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AstroPOP! for January 2006

Your monthly imaginary horoscope told in album reviews!


Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)
There is more to Capricorns than meets the eye. The first month we find out just how deep the proverbial waters run with you, winter baby, just like the listener will hear layers of keyboard melodies and drum machine burps and cool tiny riffs beneath the five songs on Matthew Shaw's lively yet polished Convenience. Every melancholy but madly memorable chorus is a keeper, especially on "Deadlines & Days Off" and "Quicksand." More than that, the EP has songs written out with sharp details about feeling creepy ("Today I have figured out that I am the asshole that plagues your life" from the anthemic "Quicksand"), romantic failure, selfishness, the whole dung-hill of "the hell that is other people" (thanks Capricorn Jean-Paul!). Fans of Grandaddy will love this, or anybody who likes delightfully-recorded bedroom tweak-pop.

Capricorn New Year Resolution: More coffee and Advil.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)
Famous Aquarians have included Susan B. Anthony, Lewis Carroll, Mozart and Mendelsson. You are not only talented, but humane, warmhearted, and a friend to those in need, just like the resplendently gorgeous new EP from Antony And The Johnsons, You Are My Sister. This is easily the best EP I've heard since the new Long Winters, and that's two classic extended plays within just a few short months. There's a spirit of heart-wrenching liberation and finger-lickin' pure imagination in each of the four ballads here, from the deeply moving title track (sung with the lovely, legendary Boy George (!)) from Antony's essential I Am A Bird Now (released last year), and three soul-kissed new slices of heaven, each a meditation on fathers or brothers or sisters. Does anyone love to sing, and sing so beautifully as Antony? How are arrangements so intricate and emotional as the middle-to final part of "Poorest Ear" somehow kept from a huge audience? Why not treat yourself to something (or someone) as delicious as this sweet teaser, Aquarius, to get through the chilly second winter month?

Aquarius New Year's Resolution: Tell your family (organic, imported, or hand-picked) that you love them.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
Consider the symbol of Pisces, two fish swimming in opposite directions. You are moving but you are also bucking the stream at the same time, Pisces. Your instincts are a little like the hilarious little quiet admissions of absurdity and awkwardness all over Red Pony Clock's self-released Red Pony Clock Presents: Tunes From Terrace Towers. Singer/songwriter Gabe's sweet, weary, jaded singing voice draws you through the schizophrenic melange of They Might Be Brian Esquivel Wilson Hippie Hate Fuck Candy Pop tunes. Through the bobbing and weaving anthems "It's Gonna Work Out Alright," "Nothing's Worse Than Being Uncool," and "Hayward Gurizz," the drunken horns, weird keyboards, and other odd acoustic instruments make a sort-of garage dub mess, never ending where you think it will be.

Pisces New Year's Resolution: Pick up your toys.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)
"I am drinking beer and I am cooking up my steak," sings SHIM on the opening track "Satisfied," and as mundane as that sounds, Aries, the tight riffing your life depends on is as tricky with the imagery as this band's lyrics can be ("I am climbing ladders, corporate they are not"). January should be a month to party in spite of the end of the holidays, and this is Martin Feveyear-recorded party rock with an atomic brain. The noted producer (Slender Means, The Hope) is rumored to have been interested in the band after hearing them after a live broadcast on KEXP's "Audioasis." You just never know where the body of one of these eleven songs is going to throw a punch or a kick next, even though all the limbs and joints are fairly well worked out already. The in-yer-face but melodic chorus of "Country Music" (which sounds like anything but) and the great shouted line "I ain't scared of country music, WHOAH!" is awesome. You're good at loosening up when you want to, Aries, and this is the sort of music you want to have around when planning to. (And plan to see SHIM January 14 at the High Dive!)

Aries New Year Resolution: Point your finger at yourself.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Taureans are strong, steady, systematic, and kindly people, but sometimes your kindness can be taken for granted, as inner beauty is easy to step on by poseurs. Portland's The High Violets are admittedly also using very recognizable rock forms with their elegant and sometimes breathtaking ecstasy-laced textures, recalling the glory years of staring-at-your-toes early 90s neo-psychedelic pop, but sounding as fresh as warm out of the oven hashish brownies. Kaitlyn Ni Donovan's perfect vocals melt through the Tony (Tahiti 80, Dandy Warhols) Lash and Jeff (Malkmus, Sleater Kinney) produced hallucinogenic batter whipped up by Clint Sargent, Aaron Overstreet, and Ben Nugent on the fluid guitars-bass-drums. They claim it took three years to cultivate this nine-song delight, and that seems reasonable, as "Chinese Letter," "To Where You Are," and "Love Is Blinding" will be popping up on mix CD-Rs for years. CMJ gobbled up the band's debut ("44 Down") and The High Violets have even been broadcast on the BBC. A remix album for this is already in the works. 2006 should be a tasty and intoxicating year for The High Violets, and for you, Taurus, as true character shines through in the end.

