Abunai! Presents...The Mystic River Sound
There are two explanations for this CD, one considerably more credible than the other. On the one hand, this could be a bona fide comp of little-known Massachusetts bands, the tracks dug out of some long-lost archive up north of Boston. And on the other, well...okay, who the hell do they think they're kidding? Examine the supposed pictures of groups like The Merrie Shyrwode Rangers, Spectrowax, and Crystal Transport, and it'll catch on -- "hey, isn't that the same group of guys in each picture?" As jokes go, I'll admit, this one's pretty entertaining, managing to hit the music culture axis somewhere between The Rutles and Trouser Press, and makes my own music-critic-wannabe self giggle in record-geek glee. Heck, if the band didn't tip their hand by including the "Earth-2" version of themselves, some folks out there might buy it (although I guess it's possible that somebody did buy it, even still...).
Of course, a good joke is still just a joke if the music can't back it up, but Abunai!'s odd brand of psychedelic rock goes the distance, at least to these ears (I'm no psych-rock afficionado). It gets a little noodly at times, like on the too-long instrumental "Vanishing Point," which sounds like a bit too much like the music they'd always play in those cheesy anti-drug movies we all saw when we were kids (specifically, the part where the obviously doomed teenager takes his or her first hit), or the messy noise of "Song of Roland." If you can ignore the missteps, though, there's some good stuff here.
"Barbara Allen" reminds me strongly of The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away," which is usually a good thing, "Learning to Ask" is nicely rough-edged psych-pop, the kind Oasis' overwhelming shadow has all but obliterated from modern music, and the reworking of "Sweet William" takes the traditional ballad into Byrds territory, complete with some darn decent harmony vocals. "Tomorrow" is a beautifully majestic piece of dreamy rock a la Mystery Machine, and even "To Think That You Knew" would be a pretty interesting piece of '60's-style retro-rock if the vocals didn't get on my nerves after a while. By the time "Toast" (the only song the band openly admits to playing) comes on, right at the album's end, I'm definitely wanting to hear at least some of The Mystic River Sound again. (JH)
(Camera Obscura Records -- Post Office Box 5069, Burnley, VIC 3121 AUSTRALIA; http://www.cameraobscura.com.au/; Abunai! -- http://www.abunai.com/)
Alice Despard Group
It's hard to pick on a group that has the good taste to cover East River Pipe ("Times Square Go-Go Boy"). It's equally hard, however, to get very excited about that group when they pick that as the lead-off track, and it's the best track on the CD. Not that the other material is bad -- vaguely country-inflected but with a pretty solid indie pop bent, and Alice has got a good set of pipes -- but if you don't own East River Pipe's Shining Hours in a Can, I can't see why I'd recommend this to you instead. I'll keep an eye on them, though, and I'd show up for them if they were opening for a band I liked instead of staying at home and drinking a beer there. How's that for a muted recommendation? (DD)
(Arlingtone Records -- 299 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. 11205; http://www.arlingtone.com/)