P.J. OLSSON, Words for Living (C2) Michigan-born P.J. Olsson embodies the elements of rock-electronic crossover: He studied classical violin as a kid, dabbled in the techno scene during a stay in Germany, and more recently picked up an acoustic guitar and began penning songs. His soothing tracks combine agile guitar play and electronic loops mellowed over with breathy vocals. Olsson could fit in singing campfire-side with Ben Harper, but fortunately for him, that's not all his voice has to offer. Its delicate, searching quality highlights the dreamlike imagery in his songs. Lyrically, Olsson is most enjoyable when toying with surreal sexual stoner imagery, as in the suggestively titled "Visine": "The ozone like a clit/Dripping sunshine on my lips." His vocals don't hold up, and his wordplay's less imaginative, in sappy love songs like "Beautiful Woman" and "Ready for a Fall," which sound even more bland backed solely by a guitar and drum set. Olsson's arranging is also sub-par on the up-tempo "Dandelion" and "Good Dream," where fast-paced verses combine awkwardly with wispy choruses. Despite Olsson's diverse musical background, he comes up short of purposefully mixing genres, and the singer-songwriter sounds more like a combination of his parts than an innovative blend of musical forms. Seek elsewhere for substance.—Jeff Malamy
JAI AGNISH, Automata (Blue Bunny) Maybe it's the arrival of the new millennium, but it seems that plenty of people are putting themselves in church pews these days. Indie artists nonexempt, folks are praising Jesus all over the place. New Jersey's Jai Agnish is one such believer. This young, creative songsmith has just self-released a lush set of electro-acoustic pop/folk songs that touch on, rather than dwell on, his Christian faith. Sliding around video game noises, Casio keyboard bleeps, sampled beats, and the warmth of plucked guitar strings, Agnish's lyrics contain an integrity and truth that's reminiscent of work by Pedro the Lion's David Bazan. Before you go thinking his songs are easily interpreted stories, realize that Agnish counts the elusive lyrics of Pavement and the wonderful messes of both Cornelius and Beck as equally influential in his process. Those of you too cool for Sunday school shouldn't disregard Agnish all together. Pick up the record, and if the track "Jesus Song" bothers you that much, program your disc player to skip over it, for heaven's sake. You just might find that the remaining 10 songs, instrumental and otherwise, will warm your secular heart. "Finding Ways" ends with Agnish's extremely palatable voice weaving "Hey, I found this, too" over a whirling loop and pretty lines of folk guitar. With a song this nice, what does it matter to you if he's referring to romantic love or spiritual salvation? Agnish's only motive appears to be honesty, and by holding his heavy heart in his hand and employing wandering words and oblique, skimming noises, the songs accomplish the goal in a pleasantly roundabout way.—Laura Learmonth
Listen to Jai Agnish's "Finding Ways" from the album Automata.
To purchase this CD, check out Jai's site at www.flygirlweb.com.
RAYMOND SCOTT, Manhattan Research Inc. (Basta) Raymond Scott was many things. Not only did his musically frisky, sonically outr頱930s Quintette invent fake jazz decades before John Lurie or Squarepusher came along, the ingenious co-opting of their records by Warner Bros. cartoon soundtracker Carl Stalling made Scott's willfully weird dynamics the sound of Saturday morning for generations of Bugs Bunny fans. Scott's three Soothing Sounds for Baby albums from 1964 were prominent progenitors of modern ambient, and he was also a protean gizmo-tinkerer who screwed with rhythm machines and bass line generators when Kraftwerk were mere gleams in a test tube's eye. The latter legacy is celebrated on this wondrously packaged double-CD of radio jingles, sound-snippets, and pops, clicks, wows, and flutters. For sure Scott's sparkly bright, infectiously frisky, sci-fi-futurismo rhythm exercises are just begging to be sampled by some Detroit or Berlin tech-nerd. Radio commercials for Sprite, Twinkies, Vicks cough drops, Ford, GM, the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, Ohio Bell, and the Pygmy Taxi Corporation are woozy fun, with the five-minute IBM ad "The Paperwork Explosion" ("Machines should work—people should think") both genius sound-sculpture and genius advertising. And topping them all is "Limbo: The Organized Mind," which features Jim Henson narrating the listener through his capacious cranium.—Michaelangelo Matos
BLESSED LIGHT, Blessed Light (Made in Mexico) It's probably not possible to pinpoint the exact moment in musical history when English rockers and American country artists struck up a mutual admiration society. A good place to start might be the Beatles, who honed their Carl Perkins fixation in the early '60s, setting an example for the Rolling Stones, who formed a brief but productive alliance with folk-rock bad boy Gram Parsons a decade later. Nowadays, a handful of pretty-sounding bands from both sides of the pond have continued exploring the side effects of such conceptual crossbreeding, with the UK's Mojave 3 and LA's Beachwood Sparks leading the way. Now Seattle has its own practitioners, Blessed Light. This upstart band's self-titled six-song disc favors Merseybeat over Memphis swing, but the spirit of the Britpop/country union pervades in the gentle, floating melodies and in friendly voiced Toby Gordon's thoughtful ruminations. The local quintet's got a slight psychedelic yen as well, especially on the multipart, aqueous "Even If It's Only for a While," with a fuzzy Rhodes piano cushioning Gordon and Ryan Kraft's loose-fingered guitar interplay. And oh how Blessed Light can write (and play) a song. I'd place the track "Feelin'" up there with the great narcotic pop tunes of all time, its cascading riffs echoing the harmonized chorus of "Trippin' on the sidewalks downtown." It's a should-be classic: I keep scouring the liner notes, searching for a sign that the song's a cover of some forgotten Velvet Underground ballad or Mott The Hoople B-side. But it's an original, and as much as Blessed Light are part of an exclusive lineage, they're also sticking to their own sense of fashion.—Richard A. Martin
Blessed Light play the Crocodile Tuesday, August 22.