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ALBUM REVIEWS


Tsar - Band-Girls-Money (TVT)

Tsar is finally back with their long-awaited sophomore effort. Five years after their self-titled debut, the best band in LA has unleashed an awesome album which will be in my top few albums of the year without a doubt. Hopefully the world is ready to hear it this time and make them the stars they should be. After several years of working out different songs during their live shows, Tsar has come up with ten gems, starting with the lead track, the rocking Band-Girls-Money, right out of the gate. They don't slow down from there, with the catchy as heck Wanna Get Dead coming next. Later in the album, the brilliant Wrong, which has hit written all over it, leads into the crunching Everybody's Fault But Mine. Conqueror Worm, another favorite of mine, lyrically and musically reminds me of Suede but is better than most anything they have ever done. A favorite during their live shows, Startime is following by the only mellow song on the album, You Can't Always Want What You Get. This album has a lot harder edge to it than their first, which captures their live energy much better than anything they've ever recorded. If you liked their first album, you'll love this one. If you haven't a clue who Tsar is, run out and get this album now. (Check out www.tsar.net for their upcoming shows).

Ben Lee - Awake is the New Sleep (New West)

Ben Lee is back yet again with another album of the catchiest melodic pop around. This is quite a mellow album but one that had me singing along with about half the songs after just a few listens. It starts off with a plea for people to do whatever they are passionate about in "Whatever It Is". A definite highlight of the album is "Gamble Everything For Love" which extols the virtues of doing just what its title says. The most fun song on the album is the sing-along "Catch My Disease". Sample lyrics are "I hear Beyonce on the radio and that's they way I like it". You go Ben! "No Right Angles", "Get Gotten", the quality songs don't seem to stop on this album. If you're a Ben Lee fan, you have to get this one. If you haven't heard him yet, this is a good one to start off with.

Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (Saddle Creek)

I was not an easy convert into being a Bright Eyes fan. I have seen them live three times over the last six years or so. And while I enjoyed their shows, the only albums I had were some of the earliest ones and I never could get into them much. I especially had trouble warming up to Conor Oberst's voice. Add to that the constant hype over the band lately and I ended up being resistant to giving them a chance. But I had heard such great things about this album that I had to give it a try. And everything you've heard about this album is true. It really is a great, great album, one that I keep on playing. From the acoustic songs, such as the single Lua, to the more rocking songs like Another Travelin' Song, this album consistently impresses with its rich lyrics. The lyrics are not only intelligent, they are plentiful which I like and seems to be something missing from a lot of songs these days. Moreover, Oberst's voice has either matured and improved or I've just gotten used to it because now I like the wavering, nervous passion that it exudes. It's time for me to go back to some of those old albums and listen to some things that I'm sure I've been missing.

50 Foot Wave - 50 Foot Wave (Throwing Music)

From the first note of this mini-album, it's clear that 50 Foot Wave is intent on rocking harder than Kristin Hersh's longtime band Throwing Muses. While the songs still have Hersh's signature songwriting style at their core, the blistering, all-out assault of guitar, bass, and drums along with Hersh's snarling vocals is nothing we've heard before. This CD is the first in a set of planned mini-albums and there's not a bad song on it. Bug, the opening track, excels with it's melodic verses and chorus intermittently being interrupted by a torrent of pounding drums and squealing guitars. The band holds nothing back on Lavender, which careens along with great speed and abandon while still remaining hummable and melodic. When I saw the band at the Silverlake Lounge earlier this year, I enjoyed the show but the venue didn't really do the songs justice as they were too loud and came across kind of murky. Having now heard the songs as recorded in the studio, I'm interested in hearing them live again and enjoying just how much they do rock.

