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Elliott Brown (San Francisco)
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Fingers Crossed
Fingers Crossed
Price: CDN$ 15.91
18 used & new from CDN$ 3.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Australia's Coolest Band Ever?, July 16 2004
This review is from: Fingers Crossed (Audio CD)
Looking throught the other reviews, I notice a lot of references to Belle and Sebastian as well as the twee genre. While the layered production of disperate instruments ranging from trumpet to thumb piano, and soft, harmonized vocals occassionally recall Scotland's finest (I'm really being geographically referential, aren't I?), the music on Fingers Crossed is undeniably its own beast.
Though the music is always honey sweet, Architecture in Helsinki shows a lot of range on this album. Taking the amazon listening samples as examples, "One Heavy February" starts the album on a synthy, new wave note, "Souveniers" is an example of the twee influence, although the dense instrumentation (per the jacket cover, 11 instruments are used) creates a more compelling texture, "Imaginary Ordinary" is a weird haltering song -- undoubtedly the sparcest on the album -- with electronica influences, "Scissor Paper Rock" sounds like a cheesy 70's song thrown together with a cheesy 80's song, and "To and Fro" sounds like The Sea and Cake with orchestral backing.
While the listening samples show the album's range, the real highlights occur later on with pretty songs like "Spring 2008," and groovier, alomst Stereolab-esque songs like "Kindling" and "Where You've Been Hiding."
I personally think this album is awesome, but I give it only four stars, because it is a little schizophrenic. Regardless, I think it would be a great purchase for anyone whose musical interests aren't completely straightforward, so if you're not put off by track one, I think this is probably for you.

A Ghost Is Born
A Ghost Is Born
Price: CDN$ 15.70
46 used & new from CDN$ 3.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Something old, mostly new, July 10 2004
This review is from: A Ghost Is Born (Audio CD)
Simply put, A Ghost Is Born takes the stripped down, less melodic approach to making music that Wilco employed on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and runs with it. Old fans who have worn through their copies of Summerteeth will undoubtedly be a little disappointed in the demise of Wilco's rootsy, straightforward songwriting, but those who welcome the new direction should be ecstatic.
AGIB still maintains Wilco's emotional intensity. The sparse production and off color changes, along with Tweedy's frail voice create compelling textures on songs like Muzzle of Bees and Handshake Drugs. And while songs like Company in My Back recall Wilco's folky-acoustic roots, the acoustic guitar takes a back seat to the piano and bass as primary rythm instrument on most of the tracks. Wilco's new approach does have its pitfalls on songs like Less Than You Think (which features ten minutes of whining short wave radio interference), but the band more than makes up for it with the formless krautrock-y Spiders (Kidsmoke), as well as the album's handful of heartbroken ballads (e.g. At Least That's What You Said).
While this album won't make everyone happy, it will appeal to a broad range of people who formerly found Wilco to be a good, but musically limited band. As they switch genres from folk rock to what is essentially noise pop, I think even those that don't like the change will admit that the music's still pretty awesome.

Cmon Miracle
Cmon Miracle
Price: CDN$ 15.20
19 used & new from CDN$ 9.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Good (but not great) Stuff, June 9 2004
This review is from: Cmon Miracle (Audio CD)
Mirah's lilting voice and tight, endearing songwriting combine with Phil Elvrum's strong contribution as producer to create an album that is well-done and completely listenable, but a little bit of a disappointment in the context of her earlier work. I still dole out four stars, so I don't mean to imply that the album's not good; it's just not what I hoped it would be.
C'mon Miracle does however show a lot of maturity. With quiet, string-accompanied pieces like "Nobody Has to Stay" and lo fi, rambunctious songs like "The Light," Mirah shows the ability to retread the broad range of musical ground she covered with her earlier albums. Still, some songs, like "Jerusalem," seem to fall uninterestingly in the space between her heady and low brow approaches to making music.
There's enough good music here to keep most anyone happy, though. While some of the highs of the her earlier albums seem to be missing, songs like "We're Both So Sorry" and "The Dogs of B.A." are compelling enough to keep the listener's interest. They just don't happen to be as compelling as some of Mirah's earlier work. If just you're discovering Mirah, I'd recommend trying another album. If you're already a fan, you may not be blown away, but you'll be pleased.

