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Liar's Academy

Trading My Life EP

Equal Vision Records

Rating: Yes

This Baltimore-based quartet that includes members of Cross My Heart and Strike Anywhere plays unpretentious anthem rock with the smarts to blend the hang-dog tunefulness of Toad the Wet Sprocket with the crunch of early Sugar. The 4-song collection is catchy -- laser-targeted at the same indie rock fans that dig stuff along the lines of bands like Sunday's Best. We used to call this driving music -- simple, loud stuff with comfortable riffs that just feels right, and ultimately includes a handful of choruses that we can sing along to. What's not to like?

Posted Nov. 15, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


  Midwest Dilemma

3-song demo


Rating: Yes

Despite the mostly loud, fuzzy guitar licks, this middle-of-the-road Freebirdin' music will appeal to those into the mellower side of the Crows -- either the Black or Counting variety. All three tracks on their self-released debut EP move at an EZ-FM radio pace, plodding forward with an even keel, trying hard not to offend and succeeding.

The talent is there, with a line-up consisting of some local veterans, including lead singer/guitarist Justin Lamoureux, bassist Mike Fratt (ex-Acorns) and drummer J Ochoa (ex-The Get).

Lamoureux's twang-tinged voice does just enough to ebb and flow with the two-dimensional chord changes, trying his damdest to sound like someone you've heard before but can't quite put your finger on. The best parts, however, are when Lamoureux isn't singing and the band simply leans back and does some jamming in a quasi-Neil Young sorta way. They would be well-advised to draw out these little jams for four or five minutes during their live set -- but something tells me that would be a bit 'too risky.'

Their music suffers from a bad case of the same-ees -- there isn't much variety from song to song, especially in the pace, dynamics and chord progression departments. Even when the band tries to take it down noticeably on the closing track, the ballady "On My Own," it only takes a minute or so to get back into the same old groove. The end product has a slightly hypnotizing effect. Still, for a demo, not bad at all. It'll be fun to see what happens when the band let's go of its self-imposed reigns and takes the road less traveled.

Posted Nov. 1, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Lyndsay Diaries

The Tops of Trees Are on Fire

The Militia Group

Rating: No

I listened to this one a few times and thought it was a woman on vocals. In fact it's a guy named Scott Windsor who sounds, at times, exactly like one of the Indigo Girls, which is fine because his songs are essentially Indigo Girls-style acoustic janglers, with Windsor cooing preciously about standing in the rain forever or how he's anxious to see the ocean and run his fingers through the sand or, well, you get the picture. Consider it a lighter, more even-keeled Dashboard Confessional with a little less heart on the sleeve, though when Windsor coos "You're the only thing that keeps me breathing," (Mixtapes and Memories) you can't help but think of Carraba and wince. Some of it is catchy, and the guitars sound good, but there's very little variety and by the third song the whole thing becomes way too easy to ignore.

Posted Nov. 1, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Jim Jacobi and the Jojakimbi Band

I'm Datin' Satan!

Kahuna Records

Rating: Yes

Old school punker Jacobi's been doing his thing since the first punk wave hit the shores in the '70s. You'd think a guy his age would lose his stamina, but he manages to keep it up on most of the heavier, harder, noisier, angrier numbers. The opener is two minutes of sheer Midwestern Ramones, with Jacobi spitting out the inspiring line "She's turned from a lovely woman / Into a lunatic bitch." Nice. "Hung Over" is pounding surfaholic heavy metal with an Iggy Pop twist. In fact, Iggy's influence is all over the noisier songs, from the growling title track to the burning "Old Fashioned Love" to the thick-lipped chugger "Chunk-a-runkus."

Less interesting are the seedy, countrified howlers. It's a fine line between cheese and camp, and Jacobi walks it like a blind man on the funk-guitar-fueled "Nervous White Guy," horror-metal grinder "Stella" and truck-stop back-beater "Four Beer Story." Maybe he's mellowing as he gets older, just like a fine malt liquor. I just assume he leave the hick stuff at home -- it's the punk that makes him legend.

Posted Nov. 1, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Invisible Cities

Demo CD v1.0


Rating: Yes

Three songs on a mini-disc-sized CD by a humble San Francisco-based trio that isn't ashamed to present demos that sound like demos. The best of the bunch is the opening low-fi number that's dominated (overpowered) by a bass that throbs so much that my speakers almost split. Still, the vocals and brush drums don't get lost, not too much anyway. It's sort of a homemade trip-hop epic with Throwing Muses overtones that, despite a horrendous recording job, still makes my knees shake.

By contrast, track 2 ("Birthday") is better-recorded and more straight-ahead from an indie standpoint -- slower, slacker, a shot at Kindercore pop. Vocalist Sadie Contini sounds kinda sad, kinda sweet, like Liz Phair back when Liz Phair still felt something. The last song is another low-fi mess, all scratchy electric guitar and kettle drum and Contini fuzzed through fuzzed equipment, singing about having a "shot of whiskey in each hand" while she does the indie twist with the rest of us.

Rough, really rough. But just like all good music, the good parts shine through the muck. Get 'em an engineer and a studio and watch the sparks fly. Hell, they're already flyin'.

Posted Oct. 13, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


When We Leave, We Will Know Where We've Been


Rating: Yes

This K.C.-based trio was pegged early on as Notwist-style electronica trip-hop balladeers who understood how to weave melody into the bloop-bleep landscape. With their debut full-length, they veer off that heavily trodden path for a more-traditional singer-songwriter route and the change of scenery is a surprising improvement.

The band is calling their sound "futuristic low-fi." Not bad. I was thinking more on the lines of "digital indie," or, considering the number of dark electronic tracks, maybe "goth-club"? Opener "Rest Assured," with its acoustic-guitar lead and subtle keyboard touches, sounds like something off the first Reindeer Section CD before it builds into a full-fledged, multi-layered rocker. "Smoke and Mirrors" is strummed guitar, a dry indie vocal and a chiming bell-like synth supporting a reserved melody.

Ah, but then along comes "An Unproven Theorem," with its jittery rhythm track and bombastic, echoing electric guitars that drop off to piano and lonesome vocals. "Conspicuous Minimalism" is a return to the Notwist style that highlighted the band's self-released available-only-at-shows demo, while "How to Attract Love" is a static-laden headtrip that's club-ready from the outset.

They miss on the most subdued numbers (down-right dreary, they are), but there are only a couple of them. With what could be the worst name to come out of K.C. since Cher U.K., Namelessnumberheadman are onto something uniquely their own.

Posted Oct 13, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Imperial Teen


Merge Records

Rating: No

Sort of a conglomeration of indie-pop styles highlighted by hand-claps, tambourines and woo-woo's, these snappy back-beat rockers are as thin as communion wafers -- i.e., they have all the substance of a red-hot Krispy Kreme -- tasty and gone in seconds. This is the vacuous Spoon CD that Britt Daniel would have created if he wasn't talented (in many ways, it's damn close to Kill the Moonlight). Producers Steve McDonald (Redd Kross) and Anna Waronker (the amazing That Dog!) bring none of their own sensibilities to the project. Too bad.

First thing you notice is that someone has discovered the poppy songs off Sonic Youth's Goo CD, or at least the rhythm tracks. The next thing you notice is that they're trying painfully hard to make it catchy. I don't think you're suppose to listen too closely to the lyrics ("I love baby / Baby's a doll." "She's teacher's pet." "I'm a million dollar man/ Somebody catch me while you can," and so on). Methinks the lyrics were written as an afterthought, which isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. It just means the onus is on the melodies to hook us. Never happens. The result: disposable.

Posted Oct. 13, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Saul Zonana

Guinea Pigs

20/20 Music

Rating: No

Slickly produced commercial stab targets the Matthew Sweet / Supersonic / Rembrandts crowd and almost succeeds except for a lack of variety from song to song (i.e., it all sounds generally the same). No doubt that Zonana's voice is as radio-friendly as anything Matchbox 20 or Sugar Ray has to throw at it, and these solid FM ballads border on something special.

Who knows, from an FM programmers' standpoint, this is probably a homerun. Though he prides himself on being an indie artist, this really is geared more toward turning the ear of the guy who programs KROQ than KRNU (Nebraska's college radio station). It lacks the insight or sensibility to move it beyond just another straight radio band. No question, Zonana's got talent, but he's gonna have to quit reaching for the gold ring and reach inside for something more significant, if it's there.

Posted Oct. 13, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Bruces

The War of the Bruces


Rating: Yes

Alex McManus is the guy in the shadows, sitting quietly next to Vic Chestnutt and Simon Joyner, gaining the reputation as one of the most distinctive sidemen in a business that doesn't really value sidemen. When McManus added his fiddle to Simon Joyner's The Cowardly Traveler Takes His Toll, he added about a mile's worth of loneliness to the sullen folkies' confessions. When he picked guitar alongside Chestnutt, an Athens legend, it was like listening to two best friends telling stories in the garage over longnecks and cigarettes.

The Bruces is McManus playing sideman to McManus, and as much as you want to like this, it can be a forced listen. Forced in the sense that you really have to make a conscious effort to pay attention to what's going on. It's very pretty musically -- a soothing, rustic thing covered with a slight country residue (Mr. Chestnutt has indeed rubbed off on Alex) that frequently dips into dreamy feedback. But these aren't songs that you'd whistle after you got out of your car, let alone sing along to when you're in it. The lyrics don't stand out on first listen, and you'll eventually be forced to sit down and follow along with the lyrics book. In contrast, it's impossible to ignore Joyner's or Chestnutt's gloomy tales. Part of it is McManus' penchant for obscure metaphors ("All the eyes are flames" "Find your fears then make them lonely," eh?).

Ultimately, though, this War is worth the extra effort because of songs like the bouncy opener "DO SI DO," the subtle banjo plunker "Two Dogs," and the warm, sprawling "Mountain" -- among the best tunes I've heard this year. One part John Denver, one part Neil Young, "Mountain" starts off as a simple folky lullaby and turns into a brooding, fuzz-guitar dirge halfway through. Inspirational verse: "Sometimes a mirror is a mountain and I've gotta get over it / But then I get to the end and I still can't see shit."

This one may or may not grow on you, but for those who make the effort, McManus' dust-covered melodies are a road best taken.

Posted Sept. 22, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
  Gone Out Gone

The Blue Sky Project EP


Continuing the tradition bregan by other great Twin Cities post-punk rock outfits, Gone Out Gone pulls a Husker Du (opener "Angel Kiss" bleeds Bob Mould) when they're not fuzzing it up like space stoners (the feedback-laden title track is My Bloody Valentine meets Luna and a headful of valium). Track three sounds like a stab at rock trance, but is quickly forgotten when closer "Lay Me Down" blares ahead like a Social Distortion outcast. Yeah, the band is all over the board stylewise, but that ain't such a bad thing.

Posted Sept. 22, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Duke Fame


Geeves Records

Cute and charming rock and roll -- like something your little brother would put together with his gearhead buddies -- but the overall sloppiness is unforgiving, especially in the vocals, which don't sound intentionally half-ass, just half-ass.

The music resembles a lot of those nice '90s American bands that you remember if you were into indie -- 'nice' as in the ones that tried to maintain some sort of melody when everyone else was freaking out with distortion or screaming or busy deifying Lou Reed. Think The Posies or Matthew Sweet or Trip Shakespeare or The Pooh Sticks -- those bands that had a jonze for '70s garage rock.

Eric Zwieg's dowdy vocals merely find the melodies and do nothing to get us to notice what he's singing. Bottom line: This is pretty sloppy with a one-off feel to it. The band jokes on the one-sheet that it took an hour to record and half that long to write -- at least I think that was a joke. If they stay together and do a second CD, they'll look back at this one and laugh, but will understand that they needed to get it out of the way before they started doing the real thing.

Posted Sept. 22, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Hello from Waveland


Mt. Fuji/Roam

Rating: No

Not bad, but not great power pop songs, sporting their fair share of dBs sheen on relatively straightforward radio-ready music. When there isn't a distinctive Bob Mound-as-Sugar thing going on (though these tracks lack the depth and edginess of that band's landmark efforts) Strangeways comes off as an alt-country tribute, patting Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt on their respective shoulders.

The four-piece, headed by former Omahan, now Seattlite Michael Jaworski, knows its '90s-era alt -- an era when alt rock still meant something good. And they hit it flat on the head, perhaps too flat, because there's nothing here all of us poor suckers who lived through it haven't heard before. Makes one wonder if a band that's so influenced by its influences could ever allow its own voice to emerge. Without something new to add, there's nothing here to hear except really good mimicry. I'll wait until Jaworski and Co. come up with their own thing. At least they got the influence-part down pat.

Posted Sept. 22, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Wrens/The Five Mod Four

split EP

No Karma Records

Rating: Yes

A split EP between indie legends The Wrens and newcomer The Five Mod Four is worth it if only for the three Wrens tracks which span all the way back from 1991 to today.

Opener "Was There Ever," recorded back in '98, is a moody, almost laid-back rocker fraught with urgency and dread, bound together by a pulsing bass, lost-guitar whines, and a yearning line that goes something like "Was there ever an 'us'?" An amazing track. The song from '91, "Bus Dance," is a rollicking punk-fight with a dance beat that sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. While the most current track, 2002's "45'er" begins by blending found sounds, disembodied guitar, voice, piano and other noises before shifting into a chiming, acoustic indie-rock number halfway through. All of this is a good omen for The Wrens' upcoming full-length, The Meadowlands.

The Five Mod Four is the project of record-label entrepreneur Michael Wojtasiak, who also happens to be the webmaster for the Wrens website. "I'm the Funniest Person You Know," is standard-issue, jangly indie rock a la early R.E.M. with thin, unsure vocals. "Make It Look Like a Robbery" incorporates wonky organ alongside Wojtasiak's fish-flop-flat, incomprehensible singing. He sounds completely lost on "Ghosts (and Masks)" and the closer, "Carry." Not exactly great, but hey, it's the poor guy's debut and The Wrens aren't exactly an easy act to follow.

Posted Sept. 1, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Ants

Sparkling Disaster Strategies

Sickroom Records

Rating: No

Bad, experimental jam-band music -- meandering melodies, hippy-sounding organ, the occasional pedal-steel, and what has to be purposefully off-key vocals that sound like they were mailed in. Don't know who's tweedy yodel that is, but it's so grating that it ruins the few songs that actually have something interesting going on. "Reason," for example, has a deceptively complex structure with laid-back chord changes, all ruined by the Emo Phillips-style vocals. This is one of the few CDs other than the occasional hardcore jaunt that causes people to walk by my cube at work and ask, "What the hell is that?" with a look on their faces like I just broke wind.

Their one-sheet says the project began as a group of San Francisco "Freeschool" musicians (the first sign of potential trouble) that have since moved to northeastern Kansas. Fact is, it ain't as experimental as the bad vocals would lead you to believe. Be interesting to see what would happen if the guy just tried singing on pitch.

Posted Aug. 31, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Pajama Avenue

Loose Thread Records

Rating: Yes

The caveat: You really gotta be in the right mood to listen to this sort of music.

From Chicago, the trio's recipe is quiet rolling bass, quiet brushes, quiet synth tones and almost inaudible (and completely incomprehensible) whisper vocals. They throw in the occasional quiet guitar or quiet clarinet as a garnish. At times, there's almost a Trinity Sessions feel to Pajama Avenue, probably because most of the echo-filled tracks were recorded in bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms -- you know, the sorts of places where you just naturally expect someone to record an ambient LP.

There's a ton of other "ambient" dreamscape outfits out there -- Mercury Project, American Analog Set and Tristeza come to mind -- but they all have catchier melodies than Zelienople's always-hushed mood-setters. This could have been a real boring ride, but the recording's sheer consistency saves it from becoming trash-bin fodder. There are few other CDs in the rack that have Pajama Avenue's dark-blue to violet to black tone, pure lights-outs bedroom music perfect for your own special "quiet time," so far into the void that there should be a warning sticker about listening to this while operating heavy machinery.

You have to assume that they expect listeners to, at some point, forget that the damn thing's on; that they're going to simply zone out and not pay close attention. Fact is, you don't get "lost in the recording" as much as it gets lost behind whatever it is your doing while listening to it. Zelienople's music is like a good scene-setting soundtrack, as long as the scene takes place somewhere at night, and alone.

Posted Aug. 22, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Via Della Strada

Skinsuit Communications/Ant Records

Rating: No

I'm not a metal fan and I don't pretend to be. And the fact that I used the word "metal" to describe the Omaha trio's sound only raises the ire of the band members themselves, who hate the term and prefer the more trendy-though-generic "Noise" to describe it. Whatever you call it, it's loud, it's fast, it's mostly in a minor key, which means it's also kinda scary, if not depressing. I wish it wasn't, because these guys are much more powerful when they take things less seriously -- almost carelessly. I'm not saying they have to completely abandon their serious themes, just that they could do a lot worse than loosen up a bit. For example:

The bass-driven, heavily syncopated "Sacrifice" represents everything and everywhere I want to see this band go. It's no less intense than anything else on the CD, but it wins because it's downright, well, funky. It emotes the stereotypical head-wag that is a hallmark of all good, heavy music. Its architecture is loud/louder/loud (as opposed to quiet/loud/quite). It bounces, and is even, dare I say it, laid back. Maybe it's nostalgia that's driving my admiration for this particular track, because other than maybe "Teleport," and to a lesser degree "Steel," nothing else on the CD sounds like something that the band would have done in their past incarnation -- Ritual Device.

There, I said it. It can't be ignored. Ritual Device, the Omaha-based outfit whose gutter-groove punk flourished in the '90s, might have been a better band, but not necessarily because Tim Moss (who now fronts the S.F.-based stoner-rock band Men of Porn) was the frontman, though his circus-geek-on-acid routine was most entertaining. Bassist Randy Cotton and Guitarist Mike Saklar were the backbone then and are the backbone now. Maybe it was Moss who shifted their focus toward getting a groove on rather then breaking a speed record. Whatever it was, it worked and I miss it and it's here once again on "Sacrifice."

"Teleport," the other standout, showcases Ravine's admiration for the majesty of Bauhaus. By writing around a dark hook and a bracing counter, they raise the bar on everything they do. They just don't do it enough.

So what about the rest? It all just sounds too similar and all too familiar. Other than the detours on "Sacrifice" and "Teleport" -- which would make a helluva single -- it's the same, grinding, minor-key rattle on every track. Sometimes they get into a groove and push it further than you think it can go. Metal, uh, I mean "Noise" fans might dig it. The rest of us yearn for the variety that Ravine could offer if they only let themselves.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Sept. 4, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Jack Hayter

Practical Wireless

Absolutely Kosher Records

Rating: Yes

This acoustic folk outing by one of the guys in the UK pop group Hefner is a stunner.

It boils over with rustic beauty, all full of breathy twang permeated by a weird British air (At one point the guy refers to somebody's "knickers"). Hayter's sandy, craggy voice is an eerie combination of Peter Gabriel, Richard Thompson and Cat Stevens tossed onto compositions that even John Denver would love. And while you could file this under the Will Oldham/M. Ward Department of Minimalist Indie-folk, Hayter's quirky British enthusiasm puts a twist on everything like a raised eyebrow on an otherwise sullen face.

The music is camp-fire warm and bone simple, usually just a guitar and a few other utensils, but it's more than enough to lead us through these strange, heart-glowing tales that are never down, dreadful or dreary. Highlight moments -- the lonely, sentimental waltz "Blind Man's Fog" with its endearing lyric, "She's got eyes like piss-holes in the snow" (Hey fellas, try that line on your girlfriends tonight); the Daniel Lanois-esque, French-sung "Au Lion D'Or" (I have no idea what he's singing, nor does it matter); and the trippy, sad lullaby a la Gabriel "A Boxer's Dead Wife" with the yearning verse: "I know I will be weightless when I'm gone / And we'll be lifted up whilst they are all dragged down").

At times, Practical Wireless feels like listening to your grandpa sing his favorite traditionals that he learned while outwaiting the Huns in the trenches. Hayter is too young to be a grandpa, but his music's timeless melodies along with his ageless voice make this a CD worth passing onto your grandkids.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Sept. 4, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Jupiter Project

I Can Make You Try


Rating: No

They are a Boston-based techno-pop band. They are a male/female duo, but they aren't married. They will be compared to my all-time favorite male/female duo, the woefully overlooked Timbuk 3, who also relied on electronics to provide their rhythm section. They're not as good as Timbuk 3. Why? 1, Their lyrics aren't as memorable (i.e., not as good). 2, Their melodies aren't as interesting (i.e., not as good). 3, Jonny Pape's smoky vocals are augmented, not balanced, by Sue Boyer's sweet harmonies. Bottom line, they're not as funky as Timbuk 3, except on the EP's final track, which fuses an irresistible disco beat with nice, dry vocals and spy guitar. They keep going this direction, and they might be onto something. No, they're not the next Timbuk 3, but they could be.

Posted Aug. 16, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Roman Evening

Together Now

Bitter Stag

Rating: Yes

An elegant, slacker rock recording in the Sebadoh/Todd Rundgren tradition sung by a guy whose voice is the spitting image of Joe Walsh's. Captivating arrangements surround sparkling, melancholy melodies. It would be somber affair if not for those damn drums, that damn throbbing bass, and Adam Klein's friggin' weird Neil Young-style voice that demands you listen.

This ain't no typical indie-rock CD. When the keyboards and feedback blend, like on "Retreat," the music more closely resembles mellow, acid stuff of the mid-'70s -- again, think James Gang-era Joe Walsh, Blood Sweat and Tears (especially when they add a horn section) or even Elton John. After about a dozen listens, I still couldn't tell you what the songs are about, which gives the band something to work on for next time.

Posted July 29, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Flaming Lips

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Warner Bros.

Rating: Yes

It's a concept album, sort of, or maybe it isn't. The CD's title seems to apply only to the first four or five songs that surround a theme right out of The Iron Giant. The rest are philosophical musings about life, love and death, not necessarily in that order or of any particular relevance. Don't matter, though, because you reach for The Lips for the trippy arrangements, dreamy melodies and the occasional experiment or two that either takes it to another level or falls flat on its face.

For those who haven't been to the well before, think Pet Sounds in space sung by a slightly nasal muppet. There are fewer experiments this time 'round, and as a result, Yoshimi is less interesting than their career landmark, The Soft Bulletin. Still, I like the tunes better, as well as the overall embraceability of tracks like the sun-lit rocker "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1," the chiming "Do You Realize?" and the grinning-through-tears "It's Summertime" -- all radio hits if I ever heard one. Too bad they'll never be heard on any radios around here.

Lips followers will notice more acoustic guitars and drum machines then usual, and that the tracks are drenched in afternoon-light -- subtle, almost purposely mello. Yoshimi is a sweet diversion, an empty-calorie audio confectionery -- and all the better for it.

Published in The Omaha Weekly July 31, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

All-Time Quarterback


Barsuk Records

Rating: No

This is essentially a collection of demos by Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard recorded back in '99 on 4-track and portable Walkman. You get all the warm, fuzzy melodies you've come to expect from a Death Cab recording minus the production values.

The songs recorded on 4-track were originally release as an ATQ CD-EP and can stand on their own thanks to relatively full arrangements highlighted by simple keyboards and Casio-tones, light percussion and Gibbard's always-interesting vocals. Among them is his groovy rendition of Magnetic Fields' "Why I Cry," which utilizes a toy piano to full effect. The other 4-track numbers would sit nicely alongside the best DCFC stuff.

The live-to-Walkman tracks, originally released on cassette, are Gibbard and guitar and though they have all the melodic firepower of any DCFC song, sound incomplete. Gibbard's strong suit has always been his voice and melodies, not his ho-hum lyrics, which are about all you get from the Walkman stuff. With little variety in the melodies, this gets boring quickly.

ATQ is probably a must for the die-hard Death Cab fans and completists. New fans are better served picking up older Death Cab releases.

Published in The Omaha Weekly July 31, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Pedro the Lion


Jade Tree Records

Rating: Yes

An indie rocker unafraid of hiding his own faith, Pedro the Lion's David Bazan writes 4-minute sonic morality plays about the lives of lost souls futilely walking blindly into the dark void, feeling their ways along the walls of morality without a religious flashlight. Never preachy, he gives you the facts and leaves the judgment up to someone else -- someone a little higher up, so to speak. The middle-class suburbanites in his songs never seem to make the right choices while they stumble through their flawed lives.

Unlike his early folky stuff, Control resembles Bazan's last Jade Tree outing but rocks even harder and darker, reminiscent of Bob Mould's Black Sheets of Rain. When he lightens up, the music pops, though the message stays consistently bleak.

Infidelity and its consequences are the underlying themes this time 'round. Every deceit is overshadowed by guilt and retribution. "Rehearsal" finds the narrator more upset about the triteness of his lover's infidelity than the act itself, with him threatening to match hers with his own trite actions -- by killing her. The plodding, dark "Second Best" emotes the sexual futility of a used-up relationship, while "Priests and Paramedics" recaps a wife murdering her husband, his death and funeral all to a cool, jumpy beat.

In between the infidelities are a couple comments about failure and futility in a corporate world. "Penetration," is Bazan's update on Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar," with the record executive telling it like it is: "If it isn't making dollars / Than it isn't making sense / If you aren't moving units / Then you're not worth the expense" ending with the advice: "If you want to make it / You had best remember this / If it isn't penetration / Then it isn't worth a kiss."

Bazan rarely strays from his dry-as-dust singing approach, sounding like a low-voiced, sober Mark Kozelek.

Does he leave you with hope? On the funereal closer, "Rejoice," Bazan sings "Wouldn't it be so wonderful / If everything were meaningless / But everything is so meaningful / And most everything turns to shit / Rejoice." Not exactly uplifting, but Bazan rarely is. Taken as a whole, Control is a driving masterpiece of pure indie rock melded with a dreadful message that is unforgettable.

Published in The Omaha Weekly July 31, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Movies

Anonymous American

Side1 Records

Rating: Yes

Matt Whipkey, leader of The Movies, disputes the fact that his band's music is "alt-country," but dispute as he might, the opening guitar twang on "Half Past Seven," will immediately galvanize the perception to even the most out-of-touch listener. Hey, why deny your roots, Mr. Whipkey?

Probably because The Movies style on Anonymous American, the Omaha-based band's Side1 debut, is closer to all-out country rock. Forget the "alt." Their music is much more at home in a honky-tonk than in a punk bar, with an extra nod to some of America's favorite freedom rockers. On the poppier numbers ("Half Past Seven," "Run and Hide") there's plenty of Born in the USA-era Springsteen and post-Creedence John Fogarty.

But on the earnest ballads, like "The Clock Never Lies," they come off as Neil Young devotees, thanks to Mike Friedman's rusty, dead-on guitar work -- one of the disc's highlights. When Friedman joined The Movies last year, the band finally galvanized their sound and became a force in the Omaha music scene that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in the Saddle Creek Records stable. The fact that the CD was recorded by Jason Evans at Presto! Studios, the home studio for all Saddle Creek recordings, helps matters immensely.

"Seventeen," the band's melancholy power ballad, melds Let It Bleed-era Rolling Stone song structure with another tasty Friedman Rust Never Sleeps guitar solo. Friedman switches to pedal steel on "Anonymous," the twangiest of the bunch that reminds me of The Silos, except for the working-class-guy lyrics.

When he's not writing love songs, Whipkey's lyrics are idealistic portraits of the everyday working man, too often characterized in Long Horn Bar terminology -- ie., pick-up truck driving vets struggling with bad jobs and alcoholism who, goddammit, still love this country. Whipkey calls them heroes; everyone else calls them hicks. Too bad Matt drives a Ford Taurus instead of a Ford F-150, a fact that the alt-country fans can smell a mile away.

Whoops, did I say alt-country again?

The CD's closer is a folkish, harmonica-fueled love ballad, again carried by Friedman's amazing pedal steel, which is symbolic of the entire CD's craftsmanship. Although there's nothing really new on Anonymous American, The Movies pull it off because they do what they do so damn well. In the words of Lou Grant: These guys got spunk. And I hate spunk. Usually. A solid effort by one of Omaha's new, important voices, whether its alt-country or not.

Posted July 2, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Faith Kleppinger

Asleep in the Well

Two Sheds Music

Rating: Yes

Quiet, sullen, hang-dog ballads, like a recent Simon Joyner or Will Oldham CD sang by a young, sad Ricki Lee Jones or Mary Lorson. Hushed but brooding, it lacks the character and dynamics of fellow folkies like Ida or Retsin, but her dry, flat delivery-without-a-twang is pretty enough to make matters interesting.

On "Daytime," the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter threads a thin melody backed quietly by guitar and piano. "Frames" adds a casual electric guitar. The ultra-quiet "Double Negative," is the best of the lot, a duet with Blake Rainey, his voice adding a deep, thick fog to the mix. Rainey also sings on "Dare," the one and only time the production comes close to Indigo Girls territory, and to the CD closer "Howlaround," which would have fit well alongside tracks on the last Low CD. David Barbe (ex-Sugar) closes out the trio on bass and provides both backing arrangements and the use of his Athens recording studio, Chase Park Transduction.

Kleppinger's barely awake vocal approach can get lost in the mix. When she bubbles to the surface, like on solo acoustic "2-minute Warning," where she quietly laments "You were the one who / I was counting on," you feel her pain. Slight and simplistic, Asleep... is well-crafted, honest, late-night pillow music.

Posted June 19, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

John DeGrazio



Rating: No

Easy listening acoustic love songs that are one part Rembrandts (those guys that sing the theme from "Friends") and Dan Fogelberg (the guy that sings the cheesy "Same Old Lang Syne" from the '70s who I often mistake for the guy who sings the cheesy "Pina Colada" song). DeGrazio has a good voice and knows his way around a swaying guitar. No question that this is very professionally done, almost slick productionwise.

It's a solid stab at AOR radio fodder, having all the right EZ105FM qualities -- stereotypical impersonal lovesong lyrics, soothing elevator-music beats, never takes any chances, totally devoid of any possibility of offending anyone, etc. This is music your mom or your girlfriend who's into classic rock might love. In fact, if DeGrazio were to replace the second guitar with a pedal steel, twang a little and add a cowboy hat this could be country music.

Am I being unfair? I mean, how is this really different than something Freedy Johnson would do? Well, Freedy's lyrics go beyond the ho-hum stuff like on "I'll Be Yours", which goes "Why does it have to end / Because I feel inside like I feel back then / And I wish I could have you again." Reads almost like an England Dan and John Ford Coley song. In fact, Revolution sounds like something that was written during that whole early '80s Christopher Cross / Air Supply era. That doesn't mean it sucks, it just means that it's been done before, and was hardly memorable the first time 'round.

Posted May 30, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Man Will Destroy Himself silent...die

Extremely Baked Records

Rating: No

With a band name like this, what did I expect? Eight songs in 13.4 minutes -- do the math -- most tracks are under two minutes, which is a godsend. Mild hardcore with metal overtones. Metallica (especially in the vocals) meets Slayer. Lots of macho preening over relatively uninspired and unoriginal guitar licks.

They're better off when they try to sound hardcore. "The Smiths," is apparently an anti-war song, but the guy "singing" on this track is a ton better than the Metallica-rip vocalist who dominates most of the CD with his boring, horror movie growl -- he sounds like someone whose trying to sound angry.

There are probably a thousand bands like this out there (I know of at least a half-dozen in Omaha alone), all catering to disenfranchised 13- to 16-year-old rebels who at this time in their lives have no interest in melody. Well, here's another. Not good.

Posted May 28, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Automatic Slim

Daisy Cutter


Rating: No

This is your standard-issue freshman effort from what sounds like your typical local bar band who has decided that they have enough material to record and release a CD with the outside hope of maybe, just maybe, catching the ear of a hungry young record label executive. Gelu Sullugiuc's sloppy and slightly off-kilter vocals ride clumsily on top of simplistic rock band arrangements heavily influenced by FM-safe bands like Creed, STP and maybe even Bachman Turner Overdrive. Overall mix is muddy, with drum, bass and guitar lost in a noisy fog. Lyrics are generally uninspired cock rock poetry. Sometimes the band lights into blues-style licks a la Blues Hammer. No doubt they pack 'em in at the local club with songs like "Going Down" and "Hey Baby." They're trying hard to be what a cover band thinks a rock band should be, and something tells me they know it.

Posted May 28, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


When Do We Start Fighting...


Rating: No

There's plenty of American pop-punk meshed into this London-based four-piece's rather commercial take on alt-rock. Through most of the first half of the full-length -- the half where the band is obviously reaching for something that will turn the ear of a friendly radio programmer -- you will hear a ton of Sonic Youth-esque guitars and drums mixed with the U.K.'s usual derivative take (Blur, Oasis, Bush) on American '90s post-grunge-era college bands. It's not the most creative-sounding CD you've ever heard, but U.S. radio could do a lot worse than this rather amped-up, safe, angst pop.

"Pleasurehead" is pure commercial alt-rock that starts off with "Bull in the Heather" trap drumming before David Line's blue-sky vocals take us back to a comfortable mid-'90s soft-alt era. The follow-up, "Cloaking," rips some guitar lines right off Goo and then smoothers it in Bush.

When they turn down the amps and adopt a more-simple, soothing approach, they comfortably crawl into a completely different rock cliché that's more relaxed and less forced. Slackers like "What May be the Oldest," and "Similar Assassins" sound like early Judybats meet latter-day Eleventh Dream Day or even The Connells. At least they don't try to sound like Radiohead.

