Hanger 18
"Power pop"...what is it anyway? 1-4-5's, harmonies, and girls? Catchy melodies, english accents, and fuzz boxes? I guess it doesn't really matter, not when you find an album as fun as Hanger 18's new one. The New Brunswick quintet employs all the right chords, tempos, and love-and-loss-lyrics on this brief, energetic set, and they ably execute hooks galore on the raved-up "Luster" and the mid-tempo, piano-embellished "You're Not Around." Okay, so Hanger 18 may not be the epicenter of the next musical revolution, but they do a damn good job of of carrying post-rock indie pop forward.
(Mike Doktorski, 3/01)

Hero Pattern

Cut You Out
Hero Pattern's debut is chock full of the sorta heavy, kinda catchy 'emotional' rock that's practically ubiquitous in indie music these days but has barely blipped the radar of a mainstream pop culture relentlessly steeped in corporate punks and thuggin' pimps. Nevertheless, nationals bands like Dashboard Confessional and Thursday as well as up-and-coming local acts like Val Emmich have found audiences for their particular brands of heart-on-sleeve music, so the kids in Hero Pattern might just be onto something. To distinguish themselves from the pack, this NJ quartet has focused on the fundamentals: metamorphasizing themselves (from a Budapest alumnus called Nebulous Thoughts) into a pro-caliber live act while also cultivating some well-placed industry connections. Musically (and putting this in a New Brunswick context), quite a few of Cut You Out's tracks bear an eerie resemblence to late period Bunt, juxtaposing complex rhythms and not-quite dissident chord progressions against the pop inflections of frontman Jason Kundrath's strident vocals. The light, breezy "Save My Soul" is the standout here, precisely because of (or maybe in spite of) its difference from all the others.
(Mike Doktorski, 11/03)

Houston McCoy
Musicians can either grudgingly accept or scornfully resent the locus of attention that lead singers command. But that's just the way it is, and (with a few notable exceptions) that's the way its always been. An unfortunate byproduct of this phenomenom is that many musician-oriented bands, especially those with metal and indie-rock leanings, often cut and paste sub-par vocals and trite lyrics on top of an otherwise awesome insrtumental mix. Sometimes this works…but mostly it doesn't. By contrast, NJ's Houston McCoy have neatly solved this timeless dilemma by ditching vocals altogether. While an instrumental-only album runs the risk of sounding incomplete, HM's compositions sound as though they were crafted with this framework in mind. Does it hold up? Sure...in the right context. I'd pitch these songs to movie soundtracks and the like. Houston McCoy approach music more like movie scorers, composing to some unseen narrative in their heads. An added seal of approval is that it was put out by the goodfolk of Ernest Jenning Record Co. of Brooklyn NY…the same guys who put out an excellent disc by Drew Iselib a few years back. (Mike Doktorski, 10/04)

Human Rhythm
Moment In The Sun
Human Rhythm's debut effort, Moment In The Sun, employs soaring vocal harmonies, virtuoso guitar work and sleek production values in evoking a pre-grunge pop-rock sensibility. This consistent 11-song should find an audience with those alienated by the fragmentation of musical genres over the past ten years. Human Rhythm is essentially a duo, led by lead singer and guitarist James Douglas and the multitalented Mike Zaffarese, a guitarist by trade who also produces and plays other instruments. Five different bass players appear on Moment In The Sun, but the consistent production values obscure the diverse personnel. Human Rhythm's sound bears a superficial similarity to early 1990's hard rock supergroups such as Mr. Big, Damn Yankees, and Extreme. However, their influences extend far and wide, echoing 1970s progressive artists such as Genesis and U.K., arena rock bands like Journey and Van Halen, and genre-busting fusion guitarists Allen Holdsworth, Pat Metheny and Jeff Beck. Human Rhythm incorporates its influences into a seamless, consistent wall of sound that stands alone as a musical statement. Douglass unveils a vocal style greatly improved from his Herbal Junkie days, instantly evident on the catchy opening track "Angel in my Eyes." "Pull Me Through" deftly alternates a funky verse with a power-chord driven pre-chorus, eventually segueing to a lushly harmonized chorus. "Moment in the Sun" features an intro reminiscent of Sting's "Fortress Around Your Heart," and a spine-tingling extended outro, which cycles through major and minor chord progressions evocative of late 1970's Yes and Genesis. Far from being merely a "musician's band," Human Rhythm offers simple yet eloquent lyrics written by Douglass. The songs are mostly based on personal experiences, but exhibit an uncanny prescience when they venture into social commentary and current affairs. Written in the summer of 2001, "Just Another Day" (not to be confused with the Jon Secada hit) eerily presages both the World Trade Center attack ("The laws protect the guilty as they plant their demon seed") and the Enron fiasco ("The Corporate axe is trimming, see the markets rise/Crushed in debt, a thousand mothers cry.") "A Better Life" explores domestic abuse while "What's Inside" is a thoughtful look at drug abuse. Moment In The Sun is a solid and auspicious debut, which improves with repeated listenings. Human Rhythm brings life to endangered music genres, and establishes a signature sound that augurs well for future efforts. (Eddie Konczal, 6/02)

