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22 More Music Reviews

Mount Vernon Arts Lab, The Séance At Hobs Lane

Those of you who had the chance of seeing Mount Vernon Arts Lab playing live know that their performances are made up of weird noises, Theremin driven sounds and other experimental novelties. MVAL's new album doesn't differ from all this, it's the usual mix of mysterious noises that often make you wonder if they actually own a time machine and record their tracks while travelling through the different epochs. A bomb explodes in the first track, "The Fog Detonator" (never title was more apt) while "Hobgoblins" is interspersed by the usual harpsichord found somewhere in an attic. The 15 minutes long "Percy Toplic" is practically Coltrane's "Interstellar Space" being played in the background while on the foreground there's an alien invasion going on. Best track is "The Black Drop", in which a cello weaves a tragic and doomed texture, a soundscape in which it might be easy to imagine a broken Frankenstein monster trying to move his first steps in a scientifically monochromatic world. This time there are also some guests on MVAL's album, the usual suspects Isobel Campbell, Norman Blake and Raymond McDonald who help the band in building an aurora borealis of sounds, a barricade of sharp edges and bling blinging soundscapes. Mount Vernon Arts Lab have always been an audio adventure through the most various disparate possibilities of electronica and experimental music, an excursion to faraway lands and towards a fascinating sort of music. ( battista

Namelessnumberheadman, 100,000 Subtle Times (Knee Jerk Irony Entertainment)

Walking into a club with no expectations and coming across a fantastic band you've never heard of before is one of great pleasures. It's even better when it's a local band, so you know you'll have the chance to see them again. That's what happened with me here in Kansas City recently, when I made it to the club early enough on a Monday night to catch Namelessnumberheadman the first of two local acts opening for the American Analog Set. The band's three musicians (Andrew Sallee, Jason Lewis, Chuck Whittington) were frantically expressing themselves with guitars, synthesizers and other electrical gadgets, and drums, switching places and moving from instrument to instrument. Their music was all waves of energy and beauty capturing feelings of indecision and sadness. The same can be said of their CD 100, 000 Subtle Times, which was released in 2000 but made its way to me at the show. The six tracks on it convey a sort of symphonic approach to funky pop music--shifting between lush, acoustic guitar-centered pop and new-wave-ish dance music. Their sound is layered and their music is ever in motion, but in a way that seems more planned than chaotic, like pop songs that consist of a series of orchestrated movements. The opening track, "Locked in the Station," starts off as straight-up dance music before carrying that same energy into a catchy, pleasure-filled pop-rock song. "Suddenly Winter" starts off a slow, rustic-sounding expression of melancholy before morphing into a funky shuffle with pop crooning over it. The CD ends on a soothing note, musically, with the seven-minute "Punch Hung-Over," which matches a blissful but busy mix of guitar, beats and percussion to a sublime melody. Lyrically the song is bittersweet, as much of the band's lyrics are. "Other people's advice is never right," is that final track's repeating line, delivered in a perfectly sad tone of voice. 100, 000 Subtle Times projects that sort of sadness in vivid terms, while absolutely gorgeous sounds flow from beginning to end.--dave heaton

Yuji Oniki, Tvi (Future Farmer Recordings)

