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MAY 26, 1998: 

*** The Bogmen

CLOSED CAPTIONED RADIO

(Arista)

Closed Caption Radio, the second release from the Bogmen, is a major step forward from their debut album, 1995's Life Begins at Forty Million. The band have abandoned the calypso-meets-garage swing that defined the earlier CD for harder rhythms and abrasive electronic textures. Built around squalls of distortion and bass rumblings, Closed Captioned Radio is a concept album based on an individual's struggle against the numbing passivity imposed by society. At times, the sound of the band nearly overwhelms singer Bill Campion, but on numbers like "Highway of Shame" and "Failing Systems," his desperate vocals break through. It's the sound of one person winning the battle against alienation, passivity, and world-weariness.

-- Colin Flemming


*** Spoon

A SERIES OF SNEAKS

(Elektra)

Having graduated from the indie-label Matador to the majors, Austin's Spoon are simply doing what they've been doing for years -- touring constantly and playing a fiery brand of hotwired pop. A Series of Sneaks crackles with whiplash licks and adrenalized kicks, like Guided by Voices live but with lots more woolly guitar. The threesome -- Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, and Joshua Zarbo -- make a memorable racket. Okay, so maybe "Staring at the Boar" is a throwaway. But the choked guitars and primal drums that propel "Metal School," the Lyres/Real Kids garage groove (with handclaps) of "No You're Not," and the yelping, stutter-step rumble of "The Minor Tough" more than make up for any miscues.

-- Jonathan Perry


**1/2 Solex

SOLEX VS. THE HITMEISTER

(Matador)

Holland's Elisabeth Esselink, who DJs as Solex, makes her US debut with a 12-track CD that often sounds just like a Knitting Factory version of Shonen Knife -- squeaky-girl vocals in "Solex Feels Lucky" and "One Louder Solex" and, goofiest of all, "Waking Up with Solex," all of it backed by scratchy horn flourishes, bell-like sound effects, and touchy-creepy drum riffs. Bittersweet ballads like "Solex in a Slipshod Style," and weirdness sleaze like "Solex's Snag" hint of darker pleasures, but not for long; by the time the set moves through "Rolex by Solex," "There's a Solex on the Run," and the funky-bumping "Solex All Licketysplit," Esselink makes it clear that girlish playacting is her first principle.

But what's her point? Shonen Knife, with their chocolate fixations and childlike zoo trips, do more than act like girls at play; they make fun of the packaged materialism of a society filled with theme parks, obsessive travel, and overabundant trinkets. Solex's teenypop voice and toystore instrumentation simply accept the good life. One hopes it's a naive fascination rather than a cynical passivity.

-- Michael Freedberg


***

MARIO LANZA BE MY LOVE: GREATEST PERFORMANCES AT MGM

(Rhino)

Mario Lanza was that rarity, the possessor of a fine operatic voice who was also adept at finessing pop songs. Most opera singers approach pop standards as if they were essaying a second, or third language (which is sometimes the case). Lanza knew how to modulate his tenor so that on a number like Herbert Reynolds & Jerome Kern's "They Wouldn't Believe Me" or the Hammerstein II/Kern "All The Things You Are" -- two of the high points of this disc -- there's a caressing delicacy that's seductively interpretive.

The downside of the disc is the inclusion of such inevitable MGM musical folderol as "The Tina Lina," the occasional presence of the studio's resident heavenly choir (dreadfully arranged), and the flavorless warble of Kathryn Grayson. Still, there's much to enjoy, including some genuine opera excerpts (the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor with Dorothy Kirsten on hand is a keeper), even the potentially campy stuff like the title cut and "Because You're Mine" is redeemed by the singer's unforced warmth. The hook here for Lanza fans is that these are previously unreleased right-off-the-soundtrack recordings rather than the famous studio sides that were issued in the '50s.

-- Richard C. Walls


***

HUB

(Slash/London)

If you were around Boston in the '80s, you may remember Hub Moore as one of the two promising singer-guitarists in a band called Three Colors -- who also sported a promising sax player by the name of Dana Colley. Colley went on to join Morphine, Chris Hartford moved to NYC and has been quietly releasing the occasional solo album, and Moore, well, he just sort of disappeared, having gone about as far any smart, young, American guitar-pop dude could go in the '80s.

