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Mail or Muse?

In 1994, New Times instituted "Tapes in the Mail," a regular column inviting local musicians to send in their demos for critical assessment. We were immediately inundated with cassette mailers from every corner of the Valley. This deluge was soon followed by angry letters from people who thought our duties...
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In 1994, New Times instituted "Tapes in the Mail," a regular column inviting local musicians to send in their demos for critical assessment. We were immediately inundated with cassette mailers from every corner of the Valley. This deluge was soon followed by angry letters from people who thought our duties in supporting local music should not include telling readers which bands to avoid at all costs.

Then in 1996, to accommodate the burgeoning digital revolution, we changed the feature to "Desert Discs." And again came criticism from you, cherished readers, whenever we pointed out that some of the music we received hadn't improved -- no matter how many copies were prepressed and shrink-wrapped. Even when we decided to run local CD reviews alongside national acts, still the letters of complaint came.

Now, it's the dawn of a new century, and we've decided to open up the floodgates once again. But be warned: While we hope to turn you on to as many unsung and unsigned heroes as possible, we won't be shy in steering you away from the dreck that inevitably find its way across our desks.

And for readers jonesing for the hazy AZ days of the long-lamented Music Voice -- the rawk/metal magazine run by legendary ediot J.J. Terre -- we have a special treat. As those who followed the poorly copy-edited adventures of the Voice will recall, no one was ever criticized on its pages if he or she bought an ad. While we haven't quite sunk to those depths, we have decided to resurrect the Voice's four criteria for judging local music.

a) We've never heard of this guy/these guys. (Translation: A subtle hint that they haven't bought an ad. Can also be interpreted to mean that the artist uses words too big for us to comprehend.)

b) It sounds like the Gin Blossoms. (Translation: Any music that's not heavy metal.)

c) It doesn't sound like the Gin Blossoms. (Translation: Any music that is heavy metal.)

d) It shows promise. (Translation: We really don't like this but we don't want to say anything bad about them, in case they want to buy an ad.)

And remember, if you have a DAT, CD, tape, Edison cylinder or any information on the whereabouts of J.J. Terre, please send it to Mail or Muse, c/o New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix, AZ 85002.

3-Song Demo
When something comes billed as a "Heavy Alternative Rap Project," you're entitled to your cynicism. Usually that's the description reserved for aging metal bands that sang of castles and dragons at the Mason Jar six years ago, now kicking back with an angry young man rapping about societal ills over hard-core sludge.

Track two, "Product of Society," could serve as that exhibit A, but S.I.O.P. front man Adam's rapid rhymes go by too quickly for you to actually figure out what's making his time bomb tick. You can just make out a bon mot like "My hood has more guns than roses," while the rest of it just shoots by like the fine print in a new-car ad. His overriding hostility is most clearly expressed on "Let It Out," where he promises some poor schlub a thorough ass-kicking, with Adam exercising his option to "make you my B-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-TCCCH!!!"

Rating: c) It doesn't sound like the Gin Blossoms.

Secular End
Legacy of Hypocrisy
(Relayer Records)
More of an anthology of demos than a genuine album, Secular End's Legacy of Hypocrisy follows them from a clutch of 1994 Philly hard-core recordings to a set of 1998 sessions at Chandler's Porcupine Studios. The latter tracks are co-produced by Robbie Watson (Cousins of the Wize), who tries to coax a more punk-pop sound out of the group. You could be less forgiving of Dan Artman's sharp singing or the band's by-the-book-punk rigmarole, but the saving grace of this CD is Dan "The Man"'s sense of humor. He concocts what might be the first alien-abduction punk song, "Martians," with its catchy "Don't breed with me" refrain. Elsewhere, on "Distress," he proves he's a fine screamer and gamely whines, "I'd blow my head off if I weren't afraid of guns" on the heartfelt "I Just Wanna Die."

Rating: b) It sounds like the Gin Blossoms.

Adam Dorfman
The Difference
(Psycho Poet Records)
You may find yourself looking for the exit signs after the first line of this Adam Dorfman disc: "Crimson hairline of a misplaced child in an age of California dreams."

Makes the crimson hairs on your neck stand at right angles, don't it?

The musicianship's solid, there's crystal-clean production and a cameo appearance by Francine Reed, local diva and backup singer for Lyle Lovett, but none of this can make palatable Dorfman's Dan Fogelberg-laries.

He keeps using the word "goddamn" for emphasis, and when he takes on the guise of a female junkie on "Sioux City Warrior," he exceeds the maximum dosage of earnestness: "Opium has set me free to live the life I choose/The TV is gone/Don't care where my next hit is from." Would the hits just keep on coming if the TV had stayed?

Clearly, the big bog is Dorf's lyrics, as we suddenly found ourselves rooting for him on "Jockey Full of Bourbon," with its "house is on a-fire and the children are alone" imagery -- until we remember it's a Tom Waits song. Goddamn!

