February 1, 2002


This column is once again long overdue for one of its periodic forays into the
always-overflowing mail bins of Do-It-Yourself releases by local bands. So, let's
dive in!

Ellen Rosner, "Count to 3" (No Genre Records) ***

A hardworking mainstay of the local singer-songwriter scene, Ellen Rosner's most
endearing strength is an overwhelming passion for music-making in general and her
own tales of romance and heartbreak in particular. At times, her material suffers
from being overly obvious (the lyrics to "B-Grade Movie" read like the script to
one), while her voice can go over the top with the occasional histrionic display. But
elsewhere, she hits the perfect balance of poetic vignette and heartfelt emotion, as
on "Vacancy," when she enigmatically evokes "Stolen glances/Whispered secrets ...
Empty bottles and lingerie." And she gets first-rate backing from some great
Chicago players, including Eric Remschneider and Paul Mertens on strings. Rosner
will celebrate the album's release at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, on March 1. See
www.ellenrosner.com for more info.

Zapruder Point, "Low Resolution" ***

Dan Zapruder first came to my attention when I heard he'd put together a Feelies
tribute band, The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness (brilliant!), but his own
project is just as inspired. A two-disc collection of 26 home-recorded tunes,
there's nothing lo-fi about the production values (all shimmering acoustic guitars,
pristine vocals, ringing pianos, and gorgeous violins) or the caliber of the
songwriting, which brings to mind the majesty of Leonard Cohen, but sweeter, in a
cardigan-wearing, indie-rocker way. All that and a cover of "Video Killed the
Radio Star," too! (E-mail danzp@earthlink.net.)

The Dishes, "1-2" (No. 89) ***

On their second full-length album, the punk-rawkin' Dishes have honed their chops
considerably, though the sound remains lovably raw a la the spirit of '77. The real
leap forward is in the quality of the lyrics, however--though I can't tell whether this
is because Sarah Staskauskas has improved as a vocalist or the band has included
a lyric sheet. (Maybe both.) "Fishnets" asks the memorable question, "Do you need
some sex to be sexy?" while "Girls Can't Play" nicely eviscerates a bonehead who
holds that sexist opinion. Not that the Dishes have gone politically correct:
"Shotgun" is the best Runaways song that band never got around to writing.

Kiss N Ride, "My Vanity" (Spin Cycle) ***

This quartet first pricked my ears as one of the standout contributors to "Just What
This World Needs: A Tribute to Material Issue," where they were very much a part
of that now-muted Midwestern power-pop tradition, yet daring enough to add a
serious twist to Jim Ellison's original. On this four-song maxi-single/mini-E.P., they
vary the formula with a punkish overdrive that's almost Blink-182-ish in spots,
while on other tunes they incorporate a danceable R&B groove that's about as far
as you can get from alternative-rock radio circa 2002. (www.kissnride.com)

Starball, "Superfans" (www.starballmusic.com) **1/2

Tamar Berk's effervescent alterna-pop now seems resolutely out of step with the
times, but that doesn't diminish her flair with the hooks, which are alternately sugary
and sassy ("You keep telling me I should relax/But if I wanted your opinion, I'd
ask," she snaps in "These Days"). On this outing, she's all the stronger for backing
by former Material Issue drummer Mike Zelenko and Pulsars guitarist Eric Hanna,
though she doesn't expand the boundaries of the genre anywhere close to what
Veruca Salt or Garbage accomplished on their last offerings.

The Pillowmints, "The Pillowmints" (www.pillowmints.com) **1/2

And speaking of Veruca Salt, its shimmering pop influence lingers in numerous
bands around town, including this quartet. But the Pillowmints also add a welcome
dollop of riot-grrrl smarts and a heaping helping of punk attitude to arrive at a fairly
fresh, original, and oh-so-energetic sound on this impressive four-song E.P.

Robo Dream Date, "Scientific Research is Being Done on Rock"
(Exploitation Records) **1/2

Here's a trio from the south suburbs that's made the rarest of commodities circa
2002: a lo-fi art-rock concept album that doesn't stink. The goal in crafting this
tongue-in-cheek tale of a society where robots battle over the future of rock would
seem to have been a merger of Devo, Ween, and Urge Overkill (via all the "we
rock!" posturing). At times, there's a little too much shtick, and the production
values are a bit rough on the ears. But you have to hand it to the boys for ambition,
and I'll be watching what they do in the future.

Central Falls, "Latitude" (Truckstop) **1/2

Best known as the drummer for avant-improvisers U.S. Maple, Adam Vida steps
forward to take center stage as a singer-songwriter in the introspective, understated
mope-rock tradition of Nick Drake and the Red House Painters, with a little more
slide-guitar country lilt. It's a subtle sound--too subtle at times--but Vida has a
pleasing voice and a writerly eye for detail that power his cinematic lullabies.

Troy, "So the Past Shall Pass" (www.troypettymusic.com) **1/2

Mining similar turf but from a more conventional singer-songwriter perspective, this
10-song collection by Troy Petty is haunting and evocative at its best, and somber
and sleepy at its worst. But it evinces a level of diversity and sophistication that
marks its auteur as a potential visionary rather than just another self-reflective

Greg Boerner, "Wishing Well" (www.gregboerner.com) **1/2

A transplanted Southerner with serious chops on the acoustic blues guitar but a
slightly less distinctive voice, Boerner makes you feel as if you're sitting on the back
porch with him as he's pickin', grinnin', and passin' the bottle. I generally like a little
more backbeat and a little more gutbucket in my blues, but you could do worse for
easy listening on your own back porch (or in the coffee shop, as the case may be).

Finally, I have to note that, even given the incredible amount of submissions I
receive from local bands, very, very few are simply downright awful or totally
lacking in merit. Much more common are discs that fall into one of two problem
categories: 1) Artists who haven't quite figured out what they want to say yet (but
might, down the road), and 2) Artists who aren't saying anything particularly
original or distinctive (but could, given the time to develop).

Among the recent entries falling into either of these classifications: Hypnofugue, "All
Over You"; Stylus, "Stylus"; Low Rent, "Can't Win If You Lose"; Anish, "Anish";
Gelheads, "Snappy Little Numbers"; Pie Eyed Pete, "Death of a Teenage Idol";
Second Hand Poets, "Afternoon in Aberdeen"; Sublyminal Blyss, "Audio Inertia";
Kari Nelson and Trio, "The Whale and the Elephant"; Emilie Autumn,
"Chambermaid"; Breather, "Cry for Me"; Butterfat Mastermind, "Butterfat
Mastermind"; Oh My God, "Well"; Stories for Boys, "Stories for Boys"; the Glow
Bugs, "The Glow Bugs"; Viza-Noir, "Viza-Noir," and Left Setter, "Left Setter."

The reviews above barely dented the pile, so watch for another local roundup
soon. Meanwhile, feel free to send your CDs or cassettes along with photo and bio
to me, care of the Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611.