Bite My Tongue
Originally formed by undergrad chums at the College of New Jersey, the four guys and a girl of Humdaisy forsake the feel-good power pop of their debut, Deflowered, for a noticeably harder approach this time around. While other bands in their position have seen bandmates' marriages, parenthoods, and overall domestic tranquilities reflected in the predictability of their chord progressions, Humdaisy, to the contrary, has witnessed its muse progressively infused with a healthy dose of darker influences, both musically and lyrically. The result is a very good album that should appeal to shoegazers and popsters alike. The band displays versatility, too, from the noisy neo-emo of "Starshine" and "Spring House" to the jazzy "None The Worse For Wear" to the haunting balladry of "Everything For You." While singer Pam Wilson has one of those heard-it-before voices, she knows how to sing, and the boys in the band (particularly the nuanced playing of guitarists Buck Rieger and Bryan McKenna) keep things interesting behind her. Overall, real nice job. (Mike Doktorski, 4/01)

Create A Movement
True eclecticism is a rare commodity indeed, especially in an industry in which an act's commercial viability is often measured by how well its music fits into an easily discernable (and thereby targetable) market niche. So it's real refreshing to hear a band that may not know what it wants to be…but truly doesn't give a shit. On its debut EP Create A Movement, In.Spite.Of deftly executes a wide array of influences (including but not limited to emo, hip-hop, funk, and nu metal) while the overall vibe is wussie-free enough that any self-respecting rawk kid can safely admit to liking it. Track-by-track, opener "More Than Nothing" (think Trustcompany-meets-RHCP) and the 1-4-5, reggae-tinged "Beautiful Insecurites" are the attention-grabbers, with the only criticism coming at the expense of the vocals…don't get me wrong, they're super fucking badass, but it's almost as though the adreneline rush style singing/rapping distracts from the layered, textured nuances in the music. I'd love to hear these songs (especially tracks 1 and 2) sung by Scott Weiland or maybe Shane from Nudeswirl. But that's just me…and its been awhile since I was 20 years old! (Mike Doktorski, 10/02)

Drew Iselib
Sounds Through The Wall
On the one hand, technology is a libertarian's dream, encouraging and enabling the realization of CD projects that are visually and audibly indistinguishable from those produced with seemingly thoughtless aplomb by the corporate conglomerates. On the other hand, this populist creativism undeniably contributes to the massive information overload that permeates our 21st century lives in (oh) so many ways. Not that there's anything wrong with that…especially with talented kids like Drew Iselib leading the charge. Written, recorded, and performed entirely by Iselib over the course of two years, Sounds Through The Wall quietly documents this 25 year old singer/songwriter's coming of age with little more than home recording gear, an acoustic guitar, and a whole lotta raw emotion. Touching on familiar but universal subjects including failed relationships ("8%", "Tore Your Hair Out"), nostalgia ("You Were A Song", "Orion"), and escapism ("Drinking Or Drowning") Sounds Through The Wall convincingy showcases Iselib's knack for catchy melodies and Yorn-esque storytelling, yet you can't help but think that the standouts here (especially the gorgeous "Matter of Time") are hampered a bit by the demo-like treatment of the recordings. With the right producer on board, Iselib has got the voice, the looks, and the hooks for a killer album. (Mike Doktorski, 10/02)

