MORE TAPES IN THE MAIL

Another month of mail has found its way into the Screed box, and after sorting through all the gift cheeses, complimentary cases of wine and suspicious packages that tick like an insomniac's heart, I've come up with a gaggle of local submissions. As usual, the energetic and talented Serene Dominic is on hand to opine, so I can't be blamed for everything.

If you go by song titles, the boys in Puppet Show have two main things on their minds: death and girls. But don't be fooled. "Julie's Dead," "Baby Doll," "She's Messed Up," "She Killed My Girlfriend" and the four other tunes on this power trio's self-titled tape are pristine examples of hard-driving, melodic pop songwriting and playing. Singer-guitarist Robert DeRoule is also the man behind the pen, and he's done his homework; genre mavens will catch juicy slabs of the Raspberries, the Rubinoos, the Bags, even the Knack (talk about nostalgia--there's even a line about sniffin' glue).

My only beef is that sometimes things get a bit overwrought, and DeRoule's vocal tweaking can go too far; strain doesn't always count for passion. If these guys can deliver half the tape's energy live, they must be twice as good. Call 481-0531 for info.

It's really difficult to imagine the circumstance under which anyone would want to listen to Blast Furnace. That's the name of the band and the tape, and that's also not a bad place to deposit this ear sore. Imagine eavesdropping in any third garage circa 78. But wait--it might not be a drunken, stoned, band rehearsal you're hearing; it could simply be a man chain-sawing a Pinto to death. The noise Blast Furnace tries to do has been done by others before; Butthole Surfers and Half Japanese come to mind. But one thing worries me--the last chord of the last song emerges from the ugliness and turns out to be the same one the Beatles used at the end of "Twist and Shout." Are the Furnace people having us on? Is this contrived, nihilistic brilliance? Nah! No phone number.

Can a band whose tape cover features a cartoon dog taking a dump be all bad? Well, no, but in the case of Scratch N' Sniff, it would help if you're a fan of Zappa-esque comedy/drama music. The group's tape, Fresh As the Morning Doo, gets into a high-energy groove, but rarely loses its sense of humor. Scratch does have a statement or two to make. "What Gives" is the band's take on the Fourth Amendment, but the serious stuff isn't much fun. Listen for Wise Monkey Orchestra's horn section, by the way. Call 336-0445.

Flying Blind has a singer named Tracey Rappa who'll take you back to the glory days of Heart and--better yet--Pat Benatar! Sexy and full of throaty vibrato, her voice saves the plodding "Breaking My Fall," and well serves the groovy second cut, named after the band. The quartet can play, and, if originals from the classic-rock formula are your cup of tea, drink up. Call 974-4635.

From a man who calls himself Ugly comes a professional-looking, well-produced package titled Bad Hair Day. It contains one song, and it is titled "Bad Hair Day." Well, actually, there are two versions of it, the "Extended Jam" and the "Radio Cut," complete with Salt n' Pepa-style background vocals. It's obvious that Ugly has the business end of his game down. The song itself is a clever, lightweight, hip-hop number about his hair--his indecision about its style (What the heck am I to do with my hair?"), his description of it (My hair's like Kramer") and his defense of it (I ain't bald like Fester and Kojak"). Beyond that, I don't know what to tell you. Call 345-UGLY.

What's in a name, you say? The only maniacal thing 10,000 Maniacs ever did was let Natalie Merchant wear stupid hats. Likewise, Deadly Arnaz is about as deadly as a saucer of milk. And the humor hinted at in its name shows up in its lyrics about as often as "babalu" does--never! This tape weds Spin Doctors grooves to Michael Hutchence-ish vocals and, like INXS, this band's best songs are the ones that steer clear of sermonizing and self-importance. If you see the group live, listen for the rocker "Joleena" and an acoustic ballad titled "Grind," which is neither about the club at 24th Street and Camelback nor the local fanzine, but rather about working at a mill. No number.

Speaking of mills, a rather run-of-the-mill heavy-metal tape arrived courtesy of Feel. Despite some inspired moments of fury that recall early Jane's Addiction, Feel more often sounds as if it's grappling for subject matter. On "Hero," the singer goes on and on about wanting to be "untouchable." That's heroic? On the similarly imaginative "Disillusioned," he repeats the phrase "something's going on" over and over. Unfortunately, nothing ever happens, despite his yelling "wa-wa waaaaa!!" as if he's running barefoot on a bed of hot coals. But even that's preferable to when he leaves the security of his higher register and ends up sounding like an agitated Marty Balin. Try, try again. Call 224-5568.

There's a reason there aren't any R.E.M. tribute bands--there're enough facsimiles out there already. Tempe's Postvale Road sounds like a young group just starting down that often-traveled road. Yes, the Ghost of College Alternative Music's Past (re: that darn jangly-guitar sound) tries to assert itself again, but the songs have choruses rousing enough to help you forget that. And mysterious titles such as "Song V" and "Kirf the Mirf" promise interesting lyrics, even if you're not sure what they are. Though there's nothing earthshaking here, there isn't anything really bad to say about the tape, either.

Who'd be foolish enough to say anything bad about local rap group Brothers Grimm? On "3D," the Brothers give New Times contributor David Koen a high-five for his favorable write-up, so I'm not about to piss them off and blow my only chance for hip-hop immortality. Besides, the same song extols the virtues of handgun shot practice and the riddling of holes in R.E.M. and Clapton albums that don't have any good sampling possibilities. Flex-All, No-Doz and Piehead keep their inventive raps under three and a half minutes, ensuring you'll be left wanting more. Check out Brothers Grimm. You'll live happily ever after if you do. Call 892-4330.

There are no storybook endings for the Subterraneans and their excruciatingly unlistenable tape, unless you value music by how fast it can clear a room. If you need a worst common denominator, picture Alex Chilton reading first-draft sophomoric poetry over crappy performance-art music. It sounds as if the biggest artistic decision being made is whether to scrape the guitar strings for five minutes or eight, just to see if the listener can stand it. Saturday Night Live's Leonard Pinth-Garnell would have no problem throwing this "Bad Avant-Garde" tape in the Dumpster, but smart reviewers will just tape better stuff over it. Call 968-7459.

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