You have to wait until the end for glimpses of creativity amid the slick alt-rock production. The CD's last four tracks blow away everything else on the album. Line, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, sings "Desert Stretched Before the Sun" like he was auditioning for Badly Drawn Boy or The Reindeer Section. On "In This Light Will You Fight Me," Line and drummer Caroline Banks harmonize on a dark-room haunter that let's go into an electric-guitar-fueled mantra, like some sort of weird, half-speed version of Led Zeppelin's "Achille's Last Stand." The slightly off-kilter but beautiful closer (there's also a rather forgettable "hidden track" that isn't worth waiting through the black spot) features Scott McCloud (Girls Against Boys, New Wet Kojak) whispering words beneath and around the melody that repeats a closing line "He collects himself / Because everything is dead." I would much rather hear a full hour of this ingenious weirdness than the acceptable-though-vanilla attempts at pleasing American alt radio that takes up the first half of the CD.

Posted May 11, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Gloria Record

Start Here

The Arena Rock Recording Company

Rating: Yes

The Gloria Record was formed in '97 out of the remains of what arguably was one of the more influential late-'90s indie projects, a band called Mineral. They released a couple records on Crank! before this full-length, which is quite a departure from their rather subdued EPs. Interviewed last year when the band was recording the tracks at Lincoln, Nebraska's Presto! Studios with engineer/producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), bassist Jeremy Gomez said the CD was "basically made up of 10 epic closers."

That's not a bad description. Start Here takes withdrawn indie pop and builds it to massive proportions, melding momentous and oftentimes plodding melodies with gigantic arrangements that make you remember Chuck Heston as Moses parting the Red Sea. If forced to compare it to anything, Elliott comes to mind as well as (he says with a straight face) Cave In -- two bands that have been known to try to create a sense of imposing apocalypse with guitars and keyboards. Guitarist/vocalist Chris Simpson's earnest, yearning moans bare a slight resemblance both in style and substance to Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips, though most of the time, what he's singing is undecipherable.

The melodies are universally pretty, almost always starting small, accompanied only by a keyboard or guitar, before building over the course of six or seven minutes to a juggernaut in ideal "epic closer" fashion. The perfect example is "I Was Born in Omaha," where Simpson sings, "I was born in Omaha / In my mother's tired arms" (Those are the only words I can make out through the mumbling, and there's no lyric sheet). The song starts with a simple acoustic guitar then about halfway through its seven minutes a huge counter-melody is introduced on electric guitar -- very cool, and reminds me a little bit of how Red House Painters builds their epics.

Can the band sustain it over 50 minutes? Almost. By track seven the ambient sheen begins to wear thin, and you begin to yearn for just one strong melody that you could sing along to. Look elsewhere. Like an orchestral score, Start Here is all about setting a mood, bringing you to the top of a mountain over and over again.

Posted May 8, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Cricket Rumor Mill


Loose Thread Recordings

Rating: Yes

Not just another lush instrumental recording in the Tristeza mold, the Chicago trio builds songs in an Eno-esque fashion, with simple guitar, bass and percussion at its core, then adds layer upon layer of sound, giving the musicians enough room to deploy their own solo ideas, not unlike a Metheny jazz set.

The underlying idea is to set a mood and play it through, which seems to be the goal of just about every indie-rock instrumental combo. I mean, how much late-night driving music does one really need? CRM isn't that much different than those other indie guys, though on a number of the better tracks the band manages to supersede the stereotype with more personal melodies that stray toward rather lonely, overcast territory. Some songs come dangerously close to New Age romanticism, but pull away just in time, thanks to some inventive drum and bass play, sound effects and keyboard treatments. Pleasant and quiet, Renderings does little more than relax, and it does that very well. How'sabout Indie New Age? Maybe.

Posted March 30, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Sweet 16s Turned 21

A Tribute to Bob Seger

Urinine Records

Rating: No

So I'm driving to the racquetball courts and we're talking about MTV and this buddy of mine is telling me how Metallica's cover of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" was a stroke of marketing genius -- you're getting the oldsters who are into Seger, you're getting the metalheads into Metallica and you're getting all the girls who dig the "obvious" romance of what has become an American classic. Not to mention the video, which MTV only showed once because of it was apparently "too-graphic." I tell him that he's right, of course. Unfortunately the Metallica cover is a complete abortion, one of the worst covers I've heard from any band. A great example of someone taking a memorable song and ruining it. Fact is, I hate Metallica (always have) and, for the most part, hate tribute albums.

That said, this four-song "tribute" to Bob Seger by four undistinguished Midwest indie bands is pretty damn cool, not because the bands were looking for a shrewd marketing gimmick, but because it's obvious that they genuinely love the material.

DARYL opens the festivities with an update of "Mainstreet" that works because they throw their bodies into it and because they know enough to highlight that awesome guitar-solo counter-melody intro. You recognize, you acknowledge lovingly, you move on. This is the best of the bunch.

Saraswati's cover of "Feel Like a Number," tries too hard to be sloppy and lackadaisical, as if the singer just rolled out of bed, which ain't no way to treat Seger. Awful.
The Hillary Step do sort of an earnest version of "Against the Wind," and give the song plenty of room to roam. But if you think they had their work cut out for them, Sweep the Leg Johnny somehow found a way to reinvent the perennial '70s ballad "Night Moves" and make it their very own with an acoustic guitar, keyboard, and simple, respectful vocals. Pretty.

Urinine tried a similar experiment a couple years ago with a Supertramp tribute that made one critic's "worst of..." list. Gotta hand it to Sid, the label's owner, for not giving up on his warped vision of the '70s. Who's next? REO Speedwagon?

Posted March 29, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Bridge to the Northern Lights

Red Tide/Barsuk Records

Rating: Yes

From the opening of "Laughter Leaves You," Aveo drives forward on the strength of William Wilson's Pete Townsend-meets-Morrissey vocals and the chiming rock arrangements that recall Built to Spill at its poppiest. I don't know if it's because Phil Ek handled the production chores, or because of the band's Pacific Northwest roots, but there's a similar tonal quality to Modest/BTS/764-HERO/Death Cab. If anything, Aveo's music is sweeter than what Ek has handled in the past, though there's daunting storm clouds underlying all the melodies.

The trio's music embodies the "new Seattle" sound, with its jangly, almost heroic guitars, light, swooping, Arty Garfunkel-inspired vocals, and a bombastically syncopated rhythm section. It manages to be loud and pleasant at the same time. Whereas the melodies aren't as strong as Death Cab's and there's no Built to Spill guitar solos, Aveo is more about atmosphere than songs, and suffers slightly for it. You won't recall a single melody after you've crossed the Bridge to the Northern Lights, but you'll remember how you got there and will want to go back again.

Posted March 27, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Dawn of the Butterfly

My Pal God Records

Rating: Yes

When the opener rips open, I walk across the living room to my girlfriend and say, "This is how you have to dance to this song," and proceed to do the worst "robot dance" in history -- head tilted, arms bent at 90-degree angles at the elbows, jerky mannequin motions. The track, "Dawn of the Butterfly," with its deep, deep, deep computerized vocoder effects, sounds like a parody of electronic music, all heavy-handed Kraftwerky and Devo-esque, but you don't mind because you realize that it's impossible not to have fun listening to it. Knodel have a hard time reaching this zenith again on the CD, though they try, man do they try.

When the trio lightens up, the music seems better, but not as kooky. Look, that robot vocal thing is just plain silly and retro and will immediately get people into whatever they're doing. Sure, it's cheesy, but that's what makes it so much fun. When undistorted, the vocals have an indie, nerd-rock sheen to them, though they're nicely cradled in plenty of technology.

Get beyond all the computerized special effects and goofy synth sounds, and Knodel still manages to make this work because they know their way around a good melody, in a Euro sort of way. You'll recognize every geeky '80s New Wave cliché here and ultimately love them for it. They don't care what you think, they're rocking on their weird Gary Numan-meets-Flock of Seagulls tip, and if you can get over it, you can come along for the ride. Three-quarters of the way through (when the songs start to sound like Air cast-offs), it begins to get a bit tiresome, but all you have to do is skip back to that opener, and you'll be "roboting" all over again.

Posted March 27, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



Rating: No

Initial caveat: I don't own any other Stereolab records or CDs. Aficionados of the band, forget about getting comparisons to Emperor Tomato Ketchup or whatever.

For some reason, I expected this to be experimental. It's not. A modern instrumental-based (not techno, not "electronica") Euro-sounding project that has a lot in common with Air (yeah, I know these guys came first). They interweave solid trip-hoppy rhythms with pseudo-mod retro keyboards and '70s Bacharach-style horn arrangements to great effect. Add to that a low, throaty female vocal just right for Rick's Café Americana. My girlfriend immediately fell for this. For me, it borders on lounge/dental chair music, but its intricate arrangements keep it from being a total loss. This is the kind of music that the guy in American Psycho might play when he's trying to seduce another secretary (before the chainsaw scene). Music perfect for an art show or cocktail party, where a few hipsters might ask either: 1) who is this? or 2) is this Air?

After numerous listenings, Laetitia Sadier's flat, almost atonal vocals begin to grow on you, even if you don't know what she's singing about (it's in French). Becomes a bit tiring and blurred about halfway through. Chances are, however, that you'll forget that it's even on by then. Pleasant, though not particularly absorbing.

Published in the Omaha Weekly Nov. 7, 2001. Posted Sept. 24, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Rock Music - A Tribute to Weezer

various artists

Dead Droid Records

Rating: No

The first question is why is this even necessary. Look, here's my rules on tribute CDs -- they should either be fund-raisers for causes supported by the dead artist being memorialized or unique renditions of an artist's music that both captures the spirit of the original version and the unique qualities -- or voice -- of the band covering the song.

This tribute, of course, doesn't meet the first rule and only occasionally meets the second. Full, open-throated hardcore grunting (what has become affectionately known in the industry as "the Cookie Monster voice") hardly captures a band's unique "voice." In those particular instances (covers by Affinity "My Name is Jonas," Glasseater "Holiday"), the effect is both comical and insulting to the original version. Do you really think screaming the lyrics instead of singing them is enhancing anything? Embarrassing.

Song selection is relatively wise. If you're gonna try to cover a band as wildly popular as Weezer, you're better off not covering tracks that were on heavy rotation on MTV. The result -- no "Sweater Song," no "Buddy Holly." As a whole the covers of Pinkerton tracks work better than covers off the debut album (there are no "Green Album" covers here), mainly because Pinkerton bombed, and as a result, we're not as familiar with them.

Overall, the tribute succeeds only when the cover band really lets it hang out. I can hear Grade all over their cover of "Surf Wax America," and yet they hold back enough to let the original through. Christopher John's cover of "The World Has Turned…" is unique, capturing his Elliott style but with the proper Weezer overtones. The Impossible's beat-driven version of "The Good Life" gets honorable mention. However, in the case of Dashboard Confessional's version of b-side fodder "Jamie," they've managed to turn a good song into a typical Dashboard wuss-fest, though it's still better than anything that Dashboard guy ever wrote for himself.

For the most part, the covers merely remind us (as if we needed to be reminded) how good the original versions are and how long it's been since we had them in our CD player.

Posted Feb. 24, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Starting Line
With Hopes of Starting Over

DriveThru Records

Rating: No

Sounds like a million other CDs just like it. Broken-hearted Promise Ring-style guitar "punk" with Dashboard Confessional overtones. These CDs are laser-targeted to the mid- to late-teen "punk" market who are into something louder and faster than the Britney Boy groups. Track 1 chorus: "Please don't leave me without saying goodbye." Track 2 (titled "Saddest Girl in the World") chorus: "Try not to go running back to him." Track 3: "Forget me girl, I'm still recovering from her. It hurts so." Track 4: "You know how bad this hurts. It's been three weeks and just gets worse." I don't believe of word of it.

You never get a sense that these guys have a clue what they're writing about. They're in a rock band for god sakes, writing stereotypical crush songs without a stitch of reality woven into the lyrics. You used to be able to get away with this kind of thing, but too many great songwriters are out there now, baring their hearts to the world with painful honesty. Which isn't to say this isn't good enough for the general CD-buying masses who don't really want to glimpse into any poor emo kid's sordid personal life but would rather find someone who they can identify with on the most basic and comfortable of levels.

Melodies are flat and unmemorable; recycled. Instrumentally, very tight. The cover of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" is appropriate and the only highlight of this disc -- and it's a lousy song to begin with.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 7, 2001. Posted Sept. 24, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Dewey Defeats Truman

The Road to Nowhere Maps

Has Anyone Every Told You?

Rating: No

Here's the deal: I actually dig this San Diego-based trio. I like Mark McBride's vocals; I like their basic sound. Unfortunately, nothing on this 6-song EP stands out above the oceans of other indie rock stuff out there, stuff influenced by the likes of Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies and Pavement.

The opening two tracks are typical Superchunk indie rock -- not particularly interesting but not bad, either. The bass-driven "Damaged Goods," has the benefit of a more distinct melody. "Pencil Fight" is back to the same, chug-a-lug indie rock sound from the first two tracks -- instantly recognizable but ultimately bland. "Die Remora," the CD's closer, starts with some nice angular guitars, but ultimately fades into more mid-tempo riffage a la D. Jr. but without his sad-dog angst. Lyrically, nothing stands out.

The unfortunate situation most "indie" bands find themselves in is that their style, sound, vision or instrumentation is so unique that they end up getting lumped in the indie section, though their music stands out beyond the stereotype (for example, how could anyone call Sigur Ros an indie band?). With Dewey, it's as if they made a conscious effort to try to sound like an indie rock band, bringing nothing of their own unique style to the table. The result is six renditions of "the same ol' song."

Posted Feb. 9, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

A Story in White


Rating: Yes

Matador has some of the best full-out tuneful indie bands in the business with acts like Yo La Tengo, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Stephen Malkmus and Belle and Sebastian. But for those of us who kept up, there were always the weirdo acts that somehow snuck in. Thinking Fellers Local 282, Sports Guitar, 18th Dye, to name a few; bands that were more avant-garde than pop but that had just enough pop elements to carry them through (18th Dye, for example, put out some of the most interesting stripped-down rock albums you've never heard). Aereogramme is right at home with the weirdos, mixing their quirky, noisy, metal soundscapes with quiet, delicate melodies.

"Zionist Timing" is a full-out noise rock masterpiece in line with Sonic Youth, latter-day Nine Inch Nails or, yes, 18th Dye. The three minutes of "Shouting for Joey," is divided between metal guitar, heavy drums and full-on indecipherable screaming and a light-as-a-feather acoustic interlude played over eerie industrial sounds.

For every weird one, there's a real beauty, like the stunningly ethereal "Hatred," that chimes forward on the strength of simple guitar, piano and Craig B's high-register, haunting vocals that border on praying: "Hatred is rising but I hope that I’m stronger than this." "Sunday 3:52," is somber cello, violin, acoustic guitar and a simple melody. The lyrics, especially on the quiet numbers, seem to be all about longing but could just as well be about recovery -- of the emotional or chemical kind.

At over an hour, A Story in White is both jarring and serene; haphazard on the surface, but beneath, there's a method to the madness.

Posted Jan. 30, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Red Shirt Brigade
Home of the Cannon Saints

Team AV

Rating: Yes

Enticing combination of indie and prog, resulting in a dreamy, cloudy, light-hearted romp. Hailing from Detroit, the four-piece has friends in high places (from an indie standpoint) including Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, who engineered this full-length with all the care he puts into his own projects. The only thing missing is his fetching melodies, but Red Shirt makes up for it in sheer sonic bravado.

The arrangements and the oft-times muddy recording result in losing the vocals amidst the chaos. They're singing… something. In the weaker moments, like on the meandering "Later on the Whole World," and "Thugs with Venom," the intricate noise gets lost in its own clutter. But for the most part, especially when they're laying it heavy on the organ, they manage to pull off a groovy '70s prog-rock vibe. Tracks "Genuine Hiss" and "Years of the Skulls" have an early King Crimson / Moody Blues luster to them, trying hard to be retro-regal without being ridiculous.

Where they really excel, though, is when they push it into our century, like on the synth-driven "The Jigsaw Back" and the wizzy, head-trip instrumental "Booty Boot Camp," which chug along with simpler arrangements and, as a result, much more intensity.

Sure, you could write this off as an attempt at latter-day art-rock, but you have to give them credit for making it sound so damn interesting.

Posted Jan. 30, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Cave In
Lost in the Air b/w Lift Off


Rating: Yes

A two-song single meant to give you a glimpse of where everyone's favorite Rush disciples (as in the band, not the bigot) are headed with their upcoming full-length on RCA this summer, it isn't a big stretch from their "break through," 2000's Jupiter. Side A reeks of psychedelic Beatles residue and is generally Herculean in size -- big guitars, dense echoing production. B-side is more of the same. This reminds me of the majestic anthems that were so much fun back in the Big '80s. Where is Cave In headed? Your local FM station, they hope. And so do I.

Posted Jan. 30, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved



Frigid Forms Sell

Jade Tree

Rating: Yes

Originally released on D.C.-based Lovitt Records way back in 2000, this rerelease on Jade Tree blows away last year's Anaesthesia, thanks to a looser, jammier dance vibe. When the synths are at full effect, Milemarker is modernized synth-pop cross-pollinated seamlessly with angular post-modern guitars, resulting in new-art-prog by proxy. What the hell does that mean? The whole thing feels like the soundtrack to a horror film on the Sci-Fi Channel; the kind of music that would be playing in a bar in Blade Runner.

We're talking tear-your-head-off, D.C.-style angle-punk fused with futuristic synth noises and sneering vocals -- what would happen if you cross-bred The Faint with At the Drive In. "Cryogenic Sleep" is a laid-back indie stroller that changes gears, carving itself to pieces with bandsaw guitar, before dropping back into a robotic synth thing. On the trip-hoppin' "Industry for the Blind," synth/vocalist Roby Husick sounds like a strung-out Gwen Stefani, glowering over a synthesized haunted-house choir. The track ends with other-vocalist Dave Laney screaming PiL-style. Couldn't tell you what those two are singing about, though I imagine it's something either sexy or futuristic, judging by the bits and starts of lyrics: "Turn on the microwave and defrost the world." (Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery) or "She looked at me / With the biggest brown eyes / And screamed at me / Would you like to fuck?" (Sex Jam Two: Insect Incest).

Despite being all over the place, the Frigid Forms Sell is surprisingly thematic and, ultimately, danceable. What brings all the chaos together is Sean Husick's incredibly precise, powerful drumming. The sound coming from his set consistently propels every track with a sense of urgency, unsettling almost on the verge of panic.

 Posted Jan. 21, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

At the Speed of Light

Team AV

Rating: No

Prog-art instrumental "rock" in the Yes vein. Too often it's a mish-mash of fusion jazz sporting angular indie-rock guitars that do little more than annoy. The bulk of the CD's variety comes from shifting back and forth between a few unnoticeable chords. Though it's obvious that they're going out of their way to not be catchy, it would be nice if something on the CD were memorable other than the frantic speed and intricacy of the compositions. The result is tedium and monotony bordering on jam. Never is there a strong, central theme or melody, the kind that makes music by instrumental giants Pell Mell, The Album Leaf and Tristeza work so well.

Posted Jan. 30, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Alkaline Trio / Hot Water Music

Jade Tree

Rating: Yes

As much as I like Alkaline Trio, they're struggling here to give us something we haven't already heard before. Their tracks seem half-hearted mail-ins that'll be a must for Alk fans and no one else. This almost feels like Alkaline-lite, nice guitars, nice arrangements, relatively flat recording. "Rooftops" is the highlight of the first half, a nice pop-punk ballad if there ever was one, but all of this is errata compared to From Here to Infirmary, or Maybe I'll Catch on Fire.

By contrast, Hot Water Music is more alive and kicking. Maybe it's because the Gainesville quartet realizes they have more to gain from the split then the Chicago trio does, and as a result, have come to the party with more impressive licks. To be honest, if you were to judge by this split alone, you wouldn't notice a huge diff between these two angst-ridden bands, but you'd remember the Hot Water tracks a lot longer.

"Radio" and "Bleeder" sound like grown-up versions of Dashboard Confessional tracks, sung by an adult rather than a child. "Radio," with its line, "I've got a big fat fucking bone to pick with you, my darling," is the modern-day fist-pumping rock anthem we all used to love in the '80s, while the all-acoustic "Bleeder," with its uncredited cello (at least on my version), and the line "You came to me like a dream / Like the kind that always leaves" tries hard to emote and is only half-convincing.

Neither band really sounds like it's laying it on the line, but even half-hearted performances from these two are better than 90 percent of the DC-esque indie stuff out there these days. Part of the Jade Tree split CD/EP series. Time: 23:46

Posted Jan. 21, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Study & Research Manual 2001

Indian Burn Records Compilation

Indian Burn Records

Rating: No

Rarely has it been so hard to tell the winners from the also-rans on this 22-song comp that pretty much sums up the Omaha/Lincoln angry-young-man punk scene. Forget about the hardcore that was (thankfully) left off; this is mostly Blink/Green Day "punk/ska" fodder with an extra helping of fun-loving misogyny (Straight Outta Jr. High, The Thuggs). What's a matter guys? Can't find a girlfriend? With lyrics like these, here's hoping you never will. It's no surprise that there isn't a single female voice heard throughout this 65-minute boy's-only CD.

When it ain't being overtly anti-PC (and just plain hateful) it's juvenile in its attempts at irony. The bands that seem to try the least come off as the most genuine. Lincoln's Seasick Bob wins the "best of show" prize with a 3-minute toss-off that sounds like they're playing it for the first time. The Thuggs manage to delve to new lows in offensiveness, but you still can't help but shout along (if you're a guy).

Other stand-outs that deserve more than one listen and avoid the usual sanitized FM-friendly "punk" rock sound:

Carsinogents' ol' set standard, "Pest Control," is as good as ever, except for the noticeable drop-off in volume, thanks to this CD's overall poor mastering. Do yourself a favor and search-out their EP.

 Though sloppy, Rocket F.M.'s "Human Resources" is a nice slab of slacker-rock. Reminds me vaguely of Omaha circa 1994 (Cactus Nerve Thang or Culture Fire ring a bell?). 

Joe Avary ("Movie Star") has a neat voice and a nice, urban Urge Overkill delivery on his hand-made track. 

The Miscasts ("Rock Anthem") is the closest thing to hardcore here, and a breath of fresh air amid the CD's usual frat-party punk. 

The rest is MTV-ready sugar punk, well-played and uninspired. Too many times, the bands take the easy way out and give us nothing we haven't already heard a a few hundred times before. Comp CDs are suppose to provide a tidy record of a certain time in a region or genre. If that was the goal, this does an adequate job of summing up where Omaha's non-hardcore "punk" scene resides circa 2000+.

   Posted Dec. 17, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Sorry About Dresden

The Convenience of Indecision

Saddle Creek Records

Rating: Yes

My fear is that amid the new-hype crush of revivalist NYC Velvet tribute bands and the ongoing folk-rock slowcore undertow that this will be overlooked or discarded as just another indie band's stab at thoughtful big-guitar rock and roll. But whereas the Strokes do only a passable job stealing from Lou Reed and company (among others), SAD succeeds in marrying their nods to Elvis C. and Graham P. with the best shrugs of '90s-era indie slacker rock (who remembers Soul Asylum, Sugar and Superchunk?).

These days it's hard to find a melody in any indie song that you'd want to sing along to. There are at least six here at last count, with the very best falling into the anthem category. "I want to go back to sleep tonight / I'll never go back to sleep tonight" (One Version of Events); "I know where my sympathies lie / I know where my sympathy lies" (A Brilliant Ally); "What's the worst part? / In your eyes / In your eyes" (Deadship, Darkship). You'll be barking along with Matt Oberst and company after the first few spins, I guarantee it.

If Oberst does a passable Costello/Parker croon, he more than passes the songwriting audition; producing a better album than either of those two have in 10 years. Maybe S.A.D. isn't the latest cool thing, but this is consistently the first (and among the only) CD I reach for when I just want to enjoy myself.

Posted Dec. 11, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Neva Dinova

self titled


Rating: Yes

The last time I saw Neva Dinova was back in the '90s when they opened for Commander Venus at the old Capitol Bar and Grill in downtown Omaha. While I was generally bored with Commander Venus, I loved Neva. I remember thinking, 'Could these guys be any more laid-back on stage?' There were stops and starts during songs, general stage patter amongst themselves followed by quiet laughter, always looking down as if they were playing in their practice space. They didn't care what anyone thought about them. Their relaxed, kicked-back vibe was all over their music, as well.

Now with a different line up, and lots more guitars, things really haven't changed much. The band's self-titled self-released debut, recorded at Lincoln's Presto studios, is as quiet and laid-back as I remember, but with a much more professional sound and more obvious influences. The debut is a grab-bag of alt-rock musical styles that shift from track to track, but a few things are consistent -- lead vocalist's Jake Bellows' whimsy Thom Yorke-esque vocals and the overall slouched-shouldered feel of it all. Everything's all dreamy and echoey and cloudy -- this is the rock music you'll hear standing in line to talk to St. Peter.

Opener "The tin man" is a slow, dreamy Smiths-style ballad with those Yorke vocals ablazen. The trippy "Dances Fantastic" and the incendiary closing track are pre-OK Computer Radiohead (back when they were a rock band), complete with a big guitar break just past half-way through. "Lucifer's Lament" with its saw (as in the toolbox variety) accompaniment, and the surfy "Anita" are "Sea of Love"-style strollers that could just as easily been played on ukuleles as guitars. Bellows' vocals have a nice way of dropping from their Yorke upper octaves to an almost Mark Lanegan-ish tenor.

It all comes together, however, on the swaggering "Jesus' Choir," a slow, acoustic grinder that boils into an electric stripper's ballad, with Bellows belting out the chorus "You've got friends / In Jesus' choir" before easing back down again. The blistering "It's Worse When You're Young," sounds like it came right off Stephen Malkmus' (or the last Pavement) album, which isn't a bad thing at all. "Did You Disappoint Your God" feels like a quiet U2 track, with Bellows doing his best Bono impersonation.

The story-telling "Brooklyn," the most straight-forward lyrically and best of the bunch, ends up chugging along like a really good Feelies track. "I should have known something / When she called the police / I should have known something / When she asked me to leave."

They've been hyped as the next big thing to come out of the Omaha music scene. No, Neva Dinova hasn't exactly reinvented rock. They've instead took their favorites from the past decade and welded them into something new, recognizable and thoroughly enjoyable. For once, you can believe the hype.

   Posted Nov. 27, 2001. Published in the Omaha Weekly Nov. 28, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Shelter Belt

Nothing Makes Me Sad Ever


Rating: Yes

Talk about being "under the radar," this CD was released in February 2000 with no fanfare whatsoever. To this day, if you ask around, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone whose heard of Shelter Belt. Heck, the only reason I gave the CD a listen was because a few people prodded me into buying a copy by saying it was one of the best recordings produced by a local band in the last couple years. And they were right.

Though two years old, there's nothing dated about the music unless you consider the band's apparent influences, and then you have to go back a few decades -- there's little resemblance any current-day indie, punk or rock music.

The 9-piece band from Omaha, Lincoln and Blair is led by singer/songwriter Jesse Otto, who takes a traditional approach toward laid-back, feel-good rock. Opener "I Care About That," uses the entire ensemble to the greatest advantage and sounds like a jumpy Pinetop Seven number, complete with prominent trumpet/trombone line. But that's about it when it comes to the brass. For the rest, look for easy-going, acoustic-driven rock. "Gastonnbridge" has an Elton John Tumbleweed Connection feel to it. "Math" and "Bomb" herald back to early Buckingham/Nicks territory thanks to Otto's Lindsey-esque voice and Andrea Bloomquist's harmonies; while "Take" reminds me of '70s Todd Rundgren. From a more contemporary stance, there's a distinct David & David, Counting Crows and Ben Folds jonze goin' on throughout this massive 65-minute tome that boasts songs that stretch over the 8-minute mark. Could it have used some editing? Sure, but you can't blame them for pushing a good idea as far as possible.

Two years later, looks like Shelter Belt is making another go of it. The band has regrouped with a few line-up changes and is playing gigs, including a Dec. 7 gig at all-ages club Rebels in Council Bluffs before they re-enter the studio for a new release due next spring. Regardless, Nothing… is a helluva find and an excellent introduction to a band that hopefully will create loud echoes on the local music radar screen.

Posted Nov. 27, 2001. Published in the Omaha Weekly Nov. 28, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The New Year

Newness Ends

Touch & Go Records

Rating: Yes

Bedhead were always one of my favorite bands, emerging as a so-called "slow-core" savior after the sunset of Galaxy 500, a band who they initially most closely resembled. They grew past that, adding some of the same driving/building dialogue that fueled bands like The Feelies oh so many years ago.

There will be comparisons to Bedhead -- the Kadane brothers' last foray -- and they'll be appropriate. The most striking difference is in their vocals. I can hear and understand them really for the first time, and that's a good thing.

With The New Year, we see the Kadanes now teamed with Come's Chris Brokaw on drums and former Saturnine bassist Mike Donofrio, with Uberengineer Steve Albini behind the knobs. The result is Bedhead-esque, but with a more focused urgency, greater dynamics and better vocals.

Kadane is the ultimate sad-dog singer from the Lou Reed school of just getting by, complaining his lyrics more than singing them in a low, mumbled drawl. He defines "deadpan," raising it to an art form.

On the best tracks, the music they create has the same cathartic feeling as traveling through a cave for hours before finally breaking through to daylight; or running alone in the back of a marathon, covered with sweat and fear and uncertainty always on the verge of collapse only to fall into the outstretched arms of a loved one after crossing the finish line. Is that too much to ask from popular music? If you like this, run out and buy the Bedhead back catalog.

Posted Nov. 18, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Red Level Eleven

Fort Seduction


Rating: Yes

Fluid post-punk power-pop (yeah, I said pop) by way of The Pixies but without that band's unique quirkiness. What's left are lots of chunky, indie-style power chords, some fuzzy-howling lead guitars and a rhythm section that chug-a-lugs like a nice guy's version of Nirvana. Michelle Williams' angelic voice, in harmony with itself, is a dead ringer for those heavenly Azure Ray girls. Must be something in all that Georgia sunshine.

Overall, a well-played but unstructured self-released debut, as if they've been playing these songs live for months and thought it was high time to get them down on tape. The result is a hit-and-miss mixture of solid Williams-led numbers, instrumentals and noisy howling by guitarist "vocalist" Patrick Hill. The Pixies/Breeders influence dominates -- think of this as a catchier version of Pod without the sticky imagery.

When there are words, they don't say much -- mostly blank-verse dyslectic haikus like on the grungy "Brunswick Bridge": Cars of crash / Connect a bridge / Thick of fog / They couldn't hear. Huh? And while Williams coos with the best of them, a little more enunciation couldn't hurt. It's the overall sound that carries them through, though I can't wait to see what happens when they sit down and record a more coherent, unified project.

Posted Nov. 16, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Books on Tape

Test Pressure


Rating: No

Books on Tape is Todd Drootin, another guy who uses computer gear to make machine music out of his bedroom. And though this isn't a bad stab at home-made electronica / techno / whatever, there's way too much focus on beats and not enough on, well, music. But then again, maybe Drootin ain't too concerned about making music as much as making interesting noises, which he does pretty well. But lets face it, gee-whiz ping-pops can only go so far.

Opening track, "Take Initiative," sets off the rest of the CD nicely with its break-beat background and plethora of interesting counters -- a real head-bobber. Track two ain't bad, either. But track three is a real irritating snoozer, thanks to a particularly jarring sound effect and a general lack of melody. The rest is variations on the same intricate, beat-dense themes. Lots of counters, lots of neat fills, lots of interesting little electronic bloop-bleep touches, but nothing you're gonna remember after the click track stops.

Find it at

   Posted Nov. 15, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Reindeer Section

Y'all Get Scared Now, Ya Hear!

PIAS America

Rating: Yes

The CD's sticker bellows: "Featuring members of Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Arab Strap, and Snow Patrol." I'm not followers of any of them, and, that said, this is among the best acoustic-based soother-indie (soothie-rock?) I've heard this year. The basic recipe is down, droll vocals provided by a cast of characters but dominated by Gary Lightbody; a strummed guitar, light keyboard accents and snare-and-brush percussion on medium- to slow-paced ballads. Not to mention terrific frontier harmonies.

There are definite Low/Red House Painters/Mark Eitzel/ (quiet)Sebadoh/Folk Implosion overtones throughout these pretty love songs with lyrics like "Be my guide, be my pilot / Be the breath on my face / Be the arms aching for me / Be the heart in my chest". Ain't that sweet?

What separates this from the other down-sound masters listed above is an even better ear for hooks and melodies. Unlike Low and Eitzel, the music isn't entirely dour; unlike The RHPs, the tracks average about three minutes each; unlike Lou Barlow's projects, the music is consistently spot-on good.

About half-way through, the crew (unlike Santa's standard 8-reindeer team, there's 15 performers credited in this Section) ratchet-up the pace and throw in some cutting electric guitars without disturbing the earthy vibe. Too bad this  "super group" is apparently only a side project.