Weezer - Weezer (The Blue Album) Deluxe Edition (Geffen)

Weezer is one of those bands where I only know the hit songs, and I like those songs, but for some reason I have never bought any of their albums to investigate what they are like besides the songs from the radio. So this 2 CD set is my first real exposure to Weezer and I like what I hear. A review of the first CD probably won't be giving any new news to anyone who reads this. However, I must say that it does contain quite a few songs that are as good as the hits. No One Else and The World Has Turned And Left Me Here particularly are hooky and poppy like you'd expect from Weezer and could've been singles themselves (or maybe they were and I just don't know?). Of course, the hit songs are here too including Buddy Holly, which has always been a song that I've loved and usually can't get out of my head for a few days after hearing it. The second CD is comprised of old b-sides and some previously unreleased tracks. While not brilliant throughout, it definitely has some songs that are worthy of being album tracks or even singles themselves. My favorite is probably Jamie, an ode to their first attorney, which appears here in both electric and acoustic versions. A few songs, including Undone - The Sweater Song, are culled from something called the Kitchen Tapes which were some of the earliest recordings the band did. These songs provide a nice glimpse into the early incarnations of some songs. While Weezer isn't going to necessarily become my favorite band, this set is enjoyable to someone who is a new fan and I'm sure will please longtime Weezer fans too.

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway (Jetset)

I hadn't listened to a whole lot of Mark Kozelek's work over the years but I knew enough of it to expect the slow, emotional songs found on this new project from the long time Red House Painter. As one not to enjoy long songs (especially slow ones) for the most part, surprisingly these songs manage to keep my attention and admiration throughout, a testament to their quality. Mostly cut from the same cloth, they feature Kozelek's intimate, sort-of mumbled vocals set to melodic, subtle music that doesn't blow you away but seems to fit the song just right as on Glenn Tipton and Gentle Moon. Here and there, he turns it up a notch or two. Lily and Parrots employs more electric guitars and a more classic indie-rock feel. While this is the type of album that I have to be in the right mood to enjoy to the fullest, I understand why I've been hearing a lot about it lately and it should definitely please fans of slow, well-written rock songs.

Low Flying Owls - Elixir Vitae (Stinky)

I had caught part of the Low Flying Owls set at Spaceland a few months back and I was impressed. The few songs that I saw them perform must have been some of their mellower songs because I was a bit surprised at the ferociousness of the first few songs on this album. These songs, Glad To Be Alive and Swingin' Sam, sort of have a similar feel to the songs of the band they opened for that night at Spaceland, the Vacation. A lot of swagger and attitude in the vocals and sort of droning (in a good way) music. Much of the rest of the album is more what I was expecting, more laid-back, detached vocals and music with a bit more melody to it such as on the lilting Beaches of Tomorrow and the splendid Bowie-ish Georgie Shot Johnnie. Strange Connection is the one song on the album that really doesn't sound like anything else on the album. It's verses are ultra-melodic and almost sounds like it could've been a song from the 60's but still with today's indie rock touches applied to it. This album will definitely be one where its charm and beauty continue to reveal themselves with each listening.

+/- - You Are Here (Teenbeat)

I had seen +/-, featuring a few memebers of Versus, at Spaceland a few years ago. While I don't remember too many of the details of the show, I remember it was an enjoyable show from a pretty standard sounding indie rock band. So it was quite a surprise when I first put on You Are Here, their second full-length release. The first two songs feature a lot of electronica type effects (drum machines, etc). While not usually my cup of tea, these two songs have become better and better with repeated listenings, especially Surprise!, which sounds sort of like a Black Box Recorder song but with male vocals. After these two opening songs, the album suddenly switches back into familiar territory with a mostly drums, bass, and guitar sound. Trapped Under Ice Floes stands out with it's sing-along melody and its quiet/loud dynamics. The slower Here We Are (Again), which paints the sad story of a broken up couple, tugs at the heartstrings while the bare bones closing song Everything I See Makes It Feel Wrong is the ultimate in depressing, sensitive-guy indie rock songs. While this album does fall flat in a few places, it's a worthy effort by this New York outfit.

Paper Planes - 5 Song EP (Self-released, contact paperplanes@charter.net)

I read some glowing things about this EP in the OC Weekly so I wanted to check it out. I really like three of the songs a lot. The other two aren't bad but have yet to really grow on me. Constant Frustration and Mexico are the two that don't totally do it for me. They both have sort of a choppy, stop-and-go vocal on them. I'm starting to come around to Mexico but the other three songs are far superior in my opinion. The opening song, Fever Blister, is a fast-paced, pulsing, driving song that lets you know right off the bat that Paper Planes know how to rock hard. The closing song, Live How We Live, has a Strokes-like feel to it with a bit of T-Rex thrown in. My favorite song is Time Won't Build, which at once sounds like classic alternative from the 80's (it reminds me of Radio Free Europe in parts) and an Olympia lo-fi band from the 90's. I appreciate the punkier moments on this CD but more songs in the future similar to Time Won't Build would be more than welcome.

