"Hit Or Miss"/"Stepping (Stone)-(Inside) Out" 7" (American Punk Records)
The A-side conjures up images of Motörhead jamming with American Psycho-era Misfits: straight-ahead, burning barreling rock action. Twin Gibson guitars keep the licks coming, the rhythm section pounds like a motherfucker, and vocalist Rude A. reminds me of Mike Hudson from the Pagans and the Styrenes (this is a good thing, just to make things clear for those unfamiliar with Hudson's work). Even the photos make 'em look like a hardworking band. The B-side conflates the Monkees' "Stepping Stone" with "Inside Out" by 999 to make one tune they call "Stepping Out", starting off with a skanky reggae groove before kicking into the inevitable mighty riffing finish. Good for a B-side, but I'd like to hear a full album of stuff along the lines of "Hit Or Miss". The record's pressed on clear vinyl so detail-oriented record collectors have something to ooh and aah about. My one complaint is that the record came sealed with a gold sticker holding the whole thing together, and after I popped the sticker to play it there was nothing holding the record in the cover, unless I want to find a spare plastic sleeve somewhere. I guess it doesn't make a whole lot of difference since I'm not taking it anywhere. –Aaron J. Poehler
Jargon CD--Boiled Music/Lobster Records (PO Box 1473, Santa Barbara, CA 93102)
The label describes the debut CD by Jargon succinctly as "emo music from SF, CA", which may get you to the right neighborhood but doesn't exactly take you up to the front door, if you catch my drift. The band's lumbering rhythms betray a Soundgarden record or two in their past, the guitarwork recalls Dinosaur Jr. minus the solos, and singer Tim Gates' vocals come across as some kind of unholy blend of Chris Cornell, Mark Lanegan, Mark Arm, and Cobain, though not as powerful as any of the abovementioned Seattlites. The indie-rock guitar sound and song structures suggest that the band doesn't think those influences are as cool as they might have in 1995 when the band formed, though; they seem to be leaning towards a gentler, more artful sound and consciously avoiding the more testosterone-saturated crotch-grabbing music they grew up with. Judging by the evidence on their self-titled debut, they haven't quite arrived at a satisfactory result yet, though the direction they're traveling in is sometimes encouraging--little glimmers of something bubble up here and there between the stock riffs and artless drum patterns. Checking on Jargon's progress a couple of albums down the line might be a better bet than picking up the debut; hopefully by then they'll have distilled their strengths down and brought them to the forefront, and maybe they'll even have learned to write memorable songs. For now I think you can safely give it a pass, though.
Jason & the Scorchers
Midnight Roads & Stages Seen--Mammoth Records (The Broad Street Building, 101 B Street, Carrboro, NC 27510)
This double live CD, recorded across three November nights at Nashville, Tennessee's Exit/In in 1997, presents about 97 minutes of Jason and the Scorchers' style of country/rock ever so gently influenced by punk rock. Originally formed as Jason and the Nashville Scorchers, they debuted under that name back in 1982 with the Reckless Country Soul 7" EP (reissued on CD in '96, augmented with additional material) and over the next several years released three albums and another EP's worth of material that varied widely in quality, never finding their market niche (translation: they didn't sell any records) and breaking up as the eighties ended. Jason (Ringenberg, originally from Illinois) issued a solo album that didn't sell either in '92, and by the mid-nineties the greater volume of country music sales and the success of bands like Kentucky Headhunters encouraged the band to get back together and record a few more albums. Just think of them as the country-rock Buzzcocks. Midnight Roads & Stages Seen includes material spanning the Scorchers' career, including their barnstorming cover of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" as well as versions of "Walkin' the Dog" and "Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel" alongside twenty originals from their earliest days to the new-for-'98 "This Town Isn't Keeping You Down". It's clearly recorded although the vocals are a bit distant, but at least it sounds like it's actually live (as opposed to being tarted up in the studio afterwards). I can't say the music on this album thrills me, but then I don't listen to much country music, rock-inflected or otherwise. Something about Jason's voice annoys me (he kind of sounds like the guy who sings in the Residents crossed with Fred Schneider from the B-52's), the songs often sound a lot like Dylan/Stones retreads or slowed-down late-period Social Distortion, and even though the band's playing (especially the lead guitar) is pretty good, they're certainly not doing anything new or particularly interesting to me. It's fine for what it is and I can see how someone might really like this--it's just not me. If it happens to be you and you really like this stuff, you can go all the way and buy the accompanying home video. Go nuts.
