Amon Amarth
Versus The World
Metal Blade

Amon Amarth is another name for Mount Doom in "The Lord of the Rings," and the fact that these five Swedish throwbacks know that is proof positive that there’s not much to do in Sweden. After all, when you’re a Viking and it’s no longer 1050 AD, what do you do? These guys started a death metal band, and not a bad one at that. Eschewing the brutality of their peers, they prefer a more surgical approach: sure, the women still get raped and the villages pillaged, but they’re kind enough to merely stab you in the back instead of chopping open your head with an axe. The songs are epic tales of Norse gods and bloody battles and victory over adversary; too bad you can’t understand the vocals. Of course, what these modern-day Norsemen are really pillaging are riffs from In Flames and Iron Maiden, but Sweden and England are easy to steal from, even though I thought Vikings didn’t steal from other Vikings. But what do I know? For me, world history starts with Led Zeppelin I.

On the cover, a warrior points a sword at a giant globe, so maybe these guys are the Swedish Spinal Tap…but I doubt it. Grade: B

——Jeff Treppel

Eric Andersen
Beat Avenue

A lot of stories blow down Eric Andersen’s Beat Avenue, and many of them are told on the title cut of this double-disc opus. "Beat Avenue," ostensibly about mortality and dreams turned to smoke, is a stream-of-maybe-unconsciousness wrapped around the story of how one man reacted to the murder of JKF. Andersen uses the 26-minute song to reflect on other memorable moments, like being puke-full of wine, playing with bluesman Sonny Terry, and an exceptionally satisfying time with a woman. His singing fully conveys the bottom line: you can’t get it back. Eric began his career in Greenwich Village in the mid-‘60s after soaking up what the "beat’" poets of Haight-Ashbury had to offer. Eric Bazilian (the Hooters) plays electric guitar throughout and rocks over Andersen’s acoustic strumming on "Ain’t No Time To Bleed." Phoebe Snow is on the record, as is the accordion-playing of Garth Hudson (The Band.) Lesser-known musicians round out Eric’s band, including his daughter, Sari. Andersen could feature the hundreds of known artists he’s worked with, but the focus would still be on his portrayal of the worldweary everyman. A little tired, but still going, like the guy in "Salt On Your Skin," "I can feel myself sinking back to the earth…"

Grade: A

——Kevin Wierzbicki


The missing link between Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, this much-anticipated supergroup (comprised of 3/4 of Rage Against the Machine and former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell) arrived 20 years too late to be relevant, but the question is: can they rock? And the answer is: kinda. This album is overwhelmingly average. Average riffs, average lyrics, and average songs. I’m sure combining grunge and classic hard rock must have seemed a good idea to somebody, but damned if I know whom. Every song builds up and builds up, and you keep expecting them to rock out, until you realize the build-up is the song. At times, it contains echoes of Soundgarden’s greatness, but ultimately, it hits the same pitfall as Rage Against The Machine: the songs are repetitive and boring. Cornell screams real loud and sings real nice, but Rage can’t figure out that they’re providing backing for a real singer and not Zack De La Rocha’s whiny raps. The highlight is "I Am The Highway." in which they discover Bob Seger and rip him off instead of Led Zeppelin. Ultimately, a thoroughly underwhelming experience that won’t make hardcore Soundgarden fans put away their flannel or Rage fans put down their picket signs, but might make me get out my copy of Superunknown or Physical Graffiti. Grade: C

——Jeff Treppel

Cash Money/Universal

Cash Money Records co-owner Baby loves to "ball like a dog." But listening to him detail his flashy lifestyle–the "cars, the rims, the bucks/live this life like you don’t give a fuck"–over 22 tracks on "Birdman" becomes sickening.

Knowing this, Baby’s backed by the best producers and rappers money can buy. New Cash Money producer Jazze Pha composes juicy, synthesized slabs of Southern funk with smackin’ drums on tracks like "Do That ..." with P. Diddy featuring Mannie Fresh and Tateeze. The Neptunes program another hit on the eerie, conga-crazed "What Happened To That Boy" with The Clipse.

Not every guest pulls their weight. Jermaine Dupri throws together an unoriginal Neptunes-like track on "How It Be," right down to the drums and punchy bass blasts. Mix the above with a forgettable TQ hook and Baby and J.D.’s boring, possession-filled rhymes and you can just press skip. Toni Braxton adds nothing to the ’70s-sampled, made-for-radio "Baby You Can Do It," except letting the listener know that she likes to get paid.

And that’s the problem with Birdman. Everyone’s getting paid for making mediocre, take-no-chances music. It sounds good, but nothing new is being said lyrically. Baby should take notes from fellow music millionaires P. Diddy and Dr. Dre and employ a ghostwriter. "Never Had Nothin’" has a glimmer of originality; Baby speaks with emotion about the government trying to "tear down the projects" and his hard times growing up, but he’s unwilling or unable to give clear details, like Southern hip-hop legend Scarface.

I guess detailing Baby’s present lavishness is easier than detailing his poverty-filled past. And that’s a shame. ——Wes Woods II

Grade: C

MC Paul Barman
Coup D’Etat

Dorks like myself, rolling around in the sticky muck of academia and alternative culture, squeal with glee and fog up their glasses every time they hear the over-intellectual rhymes of MC Paul Barman. The self-described "Jewish dork" from New Jersey's first full-length release fully satisfies every urge I have for books n' beats with lyrics such as "I'm iller than the Iliad," "Someone can tzuck my Tzadik," and "I keep it more Gully than Jonathan Livingston." And for my sexier moments, there's such catchy word play as "Winona Ryder/Goin' inside 'er" and "Slip my slim sword in/Kim Gordon."

But an album of pure cerebral (and otherwise) humor is nothing better than a "Weird Al" Yankovic record. Paullelujah, however, is produced by hip-hop legend Prince Paul, who recognizes the irony inherent in Barman's raps and translates that into mock-epic string sections and choir ensembles that sing "Paullelujah" with overwrought devotion. But along with silly sound collages and facetious musical drama comes honest-to-God great beats, scratching, cross rhythms, and funk samples which give real hip-hop legitimacy to this album, which might have otherwise been easily dismissed as smarty pants white-boy stuff. Barman also helps to keep things diverse by working in a few tracks of folk-country and beatnik-style spoken word.

While the lyrical appeal begins to recede after the first few listens (like a CD of stand-up comedy, the jokes don’t hold up to repeat spins), but the production value keeps the material fresh. This release might just be the one that moves Barman out of the lonely hearts of nerds like me and into the open arms of musical stardom. Grade: A-

——Lesley Bargar

Blood Group
Le Grand Magistery

It’s a twisted world out there, and the Blood Group are here to celebrate it in style. This Long Island two-piece have attempted a smart, seductive electro-pop record that is at times innovative and inspiring, but is dragged down by too many mediocre moments for one to be able to truly enjoy it. The album’s electronic minimalism furthers the intrigue by successfully replicating the same sort of humble ambiance of the simple acoustic folk album.

With the release of Volunteers, James Jackson Toth (one half of the Blood Group) has already claimed that the band has recorded three more albums’ worth of demos. Perhaps their prolific future output could benefit from added concentration on individual material rather than sheer quantity. Especially when it comes to the gentler tunes sung by the other half, Jessica B, whose vocal resemblance to Dido is all too apparent. Meanwhile, the Toth numbers are far more interesting. This can especially be heard on songs like "King Of France," a captivating electronic representation of battalions en masse, with an occasional break for a cameo by the Renaissance court. "Cardinal’s Farm" features a sax that one could imagine being played by a creature from some netherworld of the Elder Gods; the song opens with what one could swear were samples from a Spectrum album.

The Blood Group’s music is nothing new, as every one of these songs have been heard before in some form or another by previous artists (brilliant, ground-breaking artists), like a fashion that’s been on the scene long enough to be just past the cutting edge. Still, it’s an interesting effort, and one which should tide listeners over while between better records.——Megan Gaynes

Grade: B

Bob Log III
Log Bomb
Fat Possum

A few things you need to know about Bob Log III: he’s a one-man band, working a bass drum and high hat with his feet while keeping his hands busy on slide guitar (each limb is "introduced" on "One Man Band Boom"). His voice is rendered nearly incomprehensible through a telephone receiver, which is encased in the motorcycle helmet he wears at all times. And what lyrics are decipherable are focused exclusively on strippers and tits and ass, as well as a peculiar custom called "boob scotch" (which is explained––sort of––in "Boob Scotch"). The Tucson, Arizona native’s roots-rock is so blatantly and bluntly horny that it makes Har Mar Superstar look priestly by comparison, but thankfully, it isn’t the only noteworthy aspect of his act. Log (formerly of the primitive roots duo Doo Rag) is an astonishingly nimble guitarist, peeling off molten Delta licks on "Slide Guitar Ride Junior" and Tony Joe White swamp boogie on the title track with equal dexterity and reckless abandon. He’s also got a wickedly warped sense of humor that makes his more childish-perverse side eccentrically charming; who else would tell his right foot to shut up after being introduced, or duet with his dad on kazoo? Not Jon Spencer, that’s for damn sure. Log Bomb is that rare disc that could please blues purists, garage rockers, and basement stoners equally. Figure out where you fit in that lineup and serve yourself up a little boob scotch on the rocks. Grade: A

