Asia Minor, Asia Minor. Alternating between moody minor-key jangle and brutal balls-out cacophony, Asia Minor -- a quintet that contains former members of Five Deadly Venoms, Back of Dave, Keyop and Brick Bat -- plays a type of post-hardcore that's emotionally cathartic without being exactly emo. With their chiming, interlocking guitar figures and rolling rhythmic counterpoint, the best songs are downright pretty in places -- right before they kick your weak little white-boy ass, that is. Tricky tempo changes, jarring juxtapositions and singer Dan Campbell's hoarse emoting create a palpable anxiety; where lesser bands might rage, Asia Minor broods. Too aggressive for emo, too direct for post-rock, too manly for math-rock, too subtle for metal, Asia Minor combines the best elements of these subgenres without wallowing too long in any of them. One caveat, though: With each song positively teeming with dynamic variety, the overall effect is, paradoxically, a bit monotonous. By pulling out every last weapon from the sonic armamentarium on nearly every track, Asia Minor makes it difficult to distinguish one song from another. Still, sounding too much like yourself is infinitely preferable to sounding too much like someone else, and Asia Minor does have a distinctive sound, one that's sure to satisfy the headbanger intelligentsia (and, no, we don't think that's an oxymoron).
Rowdy Cum Lowdies, Building a Better Tomato. Don't judge a band by its name, even if it's a stupid one. The Rowdy Cum Lowdies are, in addition to being neither notably rowdy nor especially loud-y, also not the yee-haw, cornpone novelty outfit you might expect from the jokey moniker. A bit like a rawer Marshall Crenshaw or a less vitriolic Graham Parker, the RCLs make a straightforward kind of Midwestern roots pop for disaffected dirt-rockers -- call it pub rock for the double-ought era. Lead singer/guitarist Johnny McMurtry has a tuneful, engaging voice, appealingly rough around the edges but smooth enough to do justice to the band's strong melodic sensibilities. Producer Lou Whitney (of Morells fame) does a fine job of capturing the band's slapdash, hungover whimsy, particularly on the more eccentric numbers, such as "White Murder," which starts out as a plaint about suburban crime and suddenly shifts into a gonzo reggae groove while McMurtry, in his best Joe Strummer voice, rambles on about how "they got bullets on the South Side, they got bullets on the North Side."
Shame Club, Bad Idea Realised. Why the anglicized spelling of "realize"? we wondered briefly before deciding that it was probably just a mistake. (Note to band: Britishisms, even accidental ones, are a little, shall we say, fey.) Rest assured, these guys don't seem to be pulling a Madonna, or even a Robert Pollard. Shame Club's music is hard and heavy, heavy and hard, a hostile sonic assault that's about as subtle as a dozen jackhammers in a subterranean dungeon. The low end throbs with bowel-loosening, doom-mongering authority, and the distorted squall of the guitars quivers like a death rattle. Sludgecore, stoner rock, post-grunge, nasty-loud-fuck music -- call it whatever you like, because it doesn't matter. It's still gonna deafen, frighten and confuse, and that's Shame Club's stated intent. The inside front cover of the CD offers the "Electric Kool-Aid Tinitus [sic] Test," so potential listeners will know what they're in for. This is not to suggest that Shame Club are entirely bereft of beauty, but theirs is not the la-la-look-at-the-sunset beauty of feminine-hygiene commercials and Mother's Day greeting cards. The Shame Club has a queasy, rotten, belligerent kind of beauty, the aural equivalent of a tranked-out homecoming queen with blood on her teeth.
If you've noticed that it's almost May, the traditional time of the music awards formerly known as the Slammies, and yet the ballot hasn't even appeared in the paper -- well, you're not alone and you're not crazy. The RFT Music Awards Showcase and Awards Ceremony will take place a month later this year. The ballots will begin appearing in the paper on May 14; the live-music marathon takes place Sunday, June 8; and the winners will be announced at the official shindig Tuesday, June 17.