ALUMINUM GROUP 1/10, SCHUBAS This low-key local institution is anchored by Frank and John Navin, whose songcraft is sometimes just so flawless it's almost revolting. This is a release party for their sixth and perhaps most refined album, Happyness (WishingTree), on which the brothers fashion wry pop that avoids swelling choruses and obvious hooks and conceals bitterness and pain beneath its smooth urbanity. The Navins tastefully deploy a battalion of instrumental talent on record (including members of the Sea and Cake, Tortoise, and the Boas), but where they really shine is in the art of arranging voices so that they carry a load of subtext even at their most deadpan. Tonight they'll perform as a duo, with "visuals." POI DOG PONDERING 1/10, DOUBLE DOOR These granddaddies of Chicago trance pop are no longer trendy, and maybe they never were; nevertheless they hold on to their small Dead-like empire with a laid-back yet unyielding grip. The House That Frank Orrall Built keeps adding wings and gables and outbuildings as if the strict zoning laws of genre just didn't exist, and delineations between Poi proper and the more dance-oriented side project 8fatfat8 have vanished altogether with the appearance of Special Edition, which lumps together songs from each group's latest disc (In Seed Comes Fruit and Music From the Gaijin Hotel respectively, all on the band's label Plate-tec-tonic). So why weren't the bonus tracks simply put out as singles or an EP? Knowing this band, probably because the record release would be a good excuse for a party. This show is sold-out. PAYBACKS 1/11, DOUBLE DOOR If your busy schedule doesn't permit you to keep up with all the raw garagey goodness coming out of Detroit these days, the Paybacks are a veritable cheat sheet. Members have played or currently play in the Hentchmen, the Go, the Wildbunch, the Regulators, the Detroit Cobras, the Lolitas, and Ten High; they've collaborated with members of the Gories, the Demolition Doll Rods, and the Love Masters in combinations that would require a Pete Frame family tree to get across concisely. Bandleader Wendy Case (also a writer for the Detroit News) claimed in a recent interview that the group was attempting to get a slick, poppy sound on its debut, Knock Loud (Get Hip); alas, the interview doesn't record the face she was probably making when she said it. The Gore Gore Girls open; see Critic's Choice. SPARKLEHORSE 1/11, METRO Having been one of those unhappy rural kids who couldn't think about anything but the bright lights and big city, I have a certain awe for anyone who can settle down in the country while maintaining a presence in international avant-rock, a la Pelt, Royal Trux, and Mark Linkous, the core of Sparklehorse. Linkous has released four brilliant albums that locate spaces of clean and fearsome solitude within rock's social bustle, raising up goose bumps like peepers in the spring; he's certainly earned the right to act as though his little corner of the world is the center of the universe. But I suspect that what you really need to make it while living in rural Virginia is the willingness to travel a lot. His latest project is a collaboration with cultish maverick Daniel Johnston called Fear Yourself, due out on Gammon Records in late February. Tortoise headlines; Brooklyn postpunks the Seconds open. This show is sold-out. CALLA 1/12, METRO; 1/13, Empty Bottle Opening here for Interpol, Calla reunites former members of the Factory Press, a Texas band that went belly-up a couple years after relocating to Brooklyn in 1995; the new trio was hitched up with Michael Gira's label, Young God, and quickly established its clangy, smoky postpunk sound. This sort of justifiably arrogant, riders-on-the-storm rock may not come along very often, but it always leaves joyous internal churning in its wake when it does. The band's third album, Televise (Arena Rock Recordings), was chopped to bits by such notables as I-Sound, Pan*American, and Tarwater for a remix album last year. While gilding the lily as such efforts often do, Custom (The Remix Project) (Quartermass) nevertheless highlights the versatility of the band's sound by breaking it down into its component elements. The Metro show is sold-out. SOUTHERN BITCH 1/14, SCHUBAS Now that the Drive-By Truckers have established that southern rock remains a viable style, it's time for the second wave. Also from Athens, and fronted by Adam and Wendy Musick, this quintet is generations removed from anything original, a fact about which it evidently cares not a whit. Schooled in the Crazy Horse tradition that looses guitar leads to wander and soar before slamming down hard on the chorus, Southern Bitch are way further removed from the blues than Skynyrd (and by extension the Truckers) on their debut, Thunderbolt (Treblehook). But though they can occasionally muster some degree of ragged glory, there's a certain sameness to the album, and they'd do well to vary the tempo a bit. There's not quite a there there yet, but this is definitely a band to watch.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.