It used to be that the most ironic thing in my music collection was my LP of A-Tom-ic Jones, with the swivel-hipped singer posing in front of a bloody red mushroom cloud while autographing "Best Wishes" -- it's a safe bet the previous owner wasn't Japanese. Now comes this Battle Hardened CD from Mesa hardcore group Trench that pens thanks to moms and dads over skulls and bones of war dead who have no family and friends any more (pause to sulk a moment). Trench's military graphics aren't exploitation for exploitation's sake -- these guys support the troops so much they held a CD release party on Armed Forces Day, allowed fans with a military ID in free, and had a mobile recruiting station on-site at Hollywood Alley to enlist future Trench cover stars. Although the music is typical hardcore, the rants take on an endearing, tough-for-your-own-good drill-sergeant quality: "Go away somewhere and lick your wounds, you're a first class pain in the ass," and "I'll take your freedom away." But Trench does have its less trenchant side too; witness "Smooth," which sounds not like Rob Thomas but like that dungeon-voiced guy from the Crash Test Dummies (trench.indiegroup.com).
It's no surprise when bands with multiple writers break up, and local faves the Heartgraves were hardly an exception. On the one extreme, you had Andrew Lockwood churning out touch-sensitive piano ballads, while on the other you had Johnny Bionic, charging like a shirtless party animal and leaving no table of drinks unturned. The inevitable split had quite a liberating effect on both factions. Lockwood, free to pursue multiple keyboards and heightened sensitivity, formed Dolphins Kill For Love and just released an exquisitely pretty single, "If I Could," while Bionic and PJ Heartgrave formed The Eleven Forties and unleashed their love offering to the gods of thunder, beer, and rock 'n' roll. With the solid, rocking Troy Gag of Quarter Inch Crown on axe, Bionic is finally free to put down the guitar and go full-bore as maniacal front man -- and he's no bore, landing somewhere between Iggy Pop and Handsome Dick Manitoba, injecting "Yeaaah" and "Nooooo" at the end of every appropriate line. The band previewed its five-song EP, Get the Meat Ready, by mailing out an mp3 a week leading up to its release. Paying customers should note the advantage of cranking hedonistic anthems like "Grab it and Go" and "(My Baby Has a) Fake ID" in the car instead of sitting like a wuss at a computer. And for those of you without a car, Bionic has written "Red Line Bus," the first song about the futility of waiting for Phoenician mass transit to arrive ("Red Line bus, WHAT ABOUT US?!").
The Secret Life of Painters also has an EP out, with 11 songs. That's because the average track clocks in at a minute and a half, and a few song sketches come in under the minute mark. Recorded over a two-year period two years ago, The Sound of Your Chains EP is more the starting point of a band that's moved on than it is an accurate picture of where the band's at currently (bassist Dan Cortez is only listed as playing tambourine). But still, I like these lo-fi revisits and impressionistic word jumbles, like "Guy Bowcock's Second Coat," and "Fast Black Rats," the closest thing here to a radio-friendly cut (well, "Redefine your acronym, climb into your bastard skin" is shower singing, anyway). John Hoffman (very formerly of Pine Wyatt and Red Shifter) is in fine form here, tossing out the kind of non sequiturs you'd expect from a guy who fronted a Guided by Voices tribute band (three-fourths of Secret Fox make up this outfit). The group has a new seven-inch that's awaiting payment at the pressing plant, but you can hear and see a video of "Hold Your Flashlight" at secretlifeofpainters.com.
Longshore has a nondescript band name and CD cover art that looks like something you'd expect pool-cleaning tablets to be packaged in. But what goes a long way in making up for it are those precision harmonies, and synth lines that suggest lushness without detracting any punch from the guitars. The band describes itself as Brit-pop, but think the romanticism of Prefab Sprout, and Belle and Sebastian, more than anything else currently flying under the Union Jack. Longshore even captures the sound of some long-lost 1983 Cure-meets-OMD gem on "In My Head." In an amazing burst of enterprise, the band has only been together three months, but fans of 86ed Valley units might recognize the players even if Longshore's Web site doesn't name the bands. See the group live at the Paper Heart on Friday, July 1 (longshoremusic.com).
