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

The Lucksmiths, Why That Doesn't Surprise Me (Drive-In): On their fourth longplayer, the twee Aussie three go timeless pop and timelessly romantic, their arch-acoustic spare-snared-and-sweetly-sung pun-strung push-beat popsong-ism draped in syrupy strings and heartfelt horns and joined in sweet harmony by the singing of Architecture in Helsinki's Kellie Sutherland. While "timeless" has long been commandeered to essentially mean "sounds like it was recorded in the '60s," here it means regal and sumptuous and well-recorded and, well, slick. Timeless, in this circumstance, also addresses the lack of fashion found in the Lucksmiths' aw-shucksy craft. While the trio could easily be compared to any of the cardigan-clad combos stirring the hearts of awkward unathletic boys and wholesome whole-hearted Christian girls the world over, it's hard to imagine the Lucksmiths ever attaining hipster cultural cachet. Why That Doesn't Surprise Me is as charmingly unfashionable as pop music gets. — AC

Tim Easton, The Truth About Us (New West): It makes sense that current and former members of Wilco (along with former American Music Club pedal-steel man Bruce Kaphane and Tom Waits/P.J. Harvey sideman Joe Gore) are backing Tim Easton on this exquisite country-folk-rocky album. They understand the musical terrain Easton works in, and give him just the right support. Easton, who has the slightly gruff, yet gentle, voice of an old-school troubadour (think Dylan or early Springsteen), mostly tackles the dark side of love. "Out of Your Life" is about a relationship that should be over, but isn't. In "Half A Day" the singer just can't connect with the girl he loves. And "I Would Have Married You," about a romance that failed, it seems, because neither of the lovers could commit, is just plain sad. — Michael Goldberg

Jan Jelinek, Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records (~scape): Here, German boffin Jan (Gramm/Farben) Jelinek steps out most disarmingly under his own name, presenting a collection of beautifully downbeat, evocatively realized, somewhat sexy takes on the glitch; each hissy, spitty, crackling crackle-and-pop popsong is a demure dance through intricate, rhythmic, strangely groovy terrain. Whereas numerous Jelinek contemporaries (Pole, Delay, Claytons, etc.) use the dub framework to give their microtonal ambient moods a structural backbone, the smartass title of Jelinek's longplayer hints that Jan's been boning up on the form and structure of more structured jazz sounds. Which could go a ways to explaining why his ghostly, ghosted, thick-'n'-misty dissented-and-distant computronic evocation of ambient German techno-minimalism is almost, uh, funky. — AC

The Mountain Goats, The Coroner's Gambit (Absolutely Kosher): Another page ripped out of the boom-box folk diary of Iowa's John Darnielle. His seventh album, the first in three years, this seems, judging from the eulogy inside, to have been motivated by the suicide of a friend named Rozz (this can't be Rozz Williams of Christian Death fame, though, can it?). In apparent response to the loss, and armed most of the time with an acoustic guitar as his only weapon, Darnielle takes on Death in a battle match generating a lot of hellfire. Rivers of blood rush through the streets of Rome, jewel-encrusted chariots swing low and insurance fraud is committed while our plain-voiced warrior attempts to hold mortality at bay for just one moment longer. Even the sweet-sounding "I'm coming home" song has the ominous title "Elijah." The album's concept puts apparent mean-spirited relationship songs in a more metaphorical context. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm trying to be sympathetic. — KJ

Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Ease Down the Road (Palace): As he returns to his "proper" guise as songwriter, Will Oldham's second turn as thee bonnie prince finds an album with a laid-back, casual, charming demeanor. The resulting warm, hearty, countrified sound recalls of the ensemble feel of Palace records like There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You and Viva Last Blues. Dave Pajo helms a troupe of likely cats, ranging from Oldham brethren through Freakwater's Catherine Irwin to cinematic enfant-terrible Harmony Korine. Oldham seems to have finally forsaken that Southern-folksy pseudo-biblical torn-and-tested-man persona that arose around him, then consumed him in his conscious construction of songs. Instead, he tackles his next-favorite lyrical topic: sex. More precisely, he writes odes about love, fucking, that confused ground of the relations between the sensations, and the eternal question of whether they are perpetually divorced, or one and the same. At other times, well, Willy O's just singing words that rhyme. — AC

