The Sky is the New Ground (Polyvinyl)

With this four-track EP, AM/FM (Brian Sokel/Michael Parsell) takes another quantum leap from previous work Getting into Sinking, which considering the sheer quality evident on that release positively beggars belief. As usual, AM/FM's music is tough to define as it absorbs genres like a sponge and never stays in one place for long. Here goes - "Every Start" is folky electro, "Gone in Three" is indie prog-pop, "Mrs. Astronaut" is jaunty freakbeat and "All to Remember" is space-age country. Indispensable. A ( )

Andrea Perry
Two (Trust Issue)

Oh goody! Andrea's back to delight us with her happy brand of happy music! Two finds sweet Andrea return with even more delightful journeys into what I suppose is 'twee' pop of the terminal kind. Which is good, mind. As usual, one will detect the odd reference to all things XTC & by that token also find the likes of Sugarplastic and Martin Newell sandwiched in-between somewhere. Naively imaginative in both melody and lyrics, Two will appeal to the children in us, and the adults wouldn't find it a chore either! B+ (

Anthemic Pop Wonder
Rapid Pop Thrills (Bombco)

There's more to APW than meets the eye believe me. On the surface, of course, they live up to the name spitting out pop anthems by the dozen in that sloppy early GBV style (whom APW mention in the credits). Discerning listeners will realize that APW has a deeper message. Take "Smash the Devil in His Head" for example, with its exhortation to "kick the devil when he's down, turn his smirk into a frown, make him see the light of day, when the righteous lead the way" is certainly the strangest expression of Christian doctrine I've ever encountered. Which ultimately saves APW from ending up on the scrap heap of lo-fi rock wannabes. Smash the Devil in His Head indeed! B (  

Arctic (Self-released)

Yet another contribution to the rock and pop world from the land down under. Arctic has the image down pat - three funky guys and an appealing frontwoman (No Doubt anyone?) - but more than that Arctic has the appropriate material to gate-crash that very same rock and pop world during a time where juvenile pap seems to have run its course. Well-crafted and competent, certainly enough on view to merit a peek. C+ (

Sea Change (Geffen)

Is Beck the new Bowie? Never one to stand still, Beck returns with a new album as far removed from the luminous funk of Midnite Vultures as the studied psychedelic folk rock blues of Mutations was from the hip-hop junk culture manifesto of Odelay. This time around, Beck has listened very carefully to his Nick Drake and Gram Parsons collections to produce a gorgeously doomed masterpiece that rather like Mutations still has the imprint of Syd Barrett lurking in the background. Quite possibly the best thing that Beck has done in his eventful career thus far. Hauntingly beautiful. A+ (

Morning Macumba (A Hidden Agenda)

Contrary to its artistic positioning, Bikeride has a closer affinity to Tortoise than say, the Apples in Stereo. In the sense that Bikeride uses classic pop in the same way that Tortoise uses jazz - in a studied, academic way. Not a bad thing in itself mind, but still, it doesn't make for the easiest listening experience and I'm sure that is the whole point. Still no denying the pop power of tunes like "Fakin' Amnesia," "Norwegia," "The Americans in Rome" and "Small Faces." If only, I could shake the feeling that the music is coming from the heart and not only the mind. B (

Banned In Da Singapura (BigO)

Formerly known as Boredphucks (geddit!) - this Singapore trio fancy themselves as the future of rock 'n' roll in the island state. Which would be fine in itself except for the fact that they're so pucking derivative, it's scary. Better yet, their main source of imitation goes back to Beach Boys surf rock and KISS party rock and their idea of lyrical invention revolves around fast cars, loose women and loads of sex, which I suppose in a repressed nation like Singapore, is pretty radical. Not sure if that amounts to a recommendation but there you go - for the curious only. C- (

Chris Tomlin
[not to us] (sixsteps/Sparrow)

