DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE 10/19, METRO Smart-boy pop bliss. The good stuff, though I gotta admit I wish Death Cab for Cutie's new release The Photo Album (Barsuk) had a bit more going on in the hooks department. As it is, you have to dig a bit into the murky, chiming guitar for Ben Gibbard's sad and wise reflections on love, pride (or lack thereof), and even reproduction. I'd also hope a band that got their name from a Bonzo Dog Band song might offer a little more in the laughs department, but I guess that's not really the point. The point is, admit it, you never get enough of sensitive boys with deep record collections--and that's a bit of a sweet laugh in itself. SCOTT TUMA 10/19, SCHUBAS I'm not sure if the title of Souled American veteran Scott Tuma's solo debut Hard Again (Truck-stop) is ironic. Hard it most certainly is not--it's a dreamy instrumental escapade; Tuma and Dirty Three percussionist Jim White have come up with an ex-tended, sweepy lullaby, a sort of romantic, analog strain of ambient music that's at once intimate and cinematic. But since that title wears a bit of a leer, I started imagining it as the sound track for some grainy, black-and-white hipster porn, and found it would work uncomfortably well. The Pernice Brothers and the Kingsbury Manx headline. HAYMARKET RIOT 10/20, FIRESIDE BOWL Experience counts. The hefty and hyper tightness of Haymarket Riot's second full-length, Bloodshot Eyes (CD on Thick; LP on Divot), shows not only a sustained level of athletic energy but also a restraint and a song-building skill that shows (dare I say it?) taste. It's the logical step beyond three-chord punk, intensified by a nice dose of crunch. But--though this may change someday--I was relieved to find that a Google search for "Haymarket Riot" still turns up more info about the historical event than about the band. K. 10/20, PRODIGAL SON Karla Schickele might be best known for her work with her brother Matthew in Beekeeper, or for her role as bassist and cowriter in Ida. I'd say her "solo" project, K., ranks up there with the best work of those two bands, except that...well, Matthew, Dan Littleton, Ida Pearle, Liz Mitchell, and friends are all over this record too, including Retsin's Tara Jane O'Neil and Cynthia Nelson. New Problems (Tiger Style) just makes me wonder why the hell all those folks who think Sarah McLachlan and Suzanne Vega are such geniuses stop there, when lurking just below the mainstream are women who have such astounding melodic sense, harmonic resonance, and sheer aching accuracy in pinning down vulnerability, parading it around naked, and then dressing it up in some musical dignity. Nobody, but nobody, makes it hurt so good quite like Schickele does in "Bad Day at Black Rock (Regular Girl)"--"I don't wanna cry or lie on your doorstep / I don't wanna start making plans / I wanna know if our touch would be as sweet as our reach / Would we still want it if we held it in our hands?" Nick Drake and Yo La Tengo (quiet side) fans take note, it's out there if you want it. ZEN GUERRILLA 10/20, EMPTY BOTTLE It's hard to keep track of all the MC5 wannabes these days. But it's not that hard to keep a running count of the relative few who are actually any good (it's not as easy as it sounds, kids); the ten-year-old, much-traveled east-coast-turned-west quartet Zen Guerrilla are pretty close to the top of the pile. There are plenty of bands who can muster the volume and noise, a few who can cough up a decent vintage R&B swing, and even a few more who can put an apocalyptic cherry on the sundae. But Zen Guerrilla do it so well there's an unnerving Memorex quality to it. There's also a certain period-perfect fustiness about the savage grooves of their new Shadows on the Sun (Sub Pop)--front man Marcus Durant's gutspew howl-ing sometimes threatens to spill over into protometal, Sir Lord Balti-more turf, especially on "Inferno." I think they're tasteful enough not to be offended by that. LOIS MAFFEO & BRENDAN CANTY 10/23, SCHUBAS Singer-songwriter Lois Maffeo's collaboration with Fugazi's Brendan Canty (who produced and plays nearly all essential instruments) hasn't affected her hip, wise, indie-folkie sound that much, and it's hard to imagine it affecting the next Fugazi record all that much either. More's the pity--I can always go for a good musical shake-up and a good questioning of the usual givens of "boy" and "girl" music. Oh well. The Union Themes (Kill Rock Stars) is a sweetheart of a record from these A-list sweethearts, even though it more or less sounds like a Lois (Maffeo--glad to see she's left the land of the one-named people) album, complete with zingers that come off a lot better than they read: "Can you make it go back / to what it seemed like from the start / Is it true your only defense is disengaging from your heart?" Oh, how many singer-songwriters would kill to be able to make a line like that fly. ATOMBOMBPOCKETKNIFE 10/25, EMPTY BOTTLE It's hitting below the belt to call attention to cover art that while merely striking a couple months ago now seems in dubious taste. It's not like there's anything this local quartet could do at this point about the photo of fighter jets cruising the Egyptian pyramids on their brand-new God Save the ABPK (Southern)...so I promise I won't bring it up again, especially since the cover of their last album, Alpha Sounds, had already raised the themes of warfare and flying things. The second album is quite a takeoff from the first. While their herky-jerky postpunk evil and metallic strafing runs once seemed a bit of a formal exercise, they've now got a sheer rush.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Anderson.