erasing clouds

26 Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Scott Homewood, Anna Battista

Click on a musician's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

Air Formation, Anthemic Pop Wonder, The Arrogants, Artisokka, Atomic 7, Ross Beach, Bon Voyage, Bronze, California Snow Story, Calla, Circus Devils, Coronet Blue, The Damn Personals/The Kickovers, The Damnwells, The Dirtmitts, Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again, Shari Elf, Amy Fabry, Fairburn Royals, Simon Felton, D. Henry Felton, The Gay, A Gift From a Garden to a Flower, Vic Godard & Subway Sect, Good For You, The Guild League

Air Formation, Ends in Light (Drive-In Records)

"Take It Easy," "Slow You Down," "Still" … these are perfect song titles for the blissed-out rock that Air Formation plays on their second album Ends in Light. It's the kind of music that'll make you slow down and look more closely at the details of life, like an Ozu film does. Music that'll bring visions of sunsets and space travel floating through your mind, with low vocals, waves of guitar and synth and, perhaps best of all, gorgeous, gently paced pop melodies. They also don't try to wow you with dynamics and intensity, like many bands of their kind (the so-called shoegazers and space-rockers) do. Instead they use the forceful rock elements to support the lullabies and dreams, to make them stronger. The result is magical. To put it in the simplest terms, End in Light is absolute beauty. {}--dave heaton

Anthemic Pop Wonder, Rapid Pop Thrills (self-released)

Anthemic Pop Wonder make their mission crystal-clear to listeners. Their CD is called Rapid Pop Thrills, it has a photo of an electric guitar on the back and the front photo includes an amp with a sticker on it that describes their music as "pop with bite." The inner-CD photos include at least four Guided By Voices references and they have a song called "How Great Was Husker Du!" If you haven't guessed, they want to rock your world, rock it like The Replacements did, like The Who did, like GBV do today. "The Trouble Dolls are playing out tonight, would you like to come along with me?", singer/guitarist/bassist/drummer Dfactor sings on one song. A one-man band, he's singing about his record collection to classic strains of pop-rock. The best news about Rapid Pop Thrills, though, is that he does it, he brings home the bacon. This is a hell of a pop-rock record, with as many catchy hooks and huge-sounding guitar riffs as anyone needs to have a good time. Recorded DIY-style with a lo-fi sound, Rapid Pop Thrills is all about old fashioned rock and roll fun, whether Dfactor's singing about rock itself or about love or friendship or the world around us. Bring some beer and get ready to turn it up loud.--dave heaton

The Arrogants, Nobody's Cool (Shelflife)

"Do you love me/do you need me/do you want me when I'm not there," Jana Wittren gently croons over a funky synth-pop groove on the first track of The Arrogants' Nobody's Cool EP. That song, "The Distance Between Us," rocks in a very bright, pop music way, and is a perfect embodiment of what the Arrogants excel at. Their songs are heartfelt slices of heartbreak, love, loneliness, optimism-real emotions that real people feel-yet are delivered in a soft, pretty way. Most of the songs are moody and slow, others fast and spunky, yet all have a certain dreamy glow over them. Nobody's Cool is a quick run-through of the scope of human emotions that is also gorgeous and relaxing. And after the seven great songs are two stripped-down demo tracks that really showcase Wittren's voice while highlighting the group's sense of humor too. The second of those is the EP's title track, a manifesto for forgetting about what's cool and just being yourself: "It's plain to see, we're all just human beings." The Arrogants' songs showcase that humanity within the context of some great pop songs.
--dave heaton

Artisokka, A Hiding Place in the Arbor (Shelflife)

The Finnish group Artisokka's lush, comforting songs gently recall the 1960s, but not in the obviously retro way of so many of their contemporaries. They draw from the dreamy, pastoral pop of the past, sounding at times like a less Beach Boys-happy Ladybug Transistor or like the steps towards the past that Belle and Sebastian took on their fine Fold Your Hands… LP. In other words, Artisokka's songs are pretty, melodic, and paint atmospheres that evoke the gentle, laidback feelings that are often associated with country living. Bossa nova, folk and psychedelia all inform their music, which is layered with gorgeous instrumentation played just as beautifully, from guitar to cello to piano. "We live in a charming place where people know their names," they sing in one place, "You left your imprint on my heart" in another, all the while leaving the same sort of lasting impression with listeners. Their songs are romantic, drawing us into a world of beauty and love. This is music to fall into, to escape into.--dave heaton