"17 light years before we're lost outside the stars," Yuji Oniki sings during the first track on his latest album Tvi. That song, "40 Seconds," musically and lyrically conjures up a dreamy, spacey feeling that runs throughout the album, while also hinting at the melancholy state of mind that is equally omnipresent. A third ever-present quality hinted at both that quote is a lyrical interest in travelling between worlds. Oniki's songs quietly center on slipping from one state of being to another, whether it's space travel, dreams or just in general complicating our notion of what is real and what isn't. Those songs capture that feeling not just lyrically but musically, with a lush, mesmerizing pop sound created by Oniki with help from a series of other extremely talented musicians, first in Oniki's own country of Japan (violinist Yuji Katsui from Rovo and guitarist Nishiwaki from Sakana) and then in the U.S. (Bill Swan of Beulah and Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices and Gem). That world crossing is appropriate for a songwriter obsessed with transgressing boundaries. "I'm checking out cities just to find another sense of place or time," Oniki sings on "Between Beds and Clocks." That searching for a different way of existing is at the heart of Tvi. Whether remembering past lives or searching for new ones, Oniki seeks to overcome the divides of reality. What drives this, however, seems as rooted in unhappiness as a sense of exploration. "Remember who you were, and you'll forget who you are," he sings on one track. "To die or to sleep?" he asks on another track, emphasizing the escape from reality that he seeks. Yet while that desire for escape seems also to mark an appreciation for the mysteries for the world and a desire to get closer to them. That sense of possibility also seems to inform his music, as Oniki's songs have a sublime sense of creativity to them. That sense, plus the talents of some well-selected companion musicians, gives Tvi a mellow cool and artistic depth that help listeners escape into sonic pleasure while contemplating Oniki's descriptions of more world-changing means of escape.--dave heaton

Operation Makeout, (first base) (Mint Records)

Sometimes it's pretty hard to divorce yourself from comparisons when listening to a new band. I really hate fact sometimes--when I'm listening to a band and just can't stop thinking about how much they sound like so-and-so, even while I know that if I had never heard so-and-so I would really like this new band. That's what my first reactions to Operation Makeout were like, as the singing style of their lead vocalist/guitarist, Katie, too firmly evokes Sleater-Kinney for my mind to get past that fact. It's frustrating, really, because Operation Makeout's songs, as displayed on their debut EP (first base), are catchy little punk-pop juggernauts worthy of appreciation. The key here for me is to cast aside my own band-association mental block and just dance, as one of Operation Makeout's major achievements is finding a nice position between melody and punk energy, one making this "punk rock you can dance to." They also have intelligent, witty lyrics going for them, like on "Neon Eyes," which merges corporate logo imagery with first-glance infatuation, and "Close Encounters," about balancing the head with the heart. "I try to keep the geometry simple/you're always adding too many angles," Katie sings on the opening track. Operation Makeout themselves keep things pretty simple, with a guitar/bass/drums/vocals format. But simple doesn't equal mundane. Despite my own music-critic roadblack regarding them, Operation Makeout's (first base) makes them as a spunky, smart band, one taking a relatively simple formula and infusing it with their own hearts.--dave heaton

Pernice Brothers, The World Won't End (Ashmont Records)

The Pernice Brothers' first album Overcome by Happiness was in truth an album cloaked in sadness, but with tinges of wry humor here and there. Lead singer/songwriter Joe Pernice (previously of Scud Mountain Boys) took nearly perfect pop tunes and infused them with a feeling of being absolutely lost. The second Pernice Brothers album, The World Won't End, following two great, and similar, projects under the names Chappaquiddick Skyline and Big Tobacco, follows the first album's lead, but ups the pop feel. In doing so, Pernice has stumbled into even fresher and more rewarding territory. These are human songs, cloaked in sadness...but also absolutely fantastic pop songs. They take the best elements of 60s pop and add Pernice's personal knack at writing songs that have killer hooks at every step. With a sweet voice and such sunny melodies, you could almost forget the fact that these are mostly songs of goodbye, except that the lyrics paint feelings in such vivid terms that the emotional complexity of it all is impossible to ignore. It's an album both to pick out favorite musical parts from--like the stunning "ba-da-da" break near the end of the Zombies-esque "7:30"--and to quote heartbreaking lyrics from ("there's no meaning in my life/there's so much meaning in the times you say goodbye," or "just a look can make me feel it might be worth the trouble just to see the look"). Pernice has a way of phrasing things, musically and lyrically, which is just right, perfectly considered for greatest emotional impact. Filled with recurrent themes of one-sided goodbyes and people shaking with sadness, The World Won't End is a haunting trip into human emotions. Yet it's also haunting in an equally accomplished, aesthetically pleasing way: it's commonly said about all sorts of music, but just try to shake some of these melodies from your head. It's impossible.--dave heaton

