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20 More Music Reviews

by Anna Battista, Dave heaton

Lunch With a Bouncing Space, Vol. II (A Bouncing Space)

I can think of millions of worse ways to start off a compilation album than with dream-rockers Lenola doing a gorgeous cover of one of the prettiest Cure songs, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me's "Catch." That's the start to Lunch With a Bouncing Space, Vol, II, a nearly perfect collection of songs from great indie-label pop-rock acts put together by A Bouncing Space. Though the label's based in Portland, Oregon, the musicians here come from all over the world, including San Francisco, Sweden, Australia, New Jersey and elsewhere. Though the bands are generally of the pop-rock variety, there's worlds of difference in the approaches they take to music. There's many styles represented here, from the pretty, ultra-melodic pop of The Dandelion Clocks, Hydroplane and The Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory to the low-key, introspective pop of Hunnypal and 99cent dream, to the brash, more punkish-style pop-rock of Jchurch and The Sliver Screen. The other groups here--Burnside Project, Moonbabies, Ross and the Hellpets and Shy Rights Movement--are just as worthy of mention; each track here is top-notch (even the groups unfamiliar to be turned out to be great). What makes this one of the more listenable compilation albums you'll here is not just the talent involved but the way that it was put together with an ear for continuity. This album has an energy flowing through it; each song fits snugly next to the one before and after it, and together they all form a melodic, beautiful pop-rock creation. --dave heaton

Magoo, This Is Magoo's Realist Week (Global Warming Ltd.)

Seven are the days of the week. They're different one from the other and we use to attribute each of them a particular symbolism: if Monday for instance is often the worst day of our lives since it starts another week, Saturday is the end of our personal tragedies and the day in which we use to wind our minds down. Magoo's week is as varied and coloured as our own weeks and it will be a pleasure for the listener to discover that this band from Norfolk is truly talented. Magoo manage indeed to sound in each track different, just like the days of the week: if powerful guitars can be heard on "Realist Week" and "Milk Freaks," "You Make The Surprise" is a languid blues-y thing, "The High Castle" is a mellowed out fable and "Knowledge Is Power" and "Powerman" are two examples of Magoo's fave kind of music, uplifting psychedelic pop. Get Magoo on your personal stereo next week, it will be a brilliantly supercharged and amazing week. {}--anna battista

Mull Historical Society, Loss (Blanco Y Negro)

Life on an island must be incredibly boring and depressing for some human beings: it would be somehow natural to feel cut out from the rest of the world. Fortunately for us, this is not the case for Mull Historical Society. Born from the songwriting mind of Colin MacIntyre, Mull Historical Society are responsible for one of the best pop albums recently released. Loss is indeed a pure gem of pop textures, choir boys singing, assorted samples and endless witty lyrics. Try to resist to the catchy rhythms of "I Tried" or "Watching Xanadu", the latter the latest single of the band, or to the excellent "This Is Not Who We Were" and "Barcode Bypass" the very first single of the band, the story of an unassuming shopkeeper who finally gives up to the coming of the supermarket. But if you're looking for something different, then plunge deep into the romanticism of "Only I" or into the sambatastic rhythm of "Mull Historical Society", a pop song made up of trombone, flute and percussion. Love, romanticism and the odd sheep (watch out for the Mull Historical Society videos…) and a gentle passion for guitar music are all part of Loss. Colin, who on "Loss" accidentally sings, plays the guitar and the keyboards and other assorted instruments, has written all the lyrics and music for the whole album, an album which goes thanks to Colin's life-affirming tracks behind the mere dimension of pop. Living on an island has never sounded so good. Come on, join the Mull Historical Society, they're here for you. {}--anna battista

Papa M, Whatever, Mortal (Domino Recording)

Reading on the sleveenotes that Will Oldham co-produced the whole album and also played on it guitar, piano and bass, might make you suspect that Papa M is just another of his endless and multifarious projects involving him and his brother. Fortunately for us, this is just a new life form created by David Pajo, better known for being part of Slint and later of Tortoise. With his third album, Pajo proves he's definitely got some talent: heartrending ballads such as "The Unquiet Grave" or wonderful hymns such as "Over Jordan" (check the lyrics "I am a whore wayfaring stranger") can only be conceived by a versatile mind. David can also write and play wonderful carpets of sounds and guitars like "Roses in the Snow" or "Krusty". The Slint's loss is the gain of the world of music: sometimes after all it's better to leave a band and go on your way to find your voice. And Pajo has done it.--anna battista