Atomic 7, …Gowns By Edith Head (Mint Records)

Atomic 7 play guitar-driven instrumental rock, in the tradition of Link Wray, Dick Dale, The Ventures, and so on. And they wear that style well on their debut album …Gowns By Edith Head. The trio plays with panache and grace-seeming both like guitar experts who'll wow you with their techniques and the sort of fashionable group that'd be laying down subtle grooves at some kind of swanky soiree. While Atomic 7 have that sort of surf-rock sound (guitarist Brian Connelly once played with modern-day surf rockers Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet), they also throw in touches of cocktail jazz and old-school country. There's songs where if you told me it was a dance hit in the 50s or 60s I wouldn't doubt it for a second, as well as songs that are pure honky-tonk, songs bound to make somebody put on their dancing boots. The energetic side of …Gowns By Edith Head makes it party music as much as mood music; I can imagine the group truly rocking the house live.--dave heaton

Ross Beach, You Make It Look So Easy (A Bouncing Space)

Ross Beach is a singer/songwriter with an idiosyncratic view of life. His album You Make It Look So Easy, performed by Beach and his band the Hellpets, is a superb pop-rock peak at his view at life. His lyrics betray a certain oddball sense of humor but also a cynical sort of romanticism. Take the first song, for example, a love song about death and decay, with lyrics like "You're beautiful now/and one day you'll make beautiful worms." Or, on another song, the way he phrases a bitter rebuff: "I prefer sheep to people and maybe that's not quite true/let's just say that I prefer sheep to you." But what's important isn't just his off-kilter, entertaining looks at life and love that are both charming and tender, it's the way they're channeled through fantastically crafted songs. Beach is a king with melody, really remarkable, and his songs are consistently pretty, whether it's just him and a guitar, playing gently, or his band is behind him pushing the song into Cars-Wolfie power-pop-with-synth territory. Beach could sing these songs solo and command your attention, but here there's a nice, full sound, with piano, guitar, drums and guest voices. You Make It Look So Easy is folk-pop with an expansive rock sound, veering at times close to Elephant 6 territory (that folk-rock combo sounds sort of like Poi Dog Pondering might have if they'd spent the last few years listening to Of Montreal instead of Mary J. Blige). The album closes with its two prettiest songs: a hesitating love song and some delicately blissed-out steps toward space-rock in a song about laying down in a field and watching meteors fall. You Make It Look So Easy leaves you star-struck, not at Beach himself per se, but at his wondrous songs.--dave heaton

Bon Voyage, The Right Amount (Tooth and Nail)

The Right Amount is a 30-minute vacation on a cloud. The songs, written by Jason Martin of Starflyer 59, have sweet pop melodies that are delicately sung by his wife Julie Martin and surrounded by synth, guitars and beats that are all lighter than air. The songs offer thoughts about how to be happy and the best way to live that often take the tone of a warning or lesson, yet it's hard to focus too much on them when they're cloaked in such a gentle, mysterious and lush veneer. It's the sort of music that'll cast a spell over you and put you in a trance, though at the same time there's always a good pop tune at the center of the song; it's never just atmosphere. Still, the atmosphere is fetching. It's heavenly enough that when Julie Martin sings, "We're waiting for the new surprise, we're waiting for the afterlife," you can't help but think that she's already gone to the afterlife and recorded its soundtrack.--dave heaton

Bronze, Let It Rain (Bus Stop Label)

