Desert Discs

The promised reviews are here at last

Victor J. Palagano III
Lucid Dreaming
(O(h)m Productions)

In the netherland between Yanni and Shadowfax lie the unusual dreamscapes of24-year-old Victor Palagano. Built on mountains of guitar and piano improvisation, and tastefully adorned with samples of waterfalls and thunderstorms, Lucid Dreaming is an insomniac's blessing. This recording puts you to sleep, but in a good way--and isn't that what adult contemporary is all about?

The most compelling of the 14 instrumentals here is "My Mountain," which opens with a pressing guitar line that conjures the authoritative precision of Joe Satriani. Softened by downy piano lines and voices slipped onto the ends of phrases like satin sheets, "Mountain" rises like a new-age fugue.

Although most of Lucid is similar fodder for reverie, Palagano's hard-rock schooling in bands including New York's Epitaph and the Valley group Firedancer surfaces in the final seconds of the album, when he opens the distortion on his guitar to full throttle. The effect is that of a giant door slamming shut, yanking the listener back from the land of Nod.--Leigh Silverman

Naked Prey
And Then I Shot Everyone
(Epiphany)

This is, hands down, the best-titled Desert Disc we've come across this year. Lucky for Tucson's Naked Prey, most of the tunes live up to its malevolent promise. Front man Vann Christian is no disgruntled postal worker, but he delivers on this latest installment of Epiphany's ongoing campaign to bring desert rock to, uh, the desert.

One time I posed the question, "What is 'Desert Rock,' anyway?" to a longtime Valley resident while a band pegged as an example of said genre flailed away on a nearby stage. His answer sounded like directions from a gas station attendant: "You hear that E minor chord? You'll be hearing a lot of that, but keep on going and you'll eventually get to a lot of D, followed by G."

There's more to Desert Rock than that. It's a music of quiet desperation, fueled by the lazy realization that you can't change the world, so you might as well redecorate the inside of your liver. Nowhere is this depressing notion better illustrated than on Prey's "Lucky Lager," which is like a Nineties update of the Amazing Rhythm Aces' "Third Rate Romance," except Naked Prey's low-rent rendezvous turns out to be a car parked in a truck stop. Worse, Mr. Christian doesn't even know whether strands of his nocturnal companion's hair in his sleeping bag mean she slept with him or just passed out there.

"That's How Much I Love You" manages a tasty alliance of Captain Beefheart and the Stones ("If I had a nickel, I'd tell you what I'd do/I'd spend it all on bubblegum and stick it on you"), while Shot Everyone's closer, "Dilionious Skunk," recalls the playful experimentation of the last few Tom Waits releases. A little off-putting at first, And Then I Shot Everyone ultimately wins you over simply because Naked Prey doesn't sound like it cares if you're impressed or not. And that's impressive.--Serene Dominic

Satellite
Satellite
(self-released)

It's with a reluctant knife that this sacred cow is slain, but here goes: Satellite, an excellent live band and staple of the Tempe scene, has gone to great trouble and expense to effectively channel every boring moment from the Crash Test Dummies discology (no small feat) onto one CD.

The nicest thing I can say about this release is it's an EP; a full-length dose likely would have sent me into a coma. It's hard to say what's worse: Stephen Ashbrook's overused high-tenor breaks, his annoying guitar solos or his infuriatingly trite lyrics. What's certain is that everything on this album is weighed down with chains of calculated sincerity. The guitars are so, so sincere. As are the drums, the production, the lyrics. The whole recording sounds like it was designed not to repel anyone, which is, in itself, repulsive. Satellite would have benefited greatly from a shot of pure VU-style cynicism. Plus a nice new distortion pedal.

The shame of it is, there's a good band in there trying to break out: The promising bass/guitar duet on the menacing "E" is completely washed away by bland lyrics about going to church. Ashbrook's voice is a subtle instrument with a wide range (as evidenced by "Sometimes Just One Time"); it's just that he seems to have nothing to say (as evidenced by "Sometimes Just One Time"). And there's no excuse for Allman Brothers excursions like "Watch You Through Your Window," a song about voyeurism that is all-too-literally an empty wank fest, with a trite finish straight out of Guitar magazine's 1978 phrasebook.

Two final suggestions to Ashbrook, et al.:
1. Using your talent to such trivial ends is a sin. Take note of Hootie and the Blowfish, a good band seduced by the dark side of the force that's sure to go straight to hell.

2. Eliminate the word "baby" from your lyrics, except when referring to an actual infant. The last artist to convincingly use the word "baby" was Peter Frampton, and one of him was more than enough.--Jon Kinzler

Bob Bingham
Alone at Last
(Mitawan)

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