erasing clouds

28 More Reviews of Music

by dave heaton, scott homewood, john wenzel, dougie robb, john stacey

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

A Northern Chorus, PK Radiovista, The Potomac Accord, The Rain Band, Razorcuts, Jenny Reynolds, Saloon, Sekiden, Simpatico, Simply Saucer, The Slaughter Rule, Slipslide, The Snowdrops, Sonic Youth, Sportique, Kevin Stonerock, Styrofoam, Surface of Eceyon, Sweet Trip, Sweet William, The Swindles, T Minus Band, Toshack Highway/Sianspheric, Vibon 2, Josh Wink Steve Winwood, The Youngbloods, Young Antiques

A Northern Chorus, Spirit Flags (Sonic Unyon)

In reading reviews of Spirit Flags, I'm constantly coming across the terms "space pop" and "chamber pop," but I'm not sure those really capture the feel of this album. I'll split the difference and give it a more accurate tag: field pop. Like space pop, the mopey gaze of Spirit Flags is downturned and languorous, shuffling its heavy feet along simple rhythms and droney guitar with minimal sonic variance. Like chamber pop, it's gentle and genteel, combining a number of classical instruments (cello, flute, viola) into an agreeable sheet of hand-folding, head-tilting politeness. So why field pop? Because the music doesn't stick to any particular terrain, remaining steadfastly pleasant and unremarkable in every way. The songs are shadows of clouds, nudged along by wind gusts, rolling over mid-afternoon hills and wheat fields. The landscape is at times dark, at times bright, but unrelentingly smooth and peaceful. The warm production is accomplished, but too damn soothing for its own good, massaging the listener's attention away and replacing it with drooling blankness. Only the blustery instrumental "Red Carpet Blues" stirs any genuine enthusiasm. The rest of the album blurs together corny, feel-good lyrics, bland (but pretty) string arrangements and frustratingly elongated serpents of melody. Taking a nap has never been this easy. --John Wenzel

PK Radiovista, Sliding Perspective Projectors (self-released)

PK Radiovista's Sliding Perspective Projectors is an intriguing and mysterious CD, a various-artists mix CD that brings together an assortment of unknown and near-unknown musicians who specialize in low-key music with an ethereal tone that often grafts electronic styles and sounds to pop songwriting. Best I can tell, this is not any kind of officially sanctioned compilation, more like some music-hungry genius pulling together rare songs and perfectly weaving them together in a mix. The brief promotional note sent with the CD describes it as "a hi-fi radio show made up of criminally unknown artists of recent years," and that's an accurate description from what I hear. The best-known musicians are probably Laika or The Real Tuesday Weld; most of the others are beyond my realm of knowledge. Yet what's key for any mix CD is the quality of the songs and how seamlessly they're placed together, and on both of those counts Sliding Perspective Projectors excels. Plus it does what every great mix does: makes you want to scramble for more information on some of these groups. Who are Bangkok Starters? Alice Rose? Stars of Stage and Screen? I don't know, but I'm about to find out.-dave heaton

The Potomac Accord, In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten (First Flight)

"Time passes so quickly/faster than it should be allowed to," the singer for The Potomac Accord laments on the first song of their CD In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten, and it could be their mantra. The St. Louis-based band, which takes an experimental approach to piano-based pop music, has the passing of time at the forefront of their minds. Songs like "Sunset on the Empire" and "Some Kind of Farewell Forever" have a measured gait, like they're letting the songs slowly unfold, which matches their subject matter. A primarily piano-bass-drums trio that's likely to throw any sound they find that fits into the mix, the Potomac Accord play slow, melancholy songs that are likely too abstract for your average person on the street yet are supremely rewarding for listeners who take the time to let the songs sink in. The singer sings quietly, yet will explode in a passionate way when he really wants your attention. Overall they sacrifice tune for mood, yet if you listen long enough the melodies will get to you and the feelings contained within them will bowl you over. The Potomac Accord's music might be an exercise in active listening to a degree, but those who do so will be rewarded. They like to hide in the shadows and then explode with rage, fitting for an album that's so focused on how powerless we are against the march of history. "Everyone's afraid/everyone is scared…at the possibility you will go to hell," the singer proclaims in one of the most intense moments. "It was all a dream of the falsest kind," he sings later, in a way that makes you unsure whether he's singing about the end of a relationship or the end of the world. In the march of a piano lies the impending apocalypse, but if you're not too scared to listen, In One-Hundred Years… is a riveting, satisfying experience. Gloomy, but worthwhile.-dave heaton

