CARDIA 8/1, DOUBLE DOOR Here's a band that's much better than it has any right to be, considering it employs members of Rival Schools, Shudder to Think, and the Verve Pipe. On its debut (on Silverthree) it's going for a windswept, stadium-size postpunk sound that owes as much to Simple Minds as it does to Soundgarden (as it does to Coldplay as it does to the Smashing Pumpkins). That's a recipe for dreadful in nearly anyone's hands, and this doesn't start out promisingly, with front man Ian Love repeatedly crying "sublime" in a familiar Bono flutter. The phased guitar line that bursts open once he's done, however, almost lives up to his hype. And I admire Love's gusto in going for the occasional Ian Gillan high note. GRAND ULENA 8/1, FIRESIDE BOWL This Saint Louis trio sounds at times like the last thrash of the Chicago neo-no-wave scene of the 90s in the way it forsakes the Pavlovian pleasures of straightforwardly structured songs for the harder-won joys that come from the unexpected. On its first full-length, Gateway to Dignity (Family Vineyard), the band--guitarist Chris Trull, drummer Danny McClain, and Dazzling Killmen and Brise-Glace veteran Darin Gray on bass--sticks stubbornly to the vocabulary of rock 'n' roll while making music that meanders aggressively along polymorphous tangents. This deserves the tag "post-rock" a lot more than the sounds usually described as such. EL GRAN SILENCIO 8/2, ARAGON One of the great things about hip-hop as a cultural export is that it's extremely adaptable, probably more so than any other American music form except jazz. So it sounds great as an import too, reinvigorated by the new language and culture it's absorbed. El Gran Silencio, out of Monterrey, Mexico, is as globally voracious as any multinational corporation, and its collection of sounds is as deep as any norteamericano sampling nerd's. On Super Riddim Internacional Vol. 1 (EMI) the band clearly considers no influence off-limits, no energy source too outre--the scraps and fills flying by at blink-and-you-miss-it speed might come from anywhere, be it Romany Europe, Bollywood, or mulleted suburbia. Their prosody can get dippy occasionally (at least in translation; it's often wonderful as well), but they don't take themselves too seriously: track one is a series of thumbs-down sound bites from listeners. But anyone who doesn't like these guys isn't paying enough attention. Cafe Tacuba headlines (see Critic's Choice). MISTREATERS 8/2, DOUBLE DOOR Sounds like somebody's been giving the Mistreaters some trouble--their new album on Estrus is called Playa Hated to the Fullest, and it bursts out of the speakers with a righteous vengeance. Tall-poppy syndrome in the midwest--wow, who'd have thunk it? What's always kept this quartet standing a little taller than most of the rawk pack is their ability to fill space--they swell to expand any room they play until things feel a little confined and dangerous, a little truly unpredictable, in the way going out to a rock show so rarely is. Sticky dump, tiny label, no matter--they still swing like they're the biggest thing to come out of Milwaukee since beer, and you'd want to hate them if they weren't so damn good. Their luck isn't always, though: last week in Texas their van caught fire and their equipment was destroyed; the rest of the tour has been canceled, but they're still valiantly rounding out their midwest dates. PARTY OF ONE 8/2, EMPTY BOTTLE Political rock catches a lot of flak for being simplistic, maybe more than it ought to--the lyrics do, after all, have to scan. And invoking a what's-the-point? standard isn't fair if it's not applied elsewhere too: what's the point of another song about the narrator's ex-girlfriend? I don't know if Party of One front man Eric Fifteen will achieve anything with his songs "Belgrade Sends Its Regards" and "Baghdad Boogie" (from the trio's debut, Caught the Blast, on Fat Cat) beyond some rickety kind of catharsis for him and his listeners, and the complexity isn't so much in the words as in his cracking, snarling voice and the band's sound: shaky and raw much as the Modern Lovers and Half Japanese were, but carrying the weight of a rage that calls to mind another scruffy young misanthrope from Minnesota who made good with his weird, poetic, angry shit some 40 years ago. SENSE FIELD, SOUNDTRAK 8/5, METRO This show promises to be downright uplifting, in a Christian/Inspirational-section-of-the-bookstore kind of way. Not that either of these bands is overtly "spiritual" (in philosophical or marketing terms), but both exude that same sense of longing for the narrow path to the light. After years as underground proto-emo anthemists, Sense Field sound ready for a well-earned breakthrough on their new Living Outside (Nettwerk), demonstrating in song after song a mastery of the mid-period U2 formula: brooding, growling verse that explodes into fist-pumping chorus. Meanwhile, openers Soundtrak (a New York-based quartet with a six-song coming out on Ace Fu) play scratchy new-wave pop with a strangely AOR aesthetic: singer Jorge Gonzalez's helium heroics occasionally evoke Steve Perry. This is why those big choruses are more dangerous for some than for others--fortunately, Soundtrak is saved by a breadth of structural range that Sense Field can't match. POWER-UPS 8/7, EMPTY BOTTLE This is a project that four locals have devoted a big chunk of their summer to: taking video-game themes of yore and arranging them for guitar, bass, synth, and drums. Drawn from arcade and home titles like Altered Beast, Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat, Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros., the results (judging from MP3s available at scattershot.org/thepowerupsproject/index.htm) are as exquisitely annoying and reflex-triggering as the originals, and genuinely rousing besides. The Bottle management probably won't appreciate it if you pay your cover in quarters. MEGAN REILLY 8/7, SCHUBAS; 8/8, hideout Ex-Memphian Reilly's certainly done well for herself in the Big Apple: her debut Arc of Tessa (Carrot Top) features drummer Steve Goulding (of Mekons and Rumour fame), Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone, and Cat Power guitarist Tim Foljahn; Chris Lee and Jenny Morrison make cameos. Foljahn might find working with an essentially outgoing singer a pleasant change from his other gig, but Reilly's stable professionalism has its downside as well. Though the touches of country and blues in her originals and her wistful girl-next-door voice ground her sound nicely, it takes her a while to rise above the ordinary, which she does on the eerie, tantalizingly mystical "He Is" and a luminous version of Van Morrison's "Gypsy."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Amanda Friedman.