Rating: d) It shows promise.

Davey Baby
4 Track Fever
(Sick Records)
You gotta love Davey Baby's portastudio portfolio of noodlings, even though every neuron in your brain tells you the reasons you shouldn't. Let us count the ways.

One, his guitar playing sounds like Robin Trower's wah wah pedal on a bender. Two, whoever's playing drums couldn't hammer a nail into the wall in time. Three, nearly 80 percent of all the lyrics are flanged and distorted to resemble a cabbie dispatcher from Mars. Four, the instrumental jams go nowhere, and when Davey sings, pitch becomes an abstract concept.

So where is the love?

First off, any guy who does all the CD artwork in pencil in this age of computer graphics is bucking for a Johnny Appleseed Award. And when Davey forgets about trying to sing and recites his tone poems over these haphazard jams, he achieves a Beck-ish authority. On "Beauty . . . Ricky Martin Ain't Gay!" we learn that Davey's ultimate babe would be a cross between Marilu Henner, Marie Osmond and Jennifer Lopez. Later he reveals that Ricky Martin isn't gay because it said so on the pages of Rolling Stone. "Me and Ricky Martin, we're exactly alike," croons Davey. "He wants to get married and have a huge family, just like me. The only difference is that he's Catholic and I'm a Mormon, he's Puerto Rican and I'm half Vietnamese and half white. But besides that we're exactly the same. We're both cool." Maybe, but Ricky Martin isn't cool enough to record songs like "Huck Finn's Down," "Francis Macomber Is Still Down" and "Peace Out, Holly Sanders."

Rating: a) We've never heard of this guy.How the hell did this get in here?

A Musical by J. Michael Lindberg
(January 14 & Company)
How the hell did this get in here?

Esther ain't no group like Blondie -- no sirree, it's an original musical by J. Michael Lindberg that tells "the story of a courageous young Jewish girl who saves her people from destruction during the reign of the mighty Persian empire!" This ain't no Tommy, either -- more like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, replete with the same overwrought theatrical singing you've come to expect from guys in robes and sandals. And it sure ain't a love story like The King and I. When King Xerxes gets snubbed by his uppity queen, he has her shipped out of the palace and picks a new one from the virgin pool.

Far be it for me to offer A&R advice to the January 14 label, but if they're looking for the breakout single, I say place your bets with Xerxes' rival, Haman. His "I Am Magnificent" has all that vainglorious boasting the kids dig in today's gangsta rap ("Worship me with your applause/Worship your new king and god"), plus the misogyny ("Ah! The harem girls/A thousand nights to forget"), and it's got the maniacal laughter that made "Wipe Out" such an across-the-board hit.

Rating: d) It shows promise.

Real Men Don't Sing
Rough Mixes

(1293 Music)
Don't be scared off -- Undertoe looks like ZZ Top might if the group decided to sport reasonably trimmed beards and start acting like responsible dads. So be it. Instrumental surf music is the stuff four out of five responsible dads listen to in their sport utility vehicles anyway. There's no "motherfuckin'" lyrics, for one thing, making it ideal listening for the whole family.

Undertoe sent us three CDs: a studio disc with note-perfect covers of "Penetration" and "Walk Don't Run," a 1999 full-length offering called Real Men Don't Sing and rough mixes of their spring 2000 sessions. Our favorite track is a tossup between "Irastafarm" -- which sounds like the Ventures playing reggae if it were the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of the Mind" -- and a version "Hava Nagila" played like it was "Miserlou."

Rating: b) It sounds like the Gin Blossoms -- with neatly trimmed beards.

Somebody's Closet
The Awakening
The bulk of this EP from Somebody's Closet is full of the same recycled alterna-clichés and just-getting-our-feet-wet wankings common to most bands in their infancy. Frankly, at this point, the group's bio/press kit is far more fascinating than its music (for instance, we find out that bassist Joseph Grace is originally a Kenosha, Wisconsin native who enjoys weightlifting, motorcycles and cooking -- "Let's welcome bachelor No. 2"). That is until the disc's final track, "Beautiful People"-- a song which name-checks Urquell [sic]. Despite the misspelling, we can only assume that the band is referring to Family Matters' wacky neighbor Steve Urkel, played with commanding authority for nine seasons by Jaleel White.

Unfortunately, the only reason the group uses the loveable character's moniker is because they can't find another word to rhyme with circle ("Pale skin, dark circles/Head spinning, feel like Urquell"). Inadvertently though, the group may have stumbled onto something. How about pushing the muse even further -- a full-length concept album built around ABC's T.G.I.F. lineup -- you know, Full House, Step by Step, Boy Meets World.

Hey, give us an angst-ridden rock anthem about the Olsen twins and watch the critical praise flow.

Rating: d) It shows promise.

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