Tomlin is an exceptionally talented songwriter and his zeal and passion for God is remarkable. Tomlin manages to take the most complex of spiritual concerns and render them in a manner that anyone can grasp and appreciate. From the open declaration of the title track - "To Your name be the glory" to the lusty affirmation of "Famous One," from the sincere acknowledgement of "Enough" to the humble adoration of "Wonderful Maker," [not to us] is an essential record for anyone seeking a deeper knowledge of worship in a modern rock context. A (

Onward Quirky Soldiers (Idol)

Chomsky has merged (rather well it must be said) the myriad pop thrills of early 80s post-punk new wave edgy pop (viz. XTC, Police, Gang of Four, Undertones, um Men At Work) with the post-modern indie rock of the new millennium. Thus, smart pop songs like "00:15:00," "Straight Razor," "Light," "Believe" and "Destination" will go down really well with students of that exciting epoch of rock history. With deft guitar work (by Halleck & Reynolds) and inventive drumming (by Kellum), Chomsky delivers its 80s revival without hitting anyone on the head with it. B+ (

Center of Attention Deficient Disorder (Idol)

Ha-ha, very clever title - pity the music content isn't quite so witty. Not that the crunchy, hyperkinetic punk pop that Clumsy specializes contains no redeeming features. It's energetic, honest and dynamic if a tad mundane and formulaic. Still, when the set agenda is deviated from, like with the slightly country-ish "Tell Me," the twangy "2 Tone," the fragile "Sick of It All" or the powerpoppy "I'm Okay," Clumsy shows more depth than its basic three chord approach suggests. A middling collection but one for pop rock fans to consider nonetheless. C (

A Rush of Blood to the Head (Parlophone)

A million copies of your debut album sold may be a serious cramp on creativity for most bands but those consummate Brits Coldplay shrug it off with an assured follow-up to the best-selling Parachutes. In many ways, A Rush of Blood to the Head  is a stronger effort - no "Yellow" or "Spies"  evident here but consistency in delivery is the key. From the socially conscious epic "Politik" to the evocative confessional closer "Amsterdam," Coldplay proves conclusively that 'flash-in-the-pan' will not figure in its resume. One of the brighter music moments of 2002. A (

Crack City Rockers
Joyce Hotel (Paisley Pop)

"Allright!" indeed. Right from the opening chords of "I Do All Right" Crack City Rockers set out their stall and are never ambiguous about they want to achieve - no frills, straight-ahead rawk 'n' roll! The strongest influence at play here is the Rolling Stones and every significant rock band that followed in the Glimmer Twins' footsteps. Not to say that the Rockers are boring or derivative but rather that Eric Gregory and cohorts are crystal clear what's on the agenda and it sure ain't folk balladry! Full throttle anthems about girls, girls, girls! C (     

Daniel Dale Johnston
Rejected Unknown (Gammon)

Ignoring the back-story of Johnston may be nigh impossible but essential in separating the music from the medical condition. Frankly, letting the songs speak for themselves is probably the best thing to do here. On that count, Johnston reminds one strongly of Neil Young with his fractured, basic style and sincere albeit oblique lyrics. "Funeral Girl" is creepy, "Impossible Love" is bluesy, "Dream Scream" is scatterbrain gorgeous, "Love Forever" is desperately exuberant and "The Spook" is plain weird. Equal parts Brian Wilson and Bob Pollard as well, Daniel Johnston is an artist, full stop. Nuff said. B+ (  

[DARYL] (Idol)

Surprisingly robust in its method, [DARYL] succeeds largely due to strident vocals, creative arrangements, fine performances and unique melodies. Genre-wise, [DARYL] is positioned smack in the middle of indie pop wasteland but its saving grace is a clearly identifiable personality which brightens lusty workouts like the raucous "Petition," the curious "Seconds Left," bubblegum like "Bottle Rocket," the electro-poppy "Jenny" and the epic "Last Impressions." B+ (

Dora Flood
Welcome (Self-released)

