Music Reviews By Mike White, Skizz Cyzyk, Matthew Eberhart, Chris Cummins & Rich Osmond. The Kiss-Offs Rock Bottom When it comes to reviewing CDs for CdC, I let them pile up on my desk and then will go through and pop them into my player...

The Kiss-Offs Rock Bottom
When it comes to reviewing CDs for CdC, I let them pile up on my desk and then will go through and pop them into my player. I give them a few seconds on each track. If they meet my fancy, they go into the very small “keep” pile. Otherwise, they are tossed into the “sell on” pile. Judging from the piles, I’m a pretty picky bastard. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much for me to keep a record—just a good hook and some “good” vocals. The Kiss-Offs have both and they made the cut. Sounding like a lighter version of Asteroid Band, Rock Bottom is a fun, unobtrusive little record. – Mike White
(Peek-A-Boo Records

Aspera Sugar & Feathered
Didn’t like the latest Mercury Rev album? Tired of waiting for the next Flaming Lips or Wallmen albums? Give this album a try. Seriously. These guys must have a blast in the recording studio, trying to come up with interesting arrangements for their songs, and throwing all sorts of sounds into the mix along the way. Despite vocals being a prominent instrument, I can barely make out any of the words, which is unfortunate since much of the songwriting is catchy, and singing along would be fun. Heck, I can barely read the handwritten song titles on the cover. Speaking of the cover, we’re talking extra artsy and pretentious here, but don’t let that discourage you from taking a chance on this album. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Big Wheel Recordings

Call and Response Call and Response
Beginning with a bass-line straight out of “Mr. Big Shot,” Call and Response’s eponymous album finds footing in fluffy tunes that would light up a drizzly Saturday afternoon. Skillfully employing a vibraphone and dreamy female vocals, the album’s second song, “Rollerskate” has to be my favorite on this fun-filled ten-track outing. – Mike White
(Kindercore Records

The Pinkos The Pinkos
Is it my imagination or has there been an increase in two-member punk bands popping up in recent years? Here’s another one. Steve Moriarty (drums and vocals), and Vanessa Veselka (guitar and vocals) are The Pinkos. I like it, but there’s something missing... hmmm, I think it’s bass. But if the lack of low-end doesn’t bother you, this is a pretty fun, snotty punk album. Like a lo-fi X or Muffs. Inside the cover there’s a list of “Top 5 Pinko reasons to not have a bass player.” My favorite is #4, “No Doubt has a bass player,” but the one that makes the most sense is #5, “We don’t need one.” They’re right. They pack a tight, clean, mean punch as a two-piece. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Empty Records

Asteroid Band Sin in Space
I was hoping for more of a Ventures meets Logan’s Run sound from this album, but apart from the misleading Sin in Space moniker, Asteroid Band didn’t disappoint. Sticking to three well-known chords played on a sturdy bass, twangy guitar, and boxy drum kit; Asteroid Band’s power pop brought a smile to my face and reminded me of a toned-down version of Weezer’s early stuff. – Mike White
214 Plymouth St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

The Locust Flight of the Wounded Locust
I’ve never been to a circus where gun-yielding clowns make love with elephants and the ringmaster wears nothing but a smile while feeding small children from the audience to his lions, but this is probably the soundtrack that fills the air of that circus’ tent!

The Locust’s new five-song seven-inch is truly too much for words. Moving far beyond their self-titled LP, Flight of the Wounded Locust blasts dribbling keyboards and crunching, rapid-fire guitars through your speakers that grab you by your starch-pressed collar and shake you until you can’t see straight.

Although the title track—their longest song ever, clocking in at around 2 minutes 30 seconds—tries to satisfy all of your desires for these insects, this brief seven-inch leaves you begging for more. Be prepared to play this record repeatedly.

Frightening and vicious, Flight of the Wounded Locust will land you in the psych ward of your local hospital. Fans of the band and devotees of GSL Records, this record is really out of control. Buy it now. – Matthew Eberhart
(GSL Records

The Beautiful South Painting It Red
Oasis? Travis? Radiohead? Forget them. The best music coming from the UK right now is from The Beautiful South. The proof is their latest, and possibly, last album. A little background information on the group: they arose from the debris of The Housemartins, masters of quirky ’80s Britbop whose influence is heard today in the work of artists ranging from Barenaked Ladies to Fatboy Slim (himself once a Housemartin named Norman Cook).

