Toward the end of the 21st Century’s first decade, a usually adult-alternative-oriented glossy I barely remember called Harp (which actually I’m not even entirely sure was usually adult-alternative-oriented) let me go wild with a page of capsule reviews toward the end of each issue. Judging from blurbs collected below, I tended to gravitate toward garage-rocking Australians, glam revivalists, CDBaby self-marketers, and ancient has-beens or legendary rumors resurrecting either their buried treasures or their creaky bodies. I’d still vouch for several of these; others of them, I barely remember.
AMASEFFER Exodus: Slaves For Life (Inside Out/SPV)
How about an extreme-metal concept album, recorded in Germany by an Israeli band, inspired by Moses’s Exodus from Egypt? Portentous power-bombast for Passover, in other words, with vocals more-narrated-than-sung, in a Virgin Prunes vibrato or Rammstein gutturals or high wailing whine. Ritual chants, clanking chains, Middle Eastern rhythms, and desert atmospherics provide drama and variety; most metal titles are “Ten Plagues” and “Land of the Dead.”
ARTFUL DODGER Honor Among Thieves (American Beat)
Along with their bicentennial debut, this newly reissued ’76 sophomore slab is one of history’s great lost hard-pop albums, from Virginia’s answer to the Raspberries or maybe Slade, back when labels like Columbia would stick with East Coast rock bands who looked like baseball infields even if their LPs never hit the Billboard 200. Like Richard Bush of the A’s, Billy Paliselli has a classic adenoidal high register. But the title opener has him yelping Steve Tyler-style, “Scream” could be where Bryan Adams learned his best early ‘80s ideas, “Hey Boys” is archetypal bazooka bubblegum, and there’s a backwards-guitared Little Richard cover. Some say that, on stage, they had as much balls as the Dolls.
THE A’S The Best Of The A’s (Young Philadelphians Music)
Holding down Philly’s nerdy new wave fort until the Hooters and eventually Dead Milkmen came along, this fivesome experienced a fleeting moment in the sun when their blue-eyed soul nugget “A Woman’s Got The Power” snuck onto an airwave or two for a couple weeks in 1981. By then, though, Richard Bush had already lowered his vocal register, Bowie-circa-Let’s Dance-style; on the band’s previous debut LP, he’d hiccupped through his nostrils like a snotty 9th grader while the A’s pulled off America’s best-ever Boomtown Rats approximation, kicking out an r&b-rooted, occasionally prog-keyboarded faux-punk revolving around getting grounded and joining the C.I.A. and being too depressed to get dressed, sticking snippets of “Twist And Shout” into song-centers when the mood struck. So this overdue chronological compilation frontloads their most entertaining songs, and if commercial instincts later left them mellowed and undecided about whether they wanted to be Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, or Madness, you can’t really blame them. Gotta pay the bills, or at least try.
ATOMIC BITCH Promnite (Top & Bottom)
This augmented co-ed La.-via-L.A. duo’s “Rock’n’Roll High School” is not a Ramones cover, and a bigger production budget would help their hooks pop out more. But they still manage to get some glittery ’80s Cali pop and glammy ’80s Cali rock color into their sound, somehow appropriate for songs about grooming appliances used as deadly weapons. That’s the apparent theme of “Suspicious Hair Dryer,” which picks up indie-cred from Pavement-via-Blur woo-hoos and specificity from brand names (Maytag, Sunbeam) and pink hair curlers. “Hillbilly Swing” — partially about lemon merengue pie and getting tied up – mixes early-Bowie high notes with a bit of twang. And front-lady Ursulla is consistently enticing, whether she’s singing about sharing her leather jacket with one boy or telling another to slow down.
BOSS MARTIANS Pressure In The Sodo (MuSick)
Brash brats pledge allegiance to their low-rent Seattle neighborhood while emphasizing organ parts, shoplifting guitar hooks from Nugent and the Knack, and retaining their garage beat and high registers at fast tempos. Jack Endino mixed them, they thank Little Steven in their booklet, and Iggy lends backup vocals on the alphabet-not-astronomy toon “Mars Is For Martians,” so they’ve got connections. But swooping starry-eyed like the Records or dreaming too much like the Electric Prunes, they’re anything but single-minded in their exploration of pop-rock’s abandoned nooks and crannies. They’re not afraid to pomp things up, and by the excellent “Elsie” at album’s end they’ve finally figured out how post-prog proto-hair-metal punching bags Aldo Nova and Night Ranger might have sounded as punk rock bands.
