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17 Bonus Reviews, Here Only; Don't Forget the New Issue 65; 2009 Wrapup show this Monday on Big Takeover on

26 December 2009

Hello, and hope everyone is having a great holiday season. Now that the X-mas rush is over, I wanted to post 17 bonus reviews that I had intended to include in the current issue 65, but ran out of time running up against that issue’s deadline. They are below. I especially like the Little Black Dress CD. (I’ll be playing a song off it on “Big Takeover on” on Monday the 4th of January.)

Speaking of the weekly Big Takeover radio show, make sure you tune in this coming Monday, the 28th, as I will be hosting a 2009 wrap-up—a countdown show of my 20 favorite albums of 2009 in reverse order, one song each (plus one bonus track from the brand new Sloan EP that couldn’t make my list because it’s only five songs long. But that can’t stop me!). It’s great listening, and can be heard any time starting Monday at noon at and thereafter at

As well if you missed our two-part “Rabid in the Kennel” session with Sloan doing six songs live from the Kennel studios (no overdubs!) and my accompanying interview with bassist Chris Murphy and guitarist Jay Ferguson , I heartily recommend it. You can easily access both parts, a good two hours of fun, by heading to and clicking on the links – there are also photos and video from the session at that site as well. And there are also links to our previous sessions with Justin Sullivan of New Model Army , Miranda Lee Richards , Joe Pernice of Pernice Brothers , T.V. Smith of The Adverts , and The Posies . All a good time!

Lastly, just a reminder to check out the new issue 65 of Big Takeover with the smokin’ live shot of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth on the cover, on the stands right now. Best of all, it can also be ordered by hitting the “back issues” link to the very left of this page (or you can subscribe by hitting the “subscribe” link just a little above that). It’s chock full of great stuff! (Click on the link on the top left, “Issue 65 About to Ship” for full info on the issue!) Independent (i.e, truly indie!) magazines like ours are especially helped out by direct orders, as we get so little of what you spend on the store sales, but we’re glad for anyone who reads our contents. I think you’ll enjoy it if you’re read this far!

Well that’s it. Happy new year everyone, from me, everyone else on this page, the print mag staff, and all of our friends!! And see you in the ’10s! Can you believe another numerical decade is upon us?

For now, here’s the bonus reviews. Enjoy!

Jack Rabid
Big Takeover


Actors and Actresses
(Mylene Sheath)
Between Mylene Sheath and Clairrecords, an audiophile who loves textural wonders in his rock has been well served the last few years. The latest case in point is this Kansas City trio that’s been kicking around a while (I have a vague recollection of an EP four years ago), but have found the perfect label to showcase their winding wares. With sheets of ghostly feedback and ambiance up the wazoo, the group straddles the line between slowcore and the most esoteric shoegaze, their boyish vocals bubbling up from beneath their textural treatises. They’re all glistening, gurgling guitars in no hurry to go anywhere, chiming, knelling, tickling, and floating in equal parts over minimal drums and bass (some of which sounds vaguely, but barely, electronic). If you’re looking for a pop song, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’ve come to be gently lifted aloft, levitated by cascading guitars and mysterious moods (the interestingly titled “Quiet!” alone will take you through the range of them, from hushed to cacophonous), Actors and Actresses aren’t just putting on a show of it. They’re immersed, and you will be too. (

Jason Dove
Illegal Activities
(The Beechfields)
Everything produced by Jawbox/Burning Airlines maven J. Robbins is worth a damn, and this one is no exception. Baltimore denizen Dove’s third LP—his first with new backing band Vacation Face —is a bit of a 180 after his last, more regretful outing, 2007’s also-Robbins guided We Should Be Together . Having purged unrequited romantic pining from his psyche, this more liberal, stout follow-up is an appeal to the populace to shed the politics of fear practiced not only by one of our parties since 9/11, but in general; in fact, it’s the media he specifically calls out on an unusually pointed line such as “There’s no real news on TV/Because information doesn’t make advertisers any money.” But otherwise, the overall tone is reassuring—nay, liberating—as Dove and band flit from style to style, connected only by the prominence of plucky piano. Like a modern day Ray Davies fronting Teenage Fanclub, “Your New Tomorrow” melds power-pop with late ‘60s music hall Kinks, whereas a harder, more modern indie rock tracks make more use of Robbins’ more typical predilections, such as the wonderfully Who-like “Song For Neil” and the barreling “Big Red Truck.” Dove seems like a talented good guy, and his easy on the ears spirit and tasty tunes are readily enjoyable from first play. (