Published in the Omaha Weekly Nov. 7, 2001. Posted here Sept. 24, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



Jade Tree

Rating: No

Apparently they used to be a hardcore band, until they discovered synths. The Chicago-based four-piece has woven in some '80s-style keyboards that rarely compliment the mix, merely adding useless garnish to an already rather flavorless meal. The result is sort of a New Wave minor-key art rock (and if that's not redundant, I don’t know what is) that's old Psych Furs meets The Cure, but without those bands' tunefulness and subtlety.

Roby Newton's vocals are a girlish cross between Thalia Zedek and Chrissie Hynde, and come off rather theatrical on operatic, anthem rock arrangements such as the gothy "Food for Worms," and the 7-plus-minute Cure-esque droner "Lost the Thoughts But Kept the Skin."

"A Quick Trip to the Clinic," is blah Devo jump-dance lain flat by Dave Laney's rather whispy vocals. It's all very '80s with the simple synths to match.

Optimum effectiveness is achieved on "Ant Architect," a dark, 6/8 electronic waltz that dives in and out of the fray with mathy precision and the creepy line, "We can suture the future shut like a cut / We can replicate structures that replicate us." Again, it all reminds me of those droning, non-dance numbers on old Cure albums, the ones you skipped past to get to "Hot, Hot, Hot." Still, it alone almost makes this CD worth the purchase. Almost.

At just over seven minutes, "The Installment Plan" feels like it goes on for seven hours. Ah, but it is the CD closer, after all. Yet another minor-key droner with Newton's dead-on Zedek vocals. You're better off picking up a copy of Been Here and Gone.

   Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 7, 2001. Posted Sept. 20, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Son, Ambulance


Saddle Creek Records

Rating: Yes

In the gloomy, broken-hearted world of Saddle Creek Records, Joe Knapp and Son, Ambulance are a warm crush of love; hope amidst the label's dark, sonic storm clouds that cast a pall over the business-as-usual funeral proceedings. Knapp is Maude to Conor Oberst's Harold. He is James Taylor and Joni Mitchell to Oberst's Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. He is Paul to Oberst's John.

Label mates, former room mates and friends, it's inevitable that Knapp and Oberst will be compared with each other, and ultimately, it's unfair -- their on-tape personas almost polar opposites. Oberst always quivering as if he's about to explode out of sheer desperation and hopelessness, while Knapp is a voice of resignation, almost soothing in its childlike resolve.

On a CD that takes his song writing to a level hinted at on Oh Holy Fools, Knapp and company have created a wholly affecting 42 minutes that push sentimentality to new levels of achingly glorious yearning. His voice is a quiet Kermit the Frog or Ernie with a slight sinus condition on songs that present him as a boyish story-teller focused more on the future than the past.

Opening track "An Instant Death" is a six-minute song cycle that goes from an acoustic ghost story to a guitar-driven rocker and back again. "Maria in Motion," is a Latin-esque flamenco dance of a lovesong with the line, "She's just a child / Who asked me to make her a woman / But I am not the one / Who paid for her clothes and her schooling," anchored by a haunting keyboard-driven counter-melody.

The Oberst influence is glaringly apparent on "A Book Laid On It's Binding" that sounds like it was lifted straight off Fevers and Mirrors, right down to its pulsing organ chime.

It's not all engaging. "The Anonymous" is right off an early Paul Simon album, one of his quiet, boring ones. "Like a Friend" stutters along like a tumbleweed or a broken toy looking for a melody and never quite finding it.

And when it comes to being cheerful, nothing exceeds "I Promise You'll Never Grow Old," where Knapp weaves in the theme to Sesame Street after one of the verses, an effect that's at first embarrassing but grows on you after time, and seems appropriate, considering the song's subject matter. It'll be interesting to see how it goes over in a smoke-filled club filled with jaded scenesters.

The last two tracks are the best things the band has ever recorded. "A New Dress for Maybell" is Knapp and his piano and is stunningly beautiful; the first song I've played in my car in a long time in which I immediately hit the "repeat" button after it ended. It's the closest thing I've heard in years to Joni Mitchell's Blue-era longing. The 6/8 waltz is Knapp laid open and honest in what reads like an ode to his old roommate: "The ink that sweats beneath his eyes / Spoke of pain where comfort lies / And I watched him pen a perfect sonnet / Even as he cried." 

"Violet," the album closer features that same roommate on a guest vocal (thankfully lacking the usual I'm-about-to-cry trembling) that adds a warm counter to Knapp's hollow range.

Seems like Knapp has always been the label's dark horse bet, a lame philly to those who soaked in Saddle Creek's misery, a comfortable side bet placed to cover the asses of those who find overkill in all the wallowing. He's the late-comer at a label that, sooner than not, will be crowded with them. I don't think they realize what they have in Knapp and Euphemystic, one of the most thought-out, tuneful and elegant releases in the label's brief but storied history.

Posted Sept. 8, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Pioneer Disaster

"Texas," "Bootstraps" b/w "Cactus Town" 7-inch

Speed Nebraska Records

Rating: Yes

o this is how it all began.

Three songs from the 1991, 5-song "Oh My Land" cassette, recorded at the world-renowned Junior's Motel in Otho, Iowa, way back just before Omaha's first punk golden age. Pioneer Disaster was seed-cap farmhand icon Gary Dean Davis' precursor to the tractor punk "movement" that he invented, then destroyed, then reinvented with every new incarnation. It was angrier than the Frontier Trust/D is for Dragster descendants, and only time will tell if his latest manifestation, The Monroes, will just as proudly wave the dusty freedom flag that Davis has carried like the pseudo-intellectual, political savvy redneck that we're all so proud of.

All wet behind the ears, Pioneer Disaster was political venting at its most unrefined, uninhibited and unrehearsed. In addition to Davis on lead howl, the band featured guitarist Joe Fogarty, bassist Bob Garfield, and now legendary Omaha drummer Joe Kobjerowski -- all young, all eager, all mad at a world that only madmen like Ronald Reagan and Daddy Bush could have created.

The two-song "side one" opens with the gun-toting, truck-stomping anthem "Texas," that holds a mirror up to America's own red, white and blue-colored arrogance, with coy, inspirational lyrics like, "Well you invade Panama / You took over Granada too / You march into the Philippines like it was yesterday's lunch / Well this one here's for you," hollered over a twanging, hillbilly-hippy guitar that rides as rough as a rusty '68 Dodge pickup slamming through a cornfield. Song two, "Bootstraps," is a punk back-beat hick-rant about hard times in Reagonomics America that a musical patriot like little Johnny Cougar could have sang if he were a real man. Side 2's "Cactus Town" carries on the "big business vs. the little man" credo that would be cheesy except that our protagonists -- a modern day Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate -- end up making ends meet by knocking over random 7-11s, not knowing which way they were headed, but knowing where they came from.

This is sloppy, southern-tinged punk verging unapologetically on hippy rock; rough around the edges, dirty and unashamed. And with a message. The record's liner notes, written by Monroes' bassist Mike Tulis, give a brief historical summary of what drove the original recordings -- Davis' disgust in an "economic policy which, in just eleven years, had nearly throttled the life out of the Populist Party's legacy," adding that "Now, in the year 2001, 'Reagonomics' has returned to the White House." With today's massive lay-offs and an uncertain economy, seems like the time is ripe for a re-release.

This is a must-own for fans of The Monroes and Frontier Trust, or anyone who still has a turntable and isn't afraid of hook-filled punk. Plus, it's pressed on irresistible clear red vinyl. Available at your favorite independently owned record store.

  Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 29, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Kill Your Idols

Funeral for a Feeling

Side One Dummy

Rating: No

Doesn't really get roaring until track 6, "A Better Place." But that's because there's a cool change-up halfway through the song that turns their typical hardcore into tough-skinned Thin Lizzy. It also underscores the problem with having generalist critics reviewing hardcore -- they're going to look for any slight deviation from the formula and then laud it. For example, the next track, "All the Difference," tries for melody and succeeds at turning a typical day in the pit into something beyond hardcore. Track 8, "This is Not Goodbye, Just Good Night," opens with a melodic guitar riff, and then deploys a staggered rock backbeat and power chords.

The question: Does Kill Your Idols really want to go beyond typical hardcore and embrace the masses? The cracks in the veneer that glimmer through the boot-stomping hardcore that permeates this album prove that they could do it. But not yet. And for their fans, that's probably a good thing. People outside the scene, who are listening to this on their hi-fi's and not in a sweat-drenched venue, aren't going to get it and will be quickly bored.

 Posted July 29, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Elevator Division


Department Records

Rating: No

I liken James Hoskins' slight, fey vocal style to Toad the Wet Sprocket's, and on tracks where the sound is down, there is more than a slight resemblance to that band. When it's upstyle (on about half of the nine tracks that make up the CD's 35 minutes), there's nods to Spoon and a handful of quieter, melodic math rock outfits. You're not getting a sonic breakthrough here; you've heard most of this dreamy stuff before by bands that are as good or better than these guys. So whereas this isn't offensive fodder, it's hardly interesting. A little variety would have gone a long, long way. Which is not to say that this Kansas City 3-piece doesn't have potential. They have the chops to make something special, that is if they still even exist. Though Movement is a 2001 release, the band's Web site,, shows that they haven't played live since Nov. 29, 2000, at KC's El Torreon.

Posted July 29, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Burst and Bloom

Saddle Creek

Rating: Yes

Burst and Bloom takes off where the catchy numbers on last year's epic, Domestica, left off. Taken as a whole, that album was an emotional peep show into the open wound that was lead singer Tim Kasher's dismal, failed marriage. Its confessional concept was thoroughly engaging, but taken track by track only three songs would have made it onto one of my personal mix tapes. Not this time -- almost every song on the new EP stands on its own, drum-battered feet.

On the opener, "Sink to the Beat," Kasher has fun with those who consistently peg Cursive's "DC sound," as "Shudder To Think, Fugazi and Chapel Hill around the early '90s." The self-description is more of a confession or acknowledgment than a jab. Those elements are apparent, but not overpowering. Instead, Cursive's snarling, angular sound, anchored by a solid rhythm section, continues to broaden, thanks in part to the addition of cellist Gretta Cohn, whose at-once-subtle then-hammering style is all over the place. At more serious moments, such as "Tall Tales, Telltales," Cohn's cello adds a sort of "Kasmir"-ish drama to the counter-melody. While on "Fairy Tales Tell Tales" (do I sense a trend in the song titles?), Cohn can slide under the melody at the quietest moments, intertwining with Matt Maginn's soulful bass, then just as subtly rise above the power chord melee.

Lyrically, Kasher's confessional side outstrips his philosophical one. It was the searing glance into his personal life that made Domestica so powerful. Whereas on the pouncy "Mothership, Mothership, Do You Read Me" with the line "Your navel is yearning for an extension - a ghost limb / It can't detach from mother's grasp" Kasher is reaching for a relevant metaphor and retrieving handfuls of warmed-over platitudes.

Not so on the rest of the EP. "Fairy Tales Tell Tales" -- the CD's high-water mark -- reads like a Domestica outtake, with lines like "Let's pretend we're not needy / Let's pretend our hearts still beat / Let's pretend we fall in love tonight / Clumsy enough to fall for anything." This is the stuff that boils over during the late, lonely hours. Kasher draws a character still healing months after a traumatic break-up, who realizes he's losing hope of ever being happy again, singing 'Who am I if I'm alone? I hardly exist at all'. Meanwhile, "The Great Decay" is the morning after, bleached in a reality of bitter resentment toward a world he both despises and ultimately accepts.

I don't know if its producer Mike Mogis' experience perfecting synths for The Faint CDs or Kasher's hold-over concepts from his other project, The Good Life, but there's a risk that more electronic drums will slide into Cursive CDs. That would be a shame. The 30-second electronic drum-driven epilogue on "Mothership…" for example, is a distracting, self-indulgent temper tantrum that adds nothing to the song. This flirtation with electronics only underscores that it is Clint Schnase who makes this train go. One of my favorite drummers, Schase's stickwork is thunderous and deft and always, always hypnotic.

Clocking in at over 21 minutes, Burst and Bloom has more depth and intensity than your typical commercial double album these days, and is a promising prelude to the band's upcoming full-length.

Posted July 25, 2001. Published in The Omaha Weekly July 25, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Jimmy Eat World

Bleed American


Rating: Yes

You can see why Dreamworks bit on this one. Though not an epic departure from typical J.E.W. fodder, Bleed American is a definite stab at radio music. Because they don't stray entirely from their identifiable sound, they avoid the typical hum-drum mainstream pitfalls.

When they sing "Crimson and clover / Over and over" on "A Praise Chorus," it's a tip-off that they're searching for the melodies that used to elude them. When the song ends with the phrase "Wanna fall in love tonight" followers of the D.C.-flavored post-punk band with Fugazi overtones might feel commercially betrayed.

The trend is obvious. The acoustic dreamer "Your House" could have been written by John Mellencamp, or (eek!) Dashboard Confessional. It's sappy. As is "Hear You Me," which borders on current-day Goo Goo Dolls fare. The smooth softie "If You Don't Don't" is John Waites '80s rock. While the straight-ahead "The Authority Song," would be interesting if it were a little more ironic, and a little less obvious.

More appealing are the noisy stabs at guitar rock, like the intense opening track -- maybe my all-time favorite J.E.W. song -- as well as the marvelous "Sweetness" with its call-and-roar sing/guitar interplay and the Weezer-ish "Get It Faster," which chugs along with just the right amount of fist-wagging panache.

But, like the CD's centerpiece "Cautioners," and closer "My Sundown," which stretch out over five minutes and sound like music played during a movie credit roll, Bleed American too often takes the easy road to easy listening. It's these moments of lifeless, formulaic non-style that almost assures it will get picked up on national alt-rock play lists. Which doesn't make it bad, just too-often boring.

It's easy to be critical of a band so eagerly searching for a breakthrough. To their credit, J.E.W. didn't fall into the a same pitfall as last year's Jets to Brazil backfire. Unlike that failure, if you revisit Bleed American -- again and again -- it will grow on you, just like any good radio song should.

  Posted July 25, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Paula Frazer

Indoor Universe

Birdman Records

Rating: Yes

Frazer is an elegant chanteuse, a torch singer in indie rock garb with a voice of an angel. 

To be honest, she's more of a western-folkie than an indie rocker, best known for her work performing in Tarnation, a gig she hung up in '98 after three acclaimed CDs.

On this one, she brings three distinct styles to the table. Most of the CD is dedicated to fun-lovin' love songs like "This is a Song," "Think of Me" "Not So Bad, But Not So Good," brisk tumble-about acoustic shufflers, happily bouncing melody off accordion, off keyboards, off lilting rhythms and Frazer's sweet voice. These simple pop songs place her alongside some of today's strongest songwriters including Aimee Mann, as well heroes of yesterday like Edie Brickell and Suzanne Vega.

Just as embracing are the ballads, like the chiming, "Gone," and the haunting "We Met by the Love Lies Bleeding." Frazer belts them out like a latter-day Linda Ronstadt or Patsy Cline, complete with lush Nelson Riddle-esque orchestration.

Finally, there's her bosso-western face -- Frazer in black bolero hat and veils on the opener "Stay As You Are" and the dramatic, noir-ish "Deep Was the Night." They make you want to stomp your black stiletto heels.

The contrast between the three styles are interwoven by Frazer's shimmering, sincere voice. This is music you listen to when you've put away those dirty rock and roll records for the evening and want to get lost in something sonically broader, lyrically grounded and altogether mesmerizing.

Posted June 20, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Burning Airlines


DeSoto Records

Rating: Yes

Tempering its sound from the early days of Jawbox, a band whose shadow they continue to crawl from out of, and soothing the edges slightly from their first album, Identikit has all the markings of being their long-deserved breakout album. It certainly has the hooks and attitude to make it comfortable beyond college radio.

For the first time, Burning Airlines embraces oh-so-slightly the mainstream of indie rock (if there can be one) -- think latter-year XTC or Catherine Wheel, but with enough angles to keep it interesting and angry. And maybe its my hometown bias, but doesn’t the title track and buzzer "A Song with No Words" sound like J. Robbins has been listening to a lot of Cursive lately?

Vocalist/mastermind Robbins has more strut and pomp these days, more confidence and swagger, like someone who knows he's got it going, and in fact, does. In fact, Identikit is more about sass than angst. A song like "Morricone Dancehall," with its line "Without the body, there is no crime," and its rapid-fire, scatty vocals spits in your face with "take that!" attitude. This CD burns from one end to another -- hard, fast rock with enough pop sensibility to grab the ear of your typical alt-radio programmer if he/she had an inkling of taste. The best rock CD so far this year, and it's been a very good year indeed.

   Posted May 22, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


A Future Lived in Past Tense

DeSoto Records

Rating: Yes

A massive 69:55 tome (actually, only 68:46 if you don't count the pointless "hidden track"), it will unfairly and inaccurately get compared to Radiohead's more recent outings because of its grandiose scope. In fact, it has more in common with Disintegration-era Cure, early Peter Gabriel (albeit, a guitar-driven one), and even the last release by Elliott (but, of course, this is a whole lot better).

At the CD's core are a couple long droners. The 10-minute-plus "The French Letter," starts and ends at a languid pace, building to an almost obligatory epic ending around the lyric "Mistaking might for miracles." It's followed by a simple guitar-only chimer and an 8-minute Robbie Robertson-style spoken word piece that you can't follow without the lyric sheet and that begs you to forward past. Then comes the 9-plus-minute "We Slept in Rented Rooms (the Old School Bush)," which sounds a whole lot like "The French Letter" -- the same pace, the same downtrodden vocals, the same My Bloody Valentine sheen. The difference is a soulful guitar counter-melody halfway through that warms everything.

So can two almost 10-minute crawlers hold your attention? Yeah, much in the same way a Bedhead or The New Year song does by building slowly throughout the song's entirety, adding haunting, shimmering noises and lifting vocals. There's not too many sprawling, epic indie rock CDs out these days -- the term is an oxymoron considering that most indie CDs are around 30 minutes long, contain 13 to 15 two- to three-minute songs, or are simply released as a 5- or 6-song EP. Juno manages what hasn't been done since the '70s era of concept albums -- they keep you transfixed until the bitter end, then force you to hit the play button again.

Posted May 22, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Strike Anywhere

Chorus of One

Jade Tree

Rating: Yes

Every year there's at least one punk album that turns my head, that I can't stop listening to, that makes me think that the genre isn't dead or doesn't need to die. This is it for 2001. Strike Anywhere have managed to harness the chaos of hardcore and fuse it seamlessly with the right amount of rock sensibility to create the perfect noise of joyous dissent. By the time the epic proportions of "The Cassandratic Equation," with its shout chorus -- "Underground / America / 1999 / But it could be any year / Anywhere" -- you'll be ready to take up arms with the rest of them.

They're bound to be compared to bands like Avail, Boy Sets Fire, and a handful of hardcore acts, but surpass those poseurs because they understand that without that hint of melody, their hyper-backbeat percussive violence would just become boring, and the message would be lost.

I suppose like other hardcore acts the message comes first, and there's nothing new from that standpoint -- the repressed, the robotic workers, the victims of corporate and government lies (that would be you) against a system always evil and in control. The title track opens with this solvo: "To live in discontent / Anti-establishment / Since the day we were born / If we just look inside / Each of us / A thousand rebellions sleep." From there, the song centers around Thomas Barnett's promise "I will try everything / To kill the sleeping cop in me" as if he recognizes that he, too, could go awash in the system. It works because you believe these guys mean it. An amazing debut that keeps hope alive for punk's always tentative future.

Posted May 22, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


So, this is how it is

Suburban Sprawl Music

Rating: No

The Midwest-based four-piece work out of the angular, indie school of post-punk rock -- lots of syncopated guitar/bass interplay with staccato rhythms. This style of music lives and dies on its precision. Unfortunately, it all sounds rather muddy on this debut full-length. Add to that Lincoln, Nebraska-native Elaine Doty's sweet but mumbled, mushy vocals and these songs' overall lack of solid melodies and things get pretty messy. Doty's thin-as-an-onion-skin, yearning voice almost sounds out of place amid the jingle-jangle-jumble of guitars and distortion.

More often than not, Nymb plods when it aims to trot; is foggy when it wants to be crystal-clear. Still, the band has its moments. "20 Mobiles for Gazing" comes closest to capturing the band's heady live vibe. But like much of the CD, it's way too complicated. Simplify, or at least make it sound like you're trying to. It's the simplicity of the CD's two closers, "Need for Attention" and "Timeline," with their slight, echoing guitars, warm even bass and Doty's now-enunciated vocals that make them such a stark and pleasing contrast to the rest of the CD's unfiltered mess.

Posted May 22, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Crap Circles

The Jim Jacobi Chronicles: Crap Detectors and Beyond 1978-2001


Rating: Yes

Was Lincoln, Neb., a hotbed of the original punk rock music movement circa late 1970s? Judging by this exhaustive 23-song chronicle that spans more than 20 years and almost 70 minutes, you would think so. Corn-fed Sex Pistols perhaps? The earliest tracks here have the same groove as the Pistols, Ramones and the Buzzcocks. By 1980, the band had already shifted its sound to post-punk and pretty much stayed there for the rest of its career even into the late '90s.

The recording quality, as well as the general quality of punk, was quite good. A band could do a lot worse than covering a fist-pounder like "Intellectual Morons." "Police State" is snarling and raw, with the dictum: "If you want it/That's how you get it." Nice. "Self Indulgent Song" sounds like it was lifted right off Talking Heads' Fear of Music right down to Jacobi's David Byrne howling. "Feed the Rats" has a distinctly B-52s "Rock Lobster" feel to it. And so on. At times, the music borders on Rocky Horror frivolity. Jacobi's gutteral punk grunt is the thread that holds it all together throughout the subtle shifts in punk rock styles.

It's not all aping. The '81 track "Expatriots of Reality," with its weird beat nightclub sax shuck, rolling bass and chopping guitar at the chorus is one of a kind. And the barking on "Feeling Amputee 1983" is indeed unique, if not bizarre.

Was Jim Jacobi the punk-other to fellow Lincolnite Charlie Burton's twanging caterwaul? We'll never know. As a document of the band's history, fans can't go wrong. For the rest of us who weren't around back in the day, this is an interesting, if not nostalgic, retreat from today's hump-geek-rap rock that's inaccurately deemed punk.

   Published in The Omaha Weekly, May 23, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Alien Life



Rating: No

The New York-based trio take a stab at what's known these days as "alternative rock," a definition set aside specifically for that genre of music that doesn't sound like "classic rock," yet is friendly enough to sit nicely alongside fop by crap bands like Limp Bizkit or Creed or Godsmack. Translated: This is pretty boring, though well-performed, stuff that will appeal to those who enjoy Stone Temple Pilots, Stain'd or whomever they're playing on your local version of K-Rock.

The band owes a great debt to STP and Soundgarden, but obviously lacks those bands' innovations. More disheartening is how they take the beginnings of songs made famous by other bands and seem to copy them note for note. Turn it into a drinking game at your next party. "Anybody Jane?" cranks open like the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks chest-pounder "Stop Dragging My Heart Around." "Living in a Satellite" opens like R.E.M.'s "Texarkana." And so on. This is unfortunate, especially in the last case, where the song shifts into an obvious John Mellencamp homage.

Okay, so we've established that Alien Life isn't exactly trying to invent a new sound. If their goal is to turn the ear of a national radio programmer, they might succeed since nothing sells like familiarity with the great unwashed masses. For the rest of us, it's the same ol' thing.

Posted May 16, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Dashboard Confessional

The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most


Rating: No

Alternative Press recently published its list of the "best breakup albums of all time," or something like that. As usual, the list leaves off a lot of classics. Where's Joni Mitchell's Blue? Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine? Bob Mould's Black Sheets of Rain? Those were my choices for getting through the "get lost" blues. 

Dashboard Confessional takes a stab at the tradition of creating music that only those who've been dumped, deceived or betrayed can understand and embrace. These songs are directed with laser-beam accuracy toward the 18-and-under crowd who are looking for allies in their lost battles with love.

The first-person lyrics -- directed at an ex-lover -- are painfully simple but too often cross into trite territory. Let's be honest, when you're wandering blankly in the aftershock of being dumped, trite is exactly what you're looking for. Especially if you're young and this is your first heartbreak and you're just starting to realize no one really gives a shit about your situation.

I can already hear the kids singing every word to "The Best Deceptions" -- with the lyric And all the 'Best Deceptions' and 'Clever Cover Story' awards go to you/So kiss me hard 'cause this will be the last time that I let you -- while they lean forward to touch mastermind Christopher Ender Carrabba's hand, weeping unashamedly.

Unfortunately, Carrabba has a nasty habit of going too far, like on the treacle-y "This Bitter Pill," which borders on the work of Corey Flood, the character played by Lili Taylor in Say Anything, who uttered the movie's most pathetic line: "I've written 57 songs about Joe, and I'm gonna sing every one of them tonight," while, off to the side, people are snickering at her.

The CD's ultimate downfall is its all-too-often juvenile approach. Anyone over 18 will merely shake their heads and say, "Yeah, it does suck, but you'll survive." And those who've never been on the business end of the relationship sword won't get it all. They'll only hear whiney, cry-baby, "poor me" music mixed with a twist of self-loathing. Carrabba's high-school voice betrays commercial intentions and will keep The Places You Have Come... forever off that AP list and instead, as in my case and anyone over 20, places it in the "guilty pleasures" category. 

   Posted May 10, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Orange

Big Space Mission

Wednesday Records

Rating: No

Sounds a whole lot like Hoodoo Gurus to me. Party lite-rock circa early-'90s, The Orange (seems like there's a dozen bands with "Orange" in their names these days) come off as a bunch of nice guys who've had some luck drawing an audience at their local Pennsylvania lounge and thought it was time to put out a CD of their favorite crowd-pleasers. The results are predictable. "The Nomad Way," slides into cheesy sing-a-long, go-go lounge territory that breaks into a sort of soft-core Blink song, as does "Guarding the Coast of Wyoming," which kind of tries for a Weezer blue album thing and doesn't quite get there, though judging by the applause, the crowd doesn't mind. Harmonies throughout this 5-song EP too often sound barbershop quartet-esque. Nice and harmless, though not very interesting.

Posted May 10, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Headless Horseman Is a Preacher


Rating: Yes

If this were released by a larger indie -- Subpop, Jade Tree, Saddle Creek, etc. -- there would be instant hype and people clammering to get a copy. Instead, it's released on tiny Smokeylung Records and the CD's underside has that distinctive, light-blue-metallic hue that screams CDR. Don't be fooled, this is no amateur job.

This time out, Brando's music is more laid back, more tuneful and assured than on The Adder, the combo's last effort. They're often compared to The Beatles, but in fact tracks here more closely resemble late-era John Lennon, specifically the quiet, shuffle-y rock stuff from his last few albums. Lead singer Derek Richey's nasal voice falls somewhere between Lennon, Pere Ubu's David Thomas and Galaxie 500/Luna's Wareham, while their mostly laid-back, dreamy melodies resemble quieter Guided By Voices or Sister Lover era Big Star.

Standouts: The angular, minimal "The Fight Club Song," the laid-back, bass-driven "Hold Me Mine" with its distinctive Lennon-esque vocals that are only eclipsed by the piano-driven "The Leaving in Ayetch," which is Brando's "No. 9 Dream." "When in Rome," which is listed but not included in the lyric sheet and credits, is a Bowie-esque sing-along with a very cool chop guitar part. "Don't Trifle" and "Theories of Division" are as Guided by Voices as you can get without taking on Bob Pollard's road-hardened beer gut.

At almost 50 minutes, Headless Horseman is a buffet of musical styles and influences, and is consistently enjoyable. There is, however, something quirky about their music, in sort of a Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 sort of way. The music is straightforward, but then again, there's a strangeness about it that makes it unique and will either pique your ear or immediately turn you off.

Bands like Brando never fail to amaze me in their sheer chutzpah of continually putting out CDR after CDR, getting their material to their targeted industry outlets, their apparent failure to get the break they deserve, and their perseverance to continue recording. The fact that they don't play live (guitarist Nate Bryant lives in Brazil) and because they're not defining a new, as-yet-unheard-of sound, they'll always flounder in obscurity, discounted as just another minor-league player in the already bloated world of independent rock music. And that's a shame, because I know there is an audience out there among the great, unwashed masses for this kind of music, and it's sizeable.

   Posted April 13, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Dallas Orbiter



Rating: No

Another attempt at replicating the Radiohead formula of lilting, synth-driven pop-lite, and not a bad one at that except too many songs on the CDR-EP are near replicas of past Radiohead fodder. "Sketchingairboarneisabel" melds the opening chorus of old Radiohead standard "Creep" with a refrain that comes right off OKC. Doesn't help that the vocalist's voice is a nasal version of Thom Yorke's, minus the range. And while we're at it, there isn't much range from song to song, in either pace or melody. When they try to mix it up, like on the snoozer "All This," the energy seems sapped. "Memory/Samples" takes a similar tact but builds through to the end, and lord knows the dynamics are needed. I generally like ethereal synth-driven dream music like this, but this Minneapolis trio's efforts lack melodies and variety, and as a result, are more apt to lull you to sleep. Not too bad for a demo, but they'll have to do better when it comes time for the real thing.

Posted April 10, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Tony Baloney and the Hot Dogs



Rating: Yes

I have to admit, it took some convincing just to get past the CD artwork. What was this, a homemade comedy album? Maybe a collection of birthday party favorites? The lesson here: Bands, don't underestimate the power of your CD jacket artwork. No one who receives this CD cold in the mail will expect what lies inside, and the critics, radio stations and labels -- who receive hundreds of releases per week -- will never even take the time to listen to what's inside,, discarding it merely for its cheesy CD sleeve art.

And that would be a mistake.

I discovered Pat Metheny after seeing the movie "Fandango" and being absolutely slayed by the Metheny music on the soundtrack. I ran out and bought a couple of his albums the next day, then had a chance to see him in concert when he blew through Omaha.

Omaha-based Tony Baloney has the same, spacey feel that earmarks Metheny's earlier recordings. Emotive, simple guitar, inventive accompaniment, and enough variety in each song to keep these instrumental-only tracks interesting and arresting.

The best tracks build from a solid foundation. Opener "Raija" sounds exactly like it came off Metheny's As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, with its amped acoustic guitar tones, shuffling accompaniment, lilting piano/synth, all building to a satisfying crescendo. The Santana-esque rocker "Rock Sand," with its Latin-tinged fuzz guitar building on a simple melody, is another corker. Guitar and piano interplay perfectly on the soother "Courtney" -- another very Metheny moment.

The last half of the CD is recorded live and is hit-and-miss. "Just Wait," is a bongo-fueled exercise in meandering that borders on creative noodling. "Whatever Happens," with its scat vocals, never gets into a groove. But "LiL" puts an adequate disclaimer on the band's live abilities, and the elegant "Tiger Dreams" is absolutely wonderful.

Now, back to the flogging. Tony Baloney -- real name Tony Bates -- ain't doing himself any favors with his corny name that screams "Nebraska hick." It certainly doesn't do justice to his seriously entertaining music. It's a shame, too, because with all the bands and record labels barraging critics with their promos, I know this CD will never get its due solely because of the artwork and the band's name. That sounds ridiculous and prejudicial, but it's a cold, hard fact of life in this business. Though it looks amateurish, this CD is anything but homemade and deserves better presentation than a drawing of a guitar-playing slice of baloney and dancing hot dogs.


   Posted April 9, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  The Shiv

Short Order Crook

Cosmic Debris

Rating: Yes

It's bass-driven indie space rock with a distinctive Chicago flavor belted out by a trio who seem to bask in their roots.

The Shiv's sound owes a lot to The Pixies and Frank Black (especially his early post-Pixies stuff), and it'll be obvious to fans of those projects. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear Frank singing these songs in your head. And whereas I would usually take points off for aping, The Shiv are merely taking that style of indie -- strong bass, intricate rock guitars with a slight retro feel, and out-there yell vocals -- and making them their own as much as they can. I dig it, though as many times as I've listened to this, I still don't know what they're talking about -- most of the time, anyway.

"Beirutabegah" wins by name alone -- a bass-driven grinder with the decipherable line "Take the boat out, you little shit," while the rest of the lyrics sound like they're in French. "Lying in Wait" seems to be a nod toward area faves The Smashing Pumpkins if the Pumpkins notched things down a bit and had a human vocalist with the same seedy deadpan delivery.

Most of the drums sound live, though there's some electronic stuff jammed in there, like on the title track, which has a distinctive spy-movie disco feel, thanks to the shimmering surf guitar and sneaky bass. Halfway through, the song shifts into a cool, convincing Clash-style back-beat number, with steel-drum keyboards and punk vocals. Don't ask me what it's about or, for that matter, the follow-up with the provocative name "Sex Finger." 

All in all, the band goes beyond its obvious Pixies influences to a stranger, more stripped down, though ultimately familiar place.

Posted March 5, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Scrounging Through the Leftovers: 2000 -- 28 capsule reviews
Scrounging Through the Leftovers: 2000 -- 28 capsule reviews

The Living End

Roll On


Rating: Yes

Don’t get me wrong -- this Aussie version of "punk" isn't punk as we know it in the states. It's more like a commercial stab at punk -- an attempt at making punk approachable -- sort of a kinder, gentler Rocket From the Crypt. 

Or my opinion has been clouded by the fact that they're a product of Australia, a country that's brought us such wholesome entertainment staples as Nick Dundee, Men at Work, the 2000 Olympics, Olivia Newton John, Survivor II, AC/DC, Mad Max and those lovable 'roos. Isn't punk suppose to be about rebellion, anarchy and anger? How could anyone possibly be angry living in the sun-drenched world of Foster's Lager and cool, throaty accents that drive chicks mad?

