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05 May 2006

Office, Q & A (self-released) Rating: 8
Scott Masson got sick of his dead end cubicle jobs. As a matter of fact, he feared them. So, when fiddling around with experimental pop ditties in his garage, he thought of forming a band and even named it after his biggest fear. With Q & A, he'll never have to worry about TPS reports again. Office delivers punchy, in-your-face guitar pop with no apologies. The dry production leaves no frills aside from the occasional keyboard trill and vaguely techno-styled drumming. The lyrics, unsurprisingly, deal with office-related issues, but not in the conventional sense. On the piano pop of "Dominos," he counteracts untrue gossip by simply crooning "so you think you can talk shit about me when I'm not around / Honey this city's just a little town when the fact's don't make sense". Office can get a letter from the Postal Service ("Not Her Style"), employees can get guitar-fueled road rage on the way to work ("Had a Visit"), but the year-end report looks good: they're going to be in the black for a long time to come. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Evan Sawdey
"Possibilities": [MP3]
"Bar Yellow": [MP3]
"Busy with Other Things": [MP3]
"Wound Up": [MP3]
multiple songs: [player]

The Field Register, Tire & Caster (Ships at Night) Rating: 7
The opening guitar figure of "Sounding Out" is an instantly captivating hello from Montreal's The Field Register. Intricate and melodic, it sets the table for the rest of Tire & Caster, where Jeannot Boudreau's calm, understated vocals swim in seas of gorgeous intervals and shifting rhythms. The instrumental "Seven Four" exudes a Stereolab-ish cool as different keyboard and guitar textures take turns cartwheeling around Gilles Castilloux's metronome-precise drumming. "Fair Grounds" shakes things up nicely with some prickly guitar ambience, but the noise never overwhelms the song's steadfast charm. The songs are also exquisitely arranged. "Fort Knocks" recalls Mates of State ancestors Vosotros, with male/female call-and-response vocals fit snugly on an urgent backbeat. Each piece of the instrumental puzzle falls confidently in place, yet still manages to avoid feeling studied or stale. Few rock bands possess such a keen ear to balance abrasion with beauty with these kinds of results. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Michael Metivier
"Ceramic": [MP3]
"Lines": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]

Disposable Thumbs, We Watched the Sun Go Supernova (Freeze Tag Music) Rating: 6
Disposable Thumbs are the pet project of Zach Lewis, he claims to be the only permanent member. This EP release is a cocktail of six short (under three minutes for the most part) and punchy tunes that sound like a 22nd Century Ric Ocasek experimenting with that retro 1980s Cars sound. Pretty, throwaway pop tunes that successfully employ electronica to guitar pop. "I've got a damaged frontal lobe/I wonder if I'm dumber" warbles Lewis in his best Elvis Costello vibrato. Make no mistake, this is Nerd Rock but the kinetic energy contained within all of the tracks is not marred by the wordy lyrics. In fact they add to the entertainment value, they are eminently quotable. This is one for fans of The Cars, Devo and Robert Pollard. It is kind of derivative but I happen to like the things that it is derived from. I'd be interested to hear what Lewis will do with his up and coming full-length album. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Marc A. Price
"Soap Lady": [MP3]
"Girl on Fire": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]

Fellow Project, Where's the Wire? 10" (Make or Break) Rating: 6
Plenty of bands claim to blend punk and folk, but Fellow Project manage to actually sort of do it, as if they had been listening to the Minutemen around a campfire. As you might expect from a group that would release a 10", this record is a lo-fi do-it-yourself use-a-hyphen disc, which, for once, sounds like an aesthetic enhancement instead of just a financial limitation or an authenticity pose. The band's not clueless, though, acknowledging, "If it's bad enough it might be big". They don't seem to care if it's big, even if they have passion (directed at not knowing where to direct it). [Amazon | Insound]
      — Justin Cober-Lake
dozens of songs: [MP3]

