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By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

UNDER THE RADAR

Don't be fooled by what you hear on mainstream radio. Plenty of compelling new albums, courtesy of edgy, independent bands, are out there.

The following is a roundup of some notable new releases and buzz bands flying under the radar. Check them out, then impress your friends with your musical savvy.

* * *

IMPERIAL TEEN, ON (MERGE) Imperial Teen's wildly fun third album, On, finds the band, comprised of two girls and two boys, including former Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottom, gleefully singing about boys and, well, boys. This is, after all, a San Francisco bunch. Tunes such as Baby and Teacher's Pet are about lust and crushes and are sung by everyone with charming faux naivete. Furious hand claps and start-stop tempos pepper the music, which is all New Wave angular and dance party-ready. On is one of the year's most fun and fine albums. A.

-- GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

* * *

FUTURE BIBLE HEROES, ETERNAL YOUTH, (INSTINCT) Stephin Merritt has a way with words. "I would rather put the mink on a rattlesnake/than be losing your affection," sings Merritt, better known as the busy leader of the Magnetic Fields, the Gothic Archies and the mastermind behind the 6ths, a revolving group of musicians singing his compositions.

With the Future Bible Heroes, Merritt has assembled a "supergroup" composed of singer Claudia Gonson and electronica-guru Christopher Ewen. The music is charming, literate and hilarious. Elastic, bubble-gum pop and quirky instrumentals populate the disc. Gonson's vocal delivery is upbeat and fun, but Merritt's staunch baritone is missed. His cabaret theatricality, too, would have been welcome. B-plus

-- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times staff

* * *

HEM, RABBIT SONGS (BAR NONE) Rabbit Songs is a striking debut, certainly one of the better albums of the year. Singer Sally Ellyson's voice anchors the album and resembles a hybrid of Sarah McLachlan and Emmylou Harris. Hem, a New York octet, etches lovely sonic landscapes with adroit arrangements. The band stacks songs with gushing strings, fluid guitar and piano. Rabbit Songs proves that folksy does not necessarily mean tumbleweeds and twang. Instead, the album sounds fresh, glistening with dewy emotion and a tranquil sense of longing. A-.

-- B.O.

* * *

THE LIARS, THEY THREW US ALL IN A TRENCH AND STUCK A MONUMENT ON TOP (BLAST FIRST/MUTE) Have you heard the huge buzz about the Liars, New York's latest saviors of rock? The quartet, on its debut, They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck A Monument On Top, will make sure you hear the buzz with its searing, playful punk rock. Buzzsaw guitars, hyper drums, and herky-jerky screaming from a 6'6" guy from Australia could give anyone a nervous condition, but pay attention and hear the clever craft behind each tune. Wait a minute, is the Aussie singing through a bullhorn? On every song? Ah, come on, get unglued, gramps, it's rock 'n' roll. B-plus

-- G.V.

* * *

MUM, FINALLY WE ARE NO ONE (FAT CAT RECORDS) Add Mum to the list of iconoclastic Icelandic musical exports. Like Bjork and Sigur Ros, the quartet from Reykjavik creates strange astral symphonies with tinges of electronica. Despite such comparisons, Finally We Are No One is innovative. It's no wonder that the band is making waves abroad, thanks to its numbing, oceanic mini-masterpieces. Many of the songs are instrumental, pulsating with repetitive string loops, a la Brian Eno, and elfin female vocals. Meditative and minimal, Mum's music will levitate listeners into higher states of self-awareness; close your eyes and it's like flying. A.

-- B.O.

* * *

ANDY STOCHANSKY, FIVE STAR MOTEL (RCA RECORDS) File Andy Stochansky under "sensitive male songwriter," but don't label him a newbie. Though Five Star Motel is Stochansky's first foray into mainstream rock as a solo artist, his resume boasts stints with greats such as Jonathan Richman and Ani DiFranco. On his debut, Stochansky lets loose his gorgeous falsetto; think Thom Yorke (Radiohead), but more lucid and emotive. Highlights include the sweeping Stutter and 22 Steps, a thoughtful love song. Stochansky could use work on his lyrics, but for now, his layered, lush compositions provoke enough feeling to forgive any pedantry. B.

-- B.O.

* * *

NEKO CASE, BLACKLISTED (BLOODSHOT) For years, alt-country underground goddess Neko Case has been wooing fans with her previous bands, the New Pornographers and Neko Case and her Boyfriends. With gorgeous good looks and a torchy voice that meshes Loretta Lynn's and Patsy Cline's, it's not hard for Case to find admirers. The strength of Blacklisted, though, is the tunes. The album isn't entirely downbeat, but the mood stays somber. Case's delivery is always passionate and themes revolve around loss. The melancholy Things That Scare Me won't have you kicking off your heels, but it will make your mind reel just the same. B-plus

-- G.V.

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