That said, the trio, which includes smooth vocalist Chris Cheney on guitar, Trav Demsey on drums, and Scott Owen on upright bass, knows how to create pop-punk songs that are so ingeniously catchy, hook-filled and downright fun, they're impossible to resist. Kind of like punk for people who like the idea of punk, but don't really like to listen to it. Their music has more in common with Def Leppard than the Sex Pistols. We're talking quick, clean, punk-esque rock, exquisitely produced and played by a trio that's as tight as a tic and very aware that their strong suit isn't making a point, but playing hook-filled, sonic fireworks.

Even when try act tough they come off loveable. Though each track seems to start in punk mode, it only takes a few moments before the pop bleeds through. The jumpy "Riot On Broadway" owes a lot to its shout-out chorus; drunk anthem "Carry Me Home" starts off like Wango Tango-era Nugent or early Aerosmith; the chorus on "Dirty Man" would fit right in on a John Wesley Harding CD, while "Silent Victory" sounds like something off Hi and Dry.

What separates this from greasy kids' stuff like Blink 182 and Pennywise is that these guys have been around a lot longer, and it shows. In other words, you're not gonna feel embarrassed listening to it in your office, though you might get some strange looks when you can't help but turn it up.

Posted Feb. 26, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Miss Fortune


What Kinda Records

Rating: No

Two songs in and you think you've struck gold. The opener, "Disappear," was made for FM alt radio with its perfect harmonies, guitar solos and killer hooks. Gotta love those are big, fat choruses circa 1985, back when the Hoodoo Gurus were underground and cool. Ah, but then the dream is over, because from track three to the end, the band takes a "misfortunate" step into Cheeseland, with sickeningly sweet big-hair '80s anthem rock by way of Extreme/Skid Row/Warrant power ballads, complete with the arm-waving choruses, all done without even a hint of irony. It's like someone came in and put on a bad John Waite album. Right up to the closing song -- a run-of-the-mill slow-dance prom ballad -- you end up disappointed because you know these guys could have made a great album if someone wouldn't have pulled them away from where they were headed.

Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Cave In


Hydra Head Records

Rating: Yes

I played this for an indie-curious friend of mine who had absolutely no knowledge of the band. His comment: "This sounds like Rush, man."

And of course, he was right. The spacey guitars, the soaring vocals, the over-reaching, pompous, prog-rock atmosphere -- this is Rush without Geddy's annoying, whiney voice (which, somehow, after a hundred spins of 2112, we've managed to accept). No, drummer John-Robert Conners isn't Neil Peart (always the first thing anyone asks when a band is compared to the mighty Canadian trio), but his stickwork is more than adequate, and at times just as good. Meanwhile, vocalist Stephen Brodsky resembles a polished Tommy Shaw, a la Cornerstone-era Styx. Add to that the fact that five of the eight tracks are over five minutes long (Track 6, "Requiem," spans an epic nine minutes), and you've got all the makings of the next generation of prog rock heroes.

Hard to believe these guys used to be a metal band when they formed in April '95. Brodsky, 21, talks like a guy who's proud to have outgrown his metal roots to become a conventional, mainstream frontman.  They point to Zeppelin and Floyd as influences (Rush was curiously missing). The question is, can they deliver like the prog champions of old on stage, where it always really mattered? Only time will tell, and only middle-aged radio programmers will decide if Jupiter is appropriate alongside the fossilized proggers like King Crimson and Yes. 

It's about time there was a new King on the FM.

   Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


In Defense of the Inexperienced

Montesano Records

Rating: Yes

First off, "If You Were the Landscape" is one of my favorite songs these days. It jumps out of the blocks with the opening line, "He's leaving Asshole Town/Nothing can make it worth it/Nothing could make it worse" and just gets better. The tune is sassy and pretty at the same time, with warm organs, bassy drums, jangle guitars and a catchy romantic chorus: "He was a mountain/If you were the landscape." Yeah, I'm a sucker for schmaltz, as long as it's well-done schmaltz and makes me want to sing along, which this does.

They say they're "Seattle's answer to the Chicago sound," but they remind me of those other Pacific Northwest warm-beat outfits (Death Cab, Built to Spill when he ain't rocking, 764-HERO when they ain't being weird) that it's hard to take that statement seriously. Their signatures are droning, medium-speed chiming rock songs that have the same appeal as looking through stained glass, rich, haunting arrangements that recall some of the better instrumental-heavy outfits these days (Tristeza, American Analog Set), and vocals with that same hang-dog quality of Toad the Wet Sprocket, who Fairgrove actually sort of sounds a lot like, though Toad never did anything this interesting, or good. "Nantucket Sleighride" and "Country Fair" beg the comparison to something dark off Pale but go beyond it in the end by either cranking up the grungy guitars or the heartbreak vocals. Slim, at only five songs and 23:25, but  worth it for sheer atmospheric sake. 

Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Fire in the Radio

Red Static Action

Wednesday Records

Rating: Yes

There was a time about four or five years ago when all college garage rock sounded just like this. Chug-a-lug electric guitars, drums and bass (nuthin' particularly fancy about it), cool vocals on post-R.E.M. tunes that evoke your typical longing or slacker ennui; with arrangements that go beyond the simple three-chord quality of grunge. It's typical fuzzy guitar indie rock by four guys from State College, Penn., in blue jeans and T-shirts with no pretension and the occasional guitar solo. Call it a throw-back recording. You'll find no millennium trends here; no electronic break beat, no ironic organ/synth/keyboards, no semi-ugly angular guitars. Just your typical college rock of the last decade or so, a la Knapsack, Sugar or Vitreous Humor, or going back even further, Dinosaur Jr. (without Mascis' creepy moaning vocals). Yeah, you've it heard all before, and not so long ago. But if you're like me, you probably miss all the simple hooks, the basic melodies and the lyrics like "I've got a question/You've got an answering machine" or "It's 6 a.m./So she can breathe again/And did you know you're on my mind." Nothing earth shaking, just living to a back beat and a chiming guitar. And that's all right with me.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 29, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Joan of Arc

The Gap

Jade Tree Records

Rating: No

The sad part is that there are a few nuggets of cool stuff mixed in with all the experimental gunk. For example, the beginning of "As Black Pants Make Cat Hairs Appear," (and, actually, most tracks here) sounds like a bunch of people tuning their guitars and drums, but by the end of the 7:48 minute track, a weird, repeated chorus eventually shines through. "Your Impersonation This Morning of Me Last Night" begins and ends with an angular guitar line. But in between, well...

For the most part, you get atonal noodling that the brothers Kinsella and co. really want to pass off as a relevant head-phone opus, but in fact, is just a whole mess o' pretentious noise. The almost 3-minute-long "Another Brick in the Gap (part 2)" is rhythmic static.  "Zelda" is flat tones w/tinkles, footsteps, more guitar noodling and wandering vocals. You know that grating feeling when someone in your office mindlessly whistles to pass the time? That pretty much sums up Kinsella's vocal style. It's not until "Me and America (or) The United Colors of the Gap" that you hear anything resembling a song, and then it's after suffering through three minutes or so of ramblings 'til the cello comes in as a reward, or relief.

Somewhere along the line, these folks have mistaken "experimental" for unstructured, nonsense jamming. I'm sure I "just didn't get it." Chances are, you won't, either.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 29, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Dream Signals in Full Circles

Tiger Style Records

Rating: Yes

Remember that scene in Risky Business where Joel goes on a train ride with Lana and how the trippy music was as much a part of the scene as what was going on in the seat? Tristeza's vibe takes you to a similar place. The band would probably frown on that comparison, but it makes more sense than to say that they're in the same family of instrumental indie bands as  Pell Mell, Sea & Cake and Paul Newman -- bands you've probably never heard of and that, in reality, lack Tristeza's knack for building a movement around a hook without sliding into boredom.

Though entirely instrumental, the nine tracks here transcend whatever preconceived notions you might have about the instrumental rock genre (which, if you're from these parts, begins and ends with Joe Satriani). In fact, Tristeza's music speaks volumes beyond what the majority of today's typical indie rock communicates with its usual banal lyrics. This follow-up to the San Diego five-piece's '98 Makoto Recordings debut, Spine and Sensory, takes their lush, trance-y, drum-driven sound to even moodier extremes. With two guitars playing off each other and an understated keyboard drone shifting with the bass line, drummer Jimmy Lehner provides the necessary grounding to push everything forward and keep it interesting. This is pop music, pure and simple, but with the same lush undertones found on the best independent movie soundtracks.

   Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.




From Scene to Shining Scene

Uncle Don's Deep Deep Pockets

Rating: Yes

Whether they like the Cars or Cheap Trick is irrelevant. They have a similar pop sense, taking a 3-chord, 3-minute rock song (not punk) about as far as it can go, because the melodies climb and dive to find a hook every time. Subtle, smart lyrics and music that rocks in a Weezer/Nerf Herder fashion, you get short, peppy songs with lots of choppy guitars and mammoth hooks. Some will argue they're in the Blink 182 vein and they'll be wrong because this is way cooler than that. "Moto Foxe" has an unmistakable Wayne's World quality despite the snearing, "My Dad Vs. P.M." (stands for Paul McCartney, by the way) is an epic sonnet in less than two minutes, while "Spanish Fever" is suburban romance with international flair. I dig this. It could well be the sleeper album of the year for all those cool kids out there, lost in America behind the wheels of their folks' shiny SUVs. The CD also is one of those multi-media things (containing videos and other stuff), which means it screws up when you play it on your computer's CD drive. I still haven't figure out how to burn tracks from this for mix CDs, but then again I'm 'puter-stupid. Short: 26:36.

   Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Yesterday... and Tomorrow's Shells

Tiger Style Records

Rating: No

Libraness is the new solo project from Ash Bowie of Polvo and Helium. Since Helium is Mary Timony's baby, this is mostly Polvo-sounding, and for me, Polvo has always been a hard-to-acquire taste -- dissonance for dissonance's sake. These tracks are said to be a "more avant-garde representation of Ash's earlier days with Polvo" that "didn't really fit into the Polvo mold." That can only mean trouble. Tracks like the acoustic "The Memory" sound like East India meets the '60's West Coast hippy nation. "Richard Petty" distorts Bowie's voice over shimmery noise and weird nightmare guitar sounds that are sure to drive anyone out of your car or home. Not strange enough to be considered experimental, not tuneful enough to be considered pop or rock. When there is a melody on hand and some restraint applied, like on broken-wheel pulsed "Hit the Horizon," the pseudo-blues of "Face on Backwards," or the wake-up-and-die instrumental "Grief Mechanism," there's enough to raise an eyebrow of interest. Regardless, after numerous listenings, I still found myself constantly turning the volume down.

   Published in The Omaha Weekly October 12, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Radio Goodnight

Caulfield Records

Rating: No

High-energy indie rock in sort of an early Superchunk meets Sunny Day Real Estate vein; the fast songs lack the necessary dynamics to make them remarkable. Sure, the barrage of power chords are attractive at first, but once you realize they're not going anywhere, you begin to lose interest, as I did. The flighty, ethereal lyrics are unintelligible without the lyric sheet. More of a mystery was trying to figure out who the female vocalist was who sang those incredible acoustic songs, easily some of the best stuff this side of The Softies. Surprise, it ain't no woman at all, but singer Jeff Hanson doing a perfect falsetto. Weird, considering Hanson comes off as a mono-level, Jeremy Enigk-style high-end whiner on the faster numbers. The exuberant  "Right Downtown," soothing "Sometimes in Sleep," and album closer "Again Today" (with its perfect counter melody guitar line) are downright beautiful, but not typical of the whole.  Maybe m.i.j. will consider doing an entire album of soulful acoustic stuff next time, and I'll be first in line to buy a copy.

Published in The Omaha Weekly September 14, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Right in the Nuts

A Tribute to Aerosmith

Small Stone Records

Rating: Yes

The majority of "tribute" comps that I've yawned through are little more than lifeless covers by "today's hottest bands," taking a swift kick at a dead, stiff body that once was a legend. But this 28-song, 2-CD compilation of Columbia-era Aerosmith songs recorded by some of the country's most notable stoner, rock and garage punk 'n' roll bands pulls off the impossible: It puts a new face on music that on its own defined the current state of heavy metal. Why this works so well is that these sludge-rockers actually grew up getting stoned and getting off to the boogie-woogie heavy-metal groove of Rocks, Toys in the Attic and Draw the Line -- albums that blow away Aerosmith's prissy, commercially successful FM rock candy of the past decade. Bands like Iron Boss, Atomic Bitchwax and Alabama Thunderpussy flesh out some of the hits, but it’s the obscure takes by the likes of Men of Porn, Roadsaw and Sissorfight that will make you pull out those dusty LPs one more time. Absolutely essential to Aerosmith fans who still have a rock 'n' roll pulse.

  Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Josh Rouse



Rating: Yes

A luscious, soothing pop album in the Lloyd Cole/Freedy Johnson vein, Rouse writes low-key toe-tappers that accent his hang-dog vocals and hang-dog lifestyle. The paranoid lyric to CD opener "Laughter" sums it up nicely: "Think I got it all figured out/I think my plan is safe from laughter." It's as if even he doesn't believe he's doing what he's doing, which is trying to become a pop star. Throughout you'll think of The Blue Nile or late Roxy Music, though I doubt Rouse could ever be that ethereal. In fact, most of his comments are rooted in everyday contrivances, boredom and, ultimately, frustration. The lyric "Stay out all night and get high with your friends/Wonder why you don't get one thing done" from "Directions" seems to scream "that should be me," rather than "shame on you." Like the modern-day singer/songwriter that he is, Rouse's niche is in quietly turning the mirror on his world, and in the end, on himself.

Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Jets to Brazil

Four Cornered Night

Jade Tree

Rating: No

The long-awaited follow-up to the Jets' Jade Tree debut is standard pop-rock muzak, an unsuccessful stab at tunefulness. Most of the time, former Jawbreaker honcho Blake Schwarzenbach sounds like a bored Chris Mars or feckless Ray Davies, while the rest of the band (made up of former members of Van Pelt, Handsome and Texas is the Reason) pretty much phones in the accompaniment. You know the band has traveled far from its post-punk roots when the highlight is a twangy, two-steppin' ballad ("Empty Picture Frame"). "Little Light," with its understated keyboards and low-key shimmer guitar, is The Reivers without the hooks. "Mid-Day Anonymous" sounds like "Cut Your Hair"-era Pavement. Meanwhile, "Your X-Rays" and "Milk & Apples" wanna rock, but end up sounding as if recorded under water or under sedation. In their effort to be tuneful, Jets to Brazil have managed to drain whatever life they had left out of a band whose whole was never as good as where their parts came from.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

  Sergio Vega

The Ray Martin Sessions

Grape OS

Rating: Yes

What do you get when you take the former bass player for The Deftones and Quicksand (Vega), and back him with hardcore regulars like Chris Traynor (Orange 9mm, Helmet), Charlie Garriga (Civ) and Jimmy Williams (Maximum Penalty)? Um, would you believe a bunch of silly love songs? This cute, 5-song EP is romantic Elvis Costello meets Elliott Smith, anchored on the arm-waving love anthem, "Everybody Loves Love." It's mostly an acoustic outing, except when Vega and company rocks out with the Beatle-esque feedback-flavored "Come Home Soon." "So Over You," is a brush-driven shuffle, where Vega kittenishly tells us he's gonna screen his calls from now on. Who can blame him? This is a pleasant diversion, but a bit sparse.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Two


Rating: No

Lead singer Samuel James Velde has a rather fey delivery on this series of lifeless, pseudo-college indie tracks. Velde's vocal trademark -- a fading, downward whine at the end of every phrase a la Billy Corgan -- becomes tiring after the third track. His voice isn't the only thing Bluebird has in common with the Smashing Pumpkins. Most of this sounds like Pumpkin-lite, especially the plodding, droning "Silver Touch." When they try to go punk, like on "2 Friends," it's Velde again who adds the color, for good or no, but you can't take his howl seriously. This eventually gets its sea legs by track six -- the fuzz-bass driven "Low Gear" -- which rocks, finally. The CD ends, however, with more inept rehashing of every Pumpkins over-the-top anthem, along with about 10 minutes of "hidden track" dead air, so actual music time is only about a half-hour. Hidden tracks are so '90s, aren't they?

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


All the Falsest Hearts Can Try

Quality Park Records

Rating: Yes

Imagine Robert Pollard backed by Crazy Horse, or Son Volt sharing recording sessions with Archers of Loaf, or The Grifters bio-merged with The Silos and you begin to get where Centro-matic is coming from. Easily the most satisfying full-out rock album I've heard this year, this gritty, southern fuzz-guitar opus drips with lo-fi Rust Never Sleeps feedback layered like molasses over vista-wide stretches of open dirt road. Each track has a rawness that is bracing with textural beauty. Translated: It's as brutal as riding in the payload of a '72 Ford pick-up across a mesquite field on the way to your grandma's funeral. Some might call it alt-country, which would be a mistake since it sports zero hoedown potential. When these Denton, Texas boys slow it down for a couple heartfelt ditties you'll be reminded of Harvest, right down to Will Johnson's quivering, Young-ian vocals. The best thing to come out of Texas since the cattle prod.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Starlight Mints

The Dream that Stuff Was Made of

SeeThru Recordings

Rating: Yes

Most Pixies-influenced outfits only get the fast/slow/fast routine down pat and completely overlook that band's real charm -- their inventive quirkiness. The sizzle wasn't in the pop-funlove of "Here Comes Your Man," it was in the '50s-schlock horror weirdness of "Debaser" and "Tame." That said, Starlight Mints gets it and gets it good. They've managed to apply the Pixies spirit to their own unique, violin-driven sound. Allan Vest's vocals have that slacker-freakshow quality and just the right amount of Black Francis snarl, while Marian Love Nunez adds the needed Kim Deal-shriek accompaniment. Most tracks open with baroque cello or violin before exploding into some big choppin' guitars and slab o' drums. They're slaves to the hooks, however, and that's a good thing. Standouts: the wee opener "Submarine #3," the whistle-accompanied "The Bandit," and the pouty, violin-intro-ed "Air Prize." Addictive and cool.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


False Cathedrals

Revelation Records

Rating: No

How much longer do we have to wait until the next Radiohead CD? It can't come too soon, judging from all the knock-offs on the market these days. Elliott's Chris Higdon has Thom Yorke's voice down quite well, his braying is even endearing -- for about the first three tracks. Then you just want him to shut up. What's missing from a perfect composite are songs that are even slightly significant. These tracks seem to have no meaning whatsoever. Higdon mumbles so badly that I beseech anyone to make out a word of his stream-of-conscious lyrics, which seem to emote angst without message. Even in the quietest moments it's damn hard to pick up anything through the garble other than the fact that Higdon is upset about something that even he's unsure of. False Cathedrals is one long, monotonous emotional jam.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Sean Na Na

Dance 'til Your Baby Is a Man

Troubleman Unlimited

Rating: Yes

The one-sheet says, "The new Stevie Wonder." More like the new Karl Wallinger (World Party). Lyrical and melodic, band namesake Sean Tillmann has a way with wandering, folkie stuff that you can dance to, sort of. The recipe is simple guitars, feather-light keyboards, a rhythm section that never gets in the way and Tillmann's slightly nasal whine that's rather charming once you get used to it. Clever with a phrase, all the best lyrics are at the end of songs: "I'm so far above you now/And your silhouettes look stained" (Unicorns); "I'll dance on your grave/And know I'm okay" (Gray Clouds); "Close your eyes and say goodbye/And pray the Lord your soul to steal." (Cha Cha Cha). Although there are shadows of '60s and '70s heroes like Donovan and Van Morrison everywhere, these happy-sounding little song-stories are strangely modern. You'll be in a groove by track 5, and then there's no turning back.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.




Rating: Yes   

The Weakerthans

Left and Leaving

Sub City


With a name like this, you pretty much get what you pay for. Vocalist/lyricist John K. Samson is an Eeyore-souled Cannuck, down on his luck but nevertheless content to ride an airport baggage carousel in a ratty T-shirt so thin you can see his ribs show through. He has managed to find the joy in the everyday world, oblivious to what he doesn't have. His songs, written mostly in first person, are a stroll through a life that's tolerable despite the loneliness, written by someone who's finally getting over a bad breakup but still sees the face of his ex-lover in every turned head and shadow.

The music is mellow in a new Pacific Northwest sort of way (think Deathcab for Cutie or Built to Spill), with more than its share of big guitar flourishes when the material calls for it. But ultimately it's the lyrics that push this recording to another plain. Samson has the ability to pull his heart -- and yours -- inside out with a turn of phrase. His slightly nasal, sweater-wearing voice only adds to the homeliness of his down-to-earth confessional lyrics that are more memory pictures than short stories.

The title track pretty much sums up the sentiment that permeates the entire CD like a theme. "Memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me: some matches, a blanket, this pain in my chest, the best parts of Lonely, duct-tape and soldered wires, new words for old desires, and every birthday card I threw away."

Some might call it sappy. I call it endearing and hopeful and just plain inspiring in an era when bands either can't seem to make a literate statement or would rather bombard you with hate-filled misogynistic dribble. The Weakerthans are a sentimental coup in a war of sonic attrition, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 3, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Jimmy Eat World


Big Wheel Recreation


The emo wunderkids from Mesa, Ariz., give us a history lesson with this 12-track retrospective of their favorite singles, splits, compilation tracks and rarities recorded from their early, pre-Capitol Records days.

Because it documents an angry young indie band on the rise, everything on this collection is much harder than most of Clarity, their last project  recorded before being dropped by Capitol. That album spawned the semi-hit "Lucky Denver Mint," that made it on the Never Been Kissed soundtrack and ultimately became the theme song for The Time of Your Life Fox TV series that I've never seen.

If the Goo Goo Dolls-style radio pop of Clarity was the direction they were headed, being dropped by Capitol was probably the best thing that ever happened to these guys. Because everything off "Singles" simply blows that album away, if only for sheer honesty's sake.

These tracks have a similar drive as, say, current-day Cursive or Jawbreaker. Lots of guitars -- a very loud, raucous, indie noise, with chunky riffs that propel everything forward in rather angular, anthemic ways. I could hear why Capitol might want them to change their style, since you're not gonna hear these ones on MTV or the FM.

"Opener," for example, opens and ends with the same percussive, scratchy, echo-filled guitar riff that carries throughout this fist-pumping celebration. That same riff-filled energy dominates "H Model," "Christmas Card," actually almost of these tracks.

When in a soothing mood, like on "Speed Read," they manage to accomplish as much with a simple organ and brush-snare as they do with dollops of guitar chords. Jim Adkins' voice can be a pleasant coo or the typical punk caterwaul. Either way, it's hard to pay attention to anything he says.

The band's cover of Duran Duran's "New Religion" turns the pop-New Waver into a low-key, Radiohead-friendly Toad the Wet Sprocket hypnosis lesson, that is, until they crank up the amps and blow everything away toward the end. Even better is their cover of The Wedding Present's, "Spangle" -- off 1994's Watusi. This one sounds closer to the original, though slowed a tad (the only problem: some sort of mastering error that sadly adds a few bleeps and bloops throughout the track).

Where would this band have gone if they'd been allowed to stay with the label? Perhaps they'd have become the next Creed or Goo Goo Dolls or Live. Who knows? Regardless, if this collection of early singles has any impact on regenerating their creative psyches, maybe there's a chance that Jimmy Eat World will reinvent themselves back into the angry, indie-punk rock band they were always meant to be.

   Published in The Omaha Weekly September 7, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






   Rating: Yes





Rating: No   

Sea of Green

Northern Lights

The Music Cartel


They revel in the fact that you've heard all this before, from Ozzy to Deep Purple to Nazareth. And while every band has its influences, Sea of Green manages to bring nothing new to the already picked-over heavy-metal feeding trough. Why should we waste time with this when we can just as easily go back and listen to Diary of a Madman or Machine Head or Hair of the Dog?

I suppose these self-proclaimed "stoner rockers" are as tight as just about anything available from that questionable "genre." You've got all the same plodding, thick-as-slop guitars as you've come to expect, all the power chords and headbanger riffs you can shake a blunt at. But beneath the bassy crud, you ultimately get to Travis Cardinal's Ozzy-like take on rather dim-bulb lyrics, such as "Out of body/Souring high/To the stars together we fly" from "Time and Space," or "Now I'm free/Souring high/Feeling free/In the sun" from "In the Sun" -- all have the same buzzed poignancy as the lyrics you remember seeing scribbled on text books carried by your favorite junior-year high school dirt-head (usually scrawled right next to a poorly drawn Aerosmith logo).

It's unlikely that any of today's heads will latch on to this almost-retro hippy stuff, when they can get stoned to the likes of Cypress Hill and crappy jam bands like Phish. Then again, who'da thought bands would still be aping Ozzy almost 20 years after his last listenable album?

Total time: 26:53.

Published in The Omaha Weekly September 7, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Hot Little Number

Hot Little Hits

Porcelain Productions


More of an EP than a CD, the problem is there are only six "hot little hits" here, and one of them is a cover of an old Ann Murray standard. This trio could easily be written off as just another female/male-voxed punk/pop band, except that their songs are so dense and fun, and vary more than your typical 3-chord punkers.

"Hate" has that classic Breeders/Veruca Salt/Pixies bass thing going, and when chick guitarist Nikki Price harmonizes with guy bassist Tim Harriss, a sort of 'X' (as in the band, not the 'files' or 'men') factor develops, immediately conjuring up memories of my disenchanted youth.

HL# (a clever shorthand?) is at their absolute best when they're not trying to be nice, when those ridiculous punk snarls show, like on the bitchified "Black Dog," which goes out of its way to show you the cheap attitude. Like any good American garage band, HL# gives you all the tough-guy posturing you expect without the filler. "Look Pal" even has a guitar solo slammed in between the scratched guitar licks and Harriss' Jon Spencer yowls.  "Nik's Imaginary Friend," with Price on the lead, the chug-a-lug guitar and strolling bass, feels like a Joan Jett-a-like garage pop rocker from a few years ago, a la The Muffs. Closing with a punk cover of Ann Murray's "Just Fall in Love" is a nice touch that probably makes it all worth while.

Yeah, there's a lot of comparisons here and not a tremendous amount of originality, but then again, isn't most punk rock post-The Ramones pretty much a rip-off, or at the very least, an homage to all those who came before Nirvana? Bottom line: I was never bored, which is an accomplishment in itself in a era of cookie-cutter pop-punk. Then again, clocking in at a mere 13:25, I never had enough time to get bored. Maybe all punk-pop CDs should be this short.

  Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.





   Rating: Yes





Rating: Yes   

Take Me Home
A Tribute to John Denver

Various Artists



Who would have thought that a tribute album -- usually the territory for last-gasp artists trying to glom onto someone else's legend -- could bring such a fresh perspective to these war-torn AM radio faves?

And what a perspective it is. The compilation, a labor of love by Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek, brings together some of the very best of the slow-core ambient wonder-bands, all of whom owe a certain debt to Kozelek for paving the way for their emotionally driven, drowsy-acoustic sound that's become a movement of sorts in the indie music world. Most of your favorite Denver songs are here (with the notable exception of the CD's title track and (thank God) the hick-flavored, knee slapper "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"), lovingly rendered in the artists' distinctive voices, many of them so dramatically altered that they're almost unrecognizable.

The Innocent Mission's take on "Follow Me" comes closest to the original, except for Karen Paris' lost, lonesome vocals that only add to the song's seclusion. Former That Dog vocalist Rachel Haden's warm, reflective rendition of "Poems, Prayers, and Promises" sounds as personal as if she wrote the song herself. Slow-core heroes, Low, give a suitably morose reading of "Back Home Again," that would fit right in at any church service, thanks to the droning organ and mourning vocals. Tarnation (with Joe Gore) sound like Peter, Paul and Mary meet Peter Gabriel on a stunning version of "Leaving on a Jet Plane," that seems to naturally underscore the song's unintended irony. Hannah Marcus' cover of "Looking for Space," is the most harrowing of the bunch. Bone-achingly sad, it's a stark and ultimately confessionary approach on a Denver song I'd never heard before. But it's Kozelek and his band who stray the furthest from Denver's original intentions. The Red House Painters' over-seven-minute-long instrumental version of "Fly Away" is majestic, with its huge wall of dense electric guitars. Their minor key take on "I'm Sorry," with Kozelek's striking, broken-hearted voice, makes Denver's version sound like a hootenanny in comparison.

In fact, the thread that binds all these renditions together is the almost funereal feel of the performances. These are slow, quiet and purposely haunting renderings that add a new twist to songs that, for many, were merely pleasant niceties to hum along to on the way to work. It's pretty rare for a tribute CD to have this much of an impact on how an artist's music is perceived. As our old friend John would say, "Far out."

Published in The Omaha Weekly July 6, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Mercury Program

From the Vapor of Gasoline

Tiger Style


Their music is almost wholly instrumental in the same indie way as, say, Tristeza or Pell Mell, though they don’t sound anything like either of them. While those outfits try to lull you into a trance-like state, The Mercury Program is out to rock you with its jazzy mix of electric guitar, bass, vibraphone, the occasional atonal vocal and, most importantly, percussion that drives everything ever forward.

The closest sonic comparison comes from the rather obscure indie outfit, The Shipping News, who sported a similar echoing, angular and well-designed sound on their last CD. But where they would eventually break down into distortion, the Mercury Program's more streamlined, evenhanded jams always have a destination in mind. Most tracks fuse a staccato kick-drum and scattered-raindrop cymbals, with bell-like vibes or electric piano, a rolling bass and a simple guitar line -- that is until (like on "Fastest Way Through the South" and "Down on Your Own Lung"), the organized soundscape is cut in half by a series of buzzsaw guitar flourishes. When guitarist Tom Reno does provide vocals on a few tracks, his muted whisper is little more than another layer of sonic texture; never mind what ethereal message he's trying to convey. Who needs a message when the only goal is to get you there in one piece, if not more than a little out of breath?

   Published in The Omaha Weekly July 20, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






   Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes   


Sometimes You Scare Me

Diver City Records


This is closer to '70s prog rock than '90s math rock (which is the modern equivalent). Very artsy, and Matt Hermann's rather prissy, Jon Anderson-style vocals do nothing but help the comparisons to bands like Yes. Durian's technical virtuosity and intense focus on crisp, angular structures never fail to make things interesting, though you'll never be able to follow along without a lyric sheet -- it all goes by so damn fast. When they get around to really humping a beat -- which occurs about halfway through every song -- you can get lost in all the lush, mesmerizing syncopation. The downside is that, for all the tricky, intricate rhythms, the melodies just sort of wander around like a well-defined contrivance. At least I can sing the first few lines of Yes's "I've Seen All Good People," (though, for the life of me, I could never tell you what they mean), which is more than I can say for these incredibly complicated tunes after a dozen listens. You won't be singing along to any of them, ever. But that's probably not the point. Durian is more concerned with taking you on a sonic rollercoaster ride of constantly shifting and veering rhythms and time signatures, which they do quite well.

Published in The Omaha Weekly June 22, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



The Geometrid

Sub Pop

It's nowhere near as interesting as their debut, Up a Tree, and that one wasn't too interesting to begin with. I always thought that Looper was merely a throw-away side project for Belle & Sebastian renegade bassist Stuart David. The Geometrid adds more fuel to that argument. The premise again is kooky, looped noises, simple keyboard lines and either spoken word or vocals by David or his wife, Karn. It's all very cute, which worked fine for the first one, but is starting to wear a bit thin. "Mondo '77," a pseudo-disco number with annoying shout-outs, is a good idea allowed to go on too long, with way too few variations on the basic groove. "Uncle Ray," is a mopey sing-along that's more grating than cute. "Bug Rain" sounds like wimpy Kraftwerk. Even the spoken word tracks, where David speaks in a thick, Glasgow accent over a looped rhythm track, sounds trite and forced, compared to the more personal tales he confessed in the debut. Also missing is any sort of central melodic theme, which tied everything together quite nicely on their first CD.

But it's not all shite. The trip-hop "On the Flipside," and the endearing, beat-box-driven "These Things" are a couple of the best Looper tracks I've heard, thanks to some inspired melodies and breathy vocals. More songwriting next time, please, and less noisemaking. Time: 35:11.

  Published in The Omaha Weekly June 22, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






   Rating: No





Rating: Yes   

Mammoth Volume

Noara Dance

The Music Cartel

Leave it to the Swedes to teach us about heavy-metal music. Seems this 4-piece from Lysekil got stuck with the weird name because some American glam band already copped "Mammoth," so why not just add the "Volume" to the moniker? Seems very appropriate, considering that the CD is pure, unadulterated '70s heavy metal a la Montrose, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. You want a '90s touch? Throw in Jorgen Andersson's vocals that scream of Soundgarden on the first track, but that's about it for the future-tense. There isn't a touch of double-aught alternative to be found on this loving tribute to huge, fuzzy guitars, old-fashioned bass, and drums that sound like drums (not some sort of synthesized static crunch). Nothing's fuzzier than the tones on "Larrivee," which opens as an acoustic ballad before cranking into full-blown boogie. "Seeds in Rocky Places" drives like a hopped-up '72 'Cuda in overdrive, with a touch of Kansas-style prog organ to give it an artrock feel that's quickly covered under layers of guitar. "As Say the Pilgrims, So Say I" is the typical 7-minute-plus over-the-top rock overture that, thanks to the weird vocal harmonies and spacey keyboards, sounds strangely like Dinosaur Jr meets Zep. It's big, it's massive, it's just like heavy metal music used to sound before the hair bands took over and grunge, rap and alternative buried it for good. If this CD gets the attention it deserves, it could help usher in the next wave of real heavy metal. It would be fitting -- and welcome -- and quite unlikely.