Jimmy Eat World
Bleed American
I read a story last week about how singer/guitarist Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World was asked, in something of an accusatory fashion, to explain the title of his band's new album. It's ridiculous, but it's also understandable, and it underscores just how dramatically our perspective has changed as a result of the terrible events of September 11. Bleed American, of course, has nothing to do with blood…or America for that matter, but it may be the finest rock album of 2001. This time out, Jimmy Eat World temper their emo roots with a classic rock sensibility and a major label recording budget, generously doling out focused aggression, but without the agro-nihilism of nu metal or the cliched bombast of the latest Creed single. Lyrically, Bleed American swings from heart-on-sleeve earnestness ("A Praise Chorus") to deliberate ambiguity ("Sweetness"), and Adkins' vocals blend and sway with the instrumentation…you can almost hear him making up the words right there at band practice. Bur the result rocks the suburbs like nothing else in 2001. In particular, check out 1-2-3 punch of "The Middle," "Your House," and "Sweetness" and hear the promise and the desperation of everything that rock n' roll ever aspired to be.
(Mike Doktorski, 10/01)

Inner Onwriter
Singer/songwriter Lanky explores neo-familiar themes of isolation, nostalgia, alienation, and ennui on nine sorta-catchy, sorta-acoustic tracks that would make it easy enough to lump Lanky into the overflowing Beck bucket of sensitive, hipster singer-songwriters. Genre aside, Lanky's greatest coup may have been to snag co-producer Wayne Dorell, whose subtle, distinctive flourishes and uncanny instinct for hit-record nuance pepper Inner Onwriter like the background vocals on a Def Leppard (or Shania Twain) record. But Chicago's Billy Flynn aside, you can only razzle-dazzle 'em so much…eventually the tunes have to stand on their own when half of what you do as a singer-songwriter is, well, songwriting. Inner Onwriter is sorely in need of a knockout punch, the kind of tune that makes you crave it like nicotine...opener "Aeroplanes" comes the closest. (Mike Doktorski, 5/03)

Little T & One Track Mike
Fome Is Dape
It's a unlikely story for sure. Two white hip-hop kids record an album in their Rutgers dorm room, and not quite three years later find themselves the center of a major label bidding war. Improbable…but not impossible, as Little T & One Track Mike demonstrate on their Lava/Atlantic debut. But luck aside, these guys are truly gifted musicians and entertainers, as evidenced on the impossibly catchy "Wings," "Sammy," and emphasis track "Shaniqua." Singer/lyricist/MC Tim Sullivan comes across like the freshest prince on the block, copping the rhythmic vibe of the 'hood but without the misyngonistic overtones…more like Dre meets Weird Al. Producer/programmer/multi-instrumentalist One Track Mike spices the beats like a seasoned pro, and sideman Shank Bone Mystic mixes it up with the tender R&B crooner "A Little More." Be sure to hang out long enough to catch hidden bonus track "Little T & One Track Mike Are Famous"…the very same version that originally appeared on The Underground's September '99 compilation CD.
(Mike Doktorski, 10/01)

Livingroom Legends
The "Livingroom Legends" are husband and wife duo Ken and Mindy Stephens, who hail from a speck on the map called Grovetown, Georgia and basically run a no-frills little rock n roll band in between taking care of their daughter and leading an otherwise normal life. No ambitions, no pretensions, nothing except the love of making music and a little local notoriety and Ken and Mindy are groovy, can you dig? Refreshing as hell if you ask me. Anyway, the music is what matters, and the vibe here is easy like Sunday morning: simple love songs tracked with a drum machine (no doubt in their living room), voices that blend extremely well together (the ambling, country-inflected "Whitney LaRue" is a total keeper), and sweet sentiment that in the end makes this well worth the detour. (Mike Doktorski, 11/03)

Livingroom Legends
Hearts & Bars

While NBU is by definition biased towards New Brunswick (NJ) bands, every once and awhile a great disc finds its way here from left field (or rural Georgia as it were) which merits or even compels consideration. Such is the case with the Livingroom Legends, a husband-and-wife duo from down south a-ways, who've just released their sophomore CD Hearts & Bars. A few things have apparently changed for the LLs since their 2003 debut Honeymoon (the package art suggests a recent family addition, for one) but thankfully, the downhomey authenticity of Honeymoon remains very much intact on this latest twelve song set. Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/husband Ken Stephens convincingly evokes the quintessence of red-state America through the lens of an uncanny knack for a great hook, bypassing the caustic aftertaste of political typecasting in favor of strummy, sun-kissed ditties about the simple, honest values that permeate lives where the days go long and the folks talk slow. Highlights include the peppy opener "Southern State of Mind" (though the ill-advised, sluggish alternate take really just emphasizes how much better the fast one is) and "My Life Right" - a countryfied snapshot of an honest man beset by earthly temptations. Done by poseurs from our neck of the woods, this stuff would seem forced or even calculated, but Ken and Mindy, God bless 'em, make these songs work in a big way. Shine on kids! (Mike Doktorski, 8/05)

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