erasing clouds

25 More Reviews of Music

by dave heaton, scott homewood, anna battista, john stacey

Click on a musician's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

Eluvium, Emery Reel, Fairburn Royals, Ed Fingerling, For Against, Adam Forkner, Doug Gillard, Adam Green, Hidden Cameras, High Explosion, James William Hindle, Hitchcock's Regret, Claire Holley, Hotwires, Eugene Kelly, The Like Young, Little Darla Has a Treat For You, v20, The Long Weekend, The Lucksmiths, Magic Car, Matinee 50, Mayday, Scott McDonald Group, Mogwai, Mudville

Eluvium, Lambent Material (Temporary Residence Limited)

Eluvium's debut album Lambent Material is one of the best daydreams I've heard in a while; it shimmers and glows in beautiful ways. As Eluvium, Matthew Cooper uses guitars, keyboards and who-knows-what to craft works of ambient music that are delicate and haunting. They drift and hum across the room, sweeping you up in the process. The album delivers a heightened sense of atmosphere from start to finish-meaning the music gives off a mood that you can feel taking over you. Yet the five tracks are also filled with beautiful melodies. While your average person might think of "melody" in terms of a Beatles hook or an N'Sync chorus, there's other ways of using melody where the melodies sneak up on you more but are nonetheless gripping and pleasurable. Eluvium uses melodies like a weaver, taking disparate sounds and tunes and crafting them together into something remarkable. The music is pretty and peaceful, but also sad and challenging; listen closely to "There Wasn't Anything" and hear not only the piano but a newscaster telling us of a horrible accident. On the whole Lambent Material feels like music of healing and recovery as much as a work of sheer beauty. "Under the Water It Glowed," one of the songs is titled, aptly describing not just the meditative and mysterious quality of that song but the images that come to mind when listening to the entire album. Waves of fuzz meet graceful guitar tones and piano dirges, conjuring up remembered landscapes and imagined space-voyages while uncovering emotions buried somewhere deep within you.-dave heaton

Emery Reel, …for and acted upon through diversions (First Flight)

The Nashville instrumental rock band Emery Reel's debut album comes with none of the easy frameworks that critics like to hang their reviews on when they're dealing with music that in its nature is difficult to describe. The CD offers no "concept" story or political slogans…what you have is sharp packaging (a cardboard cover with a transparent photo set in it), a mysterious quote from a "diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic" and 50 minutes of beautifully constructed, likely improvised music that's hard to pin down yet easy to love. Using guitars which sometimes sear and sometimes soothe, powerful drums, bass, vibraphone and light touches of keyboard, Emery Reel conjure up a storm of breathtaking sounds. Sounding a fair amount like Mogwai do when they're not trying too hard to wow you or scare you, Emery Reel create music that's intense but doesn't fall under an easy-to-identify formula. The music is about mood but also melody. Jazz and funk elements show up enough to convince you that the group isn't following a map but their instincts. They come off like seekers, trying out various sounds and styles to see what lights the right spark. Or, as they put it in their bio, "We, 4 individuals separated by wires and cable, leaning in together to hear what becomes of that noise."-dave heaton

Fairburn Royals, Free (Two Sheds Music)

The title of the new EP from Athens, Georgia rockers is Free because it is. The Free EP was released online for free, with the message (order?) "please copy these songs and give them out to at least three friends." Taking the music directly to the people is always admirable in my book, and it fits with the impression I already had of Fairburn Royals (from their fine second album From a Window Way Above as a group that cared less about building a career than just playing music that they love to play. That music is no doubt influenced the so-called "indie rock" and "alternative rock" of the last 10 or so yearsm but not derivative of any one band. It's guitar-oriented rock, with clever, heartfelt lyrics. The Free EP finds the group taking 3 songs from their first album (The Sunshine Slowdown) and 1 from their second and re-recording them, with a more polished, bigger rock sound. It's a great (free) introduction to what the group is all about.-dave heaton

