I'm not sure if you feel this way but I do -- thank god it's March! Starting in November and running through February, the entertainment sphere of America culture is inundated with holiday-oriented articles, blatantly commercial releases and advertising-hungry product. But things chill out somewhat in March because there is simply nothing left to really celebrate. It's back to the daily grind, the sheer monotony of Everyday Life, and there's no better time to go digging for some music to help you through the dog days of the year in progress. And not to worry -- good music, like The X-Files truth, is out there.

Calexico, Feast of Wire

These Tucson natives understand, as their band name implies, the value of intersections. Calexico is literally a town on the border of California and Mexico, but it is also a merry band of serious musicians who enjoy exploring the rich musical cultures of not just those two lands, but others beyond those narrow boundaries as well. Enter their latest effort, Feast of Wire, a diverse sampling of idiosyncratic melody, ghost town dramatics and spaghetti western soundtracking.

So far, it has authored the finest song of the year, "Black Heart", a moving, string-laden rumination on the dead souls of lands that justice forgot ("One man's righteousness is another man's last chance"). Feast of Wire is a heady dose of musical craftsmanship that might not see its equal this year, and another addictive entry from a band that seeks to create its own niche rather than squeeze uncomfortably into ones created by a duller-by-the-moment mainstream pop landscape.

Cat Power, You Are Free

Chan Marshall is a singer-songwriter in the tradition of Tori Amos and PJ Harvey, but neither of those heavyweights ever got Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder or Foo Fighter's Dave Grohl to guest star on several tracks on the sheer weight of their appeal. Which might explain why Marshall's face is showing up everywhere from Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair.

Several years in the making, You Are Free is probably going to be the fuel that propels Marshall into the upper echelons of rock stardom, and it couldn't happen to a cooler chick. Revealing and expressive, Cat Power's newest is a mellow tone poem on sadness, devotion and, of course, heartbreak, the likes out of which lesser artists have made Hall-of-Fame careers. And while there are hardly any rockers to be found on the album, it's soul-searching explorations of feminine desire and destruction via moody piano, stirring vocals, and evocative acoustics ought to have the girls buying and the guys trying (to get backstage, that is). All this and beauty too. Chan is the ma'am.

Shipping News, Three-Four

Like Calexico before them, Kentucky's Shipping News is both another stellar band from the continually interesting Touch and Go label and a talented collective thoroughly acquainted with compositional atmospherics. The kicker this time is that they have been formulating a potent method to their musical madness for the last three years, and that approach has come to fruition with the release of Three-Four. A compilation of their previous three EPs (with a few new tunes thrown in for good measure), Shipping News' latest finds its trio of melancholy geniuses working within restrictions -- each member had to compose a song alone on the spot and play all of the instruments without any outside help -- while achieving the same impressive results as their last couple of albums.

What's sad is that while other bands spend millions to weigh down their releases with tinkering and unnecessary instrumenation, Shipping News hit home runs with a fraction of that preparation and support. Working within electronica, math rock, acoustic melancholia, and onward, Louisville's finest have created that rarest of albums: one that offers a unique song, style and sound on each track. Pick this one up on pain of death.

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Visit Scott at www.Morphizm.com


© Melt Magazine 2003