There are a lot of great bands out there floating under the vox populi radar,
and they're not getting airplay, and they're not getting a major deal, and
they're not getting on the soundtrack to Scream 16. They're not on TRL, they
don't dance in pyramid wedge formations and their manager isn't some fat loser
from Orlando named Lou. But dammit, they are making great music, and they
deserve to be heard. So how do you find them, when there are thousands and
thousands of bands all over that fifth dimension we call cyberspace?
Welcome to The MP3 Files.
Our agent will comb through the nooks and crannies of the Internet, turn over
rocks, wade through bombastic "sounds like" claims and bring you back dossiers
on some truly worthwhile artists who deserve your attention. If you like what
you read, you'll be able to follow the link to use your ears as well as your
eyes. Most of the bands will have product available at reasonable prices, and
you just might find some artists who worm their way into your "favorites" pile.
When possible, we'll attach a direct link to an artist's website, but when in
doubt, travel to MP3.com and search by the artist's name. Artists profiled in
The MP3 Files have willingly made their product available for download in the
hope that you'll like what you hear, and if so, you'll act accordingly. Many
acts also sell their music directly, or provide their product at a deep discount
at sites like CD BABY.
Normally our pop detective shares five case files with you. But it's the Holiday
season, so in keeping with the spirit of giving, here are TEN bands to dig...
Case File 031
If you're wondering what a Pookey Bleum is, the band has beaten you to the punch
with the aptly named "What The Hell's A Pookey Bleum?" from their Lo-Fi Rainbow
album. And if that doesn't answer your question, may I add the following: they
sound exactly like you'd expect a band with a goofy name to sound. Imagine
10,000 Maniacs sharing a tour bus with Hootie and The Blowfish and deciding to
write songs to amuse themselves between gigs. Songs about groundhogs. Songs
about going to Wilmington, Delaware. Songs about hoping their record is a hit
("who can I pay/or give lots of head/to make sure my record/doesn't end up
dead?"). Aaron Hefley and Melissa Sorbo have the kind of slightly-off vocal
harmonies that either give you goosebumps or drive you nuts, depending on your
taste in bands. If you like Blind Melon, you'll probably go gaga. If you need
more structure, stay away. But you better hurry up, because the rumors have them
disbanding at the end of the year.
Case File 032
The Third Degree
Out of all the bands in this group, Third Degree is probably the closest to
"where have these guys been hiding" status. They seemingly have it all - the
looks, the chops, the songs and the attitude. If you like Marvelous 3, get your
checkbook out and buy Radio 7 immediately. "Maid Of Honor," "Beginning To Think"
and "Leave Yourself Behind" all have that radio-ready, roll-down-the-car-windows
punch to them. Big drums, big guitars, breathy-yet-booming lead vocals, picture-
perfect harmonies...have I used enough hyphenated words yet? Even their ballads
and mid-tempo songs have power to them. "Headlights Pass" rocks, "Any Other Way"
proves they know their way around clever arrangements, and "Anyway I" shows they
can float a tune longer than three minutes. John Paul Johnson writes all the
songs and sings them, his brother plays bass; the quartet is rounded out by LA
refugee Aaron Johnson (apparently no relation) on guitar and ex-Bostonian Adam
Blake on drums. They're young, they're rocking, and according to their website,
they're heading for New York City. Probably to kick The Strokes' ass.
Case File 033
Woodland Hills, CA
Mature, polished music just like the name suggests. Listening to two of their
albums gave me a good cross-section of their flavor, which seems tailor made for
adult alternative radio. The oddly named "Corporate Charts," which kicks off
their self-titled release, sounds like a Gin Blossoms outtake, while "Better"
would sound great next to a Semisonic track (as would "Just Go," the best track
on their follow-up record, Isn't This Your Life?). Overall the second record is
stronger; "Tragedy" is a sweet midtempo opener, "Feel Me" and "Handful" rock;
"Simple Connection" and "Once In A While" are poppy and fun. "Abigail," for some
reason, is on both records; although it boasts an offbeat tempo and good
arrangement, Dada throws away better songs than this. It's not that the material
is bad - it's not. But, like many bands, I'll bet Pro took their club favorites
and decided to put them on the record. While they probably go over in front of
loyal fans, they just don't stand out when listening to a full album. They have
enough good material to show me that they could take a large step forward if
they learn to be more selective when compiling a track list.
