Agents of the Sun
Agents of the Sun are pretty lucky -- they never had to languish in the local scene for years, jockeying with Creed wannabes for a remote chance to make it big. Within eight weeks of forming, they scored an opening slot with Trust Company. Three months later, they landed a deal with a DC-area indie label and started filling their calendar with opening slots for bands like 3 Doors Down, Saliva, and Cold. Jaded scenesters might dismiss the success of this Baltimore-area band as beginner's luck, but the band's debut release Aurora is energetic and surprisingly polished.
Despite the awkward graphic design on the disc jacket, Aurora earns an adjective that not many nascent bands can hang on their demos: professional. Layers of distorted guitars mix seamlessly without obscuring vocal harmonies. Lead singer Ray Dobson takes a cue or two from the sometimes-nasal, often-brash Billie Joe Armstrong, but the band has more in common with FM-radio hard-rock bands (the ones that spell their names like "Staind" or "Puddle of Mudd") than pop-punk bands like Green Day.
Backing vocals from Frankie Hernandez and Ralph Rodriguez keep the main vocal line from fading out against a wall of distortion, but the crunchy guitar lines and the three-part harmonies can't hide the fact that the lyrics are ordinary at most -- and, for the most part, accusatory in that typical angst-rock way: "You turned me inside out / How could you?"; "Blame it on me / Blame it on me"; "All this time / All this time wasted." Agents of the Sun take great liberties with repetition, to the point where their songs are catchy enough for me to actually remember the lyrics but then feel cheated because the lyrics are so dull. Why is it that rap-rock bands, as well as bands that do without the rap part (like this one), only seem to sing about conflicted rage? With Aurora, Agents of the Sun prove that they do indeed deserve to share stages with the major label rock bands they open for, but the band would do well to plumb deeper emotional territory on their next record. (AL)
(DCide Records -- 1926 14th Street, NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC. 20009; http://www.dcide.com/; Agents of the Sun -- http://www.agentsofthesun.com/
Alice Despard Group
Thinning Of The Veil
There are two songs that make the Alice Despard Group's Thinning Of The Veil worth your attention and ten that more or less succeed only to the degree to which they remind you of the other two. The keepers are the hooky title track, which resonates like Barbara Manning in full indie-pop bloom, and "Zen Tantrum," with its twisty Stereolabbish/Yo La Tengian indie rock guitar line, Flying Nun-like structure and extended middle section that's not so much a solo as it is a vehicle for guitar exploration. The rest of the album is fitted out with low-key, jangly guitar pop that would have fit in almost perfectly on college radio during the latter half of the '80s. Despard has a more delicate voice than she's sometimes willing to acknowledge, and songs like "Widows Walk" and "Hold You Up" find her pushing it an inch past its capabilities. The results aren't necessarily unappealing, but they do steamroll over the strengths that give Thinning Of The Veil a kick when Despard gets the chance. (MH)
(Arlingtone Records -- 299 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. 11205; http://www.arlingtone.com/; Alice Despard Group -- http://www.alicedespard.com/)
Francophiles & Skinny Ties
This is some garage rock shit from NY, not to be confused with the Fucking AM, or AM 60 (also from New York). I had no idea what this band was about before pushing "play," but my reaction about 20 seconds into it was to hit "stop." Being a fan of many bands/albums that took numerous listens before I warmed up to them, though, I took it as my duty to give this a few more tries. Alas, it's straight-forward garage-rock, and it blows. Hasn't the hype on these bands died down yet? If you like the Mooney Suzuki, you'll dig this. (The Mooney Suzuki, mind you, is now featured on Madden 2005.) (DH)
(American Laundromat Records -- P.O. Box 1514, Huntington, NY. 11743; http://www.americanlaundromatrecords.com/; AM -- http://www.amtheband.com/)
Into The Light
Man, anybody who picks up a copy of Arcade's Into The Light expecting to hear the early-'90s hard rock band formed by Ratt's Stephen Pearcy is gonna be pissed. Of course, since the abovementioned group of music fans is probably outnumbered by the folks who actually worked on Arcade Mark One's albums, the four indie-rock ladies from Muncie, Indiana, who comprise Arcade the Younger should be in the clear. Good thing, too, because with songs like "Black As..." (which, like much of the album, mines the guitar dialogue and uncertain rhythm of Sleater-Kinney songs like "Get Up" for inspiration) and lead singer Carrie Conley's vocals echoing the bored detachment of Debora Iyall, the band's sonic touchstones are a little more left of center. Unfortunately, Arcade's lyrical sense isn't so hot, with awkwardness and groan-worthy conceits abounding; "No Good," for instance, is a neat little punk tune that is completely undone by a chorus built around two horrible analogies. There's some enjoyment to be found by ignoring the words, though, as the second chorus makes a valiant effort at righting a sinking ship by stripping down to vocals and handclaps, and "Into The Light" is a terrific, full-blast the-bar-is-closed-and-this-is-our-last-song number. Into The Light's not perfect by any stretch, but for a band finding its voice, it offers hints of an interesting future yet to come. For a decade-old offshoot of a second-string '80s hard rock band, it's a goddamn revelation. (MH)
(Wooden Man Records -- http://www.woodenmanrecords.com/; Arcade -- http://www.arcadetheband.com/)
The Atomic Bitchwax
Normally when I hear about a band doing a cover song on their album, I'm skeptical. It's one thing to perform a cover live, but quite a different thing to actually record it.
Lately, however, I've heard more and more good cover songs. Case in point: the Atomic Bitchwax's cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," from their album Spit Blood. Typically, I'd prefer a band choose a more obscure song or a song by a relatively unknown band, at least (in an effort to get some sales for the original band's albums), but the Atomic Bitchwax, made up of guitarist Ed Mundell of Monster Magnet, drummer Keith Ackerman, and bassist Chris Kosnik of Godspeed, do their best Jersey bar-band interpretation, pulling off a classic.
The rest of the album -- songs like "Liquor Queen," "Spit Blood," and "Black Trans-Am" -- are stereotypical stoner rock tunes that bring to mind Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age and (yes, you guessed it) Monster Magnet. There's nothing earth-shattering or completely original on Spit Blood but nothing really awful, either. It sounds like the band actually has fun and doesn't take themselves that seriously -- definitely a refreshing change of pace in music today.
The best thing about Spit Blood, however, is the extras the CD contains. The CD features dozens of MP3s, tracks of studio outtakes, several video clips of the band in the studio, an interview, and much more. (DAC)
(MeteorCity Records -- P.O. Box 40322, Albuquerque, NM. 87196; http://www.meteorcity.com/; http://www.theatomicbitchwax.com/)