.: posted by Editor 7:54 AM

04 May 2006

MOS Funnel, Rhythmic American Poetry (MOS Funnel) Rating: 8
Take out your Music Atlas and spread it across the floor. Over there, to your right, are Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, and the Stones. Mark those spots with an X. Look, down here, put an X on George Clinton. Put an X on Mellencamp. Over here, it's Hendrix. Mark an X there. Go left and you'll find Lenny Kravitz and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now take a ruler and draw straight lines between all the X's and you'll have an idea of the musical territory MOS Funnel travels on Rhythmic American Poetry. MOS Funnel consists of vocalist and guitarist Joe Carrado, Ed Cullerton (drums), Justin Ringsak (horn, bass, and guitar), and Dan Huber (bass). This mixture of funk, rock, pop, and jazz -- as well as the use of two bass players -- is fresh and imaginative. Infectious songs like the rocking "Sleep in the Sand" and the swinging "Any Day Now" will have you hooked. Musically, they're not afraid to take chances (check the staccato piano and wiggling bass on "Strange Clockwork" or the complete musical about-face at 2 minutes and 58 seconds into "Comeir"). Lyrically, Rhythm American Poetry is aptly titled, with songs like "Apathy Apologies" and "Beautiful Not Saddened" that are lush with imagery. Joe Carrado's born-to-rock gritty vocals may be an acquired taste, especially on "Tattooed" -- at times, he's channeling Joe Cocker; other times, it's John Mellencamp or even Louis Armstrong's "What a Beautiful World". But take notice: Rhythmic American Poetry puts MOS Funnel's name on the map too. Make sure you mark it. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Quentin B. Huff
multiple songs: [MOS Funnel]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
"To the East": [MP3]

Megaherz, 5 (Eclipse) Rating: 6
It's easy to categorize Germany's Megaherz as nothing more than a Rammstein clone, and "Dein Herz Schlagt", the opening track on their new album, certainly doesn't do the foursome any favors, as it nails all the Ramstein clichés: simple, nu-metal riffage, industrial beats, a guy snarling menacingly in German. However, in addition to that simple industrial pop sound (which, admittedly, they do very well), the band toss in enough variety to set themselves apart from their fellow countrymen. They're no young pups, either, as this is in fact their seventh album (which originally came out in Europe back in late 2004), and they display impressive versatility on such songs as the surprisingly pop-oriented "Ja Genau", "Eigentlich" (during which Mathias Elsholz displays his excellent vocal range), "Zeig Mir Dein Gesicht", and the thunderous re-recording of their 1997 song "Gott Sein 04" which successfully attempts a similar epic sweep as Sisters of Mercy. A surprisingly enjoyable album. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Adrien Begrand
multiple songs: [MP3 and real audio streams]
multiple songs: [MySpace]

No-Neck Blues Band, Qvaris (5 Rue Christine) Rating: 8
Building a bridge between free jazz and a diluted version of stoner rock, No-Neck Blues Band's schtick is admirable strangeness. Like the evasive Castanets, and perhaps akin to Sonic Youth's most deconstructed moments, NNCK (as it's officially abbreviated, for whatever reason) delivers a set of noise both organic and invented, the result a mish-mash masterwork that blends the freedom of jazz with the concept of "found sound." Qvaris finds NNCK in an intensely spaced-out moment, stretching itself to the horizon with creativity and what feels like improvisational brilliance. Perhaps what's most remarkable, like in the sequence from "Boreal Gluts" through "Lugnagall," is the band's ability to completely lose itself in a moment and to feel its way back where it came from. In this sequence, representative of the album's functional knack for wandering, the synchronous gives way to series of percussive tracks -- each track blending into the next, mere musical moments -- only to reel back to a peaceful and pleasant climax and conclusion. At once eerie and completely intriguing, NNCK is a one of a kind musical experiment. It's not for everyone, certainly, but "enjoyable" is such a hard word, anyway. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Zack Adcock
"Live your myth in greasE": [MP3]
"The black popE": [MP3]

Karmadoa, Karmadoza (Gaia Disk) Rating: 5
Karmadoza claim that they sound like Black Sabbath meets PJ Harvey and who am I to argue, they are right after all. They sound almost exactly like the above artists with a little All About Eve thrown in for a sweetener. This Canadian quintet are not going to win any awards for originality but then I suspect that they are not trying. This five-track EP's opener "Divide" is really a strangely beautiful tune that is swathed in drop-tuned guitars and topped by Vicky Martell's sweet but powerful voice. It is hypnotic and sways before you in a trancelike state. Unfortunately, the rest of the EP doesn't quite follow up on this track's promise. That is often the trouble with bands that sound like other bands, they are often not like them in so many other ways. Where Black Sabbath and PJ Harvey were not content to follow and came up with something new and invigorating, Karmadoza seem happy to hang on to the coat tails of their heroes. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Marc A. Price
"Divide": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]

