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SEPTEMBER 11, 2000: 

*** Ultimate Fakebook THIS WILL BE LAUGHING WEEK (550 Music/Epic)

This sophomore indie album from the catchy, energetic Manhattan (Kansas) trio was first released in '99; now it gets a much-deserved shot at a wider audience. Strong on melody, harmony, hooks, and wide-eyed innocence, the group fashion their rocking pop out of tales of teenage vulnerability ("She Don't Even Know My Name," "Of Course We Will," and the powerful "Soaked in Cinnamon"), geeky obsession ("Far, Far Away" cites Star Wars creator George Lucas), first-band memories (vocalist/guitarist Bill McShane's falsetto-charged "Brokÿn Nëedle"), and one particularly compelling ode to doing it the old-fashioned way -- "Real Drums." As urgent as it is unpretentious, this 14-song collection can count Cheap Trick and the Replacements among its primary influences. But Laughing Week has more in common with the kind of post-grunge noise pop (or bubblegrunge) popularized in the mid '90s by bands like Flop (whose And the Revenge of the Mopsqueezer is one of the genre's forgotten classics), Weezer, and Nada Surf. Two of those three bands (Flop and Nada Surf) got just one shot at making it in the majors before being dropped. Here's hoping Ultimate Fakebook are more fortunate: Laughing Week proves they've got the songs and the spirit to succeed. -- Mark Woodlief

*** Saint Low s/t (Thirsty Ear)

Saint Low's Mary Lorson is to Madder Rose as Kristin Hersh is to Throwing Muses. After leading two of the '90s' most impressive alterna-pop groups (Hersh's Muses were also one of the '80s' most impressive underground outfits), these women have stepped away to write more intimate lyrics and depart from the guitar-driven pop of their respective bands. The musicscapes that support Lorson's sexy croon on Saint Low are enriched by Joe Myer's violin and Michael Stark's piano and organ, the same instruments that gave Hersh's Hips and Makers its richly layered yet appropriately spare sound. The songs here are anchored by shimmering, laid-back grooves that complement Lorson's confessional laments and a lyric sheet that reads like a diary of exhausting, tumultuous love affairs. With Madder Rose, Lorson's had to deal with the pressure of trying to balance her artistic impulses with commercial necessities; the band's last album, 1999's Hello June Fool, revealed little in the way of personal songwriting. Saint Low, on the other hand, is a labor of love in which Lorson isn't afraid to place her emotional vocals in the spotlight. -- Kristen O'Toole

** Matthew Ryan EAST AUTUMN GRIN (A&M/Interscope)

Matthew Ryan's 1998 debut, Mayday, found him staking a claim for himself as a singer/songwriter somewhere between Bruce Springsteen's hoarse-voiced, blue-collar stoicism and Paul Westerberg's brow-furrowing gravity. The follow-up, East Autumn Grin, throws in liberal doses of Dylan -- Jakob, not Bob. And given that so many from the most recent crops of male singer-songwriters are sample-happy Beckophiles, there's something refreshing and almost novel about Ryan's Wallflowers-style traditionalism. The result is an authentically rootsy collection of tunes that falter only when he indulges in the sort of coffeehouse bathos that has dogged singer/songwriter types since the dawn of the genre. The way East Autumn Grin's tales of breaking and broken relationships rely on religious symbolism isn't always such a good thing either. Still, the album shows off Ryan as a deft songwriter who can move beyond the kind of grimly fractured fairy tales he seems to prefer, and who doesn't have to be quite so serious all the time. -- Allison Stewart

**1/2 Señor Coconut EL BAILE ALEMAN (Emperor Norton)

Señor Coconut is the latest incarnation of electronic music pioneer Uwe Schmidt, and El Baile Aleman is a project that consists entirely of Latin-styled Kraftwerk covers. Songs like "Music Non Stop" and "Showroom Dummies" are transformed from quirky, minimalist techno into velvety-smooth cha-cha-chas and merengues that approximate the sound of a cheesy South American lounge band. The Kraftwerk classic "Homecomputer," which sounds like a '70s spy-movie theme, takes on new meaning given today's Internet culture -- hearing "It's more fun to compute" over and over is as funny and disturbing in a South American accent as it was in the original German. None of the arrangements strays too far from the Kraftwerk versions. But the bright horn blasts and warm marimba lines take these songs far from their cold, mechanical roots. -- Matt Parish


