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Spot Check



SPACE NEEDLE 8/11, EMPTY BOTTLE On their debut album, Voyager (Zero Hour), the Long Island duo known as Space Needle transport space rock into the lo-fi realm, combining rough-hewn ambient sounds, fuzzy melodies, and an almost catatonic rhythmic attack. When vocals break through the sonic mess, as on "Beers in Heaven," they evoke a more bleary-eyed Sebadoh, but for the most part this duo sticks to creating extended bouts of hazy hypnosis by means of Jeff Gatland's repetitive guitar patterns and the droning keyboard and drum playing of Jud Ehrbar, who alternates instruments and also sings. ADAMJACK 8/11, DOUBLE DOOR Heads Up (BTY Music), the recent debut of these busy local rockers, vacillates ineptly between hippie-dippy, skirt-twirling folk rock, bouncy horn-laden pop, watered-down funk, and just about any other Anglo style you'd care to mention. Diversity is one thing, a complete lack of identity and dearth of original ideas is quite another. STRETFORD, COWSLINGERS 8/12, LOUNGE AX Stretford, Austin's entry in the neo-English punk rock sweepstakes, is inordinately aided by the British birth of vocalist/guitarist Carl Normal. Their debut album, Crossing the Line (Unclean), sports plenty of herky-jerk rhythms, thin but stinging guitar leads, and melodic ideas reminiscent of England circa '78, to say nothing of their more than slightly incongruous horn section. There's not much on the surprisingly subdued CD to justify the band's creative existence, although live they're likely to be less restrained. On Off the Wagon and Back in the Saddle (Drink'n Drive) Cleveland's Cowslingers serve up unrepentant, raw-boned rockabilly that falls in the crack between hiccupped purity and de rigueur psychosis, which is merely a polite way of saying their music is neither here nor there. DRUGSTORE, RAKE'S PROGRESS 8/12, DOUBLE DOOR The lazy, seductive singing of Brazilian-born vocalist/bassist Isabel Monteiro isn't the only thing that makes the English trio Drugstore sound uncannily like Mazzy Star: the band's sleepwalking musical attack paints the same sort of quasi-psychedelic landscape as David Roback's billowy guitar textures. Although Monteiro's voice also suggests a bit of Marianne Faithfull's weariness, overall Drugstore hang more on the snoozy minimalism of the Jesus & Mary Chain. The urge to pleasantly nod off is, nonetheless, striking. The Rake's Progress are the flavor of the month over at Q101, but just one listen to this New York quintet's new Altitude (Almo Sounds/Geffen) proves that even moderate airplay of Tim Cloherty's irritatingly eccentric vocals is too much. As heard on its sub-new-wave hit "I'll Talk My Way Out of This One," the only thing the band's got to back up Cloherty's swoops, cries, and screams is a workmanlike guitar attack. BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE 8/13, NORTHALSTED MARKET DAYS Talk about grasping at straws, or in this case headlining a local street fair. Mick Jones's post-Clash fall from grace sadly and unbelievably accelerates on his band's new F-Punk (Radioactive). Pathetically reclaiming the "Dynamite," which he unexplainably dropped on his last miserable album, this directionless mess finds him dabbling in the punk rock he once popularized and later swore off--the album's clunky opener is called "I Turned Out a Punk." He also reuses the mock-Elvis Presley artwork of London Calling and furthers his hackneyed attempt to assimilate British dance music trends, this time littering the CD with out-of-place junglisms. Punk rock's answer to George Foreman. DON DIXON 8/13, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE Romantic Depressive (Sugar Hill), Don Dixon's first album in six years, reasserts that the producer best known for his work with R.E.M., Smithereens, Connells, and Marshall Crenshaw has natural pop impulses. Strewn with solid hooks and soulfully restrained singing, this consistently endearing collection of melodies proves that good songs can win out; there's nothing adventurous going on, but Dixon's pop smarts and the classic production skirt the pitfalls of contemporaneity. The poor guy's stuck opening for Hootie & the Blowfish. BUCK OWENS BIRTHDAY PARTY TRIBUTE 8/13, SCHUBAS Borrowing a tradition started at Austin's Continental Club, Schubas fetes honky-tonk hero Buck Owens. Those scheduled to croon tunes associated with the pioneer of the Bakersfield sound include Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen of Dolly Varden, Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers/Mekons, blues singer Cicero Blake, soul legend Otis Clay, and top-notch Texas country artists Buddy Miller and Dale Watson. Proceeds benefit Christmas Is for Kids. EVERCLEAR 8/16, METRO On their second album, Sparkle and Fade (Capitol), Everclear don't do much to rock the alternative lifeboat in which they dwell, but they sure sound a lot better than they did on their debut. Suggesting a considerably jacked-up Wipers sans the megalomania of Greg Sage, this Portland, Oregon, trio plays tight, hooky, hard-rocking tunes. That said, despite their growing prowess, they're no Wipers. San Diego's Smile open. SUSAN WERNER 8/17, SCHUBAS Grown-up singer/songwriter stuff, Susan Werner's debut, Last of the Good Straight Girls (Private Music), offers highly literate modern tales of love and hope with a palpable lack of cynicism. With the ever-so-tasteful help of folks like Fernando Saunders, Marshall Crenshaw, and Mitchell Froom, the album glides along breezily, establishing Werner as the latest point on a continuum that includes people like Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and Nanci Griffith.

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