Charalambides - Houston (1999)

Named after the city where the band started, Houston finds the core Tom Carter/Christina Carter duo creating another inspired, cryptic, and mysterious collection of songs in a career already filled with many excellent examples of the same. Though guitar is prominent throughout, a wide range of instrumentation is used, from piano and bells to sax -- one track, "The Blown Door," consists of Christina doing solo a cappella work, overdubbed and echoed to make for a spectral choir singing from out of the skies. While there are only eight tracks, most are quite lengthy, in keeping with Charalambides' general bent for improvisation and experimentation. As always, Christina provides all vocals, her preference for haunting banshee wails and croons excellently suiting the shadowy music. The contrast between a number of the subtle, supple arrangements, the quiet but entrancing minor-key folk, and the waft of echoes and production murk that ground the performances in a more unearthly realm gives clear testament to the power of the duo's unique art. The opening track "Dancing" sets the mood; hardly a dancefloor number in the modern sense, it's more a soundtrack to a reel on the edge of twilight, simultaneously playful and doom-shrouded. From there it's one surprising, fascinating song after another, with Christina and Tom showing more variety with their instruments from track to track than some bands use in their entire careers. "Lexington" is a good example, with Christina providing the lead with beautiful (but very atypically so) piano and Tom joining in more audibly toward the end with low cymbal crashes or something quite similar. Perhaps the most conventional song is Christina's grand solo effort "Two Places at Once," with her vocals and electric guitar feeling like a soft benediction on a warm, early summer night. Odd intrusions like the cut-up conversations and crackling vinyl at the end of "Midnight Chants" further accentuate the addictive sense of entertaining strangeness on Houston.

Sebadoh - The Freed Man: Deluxe Edition (1989)

When Lou Barlow first started recording as Sebadoh with his pal Eric Gaffney in 1986, he was still playing bass in Dinosaur Jr., and the group's early work practically defines the "side project syndrome" -- since Barlow was already a member of another, more "serious" band at the same time, Sebadoh gave him the opportunity to be as silly, as cryptic, or as obsessively personal as he wished. Not long after Sebadoh's The Freed Man first surfaced as a cassette-only release, Barlow was fired from Dinosaur Jr., and what was once his creative safety valve suddenly became his primary musical forum, and the rough, purposefully distorted textures of Sebadoh's primitive early work (recorded on inexpensive four-track cassette decks and then dubbed down to even cheesier tape) would become the early hallmark of their music, along with the rage, puzzlement, and melancholy that defined Barlow's lyrical world-view. However, on The Freed Man, while Barlow hardly sounds sunny most of the time, he was clearly able to embrace the playful side of the group's music, and Gaffney was more than willing to bring his fair share of goofiness into the formula; add the periodic barrage of audio clips from television broadcasts, old children's records, and assorted noise, and you get the template for much of what would emerge in the "lo-fi revolution" (and like thousands of bands that would follow in Sebadoh's wake, much of The Freed Man was recorded in a college dorm room, with sounds from the adjoining rooms occasionally bleeding onto the tape). While stretches of The Freed Man sound like the pot-addled meanderings of a semi-bohemian college sophomore with a little too much time on his hands, both Barlow and Gaffney display enough songcraft and imagination to show they were several cuts above most folks following a similar path, and the fact that the nerdy but confessional "Soulmate," the bare-bones pop of "Drifts on Thru," and a mock-hardcore cover of "Yellow Submarine" could peacefully coexist on the same album suggests Sebadoh's budget-minded eclecticism was reaping potent rewards right from the very start.

Stereolab - Lo-Fi EP (1992)

Often overlooked amidst the flurry of early Stereolab releases, the four-song Low Fi in many respects represents the zenith of the group's original incarnation--it's wonderfully emblematic of the clamoring, analog-crunchy drone-pop that cemented their enduring reputation as critical favorites. The indisputable highlight is "Laisser-Faire," a pulsating and eerily prescient meditation on U.S. foreign policy that concludes "I can feel it more and more/Within ten years we'll have a war"--rarely have Laetitita Sadier's vocals resonated with more resigned beauty or Tim Gane's guitar slashed with more righteous anger. The title cut is no less compelling, and marks the first recorded appearance of the late Mary Hansen: her "ba-da-bum" harmonies immediately prove the perfect counterpoint to Sadier's cooler, more sophisticated lead. And on the closing "Elektro (he held the world in his iron grip)," the Lab spans the extremes of their continuum--after some three minutes of bubbling, mad-scientist noise, the song gives way to a sweet, simple acoustic performance as lovely as anything they've ever created.

