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AstroPOP! for October-November 2003

Libra {September 23-October 22}
Death Cab for Cutie truly are indie rock's Hall and Oates: not only do DCfC possess both rock and soul, vocalist/guitarist Ben Gibbard's dreamy tenor is so unabashedly romantic that it literally spells out the M-E-T-H-O-D of modern love. Please listen closely, Libra: your usual balance is upset by love troubles this month, so having Death Cab spell it out for you can only help. On just-released Transatlanticism (Barsuk), the band understands your dilemma. The spaciousness of the songs betrays a hyper-awareness of the forces that keep lovers apart: time, distance, and longing—"where disappointment and regret collide/lying awake at night." Still, the music is heartening, not hopeless, and the instinctive, eye-for-detail charm of "Lightness" proves that Gibbard knows how to create the mood for a little one-on-one. And that's exactly what would make Daryl and John proud.
Your astrological Halloween costume: Attach half a blonde wig to half a curly brown one. Tape on half a moustache. You are simultaneously Hall AND Oates!

Scorpio {October 23-November 21}
You keep catching something out of the corner of your eye but you can never see it straight on. Your ears prick up at strange, disembodied sounds but when you turn your head toward the noises, there's nothing there. Your sixth sense is acting all crazy, Scorpio, and it's got you spooked. Give the otherworldly spirits a taste of their own medicine this month. Blast It Still Moves (ATOP), the new cd by My Morning Jacket to stop the haunting. The Louisville, Kentucky five-piece spikes its high-lonesome alt-country with a not-of-this-earth creepiness: guitars drip with reverb, ghostly vocals are multi-tracked to oblivion. When singer Jim James wails, "none of this is physical/at least not to me," he'll not only call out your demons—he'll send them packing. So don't be afraid, Scorpio… but do keep an eye on your liquor cabinet: the members of My Morning Jacket are so good at driving away spirits that they might also exorcise your bottles!
Your astrological Halloween costume: Take an old white bed sheet. Cut two eye-holes. Boo!

Sagittarius {November 22-December 21}
Your imminent career change might temporarily set you back in terms of status and income, but in the long run you're going to be a lot happier following your heart instead of doing what's expected of you. Indie darlings Belle & Sebastian sympathize with your job woes, Sag. Having taken chamber-pop as far as it can go, B&S confounds fan expectations on new release Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade). Veteran producer Trevor Horn (ABC, the Pet Shop Boys) seasons each song with a generous helping of 80's kitsch (check those handclaps and processed vocals on "Stay Loose"), and on occasion the new sounds prove hard to balance—the record teeters like a tray full of Denver Omelets in the hands of a knock-kneed newcomer at Applebee's. But B&S never drop that heavy platter: "Asleep on a Sunbeam" recalls the band's early co-op days, and in fact the vocal melody on "Stay Loose" is one of the strongest on the album. This month, Sag, let your heart lead the way, and soon enough your new employer will be telling you, "I want to give you the job/a chance of better pay/can you start today?"
Your astrological Halloween costume: Orange jumpsuit. Strap-on keyboard. Reflector sunglasses. Sure, video killed the radio star, but your Buggles get-up will kill the competition at the costume party.

Capricorn {December 22-January 19}
Your friend who refers to every fleeting fling as a "potential soul-mate." That co-worker who's constantly repeating "that does not compute." Your roommate's humorless analysis of "Newlyweds." Why is it that everyone—everyone!—is bugging the crap out of you this month, Capricorn? It's time for you to get some perspective so you can simmer down. Listen to the reissue of Trust (Rhino) by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. By the time this watershed 5th album was released in 1981, no one had bugged, bitter, and bothered nailed more than Elvis. Everyone—everyone!—from posh suburbanites to jealous lovers to Margaret Thatcher was skewered mercilessly on "Trust"—Elvis took bile to a level of professionalism never before seen in postpunk. Cutting lines like, "you'll never be a man/no matter how many foreign bodies you can take" kinda makes your aggravation at your roommate's Hilary Duff obsession seem like child's play, hmm? Doesn't it? Cap? Doesn't it though? Oh, wait. Am I bugging you now? You better give "Trust" another spin, Capricorn.
Your astrological Halloween costume: Wear a gray wig. Walk with a cane. Shake your fist at anyone having fun. Use your anger to release the "grumpy old man" within. "Get off my lawn, you no-good kids!"