Immaculate Machine
High on Jackson Hill
(Mint CAN)
It’s strange how little these Victoria, B.C. favorites’ fourth LP revisits 2007’s Fables ‘s charms. Fables was a well-crafted, well-produced LP that smartly capitalized on a bonanza of fortuitous free publicity, reaped from the discovery that Kathryn Calder was a previously unknown niece of New Pornographers ’ frontman A.C. Newman —which led her to join the New Porns, and to Immaculate Machine opening one of their tours. High seems disjointed and scattered in comparison. The first noticeable difference is how leader Brooke Gallupe has sadly sidelined Calder’s sonorous voice. The one lead vocal she gets, on the acoustic-poignant “You Destroyer” (not aimed at her New Porns bandmate Dan Bejar ’s own band Destroyer), she captivates with lovely trilling—much as she credibly performs Neko Case ’s lead and backing parts when Ms. Case can’t make a New Porns gig. Not since Neil Halstead stopped giving Rachel Goswell lead work on Mojave 3 records has there been such an unwise elbow-out. (Calder does do some fine work on backing vocals and a strong duet on “And it Was.”) Secondly, what the band gains in spontaneity in recording at Gallupe’s ancestral home and making up songs there, they lose in the spotty quality of some of the material. Half the songs sound like demo ideas, waiting to be fleshed into something more permanent. That said, the other half display the band’s talent. The standouts “Primary Colours” and “Neighbors Don’t Mind” could have found a home on Fables or 2005’s Ones and Zeros , the former containing a memorable chorus after bracing verses fed by stabbing guitar lines, and the latter deploying a guitar-riffing aggression and speed that races the heart. Meanwhile, “He’s a Biter” all but asks the question of what T-Rex would sound like if fronted by Newman, instead. And Gallupe’s sarcastic, condemning lyrics are a general treat. So it’s not a bad album, per se. But it’s unfortunate to utilize a weapon like Calder so little, and more importantly, one hopes that album number five will feel more fully mapped out, conceptualized, and realized. (

Impossible Arms
Ripped in No Time
While the title of this album probably wasn’t intended as a comment on the likelihood of your obtaining its 14 songs for free instead of supporting the label and band, it is on the money in evoking the muscular nature of the group’s gritty guitar pop glory. For those pining for the golden age of ‘80s alterna-pop, from those glorious pre- Nevermind days, this Chapel Hill, NC power-trio’s debut is fancy feast—although you’d have to know who Dumptruck, Volcano Suns, Big Dipper, The Embarrassment, Breaking Circus, and The Bongos were. (Hopefully you do!) Those with more passing, surface knowledge can resort to thinking about Mission of Burma (“Here on the Couch”) and J Mascis’s sugar plum fairy visions of turning Dinosaur Jr. into a stoner-punk Crazy Horse. (Furthermore, “Nowhere at All” hearkens back further, to prime ‘70s Burma influence Brian Eno, like something between “Blank Frank” and “Cindy Tells Me,” while “Unite and Sever” could be The Fall. But if you need a more ‘90s reference, I’ll offer Chapel Hill’s own Archers of Loaf circa ‘93’s Icky Mettle .) Wrapping up this dense but nimble approach is singer Mike Myerson ’s husky voice, fitting the material like a cross between Burma’s Peter Prescott and Saccharine Trust’s Jack Brewer. I’d like to hear more with the lovely strings, like on “Prescriptions Filled,” but this is a good opening play. (

