) -Tom Schulte

The Vindictives - Muzak for Robots
Teat Records

This is over an hour of instrumental music crossing Kraftwerk with a cheap Casio. The thin keyboard music could be a homemade soundtrack for public access TV espousing New Age philosophy and alien contact. Still, the extreme stylization adds a charm and appeal to what could be just as easily called Vangelis Lite. One standout track is "Oberseite Aus" (all the songs have German titles), which could be a Wendy Carlos wannabe trying to reincarnate "These Boots are Made for Walking". (3) -Tom Schulte

Buddy Miles Express - Hell and Back

Patriarchal funk-rock drummer Buddy Miles went from Wilson Pickett to The Electric Flag to the unfortunately brief Band of Gypsies with Jimi Hendrix to less successful projects to prison and from there to be the voice of cartoon raisins. Miles is now back on track doing the progressive funk-rock he is made for and as exemplified on this album and with his other project, Hardware. This album patiently flows from song to song, delivering electric rock-fueled ballad soul. This version of the Express features Nicky Skopelitis (Material, Elliot Sharp), frequent collaborator Kevon Smith on guitars and a four-man horn section. Much of the material is familiar: "Born Under a Bad Sign" and "All Along the Watchtower" are here. Miles also includes his own monumental "Them Changes", which is present on the Band of Gypsies album. This album still seems far seeing and progressive though it was originally released on Rykodisc on 1994. (4) -Tom Schulte

Bill Laswell - ROIR Dub Sessions

This full-length, four-track album compiles material from ROIR's four Laswell releases. This is an excellent introduction to the post-dub electronica Laswell available from Laswell on ROIR. Priced like a sampler but laden with over 45 minutes of bass bliss, this album features Nicky Skopelitis, Aiyb Dieng, Jah Wobble and more with Laswell. This compendium excerpts Sacred System Chapter One: Book of Entrance, Sacred System Chapter Two, Dub Chamber 3, and Book of Exit. What this collection will not do is tell you which of the four to acquire for further listening, they are all required for any hip CD collection. (4) -Tom Schulte

Badawi - Clones & False Prophets

On Clones & False Prophets, Badawi enhances his dub electronica with the infusion of avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot (John Zorn, Tom Waits), jazz drummer Ben Perowsky (Lost Tribe, Elysian Fields) and saxophonist Doug Wieselman (Kamikaze Ground Crew, Robin Holcomb). This allows for a mix of the expected dub flavors ("Enter the Etherics") with sophisticated, arty fare ("Fire and Brimstone"). Carolyn "Honeychild" Coleman, frequent collaborator with Badawi creator Raz Mesinai, is on hand though she provides vocals on only two tracks of this largely instrumental album. (4.5) -Tom Schulte

Richard Pinhas - Tranzition
Cuneiform Records

French guitarist and electronic composer Richard Pinhas offers an organic, flowing sound where the rolling waves of processed guitar loops washes over the sedimentary sandstone foundation of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. The instrumental music effortlessly fills your deepest headphones with aural adventures aplenty. The mesmerizing, mystic nature of this disembodied, floating music makes it right for massage, magic-working and meteor shower parties. (4) -Tom Schulte

Thee Silver Mountain Reveries - The "Pretty Little Lightning Paw" EP

What can I say about music of this caliber except to confuse myself with oxymorons like colourfully unsaturated. I would gage its temperature to be between five and thirteen degrees Celsius, or more accurately compared to whatever the warmth of a virgin mind distracted by death might feel like. I've been haunted, and it feels nice once again. -Stu

Chocolate Robots - Goat Roast

This two piece from Sarnia, Ontario hits the spot with great fun in a gun lo-fi rock. Brothers Mike and Matt Girezi play their classic garage and old-times folk well by telling equally entertaining stories along the way. It's the kicking back on the summer porch feel, while imagining the two making use of a long winded afternoon by deriving homemade masterpieces out of what happens to be lying around. Recorded on a four track for added warmth, the drums and occasionally plugged guitar are played along at parts with what I believe to be a banjo. -Stu

Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
Free Porcupine Society

Hearing the new songs played live settled my doubtful opinion of Xiu Xiu's new album. After Knife Play, the releases of Chapel of the Chimes, A Promise and Fag Patrol had somewhat defused my enthusiasm as the more experimental and simplistic releases left a feeling of spiritual void. Fabulous Muscles has become to me the continuation of where Knife Play left off with its return of upbeat melodies and stable rhythms reverberating the dark emotion of indescribably conceptions. -Stu

Black Ox Orkestar - Ver Tanzt?