Indeed. SF-based Dora Flood certainly know their Britpop as this 11-track collection attests. Fans of that heady mid-90s phenomenon will positively delight in this quintet's uncanny ability to evoke the guitar-pop finery of premier Stone Roses, Radiohead, Oasis and Supergrass. Nary a duff number amongst the lot - as the Brits might say - with the highlights being the dynamic "Go In Tonight," the pleasing "Give Us This Day," the Beatlesque "Eraser" and the enthralling "Slow Return (To Sleep)." Regular PoP visitors will adore Welcome. A- (  

Duke Fame
Regrets (Geeves)

There is little pretension about Duke Fame and its honest expression of melodic rock 'n' roll. With deft emphasis on the riffs and rhythms and conveying a sense of rollicking fun, Regrets may be slightly lacking in the melody department but makes up for this with oodles of ardent dynamism as evidenced by the fervent rockers viz. "Regrets," "The Day I Shaved My Head," "Here I Am" & "Gone Far" and even the quieter thoughtful moments viz. "The Unalterable Law of Life," "Crowded" & "Most Days." Recommended. C+ (

Elvis Costello
When I Was Cruel (Island)

Considering that between Brutal Youth (1994) and this new one, there have been only two other proper EC releases viz. the 'reverse covers' collection All This Useless Beauty (1996) and the Bacharach collaboration Painted From Memory (1998), When I Was Cruel strikes one as being rather lightweight. EC fans expecting a return to the visceral McManus of say, Blood and Chocolates will be disappointed. Those looking for no frills rock will have to make do with stomping "45," beaty "When I Was Cruel No. 2," the powerful "Dissolve," dynamic "Daddy Can I Turn This" and the superb countrified "Episode of Blonde" which alternate with fairly mystifying exercises with jazzy dub. Okay, so the man's an artist and should be given the license to roam but I don't have to like it. C+ (  

Sunshine Saturday (Jam)

Mark and Lisa Flora have certainly outdone themselves with this joyous cacophony of of the purest pop you're likely to hear in 2002! And Florapop are kind enough to list their influences; from the obvious - Beach Boys, Raspberries, Beatles & XTC; to the surprising - Cocteau Twins and Michael Bolton (?!). Highlights include the breathtaking "Sunshine Saturday Theme," the infectious "Raystars," the jaunty "You're My Baby," the heavenly "Praylude" & the breezy "Pop It Up!" Be warned though - those who need a bit of crunch in their pop should handle with care but if its pop you want, then it's pop you'll get! B+ (

Jet City
Tempus Fugit (Self-released)

"All songs recorded in 'My Living Room'" proudly declares the sleeve credits of this workmanlike album of stout guitar skill. Jet City is basically guitarist David Mills who deserves full marks for his dedication to his craft as these thirteen tunes attest to a hunger to be heard. That said, the songs are fairly above average to middling, with Mills' gifts with the frets keeping things interesting. Highlights include "Bully," "Won't You Tell Me" and "Afterlife." C (

John Cunningham
Happy-Go-Unlucky (Parasol)

I could have sworn that it was Paul and Linda on the chorus of the opening "Losing Myself Too"! Which isn't a bad deal at all, I should say! The rest of "Happy-Go-Unlucky" maintains a consistent Macca reference but imbued with a healthy dose of British pastoral and chamber music with the odd nods at Nick Drake, Ray Davies, Freddie Mercury, Peter Gabriel, Andy Partridge and even Damon Albarn easily discernible. And with songs like the delicate "Way To Go," the lovely "Can't Get Used To This," the touching "It Isn't Easy," the rustic "Invisible Lives" and the beefy "Take Your Time" charming their way to your heart, you never realize how minimal the whole presentation actually is. Splendid. A- (

Kathy Compton
Recovering Humans (Frosty Orange)

I'm sorely tempted to say that this one's for the boys but...well, I enjoy being a boy! However, contrary to the pretty girl images you'll find on the album sleeve and at her web site, Kathy is more than just a looker (which she also happens to be by the way). Not only is the music sophisticated but the lyrical content is deep and goes a long way to bridge the gap between heart and mind. Songs like the spooky "Talking to the Dead," the sultry "Wanted," the thoughtful "Good American" and the rather clever title track mark Kathy Compton as a singer-songwriter to watch. B+ (

Lenny LeBlanc
One Desire (Hosanna!)

