The flyaway pages of the calendar bring us to 2005, midway point where some exciting new music has got to emerge to atone for this decade's stagnant first half. You can take heart that the appearance of Kongos on our local scene is a sign of things finally getting interesting again. Here's the unlikely story so far: Four London-born brothers -- Dylan, Jesse, John J. and Daniel Kongos -- relocate here with their British rock star dad John Kongos (whose work has been anthologized on Nuggets II and Have a Nice Day Vol. 6!). And when the brothers Kongos create music, it's neo-progressive rock, the kind that no one else seems to be doing even nationally. Kongos is currently holed up in the recording studio fleshing out a full-length, but the five-song self-titled EP currently available provides quite a tantalizing teaser. Pay strict attention to "The Way," where singer Dylan's impressive wails warn us that "Seven men pass me by and all but one of them will die and he's the one that knows the way." When the vocals drop out, we're treated to an accordion playing Indian raga scales. Impossible yet true! "Remember Me" chugs like a long-lost Golden Earring track, and "Another Daydream" concludes with a psychedelic refrain, "Ten thousand people disappear tonight," and a very pricey string quartet taking us out. When these guys reemerge for some local live shows in the spring, there'll be a long Kongos line outside the venue if there's any justice. (www.kongos.com)
Also progressive but in a much more obnoxious way is Hermosa Drive, which formed in 2004 "to rock the souls of every last boy and girl," but which fuses metal, grindcore, prog rock and, uhh, fusion, into this ham-fisted EP titled Anomaly. If dizzying tempo changes are your passion, "This State of Delirium" covers twice the time signatures Green Day undertook in "Jesus of Suburbia" in half the time -- all of them with double bass drums that trill like a Neapolitan mandolin. The band even attempts an existential rap that ends dangling on a double negative: "Show some passion for those who represent/If you are the mind then we are the eyes! You can't survive with no fun." Indeed. And while the seesaw between growl 'n' geek vocals is fun incarnate, it's the high standard of musicianship (Dual guitars? St. Hubbins be praised!) that makes this an enjoyable -- if over-the-top -- listen. (www.hermosadrive.net)
Nominated for Best Pop Punk Band and Best Melodic Punk Band at the upcoming AZ Ska-Punk Awards (February 28, in case you need time to reserve a safety-pinned tux), the guys in Numbers on Napkins punch the nerd-pop clock for most of their jocular Waiting for Tomorrow CD, only really emerging as truly persuasive punks when they rag on a former member, Jason Coleman, whom they accuse of fiscal impropriety on "Burning Bridges." Trial bile: "Look at your reflection/A man who has no friend who pays for drugs and baby food with money from all the other bands." Tough stuff -- and Coleman merits another flipped bird in the liner's anti-thanks list, along with Ralph Nader, "the cheap shot faggot bouncer at Club Rio," and "Glendale officer Kris Lewis for going out like a chicken fuck bitch and fucking us over." Since none of them is likely to buy this CD and read NON's dedication, we thought it was worth repeating here. (www.badstainrecords.com/non.html)
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As Mark Norman's most enduring project, Ghetto Cowgirl has been around almost eight years, and while you're never sure whether to call some of its members former or current Dead Hot Workshop, Gin Blossoms and Pistoleros alumni, it always sounds like the tightest band in the town. As for the just-released Ten Tons, these eight raucous rockers seem a lot harder-edged than the old Tempe sound you probably still carry around in your head. Just how good everyone involved is at his craft is apparent with the opening cut, "Don't Care," a by-the-numbers rocker with the most predictable intro this side of Rick Springfield. You almost want to chuck it out the car window until Norman opens his mouth with a distinctive drawl that has been likened to the effects of "tar and whiskey." I prefer to think of Norman's enunciation as Steven Tyler with severely chapped lips. The title track catches everything Ghetto Cowgirl does expertly, from Norman's growling about being stuck with "10 tons of apathy and a half a gram of love," to guitars ringing like anti-theft alarms, to the jangling tambourine shaken without mercy. The rest of the CD hardly diminishes from there -- it's solid arena rock that works just as well as a tipping-bottles-at-the-bar soundtrack.