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
cultural explosions -
film culture -
local punk and metal -
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
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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