ELF POWER 9/27, ABBEY PUB These Athens art-pop wags have always displayed their influences proudly, but their sixth full-length is a bona fide covers album, Nothing's Going to Happen (Orange Twin). Though the wide stylistic range gives the disc a jumbled, jukebox quality, the band salutes expected and unexpected influences alike with puckish verve and occasional fidelity. The work of fellow space cadets like T. Rex ("Hot Love") and Roky Erickson ("I Walked With the Zombie," "Unforced Peace," and "I Love the Living You") comes more naturally than Bad Brains' "Pay to Cum" or Sonic Youth's "Cotton Crown." But throughout, the band references the original artists without surrendering to history. The freak-out on Robyn Hitchcock's "Listening to the Higsons" may happen exactly when you'd expect, but its playful squall bears the mark of Elf Power, not the Egyptians. Of Montreal share the bill. SHIPPING NEWS 9/27, SCHUBAS This Louisville band's well-received 2001 full-length, Very Soon and in Pleasant Company (Quarterstick), trudged dutifully in the math rock ranks. Since then, the band released a series of three limited-edition, gorgeously hand-packaged EPs, the most recent of which, Variegated, straightens their effective crunch into a steady, subtle pulse. Star turns are reserved for guests like Christian Frederickson, whose gonzo viola solo lifts "Non-Volant" well above cruising altitude. If you missed the EPs, or if you're just one of those people who loves to buy the same music twice (I know you're out there), lucky you: the band and label plan to repackage them into a double LP for early winter release. An album of new material should follow shortly. JOHN DOE 9/28, ABBEY PUB Could the storied singer/songwriter/poet/actor (did you know he was in Boogie Nights?) be doomed to bear a heavier cross than his eternal association with X? Well, if Doe's fourth solo album, Dim Stars, Bright Sky (Artist Direct), doesn't pry the nails from his hands and feet, nothing short of a full techno makeover will. Not particularly punky or rootsy, this sparse, writerly record sounds lonesome despite the presence of Juliana Hatfield, Jane Wiedlin, Aimee Mann, Jakob Dylan, and Rhett Miller. All contribute honorably, but I can't say it would matter much if they hadn't showed. This is the Chicago stop on the Exile Follies Tour, organized by coheadliner Grant Lee Phillips as a way to rope together like-minded mavericks; Kristin Hersh also plays. ASTEROID No. 4 9/29, EMPTY BOTTLE The speed with which this Philadelphia band developed and then drastically rearranged its signature sound wouldn't seem so remarkable if so many bands didn't spend so many years finding a workable formula and so many more wringing it dry. The Asteroid No. 4's 1998 debut, Introducing... (Lounge), was a promising psych-rock voyage, though it followed the course charted by Pink Floyd and Spacemen 3 too closely. But their follow-up EP, Apple Street, established a distinctive trip-pop drone all but perfected on last year's King Richard's Collectibles. The demo EP they're now circulating (which includes two tracks from King Richard's) is more song-oriented, more American psych-folk than British retro-psych, though they're still not averse to the visionary guitar spasm. They share the bill with the Sights. RALPH'S WORLD 9/29, PARK WEST I'm hardly the intended audience for Happy Lemons, the third album of children's songs by former Bad Example Ralph Covert (on Minifresh, a Minty Fresh subsidiary that specializes in children's albums). Covert, who now leads Wiggleworms children's programs at the Old Town School, has doted on his daughter Fiona since she was born eight years ago. Virtually every record he's released in her lifetime has made some reference to this wonder child; the title track here celebrates little Fiona's lemonade stand. That's sweet, as is the album--maybe a little too much so. Covert's slick, folk-pop accompanists never play with sharp objects, and his fanciful tales often reference a saccharine, idealized adult notion of childhood. Don't real kids still like blood-soaked fairy tales, worms, fart jokes, and Roald Dahl? Still, my own inner child appreciates Covert's version of "The Muffin Man," one of the most annoying songs ever, and snickers along with his rendering of "Pony Boy" while thinking of equine-fetish magazines. I guess my inner child is a perv who extrapolated too much from those Misty of Chincoteague books. This show, while at a rather adult venue, is of course all ages. LOW 10/2 & 10/3, ABBEY PUB Once upon a time I dismissed this trio's mumbled lullabies, withdrawn to the point of hostility, as too self-conscious and brittle to survive outside a protective bubble--or at least outside of Duluth. Well, either I've changed or they have--probably both. Low's last few albums, particularly last year's Things We Lost in the Fire (Kranky), have enchanted me. On their latest release, Trust (Kranky), their gently psychedelic undertow endows "Candy Girl" and "Tonight" with hushed, almost sacred gravity. Maybe shouting is kid stuff after all; with maturity comes the ability to freeze a listener in her tracks with a whisper.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Higdon.