TAPES IN THE MAIL

The box is full; time once again to throw the tapes in the machine and let the opinions spew out. But first, this: Apologies to Spinning Jenny; the title of the band's new CD is not Pi¤ata Full of Beans (as I wrote last week), but Pi¤ata Full of Bees. Of course, it wasn't my fault, that's what the press release said. I swear to God. But beans makes sense, you know? Now, here's Serene Dominic with a few reviews.

John Wright--lousy singer/songwriter or comedic genius? A tough call, but judging from his cassette titled Teenage Volleyballers, it's got to be the latter. Wright copyrighted this collection of songs way back in 1985 as part of a work-in-progress, a "video rock opera," he says on the tape's introduction. In purely musical terms, this is awful. As pure comic entertainment, however, this thing is so bad, it's brilliant.

Wright's unique vocal styling is hard to peg. It's sort of an evil hybrid of political satirist Mark Russell, Leon Redbone, Jim Backus, Bert from Sesame Street and most common varieties of sheep. His guitar technique is not much better; his chording is awkward at best. But Wright's tongue-in-cheek spoken introductions to each song give the impression that he's definitely in on the joke and is going to milk it for as much as you can stand.

The lusty, ten-minute title track takes place in Hawaii, the Orient and (according to Wright's intro) mostly in his mind. "If you'd be my teenage volleyballer, we'd have a ball tooo-night!" bleats the nasal-voiced troubadour in a staccato reminiscent of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35." Yet when he dips down to sing low on "tooo-night," it sounds as if Foster Brooks has swallowed a burp. "Company Town," a song Wright claims to have written for a female voice, has him pushing the dodgy limits of his range against a cheesy church organ.

Testing listeners' endurance is the tape's masterpiece, "Summer's Fantasies," a sprawling love sonnet about a beach baby that makes "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" seem like an exercise in brevity. What really slows this song down is that Wright is incapable of playing and remembering his own chord changes. "Fantasies" contains one of the most lugubrious choruses ever to grace our mailbox: "She's so near and yet so far and yet/She still seems near to me?/So far and yet so near and yet/She still seems far from me."

Talk about your Tantalus complex! There is intricate beauty in those lines, the audio equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing of a down staircase suddenly going up on itself. Not since Andy Kaufman read Tolstoy to his audience has there been anything this infuriating and hilarious at the same time.

You'll be powerless with laughter whenever Wright clears his throat to sing "skies so pearly bloooo" and then stretches that last note in a direction 90 degrees from where it oughtta be. Even better is the reverse side of the tape, which doesn't contain any John Wright at all, but does have what sounds like a Japanese thrash band. On one song, the vocalists are actually yelling something in English, and it sounds like "Baby biting the man! Baby biting the man!" If there's a God in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven with a sense of humor, we'll be getting double-bills featuring this sort of material in Phoenix real soon. Call 878-1377.

With fewer and fewer Valley clubs willing to book heavy metal, you've gotta admire bands like Bonedust for sticking to their guns. Truly authentic heavy metal is like professional wrestling--it's so removed from reality that its sheer artificiality forces you to pump your fists to it. Bonedust is about as artificial as metal can get. Most practitioners of the Ronnie James Dio school of high-dudgeon caterwauling have now dropped their voices to Burton Cummings levels (don't tell me Eddie Vedder didn't get anything from "American Woman") so they can pass for grunge. Yet Bonedust's lead-throated Colby Lewis is more than willing to scoop the wax outta your ears with a few well-placed high Cs. While the four songs on this homemade demo utilize drum machines throughout, the layered guitars are very much what you'd come to expect from the genre that spawned the air-guitar solo. Cheesy tradition is all with these guys; check out the trio's publicity still (skintight jeans, black leather jackets, long hair; one guy even looks like one of the Nelson twins). They could be poster boys for Trails. Rock on, dudes. Call 497-5654. Tempe's Zen Lunatics broke up a few months ago but have now thankfully regrouped and created a sunny, three-song demo. If the thing were a few degrees filthier, though, it wouldn't be hard to imagine a song like "I've Only Got Eyes for You" on a Nuggets compilation. Here, vocalist/guitarist Terry Garvin tries dissuading his intended from going out with another guy by pointing out that "He's got eyes all over his head, but I've got only two." And Garvin's not talking about just any eyes. He's got "eyes the size of lemon pies for you," for Chrissakes! The tape's 12-string-guitar-driven opener, "When You're Around," is sung by the band's other vocalist/guitarist, Chris Hansenorf, and recalls the easygoing pop musings of the Shoes and Let's Active. Both Hansenorf and Garvin wrote the third track "I Am a Sunset," which sounds like a spy-movie soundtrack but deals with a guy who goes down all the time (and that's all that I'll say about that one). Anyone who's seen the band's eye-catching gig posters knows it has a penchant for paying homage to cringe-worthy TV celebs. This month, a menacing-looking, Maude-era Bea Arthur works her blue-haired magic. When she stares down at you with her most disapproving "God'll get you for that, Walter Findlay" look, how you gonna not go see the next Zen Lunatic show? Zen Lunatics Fun Club: P.O. Box 659, Tempe, AZ 85280-0654.

According to this young Phoenix quartet's bio, "We Drink Rain plays groove-oriented rock that the members affectionately label as Geek Rock." Leave the labeling to us professionals, fellas! While this six-song cassette, titled Drip, certainly qualifies as geeky, people might not arrive at that conclusion quite as affectionately as the band does. Whenever someone describes his band's music as "groove-oriented rock," that usually means painstaking songwriting gives way to jamming, and improvising lyrics, over the same four chords. And jam the Drinkers do!

One such ponderous jam is "The Happy One," which contains the catchy refrain "Suck my life away!" Perhaps the only song in this collection that doesn't suck, however, is "SAM." This heavy number has one inventive tempo change that's head and shoulders above anything else on the tape. The singer's voice oozes bile, as if he's finally singing about something that matters to him, and that enables We Drink Rain to sound like a band that means business. The song's a kiss-off to some girl named Samantha, but you'll note the band spells her name in all caps, just like the computer virus. Look, they said they were geeks. Call 953-1829.

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