So Stylistic
So Stylistic
Price: CDN$ 17.01
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculous. Awesome., June 9 2004
This review is from: So Stylistic (Audio CD)
I rarely delve into the "dance" section of the record store, but Fannypack gave a me good reason to change my ways. With thumping bass, sparce sampling, and screetchy, sophomoric lyrics, this all girl rap trio takes me back to the late 80s when 2 Live Crew and "Push It" era Salt 'N Pepa rocked the airwaves. While songs like Cameltoe ("she had a frontal wedgie -- a cameltoe") are so absurd they seem like Saturday Night Live material, the group's jump rope rapping style is so infectious that the music bears repeated listening. Of the Amazon samples, "Hey Mami" and "Cameltoe" represent the best Fannypack has to offer. If you enjoy those songs and don't find "Do It to It" too frenetic, you'll probably want this album for your next house party.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Price: CDN$ 7.67
41 used & new from CDN$ 2.47

4.0 out of 5 stars They're back!, April 7 2004
When push comes to shove, I think this is one of those albums you'll have to listen to form an opinion. Like their previous effort ("The Moon & Antarctica"), Modest Mouse pursues a lot of new directions on "Good News for People Who Love Bad News." From the happy funk guitar and robust refrain on "Flow On" to the manic, Tom Waits-inspired souffles "Black Cadillacs" "The Devil's Workday," and "Dance Hall," the band covers a lot of new ground. In fact, there are times (e.g. "Blame it on the Tetons") when the band is not recognizable as the Modest Mouse we all know and love.
Die hard fans who fear change needn't worry too much. Tracks like "Satin In A Coffin," "The World at Large," "The View," and "Bury Me With It" give you vintage Modest Mouse with small changes that will help your ear adjust to the new sound. For example, keyboards replace a second guitar on "The World at Large" and "The View." And Issac Brock's broken scream is replaced my more of a cookie monster vocal on "Bury Me With It." The perfect juxtaposition between new and old comes on the song "Bukowski." With different instrumentation, this could easily be a song from "Lonesome Crowded West," but the bowed bass, accordian, and banjo create a more sublime, rootsier feel.
Among all the change, one constant is Issac Brock's ability to write incredible lyrics with effective rythm patterns. Though he chooses to scream less, his voice is still compelling, if not a little softer. The result is an album that takes a little more listening to get into, but there's quite a lot to uncover. If you thought "The Moon & Antarctica" was too much of a departure, you probably will not like this one at all. I loved "TMAA," and though I don't quite like "Good News For People Who Like Bad News" quite as much, I'm enjoying listening to it and I can't wait to hear what these guys come up with next.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Price: CDN$ 7.67
41 used & new from CDN$ 2.47

4.0 out of 5 stars New directions, April 6 2004
When push comes to shove, I think this is one of those albums you'll have to listen to form an opinion. Like their previous effort ("The Moon & Antarctica"), Modest Mouse pursues a lot of new directions on "Good News for People Who Love Bad News." From the happy funk guitar and robust refrain on "Flow On" to the manic, Tom Waits-inspired souffles "Black Cadillacs" "The Devil's Workday," and "Dance Hall," the band covers a lot of new ground. In fact, there are times (e.g. "Blame it on the Tetons") when the band is not recognizable as the Modest Mouse we all know and love.
Die hard fans who fear change needn't worry too much. Tracks like "Satin In A Coffin," "The World at Large," "The View," and "Bury Me With It" give you vintage Modest Mouse with small changes that will help your ear adjust to the new sound. For example, keyboards replace a second guitar on "The World at Large" and "The View." And Issac Brock's broken scream is replaced my more of a cookie monster vocal on "Bury Me With It." The perfect juxtaposition between new and old comes on the song "Bukowski." With different instrumentation, this could easily be a song from "Lonesome Crowded West," but the bowed bass, accordian, banjo and create a more sublime, rootsier feel.
Among all the change, one constant is Issac Brock's ability to write incredible lyrics with effective rythm patterns. Though he chooses to scream less, his voice is still compelling, if not a little softer. The result is an album that takes a little more listening to get into, but there's quite a lot to uncover. If you thought "The Moon & Antarctica" was too much of a departure, you probably will not like this one at all. I loved "TMAA," and though I don't quite like "Good News For People Who Like Bad News" quite as much, I'm enjoying listening to it and I can't wait to hear what these guys come up with next.