Leblanc is best known for the hit "Falling" when one half of Leblanc and Carr in the late 70s. Now, Leblanc focuses his talent on worshipping God and his songs carrying deep conviction and earthy musical quality that will touch and inspire, whatever your faith. One Desire is a live recording of Leblanc and band leading worship at The Church of The Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia and is distinguished by "Say Your Name," "I'm Crazy" and "We All Bow Down," songs that transcend earthly trappings of verse and chorus to enter into the realm of heavenly transport. Certainly one of my favorite worship albums of 2002. A 

Falling Hard in the Key of E (Idol)

Six tracks in thirty minutes is enough to showcase Macavity's stab at quirky indie pop which at best leaves it pretty much indistinguishable from a million others treading down familiar paths. There's nothing here to recommend itself to anyone except diehard followers of the band or its chosen milieu. The tunes are competent without being memorable and the songs highlight some incisive arrangements but overall, no big deal. C (

Mark Knopfler
The Ragpicker's Dream (Mercury)

Knopfler's fourth album finds the ex-Dire Straits leader maintaining his retreat from the stadium rock that made him millions and his erstwhile band one of the top concert draws in the world. The closest allusion to the Dire Straits era comes in the form of the assured "You Don't Know You're Born" and the swanky "Coyote." The rest of the album is rootsy, pastoral and rustic, mostly acoustic but embellished with Knopfler's trademark licks. Songs like "Why Aye Man," "Hill Farmer's Blues" and "Daddy's Gone to Knoxville" ensure that The Ragpicker's Dream is essential listening for all followers of the man and of course, Dire Straits. B+ 

Mark  Narkowicz
Now, Where Was It (Library Records)

Narkowicz, the frontman of the self-described "acoustic pop thrashers" Melbourne-based The Dunaways, takes some time off to assemble a fairly decent bunch of songs that whilst retaining the acoustic flavour ups the ante somewhat on the melodic power. If pushed, you can hear the likes of the Go-Betweens, Elvis Costello, Freedy Johnston and Edwin Collins in the tunes that are modestly presented here. Believe me, there is genuine punch in stuff like "Deliver Me Now," "What A Way to End the Weekend," "Sun Come Shine," "1000 Tears" and "Stars of Heaven." Worth checking out. B+ (

Our Love is Loud (sixsteps/Sparrow)

Passion conferences are live worship events organized by 268 Generation where sixstep artists lead worshippers into a time of seeking the presence of the living God in concert. Our Love is Loud is a document of Passion's September 2001 US tour and features Chris Tomlin, David Crowder Band and Charlie Hall. Undoubtedly, the six tracks from Tomlin are the highlights here - the thoughtful "Enough," the declaratory "Famous One" & the gorgeous "God of Wonders" in particular. Not that Crowder and Hall come in second best but somehow Tomlin makes that 'live' connection work. Rock 'n' soul indeed. A (

Richard Ashcroft
Human Conditions (Virgin)

With Ashcroft, it can only be epic with a capital 'E.' Human Conditions - his 2nd solo effort (3rd, if you consider the final Verve album, Urban Hymns, to be the first)  - builds on the bedrock of widescreen orchestral pop that originated with classic Verve hits like "History" and "The Drugs Don't Work" and continues with "Buy It In Bottles," "Paradise," "Man on a Mission" & "Lord I've Been Trying" where the influence of late 60s Stones is too strong to ignore. The grand "Nature is the Law" even boasts backing vocals from the great Brian Wilson and that in itself amounts to a recommendation! A- (

