Mail or Muse?

Proving that the Voice still carries, we offer a roundup of the latest local discs filling our box

In 1994, New Times instituted "Tapes in the Mail," a regular column inviting local musicians to send in their demos for critical assessment. We were immediately inundated with cassette mailers from every corner of the Valley. This deluge was soon followed by angry letters from people who thought our duties in supporting local music should not include telling readers which bands to avoid at all costs.

Then in 1996, to accommodate the burgeoning digital revolution, we changed the feature to "Desert Discs." And again came criticism from you, cherished readers, whenever we pointed out that some of the music we received hadn't improved -- no matter how many copies were prepressed and shrink-wrapped. Even when we decided to run local CD reviews alongside national acts, still the letters of complaint came.

Now, it's the dawn of a new century, and we've decided to open up the floodgates once again. But be warned: While we hope to turn you on to as many unsung and unsigned heroes as possible, we won't be shy in steering you away from the dreck that inevitably find its way across our desks.

And for readers jonesing for the hazy AZ days of the long-lamented Music Voice -- the rawk/metal magazine run by legendary ediot J.J. Terre -- we have a special treat. As those who followed the poorly copy-edited adventures of the Voice will recall, no one was ever criticized on its pages if he or she bought an ad. While we haven't quite sunk to those depths, we have decided to resurrect the Voice's four criteria for judging local music.

a) We've never heard of this guy/these guys. (Translation: A subtle hint that they haven't bought an ad. Can also be interpreted to mean that the artist uses words too big for us to comprehend.)

b) It sounds like the Gin Blossoms. (Translation: Any music that's not heavy metal.)

c) It doesn't sound like the Gin Blossoms. (Translation: Any music that is heavy metal.)

d) It shows promise. (Translation: We really don't like this but we don't want to say anything bad about them, in case they want to buy an ad.)

And remember, if you have a DAT, CD, tape, Edison cylinder or any information on the whereabouts of J.J. Terre, please send it to Mail or Muse, c/o New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix, AZ 85002.

3-Song Demo
When something comes billed as a "Heavy Alternative Rap Project," you're entitled to your cynicism. Usually that's the description reserved for aging metal bands that sang of castles and dragons at the Mason Jar six years ago, now kicking back with an angry young man rapping about societal ills over hard-core sludge.

Track two, "Product of Society," could serve as that exhibit A, but S.I.O.P. front man Adam's rapid rhymes go by too quickly for you to actually figure out what's making his time bomb tick. You can just make out a bon mot like "My hood has more guns than roses," while the rest of it just shoots by like the fine print in a new-car ad. His overriding hostility is most clearly expressed on "Let It Out," where he promises some poor schlub a thorough ass-kicking, with Adam exercising his option to "make you my B-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-TCCCH!!!"

Rating: c) It doesn't sound like the Gin Blossoms.

Secular End
Legacy of Hypocrisy
(Relayer Records)
More of an anthology of demos than a genuine album, Secular End's Legacy of Hypocrisy follows them from a clutch of 1994 Philly hard-core recordings to a set of 1998 sessions at Chandler's Porcupine Studios. The latter tracks are co-produced by Robbie Watson (Cousins of the Wize), who tries to coax a more punk-pop sound out of the group. You could be less forgiving of Dan Artman's sharp singing or the band's by-the-book-punk rigmarole, but the saving grace of this CD is Dan "The Man"'s sense of humor. He concocts what might be the first alien-abduction punk song, "Martians," with its catchy "Don't breed with me" refrain. Elsewhere, on "Distress," he proves he's a fine screamer and gamely whines, "I'd blow my head off if I weren't afraid of guns" on the heartfelt "I Just Wanna Die."

Rating: b) It sounds like the Gin Blossoms.

Adam Dorfman
The Difference
(Psycho Poet Records)
You may find yourself looking for the exit signs after the first line of this Adam Dorfman disc: "Crimson hairline of a misplaced child in an age of California dreams."

Makes the crimson hairs on your neck stand at right angles, don't it?

The musicianship's solid, there's crystal-clean production and a cameo appearance by Francine Reed, local diva and backup singer for Lyle Lovett, but none of this can make palatable Dorfman's Dan Fogelberg-laries.

He keeps using the word "goddamn" for emphasis, and when he takes on the guise of a female junkie on "Sioux City Warrior," he exceeds the maximum dosage of earnestness: "Opium has set me free to live the life I choose/The TV is gone/Don't care where my next hit is from." Would the hits just keep on coming if the TV had stayed?

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