Case File 034
Virginia Beach, VA
Spoiler's self-titled album kicks off with a hell of a one-two punch. "This Love
Is Going Somewhere" is a perfect blend of teenage power pop and a more mature,
mainstream sound (you know, the kind of stuff radio says it wants?), and "Hope
To See You There" made me immediately wonder what The Rubinoos were doing. But
that's when the record starts to splinter into several very different
directions, despite one person - vocalist Brandon Kuptz - penning all the
tracks. "Holy Fire" rocks, but it's nothing that special, and "Acquaintence"
(their spelling, not mine) is a pedestrian ballad with a trumpet solo. "Found"
is pretty morbid, period. If they're not going to play pop (their strength), I'd
prefer the humorous songs like "Talk To Much" (okay, so it has some "na-na-na"
vocals, sue me!) over something like "Kerosene House," which stretches a
metaphor into a song. Saved at the end by an ambitious closing track (the
reggae-flavored "Out Of The Darkness") and one of the funniest hidden bonus
tracks I've heard yet.
Case File 035
East Randolph, VT
Great production throughout the record makes every element of American Postcard
shine. The band members are solid, talented musicians and boast strong vocals;
when the material is as strong as the bouncy kickoff track "Stuck Inside"
they're a pleasure to turn up loud. Although they occasionally sound like they
could be time-travelling from the MTV 80's ("Smell The Fear," "Wounded"),
uptempo rockers like "All American" and "Postcard" could sit alongside the work
of bands like American Hi-Fi and other Weezer/Blink 182 alt-pop bands with ease.
"Rift" is a guitar showcase with a twist, somehow calling both Metallica and
Rush to mind. Overall, there's enough guitar wanking to attract rock fans and
enough imagination to keep their interest, too; "Awkward Girl," for example,
rides a great bass line like a tightrope. Two hidden bonus tracks are also
included; besides the brief "Peach's Regalia" (yes, I get the reference),
"Breakdown" sounds almost like Kansas finding their way into the 21st century,
and might be one of the record's strongest tracks. While nothing here screams
"hit record," bookmark these guys for the future.
Case File 036
St. Clair, PA
What's unusual about Don Hosler is not that he's a drummer who writes songs,
it's that he doesn't sing them. Hosler's Boardwalk Of Broken Dreams is a
showcase for his lyrics and collaborations with other musicians (who he co-
writes the music with). Because this is a musical smorgasbord, it also ranges
from good music to interesting to songs I will never play again, depending on
who is involved. Hosler is solid throughout, and two standouts are vocalist and
guitarist Chuck Clancy and guitarist Eric Lacovara. "Give It To Ya Straight,"
the opening track that initially caught my attention, smokes from the first note
and features both axemen. Clancy also sings on a few other tracks, and even when
the material is ordinary, his vocals lift the song a bit. Unfortunately, some of
the other vocalists are barely passable. When Hosler shines its on tracks like
"Halfway Over The Wall" or "Somewhere Down The Road;" uptempo rockers that may
lean a little too much towards arena metal but at least have some teeth to them.
The slower songs, although obviously very personal to Hosler, just don't
translate well. It looks like Hosler has a few friends with the chops to match
his drumming skill - I hope next time he really cuts loose and shows me what
he's capable of.
Case File 037
New York City, NY
The Badge is just one vehicle for the multi-talented Jeff Slate, whose work will
soon be found on a tribute to Paul Weller along with his own new material.
Digital Retro is a pretty good showcase for his material, as well as being a
clever title. For along with some Revolver-era Beatle sounds on tracks like "Mr.
