Canadian invasion 

Plus: Pocket pop from Philly's pride Lenola

Hot Hot Heat
Make Up the Breakdown
Sub Pop

Canada is a neat place. Five minutes on the other side of the border and the gas stations all have red plastic signs and awnings, the potato chips are suddenly ketchup-flavored and all the cornball bands that would get scoffed at in places like Seattle or Portland somehow sound fresh and exciting when you know they’re from Vancouver. There’s a Canadian mystique, no denying it, and it generally works in the band’s favor.

There’s also something about Hot Hot Heat that injects the current crop of retro posers with a little schtick-busting goofiness. If there’s a credible case to be made for the post-punk revivalist frenzy sweeping the pages of publications as clueless in their own ways as Rolling Stone and The Entertainer, it’s going to have to call attention to more than the same Exhibits A, B and C over and over. Yet it’s rare in the last year that one of the same Exhibits A, B or C gets mentioned without the other two in the same breathlessly excited sentences in the pages of a mainstream music magazine. It’s as though there was suddenly nothing to choose from beyond the slouchy Velvets posturing of the Strokes, the smartly-dressed but suspiciously sloppy (for a Swedish band, anyway) Hives, or the smarmy product placement of those insufferable punk-rock parvenus the Vines. Screw those bands. Screw all the poster boys for petit-bourgeois punk rock targeted at the slumming supermodel market.

Hot Hot Heat’s backbeat-happy brand of nearly New Wave post-punk might not be made from virgin materials, either, but at least the Victoria, B.C. quartet dispenses with the jaded act and tears into the ten songs on Make Up the Breakdown with something besides a sense of rock star entitlement. They’re still corny as all get out, but it’s a winning corny that sets them apart from the pack of retro hoseclamps wearing Armani suits and living out the lame punchline for a mainstream that falls for the same “discoveries” over and over. Hot Hot Heat seem genuinely thrilled to put their teenage years of listening to Wire and the Cure to good use, genuinely excited about breathing eager life into the same old redundancies, and not afraid to ham it up good instead of preening around behind their commodified bad-boy image. Not that Hot Hot Heat isn’t a fashionable bunch, but the difference between lead Strokes slummer Julian Casablanca’s scruffy shag and the poodly spiral perm of Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays is that you pretty much have to be convinced there’s a new youth movement falling into place behind you to wear something like that with confidence and not just irony. Even in Canada. Or just care more about music than fashion, and to Hot Hot Heat’s credit they obviously care more about nailing ebullient little pop tunes than nailing the slumming supermodels.

Bays and his bandmates whip out a very exciting, very driving and very catchy batch of them on Make Up the Breakdown. The bass is crazy all over the place, the guitar and keyboard restrained and complementary in the way of the best British ’80s post-punk, and the percussion dominated by thumping bass drum. Bays’ strangled croon at times sounds quite a bit like The Cure’s Robert Smith, but the name really worth dropping here is Wire, hepped up on amyl nitrate and digging the politics of dancing.Lenola
The Electric Tickle EP
Tappersize Records/File 13 Records

I love everything this Philadelphia band has put out, but the standard to which I hold all Lenola recordings so far is “Z Frame,” the third song on the band’s 1997 LP, The Last 10 ft. of the Suicide Mile (ever notice how many good third songs on albums there are?). Noisy, woozy, bombastic, raw and deliriously catchy, it’s a swan song that didn’t know to wait until the band was about to break up before sneaking into the world through main singer-songwriter Jay Laughlin’s snap-crackle-popping creative synapses. Nothing Laughlin or Lenola have written or recorded since then has come close to matching “Z Frame” for sheer abandon, but whatever they’ve given up in the chaotic swirl of their early records they’ve made up for in guitar-driven pocket pop symphonies scattered over several subsequent albums and EPs.

The Electric Tickle EP was originally released as a preview of Lenola’s fourth album, Treat Me to Some Life, in late 2000. It’s got one of the best songs from that album, the Flaming Lips-y “Slipping Under the Shadows,” and four other space-pop excursions that should appeal to local folks who really dug where the Oblio Joes were at three to four years ago. There’s even a sparkling cover of the Silver Jews’ “Inside the Golden Days of Missing You” to lure you in.

What The Electric Tickle is doing in Missoula record stores after being released over two years ago is anyone’s guess, but it might have something to do with a forthcoming double LP, Sharks and Flames. It’s already out in Japan and Italy and slated for release on a different label in the UK and the rest of Europe later this month. No word yet on a domestic release, but a $7 investment now might make the difference later when you’re trying to decide whether or not to splash out $20 on the import. Same preview, completely different album, but still a nice way to start small with a band that could get under your skin in a big way.

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