––Paul Gaita

Apron Strings

After releasing a CD in 1999, Breech was strapped for cash to put towards another album. So the indie rock five-piece turned to the baking talents of smoky-voiced lead singer Missy Gibson. Through sales of cookies, cakes, and breads outside various music venues, the band raised $7,000. The result of that hard work——aptly titled Apron Strings——is the epitome of persistence and creativity. In honor of the unconventional extremes it took to bring this album to fruition, each track is carefully crafted, hard-hitting, and uncompromising. Throughout every song, Breech exhibits the two faces of rock and roll: dark, pained soulfulness and determined resilience. Gibson's voice is a delectable purr, at once vulnerable and threatening, in a way similar to Fiona Apple or Billie Holiday. In "Curtains," she sings, "Spare me indecision/ I am not a flower nor a kitten," while in "Lilywhite," she says, "I fastened you to my weak bones/ Without you I may break." This juxtaposition of strength and needlessness with pure human frailty is woven throughout each song. Gibson's voice is matched by instrumental prowess, and the result is musical intoxication and a surreal trance that takes the listener to all-to-real emotional depths. Grade: A

——Kim Hoope

The Burnside Project
The networks, the circuits,
the streams, the harmonies
Bar None

It’s hard to know what to say about The Burnside Project. There are so many commendable elements on The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies, but the New York indie rock blip-pop duo has a penchant for spoiling their best work. Take "Only Ordinary," featuring Shannon McArdle of the Mendoza Line. With hyperactive drum-n-bass skittering all over the pulsing track like a frightened spider, and pensive guitar lending a slow sadness to the chaos, everything’s awesome except for one thing…that damn "polly wolly doodle all day" sample. Why?! At some of this record’s most beautiful moments, a self-defeating goofiness creeps in and just fucks everything up.

The most unfortunate part about this disc is that it’s often the vocals from Richard Jankovich (Burnside’s mastermind) that taint the tracks. The music–a combination of live instrumentation and electronic programming–is better suited to McArdle’s sugary haunting or the whisky-soaked ambling of guest vocalist Hub Moore. Jankovich dips into the bag of dorky singer tricks all too often: over-emphasized inflection, awkward spoken wordage and silly pop-culture references. To his credit, the geekiness sounds intentional, and there are times when Jankovich is comfortable with understatement ("Tilt-A-Whirl" is a great example). It’d just be nice to hear more often.

Grade: B-

——Jack McGrue

Arena Rock

Calla…Calla…Callafornia? No, you silly goose. This band of brothers——well, more like friends, actually——hails from New York, where there’s apparently some sort of a "scene" going on. If there were a "scene"——implying that, much like a solar eclipse, that cozy little town only churned out noteworthy bands once every five or ten years——Calla probably wouldn’t be a part of it.

Quick, a little history, before we forget: an aggregate called The Factory Press came out of Denton, TX in the mid-‘90s. It relocated to NYC, recorded an album with Kid Congo Powers, and broke up soon after. Remnants = Calla.

So think of a high school classroom, and imagine the guys in the back who weren’t spitting spitballs or applying black lipstick…the ones who just did a lot of thinking and watching. This is Calla, a three-piece ensemble that has its finger on the pulse of how music ought to be moving all the time: very, very carefully.

But wait. First consider this excerpt from the title track: "Sound is on, infecting everything that is on / As long as you’re aware not / To stare too close / You’re getting much too serious." Okay, then, Calla, we’ll try to remain lax. Even if we find ourselves reeling after examining your razor-sharp sword. Even if it’s impossible to crack a smile, speak in anything but a whisper, and not get lost in our own thoughts as your reflective tomes gently caress our ears. Man, that’s sexy.

A lot of great dead bands come to mind, listening to this album: June of 44, Slint, Bedhead, Acetone. But with the operative word in the previous statement being "dead," it’s a relief knowing that a group like this is moving around somewhere within the big vat of vegetable soup that is rock music. –Kurt Orzeck

Grade: A-


The D4
Flying Nun/Hollywood

And you were thinking it was all those volcanoes in New Zealand that have that country shaking. But it’s another kind of hot rock, not magma, that’s flowing through the streets of Auckland, leaving nothing but telltale piles of ash in its wake. This fire comes from the belly of The D4, swollen too large to be contained in the garage any longer. It is, as the opening cut on 6Twenty indicates, a "Rock’n’Roll Motherf***er." Lead singer Jimmy Christmas oozes an Iggy-like charisma and the band drives hard from start to finish, a rarity for high-energy rockers. The message comes fast: "Get Loose" is a two-minute anthem to beating boredom; a call to the ladies in "Come On" runs a few seconds longer. A cover of Johnny Thunders’ "Pirate Love" leaves the girls winking and the boys panting. In other words, it’s the essence of rock’n’roll, flaunted. Christmas and singer Dion surrender the swagger to the only thing more powerful (you know her) on "Ladies Man." What makes The D4 so enticing is that they are not trying to be the saviors of rock; they just turn it up and let it fly. Thank heavens for electric guitars and the reasons to play them.

Grade: A+

——Kevin Wierzbicki

Delinquent Habits
Freedom Band
Ark 21/Station 13

What a difference seven years makes in hip-hop.

When Delinquent Habits hit with their catchy, Latin brass- flavored single "Tres Delinquents" in 1996, Coolio was popular, the Notorious B.I.G. was still alive, and West Coast gangsta rap was ruling the mainstream charts.

But in 2003, the Notorious B.I.G. has been dead for six years, Coolio has nearly been forgotten by radio and glamorous tales of wealth or white boy anger have replaced gangsta rap’s grittiness.

Regardless, Delinquent Habits have put together a solid collection of catchy basslines and 808 drums that are reminiscent of early ‘90s hip-hop. Los Angeles group members Ives, Kemo and producer/DJ O.G. Style’s Freedom Band sounds like Cypress Hill circa 1991-93 with its eerie guitar samples and aggressive rhyme flows about weed, women and violence. The connection isn’t circumstance: Sen Dog, Cypress’ booming baritone, executive produced the Habits’ first self-titled album, which featured "Tres Delinquents."

The first offering, "Straight Up," sets the tempo for the rest of the album. The sparse-sounding track starts with an uptempo drum loop, simple bassline and basic yet entertaining lyrics in Spanish and English about their skills. The next track, "Freedom Band," is pure eargasm with its break-your-neck guitar loop, background female wailing and midtempo drum loop. Ives’ aggressive flow of "this here sermon leaving me breathless/lost soul searching for sin to die reckless" isn’t the rhyme of the century, but it moves the song along nicely.

Toward the end of Freedom Band, the album starts to wear thin with too much of the same ‘ol same ‘ol. The simple bass lines, pounding 808s and hardcore lyric formula get abused, and some of the tracks like, "Nighttime Play" and "Downtown," rely too heavily on their samples.

But Delinquent Habits have created an early ‘90s-styled success, even if it falls short by 2003’s standards in terms of originality.

Grade: B-

——Wes Woods II

Ani DiFranco
Righteous Babe

"What’s with this new version of who you are?" The query issued to a soon to be ex-lover in the song "Promised Land" is one that will never be echoed by the fans of Ani DiFranco, its creator. Their relationship with her is just fine, thank you, and every nuance from the prolific artist is welcome. Although Ani has recently reverted to playing solo live, Evolve was recorded with the band that has been on the road with her for the past few years. So even though Ani’s guitar and expressive poetry are all you need, there’s lots of depth here thanks to a three-man horn section and Hans Teuber on various reeds. DiFranco plays piano on "O My My" as the trumpets and sax tease her vocal to the forefront, the arrangement recalling the lush jazz of early Steely Dan. The horns head south of the border for a Latin flourish on "Here For Now" as Ani alternates between near-whispers and rapid-fire bursts of scat singing. "Serpentine" is just Ani, beginning with several minutes of classically influenced guitar before she gives various entities, including the record business, a good dressing-down. Having gone from coffeehouse singer to the acme of self-made singer/songwriters, DiFranco couldn’t have picked a better name for her latest work than Evolve.

Grade: A

——Kevin Wierzbicki

The Coral
The Coral
Deltasonic Records

It seems that most of the bands reaping success in the U.S. these days have the moniker "The" attached to their names; there’s The Strokes, The Hives, The White Stripes and The Vines, to name but a few. And now a group of young lads from Merseyside, England called The Coral are ready to leave their imprint in America as well with their self-titled debut album.

The Coral’s music is an exotic mix-mash of sounds from the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, psychedelic tunes, big band jazz, traditional folk, and sea shanties. Many of the songs on the album sound eerie and haunted with cryptic beats and a super fast tempo. "Badman" has unpredictable melodies that are balanced nicely with short, simple lyrics. "Skeleton Key" is a frantic mixture of experimental sounds, and "Dreaming of You" is catchy and hard to ignore.