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

Scott Kannberg is better known as Spiral Stairs who's better known as Pavement's guitarist. But everything in life comes to an end and so also Pavement were disrupted after a bunch of glorious albums and a glorious career. And yet, when Malkmus' band split, Spiral Stairs had already a discreet number of tracks in his pockets, ready to be played and recorded. Using the name of an abandoned reform school in California, Spiral Stairs has formed a proper group and released his first album. The tracks mainly retain the sheer beauty of Pavement's post rock epic songs, but Kannberg has given them a personal imprint. "Whale Bones," a track about being on tour, opens the album, but it is in "Encyclopaedic Knowledge Of" and "History Of The River" that Kannberg reaches his best. Here there's no nostalgia for Pavement, but a great will of affirming oneself and one's music.--anna battista

Quasi, The Sword of God (Domino)

Sleater Kinney's Janet Weiss and Elliot Smith's collaborator Sam Coomes' fifth album is just amazing. After a piano driven introduction, we are introduced in Quasi's world in which Sam Coomes croons on Hollywood ("Fuck Hollywood"), science ("Genetic Science"), birth, Omar the eighth wonder of the world and whatever else, the album retains its magic in tracks such as "It's Raining" or the Christina Rossetti's evoking "Goblins & Trolls." Perversely sad songs like "The Curse Of Having It All" mingle with wonderfully dreamy tracks such as "Nothing, Nowhere." This is a flawless album, a thing also proved by the instrumental tracks that closes it, "Rock'n'Roll Can Never Die." Good music and genuine inspirations can never die.--anna battista

Redman, Malpractice (Def Jam)

Redman is crazy. If there's one point he's set out to make in his career, that is it. On his fifth album now (not counting his great collaborative album with Method Man, or his work in Def Squad), he is as unstoppably weird and funny as ever, using crude humor, a supreme sense of creativity an absolute love of hip-hop to have a lot of fun while keeping things funky. His music has been funk-drenched from the start, but since Muddy Waters it's had a diversity and spunk to it that makes it more than just imitative. That album was also where he first realized his true potential, meaning that both this album and its predecessor Doc's Da Name tend to continue that album's sound more than break from it. Still, Malpractice does have a few changes on it. Here and there he's trying out new things musically, especially on the single "Let's Get Dirty" and "Enjoy Da Ride" (featuring Method Man, Saukrates & Streetlife), which both have more of a dance club feeling to them. A more misguided experiment comes with the bonus track "Smash Sumthin'", featuring Adam F, which is an unbalanced electronic foray. The other new thing Redman's doing with Malpractice is collaborating more than usual. He does this partly to showcase new talent like Icarus, and partly to work with more experienced MCs, both old friends like Keith Murray and people he hasn't worked with before (Scarface, Missy Elliott). Above all, though, this is another Redman album, sounding a lot like the others. Unless he rubs you the wrong way, that's a good thing. Malpractice displays Redman's personality to the fullest in all of its wild, funny, funky glory.--dave heaton

The Reindeer Section, Y'All Get Scared Now, Ya Hear!(Bright Star Recordings)

See, I'm jealous. Utterly jealous, these Scottish bands make me terrifically jealous. They get together and dare recording an album in only ten days and what's worst is that they manage to sound like a band and not like a messy collective of musicians. Snow Patrol (Irish, but recently adopted by Scotland), Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian, Astrid, Mogwai, Mull Historical Society, V-Twin, Eva and Gill Mills are all involved in this project. Pastoralism oozes from "Will You Please Be There For Me" and "The Opening Taste", while the cross fertilisation running through The Reindeer Section's album mixes the deranged guitars of Snow Patrol (on "Billed As Single" and "Tout le Monde") with Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat drunken voice (discernible on "Nytol"). Lo-fi indie pop for pure aficionados. Y'all get jealous now, ya hear! Grrr...--anna battista

Mark Robinson, Canada's Green Highways (pulCec)

