Don't let her minor keys and tormented lyrics fool you: Carina Round is one happy camper. The singer-songwriter has gained more than indie popularity, sharing the stage with the likes of Coldplay and James Brown. It could be her clever lyrics and surprising instrumentals that got her there. What captivates, though, is Carina plain and simple: her honest, lyrical voice, her soulful face and her decidedly un-showy stage presence.
The Disconnection, Round's second album, bares ugly emotion with grace. Even when Round screams into the mic, she and the music are in control. Her voice lurks low and bursts out, bleats and belts, all with a technical mastery uncommon among rockers. The music itself is playfully morose, brooding in time to experimental rhythms. Harmonically, though, Round is stagnant: Disconnection feels like one long, inconclusive song, arbitrarily divided into nine parts. This album falls flat, but the future is promising.
-- Anne Henochowicz
The Bull, The Balloon, and The Family
Delegating Reubens Accomplice to a genre as hopeless as emo -- as critics have for the young Phoenix band -- is a mistake. The Bull, The Balloon, and The Family, the band's second LP, avoids the usual emo pitfalls of excessive whining and retroactively calling out the popular kids from high school. Instead, the album relies on its earnest, heartfelt lyrics to paint a backdrop set by a wide range of instrumentation. At its best when the distorted guitars are given the back seat, Accomplice is capable of such pop showstoppers as "All Chorus" and "Underneath the Golden Grain." After the group matures as a band, Reubens Accomplice could become a name you'll hear quite frequently.
-- Jim Newell
Mahjongg's debut EP, Machinegong, seems to represent many of the flaws inherent to today's underground avant-garde. Jam-packing five songs with elements of post-rock, dance punk and electronica, the Chicago quintet, like many of its contemporaries, is ultimately too preoccupied with breaking ground that it leaves the music behind. While "Jamdek" has a smooth electronica vibe to it, the rest of the songs, especially the closer "Turf War," are experiments with too many variables. They ultimately collapse on themselves. Hopefully by the time Mahjongg settles down to its first full-length, its members will have learned to control their ambitions.
-- Jim Newell
Now It's Overhead
Fall Back Open
Moments of brilliance, moments of plagiarism. First, the plagiarism. The sonic character of Fall Back Open is trite and imitative; the densely layered tracks evoke a hundred other American bands trying to evoke ambient British rock. Overproduction buries artful songwriting, putting Now It's Overhead in danger of being labeled a "type-band."
Now, the brilliance. The songwriting itself is precocious -- drawing on REM and The Cure -- yet sufficiently original. "The Decision Made Itself" and "A Little Consolation" distinguish Now It's Overhead as a band capable of writing serious rock music. (Notably, these are the most sparingly orchestrated songs.) Who knows? Maybe the whole album is well-written, but you'd never realize it amidst all the electronic muck. Bottom line: Now It's Overhead needs to stop masquerading as Depeche Mode and play its songs.
-- Jon Levin
The Bloody Lovelies
Some Truth & a Little Money
This full length debut on Cheap Lullaby Records may not draw you in at first listen, but its genuine heart will make you give it a second chance. The lyrics, while not spectacular, tell a simple, honest story, often the classic tale of a love lost but not forgotten. The album maintains a clean, well-mixed sound with a tight rhythm reminiscent of '60s pop rock. Randy Wooten's lead vocals and piano playing easily conjure up comparisons to Billy Joel.
The album cannot, however, be reduced to a cheap imitation trying to cash in on "Some Truth and a Little Money." Like that of a good storyteller, Wooten's voice ranges from raspy and growling on "Star," to sweet and contemplative on "Lonely Town." Guitar and bass complement the changes in mood, while the drums frame the simple song structure. Soon enough, you'll find your feet keeping time with the music. The Bloody Lovelies are irresistible pop rock at its prime, proving that even a skeptical first listen will leave you humming their tunes all day long.
-- Jill Budd
With works ranging from the beautiful to the downright bizarre, Rasputina's fourth studio album solidly establishes the group as one of the most creative outfits in rock today. The band's signature, cello-filled chamber-rock adeptly carries lead singer Melora Creager's theatrical tales of infidelity, gender suppression and discrimination. Often, however, the album strays to ill effect, like on such throwaway tracks as "Wicked Dickie," the laughable story of the love between a man and his cow, and "My Captivity by Savages," an unbearable pseudo-autobiographical monologue detailing the capture of a colonial-era "nubile willing young white" American girl by "virile half-naked nomads."
-- Rafael Garcia