Published in The Omaha Weekly June 15, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Promise Ring

Electrick Pink

Jade Tree

This unnecessary 4-song EP apparently was put out to ride the coat-tails of 1999's popular "Very Emergency," a CD that pushed the Promise Ring into the forefront as thee emo band to watch. The Weezerish, uninspired title track and wandering, Nerfherder-tinged "Make Me a Mix Tape," are new songs, both recorded in early 2000; while "Strictly Television" and "American Girl (v.01)" apparently didn't make the cut when they were choosing tracks for the last album. All in all, it's more of the same chug-a-lug, laid-back indie style with hard-to-find hooks and a rather blasé presentation. In other words, typical Promise Ring. Followers and completists will want this for obvious reasons, the rest should check out their last full-length or, even better, pick up the new Braid CD instead.

  Published in The Omaha Weekly June 15, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






  Rating: No






Rating: No   

Pookey Bleum

Chords a Friend Suggested

BiFi Records


The third CD by this Ames, Iowa, quartet is a mish-mash of underdone pop tunes that are too cloying for their own good. Just look at their name -- now here's a band that revels in its own gratuitous self-poppiness as if it were a badge of honor. The key to good pop music, though, is memorable hooks, an area where Pookey is sorely lacking.

They succeed when they try to crank out the rock, especially when principal songwriter Aaron Hefley takes the vocals with his whimsey, indie-nerd voice on tracks like the stage-fright-tinged "Introduction," the hippie-fied "Trip," and the shimmery, That Dog-ish "Funny Thing About Time." Each has a simple pop melody fueled by enough electric power-chord chunk guitar to put a smile on your face. At their best (on these tracks) they sound like revved-up Pooh Sticks or watered-down Reivers.

But when they get sickeningly precious or ornately acoustic, like on "Purple," "Get Together" or "Milk" (an apparent advertisement for the American Dairy Council that's about as enjoyable as taking a big swig of sour cream), charm turns to sickeningly sweet gag reflex. Melissa Sorbo's thin, county-fair-quality vocals take "cutesy" to the stratospheric levels, making it hard to take anything she sings seriously. When the two harmonize, as on the flat "I Could Be Wrong," or the wandering "The Structure," we're left with uninspired, tuneless muck.

Pookey Bleum sounds like a bunch of college kids who sing about broken hearts without ever having had theirs broken. You never get a sense that they've put even one ounce of true, personal emotion on this disc. And oh, what a little pain could do for them.

Published in The Omaha Weekly June 15, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Explosion

Flash Flash Flash

Jade Tree

They'll be dismissed by those who don't take the time to listen as just another pseudo-punk band with high ideals and a strange devotion to The Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers. An MTV-loving friend of mine upon hearing them on my car stereo compared them to Green Day and The Offspring (ugh!), until we got to "Terrorist" and "The Ideal" and he noticed that we were driving about 90 in a 45.

This Boston 5-piece sports a gnashing, double-guitar attack that epitomizes their name. The punk part is obvious, but the high-end production (this is no DIY job) and rock-and-roll arrangements push it over the edge from stereotype to head rush. Vocalist Matt Hock knows how to sing punk with melody -- he's not just another atonal howler. And everything else just plain rocks with a blistering intensity that Offspring/Green Day could never touch on their best day.

These fist-in-the-air anthems aren't so much about angst as anger, frustration and warning, from another loser trapped in a plastic, corporate world he never made. He may be too weak to escape, but he's strong enough to gather forces. We've heard it all  before in the first two punk waves, but Hock and company have managed to put a new shine on this very old apple, thanks to unbridled chutzpah and ability to write a damn fine hook. Each compact, 3-chord ditty sports a sonic nugget nestled among the power chords and at least one clever line per song. Inspirational verse: "On the edge of tomorrow/What are we fighting for?/We fight each other/Whenever we get bored."

Punk purists will cringe at how clean and tidy everything sounds, and yeah, this really is a pop CD, but who cares? It's a huge leap in quality over their first Jade Tree release (which was a rather boring affair), and is easily the best new "punk-pop" CD I've heard in a couple years. Time: 27:22.

 Published in The Omaha Weekly, June 8, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






   Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes   



SeeThru Broadcast

The mad musings of Brainiac's John Schmersal and Skeleton Key's Rick Lee and Steve Calhoon has a beating heart under a thick mucilage of distorto electronica.

For a CD that's only about a half-hour long, you get five really solid tracks out of 11. It's unfortunate that "Rubber Car," with its Beck-style falsetto, leads off. I realize that Schmersal did something like this first with Brainiac, but this sounds like it's right off Midnight Vultures and is no way indicative of things to come. "Conjugate the Verbs," lulls you in with its tree-frog-like synths and Schmersal's nerdy vocals before it bludgeons you about the head and shoulders with pounding drums and bass like a clumsy, stumbling drunk. "Believo!" is a sleek, black Mercury cruising the strip at midnight, looking for trouble or a good jazz club. "Come Into" sounds like an old World Party song forced through an electronic food processor, sweet and distorted with a solid, shuffly beat. "Get the Letter Out" and "World in a Jar" have that Sunday-in-the-park British chime-pop feel a la XTC's Oranges & Lemons -- pretty straight forward, if a bit boring.

The rest relies a wee bit too much on samples, found sounds and percussion in an effort to raise your eyebrows, resulting in a mish-mash of noise that takes away from the basic melodies. Time: 32:46.

Published in The Omaha Weekly June 8, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Donner Party

Complete Recordings 1987-1989

Innerstate Records


Of interest to fans of the current-day indie phenoms Quasi and Elliott Smith, here's the first incarnation of Sam Coomes, who has made a name by working with both of those rather popular acts. Coomes, SF Seals/Barbara Manning collaborator Melanie Clarin and bassist Reinhold Johnson were The Donner Party, a band that performed in virtual obscurity through the mid- to late-1980s. "In our five year or so history, we could hardly get a decent gig," writes Coomes in the CD's liner notes. With 53 songs on two CDs, this is a labor of love for Innerstate Records, a new San Francisco-based label dedicated to releasing Americana, roots, folk, guitar, alternative country and rock, with performers such as Barbara Manning, Epic Soundtracks and Sister Double Happiness.

This definitive package includes everything the Donner Party ever recorded, including their self-titled first LP originally released on Cryptovision Records in 1987, their second self-titled CD released in '88 on Pitch A Tent, an unreleased third self-titled LP recorded in 1989, as well as a number of previously unreleased live recordings from a February 1989 Berkeley Square show.

That's all well and nice, but is it any good? If you're a fan of the driving jangle-pop of early R.E.M. and the slightly twangy harmonies of The Reivers, congratulation, you've just discovered heaven on earth. Tracks range from fuzzy guitar rockers to acoustic, folkie ballads, almost all featuring Coomes' and Clarin's delightful, fun-loving harmonies. The best of the bunch comes from their almost perfect, slightly low-fi first album. While the recording quality was better on their second album, the songs are a bit more poppy in a Timbuk 3 sort of way, but no less endearing. Only die-hard fans and completists will have the patience to make it through the entire second CD.

Quasi followers will definitely hear echoes of things to come from Coomes on these recordings. Everyone else will simply get lost in the sound of a band that should have been allowed along for the ride when indie finally broke in the early '90s.

  Published in The Omaha Weekly, May 25, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







  Rating: Yes





Rating: Yes   

Gimme Indie Rock

various artists


Since when did K-Tel -- the record label that's brought us all those late-night oldies compilations -- get so cool? And why hasn't someone thought of this before?

The quality of this 2-CD, 30-song compilation of pre-Nirvana indie rock is reflected simply in the artists represented: Husker Du, Dinosaur, Jr., My Dad Is Dead, The Wedding Present, The Chills, The Fall, Pussy Galore, Mudhoney, Half Japanese, Big Dipper, Nikki Sudden, Eleventh Dream Day, Giant Sand, The Meat Puppets, Scrawl. And that's just the stuff on the  first CD.

The majority of the tracks come from the mid- to late-'80s (Husker Du's "Pink Turns to Blue" appears to be the oldest, released in 1984), and for those who were were lucky enough to have access to it (by having a cool friend who turned you onto the music, because the radio sure wasn't playing anything this good), it's a real walk down memory lane.

CD-1 seems much more focused on the hard stuff, whereas CD-2 blends in a few of the more mellow indie outfits. The CD-2 lineup: The Feelies, Yo La Tengo, The Wipers, Squirrel Bait, The Minutemen, Savage Republic, The Mekons, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3, The Flaming Lips, The Melvins, Black Flag, Death of Samantha, The Pastels and The Vaselines.

Obviously the comp includes personal favorites by its co-producer, Scott Becker, founder/publisher of Option Magazine. I mean, who ever heard of The Pastels or Savage Republic? And, of course, missing are some of the most definitive bands of the pre-Nirvana era, such as Sonic Youth, The Replacements, R.E.M., X, Flipper, Pylon, Butthole Surfers, Pere Ubu, Camper Van Beethoven, and Wire, to name a few. We can only hope that K-Tel is holding back for vol. II.

Regardless of the nits, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better mix without making your own, or a better introduction to a genre of rock that helped forge today's college indie sound.

Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Published in The Omaha Weekly May 11, 2000.

Death Cab for Cutie

We have the facts and we're voting yes

Barsuk Records


Red House Painters and Bedhead -- two of my all-time favorite bands. And now Death Cab for Cutie finds its way onto that list. The common thread that binds all three is their gift for turning floating melodies, lilting vocals and echoing drums into intense battle fields of pounding angst and confusion, right under your nose.

The formula calls for building layers upon layers, so subtle that you don't notice them while you're unwittingly hypnotized by vocalist Ben Gibbard's yearning vocals.

When they're not floating Sunday-afternoon mathy melodies they're cracking Built to Spill-flavored pop songs through the ether (Gibbard's voice is cut from the same tonsillitic cloth as Mr. Martsch's, and Neil Young's). The BTS comparison is no more appropriate than on the straight-forward told-you-so relationship fable "For What Reason," and CD closer, "Scientist Studies," that goes from a bouncy indie melody -- complete with the requisite twanging guitar chimes -- to full-on power chords, ending with 30 seconds or so of feedback.

Repeated listenings uncover trends in the shimmering, transitional guitar lines -- related counter melodies seem to hang the whole package together. The rather obtuse lyrics also help in that regard. Opener "Title Track" starts rather low-fi before cranking into full surround stereo after the first verse -- tricky. Lyrics like "I tried my best to keep my distance from your dress but call-response overturns convictions every time," are offset by confusing, haiku-like stream-of-conscious phrases, such as "I rushed this/We moved too fast/And tripped into the guestroom."

There are exceptions, such as the chiming "405," with its fuzz-box vocals/guitar supplementing Gibbard's travel memory not so much of geography as much as the past, summed up: "Misguided by the 405 'cause it lead me to an alcoholic summer." The majestic "Company Calls Epilogue" seems the most straight forward: a simple wedding memory, until pictures of plastic wedding figures, pig-tailed girls running from little boys and beercans tied to bumpers are clouded by the confusion of bodies crashing through parlor doors.

You'd be left scratching your head at the meaning if you were paying attention, but you won't be because these songs are so lusciously beautiful that you won't notice the gibberish. Gibbard allows you to get just this close to understanding what's going on before he pulls the rug out from under your feet, again and again, leaving you alone with those exquisite sounds.

  Originally published in The Omaha Weekly April 27, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






  Rating: Yes




Rating: Yes   

Yo La Tengo

And then nothing turned itself inside-out


Even in their most sonically distorted and bracing moments of yesteryear, Yo La Tengo always has been about the quiet drone underneath, the warm amped acoustic guitar, the reedy Moog, the rumbling light-touch tribal drums and Ira Kaplan's shy, sweet-boy vocals. This time they take everything down a few notches, creating the ultimate soundtrack to every midnight moment you've spent wide awake, driving home alone at 2 a.m. after the party, neither depressed nor elated, just content watching the striped highway line go on and on and on.

Yo La Tengo plays music that is both lonely and sexy. These are strung-out jams lost in rhythms and pulses, dark-blue radiance and subtle cymbal-shimmers.

Rarely has this band focused so tightly on creating such an utterly tranquil mood. It's not all soothing moments, however. "Cherry Chapstick" is drowning in distortion, while the organ-driven "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House," thumps along just fine with Georgia Hubley laying down "The Girl from Ipanema"-style vocals. The summery shuffle of "Madeline" sounds like futuristic lounge music, its backing ba-dee-da's slipped in underneath feel like slightly sedated Esquivel. The instrumental "Tired Hippo" is all secret agent bosso-lounge, thanks to James McNew's thrum-pulse bass, some trippy organ and the ultimate spy-guitar. Their cover of George McRae's "You Can Have it All," takes disco and turns it into flat-black lounge-soul, with Hubley coming off sugar sweet on a song that's already pretty damn tasty.

The rest of the CD is dreamy, sleepy, sedated soundscapes, layering quiet organ, simple rhythm guitars and light, echoing drums. Call it ethereal. And no more so than on the 17:41-minute "Night Falls on Hoboken," which is one long journey into thick, warm-blue goo. Throughout, the lyrics are as fragile and airy as the music. "The Last Days of Disco" is Kaplan coyly singing, "And the song said let's be happy/And I was happy". You tend to forget that they're lyrics and not just another vehicle to emit a tone, shade or delicate accent on an already densely layered soundscape. In other words, they rarely distract.

The last time I heard anything capture a mood quite this perfectly was the Cowboy Junkies' first album. But that one was a downer, while And Then nothing turned itself inside-out fills you with wonder, hope and a bit of mystery, as it leads you comfortably by the hand through the darkness.

Originally published in The Omaha Weekly, April 20, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






Rating: Yes   

Pedro the Lion

Winners Never Quit

Jade Tree


The epithet above the lyrics inside the sleeve sums up the CD's concept succinctly: "A good person is some one who hasn't been caught." Pedro the Lion (David Bazan) writes first-person accounts, confessions and explanations, all unregretfully sung straight from the attacker's mouth (most of the lyrics are surrounded by quotes). These are macabre portraits of murder and violence, justified by necessity with only a hint of regret. Each deed told is met with a clear conscience of a man who feels his motives are misunderstood. Creepy? Maybe, except that Bazan makes the songs so arresting and, at times, downright danceable that they're impossible to ignore. His low, sullen voice recalls Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters) or Mark Eitzel (American Music Club) and convincingly adds the necessary pathos that compliments the stripped-down arrangements (Bazan plays all the instruments). Half the songs are slow, folkish dirges, the other half are indie-guitar-driven rock songs. All are arresting.

If these are portraits of emotional crime scenes, we're not the rubberneckers driving by slowly, looking for traces of blood. We're the reporters, listening to statements by an antagonist who considers himself the victim already found guilty, trying to convince us of his innocence.

"A Mind of Her Own" is a husband arguing with his wife, beginning with "Dear, unlock the door," and ending with "You put down that telephone/You're not calling anyone," sung over shimmering, pounding guitar. "Never Leave a Job Half Done" opens just after the narrator has killed his wife or lover, justifying his crime with "She almost ruined everything." Grim, but thoroughly danceable. "Eye on the Finish Line" is another murder tale of a criminal with "a clear conscience" who fears his motives will be misconstrued, even by the victim. "Given the time I think she would have understood/That it was for the greater good."

On Winners Never Quit, Bazan shows us the luckless pawns who buy the "whatever it takes" mentality, lost in a society that values anything over failure, even if it means losing your humanity. Time: 34:00.

Published in Omaha Weekly March 31, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.





Maybe it’s the band's name (a reference to the Heaven's Gate suicide pact from what seems like ages ago) or the lousy cover art,  who knows? There just has to be a reason why no one has discovered this amazing band.

With three principal, but equal, songwriters, it's tough to pin down their specific sound. But unlike all those CDs you've purchased over the years where one guy writes all the good songs and is good-hearted enough to tolerate the other guys' crummy efforts (Sebadoh comes to mind), everything here is of equal quality, thanks to respectable influences -- The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Cars, Chicago, even America. and Bread -- big FM bands from a bygone time, when music was written to be listened to, not worn like the latest fashion.

Album opener, "Spaceman," with its circus-organ opener, crunch guitars, alien-in-my-own-town lyrics, is sheer radio-ready perfection. "Dark & Rainy Town" is a sunshine-filled sing-a-long with a cool break mid-song that gets powered by a kick drum interlude followed by strings. "Lazy Jane" is the rock-powered love song that Paul McCartney could only dream of writing. "Mountain Lake Park," with its loopy trombone and British-sounding vocals, sounds like an out-take from the last Gomez CD. The lovely "Incredible Gravity," starts with simple keyboards and Adam Zabarsky's wry vocals before pushing everything over the top. The CD's prize gem, however, is "Angeline," a classic love song from the first spin, merging chugging drums, Chicago-style (the band, not the city) harmonies, beautiful countermelodies and simple lyrics.

This CD has nothing to do with being "indie" or "alternative." It's simply a showcase of good songwriting that hearkens back to a time, before Nirvana and the hair bands, when all rock songs were well-produced epics.

Published in The Omaha Weekly, June 1, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







   Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes   

Furnace St.


Steadfast Records

Call it an homage to '80s synth-pop merged with late-'90s industrial dance music, Furnace St. manages to pull off what could have been disregarded as yet another retro-New Wave rip-off, thanks almost entirely to persistence.

This radio-friendly pop-rock has enough old-school keyboards to make you think The Cars' Greg Hawkes produced it (he didn't). The Oberlin, Ohio, duo of Adam Boose and Lisa Jorgensen make no secret of their pre-Nirvana influences or their love for gothic, new-wave synthpop of yesteryear.

When done well, it produces a warm glow, a la latter-day Roxy Music, and, of course, The Cars. Despite the fact that Boose's voice gets lost way too often in the mix, he still manages to emote in a dead-pan Ben Orr style. "Square" sounds so much like The Cars' "Drive" that it's impossible to not make the comparison. But before you can just write it off as a rip-off, the duo redeems itself by taking the idea and stretching it well beyond the three minutes or so of your typical radio track to five-plus minutes -- enough time to explore the beats and tonal chord changes and make something new, though wholly familiar.

When they try to rock, like on "Hey Senator," they lose their groove, depending too much on crunchy electric guitar chop chords. "Crush On," which follows, puts the guitar to better use to augment the ever-present synths, bringing everything closer to a Roxy mood before shifting to something that resembles Trent Reznor-lite.

For the most part, less is definitely more when it comes to their keyboard treatments and the tiresome, thin electronic drums. Too much of that nerdy synth is only going to peg them as an '80s throwback, which would be a shame because they manage to put a new spin on a style that's already pretty hard not to like.

Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Cure




This is the third in a trilogy of Cure albums that began with 1982's Pornography. Part II was 1989's Disintegration, one of the best albums of that decade. Bloodflowers continues the same minor-key moping that characterized Disintegration, but unlike that album, it never seems to kick into a groove.

It takes a CD like Bloodflowers to give you an idea just how good Disintegration really was. Released at the peak of their career, just after the commercial breakthrough of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration was a detour from bright and shiny pop songs of "Just Like Heaven," and "Hot, Hot, Hot," to dark, gothic and mesmerizing epics like "Pictures of You," "Lullaby," and "Fascination Street." The Cure managed to keep the windows shuttered for an hour of midnight music without slipping into a shadow world of depression.

While Bloodflowers isn't a complete drag, either, it can be downright boring. Add to that the fact that the melodies and sonic textures are nothing new to those of us already familiar with this band.

The opener, "Out of this World," is basically a replica of "Pictures of You." "Watching Me Fall," is a recasting of "Fascination Street," but at a staggering 11:13 and with half the energy.

Robert Smith's lyrics haven't evolved much, either. A sense of existential realism seems to have invaded his psyche. "The world is neither fair nor unfair/The idea is just a way for us to understand," Smith laments on "Where the Birds Always Sing." "Nothing I am/Nothing I dream/Nothing is new," he weeps on "The Last Day of Summer." Angst for angst's sake was enough to get them through  in the '80s. Now it just sounds like whining.

On the plus side, there's more guitar in the mix. But since all the songs crawl at the same morbid pace, any energy they could have added is sapped away.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Disintegration and Bloodflowers is that after hearing "Lullaby" or "Fascination Street" a couple times you remembered the melody and the lyrics enough to sing along the next time. No song on Bloodflowers stands out, and even if it did, you probably wouldn't want to sing it, anyway.

Originally published in The Omaha Weekly April 20, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







   Rating: No






Rating: Yes   

Drive-by Honky

God Damn Berlin



These rough-around-the-edges pseudo-twangers have more in common with Matthew Sweet and Freedy Johnston then Wilco or Son Volt. That's because the songs are more rooted in folk rock then country. Add to that a level teaspoon of college-alt and you've got yourself a band that's just edgy enough to interest the hipsters and poppy enough to please the rest of the crowd.

Drive-by Honky is the Lincoln, Neb., duo of vocalist/guitarist Dan Jenkins and drummer Tom Cabela. With just two instruments and Jenkins' impressive David Baerwald-quality vocals, they manage to make a big noise, thanks to some trashy mixing that pushes everything forward, filling all the sonic gaps. You'll forget about that lost bass before you know it.

The song writing alone makes it hard not to be impressed with this 5-song self-release. Opener "We Are For Sale," with its storming electric gee-tar intro, is too indie-sounding to be country. It's also way too urbane. Plus, it rocks. "Polyester Drama" opens with soaring acoustic chords and Jenkin's wale and chugs along at a breakneck pace until downshifting into an acoustic-funk romp. Don't ask me what it's about. There's something in there about being "fake," and the phrase, "Inject some venom in your life." Catchy, but ultimately meaningless.

"Not Quite Bernadette" is the happy twanger that K. Cobain never recorded, while "Never Better" is the one that most closely resembles the alt country stuff that I expected, with more than a passing resemblance to early Silos. The CD's tour de force, however, is the 7-minute closer "Sailor Adrift," that starts as an effects-pedal acoustic ballad before exploding into an all-out grunge rocker. This is summertime, stomping-around-in-your-pickup rock music that kinda makes you wonder what would happen if this dynamic duo ever added a bass and a second guitar to the mix. Methinks that ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Besides, three's a crowd.

Originally published in The Omaha Weekly April 20, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Nerf Herder

How to Meet Girls

Honest Don's


What can I say? Their 1996 self-titled debut that eventually found its way to Arista is a masterpiece, walking the tightrope between funny and stupid, it never slipped into novelty, thanks to songs that absolutely rocked and lyrics that were undeniably honest. On tracks like "Sorry," "Easy Mark" and "You're Gonna Be the One Who's Sorry," they out-Weezered Weezer.  Funny and real, you could identify with these losers who were proud to have created a new music category called "nerd core."

This time 'round, however, they slip off the high-wire and come crashing into stupid territory too many times. They still sport that same crackin', pop-punk Weezer-ish sound, and yeah, it can rock as hard as anything on their first CD. But whereas that one coaxed laughs while being smart and introspective, this one's way too forced. Take "Courtney," a tribute of sorts to Kurt's wife, with the line, "You came from some town out in the sticks/To become the modern Stevie Nicks." Clever, but lyrics like, "You bared your soul/You showed us your hole," and "Courtney Love, sit on my face," push this into Weird Al Yankovic territory (Perry Gripp's whiney voice even sounds Weird Al-ish at times).

These guys are getting kind of long in the tooth to be singing songs like "Lamer than Lame," (How can I make you understand/When I'm wearing the pants with the elastic waistband), "Feeling Bad," (Smelled her hair/Smelled her sweater/And then I touched myself) and the gross "Pervert" (You called me on the phone/Said you wanted to talk/But how could you have known/What I was doing with my sock).

Some songs are slightly amusing: The cheesy-movie/TV referenced "For You" (I'd make cocktails like Tom Cruise/And I'd rollerblade with Corey Feldman for you); and "Pantera Fans in Love" (We'll put an end to alternative rock/We'll find a way to make the Cranberries stop).

But these guys are at their best when they're not cracking wise, like on CD opener "Vivian," and the outstanding "Jonathan" (Please God don't let me end up like Jonathan Richman/Turn the radio off). Seems to me that they could do just fine without trying to cut-up the junior high crowd. It's time to leave behind the nerd core world they created and record a CD for those of us who grew up since their first album, just like they did. Length: 31:44

Published in Omaha Weekly March 31, 2999. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







   Rating: No








Rating: Yes   

Boston and Beyond

A compilation from the D.I.Y Halls

Nebulon Community Records


I have no idea if this is available to the general public. The "Info Sheet" contained within calls it a compilation of unsigned, lesser known bands who follow the D.I.Y. ethic, mostly from Boston and along the East Coast. Omaha should be so lucky to have this kind of a scene. Just under 66 minutes with 23 tracks, most around two minutes long, you get a taste of what's happening at all the other clubs that we'll never hear of. Very diverse, but with the same modern punk thread running throughout. The poppier stuff is better than the hardcore stuff. Definately worth the price of the disc and airfare to Boston to check them out live. An outstanding locally produced compilation.

Home Runs:

Moment -- Crunch punk pop too fast to explain.

Chupa Cabra -- I'm still wondering why these guys aren't signed. Probably as close to Chavez as you're going to get, but with even more edge.

Moveable -- Reminds me of a band called Pencil and a local outfit from Lawrence called Zoom that no longer exists (and I'm still broken up about it). Terrific guitars, terrific vocals, terrific song. My favorite of the bunch.

Endlast -- Cool bass crunch punk pop. The song's last minute moved it up from "Hits" to "Home runs."

The Wobblies -- Cranky rock and roll, with enough math in a 6/8 pattern to move it to the next level. This is over-the-top, and I like it.

28 Degrees Taurus -- Dreamy mix of Sonic Youth and The Cure.


The Goonies -- Hardcore that mixes horns and snarl well. Don't call it ska.

The Statue Factor -- Keyboard-driven Cramps meets Jon Spencer by way of Rolling Stones.

Tunnel of Love -- "I'm ugly, my body's thin and bony." You'd be angry too, but not as funky about it.

The Bends -- In the style of Nerf Herder and other power-chord fun punkers everywhere. Charmingly sloppy at times.

The Terribles -- Very homemade sounding rock, with something extra.

Fiesel -- Two-part speak and scream rave-up.

Surrender -- Sort of Sublime-ish, and funny, too. Is it real punk? Not really.

Chemical Peel Doing -- It just doesn't get fuzzier; all wrapped around one guitar lick.

The Fantastics -- Bass-driven funkrock by way of Stone Roses.

The Ignint Fucks -- Loops, found noises and a stupid chick. Experimental?


The Actionmen -- Hardcore. Blah.

Slept -- It comes close to the same haunting feel as Idaho or American Music Club. Too bad about the keyboards.

Castrati -- Geek vocals on top of old-style Metallica riffage equals more bad hardcore.

Democracy Test -- Another hardcore band, this time a lot of kids yell "Allegiance."

My Magnificent Machine -- Scream-core, and at over five minutes. Great band, too bad about the vocals.

SWAT -- Another hardcore band. Yawn.

The Goombas -- Real D.I.Y. punk. -- Real D.I.Y. punk.

Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Falling Kind

Dirt Records


Almost the entire CD is centered around Verena Weisendanger's unencumbered, unharmonized vocals, and that's where the problems begin. With a voice lost somewhere between Margo Timmins and a tired Chrissie Hynde, Weisendanger emotes like a woman on painkillers fronting a college-radio lounge act.

The Cowboy Junkies comparison is no accident. "First We Kissed" sounds like it's smack off the Junkies' last one, though only slightly more upbeat. Weisendanger's voice seems more targeted at applying tonal layering to rather sparse college-rock instruments, and not much else. Think of this is extremely laid-back Junkies, who aren't that interesting to begin with. It's all way too easy to ignore. They pep it up some on "Passerby" and "Tiny," which sports some tasty guitar (here, her deadpan vocals almost work, but are far too controlled for their own good).

It's only when they add some harmonies to the recipe that something happens. "Baby's Changed" is right on target, thanks to some interesting vocal touches that remind me of That Dog (my absolute favorite female fronted band from a few years ago) and some Feelies-like guitar. This one's a keeper. "Careless" carries on the same trend, but there isn't enough here to add spice to this rather bland CD.

Published in The Reader March 9, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







   Rating: No







Rating: Yes   

The Hillary Step

The Second Time Means Nothing

Urinine Records


Those inside the dark world of indie music might compare them to June of 44, but those outside will say that they sound like a hard-assed version of those wimps, Toad the Wet Sprocket, especially since Brad Hodgson's voice (when it isn't on edge) is identical to Glen Phillips'. I'm sure the Kansas City trio will cringe when they read that last sentence; they shouldn't because Phillips does sing great, and there are about 100,000 of his fans that will tell you so. Okay, okay, I suppose it's a moot, silly point, since The Hillary Step has none of Toad's pleasant, light poppiness.

No, I like to think they've got a touch of Chavez in their sound, but maybe that's because I'm the biggest Chavez fan in the world and I'm tired of waiting for those guys to put out something new. The match is in their sheer unbridled intensity, their creative time sequencing and change-ups that keep all the tracks moving forward unstoppable. A track like "No Good Reason" has about a dozen or so distinctly interesting moments wrapped around the vocals and drums. Not to mention plenty of bombastic guitar (how could we forget?). Call it art rock if you want, but it's not nearly wonky enough to be mistaken for prog.

When they go straight-ahead rocker, ("Damn the Luck") they come close to early Goo Goo Dolls territory (there's another cringe-inducing reference). But on the second half of that song, they manage to exorcise those demons with sheer, gnawing power.

The lyrics are your usual stream of conscious angst commentary that centers around love, regret and loneliness. Nothing stands out lyrically and it's a shame, really because the music is so powerful and lovely at the same time. I like all of it regardless of the lack of lyrical significance if merely for creating a textured rage that blossoms with enough bitterness and remorse to turn Trent Reznor's head. And you've got to cut them some slack since this is a debut (although their bio says it was a decade in the making). I'm sure next time around, Hodgson and company will have a lot more to say.

Published in The Reader March 23, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Hot Snakes

Automatic Midnight

Swami Records


Almost stoic pop-punk rock from a three-piece supergroup consisting of members of Drive Like Jehu, Delta 72 and other outfits that these guys seem to have bounced among throughout the '90s. In a comparison contest, Jehu wins because you can hear Yank Crime in there, but that's really only due to Rick Fork's AKA Eric Froeberg's distinctive, woman-like punk howl that always seems pushed to the limit.

For those of you not up on those bands, we're talking driving, edgy melodic punk, closer to Superchunk and Nirvana (know those ones?) then anything else I can think of. In fact, if you replaced Fork with Kirk on, say, "No Hands," (or any of the first three tracks) you'd have a Nirvana song, though way too fast and not nearly as well engineered. Tracks 1-3 are definitely not the place to start here, each one sounds virtually, redundantly the same.

Things heat up, however, on "Salton City," thanks to Jason Kourkounis' angry, sexy stripper drums and John Reis' acid rain guitars that gush down between verses. I'm not sure what Fork is singing, but he sounds like he means it. "10th Planet" is as sinister and bleak as that scene in a James Ellroy novel, where the crooked cop puts the stoolie's hand into a french fry machine to get him to talk. "It's a dead, dead-dead town" wails Fork, and for once, the band gets a bit mainstream (in a good, '80s alt sorta way) with guitars that sound dangerously close to something off a fast Cure CD. Thankfully the grim, counter-guitar riff throws a bloody bodybag over it all, dramatic and black, relentless to its too-soon ending. "Our Work Fills the Pews" is all bass-drum tribal leather swagger with enough sneer to kick-start a Harley. The CD's variety comes almost entirely from Kourkounis' drums. When he's allowed to stray from the straight 4/4, he always raises an eyebrow and changes the surface of anything right from the start.

At just over a half-hour in length (don't be fooled by the time-stamp -- this has an irritating and useless "hidden track," which unfortunately guarantees it won't end up in my carousel for fear of hitting the 15-minute blank spot during a random sequence), look at Automatic Midnight as a solid EP featuring three or four proto-punk masterpieces you can't live without.

Published in The Reader, March 16, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







   Rating: Yes







Rating: No   

The Statue Factor

A Mission of Five

Nebulon Community Records


After reading through all the press clipping blather that came with the CD, I couldn't believe that not one of the dozen or so critics compared lead singer Joseph Coelho's voice to Some Girl's era Mick Jaggar. Did I just dream it? No, I'm listening to the CD again right now and there it is.

Maybe it's because the Mick Jaggar thing doesn't start until track 5. Before that, Boston's Statue Factory gives a nice, swirly mix of '60s-style Animals-esque rock mixed with just the right amount of attitude-nal punk. The keyboards are 100 percent cool, and when Lady K adds her vocals, we're all reminded of the golden days of X. Tracks 1-4 are all balls.

