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St. Etienne
Travel Edition: 1990-2003
Sub Pop

Hunh. I’ve been seeing this band’s name in mom ’n’ pop distro catalogues for at least as long as this best-of retrospective dates back, but this is the first time I’ve actually heard them. I always assumed they’d be waifish pop, but they’re actually like a cross between ABBA, Deeee-Lite and anonymous four-on-the-floor house music of the type you hear in almost any European disco, deglazed with shoegazing guitar and garnished with precisely the type of glacial female vocals that foster hopeless, platonic indie crushes among flood-panted, horn-rimmed boys with tiny backpacks.

It’s feather-light stuff, easy on the ears, if a little impoverished for hooks and changes by today’s restless standards. Each song is appealingly different from the others but often somewhat repetitive in itself. Mostly it’s the drums; they always have a certain canned quality that taints the rest of the music with a dated electronic staleness. Also, the arrangements are rather stiff and, pretty as they are, too many songs on Travel Edition just kind of lie there waiting for something to happen that never really does.

I still consider this record a pleasant surprise. Granted, it’s the kind of surprise that makes a guy painfully aware of all his other blind spots…(Andy Smetanka)

Luna
Rendezvous
Jet Set

A year after Dean Wareham literally phoned in his resignation from Galaxie 500, the band’s label, Rough Trade, went bankrupt and took Galaxie 500 royalties down with it. Wareham was able to recover the master tapes of the band’s entire recorded output at an auction of Rough Trade’s assets and put out a boxed set, but his former bandmates—Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, currently DBA Damon and Naomi—remain the spiritual heirs to Galaxie 500’s shambling dreaminess.

Wareham, on the other hand, has improved—if that’s the word—on Galaxie 500’s minimalist sense of songcraft with pointier melodies and an acerbic edge that keeps the listener slightly on his guard in a way that Galaxie 500 never did.

Though never particularly in your face, Luna has mellowed over the course of seven albums (since 1992) to the point where once-heated guitar exchanges between Wareham and fellow guitarist Sean Eden now come across like the friendly bickering of an old married couple. Glimpses of former fireworks linger on, but late-breaking news that Rendezvous will be Luna’s last album before early retirement (doing it now to skip the inevitable acrimony, apparently) should hardly surprise anyone who knows the sound of a band winding down when they hear it. (Andy Smetanka)

The Makers
Stripped
Kill Rock Stars

Good bands come and go, but the Makers are the closest thing the Inland Empire has to a rock institution. They’ve been at it for 15 years, and in that time they’ve gone from putting out scuzz-o-phonic two-cans-and-some-string records to putting out big fat rock-star records like Rock Star God. And from being a bunch of hungry Edwardian dandy hooligans with an incongruous reputation for brawling to being the well-fed Edwardian dandy rock salarymen you see on the cover of Stripped. They’ve also gone from garage imprint nonpareil Estrus Records to Northwest nabobs Sub Pop and have now ended up, curiously, on Kill Rock Stars.

One thing, however, has remained constant. Every Makers record, particularly those from the band’s Estrus era, has delivered at least a couple of surly anthems and a swarm of furiously stinging riffs. For Stripped, the Makers went back and rerecorded their own handpicked best-of and mixed it with live applause from an enormous and enthusiastic German concert audience. For fans who wish the band would get back, sonically speaking, to their scrappy Felony Flats roots—but also have secretly wished some of those first albums were recorded a little, um, “better”—here’s your compromise. And it’s not much of a compromise, either. Listen to “Leopard Skin Sissy” three times in a row and punch a wall. (Andy Smetanka)

The Wannadies
Before & After
Hidden Agenda

Thank goodness for getting older. Before spotting this record, I associated this Swedish band so completely with a 1993 romantic drawing-and-quartering that even if I’d known they were still together, I probably wouldn’t have bought a new Wannadies record simply to protest their guilt by association. Now, though, it’s like running into former friends of the same old girlfriend who no longer know where she is or care much, either.

Before & After teeters on the twin precipices of fancying itself just a little too clever and sounding just a little too derivatively British, right down to the singer’s fey soft-boy inflections. Then again, you can’t miss with a pop song called “Piss on You,” a sentiment I personally would have found instructive while my innards were being twisted on a roasting spit to the tune of “Love Is Dead” from the 1993 Cherry Man EP. Hopefully that record, which also includes have-a-go covers of the Go-Betweens’ “Lee Remick” and the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” will get a rerelease one day soon. I think I could handle it now. (Andy Smetanka)

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