The Coral is lyrically superb, and the group has a knack for producing a kaleidoscope of musical beats and rhythms that caters to a kaleidoscope of ever-changing moods. Grade B

——Alice Suh

Crooked Fingers
Red Devil Dawn

Red Devil Dawn is perhaps the least dynamic record I have ever heard. At nearly 40 minutes long, the album is a testament what happens when an engineer gets so stoned that they forget how to mix a record. Tones are flat, arrangements are muddled and the sound quality is ripped right from a cheap four-track recorder. Red Devil Dawn is a record that is inaccessible not because of a progressive quality. but rather because of the ineptitude of its conception.

Poor mixing and recording aside, the music itself suffers from a lack of movement. Songs seem to run into each other and never hit a range that captivates the ear. In fact, as the record pushed toward the forty-minute mark, it became increasingly difficult to recall one melody that had its own distinct flavor. Even singer Eric Brachman sounds bored. His crooning makes him sound like the depressed love child of Tom Waits and Neil Diamond. Not that these two would have a love child...but you get the disturbing imagery I am invoking.

Overall, I have a hard time recommending this record to anybody.

Grade: F

––Scott Dudelson

Dirty Three
She Has No Strings Apollo
Touch & Go

She Has No Strings Apollo is the sixth album to date from the Dirty Three, released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of their formation. Recorded in the suburbs of Paris over a span of three days, guitarist Mick Turner, drummer Jim White and violinist Warren Ellis take traditional music forms––specifically Gypsy, Gaelic and Oriental––and present them in such a compelling manner that listeners who aren’t inclined to this sort of music will find themselves addicted. The ensemble of musicians have attained the perfect balance, as each element of the recording is heard without being drowned out, a perfect state of intricate minimalism.

This album is composed of the most captivating instrumental moments in all your favorite songs, extended into an entire album. It is the soundtrack to a favorite foreign film, or to one’s own tragic, or beautiful, moments in life. In fact, the first track, "Alice Wading," bears a striking resemblance to the similarly raindrop-themed classical piece that was heard throughout the Australian film, Oscar & Lucinda, which increased the emotional impact of this already dramatic film.

"Rude (And Then Some Slight Return)" features Turner working an angular Nels Cline take on a Hendrix riff throughout the entire song, showing once again what a slim divide there is between the traditional and classical and the seemingly opposing modern rock. As it falls just as easily back to the gentle violin once more, the song eventually erupts into mutual pandemonium, without any force.

This isn’t music that can only be listened to at certain times else one might not "get it;" this is something that will bring you to its level no matter where one’s mind might be. Every one of these pieces is vibrant and alive, with absolutely no filler. Grade: A

––Megan Gaynes

Over The Line

Over The Line, by the Orange County band Downright, has so many influences that it’s hard to put it into any one particular category. The ten tracks showcase the band’s diverse roots in grunge, hard rock, punk and metal. Most of the songs are slower in tempo, with distorted guitar riffs, mellow yet heavy bass and drum sections, and a singer that evokes such forceful frontmen as Josey Scott, Chris Cornell and Layne Stanley.

Lyrics focus on universal themes of loneliness, alienation, fear, inner pain and introspection. The album opener and title track starts with a parody of a radio jock, then kicks in with melodic guitar that opens into a burst of hard rock riffage. Other standout tracks include "Gray," ‘Take Down," and ‘’Wish It All Away."

This is the new version of modern rock, and although Downright could use a bit more time to develop their music, they may indeed be the future of mainstream hard rock.

Grade: B

——Alex Distefano

Dressy Bessy
Little Music

Little Music, from the popular Denver-based band Dressy Bessy, is a collection of "early" material (singles from 1997-2002) that will drive you to track down all their previously-recorded indie albums with the urgency of a drug addict after the latest fix. Little Music is a refreshing find, showcasing a ‘60s style while avoiding monotony by cleverly capturing the variety within the era. Songs like "Live to Tell All" have the Austin Powers beat, evoking images of psychedelics, mini skirts, and go-go boots, while "I'm Never Wrong," "Lipstick," and "Sunny" pay homage to the bubblegum artists of the decade, encouraging head-bobbing and general good feelings. "Tidy" eerily echoes the effortless flow of the Jefferson Airplane, while "Ultra Vivid Color," "Said You Would," and "2 My Question" are harder, with more aggressive drums and sharper bass, glorifying the rock sound of the period with a smoother edge than other current garage bands. Dressy Bessy has a rare, innate energy, expressed in the harmony of the soft, melodic, unimposing vocals, backed by the pop drumbeats and fuzzy guitar. The songs seem to come together so easily and seamlessly, which is a compliment to the band's talent and clever song stylings. The lyrics are sweet and innocent——"All the Right Reasons" tells about going outside to build a snowman——with many songs dedicated to boy-girl antics in the game of love. Simple without being petty, adolescent without being frivolous, Little Music is just plain fun.

Grade: A

——Kim Hooper

Slow Motion Daydream

Slow Motion Daydream, Everclear’s follow-up to 2000’s Songs From An American Movie, Volumes 1 and 2, diaries middle-class America from the perspective of lead singer and lyricist Art Alexakis. The first single, "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom," is an upbeat dose of melodic pop rock about a "wild child" girl who grows up to be a middle-class Republican "soccer mom." The lyrics are clever, but the song may be too much pop and not enough rock, especially for those Everclear fans that connected with older, harder-edged tunes from the past like "Father Of Mine."

The rest of the album is filled with more Everclear-as-usual tunes, often sung with a touch of snotty sarcasm and a dose of bitter rebellion, delivered so well by Alexakis. The lyrics have a modern maturity to them, with songs such as "The New York Times" dealing with the spiraling economy resulting from 9/11, or "Chrysanthemum," which talks about the horror of child abduction. The music in Slow Motion Daydream is solid and the rock is diverse, but the single, "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom" is not the best representation of Everclear’s talent.

Grade: B-

—-Mari Fong

Faith No More
This Is It: The Best Of

Five years and zero albums after their posthumous best-of, Faith No More returns with…another best-of album, this one with nineteen tracks instead of fourteen. Supposedly, they were one-hit wonders, so the 18 other tracks should be considered extraneous, until you realize the reason they only had one hit was because radio was too dumb (or too smart) to play their other stuff. Faith No More was five NoCal homo erecti who played five different things at the same time: Metallica guitar, Parliament bass, Rush drums, Enya-at-the-circus keyboards, and a vocalist somewhere between Pat Boone and Ozzy Osbourne. And that’s at their most normal!

As for subject matter, vocalist Mike Patton (and first singer Chuck Mosely, but who cares a lot about him?) gives us Transformers (they’re more than meets the eye), "it," ledge jumping, male oral sex (from the giver’s perspective!), and premature burial, but these songs aren’t really about anything. This Is It could be heard as a fascinating portrait of a band that tested the boundaries of popular music and discovered a gaping chasm on the other side, then jumped in anyway…but that would be defeating the point, which was that there was no point.

Grade: A

––Jeff Treppel


Gabin's eponymous debut effortlessly glides between groovy French disco and the kind of New Age-influenced lounge heard on comps like Ultra Chilled. The sophisticated Italian duo's big claim to fame is yet another car commercial-friendly track. "Doo Uap, Doo Uap, Doo Uap" nicks the vocal line from a Duke Ellington classic and marries it to a swingin’ house beat. The result is a surprisingly catchy jingle, rather than a played-out cliche.

These days, the afterparty is more important than what happens at the party. Gabin is part of a group of electronic-based club musicians resisting the stolid formula of the trance and house that has dominated the dance floors. Sultry house grooves are interwoven with haunting ambience. Each track is created with craftsmanship and depth, creating a tranquil escapist soundtrack for a rainy Sunday hangover.

Gabin's debut is worth seeking out for those already sold on groups like Royksopp and chill music, or for those just looking for an escape from Friday evening gridlock. Grade: B+

——Sean-Michael Yoder

Groove Armada

The UK duo of Andy Cato and Tom Findlay, collectively known as Groove Armada, has finally hit their stride on their fifth release, Lovebox. This amazingly erratic eleven-song collection comes out of left field at a time when many critics have written off electronica as a mindless fad, and proves itself an unexpected classic for the ages.

Instead of relying on the typical electronic music formulas, these DJs aren't afraid to break away from the BPM barrier and mash it up. Cheeky Fatboy-influenced ska cozies itself up to some serious rock pyrotechnics, while the gaps are filled in with huge hands-in-the-air anthems that are destined to be dance floor classics. Groove Armada's energy level on Lovebox is much higher than on any of their previous outings with a swinging groove that’s looser than an eight-year-old's baby tooth. But in the end, it's the band's recent fascination with ‘60s mod culture, including a special focus on the Beatles that gives them the edge over the contemporary DJ scene. The dance floor crowd is just too busy trying to out-future themselves while forgetting the lessons of the past. Meanwhile, Groove Armada finds themselves as both the gifted pupils and wizened sages of the 21st century.