Rich McCulley
If Faith Doesn't Matter (Self-released)

Good news, folks, looks like McCulley has discovered the twang! This sophomore effort has McCulley lining his obvious pop-rock chops with a rustic country edge. The benefits are immediate - the opening "Waiting" is an infectious gem. The rest of Faith continues this fine blend with the Elvis (Costello that is) evoking "Unwound," the heartfelt "Say Bye Bye," the Stonesy "Fight It" and the austere "Heaven or Hell" making this album a worthy acquisition for all lovers of melodic rock 'n' roll, country rock and everything in-between. B+ (

Rolling Stones
Forty Licks (Virgin)

On the heels of the highly successful Beatles 1 compilation comes the Stones version - 40 tracks of decadent boogie. With the four new songs (all produced by Don Was & the Glimmer Twins) squeezed in - "Don't Stop" with yet another incarnation of that Keef riff, "Keys To Your Love" reeks of sentimentality, "Stealing My Heart" is perfunctory and "Losing My Touch" perversely proves that unlike his partner, Keef still hits the spot with a touching rumination on um aging. Argue all you want about the selection (not enough 60s material for me), it's the Stones - love 'em or leave 'em but that last Keef track sure makes Forty Licks a bit more than mere exploitation. A (

Safari Season
The Sound of the Sun (Zip)

Somehow, someway, the Swede duo of Anders Lindgren and Lars Ryen have managed to transplant Hawthorne, California to Scandinavia. You probably know the drill - "Shoot That Curl," "Growing Young" & "Ice in Your Eyes" are pure Beach Boys surf rock pastiches, "Peaceful" is chamber pop heaven, "Love Enchantment" is uncannily Spectoresque, "Strange Things"& "Someday My Wave Will Come" are heady Brian Wilson inspired nuggets whilst the title track is appropriately psychedelicate. Well crafted and presented, a greater sense of personality distinct from the blatant 'lifts' would have done Safari Season no harm at all. C (

Don't Look Down (Self-released)

There is a sincere quality that permeates this demo (well, I assume it is) which succeeds despite the somewhat uneven performances from this Singaporean quintet. The songs indicate promise and spark, taking their cues from late '90s Britrock - Travis, Bluetones, Embrace - without the gloss. In terms of Singapore rock history, Satellite recalls the early 90s and the likes of AWOL and the Ordinary People and on the evidence of this demo, if they can stick it out, tracks like "Painting" and "Forces" put them in good stead for future recordings. C 

Saticoy (Self-released)

Tough one to call, Charlotte Spielmann is the person mainly responsible for the music on Saticoy - she sang, played most of the instruments, wrote the songs and produced the whole thing. So certainly the passion is evident, so what about the talent? Like I said, not so easy because Charlotte possesses a quirky charm that is perhaps best demonstrated by better known artists like Andy Partridge and Yazbeck. No attempt to pander or to be 'cute' - songs may be difficult but yield rewards if one perseveres, especially for her pleasing Chrissie Hynde-styled vocals. I like it! B+ (

Spinning Jennies
Stratosphere (Jam)

Aptly titled, this latest venture from Jeff Shelton and gang contains all the usual pop thrills that the Jennies are renown and then some. Not only that but the Jennies understands what powerpop is all around - the melodies of the Brian Wilson married to the chordal crunch of the Who. So the songs tend to be all bubblegummy yet fuzzed up enough to convince the doubters that this is what classic rock is all about. C+ (

Lux (Somantic)

Neo prog has seen better days but hats off to Strangelight for giving this challenging and inventive genre a right go with this ambitious and pleasing album. Reminiscent of the recent works of Porcupine Tree and Rush, Strangelight takes the fundamentals of prog (a cross-hatching of styles predominantly jazz & classical) and superimposes these on a template of folky rock and pop. Premium songs like "Tell All Your Friends," "Hypnopaedia," & "Red Drums" showcase these elements well. B+ (