The Reputation - To Force A Fate (Lookout)

The second album from the Elizabeth Elmore-led Reputation carries on the spirit of their debut, brimming with straight ahead pop/punk songs dealing with relationships and the perils and pitfalls that come with them. Let This Rest shimmers musically while lyrically lamenting time spent fighting with a loved one. While many of the songs on this album follow the same musical formula of Let This Rest, mid-tempo melodic pop that's not too sweet but not too offensive, Elmore also shows that she can shine when she either cranks it up a notch or slows down the pace a bit. Bottlerocket Battles is a more punk sounding song and it's one of the best on the album. Meanwhile, the slow and seductive epic ballad The Ugliness Kicking Around sucks the listener in for an emotional ride. (The Reputation at Chain Reaction on April 25, 2004).

Thelonious Monster - California Clam Chowder (Lakeshore)

I was never really sure that I'd see this day. A new Thelonious Monster album. Since it's been twelve years since their last album, Beautiful Mess, I was very curious to see what they could come up with. Sure, I've seen Bob Forrest play around town over the years on his own and with the Bicycle Thief but I still wasn't sure how Bob and his old pals would do on this new effort. It's titled California Clam Chowder and has 16 songs (including the hidden song). I've got a promo copy and each song is named after a different band (the Germs Song, Elton John Song, etc.). I'm not sure if these will be the real song names when the album comes out. Anyways, I think they may have been better served getting rid of a few throwaway songs and making the album stronger straight through. But I guess I've had that feeling about all their previous albums so nothing new there. So while it's not a perfect comeback album, there's lots of great stuff here. The opening song, The Gun Club Song sounds most like a classic Thelonious Monster song to me. Bob's howling vocals and lyrics like "I've got no one to love, no place to call my home". The chorus also makes mention of going to see his late pal Jeffrey Lee Pierce of the Gun Club. The second song is also classic Forrest, but of the slower, melancholy type. It's called the Bob Dylan song. He's played this live before and he's explained that it's for kids such as the Columbine kids, pleading with them to put down their guns and assuring them that there are others like them and they'll get their revenge later on in life and things will turn out ok. The Jam Song and the Big Star Song, mid-tempo poppy songs are also highlights of the album, as is The Rolling Stones '77 Song which both laments and celebrates life in LA. There is one song called the Thelonious Monster song. It's about the closest that anything on this album comes to sounding like old-school Thelonious Monster from the Baby You're Bummin' My Life Out In A Supreme Fashion days. Let's hope that the guys will play some more shows around town and maybe even come out with another album before the next decade goes by. (Thelonious Monster at Coachella on May 2).

Ben Kweller - On My Way (ATO/RCA)

Three years since his solo debut, Ben Kweller is back with On My Way which dispels any fears of a sophomore jinx for this budding young talent. This album was recorded with more of a "live" setup in the studio than his first album Sha Sha and it has produced great results. All the hook-filled pop songs from that previous album are once again abundant, from the opening I Need You Back, which slowly builds steam before Ben bursts into a passionate "hey hey I need you baaaack" in the chorus to the piano-driven ballad Different But The Same which closes the album. In between, he explores the wonders of youthful discovery in the chilling On My Way and sounds much like Ben Lee, his cohort in The Bens, in the bouncy Hear Me Out. The Rules rocks and rolls as well as any song I've heard in a while. With many albums still to make, this may not be the best album that Kweller ever produces, but it'll go down as a darn good one for sure. (Ben Kweller at the Henry Fonda Theatre on May 14 and the House of Blues in OC on May 15, 2004).

