Singles From Diego and the Dissidents, The Phenomenal Handclap Band, California Wives and More 

Once in a while, this here reviewer gets thrown a change-up or two in the quest to review ever-widening swaths of the music scene. This time around, the switch is that instead of getting an album or two, a handful of singles were tossed my way. Since most music fans are well-acquainted with the mixtape, mix CD or--for you real young 'uns--the mix playlist, here's a mix review.

Quinn Marston: "Can You Hear Me See Me Now?"

Not a good start to this batch. Whiny, fast-paced, over-enunciated: one out of three isn't good. This track from the New York-based singer/songwriter is like listening to Beth Orton front Throwing Muses and not with the good points of either act. Of course, this might just be the loser track in an otherwise killer album, but based on this song's limp lyrics and generic music, I'm not eager to find out. Eminently forgettable.

The Phenomenal Handclap Band: "The Journey To Serra Da Estrela (Fujiya & Miyagi Remix)"

This is an awesome name for a band, and the fun doesn't stop there. Heavy synth lines and driving drums make this song a perfect choice for driving fast through empty deserts, at least for the first three-quarters of the song. Then the instrumentation drops out, as if to remind the listener these guys can do more than just rock, damn it. While pointless, the end underlines how good the first 75 percent of the song is.

Diego And The Dissidents: "Nerve Storm"

These dudes show up as remixers a little later on, but this outing as a band is a little problematic. Diego and the Dissidents seem to listen to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, which shows good taste, but this track sounds like the opening riff to "Purple Haze" hooked up with the beat and general vibe of "Crosstown Traffic" ... and just couldn't get anywhere. Good thing this one is less than three minutes long. Even the string-and-sample break can't make this track interesting once it's clear that Hendrix isn't going to make an appearance.

California Wives: "Purple" and "Blood Red Youth"

Take some of the jangle of power pop and throw in a little OMD-like vocal yearning and out pops California Wives' "Purple." When said that way, it sounds derivative but good power pop is always welcome, and this track brings it in just the right dose. It gets to the point and doesn't overstay its welcome, an increasingly rare commodity in pop.

The resemblance to OMD is even stronger on "Blood Red Youth," though CW have the edge in that they can comfortably range outside synth-based pop into more rock-based sounds. It's impossible to judge a band's oeuvre accurately on the basis of two songs (not that it'll stop any self-respecting critic/reviewer from trying), but based on these tracks, these guys could have a career mining the mope rock strains The Cure started and The Smiths perfected.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.: "Vocal Chords (Diego And The Dissidents Remix)"

This band has a crappy name but let's not hold that against them. The remix is a bouncy yet low-key pop-rock romp, echoing some of the Manchester sound of groups like the Doves without spilling over into mopiness. (And what the hell is it with English bands and melancholy? It can't just be the weather, else Morrissey could be from Seattle.) If nothing else, it makes for a nice dance tune.

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