CATHERINE IRWIN 11/8, HIDEOUT Conventional wisdom holds that goths are the world champs at celebrating depression, but the Sisters of Mercy never recorded anything nearly as bleak as what you'll hear in country music. Rooted in old-world ballads, the dead-child-photographing 19th century, and the life-is-short, hell-is-long harshness of working-class Calvinism, it depicts a world in which one's beloved is more present in death than in life. On her first solo album, Cut Yourself a Switch (Thrill Jockey), Freakwater's Catherine Irwin combines grim originals with oldies like Roger Miller's "Don't We All Have the Right to Be Wrong" and the Carter Family's "Will You Miss Me" to recapture that old-timey chill. She wails above sparse settings of fiddle, accordion, guitar, organ, and the loping bass of Freakwater's Dave Gay; here she'll perform on acoustic guitar and banjo, with Gay on bass. LOZENGE, CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS 11/8, PRODIGAL SON Oboist Kyle Bruckmann is the local improv scene's Clark Kent. He's a generally polite and unassuming soloist, but when he fronts prog terrors Lozenge he emerges frothing and howling and mighty, as if Superman had caught rabies from Batman during some lost weekend of superheroes behaving badly. The quartet's new disc, Mishap (Sickroom), recorded live on two nights this past spring, sharply documents the workings of the Lozenge group mind: Mark Stevens anchors the mayhem with a metal drummer's power and skill while Kurt Johnson (who also plays modern classical music) lays down huge, rubbery slabs on bass and Philip Montoro pounds 55-gallon steel barrels. (Former Flying Luttenbacher Chuck Falzone contributes guitar on one track, and saxophonist Boris Hauf sits in for the entire second set.) The band ends up sounding like a Yankee version of the Ruins or, occasionally, a scholarly Birthday Party. (Lozenge beat the Aussies' "Big Jesus Trash Can" until it's bloody.) New York duo Christmas Decorations, featuring former Chicagoan Steve Silverstein, fashion delicate, slow-building instrumentals that couldn't be more unlike Lozenge's clamor. Shaped by guitar, sequencers, and melodica, the meditative songs on their debut, Model 91 (Kranky), have filigreed melodies many atmospheric instrumentals lack. TIJUANA HERCULES 11/8, BEAT KITCHEN; 11/17 hideout This local trio has been shaking, rattling, and rolling under the radar for three years now, settling into a comfortable rut as the opening band of choice for visiting roots miscreants like Hasil Adkins. Its new disc, When the Moon Comes Up Wild (Black Pisces Recordings), shows off the band's dirty avant-roadhouse antics more smashingly than its six-song debut. That clattering collection occasionally hesitated, as if the band didn't trust its music to hold together; this full-length plows through crude rockabilly rips with both conviction and a wicked smirk. Drummer Chad Smith maintains a steady beat while wild card Zak Piper explores his homemade kit of cowbells, blocks, coffee cans, and shakers, or cuts loose on trumpet or trombone. Guitarist and front man John Forbes could sing the New Testament and make it sound like a dirty joke. This is a release party. BLACK HEART PROCESSION 11/9, ABBEY PUB I've always wanted to like Black Heart Procession more than I do. The band's homespun-gothic mood rock hangs out on street corners in the bad neighborhood of my soul but never bothers to snarl at passersby--the stingy asceticism of their sound has always made me think they're holding something back. But they've decorated their fourth album, Amore del Tropico (Touch and Go), generously enough--with strings, backup vocals, tricky percussion bits, snazzier parts for their musical saw--to clear up some of my reservations. Oddly, they share the bill with the Cherry Valence, North Carolina boogie rockers who have never given the slightest indication that having a good time is a problem. LUKE SLATER 11/9, Crobar Slater has been involved in the London dance scene since the late 80s, and he's released scads of club-pleasing singles, but Alright on Top (Mute) is only his third full-length album. Nevertheless, he's already mastered the long-playing format. Slater displays an ace DJ's knack for mixing tracks into a coherent extended jam. But there are songs here, not just tracks--written and recorded in collaboration with vocalist Ricky Barrow, each features a sharp melody that's nearly as suited to tinny car radios as to clubland's high-tech sound systems. DAMN PERSONALS 11/10, FIRESIDE This Boston-based quartet is touring in support of its chunky second album, Standing Still in the USA (Big Wheel Recreation). I'm so glad the kids are back into sexy riffs: every generation deserves a proper sound track for its forbidden fumblings with sex and booze, and nowadays it's a blend that's equal parts Fugazi and Bad Company. These guys will be remembered the same way you never forget the brand of hooch that made you throw up the first time. PETER GABRIEL 11/12 & 14, UNITED CENTER With each passing day it seems more inappropriate to mention Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins in the same breath. No matter how close to the middle of the road Gabriel might stray--and moments on his first album of new material in a decade, Up (Geffen), do hug the dotted line--he remains a brilliant weirdo. Even when he's at his blandest, echoes of his past mania creep back into his voice. For the seven minutes and 33 seconds of slinky throb entitled "Growing Up," Gabriel's fusion of the sexual and the cerebral seems to have the power to redeem mainstream(ish) pop all by itself. Sadly, Up lacks a "Rhythm of the Heat," a "Biko," a "Games Without Frontiers," or even a "Sledgehammer." Nevertheless, the reckless Nusrat sampling on the beautiful "Signal to Noise" almost gives New Age world-beat pop a good name. ONEIDA 11/12, EMPTY BOTTLE Though based in New York City, these disciplined madmen maintain a creative retreat in New Hampshire--they fly a freak flag so huge that no mere city apartment could accommodate it. The depth, richness, and profusion of ideas on last year's Anthem of the Sun (Jagjaguwar) set a new standard for American psychedelia. This year brings a handful of split singles and a two-disc album, Each One Teach One, that gives them the space they need to stretch their howling drones into new realms of exquisite terror. ADD N TO (X) 11/14, EMPTY BOTTLE When they released their third album, Avant Hard (Mute), in 1999, these three Brits were cocky as hell, high on their own Next Big Thingdom--even though their analog-synth fetishism sounded rather Next Old Thing and their erotic fascination with badass beats suggested a better-dressed Thrill Kill Kult. By now, though, they're honorable vets--their gig with Hawkwind last year saw them take out a lease in the old-fart electronic-weirdo community. Their fourth album, Loud Like Nature (Mute), doesn't break new ground, but it's a fine example of their adrenaline-infused approach to squonky dance pop.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.