Little Black Dress
Snow in June
(Exploding Plastic/Idol)
What is it about hot-as-hell tumbleweed Texas that has made it the hotbed of modern shoegaze/dreampop this decade just completed? LBD isn’t even from Denton (albeit Dallas is only a half-hour down the interstate), but like the clutch of good bands from that nowhere college town to the Northwest, they’ve probably devoured a bunch of albums from ‘80s/’90s 4AD, Creation, and Rough Trade. That was the last time one heard such a well-recorded, freshened, miasma of exploding reverbed guitars, cooing boyish vocals, lush floating sensations, and a battering of effects pedals like delay, all from a few dozen extraordinary English bands on those labels. Lead singer Toby Pipes could even pass for a girl in the Rachel Goswell, Miki Berenyi, Belinda Butcher, or Toni Halliday tradition, his angelic choir boy crooning bringing back sainted memories of The Boo Radleys’ Sice, Pale Saints’ Ian Masters, and on our side of the pond, For Against’s Jeffrey Runnings—and that’s a rave, not a criticism, fitting into music of this splendor. The three guitarists seem to take turns on who can take you on the longest surf of cresting oceanic waves sound, from the little bits of foam spraying your ears on the slower numbers such as the title track, to the full-throated tsunami waves of the standouts “Robin” and “End Film.” This album is an out and out pleasure, one of the best recorded of its type out of America (previously Britain had that big advantage over us adorning Yanks in that department), slotting easily with the great ‘00s work by Sleepover Disaster, Destroy All Dreamers, and England’s Secret Shine for some of the best albums in this genre since the original scene waned in the ‘90s. Don’t miss. (

Ludlow Lions
No Stories
(Ludlow Lions)
Brooklyn has turned out a ton of indie rock outfits this last decade, but not that many this loudly, proudly post-emo-pop. Following up an EP last year, this heavy, mostly mid-tempo, pulsing, catchy rock group are indeed lions and not lambs. (Note, I checked, they took their name from the singer’s youth soccer team in Ludlow, MA, not from our East Village’s trendy Ludlow Street, where so many clubs exist.) And they stick out even more, thanks to a distinctive feature: the imploring pipes of singer/guitar man Brendan Coon. In addition to laying out have the blasts he and fellow talented six-stringer Jordan Melkin concoct, Coon’s unusually pleasant voice seems like an enjoyable cross between Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren, The Who’s Pete Townshend, and especially Lotion’s Tony Zajkowski (yes!)—even as the band’s varied assaults feel as multi-faceted as your average Sunny Day Real Estate extravaganza, or another Robert Pollard solo wig-out. (As well, the intro to the slower “And You Lead Out” hints of the diseased, slow and quiet side of Nirvana like “Something in the Way.”) The more the group majors in melody, the more they bring back great memories of the much missed Lotion, such as “We’re So Proud of Doom,” and “New Cold War.” And the more I like them. But everything is pretty big, bold, and boisterous. Best of all, there’s nothing to lose: you can download the whole LP, “pay what you want or take it for free”—that’s what I call a sliding scale!—at: (

John Mancini Band
John Mancini Band
(John Mancini Band)
I don’t know why, but this singer-songwriter makes me think somehow of Randy Newman singing songs written by John Fogerty and Dr. John. Baltimore’s Mancini is not without talent; dig those pungent horns like my parents’ old Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass records, on the opening “Don’t Go Easy” and strings-laden “Evolution,” his molasses voice sliding to a point between Newman and Graham Parker, with a little bit of Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson. You have to like the barrelhouse piano rock of “Buried Alive,” too, with Mancini’s vocal surprisingly mimicking Bob Marley. At times, his band briefly jams off in a boogie wonderland of Mark Knopfler’s imagination, but that’s minor, and Mancini’s good-guy persona and pepper-pot energy always reels him back in. (

