May 2003

Find all 22 uses of the word SYNTH!
23 uses of BASS
9 hiphops
7 indies
2 e-bows

(Worm Interface)
This album exhibits a quality not usually associated with IDM: funk. But watch out: if you blink you might miss it. I mean, 757 is not going to make you wonder when James Brown got into drum programming or anything. Still, the rhythms here have a lot more swing than, say, Autechre, and several tracks even contain something close to real funk bass lines. There are also some moments that recall 60s psychedelia, with organ-like synths playing wandering lines full of flat 7ths, and several appearances of a sort of electronicized tribal drumming, including a long passage in 6/8 towards the end of “Thanksgiving.” Other surprises include the appearance of real guitars on “Prospect Park,” and “1980,” a post-rock-ish piece that's full of dissonant, jazzy chords. Overall, though, the basic sound is somewhere on the warmer, more synth-oriented side of IDM, with complex, often contrapuntal arrangements and a sort of alien mood, and the other genres that show up always grow out of this basic sound.
Alex Temple

808 State
Outpost Transmission
This album is gorgeous, but it’s not Gorgeous. The hallmarks of 808’s style remain: kinetic arpeggios, stacked rhythms and glissando melodies. Spy-jazz with hiphop beats. Vocal turns by (presumably) their favorite singers of the moment. As pioneers of modern electronica (there wasn’t much collaboration between rock singers and electronic groups in 1988), and with increasingly sporadic releases (this is their first album of all new material since 1996, Don Solaris in the US), Outpost Transmission sounds less like the sum of the groups 808 State has influenced than a continuation of the chaos within their last album. Sort of. Although, sound-wise and as far as the overall vibe, OT has as little to do with Don Solaris as that album did with Gorgeous. I’m not sure how this album will sound to contemporary audiences. The opening track recalls Ultramarine, while track six goes for the hiphop jugular. Pianos, upright basses and marimbas populate many of the songs.
Ian C Stewart

Pure Tone Audiometry
Pure Tone Audiometry is somewhere between slowcore and post-rock, which basically means that it consists of slow, droney, gorgeous indie-pop songs and slow, droney, not-particularly-gorgeous instrumentals, and that there’s a cello. Lead everything Jon DeRosa is rather fond of electronics, which gives us the backward guitars and looped spoken-word samples of “Out To Sea” and the shoegazerish feedback of “Snowstorm Ruins Birthday.” He also likes long pieces, whence the beautiful, dark red, harmonically static “Big Year,” whose bell-like guitars, tape loops, harmonium, chamber strings and simple vocal melodies seem to go on forever. The twelve-and-a-half-minute closer, “Williamsburg Counterpoint,” is also harmonically static and seemingly endless, but more in the “nothing much happens” sense than in the “I want this to last for hours” sense. Overall, this is one of those albums that feels like floating in warm water, but with an occasional dip into the realm of the tepid.
Alex Temple

(Ersatz Audio)
For the most part, Adult.’s sound is halfway between a dirtier Devo and a less self-conscious Chicks On Speed. Everything is unapologetically digital, from the electronic drums to the thin, plinky synthesizer sounds, and the vocal lines consists mainly of monotone spoken-word phrases repeated ad nauseam. Rhythms throughout are extremely blocky, and even the tracks that border on modern electro-pop (think Ladytron) have a cold, detached air. Oddly, the last few songs on the album are in a more straightforward dance music style, with somewhat fuller textures and busier beats—but even those fail to alleviate the impression that the album was made by robots.
Alex Temple

Head-Slash Bauch
(Orthlorng Musork)
Laub singer Antye Greie-Fuchs steps out with a solo collection of abstract sound collages humming with electronic charge, out of which emerge digitally mulched, granulated remnants of her sweet-sounding voice. Not a calming or melodic affair by any means, but neither is it too harsh, nor so difficult that it would put off an adventurous listener. These laptop constructions are constantly shifting and surprising, at times quite pretty and evocative.
C Reider

(Noiseworks Records)
Insistently amelodic German industrial. Fluctuates between shoegazerish quiet sections with one-fingered synth lines and monotonous, bleating vocals, and loud sections with badly EQed fuzzy guitars, drum beats like Stone Roses by way of Front 242 and monotonous, bleating vocals. “Grauben glauben deutsche blurk, blurk!” The singer has a range of two and a half notes. He’s polytonal! Unfortunate at best.
C. Reider

Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home
(Young God Records)
“Palisades,” the opener, cops a gospel choir feel on the chorus, with a literal chorus of singers. The focus seems to be on acoustic instruments, at least on “Palisades.” “All Souls’ Rising” channels the spirit of Swans with the repeated, almost brutally jarring guitar figures that would be equally at home on one of Nick Cave’s freakouts. Michael Gira’s singing voice is pushing into areas untouched since the mid-80s, namely a kind of bellowing almost-scream that sort of went out the window when he became a stone crooner in the 90s. The organ and harmonica are the shit though and this is an utterly modern record. It’s very American-sounding with its pokey, lightly overdriven electric guitar figure, tambourines, pounding rhythm and yelling background vocals. “Kosinski” is a fingerpicked guitar, harmonica, singing, boxcar hoedown in hell. The vibe is like The Burning World minus Bill Laswell’s influence, with a sort of cosmopolitan Americana in its place.
Ian C Stewart

We’ve Come For You All
Jesus, do I really have to do this? Anthrax has always been an extremely nerdy, self-consciously uncool band. Their list of crimes against humanity does not stop with mullets, rap metal, “moshing” and surfer shorts as acceptable onstage attire. And now they’re back for the first time since their name shot to the front of everyone’s minds for a few months. The drumming is, as always, the best thing on this Anthrax album. John Bush’s voice is indeed very cool and is a great asset. I don’t know if the songs are there. Anthrax is in a difficult position in the post-thrash era. They strum acoustic guitars and the single, “Refuse To Be Denied,” has a huge chorus. But then there’s a song with slide guitar, called “Cadillac Rock Box.” So, I give up.
Ian C Stewart

Blue Straggler
(Hip Sync)
Awkward Star is like Soul Coughing, reinvented as a jam band, with a female singer. Vocalist Greta gets her M. Doughty on (or even Mimi Goese of Hugo Largo), with combinations of melodic singing and long, rhythmic spoken lines. Rhythmic speaking? Isn’t that the definition of rap? The parts that are sung outshine the gawky, spoken sections. The instrumental portions sound like they were born from jam sessions: long, complicated drum and percussion rhythms with noodling bass lines beneath stratospheric, effected guitar action and even some extremely sweet e-bow. “Pausing Song” even has Hugo Largo-style bass. It’s engaging, but also, yes, awkward at times.
Ian C Stewart

The First Ten Years Of The Bananas
Moldy peaches meet punk rock. Formed many moons ago when a Tiger Trap/Nar show set up by Scott Banana was a support band short, and rather than leave it to the tasteless pseudo-promoter to choose a stand-in, Scott calmed their fears with the words “I have a band in mind,” immediately followed by the words “hey Mike, wanna start a band?” So it began and this is the album that chronicles ten years of a band that's “too lazy to break up.” They have a great, raw and distorted sound that The Stroke-bots would kill for. A sound that no amount of big-studio button-pushing could ever achieve. A sound that comes, simply, from recording on a four track in a basement with a dodgy microphone. And credit to the band, their sheer presence and humor are complemented and embellished by these not-perfect recordings. This compilation is made up of the Forbidden Fruit album, the Peel Sessions 7”, Bad Banana Rising 7” and various other tracks that don’t appear anywhere else, such as the band’s theme song “I’m A Banana” - what band is complete without a theme song? Especially one with the line “try me with peanut butter, try me in any orifice ‘cos I’m a banana, baby, so fuck you!” For Bananas fans, there are a couple of rare gems on this compilation, like “Death Star 90210,” which was intended to be on an unreleased four track Star Wars 7”. If the song’s title hasn’t won you over yet, the lyric “Brandon and Leia, Chewbacca, Andrea still haven’t gone all the way” should. With television and radio reaching saturation point with boy bands, pop idols, label-constructed rock and mass-produced rap, you need something raw -- you need some roughage. Do yourself a favor and don’t deny yourself The Banana. You need the potassium.

