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Casualty Menagerie
6-song CD
Having been a fan for many years, I have looked forward to this CD ever since I heard their dark, brooding, eerie debut.  Walter and Edrie’s shows are always about demented spectacle, twisted torment, and dark beauty.  This CD is a quantum leap from the low-fi, late night bedroom ethic of their previous recordings.  This latest release couldn’t be a more complete picture of the psychotic torment going on in the mind of Walter Sickert.  If their last recording gave you any glimpse of the dark psyche of this band, this new recording will draw you in and keep you there until Stockholm syndrome takes over and you can’t bear the thought of leaving… ever.  The genie is out of the bottle.  There is no going back.  You must own this record and be part of the demented spectacle.  This CD will alter your perception and change your life.  I couldn’t recommend this more highly.   (Joel Simches)

Gnawledge Records
12-song CD
Is it possible to be too positive? It might sound crazy, but Afro DZ ak does a fair enough job of raising the question on Elevation. Boasting song titles such as “Multidiversity” and “Brotherly Love,” DZ ak’s message is anything but subtle on Elevation, a disc that’s lyrically high on idealism and breezy in its soulful attitude. And while the feel good positivity borders on preachy at times, in a world that seems to be getting more maddeningly apeshit by the day, it’s not a bad problem to have. But the winning ingredient in this eclectic hip hop stew is the music. DZ ak colorfully loops soulful horns, organs, and other jazzy tidbits over beats that leave even the most discriminating of listeners susceptible to head bobbing.  (Ryan Bray)

Magma Music
Red Planet
10-song CD
The urge to create a concept album seems to come from one of two impulses: to impress the bejabers out of the hoi polloi, or as a desperation move. Well, color me impressed. The title track, “Phantom Spaceman,” sets the theme and gives us a taste of that old Genesis/King Crimson progginess, and “The Truth” is a remarkably catchy and appealing, if somewhat lyrically simplistic followup. But “City” knocks it out of the park: it’s lyrically superb and emotionally evincing. The turbulent and reverberant “Trouble” seems strategically placed to carry the story along, and the melancholy instrumental “Chime” is deftly positioned to slow it down. “Saturday,” with its overtones of U2-style grandeur, brings us back to the narrative. The echoic “Seasons” provides another interlude, and then comes the magnificent slow-to-ecstatic centerpiece “5 O’Clock.” The Metallaesque impetus of “Superstitious Wish” provides a climax of sorts, and the final track provides a somewhat ambiguous denouement. I do not completely buy into the premise of their high concept “rescue the fair maiden from Mobsters on Mars” premise, but one doesn’t have to. The music carries the theme along far more effectively than the backstory. And each individual song can be appreciated on its own terms and outside of any larger context.  I’m not sure whether this is a deathless classic, but it’s well and carefully planned, and I strongly suspect it might well be. Bravo.   (Francis DiMenno)

Everybody Out!
12-song CD
Okay, first of all, it’s on Taang! Records, and if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you have at least some of idea of what that means—punk, a little ska, organic music that sounds like The Sound of Boston, regardless of where Taang!’s headquarters may be.  Everybody Out! features Rick Barton of the Dropkick Murphys, Sweeney Todd, frontman of Scottish band the Dead Pets, and Billy Close of the Freeze, and that should give you a rock-solid idea of what this is going to sound like.  Yup, you’ll get some mandolin, and some Pogues-y harmonies (without all the booze-soaked vibe)—in other words, the Boston-Irish punk thang that has propelled so many bands from level A to level B.  Just chill and don’t ask too many questions.  Let Taang! do what Taang! does, and kick back and enjoy the ride.  Bang your head, kick the kegs, smash some glass— nothing is out of line here, other than standing in the back of the room with your arms crossed.   (Tim Emswiler)

We Are Gone
8-song CD
I must say I just plain dig this band. They play no-frills hardcore/ rock, and I suspect they’re a ton o’ fun to see live. They remind me a lot of Every Time I Die. My favorite song of theirs is “No Ninjas”—it’s a got a great guitar line. “Beautiful Scars” is really fun and catchy too. Other than that, the rest of the songs all sound kind of the same, but that’s typical in this particular genre—the style just doesn’t allow for much variation. Regardless, if you like fast, fun hardcore, rock, or punk, this is definitely a band you should check out.   (Emsterly)