.: posted by Editor 6:29 AM

03 May 2006

Barbara Morgenstern, The Grass Is Always Greener (Monika Enterprise) Rating: 7
One of the lovely byproducts of reviewing CDs is that you, every once in a while, stumble upon a record that you would never have normally found but that really blows you away. The Grass is Always Greener is just such a record. Barbara Morgenstern has fashioned 12 pieces of music that are nothing short of beautiful. The album is an unusual mixture of Autobahn-era Kraftwerk and Joni Mitchell. The vocal, piano and synth melodies are spun together creating a dynamic web of sound swaying and shifting in the wind. There are distinct moments (as in "Juist") when the soundscape emulates a John Carpenter score. These moments are eerie and make the beautiful pop tune that follows all the more delectable a morsel. Morgenstern chooses to sing most of the lyrics in German with often only the chorus in English but this in no way detracts from the album. There are a few nearly cheesy '80s moments but as soon as they are over they are forgotten (for example the excellent "The Operator" does sound a little like A-Ha if you turn the lights off). Anyway, the '80s are hip these days and they were never this stylish. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Marc A. Price
"The Operator": [MP3]
"Alles Was Lebt Bewegt Sich": [MP3 clip]
"Quality Time": [MP3 clip]
"Brautlied": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]

Ruby Tombs, Those Who Can't (Art Goes Pop) Rating: 8
There is nothing that is not attractive about this package. The cover art, the flip side art, the name of the band and, oh yeah, the two songs. They're all great. Sounding like Huggy Bear and Devo having a knife fight in an abandoned cavernous warehouse, the band is scary and paranoid in a way that makes me think perhaps fewer groups should try so hard to be liked. Snarling does indeed hold a place dear to my heart (especially accompanied by a great pop hook) and Ruby Tombs (William Rook, Bobby Sparrow, LauraLee) could teach a course on the subject. The "A" Side, "Those Who Can't", will have you wondering if you accidentally took some speed with your coffee and the "B" side will close the "I'm definitely buying the debut full-length" deal that first song intimated at. If you're reading this, suffice it to say you shouldn't waste another minute... go on and order this. NOW! [Amazon | Insound]
      — Jill LaBrack

Shilts, HeadBoppin (ARTizen Music Group) Rating: 7
Paul "Shilts" Weimer is funky. From the time he spent globetrotting and wowing audiences with British bands Breathe and Down to the Bone, he's built a solid reputation as a saxophonist, keyboardist, and bandleader. He's also toured with Brit mates the Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai. In 2001, Shilts released See What Happens, playing keyboards in addition to alto and tenor sax. His latest, HeadBoppin, is produced by trumpet maestro Rick Braun. HeadBoppin is a gloriously energetic set of songs driven by horns and plenty of bass. Shilts is masterful at making his sax "sing" lead. The arrangements are clever, weaving elements in and out, like when the bass drops out of "Break the Mold" at about 1:48 and then, around 2:08, the bass bops back in to complement the bridge. Other standout tracks are "Look What's Happened", the shimmering piano of "Good Evans", "Got Love" and its smoky vocals from Siedah Garrett, the slower grind of "Say Something", and "Mrs. Magic". On the downside, these compositions are so tightly performed they tend to sound indistinguishable. If you like the Brand New Heavies, you'll enjoy HeadBoppin. Much of the material resembles the Heavies to the point that you'll wonder if N'Dea Davenport will show up for a guest spot. She won't. But that's all right. HeadBoppin is a strong and enjoyable effort on its own. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Quentin B. Huff
Shilts talks about music from HeadBoppin: [MP3]

Pitbull, Money Is Still a Major Issue (TVT) Rating: 2
Money must still be a major issue for Pitbull if this CD even exists. 2004's M.I.A.M.I. found Pitbull coming out of the stables with a chip on his shoulder; the album was hot on the radio and felt inspired all the same, and was full of anthemic Southern rap that could hang with the big boys. Ironically, Money Is Still a Major Issue almost ruins everything M.I.A.M.I. accomplished: it dilutes the hits with bad remixes, takes Pitbull's guest spots completely out of context, and -- though I realize it's a compilation -- has no flow whatsoever. Worse than bad, Money Is Still a Major Issue is simply unnecessary. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Zack Adcock

.: posted by Editor 8:50 AM

02 May 2006

Catfish Haven, Please Come Back (Secretly Canadian) Rating: 8
Though the legacy of popular music is that bands can (and will) hook you with one song, it seems rare that an EP can elicit rabid desire for full-length in the way Catfish Haven have done in me. Please Come Back is an album whose title track tightens its grip around you; its soulful exuberance and excited pace are so classic and simple it sounds easy. But it's not. You know it's not. In fact, sounding sparse and simple and undeniably good at the same time has to be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in this business. Basically, Catfish Haven pulls it off with a flick of a cigarette butt. There is such soul in George Hunter's gravely voice, such a raucous, spitting barrage in the unbridled performance of these songs. In this world where Springsteen meets the Stooges, all they can talk about is their Stax/Volt box sets. I do say, once Catfish Haven kicks out their full-length, we're all in trouble: we are, after all, at their mercy. This EP is just a taste of what's to come, and it tastes damn good. More, please. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Zack Adcock
"Too Hungover to Headbang": [MP3]
"Paper Thin": [MP3]
"Madaline"(new demo): [MP3]
"Please Come Back"(new demo): [MP3]
more songs: [MySpace]

