DONNAS 11/1, METRO The Donnas "turned 21" almost two years ago, and they sure don't play like little girls anymore. They can't afford to--as Allison "Donna R." Robertson told Spin recently, "Cock rock is about how well you play. Guys are always waiting for you to mess up." I hope the slumber-party cover art of their fifth album (and Atlantic debut), Spend the Night, is their farewell to teen sleaze--trashy yet professional, the band's glammy hard rock courts the id with a confidence that's unmistakably grown-up. The Alkaline Trio headlines; the show is sold-out. MOUNTAIN GOATS 11/1, EMPTY BOTTLE Some say John Darnielle works best alone, completely free-range, but I prefer him with a collaborator--likeAlastair Galbraith, coauthor of four of the most gorgeous songs collected earlier this year on Ghana (3 Beads of Sweat). Keeping creative company helps Darnielle hold down a concept for a full album, as on Tallahassee (4AD), his third release this year, recorded as a duo with Nothing Painted Blue's Peter Hughes. In this bitter quasi-narrative, two characters, still desperately holding on to love, drown their sorrow in drink and tear at each other with the accuracy only intimacy can provide. Produced by Tony Doogan, Tallahassee sounds a bit more carefully crafted than past Goats projects--perhaps Danielle is targeting new converts. The plaintive, deceptively simple Goatsongs have always had a one-leads-to-another quality (like potato chips) for me, but I guess there are harder cases still to be snagged. HOWE GELB 11/2, HIDEOUT Howe Gelb can't rest within the confines of even such unconfining bands as Giant Sand and OP8. Gelb recorded his third solo album, 2001's Confluence (Ow Om/Thrill Jockey), in a variety of locations in the U.S. and UK with a variety of people, including Grandaddy, PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, and, surprise surprise, Giant Sand mates Joey Burns and John Convertino. Here Gelb tones down the instrumental wandering of his band projects and flexes his songwriting muscles--the results are subtler than Giant Sand, but share the feel of a hidden heartland cabaret. MIDGE URE 11/2, ABBEY PUB Midge Ure, former Ultravox leader and Band Aid coconspirator, now makes a comfortable living playing European festivals and doing production and sound work for the BBC. He maintains contact with fans through his Web site, occasionally releasing a thoughtful, carefully produced solo album. (This year's Move Me was his first since 1996's Breathe.) Why doesn't the United States provide this sort of prolonged career for artists who never quite became the Next Big Thing decades ago yet continue to produce interesting music? Maybe for the same reason the United States hasn't sustained a glossy mass-market music magazine with anything like the depth and intelligence of England's Mojo for decades. It's a question of scale--our vast stores of humans and cash make all but the most humongous audiences and business propositions seem tiny and insignificant. On this rare U.S. tour, Ure's also promoting an Ultravox best-of. BEN NEILL 11/3, HOUSE OF BLUES New York-based experimental programmer and "mutantrumpet" player Ben Neill, who's collaborated with Rhys Chatham, among others, cops to his participation in Volkswagen's hip ad campaign with a flourish--his new album, Automotive (Six Degrees), is a distillation of the drafts and drifts he recorded for the company. Witty and slinky at times, slick as diarrhea at others, this sophisticated party record sounds unmistakably like a sound track for something. Not necessarily selling cars--an arty Gen-X porn flick would work just as well. Pere Ubu's Tony Maimone and Band of Susans' Robert Poss also contribute, as does Geneva vocalist Andrew Montgomery, who will appear with Neill here. HOT HOT HEAT 11/4, Empty Bottle This British Columbia quartet had just released their debut full-length, Make Up the Breakdown (produced by Jack Endino), on Sub Pop when Warner Brothers snapped them up. It's too soon to tell if this current major-label feeding frenzy will leave as much chum in the water as previous ones, but I hold out hope for this inventive neo-new wave band. Warners just needs to remember that the bands Hot Hot Heat recall--kings of the 80s import bins like XTC and the Smiths--never moved massive units either. Radio 4 headlines. RADAR BROTHERS 11/5, EMPTY BOTTLE The exquisite excess of the Radar Brothers' third release, And the Surrounding Mountains (Merge), recalls the cushy orchestral pop that sprouted in LA in the 70s when the violent collapse of flower power necessitated an aural retreat from reality. The album seems to belong to an imagined time when eccentricity was not just tolerated but practically demanded, where a lone visionary gazed out upon some fantastical landscape--the LA of Walt Disney and Captain Beefheart, not of 10,000 interchangeable starlets and crotch-stuffing ampheads. The Radar Brothers' songs live in castles in the air, where snatches of melody drift by like cotton-candy clouds on a delicate wind of guitar and piano and vocal harmonies, sailing out over a pastel ocean. It's a beautiful place to visit, but only a confirmed romantic would want to live there. RESIDENTS 11/5, HOUSE OF BLUES The once and future kings of progressive mad-scientist genius rock are celebrating their 30th anniversary with the release of Demons Dance Alone (Cryptic Corporation/East Side Digital), perhaps their most melancholy and reflective record yet. A press release states that it was mostly written shortly after September 11, and that "a vulnerable, uncertain Eyeball asks questions which have no answers." The Residents' cosmology centers around a sense of spiritual fragility and maintains a desperate hope in human progress--despite the fact that we seem destined to tumble into a cold, empty galaxy that's rapidly flying apart. Love and hate and death and religion are mere parlor games to keep us entertained as we fade into the void. The band's vintage synths and plangent female vocals remind us how intensely we need to believe in our own chimeras. I don't know if this is nihilism or idealism, but it's the most reasonable point of view I've heard in a long time. PARKER & LILY 11/6, SCHUBAS These cool, brittle-sounding New Yorkers have picked up a pair of percussionists since recording their second album, Here Comes Winter (Manifesto): drummer Jenny Cuowaski and vibraphonist Christina Campanella. Their contributions should add a little density to the music, but I hope their presence doesn't dissipate the subtle stink of loneliness that Parker Noon and Lily Wolf generated as a duo. Noon sings with the blank melancholy of a downtown fashion model who appeals to the Wizard of Oz for a heart, then is utterly unsurprised when it arrives prebroken. Wolf's smoky keyboard lines conjure an oppressive, mood-lit ambience, a private world for a couple who spend too little time together and too much time obsessing about each other, until they've become the full extent of each other's inner worlds. Surprise--this doesn't help them communicate. And when it all falls apart, Noon sighs: "The girl at the ticket counter / In the Port Authority departure lounge / Smiles more sweetly than you do / And I see her just as often." Future Bible Heroes headline (see Critic's Choice).
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brooke Williams.