Cloaked in a rich musical tapestry and thick bass lines nicked straight from Sgt. Pepper himself, these gifted songwriters have arrived at a whole new level reserved for more "serious" artists like Beck and Portishead. Not bad for a couple of party animals. Grade: A+

——Sean-Michael Yoder

Ghosts of Arkadelphia
Nine Mile Records

We’ve all pretty much played the grooves off that White Stripes record by now, and if you’re like me, you’ve been itching for a new rock and roll fix to equal the rush of the first time you spun White Blood Cells. The answer to your prayers, friends, is Ghosts of Arkadelphia, the storming new CD from Boston’s Grubstake, who may not have that smokin’ hot chick behind the drum kit, but they do have the bluesy, stripped-lean rock thing down pat. How Detroit failed to produce these guys is beyond me.

Seriously, you’ll have trouble listening to the second half of the album, because you won’t want to stop playing the second track, "Recession Blues 2001," over and over again. Spare and ruthless and just a minute-and-a-half long, it runs over you like an old steam engine, but you’re going to have to pry your hand away from the repeat button long enough to get to the CDs later songs, which are even better. Starting with "Familiar Ring," which shuffles along like a Rufus Wainwright tune done up mean in a smoky biker bar, the band layers in accordion sounds, which give the songs a rich, swampy stomp. Lead singer Pat McHugh’s voice turns a little arch, and his guitar lines get a little more fluid, just as Rocket1000’s percussion tightens up even further around him, and Ghosts of Arkadelphia turns downright sweeping.

The disc closes with an astonishing tour through the possibilities of blues rock, from the gritty punk of "Ballad of Sharon de Paygne" through the crooning Prince-like come-ons of "Bimbo Akimbo," and then into a spooky, glockenspiel-haunted closing meditation called "CVS HQ." The record is a little tough to find in stores, but you can order it through the band’s website, You’ll be glad you did. Grade: A

——Steven Hanna

Halo Friendlies
Get Real
Tooth & Nail

The Halo Friendlies are the perfect anecdote for disbelief in the ability of all-female rock bands to compete with their male counterparts. Musically, the intense guitar riffs and no-holds-barred drums rival any "hard" rock band on the scene today, and the Save Ferris-ish vocals are aggressive and polished. In accordance with their musical strength, their lyrics are empowering and demanding, with words like "I’m so over it and I’m so over you," expressing a refreshing confidence and self-assurance. Other female vocalists may have the same pro-female lyrics, but there is usually an undertone of sad desperation. Not so with the Halo Friendlies. On "Just Like You," they sing, "I don’t need a lot of words to help me understand that I’m just like you, only better." This attitude resonates throughout the album and is only strengthened by the unapologetic force of the music. The beat is catchy, fun, and energetic. It’s just a matter of time before the Halo Friendlies develop a substantial fan base. Grade: A

——Kim Hooper

His Name Is Alive
Last Night

There’s one thing that can't be disputed about His Name Is Alive’s latest album, and that is this sure ain’t no indie rock. Last Night is only the second full collaboration between the band’s mastermind Warn Defever and vocalist Lovetta Pippen. The pair met in 1995, when Pippen was a member of a gospel choir that Defever was recording for his album Stars on ESP. Their mutual fascination with UFOs helped to spawn a new phase of the band’s already musically diverse twelve-year career.

In listening to the album, one can begin to understand Defever’s faithful devotion to the use of Pippen’s voice; she evokes some of the better female jazz vocalist with her personality as well as her strength and range. The sensual and relaxed R&B has a sparseness that recalls elements of traditional African beats, and above all else, jazz. But then there are songs such as "I Been Good Up Till Now," which, with a stoic beauty that suggests Gus Gus or Mum, seems being slightly out of place. To further the album’s diversity, "Someday My Prince Will Come" recalls a lo-fi groovalicious version of Primal Scream’s "Keep Your Dreams." Still, the album is far more suited as a means of providing background ambience rather than entertainment in its own right. Grade: B

——Megan Gaynes

The Hunches
Yes. No. Shut It.
In The Red

As everyone from John Zorn to the Butthole Surfers will tell you, noise (or dissonance, if you wanna get arty) can be an extremely effective tool for musicians, allowing them to express extreme emotional states with the punishing force of feedback or atonal chords. Noise can be like nitroglycerine, though——if not handled properly, it can do considerable damage to the handler (just ask Lou Reed). Portland, Oregon’s The Hunches sound like they’re dancing in the minefield from the opening squall of "Murdering Train Track Blues," the first track from their debut CD. Frontman Hart Gledhill yowls indecipherably into the band’s hurricane-strength sonic assault, which is less driven than pursued by drummer Ben Spencer’s speedfreak beat. It’s loud, to be sure, and frantic, but it’s not particularly novel——the late Oblivians did the punk-blooze thing better, as do the Hunches’ labelmates the Horrors——or listenable. But later in the set (the album is a live recording with overdubs) comes the ruminative "Lisa Told Me," which rustles up the ghosts of Johnny Thunders and Doug Yule-era VU with its raw but heartfelt grind. This sea change, which carries over to "Let Me Be" and "Oh Woe Is Me," helps to paint the Hunches as a band with more than one speed in their gears, and makes such subsequent bomb blasts as the ferocious "Accident" (which features some fine use of a Hoover vac) more palatable. Hard to say if the Hunches should stick with the faux blues-noise or direct their limitless energy towards the more melodic stuff, but for now, it’s good to hear a band that can deliver both with equal drive. Grade: B+

——Paul Gaita

The Remote Part

Over the past few years, you’ve probably heard the whispers and read the articles about this Next Big Thing from the British Isles, but the unfortunate reality is that most people in the States haven’t yet had the chance to hear Scotland’s Idlewild. The upcoming stateside release of their third album, The Remote Part (available March 25th) should change all that. The lads have stripped away a few layers of their punk rock past and made the move towards a slightly gentler realm, but without severing that thread of energy and intensity from their previous efforts. That concentrated passion ties this album together brilliantly. Their invigorating blend of intelligent punk rock and subtly haunting pop sounds more like the latest American indie darlings after one too many Psychedelic Furs albums than their current United Kingdom counterparts——Coldplay, the Doves, and Travis. The Remote Part is R.E.M’s Reckoning dipped in the English Channel. Start to finish, of course, there are the occasional unmagnificent moments, but they are scattered and far too few to get in the way of the beauty and poetry found throughout the rest of the album. The Remote Part is a valuable and dynamic record that should allow Idlewild the applause and acclaim they deserve. Grade: A-

——Matt Bettinelli-Olpinq

Iron Maiden
Edward the Great: The Greatest Hits

Eddie Lives! Popular ‘80s hair-metal band Iron Maiden has just released an album of their greatest hits, with their corpse-like mascot "Eddie" again gracing the cover. Meant for those "who need to be initiated into the world of Iron Maiden," this album includes winners such as "The Number Of The Beast," "Run To The Hills" and "Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter"–sixteen of the biggest hits of Maiden’s career.

Digitally remastered sound, coupled with Bruce Dickinson’s wailing screams and the Maiden’s twin guitar attack, make this album sonically perfect to blast on high. Also included is a cool 24-page booklet with photos and lyrics, adding a nice touch for those who like the little extras. However, for those headbangers who want the definitive collection, skip this album and go straight to Eddie’s Archive, a just-released six-disc box set.

For a good taste of what Iron Maiden’s all about, this is a collection that will more than whet your appetite. A must-have for those who want to educate themselves on the true meaning of heavy metal from one of the genre’s best. Grade: A

——Mari Fong

Kings of Leon

After the success of Wilco’s delicate, country-infused Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, suddenly every band in the world adding a pedal steel guitar and a cowboy back-beat to their sound, listening to a lot of Gram Parsons, and thinking seriously about buying a pair of chaps (maybe this part isn’t new). The sudden fresh wave of "alt-country" bands is beginning to become as overdone as mama’s meatloaf, which is why the debut EP from Tennessee brothers (and cousin!) Kings of Leon is so damn groovy. Yeah, I said it. The Followill brothers have taken rock out of the Southwest and into the deep n’ dirty South, with a bluesy vocalist who sounds like a cross between Randy Newman and King of the Hill’s Boomhauer over good ole’ rock and roll with the occasional dash of near-zydeco. One can nearly hear the porch stomping in "Wasted Time," or the creaking porch swing in the more subdued "Wicker Chair"——basically, there’s a lot of porch happening here. These boys grew up playing music in a Pentecostal church in "the most redneck place you’ll ever see in your life." And I think maybe all those rosy collars provided the unique Southern soul that gives this EP a subtle, deep-fried, corn-fed, collard-greens edge that sets it apart from so many other rock bands these days. Anybody else hungry? ——Lesley Bargar

Grade: A-

Kottonmouth Kings
Rollin’ Stoned

For a bunch of stoners, the Kottonmouth Kings sure are an angry bunch. On their new album’s first track, "Sleepers," they spit so much venomous vitriol about the industry, neighborhood naysayers, and those pesky "haters", it is safe to say that someone has been seriously harshing their collective mellow. The mood brightens considerably over the rest of Rollin’ Stoned, the fifth album from this bowl-packing Orange County sextet. The whiteboy’s Luniz cheer up nicely on "Positive Vibes," a free-flowing, up-tempo jaunt about getting down and living life to the fullest. "Float Away" and "Rest of My Life" are two more lazy-beat-driven, backslapping gigglefests about pot and how the boys will be smoking it forever and ever, which is nice. But even toked out of their gourds, the Kings still present a remarkably diverse collection of jams, getting hella-punk on the angsty "Full Throttle," raising the intensity on the politically charged anti-drug war tirade "Zero Tolerance," and delving into syncopated psychedelia with layered vocals and lush beats on "Tangerine Sky". With heavyweight smoker Snoop Dogg claiming to have given up the ganja, it seems to be up to the Kings to carry the Graffix emblazoned torch, and with Rollin’ Stoned, they’re doing it in style. Grade: B

