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SPANIC BOYS, 12/17, SCHUBAS This Milwaukee group got its 15, er, more like 10, minutes of fame a few years ago as a last-minute replacement for musical guest Sinead O'Connor, who refused to appear on Saturday Night Live with guest host Andrew Dice Clay. Father and son rockers Tom and Ian Spanic had no such qualms, but their big mass media break was only a flash in the pan. After a listen to their new record, Dream Your Life Away, it's not hard to see why; the most striking feature of their music is the pair's pleasantly ragged, Everly Brothers-like harmony, but their 60s-tinged rootsiness (a la Rockpile), "updated" by the occasional stinging guitar explosion, begins to ramble with mid-tempo sameyness, and the scant melodic variation does little to dispel encroaching boredom. PAUL K & THE WEATHERMEN,12/17, AVALON Lexington demilegend Paul K continues to slug away in the face of never-ending public indifference, his literate tales of drugs, depression, pain, and loss delivered to a handful of rabid fans. His churning prolificacy reflects a certain inability to self-edit, but when this intelligent, Reed-ish/Dylan-esque rocker hits, as on a gripping ballad like "High in the Air," he hits hard. ETHNIC HERITAGE ENSEMBLE, 12/18, HOTHOUSE The seamless blend of saxophonist Edward Wilkerson Jr. (best known for leading the brilliant octet 8 Bold Souls), trombonist Joseph Bowie (of jazz funksters Defunkt), and percussionist/guiding light Kahil El'Zabar merges jazz, blues, gospel, soul, and pure African rhythms in a unified, cogent whole that bubbles with an insistent spirituality. The deceptively simple tunes allow chants and riffs (often sketched out by El'Zabar on "sanza," an African "thumb piano" with a beautifully gentle and meditative sound) to blossom into spontaneous, joyous epiphanies of pure emotional expression stoked by the sensitive interplay of the trio. The group's latest album, Dance With the Ancestors, is crammed with hypnotic swirls of sound that transform into heart-pounding revelations: musical speaking in tongues. MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE, 12/18, RIVIERA Machines of Loving Grace are like a circus strongman contorting his face in the struggle to lift barbells made of black balloons. They mix thudding machine rhythms with a canned-sounding metal guitar (think of the truncated guitar burps on that annoying C & C Music Factory hit "Gonna Make You Sweat"), then layer brooding whispers, old-timey synth-pop crooning (remember Heaven 17 and Blancmange?), and B-movie shouts and screams over the top. Random chunks of pop and funk turn the whole thing into a cheesy postmod cartoon. Incisive lyric sample: "Don't place faith in human beings / Human beings are butterfly wings." The band's album art reflects their industrial-rock pretensions, rife as it is with stark images of gray machinery, rusty decay, and an anonymous nude body bound with barbed wire. They open for My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. SEPULTURA, FUDGE TUNNEL, 12/19, THE VIC Sort of a grubby-looking Brazilian version of Helmet, Sepultura combines Metallica's dense, chugging guitar style with the ridiculously gruff roar of lead ogre Max Cavalera. Add to these charms a collaboration with Jello Biafra called "Biotech Is Godzilla" and you've got yourself a real party. Opening are Nottingham-based Fudge Tunnel, a less hirsute trio whose screaming metallic riffing occasionally devolves into lid-flipping swaths of unadulterated guitar noise. Unlike Sepultura, who indulge in grunted dialogues on power and corruption, Fudge Tunnel prefer songs with more personal topics like rotting flesh and torturing insects. WU-TANG CLAN, 12/22, ALAMEDAS CASINO I'm not absolutely positive, but after the Fu-Schnicks, Wu-Tang Clan seem to be the world's premier Ninja rappers. I've no idea what they're ranting about, but their music is loaded with gunshots and kung fu sound effects. Their album art pictures several members wearing featureless white masks, a huge blade in the shape of the group's logo hanging guillotinelike above their heads. Uh huh.

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