(Inside Out Music America)
The Three Ninjas of acoustic guitar borrow beats and pieces from King Crimson rhythm sections past and present. Pat Mastellotto leaves the electronics at home and returns to the artistic timekeeping that made him the driving force of XTC’s Oranges & Lemons, while Tony Levin’s fretless bass and Chapman Stick add melodies and low end galore. In the process they help to tame much of the coyness of the Trio’s compositions, lending them a veracity that would otherwise only be implied. By “Skyline,” all the elements are in place and on display: the chiming, percussive acoustic guitars, the thrumming downbeat with unexpected accents from Mastellotto. Oh my. “Dancing Anne” is another early winner, with its 7/8 shuffle and pokey guitar counterpoint. “Zundoko-Bushi” is more of what CGT delivers in its live shows - meditations on prog rock classics, in this case “21st Century Schizoid Man,” with maybe some other King Crimson classics quoted along the way. “Blockhead” opens with a solid caveman whomp in a non-4/4 time signature and then dissipates into a melodic breakdown that recalls Levin’s solo album Pieces Of The Sun, complete with lovely fretless bass melodies that also recall Michael Manring. “Eve” rounds out the set nicely with a delicate vibe. Lovely and delicate - I'm getting soft in my old age. “The Chase” follows and could be an improv. Sounds it. 7:39 of the famous kitchen-sink drumming and pinpoint picking. Hell yeah. I’m not mentioning the tracks with slide guitars and blues overtones because I choose to accentuate the positive. Today. But even those minor blemishes can’t take away from the high points of this kick-ass collaboration between superpowers of the King Crimson Universe. It’s progressive but not prog (i.e. no Hammond organ, no wailing vocalist with a tree fetish), and it’s acoustic but it sure as hell isn’t folk. Or new age. Aggressive new age?
Ian C Stewart

Be Still
(Plan It X Records)
Melodic, guitar-driven, modern punk rock action of the genus with harmonized vocals and snot firmly entrenched in every player’s nostrils. Uptempo and frequently out of tune. The production is some good shit, the instruments sound very good. It’s the drunk-on-attitude vocals that some biatch’s might have a prob with. The songs definitely rock and the punk rock yoofs in the band get it right more often than not. Their label calls them alterna-punk. I don’t see the alterna aspect. I thought the point of punk rock itself was to be alternative. But then again, let’s not start splitting hairs over what is or isn’t punk rock. Let’s just quietly declare Carrie Nations’ mission a success and move on.
Ian C Stewart

The Scarlet Sea
Cinnamonia lurk somewhere in the dire depths between new age and neo-prog: they’ve got a bit of fake tribal drumming, a bit of fake Renaissance balladry, and a whole lot of cheesy digital synth pads. Lyrics include such gems as “The past is haunting me / The dark black man is running after me.” Vocalist Sandra Werner’s prog background comes through in their occasional Capital-B Big moments, such as the bombastic climax of “Splendour” (choice lyric: “You are my splendour”), though for the most part she has more of a world-folk Loreena McKennitt vibe. The album’s overall sound winds up being something like October Project, except without the catchy tunes. The only notably tolerable moments are the very occasional passages that bring in some winds and slightly darker-hued tonalities, resulting in what might be called Legendary Pink Dots Lite.
Alex Temple

The Separation of Church & Hate
Two words: Christian industrial. No, seriously. You’ve got a whole lot of noise, feedback, and mechanical sounds, plus the occasional drums and vaguely twangy guitars, arranged into off-kilter rhythms and flanged to oblivion. And while about half of the album is instrumental and about as Christian as a lamppost, the other half is layered with Southern-accented spoken-word about the Bible. But don’t worry: Scotty Irving is a liberal sort of Christian, so he spends his time bashing racists and cautioning his audience (after ten minutes of interview samples!) not to believe rumors that Proctor and Gamble is Satanic. But wait! It’s not just Christian industrial -- according to the TV clips in “Two Or More Gathered In HIS Name Part 2,’ it’s Christian industrial performance art! But wait again! There’s also “Hadephobia,” which improbably, inexplicably, manages to be CHRISTIAN INDUSTRIAL NOISE HAPPY HARDCORE! No, seriously.
Alex Temple

The Plastic Spider Thing
Though nominally a Coil album, “The Plastic Spider Thing” was actually created by DraZen of Black Sun Productions, who used fragments of Coil’s albums to create an hour–long slab of industrial–ambient–drone music, for use as a soundtrack to a performance art piece by Black Sun’s Massimo and Pierce. The music is full of looped waves of electrical static, unidentifiable noises, flitting and shrieking sounds and fragments of speech, often played backwards. Occasionally we get whole sentences, though they’re often drenched in delay. The sound is at times thin, nasty and claustrophobic, at times vast and spacious and terrifyingly hollow, but there's always a rhythm somewhere that you can anchor yourself to. A particular standout is “The Spider Got What He Wanted,” a more dynamic piece consisting of pulsing tape noises, distorted digital meow-like sounds, and mechanical hums and growls centered around a wavering drone; it wouldn't be out of place on an Edward Ka-Spel solo album.
Alex Temple

The Plastic Spider Thing
It figures that Coil’s most focused and effective release in a while wasn’t even created by Coil at all. This ritual work was assembled by by DraZen of Black Sun Productions who appropriated bits and pieces from past Coil albums, looped them, added effects and recombined the source material into a long flowing ambient work in twenty three parts. The purpose of this remix was to be background music for a sex art performance by Massimo and Pierce (me neither) and it was at one of those performances (so informeth the liner notes) that Coil themselves actually first heard the collage. The Plastic Spider Thing is a beautiful mix of sound, softly flanged loops with John Balance’s voice calmly intoning backwards. One of the prettier moments comes as Rose McDowall’s singing is twisted back on itself for a love song from straight out of the Black Lodge. The piece as a whole builds nicely to a climax with an insistent machine loop (that wouldn’t sound out of place on a work by Kapotte Muziek) which disappears into its own feedback and delay. Then there’s a long denouement which softens and lightens the mood considerably, only to finally harks back to the introductory theme. Ambient music, if it’s good, suggests a sense of place. The Plastic Spider Thing takes you to a place that’s dark, smoky and claustrophobic.
C Reider

Damnation And A Day
When listening to Cradle of Filth, it is easy to envision a scene including blood-covered satanic nuns masturbating while watching a Hammer film. All the while, Dani Filth and his cohorts stand there, blissfully playing Damnation And A Day as Satan himself would think twice about making an appearance at such a spectacle. This album (not unlike all of Cradle’s catalog) slams you in the face with very nicely produced, very modern black metal. The lyrics continually go from a whisper to a lung-imploding wail, as the double bass drums pound you into submission. The guitars are very nicely done, weaving intricate melodies and harmonies that mesh nicely with the ghouly keys. Highlights include the opening “A Bruise Upon The Silent Moon,” creating an evil mood with thick layers of keys with thunderstorm effects. The crafty and spooky “Serpent Tongue” begins with clean guitars and builds to an evil, black anthem that is sure to be a classic. “Mannequin” starts like a Clive Barker nightmare and finishes as an orchestrated, effect-laden masterpiece. The album ends with the nicely polished, traditional black metal riff of “The Smoke Of Her Burning” which moves to the final keyboard piece “End Of Daze.” Also, many of the cuts include voiceovers that add to the dark mood of the album. The voice reminds me of a mix between Winston Churchill and the guy who did the beginning of “The Number Of The Beast.” Overall, a very nice album that puts Cradle Of Filth in a class of its own. But after listening to this opus it makes me wonder what the fans at Ozzfest going to think of this band - and will Satan have the balls to show up?
Michael Bill

(Tone Casualties)
A terminally inoffensive techno outing from one of the guys who created those “Rug Rats” and “Wild Thornberries” cartoons for kids. The entire 75 minutes of this CD squirts along at the same slowish midtempo, aimless, chillout pace, and burbles with mild quirkiness that comes off as an homage to the Art Of Noise on downers. This cloyingly repetitive soup of amelodious synth parts are joined by guitar, bass, sax, lots of weird noises and voice samples, lumbering along as though they're going to do something bigger and more exciting—but the climax never comes. Instead it just toodles along with that same jovial ignorability. The centerpiece is “Lemoncholy” which is shimmeringly uncatchy techno with a weird, helium-affected vocal that isn’t outright ridiculous, but certainly goes right up to the border of “what is he thinking?” It is the best bit though, especially the odd little rapper cut-up during the breakdown. Ultimately, the whole thing just makes me go “huh?”
C. Reider

