Altar - Red Harvest
Converge - Jane Doe
Curve - Gift
Destruction - The Antichrist
Four Tet - Pause
The Isley Brothers - Eternal
Jadakiss - Kiss tha Game Goodbye
Kataklysm - Epic (The Poetry of War)
Loscil - Triple Point
Maxwell - Now
Mors Syphilitica - Feather and Fate
Mystic Prophecy - Vengeance
Pullman - Viewfinder
Redtide - Type II
Safety Scissors - Parts Water
Slang - The Bellwether Project
Sons of Otis - Songs for Worship
Spiritualized - Let It Come Down
Stars of the Lid - The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid
They Might Be Giants - Mink Car
Zen Guerrilla - Shadows on the Sun



[ alter - red harvest / destruction - the antichrist ]
Altar
Red Harvest
Crash Music

Links:
Altar

Destruction
The Antichrist
Nuclear Blast

Links:
Destruction

Altar and Destruction are fantastic bands that have definitely earned their reputations from road weary touring and loads of discs and vinyl over the years. Both bands deserve to be respected and both bands' previous discs (Altar's In the Name of the Father and Destruction's All Hell Breaks Loose) were really great discs. However, both The Antichrist and Red Harvest are badly flawed by clichd, heavy metal blandness.

Red Harvest still has a few rocking moments and is more than heavy death metal, but would I recommend you to buy this if it were the only Altar disc you'd own--no. However, if you enjoy death metal and have loved everything that Altar has done then this may be right up your proverbial alley. It's still a brutally heavy recording, but this just doesn't have as many good to great songs as In the Name of the Father. By no means is Red Harvest a bad disc, it's just ordinary and that's not good when your band has a reputation for greatness. Even Red Harvest is being used as a band name. The whole deal just feels so used and ordinary.

Destruction has always had a reputation for being over the top and that's the best way to describe The Antichrist--over the top. This definitely exceeds even my limit for grunts, growls and blasphemy. Those of you who found Dementor to be an incredibly tasteful band (remember The Art of Blasphemy on Repulse) will absolutely revel in this blasphemic overload. It just seems too over the top--too much screaming, solos, too noisy (watch meters jump) for this time.

Maybe it's just me, but blasphemy is every bit as boring as a long, slow sermon. Now that I think of it, I guess it is religious related, and I just don't care to hear either. This definitely lives up to the name of the band as it is a highly destructive sounding disc. I think I'll wait to hear what both bands dish up next before I'll jump onto the Antichrist bandwagon during the Red Harvest celebration days. I just don't know why anyone would want to listen to either disc--there's no originality, melody or sophistication to them. This is just brutal, hit-you-over-the-head-with-club caveman metal. Caveman metal lives in the past and makes the future cringe at moments in its past.

-Sabrina Haines
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[ converge - jane doe / red tide - type II ]
Converge
Jane Doe
Equal Vision Records

Links:
Converge

Redtide
Type II

Links:
Redtide

Redtide and Converge are similar bands in that many of the influences are the same--jazz, noise, metal, hardcore--but they each achieve different results. Redtide has a slightly more hip screemo-hardcore-metal sound. Converge leans a bit towards the Mr. Bungle/John Zorn school of noise. Converge has the good luck to have label support. Redtide are independent, but highly professional. They start out listening to the same bands and releases almost parallel each other in tone however the structure and melody are entirely different. I have a feeling that a lot of people's eyes may be opened by both releases.

This is Redtide's sophomore release and it shows a little, I felt that after the first four songs ("Reciprocity," "Composition #33," "Mood Swings" and "Type II Error") the quality dropped off enough that I started to lose interest. However, I'm not particularly into this hardcore-metal-noise-emo-screemo style, but Redtide and Converge both sparked and held my interest for much longer than most bands of this ilk. Redtide were the far more melodic of the two bands with vocals that are much easier on the ears (courtesy if Jeff Wu and Ian Kauffman--also both play guitar).

Redtide also has more of an Ornette Coleman type of jazz influence, utilizing disharmonics in their basic structure. The songs however do still definitely have some structure until the end of the disc when things turn decidedly unusual and too psychedelic for me. The first four songs definitely are killer and show me that this style may have a future if only Redtide can continue to shave away the annoying aspects of this metal hybrid.

If Redtide can't do it, Converge can. Yeah, so that was cheesy, but true. Years ago, before the thyroid attacked me, I enjoyed a lot John Zorn and Japanese noise, but sadly it tears me up now. There are certain pitches that can send me up a wall; however, Converge manage to avoid those noises, yet still present a noisy metal hardcore hybrid that reminds me of material that could easily be played by Naked City or Mr. Bungle.