The Velvet Underground - Live Vol I & II (1969)

Sadly, outside of a handful of audience tapes of extremely variable fidelity, no one thought to make a live recording of The Velvet Underground during their 1967-68 peak period with John Cale prodding Lou Reed into remarkable flights of noise rock fancy. However, in 1969 a VU fan who was a recording engineer brought a reel-to-reel tape machine to two shows the band played during an engagement at a club in Dallas called The End of Cole Avenue; a few months later, the band played The Matrix in San Francisco, where a tape machine had been installed into the hall's sound system, and the band was allowed to record their set. Five years later, long after The Velvet Underground had collapsed and Lou Reed's solo career was on the rise, Mercury Records compiled highlights of the Dallas and San Francisco tapes into a two-record set, 1969: Velvet Underground Live, and it is without question the best (legally-released) document of this band's considerable strengths as a live act. While they were a somewhat more sedate band with Doug Yule on bass rather than Cale, they still had plenty of life left in them at this stage of the game; there are few voyages into the sonic unknown here, but Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison had matured into one of rock's most potent guitar combinations, Maureen Tucker was as distinctive a drummer as even picked up a pair of mallets, and with Doug Yule at her side they comprised a truly superb rhythm section. Sounding tight, confident, and passionate on every cut, this set finds the band visiting highlights from all four of their studio albums, as well as a handful of previously unreleased numbers. From the delicacy of "New Age" and "I'll Be Your Mirror" to the rave-up energy of "What Goes On" and "White Light/White Heat," 1969: Velvet Underground Live captures the many sides of their musical personality with commendable skill, and while it isn't their best album, it's one of the best places for a beginner to explore their body of work.

Temple of Bon Matin - Thunder Feedback Confusion (1995)

Imagine a jam session with Glenn Branca & Hawkwind and it probably wouldn't sound too far off from the Philadelphia-based noise rock collective Temple of Bon Matin. Their near-atonal freakouts are as challenging and uncompromising as rock music gets, but they have enough dynamics and compositional ideas to make their records more than simple exercises in repetition and annoyance. The heart of Temple of Bon Matin is the duo of drummer Ed Wilcox and keyboardist John Mulvaney. Wilcox and Mulvaney are the group's only constants, with other members added and subtracted according to whim. The group's first album was recorded in 1993, but not released until 1995; Thunder, Feedback and Confusion is probably the group's most overtly rock-oriented work, with some of the songs even having recognizable melodies

The Deviants - Ptooff! (1967)

Talk today about Britain's psychedelic psyxties, and it's the light whimsy of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, the gentle introspection of the village green Kinks, Sgt. Pepper, and "My White Bicycle" which hog the headlines. People have forgotten there was an underbelly as well, a seething mass of discontent and rancor which would eventually produce the likes of Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies, and the Edgar Broughton Band. It was a damned sight more heartfelt, too, but the more some fete the lite-psych practitioners of the modern age, the further their reality will recede. Fronted by journalist/author/wild child Mick Farren, the Deviants spawned that reality. Over the years, three ex-members would become Pink Fairies; for subsequent reunions, sundry ex-Fairies would become honorary Deviants. And though only Russell Hunter is present on Ptooff!, still you can hear the groundwork being laid. The Pink Fairies might well have been the most perfect British band of the early '70s, and the Deviants were their dysfunctional parents. In truth, Ptooff! sounds nowhere near as frightening today as it was the first (or even 21st) time out; too many reissues, most of them now as scarce as the original independently released disc, have dulled its effect, and besides, the group's own subsequent albums make this one look like a puppy dog. But the deranged psilocybic rewrite of "Gloria" which opens the album, "I'm Coming Home," still sets a frightening scene, a world in which Top 40 pop itself is horribly skewed, and the sound of the Deviants grinding out their misshapen R&B classics is the last sound you will hear. Move on to "Garbage," and though the Deviants' debt to both period Zappa and Fugs is unmistakable, still there's a purity to the paranoia. Ptoof! was conceived at a time when there genuinely was a generation gap, and hippies were a legitimate target for any right-wing bully boy with a policeman's hat and a truncheon. IT and Oz, the two underground magazines which did most to support the Deviants (Farren wrote for both), were both publicly busted during the band's lifespan, and that fear permeates this disc; fear, and vicious defiance. It would be two years, and two more albums, before the Deviants finally published their manifesto in all its lusty glory -- "we are the people who pervert your children" -- during their eponymous third album's "People Suite." But already, the intention was there.