Chicklet - Indian Summer (Satellite)

This Canadian duo has been making music together without much fanfare since 1995. This is my first taste of their music and I like what I hear. They seem to fall somewhere between britpop and K Records style indie pop. A bit less cutesy than Heavenly but not as bombastic as Echobelly. Julie Park writes and sings a majority of the songs with her bandmate Daniel Barida chipping in his songs a few times. Park is adept at penning both fast, poppy songs and also slower, more serious minded songs. Of the former, Whitewashed is a standout, with it's driving verses and sugary sweet chorus. Mockingbird, a stern message to anyone trying to bring Park down or break her spirit, exemplifies her willingness to let loose lyrically and is one of the best of the slower songs here.

The Elected - Me First (Sub Pop)

With most albums, it takes a bunch of listens before I really can get a grip on how much I like them. Not this one. I've still only listened to it a few times but I already love it. It's filled with instantly likeable songs. This is the new band featuring Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley. This album employs a strange mixture of country-tinged tunes with some electronic influence that work wonders with Sennett's delicate, heartfelt voice and wondrous melodies. They don't waste any time getting to the good stuff, as the opening song 7 September 2003 beautifully rolls along, recounting tales of love and loss. From then on, the album rarely takes a disappointing turn. It hits great peaks at Greetings In Braille and Go On. Not to mention the more introspective A Response To Greed, which sounds like a lost track from Elliott Smith's Either/Or. A great debut and hopefully not the last we'll see out of this band. (The Elected at the Glass House on April 2 and the Troubadour on April 3).

The 88 - Kind of Light (Mootron/EMK)

A little over a year ago, I got an email from Sea Level Records telling me that I should come out for an in-store by this band called the 88. They compared them to Supergrass so I went to check them out, as did a small gathering of other people. Well, what a year it's been for the 88 since then. Opening slots for big-name bands, shows in larger venues, and scores of critical praise. Not to mention their debut album, Kind Of Light, a throwback to classic songwriting not seen in many bands today. Nothing about this album will knock your socks off on the first listen. But the great songs, influenced by everything from 60's rock to 90's britpop, will seep into your brain and get better and better with each listen. The Supergrass comparison is somewhat apt, although a much less manic Supergrass. The opening track, All the Same, has the same fun, bouncy quality as many Supergrass songs. Elbow Blues makes great use of keyboards in the verses before bursting into a soaring chorus. Whichever track you choose to listen to, you pretty much can't go wrong. There aren't too many songs that disappoint in this bunch.

The Belles - Omerta (Lakeshore)

I had never heard of this duo on Lakeshore Records until the CD showed up in my mailbox. What a nice surprise it was. Omerta, released in 2002, reminds me of the Pernice Brothers more than anyone else I can think of. On their best songs, such as (Who Will Be) Here To Hear?, You Can't Have It All, and Estranged, Christopher Tolle's smooth vocals work in unison with the beautiful instrumentation by Christopher and bandmate Jake Cardwell. There are a few songs where they crank up the pace a bit. I appreciate the effort to mix it up but for some reason these songs don't click with me as well as the more mellow melodic pop. Not a brilliant album, but definitely some great moments and a band to keep an eye on.

Mirah - C'mon Miracle (K Records)

Mirah's third full-length picks up where her previous effort, Advisory Committee, left off. Once again, there are lullaby-like songs featuring Mirah's sweet, girlish voice such as the opener, Nobody Has To Stay. As on her previous records, she also experiments with strange sounding effects and drum parts. The Light breaks into a storm of static and pounding drums during the chorus to great effect. Mirah also shines during her most pure pop moments, evidenced by the wonderfully bouyant The Dogs of Buenos Aires. This effort may not quite match the brilliance of Advisory Committee but it comes darn close. Be sure to check out Mirah's live show if she comes to your town. Her songs always take on new life in a live setting as they are usually performed more with acoustic guitar and less effects.