Ed Fingerling, self-titled (Olympia Records)

"Make peace with your enemy/cause he's your brother too," Ed Fingerling sings on "Rise," the would-be rock anthem that kicks off his 7-song self-titled CD. That ethic is representative of the motivation behind the majority of the songs: to inspire people to be better humans, kinder and more peaceful. To say that those are worthwhile goals would be a major understatement: I firmly, if idealistically, believe that art can change a person's perspective. Yet it's possible to like someone's motivations without really liking the music that much, and sadly that's the case here. Fingerling's sound comes strongly from the 60s. Built on Hendrix-style riffs, a Zeppelin-esque crunch and wide-eyed hippie dreaming, but put together with a certain modern-rock clarity, more than anyone else his songs resembles early Lenny Kravitz, when the influences still overshadowed his own songs. There's moments here that really shine, yet they're often quickly swept away by sounds that are all too familiar.-dave heaton

For Against, Coalesced (Words-on-Music)

Every living person feels so many things each and every day, but how many of us are able to articulate them, not to mention put them into a well-crafted song? For every million people who are only able to translate their feelings into cliches and banalities there's someone like Jeffrey Runnings, singer/bassist for the Lincoln, Nebraska-based band For Against. To listen to their sixth album, Coalesced, is to have a mirror put up to some of the most wrenching emotions you've experienced. The 7 songs on Coalesced are filled with brilliant articulations of the most often-hidden fears and longings-that you're incapable of love, for example, or that what you thought was a mistake might have been a blessing in disguise. Even better, these are hyper-melodic, exuberant pop-rock songs that will cast a spell over you the more you listen. For Against's songs draw a certain atmosphere from some of the so-called "shoegazer" bands (particularly Ride, whose Nowhere album Coalesced somehow resembles, despite being so much more earthbound), but inject it into stripped-down, garnish-free songs. That might sound like a contradiction, but it's not; it's skill. For Against's songs feel both sparse and filled with atmosphere. They sound lush, but it's all in the songwriting, not in a bevy of instrumentation or studio tricks. More than anything, Coalesced shows how heartwrenching a song can be while still floating along in a lovely way. -dave heaton

Adam Forkner, ([[((VRRSION))]]))))) (K)

([[((VRRSION))]]))))) is what happens when a bugged-out music freak who loves free jazz and out-there sounds tries to make a pop singer/songwriter album. Adam Forkner spends his time with Yume Bitsu, Surface of Eceyon and other groups making improvised rock-ish jams that attempt to blow your head wide upon. On this album he tries to do the same with melodic electro-pop tunes, and succeeds. On top of an ever-shifting foundation of electronics and guitar, Forkner croons pop songs that manage to be open-ended and ghostly while still feeling like catchy little pop songs. An obvious reggae fan, Forkner has used the dub idea of "versions" as part of the ethic behind the album: the title is hardly ever spelled the same, the vinyl version comes with an assortment of hand-crafted covers, and the promotional version of the album states, sarcastically or not, "This is 'promo version'; there will be a different 'retail version'". But while constantly changing things around and keeping things fresh also obviously influences Forkner's approach here, as the entire album feels like a wave of sounds as much as a collection of songs, on another level Forkner spends much of the album crooning, like an old-fashioned vocalist (or Bobby Birdman). There's an acapella song, even. ([[((VRRSION))]]))))) is a sublime pop album, but also an all-over-the-map experiment. That's the genuis of it, that it can feel bold and adventurous but also deliver the tunes and feelings that most people turn to pop music for.-dave heaton

Doug Gillard, Creative Process 473 (Acme Pictures)