Phish, Live Phish 06: 11.27.98, The Centrum, Worcester, Massachusetts (Elektra)

Phish's Live Series is a batch of good-sound-quality live recordings of interesting shows, mostly from recent years. Each set (six have been released so far) captures one show in its entirety, over three discs. While this sort of release is obviously for diehard fans, and is the sort of special release I usually can't afford to buy (note: if a record store hadn't have been going out of business and selling off all of their stock for cheap, there's no way I could have bought three of these, as I did), Phish is a band who is especially known for their live show. Of course, they are also known for having fans with extensive collections of live shows on tape, so perhaps the real die-hards already have these, but it's nice to have them on CD and, besides, who has the time to be that die-hard a fan? Anyway, of the three Live Phish releases that I own, the most enjoyable to me is number 6, recorded in the fall of 1998 in Worcester, Massachusetts. It's a collection that highlights the upbeat, snappy side of Phish, while not ignoring their capacity as an amazing improvisational machine, either. The song selection here seems quite varied to me--with everything from interesting covers (Los Lobos' "When the Circus Comes to Town," the old bluegrass number "Old Home Place," the Surfaris' "Wipeout") to classic Phish songs ("Reba," "Mike's Song," "Run Like an Antelope"), as well as a few Phish songs I hadn't heard before ("Buffalo Bill," "Carini," and "Dogs Stole Things" in particular). But what's really striking about this set is how uplifting it is. Their notes simply soar, and their voices hit especially touching places (like on a beautiful version of "Wading in the Velvet Sea," for example). Their jams also hit some truly sublime stretches. All in all, this is the transcendental side of Phish. It's a recording that really demonstrates that they're not just jamming for jamming's sake, they're using music to search for something greater. {}--dave heaton

Playgroup, Playgroup (Source)

To tell you the truth when you start listening to this album, a project by Dr Funkenstein Trevor Jackson, you start wondering if he's taking the piss. What are Peaches, Gonzales, Edwyn Collins, Roddy Frame, rapper Shinehead and Rowetta of Happy Mondays fame doing together? Well, believe it or not, Jackson has decided to roll all of them into one big super group to play funked-up-retro-electric beats such as the opening track in which ex-Orange Juice Collins and ex-Aztec Camera Frame's talents for playing the guitar are recycled to provide the background for "Number One". The sensual "Pressure" follows and it's a good introduction to "Bring It On" which contains samples of Paul Haig and of The Slits. But the texture of funky rhythms continues with the charged up "Make It Happen", good to have perverted sex to, and with the in dub-we-trust track "Surface to Air". Check also out the superb Paul Simon cover, "50 Ways to Leave your Lover". Watch out, Jackson has put together the mindstates of another time, he has recycled them and turned them into dancefloor cuts for the listener of the third millennium. Get into the groove. {}--anna battista

Preston School of Industry, All This Sounds Gas (Matador Records)

The sides of Pavement that I always loved best--Pavement as forward-thinking guitar-rockers (a far-sideways step from the "jam bands") and Pavement as conceptual artists, playing with msucial and lyrical ambiguities)--can be found in droves on All This Sounds Gas, the debut album from Preston School of Industry, Pavement founder/guitarist Spiral Stairs' new band. But those elements are only part of what makes this one of the most pleasurable rock records I've heard in a while. The songs here are blessed with sublime melodies, an infectious style of guitar groove and fetching lyrics that are enigmatic without being incomprehensible, that make little literal sense on the surface, yet at the same time evoke varied histories, cultures, worlds, feelings and ideas. The album's cover art is a collage includes enough images to keep you thinking for days, such as drawings and photos of laborers, explorers and travelers, a photo of a boat stuck in ice that looks like it's from the trip documented by the superb recent documentary film The Endurance, a painting of a cowboy and a recurring picture of a fly. The song lyrics do much the same thing--they make references and generate images which don't communicate one straightforward idea, but evoke all sorts of meanings at once. Yet none of this is to suggest that Preston School of Industry are academics before being musicians. This would be a beautiful rock album even without any lyrics. It has more than its share of sonic pleasures, including great melodies, atmospheres both dark and sunny, and a varied musical range, one which includes pedal steel here, horns there. Plus it has that "turn it up!" energy that rock and roll needs to have. In every way this is a remarkable debut, an album well worth spending your days with. {Note: after I wrote this review, I realized that another writer reviewed it in our last issue. Oh well, I've included it anyway.}--dave heaton