Destiny," the opening "Watching Rainbows" sounds like Dwight Twilley having a
crack at George Harrison's "Wah Wah." Pop psych abounds here; "Guthrie Palace"
is another winner, while the epic seven minute closer "Unfinished Business" even
throws in the backwards masking. The cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What"
(mistakenly listed here as "No Matter") gets a heavier interpretation than
usual, heavy on the bass and organ rather than the power chords. "Love Is Gone"
is the requisite ass-kicker, one of several places where Jon Spurney's
guitar playing is a more than tasty feature. This CD will get plenty of replays,
and Slate is a musician to keep a close eye upon.
Case File 038
Colorado Springs, CO
When your album is called Singing To Ghosts and the artwork is all from the
Library Of Congress, you're running the risk of getting stuck in the Americana /
Alt-Country bin at the record store. And while the Lazy Spacemen don't subscribe
to that movement per se, their music does invoke a heartland atmosphere,
especially in the tone of Chuck Snow's vocals and the interplay of the
guitarists. This eight-song record clocks in under thirty minutes but offers a
couple of strong pieces in "Your Pale Face" (probably the most compelling song
on the collection), "Shine" and the oddly-titled "Fishdriver." Mike Amend chips
in some solid lead guitar and at times I imagined that if The Alarm were from
the Midwestern United States, they'd probably sound a lot like this.
Case File 039
New York City, NY
Brooklyn's Mint crams about as much punky power pop into forty minute albums as
you possibly can; at fourteen songs per, that's under three minutes a song. Of
course, I could have counted "Also Sprach Zarathustra" off American Style as a
fifteenth track, but if I didn't do that for Elvis, I'm not doing it for John
Nickles. Mint's self-titled CD was built around Nickles and bassist Chris Shea;
they have now apparently settled on drummer Louis Maiolica after trying three on
the first record. Although listening to John's voice may call to mind The
Smoking Popes, the band is more akin to Green Day, especially on songs like
"You're So Attached." Most times you listen to thirty songs from a band it's a
hit and miss affair, and this is no different, but there are enough strong songs
to recommend taking a chance here. "More" has a wisp of early Who in it; "Like
It That Way" is from the Myracle Brah camp; "Love Letters" and "Hideaway" are
great power pop tunes, and "Pierced And Tattooed" is funny as hell ("Do I gotta
be bleached and dyed/just to be by your side..."). "Following You" and
"Goodnight Forever" proves that the band has the chops to pull off the requisite
acoustic song and piano ballad, respectively. Bonus points for dragging
Madonna's "Into The Groove" through punk mud with jackboots on.
Case File 040
Bastards Of Melody
Jersey City, New Jersey
You just have to love a band that takes its name from the title of a Love Nut
album. Like the name implies, this is chock full of guitar oriented rock and
roll. Fun Machine was produced by ex-Bongo (and current Ian Hunter sideman)
James Mastro, while lead singer Paul Crane writes most of the material. Their
collaboration usually results in punchy and infectious head-bobbers like "Join
Me" and "Anything But Fine" (supported by a little cheesey organ in the
background). Yet "Fascination" is jazzy, and the acoustic guitar-based "Not Me"
would appeal to fans of bands like The Jayhawks. Although "Vibe" echoes "Another
Girl, Another Planet," having that close the record along with "Hopin' I Might
Die Instead" is a fairly weak move after the funny "Media Queen" and the balls-
out Stones rawk of "Billy On Guitar" (yes, it's about guitar player Billy
Zafiros). I'll be curious to see what they become, because they have talent and
obviously shine when the material matches their energy level. I'll bet they can
floor you live.
The MP3 Files, Bill Holmes' occasional column for COSMIK DEBRIS, will bring more
exciting, deserving artists to your desktop! If you have some suggestions for
overlooked artists who deserve some attention, drop Bill a note at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Even a good
detective appreciates a solid lead now and then!