CONTINENTAL CRAWLER The Anthology 1977-79: Cars, Cards And Questionable Women (Not Aloud)
More strivers navigating the ‘70s terrain ‘twixt hard rock and powerpop, these poker players, car aficionados and sometime Danzig collaborators stayed stuck in Lodi, New Jersey despite playing CBGB now and then; for a few minutes, the drummer even joined the Misfits. But the two dozen live and studio tracks compiled here are too unpredictable for Halloween hardcore: One song rhymes “fluid” with “I dreamed she was a druid,” and the hookiest tunes are basically the Tubes’ “White Punks On Dope” (“Wild Way To Spend the Day”) or the Dictators’ “California Sun” (“Rockin’ Rat”) with words changed. The rest gets clunky on occasion, but mostly ranges from deftly rolling pub rock to stoner metal about your problematic girlfriend. And though the notes thank “Green Day for doing now a lot of what we were doing then,” the geeky funk of “On My Palm” more accurately anticipates the Spin Doctors.
THE COSMOSONICS J.u.n.k. Rock…For Lover$! (Riffhaus)
These minor-league Pittsburgh glamsters look too middle-aged to be partying so hard, but that doesn’t stop them from pulling off “Hangover” (which still sounds fairly drunk) and “S&M” with a gusto the Wildhearts or Kix, let’s say, might approve of. “”Bubblegum Bluez” gets its bubblepunk riff from “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones; “Hollywood” is the heroin-weary Exile On Main Street rip at the end. By then, everybody needs a nap.
CRASH STREET KIDS Transatlantic Suicide (Hot City Recording Company)
Clearly men out of time, these glam fans from Phoenix take their name from a Mott the Hoople title, and have proven most convincing in the past when their mid-Beatles/early-Bowie souped-up rock-pop inches toward old metal. Their latest depicts them as jetboys touring the friendly skies on its cover, and gets theatrical inside – divides itself into an Act 1 and Act 2, and tracks like the four-part mini-opera “Dressed In White” partake in a fruity ornateness that aging fans of Queen and Todd Rundgren should recognize. If slow spans risk wilting like Oasis, more rocking moments demonstrate fluency in early Alice Cooper and perhaps Redd Kross. The N.M.E. and Berlin-era Bowie get name-checked, as well they should. And “Cigarettes and Starf*ckers” (asterisk in original) is the best song not thanks to its coke and groupies, but rather because it sounds so much like Ian Hunter.
DEMIAN Demian (Fallout)
The Bubble Puppy – Texas Cro-Magnons whose proto-psychedelic cave painting “Hot Smoke And Sassafras” climbed to No. 14 in 1969 – weren’t legally allowed to keep their name after their debut. So in 1971 they put out this mythically prehistoric platter, which doesn’t always live up to its legend: Once you’ve passed “Face The Crowd,” the man-sized three-minute commercial metal nugget it opens with, plenty of filibustering separates the monster guitar parts. But almost every song has one such riff somewhere, and “Windy City” certainly stretches its acid beauty across a desert or two. Still, caveat emptor – and while you’re caveating, research the reissuing label’s borderline-legal bootleg rep before you buy, too.
DIVINING RODS Love Letter To The Dead (Divining Rods)
Reference points, first: The liveliest (also most rockabilly, and most Blonde on Blonde) song is called “Jeffrey Lee,” so Gun Club are clearly part of the equation; the band’s got concrete connections with the Wipers, too. But mostly, these Oregon noir-blues rockers are yet another bunch reviving a shtick the Birthday Party more or less invented (there’s a couple of those every year) but making less tedious music than Nick Cave has for the past quarter century. Chris Newman’s somewhat flat and blowhardy vocals tend to get lost beneath the considerable churn, though guitars find magnificent ways to kick in as songs progress; best example of the latter is “Death Eye Dog,” the album’s most blatant Jim Morrison simulation. Also notable: sax parts in “Killing Ourselves” and “Love Letter To The Dead.” (Detect a recurring theme? CD cover is a graveyard, natch.)
DORNENREICH In Luft Geritzt (Prophecy)
An Austrian extreme-music duo unplugs guitars and cranks up violin for 44 minutes of gorgeous, romantically over-the-top yet spaciously minimal, chamber metal. For long spans, the album feels like a frost-bitten fiddle-and-flamenco hoedown in the bleak winter forest; “Freitanz” goes further, doing a Central European gypsy strut like Gogol Bordello on the night Hell froze over. The album is said to have been “recorded live and without any technical gimmickry at the Villa Stapf, an ancient edifice in Tyrol”; its title translates as Carved In Air. And despite that “reich” in the band’s name, there is no concrete evidence that the eerie Teutonic whispers in compositions like “Unruhe” flirt with either fascism or Satanism. So try not to think about it.
DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS Meat N’ Potatoes (Dungeons & Drag Queens)
Behind a seat-of-pants CD cover reminiscent of Springsteen and/or Loverboy, four Sacramento smart-asses revive the crass powerpoppish energy, sense of humor, lack of pretension, and good old-fashioned sexism of forgotten provincial early ’80s hard rockers (Kings, Fools, Tazmanian Devils) who tried to hitch rides on new wave’s doomed skinny tie bandwagon. The AC/DC rip “Cooperstown” would seem to concern baseball; the number that equates a “blueball queen” with a sea monster has Sex Pistols riffs; the old-timey hoedown “Rent My Time” doesn’t come off corny; “A Streetcar Named Zephyr” stars a girl with a gun; and the cross-dressed closer “Gash Ain’t For Me” (she’s a kind of a drag, always smoking a fag, chasing women around, only half a girl) could easily pass for some lost ‘70s androgyne-genie classic. Chorus harmonies get goofy, voices party in the background, the band wants to French your fries, and the Greeks don’t want no freaks.
FARMAKON Robin (Candlelight USA)
All kinds of unexpected stuff arises naturally out of these Finns’ monster-metal ugliness: Rush-like prog signatures, math equations worked out on Mars Volta’s chalkboard, free-jazz sax blurts, wild animal sounds. “Helpless” lets a classic rock riff get airy; “A Temporary Death” climaxes seven stretched-out minutes of increasing beauty with gongs from the church belfry; a concluding “Outro” builds from a placid start into an extended guitar jam. Thrash with a rock sense of dynamics – rarer than you’d think.
FINN AND THE SHARKS Breakfast Special (UpSouth)
The numbers that kick off with chords from “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’” and “Smokin’ In the Boys Room” suggest these longtime upstate New York Teddy Boys may have secretly grown up on ’70s AM radio. And a few of the deadlier tracks on this greasy-spooned collection of early ‘80s greaser-rock are as much dark slimy AOR blues as rockabilly. The monster-riffed “I Don’t Want To Die Unknown” could almost pass for the MC5; a couple others split the difference between the Blasters and Motörhead. Some of the more obvious jitterbug jaunts (“Rockabilly Bop,” yikes) have too much cherry poppin’ swing revival for their own good. But the Led Zeppelin cover kills.
THE FLYING EYES The Flying Eyes (myspace.com/theflyingeyesmd)
Neither the “pyschodelic-blooze-rock” label nor the influences list (Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Cream, Doors, Dead Meadow, Radiohead, etc.) on this Maryland band’s CDBaby page let on that Allison Weiner has a real singing voice with a tinge of country twang; I hear some Grace Slick or Jenny Haan (from Babe Ruth) or Sonja Linwood (from Curved Air), maybe. Lovely guitar solos grow naturally out of the songs, too, without just noodling pointlessly into the empty sky—check out the extended wah-wah emerging out of punchy, sinewy hard rock in “Devastating Fire,” for instance. “Caravan” shifts from space rock to hippie jazz while making a laudably ungloomy attempt to come to terms with dying, and there’s an unexpected sense of humor, too — In “Our Blues,” a Humvee eats somebody’s family.
KENNY GARRETT Sketches of MD: Live At the Iridium Featuring Pharoah Sanders (Mack Avenue)
On stage in NYC with his bass-keyboard-drum combo beefed up by intense guest wailing from 68-year-old free-jazz tenor terror Sanders, alto-saxman and former Miles Davis sideman Garrett stretches five songs toward an hour, paying gorgeous and grooving tribute to Mingus, ‘Trane, Wayne Shorter, and – in the tough-curdling title track – Miles’s own monstrous ‘70s fusion funk. By the climactic “Happy People,” with horns multiplying basslines, not-quite-off-the-cuff “what? where?” asides start to risk Cosby Show corn. But the communal spirit go-gos like Trouble Funk regardless.
THE GREATEST HITS For A Good Time Call (Desert Island Discs)
These Hanoi-rocking northwest corridor glam-sleazers lure the horny by putting what I assume are two fishnetted groupies (if not two of their sisters dressed up like groupies) on their CD cover. And though more studio time might’ve added heft, lyrics chronicling hangovers and aphrodisiacs and well-axed melodies worthy of Enuff Z’Nuff if not Faster Pussycat win out. “Fatal Reaction,” which grabs you quick by ripping “Homicide” by 999, has a more user-friendly “now I lay me down to sleep” nursery-prayer than the one in “Enter Sandman”.
JEX THOTH Jex Thoth (I Hate)
Depressively psychedelic doom-metal is no uncommon commodity, but this California quintet sounds unusually exquisite. Elephantine riffs all over the place, sure, but they’re offset by vocal uplift from the witchy woman for whom the band is named. The real star, though, might be keyboard player Zodiac, whose organ, synth, and electric piano in tracks like “The Banishment” and the five-part “Equinox Suite” wouldn’t be shamed on an early Uriah Heep LP. Repeated two-note patterns and brief new agey interludes from bouzouki and flute let the music breathe as well. Freak-folk cover “When The Raven Calls” and “Stone Evil” combine for a climactic finale, and the bassist calls himself Grim Jim.
