Slight Returns

On Friday at the Double Door, former Urge Overkill front man Nash Kato celebrates the release of Debutante, his solo debut and first recording since Urge’s underwhelming 1995 swan song, Exit the Dragon. In 1997, after parting with Geffen as well as cofounder Ed Roeser, the band signed with Sony’s 550 Music imprint, but the last we heard from them was a fizzling sound, like a match plunged into water.

Last spring, Kato began recording Debutante with guitarist Nils St. Cyr (who briefly replaced Roeser in Urge), session drummer Josh Freese (who joined Guns n’ Roses in 1997), bassist John Evans, and Tori Amos producer Eric Rosse, and in the summer Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard signed him to his Loosegroove label, which had put out records by Queens of the Stone Age and Critters Buggin’.

In March Loosegroove was folded into the Seattle label Will (original home of Grandaddy), pushing back the release of Debutante by a week, but from the sound of the album you’d think it’d been on the cutting-room floor for five years. It’s a heaping dose of retro rock so dumb it makes Urge’s thin line between smug and sincere look like the Berlin Wall. There are dozens of meaningless pop culture references–“Octoroon” name-drops Victoria’s Secret model Laetitia Casta, “Born in the Eighties” is a sloppy pastiche of tweaked ad slogans like “Gimme gimme gimme empty MTV” masquerading as social commentary–and I can’t detect even an ounce of irony in Kato’s cover of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work.” He revamps Supersonic Storybook-era Urge licks when he runs out of new ideas, and backing vocalists the Soul Sistahs sound like they’re moonlighting from a jingle job.

An only slightly more listenable return to Chicago alt-rock’s glory days is aptly titled Just What the World Needs…A Tribute to Material Issue, released by the local Veronica label. A few of the 13 local bands on the disc attempt to do something original with Jim Ellison’s classic power-pop tunes–namely the Marvel Kind, who turn “Trouble” into twitchy electro-tweaked paranoia, and Box-o-Car, who give “A Very Good Idea” a Cars-like sheen–but most of them merely recorded vastly inferior takes of the songs. Part of the problem is that, for better or worse, most of these songs relied heavily on Ellison’s snarling charm to begin with. Nearly all of the bands–including Muchacha, Land of the El Caminos, Ness, Today’s My Super Spaceout Day, and Joygirl–will perform at a record-release party Saturday night at Double Door.

Next up in the sad parade is the May 16 release of Resolver (Beyond), the first Veruca Salt effort since Nina Gordon and the rest of the group left Louise Post with nothing but the band name. The last record Gordon and Post made together, Eight Arms to Hold You, was oversweetened but palatable schlock rock, but Post’s new mix of hookless hard-rock bombast, produced-to-death girly pop, and whispery power balladeering leaves such a bad taste you’ll want to chase it with a shot of Drano. A number of the lyrics are nasty missives aimed at other women–or perhaps just one other woman. The first verse of the second song doesn’t leave much to the imagination: “This couldn’t get any better / She didn’t get it, so fuck her / I’ll never be any saner / I’m a born entertainer.”

The Groove Gets Fatter

Dusty Groove, the local on-line record store, went up on April 1996, selling rare used records out of J.P. Chill’s bedroom. By the time it was profiled in this column, in December of that year, it had moved to a small space in Hyde Park, and Chill and partner Rick Wojcik were grossing about $5,000 a month. Now the store’s Wicker Park space, which is open for retail three days a week, is looking cramped; Chill and Wojcik command a full-time staff of 15; and last month alone they grossed $174,000. The latest growth spurt is the acquisition of UHF Records, an on-line rock store founded by former Reckless Records manager Bryan Smith on Dusty Groove’s model.

“It was very slow,” says Smith of UHF’s development. “I was a completely unknown entity with virtually no budget. I was underfinanced and I taught myself all of the programming as I went along.” His computer skills accelerated faster than UHF’s traffic, and before long he was doing Web work for local record labels. Wojcik, who used to work at Reckless as a buyer, approached him in February about merging, and earlier this month UHF’s stock began appearing on the Dusty Groove site. Though this has resulted in more and more kinds of rock music going up for sale on the site, Wojcik says Dusty Groove has no plans to offer the selection of punk and hardcore that UHF did; the business has succeeded in part because of its focus on hard-to-find soul, Brazilian, Latin, and jazz.

Original Soundz

Noted local Bollywood remixers T.S. Soundz have finally released Typhoon Asha–their first collection of all-original material. Available on Novo Records, the imprint run by Terry Callier’s manager, Hillel Frankel, the album breaks radically with the duo’s past work, which creatively wedded filmi melodies to pounding club beats. The array of house, techno, and drum ‘n’ bass grooves on the new stuff is similar, but this time they wrote the melodies themselves and brought in real vocalists to sing them. Although it’s hardly groundbreaking and sands away too much of the Indian flavor of their previous work for my tastes, the release puts them on a footing with artists from England’s Asian underground like Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney, Joi, and Black Star Liner. They celebrate the release with a show Friday at the Wild Hare.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Elledge.