Being a virtuoso guitar player doesn't get you too far in rock these days, especially when your most high-profile role is in a band that's generally thought of, fairly or not, as the lead singer's project. Yet the longer Doug Gillard stays in Guided By Voices, the more likely the band's fans are to realize the guitar hero they have in their midst. But even fans of that band, or of the other rock bands Gillard has played with (Gem, Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde), might be surprised at the eclectism displayed among even the first few tracks of Creative Process 473, a collection of 13 songs Gillard wrote as the soundtrack to a short film. The opening "Theme From the Writer's Garret is a tender instrumental played as if Gillard's occupation wasn't rock and roll but classical guitar. That's followed with a spiraling and weird 22 second jazz track called "Subway Chase I," and then "White Room Music," which sounds more like a work of experimental electronic music than anything a rock guitarist would write. Those are followed by a minute long country jam, at which point even listeners used to free-form college radio are likely to be sratching their heads. Throw in surf-rock, funk, a melodic pop-rock love song (the one track with vocals), and more, and you have a CD that's seriously varied. But what's better than variety is quality, so what's important is that all of the songs, no matter the style, are alluring and skillfully crafted. As bonus tracks are three songs from another film, Still Life, including a dead-on Steely Dan impersonation ("Gloaming Blue"); not my cup of tea, but one more sign of how Gillard is able to take his diverse musical tastes and let them into his own songwriting. Creative Process 473 is too obscure and schizophrenic a release to get Gillard the amount of respect he truly deserves, but people who hear it should be impressed.-dave heaton

Adam Green, Friends of Mine (Rough Trade)

The songs on Moldy Peaches member Adam Green's latest solo album Friends of Mine live in a surreal world of non-sequitors and bizarre images. Yet raw emotion often emerges through the weirdness, almost against its better judgment. Somehow his songs are touching even as they're nonsensical and borderline-offensive (see "No Legs," about having sex with amputees, for example). In part it's the way that true stream-of-consciousness poetry reveals both the banal and the beautiful at the same time. It affects my heart when he sings "I want to choose to die/and be buried with a Rubix cube," even though it reads like a joke on paper. Of course it helps that he's singing it to a note-perfect, pretty string arrangement. Friends of Mine works mostly because nearly all of Green's oddball songs are dressed with wonderful strings arranged by Jane Scarpantoni. On his own Green has an offbeat charm and a pedestrian voice, a mix of Leonard Cohen and Calvin Johnson, but stranger and harder to make sense out of. The arrangements-which sound like they're from some long-lost Nick Drake record-give his songs an extra element of sensitivity and grace. It's a perfect combination, bliss + eccentricity; the strings accentuate the heart in Green's songs while he makes sure the album never gets too sappy. The result is like an old soul album or orchestral-pop masterpiece that was written and sung by a hermit from Mars. Weird yet somehow heartwarming.-dave heaton

Hidden Cameras, The Smell of Our Own (Rough Trade)

With a title like that, and a cover that features a collage of naked bottoms, this album has to be heard. In their own words, a Gay Gospel Church Music Collective, the Hidden Cameras provide a new take on neo-psychedelic. For the nearest reference point, think the Polyphonic Spree, then forget about them. For the PS are the only band that I can link to the Hidden Cameras, which is unfair, I know. The first Canadian band to be signed to Rough Trade in 25 years, their music is at once enigmatic and strangely compelling, as if it had been created without reference to anything going on in the music business. The Smell Of Our Own is essentially the work of songwriter Joel Gibb, who infuses his songs with gay - meaning happy, his words - abandon. The eight-man band have produced a brash and beautiful sound, part folk, part gospel, part wacky Canadian. In fact, this is typically Canadian in the way that Canada can't help but produce bands like The Hidden Cameras and Barenaked Ladies. Perhaps it's all that snow.--john stacey

High Explosion: DJ Sounds from 1970 to 1976 (Trojan Records)

