Music » Bang und Strum

Beneath the Sonar

A round-up of non-major label music



Aimee Mann
Bachelor No. 2 (or the last remains of the dodo)
SuperEgo Records

Is Aimee Mann one of our greatest current pop music assets? Her newest release would certainly seem to make that argument. On Bachelor No. 2, Mann forewent the lure of the major label (the success of her material on the Magnolia soundtrack stirred up a lot of label interest), and did her own thing, a fine compact disc, now available in stores.

Mann's music is perfect in so many ways, reminiscent of some of the finest pop-rock writers (Elvis Costello, Beatles) and female singers (Dusty Springfield, Lulu), but, like Lyle Lovett and Richard Thompson, her songs are instantly recognizable as her own. Her achingly clear voice rings out with its resigned vitriol and heartbreak, sophisticated and precise, but not sanitized; like Costello, these songs are deliciously poisoned letters.

Musically, she writes songs which are slow- to mid-tempo, filled with hooks and musical tributes and gorgeous arrangements, understated and effective. Mann has matured, but not in the bad way. Though you will already recognize several of this CD's songs from Magnolia, they also fit snugly into this song set, creating an excellent sequence likely to render this a disc worthy of listening for years to come.

The Shazam
Godspeed the Shazam
Not Lame Records

P.O. Box 2266, Fort Collins, CO, 80522,

Fort Collins is the home of Not Lame Records, a label dedicated to keeping alive the power-pop sound. Among its recent releases is the sophomore effort by Tennessee band The Shazam. This playful CD has more in common with the early '70s Glam sound; you'll hear pieces of The Sweet and David Bowie; in fact, the band was named after an album by The Move, an early version of the Electric Light Orchestra, and an influence on these guys. Call it "Power-Glam."

All sorts of associations pop up here; there are little bits of Fountains of Wayne, Material Issue, Robyn Hitchcock, and even Wings-era Paul McCartney. Filled with time changes, complicated dynamics and harmonies, Godspeed is the musical equivalent of a puppy, hyper and clean and eager to please, and is thus irresistible.

Camper Van Beethoven
Camper Van Beethoven is Dead, Long Live Camper Van BeethovenPitch-a-Tent

P.O. Box 655, Athens, GA, 30603,

No, Camper Van Beethoven is not back. However, the guys have cooperated in making available this set of formerly unreleased demos, live things and aural experiments.

Originally from Santa Cruz, Camper Van Beethoven is known for the unique hybrid it created, combining rock with eastern European folk, before Worldbeat was even a twinkle in the eyes of record company officials. Picture Brave Combo with more humor and less polka. Camper Van Beethoven became a mainstay on college and alternative radio, before splitting up and spawning Cracker.

As with most of these types of releases, this one is perhaps for fans only (you know who you are). There are usually reasons for songs to not be released. But check out, for example, the orchestral version of "All Her Favorite Fruit," and perhaps you'll become a convert. For those of us who miss the beautifully silly anarchy of Camper Van Beethoven, this CD is a wonderful gift.

Bohemian National
Goodbye to All That Bohemian National

Rob Novak, with a little help from some friends, is Bohemian National. His odd debut, Goodbye to All That, is a funny and often delightful mix of things. Novak sings like Neil Young, and he creates skewed roots-pop that sound like Neil Young's folk music played as if it were rock music (which is significantly different from Neil Young's actual rock music).

Novak treads the type of hook-filled college-radio pop recently championed by Guided by Voices and Sebadoh, and formerly by bands like Dumptruck. He adds touches of country, and some oddball humor, as on "Connecticut Compost Pile" which is, apparently, a love song to Martha Stewart. This rather brief (8-song) CD showcases an artist with much promise.

Jupiter Affect
Instructions for the Two Ways of Becoming Alice
Eggbert Records

P.O. Box 10022, Fullerton, CA, 92835,

You may remember Michael Quercio from his days as castrato leader for the early '80s band The Three O'Clock. He is back with a similarly intentioned psychedelic pop band, Jupiter Affect. Instructions for the Two Ways of Becoming Alice is this project's debut CD, and it continues Quercio's world domination plan to win people over with the seductive sound of complex pop hooks. Highlights include the unabashed love song "Druscilla I Dig Your Scene" and the Beach Boys inspired "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz."

Los Otros
Radio Chon
Son Del Barrio Music

123 Townsend St. #315, San Francisco, CA, 94107,

If David Byrne were to join Los Lobos, the resulting sound might be very much like Radio Chon by Los Otros (the Others). From California, and having toured recently with Los Lobos, this debut CD, produced by Cesar Rosas, is filled with hard to resist, grooving Latin rhythms.

Though not as original or rootsy as Los Lobos, this disc is the perfect soundtrack to a summer party, the Latin-Jazz beat going full-tilt throughout. The title track features singer Chris Gonzalez Clarke sounding like Byrne with guitar work similar to the African sounds of Mahlathini and the Mohotella Queens. If you like the Iguanas, give Los Otros a chance. This is a promising disc from a band likely to get better as it discovers its own sound.

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