A punk rock club with its own record label promises great things, and that's just what Rogue Records -- named after the Scottsdale nightspot -- aims to do. Of course, its first release by The Half Empties isn't going to reinvent the punk prototype of loud and fast tunes, but that's fine with us. And Alex Empty's vocals are mixed several notches below the guitars to make the six strings sound even louder. If Empty wasn't manning a guitar, we probably wouldn't be talking about recessed vocal tracks, but since no self-loathing punk wants to be the one to turn down his Les Paul, it's understandable. Hell, Glass Hero Keith Jackson mastered the thing, and who's about to tell him the guitars need to be on eight? But this muffled approach does a disservice to the lyrics of "Drug of a Nation" (with its fetching "She loves America" call-and-response to Empty's every indecipherable snarl). The effect is not unlike going to the Rogue with ear plugs -- you almost feel as if you're eavesdropping on a show. But the thing rocks with semaphore signal guitar parts and authoritative vocals that sound as if they're challenging conventional non-punk wisdom most of the time. Did someone say "Oi"? (www.halfempties.com)
Used to be, when three out of four members of a band thanked God before Dean Markley Strings or Mom and Dad in their liner notes, cries of "Christian Rock" were sounded and visions of Stryper in bee costumes hurling Bibles at you were hard to shake. Nowadays, accomplished bands like Further Seems Forever and Dashboard Confessional removed the stigmata stigma with their brand of inspirational God rock, or what we like to call "He-mo." Achilles never says it's Christian rock, but its debut album, This Autumn Burns, feels like it could be. Achilles takes to task those who are in denial or who "emit a force of evil for eternity," and several songs have the ambiguous love message ("All I want is you, Oh God what do I do") that made Cartman's Faith + 1 band such a hit in South Park. But ultimately what sells the band is its high energy throughout, particularly the pummeling pronouncements of Achilles' kinetic drummer Jason Root (who even solos against some rudimentary piano on his showcase piece, "54:40"). Incidentally, the guy who didn't thank the Lord in the liner notes wasn't second chair guitarist and vocalist Mike Allison, who recently left the band, but bassist Dan Gerbarg, who thanks his family, his bandmates and, most important, himself "for rocking so hard!" (www.achillesmusic.com)
Broken Poets is the group fronted by songwriter/singer Tim McDonald, who has won several songwriter competitions that have placed him on a KZON Radio Compilation CD with Our Lady Peace, Third Eye Blind, and Everclear, and sent him to ASCAP's Pop Songwriters Workshop in NYC. McDonald's songs connect on several levels -- he's got a nasal delivery that makes him sound like everyman, and a prose style that makes him sound like everyman finally speaking up about his lot in life. He also works in skillful details like, "I'll stop in this place where the drains are a hundred years old," making you know that all the action isn't taking place inside his skull. Heavyweight session players, whose collective credits include Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Fuel, and Alice Cooper, provide a stirring foundation for the mostly rocking songs on his fine Reincarnation CD, produced by Clarke Rigsby and released by Hayden Ferry Records. (www.brokenpoets.com)
Apparently, Mesa's masked garage rockers Thee Oh Nos have rereleased their self-titled CD, so an update is in order. Wearing black ski masks in three-digit temperatures hasn't won them any respect, and girls still don't corner Mr. Moto Ohno, Drain Ohno, King Sunny Ohno and Sumo Ohno after a show for their phone numbers. But they do fulfill a Farfisa organ void this town has suffered since the Hypno-Twists packed it up, so maybe their beer-fueled timing is spot-on. Check their Web site to see Drain Ohno assist Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, and to read the misspelled slogan, "Churin' Out The Hits Since 1997"! (home.earthlink.net/~punko/index. html)
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