(Takeout Records)
Whoa, did I just wander into The Gap? This dance mix by New York DJs Marcus and Dominique features pure American techno-plastique. Occasionally smooth grooves with blandly soulful vocals. The spoken, introductory rave-up doesn’t bode well with its mantra of “is this all there is?” delivered with a blasé whininess, and a skritchy little beat that's slowly ratcheted up into the gay funk that dominates the rest of the mix. All tracks utilize the hippest advances in funky mediocrity. Highlights are Bushwacka’s Detroitish bop “Chorus,” with the odd Manhattan Transfer vocals and impatient scene changes; and Plant’s “Oil & Steal,” with its greasy bassline, dubby organ hits and grainy murmuring. It’s difficult to wring any personality from these tracks when the whole genre appears to nullify individual style in search of the infinite beat. Since the same bass line flows through every song, the hour-long mix causes fatigue. If this is the sound of exciting New York City nightlife, then I think I’ll just stay at home.
C. Reider

Apple O'
(Kill Rock Stars/5 Rue Christine)
If the dictionary contained the word “avant-pop,” the cover of Apple O' would be pictured in the margin. Bubblegummy chord progressions and naïve, blocky melodies are juxtaposed incongruously and played with the abrasive guitar tones of Polvo or the Pixies. Cutesy Japanese girlie vocals sing gibberish like “What’s that core on the floor / What the devil was that for?” and are often buried so far in the mix that you can barely hear them. A few songs also make use of samples, bells or buzzing alarm-clock organs, but for the most part this is off-the-wall guitar rock, often seriously cute and consistently catchy as fuck. Even the requisite ballad, “Apple Bomb,” is about cloning someone’s mother and climaxes in a wall of guitar feedback. A contender for Best of 2003?
Alex Temple

Dirty Power
(Dead Teenager)
What can be said about this that hasn't already been said about, say, impotence? Your girlfriend or boyfriend or favorite livestock comes in for a drink, one thing leads to another—you know, you’re feeling it—and you think, what the hell, looks like it’s time to get my swerve on. You saunter over to the stereo for some mood music; something that’ll inspire —then punctuate—a righteous fuck. Out flops Dirty Power. You think it’ll lunge forward, a goddamned missile of sheer fucking manliness, but the minute you let it go, the only thing “hard” about it is how it hits the floor. Like a calcified shit balloon. Your girl/guy/sheep looks up in alarm, like, “oh shit, somebody taught Krokus English!” and the next thing you know, they're desperately clawing at the door, wishing they'd taken the time (prior to visiting you) to have evolved thumbs. It's not pretty, it’s not good, it’s basically an “oh shit” moment that only you and the likes of Martha Stewart can rightly explain to the rest of us. “I-I-I-I... I don't know where that CD (stock deal, periwinkle napkin against a russet table cloth) came from! Honest! I didn't... I never listen to this shit! Or combine cool pastels with warm earth tones.” So sad, too bad. It's done. Your date's managed to gnaw off its own arm and use it as a prybar to open the door and escape. Alone. Again. Naturally. You look around, nod to yourself. The coast, as they say, is clear. Go on, reach down. Get that swerve on. But for fuck’s sake, turn off the goddamned stereo first.
D. Porter

Valley of the Damned
(Sanctuary Records GmbH)
Whoa. Hard rock. It’s Dokken all over again. Proto-metallic guitar chording with melodic singing. Choruses that could actually get stuck in your head. The drummer is totally insane and must have four arms. The weird little synthie guitar solos are cool for a laugh. It’s feel-good heavy metal, like something you’d hear the end of an animated Japanese film. And it makes me want to dance around and kick my feet like a puss. Hilarious, and entertaining.
C. Reider

DYNAMINTE WITH A LASER BEAM Queen tribute compilation
(Three One G)
The premise is simple. Take hardcore, experimental, noise-core bands, stick them in their respective studios, basements and padded cells, hand them some Queen lyrics, press record and run away. Some of the songs are fucking amazing straightforward hardcore. Some get pulled kicking and screaming through the torment that bands like Asterisk and Bastard Noise inhabit, emerging twisted and distorted. Asterisk sound like a chainsaw-wielding maniac in a basement full of rats and blenders, they’ll make you bleed from unspeakable orifices. The Locust manage to cover “Flash” in about forty-five seconds. Furious guitars, machinegun drumbeats, screaming from the depths of their very, very tight leather shorts. So what happens to “Bohemian Rhapsody”? It’s operated upon by Weasel Walter, who reassembles the song to expose its darker roots. The Convocation Of play a great, funked-up version of “Get Down, Make Love,” a song to which your response from the previous hardcore onslaught should be along the lines of James Brown stylee grunts. Bastard Noise live up to their name. Happily for your ear drums, the compiler of the album separated them and Asterisk by a good ten tracks. They’re covering “Lily Of The Valley,” but that's just incidental. It emerges barely recognizable—but if you like high distortion, barely-discernable lyrics, volume turned up to eleven and bone marrow running out your eye sockets, this is for you. The album finishes with two of the best hard noisecore bands around: Tourettes Lautrec and Melt-Banana. Tourettes Lautrec win the award for best song with “Killer Queen.” The guitars are somewhat restrained from their noise but the spiky garage rock can’t be concealed. Singer Tracey Wooley has one of those perfect punk voices reminiscent of Siouxise or Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow). The Melt-Banana cover of “We Will Rock You” is surprising in that rather than the thirty-second, blisteringly fast, overdriven guitars and shrieking vocals that you'd expect from Japan’s best noisecore outfit, you get something more akin to Pizzicato Five: looped, almost cutesy vocals and simple heavy backbeat. It is a great song.

Danger! High Voltage 7”
(XL recordings)
Infectious grooves that will make you dance like Bill Cosby on ketamine, feral mating vocals and screaming guitars set to devour dance floors everywhere. This debut single from Detroit inmates Electric Six, (formerly The Wildbunch), was originally sampled on last year’s Soulwax: Too Many DJs album. A powerhouse of disco-punk—insanely catchy with screaming lyrics in the style of Dr. Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show with backing vocals provided by John S. O’Leary—pseudonym of none other than Jack White of the White Stripes. Credit on the single does go to Bill Clinton for the kitsch sax solo, although, judging by the presidential levels of honesty apparent in their self-aggrandizing web site, that’s about as likely as a Milli Vanilli reunion tour. I guarantee you will be singing this after the first listen. The only failing in the single is the B-side, “I Lost Control Of My Rock And Roll,” leaving a worrying impression that this may be their flash in the pop pan. Even so, this is going to make many people’s Single Of The Year lists. While I go off to find my dancing clogs I leave you a final thought by guitarist Surge Joebot: “We make lampshades out of rock ‘n’ roll.” Well said, Surge. Well said.

Scattered Ashes: Decade Of Emperial Wrath
(Candlelight Records)
A two CD collection of the “greatest hits” of arguably the greatest black metal band in the world. Opening with one of the finest of their fine moments, “Curse You All Men,” which remains a harmonized, orchestrated piece of epic brutality and finesse. The keyboard playing is as amazing as the guitar solos and the blisteringly fast drumming. Which, on paper would appear to put Emperor in league with Dream Theater or some other, equally questionable progressive metal band. Bear in mind that most prog metal bands don’t have people who’ve been in prison for burning churches and stabbing people in their membership. What up, Tchort! The 27 tracks span Emperor’s entire career, from the early days with Mortiis on bass to the most recent. Of course, there’s “I Am The Black Wizards,” a dark metal classic. Several cover versions are present, including their version of Mercyful Fate’s “Gypsy,” which is enhanced with keyboards. And Isahn does an extremely believable approximation of King Diamond’s singing, which is no easy feat. Emperor has always been able to do things that make chumps of lesser bands. The aggressive falsetto singing is just one of them. “With Strength I Burn” represents the later, more melodic approach, with harmonized vocals and guitars. The drums are probably even harmonized somehow. The package closes with “Opus A Satana,” a symphonic splat of dark beauty that sounds like the later albums by Mortiis. This is a good a starting point for those who are interested in checking out one of the top black metal bands of all time.
Ian C Stewart

Why Evolve When We Can Go Sideways?
(Substandard Records)
Moody math-punk? Big chords, jagged rhythms, screamed vocals. The guitar is clean enough that it doesn’t sound like heavy metal. The bass, however, gets to traipse around like it’s shoegaze all over again (I wish). The songs are concise and sprawling at the same time (what? That can’t be right.), with numerous time shifts and mood-morphs. Lots of flat-out pogo-friendly rocking and lots of heads-down noodling as well. With a dude screaming over the top. “Dancing Rabbit Is Dead” has the singer intoning “cold chills, cold chills, cold chills” at the end. And I think I just got one. The album closes with a shocker, in the form of a cello-driven ballad. With piano. Of course, it does still blow up and rock out. End On End go in several directions at once. Fortunately, all of them rock! ROCK!
Ian C Stewart