"This station/rules the nation/with version…"are the words of U-Roy that kick off Trojan Records' 2-disc compliation High Explosion: DJ Sounds From 1970 to 1976. And indeed, listening to the collection is like listening to a great radio station that only plays a particular style of dub reggae of the early 70s. In particular, both discs focus solely on the earliet DJ recordings, the practice of DJs speaking over the grooves to keep audiences entertained at parties made its way onto studio recordings. With just about 2 ½ hours of classic sounds, High Explosion is one hell of an initiation for listeners unfamiliar with Big Youth, I Roy, Charlie Ace, Scotty, et. al. Reggae fans who mostly know Bob Marley and his children will learn more about the rich history of Jamaican music, while hip-hop fans will get a glimpse of the chief style of vocalizing that rapping is derived from. But even outside of the history, High Explosion is a joy. Kick your feet up and sink into the mood conveyed through the rolling bass, the melodies, and the colorful personalities of the DJs themselves. -dave heaton

James William Hindle, Prospect Park (Badman Recording Co)

There's a tinge of sadness inherent in James William Hindle's voice which makes his sad songs more heartbreaking and his optimistic songs feel more victorious. His self-titled debut was an emotional powerhorse, with his pretty, slightly fragile voice set to sparse strings and guitar, singing emotionally charged folk-pop songs . His second album Prospect Park has a fuller sound, with Hindle supported by guitars, bass, organ, drums, violin and backing vocals from members of Ladybug Transistor and Essex Green. The richer textures are fitting for an album that's on the whole less lonely, more about coming to grips with your life and finding a place that feels like home. The New York City area seems to be that place for Hindle now, judging by songs like "Hoboken" and "Park Slope Song." Yet the feelings go beyond place; the songs are about friendship, community, history, and that feeling of peace you get when you're in a place that feels right to you. Yet Prospect Park isn't all comfort and happiness; there's a continual sense of emptiness and longing on many of the songs. To feel like you're finally at peace you must have felt unsettled before, and songs like "Doubt" and "You Will Be Safe" have a darker, bluesy weight to them that suggests pain and uncertainty. Still, the album as a whole is a resting place, a moment of warmth and happiness amid life's confusion and uncertainty.-dave heaton

Hitchcock's Regret, Her Life in Reverse (Laughing Outlaw)

This nifty little Oz label - not so little, actually, as it has massive roster - has produced some gems so far this year: The Hired Guns, Karl Broudie and The Long Weekend to name but three - but this has got to be the best so far. HR's debut album, Regretfulness, was an excellent debut but suffered from comparisons with Sting's work. Now this might be a good thing or not, depending on your feelings towards Mr Sumner - but it did tend to detract from HR's work. Happily, such is the power and finesse of this follow-up that the group have now firmly fixed their identity; that of melodic, compassionate, intricate, intelligent rock with a decided Antipodean edge. Without falling into the trap of other reviewers (namely the Sting reference), Hitchcock's Regret do nod towards The Beatles and Crowded House, but that's a good thing. If you must have reference points, why not choose the (arguably) greatest pop group in the world and certainly the best thing to come out of New Zealand since Richard Hadlee? Her Life In Reverse is a beautiful album - full of great tunes, lovely orchestration, top-notch production and excellent cover artwork. Indeed, I wish my CD copy was a full-size LP. The paintings featured within the sleeve take me back to the good old days when LP covers were very much works of art. Make no mistake, Hitchcock's Regret are a major group in the making. No doubt they would be delighted to be big hits in their home country but they deserve wider recognition - and Her Life In Reverse should bring it. Nice one, lads. --john Stacey

Claire Holley, Dandelion (Yep Roc)

Yep Roc is the label that has brought out two wonderful albums by former Whiskeytown singer and violinist Caitlin Carey and it is understandable that Claire's stellar effort might be overlooked in the rush to acclaim Carey's work. But Holley has produced an album certainly to equal anything that Carey has done and, in fact, to surpass it. Initial hearings reveal an American folk singer who utilises many forms - country, blues, bluegrass, rock, indie even, to produce a sound that is individual. Dandelion also rocks, and a strong rhythm section provides the muscle behind many of the songs. In many places there is a whiff of Lucinda Williams, which I consider a compliment, by the way. Claire's writing is strong, too, and she examines emotions like melancholy, anger and wistfulness to great effect. Claire deserves recognition; with Dandelion it surely will not be too far away.--john stacey

