ALTAN 4/20, OLD TOWN SCHOOL This veteran band is considered by many to be the cream of the Irish-traditional crop, and with good reason--Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh's voice skitters like a seagull over waves of clean, clear, but ornate instrumentation, emphasis on the fiddles and pipes. And there's nobody on the mainstream world-music scene who gives eerie Irish fairy tales more of a shiver than she does. The group's ninth album, The Blue Idol (Virgin/Narada), is almost excessively exquisite: to my ears, the delicacy and brittle beauty of their song patterns starts to sound a little lace-curtain after a while. But if lovely is your thing, it doesn't get much lovelier than this. JAY BENNETT & EDWARD BURCH 4/20, SCHUBAS Don't worry, the title of The Palace at 4 AM (Undertow) comes from a Giacometti sculpture; it's not a Will Oldham reference. The album, the first from the duo of Bennett, the former Wilco multi-instrumentalist (though he stayed on to finish their forthcoming Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), and man-about-town Burch, is playful and lush, with great shovelfuls of baroque instrumentation and British Invasion vocal filigrees laid over rootsy tunes that could have been borrowed from Nick Lowe--if he had scrawled notation on a napkin at the Hideout on an evening when everyone was in a good mood. This is a release party. CAPTURED! BY ROBOTS 4/20, FIRESIDE BOWL; 4/22, EMPTY BOTTLE Folks are right to be suspicious of shtick, but aren't there enough regular guys playing regular-guy music out there already? A really good shtick and a rich concept, detailed, entertaining, and lovingly maintained, is a breath of fresh air. I give a strong vote of confidence to San Franciscan Jason Vance, creator of the sci-fi music-theater project Captured! By Robots; his premise is that he built a robot band because he couldn't get along with other people. However, as robots are wont to do, they took over and now hold their token human, an inferior being, prisoner, forcing him to tour. His album, on Robotic Resistance Records, opens with the unforgettable "Kick out the jams, idiot human," and degenerates from there: lusty, amateurish garage-metal spiced with interludes of poor "Jbot" receiving foul abuse at the...hands?...of his mechanical bandmates. Theatrical and over-the-top, the "group's" live shows are kind of a rock version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but meaner, with JBot, not bad movies, as the butt of the robots' hatred. HELICOPTER HELICOPTER 4/20, THE NOTE There's a trashy pleasure to be found in utterly faceless pop like that on the Boston quartet Helicopter Helicopter's third album, By Starlight (Lunch); guitarist-vocalist Julie Chadwick is so cutely two-dimensional, like an animated cartoon, she makes Terri Nunn (the singer from Berlin) sound like Patti Smith. The lyrics are "poetic," the guitars are crunchy, the tunes are slight, and the whole bit turns your head for a second, like some generic hottie whose name you can't quite remember. ULTIMATE FAKEBOOK 4/20, METRO This Kansas trio aligns itself with the likes of the Get Up Kids and At the Drive-In, which is fair enough--rock is rock after all. But these guys have more than a little Def Leppard in 'em; the resulting power pop by way of good-time lite metal rocks, but blandly. Their previous two albums, on Sony/Noisome, did damn well by indie standards, so their third album, Open Up and Say Awesome, seems at home on the Louisville-based Initial. LESSER BIRDS OF PARADISE, CRICKET RUMOR MILL 4/23, SCHUBAS The local label Loose-thread is throwing a big release party for two of its "stars," whose records will both be out May 7. The Lesser Birds of Paradise have a new EP, It Isn't the Fall, to show off, and indeed, it's not like the Fall at all. It's lyrical organ-driven pop (with flourishes contributed by former Coctail Barry Phipps)--a teeny bit standoffish and coy at first, but with language that matches the cute seductiveness of the music. But when Mark Janka sings, "We can make love just like the R & B singers do" on "Into Pieces," I hope he isn't thinking of R. Kelly. The Cricket Rumor Mill's first full-length, Renderings, is a collection of highlights from their two self-released EPs, which deserved a wider hearing than they got. They are the more abstract of the two bands: instrumental, orchestrated, and downright languorous. KILL ME TOMORROW 4/25, PRODIGAL SON Lots of rock bands that incorporate electronica aim for a clean, genteel sound. It's a decorous kind of experimentation that never offends the listener by failing, determined to always be secure in its place as smart music for smart people. San Diego's Kill Me Tomorrow, though, play much faster and looser, introducing a postpunk sluttiness and a garage-rock fuzziness; if a Fall tribute band and an early Roxy Music one got into a tell-all drinking game, the secrets flying around might sound something like this self-titled debut on Silver Girl, all dirty music for cheap hotels.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Amelia Stein.