Dollshead
Frozen Charlotte
(MCA)


Call this one a techno-friendly reprise of Alanis Morrisette. Sierra Swan's vocals and pointed lyrics ("stop making an issue of it/stop writing your psyche on the wall" she complains in "Pop Psychosis") often reach for Morrisette-ish slinky anger. But Nick Trevisick and Graham Edwards' guitar and keyboard programming reach more to the ethereal, dancy realms of Wild Strawberries and the pop rock of Natalie Imbruglia. It's a savvy mix with mood and edge that takes just enough chances to fit more in the alternative rock category than in the dance section.

 

Bottle Rockets
24 Hours A Day
(Atlantic)
½


"Kit Kat Clock," the leadoff track on 24 Hours A Day is one of the hippest country rock,windows-rolled-down, singin'-out-loud anthems I've heard in ages. The BoDeans and dB's once made rockers like this (but not lately). Produced by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, well known for his work with "roots" bands, the third disc from Missouri's Bottle Rockets delves a bit too hard into twang and the country cliches of drivin' & drinkin' at times, but it's a worthy addition to any record collection that boasts of country rock hybrid discs by The Cicadas, The Clarks, Rodney Crowell, Dan Baird, Steve Earle, John Hiatt or Little Village. This is upbeat bar twang music with both kick and the occasional thoughtful melancholy ballad.

 

Brother Cane
Wishpool
(Virgin)
½


This quartet sounds like just about every grungy guitar band they play on Q101-FM rolled into one. There's a hint of Stone Temple Pilots and Candlebox, maybe a touch of Pearl Jam, some Alice In Chains and actually, singer Damon Johnson occasionally hits a wail that reminds one of Guns 'n' Roses if you listen close. Basically this is a hard rock band without a new style or song to sell. Virgin obviously knows that clones sell...sometimes.

 

Komeda
What Makes It Go?
(Minty Fresh)


Swedish popsters Komeda are a foursome centering around the warm, dulcimer tones of Lena Karlsson. The band shares a lot in common musically with The Cardigans, notably sing-song vocals and a strange desire to resurrect the music of the Mary Tyler Moore era. If you'd walked into a Euro jazz club in the late '60s, you might have thought these were the next hitmakers. The Swedish Carpenters? There's something highly nostalgic about all of the tracks on What Makes It Go? but there are also modern musical reference points with Kraftwerk, Cardigans and Stereolab. There are other tracks on What Makes It Go? that don't go anywhere but to la-la land; kitschy retro tunes hearkening back to adult contemporary music from the Andy Williams years have a hard time staying on the right side of the viablity line. But Komeda has its moments, especially in the closer, "A Simple Formality," which blends a peppy late '60s guitar vibe with processed modern vocals.

 

Ultrahorse
The Pleasure and Pain of An Automobile
(911)
½


Grinding distorted but funky guitar; banks of lazy horns; the slight exoticism of the bongo behind the snare...these are the props of Ultrahorse, and they're addictive as sin. Over the course of a dozen tracks, this modern rock duo bop through a host of pop styles, from remember-Manchester funky drummer rhythms ("Telecom") to handclapping, car windows-rolled-down rock ("Moonshine") to moody bass and ambient keyboard wanderings ("SFH," "Love Means Nothing"). "SFH" has one of the disc's most hooky (and pointed) choruses, as our mic-heroes encapsulate a girl with one line, "She's always waiting for tomorrow/and I said what about today?"

Nearly every track shines with instrumental depth, a grinning mischievious spirit and a wink at pop tunes gone dusty. "Divided By Four" lifts the growling electric bass and beat of Sign of the Times era Prince. And "Meat Pole" sounds like a clock factory trying to tick out a Salvador Dali country song. The disc also includes some computer fun for the multimedia-minded which echoes the off-kilter soul of the music in short video interview clips of actors mouthing cynical scripts espousing image over substance. They can't aim that arrow at themselves; this album has layers of depth.

 

Kristin Hersh
Strange Angels
(Rykodisc)
½


Strange Angels is Hersh's first release since last year's dissolution of Throwing Muses, her main gig for well over a decade. Fans who hoped that she'd continue the Muses' aggressive guitar attack and unpredictable rhythm switches in her solo work will be disappointed, at least this time around. Strange Angels moves in the same quiet, gentle stream as Hersh's 1994 solo debut, Hips and Makers, released just as the Muses seemed to begin losing direction and vitality. That album offered the one-time frenetic psychobilly singer a chance to strip everything back to acoustic guitar, contemplative voice and a smattering of strings and piano for color. It yielded a mild hit in "Your Ghost," a duet with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, which got some play on Chicago's WXRT-93 FM, which has been playing some material from the new record as well.

There are no mega-famous guest duets on Strange Angels, but it's a more fully realized effort than Hips. The blending of piano and strings with Hersh's acoustic guitar strums and weathered, often drony vocals lends these sometimes static compositions a spice of life. Ultimately, this is a nicely textured campfire album; a recording of a coffeehouse folkie who's more concerned with elliptical poetry than with crafting anything that could pass as the catchy hooks of pop music. Without the whip snap of distortion or the hook of a singalong melody, too often Hersh sounds as if she's drifting at the microphone. In surrenduring her band, Hersh surrendurs much of the power they gave her songs.