(Soleil Zeuhl)
So here it is, finally, Eskaton’s second album on CD for the first time, thirteen years after its original vinyl release in 1980. Those of you who know the band’s debut, 4 Visions, won’t be terribly surprised by what you find here: intense, synth-heavy, tightly-composed fusion, Zeuhl in orientation (though their frequent dismissal as a Magma clone is completely unfounded), fronted by two indistinguishable female vocalists singing unbelievably pretentious lyrics in French. The sound has changed a bit, though: except for “Un Certain Passage,” which is almost Eskaton-lite, the band has largely left its languor behind, choosing to focus instead on groove and the energetic, repetetive bass licks that earned the group its Zeuhl categorization in the first place. The music is more aggressive, and also more compressed: only one track exceeds ten minutes. The change is most obvious when you compare “Eskaton” and “Attente” with their earlier incarnations on 4 Visions: here, they’re shortened to sixish minutes each and transformed into tense all-out synth attacks that make you want to headbang. Fuck yeah. And if Ardeur on CD isn't enough, you also get the two tracks from the band’s 1979 “Musique Post-Atomique” single. Basically, they sound like Eskaton, except that the production isn't as good. I’m not wild on bonus tracks, but this brings us one step closer to a complete Eskaton CD discography, so I’m not going to object too much.
Alex Temple

The Long Goodbye
It's weird how little The Long Goodbye sounds like the Essex Green's previous releases. I mean, the elements are all still there. Bland male vocalist. Cute female vocalist. Tinges of country and Spanish music, applied to songwriting that fits squarely in the retro-psych-pop vein -- even if the balance is now tipped away from the Zombies and Doors and towards Jefferson Airplane and White Album-era McCartney. The difference, though, lies in the production: in place of their usual straightforward, 60s-ish sound, The Long Goodbye is just a bit too slick, just ever so slightly overproduced. The effect is a lot like what Dave Fridmann did to Home XIV: not only is the sound a bit cloying at times, but the high production makes you feel like you're listening to something conceived on a grand scale, and the simplicity that you find in its place comes off as mere fluff. On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, it really is fluff.
Alex Temple
Synths and drum machines and sweet melodies. So why am I not in love? “Invisible” opens with deep breathing and a rhythm that New Order could be proud of. Like much of the neo-electro-whatever of the past few years, the emphasis is on the production and the instruments, largely dispensing with classic melodies and indeed anything memorable.
Ian C Stewart

Tears Of Mournful Solitude
What the hell? Long, almost ambient metal with harmonized guitars, layered keyboards and a drum machine back there somewhere. If Enigma turned into a black metal band. Long (I mean long) instrumental passages, with guitars playing mournful chords, and solos segue into blackened, mechanized riffing with synth swells. There are extremely heavy parts with brutal death metal vocals but they’re almost the minority. “Whole” comes off like some unholy cross between Emperor, Coldplay and Meatloaf – the vibe is dour and there’s piano. And clean vocals. Add Opeth to that list. It is an extremely melancholic album with fascinating twists.
Ian C Stewart

After having concentrated for years on notated chamber music and improvisation, Fred Frith returns to a rock format with this somewhat scattershot release. Collecting tracks from 1987 to 2001, “Prints” includes a calypso-punk song, some loopy guitar improvisation, and a short, melancholic piano piece. Most of the album, though, is devoted to weird pop music (including a Burt Bacharach cover!). Several of the tracks have a prog-meets-electro-pop sound, vaguely reminiscent of Stormy Six’s Al Volo, solo Steve Hackett or something involving Wire’s Edvard Graham Lewis. Angular guitar or sax lines that wouldn't seem out of place on an Art Bears album burst through from time to time. Frith’s guitars squall and buzz as he sings nasally over wheezing synthesizers, ponderous dissonant chords in minor keys, and looped samples and drumbeats.
Alex Temple

Black Cherry
Dude, it sounds like Allison Goldfrapp has found her inner sex goddess on this album. Rather an unexpected turn given the Tricky-like dourness of her first album. Black Cherry’s songs are dominated by squooshed, zippy synths that remind me of Ohgr’s post-Skinny Puppy solo album. In fact, if you place Ohgr’s cover of the Madonna song “Borderline” in a playlist before Black Cherry, it sounds like one band with two different singers. So, hell yeah to that. The songs are excellent and very catchy, and mostly very upbeat. And, occasionally, bristling with horniness. “Crystalline Green” opens like an old Gary Numan joint remixed by the Neptunes. It’s like a Lida Husik album, but with more layers and a different vibe. “Deep Honey” is more like the older Goldfrapp action, a slow, orchestrated ballad that’s not a million miles removed from Bel Canto (the band, not the singing style). “Twist” is an extroverted hit-single ordeal with a dance groove and a complex melody that will continue to rule my car throughout the summer. Nice one. Despite having one of the worst album covers in the history of recorded music.
Ian C Stewart

(Go-Kart Records)
With almost thirty tracks, this set loses little in the usual tradeoff between quality and quantity. The backbone of the album is formed from solid, established favorites like GBH, Anti-Flag, Punk Rock and the like. It fleshes itself out with the sort of hardcore punk you expect from Go-Kart while providing room for more progressive bands like Pseudo Heroes (who’ve got a bit of an Emo thing going on) and Manda And The Marbles. Guff gives us pop punk that feels really out of place on this record—too soft by half among hardcore bands like Two Man Advantage, whose track has a great Minor Threat sound. Its nice to see Anti-Flag man Justin Sane’s solo work here along with bands like Lunachicks and Sick On The Bus. It does the work of a good sampler, provides you with a lot of new bands and hints at the label’s direction and even if you don’t like the song you’re listening to you can amuse yourself with the weird 3D moving image thing on the front cover. For hours and hours on end. Trust me.

Taste The Walker
(Dead Teenager)
They wear masks and they dress like your granny when she was on crack. Yet they produce some of the tightest punk-grunge-metal I’ve heard in a long time. They grind out great big fuck-off tracks as well as more tuneful acoustic pieces, mixing in big-guitar rock ’n’ roll. “Mad Cow Disease” hints at punk rock in the vein of the Circle Jerks. “Crime Pays” has a freaky Nirvana vibe, though it could just be the vocals or the mixing by Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Supersuckers etc). “Alpenglow” is another track to note if only for the fact that it is the theme song for San Francisco based show Bitchin Kitchen. There is a great moment for Husker Dü fans, a cover of “Never Talking To You Again,” that provides a mature break for about 57 seconds before the punk rock kicks the door in and pisses on the acoustic guitar. This is rock ’n’ roll with a capital Fuck You and an orthopedic boot to the balls. If, as vocalist Deanamite puts it, “punk rock is the mother’s milk of white guys,” then bring on those wrinkled titties.

Wagner’s War
(TPR Music)
So, is it pronounced “vogner’s vor”? I’m already confused before this eleven-minute, seven-song epic EP even starts playing. Ahh, The Great Kat. She’s an amazing guitar player, she’s hilarious and she’s also an amazing public presence that emphasizes, well, actually there’s not much there to emphasize, but what little she contributes to the world, she does in bold print. With the caps-lock button smashed down, and with as many exclamation points as possible. Musically, we’re talking about insanely-fast heavy metal arrangements of traditional classical music. It’s like some macabre karaoke, with The Great Kat’s jaw wired open and both hands shredding on her Jackson guitar. Wagner’s War has at its center a camo-clad sense of militarism and patriotism, I suppose (which is somewhat odd considering that The Great Kat is from Swindon in England). With grandiosity off the fucking scale. The Great Kat’s albums have to be eleven minutes long, because there’s such a density of notes and information flying at you, you couldn’t withstand more. And I say that as a fan of Napalm Death’s classic grind opus From Enslavement To Obliteration. The CD opens with Wagner’s “The Ride Of The Valkyries,” or, for dumbasses like me, the “Kill the wabbit” song. Track two, “War,” is a The Great Kat original, all 1:25 of it. Chuggling guitars, Drumbo percussion, and The Great Kat herself screaming “kill! Kill! Kill! Murder the muthers! Slaughter the bastards! Kill! Kill!” I ask you, when’s the last time you heard Yngwie Malmsteen yell “kill” nine times in a row on one of his albums? The Great Kat’s music is a cross between Buckethead, Yngwie, and Napalm Death, but with this scary, scary chick screaming all over it. In the CD booklet, it says (and I’m quoting the typography exactly): “THE GREAT KAT: ALL LEAD & RHYTHM GUITARS, VIOLINS, VOCALS, SCREAMS, Composer Of All Genius Music, The New BEETHOVEN Of The 21st Century/GOD!!!!!!!!!!” Elsewhere, listeners are encouraged to “WRITE TO YOUR MESSIAH THE GREAT KAT.” Um, hell yeah.
Ian C Stewart

