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I don't receive CD's in the mail. No one's hunting me down, shooting freebees my way in hopes of good copy from this esteemed critic. I must hunt down music with my own money, then shout my opinion as loud as I can type. It's costly, being self important. So how do I choose where to send my valued money? The same way I'm assuming most of you do. I read record reviews, get excited about them for five seconds, then forget them. Three months later, I'll see some familiar name in the discount bins, and think, well, I read something about them. Was it supposed to be good? I'll find out.

Death Cab For Cutie
Something About Airplanes
7,103 out of 10,000

This band has a new album (We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes ) out I'm curious about. Sometimes I'll check out a group based on earlier, cheaper albums, to see if I'm interested in their sound and if I want to get into their catalogue. Perhaps I'm depriving myself by listening to lesser castoffs when I should go for the apex. Perhaps The Panoply Academy Engineer Corps has a great record; I'll never know, having bought The Panoply Academy Glee Club and deciding they stink. I got into The Make Up this way, so I'll stand by the process until the desperate fools start sending me music for free
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"I saw the scene unfold on a rainy Sunday" is how "President of What?" begins on Something About Airplanes, setting the listening vista. "President of What?" features a groovy organ, and disconnected frightened thoughts. Actually you can hit about every song with the "disconnected frightened thoughts" tag. Dreamy and downbeat, the Decabfuties, as I call them, create mood music for reflecting on blankness, while floating in a tub. It's easy to let the whole thing play through without noticing it. The music throbs and murmurs and no one musician calls too much attention to himself. If you do sit up and give it a good listen, you will be rewarded. Melodies and emotions float to the surface, as do subtle hooks, if hooks can be subtle. Perhaps they're magnets for a kid's play fishing set, and you have to be iron filings in order to be caught. There's a sad detachment, as the guitars march along searching for emotional resonance, which they do find, after a while. Benjamin Gibbard writes pretty, slow building songs that he sings in a wimpy voice that's less nasal than most smart alecs playing guitar pop. The band demurs to the songs, include standouts such as "Your Bruise" , set off by some high, not quite falsetto singing, and a curling guitar line, and "Pictures in an Exhibition", which chunks along at quicker pace than the mostly midtempo album. One listens for The Beatles, referenced in the band's name (The song the weird Blond Elvis guy sings in "The Magical Mystery Tour" movie, which is about as poor as they say) and one can find it, but where can't one? They're more independent than really Beatlesy bands. They're more of a Luna or Jesus and Mary Chain kind of band, really. Perhaps through adjusting to the soft timber of his voice, the listener may enjoy the album in continuity more than in some shuffle or mix tape.
While I may not pay full price, if I see "We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes", I'll get it.

Draco
Enter the Draco
3,278 out of 10,000

Draco enters with nice interwoven guitar lines, some dull samples and beats, as girlish Japanese singer Mima chants passionlessly about funky sounding things. Then track two, "If You Want To Mek It" reveals Draco's more straightforward sugarpop side. It's a little too straightforward, a little two sugary, and sounds too much like a lot of Alannissy girls on the radio today.

On "Buttercup" , not all the pieces fit together, laterally or linearly; the singer might have recorded her track acapella and some Tom Waits beat thrown behind it. A guitar and a chorus wander in from another room and steal the mic. No one knows each other.

First Buckaroo vs. Summer Alien is a bluesy country instrumental that sounds like its title. Pretty good mix tape filler. There are some pointless "Bonus Beats", then "The Slacker", wherein Mima speaks cutely over a riff (sample?) with a John Spencer feel. Not much else happens, including the chorus, so this is the best track on the album, which continues to grow more sugary and less interesting. "Lost in the Paradise", like most of the album, is mixed horribly. Some farty synths piggyback onto a folky guitar that can't bear the weight. Is this a folk singer who met the helpful producer? It wasn't enough help.

The Flaming Lips
The Soft Bulletin
6,125 out of 10,000

This was evidently some sort of touchstone album for 1999. A lot of gentle neo-psychadelia came out last year, and The Soft Bulletin smacked of more of the same, so I waited on it. Sure enough, the record immediately spills forth orchestras of thereminish strings (stringy theremin?), piano, an acoustic guitar in epic dynamics, with a disjointed story about competing scientists ("Race for the Prize"). It reminds me of the competition between public and private industry to decode the human genome. The rest of the album offers the same lush productions, in a very mature psychadelia, with much the same emotional impact. Not that the human genome isn't something to get emotional about, it just doesn't move me in song. The Flaming Lips are talented musicians who like to fiddle around with weird sounds but don't have much to say, so they sing about whatever they think might be important or weird or scientific. "What Is The Light" is subtitled "An untested hypothesis suggesting that the chemical (in our brains) by which we are able to experience the sensation of being in love is the same chemical that caused the 'Big Bang' that was the birth of the accelerating universe"

Such beautiful arrangements are built around Wayne Coyne's cracking voice, so thin and reedy one can get congested listening to it. One would think that the instrumentals, "The Observer" and "Sleeping on the Roof", being freed from the vocals, would soar into further adventures of sound, but they are both soundtrackish (in the bad sense, if that has any sense) and unremarkable, seeming to swell slowly towards a chorus that never arrives.