Wanna Drag?--Yum/Beloved Entertainment Group
Jenifer Convertible is a traditional-lineup rock band that purveys punky pop music (or poppy punk music, your choice) that looks back with fondness at more innocent times, both of personal childhood and once-mainstream, now-camp antique values. Nothing on Wanna Drag? is exactly breaking any new ground and I'm sure the guys in the band would be the first to tell you that, but neither is it too specifically derivative, so Jenifer Convertible doesn't really sound like anyone else too directly. The band has a developed sound, which they explore thoroughly over the course of the album's twelve tracks (plus one 'hidden' unlisted bonus track outtake), produced cleanly and powerfully by the usually dependable Wharton Tiers. Like a less pompous, more melodic alternative to Live or a more endearing variety of Goo Goo Dolls, with the right touch of the Replacements' brash spirit, Jenifer Convertible's (there doesn't really seem to be any satisfactory contraction of the name--JenCon?) tightly arranged guitar riffs twine around the synched-up rhythm section skillfully and the band evinces plenty of energy. Ultimately, this record reminds me of no one so much as the Dentists, the late English band whose final album was also produced by Tiers--further evidence of the bands' similar approaches. Unfortunately for Jenifer Convertible's possible future, the Dentists struggled for a decade on small indie labels, then got signed, put out two records that didn't sell, got dropped, and broke up. History doesn't always repeat itself, though, and Jenifer Convertible is off to a relatively promising start here.
Dandelion--Big Marble Foot Records (PO Box 1862 Tempe AZ 85280-1862)
Given the utterly charming moppet-with-hair-standing-on-end-mimicking-the-titular-bloom cover photo and the fact that two songs of this half-hour CD have the word 'pop' in the title, one might justifiably expect Dandelion's contents to be the type of music that slavishly worships at the altar of the holy sacraments of British Pop Rock 'N Roll, and to some extent that's applicable to the music of the Jennys, mostly in the British Invasion-inflected songwriting. The Jennys have a hardened FM-radio rock center, though, the kind they probably developed through hot, sweaty practices in a Tempe, Arizona garage, that powers even their most melodic numbers into a live-sounding classic-rock groove, and they're clearly familiar with the style of bands like REM. It all combines into earnest mainstream-sounding rock that's not at all bad if not terribly striking or original--the kind of stuff that's easy to imagine popping up on the radio. In fact, the music's very appropriateness to the mainstream may prove to be both the Jennys' strength and weakness; if they can attract strong major-label backing sometime their music has a shot at the mass market, but the underground music fans who go for self-released independent CDs(which Dandelion is) tend to opt for something a little farther from the middle of the road--or, more often, something that pretends to be farther. So maybe it's just a marketing problem when it comes down to it, but it's hard to recall much unique about Dandelion, pleasant and well-crafted though it may be.
No Turning Back--Raw Energy (65 Front St. West, Suite #0116-42, Toronto, Ontario, M5J 1E6 Canada)
Burlington, Ontario, Canada's Jersey blend punk, hardcore, and ska influences (there's a new idea) to create (in their own words) "a musical style everyone can agree on". Apparently Jersey was formed from the ashes of demised bands Grade and Believe, neither of which I've ever heard of. I must admit that the first thing that went through my head upon noticing that member Sarah's musical contribution seems to be limited to backing vocals and tambourine was "Gee, which member of the band let his girlfriend into the band?" but her X-Ray Spex-reminiscent vocals are brought to the forefront on "Addicts", and since the liner notes thank "Sarah's parents for the space and goodies" I guess she's at least contributing a practice space, which is as least as important an element to any band as, say, the bassist. The group's youthful vigor almost makes the whole thing gel, and maybe this kind of thing is rarer up in Canada (and maybe not) but Jersey kind of blends into the crowd of punk/HC/ska-influenced bands down here in the lower forty-eight, although their Americano band name suggests that perhaps that's what they're aiming for. The band is tight and well-rehearsed, and it sounds like they successfully accomplished what they set out to do with No Turning Back; now if they can do something a little more unique on the foundation they've built, their next album might be one to watch for.
The Very Best Of CD
I was never too interested in Jethro Tull when I was a kid for some reason, even though I had friends who swore by them. Okay, sure those friends were into Kansas and Rush, granted, but still we had enough in common that I took their opinions seriously. Something about Tull’s classical/rock/baroque sound (flute, you must admit, isn’t a very rockin’ instrument to have on everything) just turned me off immediately—no, scratch that, it didn’t so much turn me off as it just didn’t intrigue me whatsoever. I mean, my brother had a 2-disc Tull collection one bedroom away from mine and I wasn’t even curious enough to borrow it once. Later on, their reputation as the band that made a whole album out of one song was enough to keep me at arm’s length, at least long enough that I never heard an entire album played from front to back—although statistics probably lean towards me having heard all of Aqualung at one time or another.