The Rain Band, Rain Band (Tempation)

Yet another Manchester band (Rain Band, rainy city, geddit?) following in the footsteps of the likes of Haven, Stone Roses, John Squire, Joy Division, New Order etc. And its from these luminaries of the past 20 years that the Rain Band - Richard Nancollis, Stephen Taylor, Chris James and Mark Lee - that their influences. That and the likes of Liverpool's Echo & The Bunnymen. This time, though, they've taken the Manchester blueprint - equal parts melancholia, anger, curmudgeonliness and attitude - and added programming and dance loops. Not only that they have cleaned up the sound; it is driving, danceable and rocky all at the same time - powered along by Nancollis's vocals and an urgent rhythm section an some great tunes that demanded repeated playing. Some have said that Rain band are derivative and dour; I say they are the next wave of Manc rockers and have distilled their disparate influences to create their own sound.--john Stacey

Razorcuts, A Is For Alphabet EP (Matinee)

Miles away in style from his current band, the punk-pop outfit Sportique, Gregory Webster spent part of the 1980s as half of the duo Razorcuts (with Tim Vass), playing exquisite lovelorn pop songs with certain Byrds-ish classic guitar sound. One of the many bands that was beloved for a moment by their fans and contemporaries, yet remains unknown to the general public, the Razorcuts nwere celebrated last year by Matinee Recordings' release of R Is For…Razorcuts, a 21-track compilation of Razorcuts songs. The A Is For Alphabet EP is a companion to that retrospective; the title track is taken from that CD, but the other 4 songs aren't. More of the same, which in this case is a good thing. Five first-class pop songs about love and joy, loss and regret…the stuff that life is made of.-dave heaton

Jenny Reynolds, Bet On the Wind (self-released)

If you've ever wished Sheryl Crow would turn country, Jenny Reynolds' new album may be just the thing you're looking for. Though a little more acoustic-based than Crow's records (and less gravelly on the vocals), Reynolds asserts the same kind of strong female personality as Crow, totally demolishing the long country legacy of the weak female. If you find Reynolds standing by her man, it's only because she's punching him out. A decent songwriter, Reynolds writes all the songs here save a cover of Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street. She does corral a guest star (Catie Curtis on vocals) but mostly, this is her CD. Utility player Kevin Barry does handle a ton of instruments, and the production chores were done by Richard Gates and Chris Rival, but the assistance doesn't subtract anything from Reynolds' vision. A very good CD from an artist deserves more attention. {3 and a half stars}--scott homewood

Saloon, If We Meet in the Future (Darla)

Saloon surround themselves with the imagery of our imagined future…spaceships and robots…yet their actual songs sound nothing like what you'd imagine the music of the future to be. In other words, this isn't mechanized or electronic music, it's great pop songs that carry a soft glow about them. But from generation to generation, writing a catchy, pretty song that's meaningful to people's lives never goes out of style, so why would it in the future? In any case, Saloon's second album If We Meet In the Future is one more album filled with lovely singing (from vocalist Amanda Gomez), memorable melodies and shiny, warm textures built upon synth, melodica, viola and more. Saloon often find a synth-driven groove that begs Stereolab comparisons but is likely as influenced by the Velvet Underground (who Stereolab often sound plenty like as well), yet they're just as likely to lay back upon a bed of atmosphere and relax, as on the mesmerizing ballad "Que Quieres?". Masters of a musical style that's both gentle and driving, Saloon make music that breezes past you yet begs for another listen.-dave heaton

Sekiden, Love Songs for Robots (Modular), , 1+1=heartache (Redline Records)