——Scott Burroughs

James Lavelle
Barcelona #023
Global Underground

James Lavelle’s latest album marks the dawning of a new era. Lavelle is an understated leader. He is the head of the seminal Mo'Wax label, the discoverer of DJ Shadow, founder of UNKLE, and an outspoken activist and artist. Barcelona #023 is a welcome change from the standard progressive house and trance DJ mixes for which this series has become internationally recognized. Lavelle is relatively unknown in the DJ world, but amply represents the newest school in dance music; DJs who are unafraid to take chances and change the formulas while championing the newest sounds. Disc one of this lavishly packaged set covers ground from dreamy downtempo to deadly progressive breakbeats. This newest mutation of the timeless breakbeat formula seems to be more akin to the subtle hues of deep house than the party time gyrations of Fatboy Slim. Disc two is a tale of a man frustrated with today's urban sounds. Lavelle leaves behind the world of the street for an even grittier now sound. A new urban territory that fuses deep and soulful breaks with the crunchy minimalist tech-house favored by groups like Peace Division. Lavelle offers the same raw freshness to white kid wanna-be gangsters the way that guys like DJ Shadow and Massive Attack did in the mid-‘90s. Soon, everyone will sound like this.

The sound of Barcelona #023 is a daring mix and the results are perfect. Also included with the disc set is a 20-page booklet detailing Lavelle's career, and a CD-RO, which includes an eleven-minute bio film. It may be a pricey UK import, but the attention to detail and love for the music makes house suddenly seem very credible again. Grade: A+

——Sean-Michael Yoder

Massive Attack
100th Window

No group on either side of the Atlantic has pushed the limits of pop music farther than the UK trio Massive Attack. This talented collective of artists has effortlessly channeled the disparate ghosts of Augustus Pablo, acid house, Soul II Soul and Spacemen 3 for nearly fifteen years. 100th Window finds the trio whittled down to founding member Robert "3D" Naja, but no less powerful than they were on 1998's seminal classic, Mezzanine.

Familiar elements of Massive Attack will sate longtime aficionados——crackly hip-hop beats and thick dub basslines, wispy female vocals courtesy of Sinead O' Connor, as well as longtime collaborator and reggae legend Horace Andy. Neophytes will be drawn in by Naja's intense and paranoid lyrics about humanity's countdown to extinction. Fans of Naja's spacey, psychedelic prose may be shocked by his gritty candor, but as on "Special Cases," where O'Connor sings, "Take a look around the world/you see such mad things happening/there are few good men/ask yourself is he one of them," you can almost feel the flames of the fire that is about to engulf the human race forever.

Never content to be the aural equivalent of wallpaper like most of today's so-called chillout music, Massive Attack circa 2003 dishes out high quality head nodding beats with a sharp stinger of cynicism. 100th Window may injure but its darkness is masked in a haunting beauty that will prevent nausea. Seek out this disk at all costs.

Grade: A

——Sean-Michael Yoder

The Mendoza Line
If They Knew This Was The End

The Mendoza Line used to live in a cramped apartment in Brooklyn, falling in and out of love with each other between band practices that often turned into drunken shouting matches, and documenting every uncomfortable sexual and romantic dynamic coloring their lives in sterling indie rock songs. Their last couple of records ——including 2000’s just-might-change-your-life head-spinner We’re All In This Alone —— were structured as dialogues between the sexes, their song sequences alternating between the tunes written by the men in the group and those penned by the women, with Timothy Bracy and Peter Hoffman offering somewhat unconvincing refutations of the charges made against their gender by Shannon McArdle and Margaret Maurice. Sometimes, as their albums spin, you wonder how these people could stand to stay together, but their relationships argue convincingly that sometimes it’s artistically productive to act in emotionally destructive ways. The real question with this band was always the same as the great question behind love itself: what would either side do without the other?

If They Knew This Was The End, the Mendoza Line’s never-before-released debut album recorded in Athens, GA, back in 1996, offers a possible answer. McArdle had yet to join the band, and without her steadying, or unsteadying, feminine influence to temper Bracy and Hoffman’s rock and roll impulses, the songs sound an awful lot like the Afghan Whigs, the greatest putting-masculinity-under-a-microscope band of them all. Unfortunately, the production here completely obscures the lyrics beneath a fuzz of mid-’90s guitar, so it’s impossible to discern just what issues were on the guys’ minds back then. But the descending-note choruses and shaggy vocals bear more than a little resemblance to the Whigs’ early records, and the attitude is all swaggering fun. You might wish that this reissue had come with an explanation of why exactly the record was never released——the liner notes are prolix on every other conceivable topic, and you get the impression the record company would have had no problem with the disc if the band hadn’t been perpetually sloshed and acting like dicks. But rediscovered gems like "140 Lbs. Doesn’t Make a Man" more than make up for the mystery.

Grade: B+

——Steven Hanna

Mr. Airplane Man
Sympathy for the Record Industry

As a garage-sounding two-piece, Mr. Airplane Man is often discussed in tandem with the White Stripes. It doesn't help that they also share a label. But Tara McManus and Margaret Garrett, collectively known as Mr. Airplane Man, were on the music scene before the White Stripes and they demonstrate on Moanin' that they should be considered talented and taken seriously apart from the success of the White Stripes. Moanin' showcases the duo’s mastery of ancient, baked Delta blues. There are a couple of songs that have the catchy, Beatles feel that the White Stripes often capture: "Like That" employs a tambourine and sounds strangely similar to the Beatles' "Get Back." But in general, the record is a merging of old-time blues with the psychedelic sound of the Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. The vocals are strikingly reminiscent of Janis Joplin, with the same balance of desperation and conviction. The throaty purr on "Commit a Crime" and the sultry wallowing on "Not Living At All" and "Somebody's Baby" are downright intoxicating. The guitar and drums are rough around the edges, in that non-mainstream way that is somehow appealing. Lyrically, Mr. Airplane Man sings of mourning for past loves, past good times and reveling in present strength and triumph, as is characteristic of classic blues songs. Mr. Airplane Man is bound to take off once listeners realize that they are not just another two-piece band jumping on the bandwagon. Grade: A

——Kim Hooper

The End of All Things To Come

Wow, the lunkheads in Mudvayne learned how to do melody. Good for them. Their previous effort, L.D. 50, was an excellent drink coaster, filled with unoriginal and indistinguishable nu-metal sludge. Oh, I’m sorry: it had "revolutionary bass," and they wore make-up. 'Cause, you know, Les Claypool and KISS didn’t do it first. That being said, they do know how to play their instruments, which is an instant plus. Not to say that they’re doing anything original, but there are some damn catchy songs on here, and they have pretentious music school touches like "progression" and "hooks". At times they even bring up memories of classic Machine Head, but then they go back to treading where no band has tread before (except Korn, Incubus, Tool, and Slipknot). They scream a whole lot, and crunch their guitars, and the lyrics are typical nu-metal fare about how society hates them and they hate society, but who listens to nu-metal for the lyrics? Still, if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this…and who knows, maybe by their next album they’ll have an original sound. And maybe by then, I’ll have that damn "Not Falling" song out of my head. Grade: B

——Jeff Treppel

Nada Surf
Let Go

There’s something about "The Way You Wear Your Head" that I can’t quite toss a hat on. But I do know that it’s the peppiest song The Strokes, uh, I mean Nada Surf have on their latest, Let Go. The song is a departure from Nada’s normal brooding style, and could be a nod to their New York brethren---we can do that too! But most of Let Go is understated elegance, and the trio pays tribute to the great muse Bob Dylan with "Blonde On Blonde," a nod to his mid 60’s album of the same name. Nada certainly aren’t as wordy as Dylan, or as angrily stunned with the world around them. One could expect some venom on this album, with the tribulation the band has gone through since their MTV hit, "Popular." Legal battles with their former label caused their follow up disc, The Proximity Effect, to land in that limbo of unheard records. But no swats at the industry are taken here, unless it’s during the course of "La Pour Ca," which is sung entirely in French. It’s a credit to singer Matthew Caws that the song translates easily without an interpreter, it’s a Seine-side stroll with love in mind. Caws’ writing often recalls both sides of Ray Davies, the rocker and the balladeer, and Let Go offers up plenty of each.

— Kevin Wierzbicki

Capitol Records

A friend sent me an e-mail thanking me for lending her the debut CD from OK Go, and it read, in its entirety, "I wish I could fit this CD in my mouth." In her way, she was saying that she loved it, though I’m not really sure whether her evocative choice of words was in reference to the record’s deliciously sugar-sweet pop sound or perhaps, more vulgarly, to the——ahem——possibilities she was imagining with the ridiculously cute band members. If it’s the former, I can’t agree with her more. If it’s the latter, well, attractive though these guys undeniably are, I prefer to leave their CD in the stereo, thank you very much.