A Hillbilly Tribute To Mountain Love
Three guys who pound down moonshine as much as they like playing bluegrass, playing songs that don't typically lend themselves to that genre. Their first album, A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC blended the sweet strains of Appalachia with the booze ’n’ babes lyrics of AC/DC. Their second album branched out from a single-artist approach to the broad topic of mountain love. Eight covers including “My Best Friend's Girl,” “Fat Bottom Girls,” “Big Bottom,” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” Two originals, “The Perfect Woman” and “Keeping Your Poop,” round out the album. A couple of the songs sound forced and it seems as though the boys are going to blow the joke and start laughing before they deliver the punch line. No worries though—they more than make up for any potential shortcomings with “Keeping Your Poop.” If you’ve ever been dumped and been tempted to pen a litany of hate mail, this song is for you. In other words, the worlds of bluegrass and rock ’n’ roll could take some lessons from the pages of Hayseed Dixie: Do something you love, do it well, and have fun. And sing about poop if you can get away with it.
Todd Skaggs

Listen & Learn
(Ninja Tune)
We got the funk. We keep it all here. This set of mixed beats and pieces from all around the world comes together as one long, funky-thumping entity. It reminds me of Meat Beat Manifesto’s sample-happy approach to mixing their own beats in with every other cool beat in the world. Hexstatic’s use of spoken samples is also like that of Jack Dangers etc. Often funny, occasionally weird, always funky. They intersperse their own songs with Grandmaster Flash, Ike & Tina Turner (well, the music portion anyway, which is extra ass-friendly) and even a forgotten classic (actually it was never known in the first place, not by me anyway) from Young MC. Plus Boards Of Canada, David Holmes and Ninja Tune’s house act, DJ Food. Test the volume threshold of your car’s speakers with this one. Or your headphones. I think I forgot to mention how funky this album is though.
Ian C Stewart

Jagged Junktion
(Go-Kart Records)
This comes from Jett Brando (or Jeremy Winter as he is more commonly known either on his own or with his previous band All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavours). It’s bursting with a variety of styles from Beck to The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Cracker. Great indie-pop featuring Brando singing all parts simultaneously, the only other live musician being the drummer. Everything else was programmed in the studio by himself or with hiphop act Dalek who also share writing credit on three tracks. Strange to see him on punk label Go-Kart, you’d think someone like Matador would snatch him up. The first track is the liveliest, like Beck circa “Odelay” or Stephen Malkmus: distorted vocals, moderately heavy beat, shining guitar, blues howls and handclaps. You have to love the handclaps. The rest of the tracks are less experimental, the highlight being the excellent Cracker-esque “Be So Kind.” The rest of the EP shows great skill with melody and production.

Melodic, progressive metal. Full-on production with keyboards, double bass drums, fairly serious riffing and a sort of high-pitched singer in the classic tradition of melodic metal. A little Geoff Tate, a little bit of the guy from Helloween. The songs are indeed epic, befitting the album’s title. There’s a vague sort of medieval theme to the songs and the whole thing is like Queensryche covering Meatloaf.
Ian C Stewart
My Fiero
(8 Bit Peoples)
Awesome. Uh, new wave and early 80s covers done with groovebox sounds. Sounds like it could be straight MIDI files from the internet, only instead of chimpy trumpets and clangy cymbals, the sounds are booming and modern. And sexy. And thumpin’. All of the covers are note-perfect instrumental versions. Muzak for the car or the dancefloor instead of supermarkets and airports. “Jars” is actually Gary Numan’s “Cars.” You can guess what “Burning Down the Townhouse” is, and probably “No Seriously, Call Me” as well. Similarly, you may be able to spot the other songs, “Kids In Bolivia,” “Beep It,” “Hampton And Son,” (the Sanford & Son theme) and “She Verbed Me With Sentences.” It thumps and it’s funny because you already know every single song on it.
Ian C Stewart

2 Foot Yard
As a founder of Tin Hat Trio and a member of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, as well as a successful new music violinist, Carla Kihlstedt is something of a West Coast out-music superstar. On this, her first solo album, she has decided to play with genres that seem incongruous with an “avant” label, and as such we get what sounds like SyZyGys doing blues, No Safety doing Broadway, the Fibonaccis doing country, and so on. Except for the unexpected cover of “50 Miles” plopped into the middle of the album, all the pieces are miniatures, dense both in musical material and in their heavily multi-tracked arrangements, which include such instruments as violin, cello, accordion, zither and melodica in addition to Kihlstedt’s extraordinarily versatile voice.
Alex Temple

The Power To Believe
So, the full-length album finally arrives and it’s dense like a jungle. The processed acapella action remains from the Happy To Be Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With EP between several of the songs. The production is very clear and there’s (as always) much sonic information to be processed. A propensity for density, hur-hur. “FaKcts Of Life” implies an almost Christian-rock vibe, with the name checking of biblical figures.. But, surely, a song, actually - an album with as many evil riffs as this one can’t take its Christian overtones too seriously. Trey Gunn remains a musical ninja, quietly lurking in the back until he’s called out to… shhh…. KILL!!! And kill again! Pat Mastellotto’s drumming remains all-inclusive and his groovebox manipulations are even cooler here than on the EP. Robert Fripp’s machinegun riffing, soaring atmospherics and guitar synthesizer interplay with Adrian Belew remains a hallmark of King Crimson. “Eyes Wide Open” gets an electric treatment, but for me, loses something in the translation from the EP version. The many instrumental pieces are where the group really soars and destroys and kills and heals. It’s not an album you’re going to hear once and remember every single little thing, and it’s to the credit of those involved that it remains engaging on multiple levels. To a bespectacled honky nerd like me anyway.
Ian C Stewart

KISS THIS: KISS tribute compilation
(Main Man Records)
The Donnas start this multi-genre costume party with the coke-fuelled “Speeding Back To My Baby” from Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album. Unsurprisingly, in The Donnas’ hands, it sounds like a Ramones song. And they didn’t change the gender of the lyrics over, i.e. “I saw him with a man,” etc. Ha. The Youth Ahead gives “Beth” the Green Day treatment which is to say that there’s no reason for this song to exist. An irritating song made even worse. Buh-bye. The Ace’s (his friends call him The Ace) solo album gets its second nod with Frankenstein 3000’s “Rip It Out,” giving it some uh, glam rock sleaze? Ze Malibu Kids contain members of Redd Kross and they get all Aphex Twin with their “Plaster Caster.” It sounds like the whole thing went through all the wrong mixdown effects, is that what they were going for? Wow. Billy Rubin’s “Cold Gin” goes all gabber/Andrew WK on shit, even including the intro rap from Alive! Dude's singing voice sounds like Sammy Hagar or something but the slamming techno beat is awesome. Gene Walk Group do “Detroit Rock City” as a ballad!? Coming in like Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” sorta, building up at the end to blast out the rest of the song as it was written. Very cool. Tick Non Stop’s female vocalist does “Makin’ Love” as a song about a dude, which doesn't actually change anything, really. Cryptkeeper 5’s “Comin’ Home” starts out all John Tesh, with a bunch of piano and strings, building into a Phil Spector beat (you know the one) concluding with a Bruce Springsteen vamp. Oh dear. There’s saxophone. Kill me now. “God Of Thunder,” in the hands of Slack, sounds like Rob Zombie/Powerman 5000. That sort of technoid metal feel with synths. Interesting, I suppose, but it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong with this song. Vulgar Sandwich does a hysterical “Hotter Than Hell” with stentorian lyric recitation by someone doing some fake Shakespeare activity. And the music is all drum machines and synth patches. It’s a glorious mess. Most of it anyway. Mutant Monster Beach Party’s singer sounds a hell of a lot like Eric Singer on “Nothin’ To Lose,” which is very cool. The music, as with most of the tracks here, sticks very close to the original, with slight leanings toward whatever genre the covering band plays in real life. It’s rounded out by a hidden track of “All The Way.” A couple of fun moments but overall it’s just another KISS tribute.
Ian C Stewart

Organic Traces
(Operative Records)
A menacing, dark, gyrating mix of improvised percussive industrial tracks with spooky, ecstatic voices. The recording itself is quite nice, the pieces sound as though they are coming from a large, echoey space, one voice whispers over here and another shouts from over there. Square wheeled beats pin down the creepy, oppressive atmosphere. If Crash Worship weren't so macho and enraged, they might end up like this.
C Reider