The Rex Complex
6-song CD
This isn’t your typical rooty/storyteller record.  The Rex Complex is wired and full of angst and energy.  It’s off-kilter vibe reminds me of Tom Waits, but instead of drunk and ranting about whores and slaughterhouses at 3:00 am after the blood has been swept up from the barroom brawl, the band is heavily caffeinated and eager.  This is that band after driving in traffic, full of road rage, having been cut off and flipped off by bike messengers and ignorant Saab drivers on cell phones, and needing to pee really, really badly.  This CD rocks and slithers to it’s own kinetic cacophony with each song a character in a twisted story, punctuated by odd percussion and exotic noises.  I can’t possibly get enough of this. Please make more until my brain explodes.   (Joel Simches)

Led to the Grave
10-song CD
Sweet merciful Jesus.  Metal isn’t dead.  Led to the Grave offers up lightning-fast riffs, drums played by a hellish robot, vocals that are vicious without landing in Cookie Monster territory, and dynamics that swing easily from speed-freakish to gloomy in the drop of a heartbeat.  Make NO mistake–this is for metalheads only.  No hybrid or crossover—this is straight metal.  Yeah, you got your pinch-harmonics; basically you get exactly what you deserve from a band called Led to the Grave.  No false advertising.  No punches pulled.  If the third track, “BTK,” doesn’t convince you, then you are unconvinceable, and should probably stick with the new Keane album.  This will make your pets’ ears bleed, your neighbors call the cops, and your loved ones question your mental wellness.  What else can you ask for from quality metal?  Look, I’ve been listening to this kind of shit for years, and this is among the best of the best.  Any metal fan who isn’t proud to be from New England needs their ears vacuumed.  (Tim Emswiler)

Nothing Under the Sun
10-song CD
To be honest, this band was not what I expected at all. The album art is white with black text—as plain as can be. But the music isn’t plain at all—some of the songs border on epic, though they are so different from one another that each song sounds like a completely different band. I like “1942”—it reminds me of the Beatles at first, and then launches into a Journey-esque guitar solo.
Then there’s “Out of the Woods,” which sounds eerily like the ’90s Australian rock band Silverchair. “The Crown,” on the other hand, is a short but heart-wrenching acoustic ballad, while “Down with the Viceroy” is decidedly jazz. The variation between the songs is almost overwhelming. Despite this, all the songs are good—so good, in fact, that it leaves me wondering what these guys could accomplish if they stuck to one style and perfected it.   (Emsterly)

I Scream Records
Drinkin’ Angry
18-song CD
Some interesting tonal and creative desire to become the greatest and most feared group of musicians sleeping alone in the underground fortress made of dirt and steel. All the songs are crafted with skillful arrangement and beautifully laid down harmonic intervals. Each track travels through time eventually causing a tear or two. I am most impressed by the backlashing interceptive lyrics that have you facing up against your own pent up angst. You will eventually become you own worst feared self. You will become dangerous in the eyes of others but you won’t be able to understand your own faults. At first you realize it’s wrong but you get yourself so deep into the act that you become what you have created which is musical but can also be dangerous or delusional. Then you realize that you have to defend yourself against the common enemy be it your friend or your disgruntled neighbor. You find yourself doing the oddest things and getting into all sorts of interesting trouble.  Then you can barely walk and want to hide.   (Leonid)

Doom Music for Dining
12-song CD
Strangely enough, the first three tracks on this collection of demos, out-takes and unreleased rarities—“Think Big,” “Mystified,” and “Rocket”—could (almost) fit quite snugly on the Vital Might’s newly-issued concept album, reviewed elsewhere in this column, even though all three of them were written in 1996. It’s not often that this happens. How else to explain it other than to speculate that at their very best, the Doom Buggies create timeless garage punk with themes so classically broad that one can see them sparkling even in a foreign setting. I’d like to say that all the songs on here are equally outstanding, but such is not the case. The trick to writing really good garage punk knock-offs is ingenuity, weirdness and brevity.
The desperate noise of “Blue Velvet” and the rampaging “Ledfoot” fit the bill; the other tracks are too long, or too murky, or too underdeveloped. But for a retrospective album of obscurities, five out of twelve is just fine.   (Francis DiMenno)