The Australian pop-rock band Sekiden's latest EP 1+1=heartache and their earlier EP Love Songs for Robots are both filled with infectious, super-melodic songs that strike a note somewhere between old-fashioned, energetic power-pop and future-looking, electronics-covered synth-pop. "Sekidren + Robots = Rock" is the motto they offer for you to carve into park benches and schoolhouse desks, and their songs are smothered in old-school synthesizers, the kind that sound like how we imagine the future to be, not how it really will be. The trio is also in love with singing about computers and robots, though when it comes down to it their songs are essentially about crushes and heartache, about how to spend your days and other universal human concerns. There's moments on Love Songs for Robots where the electronic side of the group momentarily overtakes the rock side, especially on the stylish last song "Love Song for Robot", an ode to one robot from another (with electronic-sounding voices). Their 1+1=heartache EP more adeptly blends the rock guitars and electronics into one sound, with 4 songs that fit the rebellion and heartbreak of rock and roll snugly with the aura of a cartoon or video game. The title song is the first single off their new album Junior Fiction; if that full-length is anywhere near as fun and fetching as these EPs, it's worth looking out for.-dave heaton

Simpatico, Club Life (Matinee)

On Simpatico's latest EP club life is less about glitz and glamour than about human beings and the way they break each other's hearts for the sake of love. On the title track, the narrator goes to a club not for fun but try to come to terms with a confusing and failing relationship, thinking if they return to where they met they can better sort their feelings out. But the effort's futile ("he's ungrateful and so messed up and condescending"), and he goes away sad. Lies and disguises are as much a part of love as longing and infatuation on Club Life's 5 songs. If you're seeking shake-the-foundations dance music, you might be in the wrong place; this is sensitive, introspective pop music. Yet Jason Sweeney (who is Simpatico) does throw some beats and synth under his gentle guitar-pop. They mostly stay underneath, complementing the songs without taking over. Yet there is one exhilarating moment at the end of the second song ("Insepearable") where they push through the sadness and break out, showering the song with glimmering electronics. It's a beautiful moment of release, where you can imagine a dance floor filled with the jilted and the lonely, swaying together with momentary smiles.-dave heaton

Simply Saucer, Cyborgs Revisited (Sonic Unyon)

From somewhere between the gutter and outer space came Simply Saucer. For a couple years in the late 70s they created some extraordinary music that met the dirty-punk of bands like Ohio's Rocket From the Tombs and the Mirrors/Styrenes (not to mention the Stooges) with seriously out-there experimentation a la The Velvet Underground or jazz musicians like Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders. With the usual rock instruments plus a member on "electronics," this Hamilton, Ontario-based band struck a raw and slightly surreal balance between grit and daydreams. Their one album, Cyborgs Revisited, has been augmented here by 9 bonus tracks, including demos, live recordings, and their "She's a Dog" single, which is appearing on CD for the first time. I can't pretend that I'd heard of Simply Saucer before now, but this re-issue has taken me by storm. Searing hot guitars, weird-ass lyrics, and raw power fill the tracks. The band also takes a loose approach to rock that allows their songs to take off in strange directions. For example, check out "Mole Machine," a space-punk version of surf rock, with guitars quivering like sirens. Or listen to the 6 ½ minute "Here Come the Cyborgs (Part 2)," a gutteral blues jam with UFO noises. Simply Saucer's lyrics combine raw urges with off-beat ramblings and sci-fi imagery, and their music pretty much does the same. The bonus demos and live tracks show Simply Saucer to be even looser, more primitive and dirtier than the studio recordings suggest, while the "She's a Dog" single demonstrates that even more poppier, more cleaned up version of the band sounds delightfully strange. Sonic Unyon's press materials for Cyborgs Revisited claim that it's the reissue of 2003…so far I'm not about to disagree. This is amazing stuff.-dave heaton

The Slaughter Rule Soundtrack (Bloodshot)

As Jeff Tweedy from Wilco has begun dabbling in the scoring of films, so must his psycho-twin from the Uncle Tupelo days, Jay Farrar. Unlike Tweedy's recent soundtrack CD, although Farrar composed the score to the film, what is featured on this soundtrack CD is certain selections from the score, spiced with stellar contributions from various artists including Vic Chestnutt, Freakwater, Blood Oranges, Ryan Adams and even Uncle Tupelo, among a few others. While the score shows Farrar very adept at utilizing textures and atmosphere, the real story about this soundtrack CD is how stellar the songs by the other artists are. If you are a fan of, then you definitely will want to pick this up. Quite possibly one of the greatest comps you'll ever find. Great work from all involved and interesting film score babysteps from Farrar. {4 stars}--scott homewood