Robert Pollard & Doug Gillard - Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Dept. (1999)

On the fourth try, Pollard lets fly a solo LP as engaging throughout as his most developed, consistent Guided by Voices ones. Infinitely better than Waved Out and Kid Marine (both somewhat saved by a minority of killer tracks), and with as many high points as the typically big-hit-and-lots-of-miss-mess of Not in My Airforce, Speak Kindly starts with the gentle hum-along bang of "Frequent Weaver Who Burns" and never crests. Wonderful! Maybe it's Gillard's influence, Pollard's main ally since the lamentable demise of the classic GBV lineup. But between this and Do the Collapse, the prolific Pollard is extinguishing the perception that burn-out has rotted his touch along with his quality control. Tired of fragments that don't add up to songs? Perhaps Pollard hears you, for there's none hiding here behind the usual bizarre titles. In fact, though one would expect these 15 tracks to be the leftovers, like Grapefruit Leaguers that didn't make the big league cut of Collapse, it's actually a shame these won't be given the wider audience a GBV moniker provides. There's been such a barrage of Pollard material, the patience and tingle of most indie fans has been stricken with indigestion. The peril, then, is that most will be unaware of what a crisp LP he's made -- what a tenacious, unusual work it is even for him, with fresh tricks and licks, not half-hearted throwaways that imprison the odd full-fledged treat. Moreover, for those who liked the tunes of Collapse, but were hesitant over Ric Ocasek's strong but slicker production, Speak Gently is a more spontaneous, organic, combustive, non-lo-fi, great-sounding work. Pollard is back with a bang. Having lulled us all to sleep, we might not notice.

Guided By Voices - King Shit & The Golden Boys (1995)

Although the 19 songs that make up King Shit and the Golden Boys all hover around the two-minute mark, they manage to feel like full songs rather than simply incomplete snippets. It is this knack for pumping out basement pop gems in the space of only a minute or two that has become Robert Pollard's trademark. The fact that even his incomplete musical thoughts easily surpass the best work of many groups makes it all the more impressive. Though it has a bit of everything, the record favors springy Brit-pop, with prime tracks like "Crutch Came Slinking" even featuring layers of background "ooohs" and "aaaahs," a fairly elaborate bit of production for such a lo-fi outfit. The album's acoustic tracks are among the most stirring bits, as their straightforward execution makes it feel like you're catching bits of a secret tape you weren't meant to hear -- like eavesdropping on a show the musicians were playing just for themselves. Re-recorded for 1996's Under the Bushes Under the Stars, the now classic "Don't Stop Now" (starring Big Daddy the rooster) appears here in an early, bare-bones incarnation that may actually be more stunning than its cleaned-up redux. In fact, this disc's title is pulled from the track's lyrics: "We pulled into economy island/King Sh*t and the Golden Boys/Plenty more where we came from/Top of the line/Don't stop now." Stripped-down and truly minimalist, the beauty of "Don't Stop Now" (and the album as a whole) is that it proves that while many artists have bought into the fallacy that it is big studios or expensive guitars that make albums great, the truth of the matter is that a great song is a great song, and that will show through even if it's recorded on a cheapo tape deck with an open-air microphone on a guitar with a buzzing string. While there are several striking acoustic tracks (Pollard's "Please Freeze Me" and Tobin Sprout's "Crunch Pillow" shine through), there are some truly rocking numbers as well. The spastic live staple "Postal Blowfish" and chunky static riff of "Greenface" spring most readily to mind, though "Squirmish Frontal Room" ranks high as well -- not to mention the delightfully odd "Deathtrot and Warlock Riding a Rooster." Another highlight, the bliss pop of "We've Got Airplanes," sounds a bit like it may have been an early relative of "I Am a Scientist" and "Teenage F.B.I." King Shit is as engaging as most of GBV's proper albums, and that it is merely a collection of mismatched rarities and outtakes is truly astounding. Made up of material culled from Bee Thousand outtakes (worth the price of admission on their own) and chunks of the unreleased LPs Back to Saturn X and Learning to Hunt, this is an album that should go over especially well with those fans in love with the Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes incarnation of GBV and the makeshift sonic-collage approach of those records