Look Away
11-song CD
I don’t know if Billy Shake is a person or a band; there’s no information whatsoever about instrumentation or production on this CD, apparently a home-reproduced copy. There’s no information on the web, either. Whatever it is, this CD is straight-up, beautifully written, played, and produced rock ’n’ roll that despite its 11 songs, clocks in at about 35 minutes. The vocalist has a slight Dave Pirner quality; actually, the whole CD kind of sounds like Soul Asylum developed an ’80s British influence.  Sort of, but not really—I know that doesn’t really help. Nonetheless, “When I was Young” does evoke a Brit-poppy sound with a bit of echo. “Stay the Night” sounds as if Dylan were funky and modern. “Bones of Angels” is a rollicking rocker. “Seven Mile River” is a bit bluesy and melancholy. These are great songs; I only wish the mix was just a little edgier and crunchier.   (Robin Umbley)

10-song CD
Straight away I have to call out the obvious. Poportunity? Are you fucking serious? Sorry Allen, but some things can’t go unremarked. Fortunately Devine’s penchant for unforgivable puns is the worst thing about this offering of safe but perfectly catchy pop rock. True to it’s title, Poportunity offers up 10 songs of sugary pop, complete with tangible nods to all the prerequisites. “It’s On The Way” is perfectly Beatlesque with touches of the Beach Boys, while “She Told Me” packs a distinct power pop punch in the tradition of Big Star. And for the sake of mixing things up, Devine throws a few curve balls in there (the bluesy “My Baby Sezz”) for good measure. But in the end it’s a disc big on hook and melody, which is never a bad thing for any guitar rock fan with a pop fetish.   (Ryan Bray)

Orange Ocean Publishing
Caught in the Air
9-song CD
Listening to this gentle pop combo from Worcester puts me in mind of rainbow-scented, sensitive bearded unicorns romping through a land of marshmallow and honey. Okay; who cares, the music is mostly lovely and melodic, and the vocals often sublime. But take it from the Band: “They are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing.” Anyway, the opening track is a sort of piano-driven pop with jazz-influence move that’s much more out of Vince Guaraldi than Dollar Brand. It also seems like just the sort of thing that might have been issued some 30-odd years ago by some tired Warner/Reprise adult-contemporary A&R guy who was sick to death of all that noise and who simply wanted to put out some wax he could actually listen to in his bong-juice-reeking shag-rug-infested den. Let’s put it this way: it’s lounge-y pop music that name-checks Jonathan Richman but seems more like Jules Shear with a Masonic spike scratching away at his cerebral cortex. What I hear on “The Love Within” is somewhat akin to Elvis Costello in one of his more introspective and cerebral moments, and “Wouldn’t Take Much” is undeniably gorgeous and lush. But the reggaefied “Seeing You Differently” is pure ick, “By the Ocean” is a gratuitous Beach Boys homage, “Show and Tell” is atmospheric ’70s-mellow showboating, and the decision to camp it up on “When My Heart” falls far below the aesthetic blundering of the most ignoble Kinks or even Harper’s Bizarre track.   (Francis DiMenno)

Ripped Echo
11-song CD
Here’s something you don’t find too often: a trumpet player who plays what might best be described as ambient music, or stuff you might hear while on your massage therapist’s table. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  Well, to hear trumpeter Eric Dahlman’s compositions, it seems perfectly natural. The brass instrument adds a human element to the ambient-ness, for lack of a better term. Instead of sounding harsh and alarming, the trumpet in this recording is more like a mild but persistent voice. But, as Brian Eno says, ambient music can be “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener”; if you choose to listen to this, you will hear the CD open with a solo trumpet prelude which segues exquisitely into interwoven sounds emanating from anything from lobster pots, mason jars, lap steel guitars, a sword on an artillery shell, electric guitars, a large clock spring, and accordion. The subtlety is illusory, though, because the compositions become subversively captivating. But if you choose not to listen closely, you may as well go back to the massage table.   (Robin Umbley)

