Servile or Survivor?

We find out which local CDs can pass our daunting challenge

For those of you going through Survivor withdrawal, this month's Mail or Muse has been conceived with your shallow needs in mind. If you ask us, that series signed off a few weeks too soon. What good is calling Richard Hatch a "survivor" and then shipping him home? Let him sweat it out in solitude for a few more lonely weeks and make him think about the people he voted off that sandy burg. Keep him marooned there with his useless millions like Thurston Howell III with no Lovey and watch the "Hey there, little buddy" jokes fly.

While all you homebodies were entranced by this televised revamp of Ten Little Indians, there are hundreds of bands you've been ignoring, all trying to survive on the local club circuit. And if these acts had only known that eating a rat or walking around nude was gonna do it for you, they would've put down their instruments years ago. Who knows, maybe we can help a few of them in that direction.

For our purposes, we're stranding eight Arizona acts on a mythical island called "Tempe," a harsh piece of land surrounded by Colorado sewer water and lots of microbrewed beer. Like the real Survivor, our tribal council will employ the most contemptuous criteria for voting off our castaways, be it lousy cover art, bad hygiene, hideous promo photos, or, of course, the usual inadequate singing, playing and writing. No one has immunity here, and we justifiably douse the tiki torches of all the bands, save one. And while our surviving band won't be walking off with a cool million, it won't be forced to drive away in that hideous-looking Pontiac Aztek, either. Actually, the winning band won't walk away empty-handed. Our "survivor" will receive a copy of the Survivor boxed set (courtesy of Scotti Brothers Records) featuring 37 different versions of "Eye of the Tiger."


Major Lingo
Pagan Moon
(Bee Butt Records)

Pros: When we pumped some longtime Phoenix residents for information about Major Lingo, most said this group has been around for ages -- as if that were some yardstick for quality. Or survival. We'll skip the band's hippie history and call attention to the impeccable lap pedal steel playing of Tony Bruno and the lush background harmonies as high points. And we might be alone on this one, but the bouncy "Reason" sounds uncannily like the Metropolitan Mattress radio jingle.

Cons: Most of the up-tempo numbers skank along to a faux rock reggae rhythm not heard since Men at Work. Instead of songs about vegemite sandwiches, we get ones with allusions to "child," "moon," "stars" and whatever else they're packing into Lucky Charms these days. The one track included for the purpose of injecting some levity into the proceedings ("No Time for Pottery") must have them rolling in the aisles at the co-op, but leaves our judges stone-faced. A word of warning -- real survivors don't let the drummer sing.

Hollow
Where's Larry?
(Hollow Music)

Pros: "$2.00 of every CD sold goes to Arizona Children's Charities."

Cons: Despite opening with a beefy number called "Lochness," the balance of these seven songs sound like 10,000 Maniacs, if they'd replaced Natalie Merchant with the singer from Spandau Ballet. (Please, no letters. We know who the guy is. The point is . . . who cares?)

More Cons: Hollow can't be trusted with percentages. Does this excerpt from their bio make sense to you: "Besides a few select interpretations (covers) Hollow only performs 100% original material"? Huh?

Still More Cons: Included at the end of the CD is a live song called "Adore," which was apparently recorded off a camcorder filming singer Ryan Rath's sister's wedding. Aside from some coughing at the beginning of the song and a misbehaving tyke making a little noise, there's little else in the way of audience response. But what really gets Hollow shipped off to another time zone is that the song fades out to the sound of a singlehand clap.

Why can't we hear the reaction to this historical live recording? Does someone shout something rude? Did everyone bum rush the wet bar? If this CD is ever rereleased with bonus cuts, will it include the Hokey Pokey?

Idle Bind
5-song demo
(self-released)

Pros: Minimal power-pop punk with as little window dressing as possible. Lyrics are simple, negligible and contradictory, including a song about firearms called "Guns": "Let's play, let's play, let's play with guns/Don't play, don't play, don't play with guns."

Cons: We cannot allow contradictory minimalists on the island, even if they are tight and energetic. We'd be in a real "idle bind" at mealtime: "Let's crack, let's crack, let's crack some coconuts/Don't crack, don't crack, don't crack the coconuts."