Aquarius {January 20-February 18}
Fall is here, Aquarius, and your autumnal wish-list sure makes a whole lot of sense: spend evenings indoors, drink hot cocoa overflowing with marshmallows, curl up with a good book and a great cd. That cd? Newborn Driving, the self-released debut from Seattle four-piece Spanish For 100. With a sound that blends Built To Spill's twin guitar fireworks (as well as their Idaho fixation) with Crosby, Stills & Nash's vocal harmonies, the chiming guitars and soaring vocals here are both intelligent and emotionally expressive. With its heartland-rock outlook and countryish twang, "Newborn Driving" is as autumn as pumpkin pie and the reemergence of sweaters. Plus, the cd is versatile: turn it up while you're staring out the window at the leaves swirling in the wind. Turn down the volume to background-music levels when you want to finish the last chapter in your book before bed. Either way, "Newborn Driving" has got you covered like your favorite thick wool blanket.
Your astrological Halloween costume Wear green and brown clothes, then cover yourself liberally in multi-colored leaves. You're either: a) the physical manifestation of the Harvest Spirit of Autumn or b) Marjorie the Trash Heap from "Fraggle Rock." Take your pick.

Pisces {February 19-March 20}
I'm an astrologer, Pisces. People come to me for advice, guidance, and my ability—as an outside observer—to see what can't always be seen from within. I'm recapping, in all honesty, because I'm not sure why you're here.
Look at you: last month's problems resolved, next month's problems already assessed and averted—it's clear that you have no use for astrology in the trouble-free microcosm you've constructed for yourself. That said, can I still make a prediction? I'll bet your life would be even easier if you were listening to It Was High Time To Escape (54-40 Or Fight), the impressive debut from Portland, OR trio 31 Knots. Showy but not overly dramatic, complicated but somehow effortless, 31 Knots manage to mesh arty prog rock and catchy pop choruses so successfully that "wow, this sounds exactly like "Fragile"-era Yes without the fruity keyboards" becomes both a high-order compliment and a pale assessment of 31 Knots' achievements. Listen for yourself, Pisces—you're not the only one getting things right.
Your astrological Halloween costume: You're riding high this month just being you, Pisces. What's hiding behind a costume going to do for you? Wear your favorite t-shirt and go to the costume party 'as yourself.' No one would dare challenge you. How could they?

Aries {March 21-April 19}
Earnestness gets you laughed at. Cynicism makes you depressed. Instead of diving back and forth between the two extremes, Aries, try a new approach this month: walk that line. For guidance, steady yourself on the balance beam right behind Seattle four-piece Sushirobo. Overlaying Spoon-style minor-key indie pop with bubbly, organ-engineered surf-noir loops, the band has concocted a slick, spry sound that sustains itself throughout the 12 taut songs on The Light-Fingered Feeling Of Sushirobo (Pattern 25). Neither overly earnest nor deathly cynical, the band's secret is that they're in on the joke. Listen to singer Arthur Roberts' sneer over the Primus-flecked office fable "Zuckerman's Favorite Joke," or the lyrical jabs at the "milquetoast hipster" in "Heart, Lungs, Etc." The all-too-real details make it clear that the band is not above including itself among its targets, and their touch of self-effacement keeps the band buoyant. With two deep mood-chasms threatening you on either side, Aries, it really helps to have that light-fingered feeling.
Your astrological Halloween costume: What was your worst job ever? Dress up as your boss from that employment disaster, and spare no detail. Tell everyone that if they don't give you candy, you're going to eat their soul instead. You are going to have FUN tonight!

Taurus {April 20-May 20}
Despite your bullish, smarty-pants exterior, Taurus, you're a softy at heart. After all, when you're moved by the sad beauty of the first drops of rain on a Sunday morning, is it your brain that makes you want to cry? Hell no! It's your heart: your big, swollen, always-just-about-to-break valve of love. Quit ignoring it: your heart has important things to say. Touchdown Eagle, a lovelorn quartet from Seattle (by way of Iowa and Utah) definitely listens to their hearts. Their homemade debut ep Redesign Your Living Room, Redesign Your Life, is in fact all heart: lo-fi Beat Happening strum and Yo La Tengo sleepy drone create lonely, lovesick moods. The lyrics reveal a knack for the particulars of heartbreak. In "Stumblingly," a guy falls asleep with his glasses on, then he wakes up and can't quite see straight. The female narrator of "No Good Love" describes getting out of a difficult relationship, then wonders whether the person she left behind is actually happy now that she's gone. Heed your sentimental side this month, Taurus. Even if you don't find the love you've been searching for, the crying will be cathartic.
Your astrological Halloween costume: What's more sentimental than the Mom from "E.T."—a single mom struggling with three kids and hiding an alien from the U.S. government? Dress as Dee Wallace, and run like hell from anyone dressed as Peter Coyote.