According to its liner notes, one of the ideas behind Projecto is that “dividing the [octave] into twelve single notes is absurd, when there’s maybe millions of notes inbetween.” Well, Kai Mikalsen & co. may have had that in mind when they recorded the album, but I sure don’t hear it. This is very much texture-music, and as such, pitch is rarely the center of attention, if it’s present at all. Much of the album consists of crumpled black sheets of sound, layered with digital glitchery, pulsing electronic wails and the stone-on-hollow-stone effect of small noises subjected to heavy EQ and reverb. The musicians do occasionally throw a wrench into the proceedings: “He Turns To Welcome Me, Stretches Out His Hand” features a guitar processed to sound halfway between a dial-up modem and a wrecked bagpipe, and the ending of “We Were Surprised At The Quantity And Quality” includes a nerve-racking, high-pitched drone whose continual skipping makes you feel like you’re riding a bike over a series of potholes. For the most part, though, Projecto is a thoroughly abstract ambient record, which means that melodic, harmonic and rhythmic hooks are sacrificed on the altars of fluidity and (dark) atmosphere. So if that’s what you're into, go for it.
Alex Temple

As The Palaces Burn
(Prosthetic Records)
I guarantee that, no matter what you think you’re capable of withstanding as a listener, the opening strains of “Ruin” will destroy your whole day, maybe even your whole week. Lamb Of God’s technical, awe-inspiring death metal has gotten simultaneously heavier and more streamlined. They retain the terrifying precision and on-a-dime tempo changes while adding hooks and trad-metal guitar harmonies. Devin Townsend’s production is guitarcentric, but the drums sound pretty fucking amazing as well. Drummer Chris Adler is never short of awe-inspiring and his fills and transitions are stunning. He is this generation’s Dave Lombardo. Randy Blythe’s vocals seem to push into screams less on this album – which is surely the effect of playing this unyielding style of music night after night for many years. If you like Slayer and King Crimson, get this. Listening to this album is like having a cinder block thrown at your torso. While you’re not looking.
Ian C Stewart

Inhuman Violence
(Deadsun Records)
Brutal, mechanized black metal from France. “Sentenced To Death” opens and sets a destructive tone for the whole album. The rhythm programming occasionally resembles a lawn sprinkler more than a snare drum, but if you’re hardcore like me, eventually you don’t even notice it. You just headbang and play air harp and yell “wooohhh, grraahh!!” at the speakers. The guitars share equal billing with the keyboards. The frequent stop-starts often have their gaps plugged with harpsichord sounds or orchestral keyboards or whatever. The blackened vocals have been mistreated with some type of harmonizer, but it suits the music. Orchestrated guitar riffs duke it out over Laibach-style symphonic rigidity. The production keeps everything sane. This is not music for casual observers. Lex Talionis scratches a very specific itch with this album and this approach. And it suits me. There’s no slow doom breaks or melodies to the vocals, it’s pure blastbeats, processed vocals and hottt keyboards the whole time. Wind it up and get the fuck out of the way. In the liner notes, Lex Talionis (which means “law of retaliation,” one of the major tenets of the Satanic Church. Or so I’m told.) thank Julius Caesar, Louis XIV, Napoleon and Yngwie Johann Malmsteen for inspiration. Finally someone (apart from Yngwie himself) puts him in the historical context he thinks he deserves. Wooohhhh! Ggrrrrrahhhhh!!!
Ian C Stewart

Mount Eerie
Ambitious is the first word that comes to mind. From its seventeen-minute opener to its elaborate conceptual scheme, allocating characters such as The Close Dark Voice and Death to the near-all-star guest vocalist lineup (Calvin Johnson, Khaela Maricich, Kyle Field are just a few), this is one huge project. The music is all manner of experimental -- manic tribal drumming, cracked-out trip-hop, über-lo-fi drum sounds and vast white noise crescendos -- and yet all this is set off against the beautiful, melancholy slowcore-folk that the Microphones are known for. A poignant and invigorating listen that will surely appeal to fans of high-concept/low-production bands as Neutral Milk Hotel.
Alex Temple

Outside The Simian Flock
Belgian band Millionaire play indie rock with a fair reliance on synth and the occasional distorted vocal. On most of the tracks you’ll find the dEUS influence that seems to saturate the Belgian indie scene. This is not an album you should expect much consistency from. The tracks are synth-heavy like early Nine Inch Nails, crossed with Prince circa Purple Rain, as on the opening track “Body Experience Revue.” There’s a Smashing Pumpkins influence on “Petty Thug,” and Flaming Lips-style acoustics on “Me Crazy You Sane” and “Blindfold.” The lyrics leave a lot to be desired, and the best track on the album, “Champagne,” is almost entirely instrumental. Millionaire wear their influences like a cheap hooker wears suspenders: clearly visible and not entirely appealing. That said, this hooker’s still got a few tricks in her garter belt to keep the punters amused.

The first thing that grabbed me about the latest platter from Al and crew is that you can hear Jourgenson's old voice on the first track, “Animosity.” He uses it to wheeze out the title, and it wraps itself around my little sausage brain like a Bisquick pancake every time. This itsy-bitsy detail pretty much set the stage for me digging this CD with a violence you couldn’t hope to understand unless you were in my posse back when “The Land Of Rape And Honey” had us pushing rich kids into traffic. Animositisomina is pretty much The Al And Paul show again, and that’s the way we like it back on the aggro ranch. No Chris Connellys to muck up the works. I dig Connelly but I don't need him stepping on Al’s lines, man, so get a solo career, kay? No, Chris, a different one. This time they’ve opted for something in-between the clearly defined metal of “Psalm 69” and endless heavy dance loops of The Revolting Cocks’ “Beers, Steers, And Queers” with something else mixed in that I haven't quite put my finger on yet, maybe it’s sobriety. Contents? The Jourgensen-penned tunes are what you’d expect from a guy who grew up thinking Black Sabbath was a funk band and Kraftwerk woulda been huge if only they’d worn cowboy hats: twangy gutter riffs splayed open raw in Gary Numan’s hibachi. There’s an effective cover of Magazine's “The Light Pours Out of Me” that has me thinking that Ian Curtis wasn't buried deep enough, because these ghoulish fucks somehow got hold of his vocal cords for one last hoorah. All in all, you’d do worse than to add this to your “stuff that sounds awesome LOUD but kinda sucks otherwise” pile.
D. Porter

Crazy: The Demo Sessions
What amazes me most about this album is that Willie Nelson’s demos sound better than most people’s final product. The other thing about these fifteen demos (for Pamper Music) is that the tracks are, on average, over forty years old and sound as vital as any song getting airplay on country radio today. There is no studio trickery on any of the tracks with the exception of reverb on the vocals. Very few are more than Willie's recognizable vocals and his battered guitar. The songs sound as though they could have been done on any of the thousands of 4-track recorders in home studios everywhere. Except for one small detail. It's Willie Nelson. And it's fucking brilliant. Only a few of the songs pass the three-minute radio-friendly time-stamp. But that doesn't matter - the shortest song, “I've Just Destroyed The World,” punches in at 1:14 and is a poignant song of heartache and remorse. Look ye not to the pundits of grunge or teen pop for angst-ridden lyrics. Willie beat them all to the punch many years ago. The proof is in the disc, recorded in Nashville from 1960-66. Willie Nelson told the story early on and this latest CD, a glimpse into his past proves that he came into misery early on. Oh yes, Willie Nelson is a miserable son of a bitch. Not in a bad way. He sells the pain in his songs. I had no trouble believing Willie's tales of lost love. The song that have additional instrumentation beyond acoustic guitar and singing are practically intruding on the sanctity of the rest of the album. Patsy Cline fans will marvel at how closely Willie got to her style of singing. Willie Nelson fans already know, though that the red-headed bandana bandit wrote the title track that propelled Patsy Cline into stardom. It's evident from hearing Willie's cut that she did him justice in her rendition. And yet, somehow, his version becomes the honest one in the context of this CD...and hers is the imposter. If you're looking for mainstream, pretty-boy country music, steer clear of this album. If, however, you are looking for a glimpse into the soul of a man who's seen all the pain and hurt in the world and still smiles at it's beauty, then this is one you will want to add to your collection.
Todd Skaggs