After the post-punk/pop-rock art that was Unrest, and the giddier pop of Air Miami, it seems like every musical project Mark Robinson undertakes involves further deconstruction of his songs. His band Flin Flon in particular takes a bares-bones approach to music which deals with the sparest of instrumentation in parts. With the remarkable Canada's Green Highways, he's doing the same on his own, but in an more emotionally affecting way. Here he deals with music in parts--a simple guitar line here, some beats here, vocals here--yet the album feels neither incomplete or empty but instead rich, fulfilling, pleasurable. In a way, pleasure has always been at the forefront of Robinson's songwriting, along with style and beauty. On the purely aesthetic side of things, he creates songs where each part is pleasing to the ear. His lyrics complement that by being impressionistic glimpses of sensual experiences. He references food, love, travel, while paying more attention to the way words sound together than to delivering a message. Canada's Green Highway does all of this with fashionable grace; everything about the album sounds undeniably cool without being hollow. Robinson's unmatchable voice, the musical textures he lays down from song to song, his way of quietly rocking even when not playing "rock" music...truth be told, everything here is perfect.--dave heaton

Sianspheric, The Sound of the Colour of the Sun (Sonic Unyon)

Sianspheric are on a whole other plane, one similar but not identical to, Spiritualized, Yume Bitsu, My Bloody Valentine and other groups interested in transcending the confines of our world through musical atmospheres that emulate the world of dreams. Where some musicians seek transcendence by using an extreme number of instruments to overload listeners, or by throwing in all sorts of unusual noises, Sianspheric work mostly within your usual rock instrumentation, relying heavily on gorgeous waves of guitar. Kicking off a new lineup of Sianspheric, one featuring one new members and one recently returned original member, The Sound of the Colour of the Sun consists of 9 songs that will transport through dizzying swirls of sound and melody. With vocals low enough to add another layer of texture more than "meaning" and songs that evocatively unfold, Sianspheric channel the music of your imagined life, the music you hear in your dreams, the music you might imagine space to sound like. Whether it's the short moodpiece "Childrenrunningthrough overgrowntallgrass," the intense explosions of "QFD," the graceful dance of "Slightly Less Sunshine" or any of the other tracks, it's all about evoking images and feelings through songs that evolve as they go, casting a spell on you while shifting the ground under your feet.--dave heaton

Will Simmons, Songs for Sore Ears(Best Kept Secret)

I like when music has an everyday-people quality to it, where you can imagine that the creator behind it might be your next-door neighbor, yet still has magic about it. That's part of how I feel about Will Simmons' Songs for Sore Ears, a fine cassette release on the Best Kept Secret label. However, if Will Simmons were my neighbor, I don't believe this review would ever get written; I'd have my ear pressed to the wall waiting to hear him practicing. The songs on Songs for Sore Ears are mostly vocals and guitar, with some beats and assorted percussion. A few are nice, low-key guitar instrumentals, and the rest are intimate, tuneful pop songs with personality. The main topic in pop, and here, is love, yet Simmons also takes a descriptive look at various aspects of the world. "Tonight (Peace Corps Drug Experience)" is the most transcendental song on the album, a lifting, slightly Mountain Goats-ish number, but there's moments of beauty all over the place, especially on the opener "Inside the Actors Studio" and the closing song "Venus, In All of Her Phases." Both tracks match pretty guitar playing with sensitive yet ambiguous words. They're short, like every song here, but sweet, memorable creations that hold up to the ambitious claim of the title by standing out from the abundance of mundane, artless music being made today.--dave heaton

Solex, Low Kick And Hard Bop (Matador Records)

Did you ever try to do collages? Did you ever try to cut little shapes of houses, people and animals, out of coloured cardboard paper or out of photographs and then stick them together on a sheet of paper, recreating a new coloured world? Dutch Elisabeth Esselink must have tried quite a few times and must have taken to love this stuff. Low Kick And Hard Bop is indeed a mountain of little pieces of music she cuts, mixes and sticks together giving them a hard bip bopping sound. Sounding like Le Tigre on the title track and on the relentless "Comely Row" won't stop Solex doing her experiments and turn into a mellowed out and more sampled Le Tigre. Her lyrics are scattered, meaningless and broken, but who cares when you can have fun on tracks like "Knee-High" or the brilliant " fingerprints!" in which her panoply of sounds is as coloured as a patchwork quilt. Solex sounds like a cartoon playing in a jazzy club and turning it into a proper disco. Compulsive.--anna battista