The Housemartins split and mutated into The Beautiful South, and it’s been pop bliss ever since. The group is nearly as beloved as Monty Python in the UK, but their only flirtation with U.S. success came in 1992 with their “MTV 120 Minutes” college radio hit “We Are Each Other.” They excel at creating songs that champion the ordinary minutiae of everyday life. This latest effort is no exception with song topics focusing on everything from doomed romances to Tupperware parties. Songs such as “Til You Can’t Tuck It In” and “If We Crawl” deal with aging in relationships with an equal balance of humor and pathos. The album opener “Closer than Most,” is a sunny ode to obsession and if there were any justice, it would be in heavy rotation on radios everywhere, not just the ones in my mind. “You Can Call Me Leisure” opens with a masterful catchy piano loop before jumping into the finest duet singers Paul Heaton and Jacqueline Abbott have recorded.

It’s a great album, but does it signal the end of the band? The recent departure of Ms. Abbott and swirling rumors of a solo album by Paul Heaton may indicate so. I hope that this won’t be the case, but if this is the group’s swan song at least we have this CD to remember them by, as we listen and dream of English pub-crawls where every jukebox is packed with the songs of the South. – Chris Cummins
(Ark 21 Records

Elizabeth Cook Elizabeth Cook
Florida accountant-turned-country singer Elizabeth Cook’s first release was a seven-inch she cut as a pre-teen: “Homework Blues” backed with “Does My Daddy Love the Bottle More than Me?” Elizabeth’s mom penned both songs, and as much as I’d like to hear them (especially that B-side), Cook’s hitting her stride on this disc. A collection of straight country with classic-sounding arrangements, this self-titled disc showcases Cook’s sweet singing and sharp songwriting. The lead cut, “House of Mirrors,” proves her (and her writing partner Hardie McGehee’s) songwriting talents: besides having a great melody, the lyrics work every angle of its titular metaphor in a casually clever way that recalls masters like Tom T. Hall and Roger Miller. Originally intended as a demo, this disc has already gotten Cook signed to Atlantic Records. The results of an artist like Cook, with such classic country sound, trying to work with the big business conglomerates should prove interesting, but order this CD to see what she’s capable of without help from them or her Mama. – Rich Osmond
Miles of Music, 11029 McCormick Street, North Hollywood CA 91601

Mercury Rev All Is Dream
Mercury Rev popped up in the ’90s, as one of the new art-school psychedelic bands to watch. Their first three albums (1991’s Yerself Is Steam, 1993’s Boces, and 1995’s See You On The Other Side) earned them a strong underground following among the hip heroin-chic and arty-alternative rock crowd alike. Their 1998 album, Deserter‘s Songs, got mixed reactions from their fans. Gone was the freaky studio experimentation and arrangements their fans had come to expect. In their place was a collection of well-crafted, mature pop anthems that critics liked, but went mostly unnoticed by the public. Mercury Rev’s latest album, All Is Dream, tries to pick up where Deserter‘s Songs left off by taking its style even further. In other words, Mercury Rev fans that didn’t like Deserter‘s Songs are likely to hate All Is Dream. And even some of those fans who liked the direction Deserter‘s Songs was taking the band (like me) may have a hard time with All Is Dream.

What’s wrong with it? Frontman Jonathan’s vocals for one thing. He’s trying way too hard to come off as sensitive by boyishly singing in an octave that’s too high for him to comfortably reach (“You’re My Queen” and the back-to-back “Chains” and “Lincoln’s Eyes” in particular). It doesn’t sound sensitive; it sounds pretentious. It quickly becomes painful to listen to, and unfortunately there’s no break from it until the fifth track (“Nite And Fog”), but then immediately resumes with track six (“Little Rhymes”). My other big complaint about All Is Dream, is that a lot of the songwriting seems lazy and repetitive. Too many of the songs consist of only one riff, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case it gets old quickly.

Once you get past the singing and repetition, some of the songs are genuinely pretty (the orchestral ballads “The Dark Is Rising,” “A Drop In Time,” and “Spiders And Flies” for instance, or the spooky “Tides Of The Moon”). Even the repetition in the closing cut, “Hercules,” isn’t too bad since it builds to a long crescendo over the course of its nearly eight-minute running time.

I really liked Deserter‘s Songs, so I wanted to like All Is Dream a lot more than I did. I even went to see Mercury Rev live right after this album came out, hoping that the songs would translate better live—some of them did—but don’t get me started on Jonathan’s stage presence. Judging by Mercury Rev guitarist, Grasshopper’s 1997 solo album, The Orbit Of Eternal Grace, I think it would be in the band’s best interest to give Grasshopper more creative say over the band’s sound from now on, and for chrissakes, let him do more singing! – Skizz Cyzyk
(V2 Records

The Softies Holiday In Rhode Island
Pretty female vocals singing in unison with occasional harmonies, accompanied by acoustic guitars. A very sweet, relaxed album. The Softies seem like a couple of really nice gals. – Skizz Cyzyk
(K Records

The Microphones The Microphones
Part of that “anyone-can-make-a-record” movement for which Olympia, WA has become known. This, however, is a little more inventive and with more natural musical ability than a lot of D.I.Y. twee bands. Some of it’s pretty. Some of it monotonous. About halfway through it starts to get a little noisy. But overall, it’s a nice album. – Skizz Cyzyk
(K Records http://

Melt-Banana Teeny Shiny
You can always count on Melt-Banana for a unique explosion of sound that is too fast for dancing but makes you try anyway. On their latest album, they continue down this frenetic path, performing some of their most overwhelming songs yet and making themselves impossible not to notice.