The Buggers
The Lorton Lurch
(self-released)

Pros: Only three songs, but what songs! The first two are slabs of punk-metal played as the gods decreed it should be. "The Lord of the Universe" simultaneously travels the high road ("I'll take you to my wonderland where everything is fine and grand") and an extremely low one ("You think my friends are nuts/Well, I'm telling you baby, you're just a fuckin' slut!") before dissolving in a Sam Kinison bitch harangue. On track two, "Space Fox," the band mounts a regal double-track guitar assault that should make Molly Hatchet's triple ax attack embarrassed enough to quit rock 'n' roll and go into the brick-hauling business.

Cons: The Buggers' band bio boasts that each of these Tampa refugees is "separately and collectively in trouble with the law in three east coast states" and for that reason are forced to perform in disguise. Among their crimes: destroying public property, auto theft, underage drinking, defecating in public, traveling with a minor across state lines, shoplifting, forcing an underage girl to use narcotics and alcohol, manufacturing and pushing narcotics -- and that's just the bass player!

When you hear caveman lyrics like, "It's not your face I want -- It's the body I see," you think these boneheads are unabashed misogynists. But one look at their prodigious rap sheet and you decide it'd be better to just let it slide.

Frankly, the only island these guys belong on is Rikers Island.

De Sade
Perverse Prayers
(self-released)

Pros: Billed as "Arizona's only death rock (gothic/hard rock/punk) band," we like the fact that they try to be evil but only come off as sinister as devil's food cake.

Cons: Singer Sarah Deathriage is a likable enough Siouxsie Sioux clone with an even more abstract grasp of pitch. If you were to press this four-song De Sade demo on vinyl, let it warp in the warm Arizona sun and thenslap it on the turntable, her singing would still be flat! But that's not the reason we're sending them packing. Any band that lists the Marquis de Sade in the album's "Thanks" credit really oughta surf the Net to learn more about the guy first.

J.D. Simo
Burnin' Live!
(self-released)

Pros: A homegrown Jonny Lang, Simo is a 15-year-old kid who plays and sings like Stevie Ray Vaughan, with Robin Trower-ish (read: Hendrix) flourishes on the slow numbers.

Cons: We're not sure how impressed we'd be with this record if it had been made by a 25-year-old. Remember how Silverchair wouldn't talk to the press when the baby-faced Aussies were still topping the charts? But as soon as the first serious pubic hair kicked in, no one would return their calls.

We're sure J.D. will be even more sensational in another 10 years, so we'll ship him off to some faraway university in the meantime.

Death Takes a Holiday
Academy 45
(Molusk)

Pros: Like Death himself, DTAH has been around for a while and thus is coming from a place of strength. Or maybe unlike the rest in this bunch, they've just gotten all their bad songs out of the way. Most of the cuts here are quite good, especially "The Man Memory," which sounds like Mike Ness singing a lost Who's Next track. Better still are Pete Hinz's nonsensical lyrics ("Sound, sound, sound, God just don't care/He sells his Friday night then wants all of mine to share") which make sense in a Robin Hitchcock, Lee Hazlewood sort of way.

Cons: On the otherwise fine Foo Fighter knockoff "Sad Luck Dead," they tell us to "be warned of those who sell." Yet out of the jewel case pops a three-panel shill sheet for Molusk Records merchandising. Admittedly, it's a duff excuse for booting them off the island, but if you want a real conflict of interest, New Times shutterbug Paolo Vescia took the band photos, and if these guys won, you'd surely scream "fix."

Arms of the Sun
Flux
(56 Street)

Pros: Imagine if T-Bone Burnett got angry at the world and, instead of doing what he usually does, he formed an "alternative fusion band" -- whatever that means. Here's a case where diversity isn't a dirty eight-letter word. Singer Michael Comunale also adds trombone and harmonica to the proceedings, which actually deliver on the promised acid jazz, lounge and urban/hard-core mix. Plus, how can you resist an album whose centerpiece is an eight-minute tirade against Phoenix's sorry bus system ("Another Song About the Bus")?

Cons: Our least favorite cut, "Mi Consuela Di Amor," is one the band has earmarked as the "standout" track, with a radio edit of the song also included. If Arms of the Sun is wise, it'll quickly cash in on the fleeting mainstream popularity of Latin music by releasing it to "party radio." If only Enrique Iglesias had the balls to scream "Where have you gone my Spanish oven cake?" and "How could you do this to me and Pepe, eh?"

The tribe has spoken. Final Survivor: Arms of the Sun

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