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By Michael Henningsen

Alibi Value Scale Formula:
Total minutes of good music @ 50¢/minute minus total minutes of bad music @ 25 ¢/minute = Value

Poster Children RTFM (Reprise)
Good Minutes: 38:22 ($19.11)
Blah Minutes: 2:00 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 1:55 ($.39)
Actual Retail Price: $ 14.97
Value: $18.72

Their first release in more than two years, RTFM (short, apparently, for "Read The Fucking Manual") is a complete triumph for Poster Children in several ways. First, it's an enhanced CD--for use with most computers equipped with CD ROM--containing video footage and all kinds of cool stuff for nerds. Second, RTFM was made by the same four Champaign, Ill., individuals who brought you 1995's extraordinary Junior Citizen--Howard Kantoff, Rosanne Marshack, and Richard and James Valentin. Third, but certainly not least, there's absolutely nothing to hate about this record. First-time listeners might be easily put off by the 90 seconds or so of waveform feedback that begins "BlackDog" and, thus, RTFM, but it's all uphill from there.

The songs "0 For 1," "Music of America" and "Speed of Light" were legendary pop-punk songs before the record even shipped. In fact, there's something extraordinarily delicious about almost all of the songs on RTFM, that ties the record together quite nicely, making it by far the most cohesive of the Poster Children catalog. Notable also is the impeccable production credited to Bryce Goggin. Sonically, band and producer have given RTFM more punch and power than a speeding train.

But, as in every case, it always comes down to the quality of the individual songs. And Poster Children have served up 12 of their very best. From the slow, distorto-bass churn of "Dream Small" to the '70s anthemic guitar rock of the aforementioned "Music of America," Poster Children have taken full advantage of their heaviness, adding generous sprinklings of electronic gadgets, soundbytes and dueling guitars.

Vocalist/guitarist Kantoff sounds like an animated cross between Fred Schneider and Wall Of Voodoo's Andy Prieboy. And while that may not sound like a very positive comparison, it's one you have to hear to understand. Backed vocally by Marshack, Kantoff achieves a level of confidence with the songs on RTFM only hinted at on previous Poster Children releases.

RTFM perhaps represents the future of pop-punk. Musically, it's seamless and elemental. And there's no better feeling than money well spent for a record with a thrill factor comparable to that of Poster Children's spectacular live performances.

Anchorman "Scorpio Lover Rising"/"Left Leg" 7-inch (Yule Log Records)
Good Minutes: 10:56 ($5.28)
Blah Minutes: 0 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 0
Actual Retail Price: $3.97
Value: $5.28

Anchorman has more in common with East Coast and Chicago punk rock bands than they do with West Coast bands who tend more toward pop and balls-out hardcore. "Scorpio Lover Rising," side A of Anchorman's recently self-released debut single, immediately hints at Girls Against Boys and the Jesus Lizard's various brands of proto-punk. "Left Leg," side B, might well be a tribute to the Jon Spencer code of stripped down punk rock ethics.

Beyond that, though, Anchorman take their music to different playgrounds with unique arrangements and an almost improvisational approach. That's not to say they're making this up as they go along, just that they have purposely left themselves plenty of room to experiment, jam, make noise and generally rock themselves into a frenzy. And the frenzy, quite miraculously, makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Guitarist Mark Campagna's expert use of dissonance, parlayed by his almost creepy sense of melody and just where to put it, makes him one of the most engaging players out there. Drummer Mike Dixon and bassist Brendan Allen thrive together in their own little rhythmic world that just happens to mesh perfectly with Campagna's otherworldly musings. The resulting music is as interesting as it is uniquely powerful. Capped off by slightly haunting vocals provided by Campagna and Allen, this is a pair of songs you can't afford not to install into your brain. And on that double-negative note, you can be positive that Anchorman has quite a bit to offer with this--hopefully the first of many to come--record.

--Michael Henningsen

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