Breakneck speed is, as usual, a prerequisite for the thirty-minute, eleven-song Teeny Shiny, and the whirling zaps, bleeps, and scratches add higher dimensions to their already over-the-top wackiness. Yako hides weird stories beneath choppy lyrics [take “Bright Splat (Red Point, Black Dot)” for example], Agata plays supersonic guitar riffs, his fingers perpetually gliding up and down the neck of the guitar, and the start-stop hysteria of Rika’s bass lines and Sudoh’s beats keep each song in perfect synch.

If you haven’t heard these classic Japanese all-stars, it’s definitely time that you do. They’ve been playing and recording since the early ’90s, and their trademark punk/noise/pop sound guarantees something on the album for everyone. – Matthew Eberhart
(A-Zap Records

The Cramps Big Beat from Badsville
Okay, I’ll admit it. With the release of Look Ma, No Head I had counted The Cramps down and out. I wondered if Nick Knox had been the true genius behind the group, as his departure seemed to signal their demise. But, after years of hesitating, I finally picked up Big Beat from Badsville only to discover that The Cramps—those zombies of the punkabilly scene—still had some life in those rockin’ bones.

Not really kicking into gear until the third track, Big Beat from Badville is a far cry from The Cramps’s classic albums like Songs The Lord Taught Us but there are some toe-tapping tunes on this rig that any Cramps fan should feel obliged to check out. – Mike White
(Epitaph Records

Z’EV Face the Wound
Soundscape collages featuring Negativeland-ish tape sampling and atmospheric, early-Residents-ish percussion & synth weirdness. Makes for good, loud background music, but isn’t the type of thing I’d put on to pay attention to. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Soleilmoon Recordings

Novasonic Down Hyperspace Mathing Moonlight
It’s trance-y, electronic, and mellow... but not that trendy, trance-y, electronic stuff you hear in car commercials these days. There’s some experimentation going on, but also some songwriting, and instruments that are played, not programmed... and singing! Actual singing, not samples or chants, but lyrics & melodies. I like going to sleep with a CD playing, and this is one of my new favorites for that. That’s not to say that this is sleep-inducing. It’s just that it’s somewhat relaxing, and there’s enough going on to keep my mind occupied on the music so that I’m not thinking about other things, and that helps me drift off into sleep easier. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Spectra Mobile http://

The Damned Grave Disorder
If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a classic Damned album from the late-’70s, except I have all those. At first listen, this album sounds very familiar. And that’s because The Damned are back, doing what they do best... classic punk rock! Forget those somewhat crappy albums they made back in the mid-to-late-’80s when bands were trying to “cross over” to MTV or mainstream radio; there’s only a slight hint that this is that same band. Founding members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible are in fine form, and though it’s hard to replace the likes of Rat Scabies or Brian James, the new band members do a fine job. Damned fans—don’t pass this one up! You won’t be disappointed. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Nitro Records

One Time Angels Tricks And Dreams
Nice punk-influence rock & roll. These guys rely more on songwriting hooks than in-your-face attitude, and that’s sort of refreshing. I can’t find anything wrong with this, except that it’s only six songs. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Lookout Recordings

Colin McGrath and the Killing My Lobster Orchestra Allegro Con Chutzpah
All right, so maybe I have more clarinet-heavy music on my shelves than I was willing to admit. Here, again, are some lush tones and tight arrangements courtesy of Colin McGrath and the Killing My Lobster Orchestra. Sporting a great deal of Hebraic influence, Allegro Con Chutzpah is custom-made for maxin’ and relaxin’ as well as for doing some serious horah practice. – Mike White
(Killing My Lobster

Telefon Tel Aviv Fahrenheit Fair Enough
This is the trance-y, electronic stuff you hear in car commercials these days. Very simple, monotonous music garnished with various electronic farts. It’s okay for background music and tapping your foot to (maybe even dancing to as well), but it seems like anyone with the right equipment and the tiniest shred of creativity could make this music themselves. I’m sure there’s a club DJ out there somewhere who thinks this is brilliant. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Hefty Records

The Swinging Swamis The Swinging Swamis
It isn’t often that I pop a CD into my player and can kick back to a rollicking clarinet. However, the Swinging Swamis with their nouveau-retro lounge sound have their fair share of woodwinds. Best of all, these guys know how to play their instruments, and like their name suggests, they swing, baby. Definitely the right choice for the stereo in your bachelor pad, the Swinging Swamis cover a bevy of standards from “Nuages” to “Sabre Dance” and “The Big Bamboo,” there are also a few original compositions that blend in well and are a heck of a lot of fun! – Mike White

Squarepusher Go Plastic
I used to have trouble deciding which Squarepusher album was my favorite. What’s better: his weird, freeform jazz or his post-jungle, autobahn-speed electronics? I would jump back and forth between Tom Jenkinson, the drummer, bassist, gongist, and keyboardist, and Tom Jenkinson, the maniac who took drum bleeps and blips and mashed them together with unthinkable, synthetic basslines. I have since been alleviated of that problem.