HERBIE HANCOCK, THAD JONES, RON CARTER, JEROME RICHARDSON, GRADY TATE, JONATHAN KLEIN Hear, O Israel – A Prayer Ceremony In Jazz (Jonny)
Composed by a teenage rabbi’s son from Worcester, Mass., and climaxing in nine minutes of monotone chanting and polyrhythmic grooving wherein charmingly rigid reader David Davis seeks the Lord’s presence in jazz and asks that we “praise him with the loud sounding cymbals,” this obscure 1968 recording of a one-off Shabbat summit in New York bridges cultural gaps you never imagined existed. Four decades on, a British label has unearthed it, dubbing the music off old vinyl with imperfections left intact. Hancock’s piano – reverent or raucous or Morse Code-like — is clearly the lead instrument. But recurrent horn themes amidst the hallelujahs subliminally suggest Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” and in “Torah Service – Adoration,” scatting synagogue gals swing like the Andrews Sisters.
INSTANT ORANGE Instant Orange (Shadoks/Normal)
With a lineup mainly revolving around three mustachioed guys from San Bernadino, plus occasional pals assisting on tambourine and piano and “A.V. oscillation manipulator,” Instant Orange recorded a small shelf’s worth of local-label discs and acetates from 1967 to 1974, between infrequent gigs at Southern Cali frat parties, junior high schools, Oddfellows Halls, pizza palaces, and private homes. This German CD collects 29 tracks – more than anybody outside their immediate families will ever need. But “Ballad of the RTD” and “You I’ll Be Following” do a good hard jangle in the vicinity of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” by the Byrds, “Cycle 2” dances an jaunty kazoo-and-jug jig, and “Theme From Beat Whistle” evolves into a Santana sort of syncopation. Add in comely country-rock, eight-minute fusion jams, and a dollop or two of heavy stuff–in other words, a mess. But sometimes a really listenable one.
DONNIE IRIS Back On The Streets/King Cool (American Beat)
Given his Elvis Costellofied nerd spectacles and Devoluted nuclear yellow leisure suits, this Pittsburgh weirdo clearly surfed the new wave onto the charts. But his best and best-known song “Ah! Leah!” – which went No. 29 pop in 1980 and which leads this one-disc conjoining of Iris’s only two Billboard 100 albums – is more a stepchild of the AOR ‘70s, dividing the baroque side of Cheap Trick into ELO and Uriah Heap. The guy had been around since at least 1970, when his band the Jaggerz went No. 2 with their non-rapped one-shot “The Rapper”; in between, he did funky-white-boy duty in Wild Cherry. The 19 songs here, for their part, attest to the impossibly idiosyncratic but eager-to-please nature of early ‘80s corporate rock: Loverboy metalbilly in “I Can’t Hear You,” Billy Squier metalfunk in “Love Is Like A Rock,” Police reggae-rock in “Sweet Merilee,” the Sweet in “Broken Promises,” Sparks in “Shock Treatment,” Tubes in “Joking.” In “You’re Only Dreaming,” some guy puts a gun to his head.
THE JACKNIVES Cobra Combat Boots (myspace.com/thejacknives)
Down Under co-eds (girls outnumbering guys) pick up their hatchet-crazed Melbourne cowpunk where Tex & the Horseheads left off. The vocals get buried too often beneath the tombstone soil, but especially when the dirges swing into a psychobilly shimmy – in the almost-glam “Running Hot” and Stoogely “Best Be Dyin,” for instance – the graveyard comes to life. And if Kylie Kreme’s vocal in “Selling It” dips too much into Amy Winehouse kitsch for comfort, all is forgiven when she shouts out to some pot-bellied pig.
KLABAUTAMANN Our Journey Through The Woods (Vendius)
Maybe to truly feel the lonely mood this Bonn, Germany folk-death metal duo seem to be aiming for, you need to take the CD cover to heart, and imagine that those two sad little cartoon trolls stuck in the middle of nowhere are the two guys in the band — using a timbered sapling to carry that black pot of gruel across the forest floor, or surrounded in snow by wolves biting their troll tails, you feel their pain. All of which somehow makes the ogre-ific growls feel earned, for once. But what really puts the album over is how the rumbling mulch picks up steam for a woodpile jig in the aptly named “Trolldance” and makes way for placid rustic renaissance gloom in tracks like “Rahenmorgan” and the seven-minute finale “Autumn’s Breath.” More than most extreme art-thrash lately, Klabautamann evince a gravity that keeps their ambient parts from disappearing into thin air: “Grey is the sky, blowing is the wind” indeed.
