Justin Mikulka

Sequels & Opposites

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Maybe it's MTV Unplugged's fault, but it seems like there's never been so many singer/songwriters recording acoustic-guitar-and-vocal-only albums. But Northern New Jersey's Mikulka has a slant: like his first solo LP, 1998's Consumer, he puts a Darth Vader distortion on his voice sometimes, which makes his words more ominous and daunting than the whole pile. This is more effective than his more standard voice, which makes Sequels just another folk record, just another singer in search of more involved backing to spruce up bare songs (Mikulka saves that for his real band, Cathode Bob, much as Elliott Smith did when he had Heatmiser). Though when he enunciates so fast you can't keep up with him, on "Die Happy," he taps into a DiFranco/Dylan/Guthrie talking-blues pantheon that shows he's more talented than the competition, and his lyrics are above-average. The use of samples spices things up a little, too, without growing too omnipresent. (P.O. Box 295, Franklin Park, NJ 08823; onemadson@earthlink.net)