Guided By Voices - Plantations of Pale Pink EP (1996)

These aren't more barebones boilers bum rushed from the Bushes sessions. In fact, four of its six selections slither out of the group's seemingly bottomless store of four-track recordings. Super fans love these happy little diary 7"ers, especially with the raucous, raspy "Catfood on the Earwig" crackling your speakers, and the embedded hook of "The Who Vs. Porky Pig" (a biggeda, biggeda, biggeda, I give the Who the nod in this bout of titans!). Also featuring "Subtle Gear Shifting"... possibly the weirdest and trippiest song in the GBV canon.

Outer Spacist - The Mind is as Outer Space 7" (2009)

Outer Spacist play a pummeling style of punk rock that sounds like Wayne County fronting Simply Saucer (or maybe weird period of early Alice Cooper). They have had a large cult of townies going giggly for years now. We approached them to do a single a long long time ago and for a while it seemed like a project that would never be realized, but lo and behold our day has come! The A-side has the band rockin heavy like the herd of Chocolate Watchband obsessives that they are, but the B-side is a steady trip that brings to the front the bizarre mind of their frontman DARTAGNON JONES KLETTING SALT, a man who truly escapes a singular adjective. Featuring members of Night of Pleasure and Day Creeper.

Pillow Talk - Downtown Unga Wunga 7" (2009)

Dual synths and a hardcore singer warbling with Trashmen ooo-maumau gusto, or better yet: "Suicide if Suicide was Flipper." Six songs and a skit.

Guided By Voices - Same Place The Fly Got Smashed (1990)

Likely their darkest album, Same Place the Fly Got Smashed is another solid effort that takes the form of a tragic rock opera about a doomed, midwestern alcoholic. While the joylessness of this concept wears a bit thin over the course of the 13 tracks, the songwriting is compelling enough to make it fly. Punk rave-ups ("The Hard Way" and "Local Mix-Up/Murder Charge") and accoustic strummers ("When She Turns 50" and "How Loft I Am?") are equally capable in the evocation of the emotions of guilt, hopelessness, and forgotten innocence that pervade the album.

Guided By Voices - Devil Between My Toes (1987)

This first full-length album shows that if the sparkling consistency of Pollard's mid-'90s masterpieces was not yet present, the madcap songwriting sensibility and pop instinct of those albums certainly was. Pollard's melodies shine here, even in the band's embryonic stages. Whether on the garage ditty, "Hank's Little Fingers," or the slow-burning epic, "A Portrait Destroyed By Fire," despite its inconsistencies, Devil Between My Toes foreshadows the brilliant albums to come.

Beyond The Implode - This Atmosphere 7" (2009)

4 tracks recorded (at home) by the band in 1979. Tracks 1 & 3 ('This Atmosphere' & 'Steel Car') were originally issued on the band's 1979 debut ep 'Last Thoughts' while tracks 2 & 4 ('Disperse The Clouds' + 'Mid Ad Version') have remained unheard & unreleased lo these many years. Astute fans will no doubt hear 'Mid Ad Version' & perhaps "see" it as an alternate take on 'Midnight Adventures' (found on Last Thoughts) & if so, count yourselves among the lucky ones. This project was sanctioned by BTI head honcho Eddie Smith who also provided the master tape & as such making this 100% legit, i.e., NOT A BOOTLEG. Released in a one time edition of 300 copies.