Then we reach "Coughing Up Blood," whereupon Coelho decides it's time to be Jaggar, complete with the swagger and the clipped phrasings. And while the song still rocks, the vocals quickly become tiresome. It'll leave you humming "Shattered" all over again (and what did I do with that CD, anyway?). Is it a one-song fluke? "Popular Girl Syndrome" starts off promising, and then along comes the Jaggar thing again. What the hell? Is this the same guy on "She Destroyed Me" just a few tracks ago? Then why is he doing this? And how could none of the other critics notice? Hell, why didn't the rest of the band stop him?

"Tight Shirt Conspiracy" steps away from the Stones thing for about a minute before Coelho morphs Jon Spencer with Jaggar. When he yells, "My heart is shattered," you can't help but cringe. "He's Cheap Luv" provides nice ballady fun before we return to the same ol' routine on the next track.

If Jaggar's your thing, you're in luck, though I prefer the real thing. When you strip away the Jaggar/Spencer aping, you get a tight rock band crushing out solid, hookless tunes that you'll never remember after the CD stops spinning. It's pretty fun while it lasts, though. And something tells me these guys rock live.

Published in The Reader March 23, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Tactical Knives

Vital Cog


It's not that it's particularly awful in as much as it's uneventful. The Central New Jersey four-piece emulates the aimless late-'80s indie rock sound that was prevalent just after we got over the shock of R.E.M and before the onslaught of the Pixies and the violence of grunge -- it was a musical limbo of sorts, where bands like the lifeless Lilac Time (who Duochrome unfortunately resembles) the Mighty Lemondrops and the BoDeans were getting college airplay. For that small moment, indie seemed to mean upbeat, low-energy pop (pap?), while we were all waiting for something better or more interesting to come along.

Duochrome sometimes shows a Psychedelic Furs guitar and wimpy Lloyd Cole-style vocal, but without the hooks or the chutzpah. The main vocalist (sorry, no credits on the CD except for by-the-numbers engineer Brad Morrison) has a flat, careless delivery that should be charming but is just plain boring, while the other vocalist, heard only on a couple tracks, sounds croaky and more interesting, but can't pull this out of plain-Jane land. When they try to break free, like on the rave ups, "Girls Deluxe" and "Professional Drinking," they only get it half right -- they can't seem to shake the slacker ennui that permeates the entire production.

Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







Rating: No






Rating: Yes   


The Adder

Smokey Lung Recordings


I'm not quite sure if this is a reissue or what, considering the band also just put out a collection of "all new work from 1998 to 1999." This one, a compilation of work from 1994-1998, supposedly is a 1999 release (according to their website) while the CD label says 2000; so who knows?

There's no doubt, however, that it's a comp, considering the diverse styles that make for a rather disjointed ride. The first half is low-key, relatively traditional balladry, sometimes Beach Boys bright, other times Galaxy 500 dour. While the second half's upbeat, ethereal jangle noise symphonies sport brilliant melodies reminiscent of Pacific Northwest art rock bands like Built to Spill, 768-HERO and Modest Mouse.

"Nature's Toy" is the band doing its hick-anthem routine stripped to the bare minimum (guitar/vocal/drums), thinly recorded on 4-track. When they add piano on "No More Guests," Richey's nasal, David Thomas-style (Pere Ubu) vocals and backing harmonies make for a drug-induced Beach Boys homage. Next up, the droopy waltz-time "Crossing Me Up," shows off Richey's range, from a Dylan croak to a Roger Waters shriek. He goes one further on "Natives," with a Grant Lee Phillips falsetto on a Grant Lee Buffalo-style ballad.

But Brando doesn't reach its stride until they get to the Seattle-style triptych nestled toward the CD's center. "Starvation Soup," with its disjointed melody and clashing accompaniment, is a whole lotta Modest Mouse. "Turning," with its downbeat, bass-driven opening, Richey's yearning vocals and the pounding power chords that pull it together, is as good as anything I've heard from Up Records. Finally, the droning waltz, "Instantly Spaceships," has the same floating quality of the best Built to Spill down-style anthems, though way too short at only 2:01.

The straight-ahead rockers that close out the CD are curious apostrophes to an already confusing recording. But I suppose you're bound to have variety when you compile tracks recorded over four years by a 4-piece whose members live in four different cities (for example, guitarist Nate Bryant lives in Brazil, while Richey calls Bloomington, Ind., home). The stylistic thread that brings the CD together becomes more obvious after numerous listenings. Brando inevitably leaves you wandering in its long, deep shadows, still echoes and crowded moments that will haunt you like a dream you desperately can't remember.

Published in The Reader Feb. 17, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Men of Porn

American Style

Man's Ruin


Tim Moss and company dare you to hate it at every turn, and I can't help but like it. Even the droning, 300-ton, 16:41 opener that sounds like heavy metal Yo La Tengo on 'ludes.

Moss paid his dues back in Omaha as lead maniac behind the early '90s gutter-groove punk outfit Ritual Device (pictured on this website's homepage). After releasing a number of singles and a full-length on Redemption (not to mention a split 12-inch with Killdozer), the four-piece called it quits in '96 and Moss moved to San Francisco to start a new life. The remaining trio formed the pseudo hardcore outfit, Ravine. Moss wasted no time finding new people to play with, including original Ritual Device bassist Jerry Hug, drummer Joey Osborne (Acid King, Altamont), drummer Jon Weiss (Helios Creed, Horsey), guitarist/producer Joe Goldring (Swans), and Omaha guitarist John Wolf (Bad Luck Charm, former Cellophane Ceiling). The stage band, however consists only of Moss on guitars and vocals, bassist/vocalist Misha Avrushenko and drummer Weiss.

American Style picks up where Ritual Device left off. Most of the tracks were recorded in '96 and '97, right after the breakup. Fans of that band will immediately recognize much of the same pounding groove that pulsed through all the best RD stuff. Where Porn differs is in its unrelenting love of distortion -- big thick slabs of gloppy, primitive fuzz guitar. The one-sheet warns potential listeners: "If distortion, dissonance and porn offend you, do not listen to this record." And sure enough, you get plenty of all three.

Moss' lyrics are as depraved as they wanna be. "Teabaggin'" is a veritable classic of hick crassness, the apex of bad taste. Rarely will you find a song that embraces incest, bestiality and (untraditional) oral sex tied with a beat you can dance to. Moss' vocals generally come in two styles -- speaking and screeching. Here, his voice is pure Midwestern corn pone, falling into a rushed mumble before shrieking on the chorus. On the Jam Jar Superstar Remix of "Ballad of the Bulldyke," (the better of the two robust Bulldyke mixes), Moss is a circus barker/street hustler, trying to sell various sexual devices that can be delivered to your door for $1.50 postage and handling. Suave.

You could make the mistake of overanalyzing this. What's missing from his RD days are all those funky hooks that you could scream along to. Nothing here is as compact and focused as "Ritual Lips" or "What You Got." Instead, you get lots of dense rock 'n' roll (not metal, not punk) with a solid groove furnished by a tight rhythm section that keeps it all from drowning in a vat of distorted goo.

From the artwork to the lyrics, American Style is guaranteed to piss off just about anyone who finds solace in the latest Backstreet Boys or Limp Bizkit bore-a-thon. Rock 'n' roll is supposed to make you feel uneasy, and that's where this succeeds the most.

Published in Omaha Weekly March 24, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.








   Rating: Yes 







Rating: Yes   

Charles Douglas

The Lives of Charles Douglas

No. 6 Records


Something tells me there's great made-for-TV-movie potential in Charles Douglas' life story. It's more than just the fact that his songs deal with drug use, broken hearts and being a forlorn loser. Here's a regular guy -- formerly of the band Vegetarian Meat and restaurant Burger King -- who (one surmises through impeccable NYC contacts) links up with legendary Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker and gets her to play drums and produce his debut solo outing. If that weren't enough, he convinces talent from bands such as Ultra Vivid Scene and St. Johnny to lay down some licks. The product is stripped down janglepop rock songs that hearken back to the Velvet's early days. Douglas goes from manning a French Fry computer to laying down tracks at Zabriskie Point Studios all before the first commercial break.

Though there's a loose-jam feel running through most of the stripped-down tracks on The Lives..., there's no question that everything is rather calculated. No one "just sounds like Lou Reed" without a great deal of effort, especially when his former drummer is behind the board and the kit. Tucker had to be egging him on throughout the entire ordeal, feeling that the world needs more Reed, whether it's the real Reed or not. Douglas does have an uncanny ability to sound just like The Lou. It's all right there on the opener, "Summertime," complete with deadpan delivery and the trademark quiver on the sustaining notes. The velvet shadow drapes over most of the CD, both vocally and musically, but it's not alone. On "I Could Get Used to You" and "Earlybird School," Douglas does his best Gordon Gano geek-vocal turn. But he sounds best when he sounds like, well, Douglas, as on the soothing, self-medication anthem, "Slowly Wasted," that could easily become the party anthem for this generation's legion of university drunks, the ones who are constantly -- frustratingly -- finding themselves at the dorm parties where no girls ever show up.

Everything culminates on the album's high-water mark,"A Boy Like Me," driven by Tucker's amazing tribal-like drums and Douglas' sad-dog loser message, "You always had time for a boy like me/But not now." The track's last minute and a half is Tucker's drums and a simple guitar, building up, up, up in the same style that was stolen from Tucker's old band by The Feelies' on their great early albums. Now Tucker and Douglas are stealing it back, once and for all.

Published in The Reader Feb. 3, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Simon Joyner

The Lousy Dance

Truckstop Records

The more Joyner changes, the more he stays the same. And though there are slight nuances in musical style from recording to recording, he's still the same ol' sad sack folkie you knew and loved on his first tape-only release almost a decade ago. His most notable shift in style came on 1998's Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between, his double-CD opus where he reinvented himself into a forlorn Glen Campbell. Unlike his early guitar-and-mic-only days, Joyner is now backed by a full band (most of the time), but still seems to prefer leaning into a good waltz with a dusty six-string. If he started out as an acoustic punk, he's evolved into a coffeeshop cowboy, complete with pedal steel for effect.

With Joyner, a singer whose off-kilter, warbly voice can (and must) grow on you, it's never really been about the music. It's about the words -- the broken stories, the darkly closeted lyrics that weave fortune tellers, storm clouds and lonely, lost, tortured characters seeking redemption on trash-filled, rain-soaked streets, presumably in the Old Market. He's not apologetic about his grim messages that leave critics thinking he's Leonard Cohen's illegitimate wunderkind.

This could be his most realized effort since '94's The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, still my all-time favorite for its sheer audaciousness. Here he's best when he has a hook to put his tired arms around, like on the Jackson Browne-ish "I Will Find You," a song that would sound comfortable on the FM, and the bouncy "When She Drops Her Veil." Both tracks feature warm keyboards by Wil Hendricks that add an entirely new dimension to Joyner's usually sparse arrangements. These are the pop moments on a CD that, like his others, is centered around a series of dirges in which to wallow. The Lousy Dance will be a long, dark night for all but the patient few who can find the beauty in Joyner's overcast world.

Published in The Reader, January 13, 2000. Copyright © 20000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






   Rating: Yes







Rating: No   

The Gadjits

Wish We Never Met

Hellcat Records


Everyone in the band professes a love for Elvis Costello. I love Elvis C. too, but I prefer his style of pop-punk to this. Or to their stabs at emulating his sound. "Bad Gadjit" is "Radio, Radio" with a wispy Ska residue. But it, along with the other Costello tribute, "B.C." at least have some blood pumping through them. The standard-issue ska ramblings throughout sound tired and downright boring. The drums, keyboards, guitar are all rather flacid. Or maybe I'm just getting tired of formulaic ska? Fact is, there ain't a lot of interesting new territory being discovered here. "Carnival Sense," with its "Jailhouse Rock" intro, is uninspired bowling music, thanks to the hockey-rink keys, but maybe this is supposed to be novelty, like the CD closer, "Jenny Jones (leave the deathrock kids alone)"? Maybe I'm losing my sense of humor? "Cowboys Always Win" and "Outsider" conjure up weird, John Wesley Harding comparisons to the vocals, which I find disturbing. The CD corker is "Cleveland, Ohio," because the band sounds like they care. I'm sure this stuff translates better live (how could it not?). See them when they're in your town, and buy a copy of "This Year's Model" instead.

Published in The Reader January 13, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

June & the Exit Wounds

'a little more Haven Hamilton, please'

Parasol Records

Not particularly complicated or confusing, they make pop music with keyboards, falsetto voices and a love for the Beach Boys (or so it seems). Categorize this 6-piece, headed by Champaign, Ill., native Todd Fletcher, under the soft stuff where Ben Folds Five and Guster hang out. Most everything starts with a chimer of a piano lick, followed by subtle combo accompaniment -- translated: This is really a Fletcher solo outing with a backing band. "Straight to My Head," and "I Shouldn't be Surprised" get lush, with a loungy Tears for Fears-in-their-quieter-moments sheen. The lyrics -- the same ol' love and longing stuff, but with a smile -- are merely something for Fletcher's voice to do while the band is trying to capture a vibe. In other words,  forgettable. "Highway Noise" and "Let's Shack Up Together" -- practically the same song done twice -- are piano-based tributes to Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, which is what makes them so good, I suppose. The best stuff, of course, doesn't have any piano at all ("Your Breaking My Heart," "Field Day" "Idly By") and fits snuggly into the pop canon created by Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare. Overall, not the most original sound in the world, but pleasant, well-played, and completely inoffensive -- and in this hectic, fast-paced world, sometimes you just need that.

Published in The Reader January 13, 2000. Copyright © 20000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







  Rating: Yes 







Rating: Yes    

Caustic Resin

Trick Question



What is it about the Pacific Northwest air that spawns all these spaced out, alienated bands whose visions are as dark as decay and inviting as sin? Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, 764-HERO, and Caustic Resin, all have the same lost, wandering feel -- dark, isolated, awake, afraid and alone, and ultimately, familiar. In Resin's case, the aural musical trance runs further into the realm of fear than the regret.

Trick Question splits in two like a fine vinyl album. Side one, the first five songs, is an exorcism dominated by thick, sludgy slabs of sloppy, angry angst. "Taste" plods forward like a drunken linebacker looking for a toilet to throw up in. "Eventhings" feels evil from the get-go, 'til it turns into a Neil Young-style guitar romp. In fact, those who know nothing about this region's unique musical stylings might compare side one's throbbing ballet to a dreadful cross between The Final Cut-era Pink Floyd and Rust Never Sleeps-era Young. Slow, desperate, and at times, hard to withstand, like the nearly 6-minute-long rumination called "California," which feels like a very bad hangover or a blood-red headache. CD opener, "Unlucky" has the same gloomy goth shadowing as the darker, grimmer stuff off early Cure albums (see "The Snake Pit" and "The Kiss" off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me).

Then, strangely, side two, starts with "New Wings" and "Bugs," two tracks that rock like modern college dance tracks, a la The Notwist. Brett Netson's vocals shift from an annoyingly nasal Klaus Meine-of-the-Scorpions sneer to something much more subtle and in control. Next comes a fast and loud Stonesy punk romp, a Crazy Horse-style rocker and a Jane's Addiction freakout. It's like being rewarded for making it through the grueling sonic journey of side one.

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Outrageous Cherry

Out There in the Dark

Del-Fi 2000

Unlike Brian Jonestown Massacre, who wallow in their retro '60s lo-fi sound only to make the point that they're hipper than you, OC simply finds the lo-fi stylings to be the right fit for their music. Reviewers are endlessly comparing them to whomever they love (or remember) from the '60s (Beach Boys? The Byrds? The Electric Prunes? The British Invasion? I don't thinks so.) The only thing they have in common with those bands is the echo-filled, feedback-laden, low-fi recording style. Those thrilling bands of yesteryear didn't have much choice in the matter, instantly making OC's retro style a statement of devotion rather than necessity. In fact, they probably have more in common chops-wise with Material Issue, The Las or The Smithereens, bands they'd resemble even closer if they dropped the retro costuming. Like Guided by Voices, another outfit that started out loving lo-fi, I think they're as modern as anything on your FM dial these days, especially Larry Ray's guitar solos, which have more in common with 1990s Seattle than 1960s California. The lyrics, on the other hand, don't show a '90s sophistication, but who wants '90s sophistication, anyway? Standouts: "Togetherness" with its glowing chorus, and "Tracy," which opens with an "I Melt With You" guitar lick before picking up a Material Issue sneer. I found myself wandering toward the end, especially during the 11:33-long jam closer.

Published in The Reader Dec. 30, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






   Rating: Yes






Rating: No   

Saves the Day

Through Being Cool

Equal Vision Records

Broken-hearted-boy punk rock by way of Green Day. But unlike those punk poseurs, Saves the Day doesn't bother trying to conform to anything that even resembles punk. Isn't punk supposed to be about rebellion or something? Certainly there's nothing rebellious about Green Day, and methinks that this bunch has done exactly what mommy's told them to since, well, they probably still do. Their sound is miles away from hardcore (thankfully), squarely targeted at your typical suburban, baggy pants-wearing, Catholic school skateboarder boy, just a few years away from being caught up in the emo scene, just on the verge of being bitter. Nice and clean powerchords remind me more of Nerfherder every time I listen. Too bad they don't have that band's sense of humor, which leaves us with nothing but clean powerchords and Chris Conley's well-meaning chirping about his broken heart. At 20, these guys have a long way to go before they can start whining on a Trent Reznor level. Let's hope they never get there. Stand out: "Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots" (slow it down slightly and you've got Thin Lizzy minus the Meadow Lands baggage), but other than that, it's the same ol' pseudo-punk you've heard too many times already. Missing is anything resembling a memorable hook, but maybe that's because these guys have yet to experience anything unforgettable. I can't wait 'til they actually get their hearts broken, then we're in for a ride.

Published in The Reader Dec. 23, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Decline

Fat Wreck Chords


A punk-rock opera at a slim 18:19 or just one helluva long song? I'll opt for the latter, as you get a taste of just about everything this earnest punkrock combo has to offer, from popified-hardcore to ska, even some tasty groove. In the end, though, it's always back to the hardcore, because isn't that the language of dissent? Thanks to e-nun-see-a-suhn, you'll catch every bit of social commentary as it zings past like The McLaughlin Group on crack. Taken as a whole, the mini-opus is a collection of anti-gun, anti-war, anti-lemming slogans, strung together with a couple scenarios and thin characters (one guy doing hard time (literally), who opts for offing himself; a boy-hunter with family game in his sites). The tempo shifts are as jarring as they're suppose to be and when it's all over, you're not sure what you've heard, other than guns are bad, greed is bad and we're all going down together. Not the most original message ever pressed on vinyl, especially since punk bands have been cutting their teeth on such rhetoric for almost 30 years. Even so, it's entertaining, but probably more relevant seen on stage. And it's hard to argue the "Pay no more than $11" price when proceeds are going toward "heeps of gnarly human and animal rights organizations."

Published in The Reader Jan. 6, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







   Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes   



Noisebox Records

Should you judge a book by its cover, or in this case, jewel case? Seems like every time I do, I end up getting burned. But not in the case of Moviegoer's self-titled debut.

First, the CD case: A beautiful silk-screen print (outside and inside) on a cardboard tri-fold, enclosed in a screen-printed rice-paper sleeve. Without a doubt, the most beautiful CD case I've seen this year, a work of art. But does the music live up to its packaging?

The debut by this Baltimore 4-piece blends latter-day The Who with plenty of mathy guitars and just a touch of prog rock. Dave Ort's vocals are a dead-ringer for an angry Roger Daltrey in full wail, at once throaty and raw and right on the mark, whether he's aiming that direction or not. While the opener, "Little Push," is rough-neck Who's Next, "10 ft. Under" has more in common with Chavez then The Who, that is until Ort begins working the tonsils full-throttle.

Most tracks have a Jawbox sheen to them,  but the "Roger Daltrey effect" touches on most everything, in a strangely pleasing way. The CD's highlights are all on the heavy side, like the chugging "Flows Strong," with its weird haiku-like lyrical phrasing and always pushing, Thirty Ought Six-style guitars. "Sink or Swim" is all angles and swagger, leaning oh so closely to falling off into a minor key abyss, only to pull itself back to an anthemic shore. "The Brand New #2," with its epic guitars and the Daltrey effect in high gear, closes out the CD in grand style.

The downside is the recording's oftentimes muddy, soft mix. Mike Hoff's drums seem get lost amidst the noise or sound muffled and limp.

Apparently Moviegoer has spent the last two years playing in and around New Brunswick, N.J., with no immediately plans of touring. Too bad, because something tells me they're bigger live than on CD, despite its attractive packaging.

Available from Morphius --

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Stone Temple Pilots

No. 4


Scott Weiland has a unique, inside view of Jim Morrison's darkest days. Weiland's a smack addict, Morrison was an alcoholic. Both diseases have a way of casting deep, gray shadows over peoples' souls, as distinctive to the ear as to the eye. On "Atlanta," the closing track on Stone Temple Pilot's latest, No. 4, Weiland croons in a deep, hollow and affected voice that is all Morrison, until he jumps a register on the second verse, something Jim could never do, at least not for very long. Listening to "Atlanta" makes you want to slap on some headphones and pull out your copy of LA Woman.

The rest of No. 4, however, is business as usual, STP style. The opening grinder, "Down," is the same stomping rock-funk grind that made Core so painfully infectious. The recipe is simple: heavy dollops of bass and power chords moving at an elephant-zombie pace, somewhere between "When the Levee Breaks" and "Rock 'n' Roll." The Zep comparison is no fluke, not because the band really compares well to them (STP isn't nearly as innovative or experimental), but in its relentless intensity when the band knows where it wants to go.

Underlying everything, of course, is Weiland, his experiences, his vocals. Here's a guy who, justifiably or not, was attacked as an Eddie Vedder wannabe when STP first set sail. He's grown well beyond those early days, into a voice distinctive enough to pick out in a sonic line-up. Lyrically, it's hard not to draw connections with Weiland's smack-riddled experiences. For example, on the skull-pounding "No Way Out," where the lyric is hopeful, sort of: "I'm going under, I'm suffocating/Drowning but I'm holding on," countered at the chorus with "Keep it away now mother fucker, now keep it away." You tell me what he's talking about.

Regardless of the themes, the tracks are never depressing. And the band doesn't change gears much throughout the CD, offering one in-your-face rocker after another, except, of course, for "Atlanta." If Weiland can manage to stay alive, he has enough talent to sing anything he wants, from rock to ballad, even to lounge. I only hope he can hear the same range of possibility in his own voice, and in his life.

Printed in The Reader Nov. 18, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







  Rating: Yes












Rating: Yes     

Morning Becomes Eclectic

Various Artists


This is the fifth volume (though, for some reason, they quit numbering them after last year's) of music selected from on-air performances at KCRW Studios in Santa Monica, Calif., the station that arguably broke Beck when they began spinning "Loser" before the rest of the world. A public radio station, KCRW brings in countless underground, indie and "alternative" superstars to play a few mostly acoustic numbers during their morning show, which are in-turn recorded direct to two-track DAT, then presented in these nice CD packages. Past volumes have included performances by such indie superstars as Nick Cave, Bettie Serveert, Sebadoh, Lloyd Cole, Tindersticks, Radiohead and Tom Waits. That's quite an act to live up to, but KCRW manages it somehow, year after year. This year's volume is no exception.

Just like any other compilation, there's  some terrific performances, right next to some real forgettable stuff, but hey, isn't that part of the fun? The highlights: Cake's funky, loungy "Is This Love?" a fairly straight-forward take of Air's "All I Need;" Semisonic's lovely, pop "Secret Smile," PJ Harvey's stark "Is This Desire?" a smoky, bluesy "Glory Box," by John Martyn, and Pink Martini's creepy, stalker version of the Doris Day classic "Que Sera Sera." On the lackluster side, a rather flat offering by Mercury Rev, another in a series of Beth Ortin yawners from her new CD, an annoying Freestylers hip-hop-hooray, a Lilith-flavored Morcheeba track, and a Zap-Mama a capella by Angelique Kidjo that, unfortunately, kicks off the CD. Who's kidding who here, whether you like the artists or not is purely a matter of taste,  since all the songs live up to the high recording and engineering standards you've come to expect from this series.

The key word in the CD title is "Eclectic," and while you could quibble over some of the artist choices, there's no doubt that for the most part, everything here points aggressively forward in the evolution of music. No, this isn't my favorite volume of Morning Becomes Eclectic, but it's still better than 90 percent of the compilation CDs out there these days. Long live KCRW.

Printed in The Reader Dec. 2, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



Capricorn Records

What do people want from 311, anyway?

We're not talking about relevant, life-changing music here. Their goal seems fairly simple: give those baggy-clothes-wearing, "hip" white kids a reason to jump up and down in a sweaty mob, like a brotherhood of soft-moshers. So why waste time trying to psychoanalyze their music and lyrics? I mean, how much thought could have been put into a lyric like "Come original/You've got to come original/All entertainers/Come original"? That particular lyric, incidentally, seems rather ironic, considering 311 were viscously attacked back in the day by every bitter critic who thought they were aping the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now,  years later, 311 are the acknowledged originators of the head-bobbing groove-style adopted by bands like No Doubt and bad boy white "gangstas" Limp Bizkit.

That said, Soundsystem is a throwback for a band who softened up on Transistor and seems to have rediscovered how fun it can be to hack through songs with a hemp-bag filled with chopped power chords and thick-lidded bass.

On the downside, Nick Hexum's flat, hollow, always-wandering vocals haven't mellowed with age. After all these years, he's never lost that talent-show vocal style. SA's rapping, on the other hand, is stronger than ever, except he doesn't seem to have anything relevant to rap about. And the band, tighter than ever, aren't giving us anything we haven't heard before. But maybe that's the whole idea. Certainly the brass at Capricorn weren't begging for a breakthrough, and neither, probably, were 311's fans, who just want more homeboy noise to fuel the party. And for what it's worth, 311 comes through. You can almost see how the crowd will react to the breaks on "Can't Fade Me," "Sever" and the rough-hewn opener, "Freeze Time." This time 'round, the boys seem to have added an extra dollop of fuzz-guitar riffs, which feels tough and raw until after about the ninth track, when it becomes rather tiring, along with Hexum's unmelodic vocal noodling.

When the band strays from formula, like on the jammy "Life's Not a Race," raggae-flavored "Strong All Along" and the bouncy bass-driven headtrip "Leaving Babylon," you get a sense that maybe there's room for innovation. Too bad no one's exactly dying for it, at least not while that cash register keeps on ringing.

Published in The Reader, Oct. 21, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.








  Rating: No






Rating: No   


I Wish the Talkies Never Would Have Come Around

Keyhole Records

This droning, all-acoustic effort could never be longer than six songs in length because any more would drive the listener to the eject button. Regardless, Michael Self manages to produce distinctively emotive mood music like the better drone rock outfits of those glorious shoe-gazer days of yesteryear. Just add a drummer and this could have been a lot more interesting, in a Bedhead sort of vein. In fact, Self could have helped himself by adding some building dynamics throughout the longer, more monotonous numbers. Instead, the simplistic, barren instrumentation leaves much to the imagination. As does Self's rather flat, rangeless voice. Things become particularly tedious on the noisy, wandering "City of Candles," which features rhythmless thrumming, a music box, and what sounds like pointless tapping on a shoebox. It has all the appeal of someone aimlessly whistling in your office, who after about five minutes you just want to strangle. But things rebound on the last, and best, track of the CD, "Wax Covered Face," that manages to build an interesting atmosphere throughout its seven-plus minutes. Added instruments, including a violin, help give this one more direction, especially about two minutes in when the guitar chords, violin and Self's voice provide us with something that can be recognized as a song.

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Wobblies

I Have Some Language

Mason Ring Records

"Favorite Shapes" is either the song this band loves to play live or it's the one they hate to play live. The distinction is important, maybe even critical, but I'll say more about that later…

I was in the bathroom when "Favorite Shapes" came on my stereo, and for a moment, I thought I was listening to vintage Lou Reed. Mike Griffin's voice here is a spitting image of Lou's, at least on the verses, before it turns into the growl that the band seems destined to hang its hat on.

"Favorite Shapes" is clearly the most realized, best-written song on the New York City trio's recent CD. It's proof that the band has the cohoongas to write a song that could be well-respected by their fans, the press and the radio, if the radio was smart enough to sniff out classic rock songs like this one.

But the real question is whether or not the band likes playing "Favorite Shapes." It's either the tune they love to belt out every night -- a real rocker that lights up their set -- or it's the track that they felt beholden to their careers to write, a ringer designed to please a "more commercial" audience, the "sell out track" that they're a little pissed-off that they have to play; the pop song.

Here's hoping that "Favorite Shape" is in fact a labor of love, because very little on I Have Some Language is even remotely as memorable. The mathy, though rather repetitive, instrumental opener is followed by a Pixie-ish, though rather unmelodic, geometry lesson, bellowed "Ma Crowe." "50-lb Head" is too Black Francis for me to take seriously, bordering dangerously close to "rip-off" (I guess it is possible to take your Pixies' fetish too far after all). "Lye to Me" comes closer to the mark, but its back-and-forth guitar line and lack of a bridge or real chorus is unsustainable over five minutes. It seems to be some sort of "jam vehicle" for guitar solos and probably goes on for 20 minutes when played at CBGB's. "Nasty Neighbor" is sludgy grunt rock, (maybe the boy's tip of the cap to Crazy Horse?). "Quicksand Jake" is another Frank Black/Pixies' nod (okay guys, we get it…).

Then comes the elegant, beautiful "Favorite Shapes," like a break in the clouds after driving 50 miles through a thunderstorm on a deserted turnpike; like hope. I love this song, right down to Griffin singing the anthemic, "I don't feel you anymore," and the wall-of-guitar power chords that close it out.

It doesn't really matter if I love that song, though. What does matter is if the band loves the song. Do they like the idea of playing heavy-duty pop songs or are they going to keep on trying to produce their mathy, Pixie-ish stew? I'm praying for the first. Because despite what they might say down at the Bowery, there's nothing wrong with playing rock-and-roll.

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.





  Rating: No





Rating: Yes   

Madder Rose

Hello June Fool

Thirsty Ear

For the uninitiated, Madder Rose  supplied the blueprint for the shimmer and shake of Beth Orton's first album. The difference, of course, is Billy Cote's wall-of-guitars sound, dropped in the mix when you least expect it. Call it a trademark, his guitar has always suited Madder Rose's slick, stylized sound and is what keeps their albums from becoming too cloyingly sweet for their own good. Hello June Fool, in fact, is the direction Orton should have gone on her second, snoringly boring CD. Instead, Madder Rose stepped in, again, with their trip-hop beats, Cote's hammer-heavy ax and Mary Lorson's soulful voice.

Maybe the band's uncanny ability to mix beauty with mammoth distortion -- while never losing sight of the beat -- is due to hailing from the beautiful concrete palaces of New York, where you can feel both crowded and isolated at the same time. While the band's sound is densely packed for a four piece, it exudes an almost hauntingly hollow, lonely feel like being left alone in a house after your family's left... for good.

Though not nearly as stripped down or straight-forward as their stellar 1993 debut, Bring It On, which will always be their sonic benchmark , Goodbye... is the natural progression for a band that values substance over style, sound over art.

Published in The Reader, Nov. 11, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The Believe It or Nots

There's a Great Future in Plastics

Urinine Records


Why do all the local bands that prick up my ears break up right after I find them out? Mere days after I first heard this CD, The Believe It or Nots called it quits for reasons that mean nothing to me or anyone else dying to hear more pop-flavored punk from these Kansas City kids.

On this 6-song EP, TBION bear more than a passing resemblance to  indie-darlings Knapsack (another great band that also recently broke up at the top of their game), and Vitreous Humor (a Topeka band, also now defunct). Anyone else notice a trend here? Is guitar-driven college post-punk going the way of the dinosaur?

The chugging guitars of the CD's opener, "Terra Incognito" are pure pop, with run-of-the-mill lyrics about falling too hard and giving in to fast to the wrong one (but aren't they all?). "12 O'Clock in Brooklyn" and "Signals Mixed" sport more of the same chiming break-neck powerchords, but this time at the cost of a solid, hooky melody. No matter, the boys make up for it on "Blackberry Sage," a bass-pumping slacker anthem with alliterative stream-of-conscious lyrics and an irresistible sing-along chorus that makes this the best of the bunch. The CD ends too early with the shimmery instrumental, "Hand Me My Broadsword," and a "hidden track" cover of The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" that manages to pump up the guitars without losing the spirit of the original.

Taken as a whole, the EP is a promising step forward for a band that seems to have come of age in the post-grunge era. With their break-up, however, chances are this recent find will remain sadly undiscovered.

Published in The Reader Oct. 28, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






  Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes    

Those Bastard Souls

Debt & Departure

V2 Records


Those Bastard Souls is considered a side project for The Grifters top-dog, David Shouse, and his illustrious comrades in arms, Red Red Meat's Matt Fields, former Jeff Buckley guitarist Michael Tighe, and ex-Dambuilders Kevin March and Joan Wasser. But this is no mere side project. Shouse and company have produced a landmark of edgy, intrigue-filled rockers and tense love-lost ballads that are both soulful and affecting.

Backed by a solid group of players and friends, Shouse has lost the David Bowie cower that's plagued him on earlier Grifters albums. And unlike that project's glammy efforts to weird-out listeners with off-kilter noises that carefully camouflage nuggets of melody, Those Bastard Souls merely lay down the songs -- and their hearts -- to bleed out right at your feet.