Taurus New Year Resolution: Treat yourself with respect, even when you're stoned.

Gemini (May 21 – June 21)
Gemini, you're a sucker for the shallow. Your heart's infatuations come and go and leave many hurt in your wake, no matter how responsible you are with other matters. You should take a tip this month from The Darkness, a band that wears its passions on its flowing silk sleeves. Their consuming desire for perfect glam-licked hard rock coated with red velvet production and made very distinctive by hilarious lyrics can be seen even in the sublime album title, One Way Ticket To Hell And Back. They're a dazzling musical outfit stitched from the working class pre-punk of Slade ("Hazel Eyes"), 80s hair metal bands ("Dinner Lady Arms"), and even the starker qualities of Ziggy-era artistes Be Bop Deluxe ("English Country Garden"). This dapperness can be deluding, as the funny lines are buried beneath a bed of note-perfect riffing and coy 70s rock radio stylings. So fire up the gong, turn this on while you watch your Freaks & Geeks DVD box set, and try to forget those stupid rumors about rock album sophomore slumps, as the Darkness has transcended that passed along notion.

Gemini New Year Resolution: Get back too yer haus and listen to your heart's synthesi
zer!

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
"Sing you little fuckers, sing like you got no choice!" goes a line in one of the best songs Paul Weller has written since his days with The Jam, on his new, long-awaited full-length As Is Now. That song is called "Come On/Let's Go," and it's accompanied by thirteen other fast burning-mod-soul-funk-rock slices of dance floor bliss, which is exactly what you need right now, Cancer. The holidays were a burden for your sensitive soul, and January will come as a respite for your doggedness of spirit. This album is just as tenacious, spiritual, and ready with the fisticuffs as you must be now. Yeproc does it again, releasing one of the year's best records by a weathered but still utterly vital veteran. If you have been a little disappointed by the brunt of Weller's previous solo albums and have been holding out for another perfectly-matched soundtrack in the city, the acoustic guitars, organs, crackling drums, and bluesy vocals of As Is Now will have you hoisting pints and scouting the right yob for a brawl. Recorded at Oasis' Wheeler End Studio, recorded by Jan Kybert and engineer Joeri Saal Wisselord, responsible for the simmering collection of covers Weller released last year (Studio 150). Welcome back, Paul, you genius punter!

Cancer New Year Resolution: Get a cab, avoid the tube station at midnight.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
You're a forgiving soul, Leo, but you can be provoked by lassitude and indifference, and there are times the holidays bring out the feisty temper in you. That quick surliness is offset by the joy of watching a wonderful album-by-album analysis of the iconic Queen's 70s output, Queen: Under Review 1973-1980, a DVD that's sort of a video article from MOJO or Uncut about one of the world's greatest bands. Their glory years are adeptly analyzed by critics and music industry observers in everything from Freddie Mercury's Superman-like unique-to-rock showman's ambitions to Brian May's inventive and playful guitar playing, honestly exploring the band's big trip-ups and huge smashes equally. This is an interesting approach, more incisive and musical-analytical than documentaries you see on VH-1 — actually more comparable to the music geek wallowing of the best of the BBC musician specials. The DVD offers fantastic live footage of their bombastic early years, up to their suave hot funk and new wave inspired period, featuring rare footage and awesome performances of "Killer Queen," "Stone Cold Crazy," and "Don't Stop Me Now." That ought to tame your prideful rage, Leo, as you watch Freddie shake his fabulous ego-mane for the loving cameras.