Mary Lou Lord - Baby Blue (Rubric)

On Mary Lou Lord's first full-length studio album in over five years, she once again relies mainly on the Bevis Frond's Nick Saloman for the songwriting chores. I like Lord's own songs as much as any of the songs she covers so it'd be great to see some more of her original songs. However, she makes Saloman's songs or any others that she covers sound like her own so the formula works. This album starts off with five mid-tempo pop songs, similar to what we heard on 1998's Got No Shadow. From there, the album begins to really take off. Farming It Out sounds (at least melody-wise, if not lyrically) like a song Elliott Smith, to whom this album is dedicated, would have covered or maybe even written himself and released as a b-side. The next song, The Inhibition Twist, shows that Lord can still turn up the pace and the amps when she wants to. Because He's Leaving, a melancholy track detailing a woman's attempt to convince herself that it's time to move on from a failed relationship, features Lord's almost-whispered heartbreaking vocals. The closing track Old Tin Tray seems destined to be a hit at live shows, with its catchy chorus that practically invites the listener to sing along. Hopefully we won't have to wait another five years for another album. (Mary Lou Lord at Spaceland on March 13, 2004).

The Butchies - Make Yr Life (Yep Roc)

The Butchies are back with their most solid and consistent effort yet on Make Yr Life, their fourth album. From the first note of the opening track, Send Me You, this is classic Kaia. Most of the songs follow the formula that we've seen from the best Butchies songs in the past: melodic, upbeat verses that burst into choruses featuring Kaia's sweet, soaring, passionate vocals. Unlike some of the past Butchies albums, none of these songs overstay their welcome. They are short and to the point often coming to fantastic ubrupt endings. None better than the title track that concludes after a frenetic set of "do do do do do do's" from Kaia. When they slow the pace down a bit, the results are just as satisfying, as on Second Guess, with it's tale of love gone wrong and Kaia's proclamation of "I don't need you anymore". This set of songs should make for some great live shows. (The Butchies at the Knitting Factory on March 3-4, 2004).

The No-No's - Tinnitus (Animal World)

On their second album, Portland's The No-No's give us more new-wavy, peppy pop songs powered by Robin Bowser's vocals. The guys in the band also deftly provide the musical backdrop to go along with Bowser's words. They're at their best on the ridiculously catchy The Red Eye, which I wanted to sing along with on the first listen even though I didn't know the words. The slower but equally catchy The Free Agent has Bowser declaring her independence from a former lover and includes an infectious chorus. What can I say? I'm a sucker for handclaps. The Needy One, Good Evening...I could go on about all the good songs here. Better yet, get the album and listen for yourself.

Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump (V2)

Just from the opening track, He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot, you start picking out all the influences that have gone into these songs. A bit of Bowie, a little Pavement, some electronica, a hint of country. But ultimately these songs are uniquely Grandaddy. The Modesto group, led by Jason Lytle, create sprawling melodies that conjure up images of traveling through a wide open desert or countryside only to be routinely interrupted by the ways of the modern world. The sing-songy Crystal Lake personifies the contradictions explored in these songs, with Lytle regretting leaving the Crystal Lake for a world where "trees are fake and dogs are dead with broken hearts, collapsing by the coffee carts". Meanwhile, an R2D2-sounding electronic noise pervades in the background. The entire album similarly plays the modern and old fashioned off each other, both lyrically and musically.

Death Cab For Cutie - We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes (Barsuk)

This is more of the same slow to midtempo melodic fare that the Pacific Northwest's Death Cab For Cutie has been dishing out for the last few years. The opener, Title Track, is fantastic. And just when the slow songs start to run together and sound alike, a faster one like Company Calls comes along to keep me from drifting away. Benjamin Gibbard's well-written lyrics are also a strength and always keep you interested. This is a great one for the diehards of slow, melodic rock. For the rest of us, it's just a darn good one.

The Moves - The Moves (Mr. Lady)

The debut from Massachussets' The Moves (Rachel Cohen, Sara Cooper, Sara Shaw) combines playful melodicism and controlled rage reminiscent of classic Scrawl. The majority of these songs have you bopping your head along in no time, with So Smooth and %@#*ing Charming being among the best. But quite a few of these songs also have an uneasy undercurrent running through them, whether it's due to the slightly darker music (I Have a Blues) or the more confrontational lyrics (Incisor, Now Subtract). This one's growing on me more by the day.