The Hotwires, Ignition (Artrocker)

"The man who owns the factory or shop or business runs your life; you are dependent on this owner. He organises your work, the work upon which your whole life source and style depends. He indirectly determines your whole day, in organizing you for work. If you don't make any more wages than you need to live, then you are a neoslave," quotes the extract from George Jackson featured on the sleevenotes of The Hotwires' album. Those of you who have followed The Hotwires will remember that this is a dangerous band. Positively dangerous, I would say: one hour spent listening to their music and you'll want to go to the nearest library and read all the books they have by Noam Chomsky, George Jackson, James Baldwin and Eldridge Cleaver. Mostly recorded in a community centre "during a weekend of fire" as the sleevenotes point out, The Hotwires' first album after their EP "The Red Glare of Rockets", confirms them as true punk rockers. Guitars blast from the opening track, the sonic "Tiny Fists", to the last violent outbursts of rage in "Year Of The Dragon" (that includes an angst ridden tirade by Billy Nameless). In a world in which all the supposedly new, original and hip bands seem to have adopted a name that starts with the article "The", The Hotwires stand out as being against neo-slavery, corporative power, capitalism and racism. Check the scary "Car Crash #1", the infectious "Destroyer" or "I Am crime" and the politically motivated "Kill The KKK For Inner Peace". "Por una humanidad libre! Por la anarquia!" ('For a free humanity! For anarchy!) read a Spanish anarchists' poster during the Spanish War. It's an old slogan, but it perfectly fits to today's revolutionary spirits, especially to The Hotwires. {}--anna battista

Eugene Kelly, Older Faster/The Healing Power Of Firewalking/I Done Something Wrong/Blessed And Misplaced (Geographic)

"…you can ask me questions if you want…" Eugene Kelly tells the crowd of beloved fans gathered in the Monorail record shop in Glasgow between one song and another, "…such as 'where have you been for the last eight years?'…" Eugene wonders, then smiles and starts playing another flawless ballad. Eugene's appearance is a sort of preview of his new tracks and of his EP which is just out now. Time has long gone since The Vaselines, Captain America and Eugenius, and since hits such as "Oomalama" and "Mary Queen of Scots", a time in which the man behind three of the coolest bands on planet earth, Eugene Kelly, has simply gone quiet, though he has often collaborated with other Scottish bands and released tracks on a few compilations. The "Older Faster" EP is Eugene's first release after perhaps too many years and was released a few weeks after Eugene played a benefit gig for Scottish charity One In Four at Glasgow's The Garage with Astrid and Trash Can Sinatras. Released on The Pastels' (by now already legendary) record label, Geographic, Eugene's EP contains four of the probably most poppy and mellow tracks he's ever written (with often tortured and melancholic lyrics). "Older Faster" opens the EP and I bet real fans will just start crying when Eugene sings about love and days flying past him, wishing in the chorus "My dear friend have a wonderful life and time may be good to you…". The other track on the EP, "The Healing Power Of Firewalking", "I Done Something Wrong" and "Blessed and Misplaced" are Teenage Fanclub-like melodies that will leave you asking for more. It's good to know Eugene Kelly is back. Let's hope he won't disappear again, but will stay longer with us from now on. {,}--anna battista

The Like Young, Art Contest (Parasol)

For the length of three albums and some singles, Wolfie played power pop that exuded both a love for "turn it up to 11" rock guitars and sweet melodies and harmonies. That balance of rock and pop is shifted slightly in the direction of rock with the debut album from The Like Young, a duo consisting of Joe and Amanda Ziemba from Wolfie. The Like Young has similar songs to Wolfie (given that the songwriters are the same), yet the music has been stripped-down to the essentials. The keyboards are mostly gone, leaving guitar, bass and drums, the basic building blocks of rock. And the album has a rawer, edgier feeling to it, like the pair are trying to connect back with that gut feeling you get from a loud guitar. They put the riffs up front, turn it up and rock. What makes Art Contest work is they're not just out to rock. The loud guitars don't overshadow the melodies, except in a couple places, and though the guitars are angrier, the songs aren't. In other words, they thankfully aren't trying to be something they're not, just getting back to the core of things. They still write catchy songs. Their songs still articulate universal feelings about dealing with insecurities and trying to stay optimistic about life and see the beauty of things. They still sing wonderfully together. The songs just rock a little harder.-dave heaton

