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SLIVER 1/10, FIRESIDE BOWL This year-old Minneapolis quartet, featuring Teddy Kim (formerly of Self-Help Mantra and Eskimo Nation), musters a pleasant buzz with its plangent guitars, but the detached, directionless-in-the-dark vocals and clunky rhythms gradually diminish the overall effect to more of a numb hum.

V-ROYS 1/10, SCHUBAS Steve Earle saw to it personally that this agreeable Knoxville four-piece bar band, the first signing to his new E-Squared label, received first-class production on its debut, Just Add Ice. But then he plumb got carried away, calling his proteges "an important band" in the liner notes. That's hardly supported by the album's 12 originals, which reference memorable country-rock moments from the files of CCR, the Bobby Fuller Four, Fleetwood Mac, and even the Kinks, but fail to work any magic of their own.

ANYONE'S CIRCLE 1/11, OTIS' Sentiments run sweet one verse ("Kisses and huggies too.... I want to sleep right by your side / And make you breakfast") and sour the next ("Fuck you....I threw your shit outta the front door / It was such a chore") in this local foursome's "Happy," not exactly a Hallmark-endorsed take on the concept. Yet despite singer Jeff Brandt's admirably controlled roar and guitarist John Clements's keenness for dynamics, the group's dominant flavor is rather bland.

SWING ORCHESTRA INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO 1/14, CHICAGO BLUE NOTE (PALATINE) Such a cumbersome moniker belies the informality of this rotating 12-or-so-piece big band, which is dedicated to preserving sounds of the genre's golden years, 1935-'45. Some of the area's brightest traditional jazz talent, reading crumbling yellowed scores mostly retrieved from the library of a radio station that operated during that era, run the ballroom gamut, from Cole Porter to boogie-woogie to the "Pepsi-Cola hits the spot" jingle.

BRAINIAC 1/15, LOUNGE AX On its delightfully expansive third album, Hissing Prigs in Static Couture (Touch and Go), this quartet from Dayton, Ohio, takes the poppy zaniness of the Pixies to its logical extreme, employing strained vocals (interspersed with the occasional Rod Serling impression), wildly oscillating Moog, and haywire guitars over anchored, inspired drumming to wreak a riotous din with abundant melodic charm.

FREAKWATER 1/16, SCHUBAS Ace country harmonizers Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean celebrate their 15th year of singing together and the addition to the fold of Max Johnston (guitar, banjo, pedal steel, fiddle), traded from Wilco for Bob Egan. They're about to record another album for the Chicago label Thrill Jockey, which also plans to reissue the band's long-unavailable sophomore effort, Dancing Underwater (1991), in April. --Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): V-Roys photo by Rusty Rust.

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