Qwel, If It Ain't In a Pawn Shop, It Can't Play the Blues (Galapagos4)

His album's title, If It Ain't In a Pawn Shop, It Can't Play the Blues, should give you some idea where Qwel's head it at. The title song, and many of the others here, are stark portraits of modern-day urban life, where money is not tricking down to the people on the street, where the rich get richer while the poor seek solace in anything they can find, whether it's alcohol or tobacco or something more dangerous. With an ultra-articulate, poetic flow, Qwel offers a vivid description of the world while also dreaming about a better life ("dreaming of letter-boxed places," as he puts it). With genuine emotion (see "The Highest Commitment," a touching bittersweet love letter, for one example) and a tendency to let his brain take off into surprising places (check "Underachiever" for sci-fi poetics mixed with motivational speaking) , Qwel is both genuine and unconventional--an MC with talent and imagination. With a laidback, bluesy feel, a funky drum sound and sparse but also experimental production, the music is a perfect complement to all sides of his lyrical personality. If It Ain't In a Pawn Shop offers a hip-hop blues but also hip-hop innovation; it's fresh and inspired through and through. --dave heaton

Rasco, Hostile Environment (Copasetik Recordings)

Rasco's a hardcore MC in the best sense: in the take-no-prisoners, down-to-earth sense. He's real, coming straight from his own heart. Fiercely independent, Rasco's newest album Hostile Envrionment, is, like his other albums, on an indie-label (Coasetik). That DIY attitude comes through in his rhymes…he's about doing what he does the way he wants to. Over sparse but still creative beats (check the title track, where he rhymes over someone playing "chopsticks" on the piano), he displays his way with words. This is hip-hop for its sake, for the art of it. Track after track displays exactly what pure hip-hop is all about. Rasco's rhymes are about displaying his skills and describing the world as he sees it. The latter side really shines through on tracks where he concentrates seriously on issues and people he cares about, as on "No Guarantees," about the malady of his people killing each other over nothing, and "Sunshine (Ayanna)," a love letter to his daughter, a message that she's the light of his life. Rasco's not afraid to speak his heart, but he also can tear a track up with skills galore.--dave heaton

Kevin Salem, Ecstatic (Future Farmer)

Put Kevin Salem among the great modern-day pop-rock songwriters who have distinct musical personalities and deftly examine people and their interactions through song, like Michael Penn, David Baerwald, etc. And as both of them, Salem's music sounds like it should have wide appeal to music fans--it seems like getting this music on the radio shouldn't take a revolution, just for the radio culture to take a sideways step in the right direction. In other words, this sounds like radio music, and only isn't because radio today is severely messed up. Ecstatic, Salem's third album (he's also done a lot of production work for other bands), has snappy melodies and a crisp sound, and also wit, intelligence, heart and sensitivity. Salem describes people and their lives in a way that rings quite true, whether he's singing about Hollywood dreams or urban nightmares, about love, power, sex, death or addiction. His perspective is at times cynical, in at least one case paranoid ("Home Again"), but always has a certain romantic streak and generous sprit beneath the surface. The people he sings about are all searching for something, even if they're not sure what it is; the universality of that searching is perhaps why some of those songs ("Gold Diggers," "Jump," "Party Song") knock into you so hard, giving shivers. Ecstatic is something to get excited about. It's a testament to the emotional power that really solid songwriting has.--dave heaton

The Shermans, Happiness Is Toy Shaped (Shelflife)

