PAUL THORN 8/20, SCHUBAS On his fourth studio album, the brand-new Are You With Me? (Back Porch), this Mississippi singer-songwriter plays laid-back, down-home pop blues, a little like a grittier Jimmy Buffett. But despite the lack of urgency, the music's neither hokey nor lazy--Thorn's meditations on love and loss are worldly and wry. I particularly like "She Won't Cheat on Us" ("She's lookin' for a good man / She wants to settle down / Well she ain't made her mind up / But she's narrowed it down"). He might want to watch his diction, though--at first I misheard "There's a burnin' hunger in your eyes" as "There's a burnin' hunger in your ass." VELVET TEEN 8/20, FIRESIDE BOWL While I was listening to this northern California trio's new Elysium (Slowdance), I spent too much energy trying to catch the band in a lie--the bio that came with my copy opens with the pronouncement "There is no guitar on this record." I never heard any, but partway through the album I stopped trying to: the lush arrangements (piano, string quartet, flute, bass, drums) and Judah Nagler's angelic voice (sometimes breathy and confessional, sometimes a freak-of-nature falsetto) were occupying my attention instead. For all its artiness and sensitivity, this is actually pretty ballsy stuff--making big, epic rock that's also precious, self-conscious, and eloquent is a little like walking into a riot naked. ZELIENOPLE 8/20, BOTTOM LOUNGE Two years ago these locals released their debut, Pajama Avenue, and in September they'll follow it up with Sleeper Coach (Loose Thread). They're not just being cute with the pajamas-and-sleeping talk, either: this is wonderful bedtime music. Sweet, slow, and droning (a la Windy & Carl or Pelt), it's all cascading tremolo guitar, gently pulsing bass, delicate percussion, and hushed, faraway vocals, with occasional brushstrokes of clarinet, organ, or vibraphone. BAD WIZARD 8/21, FIRESIDE BOWL So many bands that sound like the Loop's Friday-night playlist seem determined to screw things up with a smirk or a wink. If these New Yorkers have done anything like that in the past, I don't wanna know, because their new third album, #1 Tonite! (Howler--the vinyl's on Stingray), sounds gratifyingly passionate, committed, and innocent of irony. Of course, it still suffers from retro's mush-making tendency to boil all the different flavors of rock in the same pot--Bad Wizard seems to be imagining an alternate 70s where fans of Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, and Bad Company all got along, instead of fighting over whose band was "pussy." DIMMU BORGIR 8/21, TWEETER CENTER Front man Shagrath nicely summed up these reliable Norwegians' latest disc, Death Cult Armageddon (Nuclear Blast), in a recent interview: "It took about two weeks to match everything up when we took the recordings back to the studio because the orchestra had some problems following the blastbeats." (The orchestra in question: the Prague Philharmonic.) The objective here is clearly the icy, brutal Wagnerian majesty that's the high-water mark of melodic black metal, so avoid this if you can't stomach metal with keyboards or the occasional clean vocal. And if it's important to you to believe that scowling, pasty-faced Scandinavians covered in black leather and spikes must take themselves seriously, don't look too closely at the portraits in the CD booklet--high points include a fifth of Jack Daniel's doubling as an IV bag and bottle of absinthe with a screw-off cap sitting atop a pipe-organ console. Dimmu Borgir performs at Ozzfest with Slayer, Lamb of God, the reunited Judas Priest, and more. MUSIQ 8/21, THE VIC On last year's Soulstar (Def Jam), the third album from the erstwhile Musiq Soulchild, he plays the lover with an appealing humility, singing about all his friends with benefits, baby mamas, old crushes, and ones that got away. (Regrettably, his relative tactfulness as a lyricist didn't extend to song titles: "Infatueighties," "Womanopoly," "Romancipation.") Musiq cribs from Motown, Stevie Wonder, and a couple decades of vintage funk; there's even a respectable cover of the Stones' "Miss You." I'd had enough before I got to the last track, but only because the record's so rich with ideas that it fills you up faster than an Indian buffet. .22 8/21, BOTTOM LOUNGE This local trio's natural inclinations are artsy and a little mathy--their bio compares their previous releases to stuff by Dianogah and Polvo, among others. But the new one, The Patriots (Roydale), is supposed to be a straight-up rocker, a la AC/DC or early Urge Overkill. I'm not convinced--for one thing, the hooks just aren't there. And despite all the twists and turns and rises and falls, the record sounds flat, as if the band isn't sure of itself either. The respectful nods to Mission of Burma work in their favor, but I can't hear a lick of "Highway to Hell" in this stuff. HIGH DIALS 8/24, SCHUBAS This Montreal quartet debuted last year with A New Devotion, more than an hour of baroque, guileless psych pop loosely unified by a vague sci-fi concept-album conceit. Not even the drum-machine-driven remixes on their new Fields in Glass EP make the band's sound seem modern--if there were a template for this stuff, it'd be a pumped-up, candy-coated "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." I can't remember the last time I heard sitar and tablas on a record not actually from India. M.O.T.O. 8/26, SUBTERRANEAN I'll never understand why this long-lived local band of old-school punks isn't a nationwide sensation. Hipsters are always working themselves into a lather about a reunion tour or a reissue from a bunch of quitters who made three great singles back in '77 and then slunk off to straight jobs or curled up in the gutter--but M.O.T.O., who've been turning out great shit consistently for more than 15 years, can't get the time of day. This show celebrates the reissue of the 1996 release Single File (Criminal IQ), a collection of hard-to-find 45s that originally came out between '88 and '94, and if you care about music more than the difference between "mint" and "near mint," you should be thanking your lucky stars. Almost every one of these merrily scatological, wickedly funny punk-pop tunes is first-class drunk-ass sing-along material. Paul Caporino--the band's sole permanent member--can make a line like "I love you even though you crystallize my penis" trip right off your tongue. TWELVE GIRLS BAND 8/26, PARK WEST What this group's rather pedestrian name doesn't tell you is that the 12 young women in question are all veterans of elite orchestras and conservatories in China, and that they play what are essentially pop songs on traditional Chinese instruments like pipa, erhu, dizi, and gu zheng. (The closest Western equivalents are lute, violin, flute, and hammer dulcimer.) Their second album, Eastern Energy, released in the U.S. on Platia, threads voluptuous interlocking melody lines around contemporary dance and rock beats--the Coldplay cover is startlingly faithful. Americans may prefer to get their ethnic pop from the Chieftains and the Gipsy Kings, but the Twelve Girls Band sold out a recent Japanese tour--32 arena dates--in ten minutes. Listening to such exquisite sounds dancing around inside such mundane songs is vertigo inducing--half my brain genuinely enjoys the ear candy and the other half thinks this stuff is the most gimmicky Muzak ever. (The last track gives me terrible flashbacks to those Hooked on Classics records.) Two things I know for sure, though: no halfway cool Asian restaurant can afford to do without this CD, and I can't stop listening to it.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Todd Killings.