Go Plastic, Jenkinson’s first full-length release since 1999, completely ravages the post-jungle innovations found on his Big Loada album and redefines what drum ‘n’ bass and electronic music are and should be.

Opening with “My Red Hot Car,” the first single from the album, you can’t help but think: Barry White for the Electronic Generation. It starts with chilled-out drums. Then comes the deep, grooving bass and a vocal track which includes nonchalantly uttered lines like, “I’m gonna fuck you with my red hot car.” However, you soon realize that this is not Barry White. It’s Squarepusher, a modern composer with a genius comparable to that found in Mozart’s fugues.

The next few tracks are schizophrenic in their layers and sonances. Chopped up beats, glicks, and beeps mingle with tight bass, and the playful side of Jenkinson takes each piece over the top. In “Boneville Occident,” he samples cartoon machine guns and seems to want every dancer to lose his mind with his stop-and-go tactics, a style that is clearly defined by the title and content of the song that follows, “Go! Spastic.” The album continues in this vein until the end of track seven, “Greenways Trajectory,” where Jenkinson again plays with music versus mechanical error: his beats become questionable as they mimic the sounds of a scratched CD.

The rest of the album is Jenkinson’s cool-down session, which doesn’t mean a lot. The last three tracks are just as amazing as everything prior, but Jenkinson stops trying to make you go insane, and instead asks you to just listen and enjoy. An extension of the dark ambiance found on Music is Rotted One Note, the heavy and industrial sounds on these final tracks are concurrently frightening and comforting.

Go Plastic has set the level toward which all electronic music should strive. Both cerebral and danceable, each sound and every snare hit and cymbal tap is crisp, clear, and placed with resonating assurance. There is nothing lacking and nothing too demanding. Jenkinson’s new album is a collection of two years of meticulous work that cannot be overlooked.

Don’t be left in the dust. Go Plastic is the best record this year. Lace up your dancing shoes and buy it! – Matthew Eberhart
(Warp Records

The Anubian Nights Naz Bar
The more records I find on Crippled Dick Hot Wax, the more I wonder if this German-based record label has ever put out a album I wouldn’t like. The Anubian Nights’ Naz Bar is an ultra-hip mixture of Bedouin lounge music and electronica. If you’re like me and enjoy other CDHW releases, you’ll dig this. – Mike White
(Crippled Dick Hot Wax

Telefon Tel Aviv Fahrenheit Fair Enough
This is the trance-y, electronic stuff you hear in car commercials these days. Very simple, monotonous music garnished with various electronic farts. It’s okay for background music and tapping your foot to (maybe even dancing to as well), but it seems like anyone with the right equipment and the tiniest shred of creativity could make this music themselves. I’m sure there’s a club DJ out there somewhere who thinks this is brilliant. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Hefty Records

Various Artists Heroes & Villains
I know it probably doesn’t work this way too often but I checked out Heroes & Villains, a collection of tunes inspired by The Powerpuff Girls, long before I finally sat down and watched the fabulous Cartoon Network show. Thus, while I didn’t know that Optiganally Yours’ “Walk & Chew Gum” was about the Mayor of Townsville, I knew that it was one heck of a good tune, along with everything else on this album. In fact, there were songs on here by bands that I would have never considered listening to if it hadn’t been for hearing their efforts on this collection. Along with bands with which I wasn’t overly familiar (Apples in Stereo, Dressy Bessy, Bis), there were a couple of artists who drove me to finally pick this up (Komeda, Frank Black, Devo).

