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ALICE DONUT - Three Sisters (Howler)
Time hasn’t seemed to mellow these long-time underground NYC punksters who originally came to the forefront when they signed with Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles in the mid 80s. After an absence of several years, Alice Donut returned with an aural attack of an album in Three Sisters that for the most part thrilled their cultish following as well as picked up a big batch of new followers. It’s loud and noisy and bizarre as expected, with elements of heavy metal as prevalent as the punk thread that runs throughout. The re-energized band recently finished off an extensive touring schedule and has been doing several one offs of late.
SHAMRA - Frieze (Fum)
The members of Shamra are all solid musicians and on their latest
Frieze they pull off their dreamy and delicate compositions, sometimes using a variety of unusual instrumentation, with verve and passion. But what sets this group uniquely apart is the sleepy, bedroom vocals of Carrie Bolger. Sensual and bewitching, you may think you feel the warmth of that voice against your cheek as she breaths out the words to a ballad like “Let’s Not and Say We Did.” That feeling of intimacy pervades throughout this album. You may remember this group from the final season of “Dawsons Creek” or on the “Party of Five” DVD which both featured Shamra’s music. If not, there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing them elsewhere – and soon – more than a few majors are trying to get Shamra onto their rosters, with good reason.
FOUR VOLTS - Rearrange Me (Kanine)
Ready for a little electro-shock therapy? Four Volts pre-album EP Rearrange Me won’t calm you down like that cute little brain jolter, but will charge you up with three electrifyingly catchy punk/pop/noise tunes. Long known as Bunsen Honeydew (Henson Corp. put a firm stop to that nonsense), the New York foursome released several vinyl discs under that name and also appeared on the NY: The Next Wave compilation. All of which garnered them some pretty powerful international attention which led to a UK tour – and more accolades from fans and critics worldwide. Produced by Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Cibo Matto, Bordoms), this short album sampler includes a new mix of the band’s acclaimed single “Didn’t You Used to be Invisible?”
CONSHAFTER - Fear the Underdog (Dork Epiphony)
Their last one, Your Day Job was a loosely connected concept album on the trials and tribulation of office work and making your way in life. White collar, post-punk power pop from white bread, suburban middle-classers that has as much to do with rock or punk as a Christmas bonus or a long-term lease option. Not sure why anyone found that interesting or even entertaining. Well, this latest effort is poppy, well produced and easy to listen to. If you like that genre, with some pseudo punk thrown in, you'll probably like this. Maybe rock is experiencing its strongest death throes in decades because most who actually live life on the edge aren’t writing rock ‘n roll any longer. They’re either grinding out rap tunes to make a buck or are too busy trying to score their own cozy little jobs.
NITROMUSK - Things I’ve Done (Stratospheric)
It's a funny thing. We caught part of a Nitromusk set at CBGB a bit over a year ago. They were a strong, straight-ahead guitar band with a definite NYC edge and we meant to check ‘em out some more, but it didn’t happen. Now the Things I’ve Done EP lands in our lap out of the blue and we remember what originally attracted us to this foursome. There may be a bit of a pop feel to the five songs performed here, but just below the somewhat commercial dynamic is an edgy street feel that recalls the days when power pop was just a slightly more presentable cousin of punk. Small wonder that producer Daniel Rey (who continues to reflect our own tastes in rock) is working on a full length with them. For now, this EP is an enticing sampler of things to come.
THE IZZYS - The Izzys (Kanine)
You won’t hear any Brit or Euro influences on The Izzys’ self titled debut. They’re a distinctly American band and they’ve borrowed heavily from this country’s traditional music - blues, country and even bluegrass. All elements that were the original basis of rock. But this isn’t a history lesson and you don’t really need to know any of that because The Izzys are a very modern evolution of roots music and this CD rocks with a sad/happy refrain brought home by the slide guitar and nervous, broken-hearted/riding-high vocals of Mike Storey. Of special delight are the cry in your beer beauty of “Lonely,” the country/punk “Strange” and centerpiece “Dreaming” with its driving beat and relentless guitar hook. There’s also a video of that very catchy one on the CD.