LAZY MAGNET Is Music Even Good? (Corleone)
Pretension beyond the call of duty: 19 disjointed tracks of nebbish new wave, by-the-book Pavement tributes, deadly dull indie jangle, split-second noise-punk, fuzzy skuzzy electronica, pomp-and-circumstance glam-swish (“Wilder Climes”), café-jazzed French pop (“Un Coco Pour Dejuner”), liquid Santana boogie (“Fighting to Survive Live With Langenus, Beckman, Francisco, Taber & Cousins”), extended space-psych blasting off from the Middle East (“Your Hidden Adversary Is Rising Pt 3: A Flower Fighting A Dragon”), tightly compacted but courageously over-the-top Art Bears prog-metal (“Weird Bummer Of A Spiritual Sheild”), and talked country where your stereo goes on the fritz (“Masters of Science Fiction.”) The success-to-failure ratio is way higher than cassette-culture veteran Jeremy Harris and his 16 Providence pals probably deserve. There are even a couple actual songs!
LEGLESS Finding Mr. Perfect (leglesstheband.com)
Life isn’t pretty, so Schoolgirl Amanda, Policewoman Shazza, Nurse Ra, and Virgin Bride Imaj dress up like zombies while offering their tonic for the Aussie Army troops: a heavily accented, glam-rumbling, Girlschool-reminiscent concoction that jokes and drinks as hard as it rocks. They invent a dance called the “Hip Thrust” that sounds more like “the head butt” but which they promise is nothing like the Y.M.C.A. or chicken dance or twist or Monster Mash (which rhymes with the Clash); they tell you to look at their eyes not their chest while they steal fake Asian notes from the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese”; they celebrate foolish nutters and falling knickers; they rap like rockabillies and goth like hippies and close with a speedy marsupial folk madrigal. And though on their earlier 13 Killer Tracks they were already begging to be bitten while initiating fights between Freddy and Jason, this one’s got the riffs to bring old stiff Bon Scott back from the dead.
MECHANICAL BULL A Million Yesterdays (Woodstock Musicworks)
Young hipster looking guy and gal from Woodstock, NY lead six more musicians, plus John Medeski playing B3 on a song about “Luke Warm Coffee” that the gal purrs in a fortunately atypical attempt at a seedy lounge-torch. Avalon Peacock is ethereal, Chase Pierson is earthy, and the balance seems about right: His existential country songs about former high school nerds getting revenge, the difficulty of driving in Jersey, the need to leave Woodstock, and debts no honest man can pay keep things grounded, while her wistful memory drones go round and round in the windmills of her mind while she watches children in the park spin on their merry-go-round.“Influences (according to the band’s MySpace page): Dysfunctional marriages, alcoholism and the American dream.”
MIKE & THE RAVENS Noisy Boys!: The Saxony Sessions (Zoho Roots)
First formed as Vermont teens in 1960 then disbanded two years later, legend has it, when local police arrested them for playing a rock’n’roll record over the community church belfry’s PA in the middle of the night, these recently reformed-but-unreformed sexagenarians don’t play garage rock, per sé – at least, not in any accepted Nuggets-associated definition of the term. Their reported signature song, the album-opening skate-rink homage “Roller, Roller Rollerland!,” is high-volume jump-blues halfway evolved into Chuck Berry; their album-closing title track, a 7:40 mess subtitled “Too Stupid For Radio,” drowns itself in feedback and interminable repetition that puts nutcase G.I. Joe troupe the Monks to shame. Proceedings between aren’t devoid of meh moments (the crazily titled yet run-of-the-mill blues-pop of “Sweet Potato Red Sez Polly Don’t Ride” for instance), but more often turn and face the strange: no-wave-guitar-twisted boogie novelties about wolf women, ditties about sissies, frat-rock going funk-reggae, disco rhythms switching into rockabilly rapped like Jerry Reed over a riff that could almost pass for “Cannonball” by the Breeders (“I Be Rockin’ With Mrs. Benoit.”). Maybe not a selling point: Mike Brassard’s singing frequently bears a startling resemblance to “Addicted To Love”-era Robert Palmer.
MOREL The Death Of The Paperboy (Outsider Music)
Between gigs producing Cyndi Lauper and sharing a DJ booth with Bob Mould, D.C.’s Richard Morel sets his confessional singer-songwriting to synth-pop beats, which almost makes him his own genre. His plainspoken observational details – eulogy for car-crashed kid delivering news, teenage gay lust as two buddies accidentally brush skin – hit the target often enough. But the real grabber is his melody-rhythm blend, steeped in Eno swirl and Velvet Underground sadness, but just as fluent in more recent Brit-pop. Only “I’m So Low,” which funks its electro like INXS never quite could, approaches typical dance-rock. And that’s all Disc-1; the remixy Disc-O, keyed around a monologue-expanded take on the title track retitled “Shoegazer Disco” and a Bowie “Sweet Thing” cover that feels obsessive like Underworld’s “Born Slippy,” is mostly just along for the ride. But somehow, the set is still better with it there.