Though only a three-song EP, this little shiny disc has enough pure pop strum und jangle to ignite many a dancing hip and foot, especially the first song, which is the title track. The three-piece in question, Bronze, should have really called themselves gold or platinum as, in a more perfect world where bands like The Shazam and Tommy Keene would be on the radio, that's what this would sell. As it is, the re-activated Bus Stop label affords them some good publicity and the benefit of being on a cool indie known for the kind of shimmery pop this band does so well. It's almost like the 50's when you knew every artist on Chess was going to sing rock or blues, every act on Bus Stop knows their way around a well-written melodic hook. The second song, "Statue In The Stone," ventures a little more into the punk territory but it is still very melodic, though a little more power than your standard emo offering. Even their shot at a mellower country type groove, "We Stand Alone," has a graceful beauty and a delightful shimmer. Great stuff. Let's have a full-length guys!--scott homewood

California Snow Story, One Good Summer EP (Shelflife)

There seems to be a never-ending stream of great bands coming from Scotland. I don't know what that means exactly, what it says about Scotland, but it's true. Here's one more to add to the list, the incongruously named California Snow Story. Breezy and laidback, their One Good Summer EP has 5 delightful pop songs, filled with pleasing melodies, heartfelt lyrics and pretty male/female vocals. Their tone is melancholy but hopeful; they sing about heartbreak and separation but do it in a way that makes life seem lovelier than it should. I suppose it's the delicate, lovely sound they create which counters all of the sadness. It's that classic blend of musical uplift and lyrical despair that makes for songs that get you to cry and smile at the same time. And while sadness is definitely in the air, California Snow Story don't look at life as completely bleak, either. "Summer Avenues" and "Out of Time," two brilliant encapsulations of how confused and lost we all sometimes feel, are followed by "Snow in Summer," a heavenly pop treatise on how companionship can help make everything seem OK. The title of the closing song, "Lovestrange," gets at that duality; love messes us up, yet heals us too. {}--dave heaton

Calla, Televise (Arena Rock Recording Co)

Calla's previous album Scavengers was a dreamy, dark work of slow-as-molasses rock, with vocalist/guitarist Aurelio Valle singing so lowly and sadly that he sounded like any moment he was going to give up on life and just disappear. Their new album Televise has the same mood of a journey into the darkness of human emotions, asa you can tell from the first song, with its chorus "I can get the same effect/if you strangle me." But while Scavengers had a full, quiet sound, one you needed to close in on to really get, Televise has a more immediate surface, with an edgier rock sound. That modification fits with the fact that they're now on a label with the word "rock in its title," yet what makes Televise and Calla so compelling is the way that by slightly rocked up their sound they've actually accentuated its uniqueness. By making their music more noticeable, more in-your-face, they've also made more obvious how different they are from most "rock" bands. Valle still sings in a quiet haze, the group still coats their melodies with dark colors, and they still take a uniquely slow approach. The way Calla plays makes you really listen, and really feel the intense feelings that their songs deal with. Televise is rock music that erases the idea that rock is about fun, that it's about escapism.--dave heaton

Circus Devils, The Harold Pig Memorial (Fading Captain Series)

Ringworm Interiors,the first album by the Circus Devils, was as scary and crazed as its title implies, all fierce noise and hideous secrets. The group, a collaboration between Guided By Voices captain Robert Pollard and the brothers Tobias (GBV bassist Tim and his brother Todd), have followed it up with an album that's more restrained but no less creepy. Where the first album was a noise-rock version of Halloween, on The Harold Pig Memorial the band uses a broader palette. Some of the songs are off-kilter pop-rock in the vein of GBV's odder releases, while others go deeper into Pollard's acid-folk tendencies. Still others push into a haunted version of classic rock, with loud guitars meeting ghostly screams. Yet there's gentle acoustic guitar balladry too, if often in fragments leading into noisy crashes. All of this fits together like a puzzle, leading listeners through a complex but always compelling maze. A concept album of sorts, the album apparently offers the life story of a biker/Vietnam vet. While that story is rarely clear from Pollard's bizarro surrealist lyrics, the album does have an epic sweep to it which makes it feel like a journey. While the nonsequitors and genuinely creepy stretches make the Circus Devils' music likely too odd for your average music fan (perhaps even your average GBV fan), this isn't a hapless "side project" but an intricate, intoxicating epic showcasing a unique, hybrid form of rock. --dave heaton

Coronet Blue, self-titled (Laughing Outlaw)