Slipslide, The World Can Wait (Matinee)

Radio these days has gone to hell (or as ballboy put it, "all the records on the radio are shite"), yet I still hear new songs ever week that are just crying out to be played on the radio. Not on today's bland corporate-radio but on the radio station of my dreams or on my idealized version of a radio station from the past. The perfect radio song is 2-3 minutes, has a killer melody, and taunts you with its brilliance, saying "don't you want to hear me again…and again…and again?" "Sleeptalk," the first song on (and first single from) Slipslide's debut full-length The World Can Wait is one such song. But you know what? Just about all of the other songs on the album are too. Slipslide are a band that would seem anachronistic if you just swallowed the mainstream media's story on the music world today. They're a band that writes well-crafted pop-rock songs, songs anyone could love and everyone should. That isn't to say their songs are safe or conventional, just that they know what they're doing. The group's songwriter, Graeme Elston, knows how to pick up a guitar and write a song that people will remember, and the rest of the band knows how to play his songs. Clearly influenced both by Postcard Records pop groups (Orange Juice, Aztec Camera) and the Byrds (listen to that 12-string shine), Slipslide deftly take genuine human emotions and mold them into songs that work their way into your brain. -dave heaton

The Snowdrops, "Mad World/Don't Buy Anything" 7" (Matinee)

It's hard for me to think about the song Tears for Fears "Mad World" without remembering the way a cover of it was used in the film Donnie Darko. The song's haunting lyrics, with the intriguing line "I find it kind of funny, and I find it kind of sad/all the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had," fit perfectly with that film's mix of science fiction and teenage longing. On The Snowdrops latest 7" they place that song in an equally fitting synth-pop setting, with a wonderful casio-ish backdrop meeting Pam Berry's equally wonderful voice in a way reminiscent of the early Magnetic Fields records. On the flip side is a starker, shorter, but just as alluring ballad with Berry and Keith Girdler singing together perfectly. With stylish retro cover art and two great songs, this is what a pop 7" should be, a little document of lovely moments.-dave heaton

Sonic Youth, Dirty: Deluxe Edition (Geffen)

If the fact there's a 2-CD "deluxe edition" of Sonic Youth's Dirty on the shelves of your local record store as part of the "Universal Chronicles" series makes you feel old, don't fret. It really was only 11 years ago when the album come out, usually not long enough to go back. Yet ever since Sonic Youth's SYR EP series illuminated how their songs evolved from blow-out improv sessions, any collection that's going to unveil more of those jams is welcome in my stereo anytime. For while the Deluxe Edition of Dirty does include the B-sides to the album's singles, several of which are great, and a booklet filled with notes on the album and its history (actually quite interesting, especially the essay by Byron Coley), the most noteworthy addition to the original album is the "rehearsal recordings," 12 mostly instrumental tracks of the band working through what became the songs on Dirty. For an album that represents a big step forward in Sonic Youth's continual efforts at being experimental and out-there within the format of a rock song, it's interesting to hear the more open-ended recordings from which the basic elements of the songs came. This deluxe edition is less a work of nostalgia than an exercise in filling out the story for people in care, giving fans a fuller sense of where the band was at at that time.-dave heaton

Sportique, Communique No. 9 (Matinee)

"Accentuate the brand," Gregoy Webster of Sportique wryly suggests to would-be pop stars on "Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell Records," a punk-pop manifesto on the group's latest mini-album Communique No. 9. If the CD title makes you think Sportique are leading a revolution, you're sort of right. Their primary focus is making tightly wrapped, melodic punches that draw from late 70s punk (think Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers) without sticking too closely to it. Yet they're also incisive social critics who like to probe into the relationship between making art and making money (their last release had a song with the telling title "Art and Shopping"). That they have a sense of humor about their message makes it work, as does the fact that they're not narrow-minded. On Communique No. 9 Webster's just as likely to ask the musical question "why are all my best friends other people's girlfriends" as he is to ridicule people whose lives conform to stereotypes or wish there was more room for avant-garde art in society today. Sportique's call for action on Communique No. 9 mostly comes down to that last notion, to the fact that art is hardly about art anymore, that it's all about money. With 8 explosive tracks in a compact 17 minutes and 25 seconds, the CD not only embodies the do-it-your-own-way independent spirit of genuine artists, it makes you feel revved up to go create something yourself. Spread the word, pass this CD to your neighbors and you might end with a block filled with rebellious artists inspired to spend their time creating instead of just consuming.-dave heaton