NIGHT RANGER Hole In The Sun (VH1 Classic)
Yeah, that Night Ranger. Not only are Jack Blades and Co. still around; they recently even entertained the troops at Guantanamo. Their late ‘90s Seven and Neverland are smarter and more muscular melodic rock albums than you’d ever suspect, and so is this one; in fact, give or take the inspirational-piano blandout “There is Life,” the most ignorable track here may well be the “bonus” acoustic retooling of their eternal Boogie Nights Nerf-metal prototype “Sister Christian.” They have more luck with a lovely unplugged-Zep-style update of 1983’s “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” but the real keepers are new music: Power-funk metal with pompy chord progressions in “Tell Your Vision”; Marilyn Manson horror beats under Judas Priest overdrive and clearer singing than either in “You’re Gonna Hear From Me”; Everclear verses surrounding a sterling ‘80s hard-pop chorus in “Whatever Happened”; Electric Six-as-Robert Palmer machismo in “Drama Queen.” They even do a “Rockstar” song – take that, Nickelback!
OTHER FOOLS 12 More Lies (Of)
Titles like “Asshole City” and “Guns Down Or Go Down” betray an obligatory Turbonegro influence, but where these Swiss blisterers truly earn their leather is “Cruisin’” and the unexpectedly moving ballad “How To Forget You,” steeped in the sleazily Eurotrashed homoerotic passion of Turbonegro’s unjustly forgotten ’80s Swede forebears, Leather Nun. Opening balls-to-the-wall biker blasts “Too Late” and “Baby Radio” – the former about missing the bus, the latter about scoring a hit – are closer to bubblegum Motörhead; closing theme tune “Other Fools” quotes both “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Highway To Hell” outright.
CHARLEMAGNE PALESTINE From Etudes To Cataclysms For The Doppio Borgato (Sub Rosa)
A veteran Brooklyn-born minimalist-drone composer performs nimble variations on a limited number of notes for more than two hours over as many discs, on a unique, Italian-invented, double-bodied grand piano – one keyboard for his hands, one for his feet. In church. The aural equivalent of water torture, or the best album this year to help lull a newborn, or a newborn’s parents, to sleep? Quite possibly both.
CHARLIE PICKETT Bar Band Americanus: The Best Of (Bloodshot)
It says something that most of these boogiefied early ‘80s Florida cowpunk cuts are more sprightly than either the two Flamin’ Groovies covers or the track that Robert Christgau once ranked among “the bitterest post-free-love songs you’ve ever heard.” Pickett’s journeyman stomps and get-off-your-porch frugs put the lie to people (say, Hold Steady haters) who consider “bar band rock” an automatic insult. “In the Wildnerness” has the coolest guitar solo; “Penny Instead” is like George Thorogood’s Destroyers covering the Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women”; “A On Horseback” like Ted Nugent namedropping Jackson Pollack; “Phantom Train” like Brownsville Station namedropping Mark Twain.
PONI HOAX Images Of Sigrid (Tigersushi)
Electroclash had to go somewhere, so why not France? But electroclash was never smart enough to pay homage to Foreigner (“You’re Gonna Miss My Love”) and Joy Division (“”Hypercommunication”) as if they were both spawn of Electric Six, much less build a melody from “Paint It Black” into a killer Velvet Underground drone (“The Paper Bride.”) A coed quintet with not one but two keyboard players, Poni Hoax aren’t immune to cabaret detachment. But they prefer pure pleasure, and their thespian side doesn’t get unbearable until the blowhard ballad that closes the album. By then, you’ve fallen for more than enough funk basslines, glam shouts, sax solos, minimialist swirls, and fragile synthesizers to get by.
RAGS Rags (RPT)
Did New York’s streets ever spit out more rocking Dolls wannabes than the five snazzily clad unknowns who came up with these eight mysterious, barely produced tracks-from-nowhere? They’re said to have gigged at places like Max’s Kansas City in the mid ‘70s, and Joe St. John howls closer to David Johansen’s prima-ballerina moon than any L.A. sleaze-rocker a dozen years later. A few moments – including a pro-forma Curtis Mayfield cover – come closer to ‘70s rock’n’roll soul cruising down from Boston: Aerosmith, even J. Geils. And two ballads, including the obligatory lonely teen-runaway number, could suggest Cleveland’s Peter Laughner if Rags ever heard the guy. But Dolls imitation was clearly their primary objective: In the perfect opener “Magnum Lady,” St. John calls himself a “cowboy ghetto punk” and asks a machine-gun-wielding dame to shoot him full of holes since she’s got so much funk; the Chuck Berry-riffed “Rock-n-Roll Shoes” concerns a lady strolling Broadway in her high heels and a big blue hat. Though in the cover photos, at least, Rags don’t quite dress that way themselves.
