ADEN, Aden (Fortune4). Known previously as Dingle, Aden is led by Jeff Gramm, who according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has less than a year to dabble in music before his father, Texas senator Phil, cuts off parental support for his folly and forces him to go back to school. The fragile melodicism on this record is pleasant enough, but the band’s relentless sheepishness makes them sound downright scared, and by song number five, “Scooby Doo,” which views the aging process through the evolution of musical tastes–“Play indie pop to show that you’re still hip, but you get bored”–it’s hard not to, well, get bored.
BROKEN WIRE, Broken Wire (Eighth Day Music). Four experimental stalwarts–percussionist Michael Zerang, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, keyboardist Jim Baker, and guitarist-violinist-trumpeter Daniel Scanlan–combine their vast cumulative experience in spiky improvisation, Middle Eastern melodies, free jazz, klezmer music, and hard rock to nonchalantly eclectic originals and well-chosen covers of Carla Bley and Nubian soulster Ali Hassan Kuban. One of the most accessible, economical, and interesting fusion bands of the decade.
BOBBY CONN, Bobby Conn (Truckstop/Atavistic). His ham-fisted concept album about religion and corruption finds the underground’s ringleading troll teetering between fabulous entertainer and nose picker. As his vocals careen from glam-era Bowie to hoarse, hysterical rants to silky falsetto cries, his plush, diverse instrumental support (provided in part by Lonberg-Holm, who also assists on Lake of Dracula, below) likewise includes itchy Motown grooves, sax skronk, and quiet-storm psychedelia. Bobby Conn seems to think the best way to kill the star-machine beast is to crawl into its belly.
DAVID GRUBBS, Banana Cabbage, Potato Lettuce, Onion Orange (Table of the Elements). The Gastr del Sol mainstay performs three versions of the same instrumental piece on piano, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar with beautifully lean, fascinatingly varied results. In the end, it’s Grubbs’s painstaking articulation of notes, not just the choice of instrument, that distinguishes one version from another.
HOOKER O.K., Hooker O.K. (Sweet Pea). Admittedly Hooker O.K. is a small band–Number One Cup guitarist Patrick O’Connell and Yum-Yum drummer Michael Kirts–but the music on its debut album is absolutely miniature. The duo’s delicate tunes are strewn with shy hooks and other introspective indie conventions, but unless you’re a die-hard aficionado of bedroom pop, listening to the whole album is about as satisfying as a steady diet of iceberg lettuce.
LAKE OF DRACULA, Lake of Dracula (Skin Graft). A lurching, grinding, spasmodic tangle of Weasel Walter’s guitar scree, ex-Scissor Girl Heather Melowic’s primal drum splatter, and the trachea-scraping howl of Marlon Magus that provides an effective antidote to the prevailing polite musical flavors. Making rock sound ugly is hardly a novel pursuit, but this trio propagates sonic chaos with such glee it can’t help but sound vital.
LOTUS CROWN, Chokin’ on the Jokes (Reprise). On his quartet’s debut album Jimi Shields (former member of Rollerskate Skinny and brother of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields) takes a strained stab at layered neopsychedelic pop a la Mercury Rev, whose Dave Fridmann coproduced. But a few little things consistently trip him up: Shields is a mediocre singer, the tunes are forgettable, and the grand scale of the band’s instrumental ideas greatly eclipse its abilities.
ARCHER PREWITT, In the Sun (Carrot Top). His contributions to the Coctails and more recently to the Sea and Cake have always been distinctly collaborative, but with In the Sun we finally get to hear what Archer Prewitt’s all about. Supported by a large cast that includes Poi Dog’s Dave Crawford on trumpet, Waco Brothers drummer Steve Goulding, violist Darcy Vaughn (who also played on Hooker O.K.), former Coctails Mark Greenberg and John Upchurch, and fellow cartoonist Chris Ware on piano, he displays an ease with pure pop and a way with arrangements. Tunes like “You Walk By” and “City Ride” feature full, Brian Wilson-esque orchestration, but even the sparer, straighter ditties bolster their hooks with imaginative dynamics. Not everything flies, but when something does it soars.
TOULOUSE, The Way the City Stretches (Won’t Go Flat). This foursome shares a wispy-pop aesthetic with plenty of other bands–like drummer Josh Klein’s other band, Aden, which seems to be named for Toulouse bassist Aden Kumler–but what sets it apart is an insistent, captivating throb that emanates from solid strumming. There’s more than a trace of early-80s Britpop here, particularly of the Nightingales and Josef K, but this combo has little use for the herky-jerk rhythms of that era, preferring a more relaxed beat that’s almost as intriguing in its simplicity.
THE VELOUR MOTEL, Wolcott (Throwrug). The music is invitingly soft, languid pop characterized by gurgling organ and easy-strummed guitars–like if Galaxie 500 had been “breezy”–but the Velour Motel’s attempts at musical gentility consistently stumble over the flat, hollow vocals of Mike Armstrong and Walter Pazera.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): album covers.