Catalpa
Catalpa
Price: CDN$ 14.97
17 used & new from CDN$ 10.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Half-assed perfection, March 25 2004
This review is from: Catalpa (Audio CD)
Among the other rewiews I've noticed several comparisons between Jolie Holland's voice and that of Billie Holiday. In a sense, I disagree with such comparisons because Holland sounds as much like Will Oldham's broken larynx or Paul Simon's African inflections as she soes like Holiday. But the comparison is apt because her voice makes you feel the same way as Holiday's did -- like it should be hot outside, but you've got a nice spot in the shade -- like you're reliving a particularly vivid moment from the past.
Catalpa is a collection of stripped-down, low-fi songs that lie firmly in the hard-to-define crossroads of folk, country, blues, and jazz. The songs are as slow and as sweet as molasses. Holland's ballyhooed voice is typically accompanied by acoustic guitar with tickles of banjo, another guitar, drums, and some of the most delicious whistling I've ever heard slipping in occassionally. While the mediocre sound quality gives Catalpa a lovely patina, Amazon's song samples come off a bit tinny. You'll have to give Holland the benefit of the doubt. "Black Hand Blues" shows Holland's more energetic and jazzier side as well as some Holidayesque vocals. "December, 1999" is more demonstrative of the downhome fingerpicking that dominates the album. "Alley Flowers," though one of my least favorie tracks, shows some indie inclinations and helps explain why Holland has opened for bands like Low. Unfortunately, most of the best tracks lay outside of the first five. "The Littlest Birds," (for example) is a wonderfully happy song, reminding me of Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," while "Wandering Angels" straddles musical space between Mazzy Star and Norah Jones.
The only reason I give this album four stars instead of five is that it's a little rough around the edges. I actualy enjoy it more with warts than I would without, but I could picture someone who likes perfect, big-studio production qualities being a little turned off (for example) by the slow, imprecise instrumental build-up leading into "Demon Lover Improv." If you're not scared by the production quality caveat, go out and buy Catalpa -- for all the comparisons I've made it's some of the most delightfully original music I've heard in a long time.

Yes To Everything
Yes To Everything
Offered by Music on the Web
Price: CDN$ 6.03
19 used & new from CDN$ 1.04

4.0 out of 5 stars A cut above, Feb. 25 2004
This review is from: Yes To Everything (Audio CD)
Lately a sea of of mod-looking, Brooklyn-based, garage-sounding, cooler-than-thou bands has popped up. Aside from the fact The Washdown are from Tampa, it would be easy to lump them in with the rest of the in-crowd, but doing so would be a huge mistake.
I "discovered" them on the opening night of San Francisco's Noise Pop festival. Going to the show, I was a little disappointed that there weren't any bands on the bill that I knew, but when Ryan Hess kicked off The Washdown's set with the most furious tamborine-playing I'd ever seen, I knew I was in for a treat.
"Yes to Everything" captures the energy of The Washdown's tumultuous live performance. The album is clean and well-produced, but no concessions are made to detract from the fury that drives this band. The music is always nicely layered for the loud rock and roll it is, which allows the listener to pick apart countervailing crunchy guitar licks and the bouncy bass line that earn the band the "dance punk" tag.
On tracks like "Kansas City," The Washdown sounds similar to some of The Rapture's (or, really, Gang of Four's) more user friendly stuff -- riff-oriented, with stops and starts, and screamed lyrics with some repetitive phases ("I should have walked..." and "Or we could..." begin many vocal lines). I don't think the sound quality of the songs Amazon lets you hear really do The Washdown justice -- their music is just so big -- but "We've Listened to Your History" is another good example of what this album has to offer.
In sum, The Washdown is the type of band I hoped Jet would be after hearing their song on an i-pod commercial. "Yes to Everything" is raw yet refined, rocking but groovy. I'd recommend this album for anyone who is swept up in the garage tide or stuck in a 70's punk eddy. The only reason I give this album four stars instead of five is that it might be a little too loud for some people. If you think the Strokes are "hard," listen to the track "counfusion...(confusion)" to make sure The Washdown aren't too much for you.