On one level, the Shermans (a trio from Stockholm) play music that is quintessentially pop: with an unending amount of catchy melodies and "ba-da-da" harmonies, they're the band most likely to be labeled "bouncy," "happy" or "cute." And that's not a bad thing…with sweet vocals and music that taps into an array of styles (60's vocal groups, bossa nova, rock, dance music) without clouding the straightforward, hummable tunes, The Shermans have the key to the hearts of anyone who loves pop music. Yet even better, their music has the best quality of all great art--it works at more than one level. Underneath the bubblegum surface lies heart-wrenchingly realistic portraits of human interactions. Instead of the surface-level simplifications many pop musicians give to relationships and the myriad feelings that accompany them, The Shemans supply depth. The effortless way that they do that is what makes their music so striking--they play simple love songs and show that there's nothing simple about love. Their lyrics capture the complexity of the ways that human beings relate. Take this line from "Sad Kind of Life," for example: "I really love you/though I'm tired of you/is that what friendship's all about?" Other songs, like "Boy with the Bright Eyes" and "July in London," describe communication (verbal and nonverbal) and miscommunication in really vivid terms, showing these same complexities without explicitly stating them. There's also a pair of songs, "Adulthood for Beginners" and obviously titled "What Life's About," that look at the question of what we choose to value in life and, more specifically, the topic of money and how it relates to life decisions. No matter the topic, The Shermans manage to be both giddy and grounded; they're starry-eyed dreamers and down-to-earth realists, using beautiful pop songs to both capture the world around us and wish for a better one.--dave heaton

Sister Flo, Boys of Cat (Han Soo Voice)

Sister Flo are a talented rock-pop band from southern Finland who sound like they could pull off just about any musical style they wanted. Their debut full-length Boys of Cat showcases a melodic sound devoted to highlighting what's most beautiful about music which at the same time travels through an assortment of musical genres. They essentially play well-crafted pop songs, with catchy melodies and a sense of atmosphere. Yet with sharp musicianship and a certain looseness of structure, they also seem always one step away from jamming, from just letting go and seeing where their instruments take them. That tendency particularly manifest itself in a few songs ("People Used to Like Our Music," "Lastleg") where they find an strong, funky groove and ride it a while. At times they also tap into a certain type of down-home, comfortable rustic-ness, evoking country music and folk-rock. But then there's also a few songs where they throw in a bright horn section which sounds great against their melodies and lead singer Samae Koskinen's beautiful alto. Oh, and did I mention that here and there they like to experiment with sound (evoking both Radiohead and Neu!)? What's even better than diversity is the ability to make it all coherent--that's where Boys of Cat really shines. Covering so much musical territory is one thing, giving it all your own personality is another. Sister Flo encapsulate many forms of music while having a sound of their own--one with a sensitive, playful approach to sounds and an overriding feeling of optimism. Their lyrics touch on sadness, loneliness, death, the feeling that you're lost in this world, yet do so in a hopeful way. Through their music and their lyrics, Sister Flo convey a sense of life's possibilities, of the great beauty human beings are capable of. Boys of Cat is a testament to that beauty, and a fantastic album filled with awe-inducing moments.--dave heaton

Slam, Alien Radio (Soma)

For many people Glasgow means designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the School of Art, for others it means the culture that spreads from the local universities, but for a few well educated house music lovers, Glasgow means the Soma label and Slam nights. Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle, also known as Slam, the musical entities that for ten years have haunted with their infectious club nights Glaswegian venue The Arches, are now back with an album of anthems, Alien Radio, opened by the track "This Is", a swirl of knob twisted noises and ambient atmospheres right from outer space. The second track of the album, "Lifetimes," is a blizzard of pure house beats, a brilliant classic that raged on the European dancefloors last year. Stuart and Orde seem to be back in form and seem to be more interested in experimenting and in trying to get away from the constrictions of house: the track that gives the title to the album contains additional, quirky breaks and more bleeps and encoded noises which then turn into an electronic frenzy; "Narco Tourists" is an avalanche of breakbeats, while "Bass Addiction" and "Virtuoso" are energy loaded mayhems of positive vibes. Turning the beats into a polyrhythmachine, changing the notes into a phonoseductive endless symphony, performing a mad race after a pulsating beat, that's what Slam are doing with this album. A journey is what they have to take, to paraphrase one of their songs, a journey through a coloured universe of sounds. Have a nice trip. {}--anna battista

