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+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
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+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
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+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
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+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
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The Willowz
Sympathy For The Record Industry

The Willowz exploded out of their home scene of Anaheim, California a couple of years ago, mostly on the strength of two songs included on Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack, one of them notably accompanying footage of Kirstin Dunst dancing on a bed in her underwear. Their first full-length, Willowz Are Coming, was a jolt of pure teenage rock 'n' roll energy from a band whose members still weren't old enough to buy a drink. There, punk rock anthems like "Equation #6" distilled the garage formula to essentials, yet the album also had enough outlier tracks to suggest that The Willowz weren't planning on staying a garage band very long.

Now with their follow-up, this still-young band is pushing the envelope even further, incorporating samples, harmonies, horns and a broader palette of sounds without sacrificing the intensity that makes them great.

With 20 cuts, Talkincircles falls prey somewhat to the beginner's "Hey, we can still fit two more tracks on here" syndrome, yet it compensates by pushing the strongest material to the front. "Ulcer Soul" emerges out of a squall of feedback, furious drums cutting through a pulsating roar of distorted guitars, all density and compounded sensation. There's a break about a minute in, where all you hear is frontman Richie James Follin moaning "Oh... baby... break me down," against the platonic ideal of a rock beat. It's like coming up for a gulp of air in a roiling ocean, and the wave of noise, when it comes, nearly blots out the sky. Sweeter, bluesier, slower "Unveil" rides a lazy beat, as Follin drawls "Those modern girls... don't do it for me" over the clank of tambourine, and Jessica Reynoza picks out a walking bass line.

"Unveil" leads into the album's hands-down highlight, the crushing, driving, hundred-percent-on "Cons & Tricks." The Willowz, subject of a couple of abortive bidding wars and exposed at a tender age to the worst of the industry, know a thing or two about dishonesty, and they've used their experience to fuel the fire. A stinging guitar line kicks the song off, with Follin pounding out lyrics like "It seems like everything I do is wrong/ I feel so stupid just to sing this song" at a rapid-fire pace. There's a pop element to The Willowz whenever Reynoza sings, and here her murmured "ah-ahs" are a melodic counterpart to the song's punk energy. The whole effort comes across as not so much cynicism as disappointed innocence, the kind of wronged feeling you can only have as a teenager. But it also works as pure rock 'n' roll as Follin sings, "Cons & tricks they get me through/ I'm full of cheats/ I'll cheat you, too/ Manipulation gets me through/ The point being that you never knew/ That you never knew/ That you never knew."

is studded with found sounds, which mostly don't add much; however, the exception comes in this song. There's a phone-offhook sound mid-track that's perfectly aligned with the rhythm, almost like a second drummer, and very cool.

The first half of Talkincircles is better than the second half, though a few late album tracks break out — "Heartstrings," with its epic slow guitar intro and sweetly harmonized vocals, "Equation #2," for its giant Supertramp-ish chorus, and singsong-frantic "Categories." The disc closes with someone playing a classical piece — Haydn perhaps — on organ, and Reynoza remarking, "We can die now." Not yet please. By all indications, The Willowz are just getting started.

by Jennifer Kelly

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