Little Darla Has a Treat For You, v20 (Darla)

Another season, another Little Darla Has a Treat For You compilation from Darla Records. This one's for Summer, and it's rightly filled with sounds that are both laidback and colorful, as summers should be. Opening with a gorgeous instrumental of beats, organs and other electronic noises from the Los Angeles group Freescha, the CD includes choice selections from recent CDs on Darla and Darla-friendly labels, plus 5 exclusive tracks. Spaced-out and gorgeous are keywords here, whether it's relaxed country from Lowlights and Maquiladora or futuristic pop from Saloon, Sweet Trip and The Swirlies. There's a track from the recent Flowchart retrospective CDs, an alternate version of The California Oranges' "The Weather" (a heartbreaking piece of love-sick pop/rock), eccentric folk-pop from Momus, a crazed remixers of a song from post-punkers Crispy Ambulance, a haunting folk ballad from Pale Horse and Rider and more. Music lovers can count on the Little Darla Series as a way to get an inexpensive fix of fresh sounds, and this CD is no exception.-dave heaton

The Long Weekend, Feel the Way (Laughing Outlaw)

With briskly strummed guitars, a light and airy production and bags of great songs to enjoy, Laughing Outlaw once again (sorry I'm going on about them) have uncovered a gem. Feel The Way - essentially the work of Jackie Moffatt and Andrew Tragardh - is a bright 'n' breezy slice of unplugged power pop with hints and shades of In many ways, The Long Weekend are typical of the sort of stuff that's flooding out of Oz these days. This is an album of well-arranged stuff with an acoustic guitar sound to die for. This is music that Jackie and Andrew obviously enjoyed and I enjoyed listening to.--john stacey

The Lucksmiths, Naturaliste (Drive In Records)

The Australian trio The Lucksmiths are pros at writing catchy, witty, heartfelt pop songs. With a snappy, sparse format (a drum, a guitar, a bass, a voice), they take anecdotes, stories and settings from their daily lives and work them into smart, attractive songs. To date they've released plenty of albums and singles in their style, and they seem like they could do so forever, turning out album after album of great little tunes. What their latest album Naturaliste makes obvious, if it wasn't already, is that they don't want to fall back on what's working for them, that they'd rather keep devloping their songwriting skills and broadening their sound. Though the album opens with a typically great upbeat number, "Camera-Shy," its second track immediately makes their intentions known. With "The Sandringham Line" they slow down their pace and heighten the atmosphere, not through stylistic flourishes but through their writing and playing. On it a measured, gorgeous sort of melancholy fills a late-night train, and you feel like you're right there with them. On this song and elsewhere on Naturaliste, they've developed a more textured guitar sound and more methodical pace that pulls listeners right into the places they sing about. Now when they sing a line like, "In the morning it felt like the world had stopped" or "The sun is on the hilltop/casting shadows on things below" you somehow feel like you're there. They've always been poets of weather and landscape, delivering detailed lyrics in that regard, yet on Naturaliste the words are matched by an equally vivid sonic atmosphere. Even songs that would fit right into their other albums have little guitar touches that help fill them out. Naturaliste is by no means a huge leap into a new sound, and that's a good thing. I'd take even an average Lucksmiths song over a whole day of your average mainstream radio station these days. Yet by toying with their sound in small portions, by making the music more detailed and transporting, they've created one of the lovelier pop albums you'll hear.-dave heaton

Magic Car, Yellow Main Sequence (Tiny Dog)