Senior Discount Music
VBW Attack! The Senior Discount Movie
25-scene DVD
This DVD is all about fun and good punk rock music from Rhode Island with a nutty gang of hangers-on filming all sorts of semi-social activities. Veterans of the New England scene should know such subtlety!
The punk band in question that released this is called Senior Discount; their brand of tagalong fun makers is called the VBW.  Chuck Station is the head guy and Johnny Knoxville of the video.
He comes across as a likeable derivative of Kevin Smith, the director of Clerks (you know, Silent Bob?!) and Jean, the guy who fixed my Jeep for a couple years. The antics are in the Jackass tradition. There’s obvious planning involved in the hijinks and capers performed by this troupe, along with that public spontaneity and I don’t-give–a-shit-who-sees-it attitude. Seeing people beaned by balls intentionally at batting cages is great, I never saw anything better. Mix that with a swift hand for production, drunken revelry clips, and a basic dissatisfaction with the world at large, and the guys provide quality entertainment. Let me tell you about the Enema at Fatima. It deals with VBW, in broad daylight, sticking an enema up Chuck’s ass in the front yard of the Fatima high school, filling it up with saline, and then him bending over and blowing watery chunks out all over the parking lot.  He got arrested for disorderly conduct (dude!). They don’t film the real arraignment and trial and decide to stay with the “punk band with a mission/wild troupe of crazy activities” motif.
There are too many skits/filmed ideas to fully encapsulate in this review, let’s just say that this DVD is gold and that the band and those with them have some mighty winds at their sails.   (Mike Loce)

7-song CD
Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse
WOW! Could music get any worse? I did not think so until I heard the I.Z.A.  Come on! Learn to play before making sort of attempt to record music. Don’t give me attitude either. No need to tell me I am gonna hate your music before I listen to it. But of course I did, because it displays no talent whatsoever. It’s like they picked up the guitar, played three random chords, and called it a song.  Then they spent some cash and recorded the music and then somehow it came into my hands and almost deafened me with its awful tastelessness creativity.  I suggest leaving Boston before you ruin the music scene with your apocalyptic taste in music. Take ten years of lessons and maybe you will be able to play good enough to be considered a musician. But of course you will never be able to write a song because you have your head so far up your ass to see any sort of color pattern in music.   (Leonid)

Corleone Records
10 Yrs. Everything I Own
Is Broken Or Bent
21-video  DVD
I had to throw in my copy of the Muppet Show first season DVD to make myself feel better after seeing this amazing collection of band videos from this label. Without further ado and with much brevity:
1. Work/Death: Sludge mostly played on bowed upright bass through multi-effects like distortion and time delay.  Sounds like being underwater next to an oil refinery.
2. Jacob Berendes: Backwards filmage of making a mess on the dinner table with shitty folk singing.
3. Get Killed: Good video of in studio band poses with Sonic Youth style guitar chords and screamo.
4. Mindflayer: Noise duo with a hyper drummer and a guy wailing on a Fatman or some analog synth.
5. Uke of Spaces Corners: One guy shoveling a snow path through the woods while another guy follows with a door. Cultish.
6. Fang Island: The best. Instrumental rock band bashes away in a second grade classroom as a presentation!
7. Frank Difficult: Trippy randomness for behind band play at live shows.
8. Mahi Mahi: Boring synthtronica with bad techno-acid visuals.
9. Colin Langenus: Crazy cartoon distortion of reality.
10. Night Wounds: Sounds like they’re stuck in a loop of heavy drums/guitar punching.
11. Landed: Great overdriven bass/drums/screamer in a basement.
12. Lorna Doom: Two guys trying to be like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video with mellow enhancement.
13. Tiny Hawks: I hate music videos that try to prove something by showing internal organs functioning.
14. Black Pus: Excellent crazy solo drummer with a mic in his facemask screaming while drumming.
15. Fred Thomas: Oregonian acid visionary.
16. Lazy Magnet: Mystical high school style musical film with super animation cuts.
17. Snake Apartment: Cartoons and beard close-ups with slop on them.
18. Bonedust: Witches gathering on stage in evil and purging.
19. The Body: Raucous drums and guitar in a stairway hall.
20. Pines of Rome: Lame studio footage of dork band playing interesting song looking important.   (Mike Loce)

Crazy Eight Records
The Mesmerines
4-song CD
At long last, a 4-song CD that hasn’t been thrown together for the sake of releasing whatever the band could muster up. The Mesmerines, four veterans of the local post-punk scene of the ’80s and ’90s have united to record an adventurous effort-driven bouillabaisse, simply titled The Mesmerines. In just over fifteen-minutes, these songs galvanize punk, Brit-pop, psychedelic and garage. “Raygun” kicks it into gear and is reminiscent of the Cars while “Aquanetta Jones” is a cross between Social Distortion and Iggy Pop. “I am the Sunman” has a wonderfully crunchy guitar sound with tight drum and bass in tow, as does “Beautiful Day” with the addition of horns and strings. This CD has my attention and I look forward to their full-length in the future.   (Rob Watts)