Remarkably, for a collection of songs inspired by a cartoon, there’s a great flow and commonality to this outing. For something that I thought would be a good novelty record if nothing else, Heroes and Villains has spent an inordinate amount of time in my CD player. – Mike White
(Kid Rhino

Tav Falco and the Unapproachable Panther Burns Panther Phobia
Strictly a lo-fi affair, Tav Falco plays the kind of finger-snapping music that I’d love to hear in the pub. With vocals that sound like they were sung into a bucket and an album sleeve that looks like it was pasted together last night, Panther Phobia is the grungy rockabilly that goes best with beer and pretzels. – Mike White
(In The Red

Holly Golightly Singles Round-Up
Not liking Breakfast at Tiffany’s at all, it took me a while to find the courage to put this disc in. But, once I did, I found that I had been a fool for waiting so long. Luckily, this album doesn’t seem to share anything with the Truman Capote story, the Blake Edwards film, or even that crappy song by Deep Blue Something. This isn’t any Henry Mancini schlock, instead, these are the kinds of songs I wish P.J. Harvey would sing. The music has a good backbeat and great instrumentalization. While I don’t dig every tune on this twenty-four-track CD, well, it’s twenty-four friggin’ tracks so a dud or two don’t really matter so much, do they? – Mike White
(Damaged Goods

The King Brothers The King Brothers
If Mudhoney were Japanese and played consistently good songs, they might be able to open for The King Brothers someday. The King Brothers have some damn loud and twangy guitars with vocals sung in a “fuck you”-style backed by an organ that sounds like it’s on its last legs and isn’t going down without a fight. Nah, Mudhoney could never open for these guys. Perhaps they might be able to bring the King Brothers some bottled water and towels. – Mike White
(In The Red

Various Artists AnimeToons
If I were more into Anime or even pure Japanese video games, I’d probably recognize some of the songs here. Instead, having no point-of-reference, I just found myself having fun with these light, bouncy, songs. I may not know what the heck they’re singing about but listening never fails to make me happy. I suppose that if I practiced cutting a rug to these that I might be able to make it through the first screen of “Dance Dance Revolution” at the arcade. – Mike White
(Jellybean Recordings

Takako Minekawa Maxi-On
Is the world becoming a smaller place? If an influx of good Asian-influenced music bears witness to increasing globalization, then I’m all for it. Takako Minekawa’s Maxi-On is a terrific blend of technology, ethereal female Japanese vocals, and a good sense of experimental instrumentalization. While this disc offers little in the way of “hummable” tunes, its effortless melodies quickly become welcome friends. – Mike White
(Emperor Norton

Ladytron Ladytron
While not a soundtrack to a Tron sequel as I had hoped, Ladytron’s eponymous record has some great sounds that Wendy Carlos Williams would approve. With tunes ranging from drum (machine) and bass-heavy instrumentals to lighter pop songs, Ladytron could be the “next big thing” if you’re into Republica and The Cardigans. – Mike White
(Emperor Norton

The Boredoms Vision Creation Newsun
I had always heard The Boredoms called a “noise band,” and judging from member Yamasuka Eye’s contributions to John Zorn’s Naked City project, I had little reason to think that this record would be anything other than screaming over the sound of broken bottles. How wrong I was. Playing like one long-ass track, Vision Creation Newsun finds its power in its driving rhythm and swirling guitars. There’s little “noise” here. Instead, this CD sports some pleasant sounds and is a terrific disc to put in for a long drive. – Mike White
(Birdman Records

Arling & Cameron We Are A&C
Gary Numan fans rejoice! Arling & Cameron are the Second Coming of eurosynthpop. Backed with some Burt Bacharach-flavored melodies, We Are A&C sports some fun songs that are just about ripe for a Volkswagen commercial (believe it or not, but that’s a compliment). If you like your keyboards in front of the vocals, this is just what the doctor ordered. – Mike White
(Emperor Norton

Rise of the Great Machine Rise of the Great Machine
Dark, minimalist melodies and percussive explosions are the overwhelming theme on Rise of the Great Machine, a collaborative effort featuring members of Converge and Daltonic. In a clashing of atmospheric sounds, traditional instruments, and noise, songwriters Jacob Bannon (Converge) and Ryan Parker (Daltonic) have composed eighteen tracks of some of the most original music to come from the northeast for some time. Never forced, the layers of keyboards, delayed guitars, and looped noises are their answer to a period of aural boredom and mimicry.

Influenced by composer Philip Glass, Supermachiner creates varying rhythmic patterns that move through each track, fading and intensifying with time-conducive energy. The song “Bitter Cold” exemplifies this idea, which the band strives towards and clearly achieves, by repeating three notes with slight variation for nearly seven minutes, focusing on the actual nature of sound rather than the tonal output, as layers of drums, distortion, and vocals bleed through the background.

“Remember My Name” wanders away from the main aim of the album and toward the genre of noise, using only thick distortion, feedback, and phasing sounds to create a track similar to the more physical works of noise-artist Merzbow. Although there are no rhythmic patterns, it has the same clarifying and sense-focus effects as “Bitter Cold” and other earlier tracks.

Supermachiner juxtaposes guitars, electronics, percussion, and vocals to create a new standard and much needed change in modern music. Drawing upon the members’ own musical backgrounds as well as their interests in 20th century composers, Supermachiner has developed a style never before endeavored, one which explores the devastation of change through repetition.