Sonar Compilation, Various Artists (El Diablo! Discos)

Tenemos aqui un souvenir del Sonar Festival y...OK, OK, I got a bit carried away by this double CD anthology compiled in Spain to celebrate the eight edition of the "Sonar", the International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Arts that takes place in Barcelona. This compilation is divided in two parts, two CDs, "Sonar de dia" and "Sonar de noche". The first part is a bit on the chill out side, containing Yonderboi's" Pabadam", XRS Land 's "Bom Dia", Plaid's "Eyen". Lounge rhythms mix with Brazilian tasty tracks veined by their typical 'saudade' and by sambatastic jazzy melodies such as in Louie Austen's "Hear My Song" or the instrumental dreamy landscape built by Isolée's "Beau Mot Plage". Best tracks on the first CD are Khan featuring Julee Cruise's "Say Goodbye", Squarepusher's syncopated breakbeats on "My Red Hot Car - Girl" and Sigur Ros rarefied atmospheres in "Staralfur." The second CD is a bit more on the techno side, with the occasional Brazilian track or with classics such as Frankie Knuckles and Laurent Garnier or Jeff Mills. Dedicated to those who were there, those who weren't and those who want to have an idea of what to expect from the next year's edition of Sonar. ( battista

Sorry About Dresden, The Convenience of Indecision (Saddle Creek)

"Count the times that I'll be wrong tonight/let's be honest I won't even try," go some of the lyrics to the opening track on Sorry About Dresden's The Convenience of Indecision, an album-length expression of feelings of regret, uncertainty and fear. Being haunted by the things you said and did in the past, the things you can never change, is a feeling that runs through the album, as is nervousness about life in the present and future. Several songs express a frustration with the difficulty of communicating and with the fact that words never come out how you want them to. That miscommunication doesn't carry over into Sorry About Dresden's lyrics, however, as they articulate feelings with profound candor and clarity. The self-doubt they express is universal enough to really connect with listeners, and it only helps that the feelings are conveyed through superbly crafted rock songs. With the perfect balance of power and melody, Sorry About Dresden tap into the energy of rock while also throwing catchy hooks at you non-stop. There's also stretches where they push past rock's brute strength into prettier territory, aided by violin and piano. That slight diversity in style adds to the power of their music, intensifying the emotional impact. As the album proceeds, the lyrical themes expand in perspective as well, as they move topically outward over the last three songs, two of which directly confront death. That step pushes the group's emotional spectrum further out, making the album not just an autobiographical expression of anguish but a glimpse into universal human pain and sadness. -- dave heaton

Spiritualized, Let It Come Down (BMG)

Proper follow up to 1997's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, Let It Come Down sees Jason Pierce facing life and music without the rest of the band since he sacked them a while back. Yes, there are fewer members of Spiritualized on this album, but there are more members of an orchestra, one hundred musicians to be specific, who form the complicated texture of each single track. Fans will be happy to know that, contrary to what the title of the album preaches, Jason "the dazed Argonaut of the third millennium" Pierce is still lost on the average cocktail of narcoleptic and opiated songs, "On Fire" and the epic "Don't Just Do Something" are just examples. A rehab song, that negates the concept of rehab in the first place, "The Twelve Steps", a gospel version of the Spacemen3 track "Lord Can You Hear Me" are also the honourable mentions, but unfortunately, though the new single "Stop You Crying" tries to rise to anthem level, it ends up in sounding like "Cool Waves" on the previous album and there's no "Broken Heart" or "I Think I'm In Love" to revive the whole thing. Hoping, believing and praying won't save Pierce's inclination to chemically inspiring tracks. Who said that sinking deeper into the alchemical pit he has depicted for him and his listeners is that bad? Let it come on whatever it is he's on.--anna battista

Tobin Sprout, "Let Go Of My Beautiful Balloon" 7" (Recordhead/Wigwam )