On Dry Land
(No Beaver Records)
Nice Beaver is a Marillionists’ take on prog – epic, twisty-turny songs with great playing, inventive and frequent mood changes, and nice hooks in the choruses. The instruments are mixed perfectly, with no individual element dominating the soundstew. The singer’s voice actually reminds me at times of Rick Astley! Fortunately, Nice Beaver is far removed as Stock, Aitken & Waterman. And unlike many other modern prog bands, Nice Beaver favors songwriting and band performance over individual virtuosity (like, say, when a band is led by a guitar-hero figure). None of that here. Classic Marillion (itself probably based on classic Genesis, but that’s another argument and not a point of reference I’m in a position to make) is an obvious touchstone for Nice Beaver, with lots of noodly-fiddly playing and great, memorable choruses that tend to catch up with a guy in the shower the next morning. So I’m told. “Culley On Bleecker Street” goes in 48 directions but brings it home for the chorus of “nothing to declare.” “Wintersong” employs a moody bit of atmosphere, driven by the guitar. The production is excellent too. Nice one, Nice Beaver!
Ian C Stewart

The Third Prophecy
Melodic power metal. Hmm. It’s a ball of contradictions from the start – a majestic synth orchestra intro slams into detuned, mid-tempo guitar riffing. But the then the singer comes in and he sounds like Richard Marx. So I don’t know. The production rules, and even the songwriting is very good, but, as is so often the case with metal, the singer is kind of a cheeseball and it’s damn near impossible to get around that. Not everything he sings is godawful - in fact, he does a very good lower-register growl like Jeff Scott Soto or Marc Boals. The double bass drumming is beautiful and very technical. And the guitars sound fierce. Lots of sweet harmonies. “Randall Flagg” gets a gallop going that had me pining for 1987 and wondering aloud if this album is available as a picture disc. Helloween is a touchstone. They have a song called “1986” that opens with e-bow guitar lines and then a thrashy polka-chug that does indeed recall the year 1986. Uncanny. “In Harmony” is a rockin’ plea for peace and could be a reaction to 9/11. C’mon, dudes, can’t we all just, like, get along and rock together? There's a bonus track at the end, “One For All, All For One,” live in Stockholm.
Ian C Stewart

Neon Golden
2002's Neon Golden, previously available only as an expensive German import, gets a rerelease this year on UK label Domino, this time with three bonus tracks. The album proper is a surprisingly beautiful mixture of diverse elements: accented male vocals that recall Blonde Redhead’s Amedeo Pace with just a hint of recent Dismemberment Plan, chamber strings, banjo, indie rock guitars, warm synths, and glitchy electronic percussion that wouldn't feel out of place on one of Autechre’s more straightforward albums. Throughout, the textures are rich and enveloping, the tunes simple and ingratiating, and the mood somewhere between darkly mellow and calmly plaintive, as if the band can take anything in stride but are still a bit sad about their lives. There’s even a sort of subtle indie-disco tune. As for the bonus tracks, they’re not too far off from the rest of the album, but their lack of vocals brings the mood a few notches further towards the dark end of the spectrum. Between the pulsing texture of “Scoop,” the LP noise and coiled-up minor-key melodies of “Formiga” and the reverberating scraps of leftover sound that float around the watery, cavelike atmosphere of “Propellors,” these three pieces would make a great soundtrack to a depressing European film.
Alex Temple

Scarred: Live At The Brixton Academy
(Eagle Records)
Surprisingly live, with vocal flubs left in for extra authenticity! This is a two-disc live set from 2002 and covers the early and latter parts of Numan’s output. Numan’s new stuff is dark and aggressive and the older stuff gets a heavy makeover in most cases. Some of the sounds used in the prerecorded music/synth sequencing are odd or totally ridiculous - like a really bad synth cowbell that’s very high in the mix. But, for the most part, the technology and the musicians interact perfectly, and that relationship is enhanced on this great-sounding live album. Some of the songs from the Pure album sound even heavier and more menacing live. And the old chestnuts like “Down In The Park,” “This Wreckage,” “Me, I Disconnect From You,” and, obviously, “Cars” sound great as always.
Ian C Stewart

(Koch )
Damnation was famously recorded simultaneously with the last Opeth album, Deliverance. Man-about-town Steven Wilson pulls out another rip-roaring production job this time. Acoustic and clean-tone guitars rule the roost on this album and the vocals are as melodic as they can possibly be. Opeth songs are usually death metal epics with a mind-boggling assortment of riffs grafted into clean, acoustic, melodic passages. So it was natural for them to record an entire album of the other side of the coin. The mood remains dark and the lyrics remain wounded as ever. The songs are extremely long and the overall effect is perhaps even more depressing (in a good way) than a regular Opeth album, opening with the brooding “Windowpane.” Layers of Mellotron and keyboards enhance the dour, ghouly vibe.
Ian C Stewart

The Beginning Stages Of
Here’s what I know: they have over twenty people in the band, they all wear white robes and there's not even a hint - not a crumb - of angst to be found anywhere on this album. Elementally speaking, you have big melodies written for choirs fleshed out with drums, bass, horns, guitars, shakers, bell-tree things, and fuckin’ whatever else the Beach Boys used. Flaming Lips anybody? Polyphonic Spree’s gigs apparently tend toward the religious-happening end of things, with audience members coming away totally converted at the end. Which is all any band could ever really hope for, I suppose. The songs are catchier than all hell in a football-chant kind of way, with lyrics about the sun, happiness, the sun’s happiness, and other positive things. It’s like Sesame Street music for adults. “Part 2 (It’s The Sun)” goes big, with tympani and tambourines and harmonies out every socket. The production is neato and there's even a sound-art piece on track ten, “Exit Music,” consisting of thirty-six minutes of vocal loops and samples. Just like the rest of the album, it kicks ass even if it is totally creepy.
Ian C Stewart

Dark Island
Pram are one of a few bands today, along with Lovespirals and (The Real) Tuesday Weld, who are tapping into an aesthetic that I can only call “neo-nightclub-goth.” But where the above two bands go all out in their imitation of dark pre-WWII lounge music, Pram are less sumptuous, less emotive, less sexy: a cold sheen covers their music that prevents them from sounding too inviting. On Dark Island, we find Middle Eastern psychedelic jams and angular circus music mixed into the soundtrack to a lazy summer afternoon on the set of Blade Runner, while distorted drums, electric organs, vibes, loping clarinets, trumpets and unidentifiable electronic sounds join the clear female vocals that lead about two thirds of the songs.
Alex Temple

Getting Heavier
(Universal Japan)
Well, yeah, getting heavier. I guess. Racer X is a virtuoso band with Paul Gilbert on guitar - he who gave guitar lessons to Buckethead, among others. A shredder all the way. Tore shit up and then uh, joined Mr. Big and had some hits in the late 80s. Racer X was going before that and now they're back with The State Of Shred In 2003. There’s a hint of humor in the vibe, kinda like how David Lee Roth's solo stuff was ironic in parts. That’s not to say there’s any outright comedy on this album. But it’s not exactly Yngwie either - all dragons and lairs and bullshit. This album throws down in multiple directions, some of them based purely on playing guitar very fast, some of them based around songwriting of varying qualities, and some that sound like somebody said “fuck it, let’s just rock on this part.” Drummer Scott Travis also plays with Judas Priest. In Racer X, he lets rip a little more, with startling amounts of double bass. The production on Getting Heavier is decent, but as with any band where the guitarist is the star, the drums and bass don’t sound very amazing. And there are several ballads across the album which isn’t getting heavier at all! “Dr X” opens with a sped-up Primus/glam rock hybrid with fast drumming that’s very good. Gilbert takes many cool solos and shit, but, oddly enough, overall it’s not the kind of album you go to for virtuosity. The songwriting sort of gets in the way of that. Hmm. And the songwriting isn’t really good enough that you'd listen to it for that. I don’t know either.
Ian C Stewart

My First Cowboy
(Bar La Muerte/TMR)
Dense and chaotic, My First Cowboy is a collaboration between Oregon's Rollerball and Italy’s OvO. Both are free improv groups, but the sound-world is not what one might expect from such a description: OvO gives us noise-rock, drones, percussion, gibbering nonsense vocals and bedroom-collagist-style piano (think Major Organ and the Adding Machine), while Rollerball provides sampled speech, buzzes, watery and windy noises, out-of-tune guitars, and even a bit of singing. Only a few tracks exceed four minutes in length, and the overall sound is somewhere between a less friendly Biota and what you might get if you played five Volcano The Bear albums simultaneously. What’s particularly unusual about this release, though, is the music’s tendency to keep going without giving the listener any sort of breather. There are exceptions, of course: a few minimalist tracks, the fucked-up lounge music of “Peter Piper’s Brother,” and the extremely intense noise-triphop of “Pig Fucker,” with its background of screaming glissandi and extraordinarily powerful drumming. For the most part, though, asymmetrical phrases follow so closely on each other’s heels that the music seems to walk the line between constant self-reinvention and incoherence. And that’s a good thing.
Alex Temple