Originally released in 1998, this fine pop record was greatly overlooked, therefore, sensing a more pop-friendly time, the wonderful Laughing Outlaw label has seen fit to give this record a second chance. Certainly any record co-produced by pop-meister Mitch Easter (REM's first few groundbreaking albums) deserves as much of a shot as it can get. Especially since he plays lead guitar on this whole album! Even more so that fellow pop-God and Spongetone Jamie Hoover plays a very McCartney-esque bass throughout! Coronet Blue is in fact two guys, John Rooney and Anthony Bautovich, and both write the material on this CD. The sound is kind of ‘80's oriented and very R&B based sort of like a cross between The Romantics and the Rembrandts as the songs can be poppy as well and the vocal harmonies very rich. Other bands that come to mind are a more Beatle-y Smithereens and maybe Urge Overkill with the residue hair-metalisms removed. Solid pop and with Hoover and Easter on board, who would expect otherwise?--scott homewood

The Damn Personals/The Kickovers, split 7" (Big Wheel Recreation/Fenway Recordings)

The Damn Personals/Kickovers is a quick blast of rock from Boston, featuring two doing the punkish pop-rock thing with energy and force. The Damn Personals kick it off with a remixed version of their album track "Better Living," a maybe-sincere, maybe not promise to clean up their lives. "No more doing drugs just to go to bed," singer/guitarist Ken Cook sings over a sturdy base of sharp guitar riffs that's sure to wake you up and make you pay attention. The flip side offers The Kickovers' "Mascara Queen," a heavy-glam rock song with a catchy hook and rather un-creative lyrics about getting a girl's attention ("hey, my little gasoline/why you standing all alone"). The song rushes at you in an adrenaline-pumping sort of way, though, making the 7" overall a decent musical version of energy pills.--dave heaton

The Damnwells, Pmr + 1 (In Music We Trust)

Pmr is a Poor Man's Record, a recording short enough and inexpensive enough for your average working person. In other words, it's an EP, though the band prefers not to use that corporate term, which "has nothing to do with us." Well, whatever you call it, Pmr +1 is a 6-song, originally self-released CD by the Damnwells which has been re-issued with a bonus seventh track. While the band's slighty country-flavored rock sound is nothing new in today's music world, their songs generally feel more emotionally genuine than some of their wannabe-Uncle Tupelo counterparts. Like Whiskeytown (the band for which Damnwells drummer Steven Terry once played), their sound seems as drawn from classic rock radio as from old-time country, and has an attention to melody and emotion that gives it a hearfelt edge. For the most part the EP is a batch of building rock-ish ballads, with highlights including the opening "H.C.E." (enough acronyms, already!) and the powerful "Sleepsinging." Sandwiched in the middle is one driving rocker with loud guitars, "Have to Ask." The most memorable aspect of many of their songs is the way emotion swells up in the songs as they build, an element that is no doubt accentuated during the group's frequent live shows. The Damnwells seem like a group with big things ahead of them; with Pmr+ 1, they're off to a solid start.{}--dave heaton

The Dirtmitts, Get On (Sonic Unyon)

Canadian rockers The Dirtmitts have a very "alternative rock" sound about them. Not in the sense that those words take today, meaning Nickelback or whoever. More like in the college radio, 120 Minutes days, when bands like this were more abundant. That isn't to reduce what The Dirtmitts do, as their style of music is just what's missing from radio today: rock music that's slightly tough and really pleasing to the ears. The tough part comes from guitar riffs that kill, while the tuneful side lies in the melodies and lead singer Natasha Thirsk's vocals, which are gentle and pretty but have an underlying rock rebelliousness about them. The songs on their second album, Get On are snappy and exude attitude, yet they also have an intimate feel. If you sink into headphones and really listen, you'll hear that the songs are about the lives of real people, about trying to get by. That gives The Dirtmitts another advantage over your average wanna-be rock stars: they're down to earth, making music that feels true to real life.--dave heaton

Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again: A compilation benefiting American Veterans of the Vietnam War (Exotic Fever)