So frankly it’s with a bit of surprise that I find a decent amount of enjoyment within The Very Best of Jethro Tull. I only recognized three or four of the song titles on the back cover (and that’s counting ‘Aqualung’) but upon listening I find most of music immediately familiar, and pleasantly so. Perhaps it’s the judicious editing that eases my listening experience, paring the bloat so endemic to classical/rock hybrids of the ‘70s and getting to the point; perhaps it’s the comfort of recognizable music in an easily digestible package. Perhaps Jethro Tull just produced better work than I would have thought likely. I’m not going to be running out to buy up the Tull catalog or anything else anytime soon, but the Very Best Of comp serves my needs quite well and will probably remain in my collection for at least the near future.
-Aaron J. Poehler
Robot Rock--BEC Recordings (810 3rd Ave. #140-20, Seattle, WA 98104)
This faux-Brit synthpop duo comes on like Yaz or Depeche Mode circa 1985, proudly displaying their treasured vintage Moog Prodigy on the cover and interior of Robot Rock and proclaiming "samplers, drum machines, computers, additional musicians-none" in the liner notes. We can be sure that Santa Ana, California Joy Electric members Ronnie Martin and Jeff Cloud believe in two things quite strongly: 1) the superiority of their style of music ("We're back with the robot beat/WE ARE THE SOUND OF TOMORROW" [caps in original], "(We Are) Taking Over") and 2) their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ("We live by the old fashioned rules/faithful to the one and only true Son", "We're the bold the saved/we are the christians"). The combination makes me envision posters of Vince Clarke and Jesus side-by-side at the Joy Electric's altar of worship. In all fairness Martin (the singer, songwriter, synthesist and obvious leader here) isn't too obnoxious about his belief in Jesus and doesn't allow it to become too obtrusive, although actually he is kind of obnoxious about how great analog-synth music is in a defensive sort of way that makes me think perhaps he protests too much. After all, if the songs and the melodies aren't too strong on their own it's certainly not going to make them great simply by running them on analog synth equipment, and the success and failure of Robot Rock rises entirely on Martin's melodies: when they're kept moving and hummable and on the more inventive side, it's fine; when they start sounding like rewritten Yaz it's as retro as recreationist surf music. It's all a bit fey and precious, fine for what it is but certainly not too compelling unless you're really into analog synth-pop and have worn out your early Depeche Mode and Yaz albums.
June of 44 - Anahata CD (Quarterstick Records, PO Box 25342, Chicago, IL 60625)
It must be kind of odd to be one of the ex-members of Slint. After all, look at it this way: ten years ago, some Louisville, Kentucky music geeks put the band together, and it lasted just long enough to produce about an album and a half's worth of tracks. Though occasionally well-reviewed (and sometimes not--Ira Robbins of Trouser Press noted, "It's hard to imagine why these unformed scraps were released, or precisely what merit Slint imagines they have"), they failed to attract sufficient attention to convince them to continue. They split up and went their separate ways, never to return (so far, cough cough), but ever since that time their solitary album Spiderland has been taken to heart by many a music geek, especially in the Louisville area (trust me on this one--I wish I had a buck for every Slint-copycat that's been through Bloomington since then).
Since the ex-Slinters went on to projects both well-known and obscure and showed no desire to return to making the music of their adolescence, it fell to their disciples to echo the masters' teachings. Jeff Mueller was one of the first in line: his Louisville band Rodan picked up the 'Slint Jr.' tag immediately, then followed in their idols' footsteps by dissolving after making one album. Afterwards, he formed June of 44 with three non-Louisvillians and has stuck with the group ever since.
So here it is 1999 and along comes Anahata, the new June of 44 album. Disciple Mueller is still carrying the math-rock torch, churning out track after track built around off-the-beat time signatures, embellished with a few rudimentary guitar squawks, impenetrable, obscure lyrics, and tuneless singing. The Spiderland formula is, of course, completely played out by now, so the band attempts to spice things up by adding extraneous percussion, trumpet, and other arrangement tricks, but to no avail. The tracks simply lie there unenticingly, one monotonous lurching beat after another, one song-that's-not-a-song after another. They never succeed in creating music that supersedes their bullshit formulas, and so the appeal of Anahata is limited to other music geeks who yearn for the days when Louisville might have been the new…Athens? Chapel Hill? Seatt…nah, let's not go there. –Aaron J. Poehler