Eamon McGrath
13 Songs of Whiskey and Light
(White Whale CAN)
It’s hard to believe this Edmonton barfly is 20 years old. Not because, blimey, he’s apparently recorded as many albums as the years he’s spent on our planet—Canadian label White Whale does us a solid by sifting through such superabundance to deliver this succinct distillation—but because his whole persona sounds so old, bent, broken, and cracked, man! Whether the piano moan of the Germs -referencing “ Darby Crash and Burn Guitars” and the opening “Welcome to the Heart,” the acoustic heaviness of “Last Man Standing,” or the tin-pot classic rock of the wild and wooly “Big River,” McGrath sounds like a bastard son of Robert Pollard (“File Under Fire” and “Land of Dogs” sound like GBV covers, even) and Neil Young with Bruce Springsteen and Joe Henry’s hoarse voice grafted on. That’s correct, he’s a bit sandpaper-growly/dark, like a crazier Nick Cave, but that just lends his Rye-soaked (music actually living up to a “Whiskey” title for a change) disaffection, world-weariness, and bottle blues all the coarse authenticity you could want. The boy sounds like an old coot sitting at the dock of the bay, draining Crown Royal, watching the tide roll away not with acceptance, but with a serious case of the shakes, and damning life’s casual cruelty on songs such as the alcoholic, inharmonious, grating “Desperation, Alberta.” Who knew our northern neighbors could be so hard-boiled? McGrath is real gone, like a rattling ghost of Charles Dickens’ Jacob Marley with guitars instead of chains, not rolling with the punches. Mankind is his business, and it hurts. (Note: This will be released in the U.S. soon.) (

Mystery of Two
Mystery of Two
(Exit Stencil)
This Cleveland three—not two, although maybe that’s the mystery to investigate—like to start songs with a hyper jangle, rapid indie rock that gradually gives way to a super fuzz wall of sludge, like some mutant spawn of early GBV or Mission of Burma being quickly overrun by the Minutemen, Dinosaur Jr., and about 20 Dischord bands of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Over the din, singer (and Exit Stencil maven) Ryan Weitzel sounds like Cleveland stalwart Pere Ubu’s David Thomas crossed with Tonio K. and Frank Zappa, which makes his band sound smart and worried, instead of clichéd. For a second LP (following 2007’s Arrows Are All You Know ; and both songs from a previous 2008 single reappear here), this is unrelenting, and Weitzel’s guitar pyrotechnics drive all 10 songs into overload even as his odd voice provides paranoiac edge. They’re especially good when adding classic Spanish trumpets on “Reprise It,” an added spice they will include more of if they are smart; but the basic premise is rock solid, from simmering boil to dirty eruptions. (

Cale Parks
To Swift Mars
Aloha ’s drummer’s side project rolls along for the third time. This 27-minute, six-song EP (mini album?) is still grounded in early ‘80s electronic music rather than the more modern, more spastic electroclash variety. If you grew up on New Order, Tears for Fears, Human League, and especially Depeche Mode, and less commercial practitioners, Parks’ traditionalism is bound to spur some amusing memories. The thing about Parks, though, is he substitutes the over-dramatics of a David Gahan on the one hand, or the way-cold detachment of a young Bernard Sumner on the other, with a middle-ground dispassionate, dead pan style that doesn’t jive with his romantic angst. For instance, the title alone of the opening “Eyes Won’t Shut” suggests its overwhelming emotion, but Parks serves it icy and matter of fact, as it to shut out the world more than to invite its onrushing empathy. What is he, The Normal? Overall, the textural moods are enticing, with highly percussive, busy, repetitive rhythms dominating as much as the synths’ brooding, adding an aggressive element to belie his prettiness (especially on the closing “We Can Feel It”). Good thing, too—it’s the element that turns To Swift from aural wallpaper into something biting. (

The Skullcranes
Columbia Heights Nights
Musically, this Minneapolis hardcore four (correct, from the Twin Cities’ Columbia Heights section) haven’t updated their formula in their near-decade together, nor should they. Their approach remains equal thirds Flex Your Head , This is Boston, Not L.A. , and Process of Elimination (if these titles mean nothing to you, and you like this record, then by all means bone up), with lead-guitar and semi-melodic elements of Someone Got Their Head Kicked In thrown in for more west coast measure. (What a shorter comparison? How about San Diego’s equally ancient Battalion of Saints—although The Skullcranes’ singer/guitarist Mike Johnson sounds as much like Articles of Faith’s Vic Bondi as BoS’s George Anthony.) But what’s good about these modern punkers, aside from unusually strong playing for this 33-year-old genre, is their persistent sense of humor. That they seemingly live for beer merely puts them in cahoots with more older forebears such as Fear, Murphy’s Law, and Gang Green, other oldsters encrusted in dried Bud suds on their duds; but their celebration of their own poverty (“All I Got is 10 Bucks”) and especially their feckless—totally understandable!—crush on Jessica Lange (rhymes with “dang!”), as well as self-explanatory farces like “Look Ma, Pink Floyd ” and “What Are All the Punk Bands Gonna Sing About Now [that there’s no Republicans in the White House]” are amusing. It’s nice to see that punk’s original black humor approach is still alive and well. (

