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MARCH 29, 1999: 

*** The Wellwater Conspiracy


(Time Bomb)

On their '97 debut, Declaration of Conformity, this group of acid-fried alter egos concocted by Soundgarden's Matt Cameron and Monster Magnet's John McBain covered Syd Barrett, paid homage to Who/Kinks producer Shel Talmy, and in general sounded as if they had traded in their Sabbath and Zep albums for a batch of vintage Chocolate Watchband and Troggs singles. This time around finds WC moving into acid/prog-rock territory -- "Born with a Tail" and "Psycho Scrimm," for instance, recall something off of Pink Floyd's Meddle. But mostly we still get garage-centric rave-ups like the deadly Sonics-esque rattle of "Compellor" and the giddy Nuggets-style teen trash of "Red Light Green Light." Although the titles of each of WC's albums (not to mention the moldy power-to-the-people "manifestos" gracing each booklet) have the wink and whiff of a put-on about them, there's nothing about the way McBain and Cameron kick out of the jams that sounds patronizing or snide. And though Brotherhood's not as cohesive as its predecessor, the only real misstep comes, ironically enough, on "Van Vanishing," a sludgy grunge power ballad that sounds suspiciously like Chris Cornell on vocals.

-- Jonathan Perry

** Silverchair



Nobody really expects Australia's young and grungy Silverchair to forge a strong musical identity of their own at this point. After all, they are the band who got their start playing Bush to Pearl Jam's Nirvana, appropriating the brooding intensity of Ten in hits that made Stone Temple Pilots seem subtle by comparison. And they'll probably never live that down. So why bother trying? That appears to be the logic that guides singer/guitarist Daniel Johns into his Neon Ballroom, the band's third CD. The disc opens with a suitably shameless but artful cop of the melancholy alienation and foreboding orchestrations that dominated Radiohead's critically acclaimed 1997 triumph OK Computer, replete with Thom Yorke-style falsetto vocals. The tune, "Emotional Sickness," features the line "Orchestral tear cash flow," which may be nonsense but you kinda know what Johns is getting at, as well as a cameo by Australia's crazed classical pianist David Helfgott (yes, the guy from that film), which qualifies as a another kind of nonsense, though, once again, you kinda know what the child prodigies in Silverchair are getting at. Johns hasn't completely written off heavy guitar riffing yet, or his obsession with mortality. He's just learned that it pays to temper both with strings and a little sentimentality.

-- Matt Ashare



(Thrill Jockey)

The Sea and Cake -- Sam Prekop's still-active band -- specialized in jazzy and rhythmically sophisticated indie pop until percussionist/engineer John McEntire got hold of them on 1997's The Fawn. That disc found three-fourths of the band playing second fiddle to layers of post-rock synth and programmed drum tracks. One couldn't help wondering whether Prekop, the group's ostensible leader, mightn't be suffocating under this thick coat of electronic sound.

On his solo debut, Prekop does break away from McEntire, and his new supporting cast -- percussionist Chad Taylor and bassist Josh Abrams -- both come from jazz backgrounds and use acoustic instruments. But Prekop hasn't shaken the influence of McEntire's rigid programming. Whereas early Sea and Cake numbers like "Culabra Cut" and "Bombay" employed rhythms that were recognizably swing and funk based, Prekop's songs now seem to be more in synch with a metronome than with the human heart. This disc also features a couple of instrumental interludes ("Faces and People" and "A Cloud to the Back") that follow minimalist strategies with their complex layering and use of repetition. Whether this is merely the influence of producer and Chicago avant-star Jim O'Rourke or evidence of Prekop's expanding palette of musical interests is yet another question.

-- Alec Hanley Bemis

*** Roky Erickson


(Emperor Jones)

Former leader of the '60s Texas-based psychedelic jug band the 13th Floor Elevators, acid casualty, and sometimes-mental-institution resident Roky Erickson has written some of rock's most starkly weird songs, and they occupy their own space in the narrow chasm between sanity and lunacy. On this predominantly acoustic disc, which was recorded on crude equipment between 1971 and 1974 (except for a couple of tracks salvaged from the '80s), Erickson's fragile genius sounds as if it had been captured by accident. At times you can actually hear the tape warbling on its wheels, the mike being moved around, a missing guitar string, and the sorry acoustics of the Rusk State Hospital, where nearly half these songs were committed to tape.

Yet the lo-fi trappings only enhance the distressed beauty of Erickson's poetry and melodies. Over his roughly strummed guitar, he comes across as a demented, freeform human jukebox, echoing Sam Cooke one minute, Buddy Holly the next, and Bob Dylan after that. Although he sings with the intensity of an Appalachian snake handler, most of these songs have a bright and hopeful cast to them ("Suddenly I'm not sick/Won't you be and bring me home" and "I love the sick man waiting to be cured"), even as he wrestles with the demons that were clearly descending upon him.

