JAPANCAKES: If I Could See Dallas / Down The Elements / The Sleepy Strange

Led by guitarist Eric Berg, Athens, Ga.’s Japancakes began as an experiment: What would it be like to get a bunch of friends together and play a D chord for 45 minutes? The short answer: hypnotic. The long answer: Well, if there’s absolutely no rehearsal, you could roll tape, let Berg cut and paste to his heart’s content, then create something as gently soothing as 1999’s If I Could See Dallas, which shape-shifts through more than an hour of space-age, neo-psychedelic, ambient-country ragas. Japancakes spent that first album finding their signature sound: three parts drone and one part melody. A year later, Berg recut the same sessions for the harder-edged Down The Elements; in 2001, when the players reunited for The Sleepy Strange, they finally knew what they were supposed to sound like. The Sleepy Strange is as good as it gets, finding the perfect balance between mellow atmospherics and earthy post-rock. Bonus Material: None. [www.darla.com]

—Kenny Berkowitz

MARCO BENEVENTO: Invisible Baby [Hyena]

Those brought up in the rich tradition of the jazz piano trio, a style that once flourished in the hands of Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson and Cecil Taylor, might be amazed at where 30-year-old New Yorker Marco Benevento has taken the keyboard/bass/drums format some 50 years later. When playing live, he sometimes uses indie-rock melodies by Deerhoof and My Morning Jacket as launch pads for his kaleidoscopic excursions. The all-original material on his solo debut finds Benevento (also of the Benevento/Russo Duo) at his piano, armed with effects boxes that give him everything from fuzz-drenched guitar to wheezing prog-rock organ. On the stripped-down “Record Book,” Benevento likes to stretch and restate a keyboard motif rather than improvise over a set of chord changes. It’s a more haunting soundtrack than jazz as we’ve known it, but it’s no less fascinating. If the pure piano on Invisible Baby recalls the work of anyone, it’s the warm, cinematic style of Bruce Hornsby, but Benevento never sits still long enough for a close-up. “If You Keep On Asking Me” juggles dead-slow piano sections, daubed in Taylor’s advanced tonalities, with Sgt. Pepper-ish backward guitar (played on piano). Invisible Baby proves you really can arrive without traveling. [www.hyena-records.com]

—Jud Cost

Sons & Daughters: Appetite For Production

Glasgow wasn’t always bursting with great bands. Before Belle And Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand, it had been some time since the Scottish city put anything noteworthy on the musical map. Yet when Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson were growing up, Glasgow still had some credibility.

“Teenage Fanclub, Jesus And Mary Chain and Aztec Camera are the bands I really loved when I was younger,” says Bethel. “And Glasgow is so small, they were all from down the street.”

But when singers/guitarists Bethel and Paterson teamed with bassist Ailidh Lennon and drummer David Gow to form Sons & Daughters in 2000, they didn’t take cues from their indie-pop neighbors. Instead, Paterson found inspiration in rockabilly, early R&B and rootsy, greasy garage; Bethel’s lyrics were born out of similar stews: murder ballads, blues laments and noir narratives. While a current wave of American bands revels in the exoticism of Brit folk’s intricate fingerpicking and magickal mythologies, Sons & Daughters turn their gaze back across the Atlantic.

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STRAWBERRY WHIPLASH: Who’s In Your Dreams [Matineé]

As with most of the bands on the indie-pop Matineé label, it’s apparent that the C-86 movement was a huge deal to the members of Strawberry Whiplash. The Glasgow duo of Sandra and Laz, who also record under the name Bubblegum Lemonade, crank the fuzzboxes up to 11 and put as much reverb on the drums as humanly possible. This EP’s title cut has Sandra tossing out “ba-ba-ba”s while Laz adds the musical equivalent of cotton candy to the proceedings. “It Rains On Other Planets” is all tambourines and good vibes, while “My Day Today” has some of the best roller-rink keyboards since the first Soup Dragons record or early Talulah Gosh. [www.indiepages.com/matinee]

—Tim Hinely

Times New Viking: Let It Rip

As immortalized by Guided By Voices on “Dayton, Ohio 19-Something And 5,” the Buckeye State has inspired some of the greatest lo-fi and bedroom rock of the past two decades. But the members of Columbus’ Times New Viking—vocalist/drummer Adam Elliot, vocalist/keyboardist Beth Murphy and guitarist Jared Phillips—are getting a little bored with all the GBV comparisons. Despite the fact that his brother Kevin played in 84 Nash (a band on Robert Pollard’s Rockathon label in the ’90s), Elliot doesn’t cite GBV as an influence.

