Modest Mouseketeers: What do you do when you start thinking musical creativity is a lost relic, when you realize that alternative is a long-dead buzz word, "rock" has gone the way of stale reunion tours, and pop is, well, the Spice Girls? You turn to the kids, the only ones you can count on to rescue the art of sonic construction (and I'm not talking about Beck).

Modest Mouse is three young'uns (vocalist/guitarist Isaac Brock is 21, bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green are both 19) from Issaquah, Washington, who're reinventing the standard for indie pop. As a follow-up to its awesome 18-song debut LP, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About (on Up Records), MM got together with Calvin Johnson to record a self-titled nine-song EP for K Records. It's a stunning platter of various pop stylings, ranging from the sinister screeches of "Dirty Fingernails" to the shut-up-and-dance riffs of "Summer" to the quietly depressing "Karma's Payment" (on which Brock sullenly mumbles "I am not who I want to be/I probably will never be"). Johnson's production and the boys' access to the toys in his studio keep a rhythmic, hip-hop-influenced groove going throughout the recording (three tracks are pure studio manipulation of other songs on the EP), though this won't be mistaken for Wu-Tang Forever.

The EP is just an appetizer for the next Modest Mouse effort, a double CD to be recorded with Johnson later this summer. Consider the last line on the EP an omen: "I could tell you, but it's a long story." (Up Records, P.O. Box 21328, Seattle, WA 98111-3328. K Records, P.O. Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98507)

Bigmouth strikes again: Cap'n Jazz, the early-'90s Chicago-based math-emo quintet, took punk rock to new levels of expression and instrumental complexity during its short life. Cap'n Jazz used algebraic timing tracks, schizo volume and pitch shifts, and near-Burroughsian lyrics (words as images rather than phrases) to create its one-in-a-million album Shmap'n Shmazz.

When Cap'n Jazz split, guitarist Davey vonBohlen went on to form melodic emo giants the Promise Ring, while brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella and Sam Zurick (drummer, vocalist and bassist, respectively) founded Joan of Arc. Thus far, JoA has released two seven-inches, the first on Jade Tree several months ago, the second--"busy bus, sunny sun"/"stemingway and heinbeck"--on Southern Records recently.

Joan of Arc transcends Cap'n Jazz's frantic anguish to linger on the more ambient side of experimentalism. "Busy bus, sunny sun" is a meandering minimalist lament sprinkled with samples of busy-phone signals and cartoon-character voices. "Stemingway and heinbeck" takes the sampling technique further with swirling off-the-beat whistles and tweets, plus a lyrical takeoff on the Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again" ("I'm 'bigmouth strikes again' and now I know how Morrissey felt"). JoA hasn't quite the talent of the members' former band, but it continues to take punk rock to never-before-seen dimensions. (Southern Records, P.O. Box 25529, Chicago, IL 60625)

Joan of Arc is scheduled to perform on Monday, June 30, at Stinkweeds Record Exchange in Tempe, with Jejune. Call for showtime.

Relaxing with KARP: From deep within the encrusted bowels of Olympia, Washington, KARP brings you the latest installment in its power-scare epic. The threesome's Self Titled LP has stripped sludge-core to its basics: muddy production that even the Melvins are above, enough repetitive power riffs to run a factory, and vicious, screaming vocals that are worthy of any grind-core band.

Is KARP just death metal for junior high indie-rock kids? Probably. But does it fucking rock? Definitely. When your girl/boyfriend's dumped you and you gotta let out some aggression before you drive your car into a concrete wall, this is the album you put on. When you've consumed way too much coffee and gotta clean your bathroom, this is the album. And when you just wanna piss off your parents, KARP is the band you blast through your speakers. (K Records)

Stinkin' promoters: Props go out to Stinkweeds Record Exchange in Tempe for providing a venue for a shitload of recent cool shows, including the Peechees, Elliott Smith, the Grifters, and Boys Life. Since the promoters and clubs in town aren't quite hip to what's going on in the indieground, Stinkweeds has picked up the slack, letting bands play on a tiny stage in a corner of the record store, with crowds of up to 80 kids packed around the record bins. I hear in some cities you can see the above-named bands in actual clubs where the group has room to jump around onstage, and where you can drink beer and sit on stools and stay there 'til 1 a.m. Here in Phoenix, I'm just stoked I can see these bands at all. Stinkweeds rules.

--Brendan Kelley

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