Music News


As promised, here is the second half of the local tape and CD roundup, the first installment of which ran in February. Given the volume of local music we've been receiving, this feature may have to become a continuing series. To those bands wondering where the reviews of their cassettes or CDs are-hold on. The next set of reviews, due in May, will focus on metal and hard rock. If you have a band that fits into either of those genres, and you have a tape that the public can buyÏno demosÏsend it in.

(local tape)

It's time for a new music label. We need something like post-New Wave hard alternative" or hard-punk alternative rock" to designate the growing number of bands that take heavy guitars from punk, their sense of melody (and willingness to strum) from alternative and arena moves from hard rock.

Saliva Tree is a local band that blends all of these into a sound it calls its own. On this self-produced, five-song cassette, the band mixes rockers like Shaved Clean" with softer numbers like Those With Wings"-which includes (gulp) a violin-keyboard sound. Overall, it's likable, listenable stuff despite the sound's being less than state of the art. The vocals are decent and the guitar work rarely misses a beat.

Since no band members' names are listed on the tape or the accompanying letter, I can't mention them here. I realize it's cool to separate the art from the artist, but some concessions to reality must be made. The cover art that came along with this tape, a sketch of Saint Grootveld playing lawn darts on water, is especially hip.

BRICK CHAIR Electric Heat Rock
(Primary Records)

What does an alternative band with a female vocalist who likes to wail and get weird remind you of? If you say Caterwaul, you are correct. It's unfair to make such comparisons between local and national acts, but in this case the similarities are hard to overlook. Led by vocalist Fearn Smith, Brick Chair rocks out harder and heavier than Miss Betsy and her compatriots, but the overall effect is the same. On the whole, this 11-song cassette is well-produced and well-played. Dropping tunes like the cliched Tears of Steel" wouldn't hurt. The band is at its best when it gets up and runs, as it does on The Well." Guitarist Guy Weigold is undeniably a very talented player.

I just wish Brick Chair would put Portent Hue away for a while and see what happens.

God Bless the Chingaderos
(local tape)

You've gotta love these guys. Besides their profane name-no, it's not in the Spanish dictionary-they've got an attitude. An attitude that music is fun. An attitude that, in the overcrowded world of sloppy garage bands, the key is not to take yourselves seriously. Most of what's on this eight-song cassette is good-time alternative mash-'n'-bash rock that has the same raw-and-raunchy charm the band's live sets manage to generate. The group's happy-go-plucky spirit and schizoguitar explorations, like the instrumental ÔOf Gila Monsters and Horned Toads," lift it above the crowd. So do Stacey Van Horsen's vocals. They add the final grungy touch to a gritty stew.

I can't say why this band appeals to me. The songs aren't especially memorable. The playing is just so-so. If you're looking for subtlety and finesse, search elsewhere. But if getting hit by a bus driven by Foghorn Leghorn sounds appealing, then you may find an appreciation for the Chingaderos.

(local tape)

A longtime fixture on the local jazz/pop scene, this ten-piece band works in the groove pioneered by Little Feat and Average White Band in the late Seventies and early Eighties. The problem is, this is the Nineties and we've heard it all before. To make matters worse, the Groove Merchants don't have any shining tunes like Cut the Cake" to knock you over. Don't get me wrong; the five songs here are all well-groomed dance numbers that I'm sure play well to the Top 40 set. Songs like Kid Groove" or Girl's a Walkin' Party" are funky, horn-heavy dancefests that neither move nor annoy. In fact, after a half-dozen listens, I couldn't come up with a compelling reason to either like or dislike this tape. THE RETREADS Play With Your Poodle

(local tape)

Blues bands tend to fall into two categories: incredible" and the rest." Incredible bands have record deals, national tours and at least one bona fide instrumental virtuoso.

Trouble is, there ain't many incredibles" out there. Most of the blues bands in the world fall into the rest" category. Within that crowded group, however, are acts that may someday make the jump to the next level. If this new nine-song cassette is any indication, the Retreads are ready for that leap. With a tasteful selection of covers of classic songs by Jay Hawkins, Tampa Red and Elmore James, Play With Your Poodle is solid electric blues all the way. Instrumentally, Mike Lewis is a soulful guitar player and Lars Gandil's harpwork is always on target. Now, if they could just find that blowout virtuoso...

(Orphanage Records)

When do keyboard shadings, processed voice samples, animal noises and other sound errata become music? When are they just tedium? Peter Petrisko Jr. and the rest of the Valley's small but lively experimental-music community are determined to find out.

Petrisko's group" (used here in the very loosest sense of the word) is called Hernia Retraction Accordion. It specializes in multimedia installations that feature slides, still photographs, film, groaning keyboards and mysterious percussion. Because we're only getting the audio portion of the program here, it's tough to judge exactly what these sounds do in the context they were created for.

On Into Excess, Petrisko and company have worked up five pieces that are more akin to symphonic movements than the kind of cuts we've come to expect from music albums. As for formal musical structures, there aren't many here. Most of the music" comes from Michael Brito's guitar. Into Excess is a dense work that seeks to create textures and to communicate certain messages.

But outright pretentiousness hovers over all of HRA's work and smothers anything the group is trying to accomplish. A piece like Into Excess," a title that sums up the group's intellectual direction, is nothing more than self-indulgent noise.

Pushing out the edges of music is an admirable undertaking, and HRA gets kudos for that. The results, however, aren't always listenable. A good example of the strengths and weaknesses of this group-and experimental music in general-can be found in this tape's final cut, Full Circle." After opening with Brito's guitar playing a gentle melody over electronics with a sound like running water, the piece turns into a monologue about a bird and ends with this pearl of wisdom: When the song died, the man died. Get it?" It's HRA at both its most accessible and most pretentious.

Like most avant-garde groups, HRA has grand ambitions and a need to break the rules. The impulse may be admirable, but the execution falls short of the mark.


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Robert Baird