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ASS PONYS, 1/21, THURSTON'S The hypnotic pop of this undeservedly obscure Cincinnati quartet builds from the chiming, interwoven guitar patterns of Chuck Cleaver and John Erhardt; their songs slowly develop with an absorbing momentum that reaches nearly mantralike power. On the other hand, the Ass Ponys avoid formless trance-out modes, punctuating the sonic swirl with clearly defined, infectious folk-rock melodies. Amid this dynamic churning action floats Cleaver's warm warble delivering edgy lyrics with a subtly humorous sting ("You're like a race car / With all of the tires flat"). On their recent album Grim, whether it's a silly tune about Ford Madox Ford ("The fattest poet who ever lived") or a more bracing ditty about murder ("Tried to get her with my pistol / But I've never been / Good with guns")--by my count Grim includes no less than eight grisly deaths and a few failed attempts--the semicatatonic drawl of the music breathes with a deceptive depth, luxuriating in wickedly soft grooves. They open for Loud Lucy and Throneberry. BARKMARKET, 1/21, METRO This New York trio takes growled, dissonant art-rock bombast into unparalleled realms of pretension, blaring flat, throbbing noise just for the hell of it. With loudmouthed leader and guitarist Dave Sardy spraying yards of meaningless art-damaged verbiage ("Cut apoplex smiles in your wrists," or how about "There's no more skin to cauterize / Burnt down to bite size"), Barkmarket seems to deliberately steer clear of tunefulness, Sardy's throat-shredding, raspy bellows suppressing, or just plain missing, obvious melodic opportunities. The leaden, suffocating production on their latest album, Gimmick (American), pushes every sound in your face, but if you like your anger, pain, and catharsis without any fat (or musical appeal), don't let me stand in your way. GUY CLARK, 1/21, PARK WEST Known primarily as a Nashville songwriter who's provided hits for Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, and Rodney Crowell, Texas-bred Guy Clark is a striking performer in his own right. His songs testify to a thorough assimilation of American folk music forms--manifested partly by a vibrant dialogue between the blues and country--and his rich, seasoned voice breezes through tender, ruminative stories with relaxed authority. Clark's folk heritage is reflected in strong narrative material like "Madonna w/Child ca. 1969," a poignant but unsentimental portrait of a struggling single mother. He performs on a bill with Robert Earl Keen and Joe Ely. OO OO WA, 1/22, AVALON Remember the slick, soulless, well-dressed early-80s British pop combos like ABC, Spandau Ballet, and the original demon seed, Roxy Music? If the memory fills you with a longing fondness for those manufactured fashion twerps, Oo Oo Wa (go ahead, say it out loud) may be made for you. The seriousness with which these Dayton synth-pop-tarts herald the return, signaled by themselves of course, of the New Romantics is nothing less than sublime. The quintet's label is attempting to put this flimsy twaddle over with a sloppy blend of irony and guilt-inducing scoffs at listeners who fear "solid hooks," but the truth is melody alone does not equal a hook, and the melodic conceits on the band's debut, Screen Kiss (Limited Potential), are better suited for TV (a couple even sound like alternate versions of the theme for The Love Boat) than the dance floor. And besides, their suits say Wall Street, not Milan. DOUGHBOYS, 1/23, METRO Drawing inspiration from insipid, puerile, one-trick LA-based outfits like All and Chemical People, this Canadian four-piece applies punk energy to cornball 70s power pop with predictably tedious results. Their recent album Crush (A&M), produced by power master/schlockmeister Daniel Rey, hints at a shift toward maturity by placing less emphasis on tunes celebrating life's, ahem, more earthy pleasures (the rousing chorus of "Shitty Song" goes "Shitty songs / Shitty world / Shitty songs / About shitty girls like you") and more on a few innocuous power ballads. That's growth! All this and white men with dreadlocks too.

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