Now Moore's back as Hub, a smart, somewhat older, American guitar-pop dude based in NYC with friends like Dean Ween, Rollins Band alumnus Andrew Weiss, and Golden Palomino singer Lydia Kavanaugh all helping out on a disarmingly appealing debut CD. Hartford lends a hand too, pitching in as a producer and multi-instrumentalist, and sharing in the fun of covering the Replacements' moody gem "Swingin' Party." Like the solo Paul Westerberg, Moore's most affecting when his imperfect voice has something sadly beautiful or just plain sad to sing about, which is most of the time here. He gets a bit bluesy on "Evil Twin" and turns reflective and falsetto-y on "Sane," but mainly he generates a kind of low-key magnetism with glimpses of little tragedies like, as one tune puts it, "Two people moving further and further away from each other."

-- Matt Ashare


*** Coax

FEAR OF STANDING STILL

(Paradigm)

With the spotlight's glare focused on (mostly deserving) Brit-pop talent these days, it's easy to overlook the developments in the margins, that cultural space where some of the most exciting movements unfold. It's there that this jangly and winsome Kent quartet -- once known as the Dentists -- quietly grew up to become Coax (maintaining three-fourths of the original Dentists' line-up in the process). The new combo retains some of the gentle nuances that led to the former's cult acceptance while forging a more aggressive sound typified by titles like "Rolling Thunder." (By contrast, old Dentists numbers included "Box of Sun" and "Beautiful Day.") The stormier Fear of Standing Still nonetheless highlights crisp, shimmering guitar interplay and intelligent songcraft rooted in '60s folk and '80s alterna-pop. Coax fail only when they truss their sound up big and brassy on the irritatingly overproduced "Meatball Heroes." The rest of the album neatly reconciles an understated past with the group's rock-leaning present. The guitars now snarl more than they seduce, but they still sound downright gorgeous.

-- Mark Woodlief


***1/2 Arto Lindsay

NOON CHILL

(Bar/None)

"Why Compare'' is probably about a man rationalizing his infidelity, "Take My Place'' may be about the fear of death, and several other tunes on Arto Lindsay's Noon Chill are certainly about the lovely, puzzling allure of the opposite sex. For the most part, however, lovely and puzzling is also the only way to characterize these delicate, impressionistic songs. Colored by Brazilian pop, London club beats, and New York free-form noise rock, their avant-garde internationalism is the product of decades of musical growth. Like R.E.M., Sonic Youth, Los Lobos, and almost no one else, this son of Brazilian missionaries and former member of DNA, the Lounge Lizards, the Golden Palominos, and the Ambitious Lovers has managed to graduate from the American indie-rock scene of the '80s with his boldness, grace, imagination, and self-confidence intact. Over the past couple years, he's proved as much with the small-scale, personal O Corpo Sutil ("The Subtle Body") and the masterful Mundo Civilizado. Now, this quirky, experimental album completes a devotional triptych to the sensuous mystery of the world, one in which every beautiful curve somehow connects to every other.

-- Franklin Soults


**1/2 Addict

STONES

(Big Cat)

Something sounds familiar about "I'm stupid but I'm cool," a line from "Monsterside," the second track on Addict's debut album, Stones -- the singer's wry delivery and the self-depreciating lyric echo of the polished depression of Radiohead's loser-anthem "Creep." Like Radiohead, the London-based Addict aren't ashamed to have learned some of their best moves from the modern-rock trinity of R.E.M., U2, and Nirvana. R.E.M. taught Addict the importance of artful restraint; U2 contributed the value of sudden bursts of energetic guitar, and Kurt Cobain the power of doggedly introspective lyrics. The sermon-like songs on Stones may be prototypical alterna-rock -- even the titles ("Nobody Knows," "Black Hole," and "Teenage Angel") sound prefab -- but they're damned easy to relate to. And the moody, lingering melody of "Red Bird" adds something memorable to an otherwise likable, if undemanding, debut.

-- Katherine Brown



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