At face value, the last thing you would expect of this album is The cover artwork, insert and scribbling give no indication of the delights on offer. But this is a wonderful album, beautifully sung, played and recorded, in absolute clarity. It features the sort of songs that, once finished, take you want to punch the air in sheer bloody optimism. This is a downer album that takes you high. The group is fronted by Phil Smeeton and Hazel Atkinson; Hazel's voice is close to Margo Timmins, of Cowboy Junkies, though without Margo's often irritating fragility, and is perfectly complemented by Phil's lazy growl. There is almost a nursery rhyme quality about their songs, with Dave Langdon's acute pedal steel adding a country tinge that speaks of lazy days, hot sun and childhood. Like Leicester's The Havenots, Magic Car are British, but have appropriated the Americana sound to frighteningly efficient effect. Indeed, the music has at times an Appalachian quality to it. Yellow Main Sequence is informed by British folk rock and American country, but with a twist. It's probably one of the most unexpected releases I have heard all year. Now, buy this CD, get the deckchair out and pour yourself some real lemonade and soak up the sunshine that comes from Magic Car.--john stacey

Matinee 50 (Matinee)

Compilation albums are created for all sorts of reasons, but I can't think of a better one than to celebrate a record label that's been releasing high-quality music, independent of big money, for a substantial period of time. Matinee 50 celebrates the 50th single released by the great pop label Matinee, who've released remarkable recordings by The Windmills, The Lucksmiths, Sportique, Harper Lee, and so many other great bands (read the reviews in our back issues). And it does so not by collecting together the label's "greatest hits," but by having their musicians cover whichever Matinee-released song they'd like. This keeps the attention on the music, while also letting the musicians have some fun with other people's songs. The fact they're covering the songs of musicians they respect and admire, as opposed to covering a song for its kitsch value or as a means of destroying it, is important to Matinee 50's success. That reverance means that the artists take their task seriously. It doesn't mean that the songs are play-it-by-numbers covers, just that they're not out to desecrate. The resulting compilation might not be as essential as the original recordings, but it's just as enjoyable. From Gregory Webster's rough but loving opening take on The Lucksmiths' "Untidy Towns" through to Kosmonaut's electrification of The Liberty Ship's great recent single "Northern Angel," Matinee 50 is a joy. It doesn't matter whether you've heard the original songs before (there's several I hadn't heard) or are already familiar with these artists or not, the plain and simple truth is that this is a fantastic, diverse collection of superb pop songs. Two of my favorites are Lovejoy's gorgeous version of The Windmill's brooding "Drug Autumn" and Simpatico's cover of Harper Lee's "Train Not Stopping," which brings proper attention to that song's heartbreaking central line, but all 20 tracks are wonderful.-dave heaton

Mayday, I Know Your Troubles Been Long (Bar-None)

True music lovers owe a massive, totally unpayable debt of gratitude to those who invented the CD. Thanks to the money-making aspects of the relatively new medium, many lost musical gems have been unearthed and careers formerly lost in the mists of time have been resurrected. For example, ever since the rediscovery of Dusty Springfield and Lee Hazlewood, two influential hitmakers of the sixties who suffered for years as their accomplishments lay forgotten, many artists have used the works of these two visionaries to inspire their own musical creations. Mayday is but one example of a small legion of new acts who skillfully use the same ˜60s pop blueprint for their often lush, even more often idiosyncratic, totally eccentric compositions. At once lo-fi yet lushly textured with marvelous string sections, retro yet futuristic in their use of atmosphere, Mayday captures the feel of the sweeping pop soundscapes of Springfield and Hazlewood, and even the grandeur and crystalline beauty of the creations of pop svengali Curt Boettcher. But, and this beats all: it sounds as fresh as it is exhilarating. Sure, some may call it twee, some may mislabel it prog, whatever. But, for those who listen, really listen to the small, almost hidden elements and underpinnings, will find infinite beauty in what this group does. People hail Wilco as geniuses for their last CD - I got no problem with that. But, one listen to this disc will show a scope and a breadth, a depth of emotion and attention to detail that makes last year's Wilco seem like, well, LAST years' Wilco. I won't saddle Mayday with something like being "this year's Wilco". But others will - and they'll be right. The best CD I've heard this year. {4 and three quarters' stars}--scott homewood