For some reason the Tobin Sprout songs that affect me the most tend to be the simplest ones. "I'll Buy You Everything You Own," "Water on the Boater's Back," "I Didn't Know," "And Then the Crowd Showed Up"...these are not songs with complicated arrangements or fancy instrumentation. They're basically a voice and an instrument or two, performing pop songs that go straight to the heart because of an almost unexplainable blend of mysterious yet emotion-filled lyrics, pretty melodies and equally pretty vocals that convey a sense of emotional authenticity. "Let Go Of My Beautiful Balloon," the A-side to this 7", is just as straightforward in its planning, yet for some reason just might be the most touching song I've heard this year. The song's six-plus minute length made me expect some sort of rock jam; instead, the length indicates not a break from Sprout's style of pop-rock, but just a song that he doesn't want to let go of, a killer melody that just keeps riding along. The chorus is the title of the song. It's a rather enigmatic phrase on its own, but it's given extra emotional spark by the presence of sentiments like "Somewhere there are people who won't hurt me," which lend the song a mix of sadness and hopefulness which, combined with the gorgeous pop melody, make it truly affecting. The B-side, "Shirley the Rainbow," is a shorter, snappy midtempo rocker, with Sprout joined by a fuller band for yet another fantastic pop song with yet another stunning chorus. By any business standards this is a non-mainstream sort of release--a limited edition 7"in a rather thin paper envelope--yet the music here has the wherewithal to strike a universal chord with listeners. These are two more great Tobin Sprout songs, which by now means some of the most melodic, well-crafted pop-rock you'll find.--dave heaton

Steward, Australian tour EP 2001 (Chapter Music/Black Bean and Placenta)

Whether he's playing sloppy punk-rock with Boyracer or pretty ballads and electronic experiments as Steward, Stewart Anderson's music is about honestly expressing feelings while having a good time. This 4-song 7" captures both of those elements, while commemorating the completion of another tour. It opens with "We Are Pure Chrome," a pretty acoustic ballad (featuring ethereal backing vocals by Jen Turrell of Rabbit in Red) about opening up your feelings to others: "Please don't cry, because I will open for you, spill my secrets one by one like gold raindrops..." To be honest, that track's beautiful enough to make this 7" worth the money. But the other tracks have their own pleasures to offer. "Steward bonus beatz" is a nice mix of fuzzy beats and pretty guitar, "You Live Your Live in Fast Forward" is a mellow pop song with an fuzz electro edge to it, and "Tour Song 2000" is a fast, furiously gentle account of a U.s. tour from the previous year. With slightly muffled vocals and acoustic guitar, Steward recounts stories from various cities on the tour (including here in Kansas City), ending with this summation: "Now we're all getting sick but our eyes are so bright. I'm so in love with these times..." A lovely sentiment, it brings to mind the similar thoughts he expressed in the liner notes to the Boyracer collection Boyfuckingracer earlier this year--"The best bits were travelling and meeting such wonderful people, something I'm still fortunate to do. Golden times. Dumb punk rock and my friends are still important to me." While these days "punk rock" is used mostly as a musical description, connoting groups who sound just like the groups that first called themselves "punk," for some the words still mean something else, something about community and honesty, about dealing with real people on an equal level, not worrying so much about money and status but just doing what you like to do and having fun with it. Or, as Steward puts it in the liner notes to this tour 7": "If you can have a party and buy some cheap beers I'll gladly come over and dance like a spazz in your kitchen. Stay punk!" --dave heaton

The Strokes, Is This It (Rough Trade Records)

Julian, Albert, Nick, Fabrizio and Nikolai, also known to their audience as The Strokes, have been lately haunting the covers of music and fashion magazines which claimed that they were the new sensation, the new breed of punk reborn in New York and ready to take the world. Young and hip they are and being young and hip can help their music getting on the catwalks and their style being stolen by fashion mavericks, but can these guys actually play? Well, yes they can, though The Strokes aren't a totally new experience. It must be recognised that "Is This It" is an unassumingly sensual track, that "The Modern Age" makes you want to trash the whole world around you and that "Barely Legal" or "Someday" will make you jump up and down. The only problem is that Julian sounds sometimes like a cross between Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and actually "Last Nite" sounds like "Lust for Life". The album as a whole is a concentrated pearl of energy barely forty minutes long, as the tracks are short, concise and played in unison, with twisted guitars, music wizardry and retro fashion aplomb. So, do we really need them? Let's say yes at present we do. And, who knows, perhaps even in the future. ( battista

