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In case you ever wondered what became of all those kids knocking out ragged but sweet pop songs on their four-track cassette machines in an age when digital technology has rendered them obsolete, Oliver Scharf is here to represent for them. Hailing from Saschen, Germany, Scharf is the man behind the Hanoi Janes -- he writes the songs, sings the lyrics, and plays the guitar and bass, with a variety of friends handling the drumming according to their availability. Scharf's first album as the Janes, Year of Panic, certainly flies the flag for all things lo fi (on a few tracks, he's even managed to make the keyboards sound like they have a speed fault) without obscuring his simple but hooky melodies and overabundant energy. Tearing through 15 songs in less than 32 minutes, Year of Panic is just a bit more straightforward than the Hanoi Janes' "Across the Sea" single, but the essential approach and its strengths are very much the same -- spare, upbeat melodies with a few layers of lively guitar, some judicious applications of percussion and keyboards, and vocals with enough reverb that they function as another instrument, especially when they're submerged in the mix (which they quite frequently are). And while we have no clue about what gear Scharf used to record this stuff, it reflects the best traditions of homemade music and could likely have been cut on a four-track with the right amount of care and attention (though the audio is less fuzzy than, say, an early Guided by Voices LP). Scharf has made an album that would do most bedroom recorders proud, but what really makes it work are his songs, full of melodies and caffeinated energy that might make you jump up and dance if you don't watch yourself. Year of Panic is the rare stylistic throwback successful enough to sound vintage and fresh at the same time. - All Music

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