Rocket From the Crypt, Group Sounds (Vagrant Records): Let me just tell it like it is — just lay it on you right now, right here. The new RFTC album is good. Not fantastic. Not brilliant. Not surprising. And that's not shocking, considering we've got a veteran band that's put out several consistently good albums without taking any major detours from its danceable but edgy punk-rock. You'll still find lead singer Speedo's sneering, raspy vocals adding passion and fervor to the RFTC sound. The horn arrangements continue to balance the songs' harder side. Drummer Ruby Mars still pounds out spine-tingling drills with precision. And once again, the band has written 13 very different songs, each a unique, infectious and high-energy variation on the classic RFTC blueprint. Distinguishing Group Sounds from previous releases is the common thread of violence in the lyrics: "Peel off my face / Burn fingertips / Bash all my teeth / Bury me deep / Smashed to a pulp my final slap on the wrist," from "White Belt," for example. And "Dead Seed," where Speedo croons with contempt: "Burn bright the flame of fury sedate / Silver eye beams from the scent of contempt / Bastard fire burns clean no regrets / But guilty thorns / Will break off / And tear you up inside / Blow up / Dead on the vine." So is this a concept album? I don't think RFTC take themselves seriously enough for that — the San Diego band continues to trade in an inside-joke sort of sarcasm. Also, the melancholy, low-key "Ghost Shark," with delicate piano and passionate, suffering vocals, stands out against the other songs — are they serious with this one, or is it another inside joke? Group Sounds may not be astonishingly great, but it mostly rocks with the raw, excellent sound RFTC has come to own. — Jenny Tatone

copyright (c) 2001 michael goldberg | design by elephantcloud