The Smithereens
Play Tommy
At first glance, there’s a lot less overall point to this tribute LP to The Who ’s remarkable fourth LP (celebrating its 40th anniversary), than The Smithereens’ two recent tribute LPs to The Beatles . 2007’s Meet the Smithereens was a kick-ass reminder of what the world has largely forgotten: well before they became the greatest, most versatile pop group in history, for one LP, 1964’s awesome Meet the Beatles , the fab four were one hell of a rock ‘n’ roll band. (After all that time spent playing for hours a day on Hamburg stages, and propelled by an upgrade in drummer, the Liverpool sensations played tough and gritty, ramped up guitar music that doubled the volume and attack of their ‘50s heroes, re-launching the form as an unending staple rather than a withered ‘50s teen fad.) This they did with a verve and spirit that Pat Dinizio and his bunch effortlessly recaptured (if not quite with the same the youthful élan and assault, but fair enough). Likewise, the cleverly-titled B-sides the Beatles made plain what only Beatles fanatics like The Smithereens knew: that Lennon & McCartney ’s throwaway material on the flipsides of their blockbuster singles were still vastly superior to mere mortals! But what has this consummate working class, honest Carteret, NJ band to teach us by covering 1969’s immortal Tommy ? There’s little that approaches consensus in the crazy world of rock appreciation, but The Who are already infinitely regarded as all-time Olympians, first ballot hall of famers in any genre recap. And Tommy is already deified on every classic rock station still trotting out “Pinball Wizard” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” with the regularity of the ubiquitous, endless-rotation LP that followed, 1971’s Who’s Next . It’s one of the most familiar rock LPs of all time. So what’s to illuminate? Nothing, except that, like their crush on The Beatles, The Smithereens squeeze their endless love for The Who’s remarkable touchstone like a plug-in juicer. Settling into Play Tommy , it’s uncanny how much usually no-nonsense Dennis Diken steps into the Keith Moon role with a fair dose of appropriate thunder, approaching Moon’s sense of astonishing machine gun fire crackle without trying to Xerox his unhinged, unwieldy unpredictable chaos. (Diken remains gloriously in the pocket, sounding like “Ginger Baker plays Moon.”) And bassist The Thrilla doesn’t go for John Entwistle ’s full-throttled roar, or teeth-baring, string-shredding manhandling, sensibly finding the pocket instead of his late mentor’s nimble, fast fingers’ melodic runs. Meanwhile Dinizio and Jim Babjak hit all the sweet spots in Pete Townshend ’s godlike roller-coaster riffs, cascading like kaleidoscopic flavor bursts of changing color, light, and heat. Finally, Dinizio, Babjak, and even Diken sing more like Townshend’s contemplative, wounded, blinking, and vulnerable anti-hero implicit in his own singing on the original 1969 LP, rather than attempting Roger Daltrey ’s more chest-beating lion bellow. (And all three’s harmonies here are totally spot-on, too, a much overlooked pleasure in The Who!) All this brings Tommy back to earth from the lofty stratosphere that Daltrey’s reigning interpretation commands. Mind you, this sacrifices some of the original’s deepest emotions; one does not seize up in tingles during the famed “See me/Feel me/Touch me” snatches, the way one does every time Townshend and Daltrey sunk their psyches into them. But this matter of fact, more Spartan delivery works wonders for Tommy as a more humble, effervescent piece of music, letting the crisp guitar flourishes and rhythm section detonations beat you into submission, instead. I will take Smithereens to task for the decision to ignore nine of the 24 songs from the original, including both of Entwistle’s terrific black humor songs about molestation and tortures at the hands of sadistic and perverted family member babysitters. Why not just go for it? They lose the context of the protagonist’s struggle for peace and enlightenment out of his heinous, mute, unseeing, and unhearing suffering, a reasonable reaction to the horrors he encounters watching his father’s murder at a tender age. Considering how note for note The Smithereens know the 13 songs they do attempt, it can’t be bashfulness at the sheer enormity of Tommy ’s challenge. Perhaps the band wanted to chip away at the director’s cut to make a more pleasing, concise 42-minute version. But I would argue that the few elements of fat that existed in the original libretto were just largess in such a sprawling, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing double LP. What little weakness that existed in Tommy was its inexcusable lyrical detour into pinball mastery, as if Townshend lost his mind one morning and added an inanely implausible element to an otherwise brilliant metaphoric mediation, on the difficult quest for a spiritual life in the face of worldly violence, capriciousness, and rapaciousness! Yet I don’t see The Smithereens skipping such a brilliant rock classic as “Pinball Wizard!” (And oddly, they skip nine crucial originals, yet include the lone cover, the revamped—with a new verse lyric—cover of the second Sonny Boy Williamson ’s ‘50s Chess Records blues classic “Eyesight to the Blind.” Can you pay tribute to a cover, replicating what was a reinvention? Good thing it’s such a hot number!) This caveat aside, Play Tommy is in fact tremendous fun, surprisingly great listening for even those who, like these four guys, know every inch of the original. Perhaps that’s the only point this tribute needed to make, ultimately? Although there is one more aspect worth noting: A simpler, scaled down, reverently rocking, gloriously sung Tommy is the direct opposite of the bloat inherent in Ken Russell ’s 1975 movie sung by Daltrey, Ann-Margaret , Elton John , Tina Turner , and Oliver Reed , and the endless lame stage adaptations that have Broadway-ized and disemboweled one of most remarkable rock achievements in history—at least for normal Joes who don’t in fact know the original Who juggernaut album! Lastly, the news that The Smithereens will soon, finally, release an album of their own songs (their first in a decade, amazingly!), will tell the tale if, after all this tribute fun, they’ve come back with batteries recharged. At least they’ve given us such crunchy snacks to munch on during such a long intermission. (