Lamenting Jewish folk music describes this release that is accompanied with a small booklet of strong words and mystical imagery, and as is ever rampant these days, the intermarriage of bands sees the four core members of Black Ox coming from the Silver Mt. Zion and Sackville. The sounds on the album though are strikingly convincing, and as words are sung in Yiddish a loyal respect to authenticity can be guessed. -Stu

Frog Eyes - The Golden River
Global Symphonic

Frog Eyes are magical. With classically influenced piano and synth playing that gives warmth to the cold and gloomy melancholy, desperate and wavering pitch of Carey Mercer's half-conscious vocals. This album is a real Tom Waits kind of fit at some parts, playing with fluttering guitars, bells and almost cabaret style piano. Overall it may be seen as a still exciting yet a little less stimulating continuation of their previously brilliant The Bloody Hand release. -Stu

Wax Mannequin - The Price
Coqi Records

A describing bio comparing this man as a "Freddie-Mercury-meets-Tom-Waits baritone" pretty much sums up his awesomely unique and retrospective taste on rock. Since his last release Wax Mannequin has radically transformed his sound and stage presence from a timidly raging psychopath to an outright profane president of indie rock. With a backing band to support his anthems, this album is a strong support in his self-elected claim of rulership that is becoming ever so relevant. There are many hits on the record where Wax growls and sneers through cutting lyrics such as "he keeps Christ's medicine in his cock" and "rock and roll will never die". The soft dance ballads are present as well, displaying soft curvatures of enlightenment, and of course throughout the album are the signature harmonizing meow-meow lyrics that fill us all with glee. -Stu

Southkill - s/t
Noreaster Failed Industries

This is one of those long and drawn out albums of instrumental mood music, similar to Godspeed but a little heavier. The sound is big and full, dark and driving, and holds attention to balanced progression, unlike many bands who wander into mindless interludes. Preferably listened to at high levels of amplification. -Stu

R. Stevie Moore - Nevertheless Optimistic

The eccentric, quirky music of R. Stevie More recalls Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston. Somewhat damaged pop and exuding a childish charm, this music also grabs the listener with its catchy, memorable lyrics and spirit of instant joy. R. Stevie Moore was a leader in the DIY home recording movement and this album selects from his huge archive of home recordings for a selection covering 1975 - 2003. Largely short on length, these pieces are long on comedic and cracked pop genius. (4) -Tom Schulte

Mutant Press - Hole in my Heart
Mutant Press

This is a memorial CD by Jerome T. Youngman, a.k.a. Mutant Press, for his departed mother. Youngman wrote all the original songs and performed all instruments. Some of the songs directly etch out the details of sadness and uneasiness that follow on the loss of a loved on, for example "Fantasy Fix" and "Season of Sad". Some are mad-at-the-world type songs ("Creeps at my Door") and some are just catharsis, like "Big time with You" and the cover of "Wang Dang Doodle". Maybe mom was a Dixon fan. It is amazing how sometimes Mutant Press sounds so much life Johnny Dowd, witness "Let's Float Away" and "Big time with You". (3) -Tom Schulte

