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Sixpence None The Richer - Sixpence None The Richer (Squint Entertainment)
It hasn't taken long for Sixpence None The Richer to become a serious powerhouse in the world of alternative music. Genius that has been spotted in their past two albums, The Fatherless and The Widow and This Beautiful Mess, has now put itself in the spotlight. And for good reason, too. It's hard to find a crowd of people who don't love, or at least respect, Sixpence. Musicians were dumbstruck by JJ Plasencio's virtuoso bass solo in TBM's "Love, Salvation, The Fear Of Death" and Dale Baker's equally stunning drumming on "The Garden". Poets found Matt Slocum's lyrics equal parts insightful and anchored to God's grace, and those who just wanted a good pop song found plenty in Leigh Bingham's lilting, fragile voice.

After a two year hiatus from recording brought on by record label problems and Plasencio and guitarist Tess Wiley's departure, Sixpence None The Richer is Squint Entertainment's debut release, and what an album it is. Strings, great songwriting, beautiful melodies, perfect production, and experimentation galore mark Sixpence's amazing third album. Standouts include the jazzy "Lines Of My Earth" and the amazing, screwed time signature of "Puedo Escribir". 11 out of 10, 3 thumbs up, but it now!!!

Plankeye - The One And Only (Tooth And Nail)
Once a little known garage band, Southern California's Plankeye has evolved beyond belief over the course of their four albums. From Spill's punk posturing to the more power pop leanings of The Spark and Commonwealth, and now to the straight up aggressive pop attack of The One And Only, this is a band that truly knows what dynamics, song structure, and energy is all about. From the harmonica on "Someday" to the bongos on "Fall Down" to the '80s synth sound on the standout "How Much I Don't Know", this is an album that every alternative rock fan should own.

Dear Ephesus - The Consolation of Pianissimo (Bulletproof)
First came ska, then came electronica, now comes emo. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the Christian music industry deciding that a music style is "cool". And while I can't quite see CCM embracing Roadside Monument or Brandtson, Dear Ephesus's 12-song debut is a masterful blend of catchy, emotional pop and start-stop guitar noise. Combining the dynamics of Live to the beautiful melodies of Sunny Day Real Estate, this is a great debut.

The Promise Ring - Nothing Feels Good (Jade Tree)
I heard about these guys from Tooth and Nail's Bill Powers, and I'm glad I did. A four piece indie-pop outfit from Milwaukee, this album is a 12 song non-stop blast of ear candy and poetic, almost indecipherable lyrics. "B Is For Bethlehem" is the anthem of the year, with "Perfect Lines" running a close second. Check out Jade Tree for ordering info.

Johnny Respect - Blue Collar Moxy (Bulletproof)
First heard on that 5 Minute Walk sampler last year, these guys are a blast. They are, simply put, punk rock mixed with rock-a-billy, and their live show is one of the best around. Throw in a cover of the Stray Cats and 13 other '50s revivalist, loud, hip-swinging songs and you have Johnny Respect...look for these guys to blow up soon.

My Friend Stephanie - All The Pieces (Gray Dot)
The follow up to 1996's critically acclaimed Makeover, All The Pieces is pop heaven. Lead singer Drue Bachmann enjoys help from Bill Campbell of The Throes, among others, and comes out with a 12-song winner. "How Are You" officially replaces 7 Day Jesus's "Always Comes Around" as catchy pop song of the year with it's Moog-drenched chorus and noisy guitar blanket. What a killer album.

Farewell To Juliet - Grace and Dire Circumstances (Marathon)
Wow. Imagine the acoustic feel of Jars of Clay filtered through progressive rock and shaded with hints of Radiohead, and you have Farewell To Juliet. From the opener "Holiday on Ice" to the closing worship song "I Will Fear The Lord", this album has everything an alternative fan would want, from power pop ("Bittersweet") to beautiful noisy pop ("Motions I Know") to a Choir cover ("Chase The Kangaroo"). The first great album of 1998. Avaliable through Marathon Records.

Thee Spivies - Ready or Not... (Jackson/Rubio)
The '50s are back. Imagine Buddy Holly on six cups of coffee, and you have Thee Spivies. With songs averaging under three minutes and hummable pop choruses, this is a lo-fi masterpiece of fun surf-rock. The packaging is hilarious, and so are the spoken word breakdowns that Thee Spivies hurl randomly into their songs. I love it.