Music undercover: CDs you may have missed in 2002

 

Is it gets cheaper and cheaper to record and release CDs, more and more music fans are setting up tiny boutique labels to release music by their favorite niche market bands. And there were some great indie releases in 2002. The problem is, unless you're tapped in to the right Internet grapevine, or are already part of a particular band's circle, you're not likely to find some of these discs. You certainly won't hear them on most narrow-formatted commercial radio stations. Here are a couple fine indie releases I stumbled on last year:

The Cruxshadows - WishfireI saw a Florida goth band called The Cruxshadows put on an exciting set complete with sidestage dancers and an electric violin player on Halloween in Austin, Texas, last year (they even presented a scary recitation of Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee" in the set), and their latest release, Wishfire, on the tiny Dancing Ferret label (www.ferret.com) is worth seeking out for anyone who loves the dark, pounding synth programming of German club music. (They're not German, but they hide it well – and Wishfire has been on the German music charts this year). They've played with The Cure and The Mission in Europe over the past few months, and their CD is a top notch collection of darkwave danceable tracks, from the fist-raising anthem of "Return (Coming Home)" to the more ambient synthesizer mood of "The Seraphs." Anyone who loves dark but danceable electronic music should check this band out at www.cruxshadows.com.
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Menthol: Danger, Rock Science!Speaking of '80s throwback music, Champaign-Urbana's Menthol unleashed a pounding paean to that decade of skinny ties, crunchy guitars and warbly, tinkly synthesizer leads in Danger: Rock Science! The album, which was supposed to arrive in different form years ago on Capitol Records, was finally released on Hidden Agenda/Parasol Records and features a singer who manages to sound like classic synth band ABC, with the addition of guitar bite. Singalong choruses, riff-happy guitars, retro synthesizers, all set the sound for the listener to relive 1984. "Future Shock" sounds like a lost Cars track while other bits remind one of the electro-snap attack of Thomas Dolby. The band manages to tuck in some lyrical and musical references to several bands of that time –you can pick out the nods to New Order (listen to the break of "Bitter Feud"), Devo, Love & Rockets and even Throwing Muses (they lift lines from the first verse of the Muses' "Hate My Way" in "The Professor"). This is pure rockin' retro fun on CD. Look for it on Parasol's Web site at www.parasol.com/hiddenagenda/aha042.asp.
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Claire - MuseI was doing some Internet surfing a few weeks ago, looking to find whatever happened to a couple of my favorite bands of the early '90s. When I looked up Tami Show, a Chicago band fronted by two of the Massey sisters that scored a couple of Top 100 singles in "She's Only Twenty" and "The Truth" before breaking up, I discovered that one of the sisters, Cathy Massey, had released an independent disc a couple years ago under the name Kiss Me Luna. The other, Claire, has been working on a solo album with fellow Tami Show guitarist Tommy Gawenda for the past couple years. After putting out a "sampler" disc a couple years ago, they finally unveiled a full-length CD in spring 2002. Released under the simple moniker Claire, the album, Suncat Muse, had a mildly successful single in "Butterfly" which garnered some adult contemporary radio airplay thanks to its bluesy guitar groove and Claire's always achingly beautiful vocals. But "Butterfly" is only the appetizer to a delicious mix of a dozen songs here combining hummable pop melodies, warm guitars and dreamy vocals.

The "sound" of Tami Show lives on in Claire's solo release – Suncat Muse is more organic and less synthesized than her albums with Tami Show, but one thing remains the same: the solid songcraft spotlighting the distinctive strength and silvery sensuality of Massey's vocals. "Once Again" offers a strolling mix of acoustic guitars and a keyboard accent, as Massey slips in and out of earthy croons and breaking falsettos to sell the melancholy melody. "Don't Take My Family" is a pounding stadium-ready anthem, and she touches a toe into funky rockin' Sheryl Crow/Amanda Marshall territory in "Hot Blood." But the real hidden hit here is "Heart Souled Out," a bass-driven sibling of "The Truth" that hides the same heavenly harmony structure that made Tami Show's singles so irresistible. Produced by "big name" studio maven Kevin Shirley (who's worked with Amanda Marshall, Black Crowes and Journey), Suncat Muse offers a treasure trove of well-produced, well-written songs with deep heart and emotion. Sometimes blue, sometimes crystalline pop, and always enticing, this was definitely one of the finest "lost" albums of 2002. To find a copy, check her Web site at www.planetclaire.com.
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