HEAD QUARTERS - Good Thing (Gone Wrong) / Make Ya Break Ya
The current HeadQuarters single will probably further help pull off the neo-Mod tag placed on them, in part, because of band leader Charles Wallace’s critically acclaimed indie film American Mod - and its brilliant soundtrack CD - which helped launch the group. “Good Thing (Gone Wrong)” and “Make Ya Break Ya” are simply good rock tunes in the traditional sense. Tight harmonies, crunching guitars and powerful arrangements add up to very strong songs in any era. And when we've seen HeadQuarters live recently, they seemed to have a whole bunch more of these garage/roots rock nuggets on tap. Some of which we imagine will appear on the full-length they are currently recording.
OXFORD COLLAPSE - Some Wilderness (Kanine)
The Oxford Collapse release Some Wilderness is frustrating. The Brooklyn indie rockers had been hyped as intelligent and danceable innovators. Maybe something got lost in the recording process. Or maybe their supposed ‘punk’ heroes are just so radically different than ours. There have already been rave reviews for this CD, but we find it as mostly irritating and spastic dissonance. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually dancing to the majority of these herky jerk beats. But apparently they are. Then again, white boys have been known to make fools of themselves on a dance floor. Music just ain’t got no soul.
THE JE NE SAIS QUOI - A Secret Language (Coalition)
Yeah, their name is just a tad on the pretentious side, but since this is a Scandinavian group we’ll forgive ‘em. The short, four-song A Secret Language is just an appetizer for the full-length We Make Beginnings due this winter. The EP showcases the five-piece as an edgy, artsy and very danceable group.  It’s a tantalizing first taste. The dark, frantic vocals, very Euro keys and driving guitars of the standout cut “Death of Them” are underscored by a resounding beat that holds the sometimes chaotic sound all together. And in case you’re wondering, the vocalists seem to have mastered English so their Swedish origins aren’t really apparent. This CD (and its follow-up) are sure to find their way into the more enlightened discos of the world.
RUTH RUTH - Right About Now (Flaming Peach)
Battle-scarred veterans of the major label experience, indie rockers Ruth Ruth return with a renewed freshness and energy on Right About Now. No bitter and boring industry war stories here, just a set of strong, airy songs that rely as much on driving rhythms as intelligent lyrics – the kind of songs that originally turned their fans on to them. Particular highlights (among many) are the new wave vibe of the highly danceable “Electric” and “Right About Now,” a prime example of the group’s Elvis Costello meets Joe Jackson pop sensibilities. You can find Chris Kennedy and company gigging around town on occasion and though we haven’t caught ‘em yet, we just know these songs are meant to be jammed live.
Quick Cuts
Contributors: Jeff Rey, Stephan Jaser, Malcolm Sane, BonnieTagate and Michele Falk
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COMMUNIQUE - Poisoned Arrows (Lookout!)                 
Money talks even louder than the sound of the alarm bell ringing to wake you for that crappy day job you took to support your band habit. Oakland punk band American Steel may have also heard the loud tolling of the bell when they re-invented themselves as Communiqué. Their 2003 EP
A Crescent Honeymoon, heavy on hooks and alt-pop harmonies, garnered them the attention they never got from punk rock. Now Poisoned Arrows looks to continue to add to that new-found commercial popularity with a full-length CD jam packed with anthemic, sing-along power pop. With Euro-flavored dance beats, heavy synths/keys and oh-so-sweet harmonies it’s hard to believe these guys were ever a supposedly bad-ass punk band. Maybe they weren’t.
With links to past issues
THE CHINESE STARS - A Rare Sensation (Three One G)
I think maybe it was Keith Richards who said there’s only five or six true rock ‘n roll songs and the trick is to keep versions of them interesting throughout a career. The Chinese Stars may be doing a dancepunk meets chaos-theory take of that on A Rare Sensation. Hell, people only come to see you to hear one or two favorite songs anyway, so why not give ‘em a whole album of variations on those one or two songs? Works for me and besides you gotta admire that very punk attitude. Ramones didn’t do too bad by it with their debut and first couple of follow-ups either. This Rhode Island based group exploit that aesthetic to the extreme on this one with former Arab On Radar vocalist Eric Paul setting the frantic pace along with the automaton riffs of drummer Craig Kureck. Libido deflating lyrics set to a robotic beat - fuck art - let's dance.