Bonfire Madigan - Saddle The Bridge (Kill Rock Stars)

When Madigan played at the Silverlake Lounge a few months ago, she previewed much of the material on Saddle The Bridge, her second post-Tattle Tale full-length release. At that show, the new songs seemed to have a much more pop feel to them than those on From The Burnpile and Rock Stop, an earlier EP. They didn't stop and start and change direction mid-song as much. Somehow that doesn't come through on record. Most of these songs have that familiar cello-driven tempo of the old songs. While not as likely to win over as many new fans as a more pop leaning direction would, there are still some moments that will likely expand Madigan's fan base. In Mad Skywriting, Madigan, with a line that ought to have been in The Smiths' How Soon is Now?, declares "existence should be enough to be loved", while the sparse arrangement of Scraps, about a lover disappeared, works as well as any of the more musically complex songs. Not a whole lot different from Madigan here, but it's a solid album that will surely please the devoted.

Billy Bragg and Wilco - Mermaid Avenue Vol II (Elektra)

The odd pairing of Billy Bragg and Wilco are back for a second go at putting music to long-ago written Woody Guthrie lyrics. For the second time, they've done Woody right. Of course Guthrie provided poetic lyrics of life in America during the first half of the 20th century. To go with these words, Bragg and Wilco have written music that sounds like it could have been the music that Guthrie would have penned while at the same time sounding modern and not unlike the usual output of these two artists. The bouyant Secret of the Sea sounds like it could have come right off Wilco's Summer Teeth while Remember The Mountain Bed would have fit nicely on their Being There album. Interestingly, the lyrics that they chose also often mirror their own work, such as the politically charged Stetson Kennedy, sung by the well-known left winger Bragg. Here's hoping this is not the last of these endeavors that we see.

Belle and Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)

Spinning the new Belle and Sebastian LP, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, is like catching up with an old friend. The kids from Glasgow continue to make beautiful songs about tragic characters. Like the twins on the cover of the album caught in each others' gaze, Belle and Sebastian write as if they are unaware that they are being observed. The songs feel like inside jokes and diary entries of which we are silent voyeurs. Catching a glimpse into their world is one of the greatest gifts in music. The songs are as witty and melodic as ever. Songs of childlike innocence such as Family Tree with a discouraged student complaining, "We do Chemistry, Biology and Maths/ I want Poetry, and Music and laughs" somehow fit perfectly with songs such as The Chalet Lines about rape. This world of rich images should be shared by all, from your mom to the trashman. If you have not yet entered the world of Belle and Sebastian, it is not too late. Jump on the train wherever you want. Time seems to stand still in their world but the new album is an excellent place to enter. Once you get comfortable, you will never want to leave. (Bill)

Bangs - Sweet Revenge (Kill Rock Stars)

With Sleater-Kinney making brilliant albums for the masses and Donna Dresch and crew on an extended hiatus, Bangs have taken over as the premier producer of old school riot grrrl music. Bratty pop-punk songs like Fast Easy Love, Docudrama, and Licorice Whip are filled with "hey's", "yeah's", and handclaps aplenty, which makes this a fun album. But Bangs have also expanded their repertoire to include darker, moodier songs like Undo Everything. This is a fine effort from one of the more underrated Kill Rock Stars bands. And don't be fooled by the poppiness of their records. Bangs rock like few others live.

Tsar - Tsar (Hollywood)

The new British invasion will be coming straight out of LA if Tsar's self-titled debut is any indication. I sense that this album will get a mixed bag of reviews. Some will cite their easy to identify influences from British glam, punk, and new wave and will label them as much too derivative. While, no doubt, they'll be hailed as saviors by others. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Certainly this isn't the most original sounding album. But it's hard to resist the melodies of anthems such as Calling All Destroyers, The Teen Wizards, and MONoSTEReo. The more sleek Silver Shifter and the fantastic Kathy Fong Is The Bomb are the finest tracks on this album. This album shouldn't be overanalyzed. Just turn it up and sing along.

Sarah Dougher - The Walls Ablaze (Mr. Lady)

I almost need to go to my toes to count all of Sarah Dougher's current or former bands. Veronica, The Lookers, The Crabs, Cadallaca. But she shines brightest on her own as her second solo album, The Walls Ablaze, proves. Her vocals are more restrained than on say The Lookers material and it suits her well. Lyrically, this album is familiar if you've listened to Dougher before. Broken relationships, lonesomeness, and everything else that you'd expect. The maturity of the music is where this album really stands out though. Well-crafted melodies abound on this album, namely in songs like No-Handed, The New Carissa, and Mirror/Shield. I can't fail to mention the duet (presumably with Jon Reuter, the writer of the song?) What's Good Is Better Than Gone, a brilliant pop song that helps make this one of the stronger albums of 2000 so far.