"Since the war in Vietnam and thereafter, veterans have been dehumanized, not just by their fellow American people, but by the very government that sent them there," writes Bonnie Schlegel Frasure of Exotic Fever Records in the liner notes to "Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again," a benefit for Vietnam vets which grew out of Schlegel Frasure's work with a Vietnam Veterans advocacy group. The compilation is a fusion of positive social work, helping people who need help, with musical exploration. In this case the exploration involves matching modern-day bands, mainly of the indie and punk-ish stripe, with songs of the 60s and 70s. The resulting compilation isn't necessarily the smoothest or most consistent one you'll here, but it is filled with interesting versions of classic songs. The album kicks off a pair of fairly straightforward but solid covers--Q and Not U doing Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" and J. Robbins taking on John Cale's "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend--before slipping into more experimental territory with Enon's spaced-out take on Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." From there the album goes all sorts of places, from straight-ahead rock covers of Led Zepplin, The Beatles and CCR to unusual reinterpretations of The Stooges and The Turtles. Some of the highlights for me include Beauty Pill's spacey deconstruction of Jimi Hendrix's "I Don't Live Today," John Guilt's delicate version of Paul Sion's "Song for the Asking" and the low-key, gentle soul of The Caribbean's take on The Spinners' "They Just Can Stop It (The Games People Play)." Like most compilations, it strikes me as a little hit or miss, but all of the versions are at least interesting, often more about putting old songs in new environments than just blandly recreating them.--dave heaton

Shari Elf, I'm Forcing Goodness Upon You (self-released)

A word I fear in relation to music is "quirky." Too often it means the musicians will think they're hilarious, and I think they're boring. Or obnoxious. Or boring and obnoxious. For some reason I was worried Shari Elf would be too quirky for me. Maybe it's because on the album cover she's wearing a faux beauty-queen dress with a big "S" on the front. Or maybe it's the back cover, a photo of "Bunny," her crocheted alligator. But really, I shouldn't have been scared at all. For one, Shari Elf's a great songwriter, who writes really catchy melodies, and an excellent singer, with a voice that's pretty when she wants it to be and low-key when she wants it to be. Second, her attempts at humor actually work. Her jokes are odd enough for my taste; really, they're quite funny. Like on the great opening song, "Tenderness vs. Watering the Lawn Backwards," where she sets up a line and then throws a punch-line onto it (example: "He was everything I want in a man/everything I want and more…stuff I don't want"). Or there's "Seamstress," a snazzy, slightly electrified, very eccentric tale of a seamstress who really wants to be a singer. There's also a John Prine-ish folk tale about running into Jesus at a hardware store, a song poking fun at death ("Some Thoughts On if I Should Die"), and a trio of rather odd but fun Casio-driven covers (including "Bunny," Bobby Herb's "Sunny" rewritten as a tribute to her, um, "crochet alligator"). What's important about her joking songs is not just that they're funny, or that the songwriting side is always put before the humor, but that there's often a certain amount of real-world wisdom hiding right beneath the surface. They make you laugh, but the jokes generally aren't hollow. So when she sings a completely straightforward, sad song near the album's end, it isn't a stretch at all. Elf rather self-consciously titles it "The Saddest Song I Ever Wrote," but instead of being a departure, it's actually more like just a spotlight on the real feelings that are always lurking behind her songs. Maybe even when she's singing to the crochet alligator…--dave heaton

Amy Fabry, Cultivated Pearl (self-released)

Amy Fabry's Cultivated Pearl is the kind of sophisticated, slick pop-jazz that you can imagine playing in the background at some sort of fancy soiree, as millionaires mingle. Fabry has a pretty and polished pop singer's voice, is adept at writing songs about love and life that would have fit snugly onto the radio in the 70s, and is backed up throughout the album by slightly jazzy textures of the sort that are partly behind the music of today's superstar Norah Jones. To put it as simply as I can, though: I'm not into this sort of music. Fabry's bio says to "think Carole King meets Sade meets Diana Krall," and it's exactly right. All three of those musicians are conjured up in good measure. But personally, I'd be happy if I never heard any of those three every again. Also, "Light jazz" to me is an oxymoron, and adult-contemporary stations (even "adult alternative," today's incarnation) put me right to sleep. Which is why Cultivated Pearl puts me in a difficult position. I can't pretend I enjoy listening to the album. Yet I don't want to unfairly dismiss it either. This sort of music just isn't up my alley, yet I can unhesitatingly say that people who like this sort of music would love this album. Cultivated Pearl is an album which lots of people would absolutely love; I'm just not one of those people. --dave heaton

