The Boston Phoenix December 28, 2000 - January 4, 2001

[Music Reviews]

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Hooks 'n' heat

Local rock -- year in review

by Brett Milano

Chelseaonfire, Middlesex County (Slo-Bus). Most of my favorite albums this year were released by intense singer-songwriters or revved-up garage bands (two of the last things you'll hear on commercial radio these days), and Chelseaonfire came up with the perfect combination of the two. Once savage and scary, the Chelsea girls have gotten melodic lately, but the songs still cut to the heart. Added bonus: the best Neil Young cover I've ever heard by a Boston band.

The Gentlemen, Ladies & Gentlemen . . . (Hearbox). By now the Gravel Pit/Figgs/Gentlemen brotherhood qualifies as a trend in itself (and all three bands will be playing at T.T. the Bear's Place on New Year's Eve). Combining Figgs lead singer Mike Gent with three-quarters of the Pit, the Gentlemen are looser, rowdier, and probably drunker than either of the parent outfits. Loaded with snarling rockers (and leading off with the year's best rhyme, "sour mash" with "Johnny Cash"), this is one to annoy neighbors, squares, and ex-girlfriends with.

Melissa Ferrick, Freedom (W.A.R.). Intensity has always agreed with Melissa Ferrick. Her having gotten her heart broken and her life shaken up may not be the only reason this is her best album, but it didn't do her writing any harm. The songs here trace a loaded year in her life -- a major break-up, a short but intense affair, and a move from Los Angeles back to Boston -- with lacerating honesty. Not sure where the seduction song "Drive" fits into the scenario, but it's one of the more effective bits of aural erotica you'll ever hear.

the year in review

art - classical - cultural explosions - dance - film
film culture - fiction - jazz - internet - law - local rock
local punk and metal - nonfiction - queer - pop
protest - theater - tv

Damon and Naomi Damon & Naomi with Ghost (Sub Pop). Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski make albums for listeners who love obscure progressive music as much as they do. Not that you have to be a confirmed muso to get the picture -- the haunting quality of Yang's singing is pretty much universal. But D&K know that their audience loves rich arrangements and sonic detail, and these songs are packed with them. The guitar solo on "Tonka" is enough to justify whatever it cost to fly the Japanese band Ghost over to collaborate.

Mary Timony, Mountains (Matador). At first this sounded like a letdown from the fuller soundscapes on the last Helium release, The Magic City. But if anything, Timony's gotten deeper into the imagery that fueled that album; these ghosts and dragons seem to come from the world she actually lives in. For all their ethereal beauty, the songs here have no want of dark mystery between the lines.

Francine, Forty on a Fall Day (Q Division). It was a pleasure to see Francine becoming a buzz band this year, since their kind of brainy and melodic pop is supposed to be out of style. Like the bands he obviously admires -- Pavement, the Loud Family and, uh, Mary Timony -- frontman Clayton Scoble knows what makes a keeper album: throw in enough hooks to draw listeners in, add enough intrigue to keep `em coming back. And anyone who writes a musical mash note to Kim Deal ("Pop Warner") automatically gets bumped up a notch.

Jess Klein, Draw Then Near (Rykodisc). More going on here than meets the eye. At first you notice only how pretty and catchy the songs are; later you realize how much emotional depth she sneaks in, and how expertly she wields that deceptively vulnerable voice of hers. Still a national breakthrough waiting to happen.

Dennis Brennan, Rule No. 1 (Esca). Given that the first song's chorus is "I got my own, I got it goin' on," you can't fault Dennis Brennan's confidence. And it's well placed, since this is the great album he's been promising to make ever since the `80s, when he fronted Push Push. With its mix of dogged romanticism and jaded cynicism, Americana and garage pop, it's the sort of album that John Hiatt and Elvis Costello can't rouse themselves to make anymore.

The Real Kids, Down to You (EP, TKO). Having been written off more often than Al Gore, the Real Kids came back for real this year. The reunited original line-up splintered after a shaky New Year's show at the Middle East, but frontman John Felice recruited a couple of players who were more into it, he rediscovered the passion that had made him write the old songs, and the band developed a sense of purpose they haven't had since the `70s. Released late last December, this four-song EP (leading off with an improved remake of a song from 1980) was all that came of the group's brief association with the California punk label TKO, and it's a proud addition to their way-too-small catalogue.

Muck & the Mires, All Mucked Up (Amp). Passed off as a greatest-hits comp by a mid-'60s Canadian band, this is actually Nines frontman Evan Shore playing everything. Shore was always a good tunesmith (he wrote almost all the Voodoo Dolls' repertoire), and this is a tribute to his two main influences, the British Invasion and the Ramones. But it's also a good statement of what still works nowadays: here's a good song with a lyric worth singing and a hook you'll remember, and the hell with everything else.

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