Persephone's BeesPersephone's Bees
Notes from the Underworld
(Columbia)


Persephone's Bees have grown a rampant following in their home city of San Francisco, where in 2001 and 2002 they nabbed the Best San Francisco Band and Best Debut album awards, after recording their first disc in a home studio.

Led by the whimsically seductive vocals of Angelina Moysov, the band careens through a wide variety of eclectic pop on Notes From the Underworld, its first major label release.

Moysov grew up in Russia, which helps color the band's material with a mix of Eastern and Slavic influences. At times, her vocals sound purely Western in their delivery, since she grew up listening to bootleg tapes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and John Lennon, among others. But, often, her vocals are layered with just the hint of an accent that makes the songs sound exotic, with textures ranging from the jazzy hepcat vibe of a French cafe, or the mysterious dance of a Gypsy fair.

Notes From the Underworld offers gorgeous, lilting, modern pop tracks ("Walk to the Moon"), a catchy track sung in Moysov's native Russian ("Muzika Dlya Fil'Ma"), and a healthy sampling of retro psychedelic pop that sounds like it was lifted from a beatnik cafe circa 1968. The best of these is the disc's first single "Nice Day," a bouncy gem with lots of '60s-esque harmonies and a shuffling beat that has been topping the dance charts lately.

The opening track, "Way to Your Heart," is a chimy, bouncing song that lets Moysov show off her "little girl"-ish upper register. The next track, "Climbing," opens with a Beatlesque marching guitar as Moysov again sends her voice into the clouds for a sweet dose of head-nodding pop.

One of the disc's other standouts comes in "Paper Plane," when the band turns on the pounding piano and three-chord Chuck Berry guitar for a catchy bit of retro rock 'n' roll. It's a nonsensical romp ("Would you like to ride my paper plane," Moysov sings at one point), but it's so addictively sing-song that it makes a perfect road song.

Fans of The Cardigans will appreciate the Bees for their hip pilfering of '60s cafe and psychedelica vibes, while at the same time tempering the homage with modern pop textures. The result is an entrancing sound that will lure you in revealing more subtleties with every listen.

The GratesThe Grates
Gravity Won't Get You High
(Interscope)
½


Australia's The Grates are a three-piece, punky pop act led by another female lead singer, simply known as Patience. Backed only by drums and guitar, Patience is a pogo stick onstage, bouncing around with manic glee and staccato bursts of lyrics.

The band rocked its way out of Brisbane thanks to an infectiously simple, but energetic, track, "Trampoline," from a self-produced EP. The song hit it big on Australian radio and led to the band's major label deal with Interscope, which ultimately led it, oddly enough, here to Chicago to record this debut album with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Secret Machines).

The result is Gravity Won't Get You High, which includes re-recordings of a couple of the best songs from its first EP, including "Trampoline." But while the track remains a bouyant example of just how fun a good rock song can be, the new version loses some of the raw freshness that made the original version such a breakthrough hit.

If you're just discovering The Grates, you'll never know the difference the album is full of punchy punky pop tracks that speed by like a motorcycle on the way to the beach.

If you enjoy punchy three-chord rock songs, with a vocalist who sounds like she simply has too much fun to sit down, this is the disc for you.