Thank You for the Alternative Rock
5 Rue Christian
The Punks, as expected, do not follow rules. They don’t adhere to even basic assumptions—one being that a band called The Punks with an album titled Thank You for the Alternative Rock would likely play punk rock. In fact, the Olympia, Wash., band—which sometimes boasts Slim Moon (Kill Rock Stars/5RC label owner) as a member—has an avant-garde jam sound that would more likely draw a crowd boasting bare feet and glow sticks than black boots and spikes.
The second track, “Jean Tracolta,” consists of uninterrupted violin bowing punctured by abrupt typewriter-like drumming, while “Rock N Roll Punks Rock Rock and Roll” offers static and what sounds like futuristic space sirens as a backdrop to high-pitched barks and yells of “Punks! Rock!” The entire album is full of toy xylophones, kazoos, mooing strings, nonsensical lyrics and walls of Casio synth. Is this album supposed to be ironic? Is it intellectual, or just lightly comedic? Do we care? Rules should be broken and assumptions should be bent, but Thank You feels like a mediocre inside joke: cool for insiders but, for those on the sidelines, not quite worth the trouble ferreting out the punchline. (Erika Fredrickson)
The Punks play at Higgins Hall Sunday, April 23, at 8PM with Crush Kill Destroy, Bone Dust and Poor School. $6.
Only Just Beginning
Jason Webley has developed a reputation, mostly in and around his native Seattle, as a novelty act complete with accordion, life-size puppets and live concerts that sometimes break out on a commuter ferry. Lost in all of this vaudevillian showmanship, however, is a pretty talented musician, capable of bizarre and moving orchestral ballads featuring his brusque baritone, most recently captured on Only Just Beginning.
Webley sounds like a cross between Tom Waits circa Bone Machine (the rudimentary clop-clopping percussion on “Music That Puts Everything Together,” the bass-heavy brooding on “Mine”) and Kill Rock Star’s The Robot Ate Me (the subtle use of strings, piano and other classical sounds in melancholy arrangements like “With”). Only Just Beginning spends most of its time at a Valium-esque pace, but Webley mixes up the production well enough—and punctuates even the slow songs with his gruff delivery—that it’s never boring. In fact, when “May Day” jumps forth with its rustic toe-tapping hoedown, it almost seems out of place, rustling the listener like an alarm clock at the end of a vivid dream.
If the title of Webley’s latest album is true, that this is just the start of the musician’s next phase, then we welcome whatever his pumping of the bellows brings next. (Skylar Browning)
Jason Webley plays The Loft at Higgins Alley Upstairs Saturday, April 22, at 9 PM. Burke Jam opens. $6.
Kill Rock Stars
If you’ve been wondering if sociopolitical disco rock is really dead, rest assured that the answer appears to be “no,” as evidenced by Shoplifting’s hip-shaking, thought-provoking album Body Stories. It’s a sharp debut from the Seattle-based band, with some of the simple slyness of Gang of Four and churning seductiveness of Sonic Youth. Most engrossing are Melissa Lock’s shadowy bass lines and Chris Pugmire’s brightly skewed guitar chords, wired to lyrical gender explorations and political wordplay. For instance, “M. Sally” is about a Mustang Sally far less definable than the wild subject of Wilson Pickett fame, while “Cover to Cover” tears apart the anorexic teen-magazine mentality with harshly chiming falsettos and devious dance beats.
Body Stories doesn’t stray into political dogma, nor is it a rallying cry for a march on Washington, but it does challenge listeners to think about repression and violence in their own lives, if not in society as a whole. Despite its serious nature, Shoplifting has a keen sense of what makes an album enjoyable, as opposed to important or damply somber, simply because the band understands when it’s time for the pounding repetition of angry vocals to backflip into a sea of polka-rock beats. (Erika Fredrickson)
Shoplifting plays at The Raven Cafe Tuesday, April 25, at 9PM, with Dead Science, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Victory Smokes. $5.
Arms As Traps
Though I’ve never crashed a funeral, I imagine it would feel as uncomfortable and awkward as Arms As Traps, the second release by Taught Me. The Salt Lake City-based band is best known for emotionally driven and mantra-like lyrics transposed over sparse and visceral instrumentation. Though they here depart from much of the atmospheric reluctance found in their first effort, Arms As Traps still ends up feeling like swimming with your clothes on—a lot of effort for little forward momentum.
It’s difficult, however, to discount the process of honest self-exploration made accessible by Arms. Fans of bands such as Xiu Xiu and Everything Is Fine will enjoy the subtle preludes and overtly personal lyrical climaxes found among the record’s brighter moments. The title track, for instance, comprises a throbbing rise and fall that manages to escape typical verse-chorus-verse predictability. Other noteworthy bits can be found on “Where We Found You” and “Apology,” both composed more cohesively than the rest of the record.
Arms As Traps has its sonic soft spots, but Taught Me’s lack of pop is eventually overshadowed by its penchant for finding the beauty in imperfection. (Aaron Young)
Taught Me plays Crazy Daisy Tuesday, April 25, at 8 PM. The all-ages show also includes locals Purrbot and This Is A Process of a Still Life. Cover TBA.