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Spot Check

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Fastball 10/4, Empty Bottle The short, pleasant pop ditties this Austin-based trio delivers on Make Your Mama Proud (Hollywood) sail in with plenty of zip, melodic flair, and impudent tone, but miss the strike zone for lack of personality. Bardo Pond 10/5, Lounge Ax Four minutes into the recent Amanita (Matador), at a point where plenty of current bands might already have started into a third song, this Philadelphia five-piece is just getting its first one off the ground, building off an incantatory guitar drone. Singer-whisperer Isobel Sollenberger provides a beacon of light to help you through the dark morass and holds your hand when the guitars get crazy. But when she picks up her flute, you're on your own. Deadbolt 10/5, Empty Bottle Echoey deadpan narration, dialogue, and chants concerning the sleazy lifestyle of a small-time hood overlay endless variations on the same minor-key surf guitar groove for all 15 tracks of Deadbolt's third album, Tijuana Hit Squad (Cargo). Those still obsessed with Pulp Fiction and its ilk will relate; for the rest of us, the gimmick grows old fast. Joykiller 10/6, Fireside Bowl Untypically, these SoCal punk vets (ex-TSOL, Tender Fury, Gun Club, Vandals) have a regular pianist, a vulnerably romantic singer ("Wanting the Kiss to Go On," "What a Girl"), and the self-deprecatory humor to briefly cover Paul McCartney's syrupy nadir, "My Love." But this ain't no cheesy lounge act. The hard-hitting, hook-filled originals on its sophomore outing, Static (Epitaph), rediscover the bliss that powered the once-splendid Buzzcocks. David Lanz 10/6, Park West Pianist Lanz claims he's not "new age," since it's not a musical term, then speaks of his music's "healing attitude" as if that were. But more important to those who buy this stuff (usually on a boring friend's recommendation, or after hearing it at a restaurant) is that it's "contemporary." You bring it home, play it once, then file it away with a sigh of relief. No need to panic next time somebody at a cocktail party asks what kind of music you listen to. John Cale 10/7, Double Door The high point on Cale's new Walking on Locusts (Hannibal) is "Indistinct Notion of Cool," a vitriolic, "How Do You Sleep?"-like castigation of Lou Reed over the abortive 1993 Velvet Underground reunion ("I like things to be easy / To be the best they can / But you turned me into jelly / And used me like a soup can"). Otherwise Cale plays the polite, occasionally polyrhythmic (David Byrne guests on one track) poet-philosopher. Aluminum Group 10/9, Martyrs Some years back, brothers Frank and John Navin played local clubs as the punk-theatrical Bleak House. Now they're the Aluminum Group, but metal's not what they peddle, despite the cover of G n' R's "Sweet Child o' Mine" on their self-released Wonder Boy. Rather it's mellow, jazz-tinged pop of the sort that throve in England in the early 80s. Pensive vocals and lush chord changes distinguish songs like "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes" and "Sad Gay Life"--nothing terribly original, but clearly heartfelt.

--Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Aluminum Group photo.

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