Copies still available: Buy it here

Airport 5 - Tower In The Fountain of Sparks (2001)

Tobin Sprout and Robert Pollard were, at one time, one of the best songwriting teams in rock. Though they do capture some of the old magic this time around, the quality of the songs is just not as consistent as in years past. The two singles that were released prior to this LP, "Stifled Man Casino" and "Total Exposure," are both great examples of what the duo is capable of. They contributed to the already healthy buzz generated by this project, the first collaboration between Sprout and Pollard since the fan club-only Guided by Voices record Tonics and Twisted Chasers. Sprout's instrumentals sound as they ever did, eight track ablaze with guitar-laden three- or four-chord progressions in a moderate rock; occasionally great, they sometimes sound bleary. In turn, Pollard's delivery sometimes comes off sounding like drunken, forced enthusiasm. Thankfully, however, this album isn't all drear and indolence. The aforementioned singles are excellent, and the album's closer, "Remain Lodging (At Airport 5)," is as good as any of the more poignant tunes on Isolation Drills. Pollard sounds genuinely sad, relating a claustrophobic survival method: "It's hard to be a bird/in a flying house/it's how to be a drone/in a hive of women." Also noteworthy is the lovely ballad "The Cost of Shipping Cattle" and the jangle of "Circle of Trim," both of which are on the much more successful second half of the record. Perhaps the long-distance tape trade (Sprout recording the music in Michigan and Pollard recording the vocals in Ohio) made the songs suffer, or maybe the once-dynamic duo just needs some time to reacquaint themselves. It is true that Tower in the Fountain of Sparks sounds like almost any of the pre-Bee Thousand GBV recordings, and that sound alone is enough to inspire something in anyone who remembers it.

Dan Melchior und das Menace - Christmas for the Crows (2008)

Dan Melchior's career, post-Broke Revue, shifted to North Carolina and the fringes of the current garage/punk scene. He'd left a band, a life, and a struggle to be noticed amidst NYC's now-forgotten Class of '01 behind, as well as an unreleased double album that could have singularly launched him far beyond the middle rungs of the In the Red roster and one-time compatriot of Billy Childish and Holly Golightly. Sadly, that's not how it turned out; regardless, Christmas for the Crows serves not only as a comeback, but his finest album to date.

From the looks of things, it's just Melchior alone in the studio, every bit the songwriter he's always been, and approaching a level of world-worn sorrow and blind determination once mounted by Vic Godard, where gentle arrangements of Medway parlor-blues-folk rise up and float into the attic. I'm somewhat haunted by the fifteen songs here, as they don't leave my memory for days after playing this one through (and I have played it through far too many times, given the volume of submissions staring back at me every time I turn to the record player). It's the sound of folly and regret, and the realization that what you have around you is all you can use to get you through to the next day – love and regret, hand in hand.

Ron House - As New Wave As The Next Guy (1997)

Best known for his roles as frontman for seminal 1980s indie-retro-popsters Great Plains and 1990s noise rockers Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Ron House got his start in the late '70s and early '80s outfits Moses CarryOut and Twisted Shouts. New Wave as the Next Guy collects those bands' nearly impossible-to-find early recordings, several of which were previously available on House's cassette only Blind Boy in the Backseat release on Old Age records. House's distinct vocal style, a bit nasal with a tendency toward tantrums, and bitter wiseguy lyrics evoke one of two reactions from listeners: vehement hate or total adoration. Sure, the initial reaction may be shock or confusion, but it very quickly melts into one of the two others, there is no middle ground. Lo-fi and recorded live at various Ohio State University-area venues, the songs have a ragged quality, but it works well for the songs with darker lyrical tones, among them "New Maps of Hell" and longtime House (and later Great Plains) staple "Chuck Berry's Orphan." Worth the price of this record on its own, on "Chuck Berry's Orphan," House's vocals tear through the listener with lines like "Hey Captain, it's been a bad night/My best friend was shot on sight." In all, New Wave as the Next Guy should serve to complete the collections of House fans, but moreover it is interesting enough to warrant the interest of those less familiar with his work and serve as an introduction to his unique musical vision.

The Clean - Mashed (2008)

Featuring cuts from the band’s March ’07 Bangers & Mash Tour with several thousand keen “Cleaners” in attendance, Mashed captures all the triumphant madness – so whether we were there or not, we can all enjoy David Kilgour’s reverberant guitar echoing above the furious and distinctive rhythm section of brother Hamish and bassist Bob Scott. Mashed was recorded and mixed by Tex Houston, and features classics like Point That Thing and Anything Could Happen, along with a brand new song and even a cover of the classic Lou Reed track I Can’t Stand It!