Fairburn Royals, From a Window Way Above (Two Sheds)

The Athens, Georgia rock band Fairburn Royals has the sort of rough-around-the-edges but lovable DIY quality that characterizes many of the best of the so-called indie-rockers. They're pros at melody but know how to turn up the guitars and let loose, two qualities that fit well together. They sound, at various times, like a less lightweight Weezer, a less irony-based Pavement, a more relaxed Superchunk or Sloan if they were less infatuated with classic-rock. But they're their own band, with their own unique perspective that's more complicated than it at first seems. At first glance their album From a Window Way Above lyrically seems like a mix of clever images and humor. Take, for example, the second song, "Japan," with its funny-in-a-smart-way line, "I want to move to Japan/cause there's bonus tracks on all the records there." Or there's the hilarious "Be My Punk Rock Friend," a friendly jab at conformity among supposed rebels, or "Lonesome Townie Blues," a witty defense of living a laidback life in a small town. Yet the more you listen to their songs, the more you hear confusion, sadness, an attempt to sort through life and figure out which way to go. Even the song "Japan," funny as some of its lines are, is more about a couple figuring themselves out ("Do you really want to have this conversation," it starts, "You're not gonna like what you hear"). "These Aren't Mistakes" throws out a series of couplets about life that are less clichéd aphorisms than kind friendly pokings into the big questions. The gentle "For a Reason" alternates heartbreaking scenes from life with the idea that "Everything happens for a reason" in a tone that makes you wonder whether they're celebrating the order of life or wondering if their thesis is really true. "I notice that you cry/for no reason at all/it's probably cause you try/to make sense of it all," vocalist/guitarist Matt Lisle sings at the start of the fantastic "Necessities," a love song directed at someone who dwells on the sadder aspects of life. That song alone should be enough to cheer her up. From a Window Way Above is a remarkably aware rock album. Fairburn Royals give to their music a sense of the world's complexity and an awareness of the real power of music, the way it can make you think and make you jump around.{}--dave heaton

Simon Felton, Previous (Pink Hedgehog)

Previous is a collection of random tracks from Simon Felton, who writes classic power-pop songs that don't get heard by nearly enough people. On this collection are "songs that didn't really belong anywhere else," by Felton and various other musicians (including his band Garfield's Birthday). As such, it doesn't have quite the cohesive feel it might have if it were a proper album. Still, it has some really fantastic songs, with catchy hooks and clever lyrics. While there are some crunchy power-rock numbers here, some of the best songs are the mellow ballads, including the stripped-down, confessional tales of heartbreak "Wait and See" and "Compatible," and the jumpy, giddy pop tunes, like "Sugar Pop" and "Safe Bet." Felton seems to have a lion's share of great melodies in his head. Previous is more evidence of that, an enjoyable collection.--dave heaton

D. Henry Fenton, Autumn Sweet (Laughing Outlaw Records)

Like just about everything else released on the marvelous Laughing Outlaw label, this CD is full of melodic songwriting and great fret-work, mostly by Fenton but in some cases by the seemingly currently omnipresent production-whiz Mitch Easter, who also co-produces here with Fenton. Fenton's vocals are very reminiscent of Sting with a purer pop tone, and he has managed to craft (with Easter's help) a very solid pop album that mixes a healthy dose of rustic roots rock in with his melodic pop touches, making most of the pop a very gentle, lilting kind, not of the power, overly-rocking variety. Think mid-tempo Squeeze with breezier beats than, say, The Strokes or music of that ilk. This CD is all about the songs, not too much riff-work going on, with a contemplative, lovelorn mood being the chosen theme. Whatever you want to call it, it's damn good and should be all over the radio instead of that wanker John Mayer who sounds like Dave Matthews Band. In fact, that's probably the best recommendation I can give this CD: It sounds absolutely nothing like Dave Matthews! If that doesn't make you run out and buy this, nothing will. And you should, because it's too damn good to be left languishing on the shelf of your local record store. Great pop. --scott homewood