But it’s a CD that belongs in your stereo, too. The opening handclaps and footstomps of lead single "Get Over It" are the sound of OK Go promising that they will rock you, and indeed rock you they do, with an infectious joy that borders on ruthlessness. Primary songwriter Damian Kulash has a real ear for the power-pop hook, as well as a stylish way with words that make the lyrics a joy to sing along with. Even a throwaway come-on like "You’re So Damn Hot" is full of clever turns of phrase, and when Kulash really digs into his songs, as on the unexpected-meeting-with-your-ex tune "Don’t Ask Me," he shows an emotional insight sadly lacking in a lot of pop music today. Indeed, the record’s only flaw is a frontloaded sequencing job that leaves the quirkier, in many ways stronger, but frankly more challenging tunes clustered at the end. But who’s complaining? If you’re like my friend and have a sweet tooth for great, brainy bubblegum pop, this is the disc for you. Grade: A-

——Steven Hanna

Pape & Cheikh
Real World

"My father has said if I sleep with a girl, I will be a dead man." Most young men would laugh at such an admonition. But the lad in question happened to be the only son of a king with many daughters, born under the curse that he may never enjoy the delights of the opposite sex. But young and dumb worked its magic; the boy slept with the beautiful Mariama and soon perished. The story is told on the title track of the debut from Pape & Cheikh, a Senegalese duo who made the biggest splash at last year’s Urban Beats Festival in London. The song is perhaps the most distinctly African song on the album; Pape’s aching vocal riding a bed of rhythmic strumming and traditional drum sounds. The sound of French folk music permeates the duo’s sound, with tasteful use of accordion throughout Mariama. That’s not real surprising, considering that the French colonized Senegal, and their culture is ingrained there as surely as Parisian hipsters groove to Dark Continent pop. All the songs here are sung in the Serer dialect, so the listener can enjoy the music in its purest form, free of lyric deciphering, except for the part I gave away. Go ahead and appreciate the fruits of Mariama. I guarantee it won’t kill you.

Grade: A

——Kevin Wierzbicki

The Handbag Memoirs
Le Grand Magistery

Detroit’s indie pop trio Pas/Cal stands out in the Motor City, even though the town is ruled by garage rock and angry angst. But Pas/Cal would be noticed anywhere because of its perfectly realized sunny-side-of-heaven music.

Casimer Pascal’s falsetto vocals are surely the envy of anyone who has plied the Zombiefied waters of ‘60s-slanted pop. But Pascal’s voice is only half the pleasure of this guitar-driven, six-song EP. "The Bronze Beached Boys" pays tribute to Brian Wilson’s honeyed harmonies via an impossible-to-ignore chorus. Up-tempo "I’d Bet Your Life That You Bet Your Life," about teenage hero worship, evokes Belle and Sebastian. And bouncy, bright "I Wanna Take You Out In Your Holiday Sweater" is a consummate cut certain to appeal to Apples in Stereo or Wondermints fans.

However, the final eclectic pieces seem unfulfilled or unfinished. "Grown Men Go-Go" (concerning a visit to a men’s club where the boys wear lipstick) is a rapid-fire one-minute tidbit incongruously followed by a meditative instrumental. The disc ends with the 1970-era David Bowie sound-alike "This Ain’t For Everyone," which tellingly isn’t for everyone.

Casimer Pascal admits, "I just have always thought good, classic pop is where it’s at." He’s right. If this album is any indication, Pas/Cal is on its way to becoming a classic pop group.

Grade: A

——Doug Simpson

Easy Listening

The latest incarnation of Pigface is much like a good plate of beef stroganoff. First of all, it sounds a lot dirty than it really is. It’s also an old family recipe, rooted in the industrial Chicago sound. But with its ever-changing ingredients of rock, metal, industrial and performance art luminaries, it’s made a very tasty dish every time it’s been served.

Basically, Pigface is veteran boardman and former PiL drummer Martin Atkins, who seasons up in the recording booth what this true musical amalgamation spews out. For newcomers, this album gives a lofty cross-section of what producer Atkins has perfected and sometimes rejected over his 22 years of musical mayhem.

"Can I have a taste of your ice cream/ can I lick the crumbs from your table/ can I interfere in your crisis" is droned over a signature TKK Groovie Mann/Charles Levi beat track on the opener, "Mind Your Own Business." The sick beauty of a Pigface record becomes more obvious with the next track, because we get a Killing Joke bolt of sonic lighting on "Insect/Suspect."

Other standouts are an ode to bestiality in "Sweetmeat," and the driving new school "Bitch," which smacks of Machines of Loving Grace and Sister Machine Gun.

With players including Penn Jillette, Chris Connelly and Kittie’s Fallon Bowman, this grouping serves not only as a place to "show off" for established artists, but also as a learning ground for those on the way up to learn and burn from those who have been around the industry block and back.

Hell, by the time you get to the beat poetry night (snap those fingers) of "Binary System," and trip-hop bedlam of "The Loneliest Sound I’ve Ever Heard," you’ll rejoice that today’s under-the-radar artists know how to spread out their sonic stew into bite-size morsels of many diverse genres and stylings.

"Fuck conformity, the mainstream and fuck all the people God has fucking killed!" Jillette bellows on the brilliantly rebellious and poignant final track, "The Horse You Rode in On," a laundry list of people and concepts that need to take a high hard one in 2003. So have as Happy New Year, buy Pigface and get a loving spoonful of fire-breathing music and biting social commentary. Bon appetit! Grade: A

––Greg Reifsteck

Loose Screw

It’s a good thing that Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde lives in England, because this country has laws dealing with fairness in competition. Likely Hynde will face no legal action for monopolizing radio airplay when Loose Screw drops hit singles like autumn leaves. Hynde threatens to end a bad relationship in "Lie To Me," an ultimatum issued with the chanted "if you lie to me again…" The band’s trademark buzzing guitars add to the impending doom until the song ends cold, representing the "or else." Chrissie’s spiked heel is on the other foot a few songs later in "I Should Of," when she confesses, "I should have lied with more aplomb." The actual first single, "Complex Person," is done in a bouncy dancehall style straight out of Kingston, while the bass- and percussion-heavy "Time" is guaranteed to produce some sweaty bodies, and not just on the dance floor, as Chrissie kicks into sultry overdrive with a promise of a "real good time." Hynde takes another shot at the reckless nature of the male beast with the jazzy reggae of "Cleanup Woman." Loose Screw closes out with a strutting cover of Jarvis (Pulp) Cocker’s "Walk Like A Panther." Time, the avenger, is being real gentle with the Pretenders.

Grade: A

——Kevin Wierzbicki

The Prom
Under the Same Stars

It’s inevitable that The Prom’s lo-fi chamber pop will be compared to Elton John, Ben Folds or Joe Jackson. Ornamented piano pop isn’t as common as it should be, so there are few like-minded musicians.

James Mendenhall actually owes more to the two cities he’s called home, Omaha (where he was raised) and Seattle (where he lives now). The Prom is part of Seattle’s pop scene which involves, among others, Pedro the Lion and Death Cab for Cutie (Chris Walla mixed the disc’s closer, "It’s Not My Fault"). Mendenhall also counts Connor Oberst (Bright Eyes) as influence and inspiration. Furthermore, Mendenhall shares those artists’ predilection for the hits and misses of the human condition.

The CD is a song cycle about Mendenhall’s breakup with his Japanese girlfriend, which helps give the album a bittersweet, melancholy tone. Fortunately, the group deftly blends horns and strings to the basic keyboards/bass/drums setup, flavoring tunes with much-needed dynamics. Standouts include the opening orchestral introduction and tingling "Living In the Past" (where Mendenhall showcases his knack for notable lyrical details), as well as trim cuts like "A Note on the Kitchen Table" (reworked twice with different words and music).

While fans of Elton and Ben Folds should enjoy this material, The Prom needs to continue working on songcraft. Structure is one issue: verse, chorus, verse is more effective than verse, verse. This goes hand in hand with melody. Under the Same Stars is melodic, but it isn’t memorably melodic. There’s nothing here that has the immediate hook of, say, "Brick" or Joe Jackson’s smug new wave.

Grade: B

—Doug Simpson

Radio Zumbido
Los Últimos Días del AM

Radio Zumbido is the one-man project for Guatemalan guitarist Juan Carlos Barrios, who has produced a seductive synthesis of found radio sounds, electronic and acoustic percussion, samples, mesmerizing guitar riffs and Latin American rhythms. Barrios says the term "Zumbido" has several meanings in his native land, and can be roughly translated as someone who is crazy, or it can be any noise that has no explanation. It’s like the static heard when the radio is turned on, the mysterious reverberations from the ether.

This disc represents Barrios’ true voice coming to fruition, a global outlook filled with bright colors, urban and rural tastes that commingle, a scattering of jazz, tribal music, ambience and bubbling beats. It’s a stunning melange, as crucial to the club scene as it is to the world music community.