Transient, The Conceptual World Is Losing Its Grip (tbtmo)

"The time is coming when we realize our full potential, when we realize we are more than just this mass of matters, when we realize the universe is ours to explore." So we are told in the liner notes to Transient's album The Conceptual World Is Losing Its Grip, during a manifesto about thinking the world into a place of joy and freedom. On the album itself, there's creative energy flowing everywhere, as Transient (aka Carl Martin) uses a varied mix of sounds and styles to build his own beautiful, unique musical world. Mood and imagination are at the forefront here, as Transient uses an array of textures, beats, rhythms and styles to make a style of his own. Drum n' bass, hip-hop, jazz, various stains of electronic music--all flow into Transient's sound, which is sometimes mellow and dreamy, sometimes faster and more danceable, but always captivating. Transient's music is always in motion and changing. He's taking the sounds in his head and actualizing them on a CD, and pushing music forward in the process.--dave heaton

The Velvet Underground, Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (Polydor/Universal)

If the The Quine Tapes are really the first in a series, as the title indicates, than I hope that series is long, and that every volume is as stunning as this one. A three-disc set of bootleg recordings made by Robert Quine pre-Television, when he was a rabid Velvets fan going to shows in San Francisco and taping them. These recordings come from nine shows in San Francisco (at The Family Dog and The Matrix), except one track from a show at Washington University in St. Louis, where Quine studied law before moving west. The sound quality definitely shows that the recording method was a hand-held tape recorder, but once you get into the music you'll hardly notice that fact (plus it isn't any worse than the Live at Max's Kansas City recording, probably better actually). The shows were all in 1969, during the Doug Yule period (but before the awful Yule Brothers period). In other words, around the time of Loaded. While a number of the Velvets' legendary pop songs ("Femme Fatale," "After Hours," "Sunday Morning") and rock songs ("What Goes On," "Rock and Roll," "Some Kinda Love") are here in great versions, what really blows me away are the lengthy jams. They're some amazing, mind-expanding rock being played, both on longer versions of songs like "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "White Light/White Heat" and one really long versions of the experimental classic "Sister Ray" (there's three versions here; each is over 20 minutes and one is 38). These songs are so beautifully free and imaginative, you'll forget that you're at home listening to an over 30-year-old bootleg and feel like you've been transported to another land.--dave heaton

The Very Best Of Bollywood (Outcaste)

Welcome to film city! Sorry, we're not talking about Hollywood, in fact this is the Masala Movies hometown, also known as Bollywood. Based in Bombay, not everybody knows that Bollywood produces more than one thousand movies a year: melodrama and action but above all music and dance characterise this kind of film. The Very Best of Bollywoood is nothing more than a collection of the 15 best soundtracks to a few well-known Indian blockbusters from the late '60s to the year 2000, but being compiled by our expert friends at Outcaste, it can only be a flawless album. Dreamy, romantic and sometimes excessively sweet soundscapes are built through percussion, violins and flutes and enchanting melodies are interspersed through "O Saathi Re", "Chaiya Chaiya" or "Ladki Badi Anjani Hai", the latter soundtrack to the famous movie "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai". If you're looking for something more funked up and with a jazzy Latin rhythm then you should go directly to "Roop Tera Mastana" by Sachin Dev Burman, but there's also the trashy disco "Aap Jaisa Koi" for the lovers of the genre. This is an amazingly glorious album, a must for collectors and fans of Bollywood, but a great record for those who simply want to have some assured fun.--anna battista