Gemini {May 21-June 21}
I'll admit that I keep my counsel a little close to the chest and dole it out only sparingly. But I still tell you what you need to know, and the fact is, I really have so much advice that I'd overwhelm you if I let you know EVERYTHING that the stars tell me. And I'm not alone. Listen to Iron & Wine's new ep The Sea & The Rhythm (Sub Pop). Sam Beam surely knows much, much more than he lets on: his world-weary tenor and old-soul lyrics run circles around my constellation shop-talk. Beam chooses his words carefully, painting a careful picture that leaves out as much as it takes in. "Jesus the Mexican Boy" has more plot than a Faulkner novel—the song describes a child's birth, a carnival crashing, an elopement, and a lost wager—but it never sags with detail. Instead, Beam's clear, double-tracked harmonies and lonesome-strummed guitar tell as much of the story as the lyrics do. So while we may never find out what happens to Jesus' sister after the Vegas wedding, Iron & Wine never make us feel like something's been left out. And if you've been listening carefully to what I've been telling you, then I trust that you understand my advice for you this month, Gemini.
Your astrological Halloween costume: Your literary bent this month makes Faulkner a natural starting point for your costume: Caddy Compson in her later years? The simple Vardaman Bundren? The luckless Temple Drake? Come on, Gemini, go crazy!

Cancer {June 22-July 22}
Sometimes it's not so bad to be the type that can be brought home to mom and dad, Cancer. First of all, it shows that your sweetie thinks you have staying power. Second, it means the two of you can borrow the old man's car for ski trips—no questions asked. Third, better presents this holiday season. Just look at Plum St.. They've got that 'cross-generational appeal' working in their favor as well: you like them because they kinda sound like Elliott Smith or Michael Penn; your mom likes them because they kinda sound like the Beatles. But this is not a band of bland squares: the Seattle trio has the melody, smarts, and chops to validate these lofty comparisons. And singer/guitarist Reed Hutchinson even sings about family! Ok, it's a dysfunctional one—an older aunt leaves her husband, a helpful uncle delivers advice but brandishes a gun—but like yourself, Cancer, Plum St. realizes that playing to the family is important. So when your honey brings you home to mom and dad this month, Cancer, bring the Plum St. cd along. When everybody is in agreement over the gorgeous chorus to "Beauty and Dreams," you'll at least be getting a break from marriage talk.
Your astrological Halloween costume: Wear the most garishly colored sweater you can find, and you're all set to appear as everybody's favorite tv dad, Cliff Huxtable. Then, wrap up the sweater and give it to your sweetheart's dad this holiday season. He'll love you for it.

Leo {July 23-August 22}
It's the dilemma of every
rising star, Leo. Everyone wants a stalker until they actually get one. The loss of privacy, the feeling of invasion, the constant changing of phone numbers: stalkers are scary and tiresome, and should hardly be the concern of a superstar-in-training who's got a collection of trucker hats to build and a Friendster network to grow. Then again, listen to new sensations the Fitness. First single "Gianni V" actually implores "I wish that you were stalking me"–and makes a convincing case that having an obsessive fan is, in fact, part of the package: an actual accessory that complements the trucker hats and the Friendster hits. Ok. I'm with you so far. Sonically, the Fitness' cd debut Call Me For Together (The Control Group) picks up where "The Metro" by Berlin left off: analog synths, gated drums, and robotically-intoned boy-girl vocals. I heart the 80's, so I'm still with you. The kicker? Instead of talking down, Diana Ross-style, to the hired help, closing song "Chauffeur" exalts its titular hero for knowing where to go and where to score the best drugs. It sounds like the Fitness really does have the whole package. Now, if we started sleeping outside their bedroom windows, Leo, how long do you think it'll take before they notice us?
Your astrological Halloween costume: Who are you kidding, Leo? The skinny ties, the jagged bangs, the jet-black eyeliner, the silvery shirts, the Seven jeans… you already wear a costume every day. If you really want to frighten people, show up at the party in a UW sweatshirt and khakis. Now that's scary!

Virgo {August 23-September 22}
On the left side of the chalkboard, we have the 'problem:' a dense, multi-factored scramble of terms, conditionals, and assumptions. On the right side, we have the 'answer:' a single digit, solved, reduced, exposed. My question to you: which side of the board has more power? Your urge to figure everything out can cause you to miss out on the brain-busting complexities of reality. It's like trying to determine what makes the songs on the Senate Arcade's new ep Vitamins Taste Like Dying (Chocho) sound so good. Yah, we can trot out 'answers:' the swirling math-rock intricacies; the pulverizing rhythm section; bassist/singer Todd Schlosser's powerful, MTV2-ready vocal bellow. But when that stuff gets written down on paper, it doesn't seem like it could really add up to the visceral intensity that these five songs deliver. In other words, when there's a guy lying fetal desperately shouting "I'm on the floor/I'm on the floor," the application of logic can only get you so far. This month, don't search for the answers, Virgo. See the unsolved expressions for what they are: expressions. Turn the volume up, and just listen.
Your astrological Halloween costume: Wear a button-down shirt, smear chalk dust on your hands, and find a pair of coke-bottle glasses. Oh, and carry a carving knife. You're a high school algebra teacher—out for blood!