The Gay, self-titled EP (Mint Records)

If the description "rock supergroup" makes you think The Gay is made from the remnants of bands like .38 Special or Styx, well…you'd be wrong. The Gay's members are modern-day talents from the Canadian independent pop-rock scene, coming from groups like Tennessee Twin, Maow, Superconductor and Vancouver Nights. And their debut, 3-song 7" sounds a lot like a hybrid of all of those bands, meaning bright, melodic pop songs played with reckless rock abandon. The number of members also means the group has a full sound, flavored with your regular rock instruments plus accordions and keyboards. There's also 5 vocalists in the 5-member band, a fact that makes for some perfect harmony situations. What all of this adds up to is three very catchy, exciting songs. "Fishin Jim" is a pretty pop song quite reminiscent of the great songs singer Sara Lapsley records with Vancouver Nights. The second track, "Vacation," rocks things up a bit more, leading to the slightly 1970s-ish rocker "Eye for Love," with the singers trading lines while the band rocks things up and then pulls back into a mellower state. All in all, it's a brief taste that'll make listeners wonder when they're going to do a full-length.--dave heaton

A Gift From a Garden to a Flower: A Tribute to Donovan, Various Artists (Darla)

From the cover photo of a flower girl by the beach to the numerous psychedelic meanderings and sing-a-long-ready melodies, A Gift From a Garden to a Flower is soaked in the 1960s. Which is fitting for a tribute to Donovan, one of the great 60s singer-songwriters, a genuine pop talent with a wildly creative mind and strong interests in universal peace and open-hearted spirituality. Darla's Donovan tribute is filled with indie-pop and rock up-and-comers, many of whom display a clear intention to capture the spirit of the original music. The overall mood of the album is very of the past, though the musicians take varied approaches to the songs. There's a host of straight-forward covers, all of which succeed by not being too paint-by-numbers about it. The approach that nearly every band takes is reverential but still allows for the group's own musical personality to come through. Photon Band, My Morning Jacket, Pale Horse and Rider, Greater California, Lowlights and Great Lakes all deliver especially emotionally charged folk-pop songs without throwing unnecessary frills onto the songs. Watoo Watoo and Alsace Lorraine place the songs into their own synth-pop contexts, and it works well; both songs are gorgeous. But while the compilation really doesn't have any truly weak tracks, the show-stoppers for me are the last five songs. The Blood Group's minimalist, haunted-pop approach makes "Colours" particularly affecting, while Sweet Trip and Color Filter use their electrified pop sounds to great effect, pushing Donovan's songs into the dreamy, sublime places they deserve to go. And Ciao Bella and Lenola close the album out with loose, wild rock numbers that play up the nonconformist side of the 60s. The best tribute albums are the ones which remind you why the original musicians are so great while casting their music in a revealing, somewhat new light. A Gift From a Garden alternately does both, making it both a fun ride and a worthwhile listen.--dave heaton

Vic Godard & Subway Sect, Sansend (Motion Records)

