Local Record Roundup
A-SET The Science of Living Things (Tree). A-Set, at least on this pleasantly surprising debut EP, is the recently transplanted Albert Menduno, a product of the California hardcore scene who's changed his attitude as well as his latitude. The affected croon in which he sings his catchy, slightly baroque melodies reminds me of David Bowie circa Hunky Dory, but the instrumental accompaniment--guitar, bass, drums, pump organ, electric piano, and lap steel, mostly played by Menduno himself--is leaner and more direct. Tim Hurley of Califone produced; Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella contributes guitar.
ATOMBOMBPOCKETKNIFE Atombombpocketknife (Southern). This noisy trio calls its music "unrock" in a needless attempt to distinguish itself from "post-
rock": what I hear is a less pathological, more melodic take on plain old rock as practiced by a whole bunch of Touch and Go bands in the late 80s: the rhythms throb, the guitar wheezes and lurches; Justin Sinkovich's introspective warble pulls together frequent dynamic leaps, tempo shifts, and noise blasts. Enjoyable but predictable.
INFAMOUS SYNDICATE Changing the Game (Relativity). Lateefa Harland and Rashawnna Guy don't go in for the played-out gangsta posturing of Twista and Do or Die, but their rapid-fire, syllable-collapsing, occasionally off-the-beat rapping fits squarely into the current Chicago style. It works well with lean rhythm tracks like the ones crafted by Common collaborator No I.D. on "Here I Go" and "Hold It Down," but other producers give the girls flaccid stuff like the slow-jammy "What You Do to Me" and the static "Jenny Jonez." In a decision that seems more familial obligation than prudent musical judgment, Rashawnna's dad, Buddy Guy, adds his usual guitar flash to a few cuts.
LA MAKITA SOMA Monkey Island (Abridged). This instrumental quintet, which includes Lustre King drummer Jay Dandurand and former Bill Ding multi-instrumentalist Dan Snazelle, takes the maximalist approach to Tortoise emulation. The rhythms are more pronounced and tinged with rock, and the various layers of ephemera--heavily treated guitar lines, vaporous vibraphone arpeggios, wheezing analog squiggles, pastel synth washes, and the occasional turntable scratch--are thicker and more dramatic than anything the big T's ever cut. There's a certain skill in the way the group assembles the elements, but the structures themselves are completely forgettable, proving once again that a cool record collection does not a cool record make.
ALICE PEACOCK Real Day (Peacock Music). New girl next door Alice Peacock, a minister's daughter who idolizes Carole King, has a way with a pop hook and a strong, appealing voice, but her debut is deadly full of dull middle-of-the-road singer-songwriterisms: "I want to put my arms around you / I'm so glad I found you," "I'm not Lois Lane / You're not Superman," "I've walked holes in both my shoes," etc. The whole package, released by Peacock herself, is soullessly professional, from the posed "nutty" photo inside the CD booklet to the accompaniment of her studio-musician band.
TED SIROTA'S REBEL SOULS Propaganda (Naim). This excellent second outing by drummer Ted Sirota, a rich sampling of postbop diversity, allows cornetist Rob Mazurek and guitarist Jeff Parker to show their stuff in a swing-based setting--a relatively rare occasion since the two became part of the Tortoise/Isotope 217 equation. The quintet, rounded out by bassist Noel Kupersmith and tenor saxophonist Kevin Kizer, plays eight originals by band members--from Sirota's skanking Ernest Ranglin-esque "Geronimo's Free" to his wide-open, febrile title track to Mazurek's Ornette-ish "Ten"--with a beguiling mix of spiky lyricism and tightly harnessed energy. With the new-jazz scene's current emphasis on free improv, high-octane blowing, and bold style blending, we don't hear this kind of stuff enough.
TOE 2000 Toe 2000 (Truckstop). This peculiar project organized by drummer David Pavkovic--a frequent collaborator of jazz bassist Tatsu Aoki and a touring member of Pinetop Seven--is reminiscent of Can in its approach to groove, though you'd never confuse the two. For the most part he and Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs shape fat, mildly funky, and relatively static rhythms while guitarist Jeff Parker gets the run of the place, moving from hooky, soft-voiced licks to spacey arpeggios to effects-heavy textures to barbed note tangles. The occasional vocal abstractions of Osaka-born blues singer Yoko Noge--sung and spoken fragments in English and Japanese that suggest both old Can associate Phew and that more famous Yoko--work more as yet another texture than as sing-along fodder. Partially improvised, the record has more than its share of moments, but it drags here and there over the course of its 52 minutes.
WE RAGAZZI Suicide Sound System (My Pal God). Like it or hate it, Anthony Rolando has one of the most arresting voices around, a piercing, nasal whine that makes him sound spoiled, snotty, and irresolute--imagine Jad Fair imitating Jon Spencer. I wouldn't want to spend an hour on the phone with him, but I can't think of anything more appropriate than his paranoid-romantic caterwauling for We Ragazzi's rickety mix of no wave and disemboweled retro rock. With Colleen Burke's Adele Bertei-channeling organ tones, Alianna Kalaba's stuttering drums, and Rolando's own muscular, deceptively articulate guitar lines, Suicide Sound System is one of the best local rock releases of the year; unfortunately, the band just broke up.