Local Record Roundup

ABILENE Two Guns, Twin Arrows (54¡40′ or Fight!) Bassist Craig Ackerman and drummer Scott Adamson’s uncluttered, looping grooves leave plenty of space for singer-guitarist Alexander Dunham and trumpeter Fred Erskine (both of the early 90s Dischord band Hoover). Unfortunately, those guys don’t do much with it: sometimes they play forgettable unison lines, more often they ramble like the newly thawed Woody Allen in Sleeper. Erskine’s melodic explorations, though limited, sound downright imaginative next to Dunham’s numb, slate gray noise–and Dunham’s playing is still preferable to his hoarse, angsty caterwauling.

LONBERG-HOLM/ROEBKE/KOTCHE A Valentine for Fred Katz (Atavistic) Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is best known as a free improviser and abstract composer. But with this project–a tribute to the first great jazz cellist that was initially put together for the 2000 Empty Bottle jazz festival–he swings with an ornate lyricism. (Katz was an integral member of the gentle, highly stylized west-coast quintet led by Chico Hamilton in the 50s and a longtime collaborator of local word-jazz maestro Ken Nordine.) Lonberg-Holm chose two rock-oriented players–Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist Ryan Hembrey–to round out the group in its debut performance, but the trio brought a suitably gentle finesse to the melodic and restrained repertoire. On the record, a mix of Katz originals and standards affiliated with the cellist, Jason Roebke (sounding superb) replaces Hembrey.

MENTHOL Danger: Rock Science! (Hidden Agenda) This trio spent three years recording a follow-up to its forgettable 1995 Capitol Records debut. Then Capitol rejected it–according to the band’s bio the suits didn’t understand or appreciate the alt rockers’ move toward neo-new wave–and band and label soon parted ways. So “for less than 1%” of the cost of the original version, they rerecorded it for Urbana’s Hidden Agenda imprint, which is spinning the group as unheralded pioneers in this decade’s rush to rehash the 80s. Me, I’m still trying to figure out what anybody saw in Oingo Boingo to begin with.

MR. RUDY DAY “Juzzle” (Randy Diatribe) Rudy Day is the alter ego of guitarist Andy Hopkins, who since migrating from Atlanta in the late 90s has made himself indispensable as a sideman to Kelly Hogan and Andrew Bird. In their bands he creates soft-focus grooves from Curtis Mayfield-inspired arpeggios, but when he fronts this unabashedly stoopid power trio his soulful side has to compete with his cock-rock fantasies. His oversize riffing–funky in a James Gang sort of way–struts like a skid row drag queen, and he interrupts it with hysterical falsetto whoops and sickly sweet leads that would make Tom Scholz blush. The more introspective stuff sounds eerily similar to the recent balladry of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hopkins is a terrific guitarist and there’s promise in his writing, but his inveterate goofiness is wearying.

THE MOTION Cold Heroes (Sad Loud America) On its second album this power trio adds some depth to its bludgeoning mix of stoner rock and Detroit protopunk. Though the fuzzed-out guitar of Brent Larson and thudding wallop of drummer Jeff Massey still take down everything in their path with all the grace of a steamroller, they’ve tucked some real hooks into the comically overwrought blare. Granted, those hooks will sound suspiciously familiar to anyone who owns a Kiss album or two, and the do-do-dos on “No Utopia” are swiped directly from Urge Overkill.

OFFWHYTE The Fifth Sun (Galapagos 4) On his second album, Filipino-American MC Offwhyte shows off a furious flow as packed with meaning as it is with syllables. The effort it takes to untangle his rushed delivery (a nasal and tightly coiled near monotone) is worth it–his love of language is on par with Eminem’s but unencumbered by the social pathology. (On “Masonry” he raps, “I’m cruising high with a pair of stilts and a megaphone to put myself up in the mix / Talkin’ about masonry, strictly layin’ it down with bedrock blatancy.”) The MC is also a co-owner of Galapagos 4, a label that’s been quietly chronicling an emergent underground movement (Typical Cats, Qwel) that’s analogous to (but generally more listenable than) California weirdos Anticon.

THE RACE The Perfect Gift (Flameshovel) The considered drumming and rhythm programming of Kevin Duneman give this moody art pop a weird lurching quality. When Duneman’s live playing chafes against his machine beats, as on “The Switch Switched,” the alienated warble of singer and guitarist Craig Klein sounds even more disconsolate, and the calmly rolling groove of “The Cat Is Back in the Bag” contrasts so sharply with Klein’s emoting he sounds naked and vulnerable. The singer tries to tap into the intuitive, deeply soulful spirituality of Tim Buckley’s best work, but he lacks the chops and imagination–he whines rather than cries, and his vibrato is so quavery I want to strap it down.

SPEECHWERKS The Journey (Writer’s Block/Illfold) This duo sticks to hip-hop basics on its fine debut album–the jazz-flavored loops favored by resident producer Ries (aka Eric Miller) suggest DJ Premier’s work with Gang Starr. Mars (aka Chukwuma Umeh) is a solid MC, but though his rhymes are aware of hip-hop’s sexual double standard, they’re also too comfortable with it, as on “Hey Ladies,” a lament over gold-digging women: “Some chickens like an asshole / So I play the asshole so that I can get the ass most / You would think they like the nice man / But the nice man be at home with lotion on his nightstand.” Nice cameos from local legend Juice, Hieroglyphics MC Casual, and dancehall-style toaster Nu-Ras.