Red Krayola - Coconut Hotel (1967)

As strange as the Red Krayola's debut album was, their proposed follow-up, Coconut Hotel, was far stranger. This all-instrumental recording was more appropriately classified as twentieth-century avant-garde music than rock, and was rejected by International Artists for release in 1967, finally seeing the light of day on Drag City in 1995. All power to the Krayola for doing things their own way, but it's not hard to understand International Artists' reasoning. This has so little commercial potential that it makes Zappa's Lumpy Gravy sound like AM radio fodder. Dissonant exotic plucked strings, spooky organ clusters, 36 (yes, 36) "One-Second Pieces"--these are not tunes that you can hum, by any stretch of the imagination. Some acoustic guitar pieces bear the influence of John Fahey (with whom the Krayola recorded some unreleased material around this time). It's totally uncompromising, and rather wearisome, to be honest. It's like nothing else that nominally "rock" groups were doing in 1967, but it's not nearly as interesting as their official releases from the late '60s, which had at least a few loose ties to conventional song structures.

Nurse With Wound - Homotopy To Marie (1982)

Though Homotopy To Marie is the fifth album by Nurse with Wound, Steve Stapleton has said that he considers it the band's true debut because it's the first one he created by himself. Slowly created over the course of a full year's worth of studio sessions (Stapleton having booked one six-hour block per week for 52 weeks), Homotopy To Marie is no less unnerving and experimental than Nurse with Wound's previous albums, but it's far less chaotic. Stapleton created the album's five songs (four on the original LP; the 12-minute "Astral Dustbin Dirge," recorded during these sessions, was added to the CD editions) almost entirely through tape manipulation, artfully editing miles of audio tape into these lengthy dada-esque soundscapes. It may be more elegantly constructed, but it's just as difficult to penetrate. The opening track "I Cannot Feel You as the Dogs Are Laughing and I Am Blind" opens with a lengthy solo for random metal clanking that sounds like a drawer full of silverware being stirred with an axe handle and then fades into near-total silence for several minutes until a processed vocal wail wanders in, leading to an unexpected noise-burst climax that causes listeners to jump even when they know it's coming. The title track ("homotopy" is a mathematical term for the morphing of one two-dimensional shape into another, incidentally) consists of little more than gong crashes with occasional interjections of whispered voices, atonal violin-like creaks and other small and inexplicable noises. "Astral Dustbin Dirge" lulls the listener into complacency with a lengthy prologue of sounds resembling tape-manipulated whale song before a brief burst of cries and alarms then settles into possibly the most minimalist near-silence of the entire album. The 25-minute epic "The Schmurz (Unsullied by Sucking)" slowly builds into a symphony of feedback and electronic tones alternately droning at irritating frequencies and imitating natural sounds like woodpeckers and rainfall, like a more pastoral version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. After that, the barely 90-second "The Tumultuous Upsurge of Lasting Hatred," a snatch of tape rendered near inaudible followed by several seconds of pure silence, sounds like a lullaby in comparison. While hardly accessible, Homotopy To Marie is at least generally comprehensible in its structures and sounds, and as such one of the most popular starting points in the Nurse With Wound catalogue.

The Folk Implosion - Self Titled EP (1996)

The Folk Implosion has always been Lou Barlow's respite from his day job Sebadoh, and as such generally shuns the alternative rock trappings of that band to favor a more intricate sound. The first two songs (originally issued as the Palm of My Hand 7") are prime examples, his perfect balance of bubblegum pop and lo-fi murk on full display. The rest of the record, originally issued as the Electric Idiot EP, is divided between "traditionals" and so-called "experimentals." The traditionals are great pop songs that rank among the Folk Implosion's best while the experimentals are somewhat failed attempts at the avant-garde.

Red Krayola - God Bless The Red Krayola... (1968)

Far gentler than, though equally quirky as, their maiden effort, the Red Krayola's second album was a series of odd miniatures that, though far more restrained than Parable of Arable Land, was a much more solid indication of the direction Mayo Thompson would explore over the next few decades. These are less "songs" than stream-of-consciousness fragments. Thompson's wavering, quizzical voice intones disjointed but evocative lyrics that may appear to be non sequiturs. Odd time meters and musical shifts do their best to defy conventional rock song structures. It's not very poppy, no, but if the description sounds foreboding, be assured that as experimental rock goes, it's far warmer and friendlier than the norm

Folk Implosion - Take A Look Inside (1994)

With 14 songs whizzing by in 22 jam-packed minutes Take a Look Inside is just a lo-fi blur on the first few listens. But eventually the great songs stand out, and it becomes clear that this short-form approach to songwriting suits Lou Barlow well. So instead of the rip-off one would expect from a 22-minute full-length, Take a Look Inside stands as one the Folk Implosion's best releases. By limiting each song to three minutes, Barlow and bandmate John Davis reign in their stranger "freak-out" tendencies, exposing a cache of pop gems. So it's worth wading through the murk of "Spiderweb-Butterfly" to get to the serene "Had to Find Out," or the drone of "Boyfriend, Girlfriend" to reach the superb trio "Shake a Little Heaven," "Waltzin' With Your Ego," and the funky "Take a Look Inside."