Jacob Bannon (vocalist/lyricist) luckily has one of those voices that can aid in catharsis yet still comfort during the ordeal. This is noisy, brutal and aggressive metal, but it is tempered by strong poetic lyric quality which intimidates the rest of the band. This isn't especially a hit single release but rather listened to as one would read a good book. The lyrics represent scum, depravity and the lowest common denominator. The dynamics are harsh and unforgiving. The tone is angry and aggressive and I think anyone who enjoys extreme metal or noise will definitely revel in chaotic Jane Doe. Both of these releases are for adventurers, not for the meek or the mild. These can blast paint from the walls with their intensity, yet stroke that noisy beast dwelling in each of us.

-Sabrina Haines
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[ curve - gift ]
Curve
Gift
Hip-O

Links:
Curve

Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia have a history of not fucking around. The first track on each of the Curve albums always explodes with a "Stand and Deliver!" moment--the sonic wall of guitar sound, the blistering funk of Dean's bass, the liquid snarl of Toni's voice. It is an unapologetic assault that turns you to chaff, tossing aside your cares, your worries, your simple fretting. Everything is consumed in their maelstrom of sound and, for the space of four minutes, you are their toy. They do it every time, and every time I endanger my hearing and my speakers a little more. For years it was "On the Wheel" and "Missing Link" which fed my sonic need; they have been replaced in my list of Obvious Choices by "Hell Above Water," the opening track on Gift.

It's been a rough year for Curve. Caught in the destructive whirlpool which swallowed most of the music labels, they found their label unresponsive when they turned in Gift. Fairly unapologetically told that the album was never going to see the light of day, they did their best to simply move on to other projects. But how can you let go of something that you have created, especially a collection of tracks which are some of your best work? I can't even imagine the torture...and my delight at the decision of Hip-O to actually open the doors for this record is only matched by my absolute loathing for the jackass bean-counters at Universal.

Yeah, I'm a fan. We all have our favorites. Mine happen to deliver rather ferociously.

The primal precursor to Shirley Manson's sex kitten growl, Toni Halliday's voice has always been a mixture of feral sensuality and icy calm. Surrounded by the whirlwind of sound that Dean Garcia summons from his bass and rack of effects like an elemental sorcerer, Toni always projects such poise and deliberate pacing that her presence acts as a lodestone, pulling you into the center of the conflagration--this is your only hope for survival. The mantra of "staying young / staying young" is your anchor in "Hung Up," your length of chain that binds you and keeps you. Siren? Succubus? It's already too late; the storm closes around you.

Operating outside the purview of the two-chord addled mainstream listening public, Toni and Dean seek to master texture, and their list of co-conspirators reads like a "Who's Who in Musical Atmosphere." Flood and Alan Moulder--two gentlemen whose abilities have certainly added sonic depth to folks like Smashing Pumpkins, U2, and Nine Inch Nails--are back again (they've been around long enough that they deserve "Honorary Member" badges). Kevin Shields, who has been not doing My Bloody Valentine for so long that the mention is more apt to provoke a "who?" instead of a "when?" response, brings his guitar dissonance to the party. Alan Wilder--whose missing ambience and atmosphere from Depeche Mode is exactly what makes that band look like a bled-out corpse--has found a common musical goal with these two and stamps himself onto "Polaroid."

The electronic shuffle and whisper of "Bleeding Heart" hiccups near the end, a hitch and glitch that allows the sonic maelstrom to break through again, threshing the calm center around Toni's voice. "See my heart how it's been bleeding." We are the hollow men, whimpering straw dogs who are unprepared for the raw delivery which explodes over us. "Should have seen it coming / Should have felt something." After the surprise of fire came the gift in a box. Are we strong enough to lift the latch?

-Mark Teppo
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[ fourtet - pause ]
Four Tet
Pause
Domino Records
Pause begins with "Glue of the World": digital bumps--as if a hundred monkeys were hammering typewriters--which are obscured by the reluctant arrival of an acoustic guitar and the sibilant hiss of analog tape. These, in turn, make room for the indie post-rock drum kit and bass duo which signal the sprawl which one would normally expect on a Godspeed You Black Emperor! or a Kranky label release. Backmask the first verse over the second and everyone goes home confounded. Does Four Tet belong in the varnished urban haze of the post-rock explorers? Does Pause qualify as an ambient? Can you dance to it? Kieran Hebden, the man behind Four Tet, isn't telling and his work as Four Tet simply asks that you provide a little "rasa" on your "tabla."