-- Meredith Ochs

** Poster Children



Although few rock musicians affiliated with indie labels will cop to it, their dream situation is to procure a major's bucks and head into a glitzy studio with a big-time producer. Poster Children accomplished this years ago, emerging from their modest beginnings in Champaign, Illinois, to sign with Reprise, work with vaunted names like Steve Albini, and record extremely polished albums. Over five years, they released a flurry of respectable works that barely registered outside the rock-lovin' fan base that frequented the band's sparklingly frenetic live shows. After a surprising run and continued mediocre sales, it was inevitable that the pride of Champaign would move on -- either splitting up or heading back to an indie, tails lodged firmly between their legs.

Ever defiant, the quartet have re-emerged on New York's spinART with a self-produced, home-recorded collection that maintains the blistering intensity of past efforts. New World Record is about as straightforward as they come, packing grooves, buzzing guitars, and adenoidal vocals into each three-minute burst. The band forgo hooks and catchy melodies -- and thus instant accessibility -- for a harnessing of raw power and a compositional edginess akin to Gang of Four's artful punk. It's admirable, and after several listens quite engaging, but the most impressive quality may be Poster Children's will to survive.

-- Richard Martin

*** Lucy Kaplansky


(Red House)

Gals with guitars are the music-biz flavor of the month, selling millions of albums with their coy, dewy-eyed, melisma-drenched navel gazing. Lucy Kaplansky has a guitar and writes her own tunes, but her dark lyrical vision and anti-hysterical delivery set her apart from the typical art-damaged MTV waif of the month.

Ten Year Night could easily be construed as a concept album, since most of the tunes deal with the disordered thoughts and fragmented emotions that haunt the human heart between dusk and daylight. The scenarios may be familiar -- two lovers in a darkened car hurtling down an empty midnight highway, lonely people in empty rooms trying to recognize the stranger in the mirror, the aching loss of a parent or a lover, the slow realization that satisfaction comes from inner peace rather than love, liquor, or money -- but Kaplansky's ability to flesh them out with a few well-chosen images or a poignant minor-key melody is remarkable. The subtle arrangements balance alterna-country and folk rock with a bit of pop sheen, but the spotlight always stays on Kaplansky's warm, full-bodied alto and her straightforward phrasing.

-- J. Poet

** Joydrop


(Tommy Boy)

With a slick female singer and even slicker drum-looped power-pop production, Toronto's Joydrop are destined to remind savvy alterna-rock listeners of Garbage or, well, garbage. Metasexual is dominated by a brand of tough-edged, digitally treated, techno-colored guitar pop that Garbage are famous for. But Joydrop's formulaic deployment of alterna-rock clichés like soft-verse/loud-chorus dynamics leaves much of Metasexual feeling disposable. There are some solid melodies here, and opera-trained singer Tara Slone keeps things interesting with her luscious voice and sense of balance. She whispers delicately on "Beautiful," tries some too cool Blondie-style rapping on "All Too Well," and pulls off a gut-wrenching Pat Benatar wail on "Cocoon." But not even she can ameliorate the trite impact of schoolgirl lyrics about "the meanings of our lives" and cheesy rants like "Don't touch me anymore, cuz it feels like Spiders."

-- Mike Bruno

*1/2 Boo Radleys



This Liverpool-based foursome have always struggled to reconcile the timeless with the timely. The band's reliable pop chops, steeped in 1960s West Coast symphonic pop songwriters like Brian Wilson, typically bear a chameleon sheen. Their 1992 stateside debut, Everything's Alright Forever, cloaked opulent harmonies in My Bloody Valentine-esque blisspop. Wake Up, their 1995 UK breakthrough, was Britpop in excelsis, with chirpy tunes, tight arrangements, and horn charts.

Kingsize, the Boos' sixth and, as of February, final outing (they've broken up), embraces current dance-floor spice, chunky Oasis-style guitar, and contorted arrangements à la Burt Bacharach and Van Dyke Parks. There's even a trendy bit of turntablism. "Blue Room in Archway" is an ambitious suite fusing strings and the rat-a-tat splatter of drum 'n' bass with time-shifting "I Am the Walrus" loopiness. The single, "Free Huey!", which pays homage to the slain Black Panther leader, manages to be both insulting and artless by grafting the Army credo "Be all you can be" atop cloying Jesus Jones-style techno-rock. The Boo Radleys may be remembered fondly by Britpop enthusiasts for years to come, but Kingsize will be best forgotten.

-- Patrick Bryant

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