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GREAT BIG SEA 3/26, METRO Something Beautiful (Zoe/Rounder) is this Celtic-Canadian band's seventh album, and they're still struggling to write songs as powerful as their interpretations of trad material or their well-selected covers: the album's emotional peak is the sea shanty "John Barbour," and "Beat the Drum," a cover of "Pride of the Summer" by the Scottish band Runrig, runs a close second. Cleverness like "Helmethead," a hockey player's lament presented like a soldier's or seaman's air, just doesn't have the same mythic appeal--at least not this far south of the border. Murry Foster from Moxy Fruvous has replaced departing bassist Darrell Power. PROCLAIMERS 3/26, ABBEY PUB Bespectacled twins Craig and Charlie Reid are still best remembered for their 1993 hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," and no wonder: the new Born Innocent (Persevere), produced by fey-pop icon Edwyn Collins, is only the Scots' fifth studio album in 20 years. Its sheer rollicking good-naturedness conceals a snarky take on love and the embers of their old political fire--think a blokey, vaguely Christian They Might Be Giants. DYLAN RICE 3/26, MARTYRS' Dylan Rice's Wandering Eyes (Deep Tissue) might be the only local indie record this year to be released with the imprimatur of Chuck Panozzo--Rice interviewed the Styx bassist for Poz magazine in 2001, shortly after Panozzo announced he was gay and HIV-positive, and the two struck up a friendship. Panozzo even joined Rice onstage at the Old Town School during the Queer as Folk festival last summer for a rendition of "Come Sail Away." But Rice doesn't need the endorsement: the album, a polished but not sickeningly glossy collection recorded with the pro-sounding rock band he's since christened the Dynasties, rides on Rice's powerful, soulful voice, which in combination with his delicate affect has already earned him comparisons to Morrissey. MEKONS 3/27, DOUBLE DOOR; 3/28, FITZGERALD'S The Mekons plunged deep into their back catalog last year for a tour to commemorate their 25th anniversary and had so much fun with songs they hadn't thought about in decades that they recorded Punk Rock (Quarterstick), a document of what 15 out-of-print singles and other stray old songs sound like as played by the band now. They couldn't sound less like a bunch of old farts trying to recapture their youth; they attack "Lonely and Wet" as if they find it hateful to still identify with its melodrama and play "Work All Week" as if they actually have. The FitzGerald's show is acoustic. RADIO BERLIN 3/28, FIRESIDE BOWL This black-haired Vancouver band seems determined to restore Siouxsie & the Banshees to their rightful place in the pantheon alongside Gang of Four and Wire. No, the girl in the band doesn't sing, but the eight long songs on their third album, Glass (Action Driver), are all unabashedly romantic, and front man Jack Duckworth whips out the piercing, slightly dissonant guitar tone from "Hong Kong Garden" right there on track one. Drummer Joshua Wells, who's been replaced since Glass was recorded in late 2002, does the most to set Radio Berlin apart from their peers when he opts for huge tribal beats over disco sizzle or, using programmed percussion, combines the two. They're prone to the occasional hiatus due to personnel overlap with Destroyer (bassist/guitarist Chris Frey) and A Luna Red (Duckworth), so if you're inclined to see them this might be a good time. OLD TIME RELIJUN 3/30, FIRESIDE BOWL A funny thing about ecstasy is that while it can't be forced, it can be achieved through discipline. The bands with the most potential for greatness are the ones that grasp how this works. Take Old Time Relijun, and more specifically "Cold Water," off their fourth album, Lost Light (K). Double bassist Aaron Hartman starts with (and largely maintains) a trance-inducing throb, something like the first two notes of Television's "Friction" played ad infinitum; then drummer Rives Elliott comes in with eight-plus minutes of savantish backbeat for front man Arrington de Dionyso to rant and preach over. The effect is perfected primevalism, like Lux Interior fronting a stone-age Neu! I could listen to this all day. ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI 4/1, EMPTY BOTTLE It takes at least eight people to play the music on Fingers Crossed (Bar/None): recorded over almost two years at beach houses, churches, and bedrooms around the band's native Melbourne, Australia. That's surprising: it's brittle, crystalline pop that unfolds at a dreamy, unhurried pace, and though dozens of instruments were used, it's never, ever busy. In fact, if I have a complaint it's that it can get a bit too airy--like being trapped in a garden surrounded by wind chimes. This tour is the group's first in the U.S. Liz Payne and Ben Vida open; Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt follow with solo sets. BUSINESS MACHINES 4/1, SUBTERRANEAN On their debut, Almost Automatic (Act Your Age), recorded in Chicago a year ago with Steve Albini, this LA quartet reveals the irony intended in its name: no way have people who sound this scruffy ever set foot in an office, not even as temps. Their pissed-off recession sound track--almost a concept album about being broke--is pure minimum wage and vo-tech. Fittingly enough for rants about being disposable, their undeniably energetic rawk is somewhat generic--but there's occasional unexpected dissonance, and dude can play guitar. Bible of the Devil headlines. CLEARLAKE 4/1 & 2, SCHUBAS; 4/7, the vic Brighton's Clearlake is one of those bands that can sound desperately melancholy even over a driving 4/4 beat. The secret's in the shimmering layers of guitar and keyboard, facilitated on the recent Cedars (Domino) by coproducer Simon Raymonde, a former Cocteau Twin. The layers are also what give the rather flat and spindly lyrics the gravitas to survive in the wild. The Decemberists headline both nights at Schubas; the second is sold-out. Stereolab headlines at the Vic.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sky Archer.

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