Another one of these fellows who jumped onto the musical road in his mid-teens (is my prematurely middle-aged jealously showing?), Hebden has been performing as part of Fridge since the mid-1990's. Three albums on Britain's Output label (as well as enough singles and EPs to generate a compiled double-CD re-release) help cement Fridge as a member of the next generation of artists who exist simply to confound expectations and threaten the complacency of critics who live to pigeon-hole. Amidst all this frenetic activity as Fridge, Hebden has found time to capture some of his introspective musical musings and founded the Four Tet project. After a wildly successful album in 1999 (Dialogue), a split EP with Germany's Pole, and a number of high profile remix projects, he's found a new home on Domino Records for his next opus.

"Parks" is filled with the sound of children at play, laughing and shouting as they cavort under the thick trees. The steady pull of a cello underscores the sparse drum kit and the plucked melody. It's a melancholic stroll along the tree-lined walks, the air filled with the bright colors of the fall leaves, a fiery counterpoint to the gray dome of the sky. "Twenty Three" rushes in with a wave off the English coast before dissolving into a rattling alarm of wind chimes. The delight in Hebden's work is his use of unusual source material as both melody and percussion in his work, transforming it from traditionally arranged instrumental music into something more beguiling, more enchanting. As the rhythm section shuffles behind the chattering wind chimes, enough space is left for the winsome trumpet melody to rise out of the mix. It's another paean to the advent of fall.

It's a few days after the Autumnal Equinox as I write this (a day before the album is scheduled to be released), and maybe I'm feeling a little blue about the disappearance of summer. It's going to be darker and grayer soon--the drab blanket we live with for six months of the year--and maybe I'm just not ready to lose the spark of warmth and growth yet. Maybe I want to pause here on the cusp for a few days, right here where the crisp shiver that creeps in with the morning fog is dispersed by the afternoon, where the leaves are still on the trees, flush with their oranges and reds and yellows. Four Tet's Pause is my soundtrack for the early blush of autumn.

-Mark Teppo
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[ the isley brothers - eternal ]
The Isley Brothers
Eternal
Dreamworks

Links:
The Isley Brothers

Longevity is something every artist strives for in a music career, but something very few succeed in finding. The Isley Brothers are one of soul music's few. Starting with their 1959 gospel-soul anthem "Shout," they have managed to stay relevant and on the charts for over 40 years. Since 1973's hit classic "That Lady," the band's formula for success has relied on Ronald Isley's soulful crooning and brother Ernie Isley's distinctive guitar.

Eternal is a continuation of this successful theme of late that has given us numbers like "Choosey Lover," and the mega-hit "Between the Sheets." Super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, R. Kelly, and Raphael Saadiq, have been enlisted by Dreamworks Records to update the band's sexy-love song sound and add a twist or two.

"Move Your Body," the opening track, is a tasty dance floor treat that catches the listener off guard with its sexy female whisper then explodes into an upbeat soulful and sexy guitar solo. This love song was meant to warm things up on the dance floor and be the perfect precursor to the bedroom. Infectious drum kicks get your hips swaying back and fourth and Ronald Isley croons seductively, "Can we go half on a baby?" Still breathless from shaking your groove-thang, the album transitions from the dance floor to the bedroom.

Track two, "Contagious," is a seductive tale of betrayal as R. Kelly and the Ronald Isley team once again to bring us the second installment of 1995's hit "Down Low," which saw Ronald Isley gain new found fame with a younger MTV generation for playing a successful scorned Gangster known as Mr. Biggs. Here again R. Kelly weaves together a mournful and seductive backdrop as Ronald, with his distinctive falsetto, sings of the anger and madness that comes from finding your lover with another. The hits just keep coming and although the rest of the album settles into a somewhat predictable slow-paced lovers groove, you don't feel cheated. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, along with Angela Winbush, and a guest appearance from Jill Scott, add enough variety and spice to make it a musical odyssey worth taking, if you don't mind bedroom music.

Ronald and Ernie have done nothing on Eternal to tarnish the rich and storied history of the Isley brothers. And if this album is any indication, they have plenty left in the tank to continue building on it a great legacy.

-Cecil Beatty-Yasutake
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[ jadakiss - kiss tha game goodbye ]
Jadakiss
Kiss tha Game Goodbye
Interscope
Links:
Jadakiss
As a group, the LOX may be just another tough-talking trio from the storied streets of New York, but as solo artist Jadakiss shines platinum bright. Backed by top notch production work from DJ Premier, Timberland, Swizz Beats and the Neptunes, Jadakiss drops lyrical jewels on his solo debut entitled appropriately enough Kiss tha Game Goodbye.