Rise of the Great Machine features some of the most technical songwriters today and the album offers the ingenuity and maturity that only accompanies experience. —Matthew Eberhart
(Undecided Records

The Mercury Program all the suits began to fall off
While techno music often can sound overly pre-programmed and jazz can seem too friggin’ chaotic, The Mercury Program sounds like they fall smack in the middle of that spectrum. All the suits began to fall off reminds me of collection of good techno tunes recreated by a live ensemble. The music has the necessary redundancy but enough flourishes to keep it fresh along the journey. With five songs that clock in just around the half-hour mark, this might not be the best musical bargain around but it still holds a lot of promise. – Mike White
(Tiger Style Records

Vinnie Santino That‘s Him, Officer
The “cop show” theme—is there anything more diverse in its delivery but similar in construction? On That‘s Him, Officer Vinnie Santino shares ten compositions that would be well used for the opening and closing credits for some hip TV shows. More than “cop show” themes, Santino’s songs would feel at home accompanying the antics of a good gumshoe pounding the city streets. Some good, light jazz, Santino’s work occasionally feels over-produced but it consistently rings true of fun. – Mike White
(Pacific Force Records

Original Soundtrack Hedwig & The Angry Inch
Like Heroes and Villain, I picked up this soundtrack well before I finally got a chance to check out John Cameron Mitchell’s film. While the jury’s still out for me about how much I liked the movie, I love this soundtrack. With a great selection of ballads, rock songs, and even a punk tune or two, the Hedwig soundtrack feels like a modern, transsexual version of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell. Once this disc finds its way into my player, it has a difficult time coming out. I’ll listen to the damn thing until… well, I’m not really sure what possesses me to pop it out, but it soon finds it’s way back in there! – Mike White
(Hybrid Recordings

Photek Solaris
Deep and gurgling, Photek makes some of the nicest darker techno around. Definitely not the kind of stuff that you’d want to make your sunny afternoon even brighter, Photek makes the kind of music that you’d want pumping through your veins on a midnight drive or in a highly smoky club. This is the kind of disc that I put on when I’m in need of some serious work. The rhythms keep me grooving, uninterrupted. – Mike White
(Astralwerks Records

tomandandy Killing Zoe Original Soundtrack
There were only two things I liked about Roger Avary’s Killing Zoe—the cameo by Ron Jeremy and the techno-y soundtrack by tomandandy. For better or worse, it’s easy to separate the soundtrack album from the film; I’m not constantly reminded of Eric Stoltz when I put this inm and let the insistent beats wash over me. Perhaps some young filmmaker will pay “homage” to Killing Zoe by using this soundtrack for better purposes. – Mike White

Supa DJ Dmitry Scream of Consciousness
I was a Deee-lite fan back in the day so I was a little scared of what DJ Dmitry might do on his own. Deee-lite were fun but not the most consistent band around. Apparently, DJ Dmitry had little to do with that spotty record, as Scream of Consciousness is a sonic blowout from start to finish. There’s nothing stopping this booty-shaking jam. Lovingly crafted and infectiously groovy, Scream of Consciousness is, indeed, delightful. – Mike White
(TVT Records

Lightning Bolt Ride the Skies
Lightning Bolt had been a relatively unknown Providence, RI favorite for a few years, but now, with their 2001 Ride the Skies LP, their name is as common as Wonder Bread. Bringing the zealous energy they have on stage to the new album, this bass and drum duo lays it on thick and fast as they follow in the Providence noise tradition.

Their wild sound spans from trebly, distorted banging to baroque imitation [with some trebly, distorted banging mixed in] and every—indiscernible—sound in between. “Wee Ones Parade,” which begins with squeaking vocals and some harmonic clatter, gives an entirely new meaning to “Dueling Banjos,” as vocals, bass, and drums play off of each other leading up to a pounding finale.

In redefining the way instruments sound, Lightning Bolt has stumbled upon something that is concurrently formed by strict composition and loose, uninhibited fun.

Art-rock will never be the same. – Matthew Eberhart
(Load Records

Pepe Deluxe super sound
I’m probably just trying to live in the past, but some of Pepe Deluxe’s album reminds me of music to which De La Soul could rap. It’s got some good, fancy beats and some fine, poppy sounds. All that’s lacking are Plug One, Two, and Three busting the funky rhymes over it. Regardless of what it’s lacking, super sound definitely sports some appeal. – Mike White
(Emperor Norton

David Bowie Heathen
It’s hard to be a Bowie fanatic and still be an unbiased critic of his new album. I should automatically love this CD simply because it’s Bowie, but as much as I love the Thin White Duke, there have been times in the past that he has done wrong. For instance, I didn’t care for his ’80s trilogy of commercial, MTV/radio-friendly albums (Let‘s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down. And, let’s not forget his duets with Mick Jagger and Queen).