Kevin Stonerock, Stranger In This Town (self-released)

I could have a lot of fun with this guy's last name and juxtapose it with his music, which turns out not to be Stoner-rock but actually a blend of folk and country that comes off sounding a little like James Taylor's music as sung by Gordon Lightfoot, but I won't because the music here is actually pretty good. The very Lightfoot-like Kevin is joined by three more Stonerock's (I would have to assume they are all related) in his very capable band and the resultant sound is a very well-textured melange that thankfully turns what could have been a bland melding of folk and lite rock into something a lot more meaty and meaningful. While nothing to set the world alight, this is a very, very solid CD and bodes well for Stonerock's future. He's definitely a talent worth watching. {3 stars}--scott homewood

Styrofoam, I'm What's There To Show That Something's Missing (Morr Music)

With his third release on the excellent Morr imprint Arne van Petegem has managed to make the wafer thin boundary between the two camps we like to call 'indy' and 'electronica' all but disappear. Gentle clicks, soft beat percussion, analogue glitches, warm drones and fuzzy synth symphonies snuggle up to acoustic campfire guitars, xylophone and organ, whilst the hushed, heartfelt vocals drift gently over the top, sounding as if they could break up at any moment. This is a record of incomprehensible loveliness. It's just a beautiful, beautiful pop. I would say it's an essential soundtrack to a heartbroken summer, but its not. It's an essential soundtrack to life.--dougie robb

Surface of Eceyon, Dragyyn (Strange Attractors)

Inside the cover of the new Surface of Eceyon album is an essay/story titled "Myths From the Surface of Eceyon," set in the land of Dryystyn, the mythological land that's the setting for Yume Bitsu's albums. Adam Forkner of Yume Bitsu is one of the members of Surface of Eceyon, along with three members of Landing. All of the Dungeons & Dragons-like stories and fantastical names might strike me as horribly pretentious or the mark of less-than-talented musicians trying to hide behind tall tales if these musicians didn't create such amazing albums. Yume Bitsu and Landing both take listeners on intense, imaginative audio voyages, and as Surface of Eceyon they do the same. You might describe their music as space-rock, psychedelic rock, free-rock, out-there rock or some variation thereof, and place it somewhere between Miles Davis and Spacemen 3. The basic idea is that they use the building blocks of rock and roll but the spirit behind the freest of free jazz. They improvise their way into dynamic explorations of sound. Dragyyn, on the Portland label Strange Attractors (their motto is "oscillating perspectives in modern music"), is an hour-plus of mindbending music. Most of the album drifts along like a ghost, slowly unraveling and expanding. Yet there's also moments where the music furiously explodes, as on the opening "Stolen Wind." Surface of Eceyon's music feels like a force of nature, something that pulls you along without you needing to think about it. Dragyyn sends out musical vibrations that soothe, inspire, and damn near physically move you across the room.-dave heaton

Sweet Trip, Velocity: Design: Comfort (Darla)

An array of colors, shapes and sizes from the sci-fi architecture on the cover of Sweet Trip's second album Velocity: Design: Comfort, and that same sensual interplay is at work on the songs within. As on their debut album Halica, the sonic design is pretty, dreamy, and bright. Though just as melodic and seductive, the songs here are flashier, more focused and more diverse than the My Bloody Valentine-influenced bliss-outs on Halica. This album is also more electronic. It opens with a jarring yet soft barrage of techno beats that clears the air and lets you know you're in for a ride. But then there's a bouncy pop song that, while still computer-fueled, makes it clear that Sweet Trip isn't all about dance beats, especially when the song ends up with music that sounds like some sort of futuristic pop variation of prog-rock. Sweet Trip allure you with sounds: of voices (as on Halica there are 2 vocalists, Valerie Reyes and group mastermind Roby Burgos), computerized blips and squeaks, keyboard melodies, beats…and most importantly the way it all fits together. Velocity: Design: Comfort is an aural kaleidoscope, giving glimpses of a variety of sounds and styles; even hard rock guitar and Latin jazz rhythms show up in the mix. There's a surprising array of sounds yet everything holds together as one sound at the same time. That's what makes the album sound fresh. What makes it even more affecting is how their songs use melodies and textures to make you feel, showing it doesn't always take words to express your emotions.-dave heaton