The album opens with the menacing track "Jada's Got a Gun." A stalker-like tempo is provided by the drum kick while menace and evil intent is portrayed through the low-end scale of the accompanying piano chords. Lyrically, Jadakiss is letting playa-haters know he's got a gun and he's not afraid to use it. His attacks on weak MCs and fake street hustlers is relentless, and it's in this effort that he shines brightest as an MC. Songs like "None of Y'All Betta," produced by DJ premier, and "Kiss Is Spittin'," which samples the familiar '80s hit "I Keep Forgettin'," are true gems of the street hustler genre.

But what makes Jadakiss truly interesting is his split personality. One moment he's a menacing street hustler, the next he's a dimpled, sweet, fun-loving playboy. The club joint "Knock Yourself Out" is a perfect example of this. Jiggy keys are supplemented by bouncing drum kicks as Jadakiss flows Big Willie style about the endless possibilities for fun a lucky young lady could have in his company.

Jadakiss' Kiss tha Game Goodbye is a collection of some of the most abrasive, street smart, and testosterone-fueled verses the rap game has seen in a while. His rarely seen smile, lyrical prowess, and captivating split personality could very well have him basking in the limelight that thus far has avoided his group the LOX. You wanna hear some of the best the streets have to offer give the Kiss a try.

-Cecil Beatty-Yasutake
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[ kataklysm - epic (the poetry of war) ]
Kataklysm
Epic (The Poetry of War)
Nuclear Blast

Links:
Kataklysm

Kataklysm has quietly developed a reputation as a brutally-poetic death metal band. Therefore, Epic (The Poetry of War) makes some sort of sense and seems strangely appropriate to the times. Kataklysm seems to blow in on the brutally cold, Canadian northern winds and explode in a very explosive yet guarded manner known as the Northern Hyperblast. I could equate this to a more subtle, early Cryptopsy or Nile. This is highly intellectualized, brutal death metal with a penchant for inadvertent melodies and driving drums.

The Northern Hyperblast has to be driven extremely fast and the driver/speed demon is bashing away on drums--Max Duhamel. Duhamel has finally clocked in one of the most interesting, tribal drum performances of the year--if there were a death metal drumming hall of fame he would at least get nominated. Even the production is slightly different on the drums which gives a slightly woodsy and tinny (that's the best I can describe this highly odd sound), almost as if a woodpecker was pounding the little drummer boy into submission in the Black Forest. It gives it a tone and feel that is not duplicated although the topic of war is certainly not unique this year with Zyklon and Bloodthorn among a host of others. Certainly this feels like a most uncivil war. Yet Epic would not be very far from the truth as well. Epic would easily describe the lyric and musical tone outside of the drums. Maurizio Iacono's vocals were born to sing Epic. This is a belligerent spit at war designed to pull you into a musical trap. I'm caught.

-Sabrina Haines
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[ loscil - triple point ]
Loscil
Triple Point
Kranky

Links:
Loscil

The contagion has spread. No longer can you say "Basic Channel" and be limited to releases on Germany's label of the same name. That distinctive sound has spread beyond the walls and borders, insinuating itself in many diverse places. The latest outbreak can be found on Kranky: Loscil's Triple Point. The aquatic dub echo of "Ampere" can be traced straight back to Porter Ricks' Biokinetics. Gentle sine waves and nearly indistinct blips float over the submerged bass rhythms. The synthetic melodies gain strength, coming closer in the mix, twisting end evolving like a sweeping school of glowing jellyfish, while the lower registers are forced beneath your skin to dully thud against your thicker bones.

"Pressure" wakes slowly, like a bead of magma slowly being extruded on a deep ocean floor, bubbles of pressurized gas escaping in shining streams, the hot magma sending out waves of distortion through the heavy water. "Freezing Point," reminiscent of both Monolake and Gas, hiccups on the edge of restraint, movement snared in a loop of sound. "Vapour" rings with the rising columns of expanding vapor as liquid is turned into steam and quickly achieves lift, condensation sliding and dripping along the rim of the container. It all ends with "Absolute:" the cold point when even atoms can no longer move--they gradually slide and slither to a stop, the only thing left is a fading drone.