Steve Almaas & Ali Smith (Parasol)

Aw, this one is simply wonderful! After 2001's accomplished Kingo A Wild One, Almaas brings it all home, roping in his girlfriend Smith (ex-Speedball Baby) for an exercise in acoustic minimalism and fragile beauty. Executed in basic nascent country folk rock stylings with great emphasis on vocal and instrumental performances than production, songs like "Shrunken Head," "Little Jean," "Moving in Your Sleep" & "Come Softly To Me" register highly with these ears. A- (

A New Morning (Sony)

It's hard to believe that Suede has gone from strength to strength since Bernard Butler split after Dog Man Star. And despite the relative failings of Head Games, A New Morning carries through the glamorous pop agenda set by Coming Up. This time around, the songs are even more lush and epic in scope - more Scott Walker than Marc Bolan. Still, glam rock anthems like "Obsessions," "Beautiful Loser," "Streetlife"& "One Hit to the Body" carry the unmistakable inspiration of T. Rex. However, the best moments here evoke Hunky Dory-era Bowie especially "Lonely Girls," "Lost In TV," "Astrogirl" & "When the Rain Falls." All very mature creations. Whilst never quite surpassing Coming Up, A New Morning confirms Suede's continuing upward movement and they deserve to be named amongst the best of British pop. A (

The Marlowes
Sugarbursts and Thunderbolts (Shiny Fly)

The Marlowes have been "at it" for close to a decade and their brand of 80s styled alternative rock (remember the Replacements, early REM, Husker Du?) and with each succeeding release have managed to continually hone and improve their craft. This new album is definitely their best so far and the first three tracks - "Because of a Girl," "If You Wouldn't Mind" and "In Spite of Everything" set tone and agenda perfectly. Add to the mix the poignant musings of songs like "Death of the Party," "A New Kind of Weather" and "Month of Promises" which vary the pace to wonderful effect and you've got a finely balanced effort that will please most fans of that special era of 80s rock. B+ (

The Oohs
Saturday Morning Dream (Self-released)

One of the greatest benefits of the advancement of home recording technology in the last few years in the emergence of great pop music that would never have seen the light of day without label support. Case in point - The Oohs viz. Brian Cutright, Frank Huston, Mike Laible & Brian Curtis - who with this sophomore effort have once again presented a minor classic with their almost perfect appropriation of the seminal pop-rock influences of The Beatles, ELO, Utopia, The Knack, Raspberries, Jellyfish etc. If that sounds interesting to you, don't hesitate - head on  down to and pick up one of the highlights of 2002. A-

The Orgone Box
Things That Happened Then (Minus Zero)

Those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for more Orgone Box will flip at this 'new' album which rescues 14 Rick Corcoran tunes (recorded during 1992 to 1995) from oblivion. As blissfully psychedelic as last year's sleeper 'debut' hit was, groovy songs like "Last Ride On The Jets," "Everybody's A Star," "Hard For Me," "Wonderful Mind," "Hello Wonderland" and "Bestbird" once again exploits all the best freakbeat references e.g. Syd Barrett, John Lennon, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope. Possibly matched only by Myracle Brah in its spaced-out intensity, Things That Happened Then is a pop treasure to have and to hold. A- (

The Quags
Out in the Community (Paisley Pop)

Excellent stuff from the Quags here - the songs sorta run into each other in a stream of cool classic rock references. Melding into a perfect hodge-podge of seminal British rock influences, Anglophiles should have no problems in spotting clear nods to Teenage Fanclub ("Out in the Community"), Elvis Costello ("Danna Was An Artist"), Robyn Hitchcock ("So Beautiful"), Oasis ("Sea Hag"), The Faces ("By the Sea") and the Silver Convention ("Sister Strange") - well, ok, the bass line is lifted from "Fly Robin Fly" (!) You get the drift - a splendid time is guaranteed for all. B+ (