Mother Superior, Mother Superior (Triple X Records): So your dad was a diehard Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Your mom, she worshiped the priest (Judas Priest, that is — hey, it could happen). And your long-haired uncle used to blare Motörhead while impressing you with his air-guitar skills. So what kind of band did you get together when you grew up? Perhaps something that sounds like Mother Superior. Is this post-metalesque dirty-butt rock? Maybe. An album full of skillfully written but unoriginal songs? Definitely. Produced by Henry Rollins, this mostly fast-paced, hard-rocking self-titled album takes a left turn into slowed-down Skynyrd territory with "Follow Me Home," which sounds way too much like "Tuesday's Gone" (complete with piano). And there's nothing mysterious about the inspiration for "Such A Worthless Thing." (They even lay their cards on the table, as it were: "Feelin' like a million bucks / [Thin] Lizzy's on the jukebox.") Still, it's hard not to like songs such as "Radio Sucks" and "Cool Cool Breeze," with their high-volume go-go-go energy, arena-ready riffs, crusading drums and sneering, GNR-tinged vocals. True, this album may be nothing more than an imitation of those head-banging, muscle-car-driving rockers from days past — but it's a damn fine one. And, hey, it ain't easy handling the aftermath of childhood. — JT

Geology, A Subjective Study of Planet E: Volume Two (Planet E): This CD is a sort of companion volume to Planet E founder Carl Craig's Designer Music collection from last year. Where the latter surveyed his remix career, Geology serves as a label sampler, with a predictable loss in consistency. Too many tracks, like the Future/Past Mix of Common Factor's "Get Down," were sent out of the kitchen before they were done cooking. But the best stuff here straddles the line between headphone house and boogie-oogie-oogie. "Steam" by Paperclip People (a Craig pseudonym) never loses its funky footing, despite the kaleidoscope of touchy-feely percussive sound effects. And I love the way Mike Clark turns the memory of a Chaka Khan song into one of those effects on "In the Morning." Remarkably slight, but just the kind of sonics to prove revelatory with some chemical enhancement (cf. dub). — KJ

Ladyvipb, Stories of A Broken Heart and Recovering (Nuphonic): While the post-breakup record is a common outing for singer/songwriters, it's much more rare in club-land. Under the influence of "my ex-girlfriend saying she didn't want me anymore," Maurice Fulton sows the seeds for a movement of emotional catharsis through syncopated jazz breaks, washing upbeat beats under waves of melancholy. While the rhythms change, Fulton's heart keeps to a sad beat, its woe a thematic constant. The snow-crusher Funkstörung cut-ups of "Nartia" bust breaks underneath "crying" keyboard drones; the heavily distorted beats of "I Why the Pain" crunch in call-and-response measures with treated string pieces; and the Brazilified breakbeats of wrenching closer "Life With Denise" are softened by rich piano chords that look winsomely out a misty window, pulling the frenetic tribal rhythms down to a particularly sad place. — AC

Le Tigre, From the Desk of Mr. Lady (Mr. Lady): Taking its name from an old clothing label, three-piece band Le Tigre comprises avant-garde video artist Sadie Benning, zine-maker Johanna Fateman and former Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna (the real O.G. — Original Grrrl). These supergroup credentials essentially make them the Crosby, Stills & Nash of politically-progressive underground American culture, but fortunately for everyone, they sound more like the bastard children of Gary Numan and the X-Ray Spex on a steady diet of Ritalin. This is amply demonstrated on their new EP, From the Desk of Mr. Lady (Mr. Lady). Armed with samplers, synthesizers, guitars and their bad-ass voices, Le Tigre are out to reinvent guitar-based rock for these postmodern, endlessly self-referential times. Like Hanna's former band, Bikini Kill, they do a good job of mixing humor and fun with their politics — as in "Get Off the Internet," where she sings in a staccato manner, "It is so '80s/ or early-'90s/ to be political/ where are my friends?/ (GET OFF THE INTERNET!!!)/ I'll meet you in the streets/ (GET OFF THE INTERNET!!!)/ destroy the right wing." Not only is this a great song, but it also helps explain why Kathleen hasn't returned my last couple of e-mails. Seriously. — Kembrew McLeod

Note: Please check out our other review of From the Desk of Mr. Lady which was written by Kevin John.

more reviews

copyright (c) 2000, 2001 michael goldberg | design by elephantcloud