Friday, March 01, 2002

Music to My Ears IV
A five-pack of new record reviews!

Arab on Radar: "Yahweh or the Highway" CD
Issued on Chicago's noise rock and free jazz haven Skin Graft, this CD from the Providence, Rhode Island, band is a wonderful assortment of angular Fat Day-meets-God Is My Copilot no wave. Call it the new no wave a la Pracky Pranky, the Flying Luttenbachers, and the much-missed anarcho-ensemble Math. Written between late 1999 and early 2001 and recorded by Weasel Walter, no less, the CD features churning bass, relentless percussion, and short, sharp shocks of guitar. Eminently interesting stuff -- not a record for background listening, but for attention. The vocals remind me of Couch Flambeau, which earns Arab punk points, and the saxophone on "God Is Dad" rocks. While this is a record to pay attention to, it's not a CD to belabor over or hold onto. The songs are all relatively similar, and they tend to run together. But instead of being a sign of monotonous mediocrity, it's an indication that Arab on Radar is larger than its LP's. The band is a sound and a thought process, one revealed by bits and pieces through the eight songs herein. Lyrically, the message is just as convoluted and misconstrued. With vocals delivered as poetry, songs touch on masturbation, reproduction, misplaced affection, homosexuality, tactics in the sack, and abstinence. But is Arab (as in Arab Strap On) a band about sex like the hardcore hip-hop project Double Dong? I'm not sure. The sex is there, but it might be too dangerous to provoke a dalliance. Arab on Radar, P.O. Box 603124, Providence, RI 02906.

Backstabbers Inc.: "While You Were Sleeping" CD
Gosh, these gents from New Hampshire are angry. Hardcore crust with shouted shouty vocals and plenty of sludgy aggression. It's not quite my bag, but I appreciate the energy, the anger, the technical skill, and the straight edge-like liner notes in which the band explains its lyrical content: angry takes on small-town life, responsibility, dead-end jobs, and fake friendship. While I don't totally dig the Backstabbers sound, I love "Concrete Evidence Supporting the Educational Valie of Snuff Films (When It's a Secret Everyone Knows)" and will listen to it again and again and again. They'd fit right in with the straight-edge crustcore scene in Quebec. "Buy That Fucker a Graveyard Dance (File Under Hostility Version 2.0)" oddly reminds me of Propagandhi, even. Hook these boys up with Mike Patton or John Zorn, and let's get cranking. Backstabbers Inc., P.O. Box 122, Dover, NH 03821-0122.

James Coleman: "Zuihitsu" CD
An all-star Boston free-jazz recording featuring James Coleman's theremin therapies with the able assistance of Greg Kelley, Tatsuya Nakatani, Vic Rawlings, Bhob Rainey, and Liz Tonne. Tatsuya's bowed percussion adds a lot, but this isn't your stereotypical theremin as sci-fi shenanigan or classical contrivance record. James gives his theremin(s) a working over on these 15 uneasy pieces, and the result is an intriguing yet incredibly restrained example of what the theremin can do. The record's even more interesting in that it's an example of what can happen when the theremin is given equal weight in an ensemble -- not a solo instrument, and not a demented detail -- and it is in these moments that James shines. The theremin is an instrument like any other. Get used to it, and get to using it.

I Don't Wanna/X: split cassette
On the first side, a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based lo-fi punk band doesn't want to go upstairs, pop zits, play A#, be your dog, or write songs about being in a band. It's a clever gimmick -- take the Ramones/Queers/Donnas protest song schtick and up the ante with a Scared of Chaka-like garage aesthetic -- but it doesn't go much further than that. On the flip side, a band that's not the X you might know and love chips in with eight more basement recordings. "Saturday Girl" is a poppy song about a girl sporting thin vocals but enough hooks and melody that I'm convinced. And the other songs? Reminiscent of Sweet Baby, the Ne'er Do Wells, and the Potatomen enough that despite the crummy recording and lame Weezer-like "Ooh!"'s, I'm tapping my feet and bobbing my head. The chorus to "Cultural Desert Fox" is a fine example of this, and "Carrie" might be their most fully formed pop song. The boys show their true colors a little with a cover of Green Day's "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield," but let's not hold it against them. Of the two sides, X marks the spot. Blank Tapes, 618 N. Ashland Ave., Green Bay, WI 54303.

Mistle Thrush: "Drunk with You" CD
Recorded between the end of 1998 and mid-2001, this record is a long time coming. The Boston-based fourpiece combines tempered goth rock and indie pop to create a dozen sogs that draw on the songwriting styles of Yatsura, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Chumbawamba, and other dissimilar musical groups. The songs, while a bit long for my tastes, are extremely good vehicles for the vocals of Valerie Forgione, the band's gift to the world. "Fanfare Spark" is an awesome love song, and "Lillies"' chorus makes for some dreamy, laidback cacophony. But Mistle Thrush is hard to peg. Like Over the Rhine, the band is amazing but slightly akimbo to most commercially or independently popular bands. They're enjoyable, slightly hard to describe, not totally original, and not entirely marketable. Those aren't bad things, but it's sad that a band as interesting and impressive as Mistle Thrush might not ever find a totally comfortable niche, even among fans. "Give a Little" might be destined for the most airplay. I mean, if you dig Mistle Thrush, what else are you listening too? Tell me. Because this is dark love rock, akin to Morphine, in which Mistle Thrush looks at intimacy, identity, and loss. And I'm left wanting more but not really recognizing what I've just been given. In a perfect world, this'd make the "Dawson's Creek" soundtrack. Mistle Thrush, P.O. Box 35485, Brighton, MA 02135.

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