Sweet William, Gone to Seed (Zendevil)

For fans of mountain music crossed with a tinge of rock, here's Sweet William for ya. And, no, there's no one named William (or Sweet William for that matter) in this four-piece band. There is a guitarist/banjo player named Oscar William, so that may be where the band's interesting moniker originates. Anyway, like I said, this is mountain-based - from the Dick Dale meets Ghost Riders In The Sky opening track ("Cowboys In Coney Island") throughout the whole CD. The catch is the band calls New York City home, although you wouldn't know it from the downhome sound of this disc. The harmonies are incredible, with all bandmembers taking lead and/or background vocal turns at one point or another. If the resultant fallout from all of the O'Brother hoo-hah is music this strong, then this whole mountain/bluegrass resurgence has been worth it. Great stuff. {4 stars}--scott homewood

The Swindles, Songs in the Key of T (self-released)

Well, the "T" in the title must stand for Texas, because the band's CD is dedicated to trying to uphold the roadhouse rock tradition of that state. In doing so, the band has modeled itself after another great band who tried to reinvent the roadhouse tradition: Jason and the Scorchers. While no band can quite live up to the Scorchers example, the Swindles try hard. The band has filled it's CD with tons of covers, covers that look "good" on paper and are sure to excite a live audience when done right. For example: The Fats Domino hit "I'm Ready," Doug Sahm stuff like "She's About A Mover" and "Ain't That Loving You Baby" by Ivory Joe Hunter. Classic stuff but not hokey, not like Led Zep covers or something like that. These are songs that are road tested and ready to be turned into barn-burners under the right circumstances. The CD as a whole has a great live feel to it, and the Swindles have a powerful, raucous sound fans of twang-rock will love. If the Scorchers make you drool, check out The Swindles. You won't be sorry. {4 stars}--scott homewood

T-Minus Band, Four Legs to Three (self-released)

The T-Minus Band's Four Legs to Three begins with a murky sci-fi sound collage that, despite the heavy metal guitar, sounds like it could be the intro to a Cannibal Ox album. Yet this isn't hip-hop but underground, DIY rock n' roll, as you'll know by the time you reach the second track, an explosive rocker in the vein of The Who called "Under the Radar Screen." "I'm under the radar screen, I'm moving oh-so close to the ground," vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/producer Troy T sings. Is it a joke on the below-the-radar presence of the band in the music world, does it tie into the album's jet-plane cover photo, or is it something completely different? Who knows, but the song rocks with force and dreamy harmonies, so who cares? Four Legs to Three follows up Technostalgia, the Birmingham, Alabama group's first eclectic blast of homemade rock, and is similarly worthwhile. As on that album, these songs sound like 60's and 70's-rock that's been taken into the basement and messed around with a bit. Song after song has both a big, arena-rock presence and a lightly psychedelic haze evocative of ghosts and spaceships. Still, the lyrics to the rock cranked out by the T-Minus Band aren't ruled by enigma; songs like "Get Old" have straightforward subjects right from people's minds and hearts (in this case, the "what will life have in store for me?" question). The album also slows down here and there to take in lazy-afternoon, country-ish songs like "Streaming." All in all, Four Legs to Three is a pleasurable, solid collection of rock songs that take sounds of the past and filter them through them the personality of a talented songwriter/musician.-dave heaton

Toshack Highway vs. Sianspheric, Magnetic Morning/Aspirin Age (Sonic Unyon)

