Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World
(Fueled by Ramen)

Local bands haven't gotten much love from major labels lately. Jimmy Eat World is relatively lucky, since it hasn't been axed like so many other Valley bands, but the band's crystalline new LP, Clarity, has been sitting on the shelves at Capitol Records since last summer and isn't expected in stores until March.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Eat World has released a self-titled EP on a Florida indie, containing two tracks from Clarity, "Lucky Denver Mint" and "For Me This Is Heaven," as well as a demo version of Clarity's "Your New Aesthetic" and two self-recorded tracks.

The singles from Clarity are two of the album's most brilliant moments, so it's all the more surprising that Capitol allowed itself to be usurped. Both songs sport sterling production, with subtle multitracking and vocal overlays embellishing the band's maturing pop sensibility. Both the piano and the "can you still feel the butterflies?" chorus of "For Me This Is Heaven" inflate the song to proportions lush enough to accommodate a love-smitten teen anthem.

The demo of "Your New Aesthetic," a stripped-down, premature counterpart to the version on Clarity, is barely recognizable in its subdued, dreamy form until the closing "sing now, while you can" refrain. On "Softer," the band approximates a '90s New Wave/pop vibe, with singsong vocals and watery keyboards looming over the stuttering guitars. The fifth track, "Rollerqueen," is front man Jim Adkins gone solo, mixing a slow collage of tinkling guitars, radio static and constant humming with his unmistakable soft crooning.

More than a Clarity primer, this EP stands on its own as evidence of Jimmy Eat World's expanding creative parameters.

--Brendan Kelley


One senses that all those social critics shocked by Marilyn Manson's wardrobe and makeup would forgive everything after five minutes alone with BLESSEDBETHYNAME. Manson may flirt with the dark knight from time to time, but when BLESSED singer Eddie Kelly hits full stride, he sounds like a man possessed. The inevitable question is: possessed by what?

See, the guys in BLESSED aren't shy about their penchant for bizarre ritualistic sacrifices and S&M theatrics, but they're a bit more coy about whose name they're actually blessing. This much, though, is safe to say: When Kelly howls on the typically chaotic "Blood Puppet Ritual" that he's "cut out your hearts and sewn them to your bellybuttons/Christened in blood," he's probably not stealing the hearts of the Celine Dion crowd.

BLESSED is a band so outrageously affected, pretentious and over the top that its pseudo-violence almost takes on a charming innocence. Almost, but not quite. While its solid musicianship reveals itself on occasion (e.g., the relatively sedate "Vestigal," or the aggro stomper "Vanity of the Leper Queen"), most of the songs are played at such breakneck speed, with Kelly screaming to the point of reflux, that musical issues become secondary. It isn't about whether you enjoyed this stuff, it's about whether you survived it.

In live performance, the whole package can be pretty riveting for anyone who likes a bit of the old blood-puppet showmanship with their slamming industrial goth-rock. On disc, however, something's clearly missing. It's a bit like hearing the audio from a Wes Craven horror film, without the picture. Maybe this CD needed to be a CD-ROM.

--Gilbert Garcia

St. Madness
God Bless America
(Nasty Prick Records)

Prophet, the front man for local metal veterans St. Madness (formerly known as Crown of Thorns), has more on his mind these days than black magic and crypt keepers. Opening with a sample of Bill Clinton taking the oath of office, Prophet and his bandmates launch into the album's title song, a four-minute State of the Union address with fat, buzz-saw guitar riffing.

Prophet rails against Clinton in no uncertain terms, in a song that was actually written well before the Lewinsky scandal broke: "Welcome to the United States/Home of the free and the brave/Where we elect a Commander-in-Chief/Who's a draft dodgin' pussy slave." As a presidential analysis, it's no threat to David Maraniss, but give Prophet credit for not mincing words.

The sense of betrayal continues with "Sexual Abuse," which broadens the focus by lobbing a grenade at the declining ethics of American men.

From there, God Bless America descends into the pit of hellfire that has endeared this band to Mason Jar regulars for years. New guitarist Dr. Frankenshred spits out guitar mayhem with a velocity to rival the late Randy Rhoads, and Prophet's doomsday growl is the very sound of uncontrolled rage. The formula varies little from song to song (recalling the early fury of Metallica), and Prophet's voice--like that of Metallica's James Hetfield--is really only effective when it's expressing anger. But this band isn't really about originality or eclecticism; it's about using heavy rock to fuel the dark fantasies that have always inflamed the loins of suburban adolescents.

The group is at its most interesting when it finds a way to merge its longtime horror fixation with a sense of social commentary. "Trapped" starts out as a familiar Halloween scenario of monsters running amok, before Prophet reveals that crystal meth is what's behind all these nightmarish visions. At its best--when Prophet's bile brushes up against Frankenshred's flash--as on "Waiting to Die" or "Ice Pick," St. Madness actually gives you pause for thought while you're banging your head.

--Gilbert Garcia


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