VAZ, Demonstrations in Micronesia
Where did all the Amphetamine Reptile bands go when the label called it quits last year? Maybe they’ve all gone back to tending bar and working construction jobs in Fargo and Minneapolis. All except Apollo Liftoff and Jeff Mooridian of the white-angst steamroller trio Hammerhead, who finally opted to go it as the two-piece VAZ after a string of pretenders failed to fill the mighty-big shoes of departed guitarist Paul Sanders. There are some exciting sounds on Demonstrations in Micronesia; Liftoff’s wobbly crooning and baleful man-angst have survived the transition intact, and the overall sound is as creepy and claustrophobic as Hammerhead’s ever was. I’ll still take Ethereal Killer or Into the Vortex any day, but what are you going to do? Great for the first few listens, but then it’s just old news.
Dressy Bessy, Sound Go Round (Kindercore Records)
Denver’s Dressy Bessy share more than just a member with fellow Mile High pop geniuses Apples in Stereo. They also share that band’s preternatural knack for writing perfect bubblegummy pop with fried psych-rock guitars and sugary sweet vocals. If I’ve got a complaint about Apples in Stereo, it’s that when drummer Hilary Schneider takes the vocal lead in a song, her wafer-thin voice often gets stepped over by the cloying vocal accompaniment of her husband, guitarist Robert Schneider. Here it’s something of a trade-off: guitarist Tammy Ealom runs the vocal show, but her voice is just slightly less appealing than Hilary Schneider’s. They both have that ethereally sexy, ultra-bubble gum quality, but Ealom’s is a little on the flat side and can occasionally make you wince when it falls naggingly short of a high note. That said, the tunes themselves are mostly up to Apples par and more than just a few of them (“I Saw Cinnamon,” “There’s a Girl,” “Oh Mi Amour”) will set up light housekeeping between your hammer, anvil and stirrup all day. I love stuff like this. It makes me feel like I’m secretly wearing pantyhose.
Deathray Davies, The Day of the Ray (Idol Records)
And speaking of long-lasting bubbles! I don’t know why, but these guys always have always reminded me of what the Kinks might have sounded like if Ray Davies and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads had been switched at birth. Or vice versa: The Lemonheads with Davies writing all the songs, which is probably less of a sacrilege to extrapolate anyway. Maybe it’s just because they built a bad pun around the poor guy’s name, but The Death of the Ray is a very public IOU to Davies, Dando et al. from this Dallas six-piece in the best way possible. It’s not a cheap imitation, it’s a very loving distillation of ace songwriting and Lemonheads muscle, such as there was when “alternative rock” was still called “college rock” and their version of “My Name Is Luka” was, like, way edgy, dude. The Deathray Davies have got too many ungainly fins and flippers to look as good in a swimsuit at the MTV Beach Party, but they’re right at home in the somewhat lesser-swum waters of Texas Kinks worship.
Neato Bandita Frito, 623 (self-released)
I’m still a little resentful that my high school band teacher never really encouraged us to do anything musical outside the usual program of sanctioned ensembles playing the same old thing year in and year out. He probably just didn’t want to have to compete for our attention with any of that rock ’n’ roll business, although it never stopped him from telling us a bunch of totally transparent fibs about what a wild man he was back in the day. Anyway, hats off to teachers and parents who encourage kids to find out their own creative avenues, and hats off to kids with the brass to get out there and do it. Local jokers Neato Bandita Frito just keep getting better and better, and I wish there were about a dozen more young bands in town with this kind of goofball appeal. The five-song 623 (I think that’s what it’s called) pretty much had me sitting in tinkle by the end of the first track, “Hook It Up,” with its impromptu parley on the relative merits of Jar-Jar Binks and Boba Fett. That’s just one of many bladder-evacuating moments on this hazy sesh of well-honed rhymes and extemp hip-hop dada. They may be a pretty sheltered lot as far as young science-droppers go, but at least Neato Bandita Frito don’t make themselves look like a bunch of hypocritical wiggaz with the usual ridiculous lily-white suburban odes to the thug life. They seize on the ridiculousness and turn it inside out with tracks like “Life Is Hard” and “Clockwork Orgy,” which probably has the only extant reference to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) in hip-hop to date. Much cooler than whatever you were doing when you were that age—which was probably seducing yourself during re-runs of “Who’s the Boss?”
Blo, Phases 1972-1982 (Strut Records)
Thank to the Afro-pop archivists at Strut for hauling this fabulous Nigerian band out of mothballs and releasing a greatest hits album culled from their way out-of-print LPs on the Afrodisia label. Primed by the success of Fela Kuti and the Ghanaian band Osibisa, Blo found its way to moderate success with European audiences in part because of an increased interest in African pop styles like juju and highlife and partly because of an association with ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker. And totally because they deserved it. Phases is just what it says it is: a compilation of episodes in the life cycle of this Lagos trio, from early psychedelic excursions to hard-driving Grand Funk territory to total discomania in just 13 stops. The latter cuts lose some of the indigenous appeal, but even the four-on-the-floor disco tracks on Phases pulse with equatorial energy, Like Kool and the Gang kickin’ it for a few weeks in Lagos. Recommended.