A Stitch in Time
6-song CD
Melt combines pop sensibilities with the better elements of lighter goth and cool prog bands on their second CD. The collection opens with the Middle Eastern-flavored “Through the Doors” that riffs along at the beginning and has cool pre-chorus cooing from singer Rachel Drucker. Big hooks and riffs jaunt through “Home,” a pretty love song perfectly placed in the middle. The vocals on this tune are spot on and the acoustic guitar parts are a nice touch. Drucker is often compared to some of the more powerful female classic rockers but reviewers shouldn’t sell her talents short. “Comfortable,” another lovely little number, shows the band’s versatility: great harmonies and a really catchy hook, reminiscent of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. On “No Fear” the band continues to explore some untraditional rhythms with success. Very cool guitar synthesizer parts by Nils Freiberger, great lead and background vocals, and hooky bass parts from Paul Pipitone.   (Tony Schinella)

Suns of Sons: Live at Bohemian Caverns
5-song CD
Leonard Brown, a music professor at Northeastern University and a virtuoso saxophonist has returned to his roots and put together a delectable set of recordings that will tickle your ears and feed your soul.  The CD was recorded live at Washington, D.C.’s historic Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz club that’s been host to jazz greats since 1926.  No surprise, the musicianship is all around stellar.  Though there are only five songs, the whole album clocks in well over an hour, giving each song plenty of time to showcase the complex melodic lines that delightfully swim, float and bounce over the innovative rhythmic vocabularies put forth by the band: Leonard Brown on both tenor and soprano saxes, Nasar Abadey on drums, Allyn Johnson on keyboards and James King on bass. Overall, the end result is excellence and if you have titles by Coltrane, Davis and “Birdman” Parker in your record collection already, this may be something you should check out.   (Kier Byrnes)

Teenage Heart
Born a Bad Seed
6-song CD
Remember songs about booze, fast cars, fast girls, and getting into trouble with the law?  Well apparently Bad Lieutenants couldn’t remember, so they wrote an album of rocking punk tunes so they wouldn’t forget when they sober up.  With each song clocking in at around two minutes, you may find these songs brilliant or forgettable, depending on which jail cell or used Chrysler you happen to be rolling around in at the time.  I’ve heard better, but I’ve heard worse.  Perhaps if they sounded British and pissed off….   (Joel Simches)

5-song CD
I want to feel something too.  I want to feel the weight of a rockin’ six piece band in my loins.  The thin production of this recording makes Northern Pike sound like Soundgarden Lite.  The guitars sound huge and Mark Kalivas sounds like a cross between a young Chris Cornell, Paul Rogers, and Doogie Howser.  The drums sound tiny and lifeless under the weight of three guitars.  This could sound huge in the hands of the right producer, but Northern Pike sounds like a generic bar band that likes Soundgarden.   (Joel Simches)

The Tragic Search for Miss G. Pallor
5-song CD
This is Goth with a capital G and all its obligatory trimmings.  Lovers/Deceivers wear their influence firmly on their sleeve, evoking dark, dreamy images with whispery vocals, echoing B/Horror movie samples, droney synths and guitars.  This CD takes you back to a time where the Cure, Bauhaus and Jesus and Mary Chain ruled supreme and every skinny, pastey, neurotic misfit wanted to slit their wrists in the bathtub and have their virginal corpse displayed on a bed of rose petals beneath a medieval crucifix.  This CD left me cold, wishing for substance.  There was no dynamic, or emotion; just the monotone drone of what was, frozen in time beneath a layer of the haze. This left me yearning and empty.  Where’s my eyeliner?   (Joel Simches)

Allagash Country
Red Sox Tribute Songs
2-song CD
Put me in, coach!  This little sampler of generic Red Sox pep rally songs will have you rooting for the Yankees in no time.  There are certainly less tasteful ways to pander to baseball fans and make a cheap buck of Sox fans.  At least these guys are making crappy music and not selling tacky T-shirts on the corner.  I still have to walk by those guys.  I can turn this CD off.  I just did.  Tennis anyone?   (Joel Simches)

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