TAPES IN THE MAIL

On the folky side of the street, there's Gas Giant and the Outer Planets. Essentially the work of one Dan Downing, this vanity tape is aptly named The Vanity Tape. He sounds a little like Arlo Guthrie with Gary Lewis' limited range. For folk-rock, these songs are quite busily arranged, with digital keyboards. Also, Dan (I can't bring myself to call a grown man "Gas") tends to cram too many words into a line to make his point. But he sounds like a pretty sincere guy, and turns in several amusing observations like "Life is hell when you're a pinball machine." That, incidentally, is a song sung from the viewpoint of, yes, a pinball machine. Need something a little more--well, human, perhaps? "Domesticland" finds father Downing happy with his lot in life ("Boink the babe, teach the kids to shave, walk the dog in the rain"), but possibly extends the truth when he says he loves his wife to the hilt "with all 12 inches"! Somebody grab the Vanity Measuring Tape! Call 482-3447.

You're probably never going to hear Richard Dance's bar-bandish Demo on the radio, so, in a sense, he's more alternative than most alternative acts working today. But any nightspot with a two-drink minimum would gladly welcome this Dance music. Richard's four-song tape sounds somewhat like Huey Lewis and the News, if a sedate Jerry Lee Lewis were singing with 'em instead of Huey. The white-boy funk begins with "Fat Chance," a tune about two professional musicians of opposite genders trying to make a little music on the side. Even so, yuppies will instantly identify with the line "I gave her my business card, but I wanted a kiss." Even though Dance says he's 38 on "Wee J T," that's not stopping him from putting the moves on some 22-year-old tail. While others his age are getting in touch with their inner child, or with their feminine side, Dance is urging every sweet young thing to get in touch with his male side. Richard Dance sounds as horny as 76 trombones, so girls, beware--left to his own devices, he might try to give you a demo that has nothing to do with these four songs. Call 833-1183.

Last April, a six-song tape from Feel came in the mail and got a less-than-enthusiastic reception from yours truly. Now those same six recordings (possibly remixed or with other parts added) come with another nine tracks on a new CD, Zulu Time. Has inching six months closer to senility mellowed this writer or has Feel improved like sharp Cheddar cheese? Possibly both. The stuff that reminded me of Jane's Addiction ("What") still sounds great. The stuff that reminded me of Marty Balin ("Hero") merely grates, and the stuff that I was straddling the fence on benefits from the improved clarity of CD technology. As far as the new songs go, "Feel (Live Version)" is the best of the batch, heavy in a Zeppelin-Creamish sort of way, and "Emotional Fixtures" is not far behind. Well-played, and well worth inspecting live. Call 224-5568.

Another round and digital slab of music comes to us courtesy of Glendale's Difference Engine. Normally, synth duos are keyboard nerds who can't get other human musicians to flesh out their icy, antisocial ideas. The best moments on the band's CD, Connected, are when real drums and wires are being struck instead of octapads and DX1s. That's just a personal preference, but if you like the sound of a mosquito landing on a pocket calculator, these guys do the combination progressive rock/techno thing better than any aggregation I've chanced upon in Phoenix. One minor gripe: Whoever mixed this CD seems to favor keyboard voicings over human ones, so it's hard to know what these songs are about. One thing's for sure: It's not about sitting cozily by the fire with a warm glass of milk and cookies and a good book. It's the future, so get ready to feel uncomfortable! (No number.)

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