Church Key 11/29, Phyllis’ Musical Inn Ex-God’s Acre singer-guitarist Peter Houpt contributes the most–and the most heartrending–songs to this local country-rock sextet’s debut, Evet’s Cafe (Loose Booty). Here’s hoping his emotional healing is accompanied by the further coalescing of the band’s promising instrumentation, which includes pedal steel, accordion, mandolin, and fiddle. Republica 11/29, Metro British synth pop isn’t quite dead yet; nor, in the right hands, is it a creative dead end–witness the Pet Shop Boys’ sixth and latest album, the excellent, overlooked Bilingual. But usually its practitioners count themselves lucky to catch the pop audience’s fancy long enough to sell one record. Republica’s drummer, Dave Barbe, used to be with Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow, both Malcolm McLaren-foisted proto-synth sensations that now sound hopelessly dated. Likewise, though “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and “Ready to Go,” from this London quintet’s self-titled debut (Deconstruction), will surely engage a broad segment of the alterna-dance crowd, the appeal is strictly ephemeral. 764-Hero 11/29, Empty Bottle On this Seattle duo’s full-length debut, Salt Sinks and Sugar Floats (Up), John Atkins moans and groans to the stark accompaniment of his own guitar and Polly Johnson-Dickenson’s drums. Like fellow nor’westers the Spinanes, they sound bigger than you’d expect, each partner taking full advantage of the wider available dynamic range for a distinctly expressive, if occasionally trying, result. Spinane Rebecca Gates headlines. Crackpot 11/30, Phyllis’ Musical Inn Driving, dynamic guitar work provides a curious contrast to the constrained, monotonous Tom Petty-ish singing in this local trio’s recent Waltz (Sandwich). But what drags the album down is the lack of contrast in sound and structure between its songs. Great Plains Gypsies 11/30, Schubas If nothing else, this folkish four-piece’s recent single for the local Sunny Smedley label reminds us that musically the Grateful Dead did more than just noodle. “Last Song for You” is a pretty, Garcia-esque acoustic ballad; “Hipster Club Blues” dishes up some charming jug-band jive, albeit without the jug. Thanatos 12/1, Thurston’s The latter half of this folk-goth collective’s recent EP, The Neighbor of the Beast (Project), was recorded live last June at the Vic and includes a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” It’s a difficult song to pull off live, so understandably Thanatos slows the sucker down. But there remains the problem of the original’s overlapping vocal parts, which singer Padraic Ogl attempts to handle by himself. He runs into trouble at the final, climactic chorus, when he gets a full measure out of sync with the band. Together with dated lyrics like “Baby I’m your man,” it makes for a spontaneous, unintentionally goofy antidote to all the predictable doom and gloom. Stress Magnets 12/5, Fireside Bowl This energetic Baltimore quartet, which features former Dwarves and Kyuss bassist Rex Everything, mixes straight-ahead pop-tinged punk with an ironic take on early Black Sabbath-era heavy metal, drawing on its guitar riffery for added instrumental weight while gleefully exaggerating its vocal style to maximum comic effect.

–Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Thanos photo by Susan Jennings.