GROOVIE GHOULIES 5/26, FIRESIDE BOWL It's a law of nature: there must always be good new Ramones records in the world. If the Ramones won't make them, somebody else will. This two-man, two-woman California quartet's sixth and latest, Travels With My Amp, isn't as good as Road to Ruin but it's a lot better than End of the Century. There's a family anthem a la the Addamses and the Munsters ("Ghoulie Family"), a deliciously concise answer song to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," a poignant tale of interracial love ("Hair of Gold and Skin of Blue"), a Jonathan Richman cover ("Dancing Late at Night"). You know by now if you like this kind of thing--but if you don't, not even a little bit, you're a sourpuss. IMMIGRANT SUNS 5/26, MARTYRS' This loose Detroit collective (the lineup tends to float around a core of five) has been evolving its charming fusion of rock and eastern European music for seven years, and unlike a lot of world-beat ensembles, it's strayed progressively further away from pop. The Suns' newest release, a limited-edition vinyl record called The Field Recordings (Phonetic), is a collection of odds and ends that documents "the improvisational side of the band" over time. Trading off instruments in basements, in living rooms, and onstage, the musicians lose themselves in gorgeous, sliding, bittersweet sideways string textures, waves of wordless singing, and hints of rhythms that echo the dance music of Djeto Juncaj's native Yugoslavia. Though they never quite lapse into song, it's about as close as improvisation gets. It's all about the voices of the instruments themselves--and played on instruments less compelling, it wouldn't work as well--but goddamn is it beautiful. MAKERS 5/26, EMPTY BOTTLE; 5/27, FIRESIDE BOWL I understand that rock bands have to grow--some are like lizards in that they'll grow only as large as the tank you put 'em in permits--but why do so many of them only grow out instead of up? Over the last few years the Makers, who started out on the die-hard garage imprint Estrus, have grown in the direction that bands tended to grow in the 60s and 70s: the new Rock Star God, their sixth LP and first for Sub Pop, is a concept album of sorts, a loosely strung together rock opera about livin' the life, complete with strings and saxes and bongos and smatterings of spoken word by Jello Biafra. Singer Michael Shelley often seems to be emulating Bowie (though he sounds more like Sisters of Mercy's Andrew Eldritch), and on occasion guitarist Jamie Frost rips off classic rock riffs ("Open Your Eyes" opens almost exactly like the Who's "Substitute," and "When We Was Gods" is glorious Cream parody) blatantly enough to show that he's doing it on purpose. The ballads (there are five or so) aren't always compelling--though I have to admit I never really liked Ziggy Stardust. But the glam-metal chug of "Sex Is Good Food" and the return-to-form stomp of "Too Many Fuckers (On the Streets)" (according to the voice-over, their breakthrough single as a born-again Christian band) at least prove that when the Makers aren't rocking full throttle, it's a choice. At the Bottle gig, the Dishes open; at the Fireside it's the Nerves (our Nerves, not Peter Case's). MARY JANES 5/26, THE HIDEOUT Bloomington-based Janas Hoyt, late of the Vulgar Boatmen and lately the front woman of the Mary Janes, appears on John Mellencamp's latest album, but that's more neighborly than indicative. The three songs she sent me from the Mary Janes' forthcoming second album trip through Alejandro Escovedo's school of Velvet Underground country, and Hoyt sometimes sounds like no one so much as Chrissie Hynde with a twang. PETER CASE 6/1, FITZGERALD'S Peter Case, who got his start busking and playing coffeehouses in Buffalo and San Francisco in the 70s, has made minor marks in pop punk (with the original Nerves, whose "Hanging on the Telephone" was a hit for Blondie) and power pop (with the Plimsouls, who were signed to Geffen in a post-Knack frenzy and expired shortly thereafter), but since 1984 or so he's been reexamining folk and folk rock. The new Flying Saucer Blues (Vanguard) is his sixth solo album and his first since 1995, which may be why it has an air of careful craftsmanship--it sounds like he really worked to get each song as good as he could imagine it instead of laying down the first solipsistic slop that came to mind in the manner of all those unfortunate acoustic troubadours who have no one to say "I love you, man, but that sucks." Not everything here works: his stab at the blues ("Cool Drink o' Water") sounds stiff and thin, and long story song "Two Heroes," about a crime in his Hollywood neighborhood, is no "Hurricane." But when he sticks to archetypal folk melody, as on "Paradise Etc" or "Blue Distance," he's exquisite. The album's arrangements feature nine guest musicians, but for this tour he'll be accompanied only by violinist David Perales--a setup that should be simple and lovely. PRIMAL SCREAM 6/1, METRO While it's good to see the notoriously faddish British music press fawn all over an act that's actually paid some dues, it's still pretty hard to stomach Melody Maker's assertion that the new Primal Scream record, XTRMNTR (Astralwerks) is "fcking brllnt." For 15 years, this band has been a three-legged dog barking after bandwagons. The sure-fire KMFDM-meets-Korn formula they've wound up with this time is actually not a disagreeable sound track for shopping at Urban Outfitters, but the thing is, it's supposed to be "political." Regrettably, "Swastika Eyes" is about as deep as Ministry's "N.W.O."--Bobby Gillespie not only ain't no Noam Chomsky, he ain't even no Alec Empire. Kevin Shields emerges from his navel to play guitar on this record; other star collaborators include New Order's Bernard Sumner, the Automator, the Chemical Brothers, and On-U Sound honcho Adrian Sherwood.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Anderson.