You probably have condoms in your wallet older than any individual member of Split the Enemy -- drummer Skyler Martin is 13, while guitarist Zach Martin, bassist Landon Wiggs and singer Nick Charles were all safely born a few months into 1990. So it's no wonder that their influences hover between Blink 182, Lamb of God, and Anti-Flag. But while the local press can't resist pullquotes like "If we don't get good grades, we can't play" (see?), the music on this Gilbert band's Hope in Distance CD is no novelty. This music is expertly executed and sits comfortably next to anything you hear on KUPD. In fact, STE has been getting frequent airplay on the station's Red Radio Underground and In the Pit shows since late January. ("I haven't heard a local band this young so good since Jimmy Eat World visited me in the studio when they first started out way back when," says deejay Larry Mac.) Just curious, though: Has Nick Charles ever used his gut-wrenching, Satanic ralphing voice to stay home from school? (splittheenemy.com)
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Just as I was lamenting the paucity of new subject matter in rap, along comes these two Valley releases from Intrinzik and Goliath Monsignor. A lot has happened since Intrinzik's last CD, and on Tricks of the Trade he's eager to expose all the smoke-and-mirrors techniques rappers employ, from renting all the bling you see on videos, to beefing up vocals in ProTools, to reading rhymes off cue cards. Intrinzik is confident enough to tell listeners he works at Long John Silver's, frying up shrimp to pay his bills -- a bold confession that most rappers worth their weight in brags would take a bullet in the head before admitting. Like the fat girl who makes jokes about her weight before anyone else does, Intrinzik realizes that as a white rapper, he's an easy target as either an Eminem wanna-be or a Vanilla Ice second coming. As a result, he's constantly lowering the boom on himself ("This ain't rhythm and blues, this is a rhythm-less Jew") while simultaneously delivering the goods. Guest appearances include the Phunk Junkeez and Cappadonna of the Wu-Tang Clan (on the terrifically ominous "Lousy World"). And the credit-card cover art is a unique motif for INTZ's current independent status: "By using this card, the holder agrees to sign his life away to the music industry."
Not since Gravediggaz has anyone pursued gothic/horror rap with such malodorous relish as Ako Mack, a.k.a. Goliath Monsignor, on The Killa Phenomenal "Day One." There aren't any rap-battle appointments on the calendar for Goliath, who draws strength from every murder and war, and counts cannibals like Jeffrey Dahmer among his warriors. Sample threat: "When the cup of calamity runneth over, Goliath will feed/No being will be safe/None will survive and no world will regerminate . . . in nine days man will submit to the will of Goliath or die." And if you're a ferret, you're still not off the hook ("This is not exclusive to man but all beings in existence"). Doom was never more hilarious, and you'll probably see "Your suffering will be legendary in hell" bumper stickers if Goliath gets his minions to form a street team (hokispokisrecords.com).
Lastly, we turn to Shelby James, onetime member of Truckers on Speed, who teams up with Terry Garvin of the Zen Lunatics and Mark Kopenits of Grey Room Studios to form Shelby James & The Crying Shames for Downs on 9th, a no-nonsense set of acoustic rockers, highlighted by the slow and slide-guitar-haunted kiss-off, "Lettin' You Know" ("You can tell your mother that you found another/You can tell your friends that I got too high/Go back to school I'm sure they're waiting there for you") and the Skynyrd-ish drinking anthem, "Scarlet Harlot," which advises, "Fuck Nashville, c'mon let's dance." James doesn't have an expansive range (the laid-back cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" leaves the original's high notes and melody where they are), but it's an expressive one, capturing both the crushed hope and the cockeyed optimism of an Everyman who enjoys a good drink -- but who rarely stops at one.