What on earth, you may ask, have I been doing for the past two months? Excavating, mostly. My peerless predecessor René left more than just jumbo-size loafers to fill: She also left an office that resembled a record store post-hurricane. CDs and promo posters piled everywhere. Oh, I mocked her about it, all right. That was two months ago.
Now I understand. The CDs come in too fast to deal with. And if that seems like a dream come true, please remember that Hoobastank and Lee Greenwood can send out more promo CDs than Dressy Bessy or Kingsbury Manx. So the crap piles up.
The local music piles up more slowly, but with more regret, too. So, to celebrate Radar Station's reincarnation, and to help clear my already too-messy desk, here's a little local music roundup to get the party started.
Story of the Year, Page Avenue: These kids today, with their hair and their clothes. If you're shaving regularly, you might have a hard time digesting this major-label debut from St. Louis' entry into the emo (screamo?) sweepstakes, but that's just you showing your age. The kids love this stuff, and they should -- it's as painfully earnest and aimlessly angry as any adolescent. With titles like "Until the Day I Die," "Anthem of Our Dying Day" and "Swallow the Knife," Page Avenue is perfect for putting fear into parents on suicide watch. It's also pretty catchy, if not as well-written as work by their national peers such as Thursday and Taking Back Sunday. Only time will tell if Story of the Year will catch fire, or if their next album won't be cursing the girls who left them but the record company that ditched them.
The Civil Tones, Vodka and Peroxide: On the other side of the spectrum, the Civil Tones play instrumental retro-surf/soul music that you could probably broadcast at a nursing home. The music is all cheesy keyboards and bongo drums: the Civil Tones are a holdout from the Martin Denny revival of the '90s, and it's easy to see why they outlived the lounge craze. For one thing, the instrumental nature of the songs means there are no "swinging" lyrics or schmaltzy singer to make things truly embarrassing, and the Tones play such upbeat and inoffensive tunes that it's hard to bear them any ill will. However, the cover of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme song is way too precious. You can get your laid-back groove on at their CD release party, October 18 at the Way Out Club.
Tucker Booth, Will Rap 4 Food: Even in this post-Eminem world, white rap is a touchy thing. Some white dudes insist they're from the streets, making a blackface-free minstrel show of themselves. Others, like Bubba Sparxxx, imbue their music with such cracker soul that it's clear they're just bleached but funky. Tucker Booth clears the white-rap hurdle by being so goofily Caucasian that it's hard not to be won over. At least at first. Booth is an imaginative freestyler, and his clever wordplay keeps the album moving, and a guest appearance by Frozen Food Section labelmate J-Toth is a very welcome addition. But the album gets grating way before it hits the seventy-minute mark (rappers, I've warned you about this: shorten your albums!). An easy candidate for cutting would be the lame paean to pot "Cashed."
The North Country, 5 Songs: I admit it. I let 5 Songs sit on my desk for a while. The hand-drawn cover just screamed "another alt-country retread." What a pleasant surprise these former members of Shelby and Sons of Shame gave me: Bare-boned and crystal clear, these songs show that no genre is ever mined out as long as there are artists with sharp eyes for spotting gold. The secret weapon is the atmospheric violin of Greg MacNair, who almost escapes your notice on first listen, but adds density (and therefore gravity) to the tracks. Jon Hardy's more out-front gifts as a singer are bolstered by some sweet backup harmonizing from the rest of the band. You can check them out at their CD release party at the Rocket Bar October 17.
Headshop, Burn and Crash: "The Mayans were on to something very important, so read up." So say the closing of the liner notes to Burn and Crash. I wonder what they're referring to: The Mayan calendar? Coca-leaf chaw? Or the little-known Meso-American nü-metal meathead bands that must serve as Headshop's influences? In case you aren't familiar with their Mayan forebears, just take a little Alice in Chains, mix in some Phunk Junkeez white-boy braggadocio and you've got Headshop. Yes, you do. But the liner notes are interesting.