The best on my desk

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Imperial Teen
Merge Records

A long-time favorite among the alt-pop cognoscenti on the West Coast since its formation in 1995 and its first two albums Seasick and What Is Not to Love (Slash/London), Imperial Teen has just released what may prove to be the most contagious indie-pop album since the Breeders' Last Splash.

With a lack of any particular leader and a refreshingly communal music-making modesty that almost ensures their commercial doom, L.A. and San Franciscobased Roddy Bottum (formerly of Faith No More), Will Schwartz, Jone Stebbins and Lynn Perko insinuate themselves ambiguously across the gender landscape with a candy glee. "All the girls are dressed in leather/ And the boys are dressed in leather," Schwartz breathily insists on the anthem "Our Time."

As is the case with most great bands that can't ever seem to crack radio, Imperial Teen writes smart, complex and unsentimental lyrics that ride shotgun to the driving confidence of the hooks: "She's a mixed up kind of girl/ the kind you wish you'd never met/ And like a dried up pot of glue/ She only sticks when she is wet" and "Faded beauty eyes with some worry lines/ I'm not gonna crash in the friendly skies."

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Most purely addictive are the nonsense songs "Baby," "City Song" and "My Spy."

"Shake shake, va va voom vis a vis," then add these tracks to your list of perfect pop songs.

Rating: 5

You Make Me Hate Me Music
Fine China
Tooth and Nail Records

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Every-once-in-a-really-really-long-time an unsolicited CD that I've never heard of crosses my desk with a destiny. Check the cover: "You Make Me Hate Music." Sounds just as pretentious and arty as the cover is overly under-designed. Detritus pile? Might be just pretentious enough to give it the three-second test run, and ... a two-note bass hook on "Hug Every Friend" has made quick chum of me and I'm gladly being keel hauled through the deep blue sea of my favorite new mope-rock band!

OK, let's play the genealogy game: The Smiths (gay Dad) meets Built to Spill (other gay Dad) in Phoenix. Being a progressive gay couple of the '90s, they decided to have a kid with The Sundays, spawning Fine China (Rob Withem, Greg Markov, Thom Walsh and Joshua Block) who they wean on The Cure, Radiohead and New Order.

Resemblances are to be expected in matters of family, but Fine China is definitely their own wonderfully sullen side-show under pop's predictable big top.

Rating: 4 and a half

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The River Made No Sound
Pan American

If you like Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Matmos and general blip-and-thump minimalist electronica, then you're gonna love this here soundtrack to your former life as a fish. Or maybe it's just completely pre-natal? This side project for Mark Nelson of Labradford comes gut-wrenchingly close at times to the pitfalls of New Age relaxation music, but manages to stay abstract and industrial enough to keep its honor up!

Rating: 3 and a half

Let Your Shadow Out
The No-No's

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If you listened to this record and had to take a guess where it was from, I'd bet you'd guess it's from Portland. Because it is. The No-No's are washing their feet in the same Northwest sound that began in the mid-'80s with Beat Happening, The Halo Benders and Sleater Kinney, and made a splash with Built to Spill in the '90s.

Singer Robin Bowser's Portland banshee yawping is both the charm and, at times, the cheese grater that rakes your nerves over these good ol' rock 'n' roll riffs and ditties. These are love songs for the pragmatic "true love for now" generation. And who can deny a line like: "I found the picture that you put in my wallet/ you look so Steve McQueen/ meet me at 4:00 on the platform/ I'll be gone by 4:15."

Rating: 3

In the Shadow of the Living Room
Reaching Quiet

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Keep your eyes on Mush Records, the label behind cLOUDDEAD and this ear-scrambling hip-hopped indie carnivaltronica. Reaching Quiet (along with Dose One from cLOUDDEAD who frequently cameos) blasts far beyond the edges of the known music universe without trying too hard to be weird, and finds an improbable, innocently '50s pop appeal. Cartoon soundtracks and abstract beats meet lo-fi to prop your mind open, and thrill and disturb. Imagine listening to the 20th century backwards, and the message you hear is: "F*** your current boy-toy/ but propagate with me/ for kids that can speak Latin/ and play a mean game of Pictionary."

Rating: 4

Protest a Dark Anniversary
Masters of the Hemisphere
Kindercore Records

From the label that brought you Denver's lollipop daydream Dressy Bessy comes Masters of the Universe, a fourplex of boys out of Athens, Ga. who've alchemized the Beach Boys' harmonies and R.E.M.'s palsied appeal into something ... something you can't quite figure out if you really like, while being unable to stop listening, and knowing that you don't dislike it. This is probably a good thing. Maybe. Yes, it is. I think? Talent and hooks abound ... but it's almost too even to believe! Hmm. I'm still listening.

Rating: 3

-- nblack@csindy.com



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