Leo New Year Resolution: Continue to be well-versed in etiquette; it hides the man-eating side of you very well.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
You can become prominent in several careers at once, Virgo, without even intending to, your retentive brains analyzing data like a computer. But this doesn't mean you're not creative, as the way you process information ends up making it more than the sum of its parts. Just like His Name Is Alive on their striking new album Detrola, featuring the confident and grooving vocals of Andrea and some other sistahs, mixing wonderful 70s music like Carol King and the Carpenters with 80s techno, 90s shoe gaze noir, and upcoming dance and trance sounds being invented as the endlessly-inventive album plays. A fixation on pyrophilia and the mysteries of night play out through the songs as His Name Is Alive reinvent both electro and pop, coming up with a quiet brain-burst of an album, steeped in sound sculpture ("In My Dream"), tone-poetry ("Your Bones'), and traditional song-craft being futurist bent ("Seven Minutes"). This is a perfect example of how micro-managing ideas can develop deep dreams with no hope deferred, delivering an album as evolutional as anything Brian Eno ever produced.

Virgo New Year Resolution: Burn down the house.

Libra (September 23 – October 23)
The Libran scales are based on the ancient Babylonian belief that the stellar constellations will judge the living and the dead. The weirdness of this condition causes you to strive for balance in the midst of chaos, Libra, and that sort of struggle is heard in TsuShiMaMiRe's terrifically schizoid disco-rock monster mash Pregnant Fantasy, a nines-song slab of chromosome-damaged dance floor thrash from three Japanese women who rocked the Three Imaginary Girls-sponsored event of the Rockrgrl conference at the High Dive back in October. Personally endorsed by the Buttersprites' Haruko last we spoke, Frankenstein spazz-pop tracks like "Tea Time Ska," with Cure-like bass-lines and Nina Hagen space funk rhythms and screams and spoken passages and cookie monster growls, are irresistible. It'll probably be awhile before they're back to rock Seattle, so order this CD before it takes off to some distant galaxy.

Libra New Year Resolution: Take more pictures of your friends.

Scorpio (October 24 – November 21)
Your duality may cause you to postpone focusing on your main career, Scorpio, so a turning of the year is a good time to focus on work and not all the assorted angles you could be making. Then again, you could drop some mushrooms and blow the whole thing off with Elekibass. On Welcome Wonderful World, they celebrate the new year with an insanely funny, retrodelic, utopian party-vibe based in strawberry field-flavored sushi-slivered parts of Magic Mystery Tour and the happier side of some Ralph Records bands. Superbly played and recorded, this Japanese band just wants you to clap and sing along to the psychotically catchy "We All Live Happily Together," "Almanack," and "I Don't Want To Clap My Hands." Probably shouldn't have been sung in English, but that unintentional humor adds even more charm to the giddiness. This is music your stomach makes after the pain of the strychnine has been absorbed by the laughter of your friends. Another great record from Happy Happy Birthday To Me!

Libra New Year's Resolution: Remember, the best drug dealers are cops.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)
You're a hard worker, Sagittarius, but tend to marry on impulse and develop habits to justify your impetuous ways. Cast King sing bloodied lover's creek folk songs and originals on the dark but delightful Saw Mill Man, a collection of a dozen songs saturated with rural-blues verisimilitude that should be all over the airwaves instead of the classic rock with faux Nashville twang that they call "country." The economic despair of the title track, the jaunty tramping of "Long Time Now," and the timeless bitter lamentations of "Wino," will never fail to charm real lovers of song. And that's just the first three songs. Do you love lines like "I gave her a big fancy car with a built-in bar but Rose loved another man?" Then get this. Also in the same vein is Go Contrary, Go Sing an expertly chosen, limi
ted pressing collection of old school grizzled punks picking up hollow-bodied axes and singing their heroin and whiskey saturated hearts out. Joey "Shithead" Kiethley from DOA does the frisky and fightin' "You Won't Stand Alone," best protest rock since Phil Ochs fucked up the man. Mike Hudson and Cheetah Chrome are here, too, doing an affecting "3000 Miles From Home," sounding awesome and full of fire, as well as Sab Grey from Iron Cross, Vic Bondi, and Joe Pop-O-Pie and Klaus Flouride. Seattle acoustic punks and veteran Ave rats should be all over this thing. This was smartly assembled by 34-year-old Rich Stemme from the excellent Brooklyn punk band The Deacons, and crusties and Wobblies and anarchists alike should be ordering it pronto. It's a labor of love, an obviously loving tribute to his heroes, and I wish I could say the same about more multi-artist compilations.

Sagittarius New Year Resolution: 40 ouncer, kill a bouncer!