Kids of Widney High - Act Your Age
Moon Man Records

There was a time when singing songs in a group setting was as natural an entertainment as watching the game or going to the movies. This was also a more active way of entertaining than the passive entertainments that prevail today. The natural enthusiasm and infectious joy of these Los Angeles high school special education students will summon in the listener this innate desire to sing and be happy as a result of it. It is probably this fact that has resulted in the therapeutic success of involvement in this project for Michael Monagan's class as well as the commercial success of the recording and performing project. The Kids also have really interesting perspectives in their schools, including the thoughtful analysis of Fidel Castro in the Latin-flavored "Two Faces on Fidel" and the celebratory non-vegan "Life Without The Cow". Shantel Brown stands out on this album for singing "Miss Understood" and "Valentine's Day". Here love song is warm and natural, more authentic than many examples of the genre that one could find on radio and in films. The spirited title track, like the rest, features the Kids in chorus to a rock band of studio musicians, some of whom are also teachers. The songs are an anthemic ode to the type of self-respect and Golden Rule lifestyle we need more of out there. (4.5) -Tom Schulte

Polmo Polpo - Like Hearts Swelling

Seeing Polmo Polpo open last year at a Do Make Say Think show caught my attention. Fiddling in between sets of the loud attitude and spidery rock of other openers, the experience still sticks to my memory as a cleansing of my nerves in such a stuffy atmosphere of self-awareness. A listen to this release presents that same quality, though a little slower to develop with such attributed atmospheric climbing that instrumental music of this type of experimented blending contains. Sampled and reorganized organic sounds delicately compose this artists solitary symphony into an imaginary world of new fears and emotions. Comparing to Amon Tobin, these works are a more down to earth approach to the musical mysteries of turning darkness into light. -Stu

Estradasphere - Quadropus
Web of Mimicry Records

Like Jucifer, Estradasphere has one foot in death metal ("Jungle Warfare") and one in indie rock. The group also offers a blue-eyed rap-metal homage to big-time wrestling ("Bodyslam"). Every track is self-contained in the diverse genre spectrum covered by this wild and wacky release. There is also a hilarious tongue-in-cheek "At Least We'd Have Today" which is equal parts Motown pop-soul and Beach Boys. Skilled arrangements and a witty sense of humor congeals this grab-bag of styles into jambalaya of impassioned musical schizophrenia. This mad experiment gets the blessing of Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More) who testifies to the group's talents and arranged strings for "Speck". (4) -Tom Schulte

Electronic Barnacle Island - Deeply Faulted Area Resembling an Upright Deck of Cards
KiraKira Disc Records

Aaron Noel entirely composed and performed the music of Deeply Faulted Area Resembling an Upright Deck of Cards. The instrumental electronic music is an interesting juxtaposition of floating, will-o-the-wisp melodies and angular rhythms. Noel claims George Winston as well as the early work of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream among his influences, so this explains the eerie, melancholy melodies. The post-industrial, mechanical beats are of a more contemporary stripe. (3) -Tom Schulte

Arab on Radar - Queen Hygiene II / Rough day at the Orifice
Three One G

Here we have Arab on Radar's first two albums, Queen Hygiene II (1997) and Rough Day at the Orifice (1998) reissued together onto one CD. On Queen Hygiene II the band had a bass player (Andrea Fiset), but not so after that. Right from the beginning we have the hyperactive post-punk songs of attention deficit brevity and crammed full of brutal and pornographic lyrics. This earliest material is among the group's best and having both albums on one CD is a real bargain for the collector, though all the short spasms of music that make up each song only adds up to a little over 40 minutes for the entire album. (3) -Tom Schulte

Wesley Willis & The Dragnews - Greatest Hits, Vol. 3
Alternative Tentacles

Alternative Tentacles chose to make this posthumous Wesley Willis greatest hits package its first enhanced CD release. As a fitting tribute, this compendium includes selected tracks from self-produced Willis CDs as well as unreleased and very early material. Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra wrote the liner notes to the manic mosaic of keyboards and profanity, commercial quotes and nonlinear metaphors. (3.5) -Tom Schulte

The Abodox - New Knife of the Berserker

Included in my top picks for 2003, this Seattle death-math-metal trio has only improved in impression every time I've heard them. The 14 track, 2003 release is an indepth album of horror and brilliant atmospheric experimenting, each track crossing such familiars as Dillinger Escape plan, Iron Maiden and My Lai. Brutally fast blast beats grease up this great engine, making way for avant-jazz breakdowns and throat clogging chaos. -Stu

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