Local Record Roundup
DISTURBED The Sickness (Giant) These south-siders, sporting the requisite body piercings and carefully sculpted goatees, are Chicago's entry in the tortured metal sweepstakes. Front man David Draiman shifts from post-Metallica gruffness to sensitive-guy alt-rock balladeering to padded-cell ranting with mechanical precision, and his boilerplate screeds invoke hatred and violence as cool responses to parental oppression and suburban angst. Odds are this record has already been lost in the "next Korn" shuffle.
FUNKADESI Uncut Roots (IACA) Funkadesi puts the world in a blender and presses liquefy: Uncut Roots has all the textural complexity of water. The nine-piece band's dance-oriented mix of trite Jah-love sentiment, basic Latin rhythms, slick funk accents, and too-infrequent Indian elements--Radhika Chimata's vocals on "Laung Gawacha" are lovely--is world beat at its most banal. Even reedist Byard Lancaster, a semilegendary free-jazz player who decades ago appeared on numerous ESP classics and recorded with Sonny Sharrock, sounds like a studio hack here.
PLASTICS HI-FI Home Brewed (self-released) After a sloppy EP and a couple mediocre singles, these unofficial chairmen of the local Flaming Lips Appreciation Society have finally done their idols justice. Elegant hooks, often in the form of sweet vocal harmonies, emerge sleepily from clouds of psychedelic ephemera--swirling guitar arpeggios, analog synth noodles, and bad-acid organ, arranged via some sort of trippy feng shui--and though you barely notice them coming, once they're out they buzz around your head like a swarm of gnats. The quartet's layered approach bears repeated listening: each spin so far has revealed more and more nice detail.
RED ELEPHANT More Sounds From Spaghetti Westerns (Aware) The local Aware label, best known as the folks who discovered Hootie & the Blowfish, have made a big deal of the fact that this band includes a cellist and a saxophonist. But the truly amazing thing is how Red Elephant manages, despite this instrumentation, to sound like every other strummy, feel-good middle-of-the-road act on the roster. The lineup features a slew of scene vets--drummer Kevin O'Donnell plays in Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire and leads his own retro combo the Quality Six, bassist Ken Schwartz and saxist Josh Bell played together in Cassius Clay, and cellist Eric Remschneider has done session work for conglomerates like Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, and Filter--but it's singer-guitarist Ken Fountain, formerly of Birds at the End of the Road, who sets the bland tone here, smothering the band's Morphine-addicted grooves with melodramatic crooning that brings to mind that bald twerp from Live.
RED STAR BELGRADE Telescope (Checkered Past) When Red Star Belgrade's Bill Curry and Graham Harris Curry moved to Chicago from Chapel Hill last year they left behind the assortment of lead guitarists who made their last record click: on 1999's The Fractured Hymnal, Bo Taylor, John Soady, and former Firehose front man Ed Crawford lent the songs a raging nonverbal passion a la Eleventh Dream Day or Yo La Tengo. On the new Telescope, the couple's first effort since relocating, Bill Curry still rants tunelessly, mostly about relationships gone wrong, but without the six-string counterpoint his woe-is-me shtick quickly grows tiresome. "Uncle Tupelo" is a sad corollary to the my-records-are-my-life mentality recently summed up in the Cusack flick High Fidelity: Curry orders an ex to "give me back my Uncle Tupelo, my Gram Parsons, Freedy Johnston, and my Gang of Four."
DAVID SINGER The Cost of Living (Sweet Science) The solo debut by Kid Million front man David Singer has a nice psych-tinged singer-songwriter bent. Channeling the Beatles via Elliott Smith and Richard Davies, songs like the piano-driven title track--which features a particularly well placed trombone solo courtesy of coproducer Mark Schwarz--reveal a sharp, sophisticated pop sensibility. Scattered samples and even some turntable scratching (on "That's Not Me") are put to good use for the most part, though the instrumental "I Need to Be Able to See You" seems little more than an excuse to play with recording technology. Here and there Singer oversings, but more often than not the material connects.
SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY Sto Cazzo! (Southern) Most of the press I've seen on this quartet zooms in on singer Steven M. Sostak, who accents his hoarse vocal eruptions with the occasional blurt of alto saxophone, but his unskilled honking, which has nothing to do with either jazz or James Chance, doesn't actually do much to distinguish the band's loud, elaborate grind. Once in a while these Fireside Bowl fixtures will throw in a curveball, like the relatively sparse "Walking Home on the Emergency Bed" or the fast but dynamic "Bloodlines," but the main point, if there is one, seems to be the din--furious drumming, rumbling bass, and slate gray guitar noise.
TOSSERS Long Dim Road (Thick) These south-siders hate being compared to the Pogues, but they sing in fake Irish accents. Their third album won me over by its sheer exuberance--their hardcore intensity is why they're regulars on the all-ages punk scene. Sometimes the lefty politics overwhelm the music: on "The Ballad of U.N. & N.A.T.O." singer T. Duggins gets winded trying to cram in lines like "The countries ostracized by embargo that form the rest of the world were forced to form a nonaligned organization" over the simple chord changes. But on explosive rave-ups like "The Crutch" or the pretty mug-clinking ditty "The Last Night on Earth," the band's gleeful mix of tin whistle, violin, mandolin, piano, and rock instrumentation can turn the room of your choice into a raucous Irish pub.