Entertainment
Entertainment
Offered by Rarewaves-CA
Price: CDN$ 8.73
18 used & new from CDN$ 8.71

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than a car alarm, Feb. 18 2004
This review is from: Entertainment (Audio CD)
This is going to be a bit of a rambling review, but I promise to make it worth your while.
You see, I was in my crappy Volvo tonight, driving around town, blasting Entertainment!, and pretty much feeling as cool as Kevin Bacon in the opening scenes of Footloose. I rarely give a five star review, but any album that makes me feel like Kevin Bacon deserves either a five of a zero. Kevin Bacon in Footloose? A five for sure as long as it's not a Kenny Loggins record that puts me in the mood.
Now, there are a lot of so-called "seminal punk albums" that are either overly simplistic or purely unlistenable. Many are good time capsules, but little else. However, Entertainment! is none of these things. The crisp, clean songs sound more like the Clash than anyone else, but where the Clash was influenced by reggae and early ska, Gang of Four rode improbably on the back of disco - quite a feat for a group that was one of the pathologists dissecting the "disco is dead" movement. While the connection between Gang of Four and disco is not strong, it is fully evident in the band's bouncy bass lines which give the music more energy and immediacy than a lot of its droning contemporaries. The bass work also gave birth to a legion of disciples, ranging from Fugazi and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to dance punk outfits like The Rapture.
Some other Gang of Four albums, like the recently re-released Hard/Solid Gold compilation fit squarely into the "time capsule" category, but Entertainment! is consistently clean and engaging. In addition to the great bass and tight drums, hard, haltering, funk-infused guitar chops round out the backing music while John King's vocals are passionate without ever getting sloppy or obnoxious. Perhaps this album's greatest asset is that is continually listenable.
As I was driving around singing along with "Natural's not in it" -- this heaven gives me mee-graine - a migraine headache was the furthest thing from my otherwise tortured little mind. I parked my car in a pretty sketchy neighborhood, and went to see a mediocre show by a band who ought to be paying royalties to Gang of Four. When I came out, the window to my car was smashed, and though I had tons of stuff lying around my car, the only thing that was gone was my stereo. But on the passenger seat, placed carefully and unscratched, was Entertainment! I don't know why the thief left Entertainment! (or any of my other stuff) behind, but I'd like to think it was because he respected my choice in music. I'm a little pissed about the broken window and lost stereo, but as I sit here listening to the song "5.45," I know things could be worse.

This Is My Story: This Is My Song
This Is My Story: This Is My Song
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 71.26
2 used & new from CDN$ 67.79

5.0 out of 5 stars This is not your grandpappy's folk, Feb. 17 2004
Or maybe, actually, it is.
I rarely give five star reviews, but this album is so overwhelming and undernoticed, it deserves every bit of love I can give it. The songs all focus on Sonny Smith's perfectly bruised voice. Though he's a relatively young man, his voice recalls Willie Nelson and Tom Waits. And his songs mix old-folk song structure with varied influences and modern themes. A perfect example is the song X-Men, which begins "wish I was an X-Men/Living in Detroit" and concludes with a familiar-sounding "all of the day/and all of the night/all of the night and day" refrain.
Though Smith's voice sounds as though it was raised on whiskey and cigarettes, most of the songs on the album end up being more sweet than bitter. The most memorable tracks feature almost African-sounding backing vocals (a la Paul Simon), or tear-jerking violin over the always sparce guitar arrangements.
In sum, this album has a whole lot of soul, and sounds more like something from the 40's or 50's than the 21st Century. It blows most alt.country stuff out of the water. Unless your musical tastes are exclusively rap, metal, or mainstream radio, I implore you to buy this album. You will not be disappointed.

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