What keeps this album spinning is its power to hold a listener’s attention. Although there are moments of chill-out time, Barrios never loses the primal tempo or his ability to retain an audience’s involvement. Recommended for those tired of typical DJ drivel and ready for something more adventurous. Grade: A

——Doug Simpson

Rainer Maria
Long Knives Drawn

Rainer Maria is yet another emo band that resents the label. Fine, fine. Since their fourth album features lovesick Caithlin De Marrais’ keening vocals and lyrical perspective relentlessly, let’s just coin a term and call it "femo" – female emo. Anyone without the benefit of a second X chromosome may find listening to Long Knives Drawn akin to hearing their Sylvia Plath-reading college girlfriend pontificate on why their relationship sucks. It seems that the trio has made a tactical error in throwing out the alternating male/female vocal dynamic they used on earlier efforts; these nine tracks would have benefited from a counteracting male perspective.

On the plus side, Rainer Maria crafts some nifty arrangements that teem with tension and I’m-about-to-fall-apart-so-save-me immediacy. "Ears Ring" is a galvanizing grrrl-powered attack, while "Floor," well, floors you. Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag, as Marrais’ incessant carping distracts from the otherwise well-minted, sonically punchy songs. Also, for a group whose founding members met in a poetry workshop–and is actually named after a poet–one might expect smarter lyrics than "Let’s get over each other/So we can fall in love again." Rainer Maria is a formidable group; they just need to grow up and realize there are two sides to the battle of the sexes.

Grade: C+

The Raveonettes
Whip It On

Straight from the Danish rock scene, lead singer/songwriter Sune Rose Wagner and bassist Sharin Foo create what sounds at first listen like just another resurrection of that edgy, rough, ‘70s sound, popularized by the White Stripes, the Vines, the Strokes, etc. Upon hearing "Attack of the Ghost Riders," the raucous first song on the album, it’s easy to categorize them with all the others. However, an impressive range is exhibited with songs like "Veronica Fever," "Chains," "My Tornado," and "The Bowels of the Beast," which diverge from the fast-paced, rowdy beat and enter a more mellow, trance-like musical realm. Haunting, eerie, and intoxicating, these songs delve into the underground of city life.

The Raveonettes create an entire ambiance with their music; their album is something to visualize as well as hear. They paint aural pictures of neon signs, seedy bars, dark alleys, and cheap strip joints, and capture the counterculture rebellion that is vintage punk. This is most apparent in "Cops on Our Tail": "Goin’ fast, that’s the way we go...Goin’ to a place where all the lights shine on...The cops are on our tail, but that’s alright. We won’t pull over and that’s it." This theme of defiance runs throughout the album: "Wanna drink and drive and have some fun...Wanna die in beat city" (from "Beat City"). Wagner’s voice is almost chilling, as he tells these stories of youthful resistance with detached apathy, perpetuating the "we don’t care what you think" attitude. Sharp, polished, and visceral, Whip It On is a glimpse into punk as a way of life. ——Kim Hooper

Grade: A

Adrian Sherwood
Never Trust A Hippy
Real World

If you’re like most, you just groove to the tunes and forego the fine print. So you probably haven’t heard of Adrian Sherwood until now, but you have certainly heard his work. Sherwood is a producer and mix-master of the highest caliber (The Cure, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails) and like all good producers, he is as adept in studio as he is in the control room. Never Trust A Hippy is an album done in various
"dub" styles, the technique that first surfaced in Jamaican dancehall re-mixes. A lot of those dubs featured the island rhythm kings Sly & Robbie on bass and drums, and the duo honor Sherwood with an appearance on two cuts here. "Haunted By Your Love" is a jazzy dream with lots of shakers and a cricket or two adding local color. "Strange Turn" utilizes violin over a reggae bottom and a gentle techno melody——sort of like what you would get if Jean-Luc Ponty put his hair in dreads and did the jingle for a Porsche SUV commercial. Sherwood is careful not to drone on with loops or overdo any particular instrument, making NTAH extremely fun to listen to, hearing new sounds each repeat play. Temple Of Sound contributes to the extended cut, "Paradise Of Nada."

Grade: A

——Kevin Wierzbicki

The Sights
Got What We Want
Fall of Rome

These Detroit kids have what you need. This trio’s sophomore release boasts an authoritative distillation of garage rock, psychedelia and prodigious ‘60s-inspired pop. The threesome aren’t old enough to remember their most direct influences (Buzzcocks, early Jam, Cheap Trick) and certainly weren’t around for artists that those bands emulated (early Who, the Kinks, the Beatles). But the Sights have studied hard, educating themselves on super-charged power-pop and have produced a confident, exuberant album that isn’t nearly as derivative as it should be.

The Sights’ advantage over like-minded performers such as the White Stripes, the Detroit Cobras and the Dirtbombs is an ability to change up at a drop of a pin. They can snarl like Iggy and the Stooges (the abrasive title track), can resemble Ray Davies (the joyous "It’d Be Nice") and aren’t shy from appropriating lyrics and riffs from blues icons and ‘70s arena rockers. "Sick and Tired" is like Exile on Main Street reduced to a four-minute masterpiece, while "Nobody" recalls classic English hard rock, in particular the ending, which steals some bars from Led Zeppelin’s "How Many More Times" (call it an homage).

You shouldn’t lump together the White Stripes, Hives or the Strokes, but if you love those musicians, then Got What We Want is for you. Grade: A

——Doug Simpson

Side Effects

What if I just say they’re on their way to being really beautiful?

All right, fine.

Ever wonder what would happen if instead of creating OK Computer, Radiohead decided to make a more accessible and less sophisticated pop rock album? No? Yeah, well, neither did I. But Skylab’s second LP Side Effects is a possible answer.

So lead singer Roger Gisborne’s wail is more assertive and the guitar solos run more rampant; listeners familiar with the opening track of "OK Computer" can’t help but be reminded of it. Throughout the album, the drumming pleasantly and deliberately skitters and bounces, and the bass nicely throbs amongst the frequent but gentle electronic details.

Track three, "Radio Bliss," is a lovely tune capturing the pleasure of getting lost in a favorite song on the FM, but where the epic 17-track Side Effects really picks up is at the pleasantly mopey "Mon Amie." What follows is much more of what makes Skylab refreshing: an engaging emotional honesty that’s unsappy and far from hyperconfessional. Grade: B+

——Kristopher Dukes

A Gangster and A Gentleman

Styles proves he’s ready for solo stardom with A Gangster and A Gentleman. As one of third of the straight from the streets hip-hop act The Lox, he’s been known for his rugged, uncomplicated flow while describing drugs, guns and money. With his solo album, the Yonkers, N.Y. native adds introspection into his street lifestyle and his struggles in dealing with personal issues, such as his brother’s death.

The title song paints a vivid picture of the 26-year-old’s past, which is littered with crack sales, robberies and physical abuse from his father. By the third verse, he’s making sense of it all and moving on. It’s a powerful piece of work, with its wavering, melodic keyboards and slow but steady drum track produced by The Alchemist, and typifies the album.

"Black Magic," featuring Angie Stone, has him rhyming "My heart goes out to the homeless and poor … and for the kids who didn’t get their school clothes …" over another reflective Alchemist instrumental without sounding insincere or corny.

A Gangster and A Gentleman manages to sound cohesive despite the variety of material on the album. The introspective pieces easily mesh into the club and street songs without sounding like he’s trying to please everybody. On the up-tempo and obviously made for dancing "Soul Clap," he intimidates you into believing "we gonna drink until we drunk, dance ‘till we drop, and ain’t nobody leavin’ till the music stop".

Still, his simplistic rhyme style can get redundant, and "Listen" comes off as a bland response song to critics who think hip-hop no longer addresses black issues. When Styles covers typical Lox territory on the generic scattered-gunshot laced "Lick Shots" with band mates Sheek and Jadakiss and J-Hood, he sounds a tad forced.

What’s not forced is Styles’ engaging personality and the ease and talent he shows in transforming from gangster to a gentleman. Grade: B

——Wes Woods II

DJ Kicks

The dark prince of the electroclash movement has risen above the hype with his very own mix compilation, full of sleazy, neck-snappin’ underground dance music. Tiga, a veteran DJ/producer and founder of Turbo, Montreal’s finest dance record shop, , is no stranger to putting out successful mix records (Mixed Emotions, American Gigolo) and has outdone himself with an utterly seamless presentation of his personal kick-ass playlist favs, ranging from minimalist techno to nuances of darkwave and electro-pop. Tiga is a programming, mixing and timing perfectionist who doesn’t merely weave in and out of tracks; he procures a plethora of synergetic dance energies with the tiniest calculations at every segue. Most of the vocal tracks serve as sparkling moments in this one-hour-thirteen-minute synth-tech montage, like the disco-funked DFA remix of Le Tigre’s indie gem "Deceptacon," a club mix of 2Raumwohnung’s supple "Ich Und Elain," and a downright filthy Red Zone Mix of Stevie V’s ‘80s club anthem, "Dirty Cash." The latter occurs at the most ambitious sector of the set list——following a New Order-esque "Dying in Beauty" by Tiga + Zyntherius‚ which liquefies into a goth-tinged tech cut of "Time Has Changed" (Codec & Flexor). Closing out the disc are Tiga’s own "Man Hrdina" and his snobby Mister Hollywood version of Felix Da Housecat’s "Madame Hollywood," which reinstates his heralded presence in the underground. This Teutonic mastermind, who lies so coyly across a lush burgundy couch on the album cover, skillfully exploits minimal soundwaves, references without submission, and thinks at least two to three tracks ahead of you. Not only is he technically flawless, but has good fuckin’ taste.

