Walking with the Beggar Boys is supposed to be the album on which indie-pop group Elf Power abandons the hippie-mystical trappings of its early work. But listen to some lyrics from the title track, delivered call-and-response-style, between Elf Power vocalist Andrew Rieger and guest Vic Chesnutt: "I was you / You were me / He was she / She was he / They were us / We were they / It was real / We were free / I was God / God is cool / God is you / God is me / I was one / We were two / They were three / Three is three."
Pretty straightforward, huh? But the amazing thing is that this album is the work of a more down-to-earth Elf Power. Gone are the Narnia-inspired concepts of When the Red King Comes and the brilliant, shimmering psychedelia of A Dream in Sound. Elf Power has managed to hold onto enough of its outsider personality to make a relatively unadorned album without becoming another cardboard rock cutout. This gentle album imagines an alternate universe in which the Byrds, not MC5, are the rock template du jour. It's nice to see a band that can make a small step toward the mainstream while still following its own muse.
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Houston's Modulator bring the noise early-'80s synthpop-style. In addition to vocalist Julie Zamora, who doubles on keyboards, Modulator also includes a second keyboardist, a guitarist and a standard rhythm section, and the songs on Modulator's new EP, Don't Hold on Me, are dorky little jewels -- tunes in which a troubled love affair is likened to a computer crash ("Major Malfunction"), while troublesome lovers are said to be "so analog." The EP was produced by Psychedelic Fur Ed Buller, whose production credits also include Pulp, Suede and the Boo Radleys, so it's little surprise that the EP sounds great. The synths are sunlamp-warm, the guitars crunch, the vocals are rich. As for what it all sounds like -- think something along the lines of the Human League sans male vocals, but with more guitar.