A two-CD split single with Toshack Highway-essentially Adam Franklin of Swervedriver-on one CD and Canadian space-rockers Sianspheric on the other, Magnetic Morning/Aspirin Age is a laidback pop-rock pleasure, 10 superb songs that are dreamy yet packed with emotion. The Magnetic Morning half is 5 acoustic songs from Adam Franklin, who has kept a rather low profile since the end of Swervedriver. Here instead of surrounding his songs with swirling guitars he strips them down to the essentials, showing how expressive his voice and guitar playing can be when they're slowed down and put in such a stark setting. All five songs take you right into human feelings and evocative settings in a somewhat abstract yet truly vivid way, from the opener "The Streets That Spin Off," a folk-rock number with psychedelic touches and evocative lyrics about people searching for something, through to the closing Swervedriver cover "The Sounds and The Times," a gentle number which in this setting almost sounds like an Elliott Smith song. The three songs in between are just as compelling, each with its fair share of atmosphere, melody, and real feeling. Sianspheric's Aspirin Age CD opens with a guitar and a voice as well, a change for a group which oftens fills its dreamy, atmospheric songs with layers of sound. Yet as stark as "Song For" is, its style is typical of Sianspheric, as the song floats toward you rather than coming on directly. It and the two, fuller-sounding songs that follow it ("Beneath the Ocean Floor" and "No Space") move delicately and slowly, weaving a beautiful web. As on their excellent last album The Sound of the Colour of the Sun, their songs here are melodic yet hazy; they wrap you up in their glow, like it's late at night and no one's around. After the relative calm of the first three tracks, "This All Happened" comes at you like a Mack truck, fast and loud. Yet it retains the in-the-clouds feeling of the earlier tracks, as does the closing title track, an impressionistic ballad that brings the set to a dreamy close while also throwing in an edgy electric guitar riff here and there, as if to say, "We might be playing softly now, but remember, we can rock you when we want to…"-dave heaton

Vibon 2: Blip-pop Click (Tbtmo)

In 2001, tbtmo released a compilation called Vibon, filled with electronic music from artists (mostly Philadelphia-based) are as in interested in beauty as groove, looking to create full, sensuous soundscapes that are danceable but also work on your brain and emotions. Vibon 2, released two years later, is more of the same but even better. Conceived as a showcase for groups that play or have played at a monthly music showcase in Philly called Hologram, Vibon 2 collects 11 tracks that are experimental and accessible at the same time. The liner notes describe tbtmo's music as "blip-pop, hip-pop, trip-pop, click-pop, experimental and bugout"…and those labels are sort of meaningless but also should give you an idea of where they're coming from. Melodic, atmospheric, instrumental music with sharp, fresh beats of all sorts. More suitable from dreaming or chilling out than any kind of frantic, aerobic-style dancing, Vibon 2 is nonetheless full of motion and action. Satellitle Grooves and Phasmid kick the CD off with songs that take you to lush locations while delivering melodies that will insidiously sink into your brain. The rest of the CD is just as stellar, featuring tracks by groups you might not know but will be happy to meet: Planet Nett, Cerebral, Pacifica, Spintronic, Nintari Man, Vostek, William Fields, Technicolor, and Transient.-dave heaton

Josh Wink, Profound Sounds v2 (Ovum/System)

Josh Wink's latest mix CD, Profound Sounds v2, opens with a clip from the classic Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog, with the title character intoning words of wisdom ("The body is given life in the midst of nothingness…"). It's a fitting opening for a CD that is the model of zen-like simplicity in its approach to electronic dance music (techno and house). Remixing 14 tracks into a 70+ minute CD, Wink highlights the basic elements of the songs; the CD is essentially a fast-moving train of bass and beats, with occasional melodies, sung or played. The backstory for Profound Sounds v. 2 is that Wink used a different method of remixing than he's used to, editing the songs down and then mixing them live. Honestly, the approach doesn't matter much to me, though it likely will to DJs or Wink fans. No matter what the technique, this CD doesn't strike me as another revolutionary or surprising. Instead it's a solid collection of dynamic dance tracks, worked together smoothly and cohesively. It isn't anything that's going to blow your mind or change the way you look at music, but it sounds good loud.-dave heaton

Steve Winwood, About Time (Sanctuary)

