SAPS C’mon Already–Start a Fire | self-released

Local indie-pop acts like Office and the Changes have started inching into the national spotlight, but this unflashy foursome, which has been together for more than seven years, has had trouble getting noticed just around town. Though there’s probably a reason for that, it can’t be that the Saps don’t make equally solid music–their new C’mon Already–Start a Fire proves it. They don’t do anything especially original in these ten songs, but they do almost everything well. An antsy off-mike “Go!” kicks off the album, setting its exuberant tone, and from first to last this endearing, occasionally brilliant mess of amped-up guitar rock lifts liberally from some of the form’s best practitioners. The twinges of country from the band’s previous releases are pretty much gone: The opening track, “Coup de Grace,” is the best Built to Spill rip-off since the first couple Modest Mouse records, embellished with harmonized ahhhs and an almost Martsch-worthy guitar solo. And “Broke My Spine” floats along on lackadaisical swells of chiming, Beatlesque psychedelia, then surges into the kind of gently epic chorus that went out of style in indie rock sometime in the late 90s but still sounds pretty good anyway. Front man Dan Lastick’s quirky delivery and unpolished voice are part of the band’s charm, though they can be a liability too–his nerdy, punkish white-bread yelping and strange nasal falsetto get a little grating after four or five songs. Like pretty much every other band trafficking in power pop, the Saps are best served one single at a time. But the highest honor a band like that can earn is to be the secret weapon in someone’s mix-CD arsenal, and there’s plenty of ammo on C’mon. |

BOBBY CONN King for a Day | Thrill Jockey

Reviving a sound is a hell of a lot easier than coming up with a new one, and over the past decade rock ‘n’ roll has grown increasingly dependent on used-record bins for inspiration. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: both the dance punks who jacked Gang of Four five or six years ago and the current crop of beardy weirdos plucking out druggy psych-folk have managed to make music with the same shocking impact of the originals. But the dated, overproduced sounds of the 70s haven’t yielded successful retreads at nearly the same rate. That kind of stuff seems to appeal to people who like easy jokes, and by and large those aren’t the most imaginative people–their music too often relies on hammy shtick or ironic winking to get by, like a 22-year-old club kid wearing his dad’s bell-bottom polyester suit. Bobby Conn, on the other hand, doesn’t crack a smile even when he’s completely covered in 70s cheese sauce. On his new King for a Day he touches on disco-pop, defanged heavy metal, and overwrought soft rock–some of the darkest points in music history–but presents them all with absolute conviction. Though hubristic excess has proved to be the fatal flaw of many a decadent rocker, Conn turns it into a virtue, piling up horns, synths, and wanky guitar solos to build a soaring monument to extravagance that only his stunning performances and phenomenal songwriting keep from toppling under its own weight. It’s easy to get swept up in his mini epics and believe in guitar-fueled transcendence as deeply as he does (or seems to). He’s equally convincing whether basking in his own incandescent star power or turning it inward to immolate himself in an orgy of self-doubt and punctured delusions–and he even makes it part of the point that he’s playing a wickedly deadpan simulacrum of celebrity while at best only semifamous himself. |

SOFT TARGETS Whatever Happened to Soft Targets? | Roostercow Records

On the new EP Whatever Happened to Soft Targets?, this four-piece just about nails an icy-cool postpunk sound halfway between the Only Ones and Joy Division. The guitars jump from overdriven chugging to expansive, echoing chords, the drums are trebly and brittle with slapback reverb, and vocalist Chris Auman sings with world-weary aloofness–when he hits the occasional wrong note, it just sounds like he can’t see the point of trying any harder. But while icy-cool postpunk leans pretty hard on a specific production style, it also needs songs, and these guys don’t have them. Whatever Happened starts promisingly with the shoegazery “Returning,” which features some great drum bashing from Dave Potter and a simple, catchy vocal melody. After that, though, things go wrong and stay that way. It’s bold to make an instrumental the second track on your CD, but the instrumental in question, “Clearing the Brush (on Brokeback Mountain),” is saddled not only with a terrible name but with a go-nowhere chord progression that sucks away any excitement still lingering in the air after “Returning.” The faux-reggae “Crushed” doesn’t do much to redeem the disc (or the idea of unfunky punks trying to get even a little bit irie), and the last two songs are a forgettable blur of awkward structures and half-assed melodies. The Soft Targets may be shooting for inspired ennui, but by the end it comes off more like plain old boredom. |

FLOSSTRADAMUS “Act a Fool (Ravestradamus Remix)” |self-released MP3

In Europe hipster kids inspired by the Klaxons and the resurgence of ecstasy are breaking out glow sticks and Day-Glo clothes and getting down to post-electroclash bands that fuse punk with the hedonistic sounds of old rave music. On these shores Justin Timberlake and Timbaland’s “My Love” has apparently given a bunch of Dirty South rappers, who were already partial to synth-heavy crunk, the idea to start spitting to a hip-hop take on the kind of arena trance that for the past decade you’ve generally only been able to hear in the gayest of gay clubs or blasting from the cars of thuggish Ukrainian dudes–see Flo Rida’s “Birthday” and Wes Fif’s “Haterz Everywhere” for the raviest recent examples. It’s a weird bit of convergent evolution that’s put white Britpop fans and strip-club-crawling black hip-hop fans on the same page, sort of. The duo Flosstradamus have been at the forefront of the rave revival in Chicago, which isn’t much of a surprise given that they’ve made their name with DJ sets that blend hipster dance music and straight-up Dirty South hip-hop: in November they held a rave-themed installment of their Town Hall Pub residency, which kicked off a glow-stick renaissance around town, and two weeks ago they released “Act a Fool (Ravestradamus Remix)” through the Web site The Flosstradudes have always been crowd-pleasers as much as tastemakers, and with this new mix they embrace their deep love of cheese. The drums at the song’s base are lifted from a semi-underground beat record by DJ Babu, but the two elements that dominate the track aim squarely at the lowest common denominator: Lil Jon and the Three 6 Mafia’s “Act a Fool” and Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400.” You probably don’t know “Kernkraft 400” by name, even though the original version of the song was a huge international hit in 1999, but if you’ve been exposed to a professional sporting event in the past few years you’ve almost certainly heard its anthemic arena-trance synths and mega-multitracked “woah-oh-oh-oh-oh” vocals. It’s basically the Platonic ideal of a Jock Jam. (You might also recognize the melody from a Commodore 64 game called Lazy Jones that came out in 1984.) The audacity to hit up a played-out track like that is what makes Flosstradamus fun–and the way they can make it bang against all odds is what makes them great. |

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