SILVER APPLES Silver Apples (Phoenix)
Back when not even Germans could conceive of such things, New Yorkers Dan Taylor and Simeon Coxe III constructed this 1968 album out of drums, percussion, and what looks like a service station’s stack of engine-monitoring equipment. Some of it anticipates Kraut-rock for sure – the repetition in “Oscillations” could be a missing link between the Monks and Can, and “Lovefingers” is built atop a remnant of Germanic oompah beat. “Whirly-Bird” ably propels its helicopter hook, and there’s a catchy vocal mantra that claims “the flame is its own reflection.” As you’d expect, monotonous malarkey and hippie silliness are givens: tape-collage attempts, poetry readings riding random sounds, a drum-circled Navajo ceremony, flute counterpoint. But it still adds up to an undeniably prescient science fair project, and this vinyl reissue is more than welcome. Inspirational liner message: “Play twice before listening.”
6FT HICK On The Rocks (Spooky)
The Jacknives thank this Queensland quintet in their notes, which makes sense, given that their grunting marsupial pigfuck constitutes the brutal sort of art-blooze schtick Nick Cave hasn’t pulled off since Birthday Party days (sorry, Grinderman didn’t half cut it.) Opens with a spaghetti-western instrumental, and for an unlucky 13 tracks, the guitars give up enough muscle and beauty to keep things chugging even if the verbals almost never sink in. Though the ones in “Live Girls,” about a strip bar, and “Euthanize Our Love,” about forgoing makeup sex, come close. Shipwrecked crew-of-sailors cover motif adds manly credibility, somehow.
SKAFISH What’s This?: 1976-1979 (289)
A cross-dressing transgressor with a prominent proboscis that makes him resemble some grotesque sort of cross between Perry Farrell, Stan Ridgway, and a South American tapir, Jim Skafish achieved a brief buzz in college-radio circles in 1980 with his debut album on I.R.S.; since then, barely anybody’s given him half a thought, a situation he’s determined to change before it’s too late. So he spends the final 24 minutes of this retrospective providing interminable spoken-word commentary about how he introduced punk and alternative music to Chicago, which maybe he did. But the first dozen tracks are worth seeking out anyway: Weirdly whined art-glitter hard rock taking its twisted rhythms from Zappa, the Tubes, and Sparks, providing a consistently catchy frame for self-loathing tales of exhibitionists, bullies, working stiffs, tattletales, and Catholic-school blasphemers. The trash organs in “You Invited Me” somehow split the difference between “96 Tears” and “Crocodile Rock.” And the slower songs just might deserve credit for inventing Hedwig and the Angry Inch, though Skafish’s own story may ultimately be stranger.
O.C. SMITH Beach Music Classics And Love Songs (Bluewater)
Four decades after denying summertime Indianapolis precipitation in his archaic-on-inception minstrel-dictioned almost-chart-topper “Little Green Apples”, one of history’s unsung country-soulsters grows old on the Carolina clambake circuit: “Doin’ The Shag,” one song’s called, and that’s not meant in the Austin Powers sense. “Spark of Love” and the Van McCoy-penned “No Sooner Said That Done” serve as pleasant enough Al Green and Spinners substitutes; “Brenda” and “What’cha Gonna Do” shake their groove thing; and the piano in “Primrose Lane” could jazz up c&w or r&b radio if either format cared. Too bad they don’t – they might be able to help O.C. get the studio help his rich baritone still deserves.
LABRETTA SUEDE AND THE MOTEL 6 Not Food Hungry (Charlie Horse)
Distillers types from New Zealand; best when they stay hopped-up Cramps-style and occasionally speed up Misfits-style, and avoid the Courtney Love emoting that leaves wild gal Labretta awkward. Riffs heavy out often enough, and the “New Orleans” remake barrelhouses along fine. But the highlight is “Holler,” about living in a roach-infested flat below jerks who make the bedsprings squeak upstairs.