Either the former Traffic mailman is genuinely returning to his roots with his first album for years, or he's decided it's time to earn some serious money by investing in some derivative cover artwork. For About Time (lousy title) so much resembles Santana's last two offerings that Santana fans would understandably grab the CD off the racks thinking it was another release. Perhaps that's not a bad idea, for at least it would provide Winwood with a much-needed career boost. About Time sees the former Traffic, Blind Faith and Spencer Davis Group keyboard player and guitarist strip down his sound to the basics. Gone is the synthetic programming of old; he's thrown away the glossy studio sheen to replace it with something altogether more organic. Relying just on a hammond organ, guitar and drums/percussion - no bass, as Winwood uses bass pedals to great effect - About Time returns the man to the sort of sound fans have been praying for - bluesy, soulful and gospelly. Add to that Winwood's white soul voice - which, for a many of relatively advancing years (by rock standards anyway) shows no sign of diminishing - and you have a potent brew that grabs you by the throat from track one and pummels you into submission. Winwood should have been making stuff like this years ago; his infatuation with new technology in the past has meant the one British musician with genuine soul has compromised his art album after album until eventually he sounded like a British version of Hall & Oates. About Time (a significant title but, as I said earlier, rather cheesy and unoriginal and something Take That might have thought of) is a (qualified) return to form. Winwood sticks to hammond, and all its effects, throughout and forsakes the guitar completely, which is a shame. This is a long album, and 60+ minutes of in-yer-face soul-rock does get a little wearing. A little variety would not have gone amiss. But, all in all, About Time is something to treasure; perhaps, should Winwood stick to this vein, a follow-up will reveal more depth.-- john Stacey

Youngbloods, Ride the Wind, Rock Festival (Sundazed)

As usual, the wonderful folks at Sundazed have rescued and resurrected another long-forgotten band from musical purgatory in hopes that we, the modern music fan, can glean something from these lost treasures. In this case, it's the Youngbloods, a group of folkies who electrified their trad-based music and moved to San Francisco to become part of the West Coast psychedelic rock explosion. By the time these two albums were released, the group had been lured from RCA (where they had released three albums - one containing their only hit "Get Together") by Warner Brothers, had lost a member (which whittled the band down to three: Jesse Colin Young, Joe Bauer, and a chap named "Banana" - ah, the 60s), and were marking time by issuing these two live albums, one right after the other - announcing their creative slump to the world. Though Jesse Colin Young retains slight fame as a singer/songwriter, sad to say that Sundazed may have finally went too far in their never-ending search for interesting, creative, yet forgotten music. Often, there are reasons bands are forgotten. In this case, it would be lack of anything interesting. Although the band did venture into Byrds territory, adding country elements to their songs to offset the jazz-tinged folk-rock they most often peddled, (making them bit-players in the blending of rock and country), this stuff is, for the most part, boring twaddle. On any given day in the 60s, there were plenty of bands that sounded just as good as this, if not better. Unfortunately, I have these Youngbloods CDs instead of any of theirs. For die-hard fans only. {1 star each}--scott homewood

Young Antiques, Clockworker (Two Sheds)

While listening to this CD by Young Antiques, I struggled to find an apt comparison of their music. Although it is cliche in the world of music journalism, the "band comparison" gives a consumer something to go on when considering buying a CD. I can spout the band's philosophy and all the existential bullshit and deep hidden meanings behind the lyrics of every song but most people just want to know what the music sounds like so they can decide whether it's worth their money or not. So, in that regard, I struggled over this for awhile before it dawned on me: early Tom Petty. Not so much the music, and the singer's voice doesn't have the nasally, Dylan-ish qualities Petty's has, but the origins are the same. This CD has the same blend of punk, classic rock and Byrdsy country Petty's first CD has. And, like Petty, the Young Antiques assimilate their influences and give them back in a fresh-sounding way. These are not copycats, but talented musicians who know how to use their influences to craft hooky melodies and fashion intelligent lyrics, blending the two together to create great songs. My only complaint is the singer, who has a pretty generic sound to his voice. The great songs cover that minor weakness, however, and give anyone interested in roots rock with tinges of country and punk a lot to like. A very good CD. {3 and a half stars}--scott homewood

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