Tami Hart - No Light in August (Mr. Lady)

After Hart's two great songs on a split 7" on Mr. Lady, I had great hopes for her debut full-length. While not every song here equals the brilliance of those previously released songs, this is a very solid album. With help from The Butchies and others, Hart has concocted a bunch of mostly acoustic songs about love and loss. At times, the music and Hart's slight twang bring to mind Kurt Cobain, especially on The Kids That Call Us Clowns (taken from that split 7"). Drunken Love Song, a desperate attempt to prove one's love, is another highlight. When Hart turns up the volume a notch, however, it's with mixed results. The bluesy I Don't Care works to perfection but Disclosed seems a bit forced. Still, this is a worthy debut from Hart, who I look forward to hearing from in the future.

Sleater-Kinney - All Hands On The Bad One (Kill Rock Stars)

Sometimes I listen to this record, forget about the lyrics, and just rock out. Other times, I realize that Sleater-Kinney has made another recrod that explores cultural issues more expertly than anyone in music today. Mostly focusing on feminist issues that range from the personal (Youth Decay) to the professional (Male Model), this trio has come up with their best overall effort to date. After the opening, mid-tempo The Ballad of a Ladyman, they put together their best string of rocking songs ever with Ironclad, All Hands On The Bad One, Youth Decay, and You're No Rock n' Roll Fun. Balancing it out is the beautiful, bittersweet Leave You Behind. I'll be listening to this one for quite a while. Rock n' Roll fun indeed.

Elliott Smith - Figure 8 (Dreamworks)

Listen to this one a few times before deciding how much you like it. If you're an Elliott Smith fan, no doubt you'll like it from the start. However, there are less songs that grab you right off the bat than Smith's last few albums. About 10 listens in, the ok songs become really good songs and the really good songs became great songs. The slick production and (yes I must mention it) the Beatles influences are as abundant as on XO, with piano creeping into more songs than ever before. Son of Sam (equally as great with the whole band as it is acoustically on the Happiness single) gets this one off to a great start. Equal parts hopefullness and despair, which we've come to expect from Smith, are evident once again in semi-rockers such as LA and Wouldn't Mama Be Proud?, as well as in the quieter songs like Somebody That I Used To Know and Easy Way Out. The standout track is I Better Be Quiet Now, where Smith admits that he's "got a long way to go", he's "getting further away". Unless you're the type of Smith fan who doesn't want him to get out of the basement and away from the 4-track, you've got another great album to listen to.

Beachwood Sparks - Beachwood Sparks (Sub Pop - CD, Bomp - LP)

I love the 60's. Oh wait, this is 2000? Oh well, I still love Beachwood Sparks. The long awaited debut album from Beachwood Sparks even has this 60's and 70's music illIterate impressed. Poppy songs about deserts and canyons along with great album artwork and the coolest garb around have created quite a buzz about these guys. Listening to the infectious melodies of tunes like Desert Skies, Sister Rose, and Something I Don't Recognize makes me want to go buy a convertible and take a drive up the coast. Throw in a few downhome slow ditties and you've got quite an album. Catch them if they come to your town. They do not disappoint live. (The cd has a few songs not on the vinyl. The vinyl has one song not on cd.)

Lois Maffeo & Brendan Canty - The Union Themes (Kill Rock Stars)

If four years between albums means that Lois will continue to make albums this good, then see you in 2004 Lois. Well, I'd rather not wait this long again, but Lois has come up with a gem of an album, her first since 1996's Infinity Plus. This time she's teamed with Fugazi's Brendan Canty. They are still the standard Lois songs that you've come to know, but they sound a bit more realized and fuller with Canty's accompaniment. Highlights include Lois' take on the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, These Parts, the sorrowful tale of a soon-to-be widower, Hollow Reed, and the brilliant kiss off to lonesomeness, How I Came To Know. Hopefully you've caught Lois' live show this year. If not, she'll be at Ladyfest in Olympia in August.

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