The Age of Rockets, The Drive Home (Astronaut/Dinosaur) Rating: 6
If Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout hadn't forsaken the pop industry altogether but applied his sublime songwriting talent to a project that explored peculiar samples and mixed synth-based electropop with heartbreaking melodies then he might have come up with something like this. The Drive Home can sometimes be visceral and challenging record, it combines haunting melodies with a "staring out into the night sky looking at forever" mentality. At times it steers a little too close to the Postal Service but the journey is mostly along the by-roads and dirt tracks of the musical landscape. Not completely uncharted but sometimes unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. The Age of Rocket's driving force Andrew Frutal is intent on exploring pop's underbelly with an unblinking gaze. And by golly it works, mostly. This record will not set any charts alight but it will bring some warmth into some disaffected student dorm rooms in the years to come. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Marc A. Price
"Pétales Aiment La Saleté": [MP3]
"Insmileoutblood": [MP3]
"Once, We Were Monsters": [MP3]
"Once, We Were Monsters (Remix)": [MP3]
more songs: [MySpace]

Postal Blue, Road to Happiness (Humblebee Recordings) Rating: 4
If you're feeling sinister, sneak into your beloved's room and put Postal Blue's Road To Happiness EP on repeat while they're sleeping. Then fold your hands, and walk like a peasant out of the room. The songs from this belated 2004 document of the Brazilian pop quartet, I'm reckoning, will murmur into his/her subconscious like distant echoes of two titans of life's rich pageant of music. But their level of devotion, about a 9.3 on the Rickenbacker scale, leaves them sounding just a green on songs like "I Took the Love You Were Hiding" and "The World Doesn't Need You". Pleasant enough, and smooth as tiger milk, but without enough original character of their own to make it worthwhile. These are just modern rock songs. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Michael Metivier
"The World Doesn't Need You": [MP3]

Mill Race, Westerns (Mill Race Music) Rating: 6
I love the album packaging in rare cases. And this isn't one of them. While it has nothing to do with the music, why anyone would want to create something resembling a huge menu-like contraption Joe and Hoss might have a gander at during a Bonanza episode is beyond me. Shame on that person! Anyhow, Mill Race is intent on making the softer moments of Jeff Tweedy or The Gunshy seem like heavy metal by comparison. Interesting at times, the surf-meets-Americana feel is an acquired taste for "Official Statement" while "Sub-Ballad of the Chain Link Halo" has a Sadies-meets-Elliott Brood rambling, chugging vibe. But lead singer Julian Snow nails the somber, hushed hue of "Spring Loaded Winter" perfectly. The instrumentals, including the title track, aren't very special, wallowing in a sea of Ry Cooder-like guitar licks. However, "Asteroid" ekes out a decent, barren dirge as Snow refers to the end of the world. The pace-changing "Neoclassic" and the electro-rambling "Little Maggie" isn't bad either. Generally an oddly engaging release... now to get this #@!$*&! liner note back in its case. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Jason MacNeil
multiple songs: [MySpace]

.: posted by Editor 7:05 AM

01 May 2006

Georgie James, Demos at Dance Place [EP] (self-released) Rating: 8
Georgie James is one of those unexpected collaborations where the sum defies, even trumps, the parts. The parts: John Davis, formerly of DC Dischord band Q and Not U, and sweetly cinder-voiced singer-songwriter Laura Burhenn. The sum: giddy, spell-casting power pop, of all things, that crackles like Talking Heads rewriting Big Star's Radio City ("Need Your Needs", "More Lights") or a scruffier, less impenetrable New Pornographers ("Hard Feelings", "Cheap Champagne"). Davis's multi-tracked rhythm section is a one-man groove machine, stuttering out oily slick funk punches; his and Burhenn's shared vocal duties make the age-old male/female dynamic sound criminally underused. For a humble collection of demos, this EP (currently available only at live shows) has confidence and craft in spades. The band is working on its full-length debut (reportedly with Fugazi's Brendan Canty producing) for release later this year -- if Demos at Dance Place is merely a warm-up exercise for the real thing, mark your calendars with anticipatory ink. [Insound]
      — Zeth Lundy
multiple songs: [MP3]