Grade: A

——Minnie Chi

The Best of 1990-2000

True to its title, The Best of 1990-2000 is heavily stocked with tracks from Achtung Baby and All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the two glorious albums that bookended U2’s most commercially (if not artistically) successful decade. But nestled among them are four newly remixed versions of songs from the band's less-loved mid-’90s period. They’re quite good——"Discotheque," in particular, reloops its signature guitar riff to fine effect——and you can’t help feeling that they’ve been included as U2’s rejoinder to critics who disdain the band’s second ten years as inferior to its first. Though both contained some solid songs, 1993’s Zooropa and 1997’s Pop felt a bit like rush jobs, records that had to be hurried into stores in time for massive and somewhat soulless stadium tours, and it seems like U2 has revamped some of those songs in order to send the message that the decade wasn’t all about style-over-substance. "Yeah, we got a little distracted by the gigantic mechanical lemons," they may well be saying, "but when the dust clears, even if it takes a few years to get around to it, we’re concerned enough about the songs themselves to go back and do them up right."

Or maybe they’re suggesting we spin the remixes another way. All four songs, in their old incarnations or new, really do sound great, and they would probably sound great no matter how they’re mixed. It’s possible that U2 doesn’t care what bells-and-whistles adorn "Staring at the Sun" or "Gone." "Style, shmyle," they could equally well be saying. "As far as we’re concerned, if we’re talking about the Best of 1990-2000, what we mean is the songs themselves, their substance. Mix ’em however you like, this material is as good as anything we’ve ever done." And it’s tough to argue with that. Grade: A

——Steven Hanna

Voyager One
Monster Zero

The staccato drumbeats at the beginning of "Out In The Marketplace" are a sure tip-off. Then comes the somber keyboard, followed by the disembodied electronic voices. Uh-oh! Shoegazers! The real vocals kick in on "Gun," Peter Marchese’s breathy aura wafting over a bed of keys and sinewy guitar. "Snow Angel Summer" is something that might be on the Meddle album if Pink Floyd did it today, with lots of layers to explore, including an ethereal cello solo at song’s end. Tony Zuniga has the marching-to-war drums going again for "Monster Zero," this time wrestling with trumpets while a keyboard simulates a crazed zither.

Voyager One make tasteful use of loops and sampling. Everything here is seamless. "Three Pair" leans toward a traditional radio-ready song structure; verse/chorus/solo, and is the hookiest tune on the disc. Still, it retains enough of an avant-guard feel to not be out of place. A bit of punnyness goes into the title of "Praise The Lowered;" hey, even the depressed have a laugh once in awhile. Voyager One has produced the soundtrack; now you produce the movie. Grade: A

——Kevin Wierzbicki

The Waifs
Up All Night

That this Australian pop-folk band is being reviewed in a mainstream American entertainment newspaper speaks volumes as to the promise and power wielded by The Waifs. They deserve the recognition, having spent most of the past ten years watching from the sidelines behind headliners like Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco. But the flame has caught and is being fanned, thanks to their latest release, Up All Night, and an Aussie fanbase so loyal that it turned the album gold after only four weeks. The spell that sisters Donna and Vicki Simpson and mate Joshua Cunningham spin relies on their homegrown approach to music. At a time when nothing seems simple, when shock n’ awe replace words of peace, Cunningham’s tender instrumentals and the Simpson sisters’ searing vocals,, sound like a literal breath of fresh air to the CNN-overloaded brain.

The Waifs’ mesmeric powers lie in their message. After spending nearly their entire musical careers performing throughout the Outback, these griots’ sound is both longing and expectant. Their hit single, "London Still," was written by Donna during a bout of homesickness on what she called "very much an Australian thing——to finish school and go over to London." The elder Simpson’s deep-voiced and assertive voice renders her like a Fiona Apple of folk. Inevitably, the song hit a soft spot with thousands of Aussie youngsters who were drawn to its truthful lyrics.

The rest of Up All Night is replete with songs to match every idiosyncratic turn of the heart. Other highlights include the tight, toe-tapping harmonies of "Highway One" and "Lighthouse." Cunningham even pitches in his own voice on the title track and "Since I’ve Been Around." The album is at home next to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Faiytales and everything David Gray. Up All Night is a testament to The Waifs’ dogged touring, and the payoff that is now bringing them international fame and attention is well-deserved.

Grade: A

——Sarah Grausz

Watsonville Patio
Faster, Please!

The band that took its name from a painting by Robert Bechtle is certainly not living a still life. Faster, Please! is Watsonville Patio’s fifth release in as many years, and the L.A. band has just relocated to the cool of Portland, where they have had many successful gigs. Janice Grube fronts the four-piece, and asserts herself from the get-go. Grube especially enjoys her vocal duties on "Girlfriend," shutting down a potential suitor with the blunt "I don’t wanna be your girlfriend!" The band lays down a poppy garage riff just for the occasion. The mode switches a bit for "Undertow," which has the jangly vibe that used to come out of Athens, Georgia, with Janice channeling Patti Smith. "Distance" is an "it’s over" ballad with a cute opening line, "If distance makes the heart stronger/why don’t you pack your bags?" It’s no wonder the boys are taking solace in a "Tijuana Internet Chick." Watsonville Patio are definitely worth a listen, and this five-song EP is a good place to start. Like the relationship Grube describes in the disc’s Stevie Nicks-like closer, Faster, Please! shouldn’t be kept "On A Shelf." Grade: B+

——Kevin Wierzbicki

Larry Tee
The Electroclash Mix

Once a mere festival name but now a media-hyped genre, Electroclash just won’t leave us alone. And though zillions of similarly-titled compilations and mix sets have been released over the last few years, Larry Tee’s double-disc mix couldn’t have come at a worse or better time; worse because the scene has blown up so big that people can only mock its superficiality, and better because Tee, having coined and trademarked the term, can do whatever the hell he likes. The fact is, Electroclash is selling like crazy, so why wouldn’t Tee wanna cash in on it? On the flipside, Tee, a veteran NYC DJ, party promoter, producer (who helped RuPaul launch his/her career with the #1 club hit, "Supermodel"), label owner and entrepreneur really believes that this kind of music is the shit and will go to all measures to build his Electroclash kingdom. What sets this double-disc apart from all the other synth-pop, tech-funk, retro-electro compilations out there (even his very own Electroclash compilation, promoted along with the first Electroclash festival in 2001) is its superlative, pretentious and glamorously sleazy New York-ian club attitude. It takes you inside the big city’s darkest, smokiest and trendiest underground clubs, lashing out abrasive and sinister electrowave accentuated by degenerate screams, frigid synth lines, old-skool electro grooves, crass discoteque and subersive vocoded phrases. Tee doesn’t forget to indulge in the world of high fashion by adding his own mix of "Supermodel Inc." and Tobell Von Cartier’s "Extreme Fashion." Vostok’s Euro-wave "Airplanes," Prance’s robo-voxed "Sexy Mind," John Starlight’s "Z-Trainer," Mount Sims’ "Hate Fuck" and "Kissogram" (Don Multisex) are grating but danceable. L.A. club deejays can definitely learn from Tee if they want to stop referencing the ‘80s and actually start the advancement of millennial electro-techno-punk.

Grade: B+

——Minnie Chi

The Witches
On Parade
Fall of Rome

Following the success of the Sights, L.A.-based/Detroit-obsessed Fall of Rome gives us the latest ‘60s-inspired Motor City squad, the Witches.

Troy Gregory and band are much moodier than the usual crop of garage-grounded rockers, with foreboding inclinations closer to the Velvet Underground than the Stones or the Beatles. And the accent here is more psychedelic, with hollow, melancholy vocals and hypnotic, reverbed guitar.

Credit producer Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Mooney Suzuki) for capturing a half hour of dark garage-pop in one week of studio time. The dual guitars sound spooky as anything by the Cramps or Seeds, while the rock-bottom rhythm section keep things flickering like electric lamps swinging in a stiff wind.

Gregory has a penchant for misery, whether directed at him (the Stonesy "Y Do U Make Me Feel Like That" and the Them-like rave-up ""Nuthin’ Seem 2 Please U") or self-inflicted (the ‘70s rock-styled "I Luv’d Wrong"). Makes you wonder if he’s ever had a good relationship.

However, the disc could use some additional workout moments, and the overall desolation tone eventually gets fatiguing. And the TV audio collage that ends the otherwise fine psych-out "On the Haunted Side of the House" is just plain annoying.

Recommended for fans of the Mono Men, the Monkeywrench or the Nomads. Grade: B

––Doug Simpson