I stopped buying his albums in the ’80s and was convinced that—all previous greatness aside—he had become a washed-up sell-out and that his last great album was 1980’s Scary Monsters And Super Creeps. But then 1999’s Hours came out and it sounded like pieces from his entire ’70s career rolled into one album with better production and deeper vocals. Could it be that Bowie was back? So I picked up the one before that, 1997’s Earthling, which (despite using a lot of trendy drum & bass techno crap for rhythm tracks) was a great album full of songs that were equally catchy and rockin’. Bowie had been back and I had been missing out. Naturally I picked up the two previous albums, 1995’s Outside and 1993’s Black Tie White Noise. Like Let‘s Dance, White Noise was produced by Nile Rodgers who did what he’s best known for – making over-produced, radio-friendly product. Outside reunited Bowie with Brian Eno so it should’ve been great. It wasn’t bad (certainly better than White Noise), but I found it a little too dark. While neither album made it into my own personal heavy rotation like Earthling and Hours did, it was interesting to see the evolution from Bowie’s ’80s commercial period to his current state.

Bowie’s latest, Heathen, picks up where Earthling and Hours left off. The first song takes a little while to kick in, but once it does, the rest of the album has very few low points. A lot of it sounds a bit “adult contemporary” (“5.15 The Angels Have Gone”, “Sunday”), but thanks to Bowie’s songwriting and voice, and the top-notch production, none of it comes off as tacky. Catchy, cutesy pop songs like “Everyone Says Hi” and “A Better Future” are the closest thing to Bowie’s ’80s period, but are still pleasant and listen-able. And then there’s some plain old, solid Bowie (“Afraid”), Thin White Duke pop-crooners (“Slow Burn”, “I Would Be Your Slave”, “Heathen”), and a very pretty power ballad about legendary NY vaudeville TV host Uncle Floyd (“Slip Away”). Plus some cover songs.

Bowie must be a big Pixies fan. His late-’80s/early-’90s side project, Tin Machine, covered The Pixies’ “Debaser” on their Tin Machine II tour. On Heathen he covers the Pixies’ “Cactus” as well as the song “I’ve Been Waiting For You,” which Tin Machine also covered. Pixies fans will recognize the song as a b-side to the Pixies’ “Velouria,” while everyone else might recognize it for the Neil Young cover it is. “Cactus” stays faithful to the Pixies’ version, but Bowie doesn’t improve the song enough to be worthwhile and sounds a little out of place. The Neil Young song, on the other hand, also remains pretty faithful to the original while successfully becoming a new Bowie song. One final cover on Heathen has Bowie paying tribute to his former late-60’s Mercury Records labelmate and inspiration for the name “Ziggy Stardust”, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Bowie’s take on “I Took A Trip On A Space Shuttle” updates the song into a throwaway techno/disco tune that sounds like an out-take from Bowie’s 1975 Young Americans album.

Producers of Bowie albums often get as much credit as Bowie for the albums they collaborate with him on. In particular is Tony Visconti, who reunites here with Bowie for the first time in over twenty years. Visconti’s collaborations with Bowie include such classic Bowie albums as Space Oddity (1969), The Man Who Sold The World (1971), Diamond Dogs (1974), Young American” (1975), Low, and Heroes (both 1977), Lodger (1979), and Scary Monsters (1980). While nothing on Heathen comes off like classic Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust/Hunky Dory (the Ken Scott era), a lot of Heathen wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Lodger, Scary Monsters, or any of his other Tony Visconti collaborations from the second half of the ’70s.

Heathen comes with a second disc of extras. Included is a Moby remix of “Sunday” (that I find preferable to the version that opens the album) and an Air remix of “A Better Future” that sounds like Bowie singing for Kraftwerk. There’s also a pretty ballad called “Conversation Piece” that was written in 1969, recorded in 1970, and re-recorded in 2002. This song was originally the b-side to “Prettiest Star” and was later included as a bonus cut on the Space Oddity Ryko CD release. The new version replaces the original folky/country twang with a string ensemble and deeper singing. The bonus disc finishes off with a 1979 outtake version of “Panic In Detroit,” a song originally from 1973’s Alladin Sane, which sounds identical to the bonus cut on the Scary Monsters Ryko CD release.