Ronin EP
(Bar La Muerte)
Ronin is an instrumental quintet (two guitars, accordion, bass and drums) whose basic sound lies somewhere between spaghetti western and Italian folk music. This very short (fourteen minutes) debut EP clearly shows a band with an enormous amount of potential: two of its three full-group tracks erupt without warning into ferociously satisfying Italo-folk rock-outs. There are also two solo pieces played by guitarist (and Bar La Muerte boss) Bruno Dorella, the more substantial of which is a slow, minimalistic piece consisting of repeated notes in the left channel accompanied by echoey noises in the right. The other is called “Outro,” and that’s exactly what it is -- that and only forty seconds long.
Alex Temple

I’ve never found the music to be of great importance in hiphop. If the beat holds well enough for you to bounce yourself, your enormous trousers, and your car, then it’s done its job. It’s all about the vocals. The Roots of the past balked against this stereotyping, playing live instruments and calling their sound “organic hiphop jazz,” a phrase that would make any self-respecting adult cringe. But praise be! The Roots have whittled their sound down, losing the improvised jazz twiddlings for a more straightforward hiphop approach that holds the freshness from their more varied, less commercial background. Phrenology breaks tradition with its great scope in sounds and styles, from the grab-you-by-the-scrotum of “We Will Rock You” to the bizarre hidden track with German electro keyboards. And what the fuck happened on the second track? Thirty seconds of screaming hardcore punk? These guys are just taking the piss. But every now and then we need an aural colonic, a fuck you, and your mom, and your dog too. The tongue in cheek posturing that’s missing in more recent hiphop where your two fingers are more likely to be on the trigger than waving at the world. So forget bling bling and all that shit from the Murder Inc. whorehouse of clones.

Mick Hucknall self-released his first new album in several years. The sound of his albums progresses a little more each time, never content to sit and rake in the white-boy soul cheddar that is probably owed to him. Since 1995’s Life, the slick-as-a-wet-turd productions have relied steadily more on technology – sampled beats and dance grooves continue to dominate. Not that the light funk and horn sections have been completely dispensed with. “Money In My Pocket” has an uptempo, almost drum ‘n’ bass vibe (relatively speaking). Home at times almost comes off like an album of cover versions, from the illicit Hall & Oates sample on “Sunrise,” to the borderline-pointless take on “Positively 4th Street.” Hucknall is equal parts Neil Diamond-caliber “song stylist,” opting to cover the songs of others with alarming frequency. His own compositions can more than stand on their own, so his continued reliance on other folks’ material is a little confusing. Still, this album can stand with anything else he’s done in the past decade.
Ian C Stewart

Original Pirate Material
Mike Skinner is a crazily wordy Cockney MC, and The Streets sound like a cross between the Snatch soundtrack and maybe Eminem. It’s inevitable that Eminem is mentioned around The Streets because white hiphop guys who use unusual rhyme patterns and rhythms and production on their songs are few and far between. But Skinner’s angle isn’t old-school and thank fuck for that. The music is cutting-edge two-step aka UK garage (pronounced “garridge”), which almost got popular in the US a couple of years ago with Craig David, the MC Hammer of the genre. Original Pirate Material reminds me of one of the radio stations on Grand Theft Auto 3. “Let’s Push Things Forward” has a great video that saw some play on MTV2 and it’s still the song of the week up in here. I may regret saying so later but I just listened to the song seven times in a row. The dub bass and tripped-up rhythm plus the Specials-sounding organ and horn section are SWEET. “The Irony Of It All” is a first-person indictment of thug life that defends stoners? Not to mention Skinner’s lispy Cockney flow, bringing to life the vibe of the London underground. Which for pathological Anglophilic tourists like me is pretty fucking cool. The production is squashed and this is hiphop that chicks will like.
Ian C Stewart

Prophet of the Last Eclipse
(Limb Music Products)
Oh man. This CD is maybe hitting its stride as some unwashed sumbitch sci-fi D&D metal geek’s idea of opera, I don’t know, but whatever it is, it walked right past me and left no forwarding address. And I'm fine with that. Totally. It’s keyboards, it’s guitars, it’s a chorus of pitch-ridden voices howling doom. Or maybe it’s hope; I'm not sure. I think it has to do with Mighty Robots. Are they defending us? It’s unclear. Are they the enemy? Could be. Maybe they've come back to reclaim Michael Jackson before he gives up the whole ranch, I dunno. MAJOR MALFUNCTION: RETRIEVE DAMAGED UNIT. I’ve got a whole lot of nothing going on here. I have no idea what this is. If you think you’d dig on an album’s worth of Dio’s spoken-word metalmeisterpiece “Magica,” but always dreamed of having the stately intonations of Sir Ronnie replaced with an indecipherable choral line, then maybe this is for you. Run - don't walk - to your nearest record store, trade in that ultra-rare hand-painted “genuine pewter” bugbear figurine (and maybe your laminated hexmap), because there are robots out there, and who fucking knows what the fuck they want.
D. Porter

Dreaming in Pairs
This album exhibits a quality not usually associated with IDM: warmth. Vessel’s sound is made up largely of sinuous synth lines, high, bell-like sounds, clicky beats, and – here’s the key -- quiet washes in the background to fill out the texture. The music is never too clean, though, as they’ve got plenty of glitches. Still, said glitches are usually composed into the beat rather than used to disrupt it. At times the music reminds me of Stereolab or even an electronic version of some girlie indiepop group like Alsace Lorraine, but a more apt comparison would be to the Argentinean duo Languis, particularly in the music’s tendency to be very rhythmically busy, yet static enough to maintain a mood of tranquility.
Alex Temple

(Surfdog/Chophouse Records)
This is it, huh? Fuckin’ Newsted and his fuckin’ Metallibucks take on Voivod as a little vanity project and this is it. That was my initial reaction. But, this being a Voivod album, nothing comes that easy. The rewards are there after repeated listening, the songs are very good and very melodic. Their most catchy songs ever. But the catchiness comes at the expense of the jagged, fucked rhythms and jarring timechanges that Voivod pioneered. That said, the album still manages to sound like Voivod and no one else – Piggy’s freaked out guitar chords and riffs, the distorted bass, the tribal drumming, and Snake’s impassioned singing are all intact. The middle of “Real Again?” features an impassioned, dissonant throwdown followed by an organ solo; and there’s a break at the end of the song that is pure Black Sabbath. “Rebel Robot” opens with the ballyhooed Jasonic distorto bass with the whole band jumping into the fray after him. The verse of this song is unbelievably heavy and catchy. This is a classic album in the vein of Angel Rat and The Outer Limits, and it asserts Voivod’s continued uniqueness, despite being even more streamlined. I’m with it.
Ian C Stewart

Twilight On Humanity
(SPV Gmbh)
Chugga-chugga heavy metal riffs, with epic vocal wailing. I've read it four times now, the copyright really does say 2002. Herein lay macho tales of warriors and warlords, heroes and races of evil. If you can listen to an entire Yngwie Malmsteen record on your way to Thee Renaissance Faire without cracking a smile, then this should be a really inspirational soundtrack for your fight to survive. But BEWARE the DANGER!!! The quest goes on.
C. Reider

Twilight On Humanity
(SPV Gmbh)
It would seem that the Germans have the monopoly on the current revival of early 1980s power metal. The Deutsche -kinder of Zandelle were clearly nurtured by the classics like Iron Maiden, Slayer and Anthrax. Forget the retro pop stylings of Nena or Bananarama currently enjoying a revival, the real eighties had poodle perms, an unhealthy interest in Dungeons & Dragons and leather. Lots and lots of leather. Zandelle’s sound is very much early Iron Maiden. Bruce Dickinson high-pitched wailing vocals, hammering double bass drums and riffs straight from “Can I Play With Madness.” The track listing for reads like titles from fighting fantasy books: “Warlords Of Steel,” “A Hero’s Quest,” “Immortal Realms.” And proving, yet again, that power metal was never meant to be taken seriously, “A Hero’s Quest” comes complete with Spinal Tap-esque Druidic chanting, for Christ’s sake. Before you turn up your nose at this genre, try this experiment. Place this album on your stereo, dust off the air guitar (I know you have one), strike a pose of constipated seriousness and release your inner German. Then try doing that with something like Belle And Sebastian. See what I mean? If you don’t like power metal then you’re not getting the joke.

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