Our own Michael Toland clued me in to this feisty, rip-roaring, psych-rock band from San Antonio, Texas. Their second LP occupies an unusual space between Detroit-moved-to-Australia power-riffing (punked up Chuck Berry on speed) and Sloan’s big guitar power-pop crunch and sterling harmonies, with small elements of freakbeat lurking behind the over the top attack. The album is dedicated to drummer Manny Disodado Castillo , who died of cancer in January 2009, just a few months after recording the prime cuts here after his fatal illness began, albeit before it was diagnosed. (Diosdado adds older cuts from 2005 to make a 14-song whole.) And though it is the melodic thrust of frontman veteran Chris Lutz (from The Dropouts) that catches the ear (as well as his clever tricks, like his echoey strobe out of The Electric Prunes’ “I Had too Much to Dream Last Night” on the end of “Crystal Blue” right into his Blue Oyster Cult like opening of the following “Evening Star”), it’s in fact Castillo’s busy, quick, thunder drumming that drives this pretty explosive band home. Shame! He was only 40! (

The Strongest Proof
Robot Eats a Steak EP
There aren’t many D.C. bands these days doing the post-punk/emo genre they founded proud, but there are plenty from elsewhere still digging on what Rites of Spring and Fugazi etc. commenced two decades ago. If there’s nothing new or particularly “now” in this Greater Cincinnati four-piece (pared down to a trio since this recording, after the defection of bassist Rob Stanley , which is a shame), the quality of their songs and playing is unusually high on their new seven-song EP/mini-LP (following 2006’s debut, One Percent ). The quartet is tenaciously tight; singer/guitarist Matt Tomlinson sings like a cornered, wounded animal, often extending his vowels for whole seconds like an modern Ian MacKaye without ever resorting to screaming; and the rhythm section snarls with a menace to match their marauding, jagged post-punk, off-beat scatter rhythms—like my favorite old Rifle Sport or Jawbox records. Best of all, when this genre works it’s because a band isn’t afraid to teeter on a knife-edge for long passages before letting out a full force, piling up a pent-up aggression instead of just layout out an overload of noise. This style may never go out of business! (