Jetpack UK, The Art of Building a Moat (Heatstroke) Rating: 7
I don't know how to build a moat, I don't own a castle. I'm sure Jetpack UK doesn't know either, but that's beside the point. What comes across clearly is a fantastic opener entitled "Mathematics" that sounds like Costello and his Attractions with some timely sing-along cheers placed sparingly. Just hit repeat two or three times so you can hum the bloody lovely track the rest of the day. The Nashville foursome move into a cocky kind of swagger with the punchy rhythm fuelling "All Hail the Clown". The EP clocks in at 20 minutes and seven songs, so they don't waste much time despite the lackluster "Mrs. Flannery" that is basically a brief interlude or prelude to the above average People in Planes-like "Synthesizer" (don't worry, there's none to be found on the tune). "Destroy Your Hideout" nibbles at power pop but without any of the pomp or bombast many current acts seem to cling to. The pomp comes through on the cello of "Your Little Way" that instantly recalls The Beatles. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Jason MacNeil
"Mathematics": [MP3]

Fazzini, Sulphur, Glue the Star (Locust) Rating: 7
Tom Fazzini likes the noises that come between the noises that usually make up music. He likes pauses and abrupt silences and, in "Wooky", he likes to amplify the choppy squeaks that his plectrum makes when it rubs along the guitar string between notes. In "Duplex" he makes a bubbling noise. It sounds as if he's stuck a straw into a bowl of water. When he sings on "Glare," his voice is faint, strained, anxious, and vehement. "Damn your vertical hair," he sings. "Damn your twin-set and pearls." The album starts with sampled speech from an elderly man credited only as Mr Boko. "All I know's that when we got married, this is the kind of house we lived in," says Mr Boko in a crinkly, rusty, British voice. "I don't know." Sulphur, Glue the Star is filled with connections between unexpected things, as if the album is saying, "You know that songs don't only have to be about instruments and singing. See, they can be about bubbling and Mr Boko as well." I like it. [Insound]
      — Deanne Sole

Imaginary Johnny, Painting Over the Dirt (Unfinished Side) Rating: 5
Imaginary Johnny is your typical electro-fused indie band, with sad, simple lyrics bolstered by a young man with a voice that's a little Eef Barzelay, a little Wayne Coyne, and a little Ryan Adams. This man is Stuart Wolferman, whose website shows he's fresh from the hipster factory: a sneering, pretentious college radio DJ of the worst kind. Painting Over the Dirt, on the other hand, is mostly inoffensive and sometimes inspired, with highlights like the opener "Work Related," the ticking "Anytime Minutes," and the swelling "She's Dug." If it does recall the Flaming Lips, then it is equal parts Counting Crows, especially the embarrassing Duritz-esque lyrics of "Sad Girl." But if anything, this is what saves Painting Over the Dirt from becoming just another barely-there indie album, a rambling electro track that bands like The Books try to pass off as music. These songs are saved by their attachment to cheesy pop tradition: an uplifting, building end saves even the stone cold beginning of "Rat Race". As badly as Wolferman wants to play it cool, he can't resist some good-old fashioned rainy-day melodies. And for that, Imaginary Johnny will stay on my stereo a little bit longer. [Insound]
      — Maura McAndrew
multiple songs: [MySpace]

.: posted by Editor 9:31 AM


In bold are PopMatters Picks, the best in new music.
Abe Duque
be your own PET
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
The Bottle Rockets
The Brand New Heavies
Johnny Cash
Slaid Cleaves
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
Cut Chemist
Miles Davis
Dinosaur Jr.
Dr. Octagon
Alejandro Escovedo
Fatboy Slim
Four Tet
The Handsome Family
Matthew Herbert
Ise Lyfe
Jefferson Airplane
Lord Jamar
Mission of Burma
Mr. Lif
Mojave 3
Allison Moorer
Paul Oakenfold
Grant-Lee Phillips
The Procussions
Corinne Bailey Rae
Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Julie Roberts
Diana Ross
7L & Esoteric
Alice Smith
Snow Patrol
Sonic Youth
Soul Asylum
Sound Team
Regina Spektor
Sufjan Stevens
Matthew Sweet
Rhonda Vincent
Thom Yorke

Baby Dayliner
The BellRays
Cat Power
The Clientele + Great Lakes
The Coup + T-Kash
Mike Doughty Band
Download Festival 2006
Fiery Furnaces + Man Man
The Futureheads
The Handsome Family
High Sierra Music Festival
Billy Idol
Bettye Lavette
Love Parade
Nine Inch Nails + Bauhaus
Sonic Youth
Splendour in the Grass 2006
The Streets
Sunset Rubdown

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