Nothing is easy. Nothing is easy in anybody's life. There are those who are jobless, there are those who have a crap job. There are those don't have a penny and don't know how they'll manage to live until tomorrow and those who have too much money and don't know what to do with it. Nothing's ever been easy in Vic Godard's life as well. Singer and songwriter of punk band Subway Sect in the late '70s, Vic has seen his hopes of success fading away and probably never had the success he expected or deserved. But never despair, Vic has put together a sort of new reinvented Subway Sect, a group of talented cool musicians who share with the original Sect the passion to go beyond the stereotypes. Recorded at Nick Brown's studio, the result of Vic's latest fatigue, Sansend, features The Bitter Springs' Simon Rivers and Paul 'The Wizard', vocalist Chantelle Lamond who's got an amazing voice and sings the incredibly sensual "Don't Take It All Out On Me" and special guest Larry Marshall who does the vocals on the track "Heavy Heavy Heavy Load", while Edinburgh poet Paul Rekkie can also be heard ranting in the radio breaks that separate one track from the other. Vic's life and personal experiences in the world of music seem to be detectable here and there in the various tracks, but in particular in "Go Against The Grain" that sounds like a hymn to the original Subway Sect with its lyrics "Some of the noises we made'd make other punks sound like Emerson Lake and…we'd create these great things accidentally". The album escapes all definitions since each track is different from the other, there is some hip-hop, some reggae, some avant-garde and some extremely cool samples thrown in a computer and remixed. In this album there is music for every taste, even for Mr Bush: the most brilliant lyrics of the whole album are indeed Vic's take on American culture, "Americana - Fire", ("And to the USA the rest of the world's a little problem child/To be sweetened then adopted then given the painted smile") and "Drop A Bomb On 'Em" ("So here comes another sequel/with dollars soaked in blood/of millions of people/from one side of the globe to the other/got to drop a bomb on 'em"). "I speak nonsense fluently," Vic sings at a certain point on the album. I'm afraid you're terribly mistaken Vic. You don't speak nonsense, you're a fucking genius and this album proves it.--anna battista

Good For You, Falling Out (Good Forks)

Good For You's album Falling Out is ragged glory indie-rock style, with loud guitars that alternate tunefulness and feedback, male and female vocals that bounce back and forth, and slightly goofy, awfully oblique lyrics. The duo is much in the tradition of all of your favorite rock bands of the last 10 years. They're a rougher Pavement, a less stoned Modest Mouse, a loopier Sloan, an all-over-the-place version of Superchunk, with the Pixies, Archers of Loaf and plenty of others circling about nearby. In other words, they're what you love about rock, or used to love, before you became too hip to admit you like to jump around your room and scream at the top of your lungs. The band's bio is an unusual one, telling that the album's the sound of a boyfriend/girlfriend songwriting team slowly breaking apart. The album does have a certain messiness about it, but an instinctual coherence too. There's also some amazing guitar playing, the kind that jumps from your average big riffs to intricate, delicate touches and back again before you figured out what was going on.--dave heaton

The Guild League, Private Transport (Matinee)

In the liner notes to The Guild League's debut album Private Transport, the group's singer/songwriter, Tali White of the Lucksmiths, thanks his Lucksmiths bandmates for being patient about his "extra-curricular activities." While that probably refers to his recording music with another band, it seems like he could just as well be talking about world traveling, as the songs on Private Transport make it sound like he's been spending some serious time exploring the globe. On song after lovely song, White and his guild (a large group of musicians from other bands) use snappy pop tunes and pretty ballads to tell of life as a globe-trotter. But these songs are less about tourism than about really seeing the world, experiencing the landscapes, atmospheres and peoples of faraway places. The album paints the world as a rich, diverse place; the songs don't simplify the places they're about in any way. The song title "Cosmetroplis (london swings)" might make you expect an exercise in hipness or a celebration of style, but the song is more about the good and bad of the city, the surprises and the letdowns. It's also about the lives of the people there, as the best travel writing is. "Siamese Couplets" is musically one of the more unusual songs on the album, with White doing a beat-poet rap for each verse, but it also goes the furthest to capturing a place. White strings together images and feelings from Southeast Asia, giving a detailed, sensual view. Musically the songs have a diversity of instruments to match the global range, with each song given nice subtle touches--percussion here, strings and horns there. They retain the air of smart, low-key pop beauty that the Lucksmiths' songs exude, yet stylistically they're a bit more varied. Scattered throughout the album are drop-dead gorgeous love songs, reinforcing the idea that travel is about emotional connections as much as anything. When on "A Maze in Grey," perhaps the prettiest of the many ultra-pretty songs, White sings, "Across oceans and nations, airports and bus stations, eventual connections are made," he isn't just singing about making your connecting flight. Travel is about emotional depth as much as geographic, which makes it fitting that the album ends with a great sing-along about love called "A Faraway Place." "How do we love, here's a place to begin…" White and friends sing, reminding us that wherever we go, we don't leave behind our hearts.--dave heaton

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