Stella 11/22, Beat Kitchen Curt Perkins’s pensive, detached bellow on this quartet’s upcoming debut for Beggars Banquet briefly fooled me into thinking Mark Hollis of Talk Talk (whose most interesting work came after his early-80s techno-pop hits) had returned in a harder-edged guitar-band context. But on closer inspection, it turns out that this band has manufactured a suitably intense yet curiously unmoving product that fails to convey anything distinctive about the maker. John Fournier Quintet 11/23, ImprovOlympic Fournier, who moved here from Miami last June, blows jazz sax with a cool sensibility that enhances his Randy Newman-esque songwriting. But the standout on his demo highlights his nasal voice on a lounge-tinted cover that reveals the haunting potential of Berlin’s “The Metro.” RuPaul 11/23, Fusion This savvy drag queen’s 1993 debut single, “Supermodel (You Better Work),” constructed and offered as a tongue-in-cheek self-promotional spot, qualifies in hindsight as a minor dance classic. But the accompanying album’s success must have gone to the guy’s head, ’cause he’s followed it up with Foxy Lady (Rhino), which de-emphasizes novelty in favor of material that would present him as an actual disco diva–except that as a singer he falls flat on his beautiful face. Test Dept, Sheep On Drugs 11/23 & 24, Dome Room Test Dept formed in England in 1981 as part of the fledgling experimental rock offshoot dubbed industrial (then still a ways from the preprogrammed dance-club fodder the genre’s since become). The recent Totality (Invisible) flirts with jungle and techno, yet possesses a refreshing subtlety and lightness of attack compared to much of what’s on the current dance scene. A trademark resonating rhythmic scrap-yard clatter at the album’s core provokes slow shifts of dark atmosphere. The band hasn’t played in the U.S. in almost a decade. Opening duo Sheep on Drugs, also on Invisible, adopts New Order poppiness for “Come Fly With Me,” which leads off its recent Double Trouble, and collaborates with label mates Pigface on an uninspired cover of “Back in Black” on Cleopatra’s forthcoming AC/DC tribute, Covered in Black. Neither effort convincingly supports the label’s contention that the band is “the real sound of rock ‘n’ roll in 1996.” Dirtnap 11/24, Beat Kitchen This affable local trio’s angularly warbled songs charge half-finished out of the garage at near-punk velocity–and go a considerable distance on their slovenly charm. It’s hard to say how interesting they’d be once all the kinks got straightened out, though–“Dizzy” jauntily retreads the trusty “Gloria” chord progression, but a smoother rendering could easily reduce it to Guess Who stodginess. Frente 11/27, Riviera Shape, the sophomore set from this four-piece (which recently abbreviated its name from Frente! because “the exclamation point didn’t mean anything,” explains guitarist Simon Austin), hardly dispels my notion that, between albums, these Australians were lapped by like-minded Swedes. Anything Frente can do–the pouty, charming little-girl singing, the clever, hook-laden tune, the soft, “antirock” arrangement, the unlikely cover–the Cardigans can do better. Everything but the Girl, back again so soon, headlines.

–Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Test Dept photo.