Will non-Bowie fans appreciate Heathen? It’s hard to say. His career still suffers from his ’80s image despite three solid albums in the last five years. But when you compare the bad records Bowie made in the ’80s to all the other bad records that were on the radio at the time, I’ll take the Bowie records any day. – Skizz Cyzyk
(Columbia Records

Various Artists Better Than The Beatles: A Tribute To The Shaggs
For those of you who don’t know about The Shaggs, they were three sisters who recorded an album in 1969 called Philosophy of the World, which fell into obscurity. A member of NRBQ found it and brought it to a lot of peoples’ attention in 1980, where it become an underground cult hit because of its “so-bad-it’s-good” qualities. Most listeners can’t get past the performances on the album, which sound like the three sisters were in different rooms and unable to hear each other while recording. The novelty of The Shaggs overshadowed the fact that they wrote some touching, charming, and sincere little pop songs. Even a lot of Shaggs fans don’t know that a second Shaggs album was eventually released, The Shaggs’s Own Thing (available on Rounder Records), which proved they could not only play their instruments, but could play together, creating what sounds like conventional music... or at least something similar to modern D.I.Y. indie-pop.

When I first heard about this Shaggs tribute CD, I was a bit apprehensive, as I usually am when it comes to tribute albums. I always hope that the tribute album will be as enjoyable as the band it pays tribute to. But they rarely are. My biggest complaint with tribute albums is that most bands on them, many of whom are unknown to begin with (and often for good reason), usually only bother to learn their covers so they can be included on the tribute album.

My apprehension came more in knowing that The Shaggs lowered a musical bar in regard to what passes for talent in the minds of the hip masses, and I feared that Better Than The Beatles would be a collection of hipster bands taking advantage of the minimal effort needed to cover a Shaggs tune. Just as I feared, there are some bands on this collection who took the easy way out, creating cover versions that parody, more than pay tribute to, The Shaggs (Plastic Mastery’s “Shaggs’ Own Thing,” Joost Visser’s Jad Fair-ish “It’s Halloween,” Deerhof’s electro-noise/Flying Lizards-ish “My Pal Foot Foot,” Danielson Famile and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282-two bands I normally appreciate-each separately covering “Who Are Parents”). R. Stevie Moore & The Olsiewicz-Chusid Ensemble put so much “effort” into making their version of “My Companion” sound so much like The Shaggs version, but with better production and occasional male vocals, it’s practically unnecessary.

Luckily, there are some standout cuts on this disc by bands who celebrate the beauty of The Shaggs’s songwriting and rework the songs into new (perhaps even improved) versions. Ida’s beautiful, meditative opening cut, “Philosophy Of The World” is a perfect example, as is the following track, Optiganally Yours’ version of “You’re Something Special To Me.” Mongrell turns in a folksy “My Cutie.” Bauer’s “We Have A Savior” has a distinct Pet Sounds influence, as does The Double U’s orchestral “Philosophy Of The World.” And as expected, that modern indie-rock sound shows up a few times, most notably in Slot Racer’s “Painful Memories/Wheels” and Furtips’ “You’re Something Special To Me.”

So, like most tribute albums, Better Than The Beatles isn’t perfect, but neither were The Shaggs, and with the standout cuts making up more than half the album, that’s not bad. Shaggs fans will have fun with this. Fans of the bands on this tribute might enjoy their fave bands’ contributions (especially fans of Optiganally Yours), but without being Shaggs fans to begin with, it’s tough to say whether they’ll “get it.– Skizz Cyzyk

Aphex Twins drukqs
Has time mellowed the Aphex Twin? Judging by the release of his latest full length release, drukqs, the answer is yes.

And no.

Playing up the pluralism of his stage name, tunesmith Richard D. James presents a dichotomy of sound on his double disc set. While half of the tunes are the “standard” mind blowing barrage of bombastic beats and patterned noise, the other shows the kinder, gentler James.

Yes, believe it or not, this Aphex Twin outing is chocked full of soulful piano tunes; no torch songs, just a few melodic pieces with most lasting less than two minutes. James can’t stay his hand from plucking a few piano strings along the way but the dulcet tunes are a departure for the Twin.

After a few go-rounds in the CD player I have to admit that drukqs feels uneven in its presentation. I’d preferred if the slower songs were allocated to one of the discs, leaving the other comprised solely of faster (better) works. Oddly, I think that this may be the idea behind the album. The erratic nature structure of drukqs combined with its often unintelligible song titles (“bbydhonchord,” “beskhv3epnm,” “petiatil cx htdui,”) and the refrain from “54 cymru beats” of “sing sweet songs to me in sequence,” leads me to believe that drukqs is a puzzle for fans to figure out. This isn’t such a far out idea when looking at some of Aphex Twin’s past works which have contained hidden faces and song titles among other things. Even a quick glance at Aphex Twin’s name on the drukqs CD reveals what appears to be a key to at least one code.

Being busy with other things and having more fun fast forwarding to every second or third tune, I didn’t have the time or inclination to solve this mystery. I imagine that it will be solved by hardcore Aphex Twin fans soon and posted on

Unless you’re a hardcore Aphex Twin fan, you may want to skip this one and stock your collection with some of James’ earlier works such as Richard D. James or I Care Because You Do. – Mike White

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