The quieter, more sinister numbers showcase Shouse's even, emotive vocals, playing off a deep-timbered piano and Wasser's unbelievable violin. Those strings fit in just as nicely on the rockers, like the fist-pumping "Has Anybody Seen Her" and the chugging "Train from Terminal Boredom."

The most Grifters-sounding tune of the lot, the bass-driven "Curious State," is also among the heaviest tracks on the disc. But it cowers next to the sober, waltz-timed "Wake of the Flood" which quietly opens with organ, bell-like piano, and acoustic guitar, before Shouse mournfully sings, "When the cops showed up late to make sure you're OK/And I slipped out the back." It's so gritty you'll see him squatted down, wringing his hands. "Up to You" feels like a '30s smoky-lounge ballad, until the bass, the kick-drum and Wasser's knife-edged violin crash the chorus, slicing you open like a ripe corpse.

The CD closes with an acoustic, On Golden Pond-style version of "Spaced Out," from The Grifters' last album. The understated arrangement adds a whole new level of depth to a song that always begged a lighter touch, or so it seems now.

Shouse's other band is on hiatus while "the side project" goes on the road. Maybe he should just call his Grifters buddies and tell them he won't be home for a long, long time.

Published in The Reader Oct. 14, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Supperbell Roundup

At Station Four

Side 1 Dummy


If he ever gets heard by the coffeeshop folkies, who are too busy reading The Progressive and wondering whatever happened to Woody G., he'll find his audience. Until then, it's sink or swim by way of plucky banjo, sad-sack vocals and well-intentioned ennui. Brendon Massei's first mistake seems to have been to call himself Supperbell Roundup, until you realize the moniker is so strange you'll never forget it.

The sound is stripped down, indie-style, one-man-powered pickin' folk. The resemblance is dead-pan Beck a la One Foot in the Grave. Missing is any sort of unique modern-day reflection of the world, central to any good folk song because it's the words that carry it. The bio says he's been wandering around the country on a Greyhound since he was 16. He must have spent most of time asleep in the back or reading Steinbeck. Anyone could have dreamed up these tales of wandering woe without leaving their living room. At his best, he tells us his worries while he reinvents traditional folk and makes it his own, in the dialect of a 19-year-old drifter. But those moments are few and drowned out by plain-Jane traditionalism that's pleasent, if uninspired. Still, you can hear the potential, and it'll be interesting to see what he comes up with the next time he steps off the bus.

Printed in The Reader September 30, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.








  Rating: No









Rating: Yes    

The Hellacopters

Grande Rock

Sub Pop


American rock-and-roll circa 1977? If you told that to this Swedish 4-piece they'd gladly shake your hand or KISS you on your black-glossed lips. In fact, it's no surprise that these guys opened for KISS a few years ago, since Grand Rock sounds like something off of Love Gun. And why not? They make no secret of their love for those glamorous bands of yesteryear, like MC5, The Stooges, Motorhead and, of course, KISS. The recipe is simple: two big chopping guitars, a vocalist (Nick Royale) who sounds sorta like Paul Stanley, lots of power chords and guitar solos. You get the picture. Does it hold up to the old stuff? Comes pretty close and Lord knows they try. The sneering cock rock melodies of "Welcome to Hell," "Action De Grace"and "The Devil Stole the Beat from the Lord," sound as hard, fast and heavy as anything Motley/Warrant/Cinderella did in their best '80s day. Sometimes they even sneak in a bit of punk, like on the breakneck pleaser "The Electric Index Eel." But for the most part, its all anthem, baby. The only thing missing is the huge bass/drum bottom end that defined '70s-'80s heavy metal. Regardless, Hellacopters compare with a variety of head-banging shit that you remember too well from a decade ago. Is this more evidence of the impending resurgence of heavy-metal rock-and-roll? The fact that Grande Rock was released on the trendy Sub Pop label might be a clue. If you've been quietly waiting for fluffy "alternative" to end, your time may be just around the corner.

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Proof Is in the Booze

Quivering Submissive Flesh


Just check out the song titles and you might get the joke: "Drank My Dinner," "Good N' Lit" "Drunk N' Brok'n Hearted," "Daddies Bin Drinkin' Again." Seems to be a pattern here... Take one look at the CD cover and title and you'll be thinking 100 percent redneck rawk. But you'd be wrong, because, as Colonel Klink would say, that's exactly what Hicky wants you to think. Fact is, your standard white, drunk-and-stupid rock band doesn't have the wits to create this kind of greasy swamp-stomp, unless maybe their name is Jon Spencer.

The first clue in uncovering the ruse is the fact that "the Hickey brothers" hail from coffee-shop-infested Seattle, not the alligator-infested Florida Keys. They say they play guitfiddle, chair sittin', jawharp, stands-up bass and cardtable. Add to that brothers Bob and J's trailer park growling and enough Deliverance-style twang to scare away even the staunches city-folk. Sounds pretty hicky, but if you get past the act you're in for a steamy ride. "Good N' Lit" is everything you always wanted Jon Spencer to be, minus the glam. "Drank My Dinner" and "The Kinda Man" sum up the sinister nature of life inside a bottle with the charm of a restraining order. They're at their best when the rock chugs along like a steam locomotive at ramming speed. Things become a bit more Southern-fried during the CD's later half, but more like an alternative rockabilly (Altabilly?) than anything on TNN. In the end, the spoof is Hee-Haw-amusing, if not a bit, well, hick-ish. But ain't that the point? Now will somebody please pass the jug?

Published in The Reader Sept. 2, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







  Rating: Yes 







Rating: Yes   

The Evil Tambourines

Library Nation

Sub Pop


Seems it's all about nostalgia, with the hand claps and disco bass and horns that place a boot squarely in your waiting groin. The good-time funkified indie hip-hop album of the year? Well, maybe... "Saturn" is hands-down the best party song never to be played on the radio, thanks to a chorus that casually ignores all the FCC warnings. Too bad, really, because nothing on your local K-SNOR touches this irresistible disco rap that will put a smile on the face of even the staunchest conservative whitey, while he/she fruitlessly tries to stop shaking his/her ass. It alone is worth the price of admission. Then there's the hip-hop fly "My Dream Girl Puts on Her Shoes," sporting the best trumpet chorus since Chicago (the band, not the city). Lois Maffeo -- of "Lois" fame -- drops the vocals on the trippy "Pathways," lost in a smooth urban groove that you never want to end. It ain't all a party, though. Things come to a crashing halt when producer/guest vocalist Al Larsen takes the mic for some Emo Phillips-style whining on tracks such as the band's "theme song," and the unlistenable "Library Nation" that can only be described as "experimental." But just when you think the boys have lost their groove, along comes album closer "Rollerskate!" to stoke your disco mojo. More hit than miss, Library Nation is the reason why they put a  "Skip" button on your CD player.

Originally printed in The Reader, August. 26, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Miles Hunt

Hairy on the Inside

GIG Records


Former member of The Wonder Stuff (Remember them? Didn't think so.) tries hard to be relevant with his version of John Wesley Harding meets Luka Bloom, which translates into string-laden middle-of-the-road mush. There must be a a million different ways to write an acoustic, broken-hearted ballad; somehow Hunt managed only to find the two or three that were pounded to death in the early '90s, back when it was cool to be a down-and-out, accent-laden folkie singer/songwriter. Times have changed. When he reaches for introspection, we get lost in the treacle, somewhere after the first two tracks whose resemblance to wimped-down Radiohead I'm sure was no accident. E-Z-listening folkies might find something interesting here; everyone else will be bored and wondering whatever happened to Harding and Bloom. Like I was.

Originally printed in The Reader Sept. 2, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







  Rating: No







Rating: Yes   


Terror Twilight


Taking off where Brighten the Corners left off, this time they take the song writing to another level, one step closer to mainstream. "Major Leagues" is a nearly perfect pop song that everyone could love, except radio, that is. Same's true for "Spit on a Stranger," "Ann Don't Cry," "You Are a Light"... why it's a veritable smorgasbord of laid-back So-Cal rock. Is Pavement the new Eagles? Hardly. Just when you think you've got them pegged, they throw in a wild pitch like the almost unlistenable "Platform Blues" just to convince you that yes, this is the same band that helped make lo-fi vogue with Slanted and Enchanted. And no one remembers that one but the critics, it seems.

At their best, they always reminded you of the Velvets, with our boy S.M. singing the way Lou would if Lou could sing. But while Lou would take you by the hand through the seamy side of Brooklyn, S.M. prefers vague introspection with clever lyrics and lines that you'll be scratching your head over until the next CD comes out.

Like the lyrics, the songs are best when  kept simple. It's when someone gets a big idea and turns a track into an overblown prog-rock mess that we wonder why they bothered to stray from the straightaway rock 'n' roll formula that they've been evolving toward between the noisemakers on their earlier albums. If Brighten... was the proposal, Terror Twilight is the walk to the alter, a commitment to providing flawless downbeat pop music, with only the occasional nod at enchanting ex-girlfriends.

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



Meddle Records

For the most part, this lazy slacker drone by way of My Bloody Valentine is best experienced alone and loudly. Produced by Keith Cleversley (Spiritualized, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev), the debut is thick with the distorted grind-ola that you might expect from New York or England, but hardly from Nashville, where Duraluxe calls home. The 4-piece includes guitarist Chris Colbert, who helped produce and engineer the likes of Mineral, Pave The Rocket, Adolescents and Morella's Forest. Nestled among the fine drone thought-pieces are well-produced, catchy nuggets, such as the straight-on pop of "Change Your Mind," the Smashing Pumpkins-like "Lowly Creatures," and the Yo La Tengo by way of Love & Rockets "In time." It's the tonal, slow numbers that border on shoe-gazer fodder you'll remember. Much shimmering guitar and fuzzy vocals, strolling along like a sleepwalker climbing a steep freeway. Tracks like "Wish List," "Don't Hesitate" and CD-closer "Seeing Me" are about creating an atmosphere in a Red House Painters/Radiohead sorta way. Who knows what vocalist Troy Daugherty is singing about? The styles give Dolorosa a slightly schizoid feel - most who like the pop won't care for the drone and vice versa. Call me schizo, bit I like them both.

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







 Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes   

Bad Luck Charm


13 Records

Bad Luck Charm is the band Jeff Spicoli would have fronted had he formed a combo after leaving Ridgemont High. BLC lead singer/guitarist Lee "Mia Hia" is a chubby, straight-haired version of Spicoli, too cheerfully vacant to be mistaken for a gloomy grunger. "Mia Hia" -- real name: Lee Meyerpeter, (why he changed it for this CD, we'll never know) -- is the former frontman for early '90s Omaha punk rock sensations Cactus Nerve Thang. While Lee was in Cactus, BLC guitarist/vocalist John Wolf (the spittin' image (though much shorter) of MTV merry prankster Tom Green), was busy playing the Omaha club scene with his first band, proto-punkers Cellophane Ceiling. Bad Luck Charm blows both those bands away (leaning sonically closer to Cactus than Cellophane), thanks to a reliance on more structured songwriting and a knack for finding hooks. Auto-Satan is the perfect soundtrack for a bar fight or a cheap '70s car chase flick (Gone in 60 Seconds maybe, or Eat My Dust). It is full-blown audio violence of the best kind, complete with black eyes, bruises and cracked jaws.

It's the band's who-gives-a-shit take on post-grunge guitar-heavy rock that makes it so appealing. Whether on the disc or on stage, you never get the feeling that Lee, Wolf, Bassist Tom Barrett or Drummer Mark Blackman have anything more on their minds than playing rock music as loud as possible (which is never a problem when they're on stage, as   the sound level drives away all but the most die-hard rock fans).

CD opener and title track has all the charm of a kick in the groin by way of Nirvana. The band goes rockified punk on chopped, bass-driven "Everyday" and "Starlight City," both sounding like they were lifted directly from the last Cactus Nerve Thang album. The country-stomp electric hootenanny "Won't Use Me," along with Wolf's "North," are the closest thing to singles on the CD. The poppy "Stupid C**t" sounds like a Kinks-era anthem. Which leaves the straight-up Ramones-esque "Gotta Heart," complete with a bonofied leather-pants guitar solo, to close out the CD in the finest rock-and-roll tradition.

Listeners will either find Meyerpeter's/MiaHia's sneering croon (which sounds like a cross between Social Distortion's Mike Ness and a drunk guy) endearing or unbearable. There's nothing fancy here, just a lot of deep-throated bellowing that mixes well with the high-powered twin-guitar butchering.

Along with Full Blown, Bad Luck Charm is among the heaviest, hardest rocking rock bands in Omaha, with no pretensions, posturing or interest in being liked by anyone. They're a simple bunch, like Spicoli, who just wanna party... loudly.

Contact 13 Records, PO Box 8188, Omaha, NE  68108

Published in The Reader July 29, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Hell on Wheels

Alphaphozz & the Beta Hustle

Urinine Records

From Sweden by way of Indianapolis (home of tiny Urinine Records), Hell on Wheels could be mistaken for a Pixies/Pavement tribute bands… almost. They have the same bass-driven melodies, low-fi guitars, anthemic choruses. It's all there, complete with a slight accent that unsuspectingly slips into the ennui pool when you least expect it. "Parleur du surf" is a lo-fi version of "Wave of Mutilation." "White Socks Brown Loafers" could have been lifted from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The rest is your typical guitar-driven, abrasive post-punk noise pop with well-sung throwaway lyrics, but who's paying attention to the words, anyway? Certainly no one cared what Black Francis was shrieking about all those years. I have no idea what celestial meaning "Having One's Luggage Labelled" contains, nor do I care, thanks to its chiming guitars and bouncing 4-count thrum-bass. The 6-song CD's closer, "One Sperm Across Your Heart," sums up all the nonsense in one lyric, repeated four times: "Mike Watt and Evan Dando." There's no rhyme or reason for it, other than the shear fact that fans of one performer most likely hate the fans of the other. Just like the rest of this CD, you might not get what it means, but that won't stop you from singing right along. Order direct from Urinine at

Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.






  Rating: Yes






Rating: Yes   

The Laces

Forever For Now

Mighty Feeble Records

Take a song like "Carli" off this completely unintimidating,  DIY emo-core album by Iowa City genius Doug Kabourek. Yes, the sound quality is muddy and the signal is weak, but listen closely and what emerges from the muck just happens to be a shiny little pop diamond. Sentimental, you bet: "Hey there, Carli/I'd like to say that I believe/That when we die we get a life/Where audio replaces sight/And rock shows happen every night." Delivered with all the unconventional power of the kittens on the album jacket. Emo-core? How 'bout cuddle-core? Just check out the song titles: "Lament of the Lonely Pet," "Reality for Nice Guys Everywhere," the stunningly understated "Summer Song (all I need is you)" and the soothing-sweet "It's Bedtime Where She Is Now."

His sound is somewhere between the good Ben Lee folk-pop and a laidback-new wave Beck delivered by one of the Sifl & Ollie sock puppets. Kabourek may in fact be Iowa's Beck, but he doesn't take the the same chances. Maybe because he's too busy embroidering his heart on his sleeve. On "Lament…" Kabourek breaks it down simply by repeating over and over, "I miss you so much" in his sweetie-boy voice, on a track that highlights a fuzz guitar over acoustic and bells. When he tries to rock, like on "The King Suite 298," Kabourek is merely pumping up a grave folk-pop, that again, will remind you of Ben Lee's first solo outing.

Funny thing... under the homemade boom-box production, lie gems in the rough. Imagine what they'd sound like if they were recorded in a studio instead of a bedroom. Where Omaha's emo-boy Bright Eyes adds angst and ugliness to the mix, Kabourek keeps it on an open-chord, unobstructed freshness. Methinks that if the emo kids huddled in dark web-circles on the Internet ever discover this little gem, they'll have another sweater-wearing hero to hoist on their slouched shoulders.

You won't find the CD in your local indie store. Order direct from The Laces at their website.

Published in The Reader, July 15, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Airport


Absolute high-octane pop-rock by way of Sweden. The 4-piece says they listened to Ozzy, Television, Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd before graduating to Grant Lee Buffalo, Red House Painters and Sparklehorse. Quite a list, but the fact is, Monostar sounds like the great American post-punk pop band that never was. "Under Disco Lights" is The Cars meets Neil Young by way of ELO. With its plucked rhythm guitar intro, "Jee is a Loser," rattles insidiously toward an over-the-top "Creep"-like chorus, "He's got nothing in his life/Jee is a loser/How does it feel/To be a loser?" This is ear candy for those of us who so desperately miss the poppy days of grunge. "Every Single Day," "Motorcycle Girl" and "Jee . . . " all could be great big radio hits, but who am I kidding? We'll never hear these songs on the Omaha airwaves. If radio music sounded this cool, I'd probably quit wasting my time listening to NPR. Despite the bright rock guitars and uptempo rhythms, Monostar's trip-weary hooks are reminiscent of Pablo Honey-era Radiohead. Can Sweden really be as lonely as this album sounds? Unlikely. But listening to "The Airport" brings about visions of a nation of flannel-wearing Swedes, brokenhearted and hopelessly rocking. Kinda like America back when Cobain made it cool to hate yourself.

--Published in The Reader, July 8, 1999.






Rating: No 





Ben Lee

Breathing Tornados

Grand Royal/Capitol)

Can Ben Lee ever live up to the promise of his first CD, Grandpaw Would? Seems unlikely. His follow-up, Something to Remember Me By, was a drowsy flop, as if Lee forgot how to write the clever, hook-laden pop tunes that made his first album so unpretentiously fun. With Breathing Tornados, we see the briefest glimpse of the potential the young Australian bore when he was singing about the Pixies and harmonizing with Liz Phair. This time around, Lee has slicked up his sound even further than on his dreadful second album. See him lunge for a hit with the infectious "Cigarettes Will Kill You." Watch him grab for hooks on "Nothing Much Happens." Gasp as he gracefully balances on the tightrope between folk and pop on "Birthday Song." While there are peeks of brilliance here and there, Breathing Tornados is overshadowed by overly produced tracks, like the pseudo-trippy "I Am A Sunflower" and the electro-retro "Nighttime." Yeah, it sounds good, but it's also entirely forgettable. The beauty of Grandpaw Would was its simplicity, its homemade feel, its unmistakable honesty, its absolute deification of pure songwriting -- it captured every bit of the boy's essence like a well-drawn character from a movie that changed your life. I fear Lee will never be able to replicate the "gee whiz" quality of that first album, released in 1995 when he was only 16. Did maturity and the music biz scrape away the gentle honesty of his interpersonal songwriting style? Or are we all merely doomed to losing our innocent vision when we grow up?

--Originally published in The Reader July 1, 1999.


New Dawning Time

Sub Pop

They say this isn't a one-album project, nor a fleeting interest, but what do they expect the critics to think when they combine the active ingredients from two seminal Pacific Northwest bands? At its core, Gardener is vocalist Aaron Stauffer of Seattle punk band Seaweed and bassist Van Conner of Seattle rock band Screaming Trees, along with the chosen few members from both bands. The result is a unique hybrid where neither band -- Seaweed's grunge or the Trees' melodicism -- dominates (though I'd give the nod to the Trees). The jazzy opener, "Tamed," is as far away from their respective sounds as possible. With flutes, sitar and other assorted acoustic instruments, it feels like a well-tailored, '60s Nehru suit worn by your typical West Coast slacker at Midnight. Throughout the CD, there's a hippy, psychedelic aesthetic that pokes its head out amidst the clouds of twangy guitars/sitars and snares. The acoustic numbers, such as the trippy "Shakedown Cruise," "Quay," "Canyon," and The Reivers-sounding "Backseat," sound like they stepped right out of a groovy yesteryear. But when the boys plug their guitars back in, the nostalgia is more toward 1995 rather than 1975. "Outside Looking In" has the same feel as Wowie Zowie-era Pavement. The head-pounding "Raincoat (You Wear The)," is the CD's high-water mark, big and booming, with over-the-top guitars and shimmering organ; Stauffer finally pushes his vocals to the next level of angst, and we all feel better for it. In retrospect, the hippy stuff takes over, but the rock stuff wins the day. Either way, it's all hip-trip catchy and, as a whole, a lot more fun than the band members' other projects.

--Originally printed in The Reader May 6, 1999.







Rating: Yes







Rating: Yes

Nancy Wilson

Live at McCabes Guitar Shop


It might be easy to simply write this one off as another in a series of Unplugged-style records, where half of the sister act that makes up Heart decided to cut a CD of her favorites -- alone with her 12-string guitar. Except that unlike those MTV sessions, this one's more about appreciating what the artist has, rather than what she's done. Recorded in March 1996 and released a couple weeks ago, this 13-track greatest hits/faves compilation is a gem. Wilson is in great voice, and is clever and spirited on guitar, doing a few Heart rave-ups (Even It Up, These Dreams) covering some of her (and my) favorites (Joni Mitchell's haunting A Case of You, Simon and Garfunkel's Kathy's Moon, Peter Gabriels' In Your Eyes), as well as playing some new ones (the heartfelt Everything). There are no earth-shattering new renditions of anything, no starkly original moments, only Wilson's voice, guitar and the songs, and that's enough to make it work. Those who enjoyed MTV's Unplugged series will find this to be a pleasant companion.

--Originally published in The Reader, March 11, 1999.

Chuck Brodsky


Red House Records

I forced my boss – a confessed Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan fan who knows every word to every verse of "Little Boxes" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" – to give this a listen and confirm that it's as good as I think it is. Now the cheap bastard is begging me to dub him a copy. This is a must-have for anyone who digs the Legacy new folk music collections, John Gorka or Bill Morrissey, as well as Dylan and Guthrie. Philadelphia-born Chuck Brodsky pours his heart and mind into every one of these poignant, touching acoustic coffee-shop song stories that capture a picture of a fading America, complete with its loneliness, bigotry and pride. "Moe Berg: The Song" recounts a ballplayer who slugged next to The Babe when he wasn't spying on the Germans. "Our Gods" hammers religion when it's used to justify atrocities, while the amusing but touching "On Christmas I Got Nothing" hits closer to the mark than Adam Sandler ever could. Throughout, Brodsky fills each song with warm acoustic melodies, backed sparingly by a handful of instruments, from dobro to banjo. Is he the troubadour for this generation? Only time will tell, but there's no question that on "Radio," Brodsky has emerged as one of the freshest songwriters to pick up a guitar in a long, long time.







Rating: Yes






Rating: No

Beth Orton

Central Reservation


Beth Orton's last effort, 1996's Trailer Park, was a surprising treat that mixed trip-hop beats with a folkie heart to create a sound that was at once  embraceable while being thoroughly unique. Orton somehow managed to put a whole new spin on the then-tired female singer-songwriter cliché made ever boring by the likes of Alanis, Sheryl Crowe, and Jewel.   Stolen Car, "Central Reservation"'s opener, kicks off the CD with the promise of another classic, with its winding electric guitar, kick drum, and altogether funky vibe, loaded with an extra dose of angst. There's no trip-hop activity here, just acidly charming lyrics, like "You stand for every known abuse that I have seen my way through," sung with all the remorse of someone whose been burned oh so many times before. A promising beginning, unfortunately, the CD goes flatline from there, never to reach the deep-hearted thump of the first track. With its tinkling lounge piano and straight-to-EZ-listening-radio strings, "Sweetest Decline," is about as interesting as listening to your sister's vocal interpretation of bad '70s era Paul Anka. Orton's bland vocal noodlings go on for five and a half minutes too long, telling you about sittin' on the porch and catchin' snow on her tongue , while the strings sappily float on an on... A fluke perhaps? No, I'm afraid not. Orton goes soothingly spacy on "So Much More," wandering around an uncertain melody as if she doesn't even know where its going, either. Anytime you take a song seven minutes, you better have something interesting to say, or else the result is to shear boredom, like the wonky "Pass In Time." Orton tries to liven things up here and there, but her lack of interesting melodies, and reliance on soothing synths and strings,  draws this one down to the boredom zone, with little chance of escaping. Central Reservation  wanders aimlessly, like a lost tourist on a tired Sunday, looking for a place to lay down and take a nap. Would somebody give Orton a nudge and wake her back up?

--Originally published in The Reader, March 19, 1999.


Psyence Fiction

Mo Wax/London

Call it a straight-out compilation or call it a project of the Alan Parsons' variety but involving much hipper personalities. "Psyence Fiction" sounds like a soundtrack for an interplanetary fashion show, mixed with enough purposely trendy ennui to put a horse in a trance. UNKLE is the dynamic duo of James Lavelle, the Mo Wax label honcho and master mixer, who touts among his storied work remixes of Radiohead, Beck and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and DJ Shadow, an electronic music guru who uses synths, samples, and found noises to create his unique dance-floor techno. The hook is that they work with a stable of phenomenal talent who, if they were truly combined, would form the perfect supergroup for the millennium - Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Richard Ashcroft (the Verve), Mike D. (Beastie Boys), even Metallica's Jason Newsted. York and Ashcroft score nicely with slow, melodic tracks that would have fit nicely on their last albums, which is fitting, since both tracks were recorded long before their last albums were recorded. Mike D. sounds like he's having fun for a change instead of being forced to reinvent a style he doesn't have in him anymore. Kick-off track by New York rapper Kool G Raps sounds like a stripped down Wu Tang number and is awkward and out of place here. The best tracks are by the unknowns. Badly Drawn Boy hits with a straight-out paranoid rocker, while Alice Temple showcases a smoothly soothing vocal on a funky drum-and-bass laced trance number. All in all, "Psyence…" holds together well, though it's not the landmark recording the industry would have led you to believe it could, or should, be. It's more like a well-blended mix tape made by a best friend, who just happens to be a supermodel.







Rating: Yes







Rating: Yes 


They Might Be Giants

Severe Tire Damage


I won't pretend to know everything about this band, other than I've heard only about half the songs on this live "best of" collection, including "Birdhouse in Your Soul," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," "Ana Ng," "Particle Man" and "She's an Angel." It's no surprise that all of the above-mentioned come from the band's first three albums, recorded in the late '80s. Back in their day, everyone got a kick out of a clever They Might Be Giants' song when it spun on MTV, but no matter how hard you tried, you could never convince yourself to buy an entire album's worth of their stuff. For the uninitiated, TMBG is quirky, off-beat, sometimes funny, sometimes annoying alterna-music that leans more toward new wave than rock, thanks to reliance on accordion, drum machines and altogether sparse arrangements (being a duo, they had little choice). It was sort of hip art-school music, enjoyed mostly by really smart people who couldn't find an ounce of funk in their bloodstreams if they siphoned themselves dry. As their careers moved forward, TMBG's songs came closer and closer to novelty (where many already had classified them). Some might argue that these live versions are inferior to the originals, and some might be right. With a full band behind them, these original skeletons turn into full-blown swing numbers (just in time for the trend?). A nice compilation, but you might want to wait until a "greatest hits" package comes along. Especially when you consider the seven awful "hidden" bonus tracks "inspired by the Planet of the Apes" that, unfortunatly, close out the CD.

-- Originally published in The Reader May 7, 1999


This Conversation Is Ending Starting Right Now


I guess I'll just never get enough of that Pixies/Nirvana quiet-loud-quiet punk-pop sound. I know that sounds pathetic, trite and sad, but I don't care. There's something enticing about that moment when the singer -- quietly telling his story of irony, anger, heartbreak and betrayal, backed by only a bass, sparse guitar or kick drum -- suddenly explodes in a shard of screaming hate or love, drowned out by glistening electric guitar and throbbing percussion. That musical schizoid moment defined the early grunge years and left a portion of a generation wanting more after the flannel faded out. It's the kind of ear candy Knapsack delivers on just about every track of "This Conversation…" The trio of Blair Shehan, Colby Mancasola and Sergie Lookbkoff started playing their brand of power pop back in 1993 during study breaks at the University of California Davis. Though they've been compared to Sunny Day Real Estate, Seaweed and Samiam, there's more than a passing resemblance to the melodic, quieter tracks on the last Chavez CD. While tracks like "Cold Enough to Break" and "Cinema Stare" have the bouncy charm of 'Til Tuesday's or John Waite's best moments, most of the songs, such as "Hummingbird," "Balancing Act" and "Katherine The Grateful," stick with the classic light/dark/light formula. No, it's not particularly original or earthshaking, but it's fun, exhilarating, and a style of pop music that I've come to love, having grown up with Cobain and Black Francis on my CD player. There never really can be enough angst to go around in our rock 'n' roll world, especially considering its current state. "This Conversation…" isn't rock 'n' roll, it's an emotional exorcism for Shehan and an sonic thrillride for the rest of us.







Rating: Yes








  Rating: No 

Einsturzende Neubauten

Ende Neu



While this band, whose name translated means "collapsing new buildings," was busy tearing up stages, pounding holes in autobahn overpasses and playing their part in creating the percussive, impersonal, neu-tribal noise called industrial music, I was still in high school grooving on Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Seems we both have changed. I don't listen to much Zeppelin these days, while  Einsturzende Neubauten has evolved into something that at times resembles post-new wave EZ-listening muzak. The CD's second track, Stella Maris, a duet between Blixa Bargeld and Meret Becker,  has all the lilt and grace of a Jonathan Livingston Seagull soundtrack outtake. Hardly the type of music you'd expect from the outfit that demolished stages and generated crowd violence while opening for The Birthday Party in the early '80s. At times, Ende Neu almost sounds like a parody of what Americans think German post-modern music sounds like. The opener, Was Ist Ist, with its snide lyric recitation (like the rest of the CD, in German) over simplistic melody lines, promises to make anyone laugh out loud and ask, "what the hell is this?" Die Explosion Im Festspielhaus sounds just plain weird in a touch-my-monkey sort of way. Installation N1 has all the characteristics of something off The Fixx's Reach the Beach. It's not all droll scary noises. NNNAAAMM (which stands for New No New Age Advanced Ambient Motor Music Machine) is actually a funky, playful dance track that goes on for nearly 11 minutes chanting the track's title (in English, this time) while the band weaves in groovy bass, drum tracks and assorted noises. The title track, Ende Neu (translated: Ending New) pretty much sums up most of the disc, however, with its  stock noise tracks and flat soundscapes that all seem outdated in the face of today's more melodic -- and more danceable -- industrial sound. Perhaps Einsturzende Neubauten  paved the way for everything, from industrial to techno, but their pioneering efforts are lost on today's youth. And their attempts to modernize their sound only accentuate the shadow of a bygone era.

-- Originally published in The Reader, Feb. 25, 1999.


Up a Tree


The word "playful" comes to mind, as does "frolic" and "brogue." It's simple trip-hop style rhythms created on a beat box, simple one-note organ melodies, and spoken-word recitation in a thick Glasgow accent. It adds up to some funky, playful sounds, bouncy lilting melodies and quizzical stories that you'll play over and over to try to decipher. Looper is Stuart David, the bass player from indie-phenom-wonderband Belle and Sebastian, which has been taking the underground by storm the last couple years. He gets help from his wife, Karn, and brother, Ronnie Black, which makes it a family affair. The music is quiet, childish and shy. When he's not singing about burning flies, David's telling stories about writing letters to far-away dream lovers and awkward moments of self-doubt. It's all very cute -- maybe too cute -- but it keeps you listening, thanks to the reoccurring melodies that pop up from song to song and the subtle beats that never seem to get in the way. Not to mention the odd looped sample or child's laughter. Looper seems to be about innocence and recognizing it before you lose it.  They may like to burn flies, but you get the feeling they couldn't hurt one if they wanted to.

-- Originally printed in The Reader April 29, 1999.







  Rating: Yes







Rating: Yes  

Damien Jurado

Rehearsals for Departure


Yes, it's urban folk, a label that Jurado is okay with, but most of the tracks from Rehearsals for Departure have a distinct rural feel. The CD opener, Ohio, featuring Jurado, his guitar and harmonica, begs comparisons to something off Springsteen's Nebraska album. It's a lonely road song, where our hero bids farewell to a lover on her way back home to a mother she hasn't seen in years. The lyrics, along with Jurado's warm, quiet, and rather flat vocals, exude solace.  The slide guitar on Tragedy is a gentle, luscious touch of twang that doesn't go overboard, while the CD closer and title track -- a trailer-park view of divorce -- will break your heart every time. Half of the CD is guitar-only acoustic numbers, while the other half features a full band, backing Jurado in heartfelt folk-pop rave-ups that'll either make you wanna dance or sing along.  Honey Baby, a rollicking lullibye of sorts, finds Jurado waking up next to his dreamgirl, asking, Is the first time, baby/ Is this the last time, well maybeLetters & Drawings, a light-hearted lament about waiting in vain, shares that same energy, as does the rocking and reflective Tornado. Throughout, Jurado is universally morose, reflective, sad and ultimately honest, showing pictures of lost love ingrained with a gritty reality of a world filled with men who work on their cars while their women search for proof that love really exists. Rehearsals for Departure is a pure pop-folk album that pulls you in with hooks and goes straight for your heart. Despiration never felt so good.

-- Originally printed in The Reader April 8, 1999.

