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Rachel's
Selenography
Quarterstick

This unique chamber-music collective fuses avant-garde and minimalist "classical" styles with the tactile rock aesthetic of such outfits as Slint and June of 44. Most of the time this makes for an enticing combination. Crystalline pianos, strings, guitars and Steve Albini-style drums all build in waves of melancholy ambience that leave a memorable impression. The effect is not that far removed from the brand of delicate, haunting chamber jazz that John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner perfected in the '70s and '80s. Unfortunately, the group's abundant virtues are matched by equally numerous flaws. Too often, for example, Selenography veers into pastiche. "Kentucky Nocturne" devolves into a poor imitation of tango, "Honeysuckle Suite" is a bland Baroque harpsichord homage, and the synthesizers and drum machine on "The Mysterious Disappearance of Louis LePrince" turn the track into a reject from a John Carpenter soundtrack. A mixed bag, to say the least. —Theo Cateforis


Barcelona
Simon Basic
March

Instead of quitting their day jobs, these DC-area hipsters have turned a lifetime of computer programming into a breezy, electro-tinged pop record about technology and dating, not always in that order. Fittingly recorded and mixed on computers, Barcelona gives us songs about robots that actually make you feel like cuddling. Mid-tempo numbers like the catchy "Why Do You Have So Much Fun Without Me?" pulse along pleasantly, while on "C-64" the band waxes longingly for the days of low-tech hacking on a Commodore 64. At best, Barcelona is like a Carpenters for the Internet generation. At worst, Barcelona is like a Carpenters for the Internet generation. More often than not, though, it is a clever, quirky, old-fashioned pop group. —Michael Giacalone


Vic Chesnutt
The Salesman And Bernadette
Capricorn

Like Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, Vic Chesnutt is a masterful songwriter, plain and simple. And, with the help of his friends in the New Orleans-based band Lambchop, he has crafted his finest album. Though Vic's songs were always beautiful, sad and undeniably brilliant, their presentation has often left a little bit to be desired— until now. Shifting from the painfully melancholic sound and acoustic-based structure of his first few albums, Chesnutt has brought his music to life with dead-on arrangements and lyrics seeped in honest desperation. Call it alt-country, call it college rock— Vic Chesnutt is a masterful songsmith with a comedic flair for tragedy that few can touch. —Stevan Spacely


Arsonists
As The World Burns
Matador

When the members of the former Bushwick Bomb Squad rebanded as the Arsonists a few years back, they proved themselves to be one of the most impressive acts on the underground hip-hop scene. Now, with their new CD, these five lyrical rappers manage to improve on their already stellar reputation. While three of the songs have already appeared on classic hip-hop records, this collection still manages to sound fresh. The experiences and exploits of D-Story, Q-Unique, Swel, Jise One and Freestyle as graffiti artists, DJs and emcees spill all over these tracks. "Lunchroom Take-Out" takes a comical look back at school battles, while on "Flashback," the group reminisces about days gone by. Other standouts include "Shit Ain't Sweet" and "Worlds Collide." Jewelry-drippin', gun-totin', blunt-smokin' lyrics are nowhere to be found here, making this a must-have for purists. —A. J. Woodson


LI Sounds


Drew Barrett
The Strolling Minstrel
Skyward

If Drew Barrett has heard the adage "Do one thing and do it well," he does a damn good job of hiding it. On his debut release, this Plainview product serves up a distinctive, if sometimes awkward, mix of metal backbeats, folk-friendly messages and alternapop hooks. There are moments of undeniable pop proficiency here: "City of Sin" sounds great blaring from a car with the windows down on a hot summer day and "A Change is on the Way" practically insists that listeners languish in its breezy beauty. As for the infectious "Worked Myself to Death," its flaws are so few and far-between that pointing them out would be nit-picking. Unfortunately, there are also moments of pure self-indulgence, which kill any momentum the album attempts to attain. Overwrought epics such as "A Song for Sara" and "Caught in the Act" are melodically mind-numbing and filled with forced lyrics. While Barrett is to be admired for writing, playing and producing all the songs, one wishes he would lose the distorted vocals and gratuitous guitar licks in favor of simple arrangements. Drew Barrett is a diamond in the rough; he just needs to give himself room to shine. —Valerie Acklin

 
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