Scott McDonald Group, self-titled EP (Five Foot Two)

For those unaware, McDonald used to be part of one of the greatest punk/pop bands ever: Redd Kross. Despite keeping a low profile over the last few years, McDonald has now assembled a band and put out this new EP on his own label. While filled with the same sort of punk-spiced pop rock he plied with the Kross, this EP just leaves me with an empty feeling inside. Something's missing. Despite the songs being okay, they are nowhere near great and are missing the spark and fire he used to have when with his old band. As I write this, a new Redd Kross is convening and have announced a new Redd Kross album is in the works. Since it's obvious McDonald has abandoned this lack luster side project, I suggest we do the same and save our hard-earned money for a band that really matters: The always under-appreciated, mega-deserving of adoration, kings of the lost art of punk pop and arguably one of the best bands in the world: Redd Kross. This is strictly for completists only and even they will no doubt be disappointed with this lifeless squib. {1 star}--scott homewood

Mogwai, Happy Songs for Happy People (Pias/Matador)

You're walking along a crowded street with your headphones blasting powerful music in your ears. You're catapulted in another world by listening to hypnotic guitars and piano melodies interspersed with violas and cellos. The human wave surrounding you swells and moves on, constantly mutating, invariably changing. And you feel like fighting against them all, you feel charged with a sort of special energy. You are invincible. This is what it is like listening to Mogwai's latest album, Happy Songs For Happy People. Less extreme than Ten Rapid, less raw than Young Team and as epic as Come On Die Young or Rock Action, despite its title, Mogwai's new album is not recommendable to happy people or to the faint-hearted. With a little help from Long Fin Killie/Bows' Luke Sutherland playing the violin on a few tracks (a constant feature on Mogwai's album and often live gigs), "Happy Songs…" is a long symphony that explodes around the fourth track, "Killing All The Flies", continues in the almost nine minutes long "Ratts Of The Capital" and dies in "Stop Coming To My House". In the best Mogwai tradition, most of the tracks start quietly and then, little by little, layer upon layer, instruments build a crescendo and the tracks lose their original quietness becoming sonic anthems. And if you're still not happy about this album (as the sleevenotes say "Happy Songs Or Happy People"….), well, you will find a demo version of the Cubase programme in the CD with parts of "Hunted By A Freak", the opening track on Mogwai's album, so that you'll be able to recreate your own mix. Now put your headphones on and go out, make of Mogwai the epic soundtrack of your life. {}--anna battista

Mudville, self-titled (Slurry Records)

On the NYC-based duo Mudville's debut EP, singer/guitarist/songwriter Marilyn Carino stands in the music's center as a riveting presence. Her voice is both sensuous and truly strange: she comes off like a jazz vocalist who's never learned to sing like the other kids, who always liked doing things her own way. In other words, her voice is forceful and capable yet also off-balance somehow; it rises and twists in ways you don't expect. The somewhat off-kilter nature of her singing is balanced out by the music, much of it played by Benjamin Rubin ("basses, wurlitzer piano, sounds"), which is on a low-key funk-jazz vibe. It makes sense that the press materials mention both Curtis Mayfield and Dan the Automator, as the music does sound like the work of someone who loves classic soul music but also likes to see what you can with it to make it new, and likes the way a properly arranged song can envelope you and sweep you away. If there's a down side to the 4 songs on Mudville's self-titled EP, it's with the lyrics, which to me are open-ended in a way that feels more empty than mysterious. Still, the music, singing, and melodies are intoxicating enough that I keep putting the CD on, laying back and sinking into it.-dave heaton

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