SR-71's "Right Now" takes its upbeat charge and octave guitar melodies from punk, but otherwise it's at the pop end of the pop-punk spectrum, alongside similar efforts by Lit and Eve 6. Nevertheless, singer/primary songwriter Mitch Allan's despondent ode to finding Miss Right is by far the punkest tune on the Baltimore band's debut disc. "Alive," an acoustic drama about a battered woman who's finally escaped Mr. Wrong, is more indicative of SR-71's melody-minded approach. The album could use more bite, but the group's pop heart is in the right place on the four-part vocal harmony intro to "Fame (What She's Wanting)" and the pristine chorus of "What a Mess." Not only does Allan have a sticky-sweet voice to go along with his hair gel-accentuated good looks, but he's also pretty good at turning a phrase. Since he's never out of bed before noon, as he muses on "Last Man on the Moon," he "could never be Neil Armstrong/I'd be the last man on the moon." It's not the most earth-shattering line in the world -- but like the band's music, it goes down smoothly enough. -- Sean Richardson

*** Bobby Gaylor FUZZATONIC SCREAM (Atlantic)

When former Boston comedian and Roseanne writer Bobby Gaylor decided late last year he wanted to do a one-man show, the field seemed too crowded. So Gaylor, now in LA, recorded Fuzzatonic Scream instead. Scream is a gritty collection of spoken-word stories and insights set to various funk, rock, and ambient musical backdrops. "Suicide" is a poignant rant that debates whether life is really worth living. Gaylor pits your first sexual encounter and McDonald's French fries against never having to worry about AIDS and missing the next Mötley Crüe reunion, with surprisingly life-affirming results. Droning keyboards and sparse piano reflect his oppressively dark mood on "Out the Window." Chirping birds, an acoustic guitar, and a piano create a vivid summer scene for "Tommy the Frog Killer," a story about a sadistic childhood friend: as Tommy gets more cruel, the score follows with a demented melody and static beat. Not all of Gaylor's observations are as searing as those on "Suicide" and the nine-minute epic "Business End of a Gun," but he's a diamond-in-the-rough storyteller, and talented enough as a musician to create real drama. -- Nick A. Zaino III

*** Pole 3 (Matador)

On 3, Berlin's Stefan Betke (a/k/a Pole) again explores the undercurrents of electronic dub -- the low below the low end, descending into sonic pits where the usually unheard details reside. Much of the album is like listening from under the floorboards to a combination of digital programming and a laid-back Hammond organ. Simulated deep-vinyl scratches and pops pepper the compositions, crackling against muffled thumps that move to the forefront in the absence of vocals, drums, guitars, and dance-floor grooves. Pole's sonic filterings are all about distance and restraint, and the contrasts on 3 are subtle ones. It takes a few listens before you can distinguish the walking bass line in "Karussell" from the steel drum that flits through "Überfahrt" or the clarinettish gurgle in "Strand." To most ears such subterranean esoterica is at best serviceable as background ambiance. But using sounds that would ordinarily be discarded as textural debris, Betke has fashioned a serene hideaway of minimalist reverberations and somnambulant sparks. -- Tristram Lozaw

*** The Glands s/t (Capricorn)

The Glands are an Atlanta guitar-pop foursome with a frontman, Bob Shapiro, who's constantly seeking direction in his lyrics. He seems to be convinced that the grass is always greener in some other time and place, so he bemoans his current situation and whines for a way out. And on this follow-up to the band's 1997 Glands Bar/None debut, Shapiro finds it by mining a promising array of influences, from contemporary indie acts like Pavement and Sparklehorse to classics like the Stones, the Beatles, and the Velvet Underground. In lesser hands this would be a recipe for a deadly combination of self-pity and aimless eclecticism. But Shapiro's genre wandering becomes a style unto itself, and he does have good taste. Meanwhile, his bandmates ensure that the rockers are tight, that the turtle-paced mood pieces are gorgeous, and that catchy choruses abound. And if Shapiro never really sounds as if he'd found a setting, musical or otherwise, that he's comfortable with, at least he seems to be enjoying the search. -- Kevin John

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