ARIZONA HOT TRACKS

Despite some past attitude and present whining, the Arizona music scene continues to spin. There still aren't enough places to play, and the musicians might cooperate with each other more, but these nine Arizona releases are proof that music of every shape and sound is happening in this state.

And a couple of encouraging musical events are looming on the horizon. Not one but two industry-media music showcases are currently in the works for Phoenix and Tempe. If all goes as planned, a one-day showcase will take place downtown in June, and a larger multiday, multiclub event will be staged in Tempe this fall. Both should focus attention, locally and nationally, on the music and the musicians who call Arizona home.

In our last local release roundup, we asked local bands and solo artists to send in their tapes, CDs or LPs. We didn't get any records, which must mean vinyl is truly dead. But we did get a varied batch of tapes and CDs from a rewarding cross section of Arizona musicians. All of these should be available for sale at local record stores. If you can't find them, ask why.

Our thanks to everyone who sent music in. To those who didn't: Ship those petroleum products our way. The next local music review is already taking shape.

RIVER ROSES When We Fall
(San Jacinto)

One of the most notoriously up-and-down alternative rock-pop bands in Arizona history has turned up again with a vengeance. Guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Chris Holiman, whose thin, nasal voice and erratic personality are either the best or the worst things about River Roses, has put it all together on When We Fall.

The songs here are powerful. Tunes like the country-rock-flavored "Last Light," to which Bridget Keating's tasteful violin work adds a beautiful touch, are among the strongest tracks this band has ever recorded. Hooky choruses and tasteful strumming abound. River Roses even pulls off a convincing slop-rockabilly version of the classic "Mystery Train," which benefits from Giant Sands' Howe Gelb on piano. Drummer (now, sadly, former drummer) Peter Catalanotte-Reeves and his hyperactive, destroy-the-kit style are worth the price of this tape. The really surprising thing about When We Fall is the singing. Holiman's vocals are the best he's ever done, unfailingly expressive and impressive in range. The sound here is crisp and the production is flawless. This is the kind of alternative record a lot of major labels would like in their catalogues. Hopefully, an excellent record like this will be the shot that will turn this right-place-wrong-time band around. --Robert Baird

AUGUST RED Twist Into the Sun
(F.C.A.)

"Alternative" has become such a powerful musical buzz word--and sales tool--that all sorts of nearby musical genres are now co-opting what they want from alternativeville to get a piece of the action. Hybrids can be either alternative with a hard-rock edge, or hard rock that knows how to jangle a guitar or trot through a midtempo melody. August Red falls into the latter subgenre. The group plays hard rock that at times sounds as sensitive and poppy as any American indie guitar band. The band has obviously worked long and hard on this twelve-song CD. Recorded at Chaton Recordings in Scottsdale, the sound is clear and the mix is even.

It's an odd criticism, but it seems like a well-chosen cover would have been a good addition for a young band whose original material, although brawny and full of promise, is still unripe. Musically, tunes like "Fine by Me," an ode to a teenage suicide, show that these guys have songwriting potential. But if you're going to do overpopulated, overworked music, then you have to try harder to sound different. Some of what's here is indistinguishable from the 5,000 other guitar bands that came out this year. But it's in the lyrics that their age shows. Rock star cliches like, "Well I've got my bottle and the boys in the band/I don't need your helping hand/You wanna hang out, you wanna be with me/Are you really so blind that you can't see" will hopefully improve with time and experience. Still, this is an intriguing beginning.--Robert Baird

VAMPIRE RODENTS War Music
(Local tape)

These bloodthirsty vermin can't be taken too seriously--not with lyrics like, "Brush the teeth of a swaddled corpse/Envy his leisure/Hemmorhage [sic] in pleasure." But more often than not on War Music, there's a point to all the sickness and gore. Behind the butcher-block imagery of "Meat," for instance, lies a militant vegetarian message. (This ditty suggests--among other things--strangling fishers with their own tuna nets.)

Sometimes the carnage is more campy, as on "Extinction," a gruesome tale of mutant fish that turn into aquatic carnivores after gorging themselves on nuclear waste. The song's scenario is right out of a 1950s Them-style sci-fi movie, and its antinuke message is just as simpleminded. Fortunately, there's plenty of pitch-black humor in the lyrics: "No more proms and no more wishes/Now you're only food for the fishes."

The band's darkly humorous, apocalyptic visions are set to a cyber-aggressive postindustrialist beat. The Rodents throw in a lot of tape tricks and clanking electronic effects, but the music's mostly forgettable. The sole exception is "Momentous," which jumbles samples from funk records, Reagan speeches and a Twilight Zone episode ("My name is Talking Tina") into a surprisingly cohesive, danceable whole.

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