"Buggin" is where all the production turns to pop. More lush theremin-strings and layered vocals glide over another catchy melody, without some of the dynamic stops that slow up some other numbers. The metaphor is that love equals bugs. Of course, it doesn't, but what a great production. Very catchy. It's the best song on the album, though the whole thing is all quite pretty.

Neil Young(the voice and the orchestration), 60's Psychadelia, The Beatles and Brian Wilson(Beach Boys means Barbara Ann, Brian Wilson means Smile, or Pet Sounds, though Pet Sounds is much more subtle and less zany than Good Vibrations and it's unfinished brothers, which is usually the ambition for Brian Wilson wannabe composers) form most of the musical references. The orchestral hugeness, however, brings to mind The Who, with the sense of bombast mastered, of huge beasts of sound unleashed but never rampant. There are few horns, but the feel is Quadraphenic. The writing is not Pete Townsend caliber, unfortunately. The songs constantly call attention to themselves. The timpani drums and church chimes as on "The Spiderbite Song" advertise their own excellence, hyping songs beyond their own abilities. They're good songs, but they sound greater than they are. Repeating songs at the end of the album, as the Lips do with "Race for the Prize" and "Waitin' for a Superman" is a bad choice that really points out how this album needs to be an absolute classic to work, and falls short.

Van Morrison
His Band and The Street Choir
9,576 out of 10,000

His funnest album after Moondance, His Band is tight, with sterling, soul horns and the eclectic mix of bouncy R&B, soulful epic ballads, call and response rock and roll and Celtic...Celticness. I don't know, he's a Druid or something. Try not to sing along to "Domino", "I've Been Working" or "Blue Money" the first time around (how could you not, with lyrics such as "Doit doidy doit! Doit doidy doit!") and the rest of the songs on the second or third listen. This is a desert island album for me, so I had to snatch it up. Sometimes I regret getting old records I've had before, as they seem played out and unfresh, I'm hoping to hear something new, without having to hear some horrible bonus track. I'm so glad to have this one whirring along in my CD player, though. It's simple happy music bounces lightly, then brings it way down for such powerful slow. strange numbers as "Crazy Face" ("Ladies and gentlemen, the prince is late/as he stood outside the church-yard gate/polished up on his 38 and said/ I got it from Jesse James) and "Gypsy Queen" which he lays into with a sweet, sensitive falsetto. It seems as if, while one is singing along and dancing, Van the Man(And this is Van the Man, not Van the boring Christian or Van the Walrus Bluesman) has been slyly laying down a deeper sense of soul communication, which we must settle down and deal with soon, but each time it seems time for deeper reflection, he throws another fun jumpy blues number. Finally we get that moment with the two last songs, the Gospel "If I Ever Needed Someone" and his rumination on Americ, "Street Choir" which is like part of the name of the Album!

Buffalo Daughter
New Rock
6,180 out of 10,000

Is this the sound of New Rock? Probably. These girls make get a lot of cool sounds from synthesizers, samples and guitars. Chuggy guitars meet processed icing vocals on the title track. Huge monster rock drum rolls meet screaming synthesizers and a phone message on "What's the trouble With My Silver Turkey?", which is better than it's name. "Sad Guitar" sounds like Foghat (Old Rock, with some clunkily funky bass playing). Another Japanese band has hodgepodged seemingly all of pop culture in a way that will make you feel cool walking down the street with it in your walkman. There are many funky guitar parts and few words. Some of the lyrics are cute, but not too bad. To racistly subculture Buffalo Daughter, they're closer to Cornelius than to Shonen Knife.

Great Five Lakes is the pleaser, with peaceful acoustic guitar plucks away with some kittenish bloops while a synth solo worthy of Stevie Wonder plays overhead. The girls sing something about a summer daze in high, indecipherable processed voices, then punctuate the breakdown with some fine little Oomph's.
There's nothing quite that pleasing for the rest of the album, but The Buffters, as I call them, keep throwing different sounds out, mostly dreamy or funky. "No New Rock" sounds like Captain Beefheart whether by design or by an international music translation accident (Did you ever read "The Amazing Jumping Frog of Calvarous County" after Mark Twain had it translated beck from the French translation? Pretty funny. So Japanese rock is with its versions of the western sound, only much more beneficially.) Sky High sounds like a Stephenwolf psychedelic jam and "Jellyfish Blues" sounds like Air.

"R&B (Rhythm and Basement)" has some sort of newfangled technology sound to it, which I'll venture to call one of the thousand subsets of drum and bass. It has skittering beats. Skittering beats means drum and bass, doesn't it? Anyway, it's pretty dull, with the word "Basement" repeated ad nauseum. "Socks, Drugs and Rock'n'roll" is worse than its title, with long spoken parts that say nothing. There's a bunch too many little twenty second interludes, but on the whole, the album is new, and does rock, lightly.

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