“Guided By Voices is definitely a reference, but musically I don’t think we’re influenced by them,” he says. “The way we create songs is similar to the way they create songs, just spending Saturday night sitting in your house, making songs with your friends. A lot of people mistake it as we’re trying to sound bad on purpose, but it’s more about recording the song three times after you learned it, so there’s still that freshness to it.”

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THE EVOLUTION OF A CRO-MAGNON: by John Joseph [Punkhouse]

Perhaps you’re under the impression that you’ve lived a full life. But have you slam danced to Fear with John Belushi during a Saturday Night Live taping? Have you peddled fake acid at a Yes concert? Did you survive mistreatment and sexual abuse at the hands of money-hungry foster families? Skip out of countless arrest warrants? Blaze pounds of primo weed with Bad Brains? Tough out juvenile jails, the Navy and Hare Krishna retreats? John Joseph has been through all of the above and much more, and The Evolution Of A Cro-MagNon is a tumultuous, 428-page chronicle. The former frontman for NYC hardcore outfit the CroMags imbues his autobiography with an unvarnished candor and gritty colloquialism that lend the narrative cinematic weight. [www.punkhouse.org]

—Raymond Cummings

BOMP! SAVING THE WORLD ONE RECORD AT A TIME: by Suzy Shaw and Mick Farren [AMMO]

This memorial to late Bomp! magazine/record label founder Greg Shaw (he was the man behind the Pebbles series) is second to none. It’s a labor of love put together by Shaw’s ex-wife Suzy and his friend, collaborator and author/musician Mick Farren. Designed to give the appearance of a scrapbook of Bomp! back issues, Saving The World celebrates Shaw’s longtime musical loves: garage rock, psych, glam, power pop and punk. It features record reviews by the likes of Iggy Pop and Lenny Kaye, plus amphetamine-fueled rants by the late Lester Bangs. Above all, it’s a treasure trove for anyone who ever found redemption in a cheap 45. [www.ammobooks.com]

—Neil Ferguson

Sound Check: Guilty Pleasures

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Chomping your way through a Big Grab of Doritos. Compulsive viewing of The OC. A deep, abiding love of chick lit. These are the guilty pleasures we take pains to keep secret, the embarrassing little indulgences to which we treat ourselves when we think no one is paying attention. Music is no exception: For all of your carefully selected stacks of rare vinyl or devotion to Sonic Youth’s obscure Japanese imports, you also have to admit you own a copy of Rush’s Moving Pictures. The following represent the best of rock and pop’s guilty pleasures from the last three decades—not in that hipster, irony-laced, sure-I-dig-Neil-Diamond kind of way, but albums that stubbornly remain in rotation despite all critical evidence suggesting otherwise.

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The Weakerthans: Fact Sheet

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Naming their fourth album Reunion Tour (Epitaph) is a small, self-deprecating jab for the Weakerthans. Though the Winnipeg quartet never stopped touring, its first three albums appeared in three-year gaps, and this one arrives four years after Reconstruction Site. When they can boast a lyricist like frontman John K. Samson, however, the Weakerthans have good reason to take their time. His carefully distilled character sketches are set to musical arrangements that display signs of tasteful maturity without abandoning their roots in short, sharp punk rock.

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Spoon: Fortress Of Solitude

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Spoon is America’s most unsinkable rock band, a juggernaut of near-flawless albums and iron-clad hooks. Behind it all is singer/guitarist Britt Daniel, alone with his broken heart, self-doubt and relentless pursuit of perfection. By Corey duBrowa

Why am I down here dicking around with my pedals? I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m killing the moment.

Britt Daniel genuflects before 2,500 or so fans, mere moments away from one of the most important sets his band has ever played. As he adjusts his guitar knobs in a last-minute effort to get the sound right, this is the thought roaming through his head. That and, “Are my father and stepmother comfortable?” (They’re out there somewhere in the frothy, capacity-plus crowd.)

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