Talbot Tagora
Lessons in the Woods or a City
(Hardly Art)
I vaguely remember the original Talbot Tagora, an early ‘80s Chrysler car from Europe that only lasted a year or two—a pretty boring looking four-door sedan, if I recall. A quarter century later, the Seattle post-punk trio by the same name is nothing so placid, dull and easily rejected and forgotten. In fact, they are a bit of an overload in the other direction. Everything is in your face, discordant, atonal, cacophonous, loud, abrasive, and noisy, like a zoo from Jurassic Park with a strong beat. It’s both incredibly exhilarating and totally depressing at the same time, a collision of harrowing in-the-red production and attack and almost disturbing ferocity. It’s like the more droning Sonic Youth, Chrome, Scratch Acid, and Flipper all thrown into a random shuffle, cut and pasted into a reverbed, dark, battle with the human psyche. As someone who admires uncompromising music, it’s amazing how attracting and repulsing Lessons is. Well, who wants boring, anyway? Not car buyers, and not music fans. But this is like a drive off a cliff? (

Tiny Animals
Sweet Sweetness
(North Street)
Was it coincidence that after listening to the whole of this New York co-ed trio’s debut LP, I reached for the first Nada Surf album, 1996’s High/Low , and then Ash’s 2001 opus, Free All Angels ? I think not! Sweet ’s dozen songs carve out a niche succinctly in between what little radio-friendly-‘90s-MTV-rock I actually liked (the former), and the better punk-pop/emo pleasures with Nirvana eruptions (the latter) of that period. It sure helps that Tiny Animals have a hot drummer—and yes, in this case I cop to the fact that I refer to both the musician and the girl—in sledgehammer Rita Maye , oddly a classically trained pianist (!). Her utterly contrary-to-that-background chops and tom-tom shaking groove provide the rock-solid foundation for her brother (and North Street honcho) Chris Howerton ’s Matthew Caws-like good guy sincere delivery, soaring melodies, and layered guitar bursts, as well as bassist Anton Kreisl ’s power licks. All three chip in confident backing vocals, too. A fuzzy-skuzzy, superb cover of Devo ’s 1980 second LP Freedom of Choice title track seems out of place (its production is dirtier, which makes it sound like the best thing here), except to point out the group’s deeper awareness of the historic roots of their genre, well past the ‘90s appropriations that followed Cobain’s commercial gambit. (And is “[Use your] Freedom of Choice” ever more relevant today, or what?!!! Devo saw the future, three decades ago, and it was indeed devolution!) A good start; especially “Useless” and “Avalanche,” both of which could have been massive hits back when Clinton was pres. (

Viva Voce
Rose City
Husband and wife Anita and Kevin Robinson change things up a little on their fifth LP, adding two members and thickening the sound to start Rose City . Look no further than the neo-psych, danceable opening swirlathon “Devotion,” a meaty swath of darting sounds and furious swing that comes closer to Darker My Love’s occasional appropriations of The Jesus and Mary Chain or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Brian Jonestown Massacre, than the more demurring sounds the Robinsons are known for. This banging beginning is doubled down on the more straightforward 4/4 indie rock—tinged with tension—of track two, “Die a Little.” Yowsa! Would that they kept the throttle down—we’d have “a contender,” to borrow the Marlon Brando line from On the Waterfront . (A couple later songs, such as the breezy title track, and the ‘70s rock-ish middle of “Tornado Alley,” briefly bring the buzz back.) Nevertheless, the lowered energy meter thereafter is more in keeping with their past, and as such is still worthwhile, such as minor western-pop-inflected ditties “Flora” (with its exquisite Everly Brothers harmony) or “Red Letter Day” (which spookily reminds of Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning”) and especially the chamber pop piano and hush that they do so well on “Midnight Sun. Also, Anita’s vocals (and harmonies with hubby) remain that subconscious shoegaze lovers’ delight, her attractive humming hitting a guy where he lives. But wow, if they want to make a whole record like the early going, this Portland now-quartet could really blow us all away. (