Robert Pollard - Waved Out (1998)

The very idea of a Robert Pollard solo album is a bit bizarre, considering that he is the sole artistic force in Guided by Voices and is able to explore all of his ideas within that context. That, of course, doesn't make his solo records any less enjoyable -- it's just a little puzzling why he feels the need to bother distinguishing them from GbV albums -- especially since past and present members of the group appear on his records. Also, Pollard solo albums suffer from the GbV raggedness that is initially appealing but ultimately frustrating -- it's hard to pay attention once the endless, fragmented, British Invasion-inspired tunes begin to pile up. Waved Out suffers from all these flaws, but it also has some key moments of inspiration with gems like "Make Use", "Subspace Biographies", "Wrinkled Ghost" (recorded with long time partner Tobin Sprout) and the brief but memorable title track.

Circus Devils - The Harold Pig Memorial (2002)

Presented as a concept album detailing the memorial service of a Las Vegas biker named Harold, the sophomore effort by the Circus Devils forgoes some of the more abstract and fragmented experimentation of Ringworm Interiors in favor of more traditionally structured songs. Robert Pollard's patented vocal hooks are sprinkled throughout and vicious guitar solos courtesy of Tim add to the Devils' sweeping sense of barely controlled chaos (the fine solo that closes "May We See the Hostage" springs most readily to mind). The tone of the album remains dark and is again done on a grand soundtrack scale, but whereas Ringworm Interiors had a menacing, unsettling, perhaps David Lynchian feel, The Harold Pig Memorial has a more unifying, often suitably funereal (but still unsettling), musical theme woven throughout. Baleful organs spot the musical landscape, most effectively during the bookend pair "Alaska To Burning Men" and "The Harold Pig Memorial."

Those looking for the 90-second pop gems that Pollard has become known for will not find them here in full force, although prime hooks do show through -- as though briefly pulling their heads above the water of a turbulent psychedelic ocean. The refrain of "Last Punk Standing" rates among the finest moments here, though the more sinister passages of "Pigs Can't Hide (On Their Night Off)," and "Exoskeleton Motorcade," the strangely primal ravings of "Saved Herself, Shaved Herself," and the genre-defying rock of "Bull Spears" and "Do You Feel Legal?" are appealing in that they are so far removed from Gem/GbV's usual pop/guitar rock romps. The creepy, one-man-radio-play of "The Tulip Review" is at once unsettling and amusing (as the background noises give the impression that Pollard is in a room full of people gabbing, but has moved himself to a lonely corner to record his vignette).

The Circus Devils are the sound of three musicians escaping the orbit of their other, more traditional, outfits and while the results aren't always easy to get a handle on, the challenge of the listen is half the fun, and the listener truly doesn't go unrewarded. Perhaps this is what happens when mild-mannered indie-rockers take bad acid and listen to too much Devo, Captain Beefheart, and beat poetry. Dig it.

The Dead C - DR503b CS (1989)

Extended takes of your favorite DR503 tunes plus extra tracks also recorded during the same era. This was released on Bruce Russell's own Xpressway record label. Highly recommended stuff and the perfect addition to your ever growing Dead C collection.

Axolotl - Plane of Partials CS (2007)

Predictably mesmerizing and sublime patchwork of drifting vision fog from Karl Bauer’s faultless violin/electronics alias. Hard stuff to describe, and even harder stuff to stop listening to. The A side is perhaps a bit more erratic, with some sharper sonic/tectonic shifts and evolutions, but the composition is always exquisitely paced so as to never break the slithering drones’ bath-trance brain vice. But the B is the manna from heaven’s gate cascade…steam rising from a holy skull on an emerald mountaintop in the center of a sacred isle. Impossibly beautiful and endless. No wonder the edition of 100 sold out in six seconds flat.