Super Furry Animals, Rings Around The World (Sony)

Gigantic balloons shaped like pandas, monsters with eight or more eyes, amazing spaceships: Welsh weirdoes Super Furry Animals have always tried through Pete Fowler's drawings to strike their fans with nice and original cartoons, but above all through their music. Their new album Rings Around The World oozes SFA's typical psychedelic pop that brought them to stardom. The single taken form the album, "Juxtapozed With U" contains a very nice message to the world, "You've got to tolerate/All those people that you hate" while "Alternate Route To Vulcan Street" is a crescendo of piano with Gruff whispering in his typically spaced out voice. If "Sidewalk Serfer Girl" might be considered a Beach Boys number, "Presidential Suite," a song about the Monica Lewinsky affair, can boast of having John Cale on piano and "Receptacle for the Respectable" features Paul McCartney. The track that gives the title to the album, "Rings Around The World" is a happy mayhem in which connecting together the rest of the world sounds possible, even though it will be fatal for planet earth. Honourable mention also goes to the instrumental "(A) Touch too Sensible" for its heartrending violins. Get together, tolerate, draw rings around the world and fly to planet SFA where people love each other. ( battista

Team Mint Volume 2!, Various Artists (Mint Records)

Combing from the Mint Records stable of bands, Team Mint Vol. 2 has a real diversity of genres to it which, though it might make overly orderly types look for their program button, helps showcase the label's biggest strength, the fact that they're willing to look for good songwriting no matter what category it fits into. The groups here vaguely fit into three categories--punk, traditional country/folk, indie pop-rock--though each of those, especially the last, is filled with a mix of styles and sounds. In any case, the talent here is high, which is what makes this a compelling collection. The highly esteemed Neko Case shows up with a few of her projects--the rough but super-melodic pop of The New Pornographers, her Corn Sisters collaboration with Carolyn Mark (who also appears her as Carolyn Mark & Her Roomates), and her own band Neko Case & Her Boyfriends. On the more rocking side of things, there's fine tracks by the electro-weirdos I Am Spoonbender, the hyper-melodic New Town Animals and Duotang and the bizarrely goody The Evaporators and Thee Goblins. There's also a few more punk-rock-oriented groups, like The Smugglers and Operation Makeout. Most groups appear twice, allowing listeners to get more than just a brief taste of each band. In the press materials, Mint makes the rather audacious claim that they have "the most important thing you could ask for in music: pure quality." While "quality" is of course subjective, I wouldn't argue with its presence here; there's a lot of great music here from bands of many types.--dave heaton

Tokidoki (Sky Blue/Sunday)

"I want you to know why I feel sorry for myself...this time," Nora of Tokidoki sings during one track on the duo's self-titled CD, embodying, the sort of emotional openness that characterizes Tokidoki's gorgeous pop songs. With male and female vocals, acoustic guitar and synthesizer, the group uses pretty and gentle melodies and harmonies to explore the issues which characterize relationships. The songs are about what people expect from each other and what they want; they exude longing, self-doubt and a desire for trust, understanding and affection. Much of the album treads the sadder areas of the heart while conveying the complexity of human interactions, with astute yet bittersweet observations like this one: "Maybe you shouldn't come over today, cause you're not too good and showing you care and I'm not too good and hiding that I'm hurt, which I am." Over the course of the CD, Peter and Nora both sing in various configurations: together, separately, in harmony, with overlapping vocal lines. In every case they beautifully deliver their songs; both of their voices are sensitive, expressive and exquisite. With 11 songs in under 25 minutes, the album is short, but undeniably sweet, a splendidly pure expression of feeling that goes straight to your heart.--dave heaton

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