BANASTRE TARLETON BAND Huzzah! Greatest Hits (Green Horse)
As explained in meticulous detail in the mullet-filled 60-page booklet enclosed within this CD’s cover, the Banastre Tarleton Band have been ubiquitous in bars in and around central Missouri for over three decades; way back in 1975, they even jammed at University of Missouri-Columbia’s ROTC building (which this writer has actually rappelled off a couple times, but never mind.) The latter gig might help explain why they’ve done anthems supportive of American invasions of both Iraq and Grenada; “Rockin’ With America” (“Just one thing I wanna say – Go USA!”) would also seem related somewhat. But this 21-song retrospective refuses to pigeonhole them, patriotically or otherwise. The adenoidal Weird Al nerd-wave of “Don’t Call Me Denis” isn’t easy to take, and “Redwings” ickily revolves its male-bonding around menstrual muff-diving rather than Detroit hockey, but when the band indulges its Lou Reed fetish in “I’m Going Under” and “I’m Wired,” you could swear they were art-punks from late ‘70s Cleveland. “Hindenburg” is arch-popped demi-classical metal (think Crack the Sky or Sensational Alex Harvey Band) about the dead zeppelin itself; “The Enchantress” prances its frilly-feathered prog around some Renaissance castle; “Electric Woman” is built on a Neil Young chord progression; “Eye For An Eye” is a burly bar brawl. “Debbie Wylde,” seemingly revealing a crush on a fetching local radio personality a la Bob Seger’s “Rosalie,” has heavy riffs to die for. As does “Attack Iraq,” scarily enough.
ROBIN TAYLOR Isle Of Black (Transubstans)
Copenhagen spaceman Taylor has racked up 11 solo albums in 17 years, along with a bunch of collaborations; several are available on cdbaby, and I can personally vouch for 2006’s Deutshe Schule!, mainly for how the saxophones in its two longest songs make up for the precious whimsy in its shorter ones. The new trio-plus-lady-sound-engineer’s-voice date Isle of Black is the most playable I’ve heard him: even warmer (and freer) sax from frequent co-conspirator KarstenVogel, but also Björkish art-rock, heavily sludging keyboard psych, oceanic prog drift, and small-band jazz with discernible melodies. Not to mention plenty of exploration of the galaxy – especially when two tracks pass the nine-minute mark.
THE TONIC RAYS The Tonic Rays (thetonicrays.com)
In which musicians from the U.S., U.K., and Japan reinvent a rustic, sitar-spiced, and surprisingly catchy species of psychedelic folk-rock that Jefferson Airplane or the Shocking Blue might recognize, in the northern mountains of bassist Chakkapan Wattanapan’s native nation Thailand. After opening with one of their most furious stomps, the cross-cultural combo proceed to lay back and make things sound easy. Though Marie Dance claims she’s too lazy to love you but too lazy to break your heart, making your jangle this funky (“Pretend That You Love Me” and “Taxi Driver” are clearly dance songs) while keeping it spooky and gorgeous takes hard work–whether we see you sweat or not.
UGLY STICK Still Glistening (Hover Craft)
More reunited unknowns, these ones from Columbus and with a sole previous 15-year-old album on their resumé, and thankfully more provincially normal-sounding than press-bio Pixies references let on. Which isn’t to say average; Pixies rips happen every day, but it’s a rare band that could pull off the good-natured country-cooked garage-beat pop of “Little Lynn” or “Left To Lay” or “Jerry Can’t Make Me” Ugly Stick manage guitar raveups (“Intro”) and droning dolor (“She’s Sick”) just as handily, too. In simpler times, “Soul Satisfaction,” a one-way conversation from a very awkward nerd-date, might well have been a college-radio hit: “What’s your favorite kind of monkey? Do you like collecting things?”
VICEROY Viceroy (Bushwood)
From Illinois locals, a more consistent album of quality no-bullshit melodic hard-rock than the Stone Temple Pilots — much less the eternally overrated Foo Fighters — ever managed. Urge Overkill maybe used to make albums this good, but they were being way more tongue-in-cheek about it. Just about every cut has a humongous hook or three that kick in within a couple listens; favorite is probably the Aerosmith circa Rocks rip “Better Dance,” though “I Want To See You Shine” is an excellent STP/Who hybrid. (Whole lotta shining going on in this column, huh?) The rest ranges from the Babys to the Sex Pistols: in retrospect not such an insane span at all.
(Various) B.I.P.P.: French Synth Wave 1979-85 (Everloving)
The 14 frog-eating bands and individuals here all turned cyborg in the wake of disco and punk, and it took a Parisian indie label to crate-dig and assemble their obscure old 45s, some of which sold as few as 50 copies the first time around. Rhythmic inspirations range from “Rock and Roll, Part 2” to table tennis (Dole trio Act’s onomatopoeic “Ping Pong.”) And the most memorable cuts partake in hooks that, in an alternate universe, might well have landed them on MTV: Paris foursome Vox Dei jitter nervously like Talking Heads or Devo; Orleans gent Les Visiteurs Du Soir sweetly presage Italodisco; Nice S&M sexpot Marie Möör triangulates somewhere between Trio, Telex, and the Flying Lizards. The latter hussy, shown notably topless in the colorful inner foldout, wants us to know “eets a preety way to die.”