As far as bands with unassailable names go, you don't get any better than Awesome. See how we've bolded the word Awesome right at the top of this paragraph? Every reviewer writing up this band's debut CD or one of its shows is gonna be doing the same thing whether they think their music is a steaming plate of tripe or not. Luckily, we won't feel too foolish since Awesome is nay bad, and its six-cut EP, We Are Police, offers power-trio prowess. Singer Jordan Jackson displays a Zack de la Rocha knack, while drummer Brian Borneman and bassist Josh Giebel match his sense of shakeup with similar rage, agitation and precision that could venture headlong into the direction of fusion or Rush if it isn't checked regularly. (www.awesomemusic.org)
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As far as bands with dimwitted names go, Stupid Dummy Head has lasted for a surprisingly long time. An attempt by this Tempe trio to relocate in California a few years back failed to stick, and you can't help but think that the cover art of its most recent, Surf Monkeys With Handguns, might be a delayed reaction. Yep, it's exactly what you Lancelot Link fans would've expected the graphics to be, and it's as silly as the opening track, an imbecilic if infectious rocker called "Banjo," where singer Tracy Ellegard confesses, "I'm not the most passionate guy, but the banjos made me cry," and the guys respond with a decisive "yeah no yeah yeah no no." Not long after comes a droll cowboy number, "Horse Named Dog," that manages to squeeze in retarded references not only to Waylon and Willie but also to country's odd man out, Charley Pride. Once the tongue-in-cheek stuff is out of the way, the band turns in its best material, like the grungy and accusatory "Full Circle" ("Such a drag to see you/You fucked him!"), and "Box," a midtempo rocker on which Ellegard announces he wants to start a family, presumably with an inflatable doll -- who else would he keep in a box beside his bed? To the band's credit, this song is not played strictly for laughs. Plus, there are personal, poignant numbers like "Tonight" and "I'm Coming Home (Sweet Home Arizona)," where Ellegard begs, "Don't tell anyone." Truly, there's never anything less than catchy on this full-length, and "The Need," a number that's both hilarious and troubled, has its singer rolling another number on the couch and asking himself, "Why am I so addicted to weed/I need it to get up, I need it to sleep."
Having concentrated on classical guitar for the past few years, James Linton has only recently returned to penning singer-songwriter pop tunes that showcase his strapping lead vocals. Check out his self-titled disc for tracks like "We Are One," where Linton's wailing achieves a strange but striking alchemy of Glenn Tillbrook of Squeeze and Steve Perry. His CD contains full band recordings that sound like his sidemen don't have to be shown where the classic rock station is on the dial, but if you come to see him at his two regular weekly gigs, you're gonna hear everything acoustic. Linton plays strictly as an instrumentalist at the Cave Creek Coffee Company on Monday nights, and performs his originals and covers at What's Your Beef? in Scottsdale every Tuesday night. According to his Web site, Linton's instrumental compositions are within frequencies "that achieve alpha and theta brain wave activity." This is known as "the Mozart Effect," which, as far as we know, isn't adversely affected if you mix it up with caffeine. Or spirits. Or Scottsdale. (www.jameslinton.com)
On its Grave 9 debut EP, The Mistake That Cost the World, Tempe's And the Hero Fails succeeds very admirably in several regards. First off, the band's got two kinds of contrasting vocals -- the requisite hardcore screamo growler and the nerdy knapsack rock vocalist responsible for any breathy or melodic content. And the Hero Fails also brings together Molly Hatchet twin guitars and typewriter bass-drum beats over drastic time changes and rising and falling dynamics on tracks like "A Word A Death A Dream," where singer Robert Rodriguez even works in the melody of "Christmas Time Is Here" from the Charlie Brown Xmas special -- and if Charlie Brown isn't a hero who failed miserably, I don't know who is. The band's CD release party is part of a Grave 9 band showcase on Friday, December 10, at the Clubhouse in Tempe. (www.andtheherofails.com)
And now we pause for a word about Jenna's Arrival -- Anthony, Mike, Tyler, Eric and Rob -- because it's 2004 and last names are so 1991. Jenna's influences span the narrowing gap between emo and progressive rock -- because it's still 2004 and I've just received a notice that it's now officially okay to say you like Rush on your Web site. Awesome news! Singer Anthony has an appealing Robert Smith yelp that solidly sells the title track of the band's five-song EP Who Wants to Know, but it's the hurt-and-puzzled-by-girls anthem "The Righteous Ones" that displays his most winning exasperation. "Where do they come from?" he demands to know, with a catch in his throat that fills in any and all "what-the-fuck" blanks. You girls are killing him! Other things to expect at a Jenna's Arrival show: drummer Rob as a versatile second lead vocalist, with a high-register growl and a deep timbre that recalls the mellow bellow of that guy from Crash Test Dummies at its lowest ebb; and guitarist Tyler working out new stage moves after recovering from a twisted ankle. If you join the street team now, you get free merch and a pizza meet-and-greet with the Jenna men themselves! (www.jennasarrival.com)