M. Ward, End of Amnesia (Future Farmer)

"Come with me, and you'll never be the same," M. Ward sings at one point on his album End of Amnesia, and I'm pretty sure he's right. Or at least, as much as a mere album can pull you into a fully realized universe and then leave you affected by the experience, this one does it. Playing a sort of new-and-old folk music that creates it own geography of sound, M. Ward uses guitars, piano, all sorts of atmospheric sounds, and his distinctive voice (which sort of growls and whispers and croons all at once). The guitar playing is especially awe-inducing throughout, channeling so many blues and ghosts and voices. The way the album is recorded brings everything up close somehow; it achieves a real intimacy of sound and I'm not really sure how. Close-up listening reveals apparitions of sounds of the past, from jazz dances to steam-engine trains. Alluding to nature and dreams, spiritual visions and geographic landscapes, End of Amnesia is as complex lyrically as it is musically. "Open up your heart babe, I'll sow a land of milk and honey in your mind," Ward sings on "Seashell tale," and, again, he's not making empty promises.--dave heaton

The White Stripes, White Blood Cells (XL Recordings)

Black. White. Red. Three stripes. Three colours. One and only sound. A raging, raving and raw sound. Detroit brother and sister duo Jack and Meg White have finally achieved a worldly consensus with the follow-up to the previously underrated De Stijl. The opening track "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is so hard, raw and cruel that you are somehow astonished that only guitar and drums can produce such a mayhem, and it is followed by the catchy and fast "Hotel Yorba", while "Fell in Love with a Girl" is an amazing injection of adrenaline. If you dare, try to resist to short and cutting tracks such as "Little Room" or "I Think I Smell a Rat": you'll have to surrender to the power of this terrific duo. This is just a landmark record: it signs the rebirth of true rock: flirting with three colours and two instruments has never sounded so good. Stay positive, Jack and Meg have got more to give us. {}--anna battista

With Literacy and Justice for All … A Benefit for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project (Exotic Fever Records)

Supporting independent music is a worthy cause in and of itself, but it's always nice to see indie-label musicians coming together and supporting bigger, non-music-related causes. For With Literacy and Justice for All, musicians of various stripes came together for a CD-book project which helps support a non-profit organization that gives reading materials to prisoners. The book, The Written Part, includes facts on the U.S. prison system, resource listings for more information, book reviews, artwork done by inmates, and more. The CD features 15 bands from various genres. While few of the songs directly relate to the issue of prisons, the bands share a general sense of questioning conventional ways of thinking and authorities, even while differing greatly in terms of musical style. The fact that the musical genres change track to track, from sludgy hardcore to quiet acoustic folk-pop, and many places in between, means that the album as a whole feels oddly incoherent to my ears. It's rare that I'm in the mood to hear both loud, raging music and quiet, gentle music; still, that angle aside, With Literacy… highlights many indie bands that I wasn't familiar with before, and many of them are good enough at what they do to leave a strong impression with me. Some of my favorite tracks include those by Rouge (dreamy art-rock with an intense harder-edge), Beauty Pill (mellow melodic rock), Andrea Lisi (gorgeous acoustic pop)…but you should know that those picks represent my own taste in genres (meaning, I'm not as into hardcore as I am into pop and rock). In any case, With Literacy and Justice for All is one of the most varied compilations I've heard, plus it does a great service to listeners by highlighting some important social issues of today.--dave heaton

The Zephyrs, When The Sky Comes Down It Comes Down On Your Head (Pias/ Southpaw)

Clouds like fluffy cotton wool fill the sky. The wind blows and takes on its wings the notes of a mind haunting melody, a melody which has scary, but at the same time reassuring tones. Perhaps that's what siblings Stuart and David Nicol had in mind when founding The Zephyrs. Coming from around Fife they must have felt the influence of other Scottish bands like Mogwai or The Pastels, but at the same time, they managed to get away from their models, composing instrumental and tender guitarscapes: "The Buildings Aren't Going Anywhere" is an emotional anthem; "Modern Beats" is a quiet lullaby; "Mount Misery" sounds like an old carillon, whereas the string arrangements on "The Green Tree" and the violin on "Stargazer" makes them sound like proper soundtracks. A little help from random members of International Airport (Tom Crossley), Mogwai (John Cummings and Burry Burns) and Mojave 3 (Rachel Goswell) does the rest on this album by the doomed but funny title. Just fall for them, the breeze is in their favour.--anna battista

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