Loscil is Scott Morgan, a Vancouver native whose past work has been designing music for film, DVDs, CD-ROMs, websites, as well as material used to soundtrack films at Vancouver's independent Burning Light Cinema. Triple Point is material from a self-released CD, A New Demonstration of Thermodynamic Tendencies, molded and refolded among new creations. A conceptual treatise on the nature of thermodynamic concepts (the exchange of energy, heat, and the transformation of liquids into solids), Triple Point is a musical expression of these purely scientific abstractions. Who knew they were so delightfully minimal and rhythmic?

-Mark Teppo
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[ maxwell - now ]
Maxwell
Now
Columbia Records

Links:
Maxwell

Now, the newest offering from Maxwell and his third release, is in a word: brilliant. Neo-soul is once again shining bright and its crowned prince is once again the primary reason for it.

This album offers far more musical diversity through tempo and instrumentation than his previous effort, Embrya, which seemed at times to be stuck in a relentless mid-tempo groove. This time around Maxwell revisits his musical beginnings and the results are a more carefree and effortless sounding body of work. There's the brassy and upbeat "Get to Know Ya," with its plump-sounding bass, jinglin' guitar, and tight horn burst. "For Lovers Only," with its strumming banjo (yes, I said banjo) is a unique ballad about what is and isn't real love. Meanwhile the dance floor groove "Temporary Nite" blends rock guitar licks with funky bass and drum work to give the nightspot masses something to move to.

With his debut album, Maxwell introduced the masses to an upstart sub-genre known as neo-soul. Taking us from the bedroom to the dance floor and everywhere in between, he proved that occasionally a well-crafted groove could make for a good song. Simply put, this latest release offers something for everyone, providing 50-plus minutes of the escape some of us are looking for right about Now.

-Cecil Beatty Yasutake
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[ mors syphilitica - feather and fate ]
Mors Syphilitica
Feather and Fate
Projekt

Links:
Mors Syphilitica

Two things happen to me when I first hear Mors Syphilitica's new release, Feather and Fate: 1) I make a beeline comparison to the Cocteau Twins; and 2) I get side-tracked on the etymology of the band's name. I scramble through too many texts before I realize that I have been taken in by a red herring, and then the first generalization turns on me as well. I can only crab along with correlations between Mors Syphilitica and the Cocteau Twins for a few tracks because, as soon as Eric Hammer's delicate mandolin sweeps in with "Between Feather and Fate," I have to admit that what I am listening to has its own voice. And Lisa Hammer's voice certainly does soar, weaving glittering tapestries with its multiple layers over the music, which ranges from medieval madrigals to ghostly gothic murmurings to shivering drones.

The sepulchral influence of the Gothic is a distant pinprick of blackness beneath the lambent fire of the Hammers' music as they fuel their visions with elements of hopefulness. In "The Hues of Longing," spiritual emptiness is filled by the permanently ripening fruit of desire. The childlike innocence espoused by William Blake runs beneath the despair of "Only a Whirlwind." The delicate interplay of the mandolin beneath the soaring vocals of "Far from Loneliness." When they do turn towards the more bleak aspects of the tradition behind them, their approach--luminous and multi-hued--tends to obscure the darker subject matter. Feather and Fate is an arranged marriage between the darkness and the light, a seemingly incompatible union that survives and thrives because its polarities aren't its weaknesses, but its strengths.

-Mark Teppo
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[ mystic prophecy - vengeance ]
Mystic Prophecy
Vengeance
Crash Music

Links:
Mystic Prophecy

Vengeance is tight, soaring and melodic, and will have you popping the horns and head banging in no time. Picture the perfect blend of Halford-era Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, perhaps with just a dab of Primal Fear for freshness. This multi-cultural band draws from heavy and power metal influences and sources worldwide (Greece, Sweden and Germany), but once they have written a song all the influences blend into one hecuva power metal. R.D. Liapakis (from Greece) has fantastic vocals and a wide range, however, he never goes so high-pitched as to become annoying. Liapakis' thrashy vocals mix wonderfully with the dead-on, stop-on-a-dime rhythm section of bassist Martom Albrecht and 19-year-old powerhouse drummer Dennis Ekdahl (from Sweden). Gus G.'s pure power metal picking will make your toes and fingers run wild attempting the air guitar.

Vengeance burns into your brain from the bombastic opener "Sky's Burning" 'til the closing strains of "Fallen Angel." Lots of modern power metal bands fail to impress, Mystic Prophecy will burn bright with Vengeance. Fans of power metal will flake for this unique sound. There is no reason that Mystic Prophecy shouldn't rule the power metal world.

-Sabrina Haines
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