HEFNER 12/3, EMPTY BOTTLE These British guitar popsters sound so clean they squeak--despite the fuzzy Wire chords under "May God Protect Your Home" and the pedal steel on "The Weight of the Stars"--but there's dirt under their nails: the lyrics to the catchy tunes on their new The Fidelity Wars (Too Pure/Beggars Banquet) plunge into the sticky difficulties of love with eviscerating truth and loving erotic detail (guess what "home" refers to). Darren Hayman's self-loathing squawk has drawn comparisons to the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, but Hayman has none of Gano's defensive snideness; he's as earnest as Jonathan Richman. Irresistible or utterly resistible, depending on your point of view. NEUROSIS 12/3, METRO After the 13-year adrenaline rush that fueled their relatively seamless transition from hardcore to metal, Oakland's Neurosis have earned the right to get a little artsy--and they exercise it on their latest, Times of Grace (Relapse). If, despite the bagpipes and violins and more abundant quiet parts, it doesn't sound much different from previous Neurosis albums, try listening to it with Grace, a companion CD by the band's "experimental alter-ego," Tribes of Neurot. Grace, available from www.neurosis.com, is designed to be played simultaneously with Times of Grace, but can also be "experienced on its own as a textural soundscape with the same emotional impact and dynamic flow as the Neurosis version." Like most Neurosis shows, this will be an all-ages multimedia presentation, with film and slides. BASIC FOOD GROUP 12/4, NERVOUS CENTER These local phreaks, who carry out musical experiments in the Nervous Center's basement digs, seem to be positing themselves as a sort of homegrown Residents. And while I'm a little suspicious of any band that sends me a press kit (with color xeroxing) to tell me how mysterious it is, I'm also quite partial to the space-funky synth trills, guitar wanks, and bass ripples of the Basic Food Group's latest release, Hay-La Eeela. The ensemble is looking for a label; unfortunately I fear that label is Virgin circa 1974. Aforementioned press kit threatens that this show will be a defiling of the Christmas myth: well, the Residents like their targets easy too. FANTOMAS 12/4, METRO Another weird wing in the fun house of Faith No More front man Mike Patton, this unholy meeting--named for the antihero of a series of French crime novels--brings together Patton, his Mr. Bungle comrade Trevor Dunn on bass, Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne, and former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. They released a debut album, Amenaza al Mundo, on Patton's Ipecac imprint this spring, and in 1998 contributed a head-spinning riff on "Chariot Choogle" to Tzadik's Marc Bolan tribute album. But those who caught their first tour, last fall, say their heavy, precise cacophony is most fun live--for the how-do-they-do-that? factor. GREENPOT BLUEPOT 12/4, EMPTY BOTTLE This band is largely a one-woman project, from the fertile mind of Natalie LeBrecht of Iowa City, whose lovingly hand-packaged demo was recorded at home on four-track, ADAT, and computer. Her spare, mostly electronic constructions, which feature occasional live guitar, drums, and trumpet in addition to her ethereal vocals, aren't afraid to sound human, and most are dreamily pretty--the opener, "Warm Purr," borrows its melody from a tune by Family Fodder (a frisky proto-Stereolab from the late 70s recently brought back on the radar by the Dark Beloved Cloud label). Bone Structure (see Neil Tesser's Critic's Choice) headlines. WILLIWAW 12/6, EMPTY BOTTLE Bill Whitmer, a recent transplant from Champaign, has built his second record, Shimmering Coaster of Light, almost entirely from sounds "translated from rectified nylon vibrations into electromagnetic oscillations with an antiquated German transducer." It may or may not eventually become clear to the listener that for the most part this means "amplified ukulele," and that sometimes it means "amplified ukulele recorded in a toilet." But over the course of its eight pieces, it runs the gamut from clear and delicate chimes to shuddering shimmering Sonny Sharrock-like frequencies with a paradoxical natural grace. AL ROSE 12/8, MARTYRS' Generally Chicago's Waterdog label, run by Ralph Covert of the Bad Examples, can be counted on for innocuous pop and rock that's guaranteed not to get in the way of any other activities. But most plains have at least one tree (or a clump of tall grass that looks impressive by comparison). Waterdog artist Al Rose stands out because he writes damn good lyrics with a healthy jolt of grotesquerie: his "Lincoln" treats Honest Abe from the point of view of a jilted pal and leaves you with the unforgettable lines "He loved me like a man-o-war / And with the saddle strapped on Abe was one good ride." But the most interesting sparks of sound on his mildly country-soulful third album, Pigeon's Throat, are the slightly overused gospel-toned vocals of Laura Blye; I'd love to hear some of these songs sung by a full-powered interpreter. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Coffin.