Joe Henry



Moody and poetic and always in love, North Carolina-native Joe Henry is rarely understated or ignored in this dreamy, steamy AOR classic. Produced by Daniel Lanois and T-bone Burnett, two old hats at creating AOR albums that can be played on the soft-rock stations and still sound cool. Fans of Lanois' past productions, which include work with Bob Dylan, Robby Robertson and U2, as well as his own remarkable work, will immediately recognize his fingerprints all over the knobs, creating his trademark shimmering, cloudy, echo-filled and altogether bog-like sound. Henry has been around since the beginning of the decade, originally pegged as some sort of country-folk country-rock guy, complete with John Hiatt twang. There's none of that here. In fact, at times Fuse is dominated by funky, trip-hop rhythms (Fat, Angels, Curt Flood), that take it about as far away from C&W as you can go in this genre. If anyone else were singing it, there'd be no comparison, but Henry's most obvious characteristic is his nasal, Dylanesque voice, which sounds more Jakob than Bob to me.  Like some of the best tracks off Robertson's Storyville,  every track seems slightly overshadowed with a piece of remorse, regret  or bad memory. You feel his pain or confusion when it's over.  The title track opens like a Roxy Music underwater love song, with Henry singing "There go your knees/And there she goes/She's haulin' Cane/Like it was gold." I'm not sure what it means but it sure sounds nice. The lyrics are poetic and lose me most of the time, but you won't notice because you'll be lost in the dense sound. Nothing  so far this year has had the beauty of "Beautiful Hat," Backed by a mournful-sounding Dirty Dozen brass band, Henry sings "When I was beginning to learn how to climb/Thinking myself could be doing just fine/Reaching your knees when just finding mine/Reaching your knees while living on mine," followed by one of the most beautiful brass lines I've heard in a long, long time. It'll leave a lump in your throat, like the rest of this lovely CD.

-- Printed in The Reader April 22, 1999.







Rating: Yes







Rating: Yes 

the Notwist


Zero Hour


Think post-punk click-clack industrial with a much lighter, much more subtle touch than Mr. Reznor or any of his American counterparts will ever know. The Notwist pull themselves away from their German colleagues by infusing a clearly industrial, mechanical rock sound with something that distinctively resembles a heart -- an uncomfortable human trait that was always distantly lacking from other Krautrock outfits. They say they pay homage to London '80s synth-pop/new wave darlings Talk Talk, but sonically, they more closely resemble American post-punks like Sonic Youth. And then there's the American jazz influence, which is inflected throughout the instrumental tracks, such as the horn-laced "Moron." The basic recipe consists of sampled rhythm tracks full of electronic blips, bleeps, snaps, pops and odd-sounding farts. Next, layer over a slacker-styled jangle-pop guitar, the occasional keyboard and Markus Acher's rather droll, flat and careless vocals. As you might imagine, the lyrics are can be stark, oblique. On Chemicals, the CD's high-water mark, Acher almost laments, "Chemicals will hit you/Chemicals will knock you down." On the haunting, hip-hoppish No Encores Acher groans, "but you've never known me," like someone who's trying convince himself that he's better off without her. Unlike other recent underground CDs that include a number of instrumentals, the Notwist non-vocal numbers are always interesting, thanks to a remarkable brass line, chiming vibraphone or funky kick drum that reminds me of the best tracks by 18th Dye. It's all very moody, very atmospheric and very, very good.












The Dismemberment Plan

The Ice of Boston



The opener and title track of this 4-song EP makes it worth the price of admission, if only to be used on your future mix tapes. Singer/guitarist Travis Morrison plays the ultimate loser, lost at home in a shabby Boston apartment on New Year's Eve, watching the world celebrate from his window, mulling over an old girlfriend and talking to his mother on the phone after pouring a bottle of champaign over his head. Slacker ennui? You bet, all gracelessly backed by a righteous, flicking electric guitar that explodes with every chorus. Produced by Jawbox's J. Robbins and Smart Went Crazy's Chad Clark, the CD captures all the fun angst that you'd expect from a bunch of guys who list Slint, Shudder to Think, and Kool and the Gang among their influences. The other three tracks are pretty good, though less light-hearted. The title, "The First Anniversary of Your Last Phone Call," sums up the track's general feel. While "Just Like You," falls under the mathrock art-core noiseplosion school of rock, a la Built to Spill/Modest Mouse. The closer, "Spider in the Snow," cleans all that up, taking a turn at Pavement-style indie rock. Inspirational verse: "The only thing worse than bad memories/Is no memories at all." EP's tend to preclude full-length releases. Let's hope there's more to come.


Silver Tones Smile


A straightforward, poppy Breeders, with brighter-sounding (but not necessarily better) songs that lean toward Belly or The Muffs. There's nothing particularly remarkable about the Atlanta-based 4-piece's first release on BMG's Velvel label, just as there's nothing particularly disturbing about it. In other words, it's safe music sung by the throaty, uninspired dou of Shonali Bhowmik and Michelle DuBois. Girl group aficionados might consider it if only for its pure rock aesthetics; everyone else will simply be bored.










Rating: No Splitsville


Big Deal

When they aren't attacking the so-called mainstream with pseudo-punk Green Day deliveries, Splitsville enters the pure pop world of Matthew Sweet, For Squirrels, even, sadly, The Rembrandts and Styx. The Baltimore trio's third album sounds a bit shallow overall, especially when they lift entire musical lines from other, better sources ("Downsizing" cops a nod to Radiohead's last album, while "Liquor and Beer" smells of Murmur-era R.E.M.). Too often, the mix sounds fluffy and amateurish, like a local cover band's self-released nightmare that doesn't seem to fall far enough from the tree, leaving you wondering what else is in the lead singer's record collection

Love and Rockets


red ant

Love and Rockets is one of those "do you remember?" '80s outfits that few people actually do remember, because they never had more than the one hit ( "No New Tales to Tell," remember?). But now that goth has come and gone again, it only makes sense that L&R also are back on the scene, along with Bauhaus, the seminal '80s goth band that featured Peter Murphy and L&R frontman Daniel Ash. L&R peaked creatively with "Earth, Sun, Moon," back in the '80s, but continued on in obscurity to this very day. Those who've lost track won't recognize the new, techno-fied version featured on "Lift," but may like it a whole lot better. Dedicated mostly to dance, "Lift" features some interesting techno/ambient touches that never bore, even though some tracks go on well past seven minutes. On the instrumental numbers and the long, sonic interludes, you wouldn't even know it was L&R. But it's Ash's unmistakable voice that brings it all back down to earth. The funky "Holy Fool," is the best pop number of the bunch. However, the plodding, "Pink Flamingo," "Delicious Ocean," and "Ghosts of the Multiple Feature," put a damper on things by slowing the CD to a yawning crawl. Lift's highlights come toward the end of the disc. "My Drug" (clocking in at 8:43) and Deep Deep Down (at 9:19) rely an laid back brushbeats, shimmering guitar, and Ash at his dreamiest. The CD's worth it for these two tracks alone, but weighing it at just under 70 minutes, there's probably something here for any L&R or electronic ambient fan.










Bring It On


Hardly a moment from Gomez' "Bring It On" contains something that you'll think you haven't heard before. The opener, "Get Miles," sounds like classic swampy Creedence; "Whippin' Piccadilly," sounds like early Paul Simon, "Tijuana Lady," could have come off the last Grant Lee Buffalo album, while "Here Comes the Breeze" and "Free to Run" have all the makings of classic, slow Pearl Jam wailers. That's a lot of American influences for a band that hails from Sheffield. And at first listen, you might think it's too many, until you listen to it again, and again and again. Thanks to a stable of keepers, "Bring It On" will grow on you and become a perennial fave for adding to mix tapes. The mighty press already has embraced these Brits as "the next big thing from 'cross the water," and for once, they're right. Gomez worships at the temple of hook--filled melodies, and with the mesmerizing "Bring it On," could soon have their many influences worshipping at their feet.


Blue Wonder Power Milk


Imagine an electronica version of The Sundays' dream-pop combined with the melodic punch of The Cranberries. Geike Arnaert's voice falls in the same chanteuse category as Harriet Wheeler (The Sundays), Dolores O'Riordan (The Cranberries), and Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins). And while Hooverphonics' melodies bear similarities to those bands' efforts, the Belgian's 4-piece boasts much more interesting arrangements, supported by lush synth programming, keyboards and the occasional cool-blue surf guitar. Ah, but what really rockets this CD into a much higher, dreamier plain (and will make you thank me for talking you into picking it up) are tracks like "Eden," "Battersea" and "Electro Shock Faders" that make the most of live strings and brass. "This Strange Effect," for example, opens with a wavy, floating string fugue before it's topped with Raymond Geerts' James Bond-style guitar and, finally, Arnaert's chiming chordal vox. The band takes layer upon layer upon layer of sterling sounds and makes a unique pop environment that inspires while it shakes your ass. When Alex Callier takes over the vocal chores on three tracks (and especially the creepy "Dictionary") Hooverphonic turns into a latter-day version of Depeche Mode/Pet Shop Boys. Wake up and dance a while, than go back to dreamland.








Rating: Yes








Rating: No


Las Vegas


They'll be a time when we'll look back on the '90s and laugh at how popular techno music was, thanks to mundane "soundscape" dance tracks that entice at first glance, then bore, bore, bore you to death with repetition that would motivate even the most docile trance-induced listener to wanna pull his hair out. Burger/Ink is not what's left after eating a greasy quarter-pounder; it's the minimalist techno duo of Joerge Burger and Wolfgang Voigt a.k.a. Mike Ink. The pair spent a good part of the early '90s making electronic music from a studio in Belgium. As Burger/Ink, they recorded three 12-inch techno dance albums originally released on Burger's Harvest label. You might have heard music like this before, especially if you enjoy watching VH1's "In Style" or any of a dozen or so fashion-based programs that feature lots of models posturing down a walkway. The CD sports many synths, clickety electronic drums, and oh-too-soothing beats. It tries to warm your soul with pseudo melodies that, sadly, go nowhere over and over again. At first it's dreamy, sinister and slightly off-center, then "Las Vegas" quickly becomes sleepy, predictable and off-target. Why Matador decided the world would be a better place if they reissued this rather obscure European techno "trance" music is anyone's guess.

Son Volt

Wide Swing Tremolo

Warner Bros.

The opening stomp, "Straightface," will crack your head wide open in the best heavy-duty Lynyrd Skynryd fashion. You'll wonder if you can handle a full hour of this chest-thumping country rock. Don't worry. Harmonies, melodies and a mean slide guitar rule the remainder of Son Volt's third album. Born from the breakup of alternative country rock trio, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt continues the natural musical progression, with an updated sound that never loses sight of the Belleville, Illinois, country roads that spawned it. Very American, anthemic, folksy, even though the up-tempo numbers have a shadow of dread or regret hanging over them. Overall, a purer sound than Wilco, but not nearly as dusty and dirty as those early, honest Silos albums. Anyone with an inkling of interest in this genre will lean back and smile when a fiddle and bouncing slide guitar gently push Jay Farrar's tweedy, weather-beaten vocals on "Streets that Time Walks." If country music sounded more like Wide Swing Tremolo, I'd go out tomorrow and buy a pair of Tony Lamas and a Ford F-100.









Rating: Yes








Rating: Yes



Touch and Go

An alternative band that still believes in throwing a guitar solo in the middle of a song, is, well, my kind of band. This is smart underground rock in the jingle-jangle Pavement vein, with loving rock-n-roll touches that remind you of Crazy Horse-era Neil Young. And though this outing's stripped down sound comes via recording on an 8-track system, it's much more cohesive than "Firewater," the band's standout 1996 release on Matador. And a whole lot more enjoyable. While that album was filled with dark details of loving too hard and drinking too much, this one is like waking up the morning after one of those I-almost-died nights, where you're just happy to be alive and not in jail... and able to smile about all the shit you got away with. The attitude shows in songs like Said It Too Late ("The only reason that I won't die/Is that I won't see you on the other side") and Beyond Repair ("On the road, such a long time/The more I look, the more I find/And you know, one fine day/I'm gonna make one of them mine"). The music stomps roughly about, knocking things over, while the guitars manhandle the melody over the top, along with Tim Midgett's warbly vocals. The faster numbers sound like a stripped down hybrid of Smart Went Crazy and The Wedding Present. Slower tracks, such as "Ritz Dance," sound like they came right off a copy of Richard and Linda Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights." It's still a little too stark to be considered "party music," but maybe it's time to pull Silkworm out of the lonely underground music bins and place it in the cold light of day, where more people can enjoy this perfect cure for the common hangover.

Juliana Hatfield



Has it really been six years since Juliana Hatfield released her one and only hit album, "Hey Babe"? You'd never know it by listening to "Bed," her fourth album and first since she left Mammoth/Atlantic two years ago. Hatfield has managed to maintain the same out-of-date sound that never quite made it back when grunge was something to be proud of. Long-time fans will be happy to know that her trademark cutesy Go-Go's-style voice and poppy/preppy guitar remains intact. "Bed" starts off promising – both "I Want to Want You" and "Swan Song" sport tougher guitars than usual and Hatfield actually sounds like she means it when she sings "My face has changed/I don't look the same/A human mutation alienation factory." But it's not enough to keep things interesting. "Sneaking Around" sounds too much like a bad Stevie Nicks outtake. Ballads such as "Backseat" and the dreadful "Running Out" (which contains a Heathers-era lyric about double suicide) do little more than make you yawn and wonder why she keeps trying. It seems that Hatfield's golden years are past; the only thing left to do is rehash old memories. Anyone remember Evan Dando?

Rating: No
Rating: Yes Possum Dixon

New Sheets


You can hear producer Ric Ocasek's obvious touches all over this entire album, which is a good if you happen to be among the millions of frustrated Cars fans who mourn that you'll never get to hear that '80s supergroup again. This new fangled version of Possum Dixon is as good of a replacement as you're ever going to get. The album's title track sounds as if it was lifted right off a copy of the Cars' "Cameo," album, complete with a creepy melody that later breaks into a hard poprock nugget. Rob Zebrecky's voice is the spitting image of Elliot Easton's, with a bit of the Ocasek's breathy warble thown in. At times, the Cars influence becomes downright silly, like on the Heartbeat City-sounding "Faultlines" and "Holding (Lenny's Song)," where the boys round out the sound with Greg Hawkes-style keyboards. The only thing missing are the skinny ties. Yeah, you've heard all this before, and if you miss it, you might want to pick this up. I'd rather blow the dust off my copy of "Shake It Up."

Vitreous Humor



It's ironic that the best release of their careers comes after their band breaks up. Such is the case with Topeka's Vitreous Humor, a band that's been together since the late '80s but has never released a full-length, until now. Posthumous is a collection of unreleased tracks that blend pop, grunge and rock into a slacker's sonic paradise. Imagine a weary, Midwestern version of Nirvana that never sold out. Every hook-filled track has at least one ass-kick guitar break or Feelies-style rhythm-guitar line. Danny Pound's quiet, intense vocals are the perfect match for an in-your-face guitar that slowly creeps up on you like an old, angry friend. Songs like "Sharin' Stone," "Why Are You So Mean to Me?" and "Fashion Anyway" are just plain fun pop songs that try to do little more than soothe your (leftover) teen angst. It's a swan song that rocks.

Rating: Yes
Rating: Yes Catatonia

International Velvet

Warner Bros/Vapor Records

Do they really believe that listeners who blow the dust off this CD in five years will get the reference to the opener, titled "Mulder and Scully"? It's obviously a wickedly clever piece of marketing genius from one of the wily A&R guys at Warners. In their defense, Catatonia (a worse name for a band I could never dream up) hail from faraway Cardiff, South Wales, where the X-files is so big that Mulder and Scully are considered "the modern day equivalent of Starsky and Hutch," the bio says. The comment is a slap in the face of every person who ever wanted to own a tomato-red Torino. The slightly off-kilter references to American culture continue throughout the disk, from the chorus "That Luca Brasi ah, he sleeps with the fishes," from "I Am the Mob," to "Road Rage," to the CD's title track. The music, however, drops the American tags, opting for a Euro-fied pop rock sound. Cerys Matthews' voice draws straight-line comparisons to Shirley Mason (Garbage), Bjork and The Cardigans' Nina Persson, as does the music, though it leans more toward the Cardigan's poppy side than Garbage's seamy side. Thanks to solid songcraft and Matthews' exuberance, there's rarely a dull moment. In fact, the CD's only weaknesses are on the second half, where the band tries its hand at some good ol' fashion American-style ballads and comes off a little too glamorous for its own good.

Getaway Cruiser

550 Music

There was a time when any review of a female-led rock band focused solely on the singer, comparing her to past rock-and-roll divas (Janis or Grace) and making ridiculous cracks about how "her sexy, deep-throated voice perfectly accents her long legs and tight buttocks" etc., etc. It was crass. It was unfair. It is how we remember Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. Times have changed, so much so that now it's okay to say something like "Getaway Cruiser's Dina Harrison's voice is a sexy slice of love that perfectly accents the way she fills the 'Star Whore' T-shirt she dons the CD sleeve." Yeah, it's sexist, it's piggy, but then again, after listening to the band's first major label release, it's hard to believe they'd want it any other way.

Getaway Cruiser is the latest in the industry's stable of supposedly forceful, strong female voices, full of inner strength and confidence, but who don't seem to have a problem selling the sex with their music, a la Fiona Apple and Natalie Imbruglia. Musically, the band compares very closely to those two; each well-produced track is full of crisp pop hooks, bottom-heavy beats and a rock-solid guitar. In fact, it's safe to say Getaway Cruiser stands well above those other sultry lasses, almost comparing to Madder Rose or Sarah McLachlan. But what leaves the band wallowing with Fiona half naked in the bath tub are songs like "Let's Get Down," "Something About You" and "Strung Out, Hung Out," all of which lie in the shallow side of the relevance pool. In a dim effort to give a nod to urban music, a couple tracks even feature raps by Prax and Kool Keith (both go out of their way to mention the band by name, a la Wang Chung). One can only hope Harrison is being ironic when she sings "I'd like to take you to a movie/I'd like to wash and comb your hair/I'd like to dress you up in the evening/And wake to find that you're still there." If that's a "strong, forceful female voice," then we all better prepare for the repeal of the 19th Amendment.








Rating: Yes

Rating: Yes Pulp

This Is Hardcore


It would be a mistake to mis-categorize Pulp with the snotty hairdressers who make up the so-called new British invasion -- Oasis, Blur, The Verve. While they’re busy trying to make the perfect hit, Pulp is making the perfect pop ballad. Lead singer and full-time poseur Jarvis Cocker’s voice is a deep-throated blend of Iggie, Bowie, Roger Waters and Peter Murphy, with just enough oomph to hit the high notes. You can make out every word, as he sings his cabaret-style rock ballads about getting old, living past his prime, memorable sex and dying. It’s all irresistible. And though it’s pure British, there’s something distinctly American-sounding about "Hardcore." Maybe it’s because Las Vegas lounge crooners like Neil Diamond or Elvis (but not Wayne Newton) would sound right at home belting out tracks like "Party Hard," "I’m a Man," and the tracks-of-my-tears-sounding "A Little Soul." There’s something in Cocker’s voice that let’s you buy the smaltzy, only-in-America lines like, "If this is a dream, then I’m going to sleep for the rest of my life." Pulp embraces the smaltz, glamour and the glitz like a dead Las Vegas showgirl. "This Is Hardcore" deserves to be the first "big" recording of ‘98. Believe the hype. -- Tim McMahan



Matador Records

The first spin of Fantasma is a thrill ride of squeaks, bleeps, pounding synths, bracing speed and floating noise that leaves you grinning. You’ll never have more fun in 50 minutes, and you’ll run screaming from your house to play it for anyone with the patience to listen. But just like any good novelty record, the thrill wears out... quickly. Cornelius, by the way, boasts being the hottest property in the Orient, supposedly selling out massive stadiums. Maybe the Japanese have a special taste for novelty acts (Pizzicato Five, Cibo Mato, Shonen Knife). Part of the recording’s initial fun is picking out the samples. Isn’t that the Beach Boys? Didn’t that come from an old Cheech and Chong album? Meanwhile, the flat melodies bore right past. There are standouts, however, like the strat-based "Count Five or Six" and the Esquivel-tinged "Monkey." But most of the ode-to-Beach Boys brightners are thin, just like Cornelius’ (a.k.a. Keigo Oyamada’s) voice. Contrived, unending track closers quickly become annoying. Though Cornelius’ electronica-meets-lounge soundscapes can be impressive, once you strip away the Spike Jones/Carl Stalling noises, all that’s left is the rusty sound of machinery.

Rating: No
Rating: No This Perfect Day



Perfect pop music is their goal, and on C-60, This Perfect Day, a Scandinavian 6-piece with a love affair for American rock and roll, almost hits the mark dead center. The CD’s opener, "Could Have Been Friends" has a heavyweight hook that will have absolutely anyone singing along after the first listen, guaranteed. "Down on My Knees" one-ups the Soupdragons in the Euro-funk category, and "Fishtank" sounds like it was recorded during the last Rentals recording session. If you stopped right there, you wouldn’t be able to find a better soundtrack for summer fun in the sun. Unfortunately, the band begins to run out of steam, and hooks, about half-way through, turning into a weak version of Material Issue. By the CD’s closer, "Bryant Lake Bowler," there’s nothing left but by-the-numbers ballads. These guys may be Swedish, but the next ABBA they aren’t. Still, there’s more than enough here to make your run-of-the-mill pop music hound happy.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Strung Out in Heaven


The music is a full-blooded homage to the British sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s, complete with organs, trippy shimmer guitars and snarly faux-cockney vocals. On first listen, you might even think that these are a bunch of Austin Powers rejects straight from Liverpool instead of the wack hippies from San Francisco that they are. Lead guy Dr. Anton Newcombe does his best Aftermath-era Mick Jagger impersonation in such numbers as "Got My Eye on You" and "Nothing to Lose," that make you want to say hello to those stoned-out, psychedelic days of 1966 all over again. It’s not the most unique sound, but it’s hard to criticize, since Strung Out in Heaven is consistently better track-for-track than most of the head-cheese music released way back then. Lean back, light up, and enjoy.

Rating: Yes







Rating: Yes


Transaction de Novo


Bedhead took up where Galaxy 500 left off in a genre that’s affectionately known as "slowcore" for its quiet, plodding and slightly melancholy sound that’s more emotive trance than music. On stirringly effective albums, such as "WhatFunLifeWas" and "Beheaded," Bedhead took the simplest, loneliest of moments and gradually, forcefully built them into mammoth anthems of guitar, bass and drum. Listening to Bedhead is like slowly creeping from a moist, cool cave through utter darkness and gradually ascending into startling daylight, again and again and again. Transaction de Novo carries on the tradition, for the most part. The melodies remain simple, the guitars chiming and precise, and Matt Kadane’s vocals are as dry and lovely as ever. Even on departure tracks, like "Psychosomatica," the band takes churning sound and turns it into a soothing, seething mantra. The CD’s closer, "The Present" ends in typical fashion, a perfect companion on a drive home at 3 a.m. on a quiet, lonely road.

Shipping News

Save Everything

Quarterstick Records

Those in the know call it Math Rock, and I still don’t know why. Maybe it’s because of the metronome-like guitar lines that seem to mark the precise progress of every track. Shipping News is a sultry blend of Chavez’ pulsing melodies and rhythms and Modest Mouse’s quirky jim-jams that go nowhere before you know it. When the trio grabs a funky melody, as in the opener "Books on Trains," they chug along mightily in a Pixies sorta way. But more often then not, they get caught up in the noise. "Steerage" starts like a punk-pop dream, but loses steam as it drops into a simple guitar groove. By the end of the 10-minute opus, all that’s left is deconstructed sounds. That’s followed by three quieter, trance-like tracks that weave gentle guitars and simple percussion into a mesmerizing melody. The final track’s annoying, off-key 2-minute acappella vocal eventually makes way for a prog-rock instrumental masterpiece that would make Yes blush.








Rating: Yes









Rating: Yes


The State of Play


"State of Play" is one of those CDs that you can play on your best friend’s car stereo Friday night and he/she will own it by Monday. It’s pop-rock fun from the word go. Muler sounds cool on first listen because they remind you of so many good punk bands you used to love (or still do), like Superchunk, Husker Du and the BoDeans. Though it’s heavy enough to keep off the radio, every song has a hook-laden melody that’s easy for the indie-initiated to appreciate and hard for anyone to forget. The four-piece is anchored by David Baumgartner’s nasal (but, thankfully, not Mascus-like) vocals and a constantly chug-chugging rhythm section. It’s top-down-on-your-convertible, happy music, just in time for another summer of walking around the Old Market, driving to the lake or listening to your favorite music on your best friend’s car stereo.

Liquor Giants

Every Other Day at a Time


They go out of their way to sound all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows... in fact, a tad bit too far. Liquor Giants are a super-sweet pop band that sound part Posies, part Beach Boys, part anything on your tired AM radio. They’re not nearly interesting enough to compare to NRBQ or Big Star (though you know they'd love to be). Hardly new kids on the block, the band’s head honcho, Ward Dotson, was once a member of ‘80s rockers, Gun Club and ‘90s nobodies Pontiac Brothers before penning three previous LG albums. Most of these super-simple tunes deal with such quaint lovesong topics as going to summer school, falling in love, spring and butterflies. Their sound is at once hard to pin down and at the same time, boringly familiar. One moment they sound like the Smithereens, the next, The Nazz. The one consistency throughout the CD is Dotson’s warbly, tired voice, which leaves something -- anything -- to be desired.









Rating: No










Rating: No

Tommy Keene

Isolation Party


For the most part, Matador is known for its edgy alt-rock artists, like Chavez, Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo and Pavement, to name a few. So what's a radio-friendly unknown like Tommy Keene doing on their roster? He’s 100 percent pop rock, all melody, no noise, no controversy. Matador pushes Keene by saying he's a better version of Paul Westerberg. Fact is, he's whole lot more Bryan Adams or Matthew Sweet than any of Westerberg’s quietest moments. But that doesn't necessarily mean Isolation Party's all that bad. In fact, it’s much more focused and listenable than 1996’s "Ten Years Gone." The problem with that album and, to a lesser extent, this one is the inherent sameness of every track. The bottom line: a little Tommy Keene goes a long, long way. While few artists sound better isolated on a mix tape, a whole CD of Tommy Keene is like listening to one long, hookless pop song. You could listen to this CD for a month (as I've done) and still not be able to hum a single melody from memory.

The Grifters

Full Blown Possession


 The Grifter’s last effort, "Ain’t My Lookout," was a weird, hook-laden classic that almost no one heard. Tracks like "Boho Alt" left the top-40-minded scratching their heads and covering their ears, while the rest of us simply took a step back and sucked it in for all its noisome, quirky beauty. "Full Blown Possession" is targeted much closer to radio play, though it’ll never be heard on your FM dial. As Pavement’s "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain," was to "Slanted and Enchanted," "Full Blown" can be played in your apartment without garnering complaints that "Ain’t My Lookout" drew from your girl/boyfriend (not as many, anyway). Half the songs are reminiscent of "Space Oddity" Bowie, the other, more careful half, sound like Paul Westerberg wuss rock. There’s still enough funky oddness and off-beat key changes here to please the band’s loyal followers, who are probably getting pretty old for that sort of thing, anyway. 









Rating: Yes









Rating: Yes


A Brilliant Mistake

Simple Machines

Ice cold cynicism doused in the bracingly awkward reality of the music biz. Tsunami have been there -- are there -- so you know they’re telling the truth to the best of their knowledge (heck, they even run their own indie record label). And it must be a dark place these days, judging by the lyrics of "Old Grey Mare" (I lost my taste for expense account feasts/when I felt the brace of a corporate leash), or "Enter Misguided" (If you can talk a better mousetrap you’re buying office space/And the world beats a pathway to your basement door). But "A Brilliant Mistake" is more than a jaded/wizened view of the music industry, it’s a tough-love look at fighting conformity and status quo, being a rebel and knowing better, losing the battle but at least saying you fought in the war, turning away from the light in a business where the complacent are honored with Grammys. The music here is perfect up-tempo indie pop, think Liz Phair meets Cindy Lee Barryhill, with a guitar sound that’s more chime than growl. Though it’s not exactly riot grrl, its lack of verse/chorus/verse guarantees Toomey/Thomson’s wisdom will never be shared with a very needy radio audience. This unrestrained honesty scares program directors, but makes for one of the year’s best indie releases. 


Set You Free

Gern Blandsten

More proof that you can’t believe everything you read: The latest issue of Magnet hooked me on this CD by comparing it to Joe Jackson and The Jam. A more accurate comparison would be to The Rembrandts, those kooky kids who sing the theme to NBC’s "Friends." Chisel (don’t let the tough name fool you), is chock full o’ pseudo-Rembrandts’ fun harmonies, pop melodies and pencil-thin vocals. Oh sure, they try to throw in a cool guitar line here and there, but most of the time this 3-piece band’s efforts to flex its muscles are overpowered by dollops of cuteness. Set You Free is pleasant pop pablum sure to offend absolutely no one, and, like that "Friends" CD you bought a couple years ago, will quickly be forgotten after a few playings.









Rating: No










Rating: Yes

Cobra Verde

Egomania (Love Songs)


When they aren’t aping "Sonic Temple"-era Cult, they sound fairly impressive, and even then they can stomp just about anything you’re going to hear today on the radio. Tracks like "Leather" and "Blood on the Moon" are so Cult-ish, they quaver dangerously on the brink of parody. On the other hand, "Underpants" sounds like Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver and the Pere Ubu cover "Chinese Radiation" is so distorted, it’s almost unlistenable. It’s like listening to two bands -- one trying to do a lacking imitation of a moldering ‘80s hair band, the other trying to decide what rock music will sound like in the next millennium. It’s heavy metal pop music way too edgy for The Edge, but not edgy enough for your typical college playlist... a sad place to be. Still, the CD’s closer, a cover of The Association’s "Never My Love," alone is worth the price of admission.







Modest Mouse

The Lonesome Crowded West

Up Records

Modest Mouse has been compared to Built to Spill, Sunny Day Real Estate and even Yes because of their multi-tempo multi-melody songscapes, with tracks that reach up to 11-plus minutes (the CD clocks in at a hefty 74 minutes; quite a bargain if you like what you’re hearing). It’s avant-art punk, with most of the 15 tracks ending in a long and, in some cases, endless-feeling groove that might make you ask when is this gonna be over. The lyrics are a weary, cynical blend of reflections of life (and death) from the trio’s homebase of Issaquah, Wash. Certainly they’re trying to break new ground by creating a hybrid from influences that include the Pixies, Meat Puppets, early Pavement, even Royal Crescent Mob. For the most part, they succeed, but Isaac Brock’s warbling voice -- at times a hyper yell, at others, a worn-out croon -- won’t register to unwilling ears. The first spin of "Lonesome..." will leave you feeling dissonant, confused and slightly nauseous. After you spend a few hours with the CD, you’ll begin to hear where the band is headed. After a week, you’ll be there with them.

Rating: Yes





Rating: Yes

The Connells

Still Life

TVT Records

The only other Connells CD I have was their first one, 1986’s Darker Days. That was a brooding, minor chord, ambient pop album that owed a lot to R.E.M. and Aztec Camera. It, along with the band, was easily forgotten. Six albums and 12 years later, the Connells have gone from neu-punks to pop stars. "Still Life" mixes the Judy Bats’ melodrama and Freedy Johnston down-home fun to create a tremendously smooth pop album. Think Wallflowers with a touch of Matthew Sweet. The super-slick production comes by way of Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco, The Rolling Stones), a guy who’s known for producing hit records. Sounds like he might have another on his hands. If "Crown," "Gauntlet," or "Dull, Brown and Gray" don’t catch the eye of some wily L.A. music programmer, then there is no justice in this ol’ world.










Burdens of the a.m.

Spillway Records

Omaha's own, Box calls its sound "rural rock," because the members all come from small towns in the area "where their roots run strong." Whatever you want to label it, it's definitely well-crafted, radio-friendly southern-styled pop music that, when it's at its most honest, recalls a feeling of dirt roads, corn fields and silos. They're at their best on the slower, acoustic-based tracks, like "Best I've Got," and "St. Peter," that can best be compared to Lonesome Jubilee-era John Mellencamp or the Jayhawks. The faster, rave-up numbers are more twangy and will immediately make you think of the Gin Blossoms. Mark Weber's voice so eerily resembles Gin Blossom's Jesse Valenzuela's that he could break into his house if it was protected by a voiceprint lock. Songs "Dragline," "Round the Block" and "Fall," continue to push the comparison along, thanks to song structures that also seem to match old Gin Blossoms' tracks. And that isn't such a bad thing… as long as you like the Gin Blossoms. Based on the band's sheer musical talent, there's tons of room for Box to develop a more unique, and ultimately, more satisfying style. Until then, kick up your boots and enjoy.

- -Tim McMahan

Rating: No
Rating: No Clever



Instrumentally, Clever has the stuff of rock legends. Accidentally? sounds like the product of a bunch of heavy metal veterans, which these guys are. The Weaklend/Thomas rhythm section is among the best in Omaha at providing nice thick slabs of rock that are as tight as a 3-ounce tick. All the guitars are screamers, very clean and fast, fun and heavy. The band is as commercially poppy as about anything you’ll hear on the radio. Their flaw is in Coddington’s weird, minor-key, monotone vocals that somehow make everything sound like The Offspring meets Ozzy. His chant-like delivery, song after song, makes every number sound the same and pulls everything down into a morass of blah-dom. Not much variety in the tuneage, but the kids won’t mind, judging by the band’s messiah-like reception at the recent Grasshopper Takeover bon voyage. When Coddington does step out of the grind, most notably on "Bother to Ask" and "Parade," everything steps up a notch. Who knows what these guys will do if they ever decide to turn off their radios and turn on their imaginations.

--Tim McMahan

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.