The Rooks
From the Shelves of Soundscape Studio (Not Lame)

I firmly believe that Michael Mazzarella is the powerpop version of Nick Drake in that he has such a pastoral folky sensibility which he applies generously to the usual Beatles-Beach Boys-Byrds-Big Star template that is common in this genre. Which is what distinguishes the Rooks from the rest, certainly. This collection of outtakes and rarities is certainly no substitution for the long overdue follow-up to the sumptuous feast that was Wishing Well (1999) but it will do. B+ (

The Velvet Crush
Soft Sounds (Action Muzik)

Of late, Ric Menck has picked up the nasty habit of putting down power pop and the IPO, yet there can be no doubt that his band exists squarely in the middle of everything he criticizes. Ah well, Soft Sounds apparently began life as a solo Paul Chastain project before Menck hijacked it as a Velvet Crush effort. Simply put, it doesn't sound like any Velvet Crush album of recent memory and its warm country tones come as a bit of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. Whatever his politics, you cannot deny the sheer beauty and quality of music such as the gorgeously sweet "Rollin' in My Sleep," the fragile folky "In Your Time," the Beatlesque "Staying Found," the light & breezy "Forever, For Now," the open-chord poignancy of "She Goes On" and the emotional piano ballad "Late in the Day." Proof indeed that Menck and Chastain deserve to be in the pop hall of fame. A (

The Who 
My Generation Deluxe Edition (MCA)

Finally, the long-standing dispute with producer Shel Talmy has been resolved and a remastered re-issue of The Who's debut album finally sees commercial release. This Deluxe Edition contains two discs. Disc One covers the original album plus the bonus of the "I Can't Explain" single. The sound is fine but somehow with the centerpiece "My Generation," Talmy has chosen to render the famous instrumental break unrecognizable as Townshend's guitar goes AWOL - unforgivable!  Disc Two is an 'odd & sods' collection of b-sides, outtakes and rarities, mostly presented in the mod R&B style the early Who distinguished itself with. And surprise, surprise, as the guitar overdubs of "My Generation" appears as the last track as a 'monaural version' - go figure! That said, Who fans will certainly want to pick this one up. That means everyone reading this, right? A (

The World/Inferno Friendship Society
Just the Best Party (Gern Blandsten)

What are these guys (and gals) on? Well, whatever it is I sincerely hope more of us can partake of its freewheeling, carefree goodness. The World/Inferno Friendship Society are a distinctive combo (there are nine of them) that specializes in horn-driven agit-(swing)-pop that recalls Elvis Costello, David Byrne, They Might Be Giants, The Specials and Dexy's Midnight Runners. Very 80s and extremely cool. Tracks like "Zen and the Art of Breaking Everything in the Room," "Secret Service Freedom Fighting U.S.A." and "Peter Lorre" are as zany as they are F-U-N! All aboard! B (  

Various Artists
The Gene Pitney Story Retold (To M'Lou)

To be truthful, I'm not that familiar with Mr. Pitney's work (and which is why I turned down the lovely Lisa Mychols when Popland was asked to contribute) but that hasn't stopped the fine acts here from putting on a grand tribute for Gene. Pop underground followers will instantly recognize the likes of The Waking Hours, Randall Kirsch, Michael Shelley, Chris Von Sneidern, sparkle*jets u.k., Al Kooper (!), Ed James, Ron Flynt, The Retros, Phil Angotti and Mark Johnson (whew!). Musically, Pitney belongs to the pre-Beatles era and it is certainly a challenge for these artists to maintain the relevance of the source material. In that respect, Von Sneidern ("Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart"), Gail George ("Mr Moon, Mr Cupid and I"), James ("Nobody Needs Your Love"), Flynt ("Hello Mary Lou") and Jeremy Morris ("Dream World") pull it off with some aplomb. B+ (