Local Record Roundup
CHESTNUT STATION Chestnut Station (Drag City). Although Chestnut Station's sporadic live gigs feature a shifting cast of support musicians, the two who really make its five-song debut are vocalists Rian Murphy and Dave Marr, who, along with USA's Gene Booth, used to be Mantis, a gawky late-80s band more heard about than actually heard. The charismatic Murphy, who played drums in that outfit, usually leads this band from out front, and he favors the rock excess of the 70s in his delivery--which, practically speaking, means that sometimes his voice can't do quite what he wants it to. But Marr's sun-soaked country leanings (he now lives in Athens, Georgia) balance the band's treatment of its consistently solid rock tunes. The group is rounded out by MOTO's Paul Caporino and Eleventh Dream Day's Rick Rizzo, who lays down some very nice old-school geetar, and Booth makes a guest appearance.
DJ? ACUCRACK Mutants of Sound (Lost in Bass/Slipdisc). Despite a proclaimed longtime interest in house and techno, DJ? Acucrack's Jason Novak and Jamie Duffy approach electronica the same way their main band, Acumen Nation, approaches industrial rock--as aggressive but uninspired Johnny-come-latelies. Mutants of Sound heavy-handedly scrambles drum 'n' bass, techno, and ambient music into an incoherent mess that's neither structurally adventurous nor booty-shaking.
DO OR DIE Headz or Tailz (Neighborhood Watch/Rap-a-Lot). This sophomore album from west-side rappers Do or Die has spent its first month in Billboard's Top 40--and why wouldn't it? It's built from the same blueprints that got their 1996 debut album, Picture This, gilded. Though they thank God and strike thoughtful poses behind an open Bible in the CD booklet, musically Do or Die trudge through the same old pathological gangsta tropes, even exploiting their platinum single "Po Pimp" with "Still Po Pimpin'," a tepid sequel wholly emblematic of their artistic stasis.
FRONTIER Frontier 4 (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate). All of this group's previous recordings have used ambient sound to an extent, but 4 is the first to focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Three sets of electric guitars, signal processors, and amplifiers were set up in a "sealed acoustic chamber" with the amps facing one other in a triangle; as the guitars fed back, the three "musicians" tweaked the volume and frequency. The bio that accompanied my copy notes proudly that "no fingers ever touched guitar strings for the duration of the recording process." It might have made a nice installation piece, but it's a fucking chore to sit through.
MARVEL KIND Mini (Throwrug). On their appealingly strange six-song debut, produced by Mercury Rev's David Baker, Marvel Kind split time between emulating the overdriven sci-fi hysteria of Brainiac and trying to mold their own cockeyed take on pop. On tunes like the madly galloping "U.S. Erf" and the squelchy, drum 'n' bass-flavored "Jackass & Pussycat," their imitation of the late Dayton band would be infuriating if it weren't so unabashed. But when guitarist Benjamin Hughes uses a Britpop croon instead of his alien caterwaul the effect is more distinctive, if less immediately compelling. Could be a band to watch.
PEATMOSS Reel to Reel (Play). If only long-suffering Peatmoss front man Brad Peterson could get someone to pay attention, why, there's no reason his band couldn't sell as many records as the equally bland and tastefully melodic Toad the Wet Sprocket! Then again, one Toad the Wet Sprocket is one too many already.
PINETOP SEVEN No Breath in the Bellows (Truckstop/Atavistic). The most ear-opening record I've heard from a local artist so far this year is the new seven-song EP from Pinetop Seven. The band's eponymously titled debut album, released in 1996 and reissued last year by Truckstop, tried for a hazy marriage of dusky alterna-country and off-kilter art rock. But Darren Richard's twang was too close to Son Volt singer Jay Farrar's for comfort, and instrumentally the record suffered from kitchen-sink syndrome. Only Richard and multi-instrumentalist Charles Kim remain from the lineup that made that album--and whatever the circumstances of the purge, the results are fantastic. Richard has developed a warm, casual quaver that navigates the contours of the duo's beautiful songs like a long-lost traveler coming home, and Kim is a sensitive arranger and wonderfully evocative guitarist whose talent also translates to pedal steel, marimba, and violin. The instrumental "For the Love of the Knife Thrower's Beautiful Accomplice"--which sounds like an outtake from Tom Waits's Rain Dogs--is the one dud, but the rest of the material makes me eager to hear the band's forthcoming second album, due this fall.
SUPER E.S.P. Super E.S.P. (Hefty). Casey Rice, aka Designer, and former Trenchmouth singer Damon Locks join forces to create an unsettling, dislocated barrage of dark drum 'n' bass, down-tempo hip-hop, amped-up dub, and surreptitiously recorded conversations. These four tracks are considerably more disjointed than the DJ? Acucrack release I've disparaged above, but it's clear from the low-rent graphics and charmingly off-the-cuff feel of the music that Rice and Locks aren't as interested in filling the dance floor or beating their chests with their beats as they are in trying to mix oil and water.
WEBSTIRS Rocket to the Moon (Ginger). With its second album this foursome reveals a joint obsession with the British Invasion and skinny-tie new wave. A marked improvement over Smirk, the Webstirs' workmanlike 1995 debut, Rocket to the Moon is tightly executed and dripping with personality. Unfortunately most of the personality is borrowed: the band can write solid pop hooks, but more often than not they're baited with stylistic squiggles pinched from the Beatles, the Cars, the Knack, the Raspberries, and other pure-pop luminaries. Tasty? Sure. Nutritious? Nope.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): album covers.