Golden Dream
(Wicked Witch)

Golden Dream, the first full-length by Portland's Braille Stars, is an inoffensive and highly listenable walk between rock subtlety and atmospheric harmonies. However, despite some interesting guitar work, a hot-toddy warm recording, and unique vocal timbre, I think that, in the end, Braille Stars are... ok. It's really just the kind of rock that would have been considered alternative in 1991, with lots of effects. The guitar hooks, which weigh in heavily on the album but average about one or two per song, are catchy and memorable. Should you buy it for background music? Sure. Is it a seminal album that will change the face of music? Nope. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

Take a Heart

My Lord... on diggin' this, you gonna be stunned speechless. In fact, The Sorrows, a relatively unknown '60s U.K. R&B/Freakbeat band, have damn well made my record collection unfuckin' listenable. Seriously. Their playin' flawlessly supports frantic, slap-yer-ass-stupid, dynamic songs. These "dynamics" ain't the clichèd "quiet-to-loud" gimmick--the quiet bits make you squirm too! Uh, if I gotta "compare", they're like the Kinks blocked up on pills... er, "speed," then overloaded with reverb. And this collection ain't no "teaser" either--it's a nearly complete anthology, with liners (xoxoxo Mr. David Wells), the impossible to find LP, and all the 45s! Take a Heart is "hot, very hot"... like in Sixteen Candles. MIKE NIPPER

Rock N' Roll Singer
(Badman Recording Co.)

Former Red House Painters front man Mark Kozelek is best-known for his somber, soulful voice, and plain, poignant lyrics. On his good but flawed first solo record, he demonstrates that, with or without a band behind him, he can deliver minimal and convincing songs with grace. Rock N' Roll Singer starts strong with "Find Me, Reuben Olivares," a Nick Drake-ish number with great momentum and lyrics meditating on wandering and loss. Other highlights include Kozelek's falsetto and tasteful use of voice doubling. The title track, however, finds his voice too weighty and, in turn, monotonous. He swallows every word in the verses and the result is bored, boring vocal that doesn't match the spirited electric guitar track. The real treat on this album is Kozelek's versatile guitar playing. Simple chord progressions are played with care and feeling, making them unique and alive. All in all, Kozelek demonstrates that he's got soul, backup band or no, and that when he digs for some passion, he is capable of writing and performing infectious songs. RORY CARROLL