-Cassette Gods

Blues Control - Riverboat Styx CS (2006)

If one could hear the lineage between No Neck Blues Band and Excepter, it might sound something like the first few minutes of this tape. "Riverboat Styx" begins with the clicks of a drum machine providing the grounding for beautiful decaying lo-fi dance music. A harmonica’s honk signifies a logical switch to an outta site sludgy drone-blues/piano jam. Welcome to the world of Blues Control, a band comprised of the coolies who jam fantastic dissonant weirdness under the name Watersports. Like Ex-Cocaine, the band creates a sonic narcotic with a deconstructed classic rock template and loads of sludge guitar. This link is apparent on the downer proto-boogie of "Rolling Fog Blues." However, the band travels beyond the typical wankery of repetitive pentatonic jam and fuzz and strum layers into interstellar, genre-defying regions. Even when the song is repetitive, the band manages to keep the listener’s attention with hypnotic passages. A Tangerine Dream-aping set of sublime keyboard lines and a crashing wave of an organ drone wean the listener off the sound-dope. Riverboat Styx is an early sign of the band’s brilliance and a hint at the opiate tonalities to come in the future.

Blues Control - Snow Day 7" (2008)

It’s been a long wait, but finally some new Blues Control material has surfaced, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a holiday-themed record, if the sleigh bells on “Paul’s Winter Solstice” or the slight riff on “Jingle Bells” in “Snow Day” have anything to say about it, but even though winter will soon be over, these two songs fit squarely into BC’s expansive M.O., a striking balance between melody and ambience, showcasing a creative process that produces some of the most fulfilling and challenging sounds of our day. They’re my favorite band in NYC, and one of the few outfits who have never disappointed me in the live setting. Simply gorgeous, relaxed, sounds that float in and out, blowing lungfuls of green smoke on the lines between pop and art. 1500 copies, baby blue vinyl. Sub Pop Singles Club series – check eBay for yours.

Strawberry Alarm Clock - Wake Up... It's Tomorrow (1968)

For their second album, Wake Up...It's Tomorrow, Strawberry Alarm Clock built upon the solid writing and musicianship that inevitably carried over from the Incense and Peppermints project. In retrospect, it is baffling as to why they were relegated to the "one-hit wonders" file, as their most social and musically relevant statements had yet to be made. Stylistically, the material on this album vacillates between the lighter and pop-oriented sides such as "Tomorrow" and the stunningly agile vocal arrangements on "Pretty Song from Psych-Out" to the exceedingly ominous "Curse of the Witches" and "Nightmare of Percussion." Howard Davis -- whose spoken word narration can be heard during the latter track -- arranged some stunning vocal charts for "Soft Skies, No Lies," "Go Back, You're Going the Wrong Way," and the "future" section of the "Black Butter" trilogy. They are reminiscent of the tight harmonies incorporated by Harpers Bizarre or the retro New Vaudeville Band. Conversely, "Sitting on a Star," "They Saw the Fat One Coming" (which refers to the infiltration of Roy Freeman, a lyricist hired by the band's management), and the first two movements in the "Black Butter" trilogy reflect the group's mod garage rock roots. Here the band projects a more primal sound akin to People or the Chocolate Watchband.

Sonic Youth - Texas, 1986: Live at the Continental Club

Released by Sonic Youth through their fan club, this official bootleg functions as a wonderful document of the band's mid-'80s era just as they were beginning their slow rise to prominence in the underground rock scene. The featured show occurred on April 12, 1986, at the Continental Club in Austin, TX, where the band first debuted the songs from their EVOL album. The stronger songs from EVOL such as "Tom Violence," "Expressway," "Shadow of a Doubt," and "Starpower" show up here in beautiful fashion, making this live recording a wonderful supplement to the studio album. Since Sonic Youth's studio albums all tend to house a strange tone totally unique to that particular album, these raw performances have a much different feel from the original versions. Furthermore, the band plays a few of their older classics such as "Kill Yr. Idols" and "World Looks Red." Though you might finish this record hungry for more, its 11 songs stand as arguably the best artifact from the band's mid-'80s in terms of sound quality, surpassing Hold That Tiger, another well-circulated live album from the band's following tour in 1987.